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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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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: April 21

Spring awakening along the Gunflint Trail continues providing pleasant aspects of nature's rebirth as April steers closer to May. Our forest world has taken on a renewed twinkle as conifer juices are pumping verdant energy into the drab needles of winter. Folks may think I’m seeing things through colored glasses, but I’m sure as the sun comes up each day that the evergreen world has become brighter green in just the past few days. In the meantime, deciduous brethren of the tree world are beginning to bulge their buds with envy of those woodland evergreen cousins. If the rain gods would cough up a wet contribution, they will be popping out of cold season covers in a hurry.

Speaking of rain, or the lack thereof, this neighborhood went for three weeks with nary a drop of precipitation. A meek disturbance broke the spell last weekend, but managed only a few hundredths. And part of that was in the form of snow on Easter Sunday, leaving a fresh inch by this past Monday. Then another touch of winter was on the Tuesday docket. Needless to say the upper Gunflint territory had become seriously dry, so the snow, sleet and rain since Easter Sunday have been a real blessing. DNR burning bans for Cook County are still likely, but for the time being wildfire danger has been tempered.

Up until the heavenly moisture favor, “Mother Nature” had been of some benefit in the plight about fire danger with the liquidation of ice on some lakes. Such has allowed opportunity in a few locales to get wildfire sprinkler system piping in the water and pumping units into operating condition. However, in spite of early ice-out on a number of lakes, several of the larger bodies remain at least partially locked in crystal. At the time of this keying exercise (last Sunday evening), I’m told Seagull Lake has opened and the west end of Gunflint was open, too. Nonetheless, ice on the Gunflint gal at Wildersmith remains intact. My guess is by the time we meet again, water will be lapping at our granite shoreline.

During a trip into the village for Easter church services, I crossed paths with several north woods bunnies. It was their time to rise and shine as hares, but they were definitely not in attire fit for an “Easter parade.” One was still in a near-white coat while others displayed a motley mix of earthen grit. Perhaps they are in a state of confusion with regard to this earlier than normal cycle of warmth? For example, in a blacktop encounter, a singleton lagomorph seemed out of its mind as it tried zig-zagging to avoid committing “hari-kari” in front of my vehicle. Alas, I gave it a “brake” so “Peter Rabbit” could hop on down the bunny trail.

Still no bear or skunk reports, but another hibernator has been out and about for several days around here. Those spunky chipmunks are busy sprinting here and there trying to remember where they stashed extra provisions last fall. Again, it would be my guess the red squirrels have already located and consumed the “chippy” treasures.

Life in the wild can be challenging when it’s first come, first serve. Such is the case for the Wildersmith resident fisher. The grizzly fur ball just can’t get the timing down in regard to getting here for a poultry part. My distribution comes in the morning, and those pine martens have it timed just right for their hand-out, easily beating big cousin out of a treat. In the meantime, this fisher character arrives sometimes in the evening and once in a while during the afternoon, obviously missing its chance for some barnyard protein, and only getting a whiff of what was there. Being relegated to snacking on leftover sunflower seeds, I suppose it must sleep during the morning after its overnight prowls?

If listeners/readers are wondering why I’m not practicing what I preach about having those bear temptations put away by now, I have never had a bear here in the morning hours. Guess they might be catching daily “zzzz's” at this time, too. Puting limited critter rations out early in the day, they are usually consumed before bear activity commences in afternoon and evening. Having given you all my reasoning on this issue, I might have to eat my words someday. So far, so good, but never say never!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with often mysterious natural wonders.

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April brings us brilliant spring sunsets.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 14

Gunflint territory heads into the third week of month four having just passed the Ojibwe “maple sugar moon” (Iskigamizige Giizis).  Spring is in full command now and has been sweet as the sugary juice running into collectors’ buckets.

Warming really grabbed this area last weekend with brisk southerly winds leading the way. Winter character has vanished with exception of manmade heaping and some areas deep in the forest where sunshine struggles to peek through.

Ice meanwhile has loosened from its shoreline connections on the sun-drenched northern sides of area lakes, and is taking on the gray color of solidarity under stress.  There’s a good chance some of the more shallow lakes will be open as this scoop hits the air.

Here on the Gunflint, although ice is still tight against the granite south shore at Wildersmith, it’s a good bet we’ll be seeing open water within two weeks, assuming there are no cold setbacks.  This assumption being said, large bodies like Poplar, Loon, Seagull and Saganaga lakes are likely on the same timeline.

