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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Contributor(s): 
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 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!
 


 
 

Wildersmith On The Gunflint Dec. 9, 2009

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The wilderness rendition of holiday decorating has taken on a more serious note since last we met on the radio. A white blanket of snow has been spread through the upper Trail. Several light doses have layered up to five or six inches in most places, flocking a zillion pines to look like a seasonal Gunflint greeting card.

We’ve also been in the ice-making mode. The first zero reading occurred last Saturday morning at Wildersmith.  Quiet bays on Loon, Gunflint, Seagull lakes, and I’m sure, several on Saganaga have taken on the icy cover as of last weekend.

Meanwhile, the larger body of Gunflint Lake is like a boiling cauldron. The water is nearing a freeze. And ghostlike vapors are blowing ashore to enhance the beauty of this time with delicate frosty build-ups on everything that isn’t already flocked. The breath-taking winter scenery rightly affirms that this is indeed the most wonderful time of the year.

With the fresh snow, it is quite easy to see who and what has been nosing around the neighborhood after dark. With exception of those critters that slumber this time of year, it seems that nearly every creature native to these parts has made a trip through our yard in recent days.

A recent early morning run to Chik Wauk lodge, after an overnight dusting, found me following the tracks of a lone wolf for several miles along our snow-covered byway. I picked up the trail where Cross River intersects the Trail, and followed them past the Seagull guard station, where the warrior’s trek ventured off the road. Never did see the solo hunter, but I was intrigued at how far it had wandered.

A couple living over on Loon Lake had a three-pack of wolves perusing their garden one morning a few days ago. Then later the same day, they observed two more crossing the road on the lower Trail while heading into Grand Marais.

We hardly go 24 hours out this way that someone doesn’t relate some kind of wolf encounter. It would seem that the local whitetails must be skittishly looking over their shoulders at every waking moment and sleeping with ears perked and one eye open for fear of becoming a venison statistic.

My Canadian Jay pals, Whiskey and Jack are really giving credence to the old song lyrics, “Everybody needs somebody sometime.” They have become so neighborly that they follow me around the yard like an old pet dog. I even carry a small bag of bread cubes in my jacket pocket in case they chirp for a midday snack.

In recent days they have become disenchanted with their blue jay cousins at the deck side feed trough. I’m now met privately at my wood shop door for their treat each morning. They seem to have real personalities, and even look at me indignantly if the palm of my hand offers only one cube instead of the usual two or three.

Congrats go out to a Tucker Lake gal. Notification has been received that she was picked for an October billing on a coming New Year calendar. “Miss October,” as we might call her now, can conjure up many possible thoughts, but this title is truly an honorable one.

In this case, “Miss October” was one of 12 winners for the 15th annual…Bluefin Bay on Lake Superior…calendar contest. Her winning photograph for the 2010 edition, “Misty Sunrise on Magnetic Rock Trail,” and 11 others captured the attention of judges from among 175 photojournalist entrants who submitted over 1,000 photos.

“Misty Sunrise……..” captures a splendid look through digital eyes at peaceful life and times along the great Gunflint. A reception for the winning photo artists will be held in January, more on that later.
 


 
 

Wildersmith On The Gunflint Dec. 2, 2009

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Appropriately, the last segment of 2009 serves up a double-cheese whammy of northern lunar brilliance. As this column heads off into cyberspace, the universe celebrates the coming of the full cold moon.

Then as ’09 expires 28 days later, the full cold sphere honors December with a blue moon delight. Let’s hope that the skies are clear and the landscape is white for a twofold reflection of border country ambiance.

This is a month of special birthdays and anniversaries. Noteworthy is the one that falls on the 25th. Along with this magnificent occasion, yours truly not only celebrates advancing one year but, with this column, also completes the first year of being part of the WTIP radio team.

It’s been a blast! I am so grateful to WTIP for picking up my abandoned newspaper column, and to the listening community for many kind words of support. Hopefully I can continue to serve you with snippets of life from out here in the Gunflint woods for years to come.

