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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:
"The early advance of May in March has the pussy willow buds just a-purring in the powerful sun..."

Wildersmith March 23

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Once more, the Smiths are back in border country. It’s great to be home after a swell 10-day break visiting with grandsons in Iowa.

Again many thanks go out to the “nosey pup” from over on Hungry Jack Lake for subbing in my absence. I was back in time to catch her last week’s commentary. It sure was great to hear her hearty voice bringing you up to speed on the Gunflint Scoop.

The transformation to our season of rebirth got under way in both a premature and earnest way this past week. Who would have thought we’d be out of the “w” season so quickly? Guess I won’t have to be mentioning the white time of year for several months now.

In fact, with the meager snowfall of the season past, our next north woods season, that of “mud,” is not going to be too extensive and obnoxious. Looks like the northland might be in for a long hot summer if the past week is any indicator, yuck!

The early advance of May in March has the pussy willow buds just a-purring in the powerful sun and crows have returned in raucous cacophony. Also observed our first robin tweeting about Wildersmith, and I don’t mean on the cyber screen.

After dark, the beams of manmade light are already reflecting off several moth species in their aerial acrobatics. I suppose we could be in for an early arrival for those black fly terrorists if the streak of hot humid continues. This dictates a double yuck, yuck!

Noticeably absent from the avian cafeteria are the hundreds of red polls and dozens of pine grosbeaks, all of which have headed north to summer destinations. Meanwhile, the busy whitetail crew that has been pruning around the neighborhood all winter has all but disappeared. They’ve headed to greener munching, and preparation for maternal happenings, on southern exposures far, far away.

The gurgling sound of creeks and rivers rushing toward depleted lakes is music to our ears. However, these natural melodies will only be temporary until the snow melt ends, unless of course, much needed rain comes soon.

Speaking of our lakes, a trip to the Chik-Wauk Museum recently, for a regular security check, found me in awe of the low water level in the bay. I’ve never seen it that low in my short time around here. It looked as though the USFS’ floating dock moored there, could well have been sitting on the bottom, and huge rocks are showing above water in new places not seen before.

Obviously, Saganaga as well as Gunflint and any number of other lakes in the upper Trail territory are experiencing terribly depleted water levels. These seemingly unending drought conditions, going on now for what seems like several years, just have to get turned around.

Our sudden turn to summer-like warmth is taking its toll on the lake ice as well. Fisher folks are still traversing to their favorite fishing holes, mostly on four wheelers, but have to stand in considerable watery slush above the ice.

As of late last week, I’m told there is still some 14 to 18 inches of ice on the Gunflint. I’m thinking that can’t last too much longer as the surface has taken on that darkening gray color. Gunflint ice out might easily happen before April. This would be an all-time record over the past three decades, for which I have records.

Needless to say, with the increasingly dry conditions, many of us in the area are nervous about increasing wild fire danger. The forest is a combustible accident waiting to happen. It’s hoped that governing agencies will act soon to invoke TOTAL burning bans instead of having to react after a tragedy ignites.

Common sense would indicate that NO manmade wilderness fires should be allowed in border country until the area gets a whole lot wetter. Sadly, it must be realized that “common sense” is not so common anymore, so a ban seems an absolute necessity.

Keep on hangin’ on, savor this place and do a little rain dancing!

Airdate: March 23, 2012

Photo courtesy of Zixii via Flickr.

"Down a few hundred more from the '10-'11 count, the spiraling downward decline of moose is cause for considerable... concern"

Wildersmith March 2

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Finally, a little bit more winter along the Gunflint byway! February ended and March came in on somewhat lion-like terms.

It’s hard to tell whether the bashing and bantering about Old Man Winter being a wimp is the reason or not. But the past week has resembled more what the season is about than any time since 2010 and ’11.

In any event, the snow depth out this way, after being stable for the better part of a month, has shown a marked increase in the past 10 stanzas. Everyone is excited, needless to say, as the territory cannot get too much moisture, and more is always welcome for help in replenishing a dried-up wilderness landscape.

