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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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What's for Lunch photo by Per via Flickr.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 5, 2019

April 5, 2019     Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      April 5, 2019    
Week one of April in the Wildersmith neighborhood is nearly eclipsed, and it’s hard telling what our north woods atmosphere will be like when this report comes on the air. The last weekend of March found the advance of spring stymied along the Trail.                                                         

Folks up this way awoke Saturday morning to a surprise visit from “old man winter.”  Just when many were hoping his spring break would be extended, two inches of white had been delivered to freshen up the forest. A dose of cold kept the new blanket intact for a couple days where the sun couldn’t reach, and then more of the wet white stuff came through earlier this week.                                                                                                                                                                                       
It’s a good bet spring will regain a grip sooner rather than later. In the meantime, there is still a good foot or so of winter wonder left around this place in the woods.                                                         

While all this happens, Trail businesses for the most part, are taking a well-deserved break. It’s the “shoulder season” where catching their breath with a brief vacation helps them re-up for the onslaught of summer visitors.                                                                                                                                                              

The Smith’s confirmed another rite of the Vernal season a few days ago when we spotted a momma fox. It’s a little early for her kits to be out with her, but her sagging under side gave her away as being in a motherly state. On a related note, this foxy critter was not the one who has been visiting the Smith yard during the past fall and winter.                                           

While, the ground we navigate at this time of year is trying to rid itself of those frozen crystals, our blacktop moguls along the Trail are not showing much change. Maybe it’s a little early to expect them to level up, but folks traveling the By-way on a daily basis must be tiring of those jaw-jarring jolts. All have to be thankful the County Highway Dept. has flagged them as a warning. Nevertheless, even taking these dips at slow speed can bounce you pretty good, but this ritual will pass as does other ordeals of melting season.                                                         

Another passage of animal lore from forty-nine degrees north is shared from our deck side feeding trough. To give you a little background, over the years I’ve been saving grease drippings from the kitchen. They are drained into empty 14-ounce food cans until the unit is filled, then frozen for use during the winter.                                                                                                                        

I developed a method of attaching the can to the deck rail where it is available to any hungry visitor on a first come first serve basis. Every wild being from chickadees to fishers have enjoyed a little fat at one time or another, often when some “lardy” is needed during our sub-zero nights.                                                                                                                                                                                   
While this has gone on for some time now, in their wild exuberance, during the pecking, licking and pawing at the can they have warn the connecting rig. This happening allows the can to work loose occasionally resulting in pilfering of the whole can as it nears an empty level.              

In an effort to quell this larceny, I found wedging shims of wood around the can base works fairly well in securing things, most of the time. However, when the snow is finally gone, I sometimes find a few empties between the deck and the lake.                                                                                                                                                               
With all this background lead up, I put my last can of fatty delectable out about twilight time one day last week. Of course in a matter of moments, there were a few takers before sundown.  One of these visitors was a large crow. After watching this ebony beauty gulp a beak full and depart, the chapter ended, at least for the evening.                                                                             

Next morning, my first gaze out the window found the can gone from its mounting, nowhere to be seen. A trip outside later found no sign of the tin on the ground either. Obviously, some visitor figured out the shimming scheme, left shims on the deck, and absconded with the goodies container to parts unknown.                                                                                                                                                                              

My suspects point to the crow or perhaps one of the neighborhood pine martens. I’m guessing it would be quite a task for the crow to fly off with that can in its beak, or in the clutches of its’ feet, but who knows, they are pretty crafty. Seeing such take place would have been an entertaining observation.                                                                                                                               

Then again, I’ve observed martens a time or two with their heads down in one of those cans, often even struggling to get it back off over its ears, so maybe one of these is the guilty party.                                                                                                                                                                                      
Now, for a lack of evidence, investigation of this vittles disappearance is shelved, but I’m still scratching my head in amazement. Whatever the case whoever got the oily treat was likely blessed with happiness at least momentarily and/or even a belly ache, if it consumed the whole of the contents.                                                                                                                                                                         

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the “tug of war” between winter and spring lingers on!


BlackBearandMotherSM by beingmyself via Flickr.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 22, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     
March 22, 2019    
Gosh, the universe is at the fourth Friday in the month, how time flies! Whiffs of spring are on the upswing along the Gunflint following the collapse of “old man winter” last week.         

Although current conditions could regress, it seems unlikely since the warmth of the continent extends from Fairbanks, Alaska to border country and beyond. It just looks like spring has the upper hand as winter whimpers away.                                                                                                     

This part of the world still looks wintery with plenty of snow and ice left to melt. Nevertheless, the abrupt seasonal changeover gulped up about a foot of the north woods landscape in a short time, before falling back to more seasonable character by last weekend.                        

