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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Contributor(s): 
Fred Smith
Fred Smith, a native Iowan re-located to the wilderness of border country at the end of the century, has been writing of happenings in the upper Gunflint territory for going on eight years, first with the local paper, and since December 2008 for WTIP North Shore Community Radio. Fred feels life in the woods is extraordinary, and finds reporting on it to both a reading and listening audience a pleasurable challenge. Since retirement as a high school athletic administrator from Ankeny High School, Ankeny Iowa in 1999, the pace of Fred's life has become less hectic but nevertheless, remains busy in new ways with many volunteer activities along the Trail. Listen at your convenience by subscribing to a podcast.


Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

 


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Wildersmith March 25

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Gunflint Territory celebrated March’s supermoon even though it had to burn through the clouds last Saturday night. The effect in the upper Trail was not as had been expected. Nevertheless, it was still brilliant on the breast of our old fallen snow.

Meanwhile Zigwan (spring) was ushered in the next day in a somewhat unsettled fashion, with a thin blanket of overnight snow for openers, then rain during mid-day and sleet in the evening with temps hanging right around the freezing mark. Thus, the equilibrium of border country’s vernal equinox was dampened with cool gray.

Since this is pretty good hiking country, it should be no wonder that the Old Man of the North took a hike last week. Yes, Mr. Winter simply threw in the towel and left us with dripping rooftops and slush-clogged roads for several days in succession.

We have yet to get serious with mud on the Mile O’ Pine as the accumulated snow pack is so thick that the warm temps just let us sink into deep mushy ruts. The slippery snow-cone consistency has made maneuvering one’s vehicle challenging. Adding to our slip-sliding along, a bit of nighttime refreezing has complicated any thought of easy travel for the next few weeks. I’m certain that the same is true for all back country roads in this neck of the woods.

As certain as the swallows return to Capistrano, the crows have come back to our wilderness. The raucous jet-black scavengers are hanging out by the dozens at Wildersmith. With the murderous congregating, there’s not a moment of silence around our place. The baritone chatter goes on from dawn ‘til dusk.

While the early warmth grew last week, my daily trips to the mailbox afforded the discovery of pussy willow buds. The fuzzy tips are just beginning to break out of their comfy husks, and if spring bloomed more this past week, I’m betting that there’ll be a mass popping.

I’ve observed another sign of the times in the deer that browse about the yard. A number of the bucks have swollen foreheads. When they clean up spilled sunflower seeds under our deck, they’re close enough that, through the window, one can readily see the swelling lumps that will soon become velvet tines and, in a few short months, their crown of masculine status.

Speaking of deer, there is one doe here about that has something for which she can be thankful. That is life!

She has a rather significant bare scrape on her side with two puncture marks in the center. This surely must be the result of an up-close encounter with the local wolf pack. One cannot say for sure that this was the cause, but if it was a near-miss wolf attack, the predator got a big swatch of hide. The wound looks to be healing, but I wonder if this little gal has some flashbacks about nearly being on the fast food menu.

On a final note, to get the full effect, I’ve got to share a happening that is just one of those you just had to be there episodes.

Last week, the Smiths were casually driving to Grand Marais. Somewhere along the Trail in that 40 mile per hour zone, between Windigo and Norwester, out of the clear blue, something crashed onto our windshield, nearly startling us to death.

Thank goodness the splat happened near the window edge where it had some structural support, otherwise it may have brought the glass into our laps. Anyway, the point of impact was a gooey mess of bloody mangled body tissue, no feathers mind you, so it couldn’t have been a bird.

With no humans around and nothing observable in the rear view mirrors, we continued on to town. Once in town, the stop was made to clean off the now-dried-on mess. To loosen the glop, it took considerable scrubbing with one of those service station window squeegees, and as I did so, a distinct smell of fish suddenly permeated my nostrils.

To say the least, this was a bit fishy? The smelly mash apparently had careened from the heavens and, as bad luck would have it, found the Smith vehicle.

