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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: November 13

Atmospheric conditions along the Gunflint Byway have remained on the passive side of the ledger. As the area reaches the mid-point of our 11th month, unless things change abruptly, those not in tune with winter will be happy as clams noting the long cold season is being shortened by one segment.

This neighborhood has been yo-yoing since we last met, with abnormal warmth, then a couple days near normal and then back to September character. A skiff of white was recorded, but vanished quickly in the midst of one more “El Nino” swoosh.

It would appear the actual lake freezing over, as acclaimed by the Ojibwe “freezing over moon” of November, will probably be put off until next month. The usual skimming over of our smaller lakes, ponds and swamps by this time of year just isn’t happening.

Although the larger Gunflint Lake is traditionally one of the last territorial bodies to become solid, this “old Gal” is still offering a summer-time lure. Last Sunday, the purr of an outboard motor was heard near sundown from a late season angler heading home. Yes, fresh water angling in the midst of firearms deer hunting season. Wonders of the north land never cease to amaze!

In further testament to our extending tepid spell, another week has passed and more bear wanderings are being reported - no denning up just yet. Perhaps they are holding out for Thanksgiving leftovers.

A couple down the road had the thrill of recording a night time photo-op with a Canadian Lynx. This is the first “kitty” report heard from out this way in quite a while. They sent me a digital of the cat which was unfortunately not crisp enough to share, but you can take my word, this feline of the north was a handsome critter. Snowshoe hares and grouse should beware!

Speaking of grouse, their numbers must be in an upswing cycle. It must have been a fertile year for chick production. In my travels through this neck of the woods I see uncountable numbers of the seemingly dimwitted “chicken birds.”

Continuing avian excitement engulfs the Smiths anytime we step out the door. For some reason, known only to our winged neighbors, the chickadees and nuthatches are infatuated with our presence. I’ve heard of this from other long time Gunflint residents but this tweeting experience is a first in going on 17 winters here. It's like an attack of the birds. They expect to be fed, and we have fallen right in line with their feeding-frenzy expectations. This experience with our feathered friends, in addition to being enjoyable, has proven educational too. Getting an up-close look at their routine of hammering each morsel into a nook or cranny of tree bark is amazing to watch. Their system of warehousing and inventory control would probably even wow “Amazon.”

All this being said, guess we (Smiths) might be included in the “dimwitted” category for getting such a kick out of their greedy companionship!

Last weekend a winter season visitor came back to our deck side feed trough. “Piney” the marten stopped by, having not been seen since the meltdown of last spring. It was easily recognized as one of our previous marten visitors with a tiny notch missing from one ear. Hungry as usual, it spent considerable time munching sunflower seeds much to the annoyance of the usual squirrels and bluejays.

One adventure of north woods living is wondering and imagining where these “wild neighborhood” critters have been, and what they’ve been up to during their transient times. We’ll obviously never know, but it’s energizing nonetheless realizing this one survived the wild for another year, and came back looking quite healthy and remembered a nice place to get an easy meal.

Although not a whitetail deer has been observed for months around Wildersmith, there must be scent of such a return in the air. Wolf reconnaissance has been noted (although not physically witnessed) with evidence from the timber canines found along our Mile O Pine. So the saga of predator and prey lives on, only now a human factor has been tacked on for a few weeks. It is hoped the stars of fate are aligned for both the stalked and the stalkers in this wilderness drama.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! We're keeping an eye out for the stalled “great northern express!”

 

 

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Misty Morning {v2r76 /Flickr}

