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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:
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.


Wildersmith June 15

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“June is bustin’ out all over” as the old tune goes. It was never more evident than the past weekend as temperatures soared into the miserable category up the Trail.

In an area that lives more by a thermometer and barometer than a calendar, our mercury spike chased me and the moose into the shade of the balsam forest and cool lake waters. Even those cooler escape places offered little mitigation to the suffering. It’s lemonade, iced tea and cold watermelon time for sure!

It was corn growing weather and this just isn’t acceptable at 48 degrees north. To put it bluntly, that’s how we feel about things here in border country. It’s not cool, unless it’s cool!

Lake water temps are warming rapidly with the mercury at our Wildersmith dock climbing into mid-60s this past weekend. In addition to water warm-up, the Gunflint Lake Gal has experienced a notable two- to three-inch drop from its recent high water point. That’s a lot of outflow and evaporation.

The territory has once again settled into one of those “no rain for days” stretches. I can’t say that we have been totally blanked, but since first of the month, that which has dampened the rain gauge along Gunflint Lake’s south shore is just barely over a quarter inch, pretty skimpy!

A fellow down the road tells of his concern for some nesting loon pairs that he usually observes in his lakeshore neighborhood. He fears that they were apparently flooded out with the recent high water times. Their nesting sites were occupied in the middle part of May, but since our late month deluge, he has seen no activity where previously observed.

I still hear loons calling in both daily twilight times down the lake, so it’s my guess that they will return to nesting territories as the water drops. Knowing that their body chemistry will realign, there will most likely be another attempt at setting up residence for raising a family.

I remember last year when the Chik-Wauk nesting pair lost their first eggs to an eagle. They came back in a short time with hormones in order and experienced a successful hatching during mid-July.

Another avian happening has occurred with the annual disappearance of our hummingbirds. The usual minute-by-minute arrivals and take-offs from our sweet juice port has dwindled to almost none. I suspect that they might be in the nesting mode with little ones to tend.

Travel up the Trail these days will provide a ground level rainbow experience to be sure. Our narrow ribbon of blacktop is lined with wild blooms too many to count. Especially noted are huge patches of lupine with complements from gold and orange hawkweed, buttercups and a myriad other varieties. In a matter of days these will be joined by drifts of daisies.

A special treat would be a trip down Lupine Lane (a/k/a South Gunflint Lake Road/County road #20). The roadside is a maze of purple, blue, lavender, pink and white spires for nearly two miles.

Trail residents and Gunflint Trail Historical Society members are reminded of the third annual fish fry fundraiser this coming Monday, June 18. The Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center grounds will be the site beginning at noon. Free will donations will be accepted to get a taste of the fine shore lunch that will be provided by Gunflint Lodge and hosted by GTHS volunteers. Please plan to bring a lawn chair if possible. Don’t miss it!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some north woods cuisine!

June 15, 2012

Photo courtesy of AnnCam via Flickr.

"...the yard at Wildersmith is alive with the bluest blanket of forget-me-nots that have ever presented themselves..."

Wildersmith June 8

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The faucet has been turned off by Mother Nature for several days. We are drying out along the Trail.

Remnants of the big rains, however, are still being felt as lake levels continue to rise. With inland waterways still gushing lake-ward, beaches have all but disappeared on most bodies, and docks are floating higher than they have in several years.

Docks that are not floaters are either at surface level or have been raised to avoid being repositioned with the action of waves and currents. At Wildersmith, the dock has been escalated twice in little more than a week as the Gunflint Gal continued to climb. I’m in hope that the rising water will stabilize soon.

With Gunflint Lake higher than its been in several years, a neighboring dock that was thought to be secure on shore last fall suddenly was discovered as a moving craft one evening last week. Luckily, yours truly was in the right place at the right time, and with the help of a passing fisherman rescued the Tom Sawyer-like platform before it ended up in the woods several miles down the lake. Perhaps there have been more of these episodes in other locales throughout the territory.

Area weather this first week in June has been extremely pleasant in spite of a few nights that saw patchy frost as May ended. Guess this was just another natural reminder to folks around here that early gardening can be touch and go. I would guess that as we head into week two, gardens will be getting serious about growth.

Speaking of growing things, this is becoming a bloomin’ place. Wild roses have been seen showing their pink faces along area roadsides, and in the shadows of the forest canopy, moccasin flowers are out. On a not-the-most-exciting side of the flowering forest, those beautiful, but somewhat unwelcome non-native lupines are beginning to open their rainbow spires.