One can only guess at how this happened since we were some distance from the Poplar Lake shoreline at the time, so it was no fish flopping out of the lake (it’s still a huge ice cake anyhow).

My only clue is that this was a scavenged item from a fish cleaning site. I’m guessing that an eagle was in the process of transporting its afternoon snack and must have lost its grip from high overhead. You can imagine the speed at which this piece of finny was falling. Coupled with my 40m mph, it’s a wonder the squashing impact wasn’t worse.

Considering the chances of such an occurrence, maybe one in billions, what luck! It’s about like me winning the Powerball (then again, maybe I ought to go buy a ticket). So that’s the story, a fish in the face if you will, without exaggeration, one that got away and then didn’t get away!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the wilderness transition!

Airdate: March 25, 2011

Photo courtesy of saxcubano via Flickr.


 
Musher at Much for a Cure (by Stephan Hoglund)

Wildersmith March 18

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After an upper Trail weekend of barking and angling, peaceful celestial events take center stage for residents and visitors. His luminance, the “crust on the snow moon,” will be displayed in fullness come tomorrow (Saturday), and the day after finds a celebration of the vernal equinox as the calendar will declare it’s spring.

Some will say that the nonsensical setting of clocks ahead has taken the limelight away from the formal date book assertion of the new season. However, we must all keep in mind that none of our human toiling has more to do with the coming season of buds and babies than does Mother Nature. When all is said and done, it is she who is in charge of all. We’ll just have to wait until she decides it’s really springtime!

Meanwhile winter has sputtered a bit in the border country, with some single digits and then a bit of oozing during the past seven. Snow even covered the area last Friday night and Saturday, creating a magnificent setting for the big “Pink” weekend.

The setting on Saturday couldn’t have been choreographed any better, as flakes fell over the throng of sled dogs, mushers, handlers and well-wishers for the fifth annual Mush for a Cure. The atmosphere harkened back to days gone by when the best mode of transportation on a snowy day was by man on a sled, with a team of dogs in the lead.

Saturday’s event was ablaze with the symbolic pink of breast cancer research against a white backdrop. Forty plus team entries, including approximately 400 barking dogs prancing to get going, was a sight to see. Everything from pink attired mushers, to dogs with swatches of pink hairspray, to pink canine booties and fringed doggie leggings, set the tone for nothing but excitement.

Then as the starter’s gun went off, unbelievable energy was set in motion as the thrill to run was answered for those great four-legged athletes. And although chaotic in several instances, they were off, soon settling into single file, on the way to their mid-Trail finish. What a fun experience for all!

This may have been the best ever dog-sledding event in the upper Trail territory.
Most important of all the things going on, the money raised through musher pledges and the bald, brave and beautiful contest amounted to slightly over $30,000. This would bring the five-year fund raising total to just over $100,000.

This is quite a feat from the humble beginnings of this wonderful Cook County/Gunflint Community endeavor where just three teams did the first Mush for a Cure. Kudos to organizers Sue, Mary, and all who played a role in making it happen. Special acknowledgement is extended to all the mushers and to everyone who graciously pledged their resources.

Saturdays’ snow ended, and Sunday dawned with sunny skies and little wind as the annual trout fishing derby got under way at the west end of Gunflint Lake. The weather was marvelous for the mini-city of anglers on the Gunflint Lodge waterfront, and everyone was having a good time jigging for the big one.

By noon, catches were already on display in the registration area. The largest catch by that time was a dandy 7 ½- pound lake trout. There was probably a good more mounted by the 1 p.m. deadline.

Congratulations and thanks to the Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club for another well-organized angling event, and to all the fisher people that took part. The ice fishing was great, whether the catching was or not.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor Nature’s wonderful wilderness offerings.

Airdate: March 19, 2011


 
 

Wildersmith March 11

The season of cold and white is in a mellowing mood as March, week two concludes.

The ever-growing power of a rising Sol is in command during the daylight hours whether clear or cloudy. Even though mercury readings have remained below the freezing mark, it’s making teardrops trickle off roof edge ice spears, the top layer of our white carpet go soft, buds of pussy willows bulge and is causing sap to begin oozing.

