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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:
This "atypical weather nonsense" is playing havoc with thickening ice on the big lakes in Gunflint Territory

Wildersmith Jan. 13

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Winter on a yo-yo, yes! Another northwoods meltdown slipped in on the territory just when we thought “Mr. Cold and Blustery” had things under control. He just can’t get a grip and starts that slip-slidin’ around with way too much ease. Folks out the Trail are none too happy.

This atypical weather nonsense is playing havoc with thickening ice on the big lakes out this way. Saganaga and Gunflint lakes remain quite iffy safety-wise as the lake trout opener hits.

Over the past week there’s been considerable splitting of the ice on Gunflint. In fact, looking down on the old gal from high up on the ridge, she took on the appearance of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.

It might be blamed on the pressure exerted from those violent winds of several days ago. Whatever the cause, water seepage in all these seams has left plenty of slush and even some standing water in a number of places.

Meanwhile, the smaller bodies, frozen for weeks, have more than enough safe ice, but they may not offer the favorite trout fishing holes of their big mamma cousins. For sure, I would hope that common sense prevails with regard to driving one’s vehicle onto the ice like many do to set up “Trout City” at the west end of the Gunflint Gal.

A mid-Trail report came to me about some unusual avians hanging out. It seems that the redpolls have moved in en masse to at least one feeder. Among them was an albino redpoll. I know it seems somewhat contradictory to call it a white redpoll, but a digital computer image confirmed it was what it was.

Then another unusually marked lady pine grosbeak showed up at the same feeder. This little gal was brightly colored about the head and breast as opposed to the typical muted gold head and gray-brown body. If she hadn’t been hanging out with her brethren, she might easily been mistaken for a parrot with her coat of many colored feathers.

The Gunflint/Loon lake wolf pack has been making a number of nightly sojourns around this neck of the woods. Late one evening last week, they stopped by on the ridge above Wildersmith and entertained us with a lengthy choral interlude. Their voices needed no amplifying to be easily heard even with the house buttoned up tight against the cold. What a neat treat!

Speaking more to northwoods adventure, the great warrior howling was fitting on a spectacular starry night when the waxing “wolf/great spirit” moon had things lit up in iridescent blue snow. Talk about romance of the wilderness, these moments couldn’t have been any better.

Although yours truly has not seen the aurora borealis lately, I am always anxious to learn about this heavenly phenomenon. If one is interested in learning more, there is a great writing about northern lights in the latest edition of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. The author puts scientific/technical information into easily understood language.

When it turns cold enough again that it requires cuddling up with some good reading, that same periodical has a couple informative articles on fox and fishers, which are members of Mother Nature’s clan around here.

And lastly, a nighttime trip down the Trail last week found a moose trifecta. They were observed getting their licks off the salty road just above the Laurentian Divide overlook. Must have been good, too, because they were out again on the way back up, only this time all that was observed was their back halves as they scurried into the forest.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor some good thoughts for snow!

Airdate: January 13, 2012

Photo courtesy of Jukka Vuokko via Flickr.

"Marshmallow globs hanging on every limb are a flocked delight"

Wildersmith January 6

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Gunflint territory is headed off into a new year and the month of the full “wolf great spirit moon” (Gich Manidoo).We folks cherish this special place and sure hope the essence of our January moon is more winter-like than its “cold moon” brethren that just passed. December’s lunar rendition surely didn’t live up to its usual namesake!

Just a few days into 2012 the atmosphere is already better suited to the season. Howling winds, blowing snow, and a little sub-zero at Wildersmith ushered in this new stanza of history.

With a deluge of watered-down football bowl games, dated Christmas deco to be put away and a frosty out-of-doors, it has been a great time to hunker down soaking up warmth from the old wood stove. This north woods forest is truly the best place in the universe for savoring occasional whiffs of wood smoke and quietness though the weather outside was frightful as we bid 2011 adieu.

The digits on my hands are also confirming that winter apparently has finally gotten a grip. The annual dry cold splitting of finger-tips finds me struggling to even button a shirt or lace up and tie my boots. Several man-made moisturizers have little affect for yours truly in neutralizing the crispness of “old man winter” once he decides to take things over. It seems that I just get one healed up and others crack open I guess this is the only negative thing that I can say about this wonderful time of the year.

