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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 on the Gunflint - February 22, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith    February 22, 2019    

It seems completely crazy our days should go by so rapidly. We gather around the radio this week with month two fading into its last chapter. Next week at this time, the planet will be MARCHing into month three.                                                                                                                                                                 

As I began the weeks’ report last Sunday evening, its hard telling what will be going on in our up north atmosphere by the time my Gunflint scoop hits the air. A summation of weather over the past week can be highlighted in three words, pretty much nothing.                                                                                

Our Gunflint heavens provided the most excitement since we last tuned in together. How about that bright “sucker moon” of February. The “super big cheese” boldly illuminated our deep winter in beautiful bluish splendor and eerie forest shadows, the likes of which mysteries might be authored. What a wow factor!                                                                                                                  
With exception of one windy evening and beautiful azure daytime skies, temps have been about normal, and this neighborhood has been just about snowless. Nighttime lows have been below the nothing mark with some serious cold earlier this week. President’s Day morning saw minus 32 on the Wildersmith thermometer.                                                                                             
Meanwhile, with growing solar power, this sunny warmth during daylight hours has provided exceptional opportunities for folks to get out and enjoy in the snow activities. Our great weather, in concert with the long weekend, found droves of Gunflint enthusiasts trekking the blacktop to favorite Trail locations.                                                                                              

Perhaps the biggest event took place over on Hungry Jack Lake where the Cook County Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club held the annual drag races. A perfect day of fun in the winter sun drew a big crowd with over thirty entries in the three engine classes. For races results and pictures of the winners, go to the Ridge Riders Facebook page. Thanks to Hungry Jack Lodge and Club organizers for all the hard work in putting this happening together.                                                                                                                                       

At this time next week, WTIP will be in the middle of its winter membership drive. The theme is “Wide World WTIP”, recognizing listeners from un-countable points on the globe who make our WTIP world go ‘round.                                                                                                                                         

The drive for 2019 membership renewals, along with an on-going quest for adding new family members, gets underway next Wednesday the 27th and runs until noon on March 4.                               

From Wildersmith, I urge all of our 1300 plus members to be ready for re-upping when the phones and online opportunities spring to life for this crucial start to the New Year. And if you’re a listener who’s not yet committed to the WTIP family, now’s the time to join in and share in the success of this great Community Radio endeavor. Let’s make March really come in with a Lion’s roar for WTIP!                                                                                                                                                                           

As sure as winter commences in October/November, spring is certainly going to be here eventually. This in mind, The Gunflint trail Historical Society and Chik-Wauk Staff are busy organizing for the 2019 visitor season.                                                                                                                                            

Excitement is mounting as two new chapters in Trail history will be opening on the Chik-Wauk Campus this summer. The long awaited historic Watercraft exhibit and Interpretive Cabin are entering the final stages of completion in hopes of being ready for opening day on May 25. In addition, a new temporary exhibit in the Museum will feature “Tommy Banks, Gangster of the Gunflint.” Folks will not want to miss these exciting new installments of the Gunflint story.                                                                                                                                                   

On a related GTHS note, the addition of two facilities finds the Society Leadership in a position of needing extra staff to manage the Watercraft exhibit facility. A job description and application instructions are posted on Interested applicants should check it out, as applications close soon.                                                                                                                                                    

As our daylight minutes increase with each passing day, I find it interesting how the winged folk around here are taking it all in by dining much later.                                                                                

Until I moved to this northern paradise, I paid minimal attention to our fine feathered friends. Now that I’m here, I’m intrigued, at avian flock behavior around the feeding trough as the sun begins to settle near the horizon.                                                                                                               
Bulking up for the long cold night ahead seems to create near hysteria. With arrivals and departures so frequent, such chaos reminds me of video shopping reflections on “black Friday.” I’ve come to understand the hysteria, as the energy expended to be ready by the roosting hour is truly a matter of life and death if those tummies are not filled. By its own nature, this frenzy is an elemental survival exercise for all in the “Wild Neighborhood”, and a joy to observe their zest for life.                                                                                                                                                                                

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, each enriched by the natural wonders around us!


