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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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Chipmunk (-infinity-/Flickr)

Wildersmith April 5

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The upper Gunflint Territory seemed headed toward a lamb-like end to March. We were teased with a couple swell early spring days, then came Easter Sunday. All talk of April making a blissful entry, with an end to low digit temperatures, was dashed by a resurgent lion-like slap from Old Man Winter.

Our parade to Grand Marais for Easter church services was marked not with thoughts of bunnies, eggs and celebration, but stymied by snow showers and serpentine whiffs of snow slithering down the cold byway ahead of strong northwest winds.

It was almost as if the great spirit of the north was howling, “Just not so fast my border country buddies. Ghostly reminders of Jack Frost and I will cede to spring only when I say it’s time.”

Although new snow accumulations amounted to little, here we are, almost a full week into month four, with the bloom of a new season hovering in a cool holding pattern. Regardless of melting yet to be done, time cures all, and the virtue of patience will prevail knowing we’ll get a blessing of days for rebirth, perhaps as soon as tomorrow!

Until then, it’s back to gloves, sheepskin hat, insulated boots and heavy coat! No foolin’, it was minus 2 at Wildersmith on April 1 with wind a-howlin’.

Those last few days of month three were so inviting. How inviting was it? It was so inviting that I brought the old rocking chair out of storage onto our sunny deck and walked around in a sweatshirt, even though walkway and driveway snow piles remained well over knee deep.

The Wildersmith neighborhood even had a spring shower of the liquid variety before the return to February. All over the area, art work of Old Man Winter was taken over by Sol, and nature’s heat source did some reduction work on the snow pack.

The Mile O Pine, like many seldom-traveled winter roads, saw the warmth allow a few patches of brown gravel bleed through months of packed wintry buildup. Those brief days of meltdown also gave way to a few puddles, a bit of trickling water, and our first mud.

During my travels down the road and tromping through the woods, there is confirming evidence that we’re shrinking the deep snow. I’ve found that a number of baby trees which have not seen the light of day for some time are proudly poking their growth buds skyward. Similarly, their older forest brethren are perking up after months of bearing the weight of winter decorations.

Meanwhile, the powerful sun has chiseled out countless shapes in roadside snow banks. The Trail, now completely free of slippery patches, has miles of etched windrow embellishments that lend themselves to an aggregation of imaginative beauty, in spite of their grungy color. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder.

Life goes on in the wild neighborhood. Critters come and go daily, and I’ve noted a couple cases of seasonal bumps. And I don’t mean those in the road.

Specifically, I reference belly bulges on several expectant does, while on the opposite of white tail genders there are swelling knots where crowns of manhood will soon be growing.

It’s also a good bet that our warm days stirred the slumber of our north woods Brunos, as well as chipmunks and those not-so-popular skunks. About the only critters probably not aroused at this point is the first generation of nasty biting bugs. I don’t know of anyone who would feel bad if those winged savages forgot to show up. We should be so lucky!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor thoughts of the spring takeover!

Airdate: April 5, 2013

Canada Lynx (myheimu/Flickr)

