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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 on the Gunflint - May 29

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
May 29, 2020    

           
May turns the reins over to June kicking-off next week, and closes the books on month five after another dry week in the upper Gunflint territory. One can never put much faith in weather forecasting, but the way things have been going, there’s a 100% chance it will be doing something, hopefully wet along the Gunflint Trail.                                                                                                                                                                    
While there have been more clouds of dust along backcountry roads than puffs of moisture in the skies, conditions for us two legged beings have been splendid. Sunshine and warm temps have brought on the green.                                                                                                    

The deciduous forest has come alive with quaking aspen and birch, exploding under the influence of chlorophyll. A trip up the Trail from the Gunflint Lake look-out mimics a glorious emerald blanket draped on the granite mountainsides. In many places the curtain of camouflage has nearly masked all Ham Lake fire evidence of thirteen years ago.                                                           

At ground level, countless varieties of verdant sprouts have pierced the earth. Marsh Marigolds and those “Dandy” lions are beaming a buttery contrast to the growing sea of green. During my daily mail box run, I’ve been watching fiddleheads uncoil their lacy fronds by several inches per day, all in readiness for summers’ concert series. And our vision into the forest is soon to be totally obscured as dense lower underbrush of the wild lands fill in the voids.                                                                                                         
As I mentioned in the last scoop, the onslaught of biting bugs was minimal. Well, I take the ill-characterized opinion back. The nasties have exploded in a fury, same as our leaf out. “Skeeters”, black flies and a zillion other gnat sized terrorists have forced the issue with “bug dupe and netting.                                                                                                                                                     

Although all things are eco-purposed, one has to wonder why in heavens’ creation these mini-monsters could not have been programmed only for plant pollination with a taste for sweets instead of flesh. Oh well, this too will pass, come September!                                                        

Speaking of the other terror about us, one would think the Pandemic had evaporated like the last winter snow. Decoration Day weekend found the area engulfed with visitors. Parking lots at outfitters and resorts seemed packed with vehicles. While these business folks surely need help, residents of the Trail and all of Cook County hope the outsiders don’t open the flood gate to the deadly epidemic which hasn’t yet invaded border country.                                                

On a less serious note, one of our visitors time fishing with dad and two grandpa’s in North Lake over the holiday weekend was great! Smiles on the young angler’s face almost match the length of the trout he displays. See his happy face alongside the Wildersmith column under the drop down Community Voices at WTIP.org. For those fisher people not so lucky, yes, there are fish to be caught, sometime.                                                                                                                                                               

“Mother Nature” operates in unpredictable ways at times. Such was the case on the loon nest in Sag bay at Chik-Wauk Museum Campus. Word comes to me telling of the loons having departed the site after setting-up housekeeping a couple weeks ago. The couple was there one afternoon and gone the next morning.                                                                                                                                                   

It’s a good bet they were driven off by either a black flies onslaught or by a member of the Sag Lake eagle convocation. A drone observation indicated there were no eggs in the nest. It is hoped the pair might return as this is known to have occurred at other sites and in other years, but nothing can be certain.                                                                                                                 

Warmth of the past week finished off the last reminder of winter 2019-20. Gone along the Mile O Pine is the final mound of white. In our neighborhood, we had white on the ground, in at least some form, since last November 11th, and it disappeared just a few days ago on May 23, totaling 97.25 inches.                                                                                                                                                                      
The season in general reflected our warming climate, not experiencing extended stints of bitter cold of years past. There were only three nights where the temperatures exceeded minus thirty, with the coldest Wildersmith readings of minus 34 on consecutive mornings, February 13 and 14.                                                                                                                                                                              
Official ice cover on Gunflint Lake came December 11 and departed May 5 which is about normal based on my data since 1982. Lake ice drillers tell of depth on the Gunflint being in the thirty plus range, and such hard water had difficulty gaining more thickness due to heavy insulating snow cover right after freeze –up.                                                                                                                
So that’s a wrap on winter at this wilderness place! Yes, it was beautiful, but we’re also happy to be seein’ green again!                                                                                                                                                    
On a closing note, while the Chik-Wauk exhibit facilities are closed for Pandemic reasons, an energetic crew has been planning virtual activities to maintain connections with the public.                                                                                                                                                                             
Visitors can now visit the Campus through the magic of technology by way of the website: ChikWauk.org or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter@chikwaukmuseum. Please check the sites regularly for cultural and natural history programming snippets both indoors and out around the site. The staff would love to hear from you!                                                                                                        

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as new woods adventures are revealed!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 22

