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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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


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

 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 14

Time is flying as we hit the halfway mark in July. Although twilight remains ‘til nearly the ten o’clock hour each evening, daylight minutes that are slipping away are barely noticeable.  

Vacation adventurers are packed into the territory taking advantage of outdoor living at its best. Parking facilities at area outfitters and resorts are filled to overflowing as are pull-offs for hiking trails and watercraft access points. 

Upper Trail weather has been fairly accommodating, too. It would seem a couple mildly sticky days and sporadic rains probably have not dampened spirits. Even the moose and I cannot grouse too much since we last met on the radio. 

Speaking of rain, we had plenty in June and the spell seems to be spilling over into July. We in the Wildersmith neighborhood have picked up well over another inch since the 4th of July. So area lakes continue their upward climb, putting some residents’ docks at surface level. 

Having spent the lion's share of my life in "urbania," I had little regard for the perils of travel on rural roads. Since 1999, I have learned a lot about living in back country, especially our arteries of mobility, as “Mother Nature” has her way with most everything as we all know. 

One such natural happening captures my attention whenever we are blessed with copious amounts of rain. Out here in the woods, evidence of what falling and running water does to porous gravel roads is plain dreadful. Gaining access to the Wildersmith place requires four and one-half miles of traveling on crushed rock. Over the years, I’ve come to know the road pretty well with regard to avoiding those teeth-jarring potholes. It’s my observation that no matter how many times the County Roads crew grades them smooth, those bumps in the road always re-appear, and in the same location.

Wondering why, it’s my idea maybe roadways were not intended to be as currently located. Secondly, in concert with early engineering design and the difficult lay of the land, droppings from the heavens just cannot be controlled by the “gal” in charge. Water goes where it wants to go. And, lastly, vehicle users complicate washed-out spots by pounding our way through such indentations over and over again with little concern. All this seemingly meaningless bumpy commentary has been stimulated by six weeks of inordinate rain around here, good for the forest but not for the roads. My attention to wash-board pathways is renewed with every instance of precipitation and each trip down the road.  

To an extent, on a somewhat positive note, these nature-made speed bumps are worthy as a means of slowing the pace of visiting suburban folk, while also improving regular user driving skills at avoiding the difficult road to wheel terrain. All being said, back road bumps are what they are, a way of life in unorganized territory. 

Back to news of greater importance, Sunday programming at the Chik-Wauk Nature Center this weekend features a visit from the folks at the International Wolf Center in Ely. The presentation “Wolves at Our Door” will be held from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. All are welcome!

Then on Tuesday, the 18th, a “Fishing Basics” class for children will be held at the Nature Center as well from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. Space is limited and registration is free, but must be done in advance. There is still time, so give Chik-Wauk a call by Monday at 218-388-9915. 

If these two events aren’t enough busyness, the 40th annual Gunflint Trail Canoe Races hit the water on Wednesday, the 19th. As usual they will be held on the waterfront at Gunflint Lodge. Events run from 4:00 until 8:00-ish when the gunwale pumping and the grand prize drawing for the kayak will conclude the excitement. Food tent (open at 4:30), races (beginning at 6:00), a silent auction, and continuous raffle prize drawings highlight what is always a great night in the Gunflint Community. All proceeds again go to support the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad.

A note from the “wild neighborhood” tells of a sighting not happening much out this way anymore. With the whitetail population about totally decimated in the upper Trail, it is pretty exciting when there is an observation. The Smiths were fortunate during a recent trip home from the village to come upon a doe and her two fawns along the Trail. While all animal babies are cute, in my opinion there are none more precious than recently born deer, and these were no exception. There was some indecision about crossing the road in front of the vehicle, both by mom and her youngsters, so we stopped to allow their terror to calm. Then watched with interest as the mom guided them bounding off into the forest. It was amazing the grace with which the little ones navigated such difficult terrain being probably only a couple weeks old. 

Finally, a huge Wildersmith thanks to all who stepped up in support of WTIP for the “Summer of Love” membership drive. It goes without saying the family of listeners are simply the greatest. This is your radio station, and everyone should be proud of what is made possible through your resources. Eternally grateful, the staff and volunteers look forward to bringing you more high-quality radio entertainment and information in the days, months and years to come!

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with anticipation of learning something new daily!
 
 

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Fred Smith, Wildersmith on the Gunflint, on the grill at the WTIP summer pledge drive

Wildersmith: July 7

It’s hard to fathom, but the universe is into the second half of year 2017. This weekend confirms such in Gunflint territory with Aabito-Niibino Giizis, the Ojibwe “half-way” full moon early Sunday morning.  
                                                                                                                                                       
Also known by the Algonquin as the “full buck” moon, this lunar experience kicks summer into full gear although some express opinion summer begins waning after Independence Day.                                                                                                                                                                    

Nevertheless, sunny days are here again! Out this way, we finally got out of the rainy weekend rut that had many residents and business folks gloomy for most of June. Temps have remained near perfect recently for us critters who have affection for natural air conditioning. We can only hope like conditions hang on through the next 60 days, getting us into early autumn.                                                                                                                                                                                           

