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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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


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

 

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Squirrel raids a bird feeder (Dave Lundy/Flickr)

Wildersmith December 28

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The Gunflint is closing in on its last days of 2012. This is happening under the watchful gaze of our “little spirit moon” (Manidoo Giizisoons).
 
Our final hurrah for the past year finds the Wildersmith neighborhood celebrating the freeze-up of Gunflint Lake. Official closing date was last Saturday, the 22nd. For a second consecutive year the “old gal” put on her winter coat later than we would normally expect.
 
With the latest recorded Gunflint Lake freeze up for which I have data (since 1982) being Dec. 29 in 2001, this year’s tardy date ranks fourth, after last year, which was Dec. 28, and the 27th in 1997. Our average before the past two years had been holding around Dec. 12. Just for the record, the earliest Zamboni exercise on the Gunflint over the past 30 years was Nov. 26 in 1996.
 
After last week’s wolf serenade, the winter song in our neighborhood has been tuned in to howls of a different tone. As the lake finally succumbed to its new landscape, she let out a screeching thunderous announcement, adding yet another voice to the wilderness choir.  
 
This first stanza reverberated from end to end, shaking some folks right out of their slumber. One has to wonder if the spirit of our Gunflint Gal was either uncomfortable with her new attire or thrilled that she finally delivered.
 
As fitting adjustments are being made, she is now murmuring subtle notes of acceptance. With a number of sub-zero to single-digit mornings since, and no insulating snow cover as yet, the thickening process is increasing rapidly.
 
Although I would not recommend heavy foot travel just yet, I did get word that the folks at Gunflint Lodge observed a wolf examining the shiny new surface on the morning of official solidarity.
 
While folks to our south were squawking about the blizzard of the decade, the upper Trail got barely a sniff in the past seven. These parts are still beautifully decked out in holiday flocking and ski trails are groomable (just barely), but we are still in dire need of substantial applications. Makes me worry about what next summer will be like if Mother Nature doesn’t do something about refilling our streams, rivers and lakes.
 
Speaking of being decked out for the holidays, our trip to church in Grand Marais this past Sunday was stunning. Jack Frost had been about and gave a crystal dousing to everything in creation. Sparkling jewels of the forest were so dazzling that one was almost blinded while old Sol tweaked even the smallest of these diamonds with beams of brilliance. It goes without saying that this area is rich beyond one’s wildest imagination in these simple, but precious, natural treasures.
 
For all the significant technological and engineering developments of mankind over the past couple centuries, it remains a mystery that man often cannot match the brain power and ingenuity of a hungry wilderness critter. A fellow down the road confides that he has been doing battle with a squirrel for months over sunflower seed accessibility at his bird feeder stations,
 
He has tried everything under the sun to deter the rodent. To date he finds that in spite of his reasonable intellectual and inventive exploits, all avenues have been met with an equalizing counter move by his gnawing little red friend.
 
Frustrated but not giving up, he shared his latest tactic and believes that he’s got the answer. We’ll see! I’ll be anxious to hear how the critter adapts to this new scheme. It would be my suggestion to let the tiny gal/guy have at it. You can’t seem to outsmart ‘em!
 
Every day out here in the woods is a wonder. The Smiths continue experiencing great moments in nature. Sharing them, as well as being able to report happenings of other Gunflinters, during this weekly Trail news scoop on WTIP has been most enjoyable in the past 365. Hopefully you enjoyed too!
 
As we wind down 2012, it is my wish for you that 2013 will be fruitful, rewarding, memorable and full of goodwill toward your fellow man!
 
Keep on hangin’ on, and come out to savor this wonderful creation we call the Gunflint. See you on the radio next year!

Airdate: December 28, 2012


 
Gunflint Trail (Ben Edwards/Flickr)

Wildersmith December 21

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Keying this week’s Gunflint scoop, I find the heavens are aligned, finally signaling the first day of winter. Yep, this magical season is now official, “Biboon” (winter moniker in Ojibwe) is here, at just past 5 CST this Friday morning.
 
Long dark nights have been the norm as pre-winter shadows have been gradually squeezing down on both ends of old Sol’s daily spin. For many fretting the shortness of our daylight hours, fear not, for the big day is here, and in no time at all minutes will be stacking up in the other direction.
 
