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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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Wolf at night, Mark Chinnick

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 24

Although spring has been making cameo appearances since the first of the year, it is now official. With the sun having reached its semi-annual journey to east is east and west is west, longer hours of daylight will indeed take on more meaning.

Beginning this weeks’ Gunflint scoop finds weather conditions still in a slight grip of winter. The upper Trail territory remains on the short side of moisture deliveries having picked up barely a couple mini snow/freezing drizzle/sleet intervals since our last visit. So the lack of life sustaining precipitation continues to wear on we forest dwellers.

In the interim, temps in this neighborhood have been about normal with night time shivering and daylight slightly above. There’s promise of more temperate happenings for this part of the world by this broadcast time. If such becomes reality, we’ll resume the meltdown which has recently been stymied, but this slowdown is not all bad.

In anticipation of the coming gardening season, green thumbs of the territory are readily planting under grow lights and greenhouse vitreous. Fact is, a report from one fellow tells of already having the first pickle (cucumber) on the vine under glass.

In confirmation of getting things growing, one sunny day recently found one of those northern indoor germinating facilities reaching the one hundred degree mark, without manmade assistance. Suppose a little bit of winter had to be let in so things could cool down. “Old Sol” is getting more power hungry with each passing day.

Winter could get in another lick or two, but we’ve passed the worst possible coldness and whiteness. Meanwhile, northwoods folks are about to conjure up thoughts about ice out. It won’t be long before entries in annual ice-out pools will be due.

Remembering 2016, the ice cake on Gunflint departed officially on April 30th, and was somewhere close to this date on other larger bodies in borderland. It’s a good bet lake solidarity could give way to liquidity, sooner rather than later, the way premature warming has been going so far in 2017.

Although I may be jumping the gun on getting at post-winter chores, a first excursion was made around the place last Sunday. Remnants of winter blowdowns were picked up to the tune of two big arm loads as I started the process of building next winter's burn pile. No pun intended, but things are really picking up around here. Who knows, I might be picking up shovels of snow by this time next week, or trying to channel running water.

A couple along the south Gunflint Lake shore reports a trio of wolves made a night time visit and were recorded on their trail cam. They must have been really hungry as the threesome was lapping up bird seed remains. With little to no venison available and other means of protein hard to come by, I suppose they are assuming omnivorous tendencies. One has to wonder how long it will be before these iconic predators move on to more generous hunting grounds or just die off.

There have been no local reports of bear appearances yet, but it probably won’t be long until these omnivores are scrounging about. A recent sighting not too far south of here indicates they might soon be squirming in winter quarters, and those winter babies could be wearing on momma bear.

Thanks are in order to listeners/streamers and website readers who made a big splash into spring with a vow of support for the WTIP “grass roots” membership drive last week. Although the “boys of summer” have yet to take the field, our family of members--both renewing and first timers--got the first “hit” of the season. Pledging generated nearly 23K dollars, and exceeded the budgeted goal.

At this time of uncertainty for continuing governmental backing with respect to independent/public radio, advocate willingness to dig a little deeper, to help assure this North Shore broadcasting gem remains vibrant, is appreciated beyond all means of understanding. WTIP is OUR radio station!  ALL who contributed made this funding effort the best of all reality experiences, and are congratulated for their enduring “commitment to excellence.”

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every Gunflint day is great, with budding dreams and evergreen enchantment!

Photo courtesy of Mark Chinnick/Flickr

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Fishing success

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 17

March seems to equate with madness, and although the Gunflint Trail is endowed in a semi-calm state most of the time, we residents are not excluded from at least some connection to the delirium. At this moment we are caught up in bedlam of some sort, from many of life’s manifestations.  One has to wonder if the spirit in the “crust on the snow moon” might have cast a spell of chaos over us to muddle up month three.

Of note in this territory, weather “madness” continues to up-end daily routines. Bouncing back from the early March meltdown, where we experienced warmth, thunder, lightning, pea-sized hail and rain, we have seen winter regain a foothold with a little snow, gale force winds, blizzard conditions and bitter cold for several days going into and through last weekend. And I see spring tinkering around once again as this report hits the air waves.

As a matter of seasonal character, this roller coaster warm and then cold is really accelerating the build-up of mini glaciers at many frozen back road culverts and low lying water ways. The process is likely to get even worse until running water and warmth can line up allowing liquid to find its way back underground, where it belongs. 