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
May 22, 2020    

           
Although we Gunflint folk could be fooled, it looks as though spring is in full swing.  May’s third weekend along the Trail was splendid. Although it was breezy at times, “Sol” warmed temps into the fifties and sixties sending “the old man of the north” packing back that direction.                                                                                                                                                                           
Winter reminders are now few and far in between. By next week, pockets of white will be gone, and it’s likely I can share statistics of winter trivia for 2019-20.                                                                                                                                                                               
The wild land drought was tempered some last week when a couple showers netted just about one-half inch around Wildersmith.  The sogginess was short lived as we’ve dried out quickly, putting residents back on the edge of fire danger once again.                                                                   

Meanwhile, wild fire sprinkler systems are being rapidly installed. I talked to one fellow who mentioned he put sixty of the systems into area lakes last week alone. Since about 98% of wild fires in Minnesota are caused by careless humans, it seems to be a good thing these WFSS are in readiness as campfire restrictions in the BWCAW have been lifted. Why, is hard to understand.   
                                                                                                                                                                              
The opening of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has seen a distinct up-tick in Trail traffic over the past few days. Paddlers and uncountable fishing craft are on the water, in spite of camping facilities still being under lockdown. Of course this restriction might be history by the time this scoop hits the air.                                                                                                                    
 Up-ticks in “Bruno” sightings are becoming an almost daily occurrence. Although I’ve not heard of any bear break-ins, with the critters rambling through the woods, its “bearly” a matter of time until human miscues will tempt a larcenous act.                                                                                 

Up around Seagull Lake and the Chik-Wauk Campus, the big “Cinnamon Bear” of yore has been making the rounds. A photo of the chestnut colored brute can be seen on the Chik-Wauk Museum Facebook page. More “wild neighborhood” citizens can be seen by scrolling further down the page to see the loons nesting, bears ruling the roads and two swans a swimming.                                                                                                                                                                     

Another heart-warming confirmation of spring was noted at Wildersmith a few days ago when the first hummingbird streaked by. At least it was thought to be such as the scarlet breast was at break neck speed. The nectar station is now open for dine-in delight.                                                       

Speaking of other things that fly, I hesitate to mention, but black flies have yet to be of bother. I did a little grubbing around in the dirt the other day to remove an old tree stump and did not stir up any of the nasty nippers. Saying this probably marks me for the “kiss of death’, or at least, a few bloody bites around my hat brim in the days to come.                                                                                                                                     

While there has never been a bad sunrise or sunset, we’ve experienced more beauties of late on the Gunflint Gal. “Sol” has now crossed back over the international border, edging toward the summertime solstice. Those molten iron bars etched on the lake surface at days beginning and end have been ever so spectacular. One can add on some gauzy tints of peach, pink, lavender and purple for a heavenly mosaic that boggles the mind. Not that a frosty December/ January sunrise/sunset doesn’t have its unique character, but there’s just something awesome about a warm season onset and conclusion to a days’ journey!                                                                                        

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is glorious, as we count the days ‘til green leaves are quaking!
 

Listen: 

 
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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 15

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
May 15, 2020
    
           
Since our last air waves gathering, conditions of weather along the Trail have been less than what we anticipate for month five. Our excitement of fifties and sixties around “May Day” has descended into shivers for the second consecutive weekend along the Mile O Pine.           
 

Since the Gunflint Lake ice-out on the 5th, several early morning low temps have allowed shore line waters to once again glaze granite and nearby flora with winters’ reminders. Even daytime high temps failed to temper the bone chilling northwest currents.                                                              
 

One morning was so cold the hardy blooming Squill and a growth of chives in the Smith yard succumbed to the frostiness, while protected bays and ponds skimmed over. And last Sunday saw a morning snow squall with off and on flurries around the Wildersmith neighborhood through the afternoon. All in all, it’s been late March in May.                                                                      
 

As the angling season got underway last Saturday, I’ve not heard much bragging about  hooking and netting, although a couple nice trout were taken out of Gunflint Lake by Trail Community neighbors. With the weather as it was, it’s a good bet some fish seekers could have caught a cold at the very least.                                                                                                                                        
 

If the brisk air wasn’t aggravating enough, navigating was difficult on our rough inland seas. Strong winds during both days of opening weekend were relentless as white caps dashed area shores. For the throngs of fisher people, the opener looked to be mostly miserable.                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The misery of drought has extended another week throughout northeast Minnesota, further increasing potential for wild fire. Since lake ice is gone, homeowners are urged to get those wild fire sprinkler systems ready and tested. Yours truly spent some time in the cold lake earlier this week to set my systems’ pump hoses. It’s done, but burr, what a frosty wet ritual.                                                     
 

By the way, local residents are reminded of the “Firewise Webinar” this coming Wednesday night May 20, from 6:30 to 8:00 pm.                                                                                                       
 

With exception of a few mini piles of snow, the neighborhood looks brown and barren as it was late last October. I’ve been watching some green tips on the branches of a couple juvenile birch located just off the deck, but the bud unfolding progress has been stymied to the point where they are shivering in their sheaths as I scribe this report.                                                                                                                                     
 

