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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:
Grouse by Richard Minnick of Hungry Jack Lake

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 3

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The Wildersmith two are back on the Trail. It’s great to be home after a swell visit with our daughter in Iowa. The return brought us into a simply stunning trip up the Gunflint Byway. Mother Nature has one-upped her effort of last year in regard to the seasonal color show. I know this is supposed to be a Minnesota Viking state, but one would sure have to think again as to the natural color scheme out this way. With nearly 60 miles of aspen and birch gold set against the vast green coniferous backdrop, the landscape certainly leads one to think Packers green and gold, ha, ha.                                                                                                                                    

The few sugar maples existing in this part of border country have seen their leaves drip to this earthly place so the orange and red tones are gone, but golden hues are mushrooming day by day. The brilliant yellow tokens, tunneling the Trail and lining sawtooth hills and valleys, create the lush effect that old Sol is sitting in the treetops. It would seem you could almost reach up and grab a handful of sunshine.                                                                                                                                                                

To match the wonder of this glowing time, the territory has been blessed with some spectacular Indian summer days during the final week of month nine. The daily segments up through last weekend couldn’t have been better for folks to get out and enjoy this short but unequaled time of year.                                                                                                                                              

The area has been a leaf peeper’s delight!  It’s somewhat disheartening that this beautiful season is so short-lived. We are only days from being deluged with the flakes of fall. Past years’ needles and leafy tokens of 2014 are already departing their lofty summer positions along the Mile O Pine to softly blanket our forest floor. Yet, there’s beauty in this happening too, as the new carpeting provides a mellow, natural woodsy makeover.                                                                                                                                                                     

To take things a step further, short as our color show can be, the beauty of winter up here doesn’t take a back seat to this special prelude, as it is glorious in its own right. So all we northlanders have to do is remember, reflect and look forward to the next day, because something extraordinary is bound to capture us. Enjoy the hues now as we might be seeing white by mid-month, this of the “falling leaves” moon. We just can’t lose!                                                                        

There’s a possible message in my frosty prognostication, considering the unending flocks of Canadian honkers taking advantage of these great flying days. At least six wedges of the noisy commuters flew over Wildersmith last Sunday.                                                                                                                   

Speaking of other airborne avian, a leaf peeping tour with friends earlier this week found a couple of gorgeous white swans sitting on the waters of Swamper Lake. We were far enough away that it was difficult to discern whether they were of the Tundra or Trumpeter varieties. It’s most likely they were Tundras, as their flyway sometimes allows stopping over this area while en route to the mid-eastern coast.                                                                                                                         

Later in the tour, we had the rare pleasure of observing a handsome grouse in full plumage. This dapper fellow was touting his percussion skills in front of three ladies of the woods along a back country road.  His stately fanned tail feathers were something to behold.                                                                                                                       

A few weeks back, I shared about a colony of snowshoe hares hanging out around our place. Almost no sooner had those words been uttered, and the moccasin telegraph heard me calling, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”                                                                                                                         

Word sounded through the woods, apparently to be picked up by some interested felines. A friend down the road has since called to let me know a couple lynx had been carousing about his yard. So I’m guessing these cats of Canadian vintage are having visions of “wabbit” dinner. Apologies to my wiggly nosed friends, so to speak, for letting the cat out of the bag.                                                                                                                                                                         

I was advised by a couple fisher folks, who were recently dipping a line on the north Shore of Gunflint Lake, that their catching attempts were interrupted by a quartet of north woods comics. Somewhere between shore and the Canadian Island, four curious otters came out from a cove and proceeded to investigate these visitors.                                                                               

The foursome entertained for several minutes with their usual jovial antics of bobbing up and down while executing aquatics skills.  The weasel kin eventually swam off in quest of their own catching fortunes.                                                                                                                                               

Otter sightings are not unusual, but it had been a long time since these observers had seen any, so it was a wild neighborhood treat revisited.                                                                            

Keep on hangin’ in there, and savor an October to remember!


