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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:
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!

A wolf near Tucker Lake photographed by Fred's wife, Fran.

Wildersmith Jan. 13

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Life along the upper Trail remains seasonal in one aspect and puny in another. The past week found the region again hunkered down amidst its usual sub-zero character. Finally, last weekend saw some moderation that made even single-digit temps feel balmy.

On the puny side, we have gone another week and the drought on snow continues. Although the landscape remains pure of crystal, we need a break in this continuing dry spell that has haunted us during nearly a decade of winters.

If flakes don’t start building up soon, our dry time before green-up will be more precarious than usual in terms of wildfire risk.  And, the liquid glacial undulations that froze in a depleted state could thaw, exposing more shoreline than ever before. Guess the prognosticators that said El Nino would crush winter as we like it in northern Minnesota have been right on.

The brutal cold of the past few weeks provides some interesting occurrences that only backcountry folks have the privilege of experiencing. The eerie scrunch of steps in dry snow, unexpected popping of frozen sap in a white pine and the house suddenly creaking are samples of life in the frozen north.

In addition, the sight of frosted foreheads and backs on the deer during these bitter mornings seems almost unimaginable. How cold, but durable, they must be.

At 28 below a couple mornings ago, Whiskey and Jack, my gray jay pals, came to my hands with a delicate frost build-up around their eyes. Without this up close and personal fellowship, who would have thought that this happens, much less that they could still be alive.

We should be amazed at how many of Mother Nature’s critters have evolved to survive in her seasonal conditions. Sad to say, though, that rapidly changing circumstances in our universe are putting the evolution of adaptations for all living things into a critical state.

The recent issue of the “Minnesota Conservation Volunteer” magazine has a section on tree adaptation to climate warming in our northern latitudes. The presentation was interesting in regard to what is happening to the southern boreal forest. The prognostication for these adaptations during the next 100 years is not what we old-timers like to hear…particularly if you have affection for the coniferous forest as we know it now.

Speaking of adaptation and survival, day-to-day is on the minds of wolves throughout the territory. Most recently, a wild game buffet has been opened up on the lake ice in front of Gunflint Lodge. The wolf pack provided the elements and many other wild carnivorous folks have taken part in the feast.

Meanwhile, another feeding station has been noted somewhere along the south shore of Loon Lake. A friend over there tells of one warrior coming up from the lake shore with a leg of venison in its jaws. It carried the meal into the woods, apparently for stashing, and then came back through, headed back to the site for more.

With the local deer population in a dwindled state, one wolf has taken a more vegetarian approach. The hungry critter has been showing up with some regularity to a bird feeding site over on Tucker Lake. It has decided that the oily flavor of spilled sunflower seeds is an acceptable diet alternative. Guess if that tummy is growling, anything will do.

Keep on hangin’ on, pray for snow and savor the winter woods!


Wildersmith On The Gunflint Jan. 6

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As the northland is a week into another loop around old Sol,”a belated happy New Year wish comes to one and all from the Wildersmith two.

It is great to be back in the woods after a swell time with the family down in Iowa. My thanks go out to the Nosey K-9 from over on Hungry Jack for filling in while I was away.

Hope all in border country got to see the blue moon that ended the aught decade. Fortunately, we were blessed with a few clear nights on either side of the full lunar night. With reflections on the breast of fresh Christmas snow, the luster of midday splotches between dark forest shadows was stupendous.

The romance of the north woods was never more captivating than one evening around midnight. I looked out to admire the blue iridescence and watched as two white tails peacefully meandered through the yard. Pausing for a time to browse on some shrubs, they looked at the house, and even seemed to know that they were being watched.

While much of the civilized world persists in violence and turmoil, on this night in the wilderness, there surely was peace on earth.

Progressing through week one of 2010, Mother Nature has had the Zamboni going 24/7. Although not unbearably bitter, we did have a couple Wildersmith mornings that hit 30 below and then some. As I key this column, the neighborhood has not been above zero for several days. With ice making continuing to be the order, hard water anglers will be pleased as punch with the trout season opener but days away.

