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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:
Snowy landscape

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 21

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It’s with a heavy heart that the Smiths return to Gunflint Territory. Followers of this weekly endeavor realize that I have not been at the keyboard over the past month.

Sadly, our time was spent in Iowa with our daughter and her cancer-stricken husband during his final days. Those who have fought this battle or had family members go through the same know of the horrible times.

In our son-in-law’s case, he was not going to get well, but in time, this family will heal and get better. To all of you who have shared your concerns and sent condolences during this difficult time, a sincere thanks from the two at Wildersmith and our daughter in Iowa City.

With winter at the two-thirds mark on the calendar, my return to the Gunflint finds both snow banks and ice dams growing while the temps have been relentlessly buried below zero. Over the past few days, a few folks have been encouraged with a prognostication of seeing the freezing point on the mercury column. This is something not seen here at Wildersmith since late November. In fact some are cheering when we just get above the nothing mark.

Weather is a common tie binding most folks together in this part of the world. A little chitchat over coffee or at the card table is to be expected. Tales of weather woes and extremes at ones place over that of another often becomes a game of one-upsmanship.

How cold was it, who had the most snow or who had a frozen water line or septic problem, keeps conversations lively during this long season. As an example, a call to a lady down the road last Sunday found that she had a cool minus 35 while the Wildersmith thermometer only recorded 34 below. She gave a hearty hurrah as this is the first time this winter her temp has been colder than the Smiths’.

A few weather facts from this Gunflint neighborhood confirm what those of us here already know. It’s been a true, “days of old” winter to this point.

Since our first dose of snow on Oct. 20 and up through this past Sunday’s deposit, I’ve measured 74 inches. This is not too bad for out here in the hinterland away from the more prolific big Lake effect droppings.

Meanwhile, since Dec. 6, we’ve had 66 mornings where the thermometer was below zero. To take that a step farther, of those 66, 44 daytime highs did not get above the zero mark. Even on a number of days where we were not in negative territory, we still hunkered down with single digit readings. My thanks go out to Kathy Lande from up on Seagull Lake for filling in the missing data for the 20 plus days I was away from my thermometer.

To date, our coldest recorded morning low was minus 45 on Jan. 2, and the coldest daytime high was minus 32 on January 6, BRRRR! There was no going outside except to the wood shed on that day! But we still love the magic of Mother Nature’s gifts.

The Valentine’s Day full moon was nothing short of spectacular on the breast of our latest new fallen snow. The landscape was drowned in neon blue, snowy reflections and towering coniferous shadows.

My extended absence has seen the white tail regulars disappear, gone to snow fields elsewhere. Since our return late last week only one has come by seeking a handout. And our daily visits from several pine martens have ceased, but the birds and red squirrels are slowly finding their way back to the feed trough.

Earlier this month, prior to one of my journeys south, I had an up-close experience with a lynx. While cleaning snow from the deck, one of the stately north woods felines ambled from beneath where I was working.

Quietly, it sat down in the snow about 20 feet from me gazing off into the forest. Apparently on the lookout for an afternoon snack, its focus casually turned toward me. For a few moments we made eye contact. It must have decided I was not an immediate threat and resumed the scan for prey. After several minutes the regal cat stalked off into white oblivion. What a wondrous wild woods encounter!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the adventure of this cool northern landscape!

(photo courtesy of Minnepixel)

