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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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Water drops on blades of grass

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 19th

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Both July and summer are flying by. Having missed the past couple weeks of bringing the Gunflint scoop to you, it’s good to be back home in the woods.
            After a visit with family in Iowa, it was easy to reconcile living in the realm of 48 degrees north following the days of heat and humidity down that way. It seems that some of the nasty humidity even followed the Smiths back since it it’s been a bit on the sticky side over the past few days.
            I was pleasantly surprised to find a little over an inch of liquid in the rain gauge upon our return.  And this past Sunday, Mother Nature saw fit to bless us with about another 2 1/2 centimeters. Thus far July has accumulated slightly over 2 inches in the Wildersmith neighborhood.
            This is just so welcome out this way! While many areas of our great country have been swearing at the copious amounts of rain and flooding over recent weeks, we who live on the edge of wildfire danger for many months of the year are extremely grateful for anything wet to moisten this precious forest resource. Rain certainly never dampens our spirits!
            Lake water temps have warmed to a more than comfortable range for recreational dipping. It seems unreal that only eight weeks ago the ice went out, and the possibility exists that in another eight weeks we could see flakes in the air.
Here at the Gunflint dock, last Sunday’s lake reading was 74 degrees. Good for us humans but not too satisfying for those denizens of the deep who prefer cold northern waters.
            Fish catching has been spotty to good depending upon the time, place and skill level. A recent hatching of mayflies must be affecting their appetites for things on the end of a hook, as my visiting grandsons are finding the harvest numbers frustrating.
            Speaking of other hatching things, the ongoing battle with mosquitos has surged in these parts since our return. During last Sunday’s rain the stinging urchins were in a particularly foul mood.
Due to the excess and toughness of these nasty north woods antagonists, it makes me wonder if maybe they might have been more appropriately suited for selection as our state flying critter. Just kidding of course, but I’m betting they annoy the loons too!
The charge of Mother Nature never ceases to amaze.  The changes in the flora along the Mile O Pine and other back country roads since our southerly trek are nothing short of remarkable.  Roadside grasses have grown to nearly head high and are proceeding toward going to seed. Meanwhile, the candles of new growth on the coniferous branches have already matured into hearty stems and next generation evergreen stylus.
Early summer blooms are running to seed as well, and those next in line to flower are bidding for rays to allow their turn in our northern sun. It’s a glorious, virid jungle out here!
Gunflint Trail Historical Society members are reminded of the Clearwater Lake historic cabin tour this coming Sunday, July 21. Organizers report that only a few tickets remain. If interested, members can call Lee Zopff promptly at 388-4465 to secure a reservation. This event should be a splendid trip back in time. See you there!
From Wildersmith and all points beyond, congrats and thanks to the over 300 parties who pledged their support during the WTIP Shine On membership drive last week. The tremendous support for your community radio station is both heartwarming and energizing!
 The station’s board of directors, staff and volunteers are deeply appreciative of the many kind words expressed during the fund drive. Because you pledged, we also pledge to continue growing this air waves gem in the Arrowhead with quality programming!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the fleeting summer!   
           
           
           
             Photo by Belinda Rain via Wikimedia Commons: Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


 
Forest wildflowers.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 28

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June is fast fading into the record books, and the halfway point of our year in border country is peeking over the horizon.  While time has quietly slipped away, we are already a week into summer with the sun having made its solstice stopover before heading back south.
           
Skies were mostly gloomy leading up to the full “super strawberry moon,” which was at its pinnacle in the wee hours last Sunday morning. Thus, this area was denied the glory of celebrating the close proximity of his “lunar highness” until the next evening when clear skies gave us a break.
           
In spite of the many gray days, Mother Nature failed once again to deliver on much needed moisture for this part of the territory. The minute 16/100ths found in the Wildersmith rain gauge since we last met has barely settled the dust. Further, the lake level on our Gunflint Gal has dropped another few inches, as our moisture subsidy keeps missing us in favor of all areas south.

Meanwhile the lake water temps here have improved into the low 60s. I even observed some brave souls swimming off the dock at Gunflint Lodge last Sunday.
           
The dry soils, however, do not seem to be having an adverse effect on flora development in areas along the byway and our back country roads. Flowering plants are beginning to bloom their fool heads off.

Wild roses are the headliners right now while those non-native invasive lupines are coming on fast with their rainbow spires. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, a portrait of the forget-me-nots and columbine in our yard at Wildersmith is sharing a beautiful story.

