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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

Contributor(s): 
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

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 25

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     May 25, 2018    

May is heading into the final lap, and the green-up continues. It’s almost all things spring and nearly summer as early wild blooms are bursting with splendor. All sign of winter is gone. Official summer is less than a month away, as the Ojibwe, “budding flowers” moon bids the fifth segment of ’18 farewell.  
                                                                                                                                           
The wild sunny gold of Marsh Marigolds and Dandelions in concert with domestic Daffodils is blazing our Trail with yellow fever. Add in a twinkling of purplish Squill along with a few Violets and we’re having a bloomin’ good prelude to the warm season color show. And we know “Mother Nature” has more blossoming adventures in the weeks to come.  
                                       
Leaf out continues its momentum as Quaking Aspen tokens are exploding by the moment. It is hard to fathom how these trembling leaflets expand in the few hours from morning until evening. I’ve been making daily trips to the Chik-Wauk Campus and the growth of this green Aspen maze is simply magical. Meanwhile, birch and maple buds have yet to catch their Poplar cousins, but their day is coming. 
                                                                                                                   
Complementing the green wave is a surge of hummingbirds and robins into the territory.  Furthering the spring explosion, in any area of standing water, peepers are singing a happy tune. Yep, springtime has the spotlight!    
                                                                                        
Mentioning Chik-Wauk, a few lines ago finds preparations for this weekends’ season-opening are buzzing just like things out of doors. The ninth season of telling the Gunflint Trail story through the Museum and Nature Center begins at 10:00 am Saturday. The facility is open each day until 5:00 pm.   
                                                                                                                                                     
The temporary museum exhibit of the Ham Lake fire has been expanded to include “The Gunflint Green-up” in honor of the tenth anniversary of this massive tree planting event prompted by the 75,000-acre fire. You won’t want to miss it.            
                                                                                                                                                                
If that isn’t enough, visitors will get the first peek at the timber frame structure designed to eventually house the historic watercraft exhibit. The terrific timber framing team completed the raising just days ago. This work of historical construction in itself …is architectural magnificence. It was hand hewn and pegged together by 19 residents and friends of the Gunflint Trail Community.  Under the guidance of Peter Henrikson through the North House Folks School, visitors have to see this as well. See a picture with my WTIP column at WTIP.org. 
                                                                                                 
A couple manicuring efforts are underway along the Scenic Byway. Firstly, residents and travelers along the Trail and on back country roads have probably observed blue paint markings on trees and slash. If you haven’t already chased down the reason, its’ all part of Arrowhead Electric Coop’s right of away clearing processes. If you observed a blue “X” the tree inside the easement is being recommended as a removal candidate. A blue “dot” means the tree, needs work, and it is scheduled for pruning. Blue on brush means complete removal of the slash and very small trees.    
                                                                                                                                      
Residents should not panic at this as the contractor will visit with each property owner personally or through communication avenues to seek permission to work on the row across their respective property.  AEC does not contemplate any spray applications this year. If you have any further questions, contact AEC @ 218-663-7239.      
                                                                                
The second is a spruce up of the Trailside ditches. The GT Scenic Byway Committee has been working with lake homeowner groups to do a Trail clean-up. The task was completed during the past few days by many area residents. In cooperation with the Cook County Highway Department, collected trash was picked up from various roadside locations a day or so ago. So if you observed an assortment of black bags and larger items of trash along the roadside that was what it was all about. Big thanks to all in the great Gunflint Community who pitched in to clean-up, after those who pitch out!   
                                                                                                                                            
On a closing note, I received word about a wolf/beaver confrontation awhile back. The predator/prey drama played out while the area lakes were still under ice. From the sound of things, it was quite a fracas over on Leo Lake before the cantankerous beaver finally succumbed to the hungry Canid. I’m betting the beaver made this more of a battle than Mr. Wolf envisioned before the attack.    
                                                                                                                              
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as all things emerald, engulf our Northern Riviera.                                                                                                                                              
 

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Humming-bear

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 18, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     May 18, 2018
    

May is rapidly moving along, surpassing the half-way point heading into this weekend. Warm season rituals continue occurring with each fleeting day.                                                               

Out this way, the most exciting tradition of late has been the final days of hard water on the larger lakes. Gunflint Lake is one of the last to bid ice farewell out. Sure enough, Sunday afternoon (May 13), somewhere between one and two o’clock, the big ice cube took a dip, not to return.   
                                                                                                                                                                                        
The prelude to final crystal disbursement is music to our ears. Gnashing of the honeycombed chards always plays a remarkable chiming tune of northern lakes delight. 
                                                                                                                                                             
