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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Contributor(s): 
Fred Smith
Fred Smith, a native Iowan re-located to the wilderness of border country at the end of the century, has been writing of happenings in the upper Gunflint territory for going on eight years, first with the local paper, and since December 2008 for WTIP North Shore Community Radio. Fred feels life in the woods is extraordinary, and finds reporting on it to both a reading and listening audience a pleasurable challenge. Since retirement as a high school athletic administrator from Ankeny High School, Ankeny Iowa in 1999, the pace of Fred's life has become less hectic but nevertheless, remains busy in new ways with many volunteer activities along the Trail. Listen at your convenience by subscribing to a podcast.


Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

 


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Wildersmith Sign Only

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - Apr 09

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
April 9, 2021    

           
Skies have been sparkling along the Gunflint Trail on the first weekend of month four. Temps have been warming steadily after the minus two experienced at Wildersmith on April “fools” day morning. Since then, spring has swallowed a big gulp of winter since our last gathering on WTIP.                                                                                                                                              

Border country landscape still has patches of winter memories, but is now in various shades of brown. A good deal of windrowed snow remains along back country roads where the sun is shadowed by coniferous shade. It’s a good bet this too could be gone in a week or so with the rather unusual April heat.                                                                                                             

There is increasing talk of ice out on area lakes. As I keyed this weeks’ scoop last Sunday evening however, the big ice cube on Gunflint looks to be pretty tight along the shore at Wildersmith.                                                                                                                                

Remembering the last two years, Gunflint Lake ice was going out during the day of the Walleye opener on the second Saturday of May. It’s a good bet the hard water will easily be gone before months’ end at the rate things are going.                                                             

Other signs we have turned the corner are noted with pussy willow buds popping like corn in a hot pan, a couple reports of rhubarb and daffodil sprouts have been reported peeking out of the warming earth and needles of the coniferous forest are suddenly, brighter green.                   

On a cautious note, the territory went yet another week with no precipitation. And our first thunder of the spring echoed down the lake earlier in the week, but boasted more “bark than bite,” dropping a mere quarter inch of rain. We are thankful for the dampening and hopeful of more by the time this report hits the air.                                                                                          

Several days have been quite breezy and coupled with the now dry forest duff and brush, wildfire danger has many of us on edge. An example was noted in a fire that could well have been disastrous last Saturday in the southern part of the county along highway 61.                    

With ice still on, getting wildfire sprinkler systems set to go is complicated at best, so ice out soon is critical. In the meantime, since about 98% of Minnesota wildfires are ignited by careless humans, Gunflinter’s encourage any and all throughout the County to self-impose their own burning ban. We should do this in the absence of a governmental decree. There’s no need for campfires or any refuse ignition until we get wet.                                                                                   

Speaking of breezy days, a couple area fishermen had a couple get away not long ago as the trout season wound down. While it is not unusual for finnies to get away under this ice, this angling expedition is one for the books.                                                                                          

It was during the last days of March when the two ventured out on a gusty day to set-up and drill for a little jigging. They had no sooner set-up their ice houses than a gust of wind caught the units and sent them sailing off across and down the Gunflint ice. Tethering to their four wheelers was not enough as connections gave way to “Mother Nature’s ire. Luckily the shanties were not occupied.                                                                                                           

Thoughts of angling suddenly turned to search and rescue. Not knowing where the shacks would end up in the blizzard like conditions, one could only imagine where the units might be found along miles of shoreline.                                                                                                           

So the four wheeler quest began. Eventually one unit was re-possessed in a small bay about a mile across the lake. At this time it is unknown if the other shack was ever found. It will likely be retrieved at some point in time, but perhaps in the trees somewhere along the shore.                    

