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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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Fred Smith
Fred Smith, a native Iowan re-located to the wilderness of border country at the end of the century, has been writing of happenings in the upper Gunflint territory for going on eight years, first with the local paper, and since December 2008 for WTIP North Shore Community Radio. Fred feels life in the woods is extraordinary, and finds reporting on it to both a reading and listening audience a pleasurable challenge. Since retirement as a high school athletic administrator from Ankeny High School, Ankeny Iowa in 1999, the pace of Fred's life has become less hectic but nevertheless, remains busy in new ways with many volunteer activities along the Trail. Listen at your convenience by subscribing to a podcast.


Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 2

Well the weather outside’s been less than frightful, since our last meeting on the radio. Just when the north woods appeared to be into some serious ice making, the gods of meteorological happenings pulled up the reins.

Thanksgiving until the beginning of this scribing last Sunday evening, winter conditions have been on the brink of collapse in this neighborhood. A few more inches of snow was added to the pack early in the stanza, but settled invisibly into the previous storm totals nearly evaporating.  Add on four-tenths of an inch of rain by Monday morning and we’re in a sludgy mess around Wildersmith.

The thermometer has hung out at or near the freezing mark for days, not varying as much as a couple degrees from night time lows to day time highs. This in mind, our white blanket is soft and sticky making for slippery going on back country roads, driveways and walking surfaces. Thus a few unsuspecting urbanite visitors have found roadside ditches around the territory much to their disliking.

Speaking of slippery, such conditions have altered means of mobility at Wildersmith. Traversing down the driveway on foot is a slow, baby step adventure to avoid winding up on one’s posterior. Further, the idea of not being able to get my vehicle up the steep greasy grade has caused me to now park on top of the hill. For how long this will be needed is anyone’s guess. So getting to the vehicle has created double jeopardy. Caution is surely advised to all in this neck of the woods until a cool down makes for better traction on drier snow cover.
                            
Last weeks’ discussion of tracks in the snow has prompted intensified interest on wild beings’ extremity impressions. Just days ago footprints confirmed a visit from “brother wolf.” Although the critter was not observed, the near hand-sized paw prints found it meandering the yard in several different directions. The Canids’ presence is a bit unnerving, but then again, the adventure of knowing this iconic resident of the “untamed neighborhood” was close by energizes the primitive spirit of living in the wildlands. 
              
In the meantime, our next door neighbors recently met with what was perhaps another member of this upper Gunflint pack while traveling along the trail above Loon Lake. This meeting resulted in some great photo ops as the handsome animal tracked beside the byway. See a couple digital shots of their experience alongside my column on the web at WTIP.org. This lone wolf is a robust beauty.

In other snowy tracks activity, it’s evident a fox is making routine nocturnal visits to the yard. Then a couple days ago, the lush red hunter made a reality appearance, trotting by our deck. I do not purposely put food out, but I do catch an abundance of mice type rodents in my out- buildings. I toss them out into the snow and by next morning, all these dietary supplements are gone. It is my guess this might be an attraction for this foxy one.
          
With some assurance the bears have gone to napping, I’ve started putting provisions out on the deck side rail. To say our “wild ground and airborne friends” are busy keeping track of these handouts is an understatement. This in mind, another furry creature anecdote is worthy of mention
Within 24 hours of stocking the outdoor feed trough, those poultry poaching pine martens stopped in, making their first up close appearance since last spring. Lucky for them, the cupboard was not bare, and they’ve been regulars each day since.      
                                 
The world is now into week one of our next holiday season. Trail residents are reminded of the third annual Gunflint Trail Holiday Open House, Saturday, December 3rd. The event commences at 4 p.m. and runs until 7 p.m. at the Schaap Community Center (Mid Trail Fire Hall No. 1).  
                                                                                                                              
Once again sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMS Crew, dinner and refreshments will be provided. All are welcome, and in the spirit of this giving season, please bring a donation for our local food shelf. 
                                                               
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great as we wait for the real “Jack Frost” to get with it for keeps!

(Photo By Margo Brownell)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 25

The yearly spending madness in America is officially underway with the “black Friday” weekend. In the midst of this coming mayhem, I hope your Thanksgiving Holiday has been stuffed with a joyous time of family, friends and goodies from the bounty of all who made it possible. Further, if you were able to share our abundance with someone less fortunate, kudos for your decency and generosity, you can’t be thanked enough!

“There’s no business like snow business.” Finally, after much wringing of hands about when and if it would ever come to these parts, production and distribution got under way. Last weekend's snow and return to more normal temps has the landscape in dazzling white, with the forest flocked to the hilt.