Lynx at large

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 17

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Hark, world, the northlands month long span of bitter cold has broken.   Week two of the new year, finds the territory in the midst of our version of a “January thaw.”
It’s a welcome reprieve for many area residents.  However, I talked with a local gal who was pleased at finally being above zero, but starts getting nervous when winter edges toward the freezing mark as it did last Sunday.
 I suppose her reasoning is that after all, this is winter and we are not in need of any kind of melt down until April or May. I can’t agree with her more.
Then I talked with another fellow recently that wants the minus thirty to forty something days to go away, but bring on the snow. This snow issue is also found to be agreeable with yours truly.
In spite of the extended sub-zero times since early December, the warmth within the bowels of the earth has kept liquid running. I’m noticing ice dams building along our Mile O Pine where culverts are frozen tight. With water continuing to bubble forth from deep within, it looks as though we’re going to have some bigger than usual mini-glaciers in not too many weeks.
Last weekend, when the layer of warm air was hanging over the cold forest ground, another spectacular build-up of hoar frost took place on the high cliffs over-looking Gunflint Lake. Every time I observe one of these crystal natural wonders, I realize how blessed it is to be living in the midst of such un-ending beauty. Further, as we often get these frosty portraits, each one seems to surpass the memory of any previous.
 Beyond the majesty of our wilderness in winter, being able to catch a glimpse of a few “wild neighborhood” critters on occasion doubles up on our boon of good life things. Sightings of some area favorites have been noted since we last visited over the air waves. Smith travels between Wildersmith, mid-trail and Grand Marais found us crossing paths with snowshoe hares, a Canadian Lynx and moose.
 Both the snowy bunnies and their adversarial Lynx were spotted along county road # twenty. Although neither were in close proximity to being in a chase and catch mode at that moment.
Then on two separate Trail excursions, we came upon moose doing some roadside “brine tasting” after dark. Each time we were startled by their presence, but thank goodness, not close to having one mounted on the hood!
Those white tail pals who hang out around the place have been here and there lately, quite skid dish I might say. The Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack has been doing some reconnaissance work along the Mile O Pine as evidenced by their tracks and territorial marking. I haven’t actually seen one but know they’re lurking about surveying the hunting landscape.
A resident shared a Lynx episode of recent happening. It seems some visitors here to see the New Year arrive came upon one of the stately felines sitting in the middle of the road.  It was not far from Heston’s Lodge, again off county road twenty.
They stopped to observe the cat that smugly declined to move from the right-of-way for some time. Eventually the athletic north woods kitty stalked off to the edge of the road. Suddenly it shot up a tree. In a matter of moments it was back down with a “catch of the day.”
Apparently concentrating on the “snack at hand/paw,” it really wasn’t begrudging them from driving past. It was just focused on a red squirrel high in those branches, and it was not going to be denied the exact preying moment by these onlookers.
To end this predator/prey chapter, the border country “Tabby” came walking up the road toward the sitting vehicle right past the surprised beholders with rodent in mouth. It was probably smiling and purring not knowing how the hunting escapade made someone’s day!  What a treat for these folks!
Another dose of entertainment commences for many folks this weekend with the Trout fishing opener on lakes outside the BWCA. Ice on the Gunflint Lake has stretched downward to some twenty-six inches, and is no doubt likewise in most other area locations.
 However, slush still seems to be an issue, and care remains to be exercised on any hard water, regardless of perceived safety or second hand information.
Speaking of ice fishermen, a grandson who lives in northwest Iowa and has a passionate zest for the sport started his college education this week. Boy, they sure grow up fast, makes me feel pretty old! Guess he’ll be hitting the books now, more so than jigging through the ice. Good luck Lane!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor an adventure yet to happen!

{photo courtesy of Michael Valentini}

"snow happens"

