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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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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.

 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 29

              
Weather in Gunflint Territory mellowed since week three of the month. Bitter cold was swept away by another El Nino moment of warmer Pacific air. Meanwhile, additional snow has avoided this area like the plague as we head toward February. It seems as though this snow loving region is snake-bit in terms of powdery deliveries. Furthermore, other places in the country are dealt the stuff when they have no desire for such. 

The snow in place right now is hanging on, and will provide the key ingredient for the beginning of the annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon late Sunday morning. With the race making its round trip run from Two Harbors to Grand Portage and back, the race comes into these parts from its Sawbill checkpoint to reach our mid-Trail checkpoint at Trail Center in the estimated pre-dawn time of Monday morning.  

On the return chase, mushers should be coming back through the Trail Center area in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. In both stops along the Trail, there’s a mandatory lay-over. So in spite of the not too convenient arrival times for viewing, the time lapse for teams before departing in either direction can allow for getting out to show some Gunflint cheers of support.

One Cook County musher is entered in the Marathon, while three other locals are in the mid-distance race, which by the way, finishes at Trail Center, midday on Monday. Tracking the races can be followed at www.beargrease.com. Good Luck to all!

More winter fun takes place in Gunflint land next weekend with the seventh annual Cook County Ridge Riders fun run. The power sledders' trek to collect their cards for the long distance poker game will start along the South Shore drive on Devil Track Lake on February seventh beginning at 9 am.   

Stops to get cards and participation stamps include Hungry Jack Lodge, Trail Center Lodge, Windigo Lodge, Gunflint Lodge, and Gunflint Pines Resort. All riders must be back at the CCRR clubhouse by 5:30 pm to turn in their playing hands. Food, fun, and a raffle follow the day's sledding. 

I don’t know who to thank for the neat temporary signs posted in select locations along the Trail, warning drivers to slow down in those moose zones. For whoever’s responsible, it’s a great idea and, hopefully, will save a precious moose life. Moreover, it could well save even serious injury or possible death to vehicular passengers, and perhaps totaling one’s vehicle. All Trail users should be thankful for the insight into these alert postings.  

The beauty of our flocked forest continues unabated. After many weeks, periods of brisk wind have failed to dislodge the uncountable frozen, fleecy puffs.

Such is true for the Smith’s favorite conifer along the Mile O Pine as well. This magnificent backwoods being caught our eye when first observed some seventeen years ago. The affair with this stately pine might seem strange, but I’m betting there might be others in border country that might also have a wild item of particular Gunflint area significance.  Whatever the case, we Smiths have been keeping a watchful eye on this prime piece of timber since it was a just little shaver, barely head high.  

At the time we embraced this symmetrical sapling, it was small enough to survive the horrendous blowdown in 1999 and then luckily endured the wildfire scare of 2007 when flames charred its cousins just over a mile or so across the lake.

During the years, the “mother” in charge of all things has nurtured it well. “Our tree” as we call it now, has grown tall, nearing 25 feet. Over the time, it has maintained unique pomp in the Mile O Pine parade of needled elements. While bending and twisting in the winds; enduring the cold and hot; dodging the lightning and bearing tons of snow for going on two decades, this verdant subject has not succumbed.  

This season’s hefty decorations are no exception in testing its fibrous vitality. “Our forest starlet” has simply flexed its muscles and stands lofty, beaming at the beckon of our head lights on many a cold winter night. While in daylight hours, winds in the woods help this comely adolescent tremble with a gentle wave as I go by on my daily mail box run.

Dazzled by the glistening grace of shapely frosted bows, we are overwhelmed at the elegance, and inspired by enduring evergreen charm. “Our tree,” silently enriching life in the Gunflint Forest 
                 
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith!  Come on out the Trail and savor the winter bounty!

(photo: Winter Blues, Michel Bernier via Flickr)
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 22

              
Our Gunflint wilderness celebrates the Ojibwe, “Great Spirit” moon as this report hits the waves of space. The luminous glow settles over us following a week of pressing cold in border country.  

The frostiness has not been intolerable by northwoods standards. However, after the extreme warmth through the end of 2015, 2016 has taken a little getting use too.

As our mercury dipped into the minus 25 to 35 range, conditions for the trout season opener were difficult, to brutal at best. The penetrating misery was enhanced by brisk, bone-chilling northwest winds from last Saturday through Monday’s MLK Day.  

