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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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.


What's On:

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 12

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Headed toward the midpoint of the month and the north woods winter has become a big frump. Our area is going on nearly two months since we had any worthwhile precipitation. Although border country did get a scant coating of white stuff earlier this week, the substantial deliveries of such have gone elsewhere, making us look like a desert tundra in several locales.    

Our minimal snow cover is stimulating many of the wild neighborhood critters to be out and about. I’ve either observed or been told of nearly every animal one could expect to see around here this time of year.                                                                                                                                                                    
Moose sightings are becoming a daily norm along the Trail during the twilight and nighttime hours. On a couple ramblings up and down the Trail I have found any number of gatherings along this 60-mile salt lick. As recently as last Monday the Smiths got a rare, up-close photo op with a big cow along the Trail. She was so cordial as to walk up out of a ditch to within a few feet of the vehicle and pose, looking us straight in the eye.                                                 

Many other folks also report encountering the iconic guys and gals out getting their mineral fix. I don’t know if we are all seeing the same ones, but if not, it is encouraging that there could be a stabilizing of the moose herd along the byway corridor.                                                                
Numerous accounts have been filed on wolf activity. A gal skiing over in the Crab Lake area reports of a caucus along the ski path during the past few days, although they had dispersed long before her arrival. Then as recently as last weekend, a pack of seven made their way from Canada across Gunflint Lake near Gunflint Lodge. Nobody I know of challenged them on being legal immigrants. Meanwhile, there are plenty of signs that they are making nightly sojourns along our south shore and up on the Mile O Pine.     

Adding to the adventures of nocturnal animal movement, on a recent late-night trek down the road toward Wildersmith, we encountered a big beautiful lynx intersecting our path. The big cat didn’t allow for much of a look-see as it scampered off into the forest headed toward Heston’s Lodge as we passed.                                                                                                      

A few whitetails have come back to our yard since closing of the rifle hunting season. For the most part, they seem to be returnees from previous years. All are familiar with these surroundings, and know exactly what windows through which they can see us and transmit their forlorn hungry look.

We are already observing more fox activity about the yard than we had all of last year. My superior skill at catching the tiny rodents in a couple outbuildings is more than keeping them supplied with bonus treats for just passing through.   

If the fox don’t get these rodent catches, then the pine martens have been readily cleaning up any leftovers. We have either one or several that are now visiting with regularity. One night last week, one was found inside a tiny squirrel lunch box feeder on our deck side feeding rail. It was trying to finish off the remaining sunflower seeds.                                                                

This may not seem too unusual except that the volume inside the tiny feeder was maybe 5x5x5 inches. Once inside the unit, the animal found itself sitting on top of what it wanted to eat. I could see, by the way it wriggled around, that it was apparently perplexed at not being able to dine in comfort. The marten finally solved its dilemma by exiting, and then opting a head-first-only entry. It must have worked because the feeder was empty at my next refilling visit.                                                                                                                                                                              
A night or so later, a battle took place at our feed trough. Although I didn’t observe or hear the commotion, I suspect there was some disagreement over who gets what. It’s my suspicion that it could have been two martens sparring over a chicken part. Or perhaps, a single marten did in a flying squirrel for some late night dining.                                                                                                  

Whatever the scenario, it must have been a vicious confrontation. At feeding time the next morning, I found the blood-spattered remnants indicating there had been trouble at the “OK Wilderness Cafe.”                                                                                                                                                          
It’s a menagerie around here, and life isn’t for the faint of heart in our critter world!                                                                                                                                
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor our open zoo!

(Photo courtesy of Fred Smith)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 5

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The upper Gunflint territory enters December, and I’m beginning to get a little nervous in regard to our area continuing to be missed by major snowstorms. I realize it’s still pre-winter according to the calendar, but moisture reserves of snow in the forest are necessary to avoid an unnerving dry spell before our next green-up. The temperatures have surely favored opportunity for some nice seasonal decorating in anticipation of a delivery.  

Speaking of temps, the area experienced some serious cold over the past week. With only a minor warming hiccup last Saturday, the stage was set for the unfrozen big lakes to finally cover up as mercury skidded into the teens below at our place. 