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 10

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            I may sound like a broken record as we scoop the trail this week. The not-so-new news is that severe cold still has Gunflint residents by the throat.
            This sub-arctic territory is completing its fifth consecutive week of Arctic likeness. Days with temps above zero can be counted on one hand in this neighborhood.
 And we are yet to reach what is normally the coldest time of our winter season. It’s hard to believe that it could be much worse. However, old timers can surely remember times a few decades ago when unofficial readings were at or near 60 below in select locations deep in the Gunflint woods.
“Snow happens” and a rather surprising snowstorm blanketed the area since our last meeting. The 6 or so inches of added fluff enhanced our white landscape to the point that the Trail might be called the great white scenic byway.
Out here deep in the forest, knee high and/or more snow makes for difficult high stepping without snowshoes. An added note is that the deepening snow cover is going to make for a hard white-tail winter.
Traveling to or from Grand Marais can be a testy “Biboon” (winter) driving experience. Due to the terrific cold, ice and snow pack on the blacktop cannot be budged by mankind’s scientific melting concoctions. Therefore, slippery is the buzzword for vehicle operation.
 Add an occasional moose obstruction to these slick conditions, plus many metro/suburbanite visitors terrorizing the roadway with too much speed for the conditions, and you multiply the hazards. Further these drivers are often belligerent about yielding one-half the road, and then there’s one of those overly cautious creepers who makes the impatient ones take crazy passing chances.  That in mind, a trip in to civilization can be a real white knuckle experience.
Being a driver who respects speed limits and operates cautiously on slick roads, yours truly marvels at the deep indentations in the Trailside ditches from slide-offs. I wonder just how fast those drivers were going or what caused them to leave their mark along the Trail. Based on the many disturbed snowy windrows, the tow truck business must be booming in Cook County.
 Seems like we just experienced the December “little spirit” moon and suddenly here we are within a few segments of the Ojibwe “great spirit” lunar happening.  The Algonquins recognize this January occurrence as the “full wolf” orb.
A clear night should be perfect theater for a “great spirit/full wolf” moment of howling. A visit from aurora borealis would make it all the better, perhaps a night of nights in the celestial northland.
With the trout season opener just a week away, ice-making on border country lakes is full speed ahead. Needless to say night after night of ambient temps from 25 to 45 below zero makes it easy for the old man of the north to produce hard water. My neighbor did some drilling just a week ago on the Gunflint and found nearly 18 inches of clear crystal. There’s probably even deeper ice in many locations.
To close this week I share a warm and cuddly. It seems that three white tails have adopted the Smiths as their winter keepers. The bitter cold has them settling down in straw-strewn nests over my septic tanks most evenings.
Through my dining room window, I checked them out one late night last week. Silhouettes against the white, I found bucks “Notch” and “Half ear” along with a doe, tightly curled up nose to belly, and apparently sound asleep. I suspect that they were covered with frost (they usually are when they move about the yard in the mornings). Nevertheless, they looked to be comfy warm and contented in the still of the night.
It kind of reminds me of the days when our kids were small and we knew they were nestled all snug in their beds on many a cold winter night. Makes you feel warm all over!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the mystique of a winter night deep in the wilderness!

{photo by Richard Webb via Wikimedia Commons}

winter moon

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 27

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            As we have passed the miracle birthday of the Christian world, our northland paradise sees the year winding down with a waning “little spirit” moon. 2013 has seen its triumphs and tragedies but goes into the annals as pretty much like most of those preceding, with aspects of good and bad, happy and sad, depending upon the view of the beholder.
            The Wildersmith two hopes your time together with family and friends over the past few days was full of love and gaiety.
During the past week border country weather has not been frightful. Nevertheless, it has remained cold in our neighborhood, so a fire in the stove has been just delightful. It’s been a December to remember.
Temps have peeked up above the zero mark a few times for a welcome moderation. However, it has not been enough to force the natural Zamboni to curtail the ice making mission.
I’m hearing that the prolonged cold is curing the slushy conditions on many deeply snow-covered lakes. By trout opener in a few short weeks, ice should be great. However, operating on the side of caution is always warranted on any lake ice, at any time!
Up to this scribing time, a few puny snows have enhanced the white winter blanket, but not by much. It has been just enough that yours truly has been back at it, shovel and/or broom in hand nearly every day, whisking away anywhere from a skiff to three or four inches.
As we contemplate peace and serenity this time of year, the territory along 48 degrees north is the ultimate in soul-soothing solitude, quiet as falling snow. Even the winds have shown us mercy for the past several days.
It seems the deer frequenting our yard have a good feel about peaceful conditions too. Lately, a growing number have adopted this spot along the Mile O Pine as one of safe harbor.  This will be the case for the time being, at least until “brother wolf” catches a scent and scatters them like wind-driven snow.
 Under luminance of a great December moon over the breast of new fallen snow, we’ve been able to observe many white tails all snug in their beds just east of the house. Although they probably move about during the long darkness hours, many are found resting in the same spots when morning light dawns a new day.
They then spend much of the daytime lounging and browsing around the neighborhood. This scenario depicts one more charming element of residency in the northern forest.
On a related note, we had good fortune of a few clear nights when our “cold moon” was growing to its full splendor. The regal luster brought to mind the title of an old tune “A Blue Christmas.” However, the song’s lyrics didn’t really fit my thoughts during those viewing moments.
 For us in this part of the universe, a lyrical contrast was played out on these waxing nights as “A Blue Christmas” took on a new, more appropriate, meaning for the season. The brilliance of moonlight over the wilderness landscape was displayed in a panoramic azure elegance! Coupled with a zillion trees casting long eerie shadows, those north woods nights were otherworldly, enchanting!
Now we’re closing the books on the 13th year of the new century and heading toward 2014. The light of the New Year is coming over the eastern hills and ‘round the bend. I hope the coming 365 are as fruitful and rewarding as we can make them! May peace and goodwill toward all men be walked, instead of talked!
Happy New Year!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a happy ending and a new beginning!