As one would expect slushy conditions, fog and substantial rain caught many out this way by surprise as this is usually an April/May occurrence. Wildersmith recorded well over an inch of liquid during the cold dampening ordeal with temps not moving far from the mid-to upper thirties for the better part of three days.                                                                                                                             

Folks were slogging around in deep white gush as backcountry roads and driveways turned into quagmires of slippery ruts. Some actually gave up attempting to navigate and just holed up until a welcome freeze slowed things and solidified surfaces.                                                                                    

The result is that numbers of wilderness folk are now dealing with icy drive and walk ways. At the Smith place, our vehicle has taken its transition season place at top of the driveway until further notice. It’s not a matter of getting up our serpentine of slipperiness to the Mile O Pine, but stopping on the way down. This is a minor inconvenience however, compared with potential to slide through the trees and onto the Gunflint Lake Ice.                                                                                                                                

Beyond vehicular difficulties, getting around on foot is dictating the use of studded footwear. So far I’ve remained in the upright position, and hope others in Gunflint Territory are doing the same.                                                                                                                                       

Speaking of lake ice, my neighbor was up for a last shot at a trout or two, and found the conditions for drilling less that favorable. By the time he waded through knee deep slushy water to a drilling site, his interest waned. He did drill through the cold goop, and found the ice in this neighborhood to be only twenty-one inches (plenty safe if one finds a place to stay on top of the semi-melt), but far from the usual depth.                                                                                                                                                            

These messy lake conditions have slowed snowmobile activities too. There’s not been too many anglers passing by lately. Getting off the packed sledding paths is likely to find one stuck in the muck. There have been many reports of riders struggling to get machines dug out of some precarious situations.                                                                                                                                                    

Recently, I had the occasion to look through a Sierra Club magazine. This March-April edition has an interesting article on black bears. The writing by Brandon Keim, titled, “Does A Bear Think in the Woods?” offers some interesting research studies/observations of the Bruno’s, confirming what many of us residing in multi-bear habitat already suspected.                                                                                      

Bears are pretty smart, displaying several attributes which are thought to be unique to human capacity. They are social, “with a society of sorts, using a rich communication system, and govern themselves by long-term relationships and rules of conduct.  Being highly self- aware; they judge, they punish, have gratitude and friendships.” Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?  I think it would be suggested reading for all who will soon be encountering the “Bruno” winter wake-up and subsequent visits along the Gunflint.                                                                                                                       

Sadness is hanging over the territory once again with the passing of a long-time friend and neighbor. Word has been received on the passing of Mark Patten last weekend.                      

Mark is at peace after struggling with several health issues. He died in Duluth Hospice care.                                                                                                                                                 

Mark will long be remembered for his gracious Christian hospitality at Okontoe on Bow Lake where he and his family are perhaps best known for their wilderness lifetime of reaching out to troubled youth, and their enchanting sleigh ride adventures.                                                                                                                     

The Gunflint Community wishes strength and condolences to his wife, Nancy, his children, extended family and countless friends.                                                                                                                         

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, even at the thought of mud season, and bitin’ bugs, itching to get at us.


Pine Marten photo by Fran Smith

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 15, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     March 15, 2019    

Winter on the Gunflint backed off since our last radio gathering. Spring nudged its’ way in with a preview, although it has not been a serious showing, as yet.                                                                                  

The “Vernal Spirit” turned up the thermostat along the Mile O Pine last Saturday. With the mercury tinkering around the freezing point for the first time in countless weeks, conditions took on an almost balmy feel for border country.                                                                                                                                  

I noted three takeaways with the warm-up. First, this neighborhood hasn’t had a below zero morning in several days. Second, the loosening cold grip found huge chunks of snow falling from tree branches after having been attached in most places since November. And thirdly, a joint effort between the powerful March sun and the county highway department has the Trail free of packed snow and ice.                                                                                                            

Although roadsides remain stacked high with snow, it’s nice to see bare black top for a change. Further, we drivers can loosen their white knuckle navigation grip on the once slippery surface. However, diligence is still to be maintained as those annual roller coaster dips are magnifying by the day, lurking to test both driver and vehicle resiliency. Meanwhile back country roads have given up little of their white majesty.                                                                                                