More seasonal weather eased back into the territory last weekend, and the lake freeze-up began anew. The last few daybreaks have seen temps in the high teens and 20s which appears to have finally done in the liquid undulations. The big lakes remain rolling, in anticipation of some calm, minus-something nights.

As frequent users of the scenic byway know, a trip down or back up always provides some new adventure or previously unseen moment of beauty. Such was the case on the day after Black Friday last week, when the Smiths made their weekly supply run and gift shopping excursion to Grand Marais.

Our initial observation was no doubt the first trek across the ice of Little Iron Lake by either man or beast. Barely frozen, we could see that an adventurer had made a crossing in some type of floating craft, just after the first solidarity had formed. Left in its wake was a path of splayed chards and an almost immediate skim-over. I don’t know whether the trek was going or coming, but the return trip just might have to wait for a different mode.

As we cruised on by that path through the ice, it became evident Mother Nature had started putting out her initial holiday decorations. Jack Frost did the legwork for Mom by coming through the forest like a Rhinestone Cowboy.

The lacing of every needle and twig with minute diamonds was not as frothy as some that I’ve seen, but with the sun gaining stature in the early morning sky, it was clear that the frosty artist has not lost his touch. Every foot of advancement down the blacktop provided a blinding of twinkling lights in all hues of the rainbow.

Human celebration at this time of year dishes up some splendid decorative displays, but the glittering, natural lighting workmanship, on a clear cold morning along this peaceful ribbon of highway, cannot be matched by anything that mankind can conjure up. No snow yet, but the spirit of the season is coming alive.

Moose sighting reports have been non-existent since their hunting season commenced, but a family traveling up to their cabin for a Thanksgiving retreat brought word to me that there are still some out there. A cow and her calf were spotted in the burned-out timber near where the Ham Lake fire jumped the Trail a couple years ago.

It would seem that the monsters of the byway might just need a little encouragement. I’ll bet we’ll see them when snow-covered roads cause an opening of the world’s longest salt lick. Come on, Old Man Winter, we’re waiting…

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the coming season!
 


 
 

Wildersmith On The Gunflint Nov. 25, 2009

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The weather for Thanksgiving week in the northland continues to be other than normal. El Nino is right on track as experts have predicted, sending wave after wave of warmth along the Canadian border states right into our territory. We remain gray and mucky.

Although the official calendar reading for winter is nearly a month away, the region should still be having some sort of cold season conditions by now. So we winter worshippers have already missed about a month of our favorite time of year. And, for those that dread the long cold season, their Thanksgiving is probably enhanced knowing there is one 30-day segment behind them.

In spite of the yo-yo thermometer readings from the low 20s in the mornings to near 40s in the afternoon, many of the smaller lakes along the Trail have managed to freeze over. Far from safe to traverse, I did find ice at a half inch thick on the Saganaga Bay east of the Chik Wauk Lodge last Friday.

With the 10th Thanksgiving of the century upon us, my patience is growing thin for snow, but many folks are thankful that we’ve been loaned a few days from winter with this extension of Indian summer. Time will tell if Old Man Winter will desire an immediate payback with an add-on next spring.

Deer hunting successes picked up during week two of the firearms season. I’m told that the hunt for many in the hot orange garb was a struggle, with whitetail selections few and far between around the area.

A hunter friend of mine reports a unique wild experience. While sitting in his tree perch, patiently waiting for the right buck to make an appearance, a six-pack provided plenty of entertainment, and I don’t mean of the 12-ounce canned variety.

Apparently a lingering aroma from a previous deer kill, below his lofty location, caught the attention of a mother wolf and her quintet of adolescent offspring. The wolf gang gathered just below where he was sitting, paid him no attention, and milled around for some time, sniffing about and licking bloody dregs off the forest floor.