In this neighborhood, the winds were scary as those straight line episodes in the summers of 1999 and then again in 2016. They blew in some degree of rage over four days. Blowing at such force, at times I felt I would surely lose some “old growth” white pines. Fortunately, they showed their grit and remain vertical after bending in a tenuous state through the turmoil. Unfortunately, a couple centuries old cedars, right off our lakeside deck didn’t fare so well. Luckily they went down away from the house.

So now it’s just a matter of clean up when winter is no more.

Added to our northland atmospheric madness, many things are going on about us so life is literally in a whirlwind. Whew, from excitement of the full March moon; to the nonsense of humankind manipulating time pieces; to thoughts of the coming Vernal Equinox; to the fervor of hoops, hockey, wrestling; and more, it will be nice to see March give way to the calm of April and mud season.

As the trout season nears month's end, Gunflint Lake has been abuzz with anglers screaming up and down the ice to get in their final jigging reps. On a related note, the ice depth on Gunflint is hanging in there at two feet plus, easily accommodating all modes of vehicular use.

A family down the road on Mile O Pine was here last weekend to join in the fishing fun. Included in the group were two young grandsons. The oldest, a five-year-old, jigged right alongside Dad and Grandpa.  Wouldn’t you know it this little guy was a hero for the day pulling in a fine eight pound trout? No doubt, if fishing wasn’t already in his DNA, this young fellow is now probably hooked for life!

By the way, this catch would have easily won the recent trout derby over many veteran anglers.

It seems apparent our neighborhood fisher (the animal) is making the Wildersmith place a routine stop on its sustenance quest. The lush animal has made several visits over the past week both day and night. Sporadic visits earlier this winter found the grizzly character easily spooked, but recent calls have found it less alarmed by our gawking out the window. Guess hunger has power over common sense for all critters of creation, even if survival safety is jeopardized.

Speaking of common sense, which seems not so common anymore, I remind listeners it makes “good” sense to get on board with the grass roots effort going on right now at WTIP. This independent community station is in the midst of its’ “GRASS ROOTS” spring membership drive. Continuing funding resources are necessary to help further quality programming, and it takes us listeners to make it happen. Our north land treasure is for members, by members and about members!
So to pledge give operators a call at 218-387-1070; 1-800-473-9847 or click and join at wtip.org.                     

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith where every day is great, and full of unexpected natural grace. Have a happy day for the wearin’ of the green!
 

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Raven in Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 10

The upper Gunflint has been in the midst of another grappling match between winter and spring. Commencing this week’s report finds the usually mild mannered “sweetheart" of spring out of character, by having “Old Man Winter” in a choke hold.

Now he’s escaped again!

Fact is, our month three full lunar orb on Sunday could easily be better heralded as the “mush (not crust) on the snow” Ojibwe moon.                                                                                                                              

The grizzly “Great White Spirit” just can’t keep a grip in his ’16-17 rendition and is slip sliding into oblivion while we border country residents continue trekking about on softening slush and greasy ice. At the moment of this release though, it’s back to subzero and wind-blown snow. Guess the “old” part of his “Old Man Winter” designation confirms he just can’t command things as in days of yester year. It’s a “bear” getting old, for all of us!

A forecast of temps reaching into the 40s and rain drops instead of snowflakes earlier this week, finds us Gunflint folk uttering disgusting remorse at the cold season's passing.  So it’s onward and upward toward buds, blossoms and new forest babies.

Enough cold did hold on for the Cook County Snowmobile Club’s trout derby last Sunday on Gunflint Lake. Once again the “one day” shack community development sprung up on the lake ice with several hundred folks snowmobiling and milling about while some 70 serious hard water anglers tried to trick a trout, into taking a bite.

At derby’s end, few finny were taken, but everyone had a good time getting together.  The old adage that about ten percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish prevailed once again as the “fishing was great, but the catching was not.”

By late afternoon, shanty town was gone, leaving nary a trace.

The winning catch for 2017 was hooked by Shirley Heinz. Her four pound- three ounce specimen won the grand prize of $500 while Parker Slanga came in second at four pounds one ounce and Connie Rasmussen took home the bronze at three pounds six ounces. Congratulations to all who took part and to the great group of organizers for putting on this swell event in the upper Gunflint territory.

The spotlight was to be shining back at mid-Trail this Sunday with the “Dog Days of Winter” on tap. However, bad winter remains after last weekends’ meltdown and rain have caused a cancelation for this year.