Wildersmith March 22

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‘Twas the days before spring, and all through the woods, the critters were stirring in shivering wonderment. So goes the story up the Trail as month three has been much less than spring-like so far.
Under a growing “crust on the snow moon” (Onaabani Giizis), the topper was this past Sunday when the Wildersmith neighborhood awoke to a shocking minus 29. This followed the five previous mornings where our mercury column registered at least zero or below. It’s been so cold that we are making ice on area lakes, thus adding to the 3-foot cake already set on most bodies including Gunflint.
There has not been any significant snow shrinkage out this way, due to the cold. But neither has what we have on the forest floor grown during the past seven. Only a couple dustings has freshened us as storms once again have missed border country. We’ve had mostly sparkling clear days where the brightness and power of old Sol caused me to forget about the frosty January-like sunrises.
One has to remember that a year ago at this time the snow was all but a memory. And the lake ice on our Gunflint gal made an all-time record exit on March 25. What a difference 365 days can make!
As can happen quickly, our more normal March might be reversed to real spring between the time this scribing is keyed and when it comes out over the waves of cyber-space. Here’s wishing, though, that a few more droppings of the winter element might blanket us before mud season and dreams of green poking through the meltdown actually become a reality.
Wild neighborhood critters continue making candid appearances. The lynx that has been frequenting the grounds around Gunflint Lodge was recently observed in pursuit of a snowshoe hare by a lodge guest. I was not told whether the race outcome favored the cat or the rabbit.
Over the past couple weeks, white tail traffic has increased considerably about our place. I guess nourishment must be hard to come by under the crusted white. It’s been entertaining to watch a few crows browse about between the hooves of my brush-pruning deer.
I don’t know if there is a precise term for describing a bunch of pine martens, but if there is such, it can be applied to the scene on our deck-side cafeteria. A number of them are often cavorting about at almost any given time of day or night. I observed one leap-frogging over another recently in quest of the next open sunflower seed station, quite amusing.
Recently a member of the Gunflint/Loon lake wolf pack has been on fast food surveillance duty through the yard.  Evidenced by tracks, scat and territorial marking, it has yet not brought in the troops to execute their predator exploits.  
Meanwhile friends from over on Hungry Jack Lake share an ongoing saga of a moose carcass serving nutritional needs of many hungry creatures in their neighborhood. The end of life for this waning icon of the north woods might be blamed on the wolves too but, then again, it could have just been its time.
So players in our wilderness drama of search and survival continue keeping the Wildersmith two, and most other Gunflint residents, with our noses to the glass during these waning days of this long white season.
In a closing salute, yours truly sends a big thanks to all who stepped to the plate in our “15 reasons” membership drive. If you missed getting your token of support in during the 5 ½- day run, your willingness to be a part of the WTIP family will always be accepted and much appreciated. Just call or click at any time!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the equinox signal of an ending and beginning!

Airdate: March 22, 2013

Musher at Much for a Cure (by Stephan Hoglund)

Wildersmith March 15

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After last weekend’s snow, it seems hard to believe the official calling of spring is only five days away. This neighborhood got only about five inches but I’m told there was more in other places down the Trail.
Temps were just right for a nice flocking of the forest as the “great white spirit” of the north paid his visit. We are hoping that it will not be his last, as every little bit of precip is a blessing. So the snow banks that have been gnawed on by old Sol have been replenished for the time being, and the wilderness canopy is decked out like it was going to the prom.
Ahead of its calendar time, America has declared spring with that daylight savings time nonsense. Yes, we sprung forward an hour out here in the woods too, for what I know not, except that it’s dark when I wake up once again.
The Gunflint Lake ice was alive for a second consecutive weekend with the big pink celebration. Events went off like clockwork in the fund raising effort to support national breast cancer research.
Official figures have not been confirmed, but it has been reported that the endeavor raised nearly $40,000 this year. If this is correct, it would put the seven-year total at well over $100,000, pretty cool for a small but energetic bunch of woodsy folks!
Main event on the weekend card was the dogsled run. Once again it was a blast to see about 30 entries hit the Trail. Many states were represented from as far away as Louisiana. Of special interest were several entries from the Samoyed Dog Club of America. This event is obviously gaining nationwide attention when mushers are coming from far and wide.
Although finishing first is not the main objective, it is always interesting to hear which team reaches the mid-Trail destination ahead of the rest. This year’s fastest finisher was Jessica Berg-Collman. I’m told that her time was just over two hours while the final team took about five hours.
Congratulations to all the mushers for blessing this event with their presence. And a great border country thanks to all the organizers, many volunteers, hundreds of donors and sponsors for making this a superb happening! Good job, Gunflint community and all of Cook County!
The next few weeks will be a somewhat subdued as momentum begins growing for buddin’ time. It’s of interest that although it has not been as warm as a year ago at this time, I recently happened on a few fuzzy pussy willow buds peeking out of their husks. A humorous thing about this observation was that it happened while I was plowing snow along the Mile O Pine last Sunday morning. Bet they’re glad they had fur coats on!
In spite of the recent snow, another sign of the times presented itself when I saw the first crow return to the yard. This one was busy scratching for morsels from where deer are prancing and pawing during their daily browse. It wasn’t long before I heard some raucous chatter, so there are more somewhere about the neighborhood.
Coupled with our thoughts of new birth in the region, our Gunflint Green-up is not too many weeks away. Scheduled for the first weekend in May, coordination of the event is being handled by the folks at Gunflint Lodge. If you’re interested in helping or participating, look for more details at
The new snow has further enhanced the trails for some great cross-country skiing. There will likely be some days ahead where the snow may be sticky; nevertheless, there is plenty of time to hit the region’s groomed system before we call it a winter.  
Speaking of tracks, a fellow who grooms these ski trails tells me about seeing plenty of lynx activity. Movement of the north woods tabbies around the Gunflint Lake area extends from the south rim trail on the east to the Cross River on the west. He indicates an interesting trait-- that they most often paw right along in the tracks set for skiers. Probably easier walking, pretty smart, huh!
On a final, but very important note, your community radio station is in the midst of its “15 Reasons” spring membership drive. To keep this broadcast treasure moving forward for all of us, your ongoing participation and financial support is needed.
Don’t wait, call 387-1070 or 800-473-9847 or click and join NOW!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor this vernal time in the making!

