Month two of 2017 along the Gunflint is winding down meek as a “vernal lamb.“ It’s clear “Old Man Winter” has thrown in the towel and headed to the Florida beaches for an early "spring break."
Since we last met another of our oft labeled grizzly winters has totally collapsed. It’s apparently much the same all over the upper Midwest and a good deal of our continent. Pretty sad, if one has affection for this time of year. Think of it, over one-half inch of rain in February!
The Smith's 18th winter in the northland has seen a steady decline in the extreme weather times of historical note. Back as far as only two decades ago, the season would cover six months and sometimes extend into a seventh. With March but days away, it’s fair to say the 2016-17 rendition is going to be lucky if it makes 2-1/2 months. Most of what our winter character has been since December reflects yo-yoing between somewhat cold and ghastly interrupting meltdowns.
I suppose there may be a dip once more, but it is likely not to last long. In the meantime, we are slip sliding along on greasy, slushy muck. The driveway at Wildersmith is like a skating rink for both we pedestrians and the vehicle. A walking trek down the Mile O Pine last Sunday was not easy going either as we meandered from side to side trying to get a grip and remain upright. Ice grippers on the boots are words to the wise!
Nevertheless, the journey was interesting as signs of this spring fling engulfed the forest surroundings. The warmth had dissipated the usual crispness in the air, and softness of snow underfoot has lost its crunchy conversational vibes. So our stroll was quiet save for an energized tweet from an occasional bird overhead or a snowmobile slogging through the Gunflint Lake slush.
Furthermore, there was a slight scent of damp earth in places, where the now powerful sun, had dispatched thin snow cover from the plowed road surface. Yet one more confirmation of winter's current demise, finds those rings of bare earth at the base of trees beginning to show up, indicating warm juices of life are beginning to rise heavenward. About the next thing to appear will be liquid gouging away at back country roads, and a wake-up of the first buzzing critters.
All these warm tidings are what they are. The quality of winter activities is diminishing to an extent as the onset of “mud season” barrels down on us.
I’m guessing organizers of the annual snowmobile races held along the shores at Hungry Jack Lodge last Saturday feel blessed to have gotten their event completed amidst the oozing conditions.
And, it must be troubling for our Trail businesses maintaining cross country ski trails to see their efforts evaporating so prematurely, although I’m told they are still ski-able.
Added evidence of our hasty cold departure is found on the Gunflint Trail blacktop. The annual heaving of our “road to civilization” is already dishing up those bone jarring speed bumps in the usual places. Hitting the first big dip unexpectedly certainly gets one's attention and sets the tone of what’s ahead for us users over the next several weeks.
As I stated during our late January meltdown, this round of similar atmospheric happenings must once again be a confusing time for critters of the “wild neighborhood.” I’m sure they are adapting though, based on the increased exuberance around the yard. The winter regulars remain and it appears some ahead of avian migrants are infiltrating the ranks as they head back north.
Conditions remaining on the warm side will soon serve to rouse “Brunos” of the territory. In fact they might be rolling over right now. Like we humans, with the short duration of their nap time this year, we could possibly expect mama and papa bear to be on the grouchy side?
Last but not least, members of the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack are not at our door, but after not observing tracks for a few weeks, they have returned to the yard and along the Mile O Pine on nightly sojourns. It’s too bad there are so few deer hunting opportunities, but no deer is great for those of us nurturing young conifers throughout the Gunflint environment of blowdown and wildfire hauntings.
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where even warm melty days are great, and offer promise for the coming next generation of wilderness beings.