Night time visitors to the Wildersmith place over the past week included the regular pine martens and their fisher cousin, along with some flighty flying squirrels. Meanwhile, in the day time, we enjoyed some winged folk as they frenzied over a roasted chicken carcass from the Smith kitchen. In the end, several species got a sample before Mr. Raven called a halt to the tasting by lifting off with the boney morsel.

Further down the Trail, during a trip to the village, we were confronted by a trio of moose. It was the first we had observed in many weeks so it was quite startling when we came over a rise and there they were two gawky yearlings and their mom. It was not a close call, so the engagement was pleasant. Yes Virginia, there still is a moose, or three, in the woods!

A couple notes in closing, first a reminder is offered to “spring forward” with clocks once again. Don’t forget to set time pieces ahead before retiring Saturday night or mankind will leave you behind by Sunday morning. Will we ever come to understand, you needn’t mess with the universe, as it was intended?  Oh well!  

Secondly, next week at this time the community Northshore radio station will be into its spring membership drive. This amazing broadcast phenomenon is all about grass roots, being built from the ground up. So yours truly is encouraging one and all to keep it growing by joining anew or re-upping with a pledge of devotion to keep WTIP on the right track. Please consider investing your “green” where it will reap a huge return for this “Grass Roots” funding effort.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Gunflint Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, energized by the miracles of nature!
 

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The Gunflint Trail Historical Society is planning an exhibit on the Ham Lake wildfire for this summer

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 3

Our “spring fling” cooled its heels as I key this week's Gunflint scoop. The crisp turn around has made for crusty remains over our northern landscape. Snow leftovers have frozen into a compact mass of almost solid ice.

In concert with our frozen failure of the past couple of weeks, debris that has been drifting down out of the forest with each passing breeze is now exposed, making for unsightly litter on our once untouched white carpet.

Our semi-winter-like revival leading to such brittle ground level conditions surely authenticates our Ojibwe neighbors, honoring our month three full lunar experience, as the “crust on the snow” moon. Such a moniker is most fitting right now.

According to the snow depth on the Wildersmith roof before February’s winter downfall, I approximate the loss of nearly two feet of snow. The spared hard-pack is measured now in only inches depending upon one’s location in the upper Gunflint.

A brief dusting in this neighborhood last weekend did little more than cover up a few sun drenched bare patches. For the record, around this place, we’ve not received any significant measureable fluff since the 10th of this past month. If not for the unseasonal rain during the warm-up, I’d say the area is heading toward a long dry time until green-up.

This would suggest the area might be in for dangerous wildfire conditions should the moisture “gods” not intervene once the snow cover disappears. Thought should be given by area property owners to begin planning for re-upping of wildfire sprinkler systems soon as lake ice is out.

Speaking of wildfire, the Gunflint community will be recognizing the 10th anniversary of the Ham Lake fire tragedy of May 5, 2007. I’m told the Trail Volunteer Fire Department is planning a gathering on the corresponding 2017 anniversary weekend. The event is intended to reflect on those tragic days in our history and to celebrate survival and glorious rebirth. More information will be made as it becomes available.

In addition, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society, in partnership with WTIP and the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee, will likewise be memorializing the historical event at the Chik-Wauk Museum & Nature Center with a new temporary exhibit for this summer. Further, exhibit space will be devoted to more than just the Ham Lake happening, but also an expanded look at fire history of the territory.

The GTHS will be hosting an official grand opening of their display on July 4th. However, the new display will be up for visitors when museum & nature center opens for the season on Memorial Day weekend.

In the meantime, these organizing partners are still seeking commentary from area folks who have a story to tell of their lives during the raging days of fire and turbulence. These stories will be preserved in audio, video and/or printed media for perpetuity. If one has a story of our inferno history to share, please make a contact with the GTHS at 388-9915 or Joe at WTIP 387-1070 for more information.

With the “Vernal” season at the cusp, sounds of the times are augmenting with each passing day. Since our last meeting on the radio, crows have returned to our Mile-O-Pine vicinity with a murder of conversation.  

In regard to sounds of creatures in our “wild neighborhood” an interesting and amusing feature in the Jan/Feb. issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer takes a look at some northland noisemakers. Authored by Mary Hoff, the review titled “Squeaks, Whistles, Grunts and Hummms” examines how and why untamed critters communicate messages to kin and others, including maybe us invasive beings. As we get closer to this spring concert of natures’ choir, I suggest it as inspiring reading in preparation.