Wildersmith: November 6

A few days before the trick or treat evening found the upper Gunflint with a prelude to winter. Our first measureable snow fell in an after dark time slot leaving an inch or so in many spots along the Trail.                                                                                                       
Beautiful as the sticky stuff was our first winter driving conditions proved to be on the dicey side during a trip to town by yours truly next morning. The slushy conditions were short lived as mid-day temps upped over the freezing point and my return trip was smooth sailing.                               
Since the brief snowy encounter, “old man winter” has pulled in his horns, giving way to his “El Nino” nemesis. Temps, warmer than normal, are the order as we finish off November week one.  In spite of the mild thermometer readings, it has not felt all that warm due to several drizzly, cloud covered days.                                                                                                                                         
 Typical of November times, it’s been just plain damp and dreary! I guess this is the way things are going to be from here on out as the God’s of natural happenings cool our north country earth prior to freezing solidarity.                                                                                                                                                       
There’s a new found beauty in the forest now. With nary a leaf left hanging, Gunflints’ coniferous timber has the forest all to itself. 
I’m pretty passionate about things evergreen, and a gaze, across valleys to the granite hillsides of a zillion pine spires, is majestic.  The landscapes’ interlude of naked deciduous beings scattered among the forever green, suggests a time honored mosaic of piney hues and gray/brown silhouettes piercing border country horizons at all points on the compass. Our current wilderness surroundings are as uniquely captivating as the Technicolor show just completed. Beauty is, for sure, in the eyes of the beholder, and for this observer, this season of cold anticipation is visually magical in a special way.                                                                                                       
The white tail deer hunting season for riflemen gets underway with a bang (no pun intended) this weekend. With forecast evidence of there being no tracking snow and mild conditions, the hunt may not be the most productive.                                                                 
Nevertheless, deer stalkers will not be deterred. Caution is the buzz word no matter where one’s trekking in the surrounding forest. Blaze orange is the proper attire. Good luck to all, and know for sure, before the trigger is squeezed! 
A gal down the road and I were visiting the other day in regard to whether the bears had turned in for the winter. Neither of us had any proof one way or the other. Next day a call from a fellow residing on the Trail south of Loon Lake confirmed at least one of the hungry critters is still dining out.                                                                                  
Preparing for his winter trek south, he cleaned out the “refrig.” putting the remaining foodstuffs in an ice chest on his deck. Attending to other chores, a subsequent glance outside found a giant “Bruno” sitting on his deck, munching a bag of tortillas.                                                                 
After a stern, vociferous lecture, the bear grudgingly departed, only to return later destroying an empty bird feeder to add further annoyance to its visit. So in answer to inquiries, at least some of the ravenous marauders remain out of den and into the gorging mode.                                                                                                        
Calling all WTIP listeners, website readers and streamers, the final fund raising endeavor of 2015 is underway as this weeks’ Wildersmith scribing/broadcast comes your way. “This little community radio station, that could”, is all about great home-town, home-grown and “home-made” ambition.                                                                                                                                                            
In spectacular fashion for nearly two decades, this amazing broadcast “phenom” has spread its’ forum for news and entertainment far beyond the tip of Minnesota’s Arrowhead. To keep WTIP onward and upward requires financial assistance from many sources. Listener support tops the list.                                                                                                                                                        
Once again, this “home made” community connection in Cook County and around the world is asking its’ many publics to become a new member of the WTIP family or to renew your previous membership commitment. On-going radio excellence needs continuing re-inforcements!                                                                                                                                                                              
Don’t delay make your pledge call now, locally at 387-1070; or toll free at 1-800 473-9847; or click and join at WTIP.org                                                                                                                                          
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith!  WTIP needs you!
 
 
                                                                               
           
 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 30

The Gunflint October is idling in neutral as month eleven is about to slip into gear. Most days of the past week our weather has taken on a November look with more gray than blue overhead along with bone chilling winds.

Although temps have not been bitterly cold, one has the feeling “old man winter” is about to rise from his recliner with a dose of something soon. Summer/fall has passed on and November will be slipping across the border in a couple days. It won’t be long until permanent skims will be glazing area lakes and ponds as water temps are heading south rapidly on these leaden tinted, cool days.

This neighborhood received another meager ration of rain over the past seven segments. Again, there was less than a half inch in my rain gauge, but it’s doing the right thing in regard to soaking the ground. Murky clouds and cool air don’t allow for much drying out this time of year. So this is good for all things needing to freeze damp.

Meanwhile, as the tamaracks are dusting off the last of their golden needles, and with Halloween at hand, long-time Gunflint residents are holding their breath so to speak in hope a storm the likes of 1991 doesn’t throw a ghostly white blanket over trick or treat activities. For those who weren’t a part of the “beggars” time dropping, this territory received upwards of 40+ inches of white 24 years ago at this time. Not living here myself back then, it’s hard for me to grasp snow to such a depth falling at one interval.

Ghosts and goblins will be trekking about the county this year on the heels of the Ojibwe “falling leaves” moon. Having made its tenth appearance of the year this past Tuesday, his “lunar highness” will still be lighting the way and creating frightful shadows behind trillions of timber beings.

