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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:

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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Magnetic North - January 24

Magnetic North 1/23/18
Commuting by Memory
 
Welcome back to Magnetic North, where warmer weather had folks walking about outside in shirtsleeves until it plunged back down near zero, The change in temperature is nowhere more visible than when driving Hwy 61 along the lake, which, just a week ago looked more like a huge steaming cauldron than a body of water.
 
Sub-zero air teased clouds of mist off the big lake, sending droplets of water that may have been there for hundreds of years on a new journey over the land. It was gorgeous to watch, as the last of the great lakers sailed close to shore, bound for port Duluth. Imagining what life must be like out there on those icy decks makes me shiver. I hear the crews eats like royalty, but still....
 
There are many familiar markers and memories along that 15 mile stretch of highway between home and town. For example, there’s one scraggly alder bush that continues to amaze me with every passing winter. She is remarkable enough to have kept her footing on the shallow soil, rooted as she is within a scant ten feet of the water’s edge. But this time of year she stands encased in ice, buffeted by waves and wind. The weight of all that ice would seem a crushing burden, but year after year she bears it. Thawing and leafing out when spring comes again. So many times I promise myself to take a picture of her in her ice cloak. But I needn’t really. 
 
As I pass one place after another on my drive, I recall past scenes more clearly than any camera could capture.
 
There is the beach across from the Outpost Motel, where once I chased an injured snow goose for close to an hour in a vain attempt to rescue her. A friend helped, but each time we got close to the creature she would flap her great buff grey wings, and hobble into a large drainage pipe that ran under the road onto the beach. Finally, I gave up. I told myself that this was “her time,” and all that rot. But each time I pass that beach, the scene plays out again. And so do my regrets.
 
Then there is the seasonal waterfall near to Five Mile Rock, where, on a bright Sunday morning on my way to church, a deer ran in front of my car with a wolf hot on its tail. Again, I was in rescue mode, pulling my car over and hitting the horn. The wolf, stopped for a bit, just long enough for the deer to bound away uphill. And another few blasts of my horn sent the predator loping off in the opposite direction from his prey.  Again, as I pass that spot, I often play out the scenario, this time with a satisfied feeling. 
 
Then there is the ditch alongside the highway in Tofte that conjures up a particularly vivid memory. Paul and I were headed for Duluth one day when we spied a deer carcass on the lake side of the road. We saw also that there were a fair number of happy critters dining on it., lined up along it’s body like a family at a picnic table. There were four of them, three bright black ravens and one furry red fox, all chewing and pecking away at their treasure, the very picture of a peaceable kingdom. Now THAT would have been a photo I would have paid good money to get.
 
Five Mile Rock is my favorite memory spot on the commute. It is the place where my late friend, John Anderson, wished to have his ashes aimed. That’s right, aimed. You see, John’s friend, Chuck owns a small canon, which he hauls out and shoots off on special occasions. Doesn’t everybody? Anyway, when John saw his end approaching, he asked Chuck to load his cremates into the canon and shoot them in the direction of Five Mile Rock on July 4th.
 
It wasn’t just the spectacle, John was an avid fisherman, so to be shot into a body of water he had often plied for fish was a brilliant wish. Many of John’s friends gathered that July 4th at a home on the bluff just above Five Mile Rock. Chuck had alerted law enforcement of his plans, and a good thing too. For just as he aimed the canon full of ashes at the rock, a small fishing craft motored abreast of the target area. Well, we all knew there was no cannonball in the thing. And we knew that Chuck was not a man to dilly dally around until the fishermen decided to quit the rock. But the fellows in the boat were missing some of this vital information.
 
When the blast from the canon came, we all cheered. Then we howled with laughter as the little boat stood practically on end motoring full speed away. Rumor had it that they called the law and I would have given anything to have heard that conversation. “What do you mean he had permission?”  As the saying goes, “Welcome to Cook County!”
 
All in all, it was perfect sendoff for John, a man who loved a good laugh as much as anyone I ever knew.
 
There are more places, more memories along those miles I drive so often: a runaway pot belly pig, a sudden ditching on black ice, the eagles, my spirit animal, flying overhead every single time I went to get chemotherapy in Duluth. So many odd, funny, mystical scenes playing out over and over. And, like a favorite movie or tune, they never, ever get old.
 
