Listen Now
Pledge Now


 
 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

Contributor(s): 
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.

 

Podcast:
Subscribe

What's On:
Yellow hawkweed (Lmmahood /Wikimedia Commons)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 1

Ten days into official summer and we welcome July. It’s hard to believe, we have reached the month of the Ojibwe 2016 “halfway” moon.

The last weekend of June found this area once again in the bad weather bullseye. As luck would have it, “Mother Nature” spared us a repeat of the previous week's blitz. This time the violence skirted us in other directions.                                                                                                        
This neighborhood did get a nice rain of nearly an inch last Saturday while most folks kept their eyes on the sky under a full day of severe weather advisories. All of us residents are thankful to have not experienced more blowdown as we continue the current clean-up efforts.  
             
Speaking of the June 19 storm damage, some parts of the territory look like nothing happened, while many other spots were smashed pretty well. The Wildersmith place took a hit with seven big trees down, while neighbors to the west and east were hit even worse.             
                       
It seems residents on the Mile O Pine and east along the south shore of Gunflint Lake caught the brunt. Sadly, I mention many one to 200 year old white pines were downed in addition to countless other species. Further, I’m told the popular “campers island” was about totally smashed. As far as I can tell structure damage seems limited to docks, boats and boat lifts.                                                                                                                                              
All of this weather terror is making me long for winter when a good dose of cold and snow would look like pie and ice cream compared to what we’ve had lately.                                                          

On a brighter note, temperatures have been just right to allow for garden plantings to explode. While on the wild side, a burst of gold has taken over along the Trail. The plethora of buttercups, Canadian hawkweed and other yellow beings has laid claim as the guide through this paradise pathway to the end at Seagull Lake. Added to a sprinkling of orange hawkweed, daisies and waning lupine, and we have a rainbow right here at ground level. It would seem a trip on the Trail would be in order.                                       
Speaking of Trail treks, The Gunflint Trail Historical Society is hosting an open house this coming Sunday, July 3, in honor of the new Nature Center facility on the Chik-Wauk Museum campus. The happening occurs from 11 am to 4 pm with free admission and treats for all.    
                                                                                                                                                                
As part of the celebration, the GTHS is excited to announce two recent exhibit additions. The beautiful “Diving Loons” sculpture is now in place. This work was designed and produced by local artist, Keith Morris. Besides the loon display, the Nature Center has been gifted with a marvelous display of Trail butterflies, skippers and moths. This collection has been provided by local lepidopterist, David MacLean. Grateful thanks go out to both gentlemen for their elegant contributions. 

It is unknown if other area folks are noticing a scarcity of hummingbirds this summer. Our usually busy nectar station is experiencing almost no activity. Over the past couple weeks the only hummer arrival has been a singleton. The mini bird arrives shortly after daylight commences, and that’s all we’re seeing. Kind of makes me wonder what human invasiveness has done now to screw up more wild country habitat.          
                                                                                                             
On the angling agenda, a few area fishermen indicate their catching has gone to pot. They are thinking the big storm has driven fish down and stirred up other bait sources. They’re just not into being lured by hooks with meat attached for the time being. However, a fellow on Gunflint Lake tells of watching a gull (often referred to as a winged French fry-eating rat) having better luck than he. It seems the “gull’ snatched an eelpout from somewhere nearby and stopped by his dock where it set down to have its version of a “shore lunch.”                                                                                                                                                                      
The angler headed in soon after his observation and came up dockside of the dining bird. Not to be denied dinner, the winged critter was reluctant to take flight. The fisherman eventually had to shoo it off, and placed a lawn chair over the finny in order to discourage a return.  In the end, an eagle eyeing the goings-on circled overhead, made a careful landing, and made off with an easy dinner. This is yet another predator/prey epic in the natural magic of life on the Gunflint Trail.                                                       
A note of “breaking news” comes to all WTIP listeners and website followers. Our summer membership drive begins in earnest this coming Wednesday, July 6, and continues through noon, Monday, July 11.                                                                                           
One of three such drives each year, this is the biggest and is so important for continued growth of this North Shore Community broadcast experience. I encourage all to re-up their membership and /or become a new member of the WTIP team during this coming effort.    
                
I think we can all say we got to where we are to today “with a little help from some special friend.” At this time, “with a little help from all WTIP friends” radio excellence can blossom even further. Be sure to give us a call or click and join at WTP.org or stop by 1712 West Highway 61 and pledge your support, beginning next Wednesday.                                                                                                                                            
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith reporting! Have a safe and sane July 4.                             
 

