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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: December 11

Sounding like a broken record, all I can say in regard to the Gunflint weather is winter remains ugly. To say the least, “border country normal” has seemingly taken a step backward with temps some 15 to 20 degrees above what the average might be, come week two of December.

As forecasters paint a continuing picture of a non-winter for these parts, the view is becoming dimmer with each passing day. One has to feel for those folks whose livelihood includes an ice and snow business component. What we are going through will have devastating economic impact if the atmosphere doesn’t belly-up with some cold and snow.

To take things a step further, thinking ahead to next summer, our wilderness territory could face some sad commentary. There will be reduced snow melt in the watershed to refill many already depleted lakes and underground aquifers. And as moisture is just not reaching the northland, there’s potential for a dry forest landscape with an ever-waiting fuel load. Our wildfire danger could be haunting.

Besides these troublesome moisture inadequacies, if hard freezing doesn’t occur, the billions of flying, gnawing and biting pests that often give up a goodly portion of their population to bitter temps will no doubt be beyond tolerable. In general, many usual natural occurrences are, and will be, turned upside down.

For many living out this way, our early “getting ready for winter chores” could have easily been delayed, if not avoided totally. One positive is the fuel needed to keep us warm is being saved, allowing us easier home heating bills. On the other hand, suppliers will no doubt raise the rates to offset their sales loss to protect their “bottom line.’’ Somehow, the consumers just can’t get a break in our capitalistic reasoning.

In spite of the seasonal weather gloom to this point, people of the Gunflint Community are busy making the season bright. One shining example in our territory is the twinkling, lonesome pine along the Trail at the west end of Birch Lake.

Whereas most American metropolises have their usual holiday lighting experience among thousands, if not millions of cheering people, we woodsy folks are quietly blessed with our remote sparkling sentinel in the midst of a zillion, quiet coniferous cousins. A big thanks to Daryl P. and any others who made it happen. We Gunflinter's notice and appreciate your offering of holiday cheer.

And by the way, for you readers and listeners not in the know, this lighting experience doesn’t come by just plugging it into the nearest socket. This tree requires daily battery exchange and charging, and is forever green, no recycling needed, just add more lights as it grows skyward.

A further moment of cheer was shared this past Saturday at a festive open house in the mid-Trail area. A full house of Gunflint friends and neighbors gathered to enjoy a late afternoon of visiting and munching at the Schaap Community Center. Big thanks to the Trail Volunteer Fire department for organizing this, their second annual get together.

Yet another winter function has added glow to the rapidly approaching birthday of all birthday celebrations. The Borealis Chorale and Orchestra performed their longstanding tradition of holiday spirit for two full houses last Sunday and Monday evenings in Grand Marais at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. A few of our upper Trail neighbors were included in the ninety person choir and 20-piece instrumental ensemble. Congratulations and thanks to all for another awesome concert.

The roaming coyote mentioned last week has been seen again in the neighborhood so the wolves haven’t got it yet. I’m betting it will meet its “Waterloo” soon, as the wolves are hungry, with few, if any venison opportunities.

And speaking of those whitetails, they are going to be more difficult challenges for their predator adversaries with bare ground readily available, thus allowing easier “sprint for life” pathways. For sure, it seems certain a severe winter may not be an issue for them in 2015-16.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

(Photo courtesy of Tal Viinika on Flickr)

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{Priya Saihgal via Flickr}

Wildersmith: December 4

In spite of our first sub-zero mercury reading here on the morning after Thanksgiving, winter continues pretty much a non-issue. A minor snow ushered in December, but is likely gone by this airing with October temperatures hot on its heels. So it’s back to slush and slop on back country roads.  
    
Except for the dropping late last Tuesday, our first few days of this new month are acting like the previous thirty. It’s beginning to look like the “cold Grinch of the north” is not going to be around much this season. And it could well be, some of the big lakes might not have suitable ice by the January trout fishing opener at the rate things are going.    
                                                                                                                                                 
Being in a semi-winter mode, some critters of the “wild neighborhood” could be in a state of confusion.  Chipmunks residing about our yard are usually catching their first “Z”s of the season by now. In recent days both my wife and I have observed them scampering here and there still in the gathering mode.                                                                                                                                             
This activity being noticed makes me wonder if the temperate conditions have the bears experiencing sleeping disorders as well. At the very least, they surely can’t be into a deep slumber yet.                                                                                                                                                              
Thanksgiving at Wildersmith was special with some of the family members up from Iowa for the usual good times and chow-down. Its’ amusing how celebrating can continue in many homes after the big day as our menu bounty, remains in the giving order.                                         
                                                                                      
If your place is like ours, we continue trying new ideas to use up leftovers. Our common sense frugality seems evoked in author/news commentator, Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” as we struggle to throw out our bounteous blessings. This is obviously a reflection of our up-bringing, during what were often, not the most affluent times. In all likelihood, my generations’ attitude is directly opposite of what most millennials have probably already done.          
                                                       