Pine Marten by Yankech Gary via Flickr.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 15, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith        February 15, 2019    
Celebrating loved ones’ on Valentine’s Day passed us with sweetness. Meanwhile our love story with the Gunflint is ritualized in daily magic.  This northern land of white remains enchanting, and has not shown much change since last week, in spite of adding a few days of some nuisance snow falls.                                                                                                                                           

I define nuisance in this case as not being prolific in accumulation. However, snow has fallen enough to require removal from drive and walk ways. Nevertheless, most folks know, if one resides in these parts from October to May, you’d better love it, as snow in any amount is a fact of life.                                                                                                                                                                                          
I was chatting with a friend down the road and each of us reflected deep appreciation for the character of winter. Though fact is, after the past week, we both admitted to getting tired of moving snow on consecutive days, especially when amounts were in the puny two, three or four inch range. Yours truly shoveled, plowed and cranked up the snow blower four out of five days during the stretch.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
While this neighborhood has not accumulated amounts like other big snow zone areas along the Trail, mounds of white crystal around Wildersmith have still grown to the point where it’s hard to find a place to pile it. Thank goodness for the invention of mechanical means, as it makes the physical shoveling part minimal.                                                                                                                                              
Temps in the territory have mellowed from the bitter cold of a couple weeks ago. Nonetheless, the mercury around Wildersmith has tinkered with zero and below for a number of days leading up to this news report. Anyone who says it can’t snow when it’s been around zero has obviously not spent extended time in border country. 
Whereas we may have snowier days ahead of us, enthusiasm for things of spring is budding. I’ve received my second seed and plant catalog, while the green thumb gal residing over on Loon Lake has ordered her seeds. At this point, when it seems greenery might have forgotten about chlorophyll, I suppose many folks along the Trail remember green-up come June, and are dreaming of getting their hands back in the dirt.   
On a related note, our increase in daylight minutes is becoming increasingly conspicuous. By the next time we meet, winter will be heading into the final stanza on the calendar. And, we’ll be moving along under the waning spell of the Ojibwe, full “sucker moon.” Whether one is a winter zealot or not, folks not in tune with our deep white landscape can take heart, there’s more cold and snow season behind us now, than in front.    
A newcomer to our deck side critter cafeteria happened by in the past week. Whereas one pine marten is often hard to distinguish from another, this new one is easily set apart from the others. Considerably smaller, perhaps a yearling, and “cute as a button”, the mini fur ball was so diminutive, its jaws had difficulty opening wide enough to get a good bite on my poultry provisions. 
Not only hungry, it was quite curious. A morning or so ago it climbed up on a lawn chair folded against the house, snooping around the window sill. For a few moments, its nose was against the glass, a daytime, “peeking marten” mind you.                                                                                

Fortunately, I happened to be looking out at the time, and we met face to face with only clear plate between us. It looked in and I looked out, eye to eye before it climbed down, maybe wondering what, or who was this gawking guy all about.                                                                                                                                                                 
On a couple of other days, this omnivorous weasel cousin sat on the feeding rail munching seeds and peeked in some more, perhaps absorbed by my movements about the kitchen. The Smith’s look forward to continuing visits from this youngster and watching as it grows up.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, regardless of what nature delivers!  


Frosted Trees - Martine Lambrechts.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 8, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      February 8, 2019    
What a difference a week can make! The frosty “Grinch” of the northland loosened its grip since our last WTIP visit.                                                                                                                                               

This part of the world felt almost balmy when the mercury finally crept above the zero-mark on our nations “Super Bowl” weekend. Whereas the relief in this area has not been of the melting variety, it has mellowed enough to get people out and moving again.                                                                                                            

Cold as it has been there is still magic in our land of white. A trip down the Trail last Sunday found the “great cold spirit” had joined hands with “Jack Frost” to fashion yet another regal work of crystal spires. With warm moist, low hanging clouds hanging over the bitter cold landscape, conditions were ripe for “Plein air” artistic elegance on every woodsy appendage.  
Inasmuch as these hoarfrost happenings occur with some regularity, each one can appear classier than the previous observation. This one seemed over the top with not enough descriptors to do it justice. You just had to be here to feel the majesty of mini-cut- glass chards clinging to everything in creation.                                                                                                                                   
The warm-up was timely for the Cook County Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club last Saturday. Their annual lodge to lodge “fun run” brought out countless power sledders. So the woods were alive with sudden bursts of howling machines, clouds of blowing snow and pale blue exhaust haze.                                                                                                                                                         