We’re even into ice-making on some of the smaller lakes with the mercury hitting the nothing mark in places up at this end of the Trail (it was zero at Wildersmith and slightly below at Seagull Lake).

This neighborhood did not receive what prognosticators envisioned, but neither was it a bust. Our first measurable dose piled up at seven inches, and with the accompaniment of howling winds during the storm, it looked like much more in many locales. Guess some might consider ourselves lucky compared to the upwards of two feet that fell in several North Country counties to the west. However, for a few of us “zanies,” there can never be too much.

I find interesting the excitement created when forecasters begin to sensationalize the coming of a first winter storm. It would seem everyone’s trigger is tripped, whether” the coming” is with scorn or elation. Beginning with the first reveal of a cold season storm advisory, suspense begins to build. Questions, of when will the furies of such arrive; how much will it pile up; and how bad will it get, resound throughout the kingdom.

Evolvement of the situation intensifies if the “watch” turns into a “warning.” Folks edge up on their seats and ears perk to the media, many in disgust, with others in hope of a doozy. The storm is getting close, it seems to be real; will I be able to get home, or get out; is my vehicle ready; do I have enough food; will the power and communications be interrupted; will the snow blower start; where’s my shovel; will school be dismissed early or called off? Oh so many concerns echo through our minds.

Arrival is confirmed as trifle flurries at first, energy then escalates to a full blown visit from the “Polar Express.” Curiosity whets our senses, noses to the glass watching a calm vertical descent of the heavenly flakes, while ears detect howling air suggesting a horizontal delivery. Whatever the means of conveyance, the magical sensation of snow whitening the world around us is capturing.

Seldom lasting for more than a few hours or a day or two, the work of “old man winter” idles down to an end. The body of this “old guy's” toiling lies in varying states of crystal serenity. With our mini-universe blanketed in white, the results, are sometimes not as bad as predicted and others far worse than anticipated. Regardless of one’s opinion on the end product, it’s difficult to argue the peaceful splendor of new fallen snow.

In immediate days following the cold atmospheric drama, our wilderness territory comes alive with intriguing, mysterious signs of life we have not seen for months. Tracks of “wild kingdom” critters indent the bleached carpet in infinite shapes, sizes and directions. For yours truly and other outdoors people, the wonder and curiosity associated with critters leaving a trace is beyond the ordinary “what,” “why” and “when” of human understanding. Tracks, tracks everywhere make living in the wilderness setting a deeply profound encounter into the “wild”unknown.

Oddly enough, enthusiasm for the first winter season happening does not wane. For many folks, it seems subsequent wintry episodes conjure up the same anticipatory energies as the initial act. So for us winter enthusiasts, bring it on, the joy of the times are at hand. Happy snow activities to all!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and having them with snow cover is even more delightful!

(Photo by Tony Hisgett on Flickr)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 18

Gunflint territory has chalked up week three of November, and little has changed with regard to winter being a non-factor. Conditions along the Trail have been splendid, if one favors warm weather. We did have a couple mornings where the mercury slipped below the freezing mark at Wildersmith, but sunshine later on those days refreshed memory of a September song.

The damp gray days of last month have succumbed to a mini-drought with no consequential rain in this neighborhood for going on three weeks. This has given way to tinder dry forest under growth and dusty back country roads.

Our mid-month, “freezing over” “Super moon” had us under its luminous spell earlier in the week. The moonrise was awesome and the ensuing spotlight hanging over the forest was nothing short of spectacular. Sadly, it should have shone on the “breast of new fallen snow," but such was not the case. It did, however, “give a luster of mid-day” to the warm forest floor below.
 
As our Thanksgiving celebration is but days away, folks out this way will not only be thankful for many bountiful blessings, but would also be grateful to get this winter thing going. Purveyors of cross country ski operations would surely welcome a good dose of “old Man Winter” ASAP.   

In the meantime, I’ve noticed our “vernal like” atmosphere has one neighborhood species in a spunky, romantic mood. I don’t know if the autumn months are a normal time for amorous attractions in the red squirrel genus, but something spurned a couple of the red rodent critters into an apparent courtship right out on our deck rail.  

If one lives in the woods long enough, it is likely you’ll see most anything happen in the “wild neighborhood.” So observing this mating ritual might have been expected, although it was certainly a surprise.  

