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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.

 


What's On:
Winter frost. Image from Unsplash online

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 15

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
January 15, 2021    

           
All is quiet on the northern front heading into the second half of chapter one in ’21. The recently new, “Great Spirit” moon is in crescent over “Chinook” like conditions. “Old Man Winter” has remained AWOL for another week in border country.                                                  

One has to wonder if this is the best “he” can do, it will likely prompt the first garden seed catalogs, definitely a call to spring with winter not even a month old.                                                     

In spite of winter being relatively subdued, the past week has featured several days of crystal beauty throughout the forest. Atmospheric warm air inversion has trapped low level cloudiness, producing nighttime fog and accumulation of moisture freezing on contact with every component in our natural world.                                                                                                    

Better known as “Rime Ice” in meteorological circles, they say it is not the same as “hoar frost,” which happens on bitter cold nights with just the right humidity. Nevertheless this frozen magic is equally elegant. North Country photographers have no doubt been in heaven, capturing memories of the fragile cut-glass dendrites adorning our mountain high coniferous spires.                                                                                                                                                   
We’ve seen little of “old Sol” along the international border for days, but territory is still sparkling. And any breathe of air brings a blizzard of the feathery splinters showering down in ghostly veils.                                                                                                                                              
A venture out and about the upper Trail region during this time has been the most breathtaking I’ve ever observed. I swear that every one of these “Jack Frost” spectacles seems to be better than the last, they kind of fit into the same category of those best ever Canadian sunsets in the summer time. However, his current icing performance tops them all, so far!              

Being able to exit into the Gunflint world of frosty majesty has been a welcome distraction from the grim reminders mankind has been enduring for way too many months.                   

Besides scenic viewing, another aspect of cold season fun will be added to the list of north woods activities this weekend. The trout fishing opener will bring an onslaught of visiting anglers to their favorite drilling spots on area lakes.                                                                                
We’ve added no additional snow over the past week, to further insulate lake surfaces. With only a couple semi-cold nights, and mostly mild daytime temps, little has happened assist in firming the slushy sandwich between existing snow and truly hard water in most places.                    

In any event, this is always an exciting time to drill a hole in the ice, sit on a bucket (or in a warm shack) and wet a line to tempt a denizen of the deep. Good luck to all and be safe!         

The unusually warm days since the week before Christmas seem to have altered critter behavior. I’m not seeing as many birds around the feeders, even those annoying blue jays have become scarce, and the regularity of neighborhood pine martens visits has ground to a halt. The only hangers-on are squirrels, and they are content with un-interrupted access to all the cafeteria stations. And the friendly fox is leaving only a trace of having been here in the dark, being invisible during the day.                                                                                                                       

So, will the “wild neighborhood” and the great spirit of the north” return the north woods to winter normal, only time will tell.                                                                                                  
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, and abundant with wonder of days gone by!
 

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XmasTreeBuds_Photo by Fran Smith 2.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 8

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
January 8, 2021    
           
Week one is into the books and “old man winter” has taken a sabbatical from border country. Just when winter cranked up for Christmas with snow and more seasonal temps, conditions have gone wimpy once again.                                                                                                   

The upper Trail has been experiencing meltdown tendencies since our last meeting on the radio. While these day to day weather ups and downs can happen, with the cumulative affects over the past few decades, such is further confirmation this area is not immune from on-going climatic alterations all over the planet.                                                                                        

My residency at Wildersmith has extended just over two decades. Since those early years of this span, increasingly warmer temps during all seasons, and extended periods of minimal precipitation are clearly noticeable.                                                                                        

Trail residents are likely happy with the climatic trends making for reduced heating needs and snow removal costs. However, conditions as they have be going, don’t bode well for maintaining river and lake levels, and ever present wildfire danger throughout the BWCA and Superior National Forest.                                                                                                
According to one longtime resident, Gunflint Lake froze at the lowest level observed in his lifetime. Unless, there is an unexpected turn around, it could take several years for the area to recover adequate moisture levels both on land and lakes. The on-going drought makes me fearful for what it will be like come April and May.                                                                                       

A measurement of ice depth on the Gunflint last weekend found it to be nine inches, mostly. However, some strange things have evolved in a couple places along our shore. Whereas there are no inland streams entering nearby and no known bottom feeding springs, two areas were discovered to be less than one inch thick and one had a softball sized hole in the thin crystal. Maybe these are ever present, but they have never been found in these locations before.                                                                                                                                              
 

If there are these, there are likely more, so as caution always suggest, no ice is ever completely safe. This is confirmed with a number of instances where individuals have gone through the ice on upper Trail lakes since ice on commenced several weeks back.                               
 

