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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Contributor(s): 
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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PineMarten in a Pan by F Smith (350x335) - Copy.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 17

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
January 17, 2020    
 
Gunflint territory has settled into normal winter as we pass the half way point of month one. Last weekend was more like it should be with a frigid reminder last Saturday morning.

In the twilight of morning, while out and about working for the Gunflint Mail Run Event, temps of twenty-five to thirty-five below zero were encountered along the Byway.                                                                

It was truly a premier North-country time as Sol was brightening in the east and the colossal “Great Spirit” moon hovered in the west. While us north woods folk savor every diurnal moment, this one seemed special beyond any in recent memory. I can’t come up with enough descriptors to pay homage to the serene beauty. Our natural world seemed to be standing still in frozen silence under full lunar boldness. Magnificent is an understated word for the feeling of my being in this special time and place.                                                                                                                     

Meanwhile, the glory of this day gleamed down on activities going on in the Gunflint surroundings. Joy and elation was at fever pitch in the mid-Trail area as sled dogs and their mushers readied for a weekend in the snow and cold.                                                                                                                   
It was organized mayhem with nearly three hundred barking canine athletes waiting their turn to be released at the start line for a run through wild country. It was all handlers and volunteers could do to control this boundless energy and the will to run.                                     
Amazingly, when they were off, like a rocket, it was suddenly all business. The yelping conversation ceased with total effort focused on moving on! What a delightful event with a hats-off tribute to their loving mushers, supportive handlers and veterinary care-givers. If one has never been present at an event such as this, it ought to be added to your bucket list.                    

On a related note, kudos is extended to the race organizers and great folks at Trail Center Restaurant and Lodge for their tremendous work in putting this together. Further, in addition to this leadership, these tireless folks couldn’t do it without dozens of volunteers. For all great events in backcountry America “it takes a community”, and this Gunflint Community plus many other sled dog enthusiasts made it happen. Thanks to all!                                                                                                                                                                

Oh, and by the way, a big thanks and congratulations to all the teams. Added is a salute to the winning teams. If listeners haven’t already heard, the 100 mile, twelve dog class was won by Ryan Redington, of Skagway, Alaska, for the fourth consecutive year, and the 65 mile, eight dog event was won by Joanna Oberg, of Grand Marais, formerly of Northwestern Ontario.   

In other news, more activity in the north woods gets underway this weekend as the day anglers have been long awaiting has arrived. Barking of dogs in Gunflint territory will have been traded for snowmobiles toting gear to that special place and ice augers boring a hole in the lake, all in search of a prize trout. Good luck to all and be safe on that ice!                                                                

In the Wildersmith neighborhood, we’ve had a minor eruption of furry animal activity. While our usual winter Pine Marten visitors have been few and far between, without advanced notice a pair finally showed up last weekend. They frolicked around their feeding stations and each enjoyed a poultry part before scampering off through the fluff. Hope they remember where they can always get a treat.                                                                                                                                     
And frequencies of fox visits have stepped up too. One early morning before daylight, on a trip to the woodshop, I was startled into a rapid heartbeat when the friendly red gal suddenly snuck up behind me, glad it wasn’t a wolf. As I jumped, she too was startled, don’t know which of us was spooked more.                                                                                                                                                                              

A Gunflint Lake and Trail note of condolences is extended to the family and friends of Jean Oleheiser. Jean passed away January 3rd. Jean and husband Chuck were longtime residents of the upper Gunflint Trail before retiring to Richfield, MN several years ago. Both Jean and Chuck worked at end of the Trail for a period of time before spending many years employed at the historic Gunflint Lodge. Jean was a consummate baker, friend and a delightful person to be around!                                                                                                                                                                    
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where we treasure every day, enjoying the blessing of a quiet natural world!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 10

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
January 10, 2020    
           
Gunflint territory celebrates the Ojibwe, “Great Spirit “moon (Gich-Manidoo-Giiziz) and an eclipse all at once this Friday evening. With hope for clear skies, this lunar double feature should be splendid on the breast of this beautiful white landscape.                                                                                                                           

A trifecta could even happen if the “Great Spirit” would summon another night of howling wolves in this border country neighborhood. What a “hat trick” of dark hour happenings that would be.                                                                                                                                                               
Since last week’s commentary about the pack gathering along the Northshore of Gunflint Lake, at least one of the northern icons crossed the lake. Such was confirmed with tracks along the Wildersmith shore where the Canid came up into the yard before heading back to the icy surface during its nocturnal patrol.                                                                                                                                                                    