A friend down the road shares with me that the ice depth on Gunflint, about 300 feet out from his place, is near 9 inches. Reports from some of the smaller lakes find that frozen depths are approaching 2 feet.

Icy accents have been resonating from the Gunflint Gal as she shivers in her frozen coat. Stepping outside with frequency to bring in wood for the stove, I seldom miss out on a belch, boom, howl or screech.

It would make one wonder if enlightenments from wilderness spirits aren’t being recited between our Gunflint and her Loon Lake cousin a short distance beyond the southern cliff. In any case, although sometimes startling, the sounds of winter near the lake are as delightful as the charming ripple chorus that happens in warmer times.

The snow depth around here is somewhere near 16 inches. However, the territory has been blanked since the Dec. 25 dropping. Snow activities can be taken full advantage of now, but with a non-winter November, we are behind, and could use some full-service dumping on a weekly basis for the next few months.

I always wonder, when I depart for any period of time during the winter, if my wild pals will be here when I get back. Amazingly, most don’t take long to figure out that the old man in the sheepskin hat is home.

Within hours, some whitetail visitors had come back and bedded down outside our windows. And by next morning, the poultry-poaching martens, along with my gray jay pals, Whiskey and Jack, had also checked in for their daily nutritional supplement. Sure is nice to be wanted!

Last but not least, I am happy to announce that Gunflint Lodge icon, Bruce Kerfoot, is home from the hospital after heart bypass surgery. The delicate procedure took place just before Christmas, and his recovery was difficult at times, as many of those operations can be. Family and friends are thankful that he is back at the lake in a slow mode of recuperation.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor hopes for a great new year.



Wildersmith On The Gunflint Dec. 22, 2009

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Days of anticipation, cinnamon, chocolate and joy are finally here ….Pre-Christmas congregating has been going on for days and days since Thanksgiving and now is the time for the excitement to get serious as the Christian welcoming is again renewed.

The decades old Northwood’s Christmas Service and sleigh ride at Okontoe happened last Saturday night. The joyous season at hand brought together nearly a hundred family and Gunflint friends for a time of reflections and song honoring the marvelous Christmas Story.

Dating back to 1971, the traditional “old fashioned” Christmas observance was held in the humble chapel near the Bow Lake sight of Okontoe and the Adventurous Christians Retreat. The chapel, newly completed after ten years, has plenty of sweat equity invested by hundreds of dedicated people, and it showed, with glowing ambiance. 

After the service, treats were served and folks moved outside for caroling around a toasty bonfire. The sub-zero temps had noses “just a chillin’,” but this didn’t stop many from jumping aboard the horse drawn sleigh for rides in the snow on a splendidly romantic starlit night. What a magnificent celebration for the birthday of all birthdays!

Everyone has heard of the Black Forest, but few are blessed with getting to observe the north woods white forest. That is what we experienced at Wildersmith for many days over the past two weeks while the Gunflint was trying to freeze.

Finally the big lakes have frozen. Gunflint completed her annual winter course on the 16th. Her cousin just to the south, Loon Lake, succumbed a couple days earlier, while Seagull and Saganaga have also followed suit. So lakes are all buttoned up for the winter. The clouds of steamy vapors are calmed and sounds of restless waters have silenced until sometime next May.

The Gunflint freeze was about four days later than the average date of December 12th based on my data collection since the early eighties. Trying on her new coat has caused some apparent consternation for the Gunflint Gal as there has been a bit of   howling, screeching and squawking since the icy garment made its debut.

The pinnacle for short daylight hours has arrived and passed. With the Solstice of winter, the pendulum is now swinging longer as we head in another direction. It always seems funny that as we are shivering in this northern paradise this time of year, the first seed and plant catalog of the season has arrived, obviously promising things to come.

A heads up is issued to Trail travelers at night. The moose are now congregating in the moose zone (from the North Brule River Bridge to mid-trail) for their nightly salt lick. Several sightings have been reported but thank goodness, no collisions as yet. A daytime run up or down the byway confirms their having been there as the prancing and pawing of big ugly hooves heads in all snowy directions.

