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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: July 24

Gunflint area atmospheric conditions remain on the sticky side as I commence with this week's scoop. Rain has been on the scant side since my last scribing and back country roads not treated chemically swirl with vehicular dust storms at every passing.

Summer is now officially a month old as we pass this fourth of five Fridays in month seven. The many Gunflint Community events of the past month have kept a lot of folks so busy, July has slipped away, barely being noticed. Although a few more special Gunflint events are on tab in a couple weeks, the area gets a brief break to just slow down and enjoy the magic of tromping out in the green forest, canoeing or fishing sky blue waters, berry harvesting, catching a critter adventure or continuing the process of “getting ready for winter.”

Mosquitoes must be reloading somewhere because they have lessened their onslaught around here, at least for the time being. This has enabled me to stop procrastinating on a few summer projects from my pre-winter check list. With five structures to maintain, keeping up with preservation is ongoing. Thus I have begun staining one side of each building in the second year of a four year sequence. You just gotta love it!

Speaking of berry harvesting, those collecting gurus have rung the picking bell. Reports confirm the crop is less abundant than in the past few years. However, the first batch I saw in a serving bowl was deep blue and scrumptious as ever. Since the blue pearl crop is apparently not a bucket buster, a real battle could be shaping up between bear and mankind to get their fill. Pickers will want to be leery of “Brunos” who may not be so willing to share a sparse patch. This time of year usually finds Ursa confined to blues picking, but our meager fruit crop could have implications for increased traffic around areas of human inhabitance. All should beware of the necessity to be good housekeepers so as to not tempt the hungry critters into becoming troublesome.

I don’t know if recent bear looting up near the end of the Trail was caused by a lack of berry opportunities, but several repetitions of breaking and entering resulted in considerable damage to properties and scares to people. Eventually this annoying animal had to be dispatched to the “great hunting ground in the wild blue.” This is unfortunate, if in fact, we two-legged beings carelessly provided this four-legged animal with favorable circumstances for criminal activity.

Hummingbird traffic to area nectar stations is back on track. After probable nesting hiatus, the mini-drones are a blur both landing and taking off from our sweetness jar at Wildersmith. It’s obvious they must possess the most intricate global positioning system in the universe to be able to avoid mid-air collisions with not only each other and on occasion, yours truly, but also countless stationary obstacles is beyond wonder.

Speaking of more Gunflint wonders, The Gunflint Community and many others from around the county stepped up big time at last week's annual canoe races event. A final tally of proceeds in support of the Trail Volunteer Fire and Rescue crews counted a record net of slightly over $23,000. What a tremendous effort by all involved! Another congrats and thanks to everyone!

This is Fred Smith, at Wildersmith, on the Trail -- enjoy the peak of summer along the Gunflint!

(Photo by Cynthia Zullo on Flickr)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 17

Having reached the halfway point in July, Gunflint weather has turned frightful for the moose and me. Although hot humid conditions have not been as bad in these parts as other places in the Midwest, it has nevertheless been uncomfortable for my ungulate friends and those of us who have a disdain for sweating. Meanwhile, those favoring stickiness of jungle-like tropics must be happy as clams.

A timely rain soaked the area earlier this week. And although this moisture added angst to our sticky air, it was nonetheless welcomed after minimal amounts the previous seven. After many days of smoky skies reflecting huge Canadian fires in Saskatchewan, we are thankful for the rain cleansing our air and tempering our own wildfire danger, at least for the time being.

The Gunflint forest is lush with green. It’s incredible how consuming “Mother Nature” is with regard to growing things. She certainly has the “master green thumb.” It seems in the blink of an eye, wild grass species along the Mile O Pine are six feet high. Taking this a step further, much of this grassy flora is presently going to seed as summer whizzes by. A faint glimmer of fall is in the distance.

As of last weekend, word from 3 area blueberry pickers tells of limited harvesting to date. However, by the time my scribing hits the air wave things could be turnin’ up blue in them “thar” patches.

One of these pickin’ “pros” did indicate there appears to be less fruit on upper branches than in past years. Her thought is late frost might have doomed some blossoms before the blackflies did their pollinating exercises. As I drive the Trail this season, it’s evident vast areas exposed by the Ham Lake Wildfire, creating perfect habitat for expanded berry development in recent years, have rapidly given way to sapling trees of many varieties. I’m no expert, but it would seem growing shade from the new forest generation will no doubt diminish many sun drenched areas of prolific berry production as years progress. However, like fisher folks with their hidden depths, long time berry picking masters will still have their secret spots so the blue pearls will be had by some.