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 19

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Another week has passed along the Trail as we inch ever closer to autumn’s equinox. Samples of what’s ahead in the atmosphere were observed during the past seven days.
Although it did not happen in some places throughout the territory, there was enough cold in the air on a few mornings at Wildersmith to nip our deck-side tomato plants. If the frost-tempered air wasn’t cold enough, yours truly witnessed the first white flakes of the season on one of those mornings of week two.
Our early cold evenings even prompted a fire in the wood stove. Plus, on a couple of my daily midweek mail runs, the smell of wood smoke permeated my senses. There’s a certain wilderness magic in a wood-fired aroma harkening back to life’s simpler times.
Even as we warmed somewhat into early this week, damp gray November-like skies and brisk winds did not serve to warm the soul too much. So, I bade the cool experience welcome by brewing up a nice batch of corn chicken noodle soup. Yes, there’s a magic in that too!
Entering the third week of the month, area lake temps are in steady descent. The reading dock-side here on Gunflint’s south shore stood at 58 degrees last Sunday. That in mind, the climatic snapshot of border country is becoming clearer by the day. A side note to this is that the cold liquid is nearing a time when there is immediate hypothermia danger, so watercraft users beware and be safe.
While precipitation has been scant over the past seven, a combination of cool air, clouds and less powerful sunshine has kept the forest floor sodden. This has set the stage for fallen leaves to begin their musty process of decay, inevitably lending itself to that captivating smell of fall in the forest.  I’m getting whiffs of enchantment already!
There’s a growing blush to the maples along our Mile O Pine pathway. While a few of them have made the full transition, most are adding a little scarlet twinkle daily. This area might be fully flashy by the time this scribing hits the air waves this weekend.
Further signs of these colorful times are being noted. More area snowbirds have taken wing southward, as are true avian flocks. It must be making ice somewhere north of here as Canadian geese have been wedging in a southerly direction too. I observed two airborne V’s honking low overhead since our last airwaves meeting.
Attention, all pre-used stuff seekers. What may be the longest garage sale on the planet opens this weekend. By longest, I imply from the initial bargain site to a last stop bartering opportunity. It runs somewhere around 22 miles.
Plan to head up the Gunflint Trail either this Saturday or Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Signs will lead you to the treasure you’ve probably been looking for. There’ll be many stops between Clearwater Lodge (mid-trail) and the end at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters, so don’t miss it!
An incident of illegal refuse dumping is being investigated by county law enforcement and the USFS. The episode happened on USFS land at the Cross River brush pile site during the past couple weeks. Many items of junk and garbage were found by Forest Service employees in the area, which is only intended for public disposal of Firewise brush clean-up.
While this current investigation continues, all users are reminded any illegal dumping in this area will prove to be more costly (in fines) than if unwanted goods are appropriately disposed of with local haulers.
One of our north woods pioneer connections recently departed this heavenly place to one higher up. Word has been received on the passing of Norbert “Norbie” Mayer. Norbert was the son of Lydia and stepson of Art Nunstedt.  The Nunstedts and family were builders and original owners of the Chik-Wauk Lodge and Resort, now maintained as the Chik-Wauk Museum. Condolences are extended to surviving members of the family from his beloved Gunflint/Grand Marais community.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a fall fling along the Gunflint Trail!