An interesting tidbit related the temporary fishing hut was found to be good condition after the wild ride. Propane heater/tank, tackle and bait containers and all other gear was intact.                                                                                                                                                     
So once again the fishing intent was great, and even one (fish shack) was caught, but in the end, another (shack) got away. It seems hard to escape that at least something always gets away or lost in every deep water excursion. Another fishing story for the ages!                                                

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as life picks-up anew in the wild land forest.                                                                                             
 

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Wildersmith Sign Only

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 02

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
April 2, 2021    

           
Back to the beautiful Gunflint woods after a first visit out of state in fifteen months. Following a couple winter like acts of the past week, it’s now April, no “fooling.”                                               

While I don’t know if this has any meaning, as to this time of the year, while shoveling from the weekend snow, a dark brown item appeared as my scoop passed by. I thought it must be a bit of lint off my apparel, but closer examination found it to be wooly caterpillar. Laying a finger close to the fuzzy critter, I nudged it, finding life as it coiled in reaction, no “April Fool” here. An anomaly  yes?                                                                                                             

The “wow” of the north woods was once again highlighted with a spectacular full, Ojibwe, “crust on the snow” moon, last weekend. The past few full lunar happenings in this neighborhood have occurred behind clouded skies. With clear skies this time, and on the “breast of new fallen snow” the “big cheese” cast near daylight, after dark, on objects below. If listeners weren’t up to see the late night landscape, you missed another Gunflint delight!                   

As winter sputters to an end, it has been mixed with enough spring teasing to open up occasions of mud. With the warmth of the past few days and April at hand, I would declare “mud” season is now official. Such is most noticed along back country roads and on vehicles traveling them. I will just concede to driving the dirt colored vehicle until green-up commences.       

On our trips south toward the village, we are always on the look-out for an experience having never before observed, and it usually happens. This trek was no exception.                                

Our attention was suddenly captured as we approached the Trail intersection with Birch Lake Road. For those not familiar, this is near the location of the Christmas season sentinel cared for by the good folks on Birch Lake.                                                                                                    

For some reason the magnificent, lonesome pine was lit up, twinkling like it was December. Wondering as we neared, what could be going on, had the lighting crew slipped a belt?                                                                                                                                                              
It was soon discovered “old Sol” had risen into an exact position, sending rays into the crystal luminaries, and giving off the appearance, of their being energized by man.                            

While the symbols of light to the world are beautiful after the dark, they seemed more awe-inspiring with enabling from the sun. Sparkling like pearls of dew or rain drops after a morning shower, the solitary scene was akin to a starlit heaven only here on earth. What a refreshing encounter on a bright cheery morning!                                                                                               

Having been out of the territory for a week, our return out the Byway was equally exciting although there was nothing physically observable. As we trekked through the pines, along still snow covered ditches, it was just a “hard to explain,” spirit of the Trail that seemed to reach out with a welcome. So magical and reverent!                                                                                

It was not until we pulled into the driveway and stepped out of the vehicle when we were greeted by a Mile O Pine reality, welcome wagon. I don’t have an official descriptor for a group of squirrels, but there was an excited gang on hand.                                                                        

While the little rodent folk can be annoying at times, it kind of warms one’s heart even though you know they are not really interested in your return, so much as they know, you will be opening the feed bin.                                                                                                                           

Nevertheless, the quiet of the forest was interrupted with excited chatter as they scampered madly about, and into the wood shop where the goodies are kept. I had a devil of a time shooing them out, until I grabbed a handful of seeds to lure them back into the out of doors. Boy, am I well trained!                                                                                                                       

In closing, the border territory is now playing the April waiting game. Waiting for snow to melt, ice to go out, rain to fall, mud to dry, green to come, flowers to sprout, animal babies to be born and the annual re-birth of Gunflint adventures.                                                                          

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every North woods day has a unique splendor!
 

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Wildersmith Let it Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 19

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
March 19, 2021    

           
Spring along the Gunflint seems to be back on track following a brief guest appearance from “old man winter” about ten days ago. The one and done snowy stop over happened just as last weeks’ scoop hit the air waves, so it missed deadline.                                                                   

Just when we were beginning to see brown patches of ground, the late season happening was the first big snow in this neighborhood since the Christmas Holidays. The dropping saw near nine inches here at Wildersmith and upwards of near a foot at end of the Trail. While this was nice and much overdue, total snow measured at this location, to date, is just short of sixty inches, far below what normally would be expected.                               