Airdate: March 15, 2013

Pine Marten (George Lamson/Flickr)

Wildersmith March 8

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Whew, a week of March has come and gone already. Our semi-winter continues in the upper Gunflint. With spring peeking just over the southern cliffs, Old Man Winter paid the area another visit over the past few days.
Although he was only half hearted, his frigid offering sent us a reminder that there might still be a bit of vigor remaining before the season is relinquished. This neighborhood has had no new snow since the Feb. 23, but the past weekend experienced a couple wintery minus 20-something mornings.
This lack of moisture is beginning to wear on a few of us regulars. Reading that the long-range forecast is for more intense drought in the coming warm season, wildfire danger continues to hang in the back of our minds, as the meager snow pack is not growing and will soon be diminishing.
It is hoped that the regulating authorities are paying attention to making the tough call when burning bans become a necessity. In the meantime, it would be nice if the moisture gods would shower down on us with more regularity.
We humans sit back smugly most of the time thinking that we have it over the lower beings of the animal world with regard to reasoning power. Living in the woods and watching the happenings in the wild neighborhood, I’m not so sure that our superiority should be taken for granted.
Obviously, those of the wild kingdom spend the better part of their lives in survival mode as we do, only in more subtle ways. I marvel at the alert attention every critter of the woods pays toward not becoming the next meal for an adversary up the food ladder rung. Whether one is a marten, deer or chipmunk, each is always looking over its shoulder.
My point is made with regard to the wisdom of a pine marten hanging out around our deck-side feed trough recently. On this particular day the little gal/guy was intent on nutritional sustenance from the various sunflower seed stations.
As I observed, it was keen how a few bites were taken with regular time outs to peek here and look there making sure that some predator wasn’t lurking in the shadows. In this particular instance, it was suddenly spooked by something and scurried into a small roof-covered feeder.
Once secure, it would stick its head out from under the eves and apprise the situation. After a few moments of checking to make sure all was clear, it made its way out into the open for more munching. Another repetition of being alarmed soon occurred and back it went into seclusion. In a few moments, it was out in the sunshine once more.
I became intrigued about what was causing the marten’s concern.  At that moment, I caught a glimpse of an in-flight shadow on the pine canopy back drop.
An avian flying overhead, a fairly large one at that, could have been a raven or perhaps a raptor. Simultaneously I saw Piney with its head to the sky. In the blink of an eye, it was back under cover.
Putting two and two together, I reasoned that “big bird” was the nemesis for my furry visitor. Now, whether “big bird” was on reconnaissance for its next meal or not, I will never know. However, with three on-your-guard scampers by the marten, one would have to wonder if this wasn’t the case. For sure, the reasoning power of my marten friend was leaving nothing to chance, and we think we’re so smart!  
The annual trout fishing derby was held under splendid blue skies on Gunflint Lake last Sunday. A fine turnout occurred as over 90 anglers registered. In addition to the fisher people there looked to be at least a couple hundred more observers in families and friends. The short-term city on ice was a buzz of activity with every type of angling and travel rig one could imagine.
When yours truly was down on the ice near the end of the contest, there were 12 trout mounted on the board. The largest was a 6-pound 9-ounce whopper pulled through the hole by John Konig. It turned out that John’s catch caught him the $500 first prize. Congratulations to John and everyone that dipped a line. Thanks go to all the organizers for making this another fun event.
It’s not quite spring, and not everything is coming up roses just yet. However, everything will be coming up pink this weekend. The Mush for a Cure is now front and center on the wilderness stage. Preliminary events to Saturday’s big dog sled race kick off this evening (Friday) at Windigo. Hope to see everyone out in support of this worthy event!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the hot pink weekend.