There’s a conspiracy in select locations along the south shore of Gunflint Lake this summer. Fortunately not one schemed by some humans, but this arrangement is of a natural order. Several residents tell of more than usual numbers of raven families in this locale. There is also one such within ear shot of Wildersmith.

If one is not familiar with the naming of a group of ravens, Webster defines such as a “conspiracy,” thus our Gunflint Conspiracy. These glossy corvine beings (crow-like birds) can also be known as “unkindness.”

It would seem this “unkindness” tab to be more appropriate as their continual raucous conversation, particularly the youngsters, grows annoying after hours on end. Their vocal chords must be tougher than rawhide!

Another grouping in this “wild neighborhood” is frequenting our yard in growing numbers lately. However, I cannot find Webster being accountable for assigning a handle to more than one in this assemblage. I’m talking about at least a half dozen red squirrels gathering all at one time for some regular seed scrounging in a small grassy patch. With enough chatter to sometimes match the raven talk, it would be my thought the rodent groupies should be called “mayhem” because that’s what it is during their dining experience.

The thirty-ninth Gunflint Trail Canoe Races hit the waterfront at Gunflint Lodge this past Wednesday. As usual, a fine turn-out for the annual Volunteer Fire Department and EMS crew fundraiser witnessed more great community spirit and enthusiasm. Congratulations, and thanks to races Chairman Chris Steele and his nearly one hundred volunteers for putting on another splendid show.

The grand prize giveaway, that fabulous kayak from the Wenonah Canoe Company, found Clare Cardinal of Central Iowa as the lucky winner. More thanks are extended to many charitable county merchants and crafts people for donating prizes to the always exciting raffle drawings.

As one of dozens of volunteers at WTIP, and on behalf of all associated with broadcast production, a repeated thanks is extended to the over three hundred new and renewing members for their support of last week's “feelin’ groovy” celebration. It is heart-warming to have so many community radio followers step up to assure WTIP remains the vibrant resource it has become over the past eighteen years. We’ll all do our best to keep the radio waves hummin’ with tip of the Arrowhead and north shore spirit!

On a final note, seating reservations for the Gunflint Woods, Winds and Strings chamber music concert at the Schaap Community Center on August 9 continue on sale. Be reminded there are only 150 seats available, and the first two years of performances were sell-outs, so secure your spot for this classical performance ASAP by calling Susan at 388-9494.

This is Fred Smith at Wildersmith, on the Trail. Wilderness adventure awaits you on the Gunflint!

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Gunflint Trail Historical Society 10 Year Celebration, picture by Sally Valentini

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 10

Summer has turned the corner so to speak as daylight minutes begin to trickle away. Conditions in the upper Gunflint have been fairly normal, but did present a sticky spike last weekend. A couple sultry days gets old quick, and they had a number of us folks reflecting our appreciation for colder times ahead (not that we are wishing our life away).

As I keyed this week's Gunflint scoop, storm clouds were building and thunder was rumbling in the west. A good soaking would be welcomed as rain over the past week or so has been on the scant side. Talking of storm clouds, they bring back memory of the infamous July 4 sixteen years ago when this territory saw hundreds of thousands of acres devastated in an unheard of derecho. The area has since bounced back with phenomenal new growth even when one factors in wildfires in some of the same blowdown places during 2005, 2006 and the tragic 2007 inferno. In spite of marvelous recovery efforts by “Mother Nature,” with assistance from mankind, many places remain with a substantial risk-laden fuel load, keeping all of us on edge when it gets dry. So let it rain, but no blowing!

Blueberry pickers are anxious to hit the patches in search of their treasured nuggets. An early report relates it’s still a little early, with fruit on the plants, but more ripening time needed.

I heard of a recent wild woods encounter involving a moose, her calf and a hungry bear. The scene was observed by a fishing party up on Lake Saganaga, who during the episode turned out to be life savers. Things began to unfold as the fisher-people heard a crashing through the woods. Thinking it was probably a moose rambling through the timber they were surprised when a moose calf bolted out along the shore and jumped into the lake. It began swimming away from shore in a frantic state. Momma moose appeared along shore but did not enter the water, choosing to lumber along shore as her baby floundered further away from land. In a matter of moments, “brother” bear came onto the scene following the youngster right into the water.

