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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:

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.

"Checking a couple examples along the Mile O Pine, I find that the new bud growth appears to be green and OK..."

Wildersmith May 11

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The north woods have been quite gloomy most days since May took over. With only a few peeks of sun for the first 11 upper Gunflint Trail conditions have been almost cold at times, though not too unusual. It would seem that we have finally returned to a more normal atmospheric setting.

It is still hard to imagine that for most years, the ice would have just gone out in these parts. We are now going on over six weeks since the hard water departure from the Gunflint Gal.

The overcast has helped provide a brief respite from fire danger. Although moisture droppings have not been overwhelming, the off and on showers have accumulated to about an inch at Wildersmith. A combination of gray skies, wet offerings and cool temps has kept the territory delightfully damp.

Unfortunately, the obscure sky caused our northland to miss out on the viewing of the “super” full flower moon last weekend. Since this was the closest the old lunar fellow has been, and will be for awhile, it is too bad, as the full rounds over our northern paradise are always extraordinary. This one was sure to be stupendous, but it was what it was!

That hot spell of month three has a lot of folks just sick in regard to what’s going on with a couple coniferous species on both private lands as well as many spots in the Superior National Forest along the Trail. A large number of spruce and fir trees took a real hit with the extreme warmth of March and then the sudden near zero temps during early April.

The sudden contrast has shocked huge numbers of needle bearers with an apparent kill of their needles. They range from a progressing yellowish tinge to completely brown. A forest service expert confirms that this is winter kill that can often happen. However, I’m sure that this area perhaps has not seen it to this extent before.

It will be of interest to see if this leads to a permanent killing of the entire tree, or just a setback from which recovery is possible. Checking a couple examples along the Mile O Pine, I find that the new bud growth appears to be green and OK, but I’m no tree expert. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. One thing for sure, a large number of these trees are going to look pretty naked for some time if survival is in fact in the offing.

On the subject of trees, the fifth annual Gunflint Green-up came off with a fine turnout of enthusiastic outdoor lovers. Seventy-five planters took to the forest around the Chik-Wauk Museum site and put another 3,000 trees into the ground. Clearing was also done in some areas of previous years’ planting efforts.

This years happening brings the total to just fewer than 115,000 trees since the first Green-up in 2008. A hats off is extended to the fine organization and leadership offered by Gunflint Lodge and experts from the U.S. Forest Service.

In concert with the effort, a crew also did some planting along the old Gneiss Lake Trail. This is another step in the partial re-opening of the trail that was de-listed after the 1999 blow down. Work is progressing to clear the Trail as far as the scenic Blueberry hill, about a mile into the forest.

The US Forest Service has entrusted the clean-up and subsequent Trail maintenance to the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. When the clearing project is completed, a formal announcement will be made when it is open for hiker use. In the meantime, visitors are asked to not attempt a hiking journey just yet.

The second day of last weekend’s area events saw a record number of participants in the annual Ham Lake half marathon and 5K runs. Two hundred fifteen folks of all ages, shapes and sizes hit the Trail from either Seagull Fishing Camp on the 5K or from Gunflint Pines Resort for the half marathon.

Winners in the 5K were Jerry Erickson of Duluth in the men’s race and Michelle Aysta from Hermantown in the women’s race. In the half marathon, Jay Arrowsmith-Decoux of Grand Marais was first in the men’s section while Ashley Lykins of Duluth led the women’s finishers. Congratulations to all the participants for making it a great day!

Typically very well organized, the event was another great Gunflint community effort! Thanks go out to all who pitched in to make it happen!

In closing, the Gunflint community is reminded that the first Gunflint Trail Historical Society meeting of the season will be held this coming Monday, May 14. All GTHS members, as well as wannabes, are invited to gather at the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center at 1:30pm. Treats will be served!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor a happy fishing opener, and Mother’s Day weekend!

Airdate: May 11, 2012

Photo courtesy of Arthur Chapman via Flickr.

"As we enter the month for blooming flowers and such, feelers for rain are still being extended to Mother Nature..."

Wildersmith May 4

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It’s great to be back in the woods after a run southward to visit friends and family. The trip also included another stint as an official at America’s Athletic Classic, the Drake Relays.

Sure is amazing that as warm as the Midwest has been during the past few months, the three days of that track and field extravaganza in Des Moines found conditions to be quite up-north-like during late April. Cloudiness, cold temps and threatening skies were a cause for considerable whining, but for yours truly and my dear wife, we felt pretty much like we were right at home by the lake.

A check of the rain gauge upon my return found that nothing much has changed during our absence, still dry as a bone in border country (only four one-hundredths of moisture for the past seven at Wildersmith).

So as we enter the month for blooming flowers and such, feelers for rain are still being extended to Mother Nature. Further, I was surprised to find some splotches of white remaining in the ditches along the Trail, and a mini-glacier still tucked back in the woods on the Mile O Pine. So temps have remained on the cold side as well.

As April ended, following the warm temptations of March, leaf-out in the area continues to have stalled. Thus, phenology for this part of the universe remains logical, that all growing things will happen only when the DNA of these worldly beings says it’s OK.

