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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

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

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


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Spring’s here, the sun was due east and west, but the calendar’s new season came in breathing frosty air. Day one of the vernal time dawned frigid as the Wildersmith thermometer fell to just above zero.

It was a bit confusing for the Gunflint Lake gal too, as the water and slush of the past week froze tight once again. While out performing my morning chores, she even  murmured some grumbling tones about having to make ice once more.

Apparently expressing her displeasure with the colder turn of events, the growling lasted for that day and then another. This lake ice vocalizing is unusual for this time of year, but will soon be gone until next December.

Then again, the whole of this past season has been conspicuously lacking of usual character. With Zigwan confirmed, I’ll share just how lacking winter was in upper Gunflint land.

Looking back at my journaling of daily atmospheric happenings, the most startling number is in the snow count. Total snow accumulation for the duration at Wildersmith was a measly 32 inches. This compares with last year when 100 inches were tallied.

While the neighborhood did experience a couple bitter cold stretches, the coldest minimums of minus 33 on January 2 and minus 32 on February 5 are a far cry from minus 40-pluses of 2008-09. Our coldest stretches extended for 10 days during weeks two and three of December, and 20 days from January 26 through Valentine’s Day
Continuing like a broken record, another week has passed with no rain. Rain gods are shunning this area like it has the plague. Clouds come and go, but have shed barely a tear for what seems like weeks. I like consistency in life, but these arid happenings are getting downright ridiculous. Wilderness folk have to be looking for a lot of April showers, or there’ll be few flowers.

The chorus of dawn in the neighborhood has been less than harmonious lately. A murder of crows, with uncanny regularity, has been providing a cacophony of raucous sounds to greet my morning chore time.

They serve to drown out anything that is of natural sweetness, and then, in one black cloud, wing it down the lakeshore screaming like a rally of agitated political demonstrators.

The crow racket is compounded with a couple hammering pileated woodpeckers and the usual blue jay clamor. Don’t know if the jays and the Woody Woodpecker look-alikes are in a battle of the bands or not, but it’s been noisy as a morning of urban rush hour. Peaceful and quiet, it’s definitely not!

Last week’s discussion of biting insect possibilities came to reality on spring’s first day. The sunshine beckoned me outside, in spite of the cold air, to do some firewood splitting. Wouldn’t you know it, a bitin’ critter found its way under my glove during the clean-up process. The nip has the itching character of a black fly, but I have trouble believing they can be out already. Regardless of who or what it might have been, I’m into the antihistamine ointment already.

And lastly, whitetails of the neighborhood are trickling away to south-facing hillsides. Daily browsers are down to just a couple bucks and an apparently orphaned fawn. The little girl deer looks so forlorn. Wonder if her mommy might have become a wolf pillaging statistic, or is she in a parenting way and just sent the young one peddling?

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a journey into the woods!

Members and volunteers hang out and enjoy the treats during WTIP's "So Many Reasons" membership drive

Wildersmith March 18

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Congrats and thanks to all that enhanced the “So Many Reasons” theme for the WTIP spring support effort. The impact that this little station, with the big heart, has on so many folks is beyond comprehension.

With the arrival of our nation’s annual artificial timing debacle, we gained an hour toward the vernal equinox and Zigwan. North woods creeks and rivers are gushing with enthusiasm, although the exuberant rush cannot last too long.

Another week has passed with almost no precip. Soon gurgling streams will diminish to trickles when the snow melt is exhausted. The best we could muster in the Wildersmith rain gauge was under two-tenths of an inch during a couple feeble nighttime shower attempts.

In the early stages of mud season, Mother Nature is once again showing that she is in charge. Her latest display of control is noted in the fact that she has made all the vehicles residing or cruising through the area to look alike. Color variations are neutralized with a good old coat of north woods earthen tones.

Splotches of snow are about all that is left from the winter that wasn’t. Our golden brown needle carpet is now the rule on the forest floor, where a week ago we had about a foot and a half of white. Boy, it has gone fast!

