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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.


What's On:
Rolf Skrien - photo by ChikWauk

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 18, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      January 18, 2019    
As the old-time western hero, Gene Autry, once sang, “I’m back in the saddle again.” Though it’s a feeble analogy, I’m really back at the keyboard again.                                                                    
Another trip to Iowa completes the Christmas season with our daughter, along with a visit to some longtime Hawkeye friends, and the Smiths’ have returned to this pure white paradise. Our wintertime traveling was uneventful, and one doesn’t have to go too far south before a little yucky urban snow and mostly browns of autumn extends as far as the eye can see.                                                                                                                                                              
Guess we are pretty lucky to have what we have here in border country. Mistakes of “Mother Nature” and the “excesses of mankind” can leave the landscape pretty ugly when its’ not covered with snow or hidden by foliage.                                                                                                                                                      
It’s for sure the word is out amongst power sledding fans regarding the areas’ snow cover. During our drive north up highway 61 last Sunday, if I met one, I may have met ten thousand snowmobile units being toted back toward Metropolis.                                                              

The woods must have been howling with sledding traffic last weekend. Suppose there will be more activity around here until other areas of the state get some attention from “old man winter.” In the meantime, one has to be happy for area businesses catering to our snowmobiling visitors as conditions have been a bit late taking shape.                                                                                                                                                                                
In contrast to those speeding along the Trails, our great snow cover is also accommodating those who prefer the peace and quiet of swooshing through the woods. The now deep snowpack has allowed groomers to have the ski trail system in what looks to be terrific condition.                                                                                                                                                       

Perhaps not too happy with all the borderland white were the anglers who hit the ice for the trout opener last weekend. After early ice on, and near perfect ice thickening situations, big snows of late have cast a deep cover of insulation and weight on lake surfaces. Such has hidden annoying slush and water above a foot and more of ice.                                                                                 
Anglers’ angst, in addition to spotty catching, was exacerbated by having to dig equipment and sleds out of the gooey slop. Of all equipment needed for the fishing excursion, high boots appear to have been the most important!                                                                                                                                                       
Not much snow was added in the upper Gunflint territory during my absence (maybe an inch or two in the Wildersmith neighborhood).  In spite of recent accumulations being on the lean side, depths along the Trail range from knee to waist depending upon where one steps. In fact, the buildup on my roof is getting me to think of pulling it off in case another big dose comes our way, thus making the job more difficult than it is presently.                                                                                        
At this scribing, temps are relatively warm for these parts. We’ve yet to be on the receiving end of one of those bitter cold, below zero January streaks. It would seem if the area gets by the next two weeks and into February, we may be home free from a bone-chilling “Polar Vortex” for the season. To miss one of these breath freezing happenings likely wouldn’t make too many folks unhappy, although bragging rights for who was the coldest will be left hanging!       
With the Ojibwe, “Great Spirit” moon of January lighting up the northern skies in the wee hours of Monday AM, it’s hard to imagine month two is in the conversation already. Although winter is barely a month old according to the calendar, we head into week four with seed catalogs in the mail, packets of garden renewals on display racks and “green thumbers”visioning seed pods and grow lights.                                                                                                           T

The cold of winter can often bring sadness, and such is the case in the Gunflint Community once again. Some reader/ listeners may already be aware of the passing of perhaps the last Gunflint pioneer icon.  It’s with remorse I report the loss of Rolf Skrien at age 97.   Rolf departed from our midst on January 2nd.                                                                                                                              
He first came to the Gunflint Trail in 1929 on a camping trip with his father, and so fell in love with the territory, he returned in 1946 after serving his country in World War Two. He called the end of the Trail home for most of his life until settling in Apache Junction, Arizona during his later years.                                                                                                                                                                                         

A celebration of Rolf’s life will be held this Sunday, January 20, visitation at 1:00 pm, service at 2:00 in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. The Gunflint Trail Community offers condolences to his surviving family and many friends. More of Rolf’s story can be found in his obit on                                                                                                                                                                     