On another delightful note, the happening couldn’t have come at a better time for yours truly. The Smiths’, and perhaps other north woods residents have been fretting powerful ice flows for several days as it can play havoc with our lake water systems, shoreline, and some permanent docks.                                                                                                                                                    
Unless one has proficiency in ancient glacial activity, this is an annual contemporary thing of which most folks from “Urbania” have no concept in regard to the “might” of an ice shield, being propelled by even the slightest of breezes. But we are breathing easier now as the ice chunk only moved the heavy steel piping about six feet and did not tear out the system yielding us life’s liquid sustenance. The whole scene makes one feel pretty helpless knowing the solidarity of “Mother Earth” and the power of “old Sol” are the only ice stoppers.                                                                                                                                            
Approaching the end of springs’ month two, our re-birth is not ready for “prime time” just yet. However, the impeccable ability of “Mother Nature” to start anew has the deciduous “green-up” at the point of explosion. Buds are bulging with enthusiasm as verdant hues are serving up a blur of lush haze on Sawtooth Mountain sides. Leaf out should be completed on schedule by the time we get to June. While our timber flora is unfolding, at ground level, green shoots are piercing the recently frozen earth along the Trail with new energy.                                                                                                                                               
In spite of the happy days at hand, the last character of our long winter has not disappeared entirely. At the time of this scribing, man-made piles of snow and mini-back woods glaciers, hidden deep in the shade along the Mile O Pine and other backcountry roads remain as memories of the season past.                                                                                                                                                                
Although the 2017-18 snow accumulation out this way was not severe in-depth numbers, it nevertheless has displayed staying power. Around Wildersmith, we’ve had snow of some consequence on the ground since October 27th, a total of two hundred four days so far!  Be assured, I will notify when all sign of winter is gone.                                                                                                                         
Taking this brief bit of cold season trivia further, bitter cold was not really severe by past North Country measures. But a sampling of what its’ been like, the day our Gunflint Lake ice went out,( last Sunday), the night before still saw a skimming of ice on the quiet open water strip along our shoreline. So however people define cold, include “persistent” with the descriptors.                                                                                                                                                            
Getting back to warmer spring thoughts, “skeeters” are back in the picture. Both Smiths’ have recorded the first itching nip of 2018. Meanwhile with snowmelt in many places still running lakeward, such is harboring habitat for black fly hatching so we can expect those torturous beings sooner rather than later. One can also add ticks to the list of our disgusting annoyances.                                                                                                                                                                      
And, speaking of other creeping, crawling critters, members of the arachnid family are spinning their nighttime web of intrigue as noted in the fiber network glistening through the early morning forest sunshine. Verifying the intricate phenomena, unfortunately, I seem to interrupt the networking every day on my first outdoors trek, by walking headfirst into the invisible filaments.   
                                                                                                                                                               
While a few bear sightings have been reported, we at Wildersmith can now confirm a first sighting too. Happily, it was not in the yard or up on the deck, but along the Trail.    
                              
Our recent fox visitor made another stop during the past few days. I find it interesting, but not surprising the hungry fellow takes a while to consider consumption of left-over seasoned, cooked meat. It’ll eat it grudgingly, but much prefers its protein raw, like a chicken part. Seems beggars shouldn’t be so choosy.   
                                                                                                                                   
On another foxy note, I see where one of this guy’s cousins was not spared by a vehicle in the mid-Trail area. Trail travelers need to give our “wild neighborhood” critters a “brake” particularly as inexperienced babies start exploring the warm blacktop.         
                                                                                                                               
In closing, the territory remains moisture depraved. With all ice out, I can’t say enough about getting those wildfire sprinkler systems ready. Seeing increased visitor traffic due to early paddlers and the opening of walleye season, more human’s mean chances for an accidental fire being set are increased substantially. Since there is no burning ban, residents and businesses have to be ready on their own. Yours truly can attest the water is very cold, but my systems stand ready.                                                                                                                                                                      
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, in every season.
 

Listen: 

 
Humming-bear

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 18, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     May 18, 2018
    

May is rapidly moving along, surpassing the half-way point heading into this weekend. Warm season rituals continue occurring with each fleeting day.  
                                                             

Out this way, the most exciting tradition of late has been the final days of hard water on the larger lakes. Gunflint Lake is one of the last to bid ice farewell out. Sure enough, Sunday afternoon (May 13), somewhere between one and two o’clock, the big ice cube took a dip, not to return.   

                                                                                                                                                                                        
The prelude to final crystal disbursement is music to our ears. Gnashing of the honeycombed chards always plays a remarkable chiming tune of northern lakes delight. 

                                                                                                                                                             
On another delightful note, the happening couldn’t have come at a better time for yours truly. The Smiths’, and perhaps other north woods residents have been fretting powerful ice flows for several days as it can play havoc with our lake water systems, shoreline, and some permanent docks.  

                                                                                                                                                  
Unless one has proficiency in ancient glacial activity, this is an annual contemporary thing of which most folks from “Urbania” have no concept in regard to the “might” of an ice shield, being propelled by even the slightest of breezes. But we are breathing easier now as the ice chunk only moved the heavy steel piping about six feet and did not tear out the system yielding us life’s liquid sustenance. The whole scene makes one feel pretty helpless knowing the solidarity of “Mother Earth” and the power of “old Sol” are the only ice stoppers.    