Those avian in gray tuxedos have been marvelous entertainment over the past few days. Talk about being habituated, this “whisky Jack” couple has turned the tables. Whereas we humans are often guilty of perpetuating such with certain members of the animal kingdom, this dapper duo is doing a marvelous job of training us in the Smith house.    

An example is shared as yours truly, sat near a deck side window last Sunday. Without warning, one of these Canadian Jays flew right up to the glass, perched on the sill and pecked anxiously to get my attention. Startled at first, it didn’t take me long to jump up, grab my bag of bread cubes and hurry out the door to serve the winged wonder. Talk about being conditioned, yes we are.   

While out serving the handsome critters a day earlier, I watched some winged activity that featured jaybirds of both gray and blue varieties. On this occasion, I’d been serving the grays while one of the blue varieties sat nearby in a tree watching enviously. 
Afraid of my presence (they are only brave when they can bully smaller birds), it would not join the dining experience. 

During this scenario, the grays’land, take a beak full of nutritional fare and fly off to nearby trees where their treasures are stuffed in bark crevasses, thus stored for consumption at a later date. I could see the blue was eyeing this process, apparently planning a felonious raid on the gray cousins’ cache.  
                                                    
It wasn’t long before one of the grays flew off with a mouth full, and the blue took a following flight pattern. A short stroll around the deck, found the gray nearby, stashing its morsel while the blue landed on a nearby branch. Without concern, the gray took off in search of a second helping, leaving its rewards unattended. 
                                                                
Moments after this gray departure, the blue made its move. The blue bird invaded the “staff of life” treasure chest, helping itself to the hidden loot. Soon to fly away, Mr. Blue undoubtedly went off to plan its next larcenous escapade.  

Summing up observation of such daily happenings in the wild, securing a regular meal is not only highly competitive, but involves cunning and patience. Survival goes not only to the fittest, but also to the shrewdest.

In other animal snippets, the bears are still on the prowl, and the eight member Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack was observed up on the ridge, above this Canadian border lake by a deer hunter in recent days.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and forest adventures are fabled!  Have a safe and glorious Thanksgiving!

(photo by Dick Daniels via Wikimedia Commons)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 11

What a difference a couple weeks can make. November has turned uncommonly in the opposite direction of winter along the Gunflint Trail. Whereas we “fell back” with our timepieces last weekend, strides toward winter have reversed into a backward course as well.

For several days north country has felt like September, and those of us favoring cold and snow by this time, find it quite unsettling. But what is one to do other than “grin and sweat it.”

A journal check of last year found we at Wildersmith had our first inch of snow on the twenty-ninth of October and temps by week two of November were in the 20s at night and 30s during the daytime hours.

How warm has it been? Well if your thermometer was in the sun last Sunday, the mercury registered about 70 degrees (probably record setting) at some places up the Trail while in the shade, mid-fifties to sixty was “bad” enough.

“Wild neighborhood” critters in the process of “getting ready” are probably confused. And I might have been seeing things, but I’d swear some deciduous beings poked out green bud tips after several days of sunshine and heat. On the human side of happenings, we even had a few boats go up and down Gunflint Lake over the past several days.

Interestingly enough, it’s been so warm as to draw out a batch of those pesky buzzing pests. While catching up on some early season tree pruning, the nasty nippers have not lost their touch in tormenting me, generally being a pain in the eyes, ears, nose, and hair below my hat band while biting at my wrists around my glove cuffs.

At the same time, the house had been buttoned up for the season, and this has had to be un-done with opening windows, leaving storm doors open and a resort to ceiling fans. I can see only one thing positive being drawn from this warm, yucky situation - home heating bills will be less taxing. Score: Consumers one, utility investors nothing, so far!

I haven’t received any success reports from deer stalkers, but one would guess the warm weather had whitetails wild in the woods, as opposed to their normal cold times meanderings. I’d guess venison takings were probably minimal on opening weekend. One thing for sure, both deer and moose are likely more into sweating it out from the temps instead of human predation.

In the meantime, snowshoe hares around the place are not taking the heat too seriously. I’ve observed several over the past week having advanced to half and half in their summer to winter coat transition. While on the “Bruno” side of the ledger, one would suppose they are not seeing a need to den up just yet, so we should not tempt bears by putting out winter small animal and bird feeding facilities for a while longer.

Regular avian friends at Wildersmith seem not one bit concerned about this weather oddity. Nuthatches and chickadees are swarming like it was December/January and “whiskey jacks,” having been AWOL for months, are now arriving for both a breakfast and afternoon hand-out. Furthermore, ruffed grouse are content to hang out in this neighborhood oblivious to the fact that winter arrival has been derailed.

