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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:

Wildersmith on the Gunflint Sept. 23, 2009

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Our calendars say it’s fall, but atmospheric conditions continue to reflect summer in September. Mostly sunny skies have provided some delightful days for the unfolding of fall over the last three weeks, a perfect time for leaf-peeping expeditions.

However, there is some trepidation that goes along with the mild conditions that have been the rule. A continuing mini-drought in the north woods is cause for great concern.
Since Aug. 29, rainfall in the Wildersmith neighborhood as amounted to a meager 3/100ths of an inch. There may be areas of the region that have been blessed with a heavier shower or two, but for the most part, the territory is badly parched.

Our environment actually seems drier than early May 2007, when the Ham Lake tragedy was ignited. So it is nerve wracking to say the least, thinking that one carelessly discarded cigarette, an unattended campfire or some lightning could spark another nightmare. Wonder if burning bans shouldn’t be the order?
It would seem prudent that residents of the region should be running their wildfire sprinkler systems every few days to keep the immediate areas around their properties dampened down.
Dust on backcountry roads has covered the paralleling vegetation to an ugly degree. I’m afraid that an extended fall color show might be taking a hit. Leaves are drying and wilting to the last stages of life before their normal time, diminishing their usual colorful quaking.
Since we last met on the airwaves, the final hummingbird has departed the sweetness station above our deck. So dodging their flight patterns while out there is put on hold until next summer.
The tiniest and meanest of the flying critters, however, have been re-energized with our abnormal warmth. Those ornery black flies are thinking that it must be a new year and are bent on torture once again. It doesn’t take long to arouse their ire if one gets into disturbing soil or low brush. Come on Mamma N, we need a freeze!
A night or so ago, our evening dock time featured a Canadian goose landing on the far shores of Gunflint Lake. Enjoyment for us observers was enhanced by some apparent leadership confusion amongst the flock. The approach headed back and forth, around and about before finally sitting down on the wine-colored surface.
The process kind of reminded me of our current congressional situation in D.C., a lot of “honking” and floundering in different directions. To complete my analogy, after floating and squawking along the shore, the honkers lifted off. They soared and swooped a while longer before setting down once again. This time, landing was a bit farther away from their original position.
Darkness finally consumed the daylight and hid them from view, so one can only guess what happened next. I wonder if a new morning found them headed in another direction.
Recent bear calling cards confirm that the blueberry season is definitely over. Signs of nourishment now indicate that red is the berry color of choice. Raspberries and thimbleberries are gone too, so they must be after high bush cranberries or the low-hanging fruit of mountain ash trees.
On a recent trip to town, we followed one of the roly-poly ursine cubs down the road for a short distance. It sure was a cute little teddy in spite of knowing that it could grow up to be an annoyance some day. Then again, they only become vexations when we humans are about and invite alternatives to traditional bear pastimes. Guess maybe we might be considered the real annoyance.
Keep on hangin’ on, appeal to the rain gods, and savor some quick gold in them thar hills.


Wildersmith On the Gunflint Sept.16, 2009

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It has been two weeks since September took over and the Gunflint territory is still waiting for some fresh frosty air to greet our morning inhaling. In fact, temps have been some 10 to 15 degrees above normal. So the moose and I have been laying low.