                                                                                                                                        
Approaching the end of springs’ month two, our re-birth is not ready for “prime time” just yet. However, the impeccable ability of “Mother Nature” to start anew has the deciduous “green-up” at the point of explosion. Buds are bulging with enthusiasm as verdant hues are serving up a blur of lush haze on Sawtooth Mountain sides. Leaf out should be completed on schedule by the time we get to June. While our timber flora is unfolding, at ground level, green shoots are piercing the recently frozen earth along the Trail with new energy.  

                                                                                                                                             
In spite of the happy days at hand, the last character of our long winter has not disappeared entirely. At the time of this scribing, man-made piles of snow and mini-back woods glaciers, hidden deep in the shade along the Mile O Pine and other backcountry roads remain as memories of the season past.                                                                                                                                                                
Although the 2017-18 snow accumulation out this way was not severe in-depth numbers, it nevertheless has displayed staying power. Around Wildersmith, we’ve had snow of some consequence on the ground since October 27th, a total of two hundred four days so far!  Be assured, I will notify when all sign of winter is gone.     

                                                                                                                    
Taking this brief bit of cold season trivia further, bitter cold was not really severe by past North Country measures. But a sampling of what its’ been like, the day our Gunflint Lake ice went out,( last Sunday), the night before still saw a skimming of ice on the quiet open water strip along our shoreline. So however people define cold, include “persistent” with the descriptors.     

                                                                                                                                                       
Getting back to warmer spring thoughts, “skeeters” are back in the picture. Both Smiths’ have recorded the first itching nip of 2018. Meanwhile with snowmelt in many places still running lakeward, such is harboring habitat for black fly hatching so we can expect those torturous beings sooner rather than later. One can also add ticks to the list of our disgusting annoyances.   
                                                                                                                                                                   
And, speaking of other creeping, crawling critters, members of the arachnid family are spinning their nighttime web of intrigue as noted in the fiber network glistening through the early morning forest sunshine. Verifying the intricate phenomena, unfortunately, I seem to interrupt the networking every day on my first outdoors trek, by walking headfirst into the invisible filaments. 
  
                                                                                                                                                               
While a few bear sightings have been reported, we at Wildersmith can now confirm a first sighting too. Happily, it was not in the yard or up on the deck, but along the Trail.    

                              
Our recent fox visitor made another stop during the past few days. I find it interesting, but not surprising the hungry fellow takes a while to consider consumption of left-over seasoned, cooked meat. It’ll eat it grudgingly, but much prefers its protein raw, like a chicken part. Seems beggars shouldn’t be so choosy.   

                                                                                                                                   
On another foxy note, I see where one of this guy’s cousins was not spared by a vehicle in the mid-Trail area. Trail travelers need to give our “wild neighborhood” critters a “brake” particularly as inexperienced babies start exploring the warm blacktop.  
       
                                                                                                                               
In closing, the territory remains moisture depraved. With all ice out, I can’t say enough about getting those wildfire sprinkler systems ready. Seeing increased visitor traffic due to early paddlers and the opening of walleye season, more human’s mean chances for an accidental fire being set are increased substantially. Since there is no burning ban, residents and businesses have to be ready on their own. Yours truly can attest the water is very cold, but my systems stand ready.    

                                                                                                                                                                  
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, in every season.
 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 11, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith   May 11, 2018 
            

Going into week two of month five, this time of the Ojibwe “budding flowers moon” is not yet a reality. However, at the rate things have been going for the past seven, there’ll be blooms by the time we reach the fullest of heavens “big cheese” near months’ end.                                                  

Days, since we last met on the radio, have been pleasant, comfortably warm and sunny with cool nights settling back into the thirties. In spite of this pleasing atmosphere, the territory continues struggling to muster significant rain. Light showers earlier in the week tempered the wildfire potential. Yet the danger is only a few hours of drying wind and sunshine away, still no burning ban.
                                                                                                                                                                           
With the fishing opener at hand, hard water has not given up on the bigger lakes out this way, but several smaller bodies are said to be beckoning anglers. So, wetting a line is not going to be the opening day bust we expected a few weeks ago. 
                                                                                      
Most wetlands, swamps, and ponds along the Trail have become liquid again, attracting any number of waterfowl. Further, there are several reports of loons overhead, and I’m told the nesting pair at Chik-Wauk has returned to their seasonal home on Sag Bay. One more winged note, robins have returned to the area, but none have been observed in this neighborhood to date.                                                                                                                                                       

We at Wildersmith have been privy to a menagerie of up north critters over the past week. Observations include a moose, fox, snowshoe hares, a new pine marten and large wolf tracks along the Mile O Pine. While Trail neighbors have reported bear sightings, and a lynx.  
                                                                                           