While this weather anomaly has some of us aghast, blue skies are tinting border country lakes and mostly calm air is reflecting mirror images of lake shorelines with an unimagined upside down beauty. No pun intended, but the current heaven to earth magic kind of gives one a warm all-over feeling.

When the territory will surrender to the glory of winter is yet to be seen. For the time being, everyone in the Gunflint community is enjoying this idyllic calm before the storm.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and will often render a wilderness adventure.

(Photo courtesy of Cimexus on Flickr)
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 4

Entering month eleven, this part of the world has said its good byes to the showers of falling leaves, even the tamarack needles have sifted silently to their resting place. Wilderness dioramas of “Neebing” (Ojibwe summer) have stopped.  

Quiet is now the order with cool season lyrics hissing through the pines and irregular ripples lapping against our granite shores.  An occasional “awlk” from a raven, chirping chickadees or chattering of a squirrel skirmish are about the only vibes breaking silence of the woods in advent of the “crystal coming.” A season unto its own, autumn seems so short. 

Meanwhile, tourist travel along the Gunflint has come to a near standstill, “leaf peepers” are history, outfitters have racked up the canoes, and most Trail food service establishments are breaking for a little R & R until ice is on and snow deepens on the trails.     
                   
Our month, of the “freezing over moon” (Gash Kadino Giizis), looks to be mislabled through the first November days. The making of ice has slackened to nothing as cold progress stepped back to allow “Tagwagin” (Ojibwe autumn) one last gasp, before it waves a white flag to the “old man in the great white north.”

Evidence, of crinkling skims on a few ponds along the Trail a week ago, has vanished.  Temps around here have been hanging in the high thirties to forties, under often drizzly or flurried dismal gray skies, all of which has made the atmosphere feel colder than it has actually been. This time of year is often more bone chilling than forty below in January.

One thing nice about the cool damp conditions of the past few weeks, “Mother Earth” is quite wet, indicating it should freeze holding a good deal of moisture. This is good for all things needing a moist jump start come next spring.   

Our pause in the parade toward winter has not interrupted one critter species from getting into the proper apparel mode. A couple weeks ago I reported snowshoe hares had not yet started fitting into their winter wardrobe. Over the past few days I’ve observed changes are occurring. The northwoods bunnies have now pulled on their white socks and under-belly wear, obviously sensing a need for “camo” in the frosty days ahead. 

The wilderness telegraph has, no doubt, let it be known whitetail hunting season commences this weekend. This happening in mind, the woods will be alive “with the sound of rifle booms (not music)” and the usual blaze orange fashion show. Good luck to deer seekers, lookout for one another and be safe!

On another note concerning this weekend, we get back to the reality of being in concert with “old Sol.” It’s “fall back” time, to our authentic sense of being. Don’t forget to set those clocks back before you retire Saturday night.  

Last week's WTIP fall membership campaign drive is over and grateful thank “yuz” have been extended to our wonderful community of radio listeners. As an on air volunteer voice, I would like to personally extend my thanks for kind words of listener appreciation about my weekly Wildersmith on the Gunflint commentary that were reflected during the stump for member support. Your gracious comments “make my day.”   

Many long time WTIP family members answered the call once again. It’s been a real “pledgure” to follow their re-upping of continuing love and resources.  Furthermore, a hardy welcome to forty-one new folks joining the WTIP clan, it’s great to have them on board. Thanks to all for helping to realize the “Treat Yourself” campaign goal!    

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where daylight is dwindling, and cold, northern nights are awesome!

​(photo by D. Sikes via Flickr)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 28

The weather outside hasn’t been frightful just yet, but Gunflint skies have been looking the part for several days during the past week. Last Sunday had one of those looks with rain in the AM that was on the verge of snow and temps in the thirties. By day's end, ghostly clouds seemed like they had a belly full of the white stuff.  

So in spite of official autumn being just beyond a month old, there’s a feeling winter is beginning to squeeze in at any time. As for yours truly, bring it on, all is ready in the Wildersmith neighborhood!  Meanwhile, about all “Mother Nature” has to do is put the bears to bed.    

With trick or treat time in the offing, old timers out this way will remember the winter blast of Halloween in 1991. Yes, it’s been a quarter century since the big ghost and goblin snow storm dropped over forty inches of the stuff in places along the Trail. One might wonder if this could happen again after twenty-five years, or was it one of those so called “one hundred year Weather Service" occurrences. Only the “MOM” in charge of all things natural knows.