Accumulations diminished as one headed down the Byway toward the village. At the same moment, we may have experienced the last sub-zero temperatures of the season on a couple mornings following.                                                                                                                                    

While people who live at forty-nine degrees north and beyond have affection for the cold, whiteness, fishing on hard water and  skiing or sledding on the fluff, enough has become enough. Perhaps I’ve shoveled, cranked the snow blower and plowed for the last time. At least one would think so ending week three.                                                                         

Getting back on track is surely the order as the Vernal Equinox sets the course for re-birth this weekend. The calendar and day light saving time are now in sync, so to speak.      Speaking of DLST, I’ve heard scuttle someone in D.C. governmental leadership is introducing legislation to enact daylight saving time permanently, no more “falling back.” Obviously this person doesn’t care the sun would not be rising until about nine in the morning at these latitudes, and kids in this neck of the woods will be heading to school in the dark. Don’t those folks have more important issues with which to deal?  At the moment of this keyboard exercise, the hour lost has me a bit blurry-eyed.                                                                  

Meanwhile, as the warm-up starts to escalate, ice on Gunflint Lake has not started to make its disappearing act, at least along the Wildersmith shore. Neighbors fishing in this locale report hard water out here remains in excess of two feet. While two feet of ice is two feet, this thickness remains like our snow, less than normal. It’s been pretty much a non-winter, except for one week.                                                                                                                                                 

I was out on the ice a few days ago with the neighbors and their grand-sons. It was a beautiful day, and what a good time those young lads were having, even though catching action was slow. A flag finally tipped up, and the excitement was over flowing onto the ice.                          

A nice eater trout was pulled through the hole by a nine year old followed by grins and high fives all around. One couldn’t help but reflect on an old adage dating back to the “Greatest Generation”, that “no boy is ever bad, when he’s fishing with his dad,” or Grand-dad.”                        

It would be a fair assumption the critters snoozing away the cold season may be rolling over and opening an eye to check on conditions for emergence. “Woody the Chuck” AKA ground hog was right again, as conditions have confirmed his six more weeks’ prediction of back on February second.                                                                                                                            

It’s funny the mythical prognosticator, historically, has always predicted with one hundred present accuracy. So we can expect “chippies” skunks, “Bruno’s and other dozing folk soon to be adding new chapters of Gunflint tales.                                                                                    

While there is still a good bit of snow on the ground, most folks paying attention to the beautiful Gunflint Trail know there is plenty of mankind littering hidden below. This in mind, the Scenic Byway Committee is reminding lake homeowner associations, it’s time to start thinking about the annual Trail clean-up, due to commence in May.                                                                

Please get those pick-up teams organized and ready to hit the Trail when the ground is bare. The official date for County pick-up crews to gather up the roadside bags of collection will be announced as soon as confirmed, around May day or sooner. I’ll have more info as it becomes available.  Thanks in advance to all pitching into those bags.                                           

Speaking of the recent extension of daylight minutes, both “nighttime and daytime” things are going on right now at the community radio station, up on the hill, along the north shore. The WTIP family is in the midst of their own rendition of spring renewal with the “Night and Day” membership support campaign.                                                                                                

As I introduced last week, the drive for both renewing and new family members kicked off this past Wednesday and continues through this coming Monday at noon.                          

While face to face visits to the station during the drive are still COVID restricted, daytime operators would love to talk with listeners on the phone, and 24-7 online communications of support will also be deeply appreciated.                                                               

If you haven’t “sprung” into action, it’s time to move into spring with your caring gift either “Night or Day.” Locally call at (218) 387-1070; or toll free at 1-(800) 473-9847; or “click and join” on line at WTIP.org                                                                                                                 

For WTIP, this Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as spring will soon be “busting out all over!”
 

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Wildersmith Let it Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 12

Wildersmith on the Gunflint      by     Fred Smith
March 12, 2021      

 
It’s been a slow news week as March and spring are striding along the Trail hand in hand with the second week of month two, coming to an end. Winter, in the meantime, has withered away in border country after what has barely been a five-month appointment. At the moment, cold season 20-21 is about six weeks short of what we might normally expect.               

Winter beauty remains once one departs the grungy look of receding roadside snow mounds and crud in congregations of community living. It is so refreshing to turn onto the Mile O Pine or other backcountry roads and be greeted with the pristine of crystal, even knowing its future is pre-determined. The grace of living where few people tread is beyond memorable in many ways.                                                                                                                                               

While there is still snow on the ground and ice on the lakes along the International Border, temps this week and other characters of the seasonal transition tell a different story.         