The moose, perhaps a two-year-old bull, interrupted an evening trip up the Trail by slogging along in front of our vehicle for quite a distance. It stopped several times and turned to look at us who were no doubt interrupting his meanderings too. Without a close encounter, “Murray the Moose” eventually went off into the forest.  
                                                                                                                                        
Meanwhile, those north woods bunnies are out and about after having not been seen for weeks. In the process of changing to summer attire, the only lagomorph memory of winter can be found in their bleached undercarriage and white socks.  
                                                                                         
The fox mentioned has paid us a visit twice in the past few days. While I’ve heard of many folks with friendly foxes, this is a first at Wildersmith. This foxy guy shows up out of nowhere and might be a lost pet because it has no fear of us    two-legged creatures. It is quite persistent about wanting a hand-out and hangs around until we willingly oblige. Guess it has us hooked, and the pine martens now have to share their poultry treats.
                                                                        
While I have not observed any bears yet, the first reported observation came from some folks over on Washout Rd. Since that news came in, more of the ebony beasts have been poking around at various locations. And the lynx sighting came from somewhere up the Trail. 
                                
My earlier mention of Chik-Wauk causes me to remind WTIP listener/readers the historical campus will be opening for the season two weeks from this one (on Memorial Day weekend). It looks to be a busy season with more of the Gunflint story, great natural history programming, and construction of two exciting facility additions. 
                                                                                            
The timber frame Watercraft Exhibit Building (WEB) will be raised in a week or so and an Interpretive Cabin will go up as soon as the frost is out to allow for footings. The cabin will be located on one of the original resort cabin sites, while the WEB will be near the Back Bay just off the entrance lane. Actual exhibits in the two buildings, are dependent on funding resources becoming available but hope to be open for viewing the summer of 2019.  
                                                                                                                                                                                  
Two of our Gunflint neighbors have recently been honored for their devotion to helping people. Gunflint Community congratulations are extended to John and Rose Schloot. The longtime residents and owners of Cross River Lodge (formerly Borderland Lodge) were recognized as 2018 winners of the Dolly Johnson Friend of Emergency Services Award.  
                                                                                            
Commencing in 2003, the awards program recognizes people who are not on the front line in emergency situations. The honor for John and Rose is bestowed for their on-going and ever-present support of our local EMS and Search & Rescue volunteers in crucial behind the scenes roles during times of crisis. We on the Gunflint are so fortunate to have folks like the Schloot’s in our midst. Thanks to the both of them and many others always standing ready!   
                                                                                                                                         
On a final note, the Gunflint Green-up reunion held last Saturday was a lively and scrumptious success. The potluck provided so many delectable offerings, one attendee who shall remain anonymous, was observed with an assortment of five desserts on his plate. Big thanks to the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee organizers and all who attended.     
                                                                                                                                         
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with wilderness adventures yet to be seen.
 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 4, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      May 4, 2018    

The Smiths’ are back in the woods. It’s always great to travel and renew with old friends, but the return to the quiet of un-organized territory can’t be matched. Comparing border country to the hubbub of our often taken-for-granted civilized world, finds there are way too many people and vehicles. It is madness, making me wonder how many more inhabitants the planet can tolerate.    
                                                                                                                                           
Meanwhile, the trip back out the trail finds spring has assumed control. Although the snow has dwindled to provide our landscape with more brown than white, lakes are still bound in memories of winter past, but the fuzzy of pussy willow buds confirms Vernal is here to stay. I’m also declaring spring official as its staying above freezing ‘round the clock.    
                                                                                                                                                                                   
While mud season continues, I’m seeing areas of improvement along the Mile O Pine, and it’s probably the same along other wilderness roads. Mini glaciers remain prominent away from the road in the shaded woods but have retreated some allowing the melting demise to open up frozen culverts. That in mind, there are growing sections of now dusty rural gravel, so its mud and slop in one spot and then choking dust in another, more character of spring in the wildland.  
                                                                                                                                                        
Speaking of dust, the moisture drought in the upper Trail region is cause for growing wildfire concern. The rain gauge at Wildersmith was dry when we departed eleven days ago, and counting a mini shower upon our return, this neighborhood has measured less than a tenth of an inch since I don’t know when.                                                                                                                                                                               
I know governing agencies monitor conditions. However, it seems a total burning ban for this part of the world is in order to lessen the chance of another Ham tragedy until things green up. Remembering humans are responsible for 98% of wildfires in Minnesota, can’t it be better to “act” instead of having to “react” to someone’s bad decision.                                                                                                                                                                    
In the meantime, area residents should be on the watch to get their wildfire sprinkler lines into the lakes at the first sign of open water, and to be testing pump units to assure their readiness.                                                                                                                                                                                             
On a note related to the memory of our Ham Lake experience, the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee has organized a reunion commemorating their efforts to help in the forest re-birth. It has been ten years since the famous Gunflint Green-up energized hundreds of Gunflint advocates to assist “Mother Nature” with a start-over after the 2007 inferno. 
                                                                                         
