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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:
This month, be on the lookout for folks with buckets of blue, as well as a rising of the Blueberry Moon

Wildersmith July 29

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With the fifth July weekend at hand, out northland bids farewell to month seven. Looking to August, we wilderness folks are hoping that we’ve seen the last of that blistering summer character.

The atmosphere in the upper Trail mellowed at the end of last week, and the territory has dried out from the gully washer of 10 days ago. It would be swell if the worst of summer was now behind us, although the current reprieve could be temporary as everyone knows. The comforting thing about this place is that summer sweltering seldom goes on for more than just a couple weeks.

That big July 20th rain raised havoc with area roads and driveways. With unofficial amounts ranging from 3 to as much as 7 inches, washout ruts and gullies are testing driving skills. We now have some real nature-made speed bumps on many backcountry roads.

I’ve been hearing numerous reports of some humongous snapping turtle observations. They’ve always been here but for some reason they are becoming more brazen.

One has been seen laying its eggs in front of a fellow’s garage door, some distance from the more usual shore-side happening. Meanwhile, a gal was sitting on a dock up along the Sag Lake corridor dangling her feet in the water recently when one snuck up and took a bite of her toes. I guess the bites were minor, but would that ever be a shock! I’m told that there was a stringer of fish tied near by so that would be a good indication of why Mr. Hardshell was hanging around.

Another critter visit came to the west end of Gunflint Lake when a male, female and juvenile white pelican landed and hung out for about an hour. A website search found them to be quite rare in this area. The observer is thinking that they might have been displaced by the many Canadian wildfires in their breeding grounds of Ontario.

Blueberry picking is intensifying throughout the burned out hills of the Ham Lake wildfire. Traveling along the Trail will soon require attention to more than the usual critter crossings. Harvesters will be pulling off and on to the roadway in dozens of locations. This brings on the need for caution, so slow down, and be on the lookout for folks with buckets of blue, as well as a rising of the Blueberry Moon (Miinike-Giiizis).

Many of the summer yellows are showing signs of fading, being replaced by some of the later season golden blooms, namely those starry black-eyed Susans. Meanwhile, lupine spires have gone to the green seedpod stage (perfect time for pulling if you want to rid the invaders).

Adding to the floral color show are the brilliant magenta licks of fireweed. Being an almost fall flower, it seems as though they are coming on early; then again, it’s almost August. Perhaps this might be a prerequisite of an advanced autumn coming. We can only hope so!

With the onset of month eight, I will be looking forward to the first turning of sugar maple leaves. It happens almost like clock work soon after the first week of Auggie as a couple youthful saplings along the Mile O Pine suddenly realize that daylight minutes are on the downslide. When that happens, it will be only a few short weeks until the big splash of color is on!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor the rippling blue waters!

Airdate: July 29, 2011

Photo courtesy of Simply Bike via Flickr.

Canoeists fight the wake in the Women's Solo Races

Wildersmith July 22

The spirit of our atmosphere is snarling as the once wonderful summer got ugly hot since our last visit. With the sparse moisture we’ve had since first of the month, that beastly sun boiled our northern earth into tropical misery.

Needless to say, there are some of us wilderness beings that are none too happy. Namely, the moose and me! As an indication of how hot it must be for the critters, I observed some crows along the road with beaks wide open, panting like dogs.

The sudden unbearable heat has caused a big spike in lake water temps. At last check, the water at the Wildermith dock was 74. This is within two degrees of the warmest I recorded in 2010, and we’re barely through one-third of the official summer quarter. If it spikes much more, we may be having a natural fish boil. At the very least, fishermen will be searching at even greater depths for those prized lake trout.

For about 10 days, not a drop of rain had fallen around our neighborhood, that is, until the deluge of this past Wednesday (3 1/3 inches at Wildersmith). Apparently, Mother Nature decided enough is enough for this thirsty territory. Thank goodness, the watershed north of the Laurentian Divide finally got a great dousing. Although it came much faster than we wanted, dwindling lake levels rose and dry river beds are gurgling with what they should be.

I measure the water level each week for the MN DNR. The Gunflint Lake surface has been dropping at an alarming rate, even more so than in 2010 when it was at an unheard-of low level when freeze-up came in December.