Meanwhile, a distant canine cousin returned to the yard a few days later. My foxy friend re-appeared after being A.W.O.L. over the days of Christmas. It’s hard telling where she’d been dining lately, but came right up on the deck seeking attention. With the usual expectation of a hand-out, I obliged again with barnyard fowl and fries. I could be wrong, but it seemed I detected a grin on her face as I tossed goodies out on the snow.                                                                                                                                                               
Speaking of another North Country critter, one who is now dozing the winter away, I had the pleasure of gaining some insights about bear hibernation habits in the January/February issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer Magazine. It’s amazing what Minnesota researchers are discovering about Ursus slumbering tendencies.                                                       
 
In the article, entitled INTO THE BEAR’S LAIR, by Amie Durenberger, “scientists believe that getting a better understanding of the physiological mechanisms of hibernation may lead to breakthroughs in human medicine.” The author relates remarkable adventure at gathering such dozing data in this frozen wild country. I recommend getting a copy for reading on a cold winter night, or find it on-line at mndnr.gov/mcvmagazine.                                                                                                                                 

Another MCV article has some interesting perspectives on the problems statewide road maintenance departments are causing the environment through salt applications. While traffic safety is always an issue, Chloride contamination is a serious concern for our precious waters.                                                  
 
With this ever-growing threat to Minnesota’s freshwater resources, efforts are being stepped up by the MPCA and DNR to tackle our salty polluting problem. “Salt does not breakdown or settle out, “Chloride is permanent. You can’t get it out.” The article, “HOLD THE SALT” should be required reading for everyone who enjoys a fresh glass of water and a clear, healthy lake for whatever recreation. Perhaps the days of using just plain old sand should be re-visited, at the very least, on the byways of Gunflint territory.                                                                                                                                                                              

In other news, one of the most refreshing events ever, kicks off tomorrow (Saturday). It’s refreshing because of the snowy, cold crisp air venue and the energies between man and dog.                                                                                                                                                                                          
All is in readiness for the Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Races. The twelve dog, long distance race hits the trail beginning at 8:00am on Poplar lake (mid-Trail), followed by the eight dogshorter race at 9:00am. Races will conclude Sunday by late afternoon.                                                                                                                                                                               

This will be a hectic time for traffic from Trail Center on up the Trail, so folks are asked to slow down and expect some pedestrian/vehicle congestion during the weekend.                                                        

The energy and color of the event is a big deal, so come out and enjoy the historic re-enactment of wilderness travel in yester-year! There are several sites along the race course where mushers and their teams can be observed. Check-out the Gunflint Mail Run website for race course mapping and best observation sites.                                                                                                                                                      

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where we savor every day, whether cloudy or clear!
 

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Gunflint Trail sign. WTIP file photo

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - Jan. 3

The universe is off into the decade with new dreams and ideas. Whereas “hope” is not a strategy, every one of us must commit to actively making life on this earth better than we’ve seen in the past few years. This means a resolution to integrity of effort and respect for the rights and sensitivity of others. In 2020, we must get civility back on track!     
                                     
Speaking of being back on track, “old man winter” has returned to the upper Trail. Following a taste of March over the Christmas break, the upper Trail received a good dose of winter restoration as we bade 2019 adieu. Several inches upgraded the Mile O Pine landscape, and the territory is refreshingly beautiful once again. 

Question is, will the “crystalline make-over” be here to stay? So far this season, winter character has been on a yoyo, taking on aspects of states to the south, with cold for a while only to be squelched with a period of warming. All of this melting and re-freezing has made lake ice making conditions inconsistent, but has set an early glaze on driveways and back country roads.                                                                                 

After taking on ice three weeks ago, ice depths on Gunflint Lake have been slow to grow. A friend did a little drilling in this neighborhood a few days ago and found the icy cover ranging in thickness from about seven to nine inches a hundred yards out. Further, this fresh dose of fluffy insulation has neither helped improve depth nor quality as knee deep slush is lurking in many places.  So caution is still advised!           

