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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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Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center had an interesting visitor this week.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - June 23

Blessings from the heavens have been raining down on the territory as I begin keying this week's scoop. When one resides where wild fire can often be lurking, any rain is always a good rain in spite of the damper it might put on outdoor activities. Then again, energized wilderness folks are pretty much undaunted by difficult weather happenings.  

With the richness of wet soil, blooms are exploding all over border land. The golden floral edging along the Scenic Byway is growing by the day, while the rainbow of lupine spires is adding multiple tints to this journey through the northern Riviera.

And in other unique places, one can encounter wild roses flashing their pinkish splendor. Despite the recent gloom overhead, Mother Nature's pallet can’t help but brighten one's day.                                                                    
All growing things considered, we are slowly being consumed by the green forest monster. This big green scene makes one feel pretty minute in the total scheme of living beings.                                                                     
To go along with the glory of “Neebing” (summer in Ojibwe), a flurry of critter sightings has been reported. Yours truly had the good fortune of meeting a little gang of fox kits over the past few days. The little cuties were flirting with danger along the Trail near Little Iron Lake. Three foxy faces were peeking out of the roadside weeds, and then jumping frightfully into the air like popcorn popping as I crept by. Sure hope traffic through that area gives them a break.                                                                                                                                                     
Some residents can go days, if not weeks, without seeing a moose, and then out of nowhere the north woods originals are making all kinds of appearances. One couple spotted two in separate sightings through the mid-Trail area and another couple recently found a momma supervising swimming lessons for her twins in a pond up near end of the Trail.                                  

One just has to be in the right place at the right time. Somehow visitors to the territory seem to assume moose should be found just around the next curve. Tongue in cheek, I direct them by the Poplar Haus (old Windigo Lodge) as there is always one there.                                                                                                        
A snappy happening was observed up at the Chik Wauk Nature Center site last weekend. A fairly large snapping turtle meandered away from the bayside water apparently in search of a nesting site for her egg laying exercise. The hard shelled old gal ended up along the parking area perimeter near the museum entrance where she dug a hole in the sand and gravel and proceeded with her second step in motherhood.                                                                                                                                                   

It would seem doubtful the hatching process could become reality with invasive humans prodding around close by, in addition to the danger of some protein consumer sniffing out the eggs. Further complications might involve the up to 125 days of incubation running up against early cold weather when those eggs need 80 degree warmth.                                                                                                   

Regardless of the outcome, this was exciting viewing for staff and visitors. The nesting site will bear watching, as once again you have to be in the right place at the right time.                                                                                                                                                                         
During a recent “wild neighborhood” excursion, I came across a grouse hen alongside the county road. As usual, she reluctantly, sauntered out of harm's way. While slowing for the observation, I discovered the reasoning for not making a swift escape was her brood of chicks. The little puff balls were all scattered on either side of my pathway, and like the little foxes mentioned above, had no clue about dangers of playing in the road. There is little doubt momma grouse was about to pull her feathers out trying to keep them safe.                                                                                                                                                                  
One can be in the right place this coming Sunday at the Chik Wauk Nature Center as a program on “Loons from a Loon Enthusiast’s Point of View” is on tap at 2:00 p.m. Phyllis Sherman, who has been a volunteer since 2003 for the DNR non-game division Loon Watch Program, will be the presenter. It looks to be a meaningful and fun hour with loon-inspired door prizes for attendees.                                                                                                                                   
It’s with sadness area residents have received word on the passing of Ken Rusk. Since the late 1960s he’s been a seasonal resident of the upper Trail with his late wife Nathalie (“Nat”). Ken, who would have been 100 in October, died in White Hall, Wisconsin last weekend.                                                                           
In spite of the sorrow surrounding his departure from our midst, this north woods gentleman will always be remembered for the joyous smiles he brought to every occasion. Gunflint community condolences are extended to his survivors and many friends.                                                                            

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, and  overflows  with majesty and adventure! 

Listen: 

 
Lilacs are blooming in some areas, but not the Wildersmith yard yet.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 16

It’s hard to imagine June is half gone, and by the next time we meet on the radio the Summer Solstice will have passed us by. With this universal turning point, it seems unthinkable the slow trickle down of day light minutes begins.                                                                               
With seasonal vacation times barely underway, and so many things to do in Gunflint territory, it’s hard reckoning how one will be able to explore all the opportunities before fall slows things down.                                                                                                                                                  
Speaking of things to do in the coming weeks, historical site leaders throughout the county have been meeting over the past winter exchanging ideas and coordinating plans to enhance guest attendance and better meet visitor needs.                                                                              
One such plan is what they are calling a “Passport into the Past." Designed to encourage visitors to seek out each of the Arrowhead historic facilities, each organization will be establishing key program offerings and events between July 26 and September 4. On one’s first trek to a paticipating county historical site the visitor will get their “Passport” and a subsequent stamp confirming that visit. The PP document will then be stamped at each site with the idea to get a stamp from each society by summer's end. Just think how much Cook County history can be soaked up during the summer trek.                                                                                                                                                        
The key event for the Gunflint Trail Historical Society will be its annual pie and ice cream social on September 3.

