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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

Fred Smith
Fred Smith, a native Iowan re-located to the wilderness of border country at the end of the century, has been writing of happenings in the upper Gunflint territory for going on eight years, first with the local paper, and since December 2008 for WTIP North Shore Community Radio. Fred feels life in the woods is extraordinary, and finds reporting on it to both a reading and listening audience a pleasurable challenge. Since retirement as a high school athletic administrator from Ankeny High School, Ankeny Iowa in 1999, the pace of Fred's life has become less hectic but nevertheless, remains busy in new ways with many volunteer activities along the Trail. Listen at your convenience by subscribing to a podcast.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint October 20

October 20, 2017     Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
Our northern forest has pretty much shed its autumnal coat. The deciduous tree scene is largely gray, scraggily skeletons, lurking amongst their evergreen cousins. The last vestige of descending things will be laid to rest by this airing as Tamarack gold layers up on the landscape.

Fitting for the advance of ghost and goblin time, an eerie quiet hangs over the landscape during the time we mourn the death of summer leaves and the mosaic of falls’ last hurrah. With the growth of our wildland world taking its final bow, the long stillness of winter is waiting in anticipation as “Mother Nature will soon be issuing a first “winter watch.”

Several frosty mornings of late are setting the stage, and days of clouds hang cold and heavy over border country. It goes without saying these billows of heavenly drab might soon deliver moisture of frozen character. Anecdotally, I observed the first skim of ice on a bird water dish and on a Trailside pond last Tuesday morning.
                                                                                                                                                                                      Meanwhile, around the Wildersmith place, “getting ready” chores are about complete, so the “wizard of winter wonder” can bring it on. My last dip in the lake, to retrieve wildfire sprinkler hoses, found the liquid in the low fifties, a real attention grabber.                                                                                                                                                                                          
In the past few days, I’ve started placing a little daytime sustenance out on the deck side feed trough. Our first returnees, those “whiskey jacks” and blue jays, were joined last Monday by an infrequent visitor of ebony character. We seldom have ravens land here, although they are often rapping overhead. So getting to see one up real close was a treat. Guess some fatty meat scraps were more than this dapper corvine could resist, prompting the fast food stop-over.
A couple reported a busy beaver along the Trail just days ago. This critter of former fur trade notoriety was engaged in laying up cold season vittles. “Bucky” was so engrossed in dragging a fresh aspen branch across the black-top it failed to look before crossing. The gnawing herbivore narrowly missed becoming a “road-kill’ statistic as the attentive driver braked just in time allowing this paddle tail varmint another chance on life.  
The incident happened in the area just above the observation pull-off at the Laurentian Divide where a roadside pond accommodates beaver lodging, and is also the home of Beaver & Beaver Construction. So if locals are driving through this area, be on the watch to give this guy/gal a break.                                                                                                                                                                                  
Speaking of another chance on life, a number of stately young red pines had theirs literally cut short. They were destroyed in a recent nature trail slashing occurrence along the Seagull River in the upper Gunflint region. Whether the episode was a case of vandalism or an ill-advised, un-supervised agency endeavor, it is tragically dis-heartening.

These were trees planted by volunteers following the Ham Lake fire during the Gunflint Green-up efforts of 2008, 9 and 10. Just getting their roots firmly established, after nearly ten years, many were eight to ten foot tall. Hopefully, those responsible can be found and held accountable for their actions.

 “Moose Madness” throughout the county this weekend holds hope for some candid Alces Alces appearances. Although the north land icons don’t take well to public appearances, this would be the right time that a few might step out of seclusion and show off a little bit of Trail legacy. Its’ Minnesota Education Association weekend and visitors by the hundreds will cruise the Byway, searching, in hope of catching a glimpse from “moose-dom.” Good luck and happy viewing to all!

By the way, while moose searching, it will be the last chance for a visit to the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center up at Trails end. The historical facility will close its doors for the season at the end of the day Sunday. The Gunflint Trail Historical Society thanks the thousands of visitors for coming this season. 

Everyone is invited back, come next spring, as two new facilities will be taking shape around the campus. These additions will be first hand history in the making as the GTHS builds to share more of the Gunflint Trail story.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, no matter what the season!




Wildersmith on the Gunflint October 13

WTIP News     October 13, 2017     Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
I can’t believe the days could go by any faster either here or anywhere. We Gunflinters are nearing the half-way point of month ten as the tourist season is slowing to a crawl.   

Weather over the past seven has remained moderate and somewhat dry in the upper Trail region. In spite of a frosty spot here and there, the area has escaped a killing freeze up to this weeks’ news release.

 We could easily be lulled to sleep on this issue, but it’s going to happen, so we year around folk had better be getting those outdoor water facilities prepared. Of special note is the winterization of the wildfire sprinkler systems.

