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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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Superior National Forest Update December 22, 2017

National Forest Update – December 21, 2017.

Hi.  I’m Tom McCann, resource information specialist, with a late December edition of the National Forest Update - information on conditions affecting travel and recreation on the east end of the Superior.  Here’s what’s up around the Forest for the end of 2017.

This is the astronomical turning point of the season, the winter solstice.  December 21st was our shortest day and longest night of the year, with a day length of only 8 hours and 32 minutes in Duluth.  That gives you only 16 minutes of day on either side of your eight hour working day, so if it seems like you can’t get anything done, you are probably right.  The winter solstice day is somewhere around six and a half hours shorter than the longest day of the year in June.  But, from here on, we start adding minutes to the day, slowly at first, with the rate peaking at the spring equinox.  It may not seem like it, but spring is on its way.

Spring may be ahead, but winter actually caused our roads to improve this last week.  Ice was covered by a good layer of snow which provides some traction.  Be wary though, people have gotten stuck in parking lots where the snow layer was plowed back down to the ice.  There’s now enough snow that unplowed roads are mostly impassable, and are being used by snowmobiles.  Snowmobiles are allowed on unplowed roads, as well as in the general forest if there is over four inches of snow cover.  Other than snowmobiles, there isn’t much activity out there on the roadways.  There are no active timber operations on the Tofte District, and on Gunflint there will be trucks only on the Greenwood Road, Shoe Lake Road, and Cook County 14. 

Of course, there’s a lot of opportunity for other activities off the roads.  Ski trails are being groomed in most areas, though under heavy tree cover, there still are some patches with only light snow.  We are designating a few trails for fat tire bikes this year; check at our office or on the web for exact locations. 

While driving to a trail, keep an eye peeled for owls.  This year has seen a large irruption of owls where they move south out of Canada during the winter.  Particularly visible are snowy and great gray owls.  Snowy owls are possibly the owl most likely to be seen hunting during the day.  They spend summers in the arctic where there isn’t a lot of night, so they have to be good daylight hunters.  These beautiful white birds are often spotted near open areas, so look for them where there is a field or wet meadow.  Great gray owls are, as the name implies, very large and gray.  They have a hunting technique of swooping low over openings, which unfortunately brings them into contact with cars as they swoop over the road.  A visitor recently brought in a great gray who was found on the road, apparently unable to fly.  Our district offices are not equipped for animal care, and we usually refer people to licensed wildlife rehab people and facilities in the area.  This time, however, one of our biologists was on hand to examine the bird.  He is a bird bander, and knows how to handle owls in a way that is both safe for the bird and the person.  A great gray has talons that are over an inch long, with plenty of strength to drive them right into your hand, so they are a bird that must be treated with respect.  This particular bird was not happy at being in a box, but calmed down quickly once it was taken out.  It turned out that the bird was uninjured and probably had just been stunned and confused after being caught in the slipstream of a truck.  She was released back into the woods, away from the highway, gliding away on silent wings.

Enjoy your holiday season and our Minnesota winter.  Until next time, actually next year, this has been Tom McCann with the National Forest Update.
 

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West End News - December 21

West End News 12/21/17
Ski Trails
Merry Christmas from the West End! It is easy to get into the spirit here this year as we have a cold and sparkly landscape that is quite evocative of Santa’s North Pole. When you turn inland from the Shore you have the increasing sense that you are driving deeper and deeper into a snowglobe. Fresh snow on the roads help to reveal our winter neighbors, wolf and fox tracks mingle with moose prints and the ever-present snowshoe hares are abundant as ever.

The heavy snow combined with high winds have created great travel conditions, especially on the lakes. The coming week promises some very cold temperatures too, which will only improve the hard packed snow cover out there. There’s nothing quite like skiing into the Wilderness on a crisp winter day. The snow muffles the sounds of the forest it can be so quiet you can hear your heartbeat louder than ever. Don’t quote me on this, but I’ve heard that the Boundary Waters is one of only a handful of places left in this world where you can go for 15 minutes, or more, without hearing a single human made sound. That is especially true in the winter when you are often the only human for miles.