{photo by Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons}

winter hunting

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 20

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            Border country has been living up to its true character since our last meeting at WTIP. It’s “Biboon” (winter) for sure in this marvelous unorganized territory. 
We passed the night of the “popping trees, little spirit” moon a few stanzas ago. In a matter of hours, we’re headed to our hemispheres shortest daylight exposure of the year marking tomorrow’s winter solstice. And, with only 10 days remaining, it seems unbelievable 2013 has wound down so quickly.
It’s an understatement if one was to say that it’s not been really cold. Well, just how cold has it been? Although mercury levels can vary much from place to place in these parts, when it’s as cold as it’s been, a few degrees either way makes little difference.
 It has been bone chilling! There’s been none of the minus 40 to 50 which might be ahead in about 30 days. Our current frigid experience has ranged from minus 18 to minus 25 most mornings, with 31 below being the coldest!
I can only speak for the thermometers at Wildersmith which have extended into the second straight week of not rising above zero. Yes, the big freeze-out went into effect during the night of Dec. 5. Since that time the best we have managed for a daytime high temp has been around 4 below. Doing the math, at the time of this scribing, adds to over 11 consecutive days (264 hours and still counting) of nothing but brrrr!
This place is especially not for the faint of heart. If one is of that timid persuasion, then this is why Arizona, Florida and Texas were created! For those of us that do endure and enjoy, it is what it is. You just layer up and get on with the frosty life.
Meanwhile our snow fall occurrences have been minimal compared to earlier in the month. These recent reps have freshened up our already heavy laden branches but not required any serious removal efforts at least in this neighborhood. However, it’s snowing as I finish this week’s news scoop, so scooping perspectives could change.
This splendid time of celebration was kicked off for the Smiths a couple Mondays ago with attendance at the annual Borealis Chorale and Orchestra holiday concert “Tidings of Joy.” Once again it was a classy performance!
 Several of our Gunflint Trail friends and neighbors joined in the cast of nearly 100 from around the county. Congrats and thanks to all for the glorious revue of this special birthday remembrance!
The trip back up the Trail after the concert event found the nearly 10-mile stretch between the south Brule River Bridge and east Bearskin Road to have been a place of conclave for our dwindling moose herd. Although we did not see any of the northern icons, it was heartening to observe there had been so much hoof traffic during this time of moose population instability.
During a subsequent trip to town later in the week, we came upon a cow and her calf trailside in the same area. Further, a friend has shared that she encountered three sets of three moose (yes, that’s nine) on a recent evening trek on the Trail.
It is advisable that any after-dusk travel in this moose zone should be approached with caution. There will no doubt be more of these roadway gatherings for “brine” tasting and we don’t need any moose ending up as vehicle hood ornaments.
It was pretty exciting a few days ago when I looked out and found one of the local bucks had dropped a part of his masculine symbol.  This half rack was barely visible sticking out of the deep snow along a path through the yard. It was conveniently not far from my back door.
The big guy has since come back void of the other side as well. I’m now challenged to do some snowshoe stomping over what must be a hundred different paths in search of the cartilaginous trophy.
A friend down on County Road #20 has discovered the first seasonal renewal of predator/prey drama on the new Gunflint Lake ice. It is intriguing how easily those deer/wolf confrontations play out on the muted winter landscape. This is in contrast with warm weather kills. Knowing that the canid lupis are hungry every day, we seldom hear any recognition of those fast food acts during our season of green.
The holiday season reaches its pinnacle in a few days with the Christian world celebrating the birthday of all birthdays. We at Wildersmith hope that you and yours have peaceful and enriching time together, sharing renewed love that seems often lacking in our busy commerce-driven world.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor this miraculous occasion!