Speaking more of ice under stress, hooray for some heroes over on Hungry Jack Lake for taking a big risk to save the life of a yearling moose. For those of you not already aware of this exploit, it seems the gawky youngster wandered onto the ice and after a short distance broke through.  The scene required quick strategizing by those involved in the rescue attempt.

Struggling for many minutes to climb out of the icy liquid, the moose was near motionless (just kind of floating) when the folks, using canoes, got to its side and began the dangerous task of bringing the frightened critter back onto safe ice. After much tugging and pulling, the exhausted animal was finally rolled back up on the ice. Probably in shock, it took some time before the youngster regained its feet. Apparently none the worse for wear, it eventually ambled off into the woods.

I wonder if the iconic beast will remember the valiant efforts of some great northwoods neighbors who gave it another chance on life.

See photos of the heroics on the web at WTIP.org.

Mountain streams and rivers are on the move as melting snow is racing lakeward. Last week on a trip to end of the Trail, it was a joy to see a liquidation of winter raging over the mini-falls on Larch Creek near the US Forest Service guard station. While small by comparison with other falls in the county, it is nevertheless a picturesque setting nestled back in the forest.

Driving the Trail a couple times in the past week I found several byway ponds and wetlands have succumbed to spring's ways. Already showing off sparkling tea-colored liquid, under several bright sky days of late, mirror images reflected double exposures of natural photo ops. Regardless of the still muted wilderness hues, the magic of wildland images on a medium of quiet water goes unmatched in aesthetic accomplishment.

On a negative note, some not-too-beautiful things forever seem to appear this time of year. As snow has left the roadside ditches, the ugliness of an uncaring segment of our user society has been revealed. I’m talking of litter!      

I find it hard to understand how some users of this magnificent place can treat it with such disrespect. The unsightly casting out of beverage containers and other debris is simply beyond belief, confirming we have too many self-serving, shameless folk who just don’t give a darn. In answer to this dirty problem, it behooves all of us common sense people (residents and caring visitors) to get out and do the annual spring house cleaning.

On a cheerier note, there are many moments in time, when one is surrounded by the natural world. With daylight minutes growing by leaps and bounds, another such fleeting moment was emulated last Sunday evening as I keyed this Gunflint news. I’m talking of a sunset like none I’ve ever witnessed here in border country (and I’ve seen a few Canadian sunset beauties over the years).  

The uniqueness of this flaming inferno, which came in the circumvention of our skyline from due north, clear around to the southwest. Thin, deep pink clouds caught fading rays from both the southwest and north points on the compass, converging at “old Sol” who is just beyond due west, in a colossal “hot pink’ explosion, beyond comprehension.

The piercing illumination was one of those timely moments to be etched in memory as the best ever, perhaps forever. But while all good things have to come to an end, this celestial spectacular faded quickly to twilight orange and peach just before daylight gave way to darkness.

Brief, yes, but what an uplifting encounter!  It was great. I hope listener/readers were residing in an area where they got to see it, too!

Finally, two reminders to area residents. First, bears have to be near so get those temptations put away. And second, as it remains abnormally dry, get the wildfire sprinkler system lines into the lake ASAP after ice-out and fire up the pump unit to be sure it’s in operating order.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with the splendors of nature right outside our doors.

Photo courtesy of Michele/Flickr

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One of the first signs of spring - pussy willows.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 7

Spring along the Gunflint Trail continues awakening from its semi-winter slumber. Weather conditions during the past seven have been pretty much a yawn. Nevertheless, night time freezing and daytime melting have been splendid in allowing a calm meltdown. Thus, this process has avoided a hot, one day gush that gashes back country roads with gullies.

Further, for those tapping sugar maples for their sweet sap, this tranquil transition has been pleasing to date.                                                            

Concern has to be voiced in regard to there being no precipitation out this way for going on ten days or so. Where “old Sol” has vaporized all unshaded snow, the northern landscape is already becoming crunchy dry. “May flowers need April showers.”                                                                

According to the DNR, 98 percent of wild fires in Minnesota are touched off by human invaders; we hope the agencies charged with commanding burning bans are doing more diligence than was done in 2007 so there is no re-run of the Ham inferno. It would seem prudent to ban all burning (including camp fires) sooner rather than later, to avoid waiting until some accidental blaze gets takes off.                                         

The interior hinterland is at the stage where the white blanket has been thrown back to reveal “Mother Nature's” creation in its ugliest state. However, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and some see our barren surroundings with the prospect of blooms and green to come. Even as we look at the gloomy gray/brown scene, it doesn’t hurt to dream a little blue skies and more colorful days ahead.  