I did commence with some firewood cutting for the winter 2010-2011. Although the area around here is extremely dry, there was enough humidity to bring on perspiring for the first warming phase of this wood-gathering process.
The rain gods have again forsaken this neighborhood of the Gunflint region, while other areas have been drenched during a couple clouded episodes.
It would seem that wildfire danger should be in the extreme category, yet in more fortunate parts, the situation is judged to be only moderate. Hope residents and visitors continue to exercise GOOD judgment with campfire situations.
I don’t really know whether dry conditions are big a factor in the fall color evolution, but I do know that, dry or not, the deciduous gang along the Mile O’ Pine is bursting into splendor. Some maples and aspen have even begun to dispatch their gold and red tokens earthward.
Further, the coniferous cousins are showing yellow to brown needles from the previous year’s growth. It won’t be too much longer that a soft carpet of needles will be joining leaf litter already starting to accumulate under foot.
A few reports on unusual wild critter behavior have come my way. The first is in regard to a downy woodpecker that has an apparent sweet tooth. Some folks down on County Road 50 have one that has become a frequent visitor to their hummingbird feeder. I’m told that the usual insect collector has found a way to get its beak into the tiny nectar orifices and slurp away.
Guess it should be OK that the sweetness not go to waste, as there are few if any of the mini-helicopter-like birds left in the area. I wonder who is following who south, the geese or the hummingbirds.
A few days later, a rather large bear was observed getting some aquatic exercise. It is well known that bears can swim, but we don’t often see them working on their strokes. This one was on an endurance outing, having swum from the Canadian side of Gunflint Lake to the American side.
As is often the case, there were no border patrol officials around to check the ursine citizenship papers, but then again, who would be willing to challenge the entry anyway? Stepping on the rocky shore, it shook off and ambled into the woods.
I’ve shared before about the gourmet fox of the neighborhood. Now I have come across another woodsy being that has expanded consumption beyond the usual nuts and seeds.
There are two fine black cherry trees that reside at the bottom of the Wildersmith driveway. This year they are loaded and ripening fast. In recent days, noises have been coming from the branches and it turns out that it isn’t of the chirping variety. The strange “unck, unck, unck” turns out to be from a bunch of chipmunks.
They have been observed picking one cherry at a time and scampering off with delicate fruit. In another incident, one was seen stuffing its jowls to mump-like proportions before dashing off to winter quarters. These would have made some fine juice for northwoods jelly, but it appears they will be going to a good cause, the wild critter food bank.
In a final wild happening, I’m told that several loons have been seen gathering. This is another call of September. I’m sure loon conversation was about the annual itinerary for the soon-to-be trip south and east.
However, one remains around here as I’m still hearing its nightly conversation. Perhaps it is an adolescent that is still not able to taxi for take-off.
The “Taste of the Gunflint” tour last Saturday was another successful Gunflint community endeavor. A couple hundred visitors from not only around the county and state, but from coast to coast signed in at guest books at area lodges.
Fine fall weather prevailed as folks enjoyed volunteer prepared treats from the “Taste of the Gunflint” cookbook. And much socializing took place with cordial hospitality being the order of things among Gunflint Trail business owners and “Taste” volunteers welcoming tour visitors.
Proceeds from donation jars, local author book sales and Chik Wauk museum gift shop sales go toward continuing fundraising efforts for the museum’s completion. Thanks to all participating businesses, organizing volunteers and visitors for making this a great event.
Before we meet again on the radio, the equinox of autumn will have things in a due east-is-east and west-is-west alignment. The bid farewell to the season of growing will be made and trudge into winter will be welcomed.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the sights, sounds and smells of the season!


Wildersmith On the Gunflint Sept. 9, 2009

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Indian summer hit the north woods during the first week of month nine. And a perfect weekend greeted area residents and visitors as they celebrated the Labor Day holiday. Weather conditions were warmish, basically gorgeous.

Many seasonal folks were up for their final fling in the forest before closing down and seeking more southerly climes for the next six or seven months. So lake waters were a-rollin’ with man-made activity.