Among those many creatures of the woods are black fly terrorists that have been held at bay (thanks goodness) with a cool month four. I suppose that if we are going to have May flowers and green leaves, those bitin’ buddies are sure to be just around the corner, so I’m bracing for the coming onslaught.

The trip homeward along the beautiful Gunflint Trail last Sunday evening was enhanced with another rite of spring. Our first black bruin of the season was observed. It was a big old Teddy that meandered across the black top near county road 92.

We were immediately welcomed home by a bunch of hungry neighborhood squirrels, an equally voracious pine marten and a hammering pileated woodpecker. Based on their habitual rapid appearance upon our returns, I’ve got to think that any number of wild neighborhood critters have become accustomed to the sound of our vehicle coming down the driveway or to the sounds of an opening garage door. It’s so nice to be wanted!

The fifth annual Ham Lake half marathon, 5K and runts run kicks off the first of many warm season events along the Trail on Sunday the sixth.

This is a growing event marking the five-year anniversary of that tragic wildfire event in 2007, which scarred 75,000 wilderness acres and affected the lives of numerous upper Trail residents. Several events are scheduled in concert with the running feature. Check for more details and get out in support of the runners.

Complementing the run, another Gunflint Green-up is also happening, Saturday, May 5. This event is under the leadership of the Gunflint Lodge folks and focuses on planting more trees in the burned out area near Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center, plus the release of trees planted in previous Green-up endeavors. It’s not too late to get involved, but hurry, time’s a wasting! Check the Gunflint Green-up website,, or call Gunflint Lodge 218-388-2294 for last minute details, all hands are welcome!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor an adventure in the wilderness!

Airdate: May 4 2012

Photo by: Stephan Hoglund

"Yes, loons have come back to Gunflint Lake during the past week..."

Wildersmith April 27

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The universe, north woods included, is about to bid farewell to month four and ascend into segment five of the year 2012. By our next meeting on the radio/website, border country will be well into May, and about to celebrate the full “budding flowers moon,” (Zaagibagaa Giizis) on day six.

My how April flew by! Everything transitional in the northern outdoors has retreated somewhat, now proceeding more or less normally, following the warmest March in memory. The walleye spawn has slowed and deciduous buds have gone into a holding pattern.

With samples of winter raising its ire as we journeyed through the past 30 days, we forest dwellers got a little bit of everything Mother Nature has to offer. It’s time to settle things down from that up and down passage into a real spring.

With shoots of green reappearing through the dwindling snow, this is a time for the reality of rebirth to get going in earnest. Mallards are hatching and next generations of foxes, wolves, otters and many other wild creatures have been coming into the world. Meanwhile, spiders, caterpillars, beetles and a million other crawling creatures are popping out just in time for the return of hungry avians. I even observed a beetle-like critter crawling over the new snow.

I’m told that the first wood ticks are out and about, although none have found yours truly during early outdoor chores. Beyond those nasty pests, a more pleasant announcement signals the true vernal return, the birds of Minnesota have landed. Yes, loons have come back to Gunflint Lake during the past week. I’ve heard that some were back to other area lakes the week prior, but regardless of the timing, it’s great to hear those sweet northwoods calls.

As the last snow moved on, leaving a smooth forest blanket, we at Wildersmith were paid a visit by at least a part of the Gunflint/Loon lake wolf pack. We did not see them in the flesh but had fresh track evidence that they were snooping about the yard during the nighttime. We also had a fox in the mix sometime during those same bewitching hours.

Maybe they were brought near by the animal version of the moccasin telegraph passing word about an unusual visitor in the neighborhood, that of the Wildersmith raccoon. Whatever it was that prompted the Canid visit, those tracks in the white afforded us another intriguing wilderness adventure to contemplate.

Regarding that masked critter saga, the final chapter for it at Wildersmith has come to a close. Finally after nearly two weeks of being a no-show, the return happened a few nights after the big snowstorm.

This visit turned out to be its last, as curiosity for a piece of bread and jelly brought surprising incarceration. After several dark hours of fruitless escape attempts, it was pretty much worn out and docile by the time it was bid farewell into happy hunting grounds elsewhere.

Up to this point, none of its kin have come by, but one has to figure that this one didn’t just come to the Gunflint Territory as a solo tourist.

So it’s goodbye to the first one-third of the year, and welcome to the month of growth. It is hoped that the allergens are not too bad and that we all break out with a rash of spring fever!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the goodness of nature around us!

Airdate: April 27, 2012

Photo courtesy of Adam Knowles via Flickr.

"It’s “tweener” time in north country..."

Wildersmith April 20

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It’s “tweener” time in north country, the period of each year when Gunflint residents celebrate quietness, separating winter activities and the mad rush of our fishing opener, along with ensuing summer vacationers just over the horizon.

At this keyboard exercise on Monday, April 16, the Wildersmith neighborhood is experiencing a winter storm. We are getting it all, blizzard conditions with snow, gale force winds and temps in the low teens.

For the second consecutive week, we started off with a white landscape. This winter shot left anywhere from three to five inches of fluff depending upon where one is located up the Trail. Many think of spring vacations along about now, but for the situation in border country, it’s spring that has suddenly taken a vacation.

