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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:
Snowshoe Hare (DSikes/flikr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 16

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            With one exception the Gunflint territory has made significant strides in the march into spring over the past seven days. Warmer daytime temps and some timely rain showers have things advancing nicely.
            The one exception I reference is lake ice. Although many shallower bodies of water and a few bays on the larger lakes have turned liquid, the big lakes in the county remain locked up in winter persona.
            This being the case, opening day fishing activity in this part of the state was non-existent to marginal at best. So the upper Gunflint area, as a fishing destination, has marked a second consecutive year where Old Man Winter has ruled.
 Fishing on opening day up here in border country has always had anglers on edge so this happening was not too unexpected. Plus the cold water this time of year is not the most conducive to good luck, but just wait a couple more weeks. There were a few brave souls, however, who put in where possible, and at least one I know of came home with a nice lake trout.
            Speaking of brave souls that do challenge the icy conditions, I’m reminded of a story from yesteryear. It seems the lake ice back then might have been similar to 2014. The subject of this saga decided ice on opening day was not going to deter him.
Donning waders and winter wear, he loaded gear (including an ice auger) into his canoe and cautiously pushed out onto the frozen surface. Testing things, step by step, he advanced until he found a favorable spot, then drilled a hole in the crystal and dropped in his jigging equipment. Sitting back in the canoe, in time he had a strike, and eventually pulled a nice trout up through the icy orifice.
With a fresh laker in his watercraft, equipment was reloaded and step by step, the canoe was ushered back to shore. And then it was supper, fresh from a truly icy lake, in “the land of sky blue waters.” How’s that for a fish story? And what determination!
Shifting gears back to spring, a few snow bird neighbors are beginning to wander back to the northland. And the real snow birds of Minnesota have been circling the skies looking over former nesting quarters for the past week.
I’m talking about common Loons.  A number have been reported searching for their old retreats only to be delayed in some areas by minimal open water. Apparently their internal clocks were not in sync with our lengthy Gunflint winter.
 I was privileged to watch last Saturday as the nesting platform in North Bay (which is now ice free) at Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center was towed into place. It was both interesting and a bit comical to watch the loon pair of that neighborhood.
They seemed as excited as kids in a candy store, skirting the potential nesting retreat as it was launched and then following while it was pulled into position to be anchored off. Within seconds after the towing folks cut loose, the pair was making a “wings-on” inspection of the re-located digs. I assume they found it to their liking.
Spring apparel is being noted on any number of beings from the wild neighborhood. Recently the Smiths spotted a yearling moose that was partway through taking off its now-shabby winter coat.
Then farther down the Trail, we encountered a few snowshoe hares that are in transition to warm weather gear, being almost out of and not quite into their seasonal camouflage. Apparently their feet are the last body parts to make the change, as all were still hopping in white socks.
And last but not least, the red squirrels frequenting our deck are in various stages of un-dress, having partially molted into cooler fur coats.
On another topic for this week, I can’t help climbing onto the old soap box for my annual declaration of disgust with my fellow man. Now that the snow banks are retreating back from the traveled parts of our byways, we observe once more that a certain sector of our society has not grown one iota in respect for our treasured Gunflint Trail view scape.
Unsightly littering of packaging and a sundry of other trash stands out obnoxiously in our barren ditches. I for one say this behavior is totally unacceptable both here and anywhere for that matter. Couple these messes by uncaring masses with the often natural forest mishaps and we find this time of year looking like an ugly duckling following the winter shroud’s exodus.
We humans seriously need to control what we can in regard to the trails we leave and partner with Mother Nature’s green-up to lessen the impact of those not-so-lovely natural accidents.  Then all will be good in this heaven on earth!
In spite of my “soap box” rhetoric, there’s a rebirth of beauty taking hold in them thar  Gunflint hills. The frozen juices of our coniferous forest are flowing freely once again. Evergreens are overcoming their drab winter look with a refreshing twinkle of warm-season greenhood. And in a few weeks, their budding deciduous cousins will “spring” forth with their virescent contribution too. Folks out this way can hardly wait!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the coming of the green!

young rhubarb (Miika Silfverberg/Flikr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 9

