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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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

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



What's On:
"The “northern express” arrived last weekend, a bit late, but roaring with a vengeance..." (Anette K/Flickr)

Wildersmith January 25

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“His fullness” the “great spirit moon” (Gich-Manidoo-Giizis) shines down on the northland this weekend. Like a billion candlepower flashlight it will be beaming on some wonderful new powder. Our landscape is whitewashed again in fresh, unspoiled elegance.
The “northern express” arrived last weekend, a bit late, but roaring with a vengeance. A storm blew into the upper Gunflint about the time last week’s commentary was being aired. By Saturday night, the snow gods had left over 10 inches of snow in the Wildersmith neighborhood, and it was OK!
As if the snow wasn’t enough, a blustery wind followed and ushered in some noteworthy cold. How cold was it? By Sunday morning, the zero mark had been eclipsed by 26 degrees on two different thermometer locations around the yard, (yes it was 26 below).  Then it was even colder by Monday a.m. (minus 35, actual).
Although this is not cold by yesteryears’ standards, it was shocking since we’ve been spoiled for the first half of the season. This frosty happening is, perhaps, a flu-killing cure if it hangs around for several days as predicted. We can only hope so, as many have been suffering with the dreaded angst throughout the northland.
It was amusing as I peeked out of the crystal-covered windows last Sunday to see that some of the neighborhood critters were confirming the cold. Our resident pine marten was busy munching sunflower seeds, and I could see that its whiskers were white with frost. The whiskers were so pronounced that, at first glance, it had the look of an otter.
Meanwhile a couple itinerant deer were browsing around the yard with white-crusted backs and foreheads. Further support for the bitter conditions came when the two meandered about until lying down under our young balsam grove just up from the shore. Over the years, this has often occurred with the whitetails when winter turns severe and shelter is sought.
Yours truly spent a number of outdoor hours moving snow, and I, too, affirm that it was plenty brisk. Protecting myself with multiple layers, I was reminded of childhood days when Mom would bundle me up (scarves around the neck, over the face, double gloves and mittens along with other such insulators) for outdoor play and then tell me to bend over and buckle my overshoes. This was always a next-to-impossible task when I looked and felt like that “Michelin Tire Boy.”
Sure as night follows day, I would get outside in the cold, and I’d have to go to the bathroom. So it was back inside to go through shedding and then the re-doing process all over. Bet everyone can relate to those days in some manner of speaking if they grew up in cold latitudes.
Speaking of another kind of shedding, discussion with friends while around the card table recently, centered on the male of the white tail and moose kingdom. The talk went from whether folks had been finding any antler sheds, to wondering about what it must be like for those critters when one side falls off. It was real important northland trivia!
It would seem that they might have a terrific neck-ache after a few days of toting just half a load. Question was then asked as to whether they might have balance issues for a time until they adjust.
Further gab moved on to what a blow it must be to the animal ego, when they drop in the pecking order of ungulate manhood due to this annual shedding event. The timid youngster with a full set of junior-sized spikes now steps out front of the old buck/bull that is now sporting only part, or maybe even none, of his cartilaginous headgear.
The old guys are probably just not as appealing to the ladies of the woods. It’s got to be tough in the wild neighborhood being relegated to just one of the boys after strutting their stuff each fall during courtship!
Without resolve to the subjects of our discussion, the cards were dealt, and the females of the group humbled male egos once again. It’s tough out here in the human neighborhood too.
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the hand that is dealt in the wilderness neighborhood!

"After doing damage to the crystal charm of our winter landscape...the atmosphere deity sent us back into the freezer"

