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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

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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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!


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.


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!


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.”


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!


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! 


Moose_photobySophiaSimoes on Unsplash

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 22

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
January 22, 2021    

The weeks’ North Country weather has been pretty much a carbon copy of its’ January predecessors.  But conditions might be coming back toward normal, at least temperature wise. This neighborhood is now void of any substantial new snow for going on a month. If upper Trail residents and those monitoring forest moisture conditions aren’t getting a little worried about this, they should be. The snow we have will not last long if meltdown comes earlier than April/May.                                                                                                                                   

While it’s hard to place the blame for this white drought, we might be able to place rebuke on a fellow I know who finally broke down and bought his first snow blower. As bad luck would have it, he has only had to crank it up once.                                                                                            

Nevertheless, amidst abnormal snow depths, snow business seems to be gaining momentum. Cross Country ski trail activity looks to be flourishing, and increasing numbers of power sledders are divesting the wilderness of quiet in spite of trails said not to be in the best condition.                                                                                                                                   

In many sledding situations, the fishing opener has brought on most of the howling machines to upper Gunflint area lakes. So this scene is to be understood as these folks get to their spot and sit down to business.                                                                                                               
Speaking of angling, only two reports have come my way, both of which indicated catching was slow on opening day, but, as always, the fishing factor alone was great under nice weather. This is not to say they came away without something in the bucket. A nice eight pounder was caught not far from the Wildersmith shore, and I’m told action picked up by first of the week. So yes, there are fish in at least this lake.                                                                              

A couple moose sightings have been reported over the past few days. One of which involved the Smith’s. We came upon a momma and her yearling in the Swamper Lake area on a return shopping trip from Duluth. It was a “no harm, no foul” off the road meeting. There is increasing evidence of moose activity based on hoof prints coming out of the ditches and onto the Trail in those moose zones.                                                                                                

Our trip however was not totally uneventful as a white tailed moose relation nearly became a hood ornament on my truck in a near miss a short time earlier.                                                       
A sign of return to winter normalcy could be possible as a pine marten made an unforeseen visit over the past few days. The plush little weasel should be happy as the feed boxes had plenty of well-seasoned chicken left from previous presentations.                                            

In recent days, I have discovered downy woodpeckers don’t necessarily have to fill their protein requirements with insects only. I placed the carcass of a roasted chicken on the deck side feed tray for the jaybirds, and found it to be to the liking of a couple daily pecking visitors. While the jays are attending to other menu choices, these little critters have been hammering away in earnest, and have really done a job on the cartilaginous remains. One can learn something new every day in the “wild neighborhood.”                                                                                  

While many animal visitors go unseen for the most part, evidence of their presence does not go un-noticed. The adventure of tracking night time visitors always remains captivating. The mystique of wolves sharing their territory with us never ceases to re-kindle my interest in these treasured inhabitants of the wilderness. I came across tracks just the other day and it sparked my imagination as where it was going, what it was contemplating or who was it after.                                                                                                                                              

Though the existences of these iconic animals’ remain controversial to some, their presence among us is a revered component of both the ecological past and present.                                                                             

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the next adventure could be right behind the next tree or granite escarpment.


Winter frost. Image from Unsplash online

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 15

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
January 15, 2021    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


XmasTreeBuds_Photo by Fran Smith 2

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wildersmith Let it Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 31

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
January 1, 2021    


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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