It’s assumed all had a swell time with exception of one rider who was truly blazing a trail. I received a report of a unit catching fire during a sprint through the mid Trail area. Flames were actually coming from under the sled as it sped along until the driver finally realized there was a problem. Upon pulling to a stop somewhere near Trail Center, it became fully engulfed.  Guess it was quite a fire at that point. Fortunately, the rider, escaped uninjured, with only some melting on one leg of his protective sledding suit. Cause of the fire in the 2016 model is unknown.                                                                                                                                                                       

With another note to howl about, I received word on the siting of a large wolf pack in the Lullaby Creek locale. There was no reported interaction between the observer and the 10 count Canid crowd. Unusual about this grouping is the numbers. Wolf researcher information tells us the average pack is around four to six. It makes me wonder how they find enough venison to fill all those bellies.                                                                                                                                                                             

One more quirky Northwoods item was sent my way when a gal found a magnificent bull moose in her path along the Trail. Although it may or may not be noteworthy, this big fellow was still supporting both objects of his regal headdress. One would think these cartilaginous trophies would have been shed weeks ago? Guess the antler spread was colossal.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
In recent days, yours truly was surprised by a return visit from my red fox buddy. It’s not that it was AWOL, I was simply not out when it was around here. There were tracks almost every day after a few dustings of new snow, but the two of us were just not in sync to meet. I threw out some poultry morsels occasionally, but apparently, Pine Martens may have beat foxy to the treats. Anyway, the handsome red-head came up on the deck to greet me and do a little begging, and I was thrilled to oblige. What a guy, fox, and feeder!                                                                                                          

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is “super”, and we’re back below zero around this great white way!


-30 photo  by espie.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 1, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      February 1, 2019    

Beginning this weeks’ Gunflint report, life in this part of the universe has become frozen in time. Residents are settled into survival mode, concerned most about keeping living quarters warm and hoping the vehicle will start if needed.                                                                                                 

Border country heads into yet another week of bitter cold temperatures. If anything or anybody could be blamed, perhaps it’s yours truly. After bragging a couple weeks ago about this territory not having experienced its annual January polar blast, I must have offended the “great spirit of the north.”                                                                                                                                    

The scribing back then had barely gone out over WTIP radio waves when “Biboon” the “wintertime guy” obviously took serious offense and decided it was time. This in mind, he must have been thinking, “just a moment you old codger”, “I’m not dead, and in fact, I’m very much alive and well, and in charge.”                                                                                                                                                             

Since then, frigidity has brought activity to a near standstill. I haven’t observed an ice anglers’ rig headed up the lake in over a week. And on another note, I’ve heard no recent moaning from the lake ice. Then again I haven’t been outside much to listen.                                                                                                       

On this first day of month two, it is hard to predict what conditions will be like as this scoop comes your way. A good bet is, it might still be on the lower side of zero. If such is the case, the Wildersmith neighborhood will have been below the nothing mark for all but two days during the past two weeks. That’s a lot of frosty hours and countless chunks of firewood!                                            

There is no apparent logic to this next tidbit, but its sure funny the Wildersmith thermometer has been at its lowest reading each of the last two Sunday mornings. Last weekend saw our coldest low so far as the column of mercury was within three degrees of not being observable, at minus 42. It’s likely some of our neighbors up toward the end of the Trail were even colder.                                                                                                                                                                                       

It seems several folks in the territory have been under the weather, and yes we have, in a couple of ways. Not only have we been under this icy outdoor spell, many have been fighting a north woods crud indoors. Not to be excluded, the Smiths’ have been dealing with the annoying cough, congestion and throat conditions too.                                                                                                                                      
Perhaps being self-quarantined by this siege of cold will slow the spread of the yucky stuff as folks haven’t been getting around much. February comes from the Latin word “februa”  which means to cleanse. So the arrival of this second 2019 segment enters at a time when healing from these sick nasties is in big demand.                                                                                                  

Then again, as January ended with no sense of humor, February might share the same character. Whatever happens, the consolation is, after this weekend, there are only 25 days left until things will start getting better and symptoms of “cabin fever” will begin fading away.                                                                                                                                              

The Beargrease Sled dog race came through to the mid-Trail stopover last Monday. Although conditions did not favor mankind, they were great for the canine stars of the event. Without a doubt, there was likely no overheating during the three hundred mile journey as temps hovered in the teens below zero and lower. For results of this historic travel re-enactment, check the Beargrease website. Warming congrats to all that endured!                                                                                                   