Wildersmith January 18

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It’s been a little bit of déjà vu in the Gunflint corridor. The weather outside’s been frightful, only not as we would have expected.
A second consecutive monthly meltdown has tormented us since we last met on the radio. Thus, when we did have available moisture, it came in the liquid form. One thing positive, we still need the stuff regardless of the delivery scheme.
Rain in January is not good! It makes for sloppy slush, glazed roads/driveways, dripping rooftops and dangerous mobility circumstances. Over one-half inch of rain fell in the Wildersmith neighborhood. Our already thin white carpet has been changed to a patchwork of dead-needle-brown and dirty-looking urban snow.
Then after doing damage to the crystal charm of our winter landscape, and dealing a setback to several outdoor activities, the atmospheric deity sent us back into the freezer. As I scribed this weeks scoop, we’re recording minus something readings in the mercury column.
On top of going another week without having to start the snow blower and keeping me from the enjoyment of a mid-winter’s snowfall clearing, the driveway is now a glazed accident waiting to happen. The Smith vehicle has logically been moved to top of the hill/driveway for fear of being stranded (though I can think of worse places to be mired).  This is OK from an exercise viewpoint, but requires mandatory ice gripper application just to get at it.
I think that the subtle point is being made that spring will be early once again in the northland. To make things even more chafing to winter worshippers, seed and plant catalogs are already finding their way into our mailboxes. Perhaps those filing such documents have an in with the one controlling these unwelcome seasonal occurrences. It’s just plain depressing.
This atypical weather, however, has been a blessing for the construction projects being administered by the Gunflint Trail Fire Department and EMT volunteers. The addition at fire hall number two (Gunflint Lake) is now completed. And finishing touches are being applied to the two new structures at (mid-Trail) hall number one. Meanwhile, earth preparations were completed at hall number three (Seagull Lake) by the end of fall.  Future work at this site will continue in the coming construction season.
Yours truly had the opportunity to walk through one of the two new structures at mid-Trail. This building is set to become the facility that will accommodate not only volunteer training sessions and a command post in emergency situations, but also a unique gathering place in the mid-trail area for community functions.
I was blown away at the organization and work that has gone into bringing these much needed improvements to fruition in such a short time. Tremendous thanks are extended to the organizers, designers, fundraisers, trades contractors and many financial backers/contributors; job well done! Gunflint residents will surely be pleased and proud of these facility additions and updates.
Another important Gunflint trail community function, the annual Canoe Races, is heading into early planning stages for next July. A call from the chair people a while back finds that they have their heads together and are kicking off initial phases of event organization. It seems hard to believe that we should be thinking of that happening already, but it is a significant undertaking that needs attention to dozens of details.
The big weekend for ice anglers was most unpleasant what with the sloppy conditions. Yet, their enthusiasm for short pole/rod fishing went undaunted as the roar of power sleds and ice augers have dinged the silence of the territory.
Questionable ice thickness may be keeping some modes of outdoor protection on shorelines, but those portable lightweight shanties have been popping up all over area lakes.
Happy fishing to all, and please be good stewards of the lake upon which you stand.
Keep on hangin’ on and savor an adventure on the Trail!

Airdate: January 18, 2013

Photo courtesy of Mike Hoff via Flickr.

Gichigami Express Sled Dog Race

Wildersmith January 11

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Real Gunflint Trail winter weather remains a non-issue as the area enters week two of the New Year. Many of us are holidayed out and the post celebratory blahs are being compounded with neither bitter cold nor new snow.
It seems that this global warming phenomenon has our area by the throat and is not going to let go. It makes me wonder if brazen winter, as it was once, will ever get over this seemingly endless arid illness.
The Wildersmith neighborhood went through December with not one really good snow, and the first days of January have followed suit. Nearly every place in the nation that gets snow, and even some spots where it is rare and unwanted, have been blessed with what this area cherishes. It’s downright shameful.
While snow depths are minimal throughout the Gunflint corridor, there was enough to provide fast tracking for the dogs in the first Gichigami Express sled dog race over this past weekend. The race commemorates the long tradition of mushing in the northeast corner of Minnesota.
The mid-trail area was abuzz with mushers and their teams after the first leg was completed to Hungry Jack Lodge Sunday afternoon. Crews then gathered at Trail Center Lodge for the “Barbeque in the Bush” and the overnight.
This event was a great moment for conversation about the first day’s run around a blazing fire, and for feasting under the stars. The scrumptious fare was provided by Sarah and her staff at the TC Restaurant.
The next morning found racers assembling for breakfast at Windigo Lodge. Starting positions for the beginning of the second (Monday) leg of the three-day event were handed out, and they were off.
Once again the Gunflint community showed off its character of super hospitality and organizational skills. Big thanks are extended to organizers, many volunteers, all the participating race teams and some wonderful sponsors. It was a “woofing” good time!
This weekend marks the opening of trout fishing season. Lakes will be drilled full of holes as thousands of anglers will be scattered about the icy surfaces in every kind of venue imaginable. Soft as we Americans are, there will be few if any fisher folk actually sitting out on a bucket as once practiced.
Speaking more of ice angling, I heard a recent story about a fellow fishing for other species on Gunflint Lake when the old Gal let off with some activity that sent him trembling.
Seems the guy had just finished drilling his hole through the ice when he heard a thundering boom in the distance to the east. What happened next has probably happened to others before, but it was a first for this fellow.
Seconds after the boom, he heard ice cracking. The noise was faint at first but grew louder as the cracking meandered westward. He soon realized the fracturing was coming in his direction.
Stunned by the advancing fissure, he retreated toward shore. In a short time, the re-structuring ice terminated at the exact location of his drilling spot.
In the moment of culmination, water spouted out of the hole and all was silent once more. I don’t know if he returned to his intended activity, but he sure has a chilling story to tell the folks back home about a day on the Gunflint.
By the way, ice on Gunflint Lake continues to sing its song of the season. As she has extended her often woeful tones while fitting into her crystal coat, many pressure ridges have been heaving upward. Folks traversing the lake on power sleds to their favorite fishing spot should be paying close attention to these often obscure frozen hazards.
Keep on hangin’ on and savor a couple trout in the pan!