The abundance of moisture in the last 30 days has sure raised lake levels. Here at the Wildersmith dock, the DNR lake level gauge shows a rise of a good eight inches on the Gunflint since Memorial Day weekend.  The added precipitation and cool clouds have kept the water temp in the low 60ss at this locale as my scoop comes your way.                                                                                    

Confirming summer is full speed ahead, the WTIP “Summer of Love” membership canvas is into overdrive as I speak.  I hope everyone listening will show their love for this broadcast gem of the north, by stepping up with another renewal of support, and further encourage new members to join the WTIP family.                                                                                                                                                               

In these times of questionable continuing governmental support for our community radio, it is critical for those who cherish our communication endeavor to stand tall and not waver. WTIP needs you! Call or click and join now!  

As the territory rolls into month seven, week two, Gunflint Trail Historical Society members, Trail residents and visitors are reminded of the second summer meeting for the Society. This gathering will be held on Monday, the 10th in the Seagull Lake Community Center, beginning at 1:30 p.m.                                                                                                                                                         

After the usual business meeting, the program feature is our remembrance tribute to family, friends and neighbors who have passed from our midst during the past year. This celebration of their lives closes another chapter in ongoing Gunflint Trail History. All are invited to be there and share in looking back on how these folks played a part in the Gunflint of today. Sweet treats, coffee and conversation will follow.  

Forest enhancement continues, and times are intriguing as “Mother Nature” extends her hand at growing things. New flowering items are waiting in the wings.  And I’m captured by how quickly the candles of new growth that appeared just a couple weeks ago, have suddenly become almost full-fledged branches in the coniferous forest.                                                                                        

Sweetness is coming on too as fruits of the forest begin to ripen. Wild strawberries have been picked in this yard and a fellow up the Trail tells of picking his first blueberry. So pickers get ready, including you bears. Life is always a joy watching woodsy rituals come and go.   

Not only is border country flora busy doing its thing, so too are forest animals, all in the interest of survival. I’ve had a couple reports of beaver activity on and along the Trail. “Beaver and Beaver Builders” must be in the process of upgrading lodge facilities in a pond location south of the Laurentian Divide.                                                                                                                                                   

Apparently construction materials in their immediate locale have become scarce as they were recently observed dragging new timber cuttings across the Trail black top. Then again, the fresh aspen trimmings could have been for the food shelf. Whatever the mission, their work ethic is tenacious.                                                                                                                                                                           

Another recent account came from a couple of Iowa fishermen who were thrilled at the sighting of an osprey over on Hungry Jack Lake. The excitement of observing such was the birds’ fish catching skill.    

I’m told they saw the exercise in avian angling sequence, from its location high in the sky to the jet-like approach, the splash down entry, the catch, and then lift off, in search for a dry dining location. I don’t know of their finny catching success that day, but the fellows sure caught a neat glimpse of life on a north country lake.  

Once again, don’t forget the “Summer of Love,” call now at 218-387-1070 or 1-800-473-9847; or click and join at WTIP.org ; or stop by the studios at 1720 West Highway 61 to pledge a little love for our Community Radio.                                                      

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, charged with the touch of wilderness spirit!
 

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Recent rains have brought out an abundance of wild flowers

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 30

Rain on the Gunflint! It’s another weekend washout as Trail news spews from my keyboard. However, since “water is life,"  life is just swell out this way.                                                                 

Territory streams and rivers are gushing, lakes are rising and wildfire danger remains subdued. Our most precious natural resource has cascaded from the heavens for the second straight week, thus, kicking off month seven on a wet note.                                                                               
Along with soggy conditions, temps have been cool, much to the chagrin of early season vacationers, but have me and the moose smiling. On another note, it’s a good bet, but bad news, mosquitoes will find the abundance of new standing water to their re-productive delight.     

While rivers are roaring with liquid, on the few sunny days we’ve had during the past seven, our Scenic Byway ditches are running what looks like “rivers of gold.” Canadian hawkweed, buttercups and other blooms of yellow have intensified into a flowing mirage of ground level sunshine. About the only thing interrupting the waves of golden hue are patches of orange hawkweed cousins, daisies and invasive lupine. It’s summer complexion at its best!                                                                                                                                                                                
Speaking of things wet, I can’t help but recommend reading The Nature Conservancy summer edition. This periodical delves into “rethinking water on a thirsty planet.”  I found several articles vexing in consideration of humans taking our most critical resource for granted through greedy, wasteful practices.  There’s a lot of bad stuff going on!    

The overall magazine theme concerns our misuse/management of this life sustaining element. The subject matter is even more disturbing when I read of state and federal government representatives putting the quality of northland clean water in jeopardy for the benefit of big money investors and a select segment of voters, in order to get re-elected.                                                      
Then again, isn’t what a lot of things, elected officials do, about ego fulfillment in concert with extending lifetime careers as self-anointed “servants” all on the public's tab?                  