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where even days below zero are great, really cool man!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 25, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith     January 25, 2019    

Last weeks’ report had barely hit the airwaves when my mention of the usual north woods January cold spell being AWOL surrendered to a big turn-around. Folks living in the territory know of what I’m talking, while others in WTIP range, who may be wondering what it’s like on the Gunflint, can be assured it has been seriously cold.                                                                

How cold was it? Temps have remained below zero here in border country for most days since a week ago today (Friday). While temperatures vary considerably from place to place, at Wildersmith, thirty below zero and lower was common for a number of mornings with a brisk minus 40 recorded last Sunday morning.                                                                                                                                                       

These are actual thermometer readings, not the hokey wind chill sensationalism from the weather media. If one lives out this way, you don’t have to be told its dangerously cold when even the slightest the wind is blowing as such is done in Urbania for oblivious younger generations                                                                                                                                                    

Needless to say, outdoor activities around here have been curtailed except for critter feeding time, runs to the mailbox and many trips to the woodshed. The Smith’s have just hunkered down and enjoyed the warmth around a crackling wood burner. The romance of cozying up on a still, bitterly cold night in the north woods can’t be matched, especially when one doesn’t have to get out in the morning for a trek to work.                                                                                                              

Meanwhile, miracles of life below zero go on un-interrupted amongst our “wild neighborhood” critters. How those pert little chickadees and nuthatches survive is incredible. And as if frost on the windows wasn’t enough evidence of bitter cold, jay birds and pine grosbeaks were fluffed up like puff balls as they wait for time at the feed tray. While pine martens and squirrels, with frosted whiskers and nary a shiver, seem undaunted in their daily morsel search.                                                                                                                                                             
During our last trip to the Village, we came upon a moose trio in the middle of the Trail near Little Iron Lake. It was a momma and her twin adolescents. Getting to see them in multiples is always a treat.                                                                                                                                                                                     

They were blocking traffic, of course, so we slowed to a stop. Momma readily departed into the ditch. However, it was a different story for her kids as they struggled to remain upright on the icy surface. After some slip-sliding about, the gawky juveniles made it to the safety of the snowy roadside and disappeared into the forest.                                                                                          

Visiting with a friend a few hours later, it was disclosed she came upon a trio in the same location just moments after we had passed. Guess the salt on the road must have been a tasty attraction in that locale and lured them back onto the ice-covered blacktop.                                                                                                                    

The storied John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon heads north from Duluth to Grand Portage, starting on Sunday. While the 2019 course has been shortened to three hundred miles, it will nevertheless be heading up the Gunflint Trail to Trail Center Monday, with early leaders expected around 10:00 am. After a mandatory layover, all should be departed by around 10:00 in the evening on their way to the Grand Portage finish.                                                                                                                         

The best means of catching a glimpse of the mushers as they come up this way would be to check the Beargrease website or to be in the mid-trail area during the day. Of course, there will be plenty of canine energy, excitement and color as usual out here, and at Grand Portage, which is not that far away. Come on out and give these teams a Gunflint Community welcome.                                                                                                                                                                                                         
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where life below zero is great, even though a bit unforgiving for the faint of heart!


Rolf Skrien - photo by ChikWauk

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 18, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith      January 18, 2019    
As the old-time western hero, Gene Autry, once sang, “I’m back in the saddle again.” Though it’s a feeble analogy, I’m really back at the keyboard again.                                                                    
Another trip to Iowa completes the Christmas season with our daughter, along with a visit to some longtime Hawkeye friends, and the Smiths’ have returned to this pure white paradise. Our wintertime traveling was uneventful, and one doesn’t have to go too far south before a little yucky urban snow and mostly browns of autumn extends as far as the eye can see.                                                                                                                                                              
Guess we are pretty lucky to have what we have here in border country. Mistakes of “Mother Nature” and the “excesses of mankind” can leave the landscape pretty ugly when its’ not covered with snow or hidden by foliage.                                                                                                                                                      
It’s for sure the word is out amongst power sledding fans regarding the areas’ snow cover. During our drive north up highway 61 last Sunday, if I met one, I may have met ten thousand snowmobile units being toted back toward Metropolis.                                                              