While we turn the page into this season of crystal collections, here’s hoping the “great northern express” finds this locale with more regularity than we’ve seen thus far. One thing for sure is Old Man Winter has been sputtering in several attempts to get things going consistently for our wintertime activities.
 
The past week has been no exception, with a little bit of cold then a little bit of warm. Out around the upper Trail area, we went seven days with minuscule snowfall. Then another warm-up sent the previous white a-shrinking before we got a minor dose of white replenishment early last Sunday morning.
 
The lake water on Gunflint is trying its best to get down to ice-making business. One morning, for a few hours, it even had a brief coating about halfway across from the Wildersmith shore. Growing winds sent it packing by midday, and since then it’s been too warm and rough for cranking up the old Zamboni. There is ice, however, on about the western one-third (just beyond the Gunflint Pines Resort), but my guess is it’s not safe yet.
 
I have been unable to confirm the ice status on Sag, but all other bodies in the territory appear to be sealed up. In fact, a friend who is into ice fishing is already doing his thing on a favorite lake in the mid-trail area. He tells me six or seven inches have already thickened. By the way, he’s having fish for supper too!
 
Also aligned in the heavens is the week-old “little spirit moon.” It will be beaming down with full December splendor in a week. Folks in these parts are keeping their fingers crossed that early beams will be shining down on “the breast of new fallen snow” for the holiday festivities.
 
I don’t know whether the old fable about wolves howling at the moon has any basis for being true. I can confirm that Brother and Sister Wolf have been quite active along our Mile O Pine since we last met on the airwaves. On several occasions, regardless of little new snow, tracking has been prolific during my daily trips to the mailbox.
 
To cap off my continuing canid lupus saga, I stepped outside to bring in a load of firewood one evening and discovered the local pack eerily harmonizing not far away. Compared to previous wild renditions, I must say that they were hauntingly out of tune. Guess they need more practice, practice, practice!
 
A gal down the road shares that she heard a recent late day choral experience too.  This audition was coming from Canadian land. It makes me wonder if they were calling to the great northern spirits requesting some ice formation in order they might traverse the Gunflint for some U.S. deer hunting.
 
Soon after hearing this northern sound of music, she observed a sextet of beings bobbing up and down in the water out from her shoreline. First thought was that it couldn’t be wolves in the water, not at this time of year.
 
Turns out she was right; it wasn’t wolves. It was a bevy of otters, and to observe six at one sighting seems unusual. When last seen, they were headed east down the lake, frolicking on a probable fishing expedition.
 
After the tragedy that befell Newtown, Connecticut, and our entire nation, last week, this holiday time finds millions yearning for new and abundant peace amongst all men. May the grace of this season comfort those who are hurting so much.
 
Have a safe, sane and happy Christmas with your loved ones!
 
Keep on hangin’ on and savor thoughts of peace and healing!

Airdate: December 21, 2012


 
"...This congealing occurrence is as glorious as will be a return to surges dashing the granite shore next May..."

Wildersmith December 14

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Our month of the “little spirit moon” is whizzing by in the upper Gunflint. With the light at the end of tunnel 2012 beginning to glow, one has to wonder where, oh where, has this year has gone?
 
Holiday excitement is blanketing the area more than the most recent winter storm prognostication. In fact, there is far more enthusiasm about the coming birthday of all birthdays than there is snow; guess this is maybe the way it should be.
 
Mother Nature sent her cold weather emissary into the area last weekend to perform some winter doin’s. But alas, Old Man Winter showed up with not much in the bucket. The dumping we were expecting turned out barely more than wimpy. To the delight of many, however, the three- to four-inch accumulation did freshen up our patchwork brown and white forest floor.
 
Last Saturday was seasonably cold and I devoted a few moments to sitting down at the lakeshore. The time was spent watching a solemn Gunflint Lake surface taking on its first crinkling crystals. This liquid to solid happening has always fascinated yours truly.
 
I’m no maple syrup practitioner. But it would seem like this natural process of turning water into ice must be similar to watching boiling sap reach the sugar stage.
 