Shortly after sending out last week’s scoop, the water on Gunflint started taking on the winter shivers. Ice-up soon progressed to the point where our Wildersmith shoreline froze about a third of the way to Canada. It stayed that way, gaining a little more each day, but still having open water toward the Canadian border.

I was thinking we might get a total November ice-on which hasn’t happened in nearly two decades (November 26, 1996 to be exact). When I was about to write this happening into my weather records diary, Mother Nature initiated a border country tug-of-war. A strong Arctic front crashed down on us Saturday night and the fight was on, wind against ice. 

The fury of howling air sent the remaining open water into a churning rage. By Sunday morning, the north wind won the battle. Our infant frozen coating had ceded to the furious seas. The Gunflint gal, except for a protected west end, was in sky blue status once again.

Ice cakes were stacked up on our granite shore as slushy remains bubbled up in rolling waves against a spectacular crystal mass. So the Zamboni process on Gunflint Lake will be re-convening with our next quiet night.                                                                                                                             

One nice thing about restarting this ice-over happening is that we get a second episode of hoar frosting along our shore. With frigid air over warmer water, the look of a boiling cauldron will be casting moisture-laden clouds ashore to magically glaze every exposed forest appendage. If there ever was a Hallmark holiday card setting, it just had to be captured around here during one of these spectacular times!                                                                                                                             

A funny thing happened on my way to the mailbox a while back. Approaching the line-up of postal receptacles, I noticed a large black item sitting on top, and thought it was a parcel in one of those black plastic garbage bags. Getting closer, to my surprise, the object turned out to be a common raven.                                                                                                                                                                                  

It took flight as I pulled alongside. I didn’t give much thought about why this ebony critter was there in the first place as a pair has been nesting in the area for a few years. A closer check found the USPS had delivered a package to a neighbor’s box. The item was too big to fit inside, so it was sacked in a protective plastic wrapper and left on top.                             

Apparently, the container caught the attention of this curious avian and it could not resist a little postal inspection. This inquisitive being didn’t know it’s a federal offense to tamper with other peoples’ mail. I observed it also cared little for the fact the item was a cardboard box wrapped in plastic protection, because it had torn open the bag, pecked about a 6-inch hole in the box and pulled out part of the contents.                                                                                                                                

Somewhat comical, it was nevertheless a bad scene for the intended recipient as the contents were no doubt damaged, with no recourse. The neighbor eventually got to the mail box and picked up a tattered delivery.                                                                                                                          

In visiting with him about the incident, he revealed with an iffy grin, catch this; the contents of his package were in fact, a bird feeder.                                                                                        

How about that for a rare happenstance? That bird had some kind of intuition and also a bit of larceny in its heart. But it’s not going to be a jailbird.     

Saturday night (December 6) the north woods will celebrate the full “cold/little spirit” moon, and the timing couldn’t be better. With the spirit of our lunar experience and this approaching festive season, a gala open house invitation is being extended to Gunflint residents, their families and friends.                                                                                                                                                                                

The Gunflint Trail Volunteer fire Department is hosting a “thank you” event at the Schaap Community Center (Mid Trail Fire Hall #1) beginning at 3 p.m. and running until 7 p.m. It’s a time for the volunteers to express their gratitude for the fantastic community support of the three facility improvement projects during the past couple years. Every Gunflinter is invited to kick off this holiday season with friends, food and fun.          

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the sights and sounds of this northern paradise!
(Photo courtesy of Fred Smith)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 28

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We wilderness folk are bidding November farewell, following the annual day of American bounty stuffing.  Hope your Thanksgiving was a comforting time!    

On the brink of chapter 12 (December), area residents watched as Old Man Winter slipped into a listless warm stupor last weekend.     

Those days saw our colder than normal month turn a damp dismal gray. With temps hanging out near the freezing point, fog, drizzle, dripping rooftops and sloppy roads were the order. It was unseasonably ugly. Thus our meager snow cover was depleted, leaving barely enough to say we have white on the ground.                                                                                                     

As I pull together this week’s Gunflint story, there was promise of a return to what it should be this time of year. Sure enough, completing this week’s scoop found the territory with a new coating of white.  December has come on us in a flash. Let’s hope the cold is back to stay and the “great man of the north” brews up even more forest flocking.                                                                                                                       