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            After one week of month five, the Gunflint Trail territory is slowly growing in spring character. Winter remnants remain in many shaded places, but the majority of our border country landscape is revealing barren brown earth.
            In spite of our improving conditions, the Wildersmith neighborhood received what must have been a final swipe of winter last Saturday evening and then again on Monday morning. Each repetition was short lived, but was enough to whiten the ground as if to remind us that it could likely be a farewell encore!
            Meanwhile lake ice is gradually showing signs of deterioration. The surface in several instances is weeping with melt water on top of ice which may still be more than 2 feet thick. In some places on the Gunflint Gal, the white cover is sporting spots of gray, indicating a start to the rotting process.
            Streams that feed some 1,500 lakes in the county are surging through the watersheds. Those rushing waters will soon be swelling lake levels to the highest point in a number of years. Needless to say, it is uncertain as to whether there will be much open water for the North Country (Minnesota Lakes) opening of walleye season tomorrow (Saturday).  It’s anybody’s guess as to when the big ice cubes will be in liquid form.
            Back country roads, including the Mile O Pine, are deliberately progressing toward improved passage. In the case of our pathway through the woods, drying has taken place where snowbanks have receded back into the roadside ditches. However, we still have several dicey places where ice dams command careful vehicle maneuvering.
Around the Wildersmith yard, some brave rhubarb and a few unidentified green shoots have peeked through the cool soil during the past few days. And a friend from over on Loon Lake tells of scooping away an icy bank near her house to discover daffodils and tulips standing up in the snow.
In the animal world, just as I predicted a couple weeks ago, the bears have come out of winter slumber. Although the folks reporting such have not actually seen any inky brunos, several sources confirm evidence of the usual bear calling cards.
            Many of us year-round residents are already into spring cleanup. It is unbelievable how much comes down out of the forest canopy during the winter. The Smiths have already started two piles of brush for our next winter burning piles. So readers and listeners who are unfamiliar with our three-season year, can see that while we are deep in the middle of mud season, we’re already lapping over into the next northern segment, which is “getting ready for winter.”
            Speaking of other clean-up efforts…with leadership from the folks at Gunflint Lodge, two volunteer crews and a few U.S. Forest Service folks, the seventh annual Gunflint Green-up continued this last weekend. Work was conducted up near the end of the Trail at Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Sprucing up was done to clear hiking trails along with planting of more coniferous seedlings.
            I’m told there is more cleanup to be done on trails around the museum site, especially up on the Blueberry Hill pathway. Any area resident who would be interested in volunteering help with this process should give Kathy Lande a call at 388-2261. Both Kathy and the Gunflint Trail Historical Society would surely appreciate your assistance.
            It was a cool day in more ways than one last Saturday. Not only was the atmosphere cool, but the coolest were nearly 100 runners who took to the 5K and half-marathon course in the Ham Run.
            The day was great for distance runners! And spirits were not dampened by the misty cold elements. Roadside snowbanks lined the Trail in several places and racers were serenaded by babbling waters where creek coordinates encountered the course.
            Another element of coolness was the absence of bugs to terrorize runners, spectators and officials, as has been the case in some years. Guess we can thank Old Man Winter for hanging around in support of all who took part in this wilderness trek. Thanks also go to all the organizing volunteers for making this an awesome event.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the coming of our full “budding flower” moon, a sure sign for all things that grow!

Pussy Willow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 2

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The Smiths are back on the Mile O Pine after a trek south where we visited kids, grandkids and reconnected with many friends.  I was also a member of the great officiating crew for the 105th annual Drake relays in Des Moines on the last weekend of April.

The Drake event was held under spectacular weather conditions with sun and temps in the mid-70s. I therefore came home with a sunburned face and ears. It was another world from what I left and subsequently returned to. Nevertheless it’s great to be back home in the peace and quiet of our special place on the northern Riviera.
It seemed that Old Man Winter must have been scribing his final lines last week (April 24 and 25) when border country got another dose of snow. Reports I get are that anywhere from 4 to 12 inches blanketed the Trail depending upon one’s locale.

This just has to be the winter guy’s closing stanza. That being said, our total at Wildersmith stands at close to 120 inches for the season. Not bad, huh?

The ice on Gunflint Lake remains firmly in place at this writing and is probably about the same on all other big bodies of water out this way. I do see hope along the Trail, as liquid is standing on most swamps and small ponds that line the corridor byway. While places of open water can be observed flowing under both Brule River bridges down at the trail’s lower end, and the Cross River is roaring in the upper reaches.

At long last pussy willow buds have escaped their winter husks, but May flowers remain buried in snow, quietly awaiting their time in the sun. The hard winter has taken its toll on a great number of coniferous forest members. Our bitter cold months left millions of branches with brown needles. Most will recover when buds send out the next generation shoots but in the meantime the evergreens look like death warmed over.