Gunflint Lake was quite talkative a few days ago. I’m not sure whether the prompt was from longing for cold or the relative warmth was causing a spiritual stir. Perhaps it was issuing a warning  of snow on the way? Whatever the case there was a lot of moaning and groaning with an occasional solo screech as the big ice block shifted about.                                                                                                                                     

Joining in on this natural world conversation, a choral rehearsal was heard from the Canadian side of the Lake last Saturday. A pack of wolves was at the top of their voices. While the Gunflint-Loon Lake pack has been in obscurity for some time, it could have been these locals or perhaps a gang from north of the border.  Regardless, there was off and on howling throughout the day and into the evening, and I’m betting they were hovered around a setting of venison. 
                                                                                                                                                       

Activity is coming alive once again as the shoulder season has faded in the distance. With a great new snow application, and the holiday madness behind us, cross country skiing enthusiasts will be pouring in along with power sledders. 
 
The territory will be a buzz next weekend with the annual Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Races. Activities will commence Saturday (the 11th) at 8:00 am. As usual, events take off from the Trail Center Lodge and Restaurant on Poplar Lake and finish on Sunday from the wee hours to late afternoon.
This colorful event is always a howling good time for both the mushing teams and spectators. Plan to check this mid-Trail extravaganza out, but remember to leave pets at home (they can be a problem if mixed with the canine athletes).   

For more info, check things out on the Gunflint Mail Run website.  Oh, and if you would like to volunteer, I’m confident there are still opportunities. This can be done on the website as well, or give volunteer coordinator Cathy Quinn a call @ 218-387-3352.                                   

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is savored, come snow or more snow!                                                                                         

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Photo by Fran Smith

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - Dec 27

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
December 27, 2019    
 
As the last verse of year 2019 is being written, I hope your time of this winter celebration with family and friends was safe, peaceful and fulfilling. The Smith’s had just such a visit in Iowa journeying to be with kids, grand-kids and dogs.                                                                                                        

We are back in the quiet of the north woods now, reflecting on the trek of this past year, thankful for good health and the joy of being together for fifty-seven Christmas celebrations. I can’t help but think of many junkets we’ve taken together along the way, and how we looked at each as being the best thing that ever happened.                                                                                                       

Taking a more in-depth look at my seventy-eight year journey, I see minutes, hours, days, months and years having gone by so quickly. Like most everybody, with the routine of day to day business, I’ve seldom taken time to fully assess how great the many stops along the way have been. As life has slowed during retirement, in addition to the stops along life’s way, I’m counting the blessings for the uncountable folks with whom I’ve crossed paths, so many of whom have had a decisive impact on my character.                                                                                                        

Pondering life’s happenings at this time of year reminds me of a favorite scribing I’d like to share with listeners and website readers as we look forward to 2020. While some of you may have seen this before, I’m confident it remains meaningful.                                                                                           

It’s entitled, THE STATION, authored by Robert J. Hastings, and it comes as an excerpt from the Chicago Tribune in 1988.
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Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long trip that spans the continent. We are traveling by train. Out the windows we drink in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn, beans and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village halls.                              
 

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. Bands will be playing and flags will be waving. Once we get there so many wonderful dreams will come true and the pieces of our lives will fit together like a completed jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering---waiting, waiting, waiting for the station.                                                                                                                   

When we reach the station, that will be it, we cry! “When I’m 30.” “When I buy a new Mercedes Benz.”  “When I put the last kid through college.” “When I’ve paid off the mortgage.” “When I get that promotion.” “When I reach the age of retirement, I shall live happily ever after!”                                                                                                                                                                            
 

Sooner or later we must realize there is not a station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly out-distances us.         “Relish the moment” is a good motto--- It is the regret over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.                                                                                  

So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.
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Have a have safe and sane end to 2019 and a joyous greeting to the new decade. Happy New Year!                                                                                                                                                                  

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, and the splendor of nature is a gift beyond words!
 

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Wildersmith_Photo by Fran Smith

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - Dec 20

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith   December 20, 2019    
 
Our seasonal madness is clearly in focus as everyone is scurrying here and there to be ready. Being ready means different things to different people which often does not necessarily hone in on the true meaning of Christmas. However, no matter what the intent, I hope there can be a moment of quiet, at least for one day. Perhaps all of us can reflect with a little respect and love for our fellow man in these darkest of American times.                                                                                                                                                    

There have been some atmospheric happenings along the Trail since we last met on the radio. Whereas this end of the Trail had been on the short end of snow affairs, an unexpected dumping brought a fresh eight inches to this neighborhood. Further, subzero followed with mercury readings dipping to twenty below and a bit more in places, so one of my Gunflint Christmas wishes was delivered surprisingly early.                                                                                                                         