Enough “soap boxing”, this Nature Conservancy reading is good stuff, cover to cover, with implications for all area folk and WTIP website readers/listeners who cherish our land of pristine waters. It sure can catch one’s attention!                                                                                                                                                                                  
he Northshore Health Care Foundation (NSHCF) held its’ annual fundraising barbeque this past Sunday at Gunflint Lodge. I’m told it was the best turnout in history of the event. Congrats to the NSHCF organizers, the Gunflint Lodge staff and all who braved the heavenly deluge for a fine gathering and a worthy cause.                                                                                                                                     
As the calendar turns to July this weekend, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society is inviting all to an open house at Chik-Wauk this coming Sunday. The event is being held in recognition of the Ham Lake fire 10th anniversary, and to formally show off the museum's summer exhibit of the historical tragedy. Special guests from the US Forest Service will be stationed near the display to talk about and answer questions in regard to yet another chapter in Gunflint Trail history. Cake and refreshments will be served from 11:00 a.m. until 4 p.m. on the nature center patio.                                                        
Planning for the 40th Gunflint Trail Canoe Races has been going on behind the scenes for several months. The July 19 date is now in sight, and its full speed ahead to have all components ready.                                                                                                                                                                 

This big community happening needs the help of about 100 volunteers so if area folks haven’t signed up yet, get on the phone with Chair Arden Byers ASAP at 388-9475.                                    

Kayak and general raffle tickets are on sale at Trail Center Restaurant, Chik-Wauk Museum and several businesses along the Trail. There are several ticket selling slots open for sales at Trail Center on various dates starting today and running until just before the 19th, so give Arden a call and lend a hand! All proceeds go to support the GTVFD and RESCUE squad, so WE NEED YOU!                                                                                                                                                            

Friends down the road report the momma bear and her quadruplets are back hanging out. The recent visit comes two weeks after they were dispatched following several hours of turmoil in the tree tops by a pair of the young’uns. This time all four of the fluffy varmints displayed tree climbing skills, however they were more easily coaxed down when resident warnings were issued.                                                                                                                          

As the “dog days” of summer approach, here’s hoping everyone has a safe and sane national birthday celebration. Happy Fourth of July…and don’t forget, WTIP’s “Summer of Love” membership drive is coming next week too!                                                                                                                                                

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, as “Mother Nature” beckons for our heavenly and earthly stewardship!
 
 

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Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center had an interesting visitor this week.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - June 23

Blessings from the heavens have been raining down on the territory as I begin keying this week's scoop. When one resides where wild fire can often be lurking, any rain is always a good rain in spite of the damper it might put on outdoor activities. Then again, energized wilderness folks are pretty much undaunted by difficult weather happenings.  

With the richness of wet soil, blooms are exploding all over border land. The golden floral edging along the Scenic Byway is growing by the day, while the rainbow of lupine spires is adding multiple tints to this journey through the northern Riviera.

And in other unique places, one can encounter wild roses flashing their pinkish splendor. Despite the recent gloom overhead, Mother Nature's pallet can’t help but brighten one's day.                                                                    
All growing things considered, we are slowly being consumed by the green forest monster. This big green scene makes one feel pretty minute in the total scheme of living beings.                                                                     
To go along with the glory of “Neebing” (summer in Ojibwe), a flurry of critter sightings has been reported. Yours truly had the good fortune of meeting a little gang of fox kits over the past few days. The little cuties were flirting with danger along the Trail near Little Iron Lake. Three foxy faces were peeking out of the roadside weeds, and then jumping frightfully into the air like popcorn popping as I crept by. Sure hope traffic through that area gives them a break.                                                                                                                                                     
Some residents can go days, if not weeks, without seeing a moose, and then out of nowhere the north woods originals are making all kinds of appearances. One couple spotted two in separate sightings through the mid-Trail area and another couple recently found a momma supervising swimming lessons for her twins in a pond up near end of the Trail.                                  

One just has to be in the right place at the right time. Somehow visitors to the territory seem to assume moose should be found just around the next curve. Tongue in cheek, I direct them by the Poplar Haus (old Windigo Lodge) as there is always one there.                                                                                                        
A snappy happening was observed up at the Chik Wauk Nature Center site last weekend. A fairly large snapping turtle meandered away from the bayside water apparently in search of a nesting site for her egg laying exercise. The hard shelled old gal ended up along the parking area perimeter near the museum entrance where she dug a hole in the sand and gravel and proceeded with her second step in motherhood.                                                                                                                                                   

It would seem doubtful the hatching process could become reality with invasive humans prodding around close by, in addition to the danger of some protein consumer sniffing out the eggs. Further complications might involve the up to 125 days of incubation running up against early cold weather when those eggs need 80 degree warmth.                                                                                                   

