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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:
Vixen licking her chops - photo by TambakoTheJaguar via Flickr

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 7

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
December 6, 2019    

Border country, like the rest of the universe, has turned the last page of chapter 2019. And here we are with verse one of December already etched into the annals of time.                                            

The past Gunflint weekend was spent on the edge of our seats with all the hoopla of a white Armageddon. But alas, the far north of Minnesota was spared. It is realistic knowing weather predicting is far from a pure science, but once again, we Gunflinters were tricked with another “cry of wolf” gone bust.                                                                                                                                  

While areas to the south got buried, and even though our skies looked the part, the Wildersmith neighborhood and on up the Trail, received barely a dusting. About the only thing positive about the scenario was neighbors and yours truly didn’t have to activate the snow shovel.                                                                                                                                                                                     

In the meantime, real Gunflint cold is still on sabbatical. Temps have remained relatively mild out this way. Thinking back to last year at this time, Gunflint Lake put on its solid winter coat on December 6 under subzero readings.                                                                                                                                    
Gunflint Lake tried on her first icy fitting last Monday morning when still air and a wave of just below zero dipped down from Canada. But by days end, the frigidity gave way to sun and lite winds, as the skim turned to ripples. This suggests the grand old glacial basin is ready to get it on at the next shivering opportunity.                                                                                                            

When such an “op” might happen could be a ways off as my daily check of temps north to Alaska indicates there is presently no serious polar air in North America. Perhaps we shouldn’t write an epitaph for “old man winter” yet. Maybe the Russians are just holding him hostage in Siberia, and the Gunflint could still be in the picture for a winter weather adventure, or two.                                                                                        
People activity remains quiet in the upper Trail. However, I see that cross country ski Trails are being groomed on what is a fairly shallow base. So swishing through the beautiful forest should be picking up. But power sledding is limited by snow depth and trail connections across questionable lake ice.                                                                                                                                                                    
However, the Trail will come alive late Saturday afternoon in the mid-Trail area with the Holiday gathering at the Schaap Community Center. Gunflint friends and neighbors are invited to come out of the woods for the cheer beginning at 4:00 pm and lasting until 7:00 pm. The GTVFD will be providing everything but the conversation, so don’t miss out on the Gunflint Community spirit!                                                                                                                                                    

Another event reminder finds the Borealis Chorale and Orchestra Christmas Concert continuing its annual North Shore tradition. Performances take place this coming Sunday and Monday evenings at 7:00 pm in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. Some of our Gunflint Trail neighbors are included in the cast of more than 100 County residents.                                                                                                                                 
Colonel, the Fox, lit up our Thanksgiving Day with a visit. It seems she is becoming very attached to peaceful and abundant Wildersmith surroundings. Yes, it’s a foxy lady! Guess there’s going to have to be a moniker revision, any suggestions?                                                                                                                   

She was discovered in the AM cuddled up near the woodshop door, shortly before the Smith’s departed for Thanksgiving festivities at the “Congo” Church in the village.  I was well prepared and doled out a few poultry morsels and left-over fries, and she was still gnawing on the goodies as we drove up the driveway.                                                                                                                                                                       

Our late afternoon return found a furry surprise nestled in a snow bank not far from where we had last seen her. We raised her from napping as she uncoiled, gave a big yawn and stood on all fours for a stretch. It’s obvious she had spent most of the day anticipating our return. Not wanting to disappoint after the long wait, the breakfast fare was repeated as an early supper.                                                                                                                                                              
The charm of her beauty and mystery in those piercing gold eyes is a captivating experience. I’m sure there will be more chapters in this “wild neighborhood” saga.                                                                                                                                                                 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, and our natural world can be up-lifting with the simplest of wilderness engagements.                                                                                                                                                       


Pine Marten in a Pan by F Smith

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 22

Wildersmith on the Gunflint by Fred Smith
November 22, 2019

Gunflint times have made a big turn about as it relates to winter conditions. Our frigid weather of the past month or so eased its grip. Temps in this neighborhood climbed back to more normal last weekend. In fact, the thirties seem pretty balmy compared to the frosty single digits and below since Halloween.                                                                                                                                                       
The Northland has gone through another week of November gray. With minimal peeks of “Sol”, monochromatic is the word of the month. Nevertheless, shades of slate have their place in the universe and can be beautiful too. There are always happenings in the Gunflint wilderness to brighten one’s cloudy day.                                                                                                                                                           