To the observers, it was soon perceived the bear would out-swim the moose baby and sure enough, caught up in no time. The big “Bruno” was on the little one, grappling and pushing it under water time and time again. The ungulate toddler scrambled furiously against both the bear and perils of drowning. Meanwhile Momma could do nothing from her shoreline position and eventually meandered off into the forest, probably figuring her young’un was a lost cause. Knowing moose calves have a hard time surviving, even on land, the fisherman navigating the boat decided an attempt should be made to try and save this little guy/gal. The boat was started and headed directly for the splashing fiasco.

Miraculously, as the craft got close, this tactic diverted the bear's attention on the prey and it backed off. Apparently discouraged by the interruption, it headed back to shore, disappearing into the woods. Talk about good Samaritans! Further observation of the calf following this melee saw the frightened critter making its way back to shore. It shook itself off, amazingly none the worse for wear, seemingly uninjured. After gaining some composure, and in a bit of wonderment, it turned its head for a look at these rescuers as if to acknowledge the heroic act on its behalf.

A happy ending to this extraordinary wilderness experience occurred later as the calf gave out a few whimpering wails and Momma returned the call. Soon Momma reappeared and the family was reunited. What a sensational effort by these concerned and creative Gunflint neighbors!

A swell gathering at the Seagull Lake Community center last Sunday closed down the July 4 Holiday break. Those in attendance celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society and the fifth full year of the organization's Chik-Wauk Museum. A brief program followed the social hour and dinner with past presidents reminiscing about this splendid Gunflint Community accomplishment. See a digital of the goings-on with the Wildersmith website posting at WTIP.org.

Closing for this week, a couple reminders are extended to area residents and visitors. The July meeting of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society happens this coming Monday, the 13. The gathering will be at the Schaap Community Center (Mid-Trail) beginning at 1:30 pm.

Of additional importance, it’s “feelin’ groovy” time here at WTIP as the station is in the midst of its summer membership drive. If you’re wantin’ to feel groovy, how better to accomplish such than to get on board without delay. Continued quality programming costs big bucks, so join or renew now to help the cause. Give us a call at 387-1070 or 1-800-473-9847 or click and join at WTIP.org!

Oops it’s Canoe Race time on the Gunflint. See you there next Wednesday.

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 3

The Wildersmith two are back on the Trail. After a quick run to steamy Iowa for a visit with our daughter, it’s great to be home in the “cool” north land.

The flora is oh so brilliant this time of year. Whereas the purity of crystal white in the winter goes unmatched in terms of elegance, our blooming summer has a special moment of its own.

A “technicolor” spectacular is in full array along this historic 60-mile trek through the wilderness. The rainbow of wild blooming things dazzles the visual senses. Both native and non-natives are in combination creating a “Disney”-like fantasy land.

A drive up to the black-top end at Chik-Wauk will provide a soul soothing encounter. One might even catch a glimpse of a moose or a bear, adding to the adventure.

With June having passed us by, month seven is dishing up a double whammy of lunar happenings. If it wasn’t noticed, our first day of July presented the first of two full moons during the month. Yep, it’s “blue moon” time. The second full “orb of night” will occur on the last day of our seventh yearly segment.

Our Ojibwe neighbors labeled our “big cheese” the “halfway” moon, but I don’t know to which this moniker should be applied. Meanwhile, Algonquin tribes tab the first as the “full buck” moon while the second is known as the “thunder” moon. Whatever name is applied, they will both be majestic wonders of the northern sky. A twofold celestial occurrence such as this only happens on the average every two-and-a-half years.

Speaking of other night sky wonders, the first fireflies have started flitting about this neighborhood. If this territory isn’t already a “heaven on earth,” these wonders of the beetle species make the darkness come alive as if the cosmos had settled earthward.

The Gunflint Community’s dance card is nearly full for the next two weeks. If residents and visitors can’t think of anything to do, they are not trying very hard. The first of many coming events kick off this Independence Day weekend up at the end of the Trail (Seagull Lake Community Center).

The Gunflint Trail Historical Society is celebrating its tenth anniversary of existence. At the same time, the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center is marking its fifth full season of exhibits to the public. The gala is a catered fundraising affair on Sunday, July 5, beginning at 5:00 pm. A limited number of dinner reservations remain and a call to Chik-Wauk Museum at 388-9915 will reserve yours.

