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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.


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 16

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At the time of this week's keyboard exercise, the Gunflint territory is seeing little movement by we human animals. As of this past Monday evening, the Wildersmith neighborhood was completing a ninth straight day where the temperature has not been above zero.

Life has pretty much been about trips to the wood shed, curling up with a good book near the humming wood burner and sipping a warm drink or a hot cup of soup! Residents are pretty much just hunkered down waiting out this not too unusual cold streak.

With the opening of the lake trout season, ice anglers are hoping for a break. But I’m guessing no matter what the conditions, they will not be deterred from auguring a hole in the hard water.

The extended cold snap has been both good and bad in terms of snow. It’s good because what we have has been maintained, but bad due to moisture opportunities having been held at bay to our south. Barely one half inch has been added during the past seven in our neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the animal world continues its normal survival tasks, fighting off the bitter elements and dodging predator situations. The “wild kingdom” is tough out here!

A couple of visiting whitetails spent a cuddly morning at Wildersmith last Sunday. In a relaxed mode for a few moments, after a time of browsing the moose maple shrubs, they decided our yard was a good place to settle down for a cold winter's nap. For the better part of an hour these two snoozed, nose to belly in snuggled comfort of snowy nests.

One has to observe scenes like this to fully appreciate the calmness these wild critters so seldom experience as they’re on high alert most of the time. It was a peaceful, precious diorama of north woods life!

Our supply run to Grand Marais last week provided further wild sightings. Several moose were on the loose, and we happened along at the right time. Four healthy specimens were observed at various places in the mid-trail moose zone.

Beyond those up-close roadside encounters, there was considerable evidence of even more activity based on tracks in and out of the snow banks at any number of byway locales. Let’s hope winter treats them well during the balance of the season. Survival activity around our yard continues as well. From tiny voles and other related rodents tunneling about just under the snowy surface, to pine martens dashing from tree tops to ground and back, plus birds, birds, birds; there is little quiet time from sun-up to sun-down.

The Smith’s enjoyed a pair of juvenile pine martens one day last week. This must have been their first appearance here at our deck-side food trough. The two seemed overjoyed with the easy grub opportunities as they sampled poultry parts, sunflower seeds and a can of bacon grease. Their frolic included several acrobatic stunts while exploring this new world of food service at Wildersmith.

Confirmation of members in our Gunflint/Loon lake wolf pack occurred during the past week. Two separate reports were received counting eight, in single file, perusing the Gunflint Lake south shore. Their hunt goes on, and on!

Sadness hangs over the Gunflint Community again this week. Word has been received on the December 22nd passing of Nathalie Rusk. She was 95 and passed at Gunderson Hospital in Whitehall, Wisconsin. Nathalie and husband Ken have been active members of the Gunflint Trail Community for some forty-four years while residing at their summer place on Seagull Lake. Such a sweet, talented person, Nathalie was a joy to be around and will be sorely missed. Gunflint Trail condolences are extended to Ken, her two daughters and a bevy of grand, great-grand and great-great-grandchildren.

Keep on, hangin’ on, and savor a thought for more snow!

(Photo courtesy of Jack Hynes on Flickr)


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 9

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Whereas the last Segment of 2014 was pretty meek weather-wise, the first week of the New Year has seen winter step up on the Gunflint. Our first weekend of January brought out the best cold season character so far.     

In fact, the romance of a spectacular north woods night was never more eminent than this past Sunday. A dashing touch of new white, calm, biting cold air and a caress of “full” lunar luminance were just plain spell-binding.

About all that could have been added to the charisma of these semi-dark hours would have been a blessing from the Aurora Borealis. They could have possibly occurred, but the crystal heavens were so lit up that the usual “northern lights” were most likely not of their dazzling brilliance. This nocturnal segment was a poet's dream!  

From mid-trail on out, anywhere from six to about twelve inches of snow was deposited Friday night into Saturday. Here at Wildersmith the count was slightly over eight inches.    

As the snowfall ended, Sunday and Monday mornings saw the mercury follow suit, dropping to the coldest lows of the season. Depending upon one's location along the byway, temps dipped to anywhere from the low twenties to low thirties below the nothing mark. At the Smith place our Sunday low hit minus thirty-two (actual temperature) and then thirty-six below come Monday. 