Meanwhile, the yard at Wildersmith is alive with the bluest blanket of forget-me-nots that have ever presented themselves. By alive, I mean it is much more than just countless thousands of diminutive azure petals. The blooms are alive with the throngs of buzzing critters. I haven’t waded in there, but I have to assume that they are bees or maybe black flies. Whatever insect, that drone of life is another unique setting of nature singing its song.

Phenologically speaking, the leaf-out is now complete with the first week of June. Our sugar maples along the Mile O Pine are finally unfurled.

An interesting thought comes to mind that in two short months, that foliage will have noticed that daylight minutes are diminishing. Thus their short life will begin to wane as chlorophyll production slows and those magnificent yellow, red and orange pigments take center stage. I wonder, with every summer breeze, if they’re already whispering an autumn tune.

News has come from the gang that gathered to complete final clearing of the Gneiss Lake Trail on the Chik-Wauk site. Their work is done and the Trail is ready for serious hikers. Signage is yet to be installed but I’m told that the path is marked with flagging, and some tree blazing from pre-blowdown days can be found to help guide one’s journey to blueberry hill.

My 9 to 5 day of volunteering at Chik-Wauk Museum last week gave me a chance to observe the ultimate in parental commitment. I watched as momma loon spent the entire eight hours sitting on her eggs with not a moment of relief from her mate. He was not to be seen, apparently off on an extended day of fishing.

One has to be mindful that this probably happens day after day, but one would have thought that the guy might have at least checked in once in a while. She even hooted a couple “eagle overhead” alerts that failed to register a concern.

I felt kind of sorry for the gal, yet admired her dedication to those encased cherubs. Some of us humans could do well to take a lesson in parenthood from the wild neighborhood once in a while.

Lastly, a reminder is extended to Gunflint Trail Historical Society members that the next monthly meeting is coming up this Monday, June 11. The meeting will once again be held at the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center, beginning at 1:30 pm. In addition to being the annual meeting, the agenda will feature a time of remembrance honoring Gunflint Trail friends and neighbors that have passed from our midst in the last year. All are welcome.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the land of sky blue waters!

Airdate: June 8, 2012

Photo courtesy of Michael Grogan via Flickr.

 "The rain gauge at Wildersmith has collected nearly five inches of precip since the skies started opening up some 10 days ago."

Wildersmith June 1

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A soaking of the Gunflint Trail continues as we have wrapped up May. I heard mention of starting to build an ark. Boat building would surely be an appropriate activity when put up against the potential for fighting wildfire that, by the way, seemed to have been going on for an eternity in border country.

The rain gauge at Wildersmith has collected nearly five inches of precip’ since the skies started opening up some 10 days ago. This is just wonderful, as similar amounts have fallen throughout the upper Gunflint watershed.

Lake levels in the territory are coming back up to snuff as rivers and streams are roaring with gushing liquid. On a recent windless morning, I heard the roar of Bridal Falls, which is several miles down the lake, echoing off the Canadian hillside in its cascade toward Gunflint Lake.

A trip toward the end of the Trail finds that waterfalls, usually trickling over the granite above Larch Creek southwest the Seagull Guard Station, are pouring water at a rate not seen in years. The crashing water there and many other places just makes one gush with relief from the long wilderness thirst.

Temperatures, meanwhile, have been seasonally pleasant, cool and just right for the moose and me. With the continuing rain, clouds have allowed only limited glimpses of sunshine over the past seven days.

When Sol has peeked out, however, it’s warmed enough to get those hungry black flies out in swarms. Netting up as I do, they’ve still found a way to get at me a number of times. Thus, I’m inflicted with several unnerving, itchy, swollen wounds.

If this isn’t enough misery, bring on the antihistamines as those stinging skeeters will be getting in line to have the next crack at us. With plenty of pooled breeding grounds being filled to overflowing, the biting forecast looks pretty bleak from now until August. Everyone had better have those window and door screens patched up!

So be it for all those nasties of the woods. It’s time to celebrate the final stanza of spring. Babies of wild neighborhood critters are beginning to feel their way in this new world. And the soon to be “strawberry moon” of June (Ode’imini Giizis) is pointing us toward the summer Solstice.