Listen: 

 
by David Wilson via Flickr

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 24

              
Breaking news on the Gunflint! The historic Gunflint Lodge has new owners! After nearly 90 years of Kerfoot Family hospitality, the reins have been turned over to another family.  From Justine and her mother, to son Bruce and his family, the iconic resort operation has been one of the premier north woods vacation spots in the country for going on nine decades. Through good times and some not so good, the business remains standing tall like the surrounding white pines, boosting and reflecting the spirit of life gone by in wilderness America.   
                                                                 
The Gunflint Community thanks the Kerfoots, both Bruce and Sue, for their never ending contributions to our territory, wishing them the best in their long sought quest for retirement. At the same time, upper Trail residents welcome the Fredrikson family, John, Mindy and son, to the great border country, wishing them well in their new venture, with many “happy” Gunflint Trails!   
                                                                                                                                                     
Mother Nature has pulled the plug on homemade air conditioning since we last met on the radio. Summer has warmed considerably (well into the 70s), making me and the moose cringe in the jungle-like humidity. Although this neighborhood has not experienced the hot misery of most places around the country, for me and my Alces Alces friends, anything above 55 to 60 has us heading in haste to cool lake waters. Guess the danger of frost can be forgotten for the time being, and all planting should be safe.     
                                                                  
At the time of this Gunflint scooping, we’ve been on the dry side. Less than a quarter inch has fallen at Wildersmith over the past days making for a new beginning of dust build-up on back country roads.                                                                                                        
As fate would have it, rain did come to the area late last Sunday, but accompanied by high winds and hail in isolated places. The horrendous winds (60 to 70 mph, I’m told) brought back memories of the tragic July 4 in 1999, when a derecho demolished over 300K pristine northern wilderness acres.                                                                                                                                               
Although this occurrence did not display the violence of the 1999 version, it nevertheless did a job on countless trees in several Trail locales, along with death and injury, power and fiber outages. I have not heard of any building damages yet, but folks will be spending the next few days to weeks clearing up blowdown remnants. The Wildersmith neighborhood was, as in ’99, once again hit hard during this violent weather episode.   
                             
Something magical can catch one’s attention most anytime in this neck of the woods. Many times it can be a situation that has gone on for eons, but is either taken for granted, or never fully grasped until just the right moment for the observer. Such was the case for yours truly one cool morning prior to this sudden summer turn on.  
 
Recently, in the immediate time after sun-up, beams of brightness began to glisten through the forest. It was one of those rays streaming through the cedar trees that caught my eye. The focus getting my attention was a swarm of unknown winged insects hovering right in the midst of this golden shaft. Not giving the view much thought, a glance away, and then looking again later, I found the collection of buzzers in the same proximity. Giving a closer look for an extended period of time, they just hung in the area suspended, how strange I thought.         
              
Duh, finally, it dawned on me. They were not gathering in the attack mode, but simply bathing in the warmth of a new day, following a cold night. As the solar radiance moved with changing trajectory, these little critters followed right along until out of sight. It was just another interesting view of nature in the Gunflint world around us!                                                                                   
More North Country magic has been noted by a local fishing guide. Bear sightings are not too uncommon, but this one, as reported, found a momma and her family crossing the Trail out this way. The noteworthy detail of the bear trek was four little fur balls scrambling to keep up with her. Bears can be like pigs and sometimes can have a litter, but we seldom see more than two or three cubs, so this happening is surely interesting. I’m betting this “momma bear” was glad to see warm weather so she could get out of the birthing den. I suppose dinner time was a mad scramble with a lot of pushing and shoving for several months.    
                                                                
One more critter tale finds folks living along the Mile O Pine have sign of a mystery moose. The phantom creature has not been observed except occasionally, down in Gunflint’s “dog ear” Bay. But any number of us have seen tracks along the road. Leaving less than dainty hoof prints, the ghostly icon definitely leaves a trace.                                                                                                                       
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, busy picking up after last weekend's wind/rain episode.
 
 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 17

The Smiths are back in the woods once more. A week away from this northern paradise seems like an eternity. After a swell visit with family on both the western and eastern extremities of Iowa, it’s nice to return to “home sweet home” in border country.    

Our trip into the northland came just in time as we escaped the grizzly heat and humidity surging through the Hawkeye state a week ago. While those conditions are great for growing corn and soybeans, they are disconcerting to an old timer like yours truly.  

As I put together this week’s scoop, we Gunflinters are enjoying some natural air conditioning courtesy of our Canadian neighbors. I missed out on a frosty June morning while away, nevertheless, smiles abound, hoping the “cool” hangs in there until fall.      
                                                                                                 
More moisture blessed the area during my absence, keeping wildfire danger at bay, lake levels up and rivers a gushing. With the Gunflint Gal being an inflow/outflow body, this time of year finds the depth beginning to diminish. However, at this moment, the surface has risen several inches on the DNR lake measuring gauge since its placement near the Wildersmith dock about the end of May. 

