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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

Contributor(s): 
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 - February 2, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith                     February 2, 2018    

Gunflint territory advances to month two with little fanfare from the atmosphere. We continue on the dry side, logging another week of scant to almost no new snow.  
                                                  

During the same segment more seasonal temperatures have returned including some below zero times, so the area hasn’t seen the remaining snow pack diminished much other than through evaporation.                                                                                                                                                                       

The colder conditions returned just in time to serve the canines pulling through the John Beargrease Marathon with more tolerable temps than were the order of a week ago (those dogs love below zero working conditions).                                                                                                                                                                                  

It was a busy time in the mid-Trail neighborhood as the mid-distance race saw its first finisher in the wee hours of last Monday morning.  While in the Marathon event, the leader swooshed through the Gunflint area and was at the Grand Portage layover by early afternoon on Monday.  
                                                                                                                                                       

What a great re-enactment for the namesake musher and his duties serving pioneers of yester-year along the Northshore. Congrats and thanks to all whom made this 34th historic celebration come to life.                                                                                                                                                                                   

As I mentioned last week, another popular winter event hits the Trail this weekend. Saturday the Ridge Riders Club puts on their traditional power sledding “fun run.” Area folks should be on the look-out for a colossal number of snowmobiles howling through the woods. Registrations begin at 9:00 am, at either the Ridge Riders building on Devil Track or at Hungry Jack Lodge up the Trail, with the day ending at the Groomers Building around 7:00pm.  Wishing all a good ride, everyone be safe.                                                                                                                                                                   

Activity in the “wild neighborhood” along the Mile O Pine has been busy as usual. Recently a brief fracas occurred at the Wildersmith feed trough as two pine martens squared off over munching rights. The scuffle was short lived as both rolled around in a tangle of legs, tails and fur.  None the worse for wear, neither appeared to have inflicted any hurts on the other, and they scampered off. One apparently established rights for the afternoon as it returned later not to be bothered again.                                                                                                                                                                  

Another of the visiting martens appears to have not been so lucky in previous survival episodes. This one was observed to have only one eye. How this injury occurred is unknown, but the wound seemed to be healed and the critter had adjusted to the handicap by acting no different than any other of its’ kin.                                                                                                                                        

Our avian world is a blur of fluttering wings. In addition to the regular, chickadees, nuthatches and blue jays, we are being inundated with daily flocks of pine grosbeaks and red pols. An interesting thing about these two species is their apparent compatibility at the feed tray. Whereas the jays and the others come and go independently, the grosbeaks line the perimeter of the tray while the red pols feast simultaneously on the unit screen inside them.                                                                 

One more winged critter has found the morsels here to be inviting. I’m talking about a hairy woodpecker. We don’t often have one visit with regularity, but this one has found Wildersmith to be of its liking with menu offerings beyond just insects.                                                                                                                                           

Speaking of woodpeckers, some members of this Picidae family are in the process of adding a new real-estate development along the Mile O Pine. I’ve been watching construction all winter on a deceased Aspen.                                                                                                                                

The project started as a fast food eatery, specializing in gourmet bugs for a pileated wood pecking family. Now out of the food business, it’s being converted into multi-unit residential quarters that will no doubt provide housing opportunities for any number of treehouse dwellers. Nearly completed, a digital can be seen with my Wildersmith website posting at WTIP.org.                                                                                                                                                               

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with fauna and flora marvels always just on the brink!         
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 26, 2018

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith   -           January 26, 2018 
   

With January fading fast, a “blue moon” over the northland in the coming days provides a second act of the lunar Ojibwe “great spirit.” The interesting thing about such a first month celestial double finds there will be no “big cheese” happening in February. Guess “ground hog day” will have to suffice as the big affair in the universe for month two.                                                       

Big changes have taken over in the territory as frigidity has moved on in favor of a border country thaw. Three days of thirties above has squashed the snow pack.                                          

So we’ll be starting over to recapture what was a spectacular winter landscape. This sudden collapse couldn’t have come at a worse time with several snow time events on the docket for the next couple weeks. And as one has come to expect, another weather service snow maker for the area missed its Gunflint mark earlier this week.                                                                                              
A couple events highlight this weekend in the Arrowhead and up the Trail. The 34th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon hits the Trail Sunday from Two Harbors. The four hundred mile trek brings it into Gunflint territory sometime late Monday into early Tuesday as it hits the Trail Center check-point before running to the mid-race turn around at Gunflint Lake. Trail Center is also the finish place for the “mid-distance class.” So this mid-trail area will be bustling with canine activity.                                                                                                                             

Many Beargrease Race related events get under way on Friday and extend through the races conclusion in Duluth on Wednesday. Check them out on the Beargrease 2018 website.                                  

