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 - March 23, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      March 23, 2018  
Spring has sprung across Gunflint territory, and March remains like a lamb. Question is will winter have a last gasp or has the “old man of the north” called it a season?                                            
Signs of the past week show this neighborhood could be in for extended mud times if the lamb-like conditions continue. I remember though, a few short years ago, up to two feet of winter filled up the Mile O Pine in the last few days of April, while snow has fallen on the walleye fishing opener in May, so we “Gunflinters” should not get too hyped about spring just yet.                                                                                    
Currently, this neck of the woods has been void of measureable moisture in any form for over three weeks. Something has to give soon or we’ll be facing a dangerous situation with receding snow cover. As we know too well, the woods can get explosively dry in one day with high temps and gusty winds.                                                                                                                                                       
In spite of beaming sunny days during the past week, we are still making ice at night, but perhaps we are beyond the sub-zero stuff. To this point, it has been a slow melt up at this end of the Trail. Ice locked lakes have a good deal of snow cover with as much as one to two feet on top of frozen water.                                                                                                                                    
As the close of trout season is but a week away, several ice fishing people tell of needing extensions on their auger units to access water. Guess there can be anywhere from two to four feet of hard water depending on the drilling site. This being said, we are likely a ways from ice out.                                                                                                                                                                          
Foretelling what’s in store during this budding vernal transition is up in the air. Nevertheless, early indicators are readily perking up throughout the wilderness.                                      
 I’m noticing wells forming at the base of trees in the yard. This situation points to the fact our forest canopy is soaking up the powerful rays, stimulating juices of life to renew the run skyward.                                                                                                                                                        
Speaking further of the forest around us, during a trip down and then back up the Trail, it appears the coniferous characters are suddenly sparkling with a brighter shade of virescent (green) after bearing up under mounds of snow and a drab army green tone since late October..   
With tree juices beginning to run, north land syrup makers are surely getting into the “tap a tree/or trees a day” routine. Although the upper Trail does not have a quantity of maples to provide a serious boiling effort, there’s a trio of sap tappers along Gunflint Lake who will likely be at it soon. They aptly call themselves the “three sap suckers”, and while their yield may not be measured in gallons, they have a swell time consuming a little ale and watching sap boil to sweetness.                                                                                                                                                       
Another sign of spring times was observed recently when I came across one of the first hibernators. In this case, it was one of those black and white aromatic dispensers. The “skunky” critter was found on the Trail as a casualty of not looking before crossing, therefore deceased, before it had much time to celebrate the season of re-birth.                                                                               
As yet, I’ve not heard of any bear appearances. However, those mommas might be getting restless after a couple months cooped up with hungry cubs and getting a whiff of warmer air.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
As we close in on the “fools’ day” of April, canine family babies are but days, to just a few weeks away from coming into this world. Neighbors down the road are hearing coyotes at night, with a trio of them making darkness hour visits to their bird feeding remains. In another “howling “ note, the Gunflint/ Loon Lake wolf pack has been spotted down at the east end of Gunflint Lake, eight members strong.                                                                                                                                                           
From southerly heavens, crows have returned to the area with a chorus of rackety, yack, while air traffic at the Wildersmith feeders has slowed as other avian kin have taken to nesting in preparation for continuing their species.                                                                                                                                            
So the advance of cold to warm is on. It’s sad, the crystal beauty covering up “Mother Natures’ rough edge is giving way to this not too comely time of year. Biding our time, we beings of the northern universe anxiously look for the days of June to blossom with emerald camo.                                                                                                                                                                       
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as we trade mukluks for knee high galoshes.



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 17, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      March 16, 2018

The northland reaches the mid-point of month three with winter on hold as the “old man of the north” has taken another week of spring vacation. At this scribing, the character of the season remains pretty much in evidence for most of unorganized territory. However, there’s a feeling its days are numbered.                                                                                                          

Since our last meeting on the radio, with only a scant dose of snow, temps have been normal for March to this point. Here in the Wildersmith neighborhood, we’ve had a few nights below zero while mostly sunny skies have provided a rapid recovery into daytime comfort.                                                                                                                                                                        

As the “vernal” season edges ever closer, the power of our “day star” is shrinking roadside snow banks away from the Trail in spite of deep freezing nights. For the time being, the Gunflint Byway is totally clear of winter driving conditions, the first time in many weeks. However, the bleached white beauty of a trek up the Trail is tainted with a grungy look of urban windrows exposing gray sludge and littering remains of human occupation.                                          

