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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith
Fred Smith, a native Iowan re-located to the wilderness of border country at the end of the century, has been writing of happenings in the upper Gunflint territory for going on eight years, first with the local paper, and since December 2008 for WTIP North Shore Community Radio. Fred feels life in the woods is extraordinary, and finds reporting on it to both a reading and listening audience a pleasurable challenge. Since retirement as a high school athletic administrator from Ankeny High School, Ankeny Iowa in 1999, the pace of Fred's life has become less hectic but nevertheless, remains busy in new ways with many volunteer activities along the Trail. Listen at your convenience by subscribing to a podcast.

Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.


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Wildersmith_Photo by Fran Smith

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 24, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     May 24, 2019    
The Memorial Day weekend sends us off into the final segment of month five, and unless conditions have changed in the last few days, one would find it hard to believe the territory is at the un-official start of summer. The past week has been two steps forward and one step back for this blooming season.                                                                                                                      

While spring has been working to take complete control, we at Wildersmith had a morning where frosty roof tops and a little making ice was a reminder of days gone by. So it isn’t over until it’s over, and yes there’s still snowy evidence in a few places.                                                

Meanwhile, on the days we have stepped forward, slow gains are being made on the green-up. As one gazes across the rocky landscape, a green haze is hanging just below the skyline. And in spite of those days when we have stepped back, the verdant fog is growing by the day.                                                                                                                                                                                           

In the bustle of living in organized territory, I seemed not to have had time to catch many of simple wonders of this re-birth time. However, in the golden age of retirement, I find wonder in keeping a watchful eye on a juvenile birch tree outside the kitchen window. The once green tipped buds bulge ever so slightly with each passing morning in anticipation of soon being a grown up leaf. What a joy to be a part of Natures’ unfolding.                                                                                                      

The chilly days of the past week or so have not slowed the return of hummingbirds to the upper Trail. While we have not seen any at Wildersmith, neighbors have had them humming about in search of a little sweetness.                                                                                                                  

A friend over on Loon Lake reports one flew in through the open door of his wood shop. The impatient bird zipped around his head as a reminder it was back and then headed out. Recognizing a call to duty, he hustled right out and proceeded to get the nectar jar filled as this diminutive north woods tough guy summoned. Let alone several four legged neighborhood species, even the birds have many of us in a caring mood.                                                                                                          

During one of many recent trips up to Trails end, a couple neighborhood buddies and I had the rare pleasure of meeting up with a cross fox. In twenty years of living in the woods I had never observed one. Our sighting took place on the Sag Lake Trail, so perhaps folks residing in that neighborhood have seen this handsome critter, and if not they might be on the look-out for it.                                                                                                                                                                        
In the week following the fishing opener, the Gunflint Trail has come alive with visitors. It’s as if someone opened the gate at bottom of the hill in Grand Marais. Most of the countless vehicles are either towing or toting water craft of some variety. Without regard for the un-summerlike weather last weekend, the magnetism of this place in the universe has people clamoring to hit the lakes and hiking trails for a bit of wilderness calm and adventure.                                                                                       

With the growing visitor influx, it is timely that the Gunflint Trail Historical Society announces the opening of the Chik-Wauk Campus. Now beginning its tenth season, gates open Saturday, at 10:00am.                                                                                                                                      

2019 is an exciting time in history of the Society as the Campus of Gunflint Trail history opens its long awaited Watercraft Exhibit Building (The WEB). This display of vintage canoes, boats and motors and the role such watercraft played in lives of early settlers, is set in a new timber frame building along the entrance lane to the Museum and Nature Center. Not only are the exhibits awesome, the structure housing them has a contemporary history of its own.                                               

If this is not enough excitement, in the Museum, a new temporary exhibit is being presented. The 2019 display features the “life and times of Tommy banks” and his unlikely friendship with pioneer resident Billy Needham. Tommy was a bootlegger and gangster from Minneapolis in the 1930’s who had a cabin on the Northshore of Hungry Jack Lake.                                             

Folks will want to plan a visit to this magical place at end of the Trail in the coming weeks for all kinds of adventures, from territorial history to many energizing Nature Center activities for both young and old. And speaking of things new, in the Nature Center, the GTHS welcomes, Ed Moran who takes over naturalist duties. Don’t miss stopping by to greet the newest Chik-Wauk staffer.                                                                                                                                                                             

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, watching the brown earth turn green!


