Our Gunflint Trail winter has extended yet another week with no appreciable change in the temperate status. While the Grand Marais village received a healthy dose of liquid precipitation since we last met, barely a sniff collected in our wilderness neighborhood in some drizzling light rain and a scant couple inches of snow.
At the time of this report, the Gunflint lake area was slightly decorated in white. It seemed probable the territory might not have a white Christmas. However, in an unexpected notion, “Mother Nature” shocked us with 8 inches of the stuff in this neighborhood and even more in other places back down the Trail. Further, conditions for the big lakes of the upper Trail territory to become frozen in the near future are growing remote. Looking back at my data since 1982 for “ice on” over Gunflint Lake shows latest date as December 29 in 2001.
Most recently, in 2011 we waited until the 28th for the second latest incident of solidarity. At the rate things are going “ice on” for the Gunflint Gal could extend well past the first of the New Year. Anything is possible with this screwy weather phenomenon, but wouldn’t it be something if the larger lakes out this way didn’t freeze at all in ’15-’16. If this did occur, the January trout fishing season would open with watercraft and dip nets instead of snowmobiles and ice augers.
To contrast our current non-ice issue, a reflection from the past tells of Trail icon, Justine Kerfoot walking across Gunflint Lake on the ice, June 1, 1936. That year “ice out” occurred on June 3. Historically, that was a long winter in all of the Midwest. I don’t have info on the freeze up time that winter, but it surely could have been at least eight months of ice time around here.
Meanwhile, holiday preparations and celebrating goes on in the absence of usual north woods atmospheric components. Good cheer permeates the area with little more than nine hours of daylight, knowing in a few short segments our early sunsets will be history. “Old Sol” will have stalled out in its southward crawl, soon to resume a climb back northward.
After not seeing a moose in this area for many weeks, the trend was snapped for yours truly last week during a trip to Grand Marais. And, several other sightings have been mentioned by other local byway travelers. In my case, three were observed somewhere in the moose zone between the advertised viewing site and Lullaby Creek Rd. All three were yearlings or better, and appeared in healthy condition. They delayed my trek while reluctantly refusing to move from their blacktop salt lick. I have since heard of three moose being struck by vehicles on the Trail over the first two weeks of December. Guess two were killed and the condition of a third is unknown. The scenario makes me wonder if the three might have been the same ones I encountered.
Speaking about our briny pathway, I’m amazed at what appears to be questionable applications of melting brine to the Trail surface when we get no more than a skiff of snow/ice. It's mind boggling if this is deemed prudent use of our road maintenance tax dollars. I can’t believe the number of times over the years when I have met a snow plow unit spreading this noxious material and seemingly scraping more off the asphalt than snow. What’s an even greater shame are the masses of drivers without common sense to slow down when road conditions become tricky, thus necessitating this chemical treatment. Even worse is the thought of this sodium chloride residue and other added unknown nasties ending up in our lake waters. It’s bound to get there eventually after decades of applications, and once such chemicals get in the water, it’s pretty much there to stay and all kinds of bad things begin to happen in this precious resource.
On another note, it makes me wonder if consuming copious doses of the briny elements might also be a contributing factor to our moose herd decline. If high dietary salt intake is bad for us humans, couldn’t the same be said for moose? I would think moose flourished for eons before man-made dietary supplements lured them onto our byway. Question is, couldn’t we be using just plain old sand? I’m betting we could be saving considerable tax dollars by eliminating the chemicals while lessening the chance for these compounds to taint lake waters and at the same time make for a reduced salt moose diet. Such a plan would also save corrosive wear and tear on both road surfaces and our vehicles, in addition to those quarter million dollar county plow truck/spreaders. Above all, it would be more appropriate from any and all environmental stand-points. It’s worthy of thought!
I’m stepping down from the soap box now, and wish everyone cheerier times and peace during the remaining days of 2015.
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. It’s Christmas time in the forest!