Meanwhile, sledding of a noisier and more powerful intensity takes place this weekend too. The Cook County Ridge Riders Snow Mobile Club is sponsoring their annual drag races. The event which is held on Devil Track Lake for all classes of sleds, takes place Saturday, beginning at 11:00am. For registration details and more information, contact race headquarters at the CCRRSMC groomer shed, or Skyport Lodge, or check Ridge Riders on Facebook.                                                                                                                                                                           

Then next weekend, February 3rd, the same Club holds its’ annual sledding “Fun Run.” Registrations take place at the Club’s groomer shed beginning at 9:00 am, or if one is starting from an up the Trail location registering can be done at Hungry Jack Lodge.                                                   

A full day of touring the area requires stops to check-in and get stamped at Skyport Lodge; Hungry Jack Lodge; Trail Center Restaurant; Poplar Haus Restaurant; Gunflint Lodge; Gunflint Pines Resort Lodge; and the Groomer Shed .The event will culminate with food, music, a raffle and prizes beginning at 7:00 pm back at the Club’s shed. Anyone can take part and all are welcome.                                                                                                                                                                        

Let’s hope the snow holds and better yet, a new dose blesses these swell north land events.                                                                                                                                                                         

Sad news from “moose-dom” was reported last week when one of our dwindling herd was struck by two different vehicles in unusual circumstances. The incident happened between Loon Lake Rd. and Tucker Lake Road. There were no human injuries, but considerable damage to the second vehicle involved in addition to the moose fatality.                                                                                                                                                         

Sometimes it’s just impossible to avoid the north woods icons when they come out of nowhere, particularly on slippery winter roads after dark. Nevertheless, losing one of these treasured members of the “wild neighborhood” is disheartening.                                                                    
My list of outdoor winter chores included the burning of nine brush piles the likes of which came from winter blowdowns of last season. I’m happy to say the job has finally been completed. But I also realize the task of beginning to pick up this winters’ accumulation is but a few short weeks away. For now, I can focus on sawdust making and snow removal, should that ever happen again. A woodsman’s work is never done!                                                                                                                       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith , on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as we head into the next two months of this off and on again winter.
 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - January 19

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith   January 19, 2018    
Winter remains REAL (with a capital R) along the Gunflint as we end week three of the New Year. Another run of frosty north land persona has showed determined grit since we last gathered around the radio.                                                                                                                                                                            
With exception of a one day respite of semi-warmth in this neighborhood, the thermometers have been stuck in the minus category, matching the previous two weeks. Even on the day we did feel a bit of warmth, our winter wasn’t compromised as clouds opened up and dropped little over one-half foot of snow along the Mile-O-Pine. Since then we’ve even added a little more.  
                                                                                                                                                        
It’s anyone’s guess as to what will come next, but a good bet on cold makes sense, since this time of the seasonal calendar is usually the coldest of all.   
                                                                     
Cold as it’s been outside, cold has also been a problem indoors here at Wildersmith. I don’t mean the living conditions, though.     
                                                                                                                                
This household has been sick with an ugly upper respiratory crud since we came home from the Gunflint Mail Run. If listeners heard last weeks’ broadcast you no doubt realized I was not in usual voice.    
                                                                                                                                                          
Feeling pretty punky, it was a raspy struggle. I apologize for my congested attempt, but the news must be heard. If any listeners had trouble understanding my plugged up jargon, you might want to visit the WTIP Wildersmith archives and read the website (WTIP.org) posting for January 12. It will likely be clearer reading than it was as an audio.                                                                                                                                                   
In any event, after being housebound, except for a run to the mail box and an occasional trip to the woodshed over the past week, our physical status appears to be on the upswing commencing this weeks’ scoop last Sunday evening. Thanks to mounds of nasal tissues, routine gulps’ of adult Tussin and bowls of hot soup, I think we’ll live. And, yes, we each had our flu shots!                                                                                                                                                          
Meanwhile, since my connections to the wild land world have been limited, people happenings have not been heard. However, we’ve been entertained by hungry critters the likes of which are hard to comprehend when conditions have been so frigid. Like “water is life”, so too is a “full tummy” in the “wild neighborhood.”                                                                                                                                                                           
We have marveled at the activity of pine martens at seemingly all hours of the day and into the night. It can be hard to differentiate one from another, but for sure there are no less than three and perhaps maybe twice that many, based on efforts to distinguish one furry critter from next. 
                                                                                                                                                           
