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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 November 19

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 Back in the wilderness once more. My thanks are again extended to the canine residing on Hungry Jack Lake that brought you last week’s Gunflint scoop!

Well, it’s better late than never for Old Man Winter to get things going along the Trail. We wilderness beings have been getting a bit anxious as the coming of our winter express is way overdue.
But the time has finally arrived. At this writing, a fine six inches of winter down has blessed us in the Wildersmith neighborhood, with probably even more in the higher elevation snow zones.
The wet sticky stuff is stuck to every forest appendage giving another sampling of those marvelous Hallmark holiday looks. A walk down Mile 0’ Pine as the storm began to dwindle was magical last Sunday afternoon. With all of nature bowing in homage, under the weight of nature’s first real seasonal flocking, it was like strolling through a crystal tunnel.
With the new white blanket, it’s tracking time. Many little woodsy critters have already left their mark around the place. Although they have been here all the time, it is so intriguing to trace their many directions.
I been told that several hunters have already bagged their annual venison; however, some are still waiting for the right one to come along. This new tracking material might be just what they need to bring the deer gang into more sheltered confines. Hopefully all will take home a prize as the firearms season comes to a close at sundown this Sunday.
An unusual critter occurrence happened on our deck feeding rail recently. A small feeding station for squirrels, aptly called a “squirrel lunch box”, is always in use. Sometimes the little red rodents crawl inside to munch their seeds, while others pop in and out for one seed at a time.
On this particular repetition, one unsuspectingly had taken its place inside. Not knowing the lunch box was occupied, a curious and hungry pine marten came along and decided to partake of the seedy contents. 
Surprise, surprise, both animals were startled as Piney poked its head under the roof top lid. The startled marten backed out briefly, but suddenly realized that it must seize the moment.
Sadly, the squirrel was trapped and the marten was not going to be denied a bit of warm protein for dinner. After a fleeting skirmish with Piney half in the feed box and half out, a surprising short-lived battle ended.
The nutritional expedition found Piney the marten trotting off with prey in mouth and, tragically, the spirited squirrel became an entity of the hereafter. Just another day in the wilderness predator/prey theater, and the Smiths were there!
Following my brief out-of-state excursion, I returned to find an old friend, “Whiskey” the Canadian jay, waiting patiently. It had also brought along a couple of friends to the daily breakfast ritual.
The visiting gray duo has turned out to be quite timid about coming to my hand for a treat. So while my old buddy lands readily without hesitation, the ungrateful mavericks cavort about making all kinds of racket, swooping in close with no stopover.
Almost like they are biting the hand that brought them to this place of good fortune, the nervous newcomers then chase their brave kin off into the trees trying to commandeer its easy pickings. Wonder if they will ever settle down for a free “hand”-out?
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a wonderful time in the wild neighborhood!
Airdate: November 19, 2010


