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Magnetic North - February 7, 2018

Magnetic North 2/6/18
Combing Out
 
Welcome back to Magnetic North where the first real proof of winter’s coming demise showed itself this week on the tips of my big cashmere goat’s horns. Bosco, a striking cafe latte colored charmer, sported long wisps of cashmere fleece on both of his horns, proof that he and his three lady friends have begun to shed their winter coats. And, like any creature with excess hair, goats itch and scratch that itch with their horns. 
 
I feel bad for dehorned goats. Most dairy goats are, soon after birth, and so have to find a tree or fence post to scratch on.  So why do people dehorned them? Well, some say it is to protect them from each other, or protect us from them. The argument against is that, first off, it hurts to have a red hot iron held to the top of your head.  Duh! And if that isn’t enough for you, goats the blood vessels in goats horns help regulate body temperature in hot weather. And then there is the backscratching thing.
 
That said, one might assume that getting all that extra itching fuzz combed off would be something a goat would love. One would be wrong. None of my current flock, except for Bosco, enjoys being combed out, but I love to do it, and over time I’ve learned a thing or two about getting the job done with minimal stress to the goat and maximum fun for me.
 
First off, I have to catch them. Time was, I spent hours chasing the identified victim around the barn and corral, often sending a volley of invectives into the winter night as I careened around feed pans or trees. Once I got so fed up with a big male named Bubba, who continually escaped the barn into the frigid night, I yelled at him at the top of my lungs, ”Get in there you old “blanket-y-blank” or I’ll shoot you!” Only to have a neighbor call Paul on the phone to ask if he was “alright.” 
 
Since then I have learned that a bribe will get me whatever I desire. Turns out that goats dream of cracked corn, raisins and a bucket of warm water laced with molasses. The only trouble here is that appearing with such a treat bonanza puts me smack in the middle of a goat vortex. So I’ve learned to first rope one at a time, leading all who are not to be combed that day into the garage to wait their turn.
 
When at last only one goat is left outside, I tether him or her to the sturdy corner post of my woodshed and arrange myself on a chair, blocking the critter with the shed on one side and me on the other. Depending on the goat’s mood, the wiggling and bucking finally quits and I can pull my metal comb through her fleece without a fuss. First on the chest, where the softest fiber grows. Then around the neck and over the back and sides. This can take a while, sometimes hours, but time flies by as I see the buildup of  finely crimped cashmere on the comb and my shopping bag filling with clouds of fluff.
 
When each goat has had its spa day, combing and hoof trimming as well as a yearly tetanus shot, I’ll have at least six grocery bags full of cashmere, which I send off to a mill in Wisconsin to be washed and combed into balls about the size of a cantaloupe. If I liked to spin, which I have no patience for, I would feed strands of this ball into a wheel to make yarn. Or I could use it to do needle felting. But I am a knitter and love to use my fiber, from both the goats and my angora rabbits, to make ridiculously warm mittens. I learned a technique called thrumming a few years ago. It‘s a New England invention where you pull off a length of raw fiber, roll it between your palms, then knit the fat little roll into your mitten The result is that the inside of the mitten is packed with loose fiber, soft and warm and virtually water proof. For any of us who have to spend time behind a snow blower, that means a lot.
 
Admittedly, there have been a few comb outs that were, let’s say, less idyllic than they were near death experiences. Once, when I inadvertently cornered a very nervous goat named Nimbus in the barn after combing out another goat, I dropped something and bent over at the waist to pick up the fallen object. I was facing Nimbus, so I guess he thought I was about to make a move on him and he made a break for it, right through my legs! One second I was standing in straw and the next I was astride a terrified goat, riding him backwards through the barn and out into the snowy night of the corral. Neither of us was hurt, but the whole thing did nothing for our future relationship. Some years later though, Nimbus came right up to me as I was doling out feed for his stable mates. It was the first and only time he let me pet him. I figure it was his way of saying no hard feelings and goodbye, because the next morning I found him snuggled down in the hay, at peace at last.
 
For all the work, some heartache, and countless offenses such as debarking three apple trees, consuming rose bushes and any other edible plant they like, in the main, my experiences with goats has been worth every minute. And it is not just about the cashmere. My devotion to my goats is something that I often struggling to explain. When someone asks questions like, “how much fleece do you get?” or “exactly how long does it take you to comb them out?” or “does the fiber pay for their feed?” I am close to being struck dumb. It’s not about numbers, hours, pounds or dollars, so I usually just say, “I don’t really know, I just like goats.”
 
People either get this answer or they don’t. And if they don’t, I have only this to say to them.
Too darned Baaaaaaahed!
 
 
For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.

