Listen Now
Pledge Now


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 July 29, 2009

Wildersmith_20090731.mp34.96 MB

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

Wildersmith_20090724.mp34.86 MB
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

Wildersmith_20090717.mp35.23 MB

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.


Wildersmith On The Gunflint July 7, 2009

Wildersmith_20090710.mp35.3 MB

Independence Day has kicked us off into the rest of the summer. I must say that the past week has been marvelously cool, and I’m sure that the moose must be smiling. They must have been happy about the cool sunless days; several made candid appearances in favorite viewing spots along the Trail.

The color palette of a northwoods summer continues to be enhanced with each passing day. Our ribbon of blacktop may not be the yellow brick road, but one might call it close. Uncountable billions of golden blooms edge the paradise pathway with an occasional splash of orange hawkweed and drifts of daisy petals. If your focus is too far ahead of your vehicle, the multiple tints become a rainbow on the ground when you add in the lupine and roses. Truly our “pot of gold” is in just being here.

As sunrises begin their trek back southward, one the other day was particularly eye-catching. Recently, I awakened just as Sol made his daily appearance. Thin clouds deflected early rays into the hottest pink I’ve ever seen. In a few short moments, pink became blazing copper with the sky looking to be on fire, and a few moments later, as the gaseous mass became fully spherical, the first golden lasers pierced through the pines.

Even spectacular doesn’t do the happening justice! Sorry most probably weren’t awake to see it.

A fellow down the road mistakenly left his garage door open last week and subsequently found that the temptation was too much for a bear to pass up. It’s likely that one of the local ursine had considerable indigestion after the nocturnal visit to the garage.
In the confines were two big garbage cans, one filled with leftover shelled deer corn and the other with sunflower seeds. The four-pawed thief politely removed the container lids and consumed about 60 pounds of corn and nearly 50 pounds of the seeds without leaving one morsel on the floor.
I’m betting that if only one critter did all the gorging, and then drank plenty of water, it was miserable. Probably a lot of burping, growling and grunting!
Another animal tale finds an eagle sitting in the top of a tall cedar tree along the Gunflint Lake shore last week. It was about brunch time, and I found it sizing up a potential duck treat.
Two momma ducks were herding their broods around a dock when they became aware that the families were being sized up. With considerable duck language squabble, one raft was directed under the dock and the other mom headed hers off toward safety beside a nearby boat.
The activity lasted several minutes with the eagle stoically studying the situation. Suddenly, from out of the low clouds, came several raucous seagulls that might have had ideas of their own about ducklings. The hungry raptor became discouraged at the gull diving and screeching nonsense and suddenly took flight without getting a mid-morning treat. Meanwhile, the gulls moved on toward a little fishing action and the duck families survived to see another day.
We are one week away from the big Gunflint Trail canoe race event. A feature that was initiated last year was an eating contest. Paling in comparison with the annual hot dog eating contest in the Big Apple, this northwoods version of gullet stuffing has nonetheless taken on a character of its own.
Last year the subject of consumption was Twinkies, and four contestants entered in what turned out to be a hilarious fiasco. However, as a fundraiser for the total canoe race effort, the gorging provided a tidy sum.
So organizers are gearing up for the ’09 rendition, and have six entries lined up. This year’s menu consists of cream puffs. So once again, the spectacle should be a stitch to watch. The participating entries have pledge boxes at Bearskin Lodge, Trail Center restaurant, Gunflint Lodge, Gunflint Pines resort, Seagull Outfitters and Voyageur Canoe Base. It appears that there could be two winners, one that raises the most money in pledge support and the other downing the most puff balls. Hope you are there to enjoy all the fun!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the north land charisma!


Wildersmith On The Gunflint July 1, 2009

Wildersmith_20090703.mp35.35 MB

Entering the second half of 2009, many are wondering where the first half went. It surely has flown by. Month seven features the “full buck” moon, and it reaches its pinnacle in a few short days, as daylight minutes are trickling away.

A weekend of celebration and remembering is on tap. While our nation observes our 233rd birthday, residents of the upper Gunflint will take time out to remember a windblown tragedy that changed the forest for the rest of our lives.

Yes, it was 10 years ago this Saturday that the rage of our natural world ripped a gash in the forest from Ely to Grand Marais. Over 300,000 acres of the northern Minnesota forest was slammed into twisted confusion.
It has taken many years to dig out of the mess, and much still remains as it fell on that fateful Fourth in 1999. However, the spirit of the folks in this wilderness will not be discouraged…even after more disaster with forest fires in ’05…’06…and ’07.
It is my belief that sorrow and grief of the past decade has blossomed into an undaunted Gunflint community. There’s a splendid sense among Trail folks that’s determined to see the forest rise again from storm and fire!
Thinking more about our wilderness community, thanks go out to many residents that worked at the Trail clean-up over the past couple weeks. There may still be places that need attention, but a great deal of mankind’s debris has been retrieved for proper disposal. If you can offer additional help, give Doug Graham or me a call and we can send you to a location that has not been canvassed.
This has to be an ongoing task too, as more litter is likely to appear after the annual ditch mowing in August and a few more weeks of tourist visits. Hope everyone is willing to keep pitching in to keep up with those that pitch out.
While folks have been trying to beautify the most traveled portion of the corridor, some off-Trail sites are sparkling with infusion of summer color. Lupine Lane (better known as County Road 50) is in full efflorescence.
And, a hiking couple reports the observation of some rare wood lilies along the Magnetic Rock Trail. Guess the splendid orange blooms are set in a sea of yellow hawkweed that provides a breathtaking landscape vista.
One has to be wondering if the promise of a bumper blueberry crop might be in a state of compromise. With June usually being one of our wetter months, it stands to reason that with drought-like rain amounts in the region over the last six weeks, that the crop volume will be diminished.
I’m beginning to think that the rain gods must have placed a curse over the Gunflint Lake watershed. This area can barely muster a dust settler out of every prognostication.
Although the wilderness is green, the persistent dry conditions are worrisome as things relate to wildfire potential. Residents and business alike are not only praying for rain, but also that wilderness visitors will use good sense with regard to campfires.
Confirmation that it’s really dry comes in a drive down any of our back-country roads. The dust is chokingly bad!
A great time was had by all who attended the 12th annual North Shore Health Care Foundation barbeque at Gunflint Lodge last Sunday evening. The fundraiser saw a lively crowd dining on scrumptious ribs and chicken along with a variety of buffet items. The eating extravaganza was festive with considerable reminiscent toe-tapping to some great musical entertainment provided by the talented Gerald Thilmany of Loon Lake.
Momentum is building for the annual Canoe Races as planners are putting the final touches on activities for this year’s event. Tickets for some fantastic raffle items as well as a Wenonah canoe are on sale in many places along the Trail. They will also be sold during special sales at the Trail Center restaurant the next two weekends, and until drawings begin on the evening of the races.
Mark your calendar for the big day, Wednesday, July 15th on the Gunflint Lodge waterfront. Food court opens at 4 p.m.with races and prize drawings to commence at 6. Be there for the fun and support our Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire and Rescue teams. Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some time on the sky blue waters!