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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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"With the cool, wisps of wood smoke will soon be wafting through the woods foretelling of the magical fall changes in store..."

Wildersmith August 31

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The Gunflint bids farewell to month eight under a full gaze from that “old man in the moon.” The past chapter of 2012 has quickly trudged off into the history book, beginning in a full lunar experience, and taking a curtain call with another gleaming glimpse of “his Fullness.”
A little bit of summer angst surged in the final week of August. The sticky warm-up even prompted a resurgence of some those bitin’ bugs, mosquitoes, yuck!
Enter, and welcome September! The month of the wild rice moon now offers hope for a few frosty mornings in the northland. With the cool, wisps of wood smoke will soon be wafting through the woods foretelling of the magical fall changes in store.
Remembering a favorite saying about this special place is that “it’s only cool, when it’s cool” yours truly is anxious for that first visit from Jack, the man, Frost. Nobody does it better, when it comes to interior decorating of our Gunflint forest.
During the past week, only a smattering of heavenly moisture has fallen in the territory. That which has accumulated in select spots is barely enough to wet one’s whistle.
Around the Wildersmith neighborhood, our rain gauge has caught drops that have been measured only in a few hundredths. So we are kissing August goodbye and offering little remorse for her rapid passing, since she has put us back into that drought mode.
Perhaps with September’s call, rainmaking will be in the cards so that the area can begin soil soaking in advance of winter’s freeze-up. Nature’s flora need wet feet before going dormant to avoid adversity when next spring unfolds.
Another of September’s call comes in the clanging of the school bell. The last hurrah of summer is front and center this weekend with the big Labor Day holiday. Many of the seasonal residents of the area will be calling it a season.
School days will be beckoning this coming Tuesday, for not only our Gunflint kids, but also all of those vacationing folks. So it’s best wishes for the coming year, and hit those books with a vengeance!
We had some rough seas here on Gunflint Lake last Sunday. It was one of those days when common sense would tell you that it’s best to not take chances in a watercraft of any kind.
Yet the wonders of ignorance will never cease as one of those self-appointed experts decided that he could handle anything the old Gal had to offer. While the up lake trip to Bridal Falls with the wind and waves was tolerable, I’m told the return voyage against the bashing torrents turned to be a harrowing experience.
In the end, this terrified family was finally able to pull into shore safety just a couple docks down the line as the bucking waves were beginning to fill the boat. Thank goodness a potential tragedy was averted!
Neighbors helped the frightened family get back to their point of departure. This surely had to be a hard lesson learned by the decision-makers’ risky undertaking. You don’t mess with Mother Nature, or more specifically, with an angry Gunflint Gal. Some folks will just never learn!
Bald Eagle sightings are not unusual here on the Gunflint, but when they happen several days in succession right over the Wildersmith dock, and at a low altitude, there has to be a reason. The sudden appearance of this splendid bird is sure to be caused by the discovery of an animal carcass that probably zigged when it should have zagged. 
This apparent wilderness fast food establishment seems to be drawing raves from many hungry beings of the wild neighborhood. Such enthusiasm is heard through the woods from a collection of raucous avian voices, including this eagle that makes a daily, back and forth flight along the mid-Gunflint Lake shoreline to share in the sustenance.
The Gunflint corridor is so blessed to have such an active and caring group of volunteer protectors; I’m referring of course, to our EMTs and firefighters. The EMTs recently offered both new and refresher training to the public in CPR.
Several folks along the Gunflint have participated and found the time to be well spent. The instruction was most beneficial and professionally taught. I would encourage others in the territory to take advantage of these opportunities whenever they are extended. The training might just save a life!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a September song!

Airdate: August 31, 2012

Photo courtesy of Travis Wiens via Flickr.

"...The foliage of aspen and birch are beginning to favor aurous tones over their virescent tints of the past few months.."