The next happening involves not only the Gunflint Trail but the “world-wide” listening audience of this extraordinary radio station. The summer membership drive commences this coming Wednesday, July 8. Both new and old listener members won’t want to miss this “Feelin’ Groovy” time to show support for this valued community resource.

Monday, July 13, will find the Gunflint Trail Historical Society holding its monthly meeting. The gathering will be at the Schaap (mid-Trail) Community Center beginning at 1:30 pm. The program will feature Memorial recognition of Trail friends and neighbors who have passed from our midst over the past year. Refreshments will again be served following the meeting.

The Gunflint Trail Canoe Races hit the Gunflint Lodge waterfront on Wednesday, July 15. This is the 39th year of the event which provides support for our Trail Volunteer Fire and EMS crews. Race activities begin at 6:00 pm with food service opening at 4:30.

The grand prize for this year's Canoe Races drawing is a super kayak from the Wenonah Canoe Company. Tickets are on sale throughout the area.

The busy Gunflint area events calendar then continues into August with two more annual happenings. The third Gunflint Woods, Winds and Strings chamber music concert takes center stage on Sunday, August 9. Once again the site will be the Schaap Community Center at 4:00 pm with a reception to follow. Ticket reservations can be made with Susan Scherer at 388-9494 or by e-mail at scher012@boreal.org beginning July 8.

A few days later, the yearly mid-Trail bash to benefit the GTVFD will take place at Schapp Community Center on Wednesday, August 12, beginning at 1:00 pm. Mark your calendars and look for more information on both events in coming Wildersmith reports.

That’s the scoop from Wildersmith on the Trail. Come on up and savor a summer trip along the historic scenic byway! Happy Birthday America!

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Photo by Steve Evans on Flickr

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 19

As the summer solstice checks in this weekend, more summer like conditions have taken over the Trail. We’ve had some splendid sunny days, and temps of both air and water are more suitable to the onslaught of visitors pouring into the territory. A reading of the lakeshore water at Wildersmith finds the mercury in the mid-sixties. So it won’t be long before a dip in the lake on a sticky day will feel pretty satisfying.

Several perennial wildflowers have popped open over the past few days. Most noteworthy are wild roses in many locations along back country roads. While deep in the forest, a number of digital recordings of our precious lady-slippers are being shared through cyberspace. And in areas of predominant sunshine, waves of forget-me-nots are twinkling sky-blue reflections.

On the lesser side of the blooming ledger, those colorful, but invasive, lupines are standing tall in their purple, pink and white spires. Knowing these are not the most welcome by people in the know about native flora, they are nevertheless a striking rainbow of luminance along our scenic byway. All this blooming glory is “Mother Nature” at her best!

North woods magic is seldom more delightful than twilight time on a clear sky morning. Not long ago, I was awakened early one tranquil morning and so enjoyed the privilege of observing the forest wake up. Daylight had broken, although “Sol” had not risen above the horizon,and still-hidden rays had chased the darkness. In spite of the brightening sky, lake water reflections lingered in a somber hue. The atmosphere stood dead silent. Neither leaf nor needle muttered a whisper, and ground level greenery hunkered motionless. Not a creature was stirring until the particular moment when the first beams of sun ascended the granite horizon near due east. Those piercing spears of brightness suddenly turned on the switch. A subtle, but swift burst of warmth engulfed day-break over Gunflint Lake. Almost on cue, solar energy heated the air, causing whiffs of movement. Ripples abruptly wrinkled our mirror-like liquid and on shore, foliage began to tremble. Within minutes, this day-star was fully exposed. Its radiance began to pass through a zillion minute openings in the border country canopy. As the whisper of air amplified, like twinkling lights, glitter bounced off uncountable dew-laden wilderness remnants and flashes of brilliance wiggled along the fiber network of third shift arachnids. Splashes from this great luminary grew more prominent and in their warmth, buzzing critters started swarming about. In moments, the first hummingbird darted by the window on its way to our nectar station. Soon to follow, the larger avian chimed in with their welcoming interlude and not minutes later, the first of many red rodents in our yard traversed the deck rail in search of a breakfast morsel. The day was open for business!

Speaking of buzzing critters, during our mid-day sunshine, as are others, this neighborhood is unbelievably alive with the hum of uncountable insects. They‘re feasting on either the abundant blossom nectar, or searching for some poor soul from which they might withdraw a little blood. If one is attired in proper bug protection, standing out among them catching a listen to this diverse murmur is quite the buzz (no pun intended).