A thing I know, though, is our “winter welcome wagon” is on and along the Trail. Flocks of snow buntings are ready and willing to lead your vehicle either up or down this Scenic Byway. Their annual return is kind of spiritually uplifting to those of us looking forward to the season of white landscapes and frosty breath.

This season of transition has unique moments often catching the eye of keenly focused observers. Happenings I often report may seem trivial, possibly leading another to believe I should get a life. However, for yours truly, it can be the simple things that make living in Gunflint country so special. 

Such is the case with a skinny but tall, red barked tree standing just off the deck outside my lake side window. This wispy woodland member has always been the last to leaf out in the spring, while being a holdout in giving up its foliage this time of year.  I’ve been watching from my favorite chair in the just-after-dawn, time slot, every day, since the falling commenced. Every other deciduous tree in the yard has called it quits, but this one has some “last hangers-on” growing season tokens. It has given up some ,but is clinging to perhaps a dozen or so, each leaflet withstanding days of gusty October winds and a number of rainy occasions.    

It occurs to me it enjoys a charmed life each year, adding a few inches of height while exhibiting character of being the toughest guy in this forest neighborhood. As death is imminent to most all growing flora during fall, I’m betting these last leaves will refuse to be taken until a good dose of wet snow bids them farewell. Spirit is reflected in many ways of the wilderness!

Since my report of a wolf sighting over in the Hungry Jack Lake area, sightings have been noted by several folks from around the territory. One family with which I visited, was hiking on a cold morning and happened on four specimens of scat, some of which was still exuding steamy body warmth. Obviously this pack was on the move somewhere just ahead, but never seen.

All these canid observations makes me wonder if the coming firearms deer hunting season, has them rallying pack members for when blaze orange clad, two legged predators start stalking what few deer remain in these parts.  

If one is an eagle fancier, they are sure to be interested in an article in the fall Audubon Magazine. I found it particularly engaging as the writing (Eagles & Chickens) included a supplementary snippet of chronological history on the big bird from 1782 to the present. It was entitled “THE BALD EAGLE’S RETURN,” authored by Jonathan Carey. Good reading on a cool fall evening!   

A reminder, if you haven’t already heard, your community radio station is in the midst of the fall membership campaign. It’s Halloween, so why not “Treat Yourself to a little of that WTIP sweetness.” Don’t procrastinate, or ghosts and goblins will surely be haunting you.  Join now at 218-387-1070; or 1-800-473-9847; or click and join at WTIP.org and thank you in advance.    
                
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day in the north woods is great and some are even better!

(photo by grfx Playground via Flickr)
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 21

Our prelude to winter along the Gunflint Trail has mellowed some, settling back to more typical autumn conditions. Light winds and slightly warmer conditions are the order as the Wildersmith scoop begins flowing from my keyboard.  

In spite of a few days with dismal skies, nothing dramatic has disturbed the peace and quiet as Trail folks get more ready for winter. Scant episodes of moisture deposits have done little more than keep the dust down on backcountry roads since our last radio visit.  

Nocturnal illumination created excitement in this part of the universe with Aurora Borealis dancing across the heavens on at least one night, while clear skies favored a magnificent full, “falling leaves” “super moon” just after midnight last Saturday. The brilliance of the “old man in the moon” gave a “luster of mid-day to objects below”, especially those skeletal trees lurking over the wilderness. 

While the deciduous portion of the forest has been almost totally undressed of all leaves, tamaracks are at their peak. A trip up to end of the Trail last Sunday found the gold-needled spires a buttery blur under the rays of “old Sol.” Although they don’t last long, if one hasn’t experienced the tamarack radiance, there’s still a chance it would be worth a trip out this way to get a glimpse of this golden attraction.     

Also, not lasting too much longer will be a chance to visit the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. The facility will be closing its doors for the season after Sunday.  

Gunflint community energy sparked again last Sunday as fifteen Historical Society volunteers showed up at the Chik-Wauk Museum site. The group spent the morning cleaning up brush, branches and downed trees left from the wind storms of June and July. Two huge trailer loads of debris was gathered and hauled away, really spiffing up the grounds. Thanks to all for sharing a splendid northwoods day, all in the name of a good cause.           

I’ve noticed many of the mountain ash trees along the Trail are still loaded with bright red-orange fruit. It makes me wonder what’s going on with the cedar waxwings. I don’t know if they might be late migrating from whereever, or perhaps have already passed through, before the berries were properly ripened to their liking. It seems as though the ravenous birds have cleaned them off by now in most years. Meanwhile, the bears seem to have taken their share of the lower hanging fruit based on calling cards left here, there and everywhere.     