For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North
 
 

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Supermoon by Alex Galicia

Northern Sky: Jan 20 - Feb 2, 2018

Northern Sky by Deane Morrison  for January 20 through February 2, 2018.

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota.
 She authors the Minnesota Starwatch column, and in this feature
she shares what there is to see in the night sky in our region.

Deane Morrison’s column “Minnesota Starwatch” can be found on the
University of Minnesota website at     astro.umn.edu.

 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 19

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith   January 19, 2018    
Winter remains REAL (with a capital R) along the Gunflint as we end week three of the New Year. Another run of frosty north land persona has showed determined grit since we last gathered around the radio.                                                                                                                                                                            
With exception of a one day respite of semi-warmth in this neighborhood, the thermometers have been stuck in the minus category, matching the previous two weeks. Even on the day we did feel a bit of warmth, our winter wasn’t compromised as clouds opened up and dropped little over one-half foot of snow along the Mile-O-Pine. Since then we’ve even added a little more.  
                                                                                                                                                        
It’s anyone’s guess as to what will come next, but a good bet on cold makes sense, since this time of the seasonal calendar is usually the coldest of all.   
                                                                     
Cold as it’s been outside, cold has also been a problem indoors here at Wildersmith. I don’t mean the living conditions, though.     
                                                                                                                                
This household has been sick with an ugly upper respiratory crud since we came home from the Gunflint Mail Run. If listeners heard last weeks’ broadcast you no doubt realized I was not in usual voice.    
                                                                                                                                                          
Feeling pretty punky, it was a raspy struggle. I apologize for my congested attempt, but the news must be heard. If any listeners had trouble understanding my plugged up jargon, you might want to visit the WTIP Wildersmith archives and read the website (WTIP.org) posting for January 12. It will likely be clearer reading than it was as an audio.                                                                                                                                                   
In any event, after being housebound, except for a run to the mail box and an occasional trip to the woodshed over the past week, our physical status appears to be on the upswing commencing this weeks’ scoop last Sunday evening. Thanks to mounds of nasal tissues, routine gulps’ of adult Tussin and bowls of hot soup, I think we’ll live. And, yes, we each had our flu shots!                                                                                                                                                          
Meanwhile, since my connections to the wild land world have been limited, people happenings have not been heard. However, we’ve been entertained by hungry critters the likes of which are hard to comprehend when conditions have been so frigid. Like “water is life”, so too is a “full tummy” in the “wild neighborhood.”                                                                                                                                                                           
We have marveled at the activity of pine martens at seemingly all hours of the day and into the night. It can be hard to differentiate one from another, but for sure there are no less than three and perhaps maybe twice that many, based on efforts to distinguish one furry critter from next. 
                                                                                                                                                           
Lately, we’ve had a few table left-overs lately that I put out for the blue jays (they’ll eat anything) and have discovered these martens have taken to them more readily than expected, in spite of knowing, they prefer raw meat to anything processed.                                                                                      
A left-over portion of scalloped ham and potatoes was dished out recently, and although the jaybirds swooped in for more than their share, an observant marten found it to be suitable too as it munched on the sliced taters, interesting.                                                                                  
The complexity of what hunger is for all beings in creation is renewed daily, right here in our simple north woods setting. Nobody should have to go hungry!     
                                                   
On a closing note, the trout season is now open on border lakes and several anglers braved the bitterness on Gunflint Lake last weekend. According to a few reports, the trout were hanging out below the twenty inches of ice, but not real interested in providing a fisherman’s dinner.   
                                                                                                                                                                   
My good friend down the road, who always seems to catch, like a “green thumb” gardener (with uncanny success), and his buddies brought a few onto the ice. However, he too indicated none were of the whopper variety. As often happens, one to write home about only made it half way onto the ice before breaking off and taking an underwater hike. For sure, there’ll be better days ahead, as there was never an angler born, who isn’t, an eternal optimist! 
                                                                                                                                          
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with the magnetism for hard water fishing a pulling delight! 
 

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Magnetic North - January 17

Magnetic North 1/15/17
 
Critter Catch and Release
 
Welcome back to Magnetic North where daily snowfall reveals fresh critter tracks every morning. On my chore rounds to coop and barn, I spy the telltale prints of field mice, and snowshoe hares, along with a few more concerning paw marks. The wily fox visits each night and often at dawn, sniffing out the flock of bantam chickens, ducks and two geese snugged up in the hay storage side of my garage.
 