Fran and Fred Smith_Photo by CJ Heithoff 300x350.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 17, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      May 17, 2019    

May is spinning out of control as we head into its second half with the company of the Ojibwe, “budding flowers” full moon this weekend.                                                                                                  

Although my declaration of spring doesn’t match up with the calendar, I proclaim its official in the Gunflint Lake neighborhood as of last Saturday, May 11. The lake still had some icy odds and ends jammed up by the wind at the far end to the east. But for all practical purposes, the “old gal” was ninety-nine and nine-tenths percent rippling as of last Saturday evening. Remnant patches of snow remain in shaded area as the only sign there even was a winter. And to further affirm its’ over, my dear wife said it’s time to take down the “let it snow” sign and get lawn chairs onto the deck.                                                                                                                                                                          
Ice out is always a big relief at the Wildersmith place as the crystalline rush to get out of here has often played havoc with my household lake water system. The icy disappearance act was gentler this time in spite of piling up considerable chards against our shore and on top of the pipe encasement. So all that worry is behind us now, and this area may have had its last below freezing night.    
The annual concern about wildfire, as the territory dries out this time of year, prompted action to get sprinkler system pump hoses into the water. With great help from a friend down the road and his cousin, my task is now done. It did require wading into the water, which was thirty-seven degrees at the time. With leaky waders, I assure you it got my attention and made for hasty exodos after several entries, there was no monkeying around!                                                    
A heads-up to all, get those WFS systems ready ASAP while we wait for the tempering green-up of our landscape.                                                                                                                                                                          

It seems some things just fall right in line as the hard water gives way. An example was a mosquito attack on the first full day after. I suppose the surveillance crew of last week got the buzz out, and I became a prime target while finishing up the lakeshore water work last Sunday. Sadly, this bugging issue is only going to get worse over the next few weeks, so I’ll be trading the parka for netting any day.                                                                                                                                                         
I’ve received several reports of Loon returns over the past week. Word from the staff up at Chik-Wauk confirms those residents have come in and are back on the nest too. With a little good luck avoiding raptor predation and black fly terrorism, we’ll be seeing a new generation of chicks from that nest sometime during June week one.                                                                                            
Meanwhile, word comes from the mid-Trail neighborhood telling of bear activity on the upswing. Guess, there’s a big “papa bear” rumbling around and a “momma” with her yearling cubs making candid appearances. Bear scat has been discovered in the Mile O Pine neighborhood but no “Bruno” observations yet, fine with me.                                                                                                                  

Moose are on the loose with a number of sightings, and even more evidence is reported on back country roads of their meanderings. One would suppose calves are coming into the world, and if not here already, they will be soon.                                                                                                                 
The hum of outboard motors broke the silence of lake country as dozens of boats sped by in search of favorite finny hang-outs last weekend. The only person I’ve talked to indicated excitement to get out on the water, but limited catching. The deep waters of Gunflint and other big bodies are just too cold for much walleye action this early. However, I’m confident luck may have been better on lakes shallower and perhaps warmer from earlier ice out.                                                                                

Whereas many anglers find North Lake a catching paradise, I’m told they were stymied to get from Gunflint into North Lake because of the ice jam at Gunflints’ sand beach end. This problem is likely history now, as this scoop airs.                                                                                          

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as springs’ bloom hankers for warmth and rain!


Fran & Fred Smith - Photo by CJ Heithoff

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 10, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith   May 10, 2019    
The Smiths’ are back in the woods following a jaunt to Iowa for a visit with our daughter, many old friends and a weekend at America’s Athletic Classic, the Drake Relays. It’s always great to be home in the serenity of forty-nine degrees north. The mayhem of traffic and humanity in semi-organized civilization is culture shock for us woods dwellers.                                                                                                                     

While spring has been stumbling along in the northland, it was a delight to see green grass and trees trimmed in a new generation of leaves in the Hawkeye State.                                                 

With my partiality toward winter, it was disappointing to miss the beauty of the brief cold season resurgence while away. However, I have no regrets about not being around to move the wet heavy stuff. “Mother Nature” had taken care of snow removal by the time we pulled onto the Mile O Pine, leaving me with only minimal sidewalk scooping. A side effect finds melting the recent eight or so inches of snow has given mud a boost on back country roads, and further complicating growing pot holes.                                                                                                                                                         

Spring might have her act together in border country as we head into this Mothers’ Day weekend, and the Minnesota angling opener. Our good earth is mostly bare, with the only snow remaining being that heaped up in winter plowing efforts. By this time next week, we may be able to close the winter chapter along the Mile O Pine. I’ll let you all know when observing 2018-19 winter character is no longer possible, remembering there has been snow on the ground in some fashion since the last days of October.                                                                               
Meanwhile rivers and streams are gushing abundantly toward lakes, ponds and wetlands with cold mountain run-off. Pussy willows buds are puffing with zest and green tipped buds are showing on a few birch and aspen.  Early season sprouts of rhubarb and chives are piecing the top soil on the sunny side of the Wildersmith house and daffodils are up in other warm confines.                                                                                                                                                                                         
On a not so positive note regarding the soon to bloom season, I was found to be under surveillance of the first mosquito a couple days ago. It was one of those big “daddy’s,” just buzzing by checking me out, and likely headed back to headquarters for a report to the troops on my availability as a blood donor.                                                                                                                                         
Although I’ve been out of the area for the better part of two weeks, going into this report, I have yet to hear of any bear annoyances. They have to be out and about though so care is being exercised to not tempt them into making bad decisions. In the meantime I’ve observed a couple other wintertime nappers, those being chipmunks and wood chucks. Every critter and everything is in the wake up mode.                                                                                                                                                                           
With dreams of catching the “big one” this weekend, fisher people can relax in regard knowing ice is out on most lakes of the territory. As I commenced this scribing last Sunday evening, the Gunflint Gal was still a big ice cube although it has broken from the shore, west to east, as far as this mid-lake neighborhood. For the record, the Gunflint has been under ice cover for five months (since December 6th).                                                                                                                                 