With a busy holiday season upon us, it’s nice to know that there is a place of cold quiet just out the back door.
Closer to the Shore, the Sugarbush Trail Association has been busy grooming and tracking the vast cross country ski trail system. With somewhere around 400 kilometers of trails, Cook County boasts some of the best cross country skiing in the state. In the West End, word on the trail is that the Onion River Road is the best skiing right now, for both skate and classic. The groomers spend long grueling hours, often overnight, out on the trails keeping the conditions in tip top shape. It’s often thankless work so I’d like to take a moment right now to send out a big grateful THANK YOU! to those folks.

You may have heard that the West End has a new representative on the ISD 166 school board. Tofte’s own Dan Shirley was appointed to fulfill the remainder of Jeanne Anderson’s term. Dan grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico before making his way to Minnesota via Oregon and Montana. He is the co-owner of Sawbill Canoe Outfitters, and full disclosure, if you hadn’t already guessed, he is also married to me. Tune in to the WTIP news hour to hear more from Dan about his new position.
 
For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.
 

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Eero Moody

Local youth demonstrates holiday spirit by returning lost cash

Need a story to brighten your day?  Rhonda Silence talks with a very special young man.

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Sawtooth Elementary - School News Dec 19

Sawtooth Mountain Elementary - School News - December 19, 2017
with Waylan, Bea and Carter. 

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GES group in studio 12-15-17 (2).jpg

GES Kindergarten students sing Christmas Carols

Fifteen members of the kindergarten class at Great Expectations School recently came to WTIP to record Christmas Carols.  Thank you to teacher Ann Mundell for arranging this delightful afternoon!
Here is the line up - 

Jingle Bells singers: Ezme, Thea, Corra, Everlee, Audrey, Bii

Must Be Santa:  Penelope, Everlee, Reuben, Audrey, Thea

Feliz Navidad:  Beo, Arlo, Emmalyn, Rube, Parker

Enjoy!

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint December 15, 2017

Wildersmith on the Gunflint  -  December 15, 2017       by     Fred Smith
The second full week of December found “old man winter” back on the job. Although a suitable delivery of white has yet to be received, a few mini doses have seasonal decorations back in place along the Trail.                                                                                                                                               
Boy, the gritty dry stuff has really made a difference in traversing our glazed back country roads, both on foot and in a vehicle. The gripping power of cold snow is surprising when compared with ice.  