Although few youngsters live, or venture from town out this way, everyone is urged to be on the look-out for the little masked creatures darting across roads and driveways. Let's make it a safe and sweet end to October.

Although I receive many comments on moose sightings, it’s been some time since yours truly has come upon one of our dwindling iconic herd. However, my moose observation fortunes got a boost a few days ago.

While traveling up toward end of the Trail, near Seagull Fishing Camp, a huge bull emerged from a swampy domain and crossed right in front of my vehicle. It was not a close call from a collision point of view, but heart stopping nonetheless. Slowing to watch as it trudged off into the forest one direction, a peek the other way, found another of similar enormousness munching some swamp water goodies.

I had to wonder if I might have barely missed out on a battle for the engagement of a fair moose maiden between the one now on my right and the other to my left. It would surely seem the two were not sharing cordial greetings about where the girls are. Whatever the case, like yes, there is a Santa Claus, a few moose are still out and about.

The next day while talking with a local gal about my sighting, she shared observing a pair of bulls in the same location just hours earlier. Perhaps it was the same pair. If so, maybe they’re DNA brothers, then again, territorial issues just might not have been settled before my interruption of the previous day. And yet, could there be four of the big guys in the same neighborhood? It’s “Moose Madness” deja vu.

A timely reminder comes your way as we return to true “sun time” this coming Sunday morning. “Falling back” from another of mankind's manipulations, don’t forget to reset those clocks before you go to bed Saturday evening.

Also be advised to start digging out the “blaze orange” gear as the rifle season on deer opens next Saturday. Sharing the woods with amorous crazed deer and excited hunters can be dangerous, be prepared!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! The express of November is cruising into this idyllic Gunflint territory, right on schedule!

(Photo by Gary Siesennop)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 23

Since our last radio visit, my self-imposed criteria was met in regard to declaring autumn history, in spite of what the calendar says. Winter at Wildersmith happened a few days ago when after a cold night, the following daytime high temperature failed to rise above the freezing mark.

Furthermore, this neighborhood had several mornings of hard frost before recovering in the early part of the week. And to take the cold even more seriously, the area had a forecast one evening featuring the “s” word; however, none of the white stuff is known to have materialized. A mediocre rain fell in concert with a blast of nighttime winds bringing our color show to an abrupt end, ushering in the aforesaid cold spell. Yep, most all leaves have blanketed the wilderness landscape.

This has left the forest with eerie skeletal remains reaching up into the territorial heavens. To view from afar, across our valleys to the surrounding granite hillsides, our denuded trees look to be a mass of gauzy cobwebs with a ghostly cast. How appropriate “Mother Nature” is so casually playing a key role, in adding to the Halloween mood.

As the deciduous part of the forest met its demise, the last character of autumn is glowing radiantly out this way. It's “tamarack time” along the Trail. This final act of the growing season finds our golden coniferous spires brightly lighting up the byway. It’s almost to the point of a blinding blur against a sunlit backdrop. Sadly, these luminous needles don’t last long, and they’ll be raining down with the next gush of pre-winter flurry. In the meantime, this sylvan spectacle is one to behold!

The cold being such, I’ve broken out the winter Carhartt. As I put finishing touches on “getting ready for winter" chores, I must say keeping the warmth in felt pretty good to the creaky old bones!

Speaking of wearing apparel, a mystery of such is ongoing after a recent laundry drying incident. On one of these last days where clothes could be hung out on the line to dry, my wife dispatched a few items, giving no thought about what might happen, other than fresh-smelling garments at day's end. Following several hours in the sun and a fall breeze, she proceeded to retrieve her hangings. Unpinning the last item (a black t-shirt of yours truly), the unit was found to be tattered beyond belief in two locations where it was attached to the line. The mystery is how this did happen? The shirt was in mint condition when hung up. To date there are no substantial answers. The notion is some tight-wire trekking critter is to blame. Conjecture around the house, as well as with neighbors, focuses on either squirrels, chipmunks or woodpeckers. The answer may never be confirmed, but my best guess is, it was a squirrel in need of winter quarters nesting material.

It wouldn’t be the first time around here one of the red rodents has made off with some man-made materials. On one occasion, I observed a red gnawer running off with a cotton glove I had left out. Then at another time, I watched one of the varmints untie a swatch of hemp-like twine from a winter-tethered shrub. The twine, incidentally, ended up as part of a nest in the HVAC unit of my vehicle (a costly fix to be sure). So my assumption possibly has substance, nevertheless, I’m out one of those nice (but not cheap) Duluth Trading Co. shirts.