To mark the monumental tree planting effort, a potluck supper is being held this coming Saturday. The eating event will be held at the Seagull Lake Community Center beginning at 5:00 pm. In addition, from 3:00 pm until the supper, one can trek out into some of the re-forested areas to check on how things have grown with Myra Theimer from the USFS.                                                                           
For the potluck at 5:00 pm, brats, buns, drink, and table service will be provided with attendees being asked to bring a complimenting side dish and/or dessert. It should be a fun time to reminisce this great green effort.                                                                                                                                                   
Being out of the territory for several days, I’m mostly out of the loop on “wild neighborhood” scoops. I haven’t heard of any sightings yet, but assume Bruno families are out of their winter quarters. Our warm weather should be a signal for the human part of the bear/ people equation to secure all nutritional temptations from the hungry black critters. As I mention about this time every year, if we people weren’t here, there would be no bear problems. So who is the problem?                                                                                                                                                                        
Another wintertime snoozer is out, as I got word of a first woodchuck being spotted along the Trail, and as I reported a couple weeks ago, skunks have had their coming out too.                                                                                                                                                                        
Happy days are here again, for my little red rodent friends. My first morning back found one at the wood shop door to greet me. I know it’s really not me, but the potential for a seed hand-out putting squirrely in a welcoming mode. This little one came right into the shop and climbed up on the seed barrel, then followed me out, hoping I would scatter some happiness on the ground. One can be put in a real bind trying to keep select critters happy while not tempting some un-wanted Ursus visitors.  
                                                                                                                                              
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, watching another seasonal rendition unfold.
 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 20, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       April 20.2018   
 
Starting this weeks’ Gunflint scoop, one would think “old man winter” must have forgotten to turn-out the lights and/or left the door ajar as he departed for his spring/summer vacation.  As I’m keying this weeks’ news, the “grizzly geezer” made an about turn and returned to take care of matters.       
                                                                                                                                                              
He has resurfaced with a blustery vengeance, although not hitting the Gunflint with the same snow maker fury as places farther south of border country. Nevertheless, howling winds and horizontal snow brings back memories of January.    
                                                                                    
In spite of the late season madness, there’s still something magic about falling flakes. Once again the Smiths’ were captured in beautiful white fantasia while returning from the village last Sunday afternoon. At almost the same moment, both of us spoke to the romance of driving through our pine halls as boughs were being re-decked, even knowing it’s likely just for a short time. Call us a little nutty but “ya can’t help but love it!”    
                                                                                                  
During my daily runs down the Mile O Pine, and prior to the latest dropping, I appraised the Mile O Pine landscape as perhaps reflecting a “tale of two seasons.” Such is perceived as the rays of sunlight have been beaming at the southern exposure of windrowed snow along the north side of the road, providing a declaration of spring. Day after day since March, those white mounds have been gnawed away to almost nothing a good distance back into the woods.  
        
Whereas looking one hundred eighty degrees in the opposite direction, one finds the plowed banks in the coniferous shade, protected from “Sols’ power, still pure white and frozen waist high and more. 

Some might proclaim my appraisal as a bit of a stretch, but “a tale of two seasons” is a natural reality in this time of our struggling weather transition. It is snow today gone tomorrow just wait twenty-four hours.

Reports of “wild neighborhood” critters moving about come from several sources over the past few days. Three species of the canid variety have made impromptu arrivals in the Gunflint Lake area. A wolf darted in front of my vehicle one evening, while a coyote or coyotes have been making any number of visits along the south shore.  

Meanwhile, a fox was digitally captured by the lady of the Wildersmith house in the beautiful woods to our east. The scene was recorded following a successful predator/prey episode with one of the neighborhood squirrels. She didn’t actually observe the stalk/chase and catch, just the aftermath, as the fox stood over its’ late day snack. Foxy eventually carried the prize off into the woods.   
                                                                                                                    
Obviously, the rodent didn’t realize hunting season for its species is open year around. See the fox and its catch alongside my Wildersmith website posting on wtip.org, scrolling down on the Community Voices column.   