Another sign of the times is being revealed as the innards of “mother earth” are moderating to release the frozen grip beneath our only paved access to civilization. This subterranean turmoil is magnifying those jaw-jarring dips in the Trail blacktop. For the traveler not knowing of these hidden locations, the bounce as your vehicle bottoms out and the head hits the roof can be a stunning roller coaster shock.                                                             

Meanwhile, on local unpaved roads, winter to spring driving conditions prevail. Users can expect anything from packed snow to glazed ice, to mud and even a few dry patches. I’m still observing any number of indentations in the ditch snow banks indicating several metropolis visitors have no idea of the need to slow down on our backcountry pathways.                                          
If I wanted to work full time, it seems a towing business could be lucrative. I know of one fellow down the road who has already pulled seven vehicles from the white mire.                                                  

Speaking of littering along the Trail, it would seem appropriate that lake property owner groups might be organizing volunteer crews for a debris pick-up when the snow is gone. According to information from the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee, the days of May 14 through May 24th have been established for such policing. Collection bags are to be placed along the Trail for pick-up by the County. Of course, one does not have to wait if the opportunity to pick up some unsightly trash should appear before the organized dates.                        

Another issue has again gained the attention of area residents and businesses. After being discussed a few years ago, the proposal for construction of an ARMER communications tower in the upper Trail region is being re-examined.                                                                                          
ARMER (Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response) is Minnesota’s program to connect agencies and public safety departments. MnDot has been legislatively mandated to install towers throughout the state to connect agencies under one communication system.                                                                                                                                

While it may seem hard to argue issues of public safety agency connections, the sacredness of the adjoining BWCA or living in the area of such a tower (not in my backyard) has many in a contentious mood.                                                                                                                                             

MnDOT, Cook County, and the GTVFD are collaborating to examine options to address filling in the current communication voids to the satisfaction of all concerned. Editorially speaking, though changes are never easy, “the process would seem more palatable if such a communication spire could be constructed to look like a tall white pine or a rock on a point of high elevation.” I’d bet it could be done.                                                                                                                                        

A public informational meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 10th at the Schapp Community Center (mid-Trail). The gathering will begin at 6:00 pm. Everyone is encouraged to attend; become informed, ask questions and explore connecting communications alternatives.       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, while we contemplate more winter or early mud season. 



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - March 02, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by    Fred Smith       March 2, 2018 