But old Wiley can sniff all he wants. I keep the garage door and coop hatch shut tight at dusk and my two big Lab, Jethro and Zoey, often chase the handsome redhead across the meadow and into the woods by day, allowing the birds safe sunbathing outside, even on  the coldest of days. 

That is not to say there haven’t been loses over the years.. The chicken wire run has been breached by tenacious martens and raccoons.. Stubborn turkeys and guinea hens have resisted my efforts to put them in at night, paying the ultimate price for their brief freedom. And hardest to bear, there have been lapses on my part -a garage door left ajar, or the coop hatch I forgot to close.
 
And so, I have lost birds to pine martens, skunks, coyotes, raccoons and foxes.And even though I know that the predators are only doing what nature tells them to do, I am bitter, even vengeful. But over time, I think I’ve struck a workable method of dealing with the inevitable outcome of keeping domestic creatures in the midst of wild ones.
 
All of the marauders mentioned, except for fox and coyotes, I’ve successfully coaxed into Havahart traps. Skunks proved to be the trickiest to deal with humanely, for obvious reasons. And for those who say that skunks are just big pussycats who can be covered up with a tarp, then carried to a distant place and release without spraying, I say this: give me your phone number and I’ll pay you a hundred bucks to do that for me next time I catch one. 
 
Time was, Paul would dispatch trapped predators with the 22 rifle he got as a twelve year old boy for Christmas. He was a great shot and did the deed well. I can’t shoot straight and, for my own health and safety, prefer not to have a weapon in the house. For these reasons, over time I have become a catch and release fan. 
 
Oh, I did toy with the idea of snaring for a while after my pet goose, Ziva, was killed last winter. She was snatched by a fox in the middle of the day when the dogs were inside. Ziva was a dear thing, not the least bit mean. When I visited her quarters on bitter cold winter nights, the big grey and white African goose would waddle up to me as I sat on a bale of straw and wait for me to pick her up and unzip my parka so she could stick her head inside. It must have reminded her of being a gosling under her mamas wing. For me, it was like holding a big feather pillow, only with a beating heart and cold feet. I miss her every night on chore rounds, as her babies, Thelma and Louise, are not so much cuddly as combative.
 
So when I lost Ziva to a fox, I had blood in my eye and took to researching snares. I knew where the fox came and went from its tracks in the snow. He -or she- made a path off the driveway into a willow stand. The slender willows were perfect for setting up snare lines. After measuring and plotting the wire placement, I asked a friend who knew about such things what he thought my choice of location and chances for success.
 
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked me. . “Have you thought it through?”
 
I had not. 
 
“Well, the thing is,” my friend told me, “it’s not going to be pretty. The animal is going to be frantic, caught by a foot or by the neck. And right off the driveway?....What happens when you let Zoey and Jethro (my dogs) out? Are you going to borrow a gun? It won’t stand still, you know, so you’ll probably end up making a mess of it.....”” and so forth. 
 
Frankly, he had me at “it’s not going to be pretty.” The snare wire is still in the garage. And the fox is still coming, like clockwork, at dusk and dawn, outracing Zoey and Jethro across the meadow at other times. 
 
Howsoever, also in the garage are three sizes of Havahart traps. Wonderful devices that look like big wire breadboxes, with spring-loaded doors that snap shut after the hungry varmint enters and steps on a metal plate where I’ve placed stinky tidbits. The biggest Havahart snapped shut on an enormous raccoon, who clung to the wire piteously until I released her. The small traps have imprisoned three pine martens. All of them, like the raccoon, left the farm alive in my car with road trip treats to keep them happy on their way to their new hunting grounds.
 
When get to the release point - a good 15 miles from my farm - and set the Harahart on the ground, I open the trap door and sing, “Born free, free as the wind blow, free as the grass grows, born freeeeeeee.....” After a momentary confusion as to where the heck they are, the little criminals can’t get away from the sound of my voice fast enough.
 
So yes, this isn’t the eye for an eye punishment I feel like bestowing when I find a favorite goose missing, or a poor duck so badly injured that I have to put her down, but revenge is, as they say, a dish best served cold. I take that to mean that to punish an offender when in the grip of grief and rage is folly and just makes matters worse.. 
 