The warm-up stalled briefly with the onset of daylight savings time madness.  After week long cries of more big snow drama for the northern plains, another forecast flop saw nothing more than a nuisance of white accumulation and gusty winds along the international border.                                                                                                                                                                                 
Before we meet again, the Vernal Equinox will make spring official, and coupled with the “crust on the snow” full moon on the same day, I predict there will be a 100% chance the universe will get a double dose of heavenly happenings next Wednesday. How’s that for an atmospheric forecast?                                                                                                                                                            

Nevertheless, it’s anyone’s guess as to what winter-spring will be like for the next six weeks. If one has lived up this way for very long, caution is always taken in regard to never getting too excited about breaking out warm weather wear or putting snow removal equipment into storage much before May. One thing guaranteed, mud season will come in all its “yuckiest” sooner or later.                                                                                                                                                  

While inside observing the wimpy attempt at snow last Sunday, a “flight” of blue jays gathered in the trees near our lake side deck. They were obsessed with an ear of corn I had put out.                                                                                                                                                                     

There were at least a half dozen of the blue bullies. As I expected, they are never too bashful about gluttonous behavior at the food trough. But as I watched, it became obvious a pecking order exists (no pun intended) as to who goes first.                                                                                         

The blues were perched in adjacent branches apparently willing to take turns selecting a few kernels and then departing, only to come back later, getting in line.  All this went unusually orderly, that is, until one swooped in from out of nowhere and dispatched its cousin from the cob setting.                                                                                                                                                      

There were several repetitions of this bullish activity while others remained anxiously awaiting their opportunity. Knowing” there is no honor amongst thieves”, this crass display seemed the ultimate in bullying, expressly as it related to family members, also of ruffian character.                                                                                                                                                                            
To end the kernel plundering, a resident squirrel came on the scene and must have chattered, “Enough is enough”, then cleaned off the last of the gold nuggets. End of story!                                                                 

Later the same day, one of several neighborhood pine martens came by for a snack. It so happened I was out in the snow grilling at the time. Piney became quite curious about what I was doing, and ventured near the grilling operation when I stepped indoors. As I went in and out of the house several times, the little fur ball became ever braver in getting close enough to get a good look and whiff of the yummy goings-on. At one point, I tossed the little guy/gal a slice of fried potato, which was found to be a tasty treat.                                                                                                      

Concluding my cooking exercise, the hot greasy potato skillet was set off the heatto cool. As we ended dinner, Piney returned to explore the now cooled fry pan.  Finding the fatty remains to its liking, the marten spent several minutes enjoying this licking good treat, actually wading in with both front paws.                                                                                                                                 

What an amusing observation! Fortunately, we caught a digital of the greasy feast. See it posted on under the drop down Community Voices, Wildersmith column.                                                                                                               

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, a gift beyond beautiful!                                                                                                


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 8, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       March 8, 2019    

What a difference a week can make. Early March in the Gunflint wild was calm compared to a couple weekends ago? There’s been no new snow in this neighborhood, as if we needed more, but this weeks’ report begins with the temperature cold as if it were January.                                                                                                                                                                    
So with month three being meteorologically touted as the first of the spring season, the deep white on the landscape and mercury buried below zero doesn’t match up in this part of the world.                                                                                                                                                                               
Speaking more of March character, this is the month of the Ojibwe, “crust on the snow full moon.” And crusty it is, since the white stuff was packed nearly hard as concrete during the recent blizzard.                                                                                                                                                                          
In trekking around the neighborhood, I found it not supportive enough (without snowshoes) to keep me from sinking to the waist in most places. While struggling to free myself for the next step however, I had plenty of time to examine faint tracks of small to medium size animal prints easily staying top side of the crystal surface. I’m guessing this will be a tough winter for white tails and others heavy enough to sink more than belly deep in the stuff of which winters are known.                                                                                                                                                                             
Nevertheless, as we Americans push the issue on most everything, spring is being advanced in spite of our atmospheric conditions with the onset of daylight savings time. Yep, it’s that time of year when we spring the clock ahead. It seems like we just fell back into the state of being real. Where have all the minutes, days and months gone?                                                                                       

First suggested by Ben Franklin in 1784 as a joke, this frivolous act of playing games with the sun happens early this coming Sunday morning, so don’t forget to adjust those clocks before retiring Saturday evening.                                                                                                                                 

Before we turn the clock ahead though, one can get in some great cross country skiing in real time by heading up to Gunflint Lodge tonight and Saturday for some candlelight swooshing on these marvelous trails. Beginning at 4:00 pm, it should be beautiful as the sun gives way to darkness over the quiet white landscape.                                                                                      

With some residents suffering from cabin fever during these “dog days of winter”, there’s a chance to get out for a little fun and maybe some sun, in the mid-trail area come Sunday. Appropriately named, the “dog days” are being celebrated with “man’s best friend” on Poplar Lake at Trail Center Lodge.