As an example, a couple days prior to winters’ retreat, “Jack Frost” paid his first visit to the Mile O Pine. It was during one of those minus something nights.  “He” dabbed his brush in steamy moisture rising off the Gunflint Gal and dispatched it upon every needle of the shoreline pine forest, as nobody else can. There’s no way to represent in words the majesty of “his” intricate crystal making skills, you just have to be here at the right moment.                                                                                                                         

It’s on a night like the one mentioned above when Gunflint Lake usually sets to making ice for the first time. However, winds were not cooperating this time around so the “old Gal” remains sloshing against the granite along the Wildersmith shore.                                                                                                            

Of the other big lakes up the Trail, I’m told quiet bays are iced over, but main bodies remain like the Gunflint. I did see that Poplar Lake (also one of the larger ones) looks to have put on her hard water coat, as has Mayhew, Birch and Swamper along the Trail.                                                                                                                 

Back to our pre-Thanksgiving warm-up, a good share of our meager snow cover turned to mush and “drippyness.” At the same time, what snow remains is wet and slick as grease on driveways and back country roads. So the path of egress from Wildersmith is already an early winter nightmare.                                                                                                                                                                     

Some wet white was added last Saturday and Sunday evenings in places along the Trail, but was barely measureable, and may be gone by the airing of this weeks’ scoop. So we’ll be starting over with the white carpeting process when the heavy laden clouds let loose.                                                          

This episode of sloppiness surely has negative tones for area businesses having hopes of providing cross-country skiing opportunities by turkey day. Based on the area’s early season “Biboon” experiences, it seemed like a sure thing, but at this keyboarding, skiing is on hold. There’s just no outguessing what “Mother Natures” going to dish up.                                                                                                                                                                

In the midst of this cold reversal, an old friend returned to Wildersmith. One of the pine marten clan stopped by last Saturday evening. It either happened by mistakenly, or a whiff of poultry essence wafted through the woods enticing its nasal senses.                                                                          

The Smith’s actually discovered its’ arrival by mistake. Turning on the deck side light for a weather check, we found the furry critter curled up relaxing in the birds’ winter watering vessel. Luckily the unit was dry, or this could have been a dampening welcome.                                           

We’re confident it’s a returnee because the poultry morsels were missing next morning from the martens’ only feeding cache. So every one in our “wild neighborhood” is now accounted for.                                                                                                                                                                    

News from the Gunflint Trail Historical Society reports work on the installation of an “Allsky” camera is about to become a reality. In partnership with University of Minnesota Duluth, the project has been in the works for several months with leadership and guidance from Joel Halvorson of UMD and Gunflint Lake.                                                                                                           

When the unit is up and running, the world will be able to view this level one dark sky region 24-7 from either the Chik-Wauk website or a link with the planetarium on the UMD Campus. This is a part of an evolving outreach relationship with UMD’s College of Environmental Education to expand broader exploration of the natural world around the Chik-Wauk Museum Campus. Think of the potential for Aurora Borealis observations and other celestial wonders with a cyber click!                                                                                                                                                    

When transmission is available, I‘ll be broadcasting the heavenly news, so stay tuned.                                  

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as adventures of the natural world captivate when least expected!


Horses photo by Justin Leniger on Unsplash

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 15

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
November 15, 2019    
My how the days fly by! The “freezing over” moon is waning now as the northland reaches the half-way point of month eleven

Conditions were a little crisp around the edges with temps hanging out near the zero mark as the “big cheese” rose over Gunflint territory last Monday evening. The full moon arisin’ was another lunar spectacle while dancing in and out of the clouds above Wildersmith

Added to the charm of the moons’ big November night, squalls of snowflakes twinkled down through the lunar bar of light, as if heaven spilled a bag of stardust. This scene brought back memories of a sleigh ride with friends several years ago over at Okontoe with the late Mark Patton at the reins. Those flakes were falling in like fashion, with nary an adjective doing justice to the romance of the moment.

It’s truly quiet in the Wildersmith neighborhood. Not only are there few folks moving about, with not many deer left in the upper Gunflint, the opening day of the firearms season saw little to no blaze orange hanging out in tree stands or crouching like a bush.