Another sample of winter’s fervor is the quickness with which it can make ice. Such an example was observed on the twenty-eighth of December when the Gunflint Lake gal succumbed to ice. She froze over for good in the wee hours of that morning.

In less than twelve hours, the folks down at Cross River Lodge reported that the thickness was such to support the predator-prey theater. A wolf-deer chase took out over the newly formed hard water and in no time at all the warrior had corralled its favorite entrée and opened a temporary fast food venue.

Since that time, several inches of insulating snow have slowed the “zamboni” process. Further support for the tenuousness of our Gunflint Lake ice comes from a neighbor telling of a creek running full bore through his property that is dumping icy liquid along his shoreline. While there might be supportive ice in spots, many unknowns remain under this vast cake. I would advise caution on any ice walk ventures for a few more days.

Our pre-New Year’s Eve snow made the forest stunning once again. Those marshmallow globs hanging on every limb are a flocked delight. Before the howling winds set in last weekend, another eye catching deco resulting from the previous fluffy application is the little white lids stacked on the clumps of yet uneaten mountain ash tree berries. The scenario reminds me of a cherub choir with their rosy faces and frosty stocking caps all lined up for a holiday concert so cute and petite!

The wind whipped snow probably sent those tiny hats a scurrying but has since created a different art scene of special mention. Although the dense forest prevents the drifting to which the plains dwellers are accustomed, the placement and chiseling of white crystals in a zillion different places throughout border country are beholding spectacles. One doesn’t have to trek far away from the house to experience the intriguing marvels of these “nature-made” ivory sculptures.

That’s all for now! Keep on hangin’ on and savor a growing winter wonderland!

Airdate: January 6, 2012

Photo courtesy of chenmeister64 via Flickr.

As winter arrives, the first of Wildersmith's usual white tail gang returned to the homestead.

Wildersmith December 30

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Just like old-time cowboy hero, Gene Autry used to sing, “I’m back in the saddle again.” It’s great to be at home sweet home in Gunflint Country after a fine time with family and friends back in Iowa.

Many thanks go out to that Nosey Rosey from over on Hungry Jack Lake for subbing. I got back to border country just in time to hear Rosey’s day before Christmas commentary. Wow, I mean bow-wow, I didn’t know of this canine’s talent at carol crooning.

While I was away, and since my return, winter in the northland continues to struggle against this global warming monster. Although there are still calendar days to come for the newly arrived season, it appears more and more that this is going to be another of those winters that wasn’t. Our drought continues!

A few trickles of snow have blessed the territory in the past week. Thank goodness they came in advance of Christmas Eve so things were freshened up in pristine fashion for that night of nights.

Temperatures also have remained unseasonal; in fact they are somewhat warmer than they were earlier in the month here at Wildersmith. The usual sub-zero readings remain missing in action.

This factor, along with incessant winds, has kept the Gunflint Lake water rockin’ and a rollin’, ice free as I scribe on Christmas Night. There was a partial coating late last week but the Christmas weekend winds have sent that a-packin’ as icy crinkling along our granite shores.

My lake freeze-up statistics as passed on to me by the late Check Tiffany go back as far as 1982. The latest icy cover-up in that span of years is December 29, 2001. Things could change rapidly between this keying exercise and broadcast time, but at this point it looks as though a new modern day record might be set for ice cover on this old Gal.

How about that magnificent after dark sentinel in the north woods over along the Trail on Birch Lake? For those not in the know, a couple great Birch Lake guys, along with help from a local cherry-picker operator decorated a near perfect 20-foot spruce spire with hundreds of holiday lights.

What a treat to round that curve and see that wonderful tribute to the season. It may not be as significant as the star over Bethlehem, but it sure brightens the way in a place that is most symbolic for its truest sense of peace on earth. Thanks Tom, Daryl and Dennis!

What with the glut of commercial exuberance during this time of year, it has been great to be here in the woods where we can celebrate the simple gifts of our natural wonder. Since our southern trip return, the Smith’s have been gifted by visits from a couple of Mother Nature’s clan.