I’m told that there is a great blueberry bloom. So if the black flies are doing anything (like pollinating) besides tormenting us humans, folks had better be lining up their buckets and baskets. It would appear that there will also be a fine crop of wild strawberries if all patches are anything like the unusually big bloom of the tiny plants here along the Mile O Pine and in our yard. Pickin’ will make for a “jammin’ good” pie time!
           
Meanwhile, munching is good in several ponds and swamps along the Trail as a number of moose sightings have been noted. There is one pond along the Trail above the Laurentian Divide where both a cow and yearling bull have been hanging out on each of our last few trips to town.  A number of lucky visitors have been afforded photo ops. Thanks Mr. & Ms. Moose!
           
The 16th annual North Shore Health Care Foundation fundraising barbeque was the social feature of the week up this way. Nearly 70 people turned out to enjoy the fare at Gunflint Lodge last Sunday evening. Proceeds from the event go into the foundation endowment, from which many county health care projects are granted funding assistance. Thanks are extended to organizers, the staff at Gunflint Lodge, musician extraordinaire Gerald Thilmany and those who attended this fun gathering!
           
July is but days away, and along with the great American birthday celebration of the Fourth, a couple more Trail happenings are rapidly approaching for area residents and visitors. I’ve already mentioned the annual canoes races on the 17th, while a second happening is the historic Clearwater Lake cabin tour on the 21st.  Mark your calendar!
           
The tour of these historic places on Clearwater is being sponsored and organized by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society for members only. The 60-ticket allotment for the marvelous Hungry Jack Lake cabin tour was sold out quickly last year.

Those wishing to attend should get at making those reservations ASAP for what will be another fabulous trip through Gunflint history. Event planners have expanded the allotment to 75.  Tickets can be purchased by calling Lee Zopff at  (218) 388-4465.
             
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a Gunflint holiday!


 
Lake Trout

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 21

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The Gunflint Territory is in celebration mode this weekend.  The solstice of summer” marks the first happy event today (the 21st), and a full “strawberry moon” (Ode’imini Giizis in Ojibwe) closes down (Sunday the 23rd) what will surely be a festive few days in the north country.
           
Visitors galore are trekking up the Trail. Caravans of traffic, either toting or pulling some variety of watercraft, are pouring into the hundreds of favorite rest and relaxation venues. It’s tourist season and folks in those business ventures are going crazy with exuberance at their return.
           
Weather conditions over the past seven have been on the delightful side, pleasantly cool at night and tolerably warm during the daylight hours. The area around Wildersmith even got an unexpected half-inch snippet of rain last Sunday evening.  Thus, the crunchy dry forest floor has been temporarily relieved of fire danger, but more precipitation is welcome.
           
The Smiths’ neighborhood has remained void of visiting bears for another week. However, those buzzing carnivore visitors are making life in the forest pretty miserable.  One has to feel sympathetic for any being with blood in their veins as those biting/stinging varmints must number in the bazillions right now.
 
I watched recently as a cloud of bugs was tormenting a squirrel during its breakfast at our deck-side feeder. This feisty rodent seemed near the end of its wits while trying to eat just one seed and at the same time fend off the ravenous, unforgiving pests. It was sad, but also a bit humorous, as it swished its tail like a helicopter prop and occasionally jumped up in the air like a jack-in-the-box to clear the air around itself.

And if the airborne biters aren’t bad enough, those creepy ticks are so thick at ground level they can almost trip you. The insect critters are at us from all directions right now!

Speaking of yet another northern animal oddity, this one took place under water. A friend hooked onto a good-sized lake trout from his dock not long ago. The ensuing battle to land the big hog took some time, and just as it was in sight near his dock, an unknown being came streaking through the water in an apparent attack on his catch.

The attacker must have quickly assessed that the “attackee” was too big a bite to handle, and veered on by. Thinking it was maybe a huge northern pike, this fisherman was surprised when the sub-surface jet popped up out of the water a few feet away from his thrashing finny.  It turns out this was another well-meaning Gunflint fisherman: one of our local loons. By the way the trout measured in at some 34 inches, wow!
           
As thousands of visitors are coming up the byway to celebrate the wonders of our natural world, the Gunflint community gathered last week to honor some of its own. At the grand opening of the newly developed fire department facilities, nearly 250 friends and residents came together in recognition of the hard work of many dedicated people.
           