   

 
 

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Northern Sky: Feb 3 - 16, 2018

Northern Sky  by  Deane Morrison 
Feb. 3-16 2018
 
As we approach the middle of February, the moon spends more and more time in the morning sky, and that's good for everybody who would rather see stars in the evening.
 
This is the best time of year to enjoy all the bright winter constellations I've been talking about. If you go out an hour after sunset, you'll see them in the southeast to south. Sirius is the brightest star of all, and it's also the lowest of the bright winter stars. Sirius is called the Dog Star because it dominates Canis Major, the larger of Orion's hunting dogs. In ancient times, people thought that during the summer, when Sirius appears nearer the sun in the sky, its heat combined with the sun's heat to produce the hottest days of the year, which were dubbed the dog days. Of course, Sirius has nothing to do with it, but when looking at it against a dark winter sky, it's easy to see how people could think that.
 
Sirius is also part of two well-known geometric arrangements of stars. One is the Winter Triangle. Besides Sirius, the stars in the triangle are Procyon, which is above and a little east of Sirius, and reddish Betelgeuse, which is a little west of Procyon. Then there's the Winter Hexagon. Again starting with Sirius, move around clockwise to Procyon, which is in Canis Minor, the little dog; then Pollux, the brighter Gemini twin; Capella, in Bootes the herdsman--this is the highest star in the hexagon; then Aldebaran, the eye of Taurus, the bull; and finally Rigel, in Orion.
 
In the morning sky, the planet show continues. The planets and neighboring stars are moving out of the southeast and into the south now. All three morning planets are rather low, but the highest, brightest and most western one is Jupiter. Moving to the left, or east, the constellation Scorpius has Mars, and below Mars is the gigantic red star Antares, the heart of the scorpion. The bright light to the lower left of Mars and Antares is Saturn. At this point, Mars isn’t especially bright, because it’s about 143 million miles away. But when Earth catches up to it this summer, it’ll be almost four times closer—just 36 million miles away. And pretty darn bright.
 
The moon wanes away to the new phase on February 15th, and on its way it visits the morning planets. Between the 7th and 8th it sweeps by Jupiter. Between the 8th and 9th, it passes Mars. On the 9th, the moon, Mars and Antares will make a nice trio of objects. On the 11th, the moon will be right above Saturn, and Saturn will be right above the lid of the Teapot of Sagittarius. On the 12th, the crescent moon will be sitting in the curved line of stars known as the Teaspoon, which hangs above the handle of the Teapot. On the 13th, the moon will be a lovely thin crescent. On the 16th, a young moon of the next cycle appears in the west, in the sun's afterglow. You'll have to look about half an hour after sunset to see it, and you may catch Venus to the lower right of the moon. This month, Venus is just starting a climb into the evening sky.
 
Also in the evening, look for the pale and elusive zodiacal light in the west as soon as the sky gets dark. The zodiacal light appears as a broad finger, or cone, of light extending up along the sun's path. It's caused by sunlight reflecting off dust in the plane of the solar system. You need dark skies to see it, and if you do, count yourself among the fortunate few.
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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - February 2, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith                     February 2, 2018    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Superior National Forest Update - February 2, 2018

Superior National Forest Update – February 2, 2018.

Hi.  I’m Tom McCann, resource information specialist, with this week’s National Forest Update, a round-up of everything that might affect your visit to the Superior during the next two weeks. 

February 2nd is, of course, Groundhog Day.  Up here in the north woods, the chances of seeing a groundhog, let alone his shadow, on February 2nd, are pretty remote.  Groundhogs are ground dwelling relatives of squirrels, and have an extremely large range stretching from Alaska all the way down to northern Alabama.  They aren’t terribly common in northern Minnesota compared to other parts of the state.  This isn’t because of our weather, it is because in many places the soil here is too shallow to be able to dig a nice tunnel system.   A true hibernator, a groundhog’s burrow has get below the frost line so the animal won’t freeze during the winter months while asleep.  Their burrows are usually a single long tunnel, up to 45 feet long, with a main entrance on one end, and an emergency exit on the other.  There are short side galleries off the main tunnel for sleeping and food storage.  This time of year, you’ll find the groundhog curled up in a hibernation chamber with a slowed heart rate and a body temperature equal to that of the surrounding environment.  It’s been found that hibernators usually rouse a few times during the winter, but sometimes only to the point of normal sleep.  One current theory is that they actually need to do this in order to dream.  Occasionally, a groundhog will rouse enough to eat and possibly poke their nose out of the burrow in midwinter, but I don’t think they really care about their shadow at all.