Lately, we’ve had a few table left-overs lately that I put out for the blue jays (they’ll eat anything) and have discovered these martens have taken to them more readily than expected, in spite of knowing, they prefer raw meat to anything processed.                                                                                      
A left-over portion of scalloped ham and potatoes was dished out recently, and although the jaybirds swooped in for more than their share, an observant marten found it to be suitable too as it munched on the sliced taters, interesting.                                                                                  
The complexity of what hunger is for all beings in creation is renewed daily, right here in our simple north woods setting. Nobody should have to go hungry!     
                                                   
On a closing note, the trout season is now open on border lakes and several anglers braved the bitterness on Gunflint Lake last weekend. According to a few reports, the trout were hanging out below the twenty inches of ice, but not real interested in providing a fisherman’s dinner.   
                                                                                                                                                                   
My good friend down the road, who always seems to catch, like a “green thumb” gardener (with uncanny success), and his buddies brought a few onto the ice. However, he too indicated none were of the whopper variety. As often happens, one to write home about only made it half way onto the ice before breaking off and taking an underwater hike. For sure, there’ll be better days ahead, as there was never an angler born, who isn’t, an eternal optimist! 
                                                                                                                                          
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with the magnetism for hard water fishing a pulling delight! 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint January 12

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       January 12, 2018  
  

As was expected, our days’ long cold spell has been tempered. A break in the fifteen day “tsunami” of consecutive below zero hours at Wildersmith happened last Saturday afternoon.

Southerly winds ushered in some warm air nudging the mercury above the nothing mark in a remarkable turn-around from minus thirty-four just after daylight that morning. Then by next day, it was a venerable heat wave as temps soared to the teens, and the sudden January thaw contributed a couple inches of snow. The white stuff is something we’ve seen little of in this neighborhood for nearly a month.

Conditions as they have been, it seems remarkable that water is still seeping from the hills around us. One would think the bitter cold would stop this mini glacier making process dead in the ground. However, such is not the case along the Mile O Pine and most other back country roads in the County.

Water is trickling into roadside ditches, building to near the travel surface level in icy stratums as it gets exposed to the frigid air. The build-up of ice at drain culverts is often something to behold and it changes daily. It is intriguing to think this is a micro-process that likely created real glaciers thousands of years ago.                                                                                                          

This same amassing of hard water is true with many crystal stalactite formations observable on rock outcroppings in several places along the Trail. Whereas ice causes angst in many situations, if one is into ice sculpture, the crystalline elements created in many places through-out the Gunflint and Arrowhead are just another example of the majesty “Mother Nature” fashions in cooperation with “old man winter”.                                                                                                                                                                       

The Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Races of last weekend were held in traditional, tough winter atmosphere. With temps hovering at thirty some below, the energy; of dogs anxious to run, enthusiasm of mushers, handlers and administrative volunteers was nevertheless, at fever pitch. One would never have thought about the weather causing a stoppage, and it didn’t.                                                       

Sights and sounds of this historical, revival seemed to reverberate throughout the upper Trail. To say the event was colorful is an understatement.  Human cover-ups protecting against the bitter elements were varied as every person on the scene, even including the paw booties on the stars of the show.                                                                                                                             

While a lot of mechanical things didn’t want to start, much less run smoothly in the frosty conditions, the dogs did, and so did the people involved. Yours truly was privy to many observations of the activities, but time does not allow a total recounting.                                                                                                                      

Among notable scenarios were the early morning haze of breathing dogs, people, and cold vehicle emissions hovering over the mid-Trail neighborhood in anticipation of what was to about to take place.                                                                                                                                                                   

Just before eight AM, the view of dogs being led to the start line with mushers’ faces already framed in frosted beards, exposed hair and hat lines is forever a scene to captivate. The approach to the “on your marks” location portrayed organized chaos as handlers strained to contain this canine energy which erupted from the time they are harnessed to the moment the starter cut them loose. There they go!                                                                                                                                