Wildersmith November 5

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After several months of growling about the months of territorial drought, a rather substantial precipitation event occurred over a few days last week. Wonders will never cease!
At Wildersmith the rain gauge filled to two inches and there was probably more in the higher elevations. The wet event probably did little to raise lake levels much, but it was a welcome start, and will be much appreciated by billions of trees that needed some H2O to freeze around their roots for the winter.
So we’re off into November! The month of the Full Beaver moon, when our wilderness is nodding drowsily in anticipation of a long winter’s nap. It’s our time of stalking a whitetail to fill the freezer and looking back at a harvest bounty where Thanksgiving can be offered.
Except for the deer scrambling to keep ahead of a hunter’s aim, life in the territory has slowed to a proverbial snail’s pace. The waiting game begins, wishing for snow to start piling up and ice to thicken, so as to get on with those fabulous winter activities.
The 19th anniversary of the fabled Halloween blizzard passed and the weather was not even close to a repeat. However, an inch or so of white did accumulate last Saturday morning, and the landscape was in crystal splendor for most of the day until a peek of late afternoon sun did its thing.
The current scene looks much like the neighborhood snowshoe hares: a little bit white with a bit more brown. Another feature of our colder time’s onset has trailside lakes coated with wrinkles of ice in recent mornings. Guess it’s about time, as this usually happens about a couple weeks earlier than now.
Speaking of hares, there’s a section of woods along the south Gunflint Lake Road where a number of the northwoods bunnies have been doing their multiplication since last spring and into the summer. A drive by the area recently found them in an apparent caucus (hope it wasn’t political), as I counted eight in just a couple hundred feet.
They all were in different stages of attire transition, with one being in near complete winter garb while its relatives were still in brown and white saddle shoe mode. As morning low temps continue to dwindle into the teens, and with an added blanket of white, slipping into that pure white fur is sure to be on the rapid increase.
With the growth of this hopping community, one would wonder if there might be an influx of Canadian lynx in the not too distant future. It will be of interest to see if we get a snarling of cats to harmonize with the chorus of wolves in this sector of the Gunflint world.
Another hard working crew of Chik-Wauk enthusiasts was on the scene last Saturday to see that the trail boardwalk project got done before winter sets in. After several hours, the walkway met up with the other end of the open Rubaboo trail. Although a few curve connections need to be finished, along with final leveling adjustments, the lion’s share of the job is done, well done!
Visitors next spring and summer are certain to enjoy the path across the marsh while hiking through this end of the trail paradise. Thoughts of the natural things that might be observed while strolling along this wood and steel footway seem endless. Thanks again to all who pitched in!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the time of the freezing-over moon.

Airdate: November 5, 2010 


Wildersmith October 29

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 Like the flurry of migrating avian creatures, October has flown by. Meek and mellow most of the time, our 10th segment of 2010 finally showed a hint of winter last week.

An autumn squall left a sheer layer of snow along the Trail on Wednesday evening the 20th. Yes it did precipitate, lasting for an overnight and amounting to only six one-hundredths, but it was white and wet. By mid-morning next day we had slipped right back into the same old dry rut.
A couple trips to the end of the Trail last weekend left me almost dumbfounded. When I passed over the Cross River where it intersects the byway, the river is so astonishingly low that it probably should not be defined as such. It is more or less a rock pathway now with a few puddles. It’s both sad and maddening that the climate patterns have altered so drastically in the past decade. Sure makes one wonder what will come next.
The only positive about the nasty drought conditions is that it has allowed another project to commence at the end of the trail historic site. Several citizens remaining in the cold season Gunflint community came together once again on behalf of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. Meeting this time was for the assembly and installation of the Rubaboo Trail boardwalk at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. The energetic crew, under the leadership of Kath and Mike Lande, spent the better part of last Saturday getting all parts assembled and a good one-half of the scenic walkway put in place.
Sincere thanks are extended to those ambitious folks, but the job is not yet done. Another gathering is planned for this Saturday (tomorrow) to complete the project. If anyone in the territory is interested in helping, plan to be there at 9 a.m. All hands are welcome!
With fall being both a time of endings and beginnings, wilderness happenings are dwindling on some counts and reaching a fever pitch on others. The tamaracks are about dusted off, sap in sugary tree veins is oozing down to root, earth-level foliage has collapsed with the loss of its life-supporting juices, and loons have gathered to shove off for places south and east.
Meanwhile, the biological energies of sustaining a next generation are beginning to flow as whitetails head into the rut. Although the mating ritual is beginning to wane for the area moose and bear, there is still plenty of exuberance in the woodsy thicket as winter preparations continue.
Human spirits are on the rise too, as the firearms deer hunting season is nearing. I’m hearing of rifles being sighted in, stalking sites getting camouflaged and hot orange gear being packed into duffels. Yes, November is moving in and next weekend will find both man and beast on the run. Everyone should plan to be on the lookout!
At Wildersmith, I have yet to finish fencing a patch of young trees from potential browsing deer, next year’s firewood is yet to be split and stacked, and the need to mount my snowplow blade remains on the list. Nevertheless, it’s time to get on with winter. Gray clouds of the coming month have been building over the past few days and it has put me in the mood; even checked out the snow blower and it started on the second pull, so let the snow time offensive begin.
A close of the column for this week is not complete without an urgent request to remind one and all WTIP listeners and readers that the fall membership drive is but days away. A continuance of the splendid program offerings from this gem of the north needs your ongoing financial support. “Wildersmith wants you” to give to the best of your ability. As the fund drive begins Nov. 4, listen for a Wildersmith incentive match to be announced and make a contribution!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the natural offerings.