Then as darkness takes over, winter regains a foothold. It’s back to zero or below by next morning with stiffened icicles and a thickening crust of snow underfoot. In terms of atmospheric happenings, it’s been monotonous as a broken record for the first days of month three.

A quick, late weekend snow refreshed us with delicate forest lace, yet the territory is still waiting for that proverbial state tournament blizzard. I wonder if that has ever happened in the upper trail region.

With winter and spring seemingly holding each other at bay, there is going to be plenty of seasonal character available for the “hot pink” blast that gets under way in a matter of hours. It appears that all is in readiness for the Mush for a Cure kick-off tonight (Friday) at Trail Center and then the skijoring and dog sledding adventures tomorrow (Saturday).

Organizers Mary Black and Sue Prom, along with their band of volunteers, are hoping for a big turnout in support for this philanthropic endeavor on behalf of national breast cancer research. If listeners/web readers want to pledge a donation to a favorite musher and his/her team, there is still time. Check the Mush for a Cure website or better yet, don a pink outfit, come out to the Gunflint Pines Resort Saturday morning, and join the rosy-hued activity.

THINKING PINK? A pink pancake fundraiser is being held in the Pines Lodge beginning at 8 a.m. Some of us Gunflint and Loon Lake boys will be grilling cakes for you, so come on out and share in the fun. Let us flip you a flapjack prior to the shotgun, sourdough start of the biggest “pink” dog sled run in the nation, for sure, Cook County!

The weekend of excitement along the Trail does not end Saturday. Sunday morning, the annual Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club trout fishing derby gets under way with registration at 9 a.m. on the waterfront at Gunflint Lodge.

It’s always a fun day as the mini-city of anglers pops up in a matter of minutes, and the lake ice is a-buzz with activity until the afternoon conclusion. Then suddenly it’s gone! Why not make a weekend of it out on the Trail?

As deep as the white stuff remains at this time, it may seem premature to be thinking about planting things. But planning is well under way for another big Trail happening, yes, it’ll soon be Gunflint Green-up weekend, May 6 and 7.

Plan to get on board and register early by going to the website at www.gunflintgreen-up.com. It would also be wise to get one’s lodging for that weekend reserved.

My how time flies by! And then it’s on to ice out and walleye season.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor pink thoughts!

Airdate: March 11, 2011

Photo courtesy of Tom McC. via Flickr.


 
 

Wildersmith March 4

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Enter March, what happened to February? As the territory heads into month three, the atmospheric conditions have been less than lamb-like.

The last days of month two did show winter with on-going gusto as the mercury skidded to well below zero for a few nights. The coldest at Wildersmith was minus 31, with minus 29 at a place down the road and minus 27 at the Seagull Guard station last Saturday shortly after daybreak.

Snowfall over the past 28 days measured a piddling 11 inches at the end of Mile O Pine. We probably had a net loss in what’s on the ground, with the usual gravitational effects and our week three meltdown, yet the landscape remains quite winter-like in appearance. We are entering the month of our “crust on the snow moon” (Onaabani Giizis) with a seasonal accumulation to date of 85 inches at the Smith place.

All in all, winter in these parts has been pretty good when paired with last year’s effort. In spite of the calendar showing spring a couple weeks away, there is potential for a few more opportunities to experience the cold season. And there are several Gunflint folks who are still awaiting a really big winter storm, like those hitting everywhere else in the good old U.S. of A. Blizzard hopes “spring” eternal, for the hardy out this way!

I continue to marvel at the ingenious ways of many wild critters. Yet I observe one species that surely displays varying levels of “intelligencia”, just like we that watch them. At the same time, I suppose every group in the wild creation has varying degrees brain power.

For some reason, winter has become unusually popular for a large number of those pesky red squirrels that frequent our lakeside deck. You may remember the ones that ate into the HVAC system of my truck a few years back, smarter than me obviously, costing a mere $1,600 dollars in repairs.