February’s last few days saw winter finally assert itself. So if March is going to roar in like a lion, month three is going to have to go some to upstart the ending of its’ predecessor.
Speaking of March, it’s another of those “blue moon” months, so the northland will be blessed twice by “his lunar highness.” Interestingly, by months end, we will have experienced four full moons in just three months.                                                                                                                                                       
For the second weekend in a row, the liquid component of the season, which had been lacking for most of the time, came down by the scoop full. Another thirteen inches of white buried the Wildersmith neighborhood, and decorated the evergreen forest with mounds of marshmallow puffs.                                                                                                                                                                   
This brought our two week accumulation here to twenty-five inches, and our seasonal total to a more respectable seventy and one-quarter.  Although there can never be enough snow in these parts for yours truly, it has put my old body to the test. Moving the stuff was complicated by a snow plowing equipment failure. Luckily, my back-up snow thrower saved the day, or should I say two days. Even at that the snow shovel barely had time to cool down between the two storms fury.                                                                                                                                                           
Since this inland area of the Gunflint is usually on the short end of such heavy snows, I assume the usual snow zone places back down the Trail got even more. The new powder should be a thrill for folks in the snow removal business as well as CC skiers and power sledders. I visited with a neighborhood couple who indicated a snowmobile trip down the Gunflint Lake ice was a spectacular ride on waves of soft snow.                                                                                                   
With the trout derby coming on Sunday, clearing the ice roadways onto Gunflint Lake for contestant vehicular access would seem to be more difficult than in recent years. However, those Ridge Riders are experts in managing snow, so there should be no fear about things being ready. For folks planning on drilling the ice, remember, entry registration happens between nine and eleven Sunday morning. Snow or shine, it’ll be a fun day, catching or not, fishing is always great!                                                                                                                                                                       
Notice is given for another event to be held over the Gunflint Lake ice next weekend. Saturday, March 10, Gunflint Lodge is sponsoring a “Fat Bike, International Run for the Border.” The biking trek will extend through forest trails and then across the border ice into Canada and back. A Remote Area Border Crossing Permit is required, so bring yours along. Also bring your own bike or rentals are available. A short loop on the U.S. side will be available for youngsters. The event will run from 10:00am until 2:00pm. For more details, contact Gunflint Lodge at 218-388-2294.                                                                                                                                                                
Activity around WTIP is now at fever pitch. Going into this weekend, studios will be jumping as the spring fund raising campaign enters days two and three. The theme, “still the one” couldn’t be more fitting, as our family of listeners are “still the ones” who have made north shore radio what its’ become.                                                                                                                        
As the station approaches twenty years of community programming excellence,                                                                                                             the need for resources is forever, in order to sustain our broadcasting distinction. WTIP needs your continued supporting commitments more than ever before. So if you are new to our listening audience or a long-time family member now is the ,oment to step-up. Give operators a call; stop by and see us; or click and join, in the fun.                                                                                                                                                      
It’s a long ways to our goal, but as the old Orleans song lyrics remind us, “we’ve been together since way back when, and we’re still havin’ fun, you’re still the one.” WTIP is counting on all to keep great radio alive and well.                                                                                                                                                        
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, in our winter wonderland!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 16, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith        February 16, 2018  
It’s incredible that February has eclipsed the halfway mark. The day of hearts and chocolates has even passed us by. Guess we Smith’s might consider taking down the last of our holiday decorations, although the outdoor wreath remains green as it was when it was hung up right after Thanksgiving.   
The border country drought has extended into yet another week with no apparent relief on the weather service agenda. Here at this place, we’ve not had a significant snow since January 11, and the seasonal total to date is a pretty sad 45 and a fraction inches   
In the meantime, our bitter cold has mellowed a bit. The Wildersmith thermometer finally reached the zero mark last Sunday afternoon. It’s been a long haul getting to the big “0” in the Wildersmith neighborhood. Checking back through my daily log, I find the last day where we had a high on the plus side was January 30th, yes, thirteen consecutive days of frigidity as of this past Monday.  
In spite of minimal new snow over the past month, there is enough stacked up, along with plenty of deep ice to support this week -ends snow mobile drag races on Hungry Jack Lake. As I mentioned in my previous scoop, the racing will commence at 11:00am. Racers should be there by 10:00 to register an entry. Wishing everyone good luck and a safe race. It should be a howling good time!  
Our north woods winter calendar lists another event the following week, February 24th. Resort owners along Gunflint Lake are putting on a “Cabin Fever Festival.” This is a joint effort by Gunflint Pines Resort, Gunflint Lodge and Hestons’ Lodge.  
Everyone is invited to get out and enjoy a celebration of all things wintery. There’ll be outdoor games, feats of skill, sled racing, a fat trout fishing contest and a fat bike course across the border ice.  There will a bonfire to keep you warm and marshmallow goodies to savor. The day will end with an evening social mixer in Justine’s Dining room at Gunflint Lodge. Look for start times of specific activities in next week’s edition, or call Gunflint Lodge for more info. (388-2294).                                                                                                                                                           
Outside of weekend events, it’s a slow news time in the neighborhood. Our “wild” neighbor critters have not performed anything extraordinary beyond their daily race to the trough in bone chilling conditions, and it’s quiet as a thirty below, starlit night in the cosmos.   
Speaking of attraction to my deck side cafeteria, I have recently noted a peculiar happening with a pine marten/or martens during each mornings’ feeding chores. Prior to putting out my ration of vittles, I crank up my leaf blower to clean the deck of the previous days’ foraging. Boy, they leave a mess the likes of which easily would match a gathering of careless human litterers.   
It seems the noise from this clean-up process must be signaling the marten/s to assume grub is served. After shutting down the blower and vacating the area, I can count with some regularity that one of the furry critters will show up within five minutes or so to secure a poultry breakfast treat.    
Talk about causing un-intentional adaptive animal behavior, I’ve done it. Guess my predictable provisions practice could be considered objectionable by some. Nevertheless, it’s a “feel good thing” to offer some easy survival sustenance to the lush fur balls during these cold times.   
For WTIP, this Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as winter starts “slip sliding” away.