Observing over the past three years of measurements, I find that it takes nearly an inch of rain a week to keep the Gunflint Gal stable. It seems the watershed is lucky if it has been able to get that much in a month over the past several years. So this H20 happening was just what the doctor ordered.

Exciting news has come from the Chik-Wauk Museum manager. As many have been anxiously waiting, the hatching announcement “it’s a loon,” was made last week on July 15.

The loon tike has been given the handle of Peat, and has been hiding out under mom and pop’s wing since taking its first splash in the bay. I’m told that the pair resumed turns setting on the nest, and next day its little brother/sister cracked out into the world. Rumor has it the second hatchling is going to be called Re-Peat. At last report, the new family had moved into exploring the sky blue waters.

It was hot on the old lake last Wednesday night, no pun intended, as the annual canoe races took front and center up the Gunflint Trail. The event on the waterfront at Gunflint Lodge is believed to be the 35th such happening for the great volunteer fire department and rescue crew fundraiser.

With nearly 100 volunteers from up and down the byway lending a hand, the evening was a huge blast. Thanks go out to Tom and Melissa from over on Tucker Lake for their skilled organization and leadership.

Final tally that will be donated to the GTVFD from the evening’s fund raising endeavor was $14,500. Look for race results to be published in the News Herald next week. Once again, the Gunflint Trail community stands tall and proud, thanks to all who worked and donated prizes and of course, all the racing participants.

And, if readers/listeners haven’t been thanked enough, yours truly would like to congratulate all who opened their hearts and wallets to continue supporting the “little station” that continues “thinking it can!” The wonderful giving, from the now over 1,000 members, is truly an unbelievable tribute to our northland community.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor the thought of cool breezes!

Gunflint Trail Canoe Races Official T-Shirts

Katelyn Dold - Women's Eating Contest Winner

Ben Mommer - Men's Eating Contest Winner
Photos by Melissa Anderson

July 20, 2011


-  Victor Bohnen & Jake Bendel
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

2nd  - Alex & Steve Bultera
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

3rd -  John Juran & Zack Dickhausen
Wilderness Canoe Base



1st -  Evan & Justin Hawley
Panda Drive

2nd -  Will Gillette & Isak Preus
Heston’s Lodge

3rd - Jaret Baker & Frankie Miller
Gunflint Pines Resort


REGULAR PADDLING Adult & Child to 13

 1st - Dave & Will Seaton
Hungary Jack Outfitters

2nd - Clair Sherburn & Victor Bohnen
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

3rd -  Tessa Olson & Abby Prom
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters



1st -  Amy Peterson & Rachel Bohnen
Adventurous Christians

2nd - Tessa Olson & Jessie Montgomery
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

3rd - Paige Thornton & CassieVogt
Bearskin Lodge



1st - Kris Schultz & Victor Bohnen
Adventurous Christians

2nd - John Juran & Zac Dickhausen
Wilderness Canoe Base

3rd - Kent Kaiser & John Eloranta
Gunflint Lodge



1st -  Kaitlin & Bob McCloughan
Bearskin Lodge

2nd -  Patty Johnson & Mike Crook

3rd -  Ron Karczewski & Louis Heurvey
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters



1st - Curtis Blake & Jamie Fisher
Seagull Fishing Camp & Tuscarora

2nd - Sherri Prom & Jake Bendel
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

3rd -  Jennifer Thomas & Chad Goodale
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters



1st - Abby Prom & Alex Bultena
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

2nd - Austin & Clair Sheburne
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

3rd - Rolf & Kari Preus
Heston’s Lodge


BACKWARD PADDLE Adult & Child to 13

1st - Josh Prom & Kris Schultz
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

2nd - Dave & Will Seaton
HungaryJack Outfitters

3rd - Steve & Nick Bultena
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters



1st - Tessa Olson & Jen Thomas
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

2nd - Kristin Ostrowski & Jessie Montgomery
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

3rd - Katie Vandeboomen & Sherri Prom
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters



1st - Curtis Blake & Lance Husky
Seagull Creek Fishing Camp & Gunflint Lodge

2nd - Alex & Austin Bultena
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