On a final note, in regard to last week's comments about the energetic chickadees swarming me anytime I’m outside, the lady of the house has now been adopted by a pair of the dainty birds. They won’t leave her alone since she started offering an open hand full of seeds. It’s so amusing to observe this moment in nature as they pluck one seed at a time from her hand, zip off to a nearby branch, hold the seed down with their mini-clawed toes, crack it open, munch it down and zoom back for another. What a ritual! This newly acquired friendship is the “best of all worlds” in terms of pet/human relationships. They really don’t need you, but they’ll be your pal and entertain you -- for a treat of course. And, they can be left alone without the neighbor having to care for them.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, counting the days ‘til the forest becomes crystalline!

 

( Photo by Larry Krause on Flickr)

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Junco {Kelly Colgan Azar /Flickr}

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 16

Our wilderness territory is halfway through the month and fall is fading fast. The dazzle of our golden canopy is dimming rapidly, along with daylight minutes escaping like they were part of a jail break. November winds are whistling in the distance.

A glorious couple of Indian summer days last weekend made for what might be the last warm hurrah of 2015. The upper Trail was glorious as the byway begins to wither of its’ autumn character.

Since I last met you on the radio, this neighborhood was granted a little rain. By little, I mean the Wildersmith gauge registered less than a half inch.

We’ll take it, although not much was accomplished in soaking the dry landscape before our long winters’ nap sets’ in. However, the scant “precip” was enough to grease up back country roads and dirty the sides of everyone’s vehicle.

In spite of the meager moisture, leaves and elder needles from a “gazillion” trees are falling from on high like a summer downpour. I’m guessing the Lion’s share of our leaves will be down as this weeks’ scoop comes your way, especially should we get any kind of wind and/or rain combination. We north woods folks are thankful for not having to rake them up.

It’s a wonder how short one’s memory is during this time of retiring leaves. Suddenly one can see things off into the forest that have been foliage obscured since last spring. This newly found view is every bit as energizing as it was when buds began opening just six months ago! Boy, does time fly!

There is a sort of homey warmth in the leaflets as they collect to texture their final resting place. Accumulating summer wafers of life takes me back to days as a youth where we kids could hardly wait to rake up a big heap for a myriad of fun-loving adventures.

Then re-grouping the crunchy fronds once more, and having Dad light them off in a blaze of glory, sending their ashes wafting heavenward amidst choking smoke. You can’t do that anymore, at least in suburbia (too many ultra-sensitive noses), but I share, you haven’t really lived until you get the truest aroma of fall from a mass of burning leaves. Seemingly, the fragrance parallels the romance from a wilderness cabins’ wood burning stove.

Those of us who have lived this autumnal drama will forever remember this nostalgia. Life was so much simpler then (although maybe not for our parents) and probably more enriching than we ever realized at the time.

A flurry of harvesting chores continues around the yard. Many small members of the “wild neighborhood”, both land based and winged, are either stashing for the cold months ahead or migrating through.

I had a curious chipmunk step onto my shoe one day last week and run up the leg of my blue jeans thinking I was passing out pre-Halloween treats. Finding I offered only an empty hand, the tiny fellow/gal reversed course and zipped off for another source. I’ve recently been spreading sunflower seeds out on the ground away from the house in a small patch for all these hungry critters. Thus far the little gang of diners has not spread the word too far, and I’ve had no bear visitors. Fact is, after a few hours, there is barely a shell left to attract a “Bruno” so all of us are happy.

Black capped chickadees and red breasted nuthatches are particularly excited when I venture outside and they flit about my head as a reminder it’s feeding time. Also in the mix are uncounted numbers of migrating juncos joining in the frenzy. Sure is nice to be wanted. Speaking of juncos, I’m fascinated by the way they hang out along our twisty backwoods roads and then fly ahead of my vehicle for often lengthy distances before darting away from the traveled path. This traveler guiding character seems similar to those snow buntings.

By the way, our winter welcoming, bunting birds may not be far away. And, on another note, there’s a lot of honking up in the wild blue. 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 9

The celebration of autumn during week one of October has been splendid. Our borderland weather conditions just couldn’t be much better. Sunny daytime skies and a blitz of starry crystal nights have seen several segments of morning frost followed by warm pleasant afternoons in the 50 degree range.