Just days after our homecoming, a handsome warrior of the wilderness happened through the yard. Mr. Wolf was obviously on some sort of reconnaissance mission, but did stop long enough for me to get some good mental images stashed away in my database.

Then a day or so later, the first of our usual white tail gang returned to the yard. It was a real surprise as they are so sparse of late. I had not expected any at all. Now the word must be out on the deer hotline, as a number have discovered that the lights are on and we are home.

In a matter of hours, year 11 of the 2000s passes off into the history books. It’s our hope from Wildersmith that your year has been prosperous and rewarding in spite of our tumultuous world. May the New Year be fruitful and happy for everyone!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a little bit of wilderness peace…and put in a little appeal to the snow gods!

Airdate: December 30, 2011

Photo courtesy of Ben Edwards via Flickr.

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Wildersmith, December 9

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As our northland Christmas season progresses, “all is calm and all is bright.”
The bustle of human activity has not been impeded by any atmospheric extremes along the Trail. In fact, the non-weather happenings in border country are making those of us who love and depend upon winter white somewhat anxious.

At this scribing on Dec. 5, the area has had only a dusting of seasonal precipitation since we last met on the radio. So the winter drought continues.. come on “La Nina.”

Temperatures in the meantime have settled in at about normal. At Wildersmith, the mercury has dropped below the zero mark a couple times, but nothing to write home about. The prognosticators are calling for an even deeper dip by the time this cyber-broadcast zings out into space.

Ice making continues on most lakes, quiet bays and swamps. The surface is about safe for walking in some instances, but one should proceed with caution before venturing too far out from shores.

The water on the big three lakes, Seagull, Saganaga and Gunflint, continues to ripple and roll at the beck of daily early winter winds. We are still hopeful that the final chapter in this ‘Zamboni’ process will occur soon.

The county came alive with the sound of music this past Sunday and Monday evenings. Cook County’s community holiday concert was performed brilliantly by the Borealis Chorale and Orchestra to standing room only crowds, and a number of our Gunflint Trail neighbors were involved.

Congratulations to everyone who made this happen once again. Although there was no ‘Aurora’ involved, the ‘Borealis’ and orchestral accompaniment certainly brightened the hearts with seasonal spirit echoing from the tip of the Arrowhead to the end of the Trail.

The magic of the season was further enhanced as we Smiths drove home from the Sunday concert. Driving out the Trail after dark can often make it appear as though one is driving off into a black hole. Previous snow efforts have left the byway pretty much covered in bright white, yet the light at the end of the Gunflint tunnel was seemingly non-existent for miles and miles.

Temperatures plummeted to zero on the truck thermometer near the South Brule River Bridge and then bounced back up and down in various locales as we trekked along. Jack Frost was busy setting glitter on roadside branches just beyond our headlights. The ground level twinkling was another light show to remember, mindful of what was going on in the lustrous skies overhead, heaven on earth. Giving full recognition to the off and on sparkling is next to impossible. You just had to be here to get the full effect.

In addition to the frosty decorating, a fresh dusting of snow the night before had smoothed the landscape so tracking of critters was also splendid during our darkness venture homeward. I must say that although the moose population decline remains most perplexing, there was trailside evidence that made it seem like thousands had been out tramping around in the moose zone between the South Brule Bridge and Bearskin Road.
We did not see one of the monsters of the byway in person, but imprints proved there was much prancing and pawing of many a hoof.

Then as we started the last leg for Wildersmith along the Mile O’ Pine, a member of the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack suddenly popped out of the forest and led us down the road a short distance for just one more north woods adventure. What beautiful night of sights and sounds!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor some wilderness mystique!

Airdate: December 9, 2011

Seeing snow-covered trees is "kind of like meeting up with some old friends that have been long obscured on a summer vacation"

Wildersmith December 2

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After a Thanksgiving run to Iowa for a family visit, the Smiths are back in the woods. One thing for which I continue to be thankful is that “wonder dog” from over on Hungry Jack Lake. Rosey and her dad are a scribe’s blessing by offering to scoop up news along the Trail when I have to be out of the area.

Old Man Winter has been somewhat jittery what with the big warm-up during Thanksgiving week. I missed most of his slip-sliding about, and it’s just as well since I’m not into melt-downs after declaring it winter.