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, regardless of cold, warm or season of the year!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 4, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       January 4, 2019    
The planet has made the turn into another year, and we at Wildersmith wish everyone a happier and less turbulent year than the one just past.                                                                                                           
This being said, the Smiths’ are back in the woods after a quick jaunt to Iowa for a Merry Christmas with our son and his family. The stay was short as weather forecasts’ for this part of the world shortened our time together. Nevertheless, it’s always a sweet time with those grandsons regardless of their no longer being little guys.                                                                                                                         
Staying just ahead of the pending storm, we hit the Mile O Pine only hours before the first flakes. In spite of the countless times we’ve returned to this border country Riviera from our southerly journeys, the phenom of this special place invariably radiates a fresh and untamed sensory response.                                                                                                                                                      
This unexplainable experience is real and so immensely enchanting, especially in the deep of winter. When reaching the top of the hill above Grand Marais, one is easily overcome with the serene majesty of a snow-covered world, knowing this is one of the few places on earth where mankind has minimized the plunder of creation into seemingly irreparable misery.                                          
With winter in a passive state for the better part of month twelve, many of us with a passion for the white and brittle cold of the forest has been in a mild state of despair. Not to be kept down too long though, finally the “great spirit of the north” regained a grip with a whiz-bang close to 2018.                                                                                                                                                              
The Gunflint Trail was not spared this time as the forecasters’ hit the mark. I’m not hearing of snow totals from the mid-Trail snow zones, but this neighborhood and along the south shore of the Gunflint recorded up to twelve inches.                                                                      
Everybody that deals in winter business opportunities have to be smiling, especially, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snow removers. Our world is blanketed with the solitude of white, and yours truly enjoyed every moment of the four-plus hours it took to heap the stuff around Wildersmith out of the way.                                                                                                                                                     
Taking this first ten days of the actual winter season a step further, the day of clearing roads and driveways saw temps dip to more seasonable expectations. The mercury slipped by the hour and by next morning, temperatures fell into the twenties to near thirty below the nothing mark. Thankfully, winds in this neighborhood were not too unbearable. Since last weekend, and except for New Years’ eve and daytime, things have yo-yo’d up to less bitter readings.                                                                                                                                                           

Organizers of the Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog races have breathed a sigh of relief with the cool snowy additions. Thinking there might not be enough snow-base on the race course, it was feared the races might have to be canceled. The issue is mute now as they are set to get underway as scheduled, Saturday morning.                                                                                                            

As always, the excitement of barking dogs, colorful handlers and steam-breathing mushers will take-over the mid-Trail area around Trail Center Restaurant & Lodge from late Friday night through late morning Sunday. Races will start at 8:00 am featuring an eight dog, 65-mile race and a twelve dog, 100-mile event.                                                                                                                              

Winners and awards will be presented around 10:00 am Sunday at the Trail Center race headquarters, all are welcome. The best spectator viewing locations will be at the Trail Center start line, Big Bear Lodge, Rockwood Lodge and Blankenberg Pit where the 100-mile race loops back down the Trails toward the mandatory layover.                                                                                                                                 

All residents and visitors are urged to get out and give a cheer to these athletes in action!                                                                                                                                                                                  

For WTIP, this Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, all decked out in the crystal of the season!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 21, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       December 21, 2018    
This weeks’ Gunflint scoop finds me listening to howling winds swooping down Gunflint Lake. Over the past days, they’ve been blowing with warm winter wishes and for certain, not the usual biting zest of December. The calendar says winter is here now, but one would hardly know it at the moment.                                                                                                                                                                      

For over a week, these air currents have ushered in another degenerating sample of our pending climate catastrophe. At this time, it feels like we have jump-started March at Christmas time. Local snowmen have been dripping with worry, and a minority of us with affection for serious winter character are downcast.                                                                                                                                                                     

An added note finds Gunflint Territory with our wintertime drought extended into yet another week. Since Thanksgiving, this neighborhood has received little to no precipitation. Coupled with the spring-like air of recent days, the snowpack has withered to just a few inches.                                  