It was mentioned last week I would confirm the ice-on date for Gunflint Lake. While it appeared the 10th would be the likely date, “Mother Nature” had other plans. Winds on the 10th raised a ruckus opening things back up. The next day was a different story as both zero temperatures and quiet air combined to put on the final icing, therefore, December 11thgoes into my weather data bank. This is about the Gunflint Lake norm over the past four decades.                                                                                                

It’s amazing how so many get caught up in the magic of this season, and yours truly is no exception. I can possibly blame it on coming into the world on Christmas Eve while others seem to come down with the fever right after Halloween decorations give way to Christmas.                                                                                                

It’s just hard to resist humming the traditional tunes that dance through our heads in prelude to the night of all nights. In honor of this advent time, I’d like to share a rendition of an old favorite with a north woods twist. The lyrics will be a stretch, a composer I’m not, nor a warbler, I cannot carry a tune in a bucket. I’m certain all remember the melody and I invite you to hum along  if the spirit is moving Titled, “The Twelve Days, of an up North Christmas,” here goes.                            

On the first day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…a squirrel slipping up a tall tree:                               

On the second day of Christmas, the forest gave to me… two lynx a slinking…and a squirrel slipping up a tall tree:                                                                                                                                              
On the third day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…three martens chasing…two lynx a slinking and a squirrel slipping up a tall tree:                                                                                                              

On the fourth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…four foxes trotting…three martens chasing…two lynx a slinking and a squirrel slipping up a tall tree:                                                                      

On fifth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…five prowling wolves…four foxes trotting…three martens chasing…two lynx a slinking and a squirrel slipping up a tall tree:

On the sixth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…six gray jays begging…five wolves a prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens chasing…two lynx a slinking…and a squirrel slipping up a tall tree:

On seventh day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens chasing…two lynx a slinking and a squirrel slipping up a tall tree:

On the eighth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me… eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens chasing…two lynx a slinking and a squirrel slipping up a tall tree:

On ninth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…nine blue jays yapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens chasing…two lynx a slinking and a squirrel slipping up a tall tree:                       

On the tenth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…ten black bears sleeping…nine blue jays yapping…eight eagles soaring…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens chasing…two lynx a slinking and a squirrel slipping up a tall tree;                                                                                                                                                              
On the eleventh day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…eleven white tails browsing…ten black bears sleeping…nine blue jays yapping…eight eagles soaring…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens chasing…two lynx a slinking and a squirrel slipping up a tall tree:                                                                                                                                               

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…twelve hidden moose…eleven white tails browsing…ten black bears sleeping…nine blue jays yapping…eight eagles soaring…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens chasing…two lynx a slinking and a squirrel slipping up a tall tree:
 
Whew!!! That’s it, out of breath from humming to myself and keyboard digits are numb!!!                                                                                  

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is savored, wishing all the merriest of Christmas’, with love and peace on the greatest birthday of all!
 

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Lake Ice. Photo by Daniel Born on Unsplash

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - Dec 13

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
December 13, 2019    
 
Spirits of the Gunflint are being reflected not only around our snow covered landscape, but from the heavens as well with the Ojibwe, “little spirit” moon shooting beams from afar to the forest floor.                                                                                                                                            
The splendor of a lunar experience on a cold winter evening in this wild territory stirs of mystical romance. It’s like days of old, lounging in comfort around a hot wood burning stove with a cup of steaming beverage and either reading material in hand or contemplating the good or not so good tidings of humanity.                                                              

That’s the way life’s been along the historic old Gunflint Wagon Road as momentum builds for this special season of celebration.                                                                        

A swell turn-out of Trail residents kicked off the Holiday Season last Saturday night at the Schapp Community Center. The hall was decked out in twinkling splendor, and folks were treated to a grand assortment of party appetizers and a fine dinner. Thanks to organizers from the GTVFD, EMT’s and Emergency Responders for a swell evening of friendly renewals and reminiscing.                                                                                                                                                                

While the territory does have a measure of white, we are experiencing a mini drought. Since our big snow dumping on November 21st, the Wildersmith neighborhood has collected a measly three and one-half inches through last weekend. As is often the case, the hinterland has seen the major snow producers hit in areas where residents don’t have the same appreciation as do we Gunflinters. A little more has been added since, but we need more snow!                                                                                                                                                            
As the Solstice of “Biboon” (winter) is nearing, more serious cold has finally settled over the area during the past few days. With the lake’s west end being frozen for about ten days, it’s a good bet preliminary ice skimming on the remainder of Gunflint Lake is a thing of the past. Ice thickening is underway in earnest with a shivering thermometer, and it looks like December 10 will be the date of record for the Gunflint in 2019. I’ll confirm next week.                                             