 Since we last met on the radio, yours truly has scratched a few chores off my winterizing list. The snow blade has been mounted and a snow blower check started on the first pull so my check-offs are dwindling. One more trip into the cool lake will bring in the sprinkler system lines and the biggest tasks will be history.   
Our color extravaganza is starting to become distant in the rear view mirror. Showers of leaves have been the order over the past few days, and Tamarak needles are gaining their golden glow rapidly.                                                                                                                                     
Speaking of autumnal views, each day provides an expanding opportunity to see through “the forest for the trees.” One often takes for granted wildland things seen in the woods until the leaves are on and the foliage hides them away. Well, the time has come back to us with thinning gold tokens, opening up for a renewed slant on things once hidden, but now revealed.                                                                                                                                                                                       
This time of year is never more magic than when one treks down a back country road. With the greedy world about to consume us, it is soul soothing to stroll or drive down one of these off Trail Gunflint roads.      
A damp earth fragrance, a leaf strewn path, a calm breeze, a sky of blue sharing both sunshine and puffy clouds, occasional avian tweets, drumming grouse, and squirrels scrambling here and there are blended with the serenity of almost zero civilization hubbub. Thus, we observers are charmed with a formula for the idyllic life experience. That’s the way it is with sights and sounds of October in Gunflint country.   
On these cool nights, good reading is a must as we hunker down by the wood stove. Recently, I came across an intriguing article in the fall edition of INTERNATIONAL WOLF magazine. I would think anyone concerned that indigenous lives matter might share my interest in this article focusing on the relationship between the Anishinaabe (Original Man) and Ma’iingan (the wolf) in a creation story.                                                                                                                                                                     
Author, Tovar Cerulli, reflects on the direction of wolf management in the eyes of the Ojibwe through a unique spiritual and cultural understanding of the wolf. I am no professional critic, but I recommend this thought-provoking selection. Chase it down in your local library or perhaps find it on line at internationalwolf@wolf .org.

So many bruin stories continue flowing in I can “bearly” keep up. Two instances of larcenous bear activity have occurred in this neighborhood within recent days.  
The first report came from a gal up the hill from Wildersmith telling about finding her car door ajar, only to open it fully and have a young bear jump out. The next night, “Bruno” came back and opened the vehicle door again, climbed in and did some real damage while sniffing and scrounging for some kind of treat.  
Then in another semi breaking and entering episode; I believe it to be a bear, got into my barbeque storage bin and made off with a pair of blue hot material gloves. Seems funny this nosing around has never happened before, as these gloves have been in that unit for years. I’m guessing the critter might have sniffed an air of cooking grease on the gloves and decided they were for the taking.    

An interesting fact is the gloves were heavy duty leather welding gloves, and if consumed it must have been a chewing good time. Funnier yet, how about the bear passing a little leather, neighbors might keep an eye out for a blue calling card that is definitely not of blueberry consumption. 
On a final note, a couple AWOL “whiskey jacks” (Canadian Jays) have returned from summers’ wherever. These camp robbers are busy every day in a re-education of us Smith’s to be out at the feed trough promptly with a treat. My how trainable we have become!    
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, as we await winter to round the bend!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint October 6

WTIP News     October 6, 2017     Wildersmith on the Gunflint         by Fred Smith

The atmosphere in the upper Trail has been pretty seasonal since we last met on the radio, cool but not cold at night, and warm but not too hot under sunshine. Furthermore, enough moisture has dampened north-country to maintain low fire danger, and enhance the aroma of fall.                                                                                                                                                                      
In the midst of one of those recent precipitation droppings, we had a spectacular rainbow grace our northern heavens. While we in these parts expect color luminosity from the Aurora at night, fine rainbows are not unusual.   
The fact this one hovered over the north shore of Gunflint Lake in Canadian skies makes it somewhat atypical. Usually an east or west phenome, this celestial spectrum happened when rays of “old Sol” were piercing the drizzle laden cloud cover from the south around the noontime hour, creating a beautiful, but short lived prismatic episode. How about this, a tinted rendition of “Mother Nature” simultaneously on earth and in the skies!    

October has crept up on us so fast we have barely noticed its arrival. A week into the books finds it unimaginable the full “falling Leaves” moon has passed us by. Yes, it happened quietly on the fifth, if you hadn’t noticed. 

Our avian migration continues as we now add “snow birds” to the flocks, winging all directions south.  With seasonal neighbors taking off, those of us choosing to stay and hold down the fort, find the urgency of “getting ready for winter” in clear focus.

My good neighbor down the road and his grouse hunting buddies from metropolis came to my aid this past weekend. They provided big manpower in bringing the dock a shore; helping to motor the boat down the lake for its return to winter storage; and in closing up an exterior lake water system. What would we do without neighbors? These major chores checked off the list, the Wildersmith two are moving on to a sundry of less heavy duty items.

The color show of our upper Gunflint is waning as this scoop hits the air. With maple leaves down and birch tokens piling on, stage two finds a quaking golden hue of aspen at its peak. Looking out our window to the forest, the buttery tones are so bright it looks as though the sun is shining, even on a cloudy day. As the emerald plumage of summer succumbs to a colorful end and descends unto another layer of history, the spotlight is set for a final act of this autumnal drama, as we wait for those aurous tamarack needles to drop the season ending curtain.