There was first one wrinkle on the water, and that spewed into another, and then those two fragmented into another, and on and on until a jigsaw-wrinkled skim suddenly appeared.
 
Our annual December lake surface makeover was a spiritual uplifting of sort. The essence of this congealing occurrence is as glorious as will be a return to surges dashing the granite shore next May.
 
Woe is me; the ice making romance is over. Our calm inland sea was taken by a belch from the northwest. Air currents suddenly moved across the serene water, engulfing it with ripples once more. In a blink of an eye, the wisp of chilling character was gone.  It went chortling into the rocky lakeside, gone until another time for dreaming of ice cakes and ensuing icy conversations.
 
Back to reality, the Smiths got a triple treat this past Monday. A late evening return trip from Grand Marais was as sweet as a hot fudge sundae. First, we were reminiscing the joys of our “sound of music” experience at the Borealis Chorale Christmas Concert. Second, some 20 miles of the cruise along the Trail found us driving in spectacular falling snow. And, to cap things off, the whipped cream and cherry on top of this candied winter happening, we came upon two moose. Yes, Virginia, there are still moose up the Trail. With adventures like this, life can’t get much better!
 
A report comes from over on Loon Lake in regard to a case of apparent unlawful activity. It seems that a resident along the lake recently cut down an uninspiring aspen.
 
It was decided the tree could be cut up and split for next summer’s campfires. So the job was undertaken. Task completed, the remains were left in a pile to be stacked come spring.
 
Over a period of days, the resident woodsman took notice that his wood cache seemed to be disappearing. Soon a good deal of the woodpile was gone, yet no trace of a thieving culprit could be found.
 
Not planning to involve law enforcement at this point, the fellow was sharing his story with another local outdoors man, and the two of them decided on a private investigation before filing an official theft report.
 
To make a long story short, after searching a number of suspected possibilities, a trek through the woods and wetlands brought them to what appeared to be a newly remodeled beaver lodge at the end of the lake. It was here that the missing goods were discovered, neatly arranged atop the animals’ homestead.
 
Bucky needed a new roof before winter got too far along. Guess this gnawing critter could not pass up a good thing, all this construction material cut and split, just for the taking, too good to be true, a beaver builder’s dream, why not! Case of the pilfered firewood closed!
 
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the mystique of the outdoors!

Airdate: December 14, 2012

Photo courtesy of Barb and Dean on Flickr.


 
Pine Marten (travelling.steve/Flickr)

Wildersmith December 7

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The northland begins chapter 12 of the year 2012, and most everyone is engulfed with holiday celebration aspirations. We at Wildersmith are no exception, as greenery and trinkets of personal significance are gradually taking their place around the house.
 
The winter wonderland that commenced on Thanksgiving night lasted about 10 days and many of us thought that winter had set in. However, the Hallmark card scenery took a big hit last weekend with a nasty warm-up.
 
Guess it’s Mother Nature’s prerogative to giveth and taketh away. The meltdown grew progressively worse with steady warmth extending into several days. The ensuing shrinkage has left places all over the forest with the dismal dirty look of snow in urban America, yuck! Plus, grooming of the cross-country ski trail system had just got under way and now will have to be put on hold, stymieing that activity for early enthusiasts.
 
While warm-ups do happen in these parts, the sad commentary is that when freezing cold returns, the remaining wet slushy snow will turn my driveway into a nightmarish icy chute. It makes me shudder just thinking about slip-sliding my vehicle down the drive into its normal parking place. This is a test of serious winter driving skill in spite of sanding applications. Even more serious is my being able to keep upright and off my tush as I navigate the hilly passage many times daily.
 
It’s not unusual up this way to experience many consecutive winter days when the temp never approaches the plus side of zero. The current episode of warmth was obviously not of the bitter cold variety. Last weekend displayed an unusual temperature phenomenon that I cannot recall having observed before. The mercury reading on our Wildersmith digital struck 32 1/2 degrees on Saturday morning and stayed that way for over 24 consecutive hours before finally budging downward late Sunday afternoon. No wonder we were so drippy around here.
 