Prior to the warmup of last weekend, several mornings of both near and below zero allowed further ice enhancement in the upper Gunflint. A couple of the larger bodies took on their winter coat as both Seagull and Poplar lakes sealed up on the night of the 19th. I don’t have data on these lakes with regard to early hardening water, but it would seem this hasty ice on could be a near record. Meanwhile, Gunflint, Sag and Loon lakes continue teasing us, with their only ice showing as build up on rocky shore lines from the pounding wave action.                                                                                                                                                                 

Last Sunday saw the Minnesota rifle season for deer come to an end. I haven’t heard of many bucks being taken out this way. However, it has been reported that one fellow took a buck which, when tracked down, had a huge buildup of ice on its rack. There’s opinion the big fellow must have swam across Gunflint Lake from the Canadian side. Due to the frigid air temps during the aquatic journey, water splashing up on his regal crown froze instantly.        

Another hunter tells of being so well camouflaged while sitting and waiting for that prized buck, a wolf walked right by him and didn’t even notice. It would be my guess the wolf was either so intent on its own hunting expedition, or had a bad smeller and poor eyesight. In either case, it would seem that both parties should be happy one didn’t notice the other.      

While deer herd numbers are down in this part of the Arrowhead, it was a pleasant surprise when a momma and her offspring showed up in the Wildersmith yard a few days ago. Along with tracks in our snow along the Mile O Pine, we can confirm at least some have survived both predation and a bad last winter.                                                                                                                                                                  

The frosty blast of week three saw a terrific increase in air traffic to border country bird feeding stations. Both outgoing and incoming visitors at Wildersmith are of the customary varieties. The bulk of the winged folk seems to be a larger than usual number of those “jet blue” arrivals. I’m speaking of the blue jay bullies. It must have been a great reproductive year for the blues.                

An unusual and lone grackle has also landed, and apparently found our provisions to its liking. This iridescent black beauty has been here for several consecutive days. In comparison with other frequent flyers, this guy/gal appears not one bit intimidated by the squawking jaybirds. It will be of interest to see if it continues to hang out, or is a bye, bye birdie.     

Another feed trough returnee made a nocturnal visit last week. Although it was not specifically observed, one of our neighborhood pine martens came by investigating the menu offerings, leaving tracks all over the snow-covered deck. I can’t tell if it has been back since the melting snow has eliminated my tracking opportunities. I have cordially invited the critter back though, by offering a couple marten menu favorites, poultry pieces.                                                                                             

It won’t be long and all of our winter critter friends will be back in the fold at Wildersmith!                                                                                                                                                                                  
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the charm and mystery of our December, “cold, little spirit moon.”          

(Photo courtesy of Evan Leeson on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 21

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Beginning this week’s Gunflint scoop finds the weather outside frightful. Howling northwest wind is driving snow horizontally, and temps are tumbling to what will most likely be their lowest of the season to date.  But the wood stove is so delightful!                                                                                                                                                      
Although our territory continues to miss the big snows plaguing places south, Old Man Winter looks to be gaining a better grip with each passing day. Ice thickness on some smaller lakes has increased to the safe walking point. This in mind, sportsmen might be trading their difficult venison quests for some hard-water angling. The big lakes remain rolling and cooling in anticipation of a night with serious calm and subzero temps.                                                                                                                                                                   

While I can’t speak for the masses of deer hunters stalking this area, a couple Gunflint/Loon Lake buddies have tagged their white tails, marking a successful 2014 hunt. Apparently, after a slow first week, bucks seem to be moving back into these parts. Hope we get through this closing firearms weekend with a safe and fruitful pursuit.                                                                                                      

This is such a wonderful time of year! The exploits of wilderness critters can easily be documented, compliments of our white landscape. Our “Biboon” (winter) carpet enables the observation of uncountable trails of animal activity.       

I can’t help but get a kick out of following the prints of a fox as it meanders down our Mile O Pine. In search of rodent munchies from a roadside snow bank, paw marks zig and zag from one side to another in uncanny pathways.  

On the other hand, wolf passage takes a considerably more defined direction. One can easily assume this canine kin is on a straight-line mission, seldom veering off course in doing white tail reconnaissance.                                                     

In spite of not seeing many deer tracks yet, their casual, browsing hoof prints find them often scuffing along dragging their feet as if they are exhausted. Then again, they might be in  energy-saving mode should an unexpected predator escape become necessary.           