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 9, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith               February 9, 2018 

Spell the Gunflint weather for week one of February in capitals, COLD! As I reflect on the past week, several days at Wildersmith have failed to get above the zero mark. Fortunately on most days, the winds have not exaggerated the frostiness, so minus twenty-five to thirty is what it is.                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Now at broadcast time, the territory seems to be emerging from relentless arctic fervor. So the woodstove can be allowed to cool down, but the snow shovel remains idle.                                        

Such stretches of below nothing temps are not unusual at this mid-point of winter. However, the older I get, it seems harder to adjust to that first blast hitting you in the face when heading out for morning chores. Like the visiting neighborhood critters though, once I get going, the lowly mercury isn’t as bad as more southerly folks would think.                                                       

Winter character remains magical at most every turn of this Scenic Byway. Last week while traveling to Grand Marais and WTIP, for reporting this weekly news review, the breath of “old man winter” was huffing and puffing. With the wind kicking up its’ heels, a recent skiff of snow was being launched ahead of my path in eerie serpentine slithers.                                                               

I am forever charmed by these gauzy, snake-like tentacles as they scramble down the paving in search of a place to escape the icy bite of grizzly air. Bouncing from windrow to windrow, their fate is often terminated in a ghostly gathering, and a leap of fate into the calm of a roadside ditch. There, the phantom mass joins a “zillion” other crystal cousins in irregular contours to rest until “Mother Nature” calls them home come April or May.                                                                                   

The recently released Cinema, “THE SHAPE OF WATER” has set me to wondering what its’ really about. However, being one hundred fifty miles from the nearest theater, and not a television movie consumer, the likelihood I’ll get a chance to see the production is remote.                                          

The title has summoned thoughts about the” shape of water” up north, recognizing our “shape of water” is currently frozen in time. Shaping our north-country water started months ago with those first crinkles on quiet area lakes, since then evolving into hard water wonders the likes of which we can barely imagine.                                                                                                                                          

In warmer times of the year, the “shape of water” outside my back door is forever magnificent and always moving. Whereas ripples and rollers of summer have a distinct beauty of their own, they come and go in the blink of an eye, never again to be seen in duplication.                                            

Things are different now as there are uncountable shapes of H2O seized in solidarity. Whether hanging as a stalactite from a roof edge, a wind drifted snowy mound or a lake surface ice heave, n this dead of winter, the sculpture of crystalline on area lakes and landscapes is a curiosity of nature… One can scrutinize in celebration and reverence, with time to actually ponder the how’s and why’s of solid water in all dimensions of accumulation.                                                                                                                                 

During a recent trip along the Trail, while passing Swamper Lake, I became even more keenly aware of the “shape of water” in border country. Winds of the season had randomly amassed the prisms of frozen components into waves of winter. In essence, preserving the lake surface for moments in time while documenting, a white keepsake remembrance of a rough lake day from warmer times.                                                                                                                                                                                       

Energized as I am in regard to this frosty season, I have seldom given serious thought to the “shape of water”, much less, how frostiness casts the mold. But the charm is out there in icy flakes, jagged chards and mini-glacial masses. Take time to observe and enjoy our “shapes of water” and be forever mindful of these majestic “winter rituals” of the element which means “life” for all living things.   
One week from tomorrow (Saturday), February 17, another big power sledding event will be held in the territory. What has become an annual event on Hungry Jack Lake is sponsored once again by the Cook County Ridge Riders Snow Mobile Club.                                                                                      
Drag races will be held for all classes of sleds beginning at 11:00 am.  Entry fees and registration will commence at 10:00 am at Hungry Jack Lodge. For more race information, call HJL @ 218-388-2265. Refreshments and musical entertainment will occur through the day. Spectators are welcome!   
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, at forty-eight degrees north!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 2, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith                     February 2, 2018    

Gunflint territory advances to month two with little fanfare from the atmosphere. We continue on the dry side, logging another week of scant to almost no new snow.  

During the same segment more seasonal temperatures have returned including some below zero times, so the area hasn’t seen the remaining snow pack diminished much other than through evaporation.                                                                                                                                                                       

The colder conditions returned just in time to serve the canines pulling through the John Beargrease Marathon with more tolerable temps than were the order of a week ago (those dogs love below zero working conditions).                                                                                                                                                                                  

It was a busy time in the mid-Trail neighborhood as the mid-distance race saw its first finisher in the wee hours of last Monday morning.  While in the Marathon event, the leader swooshed through the Gunflint area and was at the Grand Portage layover by early afternoon on Monday.  