A call from a fellow down at the west end of Gunflint Lake at Cross River Lodge advised me of another observation that usually occurs with the spring transition. With the Gunflint Gal still being almost totally liquid, he was seeing chunks of ice float by his locale. I’m guessing these mini-bergs were coming from a warm weather break-up of the icy edges along Cross River, and entering the lake where the river dumps in.
 
I’m thinking that the Gunflint Gal is about ready to take on her winter coat. The quiet west end bay has already skimmed over; we just need some consecutive zero nights with calm air. Meanwhile the territory needs its winter attire freshened up with haste!
 
The animal kingdom around here has added some returnees of winters past. Although I have not seen them, tracking evidence indicates that white tails are coming back to the yard. The late November deep snow apparently struck a memory that they might find some easier browsing down here along the Mile O Pine.
 
Two pine martens have also punched the feeding recall button and are now making daily rounds to the trough on our deck, after months of being missing in action. It is amazing how those poultry poachers seem to remember a good thing!
 
And of course, I experience an attack of the birds (mostly excited chickadees) whenever late day seed time rolls around. I’m such a good guy!
 
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the fleeting spirit of the season!

Airdate: December 7, 2012


 
The Gunflint Trail finally saw some snow this week... (Photo by Mr.OutdoorGuy/Flickr)

Wildersmith November 30

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Finally, the great northern express pulled through our Gunflint station, better late than never! Mother Nature must have tired of hearing me whine, as the old gal made our happy Thanksgiving celebration even more blessed with a late night dose of something to brag about.
 
“The weather outside was frightful, but the next morning, was so delightful” when Trail residents awoke to a winter wonderland. The surprising winter storm dumped several inches of wet heavy fluff that coated every extremity in the forest with marshmallow mounds. The accumulation around Wildersmith was some 6 to 8 inches, and was probably more in the upper elevations through the Mid-trail snow zone.
 
The first real winter effort of the season was complicated with strong winds that caused considerable blowing and drifting in open areas, downed many limbs and dealt some areas brief power outages. Travel was hazardous and the Trail has now been tabbed for winter driving caution.
 
All in all, the opening weekend of our holiday season in border country was much like it should be for late November. And if the initial storm wasn’t enough, about another third of a foot was delivered in the darkness of last Saturday night.
 
So the moose and I are smiling with the beginning of holiday cheer, in hope that there will be much more moisture to come. Area lakes need a lot of replenishing come meltdown time next spring, and this was a good first start.
 
The making of ice has resumed on most lakes, but for the larger bodies in the upper Trail region the wind has kept them thrashing in spite of a couple single-digit nights. While the thermometers at Wildersmith are not official recording stations, we did have our first night of nothing on the mercury column. Yes, it was zero with a hope of many more to come. We need some bitter cold to freeze out the growing tick population that is so annoying and detrimental to our moose herd, let alone we humans.
 
The Mile O’ Pine, probably like most other backcountry roads, is nearly enclosed in an archway of bent over, snow-laden trees.  Many of the immature saplings are almost touching the road surface, creating a lacy tunnel of crystal.
 
This has made for difficult vehicular passage. Thus, yours truly has spent a good number of hours walking the road to relieve hundreds of stressed trunks and branches from their burden. I’m sure that if these woodsy citizens could talk, they’d be twanging joyously as they spring back skyward.
 
A couple days before the big weather changeover, I was outside doing a few chores when I heard the sound of voices. It was late afternoon, near sunset, and since the Smiths are the only residents on the Mile O Pine for the best part of the next seven months, to hear conversation was unusual.
 
Thinking it was maybe a late, southbound flock of Canadian honkers, I stopped still and gazed to the heavens, but there was none. The chatter continued, and suddenly I tuned in to some yelping coming from down the lakeshore to the west. The yelping soon turned to howls.
 
Apparently the Gunflint/Loon lake wolf pack was out and about, and they decided to practice a bit of north woods harmonizing. This went on for only a few moments, but it was such a cool time to be in touch with nature through a choral rendition that I would simply title “North Woods Nocturne No. 1.” How exhilarating!
 
It’s most intriguing how in tune critters are with atmospheric happenings. With the species in a state of decline in this part of the country and their being prone to wander, scarcely any evening grosbeaks are seen stopping by at Wildersmith anymore.
 