There’ll be three classes of mushing derbies with four dog (3.5 miles), six dog (12 miles) and eight dog (23 miles) courses, open for all levels of musher skill. These begin at 11:00 am with the eight dog class. Registration is from 8:00 to 10:00.                                                                                                                                            

Then at 2:00 pm, skijoring races will commence. There will be both two and five mile courses with a maximum of two dogs per skier, both open to skate skiing or classic. Skijoring registration runs from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.                                                                                                        
The days’ activities are very kid and spectator friendly, and as always, the extraordinary mid-trail organizer/hostess, Sarah Hamilton will have a bonfire, hot dogs, marsh-mellows, s’mores, cocoa and maple snow cones, adding to the festivities.                                                                                                           

All the Gunflint Community is invited out to enjoy the fun however organizers ask that pets be left at home unless they are competitors.                                                                                                                                                       

Reflecting on last Saturdays’ trout fishing derby, the event on West Bearskin Lake was a big success once again with several trout pulled through the ice. The winning catch was somewhere over eleven pounds. With the top three places all exceeding ten pounds. Seventy-five entered the competition, and it was a fun day under sunny skies in spite of a biting cold wind. Many thanks to the Ridge Riders Snow Mobile Club for their organization and to those who plowed out lake ice roads for access.                                                                                                                      

On a closing note, members both old and new stepped up since last we met to complete another successful funding drive. The little Community Radio station that could did it again with great support from our dedicated listeners.                                                                                                            
The Board of Directors, hardworking staff and ever present volunteers are sincerely grateful for the never-ending love extended during these important sustaining events. The “Wide World WTIP” goal was met, hurrah, and kudos to all involved!                                                                                                                                                                 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as we celebrate the fifth consecutive month of winter ambiance!


Vixen licking her chops - photo by TambakoTheJaguar via Flickr.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 1, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     March 1, 2019    
March is welcomed to the Gunflint Trail after a harrowing blizzard to end the last weekend of month two. This neighborhood hasn’t had one of those in sometime. The snow was snowing, and wind was blowing, but we weathered the storm.                                                                          

Folks out this way can be thankful the brunt of the real heavy snow missed us to the south. Further, with the wind howling as it was, thanks are also given for the temperature not being below zero during the onslaught.                                                                                                                                                                

At Wildersmith, new snow measured only an inch or two. But as day broke Sunday, coupled with the two to three feet already on the ground, morning winds made it look like a ton had fallen based on drifting around the house. It would be a good guess most of the snow from here to Winnipeg has blown across Gunflint Lake and onto the Mile O Pine.                                               

By nightfall last Sunday, the wind was still at full bore, continuing to build on some terrific snow sculptures. And, with temps falling through the day to near zero, guess I’ll be back at toting in more firewood after a few days of letting the wood burning stove sit cold.                                  

I was about to get at raking snow off the roof, but it looks like I’ll have to be shoveling out the back yard first just to get close enough to set up a ladder enabling such. With a little luck, perhaps the “great wind bag of the north” might have blown some of the roof covering south to Loon Lake.                                                                                                                                                    

That exercise was put on hold as it was inevitable, Monday would be spent scooping and snow blowing my way out to MOP. So it was, and after four and one-half hours, Wildersmith was open to the outside world again.                                                                                                           

Aside from the atmospheric conditions, I remind listeners we at WTIP are into another full day of the winter membership drive. This important, “on air canvas” merits your attention and strategies for continuing quality Community Radio in the northland and around the cyber world makes supporter backing a must!                                                                                                                      

It’s “Wide World WTIP”! The voice of the north-country is counting on you! Dial us up or click on the web now.                                                                                                                                                      
Those numbers to remember are 387-1070 locally, or 1-800-473-9847 toll free, or click at Should you happen to be out and about, stop up at the studios, 1712 West highway sixty-one, make your pledge in person and enjoy a little comfort and conversation, you’re always invited!                                                                                                                                                                                             
If ice fishing is your bag, another big event sponsored by the Ridge Riders Snow Mobile Club happens Saturday, March the 2nd. The annual Trout Derby takes place over on West Bearskin Lake.                                                                                                                                                                       

Activity begins with registration from nine to eleven am and angling ASAP thereafter. Catches of the day must be recorded and on the display board by two in the afternoon when results will be tallied and place winners announced.                                                                                              