In spite of the cold instances this past weekend, there is still some alarm about ice thickness on our Gunflint Gal. Insomuch as most area lakes have twelve inches and upwards, the ice on Gunflint has both safe ice of up to twelve inches and several unsafe thin areas that taper down to about two to four. Of course no one knows for sure exactly where and how far the unsafe areas extend. So it would be a good bet for those traversing the Gunflint to stay in close proximity to shore.  

The weekend weather turned out to be extraordinarily realistic for the running of the Gunflint Mail Run Dog Sled race. Bitter cold and fresh, deep snow harkened back to “earlier Gunflint times” adding modern day authenticity to the colorful event.   

Congratulations and thanks to organizers, sponsors, handlers and of course, to the stars of the show, those dogs and their brave mushers for this historical re-enactment of travel from our wilderness past.     
 
Although the hunting season for the two-legged stalkers of white tails has ended, the hunt goes on with wolves of the Gunflint Lake neighborhoods. A couple deer provided fast food opportunities for the local “pack” down around Gunflint Lodge recently. Further, about everyone I’ve talked to lately tells of some wolf howling experience during darkness hours.    

A neighbor down from me on the Mile O Pine took part in a howl-along from his deck with the iconic critters last Friday evening. Guess the pack was quite cordial in responding to his solo contributions. How about that for a wilderness experience!  

Speaking of white tails, we at Wildersmith were surprised recently with the return of an old “deer” friend. This wild pal had been hanging out around here each of the past few years, but was late on arrival this season.   

Thinking “Notch” might have succumbed to either of the two stalking groups mentioned above we were delighted when this big fellow showed. By the way, his given moniker is based on the feature of a large notch having been taken out of one ear. I can only suspect it occurred with the point of a combatant's antler while doing battle to show his manhood.

Keep on hangin’ on , and savor the pleasure of peace in the north country!  
 


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 2

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Happy New Year everyone! We at Wildersmith hope your holiday season has been peaceful and rewarding.     

So we’re trekking off into 2015 with wishes for renewed efforts toward a more tranquil world and new dreams of prosperity, respect and equality for all. Let’s face it; the past year just hasn’t been a blue ribbon accomplishment for much of civilization, the good old USA included.                                                            

It’s great to be back in Gunflint territory after spending the Christmas week with kids and grandkids In Iowa. Where I was in Iowa, their holiday time was quite springlike with no snow cover, warm temps and off and on rain showers, definitely not winter or Christmassy.                                                                                                                                                 

Those southerly conditions got me a little worried as to whether our winter character might have taken another big meltdown hit while I was away. Needless to say, I was relieved to find the beautiful white landscape pretty much intact as I got to the top of the hill over Grand Marais when returning.                  

Although little precipitation was added during my absence, while keying this week’s scoop this past Monday morning a breath of Old Man Winter sent the mercury skidding to 25 below in this neighborhood.

Guess we are pretty lucky up this way, as the cold season ambience is a sham in many places throughout the northland, especially along the Superior shore. Perhaps Father Winte” will shake loose with some white enhancement as we plow into this New Year. We need more for sure!

Nevertheless, area folks dealing in snow business activities are finding that what we have is enabling visitors to enjoy their time of wafting wood smoke from a cabin stove, cracking sap in frozen trees, whispering air through the pines and screeches from shifting lake ice.                                                                                                                                          

Shortly before the Smith departure southward, our north woods holiday spirit was enriched with a second pre-Christmas concert. And, it occurred right here on the shore at Wildersmith. This serenading expose was not as elegant as the annual Borealis Chorale of early December presented in Grand Marais; nonetheless it favored an impromptu natural expression of border country magic for the season at hand.                                                                                                                                                                               

This choral group featured the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack. Usual howling experiences last only a few precious moments, however this time the performance went on for better part of a half hour. Tenor and bass voices may not have been in perfect harmony, but the spirit of their “moody blues” was one to behold.                                                                                                                         

By coincidence, the timing of this howling experience (Dec. 17) came about on the same night as the Gunflint Lake took on its winter coat. On the breast of new fallen snow and temps well below zero, it almost made one wonder if there might have been a celebratory spiritual connection between ice-on and the canid lupus sing-along.   