Winterization of summer cabins is beginning, a few docks have been relocated up on shore, water craft are headed for storage and some baby trees are getting their bud caps for winter predator protection. And wild critters that stay year round are busy harvesting survival things for a colder winter day.
Watching the neighborhood squirrel preparations is an exercise that could easily lull one into a state of exhaustion. The local rodents have been busy cutting down cedar tree seeds over the past week. The other morning I watched one dropping the little bunches as fast as its choppers could cut them loose.
Falling fast and furious, the ground was soon littered with what looked like a bucket full. A check later on found that all had been gathered and moved to winter storage. Later that day, I saw Mr./Ms. Squirrel taking one seed at a time from a white pine cone to an undisclosed location for safekeeping. It made trip after trip…must have slept well that night.
Just think of all the mileage that is put on those tiny legs getting each morsel to its neighborhood pantry. Further, they must have a mental database to match no others in order to find where they have put things on their thousands of jaunts.
Another squirrelly occurrence brought a laugh the other day. Knowing that these animals are almost solely seeds and nuts guys, I was surprised to catch one dipping into the Whiskey jacks’ gourmet cache of French fries at the Wildersmith feed trough.
The diminutive gnawer consumed two of the greasy bits before being discovered by the handsome birds in gray and black tuxedos. One fell swoop sent the French fry thief leaping into the nearest balsam tree with a starchy spud sticking out of its jaws like a cigar.
If pre-winter preps during the day aren’t enough, we heard what must have been a huge migration of geese pass over in the early darkness hours this past Saturday night. They were honking as if caught in an urban rush hour traffic jam.
Wondrous hues of yellow, orange and scarlet have intensified to embellish this early fall happening in the Mile O’ Pine maples, and at earth level, the lush ferns are golden to harvest brown in many places. September calls…all good things are showing signs of the times.
I’ve never seen a setting of the sun that I didn’t like. So deliberating on another or two over the past week is probably superfluous. Nevertheless, when one is so spectacular that it is spiritually uplifting, mention is justified.
Clouds, haze, smoke and the like are the medium to create astonishing opportunities for sun-drenched endings to daylight hours. The most recent extravaganza happened when a western sky seemed muted with humidity off the lake and a thin bank of advancing clouds.
When it seemed as though there would be nothing to ooh and aah about, the spirit of Sol exploded through the mist. With a peach to pink cast over half of the heavens, the reflection on shimmering Gunflint Lake waters looked like pink champagne as far as the eye could see.
The dusk-tinted water seemed to beckon for a toast to natural miracles in our peaceful northern paradise. So symbolically we raise glasses high to a “Taste of the Gunflint.” Sip of her beauty and revel in the majesty!
Yours truly will be hitting the Trail Saturday for a personal “Taste of the Gunflint.” Be reminded that activities up the Trail commence at 11 am and continue until 5 pm.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a Taste of the Gunflint.Indian summer hit the north woods during the first week of month nine. And a perfect weekend greeted area residents and visitors as they celebrated the Labor Day holiday. Weather conditions were warmish, basically gorgeous.



Wildersmith On The Gunflint Sept. 2, 2009

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October-like conditions send August a-packing. After an end-of-the-month drenching, the territory got some of that marvelous “see your breath” cold. In fact I got one report of the mercury hitting the 32-degree mark at a place along the Gunflint Lake shore this past Sunday, Aug. 30. The atmosphere surely warned us of things to come.

So here we are…off into the month of the full corn moon, the autumnal equinox and the color extravaganza. Suddenly we border country residents have come to the full realization that winter preparations can no longer be put on hold.

I have been amazed that one rather adult maple along the Mile O’ Pine has already reached its scarlet pinnacle. There are often many young maples that make the color exchange early, but this is a first for the larger specimens in our neighborhood.
Since the color transition is pretty much dependent upon declining amounts of sunshine time, I hope that the crimson beauty is not sick. Perhaps it has a kinship with yours truly, hoping to just get on with things and into the most beautiful season of all in the northland, white time.
Spider time in the woods is providing some intricate fiber art on clear dewy mornings. Arachnid spinners have woven miraculous silk-like networks throughout the forest east of the Wildersmith place. They are spinning in everyone else’s neighborhood too, and some of the design work might have been seen with frost on them if Jack paid a visit to other places in the territory. Wouldn’t that have been a thing of beauty!
Hearts go out to Tony and Carol Feiock, the folks on Seagull River that suffered another flaming tragedy to their place in the wilderness. They lost their wilderness home in the mayhem of the Ham Lake fire in 2007 and seeing it rise from those ashes must have been thrilling. But their dreams were dashed again on the night of Aug. 24. It is incomprehensible to think that such misfortune could strike in the same place twice. Prayers for strength go out to them in this time of devastation.
We at Wildersmith are enjoying a reunion with a gang of Whiskey Jacks (Canadian Jays). They have suddenly returned to the feed trough after taking a sabbatical from their usual wintertime hang-out. They have not lost their appetites for the finer nutritional elements such as pizza, leftovers from the great prime rib (fries included) at Trail Center and polish sausages.
Their eating frenzy each morning has even attracted one of those winged French fry-eating rats (a seagull). So I have been called upon several times to send this un-invited scarfer a flappin’ back to the lake.
The Gunflint Lake Property Owners Association held their annual meeting and picnic Aug. 21. It may not seem like any big deal, but for the sake of trivia buffs, it marked the organizations 40th birthday. Yes, that’s four decades! If there are any other lake or property groups along the Gunflint Trail that have been organized for a long time, I’d appreciate hearing about them.
With this edition of Wildersmith on the Gunflint, I too am celebrating an anniversary. It was seven years ago that penning this column began. Most of those years were with the local newspaper, but since the new owners sent me packing, I am thrilled to be a part of programming for our great community radio station. Thanks to all of you readers and listeners for putting up with me. So off we go into year eight, welcome aboard!
The fourth annual Gunflint Trail Historical Society picnic went off without a hitch this past Monday. On an absolutely magnificent northwoods day, 150 border country friends and neighbors gathered for an old-fashioned hot dog roast with all the trimmings.
The beautifully restored ChikWauk Lodge was stuffed to overflowing as people got their final look at the museum facility before artifacts and displays are brought in after snow melt next spring. Then the famous lodge will be packed with history of this fabled northwoods corridor.
As this first weekend of September rolls around, you are reminded that next Saturday (Sept. 12), the second annual “Taste of the Gunflint” hits the Trail.
So mark your calendar for that afternoon’s tour of the featured lodges: Rockwood, Loon Lake, and ChikWauk). Plenty of goodies can be expected as local culinarians present recipes from the past, all coming from the “Taste of the Gunflint” cookbook.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the whims of fall.