While laid up with the north woods crud last week, I watched as about half dozen of the little red seed crunchers scurried here and there, jockeying for seating at the deck rail cafeteria. Along the outdoor buffet, several styles of feeding stations offer what might be considered access challenges.

Obviously, I am easily amused. It’s a kick to watch as many of the mini-rodents have easily figured out the entry process, while some of their brethren come back to the same unit time after time, seemingly never gaining insight from the previous visit, or watching how their kin did it just ahead of them.

In one instance, getting an easy sunflower morsel requires pushing up a feeder lid while in another location a short jump from deck rail to a hanging metal platform is all it takes. Some just don’t get it. One can almost imagine the “wheels a-turning in their tiny minds” as they investigate every which way but the right one. Guess they are probably the ones that get eaten, instead of getting something to eat.

And on another wild note, I recently heard about a hair-raising scream in the wilderness, resonating like that of a human in distress. Searchers gathered around the Round Lake/Tuscarora Lodge area but found nothing leading to some kind of human involvement. Later descriptions and Internet investigation led to the belief that it must have been a fox. They have been known to make almost human-like sounds at times, and with the mating season in full swing this could easily be attributed to a true call of the wild.

Keep on hangin on, and savor some of the wild times!

Airdate: March 4, 2011

Photo courtesy of Varanos via Flickr.


 
 

Wildersmith February 25

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February’s end is in sight, and with it, the weather has yo-yoed since we last met. The thaw that we missed in January caught up with folks in the northland during week three.

The catch up was a doozy with the mercury climbing to the low 40s in the shade to near 60 out in the bright sunshine. The warmest day of the meltdown siege was a real slammer to winter activities, as it seems that we melted about a foot of snow. Mother Nature giveth and then she taketh away!

Lake surface snow melted into puddles above the ice as ski trails oozed with wet sticky snow, a real bummer. And back country roads succumbed to a miserable state of slushy ruts and even a bit of mud where they had been kept closely scraped by winter plowing.

By week’s end, the territory returned to winter normalcy around Wildersmith. The mercury was back below zero and Old Man Winter even coughed up four or five inches of replacement snow last Saturday night. However, once again we were snubbed by a real snowstorm.

The problem now is that the re-freeze has left the snow pack a frozen chunk while roads, driveways and walking paths are an icy glazed nightmare. This makes getting about a hazard for both man and beast.

The white frozen ground cover is no doubt making it difficult for many of the critters in the wild neighborhood to scratch and find nourishment. The bird landings seem to have intensified, as if the border country airwaves weren’t already a mad rush from dawn to dusk.

One of the young ’uns from last year’s whiskey Jack hatch is the only one coming in for breakfast these days, as mom and dad have departed to start another family.
With the less bitter temps of late, I have been offering the gray adolescent treats from my bare hand. I’m intrigued at the cold I feel from the bird’s feet while it perches to load up with bread cubes. They seem as cold as a piece of steel left out on a sub-zero night. What a special chemistry for survival they possess.

A surprising trait recently caught my attention. Often these gray jay folk take just one cube at a time and fly off to a nearby branch to partake. When choosing to collect a morsel in this way, they always pin the treat to a twig with their left toes while nibbling away. I have not seen one that doesn’t appear to be of the southpaw persuasion. I’d be interested if others might have observed this in their whiskey John visitors, or am I seeing things?

There are a couple bright spots in the return to colder times. First, the melted insulating snow on area lakes has refrozen. This will enable easier traveling by all modes across lakes to those prize lake trout holes, as hidden slush pockets had been plaguing anglers since opener back in January.

And the second is for cross-country ski folks. The technology and art of grooming has brought area ski trails right back to prime condition, so ski on!

In any event, conditions need to stay in the frigid season mode, for at least another couple weeks, as preparations are ongoing for the “pink” weekend of March 11 and 12. Several dog-sled mushers have pledge sign-up sheets and collection jars out at area businesses seeking support of their teams in the fundraising race for national breast cancer research. It should be a splashing, “hot pink” time on the shores of Gunflint Pines Resort for the fifth annual Mush for a Cure. Plan to be there for the spectacular! See their website for a schedule of all the weekend’s events.