For additional Cook County historical venue activities one will want to make a contact with each of the other five around the county. I feel confident information will be forthcoming on WTIP and also be available on the Cook County Visitors Bureau website. Stay tuned!                                                                                                                                                                               
A look at atmospheric conditions finds Gunflint weather pretty spectacular since we last met. Comfortably cool nights and warm days have been the order. However, deliveries from the skies have been on the lean side in this neighborhood and on up the Trail, so all growing things could use a good rain. On a somewhat related outdoor note, the lake water temp is up into the high 50s at the Wildersmith dock.                                                                                                         

Speaking further of environmental things, this territory has many cases of micro climates. A sampling finds lilacs in full bloom in obviously warmer inland locales while a similar shrub has barely unfurled leaves, and flowering buds have yet to show signs of purplish tint here in the colder Wildersmith yard. If they don’t hurry up the frost might get them!                                                                                                                     
Since our last discussion about the loons at the Chik-Wauk site abandoning the nesting platform, it is reported mom, pop and chick have returned and hang out in the bay waters.  Another report from the museum staff tells of hikers finding prized Lady Slippers in bloom along the Moccasin and Blueberry Trails. They won’t last long so a trip up that way to Chik-Wauk has some degree of urgency.                                                                                                                                               
A big weekend for outdoor adventurers is on tap this weekend (Saturday and Sunday). The third annual Boundary Waters Canoe Expo is being held once again at the Seagull Lake public landing. Many exhibitors and organizations will be on hand under the big-top displaying the latest in wilderness gear and living techniques. So why not make this a comprehensive trip with a stop at Expo and the Chik Wauk Museum & Nature Center. All are invited!                                                                  

The big shrimp boil fest up at end of the Trail last weekend was a tremendous success. From all appearances, it seemed the event drew a record crowd, although I have no accounting of the fund raising effort. With many folks hitting the buffet line multiple times, if anyone went away hungry, they had nobody to blame but themselves.                                                                                                                              

Leadership of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society extends huge thanks to all the organizing volunteers and of course, the hungry north woods folks savoring not only great cuisine, but also, just the joy of Gunflint community. Another thank you goes out to dozens of baked goods donors. What an array of sweet treats, heaven on earth for those with a sweet tooth.                                                                                                                                          
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, for which we’re all grateful.

Listen: 

 
The loon egg that did not successfully hatch is being sent to Cornell University.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 9

With official summer only 12 days away, the territory got a warm preview last weekend. Wilderness stickiness had some folks grinning while the moose and I were cringing.                                                                                                                                                                             
In concert with the early warmth, predicted rain turned out wimpy in this neighborhood, barely enough to the Mile O' Pine dust. Meanwhile, other places along the Trail received some short, but heavy downpours.                                                                                   

Mother Nature's gardening projects are just about done.  Our verdant forest spectacle is one to behold as the sugar maple leaf foliage closes the deal. On the ground, those forget-me-nots have remembered us once again, making for blue on earth as it is in the heavens. And the delectable pie plant is being harvested without a “rhubarb,' ummm!                                                                        
As we celebrate the Ojibwe, full “strawberry moon” tonight and the next couple days, outdoor life is tough. The annual black fly invasion has folks swatting like mad-people. A good bug net is somewhat comforting, but the mean critters are quite cunning in their ability to ride inside on one’s clothing and then torment when unprotected. In my opinion, they’re the worst they’ve been in several years.

Sad to say, but the situation will multiply in intensity as the mosquitoes are just coming on. So if it seems as though I’m a bit snarly, I probably am, due to building heat/humidity and the attack of the swarm.

If you were a WTIP website reader of last week's column, you missed my on-air “breaking news” about the loon at the Chik-Wauk site. As an update, a young’un was hatched a week ago this past Wednesday with the partnering mate still AWOL. All went well and by afternoon the little chick was into the water with mom and one egg still in the nest.                                                                                                                                                       

The same afternoon, who should appear but the apparent, missing partner.  After some quiet loon conversation, the slacker dad climbed onto the nest. There was a lot of prideful cooing as mom and baby floated about for the rest of the day.                                                     

Next morning the museum staff announced with dismay that the family had departed the nesting site which seemed unusual. Later in the day, it was discovered the abandoned nest still housed an egg, still no return of the family. Hearing of the plight, an interested fisherman made a trip by the nesting platform and retrieved the egg. Finding a small escape hole had been opened, the tiny pecking effort was all the un-hatched could muster, thus perishing.                                                                                                                                     

People with experience and knowledge of what might have occurred, surmise the black flies probably drove the parents away from the last incubation. Through field glasses, observers had noticed the infestation swarming momma's head just days before the first hatching.  Evidence indicates we humans are not the only ones being tortured by these nasties, although the species of flies bothering the loons and other water birds is different than the one nipping people. We have to feel for all critters of the “wild neighborhood” during this biting onslaught.

