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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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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 ( 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


Wildersmith January 14

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Winter has set down with the usual January cold, and has offered up a couple days of meager snow accumulations since we last met on the radio and/or web. I can’t say that the cold has been bitter as we might know it, but the temps have hung out at zero and below for much of the time. The coldest temp at Wildersmith during the past seven days was minus 20.

A couple days of blustery north-northwest winds had the area under one of those NWS wind chill advisories. However, for most of us it was just more regular winter segments in the wilderness, where you layer up and go on about your business. It is noticeable, though, how warm plain old zero feels when bullish breaths from Old Man Winter are stifled.

I’m told by some snowmobile riders that there are slush issues on the ice of many lakes. This indicates difficulties for not only power sledders, and dogsledders, but also for the ice drillers that will be coming on the scene for trout fishing in a week or so. There’s nothing like having to stand in the freezing slop. In this case, some bitter cold (minus 30 and lower) might be just the ticket.

Although our holiday decoration paraphernalia has been packed away, the Smiths are still coddling the holiday tree. The striking little black spruce, cut from the yard several weeks ago, has taken a liking to the warmth of its place in our dining room. It likes the conditions so well that it has budded out.

Yes, it has been fooled into thinking spring. Tiny light green tassels are popping out of the bud sheaths. We are so dazzled by the tree’s will to live that we have no desire to toss her out in the cold. Guess she’ll have a warm place in the corner until waking up to the reality that I cut off her natural life line. Almost makes me feel like a Grinch when I think about it, but having anything artificial in this wonderful place seems as out of place as Speedos in the January sun.

I now have four of those whiskey Jacks coming in for breakfast each morning. The bashfulness that a couple displayed a few weeks back has given way to a mad swoop at getting in line for a stop off on my palm.

I’m often in wonder about what is going through their little minds as they take a cube of bread or two, and then just perch there for a few moments looking at me while curiously cocking their heads. They are such unique and intelligent wild critters.

For folks that live in areas that the dashing birds do not inhabit, and want to know more about these camp food pilferers, I suggest a great commentary about them in the most recent issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine.

A local blogger tells of folks along the south Gunflint Lake shore having observed a Canadian Lynx recently. It’s well known that the potential for appearances of this species of feline cycles with growing bunny populations. So to hear of the sightings is not surprising, what with all the snowshoe hares hanging out along the Gunflint Lake south shore over the past year. So far, the cat has not made it into the Wildersmith neighborhood.

And last but not least, wolves are still brazenly making unannounced appearances throughout the territory. My son and grandson had the thrill of a lifetime when they came upon four of the local pack while snowmobiling during their Christmas visit to the north woods. What an adventurous treat for having never seen a pack in the wild before.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the Biboon (Ojibwe for winter) wonders of the woods.

Airdate: January 14, 2011


Wildersmith January 7

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A belated Happy New Year to everyone! The days spin by so fast regardless of where one is located, and being in the wilderness is no exception, 2011 is already a week old!

Once again my thanks are extended to the Nosey pup from over on Hungry Jack Lake. I didn’t hear her latest Gunflint scoop, but I’m sure that she and her dad brought you up to speed on holiday happenings along the upper Trail.

A quick trip to Iowa for a Christmas visit to our daughter found us returning to the woods in the midst of rain along the North Shore. It was really quite ugly, and we worried that we might be skating at any moment. However, the mess stayed liquid clear into Grand Marais.

As might be expected, things turned white once we got out on the Trail a few miles, and the ugliness turned to wilderness beauty by the time mid-Trail was reached. From there on the trip home was extraordinarily spectacular as flakes stuck to every branch and needle.

By next morning, almost seven inches had layered over the last batch at Wildersmith, and the forest was redecorated once more with mounds of crystal frosting. In the meantime, we at Wildersmith took to indoor un-decorating of symbolic items that had been adorning our holiday celebration. Christmas 2010 is thus packed away, and if you’re like us you’re all holidayed out, but while it was happening, it was great as ever!