In another rare natural experience, the “spirit of the north” has been born once out again. This subject involved is the Christmas tree adorning the Smith house. The will to live beyond my culling it from the forest did not diminish with the last swoosh of my saw blade. Since being brought into the warmth of the room and given frequent drinks of water, the stately conifer has sprouted new growth from buds once frozen in the waiting state.              
 

Knowing this is only short lived the verdant being is soon to go outside, returned to the earth from whence it came. Nevertheless, “the little tree that could” has been energizing as it sprung to life in man-made warmth like the blooms of spring, sharing its beautiful zest for life with us two legged folk. See a pic of the green new birth alongside my column on WTIP.org under the Community Voices drop down menu.                                                                                     
 

Many of we Gunflinters are saddened by the necessity to cancel the 2021 Gunflint Mail Run sled dog races. As the COVID pandemic continues to sicken, destroy lives and alter all forms of normal, the tough decision to call off this festive activity is understandable. With respect for the lives of all involved, I’m confident that missing this years’ edition will inspire enthusiasm for renewing in 2022, and likely explode into a bigger and better event than ever.                                              

With a related closing thought, the cancellation could turn out a wise choice, since “winter” cannot make up its mind about who it wants to be. The current warm soggy conditions facing the canine athletes and their mushers would be considerably more strenuous than with the usual cold and dry powder. So the Trail looks forward to the great Gunflint race next year! Go Dogs!                                                                                                                                                       
 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is celebrated, with awe-inspiring spirit!
 

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Wildersmith Let it Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 31

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
January 1, 2021    

GREETINGS…THIS IS NEWS…AND A VIEW…FROM THE GUNFLINT TRAIL

We have quietl  opened a new volume  of life  in the north woods and all over the planet for that matter. Turning the page to chapter one finds us hitching our hopes to an abundance… of new directions along happy trails.  May 2021 become a bold new year with courage… to re-kindle love and respect for all earthly beings.                                                                                    

As we passed the holiday blitz last week those dreaming of a white Christmas in this territory had dreams come true in a big way. To the delight of those in snow business “the great spirit of the north” dished up a long awaited, batch of fluff.                                      

Amounts may have varied in different locales of border country but it seems the base line was a foot. As the storm tapered the usual northwest gales kicked in making for blizzard conditions and bitter subzero temps for a couple nights.                                                                            

At Wildersmith and likely other places along southern shorelines a goodly amount of snow on lake ice ended up on land, and in my case, in the yard. So drifting around the house and buildings was cause for removal concern.                                                                                             

Clearing the two to four foot windblown hard pack fifty feet from house to the woodshop took well over an hour. But then again, being of time-honored years, I neither hurried nor strained. The same strategy was maintained cleaning the driveway which took two days with shovel plow blade and snow blower.                                                                                     

January can be a brute, but activities that go along with snow are now full speed ahead. Cross country ski trails are being blitzed with swoosh enthusiasts. The snow base is deep enough to really snow shoe and the howl of snow mobiles will soon whine through the forest trail system. In fact, I just heard the first snowmobile scream up the lake as I’m keying this report.                                                                                                                                                   

Due to the recent snowy insulator application, lake ice has become messy with slush. It will not be suitable for some forms of vehicular travel, and no doubt the quality ice for skating has taken a hit, but foot traffic should be OK with cautions.  With the trout opener a couple weeks away, we need some long term serious cold to firm things back up.                                       

While the Trail residents I know remain strict followers of COVID safe living recommendations, we have many opportunities to observe daily routines of our “wild neighborhood” folk.                                                                                                                                        

A mysterious happening occurred down the road a few days ago. A hovering air bourn critter appeared on a trail cam over a critter feeding table. The being did not fly like a bird, but landed and departed vertically like a drone. At first guess it was thought to have been a bat, but that is yet to be confirmed, thinking bats must be in hibernation. The residents are trying to find expertise who might confirm what they were seeing.                                                            