Winner of the largest trout will catch $300, with $200 for second and $100 for third. A raffle for other prizes will be held in conjunction with the usual food and refreshments. This event is always a fun family day!                                                                                                                              

In closing, a late day visit from the friendly fox just missed last weeks’ news deadline. This time the foxy Ms .or Mr. caught me by surprise while I was out on the deck grilling. The fluffy tailed critter came around the corner of the house, and down the deck toward me suggesting what I interpreted as an, “I’m hungry” look. Of course I proceeded to my cache of turkey nuggets and offered some treats.                                                                                                                                                   
Going back to my cooking, it was not long before the animal was back. The cagy creature meandered around and sat down near me, obviously not totally satisfied.                                                
 However, the grilling task was completed, and my time to eat. So I went inside thinking “red” would be gone.                                                                                                                                       

This was not to be the case. It remained deck side through our dinner time, and when I looked out later, there it remained.                                                                                                                 

Now my cooking exercise involved a black skillet too and grease. So my decision was made to set, the now solid grease remains, down for a tasting. This turned out to be a real mystery for this wild beast. It would come up and sniff the oily goody, but every attempt for a lick moved the skillet, spooking my curious friend. After several tries, it gave up.                                                       

Feeling a bit of compassion about the difficult situation I had created, I stepped out and offered a slice of peanut butter bread, tossing it in the skillet. This added element renewed the foxes’ attention.                                                                                                                                                                  

We observers got a big kick out of attempts to retrieve the peanut treat without moving the skillet. After a few nips at the slice and dropping it back in the pan, foxy accidently flipped the bread sticky side down in the grease. This became a more serious dilemma, with the degree of difficulty increased considerably.                                                                                                                                                
It was not to be deterred though, and following a few more snaps, the open face peanut butter treat was secured, and it trotted off into the night. I’ll bet it never spent more time catching a rodent in a snow bank than it did making this sticky grab.                                                         

Further, one would wonder if it might have experienced annoying frustration ridding this human delight from the roof of its mouth. This was likely a sticky state of affairs.                                                                                                                                                                            

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with natural adventures by the moment!


Wildersmith-submitted by Fred Smith

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 22, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith    February 22, 2019    

It seems completely crazy our days should go by so rapidly. We gather around the radio this week with month two fading into its last chapter. Next week at this time, the planet will be MARCHing into month three.                                                                                                                                                                 

As I began the weeks’ report last Sunday evening, its hard telling what will be going on in our up north atmosphere by the time my Gunflint scoop hits the air. A summation of weather over the past week can be highlighted in three words, pretty much nothing.                                                                                

Our Gunflint heavens provided the most excitement since we last tuned in together. How about that bright “sucker moon” of February. The “super big cheese” boldly illuminated our deep winter in beautiful bluish splendor and eerie forest shadows, the likes of which mysteries might be authored. What a wow factor!                                                                                                                  
With exception of one windy evening and beautiful azure daytime skies, temps have been about normal, and this neighborhood has been just about snowless. Nighttime lows have been below the nothing mark with some serious cold earlier this week. President’s Day morning saw minus 32 on the Wildersmith thermometer.                                                                                             
Meanwhile, with growing solar power, this sunny warmth during daylight hours has provided exceptional opportunities for folks to get out and enjoy in the snow activities. Our great weather, in concert with the long weekend, found droves of Gunflint enthusiasts trekking the blacktop to favorite Trail locations.                                                                                              

Perhaps the biggest event took place over on Hungry Jack Lake where the Cook County Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club held the annual drag races. A perfect day of fun in the winter sun drew a big crowd with over thirty entries in the three engine classes. For races results and pictures of the winners, go to the Ridge Riders Facebook page. Thanks to Hungry Jack Lodge and Club organizers for all the hard work in putting this happening together.                                                                                                                                       

At this time next week, WTIP will be in the middle of its winter membership drive. The theme is “Wide World WTIP”, recognizing listeners from un-countable points on the globe who make our WTIP world go ‘round.                                                                                                                                         

The drive for 2019 membership renewals, along with an on-going quest for adding new family members, gets underway next Wednesday the 27th and runs until noon on March 4.                               

