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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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Canada geese - Shaun Whiteman via Flickr

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - September 22

The Smiths are back from a run to Iowa for a visit with family. Quick as the trip was, I barely missed a beat during our flight from northland autumn. The mosaic of color has stepped up, and looks to be at a mixed bag stage as the Gunflint news hits the air waves, plenty of color and diminishing green.

I was happy with a return to an over flowing Wildersmith rain gauge. The Mile O Pine neighborhood was getting a little crunchy when I departed. Apparently some wind accompanied the moisture delivery as lawn chairs on the deck were blown about, but luckily no major trees were downed, at least around this place. So, with nearly an inch and one-half recorded, folks in these parts can be a little less worried about wildfire danger, for the time being.   
                                                                                             
This time of year is so intriguing. Clouds hanging heavy and cool fall dampness give off an eerie feeling of winter. Summer is gone! Little more than twenty-four hours ago, our universe passed true east is east, and west is west with the Equinox. I am so captured by watching the sun set at due west on this special day. To me, the Equinox just seems to set the planet right every six months. Hopefully this astronomical happening might cause a calming in the raging atmosphere of our hemisphere, over the past few weeks.        
                                                                                                                     
Rituals of our season continue to unfold. Fall is a time of un-dress in the forest. The 2017 generation of deciduous foliage is falling like winter flakes, accumulating to form the next decaying layer in a thousand year pilgrimage to build an inch of “mother earth.”  On a related note, during my brief time away from the home place, the white and red pine congregation initiated their annual needle shedding. Although this undertaking is not yet complete, the forest landscape is being re-carpeted with trillions of delicate terra-cotta toned stylus. Meanwhile, waiting in the tree tops, white cedar fronds are hanging out to add more texture as a finishing touch to this yearly, earthen floor covering event.  

I don’t know if the next subject is symbolic of early things to come, but those Canadian honkers have been flying for several weeks now. Until just last week, in our years living along Gunflint Lake, a flying wedge has not been seen setting down for R & R here in the mid-lake area. That being said, a large gaggle sto-over was not only unusual, but noisy as well. The stay was short lived however, as the flight director was disturbed by a passing watercraft and the airborne tour was quickly resumed.   

Watching the red rodents (squirrels) around the yard, I’ve observed they are expanding their winter menu cache. Not so exuberant about toting off sunflower seeds right now, they are harvesting coniferous cones. At almost every turn, I find a pile of white and/or red pine cone, remains. From the remains piled here and there, it would seem the portion they are storing away would be a bitter, sticky mess. Obviously these gnawing critters know something I don’t by including pine seeds as part of their diet fare, along with my ration of sunflower seeds from the winter seed trough.  

A reminder once more is given for the special program at Chik-Wauk Nature Center Saturday (the 23rd). Professor Evan Larson, from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville will be on the CW campus to talk of his research concerning the historic log exhibit at the museum which he discovered in an island forest on Lake Saganaga. The presentation will begin at 2:00pm.  

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, among the wonders of “Mother Nature.”
 

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Fall color

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - September 15

Gunflint territory has been living “Indian Summer” at its best as I begin this week's news. The facts were never more evident than this past weekend when temps warmed under crystal blue following an early September cool spell.                                                                                             

Heading into week three, golden flurries of fall have started trickling down along back country roads. Along our Mile O' Pine, the passage of a few neighborhood vehicles is beginning to windrow an accumulation of flighty birch tokens.                                                                                            

With the start of leaf drop being our first chapter in autumn's fade-away, the second is seen in the sudden decline of hummingbird arrivals and take-offs from our deck side feeding terminal. It would seem most of the mini-drones must have departed the territory as the sweet juice container has remained half full for several consecutive days.                                                                               

The beat goes on for this autumnal passage. During a recent trip up toward Trail's end, I found a micro sampling of fall in full dress. It may be history by this airing, but the scene was glorious around the little waterfalls on Larch Creek just south of the U.S. Forest Service Seagull Guard station. Brilliant reds, orange and golds framed the liquid as it tumbled over the granite barrier. Ahhh, the beauty of border country, that’s why we live here!                                                                                                                                            

The Smiths at long last got an up close peek at the local momma bear and her four youngsters. Having heard uncountable reports of the family, we encountered them twice in less than 24 hours. Those little ones are so cuddly. Too bad they grow-up to be an occasional nuisance. Or do they become annoyances because we humans create the opportunity? I think we know!                                                                                                                                 
Another note from our natural world finds the staff at Chik-Wauk still awaiting the hatching of the snapping turtle eggs. If you will recall from a June Wildersmith column, the eggs were buried in a protected area of the parking lot near the museum entrance. It’s going on 90 days since momma laid them, so if it’s going to happen the little snappers should be cracking out any day. The average incubation is about 70 days, but can extend to up over 90, so internal nurturing is at the long end of this “shell game” process.                                                                                                                                          

A new historical display at the Chik-Wauk Museum this summer probably has not drawn the attention it should. Being located on the front porch, the exhibit is one commanding interest from both a natural and cultural point of view.                                                                                  

The subject of the display is a log which was salvaged from a dead red pine tree growing on Voyagers Island in Lake Saganaga. Through “cross-dating” the natural story can now be told about growth rings being matched to now living trees in the BWCAW. The inner most growth ring was formed in the year 1589 while the outermost solid ring was formed in the early 1900s thus making this tree over 350 years old when it died. Scars within the growth rings indicate the effects of fire that burned around the tree in 1659, 1743 and 1847.                                                                            

Culturally, speaking a large scar on the face of the trunk was created when bark was stripped off by mankind. This was likely done to induce the flow of resin which ultimately was used in the development of gum sealants for the building and repair of birch bark canoes. Tool marks remain visible to this day. Interestingly, now dead for somewhere over a century, small spots of resin can still be found oozing from the log. The peel on the tree seems to have been initiated in the 1770s giving credence to the influence of people in this area during the fur trade era and likely indigenous people before them.                                                                                                                                                   

Discussion of this thought-provoking exhibit leads me to announce a special program coming up at Chik-Wauk on Saturday, September 23. Evan Larson, an associate professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, will be on hand to enlarge upon this fascinating history of mankind in nature. Professor Larson discovered the log while conducting research connecting fire relationships and border country inhabitants in Sag Lake territory.                                                                                                                                                                                
The program will be held in the Nature Center facility beginning at 2:00 pm, and looks to be another in the great series of summer programs at Chik-Wauk. Residents and visiting “leaf peepers” are reminded to stop in, see the exhibit and listen to Mr. Larson.                                                                                                    
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, as autumn lights up our lives!
 
 
 

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wooley bear caterpillar - Richard Droker, Flickr.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint September 8

Could it be a geriatric thing as these wonderful days along the Gunflint seem to go by so fast? Here we are having whizzed right by the full lunar experience, with one week of the ninth month into the books. Although my memory skips a beat once in a while, I still remember how long the days seemed when I was a kid, and now they’re all so short!                                                                                                                                                                      
Day by day we Gunflint regulars are noting changes in our natural surroundings as fall intensifies. Travel in the upper Trail, past the Kekakabic Trail trailhead, finds the most spectacular crimson maples I’ve ever noticed in this area. There aren’t an over-abundance of them, but nestled in amongst the coniferous green, those cherry red beauties provide the viewer with a holiday look of December. For an added touch, a smattering of gold nuggets, on the paper birch have the territory lit up like a Christmas tree when the sun is just right.                                                                           

This is such a colorful time of year one can’t help but be energized. The area is about to be a “leaf peeper's” dream come true while the forest slips into autumn apparel.                                                                                                                                  

Adding more zest to these times have been those majestic “Canadian” sunsets. One such, at day's end on Gunflint Lake over the past week has burned indelibly into my memory bank. On this particular evening, through a combination of thin clouds and wild fire smoke from afar, “old Sol” was spewing out reflections over the water to make it look like pink champagne. All of mankind couldn’t have scripted an equal to this “pink water” magic sent from heavens to earth!                                                                                                                                                                                                
A little bit of heaven right here on earth took place last Sunday at the annual “social” up on the historic Chik-Wauk campus. Truly a sweet tooth’s delight, over 300 pieces of pie and an equal number of ice cream dips were served on a splendid day.                                                         

Folks came “out of the woods" from both near and far to share in celebration of summer's end and the autumn take-over. With a special touch added by the North Shore Community Swing Band, sweet tunes were echoing off the granite hills surrounding this grand, end of the Trail destination. The day was a “honey," one of unmatched north woods delight for all!                                                                                                                                                                                     
Once again the Gunflint community stepped up with a superb event. Huge thanks to GTHS organizer Judy Edlund and her crew of volunteers, the great Chik-Wauk staff, Gunflint Lodge for in-kind donations, the “Swing Band” and of course, to the Gunflint pastry artisans.                                                   

In a related note, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society will be hosting the final membership meeting of the season, this coming Monday, September 11. The meeting will be held in the Schaap Mid-Trail Community Center beginning at 1:30 pm. Treats and conversation will follow the program.                                                                                                                                                             

 A full-house turned out last week at the mid-trail Schaap Center for the first in a series of Cook County budget levy meetings for the coming year. It was a well-managed and informative session. Whether one agreed with the budgeting projections or not, it was great to see folks come out and exercise their rights as citizens. Some loud and clear messages were spoken, and it would be assumed they were heard by those charged with this difficult taxing task.                                                                                                                                                                                   
With prognostications of winter on my mind, and help from a dear friend, I got some firewood splitting and stacking done over the last week. So this task is scratched from the “getting ready” list. However, docket check-offs are far from complete.                                                                  

While speaking of forecasts, a couple of those wooly bear caterpillars have been observed recently. Dark and lush in their woolly coat, the age old story of the darker and fuller their fuzz, the more severe will be the winter ahead. On the contrary, this is a myth with no scientific substance. But if one believes the tale, it should be considered only reliable as one of those 10 percent chance predictions from the climatological sensationalists.                                                                                                                                                                  
A fellow from over on Loon Lake shared a recent bear happening at his place. A rumble early one morning found something causing a ruckus. Strangeness of the source was it seemed to be right above where he was slumbering. A nudge from his wife prodded him from bed to go outside and see what was going on. Prowling around the exterior, he came to where he believed the noise was originating. Looking up over the corner of the eve, he came face to face with “Bruno.”        

Not three feet away, he was startled into a vociferous rage sending the bear in a sprint to the other side of the cabin. Whether or not the bear was scared by this irate person from out of nowhere or just mad for being disturbed, the ornery critter stopped long enough to tear off a section of fascia trim at roof's edge before departing into the dawning twilight.

This “Bruno” occurrence makes me wonder if it might be the same critter or a cousin that ripped shingles of the roof at Wildersmith a year or so ago? Guess we’ll never know what’s going on in the head of our “Ursus” neighbors. A few things we do know for sure, bears were here first. Second they are always hungry and expect the unexpected!                                                                                                                                                                                        
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with “oft” unforeseen adventures!
 

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The Pie Social at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center is Sunday

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - September 1

The spectaculars of September in border country has yours truly heading off into year 16 of reporting Gunflint Trail news. To be specific, September 2, 2002 was my first ever scribing attempt. It was first as a columnist for the News Herald until 2008 and ever since with WTIP.                                                                                                                                                                      

I’m indeed thankful for the enduring support over the years. It is truly gratifying to have met so many folks who seem to enjoy the weekly scoop. Furthermore, thanks to everyone who has offered a news tip or two from wherever they reside in Trail territory.        

So here we go into a little review of what’s been going on. It may be my imagination, but autumn seems to be advancing rapidly. Some of the late August atmospheric and natural happenings might not amount to one iota with regard to my pre-fall observations, possibly prognosticating an early cold season. However, unusual things keep catching my attention.                                                                                                                                        
Whereas the lush green of the forest is still pretty much in command, a tamarak hidden back in the wetlands along the upper Trail caught my eye recently with its sparkling gold needles. While these dazzling forest sentinels are ordinarily the last color of the season in October, the flashy yellow tree makes me wonder if this isn’t some kind of signal from the “old man of the north.”                                                                                                                                                                      
To compliment this gilded needle appearance, the territory experienced a couple early mornings of cold temperatures as month eight headed into the last lap. The mercury slipped into the low 30s at a few locations with one report of frost having to be cleared from a windshield. A couple gardeners I know even threw a cover over their tomatoes. Wildersmith had three or four nights in the high 30s before capping the cold snap off with a 30 degree morning for the lowest so far, and our tomatoes will be best served as the fried green variety,                                                                                                                                                    

Needless to say, it probably remains a long ways from first frost to first snow. However, with mosquitos having been in the attack mode lately, a counter-attack of early freezing would not make some of us too unhappy.                                                                                                                
One more early autumn transition I’ve noticed is that boats are starting to come ashore. Several are trailered up with wintering protection battened down. Although this has no predictability of atmospheric things to come, it indicates summer folks have mellowed into the harvest season planning mode.                                                                                                              

Those cold conditions have eased some as I key this first report of month nine, and rain dampened this neighborhood in a Sunday soaker last weekend. The cool soggy setting made me briefly think, October. It was a nice rain with no wind, thunder or lightning, totally contrary to the tragedy suffered by millions in Texas. Remembering the derechos of 1999 and the wildfires in ‘05, ’06, and ’07, our hearts go out to them as we Gunflint folk know a lot about terrible tragedies too.                                                                                                                            
Reports of more bear visits continue to trickle in. Recently, a friend down the road experienced an all-day stop-over of the Gunflint Lake momma bear and her quadruplet cubs. She would not go away and the five-some ravaged bird feeders not having been stowed away. One of the black “Teddys” by chance tramped through the Wildersmith yard last Saturday morning, but found no temptations necessitating a stop, which was just fine with me.                                                                                                      

One of my squirrelly rodent buddies might be sending a weather signal too. Getting ready for winter could be on its mind as it had been working at a “B & E” (breaking and entering) project on a door to the outhouse for our guest cabin next door. It had already been evicted once as I found cold season nesting quarters in place just a few weeks ago.                                      

After squirrel proofing the gnawed point of entry, the little devil is back at its scheming to re-enter once again. This in mind, I am determined to win this battle of rights to privy occupation. I’m about to post no vacancies, there are plenty of vacant tree cavities to accommodate the rascal.                                                                                                                                              

I’ve been hyping the Gunflint Trail Historical Societies, Pie & Ice Cream Social for the past couple weeks. Such clamor ends now with the event at hand on Sunday. Don’t miss this sweetest of all holiday weekends up at Chik-Wauk, from noon to 4 p.m. There’ll be a lot of things going on as we usher in the Ojibwe “Tagwaagin”/fall season.                                                                                        

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, during the month of the “wild rice” moon, September calls!
 

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The baby loon at Chik-Wauk Nature Center is now as large as its mother

Wildersmith on the Gunflint August 25

The hullabaloo in the heavens is in the rearview mirror and September is bearing down on the Trail as in other places of the universe. Next time these radio waves come out, we’ll be humming the September Song, and September is spectacular!                                                                                            

A lot of month nine happenings come to mind, including more celestial things like the full “wild rice moon” and the Autumnal Equinox kissing summer good bye.                                                                                                                                                       

Upper Trail residents experienced another week of mundane weather in lake country and along the Trail. A couple rainy segments paired with sunshine and pleasant temps, have been pretty much seasonal for our waning summer.                                                                                                            

Changes are in the making though. Lake water temps on Gunflint and Loon Lake have slipped back into the mid to upper 60s depending on where one dips the thermometer.                   

While on land, I’ve observed a few off-the-road spots of sugar maple orange/scarlet and adolescent birch tree gold. In concert, blooms of purple asters, tansy, toadflax (butter & eggs) and Joe pye weed have taken the spotlight, with fireweed and ox-eyed daisies fading into oblivion. However, not to give up yet are uncountable patches of black-eyed Susans and goldenrod. So the “technicolor” floral illumination remains vivid with a little bit old and a little bit new. Elsewhere, in the moist shade of our Wildersmith yard, milk cap mushrooms are popping into prominence.                                                                                                                                                                           
The onset of fall brings on not only movement back to school for our Cook County  Viking kids and southerly thoughts by snowbird neighbors, but any number of north woods winged folk also are feeling the southward allure. Waves of many warblers, flickers, monarch and red admiral butterflies are some of the first gathering to catch the “Indian Summer” currents toward winter quarters.                                                                                                                

While speaking of furry critters, I don’t believe I’ve spoken with one person who hasn’t observed a bear somewhere along the Trail in the last week. It is bears, bears, bears!                                           

As the season is open to hunting them, one might suppose they could be seeking refuge from a hunter's slug in our neighborhoods. While this seems hard to imagine with all the baiting goodies put out by “Bruno” stalkers, a better guess is the population has been booming over the past couple years around the territory. I’m still getting reports of momma bears escorting up to as many as three or four cubs throughout the forest.                                                                                            

Gathering is not limited to critters of airborne character. Dozens of rodent beings around the yard have commenced with stocking up their winter stashes as well. Red squirrels and chipmunks are so under foot, it often commands some fancy footwork to avoid squishing the little folk.                                                                                                                                                                                       
One such red squirrel has adopted yours truly, and is at the workshop door as regular as the sun up each day. It gets so excited when it finds me approaching that the little guy or gal doesn’t pay much attention to where my big clod-hoppers land. On a morning recently, my furry friend took a foolish turn and by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, got caught under one of my steps. Somehow with my aging agility and its being wiry resilient, death by crushing was averted. It managed to scramble away in a flash, only to be back waiting the next morning, still having not learned a good lesson.                                                                                                                                       
Wonders never cease in the natural world. After well over a year of not seeing a whitetail in the Mile O' Pine neighborhood, a doe made a cameo sprint in front of the vehicle just days ago. So in the least, there is one out this way the wolves have not found, as yet!                      

A constant in our animal world is babies have to growup so fast. Such is the case with the loons from the nesting platform at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Mother loon and her 2017 chick have been staying close to home recently. Baby loon should no longer be called such as it’s bigger than mom. A digital is attached to this website column at WTIP.org showing the youngster on the left, a big baby indeed!                                                                                                                                 

A programming note from Chik-Wauk Nature Center reminds rock/stone enthusiasts of Sundays’ presentation by Don Wendel. Don’s talk on geology of the area will focus on Saganaga Batholith, the same formation on which the museum and nature were built. The program begins at 2:00 p.m.                                                                                                                                                                    
Lastly, on behalf of organizer, Judy Edlund, I’m giving another shout out for pie donations to the “social” at Chik-Wauk a week from Sunday (Sept. 3rd). Please don’t make Judy call you. Bakers, you do the calling, 388-4400. Just like “old Uncle Sam” used to tout, “we need you” and your talent for sweetness!  
                                                                                                                                  
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, while watching the dawning of a new season!
 

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Hummingbird

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - August 18

As August passed the halfway mark on the calendar, our north woods splendor has extended into yet another week. Temperatures have been in the cool comfortable range, and the territory got some much needed rain. At Wildersmith, the rain gauge caught an inch, whereas the Mid-Trail area received considerably more during a mid-week deluge.                                                 
This same Mid-Trail storm occurred in the midst of their property owners’ big fundraising event. It didn’t dampen enthusiasm though. Showing true north country grit, folks outlasted the downpour, and in the end raised a whopping $13,000 in support of our dedicated Gunflint fire and rescue crews. Congrats and a big thanks to the organizational leadership and their crew of able volunteers. What a fun event, thankfully under the “big top.”                                                                                 
Speaking of fun and enthusiasm, the last activity of the day found Poplar Lake resident, Keitha Herron the most excited person in attendance. Her name was drawn as winner of the beautiful 2017 Mid-Trail quilters’ project.  Congrats to Keitha, and a big thank you to all those talented stitchers.                                                                                                                                                                    
More news from the Mid-Trail comes in the report of a big cat sighting. Recently, a fellow Gunflinter living on Tucker Lake advised me of observing the cougar in a driveway while passing through the Rockwood Lodge neighborhood. The feline described was big and had a long tail, so no doubt it was what it was. The sighting was reported to the DNR, with a confirmation from that agency of another such cat being seen a couple days earlier down along the “Big Lake” shore near Tofte.                                                                                                                                                                               

Although I’m still observing berry pickers parked in various spots along the Byway, I wonder if the purple treasures might be dwindling. My reason for this curiosity comes from an apparent increase of bears appearing  back into areas of residential habitation                                          

Maybe it’s just by chance I came across a pair of the critters, but with sweet berries on the wane, perhaps they might be starting to gather in search of human littering remains as they begin amassing winter pounds. Then again, maybe the burly animals might have been taking a short cut to just another berry patch.                                                                                                                             
Interest in hummingbird traffic around here whetted my appetite for knowing just how fast they fly. With constant activity onto and away from our nectar station, the tiny avian zoom around at what seems to be jet-like speed. Brief research from one “Google” source found they aren’t about to break the sound barrier, but do average between 25 and 35 MPH, and can reach up to 60 in some of their diving antics.                                                                                                 

To match their tightly wound propelling abilities (at up to 70 wing beats per second), they obviously have highly developed navigation systems to avoid mid-air collisions. On two separate occasions recently, one of the winged speed demons was in direct line with my head only to abort a collision and break off at top speed. With fierce competition for a gulp of sweet nectar, their in-flight air to air combat is nothing short of spectacular. What marvelous beings of creation!                                                                                                                                                                                                      
It may seem early to be thinking of winter, but some of us north woods beings are taking stock of their things to do list. I’ve already taken inventory of the wood shed status, and piled brush for snow season burning. Meanwhile, over on Loon Lake, friends are laying up their birch cuttings and splitting for colder times. It won’t be long folks until we’ll be getting real serious about buttoning up for the winter season.                                                                                                                        

If you haven’t noticed, September is less than two weeks from reality. A lot of activities are coming down the pike as month nine hits the Trail. The biggest of which is a new school year, but first up out this way, Labor Day weekend breaks right out of the blocks.                                                          

The Gunflint Trail Historical Society kick starts the autumn run with its annual pie & ice cream social on Sunday, September 3rd. The event is held on the grounds of the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center from noon until 4:00 p.m.                                                                                                            

In addition to the luscious sweet treats being served, there’ll be a local author book signing, needle basket crafting, gift shop sidewalk sales and great music from the Northshore Community Swing Band. Should be a great day for an up the Trail outing, who knows there might even be some fall tinting in the hills!                                                                                                                                                        
On a related note, the “P & IC Social” coordinator, Judy Edlund is already on the look out for area pastry specialists to sign up with a donation or two. Give her a call at 388-4400 to confirm a sweet contribution. Pie & Ice cream trivia from a year ago tells of between 35 and 40 pies being served along with buckets of ice cream!                                                                                            
The yearly concert in the forest charmed attendees once again, last Sunday. “Woods, Winds and Strings” No. 5 played to a near full house in the Mid-Trail fire department storage building, turned concert hall. Kudos goes out to the gifted performers, and to the organizing folks bringing them together, along with many community volunteers. On this afternoon, the wild land hills came alive with the “sound of music.”                                                                                                        

In closing for this week, don’t forget all the activities up at Chik-Wauk this Saturday on National Honey Bee day. Things will be buzzing from 11:00 a.m until 3:00 pm around the campus.                                                                                                                                                                
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, among uncounted treasures of creation!
 

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The wonderful new sign at Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center, as mentioned by Wildersmith last week.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint August 11

Lest WTIP listener/readers think I might have slipped and hit my head while scribing the news last week, I did not.  As you might recall, I spaced off into oblivion while sharing about the “blueberry moon” and subsequently short circuited right into a discussion about the coming eclipse as a lunar experience.

Obviously, I must have had an “eclipse of the mind” to have not caught such a dimming blunder before it hit the air waves. 

Furthermore, any number of proof readings by we Smiths never caught the snafu, and it even got by staff scrutiny at the station.                                                              

The reporting glitch didn’t come to my attention until shortly after the second airing when I suddenly remembered the heavenly occurrence is of the solar nature. By then it was too late, and must have had folks scratching their heads in wonder as to how I could make such a foolish mistake. But I did, and regret wasting people's time putting out incorrect information while jeopardizing the integrity of future reporting.                                                                                                                         

So all the other info listed was correct, it will happen on August 21; the celestial phenomena will not be total for us at 48 degrees north; and the best view of “Sol’s” brief disappearing act in the Midwest will be a couple states to the south.    

News of this week finds the entry into August week two as north woods nice. Although shy of a good rain, there have been spotty incidents of shower downpours off and on over several days, but not amounting to much.                                                                                                                                                                         
Meanwhile, complaints about the temps being either too hot or too cool are not being heard. This goes for the lake water temps as well. Here on the Gunflint, the rippling liquid has been holding in the low to mid-70s, just right for fun in and on the “old gal.”                                                            

At the mid-point of official summer, autumn continues to nudge its way onto the scene. The fall advance is noted in places with sugar maple leaves fading to a lesser green tint; rose hips along the Mile O' Pine gaining some scarlet tone; and roadside grasses at the seed stage with flaxen shades of their final hurrahs.                                                                                                                    

With summer not yet giving way to the harvest season movement, another hatching of mosquitoes reminds us “it’s not over ‘til it’s over." This batch is of smaller character, but seems hungrier than their cousins of a few weeks ago.    
                                                                                                             
The Smiths meanwhile encountered a couple of “wild neighborhood” critters recently. It turned out to be a near-miss situation as they crossed our vehicular path without looking both ways. In fact the meeting was a double jeopardy incident as a food service 18-wheeler was coming at us from the opposite direction. The scene turned out to be a lucky day for a momma moose and her calf as well as both vehicle occupants when making moose-burger was avoided.    

Cruising the Trail a day later, I had a similar up close meeting with a young "Bruno.”  It too must have been more concerned about getting to a blueberry patch than watching for traffic along the road. Once more, a collision was averted, and the startled bear stopped long enough to look back at me in wonder. I suppose thinking, from where did that noisy, iron beast come.                                                                                                                                                                                           
Being absent for a good share of the summer, hummingbird flights have returned to our international feeding terminal. Arrivals and departures are nonstop. I’m supposing they have been on nesting duty, and with parenting out of the way, the hovering minis are free to begin bulking up for the soon to come southern trip. So the hum of birds is now in concert with that of mosquitoes buzzing about in search of a little protein.                                                                                                    

Speaking of concerts, the sound of music will be in the air on the Trail Sunday. Woods, Winds and Strings Concert (and a little jazz too) number five will be in the Fire Hall at 4:00 p.m. A reception will follow in the Schaap Community Center next door. Ticket reservations are still available at broadcast time, but must be made ASAP by calling Patsy @ 313-673-6202.                                                                 

As of this newscast moment, results of the goings-on at the Mid Trail hoedown this past Wednesday are not available. A report of their events will be included in next weeks’ Gunflint news.  
  
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, in a land of majestic backwoods history!
 
 

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Joe Pye weed by Liz West, Flickr

Wildersmith on the Gunflint August 4

It’s been delightful along the Gunflint if one is partial to 80 degrees and a beastly sun beating down. The stickiness of last weekend made for an unpleasant few days in “moosedom” and caused yours truly some crankiness.                                                                                                               

As luck would have it though, a brief blessing from the rain gods last Sunday afternoon tempered the heat in border country. Although more precip is always welcome, beginning this week's scoop, some natural air conditioning has calmed my mood.                                                                                                                           
Having departed July and moved into August, the universe is but days away from the Ojibwe, full “Blueberry Moon.” In the words of North Country phenologist Larry Weber, “August is awesome” as our natural world is seeing new things blooming, others maturing and many more fading into next season obscurity.                                                                                                                                            

If this isn’t enough mysteriousness, the “man in the moon” will eclipse parts of the planet into total darkness later this month (on the 21st). Word in this territory indicates the lunar path will not make it 100 percent at this latitude. Nevertheless the heavens will be somewhat dimmed of lunar illumination around here. I’m told Missouri is the place to be for the full affect in the Midwest.      

New floral blooming is taking the byway spotlight by storm. Fireweed, black eyed Susans, goldenrod, yarrow and an early patch of Joe Pye weed have caught my attention on several up the Trail treks in recent days.                                                                                                                                                                                                         
The shower mentioned earlier couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m certain these new flowering Trail starlets are drinking it up. The power of “Sol” has dried the area considerably since we last met. Thus low level wild fire risk, during the past several weeks (since Memorial Day) has hiked up into the moderate danger category. Everyone is urged to exercise common sense/caution when it comes to sparking that primeval survival force of a fire at the campsite or wherever.                                                                                                                                                                                  
In addition to all these nature made comings and goings, several manmade affairs dot the calendar. The “biggest blueberry contest” continues into week three.                                                   

WTIP listener/readers are reminded once more of the Mid-Trail fundraising event taking center stage Wednesday, the 9th at Fire Hall  No. 1, beginning at 12:00 noon.                                                        

Next is act two in the Mid-Trail date book with the Woods, Winds and Strings Concert, Sunday, the 13th. It too is held in Fire Hall No. 1/Schaap Community Center beginning at 4:00 p.m. Ticket reservations can be secured from Patsy @ 313-673-6202. 

Then two weeks from now, on Saturday, the 19th, a celebration of National Honey Bee Day will find special presentations at the Chik-Wauk Nature Center. Running from 11:00 a.m. til 3:00 p.m, activities include a pollinator-focused nature hike at 12:30; Bumblebee Identification; Building for native bees; Making seed paper; Wax crafts and Children’s bee and flower crafts.

Featured speaker, local beekeeper, Mark Ditmanson will talk on diversity and importance of the wild bee population along with beekeeping in the Boreal forest at 1:00 p.m. At approximately 2:00 p.m., a couple of Master Gardeners will discuss the need for pollinator plants and bee habitat in garden plots. Things look to be a buzzing that day at end of the Trail.                                                                                                                                                                                    
If area folk were not in attendance for the programming at the Chik-Wauk Nature Center last Sunday, you missed an energetic and informative session with Saturday morning WTIP commentator and outdoor specialist, Larry Weber.   

In this day of alleged “Fake News,” he gave attendees the real scoop on “Spiders of the North Woods.” It was so enlightening I am now counting spiders in the same category as beavers in terms of top level engineering design and craftsmanship excellence. Mr. Weber clued us in on architects of the original “world wide web," from identification of our crawling eight-legged neighbors, to separating the boys from the girls; and to their abilities in silky web construction. Not only are these beings awesome fine line fabricators, they are terrific recyclers! Should Larry ever pass this way again, it is well worth the effort to spend time with him!                                                                                

Along with the mention of beavers a few lines ago, I found a thought-provoking article worth reading in the August/September National Wildlife magazine. While a lot of folks out this way have little good to say about the gnawing critters, specifically in regard to their cutting this or blocking that on and along our water-ways, this scribing looks at the busy “aamikwag” (Ojibwe) differently and sees “Beavers as Ecopartners.” The commentary, by Anne Bolen, may not change North Woods opinions but nevertheless provides an alternate perspective. Hope all beaver fans, or otherwise, can get a chance to read it.                                                                                                                                                     
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with the “greatest show on earth” right outside our front door!
 

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A lovely young buck was spotted on Moose Pond Road this week.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 28

Summer is humming along out Gunflint way. With month seven on its last legs and August pushing the issue, there’s a subtle hint of fall showing in Trail territory.                                          

Dogbane turning gold, lupine blooms fading to seed pods and rose hips popping out on wild rose bushes, validates summer is peaking. Further authentication, of the season at hand, finds berry picking season in full swing.                                                                                                

A trip along the upper Trail requires drivers to maintain keen observation as the blueberry picking folk might be caught pulling their vehicles from secret off road places, while others, in a frenzy to get out in the patches, barely get off the hard surface. In either case, traffic safety is jeopardized for a few weeks.                                                                                                                                                            

In regard to the excitement of blueberry season, week one of the Gunflint Trail “biggest blueberry contest” is ending, and week two commences this weekend. What a unique idea by whoever suggested such. I find the contest interesting in that it’s called the “biggest” when the big winner each week will be measured in grams.                                                                                            

Weigh-in stations are located at several places along the Trail from Bearskin Lodge to Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. I was present for a weigh-in at Chik-Wauk last Saturday when a young gal presented her largest purple pearl. It came in at a whopping .78 of a gram. After the official documentation, she promptly ate it.                                                                                                                                                                                            
There are some neat prize opportunities for the weekly winners. Sorry, but no store purchased specimens allowed. Learn more here. 

Final results of last week's canoe races have been tallied. This year's fundraiser for the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department generated a donation of just over $20,000. Another great effort, and thanks to all!                                                 

This in mind, with August but days away, the second event on behalf of the Trail Fire Department & Rescue Squad is coming on fast. The annual Mid-Trail Flea market, Gift Boutique and Live Auction happens on Wednesday, August 9th. Event activities begin at 12 p.m.  in Fire hall # 1, Mid-Trail.                                                                                                                                                     

The now famous Mid-Trail quilters have another work of art that will be given away to conclude the afternoon festivities. Tickets continue on sale for that drawing from folks living in Trail Center neighborhoods. The Live Auction is always a raucous happening with lots of frivolity, so mark your calendars and don’t miss it!                                                                                                                                  

The month eight Gunflint calendar features another event on the second weekend. The fifth annual Woods, Winds and Strings Concert with a little jazz too, hits the Trail on Sunday, August 13th, also in the Mid-Trail Fire Hall facilities.        

Beginning at 4:00 p.m., this event has continually been a sell-out with only 150 tickets available. Ticket reservations can be made by calling Patsy at 313-673-6202 or by email at pcoleman@chem.wayne.edu.

This performance is an outstanding chance to hear the talent of many local musical artists together in concert amidst great outdoor ambience.    

Before all of these August happenings, July begins its fade away at the Chik-Wauk Nature Center this coming Sunday the 30th. Nationally known phenologist, retired Duluth science instructor and Saturday morning  WTIP commentator, Larry Weber will be the featured program speaker.                                                                                                                                                                     

Living in an area where uncountable insects and crawling things command our attention, Mr. Weber will be acquainting attendees with one of those classifications. Having written many books on our out-of-doors, he will be telling us about the original fiber optics producers, “Spiders of the North Woods.” The program begins at 2:00 p.m.                                                                    

An added note on the Chik-Wauk facility comes to mind with the new signage along the Trail. It’s located at the turn off onto Moose Pond Drive (County Road # 81). If you haven’t been out and seen the new unit, I’m telling you it’s a work of art.

Kudos go to Bruce Kerfoot and Bill Douglas for the magnificent stone work foundation, and the Seatons (Dave and Nancy) for their design and production of the woodwork. A few ladder signs are yet to be completed, then the new display board will better head visitors in the right direction for stories about the Gunflint Trail.                                                                                                                                     

A week of news from the Gunflint doesn’t seem complete without a story of a critter in our “Wild Neighborhood.” This time the wilderness celebrity is a white tailed deer.                                                      

Over the past several years, members of our venison herd are seldom seen in these parts due to an imbalance in the predator-prey environment. So the gal that spotted this one was quite surprised “when what to her wondering eyes should appear,” but a handsome young buck in the early day sun.                                                                                                                                              

Of amusing significance is the copper-tone beauty was observed not on a typical wild land trail, but on Moose Pond Road near--what else?-- the moose pond. What a whimsical situation! See a digital of “Mr. Bright Eyes” walking toward the photographer’s vehicle alongside this report.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great in the “Land of Sky Blue Waters.”       

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 21

Another superior weather week along the Gunflint is into the books. Heading into the final stanza of month seven, the territory has escaped the miserable heat and humidity to date that has had areas to the south in a strangle hold for weeks. If we can get by another few weeks, the area will have had a marvelous “up north” summer.  

Rain accumulations have slackened over the past days, but still dropping just enough in this neighborhood to keep the dust down and wildfire danger low. Nevertheless, residents and visitors can never take fire potential for granted. It’s always plausible where there are people.  

The rising lake level of the past six weeks on the Gunflint Gal has stabilized, and dropped ever so slightly since peaking with my DNR measurement mid-month. It seems as though this body needs in excess of at least an inch a week in the watershed to hold steady against the outflow toward its final destination in Hudson’s Bay. Here at Wildersmith, we’ve had slightly over one-half inch since we last met.

While talking of water, the temperature of the lake at my dock has been registering in the high 60s to 70 at a depth of four feet. It will get one’s attention at first dipping, but becomes more comfortable after the old body adjusts.  

A few mornings ago, following a brief early-hour thundershower, I was sitting at my window to the forest world. Clouds were parting, and the flora was dripping as spears of sunbeams danced about wherever openings in the foliage would allow. The magic of the moment was captured as growing air movement had rain droplets wiggling loose from a trillion needles and leaflets. Catching the glistening rays, the rainy residuals were falling like sparkling diamonds.

Whereas the masses of droppings were crystal clear, a couple hangers-on found a spontaneous moment in the sun, refracting light into eye popping sapphires. Lasting for only an instance, the liquid blue gems were suddenly gone, lost on the forest floor to nourish the beings of “mother earth.” What a sparkling way to kick off another day as the beat of wilderness enchantment goes on and on with adventure after adventure!

Quiet as a windless north woods night, a momma bear and her three cubs came through a couple's yard one night recently. Although windows were open there was no “bear talk” to be heard by those inside. However, the “Bruno” family wasn’t aware of their cameo appearance on the trail cam, so like us humans in this day and age, you never know who might be watching.

While thinking of bears in the woods, it dawned on me the hungry blueberry consumers are soon to be in the patches scarfing up the purple gems. A gal up at Chik-Wauk came by on my volunteer day last week to show off a handful she had picked on the site. So the purplish treasures are on the way, and pickers might expect to share the patch with not only friends, but maybe a bear. We should all remember bears were here first, so it is prudent to yield without question! 

Canoe races hit the waterfront at Gunflint Lodge this last Wednesday evening for the 40th time. Another big turn-out enjoyed the aqueous events, especially the canoe tug-o-war and of course, the gunnel pumping.  

Congrats and thanks to Canoe Races chair, Arden Byers, and his great crew of volunteers for putting together another super-organized Community event. A report on proceeds from the fundraiser will be available next week. 

Finally, after a splendid program last Sunday on” Wolves at Our Door,” the Chik-Wauk Nature Center has another interesting program on the docket this weekend. Plan to be there Sunday, July 23, at 2:00 p.m. for the story of a Wisconsin logging company located in Port Arthur, Ontario, which built and traveled the “Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad.” Historian David Battistel will take attendees back in time for another look at events shaping the Gunflint Territory.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with countless places to see and things to do!                               
    
 

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