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North Shore Weekend

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  • Saturday 7-10am
Genre: 
Variety
Host CJ Heithoff brings you this Saturday morning show, created at the request of WTIP listeners.  North Shore Weekend features three hours of community information, features, interviews, and music. It's truly a great way to start your weekend on the North Shore. Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP’s North Shore Weekend are made possible with funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

 

 


What's On:

Northern Sky: March 4 - 17

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota, where she authors the Minnesota Starwatch column.

As the equinox approaches, the night-time hours are shrinking fast, especially near the polar regions. Look for the Hyades cluster, with Aldebaran within the constellation of Taurus, the Bull. The full "worm" moon can be seen on March 12. Mars and Venus will separate in the first half of March. Saturn can be seen in the pre-dawn sky, near the "teapot" of Sagittarius.

 

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The Gunflint Trail Historical Society is planning an exhibit on the Ham Lake wildfire for this summer

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 3

Our “spring fling” cooled its heels as I key this week's Gunflint scoop. The crisp turn around has made for crusty remains over our northern landscape. Snow leftovers have frozen into a compact mass of almost solid ice.

In concert with our frozen failure of the past couple of weeks, debris that has been drifting down out of the forest with each passing breeze is now exposed, making for unsightly litter on our once untouched white carpet.

Our semi-winter-like revival leading to such brittle ground level conditions surely authenticates our Ojibwe neighbors, honoring our month three full lunar experience, as the “crust on the snow” moon. Such a moniker is most fitting right now.

According to the snow depth on the Wildersmith roof before February’s winter downfall, I approximate the loss of nearly two feet of snow. The spared hard-pack is measured now in only inches depending upon one’s location in the upper Gunflint.

A brief dusting in this neighborhood last weekend did little more than cover up a few sun drenched bare patches. For the record, around this place, we’ve not received any significant measureable fluff since the 10th of this past month. If not for the unseasonal rain during the warm-up, I’d say the area is heading toward a long dry time until green-up.

This would suggest the area might be in for dangerous wildfire conditions should the moisture “gods” not intervene once the snow cover disappears. Thought should be given by area property owners to begin planning for re-upping of wildfire sprinkler systems soon as lake ice is out.

Speaking of wildfire, the Gunflint community will be recognizing the 10th anniversary of the Ham Lake fire tragedy of May 5, 2007. I’m told the Trail Volunteer Fire Department is planning a gathering on the corresponding 2017 anniversary weekend. The event is intended to reflect on those tragic days in our history and to celebrate survival and glorious rebirth. More information will be made as it becomes available.

In addition, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society, in partnership with WTIP and the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee, will likewise be memorializing the historical event at the Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center with a new temporary exhibit for this summer. Further, exhibit space will be devoted to more than just the Ham Lake happening, but also an expanded look at fire history of the territory.

The GTHS will be hosting an official grand opening of their display on July 4th. However, the new display will be up for visitors when museum & nature center opens for the season on Memorial Day weekend.

In the meantime, these organizing partners are still seeking commentary from area folks who have a story to tell of their lives during the raging days of fire and turbulence. These stories will be preserved in audio, video and/or printed media for perpetuity. If one has a story of our inferno history to share, please make a contact with the GTHS at 388-9915 or Joe at WTIP 387-1070 for more information.

With the “Vernal” season at the cusp, sounds of the times are augmenting with each passing day. Since our last meeting on the radio, crows have returned to our Mile-O-Pine vicinity with a murder of conversation.  

In regard to sounds of creatures in our “wild neighborhood” an interesting and amusing feature in the Jan/Feb. issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer takes a look at some northland noisemakers. Authored by Mary Hoff, the review titled “Squeaks, Whistles, Grunts and Hummms” examines how and why untamed critters communicate messages to kin and others, including maybe us invasive beings. As we get closer to this spring concert of natures’ choir, I suggest it as inspiring reading in preparation.

With winter on the downslide, a couple of end of season events highlight the calendar over the next two weekends. The first of such is the Cook County Snowmobile Club trout derby. This annual event on Gunflint Lake takes place this Sunday, March 5. Ice angler registrations run from 9 to 11 am with all catches to be weighed in by 2 pm. In addition to hard water fishing, prizes drawings, food and fun are the order for the day.   

The following weekend (March 12th) goes to the dogs, as the “Dog Days of Winter” happens in the mid-Trail area on Poplar Lake. Lots of fun and unique activities are scheduled for folks of all ages. For more immediate details check out the Trail Center Restaurant Dog Days of Winter website, and I’ll have more info in next week's report.