By the way, the egg is being shipped to where researchers at the Cornell University Ornithological Institute will analyze the egg in loon studies.                                                                                                                                                                                 

A bear with quadruplet cubs has found its way to the south shore of Gunflint Lake. Then again, there might be more than one momma bear with four mouths to feed as I reported hearing of one up in end of the Trail places a couple weeks ago.                                                                          
Regardless, this Bruno family caused quite a stir at a residence down along South Gunflint Lake Road (County Rd. 20) one day and night last week. I’m told a noisy attempt to dispatch the gang from the yard spooked two of the cubs into exploring their tree climbing techniques. The sequence of events sent the duo climbing a tall pine to nearly the top.  Once up there, climbing down was discovered to be a scary option, so there they remained for hours. Meanwhile momma and the others made their way into the woods out of sight.                                           

Needless to say the residents were not about to interfere with a rescue attempt. As darkness overtook the scene, I’m told the little ones were still aloft.                                                                                                        

It’s amazing how moms have a way, because some time during the night she must have talked them down. By morning, the homeowner's trail cam revealed the foursome was reunited and while still hanging around, had to be issued another loud “get out’a here” notice, which sent them off  not to be seen again.                                                                                                                                        
Area folk are reminded of the annual shrimp boil feast this coming Sunday (the 11th). Sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society, the event takes place at the Seagull Creek Community Center beginning at 4 p.m.                                                                                                                  
A bake sale is also being held in conjunction with the meal. If any Trail residents wish to contribute a baking confectionary, it’s not too late, but a call to coordinator Judy Edlund in confirmation would be appreciated at 388-4400.                                                                                                             
This event is an important fundraiser for the society with a per plate donation suggested.                                                                                                                                                                      

Reminder is also given to GTHS members about the first membership meeting of the summer. It will be held this coming Monday, the 12th at the Schaap (Mid-Trail Community Center) beginning at 1:30 p.m.  A history of the Blankenbergs will be presented by Bill Douglas and Bruce Kerfoot. Members who also might have stories about the territory's legendary landowners are urged to share during the program.  Treats and conversation will follow.          
                                                        
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great with expected, border country adventures.
 
 

Listen: 

 
Chik Wauk has been enjoying watching loons like this one.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 2

The last hurrah of winter has now evaporated from this neighborhood. It took the better part of five months, but alas the season of cold, ice and snow is sent off into history.                                           

Conditions still remain on the cool side as I key the Gunflint scoop over Memorial Day weekend. Showers measuring in the few tenths range have kept the dust down, and forest duff damp during the past seven.                                                                                                                                          
Forest green-up is making headway, but seems to remain a week or so from completion in my estimation. “Mother Nature” operates in strange ways it would seem. Many quaking aspen tokens have reached fullness, while others right alongside have barely broken the green tip bud stage. Same is true for many other deciduous floras. It’s difficult to understand, but the “old gal” in charge of all things natural obviously has a plan.

I was in the lake this past weekend with a friend putting the dock out. In spite of donning the wet suit, the H2O got my immediate attention. Dipping the thermometer after the last pallet was in place, I found the temp at a depth of four feet to be only 44 degrees, burr!            

Many great residents along the Trail having been showing their Gunflint pride this past week doing the road side clean-up. Big thanks to everyone who pitched in with the pick-up. A good friend and yours truly did our two-mile stretch and came up with a sundry of debris in the amount of six garbage bags full, plus any number of items not a fit for the bags.  

What a shame that a segment of byway users would be so irresponsibly careless and inconsiderate of this precious place.  As I walked along climbing in and out of ditches, a few observations came to mind:      

No. 1, as the Trail is a one way in and the same way back out, I found I was picking up far less on the north (inbound) side than my friend on the south going (outbound). Clearly, the littering folks are pitching their garbage on the way out rather than taking it home and/or disposing of it properly.                                                               

No. 2, another conclusion is there is great wonder why more fires aren’t started in the dry ditch cover with all the cigarette butts cast out vehicle windows.                                                                                

No. 3, the most obvious view confirmed an un-countable number of visitors cannot go anywhere, or do anything without an alcoholic beverage in their hands (and what’s more, while behind the wheel). This fact is borne out by the beer cans, bottles and booze containers collected during our pick-up mission.

It seems unimaginable a number of Trail users, who to give lip service to this territory being such a cherished environment, are so thoughtless to not “walk the talk” by “leaving no trace.”                            

One more item, though not related to the clean-up, is based on the vehicles passing us during the walk. It is fairly obvious the 50/55 mph speed limit is being interpreted as 65 to 70, and more. Cook County financial woes could surely be tempered if these speed demons were corralled more frequently and had their wallets lightened.                              