Airdate: October 29, 2010


Wildersmith October 22

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It’s ‘shine on Harvest Moon’ time in the wilderness. This weekend marks the full lunar experience for the month of falling leaves.
If it’s clear as it was a week in advance, the forest will really be lit up during the wee hours of tomorrow (Saturday) morning. The Smiths were traveling home after dark last Saturday under a sparkling clear sky and watched as a half moon came up over many Trail side lakes along our Gunflint path.
The fluorescent cast on rippling evening waters was something to behold against a deep, blue-black forest curtain. Glowing waters and a sprinkling from starry heavens bestowed a remarkable romantic landscape for us as we trekked homeward. It’s the nighttime scenery from which woodsy love stories must be contrived.
Anyway, it was most soothing as we rambled along the bituminous path into what often seemed like a black hole, only to come upon one majestic shimmering creation after another. Pretty darn neat!
The territory is entering a fourth consecutive week with barely a sprinkle of rain recorded. If one travels in the back country, your vehicle is stirring up a spiraling dust bowl the likes of which are just choking.
If the continuing atmospheric conditions are any indication, prognosticator predictions of a snowy winter ahead for this part of the world might be in need of serious adjusting. Guess we’ll just keep on, keepin’ on, in hope of a precipitous turnaround.
Although the dry spell persists, our warmth of the first weeks in month 10 has mellowed into more normal temperature readings around Wildersmith. And, if you add in some occasional gusty northwest currents, an accent of windchill has added to the mix. Guess one feels it more since we have been so spoiled with the abnormal extension of late August.
The yearly re-carpeting of the forest floor is receiving a final touch while heading into the last stanza of October. Tamarack needles are gently floating down to complete the process. So all about the woods is in readiness whenever the Mom in Charge decides to mount a winter offensive.
I’ve observed a couple wilderness critters that indicate there might be a colder time ahead. Both a snowshoe hare and an ermine have crossed my path recently. Each was still sporting a brown-tone upper body, and milky white feet, legs and belly. If something white doesn’t happen soon these characters have been duped completely, and will be as conspicuous as a proverbial sore thumb.
The usual winter welcome wagon gang may be fooled too. Our snow bunting northwoods greeters have been gathering along the byway. A trip home from end of the Trail last Sunday found several throngs swooping out in front of the vehicle. One thought in their favor however: With no snow cover, seed gathering along the roadbed will be easy pickings.
The museum season at Chik-Wauk closed last Sunday. An overwhelmingly successful first year has ended with slightly over 10,900 visitors.
The joyous sounds of people connected to the Gunflint were splendid. Now it’s a time of whispering spirits in the wind over big Lake Saganaga until spring, when folks will gather again, sharing and listening to saga of Gunflint days gone by.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the peace and quiet of fall in the wilderness!

Airdate: October 22, 2010 


Wildersmith October 15

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 After a pleasantly cool September most days of October have been considerably warmer than normal. In that vein, it has been so warm that those nasty bitin’ flies have been reborn. Hopefully, we are in for only a brief time of red welts and swatting--boy are they obnoxious!