Thinking mud season would improve as I departed for Iowa on April 16, the return finds our road conditions along the Mile O Pine barely changed. In fact they are worse in a couple locales as the demise of roadside ice dams continues to disperse what appears to be an un-ending ooze of water. I’m guessing I can’t take off my winter wheels just yet. Maybe we’ll be dry in those places by July!

Although winter has not totally relinquished its grip, people out this way are kicking spring off anyway. The first big Trail happening is being held Saturday. The seventh annual Ham Lake Run highlights the beginning of a new season. The 5K and half-marathon events commence at 10 a.m. Saturday from the Seagull Fishing Camp and Gunflint Pines Resort respectively, running on the roadway, finishing at the Seagull Lake parking facility near Trail’s end.

This is a fun event commemorating the tragic Ham Lake Fire of 2007 while celebrating the energy of rebirth in the scarred forest. In the past years, fund raising proceeds have gone to various nonprofit organizations. This year’s returns will go to the Cook County YMCA.
Late registrations can be completed by visiting or call 218-387-3386. If you’re in the area, come on out and give these hardy runners a cheer!

Since it’s now May, plans are well under way for the fifth seasonal opening of the Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Opening day will be Saturday, May 24 (Memorial Day weekend). Hours of daily operation remain from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Staff and museum volunteers are busy getting ready. A new temporary exhibit for 2014 will feature our natural world with a wonderful display of area butterflies, skippers and moths. A new and improved sound system has been installed in the little theater which should enhance a quieter visitor experience. In addition, many new items will be featured in the gift shop.

The Gunflint Trail Historical Society invites you to once again make plans for a visit to this magical place at Trail’s end during the coming season. Make a day of it with a museum tour, a hike on the trails system and maybe a picnic around the bay.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor our trickling streams and the reappearance of brown earth.

(Photo by Marilylle Soveran on Flickr)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 18

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Atmospheric conditions in the upper Gunflint have been tranquil with hints of “old man winter” ceding his hold on us in favor of the “gods of re-birth.

 A couple brief snow showers along the Mile O Pine last weekend and then another zero morning on Monday displayed perhaps the last few frosty gasps for our “man of the north.” However, we should remember, a year ago tomorrow (April 19, 2013), the area received up to a two foot dose of his concluding dying snorts, so we can’t sell him short.

Since our last meeting on the radio, our dwindling snow pack has really taken on that dirty gray metropolitan look.  With temps gradually easing up, the piles of winter accumulation are slinking down. The sound of dripping liquid can be heard at almost every turn, and in some cases it’s more like running water. We’ve got water, water everywhere!

In spite of the shrinking snow banks, there’s still plenty of snow to be melted; ice dams to be thawed; water to gush its way into rivers and lakes; and mud to dry. And, speaking of mud, I wouldn’t be surprised if our season of “muck” extends well into the next north woods segment, “getting ready for winter.”
Meanwhile those of us in year around residency are taking things in stride by navigating icy, rutted roads with our vehicles and digging ditches to divert the wild run-off in more acceptable directions. I’ve even heard of a couple who are not venturing to far from the back door until there is firmer ground.

The Mile O Pine has been a quagmire, but is grudgingly drying where the powerful sun is able to peek through the pines. At Wildersmith, we are not quite an island, surrounded by this muddy moat, but close. Four wheeled drive still gets us out with a little slip sliding around at times.

It seems uncertain as to when ice will make its departure from border country lakes. The splendid sunshine of several days last week found snow softening into to small ponds on top of the icy depths, but then re-freezing overnight.

How much affect standing water actually contributes to helping the decay is unknown, but it must be of some consequence. Regardless, this gradual day time thawing, followed by night time re-freezing is good, slowing things, so months of winter build –up doesn’t wash us away.

Whatever the ice exit scenario, everyone would hope the winds will be favorable when the big cakes begin to move about so shoreline damage is minimal. In 2013, yours truly was within minutes of seeing my lake water system succumb to a huge icy flow. Only my heroic action with a pry bar, while balancing on the frozen mass, saved the day! Whatta “Superman,” huh?

Now that winners of pools for March Madness have been decided, folks in these parts are picking date predictions of ice out on their favorite area lake. Yours truly is not revealing my pick at this time. It’s a good bet though our opening day of the Walleye season might find an ice auger being the first implement of choice being dropped into area waters. Last years’ ice out on the Gunflint Lake Gal was May 17th, a few days past the angling opener.