Hearing this gathering was so filled with energizing adventure. In spite of not being on the same wave of communication as Brother Wolf, I felt in tune with their “Call of the Wild.”           

On a final note, it is with sadness that I report on the passing of another early Gunflint Trail resident. Lawrence “Woody” Wooding passed away Dec. 11 in Sarasota, Florida. He was 96.         
                                                   
Mr. Wooding was a property owner on East Pope Lake. He lived in what once was the former Gunflint Post Office along County Road #92 during the early 1950s, having purchased the place from then postmaster, George Stapleton, in 1953. Gunflint community condolences are extended to his surviving family.                            

This weekend finds us rejoicing in the Full Wolf/Great Spirit moon (Gichi Manidoo Giizis). It seems implausible we can be celebrating so many happenings all at once; the beginning of a New Year, a full moon, a two-week-old winter season and the topper, receiving the first 2015 seed/plant catalog. This is too much excitement for an old geezer!                                                     

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor this new beginning!
 


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 19

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‘Tis the week before Christmas, and oh what a mess, Old Man Winter has taken another hiatus!  Yep, border country experienced another December weekend meltdown as “Mr. Frigid” has gone AWOL. Perhaps the “global warming Grinch” took him south?                        
                                     
Drippy, dismal weather was the order, and those depending upon winter conditions for economic sustenance have had to put cold season activities on hold. The atmospheric scene even produced some April-like showers around Wildersmith last Saturday night and on into Sunday/Monday. In an area where there’s no business like snow business, one has to feel sad for the folks depending on such.         

About the only thing going has been some hard-water angling. In spite of the soggy surroundings, walk-on conditions are favorable on nearly all lakes except Gunflint and Saganaga (Sag). Meanwhile Sag and Gunflint refuse to cooperate with the ice in process. It’s difficult to get reports on Sag, but my watch over the Gunflint Gal has observed couple of almosts, giving way to wind and, now, abnormally warm temps.                                                                                                

A little Gunflint Lake ice-on trivia shows an average date of Dec. 13 (since 1982). Last year, she slipped into her winter coat on Dec. 8. The earliest date on my short-term data sheet was Nov. 26 in 1996, while the latest is Dec. 29, in 2001. One thing for sure, our Gunflint freeze-up is beyond the average, and unless we get some serious cold soon we’ll be pushing up against a new late record entry.         

Serious consequences occur with meltdowns in back country. This is usually a late March until May happening. As thawing and refreezing happens, our secondary roads, driveways and walking paths become slippery nightmares. Keeping the vehicles out of the ditches and our bodies upright can be challenging. About the only things mitigating these hazards are cold dry snow or spring. So everyone trekking about up this way should proceed with caution until normal returns.                                                     

On a brighter note, a couple days prior to the dank weekend sogginess, our Gunflint Lake shore was blessed with some Jack Frost artistry. Every time he performs his glazing craft, I’d swear it’s the best ever, and this instance was no exception. The most recent expression found him exploring a medium of icy needlework.                                                                                                   

As moist foggy air drifted over the lake and slid up the elevation of our landscape, the adjacent forest was converted into a sparkling wonderland of elegant diamond styluses. During my daily trip to the mailbox, I checked out several needlelike appendages up close. They ranged from a quarter inch up to nearly an inch in length, and when you multiply them by trillions you can understand my awe of the woodland brilliance.                                                                

I was completely captivated by the glistening brilliance as the sun occasionally pierced the clouds. The beaming setting was like I’d been caught in the middle of a glitter explosion. This scene extended as far as my eyes could see!   

The grand drama of this winter testimony lasted for the better part of 24 hours, and then, with an upward blip in the thermometer, was dripping history. The show was truly a magical moment in my memories of wilderness life. One just had to be here to fully grasp the regal charm of Mr. Frost!                                                                                                                        

On a final note, a trip down County Road 20  a few days before the snow became slush, another moment in north woods time popped up. One of those ghostly snowshoe lagomorphs scampered across the road in front of my vehicle.   

