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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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.

 


What's On:
Pine Marten

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 14, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith    December 14, 2018    
 
Since our last WTIP gathering, Gunflint country has experience days of calm and peace. These Halcyon segments have found this territory in partial winter mode, absent one half of our winter character.                                                                                                                                                           
 
The upper Trail endured a good dose of cold for several days, but we’ve been devoid of snow. Don’t take me wrong, we have snow however barely a few flurries have been added.                   
 
To expand upon the cold feature of our atmospheric goings-on, some nights of well below zero in this neighborhood prompted real ice making on the Gunflint. After a sputtering try at freezing a week ago, she got right after it on the night/morning of December 6 & 7.                       
 
There was no messing around this time. By morning on the 7th, I could see from the house water was still by the shore, but had no idea hard water would consume the entire surface in just a few hours.                                                                                                                                                                                 

This “ice on” date is somewhat early as the average over the time we’ve lived here is nearer mid-month. My records go as far back as 1982 and the earliest freeze of Gunflint Lake since then was on November 26, 1996. So 2018 is some two weeks off any contemporary record.                                                                                                                                                                                          

By the way, a Gunflint Lake cousin, Seagull Lake froze on November 20th according to folks along those shores. It is funny how conditions and locale can vary so much in just ten or twelve miles.                                                                                                                                                                                      

The next night was about equally as cold around here, and the “old gal” uttered her first commentary of the season. It was a screech like always, but one has no way of knowing whether her outcry was in delight of a new coat or pain from an ill fit. Whatever the case, we can now start building depth for those ice anglers come January.                                                                                 

A day in the winter woods seems never to be without an animal adventure of some sort. A few days ago the Smith’s spotted one of our many “Pineys” (martens that is) bounding over the snow toward our place. We watched it making its way up on to our deck, and heading for the snack shack.                                                                                                                                                                      

As it was about to stick its head in the little box for a treasure, something up in the trees was spotted, spooking the furry critter. Checking skyward carefully for a few moments, one could see the martens’ “wheels a turning” when a decision was made to grab a bite and make a run for it. While grabbing the poultry part, another alarm from above startled the furry one. This caused a Nano-second memory lapse where it let go of its treat.                                                                                                                                                                                       

The first of two oddities popped right before our eyes. The morsel of fowl dropped barely centimeters from the jaws, and quick as lightning, the critter caught it, mid-air, mind you. Oh, it was so nimble and quick.                                                                                                                                                                              

In awe, wonder number two captured us. In a flash, Mr. Marten shot across the deck, took a leap to a nearby tree and literally flew down to the ground at what looked to be supersonic speed. On the ground, it screamed over the crusty snow into a brushy thicket and out of view.                                                                                                                                                                                         

This riveting scene then took on another twist. During this ground level sprint, we observed a flight of blue jays zooming not far above the martens’ pathway to cover, and they too were soon lost from view.                                                                                                                                                 
 
One can only surmise these jaybirds were the one’s kindling the marten’s first treetop alert. After all, how did it know this was not a hungry eagle or a craving owl overhead.                                                      

Thereon, thinking about all this commotion, I assumed the blues’ were following “Piney” in case this ration of fast food was dropped, whereby they might get a crack at it. They are pretty cagey about laying claim to possessions of others, the big bullies.                                                                                   

With exception of disappearing into the woods, this chapter of our natural world novel knows no end. The beat goes on, predator/prey, survival of the fittest, fastest and craftiest!                                                                          

For WTIP, this Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with a shout out for let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!   
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 7, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       
December 7, 2018    

Back at the keyboard again, I’m contemplating a week into month twelve with the lights of year 2018 beginning to dim. It seems we’ve rounded the corner into December way too soon. In spite of the year heading off into oblivion, the Gunflint Trail has a radiance extending our “Biboon” (winter) landscape brightly toward the New Year.                                                                                          

A couple of light snow droppings over the past week have magnified spirits for us lovers of wintertime. The forest is decked out in its’ seasonal best, so incredibly beautiful, it’s a gift beyond words.                                                                                                                                                                               

The accumulation of snow, to date, is not heaped too deep but is just enough to encourage area cross country ski operations. I’m told most all ski trails in the Gunflint system are packed and even a couple have done a little tracking where the base allows. Another six to twelve inches will have things in prime swooshing condition.                                                                                 