On a related note, I have no hard water report from Saganaga Lake, but do have word Seagull Lake gave way to ice a couple weekends ago. Settling in for winter is always tough for the Gunflint Gal and her two big water cousins to the northwest.                                                                  

But when the cold fitting begins, the process is seemingly supernatural as the first minute crinkle locks splintered fingers with another, then another and another and yet a zillion more. This is an exhilarating natural experience that most take for granted, and few ever get to observe.                                                                                                                                                        
 
This treasured resource can converse in distinct voice at various times of the year, and often will be quite a conversationalist. During a recent morning as daytime winds grew, the ice from darkness hour skimming bit by bit broke into fragments like shattered glass. The silence of the woods was broken at times, in deafening tones as mini-chards chimed against the granite shoreline in a xylophone and tambourine duet. This is much in contrast to the murmuring, screeching and thunderous clamor we will encounter after the icy coat thickens. Nevertheless, whether it is broken glass babel or a roar of ice on the move, water, in either state, is a cherished blessing. After all, “Water is Life!”                                                                                                                                                                         
 
I don’t know if it is a sign of changing climatic times or not, but while we still have avian visitors, there just doesn’t seem to be as many as we’ve had in years past. Of particular note are chickadees and nuthatches. These little folk have been here in droves, but not this year to date. The only birds of consistent numbers of course are Blue Jays, with occasional Canadian Jays and a couple species of woodpeckers stopping by. Maybe with less than harsh weather to date the MIA’s are finding enough sustenance to get by. In any event, they are a missing part of north woods spirit.                                                                                                                                                    

If one hasn’t been in the Christmas spirit, such a condition could have moved into the positive by attending the Borealis Chorale and Orchestra Concert last Sunday or Monday. The local musical artists put on a stunning Holiday performance. Congratulations to all and thanks!

And if being in attendance at this event wasn’t inspiring enough, the Smith’s trek back to Wildersmith afterwards was like dreaming of a “white Christmas.” A starry, moon lit night on the snow covered Trail was reminiscent of “dashing through the snow” only with three hundred horses toting the load.                                                                                                                                    

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as we are waiting, waiting, waiting, for the “winter express” to slow to a stop over border country!
           
 

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Vixen licking her chops - photo by TambakoTheJaguar via Flickr

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 7

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
December 6, 2019    

Border country, like the rest of the universe, has turned the last page of chapter 2019. And here we are with verse one of December already etched into the annals of time.                                            

The past Gunflint weekend was spent on the edge of our seats with all the hoopla of a white Armageddon. But alas, the far north of Minnesota was spared. It is realistic knowing weather predicting is far from a pure science, but once again, we Gunflinters were tricked with another “cry of wolf” gone bust.                                                                                                                                  

While areas to the south got buried, and even though our skies looked the part, the Wildersmith neighborhood and on up the Trail, received barely a dusting. About the only thing positive about the scenario was neighbors and yours truly didn’t have to activate the snow shovel.                                                                                                                                                                                     

In the meantime, real Gunflint cold is still on sabbatical. Temps have remained relatively mild out this way. Thinking back to last year at this time, Gunflint Lake put on its solid winter coat on December 6 under subzero readings.                                                                                                                                    
Gunflint Lake tried on her first icy fitting last Monday morning when still air and a wave of just below zero dipped down from Canada. But by days end, the frigidity gave way to sun and lite winds, as the skim turned to ripples. This suggests the grand old glacial basin is ready to get it on at the next shivering opportunity.                                                                                                            

When such an “op” might happen could be a ways off as my daily check of temps north to Alaska indicates there is presently no serious polar air in North America. Perhaps we shouldn’t write an epitaph for “old man winter” yet. Maybe the Russians are just holding him hostage in Siberia, and the Gunflint could still be in the picture for a winter weather adventure, or two.                                                                                        
People activity remains quiet in the upper Trail. However, I see that cross country ski Trails are being groomed on what is a fairly shallow base. So swishing through the beautiful forest should be picking up. But power sledding is limited by snow depth and trail connections across questionable lake ice.                                                                                                                                                                    
However, the Trail will come alive late Saturday afternoon in the mid-Trail area with the Holiday gathering at the Schaap Community Center. Gunflint friends and neighbors are invited to come out of the woods for the cheer beginning at 4:00 pm and lasting until 7:00 pm. The GTVFD will be providing everything but the conversation, so don’t miss out on the Gunflint Community spirit!                                                                                                                                                    