(Photo by Chlot's Run on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 12

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Who would have thought that I’d be scribing a weekly news column following my retirement fifteen years ago? Even more remote is the fact I’d still be doing such going on thirteen years later. And likewise, further removed, I’d be heard through the marvels of cyber space and radio waves!
Bottom line, this is a personal celebration for having been blessed with a great opportunity to get to know so many wonderful people during this weekly Gunflint journey.  Reporting the goings-on in this marvelous piece of creation has offered many cherished moments. Thanks go out to all the encouraging well-wishers and many who’ve also shared a snippet about life’s happenings out this way.
As month nine advances into its second segment, pre-fall enrichment continues. Each passing day presents an advanced image on our landscape canvas. Yes, September is calling!
The first Aspen leaves are trickling earthward, fireflies and most butterflies are gone, we’re hunting bears and grouse, white tails are refashioning their coats, moose are becoming amorous, hummingbirds have intensified their nectar stops and I know of one fellow having already put up his deer stand. Yes, September calls!
The essence of Gunflint in autumn is unavoidably refreshing! It’s hard for yours truly to fully grasp whether the actual adventure of a seasonal change has seized me, or is it the nostalgic rhythm of color, textures and aromatics that is so uplifting.
If one is not in the mood for fall just yet, a trip down any Gunflint back country road during the next couple weeks will have one humming a September Song before you can return to the Trail blacktop. Too bad this bouquet we call fall (Tagwaagin in Ojibwe lore) can’t be bottled up for safe keeping and used during those less than awesome times.
Speaking of stashing the essence of fall, many are in the final stages of preserving our north woods wild berry bounty. Gals down the road have been busier than “proverbial beavers,” putting up jar after jar of jams, jellies and fruit flavored salsas.
Likewise, canning specialists are boiling up the best of what this cool growing season has yielded from the garden. And, that is not too much I’m told. I see plenty of green tomatoes having to be fried as opposed to making red before frost.
Aside from the cold dilemma for domestic gardening, conditions have provided for a wonderful growing season in the natural kingdom. Most trees, of which I can see the tops, have added nearly two foot of new growth. Meanwhile the territory is well into that time when mushrooms of all colors, shapes and sizes are just exploding. I’ve never seen so many varieties in my short time here in the forest.
So much for human preparations, as fall unfolds the “wild neighborhood” critters are busy in the stashing mode, too. Rodent varmints frequenting the Wildersmith yard have planted so many seeds I wonder how these nutritional nuggets will ever be found once our white blanket is in place. They must have either terrific smellers or immense memory capacity. 
In recent weeks, a colony of snowshoe hares has established a provincial settlement around our place. This is the first time I’ve seen so much hopping activity hereabouts. Chances are their presence could mean some rare Lynx visits when winter’s on deck. Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!
I’ve been hearing several stories about the woodchuck populous fattening up on whatever they can find and wherever they can find it, from domestic flowers on household decks to unprotected garden goodies. Guess all creatures of the universe see the light’s been turned on in the winter cabin down the road and we’d better be ready.
I’m deep into thinking of winter readiness. I’ve happily finished putting preservative on five property buildings, am contemplating when too shore the boat lift and dock, stacked winter burning debris, whacked weeds for the final time and cut back some of summer's out-of-control undergrowth. And, as the old 1970’s tune from the Carpenters’ declares, “we’ve only just begun.”
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor this precious life along the Trail!

(Photo by chotda on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 5

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The final countdown of summer is on both here in the wilderness and all over the country for that matter. School has started and that oblong ball season is under way as we close in on the first full week of our new month.
The full “wild rice moon” (Manoominike-Giizis) is but days away while the autumnal equinox creeps closer to a true East is East and West is West for our daytime luminary.
Mother Nature stepped front and center this past week. The old gal answered the call for some much needed rainfall throughout the upper Gunflint. The Wildersmith rain gauge collected 2 8/10 inches to soften up our brittle forest floor. Other places in the territory recorded similar amounts in the downpour episodes.
Meanwhile, temperatures have been seasonably cool and comfortable. Beyond the cool comfort, a couple days of strong winds buffeted the area. The result was high seas on the larger lakes and perilous navigation conditions.
Most folks are aware by now of the near tragedy on Gunflint Lake during one of those cyclonic days. A couple young fellows are lucky to be alive today after a harrowing afternoon and night on the raging waters.
Guess some people will never learn that testing the questionable elements of Mother Nature’s ways is often not in one’s best interests. This latest experience is especially noteworthy, since these young men had been given warning about impending dangers on the lake that day.
The two unwise navigators caused great alarm and danger to many individuals involved with search and rescue agencies before they were found safe, after nearly 15 hours of painstaking frustration.
This incident should be a lesson learned to all users of this great territory. Enjoy the magnificence, but realize that we humans are not in charge as it is so often assumed. The all-powerful natural world can humble one in the blink of an eye.
A similar incident occurred on the same day when two female canoers were also forced to shore on the Gunflint. This pair was not in such peril as their decision to take to land took place before they got into serious difficulty. They too were rescued and brought to safety in less compromising circumstances.
Bear tales continue to trickle in and will probably increase as the berry season wanes. There’s been a hefty momma bear stopping by at various places along the South Gunflint Lake road with her cubs being observed on occasion. I suppose she’s already decided that garbage picking is easier than searching the picked-over berry patches.
In another bear incident, a fellow tells of watching an ornery bear chasing a dog into the water up on Seagull Lake. This seems unusual because dogs are usually the chasers rather than being a “chasee” and often tree a bear in no time.
The bear swam quite a ways into the lake before finally giving up pursuit and returning to shore. It was thought for a time that the canine might run out of gas requiring a boat rescue, but it too made it back to shore only in another location.
One can only surmise a cub might have been involved in the canine/ursine ruckus, thus prompting momma into action. Anyhow, all’s well, that ends well.
The final summer fling of the Gunflint Community squeezed in between showers last Sunday. A big turnout at Chik-Wauk Museum celebrated the unofficial end to our great warm season with pie and ice cream. Over 250 pieces of pastry delight were served with even more dips of ice cream.
It was a splendid day as old friendships were renewed and seasonal goodbyes were exchanged before snowbirds begin taking wing to winter digs. Thanks to all who helped with organizational details, the fabulous pie contributors, Gunflint Lodge donations and of course, all the sweet tooth folk who enjoyed!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the arrival of our Autumn Express!