As of this scribing, my early season snow measurements for this neighborhood total sixteen inches, although some of the total has come and gone while “old man winter” was getting his cold act together over the last couple weeks.                                                                                                      

Meanwhile, temps early last week gave our Gunflint Lake gal the idea she might get under her winter cover. It looked as though we might have an early ice on. Winds were calm and the old gal skimmed about a third of a mile across.                                                                          
Then, as things often happen, the “great spirit of the north” exhaled with a huffy bluster, and a day or so later the first crinkling of hard water disappeared. So our icy waters are dashing shores once again.                                                                                                                                                                              

From what I can find out, Gunflint Lake and Saganaga are the only lakes with open water at the moment. All others are locked up for the next several months. However, it should be expected, safe ice is still in question.                                                                                                                                

I’m hearing a few gripes about the gloomy skies of the last couple of months. In fact, I overheard one longtime local say he was getting out of the wilderness to see if he could find sunshine somewhere.                                                                                                                                                                     

Then another fellow mentioned he’s never seen it so dark, seems like he’s driving off into a dark hole at night. Guess we folks at forty-eight degrees north take for granted our dark sky nights when all those heavenly bodies are beaming down upon us. They’ve been pretty much undercover since about October.                                                                                                                                          

It is interesting here at Wildersmith, with our location below the north side of a high elevation, on these cloudy days, when the sun does appear, it takes until about ten am to shine down on us. Then in the afternoon, old “Sol” begins fading below our horizon between two-thirty and three o’clock, so daylight is scant for now. Soon to be changing though, the Solstice will be turning things around once again in two weeks.                                                                                                    

A bonus happening pairs with the Solstice this year, as the Ojibwe, “little spirit full moon” fulfills its last yearly cycle just hours after, so there will be a real enlightening of the north woods just before the “biggest of birthdays.”                                                                                                                                                        

In the meantime, night travelers headed out this way will need to look for twinkling enjoyment from our annual sentinel of lights along Birch Lake. Yes, once again our good Trail neighbors on the Birch have enhanced our holiday spirit by lighting that big spruce along the byway. It may not be like the one in Rockefeller Center or at the White House, but its significance to light the way is nonetheless, magnificent.  Thanks to the Birch Lake crew that makes this happen.                                                                                                                                                                                             

In closing, I hear of a new trend coming in Christmas trees. Apparently, among millennials and urban “yuppies,” “black” is now in, for holiday trees of the future. This seems alarmingly artificial when we live amongst uncountable trillions of trees that are forever green, and symbolic of life itself, on the planet. It seems as though the purveyors of this somber notion are missing something.                                                                                                                                                                   

Giving this trendy idea a little deeper thought, I believe this ebony inclination is really nothing new. Our marvelous north woods territory has had black trees in the forest since the beginning of everything. We see them recurring every day, and we call it night time!                                                                                                                                           

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with life warm and simple and not too complicated. “Black” Christmas trees, really, “humbug”, what is the world coming to?
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 30, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith          November 30, 2018    

A week away from the keyboard finds me back at it last Sunday evening. The Smith’s had a delightful time in Iowa with our daughter, celebrating “turkey day.” The weather down in Iowa was far from frightful. In fact, barely a skiff of snow muted their tawny landscape. So travel situations made for a stressless jaunt in both directions.                                                                             

With yours truly already into the winter mood, the best part of the return was climbing up the Trail to our winter wonderland. Adding to the white patina, “Mother Nature” was in the process of a little touch-up work. Thus, the last fifty miles to Wildersmith through this byway tunnel of evergreen was not only spectacular but also energizing for our pre-holiday spirit.                                                                            

The Smith’s hope your Thanksgiving was pleasant! Thinking of the past weekend’s trek into Holiday madness, I trust “Black Friday” ventures did not have you seeing “red” much less put you into the “red.”                                                                                                                            
Speaking of this seasonal essence, Gunflint Trail residents are reminded of the Open House Christmas Party as we kick-off this first weekend of December. The event will be held at the Schaap Community Center (mid-Trail fire hall) this Saturday, the 1st.                                                        

The gala put on by the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire and Rescue crews is to recognize and thank Trail residents for their continuing support of the department. Doors open at 4:00 pm and good times will run until 7:00. Food and refreshments will be provided, and in the interest of this giving season, attendees are asked to bring an item for donation to the local food shelf.     
 