Juices are beginning to flow in the forest flora. I got a first look at some aspiring pussy willow buds as the silver/gray fuzzies are presently peeking out in a couple spots along the Mile 0’ Pine. And, just days ago, I discovered a trickle of sap leaking through the bark of one of my maples.

Spring’s early arrival makes me wonder if we will wage a longer season with the annual bug battles. Don’t know if this could happen, but things will be worse than bad, if the extended warmth allows more multiple hatchings of those miserable black flies.

I’ve already observed the buzzing of several suspicious-looking airborne insects.
Better be digging out the bug netting and deterrent spray! This is another good justification for cold and snow.

As the winter character departs, unsightly remains of human habits are appearing along the Trail. It never ceases to amaze me that many people claiming to adore this part of the universe can be so careless and abusive.

Discarding litter while passing through this miracle creation is unconscionable. A friend once told me that snow covers up a multitude of bad human habits and even some natural ugliness. He was sure right. Guess that is why so many of us wilderness folks have such passion for the pureness of this past season, and disappointment when it comes to an end.

Speaking of another ugly situation, the big meltdown out this way put the kibosh on one feature of Mush For a Cure, part four. Water-covered lake ice and barren trails forced the cancellation of the sled dog and skijoring events. However, organizers and participants made the best of a sloppy situation, as all other scheduled events went off without a hitch.

Pink enthusiasm was at fever pitch, symbolically matching the battle for which the events were scheduled. An early report states that $28,000 will be donated from the Cook County/Gunflint community efforts to assist in national breast cancer research. This amount sets a new record, exceeding last year’s total of $25,000. A hearty thanks to everyone who played a part in making this another memorable occasion.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the birth of a new season!


Wildersmith March 11

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The upper Trail winter that really hasn’t been much, is making a quicker than normal exit. Since our last meeting, the power from Sol in month three, and above freezing temperatures, are gnawing big bites from the measly snow cover day after day.

It seems that the territory will smell of mud much sooner that anticipated. Mother Nature and Old Man Winter, her wintertime offspring, continue to ignore this area with any kind of precipitation.

This is quite worrisome in regard to a brittle forest being uncovered so early from the white blanket. Hopefully all concerned about woodsy conditions, from the Forest Service and DNR to residents and visitors, will approach the arid conditions with burning bans and commonsense fire use.

The beauty of this place is taking on a changing look during this oozing time. The artistry of sun-eaten, snowy windrows is the latest portrayal of natural magic through our blacktop path to paradise.

Gashes in the once smoothly mounded banks now display shards of weeping tears during sunlight hours, and then sparkle like diamonds in headlight beams after dark. This is just one of “so many reasons” to explore the byway forest any time of year.

I’m guessing that unless there is a big turnaround to cold and white, next week at this time we could be looking at pussy willow buds. We even might see a return of Mr. Robin Red Breast.

The latest wildlife adventure at Wildersmith involves my gray jay pals. For months now, it has been just Whiskey and Jack in the daily breakfast routine. A day or two ago, unannounced, they came by with two cousins. The Canadian visitors were not one bit bashful. So I had a quadruple flurry for a brief period, with many landings and take-offs from my bread-filled palm.

You will recall the squirrel and the French fries from last week. This week it is another gourmet tale, only it’s about Whiskey or Jack. This time my feeding routine found one of the guys snooping in my wild vittles container. It contained the usual chicken wing bones, ear corn and sunflower seeds. I turned my back briefly while cleaning out feeders, and sure enough one of the fellows in a gray tuxedo spotted one of those bones. In a blink of the eye, it snatched one and was last seen sailing off through the trees. It was amusing to observe a bird with such a big beakful.

This is another big weekend for north woods activity. The Mush for a Cure event will commence with a kick-off of pink attired events on Friday, then continuing into Saturday with the rousing canine races.

Alongside this flush-colored extravaganza, everyone within listening distance is touting the “so many reasons” phrase, as appeal is made to once again provide resources in support of our community-owned radio station.