Airdate: January 11, 2013

Photo by Stephan Hoglund.

Gunflint Trail (Bearskin Lodge/Flickr)

Wildersmith January 4

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Happy New Year everyone from the upper Gunflint Trail! Here’s wishing for an upbeat 2013!
The passing of 2012 was quiet and uneventful along the scenic byway. Mother Nature kissed off a record year with a light snow freshener of about three inches in the Wildersmith neighborhood and other varying amounts throughout the corridor.
Chapter 13 of the young century was unwrapped with a breath of cold from the great Northwest. Old Man Winter dropped in with gusty winds. He gave the weather forecasting folks an opportunity to finally warn people who can’t figure out it’s cold enough to be dangerous. Yes, we had wind chill!
Although temps were not that real mucous-freezing kind of minus 40 to 50 below, the annual calendar transition made for super ice-making conditions on area lakes. A friend down the road called to inform me there were eight inches of clear crystal on the Gunflint surface. That’s pretty good when she only first covered up a few days before Christmas.
Yours truly hopes the coming yearly segment is not a repeat of the previous. We surely don’t need back-to-back atmospheric happenings that shattered records in all sorts of categories.  In fact, many climatic legends of which folks have been able to brag were altered. It’s embarrassing to our tough weather survival persona.
Reflecting on the winter of 2012, it was pretty much a season that wasn’t, both on the front end, January through March, and then again on the back end, November and December.
A view at the temperature side of the ledger found neither true border country bitter cold nor extended periods of sub zero which is this territory’s character. The resulting over-all warmth led to the latest freeze up on Gunflint Lake (Dec. 29, 2011), and the earliest ice-out (Mar. 25, 2012) in any living resident’s memory.
As to the white count, the area around Wildersmith received a puny 50 inches total as it too made a premature exit along with its frozen lake surface cousin. This amounts to about one-half the usual dose.
The stunted winter led to an early spring with flora budding out in abundance not long into April. Our sad moisture situation led to a dangerously dry time that had folks on edge concerning wildfire. Fortunately there were no calamities close by.
Obviously, residents were able to get their wildfire sprinkler systems up in preparedness with the early available open lake water. We were all thankful that the units did not have to be used except for an occasional practice run.
The long spring oozed into summer with a brief late May, early June respite from the drought conditions. Lake levels rebounded with an increased bubbling frenzy from streams and rivers of the watershed.
This wetter period was short lived from the summer solstice on, as precipitation frequencies dropped. The lake level here on the Gunflint and most other bodies dwindled to unusually low levels, leaving broader shorelines, unnerving rocks for boat operators and some precarious dock situations.
A warmer than usual summer sun dried the territory out once more, again complicating normal activities in a tinder-dry forest.  Although there were not too many unbearably hot days, there were, nevertheless, more days of perspiring than one would like at this latitude, while lake water temps topped out in the mid- to upper 70s (almost like bath water to we northerners).
Conditions of parching extended into autumn, with everyone hoping that there would be a turn around. Such was not to happen however. Hopes were raised for perhaps an early winter as we had a day of some brief flurries and sleet late in September. This flicker turned out as only a false alarm.
The lack of dampness extended right up ‘til New Year’s Eve, leaving streams with barely a trickle, fall colors somewhat abysmal and the forest flora desperately thirsty going into the frozen earth season. The first substantial snow did not come until right after Thanksgiving, and that gave way to an early December meltdown.
In spite of the atmospheric negatives during the past year, our wilderness forest and its inhabitants remain unbelievably adaptable. Both the deciduous and coniferous character seemed to have had a good growing year, and the animals of the wild neighborhood remain energetically involved in survival.
Hope always springs eternal throughout this northern paradise, so I’m betting that 2013 will see a natural bouncing back. Needless to say, yours truly is continuing with the snow dance ritual.
Closing this week’s commentary, excitement is building for the big Gitchigami Express sled dog race. The event, which treks only through Cook County, including a leg running out through the Gunflint woods, commences this Sunday morning (Jan. 6) from Grand Portage.
So this weekend is going to the dogs, get out and show them your support! The racers will be expected at Hungry Jack Lodge late Sunday afternoon. Spectators will be able to meet the mushers that same evening during their banquet feed at Trail Center. Monday’s leg will commence after their breakfast from Windigo Lodge at around 9 a.m.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor thoughts for a great new year!