Keep on hangin on, and savor some north woods splendor!

Airdate: February 25, 2011

Photo courtesy of Ricelife via Flickr.


 
 

Wildersmith February 18

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A couple weeks ago I talked of this being the month of the full “worm” moon. I have discovered that I was a month ahead of myself as this lunar handle should be applied to March.

I apologize for pushing things too fast and to the “man in the moon” for calling his February rendition wrongly. Since the February coming is really known as the full “snow” moon and will be in our midst tonight, it’s best to set the record straight.

Perhaps my snafu on this issue is a spiritual cause for the northland being neglected with snow for the second week in a row. Who knows why Old Man Winter keeps shipping the stuff south, but if I’m the curse of this issue, I hope that my coming forward will encourage His Coldness to finish up month two with a bang.

As I put this week’s news together, the temps have moderated considerably from where they were a week ago. Although our thermometers did not reach the 32 mark last Sunday, I did observe some minor oozing of liquid from my roof edge where the sun beams reached. This is an indicator of how powerful Sol is becoming, as the seasonal trek northward gains momentum.

This time of the year, ‘tis the season for several of Nature’s wild beings to become attracted to the opposite gender. The whiskey jacks that normally hang out here have disappeared, apparently to their nesting places, and wolves, fox, coyotes and several other species are taking to the mating game. So the month of hearts and chocolates extends well beyond what we humans have coined.

Another winter characteristic is showing a sign of the annual return. It’s the season for county road culverts to finally close up with hard water. This means that the liquid trickling from the innards of our warm earth has to go somewhere, so it spills out over our back country roads. The surfacing of such an ice damming project is taking place along our Mile O Pine. It’s always of interest to watch these mini-glaciers build up with each passing day, and it’s sometimes a challenge navigating them with one’s vehicle.

The Wildersmith two were privy to a predator/prey episode at its best last week.
Watching from the comfort of our dining room windows, we observed both plunder and terror during a wolf hunt and a deer chase through our yard.

To begin this account, a deer was casually browsing shrubs in the yard when a cousin came exploding from out of the forest to the east. Spooked by this turmoil, the perusing deer immediately joined in the flight, and the pair was out of view in a cloud of flying snow.

Not thinking much about it, I was suddenly called back to the window by my wife as she spotted a wolf coming into the yard. Mr. Wolf was as large as some of last spring’s fawns and year-old does, handsome and healthy! It moved about, sniffing here and there as it circumvented the yard, eventually heading back to the woods from which it had come.

In a matter of minutes, the deer returned and were back at pruning my bushes. It was soon after that this big warrior of the wilderness quietly reappeared.

Neither deer nor wolf spied each other for a few moments, but it didn’t take long for the wolf to spot its potential next meal. In cunning fashion, the stalk was on, and suddenly one of the two deer realized what was happening.

In a mad dash the deer headed east for about a half-dozen leaps, then changed its mind and doubled back to the west. The chase was on, and the other deer that had been browsing a short distance away saw itself in peril too. It also took flight as its cousin flew by. At this point, the race for life was in high gear, and as they disappeared from view, into the forest of my neighbor’s place, the wolf was barely 10 feet behind the flying hooves.

My subsequent investigation of the approximate chase path led into obscurity of many meandering deer paths with no sign of a kill close by. In the days following, I haven’t seen the usual gathering of ravens and eagles to share in the spoils after a successful hunt, so I’m guessing the deer won this race.

I can’t say with certainty, but I believe that the big hunter had a sly plan. In my mind, it was trying to bait those deer back to the yard, when it headed off into the woods following its initial appearance. It then decided to double back for a check of its hunting scheme and found that the strategy worked, because here they were. How shrewd it appears!

At this point, I’m still unsure of who I was hoping would succeed, the chased or the chaser, as life is so precious for both. Regardless, the experience of observing the stalk, the scramble and the pursuit for survival was a heart-pounding reality of daily life in the wild, one to be remembered forever.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor this heavenly place!