Thoughts come to mind that traversing ice at this time of year merits caution. Let’s not tempt fate!  I heard that one of our game wardens went through the ice on Saganaga recently. Fortunately he was able to save himself with his safety picks, lucky guy!

Just a little reminder to property owners in residence now, we need to be getting those wildfire sprinkler system lines out into the lake ASAP once your ice departs. It would also be well to fire up the pump system as a dry run test at the same time.

Remember 2007, ice was out only a very few days, in many lakes, before the Ham Lake Fire ignited and took off. Ravaged were some seventy-five thousand acres with over one hundred forty upper Gunflint Trail structures destroyed, all of which were not in emergency preparedness. Every structure with a functioning WFSS was saved! Please be ready!

News of new babies will be soon wafting through the forest. Wolf pups and fox kits are within days to a couple weeks of being born, and not far onto May the first “bambi’s  and moose calves will be delivered.
In the meantime, black bears are soon to be awaking, if not already. Cubs born in late January and February will be making their first appearance outside the birthing quarters.

We should keep in mind that bears are famished as they emerge hibernation. So beware of the marauding bruno families and take care to avoid tempting them with winter feeders and un-protected garbage receptacles.
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the evolving times of change along the Gunflint!

{photo by David Hulme via Flikr}

Gunflint Green-Up

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 11

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A third of the way into month four and “old man winter” is still tinkering around with his seasonal elements up this way. Although he is still holding spring at bay on some days, one can get the feel that he has slipped a bit in the past seven days.

Regardless of the current up and down weather happenings, the past several months have been an awesome display of what winter is supposed to be in Gunflint country.

We’ve surely had enough snow to satisfy about everyone’s need in terms of recreational opportunities, while those that need the fluffy white stuff to make their business ventures an economic success must be smiling ear to ear.

Another thought on the winter, and perhaps the most important of all, is the natural aspect for the entire territory. Whereas we’ve experienced some drastically dry times over the past few years, this fall saw the earth reasonably saturated at the end of growing season.  Add on an enormous amount of snow, and there should be adequate soil moisture to sustain a wet growing medium to kick-start the green-up, and watershed run-off, to replenish county lakes for a good number of weeks into the summer. Of course, we’ll always need more.

Probably the number one reason many folks choose to live in this region either seasonally or year around, in addition to thousands who visit the Gunflint year after year, is the magic of our natural wilderness. Taking this a step farther, we celebrate backwoods adventure opportunities which have been sustained, for the most part, from the beginning of recorded history.

Sustaining this pristine part of the universe does not come easy. Mother Nature has her hands full preserving this time-honored primeval forest.

The state of our backcountry as it was even as late as a century ago continues to erode away. A burgeoning population seems to have an insatiable appetite for our wilderness experience. This is not necessarily bad, but the result of such often taxes this treasured landscape far beyond its capabilities. .

During April, and on through the summer, WTIP is taking the lead to renew thought, conversation and hopefully more action about sustainability of this great piece of “mother earth.” 

I’d like to reflect on a few activities both past and present throughout the Gunflint in regard to our community efforts at sustaining what we all cherish. The sweat equity of most all who reside in the Gunflint Corridor reflects an energetic desire to see that what the “Creator” has provided, and “Mother Nature” maintains, is sustained into perpetuity.
Past struggles have not come easy and future endeavors to ensure sustainability will require concerted leadership and elbow grease. The natural quality of this border land as well as that of the entire planet hangs in the balance of on-going integrated environmental, economic and social considerations. All will be the key as we evolve into the decades ahead and far beyond.
Gunflint Trail residents, along with throngs of seasonal visitors, take unending pride in pristine lakes and a healthy forest. In my short time of living in the woods, I have observed enduring dedication on the part of Cook County Coalition of Lake Associations (CCCOLA) to educate our community about water use and quality preservation.
In that regard, due to CCCOLA’s toiling, we are seeing more and more lake property owners taking interest in and adopting lake management plans.  These are action guidelines that involve scientific water testing and lend assistance to shoreline residents concerning proper land/water use recommendations.

Since the gigantic blow-down in 1999, and subsequent wildfires in 2005, 2006 and 2007, community efforts, in partnership with the USFS and DNR, to assist nature in regeneration of many devastated forest tracts have been extraordinary. Each of those disasters has prompted organized “firewise” clean-up and the planting of hundreds of thousands of baby trees. The signature event has been and continues to be known as “The Gunflint Green-up.”