Wildersmith August 24

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Ambiance of adventure in this north woods territory is ever present, but is never more cherished than as we pass from season to season. Such is the case right now while summer fades into its final stanza.
In this resident’s opinion, autumn is gathering momentum earlier than usual. It would appear that the color show will be a few weeks in advance of most.
Flora along the byway is tinged with early crimson, and the foliage of aspen and birch are beginning to favor aurous tones over their virescent tints of the past few months. As a whole, there are an amazing number of golden tones already on stems, and this in advance of uncountable hues of brown that will soon follow summer’s last hurrah.
Mother Nature has provided some splendid weather over the past seven. However, the rain gauge has pretty much been stuck on empty during the same segment.
The area is getting nerve-wrackingly crunchy in regard to ignition potential. Therefore we have hope both for rain and that common sense will prevail with visitors and residents alike, if any type of burning is necessary.
Invasive species are continuing topics of conversation for those of us that really care about out north woods naturals. Everything from flora renegades, to water nemesis, to crawling invertebrates and even a few winged and four-legged critters keep on invading our midst with full intent of taking over our pristine paradise.
Sadly, due to our insatiable human greed, I would have to say, but without absolute scientific proof, that we Homo sapiens are most likely either directly, or indirectly, the cause for a good part of what is happening in our part of the planet. Even sadder is that a good share of our population is unwilling to bite the bullet and change our lifestyle in order that our natural place, as we would have it, might regain and sustain command over these nasty elements.
So much for my soap box prattle, I just fell off. I will tell you, though, that I had an encounter with a north woods invasive just a few days ago. It is the second episode with this species in 2012. My regular followers on WTIP will recall my details of a visiting masked bandit this past spring.
It turns out there are obviously more than one of these critters that have moved in and are now taking up residence in border country. A kin to my spring visitor showed up on the Wildersmith deck one night last week.
Like its cousin, this one too turned out as easy pickins for exclusion from the neighborhood because of a gnawing appetite that included a sweet tooth and not much savvy. Once again a small pig-sized raccoon could not resist the aroma of my enticing PB&J.
As the trap door slammed shut, the unwelcomed varmint’s journey came to an end. Humanely, it was dispatched to those happy hunting grounds out in the forest where it will provide sustenance to native critters that have called this place home for eons.
The mystery remains about how these masked invaders get here. It seems like it would be a long walk from their usual more southerly habitat. Perhaps they hooked a ride with some of that southern state sweet corn that is sold from the back of a pick-up in several north shore locations? Whatever the case, there are now two less of the troublesome bandits hanging around trying to upset the wilderness cycle of life.
What a great day for the Mid-Trail Property Owners Association this past Saturday. Their annual fundraiser, on behalf of the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMT folks, drew what looked to be a record crowd. At day’s end, the event garnered just shy of $10,000.
The winner of the mid-trail quilt raffle drawing was Jo Ann Krause, who just happens to be a mid-trail resident. Congratulations Jo Ann, and a huge thanks to all those who had a hand in organizing this fun and worthy event!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the magic of summer to fall along the Trail!

Airdate: August 24, 2012

Photo courtesy of BruceCyg via Flickr.

Sunset over Gunflint Lake (bdearth/Flickr)