Speaking of the north country “Brunos,”almost anyone I talk to has observed one of the critters in past weeks. However, there have been few serious reports of bear vandalism, except for the theft of a bag of sun flower seeds from one couple’s garage, and the destruction of a half-dead apple tree here at Wildersmith. Settling in for a long winter's nap will soon be on their minds. 

I spotted a snowshoe hare in my headlights one night last week. Winter must not have been on its mind yet, as there was no sign of exchanging its summer apparel. It makes me wonder if this could this be a result of our extended warm fall, or perhaps a late arriving cold season, or possibly a warmer than normal winter, or maybe none of these at all, just a silly “wabbit.”   

Then again, I observed a red fox a night or so earlier. This furry creature appeared to be in full winter regalia, with a tail fluffier than one of those household dust-catching utensils.  

Another sign of potential significant weather change might have subtly come to me earlier this week. Whereas chickadees are always around, they seldom come close begging for a hand-out during the warm season. An up-close visit from some chickadees last Sunday surprised me when a couple of the pert little black caps came swooping in at me and landed but a foot away in a lilac bush, chirping excitedly. So I guess it's time to start carrying a handful of seeds in my pocket.                                          

Thinking of all these wild pre-winter notions, it would probably be better to just wait and not contemplate too much. Only “Mother Nature” knows what she has in store for all the beings of our Gunflint neighborhoods.    

On a final note, as Trick or Treat night approaches, don’t forget a treat for our community radio station. The WTIP fall (and final 2016) membership campaign gets underway this next week. Join in the fun of "giving" during this Halloween season at WTIP, beginning Wednesday ebvening, the 26th!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where northwoods days are great and some are even better! 

(photo by Linda Baird-White via Wikimedia Commons)
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 14

The upper Gunflint Territory has experienced a gamut of atmospheric conditions since our last radio meeting. Over the past seven days, we’ve seen the splendor of a few marvelous warm and sunny fall days succumb to a brief winter preview during the weekend.    

Wouldn’t you know, this cold season prelim happened just as some great friends arrived at Wildersmith to bring the dock ashore. So here we were, in the fifty-five degree Gunflint Lake white capped water, heaving and hoeing amongst drizzle and a snow squall, toting dock sections to their winter storage quarters. Alas, we prevailed over the elements, and thankfully, the job is finished! As might be expected, after all was done, the sun, then made an appearance.      

There was no snow accumulation here in comparison to a few other places in northern Minnesota. However, the growing season can be declared over in this neighborhood, as a hard freeze terminated things last Saturday and Sunday mornings. Thermometers in some places found the mercury at about twenty degrees, with nineteen being the low at Wildersmith Sunday AM.  

It was frosty enough to make ice in the bird waterer, freeze a couple small Mile O Pine puddles, see summer garden plants wilt with a good bye, and bring on ignition of a cozy fire in the wood burning stove, ‘tis the season.  

Autumn's color spectacular got hit as weather took a turn. For a couple days, both rain and blustery winds sent a good deal of the seasonal aura packing.  

There are still a few patches of gold quaking, but we will see most of them on the ground by the time this scribing airs. One neat aspect of this deciduous leafy drop is the ability to see deep into the forest for the first time in months.   

The final blush of our pigmentation spectacle, is picking up the slack from the leaflet letdown. Tamarack needles can be observed taking on their flaxen tones in select places along the Trail. There are few fall affairs to top the romantic awe of a feathery tamarack in blooming 24-carat.   

While things of fall are settling into their winter resting place, tourist business is winding down along the Scenic Byway. It appears to have been a bustling summer and has even extended well into early fall.  Proprietors, from whom I’ve heard, indicate the season has been great, with one wondering from where all the people keep coming.    

I’m told it was a record breaking season for the fabulous pie maker over at Clear water Lodge. Guess she normally produces about one hundred seventy pies a summer. 2016 has been overwhelming as in excess of three hundred fifty of her tasty pastries came out of the oven. Wow, that’s a lot of pie crusts and fruits of the forest!   

With grouse hunting season underway, I hear success has been moderate to good, depending upon the day's weather and, of course, the shooter's aim. Recently, one of the seemingly unintelligent Minnesota “chicken birds” made a landing on our avian feeding trough. It was, maybe, seeking refuge from the sound of gunshots down the lake. Due to possibly attracting a marauding bear, the seed cafeteria was not open, so it just sat for a while then winged off into parts unknown.