Over the past several days, I’ve seen several of those “Minnesota Chicken birds” officially known as Grouse. Guess the winter and predators have not ravaged all of them.   
                                          
On a closing note from animal kingdom around Wildersmith, the Smiths’ were delighted on a recent afternoon with an extended visit from a pine marten. The roan fur ball dined at the feeder, then succumbed to some warm sunshine and curled up on the threshold of its’ dining quarters for what turned out to be a long nap. This is highly unusual as their skittish nature has them spooked by even the slightest wilderness commotion.    
                                                                      
After snoozing and lounging around for the better part of a couple hours, even allowing a couple photo ops, it headed off into the treetops. Our furry friend returned later for a poultry dinner treat as the sun settled in the west. Every day can dish up an un-expected “wild woods treat”, one just has to be in the right place at the right time.                                                                                                                                                                      
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as we close out the first month of our winter/spring theatrics. 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 13, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      April 13, 2018  
  

The promised land of April reaches the halfway point this weekend. Some folks out Gunflint way have been waiting all winter for month four. They’ve been holding high hopes for the harbinger of spring. Yet as I initiate this weeks’ Trail scoop, the fourth segment of ’18 has been less than “vernal” like.                                                                                                                                                   

It’s the middle of April with the Walleye fishing opener just a month away, and the territory remains locked in ice and snow. Last week was bitter cold again, as this neighborhood experienced more zero and below mornings.                                                                                                             
Just when I commented a while back we were likely done with the sub-zero stuff, “old man winter” delivered a curtain call for his long-running performance. In what should be his final act he left a subtle reminder of what it will be like again before we know it, “he will be back.”                                                                                                                                                                                

In the interim, the moisture drought continues in border country. No pun intended, but “hope springs eternal” as this broadcast finds it somewhat warmer and precip in the forecast.                                                                                                     

We’re in the month of the Ojibwe, “maple sugar moon”, and it makes me wonder if maple sugar makers around the county aren’t having a frustrated harvest in the absence of consistently warm days and light freezing nights. Then again, maybe they got it all done when it seemed spring-like in March.                                                                                                                                                       

Other than the winds in the pines, this is a time of stillness in the forest. Winter activities have ground to a halt. Notwithstanding the extended frostiness, we should be full bore into “mud season.” Nevertheless, not being in full-fledged slop, most up the Trail businesses are taking their annual pause from a hectic winter to catch their breath, and re-group for the coming of warmer times.                                                                                                                                                            

At the same time, numbers of upper Trail winter neighbors have been heading to places where they can thaw out, free their vehicles from the seasonal sludge and keep 'em that way. Meanwhile, north woods silence remains supreme for those of us choosing to see the “cool” of this six-month stint through to the end.                                                                                                                

Challenges to maneuver in the upright position have not improved much around here. In fact, they may be worse than last week as the power of “Sol” seems to polish my icy driveway and the Mile O Pine daily. In spite of my “senior” character, taking life at a little slower pace, I’ve even slowed from that mode to “barely moving” in many slippery places. It seems ice grippers on my boots will be the order longer than anticipated, while bug netting on my head will have to wait.                                                                                                                                                                     
Other than our regular visiting critters, I’m not seeing or hearing of any larger “wild neighborhood” animal episodes. Even the bears may have turned over for a few more zzzzz with our early April downtick in the thermometer.                                                                                                            

Enthusiasm for an easy meal at the Wildersmith eatery never wanes regardless of the seasonal atmosphere. The Smith’s continue entertained by countless red squirrels, with up to as many as five or six at any one time on the various feeding nooks. It’s an on-going battle among the red rodents to maintain position until the Pine Marten arrives, when a mad squirrel scramble ensues, to avoid becoming a menu supplement.                                                                                      

While I log many wintertime facts, a startling trivia really pops out when I recount the sunflower seeds consumed to date. There may be other north woods folk who feed more, but to date, I have gone through a record seven, fifty-pound bags, yes, three hundred fifty pounds! It’s a wonder there aren’t some fifty-pound squirrels and blue jays. Wish I had a nickel for every shell lying on the snow below my deck!                                                                                                                              

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, while we look for first buds of the re-birth!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     April 6, 2018    

As one might expect, “old man winter” was playing “April Fools” with us during March. Since right around the “Blue Moon” as month three gave way, spring hit a snag with a return to ice making conditions. In this neighborhood, the thermometer has even dipped below the zero mark a few mornings while daytime highs have hovered in the teens and twenties. It was cold, “no foolin’” as the Easter Bunny greeted April with a minus-four at Wildersmith along with a skiff of white.                                                                                                                                                           
While it’s been cold, the area continues to miss significant precipitation deliveries, leaving our snow in the woods having neither increased nor diminished to any extent.       
                                                                     
My opinion of winter to date is it’s been fairly wimpy. Some Trail folks relate to the season being too long and terrible. While we’ve had snow on the ground in this neighborhood since October 27, the Wildersmith total stands at only 73 inches, some 30 inches below last years’ total.     
                                                                                                                                                             
Thinking of Gunflint neighbors’ notions on severity, perhaps theirs is based on the deep ice accumulation in area lakes. Yet my viewpoint lends itself to observing a good deal of winter burn on juvenile white pines along the Trail. I base this theory on the inconsistency of temps tricking the whites into not staying frozen in solidarity. So maybe both thoughts have some credibility. Guess wimpy or harsh is in the eyes of the beholder.       
                                                                                                                                   