With winter on the downslide, a couple of end of season events highlight the calendar over the next two weekends. The first of such is the Cook County Snowmobile Club trout derby. This annual event on Gunflint Lake takes place this Sunday, March 5. Ice angler registrations run from 9 to 11 am with all catches to be weighed in by 2 pm. In addition to hard water fishing, prizes drawings, food and fun are the order for the day.   

The following weekend (March 12th) goes to the dogs, as the “Dog Days of Winter” happens in the mid-Trail area on Poplar Lake. Lots of fun and unique activities are scheduled for folks of all ages. For more immediate details check out the Trail Center Restaurant Dog Days of Winter website, and I’ll have more info in next week's report.

Let’s hope the staggering “old man of the north” can hang on just a bit longer to see these Gunflint pastimes are not complicated by another display of his wimpiness.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, and chronicled in natural mystery!
 

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Changing winter weather on the Gunflint

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 24

Month two of 2017 along the Gunflint is winding down meek as a “vernal lamb. “It’s clear “Old Man Winter” has thrown in the towel and headed to the Florida beaches for an early "spring break."                                                                                

Since we last met, another of our oft labled grizzly winters, has totally collapsed. It’s apparently much the same all over the upper Midwest and a good deal of our continent. Pretty sad, if one has affection for this time of year. Think of it, over one-half inch of rain in February!

The Smith's 18th winter in the northland has seen a steady decline in the extreme weather times of historical note. Back as far as only two decades ago, the season would cover six months and sometimes extend into a seventh. With March but days away, it’s fair to say the 2016-17 rendition is going to be lucky if it makes 2 1/2  months. Most of what our winter character has been since December reflects yo-yoing between somewhat cold and ghastly interrupting meltdowns.

I suppose there may be a dip once more, but it is likely not to last long. In the meantime, we are slip sliding along on greasy, slushy muck. The driveway at Wildersmith is like a skating rink for both we pedestrians and the vehicle. A walking trek down the Mile O Pine last Sunday was not easy going either as we meandered from side to side trying to get a grip and remain upright. Ice grippers on the boots are words to the wise!

Nevertheless, the journey was interesting as signs of this spring fling engulfed the forest surroundings. The warmth had dissipated the usual crispness in the air, and softness of snow underfoot has lost its crunchy conversational vibes. So our stroll was quiet save for an energized tweet from an occasional bird overhead or a snowmobile slogging through the Gunflint Lake slush.

Furthermore, there was a slight scent of damp earth in places, where the now powerful sun, had dispatched thin snow cover from the plowed road surface. Yet one more confirmation of winter's current demise, finds those rings of bare earth at the base of trees beginning to show up, indicating warm juices of life are beginning to rise heavenward. About the next thing to appear will be liquid gouging away at back country roads, and a wake-up of the first buzzing critters.

All these warm tidings are what they are. The quality of winter activities is diminishing to an extent as the onset of “mud season” barrels down on us.

I’m guessing organizers of the annual snowmobile races held along the shores at Hungry Jack Lodge last Saturday feel blessed to have gotten their event completed amidst the oozing conditions.

And, it must be troubling for our Trail businesses maintaining cross country ski trails to see their efforts evaporating so prematurely, although I’m told they are still ski able.

Added evidence of our hasty cold departure is found on the Gunflint Trail blacktop. The annual heaving of our “ road to civilization”  is already dishing up those bone jarring speed bumps in the usual places. Hitting the first big dip unexpectedly certainly gets one's attention and sets the tone of what’s ahead for us users over the next several weeks.

As I stated during our late January meltdown, this round of similar atmospheric happenings must once again be a confusing time for critters of the “wild neighborhood.” I’m sure they are adapting though, based on the increased exuberance around the yard. The winter regulars remain and it appears some ahead of avian migrants are infiltrating the ranks as they head back north.  

Conditions remaining on the warm side will soon serve to rouse “Brunos” of the territory. In fact they might be rolling over right now. Like we humans, with the short duration of their nap time, this year, we could possibly expect Mamma and Papa bear to be on the grouchy side?

Last but not least, members of the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack are not at our door, but after not observing tracks for a few weeks, they have returned to the yard and along the Mile O Pine on nightly sojourns. It’s too bad there are so few deer hunting opportunities, but no deer is great for those of us nurturing young conifers throughout the Gunflint environment of blowdown and wildfire hauntings.                                                                                                                                

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where even warm melty days are great, and offer promise for the coming next generation of wilderness beings. 
 