Memorable animal tidbits have come my way recently. The first of which comes from the mid-Trail neighborhood. To preface this one, for many years, neighbors in that area of the Trail have offered sustenance to any number of fox. 
In this tale of the woods, a bear was observed dipping into the food cache intended for the fox, at an unnamed residence. While the bear was partaking, a fox came onto the scene. In a sudden fit of rage, the fox took after the startled bear and ran it off. The fox came back to feed after the chase.                                                                                                                                                                         
While eating the fox noticed the inquisitive bear returned, peeking around the corner of a building nearby. Apparently feeling the bear did not understand, Mr./Ms. Fox took out in hot pursuit once again. This time, in hope of putting a little more meaning into its grub rights, the fox gave chase and got close enough to give the unknowing Ursae a good bite on the rump. I have not heard of any further confrontation, so I’m assuming the fox got its point across. The scene kind of harkens back to those old “Uncle Remus” stories about “Braer Fox and Braer Bear” read when I was a kid.                                                                                                                                                                                       
I’m told the four bear cubs’ Mother, got into trouble by being aggressive with some gals down the road and has since been dispatched. This is sad, but not too un-expected, as the sloth had been interacting in people neighborhoods for much of the summer. It was bound to happen, but now there are four orphan cubs that definitely will be challenged with surviving the coming winter. Furthermore, should the little ones make it through the winter they too are in danger of gravitating to their mothers’ fate having been reared in human proximity?                                                                                                                                                   
In a more laughable, man/animal convergence, a couple was driving the Trail recently when a moose came up out of the ditch causing and immediate stoppage and stand-off as to who might have the right-of-way.  
It seemed the moose didn’t care to cross, but set off ambling along the shoulder. The couple proceeded slowly with the moose right beside the vehicle. Thinking the moose might be a problem, the driver increased speed to get around and move away from the big guy. However, as the vehicle sped up so did Mr. Moose. Soon the moose broke into a gallop staying alongside on the shoulder path.  
The moose, apparently running for gold, competed for some distance. In the end however, this iconic critter conceded to being just a sprinter and not a long distance runner, dropping off into the ditch and heading for the timber. Final race results indicated DNF, the moose did not finish.

Congratulations and thanks to Sarah Hamilton and her staff at Trail Center for entering the humanitarian relief effort for people of Puerto Rico. She is sending a first shipment of her mid-Trail produced “Camp Chow” (dry packaged meals) to help feed hungry people. For more details on this heartfelt endeavor or to maybe help out in some way, go to the website,      
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, in the land of cool, blue waters!


Bear Cub by Wayne Kelso via Flickr

Wildersmith on the Gunflint September 29

WTIP News     September 29, 2017     Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith

The Equinox of last week says its fall, but summer managed what yours truly hopes is one last gasp as I hit the key board last Sunday evening.  In spite of it being quite warm and sticky over the past weekend, conditions weren’t as intolerable as they have been in places not too far south. Around the upper Gunflint, maybe the moose were the only ones suffering heat issues.
Speaking of moose, one made a trek down the Mile O Pine in recent days. It was sighted by one neighbor, but my only official confirmation came in the form of hoof prints. Over the years they are seldom seen out this way. In fact only one observation was noted last year, so maybe this is it for the season. By the way, I’m told this iconic visitor was a young bull.     

Although summer took a swipe at us wildland folk, our autumn décor is un-shaken. On top of this “leaf peepers’ delight, the sweet essence of the season has captured us. This bouquet of cedar, pine, and spruce mixed with the scent of damp earth and dying leaves summons an incomparable nasal sensation, the likes of which cannot be put in a bottle. Ah, fall, how treasured thou art!       
 If the smell of the season isn’t enough satisfaction, my visual senses were up lifted at sunset on the evening of the Equinox. Hoping to get a glimpse of “old Sol” as it settled over the due west horizon, I headed toward the Wildersmith dock. Upon my arrival, I was disappointed to find a bank of clouds looming in the western sky.   Settling in anyway, I soon detected a sliver of clearing encouragement just at the boundary between granite and the heavens. My perseverance was soon rewarded as the cloud cover separated on its’ eastward trip, creating open space where the now “red, molten steel” day-star appeared in totality.                                                                                                                                               
With a solar hot iron bar reflecting down the rippling Gunflint water, I was immersed in this celestial happening. It was as if something super-natural fashioned the moment allowing me to watch the sun melt away into the final leg of its annual trip south. At this particular spot in the universe, by 6:55 pm central daylight time, our daily solar disappearing act was all over, and autumn is now leading us toward winter.                                                                                                                                                   

The “gang of five” bears continue appearing here and there along the south shore of Gunflint Lake. There’s been concerned conversation on whether the four cubs might be able to survive winter. With four tummies to fill over the summer, it doesn’t appear they grew as much as a normal twosome might. They remain relatively small and surely have been weaned from momma. While she is bulking up, it would appear the little ones might not add enough body mass before denning time, to sustain them during the winter slumber. And mom, in her long winters’ nap, surely won’t be providing.                                                                                                                 

It’s another wonder of nature. Guess we’ll have to cross our fingers and hope the little “Teddies” make it to spring.    
 As flashes of aspen gold blur the granite hillsides, the highlands are echoing the noise of more air traffic headed south, as Canadian geese continue honking their “V” formations overhead. Meanwhile, adult loons appear to have taken flight and there are no humming birds around here anymore. But the chickadees, nuthatches, “whiskey jacks” and blue jays are energized while juvenile loons gather for their first excursion to the gulf.