The year-end snow happening closed down what was a pretty dry December out here in the woods. And, although we are plenty white around the territory, folks out this way remain hopeful that January and the succeeding months will dish up some above-normal moisture. We need a lot of help in replenishing drought-depleted lake levels.

The power sledding enthusiasts should find the trail conditions much improved over what has been reported, while cross-country ski conditions, which have been quite good, are now even better.

The often harsh enchantment of January in these parts can wear thin, but the excitement of hard water fishing for trout will soon be causing a mad rush to icy GPS locales of old. So activities related to cold are beginning to hit their peak.

With the ice making into its fourth full week on Gunflint Lake, most augers will easily be gnawing at more than a foot of ice by time the season opens in a couple weeks. I’m sure there might be two or more feet on smaller area lakes that froze several weeks earlier.

I was out on the morning chore run a couple days ago and listened to a growling expose from the Gunflint Lake Gal. I don’t know to whom she was talking, but I did the listening. Speaking in unintelligible terms, I’m guessing she is still adjusting to her winter coat or maybe relating a story of the past. The mystique of rolling water under acres of ice cake remains as another instance of wilderness spirit speaking to us in so many different ways.

And speaking of border country spirits, we just passed into the new phase of the Great Spirit Moon (Gich-Manidoo-Giizis). Also acclaimed as the month of the Full Wolf Moon, it could make one speculate about captivating frozen howls from the Gunflint Lake Gal and the great lunar spirit. Who knows, just another mystery of voices in the woods!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the bite of January frost, wood smoke and a warm fire!

Airdate: January 7, 2011


Wildersmith December 24

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 The north woods and all the universe is celebrating the birthday of all birthdays in a few short hours. And although that of yours truly is almost in the same moment, everyone knows the one I’m talking about.

The wonderland of winter has not taken on much change since we last met on the radio. Our landscape hereabouts remains crystal pure, but Mother Nature and her son Old Man Winter have done little to enhance things with a pre-Christmas white event. Our Christmas will be white for sure, and it’s appearing that the romance of a new forest flocking might be in the offing, we’ll see.

Temps have been pretty much normal as we head into the last verse of 2010, with lows around the zero mark and highs creeping into the teens. Further, we’ve had very few peeks of the sun or moon for most of the recent diurnal segments. Gray has definitely been the color of the month.

At the time of scooping up this week’s upper Gunflint news, it is unknown whether all of the lunar activities were visible in this area. But it had to be a bonanza in places where skies were clear, a real time to carpe diem or in this case, to seize the night, a special moment for heralding winter and some majestic celestial events.

In celebration of winter’s arrival, the sun, moon and Sagittarius were all lined up signaling the solstice. Strap on some snowshoes or skis and take a trip into nature’s white-out. Let your path cross tracks with those of the wild neighborhood, shuffle in the fluff or lie down and make a snow angel, for time is flying by. Winter is not without heart, so let us not miss a moment of this unique place and time in the forest.

Remember that suddenly the daylight minutes are on the increase with each sunrise and sunset creeping back northward. Our lengthy shadows will be shortening back to the south, and it will all be gone in the blink of an eye; seed and plant catalogs are on the way!

This past week has marked a great deal of nearby wolf activity. A five-pack was observed on the Mile O’ Pine one morning, and the run to the mailbox has been led by at least one or more sets of fresh tracks on a daily basis. There’s obviously some big healthy animals, based on the size of paw prints left in the snow.

Only a couple days after the Gunflint froze over, a venison fast food stop was observed on the ice somewhat near the Canadian shore straight across from Wildersmith. And a few days later, during a drive down county road 20/50, we saw two more warriors trotting down the lake paralleling the south shore. They were either late to lunch or on a recon mission because they were really moving.

Then I was treated to a call of the wild this past Sunday while out on my a.m. feeding chores. It was a howling that pierced the peaceful silence of a calm December dawn, and embellished the mystery of life in the wilderness. Exactly where were they? And what were they up to? What an adventure!

