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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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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…, 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!



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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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 20

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
March 20, 2020    
For life along the Gunflint Trail, the onset of spring took on a slower approach since our last meeting on the radio. Completing week three of month three finds the atmosphere in border country returning to a more normal state of affairs.                                                                               

Daytime melting in the Mile O Pine neighborhood has been confined to places where the sun shines through, while the mercury has teetered from single digits to just below zero here at Wildersmith during a few night time hours. Consequently, insulating layers have again replaced warm weather attire of earlier in the month for my daily mail run.                                                                                           

Precipitation has remained on the scant side with a couple mini snows and one evening where the white was preceded by our first 2020 shower of the liquid variety. So slip sliding around has not improved much with this new coat of glaze.                                                                                                                                                

If locals are dreaming dreams of green, that’s all these nocturnal visions are. For the time being, buds of re-birth are only notions of a late winter slumber with plenty of ice and snow yet to melt                                                                                                                                                             

Speaking of cold season dozing, in case you didn’t notice, the equinox of spring snuck in during the past several hours. Bashing the “old man of the north,” is no longer necessary as his reign over2020 to date, has been officially terminated.                                                                                                               

He’s been attempting return overtures in the past few days which will likely stir the rancor of many folks in the territory who favor an end to his seasonal occupation. Meanwhile, my snow removal equipment remains on stand-by and was called into action with another three inches earlier in the week. By the way, this latest winter refresher brings the (to date) winter accumulation at Wildersmith to 90.25 inches.                                                                                                       

A step in the spring direction has been taken with the return of ebony avian. Crows are now in raucous collaboration with the jay bird population at the break of each new day.                                                                                                                                                                         
Although they raise discord with quiet of the neighborhood, they are glistening black beauties when caught in a beam of sunshine. While they talk way too much, they are nevertheless keen scavengers of winter left-overs. Isn’t it amazing how every being of the wilderness has a purpose!                                                                                                                                                  

In spite of the recent colder trend, another item of vernal notice is becoming more evident with each passing day. Those hollow cavities around the base of our forest spires must be signaling warm juices of life are being beckoned skyward. Although the hollows in the snow are still a foot to two feet deep in the yard, this ritual resembles others in the “March bag of advancements.”                                                                                                                                                         

It’s with sadness, the Gunflint Community received word on the loss of two upper Trail neighbors. Beverly Keller, longtime homeowner on Seagull Lake passed away recently at her home in Mt. Pleasant Wisconsin. Beverly was 96 years of age.                                                                  

She and late husband Arthur fell in love with the Gunflint Trail on their first visit in 1962, and then made it their summer home beginning in 1976. Gunflint friends and neighbors extend condolences to her five daughters and their families.                                                                                       

Word of the second passing comes from the family of Marjorie Grinnell. Marjorie died on Sunday, March 8th in Missoula, Montana with her husband Joe and their sons by her side.                                                                                                                                                                   

“Margie”, Joe and their family are longtime residents on the Northshore of Loon Lake. Once again, her Gunflint friends and neighbors extend best wishes and sympathies to the Grinnell family at this sad time.                                                                                                                                                               

Finally, in regard to the horrific viral tragedy that is gnawing its way into every fiber of our being and aspect of life, both here in Minnesota and around the globe, we at Wildersmith, and folks along the Trail want you to stay well. As everyone is in this catastrophe together, all must pull together, from a strategic distance.                                                                                                                        

While hope is not a strategy, only doing what research and medical providers prescribe is the track to follow. Exercise some common sense, be a respectful and sympathetic neighbor and do what’s right. Keep on hangin’ on!                                                                                                                                            

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where residents cherish every day, thankful for the preservation of this peaceful place!


Grouse Photo by the real Kam75 via flickr.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 13

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
March 13, 2020    

It seems organizers of last weekends’ trout derby and dog days of winter had it right when they selected the date for their late winter events. Spring like days stumbled with a multi-inch dose of snow (8 at Wildersmith) and another morning below zero a week ago at this time. “Old man winter” came to the rescue and bolstered the landscape for what is likely a last blast in our white world.                                                                                                                                                  

But as I sit at the keyboard to begin this weeks’ report, the spirit of winter stepped back once again and “Mother Nature” has put vernal things back on track. With temps zipping into the high thirties to mid- forties, Trail comfort out of doors was available in a baseball cap and a light jacket, really didn’t even need gloves.                                                                                                           

Even with this swell warm welcome of Mid-March, I find it difficult to become fully adjusted to the past few sparkling days, remembering the worst snow we’ve experienced at Wildersmith over the past twenty-one winters came in the last week of April, with a two foot deposit along the Mile O Pine. And then there’s May too, where the ice has not gone out until a few days after the walleye opener and snow has been known to fall on eager anglers. So we north woods residents should maybe temper our enthusiasm.                                                                                                  