In the meantime, on land, there still has not been a turtle hatching at Chik-Wauk.  Another surface report came my way telling of a half dozen geese landing on the byway black-top in the upper end of the Trail. While probably unusual to land in such a hard surface locale, it seems their feeling of entitlement to take one-half from the middle of the road might parallel that to which moose often subscribe. The six-some had little regard for blocking traffic and took their sweet time before waddling out of the way. For some vehicle operators, the scene might have inspired a decision to have goose for dinner.                                                                                                                      

One additional “growing things” note comes to mind, here it is a day or so from October and the Wildersmith two are finally watching as tomatoes have commenced ripening. While I guessed some time ago, either fried green or pickling would be the standard for this season, “better late than never” patience, pays off.                                                                                                                                                         

It’s with sadness I report the passing of an upper Gunflint Trail neighbor. Word has been received on the death of Cornelia Einsweiler. She and husband Bob have been summer residents in the Seagull Lake area for decades, dating back to the days of Chik-Wauk Resort operations. Cornelia died in Austin, Texas to where she and Bob had been evacuated from their Florida home during the rage of Hurricane Irma. Gunflint Community comfort and condolences are extended to her surviving family and friends.                                                                                                                                                  
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, as daytime minutes dwindle, and talk of winter is being whispered.


Canada geese - Shaun Whiteman via Flickr

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - September 22

The Smiths are back from a run to Iowa for a visit with family. Quick as the trip was, I barely missed a beat during our flight from northland autumn. The mosaic of color has stepped up, and looks to be at a mixed bag stage as the Gunflint news hits the air waves, plenty of color and diminishing green.

I was happy with a return to an over flowing Wildersmith rain gauge. The Mile O Pine neighborhood was getting a little crunchy when I departed. Apparently some wind accompanied the moisture delivery as lawn chairs on the deck were blown about, but luckily no major trees were downed, at least around this place. So, with nearly an inch and one-half recorded, folks in these parts can be a little less worried about wildfire danger, for the time being.   
This time of year is so intriguing. Clouds hanging heavy and cool fall dampness give off an eerie feeling of winter. Summer is gone! Little more than twenty-four hours ago, our universe passed true east is east, and west is west with the Equinox. I am so captured by watching the sun set at due west on this special day. To me, the Equinox just seems to set the planet right every six months. Hopefully this astronomical happening might cause a calming in the raging atmosphere of our hemisphere, over the past few weeks.        
Rituals of our season continue to unfold. Fall is a time of un-dress in the forest. The 2017 generation of deciduous foliage is falling like winter flakes, accumulating to form the next decaying layer in a thousand year pilgrimage to build an inch of “mother earth.”  On a related note, during my brief time away from the home place, the white and red pine congregation initiated their annual needle shedding. Although this undertaking is not yet complete, the forest landscape is being re-carpeted with trillions of delicate terra-cotta toned stylus. Meanwhile, waiting in the tree tops, white cedar fronds are hanging out to add more texture as a finishing touch to this yearly, earthen floor covering event.  

I don’t know if the next subject is symbolic of early things to come, but those Canadian honkers have been flying for several weeks now. Until just last week, in our years living along Gunflint Lake, a flying wedge has not been seen setting down for R & R here in the mid-lake area. That being said, a large gaggle sto-over was not only unusual, but noisy as well. The stay was short lived however, as the flight director was disturbed by a passing watercraft and the airborne tour was quickly resumed.   

Watching the red rodents (squirrels) around the yard, I’ve observed they are expanding their winter menu cache. Not so exuberant about toting off sunflower seeds right now, they are harvesting coniferous cones. At almost every turn, I find a pile of white and/or red pine cone, remains. From the remains piled here and there, it would seem the portion they are storing away would be a bitter, sticky mess. Obviously these gnawing critters know something I don’t by including pine seeds as part of their diet fare, along with my ration of sunflower seeds from the winter seed trough.  

A reminder once more is given for the special program at Chik-Wauk Nature Center Saturday (the 23rd). Professor Evan Larson, from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville will be on the CW campus to talk of his research concerning the historic log exhibit at the museum which he discovered in an island forest on Lake Saganaga. The presentation will begin at 2:00pm.  

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, among the wonders of “Mother Nature.”