Airdate: January 4, 2013

Squirrel raids a bird feeder (Dave Lundy/Flickr)

Wildersmith December 28

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The Gunflint is closing in on its last days of 2012. This is happening under the watchful gaze of our “little spirit moon” (Manidoo Giizisoons).
Our final hurrah for the past year finds the Wildersmith neighborhood celebrating the freeze-up of Gunflint Lake. Official closing date was last Saturday, the 22nd. For a second consecutive year the “old gal” put on her winter coat later than we would normally expect.
With the latest recorded Gunflint Lake freeze up for which I have data (since 1982) being Dec. 29 in 2001, this year’s tardy date ranks fourth, after last year, which was Dec. 28, and the 27th in 1997. Our average before the past two years had been holding around Dec. 12. Just for the record, the earliest Zamboni exercise on the Gunflint over the past 30 years was Nov. 26 in 1996.
After last week’s wolf serenade, the winter song in our neighborhood has been tuned in to howls of a different tone. As the lake finally succumbed to its new landscape, she let out a screeching thunderous announcement, adding yet another voice to the wilderness choir.  
This first stanza reverberated from end to end, shaking some folks right out of their slumber. One has to wonder if the spirit of our Gunflint Gal was either uncomfortable with her new attire or thrilled that she finally delivered.
As fitting adjustments are being made, she is now murmuring subtle notes of acceptance. With a number of sub-zero to single-digit mornings since, and no insulating snow cover as yet, the thickening process is increasing rapidly.
Although I would not recommend heavy foot travel just yet, I did get word that the folks at Gunflint Lodge observed a wolf examining the shiny new surface on the morning of official solidarity.
While folks to our south were squawking about the blizzard of the decade, the upper Trail got barely a sniff in the past seven. These parts are still beautifully decked out in holiday flocking and ski trails are groomable (just barely), but we are still in dire need of substantial applications. Makes me worry about what next summer will be like if Mother Nature doesn’t do something about refilling our streams, rivers and lakes.
Speaking of being decked out for the holidays, our trip to church in Grand Marais this past Sunday was stunning. Jack Frost had been about and gave a crystal dousing to everything in creation. Sparkling jewels of the forest were so dazzling that one was almost blinded while old Sol tweaked even the smallest of these diamonds with beams of brilliance. It goes without saying that this area is rich beyond one’s wildest imagination in these simple, but precious, natural treasures.
For all the significant technological and engineering developments of mankind over the past couple centuries, it remains a mystery that man often cannot match the brain power and ingenuity of a hungry wilderness critter. A fellow down the road confides that he has been doing battle with a squirrel for months over sunflower seed accessibility at his bird feeder stations,
He has tried everything under the sun to deter the rodent. To date he finds that in spite of his reasonable intellectual and inventive exploits, all avenues have been met with an equalizing counter move by his gnawing little red friend.
Frustrated but not giving up, he shared his latest tactic and believes that he’s got the answer. We’ll see! I’ll be anxious to hear how the critter adapts to this new scheme. It would be my suggestion to let the tiny gal/guy have at it. You can’t seem to outsmart ‘em!
Every day out here in the woods is a wonder. The Smiths continue experiencing great moments in nature. Sharing them, as well as being able to report happenings of other Gunflinters, during this weekly Trail news scoop on WTIP has been most enjoyable in the past 365. Hopefully you enjoyed too!
As we wind down 2012, it is my wish for you that 2013 will be fruitful, rewarding, memorable and full of goodwill toward your fellow man!
Keep on hangin’ on, and come out to savor this wonderful creation we call the Gunflint. See you on the radio next year!