Wildersmith August 17

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The third weekend of August recorded seven days of tranquil weather passing through the upper Trail. There have been no dog days to this point, and us regulars hope that atmospheric things continue with the calm autumnal trend.
Since our last meeting on the radio, most areas in our territory picked up nearly an inch or so of moisture in one overnight setting. However, with this keyboarding exercise, we’ve dried out and are once again beginning to choke in the dust of our backcountry roads.
Area lake temperatures continue the slow downward trickle. A check of the old thermometer at our Wildersmith dock showed the mercury hovering at 68. So dips in the lake are becoming less frequent and are causing more of a gasp when one does such an entry.
My nightly dockside sunset monitoring has been quite frustrating of late. It seems that regardless of how clear the skies have been about an hour before sundown, some early evening clouds gathering over the Gunflint Gal have spoiled those pure Canadian sunsets.
Nonetheless, flooding rays from behind those cloud formations have dished up some exciting neon halos on the puffy perimeters, so all observations have not been a total bust.
With the focus of the past two weeks on the Olympics, a fellow Mile O Pine resident came upon an up-north version of aquatic activity with international flavor while boating down Gunflint Lake. As evening shadows were building, he observed a dark silhouette moving along the surface.  From a distance, he pondered that it was surely to be a loon with chicks on board.
Movement toward the Canadian shore was deliberate and he soon gained on the stroking mystery critter.  It was soon discovered that this was no loon. In fact, this was way too big, maybe a moose?
Proximity was finally accomplished to where he could discern the inexplicable swimmer. Turns out it was a momma bear heading to Canada, and clinging to her back were two cubs. Guess Ms. Bruno was no Michael Phelps but was nevertheless making slow and steady progress through the rolling waters.
Some visitors to the area also shared their observation of another wild aquatic adventure. It seems like everyone, critters included, wants to get into the act following all the blue liquid that’s been spilling out of our TVs lately. In this happening, they not only got to see a treasured Gunflint moose, they saw a pair of them (a bull and a yearling). The monsters of the byway were doing a moose version of the dog paddle across Clearwater Lake. What a vacation memory this stands to be!
The past birthing season for black Teddy’s in these parts must have been quite prolific. It seems that on about every other trip taken in either direction along the Trail I’ve seen a cute cub scampering across my path.
Sure is a shame that the adorable bear tots grow up to sometimes be so annoying and/or disagreeable. Then again, if it weren’t for us humans being around, how could they be called such, or would we even know?
Saturday is the day for which mid-Trail folks have been waiting. Their annual flea market, gift boutique and auction kicks off at 1p.m. This event has been a fun activity along the Trail for many years and also raises funds that help support the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMT crews.
Many wonderful hand-crafted items will be on the auction block, and the final event of the afternoon will see the winning ticket drawn for that always unique, Mid-Trail quilters’ labor of love!
All of the activity will be held at Fire Hall #1, mid-Trail. Plan to make an afternoon of it while taking an always lovely, late summer venture up the Trail to join in the fun!
On a final note, the pie and ice cream social held at Chik-Wauk museum and Nature Center last weekend was a huge success. A north woods spectacular day saw over 200 luscious pieces of pie served. Thanks go out to the organizers, volunteer set-up folks, servers, pastry specialists and of course the attendees.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the waning days of the season!

Airdate: August 17, 2012

"More etchings of autumnal splendor are beginning to appear in the woods..." (Topyti/Flickr)

Wildersmith August 10

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With each passing day, signs of fall continue creeping into the north woods. Most notable since we last met on the radio was the coolness of last weekend. Fact is that last Sunday morning really gave notice of things coming down the pike when the temp dipped in to the mid-40s at Wildersmith. It was actually sweatshirt time, quite September-like, and pretty much stayed that way most of the day in spite of a bright Sol and azure skies.
More etchings of autumnal splendor are beginning to appear in the woods as a few moose maples are starting to curtail chlorophyll production, giving way to early stages of red/orange pigments. Meanwhile a flurry of tansy gold has exploded along area roadsides, and the black-eyed Susans are beaming like Hollywood starlets. Not to be forgotten, a couple juvenile sugar maples on the Mile O Pine have also detected the number of daylight minutes diminishing with daily regularity. They too have a tinge of scarlet haloing their leaf edges.
The first full week of August has seen the upper Trail dry out.  Precipitation in the meager amount of only four-tenths of an inch is all that has fallen since that end of July drenching.
All days are beautiful up the Trail and some are even better, but we residents sure do have an appreciation for regular rain… so it’s hoped that we don’t get caught in another one of those arid ruts that are plaguing many other parts of the country.  Thus far Mother Nature has been pretty darned good to us this summer.
With the usual seasonal happenings moved up about four to six weeks so far in 2012, one has to wonder if the next atmospheric segment might be coming in advance too. In addition to the early fall character mentioned both here and last week, it seems that the lake water at our dock on Gunflint is following suit.
Whereas the underwater mercury reading had declined to the low 70s last week, a check at keyboarding time of this scoop showed a drop to 70. This may only be temporary should we get another warm spell but, if not, this early change could be a significant hint that our Gunflint white time might come to stay in October as opposed to the usual November.
Tokens of prediction might also be coming from a few of the critters around here. The hummingbird activity has stepped up considerably at our sweet juice station. In the past week, the hubbub of take-offs and departures is suggesting that the mini birds might be tanking up in advance of an early departure.
Further, any number of the squirrels and chipmunks in the neighborhood are no longer engaging themselves in just hanging out and gorging themselves at our feeders. They are now busy in the pickup, transport and winter storage mode.
One of the real blessings for this time of the year is that the airborne fleets of stingers have backed off, at least in this area. For whatever reason, this reprieve from mosquito attacks is marked and welcomed.
I did, however, find that not all the bitin’ buzzers have tamed down. While I was doing a bit of tree removal recently, a swarm of (I guess honey) bees let me know that I was not welcome in their domain. Thank goodness I do not react adversely as some folks do, because several nips only served to make me realize that I’d better pursue another locale.
A few reminders of people happenings are now in order. The Pie & Ice Cream Social at Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center is Saturday, the 11th. Serving begins at 11 a.m. and runs ‘til 4 p.m. Come and enjoy the fruits of the forest!
The next weekend is the big Mid-Trail flea market, gift boutique and fundraiser auction, all at Fire Hall Number One along the Trail. Activity runs from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 18. Don’t miss this fun!
And, in closing, don’t forget the regular membership meeting of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society, this coming Monday, Aug. 13. The gathering will again be held at the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center beginning at 1:30 p.m. The program feature will be “Growing Up on the Gunflint” as three local gals who spent their summer childhood years along Gunflint Lake share some of their experiences. Treats will be served!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor an August offering on the Gunflint!