All conditions being considered, it’s a good bet this body will be open too as watercraft are launched to kick-off the season. Good luck to all with a word of caution, as the water is dangerously cold. Make good decisions and take no chances in boat or canoe.                                                                                                                                            

A recent interview with WTIP news director, Joe Friedrichs, and the County Planning and Zoning Administrator, revealed consideration for amending the Gunflint Trail ATV usage ordinance. The plan involves changing the current limited travel portions to open/unlimited usage from Grand Marais to the west end of County road 92 at Iron Lake (some 35 miles).                                                                                  
Public comments on the issue to the P & Z (Planning Commission) are being accepted with a public hearing expected in June (though no date has been set). It can be assumed after P & Z examines and listens to public comments the issue will be passed on to County Commissioners for a future agenda.                                                                                                                               
Interested parties, either in support of, or in opposition to this ordinance amendment, should make their feelings known ASAP to the Planning & Zoning office in the Courthouse (in writing or by email). An expression of your opinions on this issue to our district Commissioner would seem prudent too.                                                                                                                                   

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, even more so on the opening day of fishing season!


Crystal Icicle_JLS Photography-Alaska.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 19, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
April 19, 2019 
Month four is screaming by as we celebrate the “Maple Sugar Moon” in the north woods. While atmospheric conditions in April can be unpredictable, it looks as though things may have settled into a more tolerable state heading into this weekend.                                                                           

Following the near miss of that so called “bomb cyclone” along the Gunflint Trail, it is possible we’ve seen winters’ last gasp. Whereas the Village had a more intense experience with the snow and violent winds, we up at end of the Trail escaped the brunt with two to four snowy inches and minimal wind activity. I guess we should count ourselves blessed with not too much winter hysteria this time around.                                                                                                                                                                                     

At the same time, this neighborhood and others in the upper Trail territory enjoyed the beauty of white ecstasy for a couple days as “Mother Nature” put a band aid on springs’ naked unsightliness. Sadly, we are starting all over again with renewed melting. Just when there were a few dry spots taking over on back country roads, we are back into squishy going again.                                                  

Speaking of melting, as the area heads toward the month’s last segment, folks are talking of lake ice. During the warmth of March, it looked as though ice would not last too long. But with winter raising its hackles over the past three weeks, one cannot be too sure just when “Sky Blue Waters” will be dashing our shores. Here on Gunflint Lake, we’ve even made some ice a few mornings in the last two weeks.                                                                                                        

Some walleye anglers have expressed concern area lakes might remained locked up on opening day, May 10. It seems doubtful to yours truly, although remembering last year the ice went out on the Gunflint gal the morning of opener. So it does, and has happened before that fisher people are nudging ice out of the way to dip a line.                                                                           

While I have yet to hear of any ursine encounters out this way, one has to wonder if on the occasional sunny days, Bruno’s aren’t rubbing the sleep from their eyes. If they woke up over the past weekend however, and stuck their heads out to falling snow, perhaps they went back to bed. In any event, I’ve begun to curtail some of my seed distribution just for good measure, and urge neighbors to do the same                                                                                                                                                

As I mentioned our occasional warm sunny days, it seems buds on some of the Aspen and Birch are bulging with excitement, then on a day when we’ve held at or below freezing they don’t appear as puffy about the goings-on.                                                                                                                                           
 I did see some pussy willow buds along the Trail near the South Brule River Bridge last week. One might wonder if the gray pearls aren’t thankful the creator blessed them with warm fuzzy coats during our recent winter interlude.                                                                                                                    
I have yet to see any robins in this neighborhood, but folks in town mention they have arrived. On another avian note, recently I got a kick out of a quartet of visiting Crows, following the new snow. Talk about contrast, the scene was as stark black and white as nature could bring into being.                                                                                                                                                                     

A couple ebony beauties were rooting through the snow in search of sustenance remains. Plowing along the feed trough, they came up seemingly annoyed with globs of white stuck to their beaks. Apparently out of sorts with their white snoots, there was considerable shaking all about, and conversation from their brothers /sisters, perhaps teasing them.                                    