Airdate: December 28, 2012

Gunflint Trail (Ben Edwards/Flickr)

Wildersmith December 21

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Keying this week’s Gunflint scoop, I find the heavens are aligned, finally signaling the first day of winter. Yep, this magical season is now official, “Biboon” (winter moniker in Ojibwe) is here, at just past 5 CST this Friday morning.
Long dark nights have been the norm as pre-winter shadows have been gradually squeezing down on both ends of old Sol’s daily spin. For many fretting the shortness of our daylight hours, fear not, for the big day is here, and in no time at all minutes will be stacking up in the other direction.
While we turn the page into this season of crystal collections, here’s hoping the “great northern express” finds this locale with more regularity than we’ve seen thus far. One thing for sure is Old Man Winter has been sputtering in several attempts to get things going consistently for our wintertime activities.
The past week has been no exception, with a little bit of cold then a little bit of warm. Out around the upper Trail area, we went seven days with minuscule snowfall. Then another warm-up sent the previous white a-shrinking before we got a minor dose of white replenishment early last Sunday morning.
The lake water on Gunflint is trying its best to get down to ice-making business. One morning, for a few hours, it even had a brief coating about halfway across from the Wildersmith shore. Growing winds sent it packing by midday, and since then it’s been too warm and rough for cranking up the old Zamboni. There is ice, however, on about the western one-third (just beyond the Gunflint Pines Resort), but my guess is it’s not safe yet.
I have been unable to confirm the ice status on Sag, but all other bodies in the territory appear to be sealed up. In fact, a friend who is into ice fishing is already doing his thing on a favorite lake in the mid-trail area. He tells me six or seven inches have already thickened. By the way, he’s having fish for supper too!
Also aligned in the heavens is the week-old “little spirit moon.” It will be beaming down with full December splendor in a week. Folks in these parts are keeping their fingers crossed that early beams will be shining down on “the breast of new fallen snow” for the holiday festivities.
I don’t know whether the old fable about wolves howling at the moon has any basis for being true. I can confirm that Brother and Sister Wolf have been quite active along our Mile O Pine since we last met on the airwaves. On several occasions, regardless of little new snow, tracking has been prolific during my daily trips to the mailbox.
To cap off my continuing canid lupus saga, I stepped outside to bring in a load of firewood one evening and discovered the local pack eerily harmonizing not far away. Compared to previous wild renditions, I must say that they were hauntingly out of tune. Guess they need more practice, practice, practice!
A gal down the road shares that she heard a recent late day choral experience too.  This audition was coming from Canadian land. It makes me wonder if they were calling to the great northern spirits requesting some ice formation in order they might traverse the Gunflint for some U.S. deer hunting.
Soon after hearing this northern sound of music, she observed a sextet of beings bobbing up and down in the water out from her shoreline. First thought was that it couldn’t be wolves in the water, not at this time of year.
Turns out she was right; it wasn’t wolves. It was a bevy of otters, and to observe six at one sighting seems unusual. When last seen, they were headed east down the lake, frolicking on a probable fishing expedition.
After the tragedy that befell Newtown, Connecticut, and our entire nation, last week, this holiday time finds millions yearning for new and abundant peace amongst all men. May the grace of this season comfort those who are hurting so much.
Have a safe, sane and happy Christmas with your loved ones!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor thoughts of peace and healing!

Airdate: December 21, 2012

"...This congealing occurrence is as glorious as will be a return to surges dashing the granite shore next May..."