Further, since the mid-1990’s, leadership of the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee has been at the forefront of looking after a sundry of activities.  Their mission is working to guide Gunflint Trail residents, businesses, and managing agencies in sustaining, enhancing and preserving the byway territory as a valuable historic and natural resource.  This effort is guided through a Gunflint Corridor Management Plan. The document works to offer leadership in ensuring all parties playing a role in life along the Trail have sustainability of our inherent natural riches as their top priority.

These are a sampling of activities employed by the community as a whole. Meanwhile many individual property stakeholders have sustaining plans of their own; from private land reforestation, to planting area-tolerant foliage, to control of invasive species, to water run-off control and on and on.

But our work is still not done. If we users of the Gunflint byway and its surrounding landscape are to honor the creation of this marvelous place, we have to partner with every neighbor and entity to ensure this northern “paradise found” does not become “paradise lost.” 

Keep on hangin’ on, and join the journey toward sustainability.

(Photo courtesy of VisitCookCounty)


River Otter

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 4

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No foolin’, it’s April!  As the keying of this week's scoop began filling the monitor screen, the weather guessers were predicting another swipe from “old man winter.” Will March depart and April arrive, one in the same, like a lion? By the time this scribing reaches readers and listeners, we’ll know if the projected winter-storm warning panned out, or whether it was just another “wolf cry.”
Since we last met on WTIP, the Wildersmith neighborhood picked up another four inches of snow and a couple more mornings of below zero. Thus we’ve extended our daily sub-zero awakenings to 92 for the season, and our snow tally has risen to 105.5 inches.

However, we were teased last Sunday with a magnificent day. Our snow pack shrunk a little and roof tops actually turned solids into liquids as the powerful sun warmed some parts of the Gunflint territory to 40 degrees.

Bare places have appeared on my driveway, something not seen since before Thanksgiving. While down along the Mile O Pine, our mini glaciers oozed more liquid than usual under the blazing “Sol,” soaking the packed snow into slush. This meltdown action kicked off the first of our soon to be run-off trickles which will eventually become wash-out gullies.  It may be spring, but up here we call it the coming of “mud season.” 
Our day was so nice that all little critters coming in for feeding seemed to be in a cheerful mood. The regular chickadees and nuthatches were flitting and chirping like I haven’t seen in a while. And, those pesky squirrels soaked up sunshine, munching on seeds with only an occasional pause to bully each other away from their position along the feed tray.
In the meantime, this vicinity has been taken over by a growing dark cloud. I’m speaking to a burgeoning siege of crows. Every day seems to accommodate a few more of the squawking jumbo avians. It’s quite an invasion of “The Birds,” along with their inharmonious conversation.
Life can be tough in the “wild neighborhood” regardless of the season. In addition to our on-going predator/prey theater, another instance of ferocity in the woods was noted right here on our deck recently. 

You may recall a while back I mentioned a pine marten came by with battle wounds on its shoulder. Another showed up not long ago with severe open wounds on its face. In this instance, the animal appeared to move about in good fashion but displayed some ugly loose torn flesh.

Seeing this, kind of made us observers wince at the pain it must have been enduring. It has me curious as to what this guy/gal encountered and what the adversary might have looked like following whatever the confrontation.

Was it a family feud or some other forest competitor? Guess I’ll never know, but I can conjure up all sorts of possibilities, maybe a fisher, a lynx, an owl or perhaps an eagle??

On a more jovial note, some friends over on Loon Lake tell of an amusing otter experience. The lady of the house skis seriously on trails her husband grooms daily. It seems an otter must have been watching this trail grooming process and developed a curiosity about a particular down-hill stretch.
Twice in the last week, the frolicking animal decided that this manicured incline would be a great sliding hill. During each of two next day tours of duty, the groomer found imprints where the fun-loving critter went belly down and careened the entire length of the slope. I’m betting this would have been a stitch to watch, and a good unscripted scene for “funniest home videos.” Obviously, this is a place where more than just we humans can have a fun time in the snow.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor our time of warming transition!

(Photo by ArcheiaMuriel on Flickr)

Gunflint Trail

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 28

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The Wildersmith two are back in the woods. It’s always a joy to return to this northern Riviera following one of our southern road trips.

Now that spring is official, it’s mostly quiet around border country with exception of the whispering pines and the roar of an occasional snowmobile.

For the second homeward trip in a row, we encountered a snowstorm. Driving conditions had us white knuckling it from just north of Forest Lake all the way to Grand Marais.