Reflecting on last year at this time: We had measurable snow on the ground out this way. What a difference a year makes, or for that matter…a few days.
It’s tamarack time on the Gunflint. In a quick seven days the upper Trail has jumped to the final coloring phase of autumn.
 The departure of birch and aspen gold from them “thar hills” went way too fast as their buttery tokens dropped like rain.
All that remains is the aurous lace of Tamarack needles to accent our wilderness world. And beautiful they are, blooming like nighttime beacons against the drab lifeless background of a forest gone to rest.
Now a zillion wilderness skeletons are lurking in shorter day shadows, naked until next June. All we need in prelude to the coming Halloween season is some of those ghostly clouds to drift down to tree top level, and things will be set for a spooky next couple weeks.
A trip to the end of the Trail last Sunday found me in awe of what you presently observe at ground level. The brush is leafless for the most part, revealing some wonderful new growth patches of jack pine on land that has been left so forlorn after the Ham Lake fire in 2007.
It’s hard to believe that in three short years since that blistering tragedy Mother Nature has so hastily taken over, healing some of the scars with smiles of green. Some of those baby jacks already look to be one to two feet tall.
It would be nice though if the old natural gal would give her new babies a drink. Once again the territory has fallen under another spell with no precip. I hate to mention it, but Gunflinters still hanging out can’t help but be nervous with the summer green having turned to brown that is crunchy dry. It makes one wonder if this drought will ever end.
Forest conditions are somewhat nerve racking at this time, just as they are before green-up in the springtime. Of particular concern is that most wildfire sprinkler systems have been winterized, including those of yours truly and the close-by neighbors. Although my system could be reactivated quickly, it is hoped that some serious wet weather systems will soon answer the call.
Speaking of water and wildfire sprinklers, I was in the Gunflint Lake liquid this past Saturday to bring in system pump lines. I don’t have a thermometer in the water right now but man, was it chilling. Ice season is still a few weeks away for the Gunflint Gal, but the cold on my hands felt much the same as it does when the system is re-installed after ice out in the spring…brrrrr and ouuuch!
After a summer absence, my whiskey jacks have come home. I’m guessing that it’s the same couple, as they sure know the old routine: “Listen for the house door to open, make a mad flight for the woodshop door, and hang out until that old guy gets the feed bag out.” Then they’re on hand for a treat.
And another old friend has returned as well. One of those pine martens has re-appeared after pulling a disappearing act over the summer. It has made a couple visits in the past few days, so I guess it’s time to start putting out the poultry parts that have been taking up space in the deep freeze. Hummm…how do I do this without bringing in the bears? Very carefully!
So all is good here at Wildersmith…keep on hangin’ on and savor a dwindling autumn!

Airdate: October 15, 2010


Wildersmith October 8

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 I’m back in the woods once more. Thanks again to the wonder dog over on Hungry Jack Lake for covering me during the recent hiatus.

The advance into fall has entered phase two. The flaming sugar maple reds of stage one has faded. And…we are into the dazzling golden glow of Binaake-Giizis (October)…the time of a “falling leaves” moon.
Since the return from a run to Iowa, the north woods have dished up some simply marvelous weather. A hard freeze last Sunday morning put the finishing touch on ground level flora, and several mild sunshiny days blessed us both before and since that frosty sunrise with an Indian summer to relish.
Mother Nature is in the process of blanketing the forest floor with her annual pre-winter carpet. Maple leaves have settled into their place as the first level matting. Now a delicate coating of tawny older generation white and red pine needles, along with white cedar fronds, are trickling down with each passing breeze.
As if the soft earth weren’t already plush as can be…the birch and aspen will soon be adding their accent to this most wonderful of wilderness times.
A trip up the Trail is just plain stunning with the golden hillsides nestled amongst the green pines. With the bright sunshine of late, and a deep blue-sky backdrop, the buttery yellow leaves are nearly blinding. Add in a northern breeze and the zillions of leaflets have a twinkling Vegas glitter.
The neighborhood is quiet now save for an occasional pop from a distant grouse hunter’s gun. It is a time to be outside doing some of the usual “getting ready for winter” chores. With cool air on your one side, the warmth of Sol caressing the other, and the tranquility of northwoods silence, chores of cold weather preparation are worth doing by just being able to soak it all up.
So my good friend/neighbor and I have been crossing things off the list. The boats are stowed away, the dock is on shore (thanks to a great group of weekend visitors from metropolis), and a good number of young trees have been afforded protection from the winter deer browsing…to mention but a few.
Although there are still jobs to be done, an early snow would not cause a major disturbance. In fact, the moose and I would welcome an early white coming.
The end of the museum season at Chik-Wauk is nearing, but the ability to explore the surrounding trails will remain available by simply hiking in from the gate entrance on Moose Pond Drive. The last day for museum visits will be Sunday, Oct.17.
The Gunflint Trail Historical Society board of trustees and officers wants to thank the over 10,000 visitors that came up the Trail to view and listen to the story about people of Gunflint’s past.
A handicap-accessible boardwalk is being built across the wetland near the southwest Sag Bay that will connect two open ends of the Rubbaboo trail. And…an extensive Native American exhibit will be featured in the temporary section for 2011 as Trail history continues to unfold.
Opening will happen next spring around Memorial Day weekend. Stay tuned to other Chik-Wauk happenings by checking the website,
Keep on hangin’ on…and savor the ‘autumn leaves.’