In another moose sighting, a couple residing up near the end of the Trail mentioned one of those rare experiences last weekend. They came upon a Momma and her calf. This is not too unusual except that this little one was still wet behind the ears so to speak, and gawkily unstable as it tried to keep up with Mom. One would have to assume this was a newborn, not long out of the womb. What a joyous experience for not only the observers but also for the new Mother.

In closing this week, a big thumbs up to the organizers of the Boundary Waters Expo. I was there for the opening hours on Friday and have heard many complimentary comments about the entire weekend of activities.

If you didn’t get to the big “shrimp boil” put on by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society last Sunday you missed a feast of awesome proportions. Thanks to all the Gunflint Community for their help in putting on this swell gathering. I noticed several neighboring residents departing the event in a bloated state having made numerous passes along the scrumptious serving trough!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a Gunflint day on the Trail!

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Photo of Gunflint Loons by Bonnie Schudy

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 12

June is fleeting along the Trail. It’s hard to reconcile the new month is close to half gone. By next week at this time, the solstice of summer will be at hand. And although we’ll only be into the first days of “Neebing” (summer in Ojibwe), the long countdown toward shorter daylight time begins.

Early June along the Gunflint has been on the cool side so far, and no one could be pleased more than the moose and me. To make living in the forest even more calming, much needed rain has been added to the “cool” mix. The upper Trail territory received a fine Saturday night into Sunday soaker, so wildfire danger has been abated at least for the time being.

The soaking rain has made for complications in the Trail reclamation paving project. However, I’m amazed at the rapid progress made in removing the old surface. Users should be reminded this course of action takes one back in time to days when the old “Gunflint Wagon Road” was little more than a gravel path. We should all try to exercise patience during this brief inconvenience knowing the road surface will be a wonderful improvement.

And while waiting in line with traffic delays, one can reflect on what our pioneers experienced - you’re living a little bit of Gunflint history.

Marvels of the new growing season continue to unfold. Along back country roads, fiddlehead ferns are uncoiling their fronds, and the coniferous forest is lit up like the holiday season with buds exploding into candles of next generation branches. It’s said a corn field can be heard growing on a humid summer night. One can also seemingly observe, should you pause to watch, these fuzzy candelabra of red and white pines stretching ever skyward, right before your eyes.

As I key this week's area scoop, observers at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center have been keenly focused on the loon nesting platform in the bay of the Sag Lake Corridor. I’m happy to announce the days of incubation for the two eggs are over. The chicks hatched this past Tuesday. The new parents have been diligent in their nesting responsibilities and all appears well with the new family. A photo of the mom, dad and babies can be found along with my column website at WTIP.org.

There is either a huge bear in this neighborhood or a small elephant based on a “calling card” left on the Mile O Pine recently. We all know bears “poop” in the woods, but doing such in the middle of the road seems unacceptable. But who’s going to tell ‘em?

I’ve heard a number of stories in regard to beaver activity in a few upper Gunflint locales. As we all know, engineering skills of these pesky critters is second to none. The beaver dam construction is increasing at an alarming rate on any number of creeks around these parts. This apparent overtime gnawing, and subsequent levee installations, are causing unexpected changes in wetland situations for some property owners.

A big summer weekend on the Trail commences with the first ever “Boundary Waters Expo.” The Expo will begin on Friday afternoon and go on all day Saturday and Sunday. Activities will be held at the Seagull Lake public Landing. This unique outdoor sport show of sorts will feature a line-up of exhibitors, demonstrations and outdoor living speakers. Exhibits will be under the “big top” while demonstrations and such will he held on both land and water. The event looks to be a great opportunity for wilderness living enthusiasts. For more detailed scheduling go to VisitCookCounty.com.

A second reminder is extended for the Sunday “Shrimp Boil” up at the end of the Trail. Beginning at 4:00 pm, following the close of Expo, this second annual fund-raising eat-a-thon (and bake sale) is being sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. All are welcome. The event location is at the Seagull Lake’s Community Center. Parking is limited so car-pooling would be a good idea. Being a donor affair, a per-person donation is suggested. Proceeds will benefit the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Be there or be hungry!

Keep on hangin’ on and embrace this Gunflint gift!

 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 5

As Gunflint Country bid adieu to May, an exasperated “old man winter” took a brief swipe at the area. A couple mornings found low temps in the twenties at some locations. And believe it or not, a couple snow squalls blew through the Seagull/Sag/Gunflint Lakes around eight hundred hours on Saturday.               

