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News and information, interviews, weather, upcoming events, music, school news, and many special features. North Shore Morning includes our popular trivia question - Pop Quiz! The North Shore Morning program is the place to connect with the people, culture and events of our region!

 


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Wildersmith: December 4

In spite of our first sub-zero mercury reading here on the morning after Thanksgiving, winter continues pretty much a non-issue. A minor snow ushered in December, but is likely gone by this airing with October temperatures hot on its heels. So it’s back to slush and slop on back country roads.  
    
Except for the dropping late last Tuesday, our first few days of this new month are acting like the previous thirty. It’s beginning to look like the “cold Grinch of the north” is not going to be around much this season. And it could well be, some of the big lakes might not have suitable ice by the January trout fishing opener at the rate things are going.    
                                                                                                                                                 
Being in a semi-winter mode, some critters of the “wild neighborhood” could be in a state of confusion.  Chipmunks residing about our yard are usually catching their first “Z”s of the season by now. In recent days both my wife and I have observed them scampering here and there still in the gathering mode.                                                                                                                                             
This activity being noticed makes me wonder if the temperate conditions have the bears experiencing sleeping disorders as well. At the very least, they surely can’t be into a deep slumber yet.                                                                                                                                                              
Thanksgiving at Wildersmith was special with some of the family members up from Iowa for the usual good times and chow-down. Its’ amusing how celebrating can continue in many homes after the big day as our menu bounty, remains in the giving order.                                         
                                                                                      
If your place is like ours, we continue trying new ideas to use up leftovers. Our common sense frugality seems evoked in author/news commentator, Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” as we struggle to throw out our bounteous blessings. This is obviously a reflection of our up-bringing, during what were often, not the most affluent times. In all likelihood, my generations’ attitude is directly opposite of what most millennials have probably already done.          
                                                       
Regardless of the circumstance around your house, Thanksgiving at the Smith’s just keeps on giving. Turns out, as opposed to adding more to the garbage dumpster, we’ve been sharing inedible scraps from our gathering with critters of the neighborhood, and they seem delighted with their opportunity at a holiday feast.                                                                                                                                                                                 
Many residents of our “wild wilderness” were not bashful about joining at the feed trough. Their spread was doled out over several days making this experience last considerably longer than that of we humans.                                                                                                                                         
About every species of birds from the north woods, plus red squirrels, flying squirrels (at night) and countless pine martens have gathered at one time or another. Most amazing was the intensity of cleaning up that turkey carcass (bones and all).                                                                               
If there was ever a reason for blue and Canadian jays, plus chickadees and nuthatches, to have indigestion, it was this occasion. Following an avian assault on softer tissue elements, I stopped counting after a pine marten made five successive trips to carry off the boney remains. In slightly over two hours on consecutive days, our “big bird character” was history!                                                          
One might question if the side dish dressing/stuffing (in particular) would also be appetizing to this insatiable crew, but answers were provided almost before I cleared the scene. The feeding frenzy did not diminish as more of our un-eaten items were served up.  The multi-day critter eat-a-thon has tapered off by now, but our giving mood sure provided a priceless educational experience and entertainment.     
                                                                                                                                                       
A couple reports from neighbors along the Gunflint Lake south shore indicate an itinerant coyote. The canine cousins are not unusual to the Arrowhead, but seldom noted out this way. It would be my guess this one might serve up as a nice appetizer for the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack, sooner or later.  
                                                                                                                              
Talking of the local pack, one member crossed my path during a recent MOP mail run. We made brief eye contact, from a short distance, before it vanished into the forest. It’s always a surprising privilege to intersect ways with such an iconic guy/gal. This mini rendezvous was another of those engaging, but untouchable, border country adventures.        
                                                 
Gunflint folks are reminded once again of the holiday open house this Saturday afternoon. Festivities begin at 3:00 pm and run until 6:00pm at the Mid-Trail/ Schaap Community Center.  Although not required, the GTVFD is seeking donations to the area food shelf. Gunflint resident participation will be much appreciated!  Y'all come for the food and fun!                                                                                                                                                      
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Looking, looking and looking for a kick-start to our season of snow white!
 