Last Sunday, with the quiet white dropping from the heavens, the wilderness world seemed completely at peace. An occasional gust from the northeast was all that broke the silence of tender flakes plummeting from thousands of feet aloft.

Wildersmith had several deer browsing in the yard that afternoon. Splendid is not enough to describe the wondrous effects of Mother Nature as she blanketed not only the ground, but also the backs of those peace-loving white tails. Nothing can match the magic of snow falling in the boreal forest!

Barring any major spike in the temps, it would appear that there will be plenty of cover for the sixth annual “color me pink” gala that’s now just a week away. So while the Old Man of the North is coloring us white for the time being, organizers of this effort on behalf of breast cancer research have to be smiling with relief.

Sad news broke last week when the MN DNR released the latest estimates on the northeast Minnesota/Cook County moose population. Down a few hundred more from the 2010-11 count, the spiraling downward decline is cause for considerable upward concern about what can be done to help these icons of the territory.

It seems researchers are pointing toward an accumulation of multiple possibilities. From a layperson’s view, it would seem fairly easy to start addressing possible causes by eliminating maybe a couple items that could be on that list.

Number one would be to place a moratorium on the hunting season. Shooting even one in this time of survival turmoil for the herd seems beyond reason. And number two would be to eliminate the obscene amounts of snow/ice melting chemicals placed on county roads. These applications not only draws them into vehicular harm’s way, but is also ingested in copious amounts (who knows what it’s doing to their innards). Just a couple thoughts!

On a happier note, two fishermen heading up the snowmobile trails to Northern Light Lake had the good fortune to come across four of these regal northwoods stalwarts. Guess there was a fine looking bull in the accompaniment of a younger bull and a cow with her calf. All were said to appear quite healthy.

Then on their return trip, more viewing luck came their way, as a quartet of lynx were spotted. Tracking single file, it appeared that the felines could well have been a family. This sighting adds to several that have been observed recently from Greenwood Lake clear up this way and on into Canada.

To top off their excursion, in between the critter sightings, they caught a lot of fish. This must be the fundamental example of a hat trick, northwoodsy, in the truest sense.

Keep an eye toward the night sky, as the full Ojibwe “crust on the snow moon” (Onaabani Giizis) will be growing into its pre-vernal glow by the time we meet next. Also known by another tribal name as the full “worm moon,” it will be our last of the lunar winter season, so get out and enjoy!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor the border country forest, adorned in white lace!

Airdate: March 2, 2012

Photo courtesy of Doug Brown via Flickr.

"...a sure sign that all things vernal are not far away..."

Wildersmith February 24

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February in the north woods is about a done deal. The sands of time are running out on month two just as they are on the winter of 11/12.

At the time of this keyboard exercise, our snow accumulation at Wildersmith since first of the month has barely measured more than an inch. Yet this part of the state remains startlingly white in spite of the ever-present global warming attempt to do away with winter completely.

With anywhere from 14 to 18 inches covering this part of the territory, the past week has been wonderful for snow activities. In fact, it seems President’s weekend found a large part of the state’s population congregated along the Gunflint corridor under sparkling clear skies and reasonable temperatures.

I’m told that the cross-country skiing has been just delightful, in addition to other things that could be done in the snow.

I’m guessing the snowmobile trail system probably took a beating based on the throngs of transporting rigs I’ve observed traveling area roads. A substantial batch of fresh fluff would sure be a blessing to keep the winter sports season going.

Catchers of fish tell me this has been a great hard water season. In fact, one of the pros from around here said that it’s the best he’s seen in years. Another fellow reports catching a swell walleye in an unnamed location on Gunflint Lake when he’d been told he’d never catch one this time of year. Meanwhile, one of his angling partners caught a real hog of a lake trout that almost required an enlargement of the exit spot to get it up onto the ice.

Spring things are beginning to show themselves right on the heels of the wimpiness from a not-so-honorable Old Man Winter. I’ve noted a deciduous shrub or two that have green buds at their branch tips. Along with a sure sign that all things vernal are not far away are the usual frost heaves and dips in the Trail blacktop. So the annual roller coaster ride to town each week is now under way.