Add in the footmarks of uncountable smaller creatures in our “Northern Wilds” and a land of mystery and enchantment is authored for us woodsy adventure seekers. One can only imagine what they might have been up to.                       

A fellow living on the north side of Loon Lake shares about coyotes making a recent visit to his yard. Guess they found bird-spilled sunflower seeds to their liking. It’s not unusual to find coyotes around the county, but this sighting is the first I’ve heard of out this way in some time. Perhaps the moccasin telegraph will alert local wolf packs in order that they might have an interest in these uninvited pests.                                                                                                                                    

And speaking of other less-than-welcome north woods nuisances, a raccoon has been hanging out at a place up the hill from Wildersmith. To my knowledge it has not made a visit to the Smith yard as yet. Nevertheless, I’m on the lookout for this masked bandit. A cozy north woods cell has the vacancy sign out, complete with a complimentary treat of bread and blueberry jam.  Those ring tails just love bread and jelly!                                                                                        

The Wildersmith two made a quick run to northwest Iowa last weekend. In so doing, I was amazed at the usual post Thanksgiving shopping madness having already commenced. It seems as though the vaunted Black Friday holiday shopping insanity has been scooched up to almost Halloween time. Will this American craziness ever end?                                                          
I hope everyone will at least take a moment to give thanks for our bounty this coming week with a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.    

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a back country venture!

(Photo by Brad Carlson on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 14

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Wildersmith adds his “many thanks” to all who stood up and pledged during the membership drive of last week. It’s most heartwarming to see so many wonderful WTIP followers come to the front for this vital support endeavor.                                                                                             
To everyone who put a paddle in the water for WTIP during this past event or earlier in the year, you can’t be thanked enough for sharing your bounty. Hurray, the fundraising goal was reached once again!                                                                                                                  

Halloween is over, but it’s hard to tell because there are still plenty of big orange costumed objects out in the woods. Now most of the orange is of the hot variety, and rather than being at ground locations as pumpkins usually grow, the orange characters are silently hanging out up in trees throughout the territory. 

We are a week into the state firearms deer hunting season and from what I’m told by the locals, the venison pickin's, are pretty slim. The border country predators have done a job of culling the herd into a “bucks only” season. With such low numbers, most likely not too much ammo will be expended.

I suppose it will take a few years for the white tail numbers to rebound, what with the hungry population of bears and wolves continuing to stalk this particular hunting zone. However, hunters fear not, for Mother Nature will find a way to make things balance out. 

This scenario of sparse deer numbers may speak well for the dwindling moose herd. Perhaps the element of fewer deer, as hosts to brain worms which can result in devastating neurological disease in moose, might set the stage for a resurgence of those numbers.  Only time will tell on this issue, along with a balancing out of the predator problem. 

Not only is the area void of deer, more importantly, we need moisture. The upper trail neighborhood continues to be bypassed by major precipitation deliveries. Yes, we’ve experienced a few trivial snow efforts, but that is about it for the past several weeks.  

On the other hand, temperatures are about normal, thus allowing old mother Earth to cool enough for the support of what little snow has fallen. The landscape is minimally white, but at this news gathering, more was in the offing.                                                                          

Remembering last winter, this neighborhood did not get a substantial snowfall until Thanksgiving Day. That’s when winter really began to get going in earnest. So we should not be too dismayed about a major dumping not yet having been recorded.

A couple critter species that change their wardrobe color seasonally have completed the task at my last sightings. This process might indicate that convincing winter conditions are just around the next curve in the byway.     

We’ve discovered that a “gam” of ermine has apparently taken up winter residence under the insulation blanket on our septic mound. They have finished their apparel conversion to pure winter camo except for the black tip on their tail.

It was a treat when we discovered the little weasels darting in and out from under their new digs during a brief white-out squall last Saturday. There was so much scampering about it was hard to decide just how many had taken to the new residence.   

Meanwhile the latest lagomorph observation found the north woods “wabbits” are in readiness to fool predators as well, with their newest snow bank disguise. In the case of survival for these hares, it’s often all about “splitting hairs,” and the hip-hop colony around here is prepared in full dress whites. 