Like many other holed up Gunflinters, I have plenty of time for contemplation these days. I find critter watching of considerable intrigue. I wonder sometimes what some of these wild beings might be thinking as they perch on a tree branch, fly by the window, scramble around  the deck, zip across the yard or meander down the road.                                                                      

While we humans have self-appointed our species as the supreme beings of creation with ability to think and reason, research concludes the populous of the animal world also have innate abilities to resolve issues critical to their daily existence t. Animal cognition for some species may not be as complex as the human species, but nevertheless is the basis for ecological meaning and survival of all living beings.                                                                                                 

I’m often curious as to what the little red breasted nuthatch is thinking while perched, waiting for an opportunity at the seed terminal; or a grouse browsing along a border country path; or what a red squirrel is thinking  when its cousin is about to contest a position at the table; or the pine marten when it’s spooked by an overhead raptor; or a lone wolf as it trots down the lake ice; or a moose when it wanders down the trail ahead of my vehicle, refusing to yield half the road.                                                                                                                                                       

Further wonderment arises as to what they may be thinking as we gawk at them. Do you suppose they might wonder about some of the decisions we make? There are no dumb animals as we might speculate. “In fact, they are not that different than we humans.” “Animal-kind have families and feelings too” (Nguyen).                                                                            

Like we humans, some members of the “wild neighborhood” are gifted more than others. It seems we ought to be giving our best efforts to show greater respect for the sustenance of their existence. Well, I was just thinking!                                                                                 

For WTIP, this Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is beautiful in the great white North!
 

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XmasTree_photobyFranSmith.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 25

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
December 25, 2020
    
           
Merry Christmas everyone! Gathering at this time in 2020 certainly has taken on a different look and meaning. At the Smith’s, we are celebrating quietly alone, the first time in over fifty-two years we have not been with our children for Santa’s big run.               

Although the magic of technical connections can provide virtual gathering, it will not be the same. Sadly this will be the case for millions all over the world, but we’ll make best of it!    This day, maybe more than any other in our lives, is one where we as a country might pull together with some semblance of peaceful convergence. We at Wildersmith hope the spirit of these joyous days was a change of pace from divisive and tragic experiences over the past months. And we further wish for unity of cause among all peoples to better define the real United States. Each of us can make a difference if ALL will just listen to and hear each other.                       

May the peace of the forest, on a cold winter night, saturate the Planet. “Seize the Day,” and please make a difference with conscience to respect one another!                                                

Speaking of cold winter nights, we are in the midst of some at this special Birthday time. This neighborhood has not been bitter as we might expect in a few weeks, but at least the snow on the landscape has not been in the melting mode.                                                             

“Old man winter” had taken a few swings at snow making, in the past week, but only produced whiffs in this neighborhood. So I gave him a “mulligan” in hope of straightening his game out, and look what he did. Many up this way, are in the “snow business” so white fluff is mandatory!                                                                                                                                  

Reflecting on holiday spirit during simpler times in our lives, it was a yearly custom to pile everyone into the vehicle and head out to view the tradition of outdoor light decorating. It isn’t quite the same living in the Wilderness fifty miles from village lights. But, the Smith’s did take a jaunt on the night of the Solstice in search of the Christmas Star.                                                 

As one might expect, the spectacle was not to be in our part of the territory due to heavenly obscurities. Yet the night was not a total bust. Along with reflective eyes from a couple roadside critters, we cruised by the one ultra-lighted decoration of which I’m aware within fifty miles.                                                                                                                                    

The miracle spruce along the Trail on Birch Lake was shining like the Star in the East. What a twinkling spectacle, glowing as a lone sentinel in the darkest of dark nights. See an image of the sparkling conifer along-side my WTIP website column.                                                                

Life has not paused for the celebration in the “wild neighborhood.” Critters are out and about doing what they do best, striving for survival. There have been some great photos of moose, lynx and fox activities on area cyber links.                                                                                 

Perhaps the most unusual animal account involved a fisher and coyote stand-off at a resident’s feed trough. I’m told the interaction was not the most cordial, but while contentious, there was no physical fracas. In the end, Mr. Fisher decided discretion was the better part of valor, and scurried off into the night.                                                                                                   

In closing, this day of blessed jubilation, may the Ojibwe “little spirit moon” shine down on us next week, melding many into one caring family of Humanity!                                      

See you next year on the radio, “same time, and same station!”  Happy New Year!                      