Regardless of the outcome, this was exciting viewing for staff and visitors. The nesting site will bear watching, as once again you have to be in the right place at the right time.                                                                                                                                                                         
During a recent “wild neighborhood” excursion, I came across a grouse hen alongside the county road. As usual, she reluctantly, sauntered out of harm's way. While slowing for the observation, I discovered the reasoning for not making a swift escape was her brood of chicks. The little puff balls were all scattered on either side of my pathway, and like the little foxes mentioned above, had no clue about dangers of playing in the road. There is little doubt momma grouse was about to pull her feathers out trying to keep them safe.                                                                                                                                                                  
One can be in the right place this coming Sunday at the Chik Wauk Nature Center as a program on “Loons from a Loon Enthusiast’s Point of View” is on tap at 2:00 p.m. Phyllis Sherman, who has been a volunteer since 2003 for the DNR non-game division Loon Watch Program, will be the presenter. It looks to be a meaningful and fun hour with loon-inspired door prizes for attendees.                                                                                                                                   
It’s with sadness area residents have received word on the passing of Ken Rusk. Since the late 1960s he’s been a seasonal resident of the upper Trail with his late wife Nathalie (“Nat”). Ken, who would have been 100 in October, died in White Hall, Wisconsin last weekend.                                                                           
In spite of the sorrow surrounding his departure from our midst, this north woods gentleman will always be remembered for the joyous smiles he brought to every occasion. Gunflint community condolences are extended to his survivors and many friends.                                                                            

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, and  overflows  with majesty and adventure! 

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Lilacs are blooming in some areas, but not the Wildersmith yard yet.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 16

It’s hard to imagine June is half gone, and by the next time we meet on the radio the Summer Solstice will have passed us by. With this universal turning point, it seems unthinkable the slow trickle down of day light minutes begins.                                                                               
With seasonal vacation times barely underway, and so many things to do in Gunflint territory, it’s hard reckoning how one will be able to explore all the opportunities before fall slows things down.                                                                                                                                                  
Speaking of things to do in the coming weeks, historical site leaders throughout the county have been meeting over the past winter exchanging ideas and coordinating plans to enhance guest attendance and better meet visitor needs.                                                                              
One such plan is what they are calling a “Passport into the Past." Designed to encourage visitors to seek out each of the Arrowhead historic facilities, each organization will be establishing key program offerings and events between July 26 and September 4. On one’s first trek to a paticipating county historical site the visitor will get their “Passport” and a subsequent stamp confirming that visit. The PP document will then be stamped at each site with the idea to get a stamp from each society by summer's end. Just think how much Cook County history can be soaked up during the summer trek.                                                                                                                                                        
The key event for the Gunflint Trail Historical Society will be its annual pie and ice cream social on September 3.

For additional Cook County historical venue activities one will want to make a contact with each of the other five around the county. I feel confident information will be forthcoming on WTIP and also be available on the Cook County Visitors Bureau website. Stay tuned!                                                                                                                                                                               
A look at atmospheric conditions finds Gunflint weather pretty spectacular since we last met. Comfortably cool nights and warm days have been the order. However, deliveries from the skies have been on the lean side in this neighborhood and on up the Trail, so all growing things could use a good rain. On a somewhat related outdoor note, the lake water temp is up into the high 50s at the Wildersmith dock.                                                                                                         

Speaking further of environmental things, this territory has many cases of micro climates. A sampling finds lilacs in full bloom in obviously warmer inland locales while a similar shrub has barely unfurled leaves, and flowering buds have yet to show signs of purplish tint here in the colder Wildersmith yard. If they don’t hurry up the frost might get them!                                                                                                                     
Since our last discussion about the loons at the Chik-Wauk site abandoning the nesting platform, it is reported mom, pop and chick have returned and hang out in the bay waters.  Another report from the museum staff tells of hikers finding prized Lady Slippers in bloom along the Moccasin and Blueberry Trails. They won’t last long so a trip up that way to Chik-Wauk has some degree of urgency.                                                                                                                                               
A big weekend for outdoor adventurers is on tap this weekend (Saturday and Sunday). The third annual Boundary Waters Canoe Expo is being held once again at the Seagull Lake public landing. Many exhibitors and organizations will be on hand under the big-top displaying the latest in wilderness gear and living techniques. So why not make this a comprehensive trip with a stop at Expo and the Chik Wauk Museum & Nature Center. All are invited!                                                                  

The big shrimp boil fest up at end of the Trail last weekend was a tremendous success. From all appearances, it seemed the event drew a record crowd, although I have no accounting of the fund raising effort. With many folks hitting the buffet line multiple times, if anyone went away hungry, they had nobody to blame but themselves.                                                                                                                              

Leadership of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society extends huge thanks to all the organizing volunteers and of course, the hungry north woods folks savoring not only great cuisine, but also, just the joy of Gunflint community. Another thank you goes out to dozens of baked goods donors. What an array of sweet treats, heaven on earth for those with a sweet tooth.                                                                                                                                          
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, for which we’re all grateful.

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The loon egg that did not successfully hatch is being sent to Cornell University.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 9

With official summer only 12 days away, the territory got a warm preview last weekend. Wilderness stickiness had some folks grinning while the moose and I were cringing.                                                                                                                                                                             
In concert with the early warmth, predicted rain turned out wimpy in this neighborhood, barely enough to the Mile O' Pine dust. Meanwhile, other places along the Trail received some short, but heavy downpours.                                                                                   

Mother Nature's gardening projects are just about done.  Our verdant forest spectacle is one to behold as the sugar maple leaf foliage closes the deal. On the ground, those forget-me-nots have remembered us once again, making for blue on earth as it is in the heavens. And the delectable pie plant is being harvested without a “rhubarb,' ummm!                                                                        
As we celebrate the Ojibwe, full “strawberry moon” tonight and the next couple days, outdoor life is tough. The annual black fly invasion has folks swatting like mad-people. A good bug net is somewhat comforting, but the mean critters are quite cunning in their ability to ride inside on one’s clothing and then torment when unprotected. In my opinion, they’re the worst they’ve been in several years.