Kudos go to our Cook County snow removal guys that maintain the Gunflint Trail. It was in far better winter driving condition than I-35 or US 61 along the big lake, neither of which had been given much clearing attention as we plowed along.

While our trip to Iowa City encountered spring in the air, with bare ground and daffodils beginning to peek skyward, our return found conditions in this neck of the woods still in winter character.

In fact, the Old Man of the North reasserted himself this past weekend with a refresher on what we in this area are all about. After the 6 or so inches of new snow at Wildersmith, he then reminded us that sub-zero temperatures are still at his command and has since dished up a few more nights of teens below the nothing mark.

We are now at 89 days and stiill counting of below-zero mornings for the winter along the Mile O Pine. Then again, it’s still March, so why not?

Therefore residents of the upper Gunflint continue scooping, plowing, shivering and watching their woodpiles dwindle. We look forward to the days of sky blue water splashing against the granite shores.

Hope does spring eternal as sensed in the annual onslaught of seed and plant catalogs, all of which have long since been perused on frosty January evenings.  Winding down the first quarter of 2014, more signs are in the air and tree tops.

The crows have returned to our neighborhood. They must be wondering if their return might be a bit premature in these frosty conditions. A murder of them has been hanging out around here each morning. Perhaps the biting cold is what their raucous morning chatter has been all about.

Meanwhile the next generation of wild neighborhood babies is growing in tummies of wolves, fox, martens and sundry other woodsy characters. Ravens and Canadian jays are sitting on eggs, and cubs are probably getting itchy for momma bear to take them outside the birthing den.

A neighbor indicated that she spotted a chipmunk on one of those early, warmer March days. It would appear that others of the slumbering critter crowd will be awakening soon throughout the territory. Look out, the skunks will be next.

We need not fear that winter will never end. Spring will be here when the “mom in charge of things” decides it’s time, complete with a rebirth of buds, bugs and bites! In the meantime, we’ll just relax and enjoy the pristine white beauty of the marvelous season as it slowly retreats into history.

A report has just come to me that the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack was in concert along the shore in our neighborhood.  Do you suppose they were in practice for a spring chorale?   More likely, they were sharing a GPS on the latest fast food venue.

I’m told the family must have been split apart as they were in serious chit chat back and forth from what appeared to be two different locations. Guess it was a real howl!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor more of north woods outdoor adventures!

Pine Marten

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 14

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At the time this week's scoop commences, it appears that Old Man Winter might have slipped on the ice and lost his grip. Gunflint residents are smiling at the beaming sun and near to above freezing temps that graced the area last weekend.

However, it’s with tongue in cheek that we celebrate too much too soon. We are still but a week away from the vernal equinox and everyone can remember when late April 2013 brought the worst snow of the winter.  Some areas of the Gunflint territory got two feet or more.

Nevertheless, the relief from bitter cold is gratefully accepted as we honor the “crust on the snow moon” for March in a couple days.

The sudden warm-up couldn’t have come at a better time for the white tails in our neighborhood. They certainly must be under stress, and the few that come through our yard are taking on an emaciated look.

I have noticed that several of the more mature bucks are displaying swelling knots on their foreheads. Obviously, they are in the know as to spring character being on the way.

By the way, the deer have apparently missed the cue to turn their clocks ahead. It seems they are still on Central Standard Time as they are showing up around the yard an hour later than usual.  This is just one more example of humans screwing up another thing for some of the Wild Kingdom!

It’s been a tough winter for one pine marten, which came by our feed trough the other day. The beautiful fur coat had a ragged blemish where a large bite wound appeared on its right shoulder. Who knows how that might have happened? The big scar reminded me of many deer that come by with a bite out of their side or rump, or with chunks of an ear missing.

Speaking of pine martens, we had a first-time Wildersmith visit from a close cousin. A fisher, the larger version of the marten/weasel family, has made two nightly visits in the past week.

It looks to be a healthy critter although a bit scarier than its cuter relative. Due to its size and rather ferocious look, I wouldn’t want to meet up with a live one in a defensive circumstance.

I may have more to share if this guy/gal comes by scavenging again. I know one thing for sure, it makes a pretty good clunk when jumping down from feed tray rail to deck.

Another unusual animal sighting was reported to me just a few days ago. Two different residents observed a white wolf in the Gunflint/Loon Lake area.