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Superior National Forest Update: December 4

Hi.  I’m Steve Robertsen, education specialist, with the National Forest Update  -  information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the Tofte and Gunflint Districts of the Forest. For early December, here’s what’s going on in the Forest.
While we haven’t yet gotten a lot of snow on the shore, you don’t need to go too far inland before things get a lot more December-ish.  We aren’t really up to conditions that will have our ski and snowmobile trails open, but hopefully nature will cooperate in the coming weeks and send us some more of the white stuff.  We really need a base of about six inches before grooming can start on most trails, and so far we don’t have that up here.
The lack of snow does make harvesting a Christmas tree and other holiday greenery easier this year, if a bit less scenic.  Christmas tree permits are for sale at both the Gunflint and Tofte offices.  Make sure to pick up the flyer with descriptions of where and how to cut trees.  The most important thing is to be sure you are on National Forest property before you cut anything.
This year, there is a national program called ‘Every Kid In A Park’.  Part of the program is a website, everykidinapark.gov, where fourth grade students can register to get a free pass that will give them free admittance to all the national parks and forests across the country.  After registering online, and doing some activities to earn the pass, they will be able to print off a voucher that can be exchanged for an official card at our district offices, or at Grand Portage National Monument.  Our local national parks and monuments don’t actually charge entrance fees, but if your family is planning to travel out west, your fourth graders pass will get the whole family in free to Yellowstone, or the Grand Canyon.  On the Superior, the pass will get you a free Christmas tree permit.  It might be a great year to start, or continue, a family tradition of heading out into the woods for a tree.
While driving into the woods, you’ll encounter some logging trucks that are harvesting a bit more than Christmas trees.  On the Tofte District, log trucks are hauling on FR 369 (Sawbill Landing or Trappers Lake Road) and FR 380, from Sawbill Landing to Isabella; on FR 348 (Whitefish Lake Road) and FR 170 (Fourmile Grade) from the Whitefish Lake area to Lake County 7; and on FR 1238 to Cook County 2 (Sawbill Trail) near Plouff Creek.   On the Gunflint District, log hauling is taking place on FR144 (Old Greenwood), Shoe Lake Road, Greenwood Road, Firebox Road, South Brule River Road, and Lima Grade.  Our timber people on both districts included a warning about the road conditions, which due to rain and freezing temperatures are slick and icy.  Reduce your speeds, allow for increased stopping distance, and remember that a loaded truck will have even a harder time stopping than you on ice.  Give them plenty of space.
Nationally, the Forest Service is conducting visitor use surveys to help understand how the public is using our forests.  Locally, that means that you may encounter signs along the road reading “Survey Ahead”, and then be asked if you want to help us by filling out a quick survey.  We hope you can take the time to help us out by taking the survey so we can better serve the public. 
We hope you can make a visit to the forest part of your holiday plans this season.  Nothing says holidays like the smell of balsam fir and a drive through snow covered evergreens with a CD of holiday tunes in the radio.
 
Have a great weekend, and until next time, this has been Steve Robertsen with the Superior National Forest Update. 
 

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Great Expectations Charter School

School News from Great Expectations: December 3

Robin and Chloe report the latest School News.

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West End News: December 3

It’s good to be back in the West End after a two-week trip to Hawaii.  I won’t deny that Hawaii was beautiful and warm.  But, as the saying goes, “there’s no place like home.”
 
It was interesting to observe the similarities and differences between Hawaii and our own Cook County’s tourism economies. They are similar in that they are both are destinations that rely on spectacular natural and cultural features to attract visitors.  They and we rely on an infrastructure of hotels, condos, timeshares and more recently, private vacation rentals like Airbnb and Vacation Rental By Owner. Hawaii and Cook County share the problems of limited private land and a high cost of living, leading to a severe shortage of housing and disposable income for working people.
 