The forest is now in full summer regalia. It seems our lush greenery might be the densest I’ve seen in 17 years of residence. Early summer blooms are decorating the landscape along back country roads - most notable are wild roses, Columbine and those pesky lupine.            

Meanwhile, the blue heavens have seemingly settled to earth right here in our back yard. An azure haze of Forget-Me-Nots, the likes of which we’ve never had before, blankets nearly every square foot. They’re so delicate one hesitates to even step off the walkway path for fear of blemishing the beauty.  

Speaking of summer, the Solstice passes before we meet again. It’s hard to realize “old Sol” starts the slow tilt southward soon after this coming Monday. One shouldn’t be discouraged though as plenty of great warm weather opportunities remain in Gunflint Country.           
Speaking of one such, the Gunflint Trail Canoe Races loom just four weeks away, July 20. Organizational plans have long been underway for this fortieth annual fund raiser to benefit the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMS crews. This event is soon followed by the Mid-Trail event, a similar fund raising endeavor in early August. There is plenty to look forward to, so mark your calendars and stay tuned for further updates.                  

Winged critters are buzzing with reckless abandon throughout the area. The war against mosquitoes has garnered additional troops as dragonfly airborne squadrons have entered the battle with us humans. Sad to say, it appears to be a losing cause with far more “skeeters” than there are “D Flies” to eat them. Added to the nasty biting onslaught are those obnoxious black flies and “no see-ums.” So in general, it has been quite uncomfortable out of doors, regardless of the cool green surroundings.        

However, one thing positive can be said for those blackfly rebels, they are a necessary evil when it comes to the upper Trail blueberry patches. As facilitators of the pollination process, it would be nice if these ravenous bugs would just do their job and leave us alone, - “fat chance.” And speaking of the “blue gems,” a fellow up at end of the Trail tells of seeing a lot of flowering and green berries on the bush already. Will it be another bumper crop?   

An update has come my way in the past few days with regard to the loon pair hanging out at Chik-Wauk's museum site. The staff up there reports, the handsome couple have returned to the nesting platform and are apparently incubating new eggs. Folks might wish to be checking the CW webcam to follow the aspiring parental activity.      

The Gunflint Trail Historical Society’s annual “shrimp boil” was a huge success this past Sunday. A record turnout enjoyed a “taste of southern dining” at its best in the great north woods ambiance. Thanks go out to the many volunteers for putting on such a unique feast.                                                                                                                      

Gunflint Trail residents are saddened to hear about the death of Harriet (Boostrom) Taus. A daughter of pioneer residents Petra and Charlie Boostrom, Harriet’s passing ends another chapter in history of this charming piece of the universe. She was a wonderful link to the past as she often shared stories of her family and their life in Gunflint territory, at both Clearwater Lodge and the Chik-Wauk Museum. All who knew her will surely miss this kind and gentle lady.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, wishing everyone “happy Gunflint Trails!”
 
(photo by dawnzy58 via Flickr)

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 3

        
Border country is off into June, the month of the Ojibwe full “strawberry” moon. Where did May go?

The past weekend's intro to summer probably seemed bleak if one was a visitor to the area. Our Memorial Day break was nearly a bust as “Mother Nature” chose to do some catching up on overdue moisture, along with cool, but “moose comfortable” temps.

However, we Gunflint byway residents are not complaining. Furthermore, we are deeply appreciative for the heaven-sent liquid. The rain couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, after a near month of tinder dry conditions. Nearly an inch and three-quarters filled the Wildersmith rain gauge during the soggy weekend siege.  

The accumulation will surely enhance mosquito habitat, and the now gushing streams and rivers will provide equal enthusiasm for hatching more of an already active black fly contingent. So everybody, net up!

The north woods jungle has exploded, no doubt aided by the welcome rain. Early wild flowers are aglow, and weeds will soon be beckoning to be whacked. With exception of the sugar maples along the Mile O Pine, leaf-out is completed for summer, while red and white pines are sporting the candles of next generation branches. 

People activities along the Trail were not a washout, as a nice crowd filled the hall at YMCA Camp Menogyn for the annual pancake breakfast on Sunday, while the seasonal opening of the museum at Chik-Wauk & the new Nature Center drew a busy crowd of visitors last Saturday.    

This is just the beginning of what looks to be another hectic summer in the Gunflint Community. Next weekend (June 11 & 12) finds the Boundary Waters Expo taking center stage up at the Seagull Lake boat landing. This 2nd annual event will feature both exhibits and family friendly programming on learning how to explore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness. For a full schedule of events, contact Visit Cook County at (218) 387-2788.   