A listening experience with WTIP is just one of “so many reasons” to visit this special place in border country wilderness. Along with hundreds of WTIP volunteers, I wish for your continued support of this marvelous listening medium.

Our radio voice has something for everyone, from Grand Portage to the end of the Trail and then some, with a worldwide audience streaming on the Web. Please pitch in!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor whatever the Gunflint has to offer!


Wildersmith March 3

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Month three has “March” ed right in!! The month known for weather of changeable temperament came in like a lamb…thus following suit with the rest of the wimpy winter months the upper Gunflint wilderness has experienced thus far.

So being unable to do anything about the cool things we can usually brag about, a light signaling the birth of another growing season is flickering just a couple weeks away, and that can certainly brighten one’s outlook.

The days of the past week in the woods have again been remarkable, with barely a cloud in the sky.  There were a number of frigid sub-zero…Wildersmith dawns, but the sunshine that followed almost made for light jacket coverings.

Plenty of activity took place on the Trail over the last days of February. Winter Tracks number six literally left marks in the snow with all kinds of happenings. The annual trout derby on Gunflint Lake saw huge participation as weekend events drew to a close on Sunday afternoon.

The Gunflint Lodge waterfront looked like a used truck lot with all the pick-ups scattered about the ice; in addition, oodles of snow machines were scooting about. Everyone seemed to be having a great time on a splendid blue sky day.

It seems that the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack must have moved to new territory. Suddenly the deeryard at Wildersmith has been inundated with a gang of whitetails, indicating that danger is not so imminent.

This is something that has not happened since last winter, with the blame being placed on those hungry warriors.  One thing of note is that there are very few fawns, but the rest of the gathering looks to be quite healthy. So I’m getting a lot of free brush pruning done around the yard.

There is always something to catch your attention when you live in the forest. In the late afternoon, I’ve been watching with interest the hubbub around the avian feeding trays. Traffic is in and out all day long, but as twilight comes on, those tiny masked bandits really get intense.

It’s fascinating to watch the chickadees as they bulk up for the long cold night ahead. The menu choices range from peanut butter cakes to a can of frozen bacon grease and, of course, sunflower seeds. Believe me, they hit them all.

Luckily their rate of metabolism is such that both carbs and fat are burnt up in the nocturnal staying-warm process, or soon they would likely be big as flying tankers.

On another nutritional note, I was entertained the other morning to find that one of those pesky squirrels took a liking to some pieces of leftover French fries. This usual seed and nut connoisseur took to nibbling those greasy potato sticks like there was no tomorrow. Wonder if the wild gourmet had a bellyache after that rich fare?

If silence is golden, then this part of the universe is getting to experience Olympic Gold. The morning after the Winter Tracks weekend was magical in terms of peace. There was no wind whispering through the pines. Only an occasional chickadee flutter and the crunch of deer passing over crusted snow broke the quiet of this wilderness wonder. It was so satisfying to encounter the sound of nothing obtrusive in this clearly messed up world.

There are just so many reasons to visit this place in paradise. So keep on hangin’ on, and savor listening to WTIP, a golden gem of the wilderness!

Karen DeBoise, photographed by Sue Prom

Wildersmith Feb. 24

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The border country landscape will be illuminated this weekend once again as February is signed off into the history book. Our “full snow” moon, which has not lived up to its name in these parts, will still cast a bright iridescence over the wilderness blanket.

While the south end of the Trail has experienced temps that have dwindled the snow pack, our depths out here have remained firm. It’s as white as the days it fell, except for the scenic byway and a few oft-traveled county side roads that look more urban-like than we appreciate.

Speaking of the Gunflint Scenic Byway, collaboration between county highway crews, with their mighty loads of gritty slipping deterrent, and the growing power of old Sol, has left the Trail with more blacktop showing than the snow pack and ice of the last few months. Although the adventure of trekking up or down the Trail always merits caution, slip sliding along should be minimal now except in a few protected areas. Sure as I say this, Old Man Winter will likely bring back our seasonal driving conditions.