Wildersmith On The Gunflint Aug. 26, 2009

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The upper Gunflint territory got more welcome rain, and our brief sweaty summer session was broken. Several days of gray and wet gave way to a luscious next to last weekend in August.

For some, summer ends after the Fourth of July, while for yours truly, the beginning of September officially kicks off the fall season. And we all know that the calendar makes it official in just over three weeks. So about any way you cut it, the northern growing season is nearly history.
Flora of summer-fall is lush after the moisture addition, and I’ve noted the cat-tails that line the Trail in swamps and bogs are fully developed, dark and swaying rhythmically in the breezes.
The water temp at the Wildersmith dock has already tumbled to 66, down from 70 a week ago, just as I predicted. Although, the area received nearly 3 1/4 inches of rain in the past 10 days, the water level on the DNR gauge here on Gunflint Lake has remained pretty much unvarying, with out-flow equaling input.
Apparently the parched watershed soaked up most of what has fallen. Many rivers and creeks remain precariously low. However, the wonderful little falls that dumps into Larch Creek, just south of the Seagull guard station, is gushing once again.
If one is a regular in this part of the universe, you know that clear nights are starlit to the max. Over the cool past weekend, the cosmic lighting has been nothing short of miraculous. The Milky Way streamed on endlessly, and although there was no bonus from aurora borealis, twinkles decorated the heavens like it was the holiday season.
The glory of the nighttime sky is further enhanced as the noises in the black at earth level can add both calm and suspense to the northern aura. Such is the setting when you are in the right place at the right time.
A recent late-night silence was broken with loon calls from the darkness. The mournful wails echoed from shore to shore and sparked intrigue in regard to what might have prompted the wild communication. Was trouble imminent, was the mate away or did it just feel a need to vocalize? Whatever the reason, nothing in the late night is more enchanting. By the way, I wonder when these marvelous creatures sleep. I hear them at night and see them cruising for nourishment during the day. They must be exhausted.
Another natural wonderment is the amount of nectar that hummingbirds consume. Since they have returned from the nesting experience, their appetites seem insatiable. The sweet bottle hanging above the Smith deck gets emptied in two to three days. It makes you wonder how they can dart about when they perch and gulp from daylight to darkness.
At any gathering of folks this time of year, the conversation always gets around to berry-picking experiences. The stories and thrills from blueberry hills are never ending and often hilarious. From brags about collecting cups to buckets and whether fruit is plump or puny, discussion usually extends to that of sharing the blue with a bear or two.
A fellow that lives not far away told me that he was about to go into his favorite patch when suddenly there was a bear. With discretion being the better part of valor, he retreated and watched as the bear sat down. The crop was so prolific that the bear didn’t move other than to just twist around in its spot devouring only what it could reach.
The fellow returned later to find that the big teddy had eaten in a circle surrounding the place where it placed its posterior. That’s what I call easy pickins’.
Another report has come in that a mamma and her cubs were once again treated to a bear buffet. It occurred in a garage left open down on County Road 50. This is the same place where a bear or two consumed corn and sunflower seeds a few weeks ago. Like people, bears anxiously return when they find a fine eatery to their liking.
The untamed picnic was a no-harm, no-foul situation as the ursine family consumed to their liking, even posed for a photo op, and departed peacefully. The garage door was then closed.
A more domesticated picnic is scheduled for members and friends of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society this coming Monday. It will be held at the Chik Wauk Lodge beginning at noon. Food and drink will be provided, but chairs will not, so bring a lawn chair and plan to enjoy the magic of this special place. I’m told that bears have not been invited.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the thoughts of autumn!


