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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.



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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
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

Autumn on the Gunflint Trail (Mike Houge/Flickr)

Wildersmith October 5

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Wow, the sights, sounds and scents of fall on the Gunflint have peaked like none such in recent memory. One’s vision is almost blinded with the iridescence of a brilliant Sol shining through the hot autumn leaves. Equally enchanting are the leaflets that have had their day in the sun and are trickling down like flakes of winter. Adding to the ambiance of our territory is an occasional whiff of border country aroma from flora that is layering the forest floor.
This past week has been nothing short of spectacular, with cool nights and warm pleasant days. The only negative to be noted is that the drought throughout the area has extended another week. In fact, there has been absolutely no rain of any amount here at Wildersmith.
To say it’s dry around here is more than an understatement. So I’m keeping my wildfire sprinkler system on stand-by as whiffs from previous fires are still making me nervous.
Excitement loomed large along the byway as September ended its run last weekend. By “large,” I’m making reference to the splendid “wild rice/harvest” moon! The brilliance of our nighttime luminary was oh so uplifting.
Guess I’ve never seen a full lunar experience that wasn’t spectacular, but then again, full moons are like elegant Canadian sunsets: Every time you see one it’s the best ever. That was the feeling of many Gunflint viewers, as they were awed by the dazzling luster over our northern landscape for several nights.
Several Indian summer days have reinvigorated some of the bitin’ north woods nasties. Although it has not warranted the use of bug netting, at times the obnoxious nippers have drawn a little blood on yours truly and had me talking to myself. To think that there are black flies buzzing about is almost unheard of this time of year.
If this unusual happening isn’t enough, this past summer has seemed to be missing a few of the lower order species of the animal kingdom. It has dawned on me that I have not seen much of several regular crawly critters.
Our neighborhood has observed few ladybugs, grasshoppers, fire lies, only an occasional spruce beetle and not one of those scary wolf spiders. Although not having to deal with some of these creepy beings is OK with me, one has to wonder what is going on.
With the ongoing effects of atmospheric changes rapidly consuming our universe, could this be a new and forever consequence or just a cyclic effect? I guess we’ll wait and see what the next warm season brings.
Another lynx has appeared in and around the Wildersmith neighborhood. My reporting observer indicates that this one was not as large as the feline visitor that prowled about his place a few weeks ago, but nevertheless, was just as inquisitive about scents around his yard.
Seasonally, I don’t often see many robins along the Mile O Pine. However, recently there have been numbers of them gathering. They have been hanging out in close proximity to the roadway, and consistently take flight right ahead of one’s approaching vehicle.
I’m guessing they could be the lead-in to the feature performance of our pre-winter snow buntings, or it is more likely they are rallying in preparation for their flight southward. Either way, this is a new and different happening for me.
Keep on hangin’ on, and I hope you’re savoring this wonderful season!

Airdate: October 5, 2012

Fall Colors on the North Shore (Paul Weimer/Flickr)

Wildersmith September 28

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With activity slowing toward more quiet times along the Trail, it’s hard to believe that the month of our full “wild rice” moon has slipped so rapidly toward the western horizon.
As we celebrate the bounteous lunar cycle this weekend, Dagwagin (fall in Ojibwe) has reached nearly optimum splendor along the byway. The magnitude of this wilderness mosaic is breathtaking in every sense of the word!
The atmosphere has become quite fall-like. Frosty temps and brisk northwest winds have amplified the technicolor show playing in our woodsy theater.
Although rainfall has been minimal, the area did get a spritzing or two over the past week. Last Saturday even saw a snow squall barrel down Gunflint Lake and through other parts of the territory. This happened as a swell friend, some of his buddies and yours truly grappled around in the 58-degree waves to bring in the Wildersmith dock.
A hectic summer schedule for yours truly finally broke last weekend, affording the Smiths and some Hungry Jack Lake friends time to get out and hike in a little bit of this magic. We chose a path least traveled at this time of the year, the blueberry hill spur off the former Gneiss Lake Trail. To say the very least, enchanting was our trek through the rapidly changing granite-based forest, to a rocky summit that could just as well have been the top of the world.
Most everyone knows of the tragic Derechos and wildfires that have befallen this section of the forest since 1999. It’s spiritually uplifting to see how Mother Nature is bringing the area back to life.
A little more than a decade after the big blow down, and a mere five years since that natural restoration project was interrupted by the scalding Ham Lake Fire, the old gal has sure done a great job. Yes, the skeletons and scars are still to be found. However, these blemishes just add to the mystique amongst a myriad of new green that has blossomed, and is now in the process of autumnal transition. In a few years, with a nudge from Gunflint Green-up plantings and nature’s plan, the serpentine trail will be a coniferous tunnel toward blue heavens.
Since opening in June, the tread way to the blueberry top has become well-worn. Close inspection as our quartet trudged along found this wilderness path has also become a thruway for moose traffic.
Countless deposits of moose calling cards were observed, but luckily there were no meetings and greetings with these ancient icons. I would guess that the clearing of this pathway, as opposed to the seemingly endless tangle of charred blow down, has made navigating the forest less complicated for those in the moose kingdom.
More of this moose magic happened to the Smiths recently when we came upon one of the historic forest symbols while traveling the upper Trail, not far from the Chik-Wauk Museum turn-off. This monster of the byway was as huge as I’ve ever seen with a splendid “wide track” rack.
The big fellow seemed a bit belligerent in regard to relinquishing the traveled portion of the roadway while ambling ahead of us for some distance. In addition, he refused a turn about for a photo op, so we were left with only a view from the posterior. Thus we have no digital verification as to its enormity. After providing a view of the back end for a while, he eventually clomped off into the woods and out of sight.
From this same area comes word of a momma bear and her two young’uns crossing the Trail. At this time, this little section of paradise is quite like a zoo.
With berries long since gone, bear hunger does not go away, with their need to fatten up for a long winter’s nap. There are continuing reports of bruno stops where humans reside, so we need not be tempting them into return visits by being careless stewards of garbage and bird feeding stations. Bears are not necessarily the problem; it is we who often create our own dilemmas with these furry natives.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the woodsy wonders!