Another event reminder finds the Borealis Chorale and Orchestra Christmas Concert continuing its annual North Shore tradition. Performances take place this coming Sunday and Monday evenings at 7:00 pm in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Some of our Gunflint Trail neighbors are included in the cast of more than 100 County residents.                                                                                                                                 
Colonel, the Fox, lit up our Thanksgiving Day with a visit. It seems she is becoming very attached to peaceful and abundant Wildersmith surroundings. Yes, it’s a foxy lady! Guess there’s going to have to be a moniker revision, any suggestions?                                                                                                                   

She was discovered in the AM cuddled up near the woodshop door, shortly before the Smith’s departed for Thanksgiving festivities at the “Congo” Church in the village.  I was well prepared and doled out a few poultry morsels and left-over fries, and she was still gnawing on the goodies as we drove up the driveway.                                                                                                                                                                       

Our late afternoon return found a furry surprise nestled in a snow bank not far from where we had last seen her. We raised her from napping as she uncoiled, gave a big yawn and stood on all fours for a stretch. It’s obvious she had spent most of the day anticipating our return. Not wanting to disappoint after the long wait, the breakfast fare was repeated as an early supper.                                                                                                                                                              
 
The charm of her beauty and mystery in those piercing gold eyes is a captivating experience. I’m sure there will be more chapters in this “wild neighborhood” saga.                                                                                                                                                                 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, and our natural world can be up-lifting with the simplest of wilderness engagements.                                                                                                                                                       
 

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Pine Marten in a Pan by F Smith

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 22

Wildersmith on the Gunflint by Fred Smith
November 22, 2019

Gunflint times have made a big turn about as it relates to winter conditions. Our frigid weather of the past month or so eased its grip. Temps in this neighborhood climbed back to more normal last weekend. In fact, the thirties seem pretty balmy compared to the frosty single digits and below since Halloween.                                                                                                                                                       
The Northland has gone through another week of November gray. With minimal peeks of “Sol”, monochromatic is the word of the month. Nevertheless, shades of slate have their place in the universe and can be beautiful too. There are always happenings in the Gunflint wilderness to brighten one’s cloudy day.                                                                                                                                                           

As an example, a couple days prior to winters’ retreat, “Jack Frost” paid his first visit to the Mile O Pine. It was during one of those minus something nights.  “He” dabbed his brush in steamy moisture rising off the Gunflint Gal and dispatched it upon every needle of the shoreline pine forest, as nobody else can. There’s no way to represent in words the majesty of “his” intricate crystal making skills, you just have to be here at the right moment.                                                                                                                         

It’s on a night like the one mentioned above when Gunflint Lake usually sets to making ice for the first time. However, winds were not cooperating this time around so the “old Gal” remains sloshing against the granite along the Wildersmith shore.                                                                                                            

Of the other big lakes up the Trail, I’m told quiet bays are iced over, but main bodies remain like the Gunflint. I did see that Poplar Lake (also one of the larger ones) looks to have put on her hard water coat, as has Mayhew, Birch and Swamper along the Trail.                                                                                                                 

Back to our pre-Thanksgiving warm-up, a good share of our meager snow cover turned to mush and “drippyness.” At the same time, what snow remains is wet and slick as grease on driveways and back country roads. So the path of egress from Wildersmith is already an early winter nightmare.                                                                                                                                                                     

Some wet white was added last Saturday and Sunday evenings in places along the Trail, but was barely measureable, and may be gone by the airing of this weeks’ scoop. So we’ll be starting over with the white carpeting process when the heavy laden clouds let loose.                                                          

This episode of sloppiness surely has negative tones for area businesses having hopes of providing cross-country skiing opportunities by turkey day. Based on the area’s early season “Biboon” experiences, it seemed like a sure thing, but at this keyboarding, skiing is on hold. There’s just no outguessing what “Mother Natures” going to dish up.                                                                                                                                                                

In the midst of this cold reversal, an old friend returned to Wildersmith. One of the pine marten clan stopped by last Saturday evening. It either happened by mistakenly, or a whiff of poultry essence wafted through the woods enticing its nasal senses.                                                                          