The only angler comment I heard was that it’s always great to be here, but not much fun, as catching for this fellow’s party was sluggish. Their weekend found only three finny prizes brought on to the ice, hardly worth frozen fingers and wind bitten cheeks.    

My fisherman friend did indicate ice on the recently frozen Gunflint Lake measured about eight inches in this neighborhood. It’s without question we’ve added more crystal since this keyboard exercise was started last Sunday evening. So safe hard water trekking is improved but still merits caution.

There are many stunning scenic places throughout this great country, but I have trouble imagining one finding many to top the majesty of our Sawtooth mountain-tops this time of year. As the Smiths departed for church in Grand Marais this past Sunday, with the temp hovering at 30 below, frosted surroundings up over the ridge above Gunflint Lake soon found us traveling in a land of enchanting hoarfrost.

Against the backdrop of a sunny sky-blue heaven, Jack Frost honored the territory with his best freeze dried creativity. Cruising along the byway, around every curve and over each undulation, we were greeted by peak after peak with a “zillion”, unimaginable, frigid glazed pine spires.  

The horizon of this icy needled forest encompassed us in creation's cold radiance. Once more we were immersed in the powerful Gunflint awe!  Life can’t be much better!    

Caution, moose at play! Nighttime travelers on the Trail from the north Brule River bridge to Bearskin Road and on through the Iron Lake locale report numerous sightings in the past week. One fellow reported seeing five throughout these areas last weekend during his early evening journey.

Further, during our weekly run to Grand Marais, plenty of tracks in the most recent snow addition revealed uncountable areas where moose had been cavorting on the miles long salt lick. On an added note, a number of the critters sited were mentioned to be rather small (perhaps yearlings), but not to be confused as deer. A thought mentioned by one fellow was maybe these mini-versions could have been elk, could this be?

In the vicinity of Gunflint lodge, a fellow reports the sighting of a really big, lone wolf. Then, on a return trip from the village, a similar animal crossed my path on the Trail south of Loon Lake. Either there are two of these big guys around, or my observation might be one in the same. If size counts, in wolf rank and file, this guy must surely be “leader of the pack.”  

This area might also be hosting a “big” cat. Since my last scoop, a Trail neighbor announced a large feline, sporting a long tail, was spotted near the Trail intersection with Greenwood Road. Sometimes referenced as catamount, mountain lion, cougar, panther, or puma; they’re not traditional Gunflint wild residents, but have been sighted on occasion as transient visitors hunting deer.

Should anyone happen to see this large “pussy” cat while out in the woods, be sensible and cautiously get to a safe situation. Most cougars are usually intimidated by humans, but if it seems aggressive, put on a threatening act, make yourself look big; wave your arms; shout and scream. By all means, don’t run from the scene as these animals love the chase, and such would be short, versus a human. Any big cat sighting should be documented with the DNR folks ASAP.  

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! This is the place for “grand”, wintertime scenery!

(photo: ForestWander.com via Wikimedia Commons)
 

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Pink snow at dawn (Tracy Rosen via Wikimedia Commons)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 15

The upper Trail winter has taken positive steps forward since our last meeting. A bleak seasonal character, by usual north-country norms, has shaped up lately with freshening of the snow cover and serious ice making.   

Snow accumulations have not been extreme, but nevertheless, cleaned things up so that new critter tracks are more easily distinguished. Meanwhile, enough January subzero settled over the area to really get the old “Zamboni” cranked up.

With frigid temps in the forecast, enhancing ice development for the coming trout season opener couldn’t have come at a better time. It would appear safe ice for pedestrian traffic could be secure here on the Gunflint and most all area lakes by Saturday’s opener. Further, it seems a reliable surface for snowmobiles and ATVs might be questionable on a few lakes where icy acquisition occurred only recently. 

To preface this next story, I share with you the final freezing of Gunflint Lake favored the smoothest ice I’ve seen in my 17 winters here. The glass-like surface could allow uninterrupted skating for miles, and the lake remained free of insulating snow cover for three days of clear ice observation.

The charm of a Gunflint winter was never more evident than it was for yours truly on one pre-dawn day last week. Out early, as “old Sol” was making its daily debut, I was up on the Mile O Pine looking over the two day old lake ice.