I just have to share with you an unusual critter happening, as our trip started south along the Trail last week. Some distance down the byway, we rounded a curve to find a USFS vehicle blocking traffic in the opposite lane. The circumstance was perplexing as to what was going on with no apparent human activity observed.  
                                                                                                      
As we slowed, checking out the surroundings we found the reason for this traffic stoppage. On the road shoulder to our right, a race for life was in the unfolding, and it had the attention of this forest ranger too.                                                                                                                           

A snowshoe hare came bounding along the snowy ditch right at us with a pine marten in hot pursuit. There was maybe a dozen feet separating the two, and it was hard to tell how the race was going.  Knowing who might have been declared the winner is undetermined as they eventually dipped into the forest beyond our view.      
                                                                                                        
One thing for certain is they are sprinters, not distance runners. It was all a matter of who could last the longest. We’ll never know whether a rabbit dinner was had, or there was angst of a martin finishing second? In either case, this small animal chapter of predator/prey activity provided yet another episode of wildland drama.                                                                                              

On down the road, a “king of the north woods carnivores” crossed our path, so this was a bonus observation, to say the least.                                                                                                                                                

And on another carnivorous note, a fellow living in the mid-Trail neighborhood experienced an eerie meeting with a six pack of gray wolves, just days before the Thanksgiving week. I’m told he set out in his canoe on Poplar Lake (before the ice came on) paddling to check out an eagle nest he’d been watching. Reaching the location, he put ashore and commenced into the woods a short distance.                                                                                                                                                                       

Not far on his journey, he had an uncomfortable feeling he was in the company of something or somebody, causing him to stop, listen and look around. To his surprise he’d come upon the pack, lounging in a sunny opening of the forest canopy not twenty feet away.                                               

Of course, they saw him too. He stood silently and watched them for several minutes. Then one stood up and looked him over, and the rest followed suit before meandering off out of sight. Although there seemed to be no aggressiveness, his trip was terminated.                                        

While he made his way safely back to his watercraft, another wolf crossed his path. It is unknown if this was a pack member. In any event, this wolf went on without causing further concern. I’m betting there was a lot of glancing back over his shoulder in-route to getting in that canoe.                                                                                                                                                                                             
It might be thought that the wolves, though curious, had less concern with this human in close proximity than he had of the wolf presence, but one can never be sure. It is well known they prefer venison, so he probably didn’t make their mouths’ water. The Gunflint Community is happy this adventure ended free from harm.                                                                                                                                                              
In closing, during the recent Mile O Pine absence, my foxy friend was left to fend for itself. However, a good neighbor down the road picked up the slack, accommodating the oft hungry critter. Along with his grandson Merrick, the two of them had an enjoyable time treating this bushy red “buddy” of the neighborhood.                                                                                                                                                            

The two have since departed back to metropolis, breaking the short term act of kindness. I’m guessing “Braer Fox” will find its way back to Wildersmith because the food service has re-opened with Turkey parts on the menu. I hope the “moccasin telegraph” is getting the word out.                                                                                                                                                           

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with adventures behind every tree or around every curve.
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 16, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
November 16, 2016   

 
As I started keying this weeks’ Gunflint scoop last Sunday, winter had tightened its grip on the northland. The upper Trail forest is decked out like a Hallmark Holiday card.                                       

At Wildersmith, seven to eight inches of cold season character has blanketed the neighborhood since the unexpected storm swept through kicking off last weekend. It’s a good bet areas in the mid-Trail snow zone have recorded even more. So at the moment, we head into the second half of month eleven pearly white.                                                                                                                                             
The wind howled as the first of the storms’ onslaught passed, making for white-out conditions across Gunflint Lake and many others as well. Adding to the fury, temps tumbled into single digits in places and a first zero reading on the thermometers around the Smith abode early one morning. Since then temps have rebounded a bit but remain in the ice making mode.                                                                                                                                                                                 

Once again, our magic white carpet has captured my attention. I make this comment in regard to evidence of animal visitors in both twilight and darkness hours. It’s tracking time.                                                            