Sad to say, but the situation will multiply in intensity as the mosquitoes are just coming on. So if it seems as though I’m a bit snarly, I probably am, due to building heat/humidity and the attack of the swarm.

If you were a WTIP website reader of last week's column, you missed my on-air “breaking news” about the loon at the Chik-Wauk site. As an update, a young’un was hatched a week ago this past Wednesday with the partnering mate still AWOL. All went well and by afternoon the little chick was into the water with mom and one egg still in the nest.                                                                                                                                                       

The same afternoon, who should appear but the apparent, missing partner.  After some quiet loon conversation, the slacker dad climbed onto the nest. There was a lot of prideful cooing as mom and baby floated about for the rest of the day.                                                     

Next morning the museum staff announced with dismay that the family had departed the nesting site which seemed unusual. Later in the day, it was discovered the abandoned nest still housed an egg, still no return of the family. Hearing of the plight, an interested fisherman made a trip by the nesting platform and retrieved the egg. Finding a small escape hole had been opened, the tiny pecking effort was all the un-hatched could muster, thus perishing.                                                                                                                                     

People with experience and knowledge of what might have occurred, surmise the black flies probably drove the parents away from the last incubation. Through field glasses, observers had noticed the infestation swarming momma's head just days before the first hatching.  Evidence indicates we humans are not the only ones being tortured by these nasties, although the species of flies bothering the loons and other water birds is different than the one nipping people. We have to feel for all critters of the “wild neighborhood” during this biting onslaught.

By the way, the egg is being shipped to where researchers at the Cornell University Ornithological Institute will analyze the egg in loon studies.                                                                                                                                                                                 

A bear with quadruplet cubs has found its way to the south shore of Gunflint Lake. Then again, there might be more than one momma bear with four mouths to feed as I reported hearing of one up in end of the Trail places a couple weeks ago.                                                                          
Regardless, this Bruno family caused quite a stir at a residence down along South Gunflint Lake Road (County Rd. 20) one day and night last week. I’m told a noisy attempt to dispatch the gang from the yard spooked two of the cubs into exploring their tree climbing techniques. The sequence of events sent the duo climbing a tall pine to nearly the top.  Once up there, climbing down was discovered to be a scary option, so there they remained for hours. Meanwhile momma and the others made their way into the woods out of sight.                                           

Needless to say the residents were not about to interfere with a rescue attempt. As darkness overtook the scene, I’m told the little ones were still aloft.                                                                                                        

It’s amazing how moms have a way, because some time during the night she must have talked them down. By morning, the homeowner's trail cam revealed the foursome was reunited and while still hanging around, had to be issued another loud “get out’a here” notice, which sent them off  not to be seen again.                                                                                                                                        
Area folk are reminded of the annual shrimp boil feast this coming Sunday (the 11th). Sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society, the event takes place at the Seagull Creek Community Center beginning at 4 p.m.                                                                                                                  
A bake sale is also being held in conjunction with the meal. If any Trail residents wish to contribute a baking confectionary, it’s not too late, but a call to coordinator Judy Edlund in confirmation would be appreciated at 388-4400.                                                                                                             
This event is an important fundraiser for the society with a per plate donation suggested.                                                                                                                                                                      

Reminder is also given to GTHS members about the first membership meeting of the summer. It will be held this coming Monday, the 12th at the Schaap (Mid-Trail Community Center) beginning at 1:30 p.m.  A history of the Blankenbergs will be presented by Bill Douglas and Bruce Kerfoot. Members who also might have stories about the territory's legendary landowners are urged to share during the program.  Treats and conversation will follow.          
                                                        
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great with expected, border country adventures.
 
 

Listen: 

 
Chik Wauk has been enjoying watching loons like this one.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 2

The last hurrah of winter has now evaporated from this neighborhood. It took the better part of five months, but alas the season of cold, ice and snow is sent off into history.                                           

Conditions still remain on the cool side as I key the Gunflint scoop over Memorial Day weekend. Showers measuring in the few tenths range have kept the dust down, and forest duff damp during the past seven.                                                                                                                                          
Forest green-up is making headway, but seems to remain a week or so from completion in my estimation. “Mother Nature” operates in strange ways it would seem. Many quaking aspen tokens have reached fullness, while others right alongside have barely broken the green tip bud stage. Same is true for many other deciduous floras. It’s difficult to understand, but the “old gal” in charge of all things natural obviously has a plan.

I was in the lake this past weekend with a friend putting the dock out. In spite of donning the wet suit, the H2O got my immediate attention. Dipping the thermometer after the last pallet was in place, I found the temp at a depth of four feet to be only 44 degrees, burr!            