In a rather amusing occurrence, the long-eared critter must have misjudged its distance from the windrowed snow bank. In attempt to scale the white mound, it leapt too soon. In a flurry of snowy confusion, it went head first into the bank. Surprised to say the least, the bleached bunny flopped about and bounced straight up in the air before suddenly blending off into the scenery.       
                                                       
With a growing number of lynx sightings in these parts, I think yours truly should have been the least of this rabbit’s worries. Guess it just might have been a “bad hare” day!                                                                                                        

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the joys of the holiday season. Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!

(Photo by Contemplative Images on Flickr)
 


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 12

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Headed toward the midpoint of the month and the north woods winter has become a big frump. Our area is going on nearly two months since we had any worthwhile precipitation. Although border country did get a scant coating of white stuff earlier this week, the substantial deliveries of such have gone elsewhere, making us look like a desert tundra in several locales.    

Our minimal snow cover is stimulating many of the wild neighborhood critters to be out and about. I’ve either observed or been told of nearly every animal one could expect to see around here this time of year.                                                                                                                                                                    
Moose sightings are becoming a daily norm along the Trail during the twilight and nighttime hours. On a couple ramblings up and down the Trail I have found any number of gatherings along this 60-mile salt lick. As recently as last Monday the Smiths got a rare, up-close photo op with a big cow along the Trail. She was so cordial as to walk up out of a ditch to within a few feet of the vehicle and pose, looking us straight in the eye.                                                 

Many other folks also report encountering the iconic guys and gals out getting their mineral fix. I don’t know if we are all seeing the same ones, but if not, it is encouraging that there could be a stabilizing of the moose herd along the byway corridor.                                                                
Numerous accounts have been filed on wolf activity. A gal skiing over in the Crab Lake area reports of a caucus along the ski path during the past few days, although they had dispersed long before her arrival. Then as recently as last weekend, a pack of seven made their way from Canada across Gunflint Lake near Gunflint Lodge. Nobody I know of challenged them on being legal immigrants. Meanwhile, there are plenty of signs that they are making nightly sojourns along our south shore and up on the Mile O Pine.     

Adding to the adventures of nocturnal animal movement, on a recent late-night trek down the road toward Wildersmith, we encountered a big beautiful lynx intersecting our path. The big cat didn’t allow for much of a look-see as it scampered off into the forest headed toward Heston’s Lodge as we passed.                                                                                                      

A few whitetails have come back to our yard since closing of the rifle hunting season. For the most part, they seem to be returnees from previous years. All are familiar with these surroundings, and know exactly what windows through which they can see us and transmit their forlorn hungry look.

We are already observing more fox activity about the yard than we had all of last year. My superior skill at catching the tiny rodents in a couple outbuildings is more than keeping them supplied with bonus treats for just passing through.   

If the fox don’t get these rodent catches, then the pine martens have been readily cleaning up any leftovers. We have either one or several that are now visiting with regularity. One night last week, one was found inside a tiny squirrel lunch box feeder on our deck side feeding rail. It was trying to finish off the remaining sunflower seeds.                                                                

This may not seem too unusual except that the volume inside the tiny feeder was maybe 5x5x5 inches. Once inside the unit, the animal found itself sitting on top of what it wanted to eat. I could see, by the way it wriggled around, that it was apparently perplexed at not being able to dine in comfort. The marten finally solved its dilemma by exiting, and then opting a head-first-only entry. It must have worked because the feeder was empty at my next refilling visit.                                                                                                                                                                              
A night or so later, a battle took place at our feed trough. Although I didn’t observe or hear the commotion, I suspect there was some disagreement over who gets what. It’s my suspicion that it could have been two martens sparring over a chicken part. Or perhaps, a single marten did in a flying squirrel for some late night dining.                                                                                                  

Whatever the scenario, it must have been a vicious confrontation. At feeding time the next morning, I found the blood-spattered remnants indicating there had been trouble at the “OK Wilderness Cafe.”                                                                                                                                                          
It’s a menagerie around here, and life isn’t for the faint of heart in our critter world!                                                                                                                                
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor our open zoo!

(Photo courtesy of Fred Smith)


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 5

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The upper Gunflint territory enters December, and I’m beginning to get a little nervous in regard to our area continuing to be missed by major snowstorms. I realize it’s still pre-winter according to the calendar, but moisture reserves of snow in the forest are necessary to avoid an unnerving dry spell before our next green-up. The temperatures have surely favored opportunity for some nice seasonal decorating in anticipation of a delivery.  

