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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 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!


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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!                                                                                                               


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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!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 14

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
February 14, 2020    
Border country marks the half-way point of month two with images of scarlet hearts scattered over depths of our snowy landscape. Come to think of it, Valentines’ Day always splits February in two.                                                                                                                                                     

Since our last meeting on the radio, the atmospheric elements have been reasonably ordinary. A little snow and a few nights of subzero have been sandwiched between a few blue sky days as what we might expect this time of year.                                                                         

While the northland missed out on the big snow happening down south, this area has plenty. A walk off the plowed path earlier this week, as I did some winter brush pile burning, was a surprising challenge without snow shoes. Plowing through the woods found me wading in fluff from knee to near pockets deep in places.                                                                                                                                          

In one instance, it took me ten minutes to advance about fifty yards as I struggled to pull my boots from any number of now early season crusted layers. The trek had this old guy huffing and puffing by the time I got back on a solid track.                                                                                                           

It becomes fairly evident why large critters of the “wild neighborhood” possess the savvy to travel the path most used whenever possible, even when it is maintained by us two legged beings. If there were white tails in this neighborhood, as there was several years ago, they would be having a tough winter staying ahead of those hungry wolves in this belly deep snow.                                                                                                                                                      

Whereas our friendly fox prefers the maintained snow paths when she stops by, I see pock marks where she has veered off into the deep stuff and has scrambled to get back on top of things. The same shows true for the pine marten, as it maneuvers its way with a chicken treat in its jaws.                                                                                                                                                                               
On another note about this foxy gal, while many Gunflint folks have a story to tell about one or more of these red canids, the Smiths’ have one of their own to share. During the last couple visits, we have found the critter becoming ever more curious about this place in the woods.                                                                                                                                                                                       
In early visits she seldom got too close, but with pangs of hunger clouding her natural wariness, it has since come right to the wood shop door for a treat. With an evolving comfort level that I am the guy with the bucket of chicken, the little red gal has now edged her way up onto the deck around the house.                                                                                                                                                                 
Just days ago, we caught her sitting on the deck where she could look up through the windows. Obviously she could see us gawking folks inside, and she readily conveyed a subtle look of “don’t you see me, I’m here.” With each visit, as we watch her in amazement, I’ m not sure who is treated more, we observers or Ms. Fox.                                                                                                                    
The mid-Trail neighborhood looks to be busy this weekend as the Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club holds their annual drag races on Hungry Jack Lake. Registration begins at 11:00 am at Hungry Jack Lodge with racing to begin around 12:00 noon. There will be considerable traffic along the Trail and on HJ Road so be patient and safe.                                   
In other news, with my brush burning chores in the rear view mirror and snow removal tasks up to date, I’m able to get back into the wood shop. With the help of my saw dust making buddy on Loon Lake and good friend and diamond willow pro in Iowa, wood shaping has my attention.                                                                                                                                                                      
Projects include artifacts rehabilitation for the new Interpretive Cabin on the Chik-Wauk Museum Campus. The GTHS Exhibits Committee is hard at work completing arrangement of interior cabin exhibit items for the 2020 Campus opening on Memorial Day weekend.                                                                                                           

Meanwhile, the Chik-Wauk Campus Director and several Trustees are busy with next summer preparations as the GTHS celebrates year ten of telling the cultural and natural stories of the historic Gunflint Trail.                                                                                                                                                                                               

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is savored, like the sweetness of Valentines’ Day!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 7

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by    Fred Smith
February 7, 2020    

It seems the rush of 2020 has not diminished from that of 2019. One twelfth is into the books, and month two is a week old. By weekend’s closing, the Ojibwe, full “Sucker moon” will have reached the pinnacle as winter meanders along in border country.                                                         

Speaking of winter, the season looks to be one day longer than usual with this being “leap year.” While calendar settings don’t usually reconcile with what really happens in this neck of the woods, we can look forward to more than another six weeks. Local wood chucks slumbered right through “Ground Hog Day” and likely only dreamed of coming out to see if a shadow was cast.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
As an example of seasonal twists and turns, last weekend looked to be reasonably calm with warm temps. In fact the local forecast called for “mostly cloudy.” To show atmospheric  prognostication is not a pure science, the upper Trail awoke Sunday morning to a new six inch blanket of “mostly cloudy” in the Wildersmith neighborhood, with the likelihood of even more along the Trail “snow zones.”                                                                                                                                                                            