With intensifying cold there are murmurs throughout the forest other than winds through the pines. For the last week, I have not been made aware of any bear sightings or engagements. It would be a good bet that the hum from area Bruno dens could, at last, be the snore of “sloth” sawing logs. Happy dreams to all, and to all, a long winter’s nap!  

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a bounty of north woods memories!

(Photo by Fabio Bretto on Flickr)

"Whiskey Jack"

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 7

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Act two of the Gunflint prelude to winter hit the marquee late last week. It’s not to be unexpected this time of year, but when an early storm hits with the ferocity like this one did, it probably made some folks shudder about possible things to come.                  

The sudden grizzly character of “old man winter” came as bit of a surprise on the night before trick or treat. It blitzed us only a couple short hours, but howled like it was a January rendition.  

In the aftermath only an inch or two or three accumulated in the upper Trail region. By next morning, temperatures had plummeted and the landscape was a white wonderland.           

Scenes from this production left us with reminders of winters past. Travelers had to pull off for lack of visibility and the Trail was glazed in slipperiness. Horizontal snow left everything with a north northwest exposure plastered with the wind-driven crystals while the lee sides were cast in a mosaic of uncovered shadows come daylight.                                                                                                                                          

The area went into a mini deep freeze for a couple mornings with the temp at Wildersmith dropping to ten above by last Saturday morning. Our trip into Grand Marais for church the next morning found many smaller lakes and swamps along the byway had taken on their first skim of ice.                                                                                                                                                                                  

This initial ice on is always a treat for yours truly. While some will probably equate this with watching paint dry, I find the crinkling process of liquid becoming a solid to be an intriguing natural wonder.  

I do not dwell on premonitions as in the case of the latest winter happening, but in thinking back, something might have been in the wind a couple nights prior. On those evenings, I couldn’t help but notice the roar of wind through the trees had a wintertime sound.                          
To me, for some unexplained reason, movement of air in the winter has a more unrestrained resonance than it does at other times of the year. Perhaps the leaves of other seasons buffer the frightfulness of our cold season blasts. While there may be no scientific basis for my thinking, winter wind is what it is, many times unmerciful, and that’s what it was for this first serious wintry revue!  

I was recently informed about a gal out his way who’s had north land flower arrangements on her table in every month since last March (probably some early southern exposure Daffodils), with the last blooms being harvested just prior to the collapse of autumn last week. I’m told all such blossom gatherings were of the outdoor variety, not hot house pansies.  

Yes that’s March into October, eight months! I’m not aware of what this lady’s last flower cutting was, but happening in late month ten, goes to show that not only are we residents hardy, but so are many of the natural beings that bloom around us. 

The customary birds of winter are gathering in mass around this neighborhood in hope easy seeds will suddenly appear. I have yet to open the seed barrel for fear of attracting a hungry sloth onto the deck.

In all likelihood, the “Brunos” may be holing up as I write. Perhaps by this time next week, I’ll feel secure in opening the avian feed bag for the anxious “tweeters.”                                                                                

Some of the earliest winged returnees were a pair of “Whiskey Jacks” (Canadian Jays).This sociable couple are a welcome sight after being AWOL from Wildersmith all of last winter.                                                                                                                                                                          
WTIP listeners and website followers are reminded community radio programming does not spring forth like north woods flowers. It takes fruitful enrichment through periodic public funding campaigns.                                                                                                                                                                       
To keep our exceptional North Shore resource growing onward and upwards, don’t forget to make a new or renewing pledge during the current “Many Thanks” membership drive.     

Every dollar counts! Call now at (218) 387-1070 or toll free at 1-(800)-473-9847!                                                                           

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the north woods spirit of our “freezing over” moon!


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 31

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At the time of this Gunflint news scooping, the upper Trail has just come off a swell week of warmer-than-normal weather. More specifically, it’s almost been too nice as we’ve had barely a smidgen of rain, and the forest is pretty much a dangerous pile of dry leaves and brush. Every resident and user of this territory should exercise care with regard to any burning.                                                           

With ghosts and goblins in the offing, everything seems to be in readiness for chapter 11 of 2014. Leaves are down and neatly windrowed along roadsides by the breezes of passing vehicles. This natural order is the advent of soon-to-be snowplow turnings. Tamarack needles have sifted to earth and “getting ready for winter chores around this place are completed. About all I see left to be done is Mother Nature” sending the bears off to slumber.                                                                                                                                   

So we’re off into what our Ojibwe neighbors call the month of the “freezing over” moon. We know our sweet fall days are numbered come November. That in mind, folks are reminded to “fall back” with their clocks before retiring on Saturday evening. Yep, we’re going back to standard time early Sunday morning. Enough of this manmade twisting time nonsense!                  