Rituals of warmer times are gradually making their way up the Trail. Robins have returned and are tweeting about, while crows are adding a basal contribution to the growing spring concert and pileated woodpeckers are hammering the percussive background. I’ve also made note of an orange and black moth fluttering about our deck, and found a few arachnids creeping here and there.                                                                            

Another rite of the season was observed the other day on a trip to the Village. A snowshoe hare, in the early stage of putting on its summer apparel, was barely visible as it blended in well with the gritty windrowed snow bank along the Trail.                                                                          

The north woods bunny would not have been seen at all, had it not been hopping along the snowy mound. Being whiter than summer brown, its camo coat would have rendered it no more than a chunk of frozen winter.                                                                                                                      

Speaking of other fuzzy things, most deciduous buds are still cuddled snug in their winter wraps. However, I’ve noticed pussy willow shoots getting their first peeks at warm rays along the byway.                                                                                                                                                            

While moose can be observed most anytime if one is in the right place, a couple reports have come my way from the Hungry Jack and Loon Lake neighborhoods indicating moose presence but no photo ops. Tracks were found in the dwindling snow along with calling cards of scat. Genders are not known, but if they are mommas, next generation deliveries are due soon.                                                                                                

Mother Nature's  routine of removing the snow and ice by way of run-off must have the County Highway department about to tear its hair out as pot holes are abundantly catching driver’s attention. Whereas plowing of white has been the order for months, the task of grading miles of county roads shifts into a different grading mode.

What a nightmare for those guys! We users should be about keeping a heads up on the road ahead, slowing down and being patient until they can get a blade on our road.

The Gunflint Trail community welcomes new business owners. Windigo Lodge has been sold and the process of moving old stuff out and refurbishing is under way. New proprietors, (spouses) Bryan Gerrard, Stacey Palmer with Kibby Kuboy and Lynse McDonough are shooting for an early summer re-opening.  The foursome is energized with their new endeavor, and will be changing the facility's handle. From now on it will be known as, “The Poplar Haus.” Residents will want to stop by to meet and greet our new neighbors.                                                                              

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, as we anticipate re-birth of the wild land.

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There are bold gray jays in the Wildersmith neighborhood

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 31

No foolin', March is into the books! Out here in the Gunflint forest, segment three has been fickle to say the least. We’ve seen about all Mother Nature has to offer in terms of weather. And as the month comes to an end, “Zigwan” (spring) is gaining a foothold day by day. Mud season in back country is advancing to become the norm.

Atmospheric happenings in our upper end of the Trail have dished up a few inches of mixed snow, sleet and freezing rain along with a couple mornings around the zero mark, necessitating snow removal once more. Sandwiched in were slots of pleasant, sunny times. In short, our past week's weather pretty much paralleled what the rest of the month was like, drippy where the sun shines while wintery under the clouds and evergreen canopy.

The disappearance of winter character remains a bit sporadic, and back country roads are still white for the most part. Meanwhile along the Trail, a gnawing sun has eaten away at snow banks revealing the ugly look of urban America grit.

Lake ice has remained stable in support of this final week of trout season angling. Keying this report, I still see everything from snowmobiles to four-wheelers and pick-up trucks heading back and forth on the Gunflint as catching’s zero hour approaches tonight.  

The fresh snow of last week provided what may be a final tracking opportunity of “wild neighborhood” visitors. The mystery of who might have been here during darkness hour always captures yours truly.

On the morning following our last flaky episode, smooth new carpeting found imprints of a fisher, wolf and a myriad of smaller forest beings. Such evidence always stirs wonder of whether they were pursuing or being pursued. Guess we can be guaranteed all were in some mode of finding something to eat.

The Smiths were in the right spot at the right time last week to catch two quirky avian incidents. The first involved a curious “whiskey Jack” (Canadian Jay). This saga happened one early evening, moments after I put a couple burgers on the grill. I noticed this gray jay hanging out, and apparently it was keeping an eye on me, too, or at least what I was doing.

Stepping away from the grill, I turned back just as the jay swooped down to the deck rail near the grill. I could tell it must be eyeing the exposed side of raw ground beef. Who would ever believe that in a surprising advance, this guy/gal flapped in and for an instance, hovered over what was cooking. It took but a nanosecond before a sampling could be snatched, when the hungry critter discovered it was too hot in the kitchen.