Fall color

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - September 15

Gunflint territory has been living “Indian Summer” at its best as I begin this week's news. The facts were never more evident than this past weekend when temps warmed under crystal blue following an early September cool spell.                                                                                             

Heading into week three, golden flurries of fall have started trickling down along back country roads. Along our Mile O' Pine, the passage of a few neighborhood vehicles is beginning to windrow an accumulation of flighty birch tokens.                                                                                            

With the start of leaf drop being our first chapter in autumn's fade-away, the second is seen in the sudden decline of hummingbird arrivals and take-offs from our deck side feeding terminal. It would seem most of the mini-drones must have departed the territory as the sweet juice container has remained half full for several consecutive days.                                                                               

The beat goes on for this autumnal passage. During a recent trip up toward Trail's end, I found a micro sampling of fall in full dress. It may be history by this airing, but the scene was glorious around the little waterfalls on Larch Creek just south of the U.S. Forest Service Seagull Guard station. Brilliant reds, orange and golds framed the liquid as it tumbled over the granite barrier. Ahhh, the beauty of border country, that’s why we live here!                                                                                                                                            

The Smiths at long last got an up close peek at the local momma bear and her four youngsters. Having heard uncountable reports of the family, we encountered them twice in less than 24 hours. Those little ones are so cuddly. Too bad they grow-up to be an occasional nuisance. Or do they become annoyances because we humans create the opportunity? I think we know!                                                                                                                                 
Another note from our natural world finds the staff at Chik-Wauk still awaiting the hatching of the snapping turtle eggs. If you will recall from a June Wildersmith column, the eggs were buried in a protected area of the parking lot near the museum entrance. It’s going on 90 days since momma laid them, so if it’s going to happen the little snappers should be cracking out any day. The average incubation is about 70 days, but can extend to up over 90, so internal nurturing is at the long end of this “shell game” process.                                                                                                                                          

A new historical display at the Chik-Wauk Museum this summer probably has not drawn the attention it should. Being located on the front porch, the exhibit is one commanding interest from both a natural and cultural point of view.                                                                                  

The subject of the display is a log which was salvaged from a dead red pine tree growing on Voyagers Island in Lake Saganaga. Through “cross-dating” the natural story can now be told about growth rings being matched to now living trees in the BWCAW. The inner most growth ring was formed in the year 1589 while the outermost solid ring was formed in the early 1900s thus making this tree over 350 years old when it died. Scars within the growth rings indicate the effects of fire that burned around the tree in 1659, 1743 and 1847.                                                                            

Culturally, speaking a large scar on the face of the trunk was created when bark was stripped off by mankind. This was likely done to induce the flow of resin which ultimately was used in the development of gum sealants for the building and repair of birch bark canoes. Tool marks remain visible to this day. Interestingly, now dead for somewhere over a century, small spots of resin can still be found oozing from the log. The peel on the tree seems to have been initiated in the 1770s giving credence to the influence of people in this area during the fur trade era and likely indigenous people before them.                                                                                                                                                   

Discussion of this thought-provoking exhibit leads me to announce a special program coming up at Chik-Wauk on Saturday, September 23. Evan Larson, an associate professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, will be on hand to enlarge upon this fascinating history of mankind in nature. Professor Larson discovered the log while conducting research connecting fire relationships and border country inhabitants in Sag Lake territory.                                                                                                                                                                                
The program will be held in the Nature Center facility beginning at 2:00 pm, and looks to be another in the great series of summer programs at Chik-Wauk. Residents and visiting “leaf peepers” are reminded to stop in, see the exhibit and listen to Mr. Larson.                                                                                                    
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, as autumn lights up our lives!


wooley bear caterpillar - Richard Droker, Flickr.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint September 8

Could it be a geriatric thing as these wonderful days along the Gunflint seem to go by so fast? Here we are having whizzed right by the full lunar experience, with one week of the ninth month into the books. Although my memory skips a beat once in a while, I still remember how long the days seemed when I was a kid, and now they’re all so short!                                                                                                                                                                      
Day by day we Gunflint regulars are noting changes in our natural surroundings as fall intensifies. Travel in the upper Trail, past the Kekakabic Trail trailhead, finds the most spectacular crimson maples I’ve ever noticed in this area. There aren’t an over-abundance of them, but nestled in amongst the coniferous green, those cherry red beauties provide the viewer with a holiday look of December. For an added touch, a smattering of gold nuggets, on the paper birch have the territory lit up like a Christmas tree when the sun is just right.                                                                           

This is such a colorful time of year one can’t help but be energized. The area is about to be a “leaf peeper's” dream come true while the forest slips into autumn apparel.                                                                                                                                  

Adding more zest to these times have been those majestic “Canadian” sunsets. One such, at day's end on Gunflint Lake over the past week has burned indelibly into my memory bank. On this particular evening, through a combination of thin clouds and wild fire smoke from afar, “old Sol” was spewing out reflections over the water to make it look like pink champagne. All of mankind couldn’t have scripted an equal to this “pink water” magic sent from heavens to earth!                                                                                                                                                                                                
A little bit of heaven right here on earth took place last Sunday at the annual “social” up on the historic Chik-Wauk campus. Truly a sweet tooth’s delight, over 300 pieces of pie and an equal number of ice cream dips were served on a splendid day.                                                         