From Wildersmith, I urge all of our 1300 plus members to be ready for re-upping when the phones and online opportunities spring to life for this crucial start to the New Year. And if you’re a listener who’s not yet committed to the WTIP family, now’s the time to join in and share in the success of this great Community Radio endeavor. Let’s make March really come in with a Lion’s roar for WTIP!                                                                                                                                                                           

As sure as winter commences in October/November, spring is certainly going to be here eventually. This in mind, The Gunflint trail Historical Society and Chik-Wauk Staff are busy organizing for the 2019 visitor season.                                                                                                                                            

Excitement is mounting as two new chapters in Trail history will be opening on the Chik-Wauk Campus this summer. The long awaited historic Watercraft exhibit and Interpretive Cabin are entering the final stages of completion in hopes of being ready for opening day on May 25. In addition, a new temporary exhibit in the Museum will feature “Tommy Banks, Gangster of the Gunflint.” Folks will not want to miss these exciting new installments of the Gunflint story.                                                                                                                                                   

On a related GTHS note, the addition of two facilities finds the Society Leadership in a position of needing extra staff to manage the Watercraft exhibit facility. A job description and application instructions are posted on Interested applicants should check it out, as applications close soon.                                                                                                                                                    

As our daylight minutes increase with each passing day, I find it interesting how the winged folk around here are taking it all in by dining much later.                                                                                

Until I moved to this northern paradise, I paid minimal attention to our fine feathered friends. Now that I’m here, I’m intrigued, at avian flock behavior around the feeding trough as the sun begins to settle near the horizon.                                                                                                               
Bulking up for the long cold night ahead seems to create near hysteria. With arrivals and departures so frequent, such chaos reminds me of video shopping reflections on “black Friday.” I’ve come to understand the hysteria, as the energy expended to be ready by the roosting hour is truly a matter of life and death if those tummies are not filled. By its own nature, this frenzy is an elemental survival exercise for all in the “Wild Neighborhood”, and a joy to observe their zest for life.                                                                                                                                                                                

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, each enriched by the natural wonders around us!


Pine Marten by Yankech Gary via Flickr.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 15, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith        February 15, 2019    
Celebrating loved ones’ on Valentine’s Day passed us with sweetness. Meanwhile our love story with the Gunflint is ritualized in daily magic.  This northern land of white remains enchanting, and has not shown much change since last week, in spite of adding a few days of some nuisance snow falls.                                                                                                                                           

I define nuisance in this case as not being prolific in accumulation. However, snow has fallen enough to require removal from drive and walk ways. Nevertheless, most folks know, if one resides in these parts from October to May, you’d better love it, as snow in any amount is a fact of life.                                                                                                                                                                                          
I was chatting with a friend down the road and each of us reflected deep appreciation for the character of winter. Though fact is, after the past week, we both admitted to getting tired of moving snow on consecutive days, especially when amounts were in the puny two, three or four inch range. Yours truly shoveled, plowed and cranked up the snow blower four out of five days during the stretch.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
While this neighborhood has not accumulated amounts like other big snow zone areas along the Trail, mounds of white crystal around Wildersmith have still grown to the point where it’s hard to find a place to pile it. Thank goodness for the invention of mechanical means, as it makes the physical shoveling part minimal.                                                                                                                                              
Temps in the territory have mellowed from the bitter cold of a couple weeks ago. Nonetheless, the mercury around Wildersmith has tinkered with zero and below for a number of days leading up to this news report. Anyone who says it can’t snow when it’s been around zero has obviously not spent extended time in border country. 
Whereas we may have snowier days ahead of us, enthusiasm for things of spring is budding. I’ve received my second seed and plant catalog, while the green thumb gal residing over on Loon Lake has ordered her seeds. At this point, when it seems greenery might have forgotten about chlorophyll, I suppose many folks along the Trail remember green-up come June, and are dreaming of getting their hands back in the dirt.   
On a related note, our increase in daylight minutes is becoming increasingly conspicuous. By the next time we meet, winter will be heading into the final stanza on the calendar. And, we’ll be moving along under the waning spell of the Ojibwe, full “sucker moon.” Whether one is a winter zealot or not, folks not in tune with our deep white landscape can take heart, there’s more cold and snow season behind us now, than in front.    
A newcomer to our deck side critter cafeteria happened by in the past week. Whereas one pine marten is often hard to distinguish from another, this new one is easily set apart from the others. Considerably smaller, perhaps a yearling, and “cute as a button”, the mini fur ball was so diminutive, its jaws had difficulty opening wide enough to get a good bite on my poultry provisions. 
Not only hungry, it was quite curious. A morning or so ago it climbed up on a lawn chair folded against the house, snooping around the window sill. For a few moments, its nose was against the glass, a daytime, “peeking marten” mind you.                                                                                

Fortunately, I happened to be looking out at the time, and we met face to face with only clear plate between us. It looked in and I looked out, eye to eye before it climbed down, maybe wondering what, or who was this gawking guy all about.                                                                                                                                                                 
On a couple of other days, this omnivorous weasel cousin sat on the feeding rail munching seeds and peeked in some more, perhaps absorbed by my movements about the kitchen. The Smith’s look forward to continuing visits from this youngster and watching as it grows up.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, regardless of what nature delivers!  