A few of the beautiful birds in dark brown to almost black and gold (I call them Iowa Hawkeye birds) made a sudden stopover for a little sustenance. They were here at the sunflower seed cafeteria for only a few short hours, and then gone. I think they were just passing through on their way to who knows where.
 
It could be theorized they might have been trying to keep ahead of old man winter as he was bearing down on the area, unbeknownst to the Wildersmith two. If that was the case, I should have been paying more attention to the situation, and I’d have surmised that a storm was brewing. Whatever the reason for this brief visit, the colorful bird was a joyful change of scenery from the norm.
 
Meanwhile, our frosty new landscaping has buried food sources for the winged flock, so we have an excess of hungry avians. Talk about air traffic congestion. Further, we have a better picture of our nocturnal visitors, with evidence of many four-legged beings who’ve been tracking though the snowy yard. Everything is so enchanting now that it ’tis the season.
 
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the beauty of wilderness winter!

Airdate: November 30, 2012


 
Snow & Needles (Eli Sagor/Flickr)

Wildersmith: November 23

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Back in the woods once more, after another whirlwind trip to Iowa to care for some family illness matters. It’s great to be home to the sereneness of border country.
 
The venture into semi-civilized urban America finds confusion reigning supreme with way too many people and nightmarish traffic. They call where we live unorganized territory, hah! I guess I’m just getting old and probably way too cynical, only need to be out in the woods!
 
My return finds that little has been accomplished in the advance on winter. In fact, as I key this segment, it is has been unseasonably warm for this late in month 11.
 
The forest floor remains dry and uncovered, while some of the lakes that had iced over before my departure have given way to liquid again. Thus, Mother Nature is forsaking the “freezing over moon” of November which is the lunar moniker in Ojibwe lore.
 
As the territory celebrates this Thanksgiving time we have stepped back into October-like weather. One would hope that the present conditions are not an indicator of another un-winter. Yours truly is thinking that perhaps the full moon of next week will shine down on the northland and usher in a gust from the “great northern express.”
 
The area is extremely quiet as we offer thanks for the bounty with which we have been blessed. Several of the year-round folks have even trekked off to points south for the turkey day extravaganza. The only activity along the Mile O Pine is that of the wild neighborhood critters, and they have plenty for which to give thanks with my daily provisions.
 
Speaking of critters, our white tail population can breathe a little easier now with the closing of rifle hunting season last Sunday. Deer have three nemeses as I see it: predators (wolves), fast-moving vehicles and stalkers with guns. Taking whistling slugs out of the equation for another year will improve survival chances by one-third. How about that you deer, only two worries now!  
 
I don’t know how the venison seekers have done in these parts, but I’m guessing they did OK. Those I know usually put meat in the freezer. Success is in the eyes of the beholder. Hunting, like fishing, is always good, but sometimes the shooting/catching is not. It seems to me the biggest thrill that comes with this pursuit and shoot experience must be from the quiet anticipation while out in this magical wilderness creation. It’s just a bonus if game is taken home.
 
Last Thursday was the annual statewide Give to the Max day for favorite non-profits. Word comes from the Gunflint Trail Historical Society that many friends and supporters opened their hearts and wallets to donate over $4,500 to the organization in this year’s endeavor.
 
The amount given placed the GTHS among the top 12 recipients from the northeast Minnesota region according to the Duluth News Tribune rankings. Thanks to everyone who made this happen! If you didn’t get to support this worthwhile event, it’s not too late to make an end of the year donation, just go to the GTHS website for more information.
 
As if the year 2012 hasn’t whizzed by fast enough, here we are traipsing off into the holiday season. In fact, the turmoil of the coming blitz started before Halloween with the onslaught of catalogs and media ads coming from every which way. The aura of this wonderful, but overindulgent, season across the U.S. seems to just about consume everything and everybody. The Smiths even have a Christmas cactus that is so excited that it bloomed unusually early, shortly after ghosts and goblins time.
 
See you at the Mall, it’s Black Friday! Oops, you won’t actually see me there. I’ll be shopping in Grand Marais, by mail order and online. The UPS man will be toting my deliveries up this way in his 250-horse, shiny brown buggy. That Mr. UPS is some kind of Santa!
 