It would be fair to assume cross-country skiing was difficult in the sticky mush and snow mobiles were heard laboring up Gunflint Lake as they plowed through slushy conditions.                                                                                                

It’s hard to argue with the conditions last Saturday and Sunday except for the thought of navigating sloppy slush and ensuing mud, let alone the possibility of dark hours re-freezing which always makes trekking about by any means, a slippery night mare. So the time is right for boot/shoe grippers. The words of the week are, “stay up right”, get a grip to avoid a wet seat of the pants or a more serious, structural bruise or break.                                                                                                                                                                        

The saga of important survival articles required for our many seasons in border country can be easily passed off as a nonchalant way of life. Just think about it for a moment, as semi-winter wear and ice grippers are the order now, we will soon be looking forward to knee high rubber boots and bug nets, then anti-itch insect dupe, then broad brimmed hats and sun screen, then sweatshirts or sweaters and then, add a light jacket, hat and gloves, before this whole regimentation of winter layers starts all over again. What a life in North Country.                                                                                    

A sample of spring in the woods took place at Wildersmith last Sunday. Before the crusted snow softened by mid-day, love appeared to be in the air. At least the Smith’s believed it to be so while watching out the window over the back yard.                                                                                                

A pair of grouse huddled in close proximity on a deep mound of white. While I really have no knowledge for the courtship mannerisms of these “chicken birds”, it sure seemed as though they were sizing the other up for the usual ritual resulting in a continuance of the species.                                                                                                                                                                  

Actually there was little fanfare, no ruffling of feathers, puffing out the chest, fanning of tail plumage and no cooing that could be heard, just strutting about and apparently, exchanging glances. Our observation lasted for some time, thinking we might see another miracle of nature.                                                                                                                                                                                       

But in the end, a signal must have been swapped to the affect neither bird was the one for the other. Eventually, they headed off in opposite directions, scarfing up a seed or two as they disappeared from view into the forest.                                                                                                        

In closing, this northern paradise was blessed with another heavenly big bang event last Monday. It probably happened in many places around the planet, but it would seem hard to match the almost simultaneous radiance during the rise of the “crust on the snow” full moon and flaming climax of “Sol” over Gunflint territory.                                                                                                                                   

Words cannot do justice describing the flare in the west and the lunar beam from the east. It was no “Paper Moon” hanging over a canvas scene, but the original “big cheese” suspended in a genuine, unspoiled, dark sky .The blazing west was another up north photomontage as is slithered below the horizon being spotlighted by the “Super Moon. I hope area listeners/streamers got to share in this celestial light show.                                                                                                   

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is savored, blessed with beauty beyond!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 6

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
March 6, 2020    
Another weekend warm-up ushered in month three along the Trail. March came in like a fuzzy spring bunny in the upper reaches of border country, far from the mythical “lion” lore. The way things have been happening in recent weeks, it would appear our spring like conditions could be here to stay.                                                                                                                                                          

While warming temps in the Wildersmith neighborhood did not get way out of hand, there was dripping off the roof top edges, and the sun took a bite out of snow piles. It’s anyone’s guess what it will be like as this report hits the air.                                                                         

Perhaps pussy willows will be displaying a little five o’clock shadow next week at this time. I did see a gangly young white pine was seeping sap while catching a few warm rays last Sunday afternoon. If that’s an example of what’s going on in the natural world, one can bet maple sweetness is going to be hitting the boiling pots pretty quick. With a week of March  chalked-up so soon, one would hope winter doesn’t deteriorate too fast for fear of being swamped in run-off and wash-outs.                                                                                                                                  

The territory has two cold season events this weekend. Reminder is given about the annual trout derby, Saturday, on West Bearskin Lake. Registration begins at 9:00am. There’s plenty of safe ice, but soft snow could make for sloppy trekking and angling.  More information is available on                                                                                                                                                               

The other mid-Trail event is the annual Dog Days of Winter. Headquarters are at the Trail Center Restaurant. Activities commence on Poplar Lake at 8:00 am and run until 5:00 pm. The event is sponsored by Go Dog North Shore.                                                                                                

This is a day of family fun with events including cross country skiing, three classes of sled dogs racing (8, 6 and 4), two classes (2 and 5 miles) of skijoring, and more. If winter is truly about to give up the ghost, enthusiasts of fun in the snow had better get out to these events.                                                                                                                                                      

In the heavens, the Ojibwe, “crust on the snow moon” is waxing for the third time in 2020 and will be at its fullness on Monday. Meanwhile, on earth, we humans will be tinkering with time pieces this weekend as the nonsense of daylight savings time clouds our sense of realness once again. It becomes official at 2:00 am Sunday morning. So don’t forget to spring ahead before retiring Saturday evening. You may or may not get the hour of missed sleep back come November.                                                                                                                                                                         

A grouse has been hanging around the yard at Wildersmith, obviously unaware the friendly fox makes frequent visits. The little red gal was here just the other day apparently with a growling stomach. This time she dined on left-over pork chop bones and frozen poultry parts, but if that “Minnesota Chicken Bird” is not careful, Ms. Fox might have a fresh fowl dinner.                                  