While the long expedition of winter is ahead, the usual November gales have yet to disturb the stillness of the forest. Cold air continues to grip these parts as the ice making business is flourishing, but the big lakes are still rockin’ and a rollin’

Meanwhile little winter precipitation has been added to the white landscape for over a week. Several days with a dusting here or there has accumulated to maybe an inch at best around the Smith place, and a broom easily moved it aside

The puny accumulations have been just enough to cover critter tracks from the previous day. In some ways, regardless of fresh snow amounts, it’s always an adventure each morning to check out tracks of night time visitors

Tracing the mystery of an animals’ mission can pretty much be boiled down to either eating or escaping being eaten and this can lead to uncountable passage prowlings. Always makes me wonder how and where each ended up, in triumph or tragedy

I am intrigued by the serpentine path of fox tracks in the snow as they meander from one side of the Mile O Pine to the other during its’ nightly jaunt. Whereas, it’s distant Canine cousin, the wolf, pretty much strides straight arrow on its’ mission of seeking an edible. This was the case just a couple days ago as I followed tracks of each down the road on my daily mail run

While most days of Novembers first two weeks have been clogged with clouds, a couple days recently have seen bits of sunshine.  Such has perked up even more avian activity at the seed trough. The gang of blue jays has grown to annoying numbers and I’m excited their “whiskey jack” relatives have found their way back.

In spite of Thanksgiving being a couple weeks away for us two legged beings, the days of cold season feasting are well underway for the “wild neighborhood” folks around Wildersmith. I’ve increased my menu selections to include homemade peanut butter cakes, canned frozen
bacon grease and days’ old bread cubes. These items have sure excited all attendees.

I watched the other day as a couple “whiskey jacks” took turns with their beaks buried in the fat can for hours on end, nearly consuming one-half the fourteen ounce container. There’s no way they shouldn’t have been sick for days, but they were back to finish it off the next morning.

Most hibernators have become inconspicuous, but a friend recently reported one such rooting through the snow in a roadside ditch. Apparently it isn’t quite nap time for this stinky black and white striped varmint.

I’m sorry to report the loss of a Gunflint neighbor. Word has been received on the passing of Joan Elbers on November 4th, in Houston, Texas. Joan and her family (the Swenson’s) first came to the North Shore in the 1930’s. In 1959, the Swenson’s established cabin residence in the summer home group on Gunflint Lake. Since 1990, Joan and husband Gerald had a cabin on Gunflint Narrows. The Gunflint lake Property Owners and the Gunflint Community extend sincere condolences to Gerald, her family and friends

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the image of winter comes more into focus each day!


Wildersmith (375x500).jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 8

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
November 8, 2019    
The last chapter of 2019 is unfolding, and the Ojibwe, “freezing over” moon, unquestionably defines the theme. Our last few days along the Gunflint Trail have been cold with temperatures locked below freezing.                                                                                                                                                                        
Although not too unusual, the shivery conditions have crept onto the scene quicker than some had hoped. We commence a long, beautiful time, of stillness in the forest.                                                                                                                                                                  

The earth up this way is now frozen to about four to six inches, and going deeper each day, so it’s now able to support snow. This neighborhood had a thin layer of white as I set to keying this weeks’ scoop and has added more since. At the same time, water on smaller inland bodies has been under a “Zamboni” spell since our last meeting on the radio.                                                                                                                                                       

With exception of the big lakes, ice has skimmed in varying thicknesses, smooth as glass. Barring a heavy dose of snow anytime soon, rough seas and/or a warm-up, hard water should grow to be safe for human usage perhaps by Thanksgiving. I can see water solidarity being a skaters’ delight based on current surface observations.                                                                                                                                                                                   

The onset of “Biboon” (winter in Ojibwe) up the Gunflint has shown dramatic changes. Visitor traffic has suddenly come to a halt as most businesses have closed down for this shoulder season. About the only excitement up or down the Trail are “white knuckle” navigating of Byway slippery spots, and roadside explosions from hosts of “winter welcoming” snow buntings. Oh yes, there’s an occasional critter crossing as well.                                                                                   

Speaking of critters, on a recent trip up to Trails’ end I met up with a dapper cross-fox. I had crossed paths with one up on the Sag Lake Trail this past summer, but it was in motley summer attire. It’s hard telling if this was the same I met earlier. Regardless, this one was outfitted in regal winter fleece, a mixture of black, silver and rust, with a luxurious fluffy tail. Truly a striking example of nature’s wonder!                                                                                                                                                                 