Wildersmith December 14

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Our month of the “little spirit moon” is whizzing by in the upper Gunflint. With the light at the end of tunnel 2012 beginning to glow, one has to wonder where, oh where, has this year has gone?
Holiday excitement is blanketing the area more than the most recent winter storm prognostication. In fact, there is far more enthusiasm about the coming birthday of all birthdays than there is snow; guess this is maybe the way it should be.
Mother Nature sent her cold weather emissary into the area last weekend to perform some winter doin’s. But alas, Old Man Winter showed up with not much in the bucket. The dumping we were expecting turned out barely more than wimpy. To the delight of many, however, the three- to four-inch accumulation did freshen up our patchwork brown and white forest floor.
Last Saturday was seasonably cold and I devoted a few moments to sitting down at the lakeshore. The time was spent watching a solemn Gunflint Lake surface taking on its first crinkling crystals. This liquid to solid happening has always fascinated yours truly.
I’m no maple syrup practitioner. But it would seem like this natural process of turning water into ice must be similar to watching boiling sap reach the sugar stage.
There was first one wrinkle on the water, and that spewed into another, and then those two fragmented into another, and on and on until a jigsaw-wrinkled skim suddenly appeared.
Our annual December lake surface makeover was a spiritual uplifting of sort. The essence of this congealing occurrence is as glorious as will be a return to surges dashing the granite shore next May.
Woe is me; the ice making romance is over. Our calm inland sea was taken by a belch from the northwest. Air currents suddenly moved across the serene water, engulfing it with ripples once more. In a blink of an eye, the wisp of chilling character was gone.  It went chortling into the rocky lakeside, gone until another time for dreaming of ice cakes and ensuing icy conversations.
Back to reality, the Smiths got a triple treat this past Monday. A late evening return trip from Grand Marais was as sweet as a hot fudge sundae. First, we were reminiscing the joys of our “sound of music” experience at the Borealis Chorale Christmas Concert. Second, some 20 miles of the cruise along the Trail found us driving in spectacular falling snow. And, to cap things off, the whipped cream and cherry on top of this candied winter happening, we came upon two moose. Yes, Virginia, there are still moose up the Trail. With adventures like this, life can’t get much better!
A report comes from over on Loon Lake in regard to a case of apparent unlawful activity. It seems that a resident along the lake recently cut down an uninspiring aspen.
It was decided the tree could be cut up and split for next summer’s campfires. So the job was undertaken. Task completed, the remains were left in a pile to be stacked come spring.
Over a period of days, the resident woodsman took notice that his wood cache seemed to be disappearing. Soon a good deal of the woodpile was gone, yet no trace of a thieving culprit could be found.
Not planning to involve law enforcement at this point, the fellow was sharing his story with another local outdoors man, and the two of them decided on a private investigation before filing an official theft report.
To make a long story short, after searching a number of suspected possibilities, a trek through the woods and wetlands brought them to what appeared to be a newly remodeled beaver lodge at the end of the lake. It was here that the missing goods were discovered, neatly arranged atop the animals’ homestead.
Bucky needed a new roof before winter got too far along. Guess this gnawing critter could not pass up a good thing, all this construction material cut and split, just for the taking, too good to be true, a beaver builder’s dream, why not! Case of the pilfered firewood closed!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the mystique of the outdoors!

Airdate: December 14, 2012

Photo courtesy of Barb and Dean on Flickr.

Pine Marten (travelling.steve/Flickr)

Wildersmith December 7

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The northland begins chapter 12 of the year 2012, and most everyone is engulfed with holiday celebration aspirations. We at Wildersmith are no exception, as greenery and trinkets of personal significance are gradually taking their place around the house.
The winter wonderland that commenced on Thanksgiving night lasted about 10 days and many of us thought that winter had set in. However, the Hallmark card scenery took a big hit last weekend with a nasty warm-up.
Guess it’s Mother Nature’s prerogative to giveth and taketh away. The meltdown grew progressively worse with steady warmth extending into several days. The ensuing shrinkage has left places all over the forest with the dismal dirty look of snow in urban America, yuck! Plus, grooming of the cross-country ski trail system had just got under way and now will have to be put on hold, stymieing that activity for early enthusiasts.
While warm-ups do happen in these parts, the sad commentary is that when freezing cold returns, the remaining wet slushy snow will turn my driveway into a nightmarish icy chute. It makes me shudder just thinking about slip-sliding my vehicle down the drive into its normal parking place. This is a test of serious winter driving skill in spite of sanding applications. Even more serious is my being able to keep upright and off my tush as I navigate the hilly passage many times daily.
It’s not unusual up this way to experience many consecutive winter days when the temp never approaches the plus side of zero. The current episode of warmth was obviously not of the bitter cold variety. Last weekend displayed an unusual temperature phenomenon that I cannot recall having observed before. The mercury reading on our Wildersmith digital struck 32 1/2 degrees on Saturday morning and stayed that way for over 24 consecutive hours before finally budging downward late Sunday afternoon. No wonder we were so drippy around here.
A call from a fellow down at the west end of Gunflint Lake at Cross River Lodge advised me of another observation that usually occurs with the spring transition. With the Gunflint Gal still being almost totally liquid, he was seeing chunks of ice float by his locale. I’m guessing these mini-bergs were coming from a warm weather break-up of the icy edges along Cross River, and entering the lake where the river dumps in.
I’m thinking that the Gunflint Gal is about ready to take on her winter coat. The quiet west end bay has already skimmed over; we just need some consecutive zero nights with calm air. Meanwhile the territory needs its winter attire freshened up with haste!
The animal kingdom around here has added some returnees of winters past. Although I have not seen them, tracking evidence indicates that white tails are coming back to the yard. The late November deep snow apparently struck a memory that they might find some easier browsing down here along the Mile O Pine.
Two pine martens have also punched the feeding recall button and are now making daily rounds to the trough on our deck, after months of being missing in action. It is amazing how those poultry poachers seem to remember a good thing!
And of course, I experience an attack of the birds (mostly excited chickadees) whenever late day seed time rolls around. I’m such a good guy!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the fleeting spirit of the season!