The differences are that Hawaii’s overall tourism industry is huge and well established, compared to ours.  They draw heavily from Asia for their visitors, although Minnesota is well known to most Hawaiians, thanks to all of us who visit there.  From my perspective, Hawaii seems to have more organized activities for tourists, like boat rides, tours, museums, events and what has to be the largest density of helicopter tours in the world.
 
The beauty of travel is how it changes your perspective.  I came home looking at the West End with new eyes and a greater appreciation for the balance we have between our human economy and the natural world.
 
There is, of course, the matter of the Hawaiian weather, but I won’t dwell on that at this time of year.
 
The special election to fill the legislative seat of the late David Dill is coming up this week.  I was honored to have been a candidate in the DFL primary election, but sad to have come up a little short in that contest.  The four-way DFL primary generated considerable interest and news coverage, but the general election has been very quiet.
 
The received wisdom is that Rob Ecklund, a county commissioner from Koochiching County who won the DFL primary, will easily win the general election over the Republican and independent candidates on the ballot.  Rob has the strong backing of organized labor, as well as the support of the powerful Iron Range legislative delegation and the endorsement of the DFL Party.  In a special election with a very low turnout, those advantages are nearly insurmountable.
 
I know and like all three candidates, but I am particularly fond of Rob Ecklund. Spending time with him at campaign events was a pleasure.  He is always a gentleman and has a very sincere and open personality.  He’s deeply involved in his community and has a genuine concern for regular people.  Even though we didn’t agree on everything, Rob showed a willingness to study, learn and make his policy decisions accordingly.  In this day and age of politicians who won’t change their minds no matter what, Rob’s genuine thoughtfulness is a refreshing quality.
 
This commentary isn’t intended for political endorsements, but I do urge everyone to vote in the special election on December 8 for the candidate of their choice.  For West End voters, please fill out and send back the ballot you have received in the mail.  If you didn’t receive a ballot, contact the Cook County Auditor in Grand Marais to arrange for one. 
 
By the way, because this is a special election, the same seat will be up for election again in 2016.  The primary, if needed, will be in August and the general election will be this coming November, along with every legislative seat in Minnesota, our own congressional seat and the presidency. 
 
It’s easy to make fun of political races, but the results have real consequences.  Voting is the most important right in our democratic process, so please join me in exercising it.
 
I’m sorry to report that it looks like there will be no ice-skating on area lakes this year.  I never give up hope though.  One year, back in the 1980s, the lakes froze with rough ice and a quick foot of snow that created terrible slush conditions.  A couple of weeks later, we had an extended stretch of unusually warm weather and a day of pouring rain.  The temperature promptly plunged to back below zero and the lakes transformed into a perfect skating rinks on six inches of solid ice.  John Oberholtzer, of Lutsen, refers to this phenomenon as “nature’s Zamboni.”
 
Barring an appearance of the elusive Zamboni, skis will have to substitute for skates this year.  I don’t feel like the lakes are totally safe for travel yet, so please use good judgment by going with friends and carrying extra dry clothes and self-rescue equipment.
 
Or, break out the downhill skis or snowboards for some fun at Lutsen Mountains, which is now open on weekends.  The spectacular, brand new gondola lift will be open to the public next weekend.  That alone warrants a trip to the hill.
 
 

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North Woods Naturalist: Atmospheric streams

A couple of weeks back we had a prolonged rainfall that might have an unusual effect for this time of year. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about atmospheric streams.

(Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr)
 

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Northern Sky: November 28

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota. She authors the Minnesota Starwatch column, and contributes to WTIP bi-weekly on the Monday North Shore Morning program through "Northern Sky," where she shares what's happening with stars, planets and more.

As we head into December, all the bright planets are pretty much gone - but there are many stars to enjoy.