                                                                                                                                         
Territory temperatures have dropped into the real ice making mode. As I started this weeks’ report last Sunday, the mercury has been hovering from just below to barely above zero both day and night.                                                                                                                                                          
Talking of ice making, the lake outside my door succumbed to the still, minus something air and put on her winter coat last Friday night into Saturday morning, the 8th/9th. I’m officially reporting the 9th to the state/ice-on records keeping folks. I’m told ice began sweeping down Gunflint Lake west to east at almost the same hour as Loon Lake to our south late day Friday. At this time, I’m unable to confirm ice on Seagull or Saganaga, but one would have to assume, those lakes went hard water about the same time as Gunflint and Loon.                                                                                                                                        
The Smith’s had gone several weeks since seeing a moose, but such changed as we traveled to Grand Marais a few days ago. We literally didn’t bump into one, but a nice looking cow slowed our trip somewhere in the moose zone around Lullaby Creek. With new snow, guess we might expect to see more out on the black top, sopping up ice and snow melting brine, drivers, beware!                                                                                                                                                          
Recently another chapter in the on-going predator/prey drama happened right on our deck side feeding rail. Two furry adversaries stopped by at the same time, and it turned out not too pretty. One of our marten regulars came by for a piece of chicken while a red squirrel approached for a little seed munching.                                                                                                                  
The ensuing confrontation commenced as the squirrel climbed over one feeding unit and came face to face with the marten. Both startled each other and the marten abruptly changed its menu choice from barnyard fowl to rodent.                                                                                                                                     
A chase took off across the deck with the squirrel eluding capture by leaping into a white pine nearby. It seemed as though the pursuit was over. However, the squirrel apparently had memory lapse and ventured back. This time the saga did not end on a happy note.                                                                                                                                                                                               
Although I did not actually observe the showdown, the marten returned too and must have lain in waiting, nabbing the unsuspecting seed cruncher this time. To make a long story short, within moments of the first chase, I looked out to find a dead squirrel lying on the feeding rail.
Meanwhile, a marten (I assume the same one) leapt from a nearby tree proceeded along the rail, picked up its dinner surprise and dashed off. This fray must have been the ultimate in fast food.                                                                                                                                                                           
Although this was a sad natural happening (with my wife shrieking in squeamishness) it would have been interesting to observe the life or death encounter take place.                                            
A day or so later, we were entertained when a pair of the weasel kin critters stopped by simultaneously. Seldom appearing more than one at a time, these two martens were either romantically involved, siblings or perhaps parent and child.                                                                            
They shared the same feed box leap frogging back and forth over each other while munching the sunflower morsels, then, playfully cavorted around the deck, before fading off into the woods one after the other. I would like to have seen if they were so cordial with each other had a piece of meat been the fare.                                                                                                
Survival is the name of the game in the “wild neighborhood”, an everyday part of life. A fellow down the road shared an experience of such just last Sunday. The scene played out on the recently frozen Gunflint Lake ice.                                                                                                                        
With the newly surfaced international lake access, it was a perfect opportunity for animal traffic. One can only guess which way the meeting came from, but it ended up with a white tail out on the ice and the wolf pack in urgent pursuit. Needless to say the deer was not too effective on the slick surface while the pack had a slightly better grip on things. The end came quick as the venison critter was soon taken down in agonizing fashion.                                                                  
According to the observer, this chase ended in a violent attack. The spectacle was a wretched end of life for one and of life sustaining satisfaction for another, sadly a necessary element in the total scheme of creation.                                                                                                                  Closing on a more cheerful note, with a number of Trail residents included, the annual Borealis Chorale and Orchestra Christmas Concerts were presented last Sunday & Monday.  As usual the chorus and orchestra gave a splendid performance. This amazing group of local singers and musicians is something to behold, most certainly setting the stage for the season where “LOVE IN THAT STABLE WAS BORN.”                                                                                                                                                                          
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where everyday life in the wildland, smacks of adventure and intrigue sandwiched in between earthly peace and quiet!
 

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Magnetic North - December 14 with Vicki Biggs-Anderson

Magnetic North 12/12/17
 
Lasting
 
Welcome back to Magnetic North, where several days and nights of gentle snow make all things sparkle and bring the evergreen trees into sharper focus. The towering White Pine standing on the southeast edge of the meadow seems to take center stage, a kind of palace guard standing watch over my winter world. Summer meadow flowers and deciduous trees proved fickle. One good frost and a few days of wind and were out of here. But not the pines or balsam or cedar or spruce. They are in it for the long haul. Their colors last and I am grateful for that.
 
That word, “last,” crops up a lot these days in my imagination. For instance, on a particularly wretched day of sleet and high winds, I imagined the outcome if I took a crippling fall on the skating rink that annually forms between the house and chicken coop. How long would I last, I wondered. And then, I thought, better to fall outside the coop than in. Chickens, especially starving ones, would not be kind. And so forth.
 
These nightmare fantasies are not peculiar to me. Anyone living in a remote spot like this has them from time to time. Even if one does not live alone. I remember how Paul and I had a come-to-Jesus conversation one below zero night when I stayed out in the barn from 10 until midnight, combing cashmere off the goats. I lost track of the time and when I finally looked at my watch  I felt terrible for worrying Paul.
 
Well, as you might have guessed, Paul was sound asleep in bed. But not for long!  “What’s got you in a tizzy, sweetheart?” he mumbled, trying to pull back the covers I so unceremoniously ripped off him. So I told him. “What if I’d broken a leg or fainted out there? In this weather, how long would I last?” He protested that he didn’t worry about me, not because he cared so little, but because he had so much confidence in me.” It was a good effort. But it fell on deaf ears.
 
“Here’s the deal, my sweet,” I growled at the poor man. “If you EVER go to bed and leave me to freeze outside you’d better pray that I’m good and dead when you finally do come to look for me!”  
 
Another way I think of “lasting,” besides physically surviving is in the way folks begin to see their big decisions in life. My friend, Sylvia was furious when someone admired her new car, then added, “Well, this will probably be your last one.”  Who needs that?
 