3rd - Pete Keltz & Carl Hoag
Tuscarora Outfitters & Hungary Jack Lodge


1st Monica & Steve Bultena
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

2nd Fred Watson & Susan Alexander
East Bearskin

3rd Patty Johnson & Mike Crook



1st - Maggie Harings & Curtis Blake
Tuscarora Lodge & Seagull Creek Fishing Camp

2nd - Shelby & Daniel Ahrendt
Tuscarora Outfitters

3rd - Jamie Fisher & Aaron Mueller
Tucscrora Lodge & Seagull Creek Fishing Camp



1st - Tessa Olson
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

2nd - Jessica Montgomery
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

3rd - Katie Vandenboomen
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters



1st - Fred Watson
East Bearskin

2nd - Victor Bohnen
Voyageur Canoe Outfitters

3rd - John Eloranta
Gunflint Lodge


Roger Lynn on Flickr

Wild Flowers And Berries Scatter the Forest Floors

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Summer is flying by as we have reached the midpoint of July with the full “half-way moon,” all on this same weekend.
The past seven has been splendid along the Trail with both marvelous warm days and tolerable sleeping nights. A couple of well-deserved showers that amounted to just under an inch in the Wildersmith rain gauge extended comfort concerning wildfire danger. If we can just get the rain gods to continue the offerings, all will be peachy for forest dwellers and visitors.
The fruits of the forest are beginning to bear rewards for early searchers. One fellow has been out hitting his secret strawberry patch and has found enough to begin measuring for that initial batch of jam. Meanwhile, a couple gals have made some calls to their prime blueberry heaven and have come back saying that it is still early, but did not get blanked. From what I’ve observed along the Mile O Pine, it looks as though the wild raspberry crop might be a bit sparse, but the thimbleberries could be quite prolific based on the bloom.
Another of our senses has been tapped over the past week or so with the wild rose bloom. The running for the roses is not only special at Churchill Downs but it is perhaps even sweeter in this northern paradise. Get out and smell the roses!
Talk about moments in paradise: A couple Hungry Jack Lake residents shared another one of those goose bump sequences while kayaking last week. They soon found themselves paddling in concert with a loon on the mirror-smooth surface. Guess the handsome bird swam right between them under clear water for the most part with an occasional pop up for a look-see at its floating mates, before fading away for a little fishing action.
If that wasn’t enough of loon fraternizing for one day, at the far end of the lake, they came upon a loon pair who was going through some early training with two new family additions.
Although such experiences were over quickly, I feel certain that these instances will be frozen in their memory bank forevermore.
I can’t imagine that any Gunflint resident hasn’t had at least one red squirrel experience. Most of them are amusing, but occasionally one will happen that raises one’s ire, as well as blood pressure.
Most will remember the writing a year ago spring of a couple that returned from winter hibernation in warmer climes to find the rodents living in the walls of their cabin. A recent tale of the little varmints comes from over on Tucker Lake where the resident seamstress heard a ruckus in her kitchen.
Investigation found her startled to see one of these red guys/gals sitting on the countertop munching from a bowl of trail mix. Point of entry was found to be via a freshly crafted hole in a window screen.
I’m guessing that critter’s nose could not resist the healthy aroma from that bowl of gorp. It is interesting that after being uninvited, the fluffy-tailed scamp made a quick exit out the same hole from which it had came. Those folks are lucky that they aren’t still chasing it around the house, like has happened many times to yours truly in my wood shop.
One of those days to remember happened for the third annual Gunflint Trail Historical Society fish fry fundraiser this past Monday. Upwards of 150 people enjoyed a splendid day and shore-side meal at Chik-Wauk Museum.
The fine eats were prepared by the staff from Gunflint Lodge. Everyone enjoyed the day’s program as one of our Gunflint treasures, Harriet Taus, shared stories about her pioneer dad and mom, Charlie and Petra Boostrom. A big thanks is extended to all the Gunflint community that helped make it happen!
Next big Gunflint Trail gathering is this coming Wednesday (July 20) for the annual Gunflint Trail Canoe Races. Events open at 4 p.m., races at 6 on the waterfront at Gunflint Lodge. Come on out and have some fun in support of our Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue crews.
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the rush of summer!