Let’s hope the staggering “old man of the north” can hang on just a bit longer to see these Gunflint pastimes are not complicated by another display of his wimpiness.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, and chronicled in natural mystery!
 

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West End News: March 2

This week’s West End News is brought to you with a theme: Civic engagement. Don’t turn down the dial, this is important stuff! Let’s start with the local level.

The townships of Schroeder, Tofte, and Lutsen are all gearing up for their annual meetings, coming right up on March 14 this year. All three townships will hold elections for township positions from 5-8 pm on March 14, followed immediately by the annual meeting. Schroeder will be voting and meeting at the Schroeder Town Hall, Tofte residents can vote and meet at Birch Grove, and Lutsen folks will vote and convene at the Lutsen Town Hall.

In Schroeder, there is a race for one open supervisor seat. Marion McKeever, known as Bill, currently holds the seat and is being challenged by Rick Anderson. In Tofte, Craig Horak is running for the 3 year supervisor term. Craig is currently appointed to the seat left vacant by Paul James. Jeanie Larson, a current supervisor, is running for the 1 year supervisor term. Sam Crowley is running a write-in campaign for the 1 year supervisor term. If you would like to vote absentee for Tofte, call the town clerk at 370-0763 to get set up. The clerk will also be available for absentee voting on March 11, at the Tofte Town Hall from 10am to noon. Lastly, Lutsen resident Christine Ordemann has announced her intent to run as a write-in candidate for the open supervisor seat. If you’d like to vote absentee in Lutsen, call their town clerk at 663-7002 or email her at lutsentownship@gmail.com. Same as Tofte, you can vote absentee at the Lutsen Town hall from 10am-noon on March 11, prior to the March 14 meeting.

If you aren’t registered to vote, don’t let that deter you! You can register to vote at the polls. So if you’re interested in who is making decisions in your town, what they’ve been up to and what the year ahead looks like, by all means attend the election and annual meetings. Again, the meetings are all at 8pm on March 14, at the Schroeder Town Hall, Birch Grove, and the Lutsen Town Hall.

On the state level, Lutsen resident Molly O’Neill is headed to St. Paul. Last fall, Molly participated in a listening session in Grand Marais held to discuss challenges and successes of women in rural MN. Molly shared her story about the difficulty of living and working in rural Minnesota and paying her monthly student loan bill. Molly’s story is simultaneously very personal and very relatable. As a somewhat recent college and law school graduate, I know more than my fair share of people in the same situation as Molly. They are educated, motivated, and gainfully employed in rural settings, yet still struggle due to their student loan debt. Molly has been invited to share her story in the form of testimony before the Higher Ed Committee at the Minnesota Legislature. The Committee is considering a bill that would establish a loan forgiveness program for individuals working in greater Minnesota. The West End is proud that Molly will be there to represent us!

On the national scene, Lutsen native Jessica Chenevert is in D.C. this week with the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association for the annual Congenital Heart Legislative Conference. The conference brings together patients, parents, providers, and partner organizations to advocate for awareness and funding for congenital heart disease. Inspired by her son Barrett, who was born with Transposition of the Great Arteries two and half years ago, Jessica has become a veteran advocate for more funding, research, and awareness for the #1 birth defect. As the full time social media coordinator for the Association, Jessica is in D.C. telling her personal story as well as supporting other newer advocates. All told, 183 advocates will be meeting with their representatives in the House and Senate to share their stories and ask the legislators to co-sponsor the Congenital Heart Futures Reauthorization Act. This year, they will be asking for 7 million dollars to support surveillance and awareness activities aimed at addressing the public health impact of Congenital Heart Disease across the lifespan of those living with CHD. You can read more about their mission and how you can help at conqueringchd.org. This is Jessica’s third year attending the conference in D.C. Each year she has taken on more of a leadership role, and I feel confident that I can speak for us all in the West End when I say that we are very proud of her!

So there you have it, our very own West Enders are out there making a difference, from right here at home, to St. Paul, all the way to D.C. If you are interested in becoming involved, I encourage you to take that first step. It turns out the old cliché is true, one person really can make a difference.

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

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Mr. Kitty

Sunny's Back Yard: The story of Mr. Kitty

Sunny has lived off-grid in rural Lake County for the past 18 years and is a regular commentator on WTIP. Here she talks about what's been happening in Sunny's Back Yard, and also shares a story about a feral cat's transition from the wild to ruler of the household.

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Changing winter weather on the Gunflint

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 24

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 labled 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 Mamma 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. 
 