Tis the season for creation of the next generation of canid type beasts, and it will not be long until some of the smaller hibernating critters will be making their 2012 debut. I even took note of a handsome whitetail buck with swelling bumps of cartilage rising from its forehead. And already in this world, but yet to appear, is the next crop of black bruno teddies. So although I remain an eternal optimist for winter, I’m facing the fact that this favorite time might as well get out of the way and make room for rebirth in the woods.

Recent wildlife sighting reports include a Canadian lynx on the grounds around Gunflint Lodge, and if there’s one, there’s surely more. Guess that might answer the question, “Where have all the white hares gone, gone to felines every one.” Also heard of a cougar being spotted somewhere along the Trail, so keep an eye out for this big guy/gal!

Organizers of the pink extravaganza, Mush for a Cure, are holding their breath that either we’ll get a nice late winter blast or that what winter remnants we do have will hang on for their big weekend of March 9 through 11. Regardless of weather conditions, there is no stopping this group as they get ready to color border country pink.

If you haven’t stepped to the plate in support of this worthy endeavor furthering breast cancer research, the time is right now. The goal of fundraising this year is to exceed the $30,000 they contributed last year. See to check out all of the events being planned. Volunteer to help if you wish and make a pledge. Most of all, join in the fun and participate in some way!

As a postscript to this report, the upper Trail added about 6 inches of snow this past Tuesday.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the wilderness ways!

Airdate: February 24, 2012

Photo courtesy of Blanka Toth via Flickr.

"When I step on a sleigh I shiver with excitement and intrigue thinking about how life must have been in northern pioneer days"

Wildersmith February 17

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Last week’s border country weather was on the downside of the yo-yo spin with a few days of minus something. How cold was it? Well, according to lore from yesteryear, this mini-subzero stint was nothing more than a blip on data sheets of decades gone by.

Nevertheless a few mornings of the 20s below at Wildersmith were considerably colder that what it has been in the far north woods of late. Cold is in the feel of the beholder, but I determine it’s cold when those first cold sniffles find fluids frozen instantly, and any nose drips are no longer considered such. It was thus declared cold out here as I trudged about doing morning feed chores.

Similar things were happening to deer on those frosty mornings. Eyelashes and muzzle whiskers were heavy with crystals. Frosty elements were also to be found on the eyebrows of the whiskey jacks when they came close enough for a handout; almost makes one shiver just thinking about it.

Even though it was not bitter, as is often the case, we had a first at our house related to cold. In spite of us humans being snug and comfortable on those recent mornings, an open container of grape tomatoes on the kitchen windowsill didn’t take kindly to sitting by the frosty glass. They were discovered apparently frostbitten, with crinkly skin just like those that get nipped in the fall. Now that’s a sign it’s cold!

I can remember reading in one of local author, Helen Hoover’s books, about items freezing on her windowsill. I had trouble relating to such, but now find that even in 21st century times, she was probably not embellishing her tales of the cold.

Brisk as it was, an energetic gang of cross-country skiers gathered at Bearskin Lodge last Saturday for their annual 400K ski a-thon. With many trails in the North Shore system snowless, the Cook County Volks Ski 400 had to alter plans for the day.

The 15 hardy souls who did brave the nippy conditions were thus subdued into skiing the 70+K throughout the Central Gunflint Trails. I ‘m guessing this was a piece of cake compared to the original challenge. Hopefully next year will bring them more favorable conditions.

I’ve been working on a sawdust-making project at a place down the road.
Early last week I discovered a deer/wolf encounter that had taken place just off the Mile O Pine. As one would expect, after no more than a day there were only hair and blood splotches left. However, for several days in succession I find that the warriors have been returning nightly, apparently scratching and scavenging at every morsel of the remains.

Then last Saturday afternoon, my trip back to work brought me into the presence of one of the culprits. It was probably in search of a midday snack when I wheeled upon the scene. It trotted into the forest about 20 feet from my truck, stopping and turning for a curious observation of this roaring interruption.