What a great re-enactment for the namesake musher and his duties serving pioneers of yester-year along the Northshore. Congrats and thanks to all whom made this 34th historic celebration come to life.                                                                                                                                                                                   

As I mentioned last week, another popular winter event hits the Trail this weekend. Saturday the Ridge Riders Club puts on their traditional power sledding “fun run.” Area folks should be on the look-out for a colossal number of snowmobiles howling through the woods. Registrations begin at 9:00 am, at either the Ridge Riders building on Devil Track or at Hungry Jack Lodge up the Trail, with the day ending at the Groomers Building around 7:00pm.  Wishing all a good ride, everyone be safe.                                                                                                                                                                   

Activity in the “wild neighborhood” along the Mile O Pine has been busy as usual. Recently a brief fracas occurred at the Wildersmith feed trough as two pine martens squared off over munching rights. The scuffle was short lived as both rolled around in a tangle of legs, tails and fur.  None the worse for wear, neither appeared to have inflicted any hurts on the other, and they scampered off. One apparently established rights for the afternoon as it returned later not to be bothered again.                                                                                                                                                                  

Another of the visiting martens appears to have not been so lucky in previous survival episodes. This one was observed to have only one eye. How this injury occurred is unknown, but the wound seemed to be healed and the critter had adjusted to the handicap by acting no different than any other of its’ kin.                                                                                                                                        

Our avian world is a blur of fluttering wings. In addition to the regular, chickadees, nuthatches and blue jays, we are being inundated with daily flocks of pine grosbeaks and red pols. An interesting thing about these two species is their apparent compatibility at the feed tray. Whereas the jays and the others come and go independently, the grosbeaks line the perimeter of the tray while the red pols feast simultaneously on the unit screen inside them.                                                                 

One more winged critter has found the morsels here to be inviting. I’m talking about a hairy woodpecker. We don’t often have one visit with regularity, but this one has found Wildersmith to be of its liking with menu offerings beyond just insects.                                                                                                                                           

Speaking of woodpeckers, some members of this Picidae family are in the process of adding a new real-estate development along the Mile O Pine. I’ve been watching construction all winter on a deceased Aspen.                                                                                                                                

The project started as a fast food eatery, specializing in gourmet bugs for a pileated wood pecking family. Now out of the food business, it’s being converted into multi-unit residential quarters that will no doubt provide housing opportunities for any number of treehouse dwellers. Nearly completed, a digital can be seen with my Wildersmith website posting at                                                                                                                                                               

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with fauna and flora marvels always just on the brink!         



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 26, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith   -           January 26, 2018 

With January fading fast, a “blue moon” over the northland in the coming days provides a second act of the lunar Ojibwe “great spirit.” The interesting thing about such a first month celestial double finds there will be no “big cheese” happening in February. Guess “ground hog day” will have to suffice as the big affair in the universe for month two.                                                       

Big changes have taken over in the territory as frigidity has moved on in favor of a border country thaw. Three days of thirties above has squashed the snow pack.                                          

So we’ll be starting over to recapture what was a spectacular winter landscape. This sudden collapse couldn’t have come at a worse time with several snow time events on the docket for the next couple weeks. And as one has come to expect, another weather service snow maker for the area missed its Gunflint mark earlier this week.                                                                                              
A couple events highlight this weekend in the Arrowhead and up the Trail. The 34th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon hits the Trail Sunday from Two Harbors. The four hundred mile trek brings it into Gunflint territory sometime late Monday into early Tuesday as it hits the Trail Center check-point before running to the mid-race turn around at Gunflint Lake. Trail Center is also the finish place for the “mid-distance class.” So this mid-trail area will be bustling with canine activity.                                                                                                                             

Many Beargrease Race related events get under way on Friday and extend through the races conclusion in Duluth on Wednesday. Check them out on the Beargrease 2018 website.                                  

Meanwhile, sledding of a noisier and more powerful intensity takes place this weekend too. The Cook County Ridge Riders Snow Mobile Club is sponsoring their annual drag races. The event which is held on Devil Track Lake for all classes of sleds, takes place Saturday, beginning at 11:00am. For registration details and more information, contact race headquarters at the CCRRSMC groomer shed, or Skyport Lodge, or check Ridge Riders on Facebook.                                                                                                                                                                           

Then next weekend, February 3rd, the same Club holds its’ annual sledding “Fun Run.” Registrations take place at the Club’s groomer shed beginning at 9:00 am, or if one is starting from an up the Trail location registering can be done at Hungry Jack Lodge.                                                   