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail where every day is great, and the splendor of nature is effervescent with un-ending comfort, let it never be taken from us!!
 

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Wildersmith Let it Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - Dec 18

Wildersmith on the Gunflint    by     Fred Smith
December 18, 2020    

           
After tinkering with winter since October, the past few days have taken on more consistent character for the season. Although temps are nearing normal for December, another week has passed with but a skiff of white in this neighborhood.                                                                   

Maybe “old man winter” has just decided to finally turn things down a notch in anticipation of his ceremonial introduction with the “Solstice” this coming Monday. We snow season lovers would have liked more than his October tease during recent weeks, but we’ll gladly accept his full-time presence now to get things in order for the northland experience.           

Speaking of the Solstice, it will be a star gazers delight if skies are clear. Each night until then, Jupiter and Saturn will be gathering in closer proximity to each other rising to a crescendo in the Christmas Star.  It should be a splendid show under our northland dark skies.                        
At last the Gunflint Lake made hard water. Saturday night into Sunday morning found our first sub-zero reading in concert with calm air along Gunflint shores. The atmospheric combination put “old gal” into ice making mode.                                                                                                

So the official “ice on” date is declared for December 13th. With the warmth of the past five or six weeks, it is surprising this lake ended up freezing right around the average date of years past.                                                                                                                                               

Unless warmth and wind interfere again, there’ll be no more small talk ripples and ruffian rollers dashing the shoreline granite ‘til May. In the meantime, conversations will soon switch to grumpy growling and screeches as the icy coat makes alterations for a long winters’ fit.                                                                                                                                                              
Our annual Gunflint Lake ice making event brought out the master of hoar frost for the second consecutive weekend. “Old Jack” dipped his brush into the steamy cauldron and frescoed shores of our International border in crystal magic. How splendid was the lacy forest décor that hung on for a few days under his icy grip.                                                                            

One good thing can be said for our abnormally long warm spell. It saved several weeks’ worth of fire wood from consumption. However, for us residents of the “wild land, many of us romanticize the comfy ambiance of a fire in the wood stove or fireplace.                                                        

So for the time being, spirits at Wildersmith are being uplifted. As I key this weeks’ report while sitting next to warmth from my black stove wood burner, I’m consumed in cheery essence of the season at hand.                                                                                                   

Our neighborhood along the Mile O Pine is the usual calm and quiet. A few neighbors have arrived for the holidays, but they remain socially holed up and seldom seen. Except for chirps, chatter, tweets and an occasional pop from freezing tree bark, the only chitchat is blowing in the wind. The long stillness in the forest is a season frozen in time.                               

The Smith’s did have a little excitement along the outdoor cafeteria rail a couple days ago. A race for life erupted as a marten caught a squirrel off guard. Fortunately for the squirrel, it was the victor this time, escaping by a tails length leap to safety, up a nearby white pine. Apparently the marten favored chicken this time and aborted the blurring sprint.                                    

Time has flown by so quickly for some, during these COVID times, but has been distressingly agonizing for millions. It is hard to believe we are into Hanukkah and a week away from Christmas, while the last segment of a tragic year is in sight. This being recognized, I wish everyone health and happiness during what remains of 2020.                                                                      

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is fabled and mesmerizing,  in natural world mystery!  Happy Holidays!
 

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Wildersmith Let it Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - Dec 11

Wildersmith on the Gunflint      by     Fred Smith
December 11, 2020    
           
This weeks’ Gunflint scoop comes with another dismal report on our missing white factor. Another seven days with nary a flake in this neighborhood, and nothing positive projected for drought relief in the near future.                                                                                                

While temperate conditions continue for this time of year, cooler night hours have enabled ice making on some lakes. Gunflint and Sag waters remain dashing the shores as most others in the territory have closed up. Gunflint Lake has skimmed in places a couple times, but the slightest breeze has sent it a packing.                                                                                                   

With minimal snow to insulate against the lake freezing process, ice has easily thickened to the point of being safe for locals to do some recreating. I’m told there is three to four inches of clear ice built up as this report comes off the keyboard.                                                                    

It is making for excellent skating conditions. Reports tell of dozens lacing up their skates and venturing out onto the ice on Tuscarora and Seagull. All must be reminded, no ice is completely safe. It is still early, so check it each time you step out onto the hard water.                      