Stepping down from my soap box to happier wildland tidings, my commentary goes beyond garbage collection. No matter if one has seen just one, or perhaps dozens of “wild neighborhood” critter situations, every new sighting remains energizing. Such happened to the Smith’s in our travels during the past week.                                                                           

Our first encounter found a momma moose and her calf interrupting our travel down the Trail. This little brown tag-along could not have been very old as it gamely attempted galloping to keep up with mom in order to get out of our way. Then a few days later, we came upon a young bull munching in a pond along the Trail. This handsome fellow was in sleek summer attire with lush black velvet on his rack, what an iconic dude!    

Bears have made it to the Wildersmith neighborhood. Sure enough a clamoring on the deck one evening after dark found one snooping around. Turning on the outdoor light spooked it, and Bruno panicked forgetting how it got up there. After stumbling around, it decided to slide under an opening in the deck rail. The last I saw of it to this point, the bear was clinging to the deck by its claws, not aware it was about ten foot to ground level.  By then I was out the door with my trusty blank starting pistol, firing wild-west fashion. Turns out, there was a little companion below the deck and the last I saw of them, they were sprinting off into the darkness.                                                                                                                   

A day later, during a trip to the village a wolf crossed our way. This was a highly unusual scene where the stately Canid seemed curious of us as we were with it, not skittish in the slightest. We spent the better part of ten minutes watching the animal investigate us in our vehicle only to have it lay down in the ditch a short distance away, eyes in deep fixation on this strange happening in its world. Fumbling with a camera, we never did get a good photo op, and as we departed, the north woods hunter remained at the scene eerily watching as we rolled away.

In addition to these animal meanderings, we’ve also had a nocturnal visit from two fishers. One came in the evening and the other, a larger version, in the wee morning hours, each causing a ruckus. Both were in search of sunflower seed nutrition that was no longer available.                                             

A final note comes from the nesting platform at the Chik-Wauk Museum site. Tragedy has occurred as one of the loon pair has disappeared. Not knowing what may have become of the missing partner, a single parent is now sitting on the nest 24-7. With only brief times off the nest, to get in a little fishing, the scene is being watched with care to see if hatching and early nurturing becomes a reality.  

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with Mother Nature's caring ways looking after the menagerie.

Listen: 

 
A piliated woodpecker has been at work here.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 26

Month five along the Gunflint is dwindling. Where has May gone? Gone to re-birth everywhere. By the next time we meet on the radio, June will have taken over.                                                

For those outside the territory, wimpy as our winter has been, the last of lingering character remains in a few piles here and there along back country roads. I count three such semi-white heaps slow to melt along the Mile O' Pine. Whereas the brunt of our cold season seemed short, it’s amazing we still see reminders with month six but days away. A good bet will find warm season in full command soon, and snow pilings will be history.                                                                                                                                                                             
Full-fledged gardening up the Gunflint continues to see planters stymied with some frosty upper Trail mornings during the past week and only intermittent sunshine. While a little moisture has been added, most days have been gray and damp.              

In spite of the atmosphere seeming less than favorable for growing things and a few returning migrants, this is the season of birds and blooms. A sure sign of better things to come is noted in a return of the ruby throats. These hardy “hummers” know when it’s time, and they came into Wildersmith for the first stop-over last weekend, though most likely shivering.                                          
Rains in the past ten days, although light in this neighborhood, have jump started the leaf-out almost overnight. A lime green haze has been cast over our granite hillsides as fronds of “Quaking Aspen” are trembling at the slightest breath of air.                

At ground level, tough wild perennials are blooming in defiance of extended coolness. Siberian squill, violets, marsh marigolds, wild strawberries, and of course, dandelions are lined up in prelude of Technicolor to come. I’ve also noticed fiddlehead ferns un-coiling along the MOP, while rhubarb has popped up in the sunny spot lighted places.                                                                      

As all creation's beings are in a constant state of searching for nourishment or the shelter of a place called home, it is never more evident than with “wild critters” out here in the forest. An interesting location along the Mile O' Pine provides proof of both a quest for edibles by one species emerging as a new housing development for others.                                                                

In this case, a towering aspen having reached the end of its time has come under attack by the neighborhood pileated woodpecker.  As a source of easy insect protein, during the pecking/hammering process, this “Woody” woodpecker look-alike has created a pile of sawdust and shavings the like of which resembles a wood milling operation at the tree base.                                                                                                                                                                   
In offering the appearance of potential living quarters for any number of flying folk or small rodent creatures, this has been an interesting exercise in wood shaping skill. A digital rendering is provided with this column on the web at WTIP.org.                      