Our world is in an ongoing never-ending tragedy of violent, self-serving man against man, but beauty and peace in the wilderness surrounding this little house enables a Utopian escape. This is especially true this time of year.

Unfortunately the pleasant atmosphere has left the area on the dry side. It’s going on two weeks since this neighborhood has had any rain. The lack of moisture seems to be taking a toll on the color show with many leaflets wilting in drought-like stress and falling off without maxing out their fall pageant. Should the rain gods not loosen up and substantially wet the forest down before ground freeze-up, conditions will not bade well for zillions of trees come next spring. Like a few years back, if the forest goes to bed bone dry, we might expect some serious evergreen winter burn if hard freezing comes after initial thaw commences.

Recent cold evenings have prompted the first fire in the wood-burning stove at Wildersmith. With the coziness of a warm fire, I caught up on some reading in a couple periodicals. Two informative articles in the fall edition of INTERNATIONAL WOLF provided additional insights into Canid Lupis management and another, on the moose decline in northeast Minnesota. If listeners are not subscribers to the wolf magazine, I suggest locating a copy at your local library -- interesting information. Then our own MINNESOTA CONSERVATION VOLUNTEER (September/October issue) had two scribings which are suggested reading, too. One features discussion of maladies and predation affecting our moose herd, while a second story entitled SPLENDID FLIERS addresses particulars of avian migration. Hope you can get hold of this great bimonthly DNR publication.

Word is out now from the County Highway Department in regard to some serious road issues in the curvy section of the Trail alongside Swamper Lake. We are told deteriorated (collapsing) culverts under the road surface merit immediate attention (before winter). We are therefore notified construction will begin before the end of this month, and to expect traveling delays as the fixes are made. Projections are for completion about two weeks after work commences.

Another Trail issue has come to travelers’ attention with the recent installation of directional signage for ATV (4-wheeler) usage. In compliance with recent County Commissioner action to allow usage of such vehicles on certain portions of the Trail (to connect with off-trail paths), there are signs, signs, everywhere, we’ve got signs.

Although these signals of information are well intended, numbers of such Byway regulatory intrusions are mind boggling. It would seem there’s a great deal of overkill, perhaps to the point of being confusing for a visiting ATV user, while local 4-wheel riders certainly are in the know as to where they can go to access their trail-riding system under the new policy. I believe it prudent to review the issue of continual proliferation of this state and national Byway treasure with unnatural emblems to supposedly protect humans from themselves. This being said, when segments of our society can’t read, don’t read or pay little attention to regulations anyway (thinking the rules are only for the other guy), couldn’t this signage issue be rethought? Amen, I step down from my soap box!

On a final note, long time Trail residents and fishing/hunting clients from Gunflint Lodge will remember Kevin Walsh. Kevin moved from the area several years ago to south-central Minnesota. As you may recall, he was a gardener extraordinaire, even here in the North Country’s short growing season. His skills at raising veggies have expanded now that he is located where they have real dirt. This past growing season he decided to work on one of those giant pumpkins. Remembering his skill at growing extreme zucchinis, one would expect he would have big success with a pumpkin. That he did! He recently entered his huge squash family member in a contest down in Ames, Iowa. The entry from Kevin’s garden weighed in at 1,293 pounds. Wow, that sounds enormous! Regrettably, his “fat Amy” as he called her, was out-done by six others with the winner coming in at over 2000 pounds. I wouldn’t look for Kevin to take this sitting down. I could see him being challenged to even bigger and better pie-making fruit next year.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. The technicolor Gunflint show is tumbling earthward, better get up here soon!

 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 2

After a quick run to Iowa for a visit with kids, we Smiths are back on the Trail. It’s great to be home as fall (Tagwaagin in Ojibwe) opens up in full array.

Our color show around Wildersmith could peak this weekend while this scoop comes your way. With the exception of wintertime's fresh snow adornments in the forest, autumn in these parts is simply the most beautiful of all possible seasonal characters.

Spicy aspects of fall have engulfed this neighborhood. Last weekend, the deciduous forest was lit up like the nightly Vegas Strip. Bright sunny skies beamed through yellow, orange and red leafy compounds in a mind boggling blur through granite uplands.