Another bear incident has been brought to my attention. This time the growly culprit became enraged and attacked a dog over in the Loon Lake neighborhood. This attack seems rather unusual as most barking dogs will send a bear readily up a tree. Perhaps this scenario involved a cub, thus provoking a protective Momma. I’m told the midsized canine was chewed up quite badly. In a frantic attempt to save the dog, its owner chanced a difficult shot during the battle. He fortunately dispatched the bear without hitting his pet during the melee.                                                                                                                                                                                         

At this writing, the dog, named Ike, is in a difficult recovery mode back home in Duluth. Ike has no broken bones, but his hide is sutured up like a hand-stitched quilt. Best of luck to Ike and his master, as the hope is for no infections from the wounds.

As we celebrate this night of sometimes eerie happenings, folks are reminded of the wicked snowstorm that did in Halloween back in 1991. Longtime Gunflint residents will forever remember the 40-plus inches of white that buried sections of the territory 23 years ago this weekend. The storm goes down in infamy as a trick that was no treat! 

A trip last weekend back into the mayhem of metro America once again affirmed why so many folks cherish this area as a place of revival and renewal. The Smiths enjoyed a special time with family near the metropolis, but we we’re soon to realize once again how great this area can be. When we returned to the pristine peace as we headed home down the Mile O Pine, there was no human hubbub, only a welcome of wind whispering greetings through the pines and ripples giggling against the shore. 

Too many people and too many vehicles, all in a hurry to only the Lord knows where. And we call it civilization! In this neighborhood, the often lonesome roar of a chain saw or hum of a wood splitter offers solace to the soul far surpassing the uproarious clamor of a world seemingly gone mad. Hurrah for the quiet of border land!

As we enter into this month of bounteous celebration and Thanksgiving, the first order of business is radio revelry at WTIP. The fall membership drive kicks off next Thursday, November 6.    

Themed “Many Thanks,” it’s a time when the abundance of community radio programming is honored by pledging to support this ever-expanding North Shore asset. This time, it’s a two-fold time to give thanks, both for those who make the day-to-day operations happen, and to those who have fiscally bolstered the efforts for many years. What a team for which to be thankful!

Our national pastime (baseball) has drawn down, but everyone in the WTIP universe can make another hit for the season by re-upping with a financial promise starting late next week. The fund raising effort runs through Monday, Nov. 10.                                                                                                                               
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the sounds of silence in the woods!

(Photo by zoomyboy on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 24

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Pre-winter has been playing tag with autumn since our last meeting. The upper Trail has experienced samples of both, with snow and cold sandwiched in between a few great days. Yours truly actually made a winter declaration last Saturday.

My self-established criteria for declaring such is realized when the daytime temp at Wildersmith fails to rise above the freezing mark.                                                                                                                                                 

Although things turned for the better a day later, the first snow that stuck around here lasted throughout the day and into the next evening in spite of midday sunshine. And in shaded areas, ice on deck boards and in a bird watering shell told of the chill.  Thus, my pronouncement!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

The Friday night/Saturday morning wind-driven snow all but finished the leaf fall in most places with only tamarack needles still clinging to their summer perches. We’ve advanced to the haunting time of year when uncountable deciduous skeletons are lurking overhead.                              

Now we can see into the depths of the forest for the first time in a few months.  It looks as if those scraggy branches could reach out and whisk one off into this muted eerie thicket. How appropriate that Halloween time is sneaking into the shadows.                                                               

One of the many bears of the territory came back to Wildersmith in the past week. I don’t know whether or not it was the same one I ran off Sunday before last.                                                            

Whatever the case, this time Bruno snuck into the yard while we were away and apparently became belligerent at finding no munchies around. The grumpy one attempted an ascent into one of my apple trees and in so doing broke off a sizeable portion, probably for maybe no good reason other than to get even with me. There was not one apple produced this season to tempt its sweet tooth.                                                                                                                               