Added to the drippy rooftop edges and spots of slushy snow, the roller coaster ride along our Scenic Byway is sporting dips that will rock your molars if hit at full speed. So earthly warming started around tree roots a week or more ago has extended to depths of roadside culverts as frost is starting to seek a way out.                                                                                          

Another item of vernal notice is the return of crows to Gunflint neighborhoods. A “murder” of the ebony beauties has been scrounging around the yard in recent days and carrying on yackety-yak conversation in the treetops.                                                              

Also in the winged world, a couple of those “Minnesota Chicken Birds” (grouse) have been hanging out up in the Mile O Pine tree tops nibbling on soon-to-be, birch, and aspen buds, as crusty snow is complicating nutritional gathering at ground level.                                                           

The third confirmation is not a component of “Mother Nature’s” doing but is decided by man-kind. Saturday night before bedding down, it’s time to “spring ahead” with our clocks. Guess this is man’s attempt to jump-start the season of re-birth in advance of the Equinox, although we all know, it’s a self-serving intention. Somehow, I wonder if we really ever recover the hour misplaced year after year when we “fall back.” Those hours seem to always get lost in the mayhem of our daily lives.                                                                                                     

This time of year can be identified as being hazardous to one’s health. The scene applies to both people on foot and humans behind the wheel. Our slow meltdown has backcountry roads, driveways, and walking paths in the mode for accidental falls and skids. Daytime melting and nighttime re-freezing can make for wicked glazing. Whereas we will be donning bug nets in a few weeks, right now is the time to slow down, watch your step and pull on those ice grippers if you live in the north woods. Be safe and remain upright!                                                                                   
Speaking of things that happen on snow, it would appear the days of power sledding dwindling fast. Sledding trails that can be viewed from the Gunflint blacktop look to be getting quite beat up from not only the traffic but also from the beaming rays of sunshine. Unless there is a late-season surge of white, those howling machines will soon go to off-season storage. Meanwhile, cross-country skier opportunities remain viable although the snow may be sticky in places where the sun pierces the shade.                                                                                

With a closing note, remember the voice of the northland has you covered “Night and Day.” Keeping WTIP alive and well depends heavily on listener/member support. The “Night and Day” spring membership renewal kicks off this coming Wednesday, March 17th, and runs through noontime on the 22nd.                                                                                                              

Be ready to “spring” into action with a call-in or on-line show of affection for this connection to the “Riviera of the north.” The little radio station that always thought it could, still can, with continuing efforts from our growing family of listeners.                                                   

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as life out here in the slow lane is extraordinary.
 

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IceFisherman_photo carlos grury santos via unsplash

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 5

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
March 5, 2021    

           
Month three came onto the scene with a below zero chip on its shoulder. However, it soon withered into a more lamb like mood as we close week one.                                                                

I guess this would indicate secrets of spring lie in the now crusty snow subnivium. One of those secrets has already been revealed around Wildersmith. The hollowing of snow from around the base of trees in the yard is already underway. Obviously warmth is beginning to stir in the bowels of “mother earth” inspiring juices of life to move through the roots skyward.               

The nicer days of late have been quite appealing to ice anglers. A fantastic fish story was shared with me since we last met. A pair of locals hit the Gunflint Lake ice a week ago Tuesday. The two settled in a favorite spot for a few hours of line wetting, as usual, not knowing what to expect.                                                                                                                                   

Catching was nil for a period of time so they moved a short distance and plugged the twenty-four inches of ice for another try.  This time fortunes were better as one soon called “fish on.” It was an apparent big one, running and battling for about ten minutes before being brought to the hole. Delirium soon led to dismay, as the wily denizen of the deep could not be brought through the ice, eventually breaking line and was off. Fish one, catcher nothing!                        

Disappointed, the day ended, but enthusiasm was not deterred. The next morning, Wednesday, the two were off again. This is when luck changed for the better. A big hit was called and the battle was on once more as the other fisherman fought the battle. This day, the fish got up in the hole and was gaffed onto the ice, a magnificent, forty-one inch northern.             