Wildersmith On The Gunflint Aug.19, 2009

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The cool trek through summer stalled out last week. I’m sure that those who had been whining about it being cold for the past several months are smiling now.

For the moose and me, though, about one day of that 80-degree stuff is more than enough, but the territory was blessed with several. So the Alces alces in the area are holed up in the balsam shade and cool swamp waters, out of sight but not out of mind. Meanwhile yours truly is remaining in sedentary mode until this misery passes.
Guess I must have embarrassed the rain gods when I harangued them last week about their wimpy distribution of rain around here. No sooner had my remarks hit the airwaves than a consequential dose was received and several lesser measures were added over last weekend. So we woodsy folks are thankful, and ask that we not be forgotten for such a long stretch in the future.
Water temperatures spiked up to the 70-degree mark at the Wildersmith dock, the warmest of the season thus far. This could be the top as the degrees start to trickle away about this time of year. The summer of ’08 saw a warmest water temp of 76, and that lasted for several weeks.
The friendly fox that was hanging out here for a few weeks has flown the coop. Can’t imagine that it would leave when it got plenty of epicurean treats, but the ways of the wild are unexplainable most of the time. Bet it’ll be back though.
There have been several spectacular sunsets here on the Gunflint of late. Those steamy days have provided the atmosphere for some peachy heavens just as Sol is dipping behind the northwestern granite.
One such sunshine departure cast a rainbow on the waters. As the gaseous ball was settling down a night or two ago, it reflected a red-hot iron bar on the unusually calm lake, from horizon to our dock.
A passing boat provided the wake and Sol did the rest. Beams caught the rolling waters and a masterful display of liquid hues surged to the shore. The spectacle of Mother Nature that usually arches across our universe was presented this time as heaven on a wilderness lake. What a gorgeous tribute to another day in paradise.
Another great day on the Trail happened last Saturday as the mid-trail property owners held their 12th annual August showdown. The flea market, boutique and live auction netted a hefty $5,625. The 2009 grand prize quilt ticket was drawn and the winner was an elated Natalie Rogers from the UP of Michigan. My how those tickets get around!
This amount, when added to the over $14,000 generated at the July canoe races, totals just under $20,000 added to the support coffers of our great Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire and Rescue teams.
Congratulations to all those splendid mid-trail event organizers and thanks to all that contributed to the success of another extraordinary Gunflint community effort!
Work continues on the building and trail system up at Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Several days of volunteer efforts along with a crew of MCC (Minnesota Conservation Corps) have sped up trail clearing. Several interior chores have been completed in the lodge, with carpet scheduled for installation this week.
Folks can check out the progress at the annual Gunflint Trail Historical Society picnic Monday, Aug. 31 at noon, meeting and program to follow. Mark your calendars, bring your lawn chairs and have a good time with friends and neighbors.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the sweetness of summer-fall!


Wildersmith On The Gunflint Aug. 8, 2009

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Back home at Wildersmith once again, this time with two energetic grandsons sharing our love of the wilderness for a couple weeks. My gratitude is extended to the nosey pup over on Hungry Jack Lake for scoping the upper Trail while I was traveling.

August appears to be taking on a more summerlike feel with temps headed toward 80 in week two. We hope it will not be an extended blistering, as heat is the least of our needs when the rain gods have called another work stoppage on moisture production around these parts.