The cold had many gardeners on edge for sure. At Wildersmith, we skimmed some ice on the bird-watering shell, and I overheard one fellow’s comment about the cold snap, suggesting “he guessed we’ve had our summer.”

Since that time, conditions have upgraded as our month of the full “strawberry moon” closes in on week one. It seems hard to grasp we are into month six, and his “lunar highness” is already into the books.  What a beautiful moon it was.                                                                                                                                              

We had some swell days, most of which ended with those magnificent “Canadian Sunsets” over Gunflint Lake. Those molten iron beams from “old Sol” as he called it a day in our land of “sky blue waters” remain spell-binding. There aren’t enough descriptors to duly honor the fiery reflections rippling up the lake during warm season evenings.

A couple miniscule showers over the past week helped put the finishing touch on border land green-up.  We are now consumed with foliage to the point where one can no longer look into the woods and see some critter looking back. All sorts of wild perennial blooms are popping out, and we’ve harvested rhubarb from the Wildersmith yard.

More moose sightings have come in than I’ve heard in several years. This is good! One fellow tells of counting six north woods icons in the past week, all being in varying locations along the “Trail” so they obviously were not the same one.

A couple reported seeing a cow and her calf in the swamp opposite side of the road from Mayhew Lake. Meanwhile a gal residing on Leo Lake had a young bull casually wander through her yard and briefly step out onto her dock for a little sight-seeing. If she’d been calling for “all hands on deck” this was surely more than one could expect. I’ve included a digital of this gawky guy with his velvet head dress along my website column at WTIP.org.

Other babies are now coming into the world, notably, whitetail fawns. Folks are reminded to leave them alone if found lying quietly in apparent abandonment. Momma deer often leave them for short periods of time, and are generally not too far away. In other words, don’t fool with “Mother Nature.”

Members, residents/visitors are reminded of the first summer meeting for the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. The gathering will be held at the Seagull Lake Community Center this coming Monday, June 8.

Beginning at 1:30 pm, after a brief GTHS business meeting, Mr. Steve Elliot, Director of the Minnesota State Historical Society, will speak about issues related to the Gunflint Trail. As usual, treats and conversation will follow.

GTHS members and friends are invited to the second annual “Shrimp Boil.” This fundraising event, which will include a bake sale, was a delicious success last year so mark your calendars for Sunday, June 14, and don’t miss it! The event will be held at the Seagull Lake Community Center beginning at 4:00 pm.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some Gunflint magic!

(Photo by Lee Zopff)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 29

It was a glorious holiday weekend in Gunflint territory until the actual Memorial Day when dismal and damp took over. With inviting weather, the Trail was alive with as many vehicles as one could think of pulling and toting a sundry of wildwoods gear and water craft. Warm conditions made us year-around residents forget about the winter past.

Although our cold season was not too intense, we nevertheless have had reminders of such on the ground since last November. As of last Sunday (May 24), the last of our ice build-up along the Mile O Pine passed into history. So if I count right, winter character engulfed us in some manner for seven months. The Wildersmith neighborhood recorded what should be its last snow on Tuesday, May 19th. Leaf-out is nearing completion and should be in full bloom within the next few days. Beautiful as winter can be along the Gunflint Corridor, spring is equally dazzling. A trip on the Trail this time of year is breath-taking with a mosaic blur of green tints from mountain tops to valley bottoms. Could there possibly be “fifty shades of green?”

After some timely rains mid-month, the area has been on the dry side lately. This condition has not stymied the onslaught of buzzing biters. The black flies are attacking with their usual vengeance, while the mosquito coalition is still gathering for training in their blood letting antics.

On another wilderness note, ticks are on about every item protruding from the earth. Several folks have shared observing many smaller ones. This might indicate they could be the dreaded black-legged deer ticks. Care should be taken with daily body examinations if activity takes one into the brush or grass of any kind. I hate to think about how the animals of our “wild neighborhood” are being tortured by these noxious creeps.

Cameo appearances by several members of the animal world have been reported. Any number of moose have been sighted in the twilight hours of both am and pm. But to date, I’ve not heard of calf observations in spite of usual deliveries around this time. Several accounts have been shared about a momma bear and her twins carousing throughout the Gunflint/Loon lake vicinity. I’m sure this family is just the tip of the iceberg for “Brunos,” as thousands call border country home.