The woods must have been howling with sledding traffic last weekend. Suppose there will be more activity around here until other areas of the state get some attention from “old man winter.” In the meantime, one has to be happy for area businesses catering to our snowmobiling visitors as conditions have been a bit late taking shape.                                                                                                                                                                                
In contrast to those speeding along the Trails, our great snow cover is also accommodating those who prefer the peace and quiet of swooshing through the woods. The now deep snowpack has allowed groomers to have the ski trail system in what looks to be terrific condition.                                                                                                                                                       

Perhaps not too happy with all the borderland white were the anglers who hit the ice for the trout opener last weekend. After early ice on, and near perfect ice thickening situations, big snows of late have cast a deep cover of insulation and weight on lake surfaces. Such has hidden annoying slush and water above a foot and more of ice.                                                                                 
Anglers’ angst, in addition to spotty catching, was exacerbated by having to dig equipment and sleds out of the gooey slop. Of all equipment needed for the fishing excursion, high boots appear to have been the most important!                                                                                                                                                       
Not much snow was added in the upper Gunflint territory during my absence (maybe an inch or two in the Wildersmith neighborhood).  In spite of recent accumulations being on the lean side, depths along the Trail range from knee to waist depending upon where one steps. In fact, the buildup on my roof is getting me to think of pulling it off in case another big dose comes our way, thus making the job more difficult than it is presently.                                                                                        
At this scribing, temps are relatively warm for these parts. We’ve yet to be on the receiving end of one of those bitter cold, below zero January streaks. It would seem if the area gets by the next two weeks and into February, we may be home free from a bone-chilling “Polar Vortex” for the season. To miss one of these breath freezing happenings likely wouldn’t make too many folks unhappy, although bragging rights for who was the coldest will be left hanging!       
With the Ojibwe, “Great Spirit” moon of January lighting up the northern skies in the wee hours of Monday AM, it’s hard to imagine month two is in the conversation already. Although winter is barely a month old according to the calendar, we head into week four with seed catalogs in the mail, packets of garden renewals on display racks and “green thumbers”visioning seed pods and grow lights.                                                                                                           T

The cold of winter can often bring sadness, and such is the case in the Gunflint Community once again. Some reader/ listeners may already be aware of the passing of perhaps the last Gunflint pioneer icon.  It’s with remorse I report the loss of Rolf Skrien at age 97.   Rolf departed from our midst on January 2nd.                                                                                                                              
He first came to the Gunflint Trail in 1929 on a camping trip with his father, and so fell in love with the territory, he returned in 1946 after serving his country in World War Two. He called the end of the Trail home for most of his life until settling in Apache Junction, Arizona during his later years.                                                                                                                                                                                         

A celebration of Rolf’s life will be held this Sunday, January 20, visitation at 1:00 pm, service at 2:00 in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. The Gunflint Trail Community offers condolences to his surviving family and many friends. More of Rolf’s story can be found in his obit on                                                                                                                                                                     

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, regardless of cold, warm or season of the year!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 4, 2019

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       January 4, 2019    
The planet has made the turn into another year, and we at Wildersmith wish everyone a happier and less turbulent year than the one just past.                                                                                                           
This being said, the Smiths’ are back in the woods after a quick jaunt to Iowa for a Merry Christmas with our son and his family. The stay was short as weather forecasts’ for this part of the world shortened our time together. Nevertheless, it’s always a sweet time with those grandsons regardless of their no longer being little guys.                                                                                                                         
Staying just ahead of the pending storm, we hit the Mile O Pine only hours before the first flakes. In spite of the countless times we’ve returned to this border country Riviera from our southerly journeys, the phenom of this special place invariably radiates a fresh and untamed sensory response.                                                                                                                                                      
This unexplainable experience is real and so immensely enchanting, especially in the deep of winter. When reaching the top of the hill above Grand Marais, one is easily overcome with the serene majesty of a snow-covered world, knowing this is one of the few places on earth where mankind has minimized the plunder of creation into seemingly irreparable misery.                                          
With winter in a passive state for the better part of month twelve, many of us with a passion for the white and brittle cold of the forest has been in a mild state of despair. Not to be kept down too long though, finally the “great spirit of the north” regained a grip with a whiz-bang close to 2018.                                                                                                                                                              
The Gunflint Trail was not spared this time as the forecasters’ hit the mark. I’m not hearing of snow totals from the mid-Trail snow zones, but this neighborhood and along the south shore of the Gunflint recorded up to twelve inches.                                                                      
Everybody that deals in winter business opportunities have to be smiling, especially, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snow removers. Our world is blanketed with the solitude of white, and yours truly enjoyed every moment of the four-plus hours it took to heap the stuff around Wildersmith out of the way.                                                                                                                                                     
Taking this first ten days of the actual winter season a step further, the day of clearing roads and driveways saw temps dip to more seasonable expectations. The mercury slipped by the hour and by next morning, temperatures fell into the twenties to near thirty below the nothing mark. Thankfully, winds in this neighborhood were not too unbearable. Since last weekend, and except for New Years’ eve and daytime, things have yo-yo’d up to less bitter readings.                                                                                                                                                           