The sunrise was on fire once again as it begun to light up our lives in this northern paradise. To compliment the celestial infinity, wispy clouds were floating aloft drawing on the awesome fiery rays. This heavenly interaction rendered a spectacle of pink cotton candy vapor. In turn, the vaporous veil was picked up in reflection by the mirror perfect hard water surface.  

There are not adequate descriptors to pictorially celebrate the magic of this rosy dawn in concert with “pink” Gunflint ice. Such radiance probably has happened before on countless water bodies in this great land, but for me, winter elegance of this magnitude has never been so visually consuming. This wilderness panorama was a breath-taking work of unmatched art.   

Additions of snow over the miracle glaze, minus something temps and north-northwest winds have since, put the Gunflint Gal in a grumpy state. As I key this week's report, she is murmuring tones of uneasiness. I’m not sure if her new coat isn’t a good fit, or she is shivering in the frigid air. Regardless, of the curmudgeonly attitude, her solemn dialogue is entertaining.       

More northwoods enchantment took place at Wildersmith recently when a moose tromped through the yard. Although such occurred during darkness hours, tracks in the fresh fallen snow, and broken branches along its path, confirm it was, what it was.

With so few moose remaining throughout the territory, coupled with the fact it’s been years since one has been seen around our place, this nocturnal visit reenergizes hope for this iconic herd to regain a healthy population status. The thought of a visit from one of the herd more often than once every few years would be welcomed at Wildersmith.  

The sudden turn to real winter character was equally appropriate this past weekend for the Gunflint Mail Run sled dog races. Racing conditions last Saturday morning were excellent. Enthusiasm was at a high pitch. Ten entries started the 12 dog (long race) while 13 teams made up the eight dog (shorter race) field, all finishing up on a sunny, but bitter cold, Sunday afternoon.

 To stage such an awesome event has to be a ton of work! Organization of the happening was top drawer. It seemed all phases went off without a hitch. Hats off to planners, sponsors, volunteers, mushing teams and Trail Center Restaurant personnel on a job well done! The Gunflint community looks forward to seeing the GMR become a premier post-holiday occasion in years to come.  

Winners of the two races were Ward Wallin of Two Harbors in the 110 mile section, and Dusty Klaven of Togo, MN in the 70 mile chase. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all the teams for making this a great weekend. A tabulation of all race finishers can be found on our WTIP website.  

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith!  Trout season is open, happy angling!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 8

The Gunflint winter in this New Year continues in a “funky” mood. The area has a decent accumulation of snow although none has been added since our last radio gathering, and not much is foreseen in the immediate future.         

Meanwhile, temperatures throughout our northland are way out of whack. With only a few nights in the Wildersmith neighborhood seeing the mercury dip below zero, making ice on the “Gunflint Gal” from our mid-lake location has been difficult. Whereas the western third of the lake took up solidarity sometime before Christmas, we had seen only a momentary skim one morning in the past week, and that scant crinkling was soon whisked away by daytime winds.

Since that time, persistent northwesterlies kept things in turmoil. The rolling icy surf ate away at edges of the eastern iciest advancement (the Gunflint always freezes from west to east) sending huge chunks crashing and grinding into the shore down our way. These floating mini-icebergs not only create intriguing sound bites against the granite shoreline, but also whip up unusual lake surface textures as rollers and ice cubes unite. This "liquidscape” often takes on the look of dancing waters, and in a case or two, one would think there might be school of hungry “bass” attacking at Mayfly hatch.  

Then in an unexpected happening, winds calmed last Sunday evening and by the morning of January fourth, Gunflint Lake had totally put on her winter coat.  Lifetime residents around here cannot remember such a tardy arrival of hard water. The new late date “ice on” will be recorded in my winter facts data as the old mark of December 29, 2001 was obliterated to a distant second.

On a related note, I heard of some gutsy ice skaters who tried the Gunflint ice a little over a mile west of here out from Heston’s Lodge, January 2. Guess there were no issues but they’re surely bigger risk takers than yours truly, particularly when chunks of the surface were breaking off not far from where their blades scarred the frozen surface.  