The blackfly season is off to a tortuous start. While getting after outdoor chores, the biting warriors have been tormenting to say the least, and mosquitoes are waiting in the wings. So far I’m winning the battles under my trusty bug net. But any slip-up and I’ll pay the price.                                                                                      

More on stinging things, the May-June issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer has an informative article on wasps. It is titled Wonderful Wasps and the commentary offers some interesting insights into these winged critters of which we are often so fearful.                                            

Did you know “there are more than one hundred thousand species or kinds of wasps world-wide?” It is suggested reading for folks who tramp around in our northern back country.                                                                                            

As we celebrate Memorial Day be reminded again “the” destination at end of the Trail opens for the season. Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center are places of special north woods magic, sharing stories of mortals and the natural world shaping their times along the Gunflint Trail.                                                                                                                                                                    

Make a date for a visit or two during the coming season and watch for special programming announcements, too.                                                                                                                      
Another holiday weekend notice goes out to one and all for the YMCA Camp Menogyn pancake breakfast fund raiser.  Be on the shores Sunday morning for the pontoon trip across West Bearskin Lake for food, fun and conversation at yet one more rite of spring on the Trail.    

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, and “silence roars, in the northern woods.”

Listen: 

 
A turkey on the Gunflint Trail

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 19

The Trail is a happening place, both for us human invaders and the natural world. On the mortal side of things, spring means house cleaning time for us. 
                                                                       
It’s time to grab a few garbage bags and hit the Trail. The Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee is encouraging volunteers to do a pick-up of winter's trash along the Trail during the next week, beginning this Monday, May 22. Many of our friends and neighbors have already picked a stretch, but there are several sections closer to town needing attention. If you can lend a hand, please give Nancy Seaton a call (388-2275) and sign up. Clean-up days run through Thursday, May 25, with the County scheduled to round up the accumulated roadside bags on the final collection date. Let's get the byway spruced up as another example of Gunflint Community power!      
                                                 
Meanwhile, on Mother Nature's side of the ledger, deciduous green bud tips of seven days ago are slowly beginning to unfurl. Most notably are the aspen (popple), with a few birches starting to follow suit. Coniferous tree cousins, particularly the red pines, are showing buds at the wick stage of their candling toward the next generation of branches.

At this writing the territory has grown quite dry again. Until a brief dampening in the past couple days, there’s been little to no precipitation around here since the “May Day” frozen stuff.  If the rain gods would cough up a decent rain, all things green would really pop, and fear of someone setting off a fire would be eased.                                                                                                    

Not only has our great weather of late lifted people's spirits, members of the “wild neighborhood” are making increased candid appearances. A couple reports have come in telling of momma bears herding their multiple winter deliveries through the forest.                                    

One such is a momma bear with a foursome of fur balls. Then another tells of a trio of cubs following their mom across the Trail around the Fox Ridge Road/Trail intersection. No doubt there are many yet to be revealed twin sets out there, too. So it looks as though the deity of fertility has favored growing the Bruno population in ’17.  

I’ve received no reports of bear vandalism yet, but knowing they are hungry, it’s only a matter of time until they’ll be tempted by an ill-prepared resident or unsuspecting visitor.      

Speaking of more forest newborns, a couple fellows have been in the right place at the right time to see moose cows with calves. One observation was a singleton while the other was a set of twins. Hurrah for moose regeneration!                                                                                                                    
Although it is not open to the public yet, good news from Chik-Wauk Museum staff is shared concerning the annual loon return. The iconic couple is back, and they have been sitting on the nesting platform for going on two weeks. With all incubation things going as hoped, new chicks should be hatching shortly after the Chik-Wauk opening Memorial Day weekend.                                                                                                  

On an added Chik-Wauk note, a wonderful new temporary exhibit featuring history of the Ham Lake Fire will be ready for viewing on opening day. There’s also some great programming on tap for the coming season. Check the Chik-Wauk website for a weekly event menu, and for GTHS members the recent newsletter release includes many special event listings. The Museum and Hiking Trails will be open daily 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., while the Nature Center is open 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.                                                                                                                                                               
While some think there are plenty of “turkeys” living out here in the woods, none of these would garner attention from the DNR. A report has come my way that an honest to goodness wild bird of the turkey species has been spotted by a couple living over on Leo Lake. It was noticed on their road recently, and luckily they were able to get a digital record for verification.                                                                                                                                                                    
Gunflint nature photographer, Nace Hagemann, has also told of seeing one in about the same vicinity. Perhaps it was the same bird. Nace further tells he’s heard of several additional turkey sighting reports from around the county. Community radio listeners can get a glimpse of the mid-Trail wild gobbler posted alongside this column on the web at WTIP.org.                                                                                                                                              
While it’s considered unusual to see one this far north, trends have been growing to indicate the “big birds” are moving this way with warming climatic conditions. So we might expect to see more of these critters strutting about in the years to come. Hmmm, looks as though there could be some new “fast food” opportunities in store for carnivores of unorganized territory.                                                                                                                                                               
It’s with sadness I report the passing of two long time Gunflint territory residents. News comes on the recent passing of Donna Preus and Mary Katherine (Kate) Lammers Blank. Both of these two ladies resided with their families along the shores of Gunflint Lake for many decades. Their Gunflint Lake and Trail Friends and neighbors extend deepest condolences to the families on their loss.                                                                                                                                                  

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with angler tales of the one that got away, growing by the inch.