Airdate: December 7, 2012

The Gunflint Trail finally saw some snow this week... (Photo by Mr.OutdoorGuy/Flickr)

Wildersmith November 30

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Finally, the great northern express pulled through our Gunflint station, better late than never! Mother Nature must have tired of hearing me whine, as the old gal made our happy Thanksgiving celebration even more blessed with a late night dose of something to brag about.
“The weather outside was frightful, but the next morning, was so delightful” when Trail residents awoke to a winter wonderland. The surprising winter storm dumped several inches of wet heavy fluff that coated every extremity in the forest with marshmallow mounds. The accumulation around Wildersmith was some 6 to 8 inches, and was probably more in the upper elevations through the Mid-trail snow zone.
The first real winter effort of the season was complicated with strong winds that caused considerable blowing and drifting in open areas, downed many limbs and dealt some areas brief power outages. Travel was hazardous and the Trail has now been tabbed for winter driving caution.
All in all, the opening weekend of our holiday season in border country was much like it should be for late November. And if the initial storm wasn’t enough, about another third of a foot was delivered in the darkness of last Saturday night.
So the moose and I are smiling with the beginning of holiday cheer, in hope that there will be much more moisture to come. Area lakes need a lot of replenishing come meltdown time next spring, and this was a good first start.
The making of ice has resumed on most lakes, but for the larger bodies in the upper Trail region the wind has kept them thrashing in spite of a couple single-digit nights. While the thermometers at Wildersmith are not official recording stations, we did have our first night of nothing on the mercury column. Yes, it was zero with a hope of many more to come. We need some bitter cold to freeze out the growing tick population that is so annoying and detrimental to our moose herd, let alone we humans.
The Mile O’ Pine, probably like most other backcountry roads, is nearly enclosed in an archway of bent over, snow-laden trees.  Many of the immature saplings are almost touching the road surface, creating a lacy tunnel of crystal.
This has made for difficult vehicular passage. Thus, yours truly has spent a good number of hours walking the road to relieve hundreds of stressed trunks and branches from their burden. I’m sure that if these woodsy citizens could talk, they’d be twanging joyously as they spring back skyward.
A couple days before the big weather changeover, I was outside doing a few chores when I heard the sound of voices. It was late afternoon, near sunset, and since the Smiths are the only residents on the Mile O Pine for the best part of the next seven months, to hear conversation was unusual.
Thinking it was maybe a late, southbound flock of Canadian honkers, I stopped still and gazed to the heavens, but there was none. The chatter continued, and suddenly I tuned in to some yelping coming from down the lakeshore to the west. The yelping soon turned to howls.
Apparently the Gunflint/Loon lake wolf pack was out and about, and they decided to practice a bit of north woods harmonizing. This went on for only a few moments, but it was such a cool time to be in touch with nature through a choral rendition that I would simply title “North Woods Nocturne No. 1.” How exhilarating!
It’s most intriguing how in tune critters are with atmospheric happenings. With the species in a state of decline in this part of the country and their being prone to wander, scarcely any evening grosbeaks are seen stopping by at Wildersmith anymore.
A few of the beautiful birds in dark brown to almost black and gold (I call them Iowa Hawkeye birds) made a sudden stopover for a little sustenance. They were here at the sunflower seed cafeteria for only a few short hours, and then gone. I think they were just passing through on their way to who knows where.
It could be theorized they might have been trying to keep ahead of old man winter as he was bearing down on the area, unbeknownst to the Wildersmith two. If that was the case, I should have been paying more attention to the situation, and I’d have surmised that a storm was brewing. Whatever the reason for this brief visit, the colorful bird was a joyful change of scenery from the norm.
Meanwhile, our frosty new landscaping has buried food sources for the winged flock, so we have an excess of hungry avians. Talk about air traffic congestion. Further, we have a better picture of our nocturnal visitors, with evidence of many four-legged beings who’ve been tracking though the snowy yard. Everything is so enchanting now that it ’tis the season.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the beauty of wilderness winter!