We both stared at each other, me through the window glass, and it through the crisp afternoon air. No pun intended, this warrior gave me an icy cold, distant gaze. I wonder if it was wondering what I was wondering at this special moment in time. After what seemed like several minutes, it casually meandered off into the obscurity of the forest, to get back on track with daily survival skills.

More romance of the northland was experienced last week as special friends from Iowa shared the enchantment of a great Okontoe sleigh ride. The beauty of clear skies and a full moon on the breast of ‘old’ fallen snow around Bow Lake could not have been more magnificent!

It’s an occurrence that offers wonderful, ageless reflections of days long ago in this quiet wilderness place. Every time that I step on that sleigh I shiver with excitement and intrigue thinking about how life must have been in northern pioneer days. We are so fortunate to have this awesome opportunity in the Gunflint neighborhood!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the good Gunflint life!

Airdate: February 17, 2012

Photo courtesy of Michael Heisel via Flickr.

"Much warmer temps and no new snow finds many of us ready to throw in the towel and get on with the season of re-birth"

Wildersmith February 10

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It’s sweet heart day in the northland! The time of hearts and chocolates finds the calendar chipping away at what was supposed to be the burden of winter. Rounding the corner just past the half-way point between our cold weather solstice and the vernal equinox, winter headed south for an apparent spring break.

A full week in border country of much warmer than normal temps and no new snow finds many of us ready to throw in the towel and get on with the season of re-birth. Fortunate for white landscape enthusiasts our snow pack out this way did not take a significant hit with the late March-April warmth. One happening of consequence though is that winter driving conditions on the Scenic By-way have all but disappeared. The usual snow-packed and icy blacktop extending from late November to March has evaporated into oblivion.

Left in the wake of our premature spring conditions we find an ugly grunge of over-applied road treatment chemicals. A “metropolis” look to the trailside snow banks is now beckoning for a refresher course in snow making. It’s hoped that “old man winter” will consider the upper Trail for his next delivery to the lower forty-eight.

Warm air that has been hovering over the cold snow pack has provided some mid-winter majesty, somewhat brightening the feelings of we truly winter-deprived beings. Several foggy nights and dawns have supported the properties for “Jack Frost” to do his rendition of “plein air” artistry.

Gunflint hillsides have been alive not with the “sound of music,” but crystallization as only “Jack” can muster from his palate. Add a little sunshine by mid-day and you have all the fixin’s for a glitter strewn holiday formal and a fairy princess’ dream come true. So, there has been something positive coming out of the less than zealous winter season.

Speaking of “plein air” activity, there has been a number of artists doing their thing through out the county lately. I had the chance to see one such devotee pursuing his craft after dark one evening outside the Trail Center restaurant.

I’m not sure what his subject was but he was out in the cold with his only light coming from the Trail Center neon reflections. I’m guessing that if he was working in watercolors to keep the tints a-flowing he may have been using some imbibing spirits. What an interesting phenomenon at this time of year!

The annual Cook County Ridge Riders fun “poker run” brought a brief respite to silence in the woods last Saturday. Snow sled engines wound tight as an eight-day clock were streaking down the Gunflint and other area lakes as players hopped from Trail Center to Hungry Jack Lodge to Windigo to Gunflint Lodge and Gunflint Pines collecting their playing cards before reaching final play of the day at Devil Track Landing in the late afternoon.

I’m sure that fun was had by all on a splendid day when some must have been trying for new land speed records. It was like a daytime meteor shower as they jettisoned by Wildersmith. Hope all got home safely!

That’s all for now! Keep on hangin’ on and savor the wonders of the woods!

Airdate: February 10, 2012

Photo courtesy of David Reid via Flickr.

"We all know February can easily mean “proceed with caution.” There is snow yet to fall and winds to howl..."

Wildersmith February 3

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February has called on us “up the Trail folks” in more seasonal fashion. Temps have been cold, but not bitter, with some decent snow, but nothing to boast about.

