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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:

Wildersmith April 22

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“Old Man Winter” roared back into the north woods this past weekend. In simple terms, it was “Just a moment, my wilderness friends and little Miss Spring. I’m not “outta” here just yet.”

He may be a memory by the time this upper Trail news reaches you readers and listeners. However, while the “old guy” hung around the territory, it reverted back to a more February-like character.

The usual NWS “fantasy” of a winter storm warning turned into a white reality show, with anywhere from four to near seven inches blanketing the area. Strong northwest winds buffeted border country along with single-digit to teen temperatures for a few days, adding to what some would call April misery. Guess my re-cap of winter in last week’s edition was premature!

The hubbub of unexpected atmospheric conditions caught any number of folks by surprise, having put away snow shovels and the like. A few days before, I had even considered taking off the snow blade, but for some reason did not get it done. Luckily, my procrastination this time paid off, as road and driveway plowing was the order of mid-month business.

So, spring has been put on hold for a few days. Dry roads will be replenished with additional mud and run-off will gouge more at miniature canyons from the first meltdown. But this too will pass, and the season of buds and babies will resume. Above all, regardless of this brief set-back, we are thankful for the always needed moisture!

A green thumb friend over on Loon Lake tells of crocus blooms that seemed to pop right out of the melting snow from one day to the next, prior to “Mr. Winter’s” late-season stop. She also mentioned that tulips were well out of the cool ground. Wonder what those little green beings think of their white surroundings now?

The Wildersmith neighborhood has had plenty of dark clouds lately and I don’t mean in the heavens. The forest has been alive with a murder of crows and they have been joined by a flock of iridescent grackles, several red wing blackbirds and those steel-gray juncos.

The seed cafeteria along our deck has been the scene of considerable critter frustrations as both the ebony avian and our little red rodents seek supremacy over the feed trough. Meanwhile, chickadees and red-breasted nuthatches seem unphased by all this commotion as they dart in and out between the chatter and flapping of shiny black wings.

The weekly supply run to Grand Marais found the Smith’s spotting a number of robins, but at this writing they have not appeared at our place along the south Gunflint Lake shore. I suppose they’ll zip in with the melting snow any time soon.

It was amusing that during the height of the white gales last Sunday two deer charged back into our yard. The white tailed gang had “headed to green fields everyone” during the past couple weeks, but returned to the balsam canopy of Wildersmith in the roaring fury of blowing snow. They even came to the window, looking in with curiosity as if to say, “what’s going on with this weather, anyway?”

A recent journey down County Road 20 (south Gunflint Lake Road) found two snowshoe hares in the usual locale where they were so prolifically abundant last summer. I hadn’t seen any during the winter, thinking that they were either consumed by the carnivore gang or taken out by the trapping fur collectors. It’s sure nice to know that a couple survived.

It was interesting that one was somewhat indecisive about the changing season, as it still had a white coat. On the other hand, bunny number two had apparently made the decision early as it was already into its warm season attire. “Mr. White Coat” is probably having the last bunny laugh right now in our renewed white landscape. I wonder if they are into multiplication practice yet?

That’s all for now. Happy Easter and keep on hangin’ on, savoring whatever the wilderness adventure!

Airdate: April 22, 2011

Photo courtesy of Miguel Vieira via Flickr.

Crack in the Ice by Bryan Hansel

Wildersmith April 15

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It’s looking like spring, feeling like spring and smelling like spring. I think “Mother Nature” has declared it spring in our northern forest.

Guess I will, too, since my self-determined criterion has been met. As you will recall from my autumnal writings, I declare it winter when the first daytime temperature remains below the freezing mark. The same declaration is made in the “vernal” season when the temp stays above freezing for the nighttime low. It’s been doing that for a few days now, so spring is official on the Gunflint!

The upper end even had its first thunder in the late afternoon last Sunday, along with the initial “severe thunderstorm warning” from the National Weather Service. Fortunately, this time it was another of those “wolf cries” that wilderness folk appreciate (nothing severe). It did dish up spotty rain with a gully washer at Trails end and a few drops from Loon Lake on to the south. Wildersmith recorded one quarter-inch.