Our return to Wildersmith happened just after a nice dose of snow decorated the Trail. The white covering came as quite a surprise after leaving a warm, murky Grand Marais on the final leg of our nearly 600-mile one-day trip.

Soon after reaching the top of the hill above town, the winter wonderland opened before us. Showers of snow were flitting through the beams of our headlights and for the next 50 miles we enjoyed the magic of “serpentine” white slithering down the byway in front of us.

Many at our age dread the thought of snow, let alone having to drive in it. This was not the case for us Smiths. We trekked along following the tracks of some unknown vehicle that had passed earlier, not unexpectedly never meeting another soul headed in the opposite direction.

During the wondrous homeward adventure there was hope that a moose would surely make an appearance, but alas, there was nothing more than a couple foxes making a perpendicular intersection with our path.

What a splendid place this is when a fresh six-inch flocking spruces things up. There are some special trees along the Mile O’ Pine that have always caught our eye because of where and how they are tucked into the landscape. It’s such a joy to see them all decked out in winter wonder, kind of like meeting up with some old friends that have been long obscured on a summer vacation.

So the end of the year scramble is upon us. The month of the “cold moon” is heavenly in the northland. The real cold leaks in and freezing trees will start a poppin’ like corn in a kettle.

Now that we have white reinforcements, the wind has been thrashing out of the north-northwest. The Gunflint Lake gal and other large bodies are still rolling in against the shorelines resisting the time when they will be stilled for the next several months.

With an average Gunflint Lake freeze-up time around the 12th of the month, she knows her lapping time is limited. All we need is a sub-zero night or two with some calm air and the job will be done.

December’s a time of love and deep meaning like no other. It quakes with excitement of joyous Silver Bells, sleigh rides and chestnuts roasting o’er an open fire.

I can hardly wait for the adventure of an Ojibwe “Biboon” (winter) as it comes into focus with impending mystery! Tracks, tracks in the snow, who knows where they go?

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some peace in the wilderness!

Airdate: December 2, 2011

Photo courtesy of rattyfied via Flickr.

Fir Boughs

Wildersmith November 18

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Quiet is the catchword in border country as we pass the halfway point of month 11. An occasional distant boom from a deer hunter’s rifle, winds whispering through the pines and waves being dashed along granite shorelines are the only blemish on what most would call dead silence. There has even been little avian noise around the deck-side feeders at Wildersmith.

The upper end of the Trail got its first real blanketing of snow late last week. Accumulations were light and varied depending on one’s locale, but for the most part, two inches seemed to be the maximum.

Yours truly made a trip to Grand Marais as the winter stuff was tapering off. The forest was decked out in feathery crystal, refreshing memories of the beauty that Mother Nature bestows with her purity from the heavens. There’s no business like snow business.

Real quickly my regard for those winter driving conditions was renewed. The Trail was obviously snow-covered. Although there were no close calls, the trip involved a bit more time and a tighter grip on the wheel. At this keyboarding, the ground is still white where shadows of mountains and forest blank out the sinking sun, but the byway has dried off to normal for the time being.

In the meantime, temperatures settled down below freezing for a few days and along with some still nights, many smaller bodies of water took on that smooth as glass hard water look. The below freezing daytime readings, which is my self-imposed criteria for declaring winter, has allowed me to make the formal proclamation for these parts.

The celebration of harvest time is rapidly gaining our attention as the “beaver moon” is waning motionless on the fringes of our planet. Thanksgiving in our land is a wonderful opportunity for reflection. In the northland, folks are particularly blessed with uncountable natural gifts that might be taken for granted by some outsiders.

I hope that everyone will give a moment of thought and thanks, as the day approaches, for the skies, the stars, the lakes, the trees, the winds, the critters, the friends and the family that makes existence both here in the forest and far, far away so rich and rewarding.

The kick-off that Thanksgiving gives to the holiday season got under way here at Wildersmith, although not quite as soon as most American merchandisers. The post-blow down coniferous plantings around the place have now grown to the point where they are in need of firewise pruning. Thus yours truly has been busy for a few weeks snipping greens and stashing them for the usual seasonal decorating.