Airdate: March 8, 2013

"...sunshine glistening off mounds of snow piled here and there in kaleidoscope sparkles..." (realityfanclub/Flickr)

Wildersmith March 1

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The upper Trail is “marching” into month three as February bids adieu in lamb-like character. Following a rather harsh first three weeks, the month of hearts and chocolates faded away with Old Man Winter delivering our snow to many places south and starting an early spring meltdown.
The conditions have been terrific, with several days of sunshine glistening off mounds of snow piled here and there in kaleidoscope sparkles. This has made for wonderful outdoor activities in the woods.
A day or so prior to the calming of our atmospheric conditions, I was down on the shore of Gunflint watching as two fishermen were attempting to retrieve a dead four-wheeler. It was one of those days when the wind was a-howling out of the north and a light snow was being whipped into white oblivion.
The stalled unit could not have been much farther from land in any direction, and the visibility made it nearly impossible to see them in the struggle to bring it to shore. Two days later, and after several unsuccessful towing modes were attempted, the ATV was brought to land with big sleds under each of four wheels.  
Their demise made me think about just how unforgiving this territory can be sometimes, tough as old leather, but with a beauty of adventure to behold. This trip to the Gunflint will surely be one to remember for those poor souls.
This coming Sunday, March 3, marks the first of two big weekends along the Trail. The annual trout fishing derby, which dates back to 1957, will see ice anglers from all over gathering on the Gunflint Lake ice to try their hand at catching the biggest fish. By the way, the largest finnie registered between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. will bring the catcher a nice $500 award!
This happening is a real treat as a mini-community springs up on the ice in a matter of minutes and then disappears in much the same fashion after a few short hours. While the catching may not be great for everyone, there is a guarantee that fun will be had by all!
Next weekend, the seventh annual Mush for a Cure sled dog race will be held along the Trail. This event has as its mission to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. It will kick off two days of everything coming up pink, Friday and Saturday, March 8 and 9.
With the main event being the dogsled race (starting @ noon Saturday) running from lake shores at Gunflint Pines Resort to Trail Center, the congregation of entries and the sourdough start are some kind of magical, hot-pink excitement! Hope everyone able can get out and support at least some of the many scheduled activities.
By the way, if you wish to contribute to the mission by helping with pledges to a particular musher, just go to the Mush for a Cure website or look for their collection canisters at many places throughout the county. You can also support the event by contributing to “The Bald, Brave and Beautiful” head shaving contest. Several contemporary legends of the territory have their locks on the block. Let’s not let them off the hook!
Living in the wilderness is such a privilege! Each day can provide an adventure or observation that may be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Such has been the case since we last met on the radio.
A friend tells me of an experience paralleling that of the fabled “Tortoise and the Hare,” only this account is north-woods style. Seems he was out dipping a line through the ice when he noticed a snowshoe hare coming lickety-split across the Gunflint from Canada. He soon discovered that this unusual sprint across the frozen crust was being prompted by a hungry fisher. The race for survival soon turned to be no contest as the dashing “wabbit” was about a mile down the lake when the pursuer called it a day for this particular quest.
Recalling the terrapin/rabbit story, slow and steady usually wins the race. However, this border country episode confirms that speed is always a determining factor in life for another day. Hare one, fisher nothing!
Another spectacle of the wild happened on one of the most recent sub-zero mornings at Wildersmith. This one is so captivating and tranquil.
The white tail population has been waning for the past three or four years, and we have only a few that browse around the yard anymore. So it is a rare diversion when any come by and hang out for a length of time.
On this particular frosty morning, a doe and her yearling fawn graced us by finding a place for a little R & R amongst our lakeside balsam stand. The two curled up with noses to their chests in a snowy nest and caught a little shut-eye. They napped for some time, which must have been quite long considering their typical transient tribulations for survival.
For both the observers and, I would guess, those wild neighborhood critters, the scene was a remarkably hushed and calming moment in this part of the northern forest.
On a final note, Gunflint Trail wishes for a happy 95th birthday go out to another of our iconic pioneers, Lawrence “Gus” Wooding in Sarasota, Florida!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the peace of our great north woods!