Regardless of the circumstance around your house, Thanksgiving at the Smith’s just keeps on giving. Turns out, as opposed to adding more to the garbage dumpster, we’ve been sharing inedible scraps from our gathering with critters of the neighborhood, and they seem delighted with their opportunity at a holiday feast.                                                                                                                                                                                 
Many residents of our “wild wilderness” were not bashful about joining at the feed trough. Their spread was doled out over several days making this experience last considerably longer than that of we humans.                                                                                                                                         
About every species of birds from the north woods, plus red squirrels, flying squirrels (at night) and countless pine martens have gathered at one time or another. Most amazing was the intensity of cleaning up that turkey carcass (bones and all).                                                                               
If there was ever a reason for blue and Canadian jays, plus chickadees and nuthatches, to have indigestion, it was this occasion. Following an avian assault on softer tissue elements, I stopped counting after a pine marten made five successive trips to carry off the boney remains. In slightly over two hours on consecutive days, our “big bird character” was history!                                                          
One might question if the side dish dressing/stuffing (in particular) would also be appetizing to this insatiable crew, but answers were provided almost before I cleared the scene. The feeding frenzy did not diminish as more of our un-eaten items were served up.  The multi-day critter eat-a-thon has tapered off by now, but our giving mood sure provided a priceless educational experience and entertainment.     
                                                                                                                                                       
A couple reports from neighbors along the Gunflint Lake south shore indicate an itinerant coyote. The canine cousins are not unusual to the Arrowhead, but seldom noted out this way. It would be my guess this one might serve up as a nice appetizer for the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack, sooner or later.  
                                                                                                                              
Talking of the local pack, one member crossed my path during a recent MOP mail run. We made brief eye contact, from a short distance, before it vanished into the forest. It’s always a surprising privilege to intersect ways with such an iconic guy/gal. This mini rendezvous was another of those engaging, but untouchable, border country adventures.        
                                                 
Gunflint folks are reminded once again of the holiday open house this Saturday afternoon. Festivities begin at 3:00 pm and run until 6:00pm at the Mid-Trail/ Schaap Community Center.  Although not required, the GTVFD is seeking donations to the area food shelf. Gunflint resident participation will be much appreciated!  Y'all come for the food and fun!                                                                                                                                                      
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Looking, looking and looking for a kick-start to our season of snow white!
 

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West End News: December 3

It’s good to be back in the West End after a two-week trip to Hawaii.  I won’t deny that Hawaii was beautiful and warm.  But, as the saying goes, “there’s no place like home.”
 
It was interesting to observe the similarities and differences between Hawaii and our own Cook County’s tourism economies. They are similar in that they are both are destinations that rely on spectacular natural and cultural features to attract visitors.  They and we rely on an infrastructure of hotels, condos, timeshares and more recently, private vacation rentals like Airbnb and Vacation Rental By Owner. Hawaii and Cook County share the problems of limited private land and a high cost of living, leading to a severe shortage of housing and disposable income for working people.
 
The differences are that Hawaii’s overall tourism industry is huge and well established, compared to ours.  They draw heavily from Asia for their visitors, although Minnesota is well known to most Hawaiians, thanks to all of us who visit there.  From my perspective, Hawaii seems to have more organized activities for tourists, like boat rides, tours, museums, events and what has to be the largest density of helicopter tours in the world.
 
The beauty of travel is how it changes your perspective.  I came home looking at the West End with new eyes and a greater appreciation for the balance we have between our human economy and the natural world.
 
There is, of course, the matter of the Hawaiian weather, but I won’t dwell on that at this time of year.
 
The special election to fill the legislative seat of the late David Dill is coming up this week.  I was honored to have been a candidate in the DFL primary election, but sad to have come up a little short in that contest.  The four-way DFL primary generated considerable interest and news coverage, but the general election has been very quiet.
 
The received wisdom is that Rob Ecklund, a county commissioner from Koochiching County who won the DFL primary, will easily win the general election over the Republican and independent candidates on the ballot.  Rob has the strong backing of organized labor, as well as the support of the powerful Iron Range legislative delegation and the endorsement of the DFL Party.  In a special election with a very low turnout, those advantages are nearly insurmountable.
 
I know and like all three candidates, but I am particularly fond of Rob Ecklund. Spending time with him at campaign events was a pleasure.  He is always a gentleman and has a very sincere and open personality.  He’s deeply involved in his community and has a genuine concern for regular people.  Even though we didn’t agree on everything, Rob showed a willingness to study, learn and make his policy decisions accordingly.  In this day and age of politicians who won’t change their minds no matter what, Rob’s genuine thoughtfulness is a refreshing quality.
 