Folks were in awe of the new Schaap Mid-Trail Community Center and adjacent fire and rescue equipment storage facility. The viewing opportunity turned out to be a great social meeting as well. Friends both seasonal and year-round conversed about the past winters goings-on and were treated to some fine north woods dining under the big top.
           
A big thanks to the event organizers, provision donors and a great group of cooks and servers. And of course, congrats and thanks to the dedicated planners, design people, fund raisers, financial supporters and construction trades people that made this dream come alive!
           
A dismal past Monday morning blossomed into another sparkling midday up at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. The fifth annual fish fry fundraiser brought in over 100 folks for the big shore lunch event on the Sag Lake front bay.
 
A huge thanks to all the Gunflint Trail Historical Society Volunteers who pitched in for the site set-up and to prepare/serve the fixins’. Kudos also go to Gunflint Lodge Guide Dennis Todd for providing the fish, as well as the staff at the Lodge for providing the rest of the menu items. Listeners not in attendance missed out on a great day and scrumptious food!
           
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor wonders in the land of sky blue waters!

{photo via wikimedia commons courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service}


 
Black bears near Seagull Lake, Cook County, MN.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 14

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The Trail folk are rounding out week two with the “Neebing (summer) Express” bearing down on the territory.  By next time we meet over the airwaves, our skinny spring will give way to the warm season solstice.
           
This final column for the spring season 2013 finds the atmosphere along the upper Trail remaining on the cool side. In fact the Smiths have even cranked up the woodstove a couple times since June took over. However, remembering how stifling it could be, there are no complaints coming from this resident of the woods in regard to coolness.
 
Once again the rain gods have forgotten border country, but on the favorable side of the ledger several spectacular sunny days were logged. On a less desirable side of things, fire danger is again on the upswing, and back country roads are choking in dust.
 
The sugar maples have been the last to unfurl their summer tokens in our neighborhood, thus completing the leaf-out process. With that, our summer camouflage is in place and things that we have been looking at for months are now obscured in many textures of green.

The gushing spring meltdown has rapidly given way to mere trickles in most streams. Due to the absence of rain over the watershed, and the slowdown of these sustaining lifelines, I’ve noticed the first drop in the lake level on the Gunflint. The same may already be happening on other area lakes too. The Gunflint Gal looks to have dropped about four inches from its high mark of a couple weeks ago.

The lake water is warming, although slowly. A check of the reading at the Wildersmith dock as of last Sunday showed a cool but improved 50 degrees. This is still not close to be inviting for a dip, so lake users should be cruising on the side of caution.
Since nearly all aspects of normal have been tardy with our spring, it is not unexpected that the black fly season has come late too. I don’t know this to be the case scientifically, but the cool weather must have them miffed. They’re always nasty, but they seem angrier than usual.

With these black fly nasties being one of the three ingredients for a good blueberry crop, it would seem that we might have another booming crop with a little more warmth and much needed rain.
 
The reconnaissance crew of mosquitoes has done their pre-season investigating and has called in their troops as well. So now it’s all about survival of the smartest. In these parts, I’m the “sultan of swat.” August can’t come soon enough!

With the frequency of moose observations along the byway on the decline, it was a real treat to catch one in a Trail-side pond during a recent jaunt. The big old gal was quite content to allow photo ops as she munched on swamp bottom tenders.

There was no accompanying calf that could be seen, and with her nonchalant approach to us nosy observers, one would think that she must have been childless. This becomes even more unsettling with the recent news from DNR researchers in regard to the alarming death rate among this year’s calf crop.

On the other hand, the bear population is reported to be immense with an estimated 12,000 in northeastern Minnesota. Not long ago, I heard about the sighting of a momma and her triplets How about that for a ready-made family?

The abundance of these brunos may also be a factor in the moose calf demise, but that is all part of nature’s plan. It’s us humans that must eliminate some of our unsavory practices to remove the part we may be playing in the moose decline equation.  

Happily, I have to report that the area “Teddys” have not made an appearance in the Wildersmith neighborhood, yet. Guess the folks down shore to the west must be keeping them occupied.

Another reminder that the fish fry at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center takes place this coming Monday, the 17th, at noon.  Plan to get out there early to take in the beauty of the surroundings, tour through the museum and savor the smell of fried “Missouri Walleyes,” potatoes and the trimmings along the shores of Sag Lake’s front bay.