We all know February can easily mean “proceed with caution.” There is snow yet to fall, winds to howl and thermometers that can easily hit the bottom line. So for the next 29 days, one should not be fooled into thinking of spring green too soon.

Our good Objiwe friends and neighbors have such a good handle on this year’s segment that they have aptly named this the month of the full “sucker” moon (Namebini Giizis). Guess it’s best to take heed, for sometimes February does not have a sense of humor, but then again, we who choose to live here relish the grit of winter toughness, so bring it on!

A local angler shared a story of horror for one of the neighborhood whitetails last week. Somewhere in the mid-lake area of Gunflint, he observed a deer streaking down the ice. As it passed fairly close, he saw that the animal had a big chunk of flesh missing from its backside. Obviously, one of the local packs had helped itself to a bit of deer-burger.

The message must have got around the forest quickly about an injured ungulate, because soon after the terrorized deer raced into the distance, wolves one, two and three came out of the forest and onto the lake in determined pursuit. They too faded into the white landscape. It is fair to assume the fate of that injured deer was in the pursuing paws of the warrior hunters; just another day in the wilderness theater of predator-prey

Ice on Gunflint and Sag lakes is now of more substantial condition for travel. However, the usual pressure ridges are popping and shifting in many obscure places. The sudden upheavals and downside drop-offs are causing serious concerns for power sledders skimming over the nearly blinding white way.

Tragedy was averted last week when an unsuspecting fisherman plopped his sled into a drop-off that swallowed up his machine to the windshield top in no time at all. Luckily the person was well aware of the dilemma and did not panic, bailing off the sinking machine and quickly swimming a short distance to safe ice where he scrambled out of the icy water.

Rescued by a companion, he was hustled off to the warmth of a hot shower. Thankfully he was found to be in good condition, unharmed from this harrowing experience, truly a story ending happily.

This frozen water happening was somewhat unusual as the ice fractured and squeezed downward in opposition to traditional upward pressure shifts. The icy layer in this case actually settled to a depth of about four feet, and for some unknown reason, remained there suspended. The suspended ice shelf turned out a blessing, saving the sled from a deep descent to the bottom. Next day the machine was frozen in about two inches of fresh ice. After some careful planning and maneuvering, the snow machine was cut from its icy hang-up and winched onto safe ice.

It has since been disassembled for a drying out, put back together and is now back in service. Sledders should be on their utmost alert to these continuously changing lake ice situations during weather times of up and down temperature swings.

Our Trail went to the dogs this past Monday, and what a day it was for those canines. The Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Race took center stage, and it appeared to be a great experience for dogs, mushers, handlers, sponsors and a few hundred spectators.

Talk about spirit of the wilderness: It was at its peak as energy to run over flowed for the pullers of 16 Mail Run sleds. The rapidly organized event went off without a hitch. To yours truly, it was a howling success!

Congrats to the sponsors and all who lent a hand. It was so neat that one should hope that it will not be just a one-time shot!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor the silence of falling wilderness snow.

Airdate: February 3, 2012

Photo courtesy of Acid Pix via Flickr.

"Although it was not really bone chilling, like often has been recorded (40-50 below), serious ice-making cold set in this week"

Wildersmith January 27

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With our northwoods January fading fast, the month got a little brittle last week. Typically, the third stanza of month one is the coldest of the season and it was no exception so far this year.

Although it was not really bone chilling, like often has been recorded, (no 40 to 50 below), serious ice-making cold set in at Wildersmith. Several days of minus something helped get the ‘Zamboni’ started.

A winter tune of a different note was humming through the forest. The cedar trees were snapping soulful cracks as their sap stiffened to the popping point. Meanwhile the lake outside my door was rumbling occasional baritone notes while shivering in her thickening coat. The old Gunflint Gal even coughed up a thundering bass note or two the other night that shook the house. And if Nature didn’t conjure up enough seasonal noise, it was so cold that the deck around the house popped like a kettle of corn.

All this sudden cold stuff still amounted to only one-half of what it should be as we went another week with meager snow. However, the “old man of the north” must be taking pity on us, because as I key the Gunflint scoop, we are getting a timely dose of fresh crystals. Although it is not exactly a deluge, our Gunflint community is nevertheless thankful.