Airdate: March 1, 2013

Pine Marten (travelling.steve/Flickr)

Wildersmith February 22

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Thanks go out to Rosey, that news-scoopin’ K-9 from over on Hungry Jack Lake, for covering my absence last week. After a run to Iowa for another family and friends visit, it’s sure nice to be back in the Gunflint territory. “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home” in the woods!
What’s even better about returning to the wilderness is that the Smiths came back to a nice dose of fresh snow. The neighbors I left in charge of weather did a swell job as about 10 to 12 inches of the stuff helped me re-up my snow removal skills. It seems to be more than a quirk of coincidence that every time I head south, we get snow. Sure makes me wonder if Old Man Winter hasn’t placed a curse on me.
Now that the area is groomed in a new white base, winter activities are just what the doctor ordered. It’s paradise found for anyone who wants to make tracks in the wilderness.
In but a few days we’re heading toward the full “sucker moon” (so named Namebini Giizis by our Ojibwe neighbors). With the updated white blanket, our north woods landscape should be another “cool” neon lunar spectacular.
Along with another cold snap, both accumulating snow and thickening lake ice are secured at just the right time for the annual Cook County Snowmobile Club’s trout fishing derby on Gunflint Lake next weekend. That angling extravaganza is followed by the Mush for a Cure sled dog race  March 9, which also starts on the Gunflint Gal. Both events offer great fun for participants and spectators with lots of things going on in conjunction. Look for more details next week or better yet, check websites if you want info sooner.
Along with the usual rituals of mid-winter championed by mankind, like those mentioned above, there are some natural rites taking shape in some parts of the area. The first is those bone-jarring frost heaves in the Trail asphalt. It seems that they are making their appearance in the usual places, only a bit earlier than normal. So a trip to Grand Marais is becoming a real rollercoaster ride.
Another of those yearly happenings comes somewhat as a surprise since the territory went into winter sleep under extreme drought conditions. Most streams and rivers were barely a trickle at autumn’s end. Yet somewhere in the bowels of this great earth there is still water running.
Thus, winter trickles have finally frozen to the point where they are clogging area road culverts. The ensuing liquid backup is now being dammed into those mini roadside glaciers. Several spots along the Mile O Pine show that tannin-colored water seeping through the snow and thickening with each passing day.
Since the Smiths return to Wildersmith, we have been enjoying an abundance of pine marten visits. The luxurious poultry-loving fur balls have been here at all hours of the day and night. One evening found an uncommon situation, where a pair of them were sitting in the same feeding station partaking. There is usually a big fight when they get this close to each other at mealtime.
The normally carnivorous critters have been munching on not only the coveted chicken parts but also beating the squirrels to their cache of sunflower seeds (must be the oil that catches their attention). The other day I even observed one out hustling the blue jays to a tray of bread cubes. Guess when you’re hungry, most anything will do.
Sadness hangs over the Trail as friends mourn the loss of another Gunflint icon. Ralph Griffis passed away February 9 in Harlingen, Texas, at the age of 87.
Along with wife Bea, Ralph operated the Chik Wauk Lodge from 1957 until it was sold to the USFS in 1980. Through a special use agreement with the Forest Service, he and Bea continued living at Chik Wauk in the summers until departing for permanent Texas residency just before the turn of the century.
He will be long remembered for his caring ways, fishing prowess and captivating smile. He was so proud that the Gunflint community came together to form the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. And, that they worked so hard to turn the Griffis’ beloved lodge into a wonderful museum, preserving the storied Gunflint history. Gunflint Trail condolences are extended to his wife Bea.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a good time on the Gunflint!