This past Sunday my dear wife, who enjoys wreath making, decided it’s time. So the process was initiated in the lower level of the house. I must say that considering all the smells of north woods outdoors, there is nothing that I enjoy more than the perfumed
fragrance of fresh cut pine and fir boughs.

With the garland exercise at hand, the home interior has the distinct whiff of a forest sachet. Mmmm, what a great time of the year, wood smoke outside and holiday aromas inside. Oh, and I must add, how about that spicy smell of baking pumpkin bread? Life can’t get any better!

Wildersmith wishes to add a Gunflint Trail thanks to everyone who renewed or newly joined the WTIP family of supporters during last week’s “Deeply Rooted” membership drive. What a refreshing time it was as the community of WTIP radio listeners stepped up and “walked the talk.”

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a season to give thanks!

Airdate: November 18, 2011

Photo courtesy of Julia Weatherbee via Flickr.

Gunflint residents foster friendships with neighborhood foxes this week

Wildersmith November 11

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The season that north country folk anticipate at this time of year continues AWOE (absent without explanation). By this date in 2010 the territory had a blanket of snow that became the norm for the season, hanging around until the latter days of April.

Instead of slipping into those insulated stompers for slip-sliding around, we are still treading around on the cushy carpet of needles and leaf litter in summer hiking boots.

The atmosphere has stayed unusually warm for yet another week, acting more like we’re headed into an El Nino pattern instead of the predicted La Nina. Thus the air remains alive as one inhales the rich earthy smells of fall’s decomposing plant matter, while those usual frosty breaths of November expiration have been few and far between.

With basically no substantial precipitation through the upper end of the byway during the last week, the area is once again tinder dry with wildfire potential. Perhaps the only saving grace in the matter of fire danger is that nights have been much cooler than they were a few weeks back when the Pagami Creek inferno was raging not too far away.

Tourist traffic has slowed to almost nothing along the Trail. However, the onset of rifle shooting deer season this past Saturday saw vehicles cruising through with a “hot orange” glow inside as opposed to the customary top-mounted canoes and trailing watercraft.

As of this writing, I’m told hunting success in the Gunflint Lake area has been minimal. There seems to be little if any sign of the critters. There are many noticeable spots of hunter fluorescence in various high points along the Trail. Hopefully a change to colder and maybe some snowier conditions will bring some action to those orange-looking bushes that sit so quietly.

One local hunter noted the sighting of a doe with two wolves in hot pursuit. These two warriors were followed by two more, then two more and then two more for an eight pack total. It would be a good bet that these four-legged hunters had better luck than most of the two-legged pursuers around here, at least on that day.

It’s probably safe to say that the wolves have taken control over what was a burgeoning whitetail population just two or three years ago. As we might expect though, this too will cycle as dining opportunities diminish, the pack population will move on to better hunting grounds and the browsing population will eventually rebound.

A gal residing over on Tucker Lake tells of a growing friendship with a neighborhood fox. The fluffy tailed critter has become so friendly that it hangs around within whistling distance most all the time.

She tells of stepping out the door and if it is not in sight, a whistle has it coming in on the run, and when outside the lady is now carrying treats in her pocket for her newfound companion. How fun this must be!

Then another gal from over on Loon Lake shared that she had a fox walking up her driveway recently. Acquainted with the fox experience over on Tucker Lake, she stepped out and gave a whistle. Sure enough, this one came right back to her door in anticipation of a handout, which it did receive.

One would wonder if this fox might have been the same one, or have we humans domesticated them to the point that a whistle respondent gene has evolved? Jokingly, I’ll bet those gals down in the mid-Trail area, on Poplar Lane, who’ve been pampering neighborhood foxes for years are behind all this. Bless them all, for they shall inherit the wild kingdom!

On a final note, we at Wildersmith hope that everyone will step to the plate once again to show their support of this “deeply rooted” component in our wonderful northeast Minnesota community. WTIP’s fall membership drive needs you! Please give as generously as possible!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor our gray natural world!

Airdate: November 11, 2011

Photo courtesy of Art G. via Flickr.

Whiskey Jack

Wildersmith November 4

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The 20th anniversary of the northland’s great Halloween snowstorm was celebrated quietly with no repeat. In fact, spirits of snowy ghosts and goblins throughout the upper Trail were not too haunting at all. Being nearly at the end of the world, so to speak, there were so few spooks banging at the Wildersmith door that our candy cache remains intact except for a little in-house snitching.