Then one month to the day later, the annual Gunflint Trail canoe races take center stage. Planning is full speed ahead. Members of the Gunflint community are needed once more to step up with their volunteerism for the event. Please say yes when called upon, we need you!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the beauty of our northern woods!
 
(Above "trail cam" photo by Debbie Benedict and Jim Raml) 
 


 
Gunflint Trail

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 7

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The Trail folk are rounding out week two with the “Neebing (summer) Express” bearing down on the territory.  By next time we meet over the airwaves, our skinny spring will give way to the warm season solstice.

This final column for the spring season 2013 finds the atmosphere along the upper Trail remaining on the cool side. In fact the Smiths have even cranked up the woodstove a couple times since June took over. However, remembering how stifling it could be, there are no complaints coming from this resident of the woods in regard to coolness.

Once again the rain gods have forgotten border country, but on the favorable side of the ledger several spectacular sunny days were logged. On a less desirable side of things, fire danger is again on the upswing, and back country roads are choking in dust.

The sugar maples have been the last to unfurl their summer tokens in our neighborhood, thus completing the leaf-out process. With that, our summer camouflage is in place and things that we have been looking at for months are now obscured in many textures of green.

The gushing spring meltdown has rapidly given way to mere trickles in most streams. Due to the absence of rain over the watershed, and the slowdown of these sustaining lifelines, I’ve noticed the first drop in the lake level on the Gunflint. The same may already be happening on other area lakes too. The Gunflint Gal looks to have dropped about four inches from its high mark of a couple weeks ago.

The lake water is warming, although slowly. A check of the reading at the Wildersmith dock as of last Sunday showed a cool but improved 50 degrees. This is still not close to be inviting for a dip, so lake users should be cruising on the side of caution.

Since nearly all aspects of normal have been tardy with our spring, it is not unexpected that the black fly season has come late too. I don’t know this to be the case scientifically, but the cool weather must have them miffed. They’re always nasty, but they seem angrier than usual.

With these black fly nasties being one of the three ingredients for a good blueberry crop, it would seem that we might have another booming crop with a little more warmth and much needed rain.

The reconnaissance crew of mosquitoes has done their pre-season investigating and has called in their troops as well. So now it’s all about survival of the smartest. In these parts, I’m the “sultan of swat.” August can’t come soon enough!

With the frequency of moose observations along the byway on the decline, it was a real treat to catch one in a Trail-side pond during a recent jaunt. The big old gal was quite content to allow photo ops as she munched on swamp bottom tenders.

There was no accompanying calf that could be seen, and with her nonchalant approach to us nosy observers, one would think that she must have been childless. This becomes even more unsettling with the recent news from DNR researchers in regard to the alarming death rate among this year’s calf crop.

On the other hand, the bear population is reported to be immense with an estimated 12,000 in northeastern Minnesota. Not long ago, I heard about the sighting of a momma and her triplets How about that for a ready-made family?

The abundance of these brunos may also be a factor in the moose calf demise, but that is all part of nature’s plan. It’s us humans that must eliminate some of our unsavory practices to remove the part we may be playing in the moose decline equation.  

Happily, I have to report that the area “Teddys” have not made an appearance in the Wildersmith neighborhood, yet. Guess the folks down shore to the west must be keeping them occupied.

Another reminder that the fish fry at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center takes place this coming Monday, the 17th, at noon.  Plan to get out there early to take in the beauty of the surroundings, tour through the museum and savor the smell of fried “Missouri Walleyes,” potatoes and the trimmings along the shores of Sag Lake’s front bay.

Then one month to the day later, the annual Gunflint Trail canoe races take center stage. Planning is full speed ahead. Members of the Gunflint community are needed once more to step up with their volunteerism for the event. Please say yes when called upon, we need you!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the beauty of our northern woods!


 
Minnesota Lake

Wildersmith: May 31

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The Trail is just getting used to May and here comes June! My, how the days go by in paradise!
           
May was May in name only because most of the past 31 have been like late March or April. However, the past few days have begun to take on a summer feel. Guess it took the Memorial Day weekend to jump start the official warm weather season.

As we head off into month six, there are still a few reminders of winter here and there. We still have a mini glacier holding on along the Mile O Pine, and I see a couple more spots of dirty white ice packs down on County Road 20 And some folks are still being reminded of Old Man Winter while trying to thaw frozen septic tanks and mend broken water pipes.