In fairness to those who make a living predicting those percentage chances of this or that, I can predict a 100% chance, the elements of “Mother Nature’s” realm are in charge with meteorologists just watching and hoping like the rest of us.                                                                          

As I mentioned, the area being under a siege of warmer than usual temperatures, a look back at the first few days of February 2019, found the readings along the Mile O Pine were an actual teeth chattering minus 35 to 40F. Here we are three hundred sixty five days later with the mercury hovering near the freezing mark at the time of this scribing last Sunday. Easy math totals a near seventy degree swing. What difference a year can make.                                                                                                           

At the same time we Gunflint folk are looking at extended cold season days ahead, there seems to be some spring-like rumblings going on in the bowels of “mother earth.” It seems that those jaw jarring dips, in any number of culvert locations along the Trail, are growing more conspicuous, earlier than expected. If regular Trail travelers haven’t already found out the hard way, a word to the wise, beware, those asphalt undulations are about to test every connection in your vehicle.                                                                                                                                                

The fluffy dropping of last weekend coupled with a visit from “Jack Frost”, has had our wild country in splendid white lace attire. “Mr. Frost” was around for several days doing his version of “Pleine  Aire” hoar-frost creations. The actual exhibit found a new touch of crystal being added each day before snow puffs were piled back on each and every forest extremity. I must say, Jack’s effort this time around was an exhibit of “Best in Show”.                                                                                                   

There was a howling in the woods last Saturday and it wasn’t from the local wolf pack. An unusual sunny Gunflint winter day of late found the annual running of the Cook County Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club “fun run.” Sledders were a blur as they sped by the Smith shore line, taking advantage of wide open spaces on the Gunflint Lake to burn the cobs out. Hope everyone had good day and return to the start safely!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
The club’s next event will be their Drag races beginning at noon, Saturday the 15th on Hungry Jack Lake. Check their website for more details.                                                                                            

In closing, I predict there’s a 100% chance love will be in the air next weekend. It’s a time of bouquets, hearts and chocolates! Be ready to honor your Valentine!                                                                                 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint, where every day is great, with wilderness surprises, always in the making!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 31

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
January 31, 2020    
The territory heads into February having been on the mild side during January’s last segment. Although we have not been above the freezing mark in this neighborhood, temps in the teens to twenties have been not only comfortable, they’re down right balmy. Clouds having been the order, if there‘d been any sunshine, one would have been tempted to slip out onto the deck and catch a few rays. Gunflinters are tough!                                                                                            

The snow happening in the upper Gunflint of a week ago did not match the previous weekend. Nevertheless, the Wildersmith fluff accumulated enough to require a few more hours of shoveling, blading and blowing to put the stuff in its place. All of this occurred while I battled my annual episode of the January “crud.”                                                                                                       
With the second sled dog event of the season quietly trekking through the Gunflint woods last Monday, and being so unusually warm, one would think it was not as pleasant as the canines’ and their mushers appreciate. These furry athletes have a much greater affection for minus temperatures, so there was likely slower daytime running and more aggressive running in the darkness hours.                                                                                                                                                              

It seems certain, this leg of the 36th John Beargrease Marathon, through the Gunflint wilderness, was a laborious test of their love to run. One hopes a little cool down blessed them as they headed toward the Grand Portage finish line. See the John Beargrease Sled Dog Race online for more historic insights.  By the way this was a qualifying event for The Anchorage/Wasilla to Nome Iditerod.                                                                                                                                                             

Speaking of laboring, yours truly has a number of cold season tasks including wintertime brush burning and a few sawdust producing jobs in the wood shop. Notwithstanding the sniffles and coughing, I have been delayed getting at those jobs in order to rake snow off the roof. This past week was my second repetition since the first of 2020.                                                                                                                                    

This necessary, but un-pleasant chore has an equivalent value similar to cleaning up the woods after a wind storm. Of my favorite things to do in wild country, it’s about a minus one, on a range of ten.                                                                                                                                                           
“Survival of the fittest” and “being the cleverest” are buzz slogans in our “wild neighborhood.” I observed an interesting happening confirming being clever is a necessity of life in some situations. This circumstance involved a couple blue jays at the feed trough and a ham bone.                                                                                                                                                                           

The jays were recently hanging out with many of the neighborhood blue bully clan feasting on seeds, corn on the cob, suet, peanut butter cakes and a left over ham as the daily special. Quite a menu Huh! The jays took a keen liking to the greasy residuals on the bone.                                                                                                                     

For once they seemed actually courteous, lining up one after another to peck away at the goodies. This went on for better part of an hour until the boney process was nearly bare.                   