Airdate: February 22, 2013

"During the Arctic spell, the area has been a place of soul-soothing silence..." (Mr.OutdoorGuy/Flickr)

Wildersmith: February 1

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Along with the rest of the universe, the upper Trail heads off into 2013 chapter two, February’s a calling! Wow, what an ending to January.
Although as of this keyboard exercise, the territory has warmed somewhat, we Gunflinters have endured serious cold conditions. Here at Wildersmith the thermometer did not ascend above the zero mark from Saturday afternoon the 19th, through about the same time on Saturday the 26th.
That calculates into nearly 170 consecutive hours, brrrrr! When the mercury did climb above the nothing point, it seemed like we should be getting out the Speedos. It is amazing how warm zero to 15 above can feel after such a stretch.
During the Arctic spell, the area has been a place of soul-soothing silence. With exception of the wind whirring through the pines, the only sounds of consequence were the creaking of the house, the deck contracting/expanding against the bitter onslaught and occasional popping of the frozen sap from one of our forest sentinels. I didn’t hear even one complaining groan from the lake ice to our north. 
Cuddling in the confines of homey warmth, about the only venture outside was for a sling of firewood twice a day and a frigid run to the mailbox. The ritual of feeding the neighborhood critters was even subdued. Visits from all the wild regulars seemed less frequent and their business at the trough was serious, with little chatter and bantering with each other.
The mystique of living through crispy segments like we’ve just experienced is captured in simple things that are often just overlooked. An example would be the frost around the eyes of the local jaybirds and, believe it or not, seeing the tiny puffs of expiration coming from the nostrils of our red squirrel varmints. Now that’s cold confirmation.
More nostalgia on life in the cold is watching the fleeting artistry of gray shadows being cast on the snow-covered ground from a puffing wood-burning stove. Ascending through midday sunshine, these remnants of warming combustion are but another sight that might never be paid attention if one wasn’t house bound.
Cold magic can also be captured if one is fortunate enough to be outside and catch a whiff of wood smoke during one of those wood shed runs. It kind of sends a spirit of border country warmth to the soul.
As the cold snap became more subdued, the neighborhood got a new delivery of snow. It was not a big dropping. The new four or so inches, coupled with the one from the week before, makes it look a lot like Christmas should have been. The quiet place where I do my snow measuring is now approaching about a foot and a half.
With the combination of new snow and more reasonable temps, winter activities are sure to pick back up…although I did see a few ice angling crazies that were not thwarted by the cold. Going by here at 25 to 50 miles per hour on a snowmobile en route to the old ice fishing shack is a scary/dangerous example of manmade wind chill!
Cross-country ski trails having been regroomed and tracked, and look to be in fantastic shape, and plein air artists and snow sculptors have been out capturing our winter outdoor world over this past week. By the way, Winter Tracks activities get underway around the county this weekend.
Meanwhile, the Gunflint woods will be howling with more than wolves, as power sleds will be roaring through the forest tomorrow (Saturday). The fourth annual snowmobile club “Fun/poker run” will scream off mid-morning.
The big slide will cover some one 100 miles from Devil Track Lake out to Gunflint Lake and back. As many as 150 sledders are expected to take part. Lots of fun activities are planned in concert with the happening. Hope for a safe and sane day!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor winter as we have it now! Come out and enjoy!

Airdate: February 1, 2013

"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.