Keep on hangin, on and savor the dream of wilderness adventure!

Airdate: November 23, 2012


 
Squirrel (Pete Birkinshaw/Flickr)

Wildersmith: November 9

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Last weekend found us finally unharnessed from that daylight savings time nonsense. The process of “springing” ahead in April has always seemed kind of hokey to me.
 
As the clock “falls back” to reality, I find many folks being sent into a tizzy, even depression, when darkness in the wilderness suddenly edges into what we used to call afternoon. I wonder why we humans always have to manipulate everything in creation.
 
Regardless of one’s feeling about this annual happening, the bottom line is that it’s getting seriously dark in these parts by about 5 o’clock, as the sun and our timepieces are now back in sync.
 
The advancement of winter along the Trail has stagnated since we last met on the airwaves. In spite of some days where clouds have been hanging heavy with what looked like a belly full of snow, border country earth after the first week of November is still brown.
 
There has been a continuation of the ice-making, however, with an expanded effort to a few of the larger water bodies. The big four, Sag, Seagull, Gunflint and Poplar lakes, along with their smaller trailside cousins, Loon, Birch. Mayhew and Poplar, are still rippling in anticipation of that first zero night with no wind.
 
Concern remains with regard to the extreme dry forest and no snow cover. I know that cold temperatures have a mitigating affect, but it’s nerve-wracking nevertheless.
 
Last weekend’s onset of war against the white tails, and wolves too, has brought a large number of hunters into the area. This increased traffic surely increases a possibility of fire being accidentally set off. With both animals and rifle slugs flying every different direction, it’s hoped that sanity will prevail in the arid Gunflint forest.
 
Following last week’s website/broadcast exercise, the Smiths hauled off on another jaunt south into Iowa. The turnaround was quick, and we were back in the quiet woods after five days.
 
With exception of one pesky squirrel, the many critters that hang out around here were not present to greet our return. I guess this is to be expected when my absence causes daily provisions to disappear from the feed trough.
 
This lone rodent buddy caught my eye while I was unloading the travel vehicle. It came sprinting down the driveway hill and through the woods, partially crawling up my pant leg in quest of a handout.
 
I had barely tipped the seed spout to pour the varmint a helping when it actually ran inside the container and grabbed a mini fist-full before scampering away. Guess it must have had an awful gnawing.
 
In less than 12 hours, the “moccasin telegraph,” our north woods courier, had word out to others of the wild neighborhood that I’m back. So there is hubbub once more at the Wildersmith open-air bistro.
 
A tidbit of trivia to share is that the third season of operation at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center had nearly 8,500 visitors. Examination of the guest book sign-ins showed folks from about every state in the Union as well as several foreign countries. This brings the total visitor count since opening July 4, 2010 to over 28,500. Thanks to all those visitors for their interest in learning about the storied Gunflint past.
 
Plans are already being formulated for 2013 with a new temporary exhibit, an additional (new) little theater presentation and more family friendly opportunities. Until that next big opening day, let’s enjoy a great winter season!
 
Keep on hangin’ on and a savor the mystique of a wilderness encounter!

Airdate: November 9, 2012


 
Pine Marten (travelling.steve/Flickr)

Wildersmith November 2

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“Biboon” (winter) is official in these parts, as defined by my Wildersmith criteria. Last weekend spelled the beginning as the daytime temp actually stayed below the freezing mark here on our shores of Gunflint Lake.
 
The Ojibwe have rightly named this month as that of the “Freezing over moon” (Gash Kadino-Giizis). This is exactly what was going on around here as ice was being made on small ponds, swamps and anything else that would hold quiet water.
 
Taking things farther, the Mile O Pine was covered in thin layer of white on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. Although the coating was not thick enough to endure until next spring, it was nevertheless energizing for those of us who have been waiting for the first real coming.
 
The adventure of first accumulating snow always captures me. On this occasion, I was the first to make tracks on our scarcely used roadway last Saturday morning, even beating the four-legged critters as best I could determine.
 