As final pecks appeared to be in order, two of the “Gunflint Blues” were on the tray together, within inches of each other. One, appeared to have rank over the other, perched right on the bone, and stabbed a chunk of remaining soft tissue. Proudly, it straightened up in front of its’ kin showing off the prized element.                                                                                                                         

Bad decision! Before it could lift off, the other cocked its head, and promptly pecked the porky treat right from the other’s beak, going air-borne in an instant.                                                                              
It was not exactly an act of picking the other’s pocket as one faced-up and without hesitation, pilfered right in front of the victims’ eyes..                                                                                                                          

This avian antic was obviously “clever,” if not more, plainly opportunistic. In the animal world, like many human situations, “survival” incorporates being clever and opportunistic. This wild country incident was an amusing example, as it revealed itself at the Wildersmith critters’ lunch line.                                                                                                                                                                                    

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as all of Nature has meaning and beauty!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 24

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
January 24, 2020    

Our Gunflint January is heading into its’ last stanza, swooshing along like cross country skis on a border country trail. I guess the age of reason is lost when contemplating the way time slips away.                                                                                                                                                                          

We’ve reached the meteorological coldest point of the season in this part of the world with one month of the winter calendar into the books. By next week at this time, the beam of light from the February express will be barreling toward the station.                                                                   

That being said, for those longing for warmth of spring, conditions will begin slowly ticking upwards as we’ve already gained a half hour of daylight since the Solstice. A sure sign “Zigwan” (spring) will eventually come, arrived in the mail the other day as I received the first seed and plant catalog.                                                                                                                                                                 

However, at this point we north woods folks know what can happen over the next three to four months. We have yet to experience a long Polar Vortex and snow in May is almost always a possibility.                                                                                                                                                                 

The recent “snowmageddon” was intimidating throughout the Arrowhead with a variety of new amounts ranging up to nearly twenty inches. It made for difficult travel conditions, and for the first time since we’ve moved here, there was a warning of “no Travel advised” on the Gunflint Trail during the height of the storm.                                                                                                                     

Along the Trail, depths ranged from near fifteen inches in the mid-Trail area to six inches up toward end of the Trail at Seagull Lake. Here in the Wildersmith neighborhood, the Smith’s recorded nine.                                                                                                                                                                                  

Since there’s no business like “snow” business, folks needing the white stuff to sustain their cold season livelihood are ecstatic. For those of us who have to plow, scoop and pull it off roof tops, it’s becoming a challenge finding room to stack it all.                                                                  

While yours truly remains passionate about the build-up and beauty of crystallized liquid, I must confess my aging body groans a little when removal occurrences become too frequent. A couple inches are as bad as a foot, you have to deal with both, and this neighborhood gets frequent nuisance snows requiring attention. This being noted, Gunflint Trail life still beats the mayhem of urban living, and heat of more preferred retirement locales.                                                              

As usual, those living along the Trail, in the higher elevations “Snow Zone”, have had much more to date. At Wildersmith our cumulative total is sixty inches since the fluff was first measureable in October.                                                                                                                                   

Heavy snow did not deter fisher people on the opening day of lake trout season. Mini settlements of temporary shacks sprung up on area lakes like spring plant shoots on a sunny day. The first anglers sped by Wildersmith before daylight last Saturday morning.                                                    

My good friend down the Mile O Pine, and a couple buddies from Metropolis, report the ice on Gunflint Lake, where they were located, at fifteen inches with minimal slush difficulties.                                                                                                                                                                              

While their catching fortunes were not too exciting, the adventure of ice fishing is always great. I’m told trout they pulled through the hole were small and not prolific, but its’ likely those circumstances could change at any moment. Other anglers surely hit some big ones on at least some of the 1500 lakes in the county. Regardless of catching fate, the lure of the search will go on as it has for countless centuries.                                                                                                             

An interesting critter combination showed up for hand-outs recently. The foxy gal was here as usual and grabbed her treat, retreating some distance to gnaw of the frozen fowl. It was at this moment a pair of whiskey jacks swooped in attempting to grab a share of the goodies. In this case these treats were left-over hash browns.                                                                                               

They had barely pecked up a few shreds when the fox took notice and ran them off, once again, scarfing up another poultry part and moving a way to enjoy. This scene was repeated again with members of the local blue jay clan barging in with their gray cousins only to be dispatched once more. In the end, my furry friend prevailed but it was not a pleasant dining experience having to eat and run repeatedly.                                                                                                               