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OCA Deep Winter Greenhouse in Finland

West End News: February 23

As is often stated, the West End communities are like a big family. Mostly happy, occasionally dysfunctional, but we certainly have love for our neighbors and are quick to raise a helpful hand when needed. There is perhaps no better example of this than our volunteer fire departments and EMS squads. There is an outstanding amount of training, time, attention to detail, and work that goes into these departments that are here to help us in our times of crisis.

This week, we are celebrating the completion of a vehicle sell and swap of sorts that occurred between the Lutsen, Tofte and Grand Marais EMS squads. Just like a family, the EMS departments negotiated a couple of vehicle sales to each other to help everyone get what they needed. The Lutsen squad is the proud new owner of a new rescue unit. In turn, they sold their Ford Excursion to Tofte. Tofte then turned around and sold their Chevy suburban to the EMS department in Grand Marais. The result is that all three squads now have vehicles that are large enough to carry the appropriate rescue gear when they respond to calls.

Tofte’s purchase of the Ford from Lutsen was funded in part by a grant from the North Shore Health Care Foundation. The Foundation awarded $7,500 to the Tofte EMS, despite not typically funding this type of equipment. They made an exception though, thanks to the high level of cooperation and the mutual benefit to all the EMS groups. North Shore Health Care Foundation Executive Director Karl Hansen says they were thrilled to contribute to such a good cause.

I’ve always known that Finland, Minnesota, is home to the Organic Consumers Association or OCA. What I didn’t always realize was just how big a deal the OCA really is. According to their website, the OCA is a non-profit organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability. They represent over two million online and on the ground network members, including several thousand businesses. And their home base is right next door in Finland!

This past weekend the OCA and the Northeast Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnership hosted an open house at the OCA in Finland highlighting their new deep winter greenhouse. What is that? I’m so glad you asked! A deep winter greenhouse is a passive solar greenhouse, built to be used to grow produce throughout the winter. The greenhouse has a large south-facing wall designed to capture the maximum amount of solar energy. The base of the structure has a 4-foot deep rock heat sink, and fans are used to circulate the warm air. The result is an environment well suited to growing crops that thrive in low-light and low-heat conditions.

The partnership is working with producers and community groups across Minnesota to test a prototype design of these greenhouses. The OCA will be tracking the results of their work in this greenhouse, providing information to help develop local food economies. Support for the project comes from the University of Minnesota Extension, MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures, University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment and a consortium of agriculture lending banks.

Access to local, high quality, produce is an important part of a healthy community. Obviously, that can be a challenge for communities like ours, where the growing season is so short. We are so very fortunate to have organizations like the OCA right here among us, working diligently to develop and implement creative and sustainable solutions to these long-time problems.

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

(Photo by Trevor Huggins)

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Illustration of the zodiacal light

Northern Sky: February 18 - March 3

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota, where she authors the Minnesota Starwatch column.

Jupiter is now rising before midnight; Mars can still be seen in the west; uranus appears as a blue dot near Mars. Look to the west after sunset for zodiacal light. Winter stars are still high in the south after nightfall.

(Photo by Stuart Rankin on Flickr)

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The patient pine grosbeak.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 17

Weather in the Wildersmith neighborhood has settled back into a more moderate tone after having to move snow on four out of the last seven days of week two. None of the separate applications were anything to write home about, but in total added up to just a bit over a foot around here.

A snowy follow up provided a brief cold snap, but has since mellowed into a warmer time in the upper Gunflint as February heads toward its final lap. By the way, this part of the world missed out on the full lunar experience for month two as clouds squelched the giant cheesy icon in the heavens.

With March waiting in the wings, I find it unimaginable, how the days fly by. Guess the sands of time grow finer and flow faster than one would expect as some of us get into our autumn years. Memory still finds me recollecting how long the days seemed when I was a kid.

This Valentine time of year finds love is in the air for not only those of us on two legs, but also for canid species in our “wild neighborhood.” It’s mating time for wolves, and other such critters.                                                                                                                                                                  
Speaking of wolves, a trio was observed in the back yard of some folks in the mid-Trail area, and another gray duo has been captured with regularity on a trail cam at a residence along the south shore of Gunflint Lake. 

As it relates to territorial wolf packs, one has to wonder about their diet what with the venison opportunities in these parts non-existent. My guess is the snowshoe hare numbers must be taking a big hit. This in turn could reflect on Canadian lynx frequencies as bunnies are their favorite fare. Survival in our ecosystem is highly competitive, and replete in never ending challenges!

The Smiths had an uncommon visit from a trio of pine martens recently. While marten visitors come in as singletons most of the time, this three-pack looked to be possibly related. The best guess might be a mom and a pair of young’uns.