In another ice related story, a friend tells of meeting, and playing peek-a-boo with an otter along a narrow ice shelf at his shore line. The aquatic, carnivorous mammal was doing a little fishing at the edge of the ice formation and came up a time or two to show off its catching skills. It makes one wonder if the fun loving critter might have been teasing this on-looker in regard to already being able to ice fish, or was just playing a little “now you see me, now you don’t" game. 

Although wolves aren’t at the door, the Gunflint/Loon Lake Pack has been seen at any number of places along the south shore of Gunflint lake in the past week. From reports it’s a “five some” making the rounds.   

There have been no known confrontations between people and/or pets as these great hunters just want venison. With few white tails left in the upper Trail reaches, wolves are ranging in all directions to find even a whiff of their favorite meal. As confirmation of the low deer population, I know of only one buck being taken in these parts during the November 2015 rifle season. Since the Gunflint’s completely frozen now, I’m wondering if deer might matriculate from Canada, or will the wolves make their way in that direction for better hunting grounds.   

The first spectacle of northwoods dog sledding competition gets under way this weekend with the Gunflint Mail Run.  The 110 mile (long race) and a 70 mile (short run) commence at Trail Center Saturday morning, 8 am. Race observations can be viewed at any number of back country road intersections along the snowmobile trail network, and at turn-around points (for the long race at Blankenberg Pit) and (at King’s Road above Gunflint Lake for the short race).

Born to run and pull, these canine athletes display boundless energy as they get harnessed up. Their enthusiasm goes unmatched from start to finish. If you have not seen such an event, the Gunflint Mail Run is a good opportunity to cross such an event off one’s bucket list.   

While on the dogsledding subject, riding in a sled behind the dogs is an adventure everyone with wilderness spirit should get to experience. Bearskin and Gunflint Lodges both offer dogsledding rides in the snowy woods. Give them a call to make a reservation. Take it from yours truly it’ll be a timeless memory!  

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. The Trail's going to the dogs, see you at the GMR, it’ll be a “woofing” good time! 

{photo courtesy of Gunflint Mail Run on Facebook}
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 1

Happy New Year everyone! We’re off into the 16th year of this 21st century. And, the Smiths are back in the woods following a Christmas holiday with kids, grandkids, and friends in Iowa. Hope your time together with family and friends was as special as ours.   

Our return to the Gunflint found “Santa” had left us a surprising gift of white during our absence. I’m told by neighbors his delivery couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time, Christmas Eve, and then more on the next day.  

As we departed for Iowa, the forest around this neighborhood was already somewhat flocked. The additional fluff has left the area with thousands of immature trees on the brink of snapping under the weight of monstrous marshmallow puffs. Meanwhile, many brittle elder forest kin succumbed to the stress and are laying across roads, driveways, cross country ski trails, and utility lines.      

Along the snow covered Trail, I’m amazed at the number of downed trees hanging on telephone lines. It’s unexplainable how these overhead lines have flexed but not given way. A big secret is why telephone service has not been interrupted under this stress. Guess those installations are stronger than what they appear.       

There’s a lot of clean-up work to be done, and to this point, our service provider seems in no hurry to get after this sizeable task. Guess they might be on hold until a break in the communication link occurs. Then workers may start their chain saws.     

With over 20 inches of snow on the ground in many areas out this way, the scenery is stunning and winter sports enthusiasts are delighted. Trails for cross country skiers look to be groomed into fine shape. However, with the draping of snow laden brush and branches, clear sailing might be spotty until groomers can get things trimmed back. Users might consider putting a nipper in their pocket to help clear their way.   

Trails for snowmobilers face the same issue, with added concern for safe ice on lakes connecting any number of points on the sledding network. While several smaller lakes show ice, it may not be safe, what with the newest application of snowy insulation. And the larger water bodies, like Gunflint, remain very much in a rolling liquid state for yet another week.    

Whereas a lack of early snow had organizers nervous, that issue was taken care of as December ended. Excitement is mounting for the upcoming Gunflint Mail Run dogsledding adventure. Plans are being finalized for the event which gets under way one week from tomorrow (Saturday, January ninth).    

The run, which was started in the 1970’s, waned until recently, but has been revived over the past few years and is growing with enthusiasm for dogs, mushers, and handlers. For several of the entries, GMR will be a tune-up for the John Beargrease 400 mile dog sledding trek coming out of Duluth at the end of the month.