In spite of the less than normal depth of white, snow activists are making the best of it. Cross-country skiers are having wonderful times on the great trails out this way. Snowmobilers meanwhile are getting along, but dealing with very rough trail circumstances while the sleigh ride business is heavenly as ever and ice anglers are drillin’ and a catchin’. No one should be hesitant about coming out for a little winter fun, we are still open!

The lack of winter stymied the annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Race, but not Cook County’s Frank Moe and Odin Jorgenson. With the Gunflint Trail being about the only Minnesota place with any snow, things were happening fast as they began to organize what will be an abbreviated Beargrease substitute. A meeting was held this past Wednesday to solicit volunteer help for the Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Race.

It will be short and sweet, but nevertheless, an exciting chance for mushers to give their dogs a run. The competition will be a sprint to be sure, starting at 4 p.m. this coming Monday, Jan. 30 from the Devil Track Lake Landing. The mid-race check point will be at Trail Center that night, and will finish back at the Landing early next morning, Jan. 31.

This is great for the area and if you can help out in any way give either Frank, (218) 368-0661 or Odin, 370-5934 a call. If you can’t help, get out and at least give these teams a cheer. Look for more race details on Boreal Access. Guess a little snow is a whole lot better than no snow!

This isn’t the only sled dog race in the making. Planning is under way for the sixth annual Mush for a Cure in just a matter of weeks. The big pink schedule of events along the Trail will take place the weekend of March 9 through 11. This colorful extravaganza has contributed over $100,000 to breast cancer research during the past five years. Get involved however you can, more information is available on the “Mush for a Cure” website.

Wilderness warrior sightings are coming in almost daily. The Gunflint/Loon Lake Pack, or at least parts of it, has been seen a number of times cavorting around on the Gunflint ice. And several of us have observed the monster wolf of the gang in many different Gunflint Lake neighborhoods. It’s big and healthy, apparently not missing any meals.

It’s unusual to catch sight of a wolf at all, let alone seeing more wolves than white tails, particularly in the Gunflint Lake area, but that’s the way it seems. Then again, maybe there’s the reason, more predators than prey. I’m guessing the pack will eventually move on as venison opportunities become less and less.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the best of border country!

Airdate: January 27, 2012

Photo courtesy of Liz West via Flickr.

Hoary Redpoll

Wildersmith January 20

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Winter in the north woods, mellow as it has been, is already a month old and whizzing by fast. The minutes between sunup and sundown are gradually increasing to the point where we are having about nine hours of daylight.

If that isn’t giving us enough notice about things to come, folks are already getting those spring seed and plant catalogs. And, the Farmer’s Almanac says it’s time to start planning spring veggie and flower gardens.

The season we had all hoped for along the Gunflint seems as though it will be a non-entity. Spring is not far from peeking around the corner and we are running out of wintertime opportunities. I know one of those green thumb gals in the area who I can almost bet is getting those seedling pots and grow lights lined up.

The scourge, of a border country winter that hasn’t been, reflects a territory so moisture starved it’s scary. As we went into the cold time, the area was already choking in drought. We always bank on some hefty amounts of frozen moisture to fill things back up come spring but, unless there is a huge turnaround, that’s not going to happen.

I for one am deeply concerned about the danger of more wildfire tragedy when what little snow we do have dries up come April and May. I’ve already heard of some unattended campfires flaring up down in the burn area of Pagami Creek where there is little to no snow. The rest of the Arrowhead wilderness is about to become just as vulnerable.

When the coming season of brown and dry replaces white, one would hope that timely burning bans will not be left to chance by governing agencies. With our ever changing, unpredictable climate, history over the past half dozen years has shown that just when agencies assumed conditions were tolerable for campfires and burning, they really weren’t; the proof is in the forest.