Photo by Crane Farm on Flickr

Wildersmith: Savoring the Natural Sounds of the North

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Here we are, with one week of month seven behind us along the Gunflint Trail.
The past Independence Day holiday weekend was pretty much normal with a day of un-bearable humid heat and followed by two splendid cooler segments.
That really hot day led into an after dark thunder/lightning show at the upper end of the byway. Mother Nature’s booming and cracking proved to be a lot of bark, but not too much bite in terms of rainfall produced. Significant amounts of precip were spotty with only two-tenths of an inch at Wildersmith.
The electrical storm did little damage other than to separate the Trail residents from outside world telephone contact for the better part of three days. Once again, one of the contemporary conveniences that we so much take for granted caused considerable angst for those so dependent. As long as the inconvenience was, we are thankful for the technicians who spent their holiday working to get us back on line!
Folks who relish the subtropical had to be smiling with that first really hot day of the summer in these parts. The conditions were great for the growing forest flora, but for me and the moose, it was pure misery. One day is more than enough!
During my most recent stint of volunteer work at the Chik-Wauk Museum, I discovered what may be the first sampling of an autumn dream. While nosing around the grounds, I found some leaves on a small plant that have turned to fall red/orange already. And, the fruit on their stems was ripening to a bright scarlet.
It turns out, that after some research in a museum plant book, this little shrub proved to be a skunk currant. Regardless of our season being in the hot spectrum, the maturing red fruit and colorful leaves provided a cool outlook for things to come in a few short weeks.
The magnificent Gunflint is truly a sensory place. I’ve been proclaiming its beauty for several weeks through that of the human eye, but have not dwelled on the charm captured by our auditory receptors.
As I recuperate from surgery a couple weeks ago, my sedentary time has found me listening with a little more intensity. I’ve been hearing things that have always been here, but are often taken for granted.
For the most part, in this pristine place, silence is golden. Nevertheless, there is noise of Nature that can be as captivating as the visual.
For instance, how often do we pay attention to the whisper of air moving through a coniferous treetop? The rustle of quaking leaves in a zillion deciduous cousins offers a different shush through the landscape. At the other end of the air current continuum, a roaring eruption from the north/northwest can change a northern lullaby into a booming hard rock concert of waving and thrashing.
Of course there are more to audio offerings when it comes to the thousand-plus lakes in the territory. The extreme of sound bites over our sky-blue waters ranges from almost negligible at the time of a pre-dawn sunrise to deafening violence during one of the many big time blows.
From joyous ripples to crashing rollers, harmony is created in the collision between H20 and our granite shorelines. And, in echoing reverberation, gulps, burps and gurgling create a marvelous response as lake containment lines alter the tone of a symphony in northern waters.
At a time when both wind and water provide background music over the land, a listening ear can be charmed with both solo and choral episodes from forest fauna. We are treated to tweets, chirps, whistles, yodels, screeches and hoots to name but a few…all of which can entertain at any hour of the day or night.
To say that the area is a musical phenom is an understatement. The wilderness is a serine, rhythmic community unto itself and in performance mode continually.
So as more settled sections of America celebrated another birthday with various versions of “Stars and Stripes Forever,” we in unorganized territory had a concert of our own that is ongoing with new compositions ever more.
Hope you had a safe and happy Fourth of July! See you at the big Chik-Wauk shore lunch this coming Monday, 12 noon.
Keep on hangin’ on and savor some tunes of the north!