I have noticed that some ground cover along the Trail has decided to call it a season already. Golden leaf patches at earth level are joining in with a little scarlet blush on a few moose and sugar maples to let us know that fall is about to squeeze its way into our lives.
Another sign of the waning summer season is noted as the mid-Trail folks are gearing up for their annual fundraising extravaganza Aug. 15. The 12th yearly effort in support of the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire and Rescue teams will be held at Fire Hall #1 from 1 to 4 p.m.
The grand prize for the afternoon will be a raffling off of the mid-Trail quilters 2009 creation. The quilt raffle tickets are still on sale at the Loon’s Nest, Norwester and Windigo. Features preceding the big drawing include the flea market, an artisans’ boutique and the enthusiastic live auction.
On another fundraising note, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society is continuing their year-long effort to sell chances on their Chik Wauk Museum grand opening prize. This too is a magnificent quilt, produced by Tucker Lake resident Melissa Anderson. These tickets are on sale now and will be featured at special events along the Trail until next July 4th when the winner will be awarded. Judy Edlund (388-4400) has ticket information.
Wonders in the woods never cease to amaze with regard to wildlife happenings. Such is the case this week where I received two incredible animal stories.
The first involves an avian and a rodent. Seems a feed tray, at a place down the road, had been filled with items that would be of interest to a frequent Seagull visitor. Sure enough the waterway scavenger swooped down to partake. Soon a nosy squirrel snuck up to the feed trough for a look-see. The gull eyed the meddling intruder while snarfing up the goodies. Apparently, enough snooping was enough, and with a darting attack the bird snatched the mini-rodent by the scruff of the neck and flew off into the blue. One will never know what became of the furry one, maybe lunch.
A second animal tale concerns a curious and industrious chipmunk. At the same address on Mile O’ Pine, the resident had just returned from grocery shopping. To begin the unloading process, the first armfuls were carried to the cabin, leaving the vehicle tailgate open. No sooner had the first load departed than an observant chippy saw this as a chance to explore the remaining vittle totes. Seems hard to believe that the diminutive critter could get up in to the vehicle that quick, but it did.
The rewards proved to be splendid for the little one. Picking from a selection of chocolate, butterscotch and peanut butter baking chips, a 12-ounce package of the peanut butter variety was chosen. How it got the chips bag out of the larger sack is unknown, but when the human part of this equation returned for more unloading, she found the tiny striped rodent dragging its newfound treats (backward) across the yard.
Now I don’t know how much a grown chipmunk might weigh, maybe two or three ounces at the most, but here it was taking part in a Herculean theft of goods about four to six times its size. Maybe major league baseballers aren’t the only ones on steroids!
Extraordinary as this occurrence might have been, next day, the same vehicle door was opened for another task, within moments, the athletic c’munk jumped in again for another look around.
Keep on hangin on, and savor a wilderness adventure!


Wildersmith On The Gunflint July 29, 2009

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As history books end the chapter on July, the drought gods have loosened their stranglehold on area precipitation allowances. It took the better part of seven days, but the Wildersmith neighborhood finally amassed nearly an inch and a half of liquid in the rain gauge. Other places in the territory got copious amounts, so dry creek beds are beginning to trickle again.