On this Christmas Eve, all is calm and all is bright, have a Silent Night, a Holy Night, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a great life.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a few hours of peace!

Airdate: December 24, 2010


Wildersmith December 17

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 For some folks, “the weather outside is frightful,” but for the moose and me, “it’s just delightful.” What a gift we have in the out-of-doors from October to May!

Although this part of the world missed the big snows of last week, we did get a freshening up of three or four inches. So far, month 112 has been dry compared to the white November offering.

The big weather thing is that Mother Nature finally got the Zamboni going in earnest. Yes, ice making!

Many of the small lakes of the territory have been thickening for several weeks now, but the big stubborn ones have had trouble getting in the mood. That is, until this last weekend when a solid cold snap settled over the Arrowhead.

The temps went below zero late this past Friday night, continuing on through the weekend and into the first of this week. Shortly after sunrise last Sunday, the mercury at Wildersmith dipped to minus 22 and then minus 26 on Monday.

I remember the late Johnny Carson & Ed McMahon quips of “how cold was it.” Well, it was so cold that my whiskey jack friends came in for breakfast with frost on their eyebrows. And it was so cold that blue jay feathers were puffed up into fluffy down, and the whitetails had a frothy glaze on both foreheads and backs.

Cold as it was, this is just the beginning of what will likely seem warm by border country standards, as we head a few weeks down the road. I can remember days not too many winters ago, when minus 22 was a daytime high at this little port in the forest, so get ready!

The ice-over process on Gunflint Lake was nearly complete during this same time span, with just a sliver of open water remaining on the Canadian shore across from the Smits’s. Pending calm daylight hours on Sunday, I am declaring the old gal officially frozen December 12.

This date, by the way, is right on the average date for freezing up. An anecdote on the Gunflint ice making; she was already whining about the fit of her new coat by Sunday afternoon, and growling still Monday morning.

A couple of ice anglers have shared that the ice on their small lake of choice is about nine inches in depth, and it is likely growing thicker as we visit this week. The fellows also confirm that not only has the dense water fishing been fun, but the catching/spearing of some nice northern pike has been too.

Next week at this time the wilderness will have passed into official calendar recognition of “Biboon.” Hope clear skies will enable everyone to get out and celebrate Winter Solstice on the 21st, with its full moon and accompanying lunar eclipse. The evening should be spectacular over our deep crystal landscape.

A friend down the road raised an interesting question about why some kinds of birds congregate at her feeder and others seem noticeably absent this time of year. She tells of large congregations of pine grosbeaks, for instance, and of having no chickadees. At Wildersmith we have just the opposite, hordes of the little black-capped beings and only an occasional stopover for a few grosbeaks.

The scenario makes me wonder, as it is known that both varieties hang out in the Arrowhead all winter. Perhaps it’s the nasty jaybirds here that discourage the pink ones, or maybe they just prefer some other seeds to the sunflower variety. Whatever the reason, it is somewhat perplexing. Maybe one of our many Cook County birding experts has an answer.

And lastly, the Trail welcomes a new resident, as the Christiansons (Rachelle & Cory) brought a new baby girl into our wilderness world. Congratulations to the new family!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the peace of the north woods.

Airdate: December 17, 2010


Wildersmith December 11

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Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?  I’m guessing that such is the case down on Bow Lake at Okontoe as “in the lane, snow is glistening.” It’s a gorgeous winter wonderland out this way. Ahhh, the romance of a sleigh ride in the wilderness, can life get any better?

A short-term meltdown brought a brief spell of rain and then wet sticky snow to these parts last weekend, and all the forest was re-flocked. In fact, some of the earlier natural decorating had not fallen off, so most parts were just enhanced. Now the marshmallow puffs are here for good, frozen stiff. So is the knee deep snow out in the woods, where snowshoes are a must.