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 12

Our spring in the upper Gunflint looks to be back on track. The “May Day” snow and cold has given way to barren earth as we’ve been privy to some glorious days since we last met on the radio. While a few man-made piles of winter can still be seen in shaded spots along back country roads, one has to think the cold season stuff is now in the rear view mirror.

In spite of the ground still being cool, the full “Budding Flower” Ojibwe moon shone down on us a couple nights ago foretelling of things to come.

In concert, our master gardener, “Mother Nature,” has wild green shoots piercing through forest duff where the warmth of “old Sol” has offered inviting warmth. On a similar note, spires of the forest are finally showing green bud tips. In the meantime, domestic planters along the Trail remain anxiously waiting for an end to possible frosty mornings so they can get their hands in the dirt and do some sowing.

The upper Trail was abuzz last weekend, and looks to display more of the same with this segment, too. The Byway will come alive with anglers behind the wheel and watercraft in tow. It’s the annual rite of fish season opening. While fishing is always great, the catching sometimes is not, nevertheless, walleyes beware, here they come!                                                                                                         

It would seem this weekend is the true beginning of vacation season regardless of school not being out. So we’re off into the hub-bub of warm season activities. Good luck to all, be sane and safe, the water is still dangerously cold, and be mindful of fire danger as we await green-up in this wild territory.                                                                                                                           

Remembering what wild fire can do, the Gunflint community did just that this last weekend. Some 250 community residents, friends and visitors gathered for a commemoration of survival and rebirth on the 10th anniversary date of the Ham Lake fire.                      

Ten years seems like a long time, but those moments in 2007 remain as vivid as if it were yesterday in the minds of folks who endured that historic happening.                                                                                   

This day, ten years later, was glorious, with rippling Seagull Lake waters nearby; crystal blue, smokeless skies and bright new coniferous green showing as far as the eye could see. Emotions ran the gamut as those in attendance reflected on tragedy, and now triumph. It was truly a day to honor the spirit of mankind, more specifically the enduring soul of this Gunflint community.                                                        

Heartfelt thanks go out to the organizing committee, the sponsoring Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society and the wonderful support agencies in attendance that were there for us in our times of terror a decade ago.                    

Oddly enough, ten years ago this week many of us resident evacuees were just being allowed to return to our wilderness places. In the same instance, many of our friends and neighbors did not have a place left for which a return was possible. Everyone lauds their spirit and courage to put life in Gunflint Territory back on track.                                                                                                            

History is all about remembering what brought us to this point on life’s journey. Attendees remember sadness and at the same time, rejoiced in our community’s energy to move forward, hoping to never experience such horror again.                                                                    

With hats, jackets and gloves still the mode of outdoor apparel for we two-legged beings, some of the “wild neighborhood” critters are into shedding their winter coats. I’ve observed a few fox and one of our resident pine martens in their molting ritual. Actually they looked pretty scruffy and unkempt. Getting prepared for hot days ahead, their plush winter attire is deplorable. I wonder, if when they meet their kin--do they give thought to how bad the other looks?                                                                                                                                  

More sounds of the season continue to delight. One such is that of those peepers. Heard a chorus of those aqua folk in a swampy area a few days ago and boy, did they ever seem to be in harmony with spring coming alive.                                                                                              

On a not so delightful note, reconnaissance squadrons of buzzing biters are out and about. I’ve been tempted to don the bug net a time or two as they’ve already given me a couple warning nips. I know frosty times are about over, but the winged terrorists presently have me thinking about autumns’ assistance (kind of sad isn’t it?)                                                                                                                                                  

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, in spite of bugs biting and perhaps, the fish not!

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 5

A return to Gunflint territory never ceases to dish up a surprise. Such was the case in the Smith’s reentry into wild country last weekend.

While pulling away on our departure south to Iowa for ten days of visiting family and friends, plus taking in “America’s Athletic Classic” at the Drake Relays, spring had been characterized as full speed ahead at Wildersmith and all points north. For listener/readers outside the area, what a surprise it was when our trip back out the Trail found the landscape once again dressed in winter character.

With quiet ponds and wetlands skimmed over, and snowy white all about, the season of rebirth has been put on hold. And, I as key this week's scoop, prognosticators are indicating “May Day” could see another dose of the shoveling material. Guess we’ll know by this air time if such came to pass.

For those of us residing here, like it or not, the late season coating was, and any additional, is always a blessing this time of year. Since a good share of the new precipitation fell in the form of sleet (about four inches here), it is packed and frozen so hard it will take a few days to melt down. Slowly saturating the forest floor as the icy pack dwindles, wildfire danger is considerably reduced for the time being.