Avoiding a feather roasting catastrophe, the jaybird made a hot-footed escape off into the tree tops. Farfetched, yes, but the story is absolutely true.

The second birdy interlude took place in darkness hours, long after these feathery folk should have gone to roost. In this episode, a sudden noise at the window startled us away from the “boob” tube. Inquiry as to what was going on found a misguided flyer had flown into the glass. This happens often, but it has never occurred at 10:00 at night.

The stunned bird, of sparrow or finch size, lay on the deck for several moments before regaining its feet. Then it stood motionless for a longer time before beginning to hop about. Eventually, a few flaps of its wings and it took off into the dark of night.

Why this little fellow was not snoozing at this time, or why its GPS might have malfunctioned, leading it to a near death experience, we’ll never know. Maybe it just had days and nights mixed up? I’m supposing it found a safe place for some shut-eye.

Speaking further of and for our winged friends, scientists are finding some surprising discoveries about avian behavior in spring migrations. Did you know that flock size affects flight speed? The larger the flock, the faster the birds fly. Belief is that this principle applies to all bird species.

In a related note, a study documented in The Auk: Ornithological Advances found for the first time birds fly much faster migrating north after winter, and put forth more effort to stay on course than they do during autumn flights south. More specifically, birds fly 39 percent faster in the spring than in fall. Speculation is they are jetting to claim the best breeding sites.

This information was discovered in the spring edition of Wildlife magazine published by the National Wildlife Federation. This is a good read to learn of the innovative technologies used to gather these interesting facts.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, always with promise of a natural adventure!       

Photo courtesy of Parks Connect, Flickr                                                                                           

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Wolf at night, Mark Chinnick

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 24

Although spring has been making cameo appearances since the first of the year, it is now official. With the sun having reached its semi-annual journey to east is east and west is west, longer hours of daylight will indeed take on more meaning.

Beginning this week's Gunflint scoop finds weather conditions still in a slight grip of winter. The upper Trail territory remains on the short side of moisture deliveries having picked up barely a couple mini snow/freezing drizzle/sleet intervals since our last visit. So the lack of life-sustaining precipitation continues to wear on we forest dwellers.

In the interim, temps in this neighborhood have been about normal with night time shivering and daylight slightly above. There’s promise of more temperate happenings for this part of the world by this broadcast time. If such becomes reality, we’ll resume the meltdown which has recently been stymied, but this slowdown is not all bad.

In anticipation of the coming gardening season, green thumbs of the territory are readily planting under grow lights and greenhouse vitreous. Fact is, a report from one fellow tells of already having the first pickle (cucumber) on the vine under glass.

In confirmation of getting things growing, one sunny day recently found one of those northern indoor germinating facilities reaching the 100-degree mark, without manmade assistance. Suppose a little bit of winter had to be let in so things could cool down. “Old Sol” is getting more power hungry with each passing day.

Winter could get in another lick or two, but we’ve passed the worst possible coldness and whiteness. Meanwhile, northwoods folks are about to conjure up thoughts about ice out. It won’t be long before entries in annual ice-out pools will be due.

Remembering 2016, the ice cake on Gunflint departed officially on April 30, and was somewhere close to this date on other larger bodies in borderland. It’s a good bet lake solidarity could give way to liquidity, sooner rather than later, the way premature warming has been going so far in 2017.

Although I may be jumping the gun on getting at post-winter chores, a first excursion was made around the place last Sunday. Remnants of winter blowdowns were picked up to the tune of two big arm loads as I started the process of building next winter's burn pile. No pun intended, but things are really picking up around here. Who knows, I might be picking up shovels of snow by this time next week, or trying to channel running water.

A couple along the south Gunflint Lake shore reports a trio of wolves made a night time visit and were recorded on their trail cam. They must have been really hungry as the threesome was lapping up bird seed remains. With little to no venison available and other means of protein hard to come by, I suppose they are assuming omnivorous tendencies. One has to wonder how long it will be before these iconic predators move on to more generous hunting grounds or just die off.

There have been no local reports of bear appearances yet, but it probably won’t be long until these omnivores are scrounging about. A recent sighting not too far south of here indicates they might soon be squirming in winter quarters, and those winter babies could be wearing on momma bear.

Thanks are in order to listeners/streamers and website readers who made a big splash into spring with a vow of support for the WTIP “grass roots” membership drive last week. Although the “boys of summer” have yet to take the field, our family of members--both renewing and first timers--got the first “hit” of the season. Pledging generated nearly 23K dollars, and exceeded the budgeted goal.