Outside of ongoing critter crossings, the major road hazard now is many of the usual frost heaves that Mother Earth has belched up. As the old gal begins her wake-up from winter, drivers had better be paying attention to the warning flags that have been stuck in the snowbanks, or the roller coaster dips will be testing vehicle suspension systems with a lot of bottom banging.

More than a week has passed since our Valentine’s Day dusting, and the upper Trail territory has had some sparkling days. With nighttime temps dipping below zero and then popping up into the 20s during the day, it has been just marvelous for anything one wants to do out in the snow, and oh, those starlit nights!

We all know that critters can tell us a lot about the feel of things happening in the atmosphere. I have found that the up-close relationship with Whiskey and Jack, my Canadian Jay pals, is providing some interesting insights as to when it must seem really cold for these winged folks.

They come to meet me shortly after sun-up each morning. Although I do not have an exact temperature when this phenomenon happens, the past week has had them come by two different days with tiny crests of frost above their eyes. On each of these occasions, the Wildersmith thermometer read minus 17. On other days with lesser cold, but still below zero, the frost has not been observable. Very interesting!

Despite those cold mornings of the past week, there are signals that spring is in the offing. Those yakking crows have returned, and all the other little critters that wing overhead seem to be a little more upbeat. We may be a long ways from the smell of mud at this end of the road, but another good sign is that the green thumb gardener that lives over on Loon Lake has planted seeds under the grow light, and sprouts are already peeking out.

The sixth annual Winter Tracks Festival is now under way, continuing for the next few days. You can check their schedule on the web. Many events have been scheduled including the big trout fishing derby that begins at 9 a.m. Sunday on the west end of Gunflint Lake. Follow the great snow sculptures starting at Trail Center to find winter excitement.

Two weekends later, March 12 & 13, the third Mush For a Cure dog sled race kicks off. Race organizers tell me that over 20 teams have been entered so far with a cut-off entry limit of 50. Last year’s event had 39 entries.

 In 2009, the “pink”, barking spectacle raised over $25,000 for national breast cancer research. It should be another colorful extravaganza!  Check out the event schedule and lean more about the event online.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a winter weekend on the Gunflint!


Wildersmith Feb. 17

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The upper Trail got a refresher snow on Valentine’s Day, and it couldn’t have come at a more romantic time.  The north woods ambiance was at its best with both love in the air and silent flakes trickling earthward.

The unpredicted miracle of white flocked the forest once again. And those huge marshmallow puffs, still hanging around from the wet snow dousing that ended January, received a welcome embellishment.

Speaking of those heavily laden pine boughs, there’s a small grove of adolescent red pine nestled along the Trail just west of where the Ham Lake Fire crossed the blacktop. The diminutive stand has been catching my eye ever since that late January storm. The thing that intrigues me is that their drooping limbs resemble the saggy arms of a garden sentinel.

Yes, when I first observed them, the young conifers startled me because it looked like dozens of scarecrows had been staked out. Their tilted growth stems and slumping branches project a distinct similarity to a weather-beaten stick person that has been left out in the elements for months, watching over rows of veggies.

With the persistent cold, the green with white clad beings have clung to their winter dressing, allowing me to conjure up all sorts of mental animations as I whiz by. I must say that if one would put a face on each of them, they would give a look of despair what with their heavy burden. Come May, I’ll bet they look a whole lot perkier.

Another shanty town of fish houses cropped up down the lake last weekend. I stopped by about midday last Saturday for a little investigation and conversation. The occupants were having a great time trying to entice some “lakers” to accept an invitation to dinner, while trying to one up each other with tales of the lake.

Fortunately for me, the catch of the morning had taken a dip in some batter and was swimming in a hot tub of oil. I was invited to partake of vittles being cooked over hard water. It was a splendid north country winter shore lunch, right in the middle of Gunflint Lake. What a fun time on a spectacular border country day!