Spring clean-up is under way around the Wildersmith place. Enough winter downfalls have been picked up so far to start the first burn pile for next winter. Speaking of clean-up, a trip along the Trail in either direction shows the manners of mankind have not improved with regard to littering.                                                                                                                                                                                
 

While the COVID Pandemic has turned our world upside down, the annual Trail clean-up has not been on the front burner. For folks locked down up this way, a good excuse to get out of the house/cabin would be to grab a bag, put on a safety vest and pick-up a couple miles section. This will be an easy way to stay socially distanced because the likelihood of anyone stopping to help out is remote, just watch out for flying beverage bottles or cans.                                                                                                                                    
 

Reports are beginning to trickle in with critter sightings in the “wild neighborhood.” A wolf was captured on the trail cam at Chik-Wauk, two different sources have observed momma bears and cub sightings (one with triplets), a couple yearling moose were seen around the Cross River gravel pit, a grey/silver fox entertained some neighbors up along Seagull Lake, a pair of majestic white swans are hanging out on the Moose Pond off county road #81 and the Chik-Wauk loon pair is back on their nest in the Sag Bay.                                                                                           
 

Closer to home, I’ve been hearing a barred owl boom its “who, who cooks for you”, and I’m keeping an eye on a pileated woodpecker who recently perched on the feed tray. It made me wonder if the “woody woodpecker” look alike was inspecting my house siding to maybe hit upon a meal of insect morsels.                                                                                                                                                          
 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as “Zigwan” (spring) is jumping back on track!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 8

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
May 8, 2020     
 
Weather along the Gunflint has been on the fickle side as I hit the keyboard after one week of May. The only constant has been with precipitation up at end of the Trail, and the lack thereof.                                                                                                                                                                 
Conditions looked like spring put a choke hold on an ailing “old man winter.” Temps soared into the fifties and sixties for several days, at least where the sun bore down on the thermometer. Our fair “princess spring” finally had conditions in hand going into last weekend as “Sol” gulped up gobs of snow.                                                                                                                     
 
About all the snow remaining is that heaped during snow removal efforts over the past six months.  The Mile O Pine neighborhood is about ninety percent bare brown earth and mud right now.                                                                                                                                                                       
But in a not to unusual twist, and in what may be a last gasp, the “spirit of the north” blew in with cold northwest winds and a brief snow shower at Wildersmith to end last weekend. Such was happening in spite of lake ice trying to do its disappearing act.                                                                                                                           
 Ice conditions on Gunflint Lake have deteriorated rapidly. The big ice cube looks to be of the liquid sort as this scoop hits the air. Alas, the fishing opener should not be interrupted by ice, as I declared the official ice-out date, May 5.                                                                                                                                                                             
 I’m told by folks further up the Trail, Seagull Lake is now clear of hard water. Other big lakes, like Loon, Poplar and Saganaga are likely the same or in close pursuit of lapping at the shores.                                                                                                                                                                   
Rocks are a way of life around this place on the planet, and anyone who has tried to pierce the earth in these parts will attest to frustrations they present. A rock happening (not of hip-hop character) awhile back has been reported by a couple folks out for a walk on one recent bright spring day.                                                                                                                                                                         
During their trek along what locals call Warren’s Road (running through the Cross River Gravel Pit), the twosome came upon what looked to be an optical illusion of something a distance down the road. As they got closer, it turned out to be no illusion. It was a huge chunk of granite, smack dab in middle of the road.                                                                                            
 
Apt to weigh several tons, it turns out this boulder did not plummet from the heavens, but broke away from a roadside cliff. With dimensions of a small car, this natural road block likely succumbed to ages of freezing and thawing before disconnecting from its glacial placement thousands of years ago.                                                                                                                                                         
The impact was probably a pretty big thud, and maybe shook the earth nearby, but with summer residents living along Warren’s Road not yet back for the season, it’s like a tree falling in the forest, nobody heard or felt an earthly tremor.                                                                                                         
In the meantime, some good neighbors of the Gunflint territory are plotting its removal. Thank goodness this squashing moment didn’t occur during summertime usage!                                                                                                                       

WTIP website readers can see a digital of the temporary monument by scrolling down to the Wildersmith column under Community Voices.                                                                                       

 
First forest babies of spring have been announced by a gal up on Seagull Lake. She spotted a momma cross fox out and about with her kits on a recent sunny day. And with summer camouflage not yet emerging, it’s easy to spot members of the “wild neighborhood.” Trail cams on trails at the Chik-Walk Museum Campus have captured lynx, moose and wolves in the past couple weeks. Check out the Chik-Wauk website as they are often posted.                                                 
One annoying note associated with the big warm-up, is the sudden appearance of creepy things that crawl and winged critters that get in your hair and bite. I’ve been engaged by both over the past few days.                                                                                                                                     
 