Of course, I can identify most tracks left in the snow, so I know who they are. Intrigue and adventure come in wondering of their motives for leaving such impressions of attendance. Were they hunting, or the hunted? Could they have been on the run or just strolling by? Maybe their trek was simply a shortcut to another place of safety or a midnight snack.                                                                                    
I’ll never know for sure, but my curiosity always runs wild imagining what was going on. The entire scenario kind of carries me back to another place in time. Guess it is more legacy of the Gunflint Trail rising up from wilderness lore.                                                                                                              

Adjustments back to Central Standard Time came easy for the Smith’s. However, we still catch ourselves commenting, “Boy, it sure seems dark out already.” I know this is bothersome for many dwellers this far away from the equator, but it will pass. As the trek is made toward the “Solstice” it’s hard for some to contemplate maneuvering of the heavens and earth as the universe sticks a little more darkness onto each day. One just has to hang in there until the point in time when it all reverses course.                                                                                                                                                                
All of this reminds me of a scribing by author, Tom Hennen.  He states in his work, “The Life of a Day” that: “Each day is unique and has its own personality quirks, which can easily be seen if one looks closely.”                                                                                                                                                     
“Days usually pass mostly unnoticed, unless they are wildly nice, or grimly awful.”                      
“For some reason, we want to see days pass, even though most claim they don’t want to see the last one for a long time.”                                                                                                                          
“We examine each day with barely a glance. And say, no, this isn’t the day I’ve been looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for the next, when we are convinced our lives will start for real.”                                                                                                                                                               
Meanwhile, the days go by “perfectly well adjusted, as most days are,” with the right amount of light and dark.                                                                                                                                     

Guess we all should take more time to live life one day at a time and enjoy it for what it is, after all, “every days’ moment is a miracle.”                                                                                                                                       

As we look toward the week of Thanksgiving celebrations, travel safely if you’re on the roads and enjoy the days with family and friends, remembering all for which we ’ve been blessed!                                                                                                                                                                                       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, and we Gunflinters know it, by experiencing “wildlife in the wildlands.”

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 9, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
November 9, 2018             

It’s Sunday evening as I begin this weeks’ Gunflint scoop, and it appears my winter declaration is panning out sooner than later. It’s snowing.  Rooftops and the ground are turning white and the area is under a winter storm warning. What may happen in our up north atmosphere during the days leading into this second weekend of November remains to be seen.                                                                                                                                                                    
Regardless of the weather situation, we at Wildersmith are ready. Most of us live a life of lists. My 2018 edition has been a long slate of “do this and do that” in preparation for winters journey. Imagine my surprise when suddenly I looked up from all the “doings” and find there is nothing left to cross off. The plow blade is mounted, the snow blower tested positive on the first pull and the snow shovel is in the ready position by the back door. Guess I’ll retire to the workshop for some sawdust production.                                                                                                                                                                        

Meanwhile, with temps around here hanging in the thirties under mostly cloudy days, it has allowed the night time skimming of area ponds and smaller lakes to extend more than a few hours into the next day. Although the early crinkling of ice is far from safe, a few nights into the teens and twenties will soon lock them up for good.                                                                                      
 
And speaking of area water bodies, they are suddenly filled to the brim. Although precipitation over the last several weeks hasn’t seemed too prolific out this way, guess the persistency has played a role more than suspected.                                                                                                   
 
A specific example is a wetland along the upper Trail west of the USFS Seagull Guard station. This particular liquid location has taken on the look of a substantial lake. I’ve never observed this wetland area in such a condition before. One might suspect “Beaver and Beaver Construction Co.” may be responsible for work along Larch Creek, thus holding back the rushing water from the highlands, as primary the cause.                                                                                                                                                                             
Beyond our enthusiasm for the pending big snow adventure, excitement reigns boundless around the yard. Deciding bears are likely no longer a threat, I’ve opened our deck-side critter eatery.                                                                                                                                                              
 
The first morning after our return to standard time found me awake at daybreak and the avian folk in a feeding frenzy. One would have thought it was the morning of “Black Friday” as the mixed flock was seemingly out of control in its assault on the seed tray goodies. Of course, a gang of blue jays was trying to dominate. Thank goodness, a couple of red squirrel air traffic controllers were regulating arrivals and departures enabling the smaller winged beings to land for their share. Such “wild neighborhood “energy is as invigorating for us observers as the winged participants.                                                                                                                                                       
While the migrators continue coming and going, I’ve received a report of first upper Trail pine grosbeak arrivals. The spectacular rosy/pink, cold season, visitors have been seen in the mid-Trail area, and I spotted a few during a recent trek along the Trail.  
                                                                         