At this time of uncertainty for continuing governmental backing with respect to independent/public radio, advocate willingness to dig a little deeper, to help assure this North Shore broadcasting gem remains vibrant, is appreciated beyond all means of understanding. WTIP is OUR radio station!  ALL who contributed made this funding effort the best of all reality experiences, and are congratulated for their enduring “commitment to excellence.”

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every Gunflint day is great, with budding dreams and evergreen enchantment!

Photo courtesy of Mark Chinnick/Flickr

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Fishing success

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 17

March seems to equate with madness, and although the Gunflint Trail is endowed in a semi-calm state most of the time, we residents are not excluded from at least some connection to the delirium. At this moment we are caught up in bedlam of some sort, from many of life’s manifestations.  One has to wonder if the spirit in the “crust on the snow moon” might have cast a spell of chaos over us to muddle up month three.

Of note in this territory, weather “madness” continues to up-end daily routines. Bouncing back from the early March meltdown, where we experienced warmth, thunder, lightning, pea-sized hail and rain, we have seen winter regain a foothold with a little snow, gale force winds, blizzard conditions and bitter cold for several days going into and through last weekend. And I see spring tinkering around once again as this report hits the air waves.

As a matter of seasonal character, this roller coaster warm and then cold is really accelerating the build-up of mini glaciers at many frozen back road culverts and low lying water ways. The process is likely to get even worse until running water and warmth can line up allowing liquid to find its way back underground, where it belongs. 

In this neighborhood, the winds were scary as those straight line episodes in the summers of 1999 and then again in 2016. They blew in some degree of rage over four days. Blowing at such force, at times I felt I would surely lose some “old growth” white pines. Fortunately, they showed their grit and remain vertical after bending in a tenuous state through the turmoil. Unfortunately, a couple centuries old cedars, right off our lakeside deck didn’t fare so well. Luckily they went down away from the house.

So now it’s just a matter of clean up when winter is no more.

Added to our northland atmospheric madness, many things are going on about us so life is literally in a whirlwind. Whew, from excitement of the full March moon; to the nonsense of humankind manipulating time pieces; to thoughts of the coming Vernal Equinox; to the fervor of hoops, hockey, wrestling; and more, it will be nice to see March give way to the calm of April and mud season.

As the trout season nears month's end, Gunflint Lake has been abuzz with anglers screaming up and down the ice to get in their final jigging reps. On a related note, the ice depth on Gunflint is hanging in there at two feet plus, easily accommodating all modes of vehicular use.

A family down the road on Mile O Pine was here last weekend to join in the fishing fun. Included in the group were two young grandsons. The oldest, a five-year-old, jigged right alongside Dad and Grandpa.  Wouldn’t you know it this little guy was a hero for the day pulling in a fine eight pound trout? No doubt, if fishing wasn’t already in his DNA, this young fellow is now probably hooked for life!

By the way, this catch would have easily won the recent trout derby over many veteran anglers.

It seems apparent our neighborhood fisher (the animal) is making the Wildersmith place a routine stop on its sustenance quest. The lush animal has made several visits over the past week both day and night. Sporadic visits earlier this winter found the grizzly character easily spooked, but recent calls have found it less alarmed by our gawking out the window. Guess hunger has power over common sense for all critters of creation, even if survival safety is jeopardized.

Speaking of common sense, which seems not so common anymore, I remind listeners it makes “good” sense to get on board with the grass roots effort going on right now at WTIP. This independent community station is in the midst of its’ “GRASS ROOTS” spring membership drive. Continuing funding resources are necessary to help further quality programming, and it takes us listeners to make it happen. Our north land treasure is for members, by members and about members!
So to pledge give operators a call at 218-387-1070; 1-800-473-9847 or click and join at wtip.org.                     

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith where every day is great, and full of unexpected natural grace. Have a happy day for the wearin’ of the green!
 

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Raven in Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 10

The upper Gunflint has been in the midst of another grappling match between winter and spring. Commencing this week’s report finds the usually mild mannered “sweetheart" of spring out of character, by having “Old Man Winter” in a choke hold.

Now he’s escaped again!

Fact is, our month three full lunar orb on Sunday could easily be better heralded as the “mush (not crust) on the snow” Ojibwe moon.                                                                                                                              

The grizzly “Great White Spirit” just can’t keep a grip in his ’16-17 rendition and is slip sliding into oblivion while we border country residents continue trekking about on softening slush and greasy ice. At the moment of this release though, it’s back to subzero and wind-blown snow. Guess the “old” part of his “Old Man Winter” designation confirms he just can’t command things as in days of yester year. It’s a “bear” getting old, for all of us!