Meanwhile, out on the trail, at various check-points, my viewing found un-countable volunteers hanging around campfires doing their duties to keep racers safe while tracking and reporting race progress back to headquarters.                                                                                                                                                    
Perhaps the greatest view is a team of steaming dogs, tongues hanging out, rounding a curve in dead serious silence. While their trail boss is bringing up the rear; often running, pushing and riding, covered in facial frost with his/her back snow covered in testament of fluff being kicked up from the steady seven to nine mile per hour pace.                                                                                          
Hours later, the first leg is over, with the mandatory lay-over. It’s time for dinner, drink and bedding down for R & R as the view becomes one of calm, a different quiet now for man and his eight or twelve best friends.                                                                                                                                                                 
Six hours later, the view of energy to be un-leashed is revived. Sounds bark to life once more as the harness comes out, let’s do this again. As if they were just getting going for the first time, exuberance to run and pull explodes again, and they’re off. This time the teams are into the silence of growing darkness and now, blowing snow.                                                                                                  
The view is much different for this final leg, next to impossible. It must seem as if they were running into a dark hole. Quiet of the woods remains golden as teams trudge along under cloud shrouded heavens. Their only guiding light coming from the mushers’ head lamp and a twinkle of red flickering on the lead dog, passing check-point after check-point heading to the final turn.                                                                                                                                               
But the teams are out there, somewhere. The challenge of navigating this remote territory after dark seems incomprehensible and even worse over a long lake toward the finish line in blinding, wind driven snow.                                                                                                                                                                                    
Long hours of hushed grinding it out is about to end in the darkest wee hours of the next morning with a view of Trail Center lights culminating the two days.   
                              
Hey, they all came back, it’s over! All teams were winners for having endured difficult conditions regardless of this being a relatively short race in terms of miles covered. As this was a competition though, Joanna Oberg was the finish leader in the eight dog class, while Ryan Reddington repeated his 2017 finish, leading the twelve dog teams to the finish line for 2018.                                                                                                                               
Congratulations to all participants for choosing the Gunflint Mail Run! And thanks to all organizers, sponsors and volunteers for putting on a spectacular Gunflint Community event!                                                                                                                  

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, be it bitter January or sticky July!
 

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Gunflint Mail Run by Nace Hagemann

Wildersmith on the Gunflint January 5

Wildersmith on the Gunflint  -  January 5, 2018     by Fred Smith
Holidays are fading into history as the Smith’s return to the normality of life in the north-country. It’s been a holiday whirlwind since our last radio gathering with over twelve hundred ‘round trip miles of windshield time to one of the Smith clan and a spirited visit from the others here at Wildersmith. What a swell time it was!                                                                                                                     
It seems appropriate we experienced the first of two cool, full January moons while our frosty atmosphere has been so “blue cold.” Further, whether it’s an oddity or just the essence of Ojibwe planning, we ascend from the “Little Spirit” moon of December to the “Great Spirit” moon of this New Year. Whatever the case, it’s “blue moon” time in month one.                                            

Its relevant with the “blue moon” cast over-head the Gunflint area would be having a cold snap that’s dominating our everyday conversation and activity. Being out of the area from just before Christmas until a day or so after, I don’t know exactly what day the deep freeze took over. Regardless of when the thermometer dropped below the nothing mark, since our return to the Mile O Pine, the mercury has FAILED to rise above zero.                                                                   

How cold has it been? It’s so cold I’ve lost count of the trips to the wood shed for heating supplements. Commencing this weeks’ report, the temperature gauge has recorded a few mornings of minus thirty plus. With a coldest so far of -36 last Sunday morning, the “old Zamboni” has been in full gear for many days.                                                                           
Speaking of ice making, the thickening hard water on the Gunflint Gal has her murmuring sounds of discomfort, often with thunderous roars. At some points, the noisy lake conversation can make one shake from more than just the cold air.                                                                 
The visiting ice anglers of my family found the ice off the Wildersmith shore to be slightly over twelve inches thick a couple days before the calendar rolled over into 2018. And with minimal snow cover insulating lake ice, fishing drillers will soon be auguring even deeper as the lake trout season nears.                                                                                                                                           