In closing, while the deciduous members of the northern forest are a ways from waving their green hellos, the coniferous family is rapidly turning their winter drab to brighter energizing summer shades. It’s more than noticeable on a day of sunshine.                                                   

And speaking of our forest sentinels, it’s pretty easy to take them for granted when there are uncounted zillions as far as the eye can see. I had the pleasure of reading an article in the spring periodical of the National Wildlife Federation on the critical things trees do for our eco-system. I have been aware of some, however, the author and researchers made several points I had never considered.  It is suggested reading, either online or in the library, and will provide evermore reverence to your future walks in the woods.                                                                                                                         

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, regardless of our worldly turmoil!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 12, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith    April 12, 2019    

The sprint toward real “Zigwan” (Ojibwe, spring) in the north woods has been putting distance between itself and winter over the past seven days. In spite of another big snow forecast, one brief dash of snow and perhaps our last subzero morning has given way to April showers since last weekend.                                                                                                                            

This in mind, winter character has diminished somewhat around the territory, but muddy roads have intensified. While a few days of Gunflint sunshine have been warming, those with clouds have remained on the cool side of the ledger, hanging out in the mid-thirties, damp and raw.                                                                                                                                                                                  

The Gunflint-Loon Lake wolf pack has been hanging out along the south shore of Gunflint Lake recently, after being quietly obscure for some time. A few nights ago there was a genuine howling not far from Wildersmith. One can’t say whether the concert was in celebration of spring, a calling to feast or some other territorial alert. Then again, maybe they were announcing the birth of pack pups. Regardless, tracks along the Wildersmith shore confirm it was some kind of gathering.                                                                                                                      

Next door neighbors reported a recent sightseeing trip to Trails end turned out to be more exciting than expected. Their vehicle was brought to a surprising stop by a moose strolling along the black top.                                                                                                                                                              

The ensuing stoppage found the moose approach the vehicle for some investigation, actually getting up close and personal for a sniff of this metallic monster. One might wonder if this could have been the same moose reported to have licked road salt residue from a stopped vehicle a few weeks ago.                                                                                                                                              

Much as we humans are now able to shed a layer of winter garment, this viewing revealed the north woods icon was also in the early stages of shedding its winter coat, another sure sign the moose concur, spring is official.                                                                                                           

Adding to our melting delight at the Smith place, our serpentine of slipperiness has finally surrendered its ice. Although there is still ice and snow on the fringes, we can get up and down the driveway both on foot and in the vehicle without cleats and white knuckles.                                         
Another notable of the warming season is detected at the base of trees in the yard. As per usual, those hollow bowls in the snow are expanding by the day as warming bark and running sap exposes the surrounding earth in rustic brown.                                                                                   

One more sign of our border country times was discovered since our last meeting. The first Arachnid was caught scurrying across our kitchen the other day. Whereas everything in creation has an eco-purpose, these creepy crawlers can’t escape giving some the “willies.”                                                                                      

Though there is romance in dreams of warmer days and greening landscape ahead, the season at hand is perhaps the ugliest time of year. Months of crystal pureness has dwindled to unveil a zillion items having amassed on the forest floor over winter, making for some serious unsightliness.                                                                                                                                                                                                    
“Mother Nature’s” glory is rooted in verdant shades of summer, the mosaic of autumn tapestry and of course the marsh mellow cast of winter. In spring however, there’s just no covering up both the natural muss and humankind mistakes.                                                                                         

Then again, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. With the majesty of this great place in the universe budding with an enduring strategy of re-birth, yes, “hope, does spring eternal!”                                          

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as natural events energize whatever the season.


What's for Lunch photo by Per via Flickr.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - April 5, 2019

April 5, 2019     Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      April 5, 2019    
Week one of April in the Wildersmith neighborhood is nearly eclipsed, and it’s hard telling what our north woods atmosphere will be like when this report comes on the air. The last weekend of March found the advance of spring stymied along the Trail.                                                         

Folks up this way awoke Saturday morning to a surprise visit from “old man winter.”  Just when many were hoping his spring break would be extended, two inches of white had been delivered to freshen up the forest. A dose of cold kept the new blanket intact for a couple days where the sun couldn’t reach, and then more of the wet white stuff came through earlier this week.                                                                                                                                                                                       
It’s a good bet spring will regain a grip sooner rather than later. In the meantime, there is still a good foot or so of winter wonder left around this place in the woods.                                                         

While all this happens, Trail businesses for the most part, are taking a well-deserved break. It’s the “shoulder season” where catching their breath with a brief vacation helps them re-up for the onslaught of summer visitors.                                                                                                                                                              

