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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 June 18

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The Gunflint territory was blessed with a bit more moisture since we last met on the radio. Although amounts varied from mid-trail to the end, another half inch or so was welcomed in most places by the dry forest floor.
Most days of the past week have been cloudy and temperatures marvelously cool. The moose and I are smiling, knowing that we have escaped one more week of the usual warm, sultry weather.
The northland will celebrate the calendar turn to summer in a few days with old Sol reaching his pinnacle in the northern hemisphere climb. So this last weekend of spring succumbs to the solstice of summer. We will soon see the minutes of daylight start to trickle away as folks begin squeezing as much as they can out of sunrise to sunset.
Looner activity after dark along the shores of Gunflint Lake in the Wildersmith neighborhood has been quite vociferous in the past few evenings. The magic of these wondrous birds captivates one’s imagination with regard to what the actual conversation is all about.
Several folks have mentioned… with wonder… what has happened to the hummingbirds. Most little red feeding stations have been abandoned in recent days except for an infrequent arrival. It would be my best guess that they are in the nesting mode. However, I still wonder why they don’t need a sweet drink during this time of bringing new members into the world.
Some friends report an extremely large patch of moccasin flowers found in an undisclosed location. They said there must be at least a hundred. The shade of the blooms seem to be a paler pink than usual, but they are nevertheless a splendid view. It makes me wonder if the subdued color could be due to the dry conditions of the past months.
I received an answer to my question about the blueberry crop in last week’s column. A fellow in the mid-trail area reports that he has already found berries on the bush in his neighborhood. Of course they are in the unripened stage, but with the recent rains, the picking might be early in 2010. Pray for more heavenly liquid and fear not…the blues will be coming.
In my travels along the Trail last week, I came upon a handsome bull moose. The big fellow was in complete summer attire, including a head dress of the most beautiful dark velvet. Then a few days later, during a passing of Swamper Lake, my wife and I got to see a moose practicing its front crawl strokes as it headed to the far shore. This was a first-time observance of a moose swimming.
I was happy to read about recent DNR reports being more positive concerning the moose numbers decline. The topic of herd numbers slumping has been of research interest for the past decade. Hopefully investigators are accurate and the downward trend might be reversing…guess time will tell.
Due to summer flower planting at Wildersmith, I had to relocate a feeding station for the local squirrel clan. The feeder was located just above a hanging pot which became a prime site for both finding and burying sunflower seeds by the pesky rodents. Thus the plants of the container were under continual excavation.
Who would have thought that moving the feed unit could cause such amazing confusion for the little red beings, even though it was only shifted a few feet away from the previous spot? The tiny critters came and sat at the old site…looking around and chattering “what for” about the goings-on with their lunch box.
It seemed to take several hours before they figured out to just move on down the deck rail for their usual treat. Talk about being conditioned! The episode was quite amusing.
Time is growing close for the annual North Shore Health Care Foundation Barbecue fundraiser. The date is Sunday, June 27 at Gunflint Lodge…BBQ buffet is open from 5 to 8 pm. Everyone is invited and reservations can be made by calling the foundation office at 387-9076. Proceeds go to the Foundation Endowment Fund.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a trip through paradise.


Wildersmith June 10

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Week one of June saw a significant turnabout in upper Gunflint  Trail weather. The sultry end to May gave way to some glorious cool days, and territory residents even got a smidgen of rain during the period…little under a half inch at Wildersmith.
There are more blooms to brag about.  Should frequencies of rain increase, there could be a bumper crop of wild strawberries, and the same could hold true for raspberries as I see what must be a billion blossoms along our Mile O’ Pine.
It’s a bit early to pass judgment on the blueberry potential. With the thousands of acres left barren by the Ham Lake fire, every one knows that plants of the blue have taken over just about every spot on the sunny hillsides.  We just need abundant moisture to ensure plenty of blueberry hills.
And believe it or not, I observed some domestic perennials in flower down the road. The northern ritual for peonies is about three weeks early as are the lilacs in the Wildersmith yard. Both may have been shivering, however.
Several next generation wild critters have been making candid appearances. Yes, many of the newborn are out and about.  I have a report of twin moose calves being seen along the Trail, and I came upon a pair of gawky yearlings in the middle of the black top in a curvy stretch along the Cross River last Saturday morning.  Then a momma grouse was seen strutting across the Mile O’ Pine with a line of puffballs strolling not far behind.
A few days later, during a trip to Grand Marais, the Smiths came upon a fox that had her kits out of the den and along the road in the vicinity of the Rockwood Lodge turn off.  If traveling in this locale, be mindful it’s a 40 mph zone, and be ready to give these young’uns a break.
There is a short stretch along south Gunflint Lake Road where I always see a number of snowshoe hares hanging out. I haven’t seen any of their little ones, but surely, with their skills in multiplication, they can’t be far away.
Planning for the next big Gunflint community event is gaining intensity. Of course I’m speaking of the grand opening of the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center on July Fourth.  A special preview is being offered to members of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society at the next regular meeting June 28.  A fish fry is being held on the shore of Sag Bay at the museum site beginning at noon.  All current members are invited. After lunch and the usual meeting, attendees will be encouraged to tour the museum and walk the trails.  