Black Bear

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 15

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The Gunflint north reaches mid-August after having recorded another spectacular weather week. Most days, skies were blue as far as the eye could see with tolerable daytime temps and great sleeping conditions at night.
However, just when we really needed unobstructed heavens last Sunday for viewing the “super, blueberry moon,” clouds veiled the display for us border country viewers. The only consolation from the cloudy build-up was a much needed rain as the upper Gunflint watershed had been turning crunchy dry.
The only rain recorded prior to Sunday’s drenching (which by the way measured over 2 inches), was a brief but intense thunderstorm overnight on August 4 and 5. That outbreak dropped about six-tenths at Wildersmith, but also set off a small lightning strike fire in the Partridge Lake vicinity of the BWCAW. The blaze was quickly monitored and suppressed by forest service wildfire specialists.
Lake water temps in the area have been comfortably warm, holding in the mid-70s. Such conditions have attracted countless folks out onto and into our many wilderness venues. Besides those choosing a dip in the lakes with bodies or hooks and lines, the area is totally inundated with berry pickers. I heard of one couple that took away 17 quarts. Hope the greedy humans leave some for the bears and other sweet-toothed critters.
Speaking of bears, a local fellow recently found himself a player in an interesting man vs. beast encounter. He is crediting himself with a no-no by leaving a couple bags of garbage exposed in the back of his pickup, thus setting the stage.
The scene opens one morning as he observes an agile yearling Bruno climbing into the back of his truck and snatching a bag of breakfast potential. A quick dash outside found him hollering as he chased after the critter. Along the way he also picked up a canoe paddle, in an attempt to goad the animal into dropping its treasure, saving him a refuse clean-up and perhaps a return visit. Wonder what he would have done had the bear reversed the pursuit?
The chase segment, act two, was short-lived as the chubby cubby eventually disappeared into the forest, goody bag still in its mouth. I find the most amusing component of the entire episode was that the fella was still in his jammies.
The chaser declared he did pull on his boots and grabbed a hat while scampering out the door. I’m betting this was a performance to behold; a man in a hat, pajamas and boots with weapon of little persuasion in hand while clomping across the yard.
I would also wager he isn’t the first wilderness resident to have given chase to some pilfering varmint while clad in nightwear or maybe less. This experience could have been a north woods funniest home video for sure!
The 26th annual Mid-Trail Property Owners Association fundraising celebration was another huge success. An enthusiastic crowd attended the event, which saw Darlene Katajamaki of the Gunflint Trail claim the 2014 quilt in the grand prize drawing. Early returns indicate in excess of $8,000 raised in support of the Trail fire and rescue crews through the flea market, gift boutique, super auction and quilt raffle.
Combined with the Trail canoe races, we’ve raised nearly $25,000 for our dedicated and much appreciated Gunflint volunteer protectors.  Thanks to all organizers, prize donors, volunteer worker bees and participants. Another great effort by the Gunflint community!
All is in readiness for the second north woods chamber music concert Saturday. Earlier this week, a few seating accommodations remained for the 4 p.m. event in the Mid-Trail fire hall facilities. A call to the Chik Wauk Museum can answer questions as to last minute availability, 388-9915.
I find every day seems to add subtle seasonal changes in the natural world around us. The Gunflint Woods, Winds and Strings concert will be an idyllic kick-off into our growing autumnal character. Hope to see you there!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a rapid winding down of the Gunflint summer season!