This two race event commences in the mid-trail area at Trail Center at 8 am. A 12 dog (long) race of 110 miles runs from Trail Center to Blankenberg Pit up the Trail, loops back, and then repeats after a mandatory lay-over. While the eight dog (short) race runs to King’s Road above Gunflint Lake looping back to Trail Center for its finish at about 70 miles. Award ceremonies will be held at Trail Center on Sunday afternoon where a purse of $6,000 will be presented to the two race winners.  

Both races use snowmobile trails, so work is going on at a feverish pace to have the race course cleared of snow storm-related obstructions.  Many fun activities are planned in conjunction with the race. Go to the Gunflint Mail Run website for special event details.     

Visitors and residents are encouraged to make a point of getting out to enjoy our now winter wonderland and show your support of this historical mail delivery enactment of yesteryear. Volunteers are still needed; if you can help, find more info on the same GMR website.  

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Come on out the Trail for a true winter adventure.

(photo courtesy of Bob Pranis)
 

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Winter through a window

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 24

The days of waiting have dwindled and our anticipation intensifies toward this annual blow-out celebration. Everyone’s been scurrying here and there trying to finish this and that before settling down for this big day in America and around the Christian world. Hopefully on the 25th there can be a moment where all of us can reflect with some tolerance and love for all of mankind. Thinking of all the tragedies man has imposed on fellow man during the past year, might we take time out to share some contemplation of peace.

The Gunflint Trail has been quiet and peaceful of late with most winter related activities being on hold. Some mini-snippets typical of up north at Christmas-time have drifted over the territory, but for the most part people who enjoy the season of white remain in a state of frustration. In this season of hope, perhaps the grip of “El Nino” will let go with a gift of snow and cold as we head into 2016.

Pre-holiday gatherings are winding down with the big birthday bash at hand. As the season of holiday tunes dance in our heads, I will attempt to serve up my rendition of an old favorite with an up north twist. The lyrics may be a stretch, a composer I’m not, but you all know the melody. Titled, “The Twelve Days of Christmas Up North," here goes and bear with me.

On the first day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the second day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…two hairies pecking… and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the third day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…three martens racing…two hairies pecking…and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the fifth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the sixth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the seventh day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the eighth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me… eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the ninth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…nine squirrels a scrapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the tenth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…ten bears a snoozing…nine squirrels a scrapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…eleven white tails browsing…ten bears a snoozing…nine squirrels a scrapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…twelve plodding moose…eleven white tails browsing…ten bears a snoozing…nine squirrels a scrapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.

Whew, that’s a lot of wild critters, I’m out of breath, fingers cramping and the keyboards a-smoking!

We at Wildersmith and those of the wild neighborhood hope you have a Merry Christmas, filled with love, peace and goodwill toward all beings! This is Fred Smith, on the Trail…

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the moment!

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(Cindee Snider Re /Flikr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 18

 Our Gunflint Trail winter has extended yet another week with no appreciable change in the temperate status. While the Grand Marais village received a healthy dose of liquid precipitation since we last met, barely a sniff collected in our wilderness neighborhood in some drizzling light rain and a scant couple inches of snow.

At the time of this report, the Gunflint lake area was slightly decorated in white. It seemed probable the territory might not have a white Christmas. However, in an unexpected notion, “Mother Nature” shocked us with 8 inches of the stuff in this neighborhood and even more in other places back down the Trail. Further, conditions for the big lakes of the upper Trail territory to become frozen in the near future are growing remote. Looking back at my data since 1982 for “ice on” over Gunflint Lake shows latest date as December 29 in 2001.

Most recently, in 2011 we waited until the 28th for the second latest incident of solidarity. At the rate things are going “ice on” for the Gunflint Gal could extend well past the first of the New Year. Anything is possible with this screwy weather phenomenon, but wouldn’t it be something if the larger lakes out this way didn’t freeze at all in ’15-’16. If this did occur, the January trout fishing season would open with watercraft and dip nets instead of snowmobiles and ice augers.

To contrast our current non-ice issue, a reflection from the past tells of Trail icon, Justine Kerfoot walking across Gunflint Lake on the ice, June 1, 1936. That year “ice out” occurred on June 3. Historically, that was a long winter in all of the Midwest. I don’t have info on the freeze up time that winter, but it surely could have been at least eight months of ice time around here.