The atmosphere has shown some sign of components soon to be in the offing as our ground was whitened with about a half inch in the early hours, and several mornings found a skim of ice on the smaller ponds and swamps along the byway since we last met on the radio. However, in both circumstances, the cold weather character could not be sustained as sun and wind vaporized things rather easily.

Bitter cold has not consumed us yet, but several of our recent dawns have dished up some pretty hefty frosted layers on most everything sticking up in the air. At Wildersmith our coldest reading to date has only been in the high teens.

On the moisture side of the ledger, a few piddly shower attempts in the past week have netted less than a quarter inch, but it has kept things damp enough to chill the bones when added to the never-ceasing air currents.

So the beat goes on as we traipse into month 11. Ojibwe call it the month of the ‘freezing over’ moon (Gash Kadino-Giizis) while others in the north woods label it as the full ‘beaver’ moon.

Regardless of what one dubs it, excitement mounts with the end of one month in Halloween orange, and a beginning of another in hot hunter orange. This marks the opening of another firearms whitetail season. In a matter of hours, thousands of stalkers, decked out in their fluorescent outfits, will descend on border country and take positions trying to look like a tree or a bush.

All this hoopla is in hope of surprising some unsuspecting buck or doe that is more in tune with continuing the species than looking down the barrel of a 30 ought six. Not a pursuer myself, I wish both hunter and the hunted good luck, but most of all, let’s be sane and safe during the next couple weeks. For everyone else that might be out in the forest doing their thing during this time of year, remember to don your orange warning wear too.

The wintertime critters that frequent our deck-side feeders are back. That poultry-lovin’ marten has returned, remembering how well it has been treated in the past. And a cluster of whiskey jacks have hung around to make me feel guilty enough to get up and out early with a handful of bread cubes. The gray jay reward for my early day outdoor venture has been a visit to my hand and a peck on the digits if the serving is not enough.

The “white sox” are out along County Road 20 at almost any time of day or night, and they are not of the Chicago vintage. I’m talking about snowshoe hares, and all have slipped into their white winter leggings. I guess that I have not paid them much attention, but apparently their turn from summer to winter apparel must start from the ground up. A few have even taken on a white undercarriage.

At times it’s like you’re in a game of dodge ball trying to avoid the daredevils in white sneakers with the vehicle. Speaking of other daredevils in the wild, those hares don’t exactly have a lock on keeping you alert on backcountry roads. Minnesota’s ‘chicken birds’ must think that their hunting season is over because they are casually roaming about creating an occasional roadside surprise of their own. Between the hares, grouse and now crazy deer, vehicle operation is not for the faint of heart.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor dodging those wilderness surprises!

Airdate: November 4, 2011

Photo courtesy of Steve Urszenyi via Flickr.

"How's that for warm and cuddly?"

Wildersmith October 28

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Who would believe that October has come and almost gone? There she goes on the flurry of wings things headed south. November is creeping in on wilderness folk, like a ghost sneaking across the border.

Better late than never, the late month rain has finally favored us with our annual autumn aroma. One day last week, I got a fragrant whiff of that delicious damp woods ground and decomposing leaves that almost escaped us in the long dry weeks of this transition season.

Now’s a time for waiting, waiting for that great northern express to roll over the Canadian hills on those winds of month 11. The quiet wrinkles often forming on the smaller lakes by now have not had their ticket punched, and the gray clouds of the past days are bulging with what might be a belly full of snow. They are just waiting for an uplift to pierce them for the first big delivery of winter. I for one can hardly wait!

In the meantime, trends of the season are happening in stride. Tamarack spires, which now light up the forest, are about to sift gentle needles down to their final resting place, thus extinguishing the final sign of flora life in 2011. Whitetails are growing into amorous moods, and the last of spring-born waterfowl are just a skim of ice away from moving on. An inquisitive weasel stuck its head out of a hole the other day and it’s almost an ermine.