A forecast of temps reaching into the 40s and raindrops instead of snowflakes earlier this week, finds us Gunflint folk uttering disgusting remorse at the cold season's passing.  So it’s onward and upward toward buds, blossoms and new forest babies.

Enough cold did hold on for the Cook County Snowmobile Club’s trout derby last Sunday on Gunflint Lake. Once again the “one day” shack community development sprung up on the lake ice with several hundred folks snowmobiling and milling about while some 70 serious hard water anglers tried to trick a trout into taking a bite.

At derby’s end, few finny were taken, but everyone had a good time getting together.  The old adage that about ten percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish prevailed once again as the “fishing was great, but the catching was not.”

By late afternoon, shanty town was gone, leaving nary a trace.

The winning catch for 2017 was hooked by Shirley Heinz. Her four pound three ounce specimen won the grand prize of $500 while Parker Slanga came in second at four pounds one ounce and Connie Rasmussen took home the bronze at three pounds six ounces. Congratulations to all who took part and to the great group of organizers for putting on this swell event in the upper Gunflint territory.

The spotlight was to be shining back at mid-Trail this Sunday with the “Dog Days of Winter” on tap. However, bad winter remains after last weekend's meltdown and rain have caused a cancelation for this year.

Night time visitors to the Wildersmith place over the past week included the regular pine martens and their fisher cousin, along with some flighty flying squirrels. Meanwhile, in the day time, we enjoyed some winged folk as they frenzied over a roasted chicken carcass from the Smith kitchen. In the end, several species got a sample before Mr. Raven called a halt to the tasting by lifting off with the bony morsel.

Further down the Trail, during a trip to the village, we were confronted by a trio of moose. It was the first we had observed in many weeks so it was quite startling when we came over a rise and there they were -- two gawky yearlings and their mom. It was not a close call, so the engagement was pleasant. Yes Virginia, there still is a moose, or three, in the woods!

A couple notes in closing, first a reminder is offered to “spring forward” with clocks once again. Don’t forget to set time pieces ahead before retiring Saturday night or mankind will leave you behind by Sunday morning. Will we ever come to understand that you needn’t mess with the universe as it was intended?  Oh well!  

Secondly, next week at this time the community North Shore radio station will be into its spring membership drive. This amazing broadcast phenomenon is all about grass roots, being built from the ground up. So yours truly is encouraging one and all to keep it growing by joining anew or re-upping with a pledge of devotion to keep WTIP on the right track. Please consider investing your “green” where it will reap a huge return for this “Grass Roots” funding effort.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Gunflint Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, energized by the miracles of nature!
 

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The Gunflint Trail Historical Society is planning an exhibit on the Ham Lake wildfire for this summer

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 3

Our “spring fling” cooled its heels as I key this week's Gunflint scoop. The crisp turn-around has made for crusty remains over our northern landscape. Snow leftovers have frozen into a compact mass of almost solid ice.

In concert with our frozen failure of the past couple of weeks, debris that has been drifting down out of the forest with each passing breeze is now exposed, making for unsightly litter on our once untouched white carpet.

Our semi-winter-like revival leading to such brittle ground level conditions surely authenticates our Ojibwe neighbors, honoring our month three full lunar experience, as the “crust on the snow” moon. Such a moniker is most fitting right now.

According to the snow depth on the Wildersmith roof before February’s winter downfall, I approximate the loss of nearly two feet of snow. The spared hard-pack is measured now in only inches depending upon one’s location in the upper Gunflint.

A brief dusting in this neighborhood last weekend did little more than cover up a few sun-drenched bare patches. For the record, around this place, we’ve not received any significant measureable fluff since the 10th of this past month. If not for the unseasonal rain during the warm-up, I’d say the area is heading toward a long dry time until green-up.

This would suggest the area might be in for dangerous wildfire conditions should the moisture “gods” not intervene once the snow cover disappears. Thought should be given by area property owners to begin planning for re-upping of wildfire sprinkler systems soon as lake ice is out.

Speaking of wildfire, the Gunflint community will be recognizing the 10th anniversary of the Ham Lake fire tragedy of May 5, 2007. I’m told the Trail Volunteer Fire Department is planning a gathering on the corresponding 2017 anniversary weekend. The event is intended to reflect on those tragic days in our history and to celebrate survival and glorious rebirth. More information will be made as it becomes available.