Folks came “out of the woods" from both near and far to share in celebration of summer's end and the autumn take-over. With a special touch added by the North Shore Community Swing Band, sweet tunes were echoing off the granite hills surrounding this grand, end of the Trail destination. The day was a “honey," one of unmatched north woods delight for all!                                                                                                                                                                                     
Once again the Gunflint community stepped up with a superb event. Huge thanks to GTHS organizer Judy Edlund and her crew of volunteers, the great Chik-Wauk staff, Gunflint Lodge for in-kind donations, the “Swing Band” and of course, to the Gunflint pastry artisans.                                                   

In a related note, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society will be hosting the final membership meeting of the season, this coming Monday, September 11. The meeting will be held in the Schaap Mid-Trail Community Center beginning at 1:30 pm. Treats and conversation will follow the program.                                                                                                                                                             

 A full-house turned out last week at the mid-trail Schaap Center for the first in a series of Cook County budget levy meetings for the coming year. It was a well-managed and informative session. Whether one agreed with the budgeting projections or not, it was great to see folks come out and exercise their rights as citizens. Some loud and clear messages were spoken, and it would be assumed they were heard by those charged with this difficult taxing task.                                                                                                                                                                                   
With prognostications of winter on my mind, and help from a dear friend, I got some firewood splitting and stacking done over the last week. So this task is scratched from the “getting ready” list. However, docket check-offs are far from complete.                                                                  

While speaking of forecasts, a couple of those wooly bear caterpillars have been observed recently. Dark and lush in their woolly coat, the age old story of the darker and fuller their fuzz, the more severe will be the winter ahead. On the contrary, this is a myth with no scientific substance. But if one believes the tale, it should be considered only reliable as one of those 10 percent chance predictions from the climatological sensationalists.                                                                                                                                                                  
A fellow from over on Loon Lake shared a recent bear happening at his place. A rumble early one morning found something causing a ruckus. Strangeness of the source was it seemed to be right above where he was slumbering. A nudge from his wife prodded him from bed to go outside and see what was going on. Prowling around the exterior, he came to where he believed the noise was originating. Looking up over the corner of the eve, he came face to face with “Bruno.”        

Not three feet away, he was startled into a vociferous rage sending the bear in a sprint to the other side of the cabin. Whether or not the bear was scared by this irate person from out of nowhere or just mad for being disturbed, the ornery critter stopped long enough to tear off a section of fascia trim at roof's edge before departing into the dawning twilight.

This “Bruno” occurrence makes me wonder if it might be the same critter or a cousin that ripped shingles of the roof at Wildersmith a year or so ago? Guess we’ll never know what’s going on in the head of our “Ursus” neighbors. A few things we do know for sure, bears were here first. Second they are always hungry and expect the unexpected!                                                                                                                                                                                        
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with “oft” unforeseen adventures!


The Pie Social at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center is Sunday

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - September 1

The spectaculars of September in border country has yours truly heading off into year 16 of reporting Gunflint Trail news. To be specific, September 2, 2002 was my first ever scribing attempt. It was first as a columnist for the News Herald until 2008 and ever since with WTIP.                                                                                                                                                                      

I’m indeed thankful for the enduring support over the years. It is truly gratifying to have met so many folks who seem to enjoy the weekly scoop. Furthermore, thanks to everyone who has offered a news tip or two from wherever they reside in Trail territory.        

So here we go into a little review of what’s been going on. It may be my imagination, but autumn seems to be advancing rapidly. Some of the late August atmospheric and natural happenings might not amount to one iota with regard to my pre-fall observations, possibly prognosticating an early cold season. However, unusual things keep catching my attention.                                                                                                                                        
Whereas the lush green of the forest is still pretty much in command, a tamarak hidden back in the wetlands along the upper Trail caught my eye recently with its sparkling gold needles. While these dazzling forest sentinels are ordinarily the last color of the season in October, the flashy yellow tree makes me wonder if this isn’t some kind of signal from the “old man of the north.”                                                                                                                                                                      
To compliment this gilded needle appearance, the territory experienced a couple early mornings of cold temperatures as month eight headed into the last lap. The mercury slipped into the low 30s at a few locations with one report of frost having to be cleared from a windshield. A couple gardeners I know even threw a cover over their tomatoes. Wildersmith had three or four nights in the high 30s before capping the cold snap off with a 30 degree morning for the lowest so far, and our tomatoes will be best served as the fried green variety,                                                                                                                                                    

Needless to say, it probably remains a long ways from first frost to first snow. However, with mosquitos having been in the attack mode lately, a counter-attack of early freezing would not make some of us too unhappy.                                                                                                                
One more early autumn transition I’ve noticed is that boats are starting to come ashore. Several are trailered up with wintering protection battened down. Although this has no predictability of atmospheric things to come, it indicates summer folks have mellowed into the harvest season planning mode.                                                                                                              

Those cold conditions have eased some as I key this first report of month nine, and rain dampened this neighborhood in a Sunday soaker last weekend. The cool soggy setting made me briefly think, October. It was a nice rain with no wind, thunder or lightning, totally contrary to the tragedy suffered by millions in Texas. Remembering the derechos of 1999 and the wildfires in ‘05, ’06, and ’07, our hearts go out to them as we Gunflint folk know a lot about terrible tragedies too.                                                                                                                            
Reports of more bear visits continue to trickle in. Recently, a friend down the road experienced an all-day stop-over of the Gunflint Lake momma bear and her quadruplet cubs. She would not go away and the five-some ravaged bird feeders not having been stowed away. One of the black “Teddys” by chance tramped through the Wildersmith yard last Saturday morning, but found no temptations necessitating a stop, which was just fine with me.                                                                                                      