Meanwhile, holiday preparations and celebrating goes on in the absence of usual north woods atmospheric components. Good cheer permeates the area with little more than nine hours of daylight, knowing in a few short segments our early sunsets will be history. “Old Sol” will have stalled out in its southward crawl, soon to resume a climb back northward.

After not seeing a moose in this area for many weeks, the trend was snapped for yours truly last week during a trip to Grand Marais. And, several other sightings have been mentioned by other local byway travelers. In my case, three were observed somewhere in the moose zone between the advertised viewing site and Lullaby Creek Rd. All three were yearlings or better, and appeared in healthy condition. They delayed my trek while reluctantly refusing to move from their blacktop salt lick. I have since heard of three moose being struck by vehicles on the Trail over the first two weeks of December. Guess two were killed and the condition of a third is unknown. The scenario makes me wonder if the three might have been the same ones I encountered.

Speaking about our briny pathway, I’m amazed at what appears to be questionable applications of melting brine to the Trail surface when we get no more than a skiff of snow/ice. It's mind boggling if this is deemed prudent use of our road maintenance tax dollars. I can’t believe the number of times over the years when I have met a snow plow unit spreading this noxious material and seemingly scraping more off the asphalt than snow. What’s an even greater shame are the masses of drivers without common sense to slow down when road conditions become tricky, thus necessitating this chemical treatment. Even worse is the thought of this sodium chloride residue and other added unknown nasties ending up in our lake waters. It’s bound to get there eventually after decades of applications, and once such chemicals get in the water, it’s pretty much there to stay and all kinds of bad things begin to happen in this precious resource.

On another note, it makes me wonder if consuming copious doses of the briny elements might also be a contributing factor to our moose herd decline. If high dietary salt intake is bad for us humans, couldn’t the same be said for moose? I would think moose flourished for eons before man-made dietary supplements lured them onto our byway. Question is, couldn’t we be using just plain old sand? I’m betting we could be saving considerable tax dollars by eliminating the chemicals while lessening the chance for these compounds to taint lake waters and at the same time make for a reduced salt moose diet. Such a plan would also save corrosive wear and tear on both road surfaces and our vehicles, in addition to those quarter million dollar county plow truck/spreaders. Above all, it would be more appropriate from any and all environmental stand-points. It’s worthy of thought!

I’m stepping down from the soap box now, and wish everyone cheerier times and peace during the remaining days of 2015.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. It’s Christmas time in the forest! 
 


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 11

Sounding like a broken record, all I can say in regard to the Gunflint weather is winter remains ugly. To say the least, “border country normal” has seemingly taken a step backward with temps some 15 to 20 degrees above what the average might be, come week two of December.

As forecasters paint a continuing picture of a non-winter for these parts, the view is becoming dimmer with each passing day. One has to feel for those folks whose livelihood includes an ice and snow business component. What we are going through will have devastating economic impact if the atmosphere doesn’t belly-up with some cold and snow.

To take things a step further, thinking ahead to next summer, our wilderness territory could face some sad commentary. There will be reduced snow melt in the watershed to refill many already depleted lakes and underground aquifers. And as moisture is just not reaching the northland, there’s potential for a dry forest landscape with an ever-waiting fuel load. Our wildfire danger could be haunting.

Besides these troublesome moisture inadequacies, if hard freezing doesn’t occur, the billions of flying, gnawing and biting pests that often give up a goodly portion of their population to bitter temps will no doubt be beyond tolerable. In general, many usual natural occurrences are, and will be, turned upside down.

For many living out this way, our early “getting ready for winter chores” could have easily been delayed, if not avoided totally. One positive is the fuel needed to keep us warm is being saved, allowing us easier home heating bills. On the other hand, suppliers will no doubt raise the rates to offset their sales loss to protect their “bottom line.’’ Somehow, the consumers just can’t get a break in our capitalistic reasoning.

In spite of the seasonal weather gloom to this point, people of the Gunflint Community are busy making the season bright. One shining example in our territory is the twinkling, lonesome pine along the Trail at the west end of Birch Lake.

Whereas most American metropolises have their usual holiday lighting experience among thousands, if not millions of cheering people, we woodsy folks are quietly blessed with our remote sparkling sentinel in the midst of a zillion, quiet coniferous cousins. A big thanks to Daryl P. and any others who made it happen. We Gunflinter's notice and appreciate your offering of holiday cheer.