If anyone is familiar with the work of photo-artist Jim Brandenburg, they will surely remember his striking photo on the cover of “Brother Wolf.” The Smith’s had an opportunity to observe a glance at a similar pose recently on a trip down county road 20/50 only this one was live!

A handsome wolf happened in front of our vehicle and bounded a short distance up into the woods. Suddenly it stopped for a look at this large red monster. We halted and opened the window while fumbling for digital equipment.

Sure enough he checked us out as we did the same. Slowly it circled about behind a big pine only to stick its head around for another peek. And there it was, for an instance, a “photo-op” nearly identical to what Brandenburg had so splendidly captured many years ago.

Unlikely as it would seem, my human frailties bungled the chance to permanently record this secretive wild experience. So it will have to go down as an etching in the memory bank. What a gift at this time of year, one that will always be remembered when ever I drive by that spot.

Keep on Hangin’ on, and Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good day!


Wildersmith On The Gunflint Dec. 17, 2009

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T’was the week before Christmas, and all through the forest, Winter has finally settled before us! 

Since the first of December, it’s as if someone just flipped a switch, and the fall season was gone. With a warmer-than-usual November spoiling us, the last lap of 2009 grabbed a hold and folks out this way have been shocked back to reality.

Last week, the north woods territory missed a big snowstorm as it passed to the south, blessing folks that really don’t give a hoot about it. Meanwhile, out in these Arrowhead hinterlands, where folks relish the stuff, we are always thankful for even the smallest of snow miracles. The half foot of white that covers the ground in border country remains as pristine as the days that it fell, and the mercury is assuredly keeping it that way.

Most recent days have been in the normal month-12 deep freeze. A few of them saw the thermometer hang out below the zero mark during daytime hours, and one morning, we saw minus 19 at Wildersmith along with a flaming cold sunrise sky.

Yes, the coldest day yet, and winter’s first day is still on the horizon. With Gunflint residents in the snowscape, we are trembling with excitement to get it on!

Jack Frost has expanded his brushwork on lakeside greenery along the south shore of Gunflint. Striking spears of frozen crystal have grown to such voluminous proportions that pine boughs are drooping under the weight. And on the leafless deciduous branches around the yard, frothy spikes have built up to as much as 1 inch in length.

With brisk winds keeping the big lakes in rolling turmoil, ice-making on them has been stifled for the time being. The Gunflint gal began to put on her coat last Saturday as the wind calmed a bit. But, by next morning, Old Man Winter was whistling in from the northwest once again, and the skim was buffeted away.

The ice on smaller lakes, however, is still in the thickening process. Some ice-covered bodies may be approaching the safe-to-walk-on stage, but caution is still advised for those hard-water fishing folks who have been waiting anxiously since the first of the month. 

A fisherman friend of mine reports that his favorite early-season spot was only frozen to 3+ inches as of last Sunday. Obviously the meager snow cover is insulating against the freezing process more than one would think, because the temps have been just right.

A couple old friends stopped by the yard last week. It was refreshing to see that they had not fallen prey to the hungry wolf pack or caught a hunter’s slug.

I awoke one morning to find a pair of old bucks lying in the yard where they’ve been coming for years to get their handout of maize. One of the two was already void of his pointed crown, while the other was in the process, carrying just a half rack. Since then, several others have moseyed through and glanced in the windows.

The frosty snow-covered balsam branches adjacent to our deck have acted in concert with the flashy pine grosbeaks and those ornery blue jays to provide a strikingly patriotic red, white and blue backdrop for winter viewing.

I’ve noticed that the winged folks of the neighborhood have seemed doubtful about dawn during the frigid lingering darkness these mornings. Guess they don’t like getting out of bed either on cold mornings. However, when they finally start flitting about from branch to branch, the colorful birds add a splendid accent to the pureness of our winter season.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a Solstice thought!