Look for many more announcements in days to come on the programming times for events on the Fourth of July at Chik-Wauk.

While all this museum hoopla is going on, organizers of the annual Canoe Races have not been sitting idly by.  Coordinators of this year’s event have the wheels in motion for another big fundraising effort.  The Trail Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue team is the recipient of resources generated by this water spectacle that has been going on for 30-some years. Tickets are on sale now and continue until the evening of July 21 for the huge raffle drawing and grand prize giveaway, a Wenonah canoe.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some of the wilderness activities. 

By Fred Smith
Wildersmith on the Gunflint



Wildersmith June 3

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Gunflint welcomes the month of the strawberry moon.  For the moose and me, the greeting is with trepidation due to the recent hot humid days along the Trail. Further, the thought of sticky repetitions during weeks to come makes us break into a nervous sweat.

Week one of the sixth refrain in 2010 finds the territory still wanting for rain. A brief shower last Sunday did nothing more than make mud spots of the dusty accumulation on resident vehicles. At Wildersmith, the eight one-hundredths is the only wet blemish in three weeks.

Lake water temps have risen rapidly in the past 10 days while levels continue to quietly diminish in the arid conditions. At our mid-lake dock, the water is hanging in the mid 60s. This is already getting close to last year’s high of 76. I’ve had several reports of swimmers testing the waters during the long Memorial Day weekend.

June is certainly busting out all over. It’s a bloomin’ paradise as the first, wild roses of summer have popped to attention along backcountry roads. And, although not pleasing to some northern folks, the purple spires of lupine are beginning their summer takeover amongst patches of columbine and those diminutive forget-me-nots. So although there have been no rainbows in the heavens, there is plenty of heaven right here on earth.

The annual Memorial Day weekend fundraiser at YMCA Camp Menogyn seemed to be another huge success. When the Smiths arrived, the grand lodge was literally stuffed with people, pancakes and pork. It was a sparkling day cruising across the lake to the festivities at the camp. Everyone must have gotten their fill as the trip back found the pontoon seemingly sitting lower in the crystal water. Thanks to everyone who supported the event.
I don’t have numbers on another weekend event along the Trail, but there sure was a lot of activity up and down the byway with the big garage sale. It had to be like heaven to treasure hunters as almost every mile or turn in the road found a place to explore new/used belongings.

Recently, a gal down the road was in peaceful slumber. Unexpectedly, there rose such a clatter she sprang from her bed, to see what was the matter. She heard banging and bumping while heading downstairs, proceeding to close all the windows and batten down the hatches.

The sudden realization came to her that she had not taken in the bird feeder that was hanging off her second story deck. Turning on outside lights and looking about she found the feeder to be missing, and there was “Bruno” trying to climb down to fetch its treasure.

After three tries at coming down head first, it turned around and came partway backwards before finally falling onto the lower deck. This was a yearling, and it must be the same one that has made several bad decisions this spring, which resulted in at least two more deck-side tumbles.

Unhurt, the burly cub refused to depart in spite of any number of noisemaking attempts by the nervous human inside. After an hour and a half of scarfing up sunflower seeds and sitting for a rest on the cabin step, the unassuming bear left looking for another nutritional adventure.