A full day of touring the area requires stops to check-in and get stamped at Skyport Lodge; Hungry Jack Lodge; Trail Center Restaurant; Poplar Haus Restaurant; Gunflint Lodge; Gunflint Pines Resort Lodge; and the Groomer Shed .The event will culminate with food, music, a raffle and prizes beginning at 7:00 pm back at the Club’s shed. Anyone can take part and all are welcome.                                                                                                                                                                        

Let’s hope the snow holds and better yet, a new dose blesses these swell north land events.                                                                                                                                                                         

Sad news from “moose-dom” was reported last week when one of our dwindling herd was struck by two different vehicles in unusual circumstances. The incident happened between Loon Lake Rd. and Tucker Lake Road. There were no human injuries, but considerable damage to the second vehicle involved in addition to the moose fatality.                                                                                                                                                         

Sometimes it’s just impossible to avoid the north woods icons when they come out of nowhere, particularly on slippery winter roads after dark. Nevertheless, losing one of these treasured members of the “wild neighborhood” is disheartening.                                                                    
My list of outdoor winter chores included the burning of nine brush piles the likes of which came from winter blowdowns of last season. I’m happy to say the job has finally been completed. But I also realize the task of beginning to pick up this winters’ accumulation is but a few short weeks away. For now, I can focus on sawdust making and snow removal, should that ever happen again. A woodsman’s work is never done!                                                                                                                       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith , on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as we head into the next two months of this off and on again winter.



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 19

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith   January 19, 2018    
Winter remains REAL (with a capital R) along the Gunflint as we end week three of the New Year. Another run of frosty north land persona has showed determined grit since we last gathered around the radio.                                                                                                                                                                            
With exception of a one day respite of semi-warmth in this neighborhood, the thermometers have been stuck in the minus category, matching the previous two weeks. Even on the day we did feel a bit of warmth, our winter wasn’t compromised as clouds opened up and dropped little over one-half foot of snow along the Mile-O-Pine. Since then we’ve even added a little more.  
It’s anyone’s guess as to what will come next, but a good bet on cold makes sense, since this time of the seasonal calendar is usually the coldest of all.   
Cold as it’s been outside, cold has also been a problem indoors here at Wildersmith. I don’t mean the living conditions, though.     
This household has been sick with an ugly upper respiratory crud since we came home from the Gunflint Mail Run. If listeners heard last weeks’ broadcast you no doubt realized I was not in usual voice.    
Feeling pretty punky, it was a raspy struggle. I apologize for my congested attempt, but the news must be heard. If any listeners had trouble understanding my plugged up jargon, you might want to visit the WTIP Wildersmith archives and read the website ( posting for January 12. It will likely be clearer reading than it was as an audio.                                                                                                                                                   
In any event, after being housebound, except for a run to the mail box and an occasional trip to the woodshed over the past week, our physical status appears to be on the upswing commencing this weeks’ scoop last Sunday evening. Thanks to mounds of nasal tissues, routine gulps’ of adult Tussin and bowls of hot soup, I think we’ll live. And, yes, we each had our flu shots!                                                                                                                                                          
Meanwhile, since my connections to the wild land world have been limited, people happenings have not been heard. However, we’ve been entertained by hungry critters the likes of which are hard to comprehend when conditions have been so frigid. Like “water is life”, so too is a “full tummy” in the “wild neighborhood.”                                                                                                                                                                           
We have marveled at the activity of pine martens at seemingly all hours of the day and into the night. It can be hard to differentiate one from another, but for sure there are no less than three and perhaps maybe twice that many, based on efforts to distinguish one furry critter from next. 
Lately, we’ve had a few table left-overs lately that I put out for the blue jays (they’ll eat anything) and have discovered these martens have taken to them more readily than expected, in spite of knowing, they prefer raw meat to anything processed.                                                                                      
A left-over portion of scalloped ham and potatoes was dished out recently, and although the jaybirds swooped in for more than their share, an observant marten found it to be suitable too as it munched on the sliced taters, interesting.                                                                                  
The complexity of what hunger is for all beings in creation is renewed daily, right here in our simple north woods setting. Nobody should have to go hungry!     
On a closing note, the trout season is now open on border lakes and several anglers braved the bitterness on Gunflint Lake last weekend. According to a few reports, the trout were hanging out below the twenty inches of ice, but not real interested in providing a fisherman’s dinner.   
My good friend down the road, who always seems to catch, like a “green thumb” gardener (with uncanny success), and his buddies brought a few onto the ice. However, he too indicated none were of the whopper variety. As often happens, one to write home about only made it half way onto the ice before breaking off and taking an underwater hike. For sure, there’ll be better days ahead, as there was never an angler born, who isn’t, an eternal optimist! 
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with the magnetism for hard water fishing a pulling delight! 