On a couple happier notes, those arachnids (creepy as they can be) have already been hard at work running fiber though the forest. The beauty of early morning sunshine has this webl network glistening with dew. So yes, it’s another example of every creature having purpose, even artfulspiders.                                                                                                                                                                           
In another warm season happening, a White Admiral has been meeting me each day in a select location along the Mile O Pine during my mail box run. Not far beyond a Mourning Cloak has been hanging out too. Both butterflies, observances seem early, but apparently guess not!                     
With COVID-19 continuing to ravage thousands, folks along the Trail are still minding the recommendations of science. Hope all listeners are too! It’s masks up, stand away, stay well, and CARE for one another.                                                                                                                  
 
For WTIP, this is WIldersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as we wait for showers and more May flowers!
Listen: 

 
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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 1

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
May 1, 2020
    

After April seemed like two or three months crammed into one, Gunflint territory has made it to May. We all welcome month five with hope for more lives saved and lessening complexities of overwhelming suffering and sadness.                                                                                               

May in the northland is when memories of the past six months fade, and verdant realities are within our sight.                                                                                                                                                    

A confirmation of warmth along the Mile O Pine and all around the area is displayed with about a 50/50 split between bare earth and dingy snow. The power of “Sol” has taken a big bite out of winter remains over the past few days. Although friends out hiking recently raved of bare Trails, they still had to navigate thigh deep snow a time or two during their trek along the border route.                                                                                                                                                                               
Simultaneously the sun has been gnawing at lake ice cover. I’m told the far west end is opening at the Cross River Bridge, but there’s about eighteen inches of frozen stuff at least from mid-lake near Wildersmith, and on to the east sand beach. There was even snowmobile traffic by the place as recent as last weekend.                                                                                                                                                                      

I’ve been thinking, ice-out on the Gunflint might not happen before the May 9 fishing opener. If the recent warmth hangs on, this idea might need re-consideration. I heard one local has predicted the 12th. We’ll see!  In 2019, ice departed Gunflint Lake the day walleye chasing commenced.               
                                                                                                                                                                   
Here in the yard, the gap between the house and the nearest snow bank has expanded to about three feet, allowing the green sprouts of Squill and Rhubarb to take advantage of soaking up warm rays. It’s May for sure and the month of the Ojibwe, “budding flowers” moon will shine down on us before we meet again!                                                                                                                                                                

In contrast, 20 feet away, nearly a foot of snow remains on my shaded woodshop roof. While in another direction, the woodshed has melted off the three foot mass of just three weeks ago. It just goes to show how much strength the gaseous solar ball emits.                                   

Happy days in the woods are here again as numerous moose sightings have been reported. Yours truly had not observed any for several months during the winter, but have observed three in the past weeks. Others have reported seeing a foursome in one location along with more single viewings.                                                                                                                                    

On the smaller side of our “wild animal kingdom”, chippies have emerged from winter quarters, making me wonder if the Bruno population and other hibernators have made any residential stops along the byway. If anyone has a sighting to report, I’d enjoy hearing such.                                                                                        

Another report came to me from a fellow down the road telling of a visit from one of those masked bandits. It’s not the first time a raccoon has been seen along the Trail, but is still somewhat unusual.                                                                                                                                                                   
The presence of one, ring-tail, likely means potential for an invasion over time. They are not the nicest critters to have around, for any number of reasons. While there’s a reason for every being of the forest, I kind of equate their popularity with the equivalence of a skunk, rattlesnake or alligator. How do they get up this far north, I wonder? I’ll bet they are hooking a ride on the trucks of those sweet corn peddlers from down south in the summer.                                                                                                                                                                                         

As the delayed opening of the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center was announced last week, I mentioned planning is underway to create a virtual campus. Funding for developing, online programs, presentations and a virtual museum is needed. All of this programming falls outside of the yearly GTHS/CW budget, and is absent support revenue coming through the gates. The virtual Campus will assist in keeping staff employed and community members/far away visitors connected until Chik-Wauk is open again.                                                            

The COVID-19 battle continues eating away at America, both physically and emotionally. All are encouraged to work harder at being patient and prudent in the push to regain a degree of normalcy. Our behavior to stay safe and at the same time protect others remains critical.                                                                     

In the words of iconic actress, Julie Andrews, try just “standing still a moment” during a time of frustration or disgust, before jumping into endangering situations!  You know, “everybody matters”!                                                                                                                                                       
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, and each always counts, as special!
 

Listen: 

 
Wildersmith_Photo by Fran Smith

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 1

Wildersmith on the Gunflint by Fred Smith

May 1, 2020

After April seemed like two or three months crammed into one, Gunflint territory has made it to May. We all welcome month five with hope for more lives saved and lessening complexities of overwhelming suffering and sadness.