The Smith’s actually discovered its’ arrival by mistake. Turning on the deck side light for a weather check, we found the furry critter curled up relaxing in the birds’ winter watering vessel. Luckily the unit was dry, or this could have been a dampening welcome.                                           

We’re confident it’s a returnee because the poultry morsels were missing next morning from the martens’ only feeding cache. So every one in our “wild neighborhood” is now accounted for.                                                                                                                                                                    

News from the Gunflint Trail Historical Society reports work on the installation of an “Allsky” camera is about to become a reality. In partnership with University of Minnesota Duluth, the project has been in the works for several months with leadership and guidance from Joel Halvorson of UMD and Gunflint Lake.                                                                                                           

When the unit is up and running, the world will be able to view this level one dark sky region 24-7 from either the Chik-Wauk website or a link with the planetarium on the UMD Campus. This is a part of an evolving outreach relationship with UMD’s College of Environmental Education to expand broader exploration of the natural world around the Chik-Wauk Museum Campus. Think of the potential for Aurora Borealis observations and other celestial wonders with a cyber click!                                                                                                                                                    

When transmission is available, I‘ll be broadcasting the heavenly news, so stay tuned.                                  

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as adventures of the natural world captivate when least expected!
 
 

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Horses photo by Justin Leniger on Unsplash

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 15

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
November 15, 2019    
 
My how the days fly by! The “freezing over” moon is waning now as the northland reaches the half-way point of month eleven

Conditions were a little crisp around the edges with temps hanging out near the zero mark as the “big cheese” rose over Gunflint territory last Monday evening. The full moon arisin’ was another lunar spectacle while dancing in and out of the clouds above Wildersmith

Added to the charm of the moons’ big November night, squalls of snowflakes twinkled down through the lunar bar of light, as if heaven spilled a bag of stardust. This scene brought back memories of a sleigh ride with friends several years ago over at Okontoe with the late Mark Patton at the reins. Those flakes were falling in like fashion, with nary an adjective doing justice to the romance of the moment.

It’s truly quiet in the Wildersmith neighborhood. Not only are there few folks moving about, with not many deer left in the upper Gunflint, the opening day of the firearms season saw little to no blaze orange hanging out in tree stands or crouching like a bush.

While the long expedition of winter is ahead, the usual November gales have yet to disturb the stillness of the forest. Cold air continues to grip these parts as the ice making business is flourishing, but the big lakes are still rockin’ and a rollin’

Meanwhile little winter precipitation has been added to the white landscape for over a week. Several days with a dusting here or there has accumulated to maybe an inch at best around the Smith place, and a broom easily moved it aside

The puny accumulations have been just enough to cover critter tracks from the previous day. In some ways, regardless of fresh snow amounts, it’s always an adventure each morning to check out tracks of night time visitors

Tracing the mystery of an animals’ mission can pretty much be boiled down to either eating or escaping being eaten and this can lead to uncountable passage prowlings. Always makes me wonder how and where each ended up, in triumph or tragedy

I am intrigued by the serpentine path of fox tracks in the snow as they meander from one side of the Mile O Pine to the other during its’ nightly jaunt. Whereas, it’s distant Canine cousin, the wolf, pretty much strides straight arrow on its’ mission of seeking an edible. This was the case just a couple days ago as I followed tracks of each down the road on my daily mail run

While most days of Novembers first two weeks have been clogged with clouds, a couple days recently have seen bits of sunshine.  Such has perked up even more avian activity at the seed trough. The gang of blue jays has grown to annoying numbers and I’m excited their “whiskey jack” relatives have found their way back.

In spite of Thanksgiving being a couple weeks away for us two legged beings, the days of cold season feasting are well underway for the “wild neighborhood” folks around Wildersmith. I’ve increased my menu selections to include homemade peanut butter cakes, canned frozen
bacon grease and days’ old bread cubes. These items have sure excited all attendees.

I watched the other day as a couple “whiskey jacks” took turns with their beaks buried in the fat can for hours on end, nearly consuming one-half the fourteen ounce container. There’s no way they shouldn’t have been sick for days, but they were back to finish it off the next morning.

Most hibernators have become inconspicuous, but a friend recently reported one such rooting through the snow in a roadside ditch. Apparently it isn’t quite nap time for this stinky black and white striped varmint.