Over the past few years, near the locale of our mailbox, a raven pair has nested high in the white pines. This time of year they are always squawking the accolades of new babies. On a recent day while waiting for a somewhat tardy US Postal delivery, more than the usual yapping caught my attention. After a few moments of scanning the tree tops, I found the culprit. It turned out to be a juvenile raven perched on a rather obscure branch. I don’t know how it ended up on this particular limb, but there it was. Whatever the case, my time was amused watching this kid, as it worked up the courage to make perhaps its maiden flight. With a great deal of commotion, flapping the wings, hopping from one direction to another, calling for help and the like, the youngster just couldn’t get into the air. This must have gone on for the better part of a half hour. When I departed the site, junior raven was still there. I haven’t observed it since, so bravura must have ultimately prevailed.

In the final analysis, my semi-annoyance with late mail was tempered into oblivion while sharing this growing-up process in Mother Nature’s world.

On a final note, neighbors along the Mile O Pine enjoyed a raven adventure of their own. In fact, this ebony-hued critter might have been from the same nesting pair mentioned earlier, as it was in the same neighborhood. Their raven tale came to pass while sitting on their deck enjoying a wonderful mid-day lunch. Without warning this brazen “black beauty” swooped down and landed on a birdfeeder tray, barely feet away from them. Momentarily looking them over, the big bird lifted off into a nearby tree top. Hoping the curious critter might be lured back, the lady of the house went to her bread-box cache and brought out a slice. She broke bread into seven pieces, laid them in a row on the tray and went back to sit for a possible return visit. In a short few moments the raven touched down once again. It scarfed up all seven scraps at one time and was soon off into the wild blue yonder, beak full of dough. What an extraordinary treat to break bread with a member of our wilderness world. An exclusive photo of the bird, with bread in beak, can be seen with my Wildersmith website column on WTIP.org.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor a Gunflint summer adventure!

(Photo by Betty Hemstad)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 22

The Gunflint spring has been on hold since we last met on the radio. Cool to cold temps and mostly cloudy skies have been the order. As you might recall from last week's scoop, I mentioned snow was predicted for the area. And, for the out-of-the-area audience, yes it did snow in the wee morning hours of May 12th. By daybreak our spring forest was decked out in the usual beauty of snow. White fluffiness stuck to every woodsy appendage. Some places measured up to an inch. Snow was a “no harm, no foul” scene for growing things though, as by the following afternoon we were back to brown ground with scattered green shoots.

Since winter's flashback, the territory has experienced a couple minor rain shower opportunities, all of which have at least temporarily tempered wildfire danger. However, the hope for more of such liquid applications does not go away.

By the way, as I key this week's scoop, it's “deja vu” with a forecast of another white border country lacing. We’ll know if it came to pass by air time this weekend.

While our weather ran a “foul” note over the past seven, I’ve been alerted to a few “fowl” happenings. Two of these come from the folks down at Cross River Lodge. The first tells of 5 trumpeter swans landing on the Gunflint waters near their west end shores. This sighting alone is pretty neat, but having them actually perform trumpeting skills in an impromptu concert is even more awesome.

Many residents in lake country have been adopted by wild ducks at one time or another. Such is also the case at Cross River Lodge. I’m told a pair of Mallard ducks have been returning for 4 consecutive years, and the quacking pair is back once again to make it a quintuplet. The pair has been tabbed “Donald and Clara,” and have made themselves right at home with high expectations for regular rations. I suppose the two will soon present family additions to the bread line.

Another bird report comes from Sag Bay at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. I was there this past week for a chimney/roof issue and observed the resident loon pair has returned to nesting digs. Happy days are here once more as mama loon is sitting on what must be the next generation. Remembering last year, the two did not hatch any offspring. This incubating exercise will merit watching for the next month to see what happens. The “Loon Cam” from the museum will be focused so folks can keep track of the activity on a day to day basis.

Speaking of the Chik-Wauk Museum, the facility opens Saturday, beginning its sixth season. Hours of operation continue from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm daily. Gunflint history buffs will want to get in there and see this year's new temporary exhibit, entitled “The Paper Trail.” The display is a collection of writings, diaries and journals authored by any number of Gunflint Trail pioneers.

One more note in regard to the Museum site, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society (GTHS) is excited to announce that construction has been started on the new Nature Center facility. The building is scheduled for completion by summer's end with exhibit installation to follow for a visitors' grand opening a year from now. The GTHS has again enlisted the design group at Split Rock Studios (SRS) for exhibit presentations. The GTHS Nature Center Content Committee has been working hard with SRS and it looks to be an outstanding venture, enabling and enhancing more of the historic Gunflint lore. There may be a bit of construction inconvenience in the parking area, but visitors should not be discouraged from coming up for more of the Chik-Wauk magic, and to watch as the new facility takes shape.