In spite of the smaller water bodies getting a fresh skim during the cold stretch, the lakes throughout border country are free of ice. The official ice-out date on the Gunflint gal was April 20, two weeks ahead of the May 6 average as documented by the State Climatologists. It seems strange to have waters lapping at the shoreline and a white blanket on the ground. Surely this cannot last too long and we’ll be back on track. In the meantime, May flowers will have to wait.

Although winter scenery captured most attention during our trek back to home sweet home, a black Bruno was observed at some point along the way. It was our first viewing of the new season, and “br'er bear” stood out in stark contrast to the ditch whiteness.

Several north woods bunnies were seen in varying stages of roadside activity, too. Most have adapted to summer color except for sporting their winter white socks. Animals have great ability to adapt, but in both animal sighting cases, one would wonder if they might be a bit bewildered about our vernal season weather disruption.

The upper Gunflint will be a busy place this weekend. Saturday morning finds the tenth annual Ham Lake half marathon/5k events kicking off the day. Beginning at 10:00 a.m. from the Gunflint Pines Resort and Seagull Creek Fishing Camp respectively, the event is administered by the Cook County YMCA with sponsorship from a number of area businesses and institutions. For more information on running the “trail less traveled,” go to the Cook County YMCA website and click on half marathon.

In the afternoon, residents and friends will be remembering the 2007 Ham Lake Fire. “A Celebration of Community” commemorates survival and rebirth from the tragic inferno that changed lives, as well as the complexion of the forest.

Activities will be held at the Seagull Lake Community Center beginning at 3:00 p.m. with a getting reacquainted hour. A sit-down buffet dinner will follow at approximately 4:00 with a commemorative program to follow at 5:00 p.m.

The Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and the Gunflint Trail Historical Society are co-sponsoring the event in observance of the tenth anniversary. This will be a chance to gather with friends, neighbors and volunteers to share stories and reflect on this historical Gunflint happening and the aftermath.

All are invited to come and rejoice that no lives were lost, properties have been rebuilt and a new generation of green is flourishing! You can’t keep Gunflint folks down for long, nor “Mother Nature” from regaining command! Let us celebrate!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with mysterious natural wonders yet to be revealed.

(Photo courtesy of Suzanne Weber)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 21

Spring awakening along the Gunflint Trail continues providing pleasant aspects of nature's rebirth as April steers closer to May. Our forest world has taken on a renewed twinkle as conifer juices are pumping verdant energy into the drab needles of winter. Folks may think I’m seeing things through colored glasses, but I’m sure as the sun comes up each day that the evergreen world has become brighter green in just the past few days. In the meantime, deciduous brethren of the tree world are beginning to bulge their buds with envy of those woodland evergreen cousins. If the rain gods would cough up a wet contribution, they will be popping out of cold season covers in a hurry.

Speaking of rain, or the lack thereof, this neighborhood went for three weeks with nary a drop of precipitation. A meek disturbance broke the spell last weekend, but managed only a few hundredths. And part of that was in the form of snow on Easter Sunday, leaving a fresh inch by this past Monday. Then another touch of winter was on the Tuesday docket. Needless to say the upper Gunflint territory had become seriously dry, so the snow, sleet and rain since Easter Sunday have been a real blessing. DNR burning bans for Cook County are still likely, but for the time being wildfire danger has been tempered.

Up until the heavenly moisture favor, “Mother Nature” had been of some benefit in the plight about fire danger with the liquidation of ice on some lakes. Such has allowed opportunity in a few locales to get wildfire sprinkler system piping in the water and pumping units into operating condition. However, in spite of early ice-out on a number of lakes, several of the larger bodies remain at least partially locked in crystal. At the time of this keying exercise (last Sunday evening), I’m told Seagull Lake has opened and the west end of Gunflint was open, too. Nonetheless, ice on the Gunflint gal at Wildersmith remains intact. My guess is by the time we meet again, water will be lapping at our granite shoreline.

During a trip into the village for Easter church services, I crossed paths with several north woods bunnies. It was their time to rise and shine as hares, but they were definitely not in attire fit for an “Easter parade.” One was still in a near-white coat while others displayed a motley mix of earthen grit. Perhaps they are in a state of confusion with regard to this earlier than normal cycle of warmth? For example, in a blacktop encounter, a singleton lagomorph seemed out of its mind as it tried zig-zagging to avoid committing “hari-kari” in front of my vehicle. Alas, I gave it a “brake” so “Peter Rabbit” could hop on down the bunny trail.

Still no bear or skunk reports, but another hibernator has been out and about for several days around here. Those spunky chipmunks are busy sprinting here and there trying to remember where they stashed extra provisions last fall. Again, it would be my guess the red squirrels have already located and consumed the “chippy” treasures.

Life in the wild can be challenging when it’s first come, first serve. Such is the case for the Wildersmith resident fisher. The grizzly fur ball just can’t get the timing down in regard to getting here for a poultry part. My distribution comes in the morning, and those pine martens have it timed just right for their hand-out, easily beating big cousin out of a treat. In the meantime, this fisher character arrives sometimes in the evening and once in a while during the afternoon, obviously missing its chance for some barnyard protein, and only getting a whiff of what was there. Being relegated to snacking on leftover sunflower seeds, I suppose it must sleep during the morning after its overnight prowls?