It’s not exactly the Annie Oakley image of myself I had when I moved to this wild and wonderful place. But it’s one I can live with. And so can the critters who live here too.
 
 
For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs Anderson with Magnetic North.
 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint January 12

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       January 12, 2018  
  

As was expected, our days’ long cold spell has been tempered. A break in the fifteen day “tsunami” of consecutive below zero hours at Wildersmith happened last Saturday afternoon.

Southerly winds ushered in some warm air nudging the mercury above the nothing mark in a remarkable turn-around from minus thirty-four just after daylight that morning. Then by next day, it was a venerable heat wave as temps soared to the teens, and the sudden January thaw contributed a couple inches of snow. The white stuff is something we’ve seen little of in this neighborhood for nearly a month.

Conditions as they have been, it seems remarkable that water is still seeping from the hills around us. One would think the bitter cold would stop this mini glacier making process dead in the ground. However, such is not the case along the Mile O Pine and most other back country roads in the County.

Water is trickling into roadside ditches, building to near the travel surface level in icy stratums as it gets exposed to the frigid air. The build-up of ice at drain culverts is often something to behold and it changes daily. It is intriguing to think this is a micro-process that likely created real glaciers thousands of years ago.                                                                                                          

This same amassing of hard water is true with many crystal stalactite formations observable on rock outcroppings in several places along the Trail. Whereas ice causes angst in many situations, if one is into ice sculpture, the crystalline elements created in many places through-out the Gunflint and Arrowhead are just another example of the majesty “Mother Nature” fashions in cooperation with “old man winter”.                                                                                                                                                                       

The Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Races of last weekend were held in traditional, tough winter atmosphere. With temps hovering at thirty some below, the energy; of dogs anxious to run, enthusiasm of mushers, handlers and administrative volunteers was nevertheless, at fever pitch. One would never have thought about the weather causing a stoppage, and it didn’t.                                                       

Sights and sounds of this historical, revival seemed to reverberate throughout the upper Trail. To say the event was colorful is an understatement.  Human cover-ups protecting against the bitter elements were varied as every person on the scene, even including the paw booties on the stars of the show.                                                                                                                             

While a lot of mechanical things didn’t want to start, much less run smoothly in the frosty conditions, the dogs did, and so did the people involved. Yours truly was privy to many observations of the activities, but time does not allow a total recounting.                                                                                                                      

Among notable scenarios were the early morning haze of breathing dogs, people, and cold vehicle emissions hovering over the mid-Trail neighborhood in anticipation of what was to about to take place.                                                                                                                                                                   

Just before eight AM, the view of dogs being led to the start line with mushers’ faces already framed in frosted beards, exposed hair and hat lines is forever a scene to captivate. The approach to the “on your marks” location portrayed organized chaos as handlers strained to contain this canine energy which erupted from the time they are harnessed to the moment the starter cut them loose. There they go!                                                                                                                                

Meanwhile, out on the trail, at various check-points, my viewing found un-countable volunteers hanging around campfires doing their duties to keep racers safe while tracking and reporting race progress back to headquarters.                                                                                                                                                    
Perhaps the greatest view is a team of steaming dogs, tongues hanging out, rounding a curve in dead serious silence. While their trail boss is bringing up the rear; often running, pushing and riding, covered in facial frost with his/her back snow covered in testament of fluff being kicked up from the steady seven to nine mile per hour pace.                                                                                          
Hours later, the first leg is over, with the mandatory lay-over. It’s time for dinner, drink and bedding down for R & R as the view becomes one of calm, a different quiet now for man and his eight or twelve best friends.                                                                                                                                                                 
Six hours later, the view of energy to be un-leashed is revived. Sounds bark to life once more as the harness comes out, let’s do this again. As if they were just getting going for the first time, exuberance to run and pull explodes again, and they’re off. This time the teams are into the silence of growing darkness and now, blowing snow.                                                                                                  
The view is much different for this final leg, next to impossible. It must seem as if they were running into a dark hole. Quiet of the woods remains golden as teams trudge along under cloud shrouded heavens. Their only guiding light coming from the mushers’ head lamp and a twinkle of red flickering on the lead dog, passing check-point after check-point heading to the final turn.                                                                                                                                               
But the teams are out there, somewhere. The challenge of navigating this remote territory after dark seems incomprehensible and even worse over a long lake toward the finish line in blinding, wind driven snow.                                                                                                                                                                                    
Long hours of hushed grinding it out is about to end in the darkest wee hours of the next morning with a view of Trail Center lights culminating the two days.   
                              