(Photo by Christian Ronnel on Flickr)

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Sunny's Back Yard: Late November

Late fall in Lake County has been warmer than usual, and so far very little snow has fallen.

Sunny has lived off-grid in rural Lake County for the past 17 years and is a regular commentator on WTIP. Here she shares what's been happening in Sunny's Back Yard.

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Gunflint Lake

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 27

The eleventh chapter of Gunflint's 2015 story is fading fast. Final thoughts reflect an unusual month with little or nothing to show in terms of winter character. Unless conditions change in the next few days, border country might usher in December with a brown landscape for the first time in many years.

After a healthy dose of preliminary rain, a snippet of winter oozed in last weekend with some puny snow. There was barely an inch counted out this way. With any kind of sunshine, this thin coating will evaporate like relatives when it's dish-washing time after Thanksgiving dinner.

The “Mom in charge of things” set the thermostat back to a more normal setting following this feeble snow attempt. In fact, the neighborhood around Wildersmith experienced our first single digit mercury readings for a couple mornings. Throughout these northerly reaches, the frigid setting found us getting into ice making on smaller lakes and swampy wetlands.

Minnestota’s rifle season for whitetails found the hunters I know around Gunflint Lake blanked over the past two weeks. It’s a sad consolation, but at least they had tolerable weather conditions during the fruitless pursuit, and their ammunition will not go bad, so there willl always be next year. Perhaps “old man winter” will thicken ice soon in hopes “hard water” angling might treat outdoor sports-people better.

A trip out and about last Sunday turned heartening for yours truly. With all the leaves down, sightseeing through the forest provides a remarkable view of the fire-ravaged upper Trail territory. What’s so amazing is the new growth of coniferous beings that had been obscured by leaf foliage. As far as one can see, countless acres of youthful evergreens are popping skyward to begin displacing the skeletal wildfire remains.

Most of the visible new growth along the Trail comes in the form of naturally propagated jack pine while in select places off-road, many sections of spruce, white and red pine have taken off as well. The off-road growth was fostered through efforts of hundreds of Gunflint Green-up volunteers planting in partnership with the USFS efforts, this happening over several years since the Ham Lake tragedy in ’07.

If humans did not live in the area, this horrific blaze would have been a welcome means of wilderness revival. However, tragic as it was for hundreds of our Gunflint neighbors, we are thankful to have survived, and are now able to proudly observe a healthy new spirit of forest growth.

This phenomenon of rebirth sure has taken off quickly. Remarkable indeed is the resiliency of the natural world to start itself anew, without us and in spite of us. In a few more years, this National Scenic Byway will again be a tunnel through the pines.

Congratulations to “Mother Nature” on a continuing job well done! And many thanks to others who care so deeply for this extraordinary place on the planet.

Here’s hoping everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving holiday. As we head off into the season of “material grabbing madness,” may “common sense” show some resurgence so “Black Friday” does not become a nightmare of singing the “blues.” Remember it’s the coming of December, a time to be ritualized in mystery, grace and divine significance of the holiday season.

Speaking of the holiday season, if Gunflint Trail listeners haven’t heard, the second annual holiday open house, put on by our Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department, is scheduled for Saturday, December 5. All Gunflint residents are invited.

The doings extend during the hours of 3-6 pm at the Schaap Community Center (mid-Trail fire hall # 1). In the spirit of this giving season and doing good for others, your donations to the local food shelf would be welcomed at the event. Mark your calendars for this time of food, fun and refreshments.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! With snow shovel in hand, I'm waiting, waiting and waiting.

(Photo by Chauncer on Flickr)

 

 

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Sawtooth Mountain 3rd graders share why they are thankful

The Sawtooth Mountain Elementary School third graders have an annual Thanksgiving tradition of sharing why they are thankful. In this feature, students from Lorelei Livingston's class recite their thankful poems.

(Photo by Cat on Flickr)

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School News from Oshki Ogimaag: November 23

Nicholas reports the latest School News.

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