May in the northland is when memories of the past six months fade, and verdant realities are within our sight.

A confirmation of warmth along the Mile O Pine and all around the area is displayed with about a 50/50 split between bare earth and dingy snow. The power of “Sol” has taken a big bite out of winter remains over the past few days. Although friends out hiking recently raved of bare Trails, they still had to navigate thigh deep snow a time or two during their trek along the border route.

Simultaneously the sun has been gnawing at lake ice cover. I’m told the far west end is opening at the Cross River Bridge, but there’s about eighteen inches of frozen stuff at least from mid-lake near Wildersmith, and on to the east sand beach. There was even snowmobile traffic by the place as recent as last weekend.

I’ve been thinking, ice-out on the Gunflint might not happen before the May 9th fishing opener. If the recent warmth hangs on, this idea might need re-consideration. I heard one local has predicted the twelfth. We’ll see! In 2019, ice departed Gunflint Lake the day walleye chasing commenced.

Here in the yard, the gap between the house and the nearest snow bank has expanded to about three feet, allowing the green sprouts of Squill and Rhubarb to take advantage of soaking up warm rays. It’s May for sure and the month of the Ojibwe, “budding flowers” moon will shine down on us before we meet again!

In contrast, twenty feet away, nearly a foot of snow remains on my shaded woodshop roof. While in another direction, the woodshed has melted off the three foot mass of just three weeks ago. It just goes to show how much strength the gaseous solar ball emits.

Happy days in the woods are here again as numerous moose sightings have been reported. Yours truly had not observed any for several months during the winter, but have observed three in the past weeks. Others have reported seeing a foursome in one location along with more single viewings.

On the smaller side of our “wild animal kingdom”, chippies have emerged from winter quarters, making me wonder if the Bruno population and other hibernators have made any residential stops along the byway. If anyone has a sighting to report, I’d enjoy hearing such.

Another report came to me from a fellow down the road telling of a visit from one of those masked bandits. It’s not the first time a raccoon has been seen along the Trail, but is still somewhat unusual.

The presence of one, ring-tail, likely means potential for an invasion over time. They are not the nicest critters to have around, for any number of reasons. While there’s a reason for every being of the forest, I kind of equate their popularity with the equivalence of a skunk, rattlesnake or alligator. How do they get up this far north, I wonder? I’ll bet they are hooking a ride on the trucks of those sweet corn peddlers from down south in the summer.

As the delayed opening of the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center was announced last week, I mentioned planning is underway to create a virtual Campus.

Funding for developing, on-line programs, presentations and a virtual museum is needed. All of this programming falls outside of the yearly GTHS/CW budget, and is absent support revenue coming through the gates. The virtual Campus will assist in keeping staff employed and community members/far away visitors connected until Chik-Wauk is open again. Any contributions to help would be greatly appreciated. To offer underwriting assistance, go to… gunflinttrailhistoricalsociety.org/join.php, or send a contribution to GTHS, 28 Moose Pond Drive, Grand Marais, MN 55604.

The COVID-19 battle continues eating away at America, both physically and emotionally. All are encouraged to work harder at being patient and prudent in the push to regain a degree of normalcy. Our behavior to stay safe and at the same time protect others remains critical.

In the words of iconic actress, Julie Andrews, try just “standing still a moment” during a time of frustration or disgust, before jumping into endangering situations! You know, “everybody matters”!

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, and each always counts, as special!

Listen: 

 
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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 24

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
April 24, 2020     
 
Views of spring continue, far different than the majority of Americans have ever experienced. At the same time, the natural world in Gunflint territory is moving on uninterrupted.                                                                                                                                                   
Seasonal rituals of the manmade sort are taking place at Wildersmith, indicating I’ve conceded winter is over. Vehicle wheels and tires have been removed in lieu of the summer version, bird feeders have been removed in consideration of bear vandalism and the snow scoop is stored ‘til next November.                                                                                                                                                                 
On the natural scene, snow melt continues to trickle from hills through the woods to streams and on into lakes still under the ice cover. Growing pot-holes are the character of back country roads and coniferous needles are brightening from the cold weather drab.                                               
In the “wild neighborhood,” I recently observed a moose momma and her yearling son along the Trail. They too were in a ritual of shedding winter apparel and looking pretty ragged. And a flock of common grackles had been harassing the neighborhood jaybirds, causing much unrest until I terminated feeding facilities.                                                                                         
 
Minding the “stay at home order” often gives one time to reflect on a variety of people goings-on. During my tethered time lately, I’ve been thinking about the countless complications COVID has put upon us. This evil virus has us reeling to the point of not knowing where to turn in many situations.                                                                                                                                 
 