This episode is just one of countless other damaging encounters along our Gunflint south shore this fall. One gal tells of tossing a skillet at one of her brawny visitors, hitting it in the head, only to have it turn and hiss at her before ambling off. Other stories have been shared of doors and windows being torn open, refrigerators being overturned and several places ransacked.                                                                                                                                                                 

Guess we can consider ourselves fortunate as bear visitations have not turned into dangerous people confrontations. To encourage our marauding sloths to turn in for their long winter’s nap, we need some serious cold!                                                                                                                                                               

During my recent rambles around the territory, I’ve had occasion to see a number of snowshoe hares. All have been caught in early stages of seasonal re-dress. Most look as though they’ve pulled on white socks or in few cases, the more advanced have just slipped into their PJ bottoms. I don’t know if this wardrobe exchange is early or not, but this lagomorph transformation is intriguing.                                                                                                                                                                   
I recently read of another old wives tale in regard to winter weather prognosticating. The source gives notice that increased activity of spiders seeking indoor quarters is a sure sign of a bitter cold winter ahead.                                                                                                                                                                           

At Wildersmith, it seems as though we’ve had an inordinate number of spiders creeping around the place so far this fall. That being the case, we’ll see if the arachnids’ connection with forecasting has any substance. Since human forecasters are offering a much different prediction for this part of the country, we’ll assess the spinner projection come spring.                                                        

In the meantime, it would seem hard to match our previous season siege.  Remember we had nearly 100 days where the Wildersmith morning mercury registered below zero, brr!                                                                                                                        

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the peace of a region gone quiet!

Snow Buntings

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 17

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As I forecast last week, some swell sunny days have sprung forth from the leaden skies of our first two weeks in month 10. However, here we are at the midpoint and October is already showing the wrinkles of middle age.                                                                                                                
The last of those buttery birch leaves are barely hanging on, while other leaflets having already reached earth are crunchy as a fresh box of Wheaties. Among the coniferous part of the forest, previous years’ white and red pine needles have ceased their blanketing of the forest floor, but we have yet to see the usual dose of white cedar fronds adding their texture to the browning landscape.                                                                                                                                          

Meanwhile, those delightful tamaracks are stealing the show in the final act of Mother Nature’s autumn tinting extravaganza. As the foliage of 2014 takes a final bow, it’s only right these lacy creations should top off the layering process with their feathery down.                                                                                                                                                                              

The first substantial freeze whitened roof tops in this neighborhood last weekend. It seemed appropriately untimely, as our coldest morning was the one chosen to bring in the Wildersmith dock.                                                                                                                                         

Nevertheless, with visible puffs of breath, my good neighbor, his son and my dear wife took to the task. The contrast between assembly last spring with water temps in the high 30s and rippling liquid up to my chin was noteworthy. This time the H2O hovered at 52 and was not more than waist deep, due to the seasonal outflow headed to Hudson’s Bay.                                                                                                                                                                                       

While still in the water task mode and clad in my wetsuit, wildfire sprinkler systems were retired from service for the coming winter. Both jobs well done and checked off the getting ready for winter list! Now it’s time for less critical preparations as we make ready for enhanced cool down, let her freeze! By the way, not to raise anyone’s ire, I did get the snow blade put on my pusher!                                                                                                                                                        

Guess I must have spoken too loud last week about the big bear who’s been visiting many Gunflint Lake residents but avoiding the Wildersmith neighborhood. No sooner had last week’s column hit WTIP airwaves than a gal living up the hill behind us let me know the ravenous critter had paid a visit to her place overnight. My how word gets around on the moccasin telegraph!                                                                                                                                                              

She shares that the big fellow did a job on the door to a seed storage facility before she dispatched it with some harsh words and banging racket. It may be pressing my luck but at this scribing, our place has been passed by and the welcome mat is not out!                                                  

Oops, I boasted too soon!  The big guy or maybe one of its kin attempted a little trespassing up onto the deck last Sunday evening. I had a brief discussion with the burly one and fired a couple shots into the air to assure him I meant business in regard to being an uninvited guest. Tail between its legs, the shadowy beast scurried off into the darkness.                                                     

Speaking of critters which are more tolerable, the Gunflint winter welcome wagon has hit the Trail. Flocks of snow buntings have been seen gathering in several roadside locations during my weekly treks up and down the Trail. Up to their usual tactics of exploding right in front of one’s vehicle, I’ve already been startled on a couple instances by an eruption of their little white rumps fluttering happily off into oblivion.                                                                                                             

I haven’t heard many reports of grouse hunter successes, but if they’re not bagging any, it’s not because there are no birds. I see plenty of the quirky unassuming chicken birds at almost every turn of my head along any number of back country roads. The past hatching season must have been a productive one for coveys of this much sought after game bird.                       