Unless a big change occurs before this coming weekend, the records will close on a month where the temperatures were quite cool and comfortable. This is a far cry from what memory serves about the past few years of July. So the moose and I are quite satisfied. Hope August follows suit!
Excitement has returned to the international nectar bottle hanging over my deck. Following the yearly disappearance act to continue the species, hummingbirds have returned. With empty tanks, they have been zipping about the white pine heavens anxiously awaiting their turn on a fill ‘er up perch. Seems hard to believe that in a few short weeks, they will be tuning up their GPS for the trip back to winter homes.
Blueberry pickers are beginning to explore their usual spots. I’m told that the berries are there, but first round selections have been somewhat skimpy. This latest allotment of rain will surely improve the chances for plumper pickin’ in a couple weeks.
As the nation celebrated the 40th anniversary of landing on the moon, we recently had a spectacular ‘looner’ landing of our own, right off the dock. It happened on one of those almost totally gray evenings.
A solitary loon had spent a good share of the skimpy sundown time cruising back and forth, diving occasionally for a school of finny on which to dine. Suddenly out of the eastern clouds came a wailing quartet of cousins. Winging like lightning to the western horizon, they were out of sight in no time at all.
The loner made no call to its airborne mates as they passed over, just continued paddling about. Minutes later, without the slightest warning, another loon swooped down from the ashen heavens.
Landing as gracefully as a 747, it taxied right up to the quiet drifter. Before settling in alongside of what must have been a soulmate, it stood up on its haunches and flexed those powerful wings as if to announce, ‘I’m back.’ The dapper couple was last seen steaming up the lake, diving in unison for what must have been a late-night supper. That was a real up-close ‘looner’ splashdown.
I don’t know how many generations of mosquitoes are hatched each season, but the last batch is the meanest, hungriest I’ve ever been exposed too. They don’t seem to be a big as some, leaving me to believe they are juveniles, and definitely have gang characteristics, coming at you in swarms any time of day or night. A good hard freeze can’t come soon enough to cool their blood-sucking heels.
The untamed menagerie in this special place continues to intrigue. The quick brown fox is ever bounding about the yard, bear sightings have picked up and a trip down the Mile O’ Pine a few days ago found tracks from both a wolf and a moose. With these critters all about, how can life be any wilder?
Concluding this week, it seems appropriate to end with the romance of another sundown. On a late day return from a Grand Marais excursion last weekend, we traveled along this Trail of enchantment to the tune of parting clouds and falling sun.
The walls of our forest tunnel were black as coal. Simultaneously, the glow from a kaleidoscopic sunset splattered through and around voluminous thunderheads to light up our ribbon of highway.
With Vegas-like neon edges around the billowing cloud masses, our way was illuminated in alluring excitement, fantasy and fascination. Another end to one more splendid day in the great northern forest!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the coming of the blueberry moon.


Wildersmith On The Gunflint July 22, 2009

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July is fading quickly! As it slips away, a preliminary hint of fall is noted in a couple spots about the Wildersmith neighborhood. Some juvenile sugar maples have taken on a scarlet look already. This blush of color seems earlier than most years, but when one realizes that we have already lost about one-half hour’s worth of daylight in the past 30 days, guess it’s about time for this change in passing to begin.

A quick-moving thunderstorm blew through border country last week. Strong winds bashed an area at the end of the Trail, reminding folks of the might of “Mother Nature” once again. The brief turmoil downed trees and power poles, caused electrical outages and damaged a few cabins, but no injuries were reported.

The Gunflint Lake basin escaped the brunt of the gusty storm and, once more, got little to no rain. While this neighborhood remains bone dry, other spots garnered over an inch of badly needed precipitation.
At Wildersmith, I have to go back well into May to find any worthwhile accumulations. The lingering curse of the drought gods is haunting. Lake, pond and bog levels are dwindling while most creek beds reflect nothing but parched granite.
With little sunshine in the past week or so, the rainless clouds, cool temps and turbulent lake waters have kept lake temperatures in the shocking category. At last check, the mercury hovered in the low to mid-60s at our south shore dock.
The drab weather did nothing to discourage the stout-hearted upper Trail folks who put on the annual Canoe Races. The yearly happening in support of our Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire and Rescue crews was another huge success.
Canoe Races coordinators Bob Sr. and Sharon Baker, along with the able assistance of over 85 Gunflint, Seagull and Saganaga Lake volunteers, braved strong northwest winds and drizzly skies last Wednesday evening. Once again, paddlers and spectators turned out en masse for all the fun. When all was said and done, the fundraiser produced $14,000 for the GTVFD coffers. Truly a great community effort! Thanks go out to everyone that contributed prize donations and elbow grease to make the 2009 venture memorable.
We seem to be having an almost nightly reunion of foxes in the neighborhood. Barking, yipping and an occasional howl have caused us to rise right out of deep slumber at times.
The plush red one that is hanging out in my driveway culvert has a definite gourmet appetite. Leftover smoked turkey salad, herb bread and fresh strawberries have been especially to its liking in recent days; probably beats the routine rodent menu.
In addition to the paddling excitement during the canoe race evening, spectators were treated to some short-lived aerial acrobatics when an eagle soared overhead with a brave, but maybe not so bright, seagull in hot pursuit.
It seemed hard to imagine that the eagle wouldn’t just grab the annoying winged, French-fry-eating scavenger and tear it to bits. But it paid no attention, and nonchalantly soared back and forth catching the thermals, with apparently more important things on its mind.
Members and friends of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society are reminded of the monthly meeting this coming Monday, July 27, at 1:30 p.m. at the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center. Treats will be served.
Closing, I want to thank Trail residents, as well as many others from all over the county, state and country, who joined in support for our community radio station. The WTIP summer pledge drive, “Catch the Waves,” was energetic and exciting because of everyone who committed to keep this gem in our territory vibrant.
If you didn’t get to call in with a commitment of assistance, even though the official drive is completed, I’m sure a financial token of your appreciation would still be welcomed.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the spirit of the wild!
July is fading quickly! As it slips away, a preliminary hint of fall is noted in a couple spots about the Wildersmith neighborhood. Some juvenile sugar maples have taken on a scarlet look already. This blush of color seems earlier than most years, but when one realizes that we have already lost about one-half hour’s worth of daylight in the past 30 days, guess it’s about time for this change in passing to begin.