Many great residents along the Trail having been showing their Gunflint pride this past week doing the road side clean-up. Big thanks to everyone who pitched in with the pick-up. A good friend and yours truly did our two-mile stretch and came up with a sundry of debris in the amount of six garbage bags full, plus any number of items not a fit for the bags.  

What a shame that a segment of byway users would be so irresponsibly careless and inconsiderate of this precious place.  As I walked along climbing in and out of ditches, a few observations came to mind:      

No. 1, as the Trail is a one way in and the same way back out, I found I was picking up far less on the north (inbound) side than my friend on the south going (outbound). Clearly, the littering folks are pitching their garbage on the way out rather than taking it home and/or disposing of it properly.                                                               

No. 2, another conclusion is there is great wonder why more fires aren’t started in the dry ditch cover with all the cigarette butts cast out vehicle windows.                                                                                

No. 3, the most obvious view confirmed an un-countable number of visitors cannot go anywhere, or do anything without an alcoholic beverage in their hands (and what’s more, while behind the wheel). This fact is borne out by the beer cans, bottles and booze containers collected during our pick-up mission.

It seems unimaginable a number of Trail users, who to give lip service to this territory being such a cherished environment, are so thoughtless to not “walk the talk” by “leaving no trace.”                            

One more item, though not related to the clean-up, is based on the vehicles passing us during the walk. It is fairly obvious the 50/55 mph speed limit is being interpreted as 65 to 70, and more. Cook County financial woes could surely be tempered if these speed demons were corralled more frequently and had their wallets lightened.                              

Stepping down from my soap box to happier wildland tidings, my commentary goes beyond garbage collection. No matter if one has seen just one, or perhaps dozens of “wild neighborhood” critter situations, every new sighting remains energizing. Such happened to the Smith’s in our travels during the past week.                                                                           

Our first encounter found a momma moose and her calf interrupting our travel down the Trail. This little brown tag-along could not have been very old as it gamely attempted galloping to keep up with mom in order to get out of our way. Then a few days later, we came upon a young bull munching in a pond along the Trail. This handsome fellow was in sleek summer attire with lush black velvet on his rack, what an iconic dude!    

Bears have made it to the Wildersmith neighborhood. Sure enough a clamoring on the deck one evening after dark found one snooping around. Turning on the outdoor light spooked it, and Bruno panicked forgetting how it got up there. After stumbling around, it decided to slide under an opening in the deck rail. The last I saw of it to this point, the bear was clinging to the deck by its claws, not aware it was about ten foot to ground level.  By then I was out the door with my trusty blank starting pistol, firing wild-west fashion. Turns out, there was a little companion below the deck and the last I saw of them, they were sprinting off into the darkness.                                                                                                                   

A day later, during a trip to the village a wolf crossed our way. This was a highly unusual scene where the stately Canid seemed curious of us as we were with it, not skittish in the slightest. We spent the better part of ten minutes watching the animal investigate us in our vehicle only to have it lay down in the ditch a short distance away, eyes in deep fixation on this strange happening in its world. Fumbling with a camera, we never did get a good photo op, and as we departed, the north woods hunter remained at the scene eerily watching as we rolled away.

In addition to these animal meanderings, we’ve also had a nocturnal visit from two fishers. One came in the evening and the other, a larger version, in the wee morning hours, each causing a ruckus. Both were in search of sunflower seed nutrition that was no longer available.                                             

A final note comes from the nesting platform at the Chik-Wauk Museum site. Tragedy has occurred as one of the loon pair has disappeared. Not knowing what may have become of the missing partner, a single parent is now sitting on the nest 24-7. With only brief times off the nest, to get in a little fishing, the scene is being watched with care to see if hatching and early nurturing becomes a reality.  

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with Mother Nature's caring ways looking after the menagerie.

Listen: 

 
A piliated woodpecker has been at work here.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 26

Month five along the Gunflint is dwindling. Where has May gone? Gone to re-birth everywhere. By the next time we meet on the radio, June will have taken over.                                                

For those outside the territory, wimpy as our winter has been, the last of lingering character remains in a few piles here and there along back country roads. I count three such semi-white heaps slow to melt along the Mile O' Pine. Whereas the brunt of our cold season seemed short, it’s amazing we still see reminders with month six but days away. A good bet will find warm season in full command soon, and snow pilings will be history.                                                                                                                                                                             
Full-fledged gardening up the Gunflint continues to see planters stymied with some frosty upper Trail mornings during the past week and only intermittent sunshine. While a little moisture has been added, most days have been gray and damp.              

In spite of the atmosphere seeming less than favorable for growing things and a few returning migrants, this is the season of birds and blooms. A sure sign of better things to come is noted in a return of the ruby throats. These hardy “hummers” know when it’s time, and they came into Wildersmith for the first stop-over last weekend, though most likely shivering.                                          
Rains in the past ten days, although light in this neighborhood, have jump started the leaf-out almost overnight. A lime green haze has been cast over our granite hillsides as fronds of “Quaking Aspen” are trembling at the slightest breath of air.                