At the same time, I’m still observing robins. It would seem they should have been on their way south after the cold of late September and nearly all of October. I hope they don’t get caught with ice on their wing tips, but guess they know what they’re doing.                                                                                                                                                            
With nary a leaf left hanging out his way, the woods are left drab and brown, but one can now see deep into the forest. This being the case, the opportunity to observe things not seen in months is increased considerably.                                                                                                                   
 
Such was the case on our last trip into Grand Marais when we Smiths’ had the occasion to catch a wolf crossing our path, on its’ way into the woods. Whereas we always know this carnivore gang is out there, we hadn’t seen one in some time. So this sighting was exciting as always, and we’ll keep on watching.                                                                                                                           
 
While on the subject of wolves, especially as it concerns humans tinkering with the dynamics of natures’ balance, I came upon an insightful writing in a recent edition of the Sierra Magazine. This well-written document by Conor Mihell explores perspectives of re-introducing wolves onto the celebrated Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.                                                         

In substance, it chronicles two differing points of view regarding the attempt to restore balance to predator/prey management with a burgeoning moose population and only two, rather unhealthy, known wolves. Entitled, "A Reasonable Illusion", I would recommend it to all who cherish the wilderness world.
                                                                                                                                                                 
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint, where every day is great, as the “great spirit of the north” is gathering momentum!
 


 
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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 2, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint   by     Fred Smith     November 2, 2018    
 
Gunflint territory greets November with a bit of trepidation. We full-time borderland residents know “Mother Nature” is engaging month eleven as her curtain call for 2018 warm and fuzzies. Following a few sneak previews of winter since late September, this is “her” final warning. Ready set, here we go!                                                                                                                                                 

Although the weather out this way has been on the calm side during recent days, sunshine has remained a rare commodity. Dreariness usually associated with this new month has extended through nearly all of October, this last week included.                                                                                        

Gray skies and a couple soakers have bolstered moisture conditions for things that will grow again next spring but have been more chilling to us two-legged creatures than if it had been snow and in the single digits. With temps hanging in the mid-thirties to mid-forties, it’s been just plain raw outside.                                                                                                                                                                             

I did notice a skim of ice on bodies of water along the Trail one morning when the mercury hovered around the twenty-degree mark, but by afternoon it was gone and has remained in the liquid state as of this scribing. One thing certain is that area lakes, ponds and swamps are on the verge of making “hard water” with temps in the thirties. This is further corroborated in the heavens by Novembers’ Ojibwe, “freezing over” moon, “Gash Kadino Giizis.”                                                                                                                                                        
Speaking of being on the verge, one can never be sure what might happen about now. Remembering last year, the areas first blanket of snow came on October 27 and was still here in early May. On a related snowy note, the area escaped a repeat of the famous 1991 “Halloween Blizzard” as trick & treaters did their begging in damp and cold.                                                                                                                                                                                   
All this seasonal stuff in mind, yours truly is making a couple declarations. First of all, I’m proclaiming it officially winter in spite of what the calendar claims.  We had a day here when my-self-imposed criterion was met as the daytime temp stayed below the freezing mark.                                                                                                                                                                                             
 
I feel safe in making this statement as other folks out this way are demonstrating they know what’s coming too. Last Saturday volunteers hit the Banadad cross-country ski Trail for a day of cleaning up accumulated summer debris, all in anticipation of the first opportunity to swoosh through the woods. Thanks to all!                                                                                                                             
Another group of beings in tune with the times is those pert little snow buntings. Our winter “welcome wagon” is busy along Trail sides exploding with each approaching vehicle as if to say, look at us, we’re here, it’s that time of year.                                                                                                                                                                                     
My second revelation comes in regard to Americans regaining a degree of common sense by recognizing the time of day by the sun, as the creator intended. Remember, it’s time to “fall back” as we exchange ebony morning gloom for late afternoon darkness. Don’t forget to re-set those clocks before retiring Saturday evening.                                                                                                                  

I’ve not heard of recent bear activity, so I’m presuming they have retreated to dens for their long winter snooze. Following suit, chippies, skunks, and woodchucks have not been seen of late either. However, “Brother Fox” knows when it has a good thing going around Wildersmith and is still hanging out.                                                                                                                 

Meanwhile, out this way, silence is golden as were the leaves but a few short weeks ago. Even the wind was down to near zero last Sunday and Monday with lake surfaces like mirrors.                                                 

About the only noise of consequence was occasional tweeting and fluttering of some hungry Chick-a-Dees. The quiet was pleasant, but at the same time, noting such silence, summoned a sense of uneasiness for some unexplained reason.                                                                                           

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the forest has opened with transparency. Get out and VOTE, it’s your right to be heard!
 