Since white wolves are of the Arctic variety, this would seem unlikely, as we are a long ways from that territory.  However, these observers saw what they saw, but perhaps it was just one of our own gray wolf gang that was born with a silver/blond coat. A little research confirms that on occasion a gray wolf will turn up with a cream or even white coat.

The sighting looks to be a ghostly mystery. Hope this “white shadow” shows itself again for further confirmation.

Not only is the weather a tie that binds folks in these parts together, a sense of community is certainly another fusing element. I’m talking about volunteerism.

Two hugely successful endeavors were completed this past weekend. One was the eighth annual “Mush for a Cure.” This event benefitting National Breast Cancer Research once again was a splendid example of what a small village of people can do when they put their heads together.

Highly organized, the many planned activities went off without a hitch due to wonderful leadership and county-wide participation and cooperation. I’ve heard wonderful comments from both mushers and spectators.

Fund raising numbers are still being tallied at this writing, but it is estimated that somewhere in the neighborhood of $40, 000 will be contributed to this search for a cure. Thanks go to all who pitched in to make the happening a big success!

Special recognition is extended to all mushers and their handlers as well as the “bald, brave and beautiful” trio. You were all in the “Pink!”

The other event was our own community radio station’s spring membership drive. Talk about volunteers, how about the great WTIP staff, a fellowship of in-kind and in-house worker bees and our community of listeners, both local and nationwide. Many people stepped up to put this much needed funding process over the top once again.

We welcome 35 new pledging/contributing members to the WTIP family and salute our loyal renewing membership. Congratulations, and thanks to all for helping exceed the spring forward goal. Enjoy “THE” radio station of the north shore and north woods!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a bit of north woods heaven!

(Photo by SolidElectronics on Flickr)

Gunflint Lake

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 7

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As Gunflint Territory turns the page into March, Old Man Winter is still gnashing his teeth. Keeping his pedal to the metal, the “great white father” refuses to loosen his bitter cold grip.

Although significant snow has been a missing character for several days, frigid temps are ongoing. When one would think that 30 below should be history, at least two mornings since we last met on the radio have exceeded that mark in our neighborhood, while minus 20s have filled in the gaps on most other days.

So the beat goes on with what must be a record number of mornings where sub-zero cold has been chronicled. The count at Wildersmith as of this past Tuesday morning was 79. Day after day, it’s enough to make your eyebrows frost, nose drippings freeze, forehead ache and toes numb.

Bitter cold and a brutal west wind greeted some 30 “grizzly tough” entries in the annual trout fishing derby on Gunflint Lake last Sunday. It was definitely not for the faint of heart. Believe me, the weather was biting more than the trout as not too many catches were hung on the board by contest closing.

It might be a good bet the May walleye opener will be better suited to ice fishing than was this past event. Perhaps the sponsoring Cook County Snowmobile Club should think about a re-run in month five (or six).

The largest catch of the day was a fine trout at just under six pounds. The lucky catcher was Matt Packer of Fridley, Minn. This weekend visitor to the upper Gunflint took home a first place prize of $500 and of course the lunker, a frozen fish stick.

Attention is now focused on this weekend’s “Mush for a Cure.” Color the days pink as excitement reigns over numerous activities to raise money for National Breast Cancer Research.

The featured events are two dog sled races (a short and long course) that commence late Saturday morning from the waterfront at Gunflint Pines Resort. There are a number of related activities too, including the “bald, brave and beautiful” contest on Friday evening.

This celebrity head shaving will clip off at 9:30 p.m. up the Trail at Windigo Lodge. Check www.mushforacure for a complete listing and time schedule for all happenings.

Saturday morning, yours truly and several Gunflint/Loon Lake neighbors will be serving pancakes and the trimmings as part of the fundraiser. The feed takes place from 8 until 11 a.m. in the lodge at Gunflint Pines. 

So bundle up in your pink duds and come on out for a big two days of fun with an awe-inspiring purpose!

Spring is seemingly farthest from our minds out here with oceans of snow and cold. Yet some spring-like nonsense is being sprung on us this weekend. Yep, it’s the time when America sets the clocks ahead early Sunday morning (2 a.m.).

Adding a little soap-box commentary to my weekly scoop, it would seem the country’s masses are already wound way too tight with things to do and get done. Yet, a few decades ago some self-appointed expert thought we should alter creation and perhaps enable us to cram more into life’s 24-hour segments by moving the clock ahead an hour. Our leadership fell in line! So here we are, and whatever you do, don’t get left behind, “spring ahead.”