The past couple weeks have seen seasonal residents return by the dozens. Meanwhile, with spectacular weather, the three-day holiday saw tourists by the car- and truck-load inundate the upper Trail. Visitors to the majestic Gunflint territory were seemingly bursting with energy for time on a lake or out in the forest after being unchained from the long white season.  I surmise that most lakes, like the Gunflint, were abuzz with the hum of boaters as vacation times begin to get under way.

It’s hard to believe our summer quarter is only three weeks away, with old Sol ready to linger for our longest daylight hour. Even more difficult to comprehend is our trek then heads the other direction again.  With our spring being mostly a non-issue, rebirth is hurrying with an explosion of virescence out this way.

We year-round residents have a passion for two seasons of color, the white one just past and the green one at hand.  And boy, how we love that green, let me count the shades.  

With their pine cousins providing the backdrop, deciduous parts of our forest are in varying stages of popping their foliage. The hills are alive with the hint of chlorophyll.  A trip along the byway is displaying ever-changing hues from almost chartreuse, to lime, sage, emerald and grass, to name but a few of the countless tints. Toss in those rays of sunshine and you have an early summer spectacle.

While rapid progress is being made on the infusion of docks, boats and canoes into area lakes and the usual seasonal cabin fixits, some of us are already into the next “getting ready for winter season.” Yours truly set about splitting and stacking of firewood last Sunday.  I’ve also been busy collecting blow down stuff from winter and have accumulated four burn piles for the next time we have snow.

 That firewood task happened after catching my breath from a day with good friends putting the Smith dock together and tackling an uncooperative leaky cabin waterline. It seems like one’s work is never ending out here in border country, but oh how we love it!

Air traffic is on the increase at our sweet juice station. The hummingbirds are circling in holding patterns for a shot of our sugary concoction, and not far from our dock on the Gunflint shore, we have a pair of common Mergansers hanging out with an apparent eye on setting up for a potential egg hatching.

 There’s also a lot of loon conversation on the water and through the air, and if that talk isn’t enough, somewhere around the Wildersmith yard a nest of young crows are adding their squawking two cents worth every once in a while.

Speaking of loons, the pair that has been nesting in the bay at Chik-Wauk Museum over the past two years has returned. As yet they‘ve produced no eggs, just doing a little housekeeping.  One can keep up with the process by going to www.chikwauk.com and clicking on the prompts.

Oh, and by the way, those other winged critters are beginning to debut with the itching stings and nips on us humans. The bug dope and nets are coming out, ‘tis the season!

Tune in again next week for more bloomin’ news! Until then, keep on hangin’ on, and savor a June treat along the Gunflint!

Photo by Mykl Roventine via Wikimedia Commons: Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


 
Northern Lights (Charlie Stinchcomb/Flickr)

Wildersmith May 24

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Alas, genuine spring on the Gunflint!  The power of Zigwan (spring in Ojibwe) has overcome the frosty spirit of a long winter.

Since our last meeting on the radio there’s a celebration of sort with winter’s final passing. The long watch for open waters on the big lakes ended pretty much all over the territory last weekend. Exact dates for disappearance of the hard water on Saganaga and Seagull Lakes are sketchy depending upon with whom you talk. The dates are firm, though, for Poplar and Gunflint lakes, as Sarah at Trail Center and yours truly here on the Gunflint declared ice out on May 17.

The ice on Gunflint Lake didn’t go without surging back and forth for several days, leaving shorelines stacked with crystal shards. Although I have not heard of any major shoreline damage, we here at Wildersmith came within a heartbeat of losing our water line to the marauding ice cake.

Another couple items are to be celebrated along with the full “budding flower” moon of tomorrow night. Some much needed rain finally dampened the territory along with our first thunder of the season, while canoeists and anglers are smiling as they are now free to buzz to their favorite fishing places.

With winter 2012-13 now into the books, a brief review of our long months past seems to be in order. I can only reflect on what has taken place here at Wildersmith as the cold facts might vary from place to place along this 57-mile Trail.

To say the least it was a doozy, starting slow, gaining momentum month by month and closing with a lingering fury! For us cold climate enthusiasts, it was satisfying to once again experience the true character of what defines us.

On snow, we had our first measurable amount on Thanksgiving (though flurries teased us on Sept. 22) and the last came on May 11-12. In between, 107 ½ inches were tallied with the largest amount falling on April 19, 23 inches.