As the “Expo” draws down on Sunday the 12th, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society will be holding its annual Shrimp Boil and bake sale at the Seagull Lake Community Center. Commencing at 4 pm, this is always a fun gathering. A fundraiser for the Society, a per-plate donation is suggested, with proceeds going to the Chik-Wauk facility operations. 

While the weather was cold and dismal, it didn’t temper the excitement for area fisher people. A friend down the road found catching to be action packed down on North Lake with a goodly number of trout keepers and subsequent releases. I’m told, the most difficult part of the angling/watercraft excursion was fighting through the rapids from Little Gunflint Lake into Little North. Guess “Beaver & Beaver” Construction have engineered and built quite a dam in the passage, causing the entry to be narrowed with turbulent flowage. 

Spring babies are growing rapidly to the point where they begin venturing out from their birthing places. Guests at Rockwood Lodge had the rare pleasure of recently watching a trio of fox kits playing around and learning of life. Fortunately, the activity was captured on video and shared with WTIP. One can get a look at this foxy fun by clicking on the website at WTIP.org and going to the “photos on the edge" section.

Meanwhile, a few moose opportunities have been reported. One such was a calf the Smiths’ observed in a swamp along the Trail at the turn-off to Big Bear Lodge. And on another day, a couple gals found a big bull munching greens in the pond above the Birch Lake overlook.    

Then, in a rarity during a recent mail run, I found a trail of moose tracks along the Mile O Pine. Moose are seldom found in this neighborhood, other than near the “dog eared” bay of mid-Gunflint Lake. Other Alces alces sightings have been re-counted from mid-Trail on up since last week's scoop. 

If our current cool weather trend extends, there surely will be more sightings of the iconic creatures as they venture out from the shady shelter of balsam groves in twilight hours. 

Those feisty hummingbirds have returned to many feeders around the territory, although to date, we at Wildersmith have observed only minimal arrivals at our nectar supply port. Guess the heavy traffic time for ruby throats is yet to come, and/ or they might be delayed in TSA security lines somewhere south of here.

Finally, the Smiths observed a young “Bruno” crossing our vehicle path not long ago. Other than this lone sighting, I’m not hearing of bear happenings. Stay tuned for future bear tales as more careless humans infiltrate their domain with appetizing temptations.  

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, savoring, “the land of sky blue waters!”

(still shot from Sally Wilson's video; footage courtesy of Rockwood Lodge & Outfitters)
 
 
 
 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 27

Month five is almost into the books as spring surged during the past seven. Clear skies provided this territory with a perfect “budding flowers” moon, setting the stage for luminous blooming, while the day of official summer looms on the horizon. 

Flowering has finally reached the upper Trail. Marsh marigolds, squill, wild strawberry blossoms, forget- me-nots and of course, those “dandy” lions head the list of north-country returnees.  Adding to the resurgence of growth, fiddlehead ferns are uncoiling their fronds, and domestic rhubarb has popped up enough to provide the first “pie plant” desserts of the season.          

Green-up of the deciduous forest has intensified right on schedule. From those late bloomers about to explode their buds to hillsides alive with verdant haze, if green is one’s color there are many shades from which to choose. Total leaf out should be complete in a week or so.      

It’s amazing how resilient plant life can be, considering the area had passed another week devoid of moisture. We’ve been “bone” dry, choking in late summer dust along back country roads. A blessed rain finally quenched our thirsty forest since mid-week. A six-tenths dose, late Tuesday, has lessened wild fire danger, so folks out this way have dodged a flaming bullet for the time being.           

Considering forest fire danger, the recent decision for a prescribed burn that escaped control west of the Ely area, is simply mind boggling. I realize these procedures are a necessary forest practice, but it's apparent science-based conditions, supporting the right time for a intentional burn, can well be one in the same with warnings of wildfire potential. So why would you ignite one?    
            
In the meantime, common sense says, Trail residents had better be taking their own prevention measures, even though the area has been dampened down. Periodic running of wildfire sprinkler systems is recommended to keep a dome of humidity over properties during our increasingly frequent dry spells, and tending to “firewise” needs is vitally important right now and always.
  
There are good things and some not so good with each of our border country seasons. Everyone out this way is smiling with the warm sunshine. But sad to say, those “black fly terrorists” have a grin on their faces too, in anticipation of a little bloodletting. I’ve been into my netting for the past week, and thus far my batting average against the fierce nippers is far better than our Minnesota baseball Twins.     

Along with the no-nonsense biting flies, the season ahead looks to be gloomy from a “tick” standpoint. A hiker I heard of reported picking off fifty of the creepy things following a recent trek along the Border Trail. In the meantime, mosquitoes are amassing troops out there somewhere with only a few small battalions appearing around sunset thus far.    