This is when the unexpected was discovered. The lure and leader of the previous days encounter were found snagged in the side of this monster.   Tackle lost was found. What a Day!              
However, the unusual was not over, and back to jigging. It was not long when another hit was alerted. This time, resulted in a fine lake trout being iced. And as wonders of fishing are forever happening, the catcher discovered a lure he had lost on another day, in this trout’s gullet.                                                                                                                                                
This is their story, and they’re sticking to it. I think it could be an epic fish story for the ages, or at least, “fish tale of the year”, so far. Talk about being fortuitous, these two should have hustled to town and bought a “Power Ball” ticket. It was their lucky day, but just another wondrous Gunflint Country adventure!                                                                                                         Y
ours truly has also found the warm-up to my liking. The wood shop is now tolerable for sawdust making. It’s been some time since I’ve been able to crank up the cold saw without a howling complaint.                                                                                                                                           

So a project that has been on hold is now taking shape, along with splitting fingers from fiddling with dry wood and trimmings. While there is nothing more comfortable than sitting by the wood burning stove, shaping something from wood is more enriching than burning it.    On a closing note, the Smiths’ have finished their second round of COVID vaccinations with only minor moments of discomfort and fatigue. However, we will remain masked and in the distanced mode until the all clear word is sent out to all America.                                            

Along with many other Cook County residents, we are so thankful for the highly organized and comforting administration from the County Health Department with support of the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic and hundreds of caring volunteer hours. What a team, super job, and keep up the good work with our tip of the Arrowhead friends and neighbors.                            

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is good, unbelievably good!
 

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Wildersmith Let it Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 26

Wildersmith on the Gunflint    by      Fred Smith
February 26, 2021    

           
This weekend is a beginning to the end ofwinter under the watch of the Ojibwe “Sucker” moon (Namebini Giizis). While we could be “suckered’ into believing the cold season is over, the coming of March is a sure signal, most of the worst is in our rear view mirror.                         

What might be left to come is likely to be of short duration. As a result, I’m betting some north woods gardeners are starting seeds indoors. March is within hours of taking the baton on the third leg of this 2021 marathon. February is a short month, but WOW, where did it go?                           

March conveys announcement of spring through even more noticeable longer minutes of daylight. This occurs in concert with the man-made manipulation of time. It’s hard to believe we are but two weeks away from the “spring ahead” nonsense on the fourteenth!                                                                                                                                                           
Our long bitter spell of month two was finally broken along the Trail on Wednesday the seventeenth. The temperature finally eased above the zero mark along the Mile O Pine about four o’clock in the afternoon. The final count of consecutive hours below zero during our thirteen day frozen journey was two hundred eighty-eight. It’s a new record in my weather data collection.                                                                                                                                

Meanwhile, since the mercury eased upwards, the near warmth almost seems to have a Vernal scent in the air. By near warmth, it’s defined in the twenties and low thirties around this place.                                                                                                                                                          
While north woods residential heating units are getting a break and vehicles are starting easier, and with better frequency, delivery of snow to the upper Gunflint remains lost on a distant jet stream. A skiff here and there has refreshed the landscape so to speak, but has done nothing to squelch the seemingly endless drought along the International border. An air mail consignment would sure be appreciated.                                                                                                    

Added to the human elation of more moderate temps, birds are flitting about the feeders with more enthusiasm and the four legged critters have a little more zip in their steps to our deck side fast food stand.                                                                                                                        

While this neighborhood has not had a substantial snow since before Christmas, it’s not to say we don’t have snow on the ground. There is enough to provide excellent conditions for cross country ski enthusiasts.                                                                                                  
I’ve heard report from some in promotion of this snow business activity, that this is the best year in recorded history for their winter vacation facilities. This is great news and hope they can maintain the season a couple more months.                                                                        

At the same time, snow mobile trails could support a good dose of fluff to improve rough conditions for sledding folk. Nevertheless, many are making the best of bumpy riding.                

Being pretty much quarantined by bitter cold recently, I’ve taken the opportunity to catch up on some reading. Catching my attention was an article in January edition of The SUN magazine.                                                                                                                                                   
Whether listeners are proponents or opponents of wolves and their protections or management, I found it to be worthy reading for members of both groups. Entitled, THE HOWLING WILDERNESS, the biologist author tells the truth about wolves, wondering if anyone is listening.                                                                                                                                           

Since residents of the area, and visitors to this territory, share wilderness with these iconic animals, I recommend it for reading on a late winter night. Check it out at a library or find it at a newsstand.                                                                                                                                 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, knowing March can have a good feeling to it.
 