Speaking of temps, the area experienced some serious cold over the past week. With only a minor warming hiccup last Saturday, the stage was set for the unfrozen big lakes to finally cover up as mercury skidded into the teens below at our place. 

Shortly after sending out last week’s scoop, the water on Gunflint started taking on the winter shivers. Ice-up soon progressed to the point where our Wildersmith shoreline froze about a third of the way to Canada. It stayed that way, gaining a little more each day, but still having open water toward the Canadian border.

I was thinking we might get a total November ice-on which hasn’t happened in nearly two decades (November 26, 1996 to be exact). When I was about to write this happening into my weather records diary, Mother Nature initiated a border country tug-of-war. A strong Arctic front crashed down on us Saturday night and the fight was on, wind against ice. 

The fury of howling air sent the remaining open water into a churning rage. By Sunday morning, the north wind won the battle. Our infant frozen coating had ceded to the furious seas. The Gunflint gal, except for a protected west end, was in sky blue status once again.

Ice cakes were stacked up on our granite shore as slushy remains bubbled up in rolling waves against a spectacular crystal mass. So the Zamboni process on Gunflint Lake will be re-convening with our next quiet night.                                                                                                                             

One nice thing about restarting this ice-over happening is that we get a second episode of hoar frosting along our shore. With frigid air over warmer water, the look of a boiling cauldron will be casting moisture-laden clouds ashore to magically glaze every exposed forest appendage. If there ever was a Hallmark holiday card setting, it just had to be captured around here during one of these spectacular times!                                                                                                                             

A funny thing happened on my way to the mailbox a while back. Approaching the line-up of postal receptacles, I noticed a large black item sitting on top, and thought it was a parcel in one of those black plastic garbage bags. Getting closer, to my surprise, the object turned out to be a common raven.                                                                                                                                                                                  

It took flight as I pulled alongside. I didn’t give much thought about why this ebony critter was there in the first place as a pair has been nesting in the area for a few years. A closer check found the USPS had delivered a package to a neighbor’s box. The item was too big to fit inside, so it was sacked in a protective plastic wrapper and left on top.                             

Apparently, the container caught the attention of this curious avian and it could not resist a little postal inspection. This inquisitive being didn’t know it’s a federal offense to tamper with other peoples’ mail. I observed it also cared little for the fact the item was a cardboard box wrapped in plastic protection, because it had torn open the bag, pecked about a 6-inch hole in the box and pulled out part of the contents.                                                                                                                                

Somewhat comical, it was nevertheless a bad scene for the intended recipient as the contents were no doubt damaged, with no recourse. The neighbor eventually got to the mail box and picked up a tattered delivery.                                                                                                                          

In visiting with him about the incident, he revealed with an iffy grin, catch this; the contents of his package were in fact, a bird feeder.                                                                                        

How about that for a rare happenstance? That bird had some kind of intuition and also a bit of larceny in its heart. But it’s not going to be a jailbird.     

Saturday night (December 6) the north woods will celebrate the full “cold/little spirit” moon, and the timing couldn’t be better. With the spirit of our lunar experience and this approaching festive season, a gala open house invitation is being extended to Gunflint residents, their families and friends.                                                                                                                                                                                

The Gunflint Trail Volunteer fire Department is hosting a “thank you” event at the Schaap Community Center (Mid Trail Fire Hall #1) beginning at 3 p.m. and running until 7 p.m. It’s a time for the volunteers to express their gratitude for the fantastic community support of the three facility improvement projects during the past couple years. Every Gunflinter is invited to kick off this holiday season with friends, food and fun.          

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the sights and sounds of this northern paradise!
 
(Photo courtesy of Fred Smith)


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 28

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We wilderness folk are bidding November farewell, following the annual day of American bounty stuffing.  Hope your Thanksgiving was a comforting time!    

On the brink of chapter 12 (December), area residents watched as Old Man Winter slipped into a listless warm stupor last weekend.     