At ground level, the landscape shows early departing leaves building up along back country roads windrowed by local traffic and occasional leaf peepers. Simultaneously, the coniferous forest is not to be outdone and is contributing its annual layering of elder needles to the cushy wilderness carpet.

Added to this nostalgic happening are the faint fragrances of damp ground and the onset of decaying foliage. This aroma of the forest is dispersed by soft fall breezes and suddenly, outdoor lovers are captured by the aura. If we could only bottle this sachet!

It’s hard to concentrate with so much natural magnificence all around, but time is whizzing by. Last minute “getting ready for winter” chores are piling up like fall leaves. There are not many docks left on Gunflint Lake. In fact, I might have been one of the last one to take in my summer observation planks and the boat. Thanks to a great neighbor and his son, this “to do” item is now checked off my list.

I’m now onto stacking more firewood, readying the snowblower, mounting the snow blade, wrapping baby trees with deer protection, draining hoses and other numerable winterizing tasks that go along with living at 48 degrees north. Tedious, yes, but the adventure, mystique and anticipation of this magic transformation from warm to cool and then cold is well worth it to this old guy!

Tales of bear encounters continue throughout the territory. It seems as though most reports come from places where concentrations of people are high. Obviously, bears have figured out people can be an easy touch due to careless habits with appetizing nutritional items (in other words, garbage).

In the meantime, Wildersmith has not been bothered by the marauding critters. Now just wait, since I’ve made this statement, we’ll be paid a “Bruno” visit. It never fails, but any curious Ursa stopping by will not find any temptations.

Getting ready for winter continues on at a hectic pace for red squirrels and their rodent chipmunk cousins. The other day one of the feisty seed fetchers got so excited for a hand-out it accidentally got under one of my size thirteens. It didn’t get squashed, but did get its toes pinched. The little guy/gal scrambled off giving me the devil. In a matter of seconds, it was back after me, only this time keeping a more reasonable distance.

Alas, after all the hoopla of this month's “super” full, wild rice moon, such was a flop out this way last Sunday evening. Blue daytime heavens gave way to late day clouds and by the time we should have been enjoying the splendor of this lunar extravaganza, rain drops were falling on our heads. So we’ll try again in another 18 years.

In the meantime, the “falling leaves” moon, of segment ten, will be spinning its fall yarn near ghosts and goblin time. Timing for this one is a spooky coincidence.

In lieu of sadly missing the “super” man in the moon, on a happier note, one of our favorite upper Gunflint neighbors is celebrating a milestone birthday. Long time seasonal resident, Ken Rusk, turns 98. Think of all the things he has seen and been a part of in his lifetime. He’s a walking, talking Gunflint history book. Happy 98th, Ken!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Come on along and enjoy the miracles in Gunflint color.

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Ruffed grouse

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 18

The days out this way have been magnificent examples of pre-fall. Our nights have been pleasantly cool while the daylight hours have been just above requiring a jacket. It may be premature, but I’ve put fans into storage believing we might have just run out of summer.

Anticipating autumns arrival in the middle of next week, our neighborhood was reminded of the “vernal” transformation with a one day sampling of what 32 degrees feels like, just in case we forgot. And, on the ground, wild flower activity has diminished to almost nothing except clumps of purplish asters and some hangers-on goldenrod.

Meanwhile, although folks are enjoying the great daytime character, it’s gone dry once again. As I began keying this week's scoop, this neck of the woods has had but a half dozen drops of rain since we last met. The supplier of rain has completely forsaken us. Wonder if we might be seeing the early effect of that “El Nino” thing.

Speaking of water, or the lack thereof, Gunflint Lake temperatures have tumbled southward into the mid-sixties at the Wildersmith dock. The mercury decline, as on other area lakes, seems somewhat slower than in other years although I don’t have recorded data for an accurate comparison (maybe I’m all wet on this issue).

I’m not totally in tune with all causative factors affecting the leaf tinting process, but our thirsty conditions look to have slowed the development and quality of the forest color show. Just when I predicted great leaf peeping by this time, we’re in a holding pattern.
If moisture relief doesn’t come soon, Wildfire Sprinkler Systems may need to be fired up as a precautionary measure. It seems advisable the units shouldn’t be winterized just yet.