{photo by Forest Wander via Wikimedia Commons}

forest in snowtime

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 13

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            Regardless of how each one of us is taken with desire to be independent of interference in our daily activities, we usually find ourselves considerably dependent upon the conveniences of life and each other regardless of our denial.
 When hands get tied by glitches and bumps in the road, we come to see just how many times we take things for granted, and our dependency on the scientific advances of mankind and fellow human beings sure come oozing to the surface. “People really do need people.”
Such is the case with my non-deliverance of last week’s Gunflint scoop. A virus sickened the Smith computer, and my hands were tied, unable to produce. Thus “Ms. Dependability,” “Nosy Rosey,” the news-snooping pooch from over on Hungry Jack Lake, and her dad, came to my rescue. And, once again, my gratitude is ongoing.
Back in the saddle again, I bring you news of great joy! Folks throughout the territory are happy as frolicking otters due to the atmospheric happenings of this past week.
The upper Gunflint was rocked with a fine snow happening and the first real cold snap of the late fall/early winter. Yes we got white and plenty of it.  Although these parts didn’t receive as much as some areas in the snow belt, ours was real hard-earned crystal. While along the upper elevations of the North Shore, much of that snow was artificial stuff bloomed over the big lake. But I guess snow is snow!
To make sure our pre-holiday flocking isn’t going away any time soon, the great northern express ushered in some Arctic air. The frigid blast has had the Wildersmith thermometer stuck below the zero mark for several days.
One would think residing on the shores of Gunflint, we would’ve had a frozen lake surface days ago with these frigid temps. However, except for the far west end, the relentless wind prevented necessary still waters until this past Saturday night into Sunday morning.
The old gal finally slipped into her seasonal gear with an official “ice on” for 2013, Dec. 8. I’m assuming that both Loon and Saganaga lakes succumbed at about the same time. This date is one of the earlier frozen happenings on Gunflint Lake over the past several years. The earliest freeze up (in data recorded since the early 1980s) for Gunflint is Nov. 26, 1995.
On a related note, the Gunflint Gal no sooner had her winter coat in place than she ripped a deep gash in the new hard water apparel. With a screeching wail, she split about a hundred feet from shore for a long distance in both directions from my Wildersmith venue.  So the times of “talking water” begins, although they may not be in the happiest of tones.
The days of wind prior to Gunflint Lake solidarity enabled Mr. Jack Frost to visit our south shore. From the boiling caldron over near-freezing waters, with brush in hand he sculpted his way into oblivion, leaving delicate cut glass shards on every bit of our wilderness canvas. He has seemed to have outdone his usual Hallmark elegance, but I guess I say that every year at this time.
Not only are Gunflinters overjoyed with our winter beauty, the business of recreating in the snow is hurriedly getting under way.  Groomers of the cross-country ski trail system are hard at work, as are those who maintain the power sledding pathways.
And, with the deep fluff, those who traverse in the snow now have substantial reason to wear snowshoes. Meanwhile fishers of hard waters are anxiously testing the safety of ice depths since heavy snow cover has added some unwanted warming insulation to their support system.
As winter has socked us in, the little critters frequenting our deckside feeding quarters have stepped up their daily stops. Further, it’s a marvel how the larger animal folk (white tail deer) have begun to matriculate back into our neighborhood since the big shooting season ended. It seems most are previous visitors since they seem to know their way around, and the best windows in which to stare back at us.
 I guess the moccasin telegraph humming throughout our woods continues unabated in comparison with the oft-interrupted cyber technologies experienced by us humans. We at Wildersmith seem to have a real “animal magnetism” in regard to providing quality shelter and fast food opportunities.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the romance of our extraordinary wonderland winter!