Time is jetting by as we see the longest segment of daylight on the horizon, and the ensuing trend in another direction. How can that be? Seems like we just flew past the shortest day a few weeks back?

With the passing of Memorial Day weekend most, if not all, seasonal folks have returned to paradise found. Lakeshore docks are jutting out, winter resident rodents are being evicted from cabin walls and all those inadvertent frozen water system leaks are being fixed.

Meanwhile, the green tunnel through the woods is often seen crawling with caravans of vehicles stuffed with gear and topped off with a canoe or pulling some type of boat. Summer is officially declared in spite of what the calendar says. It’s America’s vacation time and the Gunflint is the target for many.

News from the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center is that the loon pair has settled in and is sitting on eggs. With a little good fortune, perhaps we’ll have some more little Petes and “Repeats” like last year.

Viewing through binocs or a high powered camera lens from the museum front porch will afford some extraordinary up-close wildlife opportunities. So come on up, but hush is the word, chicks in the making!

On a final note, many up this way are anxiously waiting for the inaugural run of the Towering Pines Canopy Tour that is under construction on the grounds of Gunflint Lodge. Set to open sometime in early July, the zip line naturalist journey from platform to platform through the trees tops overlooking Gunflint Lake should have the flying critters in the area doing a double take.

Several of we locals are wagering on who will be the first to try it out. I have some ideas but will not divulge my thoughts. However, one thing for sure, it will not be yours truly. I’m as high off the ground as I wish to be, just sitting here at the keyboard.

Keep on hangin’ on (no pun intended), and savor a trip through the forest by any means!

Airdate: June 1, 2012

Photo courtesy of John Lillis via Flickr.

Black Bear

Wildersmith May 25

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 A nice upset of atmospheric conditions occurred last Sunday up and along the Trail. Miracles will never cease, it rained, marvelous rain!

After going two weeks with barely a sip of water for the moisture-starved forest, Mother Nature finally coughed up some critical relief. Timely is an understatement as the territory was on the verge of hosting another flaming tragedy.

The fact remains that although the wilderness gulped up the heavenly droppings like a dry sponge, the inch or so received in most places is only temporary, unless there is continued follow-up. So we residents are keeping our fingers crossed.

With near flaming disasters in recent days near Hovland to the east and Ely to the west, this nervous area, in between, nearly had an event of their own last Saturday. A resident in the area noticed smoke oozing up along North Gunflint Lake Road (County #46).

A quick response from our Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department found a smoldering log that surely could have erupted into something serious if it had been discovered much later. It turns out that human smoking remains were found in close proximity and most likely can be attributed as the cause. Whew, we dodged a bullet; that was a close one!

Prior to the late weekend rains, what a contrast from one day to the next. Saturday last was muggy, hot and windy with temps in the 70 to near 80 degree range at Wildersmith, with windows open wide and fans a-whirling.

Then by late day Sunday, temps were hanging out in the high 30s to low 40s after falling most of the day under gloomy rain-laden skies. Thus, windows closed and sweatshirts back on.

The big 24-hour swing surely had all plant life in the territory basking in the cool shower. I too shared in the glory, as the cold day gave us a reprieve from the black fly onslaught. Surely makes me wonder where those mini-munching monsters go on days like that.

While contemplating the weather contrasts, another divergence comes to mind. In a few short days, the naked character of a winter forest around Wildersmith has suddenly bloomed to summer fullness. The green curtain of our seasonal rebirth has closed us in, shrouding this little place in the woods like a tiny virescent cocoon.

Hummingbirds have made their initial landing at our sweet nectar station this week, although they had been reported in other area locations several days prior to the Wildersmith arrival. Other winged returnees are the loon pair at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Presently they have been just scoping out their ritzy new platform digs and are not yet sitting on eggs.

Speaking of Chik-Wauk, the museum opens for its third season this coming Saturday, May 26 with daily hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The manager and a number of volunteers have been busily putting winter away while cleaning and stocking the facility for summer visitors. Several new items are featured in the gift shop including DVD re-productions of the museum video kiosks featuring Gunflint pioneer characters and Gunflint businesses.

Meanwhile, on nature’s side of the Chik-Wauk facility, a mass of volunteers organized by Kathy Lande, Michael Valentini and Jim Wiinanen gathered this past Thursday to perform more heavy-duty clean-up work on the old Gneiss Lake Trail. Clean-up and marking of the Trail continues in hope of having it ready for some visitor usage during the coming season. Thanks to all who pitched in on this big task!