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The patient pine grosbeak.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 17

Weather in the Wildersmith neighborhood has settled back into a more moderate tone after having to move snow on four out of the last seven days of week two. None of the separate applications were anything to write home about, but in total added up to just a bit over a foot around here.

A snowy follow up provided a brief cold snap, but has since mellowed into a warmer time in the upper Gunflint as February heads toward its final lap. By the way, this part of the world missed out on the full lunar experience for month two as clouds squelched the giant cheesy icon in the heavens.

With March waiting in the wings, I find it unimaginable, how the days fly by. Guess the sands of time grow finer and flow faster than one would expect as some of us get into our autumn years. Memory still finds me recollecting how long the days seemed when I was a kid.

This Valentine time of year finds love is in the air for not only those of us on two legs, but also for canid species in our “wild neighborhood.” It’s mating time for wolves, and other such critters.                                                                                                                                                                  
Speaking of wolves, a trio was observed in the back yard of some folks in the mid-Trail area, and another gray duo has been captured with regularity on a trail cam at a residence along the south shore of Gunflint Lake. 

As it relates to territorial wolf packs, one has to wonder about their diet what with the venison opportunities in these parts non-existent. My guess is the snowshoe hare numbers must be taking a big hit. This in turn could reflect on Canadian lynx frequencies as bunnies are their favorite fare. Survival in our ecosystem is highly competitive, and replete in never ending challenges!

The Smiths had an uncommon visit from a trio of pine martens recently. While marten visitors come in as singletons most of the time, this three-pack looked to be possibly related. The best guess might be a mom and a pair of young’uns.

My suspicion of their being related comes from the fact these smaller ones were compatible in a feed shelter munching sunflower seeds, while the apparent adult accompaniment did not scare them off as is the case when multiples have arrived simultaneously at other times. Whatever the case, the enjoyable observation went on for some time before they bound off into the woods, having cleaned up all the poultry parts and scarfing through bird seed left-overs.

Daily life in the wildlands seems to offer an experience/observation that probably has been going on for eons without notice, only to suddenly come to my attention. Such is the case at our avian seed tray.

Whereas air traffic here is busier than most international airports, I recently took note of one winged species that exhibits a most unusual patience before approaching to dine. Most of the visiting flying folk dart in, peck away hurriedly, and flit off in the blink of an eye.

In the meantime, the brilliant rose blush male pine grosbeaks and their muted female counterparts sit patiently in the adjacent branches waiting for a lull in the activity before getting a chance at sustenance. Their willingness to wait a turn seemingly parallels an airliner in a holding pattern. Interestingly enough, when the handsome birds finally settle in to partake it’s as a group, very mannerly and family like.

While often being driven off by the business of other incoming flights, they calmly go back to their perches to idle for another opening. My observation is they are uniquely easy going, perhaps even philosophic in stoic perseverance. We humans could surely take a little of this pine grosbeak behavior under one's wing, (no pun intended).

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is fabulous, and chock full of mystery and adventure!

Photo by Kristin Maling, Flickr
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The Gunflint area is bathed in the light of the full moon.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 10

The Wildersmith two are back in the woods. After a swell visit with family and friends from border to border in Iowa, it’s great to be home in the quiet of Gunflint country. The greatness of unorganized territory is never more cherished than when one is absent for several days after being caught up in the hubbub of civilization.                                                                                        

While logging some 1,600 miles of windshield time, extremes of upper Midwest weather made we travelers relish the security of hanging out in our wildland abode. Treacherous roads through southern Minnesota and northwest Iowa had us white-knuckling it for a third of the trip. Then bare pavement eased the return until reaching icy Trail patches leading us back to white reality.

Although our Gunflint winter to date has been fairly wimpy, we can be grateful as surprisingly most areas traveled south of the Minnesota line were largely devoid of snow and temps along our stops seemed prematurely spring like.

Happily a few inches of snow were added shortly before we commenced down the Mile O Pine, and then fluffed things up in the first February weekend, along with temps hovering about the zero mark. The now cold, dried snow has allowed me to regain use of my driveway for more than a slippery walking path. Hope it stays this way until mud season arrives.                                                  

Sure is nice to have recaptured seasonal conditions after a terrible warm siege last half of January. Some of us are not ready for spring in spite of seed and gardening catalogs luring us toward a new growing season. We have more winter yet to enjoy and “Mother Nature” has turned on the snowmaking machine since I commenced with this weeks’ commentary.  