{photo by Kevin Fillips via Wikimedia Commons}


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 29

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            Northwoods breaking news: We’re into the holiday season! We’d better get ready, because here it comes.  It can’t be stopped, let alone be slowed down!
            Our time in month 11 has rapidly slipped toward oblivion as we gathered for our day of giving thanks. Here’s hoping that your day with family and fixins’ was healthy and happy!
            Those of us residing in the Gunflint wilderness gave thanks yesterday just for the privilege of living in the marvelous northern Riviera. In fact, most of us Gunflinters give thanks every day for the abundance of miracles this natural universe bestows.
            It would seem appropriate to reflect on some of this northern bounty.  Here is a “top 10” list of things that one can hear in upper Gunflint neighborhoods at this time of year. All of which I would consider “manna for the soul, from heaven.”
            Number 10…Red squirrels slamming the lid on their lunch box feeders as they run in
                                   and out hundreds of times a day. 
Number 9…”Chit…chat” of countless chickadees, nuthatches and friends while
                      gathering at the feed tray.
            Number 8…The last lapping of lake rollers dashing our granite shoreline.
            Number 7…Barking of a lonesome red fox on its nightly sojourn through the
            Number 6…Wind howling through the pines as the “great northern express”
                                  barrels across the border.
            Number 5…Early morning roar of the snow plow clearing our pathway to
             Number 4…Thunderous eruptions from the lake as she fits into her frozen winter
            Number 3…The first pop in the forest as freezing tree sap solidifies on a sub-zero
            Number 2…A call of the wild from wolves of the pack.
            And… the Number 1 thing… heard in the Wildersmith neighborhood and
                                throughout Gunflint Territory this time of year…
      Nothing… but silence… and the serenity of a bright starlit frosty night
      with flashes from aurora borealis.
            There are few things in the universe that can compare with the mystique and magic of a day or night during winter in the northern wilderness.
Winter’s horizon is nearing and letting in the cold like an open door. At a time where cold clings to every bit and being, the very word itself is a fact of life that draws mankind close in warming links with our natural world.  We tremble with excitement for adventures of survival ahead!  How favored we are!   Thanks be to creation!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor this great time! Hope to see you out and about shopping in our Arrowhead communities.

{photo from Mike's Birds via Wikimedia Commons}

not frozen yet

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 15

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[click above for audio]

            Whew, two weeks of November are in the books for Gunflint country and all is well. Out here in border country, it’s our quiet time of year. In spite of the peacefulness, we feel momentum building for the holiday season.
            A close look at the calendar finds Thanksgiving Day a mere three and a half weeks from Christmas. Man, talk about all this excitement compressed into such a short span; hectic is an understatement.
Color our world white! Last weekend the area celebrated another snow happening, just on the eve of deer shooting season. This time the forecasters finally got one right.
The white blanket of snow gave us a delightful winter look. So we’re all decked out, and the white flocking covered up our now-departed autumn Technicolor. It sure seems that fall succumbs to its end much easier than summer, which hung on forever.
            Fall fishing has been all but abandoned in favor of lugging a gun through the woods. One local fishing guide, however, was out in his boat a couple days last week.
He was not angling, but carrying a passenger who was doing some government agency mapping project in the upper reaches of Saganaga land and waters.  After just a few hours out in the elements, the guide’s summation was that conditions were way too cold to be out in a boat.
            The “freezing over/full beaver moon” will be at its pinnacle this weekend. With a little luck our almost never ending cloudy skies will split open so that we can observe his luminance.
There is nothing more bedazzling than a full moon over a white blanket. The Wildersmith thermometer registered our first serious cold earlier this week. The mercury was barely on the plus side of zero. In spite of a predicted minor warm-up, I hope that the cold hangs in there so we’ll have snow left on the ground by full lunar time on Sunday morning.
            Congratulations to Chel Anderson on the excellent scribing in the most recent edition of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer (MCV) magazine. Chel, one of our locals and also a WTIP volunteer, is not only a dedicated ecologist and botanist, but a gifted writer. I recommend finding a copy and taking a look at Chel’s perspectives.
            Another item in MCV caught my eye and has special meaning for not only outdoor adventurers, but all people. It is on the inside of the back page, and is entitled, “The Life of a Day.” The passage is written by Tom Hennen.
 This enjoyable piece of prose about says it all, making one step back and assess every day as being pretty important. After reading Mr. Hennen’s essay, my opinion is confirmed that “all days are good, and some are even better.” Good reading, catch it if you can!
Daylight is dimming well before five o’clock now. Each cloudy day is even closer to dark by 3:30 or 4, so doing chores outside has its limits.
The Smiths fortunately have wrapped up all winter preparations. Our last chore was a trip up onto the roof for cleaning out the wood-burning stove chimney.  While aloft on yon shingles I also did a final rain gutter clearing.  And now, our snow shovels are hung by the doors with cheer, in hope that St. Winter will soon be here!
Meanwhile I’m into the woodshop for some sawdust making, and the lady of the house is busy quilting.  It’s wood-burning and soup-making time in the woods! Could life be any better?
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the advancing adventures of our silent season!