The Smith’s confirmed another rite of the Vernal season a few days ago when we spotted a momma fox. It’s a little early for her kits to be out with her, but her sagging under side gave her away as being in a motherly state. On a related note, this foxy critter was not the one who has been visiting the Smith yard during the past fall and winter.                                           

While, the ground we navigate at this time of year is trying to rid itself of those frozen crystals, our blacktop moguls along the Trail are not showing much change. Maybe it’s a little early to expect them to level up, but folks traveling the By-way on a daily basis must be tiring of those jaw-jarring jolts. All have to be thankful the County Highway Dept. has flagged them as a warning. Nevertheless, even taking these dips at slow speed can bounce you pretty good, but this ritual will pass as does other ordeals of melting season.                                                         

Another passage of animal lore from forty-nine degrees north is shared from our deck side feeding trough. To give you a little background, over the years I’ve been saving grease drippings from the kitchen. They are drained into empty 14-ounce food cans until the unit is filled, then frozen for use during the winter.                                                                                                                        

I developed a method of attaching the can to the deck rail where it is available to any hungry visitor on a first come first serve basis. Every wild being from chickadees to fishers have enjoyed a little fat at one time or another, often when some “lardy” is needed during our sub-zero nights.                                                                                                                                                                                   
While this has gone on for some time now, in their wild exuberance, during the pecking, licking and pawing at the can they have warn the connecting rig. This happening allows the can to work loose occasionally resulting in pilfering of the whole can as it nears an empty level.              

In an effort to quell this larceny, I found wedging shims of wood around the can base works fairly well in securing things, most of the time. However, when the snow is finally gone, I sometimes find a few empties between the deck and the lake.                                                                                                                                                               
With all this background lead up, I put my last can of fatty delectable out about twilight time one day last week. Of course in a matter of moments, there were a few takers before sundown.  One of these visitors was a large crow. After watching this ebony beauty gulp a beak full and depart, the chapter ended, at least for the evening.                                                                             

Next morning, my first gaze out the window found the can gone from its mounting, nowhere to be seen. A trip outside later found no sign of the tin on the ground either. Obviously, some visitor figured out the shimming scheme, left shims on the deck, and absconded with the goodies container to parts unknown.                                                                                                                                                                              

My suspects point to the crow or perhaps one of the neighborhood pine martens. I’m guessing it would be quite a task for the crow to fly off with that can in its beak, or in the clutches of its’ feet, but who knows, they are pretty crafty. Seeing such take place would have been an entertaining observation.                                                                                                                               

Then again, I’ve observed martens a time or two with their heads down in one of those cans, often even struggling to get it back off over its ears, so maybe one of these is the guilty party.                                                                                                                                                                                      
Now, for a lack of evidence, investigation of this vittles disappearance is shelved, but I’m still scratching my head in amazement. Whatever the case whoever got the oily treat was likely blessed with happiness at least momentarily and/or even a belly ache, if it consumed the whole of the contents.                                                                                                                                                                         

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the “tug of war” between winter and spring lingers on!


BlackBearandMotherSM by beingmyself via Flickr.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 22, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     
March 22, 2019    
Gosh, the universe is at the fourth Friday in the month, how time flies! Whiffs of spring are on the upswing along the Gunflint following the collapse of “old man winter” last week.         

Although current conditions could regress, it seems unlikely since the warmth of the continent extends from Fairbanks, Alaska to border country and beyond. It just looks like spring has the upper hand as winter whimpers away.                                                                                                     

This part of the world still looks wintery with plenty of snow and ice left to melt. Nevertheless, the abrupt seasonal changeover gulped up about a foot of the north woods landscape in a short time, before falling back to more seasonable character by last weekend.                        

As one would expect slushy conditions, fog and substantial rain caught many out this way by surprise as this is usually an April/May occurrence. Wildersmith recorded well over an inch of liquid during the cold dampening ordeal with temps not moving far from the mid-to upper thirties for the better part of three days.                                                                                                                             

Folks were slogging around in deep white gush as backcountry roads and driveways turned into quagmires of slippery ruts. Some actually gave up attempting to navigate and just holed up until a welcome freeze slowed things and solidified surfaces.                                                                                    

The result is that numbers of wilderness folk are now dealing with icy drive and walk ways. At the Smith place, our vehicle has taken its transition season place at top of the driveway until further notice. It’s not a matter of getting up our serpentine of slipperiness to the Mile O Pine, but stopping on the way down. This is a minor inconvenience however, compared with potential to slide through the trees and onto the Gunflint Lake Ice.                                                                                                                                

Beyond vehicular difficulties, getting around on foot is dictating the use of studded footwear. So far I’ve remained in the upright position, and hope others in Gunflint Territory are doing the same.                                                                                                                                       