Airdate: February 18, 2011

Photo courtesy of Jon Large via Flickr.


 
 

Wildersmith February 11

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Alas, America is beyond its self-imposed Super Sunday! After more than two weeks of nonsensical analytical madness about cheese or steel, the masses can return to normal, whatever that means.

Out here in the wilderness every day is ‘super’, but in a more common sense way. Measured by increasing daylight vs. darkness minutes, a rosy February sunrise, a wild animal chase for survival or a solitary moment of peace for white tails to lie down in deep snow under our balsam canopy, we’re enriched by a more sane sense of life events.

Super Sunday viewers endured nearly fours hours of televised consumer propaganda, with a little NFL football inserted here and there. The message conveyed in the paragraph above probably seems bewildering, since I was once a teacher of high school football and love the game, but enough is enough for this guy.

Be that as it may, it’s encouraging now that half of America is happy with the Pack’s Big Bowl outcome. And isn’t this an improvement over the whole of our country that is either mad, badgering or critical of whatever is, or is not, happening in life’s many sectors? It sure is time for a bit of Valentine’s Day love, don’t you think?

With almost half of month two into the record books, the upper Trail is being shorted on snow distribution. It is not unexpected, as February is one of the driest border country months, but more than one local has expressed jealousy and irritation that everywhere south and east of the Arrowhead is getting the snow that we want. Folks residing in those places seem to have no appreciation for Mother Nature’s fleecy gift.

One thing in our favor is that we had no January thaw, so the white of late October remains compressed to the ground at Wildersmith, along with the 76 1/2 inches that have been measured to date.

A mini warm-up late last week sparked some interest in spring, but thermometers still did not edge above the magic 32. For the record we have not been above freezing in our neighborhood since November 15.

Winter Tracks festivities got under way last weekend throughout the county with all kinds of cold and snow activities. I think there may have been some new land speed records set by snowmobile riders on Gunflint Lake. I’m assuming that all who created near-sonic booms had a good time, and got back to their point of origin safely or to service stops for GORP (Gas, Oil and Repair Parts).

There was considerable dog sledding activity over the weekend too, as Gunflint Lodge sponsored a package for guests that included such adventures. It’s appropriate that this happened as the nearly 400-mile John Beargrease Sled Dog Race just completed its annual trek out Gunflint way. The silent beauty of this historic, age-old mode of travel is a considerable contrast from modern day power sledding.

For other quiet winter sports lovers, the groomed cross-country ski trail system is outstanding, maybe the best in several winters. And the white is deep enough now, that hiking actually requires snowshoes away from the beaten path.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty for those in the business of promoting X-C skiing exploits is keeping up with trail grooming. Seems like they just get caught up with setting tracks, and here comes Old Man Winter with another deposit to cover their work. Guess that’s a happy problem.

Sustenance in the wild kingdom is ongoing. Wolves have to eat too, so they have opened any number of fast food venues from deep in the woods to right along back country roads. It is unbelievable how quickly those venison kill sites come and go. The wild neighborhood has a pretty good handle on the practice of leave not a trace.

Another wild critter was observed recently in an unusual predator/prey happening.
A gal down the road watched as a hungry whiskey Jack (Canadian Jay) caught a glimpse of an injured pine siskin, apparently hurt in a window glass collision.

Regaining a degree of consciousness following the reflection encounter, the little avian thrashed about in the snow attempting to right itself into flight. Seizing an opportunity, Mr. Gray Jay swooped down, snatched the tipsy bird and was last seen winging off to the treetops. I’m rather certain that the Jay bird had no intention of nursing Tweety back to health. Woodsy wonders will never cease!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some chocolate and the romance of the wilderness!

Airdate: February 11, 2011

Photo courtesy of Sarah H/artescienza via Flickr.


 
 

Wildersmith February 4

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The north woods survived January, and we are off into the month of Namebini Giizis (the “sucker moon” as the Ojibwe call it). February has answered the call for another 28-day run in 2011.