Normally traveling in single file, they eventually departed. This time though, the special six-pack spread out side by side, and made a sweep of the area in case a morsel had been missed while fading into obscurity of the woods.

To observe an up-close occasion with these warriors of the wilderness is rare. And, to be a privy to such a wild encounter may be a once-in-a-lifetime happening, although living in the forest every day, never say never.

In this great bountiful wilderness we surely want to give thanks at this time, and every day hence for our infinite number of blessings: like wives and husbands…kids and grandkids…grandmas and grandpas…sisters and brothers…aunts, uncles and cousins…good friends and neighbors…cabins and homes…earth and heaven…blue skies and gray…breezes and calm…stars and the moon…aurora and rainbows…sunrise and sunsets…fresh air and clear waters…ripples and waves…ice and snow…sights and smells…hoots and howls…hills and valleys…birch, maple and pine…buds, flowers and plants…trails and trekking…campfires, tents and fun…fishing and hunting…skiing and sledding…deer and moose…bears and wolves…fox and hares…martens and mink…chipmunks and squirrels…eagles, hawks and osprey…loons and partridge…ducks and geese…owls and ravens…bees, birds and bugs…and everything else in this magical northern kingdom. We are eternally grateful.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor your time with family and friends, turkey and trimmings.

 


 
 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint Nov. 18, 2009

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The north woods are in the midst of November week three, and the atmospheric conditions remain as they came in, rather lamb-like. More above normal temperatures crushed what would have been a dandy snowfall last weekend when instead, rainfall in the amount of 9/10 of an inch fell at Wildersmith.
 
As the mercury finally slid below the freezing mark, much of the territory did end up with a spritzing of snow last Sunday morning that iced the Trail in places for our trip to town for church services. But the return trip found brilliant sunshine and only shaded areas with white remnants.
 
So Old Man Winter remains in hiding, last seen cavorting about along the jet stream, a few hundred miles to the north. His estimated time of arrival is still unknown.
 
The few deer hunters with whom I’ve had contact are spending hours in woodsy contemplation, still waiting to see a prize worth sighting up. It’s evident that a partnership between a large population of hungry wolves and a semi-severe winter in 2008 and ‘09 has culled the whitetails considerably in the upper Gunflint reaches.
 
And speaking of Canis Lupis, recently a couple of small canine cousins have been stalked at locations not far off the Trail. Timely interference by their owners saved them from ending up as quick hors d’oeuvres for their distant kin.
 
Folks in the territory often are confronted by a moose that is taking its half of the road from the center, and in general establishing an intimidating king/queen of the road attitude. The Smiths had a similar experience twice in one night last week, as we traversed the dark Mile O’ Pine.
 
Since the critters were here long before us, I always feel committed to giving the wild gang a chance to get out of the way before wheeling on by. This time however, it was not a moose that held up our single vehicle caravan. Strange as it may seem, we were delayed when a snowshoe hare popped right out into the beams of our lights.
 
Suddenly this winter ball of fluff was king. Whether it was confused or just couldn’t make up its mind where to get off, the bunny went loping right down the middle of the road for some distance, before finally relinquishing passage to this ensuing monster.
 
During the warm months we seldom see a pine marten, but with the onset of filling avian seed trays, news that those munchies are available must travel quickly. In the last week, several of the weasel family have returned for another season of seed-snacking and poultry-poaching from the Smith family deck.
 
 I must say that it is fun to have the chicken chewers back in the neighborhood as the gourmets of barnyard fowl are always up to some interesting dinnertime antics.
 
News has arrived from the Chik Wauk museum design people (Split Rock Studios) that display construction drawings are to be completed by the first week of December. Production is to commence soon thereafter. This is exciting news for the Gunflint Trail Historical Society.
 
Equally exciting, for yours truly, is that I got a chance to preview the museum’s little theater video production. I am pleased to report that the creation is tastefully presented. Museum visitors that cherish this part of the universe will be proud and pleased when they get to see it on opening day next summer.
 