Speaking of lake ice, my neighbor was up for a last shot at a trout or two, and found the conditions for drilling less that favorable. By the time he waded through knee deep slushy water to a drilling site, his interest waned. He did drill through the cold goop, and found the ice in this neighborhood to be only twenty-one inches (plenty safe if one finds a place to stay on top of the semi-melt), but far from the usual depth.                                                                                                                                                            

These messy lake conditions have slowed snowmobile activities too. There’s not been too many anglers passing by lately. Getting off the packed sledding paths is likely to find one stuck in the muck. There have been many reports of riders struggling to get machines dug out of some precarious situations.                                                                                                                                                    

Recently, I had the occasion to look through a Sierra Club magazine. This March-April edition has an interesting article on black bears. The writing by Brandon Keim, titled, “Does A Bear Think in the Woods?” offers some interesting research studies/observations of the Bruno’s, confirming what many of us residing in multi-bear habitat already suspected.                                                                                      

Bears are pretty smart, displaying several attributes which are thought to be unique to human capacity. They are social, “with a society of sorts, using a rich communication system, and govern themselves by long-term relationships and rules of conduct.  Being highly self- aware; they judge, they punish, have gratitude and friendships.” Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?  I think it would be suggested reading for all who will soon be encountering the “Bruno” winter wake-up and subsequent visits along the Gunflint.                                                                                                                       

Sadness is hanging over the territory once again with the passing of a long-time friend and neighbor. Word has been received on the passing of Mark Patten last weekend.                      

Mark is at peace after struggling with several health issues. He died in Duluth Hospice care.                                                                                                                                                 

Mark will long be remembered for his gracious Christian hospitality at Okontoe on Bow Lake where he and his family are perhaps best known for their wilderness lifetime of reaching out to troubled youth, and their enchanting sleigh ride adventures.                                                                                                                     

The Gunflint Community wishes strength and condolences to his wife, Nancy, his children, extended family and countless friends.                                                                                                                         

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, even at the thought of mud season, and bitin’ bugs, itching to get at us.


Pine Marten photo by Fran Smith

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 15, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     March 15, 2019    

Winter on the Gunflint backed off since our last radio gathering. Spring nudged its’ way in with a preview, although it has not been a serious showing, as yet.                                                                                  

The “Vernal Spirit” turned up the thermostat along the Mile O Pine last Saturday. With the mercury tinkering around the freezing point for the first time in countless weeks, conditions took on an almost balmy feel for border country.                                                                                                                                  

I noted three takeaways with the warm-up. First, this neighborhood hasn’t had a below zero morning in several days. Second, the loosening cold grip found huge chunks of snow falling from tree branches after having been attached in most places since November. And thirdly, a joint effort between the powerful March sun and the county highway department has the Trail free of packed snow and ice.                                                                                                            

Although roadsides remain stacked high with snow, it’s nice to see bare black top for a change. Further, we drivers can loosen their white knuckle navigation grip on the once slippery surface. However, diligence is still to be maintained as those annual roller coaster dips are magnifying by the day, lurking to test both driver and vehicle resiliency. Meanwhile back country roads have given up little of their white majesty.                                                                                                

The warm-up stalled briefly with the onset of daylight savings time madness.  After week long cries of more big snow drama for the northern plains, another forecast flop saw nothing more than a nuisance of white accumulation and gusty winds along the international border.                                                                                                                                                                                 
Before we meet again, the Vernal Equinox will make spring official, and coupled with the “crust on the snow” full moon on the same day, I predict there will be a 100% chance the universe will get a double dose of heavenly happenings next Wednesday. How’s that for an atmospheric forecast?                                                                                                                                                            

Nevertheless, it’s anyone’s guess as to what winter-spring will be like for the next six weeks. If one has lived up this way for very long, caution is always taken in regard to never getting too excited about breaking out warm weather wear or putting snow removal equipment into storage much before May. One thing guaranteed, mud season will come in all its “yuckiest” sooner or later.                                                                                                                                                  

While inside observing the wimpy attempt at snow last Sunday, a “flight” of blue jays gathered in the trees near our lake side deck. They were obsessed with an ear of corn I had put out.                                                                                                                                                                     

There were at least a half dozen of the blue bullies. As I expected, they are never too bashful about gluttonous behavior at the food trough. But as I watched, it became obvious a pecking order exists (no pun intended) as to who goes first.                                                                                         

The blues were perched in adjacent branches apparently willing to take turns selecting a few kernels and then departing, only to come back later, getting in line.  All this went unusually orderly, that is, until one swooped in from out of nowhere and dispatched its cousin from the cob setting.                                                                                                                                                      