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 8

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The second weekend of this new month found our part of the world leaning toward the dry side of the weather ledger. Since our last WTIP gathering, rain droppings have withered to barely half an inch in our neighborhood.
Meanwhile upper Gunflint temperatures have been about as near perfect as one could expect for midsummer. It just doesn’t get any better for warm season comfort than high temps in the 70-degree range and nighttime lows around 50.
Lake water temps have shown a moderate rise to the low 70s at the Wildersmith dock. I would assume other sky blue waters around the area reflect about the same character.
Right in sequence with the berry season, this weekend we celebrate the “blueberry moon” as it’s dubbed in Ojibwe lore. Although there’ll be no “blue moon” in the skies this month, pickers are finding plenty of blues right here on earth. It should be a lunar fantastic as it’s the closest moon of the year (I mean big). And the moonrise will coincide with sunset for a celestial extravaganza.
I’ve heard some say the blue-black harvest is fantastic once again and others have indicated the crop is leaner than the past couple years. Whatever the scenario, the Smiths are grateful for a blessing from the blueberry lady down the road. Last Sunday she dropped off a fine container of the blue jewels, saving yours truly a trip into bug land for a harvest of my own. What a friend!
Recently I received a report of an attempted unauthorized entry into a home at the end of County Road 20. Turns out a bear tore into a household screen door but did not gain access through the inside closure.
Apparently unsatisfied, this Bruno found another outbuilding providing a tempting aroma from within. Much to its pleasure, the grumpy one found the door latch was no challenge. Once inside, the garbage receptacle was easy pickins’. In no time at all, the feast was on, and the ill-mannered critter left the place a stinky mess. So I guess that not all bears are out in the blueberry patches.
Not long ago I heard of a loon having landed on the water of the Cross River gravel pit. The landing did not come into question, until observers found the tiny body of water did not provide enough surface length to enable a subsequent take-off. I remember reading somewhere that a quarter mile or more can be necessary for a loon lift-off.
I’m told the frustrated bird was on the liquid enclosure for a few days. While the Forest Service and DNR were notified of the plight, one Good Samaritan even tried a darkness rescue attempt from a kayak with a dip net, but was unsuccessful in corralling the frightened being. I’m told the handsome avian is now gone, but the mystery of where it went or how it escaped this dilemma is unsolved.
We are well into this warm season, but until last Sunday, there had been no flotations of waterfowl going by our dock. Although the number of quackers has been dwindling over the years, we have always experienced at least a few families cruising along the shorelines. A mom merganser and her raft of 13 paddled by, ending our duck-less streak, and perhaps giving hope that there might be more on another day.
However, the big question remains, what is going on with the duck population out this way. Are they going the way of the moose?
A friend tells of hooking two monster northern pike recently down on North Lake, one of which was caught on a small mouth bass hooked earlier in the sequence. A difficult battle ensued before the big fellow let go of the bass right beside the boat. The squirming smallie was then released and as it swam away was nabbed once more by the big pike. Guess it just wasn’t this little guy’s day!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor Gunflint Life at its best!

(Photo by Brian Hoffman on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 1

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Hello month eight! Who would have thought we’d be in August already. “Neebing” (summer in Ojibwe) is rapidly approaching the halfway point by the calendar.
Subtle changes in our natural world add to the adventure of our 2014 Gunflint journey. One noticeable sign is the appearance of golden dogbane leaves along the Trail, one of the earliest signs of autumn.  My, how briskly the sands of our season sift along.
Our midsummer weather has been up and down in the past week. A few segments were down with warm and sticky while those remaining were up, cool and north woods refreshing. Another couple offerings from the heavens rained down on the territory too. Nearly 1 1/4 inches in the Wildersmith neighborhood helped keep the wildfire danger at bay for the time being.
More summer hype along the Trail happens this week. The annual Mid-Trail Property Owners Association fundraising event happens this coming Thursday, Aug. 7, at Fire Hall # 1 facilities (Poplar Lake).
The flea market and gift boutique open at 1 p.m. Those activities will be followed by the always exciting super auction. And, last but not least, the day will close down around 4 p.m. by drawing for the winner of the 26th edition of 2014 Mid-Trail Quilters’ stitching endeavors.
Collective proceeds of the afternoon’s four-part celebration will again be donated in support of the Trail fire department and rescue crews. Summer beverages and home-baked treats will be available. All area residents and visitors are invited!
Times are blue these days. Yes they’re on, the blueberries. Along with bears of the region, vehicles of pickers dot the Gunflint hills and roadsides as our blues fest captures hearts and whets appetites of hundreds.
I’m putting my money on the bears in this gathering contest between man and beast. Yet, I know there’ll be enough buckets filled to provide plenty of blueberry treats for human delight.
By the way, the fruits of these picking labors happen at just the right time. Preliminary notice is given that the culinary art of pie baking will be celebrated at the end of the month.  The Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center grounds will host the tasty event as he Gunflint Trail Historical Society puts on their annual pie and ice cream social, Sunday, Aug. 31.
More details will be forthcoming. Area pastry artisans who are willing to contribute a pie for the event should contact Sally Valentini at 388-0900 confirming your participation. Everyone is invited to come up the Trail, or out of the woods, for this sweet engagement at Trail’s end on Labor Day weekend.
A reminder is shared once more that tickets continue on sale for “The Gunflint Woods, Winds and Strings Chamber Music Concert” Saturday, Aug. 16. Reservations can be obtained by calling the Chik-Wauk Museum, (218) 388-9915 or by going online to the Gunflint Trail Historical Society website.
The north woods musical celebration will commence at 4 p.m. in the Mid-Trail fire hall facilities (Poplar Lake). A post-concert reception follows in the Schaap Community Center next door. Tickets are going fast so don’t delay making that reservation.
And finally, if we Gunflinters haven’t had enough harassment from the buzzing biters thus far, a number of folks have been battling infestations of ants. I’m told the creepy crawlers range from minis in size to big ones, (the kind that chomp on window sills and other such wooden household parts). Sad to say, this latest assault of Arthropods must be a delight for area exterminators.
In spite of our periodic vermin dilemmas, peace and quiet of this place still reigns supreme.  It’s hard to improve on silence as a Canadian sunset sets the stage for cool calming waters and an explosion of northland celestial magic!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor some Gunflint quiet!