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Wildersmith Let it Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 19

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by Fred Smith
February 19, 2021    

           
With all of North Country frozen in time, news of anything but weather is difficult to find.  There just aren’t too many folks moving about, and the same continues with beasts of the forest, for the most part.                                                                                                                           

The weather yoyo has been at the bottom of a free-wheeling spin since our last WTIP meeting. Thermometers here at Wildersmith have been mired below zero since just before midnight on Thursday, February fourth, and remained so, as I compiled this weeks’ Gunflint report this past Tuesday evening, the 16th.                                                                                                 

The math is easy as I was at two hundred sixty-six consecutive hours and counting, of below zero.  A few more will have been tacked on before we climbed out of the freezer Wednesday.                                                                                                                                     

There may be historical documentation somewhere in Gunflint territory confirming such long stretches of bitter cold, in days gone by. It seems the current freeze up would surely rank right up there on the list. If not, this time must be a modern day record of some kind. At least, I have no record of anything like this in my twenty-two winters on the Mile O Pine.                            

For sure, there has been no snow pack melting, much less any additions as the “brittle Grinch” kept snow accumulations to places south, where folks don’t have the same  appreciation as Gunflinter’s do.                                                                                                     

And to take things one step farther, nearly every bit of moisture in the air has been squeezed out into extremely low humidity’s. Any shuffle across the floor, and with a touch to anything metallic gives one a tingling zap as a reminder. Humidifying components just can’t keep up.                                                                                                                                            
Ice on area lakes has without a doubt taken on a new dimension of thickness, but it may be hard to tell how much. While ice anglers are a hardy bunch, there’s been little activity go by in a good many days. So augers are on hold and may be in need of extensions when line wetting once again picks up.                                                                                                                             
Fisher people are no exception in regard to being scarce during the spell. Animal traffic remains sporadic in spite of the need to eat. New tracks in the snow indicate both a fox and a wolf have been snooping around.  Pine martens have come back with an apparent yearning for a poultry snack.                                                                                                                                   
And a hungry downy woodpecker has discovered a can of bacon grease to its liking, having been here day after day to peck away at the frozen treat. The little gal/guy in the black and white check suit with a red beret is so intent, it perches on the lip of the can for long periods of time, letting no others in for a share.                                                                                  
On several of the bitter mornings, we’ve had a pink haze at the feed trough. It’s not from the sun arising to a skinny cloud cover, but flock of pine grosbeaks. For a few winters we’ve observed very few, so it’s exciting to see a return of these rose feathered beauties. So that’s about it from the cold and quiet “wild neighborhood.”                                                                 

News from the Gunflint Trail Historical Society finds the staff and Board busy in preparation for the coming season, in spite of not knowing what COVID might allow. During the winter, the second annual Gift Club was successfully conducted and endowed, thanks to twenty five charitable Society members.2021 programs are being scheduled, a couple new exhibits are in the works, staffing is rounding into shape with the hiring of a new Nature Center Director and a Campus Operations Assistant and the 2021 membership renewal campaign is underway.                     

The GTHS on-line, silent auction closed this past Tuesday after a ten day run, and was a tremendous success. Funds raised will go to assist in sustaining general Campus operating expenses. Thanks to all who donated items and services, the staff for organization/marketing and all who did some energetic bidding!                                                                                            
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, in a special wilderness way!
 

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38 Below_photo by Fran Smth

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 12

Wildersmith on the Gunflint      by     Fred Smith
February 12, 2021    

           
While most of the upper Midwest has been under some version of a winter spell, for listeners outside of the Arrowhead, all Gunflint residents, man and beast, have been reeling in days of below nothing temps.                                                                                                               

As I cautioned last week, the February gal, can easily loose her sense of humor. She lost all control as last weeks’ report hit the air. Since that time, cold up this way has been spelled with a capital “C.” Things about us have become “clearly crystalized.”                                                                                                                                              

Since we last met on the radio, and were on the plus side of “naught” I’ve been counting the hours of sub-zero readings here at Wildersmith. Climbing out of the icebox may happen by this briadcast, but if not, we could be looking at nearly a couple hundred consecutive hours of below zero. Several years ago I remember counting one hundred seventy plus hours of bitterness, so that would be a new record at 325.                                                                                       