But it got me thinking, always a dangerous thing for me. There will be a “last car” and a “last order of chickens from Murray McMurray,” not to mention a last vote or meal or belly laugh. There will even be a last time I look across the meadow and say my morning prayers gazing at the old White Pine. One of us simply will outlast the other.
 
Oh, now please don’t think I linger in the shadows of my imagination. But often they give me the best giggles of the day. Case in point. When I told my only child, a wonderful, albeit slightly controlling know-it-all, that I’d paid a fortune for a Norwegian Forest cat - she scolded, “Mom!  Do you really think that was necessary, with all of your other animals?”
 
So yes, I have a few more critters than most: two big dogs, two long-haired cats, two angora rabbits, eight bantam chickens, five Swedish ducks, eleven mallard ducks, two buff geese, twenty-nine laying hens and five goats. 
 
She had a point. But, to my everlasting shame, I countered with a sucker punch no parent should ever throw. Sighing mightily into the phone, I said, “Ohhh, but honey, this will probably be my last cat.”
Yes, I said that. I played the Old Lady Card on my own child, no less.
 
Of course I apologized for doing that and vowed never again to use my nearness to the Great Beyond to win a point with her.
 
Today, Wolfie, the Norwegian Forest cat, sits on the back of the couch, hungering for just one bite of the black capped chickadee feeding on sunflower seeds outside.  The short-eared Northern owl we both watched for weeks on the meadow seems to have moved on. One day it simply did not appear. The last time I saw it was on my way to Thanksgiving dinner with friends. He (or she ) was sitting on the fence rails surrounding the vegetable garden. I waved as I drove by. The pretty buff colored owl stared right at me. And that was the last time I saw it.
 
Another “last” that I didn’t see coming. And really, when I think about it, isn’t that just as well?
Thanks for listening. For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.
 
 

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Ice Skating.jpg

West End News - December 14

West End News 12/14/17  by Clare Shirley
 
The Birch Grove kiddos will be putting their seasonal cheer on display in the annual winter musical this Tuesday, December 19th. The performance, entitled a Bear-y Merry Holiday, will run twice. Once at 1pm and again at 6pm. After each performance you can squeeze in some last minute holiday shopping at the Scholastic Holiday Book Fair, also at Birch Grove.

Former Birch Grover Joshua Schmidt is coming home for the holidays. While that might not seem all that newsworthy, it is worth noting that he will be playing music at the Poplar River Pub at Lutsen Resort while he is back. Josh is part of the successful Twin Cities based band The Step Rockets and he will be bringing an arrangement of classic folk rock with a modern flavor to the north woods. He’s playing on Tuesday, December 19 from 6-8pm. If you can’t make it then, don’t worry, he’ll be back at the Pub again on Thursday December 21 also from 6-8pm.

We’ve had quite a bit of snow this past week in the West End, especially up over the hill. There are roughly 18 inches on the ground up here, with about six inches of new sparkly snow covering the trees. The inland lakes are more frozen every day. Jessica Hemmer drilled a hole in Sawbill Lake just yesterday to measure the ice. She reports that there are 12 inches of clear, solid, ice. We ventured out on the lake not 2 hours after her report and found that the hole she had drilled was already frozen over, enough that we couldn’t break through it. Brr! All the recent snow brings an end to ice skating season. However, the high winds have created a nice firm wind-packed snow on the lakes making for a fast start to cross country ski skating season.

Lutsen Mountains is making good use of the cold temperatures and fast falling snow. As of this Friday December 15, the ski hill will be open daily. Daily lift ticket rates are still pre-season, meaning a little cheaper, until December 21st so now is the time to go if you want to get the most bang for your buck.

Whatever your winter activity, I hope you are out and about enjoying the glittery landscape and soaking up the last sunsets of 2017. I can’t think of a better way to close out one year and begin the next here in the beautiful West End. 
 