The nephew of “old man winter”, “Jack Frost” paid a visit to the upper end of the Trail last Saturday evening. By Sunday morning his visit was a breath-taking surprise.                           

The lacy brush work on tree tops and mountainsides blended into the cloud laden skies making it difficult to distinguish where earth ended and heaven began. With only a patch work of white on the boarder country landscape, “Jack’s” always unique artwork provided a spiritual uplift with a “Hallmark” holiday moment that’s been absent since October. He’s a “Plein Aire brush work master.                                                                                                                           

Speaking of another holiday moment, the sentinel of the season along the Trail has once again been lighted at the west end of Birch Lake. It is somewhat analogous to the star lighting the way on Christmas Eve over two thousand years ago. It kind of makes me wonder if it was as dark on that celebrated journey as it is now, when driving out into a seemingly dark hole along the Trail.                                                                                                                                   

Continuing thanks are extended to the good folks over on the Birch and their helpers from Arrowhead Electric Coop who have been lighting up our holiday times with this extraordinary good deed for many years. With so many things shut-down in our lives over the past months, this act of kindness is a light of hope!                                                                                     

Living out in the woods has its’ advantage during the dark times of COVID shutdown. We who live here reside in the best place on the planet to socially distance. In addition, to keeping at a safe distance, we have plenty of time to relish even more the activities in our natural surroundings.                                                                                                                                            

Such was the case a few days ago when action at our wilderness food trough provided a new experience in nature. Past observations of a wolf chasing deer through the yard, “Peeping Tom” bears on the deck, a fox licking out a fry pan and an affair of white tail mating are but a few of the back yard events during my twenty plus years at Wildersmith.                             

Another “wild neighborhood” encounter took place recently that I have never seen before. In as much, it is documented that preying raptors can often follow land based predators to a meal opportunity. I’ve also witnessed birds following other birds to attempt at cashing in on another’s food stash site. This observation was a fleeting version of such involving a well-recognized blue bird.                                                                                                                                              

“Piney” the marten stopped by not long ago for its daily pick-up of a poultry scrap. The animal doesn’t always eat in front of us gawkers, but usually heads off into the woods toward what I suppose is a den, to eat in private.                                                                                      

In this scene, an audience of blue jays were perched in the trees watching as the marten grabbed the treat. While it took off down the deck to the ground and toward wherever, a curious jaybird swooped down and proceeded to follow the fury critter. The flight pattern was not four or five feet above the scampering animal. Both quickly disappeared into obscurity of the forest.                                                                                                                                            
No doubt the wily jay was in hope the fowl morsel would be dropped, with a chance to scarf up the barnyard treat. The ending to this saga of being in the right place at the right time, remains a mini-mystery. Nevertheless, it was another engaging snippet of life in the woodsy world we are seldom privileged to witness.                                                                                                          

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with wilderness calm and quiet, to renew and inspire!
 

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Pine Marten photo by Fran Smith

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 4

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
December 4, 2020    

           
The territory has rounded the corner into the concluding chapter of a sad and difficult 2020. It is hoped the usual tidings of December cheer can revive some smiles to a grim America.          
Apparently our winter expedition is still being put together. With just a couple weeks remaining until the Solstice, month eleven departed as one of the warmer November’s I can remember.                                                                                                                                                       
Not only have temps been mild, the upper Gunflint is in the midst of a continuing drought, dating back into the summer. With several days of leaden clouds looking like snow, only a couple inches have been added in this neighborhood to cover the brown patches mentioned last week, and that is about it, weather wise.                                                                        

To confirm, the unusual November warmth, I have not enjoyed the ambiance of our wood burning stove since late October, just relying on commercial made heat.                         