Airdate: August 10, 2012

Wild Rose Hips

Wildersmith August 3

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“Neebing” has moved into August, and before the northland can even blink its eyes, the full blueberry moon has come and gone. Yep, a couple nights ago the big cheese in the heavens glistened down on the land of midnight blue waters.

If you missed this one, though, we’ll have another before Augustus will bade us farewell. I don’t know what the Ojibwe call it, but this a month of the blue moon.

A review of the week’s weather has seen a goodly amount of rain in the Wildersmith neighborhood, and some typical summer temps, not too hot and not too cold. The rain gauge readings in my yard totaled just about four and one-half inches with one effort yielding a wonderful two during one overnight drenching.

This rain has held the Gunflint Lake level summer decline in check for the time being. It had been dropping off about three-quarters of an inch per day in spite of the off and on rains that have happened in the past six weeks.

The rain has also cooled the water temperature slightly. At our dockside, a week ago, it was 78 degrees, and since, has dropped off to the low- to mid-70s in concert with some cooler night air.

Our new month has me thinking of autumn. The dogbane along area roadsides has already taken on a 24-carat hue. I see wild rose hips having emerged into their brilliant scarlet tone, and there’s a strange early color transition in the tamaracks up on the Chik-Wauk site.

It’s also harvest time in a big way all over the territory. Take your pick from blueberries, serviceberries or the reds of raspberry and thimbleberries. It looks to me like there’s going to be a lot of potential for pie makin’ and jam/jelly preserving.

Another moment of time in the forest has shown me a number of those wooly caterpillars. All observed to date are nearly coal black with little to no brown.

I don’t know if there is any significance to this coloring issue. I remember someone once mentioning that the darker the woolies, the harsher will be the coming winter. So much for that old wives tale, but if there is really something to it, bring it on and let’s see!

Several critter reports have come my way during the past week. A gal down the road tells of having a quartet of pileated woodpeckers land in her yard. They came in single file formation and touched down in the same manner. They hung out for a while, then departed one right after the other. I have never seen four in one group at the same time. Perhaps it was parents and kids on an educational outing.

Same lady also tells of having a loon pair cruise into and around her little bay on Gunflint recently. This is not too unusual, but the fact that momma loon had three chicks crawl onto her back via an extended wing seems rare to me. I have never seen a loon pair with more than twins.

Up the animal ladder another rung or two, I have two reports of a large Canada lynx sighting. The bigger-than-usual cat was first observed in the middle of South Gunflint Lake road by a bicyclist. More recently, it came into and hung out in a resident’s yard along the Mile O Pine, providing a number of photo ops.

If this fat cat is as large as reported, it’s no wonder that I’ve been noticing a scarcity of snowshoe hares lately. From a nutrition standpoint, this wild feline probably thinks it’s died and gone to heaven, because we’ve been seeing an increasing number of the long ears for the past couple years.

Getting back to thinking of pies, residents and visitors alike should mark their calendars for the third annual pie and ice cream feast sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. The sweet treat event will be held Saturday, Aug. 11 on the grounds at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Donations from the fundraising effort will go to the Museum to assist with continuing program development.

A trip up the Trail will be well worth the time to get a sampling of the great pastry skills of resident bakers. Think of that, pies from the fruits of the forest served out in the forest, it can’t get any better!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the sweetness of the woods!

Airdate: August 3, 2012

Photo courtesy of Jerry Kirkhart via Flickr.