On a final note, if you haven’t made a trip up to check out the Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center during the summer, time is running out. The facility will be closing for the season after this coming Sunday. It will be your last chance to view the wonderful temporary exhibit of Gunflint butterflies, skippers and moths. Don’t miss this special display, along with a chance to do some early holiday season bargain hunting in the gift shop.                                                                                                        

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the accents of October along the Gunflint Trail!

(Photo by Daniel Arndt on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 10

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Just past the full, “falling leaves” moon, the upper Gunflint territory has experienced a typical month 10 atmosphere. We’ve had more clouds than sun, more wind than calm and more cool than warm. So when the sun peeks through and offers some warming rays, it sure has been welcome.
With enough rain to keep things damp, some parts of the Trail even experienced a sneak preview of the season to come. Yep, biting northwest winds and snow squalls last Saturday had many of us thinking about pre-winter chores yet to be completed. A few places saw some of the white stuff stick, but a day later the wet fluff was pretty much history.
Nevertheless, one would expect additional nice days before the polar express whistles its arrival. Hopefully, my final “getting ready for winter” tasks will be checked off by the time snow shoveling and pushing become the norm.
A trip up or down the byway Trail finds our golden torches rapidly dimming. The glory of sunshine in the tree tops has faded into falling autumn leaves over the past seven.
The annual theatrics of dancing leaves has taken center stage and is now showing at every curve and undulation of the blacktop. Whether prompted by a gasp from Mother Nature or aroused by a passing vehicle, the fallen tokens are skittering here and slithering there into perhaps their eternal resting place along this paradise pathway.
As fall grows closer to winter, many upper border country folk recall the good old-fashion pasting we got not too many moths ago. And most are wondering what might be coming down the pike.
Whatever one’s opinions might be about last winter, Mother Nature’s north woods world apparently had some good come out of the frosty whiteout experience.  Recently, a fellow working for the DNR trapping gypsy moths throughout Cook County and parts of Lake County was on the Mile O Pine checking those little green boxes hanging in the woods.
He related to me that he was finding very few egg masses anywhere. In fact, his findings from this past season have numbered less than 100, in comparison with 2013 when some 20,000 plus were found throughout search territory. Opinion thus far indicates that the over-powering cold of last winter must have frozen them out. If this can be confirmed scientifically to be the best possible answer, hurrah for cold and bring it on!
On another creepy crawler note, after early spring reports of bad tick situations for some locales, I’ve heard little to nothing from midsummer on with regard to the nasty things. Perhaps I’m not in the right place to hear such gripes, but then again, maybe old man winter did in some of these infectious critters too! Should all of these Bugsy happenings be true, we shouldn’t be looking down our nose so harshly at the great white fellow of the north.
It’s been reported by a resident down at the end of our Mile O Pine that a bull of the moose variety has been hanging out. I’m told the big fellow was rooting about this guy’s yard leaving evidential aroma of his romantic intentions for any wishful female coming into the area.
The fact that he has been in the neighborhood would indicate he knows of potential for amorous happenings in just a couple weeks. Since the white tail population has diminished considerably over the past few years, perhaps we’ll see a little expansion of some moose madness in this neck of the woods.
A monster Bruno has been reported in several places along Gunflint Lake. The marauding critter is no doubt nosing out whatever edibles mankind has carelessly left out. As a prelude to turning in for a long winter’s slumber, the bear is leaving no garbage can unturned. Yours truly is thankful it has not found its way into the Wildersmith neighborhood, shhh.
The tragic fatal accident of the past week on the Trail serves as a reminder that those slow down warnings at various curves in the road are there for good cause. We Gunflint residents are saddened by this happening and extend condolences to the family for their lost loved one.           

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor our changing times!

(Photo by Al_HikesAZ on Flickr)