Meanwhile, a few nights in the past week have cooled enough to crank up the Zamboni. A few smaller lakes have frozen, thawed, frozen again over the past thirty days and are now slushy to thin.                                                                                                                                                     

In regard to the larger lakes, I did see Poplar Lake has taken on its’ winter coat. In the meantime, Gunflint, North, Seagull and Saganaga were trying on their winter wear earlier this week. However, another blast of warmth and southerlies saw them slip back out of their crystal covering. So water temps are at the point of waiting for a combo of zero and no wind to really get it on! Substantial safe ice may only be found on the smaller shallow bodies right now..                

With Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror, the madness of holiday shopping, Christmas flicks on the tube and cooking/decorating have many folks in a state of hysteria. While the forest needs to be re-flocked for a second and third time, inside trimming rituals are taking place in many homes and businesses, as “getting ready for” takes on new meaning.                            

At Wildersmith, we are no exception. I’d been searching the past couple weeks for the perfect tree, and discovered in the hundreds of thousands, not far from my back door, there seems to be not a single perfect coniferous sole. Although as a piney ecological complex, the forest is natural perfection.                                                                                                                        

Finally, with tree cutting permit in hand, the Smith’s found one that pretty well fills the bill, with minimal imperfections. And once brought inside, the perky little pine looks to be a perfect fit. At least this aspect of holiday shopping frustration is resolved. Now the annual household decorating debate will be getting underway.                                                                                                                                                         
Wreath making has been the order too, as white pine and cedar pruning remnants have been recycled into symbolical orbits of celebrating life.                                                                         

Gala seasonal merrymaking is already underway at the deck side feeding headquarters.  I’ve opened the cache to several different menu items, and my “wild neighborhood” guests seem delighted.                                                                                                                   

Especially so have been the pine martens with the provision of turkey day leftovers. While these delicacies lasted but two days, the addition of a frozen can of bacon lard has become a prized treat for winged folk and martens alike. Add a garnish of sunflower seeds, corn on the cob, peanut butter cakes, old frozen fish and chips, and outdoor dining couldn’t get any better.                                                                                                                                       

With an update on the squirrel hunting marten, mentioned last week, I report its’ success in amassing poultry parts and two squirrels in one short time span was apparently cause for being AWOL two days. There might have been serious indigestion inside that den.                      

Breaking news comes from Hungry Jack Lake reporting the sighting of a couple bandit raccoons. Perhaps the invasive ring tail critters, who’ve been frequenting places along Gunflint Lake lately, have moved on to the east, or maybe invited some relatives up for a border country Christmas.                                                                                                                                      

If a heads-up to wolf pack members could be arranged, these garbage mongers offer a pre-holiday menu alternative to beaver and snow shoe hares. A tip to human pelt collectors, raccoons have a great liking for bread and blueberry jam.                                                                  

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as we await the cold season Solstice.
 

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Wildersmith Let it Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 27

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
November 27, 2020     

           
November is fading fast as we gathered to celebrate the bounty of blessings from another growing season. I hope all holed up to stay safe during this raging surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Thanksgiving 2020 for millions was not the most glorious!                                      

On a related note, we should have given thanks, and must continue giving thanks, for thousands of essential healthcare professionals who gave their utmost to the deceased, and keep hanging in there against difficult odds for the countless humans, being cared for at the moment. To all of these heroes’, please don’t give up, never give up!                                                            
The holiday in this neighborhood was quiet as might be expected. In fact, a busy day in the Wildersmith neighborhood during cold season never has much activity. All was good!              

With the word “normal” hard to define on a lot of fronts these days, even weather conditions in the upper Trail are confusing. I would guess we could say the last days of month eleven have been normal. But since the first touch of winter in mid-to late October, recent temps of warmth, to coldand back to warmth has me wondering, if this is going to be the “new norm” as winter keeps sputtering.                                                                                                                                                                                  

In the meantime, our snow covered landscape looks like a spotted brown and white dog, and several lakes are melting their hard water cover. Our “Hallmark card” majesty has stepped back into a rather unsightly naked forest. I guess we’ll just give it twenty-four hours and see what’s in the offing.                                                                                                      

Perhaps the rising of an Ojibwe, “freezing over” full moon will turn the tide (no pun intended) back toward the crystal persuasion. And, December can step up with the customary “grace and meaning, bringing finality” to this painful and troublesome 2020.                                            

While wolves don’t necessarily, really howl at the moon, this might be a good time to do such for one that has apparently, been deer hunting along the Mile O Pine. In what snow remains along the road, I tracked one heading toward Wildersmith a few days ago. Tracks eventually disappeared into the woods so where it ended up, is anyone’s guess.                                                     

It would be a good bet the hungry carnivore went without venison if fortunes matched those of two legged hunting counterparts. Wolfy probably had to settle for an appetizer of snowshoe hare or head to a local beaver lodge.                                                                                     

My foxy friend has gone AWOL again, not being seen for over a week. Neighbors down the road have a similar fluffy tail visitor, so maybe the one I claim has adopted new providers.      