This commentary isn’t intended for political endorsements, but I do urge everyone to vote in the special election on December 8 for the candidate of their choice.  For West End voters, please fill out and send back the ballot you have received in the mail.  If you didn’t receive a ballot, contact the Cook County Auditor in Grand Marais to arrange for one. 
 
By the way, because this is a special election, the same seat will be up for election again in 2016.  The primary, if needed, will be in August and the general election will be this coming November, along with every legislative seat in Minnesota, our own congressional seat and the presidency. 
 
It’s easy to make fun of political races, but the results have real consequences.  Voting is the most important right in our democratic process, so please join me in exercising it.
 
I’m sorry to report that it looks like there will be no ice-skating on area lakes this year.  I never give up hope though.  One year, back in the 1980s, the lakes froze with rough ice and a quick foot of snow that created terrible slush conditions.  A couple of weeks later, we had an extended stretch of unusually warm weather and a day of pouring rain.  The temperature promptly plunged to back below zero and the lakes transformed into a perfect skating rinks on six inches of solid ice.  John Oberholtzer, of Lutsen, refers to this phenomenon as “nature’s Zamboni.”
 
Barring an appearance of the elusive Zamboni, skis will have to substitute for skates this year.  I don’t feel like the lakes are totally safe for travel yet, so please use good judgment by going with friends and carrying extra dry clothes and self-rescue equipment.
 
Or, break out the downhill skis or snowboards for some fun at Lutsen Mountains, which is now open on weekends.  The spectacular, brand new gondola lift will be open to the public next weekend.  That alone warrants a trip to the hill.
 
 

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North Woods Naturalist: Atmospheric streams

A couple of weeks back we had a prolonged rainfall that might have an unusual effect for this time of year. WTIP’s Jay Andersen talks with naturalist Chel Anderson about atmospheric streams.

(Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center on Flickr)
 

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Northern Sky: November 28

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota. She authors the Minnesota Starwatch column, and contributes to WTIP bi-weekly on the Monday North Shore Morning program through "Northern Sky," where she shares what's happening with stars, planets and more.

As we head into December, all the bright planets are pretty much gone - but there are many stars to enjoy.

(Photo by Christian Ronnel on Flickr)

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Sunny's Back Yard: Late November

Late fall in Lake County has been warmer than usual, and so far very little snow has fallen.

Sunny has lived off-grid in rural Lake County for the past 17 years and is a regular commentator on WTIP. Here she shares what's been happening in Sunny's Back Yard.

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Gunflint Lake

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 27

The eleventh chapter of Gunflint's 2015 story is fading fast. Final thoughts reflect an unusual month with little or nothing to show in terms of winter character. Unless conditions change in the next few days, border country might usher in December with a brown landscape for the first time in many years.

After a healthy dose of preliminary rain, a snippet of winter oozed in last weekend with some puny snow. There was barely an inch counted out this way. With any kind of sunshine, this thin coating will evaporate like relatives when it's dish-washing time after Thanksgiving dinner.

The “Mom in charge of things” set the thermostat back to a more normal setting following this feeble snow attempt. In fact, the neighborhood around Wildersmith experienced our first single digit mercury readings for a couple mornings. Throughout these northerly reaches, the frigid setting found us getting into ice making on smaller lakes and swampy wetlands.

Minnestota’s rifle season for whitetails found the hunters I know around Gunflint Lake blanked over the past two weeks. It’s a sad consolation, but at least they had tolerable weather conditions during the fruitless pursuit, and their ammunition will not go bad, so there willl always be next year. Perhaps “old man winter” will thicken ice soon in hopes “hard water” angling might treat outdoor sports-people better.

A trip out and about last Sunday turned heartening for yours truly. With all the leaves down, sightseeing through the forest provides a remarkable view of the fire-ravaged upper Trail territory. What’s so amazing is the new growth of coniferous beings that had been obscured by leaf foliage. As far as one can see, countless acres of youthful evergreens are popping skyward to begin displacing the skeletal wildfire remains.

Most of the visible new growth along the Trail comes in the form of naturally propagated jack pine while in select places off-road, many sections of spruce, white and red pine have taken off as well. The off-road growth was fostered through efforts of hundreds of Gunflint Green-up volunteers planting in partnership with the USFS efforts, this happening over several years since the Ham Lake tragedy in ’07.

If humans did not live in the area, this horrific blaze would have been a welcome means of wilderness revival. However, tragic as it was for hundreds of our Gunflint neighbors, we are thankful to have survived, and are now able to proudly observe a healthy new spirit of forest growth.

This phenomenon of rebirth sure has taken off quickly. Remarkable indeed is the resiliency of the natural world to start itself anew, without us and in spite of us. In a few more years, this National Scenic Byway will again be a tunnel through the pines.