Another report came to me, regarding a border country battle for the attention of the opposite gender. Somewhere up in this neck of the woods two Bull Moose were observed in an antler to antler confrontation. Other than hearing of this happening, I have no word as to a winner being declared.                                                                                                                                                                             

Betting that bears have turned in for the winter, I have commenced opening the deck side feeding station. Within minutes, “wild clamor” must have echoed through the forest on the “moccasin telegraph.” Chickadees, nuthatches, juncos and blue jays swooped in and have been here non-stop ever since.                                                                                                                                                                          
Of course my ever present squirrelly friends sprung out of the trees too. There is frequent mayhem for the mini-red rodents as they nervously try to minimize jaybird access. It looks to be a busy winter at the Wildersmith seed cafeteria, and I’m anxious for return of those whiskey jacks and pine marten cuties.                                                                                                                                                                                   
While nearly every Gunflinter seems to have a fox tale to tell, a fellow recently shared one of his, after reading of the return of my furry red friend.                                                                                              

As the story goes, this guy and his family raise free range chickens. Among them, a rooster is “Chair-chicken of the Board.” It dictates control over most all things chickens do, including hen scratching areas around the yard.                                                                                                                                                     
Mr. Rooster is quite territorial and scurries around keeping others of the flock out of his pecking territory. Further, it gets after several household cats too. Guess the cats fear this feathered bully too.                                                                                                                                                                       
A while back, this ruffian cockerel discovered a fox in his part of the yard. Perhaps mistaking foxy for one of the felines, it decided to assert his jurisdiction by lighting out after this uninvited visitor.                                                                                                                                                                
Now the fox was having none of this, and reversed pursuit on this rascal rooster. The chase was short as this barnyard fowl obviously “bit off more than it could chew.” In fact, it became the “chewee”, He’ll strut and crow his stuff no more, a final lesson learned.                                                                                          

As in many lifetime happenings, for beings of all species, timing is everything. The fox didn’t even have to get into the hen house for its chicken dinner while for the rooster, neither timing nor judgement favored him on what turned out to be a bad feather day.                                                                                                                                       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, in the land of whispering pines!


Fox by David Grinstead

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - November 1

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
November 1, 2019
What happened to October? November has suddenly opened the gates to our next thirty days.  The reality of month eleven finds Mother Nature giving us her final warning, and the warmer season has made its’ final curtain call.                                                                                            

The “gal” in charge of all things natural has been busy checking things off her list. She too has been “getting ready.” Three items of current note include:  golden needles trickling down from those beautiful Tamarak torches, the first skimming of ice on ponds and wetland swamps along the Trail and this weekend, she takes back control of the timepiece. Don’t forget to “fall back” before retiring Saturday night as we go back to “nature’s time.”                                                                                                                                        

Meanwhile, her kin, “old man winter,” dropped another dose of the white stuff on parts of the Trail late last week. Although it was much lighter than the first attempt, it made for winter driving conditions along the Byway. Good planning on my part had winter wheels in position where the rubber meets the road. Since that episode, things have vanished back to normal. Nevertheless, I’m declaring winter official as the temp has remained below freezing in this neighborhood for few days (my self-contrived criteria for such).                                                                                                                                                               

With exception of inland lakes yet to freeze, I’d say the rituals for dealing with character of the next six months are in order. In fact, taking this “getting ready” to the next level, organizational planning is already under way for the first big snow activity up the Trail. Yep, the call is out for volunteers to help administer the annual Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Races. Director Cathy Quinn is hard at work on the event which will be held on January 11th. If residents and others didn’t get their “E” mail volunteer sign-up notice, Cathy needs to hear from you, 387-3352.                                                                                                                                                                               

One day last week, as I was finishing up the snow blade installation, I had one of those eerie feelings I wasn’t alone. This turned out to be no Halloween trick as I puttered around putting tools away.                                                                                                                                                                            
As this feeling dogged me a little, I started looking around. Sure enough, my hunch soon became a reality, and it wasn’t “Sasquatch.” The friendly fox that buddied around with me late last winter came out of the woods and meandered down to see what was going on. I soon confirmed this was definitely the one AWOL, as it was quite familiar with the process to get a free hand-out.                                                                                                                                                               
With my furry red pal right behind me, I trudged down the drive way to my wood shop where treats are kept in the freezer. Mr. Fox has a good memory and was not bashful as it came right up to the door threshold.                                                                                                                                                                     