Organizers of the Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog races have breathed a sigh of relief with the cool snowy additions. Thinking there might not be enough snow-base on the race course, it was feared the races might have to be canceled. The issue is mute now as they are set to get underway as scheduled, Saturday morning.                                                                                                            

As always, the excitement of barking dogs, colorful handlers and steam-breathing mushers will take-over the mid-Trail area around Trail Center Restaurant & Lodge from late Friday night through late morning Sunday. Races will start at 8:00 am featuring an eight dog, 65-mile race and a twelve dog, 100-mile event.                                                                                                                              

Winners and awards will be presented around 10:00 am Sunday at the Trail Center race headquarters, all are welcome. The best spectator viewing locations will be at the Trail Center start line, Big Bear Lodge, Rockwood Lodge and Blankenberg Pit where the 100-mile race loops back down the Trails toward the mandatory layover.                                                                                                                                 

All residents and visitors are urged to get out and give a cheer to these athletes in action!                                                                                                                                                                                  

For WTIP, this Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, all decked out in the crystal of the season!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 21, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       December 21, 2018    
This weeks’ Gunflint scoop finds me listening to howling winds swooping down Gunflint Lake. Over the past days, they’ve been blowing with warm winter wishes and for certain, not the usual biting zest of December. The calendar says winter is here now, but one would hardly know it at the moment.                                                                                                                                                                      

For over a week, these air currents have ushered in another degenerating sample of our pending climate catastrophe. At this time, it feels like we have jump-started March at Christmas time. Local snowmen have been dripping with worry, and a minority of us with affection for serious winter character are downcast.                                                                                                                                                                     

An added note finds Gunflint Territory with our wintertime drought extended into yet another week. Since Thanksgiving, this neighborhood has received little to no precipitation. Coupled with the spring-like air of recent days, the snowpack has withered to just a few inches.                                  

With the “Gunflint Mail Run” sled dog races but two weeks away (January 5 & 6th), the upper Gunflint needs winter to get back on track pronto!                                                                                          

By the way, “Mail Run” organizers are still looking for volunteers to help administer the various aspects. If you can help, get on the website, “Mail Run Sled Dog Race 2019” and sign up now.                                                                                                                                                                                         
Early in the month, our lake freeze fashioned a perfect storm in regard to providing ice skating opportunities. In just days after our “ice on”, folks were enjoying the best gliding conditions in years. I’ve heard of people raving about skating for  miles.                                                                                                             

It is hard telling what the recent warmth has done to the ice. I’m guessing safe conditions could be suspect in places where the intensity of “Sol” glanced across the surface. The Gunflint Gal is even showing black ice from its middle on to the Canadian shores at this scribing. It might be this “old icy gal” could open back up if things don’t cool down in short order.                                                                                                                                                                                                       
Besides the effects of “Sol’s” assault, the hard water body outside our back door has been moaning for days as she heaves and splits under pressures of these abnormal happenings. Water is certain to be seeping onto the surface so we could expect complications for “on ice” activities from this point forward.                                                                                                                                                                     

Enough of this cold season sadness, visions of Saint Nick are dancing in our heads. Along with the glitz of the season, spirits of our days and nights have been brightened as “out on the blacktop, moose have appeared.”                                                                                                                                                  
It seems I haven’t talked to one person who hasn’t encountered at least one or more of the massive north-country icons. They’re out lapping up road salt and often blocking traffic. Some have mentioned mini herds of as many as five at one time in those traditional moose zones.                                                                                                                                                                                               