The Gunflint Lake succumbed to solidarity Dec. 22 and regained liquidity May 17. Between those momentous occasions the coldest recorded low temperature was an actual bone chilling minus 43 on Jan. 24. A few days prior to that frosty morning we experienced our coldest daytime high temp in 14 winters here when we got up to a paltry minus 28, brrrr!

That’s all behind us and with exception of a few mini-glaciers hidden in the coniferous shade, the past six months have melted into memories. So joyous was the winter, I celebrated its leaving by getting right into the lake.

The fact is, I was in that icy liquid twice, the day our ice left and the next day too. Both of the cool excursions were out of necessity and not out of a real zest for a cool dip.

Equipped with insulated cold water gear, I assisted with the installation of a neighbor’s dock the first time in, and then extended wild fire sprinkler system pumping lines out from the shores at three locales next day. I can assure all that the 30-something degree water is worthy of extreme caution for those hitting the canoe circuit or heading out on fishing escapades. Please be safe!

In our wild neighborhood an unexpected avian observation has captured the attention of folks down on County Rd. 20 where it intersects with the Mile O Pine.  A neighbor alerted us Smiths to a nest of ravens high in a giant white pine. I have since found that the nesting residents have been squawking for several weeks, and the two or maybe three youngsters are so big that mom and dad can’t even get in the nest. They are sure to take that first flight of independence any day, making for peace and quiet around there once more.

With the loons back on area lakes, one more homecoming is of mention. The hummingbirds have answered their northern call and are hungrily zipping about in search of some manmade nectar. No blooms yet, so it’s up to us!

Another animal account found yours truly in apparent close proximity to one of our wilderness warriors not long ago, and didn’t even know it. I had been in the yard doing some brushing and headed into the house when my wife made me aware that a wolf had just scampered along our lake shore not 100 feet away from where I had entered.

I don’t know that it had been sizing me up, but for sure, it was likely closer than I would have preferred it to be.  I’m happy that it was running away instead of at me.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the coming of the green!

Airdate: May 24, 2013


 
Loon (aaronHwarren/Flickr)

Wildersmith May 17

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Our second week of month five found that stubborn Old Man of the North slipping some but still unwilling to relinquish full command of his extended reign over the upper Gunflint atmosphere. The weather on our big Mother’s Day and fishing season opener was more of an April Fool’s celebration than that of a budding spring experience.

As expected, the ice remained solid on most of the big lakes, while howling northwest winds and snow squalls dominated the scene along the Mile O Pine Saturday and Sunday. By the end of Saturday and into Sunday our ground was white once more. And melt water standing on the Gunflint Lake ice cake was skimmed like it was December all over again.

Outside of the persistent big lake ice and prior to the weekend blast, our only remnants of winter were splashes of windrowed November and December snow in roadside ditches.  The new snow came hard and furious but measured less than an inch at Wildersmith.

With a warming forecast for border country going into week three, it’s a good bet the Trail corridor will be void of most white by the time this keyboard exercise hits the airwaves. Meanwhile, the prognosis for open waters on all area lakes remains tentative on the natural calendar.

Two issues of concern face area residents. The first issue is a potential for big winds on the days when the ice cake breaks from shorelines and begins to move. Strong air currents from any direction could prove dangerous for lakeshore fixtures like permanent docks and water lines. Those ice cakes have minds of their own and are willing to take out anything in their path with even a slight push from troubled breezes.

Our second item of concern is that even with the huge amounts of snow melt, the area is fast becoming tinder-dry. This neighborhood and on to the northwest has been void of significant rain for the past couple weeks with less than one-tenth of an inch in the Smith rain gauge. The latest snow will contribute little relief as the powerful sun will wipe it out in a matter of hours.

Many of us are fearful of wildfire potential, and doubly so when the ice is preventing the re-upping of wildfire sprinkler systems for the coming season. It would seem that burning bans for the area would be a no-brainer until both green-up and rain become reality.

Hope springs eternal as north woods flora are proceeding to sprout buds in spite of shivering temps for many days in May. Nearly every deciduous shrub and tree in the neighborhood has reached the green-tip bud stage. It would seem that the plant world will do some rapid catching up with a few consistent days of sunny warmth, and we’ll be green as usual when June comes a-calling.