Those days saw our colder than normal month turn a damp dismal gray. With temps hanging out near the freezing point, fog, drizzle, dripping rooftops and sloppy roads were the order. It was unseasonably ugly. Thus our meager snow cover was depleted, leaving barely enough to say we have white on the ground.                                                                                                     

As I pull together this week’s Gunflint story, there was promise of a return to what it should be this time of year. Sure enough, completing this week’s scoop found the territory with a new coating of white.  December has come on us in a flash. Let’s hope the cold is back to stay and the “great man of the north” brews up even more forest flocking.                                                                                                                       

Prior to the warmup of last weekend, several mornings of both near and below zero allowed further ice enhancement in the upper Gunflint. A couple of the larger bodies took on their winter coat as both Seagull and Poplar lakes sealed up on the night of the 19th. I don’t have data on these lakes with regard to early hardening water, but it would seem this hasty ice on could be a near record. Meanwhile, Gunflint, Sag and Loon lakes continue teasing us, with their only ice showing as build up on rocky shore lines from the pounding wave action.                                                                                                                                                                 

Last Sunday saw the Minnesota rifle season for deer come to an end. I haven’t heard of many bucks being taken out this way. However, it has been reported that one fellow took a buck which, when tracked down, had a huge buildup of ice on its rack. There’s opinion the big fellow must have swam across Gunflint Lake from the Canadian side. Due to the frigid air temps during the aquatic journey, water splashing up on his regal crown froze instantly.        

Another hunter tells of being so well camouflaged while sitting and waiting for that prized buck, a wolf walked right by him and didn’t even notice. It would be my guess the wolf was either so intent on its own hunting expedition, or had a bad smeller and poor eyesight. In either case, it would seem that both parties should be happy one didn’t notice the other.      

While deer herd numbers are down in this part of the Arrowhead, it was a pleasant surprise when a momma and her offspring showed up in the Wildersmith yard a few days ago. Along with tracks in our snow along the Mile O Pine, we can confirm at least some have survived both predation and a bad last winter.                                                                                                                                                                  

The frosty blast of week three saw a terrific increase in air traffic to border country bird feeding stations. Both outgoing and incoming visitors at Wildersmith are of the customary varieties. The bulk of the winged folk seems to be a larger than usual number of those “jet blue” arrivals. I’m speaking of the blue jay bullies. It must have been a great reproductive year for the blues.                

An unusual and lone grackle has also landed, and apparently found our provisions to its liking. This iridescent black beauty has been here for several consecutive days. In comparison with other frequent flyers, this guy/gal appears not one bit intimidated by the squawking jaybirds. It will be of interest to see if it continues to hang out, or is a bye, bye birdie.     

Another feed trough returnee made a nocturnal visit last week. Although it was not specifically observed, one of our neighborhood pine martens came by investigating the menu offerings, leaving tracks all over the snow-covered deck. I can’t tell if it has been back since the melting snow has eliminated my tracking opportunities. I have cordially invited the critter back though, by offering a couple marten menu favorites, poultry pieces.                                                                                             

It won’t be long and all of our winter critter friends will be back in the fold at Wildersmith!                                                                                                                                                                                  
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the charm and mystery of our December, “cold, little spirit moon.”          

(Photo courtesy of Evan Leeson on Flickr)


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 21

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Beginning this week’s Gunflint scoop finds the weather outside frightful. Howling northwest wind is driving snow horizontally, and temps are tumbling to what will most likely be their lowest of the season to date.  But the wood stove is so delightful!                                                                                                                                                      
Although our territory continues to miss the big snows plaguing places south, Old Man Winter looks to be gaining a better grip with each passing day. Ice thickness on some smaller lakes has increased to the safe walking point. This in mind, sportsmen might be trading their difficult venison quests for some hard-water angling. The big lakes remain rolling and cooling in anticipation of a night with serious calm and subzero temps.                                                                                                                                                                   

While I can’t speak for the masses of deer hunters stalking this area, a couple Gunflint/Loon Lake buddies have tagged their white tails, marking a successful 2014 hunt. Apparently, after a slow first week, bucks seem to be moving back into these parts. Hope we get through this closing firearms weekend with a safe and fruitful pursuit.                                                                                                      

This is such a wonderful time of year! The exploits of wilderness critters can easily be documented, compliments of our white landscape. Our “Biboon” (winter) carpet enables the observation of uncountable trails of animal activity.       