Regardless of what it’s like outside, gardening enthusiasts up the Trail have seeds germinating indoors in anticipation of getting their hands in outside dirt ASAP. I know of a couple serious “green thumbs” on Loon Lake that have their greenhouses at a summer setting.      
                                                                                                                                                                    
On another hand, while many are thinking green, others are talking around the coffee table about when lake ice will go out. Conjecture is, it will easily take until May. However, there is open water at the confluence of one lake to another in some areas.                                              
For the record, the latest ice out data, since 1982, on Gunflint Lake is May 19, 2014, while two years before, the earliest ice-out ever was March 25, 2012. So it’s anyone’s guess to this point. There are probably many dates from which to pick if one is in an ice out guessing pool.    
                                                                                                                                                        
Taking planting beyond the usual edible garden varieties, “2018 is the year of the bird.” This in mind, gardeners can do a lot of good if thought is given to planting species to improve healthy bird habitat. So as “Earth Day” approaches and many get fired up about growing things, why not explore sowing the right varieties around your yard to attract and sustain our winged folk. To learn what bird species and even butterflies need to thrive where you live, enter your zip code at audubon.org/native-plants.    
                                                                                                                                                   
In spite of the renewed cold, I’ve discovered a couple creepy crawlers emerging from winter quarters. Within the last week, two of those eight-legged web makers caught my attention while I was making woodshop sawdust. While this is a passing ritual of Arachnids, it also signals the inevitable, biting insect season is not far off.                                                                                                                                                                
And finally, it seems hard to believe, but it’s been ten years since volunteers gathered along the Trail to begin the process of helping the forest heal from the horrendous Ham Lake Fire. The “Gunflint Green-up” brought together hundreds of volunteers who in turn planted up to 75,000 coniferous seedlings in many ravaged areas near the end of the Trail. Those baby trees are now juveniles standing stately as a reminder of tragedy and triumph!     
                                               
A Green-up reunion/celebration is being organized for May 5th up at the Seagull Lake Community Center. Look for more details as they become finalized.    
                                                                                                                                                           
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, regardless of a renewed nip in the air!
 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 6, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     April 6, 2018   
 

As one might expect, “old man winter” was playing “April Fools” with us during March. Since right around the “Blue Moon” as month three gave way, spring hit a snag with a return to ice making conditions. In this neighborhood, the thermometer has even dipped below the zero mark a few mornings while daytime highs have hovered in the teens and twenties. It was cold, “no foolin’” as the Easter Bunny greeted April with a minus-four at Wildersmith along with a skiff of white.                                                                                                                                                           
While it’s been cold, the area continues to miss significant precipitation deliveries, leaving our snow in the woods having neither increased nor diminished to any extent.     
                                                                       
My opinion of winter to date is it’s been fairly wimpy. Some Trail folks relate to the season being too long and terrible. While we’ve had snow on the ground in this neighborhood since October 27, the Wildersmith total stands at only 73 inches, some 30 inches below last years’ total.     
                                                                                                                                                             
Thinking of Gunflint neighbors’ notions of severity, perhaps theirs is based on the deep ice accumulation in area lakes. Yet my viewpoint lends itself to observing a good deal of winter burn on juvenile white pines along the Trail. I base this theory on the inconsistency of temps tricking the whites into not staying frozen in solidarity. So maybe both thoughts have some credibility. Guess wimpy or harsh is in the eyes of the beholder.   
                                                                                                                                       
Regardless of what it’s like outside, gardening enthusiasts up the Trail have seeds germinating indoors in anticipation of getting their hands in outside dirt ASAP. I know of a couple serious “green thumbs” on Loon Lake that have their greenhouses at a summer setting.      
                                                                                                                                                                    
On another hand, while many are thinking green, others are talking around the coffee table about when lake ice will go out. Conjecture is, it will easily take until May. However, there is open water at the confluence of one lake to another in some areas.                                              
For the record, the latest ice out data, since 1982, on Gunflint Lake is May 19, 2014, while two years before, the earliest ice-out ever was March 25, 2012. So it’s anyone’s guess to this point. There are probably many dates from which to pick if one is in an ice out guessing pool.   
                                                                                                                                                         
Taking planting beyond the usual edible garden varieties, “2018 is the year of the bird.” This in mind, gardeners can do a lot of good if thought is given to planting species to improve healthy bird habitat. So as “Earth Day” approaches and many get fired up about growing things, why not explore sowing the right varieties around your yard to attract and sustain our winged folk. To learn what bird species and even butterflies need to thrive where you live, enter your zip code at audubon.org/native-plants.   
                                                                                                                                                    
In spite of the renewed cold, I’ve discovered a couple creepy crawlers emerging from winter quarters. Within the last week, two of those eight-legged web makers caught my attention while I was making woodshop sawdust. While this is a passing ritual of Arachnids, it also signals the inevitable, biting insect season is not far off.