How cold has it been?  Well I had one early morning low of minus 38 while most around the area reported in the high twenties below. Regardless, a few degrees either way is attention grabbing and has been relentless.  Needless to say, the wood burning stove has been glowing on over time after having been a part-timer since last October.                                                  

It’s been so cold, my only out door trips have been daunting; to replenish the seed trough, run (drive) to the mail box and countless woodshed treks. As the sounds of the holiday season have faded from memory, sounds of a bitter cold spell take on an eerie and sometimes grizzly resonance of distinction.                                                                                                                                                                

During my recent out door treks, I hear bark of frozen trees cracking, lake ice shivering with adjustment screeches, the deck around the house popping and creaking, raspy crunching under foot with every step and the ever present wind in the pines, whistling a reminder not to stay outside too long. These are brittle winter reflections, amazing north-country realities seldom if ever heard in the hubbub of suburbia.                                                                               

Four legged critter activity around the place has slowed to almost nothing. Since the mercury took its dive, few tracks of night time visitors have pierced the last delivery of snow. My red rodent friends are the only furry critters to show of late. Often with frost coated eye lashes, they adapt well by spending most of their time munching with their backs to the wind or inside cozy lunch box feeders.                                                                                           

Meanwhile, tough avian regulars have not missed a meal, loading up on the elements to see them through the nighttime cold. Their daytime visits are quick and to the point. If there is any lingering, feathers are fluffed up as insulators, and often times, frost on their faces and beaks confirms what they are enduring. They show unbelievable grit during these moments of frozen time. Almost makes one shiver watching them through the window.                                     

Surely this long weekend of hearts and chocolates will at least revive shivering souls with warm romantic thoughts. Another opportunity to squelch the cold weather blues is to join in the fun of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society’s On-Line silent auction, “Sweethearts fun for “21. It runs through this weekend, ending mid-night on this coming Tuesday, the 16th. To join in, go to the Chik-Wauk Museum Facebook page for a review of the bidding array.                                      

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with all residents humbled and linked by the sudden power of “old man winter.”
 

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Wildersmith Let it Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 5

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
February 5, 2021  

         
It seems as though we’ve missed something. Oh yes, that’s it, the first week of month two has slipped by nearly un-noticed. This being the case, I’m betting most of us paid no attention to the fabled “Ground Hog” day.                                                                               

It’s any ones guess as to whether “Woody the Chuck” ventured out around Gunflint territory. Regardless of sun or no sun and shadow or no shadow, the legendary critter surely will have forecast an earlier than usual spring, based on another warm cover that’s been hovering over border country.                                                                                              

The area had a brief sampling of real north woods cold, during January’s last gasp. It was finally seasonably cold, with one night of minus thirty and in the mid-twenties below a couple mornings prior, real Zamboni conditions. Although this bitterness slipped back toward the Arctic, causing drippy icicles over the past few days, it sounds like the thermometer yoyo is heading back down as this report hits the air.                                                                            

Meanwhile, Gunflint neighborhoods were re-decked out in white last weekend. The heavenly flakes did not pile up with any gusto, but the add-on around Wildersmith was nevertheless welcomed.                                                                                               

The new fluff did little to alleviate our overall lack of stored moisture. But it’s amazing how the beautiful flocking of white puffs on pine green made for cheerier feelings with us observers. And, it couldn’t have come at a better time for the John Beargrease Marathon sled dogs, to come dashing through the snow.                                                                     

So February’s off and rollin’, and although it’s been relatively mild since taking the stage, her mind for comfort might diminish with little notice. She’s known to have lost her sense of humor in years past.                                                                                                 

While I’ve been whining for several weeks about the areas’ deficient snow, the anomaly seems not to be a one and done situation. Climate researchers are giving account to widespread decreases in lasting snow accumulations across northern forests of the US, since the mid 1960’s. A study by researchers at the University of New Hampshire reports that part of the US has been losing an average of 3.6 snow covered days per decade. (Dybas, Nat’l. Wildlife). And it is well known what’s been happening in other places, for example, the diminishing ice pack in Glacier National Park during the past 100 years.                                                              