I’m sorry to report the loss of a Gunflint neighbor. Word has been received on the passing of Joan Elbers on November 4th, in Houston, Texas. Joan and her family (the Swenson’s) first came to the North Shore in the 1930’s. In 1959, the Swenson’s established cabin residence in the summer home group on Gunflint Lake. Since 1990, Joan and husband Gerald had a cabin on Gunflint Narrows. The Gunflint lake Property Owners and the Gunflint Community extend sincere condolences to Gerald, her family and friends

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the image of winter comes more into focus each day!

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 8

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
November 8, 2019    
           
The last chapter of 2019 is unfolding, and the Ojibwe, “freezing over” moon, unquestionably defines the theme. Our last few days along the Gunflint Trail have been cold with temperatures locked below freezing.                                                                                                                                                                        
Although not too unusual, the shivery conditions have crept onto the scene quicker than some had hoped. We commence a long, beautiful time, of stillness in the forest.                                                                                                                                                                  

The earth up this way is now frozen to about four to six inches, and going deeper each day, so it’s now able to support snow. This neighborhood had a thin layer of white as I set to keying this weeks’ scoop and has added more since. At the same time, water on smaller inland bodies has been under a “Zamboni” spell since our last meeting on the radio.                                                                                                                                                       

With exception of the big lakes, ice has skimmed in varying thicknesses, smooth as glass. Barring a heavy dose of snow anytime soon, rough seas and/or a warm-up, hard water should grow to be safe for human usage perhaps by Thanksgiving. I can see water solidarity being a skaters’ delight based on current surface observations.                                                                                                                                                                                   

The onset of “Biboon” (winter in Ojibwe) up the Gunflint has shown dramatic changes. Visitor traffic has suddenly come to a halt as most businesses have closed down for this shoulder season. About the only excitement up or down the Trail are “white knuckle” navigating of Byway slippery spots, and roadside explosions from hosts of “winter welcoming” snow buntings. Oh yes, there’s an occasional critter crossing as well.                                                                                   

Speaking of critters, on a recent trip up to Trails’ end I met up with a dapper cross-fox. I had crossed paths with one up on the Sag Lake Trail this past summer, but it was in motley summer attire. It’s hard telling if this was the same I met earlier. Regardless, this one was outfitted in regal winter fleece, a mixture of black, silver and rust, with a luxurious fluffy tail. Truly a striking example of nature’s wonder!                                                                                                                                                                 

Another report came to me, regarding a border country battle for the attention of the opposite gender. Somewhere up in this neck of the woods two Bull Moose were observed in an antler to antler confrontation. Other than hearing of this happening, I have no word as to a winner being declared.                                                                                                                                                                             

Betting that bears have turned in for the winter, I have commenced opening the deck side feeding station. Within minutes, “wild clamor” must have echoed through the forest on the “moccasin telegraph.” Chickadees, nuthatches, juncos and blue jays swooped in and have been here non-stop ever since.                                                                                                                                                                          
Of course my ever present squirrelly friends sprung out of the trees too. There is frequent mayhem for the mini-red rodents as they nervously try to minimize jaybird access. It looks to be a busy winter at the Wildersmith seed cafeteria, and I’m anxious for return of those whiskey jacks and pine marten cuties.                                                                                                                                                                                   
While nearly every Gunflinter seems to have a fox tale to tell, a fellow recently shared one of his, after reading of the return of my furry red friend.                                                                                              

As the story goes, this guy and his family raise free range chickens. Among them, a rooster is “Chair-chicken of the Board.” It dictates control over most all things chickens do, including hen scratching areas around the yard.                                                                                                                                                     
Mr. Rooster is quite territorial and scurries around keeping others of the flock out of his pecking territory. Further, it gets after several household cats too. Guess the cats fear this feathered bully too.                                                                                                                                                                       
A while back, this ruffian cockerel discovered a fox in his part of the yard. Perhaps mistaking foxy for one of the felines, it decided to assert his jurisdiction by lighting out after this uninvited visitor.                                                                                                                                                                
Now the fox was having none of this, and reversed pursuit on this rascal rooster. The chase was short as this barnyard fowl obviously “bit off more than it could chew.” In fact, it became the “chewee”, He’ll strut and crow his stuff no more, a final lesson learned.                                                                                          

As in many lifetime happenings, for beings of all species, timing is everything. The fox didn’t even have to get into the hen house for its chicken dinner while for the rooster, neither timing nor judgement favored him on what turned out to be a bad feather day.                                                                                                                                       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, in the land of whispering pines!
 

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