Canoe Lineup, Gunflint Canoe Races 2012

Wildersmith July 27

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One can hardly believe that by the next time we meet on the radio, July will have been chalked up to the record books. 2012 is flying by out of control everywhere, including here along the Gunflint Trail.

The brunt of the vacation season is upon us up and down the Trail. While the warmth of the summer has a few of us somewhat grouchy, our weather has been a welcome relief for everyone coming into the territory from all places south.

Mother Nature has been yo-yoing around in the past seven days. A couple segments have been downright outstanding for July, but the rest have been a no-fun example of heat and humidity.

Further, she gave us another dose of that “not much rain for now” (about a half inch total for the past week here at Wildersmith). This precipitation neglect has made stepping through the woods on the crispy side.

To make things worse, due to a few spotty summer storms that have cropped up, lightning has set off several fire episodes, creating some smoky conditions here in the upper Trail reaches.

Last Saturday morning folks along Gunflint Lake awoke to smoky smells and skies. We were finally brought up to speed that there was fire in Manitoba as well as a few lightning-ignited spots around Ely and near the Pagami Creek inferno of last summer.

Winds eventually swept the unwelcome memories of fire away, and we breathed a sigh of relief. Yet we know all too well that we’re never completely out of danger as long as there are people, lightning and tinder dry elements that can combine to change things in a hurry. Thanks again to the firefighting folks who jumped on these hot spots before they could become a major problem!

We all must be extremely careful since there seems to be an unwillingness to invoke burning bans. So much for all the science on the issue of fire danger; it’s d-r-y, dry out here.

The annual Gunflint Trail canoe races are history for 2012. Huge thanks go out to the Jamiesons (Margit & Jim) and nearly 100 or so volunteers that worked to make it happen. A final tally of the resources raised for the Trail Fire and Rescue Departments showed that their coffers were increased by approximately $14,500.

In so doing the Gunflint community had a swell evening of fun on an absolutely splendid northwoods evening. The grand prize drawing found Karen Reilly of Rochester, Minn., taking home the Spirit II Wenonah Canoe.

I recently heard of a security breach at a residence up near the end of the trail. It turns out that there was some peculiar breaking and entering. The residents came home to find screens damaged on their porch and that someone had done some rummaging around in the enclosure, but nothing seemed to be missing.

Screens were patched, but no sooner was this done than a second illegal entry happened, and this time the culprits were caught. A surveillance set-up eventually found the intruders to be hungry flying squirrels that gnawed their way inside.

The curious nocturnal beings were easily deterred after determining who they were by simply closing the windows, although I’m sure that with this steamy weather, it has not been the most comfortable solution.

Meanwhile, I had a similar experience when a chipmunk came into my wood shop through an open door and apparently did not get out before the opening closed. I came in a day or so later to find that the panicked mini-rodent had scampered in a hundred different directions knocking items off windowsills and walls, generally kind of ransacking the place, while seeking an escape route.

I never did find it in the facility and never observed the critter departing as I made my first re-entry. After a few days, though, the old whiff, whiff method led me to its final demise. I’m surely the one to blame on this one!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor a cool cruise on a lake in Gunflint territory!

Airdate: July 27, 2012

Fireweed is already in bloom this summer...

Wildersmith July 20

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Mother Nature turned on those of us residing up the Gunflint this past week. After affording us some swell weather in the week prior, she slipped in some of that hot and sultry stuff, and had most of us whining with a wish for December-like relief.

The humid conditions have since sent a good number of folks to the water, which by the way is also warming more than we would like. Here at Wildersmith the dockside lake temperature stands in the mid-70s, and that is what it should be a month from now. If the warm water spiking continues, we’ll be having some natural “fish boils” in August.

It’s a definite fact that the summer season is advancing much faster than normal (whatever that means). Late summer flowers are already in bloom and we’ve not even reached the mid-point of “Neebing” dog days. Fireweed, goldenrod, black-eyed Susans and a few asters are heading the list of early roadside floral arranging. Could it be that we might just evolve into an early fall? Sure hope so, maybe even a long winter!

Our neighborhood was leaning toward that dry-as-a-wilderness-bone scenario over the better part of a week until late last Saturday afternoon, when a sudden thunder boomer drenched the Wildersmith neighborhood with slightly over two inches.