With winter being squashed, I’ll give a brief re-cap of what happened. At Wildersmith, from October 30 through April 4, 97.75 inches of snow was recorded. The thermometer mercury had a coldest marking of minus forty on January 23rd. In addition there were sixty-seven other mornings when it was below zero. So, all in all, winter 2010-2011 was pretty darned back to normal after last year’s feeble rendition.

Considerable headway has been made on the thawing of back-country roads since we last met on WTIP. After our snow of the previous weekend was removed, the sun went to work. At this keying, I can’t speak for all wilderness pathways, but the Mile O’ Pine is nearly void of its winter character. It’s just mud and water with an occasional dry spot. I suppose most area roads off the hard surface are about the same.

The snow pack has taken a hit, but there is still melting to do before it’ll be a memory. Along the by-way, the recession of snow into the ditches is bringing back the memory of thoughtless human disrespect. The slobs of the universe have not changed their ways. The “right of spring” is revealing that some people don’t care too much about this great natural place. The litter is shameful!

The ice on Gunflint Lake is showing some puddles of liquid on these warm days, but still appears tight along the south shore. The best bet among those of us still in the neighborhood is that our ice cube will probably make it to the first of May.

On my trip to Grand Marais on Thursday I found several places with open water near smaller lakes’ north side shorelines. A number of the swamps have also softened to the point where their snow cover has taken on the usual tea-colored look from the waters below. Water’s a rushin’ lakeward in rivers and streams, and the little falls that tumbles into Larch Creek southwest of the Seagull Guard Station was cascading like I haven’t seen it in along time.

With the exception of noises from seasonal changes in our natural world, it’s a quiet time in the Gunflint wilderness. Being “mud’ season,” many businesses have closed for the month and several of the year-round residents bailed for even warmer and definitely less sloppy places. But for yours truly, getting to observe each day-to-day seasonal evolution is an alluring and cherished joy that makes me hate to miss even one.

That’s all for now. Keep on hangin’ on and savor the aroma of mud in the North Woods.

Airdate: April 15, 2011


Wildersmith April 8

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Last Sunday evening, as I keyed this weeks’ news from the upper Gunflint, Old Man Winter was taking what may be one last swipe at the northland. He wasn’t fooling around either.
So, the first few of our April showers were of the white variety. Had it not been for the temperature hanging out just around the freezing mark, the snow accumulation might have been a doozy.

As it was, where there was old snow on the ground, the new white stuck, but where Old Sol had gnawed away the winter blanket to bare earth it was mushy muck. By Monday morning, however, another four to eight inches was added to the count along the south Gunflint Lake south shore. What this means now is that with the next really warm day, our “mud season” will be officially underway.

With month four already a week old, the recent conditions have been a far cry from reflecting Aprils’ full pink maple sugar moon and mingling thoughts of green sprouts and budding trees. But, that is certain to change as winter bound folks from these parts have high hopes for the first full month of spring.

Speaking of green, the territory is one month away from the fourth Gunflint Green-Up May 6 and 7. Web registrations are still being taken on the Gunflint Green-up website and volunteers are needed to assist in the Friday and Saturday night meal functions. If any local is interested in helping out in the food service line, contact Lee Zopff at

News came in from Bea Griffis on March 31 letting folks in border country know that her Ralph had fallen a couple Saturdays before. He broke the femur in his right leg and has been in considerable misery. His leg was cast in a metal contraption after surgery on March 26 and he remains hospitalized, according to her message. Ralph has been in rehab for two weeks learning to walk in his recovery equipment. He may be facing a period of time in a nursing home for additional therapy and convalescence before getting to go home.

For those readers not familiar with Ralph and Bea, they are the former long-time owners of the Chik-Wauk Resort (now the Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature center) at the end of the Trail. I’m sure that these wonderful former Gunflinters’ would appreciate hearing from their many friends both near and far. Their e-mail is

Beauty has always been in the eyes of the beholder. Although we are entering what many call an ugly stage of the year in the upper Trail, natural items of artistic appeal are happening with each passing day.