The hungry critter caught me unprepared for early season hand-outs, but a couple frozen Ciscos seemed like a good offering. I tossed them out on the ground, but after a little sniffing, the Fox kind of turned up its nose.  Guess it may not have been in the mood for frozen fish at this particular moment.                                                                                                                                                                 

I next turned to a bag of old frozen French fries I’d been saving for my Whiskey Jack visitors. Offering a few of these morsels was “just what the Doctor ordered.” Foxy scarfed them down like a hungry teenager at McDonalds. I’ve got to assume it was the greasy aroma and not a need to load up on Carbs. Anyway, after a second helping of FF, it trotted away into obscurity.                                                                                                                                                        

Apparently, it came back later, as next morning the Ciscos were gone as well, or maybe some other craving varmint sniffed them out in the darkness. To assure me he favors my kindness, it was back a couple days later.  So I have the responsibility of “pet-manship” in the cold days ahead.                                                                                                                                                                                      

I don’t know how Halloween went for area ghosts and Goblins, but there was nothing scary around WTIP this past week. There were no tricks, but plenty of treats as new and renewing members showed their continuing loyalty during the “Fearless Radio” autumn support campaign.                                                                                                                              

The Board of Directors, management staff and uncountable volunteers cannot say enough in thanking the wonderful family of WTIP Radio listeners.                                   

Together we did it, made the goal! With all the gracious support, WTIP will continue to bring you the best Community radio has to offer!                                                                                                        

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, and some are even better than great!


Frosted Trees - Martine Lambrechts

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - October 25

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
October 25, 2019    

The downfall of summer, along the Gunflint Trail, is characterized by the waning Ojibwe, “falling leaves” moon. In fact most deciduous tree branches are barren and lurking overhead with an eeriness of pre-Halloween fright. It’s as if those scraggily arms might just reach down and grab you from the landscape.                                                                                                                                                                                

Speaking of these sometimes scary occasions, yours truly had a spooky happening a while back that is fitting to share during the WTIP “Fearless Radio” membership drive. The episode took place after my recent winterization of neighborhood wild fire sprinkler systems.                                                                                                    

In order to complete this task I have to go into the Lake. This requires getting into my wet suit in order to deal with the now frigid lake water. This is all simple enough, and when the job is done the suit is rinsed out and hung up to dry outside my back door. I don’t give the process much thought as the black garment usually takes a couple days to dry.                                                                                                                     

Now if one gives the scene a nonchalant glance, it appears like a headless person lurking there. I’ll often walk by the empty ebony garment several times before it gets dry enough for indoor storage.                                         

The drift of my tale is revealed after my first hanging the suit up a few days ago. My wife summoned me to run an errand out to the wood shop, whereby I dashed out the door at around twilight time. Without giving this any consideration, out I flew, and there was this ominous being sneakily hanging right in front of me.                                                                                                                                  

To say I was taken aback for a moment is an understatement! My heart jumped in fright at the sight of this shadowy being, a “Sasquatch” or “Big Foot” look-alike at the very least. The breathless gasps relaxed as reality regained a grip. It seems laughable now, but it was an uncanny, wilderness moment.                                                                                                                                                                                     

As October fades, the unexpected ghost of winter has departed the territory, for the time being. Since the spotty winter storm of two weekends ago, warmer temps, even including a couple sunny days, have been energizing out here in the wild land as we Gunflinters check off the “getting ready” chores. The list for yours truly is down to less than the fingers on one hand, and among them a cord or so of firewood left to stack in the shed.                                                                                                                                   

Speaking of the storm, a narrow band of about twenty some miles was in the bullseye. Barely a trace accumulated around Tuscarora Outfitters on Round Lake, to upwards of eighteen inches deep in the woods in the mid-Trail snow zone. Closer to Wildersmith, our measurement pales in comparison to the foot piled up just over a couple ridges to the south at my neighbors on Loon Lake. “Mother Nature” and “old man winter” operate in funny ways and on their own terms!                                                                                         