Wildersmith on the Gunflint January 12

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       January 12, 2018  

As was expected, our days’ long cold spell has been tempered. A break in the fifteen day “tsunami” of consecutive below zero hours at Wildersmith happened last Saturday afternoon.

Southerly winds ushered in some warm air nudging the mercury above the nothing mark in a remarkable turn-around from minus thirty-four just after daylight that morning. Then by next day, it was a venerable heat wave as temps soared to the teens, and the sudden January thaw contributed a couple inches of snow. The white stuff is something we’ve seen little of in this neighborhood for nearly a month.

Conditions as they have been, it seems remarkable that water is still seeping from the hills around us. One would think the bitter cold would stop this mini glacier making process dead in the ground. However, such is not the case along the Mile O Pine and most other back country roads in the County.

Water is trickling into roadside ditches, building to near the travel surface level in icy stratums as it gets exposed to the frigid air. The build-up of ice at drain culverts is often something to behold and it changes daily. It is intriguing to think this is a micro-process that likely created real glaciers thousands of years ago.                                                                                                          

This same amassing of hard water is true with many crystal stalactite formations observable on rock outcroppings in several places along the Trail. Whereas ice causes angst in many situations, if one is into ice sculpture, the crystalline elements created in many places through-out the Gunflint and Arrowhead are just another example of the majesty “Mother Nature” fashions in cooperation with “old man winter”.                                                                                                                                                                       

The Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Races of last weekend were held in traditional, tough winter atmosphere. With temps hovering at thirty some below, the energy; of dogs anxious to run, enthusiasm of mushers, handlers and administrative volunteers was nevertheless, at fever pitch. One would never have thought about the weather causing a stoppage, and it didn’t.                                                       

Sights and sounds of this historical, revival seemed to reverberate throughout the upper Trail. To say the event was colorful is an understatement.  Human cover-ups protecting against the bitter elements were varied as every person on the scene, even including the paw booties on the stars of the show.                                                                                                                             

While a lot of mechanical things didn’t want to start, much less run smoothly in the frosty conditions, the dogs did, and so did the people involved. Yours truly was privy to many observations of the activities, but time does not allow a total recounting.                                                                                                                      

Among notable scenarios were the early morning haze of breathing dogs, people, and cold vehicle emissions hovering over the mid-Trail neighborhood in anticipation of what was to about to take place.                                                                                                                                                                   

Just before eight AM, the view of dogs being led to the start line with mushers’ faces already framed in frosted beards, exposed hair and hat lines is forever a scene to captivate. The approach to the “on your marks” location portrayed organized chaos as handlers strained to contain this canine energy which erupted from the time they are harnessed to the moment the starter cut them loose. There they go!                                                                                                                                

Meanwhile, out on the trail, at various check-points, my viewing found un-countable volunteers hanging around campfires doing their duties to keep racers safe while tracking and reporting race progress back to headquarters.                                                                                                                                                    
Perhaps the greatest view is a team of steaming dogs, tongues hanging out, rounding a curve in dead serious silence. While their trail boss is bringing up the rear; often running, pushing and riding, covered in facial frost with his/her back snow covered in testament of fluff being kicked up from the steady seven to nine mile per hour pace.                                                                                          
Hours later, the first leg is over, with the mandatory lay-over. It’s time for dinner, drink and bedding down for R & R as the view becomes one of calm, a different quiet now for man and his eight or twelve best friends.                                                                                                                                                                 
Six hours later, the view of energy to be un-leashed is revived. Sounds bark to life once more as the harness comes out, let’s do this again. As if they were just getting going for the first time, exuberance to run and pull explodes again, and they’re off. This time the teams are into the silence of growing darkness and now, blowing snow.                                                                                                  
The view is much different for this final leg, next to impossible. It must seem as if they were running into a dark hole. Quiet of the woods remains golden as teams trudge along under cloud shrouded heavens. Their only guiding light coming from the mushers’ head lamp and a twinkle of red flickering on the lead dog, passing check-point after check-point heading to the final turn.                                                                                                                                               
But the teams are out there, somewhere. The challenge of navigating this remote territory after dark seems incomprehensible and even worse over a long lake toward the finish line in blinding, wind driven snow.                                                                                                                                                                                    
Long hours of hushed grinding it out is about to end in the darkest wee hours of the next morning with a view of Trail Center lights culminating the two days.   
Hey, they all came back, it’s over! All teams were winners for having endured difficult conditions regardless of this being a relatively short race in terms of miles covered. As this was a competition though, Joanna Oberg was the finish leader in the eight dog class, while Ryan Reddington repeated his 2017 finish, leading the twelve dog teams to the finish line for 2018.                                                                                                                               
Congratulations to all participants for choosing the Gunflint Mail Run! And thanks to all organizers, sponsors and volunteers for putting on a spectacular Gunflint Community event!                                                                                                                  

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, be it bitter January or sticky July!