Red Squirrel (Bob MacInnes / Flikr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 25

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            Summer has stepped up, though not with a vengeance, while I begin this week’s Gunflint scoop. Guess it’s about time as we’re headed into the last stanza of July.
            With the increased heat and bright sunshine walleyes are being driven into deeper, darker places so there’s likely to be some angler angst. Thus it’s “smallie” time, they’re fun too. In addition to whining from yours truly, the moose will also be headed into darker places too.  A little of this sultriness goes a long ways toward making one appreciate minus 40-something!
            Our rainy times have dwindled over the past seven with just a little over 1/2 inch claimed in the Wildersmith gauge. In fact, the last serious rain was just over 10 days ago.  That is, until the heavens were cracked open with some July fireworks early Tuesday morning.  Until then back country roads were starting to choke in dust, and green as things may be, the wilderness duff was getting crunchy in a hurry.
            The drier conditions of late have been a blessing to the construction crew, which is in the final stages of resurfacing a section of the Trail out this way. For those of us traversing this paradise pathway on regular basis, early trips on the new ribbon of blacktop are almost too much to believe. Thanks go out to the County Highway Department for administering and rapidly expediting a great improvement!
            As August creeps toward our horizon, summer seems right on cue. The perennial lupine crop is fading fast and is being replaced by a more favored native, fireweed. Meanwhile the bird’s foot trefoil has surged to front and center in place of hawkweeds and daisies to be next in line among non-native floral luminaries.
             I noticed the other day wild rose blooms along the Mile O Pine have grown into hips, although the fruit are far from mature. And, it is hard to fathom, but a few moose maples are already blushing with a faint tint of something other than green.
            All these natural happenings are signaling the coming of berry season. A couple ripe raspberries were plucked a few days ago with many in the final stages. A friend shared she got her first cup of early blues (berries) from her favorite patch, with oodles more just days away.  I can almost smell the aroma  of fruits of the forest pies wafting from cabin kitchens through the pines.
            Berry time will also favor a gang of north woods growlers who will be equally grateful. Bet those bears can hardly wait to get off their sunflower seeds and garbage compost menus of the past few months.
            I hesitate to get too enthused, but it seems as though the biting surge of insects has backed off somewhat. It could happen, that hearing of my opinion, a news release via the “moccasin telegraph” will summon a second or third generation of mosquitoes to prove me wrong.
            A bear paid another visit to our deck while the Smiths were away. Apparently, Pappa or Momma bear was miffed at there being no goodies. It took a swipe at my grilling ashes collection can and knocked the lid off.
            The woolly one must have got into the dusty stuff with both forefeet, and I suspect, also got a good snoot full before it tramped across the rain-soaked deck, leaving big gray footprints. The trail of paw reproductions led to the edge of the deck where the animal either fell off or managed an acrobatic dismount. Being a rather inconsiderate woodsman, it definitely left a trace.
            There’s three red squirrels who have adopted me as their guardian for the past couple months, in spite of my not stocking the usual feeders. In order to minimize inviting bears, I scatter three small patches of seed on the ground away from the house.
             These miniature rodents are so enthused each day when I come outside, I’m often met at the door and they run into my wood shop where the supply can is located, prancing around like kids at Christmas. They are worse than little puppies, under foot to the point where I have to almost boot them out the door to avoid stepping on one.
            The handouts allocated are quickly consumed, leaving no trace to bring in the bears. If any seed morsels are missed, their chipmunk cousins are soon on the scene, cleaning up any scraps.
            It would seem the squirrely creatures might be big as bears since the threesome are about to finish off a second 50-pound bag of sunflower seeds since the warm season commenced. It probably won’t be long before stashing for winter will get under way, if it hasn’t already.
            Paddling is a way of life in these parts. Last week the Gunflint Trail Canoes Races took center stage and this week it’s the Dragon Boat Festival down on the harbor. Come and enjoy the weekend festivities beginning on Friday evening with race competition starting Saturday morning. It’ll be a fun time, and will benefit three worthy county nonprofits: the North Shore Health Care Foundation, North House Folk School and “THE” community radio station.
            Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some time on the Gunflint!