The interesting part of this happening is that the bear actually scaled the side of the house to steal its treasure from the second story deck. We all know what good tree/pole climbers the ursus can be, but shinnying up the side of a house, this is a new one…must have had a good set of spikes!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a story from the forest! 


Wildersmith May 27

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The woods are in the midst of the “full flower” moon as May winds down.
Over last week, the upper Trail territory has seen the warmth of Zigwan increase. Not unexpected, but the sultriness of the atmosphere is giving us an early sample of things to come.
It is hard to believe that Neebing is only about three weeks away, and with the coming solstice, our daylight length will begin its gradual turnabout. My, how the days go by!
Since summer is tapping at the door, it’s appropriate that our leaf-out season is about complete. By the time this column is released, even our tiniest leaflets will have reached maturity. A few birch and area maples are the only trees with infant sized foliage. Meanwhile, aspen of the northland are quaking at every breath of air.
A trip through border country finds one driving in the green tunneled forest. Things seen through winter’s skeletons are now obscured by various shades of chlorophyll and trembling textures.
The rain gods have again moved this area off the priority list. At this writing, streams have dwindled back to mere trickles and the forest floor is crunchy dry once more.
Through the first couple weeks of month five, the Wildersmith rain gauge had accumulated slightly over two and a quarter inches of precip. I thought the drought was on its way out, but my thinking was obviously premature.
The sad part of this continuing dry commentary is that all governing agencies have lifted fire bans throughout the county. Thus forest dwellers are left at the mercy of users’ common sense in regard to burning. Pray that common sense, although not so common these days, will prevail, and there will be no scorching multi-million dollar accidents during this parched time.
On a happy note, another sign of Neebing’s approach happened May 18 when the hummingbirds returned to the sweet tank at Wildersmith. Traffic has been on the daily increase since, and I was even buzzed in a low approach by one of the mini-jets while out in the early daylight hours a couple days later.
With the humidity at hand, spotting a moose in a situation out of water these days is unusual. However, last week I did see a handsome bull across from the Blankenberg turn off during one of my many trips to the Chik-Wauk museum. This guy had his sleek summer coat on and the developing antlers were in lush dark velvet. He checked me out while I was doing the same of him, and then went back to munching some late spring tenders.
On the same trip when Mr. Moose was sighted, one of those black fuzzies came up along the Trail near Seagull Outfitters. This ursus was a big one, and it thought about crossing in front of my truck, but suddenly decided the forest on that side of the road was less risky and ducked out of view. How about that, this was a wild two-critter sighting, on one trip, experience!
It also sounds as if an ursus cousin is providing some not-too-happy experiences for folks along the mid-trail area. In fact, it may be tipping the scale toward being a dangerous character. It is hoped that all humans will do their part in not tempting this ravenous critter, and that Mr. Bear will do its part too by going away.
Gunflint history unfolds somewhere every day, and it is never more evident than that which is going on at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center site. Exhibit installations will be winding down by the end of this week, then its a few weeks of fine tuning before the big day on July 4. Another historic wilderness moment will be recorded.
In working with Split Rock Design Studios’ team, I can assure everyone that the story about people of the Gunflint is going to be told in breathtaking style. The best descriptor is ‘splendid’!
Just a reminder, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society’s next meeting will be held this coming Monday, May 31 (Memorial Day) at 1:30 p.m. at the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center. Everyone is invited...refreshments will be served.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the spirit of the wilderness!




Wildersmith May 20

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With a major May rain in the upper Trail reaches, all kinds of happy things are happening. Fern fronds are beginning to unfurl, the forget-me-nots have forgotten-us-not, the golden lions are just dandy and the swamps/ponds are alive with peepers.

An inch at Wildersmith and just over in isolated places was an unexpected blessing. So for the time being, wildfire danger is tempered. This does not mean that careful use of fire in the forest should not be of critical concern.

Week three of May has warmed considerably. Our cold of the first couple stanzas wilted during the fishing opener weekend. It is amazing how warm 50 to 60 degrees can be. In fact yours truly actually broke into a sweat (bad for me and the moose) while getting the dock put into the lake last weekend.