Several folks have reported loon voices in the heavens over the past week or 10 days, but one has to question if their navigation systems might be a little confused with little open water on which to land. Wonder how long they can maintain a holding pattern, and if they run short of fuel, can a slippery wet ice landing be maneuvered. If our wilderness ambassadors do happen to land, how about a subsequent take-off?

Our forest has taken on a quieter note with the disappearance of those raucous crows and blue jays. I’m guessing they’re off to nesting somewhere. While I hear that the first hummingbird has been observed southwest of Grand Marais along Superior’s north shore, they had best consider waiting a spell before coming back to these parts.

In spite of the alarming decline in our county moose count this past year, several folks have reported sightings of moose with young’uns in the upper end of the Trail.  Perhaps they might be seeing the same ones, but it makes for happy reporting that not all have been wiped out. Maybe the surviving herd benefitted from the long winter with some of their parasitic nemeses possibly freezing out.

On a final note, congratulations to the folks down at Clearwater Lodge for becoming the owners of a newly-carved replica of their famous Billy Needham totem pole. The new one is in place where the original sentinel watched over lodge activities for some 65 years.

The new reconnection with Clearwater’s historic past was made possible through the generosity of Clearwater Lake resident craftsman Bob Olson. A formal unveiling will be announced sometime this summer, so check the Clearwater blog in order to be there for this next chapter in their story.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some wilderness time in the warming sun!

Airdate: May 17, 2013


 
Pussy willows

Wildersmith: May 10

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I’m back in the woods once more, great to be back at home sweet home.  Thanks are extended to Rosey, that nosey pup, and her dad from over on Hungry Jack Lake for keeping you in tune with the Gunflint scoop during my absence.

The departure on my annual southern trek for a stint as a referee at the Drake Relays in Des Moines was a struggle at best following the big April 19 snow. What a turnaround, though, upon our return. The one-lane drive to get up and out of the Mile O Pine tunnel of white on April 20 was found to be back to brown earthy mud just eight days later. Finally, Old Man Winter seems to have lost his grip on this part of the world.

Since that time, a few days of pleasurable sunshine has the wilderness back on track toward real spring. There is plenty of snow yet to be melted, but the forest has taken on the look of a zillion Dalmatians, spots of winter and spring throughout, so there is growing optimism! 

Nighttime temps are still dropping below the freezing mark as of this writing, so progress is slow with regard to our lake ice making its usual solid to liquid transition. It’s better than likely that the fishing opener this weekend will be a non-issue on most border country lakes. The time will come eventually, but it is anyone’s guess as to just when dipping a line from your boat in these parts might happen.

Meanwhile, the rites of our vernal season are starting to explode around us. Pussy willows have popped their husks, deciduous buds are swelling with pregnant expectations and the coniferous forest has perked up from its drab army green to sparkling emerald. 

The rage of the woods, however, are torrents of water tumbling from mountains on high. The spirit of crystal clear liquid oozing from shrinking drifts and building into tumbling tunes, while rushing toward our inland seas, is harmony to the ears. We forest dwellers know full well that this means the beginning of replenishment for our drought depleted lake levels. Now all wishes are for the gods of precipitation not to forsake this territory in 2013.

Members of the wild neighborhood are experiencing their rituals of the season as well. In spite of the extended cold, I’ve observed several critters shedding winter garb. I saw a motley moose recently with only part of its shaggy coat remaining, and the same has been happening to the red rodents that frequent our feeding trough. Speaking further of furry folks, the snowshoe hares in our neighborhood have a bit of that Dalmatian look too, while one of those poultry-poaching pine martens came by with a molting masked-bandit look on its face.

A couple of seasonal sleepers have awakened too. Chipmunks have been skittering about the yard. Also observed is evidence that our black brunos have returned, ravenous as ever, with several overturned garbage cans down around the Gunflint Pines Resort. So I’ve judged myself to be smarter than the average bear and put my many winter critter feeding facilities into storage.
If all these routines aren’t enough, above the roar of gushing creeks and rivers, I hear the cheer of robins returned; happy tweeting from dozens of their avian cousins and the drumming of a hopeful grouse boy looking for a mate is but a prelude to our warm season concert series.

The buzzing season is also but a few warm days away. The first of our north woods airborne biting squadron found a landing place on my hand just a couple days ago. However, this skeeter’s reconnaissance flight fell short of any extended mission with my first swat of the New Year.  Wildersmith one, biting savages nothing!