The initial trek on a pure smooth covering harkens me back to pioneer times when life was simpler and there were far fewer beings around. Each step taken by mankind back then meant something about survival. I can’t escape the charm of making a primal mark on a path that has not been tread following a fresh dose of winter wonder. It’s not exactly like taking the first step on the moon, but still intriguing for yours truly in an un-explainable way.
 
As fall gives way to winter, it has been pleasing to see the return of our wilderness “welcome wagon.” Snow buntings are gathering all along the Trail. With the approach of one’s vehicle they are erupting in clouds of fluttering white underbodies to lead us through this paradise arbor. It sure is delightful to watch their swooping aerial acrobatics.
 
Another return engagement happened last week on our deck rail cafeteria. Out of nowhere that wily old pine marten stopped by after having been MIA for several months. It too confirmed that the season of cold is official. The coat it was sporting was rich and lush as if it was January, not late October.
 
Speaking of lush apparel, I spotted a snowshoe hare a day or two ago that has also completed transition to winter wear. So my early winter declaration comes with credible validation from several in the wild neighborhood.
 
The firearms venison stalking gets under way throughout the area this weekend.  Here’s hoping that those orange clad beings sitting out in the woods pretending to be a tree or a bush have a safe hunt. Further, this time of year means that the non-hunting public out in the forest should be all about sporting their glowing outer gear too. For all hunters, give a hoot; don’t shoot, unless you’re sure!
 
Not only is the excitement of the deer season upon us, this is the big week of the final 2012 membership drive in support of community radio throughout the northland. Once again, I’m encouraging everyone to step up and get “Tuned In” with those who want this WTIP magic of the airwaves to continue.
 
Pledging is so easy, and oh so important! Your membership contribution will ensure that top-drawer WTIP programming extends on and on into the future! Call us now at 218-387-1070, 800-473-9847 or click and pledge at www.wtip.org.
 
Keep on hangin, on and savor the crystal coming.

Airdate: November 2, 2012


 
Moose (Josh More/Flickr)

Wildersmith October 26

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As the 10th segment of 2012 is fading fast, the Gunflint wilderness is becoming a place of ‘almost’ happenings. Snowshoe hares are almost white, the white tails are almost into the rut, the tamaracks are almost undressed of their needles, the “falling leaves” moon is almost full and it’s almost November.
 
Atmospheric conditions through the territory were rather uneventful since we last met on the radio. However, we were finally blessed with a decent episode of rain. Although it was far from enough, the inch or so recorded in various places along the byway did at least ease the wildfire danger temporarily. Temperatures in the meantime have remained a bit on the mild side, which again reinvigorated the biting bugs.
 
Yours truly made what is hoped to be a final venture into the lake a few days ago. It was not for a refreshing dip, but to bring in wildfire sprinkler system lines. Clad in my waders, the cold was not too intense until my unprotected hands entered into the removal process. Believe me, the water is already icy cold, probably not real close to the freezing point just yet, but dangerously cold if one were to go in accidentally. Late season canoe and boating folks should be extra cautious!
 
During this past weekend, as the area celebrated “moose madness,” the Smiths took pleasure in actually spotting a big ungulate while returning from our weekly supply run to Grand Marais. This hefty cow was spotted munching in the swamp waters just above the Laurentian Divide. So at least one real moose was observed during the days that have been promoted to honor their presence among us, hurrah!
 
With the autumnal defoliation of leaf bearers, it is heartening to be able to look deep into the forest and get a good look at what this past growing season did toward re-generation of the coniferous forest. It is simply amazing to see how quickly uncountable patches of young conifers have taken hold in the wasteland created by the Ham Lake fire of five years ago. Many of the aspiring jack pines are already three to four feet high.
 
Even more astonishing is how anything could grow up here with so much granite and so little soil. These two components, coupled with the fact that the area has been starved for abundant moisture over the past decade or so, surely authenticate that miracles of nature cannot be stifled. Guess we could equate the toughness of these baby trees with the good folks who call this area home year round. It’s a hardy combination to say the least: tough trees, tough people.
 
Wondrous natural things unfold daily in these parts, many of which go unseen by the human eye. I was fortunate to witness one such happening last week during my final stint of the season as a volunteer at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center.
 