So if one thinks winter is less than accommodating, think again, this time of year has its distressing elements too. All these biting critters are making me think freeze!

Speaking of the tourist times ahead, several businesses catering to such have seen operator changes over the past few months and years. New management has been on board at Clearwater Lodge for the past couple years, while Big Bear Lodge has also come under new proprietorship. In addition, those at the helm of Tuscarora Lodge & Outfitters are beginning their second year. While just recently, a changing of the guard has taken the reins at both Rockwood Lodge and Loon Lake Lodge. Everyone in the Gunflint Community welcomes and wishes these new wilderness hosts well, in their Trail endeavors. 

Critter notes are scant as I air this week. No bear adventures have been reported, but I have observed a number of north woods bunnies scampering about, some still in dirty white socks. Grouse meanwhile, (“you know, those Minnesota chicken birds”) too numerous to count, have dared frequent pedestrian catastrophes in front of my vehicle.
  
In regard to grouse, another sighting found that although their hunting season is closed to humans, the times are always open to predators. I came upon a fox, trotting along the Trail not long ago, with a nice “chicken bird” in its jaws. The now faded red one was so intent it did not flinch or waver from its roadside course as I drove by. My hunch is a hungry batch of kits was waiting for lunch back in the den. 

In the past couple days, a solemn report came my way of the loon pair at the Chik-Wauk Museum nesting platform having abandoned the site. Reasons are unknown, but suspect would be an airborne predator pilfering the eggs, it’s happened before. The possibility remains that hormonal instincts might re-balance and they will return to try again. Stay tuned for any updates.    

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Savoring northern magic and swatting all at the same time! Have a safe Memorial Day!                                                                                        

(photo by Mike Quinn via Wikimedia Commons)


 
Pileated woodpecker

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 20

Not too surprisingly, May is rapidly slipping away. The Ojibwe “budding flowers moon” (Zaagibagaa Giizis) will grace the north woods this weekend. Then we head off toward the commemorative “Memorial Day” weekend to kick-off summer.

As I begin this week's report, summer feels a long ways off. Our big day of the walleye fishing opener came and went under less than favorable conditions. “Old man winter” kind of gave us a kiss goodbye reminding all in these parts there is still a little click in his heels.

Strong northwest winds, dismal skies and occasional showers of snow flurries were the order as temps hovered around the freezing point. Saturday AM found a skiff of snow on the ground, and water in my deck-side avian drinking dish stayed frozen all day. It was so cold conditions even prompted a couple nights of firing up the old wood burning stove.

Spring will no doubt bounce back by the time this scoop airs. And, there’s a good chance the last of the snow along our Mile O Pine will have faded into history.

In retrospect, while winter seemed less than gruff during the past months, we’ve had snow on the ground in varying amounts from November into the third week of May. If I count right, it’s seven months of north-country heaven for yours truly.

Although the area experienced a dash of winter, we’ve still not received enough moisture to diminish the wildfire danger. Cooler conditions of late have been a help, but rain remains the key component. The rain recorded here has barely settled the dust in the last week.

Most locals I know deferred frosty angling for a nicer day. However, out-of-towners owever. out-of-towners were not deterred. After all, it's Minnesota and fishing opener is a rite of the season. A trip along the Trail this past weekend found vehicle after vehicle either toting or pulling some kind of watercraft.

Boats started cruising by on the Gunflint gal before Saturday morning twilight and continued right through the day in spite of frigid air and rough seas. I suppose a few “finnies” were caught, but with the waters so cold right now, I’m guessing most walleyes were holed up in favor of warmer waters someday soon.

Last week's story about the first bear sighting has advanced into chapter two. Several folks along the Gunflint Lake south shore report the meanderings of a really “big” one around their places. Of those sharing the “Bruno” visits, none indicate any property ravaging or confrontations - just that it’s snooping around. I guess residents must be doing a good job of removing temptations thus far.

The folks at Gunflint Lodge have observed it, too, and believe this guy/gal may be the same one that caused them considerable grief last summer by getting into a cabin or two without checking in first at the reservation desk.

The Chik-Wauk Museum’s loon nesting platform is reported to now be occupied. I have not been witness to the returning occupants, but the museum manager indicates she witnessed a parental changing of the guard one day last week, so the fragile ovals must be there for the warming. Happy days are here again! All hope is looting raptors can be kept at bay.

On a related note, I’m told the loon cam at the Chik-Wauk site will be up and operating soon. Check the website to follow the nesting/hatching activity over the next few weeks.