Bear visits continue, all along the Trail, mostly unwelcomed and uninvited. One night this week found a momma bruin and her cubs paying a visit to the Wildersmith deck.

They didn’t stay long as Momma Smith inside heard their clumsy arrival and quickly dispatched them by lighting up the yard. Since then they have left some of their unsightly calling cards, indicating that they are still hanging about the neighborhood.

Keep on hangin on, and savor a visit into the lush Gunflint!

Airdate: May 25, 2012

Photo courtesy of dalliedee via Flickr.


Wildersmith May 18

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Spring has really sprung in the upper Gunflint territory! Since we last met over the waves of space, many more wilderness characters have popped out.

There are so many shades of green throughout the land that they are countless. A panoramic scan over the rolling granite landscape portrays mosaic tints ranging from pale sage to lime, to moss, to deep-sea aquamarine. They are just spectacular!

Closer up at ground level, we are celebrating more vernal rites. While domestic daffodils have been on the scene for some time, they are now being joined by a number of their wild cousins. The buttery faces of marsh marigolds are lining streams and swampy ditch banks. They are matched by their higher ground golden “dandy” lions and, over the past day or so, the forget-me-nots have once again forgotten us not.

Meanwhile the coniferous partners of the wilderness flora are sprouting buds into candles to become the next generation limbs, and those wondrous tamarack have bloomed their 2012 silky replacement needles in just a few short days.

Things are just a buzzin’ too! The annual fishing opener has brought out the drone of watercraft up and down area lakes with anglers seeking those first walleye sensations.

Added to this human hubbub is the hum of a zillion flying insects. Last weekend saw the area engulfed once more with the beginning of the two-week terrorist training for bitin’ bugs. Yes, the black flies have emerged from whence they come and seem infuriated for no apparent reason. It would seem simple that they might just go on about their blueberry pollinating business and leave us alone, but such is not the case.

The other nippers are here too, also seeming not in the best mood. The sad part of this whole gnawing scenario is that the skeeters will be in our midst for many weeks to come.

There’s no beating them, so it’s cover-up time. Bring on the Deet and netting apparel as we re-examine our torture tolerance level. Yours truly is already in the mood for a good freeze, sorry gardeners!

The reference to blueberries a few sentences back brings to mind that several folks have already been out exploring their favorite picking patches. The early canvas tells of what looks to be another great crop, based on the bloom. All we need is rain at the right time and plenty of sunshine.

It would appear, however, that rain will once again be an issue. The past week has passed with little to no moisture in the upper Gunflint reaches. As would be expected, the area is again in high wildfire danger mode with warm temps, drying winds and no ban on wilderness campfires!

It would be well for all wildfire sprinkler systems to be put into the stand-by mode. Further, running the system to dampen things down every few days would make good sense.

Let’s hope that common sense usage will prevail in regard to visitors needing a campfire when coming into the wilderness, and that lightning is a minimal factor when accompanied by substantial rain.

A few reports of black bruin activity are trickling in, but with no apparent tales of confrontation or amazement. One bruno is said to have learned how to open the topper door on a neighbor’s pick-up truck, climb in for a little grub exploration and vacate with no harm. Now if it could only learn to shut the door behind itself.

There has also been an observation of the first moose calf of the season. This sighting was down in the Greenwood Lake vicinity. Let’s hope this is the first of many!

While the south side of Chicago has its White Sox, the south shore of Gunflint Lake is not to be outdone. We have our own rendition of what I’ll call the Minnesota White Sox.

Those snowshoe hares are now clad in full summer camouflage except for their pure paws. And they are daredevils of the woods, paying almost no attention when crossing vehicular paths, often hopping within inches of becoming rabbit burger.

On a final note, there’s a lot of squawking going on out this way, nothing political mind you. A pair of crows have set up nesting about 10 white pines to the west of Wildersmith.

Their housekeeping chores now seem to include rearing youngsters, as the uproarious clamor is pandemonium pretty much from daybreak to sundown. I’ve even reached a point where I often catch myself yakking back at them. Ohhh, the babbles of new forest arrivals!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the sights and sounds of the season.

Airdate: May 18, 2012

Photo courtesy of Ian Britton via Flickr.