Nice as the past few days have been, there are a couple reminders in the shaded woods where one can find samples of the winter past. For example, a mini-glacier (winter ice dam) can still be seen along the south Gunflint Lake Road. This is heart warming for those of us that prefer the time from October to April, but sadly, this seasonal remembrance will fade into trickles, but not to be forgotten. Perhaps it can make it to June.

Lakes were a-hummin’ as angling season got under way. Water temps are still cold (high 40s at the Wildersmith dock), so walleye fortunes may have been tentative depending upon the locale and fishing expertise. Nevertheless, with a great spring weekend, fishing could not have been better.

History is being made this week as the cold stone walls of the historic Chik-Wauk Lodge are coming alive. The museum design folks from Split Rock Studios arrived this past Monday to begin the installation of museum displays.

The dream of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society is soon to be a reality. As this magical resort of decades past is transformed into a place where the legendary history of the Gunflint Trail can once again be relived, excitement abounds. The July Fourth grand opening cannot come soon enough!

In addition to lakes being abuzz with fisher folks, there is considerable buzzing on land as well.
The wet flora and sudden 60s has beckoned those bitin’ flies. The slightest outdoor activity that disturbs anything at ground level and the swatting battles are on. Since they are a bit early, I’m in hope that there will be an early departure.

The skeeters are being seen but have not been appreciably hungry as yet. They should be warned however, that dragon flies have been spotted and the hovering gang will be ready for the annual mosquito feast.

The first bear episode in several years happened at Wildersmith last week. A yearling bear made its way onto the deck one afternoon. Snooping around and finding nothing edible, its memory suddenly failed. It couldn’t remember how it got up there.

The deck is a one way up and the same way back off, but this youngster was lost. Not realizing that the first step off the dead end was an 8- to 10-foot drop, the burly one decided to duck under the rail and climb down. Surprise, surprise, there was nothing to grab on to, and down it went.

I’m not sure how it landed, but by the time I could get out to encourage the departure, cubby was out of sight. All I could see was where it dug in to make its getaway. I wonder if this might be the same clumsy one that fell off a deck at a place down the road a couple weeks ago…must be a slow learner!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a springtime adventure!


Wildersmith May 13

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Just when March and April got us all enthused about warm weather things, along comes May with her normal unpredictability, and we are brought back to northern reality. Since the first of month five, it has been cool, cloudy much of the time and, believe it or not, rainy on a few occasions.

The past weekend, which saw many folks gather for the third annual Gunflint Green-up, was just like the previous two years in terms of atmospheric happenings. Once again the Friday night before the Saturday trek into the forest saw snow fall along the upper Trail. Amounts varied from a skiff here and there to almost two inches in the mid-trail area, and we’d thought winter had forsaken us!

However, by midday Saturday the sun poked through the clouds and made for a sparkling time. Nearly 200 green enthusiasts took part in the 2010 event to release previous years’ plantings from undergrowth surrounding them.

The event was culminated with the thank-you dinner held under the big top on the grounds of Gunflint Lodge. Green-Up participants were not only fed sumptuously, but also entertained royally by the Sivertones and the Trail’s End Band. What a fine evening!

Big time thanks go out to Nancy Seaton and her gang of planners for another great Green-Up weekend.

Cold as it has been lately, it would seem not too unusual to have some frosty weather this weekend as the anglers open the season. Many a year has seen opening day with fisher people bundled up, sitting in their watercraft amongst falling flakes. Water temperatures are still icy cold so all are advised to boat and fish with care.

Bear activity continues to increase with calling cards left at almost every turn in the path. A couple along the Mile O’ Pine found that one had been on top of their car in a recent nocturnal episode. Fortunately there was no forced entry.

The neighborhood pine martens apparently became disenchanted with the Wildersmith folks’ late April disappearance. But all must be forgiven as they have once again come back to the feed trough.

Accommodating their nutritional wishes this time of year is difficult so as not to entice one of those black burleys. Placing any of those poultry parts out in the pre-darkness hours can almost ensure an unwanted visitor, so feeding time has to be at sunup. Believe it or not, the pineys have been quick to adjust.

The night prior to keying this column found our Wildersmith neighborhood alive with some after-dark noises. Turns out, it was a fox that barked, and barked and barked. An owl chimed in with an occasional hoot as well. I don’t know if they were in concert or not, but the yipping must have gone on for nearly half an hour. I’m betting that fox has a bad case of laryngitis after all the noise-making.