More fun times are in the offing for residents and folks that happen out this way. The sixth annual Gunflint Trail Winter Tracks kicks off in another week, Feb. 25 through  Feb. 28. Sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Association, all kinds of fun events are planned at various sites along the Byway to help celebrate winter out here in the woods.

To find exact scheduling of the many activities, check out the website, and join in the fun.

Wolf tales continue to trickle in. A gal skiing over on a Loon Lake Trail spooked some of the wilderness warriors, evoking growls from deep in the trees.

Then another story is shared about a house cat and wolf who trade glances through the glass of sliding door. I’m told that a wolf often comes onto the deck of a trail side home and peeks in the slider.

The residents’ curious cat pops out to see who’s snooping around and startles the wolf into jumping back. Guess this little game of cat and mouse or, better yet, cat and wolf, is quite comical, as the savage critter doesn’t quite know what to think of this funky feline with its nose to the glass.

 I’m guessing that the cat doesn’t know when it’s well off, as the hungry wolf surely has a meowing appetizer in mind.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the wonders of the wilderness!




Wildersmith Feb. 10

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The blasé approach of Old Man Winter continues at this end of the Trail. Although seasonally cold, the other character of the season remains abysmal. Another week has passed with no significant moisture. Meanwhile, the old fellow has been traveling to other places in the country and dropping what rightfully belongs on our landscape.

With the season of buds and babies looming not far down the path, border country is running out of time for a build up of snow that will adequately replenish our depleted lake levels. We’d better hope for spring rains to make up for a puny snow time.

Activities particular to this time of year are managing only because of one decent snow, early in the last week of January. Fortunately that fluff occurred just in time to save the day for the longest dog sled race in the lower forty-eight.

The 27th John Beargrease dog sled race survived a frosty trip through our Gunflint territory. The trip to the northern most point in their nearly 400-mile journey, across the west end of Gunflint Lake, had about 20 teams make the midpoint swing.

The turn-around heading back to Duluth provided few observations from a spectator standpoint. For the most part, mushers were spread far apart, and many came through during darkness hours. Nevertheless it was another one of those wonderful, silent, low impact north woods happenings that has become such a part of the Arrowhead genre. Hats off to all the courageous dogs and mushers!

On another canine sled note, if one wants a better opportunity to observe dog teams up close, plan on attending the annual Mush for a Cure.

The third annual fundraiser to assist in national breast cancer research will take off from the waterfront at Gunflint Pines Resort Saturday, March 13. Mark your calendar as this event is fast approaching. Find out more about Mush for a Cure.

Trout catching remains good to excellent depending upon the location and the fisherperson. Cold temps have caught up with the slush issue on most lakes. A week ago, fishing while standing in the slurry slop had anglers a little cranky, but that has improved considerably. Little to none is being reported on Gunflint, with ice thickness here in excess of 20 inches, which is fine for travel, but far less than usual at this time of year. Mr.Winter, you’ve been such a wimp!

The deer that make a daily stop at Wildersmith have been under a “high white tail” alert for the past several days. In fact, the many bucks that hang out have scattered hither and yon, with the only occasional visitors being of the female persuasion, along with a few of last spring’s fawns. Several other folks that I talk to have mentioned the same disappearing acts.

Around here, reason is likely that the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack has been actively stalking the neighborhood. Based on numerous tracks, they have even been so bold as to come down the Wildersmith driveway, perusing around the house. This is a first for our 11years of winter in the wilderness.

I haven’t observed the remains of any nearby kills, nor have I seen any overhead reconnaissance from hungry raptors circling a newly opened fast food site. So I’m guessing that most of the usual venison visitors have been both light and fast on their feet, and also lucky.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some fun in this dwindling winter! Happy Valentine’s Day!


Wildersmith Feb. 3

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Welcome February, the month of hearts and chocolates, and a “full snow” moon.

The “wolf moon” of January highlighted nighttime skies over the northland during the past week. A cool blue aura across the frozen landscape, complete with billions of inky coniferous umbra, was nothing short of sensational under our twinkling heavens.