Airdate: October 8, 2010


Wildersmith September 24

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 Autumn is officially declared…and what a package for the north woods: the equinox and the full “corn” moon occurring within hours of each other. What a magnificent time to be in the wilderness.

The collage of fall brilliance truly exploded during the past week. At this writing, sugar maples are at the peak of infrared hues. Shades of red are absolutely breathtaking along the Mile O’ Pine when clouds part, allowing the sun to shine through.  Meanwhile their wild moose maple cousins are chiming in with orange-reds to deep maroon.
It’s a leaf peeper’s dream come true as one traverses the Trail. The yellow brick road of summer blooms has transitioned into a gilded tunnel of quaking aspen and birch tokens.
Windy conditions mentioned last week have continued almost unabated. The sometimes-raging air currents have slowed canoe traffic on the larger bodies as rollers capped in white bashed shorelines. In a few cases, it makes me wonder why the brave at heart have used questionable judgment by tempting fate in such dangerous water circumstances. Luckily I have heard of no tragedies to date.
With colder temperatures of late, and stiff winds, it hasn’t been the best for late day sun gazing around here either. When it has been calm enough to actually sit on the dock, clouds have stymied several evenings of those dazzling U.S./Canadian sunsets.
But all is not gloom and doom because of the frequent gray and cool outside. It’s a time when the magic of wood smoke permeates the forest at certain places along back country paths. 
For those of us who have not taken off on the seasonal migration, puffing chimneys are ushering in a new season just like the striking forest attire. Silvery vapors ascending from a hot wood burning stove cast an unmatched romantic northwoods spell that is a complement to the outdoor aroma of fall in the forest. The two of us at Wildersmith have shared the experience with passers-by too, with the first lighting of our black iron firewood eater, and all is warm and cuddly.
Critter tales are trickling in. A bear made three breaking and entering attempts at a mid-trail residence off Bearskin Road--no damage done, but Bruno was probably a bit out of sorts at not hitting the nutritional jackpot.
Another happening in the woods just east of Wildersmith saw one of those pesky squirrels become the target of a hungry hawk. Observers tell of the hawk circling until it found the right moment for the attack. Then like rifle shot, it came streaking down for the rodent pick-up.
In the blink of an eye, lunch was clutched in the avian talons and hoisted off into the blue. This is an up north example of fast food at its best…not even a McSomething could be had this quick.
Then while hiking with friends last weekend, we came upon a situation where white flakes were flying fast and furious from above. The sun was shining and it was still too warm for snow. Skyward investigation finally located a downy woodpecker high in a dead birch.
The little fellow was busy pecking away in a hole that was already large enough for his full entry. We still don’t know whether it might be a future residence or a big cache of tasty bugs. Whatever the situation, he was making sawdust at a rate that would rival a good chain saw. It was quite interesting to observe this operation of peck and spit.
The honkers are headed south and murders of crows are congregating along the byway for their trek in the same direction, so I’ll fade into the distance too.
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the splendor of border country.
Airdate: September 24, 2010