Airdate: September 28, 2012

Red Fox (Anthony Adams/Flickr)

Wildersmith September 21

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It’s official, the calendar says that our fall excursion is on schedule along the Gunflint Byway. For a day now, east is truly east and west is west with our daytime luminary, Sol.
Although autumn has been elbowing its way up the Trail for a few weeks, it seemed that we'd never run out of summer. I've had so much warm and sticky that I'm happy to finally see that equinox come to fruition. We should be able to really get on with this wonderful season! It's leaf peeper time!
Fire- and dragonflies are gone, a few hummingbirds are in their last sweet stop approach and murders of crows are caw-cussing throughout the territory as they begin to head wherever they head for the winter.
I've noticed a couple of the four-legged furry beings have been tending to the tick of the natural clock too. Several white tails have already started the exchange of their sleek copper-tone warm weather slickers for that cedar-bark gray of colder days ahead.
And a fox or two have shown themselves along the byway sporting thickening coats and those lush plumes trailing from their posteriors. With a few almost cold nights of late, I can just imagine them all curled up inside a den somewhere with that cuddly wraparound stole insulating their lanky bodies.
Another autumnal apparel quirk is showing up throughout the forest. The blaze orange of the shoot-'em-up crew is now drawing their bead on some unsuspecting wild thing. With bear, grouse and moose hunting season at hand, let's hope that the only statistics are counted in bag limits. Everyone is encouraged to be safe by being properly attired, including the unarmed folks that also trudge nature’s paths.
I sound like a broken record as I reaffirm that the rain gods continue with their border country work stoppage. A mere seven one-hundredths is all that has been measured over the past seven days at Wildersmith.
It is amazing that we had many timely rains during the summer extending through the first week of August. Since then, the faucet has been shut down to barely a few drips for the better part of the past six weeks.
Hope springs eternal that this gets turned around sooner rather than later. Streams and rivers are bone dry in most up-the-Trail locales. Meanwhile, lake levels that depend upon huge watershed infusions are declining at an alarming rate. The DNR Gunflint Lake level gauge at the Wildersmith dock is about one week from dropping off the scale, much the same as it did last year.
Temperatures have been unconditionally good during the same time period. We even had some near frost around here on a couple occasions. That "near frost" definition means close to crystal rooftops, but no cigar. There have been some serious reports of frost in other places and even an unconfirmed report of snowflakes in the Pine Mountain Road area.
"Getting ready for winter" chores are in full swing around the territory. Yours truly has been busy putting the finishing touches on the summer list of things to do.
A number of lakeside docks are on shore and the few remaining in our sky blue waters have seen their usual watercraft headed for winter storage. Inventorying the woodshed is the name of the game for all of us year-round folks, along with cutting and splitting whatever can be found for the '13/'14 season.
Another task for many of us is putting deer protection around succulent shrubs and adolescent trees. I've even given thought to mounting my snow blade, checking out snow blower operations and trying to decide when would be the best time to put on my winter wheels. The beat goes on and on.
One pre-winter job that should be put on hold for as long as possible is winterizing those wild fire sprinkler systems. Our extreme fire danger makes closing these down right now pretty risky! There'll be some time for this in October.
Keep on hangin' on, and savor this awesome place!

Airdate: September 21, 2012