There were several repetitions of this bullish activity while others remained anxiously awaiting their opportunity. Knowing” there is no honor amongst thieves”, this crass display seemed the ultimate in bullying, expressly as it related to family members, also of ruffian character.                                                                                                                                                                            
To end the kernel plundering, a resident squirrel came on the scene and must have chattered, “Enough is enough”, then cleaned off the last of the gold nuggets. End of story!                                                                 

Later the same day, one of several neighborhood pine martens came by for a snack. It so happened I was out in the snow grilling at the time. Piney became quite curious about what I was doing, and ventured near the grilling operation when I stepped indoors. As I went in and out of the house several times, the little fur ball became ever braver in getting close enough to get a good look and whiff of the yummy goings-on. At one point, I tossed the little guy/gal a slice of fried potato, which was found to be a tasty treat.                                                                                                      

Concluding my cooking exercise, the hot greasy potato skillet was set off the heatto cool. As we ended dinner, Piney returned to explore the now cooled fry pan.  Finding the fatty remains to its liking, the marten spent several minutes enjoying this licking good treat, actually wading in with both front paws.                                                                                                                                 

What an amusing observation! Fortunately, we caught a digital of the greasy feast. See it posted on under the drop down Community Voices, Wildersmith column.                                                                                                               

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, a gift beyond beautiful!                                                                                                


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 8, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       March 8, 2019    

What a difference a week can make. Early March in the Gunflint wild was calm compared to a couple weekends ago? There’s been no new snow in this neighborhood, as if we needed more, but this weeks’ report begins with the temperature cold as if it were January.                                                                                                                                                                    
So with month three being meteorologically touted as the first of the spring season, the deep white on the landscape and mercury buried below zero doesn’t match up in this part of the world.                                                                                                                                                                               
Speaking more of March character, this is the month of the Ojibwe, “crust on the snow full moon.” And crusty it is, since the white stuff was packed nearly hard as concrete during the recent blizzard.                                                                                                                                                                          
In trekking around the neighborhood, I found it not supportive enough (without snowshoes) to keep me from sinking to the waist in most places. While struggling to free myself for the next step however, I had plenty of time to examine faint tracks of small to medium size animal prints easily staying top side of the crystal surface. I’m guessing this will be a tough winter for white tails and others heavy enough to sink more than belly deep in the stuff of which winters are known.                                                                                                                                                                             
Nevertheless, as we Americans push the issue on most everything, spring is being advanced in spite of our atmospheric conditions with the onset of daylight savings time. Yep, it’s that time of year when we spring the clock ahead. It seems like we just fell back into the state of being real. Where have all the minutes, days and months gone?                                                                                       

First suggested by Ben Franklin in 1784 as a joke, this frivolous act of playing games with the sun happens early this coming Sunday morning, so don’t forget to adjust those clocks before retiring Saturday evening.                                                                                                                                 

Before we turn the clock ahead though, one can get in some great cross country skiing in real time by heading up to Gunflint Lodge tonight and Saturday for some candlelight swooshing on these marvelous trails. Beginning at 4:00 pm, it should be beautiful as the sun gives way to darkness over the quiet white landscape.                                                                                      

With some residents suffering from cabin fever during these “dog days of winter”, there’s a chance to get out for a little fun and maybe some sun, in the mid-trail area come Sunday. Appropriately named, the “dog days” are being celebrated with “man’s best friend” on Poplar Lake at Trail Center Lodge.

There’ll be three classes of mushing derbies with four dog (3.5 miles), six dog (12 miles) and eight dog (23 miles) courses, open for all levels of musher skill. These begin at 11:00 am with the eight dog class. Registration is from 8:00 to 10:00.                                                                                                                                            

Then at 2:00 pm, skijoring races will commence. There will be both two and five mile courses with a maximum of two dogs per skier, both open to skate skiing or classic. Skijoring registration runs from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm.                                                                                                        
The days’ activities are very kid and spectator friendly, and as always, the extraordinary mid-trail organizer/hostess, Sarah Hamilton will have a bonfire, hot dogs, marsh-mellows, s’mores, cocoa and maple snow cones, adding to the festivities.                                                                                                           

All the Gunflint Community is invited out to enjoy the fun however organizers ask that pets be left at home unless they are competitors.                                                                                                                                                       

Reflecting on last Saturdays’ trout fishing derby, the event on West Bearskin Lake was a big success once again with several trout pulled through the ice. The winning catch was somewhere over eleven pounds. With the top three places all exceeding ten pounds. Seventy-five entered the competition, and it was a fun day under sunny skies in spite of a biting cold wind. Many thanks to the Ridge Riders Snow Mobile Club for their organization and to those who plowed out lake ice roads for access.                                                                                                                      