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Superior National Forest Update - November 2, 2018

Superior National Forest Update with Visitor Information Specialist, Renee Frahm.
November 2, 2018

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - October 26, 2018

Wildersmith  on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       October 26, 2018    

As we gather once more for a view from the Gunflint, atmospheric conditions have turned more October like. A couple of days were really upbeat with temps soaring into the fifties, but have since settled back into cold nights and comfy days even though one still needs a vest or jacket.                                                                                                                                                                 

About the only climate negative has been the relentless wind. The direction of gusty air hasn’t mattered as leaves and branches have been coming at us from every point on the compass. Appropriately, with the Ojibwe, “falling leaves” moon beginning to wane, the dispatching of foliage is fading into whispering silence. There are few tokens left on the deciduous spires in this neighborhood.                                                                                                                                    

One shining moment of autumn has hung on for another week with the tamaracks in glorious array. However, the gales have taken a toll on some of them too. The golden needles are trickling off three beauties here at Wildersmith.                                                                            

Interestingly enough, the needle drop occurs along the Mile O Pine where they can be easily distinguished on the gray-brown surface. From a short distance away, if one didn’t know better, you’d swear it was “gold dust.”                                                                                                                                

It’s thought-provoking to think, it was the idea of striking it rich in precious minerals that prompted the iconic pioneer prospector Henry Mayhew to clear the first pathway to what is now the Gunflint Trail.  Amazingly at this time of year, we who live here have really struck it rich. The gold we cherish is not of geologic deposit, but of remarkable short-lived aurous tokens valued for brightening life around us. How great it’s been this fall!                                                                                                                                                                   

As October enters the final stanza, the warm season for Trail visitors is winding down. This in mind, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society has closed the doors and locked the gate at the Chik-Wauk Campus as of last Sunday.  The Society and the Museum/Nature Center staff and volunteers sincerely thank everyone who visited this happening place in 2018. Nearly 8400 people ventured fifty-five miles into this wildland to learn more of the Gunflint story and experience this natural wonder. All can look forward to 2019 when two new facilities will be open telling more of life in days long ago from this historic setting.                                                                                                                                           

Wonders never cease in the forest. Our friendly fox was here last Sunday for an afternoon snack. I had just been wondering if would be back for lunch after spending breakfast at Wildersmith when I turned around, and there it was.  Since I have been trained well by this hungry critter, I obliged by tossing out a triple serving of poultry morsels.                                                                                                                                                          

Now, “Brother Fox” always tries to take at least two pieces simultaneously, but often can only manage one in the mouth at a time. This leaves the remaining servings exposed while it trudges off into obscurity to consume the first carry-out.                                                                                                                                       

Obviously, there are other folks watching, in particular, the gray and/or blue jays. It’s become rather comical to see these feathered friends zip down with the thought of getting a treat too. The size of my barnyard provisions are such these avian just can’t get airborne in their larcenous attempts. One can almost imagine the frustration going on in their little bird brains as they struggle to secure a meal, only to be dispatched into emergency take-offs when the foxy guy returns for a second serving. I’m waiting for the day when Mr. Fox has jaybird for dinner, it’s bound to happen.                                                                                                                                                              

A huge hurrah for you WTIP All-stars! Congratulations to the entire community radio team for meeting the recent membership support drive goal, of $20,000.00. Once again you have confirmed a great “team effort” can achieve remarkable rewards. Thanks to all new team members and hundreds of returning letter-winners.  “You are the champions, of the north!”                                                                                                                                                               

In closing, with the pre-winter being interrupted over the past few days, my getting ready for winter chores list has dwindled by a couple more. Perhaps by next week at this time the list will find its way to the recycle basket.                                                                                                            

The most important item for this week was to get summer wheels changed to winter. I’ve been slip-sliding down the Trail on three or four occasions already, and enough is enough. It’s probably a good bet when my winter rubber finally hits the road, winter will back off for a while.                                                                                                                                                                                                

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the mysteries of seasonal transition continue!