The moisture appeared to be very spotty though, as I’m told that the end and middle of the corridor got little to nothing. So while this little bit of paradise is sticky as an equatorial jungle, other parts of the territory remain parched and are getting worse with the blistering sun’s continued assault.

Folks are advised once more to be running those wildfire sprinkler systems to keep things damp around their places, and to be assured that all systems are in working order. Further, caution cannot be emphasized enough with regard to any kind of burning, even though things appear lush green.

On a lighter note, I decided long ago that it is simpler to join in support of the squirrel brigade rather than fight them. I have thus installed some feeding structures called “squirrel lunch boxes.”

The units are mini-sheds that have a hinged roof. It doesn’t take long for most of the red rodents to process lifting the roof lid and then crawling inside for their ration of seeds.

Since the berries have come on in the past week or two I don’t feel so much at risk in having them out there as a potential draw for bears. I do, however, take them in at night.

Oftentimes I have opened the lid to refill and found one of the little ones staring me in the face. Usually we are both startled and while I jump back, the squirrel scampers away.

The other day though, I popped that lid and there was one of my little friends. Guess I should have knocked first. This time it just looked at me, gave me a good scolding and went right back to rummaging through the shells for another bite.

Slightly taken back by this rude welcome, I closed the lid and went on to filling the next unit. A moment later the hungry animal was out and highly interested in the newly-cached feeder, not one bit embarrassed or apologetic for the way it had treated me. Guess I’m lucky that it didn’t choose to bite the hand that feeds. Life goes on for me and my wilderness pals!

It seems that the mosquito assault has subsided to sporadic rather than continued fits of rage. This too might be telling in regard to some unusual climatic shifting, in parallel with the other phrenology occurrences that we’ve been observing. We can only hope that this is not a respite to allow for the birth of the umpteenth generation of the bitin’ buzzers.

Folks who could not make the July Trail Historical Society meeting this past week missed a great program. Jim Wiinanen, who has long ties with the Wilderness Canoe Base near the end of the Trail, presented an energetic talk about his experiences on the Gneiss Lake Hiking Trail, before it succumbed to the 1999 blowdown and the subsequent Ham Lake Fire.

Jim, in concert with several other key people, was instrumental in helping to get the Gneiss Lake Trail spur cleared and re-opened to Blueberry Hill this past spring. The new addition to the trail system around the Chik-Wauk grounds is receiving rave reviews.

In a final note, referencing Blueberry Hill, the heavenly blue morsels are on all over the territory. Get out and get them!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor this land of lily pads and loons!

Airdate: July 20, 2012

Photo courtesy of Bruce McKay via Flickr.

A thermometer that measures the heat index (Karen Montgomery/Flickr)

Wildersmith July 6

A week of month seven has slipped by along the Trail. As June passed on, our area had some sparkling cool days as the rest of the nation was sweltering with the National Weather Service sensationalism called heat index (kind of like that wind chill thing in the winter). When I was a kid, we knew when it was hot, now the masses can’t figure those things out for themselves and have to be told when heated conditions warrant caution.

In the meantime, July 1 came and the heat began to build up this way too. Not as bad as it might have been (it wasn’t exactly firecracker hot), but nevertheless too warm for those who that think it’s only cool if it’s cool!

Our lake water temperatures have taken a sudden spike too. Here on the Gunflint, water at our Wildersmith dock is right at the 70-degree mark, which is rather warm for this early in “Neebing” (Ojibwe for summer). I don’t know what this might be doing to the fishing fortunes, but it’s a good bet that those lake trout are headin’ for the deep cold depths.

Speaking of fishing luck, yours truly caught a nice “smallie” off the dock the other day while dangling an unbaited hook in the water. I was digging in the worm box trying to pick out the best specimen when the strike occurred. The rest of that angling segment went for naught with bait on the hook.

Another smallmouth story comes from a fellow down the lake who has this “big mamma” hanging out under his dock. The fish is apparently quite protective of its domain and was seen recently in one of those great “gotcha” episodes.

Guess a duck swam over the fish’s realm and in a flash the “finny” darted up and took a swipe at the bird’s paddling tail end. Surprise, surprise, with a big quacking commotion, the duck sputtered and splashed into taxi mode and lit off down the lake. I wonder what was going on in its mind after regaining composure.