Organizers of the Gunflint Green-up have put the wheels in motion for the third annual forest experience. Dates have been set for May 7 and 8, 2010. Keep up with planning by checking the website… www.gunflint-trail.com/ggu/index.html ...for registration and lodging opportunities.
 
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor, with thanks, the great Gunflint Scenic Byway!
 

 
 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint Nov. 11, 2009

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The overture toward winter stalled out since we last met on the radio, and those in the upper Gunflint that have been in despair about the gray skies of the past weeks are smiling once again.
 
Beginning last weekend, Trail folks have experienced some glorious days. The cheery sunshine has allowed the few of us still here to be outdoors puttering with some last minute chores. For me it has been tree/shrub pruning (to assist the deer) and putting up some additional firewood for the cold season of 2010 and 2011. 
 
With temps in the 40s to near 50 in some parts, the skim of ice on ponds along the Trail has relinquished their delicate crinkles. So that process will have to begin anew. When Old Man Winter decides to finally put the clamps on us, that should not take too long, as the waters are already quite cold.
 
I feel confident that the warmth of last weekend made conditions for deer hunters less than ideal. There was probably a lot of sweating with all those layers of orange and camouflage. The deer must have been widely scattered, they too enjoying the unseasonable weather.
 
This wilderness paradise is always fairly quiet, but right now the decibel reading is pretty much zero. Noises in the neighborhood currently consist of an occasional gust of wind, some avian chirping or an ornery squirrel chattering “what for” to a nosey pine marten. Oh yes, we might also here the crack of a hunter’s rifle. Silence is admittedly deafening.
 
There’s a buzz of activity though down at Gunflint Lodge, as workers have been busy cleaning up the charred cabin remains. It would appear that it won’t be too long until reconstruction gets underway. Other than that, doings of mankind are barely noticeable.
 
With little news to report on the people front, observations of natural changes about the forest are ongoing. Many fundamental happenings are so gradual that we don’t even notice them, yet, an eye to the sky or an ear to the ground often provides one with wonderful insights about things easily missed during our busy lives.
 
Watchful gazing by yours truly during the last several days has brought to mind memories of seasons past that were buried deep in my database. One example of such is the ominous retreat of Sol into the southern hemisphere that suddenly has sunrises and sunsets spotlighting northern lakeshores. Concurrently, a trip along the Trail or down any back country road displays many shadowed places where sunshine will no longer be gracing them for the next few months.
 
In further scrutiny of the north woods, the color palette of just a few short weeks ago has muted into various tones of beige to brown. The only vivid colors noticeable are clumps of crimson berries on denuded mountain ash trees and, at ground level, the deep blue of juniper berries and an occasional scarlet wintergreen fruit.
 
If one has an artistic awareness for textures, the forest floor is now a myriad of tawny needles to contemplate. Year-old skewers of white, red and jack pine, eclectic white cedar fronds, spruce and balsam leaflets and a final top dressing of tamarack quills mark the end of another coniferous growing season. The newly re-carpeted landscape leaves me a bit overwhelmed, being witness to such a plush accumulation that has been occurring for thousands of years. You just have to step on it to fully appreciate!
 
So if you’re thinking that northern nature is pretty somber right now, the eyes of this beholder find samples of beauty in even the simplest of creations. In fact, as the lyric of an old song goes, “everything is beautiful…in its own way,” validation is given to all elements of life in border country woods at this time. And soon, another season of white will be spreading its delight!
 
In a final note, this WTIP volunteer wants to offer my thanks to all listeners, web readers and streamers for supporting the fundraising effort of this past weekend. It goes without saying that we are all very proud of the enthusiastic community connection that this tiny radio station has inspired both locally and worldwide in its first 10 years. Let us all work to keep it going for decades to come!
 
Keep on hangin on, and savor a precious wilderness moment at any time!
 