When the sun has peeked between the clouds over the past few days, there’s been ceremonious tweeting throughout the woods. Harmonizing is not necessarily the order of performance as crows, jaybirds and the like, are all singing a different tune. And, as I’ve been out around the yard picking up winter blow-down, percussive components have been added to the northern ensemble with drumming grouse and a hammering pileated woodpecker chipping in solo parts. Ah, the north woods refrains of spring, what a delight!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! On the watch for emerging green!

(Photo by Mick Thompson via Flickr)

Listen: 

 
Chik-Wauk

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 13

Into week two of our fifth month finds spring edging forward, seemingly with two steps forward then one step back. As this scoop hits the keyboard, the upper Gunflint Trail has been a part of extreme temperature swings.    

As last week's column aired, this neck of the woods saw the mercury soar to the 90 degree mark up at Trail's end, and in less than 24 hours, we at Wildersmith awoke to frost on the roof tops.  

All of this has happened under mostly fair skies, in spite of occasional tufts of smoke from the raging Canadian wildfire in Alberta. Fair skies obviously have left this area moisture starved with barely a few sprinkles since our return of a week ago.  

So we Gunflinters are in grave wildfire danger too. At this writing, folks remain on pins and needles wondering why responsible agencies have not invoked total burning bans in the county, knowing about 98 percent of all wildfires are caused by human actions. 

It’s particularly nerve racking remembering that nine years ago at this time, the territory was under searing siege due to a judgmental error by a lone camper. The resulting historic Ham Lake Fire torched 75,000 acres of the border country and destroyed over 140 upper Trail property structures. 

Needless to say, residents are quickly getting their wildfire sprinkler systems up and running. Yours truly has been into the cold lake placing pump lines and firing up the three units for which I have responsibility. Wildersmith is ready, hoping the need for pumping does not become a reality.  

Speaking of the cold lake, it was so cold my hands ached in a matter of seconds when dipped into the icy liquid. The rest of me was covered in deep sea wet suit protection. Going through this annual exercise is always a keen reminder of how dangerous the water can be soon after ice out. By the way, the water temp was in the mid to upper 30s as I took my first dip of 2016, brrrr!  

With cool temps and dwindling patches of piled snow, the eighth annual “Ham Run” half marathon and 5k run were celebrated last Saturday. The event, held in commemoration of human survival and forest re-birth following the horrendous Ham Lake burn of 2007, saw over 140 runners in the two events.

The anniversary of the running was a happy time, as have been the previous seven, with sunny skies guiding runners along this taxing, but most scenic course in the universe. Thanks go out to organizers, sponsors, and dozens of volunteers for making it happen. 

As May ends week two, excitement is building at the Chik-Wauk Museum site. The Museum will be opening for its seventh season. Meanwhile, final touches are being applied to the new Nature Center building project. Along with the new Nature Center exhibits and programming, the Museum is featuring a spectacular new temporary exhibit spotlighting “Birds of the Gunflint Wilderness.” Both facilities will open on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.  

I’ve had a sneak preview of the new NC facility. The exhibits are simply stunning as the Nature Center planning committee, in concert with the Split Rock Studios’ designers, have put together another splendid component for sharing more of the Gunflint story.  Gunflint Trail residents and visitors alike will want to make the historic resort site a destination choice for this summer. The new Nature Center and museum temporary exhibit is a must see. Special Nature Center programming events can be monitored on the Chik-Wauk website.         

This week's commentary finds me reporting a first bear sighting. It was a momma and her triplet cubs plotting a breaking and entering of the garbage canisters site along the Trail.

In another critter episode, a fellow reports the sighting of an adolescent moose having apparently received a snort from momma to get out on its own. This rejection must have been in favor of a new arrival. Guess the forlorn youngster was wondering aimlessly, looking as confused as a freshman going to the first day of high school.  

On a final “wild neighborhood” note, after telling of snowshoe hares making their wardrobe transformation in last week's column, I recently observed three white tails yet to have shed their winter camo. I’m thinking their copper tone summer wear is due very soon.   

Lastly, spring really becomes official this weekend with our “walleye opening day.” Good luck to all anglers and be safe in these icy cold northland waters!    

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Our Gunflint spring is trying to “bust out, all over.”
 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 6

April has given way to May, and week one is into the books. The Wildersmith two are back in the woods following a trip to Iowa for my annual officiating duties at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, in addition to visiting our kids and re-connecting with many dear friends.   

The Gunflint wilderness seems so quiet and welcoming after what was a hectic time of helping our daughter prepare to relocate, and experiencing the never ending turmoil of human interaction in metropolis. We are surely blessed to have the better of two worlds, one being the ability to reconnect periodically with the civilized world; and two, being able to escape urban hubbub for the serenity of life in unorganized territory. No wonder this place has such magnetism!   