Excitement reigned at Gunflint Lodge last Sunday as the much awaited Towering Pines Canopy Tour commenced with its inaugural “zip” for the public. I’m told that those first day customers were raving about the thrilling trip above and through the forest. I’m still thinking I’d rather be watching, but we’ll see!

Those long eared critters that are so into multiplication are just everywhere along the south shore of Gunflint Lake. In my 13 years here, I have never seen one around the yard, exception being occasional tracks in the winter. Now they are coming through the place on a daily basis and have been seen in many other spots up and down the road. Guess their reproductive qualities are working well. I’ve got to believe that their presence will eventually bring some fox and lynx adventures to the neighborhood.

While the Minnesota DNR indicates that the grouse drumming count is down considerably in this part of the state, I’m still seeing plenty of the “chicken birds” in select locales. Guess I must be happening in the right place at the right time.

It’s also the right time for WTIP listeners and website users to reinforce your commitment to this great community treasure. We are only a day or two into this summer fundraising endeavor, “North Shore Sights and Sounds.” Please step to the plate and dish up whatever support you can muster. Let’s hit a big home run for our Community Radio family! Donate now at 387-1070, 800-473-9847 or click and pledge at

On a final note, the July meeting of Gunflint Trail’s Historical Society will be held this coming Monday, the ninth. The gathering will commence once again at 1:30 pm in the Conference Center at Gunflint Lodge. Parking is requested behind the facility and treats will be served. Be there or be square!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor our wilderness blessing!

Airdate: July 6, 2012

Canoe on Gunflint Lake (Maury Landsman/Flickr)

Wildersmith June 29

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As the chapter on June is closing, we saw Mother Nature do a little muscle flexing during the past week. However, her wrath was not as powerful up here on the Gunflint as it was in places not far to our south.

Nevertheless, the upper Trail received another good soaking from the mid-week torrents. At Wildersmith, the rain gauge gathered another 2 1/2 inches while other localized amounts were up to 4 inches. This is just what the doctor ordered for an area that has been deprived of any substantial precipitation for the better part of several years.

The abundant moisture has come at a cost to some, as stationary lakeshore docks are either under water or are already being elevated for a second or third repetition. Having a floater is quite advantageous for times like this.

The lake level on the Gunflint Gal has nearly crept back to its high water mark of the season thus far, and is still rising at this keyboarding. Our highest mark was recorded the latter week of May during that 5-inch slammer.

While taking my stint as a volunteer at the Chik-Wauk Museum last week, I found that the water level on Big Saganaga was continuing its rise as well. In fact, with water edging into the bay parking area, it’s the highest since our Museum/Nature Center project started back in 2005.

As the rainfall subsided by weeks end, the weather conditions have been a north woods spectacular! Crystal blue lake waters are matching the heavens above, temperatures have been just right and light breezes at different times from all points on the compass have made for extraordinary comfort levels. Let’s hope that we are in for more of the same, a balance of sunshine along with an occasional accent of moisture would be fine heading us toward fall.

With the solstice of summer passing so quietly, it seems difficult realizing that by our next meeting on the radio waves, we will have celebrated another National Birthday. Half of 2012 is into the books and the full “buck/ half-way” moon (Aabito-Niibino Giizis) will have reached its fullness.

Also hard to imagine is that our lupines are going to seed in many places, wild roses are processing blooms into hips, windrows of daisies are beginning to line our roadsides and mountain ash tree berries have taken on that scarlet hue.

So as the sun begins its slow ebb back to the south, even here in the woods, where time often seems to stand silently by, days are now a rush, blending into a blur. The time to cherish forest life at the pinnacle cannot be wasted. The year 2012 is passing through a mid-life microcosm and we’d better pay attention, for it soon will be gone!

Time’s not being wasted here on the Trail, as our energetic Gunflint community continues preparation for the canoe races. We are one week closer to the decades-old fundraising event on behalf of our Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department. The July 18 date is looming just 2 1/2 weeks away.

The event’s namesake grand prize, a Wenonah Canoe, is on display at Trail Center. Volunteers will be selling raffle and canoe ticket chances for anyone and everyone this weekend and each succeeding weekend until the big day.