 
 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint Nov. 4, 2009

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We can be comfortable in knowing that summer has passed as we enter week one of November in the north woods. Our windiest segment of the year is just now beginning to build. The season that outdoorsman Larry Weber calls “autwin” is about “falling back” from man-made, to real sun time, and bringing on all kinds of changes, including fashion adjustments for folks around the territory.
 
Although substantial snow has yet to set in, the teeth of the usual Nor’westers is soon to bring out longies, wool pants and insulated boots. So there is no point in fighting the trend.
 
Another border country fashion statement will be made this weekend as the firearms deer slaying season commences. Yes, all sorts of hot orange hunting safety garb will be displayed tramping through the woods.
 
This is pumpkin season, and we usually associate the squash family fruit at this time of year with last weekends Halloween, or the celebration of a bountiful harvest come Thanksgiving. However, during our next 16 days, the customary orange color that we see grown on vines at ground level will be found up in the air, hanging out and trying to look like a tree.
 
The hope is for a safe venison-seeking season, and that the dreams of a fine trophy take-home will come true. And, for those non-hunters that are still tromping out and about, remember that you should put on some “hot” pumpkin wear for safety’s sake too.
 
Speaking of the pending winter, snow that established the base for last season’s 100 inches at Wildersmith occurred late in week one of November. Area residents will be on the lookout for white with more staying power real soon, especially deer hunters.
 
But until fleece blankets us for good, notorious winds during the month of the beaver moon will be bellowing through our wilderness with a shivery pungency of decaying vegetation. Simultaneously, typically gray heavens will begin bulging with snow-filled paunches just waiting to deliver.
 
Incessant rains over the past few weeks have secured my belief that the area will freeze with a wet forest floor, which is good for all growing things come next spring. Trail residents are lucky that the temps were above freezing during the downpours of last weekend, or the Halloween blizzard of 18 years ago might have been replayed in some parts of the Arrowhead.
 
With the exception of the whitetail season ahead, human activities throughout the upper trail have slowed to a near standstill. Things will pick up again when the snow is deep enough to create cross-country skiing opportunities through the great Gunflint cross-country system.
 
On the wild side, critters that slumber through the coming season are about to disappear while other members of the untamed neighborhood remain active with daily searching and storage of survival needs. So activity on the whole is really operating at 50 percent of normal, all cast members being considered.
 
My avian buddies, “Whiskey” and “Jack”, are still chirping with enthusiasm each time that I step out of doors. The Canadian pair and I have each other figured out. They come and sit waiting for a handout, while I promptly go and get them a treat. Guess who has trained who? Every day I get rewarded for their training me so well, when one will come and sit on my hand for a morsel of nourishment. What an extraordinary experience!
 
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some “autwin” happenings!

 
 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint Oct. 28, 2009

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The northland leaves a typical October and enters the 11th hour of 2009. Ready set go, here is November and before we can blink our eyes, the “full beaver” moon will dance its luminous beams over the wilderness.
 
October bids farewell as snowshoe hares and weasels are almost white and most areas of the territory have been blanketed with snow two or three times. In the last week, cold breezes have been dusting off golden tamarack needles in rapid order, while snow buntings, winter’s welcoming committee, are busy leading traffic up and down the Trail.
 
As November has crept up on the forest, there is a skim of ice on swamp waters along the Trail, and it won’t be too many more days until the smaller lakes will begin to crinkle with whispers about their new winter coat.
 
As I finished some last pre-winter chores, I had to go into the lake retrieving wildfire sprinkler system lines. Believe me, the feeling of Gunflint Lake water is downright cold, with the temperature hovering in the high 30s.
 
There has been any number of dwelling fires through out the county recently, and this end of the Trail was not spared the misery when another tragedy occurred last Thursday night. A one-unit, two-cabin complex at the historic Gunflint Lodge was destroyed in a late night/early morning blaze.
 