Wildersmith September 17

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 Our trek into autumn continues throughout the upper Gunflint Territory…and senses are being excited, both visually and also with a caressing from chilled Canadian air currents.
The area seems to be back in a more normal weather groove as we conclude the first half of September. An increasing frequency of 30-degree nights and 50s during the day is most invigorating.
We’ve been experiencing some November-like days in terms of wind conditions. In fact, last Sunday, area lake waters were raging in the winds with waves of four feet and maybe more at times here on the Gunflint. Rollers were splashing over the Wildersmith dock that is now several feet above the depleted lake level…so this is no exaggeration.
The passing of our Labor Day weekend has brought to an end a summer of recreation, rest and relaxation. A lot of wilderness dwellings now stand vacant, with spirit-like memories all that remain of warm season activities.
Almost overnight the sugar maples along the Mile O’ Pine and in a few other border country patches have exploded in scarlet. Guess that shows you what I know, because a couple weeks ago, I had my doubts that the annual color show would amount to much due to the strangling drought.
Adding the crimson treetops to the burgeoning birch and aspen gold has brought the spotlight toward the coming equinox. It is leaf-peeper season: a time for which we autumnal enthusiasts have been longing since the ice and snow departure of month four.
I’ve got to believe that smoke signals from the Lizard Lake fire a couple weeks back got through to the rain gods. A rather unexpected overnight rain spelled another inch or so for the parched Gunflint wilderness last Friday. So that’s two successive weeks now where we have seen the long dry spell somewhat tempered.
The much-needed moisture lifted human spirits too, as bubbling trickles have re-appeared in any number of dry creek beds. And although the area could stand many more days of dripping skies, we’ll take the last effort with smiles and hope for more.
Additional spice has been added to the northern wilderness world--I’ve detected the first fragrance of plant fermentation from our damp earth. Some folks would argue that the first smell of mud in the spring has an incomparable natural essence, but to yours truly, there is nothing equal to the aroma of an end to a northwoods growing season. Aaah…the scent of Dagwagin (fall).
An inquisitive bear made its way into the yard last Sunday, but found nothing that smelled like nourishment. So it didn’t spend much time nosing around, particularly when the neighbor lady made her presence known.
Meanwhile the harvest and storage season for area critters is continuing at a maddening pace. I think the squirrels must have enough stashed for at least two winters, based on all the items that have been cut down from high in the conifers.

Patches of azure sky were few and far between last Saturday for the annual Taste of the Gunflint. However, clouds and occasional light showers did not deter hundreds of folks that traveled the Trail to partake of some gourmet northwoods bounty.
The official “end of the trail” at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center had in excess of 200 visitors, most of whom enjoyed the great pie and ice cream that was being served. Thanks go out to all who assisted in organizing each and every stop along the scenic byway, and especially to all those upper Gunflint pie-makers!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the sights and smells of the season.

Airdate: September 17, 2010


Wildersmith September 10

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As if Ma Naturale flipped a switch, week one of month nine became much more tolerable. Finally… the atmosphere is really cool to talk about. And let’s hope that we’re done with the grim stickiness of summer…let it succumb in the gasp of its own heated undoing.

The Labor Day weekend kicked off the back-to-school season in autumnal elegance. A pre-weekend rain left at least an inch or more in most border country rain gauges. Meanwhile an ensuing blast from the Northwest brought down not only many limbs and twigs, but the thermometer readings. The moose must be smiling!
By last Sunday morning the mercury had slipped to 34 in a couple spots along the south shore of Gunflint Lake. This was a precursor to a spectacular day that had everyone you talked to raving about…what a day! Then on Labor Day morning, there was a slight touch of frost on the woodshed roof.
The much-welcome rain did little to stymie the receding level of area lakes, but surely made folks more comfortable with regard to the wildfire danger. The Lizard Lake fire, that had residents and business people on edge last weekend, has lain down. And, according to Forest Service monitors, is smoldering peacefully as they allow it to burn itself out, so one may still see a puff of smoke, but we can breathe easier. Grateful thanks are extended to all agencies that answered the call when things looked very tenuous weekend before last.
With the indigo berry season all but over, Bruno hunger pangs are bringing them back to people neighborhoods. Thus refresher warnings are out to keep man-made temptations secured.
Now that the harvest is completed and the blue pearls are preserved in any number of modes, all kinds of azure cuisine is appearing at wilderness dinner tables. The latest that I’ve been appraised of is a blueberry crisp that was invented by a gal down the road on Mile O’ Pine.
The creator, who shall remain anonymous, stirred the concoction up only to have it bake up less than crisp (as she called it, a slurpy failure). However, her grateful northwoods spouse made the day by indicating that it would taste superb, as he chuckled, sucking it through a straw. Guess there is really no way that anything formulated with the blue fruit from the Land of Sky Blue Waters can ever really be bad. So you all keep on cookin’ those northern blues.
DNR reports indicate that the area grouse cycle is heading downward from its apparent peak in ’09. It might be trending that way according to their counts, but I’m seeing plenty of those northwoods “chicken birds” at almost any turn in the road. And they still seem to be about as bright as a two-watt bulb, so I would guess that hunters will be able to get enough this fall to fill a pot or two.
If the cool weather conditions continue, I’m feeling that we may have seen the last of the hummingbirds. They usually fill their tanks in the next week or so for the long haul to winter quarters. I’m already preparing to lay away the sweet juice terminal as traffic has slowed considerably. In their place, those raucous blue jays have returned from wherever they spend summer days.
A final reminder is made about the Taste of the Gunflint Saturday, September 11, from11 a.m. to 5 p.m. It will be a swell day on the Trail to stop in for a visit at any one of nine participating establishments for a flavor of the old north woods. Don’t forget to save a little stomach space for a piece of pie and some ice cream at the Chik-Wauk Museum fundraiser. The diet can start, or continue, on Sunday!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor that sweetness of the Gunflint!