If you poke your nose out of your warm house and head out into the woods, you’ll find that there are no active timber sales on the Tofte District right now.  On the Gunflint logging trucks are only expected on the Greenwood Road, Firebox Road (dual-use snowmobile trail), Greenwood Lake Boat Access Road, South Brule Road, Lima Grade, and Forest Road 152C off the Lima Grade.  Be particularly cautious on the Firebox Road and 152C because these routes are also used as snowmobile trails.

If it is too cold to go out though, you might be spending some time planning for next summer.  You are now able to make reservations for summer time Boundary Waters entry permits online at Recreation.gov.  If the Boundary Waters isn’t for you, you can also currently make summer reservations for many of the National Forest campgrounds on the same website. 

Speaking of websites, we’ve added a link on our Special Places page to an interactive map of the North Shore Scenic Drive.  We may drive Highway 61 daily, but this map gives others a great look at our North Shore.  Check it out, and send it off to people living in other places so they will be jealous.  Just don’t mention the subzero weather we’re having right now. 

That cold weather does make for excellent star gazing at night.  Cold air is usually more stable than warm air, and visibility is great for celestial objects.  The recent lunar eclipse on the morning of January 31st was a beautiful event that hopefully a lot of people were able to see.  If you were up before dawn to see that, you might also have noticed that Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars are all in the eastern sky before sun up.  It’s a great time to look for these planets if you walk the dog in the morning.

Whether walking the dog, driving Highway 61, or heading into the woods, enjoy the Forest.  Until next time, this has been Tom McCann with the National Forest Update.
 

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Great Expectations School News - February 2, 2018

Great Expectations - School News
with Liv and Siena.
February 2, 2018

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Sawtooth Mountain Elementary - School News January 30, 2018

Sawtooth Mountain Elementary - School News
with Mariya, Graham, and Lauren.

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Great Expectations School News - January 26, 2018

Great Expectations School News - January 26, 2018
with Noah and Eli.

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A sled dog love story with CJ Heithoff

CJ Heithoff has a serious case of sled dog puppy love.

Included in this feature is a segment of her interview from 2000 with Iditarod Musher, Bill Cotter of Nenana, Alaska.

He was in Grand Marais for the Grand Portage Passage Sled Dog Race.

To hear the full interview with Bill Cotter, click here.

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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West End News - January 25

West End News 1/25/18

Before the winter Olympics start up, we have the opportunity to witness some Olympic quality four-legged athletes here at home. This coming weekend, starting on January 28 through the 31st is the annual Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. In it’s 38th year, the Beargrease is the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states and serves as a qualifier for the Alaska Iditarod. This year brings over 60 world class mushers and over 500 volunteers from around the country.  In the full distance marathon you can cheer on local mushers Matt Schmidt from Grand Marais and Blake Freking from Finland.
There are a number of checkpoints in the West End where you can take pictures, hang out a campfire, drink hot chocolate, and of course, watch the amazing canine athletes come and go. Two great spots to see some action are in Finland or at the checkpoint on the Sawbill Trail. To get to the checkpoint on the Sawbill, just drive up the trail, which starts in Tofte at the Tofte General Store, for about 6 miles. You can’t miss the checkpoint as it’s always a big jovial gathering with the dogs napping amongst the trees. If you do come visit, please leave your pets at home, the sled dogs need to be distraction free!
A couple of reminders about the great many services offered in the West End. First, there are two computers with internet access, that are available to the public at Birch Grove Center in Tofte. The computers are in Community Room #1 and anyone is welcome to use them. Birch Grove is open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm. Also located in Community Room #1 is a small community library. Many books have been donated so the shelves are full! Anyone is welcome to take books home to keep or you can exchange for books you are done with.
I know you’re all dying to hear how the great 2018 Minnesota Frozen Butt Hang went. If you recall, this group of hardy winter hammock campers was headed up to the Sawbill campground for a weekend of freezing their butts off in good company. It was quite the gathering with somewhere around 60 people attending. I heard from one fellow from New Orleans that he’d never seen this much snow in his life. Another camper from Kentucky was very impressed by my stroller fitted with skis in place of wheels. He thought it was a new fancy way of carting your gear into the campsite so imagine his surprise when he peeked in and saw an almost 2 year old little girl peeking back up at him!
The group passed the weekend with the time honored winter traditions of many hours next to the campfire and a quick jump in the lake via a large hole they spent the better part of a day cutting out.
Not much to report in the way of ice fishing this week. Last week’s brief thaw, followed by a dusting of snow in the last few days has created fast and slippery travel conditions out on the lakes. It’s a good time to be from the beautiful West End.

For WTIP, I’m Clare Shirley, with the West End News.
 

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