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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:
"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.

Snowshoe hares are making the transition to spring along the Gunflint

Wildersmith April 6

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This first weekend in April finds the north woods celebrating the full pink maple sugar moon. During the fourth mature lunar experience of 2012, spring is full speed ahead throughout the upper Trail region.

A minor set back to the vernal movement occurred as March bade farewell. The territory had an unexpected return visit from the “old man of the north” as he dropped by with what will probably be his last calling card for the next several months.

At Wildersmith the frosty old devil deposited just shy of three inches while areas in the mid-trail snow zone looked to get considerably more. The drab gray/brown earth was white for about three days, and now we are back to getting on with our green-up of the Gunflint.

Speaking of green-up, the fifth annual Gunflint Green-up is taking on new character for this year. Leadership and organization for the event is coming from the folks at Gunflint Lodge.

If you are interested in the continued recovery from the Ham lake wildfire, find details on the Gunflint Lodge website home page. I’m told that the focus for green-up activities this year will be around the Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center site and the revitalization of the old Gneiss Lake Trail as far as Blueberry Hill.

It’s appropriate that with Easter Sunday at hand, the north woods bunnies are beginning to get in tune with the traditional fashion parade. With the surprise disappearance of winter, most were caught in their lush white coats and nothing to hide behind.

Our trip to Grand Marais last weekend for Palm Sunday services found the Smith’s encountering any number of the hares along the roadways. With multiplication in their DNA, the “wabbit” population is going to have the local lynx and fox seeing more than double in months to come.

They were observed parading about in turned coats of anywhere from dirty white to almost warm weather brown. As fast as they are transitioning, next week should find them well into summer garb.

That Palm Sunday trip to town turned out to be quite reflective. For once, the air currents were still, and trail side open waters were mirror smooth. It was a great occasion to see the lake side forests upside down in a double exposure mode.

Although the total green-up of the forest is still a ways off, the coniferous reflections on the polished liquid surfaces were a sparkling renewed green, indicating that warm time juices are flowing early.

Our spring migration has found several species here and gone from border country. This weeks’ feature has involved hoards of juncos. The lively slate colored critters have been busy sorting through the leftovers from the nearly three hundred pounds of sunflower seeds that winter birds and squirrels have scattered beneath the feeders.

Another avian gang has also been busy sorting through winter remains. For the past two or three weeks, it has not been uncommon to have a dozen or more crows yacking around the yard each morning. Their conversation is often quite annoying, but their ability to clean up and loosen the forest duff for potential new plant re-birth makes them at least half way tolerable.

One more natural treat happened my way after the surprising snow. Regardless of the winter season, early or late, fresh snow always makes for great animal tracking. During the most recent such event, I came upon some not often seen imprints of paws, and what looked like a single sled runner.

At first, I was not tracking, no pun intended, when suddenly, I realized what I was following was that of an otter. Prancing foot prints and a dragging tail, how neat, made me wonder what it was up to, probably some adventuresome prank. I never did get a glimpse of the jovial one, but ahh, the mystique of winter, captured one more time!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor springing ahead!

"Sol...exploded over the panorama with an eye-catching bronzy autumn-like sunset"

Wildersmith March 30

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As the northland wraps up an unusual March, there has been a lot of speculation and excitement about ice-out on upper trail lakes. Needless to say, as the last of the hard water sinks into oblivion, folks are reflecting on when was the earliest they have ever seen this happen.

This broadcast/column comes together with barely a chunk of ice left anywhere in the territory. The Gunflint saw her winter coat become official history during the nighttime hours of March 24-25. This date is the earliest by 16 days over the past 30 years. It also beats the old gal’s average by some five to six weeks.

The only report of remaining ice came from Poplar Lake and one patch on Seagull that I observed last Sunday morning. I can’t help but think that these last vestiges will not be around by the time this Gunflint news reaches your eyes or ears.

Reflecting on the winter that wasn’t, it got started about a month late and ended about a month and a half early. We were definitely gypped out of our usual six to seven month bragging rights. There are many that scoff at the global warming phenomenon; scoffers should wake up and take a good look at what’s been going on!

The territory finally got some much-needed moisture since our last visit on the radio. Although the rains did little to ease the dry conditions for the long term or add to shrunken lake levels, the inch or more that fell into my rain gauge over the past seven days did dampen the tinder forest at least momentarily.

It seems prudent, now that lake ice is gone, that there be no procrastination about getting wildfire sprinkler lines out into the water and pump engines ready to be fired up! Our current damp conditions will surely not last long with the powerful spring sun and those perpetual southerly winds that ended winter so abruptly.

So the wilderness is all about bunnies, buds and bears now that April’s on the horizon. With very few manmade piles of snow remaining, the only real element of white on the landscape is snowshoe hares, and they are probably a bit confused with this premature seasonal behavior.

A few days ago, I counted just shy of a dozen of the white fur balls along the South Gunflint lake Road. They were a stark white with barely a bit of color, indicating that they were not prepared for the exit of their winter camouflage. Standing out like a proverbial sore thumb against the drab gray/brown background, they were out en masse nibbling on the first green tidbits peeking out of the soil.

As to the buds and bears, both are making appearances sooner than expected. Green tips are on the lilacs, high bush cranberries and even a few young birch trees. I even got a peek at some minute open leaves on pin cherry trees, while pussy willow buds are so advanced they have popped their protective husks.

I’m told that some have observed the emergence of our black brunos, although none have shown around Wildersmith to date. With that in mind, I have taken in some of the avian feeding structures so as to avoid temptations. I make the same recommendation to others around the area. No need for us to create a nuisance bear! Skunks have also awakened from winter slumber and the first chipmunk is skittering about our yard.

Disappointed as many of us north woods folks are regarding the winter flop, I must say that border country is still offering up splendid natural wonders. Such was the case last Saturday evening.

A short walk down to the Gunflint shore to confirm the ice-out status found me intrigued with what was going on up and down the waters. Characters from every season were beckoning my attention.

To begin with, most of the lake ice was gone, and brisk northwest winds were rolling the lake into a summer day’s frenzy.

At the same moment, a mass of crystal shards were pressed against the granite shoreline tinkling in melodic harmony as the wind wept currents played the icy leftovers like a huge xylophone.

Glancing down the lake, old Sol was dropping out of a dark cloud bank. In moments it exploded over the panorama with an eye-catching bronzy autumn-like sunset.

As my focus scanned lower, surveying the lake surface, a thin layer of ghost-like vapors hung over the cold liquid, and the sun lit up the gauzy fog in 24-carat splendor of the new season.

During those brief moments, shivers overcame my being. I don’t know if they were caused by falling late day temps, or by the exuberance of beauty before me. With all the magnificence going on at that moment, guess I can’t be holding a grudge against Mother Nature for short-changing us on winter! We’ll just give her another chance in several months.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some wilderness time!

Airdate: March 30, 2012

Photo courtesy of Ryan Harvey on Flickr.

"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.