Happy Holloween!
 

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Photo via Aberdeen Uni Web Team

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - October 19, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       October 19, 2018    

It’s Sunday evening once again, and as I begin this weeks’ Gunflint report, the weather outside, remains frightful, for October that is. A couple days of predicted sunshine have failed to materialize, but we Gunflinters’ are hopeful for a warm reprieve before the real thing sets in for the next six months.                                                                                                                                        
 

As last weeks’ scoop hit the airwaves, this neck of the woods hit an early trifecta of snow. Our third snow in three weeks blanketed the area with autumn not even a month old on the calendar. The white stuff even hung around on the cooling earth for a couple of days before rain and above thirty-two finally did it in.                                                                                                                                             

So the “fall” look is back to normal, although the first color phase of the season took a beating with snow, sleet, rain, and wind. Leaves have been falling like snow, leaving a good deal of the forest with skeletal remains lurking overhead. If I had a nickel for every needle and golden token in the yard, the “National Debt” would be reduced to zero. Fortunately for us woodsy residents, we are not concerned about raking.                                                                                                                              
 

Our second act of this colorful bounty is jumping out at us in flaming torches of golden lace. Of course, I’m talking, “Tamarack time.” These magnificent, needle dropping conifers have seemingly turned on overnight. In select locations along the byway, they are simply breath-taking, nestled in between their evergreen cousins and nearly naked, deciduous neighbors. To capture this beauty, a trip out this way with a digital recording device will favor an exceptional reward.                                                                                                                                                   

Speaking of more photo-ops, I’ve recently been made aware of an unusual happening along a back country road. While hiking in search of the perfect autumnal scene, this fellow had a critter whisk by alongside his path.                                                                                                                           
 

Startled at first, he was surprised at a Lynx coming so close. Furthermore, the close encounter with nature was more remarkable, when the Canadian cat stopped a short distance away, sat down and gave him a curious look.                                                                                                      

Well, he was in the woods for picture taking, so that he did while the cat remained, posing and of course, trusting this two-legged creature was only shooting a camera. What a rare opportunity!                                                                                                                                                                            

Another familiar “wild neighborhood” critter paid the Smith’s a visit Sunday. When we least expected it, “piney” the marten cruised down our deck rail. Sorry to say, there were no treats available.  Due to bears having not crashed for the winter, I’m not tempting Bruno’s up onto the deck with treats intended for other animals.                                                                                         
 

One thing I know is this marten was no stranger to the place as it went right to where its’ goodies are always kept.  Sorry, I was not able to accommodate, but it will no doubt be back.                                                                                                                                                   

The neighborhood fox has been getting more consistent in daily visits of late. However, there were a couple days when I was busy indoors and did not get outside to please him, so he left obviously disappointed. In telling the next door neighbors about missing “Foxy's” feeding time, they told me not to worry as it came up their driveway on one of those days with some actual wild game in its mouth. A red squirrel had filled the bill.                                                                           
 

On a somber note, the Gunflint Lake shore residents are saddened with the passing of two long-time friends and neighbors. Marge Estle of Lake Villa, Illinois passed on September 14, and Bud Beyer of Glenview, Illinois passed on October 8th. Marge, 99, was a seasonal resident in the summer home group and served as secretary of the Gunflint Lake Property Owners Association for many years. Bud, 78, lived seasonally on North Gunflint Lake Road and will always be remembered for his kind and gentle ways. The Gunflint Lake Community extends condolences to their family and many friends.                                                                                                                                   

Once again, times are crazy exciting around the WTIP studios and a few other venues around the county. The All-Star radio ssss-port drive is into its second full day of activity. WTIP hopes you will return to action as a member of the team.                                                                                   

If some of you listeners have been in the UP state (unable to Pledge) and never joined this phenomenal team, there’s still a spot on the active roster, and it’s time to get on board!                     
 

