Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 8

Minnesota “chicken bird” (aka grouse)
Minnesota “chicken bird” (aka grouse)

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The “freezing over” moon illuminates our territory as this Gunflint scoop comes your way. Configured in slipper shape, the “man in the moon” finds our pre-winter theatrics of a week ago having lost some of their grip out this way.
Moisture has been scant as temps have edged above the freezing point during most days following the usual frosty-roof nights. Occasional glimpses of sunshine and light breezes have coupled with the warming to allow the ice cover on some trailside lakes and ponds to step back into liquid form.
As “Tagwaagin” (fall in Ojibwe) creeps toward its midpoint on the calendar, I find the winter welcome wagon crews are out in full force.  Any pathway traveled throughout the area will find flocks of those pert snow buntings exploding from roadside venues to briefly lead one to the next flurry of white-tailed birds, and on and on they go.
Another sign of the times is observed in our Minnesota hares. The north woods bunnies are rapidly slipping into their winter garb. Recently, I’ve witnessed a couple that had already put on their white sox, and the summer camo was almost more salt than pepper. Bet they are hoping for white ground cover more than yours truly.
The frequency of pine marten visits continues to increase around the Wildersmith haven. The other day two were observed chasing each other around the yard. Since they are pretty much solitary mammals, this activity makes me wonder if there wasn’t some late season hormonal action prompting a courtship. This would be unusual since most breeding pursuit happens in mid to late summer.
            Speaking further of area feathered friends, a gal from an undisclosed residence in the upper Gunflint called a while back sharing that she went out on her deck and found 11 of those Minnesota “chicken birds” (aka grouse) pecking around at the base of her steps.  For fear of bringing hunters’ blazing guns down on her place, she asked that I not share her locale.
             I’m betting that this was a late-hatching family that had not flown the coop of mother’s guiding wings. So although the DNR indicates our oft-bewildered, or as local folks would call them, just plain stupid birds are in a down cycle, there are many survivors still hangin’ on.
            As the Smiths were headed in a southerly direction toward town not long ago, we encountered a small flock of big white birds that had apparently the same southern intentions. It turns out that what we observed were snow geese. I have never seen them up the Trail before, but local birderMolly Hoffman confirms that what I saw was what I saw. They can often be seen in this area as they migrate along Superior’s north shore toward the gulf coast.
            This is a perfect time of year to assess what has happened in the forest during the past growing season. Traveling along the upper Trail, one can see that the ravages of a blow down (1999) and three wildfires (’05, ’06 & ’07) are becoming less and less traumatic. The new coniferous growth, now standing alone since the deciduous folk have shed their summer dressing, is teeming with seemingly uncontrolled bounty.
            The “changing forest” has stunning new generation pines growing everywhere. Even the most recent examples of fire-exposed granite are rooting countless thousands of volunteer jack pines.
And where mankind has given Mother Nature a hand, hundreds of thousands of white and red pines are stretching skyward with green energy.
Against the backdrop of evergreen, the golden hue of tamaracks is all that remains of fall’s color show, thus providing more evidence that abundant patches of those delicate treasures have also popped up to take the place of departed old-growth woodland generations.
Obviously, the gal in charge of nurturing these forest gifts has things well on the road to recovery, and it goes to show you can’t keep the good old gal down for long.
Although most of us will not be around to see the forest as it once was, it is so heartening to see this amazing change thriving before our eyes. We are so blessed to be a part of this magnificent transformation. 
At this time of gathering and harvest, our hearts are filled with thankfulness.  We are privileged to watch as tragedy fades and forest life flourishes into treasure once again.
On a final note, the Minnesota firearms deer-hunting season commences this weekend. Thousands of venison seekers will be out and about disguised as trees and brush in pursuit of a prized white-tail buck.  All are urged to use common sense, and be courteous, cautious and safe. Happy hunting!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the bounty of the north woods!

{photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons}


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