Nevertheless, a pine marten or two have not abandoned this place of fast food opportunities. While the art of hunting in the wild, by a wild being is a seldom, observed reality, timing was just right for the Smith’s to follow a couple episodes of predator/prey drama, playing out right here on our deck.                                                                                                      

The mortal scene could make one feel a little squeamish as Mr./Ms. Marten bagged a daily limit of two squirrels (in separate incidents) right before our eyes.                                            

The goings on were dreadful from a squirrel stand-point. But Martens have to eat too. This favor of watching death or life in our natural world can be either dire or delightful. It’s just the way of the woods, but always, an experience to remember.                                                                                                                       
Another loss has come to our Gunflint Community of neighbors. Word has been received from the family of Robert “Bob” Omoth,  announcing his un-expected passing, on November 14th at his winter home in Florida. Bob was 90.                                                                

He first came to Cook County in the 1950’s and has resided seasonally with wife Barbara at their cabin on Gunflint Lake for over thirty years.                                                                           

Bob was an aerospace engineer working in both the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs until retirement.  He was one-time president of the Gunflint Lake Property Owners Association and active in many lake activities.                                                                                                            
Bob is survived, and will be missed, by his wife of 66 years, two daughters, five grandchildren, other family relatives, as well as his Gunflint Lake friends and neighbors. Gunflint Community condolences are extended to all who knew and loved him.                                                        

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with “nature being a refuge, from the ills of humanity!”                            
 

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Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 20

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
November 20, 2020    

           
Quiet as the Gunflint forest, days of November have slipped by ending week three. It hardly seems possible the celebration of America’s Thanksgiving has crept into the picture. So we’ll be doing the gobbling with those big gobbling birds as the feature entrée.                         

One has to wonder what the weather will be like by the time we get to next Thursday. Conditions in border country have been on a yoyo as the pages of 2020, chapter eleven, have been flipping.                                                                                                                                                
We’ve been through a gamut of happenings since we last met on the radio. Snow of the plowing variety, another brief meltdown and then a return to winter as this weeks’ report rolled off the keyboard.                                                                                                                             
Last Sunday was a howling success as winter tried to regain the control started in October. A northwest blast found the pine forest clinging to earth for dear life, and waves crashing the shores of lakes not already under winter cover.                                                             

As the day of rest started in a melting mode, just above the freezing mark, I watched with interest, the drippy roof edge slowly transition to icicles as the mercury began to slide. The mini spears defied gravity at the huff and puff of gale winds, to end daylight time angled to the east. These stalactites of hard water are magical, truly a miracle component of the winter adventure.                                                                                                                       
Meanwhile, twilight gave way to darkness in near blizzard surroundings although snow accumulations were minimal in the Mile O Pine neighborhood this time. Since “there’s no business like snow business” a good stimulus to our flake-less economy would be appreciated.                                                                                                                                                                      
There’s a good chance we’ll have another dose of melting before the passage of Phrenologist, Larry Weber’s “Autwin” yields to full blown winter. So there’s still time to get out and enjoy nature” in advance of every day frosty breath, frozen nostrils and squeaky snow.                   

While the Pine Marten has been getting sole enjoyment of chicken treats for a week, sharing could be in the offing. My old fox friend has been making routine visits during night time hours. Tracks in the snow around my wood shop door confirm the fox knows the feeding routine, and must be the frequent guest. Hanging around here until spring gave way to summer, a formal re-union with the AWOL animal has not taken place. But it’s likely just a matter of time until we make eye to eye contact, and I can resume my role as the server.                      