The few days of “Moose Madness” weekend featured some actual moose appearances for a few Trail residents and visitors. The Smith’s were also among those treated to an Alces-alces moment. A young Bull ambled down the Trail in front of us one evening while another couple shared the siting of a big cow near the Trail/Moose Pond Dr. intersection. Yet another was said to have been seen on the South Gunflint Lake road.                                                                                                                                                                              

While I’m not hearing of too much bear activity in this neighborhood, the Smith’s did cross paths with one of the jet black growlers a few days ago.  And, some darkness hour travels have provided some golden/green eyed glimpses from roadside ditches of fox on the prowl.                                                                        

In closing this week, the voice of “Fearless Radio” is screeching for listener support during the days of this fall membership campaign. There is nothing tricky about WTIP as the station is the real thing, offering the best of information and entertainment. To keep this broadcast endeavor alive and well requires sustaining financial commitments from many sources, the most important of which is our listener members.                                                                                                                                                                           
So the hope is all will open their Halloween cache, and treat WTIP by re-upping or joining a new with your autumn assurance. The current drive lasts until noon on Monday, but don’t delay! Call in with your pledge, 387-1070 or toll free @ 1-800-473-9847; or click and pledge at; or stop by the station in person, 1712 West Highway 61.                                                                                                                    

The future of your Community Radio station depends on “we,” and as the song lyrics proclaim, “you plus me, equals “we.” Thanks so much in advance for stepping up!                                                                                                                            

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as starlit heavens meet woods and water.


Grouse Photo by Andy Ellena.JPG

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - October 4

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
October 4, 2019

Enter October! Autumn is full speed ahead. The month of the Ojibwe, “falling leaves” moon is right on track with sights and scents of this marvelous time in border country. There are not enough descriptors to fully illustrate the grace of all natural goings-on about us.                                      

An example of such was the case during a recent, out the window observation on a dismal morning. I couldn’t help but notice the profound beauty in the gold and green leaves still attached in the distant tree tops. While “old Sol” was totally redacted, the brightness of the leafy array still glistened as if the sun was beaming through the forest. What a natural means of chasing the gloom away!                                                                                                                                                                     

Aside from colorful tokens taking an earthly position on the landscape, the Wildersmith neighborhood tinkered with freezing temps a few days ago. Daytimes have since cooled, making a compelling case for heat from the wood burning stove. It’s hard to argue, but there is nothing like the warmth from a flickering fire, in an iron box, to warm the soul.                                                               

Hence the seasonal character of wood smoke wafting from chimneys along back country roads harkens with nostalgia and romance of days long ago.                                                                                                                                                                             

Add to this aromatic essence, the charm of a walk in the woods, or going about one’s pre-winter chores and you have a recipe which would be magic if it could be sealed in a bottle. I for one am captured by the scent of “Dagwagin” (fall in Ojibwe). Damp earth and decaying flora mingle to wake up the senses, issuing the call of Nature’s final warm season chapter.                                                                                         
This natural issuance of colder tidings to come was further confirmed last weekend.  My good neighbor and his buddies from metropolis came over to help bring the boat and dock ashore to its winter resting place. I didn’t check the lake water temp, but even in my wet suit, the Gunflint liquid got my attention. Thanks to these steadfast fellows, I can check this item off the “getting ready” list.                                                                                                                                                                                

The same crew spent some time in the territory, searching for our Minnesota “chicken birds.” While the companionship of hunting in this great outdoors was great, the actual shooting was not so good. Only one grouse was taken for all their stomping around.                                                                                      
They did find there is at least one more grouse out there, as a digital shot was taken of one in an unlikely place, where it was dangerous to shoot. See their proof of such in my website column, under the community voices menu at                                                                                                                                                           

However, their time was well spent in another aspect as they spotted a few moose, two of which were bulls in full head dress. How appropriate with county wide “Moose Madness” just weeks away. So the energy and excitement of hunting was not a total loss.                                                                                                                                                               

Engaging things are still happening at Chik-Wauk. Though the season is winding down toward closing on October 20th, there is plenty to learn and observe with indoor exhibits and especially, out of doors along the hiking trails.                                                                                                                                                                                      

Folks should mark their calendars for Saturday October 19th as a special event is scheduled in the Nature Center on MEA weekend.                                                                                                                 

Travis Novitsky will be there to share “Images and Stories of Adventures under the Night Sky.” Travis is a life-long resident of the north shore of Lake Superior and a citizen of the Grand Portage Anishinabe Nation. A self-taught nature and wildlife photographer, his favorite subject is the night sky. For over twenty years, he’s recorded starry nights. I’m sure, “The sight of stars make him dream”, as the glittering universe did for Vincent-vanGogh.                                                                                                                               

The program will commence at 2:00 pm, under the panoramic starlit dome provided by the University of Minnesota Duluth, with professional commentary and assistance from GTHS volunteer Joel Halvorson. This is another Chik-Wauk program you won’t want to miss!                                   