With bear hunting season in full swing, the next round of game pursuit is grouse (also known as north woods chicken birds). From what I can observe, there are plenty of the dippy unpredictable birds around. Three of the dull minded critters were hanging out in our yard over the past couple weeks. They were energized by a fine crop of highbush cranberries, mountain ash berries and something on my apple tree leaves. We often see them pecking around on the ground, but this trio spent most of their time up in the branches consuming every available berry. They then took to stripping two apple trees almost completely of leaves (guess those leaves must have had some insects to their liking). They are gone now, so curious hunters need not invade the privacy of the Mile O Pine.

Most all animals in the “wild neighborhood” are now in some stage of readying for winter, from stashing vittles to putting on their winter garb. Night time travels during the past week found the Smiths crossing paths with a number of snowshoe hares.
As these northern bunnies skittered in a confused manner in front of my headlights, it was evident they are readying, too. All observed have put on their snowy boots and one looked as though it had pulled on clean white long johns.

While bear activity has been absent around here since the roof episode, other upper Trail folks have not been so lucky. I heard of one such black Ursus having to be dispatched after getting into a cabin down at Gunflint Lodge. I’m betting those cabin guests had more of an up-north experience than was ever expected.

In another situation, a fellow down the road ran one off only to have it stop and hide behind a tree. The rather large “Bruno” then proceeded to play peek-a-boo with him before, thankfully, leaving without incident.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Come on out to the Gunflint, where autumn is “falling” about us!

(Photo by Snowshoe Photography on Flickr)
 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 11

With this week’s Radio Waves commentary, I begin year 14 of scribing the Gunflint scoop. It hardly seems possible I have been doing this since 2002. For those of you not familiar, the first six were for the Cook County News Herald, while the anniversary of my time with this great radio station will head off into year eight come December. What a great run it has been thanks to all the news makers and everyone who listens!

Labor Day weekend seems to be all about endings and beginnings. So many observe the holiday as the end of summer; it’s hoped this area follows suit with an end to the miserable heat and humidity which has hung over us for week one of month nine. I can’t think of one person I’ve encountered over the past seven who hasn’t had a not too pleasant comment about the continuing jungle-like conditions. Although autumn officially remains several days away by the calendar, it’s just time for a real beginning to the cooler season with all the happenings tied to the start of another academic year for the young people in our midst.

Moisture additions were minimal in these parts over the past week until this Saturday night into Sunday when a swell rain doused the territory. Most rain gauges topped out at about an inch. Fortunately, the heavens opened up with not too much an uproar around Wildersmith, just a good soaker.

Speaking more of endings, I continue to be captured by the intensity and mystique of daytime closings. If the days-end phenomena isn’t played-out on land or in the sky, it’s in-between on one of the beautiful border country lakes. Such was the case recently when the Smith’s day closed down in a boat on the lake. Conditions were such with warm steamy temps hovering over cool water of Gunflint Lake. The results found blankets of gauzy fog forming incongruous lake level layers as we skimmed the quiet ripples. The early evening magic was breaking through these ghostly clumps where one could see little, then opening into bright sun-setting brilliance. My mind suddenly reminisced to an old CD, entitled “Breaking through the Mist.” The serenity of this time on the lake aptly matched the tranquility of the melodious CD qualities as I remember them. In the cool of the evening, how sweet it was!

Another end of the day episode was brought to mind at sunset from our dock just days later. The display of “Sol” unfolded with another of those red-hot iron beams screaming down the lake from the northwestern horizon. While at the opposite end of the sky, lingering thin cumulonimbus puffs scooped up these blazing neon reflections as pink cotton candy. Meanwhile, dimming light in the east had the lake surface darkening. In concert with the molten iron look from the western heavens and pink vapor above the eastern skyline, the quaking waters did their thing by lathering on soothing, lavender tones. Although the light show interlude was short lived, it was truly one to behold. You just had to be here to totally appreciate.

At our hummer feeding station, we have but one of the elegant critters still hanging out. The rest of the flock has vanished. Guess they have taken off for points south. Another winged group we have been watching is the loons. They are noticeably gathering as they do prior to taking off. We had four circling in the waters off our dock one night last week, showing off their ritualistic diving skills. This exercise was led by one with others following suit, then dispersal and quiet conversation. Another fellow down the lake reports a gathering of six one night in front of his place, doing much the same. So it’s for sure, departure and flight plans are being made.

Regardless of recent temps not reflecting a change of seasons, more color is evolving in our deciduous parts of the forest. We have a striking red maple tree along the Mile O Pine declaring enough of summer. And several young birch trees, which turned golden early, have chimed in their support for a new season by casting away leaves. In a matter of days, this area might be at its peak. Come on out for a “look-see!”