The magic of our snow season is in transformation now. Where the power of Sol has been peaking through the forest canopy, daily gnawing has created some splendid sculpturing in territorial snow banks. Often the most intriguing textures can be found in the plowed windrow mixture of snow, ice and north woods dirt along back country roads. But, one had better not blink because it is here one day and vastly different the next.

On another note, where those beaming rays find their way to ground level, the trickle of melting winter is picking up the pace. Everyone knows the damaging power that moving water possesses. To think that such destruction could happen from simple early spring ooze meandering its way down a wilderness road is almost incomprehensible.

These gurgling streams reflecting a winter gone by are as captivating as the anticipation of a first white cover in October. So, although yours truly can’t get enough of the cold time of year, I guess I’m really a person for all seasons (exception being July and August).

This is Fred Smith with Wildersmith on the Gunflint, and that’s all for now. Keep on hangin’ on and savor spring coming to the northland.

Airdate: April 8, 2011

Photo courtesy of Mykl Roventine via Flickr.


Wildersmith April 1

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Old Man Winter wandered back to the upper Trail after taking a spring break in the middle part of the month. However, he brought only cold with nothing white to go along with it.

The weather predictors cried wolf once again and that led to a lot of excitement in these parts as a “big” blizzard was on the way. After several days of advance warnings the upper Gunflint wilderness got that, ‘sorry, but no cigar’ for the umpteenth time this winter.

March, usually one of our snowiest months, has pretty much been a bust. With only a few days left, Wildersmith has counted about eight inches along with a couple puny rain showers, and most of that occurred in the first 10 days or so.

Saying that it is getting drier by the day is no overstatement. Although there is plenty of snow and ice yet to be melted, it looks like the area is headed into another one of those dry periods. All hope is for something to start falling from the skies soon.

Speaking of ice, thoughts have turned to the question of when it will go out on the big lakes up this way. With several consecutive mornings below zero along the Mile O’ Pine since our last meeting, we have actually been in ice-making mode, and that’s no April fooling.

In fact, on one of those recent zippy cold mornings, when the wind was adding to the chill, the Gunflint Lake Gal must have been shivering too, as she was moaning and groaning some incoherent terms like it was January.

An ice fishing fellow from over on Loon Lake confirms that on one of his last excursions the water at the end of his drilling auger was about three feet from the ice on which he was standing. That makes for a big ice cube. So unless we get swamped with spring all of a sudden, I’m guessing that we still have a few weeks of hard water left.

There’s nothing to match the serenity of a windless sub-zero morning in the Gunflint wilderness. Such was the case as I arose to a brilliant sunrise this last Sunday morning. With Sol beaming through the frosty forest, crystals twinkling from every branch, I watched a few deer peacefully browsing about the yard.

As if the forest beauty wasn’t captivating enough, interest and fascination overcame me as I contemplated frost actually being able to form on the deer’s backs. How unique is their fur covering, just how much cold can they withstand, do they shiver and do they ever get frostbite?

In the midst of the beaming sun, cloudy silhouettes of steamy breath puffed from their nostrils, suspended in the space momentarily before dispersing into the atmosphere. One could even see that a night of exhaling into the bitter darkness had provided an enhancement to their chin whiskers.

What a sight to see! Such moments of flora and fauna, framed in cold and sunshine, are poetically special. How fortunate it is to experience such wonderful snippets of wilderness life.

Plans are gearing up for the Ham Run Half Marathon. It seems hard to believe that one month from now, Sunday, May 1, the gun will go off starting the fourth annual run. It’s a time when folks gather to remember ignition of the tragic Ham Lake wildfire and celebrate survival and rebirth of the ravaged forest. Details for entering either the 5K or half marathon events can be found on the website,

This event is growing in popularity each year. It’s the real kick-off to the beginning of warm weather activities in the north woods. “No” will be the catch word on that day, no snow/cold or wind and no black flies, so “yes” folks can run and walk for the fun of it.

Keep on hanging on, and savor the rhythm of lie in the wild!

Airdate: April 1, 2011

Photo courtesy of Jack Heddon via Flickr.


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 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.