                                                                                                                                                               
And finally, it seems hard to believe, but it’s been ten years since volunteers gathered along the Trail to begin the process of helping the forest heal from the horrendous Ham Lake Fire. The “Gunflint Green-up” brought together hundreds of volunteers who in turn planted up to 75,000 coniferous seedlings in many ravaged areas near the end of the Trail. Those baby trees are now juveniles standing stately as a reminder of tragedy and triumph!        
                                            
A Green-up reunion/celebration is being organized for May 5th up at the Seagull Lake Community Center. Look for more details as they become finalized.    
                                                                                                                                                           
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, regardless of a renewed nip in the air!
 

Listen: 

 
Spring Ice

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 30, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      March 30, 2018 
   

Commencing with this weeks’ scoop last Sunday evening, winter and spring are pretty much at a stand-off. Spring tries to take over during daytime and winter digs in again after dark. Who knows what Gunflint conditions will be like as this report airs’.   
                                                                
Whatever the case, it will be what it will be, as March goes into the books... Remembering thirty days ago when we celebrated the “crust on the snow” full moon, it’s de ja vu “in blue” with “a big cheese #2” in our night sky                                                                                                                     
Un-organized territory ushers in April on the shirttail of a month that has been extremely dry at forty-eight degree north. Checking my daily weather journal, March had recorded only a skiff of snow going into its final days before a light couple inches closed down month three.  We forest folks are in hope there will be some catching up with showers of any nature in the next thirty.    
                                                                                                                                     
The landscape in most places up the Trail finds moving about on foot a dangerous endeavor. Several folks are reporting ice build-up in places they’ve never seen before. With our daytime winter oozing, and nightly refreezing, getting around while staying in the upright position has been challenging indeed on uncountable slippery slopes, and it looks to not be improving anytime soon. There are no easy answers to this unaccustomed hard water build-up.

To this point, yours truly has only counted one spin-out onto the ice. Luckily there’s no damage to report, other than my pride.    
                                                                                                                                
Taking our slip-sliding a step further, driveways and roads off the main county arteries offer little relief from this greasy character. So no matter whether one is on foot or behind the wheel, advancing from one place to another right now can be a “white knuckler” experience. Sand and ice grippers are words of the day, every day!                                                                                        
Having not seen a wolf in person for months, the scene changed during the past week when one was observed along the Trail. Although the local pack has been making candid appearances now and then for other Trail observers, I have only come across occasional tracks, scat, and territory marking along the Mile O Pine.     
                                                                                              
Not to shock anyone listening to or reading this Gunflint news, I report being privy to a murder in this neighborhood. My first account of the situation came in early twilight hours one morning recently.    
                                                                                                                                                         
To ease your concerns, I’m talking about a murder of crows, of course! Last week, I mentioned their rackety, yack conversation from afar, and now the ebony critters are gathering in mass most every morning just below our lakeside deck.                                                                                                                 
There has easily been a dozen or two scratching around in what must be at least a trillion sunflower seed remains for breakfast. While it’s a treat when one will actually land up on the deck side feeder, the unique part of their visit is when one is spooked all erupt like a black storm cloud swooping across the sky. Although some may find them less than pleasant among birds, they are spectacular up close in their glistening carbon plumage.  
                                                                                   
Speaking of other things shadowy, I just now read an informative article about night skies. Entitled, DARK MATTERS…IN SEARCH OF A STARRY NIGHT it’s authored by Heather Smith (no relation) in the March/April, SIERRA MAGAZINE. The feature is an illuminating (no pun intended) scribing about our dark night skies and/or the lack thereof.  
                                                                                                                           
 I’m in awe of “seriously dark” northern night skies, free of the polluted glow from “Urbania.” I mean, it’s really dark out here, and often driving the Trail at night finds me thinking I could be driving off into a black hole. 
                                                                                                                          
Another view finds me astonished at visitors coming into border country saying “from where do all these stars come, we don’t have this many back home in suburbia.”  

This reflection of how Euro-American invaders lit up America, thus suppressing the grandeur of the galaxy, reveals many taken for granted facts of light and life. Hope you can get a chance to review this great commentary.     
                                                                                                                                                                
By the way, our “full moon” will be doing a little celestial subduing of its own this weekend. Happening every twenty-eight days, blame for this override of dark night starry brilliance can only be pinned on the “Big Bang Theory.” Once a month, mankind is not in command of flipping the switch.   
                                                                                                                                                   
As a closing, note, the Gunflint Trail Community bids farewell to Don and Marilyn Kufal as they retire from Gunflint Lodge and head off to Florida for new opportunities. For many years, Don has been a pillar of service to the Community through his efforts with the GTVFD. He has touched many lives during this time and the Community is in-debited to him for his dedication to making this volunteer fire and rescue department the very best it could be. Thanks to the Kufals’, and we wish them the best of luck on their next journey!    
                                                                  
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day and night is great, featuring boundless, heaven to earth adventure!
 
 

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