Since last summer an extensive invasion of annoying critters has been bugging many Trail residents, and Wildersmith is no exception. They are forever trying to infiltrate wherever warmth and/or nourishment might be found. And cold weather makes them even more invasive. I’m talking mice, of all types.                                                                                                    
I have trapped uncountable numbers in my out-buildings, even a couple in the vehicle and they just keep coming. Happily, they have not gained entry into the house.                                        

They are wily invaders as everybody knows, and everyone deals with them in their own way. I have reached the point where I’m now chaining the catching devices to a fixed place so they can’t run off with the trap, should the bait and trip operation not do them in at first bite (I used to lose a lot of traps).                                                                                                                        

To authenticate my efforts in culling this vermin population, I would have a good start on a mouse pelt coat if I were not making daily rodent offerings to avian predators. Mice, like mosquitos and black flies, have been a menace since the beginning of time! Some things never change.                                                                                                                                              
For WTIP news, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, and it is open season, for wilderness adventures!         
 
 

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Martin Photo by F Smith

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 13

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
November 13, 2020    

A glorious week of autumn had folks up the Trail in jackets, sweaters and smiles during week one of our new month. Temps in the fifties finished off the October snow and even dried up slop on back country roads.                                                                                                            

The landscape is back to various fall shades of brown, and it was worrisome from a wild fire stand-point with no “precip” to replace the snow, but a timely rain earlier in the week eased my concern. Slightly over one inch of rain was recorded in my gauge. It was an amount not seen in months around this neighborhood.                                                                                                                                                    

November character is at hand as this report comes your way. Lakes will resume making ice and the “s” word has been bantered about over the past few days.                                           

The good weather allowed completion of my list of weather delayed outdoor chores, and even a couple that could have waited until spring. So we at Wildersmith are ready for whatever comes our way.                                                                                                                       

Speaking only for lakes I’ve noticed recently, water levels are at the lowest seen in my twenty plus years. A longtime resident on Gunflint Lake says this “old Gal” is lower than he’s observed since his childhood days. I don’t know of his age, but he has to be near or at a half century old.                                                                                                                                                         

My last trip up to the end of the Trail at Chik Wauk found Saganaga Lake to be in the same dismal circumstance. Bays surrounding the Museum Campus are about to take on the look of a wet land with plant growth consuming about half the water surface. Seeing the old high water marks along shoreline granite is a little frightening. It’s going to take a lot of moisture and a long time to build the many bodies back to normal levels as we know them.                     

I’ve heard little bragging about deer being taken around the territory, so it’s my guess there were few hunters out and few shots taken. I did hear of a gal getting an eight pointer somewhere, but that’s it to date. Perhaps the unusually warm weather on opening weekend had some affect, if in fact there are any deer still hanging out in these parts.                            

It was a homecoming of sorts around Wildersmith last Saturday when “Piney” the marten stopped by for a visit. It must be a returnee as the plush little animal went right to our feeding stations, obviously looking for a bit of chicken dinner.                                                          

Not expecting the surprising visit, I was ill prepared, but being trained well, promptly obliged with a couple poultry morsels. The crafty critter must have been keeping an eye on me, or a nose in the air, as it was not long before she/he was back. It has been a regular since, and I would expect some of its’ kin are soon to be arriving, once word of the “clucking” menu gets out.                                                                                                                                                          

Friends down the road report being entertained by an Ermine recently. This sleek little rodent had made the full transition to its winter white coat. It too was provided a poultry treat, consuming such right in front of the curious observers, not four or five feet away. See a pic of the ghostly being alongside my column at WTIP.org under the Community Voices drop down. 

Gunflint Community congratulations are offered to Bruce and Sue Kerfoot upon their recognition by the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation. The Kerfoot’s received the organizations “Generosity Award” for their decades of uncountable volunteer contributions to the Gunflint Community and Cook County.                                                                                    

Bruce, born in the upper Gunflint over eighty years ago, and Sue, operated the celebrated Gunflint Lodge for over fifty years. They represent living archives of history about life and times along this nationally known Scenic Byway.                                                                                                                                     
The award will be presented in Duluth on November 17th at DSACF ceremonies, and will be televised locally on WDIO channel 10 in Duluth.                                                                                   

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where all the days are great, and everyone is linked by “Mother Nature.”