Since then we have experienced several days of single digit temperatures and snow showers have sparkled us with ivory flakes. When the sun peeks through or nighttime headlights meld with these slivers of crystal, the earth and all around flicker like diamonds. Truly a sensational spectacle!

I’m told that Seagull Lake is now ice-covered and a trip by Poplar and Birch lakes along the Trail confirms they too have taken on a winter coat. A week ago, the Gunflint Gal tried to skim over at the west end, but gnashing northwest winds the next morning sent that hope a-packing until another day.

Haven’t heard from folks up on Saganaga, but I feel certain that she is still like her Gunflint cousin; rollin’, rollin’, rollin’! However, our final chapter can’t be far away as the upper Trail is really feeling like it’s ice-making time.

Yours truly got an early holiday gift last week when a handsome 10-point buck that has been showing up around here left one-half of his headdress. Another buck has been hanging out too, and he is completely rid of his cartilaginous crown, so ‘tis the season.

That sweet-toothed pine marten showed another appetite fancy a while back when some leftover barbequed chicken wing bones were presented in its feed box. If it’s anything like me, I can just imagine the mouth a-watering when it got a whiff of that tangy sauce. I didn’t see the furry critter come in for his/her carry-out, but the treats were gone in a matter of no time at all.

Those skeptical Canadian jays that came in a few weeks back have finally figured out that I mean them no harm. They now line up with my old whiskey Jack friend for a morning ration of bread cubes.

They are a joy to watch, landing one right after the other, taking their two bites and vamoosing to a deck-side balsam to gulp them down. Then it’s right back for more. All the while, their cowardly blue cousins sit in the trees watching impatiently for me to leave so that they can come in and bully the chickadees and nuthatches out of some sunflower seeds. Guess bullying isn’t just a human imperfection!

At the cost of sunflower seeds these days, I dare not give too much thought as to the end-of season expenditure. I’m already into my third 50-pound bag of the oily black morsels and it’s only early December. Of course when feeding uncountable squirrels, a couple pine martens, a band of jays plus flights of chickadees/grosbeaks and nuthatches, is it any wonder? But they are happy, so I am too.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor our white paradise!


Wildersmith December 4

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Winter took another swipe at the Gunflint Territory last week. And for once the weather forecasters hit one right on. After predicting a winter storm for several days in advance, our wilderness got smacked exactly like they said it would.

At Wildersmith, eight inches were added to the already white forest. I’m told that the mid-trail area got up to a foot. It’s interesting that in our neighborhood, we have counted a total of 23 inches already, and are within 10 inches of the total received all last winter on the Mile O’ Pine.

For folks out this way who are into cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and the like, there’s no business like snow business. And although we’ve got a rather late start, winter is starting to look really good!

In addition to the new snow, a mini cold blast came through on the heels of the storm. The Smiths’ thermometer slipped to a minus 3, our first sub-nothing of the new cold season.

We have since recovered to about normal readings as the big lakes continue to cool toward solidarity. My ‘hard water’ fishing friends are anxiously waiting for the ice that’s in place to stiffen, now that venison chasing is over.

It’s hard to believe that border country is into the last stanza, of the last year, in the first decade of the 2000s. December is the month of the “little spirit moon” (Manidoo Giizisoons) according to our Ojibwe neighbors.

Also known as the month of the full “cold moon”, this December is somewhat unique in that many things happen on the 21st, when the lunar experience is at its fullest. Not only is it the first day of biboon (winter), but the universe is also scheduled to have a lunar eclipse on this night of the solstice. About all that’s left in the heavens for that night would be a visit from Aurora Borealis. Wouldn’t that be something??

It’s always a wonder as to what critters are watching from relative obscurity as I go through some of my daily routines. They seem to be very in touch with what is going on with us human animals.

The firearms deer hunting season concluded on Sunday, Nov. 21. I had not seen deer one during the hunt, not even tracks in the snow around here. Then, as if there was some inter-woods communication system, out they came as soon as all were safe from a hunter’s slug. May be there’s a bit of cyber telepathy amongst the white tail population? Now their only worry is brother wolf.