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 18

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Upper Gunflint weather conditions calmed some over the past week. The wash-out rains of the week prior have subdued into a few minor episodes which totaled 1 ¼ inches at Wildersmith. In between the moisture happenings, skies have been mostly clear with temps about normal to just on the pleasantly cool side.
Water levels in river system lakes are holding steady with a continuing feed from the upper Gunflint watershed. On the Gunflint Gal,  our surface level is the highest I’ve seen at this time of year since arriving in 1999.
I can’t speak for all lakes, but the water temp at our Wildersmith dock is struggling to get above the mid-60s, and I heard that the mercury up on Saganaga is hovering in the low to mid-50s. This seems unusually cool for the third week of July.
As anyone who’s been here before knows, this is a wondrous place. Our northern paradise is such a marvel I’m often set to wondering about a sundry of natural woodsy happenings.
For instance, in regard to our current mosquito siege, do they ever sleep or take time off? It seems they are here to greet one early in the a.m., mad about something by midday and even nastier by sundown. Do you suppose they might have a three shift attack strategy or maybe they’re just on call 24/7? Whatever their plan, they’ve sure had the upper hand in the war on us, and it’s quite perplexing.
A fellow shared a humorous tale with me the other day in which it was claimed there are so many big mosquitos around that one was discovered with a tick on it, or could it be vice-versa. Oh for a good freeze!
More wonderment caught my attention during a recent trip down the Trail to Grand Marais. Although focused on the winding pathway, one could not miss the ever-changing sky conditions as they transitioned from bright sunshine to dark eerie clouds. It made me wonder what effect this off-and-on, light-to-dark passing had on the hawkweed blossoms that escorted us toward civilization.
Knowing these floral invaders of the northland adapt readily to changing light conditions, do you suppose they were closing with each infusion of cloudy darkness, and re-opening per each golden exposure of old Sol?  If they were, I’m betting that their mini-operating systems were about to explode in photoelectric turmoil.
A third eye-catching amazement is observable nearly every summer morning throughout the woods. It’s hard for me to assimilate the way in which our neighborhood arachnids can put together such a network of fiber optics in one overnight setting.
A look into the dewy forest as the sun begins piercing through presents an array of incomprehensible glistening filaments. How do they do that? It is particularly amazing to think they do this night after night.
With tongue slightly in cheek, it has taken mankind nearly three years to get our single broadband fiber out this way, and we’re still not done. Obviously, the Gunflint arachnids are more efficient in overcoming fiber installation complications than we understand.
Many out this way continue to have issues with our ursine neighbors. Most bear concerns seem to happen on the negative side of the ledger. However, every once in a while one of the wooly critters props itself up in some sort of photo op which makes folks forget about them as usual north woods nuisances.
Such is the case where one was recently found sitting high in a tree top near the Gunflint Lodge waterfront/beach. Although it is not unusual for bears to climb trees, information is not available as to why it was up there.  Being in a place which is better suited to avian, this Bruno caused observers plenty of excitement over its lofty perch.
On a note that is more easily understood, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society announced it will be hosting another afternoon of musical enchantment. The first concert of Gunflint Woods, Winds and Strings Chamber Music in 2013 was an incredible happening, and a return performance will be staged in just a few weeks.
Seating reservations are necessary for the event, which will again take place at the Mid-Trail Fire Hall facilities Saturday, Aug. 16, beginning at 4 p.m. Hall accommodations are limited to 150.  So it would be well to reserve as soon as possible. A call to the Chik-Wauk Museum is what it takes, 218-388-9915. A post-concert reception will be held in the Schaap Community Center next door.  Reservation proceeds will go to support Chik-Wauk Museum activities.
Two big events are into the books for this summer. The WTIP summer funding endeavor was fantastic and the Gunflint Trail Canoe Races went off with much excitement as usual. A huge pat on the back is extended to all staffers, volunteers and donors for making each of these important events enormously successful.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a Gunflint wonder!