Airdate: November 30, 2012

Snow & Needles (Eli Sagor/Flickr)

Wildersmith: November 23

Finalcut_Wildersmith_20121123.mp34.71 MB

Back in the woods once more, after another whirlwind trip to Iowa to care for some family illness matters. It’s great to be home to the sereneness of border country.
The venture into semi-civilized urban America finds confusion reigning supreme with way too many people and nightmarish traffic. They call where we live unorganized territory, hah! I guess I’m just getting old and probably way too cynical, only need to be out in the woods!
My return finds that little has been accomplished in the advance on winter. In fact, as I key this segment, it is has been unseasonably warm for this late in month 11.
The forest floor remains dry and uncovered, while some of the lakes that had iced over before my departure have given way to liquid again. Thus, Mother Nature is forsaking the “freezing over moon” of November which is the lunar moniker in Ojibwe lore.
As the territory celebrates this Thanksgiving time we have stepped back into October-like weather. One would hope that the present conditions are not an indicator of another un-winter. Yours truly is thinking that perhaps the full moon of next week will shine down on the northland and usher in a gust from the “great northern express.”
The area is extremely quiet as we offer thanks for the bounty with which we have been blessed. Several of the year-round folks have even trekked off to points south for the turkey day extravaganza. The only activity along the Mile O Pine is that of the wild neighborhood critters, and they have plenty for which to give thanks with my daily provisions.
Speaking of critters, our white tail population can breathe a little easier now with the closing of rifle hunting season last Sunday. Deer have three nemeses as I see it: predators (wolves), fast-moving vehicles and stalkers with guns. Taking whistling slugs out of the equation for another year will improve survival chances by one-third. How about that you deer, only two worries now!  
I don’t know how the venison seekers have done in these parts, but I’m guessing they did OK. Those I know usually put meat in the freezer. Success is in the eyes of the beholder. Hunting, like fishing, is always good, but sometimes the shooting/catching is not. It seems to me the biggest thrill that comes with this pursuit and shoot experience must be from the quiet anticipation while out in this magical wilderness creation. It’s just a bonus if game is taken home.
Last Thursday was the annual statewide Give to the Max day for favorite non-profits. Word comes from the Gunflint Trail Historical Society that many friends and supporters opened their hearts and wallets to donate over $4,500 to the organization in this year’s endeavor.
The amount given placed the GTHS among the top 12 recipients from the northeast Minnesota region according to the Duluth News Tribune rankings. Thanks to everyone who made this happen! If you didn’t get to support this worthwhile event, it’s not too late to make an end of the year donation, just go to the GTHS website for more information.
As if the year 2012 hasn’t whizzed by fast enough, here we are traipsing off into the holiday season. In fact, the turmoil of the coming blitz started before Halloween with the onslaught of catalogs and media ads coming from every which way. The aura of this wonderful, but overindulgent, season across the U.S. seems to just about consume everything and everybody. The Smiths even have a Christmas cactus that is so excited that it bloomed unusually early, shortly after ghosts and goblins time.
See you at the Mall, it’s Black Friday! Oops, you won’t actually see me there. I’ll be shopping in Grand Marais, by mail order and online. The UPS man will be toting my deliveries up this way in his 250-horse, shiny brown buggy. That Mr. UPS is some kind of Santa!
Keep on hangin, on and savor the dream of wilderness adventure!

Airdate: November 23, 2012