Heading into this weekend, borderland greets the second big moon of year 17 as the Ojibwe, full “sucker moon” will light up our lives in this land of enchantment. The monthly lunar experience is one to behold most anywhere in the universe, but probably not as lustrous as it can be in the snow covered north land.

It’s hard to figure how critters react to the Smith’s not being around with daily nutritional hand-outs. One thing for sure is the woodland chatter doesn’t take long to be passed along when we get home. Our homecoming finds enthusiasm around the feed trough is delirious amongst the wild returnees, and it’s catching for us viewers too.

In the midst of the usual gang has been a raven. It came in and took over the chow line on “Super Sunday” keeping all others at bay until a tap on the window glass sent the ebony beauty flapping off into the pines. I’m wondering if it might be the one with whom I conversed a couple weeks ago. If so, perhaps it could be that my “awking” exchange back then was taken as an invitation to dine here at the “McSmith” eatery.

It seems as though tragedies often occur in segments of three. Such is the case once again for the Gunflint Trail community. Following the deaths of two friends and neighbors since first of the year, word has been received of yet another loss. The family of Jean Schmidt-Smith, (no relation), has sent word of her passing in early January.

Jean lived in Black Mountain, North Carolina, but resided seasonally at her cabin (“Grand Portage”) on the north shore of Loon Lake with her late husband Frank. She so loved the Gunflint territory and so many loved her, she was a really nice lady! Trail condolences are extended to her surviving family and friends.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is exceptional, and great to be shared with the “wild neighborhood.” Happy hearts and chocolates day!
 

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Raven in Snow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 27

Hard to believe month one is almost history. It’s fading as fast as our winter has over the past several days. The weather outside’s been frightfully warm.

Things are melting away like it was March/April, pretty sad for the north woods mood of hearty folks enduring grizzly conditions in January. But it is what it is.  With roof tops dripping and ground level slush, we’re covered from top to bottom in extreme climate evolution.

This trend we’ve been experiencing in recent days makes for many hardships. Most of which surely involve complications for business owners who depend upon our usual winter to enable activities for sustaining their operations.

It would appear cross country ski trails might be taking the biggest hit. Considerable manpower and time will be needed to bring them back to acceptable status when cold normalcy returns. Meanwhile, I hear power sledders mucking through the slop on Gunflint Lake as they traverse to ice fishing spots or to the next shoreline trail access. It’s a real mess!

Personally, moving about our place has required enhanced caution on slippery surfaces to maintain the vertical.

And, for the second time this year vehicle use of my driveway incline has been stymied for fear of being stuck at the bottom in an unenviable position until spring.

This untimely thawing couldn’t have come at a worse time for organizers of the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon traveling into the territory this weekend. Unless a turn-around should bring some cold and new snow, one has to feel for the stars of the show as they journey on what will likely be difficult trail conditions. Further, should temps be way above zero, like they’ve been lately, the difficulty rating is made even worse?

Let’s hope “old man winter” gets a grip and shows his true stuff for this great event.

One could guess the warm spell might have the “wild neighborhood” critters confused. However, they probably adapt better than we two legged invasives. So the beat goes on in the animal kingdom,

The less than bitter weather enabled yours truly to venture out for a brush burning exercise last week. During the time, my activity must have summoned the curiosity of a raven. The jet black bird settled into the tree tops not far from the ascending puffs of smoke.

It proceeded to strike up a conversation which I soon believed must be directed at myself. After a few indiscernible “awks,” I sent back a few of my own. Obviously not knowing what I was “awking” about, the two of us exchanged small talk for a few minutes. The ebony creature must have tired of the chitchat because it eventually took off into the wild blue yonder.

I’m betting it probably wondered what kind of a “boob” could have been speaking in such meaningless jargon. Somehow, it was fun to imagine this gabby one might just have enjoyed sharing the afternoon goings-on with this old guy.

A story of another intriguing animal happening came my way recently. During the cold snap of mid-month, seemingly a distant memory now, an unusual visitor came down the chimney at a place near end of the Trail. This had nothing to do with the bearded, jolly old soul in a red suit as one might visualize.

I’m told a curious, and maybe cold pine marten found “up on the house top” access to an opening in a fire place chimney. Apparently exploring what this black hole was all about, it lost its grip and slid down the sooty chute landing with a plop in the firebox.

Luckily the residents’ had the firebox glass doors closed so the furry critter did not get loose into the house. Needless to say panic set in for both the animal and the gal of the house.