At ground level, tough wild perennials are blooming in defiance of extended coolness. Siberian squill, violets, marsh marigolds, wild strawberries, and of course, dandelions are lined up in prelude of Technicolor to come. I’ve also noticed fiddlehead ferns un-coiling along the MOP, while rhubarb has popped up in the sunny spot lighted places.                                                                      

As all creation's beings are in a constant state of searching for nourishment or the shelter of a place called home, it is never more evident than with “wild critters” out here in the forest. An interesting location along the Mile O' Pine provides proof of both a quest for edibles by one species emerging as a new housing development for others.                                                                

In this case, a towering aspen having reached the end of its time has come under attack by the neighborhood pileated woodpecker.  As a source of easy insect protein, during the pecking/hammering process, this “Woody” woodpecker look-alike has created a pile of sawdust and shavings the like of which resembles a wood milling operation at the tree base.                                                                                                                                                                   
In offering the appearance of potential living quarters for any number of flying folk or small rodent creatures, this has been an interesting exercise in wood shaping skill. A digital rendering is provided with this column on the web at WTIP.org.                      

The blackfly season is off to a tortuous start. While getting after outdoor chores, the biting warriors have been tormenting to say the least, and mosquitoes are waiting in the wings. So far I’m winning the battles under my trusty bug net. But any slip-up and I’ll pay the price.                                                                                      

More on stinging things, the May-June issue of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer has an informative article on wasps. It is titled Wonderful Wasps and the commentary offers some interesting insights into these winged critters of which we are often so fearful.                                            

Did you know “there are more than one hundred thousand species or kinds of wasps world-wide?” It is suggested reading for folks who tramp around in our northern back country.                                                                                            

As we celebrate Memorial Day be reminded again “the” destination at end of the Trail opens for the season. Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center are places of special north woods magic, sharing stories of mortals and the natural world shaping their times along the Gunflint Trail.                                                                                                                                                                    

Make a date for a visit or two during the coming season and watch for special programming announcements, too.                                                                                                                      
Another holiday weekend notice goes out to one and all for the YMCA Camp Menogyn pancake breakfast fund raiser.  Be on the shores Sunday morning for the pontoon trip across West Bearskin Lake for food, fun and conversation at yet one more rite of spring on the Trail.    

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, and “silence roars, in the northern woods.”

Listen: 

 
A turkey on the Gunflint Trail

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 19

The Trail is a happening place, both for us human invaders and the natural world. On the mortal side of things, spring means house cleaning time for us. 
                                                                       
It’s time to grab a few garbage bags and hit the Trail. The Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee is encouraging volunteers to do a pick-up of winter's trash along the Trail during the next week, beginning this Monday, May 22. Many of our friends and neighbors have already picked a stretch, but there are several sections closer to town needing attention. If you can lend a hand, please give Nancy Seaton a call (388-2275) and sign up. Clean-up days run through Thursday, May 25, with the County scheduled to round up the accumulated roadside bags on the final collection date. Let's get the byway spruced up as another example of Gunflint Community power!      
                                                 
Meanwhile, on Mother Nature's side of the ledger, deciduous green bud tips of seven days ago are slowly beginning to unfurl. Most notably are the aspen (popple), with a few birches starting to follow suit. Coniferous tree cousins, particularly the red pines, are showing buds at the wick stage of their candling toward the next generation of branches.

At this writing the territory has grown quite dry again. Until a brief dampening in the past couple days, there’s been little to no precipitation around here since the “May Day” frozen stuff.  If the rain gods would cough up a decent rain, all things green would really pop, and fear of someone setting off a fire would be eased.                                                                                                    

Not only has our great weather of late lifted people's spirits, members of the “wild neighborhood” are making increased candid appearances. A couple reports have come in telling of momma bears herding their multiple winter deliveries through the forest.                                    

One such is a momma bear with a foursome of fur balls. Then another tells of a trio of cubs following their mom across the Trail around the Fox Ridge Road/Trail intersection. No doubt there are many yet to be revealed twin sets out there, too. So it looks as though the deity of fertility has favored growing the Bruno population in ’17.  

I’ve received no reports of bear vandalism yet, but knowing they are hungry, it’s only a matter of time until they’ll be tempted by an ill-prepared resident or unsuspecting visitor.      

Speaking of more forest newborns, a couple fellows have been in the right place at the right time to see moose cows with calves. One observation was a singleton while the other was a set of twins. Hurrah for moose regeneration!                                                                                                                    
Although it is not open to the public yet, good news from Chik-Wauk Museum staff is shared concerning the annual loon return. The iconic couple is back, and they have been sitting on the nesting platform for going on two weeks. With all incubation things going as hoped, new chicks should be hatching shortly after the Chik-Wauk opening Memorial Day weekend.                                                                                                  