Fortunately, the nine occupants residing in the cabins escaped injury as the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department arrived within minutes of the call and poured water on the inferno for several hours. Full cause remains under investigation, but early estimates are that an overheated fireplace chimney may have set things off. A quiet night in terms of wind was a blessing for firefighters as they had little difficulty in keeping the blaze from spreading to adjoining buildings and the nearby forest.
 
Owners Bruce and Sue Kerfoot are thankful that there were no injuries, in addition to being grateful to their staff and firefighters for their skill and preparedness during the emergency. Plans are already under way to rebuild the lost facilities.
 
Another sign of the swiftly warming planet was confirmed again the other day when some folks over on Loon Lake observed a handsome cardinal at their feeder. This is not the first sighting of the red birds; one hung out around Heston’s Lodge a couple winters ago. Usually not ranging this far north, they have also been seen in Grand Marais.
 
It is evident that something other than the beauty of this place is drawing them to more northerly latitudes. So the happiness of getting to see one is tainted by the sadness of knowing that drastic atmospheric happenings are negatively impacting our Mother Earth so quickly for all inhabitants.
 
On a happier note, not everything is being degraded by mankind. In fact the hundreds of members of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society (GTHS) are proudly marching on with the preservation of life gone by in their museum/nature center project. The construction season at the nostalgic Chik Wauk Lodge and along its beautiful trail system has wound down for the year with all planned items being completed.
 
Now, activities continue behind the scenes as artifacts and history are being built into displays for installation when the frost goes out next spring. GTHS museum committee members are full speed ahead with the design folks at Split Rock Studios, whittling down a long checklist before grand opening next July Fourth. Meanwhile, fundraising efforts and plans for operations and staffing continue at a hectic pace.
 
The GTHS will begin a search for the museum/nature center site manager in early January. Interested applicants should be checking the website for application details by year’s end, www.gunflinttrailhistoricalsociety.org.
 
Hoping all have a safe Halloween weekend, keep on hangin’ on and savor the dwindling fall season!

 
 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint Oct. 21, 2009

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I’m back in the saddle again as the old-time western tune by Gene Autry declares. Not really in the saddle, but back at Wildersmith, sitting at the keyboard.

Thanks again to the “woofer” over on Hungry Jack Lake for covering my brief hiatus. The Smiths took a week away from the wilderness to visit kids, grandkids and a few folks from my old stomping grounds in Iowa.
The trip south started in falling snow and ended coming back northward in near spring-like conditions. So we were welcomed with a pleasant trip home on the Trail as opposed to the icy conditions of the weekend before.

The advance of winter was stunted this past weekend, but appears to be re-energizing as we head toward the last week of October. I hope serious happenings hold off a bit longer, as being away for seven days has put me behind on finalization of a few remaining cold season chores. Wonder if this Halloween will be ghostly white like that of 1991?
The deciduous gold in the hills of border country has finally succumbed, and is now layered on the forest floor. A few birch trees are hanging on to their generation of 2009. However, they are in the minority and will soon join a trillion other skeletons lurking over the territory as trick or treat night approaches.
Meanwhile, its tamarack time, and the lush yellow needles are the last to light up our life before crystals of white blanket the northland for good. Several batches are clustered along the Trail standing like byway beacons when Sol is shining down on them. A trip out to see their splendor will be well worth the time.
Speaking more of the welcome home, it is almost a sure bet that some critter from the wild neighborhood will be hanging out along the Mile O’ Pine to greet our return from an extended absence. This time, a handsome warrior from the local wolf pack was spotted not far from our Wildersmith turnoff.
At first sighting in near darkness, the sheer size of the big animal led us to think doe as we approached. Then it stopped in front of the headlights and turned to face us, confirming what it was, big and healthy.
Interestingly enough, it stepped out of the truck’s path and curiously stood looking at this humming metal monster. I stopped after creeping by, and stared into its eyes. Giving a simulated bark, I piqued more of its attention before it made a casual disappearance into the shadows.
Once again, the wild welcome wagon reminded us of how sweet a home in the forest can be.
Thousands know of the Gunflint Trail as a picturesque spectacle. Yet many in the universe aren’t familiar with this wilderness secret. The country will soon become more aware, as the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration recently gave designation to the Trail as a National Scenic Byway. Nancy Seaton of Hungry Jack Outfitters and chairperson of the local Scenic Byway Committee accepted the award in Washington D.C. this past weekend.
The Trail received Minnesota Byway designation in 1999. Since being granted statewide recognition, the local committee has been working long and hard through a rigorous federal application process.
The national designation means that the Trail can now be eligible for federal funds. Future funding grants can be used to help the local committee in its mission to increase awareness of the Trail as a valuable historic and natural resource; assist in preserving the natural environment and historic sites; enhance the quality of life for residents; support sustainable commerce; and, provide nature and history based experiences for both visitors and residents as they travel through the 57-mile community. Congratulations to all who worked to make this happen!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor both gray and blue days of October in the north woods!