The frightened animal made all kinds of commotion but was in no way going to get out the way it came in. A connection with her spouse brought him to the rescue and eventually a friend.  Considering several options, it was decided to give live trapping a try. This had to be of concern as opening those glass doors to wide could have resulted in a disastrous chase around the house.

In the end, baiting up the trap at first didn’t work as the scared/angry critter would not make a complete entry. Eventually moving the bait to end of the trap enticed “piney” to enter fully and in so doing, bang, the trap door dropped close.

Much to the relief of all concerned it was incarcerated and escorted out doors where a release to the custody of “Mother Nature” ensued. All’s well that ends well, perhaps lessons learned by both man and a nosey beast!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great and most any adventure is possible!
 
 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 20

My usual Sunday night exercise of putting the Gunflint scoop together finds the “great old man of the north” taking a break. The “cool north woods” fellow has been working overtime producing some real bitterness in the air, and must be totally out of cold breath.                                                                 

After the coldest night of the season a week ago Friday, with minus 36 at Wildersmith, a sun bathed upper Trail zoomed up to the teens and twenties by Sunday afternoon. As this report airs, forecasters predict some January thawing. Drip, drip yuck, this isn’t necessary until April.                            

Five inches was added over the past week bringing our seasonal total of snow in this neighborhood to 41 3/4-inches. Moving around here in the woods over the past week confirms on-the-ground depth to between knee and thigh deep.

It’s waning now, but how about that full, “great spirit moon.”  Clear, bitter cold nights found the “old lunar guy” casting his bluish splendor over the still, white mountain sides. Talk about spectacular!  A gal over on Hungry Jack Lake captured some of the magic and I share them with you here on the WTIP website.

Folks have come down with “fishing fever” since our last radio gathering.  First sign of the near epidemic cropped up last Friday as ice shanties started popping up on area lakes. This appearance of instant villages on ice came in prep for the opening day of lake trout angling. If one were to view this area from space, the little black shacks might look like snow fleas.

An avid fisher fellow, who shall remain nameless, experienced a quadruple of calamities on the Gunflint gal during opening day. To be ready at the brink of dawn, he set up his hut on Friday afternoon and preceded to auger his hole in the ice. Posting his DNR overnight hovel permit, all was in readiness so he retired to his cabin.

In the midst of 20-something below zero the next morning, and full of excitement to drop a line, he opened his shack door only to find a foot of water had flooded his quarters. Calamity number one, and bailing out was initiated, then came a decision to just pull up and move the entire unit to a more favorable location.

This plan brought about the second of his debacles. Lake water had seeped under and around the base of his unit, freezing it into the icy surroundings. So a chopping, he commenced. After nearly three hours of hacking and sweating, it was free, but unusable. In the meantime, he dropped a tip-up line into the waters only to have a hit dispatch the hook and get away while he set up a make-shift wind breaker.

To make matters more frustrating, the third of his misfortunes was discovered while dragging the shanty to shore, his shack permit was lost, apparently blowing away down the lake.

Finally able to catch his breath and maybe a trout, the forth snafu found him dropping a line thru the ice when he got a hit with line tangled in his fingers. Surprised, a brief battle ensued while trying to untangle line from around a finger submerged arm deep in the icy hole. Again the fish jumped off, another catch missed! There were a couple more hit and miss opportunities before a prize was subdued and onto the ice. What a day!

The next days’ catching fortunes proved futile, and a head cold condition he brought with him from suburbia worsened, sadly sending him back to civilization. A discouraging weekend, but he’ll be back. You can’t keep a good fisherman down.

Speaking of ice activities, the fisher guy let me know Gunflint ice where he drilled was at 10 inches with slush firmed up. A subsequent report from others report hard water accumulation up to 14 inches. Another neighbor found a good deal of slush not far away as he buried his more permanent fishing structure in the icy muck while towing it up the lake.

By this time next week the area will be awaiting the howl of another sled dog adventure. Barking hub bub will again center along the mid-Trail as the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon comes through for a lay-over and  eventual turn around during its 400- mile journey from north of Duluth at Two Harbors. Most of the activity out this way will happen through the day on Monday. Look at the Beargrease website for more details.

Speaking of dogsledding, if one has not experienced a sled ride pulled by canines, it surely might be one to include on the old “bucket list.” Anyone interested can take advantage of such opportunities right out here in the wild woods. Both Gunflint Lodge and Bearskin Lodge offer dogsledding adventures. Give either of these two facilities a call for details and reserve a date now as conditions are excellent. Believe me, it’ll be a trip back in time to remember!