It is certainly a wake-up call with regard to what is really important. Whereas a glut of Americans live beyond their means, this crisis might be a golden opportunity to begin sorting out legitimate needs from wants. These words are two with which many would have difficulty distinguishing a difference, particularly during this viral intrusion.                                                                                                                       
Needs are in the eyes of the beholder, but the basics of clean water, clean air, and nutritional sustenance coupled with love of family, caring others and a legitimate livelihood far outweigh any of the material items we are told we need by the marketing world.                                                                                   

 

It’s time to stop jabbing each other, and recognize the genuine need to do things right, in order to get through these tumultuous times.                                                                                                         
As I step down from my soapbox, it is so disheartening that countless Americans are facing hard realities. In the days/weeks ahead, we NEED to stop for a moment reflecting on those 40 to 50,000 American people no longer having the miracle of taking another breath. The sacrifices we NEED to make in getting beyond this world wide catastrophe are pretty small compared to the suffering hundreds of thousands. We can do this, keep on hangin’ on!                                                             

 

Living in one of the great green places on the planet, the fiftieth birthday of “Earth Day” this past Wednesday renews the real meaning of environmentalism. We Gunflinter’s live it every day! Caring about not only our own wild land back yard, but the entire global ecosystem, is a matter of “justice, security and political economy, let alone being essential for survival of civilization. We should show sympathy for everything that lives.” (Britton-Purdy, Sierra). For all of creation, every day should be an “Earth Day.”                                                                                                           

 

As fire tragedy struck the village on April 13th, mourning for the loss to those business owners extends far beyond the town limits. Residents in Gunflint territory know about terror of wind and fire. We are mindful of the devastating effects on people lives, and share the sadness not only for the owners but for the entire Grand Marais Business Community.                                                 

 

Solidarity of the entire County is behind each owner family and their employees. Everyone wants to see these businesses rise from the ashes to again be a part of the “coolest town in America.”                                                                                                                                                                     
In a closing, THE Gunflint Trail Historical Society has had to make some difficult decisions as they relate to the unknowns of COVID-19. The season of 2020 at the Chik-Waik Museum and Nature Center is going to be much different.                                                                                                   

 

Risks of exposure to the virus have everyone in a new mode with personal distancing, disinfecting and group congregating limits influencing the order of living.  For these reasons, in order to be protective of staff, volunteers and thousands of visitors, the 2020 opening of Chik-Wauk is postponed until July 10 with the possibility of this date being extended if necessary.                                                       

 

Campus hiking trails will be open, but parking is limited to outside the Campus entry gate. The GTHS requests trail users follow CDC guidelines regarding social distancing. Trail maps are available at the gate.                                                                                                                               
 
All May and June events for the Society and Chik-Wauk Campus are cancelled, and the July 4th tenth Anniversary celebration is postponed. GTHS members can look forward to the annual Newsletter arriving in the mail box soon, including information on the 2020 Board of Trustees election and a return mail voting ballot procedure.                                                                                     

 

The GTHS is working on a plan to create a virtual Campus during this time of delay. Check the Chik-Wauk website to keep up on these happenings and more.  I’ll have more information in the coming week/s as to how members and friends from around the world can help in sustaining this historical gem at end of the Trail in these uncertain days.                                                                                                                                                     
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with the Gunflint Community, distancing, together! 
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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 10

 Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
April 10, 2020
   
 
The shoulder season for Trail businesses is in full swing as the super, Ojibwe, “maple sugar” moon passed over the Gunflint this past Tuesday evening. While the Gunflint winter has its special ambiance of natural calm, this time of year always reflects a void of human activity due to meltdown, but now is compounded with strategies of staying away from one another.                                                                             

The Territory did have a visitor last weekend, arriving in spite of the stay at home order. In a surprise appearance, “old man winter” stopped by for a couple days. It turns out our first shower of April was of the white variety. A couple inches decked out the forest in several places, and hung around as morning temps took on a February feel for about forty-eight hours.                                                               