And by the way, for you readers and listeners not in the know, this lighting experience doesn’t come by just plugging it into the nearest socket. This tree requires daily battery exchange and charging, and is forever green, no recycling needed, just add more lights as it grows skyward.

A further moment of cheer was shared this past Saturday at a festive open house in the mid-Trail area. A full house of Gunflint friends and neighbors gathered to enjoy a late afternoon of visiting and munching at the Schaap Community Center. Big thanks to the Trail Volunteer Fire department for organizing this, their second annual get together.

Yet another winter function has added glow to the rapidly approaching birthday of all birthday celebrations. The Borealis Chorale and Orchestra performed their longstanding tradition of holiday spirit for two full houses last Sunday and Monday evenings in Grand Marais at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. A few of our upper Trail neighbors were included in the ninety person choir and 20-piece instrumental ensemble. Congratulations and thanks to all for another awesome concert.

The roaming coyote mentioned last week has been seen again in the neighborhood so the wolves haven’t got it yet. I’m betting it will meet its “Waterloo” soon, as the wolves are hungry, with few, if any venison opportunities.

And speaking of those whitetails, they are going to be more difficult challenges for their predator adversaries with bare ground readily available, thus allowing easier “sprint for life” pathways. For sure, it seems certain a severe winter may not be an issue for them in 2015-16.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

(Photo courtesy of Tal Viinika on Flickr)

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{Priya Saihgal via Flickr}

Wildersmith: December 4

In spite of our first sub-zero mercury reading here on the morning after Thanksgiving, winter continues pretty much a non-issue. A minor snow ushered in December, but is likely gone by this airing with October temperatures hot on its heels. So it’s back to slush and slop on back country roads.  
    
Except for the dropping late last Tuesday, our first few days of this new month are acting like the previous thirty. It’s beginning to look like the “cold Grinch of the north” is not going to be around much this season. And it could well be, some of the big lakes might not have suitable ice by the January trout fishing opener at the rate things are going.    
                                                                                                                                                 
Being in a semi-winter mode, some critters of the “wild neighborhood” could be in a state of confusion.  Chipmunks residing about our yard are usually catching their first “Z”s of the season by now. In recent days both my wife and I have observed them scampering here and there still in the gathering mode.                                                                                                                                             
This activity being noticed makes me wonder if the temperate conditions have the bears experiencing sleeping disorders as well. At the very least, they surely can’t be into a deep slumber yet.                                                                                                                                                              
Thanksgiving at Wildersmith was special with some of the family members up from Iowa for the usual good times and chow-down. Its’ amusing how celebrating can continue in many homes after the big day as our menu bounty, remains in the giving order.                                         
                                                                                      
If your place is like ours, we continue trying new ideas to use up leftovers. Our common sense frugality seems evoked in author/news commentator, Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” as we struggle to throw out our bounteous blessings. This is obviously a reflection of our up-bringing, during what were often, not the most affluent times. In all likelihood, my generations’ attitude is directly opposite of what most millennials have probably already done.          
                                                       
Regardless of the circumstance around your house, Thanksgiving at the Smith’s just keeps on giving. Turns out, as opposed to adding more to the garbage dumpster, we’ve been sharing inedible scraps from our gathering with critters of the neighborhood, and they seem delighted with their opportunity at a holiday feast.                                                                                                                                                                                 
Many residents of our “wild wilderness” were not bashful about joining at the feed trough. Their spread was doled out over several days making this experience last considerably longer than that of we humans.                                                                                                                                         
About every species of birds from the north woods, plus red squirrels, flying squirrels (at night) and countless pine martens have gathered at one time or another. Most amazing was the intensity of cleaning up that turkey carcass (bones and all).                                                                               
If there was ever a reason for blue and Canadian jays, plus chickadees and nuthatches, to have indigestion, it was this occasion. Following an avian assault on softer tissue elements, I stopped counting after a pine marten made five successive trips to carry off the boney remains. In slightly over two hours on consecutive days, our “big bird character” was history!                                                          
One might question if the side dish dressing/stuffing (in particular) would also be appetizing to this insatiable crew, but answers were provided almost before I cleared the scene. The feeding frenzy did not diminish as more of our un-eaten items were served up.  The multi-day critter eat-a-thon has tapered off by now, but our giving mood sure provided a priceless educational experience and entertainment.     
                                                                                                                                                       