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Sunny's Back Yard: Life's firsts

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

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Chippy in a Pumpkin

Wildersmith on the Gunflint December 8, 2017

Wildersmith on the Gunflint  -  December 8, 2017     by     Fred Smith

With forecasts of new winter things to come, Gunflint weather has remained under the spell of a cold and snow sabbatical. As more of the seasonal character has disappeared, another week of little moisture and minimal cold has we frost loving folks in an out of sorts mood. 
                                          
A couple of positive notes however, have softened the effect during the current northern climate collapse. One of those was the full “little spirit” moon. In fact, the “big Cheese” in the night sky lived up to being called the “super moon.” Perhaps this year, “little” was a misnomer for “his lunar highness.”    
                                                                                                                                                
WTIP listeners have often heard my raves about Canadian sunsets over Gunflint Lake, but never have I gushed about a “moon set.” The scene was reversed last Sunday morning in the twilight hours when I was out doing critter chores.       
                                                                         
A glance toward the western horizon startled me into a gasp when I spotted the “hot orange” sphere as the orb was making its horizon decent. Doing justice to the spectacle finds me without enough descriptors. If others saw this brilliance, weren’t we all so lucky. If you didn’t get to see the setting of this celestial trek, please take my word for it, the show was of moonstruck intensity.   
                                                                                                                                                                
A second item in regard to the on-going downfall of the season northern folk cherish comes with both tongue in cheek seriousness and also a bit of humor. At the Christmas Open House of last Saturday, I was intrigued with stories shared by several residents about their experiences on our ice glazed back country roads. Thankfully, I didn’t hear of any injuries, but for every road or driveway circumstance, everyone has a tale to tell about “escapades on ice”, and how they are coping. My suggestion is to “keep on hangin’ on, things will get better, either with grit assistance from dry snow or spring.”   
                                                                                                                                 
Speaking more of icy adventures, I spoke with a fellow who pulled on his skates a few days ago and hit the ice over on Hungry Jack Lake. Guess for the most part the gliding endeavor was safe, but he did find spots where the hard water enabled seeing the lake bottom.      
                      
Whereas many lakes have several inches of ice enabling ice fishing, there are probably others with un-safe situations. Suggestion, proceed with caution.   

Happenings in the morning twilight hours at Wildersmith have my attention daily.  In the opinion of yours truly, there is nothing to match the energy explosion of each new day in the forest. Particularly, at this time of year when darkness extends past the seven o’clock hour, one can kind of sleep in and still arise in time to catch the wilderness world outside as it too wakes up.     
                                                                                                                                                                                        
As the night shift gang of martens, fishers and flying squirrels have punched out, it seems like “Christmas morning” around here when the day shift comes on. The glee of daylight, warming temps and breakfast has the daytime critters whipped up into a frenzy.  
                                             
It is such a joy to observe them flitting here and darting there as morning conversation clatters with a chorus of squawks, tweets and chatters. I feel like Santa Claus when going out to leave some nutritional tokens and see the little beings perched in line, waiting their turn. The company of the “wild neighborhood” is a never ending adventure. 
                                       
The Gunflint Community was treated to a delightful holiday season kick-off last Saturday night. Huge thanks to the GTVFD for putting on the festive occasion. Decorations were splendid and the food was dynamite. It was such a swell time to meet with friends and neighbors. I’m always amazed to see folks come out of the woods when I didn’t even know they were around.                              
Reports have trickled in telling of moose sightings around the mid-trail zone, episodes of wolf communications and a Lynx observation, all of which might be seen or heard unexpectedly.  Meanwhile, strange weather occurrences often prompt strange animal behaviors. Such is the case where a gal from over on Leo Lake reported the warm conditions have apparently awakened chipmunks around her place. Wonder if this might also have the bears turning over in their slumber? Let’s hope not!   
                                                                                         
And with one more critter tidbit, the same gal mentioned the sighting of a nasty raccoon in her neighborhood.  Boo, hiss, these masked invasives are not the most welcome out here! Guess we’d better alert the wolf/coyote patrol about extermination proceedings.    
                                 
I’m happy to announce the lone seasonal beacon of life in the Gunflint north has been lit!  Thanks to the devoted folks on Birch Lake for lighting up our lives. This twinkling sentinel might be said to reflect a likening to a lone star in the night announcing the birthday of all birthdays! Passing that glimmering tree in the dark of night is a remarkable reminder we are not alone on this journey.   
                                                                                                                                          
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day in the wilderness is great... Blessed are the north woods!
                                                
 

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