The happening probably had a few folks growling, but the beauty of a fresh snow perks up border country anytime, regardless of the time of year. While snow has a way of covering the ugliness of winters’ retreat, conditions have since returned to the spring swing in the past few days.                                                                                                                                                                                 
I would guess maple syrup and sugaring processors are busier than beavers now, Daytime temps have been warming quickly to open up the sap run after below freezing nights with regularity both before and since the weekend winter spell.                                                                                                                                                                           
As I view the forest out my window, the winter carpet has diminished to about a foot where not drifted. Its luxurious ivory plush is now stained by trillions of windblown canopy droppings. Muddy foot print paths left by my red rodent pals are all that remains from trails of nighttime visitors. Such curious tracks have simply evaporated to oblivion.                                                           
Looking through the forest down toward the lake, the icy scene remains. Unpredictable as many things are right now, forecasting ice out is the least of our worries. In all likelihood, the crystal layer will be gone long before our lives can return to whatever is normal. I have observed some tannin spots on some of the wetland swamps along the Trail, so “hope springs eternal.”                                                                                                                                                 
From another window, familiar “wild neighborhood” faces streak up and down the food trough rail snitching a bite here and there just steps ahead of being a nutritional element themselves. For some un-explained reason, pine marten traffic has picked up considerably of late, keeping the squirrel population and blue jay flock on edge.                                                           
Speaking of those jay bird bullies, I find it interesting how each seems to have a unique style of shelling kernels from the cobs I provide. While intended for the squirrels, the jays are just too much for the little red critters. Their styles vary from pecking a layer around the cob; to stripping a row from top to bottom (like pecking down a row of letters on a key board); to snarfing morsels in a downward spiral pattern; and everything in between. Regardless of the pecking style, the cobs are generally cleaned in a matter of minutes.                                                                                     
Meanwhile, the foxy gal that was a frequent visitor for several months has turned up AWOL. It might be possible she could be in a motherly way by now and doesn’t venture too far from her kits. It sure would be cute if she would show up someday to let me see her family, if that’s her situation.                                                                                                                                                                             
I’m still not hearing of bear activity. Then again, with Gunflinter’s so focused on staying free of COVID, the “moccasin telegraph” just might not be ticking as usual. On the other hand, perhaps momma bears changed plans after looking out to see a good deal of snow still on the ground. This doesn’t account for pappas though. Guess the day of Ursus appearnces will come sooner than later.                                                                                                                                                                           
As predicted last week, the willows are popping their fuzzy buds in any number of sunny locales. Good thing they had their wooly coats on during the frigid weekend past.                                     
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great! Keep those masks up, keep your distance and stay well. Family and friends are counting on you! 

  

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 3

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - by Fred Smith

April 3, 2020
 

Americans welcome month four with a somber greeting. Somehow when intensity of the Pandemic during March couldn’t seem to be much worse, the battle is raging with even more dramatic intensity as we meet on the radio this weekend.                                                                                                                                                      
My weekly report of Gunflint Trail happenings brings three items of concern for WTIP listeners and cyber readers. One is that you are paying attention to the guiding principles of the medical community; two that you are well to this point; and three, if you’ve been infected, are you on the mend.                                                                                                                                             
While this time of year is always quiet along the Trail, it is eerily quieter than usual knowing so many of our brothers and sisters around the planet are hurting and feeling so hopeless. The Smith’s like most everyone I know in border country are taking the distancing recommendation to heart. We’ve been under wraps here for over three weeks, and I’ve observed only two other humans along the Mile O Pine on one occasion during the last week.                                                                                                                                      
Close Gunflint neighbors keep track of each other by telephone on a somewhat regular basis and all indicate wellness to date. Living some distance from the village, most have a cache of survival items on hand with regularity.                                                                                                                          
For any un-foreseen needs or a sudden empty cupboard, kudos goes to grocery people in Grand Marais for accommodating a system where orders can be placed for pick-up without being exposed to instore congregating. Big thanks is also extended to our great Community activist, Sarah Hamilton who has laid in food supplies in her Trail Center Store, these items too are available on a systematic plan of ordering from afar and outside pick-up
                                                          
In the meantime, spring like weather has really taken hold out this way. Temps have held in the melting range for several days as I scribe this report last Sunday evening. In fact last Saturday night was the first since I don’t know when, the mercury at Wildersmith stayed above the freezing mark. 

The hovering warmness is putting a dent in the snow pack, but piles and drifts remain a plenty. The onset of “mud season” is making candid appearances along back country roads. Where the sun gets through the canopy and the plow driver has kept surfaces scraped thin, places are taking on the look of a Dalmatian canine. The Mile O Pine is no exception as spots of bare gravel have begun to interrupt this magic ribbon of white.
                                                                                                                  
On a related conveyance, I am comforted to announce the “spotted dog look” has emerged on my driveway. I can now navigate the vehicle down the once icy sheet without white knuckles. However, I have not relinquished my ice grippers for a pedestrian trek just yet, and snow removal tools are still hung by the door with care.                                                                                                                

While cheeriness of mankind has been muted during this great America tragedy, energy has not been tempered in the “wild neighborhood.” It’s survival business as usual for critters around the yard. In fact, activity around our wild being food trough is humanly energizing in the midst of the discouraging tone of current times. 
                                                         
It’s near birthing time for fox and wolves of the territory, and nesting occasion for some of our winged visitors, and the first robin has made it part way up the Trail. If one is betting person, it would be a good bet bears and other cold season slumbering folk are stirring about denning quarters, rubbing the sleep from their eyes. 
                                                                                       
I’m watching a youthful birch tree just off the deck at Wildersmith that catches a good bit of sun each day. Buds look to be bulging with anticipation of a new generation. If “princess spring” continues, another week might have fuzzies of pussy willows popping out. You can just tell many beings of “Mother Nature’s realm” are on the verge of “busting out all over.”   
                                             
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, do what the “Doctor Orders” and stay well!