In addition, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society, in partnership with WTIP and the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee, will likewise be memorializing the historical event at the Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center with a new temporary exhibit for this summer. Further, exhibit space will be devoted to more than just the Ham Lake happening, but also an expanded look at fire history of the territory.

The GTHS will be hosting an official grand opening of their display on July 4. However, the new display will be up for visitors when museum & nature center open for the season on Memorial Day weekend.

In the meantime, these organizing partners are still seeking commentary from area folks who have a story to tell of their lives during the raging days of fire and turbulence. These stories will be preserved in audio, video and/or printed media for perpetuity. If one has a story of our inferno history to share, please make a contact with the GTHS at 388-9915, or Joe at WTIP 387-1070, for more information.

With the “vernal” season at the cusp, sounds of the times are augmenting with each passing day. Since our last meeting on the radio, crows have returned to our Mile-O-Pine vicinity with a murder of conversation.  

In regard to sounds of creatures in our “wild neighborhood” an interesting and amusing feature in the Jan/Feb. issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer takes a look at some northland noisemakers. Authored by Mary Hoff, the review titled “Squeaks, Whistles, Grunts and Hummms” examines how and why untamed critters communicate messages to kin and others, including maybe us invasive beings. As we get closer to this spring concert of natures’ choir, I suggest it as inspiring reading in preparation.

With winter on the downslide, a couple of end of season events highlight the calendar over the next two weekends. The first of such is the Cook County Snowmobile Club trout derby. This annual event on Gunflint Lake takes place this Sunday, March 5. Ice angler registrations run from 9 to 11 am with all catches to be weighed in by 2 pm. In addition to hard water fishing, prizes drawings, food and fun are the order for the day.   

The following weekend (March 12) goes to the dogs, as the “Dog Days of Winter” happens in the mid-Trail area on Poplar Lake. Lots of fun and unique activities are scheduled for folks of all ages. For more immediate details check out the Trail Center Restaurant's Dog Days of Winter website, and I’ll have more info in next week's report.

Let’s hope the staggering “old man of the north” can hang on just a bit longer to see these Gunflint pastimes are not complicated by another display of his wimpiness.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, and chronicled in natural mystery!
 

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Changing winter weather on the Gunflint

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 24

Month two of 2017 along the Gunflint is winding down meek as a “vernal lamb.“ It’s clear “Old Man Winter” has thrown in the towel and headed to the Florida beaches for an early "spring break."                                                                                

Since we last met another of our oft labeled grizzly winters has totally collapsed. It’s apparently much the same all over the upper Midwest and a good deal of our continent. Pretty sad, if one has affection for this time of year. Think of it, over one-half inch of rain in February!

The Smith's 18th winter in the northland has seen a steady decline in the extreme weather times of historical note. Back as far as only two decades ago, the season would cover six months and sometimes extend into a seventh. With March but days away, it’s fair to say the 2016-17 rendition is going to be lucky if it makes 2-1/2 months. Most of what our winter character has been since December reflects yo-yoing between somewhat cold and ghastly interrupting meltdowns.

I suppose there may be a dip once more, but it is likely not to last long. In the meantime, we are slip sliding along on greasy, slushy muck. The driveway at Wildersmith is like a skating rink for both we pedestrians and the vehicle. A walking trek down the Mile O Pine last Sunday was not easy going either as we meandered from side to side trying to get a grip and remain upright. Ice grippers on the boots are words to the wise!

Nevertheless, the journey was interesting as signs of this spring fling engulfed the forest surroundings. The warmth had dissipated the usual crispness in the air, and softness of snow underfoot has lost its crunchy conversational vibes. So our stroll was quiet save for an energized tweet from an occasional bird overhead or a snowmobile slogging through the Gunflint Lake slush.

Furthermore, there was a slight scent of damp earth in places, where the now powerful sun, had dispatched thin snow cover from the plowed road surface. Yet one more confirmation of winter's current demise, finds those rings of bare earth at the base of trees beginning to show up, indicating warm juices of life are beginning to rise heavenward. About the next thing to appear will be liquid gouging away at back country roads, and a wake-up of the first buzzing critters.

All these warm tidings are what they are. The quality of winter activities is diminishing to an extent as the onset of “mud season” barrels down on us.

I’m guessing organizers of the annual snowmobile races held along the shores at Hungry Jack Lodge last Saturday feel blessed to have gotten their event completed amidst the oozing conditions.