Photo by J. Pellgen on Flickr

Wildersmith: The Month of the "Half Way," Moon Marks Mid-Summer

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Our northern summer is in full stride now. The month of the “full buck” or “half way” moon (Aabito-Niibino Giizis) signals the beginning of the wind down of 2011.
An exciting holiday weekend is expected along the Trail as America celebrates another Independence Day.
June bade farewell after Mother Nature provided some much needed rain to the parched Gunflint Territory. Although rainfall amounts last week did not match that which was dropped in southern parts of the county, it was nevertheless a blessing in regard to temporarily stemming wildfire danger. At Wildersmith, the rain gauge measured just over eight-tenths of an inch.
With one of the warm months now under our belts, many folks are happy that we escaped some of those miserable hot days. As an example of just how wonderfully cool it has been during month six, the water temp at our Gunflint Lake dock is barely out of the 50s. If we can just get by another 60 without blistering, both the moose and I will be quite satisfied.
Floral displays along the byway are magnificent, with a drift of daisies now infiltrating the roadside buttercups, wild roses, hawkweed and lupine. It’s show time for sure, and a trip out the Trail to view such will be refreshing as a summer rainbow.
Good news comes from the Chik-Wauk loon nesting platform. At this writing, the pair has settled back in after losing their first reproduction effort to an eagle. They have been sitting on the nest for a little over a week. Many interested folks are keeping their fingers crossed for a hatching sometime in the third week of July.
I’m not sure what’s going on in the bug business. The area is experiencing a second coming of those nasty black flies. They are usually done and gone by this time so now we are getting a double whammy of blood-sucking critters.
I talked to a couple local gals recently that were in full agreement that my idea of a good freeze would be right, even if it is only month seven. The black fly resurgence can only be justified if there are more blueberries to be pollinated and I believe that that job has already been done.
The annual North Shore Health Care Foundation barbeque was held this past Sunday evening at Gunflint Lodge. Another scrumptious meal was presented by the Lodge staff. Attendees were entertained by the joyful playing of Loon Lake resident Gerald Thilmany in a splendid lakeside setting.
The Gunflint Trail Historical Society is readying for their annual shore lunch fundraiser Monday, July 11. The fish fry extravaganza, provided by Guide Dennis Todd in concert with the Gunflint Lodge, will be held at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center site beginning at noon.
The Society will be holding their regular monthly meeting following lunch, with a visit from IRRB commissioner Tony Sertich. After his presentation, there will be a time for sharing stories of the Trail. Wannabe members are welcome. Plan a day of it, visit the historical gem at the end of the Trail and get in on some great shore-side food!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some wilderness magic!

Photo by Amanda Slater on Flickr

Wildersmith: Wet Season and Wildlife Encounters

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Summer solstice has marked a passing of the baton in our northern half of the universe. The Gunflint territory accepted its departing of spring in a rather damp way. Finally, the “spirit of wet” offered up some much needed rain. It’s amazing that the forest is so lush when the past few weeks have been so dry.
With the ascension into “Neebing” (summer in Ojibwe), the trek toward this next season is marked with clusters of seeds clinging to the alder and maples along the Trail. Meanwhile I see that mountain ash trees are suddenly heavily laden with their young fruit, and a golden glow of seasonal yellow flowers is leading the way for any venture up or down the scenic pathway.
The fruits of summer couldn’t have picked a more welcome time to receive Natures’ sprinkling too. One observer tells that the blueberry patches she’s checked are loaded with potential.
Several moose sightings have been brought to my attention of late. In nearly all cases, the observations have been of cows and calves. This is heartening when we keep hearing about the demise in their numbers throughout moose country.
Yours truly caught a glimpse of one mom and baby in the vicinity of Washout Road’s intersection with the Trail last week. And then some Ohio visitors were treated to the sighting of a yearling bull in the east bay at Chik-Wauk Museum. This young fellow was complete with brand-new velvet spikes on his forehead. Now the challenge comes for these youngsters to keep a few strides ahead of the hungry wolves and bears that would gladly do them in.
During this same trip, other members of our wild neighborhood caused another vehicle slowdown on the Trail. This time a momma fox and her four kits were lolly-gagging on the roadway not too far east from Trail Center. The little ones were having a great game of tag as they darted on and off the blacktop.
Twice I came to a complete stop to avoid a squishing incident. It was apparent that the mother had lost control of the mischievous red foursome. It would be a good idea to slow down while passing along this stretch with the hope that these babies get to grow up.
A couple folks down the road shared an interesting experience about one of our many black brunos. It seems that their waterbed had reached the end of its usefulness. Following the usual process of getting most all the water extracted, there was just enough left to make the unit difficult to get out of the house.
Human ingenuity suggested that rather than dragging it through the house, why not open the window, take out the screen and ooze it out that opening? The idea worked to perfection, case closed.
Action to get the old bed bladder away from where it lay outside the window was temporarily forgotten. Next day the lady of the house happened to look out that same window. She was startled to see papa or momma bear had taken a napping position on the discarded waterbed unit, and it must have felt juuuuust right! Thank goodness this was an out of the house experience.
This is another example of one person’s trash being another’s treasure, only with a north woods twist!
During my stint as a volunteer at the Chik-Wauk Museum last week, my neighbors tell that one of those ursine paid a visit to Wildersmith. It was a big one. And no, the bear doesn’t poop in the woods. It did in my yard!
Lastly, for those readers and listeners who don’t live in these parts, I share that some other wilderness beings that can bite are alive and well at this time. I’m talking mosquitoes. They are a part of summertime life for sure, and the Wildersmith two seem to attract them like magnets. In the midst of summer, I’m already yearning for a good freeze to get even with the ornery nippers!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor this land of sky blue waters!