Area residents, visitors and members of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society are reminded of the September Society meeting this coming Monday, the 14th. The site will once again be the Schaap (Mid Trail) Community Center. Beginning at 1:30 pm, the usual business meeting will be followed by a Trail Historical program. This month’s topic will be remembrances and stories of Irv and Tempest Benson. Scrumptious treats from our Trail baking masters will also be on hand. Y’all come!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Peace and quiet along the Trail, is golden as the hillsides.

(Photo by Travis Novitsky)
 

 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 4

The weather outside turned frightful with the coming of September. After a fine fall preview for several days, summer bounced back to wring more juice out of me and the moose once again. August ended with a spectacular full “blueberry moon” over Gunflint land and lakes.

One night prior to the lavish lunar night, the area was tormented by a darkness-time series of thunderstorms. Lightning like an Independence Day celebration and a few deafening booms shook some of us right out of our slumber while causing the house to tremble.

Turned out the “bark” of the storminess was worse than the bite in terms of moisture as this neighborhood counted slightly over six-tenths of an inch. It was not much, but still appreciated.

Bear encounters have taken center stage in wildlife drama along the Mile O Pine. One such act took place at Wildersmith last week. Trying not to be one of those nuisance people who cause scary bear/human confrontations, the Smiths had not had any bear activity since the snow melted last spring. Suddenly a “Bruno” paid us a surprising and unusual visit just as we were feeling pretty smug about having not been bothered for several months.

The scene is set one evening near sunset. This household was having a quiet evening with newspaper and Kindle surfing. A clunking noise around the house caught my attention. Figuring it was sure enough a bear, I sprung from my chair to investigate the goings-on. A couple trips outside around the deck found nothing, so back to the reading.

Once again the thumping occurred and since the winds were buffeting the area, it seemed reasonable something was banging against the house. A further search of the grounds outside found no activity, so it’s back inside. More noise and then another excursion, only this time it’s farther out away from the house. I didn’t venture far when I turned looking up to see old “black Jack” staring down at me from the roof. Yes, the culprit was on my roof. It was at the opposite end of the roof from me and was obviously quite surprised, as was I. I quickly acted like a big bad bear myself with some roaring bellows sending the bear scaling down a nearby cedar tree. It was a medium-sized critter, maybe a two or three year old, that raced off into the forest not to be seen again. What it was doing up there, only the bear knows. Certainly nothing edible was up there. Guess curiosity must have gotten the best of it.

Curiosity captured me too, since “Br’er Bear” saw fit to tear some shingles off the roof while prancing and pawing around. It’s obvious this animal was about as bright as a five-watt bulb having an apparent appetite for crispy asphalt components.

Another Ursus encounter has been shared by a gal down the road. In this case she came upon a bear along her shoreline as it was completing a long distance swim from the Canadian side of Gunflint Lake. This is a good mile or so across, and I’m told Mr./Ms. bear was huffing and puffing as it scrambled up on shore. One has to wonder if it had a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit and/or Passport.

The big one didn’t linger long once reaching land as it high-tailed off into the woods without incident. A digital of “Bruno’s” aquatic exploits is included alongside my website column at WTIP.org under “Community Voices.”

On a winged note, a barred owl has been taking up part-time residence in a woodshed down along the Mile O Pine. It seemingly has some degree of comfort with human beings. A pesky red squirrel dispatched by a neighbor was placed in close proximity to the owl hang-out and was later observed being consumed by the hungry bird.

This interaction brings to mind a special time in Gunflint area history where iconic lodge owner, Peggy Heston, once befriended an orphan owl, and it soon adopted Peggy as its forever caretaker. Perhaps “Ole,” as it was named back then, is a distant relative to the recent Mile O Pine nocturnal bird. A picture of this striking new tenant is also attached to this week’s website column.

As we enter into this last big weekend of summer, don’t forget the annual pie and ice cream social on Sunday up at Chik-Wauk. The serving of sweet treats commences at 11:00 am and continues until 4:00 pm. The event is sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society as a fundraiser. A gift shop sidewalk sale will also be going on while local author John Henricksson will be on hand in the museum for book signing.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Gold can be found in “them thar hills,” it’s “leaf peeping time!”

 

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