Hey, they all came back, it’s over! All teams were winners for having endured difficult conditions regardless of this being a relatively short race in terms of miles covered. As this was a competition though, Joanna Oberg was the finish leader in the eight dog class, while Ryan Reddington repeated his 2017 finish, leading the twelve dog teams to the finish line for 2018.                                                                                                                               
Congratulations to all participants for choosing the Gunflint Mail Run! And thanks to all organizers, sponsors and volunteers for putting on a spectacular Gunflint Community event!                                                                                                                  

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, be it bitter January or sticky July!
 

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Magnetic North - January 10 with Vicki Biggs-Anderson

Magnetic North 1/10/18
Sam McGee and Me
 
Welcome back to Magnetic North where winter warmed up just in time for the Beargrease sled dog race. Not that subzero double digit windchill ever stopped mushers or their dogs. Lack of snow is the real deal breaker for the race. This year, we have snow aplenty. Perfect weather for a great race. And as a would-be adventuress in the far north since the age of ten, I am thrilled for the mushers, the dogs and the volunteers. But I’ll cheer them on, as always, not at any of the frozen checkpoints, but from my warm and comfy couch, an old book of verse in my lap.
 
This fantasy of living in the far north, dependent only on my dogs and my wits, began when I graduated from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island to the poetry of Robert W. Service. For some reason, Service’s verses swept me out of my suburban Philadelphia home and into a life of adventure, tragic heroes, breathtaking natural beauty, plus the tantalizing hope of finding gold in a land where others would find only frostbitten fingers.
 
I blame my DNA for this. I just found that my DNA proves that I am of 98 percent British ancestry. A slim connection, you say, to Robert W. Service, who was actually born in England. .But we share  a taste for Robert Louis Stevenson’s writing poetry at a young age, and choosing a path less travelled. In Service’s case,  he left England in the late 1800’s to be a cowboy in the Yukon Wilderness, later writing his way to the title of Bard of the Yukon. About a hundred years later, I too took a detour from the predictable and ended up here, surrounded by forests and snowscapes, with a fellow of 100 percent Norwegian ancestry.
The Beargrease race always leads me back to the book Paul and I both loved, The Spell of the Yukon. I still have the same calfskin edition I read as a kid, a collection of Service’s greatest poems, nuggets of the purest gold panned from the icy streams of the land he loved. While others stand shivering at race checkpoints, I curl up in front of the fire and turn, as always, to my favorite Service saga that surpasses all others, The Cremation of Sam McGee,
You probably know the first lines.
 
“There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
      But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.
 
The narrator goes on to explain how his buddy, Sam, who hailed from the state of Tennessee, succumbed to the cold on the trail while mushing on the Dawson Trail. One night, Sam asks his friend for a very creepy favor.
 
He turned to me, and "Cap," says he, "I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I'm asking that you won't refuse my last request."
 
Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
"It's the cursèd cold, and it's got right hold till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet 'tain't being dead—it's my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains."
 
Well, old Sam did die that night and the poor sap telling the story mushers on, weighed down with dread and a promise. The whole ordeal drove him a little nuts. But, judge for yourself....
 
“The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.
 
Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the "Alice May."
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry, "is my cre-ma-tor-eum."
 
Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.
 
Then I made a hike, for I didn't like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don't know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.
 
 
I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: "I'll just take a peep inside.
I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked"; ... then the door I opened wide.
 
And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm."
 
So there you have it. The poem that foreshadowed my calling this place home. Not with a sled dog team, but for 22 years with a man, who also fancied the Bard of the Yukon. It’s true. If, as Jane Austen’s Darcy claimed, poetry be the food of love, The Cremation of Sam McGee was the first course in Paul’s and my courtship. On one of our first dates, sitting in a Perkins restaurant drinking coffee, Paul admitted that he too was taken with Service’s poetry and launched into “There are strange things done in the midnight sun...”  But he knew only the first stanza. I recited all the rest, learned by heart so long ago, reeling the stunned man in with every weirdly wonderful line. And the rest, dear friends, is history.
 