As I digest this happening, I’m wondering if those Jacks (gray jays) were following that fox, knowing wherever it traveled, there was likely a morsel of nutrition to be had, perhaps like ravens and vultures pursuing land based critters to a kill site                                                                                         

Sadness prevails again this week along Gunflint Lake as word on the passing of another longtime resident has been received. Barbara Graham of Des Moines, Iowa and a seasonal resident on the Mile O Pine passed away on Wednesday, January 15th in hospice care at the age of 97.                                                                                                                                                                                   

Barbara and husband John, who preceded her in death, were among the earliest residents along Gunflint Lake on the MOP, dating back into the early 1960’s. Barbara was a charming friend and neighbor. She so loved this special place, Barbara and her family have supported many causes along the Gunflint Trail with gracious philanthropic acts of kindness. 
Gunflint Community condolences are extended to her family and many friends.                                        

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where we savor the majesty of every day in this natural world!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 17

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
January 17, 2020    
Gunflint territory has settled into normal winter as we pass the half way point of month one. Last weekend was more like it should be with a frigid reminder last Saturday morning.

In the twilight of morning, while out and about working for the Gunflint Mail Run Event, temps of twenty-five to thirty-five below zero were encountered along the Byway.                                                                

It was truly a premier North-country time as Sol was brightening in the east and the colossal “Great Spirit” moon hovered in the west. While us north woods folk savor every diurnal moment, this one seemed special beyond any in recent memory. I can’t come up with enough descriptors to pay homage to the serene beauty. Our natural world seemed to be standing still in frozen silence under full lunar boldness. Magnificent is an understated word for the feeling of my being in this special time and place.                                                                                                                     

Meanwhile, the glory of this day gleamed down on activities going on in the Gunflint surroundings. Joy and elation was at fever pitch in the mid-Trail area as sled dogs and their mushers readied for a weekend in the snow and cold.                                                                                                                   
It was organized mayhem with nearly three hundred barking canine athletes waiting their turn to be released at the start line for a run through wild country. It was all handlers and volunteers could do to control this boundless energy and the will to run.                                     
Amazingly, when they were off, like a rocket, it was suddenly all business. The yelping conversation ceased with total effort focused on moving on! What a delightful event with a hats-off tribute to their loving mushers, supportive handlers and veterinary care-givers. If one has never been present at an event such as this, it ought to be added to your bucket list.                    

On a related note, kudos is extended to the race organizers and great folks at Trail Center Restaurant and Lodge for their tremendous work in putting this together. Further, in addition to this leadership, these tireless folks couldn’t do it without dozens of volunteers. For all great events in backcountry America “it takes a community”, and this Gunflint Community plus many other sled dog enthusiasts made it happen. Thanks to all!                                                                                                                                                                

Oh, and by the way, a big thanks and congratulations to all the teams. Added is a salute to the winning teams. If listeners haven’t already heard, the 100 mile, twelve dog class was won by Ryan Redington, of Skagway, Alaska, for the fourth consecutive year, and the 65 mile, eight dog event was won by Joanna Oberg, of Grand Marais, formerly of Northwestern Ontario.   

In other news, more activity in the north woods gets underway this weekend as the day anglers have been long awaiting has arrived. Barking of dogs in Gunflint territory will have been traded for snowmobiles toting gear to that special place and ice augers boring a hole in the lake, all in search of a prize trout. Good luck to all and be safe on that ice!                                                                

In the Wildersmith neighborhood, we’ve had a minor eruption of furry animal activity. While our usual winter Pine Marten visitors have been few and far between, without advanced notice a pair finally showed up last weekend. They frolicked around their feeding stations and each enjoyed a poultry part before scampering off through the fluff. Hope they remember where they can always get a treat.                                                                                                                                     
And frequencies of fox visits have stepped up too. One early morning before daylight, on a trip to the woodshop, I was startled into a rapid heartbeat when the friendly red gal suddenly snuck up behind me, glad it wasn’t a wolf. As I jumped, she too was startled, don’t know which of us was spooked more.                                                                                                                                                                              

A Gunflint Lake and Trail note of condolences is extended to the family and friends of Jean Oleheiser. Jean passed away January 3rd. Jean and husband Chuck were longtime residents of the upper Gunflint Trail before retiring to Richfield, MN several years ago. Both Jean and Chuck worked at end of the Trail for a period of time before spending many years employed at the historic Gunflint Lodge. Jean was a consummate baker, friend and a delightful person to be around!                                                                                                                                                                    
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where we treasure every day, enjoying the blessing of a quiet natural world!