One of my squirrelly rodent buddies might be sending a weather signal too. Getting ready for winter could be on its mind as it had been working at a “B & E” (breaking and entering) project on a door to the outhouse for our guest cabin next door. It had already been evicted once as I found cold season nesting quarters in place just a few weeks ago.                                      

After squirrel proofing the gnawed point of entry, the little devil is back at its scheming to re-enter once again. This in mind, I am determined to win this battle of rights to privy occupation. I’m about to post no vacancies, there are plenty of vacant tree cavities to accommodate the rascal.                                                                                                                                              

I’ve been hyping the Gunflint Trail Historical Societies, Pie & Ice Cream Social for the past couple weeks. Such clamor ends now with the event at hand on Sunday. Don’t miss this sweetest of all holiday weekends up at Chik-Wauk, from noon to 4 p.m. There’ll be a lot of things going on as we usher in the Ojibwe “Tagwaagin”/fall season.                                                                                        

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, during the month of the “wild rice” moon, September calls!


The baby loon at Chik-Wauk Nature Center is now as large as its mother

Wildersmith on the Gunflint August 25

The hullabaloo in the heavens is in the rearview mirror and September is bearing down on the Trail as in other places of the universe. Next time these radio waves come out, we’ll be humming the September Song, and September is spectacular!                                                                                            

A lot of month nine happenings come to mind, including more celestial things like the full “wild rice moon” and the Autumnal Equinox kissing summer good bye.                                                                                                                                                       

Upper Trail residents experienced another week of mundane weather in lake country and along the Trail. A couple rainy segments paired with sunshine and pleasant temps, have been pretty much seasonal for our waning summer.                                                                                                            

Changes are in the making though. Lake water temps on Gunflint and Loon Lake have slipped back into the mid to upper 60s depending on where one dips the thermometer.                   

While on land, I’ve observed a few off-the-road spots of sugar maple orange/scarlet and adolescent birch tree gold. In concert, blooms of purple asters, tansy, toadflax (butter & eggs) and Joe pye weed have taken the spotlight, with fireweed and ox-eyed daisies fading into oblivion. However, not to give up yet are uncountable patches of black-eyed Susans and goldenrod. So the “technicolor” floral illumination remains vivid with a little bit old and a little bit new. Elsewhere, in the moist shade of our Wildersmith yard, milk cap mushrooms are popping into prominence.                                                                                                                                                                           
The onset of fall brings on not only movement back to school for our Cook County  Viking kids and southerly thoughts by snowbird neighbors, but any number of north woods winged folk also are feeling the southward allure. Waves of many warblers, flickers, monarch and red admiral butterflies are some of the first gathering to catch the “Indian Summer” currents toward winter quarters.                                                                                                                

While speaking of furry critters, I don’t believe I’ve spoken with one person who hasn’t observed a bear somewhere along the Trail in the last week. It is bears, bears, bears!                                           

As the season is open to hunting them, one might suppose they could be seeking refuge from a hunter's slug in our neighborhoods. While this seems hard to imagine with all the baiting goodies put out by “Bruno” stalkers, a better guess is the population has been booming over the past couple years around the territory. I’m still getting reports of momma bears escorting up to as many as three or four cubs throughout the forest.                                                                                            

Gathering is not limited to critters of airborne character. Dozens of rodent beings around the yard have commenced with stocking up their winter stashes as well. Red squirrels and chipmunks are so under foot, it often commands some fancy footwork to avoid squishing the little folk.                                                                                                                                                                                       
One such red squirrel has adopted yours truly, and is at the workshop door as regular as the sun up each day. It gets so excited when it finds me approaching that the little guy or gal doesn’t pay much attention to where my big clod-hoppers land. On a morning recently, my furry friend took a foolish turn and by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, got caught under one of my steps. Somehow with my aging agility and its being wiry resilient, death by crushing was averted. It managed to scramble away in a flash, only to be back waiting the next morning, still having not learned a good lesson.                                                                                                                                       
Wonders never cease in the natural world. After well over a year of not seeing a whitetail in the Mile O' Pine neighborhood, a doe made a cameo sprint in front of the vehicle just days ago. So in the least, there is one out this way the wolves have not found, as yet!                      