In spite of the bitter cold, we Gunflinters trudge on with daily doings, just layered up against the elements. Its’ official CC skiing, skating, snowshoeing and sledding time, lets’ get at it. Knowing the days’ whiz by so fast, green bud times will be here before we know it, and I’ll bet we’ll be getting the first spring gardening catalogs by the time we meet again.                                                                                                                                                                    

An interesting occurrence taking place right now is making me think spring prematurely. The little holiday tree I cut in early December, now setting in our dining room, apparently has spring thoughts too. I have been noticing bulging buds on every branch since our return, and in the last day or so, those buds have exploded into full-fledged sprouts of a new generation. It’s saddening to know the tree hasn’t figured out this is a false alarm, and all will come to an end sooner than later. However, give the little spruce credit for being of strong heart and hopeful to the very end. Wish I could take it out and plant it come warm soil time.                                                                                                           

The first big Gunflint Community event of the New Year hits the Trail this weekend. Yes the Gunflint is going to the “dogs”. The annual Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Races mush out into the woods tomorrow (Saturday) from Trail Center Lodge on Poplar Lake.                                                                         

Two races commence on the snowy trails beginning at 8:00am Saturday. The eight dog teams run a sixty-five mile course while twelve dog teams run for 100 miles with both races ending back at the Poplar Lake starting point. At the time of this keying exercise, thirty teams have entered.                                                                                                                                                   
This long running event dates back to as early as the late 1970’s. The races are a colorful happening memorializing the historic importance of dog sled transportation in the days before there was a Gunflint Trail as we know it today.                                                                                                                                                                             

The best places for viewing the mushers are of course at the start and then along the route at Big Bear Lodge, Rockwood Lodge and the 100 mile race turn-around at Blankenberg Pit. As usual, this will be a howling good time, come out and cheer them on!                                                 

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with every frosty breath, a reminder its January in border country!
 

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Superior National Forest Update January 5, 2018

National Forest Update – January 4, 2018.

Hi.  I’m Wendy McCartney, fuels technician, with the first National Forest Update of the year.  The Update is the Superior National Forest’s way to keep you informed on things affecting recreation on the National Forest - road conditions, special events, or news in the natural world.  For a frigid week in the middle of winter, there’s actually a lot going on out there right now.

There’s no doubt that it’s been cold.  On paved well-traveled roads, black ice can be a problem as the water in car exhaust freezes to the cold asphalt and creates a thin layer of glare ice.  Watch out for this on Highway 61, particularly in areas where the road is shaded during most of the day and on bridge decks.  In the Forest though, on our less traveled roads, the cold and snow has actually improved conditions in some areas.  Soft roadways are not a problem right now.  Earlier in the season, we had to close some roads temporarily due to extreme ice conditions, but there has now been enough snow on top of the ice to create a layer with some traction.  This is not to say that you should be tearing down the roads at high speed - there are still plenty of slick spots especially in places where the snow cover has worn through back to the ice.

You won’t be encountering many logging trucks this week.  There’s very little hauling going on right now.  On the Gunflint District, trucks are hauling on the Firebox Road, Greenwood Road, Shoe Lake Road, and Cook County14.  People need to pay particular attention on the Firebox Road as it is dual use with a snowmobile trail.  There’s no scheduled activity on the Tofte District.

This weekend, you may encounter some different kind of traffic.  There are two race events going on January 6th and 7th.  On the 6th, the Norpine Fat Bike Classic is happening on the Massie - Hall Ski Trails and their connector trails.  It is a 24 mile race from the Superior National Golf Course almost to Cascade Lodge and back.  Skiers should be aware of bikers on the trail.  Usually bikers are encouraged to yield to skiers, but this weekend, skiers should have some sympathy for racers and let them roll.  Most of the route is actually groomed for dual use ski and bike this winter, so there should be ample space for both activities. 

The other race is the 100 mile Gunflint Mail Run Dog Sled Race.  This event starts at Trail Center on the Gunflint and runs on trails roughly parallel to the road up to Trails End and back.  The route crosses the road several times, creating plenty of spots for spectators to watch the dog teams.  Drivers on the road need to watch for parked vehicles and pedestrians and follow directions from volunteers at trail crossings.  If you are snowmobiling, be aware that dog teams will be on the snowmobile trail between County 92 and the Blankenburg Pit between 8 am Saturday and 3 am Sunday morning.  Be extra cautious if riding this section.