Minnesota “chicken bird” (aka grouse)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 8

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The “freezing over” moon illuminates our territory as this Gunflint scoop comes your way. Configured in slipper shape, the “man in the moon” finds our pre-winter theatrics of a week ago having lost some of their grip out this way.
Moisture has been scant as temps have edged above the freezing point during most days following the usual frosty-roof nights. Occasional glimpses of sunshine and light breezes have coupled with the warming to allow the ice cover on some trailside lakes and ponds to step back into liquid form.
As “Tagwaagin” (fall in Ojibwe) creeps toward its midpoint on the calendar, I find the winter welcome wagon crews are out in full force.  Any pathway traveled throughout the area will find flocks of those pert snow buntings exploding from roadside venues to briefly lead one to the next flurry of white-tailed birds, and on and on they go.
Another sign of the times is observed in our Minnesota hares. The north woods bunnies are rapidly slipping into their winter garb. Recently, I’ve witnessed a couple that had already put on their white sox, and the summer camo was almost more salt than pepper. Bet they are hoping for white ground cover more than yours truly.
The frequency of pine marten visits continues to increase around the Wildersmith haven. The other day two were observed chasing each other around the yard. Since they are pretty much solitary mammals, this activity makes me wonder if there wasn’t some late season hormonal action prompting a courtship. This would be unusual since most breeding pursuit happens in mid to late summer.
            Speaking further of area feathered friends, a gal from an undisclosed residence in the upper Gunflint called a while back sharing that she went out on her deck and found 11 of those Minnesota “chicken birds” (aka grouse) pecking around at the base of her steps.  For fear of bringing hunters’ blazing guns down on her place, she asked that I not share her locale.
             I’m betting that this was a late-hatching family that had not flown the coop of mother’s guiding wings. So although the DNR indicates our oft-bewildered, or as local folks would call them, just plain stupid birds are in a down cycle, there are many survivors still hangin’ on.
            As the Smiths were headed in a southerly direction toward town not long ago, we encountered a small flock of big white birds that had apparently the same southern intentions. It turns out that what we observed were snow geese. I have never seen them up the Trail before, but local birderMolly Hoffman confirms that what I saw was what I saw. They can often be seen in this area as they migrate along Superior’s north shore toward the gulf coast.
            This is a perfect time of year to assess what has happened in the forest during the past growing season. Traveling along the upper Trail, one can see that the ravages of a blow down (1999) and three wildfires (’05, ’06 & ’07) are becoming less and less traumatic. The new coniferous growth, now standing alone since the deciduous folk have shed their summer dressing, is teeming with seemingly uncontrolled bounty.
            The “changing forest” has stunning new generation pines growing everywhere. Even the most recent examples of fire-exposed granite are rooting countless thousands of volunteer jack pines.
And where mankind has given Mother Nature a hand, hundreds of thousands of white and red pines are stretching skyward with green energy.
Against the backdrop of evergreen, the golden hue of tamaracks is all that remains of fall’s color show, thus providing more evidence that abundant patches of those delicate treasures have also popped up to take the place of departed old-growth woodland generations.
Obviously, the gal in charge of nurturing these forest gifts has things well on the road to recovery, and it goes to show you can’t keep the good old gal down for long.
Although most of us will not be around to see the forest as it once was, it is so heartening to see this amazing change thriving before our eyes. We are so blessed to be a part of this magnificent transformation. 
At this time of gathering and harvest, our hearts are filled with thankfulness.  We are privileged to watch as tragedy fades and forest life flourishes into treasure once again.
On a final note, the Minnesota firearms deer-hunting season commences this weekend. Thousands of venison seekers will be out and about disguised as trees and brush in pursuit of a prized white-tail buck.  All are urged to use common sense, and be courteous, cautious and safe. Happy hunting!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the bounty of the north woods!

{photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons}


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 1

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            The north land bade month 10 a spooky good bye, and greets November with a new moon while returning to Central Standard Time this weekend.  All are reminded to reset that clock before turning in Saturday night (we’re “falling back” once again).
October was a half and half measure of time in the upper Gunflint territory. The first half refused to accept the idea of a departing summer, tricking us into short sleeve complacency.
Abruptly with week three, summer cashed in its chips, giving way to more typical border country weather. Our second half has seen little sun; clouds galore, snow cover has come and gone, along with damp/raw temperatures that have varied little from nighttime lows to daytime highs.
Some would say it’s been downright gloomy, but that’s to be expected while creeping into November. As we begin layering up to go outside these days, the seasonal transition remains magical with winter anticipation for a lot of us back country folk. That’s why we live here!
Our colder spell has caused smaller bodies of water throughout the area to skim over with the first ice of the season. On our Wildersmith deck, the bird watering shell has frozen a couple times and remained solid for about three days before a peek of sun loosened it up for a brief reprieve. With a confirmation of things to come, the thermometer sank to 10 degrees this past Monday morning in our neighborhood.
In spite of the ground still being relatively warm and unable to hold snow cover for more than a day or two, I’ve found some places where there are a couple inches of frosted terra firma. While attempting a bit of driveway leveling, I found my shovel balked at getting through the thinly frozen layer of my gravel stock pile.  And when the scoop did break through, the clumps unloosened did not break up without some good whacks. So times of winter solidarity gain day by day.
Lake waters are dangerously cold now. A fellow down on the west end of Gunflint tells of his fingertips turning nearly blue/black in a matter of minutes while being submerged as his dock was brought to shore for winter storage.
 With the building of our usual November winds and typical, yet-to-freeze, rough inland seas, I would hope that common sense prevails in regard to taking any kind of watercraft away from shore.  The slate gray liquid is way too frigid for an accidental dip as we head toward “walk on water season.”
 Late fall explorers might as well leave those canoes and kayaks on top of their vehicles and stick to navigating on foot. Also remember that the fashion hue of the month is blaze orange as hundreds of game hunters are out and about.
Honors have come to two of our Gunflint neighbors during the past week. Bruce and Sue Kerfoot, owners of the historic Gunflint Lodge, have recently been inducted into the Minnesota Resort and Camp Ground Association’s Hospitality Hall of Fame.
Congratulations to the Kerfoots on being recognized by their peers for their dedication to the hospitality industry both here in the Gunflint Community and statewide. I feel certain they share this recognition/honor with a great team of supporting employees.
Congratulations are extended to the WTIP family of listeners for their tremendous support in the “All Welcome” fall membership drive that ended this past Monday. Once again you have stepped to the plate and hit a grand slam with your financial commitments.
Over $22,000 pledged speaks volumes to the loyalty and respect that countless listeners have for their community radio station.  WTIP, in 15 years, you’ve come a long way baby!
Thanks to everyone who participated, and although the official drive has ended, it’s never too late to renew a membership or join as a new family member. Call in, click on or stop by!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the howls of November blowing through the pines!

{photo by Kristin Molinaro via Wikimedia Commons}