It is our time of hearts and chocolates, and although love is the theme, growls of winter will remain the order of business with snow to drop, winds to howl and ice to make.

January up the Trail ended with a repeat of last weekend, another dose of fluff and cold. However, the temps were not as bitter, in spite of still hanging around and below the nothing mark much of the time.

The snow accumulation tally at Wildersmith passed the 70-inch mark with Old Man Winter’s last repetition, and now stands at 74. With shoveled banks stacked high along residential driveways, each successive removal is more difficult. Meanwhile, plowed windrows along back country roads are reaching a point of obscuring vision for those surprising deer that often come bounding out of the woods.

Speaking of deep snow, I became concerned with depth on my roof. So I took to raking it off last week. Due to wind accumulations layering more on one side than the other, I had to spend time in four separate daily segments clearing it off.

In some spots the crusted white was at least three feet thick and stubborn to get loose. As one might expect, the most recent dose has started the build up once more, so I’ll most likely be at it again, depending on the intentions of Mother Nature during the next few months.

This next story is not to be interpreted as X-rated because in reality, it was a natural wild critter love encounter. I’ll call it better late than never in the case of Nature’s way of continuing the species.

We have many deer that hang out in the calm of our lakeside balsam stand during the cold season, and you never know what they might be up to at various times of day or night. This white tail event occurred just after morning broke one day last week.

I happened to glance out the window to our east and noticed two deer nuzzling each other. This is not too uncommon, as I often see does and fawns exchanging mother and child touches about the head and neck. Further observation, however, determined that it was not a family affair but an anxious buck and an interested but teasing doe that must have been in abnormal mid-winter estrus.

The strange part of the entire encounter is that this ritual should have been over and done with in the first weeks of November last fall. Obviously, this must have been a quirk of nature, as the amorous pair frolicked about for several minutes until the act of mating was eventually consummated.

I suppose that this act of sustaining the herd may have been seen many times as hunters sit in their tree stands each fall. But for me to see this fundamental wilderness event, just 10 feet away from my window, is not only surprising, but also an occurrence that will be one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

So if anyone happens to see a newborn fawn just getting about, along the Mile O Pine or the south shore of Gunflint Lake, late next August instead of the usual birthing time of late May/early June, you’ll know that it was the result of an “affair to remember” in the last week of January at Wildersmith in the woods.

Keep on hangin, on and savor a wild woods experience!

Photo courtesy of plantsforpermaculture via Flickr.

Airdate: February 4, 2011


 
 

Wildersmith January 28

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The romance and adventure of life in the wilderness was enriched last weekend with some big-time cold. And, although it was pretty much business as usual for folks living in the territory, stepping outside surely got your attention.

Submerged mercury readings varied a great deal from place to place, even within a few blocks for that matter. I share with you, that to say it’s colder here than it was there, often leads to considerable debate, and sometimes into one-upsmanship.

For sure it was cold, and a few degrees one way or the other is meaningless! At Wildersmith last Friday, the low reading rang in at minus 39, and if that wasn’t cold enough, Old Man Winter did an encore in the wee hours of Sunday morning with a minus 40, but clouds moved in and spiked the temperature column up by daybreak.

The bitter readings were enhanced over the weekend by another couple inches of snow filtering down by Saturday morning, and more came late Sunday into Monday a.m. (four to five inches). And they say it can’t snow when it’s this cold. So the territory has it all, with the best of winter conditions in several years.

It was so cold Saturday morning that a young doe browsed around the yard with a ball of frost hanging from her nose. Her schnoz had that Rudolph look only in white. Meanwhile some of her whitetail cousins had a ghostly look, being covered in both frost and snow, kind of eerie.

I have new information that a couple different wild critters have a sweet tooth. Some dated chocolate devils food cake was put out on the deck-side feeding tray amidst the coldest readings this past Sunday. Cut into people-sized bites, the elements caused some consternation for a time. But soon, the whiskey Jacks dared to sample, and found the dark brown pieces much to their liking.