On an added Chik-Wauk note, a wonderful new temporary exhibit featuring history of the Ham Lake Fire will be ready for viewing on opening day. There’s also some great programming on tap for the coming season. Check the Chik-Wauk website for a weekly event menu, and for GTHS members the recent newsletter release includes many special event listings. The Museum and Hiking Trails will be open daily 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., while the Nature Center is open 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.                                                                                                                                                               
While some think there are plenty of “turkeys” living out here in the woods, none of these would garner attention from the DNR. A report has come my way that an honest to goodness wild bird of the turkey species has been spotted by a couple living over on Leo Lake. It was noticed on their road recently, and luckily they were able to get a digital record for verification.                                                                                                                                                                    
Gunflint nature photographer, Nace Hagemann, has also told of seeing one in about the same vicinity. Perhaps it was the same bird. Nace further tells he’s heard of several additional turkey sighting reports from around the county. Community radio listeners can get a glimpse of the mid-Trail wild gobbler posted alongside this column on the web at WTIP.org.                                                                                                                                              
While it’s considered unusual to see one this far north, trends have been growing to indicate the “big birds” are moving this way with warming climatic conditions. So we might expect to see more of these critters strutting about in the years to come. Hmmm, looks as though there could be some new “fast food” opportunities in store for carnivores of unorganized territory.                                                                                                                                                               
It’s with sadness I report the passing of two long time Gunflint territory residents. News comes on the recent passing of Donna Preus and Mary Katherine (Kate) Lammers Blank. Both of these two ladies resided with their families along the shores of Gunflint Lake for many decades. Their Gunflint Lake and Trail Friends and neighbors extend deepest condolences to the families on their loss.                                                                                                                                                  

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, with angler tales of the one that got away, growing by the inch.

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Moon and Tree.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 12

Our spring in the upper Gunflint looks to be back on track. The “May Day” snow and cold has given way to barren earth as we’ve been privy to some glorious days since we last met on the radio. While a few man-made piles of winter can still be seen in shaded spots along back country roads, one has to think the cold season stuff is now in the rear view mirror.

In spite of the ground still being cool, the full “Budding Flower” Ojibwe moon shone down on us a couple nights ago foretelling of things to come.

In concert, our master gardener, “Mother Nature,” has wild green shoots piercing through forest duff where the warmth of “old Sol” has offered inviting warmth. On a similar note, spires of the forest are finally showing green bud tips. In the meantime, domestic planters along the Trail remain anxiously waiting for an end to possible frosty mornings so they can get their hands in the dirt and do some sowing.

The upper Trail was abuzz last weekend, and looks to display more of the same with this segment, too. The Byway will come alive with anglers behind the wheel and watercraft in tow. It’s the annual rite of fish season opening. While fishing is always great, the catching sometimes is not, nevertheless, walleyes beware, here they come!                                                                                                         

It would seem this weekend is the true beginning of vacation season regardless of school not being out. So we’re off into the hub-bub of warm season activities. Good luck to all, be sane and safe, the water is still dangerously cold, and be mindful of fire danger as we await green-up in this wild territory.                                                                                                                           

Remembering what wild fire can do, the Gunflint community did just that this last weekend. Some 250 community residents, friends and visitors gathered for a commemoration of survival and rebirth on the 10th anniversary date of the Ham Lake fire.                      

Ten years seems like a long time, but those moments in 2007 remain as vivid as if it were yesterday in the minds of folks who endured that historic happening.                                                                                   

This day, ten years later, was glorious, with rippling Seagull Lake waters nearby; crystal blue, smokeless skies and bright new coniferous green showing as far as the eye could see. Emotions ran the gamut as those in attendance reflected on tragedy, and now triumph. It was truly a day to honor the spirit of mankind, more specifically the enduring soul of this Gunflint community.                                                        

Heartfelt thanks go out to the organizing committee, the sponsoring Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society and the wonderful support agencies in attendance that were there for us in our times of terror a decade ago.                    

Oddly enough, ten years ago this week many of us resident evacuees were just being allowed to return to our wilderness places. In the same instance, many of our friends and neighbors did not have a place left for which a return was possible. Everyone lauds their spirit and courage to put life in Gunflint Territory back on track.                                                                                                            

History is all about remembering what brought us to this point on life’s journey. Attendees remember sadness and at the same time, rejoiced in our community’s energy to move forward, hoping to never experience such horror again.                                                                    

With hats, jackets and gloves still the mode of outdoor apparel for we two-legged beings, some of the “wild neighborhood” critters are into shedding their winter coats. I’ve observed a few fox and one of our resident pine martens in their molting ritual. Actually they looked pretty scruffy and unkempt. Getting prepared for hot days ahead, their plush winter attire is deplorable. I wonder, if when they meet their kin--do they give thought to how bad the other looks?                                                                                                                                  

More sounds of the season continue to delight. One such is that of those peepers. Heard a chorus of those aqua folk in a swampy area a few days ago and boy, did they ever seem to be in harmony with spring coming alive.                                                                                              

On a not so delightful note, reconnaissance squadrons of buzzing biters are out and about. I’ve been tempted to don the bug net a time or two as they’ve already given me a couple warning nips. I know frosty times are about over, but the winged terrorists presently have me thinking about autumns’ assistance (kind of sad isn’t it?)                                                                                                                                                  

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail at Wildersmith, where every day is great, in spite of bugs biting and perhaps, the fish not!

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