If we’re not all observing the same ones, perhaps it’s been a good year for newborn survivals, causing a renewed surge in moose residents. With a lot of moose on the loose, drivers beware. To this point, I’ve not heard of any moose/vehicular contacts, let’s keep it this way!                                                           

The rulers of our Gunflint predator population have been out and about too. A number of wolf sightings have been reported up and down the Trail over the last week. Tracks and scat have been found along the Mile O Pine too.                                                                                                                                  
I received word of a recent wolf episode where shortly after the Gunflint Lake freezing, one of the few deer, living out this way, made a dreadful decision. Whereas it ventured or was chased, onto the slippery surface, the local pack cashed in for a venison dinner, sad, but this is the way of the wilderness, wolves have to eat too.                                                                                              

Casting aside our dismay over this current winter debacle, celebrations are the order of life for the next several days. Enjoy the Solstice, the sun will soon be nudging back northward; the “little spirit moon” will be casting a luster of mid-day onto us earthly beings and the “birthday of all birthdays” will hopefully spread at least a few moments of peace over our ravaged planet.                                                                                                                                                                                  
 In closing, during this holiday time, it saddens me to report the death of longtime Trail resident and member of the business community, Irene Baumann. Passing a week ago today (Friday, December 14th) after a period of hospitalization. Irene was Matriarch of the three-generation Baumann family operation of Golden Eagle Lodge. Gunflint Community condolences are extended to her family and many friends.                                                                                                                               

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the Smith’s wish all, safe and merry holiday times.


Pine Marten

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 14, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith    December 14, 2018    
Since our last WTIP gathering, Gunflint country has experience days of calm and peace. These Halcyon segments have found this territory in partial winter mode, absent one half of our winter character.                                                                                                                                                           
The upper Trail endured a good dose of cold for several days, but we’ve been devoid of snow. Don’t take me wrong, we have snow however barely a few flurries have been added.                   
To expand upon the cold feature of our atmospheric goings-on, some nights of well below zero in this neighborhood prompted real ice making on the Gunflint. After a sputtering try at freezing a week ago, she got right after it on the night/morning of December 6 & 7.                       
There was no messing around this time. By morning on the 7th, I could see from the house water was still by the shore, but had no idea hard water would consume the entire surface in just a few hours.                                                                                                                                                                                 

This “ice on” date is somewhat early as the average over the time we’ve lived here is nearer mid-month. My records go as far back as 1982 and the earliest freeze of Gunflint Lake since then was on November 26, 1996. So 2018 is some two weeks off any contemporary record.                                                                                                                                                                                          

By the way, a Gunflint Lake cousin, Seagull Lake froze on November 20th according to folks along those shores. It is funny how conditions and locale can vary so much in just ten or twelve miles.                                                                                                                                                                                      

The next night was about equally as cold around here, and the “old gal” uttered her first commentary of the season. It was a screech like always, but one has no way of knowing whether her outcry was in delight of a new coat or pain from an ill fit. Whatever the case, we can now start building depth for those ice anglers come January.                                                                                 

A day in the winter woods seems never to be without an animal adventure of some sort. A few days ago the Smith’s spotted one of our many “Pineys” (martens that is) bounding over the snow toward our place. We watched it making its way up on to our deck, and heading for the snack shack.                                                                                                                                                                      

As it was about to stick its head in the little box for a treasure, something up in the trees was spotted, spooking the furry critter. Checking skyward carefully for a few moments, one could see the martens’ “wheels a turning” when a decision was made to grab a bite and make a run for it. While grabbing the poultry part, another alarm from above startled the furry one. This caused a Nano-second memory lapse where it let go of its treat.                                                                                                                                                                                       

The first of two oddities popped right before our eyes. The morsel of fowl dropped barely centimeters from the jaws, and quick as lightning, the critter caught it, mid-air, mind you. Oh, it was so nimble and quick.                                                                                                                                                                              

In awe, wonder number two captured us. In a flash, Mr. Marten shot across the deck, took a leap to a nearby tree and literally flew down to the ground at what looked to be supersonic speed. On the ground, it screamed over the crusty snow into a brushy thicket and out of view.                                                                                                                                                                                         

This riveting scene then took on another twist. During this ground level sprint, we observed a flight of blue jays zooming not far above the martens’ pathway to cover, and they too were soon lost from view.                                                                                                                                                 
One can only surmise these jaybirds were the one’s kindling the marten’s first treetop alert. After all, how did it know this was not a hungry eagle or a craving owl overhead.                                                      

Thereon, thinking about all this commotion, I assumed the blues’ were following “Piney” in case this ration of fast food was dropped, whereby they might get a crack at it. They are pretty cagey about laying claim to possessions of others, the big bullies.                                                                                   

With exception of disappearing into the woods, this chapter of our natural world novel knows no end. The beat goes on, predator/prey, survival of the fittest, fastest and craftiest!                                                                          

For WTIP, this Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with a shout out for let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!   