It wasn’t long before a pine marten came by, and after munching a poultry part, decided on dessert too. Sure enough, this lush-coated varmint discovered how delectable chocolate can be. So the leftover cake will not go to waste.

The magic of winter can be experienced in many ways. To be outside in the elements at this time of year speaks volumes about the most wonderful peaceful moments. With the exception of an occasional screaming snowmobile, a howling from the frozen lake ice or the crunch of deer chasing through the crusty snow, silence is the norm. Even shoveling snow has the most quiet of moments.

Recently a friend shared in a silent happening during ice fishing in the midst of falling snow. It might be suggested by some that he was hearing things, but he confirms what I have sometimes encountered while remaining stationary during the dropping of winter’s moisture creations (and I don’t mean sleet or ice pellets).

Yes, hearing those heavenly made crystals settle on your hat or coat shoulders has to be the ultimate sensory experience in quietness. Until they begin layering up on one another, the landing might be best described as a nano tick (pretty minute), but it’s a happening.

He and I might be accused of not hearing well for our age, but I suggest that at our age, we are probably listening better now than decades ago. More of that wilderness magic, I swear! If you haven’t taken the time to listen, stand out in the snow soon and hear the noise.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the sounds of silence.

Airdate: January 28, 2011


 
 

Wildersmith January 21

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The Full Wolf/Great Spirit moon was a howling celebrity over the Gunflint Territory as it approached fullness last weekend. The snow clouds parted Saturday evening to allow a mosaic luminescence of winter-blue patches throughout the forest landscape.

The splendid mosaic patchwork of the old man in the moon couldn’t have been more up north, as it beamed down on glistening cold crystal. By setting time in the wee hours Sunday, the temperature at Wildersmith plunged to minus 28, our coldest of the season so far.

The weekend got off to a great atmospheric start with snowfalls on both Thursday and Friday that added another seven inches to the already mounting snow pack. With old man winter pulling the plug on Saturday, he came back with added white late Sunday and on into Monday, counting another four inches or so.

I can’t say how much is on the ground right now, but suffice to say, it is plenty deep out in the woods. The snow accumulation tally in our neighborhood from our first dose in late October, through last Monday is 60 inches. This is approaching twice last year’s puny effort.

Although the current on-the-ground snow depth does not match our season’s total measurements, I’m finding that it is nevertheless becoming troublesome for white tail navigation once they get off their well-trodden paths.

I came upon a doe and her fawn as they meandered down Gunflint Lake Road a few days ago. It was very apparent that the mom was frustrated as she pranced along the road in front of my slow-moving vehicle trying to find a place to exit. After maybe a quarter mile of leading me along, she finally made a leap into the forest. Not only did she sink to more than belly deep, but her young one was almost totally submerged in the deep fluff.

Despite the bitter cold of last Sunday morning, the trip to Grand Marais for church services was simply enchanting. As a result of some north woods air brushing by Mr. Jack Frost, every deciduous branch and coniferous needle was coated in diamonds, for miles and miles. Coupled with evergreens draped in huge marshmallow mounds, ever growing roadside windrows and the shiny iced blacktop, our trek was pretty much a white blur.

At column deadline, I’ve only talked with one ice angler about his fishing luck, and the reaction to trout catching was mixed. Opening day was worthy of mention, but as low barometric pressure gave way to high overnight and bitter cold, little action was recorded on day two. So what else is new? It’s the nature of nature, one day is for catching, while others are not, but fishing, no matter what the result, is always good!

Planning is well underway for the annual “pink” dog sledding spectacular. This year’s event is scheduled for the weekend of March 11 and 12. Mush for a Cure number five, the north woods fundraiser to support breast cancer research, has many exciting events on the docket in addition to the festive recreational K-9 run from the frozen waterfront at Gunflint Pines Resort to Trail Center. Check out the website (mushforacure.com) for more details about all the events, volunteer assistance opportunities and team support pledging. The hot pink weekend, produced for an acutely special cause, will be great fun, mark your calendars.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the woods in formal white attire.

Airdate: January 21, 2011