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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 10

"snow happens"

Wildersmith_20140110_finalcut.mp37.79 MB

            I may sound like a broken record as we scoop the trail this week. The not-so-new news is that severe cold still has Gunflint residents by the throat.
            This sub-arctic territory is completing its fifth consecutive week of Arctic likeness. Days with temps above zero can be counted on one hand in this neighborhood.
 And we are yet to reach what is normally the coldest time of our winter season. It’s hard to believe that it could be much worse. However, old timers can surely remember times a few decades ago when unofficial readings were at or near 60 below in select locations deep in the Gunflint woods.
“Snow happens” and a rather surprising snowstorm blanketed the area since our last meeting. The 6 or so inches of added fluff enhanced our white landscape to the point that the Trail might be called the great white scenic byway.
Out here deep in the forest, knee high and/or more snow makes for difficult high stepping without snowshoes. An added note is that the deepening snow cover is going to make for a hard white-tail winter.
Traveling to or from Grand Marais can be a testy “Biboon” (winter) driving experience. Due to the terrific cold, ice and snow pack on the blacktop cannot be budged by mankind’s scientific melting concoctions. Therefore, slippery is the buzzword for vehicle operation.
 Add an occasional moose obstruction to these slick conditions, plus many metro/suburbanite visitors terrorizing the roadway with too much speed for the conditions, and you multiply the hazards. Further these drivers are often belligerent about yielding one-half the road, and then there’s one of those overly cautious creepers who makes the impatient ones take crazy passing chances.  That in mind, a trip in to civilization can be a real white knuckle experience.
Being a driver who respects speed limits and operates cautiously on slick roads, yours truly marvels at the deep indentations in the Trailside ditches from slide-offs. I wonder just how fast those drivers were going or what caused them to leave their mark along the Trail. Based on the many disturbed snowy windrows, the tow truck business must be booming in Cook County.
 Seems like we just experienced the December “little spirit” moon and suddenly here we are within a few segments of the Ojibwe “great spirit” lunar happening.  The Algonquins recognize this January occurrence as the “full wolf” orb.
A clear night should be perfect theater for a “great spirit/full wolf” moment of howling. A visit from aurora borealis would make it all the better, perhaps a night of nights in the celestial northland.
With the trout season opener just a week away, ice-making on border country lakes is full speed ahead. Needless to say night after night of ambient temps from 25 to 45 below zero makes it easy for the old man of the north to produce hard water. My neighbor did some drilling just a week ago on the Gunflint and found nearly 18 inches of clear crystal. There’s probably even deeper ice in many locations.
To close this week I share a warm and cuddly. It seems that three white tails have adopted the Smiths as their winter keepers. The bitter cold has them settling down in straw-strewn nests over my septic tanks most evenings.
Through my dining room window, I checked them out one late night last week. Silhouettes against the white, I found bucks “Notch” and “Half ear” along with a doe, tightly curled up nose to belly, and apparently sound asleep. I suspect that they were covered with frost (they usually are when they move about the yard in the mornings). Nevertheless, they looked to be comfy warm and contented in the still of the night.
It kind of reminds me of the days when our kids were small and we knew they were nestled all snug in their beds on many a cold winter night. Makes you feel warm all over!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the mystique of a winter night deep in the wilderness!

{photo by Richard Webb via Wikimedia Commons}