There’s some wildlife activity out there too.  The annual Christmas Bird Count in Isabella was possibly the coldest one on record.  There were low numbers of finches, redpolls, and pine siskins, but these birds congregate where there is a good cone crop and they were probably just somewhere else this year.  Some birds are actually starting to think spring.  Courtship is starting in our early nesting eagles and owls who could well be sitting on eggs by the end of the month.  And, there are some chickadees starting to sing their spring dee-dee song as our days start to lengthen.

But for now, bundle up, and make sure you’ve got a bucket of winter safety gear in the vehicle.  Enjoy our Minnesota winter and our snowy forest.  Until next time, this has been Wendy McCartney with the National Forest Update.
 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint December 22, 2017

Wildersmith on the Gunflint  -  December 22, 2017          by     Fred Smith

Although the north land has been tinkering with it for several weeks, the winter quartile is now official. The celestial bodies have aligned themselves for the semi-annual solstice signaling the first day of a new season. It’s a time of unmatched beauty in the purest sense regardless of seeming heartless at times.                                                                                                    

Darkness can be an un-nerving thing to many as daylight shows little sense of a warming obligation. Long shadows are casting chill out over the Gunflint gal right now with the sun having reached the end of its’ annual southerly swing.                                                                                                 
Due to our locale near the base of a granite range to our south, at this time of year the sun barely makes a peek over the ridge. With daylight minutes so precious, the AM sun doesn’t rise above the stone rim until nearly ten o’clock, and on cloudy days at Wildersmith, darkness starts closing in about 2:30 in the afternoon.  On some occasions it seems like all day is twilight time. Even on cloudless days “old Sol” just skips along the rocky edge scarcely giving us but sporadic glimpses of his presence.                                                                                                                                                                                                

Such grayness isn’t bothersome to yours truly, but for folks in despair over these oft short gloomy days, better moments are never-ending. It hardly seems imaginable that with one tick of the solstice clock, daylight minutes will be counting up again although barely noticeable for the next couple weeks. Please keep on Hangin’ on and focus on the beauty of this frosty paradise. Sol is creeping back our way.                                                                                                                                                             

Perhaps with “Biboon” (winter in Ojibwe) confirmed on the calendar, the “great spirit of the north” will get more serious about seasonal obligations. Cold forces have been on the downward swing over the past several days, but in spite of clouds hanging heavy with a belly full of snow, the area remains on the short side of the much needed stuff to really jump start the business of our winter customs.                                                                                                                                                  

Whereas the “Zamboni” got cranked up for several days of ice thickening, we could only muster about five to six inches of fluff in this neighborhood since our last meeting. This is hardly enough to strap on the snowshoes or skis or to make a good snow angel. Nevertheless, this meager dropping from the heavens has “re-decked the halls” along back country roads.                     

One doesn’t need a Hallmark card as a reminder of winter elegance. We border country folk just step out the door. In the words of nature photographer, Jacques Dupont, “we see so many ugly man-made things going on in the world, but the splendor of nature is the counter balance,” especially during our time of this frosty magic. All of mankind should be so lucky as to have an appreciation of that for which we have been blessed, but so often take for granted.                                                                                                                                                  
The coming days and nights are of great significance for human kind, celebrating relevant reverent rituals. As folks gather with friends and family, it would be my hope there be a time of reflection on what a mess we continue making for each other. Furthermore, to make a commitment to be less greedy, less self-indulgent and a lot less “selfie” while doing for others, as you would have them do for you.” Do some good, to just be doing some good in a world seemingly going mad!                                                                                                                                                                     

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with all of us “wild neighborhood” critters, wishing that all your Christmas’ may be white!”                                                                                                                                                                        
Safe travels if you must, and see you next year on the radio, WTIP of course!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint December 15, 2017

Wildersmith on the Gunflint  -  December 15, 2017       by     Fred Smith
The second full week of December found “old man winter” back on the job. Although a suitable delivery of white has yet to be received, a few mini doses have seasonal decorations back in place along the Trail.                                                                                                                                               
Boy, the gritty dry stuff has really made a difference in traversing our glazed back country roads, both on foot and in a vehicle. The gripping power of cold snow is surprising when compared with ice.  