Summer Solstice in the Wilderness Photo by Dionne Hartnett on Flickr

Solstice Time in The Wilderness

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Summer magic is taking its turn for both residents and visitors to the Gunflint.
A trip either up or down the byway is just splendid these days. As spring flowers are beginning to fade, the first splurge of summer color is taking over.
Reports from all over the territory indicate a wonderful bloom of precious moccasin flowers along with columbine that is jumping up from brilliant patches of forget-me-nots. I even heard of the first wild rose blossom. What a show!
Although many folks swear at them, those invasive lupines are nonetheless an attractive addition to the growing spectacle of early season blooms. They are about to explode with their spectrum of white to pink to purple at many places along our paradise passage. And if you want an extraordinary rainbow showing, the south Gunflint Lake Road (County Rd. 20/50) is about to become Lupine Lane.
The last trip to Grand Marais found me captured once more by the magnificence of Mother Nature’s handiwork. The spirit of the winds was unusually calm that day, and reflections were exceptional on myriad natural mirrors. Every body of water that we passed portrayed such stillness that there was a majestic personification of shoreline water color in the truest sense of the word. The brilliance of such artisanship goes un-matched.
Just when I told of the last frosty rooftop a week or so ago, Jack Frost came a-calling to Wildersmith once more. This time on June 9, and the nipping was just enough to bite one of my tomato plants, aarrrg!
Rainfall continues to be minimal in these parts with only about one-third of an inch since our last WTIP visit. The cool Gunflint Lake waters have dropped about three to four inches since topping off with the last of the snow melt. I’ve also noticed that the mini falls on Larch Creek near the Seagull Guard Station has slowed to little more that a trickle. We need help; sure wish that the rain gods could shift that jet stream of moisture up through border country.
Sad news comes from the loon nest at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. As you will recall from last week, I was boasting of the wonderful opportunity to get a view of the little gal sitting on her nest. That was short lived, because just after my story came out, the museum manager notified me that an eagle had chased the loon away and made a meal of the eggs. Guess there were a lot of mournful cries about the bay.
Since that happening, the pair has returned to hang around the nest once more. I’m told that there is a chance they might start all over again. Some cousins over on Hungry Jack Lake have just come to their nest, indicating that the season might not be too late for the Chik-Wauk pair to try for another family addition.
Momentum is growing for the annual Gunflint Trail Canoe Races. Although the lead organizers have been working for months, the sequential joining together of other hands to make it happen on July 20 is full speed ahead.
The fundraising extravaganza which benefits the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire and Rescue Crews will be held as usual along the Gunflint Lodge waterfront. Raffle and canoe drawing tickets are out at many locations. Plan to help the cause and mark your calendar for an evening of food and fun!
BREAKING NEWS, just before this scribing was sent off on cyber waves, I received word that the Chik-Wauk Loon pair is sitting on the nest once again! Wonders of the wilderness never cease.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor Solstice time in the wilderness!