After several months of nary a moose sighting, at least a half dozen have been spotted at various places along the Gunflint. I happened on a big cow on the Tucker Lake Road recently. She was a bit undecided about what half the road to which she was entitled, so just took hers out of the middle for some distance.

At their best, moose are not the most attractive beasts of creation, and the one cavorting in front of my vehicle was quite slovenly in appearance. In the middle of a seasonal attire change, her coat was in a state of half winter and half summer, motley to be sure. Large as she was, it’s likely that she is soon to be in a motherly way, and that too may have added to her not-so-comely appearance.

Whatever the case, it remains a thrill whenever one crosses your path. To have several sightings reported recently is encouraging, especially when we know that the population has been in a state of decline over the past few years.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor sounds of a springtime night.


Wildersmith May 6

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The Wildersmith two are back in the woods. After a swell 11-day visit to family and friends in Iowa, it’s great to be back at our wilderness “home sweet home.”
Once again my thanks go out my rover friend Rosey and her dad, for sniffing out the upper Gunflint happenings. Nosey Rosey’s continuing perspective from a foot or so above the northwoods earth is always refreshing.
Part of my stint in Iowa included officiating at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, one day of which was spent standing out in the rain. Don’t know if it was those conditions or just being around far more people than usual, but the result was that I contracted a miserable upper respiratory condition. Of course it did not dissipate at the Iowa/Minnesota border and so I continue to hack around.
If there is any world record for continuous days of coughing, I may be closing in on such a mark, or may have already surpassed it. Maybe it could qualify as a Drake Relays Record!
It is interesting that some things never seem to change. Such is the case with the rain gauge here on the Gunflint south shores. Mine was empty when I departed and empty when I returned. The showers of April were pretty much non-existent until the last day of the month. Fortunately the north-country drought has been temporarily stunted with a sweet, six-tenths of an inch of heaven.
So the Gunflint territory enters the month of the “full flower” moon with the dust settled for at least a few days. Only time will tell whether the dry spell might have been broken, and we will actually get some nice May flowers. Although the wet addition is deeply appreciated, it was like pouring a cup into the ocean-- we need MORE.
The brief period of rain last weekend has already had a positive effect on the leafing-out process. Aspen buds popped almost over night while birch and maple buds are burgeoning with hope. On the coniferous side, those little buds have emerged into candles that will become the next generation of forest green by summer’s end.
Outside activities are soon to be altered by our annual tempestuous invasion. Yes the early arrivals have landed. While volunteering at the recent Ham Lake Half Marathon, I was driven from my traffic safety duty along the Trail and into my truck, as hordes of the nasty black flies swarmed me. The rain was a much-needed blessing for both humans, and sad to say, those ornery bitin’ bugs. These winged critters surely must be illegal immigrants, get out the nets and cover up!
By the way, the Ham Lake runs of last weekend (half marathon and 5K) were a huge success. The third annual event saw a record 189 participants. It was a great day, with terrific organization and plenty of Gunflint Community spirit. Congrats and thanks to all for making it special.
Our Gunflint community is on center stage once again this weekend. The third Gunflint Green-up commences Friday and runs through Saturday. Hope to see many of you there, continuing the cultivation of new green along the Trail and enjoying the fun.
The first seasonal bear report has come my way. One has been meandering along the south shores of Gunflint Lake for several days now. Making stops at a number of places and crunching some bird feeders, I’m told, it has been rather obstinate about being uninvited.
At one stop a resident found it sitting on the home’s entry porch, cleaning out a feeder. A frantic holler by the person inside startled the bear so much that it tumbled over backward onto the ground; I guess it was hilarious. In spite of this acrobatic, it still wasn’t anxious to leave.
As both flies and bears add to the renewal of our wilderness experience, a friend in the mid-Trail area advised me that the spirit of northern waters has also come back. First loon sounds of the year have been heard on Poplar Lake. “Happy Days are here again!”
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the buzzing, growling and yodeling sounds of the season!


Wildersmith April 14

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Spring is now official along the Gunflint Lake shores. It is declared so because the lake ice departed in the afternoon of April 10.