All it takes is a quick call on the phone, 1-800-473-9847; a click on “pledge now” at WTIP.org; or better yet, stop by the studios at 1712 West Highway 61 and get your name posted on the line-up page, with a pledge of support. WTIP needs you, be an All-Star patron now and forever!                                                                                                                                                                            
 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, and wonders in the natural world are un-ending!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - October 12, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       October 12, 2018   
 

Since our last visit on the radio, atmospheric conditions have not changed much. Dreary would be the best descriptor of the past several days.  
                                                                                   
With the sun on sabbatical, about the only thing to brighten the daytime hours have been our on-going color extravaganza. Even at that, the autumnal sonata has been tempered somewhat as a couple days of pre-winter snippets reminded us of what life can be like at forty-eight degrees north.   
                                                                                                                                                 
One night found the gales of November battering the county a few weeks early. Then twenty-four hours later, the first measurable snow laid a luster of purity on the northern landscape.                                                                                                                                                                            

Folks in the upper Trail dodged a bullet in regard to the howling wind storm. While the village and both directions along the Superior Shore were bashed with downed trees and massive power outages, damage out this way was minor in comparison. Nevertheless, branches were down and intermittent flickers in our power service kept us border country folks on edge for several hours. The gusts in the pines along the Gunflint Lake shore were convincing enough to send the Smith’s to the lower level for a time. Luckily, the big whites around here stood firm, green tops up.                                                                                                                                                             

Almost in a case of not to be out-done, another climactic character stepped up during the next diurnal segment. Although the weather service gave hints of such, few would have bet the forecast of white would occur. This time the prediction was right.                                                                          

Last Friday morning broke with a fresh coating of white with the flakes still coming down in this neighborhood. When all was said and done, a few hours later, two plus inches of the wet heavy stuff was recorded.                                                                                                                                                             

I have no reports from the mid-Trail snow zone, but I suspect folks residing in this area got even more, as they usually do. Friends reported the driving conditions on the Trail were treacherous as they headed into civilization, nearly prompting a turn-around to cancel their trip.                                                                                                                                                                                    
Some of the fall tokens have called it a year, but in spite of the early season weather oddities, the fall leaf spectacular has shown some true grit. A trip along the backcountry blacktop remains simply stunning, with a blur of birch and aspen gold flanking the Trail for most of the fifty-seven-mile journey.                                                                                                                                                                                     

My plans for getting some winter chores done during this mayhem were set aside temporarily as walks, steps and the deck had to be shoveled. How about that for October 5th? Although it’s been nothing to write home about, a slight warming has occurred since, and the white is gone.                                                                                                                                                               

With that, I’m back at the “getting ready for winter” list. Tasks are getting crossed off slowly. The most noteworthy jobs are finished, that being the boat and dock, and now the winterizing of the Wildfire Sprinkler Systems this past weekend. This being said, I was back into the lake water for the second consecutive weekend, leaky waders and all, burr! So now if the “great spirit of the north” wants to get serious about ice making, he can have at it!                                    

Speaking more of things fall, the last membership drive of the year for “the voice of the north,” is but days away. By this time next week, WTIP will be in the middle of their autumn fundraising endeavor.    
                                                                                                                                                                   
As in every audience canvassing and new member recruitment, this time remains as critical as the last in order to stay on budget for the year, and continue providing the quality programming radio listeners and cyberspace users have come to expect.    
                                                                                              
The theme for this dollar pursuit is all about Sssssports!  Join the team and be a WTIP “All-Star.”                                                                                                                                                                                                  

The Wildersmith guy hopes all will be ready to open those wallets and purses as the excitement of another WTIP fund drive gets underway this coming Wednesday, October 17th. It’s easy as a click on the keyboard (WTIP.org.), or toll-free telephone call (at 1-800-473-9847).       
                                                
On a final note, with “Moose Madness” just a week away, it’s appropriate to announce one of the iconic “twig eaters” has been making some marketing appearances up the Trail. I last observed the big guy in the wetland near the road to the old Blankenberg pit. Others have seen him too and are raving about the big rack hanging overhead.                                                                                        
It would seem a good time to get a little more Trail “leaf peeping “in, make a stop at the Chik-Wauk Campus and maybe by chance, catch a glimpse of this wonder of the woods.  I’m betting your chances are better at seeing Mr. Moose than they are at winning the current monster Powerball!                                                                                                                                                
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, whether cloudy or clear!
 

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