My suspicion of their being related comes from the fact these smaller ones were compatible in a feed shelter munching sunflower seeds, while the apparent adult accompaniment did not scare them off as is the case when multiples have arrived simultaneously at other times. Whatever the case, the enjoyable observation went on for some time before they bound off into the woods, having cleaned up all the poultry parts and scarfing through bird seed left-overs.

Daily life in the wildlands seems to offer an experience/observation that probably has been going on for eons without notice, only to suddenly come to my attention. Such is the case at our avian seed tray.

Whereas air traffic here is busier than most international airports, I recently took note of one winged species that exhibits a most unusual patience before approaching to dine. Most of the visiting flying folk dart in, peck away hurriedly, and flit off in the blink of an eye.

In the meantime, the brilliant rose blush male pine grosbeaks and their muted female counterparts sit patiently in the adjacent branches waiting for a lull in the activity before getting a chance at sustenance. Their willingness to wait a turn seemingly parallels an airliner in a holding pattern. Interestingly enough, when the handsome birds finally settle in to partake it’s as a group, very mannerly and family like.

While often being driven off by the business of other incoming flights, they calmly go back to their perches to idle for another opening. My observation is they are uniquely easy going, perhaps even philosophic in stoic perseverance. We humans could surely take a little of this pine grosbeak behavior under one's wing, (no pun intended).

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is fabulous, and chock full of mystery and adventure!

Photo by Kristin Maling, Flickr
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Ethical owl photo

West End News: February 16

What do birders and Harry Potter fans have in common? Both are delighted with the irruption of owls we are experiencing this winter. Every several years, the conditions align in such a way that the elusive owls are seen with some regularity along the backroads, and even in backyards, of the West End. I’ve seen residents and visitors alike posting pictures of Great Gray, Barred, Saw-Whet and even Snowy owls so far this year.

These photographs are being taken and shared by amateurs and professionals. Irruptions of owls create an opportunity for everyone to observe these magnificent birds in their natural habitat and perhaps even capture a great picture. This has given rise to a great ethical debate. That is, is it ethical to bait owls in order to get an action shot?

Baiting owls is the practice of releasing mice, often purchased from a pet store, in the vicinity of an owl. The owl, rendered almost helpless by instinct, will pounce on the mouse, giving photographers the money shot. Owl baiting is not illegal in Minnesota. What is illegal, is releasing an animal (in this case a mouse) in a State Park, State Forest, or Wildlife Management Area.

Here is the debate. Some owl baiters are professional photographers under pressure to get the much sought after action shots. Some will only offer an owl a few mice, on infrequent occasions, away from roads. Others argue that owls are starving, so feeding them mice is actually doing them a favor.

The other side points out that baiting owls often does much more harm than any potential good. From a photography standpoint, selling pictures of baited owls is not the same as capturing an owl hunting naturally in the wild. These staged photos are tantamount to fakes to many photographers. More importantly, the practice of feeding a wild animal is harmful to the owl. First, there is the problem of introducing pet store mice to these wild raptors, there is no guarantee that the mice are disease free. Second, the owls quickly become habituated to people. This is why owl baiting is different from feeding birds at your bird feeder, those birds retain their sense of self-preservation. Habituated owls are also more likely to be hit by cars, once they are accustomed to being fed by people near roads and vehicles. Third, feeding owls changes their wild behavior. Routine access to an easy food source can have a detrimental effect on owls’ hunting behavior and even their migratory patterns.

I invite you to draw your own conclusions about the practice of baiting. Personally, I will be more aware of a photographer’s ethical practices before hitting the ‘like’ button, or purchasing a print.

By popular demand, Birch Grove School is now selling spiritwear. Now you too can rep your favorite West End school with a cool blue shirt sporting the Birch Grove logo. Adult and kids T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts, and beanies are all available. The online store is only open until February 28, so be sure to place your order before then. A link to the online store is included the West End News text on the wtip.org website here.

We were happy to return to so much new snow after our trip to Paris. We were even happier that Bill and a few friends pitched in to shovel all that snow off our roofs while we were away, now that’s a good house-sitter! While in Paris, we visited the Le Marais neighborhood. Le Marais is full of unique and forward thinking concept shops. While window shopping we saw three different Minnesota companies being featured. That’s right, the fashionistas in Paris are wearing Red Wing boots and Minnetonka Moccasins! We also spotted some Epicurean kitchen utensils in the famous concept store Merci. It appears Le Marais and Grand Marais have more in common than one would expect.

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

(Photo by Danielle Fortin)

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North Woods Naturalist: Sunflower seeds

How do some birds so expertly extract seeds from their shells and then digest them? WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about sunflower seeds, crops and gizzards.

(Photo by Pirhan on Flickr)

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