On one more note from the North Country, and it’s kind of a “believe it, or not” revelation. A neighbor gal down the road reports she found, and picked some blueberries last Sunday. Yes, heading into October, fresh blue gems! How could they have been missed by hungry bears?                                                                                                                                                                            

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with uncountable natural bounty!


Photo by Phyllis Sherman

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - September 27

Wildersmith on the Gunflint by Fred Smith
September 27, 2019    
As I’ve been observing goings-on this time of year, I suddenly came to realize another anniversary of scribing Gunflint happenings has come and gone. It seems unimaginable I’m entering year eighteen of this weekly sharing of news and views, and it’s been a great run!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
This being said, I’m trekking on looking for more to share of upper Gunflint Trail happenings for this great community radio resource.                                                                                                                               

Its’ no surprise this autumnal adventure likens to the nickname of “fall.” Fall is an understatement, as I’ve watched the natural world in the Wildersmith neighborhood since we last met. Routines of September are literally “falling” in showery gusts, and we’re just days into the official season.                                                                                                                                                                                   
Leaves that were sparkling in varying hues, just seven days ago, are falling by my windows, as if they were flakes of December. In concert, yearling needles have disembarked from high in the white pines, blanketing the earth like the first skiff of snow, and scraggily fronds from the white cedar forest are stacking on roof top edges like February ice dams.                                                   

As this time of colorful excitement reigns over the woods, the medium of earthly texture is also one to behold. The next edition is layering up on thousands of previous applications. From a mixture of leafy roadside windrows to the velvet soft carpet of tawny coniferous needles, ground level has cushy allure that is easily over looked with all eyes focused in the tree tops. Oh how we love this time of year!                                                                                                                                                

Meanwhile, the weather outside has been less than frightful. A string of “Indian Summer” day’s cheered folks up after a series of endless, dank segments prevailed for weeks in August and earlier in our month nine. A couple days even turned sticky for the moose and me, but temps have cooled some along the Mile O Pine as we prepare to open October for business.                                                                              

An unusual critter happening was reported just days ago. Whereas housing is an ongoing concern for all beings of creation, one residential resource recently became a multiple use unit over on Hungry Jack Lake.                                                                                                                                     

It’s seems a Loon nesting platform which had been vacated by its intended inhabitants apparently drew the attention of an inquisitive rodent engineer. Lakeside residents were surprised last week to see a Beaver had climbed aboard this floating real estate and found it to meet requirements for a little R & R. The warm sun was quite inviting as the animal spent time re-arranging the digs so it could take a snooze. Guess it spent considerable time enjoying a stopover at this mini island resort. The flat tailed critter found this special place so nice, it made a return visit this past Tuesday.                                                                                                   

Confirmation of this event can be found on my website column at and scrolling down on the Community Voices menu.                                                                                                 

Another mysterious event took place right here at Wildersmith. The beginning of this north woods episode dates back to America’s birthday. Two small decorator flags were put out for the observance of July 4th. The flag sticks were stuck into flower planters where all was beautiful and patriotic for several days.                                                                                                                                                     
Little attention was paid the red, white and blue until a couple weeks’ later, when one flag came up missing. Living many miles off the beaten path this seemed odd, as there are seldom any human visitors down this way who might have had a hand in this larcenous incident, and why would the culprit take a flag? Several searches were conducted around the yard but to no avail and eventually called off.                                                                                                                                 

Then just a week or so ago, the tip of some colorful material was found to be peeking out from a needled patch down toward the lake. Close examination uncovered the missing banner. Except for being a bit faded, it was intact with the support stick. Happy days were here again, and it was replaced from where it had disappeared.                                                                                    