Gunflint Mail Run by Nace Hagemann

Wildersmith on the Gunflint January 5

Wildersmith on the Gunflint  -  January 5, 2018     by Fred Smith
Holidays are fading into history as the Smith’s return to the normality of life in the north-country. It’s been a holiday whirlwind since our last radio gathering with over twelve hundred ‘round trip miles of windshield time to one of the Smith clan and a spirited visit from the others here at Wildersmith. What a swell time it was!                                                                                                                     
It seems appropriate we experienced the first of two cool, full January moons while our frosty atmosphere has been so “blue cold.” Further, whether it’s an oddity or just the essence of Ojibwe planning, we ascend from the “Little Spirit” moon of December to the “Great Spirit” moon of this New Year. Whatever the case, it’s “blue moon” time in month one.                                            

Its relevant with the “blue moon” cast over-head the Gunflint area would be having a cold snap that’s dominating our everyday conversation and activity. Being out of the area from just before Christmas until a day or so after, I don’t know exactly what day the deep freeze took over. Regardless of when the thermometer dropped below the nothing mark, since our return to the Mile O Pine, the mercury has FAILED to rise above zero.                                                                   

How cold has it been? It’s so cold I’ve lost count of the trips to the wood shed for heating supplements. Commencing this weeks’ report, the temperature gauge has recorded a few mornings of minus thirty plus. With a coldest so far of -36 last Sunday morning, the “old Zamboni” has been in full gear for many days.                                                                           
Speaking of ice making, the thickening hard water on the Gunflint Gal has her murmuring sounds of discomfort, often with thunderous roars. At some points, the noisy lake conversation can make one shake from more than just the cold air.                                                                 
The visiting ice anglers of my family found the ice off the Wildersmith shore to be slightly over twelve inches thick a couple days before the calendar rolled over into 2018. And with minimal snow cover insulating lake ice, fishing drillers will soon be auguring even deeper as the lake trout season nears.                                                                                                                                           

In spite of the bitter cold, we Gunflinters trudge on with daily doings, just layered up against the elements. Its’ official CC skiing, skating, snowshoeing and sledding time, lets’ get at it. Knowing the days’ whiz by so fast, green bud times will be here before we know it, and I’ll bet we’ll be getting the first spring gardening catalogs by the time we meet again.                                                                                                                                                                    

An interesting occurrence taking place right now is making me think spring prematurely. The little holiday tree I cut in early December, now setting in our dining room, apparently has spring thoughts too. I have been noticing bulging buds on every branch since our return, and in the last day or so, those buds have exploded into full-fledged sprouts of a new generation. It’s saddening to know the tree hasn’t figured out this is a false alarm, and all will come to an end sooner than later. However, give the little spruce credit for being of strong heart and hopeful to the very end. Wish I could take it out and plant it come warm soil time.                                                                                                           

The first big Gunflint Community event of the New Year hits the Trail this weekend. Yes the Gunflint is going to the “dogs”. The annual Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Races mush out into the woods tomorrow (Saturday) from Trail Center Lodge on Poplar Lake.                                                                         

Two races commence on the snowy trails beginning at 8:00am Saturday. The eight dog teams run a sixty-five mile course while twelve dog teams run for 100 miles with both races ending back at the Poplar Lake starting point. At the time of this keying exercise, thirty teams have entered.                                                                                                                                                   
This long running event dates back to as early as the late 1970’s. The races are a colorful happening memorializing the historic importance of dog sled transportation in the days before there was a Gunflint Trail as we know it today.                                                                                                                                                                             

The best places for viewing the mushers are of course at the start and then along the route at Big Bear Lodge, Rockwood Lodge and the 100 mile race turn-around at Blankenberg Pit. As usual, this will be a howling good time, come out and cheer them on!                                                 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with every frosty breath, a reminder its January in border country!