Memorial Day weekend has slipped up on us quickly this year. Area folks are reminded Sunday marks the annual fund-raising pancake feed over at YMCA Camp Menogyn. Are you “Hungry Jack?” Serving time is from 9:00 am ‘til noon. Meet at the landing on West Bearskin Lake for the pontoon jaunt to hot cakes, sausage and a reconnection with friends and neighbors.

Keep on, hangin’ on, and savor the beginning of our summer Gunflint season!

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Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 15

The big day for anglers found most having to bundle up in winter layers. Although we’ve had worse conditions some years, this semi-arctic opener caught a few by surprise after some glorious sunny days leading up to our official fishing season. Clouds, winds and rough surf made the first weekend a bit uncomfortable. Temps hovered in the thirties and forties with some near-frost in the Wildersmith neighborhood Sunday morning. So if the finnies weren’t biting, for sure, the cold wind was!

In spite of the weekend weather blip, Gunflint territory continues its march toward green. Aspen are unfurling their next generation of leaves to cast a muted sage tint to our granite landscape. Birch and other deciduous beings are sporting bulging green buds in anticipation of more sun and a much-needed drink of water. By the time this scribing airs, there’ll be a full-fledged aspen quaking.

Meanwhile, with the life-line of sap flowing freely again, our evergreen forest has lost its drab Army-green look in favor of a bright new verdant twinkle. The region's dry spell extended almost another full week before finally getting some substantial rain. Most of the upper trail measured near an inch. A few blooming species couldn’t be held back though, as crocus, daffodils, marsh marigolds and Siberian squill have blossomed without regard for both shivering temps and thirsty soil. Now other flowering things will rapidly begin to burst open when warmth returns!

While keying this week's scoop, a forecast for possible accumulating snow in the area has the green thumb of Loon Lake nervous about early sprouting beets and peas in her planting patch. However, I’m guessing those veggies will be hardy enough to take a brief white blanketing should such materialize, providing it doesn’t hang around long.

A recent winged returnee seems undaunted by the brisk conditions. I observed the first ruby-throated hummingbird a couple days ago. One would think those delightful hovering critters might be wondering if their time of arrival shouldn’t have been temporarily delayed a couple hundred miles south. To take this discussion a step further, I wonder what they find for nourishment this time of year when few feeders are available and even fewer nectar-giving posies have popped. Barely bigger than bugs themselves, I guess small insects must be the only menu choice.

One positive in regard to the current brisk May conditions is the buzzing biters have been slowed. They just aren’t so feisty when it’s cold as it was last weekend. But fear not, these north woods terrorists will get their nips in due time (the bug net is in my pocket).

Cooler weather has not retarded the advance of a few warm season creepy crawlers. As always happens, ants, spiders and a couple other unknowns have found some less than obvious points of entry into the Wildersmith digs. So we are not swatting, but have been squishing.

I’m hearing of many single bear sightings but not any serious breaking and entering incidents to date. Oh yes, there have been the usual bird feeder munchings but who can blame a hungry bear. We humans just don’t get it sometimes! There is no bear-proof avian feeder. Just days ago, a local fellow tells of seeing a bear along one of our back country roads. While approaching in his vehicle, the bear started across the road, apparently not paying much attention. Suddenly startled by this rolling machine, the bear turned tail to get away and promptly, ran head first into a tree. It was a real stunner. The “bruno,” dazed momentarily, shook off the impact and rambled on into the brush. You can’t keep a good bear down! Suppose it has a concussion? At the very least, it’s probably grumpy with a headache. Perhaps this one needs glasses or better yet, a helmet.

On a final note, word has been received on the passing of another border country icon. The last chapter of the Chik-Wauk Lodge and Resort operations is written with the death of Bea Griffis in Harlingen, Texas on May 8th. Bea was 90 and had been in ill health. She was preceded in death by husband Ralph. Together they hosted uncounted numbers of wonderful vacation experiences from the mid-1950s until 1980. Gunflint Community condolences are extended to the thousands of people whose lives were touched by Bea, Ralph and the Chik-Wauk magic! Their memory will endure forever!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a greening Gunflint territory!

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