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 8, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      February 8, 2019    
What a difference a week can make! The frosty “Grinch” of the northland loosened its grip since our last WTIP visit.                                                                                                                                               

This part of the world felt almost balmy when the mercury finally crept above the zero-mark on our nations “Super Bowl” weekend. Whereas the relief in this area has not been of the melting variety, it has mellowed enough to get people out and moving again.                                                                                                            

Cold as it has been there is still magic in our land of white. A trip down the Trail last Sunday found the “great cold spirit” had joined hands with “Jack Frost” to fashion yet another regal work of crystal spires. With warm moist, low hanging clouds hanging over the bitter cold landscape, conditions were ripe for “Plein air” artistic elegance on every woodsy appendage.  
Inasmuch as these hoarfrost happenings occur with some regularity, each one can appear classier than the previous observation. This one seemed over the top with not enough descriptors to do it justice. You just had to be here to feel the majesty of mini-cut- glass chards clinging to everything in creation.                                                                                                                                   
The warm-up was timely for the Cook County Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club last Saturday. Their annual lodge to lodge “fun run” brought out countless power sledders. So the woods were alive with sudden bursts of howling machines, clouds of blowing snow and pale blue exhaust haze.                                                                                                                                                         

It’s assumed all had a swell time with exception of one rider who was truly blazing a trail. I received a report of a unit catching fire during a sprint through the mid Trail area. Flames were actually coming from under the sled as it sped along until the driver finally realized there was a problem. Upon pulling to a stop somewhere near Trail Center, it became fully engulfed.  Guess it was quite a fire at that point. Fortunately, the rider, escaped uninjured, with only some melting on one leg of his protective sledding suit. Cause of the fire in the 2016 model is unknown.                                                                                                                                                                       

With another note to howl about, I received word on the siting of a large wolf pack in the Lullaby Creek locale. There was no reported interaction between the observer and the 10 count Canid crowd. Unusual about this grouping is the numbers. Wolf researcher information tells us the average pack is around four to six. It makes me wonder how they find enough venison to fill all those bellies.                                                                                                                                                                             

One more quirky Northwoods item was sent my way when a gal found a magnificent bull moose in her path along the Trail. Although it may or may not be noteworthy, this big fellow was still supporting both objects of his regal headdress. One would think these cartilaginous trophies would have been shed weeks ago? Guess the antler spread was colossal.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
In recent days, yours truly was surprised by a return visit from my red fox buddy. It’s not that it was AWOL, I was simply not out when it was around here. There were tracks almost every day after a few dustings of new snow, but the two of us were just not in sync to meet. I threw out some poultry morsels occasionally, but apparently, Pine Martens may have beat foxy to the treats. Anyway, the handsome red-head came up on the deck to greet me and do a little begging, and I was thrilled to oblige. What a guy, fox, and feeder!                                                                                                          

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is “super”, and we’re back below zero around this great white way!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 1, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      February 1, 2019    

Beginning this weeks’ Gunflint report, life in this part of the universe has become frozen in time. Residents are settled into survival mode, concerned most about keeping living quarters warm and hoping the vehicle will start if needed.                                                                                                 

Border country heads into yet another week of bitter cold temperatures. If anything or anybody could be blamed, perhaps it’s yours truly. After bragging a couple weeks ago about this territory not having experienced its annual January polar blast, I must have offended the “great spirit of the north.”                                                                                                                                    

The scribing back then had barely gone out over WTIP radio waves when “Biboon” the “wintertime guy” obviously took serious offense and decided it was time. This in mind, he must have been thinking, “just a moment you old codger”, “I’m not dead, and in fact, I’m very much alive and well, and in charge.”                                                                                                                                                             

Since then, frigidity has brought activity to a near standstill. I haven’t observed an ice anglers’ rig headed up the lake in over a week. And on another note, I’ve heard no recent moaning from the lake ice. Then again I haven’t been outside much to listen.                                                                                                       

On this first day of month two, it is hard to predict what conditions will be like as this scoop comes your way. A good bet is, it might still be on the lower side of zero. If such is the case, the Wildersmith neighborhood will have been below the nothing mark for all but two days during the past two weeks. That’s a lot of frosty hours and countless chunks of firewood!                                            