Wildersmith On The Gunflint July 15, 2009

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Our rite of summer extends, but we experienced a touch of fall for a few days last weekend. A few spots along the Gunflint Lake south shore had Sunday morning low temperatures in the high 30s; suddenly it was sweatshirt time.

To make conditions feel even more autumnal, several days of thrashing northwest winds created liquid artistry on area lakes. The raging waves reminded me of conditions to come in November; surely this can’t be mid-July.
Along the Wildersmith shore last Sunday, things were rollin’… rollin’… rollin’ on the Gunflint. Rollers rose and fell in eccentric tempo, never in duplication, before concluding their white-capped choreography with a crashing bow onto the granite banks. Ebbs on the silvery blue water were mesmerizing. What a sight on a splendid northland day.

Although probably not related to the cool times of late, I have observed that some northern flowers are already in the ritual of staging seed production for spring of ’10. Life is fleeting for many of our warm season blossoms as wild roses and lupines along the Mile O’ Pine are showing hips and pods with the promise of another beautiful generation.
Spain has the running of the bulls this time of year, while those of us in the white pine forest have the annual falling of new growth bud husks. The gusty winds last weekend separated zillions of bud protectors from their long, soft needled fortresses, sending them fluttering to the ground like a mid-summer night’s dream of a January blizzard.
A curious black visitor made a stop next door one day last week seeking some nourishment from my neighbors’ bird/squirrel feeders. After some discouraging conversation from the cabin occupants, the monster bear shuffled off, growling either from the tummy or the vocal chords. It has not made a daytime visit since.
For several nights prior to the bear’s call, our darkness was pierced with a choral interlude of fox yapping. Each evening the harmonizing, in barking minor, went on for what seemed like an eternity, as family and friends were apparently keeping track of one another.
The barking has quieted over the past couple days, but now I find that one of the rascals has taken up residence in the culvert under my driveway. There has been considerable excavation at each end, creating both a front and a back entry. So the neighborhood may be in for more woofing if relatives happen by once again.
The woods have quieted a great deal from the early morning chirping that normally welcomes each new day. I have a sense that many avians may be in family ways, so chores of cherub caring may be the order in the woods right now.
The yearlong celebration of the 100th birthday of the Superior National Forest and Quetico Provincial Park found its way into Saganaga Bay at the Chik Wauk Museum site this past Monday. Paddlers following centuries-old voyageur routes through the north country’s heart of the continent made a scheduled stop on the little sand beach in their ‘Canoe the Heart’ quest.
Nearly 150 people were on hand to greet the stout hearts of early American goods movement. They started their symbolic 350-mile trip in Atikokan, Ontario and will terminate in Thunder Bay via stops in Grand Marais and Grand Portage. The site was a beehive of activity with wilderness lectures, games, music and a fine shore lunch.
On a final note, the Cook County Coalition of Lake Associations, in partnership with other resource management agencies, reminds folks of the invasive species alert for Zebra Mussels (the bivalve variety). The nasty aquatic creatures have been discovered in a northeast Minnesota lake, and there is no desire to enable their spread to other lakes by transporting them on boat hulls, motors, anchors, trailers, live wells and other such equipment.
Cooperation among watercraft users is requested. Cleaning your craft after leaving one body and before placing it in another is the only answer. Everyone must pitch in to keep control of this lake water peril. It’s like the old Smokey Bear warning: Only YOU can prevent this menacing situation from spreading.