In spite of my fondness for winter, the best is yet to come knowing that with a better late than never sprouting of spring, rebirth of bounty in our natural world is unfolding before our eyes. Hip, hip hurrah!

On a closing note, hats off to organizers and dozens of Gunflint community volunteers who pulled off another splendid Ham Run Half Marathon/5K last Sunday morning. The sixth edition of the event went smooth as silk on a cold, mostly cloudy morning. Thanks go out to all the dedicated runners, too, for blessing the event with their presence.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the bloomin’ season ahead!  

This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.


 
Wildersmith shares a squirrel story in this week's column (Loren Sztajer/Flickr)

Wildersmith April 19

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The calendar says spring, but our north country landscape indicates otherwise.  At the time of this keyboard exercise, little progress has been made on recognizing spring characteristics.

We tapped Old Man Winter for another couple small doses of snow, and temps have been none too warm as we pass the two-thirds point of month four.  In fact, last Sunday morning found the Zamboni full speed ahead and the mercury slightly below zero on our Wildersmith thermometer.  I almost had to fire up the old wood-burning stove.

If conditions follow the current April trend, the Gunflint territory might be celebrating our full “maple sugar moon” in the week ahead on the breast of new fallen snow. At a time when we should be in jubilation over pussy willow fuzz and clocking the strain of aspen buds trying to burst from their husks, remnants of winter are still dancing in our heads.

We regulars residing out this way are taking these moments of nature’s insubordination in stride, while early snowbird returnees and visitors from suburbia are bristling at the inconvenience of ice, snow, slush and sometimes mud. For yours truly, an upside to this extension of winter is not bad, as it simply delays the onset of bitin’ bugs and shortens the season for the threat of sweat. Six to seven months of winter really isn’t unreasonable for some of us!

A downside of hanging on to the snow and ice pack for this extended period is when the meltdown does come it is likely we’ll be deluged in rapid runoff. The earth went undercover dry as a bone last fall, then froze that way.  A sudden turn to summer will send all that surface water rushing off to Hudson’s Bay and Lake Superior.

Soils up this way are in dire need of slow soaking daytime thaws and nighttime freezing to enable the thirsty forest to soak up that life-giving juice. At this time it would appear that our coniferous forest looks to be quite brittle. Some species are nearly in a state of desiccation. Not only is this a health issue for the forest, but crisp needles are an enhancement to the season of wildfire which is but a bare brown forest away.

While the greatest share of the forest is still under snow cover, the Gunflint trailside shrinkage is revealing its usual unsightliness due to the presence of mankind. It never ceases to amaze me that thousands of people who annually trek this 60-mile corridor through the pines and tout its majestic environment could be so indifferent with regard to littering our roadside ditches.

Much of the debris is in the form of beverage containers.  I find it unconscionable that the state of Minnesota, purporting to be so environmentally in tune, does not have a bottle/can deposit/return law!  Looks to me that this might create some new, much-needed job opportunities around our state and also help clean up some of our byway’s ugliness. Come on St. Paul, let’s get with it!
It’s pretty sad commentary that everyone can’t do their part and dispose of their own unwanted travel items in proper receptacles. It just seems that this task should be a no-brainer.

Further, it would be really helpful if some of our visitors would stop and voluntarily do a bit of roadside pick-up. It would be great if locals didn’t have to bear the full brunt of picking up after the polluters of the universe.  In the meantime, I’ll be sharpening my pick-up stick. End of lecture!

A closing note shares a crow/squirrel episode on our deck-side feeder.  Not long ago an early morning gathering of critters brought the neighborhood murder of crows to the Smith outdoor cafeteria in search of breakfast.

The usual ears of corn were in their place and one caught the attention of a hungry crow.  The trouble was a squirrel had assumed possession of the treat which was envied by the bird.

The scene was of interest as the crow squatted down on the deck rail not a foot away from the munching rodent and patiently waited for its turn at a few kernels.  The squirrel, in the meantime, had no intention of sharing and proceeded to give the ebony avian some devilish prattle in between bites.

That crow sat there for the longest time listening to the chatter and, I’m guessing, thinking about its next move.   In the end this old crow gave up in apparent disgust, afraid to challenge the mini-gnawer to a physical confrontation.  It squawked once and flew off to parts unknown. Squirrel one, crow nothing, this time.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor thoughts of bloomin’ days ahead in border country!

Airdate: April 19, 2013