Yours truly has also made another move in anticipation and hope for that first white blanketing, by hooking on the snow blade. I’ve noticed that happening at a couple other places along the Trail too. Those involved with the cross-country ski business have been busy mowing and cleaning up the miles of trails throughout the territory. I would guess that pretty much everything is in readiness for a visit from the Old Man of the North.

The colder trend of late has excited some of the avian critters in the neighborhood. My gray jay pal has been coming each morning about daybreak to see if I’m out serving breakfast. However, I’ve yet to get out there in time to greet it with a hand full of treats.

In recent days, my tramping around outdoors has found the chickadees swarming about my cap. A few red-breasted nuthatches have been busy chirping about their expectations too.

Thank goodness I have at least some sunflower seeds on hand, as I see that the price has gone through the roof. It makes me wonder if there is anything that ‘big oil’ doesn’t control in this country.

I’ve been told by one winged critter provider, who went to a lesser menu item, that the blue jays come in for a nibble and just spit it out. Guess we’ve created a gourmet attitude that may require some adjusting. Come to think of it, more than just the birds need an attitude adjustment these days!

In my last couple trips up and down the Trail, I’ve come across several foxes. They are rapidly accumulating that fine winter coat, and those feather-duster tails are magnificent. I can just imagine them curled up in winter quarters with that fabulous furry appendage drawn up and around in insulation against the northern elements. How’s that for warm and cuddly?

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a thought of the next wilderness adventure!

Airdate: October 28, 2011

Photo courtesy of Mike Baird via Flickr.

It's amazing how quickly the scenery changes this time of year

Wildersmith October 21

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A big atmospheric turnabout has happened along the upper Trail. Our Indian summer wilted last weekend as raging winds brought an abrupt end to the unusual warmth of October’s first two weeks.Three straight days of the roaring forest had a few of us crying ‘enough is enough,’ with tree branches being rearranged and electricity flickering in the gusty assault.

Temperatures quickly returned to more seasonal readings, but the winds augmented a feel that was even colder. It was one of those see-your-breath days last Sunday afternoon as I finished up a few more tail-end outdoor chores.

The northwestern surge through the border country even kicked up a couple showers of snow pellets and flurries in the latter part of the day along the south shore of Gunflint Lake.

My whining about the discouraging dry conditions must have finally found a place where someone would listen. The territory got a timely dousing of rain just before the winds took over. Wildersmith’s rain gauge measured just about 1-1/10 inches while residents in other parts have said they got even more.

Hopefully that happening breaks the spell, spiriting a trend toward wetter times. It was a blessing to be sure, but about all the heavenly offering did was quiet the cornflake crunch of leaves that have practically disappeared from their summer attachments.

It is amazing how the scenery has changed along the Trail now that Mother Nature’s camouflage has dropped off. The colorful autumn scheme has changed to the muted hues of grays and tans, exposing things back in the forest that haven’t been seen since leaf-out five months ago.

I haven’t observed too many deer out this way as yet, but those that I have seen are in the process of shedding their summer wear for the coming season. Now that this is happening, they are even more difficult to pick out with their attire blending into the brush of the drab forest, so drive carefully.

There are bunnies all over the place. It appears that they have had a great summer working on their multiplication. A gal traveling down the Mile O Pine a few nights ago counted up to 17 of the hopping critters in a short one-mile stretch. I even saw one that has started the brown to white transition.

With such an apparent burgeoning hare population, it would seem that there might be more lynx stalking about this winter. For sure though, the hunting should be better for fox and other wild folk that enjoy a lagomorph dinner once in a while.

I don’t know how grouse hunters did on a whole. They surely didn’t make a big dent in the numbers as I see it. DNR reported a couple years ago that their numbers would be heading in a down cycle, but it seems there are more grouse than I’ve seen in several years. Maybe that decline will happen, but at this point in time, those Minnesota Chicken Birds are strutting around everywhere you look.

Heading into the weekend of Moose Madness throughout the county, a few reports continue trickling in about Alces alces sightings. The most recent came from a grouse hunting crew that spotted a huge bull just south of the mid-Trail area.

Although our worries continue about their demise, it is encouraging every time you hear about one that is still upright. Gooo Moose!

Keep on hanging on, and savor these autumn times!

Airdate: October 21, 2011

Photo courtesy of D. Bjorn via Flickr.