I have no accounting for Minnesota on this snow issue, but our location in the northern forest would likely place us in similar latitudinal inclusion. Regardless of where one might be located in northern latitudes, this is an ecological dilemma for everything living in the world under snow. This subnivium is “nature’s igloo”, natural insulation for both flora and many fauna species. (Dybas, Nat’l. Wildlife).                                                                                 

So while my affection for the season of white is based solely on the beauty, peace and purity of this awe inspiring landscape, the dearth of snow is problematic for all humanity from a scientific point of view.                                                                                                          
While we have opportunity to make life style changes that can initiate a reversal of dismal climatic predictions, the question is; “do we have the will to do it”? In the meantime, away from the scientific aspects of the current situation, Gunflinter’s might be doing a little snow dancing!                                                                                                                         

Local musher, Erin Altemus, and her dogs, was leader of the Beargrease teams coming into the Trail Center check point after one day into the Marathon. A great race to the finish, late day Tuesday, found first and second but seconds apart.  Alaska musher, Erin Letzring edged Ryan Redington, also of Alaska, by a mere seven seconds, while the Altemus team completed the over three hundred trip with a fine fourth place finish.                                                       

Congratulations to Erin and all the competitors who took part in honor of John Beargrease and his historic mail delivery runs of days long ago. And thanks to all the local volunteers who helped with the Gunflint Trail leg of the Beargrease journey.                             

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, still waiting for the late arriving, great northern express!
 
 

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Wildersmith Let it Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 29

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
January 29, 2021    

           
January is fading away under the Ojibwe “Great Spirit” moon (Gich-Manidoo-Giizis), giddy and unpredictable as a spring lamb. The early part of this week was somewhat cold, but not like this time of year used to be. Around this place, we have yet to see one of those week-long spells of yesteryear, where the mercury never climbed to the plus side of zero.                               

By the next time we meet on the radio, February will be several days old and the worst of winter could well be in the review mirror. Month two may have snow to fall and winds to howl, but real northland winter has been “winter” in name only to this point.                 

Further, there are slightly over three weeks of ’21, chapter 2, left in the last fully winter segment. March springs onto the scene, signaling the end to a disappointing visit from the once “tough, spirit of the North.”                                                                                                                       

The scourge of overdue snow in most parts of border country has extended the drought another week. A feeble dropping last weekend netted only two inches in this neighborhood. We might blame the nation’s delivery services for white shipments missing the territory, but the reality is, systems are avoiding this moisture starved area like we have the plague.                   

On the bright side, two positives can be said for the meek seasonal character. One lies in the fact there has been less energy expended to move snow either by hand or mechanically, and the other realized , in knowing the wood shed will likely have carry over to ’21-’22.                                 

The thirty-seventh annual John Beargease sled dog marathon hits the trails Sunday.  Event organizers confirm that although snow depths are not as they would prefer, and with warmer weekend temps predicted, trails are nevertheless, safe for the teams to run.                                   

The race departs as usual from just north of Duluth on its three hundred plus miles journey to a finish at Grand Portage sometime on February third or fourth. Dogs and their mushers will silently, swoosh into this area to the Trail Center check point sometime late Monday and on to the King’s road turn-around, then head on to the Portage finish.                                

Unfortunately, due to continuing COVID complications, there will be no spectator interaction for Trail residents. However, the race can be followed with on-line connections from start to finish. Fans will just have to cheer our area mushers on from their living rooms. Teams are wished a safe race, and good luck to all from the WTIP family of listeners.                                    

The ice report on Gunflint Lake is running from nine to sixteen inches, while slush conditions of a few weeks ago have improved to where there is very little.                              

There’s a lot of angling activity going on, but while the conditions above the ice are good, happenings below the ice have been slow in the past few days. When catches have been pulled onto the ice, sizes are running smaller than usual. Reports on a few other area lakes seem better, with good catches of rainbows and splake.                                                                        

In addition to anglers filling up the parking lots, the all-season resorts appear to be doing quite well with winter vacationers to this point. One might think the business is being spiked upward as folks want to spread out from COVID infestations of suburbia. Whatever the reason, it is great for area business owners and their staffs during these trying times in our country.                                                                                                                                            
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as we stand in readiness to see if the real “Mr. Winter” will get serious! 

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