My last day at the Relays event proved to be record setting in terms of miserable weather endurance. A day in Iowa with rain, 40 degree temperatures, and 30 mile per hour winds made a brisk 40 below January segment in the north woods seem not too bad at all. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt such a bone chilling, and that’s saying a lot for a guy who enjoys winter as I do.    

Speaking of winter, it’s pretty much put to rest as of this scribing. But we can’t count it out for yet another couple weeks. Remnant splotches of snow in roadside ditches and shadows of the forest, along with broken tree branches, a few downed telephone poles and sagging phone lines linger as the only reminders of our past season.   

A further note on the area's advance toward seasonal rebirth, declares the ice is out on area lakes. Here on Gunflint, the progression of open water took the better part of a week, with final hard water disappearance at the east end occurring on April30. So it lasted just about as I thought it would. I’m indebted to a friend down the road who stepped up to make the official “ice-out” call in my absence.     

The water now lapping against our granite shore is every bit as joyous, as is the anticipation of those first freezing crinkles each November/ December. It’s just pretty darn energizing! And for angling enthusiasts, there will be no worry about ice in 2016 for getting after those walleyes next weekend.   

Back country roads are drying readily as run-off is back into drainage swales and culverts. In fact, my return trip found the vehicle kicking up dust instead of “mud season” goop!    

Meanwhile, the forest landscape is drab as it awaits renewal of chlorophyll production. The deciduous part of the forest is barely into the budding stage. However, coniferous cousins have regained the verdant twinkle as their juices are already running.     

Signaling spring is in full swing, snowshoe hares have just about completed their warm season wardrobe transition. One crossed our path on the county road during last Sunday's return. It was sporting the usual dusty summer coat with the only reminder of winter garb, being its snow white socks. 

In a closing tidbit, it’s always a relief to get back home after a time away. I was amused while beginning to unload the vehicle, as a couple of resident squirrels came by to greet me. Obviously they wanted a hand-out as they scurried about, chattering food service orders. Following me like a canine pet, until I threw out some seed morsels, one excitably came close to running into the house while I carried in luggage. It sure is nice to be wanted!  

This is Fred Smith, back on the Trail, at Wildersmith, savoring the Gunflint charm!

(photo by Enzik via Wikimedia Commons)
 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 22

Spring has finally won out here in the North Country. It has taken over intensely since our last visit over the air waves.

Going from jackets, furry hats and gloves to shirt-sleeves in a matter of a few days has many of us in shock. How warm has it been, it was so warm that my first outdoor activities subsequent to snow shoveling drew perspiration not seen since last October.

Taking the warm weather wrinkles a step farther, the copious snows piling up from mid-March to mid-April have shrunk to no more than plowed roadside windrows and shoveled heaps. “Old Sol” gulped this northern snow cone like a thirsty kid at the state fair.

Border country streams and rivers are gushing wildly on their way to frozen lakes. But at the time of this recording, lake ice remains intact out this way.

Ice on the Gunflint Gal has barely broken away from our Wildersmith shoreline. With nothing scientific to base my prediction on, it is my best guess the ice here will last another week to ten days. If this prediction plays out, it will put us into the first few days of May which is near average for our ice-out.

Spring is popping out all along the Trail. Pussy willows are purring their fuzzy arrival, while trees of the forest are trying to straighten themselves up following winter's trunk bending-stress of several unusual wet heavy snows.

On back woods roads, we “mudders” are slogging through a second siege of meltdown ooze. The tepid winter gave us hope of an early “mud season” in late February and early March. However, the recent thirty day surge of snow and cold stopped all that and now we are experiencing “mud season” number two. Any desire of maintaining a clean vehicle should be put to rest at least for another couple weeks.

The forest is alive with “tweeters” and I don’t mean of the cyber variety. Robins are rampant and flickers are flocking from whence they spent the past cold season. Both seem to hang out in goodly numbers along area byways at this time of year for some reason. I get a kick out of flickers zipping up from the roadsides with their white feathered bottoms making for easy identification.

Bears have yet to make their grand entry in this neighborhood, but yours truly is taking no chances at tempting a visit. I have removed deck-side feeding stations that could be an attraction.

This of course causes issue for the area pine martens. There is no longer a facility where morsels can be placed for securing their goodies from the birds and squirrels. That in mind, marten visitors have been grudgingly scrounging through an open tray of oiled sunflower seeds.

Sharing the cafeteria line amongst martens, squirrels, jaybirds and other winged folk obviously causes many uncomfortable dining experiences. In fact, a few mornings ago, two martens wisely arrived in the twilight hour to apparently avoid the after-sunrise breakfast rush.