I can’t help but get a kick out of following the prints of a fox as it meanders down our Mile O Pine. In search of rodent munchies from a roadside snow bank, paw marks zig and zag from one side to another in uncanny pathways.  

On the other hand, wolf passage takes a considerably more defined direction. One can easily assume this canine kin is on a straight-line mission, seldom veering off course in doing white tail reconnaissance.                                                     

In spite of not seeing many deer tracks yet, their casual, browsing hoof prints find them often scuffing along dragging their feet as if they are exhausted. Then again, they might be in  energy-saving mode should an unexpected predator escape become necessary.           

Add in the footmarks of uncountable smaller creatures in our “Northern Wilds” and a land of mystery and enchantment is authored for us woodsy adventure seekers. One can only imagine what they might have been up to.                       

A fellow living on the north side of Loon Lake shares about coyotes making a recent visit to his yard. Guess they found bird-spilled sunflower seeds to their liking. It’s not unusual to find coyotes around the county, but this sighting is the first I’ve heard of out this way in some time. Perhaps the moccasin telegraph will alert local wolf packs in order that they might have an interest in these uninvited pests.                                                                                                                                    

And speaking of other less-than-welcome north woods nuisances, a raccoon has been hanging out at a place up the hill from Wildersmith. To my knowledge it has not made a visit to the Smith yard as yet. Nevertheless, I’m on the lookout for this masked bandit. A cozy north woods cell has the vacancy sign out, complete with a complimentary treat of bread and blueberry jam.  Those ring tails just love bread and jelly!                                                                                        

The Wildersmith two made a quick run to northwest Iowa last weekend. In so doing, I was amazed at the usual post Thanksgiving shopping madness having already commenced. It seems as though the vaunted Black Friday holiday shopping insanity has been scooched up to almost Halloween time. Will this American craziness ever end?                                                          
   
I hope everyone will at least take a moment to give thanks for our bounty this coming week with a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.    

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a back country venture!

(Photo by Brad Carlson on Flickr)
 


 
Ermine

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 14

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Wildersmith adds his “many thanks” to all who stood up and pledged during the membership drive of last week. It’s most heartwarming to see so many wonderful WTIP followers come to the front for this vital support endeavor.                                                                                             
To everyone who put a paddle in the water for WTIP during this past event or earlier in the year, you can’t be thanked enough for sharing your bounty. Hurray, the fundraising goal was reached once again!                                                                                                                  

Halloween is over, but it’s hard to tell because there are still plenty of big orange costumed objects out in the woods. Now most of the orange is of the hot variety, and rather than being at ground locations as pumpkins usually grow, the orange characters are silently hanging out up in trees throughout the territory. 

We are a week into the state firearms deer hunting season and from what I’m told by the locals, the venison pickin's, are pretty slim. The border country predators have done a job of culling the herd into a “bucks only” season. With such low numbers, most likely not too much ammo will be expended.

I suppose it will take a few years for the white tail numbers to rebound, what with the hungry population of bears and wolves continuing to stalk this particular hunting zone. However, hunters fear not, for Mother Nature will find a way to make things balance out. 

This scenario of sparse deer numbers may speak well for the dwindling moose herd. Perhaps the element of fewer deer, as hosts to brain worms which can result in devastating neurological disease in moose, might set the stage for a resurgence of those numbers.  Only time will tell on this issue, along with a balancing out of the predator problem. 

Not only is the area void of deer, more importantly, we need moisture. The upper trail neighborhood continues to be bypassed by major precipitation deliveries. Yes, we’ve experienced a few trivial snow efforts, but that is about it for the past several weeks.  

On the other hand, temperatures are about normal, thus allowing old mother Earth to cool enough for the support of what little snow has fallen. The landscape is minimally white, but at this news gathering, more was in the offing.                                                                          

Remembering last winter, this neighborhood did not get a substantial snowfall until Thanksgiving Day. That’s when winter really began to get going in earnest. So we should not be too dismayed about a major dumping not yet having been recorded.

A couple critter species that change their wardrobe color seasonally have completed the task at my last sightings. This process might indicate that convincing winter conditions are just around the next curve in the byway.     

We’ve discovered that a “gam” of ermine has apparently taken up winter residence under the insulation blanket on our septic mound. They have finished their apparel conversion to pure winter camo except for the black tip on their tail.