Temps did fall enough to do a little ice enhancement on Gunflint Lake. Hard water improvements came in the nick of time for our trout opener. My friend down the road indicates that the thickness ranges from near a foot right near his shore to about five or six inches 100 yards out to where he set up his trout camp. This says nothing to other areas further out and where there is rushing water beneath.

Come last Saturday morning, a few brave souls screamed by Wildersmith on their snow machines headed for their usual trout hangouts. I must say that they used common sense and stayed quite close to the shoreline. To my knowledge there have been no plops through the ice around here. By the way, what few catching reports I’ve heard indicate the action is slow to moderate depending upon the locale and possibly skill.

Molly Hoffman, our well-known Cook County avian expert and WTIP volunteer, came to my rescue after last week’s scribing on unusual birds coming into the mid-trail area. She shared with me that the whitish redpoll I mentioned was most likely a hoary redpoll. Guess the ghostly looking birds are often seen dining with their true red cousins.

The other bird of mention, which I thought was a lady pine grosbeak, was in fact an immature male pine grosbeak. Guess the adolescent males can have the bright yellow-red plumage that gives them a bright feathering appearance, somewhat parrot-like. As they mature, their orangeish quills eventually give way to the brilliant rosy pink to which we are accustomed.

The pack is still in our neighborhood as they practiced their winter song for the trout fishing neighbors last Saturday night. Then come morning the Smiths did some tracking of a threesome that came out onto Mile O Pine. The trio was side by side and went further than we eventually cared to follow--what an adventure. One of the three had imprints in the snow larger that the palm of my hand.

On MLK day I got word from my ice fishing friend that a huge wolf was observed coming out of the woods along our Wildersmith shore. Trudging icebound to the northeast, I suppose it was on survey detail for another venison dinner.

It seems tragic that these marvelous warriors of our wilderness are going to be put in peril once again at the hands of the trap ‘em/shoot ‘em up human race as they come off endangered species listing.

We supposedly civilized folk just can’t leave the many aspects of our natural world well enough alone. One would think that the people of Minnesota would know better than to let a hunting season happen for this revered historical component of our natural resources.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a peaceful forest moment.

Airdate: January 20, 2012

Photo courtesy of Omar Runolfsson via Flickr.

This "atypical weather nonsense" is playing havoc with thickening ice on the big lakes in Gunflint Territory

Wildersmith Jan. 13

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Winter on a yo-yo, yes! Another northwoods meltdown slipped in on the territory just when we thought “Mr. Cold and Blustery” had things under control. He just can’t get a grip and starts that slip-slidin’ around with way too much ease. Folks out the Trail are none too happy.

This atypical weather nonsense is playing havoc with thickening ice on the big lakes out this way. Saganaga and Gunflint lakes remain quite iffy safety-wise as the lake trout opener hits.

Over the past week there’s been considerable splitting of the ice on Gunflint. In fact, looking down on the old gal from high up on the ridge, she took on the appearance of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.

It might be blamed on the pressure exerted from those violent winds of several days ago. Whatever the cause, water seepage in all these seams has left plenty of slush and even some standing water in a number of places.

Meanwhile, the smaller bodies, frozen for weeks, have more than enough safe ice, but they may not offer the favorite trout fishing holes of their big mamma cousins. For sure, I would hope that common sense prevails with regard to driving one’s vehicle onto the ice like many do to set up “Trout City” at the west end of the Gunflint Gal.

A mid-Trail report came to me about some unusual avians hanging out. It seems that the redpolls have moved in en masse to at least one feeder. Among them was an albino redpoll. I know it seems somewhat contradictory to call it a white redpoll, but a digital computer image confirmed it was what it was.

Then another unusually marked lady pine grosbeak showed up at the same feeder. This little gal was brightly colored about the head and breast as opposed to the typical muted gold head and gray-brown body. If she hadn’t been hanging out with her brethren, she might easily been mistaken for a parrot with her coat of many colored feathers.

The Gunflint/Loon lake wolf pack has been making a number of nightly sojourns around this neck of the woods. Late one evening last week, they stopped by on the ridge above Wildersmith and entertained us with a lengthy choral interlude. Their voices needed no amplifying to be easily heard even with the house buttoned up tight against the cold. What a neat treat!