(Photo by Enrique Dans on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 11

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The “half way moon” will be beaming down on the territory this weekend. Seeing we are over the hump in 2014, daylight minutes have begun to trickle away. Nevertheless, there are a lot of goings-on throughout many Gunflint neighborhoods before our hot season melts into the next atmospheric transition.
Since our last meeting on either web or radio waves, border country has experienced several nice wet doses from the heavens. Amounts vary from place to place with the Wildersmith rain gauge catching nearly 3 1/4 inches during the long Independence Day weekend.
Meanwhile, temperatures have been mostly tolerable with exception of a couple sticky days following the jungle-like monsoons.  It appears this will be a great season for things that grow, including the weeds.
The blueberry lady down the road reports that there are plenty of berries on the vine, but blue they are not! She says all they need is some basking in the sun. Another week or so and many earthly patches will be matching the blue skies.
Speaking of skies, a heavenly phenomenon occurred around noontime on the fourth of July. If you happened to be looking into the east-southeast sky at about that time perhaps you saw the daytime aurora borealis.
Yes, research finds it can happen, I’m told. No, it wasn’t a rainbow. Although brief and wispy as the nighttime version, they showed off with some red and other hues before fading away in sunshiny gold. Is this place magic or what?
Many countywide events dot our calendar over the weeks leading us into America’s Labor Day break. Front and center this weekend in the region, along with the Grand Marais Art Festival, is the summer membership drive for THE North Shore radio station.
 Yep WTIP, the “North Shore Experience” is off and running once again seeking support from its hundreds of listeners. It pretty much boils down to the need for ongoing resources to keep this valued resource moving forward. Over some 16 years of broadcast history, the station has never been failed by its community of members. It’s step-up time for all good people to make sure that the little radio station that could continues in the can-do mode.
The area is but a few days from the big canoe race event. Next Wednesday is the day when the entire Gunflint community comes together in support of our volunteer firefighters and EMT crew. Final touches are being assembled by nearly 100 energetic Gunflint Trail Volunteers under the leadership of chairman Chris Steele.
Ticket sales for the general raffle and the grand prize, a Wenonah canoe, continue at several sites up the Trail.  They will also be available the day and evening of the happening until drawings begin. Remember all proceeds go to a great cause! Plan to be there for all the festivities, which get under way shortly after 4 p.m., don’t forget those juicy Gunflint beef burgers starting at 4:30.
As we turn the calendar into August, the yearly Mid-Trail bash takes center stage out his way. Folks should mark their calendar for Thursday Aug. 7 at 1 p.m. as the Mid-Trail Association puts on their flea market/gift boutique/auction, again on behalf of the fire and rescue volunteers.
I’m told the grand prize, an always fantastic locally stitched quilt, is ready to find a permanent home. Chances are already being sold at various places along the byway. This is always a fun gathering so you won’t want to miss it!
No new bear tales to share this week, but I have been told of people observing at least three sets of moose twins between Mid-Trail and Trail’s end at Seagull landing. Not only is this good news, but I’m sure there are some singletons following moms around that haven’t even been counted. We can only hope these mini-icons survive all the trials of growing into healthy adults.
Road construction out this way is proceeding well. Many of us have experienced some delays but all will be worth it when the new road surface is completed. After all these years of bumpy roller-coaster rides, we are overdue. I’m told that asphalt surfacing is scheduled to commence July 14 and will take about five to six days, depending of course on the weather.
On a final note, the July meeting of our Gunflint Trail Historical Society is happening this coming Monday the 14th, at the Schaap/Mid-Trail Community Center beginning at 1:30 pm. All are welcome!
Keep on hangin’ on, don’t forget to make that WTIP pledge, and savor our sky blue waters and a lush green forest!