On Monday morning, the 22nd, a handsome buck came strolling into the yard. It must be one that recollects time here before as he casually checked things out, including a peek in the window of my wood shop. He has been back several times since and has brought along a few girlfriends too.
Visits from our feathered friends have just exploded in the past week. Traffic in the air spaces around the place has to be a challenge for all those internal avian global positioning systems, especially among the black-capped chickadees. It would seem that mid-air collisions are an almost certainty.

Amongst the many arrivals and take-offs, plenty of color has been added with a number of evening and pine grosbeaks stopping by to join the usual blue and gray jaybirds. So as one might expect, there’s a lot of tweeting in our wild neighborhood.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the joy of an old-fashioned holiday season!


Wildersmith November 27

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Old Man Winter seems to be enjoying the territory now that he has finally arrived.  For the second consecutive weekend, the pesky guy has dropped a few more inches of snow. Although it has been nothing to write home about, the additional fluff is beginning to add up and is purely refreshing.

The temps have not been extreme yet, although there was one morning of single digits throughout the area that reminded us of crisp things to come. That one cold morning did find the mercury hitting zero on the Wildersmith thermometer, first time since way last March 26.

The consistent sub-freezing marks of the past week have allowed smaller area lakes to seal up for the next few months. Even some of the quieter bays on the big bodies have skimmed over, but the vast windswept open water is still hovering in the 30s just waiting for substantial sub-zero and quiet to do their thing.

Beauty of this special place in the universe just continues to unfold. There are a lot of spectacular natural places in America, but I find it hard to imagine any place that can match the peace and quiet of the Gunflint Trail in winter.

A return to the wilderness from a Grand Marais run last week found me caught up in this wonderland. It was late in the afternoon, darkness was on the increase and the skies were in varied tones of gray as we hummed along this ribbon of highway. Surely a snow happening was imminent.

Although it might have seemed gloomy to some, I was captivated by the grandeur of a black and white world. Fading light had turned the evergreen tunnel to shadowy black, in stark contrast to a snow-white landscape.

This point in time was surely reminiscent of a decades-old Kodak moment when about everything of historical importance was captured in black, white or shades in between. Here I was traveling back in time, nostalgically enjoying the peace of everything in our Gunflint world, truly black and white and totally removed from the political grays of these difficult times.

The here and now had no contemporary digital or rainbow elements, just the monotone character of a dove and a raven, but oh so striking! As the late Jackie Gleason so often quipped, “how sweet it is” and it was.

I often relate tales about the gourmet attitudes of many a visiting wild critter. The other day I was reminded of a story about how pine martens just love raspberry jam, when I came across some dated blueberry sauce in the back of the refrigerator. Wondering if the same enthusiasm would be true for this bit of blue heaven, I put the sweetness into an old can and set it out on the feeding rail.

It wasn’t long before old Piney made its daily appearance. And, “what to wondering eyes should appear” but the lush dark brown varmint, with its head stuck deep in that can, taking right to that syrupy treat.

Every once in awhile, the pert little face would pull out, as the blue gourmet had to catch its breath and lap the fruit which had stuck to its lips and whiskers. It was as if the little one had been in a Fourth of July pie eating contest.

With the winter conditions of late, I am surprised to hear that our Loon Lake gal spotted a young loon in the cold waters. Brrr, thoughts of floating in those icy waters makes me shiver!

Apparently it was a late summer arrival and not ready to head south when its kin departed. Thankfully there is some open water so that the adolescent still might have time to taxi off and get to the safety of a southerly course. It had better get going, though!

Once again the world is about ready to go into our season of holiday madness. I hope that you and yours took time to reflect on the bounty with which we are so richly blessed and give thanks. Further, if you were able to share with someone that might not be so fortunate, you have really been blessed.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some richness in the coming season!