 
 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint Oct. 7, 2009

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We are going into October’s first full week and the past several days have seen the heavens shrouded with gray. In fact, that special full harvest moon was unable to shine down on border country. Some would think it rather dismal, but even with leaden skies and steel gray waters, paradise in this mode remains one to behold.

Welcome rain has been persistent enough to quench the wildfire danger for the time being, but amounts have not been in proportions to start streams running again. Further, temperatures have cooled into more recognizable levels for this time of year.

At Wildersmith, there were a couple mornings of heavy frost as temps dipped into the low to mid-20s. The combination of cold and moisture also brought in two reports of our first snow flurries for the season as September bade farewell on the 30th.
The last of our seasonal friends have departed southward, so the excitement of activity with neighbors has slowed considerably. All will be missed, but time flies, and their return will be here before both we, and they know it.
Enthusiasm now is focused on the wild of the neighborhood. It doesn’t take long for excitement to show itself at our deck-side feed trough. Nutritional offerings of diced French fries, bread cubes, mexi-potato skins slathered in leftover red pasta sauce, and chili have caused a stir in the air during recent days. The gourmet attitude of these winged critters is amazing.
The return of cold weather has initiated soup season for the Smiths, and our first endeavor was that of bean and ham. The remains of the process produced a fine smoked ham bone, complete with fatty bits and marrow.

You just can’t throw it away! So I endeared myself to the jaybirds of the neighborhood and presented the osseous morsel on the untamed food service menu.

The whiskey Jacks are usually waiting for a handout each morning, and once again, they were perched and ready. If the intellect of birds considers “dying and going to heaven,” then this pair must have thought they were on their way as they chomped on the first bites.
Soon their blue cousins joined in the commotion, and for the better part of a couple hours it was a joyful pecking extravaganza. Even had a few black capped chickadees squeeze in for a nibble or two. There was easily more landing and taking off from our border country cuisine port than at Minneapolis/St. Paul International.
The hungry avian turned that bone all ways but loose. If any one of them could have lifted and held the cartilaginous mass in its beak, it would have been carried away from the get-go. But, in the end, the rambunctious gang knocked it off the tray onto the ground below.
Checking later on, it was found that the pork feast was gone. It’s my guess that either a pine marten or fox happened by for what was left. The wilderness hullabaloo over this harvest season bounty soon settled back into calm. Sure was fun to watch the feathery flurry!
With the big blow that ended September, a great many of the scarlet colors have trickled to the earth along the Mile O’ Pine. Yet stunning shades of fading green to brilliant gold are picking up the slack for interested leaf peepers.

Hills and valleys are alive with the sight of Mother Nature’s gilded work. It’s not too late to get out on the Trail and treat yourself to a view of the natural gallery. There will surely be some sunny days ahead, and when Sol is beaming down through the quaking yellow tokens your trip will be breathtaking.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a venture into the wild!