Another of our good Gunflint neighbors has passed from our midst. Word has been received about the sudden death of Rhoda Serrin. She succumbed at her home in Green Valley, Arizona. She and husband Phil lived and enjoyed their special summer place on West Bearskin Lake for many years. Gunflint Community condolences are extended to Phil, her family and many friends.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, and special in so many ways!

(Photos by Nancy Seaton)
 

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 Red squirrel in winter

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 13

Official winter on the Gunflint is nearly a month old, and winter it is. Following our last radio visit, a couple snow days at Wildersmith netted eight more inches for the seasonal total.

Beyond this feature, the neighborhood has been cold, really cold! As I begin this report around the Smith place, six out of the past eight days have failed to see the mercury eclipse the zero mark with most warming only into the teens below. This past Sunday was the first in several where the thermometer finally jumped to near zero. It’s amazing how warm it can feel at zero after what we’ve experienced.

Cold as last Saturday was (getting up to minus single digits) one would never know it was such with enthusiasm over flowing along the upper Trail. Sled dogs and their mushers had the spotlight for the much anticipated Gunflint Mail Run.

Trails through the woods were spectacular and fast as hundreds of handlers, volunteers and spectators cheered the frost-covered teams during their symbolic mail delivery journeys. In the end two winners were crowned.  The eight dog (seventy mile) race was won by Chad Schouweiler of Irma, Wisconsin. While in the twelve dog (110 mile section), Ryan Redington of Ashland, Wisconsin lead the pack to the finish.

The weekend of colorful activities was another splendid sampling of the Gunflint community coming together in celebration of our natural world decked out in white. Congratulations and thanks go out to organizer, Cathy Quinn and near one hundred volunteers for all the time and hard work show casing a bit of Gunflint history and the magic of what we Gunflinters cherish every day.

A big thank you is further extended to many wonderful sponsors for providing essential resources. Of course, special recognition goes to Sarah Hamilton and her dedicated staff at Trail Center Restaurant for the superb hospitality as the event host.

Last but surely not in the least, a great bunch of mushers, their support teams along with stars of the show, their canine heroes, merit our gratitude for coming to the Gunflint.  

Before and after last weekends’ barking happenings, the peace and quiet of the forest has prevailed except for a moment of frenzy between yours truly and one of those pesky red squirrels. It took place at our deck side feeder one morning. This could be one of those believe it or not trivia, but believe me, it happened. A little background “info” is necessary to set the scene.

Each day I set out two ears of corn, attached to small platforms with a screw protruding to hold the cobs in place. The items are for any critter willing to gnaw on them, but generally they are stripped by the blue jays and/or squirrels in a matter of minutes to an hour or so.

The shelled cobs are then left in place until the next day when I collect them, replacing with refills. These cobs are saved for fire starters in the wood burning stove. The saga begins now, only a few mornings ago.

In the process of putting provisions out for the day, I removed one cob from its connection and laid it on the seed tray while I proceeded on to the next station. Out of the corner of my eye, a blurr caught my attention. Looking toward the source, a squirrel had darted up on the rail and grabbed the shorn cob. Immediately “little red” began to nibble on the end and then decided to abscond with the prize.

Without giving much thought, I started hollering at the larcenous rodent thinking I could scare it into dropping the cob. Obviously we were not in the same communication mode because it paid no attention, and made off down the rail, cob in its jaws.

In a few steps, I caught up to where a tree branch provided escape potential for the little varmint. For some unknown reason, it decided to stop, right in front of me. The two of us were now barely a foot apart. Surprised I could get this close, I made a quick stab at the stolen goods. Unbelievably, the red critter offered no resistance as I took my belonging right from its tiny paws.

The little gal/guy then made a leap to the adjacent tree, perching on a nearby branch, chattering “what for” at me. Again, we were not communicating in understandable terms, but I had a feeling I was catching the devil. Apparently with no hard feelings, my trickster buddy has returned, not missing a meal opportunity since.

So that’s my story, and I stand by it. Sorry, but you really had to be here to fully appreciate. It’s just one more joy of living in the untamed paradise we call border country.

Not all was fun and frolic along the trail this past weekend. The Gunflint community was saddened after receiving word about the death of a longtime neighbor. Don Lease, who lived in the mid-Trail area passed away last Friday in Saint Paul following a brief, but sudden illness. Our sympathies go out to wife Eleanor and his family on the untimely loss of this kind and gentle husband, father, grandfather and friend.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, where every day is great, and full of mysterious goings-on! 
 

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