Several nights of below freezing temperatures had stalled the ice out when many thought it would go right after April Fools’ Day. Then, night before the sinking of the ice, cold and clouds brought a dose of snow. Three quarters of an inch left the wilderness in short-term pristine beauty, including the remaining coat of ice.

As the power of Sol and a brisk northwest wind grew by midday, the snow-covered ice soon melted into afternoon whitecaps. Suddenly, winter became a distant memory as rollers again slapped the shoreline at Wildersmith.

The early dismissal of our annual frozen happening seems that it may have set some kind of modern day record. Lifetime resident Bruce Kerfoot indicates that never before has he seen such a premature meltdown.

As you might recall from an earlier report, the earliest recorded dates for loss of Gunflint Lake ice that I can find are April 15, 1976 and April 18, 1986. Another record of sorts is noted as the first boat of 2010 went up the lake on the morning of April 11. So history continues to be made throughout the byway corridor, on an almost daily basis.

What might be the final wild tracking adventure of the cold season happened last Saturday. With the new fallen snow, my trek down the Mile O’ Pine to drop off some outgoing mail followed the footprints of a single wolf. The critter must have been a big one as tracks were as large as the palm of my hand.

Another wilderness warrior made an up-close appearance a few days earlier when it crossed in front of my truck along the Trail. This one was quite robust and actually stopped on the edge of the pine forest and stared us down while we observed through an open window.  

Although new spring/summer adventures are sure to cross my path, I am saddened to know that the presence of these warriors will be hard to define for the next several months, even though I know they are somewhere about. Maybe they’ll check-in vocally once in awhile, just to stir the forest spirit. That would be a howl!

The mild winter has sure favored our northwoods ‘chicken birds.’ They can be observed at almost every turn of the road. Come fall, folks who are disposed to shooting the rather nonchalant birds should find abundant grouse for the taking.

Day after ice out on Gunflint, I took to heart that Mother Nature has no intent of blessing this area with rain anytime soon. So I donned the wet suit and went into the 30-something water. Purpose of the dip was to locate pump lines for the wildfire sprinkler systems of the neighborhood. 

My whole body, except my hands, was insulated by the high-tech suit. One gets an instant response as to how dangerous this water can be right now by just dipping the hands in, if only for a few seconds. Talk about HURT!

Anyway that job is done and at least three properties are ready if another wildfire catastrophe would endanger the area. Remembering Ham Lake 2007, everyone in the forest hopes that the units never have to be turned on in an emergency again, but prepared we are.

Thanks go out to the U.S. Forest Service for advancing the final step in wildfire prevention. The burning ban set in place throughout the Superior National Forest and into the BWCAW is greatly appreciated by many nervous wilderness dwellers.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a thought…for the coming of the green.


Wildersmith April 7

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No foolin’, its April already and the forest is easing into week two.  The magic of Easter Sunday opened gloomy, with drizzle and snow along some parts of the upper Trail. Then by afternoon, as if to match the heavenly beauty of the day, sun and blue consumed the gray. It was a spectacular micro analogy to the Christian celebration.

Spring warmth continues to eat away at the ice on area lakes. Nearly all that parallel the Trail are glimmering with enchanting ripples. The larger bodies are still covered with an almost charcoal colored topping, indicating that rot is gobbling up their winter coats too.

The Gunflint Gal has opened at the west end where the Cross River flows in, and there are narrow strips of water winding here and there where winter pressure heaves broke the seal. Being free of ice by this weekend is a pretty safe bet.

Unusual to say the least, the Wildersmith lilac buds look like they could pop any day. Further, where the sun gets a clear shot every day, I have observed the first rhubarb nodules piercing the ground. At this rate, the territory might even have peonies by Memorial Day, instead of our normal Fourth of July explosion.

The quality of this un-timely, but inspiring renewal is of course, dependent upon a big boost from the heavens. Moisture continues to elude the wilderness thicket. Wildersmith moisture for March totaled only four tenths of an inch.

And, the miniscule shower of Easter Morning barely dampened the rain gauge bottom, with five one-hundredths. So it looks like the month of showers might be following suit, but let’s hope not!!

Our choking drought has finally prompted the governing agencies to invoke burning restrictions for the county. Thank goodness! Guess they know what they are doing, but it seems that the move might have been initiated a couple weeks ago, anyway we forest dwellers thank them! Now, everyone has to follow the rules!