For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.
 
 

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Northern Sky January 6-19

Northern Sky - Early January 2018  by Deane Morrison

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota.
 
She authors the "Minnesota Starwatch" column, and in this feature
she shares what there is to see in the night sky in our region.
 
Her column “Minnesota Starwatch” can be found on the University
of Minnesota website at  astro.umn.edu. 
 

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Gunflint Mail Run by Nace Hagemann

Wildersmith on the Gunflint January 5

Wildersmith on the Gunflint  -  January 5, 2018     by Fred Smith
Holidays are fading into history as the Smith’s return to the normality of life in the north-country. It’s been a holiday whirlwind since our last radio gathering with over twelve hundred ‘round trip miles of windshield time to one of the Smith clan and a spirited visit from the others here at Wildersmith. What a swell time it was!                                                                                                                     
It seems appropriate we experienced the first of two cool, full January moons while our frosty atmosphere has been so “blue cold.” Further, whether it’s an oddity or just the essence of Ojibwe planning, we ascend from the “Little Spirit” moon of December to the “Great Spirit” moon of this New Year. Whatever the case, it’s “blue moon” time in month one.                                            

Its relevant with the “blue moon” cast over-head the Gunflint area would be having a cold snap that’s dominating our everyday conversation and activity. Being out of the area from just before Christmas until a day or so after, I don’t know exactly what day the deep freeze took over. Regardless of when the thermometer dropped below the nothing mark, since our return to the Mile O Pine, the mercury has FAILED to rise above zero.                                                                   

How cold has it been? It’s so cold I’ve lost count of the trips to the wood shed for heating supplements. Commencing this weeks’ report, the temperature gauge has recorded a few mornings of minus thirty plus. With a coldest so far of -36 last Sunday morning, the “old Zamboni” has been in full gear for many days.                                                                           
Speaking of ice making, the thickening hard water on the Gunflint Gal has her murmuring sounds of discomfort, often with thunderous roars. At some points, the noisy lake conversation can make one shake from more than just the cold air.                                                                 
The visiting ice anglers of my family found the ice off the Wildersmith shore to be slightly over twelve inches thick a couple days before the calendar rolled over into 2018. And with minimal snow cover insulating lake ice, fishing drillers will soon be auguring even deeper as the lake trout season nears.                                                                                                                                           

In spite of the bitter cold, we Gunflinters trudge on with daily doings, just layered up against the elements. Its’ official CC skiing, skating, snowshoeing and sledding time, lets’ get at it. Knowing the days’ whiz by so fast, green bud times will be here before we know it, and I’ll bet we’ll be getting the first spring gardening catalogs by the time we meet again.                                                                                                                                                                    

An interesting occurrence taking place right now is making me think spring prematurely. The little holiday tree I cut in early December, now setting in our dining room, apparently has spring thoughts too. I have been noticing bulging buds on every branch since our return, and in the last day or so, those buds have exploded into full-fledged sprouts of a new generation. It’s saddening to know the tree hasn’t figured out this is a false alarm, and all will come to an end sooner than later. However, give the little spruce credit for being of strong heart and hopeful to the very end. Wish I could take it out and plant it come warm soil time.                                                                                                           

The first big Gunflint Community event of the New Year hits the Trail this weekend. Yes the Gunflint is going to the “dogs”. The annual Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Races mush out into the woods tomorrow (Saturday) from Trail Center Lodge on Poplar Lake.                                                                         

Two races commence on the snowy trails beginning at 8:00am Saturday. The eight dog teams run a sixty-five mile course while twelve dog teams run for 100 miles with both races ending back at the Poplar Lake starting point. At the time of this keying exercise, thirty teams have entered.                                                                                                                                                   
This long running event dates back to as early as the late 1970’s. The races are a colorful happening memorializing the historic importance of dog sled transportation in the days before there was a Gunflint Trail as we know it today.                                                                                                                                                                             

The best places for viewing the mushers are of course at the start and then along the route at Big Bear Lodge, Rockwood Lodge and the 100 mile race turn-around at Blankenberg Pit. As usual, this will be a howling good time, come out and cheer them on!                                                 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with every frosty breath, a reminder its January in border country!
 

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