On a note that makes far more sense than daylight savings time, there is an important “spring forward” event going on right here and now. It’s the annual WTIP spring membership drive.

The four and one-half day run commenced Thursday and extends until noon on this coming Monday, March 10.

The time is now to step up and renew your support for this tip of the Arrowhead communicating treasure. Please do some “springing ahead” that makes real sense. Give us a call at 218-387-1070 or 800-473-9847; stop by at 1712 West Highway 61; or just click and join at

Keep on hangin on, and savor the sounds of the north land, on WTIP!

Snow-Covered Branches

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 28

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The northland closed the books on chapter 2 of 2014, and welcomes the third stanza.  February turned out much the same as her predecessor, cold and quite snowy by months end.

The brief encounter with warmer conditions about ten days ago was short lived in these parts as a healthy dose of white and recurring frosty temps added to the glory of this season. The warming power of “Sol” excited some winter weary folks up this way. And the gleaming rays even had roof edges making stalactite artwork where it was able to peak around and through the forest shadows.

February’s third week snow accumulations pretty much assure winter activities will continue for weeks to come throughout the Gunflint corridor. Snow is “moose belly” deep and shows no sign of diminishing much with one of our snowier months bearing down on us. The latest dropping at Wildersmith brings our season total to eighty-seven and one-half inches.

Gunflint country is quite busy the next couple weekends. This coming Sunday, March 2nd finds the annual Trout Derby taking place on the west end of Gunflint Lake.

Sponsored by the Cook County Snowmobile Club, participant registration runs from 9-11:00am and all fish must be turned in for judging by 2:00pm. A $500 prize will go to the catcher of the biggest “lunker.” This is always a fun day with a fine “on the lake” cook-out, come on out and enjoy!

Our deep white cover will make for an interesting run of the annual “Mush for the Cure” which is just a week away. The 8th consecutive year of this “Pink Extravganza” is being held on March 7 & 8.

Many activities are part of this exciting time along the Trail. Events commence at 5:00 pm on Friday the seventh and conclude late Saturday afternoon of March eighth. To see a full slate of all activities, check-out the “Mush for a Cure” website.

A re-designed course for the long distance mush will find both the start and finish happening on the icy waterfront of Gunflint Pines Resort. The short course race commences Saturday morning at 10:00 am with the longer distance dogsledders following at 12:00 noon.
In the previous seven years some $186,000 has been raised and contributed to National Breast Cancer Research. In 2013, $43,000 was raised. This years’ target is $50k!

The time is now to throw your support behind this fantastic effort. Donations can be made on- line via the “Mush for a Cure” website, or at several business locations along the Trail.

If you have a favorite team in either race, or one of the three entries (Ana Genz, Corey Christianson or Craig Horak) in the “Bold, Brave and Beautiful” contest, show them you’re backing with a contribution pledge as soon as possible.

As if we humans aren’t having enough trouble finding a place to move and stack all the snow, many critters of the “wild neighborhood” share the struggle, only in terms of survival.

A few deer have returned to the yard following my time away. It’s for sure they are in a difficult grapple with the cold white elements. Traversing this deep powder is taxing their strength, endurance and perhaps, if they possess such, emotional composure. I find they’re not getting off the beaten path once they have one established.

And if the white tails aren’t facing enough turmoil passing through the forest, the Gunflint-Loon Lake wolf pack has them in their sites. Three sites of venison dinner have been consumed along our Mile O Pine in recent days, and more have been reported by the folks down around Gunflint Lodge.  Before we reach the season of re-birth, it’s going to be a tough next few weeks for this nervous species.

On a less stressful note, seasonal beauty in the wilderness reigns supreme. This territory is an artists’ and photographers’ delight.  A trip to town for church last Sunday found an elegant sample of natural artistry. In this exhibition, the creations were on the move.

West-northwest winds were chasing loose snow around in un-countable modes of swirling, slithering wisps between the tunneled roadside banks.  Not one of the serpentine configurations matched another as they danced and bounced from side to side during our forty-eight mile trek through un-organized territory.

Occasionally, a sinuous tuft of white would try to escape the windrow barriers along our pathway. Suddenly a gauzy shock would leap up as a ghostly phantom only to explode in a glorious poof, captured once again. The winnowed flurry would then settle back to the road top and re-organize for another twisting tumble.

Mile after mile found us marveling at the dramatic exhibition on this asphalt pallet. What a trip!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor beauty and power of white!

(Photo by clickclique on Flickr)