The oddity of this activity was soon to be repeated. Two days after being put back in place, it was gone again. The search resumed, and it did not take long before the missing was found, again.                                                                                                                                                                        
Now the mystery remains as to who is behind these events. Suspected repeat offenders include a squirrel, a crow, a raven or possibly a blue jay, all of whom have been hanging out at various times of late.                                                                                                                                      

Imagine the scene with anyone of my suspects taking off with “old Glory” in a beak, talons or teeth, seems crazy!  Perhaps a “critter cam” is likely to be the next step in closing this wilderness investigation.                                                                                                                                                  
One more note from the “wild neighborhood”, it’s blaze orange time. The quest for grouse and bear is in full swing. Be seen and be safe when trekking in the woods. And speaking of hunting bears, keep in mind bears are hunting too. They’re trying to pack on the pounds, so avoid possible conflicts by not tempting them through careless human behavior.                                                                                                 

In the meantime, For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, and mysterious things can happen!


Mushrooms Photo by Fran Smith.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - September 20

Wildersmith on the Gunflint      by    Fred Smith
September 20, 2019    
The Gunflint will be in full Autumnal splendor within days, if it’s not already here in some neighborhoods. After several weeks of cool, cloudy and wet, the territory has finally broken out of the rut with some warmth and sunshine over the past few days.                                                                               

The brightness couldn’t have come at a better time to shine a spotlight on our leafy color show. Recent travels about the territory are simply remarkable.  The solar array makes the forest gold, orange and scarlet. It illuminates to nearly blinding luster.                                                                                         

Pair this radiance with the essence of earthly dampness and one has the recipe for incredible wilderness beauty and romance of this changing season. Speaking of this timely changing, Monday marks the moment when “Sol” is making the one day heavenly stop at due east and west.                                                                                                                                                                  

Where have all the days gone? It seems as though we were just celebrating the Equinox of Spring and here it is six months later! Whereas the Vernal time was exciting in its promise of re-birth, these Autumnal moments are those to cherish as well. Hope everyone enjoys the show as there’s a new act every day.                                                                                                                                                
I don’t know if the following tidbit means anything in regard to weather predicting lore, but I have discovered three Tamaraks, along the upper Trail past the Magnetic Trail head, have turned golden already. Since this is a late October ritual, makes one wonder if this is a subtle message. Guess we’d all better get chugging on pre-winter chores!                                                                                                                                                                    
A couple fall samplings are shared in my WTIP website column this week, check them out with a click on the Community Voices section and scroll down.                                                                    

Things are simply mushrooming throughout the forest. There may have been better years for fungi growth in the past, but I can’t remember one that equals the prolific yield this season. I don’t know my mushrooms, but the varieties appear to be uncountable.                                                                                                 

And if this fungus among us is not enough, a glance up into a Mountain Ash tree at the burgeoning crop of red berries finds them weighing heavily on often tender branches. A report or two have indicated branches and young trees giving up under this berry burden. This will make it easy for bears, but it’s going to take a lot of cedar wax wings to finish the hanging harvest.                                                                                                                                                                                       

As summer green is fading fast, it is interesting to note, the hardiness of Black eyed Susan blooms. Without question, they must be the toughest flowers in the territory. They started appearing in late July to early August and they are still going strong. They are currently paired with purple asters along backcountry roads as the last summer floral decorations.                                                                                                                                                                                 
A couple stopped by the Chik-Wauk Nature Center last Saturday and shared seeing a different kind of Loon. With trusty camera phone in hand, they recorded its presence on the bay near Seagull Outfitters. Doing a little research with USFS Biologist Peg Robertson, who happened to be present, it was determined this was a yellow-billed Loon, quite different from our iconic Common Loon.                                                                                                                                                                                     
Such yellow bills are occasionally observed in Lake Superior during migration from their summertime Tundra residence. This one, an apparent loner, must have experienced a GPS malfunction in order to be seen a bit off course, over fifty miles from the big lake.                                                                                                                                       

A reminder, Saturday’s program at the Chik-Wauk Nature Center features Chel Anderson. Chel will be sharing her natural world expertise on the subject of Beavers, and their importance to the ecosystem.                                                                                                                                            

The program will begin at 2:00pm. All are invited, and perhaps plan to arrive in time to enjoy a hike on the colorful Chik-Wauk Trails. Next to winter, this is the coolest time of year in the upper Trail, no bugs and unequaled natural radiance.                                                                                                                                     

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as nature is always happening!