Congratulations to “Mother Nature” on a continuing job well done! And many thanks to others who care so deeply for this extraordinary place on the planet.

Here’s hoping everyone had a pleasant Thanksgiving holiday. As we head off into the season of “material grabbing madness,” may “common sense” show some resurgence so “Black Friday” does not become a nightmare of singing the “blues.” Remember it’s the coming of December, a time to be ritualized in mystery, grace and divine significance of the holiday season.

Speaking of the holiday season, if Gunflint Trail listeners haven’t heard, the second annual holiday open house, put on by our Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department, is scheduled for Saturday, December 5. All Gunflint residents are invited.

The doings extend during the hours of 3-6 pm at the Schaap Community Center (mid-Trail fire hall # 1). In the spirit of this giving season and doing good for others, your donations to the local food shelf would be welcomed at the event. Mark your calendars for this time of food, fun and refreshments.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! With snow shovel in hand, I'm waiting, waiting and waiting.

(Photo by Chauncer on Flickr)

 

 

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A Year in the Wilderness: November 19 - Wolves and Ciscoes

Cook County adventurers Dave and Amy Freeman are spending a year in the wilderness. On a regular basis they’ll be sharing some of their experiences travelling the BWCAW. Here’s their latest installment as they try fishing for ciscoes and observe a curious wolf.

(Photo courtesy of Dave and Amy's Facebook page)

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Fred's grouse

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 20

Finally, our upper Gunflint territory got some snow that counted. Although it is likely gone in all but shaded places as this scribing airs, those of us with affection for the fluff were excited, if at least briefly.

The first substantial dose of the stuff accumulated anywhere from two to about six inches depending upon one's locale. At Wildersmith we received two inches whereas up the Mile O Pine a little ways, six inches required dropping the snow blade down. Funny how such weather variables can happen in only short distances apart.

Regardless of one's opinion about this seasonal character, it’s not debatable as to the elegance of this first sticky flake application. Every appendage throughout border country wilderness was laced in purity. So as Thanksgiving rolls around, us woodsy folks are thankful for this majestic natural blessing, and hopeful the remaining November skies will be spreading more white cheer real soon.

The waxing “freezing over moon” is nearing the month eleven pinnacle while we head to America’s festival of plenty. His “lunar highness” is a good bet to be glistening off open lake water. In spite of our heavenly liquid bodies being biting cold, rolling waves continue to hold off any coagulation.

Most animals of the neighborhood are fully changed into their winter garb. In a sampling, I spotted a snowshoe hare and an ermine, both of which were fully in tune with the newly frosted landscape.

Then on another note, the morning after our snowy spectacle, I was able to track several overnight visitors along the road on my way for the daily mail delivery. A meandering fox led me over the entire two mile trek to the mail box, while off and on prints of a marten, snowshoe hare, wolf and a solitary deer dented the bleached ground cover. There were no bear trailings so perhaps this brief swat of winter put them to bed.

Speaking of deer, neighbors along the Gunflint south shore spent the first week of their stalking time in quiet solitude. I’ve heard of only one buck being taken in this part of the upper Trail during week one of the firearms season. Although there may be a few whitetails here and there, it would appear the severe winter of 2013-14 and the wolves have pretty much wiped venison opportunities off the menu.

It may take several years for the herd to recover for hunter satisfaction. In the meantime, I ‘m certain the hunters I know are still contemplating the joy of their time outdoors in this splendid forest. Their hunting time is much like angling, “fishing is always great, but sometimes the catching just isn’t!” I hope their fortunes turned around during this second and final week of this season.

A new avian pet has adopted our yard as an apparent safe haven. In spite of making light of the “clucky” birds, it’s energizing to see this grouse guy hanging out around the place. His presence seems not affected by my moving about the yard so I would guess we are pretty much stuck with him. The gamely bird even did a photo-op for me last week. It was caught perched high up in a pin cherry tree pecking away at whatever critter bugs hole up on those branches.

We at Wildersmith hope you have a safe and glorious gathering while being thankful for the grand bounty we in America celebrate. Remembering there are billions of people on other parts of the planet not so blessed, wouldn’t it be nice to do some good things for each other during this time of violence, pain and suffering!

Gunflinters give thanks every day for this idyllic, peaceful place. We may be unorganized territory, but our state of civility far surpasses the sickening barbarism engulfing many world places at this moment. Citizens of the world, come to your senses!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Happy Turkey Day!

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Northern Sky: November 14

Deane Morrison is a science writer at the University of Minnesota. She authors the Minnesota Starwatch column, and contributes to WTIP bi-weekly on the Monday North Shore Morning program through "Northern Sky," where she shares what's happening with stars, planets and more.

As we approach the end of November there will be lots of activity in both the morning and evening skies, including the Leonid meteor shower.

(Photo by Helen Cook on Flickr)

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