With the “Gunflint Mail Run” sled dog races but two weeks away (January 5 & 6th), the upper Gunflint needs winter to get back on track pronto!                                                                                          

By the way, “Mail Run” organizers are still looking for volunteers to help administer the various aspects. If you can help, get on the website, “Mail Run Sled Dog Race 2019” and sign up now.                                                                                                                                                                                         
Early in the month, our lake freeze fashioned a perfect storm in regard to providing ice skating opportunities. In just days after our “ice on”, folks were enjoying the best gliding conditions in years. I’ve heard of people raving about skating for  miles.                                                                                                             

It is hard telling what the recent warmth has done to the ice. I’m guessing safe conditions could be suspect in places where the intensity of “Sol” glanced across the surface. The Gunflint Gal is even showing black ice from its middle on to the Canadian shores at this scribing. It might be this “old icy gal” could open back up if things don’t cool down in short order.                                                                                                                                                                                                       
Besides the effects of “Sol’s” assault, the hard water body outside our back door has been moaning for days as she heaves and splits under pressures of these abnormal happenings. Water is certain to be seeping onto the surface so we could expect complications for “on ice” activities from this point forward.                                                                                                                                                                     

Enough of this cold season sadness, visions of Saint Nick are dancing in our heads. Along with the glitz of the season, spirits of our days and nights have been brightened as “out on the blacktop, moose have appeared.”                                                                                                                                                  
It seems I haven’t talked to one person who hasn’t encountered at least one or more of the massive north-country icons. They’re out lapping up road salt and often blocking traffic. Some have mentioned mini herds of as many as five at one time in those traditional moose zones.                                                                                                                                                                                               

If we’re not all observing the same ones, perhaps it’s been a good year for newborn survivals, causing a renewed surge in moose residents. With a lot of moose on the loose, drivers beware. To this point, I’ve not heard of any moose/vehicular contacts, let’s keep it this way!                                                           

The rulers of our Gunflint predator population have been out and about too. A number of wolf sightings have been reported up and down the Trail over the last week. Tracks and scat have been found along the Mile O Pine too.                                                                                                                                  
I received word of a recent wolf episode where shortly after the Gunflint Lake freezing, one of the few deer, living out this way, made a dreadful decision. Whereas it ventured or was chased, onto the slippery surface, the local pack cashed in for a venison dinner, sad, but this is the way of the wilderness, wolves have to eat too.                                                                                              

Casting aside our dismay over this current winter debacle, celebrations are the order of life for the next several days. Enjoy the Solstice, the sun will soon be nudging back northward; the “little spirit moon” will be casting a luster of mid-day onto us earthly beings and the “birthday of all birthdays” will hopefully spread at least a few moments of peace over our ravaged planet.                                                                                                                                                                                  
 In closing, during this holiday time, it saddens me to report the death of longtime Trail resident and member of the business community, Irene Baumann. Passing a week ago today (Friday, December 14th) after a period of hospitalization. Irene was Matriarch of the three-generation Baumann family operation of Golden Eagle Lodge. Gunflint Community condolences are extended to her family and many friends.                                                                                                                               

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the Smith’s wish all, safe and merry holiday times.


Pine Marten

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 14, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith    December 14, 2018    
Since our last WTIP gathering, Gunflint country has experience days of calm and peace. These Halcyon segments have found this territory in partial winter mode, absent one half of our winter character.                                                                                                                                                           
The upper Trail endured a good dose of cold for several days, but we’ve been devoid of snow. Don’t take me wrong, we have snow however barely a few flurries have been added.                   
To expand upon the cold feature of our atmospheric goings-on, some nights of well below zero in this neighborhood prompted real ice making on the Gunflint. After a sputtering try at freezing a week ago, she got right after it on the night/morning of December 6 & 7.                       
There was no messing around this time. By morning on the 7th, I could see from the house water was still by the shore, but had no idea hard water would consume the entire surface in just a few hours.                                                                                                                                                                                 

This “ice on” date is somewhat early as the average over the time we’ve lived here is nearer mid-month. My records go as far back as 1982 and the earliest freeze of Gunflint Lake since then was on November 26, 1996. So 2018 is some two weeks off any contemporary record.                                                                                                                                                                                          

By the way, a Gunflint Lake cousin, Seagull Lake froze on November 20th according to folks along those shores. It is funny how conditions and locale can vary so much in just ten or twelve miles.                                                                                                                                                                                      

The next night was about equally as cold around here, and the “old gal” uttered her first commentary of the season. It was a screech like always, but one has no way of knowing whether her outcry was in delight of a new coat or pain from an ill fit. Whatever the case, we can now start building depth for those ice anglers come January.                                                                                 

A day in the winter woods seems never to be without an animal adventure of some sort. A few days ago the Smith’s spotted one of our many “Pineys” (martens that is) bounding over the snow toward our place. We watched it making its way up on to our deck, and heading for the snack shack.                                                                                                                                                                      

As it was about to stick its head in the little box for a treasure, something up in the trees was spotted, spooking the furry critter. Checking skyward carefully for a few moments, one could see the martens’ “wheels a turning” when a decision was made to grab a bite and make a run for it. While grabbing the poultry part, another alarm from above startled the furry one. This caused a Nano-second memory lapse where it let go of its treat.                                                                                                                                                                                       

The first of two oddities popped right before our eyes. The morsel of fowl dropped barely centimeters from the jaws, and quick as lightning, the critter caught it, mid-air, mind you. Oh, it was so nimble and quick.                                                                                                                                                                              

In awe, wonder number two captured us. In a flash, Mr. Marten shot across the deck, took a leap to a nearby tree and literally flew down to the ground at what looked to be supersonic speed. On the ground, it screamed over the crusty snow into a brushy thicket and out of view.                                                                                                                                                                                         

This riveting scene then took on another twist. During this ground level sprint, we observed a flight of blue jays zooming not far above the martens’ pathway to cover, and they too were soon lost from view.                                                                                                                                                 
One can only surmise these jaybirds were the one’s kindling the marten’s first treetop alert. After all, how did it know this was not a hungry eagle or a craving owl overhead.                                                      

Thereon, thinking about all this commotion, I assumed the blues’ were following “Piney” in case this ration of fast food was dropped, whereby they might get a crack at it. They are pretty cagey about laying claim to possessions of others, the big bullies.                                                                                   

With exception of disappearing into the woods, this chapter of our natural world novel knows no end. The beat goes on, predator/prey, survival of the fittest, fastest and craftiest!                                                                          

For WTIP, this Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with a shout out for let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!   



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 7, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       
December 7, 2018    

Back at the keyboard again, I’m contemplating a week into month twelve with the lights of year 2018 beginning to dim. It seems we’ve rounded the corner into December way too soon. In spite of the year heading off into oblivion, the Gunflint Trail has a radiance extending our “Biboon” (winter) landscape brightly toward the New Year.                                                                                          

A couple of light snow droppings over the past week have magnified spirits for us lovers of wintertime. The forest is decked out in its’ seasonal best, so incredibly beautiful, it’s a gift beyond words.                                                                                                                                                                               

The accumulation of snow, to date, is not heaped too deep but is just enough to encourage area cross country ski operations. I’m told most all ski trails in the Gunflint system are packed and even a couple have done a little tracking where the base allows. Another six to twelve inches will have things in prime swooshing condition.                                                                                 

As of this scribing, my early season snow measurements for this neighborhood total sixteen inches, although some of the total has come and gone while “old man winter” was getting his cold act together over the last couple weeks.                                                                                                      

Meanwhile, temps early last week gave our Gunflint Lake gal the idea she might get under her winter cover. It looked as though we might have an early ice on. Winds were calm and the old gal skimmed about a third of a mile across.                                                                          
Then, as things often happen, the “great spirit of the north” exhaled with a huffy bluster, and a day or so later the first crinkling of hard water disappeared. So our icy waters are dashing shores once again.                                                                                                                                                                              

From what I can find out, Gunflint Lake and Saganaga are the only lakes with open water at the moment. All others are locked up for the next several months. However, it should be expected, safe ice is still in question.                                                                                                                                

I’m hearing a few gripes about the gloomy skies of the last couple of months. In fact, I overheard one longtime local say he was getting out of the wilderness to see if he could find sunshine somewhere.                                                                                                                                                                     

Then another fellow mentioned he’s never seen it so dark, seems like he’s driving off into a dark hole at night. Guess we folks at forty-eight degrees north take for granted our dark sky nights when all those heavenly bodies are beaming down upon us. They’ve been pretty much undercover since about October.                                                                                                                                          

It is interesting here at Wildersmith, with our location below the north side of a high elevation, on these cloudy days, when the sun does appear, it takes until about ten am to shine down on us. Then in the afternoon, old “Sol” begins fading below our horizon between two-thirty and three o’clock, so daylight is scant for now. Soon to be changing though, the Solstice will be turning things around once again in two weeks.                                                                                                    

A bonus happening pairs with the Solstice this year, as the Ojibwe, “little spirit full moon” fulfills its last yearly cycle just hours after, so there will be a real enlightening of the north woods just before the “biggest of birthdays.”                                                                                                                                                        

In the meantime, night travelers headed out this way will need to look for twinkling enjoyment from our annual sentinel of lights along Birch Lake. Yes, once again our good Trail neighbors on the Birch have enhanced our holiday spirit by lighting that big spruce along the byway. It may not be like the one in Rockefeller Center or at the White House, but its significance to light the way is nonetheless, magnificent.  Thanks to the Birch Lake crew that makes this happen.                                                                                                                                                                                             

In closing, I hear of a new trend coming in Christmas trees. Apparently, among millennials and urban “yuppies,” “black” is now in, for holiday trees of the future. This seems alarmingly artificial when we live amongst uncountable trillions of trees that are forever green, and symbolic of life itself, on the planet. It seems as though the purveyors of this somber notion are missing something.                                                                                                                                                                   

Giving this trendy idea a little deeper thought, I believe this ebony inclination is really nothing new. Our marvelous north woods territory has had black trees in the forest since the beginning of everything. We see them recurring every day, and we call it night time!                                                                                                                                           

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with life warm and simple and not too complicated. “Black” Christmas trees, really, “humbug”, what is the world coming to?


Snowshoe Hare_by_Dan Newcomb.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 30, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith          November 30, 2018    

A week away from the keyboard finds me back at it last Sunday evening. The Smith’s had a delightful time in Iowa with our daughter, celebrating “turkey day.” The weather down in Iowa was far from frightful. In fact, barely a skiff of snow muted their tawny landscape. So travel situations made for a stressless jaunt in both directions.                                                                             

With yours truly already into the winter mood, the best part of the return was climbing up the Trail to our winter wonderland. Adding to the white patina, “Mother Nature” was in the process of a little touch-up work. Thus, the last fifty miles to Wildersmith through this byway tunnel of evergreen was not only spectacular but also energizing for our pre-holiday spirit.                                                                            

The Smith’s hope your Thanksgiving was pleasant! Thinking of the past weekend’s trek into Holiday madness, I trust “Black Friday” ventures did not have you seeing “red” much less put you into the “red.”                                                                                                                            
Speaking of this seasonal essence, Gunflint Trail residents are reminded of the Open House Christmas Party as we kick-off this first weekend of December. The event will be held at the Schaap Community Center (mid-Trail fire hall) this Saturday, the 1st.                                                        

The gala put on by the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire and Rescue crews is to recognize and thank Trail residents for their continuing support of the department. Doors open at 4:00 pm and good times will run until 7:00. Food and refreshments will be provided, and in the interest of this giving season, attendees are asked to bring an item for donation to the local food shelf.     
I just have to share with you an unusual critter happening, as our trip started south along the Trail last week. Some distance down the byway, we rounded a curve to find a USFS vehicle blocking traffic in the opposite lane. The circumstance was perplexing as to what was going on with no apparent human activity observed.  
As we slowed, checking out the surroundings we found the reason for this traffic stoppage. On the road shoulder to our right, a race for life was in the unfolding, and it had the attention of this forest ranger too.                                                                                                                           

A snowshoe hare came bounding along the snowy ditch right at us with a pine marten in hot pursuit. There was maybe a dozen feet separating the two, and it was hard to tell how the race was going.  Knowing who might have been declared the winner is undetermined as they eventually dipped into the forest beyond our view.      
One thing for certain is they are sprinters, not distance runners. It was all a matter of who could last the longest. We’ll never know whether a rabbit dinner was had, or there was angst of a martin finishing second? In either case, this small animal chapter of predator/prey activity provided yet another episode of wildland drama.                                                                                              

On down the road, a “king of the north woods carnivores” crossed our path, so this was a bonus observation, to say the least.                                                                                                                                                

And on another carnivorous note, a fellow living in the mid-Trail neighborhood experienced an eerie meeting with a six pack of gray wolves, just days before the Thanksgiving week. I’m told he set out in his canoe on Poplar Lake (before the ice came on) paddling to check out an eagle nest he’d been watching. Reaching the location, he put ashore and commenced into the woods a short distance.                                                                                                                                                                       

Not far on his journey, he had an uncomfortable feeling he was in the company of something or somebody, causing him to stop, listen and look around. To his surprise he’d come upon the pack, lounging in a sunny opening of the forest canopy not twenty feet away.                                               

Of course, they saw him too. He stood silently and watched them for several minutes. Then one stood up and looked him over, and the rest followed suit before meandering off out of sight. Although there seemed to be no aggressiveness, his trip was terminated.                                        

While he made his way safely back to his watercraft, another wolf crossed his path. It is unknown if this was a pack member. In any event, this wolf went on without causing further concern. I’m betting there was a lot of glancing back over his shoulder in-route to getting in that canoe.                                                                                                                                                                                             
It might be thought that the wolves, though curious, had less concern with this human in close proximity than he had of the wolf presence, but one can never be sure. It is well known they prefer venison, so he probably didn’t make their mouths’ water. The Gunflint Community is happy this adventure ended free from harm.                                                                                                                                                              
In closing, during the recent Mile O Pine absence, my foxy friend was left to fend for itself. However, a good neighbor down the road picked up the slack, accommodating the oft hungry critter. Along with his grandson Merrick, the two of them had an enjoyable time treating this bushy red “buddy” of the neighborhood.                                                                                                                                                            

The two have since departed back to metropolis, breaking the short term act of kindness. I’m guessing “Braer Fox” will find its way back to Wildersmith because the food service has re-opened with Turkey parts on the menu. I hope the “moccasin telegraph” is getting the word out.                                                                                                                                                           

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with adventures behind every tree or around every curve.



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 16, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
November 16, 2016   

As I started keying this weeks’ Gunflint scoop last Sunday, winter had tightened its grip on the northland. The upper Trail forest is decked out like a Hallmark Holiday card.                                       

At Wildersmith, seven to eight inches of cold season character has blanketed the neighborhood since the unexpected storm swept through kicking off last weekend. It’s a good bet areas in the mid-Trail snow zone have recorded even more. So at the moment, we head into the second half of month eleven pearly white.                                                                                                                                             
The wind howled as the first of the storms’ onslaught passed, making for white-out conditions across Gunflint Lake and many others as well. Adding to the fury, temps tumbled into single digits in places and a first zero reading on the thermometers around the Smith abode early one morning. Since then temps have rebounded a bit but remain in the ice making mode.                                                                                                                                                                                 

Once again, our magic white carpet has captured my attention. I make this comment in regard to evidence of animal visitors in both twilight and darkness hours. It’s tracking time.                                                            

Of course, I can identify most tracks left in the snow, so I know who they are. Intrigue and adventure come in wondering of their motives for leaving such impressions of attendance. Were they hunting, or the hunted? Could they have been on the run or just strolling by? Maybe their trek was simply a shortcut to another place of safety or a midnight snack.                                                                                    
I’ll never know for sure, but my curiosity always runs wild imagining what was going on. The entire scenario kind of carries me back to another place in time. Guess it is more legacy of the Gunflint Trail rising up from wilderness lore.                                                                                                              

Adjustments back to Central Standard Time came easy for the Smith’s. However, we still catch ourselves commenting, “Boy, it sure seems dark out already.” I know this is bothersome for many dwellers this far away from the equator, but it will pass. As the trek is made toward the “Solstice” it’s hard for some to contemplate maneuvering of the heavens and earth as the universe sticks a little more darkness onto each day. One just has to hang in there until the point in time when it all reverses course.                                                                                                                                                                
All of this reminds me of a scribing by author, Tom Hennen.  He states in his work, “The Life of a Day” that: “Each day is unique and has its own personality quirks, which can easily be seen if one looks closely.”                                                                                                                                                     
“Days usually pass mostly unnoticed, unless they are wildly nice, or grimly awful.”                      
“For some reason, we want to see days pass, even though most claim they don’t want to see the last one for a long time.”                                                                                                                          
“We examine each day with barely a glance. And say, no, this isn’t the day I’ve been looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for the next, when we are convinced our lives will start for real.”                                                                                                                                                               
Meanwhile, the days go by “perfectly well adjusted, as most days are,” with the right amount of light and dark.                                                                                                                                     

Guess we all should take more time to live life one day at a time and enjoy it for what it is, after all, “every days’ moment is a miracle.”                                                                                                                                       

As we look toward the week of Thanksgiving celebrations, travel safely if you’re on the roads and enjoy the days with family and friends, remembering all for which we ’ve been blessed!                                                                                                                                                                                       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, and we Gunflinters know it, by experiencing “wildlife in the wildlands.”




Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 9, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
November 9, 2018             

It’s Sunday evening as I begin this weeks’ Gunflint scoop, and it appears my winter declaration is panning out sooner than later. It’s snowing.  Rooftops and the ground are turning white and the area is under a winter storm warning. What may happen in our up north atmosphere during the days leading into this second weekend of November remains to be seen.                                                                                                                                                                    
Regardless of the weather situation, we at Wildersmith are ready. Most of us live a life of lists. My 2018 edition has been a long slate of “do this and do that” in preparation for winters journey. Imagine my surprise when suddenly I looked up from all the “doings” and find there is nothing left to cross off. The plow blade is mounted, the snow blower tested positive on the first pull and the snow shovel is in the ready position by the back door. Guess I’ll retire to the workshop for some sawdust production.                                                                                                                                                                        

Meanwhile, with temps around here hanging in the thirties under mostly cloudy days, it has allowed the night time skimming of area ponds and smaller lakes to extend more than a few hours into the next day. Although the early crinkling of ice is far from safe, a few nights into the teens and twenties will soon lock them up for good.                                                                                      
And speaking of area water bodies, they are suddenly filled to the brim. Although precipitation over the last several weeks hasn’t seemed too prolific out this way, guess the persistency has played a role more than suspected.                                                                                                   
A specific example is a wetland along the upper Trail west of the USFS Seagull Guard station. This particular liquid location has taken on the look of a substantial lake. I’ve never observed this wetland area in such a condition before. One might suspect “Beaver and Beaver Construction Co.” may be responsible for work along Larch Creek, thus holding back the rushing water from the highlands, as primary the cause.                                                                                                                                                                             
Beyond our enthusiasm for the pending big snow adventure, excitement reigns boundless around the yard. Deciding bears are likely no longer a threat, I’ve opened our deck-side critter eatery.                                                                                                                                                              
The first morning after our return to standard time found me awake at daybreak and the avian folk in a feeding frenzy. One would have thought it was the morning of “Black Friday” as the mixed flock was seemingly out of control in its assault on the seed tray goodies. Of course, a gang of blue jays was trying to dominate. Thank goodness, a couple of red squirrel air traffic controllers were regulating arrivals and departures enabling the smaller winged beings to land for their share. Such “wild neighborhood “energy is as invigorating for us observers as the winged participants.                                                                                                                                                       
While the migrators continue coming and going, I’ve received a report of first upper Trail pine grosbeak arrivals. The spectacular rosy/pink, cold season, visitors have been seen in the mid-Trail area, and I spotted a few during a recent trek along the Trail.  
At the same time, I’m still observing robins. It would seem they should have been on their way south after the cold of late September and nearly all of October. I hope they don’t get caught with ice on their wing tips, but guess they know what they’re doing.                                                                                                                                                            
With nary a leaf left hanging out his way, the woods are left drab and brown, but one can now see deep into the forest. This being the case, the opportunity to observe things not seen in months is increased considerably.                                                                                                                   
Such was the case on our last trip into Grand Marais when we Smiths’ had the occasion to catch a wolf crossing our path, on its’ way into the woods. Whereas we always know this carnivore gang is out there, we hadn’t seen one in some time. So this sighting was exciting as always, and we’ll keep on watching.                                                                                                                           
While on the subject of wolves, especially as it concerns humans tinkering with the dynamics of natures’ balance, I came upon an insightful writing in a recent edition of the Sierra Magazine. This well-written document by Conor Mihell explores perspectives of re-introducing wolves onto the celebrated Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.                                                         

In substance, it chronicles two differing points of view regarding the attempt to restore balance to predator/prey management with a burgeoning moose population and only two, rather unhealthy, known wolves. Entitled, "A Reasonable Illusion", I would recommend it to all who cherish the wilderness world.
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint, where every day is great, as the “great spirit of the north” is gathering momentum!


Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 2, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint   by     Fred Smith     November 2, 2018    
Gunflint territory greets November with a bit of trepidation. We full-time borderland residents know “Mother Nature” is engaging month eleven as her curtain call for 2018 warm and fuzzies. Following a few sneak previews of winter since late September, this is “her” final warning. Ready set, here we go!                                                                                                                                                 

Although the weather out this way has been on the calm side during recent days, sunshine has remained a rare commodity. Dreariness usually associated with this new month has extended through nearly all of October, this last week included.                                                                                        

Gray skies and a couple soakers have bolstered moisture conditions for things that will grow again next spring but have been more chilling to us two-legged creatures than if it had been snow and in the single digits. With temps hanging in the mid-thirties to mid-forties, it’s been just plain raw outside.                                                                                                                                                                             

I did notice a skim of ice on bodies of water along the Trail one morning when the mercury hovered around the twenty-degree mark, but by afternoon it was gone and has remained in the liquid state as of this scribing. One thing certain is that area lakes, ponds and swamps are on the verge of making “hard water” with temps in the thirties. This is further corroborated in the heavens by Novembers’ Ojibwe, “freezing over” moon, “Gash Kadino Giizis.”                                                                                                                                                        
Speaking of being on the verge, one can never be sure what might happen about now. Remembering last year, the areas first blanket of snow came on October 27 and was still here in early May. On a related snowy note, the area escaped a repeat of the famous 1991 “Halloween Blizzard” as trick & treaters did their begging in damp and cold.                                                                                                                                                                                   
All this seasonal stuff in mind, yours truly is making a couple declarations. First of all, I’m proclaiming it officially winter in spite of what the calendar claims.  We had a day here when my-self-imposed criterion was met as the daytime temp stayed below the freezing mark.                                                                                                                                                                                             
I feel safe in making this statement as other folks out this way are demonstrating they know what’s coming too. Last Saturday volunteers hit the Banadad cross-country ski Trail for a day of cleaning up accumulated summer debris, all in anticipation of the first opportunity to swoosh through the woods. Thanks to all!                                                                                                                             
Another group of beings in tune with the times is those pert little snow buntings. Our winter “welcome wagon” is busy along Trail sides exploding with each approaching vehicle as if to say, look at us, we’re here, it’s that time of year.                                                                                                                                                                                     
My second revelation comes in regard to Americans regaining a degree of common sense by recognizing the time of day by the sun, as the creator intended. Remember, it’s time to “fall back” as we exchange ebony morning gloom for late afternoon darkness. Don’t forget to re-set those clocks before retiring Saturday evening.                                                                                                                  

I’ve not heard of recent bear activity, so I’m presuming they have retreated to dens for their long winter snooze. Following suit, chippies, skunks, and woodchucks have not been seen of late either. However, “Brother Fox” knows when it has a good thing going around Wildersmith and is still hanging out.                                                                                                                 

Meanwhile, out this way, silence is golden as were the leaves but a few short weeks ago. Even the wind was down to near zero last Sunday and Monday with lake surfaces like mirrors.                                                 

About the only noise of consequence was occasional tweeting and fluttering of some hungry Chick-a-Dees. The quiet was pleasant, but at the same time, noting such silence, summoned a sense of uneasiness for some unexplained reason.                                                                                           

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the forest has opened with transparency. Get out and VOTE, it’s your right to be heard!



Superior National Forest Update - November 2, 2018

Superior National Forest Update with Visitor Information Specialist, Renee Frahm.
November 2, 2018