Sadly, this dining opportunity is soon to end as I’ll have to stop the seed distribution as bears like them, too. However, with snow cover waning, bare ground will once again provide nourishment fortunes although not accessed as easy. To all my dependent critters, see you again when the snow flies.

Martens aren’t the only meat eating critters to turn omnivorous at times. Protein can be scarce in these parts with members of the Canid family often caught hanging out under bird feeders to scarf up seed scatterings of the feathered folk.

With venison fortunes hard to come by up this way, a gal in the mid-Trail area recently shared a great video capturing a hungry wolf lapping up seeds off the avian tray near her deck.

Without question, every species on the planet, including billions of malnourished human beings, is in an on-going quest for nutritional elements at one time or another. We all need to help whenever prudent and practical!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, watching the rebirth of our natural world!

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 15

There’s hope for serious spring-like temperatures as this week’s Gunflint scoop comes your way. However, while my scribing hits the keyboard, it’s snowing once more in the Wildersmith neighborhood.

For winter worshippers, things have been glorious over the past month with snow, snow and more snow. I suppose some in these parts are beginning to wonder if this recent siege will ever end.

Up to the moment, around this place we’ve now totaled slightly over 102 inches, and we’re still counting. It’s been exactly 30 days since the snow-maker slipped into high gear, giving us one-third of our seasonal total. Guess one should never count the season down and out until the “gal” (Mother Nature) in charge of things says it’s so! In the immortal words of NY Yankee great, Yogi Berra, “it ain’t over, ‘til it’s over.”

With spring out there somewhere, energies are at a high pitch for the leadership of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. The focus of course is another Chik-Wauk Museum season and the anticipated opening of their new Nature Center building.

Finishing touches are being made on the facility as the GTHS awaits delivery of exhibits from the design “pros” at Split Rock Studios. Arrival and installation of the displays is hoped for some time next week assuming road bans allow such.

After several years of visioning, planning, jumping through hoops and fundraising, the thought of this project being opened for family friendly viewing and learning is exciting beyond the organizations wildest dreams. The Nature Center will be open daily along with the museum beginning on the Memorial Day weekend.

In addition to completion of the Nature Center building, work is being wrapped up on a small administrative/archival storage unit. Both of these Chik-Wauk additions are being fit onto the footprints of where buildings were located during the days of resort operations. In each case these structures are simple rehabilitations, not actual restorations.

Telling more of the Chik-Wauk story does not end here. Planning is already underway for the construction of an open-air structure which will display, and further tell the stories about life on the lakes along the Gunflint. It too will be located on the footprint of the original shoreline dock (across the driveway from the Nature Center, on the northeast bay) where the first resort operators had theirs.

The timber-frame constructed “marine equipment” display unit is set to be built by GTHS volunteers under the guidance of professionals at the North House Folk School, on the Folk School Campus in Grand Marais, this coming August. Installation of this facility is scheduled for the summer of 2017.

And last but not least, on the drawing board now is a rehab of one Chik-Wauk Resort guest cabin. Target for this addition is uncertain, but hopefully, as soon as design approval is procured and additional funding is raised. This too will be located on a historic cabin site.

It’s hoped all will mark their calendars for another visit this summer to share in some new Chik-Wauk magic!

Speaking of those just mentioned GTHS volunteers, as we near the end of National Volunteer Week, I would like to express my thanks to all the good folks both around the Cook County area, in Grand Marais and up the Trail for all they do to make this place on the northern Riviera the special attraction it is!

Since I reside out this way, I am especially conscious of the people of the Gunflint Community who always answer the call for whatever and whenever, without fail. Not only are you wonderful friends and neighbors, your commitment is uniquely remarkable, in making sure this byway through paradise remains an unequaled natural, cultural and historical resource.

As a volunteer myself on many community tasks, I’m rewarded by gaining far more satisfaction from serving than I actually provide in services. I would guess this attitude is shared by all along the Gunflint who continually pitch in…thank you so much!

On a closing note, as I was finalizing the first draft of this Gunflint report, we had a deck-side visit from a “real” big bird. Following a dinner of roasted chicken, I set carcass remains out on the feeding tray for the pine martens. In no time at all, a “piney” was here, feasting to its content. In a short time, it disappeared with a mouthful to be stockpiled somewhere in the woods.

Soon after, out of the heavens, a bald eagle swooped down to an unprecedented landing at our gourmet trough. Having never had this happen before, it remains a mystery whether the “great American symbol” had its eye on the poultry remains or the pine marten.

The “awesome avian” didn’t hang around long, departing without a chicken dinner. Guess it might have preferred our offering in the uncooked state, as opposed to our tasty processed gourmet version.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, enjoying what may be the last moments of winter!

(Photo courtesy of Marie Hale on Flickr)

Listen: