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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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Fred Smith
Fred Smith, a native Iowan re-located to the wilderness of border country at the end of the century, has been writing of happenings in the upper Gunflint territory for going on eight years, first with the local paper, and since December 2008 for WTIP North Shore Community Radio. Fred feels life in the woods is extraordinary, and finds reporting on it to both a reading and listening audience a pleasurable challenge. Since retirement as a high school athletic administrator from Ankeny High School, Ankeny Iowa in 1999, the pace of Fred's life has become less hectic but nevertheless, remains busy in new ways with many volunteer activities along the Trail. Listen at your convenience by subscribing to a podcast.


Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 23

The blush of fall is now fully engaged in the northwoods. The natural “east is east” and “west is west” equinox phenomenon has sent “old Sol” past the tipping point toward the southern hemisphere. 

Our border country “Technicolor” spectacle has shifted into high gear. While the intensity has been mounting rather deliberately up to this point, the official declaration, this past Thursday, seems to have set off an orange/red blitz in just a few days. This area will be a “leaf peepers” dream for the next couple weeks.  

Several cloudy days have been the order in this neighborhood during the last seven. Fortunately, the dismal time did not go to waste as the Wildermith rain gauge collected over an inch and three-quarters, with some upper Trail folks reporting even more.   

Speaking of wet happenings, a check of the Gunflint Lake water temp at the Smith dock, found the mercury in a state of decline to sixty-five degrees. This is down from our warmest summer reading of near seventy-five.  

Whereas several areas in the northland got nipped, this place in the woods missed the predicted frost of last week. It was close though, with two consecutive mornings at thirty-five on multiple thermometers. Yet I did detect what appeared to be frozen crystal in a few ditch locations during a trip to town on one of those days. 

I received an interesting report on some lake water testing conducted this summer here on Gunflint Lake. Some of our residents have long been concerned about the application of calcium chloride to roads adjoining the Gunflint Gal for dust control, as well as copious amounts of chemical treatment put on the Trail during the winter. Our interest of course, is whether this practice is having any adverse effect in regard to calcium (C++) run-off and a build-up of such in the lake water. 

Sample readings were taken in cooperation with County Soil and Water in mid-June. I’m told thirty-five lakes were tested in the County, and of all the lakes sampled, Gunflint was the third highest with analysis showing 8.2ppm. A rough calculation projects there could be nearly a thousand tons of excess calcium chloride in this lake. In comparison, Tucker Lake, just two lakes to the south, and not having close proximity road treatments, had a reading of 3.5ppm. 

The critical issue on excessive levels of C++ is a correlation between C++ and INVASIVE SPECIES, notably rusty crayfish and zebra mussels. According to our Gunflint Lake water monitor, Gunflint Lake, on the whole, does not have good habitat for “rusties,” but the invasive rascals could devastate the shallower Little Gunflint and Little North Lakes. What happens is that “rusties” destroy vegetation and hog available food, thus having a negative impact on fish habitat. This surely has potential implications for other upper Trail lakes as well. Apparently, research says that 5ppm (this could be found to be even lower) is a cutoff for sustaining rusty crayfish.    

Attempts are being made with MPCA to do some deep water testing this winter on the Gunflint to further assess the consequences of this C++ issue. In the meantime, Gunflint Lake property owners and other territory lake residents will no doubt be thinking about the value of keeping the dust down versus environmental costs to our pristine waters.   

A story of near tragedy and triumph took place on Hungry Jack Lake little more than a week ago. A loon was discovered near a resident’s dock in a seriously distressed state. The bird had a fish hook in its chest, and fish line tangled around its head, obviously making it difficult to eat, dive and/or swim. 

There are “good Samaritan” acts someplace every day. Fortunately for this Minnesota icon, Hungry Jack and Leo lake neighbors were in the right place at the right time and gathered quickly. A fish net was chosen as the implement for rescue, and a gal in a kayak with three folks in a canoe set out to corral the troubled animal. They soon netted the loon and brought it to the dock of Hungry Jack Outfitters.    

The terrified loon was wrapped in toweling, but nevertheless, inflicted numerous blows with its beak before rescuers were able to secure its head. The fish line was ultimately removed and the hook carefully cut off and pulled out.  With loving hands the handsome critter was released back into the lake where it gave a “hoot” (perhaps saying thanks), flapped its wings and swam away, for sure saved from an anguishing death. Congrats and thanks to the caring folks for helping a creature of the “wild neighborhood” to triumph over tragedy.  See pictures of the rescue effort attached to the Wildersmith column at WTIP.org.   

Most of the time it’s difficult to retrieve lost fishing tackle, but if at all possible, anglers could do these floating critters a big favor by not leaving to chance that line and hooks with bait will never cause a problem. 

On a final note, The Gunflint Trail Historical Society, in concert with the GT Scenic Byway Committee and WTIP, is looking for stories, pics, and artifacts of the Ham lake Fire. Such are needed for the 2017 Chik-Wauk Museum temporary exhibit, as next year commemorates the tenth anniversary of the tragedy. The exhibit will feature remembrances of this flaming disaster, along with educational presentation of wildfire ecology in the territory.  

If anyone has items from the historic event and is willing to share them with exhibit organizers, please let the Society know by calling the museum at (218)388-9915 to be directed to project planners. Donations are being solicited to assist in funding this extraordinary undertaking.      

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, at Wildersmith, where every border country day is great, and some are even better!

(photos courtesy of loon rescue team)


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 16

It hardly seems possible we are at the half-way point of September. The northland universe will be celebrating the full “wild rice” moon with our Ojibwe neighbors this weekend, and by this time next week the seasonal equinox makes autumn official, heading us off toward many beautiful days until the white stuff arrives.  Time sure flies by when you’re having fun.  

Our fall prelude continues as the first leaves are parting ways with their summer connections. The original “golden arches” are convening over many back country roads with an aura of birch leaflets intensifying in a big way since we last met. Over the past few days, what sugar maples we have along the Mile O Pine have begun surrendering chlorophyll for their scarlet blush and some of the coniferous crowd is displaying ebbing tawny needles of years past. Last but not least, on a couple damp dreary days, I actually got a whiff of the magical harvest time forest aroma. How sweet all of this is!  

Atmospheric conditions have had their good moments over the past segment with both sun and clouds. While a heavenly blessing for this neighborhood came in a couple nice showers yielding three-fourths of an inch, thus keeping wildfire danger at bay.

Another sign of the times was a forecast of cooling temps, highlighted by a potential for our first frost.  By the time this scoop hits the air streams, we out this way will confirm if the prognostication was just one of those “ten percent” chances with which we are so often encumbered.       

Further evidence of our daily cadence changing has been seen overhead. Several flocks of those Canadian honkers have winged aloft in recent days. At least one flock has been observed setting down on the Gunflint Gal for an overnight. One of our Gunflint lakeside neighbors captured a spectacular digital rendering of them lifting off southward bound, after their brief stay. For a look, check this out on the Wildersmith column at WTIP.org.  

Bear traffic throughout the territory seems almost more prolific than the tourists now. I see them with regularity, and if not the “Brunos” in person, their “scatty” calling cards.

In one amusing observation, I saw one standing upright along county road #20 (South Gunflint Lake road) near a mail box. The black bruin looked as if it might be checking for a sweet delivery as it sniffed at the unit and grabbed at the door. The entire happening had a distinct (time to get the mail) human look. Finally as my vehicle neared, the big “Teddy” spooked and scrambled off into the roadside brush.      

In another wild encounter, a huge bull moose was caught crossing Loon Lake Road by a couple residents. The big fellow lumbered across in front of their vehicle, then turned around and marched right at them before stopping a short distance away. Guess it might have been as curious about this humming machine, as were the occupants inside about him. Or maybe, since they are known to have poor eyesight, it might have been swooning over this large rumbling monster (with headlights for eyes) as a potential romantic encounter. In any event, he didn’t realize he was posing for a photo op. Several pics were snapped and one has been shared with me, and I in turn share one with you.  Yes everyone, there are moose in the woods! Take another look at WTIP.org and click on the Wildersmith commentary, this guy’s a beauty! 

Dock time along Gunflint Lake at Smiths’, as on other area lakes around sundown, mirrors unimagined beauty rippling across crystal border country waters. The gamut of colors can be mind boggling, sometimes changing from moment to moment and always based on happenings high in the stratosphere. From breathtaking cotton candy pink to dark charcoal and most every tint in-between, this glorious natural liquid pigmentation through heavenly reflection has been going on since the beginning of time.

Unfortunately, this aqueous daily occurrence is most likely taken for granted by the bulk of the human race, often putting such beauty in jeopardy through their decisions and actions. However, those of us living around the glacier filled basins of the Superior National forest cherish the creation of this blessing and the joy it can bring to everyone’s lives. One would hope an ever-expanding America might come to its senses soon and stop trying to tamper with what “Mother Nature” has provided here in the Northland. Clean, clear, “water is life.” 

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every northwoods day is great and some are even better!
 
 (geese photo by Betty Hemsted; moose photo by Joanne and Paul Johnson)
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 9

One full September week is into the books for Gunflint Country, and all is well. The color of autumn is increasing with each passing day. Juvenile birch trees are beginning to light up the forest and the last flowering blossoms of our warm season add an accent to any trip along a back country path.

By the way, most tail-end blooms are asters, and they are the most vibrant lavender/purple tint I’ve seen in recent years. Makes me wonder if there is any atmospheric significance to this deep purplish hue; like it's been a great summer growing season, or could it mean a swell fall ahead, or could it be forecasting a mean winter. Regardless, the mini daisy-like flowers have month nine, “busting out all over.”

Shades of scarlet can be found twinkling in the September sun, too. Highbush cranberries, wild rose hips and mountain ash fruit are at their pigment pinnacle, shining like holly berries in December. Truly, Gunflint territory is on the verge of stained glass splendor. My advice, don’t miss it!

Caravans of vehicles paraded to Chik-Wauk last Sunday for not only a splendid time in the north woods but also the big pie/ice cream eat-a-thon. What a day for enjoying the sweetness of this special place, in addition to consuming several hundred pieces of home-made pie and dips of creamy frozen goodness. Thanks to GTHS organizer, Judy Edlund, and her great crew of pastry artisans and servers for dishing up a flavorful afternoon in border country.

Last week's commentary about minimal Ursus observations this summer had “bearly” passed over the radio/website waves when I was deluged with recent sighting reports. So bears are on the move. A number of folks along the Mile O Pine have reported “Brunos” in the past week, yours truly included. The one I observed was a medium sized critter while others have seen momma, poppa and/or cub examples.

Vandalism announcements are pretty quiet to date, although there has been one incident of a bruin breaking into and entering a guest cabin down at Gunflint Lodge. In this case guests found a bear sitting in the kitchen area munching on a plate of cookies. Guess the resident had left a batch near a window sill and this guy/gal just couldn’t resist, breaking the glass to get at the sweet morsels. One would suppose there were a few moments of commotion and the bear made a rapid exit by way of its entry. Other than broken glass and a lost batch of goodies, it was a no-harm, no-foul, ending, but surely a vacation to remember for those guests.

Speaking of pests, while sitting on the dock watching those magnificent “Canadian Sunsets” over the past week, it seems we’ve had a late hatching of mosquitoes. They are a bit smaller than cousins of the previous months, but are nonetheless just as pesky in terms of nipping, as the sun makes its daily descent.

As we have sailed past the Labor Day holiday, seasonal neighbors are starting to pack it up. A few have already headed to cold season digs southward. But then again, living at 48 degrees north, there are not many other ways to go.

I see boats being brought in for winterizing while summer docking units are coming ashore. Meanwhile, those of us year-around folks are tending to firewood stacks for 2017 as this coming winter's fuel is already in the shed.

Yours truly has been putting off staining efforts on Wildersmith buildings until bug season lessened. So, for the most part, there are no more excuses for putting it off, one down and four to go with even more “getting ready for winter” chores looming.

A reminder is extended to area residents and visitors about the last Gunflint Trail Historical Society membership meeting of the season. The group will gather at the Schaap (mid-Trail) Community center this coming Monday, September 12, at 1:30 pm.

In addition to treats being served, a sweet program is in the offing with Nancy Waver from Trout Lake Lodge speaking of their facility's 70 years of operations. And frosting on the day's program cake will come in a video/slide presentation of the recent GTHS volunteers shaping timbers for our boat shelter project. As we wood chippers learned during our sawing adventure, be there or be square!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where Gunflint days are always great, and some, are even better!

(Photo courtesy of srf1957 on Flickr)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 2

As the northland celebrates the coming of September, yours truly heads off into year fifteen of my weekly commentary on life along the Gunflint Trail. I would never have thought my retirement years would find me at the keyboard every Sunday evening scribing happenings   about this enchanting territory.

It’s been an experience for the ages as I‘ve had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people and learn of their journeys along this scenic byway. I often feel it a daunting task following the footsteps of the iconic pioneer gal, Justine Kerfoot, who carried on Gunflint news reporting for decades. Although I’ll never have the firsthand experience she had in this adventure filled area, it's been an indescribable privilege to be able to carry-on sharing our wilderness goings-on over the past fourteen years.

The month of the “wild rice/harvest moon” has stepped off in marvelous fashion with near perfect weather. Since our last radio meeting, this neighborhood had seen only sprinkles from what few clouds have passed us by until our call was answered in the wee hours of Monday morning when a mini thunder boomer dropped little over one-half inch. 

The deciduous portion of the upper Gunflint forest will soon be dwindling like that of our daylight minutes. I can’t help but reflect on the lush flora growth which has been nothing short of unbelievable this past summer. “Mother Nature” has done a number in terms of obscuring views too far into the forest. After months of looking at nothing but leaves, I can hardly wait to gain a look into the woods and maybe see who or what might be looking back. 

Unless one has been in the territory watching for a number of years, you just can’t imagine how vegetation can consume us in such a short period of time. A long time path between the Wildersmith place and our neighbors to the west has grown to be an invisible mire of greenery during the summer months.  I elected to pass on keeping it clear, and if I didn’t know it had been there, no one would ever understand it had existed, except maybe the deer of yesteryear.       

Speaking of white tails, the sights of blaze orange out this way will probably be few and far between once again, as this hunting season nears. Few, if any, reports are being heard in regard to deer sightings from middle to Trail's end. One fellow did report a momma and her twin fawns in his yard recently, while we wood shapers saw singles on only three different days during our recent trips to Grand Marais, but those are about it.  

This scenario of a venison deficiency makes one wonder what is going on with the wolf population. Guess they must be finding some edibles as the Gunflint /Loon Lake pack is still heard making their “call of the wild” on an occasional summer evening. 

Another comment heard recently, concerns there being seemingly less bear activity than usual. I have caught sight of a couple here and there, but thankfully, none around Wildersmith, to date. I suppose I shouldn’t be boasting too much yet as berry picking season is about done and they’ll likely be scrounging for anything and everything, anywhere, in prep for their long winter's nap. With the “Bruno” hunt now in its opening days, it will be of interest to see how the bear harvest goes this year.  

Meanwhile, harvesting for winter has really intensified with the squirrels.  White cedar seed clusters are being cut and husked, while pine cone collection can mean an early wake-up call as they plummet onto roof tops around daybreak.  

The sweet treat weekend is finally at hand. The GTHS pie and ice cream social will sweeten everyone’s pallet, Sunday (the 4th) on the grounds at Chik-Wauk. Serving will be from noon to 4 pm, rain or shine. A $5 donation per person is suggested, with proceeds going to continuing Chik-Wauk facility operations.   

The Museum gift shop will also be holding their annual sidewalk sale in conjunction with the pastry delights from our local bakers. Plan to join in with friends and neighbors, as we bid summer farewell during the Labor Day weekend.                                                                                                                               
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and some are even better! 

(photo by Managementboy via Wikimedia Commons)
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 26

My, oh my, August along the Gunflint has almost slipped away, barely noticed. Seeing September 2016 on the horizon is hard to comprehend. But it is what it is, so bring on month nine.  

With the last big summer season weekend just seven days away, vacation activities are fading fast and another school year has our attention. If this isn’t stirring enough interest, I see tinges of orange on maple leaves, and the berries of mountain ash and high bush cranberries are exchanging tints of green for fall-like decorations. 

Amidst this autumnal advancement, except for one day of clouds and rain during the previous week, the upper Gunflint has been sparkling. In fact, when beginning this commentary last Sunday evening, our neighborhood had been so “cool” windows around the house remained closed all day for the first time in many weeks. That in mind, the moose and I are in “hog heaven” hoping for more of the air conditioning. 

After ten days of working nine to five on the timber frame project, I’m back in the retirement saddle. It was a splendid, but challenging experience with fourteen other Gunflint Community volunteers and three other great new acquaintances from outside the county.                                                                            
Some interesting statistics were recorded by one of our group showing the enormity of our undertaking. To mention a few: of the eighteen volunteers, the average age was just shy of sixty-eight years; in terms of time spent, the group contributed 1440 hours and adding in 160 instructor hours, the project consumed 1600 total hours; also a good number of us commuted on a daily basis, spinning the odometer for some 8000 miles.   To top all of this off, there were few “sugar plums dancing in our heads” as several night time moments found us awake in the wee hours hoping for the next day's complicated cut, to be finished as designed. One of many interesting comments made during our shaping episodes included “my head is about ready to explode” when transferring blue print dimensions to actual cut lines on a raw piece of wood.  

Getting to the crux of this project, our sawdust/wood chiseling team crafted a total of 103 white pine timbers ranging in length from sixteen to twenty-eight feet. Being either eight by eight or eight by ten inches, they were monsters to move about.

Our vocabulary focused on the joinery jargon of shaping corner posts, king posts, tie beams, bents, knee braces, rafters, purlins and a ridge beam, all components of the 24 by 36 foot structure. Uncountable saw cuts, mortises, tenons and chamfers produced bushels of shavings and sawdust.  

In the end, we made it! No fatalities, one serious chisel drop accounting for ten stitches, and only four band-aids, all sandwiched in with comforting smiles, supportive tips and encouragement from teammates, and two splendid North House Folk School instructors. A job well done will be determined when all the puzzle pieces are joined together next summer.  

Another Trail topic over the past week fostered a bit of humorous entertainment for some passers-by, while understandably, raising the dander of others.   

 It all began as a situation where an apparent remodeling effort found someone with a used commode on their hands. Perhaps, either trying to elicit a laugh, or just being ill-informed as to the legality of dumping such a unit, it was set up along the Trail.  

The porcelain throne sat roadside for a few days before signage was added entitled “Rest Area.” As we wood chippers drove by on a daily basis, we found that the lid would be up one day and down the next. So others were obviously getting involved in whatever comedic relief was intended. A roll of TP being posted alongside must have been the tipping point.

With an implied image of this being a new Gunflint Trail rest area things were headed in a downward flush. One can only imagine what could have been next, and complaints were on the rise, so I found out via our district County Commissioner. This apparently led the county highway department to terminate the trickery. The obvious, non-compliant facility has since been removed, and things are back to normal with scenic Trail flora being the point of attention once again.   

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and some are even better!
 

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Gunflint Volunteers at the Woodchippers Hall

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 19

The Gunflint Trail is alive with summer visitors as we head into week four of month eight. As luck would have it “Mother Nature” has provided some sparkling conditions over the past seven. Pleasant days with comfortable temps have been complemented by a couple night time rains yielding slightly over one and one-third inches here in this neighborhood.

Fall continues to nudge along as I’ve been watching on daily runs to Grand Marais for the timber framing class of which several Gunflint neighbors are participating. Speaking of this undertaking, it’s an energizing project that will end this coming Sunday.

It’s definitely been a lifestyle change for many of us as we put our retirement on vacation to go back to work each day from nine to five. I didn’t realize how much I’ve come to enjoy leisurely mornings until they went away.

Although the learning curve has been quite high for those of us with little to no experience, we are learning more each day and gaining comfort with reading prints and using tools of the art. As we hone out the components for this neat project, it might well be this is a crafty gang at the “wood chippers hall” and by “hall” I mean the red building at North House Folk School. One can view the mighty sawdust makers as they gathered for work one morning by hitting the website, WTIP.org and clicking on the Wildersmith column.

The annual mid-Trail homeowners summer celebration is into the books for another year following last week's flea market, gift boutique and auction. A big crowd turned out at the fire hall number one and when all was said and done, those folks raised $13,000 on behalf of the Trail Historical Society and our volunteer fire department.

By the way the ever-popular mid-Trail stitchers 2016 quilt raffle found Samantha Payne of White Bear Lake with the lucky ticket as the event came to a close. Congrats and thanks to Chair Judy Edlund and her wonderful group of volunteers for putting together another swell afternoon on the Gunflint Trail.

As if Judy Edlund didn’t have enough to do with this past event, she is looking for Trail pastry artisans to step up with the donation of a pie for our Labor Day weekend pie and ice cream social on the grounds at Chik-Wauk. The sweet treats will be served on Sunday, September 4, from noon until 4:00pm. Anyone wishing to donate a pie should contact Judy at 388-4400.

As we passed the full Ojibwe “blueberry moon” in the wee hours of Thursday morning, the fervor for blueberry heaven continues. Although many easily accessible patches have been picked over, those willing to go the extra mile into rough back country are finding buckets of the blue/purple gems.

The “Woods, Winds and Strings” concert held last Sunday was a melodious whisper through our Gunflint pines. Another sell-out crowd enjoyed many renowned musicians from our “tip of the arrowhead” talent pool. Thanks go out to organizer Susan Scherer, many of the usual Trail volunteers, all performers and of course a fine audience.

Up at the Chik-Wauk Nature Center this weekend, wildlife enthusiasts will want to be there for a program on the ever-changing Canadian Lynx population in the upper Trail territory. Making the presentation at 2:00pm will be USFS wildlife specialist David Grosshuesch.

A final note comes from one of our local resort owners. Last Monday while guiding a guest on Gunflint Lake near Campers Island, the scent of smoke was detected from nearby shore. Investigation found an unattended, still-burning campfire with brush placed on top of the flaming fire ring. Adding insult to an impending disaster, trash remains and plastic had been included in the blaze which is a recognized no-no for wilderness users.

Obviously Gunflint Trail residents dodged a bullet thanks to a good friend being in the right place at the right time. This carelessness is in-excusable regardless of whether the perpetrator was a visitor or a local. Campfires must be “dead/cold” out before departing any wilderness site!!!!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where all days are great and some are even better!!!

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 12

As autumn rounds the bend, the “magnetic north” continues its attraction. Wilderness enthusiasts see their time in this spectacular place dwindling. Based on the idea of time in border country waning, vacationers are packing into area outfitters in droves. If parking facilities at both Seagull and Way of the Wilderness outfitters is an indication of what’s happening all along the Trail, business is booming as August heads into week three.

Added to the outdoor fanciers are blueberry pickers galore, making for perhaps more people in the BWCA/Superior National Forest right now than there are bears, or certainly moose.  

To make these wilderness adventures even more pleasant, Gunflint atmospheric conditions have been spectacular for paddlers, tent pitchers, and blue thumbed pickers. Moisture has been spotty though, but thankfully, what did fall came without the violence of storms experienced in June and July.   

Hopes for more fair weather are on the minds of eighteen Gunflint Trail Historical Society volunteers who will be starting an adventure into timber frame building at the North House Folk School as this report hits the air waves. Yours truly included, the group will be making sawdust and wood chips, while shaping timbers for the watercraft display facility to be erected on the bay-shore at Chik-Wauk Museum in the summer of 2017. Under the guidance of Folk House timber frame experts, the project will run daily beginning Friday the 12th and continue through August 21st. Wish us well in cutting a straight line and keeping all fingers intact!

A reminder to all seniors residing up the Trail, the AARP sponsored “Safe Driving” refresher course is being conveniently offered up this way on Monday, August 22nd. The class will be held in the Conference Center at Gunflint Lodge from 10 am to 2 pm. Be sure to bring your own brown bag lunch. 

Last call is being made for the Woods, Winds and Strings concert this coming Sunday. Some tickets remain available for the 4 pm performance at the facilities of Fire Hall number one. Give the Chik-Wauk Museum a call @ 388-9915 to reserve your seating.

August is the perfect month to be planting. If area property owners are intending to enhance their woodland properties, the Minnesota DNR offers help through a Forest Stewardship Program. The program provides technical advice and long-range forest management planning. All aspects of the program are voluntary and are designed to meet landowner goals, while maintaining sustainability of the land. A Forest Stewardship plan is always prepared by a natural resource professional from our local area. For more information the following website provides a link to such at myminnesotawoods.umn.edu, or phone local DNR Forestry offices. 

News from the staff at Chik-Wauk is that the loon chicks hatched on the man-made nesting platform are back in the bay after a few weeks’ hiatus to somewhere. They are nearing adult size, complete with white breasts and darkening formal attire. It is heartening to note they have matured enough to escape the jaws of a hungry northern pike and the talons of a ravenous eagle. It won’t be too many weeks until loon young’uns will be gathering for their first trip south.   

The Wildersmith two have observed very few bears over the summer, and not one in a couple months. However, one did cross our path just days ago on a Smith trek toward end of the Trail. It was a little guy/gal, suggesting a birth date back around first of this year. Being a youngster, there was a strong probability a mommy and perhaps a brother or sister could be nearby. In the area viewed, it was more than likely to have been coming from or entering a blueberry patch. Pickers beware! It’s time for Brunos to start tacking on the pounds. 

On a final note, harvest time is entering early stages for the rodent critters around our yard. Pine cones high in the white pines and white cedar seed clusters will soon be cut to fall earthward and onto our roof tops, as the foraging race begins. Chipmunks have already begun the mad competition with squirrels for seeds, stuffing their jowls and scampering to unknown winter food banks, while their gnawing cousins seem not the least bit concerned right now. Let the games begin! 
                       
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, thinking of “getting ready for winter” chores! 

(photo by Seney Natural History Association via Wikimedia Commons)
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 5

The Wildersmith two are back in the woods once again. It’s great to be home to the “cool” north woods after a trek along the Mississippi to “steamy” Iowa for a visit with our daughter. 

With nearly a week of August under our belts, tell-tale signs of autumn are perking up in places along the Trail and back country roads. The first indication of such is noted in ground level cover called dogbane. Apparently, this is the first flora to discover the diminishing daylight minutes and has begun to cut back on chlorophyll production, thus illuminating roadsides with our first sampling of fall gold. 

In the company of this happening: fireweed, Joe-Pye weed, black-eyed Susans, and goldenrod have picked up the blooming slack from June and July's floral decline. Further signals are noted in grasses of many varieties beside our pathways turning golden brown with seed tops ready to drop, sowing next year's generation, and last but not least, rose hips are gaining on their crimson color.   

Since our return to paradise, upper Trail weather has been spectacular with cool nights and moderate daytimes. Here at Wildersmith, we even experienced a temp in the thirties one night late last week. Whoa, we have tomatoes yet to ripen!  
    
The pleasantness has been well received but somewhat with tongue in cheek. There has been almost no significant rain in this neighborhood over the last two weeks, until a four-tenths dropping a couple days ago. Therefore, the forest had become quite dry. If one was caught traveling backwoods roads following another vehicle, it’s been like one of those wicked Arizona dust storms. In spite of the recent shower, area folks might want to be cranking up those wildfire sprinkler systems just to add a dampening to their properties.   
                                                                                                                                                             
Lots of August happenings occur during the next week or so. First up is The Gunflint Trail Historical Society meeting, this coming Monday, the 8th, beginning at 1:30 pm. The gathering will be at the Seagull Lake Community Center. Following a short membership meeting, an interesting program will feature Patricia Emerson, from the Minnesota Historical Society talking on the underwater exploration of the Granite River, which the Society conducted from 1963 to 1970.

Then on Wednesday, the 10th, the big mid-Trail flea market/gift boutique, auction and quilt raffle takes center stage at
Fire Hall number one. The always fun event commences at 1 pm and runs until about 4 o'clock. Proceeds from the flea market will go to the Gunflint Trail Historical Society, while the balance from other activities will be donated, once again, to our volunteer fire department. Chances for the quilt raffle drawing continue on sale at Trail Center Restaurant. Come one, come all!    

If these two wilderness community affairs aren’t enough, another happens on Sunday, the 14th. The fourth annual Woods, Winds and Strings concert takes place at Fire Hall number one and the Schaap Mid-Trail Community Center at 4 pm. Ticket reservations remain on sale through the GTHS at Chik-Wauk Museum. Call 388-9915 if you haven’t already reserved yours. The concert of classical and jazz music highlights a blend of many local musicians heard in the past, as well as new performers from Cook County and beyond. New this year will be Mike DeBevec’s Sky Blue Jazz Ensemble. The woods will be alive with “the sound of music”, don’t miss it.      
                        
If Cook County residents and visitors haven’t made the trip out to the new Nature Center at Chik-Wauk yet, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. Every day finds some neat natural occurrence being explored with naturalists Jacqueline Mallinson and Kathy Lande.     
            
As an example of what one might experience, yours truly was in attendance last Sunday when Ms. Mallinson presented a female “striped fishing spider” captured with an egg sack attached to an intricate web encompassed branch. During the hours soon after being incarcerated in a big glass container, the arachnid’s egg sack hatched. Bearing countless (perhaps hundreds) of baby spiders, each one was smaller than the head of a straight pin. The new mom and her family were to be carefully released back into the end of the trail wild later that day.     
                                        
Although I’m not into these creepy crawlers, having never been this up close and personal with the critters, the marvel of observing this miracle was one more for the books of Gunflint Trail magic.  
                                                                                            
Fascinating programming continues on Sunday afternoons at the Nature Center providing special insights into many aspects of our natural Gunflint world. This coming Sunday will feature Wildfire Ecology, presented at 2 pm by Gunflint Lodge Naturalist John Silliman. While there, it would be a good idea to stop in the museum for a look at the Trail of yesteryear, and to observe the current temporary exhibit, “Heard but not seen” on birds in the Gunflint Territory.
                                             
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, watching the wonders of summer begin to fade away!

(photo by grassrootsgroundswell via Wikimedia Commons)
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 22

North Country weather has been pleasantly normal during the past weekly segment. Cool nights and several sunny days have kept us back-country folks happy. However, the forecast, as I begin this week's report, indicates we could get singed by some nasty hot by air time. 

Sandwiched in between those great summer days, the upper Trail has been blessed with a couple good doses of rain. Thus, wildfire danger has been kept at bay, helped along by good old “Mother Nature."  
                                    
In the meantime, growing season throughout the woods is at its peak.  As summer advances into its middle of three calendar portions, we marked the Ojibwe “halfway moon,” and our annual Canoe Races hoedown. So with August little more than a week away, we can see summer beginning to trickle southward.      

In regard to those canoe races, a big thanks to Chairperson Arden Byers and his super crew of volunteers for yet another well run event. As of broadcast/website posting time, an unofficial total indicates over $28,000.00 was raised for the Trail Fire and Rescue departments.  

Gunflint Community goings-on are slowed a bit now, until month eight arrives when they pick up once again. Until then, Chik-Wauk Museum/Nature Center is busy with daily things to see and do. Tuesdays host kids' day activities in the Nature Center, along with U.S. Forest Service programming, while this coming Sunday has a special “wild edibles hike” led by Teresa Marrone, beginning at 2 pm. So if one is seeking a northwoods adventure, a trip out to the magic of Chik-Wauk is well worth the drive.  

It has been announced by planners of the Woods, Winds and Strings concert that ticket reservations are being accepted. This August 14th event has always been a sell-out. Only 150 seats are sold. It would be a good idea to get that call made as soon as possible to secure a spot for this fourth annual mid-Trail happening. The Gunflint Trail Historical Society is facilitating reservations through Chik-Wauk . Call (218)388-9915 between 10 am and 5 pm daily.  

On the wild scene, hummingbird arrivals and departures have picked-up at our International nectar port. We went about six weeks with almost no traffic, so it’s nice to have the tiny hover-critters darting about. Another avian point of interest, finds a gal over on Hungry Jack Lake reporting the discovery of a nesting cedar waxwing. I don’t know if this is an unusual observation, but anytime one can see anything nesting, it’s a neat natural experience. 

According to my angling friend down the road, he says his catching fortunes have been improving over the past ten days or so. Perhaps unsettled conditions in the depths, caused by the storms of late June, plus another mayfly hatching, have eased, allowing a feeding frenzy for bait on a hook.  

The intensity of blueberry hunting is increasing along the upper Trail. A trip to Trail's end last weekend found several berry picker vehicles pulled off in the usual niches, so they must be out, bucket in hand. It would seem, with the rains of the past week and more bright sunshine, there will be a purple explosion in the days to come.  

On the domestic side of growing things, a friend has a tomato plant as big as a small tree, and one of my plants seems not far behind. Both plants have plenty of blossoms, but whether they produce ripened fruit to beat the frost is a question yet to be answered.   

As it relates to frost, it would be a fair trade to forfeit tomatoes in favor of an early passing of mosquito hostilities.

In closing, following the most recent rain storm, a drenched canine-type critter came darting up out of the ditch in front of my vehicle. At first glance, I thought it to be a coyote, or maybe a juvenile wolf, and then again, my wife thought it to be a shepherd-type dog. Regardless of the species, it did not look too comely in wet fur, as it scampered back into the woods avoiding a painful encounter with my truck.  

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, savoring thoughts of cool days and autumn colors.

(photo by Ryan Haggerty via Wikimedia Commons)
 
 

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Gunflint Lake July 2007 (Dale Sundstrom/ Flickr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 15

The Northland is turning the corner in July with weekend number three going into the books. Border country has experienced some swell atmospheric conditions as I hit the keyboard with this Gunflint scoop. With temperate air, cooling breezes and mostly sunny skies, it has made for some great dock time, including last weekend.  

Dock time for yours truly affords a terrific opportunity for contemplation. Following another week of American tragedy, there has been much to think about. Solving our ever growing societal dilemmas seems overwhelming to nearly impossible. As greed and self-gratification continue not yielding an inch toward compromise and/or respect for our fellow man, it’s just pretty discouraging for a country that once prided itself in being a land of opportunity for all.                                               

It sure makes me thankful for living in our “unorganized territory” where peace and civility are still the order of life.

On a happier note, while down on the dock last Sunday, when not pondering American ills, I was nudged back to the reality of how great this place is by rolling lake waters with gentle whitecaps and shadows being cast on the Canadian hillside by puffy clouds. The world seemed at peace, as one roller meshed into another and the heavenly wisps of gauze slowly eased over the green mountain tops to be gone forever. We in this neck of the woods are so fortunate to reside far away from the hubbub of an urban America gone wild, in spite of the constant media bombardment. 

Ongoing news from the upper Trail has me reporting about berries, bitin’ bugs and bunnies. First up is the progress of blueberry ripening. A few pickers are hitting the patches and gathering early purple pearls. However, most reports indicate the best is yet to come, probably in another week or two.      

As to the bug situation, black flies have simmered down a bit, but still can be stirred up. “No see umms” remain a nightly nuisance if lighted windows are left open, and mosquitoes are lurking in mass as the sun sets. Knowing how these winged terrorists get after we humans, one has to feel for the critters of the woods that must be in 24/7 agony from these carnivorous nippers.  

Meanwhile, snowshoe hares are practicing multiplication exercises with diligence. The hopping crowd can be noted at almost any turn of the road. I can’t remember observing so many during any one season as I’m seeing this summer, and other folks are echoing similar information. This speaks well for critters seeking a rabbit dinner, especially Canadian lynx. We might look for increased lynx appearances as fall and winter grow closer.  

Elsewhere out this way, the ghostly reminders of the Ham Lake fire are diminishing in many areas bit by bit. A recent trip to end of the Trail, finds far fewer of the charred skeletal remains lurking over the landscape. One might guess the wind storms of a few weekends ago took down great numbers and buried them in the surging green rebirth.    

While driving any number of our back country roads, I’m often compelled to visit with myself about the traveled surface. I have taken to doing an assessment of quality verses appalling on those I traverse. 

I find many county maintained pathways to be in a difficult to deplorable state. At the same time, I realize this is a huge county with many arteries to be serviced, and understand the difficulty in keeping each road up to snuff and everyone happy. 

Nevertheless, my mid-summer rating finds the Sag Lake Trail to be far and away “the clubhouse leader” in regard to rattle your teeth roughness. I feel for those folks having to make daily trips on this rolling corduroy course. Number two on my list, and gaining on the Sag Lake Trail, is county number twenty (the South Gunflint lake Road). In both cases, I hope I’m not offending residents residing along these back woods byways, but rough is rough, and pot holes, wash-boards and ruts, are what they are!   

Our big Gunflint canoe race event is now at hand. Finally, after months of planning, canoeists will hit the water this coming Wednesday evening. Kids' activities begin at 4:00 pm, food service at 4:30, and the first race at 6:00, all on the Gunflint Lodge waterfront. Expect to have another great evening in canoe country as we celebrate summer and the Gunflint Trail Volunteer fire Department.   

Last but not least, from this weekly commentary volunteer, thanks once again for stepping up with a pledge of support in last week's WTIP summer membership drive. All station followers proudly confirmed their friendship, showing that “with a little help from our friends,” anything is possible.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, hoping sanity and peace can get a grip on our violent world!
 

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