Air Date: September 10, 2010


Wildersmith September 3

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On to September…she’s calling! Thank goodness it’s here as August has been ugly…stuck in a hot sticky rut about every weekend. The last one has been the worst of all in the upper Gunflint. Month nine has to be better…the season of “Dagwagin” (fall) surely can’t be as miserably dry as what the upper Trail has been through the past 31.
The last rain, of nearly two weeks ago, has long since evaporated and left the territory in the everlasting drought. Obviously we aren’t connecting with the right words to the rain gods!
And just as we have been worrying, the horrible word “wildfire” has become more than one of simple conversation. This past weekend, a smoldering bog fire caught the blistering southerly winds and took off.
The cause remains unknown, but the location is. Located west of Lizard Lake in the BWCAW south of the Trail…it may have started by dry lightning. At this writing (Sunday evening), the smoky 1-plus-acre smudge pot has grown to almost 50 acres and has the serious attention of Forest Service firefighters as well as our local Gunflint fire volunteers.
Two days of aerial water drops have made the area along Gunflint Lake busier than many a big city airport. I’ve been unable to keep an accurate count of all the touch downs to scoop water by those big yellow beaver aircraft.
Perhaps the rain gods will see the “smoke as a signal” that this area needs immediate help!
This column marks a celebration of such for yours truly. I’m keying off into year nine of sending you Gunflint news snippets each week.
The first seven years were for the local newspaper and since then...with the great folks of… and listeners to… WTIP. Thanks to everyone that has been so kind to surf the web, stream it, and/or tune into the great North Shore community radio broadcasts of Wildersmith happenings.
Folks in these parts are used to seeing a wide variety of wild critters, but a couple residing over along the shores of Hungry Jack Lake had occasion to see one that is fairly obscure. A porcupine waddled through their yard, and they were amazed at its size.
All summer the dragonflies have been few and far between, but suddenly they have re-emerged. The bi-winged darters have been zipping here and there with reckless abandon. I’m betting that the recent influx of mosquitoes might be the answer to the late season gathering. They sure are beautiful if you’re lucky enough to have one land on your shoulder.
Although “Dagwagin” is officially three weeks away by the calendar, birch and aspen leaves are already beginning to release from their summer attachment. Many have simply curled up and turned brown…almost avoiding much of a color show…no doubt due to the stressing conditions of drought.
Wonders of our natural world seem to always be mystically re-inventing themselves. I can never get over the marvel of forest images as they reflect upon a still northwoods lake. Such was the case a week ago during the Smiths’ weekly supply run to Grand Marais.
One of my favorite spots along the Trail is the scene across Swamper Lake. On this particular morning barely a breath of air moved over this stellar body of water, revealing nary a ripple. The perfect reproduction of the coniferous shore onto water was remarkably splendid…breathtaking in every sense of the word. What an artist, that Mother Nature gal. Now if she would just break loose with some rain!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a “September Song.”

Airdate: September 3, 2010