Hunting isn’t just for the two-legged beings this time of year. A sleek wolf was observed doing a little food service reconnaissance recently along the Hungry Jack road in the mid-Trail area. The northwoods warrior was digitally captured by a Hungry Jack Lake couple. A photographic recording can be seen alongside my Wildersmith column on the www at WTIP.org.       

Those same HJ residents have also been enjoying regular visits from some kind of hawk over the past several weeks. Since appetite satisfiers have not been offered, reasons for the stop-overs are unexplained, but it must involve an easily accessible, natural, nourishment supply somewhere nearby.      

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where cool Gunflint days are energizing, and oh so special!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 7

The Smiths are back in the woods following a migration south to visit kids and grandkids. Our trip home to these northern latitudes was, as usual, dwindling traffic with each passing mile from metropolis. What a joy it is to see the urban hub bub in the rear view mirror.  

What began as a trek in sunshine and clouds from along the Mississippi in northeast Iowa, found the horizon growing thick as we passed into the land of aspen and conifers. The heavenly ceiling grew leaden, and while steering northward I had a sudden thought that the skies looked very winter-like, maybe even filled with snow. But with October only banging at the gate, it was surely not to be as we rolled into the village.

Our trip out the Trail brought me back to reality. Autumn was in glorious bloom as we putzed along the by-way. To say this time of year is magnificent is an understatement.    

While the Trail is not blessed with all the maple tree flavor of the lake shore drive along Superior, we are rewarded in gold. As I’ve said before, there’s gold in “them thar Gunflint hills,” and plenty of it. Whereas this is the land of “Vikings” pride, currently, the landscape looks more like “Packer Land” with the glory of golden birch and aspen tokens nestled amongst a mixed green bag of a trillion pines.                                                                                                                                                     
During a drive along the upper Trail last Sunday, I was pondering just why we call it “fall” this time of year. I don’t know, but would guess there is possibly a sophisticated reason out there in space somewhere. Maybe it has to do with the fall of summer's rule, or perhaps it could be that falling leaves play a role in the autumnal nickname. Regardless, “fall” is what it is, a brilliant “fashion show” along our international border.  

With a week of October under our belt, the month of the Ojibwe, “falling leaves moon” is hitting on all cylinders. Shadows are noticeably lengthening; our Sawtooth Mountains seem to be rising later with each fleeting morning; “old Sol” is turning out the lights sooner; flurries of leaves are showering down with even the slightest whisper of breeze; and mellow aromas of the season are caught wafting through the forest. And catch this, on a cool night or two. I’ve even scented a whiff of smoke from a wood burning stove. Oh how sweet it is!   

The mention of falling leaves finds me drawn to how they seem to get so neatly windrowed along our back country roads. Although there is little traffic on the Mile O Pine, any passing vehicle contributes to whisking the whimsical leaflets into tidy rows, like winter plowed snow.   

Beyond these roadside gatherings, and further back into the forest, the rhythmical process of layering “Mother Earth” with remnants from a withering growing season is well under way. Not only is the terrain gathering deciduous items from on high, but our coniferous forest has shed a good share of its “senior” needles , recarpeting the landscape in a tawny hue. The soft, delicate arrangement of this eternal earthen blanketing is always something to behold, kind of likened to the magic of first fallen snow. 

The beat goes on with getting ready for winter just south of Canada. Completed is my annual five building staining project with several winterizing jobs on tap. The dock will come ashore this weekend, I’ll be draining wildfire sprinkler lines, putting deck furniture into storage, and emptying summer flower pots, to cite but a few.

Those already checked off include: the wood shed which is filled, the snow blower has been checked out, and the boat has been stowed, however, mounting of the snow plow can wait ‘til Halloween is near.  

Unless, we should get an unexpected surprise, I feel pretty safe my “getting ready” plans are right on schedule.   

Regardless of the tasks to be done, it’s an inspirational thrill to be out in this breath-taking wilderness. Color all of us year-‘round Gunflint folks, happy!   

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where Gunflint days in the fall are splendid, and some are even better!
 
(photo by Anne Dirkse via Wikimedia Commons)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 23

The blush of fall is now fully engaged in the northwoods. The natural “east is east” and “west is west” equinox phenomenon has sent “old Sol” past the tipping point toward the southern hemisphere. 

Our border country “Technicolor” spectacle has shifted into high gear. While the intensity has been mounting rather deliberately up to this point, the official declaration, this past Thursday, seems to have set off an orange/red blitz in just a few days. This area will be a “leaf peepers” dream for the next couple weeks.  