Photo by Out At Bob's on Flickr

Wildersmith: Gusts, Summer Green and Baby Wildlife

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Atmospheric conditions have been fairly pleasant over the past seven. The only exception being about 36 hours of gnashing winds, followed by one more night of frost on the rooftops.
Gusts were so violent at times that waves on the Gunflint Gal did a job on our recently installed dock. No major breakage, just a need to de-assemble and re-align. So into the wet suit once more, but the water is now up to the low 50s and a bit more tolerable.
I suppose one thing positive about such a blow is that its nature’s way of culling the treetops of unwanted appendages. The Mile O Pine, like most of our back country roads, was a mass of scraggly branches and limbs. It took about two hours to clear the path.
The wilderness continues to be updated with sequential seasonal events. The latest item of notice is maple tree leaves. Sure seems late but that’s the way Mother Nature has things planned. About all that is left to unfold are leaflets on the black ash.
In regard to the maple leaf unfolding, I marvel at the growing season for their foliage. Here we are entering the second week of June and if one gives it a little thought, in two months the emerald will be turning to orange. Sure seems like a short life for shade from the maple part of the forest.
The many shades of green on our granite hillsides have pretty much blended into one matching tone. The contrast now is emerald green leaves among dark green coniferous spires. The stark thing about the beautiful virescent phenomena is that the skeletal remains of a forest blown down and scarred by fire are now camouflaged through photosynthesis.
This is a time for babies, fox kits, wolf pups, fawns, moose calves, ducklings of all kinds and many others. I’ve heard reports of both fawn and fox kit sightings in addition to mergansers following mom down an area lake. How challenging survival must be for all those parents of the wild neighborhood.
Also among the recent newborns are those notorious terrorists of the north woods.
I’m talking about black flies and, suddenly, a first round onslaught of mosquitoes.
A couple mornings of stacking firewood found me seriously wounded in a black fly attack, talk about nips and welts!
I was fully covered with clothing, gloves and bug netting, yet they still found a way to let some of my blood. Guess they might be worse than mice at squeezing in the tiniest of openings.
The first monarch butterflies have returned to the Gunflint Territory as have those mini-helicopters, dragonflies. I’m told that dragonflies eat hordes of mosquitoes. Hope they get at it soon; some of them could weigh 200 pounds in no time at all with all those buzzers around northern yards. And those black flies, well, it should be another bumper blueberry season if those trillions of pollinators get busy doing that instead of chasing we humans.
Excitement is building on the Sag Bay up at Chik Wauk Museum & Nature Center as the nesting platform has a loon pair incubating an egg or two. The egg-sitting time commenced May 26th. It is hoped that the spirit of Chik Wauk will have an announcement about a hatching in about 30 days.
Come on up and view the new development, it’s a great photo op, but shhhhh… mother is nervous enough about an eagle that often soars and swoops overhead.
The Gunflint Trail Historical Society will be holding its next monthly meeting this coming Monday, June 13. It will again be held in the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center, beginning at 1:30 pm. A short business meeting will be followed by a program featuring Lee Johnson of the USFS Heritage Resources Division. Treats will be served. All GTHS members and wannabes are welcome.
Keep on hanging on, and savor the Gunflint woods!

Heading up the Gunflint Trail from Grand Marais

Wildersmith on the Gunflint June 3

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June, the month of our full “strawberry moon” (Ode’imini Giizis”) is at hand. Chapter six of the year 2011 is steaming full speed ahead, no stopping it now.

Old Sol is arching through the universe to give the Gunflint Territory its longest daylight of the year in little over two weeks. With it, “Zigwan” (spring) turns the warm season over to “Neebing” (summer), and the light of day begins a slow trickle in the other direction once more.

Memorial Day weekend along the Trail was a cheery, busy place as the unofficial first day of summer saw throngs of snowbirds back at wilderness places, and vacationing warriors added to the mix as caravans of vehicles with canoes and fishing boats hummed through the forest to hundreds of destinations.

Except for a gray somewhat rainy Saturday (only three-tenths of an inch at Wildersmith), the weather was perfect for the kick-off of vacation season. The territory did experience a few frosty mornings in the days prior to the holiday segment. Frost/freeze advisories proved to be right on this time. Once again, these late May cold snaps confirmed what longtime residents have continually preached, “that June is the time for serious garden planting,” and there is no point in trying to out-guess Mother Nature with an early start.

I have to announce that the last chunk of ice hiding in the shadows of a white cedar canopy along the Mile O Pine has melted into history. The final observation of the winter artifact was May 26. How appropriate that we celebrate the beginning of the summer season the same week that the last remnant of cold succumbed.

The Wildersmith dock is in the lake thanks to the able assistance of a wonderful spouse and some swell neighbors. They did the grunt work of carrying the cumbersome moorage parts while I guided them from the cold Gunflint waters.

With water temps still hovering in the high 40s, the initial shock was tempered with one of those high-tech wetsuits. Only my hands experienced a sense of what spring water at 48 degrees north latitude is really like, still icy cold.

Our end of the Mile O Pine has been taunted by a nosey bear over the past few nights. It is a yearling that is either none too bright or is going to be a big obstinate nuisance in the not-too-distant future. Shots into the night darkness don’t seem to faze the young bruno as it just gives you a ‘ha-rumphh’ look before it waddles off.