The day was cloudy, cool and gloomy as I looked out over the Saganaga Lake Bay just east of the parking area. Relatively calm waters prevailed as I noticed the usual mother mallard and her now-grown family had been joined by a “sort” of ducks.
 
A sprinkle of showers suddenly rang down on the feathered bunch and for some reason unbeknownst to me, the rain set off a frenzy of aquatic activity that was quite raucous. It appeared there might have been something of nutritional interest below the surface that stimulated an almost synchronized diving event.
 
In unison, it was comically, a bottoms up, as their little white rumps flashed skyward like an ice fisherman’s tip-up. The event went on and on for several minutes as the once calm surface was ravished!
 
The amusing episode could not have been better choreographed if it were an Olympic presentation. Then again, maybe that’s what it was, Nature’s Olympics, north woods style!
 
The waters eventually became still and reflective once more as the quackers took refuge for a little R & R on a mini island of rocks. Surprising how easily one can be entertained out here in border country!
 
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the next wilderness entertainment package!

Airdate: October 26, 2012


 
Tamarack (Kim Faires/Flickr)

Wildersmith October 19

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The Wildersmith two are back on the Mile O Pine following a run south for a family visit and reunion with some great friends from my pre-northwoods days. Once more I’m indebted to Rosey, the Hungry Jack Lake canine and her dad, for filling in during my absence.
 
Our southern trip found the fall progress in that area to be somewhat lagging compared to where we are here in border country. We returned to an autumn segment that is taking its final bows.
 
This final curtain call finds the tamaracks in full golden splendor, with some having already shed their gilded needles. Meanwhile the great white and red pines, along with other coniferous cousins throughout the Wildersmith neighborhood, have completed their annual needle dispensation, leaving the cooling earth textured in a fawn-colored carpet.
 
The deciduous part of the forest has seen the last of its summer canopy as few leaflets are left clinging. These trees have taken on that skeleton look for October. The scraggy branches lurking from a zillion different angles and directions surely seem to make this part of the universe one of the spookiest Halloween scenarios. A bit scary, yes, but still beautiful in a unique demeanor.
 
Dryness along the Gunflint byway has not improved, although the rain gauge did contain about one-third inch upon my return. From the looks of several summer posies scattered about our deck and yard, there must have been some frosty cold nights since the departure.
 
With exception of getting daytime temperatures cooled to accept the white stuff, I would say that Mother Nature is in readiness for a snowy coating that will endure until next May. Some of us year-round wilderness critters can hardly wait; it’s almost November!
 
In spite of my desire to get our snow season under way, I must say that being away from the usual “getting ready for winter” tasks for eight days has put me behind. Thus the coming days are faced with a stepped-up attention to things like snow plow mounting, window-washing and sealing, sand-bucket filling and the rotation to winter wheels/tires, to name but a few. There’ll be no slacking off from now on, and I would guess that other residents are also making preparations with haste.
 
My return to the woods has found the beginning of silent times. It is quiet now except for the whisper of wind through the pines and an occasional rustling of fallen leaves.
 
The usual gang of wild things that frequents feeding stations around our yard seems to have been confused by my recent truancy. They’re most often flitting and scurrying about in anticipation of a handout, but many of the regulars are noticeably missing upon this homecoming. I’m assuming that they will be checking back soon as they hear the clatter of renewed activity around the place.
 
With the annual MEA hiatus from state educational activities, this weekend will be the last fling for many visitors coming into the area until cross-country ski season commences. It’s “moose madness” time throughout the county. Hopefully, the moose will not be “mad”, and will come out for a few photo ops while avoiding shots from a brave hunter’s slug.
 
Still can’t figure out why we are shooting even one of these northern icons when the herd is going through such a dreadful time of rapidly dwindling numbers. As usual, in Minnesota, like all over our country, it must be a greed and money issue. Certainly, common sense is not the prevailing consideration.
 
Your last chance in 2012 to visit some north woods magic at Trail’s end is Sunday, as the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center will be closing for the season. The third year of operation has again been highly successful. Huge thanks are extended to all in the Gunflint Community who pitched in with volunteer energy, and to everyone from points all over the globe who stopped by to learn a little bit about the Gunflint Trail story.
 
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a forest of silent beauty!

Airdate: October 19, 2012