Two other summer events have come and gone along the Trail. The third annual Gunflint Trail Historical Society Fish Fry at Chik-Wauk, and the 14th annual North Shore Health Care Foundation Barbeque at Gunflint Lodge were wonderful endeavors on spectacular bright days. Both fundraisers served up some scrumptious cuisine. Thanks to all who made the gatherings special for some happy attendees!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor nature’s rainbow of color along the Gunflint!

Airdate: June 29, 2012

"The second half of June has gotten off to a glorious wet start..."

Wildersmith June 22

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The second half of June has gotten off to a glorious wet start. The upper Trail saw choking dust turn to mud with a fine drop from the heavens last Saturday night. The rain gauge at Wildersmith filled to 1 1/3 inches.

This certainly takes the edge off what was becoming a touch-and-go potential for wildfire. Both residents and businesses are thankful that we hit the jackpot on one of those so often missed 20-percent prognostications.

We are also grateful for the moisture knowing that so many of our firefighting servants are far away doing battle with savage fires in other states. We Gunflint residents know firsthand the peril that those residents and firefighters are experiencing right now. They have our sympathy!

The spirit of Chik-Wauk is happy to announce that there is a new arrival. Yes, a hatching announcement proclaims some cracking good news.

Our Sag Bay resident loons have become parents! The big days were June 15 and 16, and those proud parents took little time in getting out and about to show off the new twins.

Snippets have come in on a couple atypical wilderness critter happenings. It seems that we have some real gourmets in our wild neighborhood.

A gal down the road tells about an eagle visit to her yard where it picked up barbequed rib bones that I suppose were intended for the neighborhood fox. This unusual fare would seem quite subdued compared to most carrion we see them feasting upon. I wonder if the sauce caused any indigestion.

In another incident, a report is shared in regard to a pine marten that found epicurean delight in ham bones and scraps left over from a pot of savory bean soup. Meanwhile, in a less surprising episode, a bruno cub showed up at Wildersmith one afternoon with an apparent growling tummy. It promptly interrupted a squirrel picnic at their seed tray (squirrels have to eat too), causing a rowdy ruckus throughout the yard.

With little fanfare, I casually dispatched the cuddly cub with a couple of shots from my blank pistol, sending it scrambling off into the forest. The tiny red rodents returned to their nibbling in no time at all. Thankfully, neither the mini-bear, nor any of his larger kin, have shown since.

Speaking of nibbling and gnawing, the insect onslaught continues. Although black flies have calmed somewhat, the mosquitoes seem enraged, and on some occasions, distant biting cousins, those no-see-ums, are making life miserable for the unprotected. I know official summer is but hours old, but oh for some frost!

On a more comforting note, this time from inside the window screens, I recently experienced a cool, wonderfully peaceful moment in the morning twilight, just before Sol’s initial piercing rays.

Picture this: A mirror-smooth Gunflint Lake surface, with neither a whisper of air, nor a stir amongst the flora, from treetop to forest floor. Then sunrise’s first warming light broke through the greenery.

The glowing beam of warmth first generated one rippling moose maple leaf and then a blade of grass wiggled near by. Next came a shimmering reflection of movement in the fiber optic of a spider’s doing and with that, there was a waggle from a white cedar frond.

Not to be outdone, a second, third and suddenly a zillion streams of sunshine burst through the woods. All things started warming, including the air, which subtlety began to waft over border country.

Growing each moment, with upward movement of the mercury, currents started rippling the once placid waters. Whispers increased into a breeze and glistening ripples ebbed into more raucous surges, setting the stage for all things in our land of sky blue waters.

The Gunflint territory was awake for another day. In an ever so brief space of time, everything on this green earth was alive, suddenly dancing to the tune of a new day. Being at that tender moment in time, when this grand saga of the ages ticked off on another day in history, was a spectacle to behold.

Getting back to another great Trail happening, our annual canoe race festival is nearing. July 18 is the big day and planning is in full gear. Upwards of 90 volunteers are needed ,so be prepared to get involved once again.

Raising funds for the continued growth of the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire and EMT crews is vitally important, so don’t be bashful about lending a hand. If you haven’t been contacted about a job for this year, contact Jim or Margit Jamieson at 388-4434.

Mark your calendar and plan to be there for all the food and fun! Tickets for the canoe drawing and raffle prizes are on sale now at several Trail locations.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor the Gunflint experience!

Airdate: June 22, 2012

Photo courtesy of sOlitude via Flickr.