Speaking more to northwoods adventure, the great warrior howling was fitting on a spectacular starry night when the waxing “wolf/great spirit” moon had things lit up in iridescent blue snow. Talk about romance of the wilderness, these moments couldn’t have been any better.

Although yours truly has not seen the aurora borealis lately, I am always anxious to learn about this heavenly phenomenon. If one is interested in learning more, there is a great writing about northern lights in the latest edition of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. The author puts scientific/technical information into easily understood language.

When it turns cold enough again that it requires cuddling up with some good reading, that same periodical has a couple informative articles on fox and fishers, which are members of Mother Nature’s clan around here.

And lastly, a nighttime trip down the Trail last week found a moose trifecta. They were observed getting their licks off the salty road just above the Laurentian Divide overlook. Must have been good, too, because they were out again on the way back up, only this time all that was observed was their back halves as they scurried into the forest.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor some good thoughts for snow!

Airdate: January 13, 2012

Photo courtesy of Jukka Vuokko via Flickr.

"Marshmallow globs hanging on every limb are a flocked delight"

Wildersmith January 6

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Gunflint territory is headed off into a new year and the month of the full “wolf great spirit moon” (Gich Manidoo).We folks cherish this special place and sure hope the essence of our January moon is more winter-like than its “cold moon” brethren that just passed. December’s lunar rendition surely didn’t live up to its usual namesake!

Just a few days into 2012 the atmosphere is already better suited to the season. Howling winds, blowing snow, and a little sub-zero at Wildersmith ushered in this new stanza of history.

With a deluge of watered-down football bowl games, dated Christmas deco to be put away and a frosty out-of-doors, it has been a great time to hunker down soaking up warmth from the old wood stove. This north woods forest is truly the best place in the universe for savoring occasional whiffs of wood smoke and quietness though the weather outside was frightful as we bid 2011 adieu.

The digits on my hands are also confirming that winter apparently has finally gotten a grip. The annual dry cold splitting of finger-tips finds me struggling to even button a shirt or lace up and tie my boots. Several man-made moisturizers have little affect for yours truly in neutralizing the crispness of “old man winter” once he decides to take things over. It seems that I just get one healed up and others crack open I guess this is the only negative thing that I can say about this wonderful time of the year.

Another sample of winter’s fervor is the quickness with which it can make ice. Such an example was observed on the twenty-eighth of December when the Gunflint Lake gal succumbed to ice. She froze over for good in the wee hours of that morning.

In less than twelve hours, the folks down at Cross River Lodge reported that the thickness was such to support the predator-prey theater. A wolf-deer chase took out over the newly formed hard water and in no time at all the warrior had corralled its favorite entrée and opened a temporary fast food venue.

Since that time, several inches of insulating snow have slowed the “zamboni” process. Further support for the tenuousness of our Gunflint Lake ice comes from a neighbor telling of a creek running full bore through his property that is dumping icy liquid along his shoreline. While there might be supportive ice in spots, many unknowns remain under this vast cake. I would advise caution on any ice walk ventures for a few more days.

Our pre-New Year’s Eve snow made the forest stunning once again. Those marshmallow globs hanging on every limb are a flocked delight. Before the howling winds set in last weekend, another eye catching deco resulting from the previous fluffy application is the little white lids stacked on the clumps of yet uneaten mountain ash tree berries. The scenario reminds me of a cherub choir with their rosy faces and frosty stocking caps all lined up for a holiday concert so cute and petite!

The wind whipped snow probably sent those tiny hats a scurrying but has since created a different art scene of special mention. Although the dense forest prevents the drifting to which the plains dwellers are accustomed, the placement and chiseling of white crystals in a zillion different places throughout border country are beholding spectacles. One doesn’t have to trek far away from the house to experience the intriguing marvels of these “nature-made” ivory sculptures.

That’s all for now! Keep on hangin’ on and savor a growing winter wonderland!

Airdate: January 6, 2012

Photo courtesy of chenmeister64 via Flickr.