And, it must be troubling for our Trail businesses maintaining cross country ski trails to see their efforts evaporating so prematurely, although I’m told they are still ski-able.

Added evidence of our hasty cold departure is found on the Gunflint Trail blacktop. The annual heaving of our “road to civilization” is already dishing up those bone jarring speed bumps in the usual places. Hitting the first big dip unexpectedly certainly gets one's attention and sets the tone of what’s ahead for us users over the next several weeks.

As I stated during our late January meltdown, this round of similar atmospheric happenings must once again be a confusing time for critters of the “wild neighborhood.” I’m sure they are adapting though, based on the increased exuberance around the yard. The winter regulars remain and it appears some ahead of avian migrants are infiltrating the ranks as they head back north.  

Conditions remaining on the warm side will soon serve to rouse “Brunos” of the territory. In fact they might be rolling over right now. Like we humans, with the short duration of their nap time this year, we could possibly expect mama and papa bear to be on the grouchy side?

Last but not least, members of the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack are not at our door, but after not observing tracks for a few weeks, they have returned to the yard and along the Mile O Pine on nightly sojourns. It’s too bad there are so few deer hunting opportunities, but no deer is great for those of us nurturing young conifers throughout the Gunflint environment of blowdown and wildfire hauntings.                                                                                                                                

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where even warm melty days are great, and offer promise for the coming next generation of wilderness beings. 
 

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The patient pine grosbeak.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 17

Weather in the Wildersmith neighborhood has settled back into a more moderate tone after having to move snow on four out of the last seven days of week two. None of the separate applications were anything to write home about, but in total added up to just a bit over a foot around here.

A snowy follow up provided a brief cold snap, but has since mellowed into a warmer time in the upper Gunflint as February heads toward its final lap. By the way, this part of the world missed out on the full lunar experience for month two as clouds squelched the giant cheesy icon in the heavens.

With March waiting in the wings, I find it unimaginable, how the days fly by. Guess the sands of time grow finer and flow faster than one would expect as some of us get into our autumn years. Memory still finds me recollecting how long the days seemed when I was a kid.

This Valentine time of year finds love is in the air for not only those of us on two legs, but also for canid species in our “wild neighborhood.” It’s mating time for wolves, and other such critters.                                                                                                                                                                  
Speaking of wolves, a trio was observed in the back yard of some folks in the mid-Trail area, and another gray duo has been captured with regularity on a trail cam at a residence along the south shore of Gunflint Lake. 

As it relates to territorial wolf packs, one has to wonder about their diet what with the venison opportunities in these parts non-existent. My guess is the snowshoe hare numbers must be taking a big hit. This in turn could reflect on Canadian lynx frequencies as bunnies are their favorite fare. Survival in our ecosystem is highly competitive, and replete in never ending challenges!

The Smiths had an uncommon visit from a trio of pine martens recently. While marten visitors come in as singletons most of the time, this three-pack looked to be possibly related. The best guess might be a mom and a pair of young’uns.

My suspicion of their being related comes from the fact these smaller ones were compatible in a feed shelter munching sunflower seeds, while the apparent adult accompaniment did not scare them off as is the case when multiples have arrived simultaneously at other times. Whatever the case, the enjoyable observation went on for some time before they bound off into the woods, having cleaned up all the poultry parts and scarfing through bird seed left-overs.

Daily life in the wildlands seems to offer an experience/observation that probably has been going on for eons without notice, only to suddenly come to my attention. Such is the case at our avian seed tray.

Whereas air traffic here is busier than most international airports, I recently took note of one winged species that exhibits a most unusual patience before approaching to dine. Most of the visiting flying folk dart in, peck away hurriedly, and flit off in the blink of an eye.

In the meantime, the brilliant rose blush male pine grosbeaks and their muted female counterparts sit patiently in the adjacent branches waiting for a lull in the activity before getting a chance at sustenance. Their willingness to wait a turn seemingly parallels an airliner in a holding pattern. Interestingly enough, when the handsome birds finally settle in to partake it’s as a group, very mannerly and family like.

While often being driven off by the business of other incoming flights, they calmly go back to their perches to idle for another opening. My observation is they are uniquely easy going, perhaps even philosophic in stoic perseverance. We humans could surely take a little of this pine grosbeak behavior under one's wing, (no pun intended).

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is fabulous, and chock full of mystery and adventure!

Photo by Kristin Maling, Flickr
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