My neighbor next door was up at his cabin last weekend and shared of discovering some unusually large foot prints coming on to his property from off the lake. With some broken underbrush branches nearby, it could be assumed the moose or more have been just a couple hundred feet from Wildersmith. It’s been years since we’ve had one of those big critters come this close to the place.                                                                                                                                                                              

The “leap into local radio” membership drive at WTIP is now into the books. The six day event was fun as ever with 48 NEW members joining the WTIP family. Thanks go out to those new friends of North Shore Community Radio and our long standing renewing patrons who stepped up to help surpass the $20,029 goal. Think about having that extra $29 in the challenge, pretty fitting for 2020 don’t you think?                                                                                                                                         

It goes without saying these all-important fund raising endeavors involve great organization and many hours of hard work by the staff and dozens of volunteers. An important trivia fact about the “leap” in 2020, 88 dedicated people gave of themselves to make it happen.                                                                                                                                                                              

For everyone who pledged, such support makes all the preparation very satisfying to those who shouldered the countless administrative tasks. The Board of Directors and staff are so proud of the wonderful contributors who jump in to keep this broadcast engine chugging along.                                                                                                                                                                                              

Although the official late winter drive is over, it’s never too late to join anew or re-up with a benefactor pledge. Every contribution matters, and a phone call or click on-line is all it takes!                                                                                                                                                                                 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the slumbering stillness of winter, begins to awaken!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 28

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
February 28, 2020    
As February started to fade away, spring took a swipe at “old man winter” along the Gunflint Trail. For a few days, he went whimpering away as temperatures crept above the freezing mark. This is the first time in weeks where the mercury has seen a plus side of thirty-two in this neighborhood. March enters, likely in a sugaring mood if the territory has really turned the corner.                                                                                                                                                                                   
Under mostly clear skies, and where “Old Sol” pierced the forest canopy, snow banks saw a good bit of gnawing away. Nevertheless, in the shade of old growth pines at Wildersmith, melting could barely be noticed. The semi-melt-down didn’t even penetrate the ice on my steps which has been haunting my every trip up or down since before Christmas.                                                                          

Progress was made on the Trail black top as the warm sun cleared the Byway of winter driving conditions. It took just two days to do what the plow guy has been working diligently to accomplish since November. So it’s clear sailing for the time being, except for those Nature-Made speed bumps at select locations.                                                                                                                           

Following the recent melting spell, our border country canopy looks pretty drab. The marsh mellow puffs that have been decorating coniferous boughs, since I can’t remember when, have vanished into the atmosphere.                                                                                                               
Yet at ground level, out here deep in the woods, the pureness of this special white season remains. Obviously, it’s due to minimal intrusion of human kind.                                                                                      

It is unthinkable how the masses of us two legged beings can make such a mess of this magnificent natural world. As winter is rounding third base on the way toward spring, the trash of people presence is beginning to re-appear.                                                                                                             

During a recent trip into the village and then on to “urbanity”, I’m always taken aback by the ugliness of grungy man- manipulated snow and items of human disposal that have been hidden under this glorious crystal blanket. “Mother Nature” has a marvelous touch in making things beautiful, but “she” could sure use a hand from we folks on the ground.                                      

What is likely to be the last big, organized snow mobile activity of the season happens Saturday and Sunday?  The Cook County Ridge Riders Club and Poplar Haus Restaurant are hosting drag races on Poplar Lake. Registration begins at 11:00am, with racing until 4:00pm.                                                       

The “Club” turns to a calmer activity next weekend with the annual trout derby on Saturday, March 7th.  Look for details on the Cook County Ridge Riders Snow Mobile Club Facebook page. Their trout through the ice is always a fun, family event!                                                            

Where animal, visuals have been scant over the past week, tell-tale evidence confirms they’re about when we’re not looking or awake. Of special note, I discovered moose tracks on the Mile O Pine during a daily mail run. Knowing moose can’t fly, the tracks were kind of a mystery as I could not find where they came out of the snowy woods and on to the road.                        