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 7, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       
December 7, 2018    

Back at the keyboard again, I’m contemplating a week into month twelve with the lights of year 2018 beginning to dim. It seems we’ve rounded the corner into December way too soon. In spite of the year heading off into oblivion, the Gunflint Trail has a radiance extending our “Biboon” (winter) landscape brightly toward the New Year.                                                                                          

A couple of light snow droppings over the past week have magnified spirits for us lovers of wintertime. The forest is decked out in its’ seasonal best, so incredibly beautiful, it’s a gift beyond words.                                                                                                                                                                               

The accumulation of snow, to date, is not heaped too deep but is just enough to encourage area cross country ski operations. I’m told most all ski trails in the Gunflint system are packed and even a couple have done a little tracking where the base allows. Another six to twelve inches will have things in prime swooshing condition.                                                                                 

As of this scribing, my early season snow measurements for this neighborhood total sixteen inches, although some of the total has come and gone while “old man winter” was getting his cold act together over the last couple weeks.                                                                                                      

Meanwhile, temps early last week gave our Gunflint Lake gal the idea she might get under her winter cover. It looked as though we might have an early ice on. Winds were calm and the old gal skimmed about a third of a mile across.                                                                          
Then, as things often happen, the “great spirit of the north” exhaled with a huffy bluster, and a day or so later the first crinkling of hard water disappeared. So our icy waters are dashing shores once again.                                                                                                                                                                              

From what I can find out, Gunflint Lake and Saganaga are the only lakes with open water at the moment. All others are locked up for the next several months. However, it should be expected, safe ice is still in question.                                                                                                                                

I’m hearing a few gripes about the gloomy skies of the last couple of months. In fact, I overheard one longtime local say he was getting out of the wilderness to see if he could find sunshine somewhere.                                                                                                                                                                     

Then another fellow mentioned he’s never seen it so dark, seems like he’s driving off into a dark hole at night. Guess we folks at forty-eight degrees north take for granted our dark sky nights when all those heavenly bodies are beaming down upon us. They’ve been pretty much undercover since about October.                                                                                                                                          

It is interesting here at Wildersmith, with our location below the north side of a high elevation, on these cloudy days, when the sun does appear, it takes until about ten am to shine down on us. Then in the afternoon, old “Sol” begins fading below our horizon between two-thirty and three o’clock, so daylight is scant for now. Soon to be changing though, the Solstice will be turning things around once again in two weeks.                                                                                                    

A bonus happening pairs with the Solstice this year, as the Ojibwe, “little spirit full moon” fulfills its last yearly cycle just hours after, so there will be a real enlightening of the north woods just before the “biggest of birthdays.”                                                                                                                                                        

In the meantime, night travelers headed out this way will need to look for twinkling enjoyment from our annual sentinel of lights along Birch Lake. Yes, once again our good Trail neighbors on the Birch have enhanced our holiday spirit by lighting that big spruce along the byway. It may not be like the one in Rockefeller Center or at the White House, but its significance to light the way is nonetheless, magnificent.  Thanks to the Birch Lake crew that makes this happen.                                                                                                                                                                                             

In closing, I hear of a new trend coming in Christmas trees. Apparently, among millennials and urban “yuppies,” “black” is now in, for holiday trees of the future. This seems alarmingly artificial when we live amongst uncountable trillions of trees that are forever green, and symbolic of life itself, on the planet. It seems as though the purveyors of this somber notion are missing something.                                                                                                                                                                   

Giving this trendy idea a little deeper thought, I believe this ebony inclination is really nothing new. Our marvelous north woods territory has had black trees in the forest since the beginning of everything. We see them recurring every day, and we call it night time!                                                                                                                                           

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with life warm and simple and not too complicated. “Black” Christmas trees, really, “humbug”, what is the world coming to?