Recently some new neighbors got firsthand experience with life in the woods. Two days in a row found the black fur ball initiating them. First, they found out that leaving birdseed out can offer a hungry critter an invitation back for another visit. On night two, the marauding adolescent came part way through a doggie door. Somehow, it got the inside door open and snatched the remaining bag of seeds.

So now brother bear is checking all of us out. Hope it gets the message soon that the welcome mat is not intended for grumpy north woods creatures. It’s getting nothing at this stop-off during nightly rounds.

The Smiths welcomed more cordial critters a few days ago. My wintertime gray jay friends have returned. After a several week hiatus to bring a new generation into the world, they came back, this time with two young’uns.

It didn’t take long for mom and pop to come to the hand for a cube of bread. Meanwhile, the young, that I would call juveniles at this stage, kept a safe distance. So far they haven’t learned the ropes in getting an easy snack at Wildersmith.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the sum, sum, summer time!

Warm weather has arrived on the Gunflint!

Wildersmith May 27

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April snow and rain showers that the northland experienced a few weeks ago are beginning to bear results. The upper Gunflint is alive and well with blooming of all kinds.

A mosaic of color is exploding in spite of sparse moisture over the past couple weeks. However, it’s been raining lightly since I commenced this keyboard exercise and this is good!

Awesome is the kaleidoscope of emerald that blankets the wilderness landscape. With tones of dark forest green in the coniferous stand, at one end of the continuum, to almost shocking hot green chartreuse sprouts of aspen, Mother Nature has about covered the gamut of things containing chlorophyll.

Leaf out is entering the final stages and will be pretty much complete as we turn the last pages of May heading into chapter six. Full deciduous leaflets will soon be quaking with every breath of air, as their needle cousins are shooting candles of new growth at what seems like an earlier than normal frequency. Then again, it’s almost June and the forest will be all decked out once again!

At ground level, those dandelions are out in force while the swamp areas are popping with the buttery faces of marsh marigolds. I spied one exceptionally large patch of the marshy golden blooms along the Trail near the Tuscarora Lodge turn-off. Ferns are also adding to the low level panorama as the fiddleheads are uncoiling along many back country paths.

Tints of blue are debuting as well. The forget-me-nots have forgotten us not, and wild violets, plus a few unnamed tiny azure posies, are gracing the yard at Wildersmith, as we head into the Memorial Day weekend.

Familiar faces are starting to return to their warm season retreats. Amidst the birthing of wilderness babies and a barrage of ornery black flies, their homecoming can be somewhat daunting with the chores of re-opening cabins after a long winter respite.

Among things that can always be a bit unnerving is the reactivation of water systems. It’s amazing how forgetting to drain even the tiniest bit of water in a pipe can cause such frustration come spring.

Probably the next greatest concerns are functioning septic systems and a wildfire sprinkler system pump that starts for a test run with a minimum of pulls. Then it’s on to things like ridding the place of unwanted varmints that might have made a winter home for themselves in a wall, and many other fix-it/ housekeeping tasks.

The list of “honey-do” things can seem endless, as the desire to get outside and onto a favorite lake for paddling, fishing or maybe just some shoreline R & R, looms large ass the critical reason for being here in the first place. Even reaching this point in the re-upping process involves putting docks in the water and the hoping that all is OK with the marine equipment and fishing tackle.

One can readily see that getting back into the north woods groove is not easy. So it’s welcome home neighbors, glad to have you back, hope all is in good working order at your place in the woods.

For yours truly life is not quite as complicated. At this point, everything that has been working through the winter is still working. The dock is soon to go into the lake and the boat will be out of storage for its annual trip down the road to be dipped in Gunflint waters for 2011.

Meanwhile, the Smiths have already started another ‘getting ready for winter’ job. The wood shed has empty rows and there’s a stack of wood to be split and stacked for 2012.

That job is being sandwiched between finishing the pruning efforts of the winter deer browse, taking a whack at some early season weeds and transplanting a few baby trees. Oh, I almost forgot, all this home work is added to many days of working with the Chik Wauk Museum/Nature center for its coming season.

So to the query from people to the south, “What do you do up there all the time?” My answer is quite simple, it’s busy, busy, busy, and the days sure fly by.

Guess I’ll keep on hangin’ on, and savor this wonderful time in border country. Hope you do too!

Airdate: May 27, 2011

Photo courtesy of Gael Martin via Flickr.