A constant in our animal world is babies have to growup so fast. Such is the case with the loons from the nesting platform at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Mother loon and her 2017 chick have been staying close to home recently. Baby loon should no longer be called such as it’s bigger than mom. A digital is attached to this website column at showing the youngster on the left, a big baby indeed!                                                                                                                                 

A programming note from Chik-Wauk Nature Center reminds rock/stone enthusiasts of Sundays’ presentation by Don Wendel. Don’s talk on geology of the area will focus on Saganaga Batholith, the same formation on which the museum and nature were built. The program begins at 2:00 p.m.                                                                                                                                                                    
Lastly, on behalf of organizer, Judy Edlund, I’m giving another shout out for pie donations to the “social” at Chik-Wauk a week from Sunday (Sept. 3rd). Please don’t make Judy call you. Bakers, you do the calling, 388-4400. Just like “old Uncle Sam” used to tout, “we need you” and your talent for sweetness!  
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, while watching the dawning of a new season!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - August 18

As August passed the halfway mark on the calendar, our north woods splendor has extended into yet another week. Temperatures have been in the cool comfortable range, and the territory got some much needed rain. At Wildersmith, the rain gauge caught an inch, whereas the Mid-Trail area received considerably more during a mid-week deluge.                                                 
This same Mid-Trail storm occurred in the midst of their property owners’ big fundraising event. It didn’t dampen enthusiasm though. Showing true north country grit, folks outlasted the downpour, and in the end raised a whopping $13,000 in support of our dedicated Gunflint fire and rescue crews. Congrats and a big thanks to the organizational leadership and their crew of able volunteers. What a fun event, thankfully under the “big top.”                                                                                 
Speaking of fun and enthusiasm, the last activity of the day found Poplar Lake resident, Keitha Herron the most excited person in attendance. Her name was drawn as winner of the beautiful 2017 Mid-Trail quilters’ project.  Congrats to Keitha, and a big thank you to all those talented stitchers.                                                                                                                                                                    
More news from the Mid-Trail comes in the report of a big cat sighting. Recently, a fellow Gunflinter living on Tucker Lake advised me of observing the cougar in a driveway while passing through the Rockwood Lodge neighborhood. The feline described was big and had a long tail, so no doubt it was what it was. The sighting was reported to the DNR, with a confirmation from that agency of another such cat being seen a couple days earlier down along the “Big Lake” shore near Tofte.                                                                                                                                                                               

Although I’m still observing berry pickers parked in various spots along the Byway, I wonder if the purple treasures might be dwindling. My reason for this curiosity comes from an apparent increase of bears appearing  back into areas of residential habitation                                          

Maybe it’s just by chance I came across a pair of the critters, but with sweet berries on the wane, perhaps they might be starting to gather in search of human littering remains as they begin amassing winter pounds. Then again, maybe the burly animals might have been taking a short cut to just another berry patch.                                                                                                                             
Interest in hummingbird traffic around here whetted my appetite for knowing just how fast they fly. With constant activity onto and away from our nectar station, the tiny avian zoom around at what seems to be jet-like speed. Brief research from one “Google” source found they aren’t about to break the sound barrier, but do average between 25 and 35 MPH, and can reach up to 60 in some of their diving antics.                                                                                                 

To match their tightly wound propelling abilities (at up to 70 wing beats per second), they obviously have highly developed navigation systems to avoid mid-air collisions. On two separate occasions recently, one of the winged speed demons was in direct line with my head only to abort a collision and break off at top speed. With fierce competition for a gulp of sweet nectar, their in-flight air to air combat is nothing short of spectacular. What marvelous beings of creation!                                                                                                                                                                                                      
It may seem early to be thinking of winter, but some of us north woods beings are taking stock of their things to do list. I’ve already taken inventory of the wood shed status, and piled brush for snow season burning. Meanwhile, over on Loon Lake, friends are laying up their birch cuttings and splitting for colder times. It won’t be long folks until we’ll be getting real serious about buttoning up for the winter season.                                                                                                                        

If you haven’t noticed, September is less than two weeks from reality. A lot of activities are coming down the pike as month nine hits the Trail. The biggest of which is a new school year, but first up out this way, Labor Day weekend breaks right out of the blocks.                                                          

The Gunflint Trail Historical Society kick starts the autumn run with its annual pie & ice cream social on Sunday, September 3rd. The event is held on the grounds of the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center from noon until 4:00 p.m.                                                                                                            

In addition to the luscious sweet treats being served, there’ll be a local author book signing, needle basket crafting, gift shop sidewalk sales and great music from the Northshore Community Swing Band. Should be a great day for an up the Trail outing, who knows there might even be some fall tinting in the hills!                                                                                                                                                        
On a related note, the “P & IC Social” coordinator, Judy Edlund is already on the look out for area pastry specialists to sign up with a donation or two. Give her a call at 388-4400 to confirm a sweet contribution. Pie & Ice cream trivia from a year ago tells of between 35 and 40 pies being served along with buckets of ice cream!                                                                                            
The yearly concert in the forest charmed attendees once again, last Sunday. “Woods, Winds and Strings” No. 5 played to a near full house in the Mid-Trail fire department storage building, turned concert hall. Kudos goes out to the gifted performers, and to the organizing folks bringing them together, along with many community volunteers. On this afternoon, the wild land hills came alive with the “sound of music.”                                                                                                        

In closing for this week, don’t forget all the activities up at Chik-Wauk this Saturday on National Honey Bee day. Things will be buzzing from 11:00 a.m until 3:00 pm around the campus.                                                                                                                                                                
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, among uncounted treasures of creation!