In other ghostly north woods happenings, I’ve observed a number of snow shoe hares recently. Tracks have shown their presence around here all winter without sightings, then again, white camo on white is sometimes blinding.                                                                                                                                                                       

As news from the Trail comes on the air this week, my hope is listeners and web-site readers have taken the “leap into local radio.” If not, you are certainly encouraged to pick-up the phone or get on-line, and “leap” into this important drive for support of WTIP, Community Radio in the Northland.                                                                                                                                                  

Support from everyone is critical in keeping operating strategies on budget. The staff and volunteers are at the mid-point of this six day journey, so please don’t wait until the last minute.                                                                                                                                                                                
Momentum is building as I speak!  To keep it going, give the station a call at 387-1070, or toll free at 1-800-473-WTIP (9847) or on-line at or stop in at 1712 West Highway 61, and pledge to the WTIP family! I thank you in advance!                                                                                            

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint, where every day is great, and everything in nature has a purpose!                                                                                                               


Wildersmith_Photo by Fran Smith

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 21

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
February 21, 2020    

The Gunflint Riviera heads into the last lap of month two this weekend. February has been no different than January with regard to its speedy advance.                                                                      

Many out this way don’t seem to mind though with an eye toward spring. A good sign of spring thoughts comes from the gal with the “green thumb” on Loon Lake who shares’ she has garden seeds sprouting already, indoors of course. There’s still a good three feet of snow covering her planting plot.                                                                                                                                                                       
It’s easy to get excited as the power of “Sol” grows with each passing day, and daylight minutes are keeping us lit up after five o’clock these days. However, it’s reasonable to expect “old man winter” could burst our bubble of spring anticipation over the next sixty days or so. Even if the “old guy” heads off for spring break, there’s still tons of snow and ice to melt, and the “mud season” to muck up the spirit until the green of re-birth buds out.                                                   

In the meantime, while a good share of border country winter has been milder than usual, the times since Valentine’s Day have been about the coldest of the season. A couple of mornings in the upper Trail territory found readings in the mid-thirty below zero range.  At Wildersmith, the mercury shrunk to minus 34 twice and with exception of a day or so stayed pretty much below zero to barely single digits above for a few days.                                                                        

While it’s warmer now, it just goes to show, the “old man of the North” cannot be fully dependable. In spite of the frigidity, the area has experienced some sparkling blue sky days in the past week, with only a smattering of lite snow during a couple night times and a light dose last Monday.                                                                                                                                                                      

Speaking of sparkling clear days, the snowmobile drag races on Hungry Jack Lake were blessed with one last Saturday. It was a great day for energized drivers and fans on the great white track. It’s kind of an up north likeness to Daytona Beach. Race results for each class of engine can be found on the Cook County Ridge Riders Facebook page. The next big sledding challenge will be held on Poplar Lake Saturday the 29th.                                                                                                                                                                                            

A couple reports of moose activity came from the south shore of Gunflint and the North Shore of Loon Lake last week. There were no actual sightings, but plenty of tracks confirmed their presence. It’s unusual to have such activity along the Gunflint Lake shores, as they seem to favor other habitat areas of the Gunflint Forest. It is heartening to know they have been around because few have been reported much of anywhere thus far this winter.                                                                       

A gal who ski’s pretty much daily, in the Loon to Crab Lake area, tells of recent moose activity where the big clod hoppers have played havoc with her groomed tracks. Maybe it’s the same animal exploring in unexpected locations.                                                                                                         

The Smith’s experienced an array of visitors last Sunday. Both avian and fur bearing critters stopped in at one time or another. Of course if we had one blue Jay, we probably had a dozen, and Ms. Fox stopped by to sit on the deck awhile, longing for a chicken dinner, to which I obliged.                                                                                                                                                                     

After the foxy departure, a pair of Pine Martens frolicked around the feeding stations also receiving a poultry treat. Having two Martens around at the same time usually ends up in a territorial tussle.  It made me wonder if these two might have been close nesting partners, more than just genetic connections, since they spent cordial time together in the same feeder.                                                                                                                                                                                
Next week at this time, the community voice of the North Shore/ Arrowhead region will be in the midst of their spring membership renewal. This important fund raising drive kicks off with a “Leap into Local Radio” for 2020, next Wednesday morning, February 26th.                                                                                                                                                 
Whereas one can leap into a snow bank out this way for only a few months each year, one can “leap into local radio” year around on this great station. But this must be secured periodically with on-going support from over thirteen hundred WTIP listener members.                        

So if you enjoy what this broadcast endeavor has been providing for over twenty years, now’s the time to take the “leap” anew or again, and join the WTIP family. The campaign runs until Monday noon, on March 2nd, don’t wait, be ready to re-up at the opening bell with your pledge of love for WTIP radio.                                                                                                                                       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, in a season of frozen wonders!