It has been a week since the big snow ended month one of the new decade. We can only hope that the next 28 might hold true to the lunar “full snow” moniker. Going a month between white offerings is hard to swallow for folks out this way.

The bounce back to winter since our last big storm has seen temps again in the more seasonal, minus category at nights, and even a few days where mercury could not struggle up to the zero mark.

While post-storm days have been sparkling, a shadow of sadness fell over the region Monday, January 25. Word was received on the passing of former Saganaga Lake resident, Pat “Patsy” Shunn. Memorial services were held in Cloquet last Friday.

Patsy and husband Frank lived looking over the Sag Lake corridor for many years, and she was the consummate north woods ambassador. The Sag Lake landing was her love as she attended the parking lot, greeting and sending folks off into border country waters for a time of fishing adventures, rest and relaxation.

A multitude of kind words have come from all over the Arrowhead celebrating her life. Her presence in spirit will long endure for those that had the privilege of knowing this icon of the Sag.  Gunflint community condolences are extended to Frank and all of Patsy’s surviving family.

The trout catching has been providing happy results for most ice drillers, and other activities oriented toward snow couldn’t have much better conditions. Ski trails look great and snowshoeing has to be the best of the season thus far. It’s taken quite a bit of work to get the ski trails back up to snuff after the wet heavy snowstorm brought down numerous branches and trees.

Most fishing stories are about catches, or the one that got away. Happening on opening weekend, this next story was not so amusing. A local fisherman who worked all day to get just one keeper was not smiling much, yet it is somewhat a laugher, to those who have heard the story and passed it along.

After returning to his cabin and while putting equipment away, both his prize catch and the remainder of his lunch were left outside the door for a few moments. Once inside, he heard a ruckus at the door. Answering the racket maker, he was surprised to find both his trout and lunch bag being carried up his driveway in the jaws of a hungry wolf.

Charging out and hollering at the thief, he chased the critter up the drive only to have the lunch bag dropped. However, the trout entrée he was planning for dinner would not be relinquished and eventually disappeared into the forest. Obviously, the catch of the day was not wasted. Most likely, a feast for brother wolf ensued while leftover lunch may have been the menu for a frustrated angler. Guess we sometimes forget that, in the wilderness, some hungry being is always watching and waiting for a chance at an easy meal.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor hopes for a snowy February!




Wildersmith Jan. 27

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We reentered winter, as a storm came grinding in from the southwest. With January almost gone, the upper Trail region finally got an addition to its oft smudged old white blanket. 

The blessing took better part of a week to get here, and then the system couldn’t make up its mind whether to be liquid or crystalline.

In the end, several more inches of snow was piled on, and the forest is now refreshed, just in time for another full lunar experience over the wilderness landscape.

If you have been following me very long, it is well known that I have a tender spot for this time of year. So when a white miracle falls from the skies, understand that it provides a heavenly feeling, in spite of the removal factor.

The autumn season can be spectacular in the border country, but when marshmallow puffs drape the woodsy canopy, as occurred this last weekend, there is no natural happening that can match the pure splendor of this universe section.

The gentle warmth of the past couple weeks has allowed “beards of winter” to show themselves on roof edges and gutters throughout the territory. Another rite of winter is the build up of these icy stalactites. They are hanging out like frosty whiskers on the chin of an “old man winter” caricature.

Once again, the oozing of melting crystal into drip, drip, drip; and then a sudden stop to create a perfectly sculpted lancet is a miracle in and of itself. The extravagant beauty of these nature made spears goes unmatched, never duplicated and offers one more glistening sample of this most wonderful time of the year.

Breaking wolf news is that the life, of a sick, mangy looking critter has come to an end. Lurking about the Gunflint Lodge/Gunflint Pines Resort neighborhood for many months, word of the ailing animal apparently reached wolf management authorities. A member of their wolf management team was dispatched, and within a day or so of arrival this tough, but sick female was put to rest.