If listeners/readers are wondering why I’m not practicing what I preach about having those bear temptations put away by now, I have never had a bear here in the morning hours. Guess they might be catching daily “zzzz's” at this time, too. Puting limited critter rations out early in the day, they are usually consumed before bear activity commences in afternoon and evening. Having given you all my reasoning on this issue, I might have to eat my words someday. So far, so good, but never say never!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with often mysterious natural wonders.

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April brings us brilliant spring sunsets.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 14

Gunflint territory heads into the third week of month four having just passed the Ojibwe “maple sugar moon” (Iskigamizige Giizis).  Spring is in full command now and has been sweet as the sugary juice running into collectors’ buckets.

Warming really grabbed this area last weekend with brisk southerly winds leading the way. Winter character has vanished with exception of manmade heaping and some areas deep in the forest where sunshine struggles to peek through.

Ice meanwhile has loosened from its shoreline connections on the sun-drenched northern sides of area lakes, and is taking on the gray color of solidarity under stress.  There’s a good chance some of the more shallow lakes will be open as this scoop hits the air.

Here on the Gunflint, although ice is still tight against the granite south shore at Wildersmith, it’s a good bet we’ll be seeing open water within two weeks, assuming there are no cold setbacks.  This assumption being said, large bodies like Poplar, Loon, Seagull and Saganaga lakes are likely on the same timeline.

Speaking more of ice under stress, hooray for some heroes over on Hungry Jack Lake for taking a big risk to save the life of a yearling moose. For those of you not already aware of this exploit, it seems the gawky youngster wandered onto the ice and after a short distance broke through.  The scene required quick strategizing by those involved in the rescue attempt.

Struggling for many minutes to climb out of the icy liquid, the moose was near motionless (just kind of floating) when the folks, using canoes, got to its side and began the dangerous task of bringing the frightened critter back onto safe ice. After much tugging and pulling, the exhausted animal was finally rolled back up on the ice. Probably in shock, it took some time before the youngster regained its feet. Apparently none the worse for wear, it eventually ambled off into the woods.

I wonder if the iconic beast will remember the valiant efforts of some great northwoods neighbors who gave it another chance on life.

See photos of the heroics on the web at WTIP.org.

Mountain streams and rivers are on the move as melting snow is racing lakeward. Last week on a trip to end of the Trail, it was a joy to see a liquidation of winter raging over the mini-falls on Larch Creek near the US Forest Service guard station. While small by comparison with other falls in the county, it is nevertheless a picturesque setting nestled back in the forest.

Driving the Trail a couple times in the past week I found several byway ponds and wetlands have succumbed to spring's ways. Already showing off sparkling tea-colored liquid, under several bright sky days of late, mirror images reflected double exposures of natural photo ops. Regardless of the still muted wilderness hues, the magic of wildland images on a medium of quiet water goes unmatched in aesthetic accomplishment.

On a negative note, some not-too-beautiful things forever seem to appear this time of year. As snow has left the roadside ditches, the ugliness of an uncaring segment of our user society has been revealed. I’m talking of litter!      

I find it hard to understand how some users of this magnificent place can treat it with such disrespect. The unsightly casting out of beverage containers and other debris is simply beyond belief, confirming we have too many self-serving, shameless folk who just don’t give a darn. In answer to this dirty problem, it behooves all of us common sense people (residents and caring visitors) to get out and do the annual spring house cleaning.

On a cheerier note, there are many moments in time, when one is surrounded by the natural world. With daylight minutes growing by leaps and bounds, another such fleeting moment was emulated last Sunday evening as I keyed this Gunflint news. I’m talking of a sunset like none I’ve ever witnessed here in border country (and I’ve seen a few Canadian sunset beauties over the years).  

The uniqueness of this flaming inferno, which came in the circumvention of our skyline from due north, clear around to the southwest. Thin, deep pink clouds caught fading rays from both the southwest and north points on the compass, converging at “old Sol” who is just beyond due west, in a colossal “hot pink’ explosion, beyond comprehension.

The piercing illumination was one of those timely moments to be etched in memory as the best ever, perhaps forever. But while all good things have to come to an end, this celestial spectacular faded quickly to twilight orange and peach just before daylight gave way to darkness.

Brief, yes, but what an uplifting encounter!  It was great. I hope listener/readers were residing in an area where they got to see it, too!

Finally, two reminders to area residents. First, bears have to be near so get those temptations put away. And second, as it remains abnormally dry, get the wildfire sprinkler system lines into the lake ASAP after ice-out and fire up the pump unit to be sure it’s in operating order.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with the splendors of nature right outside our doors.

Photo courtesy of Michele/Flickr

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