Folks that have an open water supply are urged to get their wildfire sprinkler systems up to speed. It wouldn’t hurt to actually run a tank of gas through the unit just to wet things down once a week, until “Mother Nature” gets off her duff with some help.

The avian migration continues, and the feed trough has been inundated with Juncos of late. It is interesting that their beautiful dark gray head, back and wings are a perfect match to the ice on the lake. Robins are back too, flitting back and forth across the Trail in places, yet none have landed around Wildersmith.

A friend down the road, up for a weekend visit, was treated to the observation of grouse courtship. I’m told that the suitors’ strutting ritual was quite entertaining.

The crow multitudes are still hanging out in the neighborhood scratching and pecking what seems like every inch of ground. Their search for nourishment has made them good cultivators, as they have pretty much turned over much of the yard.

They have recently discovered the seed trays on our deck too, sometimes half dozen at once, and are making regular afternoon appearances to scoop up leftovers. One afternoon, 28 were counted. Never before have we had such a rowdy bunch day after day.

Wolves are still patrolling the Mile O Pine and continue to visit a Tucker Lake site to satisfy some vegan need with sunflower seeds. Meanwhile, I have not seen one, but activity around a couple decaying log sights signify that bears have been grubbing around nearby. Sooner or later, one will be leaving the customary calling card to officially declare ‘tis the season.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a happening in our wild neighborhood.

Footprints on Sawbill Lake, photo courtesy of Sawbill Outfitters

Wildersmith April 1

The weather cooled some in the wilderness last week, though it would appear that we have had the last sub-zero temps for several months to come. The mercury slipped just below zero at Wildersmith late last week on a couple nights so the lake ice stiffened a bit.

But I’m guessing that will be the end of serious cold, as prognosticators have indicated that it could be in the 60s as you read or listen to Upper Gunflint news this week.

If such warmth materializes, it is a good bet that lake ice will depart the earliest in nearly three decades. My data only goes back as far as 1982 for ice out on Gunflint, and the earliest ice departure since that year has been April 18 in 1986.

With ice separating from northern shorelines in many places, I can’t see it lasting much longer. If by chance we would get any substantial rain, the time before departure will be reduced even more. 

March has left the higher Gunflint territory much the same as it entered, drier than a bone and far warmer than it should be. Those who favor such lamb-like conditions have had a swell month out in the woods.

Border country was dazzled by the full “egg moon” as month three went into the history books. It’s hard to believe that one quarter of 2010 has slipped by already.

Enter, April, a serious time of re-birth. Some early spring babies will soon be coming into the world, and the last of those that have been slumbering for the past few months are waking up.

I’ve heard that some folks have already observed those pesky chipmunks, although none have shown in this neighborhood, and the skunks have been out and about for a few weeks based on an occasional whiff wafting along the air currents.

Surely, in not too many days, the ursine species will be renewing their forest fellowship along with new fuzzy family additions. Better be bringing in the bird feeders and securing the garbage cans as bears are ravenously hungry following their long winter’s nap.

I have received two reports of fisher sightings during the past week. The seldom seen, larger pine marten cousins were observed in two different locations, one along the south shores of Gunflint Lake and the other over on Hungry Jack Lake.

It may be April, and the snow splotches few and far between, but the biological clock that tells snowshoe hares to put on their seasonal attire must be stuck on winter. I observed one along the Trail a few nights ago and it was still sparkling white, standing out like a sore thumb against the earthen roadside tones. Maybe the changing for this one is on hold until Easter deliveries are completed.

Engulfed in a barren forest right now, there is plenty of unsightliness, but help is on the way. A renewed brightness has arisen along the byway. Deciduous buds are beginning to bulge, and the coniferous wilderness has traded its drab winter flavor for a noticeable infusion of green that invigorates one’s spirits.

At Wildersmith, I have begun to free the young conifers from their winter deer net protection. When released from those bindings, it is like an awakening. One can almost see them stretching in search of sunbeams and warm air. It is energizing to know that the hiatus of growth skyward is about to resume.

On this weekend, when the Christian world once again embraces the ultimate renewal, let me wish everyone a Happy Easter!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a celebration of spring!