All of this mixed-up weather happens just as the first wildflowers peeked out of their buds in the yard at Wildersmith. The tiny violet-like blooms, along with aspiring rhubarb shoots and budding lilac branches, are probably in shock, but hopefully not ruined for warmer time’s resurgence.

And, I might add, the first mosquito was buzzing me a day or so before the “s” word made another return. I hope that it froze its little tush off!

As clouds of the winter storm built, the preliminary act was some much-needed rain. In fact, before the rain gauge froze during the ferocious main performance, liquid in the amount of three-quarters of an inch filled it up.

This was a welcome refresher, at least temporarily stifling wildfire danger. Coupled with the new layer of white that is soon to be melting away, we should feel safe for the next few days.

My saga with the Wildersmith raccoon extends without resolution. The decision to live trap and dispatch the masked intruder to another heavenly place has produced no results.

The trapping experience has outraged a couple pine martens in the area, though. Baiting appetizers of bacon strips and ham have excited the curious critters. Thus, they are the only ones to have been incarcerated to date.

No plea bargaining required, but releasing the angry animals has been an experience in itself. With long arm-covering leather gloves, I was a little nervous about what to expect upon opening that trap door for the snarling wild creatures.

A friend shared an unintended otter trapping experience where the animal darted out of the trap, went a short distance away to apparently compose itself, and then came back and bit the releasing jailer on the boot before heading off into nature. So I was un-sure of what might happen in my situation.

Following considerable angst of growling and jumping around trying to get at me, I found it amusing that once the cage door was opened, the escape to forest freedom seemed hard to figure out. I would have expected it to zip out of that temporary jail like a shot from a gun.

Once released however, in both cases, the lush brown animals casually meandered away and perched themselves on a deck rail close by to check me out. Guess maybe I wasn’t such a bad guy after all!

Meanwhile the Wildersmith folks continue to undo the winter preparations in spite of current atmospheric happenings. Deer protection fencing around baby trees is coming down and freeze-protecting straw has been pitched from the septic mound. The usual clean-up of fallen forest debris continues, never ending. I’m confident that others throughout the area are in the same mode. So when warmer days are here to stay, we’ll be ready for deck/dock reflecting and bug swatting.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor the greatness of the northern outdoors!

Airdate: April 20, 2012

Photo courtesy of Tundra Ice via Flickr.

A hungry squirrel, captured near Gunflint Lodge

Wildersmith April 13

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With April rapidly reaching its half way point, the boundary country weather has leveled off into being more typical. Following that record breaking March, we have experienced some stunning spring days with warm sun, and nighttimes where some good hard frost sparkled from morning roof tops. The Smith’s even awoke to another white landscape this past Monday morning, snow is still stunning!

Moreover, a few days saw a skim of ice on shallow ponds and Mile O Pine road side puddles froze solid. It is sad that conditions now are right, but too little, too late for the maple sweetness producers. This should have happened about a month or so ago.

After a week of wetness there were glowing hopes for drought improvements. At the upper end of Gunflint paradise however, the past week has reverted back to dry times with little moisture to which we can get excited. Wildersmith counted only sparse amounts in a couple shower attempts since our last radio/website visit.

County-wide burning restrictions now in place, has not calmed the nerves for yours truly. With the ability to still have camp fires out in the woods, the area remains as an accident waiting to happen. Folks out this way will never forget how that Ham Lake tragedy might have been averted if camp fires had been nixed during arid times like now.

I have proceeded to get into the lake and set neighborhood wildfire sprinkler system lines for which I’ve assumed responsibility. As soon as comfort is reached that we will not have another bitter cold snap, systems will be primed and fired up in readiness with hope that they are never summoned into an emergency mode

By the way, getting into the lake for that job was no real treat. Donning my wet suit and scuba boots made it tolerable. However, bare hands found the liquid numbing cold in a matter of seconds. The Gunflint water at that time was a cool 39 degrees.

I would caution water craft enthusiasts to play it safe during these early open water conditions. An accidental dip in the lake at this time of year can be catastrophic!

Organizers are gearing up for the annual Ham Run Half Marathon. The event which also features a 5K and little runts run will happen Sunday, May 6th @ 9:30 am. For entering and more details, check out the website or it’s the “Race without a Trace,” greenest in Minnesota.

In the ever evolving warming of our north land, critters that don’t usually habituate these parts continue to move in and make themselves at home. One species that’s becoming more and more prominent are those masked bandit raccoons.

We had one visit the Wildersmith deck last fall then didn’t see it again all winter. Thinking I had a bear checking things out on our deck over the past weekend, it turned out that this ring-tailed bandit has found his way back.

I would have thought that it might be a cold season wolf snack, but guess not. It some how survived and is in fact, quite pig like in size. These animals are about as welcome as those annoying, but more common, woodchucks and skunks of the northern forest.

The chore at hand is how to humanely rid the neighborhood of this menacing pest. If anyone has a recipe for raccoon stew, let me know and I’ll deliver, if and when.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor a wilderness critter happening!

Airdate: April 13, 2012

Photo courtesy of bdearth on flickr.