There is no apparent logic to this next tidbit, but its sure funny the Wildersmith thermometer has been at its lowest reading each of the last two Sunday mornings. Last weekend saw our coldest low so far as the column of mercury was within three degrees of not being observable, at minus 42. It’s likely some of our neighbors up toward the end of the Trail were even colder.                                                                                                                                                                                       

It seems several folks in the territory have been under the weather, and yes we have, in a couple of ways. Not only have we been under this icy outdoor spell, many have been fighting a north woods crud indoors. Not to be excluded, the Smiths’ have been dealing with the annoying cough, congestion and throat conditions too.                                                                                                                                      
Perhaps being self-quarantined by this siege of cold will slow the spread of the yucky stuff as folks haven’t been getting around much. February comes from the Latin word “februa”  which means to cleanse. So the arrival of this second 2019 segment enters at a time when healing from these sick nasties is in big demand.                                                                                                  

Then again, as January ended with no sense of humor, February might share the same character. Whatever happens, the consolation is, after this weekend, there are only 25 days left until things will start getting better and symptoms of “cabin fever” will begin fading away.                                                                                                                                              

The Beargrease Sled dog race came through to the mid-Trail stopover last Monday. Although conditions did not favor mankind, they were great for the canine stars of the event. Without a doubt, there was likely no overheating during the three hundred mile journey as temps hovered in the teens below zero and lower. For results of this historic travel re-enactment, check the Beargrease website. Warming congrats to all that endured!                                                                                                   

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where even days below zero are great, really cool man!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 25, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     January 25, 2019    

Last weeks’ report had barely hit the airwaves when my mention of the usual north woods January cold spell being AWOL surrendered to a big turn-around. Folks living in the territory know of what I’m talking, while others in WTIP range, who may be wondering what it’s like on the Gunflint, can be assured it has been seriously cold.                                                                

How cold was it? Temps have remained below zero here in border country for most days since a week ago today (Friday). While temperatures vary considerably from place to place, at Wildersmith, thirty below zero and lower was common for a number of mornings with a brisk minus 40 recorded last Sunday morning.                                                                                                                                                       

These are actual thermometer readings, not the hokey wind chill sensationalism from the weather media. If one lives out this way, you don’t have to be told its dangerously cold when even the slightest the wind is blowing as such is done in Urbania for oblivious younger generations                                                                                                                                                    

Needless to say, outdoor activities around here have been curtailed except for critter feeding time, runs to the mailbox and many trips to the woodshed. The Smith’s have just hunkered down and enjoyed the warmth around a crackling wood burner. The romance of cozying up on a still, bitterly cold night in the north woods can’t be matched, especially when one doesn’t have to get out in the morning for a trek to work.                                                                                                              

Meanwhile, miracles of life below zero go on un-interrupted amongst our “wild neighborhood” critters. How those pert little chickadees and nuthatches survive is incredible. And as if frost on the windows wasn’t enough evidence of bitter cold, jay birds and pine grosbeaks were fluffed up like puff balls as they wait for time at the feed tray. While pine martens and squirrels, with frosted whiskers and nary a shiver, seem undaunted in their daily morsel search.                                                                                                                                                             
During our last trip to the Village, we came upon a moose trio in the middle of the Trail near Little Iron Lake. It was a momma and her twin adolescents. Getting to see them in multiples is always a treat.                                                                                                                                                                                     

They were blocking traffic, of course, so we slowed to a stop. Momma readily departed into the ditch. However, it was a different story for her kids as they struggled to remain upright on the icy surface. After some slip-sliding about, the gawky juveniles made it to the safety of the snowy roadside and disappeared into the forest.                                                                                          

Visiting with a friend a few hours later, it was disclosed she came upon a trio in the same location just moments after we had passed. Guess the salt on the road must have been a tasty attraction in that locale and lured them back onto the ice-covered blacktop.                                                                                                                    

The storied John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon heads north from Duluth to Grand Portage, starting on Sunday. While the 2019 course has been shortened to three hundred miles, it will nevertheless be heading up the Gunflint Trail to Trail Center Monday, with early leaders expected around 10:00 am. After a mandatory layover, all should be departed by around 10:00 in the evening on their way to the Grand Portage finish.                                                                                                                         

The best means of catching a glimpse of the mushers as they come up this way would be to check the Beargrease website or to be in the mid-trail area during the day. Of course, there will be plenty of canine energy, excitement and color as usual out here, and at Grand Portage, which is not that far away. Come on out and give these teams a Gunflint Community welcome.                                                                                                                                                                                                         
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where life below zero is great, even though a bit unforgiving for the faint of heart!