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North Shore Weekend


  • Saturday 7-10am
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.



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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!



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.



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)



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)



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.


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)





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)


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!



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)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 13

Atmospheric conditions along the Gunflint Byway have remained on the passive side of the ledger. As the area reaches the mid-point of our 11th month, unless things change abruptly, those not in tune with winter will be happy as clams noting the long cold season is being shortened by one segment.

This neighborhood has been yo-yoing since we last met, with abnormal warmth, then a couple days near normal and then back to September character. A skiff of white was recorded, but vanished quickly in the midst of one more “El Nino” swoosh.

It would appear the actual lake freezing over, as acclaimed by the Ojibwe “freezing over moon” of November, will probably be put off until next month. The usual skimming over of our smaller lakes, ponds and swamps by this time of year just isn’t happening.

Although the larger Gunflint Lake is traditionally one of the last territorial bodies to become solid, this “old Gal” is still offering a summer-time lure. Last Sunday, the purr of an outboard motor was heard near sundown from a late season angler heading home. Yes, fresh water angling in the midst of firearms deer hunting season. Wonders of the north land never cease to amaze!

In further testament to our extending tepid spell, another week has passed and more bear wanderings are being reported - no denning up just yet. Perhaps they are holding out for Thanksgiving leftovers.

A couple down the road had the thrill of recording a night time photo-op with a Canadian Lynx. This is the first “kitty” report heard from out this way in quite a while. They sent me a digital of the cat which was unfortunately not crisp enough to share, but you can take my word, this feline of the north was a handsome critter. Snowshoe hares and grouse should beware!

Speaking of grouse, their numbers must be in an upswing cycle. It must have been a fertile year for chick production. In my travels through this neck of the woods I see uncountable numbers of the seemingly dimwitted “chicken birds.”

Continuing avian excitement engulfs the Smiths anytime we step out the door. For some reason, known only to our winged neighbors, the chickadees and nuthatches are infatuated with our presence. I’ve heard of this from other long time Gunflint residents but this tweeting experience is a first in going on 17 winters here. It's like an attack of the birds. They expect to be fed, and we have fallen right in line with their feeding-frenzy expectations. This experience with our feathered friends, in addition to being enjoyable, has proven educational too. Getting an up-close look at their routine of hammering each morsel into a nook or cranny of tree bark is amazing to watch. Their system of warehousing and inventory control would probably even wow “Amazon.”

All this being said, guess we (Smiths) might be included in the “dimwitted” category for getting such a kick out of their greedy companionship!

Last weekend a winter season visitor came back to our deck side feed trough. “Piney” the marten stopped by, having not been seen since the meltdown of last spring. It was easily recognized as one of our previous marten visitors with a tiny notch missing from one ear. Hungry as usual, it spent considerable time munching sunflower seeds much to the annoyance of the usual squirrels and bluejays.

One adventure of north woods living is wondering and imagining where these “wild neighborhood” critters have been, and what they’ve been up to during their transient times. We’ll obviously never know, but it’s energizing nonetheless realizing this one survived the wild for another year, and came back looking quite healthy and remembered a nice place to get an easy meal.

Although not a whitetail deer has been observed for months around Wildersmith, there must be scent of such a return in the air. Wolf reconnaissance has been noted (although not physically witnessed) with evidence from the timber canines found along our Mile O Pine. So the saga of predator and prey lives on, only now a human factor has been tacked on for a few weeks. It is hoped the stars of fate are aligned for both the stalked and the stalkers in this wilderness drama.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! We're keeping an eye out for the stalled “great northern express!”