I remember seeing one in the same area last winter, and it survived into the spring of ’09. Don’t know whether this might have been the same one or not. If it was, she was beyond courageous! Amazing thing about this critter is that she survived many cold months with almost no body fur, from the shoulders to the tip of her tail.

Although the stone cold Chik Wauk lodge stands silently this time of year, the committee charged with converting the grand old place into a museum is busy with behind the scenes work. The home stretch for completion has rounded the curve and is headed for the opening day on the Fourth of July.

Design specialists, Split Rock Studios, are in the early stages of building display venues, after several weeks of shop drawings’ reviews with GTHS museum leaders. Being a part of this review team, I can share with all that the finished product is going to be wonderful, and will do the Gunflint Community proud in preserving its rich history.

Keep on Hangin’ on, and savor the return to winter!










Wildersmith Jan. 20

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The month of the “full wolf” moon has turned fickle as it relates to weather conditions. The only thing we northwoods folks have had to brag about so far this winter has been a siege of cold that set in after Christmas.

The “drought spirits” have maintained their curse over the border country wilderness for a fourth consecutive week. And, now a northland version of the January thaw has squelched even our sub-zero cold. Since we have been a long time without a white blanketing, minus 30-some was the only winter symptom that allowed us to swagger a bit.

It has not been as warm as some traditional first month thaws. However, it has allowed for the chemical action of road treatment to produce enough slop along the byway, that our pristine roadside is now as grimy as a Twin Cities street.

On a more positive note, the warm air suspended over our cold ground has presented Jack Frost a medium with which to decorate the forest in crystal on a couple mornings. The Smiths’ last weekly supply run to Grand Marais was blessed with another dose of Jack’s delicate workmanship, glazing every appendage rising from “Mother Earth.” Once again, the frosted forest was breathtaking!

Thank goodness for the early Janus siege of cold, as the ice on the big lakes is now safe for many modes of traffic. With ice depths of 16 or more inches on Gunflint, hard water angling for lake trout got off to a booming start last Friday.

It is always amusing to hear the drone of snow sleds dragging gear up the lake. Then, the little clutches of shanty towns start popping up on the icy white landscape.

Equally interesting are the countless design fabrications that these fisher folks have either found in some catalog or nailed together in their backyard. There is one such hut down the lake that would remind you of a state fair corn dog stand. Wonder if the dogs are on, or if fish sticks might be the fare?

With all the comforts of home, other than for the frozen foundations, it is hard to understand how the activity can be called a cold weather event. Occasionally I’ll see an angler sitting on a bucket as in olden days (or the seat of a snowmobile), but many are only out in the cold long enough to depart their pickup and run to their shack.

One thing for sure, it is fun to know that all are having a great time fishing, although maybe not as good a time catching. Guess pleasure often comes in the journey and not the final destination.

The weekly wolf sighting report from yours truly is that nine have been spotted.
The Gunflint/Loon Lake pack, as I will call them, has been seen twice. I observed the pack of six traversing from Loon Lake south across the Trail a week ago, and a friend observed apparently the same group cavorting in his driveway a day later. Then last Friday, I caught up with a pair crossing south Gunflint Lake Road, and later the same day, came upon a loner not far from the Pines Resort.

A gal skiing over in the Crab lake area recently was startled while gliding along her trail. Without warning, a whitetail darted out of the woods across her path, and a split second later, brother wolf followed in hot pursuit. The chase of predator/prey continued right on by without as much as a glance. I’m guessing that after catching her breath, the skier probably did an about face.

I don’t know if it was a warm-weather stimulus or not, but I was treated to a bit of deer frivolity during the a.m. twilight last Sunday. There were half dozen or so prancing about the yard when suddenly a game of chase broke out. I’ve never seen so many dashing about at one time, as they ran after each other for lap after lap, on what seemed to be a pre-determined course. Eventually, the racing calmed, but your guess would be as good as mine in deciding which could be declared the winner. For sure, there was a lot of heavy breathing and dangling tongues.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some snowy dreams!