On a closing note, members both old and new stepped up since last we met to complete another successful funding drive. The little Community Radio station that could did it again with great support from our dedicated listeners.                                                                                                            
The Board of Directors, hardworking staff and ever present volunteers are sincerely grateful for the never-ending love extended during these important sustaining events. The “Wide World WTIP” goal was met, hurrah, and kudos to all involved!                                                                                                                                                                 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as we celebrate the fifth consecutive month of winter ambiance!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 1, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     March 1, 2019    
March is welcomed to the Gunflint Trail after a harrowing blizzard to end the last weekend of month two. This neighborhood hasn’t had one of those in sometime. The snow was snowing, and wind was blowing, but we weathered the storm.                                                                          

Folks out this way can be thankful the brunt of the real heavy snow missed us to the south. Further, with the wind howling as it was, thanks are also given for the temperature not being below zero during the onslaught.                                                                                                                                                                

At Wildersmith, new snow measured only an inch or two. But as day broke Sunday, coupled with the two to three feet already on the ground, morning winds made it look like a ton had fallen based on drifting around the house. It would be a good guess most of the snow from here to Winnipeg has blown across Gunflint Lake and onto the Mile O Pine.                                               

By nightfall last Sunday, the wind was still at full bore, continuing to build on some terrific snow sculptures. And, with temps falling through the day to near zero, guess I’ll be back at toting in more firewood after a few days of letting the wood burning stove sit cold.                                  

I was about to get at raking snow off the roof, but it looks like I’ll have to be shoveling out the back yard first just to get close enough to set up a ladder enabling such. With a little luck, perhaps the “great wind bag of the north” might have blown some of the roof covering south to Loon Lake.                                                                                                                                                    

That exercise was put on hold as it was inevitable, Monday would be spent scooping and snow blowing my way out to MOP. So it was, and after four and one-half hours, Wildersmith was open to the outside world again.                                                                                                           

Aside from the atmospheric conditions, I remind listeners we at WTIP are into another full day of the winter membership drive. This important, “on air canvas” merits your attention and strategies for continuing quality Community Radio in the northland and around the cyber world makes supporter backing a must!                                                                                                                      

It’s “Wide World WTIP”! The voice of the north-country is counting on you! Dial us up or click on the web now.                                                                                                                                                      
Those numbers to remember are 387-1070 locally, or 1-800-473-9847 toll free, or click at Should you happen to be out and about, stop up at the studios, 1712 West highway sixty-one, make your pledge in person and enjoy a little comfort and conversation, you’re always invited!                                                                                                                                                                                             
If ice fishing is your bag, another big event sponsored by the Ridge Riders Snow Mobile Club happens Saturday, March the 2nd. The annual Trout Derby takes place over on West Bearskin Lake.                                                                                                                                                                       

Activity begins with registration from nine to eleven am and angling ASAP thereafter. Catches of the day must be recorded and on the display board by two in the afternoon when results will be tallied and place winners announced.                                                                                              

Winner of the largest trout will catch $300, with $200 for second and $100 for third. A raffle for other prizes will be held in conjunction with the usual food and refreshments. This event is always a fun family day!                                                                                                                              

In closing, a late day visit from the friendly fox just missed last weeks’ news deadline. This time the foxy Ms .or Mr. caught me by surprise while I was out on the deck grilling. The fluffy tailed critter came around the corner of the house, and down the deck toward me suggesting what I interpreted as an, “I’m hungry” look. Of course I proceeded to my cache of turkey nuggets and offered some treats.                                                                                                                                                   
Going back to my cooking, it was not long before the animal was back. The cagy creature meandered around and sat down near me, obviously not totally satisfied.                                                
 However, the grilling task was completed, and my time to eat. So I went inside thinking “red” would be gone.                                                                                                                                       

This was not to be the case. It remained deck side through our dinner time, and when I looked out later, there it remained.                                                                                                                 

Now my cooking exercise involved a black skillet too and grease. So my decision was made to set, the now solid grease remains, down for a tasting. This turned out to be a real mystery for this wild beast. It would come up and sniff the oily goody, but every attempt for a lick moved the skillet, spooking my curious friend. After several tries, it gave up.                                                       

Feeling a bit of compassion about the difficult situation I had created, I stepped out and offered a slice of peanut butter bread, tossing it in the skillet. This added element renewed the foxes’ attention.                                                                                                                                                                  

We observers got a big kick out of attempts to retrieve the peanut treat without moving the skillet. After a few nips at the slice and dropping it back in the pan, foxy accidently flipped the bread sticky side down in the grease. This became a more serious dilemma, with the degree of difficulty increased considerably.                                                                                                                                                
It was not to be deterred though, and following a few more snaps, the open face peanut butter treat was secured, and it trotted off into the night. I’ll bet it never spent more time catching a rodent in a snow bank than it did making this sticky grab.                                                         

Further, one would wonder if it might have experienced annoying frustration ridding this human delight from the roof of its mouth. This was likely a sticky state of affairs.                                                                                                                                                                            

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with natural adventures by the moment!