 
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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 27

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
March 27, 2020    

Month three is beginning to fade, and with the turmoil of COVID-19 over the past few weeks, closing the books on March 2020 will go down as an ill-fated narrative of grief and sorrow for more of our fellow man than we care to count.                                                                                                                                                                  

While April predictions of immediate relief seem bleak, all Americans must continue pulling together as the scientific and medical community advises. Since being encouraged to lock down to minimize the viral spread, we are all humbled into a sudden reality of just how important the simple needs of life have been taken for granted. This turnover of our lives surely looks to be a wake-up call. Knowledge and caring can be powerful.                                                                                               

Living in the remote wild along the Gunflint Trail finds life can be difficult at times. Uniquely, getting through the tough moments in border country makes one fully appreciate simple pleasures brought forth in joys of the natural world around us.                                                                                       

Outsiders likely think us woodsy residents must not have enough to do when we share the satisfaction of observing a small woodland creature exercising survival rituals; or taking time to watch a quiet descent of flakes from the heavens; or spectate as the early spring sun turns solids to liquid. When compared to the uncounted complexities of life in a maddening mass of civilization, these simple, but calming and enriching experiences are so comforting.                                                         

At Wildersmith, while the Smith’s have been naturally quarantined, life has gone on about as usual. Weather conditions have bounced around from near spring to mid-winter. Another few inches of snow refreshed the neighborhood, and just when we thought we would not see a minus temp again until next December, another sub-zero night had the deck along the house a popping. But as things do, this time of year, the transition toward April is gaining trajectory.                                                                                                                                                         

Speaking of April, warming thoughts rise with the return of migrants to the “wild neighborhood. We are within weeks of a hummingbird homecoming. Unless one is an earnest avian watcher, most of us know little about these impressive, vibrant winged packages.                             

I learned a bundle of facts about these energetic jewels in the April/May issue of National Wildlife magazine.  Like did you know, “they can feed as often as 18 times per hour, and consume the human equivalent of 150,000 calories per day?”  These facts and more are presented in the Mark Wexler scribing, titled “HUMMING ALONG.” If readers share the excitement in the return of these tiny creations, find a copy, or go online at www.NWF.ORG/NW and be amazed at what researchers have discovered about these “fleet fliers.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
In appreciation of simple happenings around the place, I’ve been watching a neighborhood squirrel with interest for several days as I dole out daily seed rations.                                 
Over the winter, winds have heaped a deep drift below the deck rail.                                            As I observed this mini rodent one day, I saw it take a seed and scamper down to the top of this wind made igloo and disappear into a hole in the bank. Soon it re-appeared and came back for another morsel. I watched for several minutes as this seed caching took place, one grain at a time, for uncountable repetitions. Those little legs had to be exhausted by nightfall.                                                                                                                                                                        
Oddly enough, as snow happens, it did, and more wind. The other day I followed this critter once again. New drifting had closed off the original entrance. With “necessity being the mother of invention” I discovered the energetic rodent had created a new entry point some fifteen feet away, and was back in new digs or at the very least, did some under-snow re-alignment into the previous quarters. This was nothing earth shaking, but intriguing to yours truly                                                                                                                                                                               
Nothing is too surprising in the natural world. It would seem as we step back from the hubbub of life     at this critical time, perhaps we can find solace in rekindling of personal relationships that have been gradually eroding from our grasp. It could be as simple as watching a feature of creation or lending a helping hand to get things back on track.                                                             

As the loss of two Gunflint neighbors was remembered last week, although I just received late word, I’m saddened to report another passing from our midst. Douglas Tuttle of Overland Park, Kansas and the Bearskin Lodge neighborhood died on February 13th.                                    

Doug was actively involved in many aspects of life over his 96 years, building his dream cabin in the Gunflint woods after his retirement. He thrived in helping his son Dave and Dave’s wife Barb reestablish the Bearskin Lodge as one of the premier Gunflint Trail resorts. More recent years found him spending summer months on the Trail, and remaining active until his calling.                                                                                                                                                                                   
Doug was a gentleman’s gentleman! Gunflint Community sympathies go out to his family.                                                                                                                                                                                    
In a closing note, I regret a mistake in the remembrance of Marjorie Grinnell last week. I mentioned her passing with husband Joe and her three sons at her side. I apologize to the family for not recognizing her family accurately. She is survived by two sons and a daughter.       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is special, as we all wish for continued worldwide healing!
 

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