It was a treat when we discovered the little weasels darting in and out from under their new digs during a brief white-out squall last Saturday. There was so much scampering about it was hard to decide just how many had taken to the new residence.   

Meanwhile the latest lagomorph observation found the north woods “wabbits” are in readiness to fool predators as well, with their newest snow bank disguise. In the case of survival for these hares, it’s often all about “splitting hairs,” and the hip-hop colony around here is prepared in full dress whites. 

With intensifying cold there are murmurs throughout the forest other than winds through the pines. For the last week, I have not been made aware of any bear sightings or engagements. It would be a good bet that the hum from area Bruno dens could, at last, be the snore of “sloth” sawing logs. Happy dreams to all, and to all, a long winter’s nap!  

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a bounty of north woods memories!

(Photo by Fabio Bretto on Flickr)
 


 
"Whiskey Jack"

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 7

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Act two of the Gunflint prelude to winter hit the marquee late last week. It’s not to be unexpected this time of year, but when an early storm hits with the ferocity like this one did, it probably made some folks shudder about possible things to come.                  

The sudden grizzly character of “old man winter” came as bit of a surprise on the night before trick or treat. It blitzed us only a couple short hours, but howled like it was a January rendition.  

In the aftermath only an inch or two or three accumulated in the upper Trail region. By next morning, temperatures had plummeted and the landscape was a white wonderland.           

Scenes from this production left us with reminders of winters past. Travelers had to pull off for lack of visibility and the Trail was glazed in slipperiness. Horizontal snow left everything with a north northwest exposure plastered with the wind-driven crystals while the lee sides were cast in a mosaic of uncovered shadows come daylight.                                                                                                                                          

The area went into a mini deep freeze for a couple mornings with the temp at Wildersmith dropping to ten above by last Saturday morning. Our trip into Grand Marais for church the next morning found many smaller lakes and swamps along the byway had taken on their first skim of ice.                                                                                                                                                                                  

This initial ice on is always a treat for yours truly. While some will probably equate this with watching paint dry, I find the crinkling process of liquid becoming a solid to be an intriguing natural wonder.  

I do not dwell on premonitions as in the case of the latest winter happening, but in thinking back, something might have been in the wind a couple nights prior. On those evenings, I couldn’t help but notice the roar of wind through the trees had a wintertime sound.                          
To me, for some unexplained reason, movement of air in the winter has a more unrestrained resonance than it does at other times of the year. Perhaps the leaves of other seasons buffer the frightfulness of our cold season blasts. While there may be no scientific basis for my thinking, winter wind is what it is, many times unmerciful, and that’s what it was for this first serious wintry revue!  

I was recently informed about a gal out his way who’s had north land flower arrangements on her table in every month since last March (probably some early southern exposure Daffodils), with the last blooms being harvested just prior to the collapse of autumn last week. I’m told all such blossom gatherings were of the outdoor variety, not hot house pansies.  

Yes that’s March into October, eight months! I’m not aware of what this lady’s last flower cutting was, but happening in late month ten, goes to show that not only are we residents hardy, but so are many of the natural beings that bloom around us. 

The customary birds of winter are gathering in mass around this neighborhood in hope easy seeds will suddenly appear. I have yet to open the seed barrel for fear of attracting a hungry sloth onto the deck.

In all likelihood, the “Brunos” may be holing up as I write. Perhaps by this time next week, I’ll feel secure in opening the avian feed bag for the anxious “tweeters.”                                                                                

Some of the earliest winged returnees were a pair of “Whiskey Jacks” (Canadian Jays).This sociable couple are a welcome sight after being AWOL from Wildersmith all of last winter.                                                                                                                                                                          
WTIP listeners and website followers are reminded community radio programming does not spring forth like north woods flowers. It takes fruitful enrichment through periodic public funding campaigns.                                                                                                                                                                       
To keep our exceptional North Shore resource growing onward and upwards, don’t forget to make a new or renewing pledge during the current “Many Thanks” membership drive.     

Every dollar counts! Call now at (218) 387-1070 or toll free at 1-(800)-473-9847!                                                                           

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the north woods spirit of our “freezing over” moon!