A couple reports from neighbors along the Gunflint Lake south shore indicate an itinerant coyote. The canine cousins are not unusual to the Arrowhead, but seldom noted out this way. It would be my guess this one might serve up as a nice appetizer for the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack, sooner or later.  
                                                                                                                              
Talking of the local pack, one member crossed my path during a recent MOP mail run. We made brief eye contact, from a short distance, before it vanished into the forest. It’s always a surprising privilege to intersect ways with such an iconic guy/gal. This mini rendezvous was another of those engaging, but untouchable, border country adventures.        
                                                 
Gunflint folks are reminded once again of the holiday open house this Saturday afternoon. Festivities begin at 3:00 pm and run until 6:00pm at the Mid-Trail/ Schaap Community Center.  Although not required, the GTVFD is seeking donations to the area food shelf. Gunflint resident participation will be much appreciated!  Y'all come for the food and fun!                                                                                                                                                      
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Looking, looking and looking for a kick-start to our season of snow white!
 

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Fred's grouse

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 20

Finally, our upper Gunflint territory got some snow that counted. Although it is likely gone in all but shaded places as this scribing airs, those of us with affection for the fluff were excited, if at least briefly.

The first substantial dose of the stuff accumulated anywhere from two to about six inches depending upon one's locale. At Wildersmith we received two inches whereas up the Mile O Pine a little ways, six inches required dropping the snow blade down. Funny how such weather variables can happen in only short distances apart.

Regardless of one's opinion about this seasonal character, it’s not debatable as to the elegance of this first sticky flake application. Every appendage throughout border country wilderness was laced in purity. So as Thanksgiving rolls around, us woodsy folks are thankful for this majestic natural blessing, and hopeful the remaining November skies will be spreading more white cheer real soon.

The waxing “freezing over moon” is nearing the month eleven pinnacle while we head to America’s festival of plenty. His “lunar highness” is a good bet to be glistening off open lake water. In spite of our heavenly liquid bodies being biting cold, rolling waves continue to hold off any coagulation.

Most animals of the neighborhood are fully changed into their winter garb. In a sampling, I spotted a snowshoe hare and an ermine, both of which were fully in tune with the newly frosted landscape.

Then on another note, the morning after our snowy spectacle, I was able to track several overnight visitors along the road on my way for the daily mail delivery. A meandering fox led me over the entire two mile trek to the mail box, while off and on prints of a marten, snowshoe hare, wolf and a solitary deer dented the bleached ground cover. There were no bear trailings so perhaps this brief swat of winter put them to bed.

Speaking of deer, neighbors along the Gunflint south shore spent the first week of their stalking time in quiet solitude. I’ve heard of only one buck being taken in this part of the upper Trail during week one of the firearms season. Although there may be a few whitetails here and there, it would appear the severe winter of 2013-14 and the wolves have pretty much wiped venison opportunities off the menu.

It may take several years for the herd to recover for hunter satisfaction. In the meantime, I ‘m certain the hunters I know are still contemplating the joy of their time outdoors in this splendid forest. Their hunting time is much like angling, “fishing is always great, but sometimes the catching just isn’t!” I hope their fortunes turned around during this second and final week of this season.

A new avian pet has adopted our yard as an apparent safe haven. In spite of making light of the “clucky” birds, it’s energizing to see this grouse guy hanging out around the place. His presence seems not affected by my moving about the yard so I would guess we are pretty much stuck with him. The gamely bird even did a photo-op for me last week. It was caught perched high up in a pin cherry tree pecking away at whatever critter bugs hole up on those branches.

We at Wildersmith hope you have a safe and glorious gathering while being thankful for the grand bounty we in America celebrate. Remembering there are billions of people on other parts of the planet not so blessed, wouldn’t it be nice to do some good things for each other during this time of violence, pain and suffering!

Gunflinters give thanks every day for this idyllic, peaceful place. We may be unorganized territory, but our state of civility far surpasses the sickening barbarism engulfing many world places at this moment. Citizens of the world, come to your senses!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Happy Turkey Day!

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