Several cloudy days have been the order in this neighborhood during the last seven. Fortunately, the dismal time did not go to waste as the Wildermith rain gauge collected over an inch and three-quarters, with some upper Trail folks reporting even more.   

Speaking of wet happenings, a check of the Gunflint Lake water temp at the Smith dock, found the mercury in a state of decline to sixty-five degrees. This is down from our warmest summer reading of near seventy-five.  

Whereas several areas in the northland got nipped, this place in the woods missed the predicted frost of last week. It was close though, with two consecutive mornings at thirty-five on multiple thermometers. Yet I did detect what appeared to be frozen crystal in a few ditch locations during a trip to town on one of those days. 

I received an interesting report on some lake water testing conducted this summer here on Gunflint Lake. Some of our residents have long been concerned about the application of calcium chloride to roads adjoining the Gunflint Gal for dust control, as well as copious amounts of chemical treatment put on the Trail during the winter. Our interest of course, is whether this practice is having any adverse effect in regard to calcium (C++) run-off and a build-up of such in the lake water. 

Sample readings were taken in cooperation with County Soil and Water in mid-June. I’m told thirty-five lakes were tested in the County, and of all the lakes sampled, Gunflint was the third highest with analysis showing 8.2ppm. A rough calculation projects there could be nearly a thousand tons of excess calcium chloride in this lake. In comparison, Tucker Lake, just two lakes to the south, and not having close proximity road treatments, had a reading of 3.5ppm. 

The critical issue on excessive levels of C++ is a correlation between C++ and INVASIVE SPECIES, notably rusty crayfish and zebra mussels. According to our Gunflint Lake water monitor, Gunflint Lake, on the whole, does not have good habitat for “rusties,” but the invasive rascals could devastate the shallower Little Gunflint and Little North Lakes. What happens is that “rusties” destroy vegetation and hog available food, thus having a negative impact on fish habitat. This surely has potential implications for other upper Trail lakes as well. Apparently, research says that 5ppm (this could be found to be even lower) is a cutoff for sustaining rusty crayfish.    

Attempts are being made with MPCA to do some deep water testing this winter on the Gunflint to further assess the consequences of this C++ issue. In the meantime, Gunflint Lake property owners and other territory lake residents will no doubt be thinking about the value of keeping the dust down versus environmental costs to our pristine waters.   

A story of near tragedy and triumph took place on Hungry Jack Lake little more than a week ago. A loon was discovered near a resident’s dock in a seriously distressed state. The bird had a fish hook in its chest, and fish line tangled around its head, obviously making it difficult to eat, dive and/or swim. 

There are “good Samaritan” acts someplace every day. Fortunately for this Minnesota icon, Hungry Jack and Leo lake neighbors were in the right place at the right time and gathered quickly. A fish net was chosen as the implement for rescue, and a gal in a kayak with three folks in a canoe set out to corral the troubled animal. They soon netted the loon and brought it to the dock of Hungry Jack Outfitters.    

The terrified loon was wrapped in toweling, but nevertheless, inflicted numerous blows with its beak before rescuers were able to secure its head. The fish line was ultimately removed and the hook carefully cut off and pulled out.  With loving hands the handsome critter was released back into the lake where it gave a “hoot” (perhaps saying thanks), flapped its wings and swam away, for sure saved from an anguishing death. Congrats and thanks to the caring folks for helping a creature of the “wild neighborhood” to triumph over tragedy.  See pictures of the rescue effort attached to the Wildersmith column at WTIP.org.   

Most of the time it’s difficult to retrieve lost fishing tackle, but if at all possible, anglers could do these floating critters a big favor by not leaving to chance that line and hooks with bait will never cause a problem. 

On a final note, The Gunflint Trail Historical Society, in concert with the GT Scenic Byway Committee and WTIP, is looking for stories, pics, and artifacts of the Ham lake Fire. Such are needed for the 2017 Chik-Wauk Museum temporary exhibit, as next year commemorates the tenth anniversary of the tragedy. The exhibit will feature remembrances of this flaming disaster, along with educational presentation of wildfire ecology in the territory.  

If anyone has items from the historic event and is willing to share them with exhibit organizers, please let the Society know by calling the museum at (218)388-9915 to be directed to project planners. Donations are being solicited to assist in funding this extraordinary undertaking.      

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, at Wildersmith, where every border country day is great, and some are even better!

(photos courtesy of loon rescue team)