                                                                                                                                         
Territory temperatures have dropped into the real ice making mode. As I started this weeks’ report last Sunday, the mercury has been hovering from just below to barely above zero both day and night.                                                                                                                                                          
Talking of ice making, the lake outside my door succumbed to the still, minus something air and put on her winter coat last Friday night into Saturday morning, the 8th/9th. I’m officially reporting the 9th to the state/ice-on records keeping folks. I’m told ice began sweeping down Gunflint Lake west to east at almost the same hour as Loon Lake to our south late day Friday. At this time, I’m unable to confirm ice on Seagull or Saganaga, but one would have to assume, those lakes went hard water about the same time as Gunflint and Loon.                                                                                                                                        
The Smith’s had gone several weeks since seeing a moose, but such changed as we traveled to Grand Marais a few days ago. We literally didn’t bump into one, but a nice looking cow slowed our trip somewhere in the moose zone around Lullaby Creek. With new snow, guess we might expect to see more out on the black top, sopping up ice and snow melting brine, drivers, beware!                                                                                                                                                          
Recently another chapter in the on-going predator/prey drama happened right on our deck side feeding rail. Two furry adversaries stopped by at the same time, and it turned out not too pretty. One of our marten regulars came by for a piece of chicken while a red squirrel approached for a little seed munching.                                                                                                                  
The ensuing confrontation commenced as the squirrel climbed over one feeding unit and came face to face with the marten. Both startled each other and the marten abruptly changed its menu choice from barnyard fowl to rodent.                                                                                                                                     
A chase took off across the deck with the squirrel eluding capture by leaping into a white pine nearby. It seemed as though the pursuit was over. However, the squirrel apparently had memory lapse and ventured back. This time the saga did not end on a happy note.                                                                                                                                                                                               
Although I did not actually observe the showdown, the marten returned too and must have lain in waiting, nabbing the unsuspecting seed cruncher this time. To make a long story short, within moments of the first chase, I looked out to find a dead squirrel lying on the feeding rail.
Meanwhile, a marten (I assume the same one) leapt from a nearby tree proceeded along the rail, picked up its dinner surprise and dashed off. This fray must have been the ultimate in fast food.                                                                                                                                                                           
Although this was a sad natural happening (with my wife shrieking in squeamishness) it would have been interesting to observe the life or death encounter take place.                                            
A day or so later, we were entertained when a pair of the weasel kin critters stopped by simultaneously. Seldom appearing more than one at a time, these two martens were either romantically involved, siblings or perhaps parent and child.                                                                            
They shared the same feed box leap frogging back and forth over each other while munching the sunflower morsels, then, playfully cavorted around the deck, before fading off into the woods one after the other. I would like to have seen if they were so cordial with each other had a piece of meat been the fare.                                                                                                
Survival is the name of the game in the “wild neighborhood”, an everyday part of life. A fellow down the road shared an experience of such just last Sunday. The scene played out on the recently frozen Gunflint Lake ice.                                                                                                                        
With the newly surfaced international lake access, it was a perfect opportunity for animal traffic. One can only guess which way the meeting came from, but it ended up with a white tail out on the ice and the wolf pack in urgent pursuit. Needless to say the deer was not too effective on the slick surface while the pack had a slightly better grip on things. The end came quick as the venison critter was soon taken down in agonizing fashion.                                                                  
According to the observer, this chase ended in a violent attack. The spectacle was a wretched end of life for one and of life sustaining satisfaction for another, sadly a necessary element in the total scheme of creation.                                                                                                                  Closing on a more cheerful note, with a number of Trail residents included, the annual Borealis Chorale and Orchestra Christmas Concerts were presented last Sunday & Monday.  As usual the chorus and orchestra gave a splendid performance. This amazing group of local singers and musicians is something to behold, most certainly setting the stage for the season where “LOVE IN THAT STABLE WAS BORN.”                                                                                                                                                                          
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where everyday life in the wildland, smacks of adventure and intrigue sandwiched in between earthly peace and quiet!
 

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Chippy in a Pumpkin

Wildersmith on the Gunflint December 8, 2017

Wildersmith on the Gunflint  -  December 8, 2017     by     Fred Smith

With forecasts of new winter things to come, Gunflint weather has remained under the spell of a cold and snow sabbatical. As more of the seasonal character has disappeared, another week of little moisture and minimal cold has we frost loving folks in an out of sorts mood. 
                                          
A couple of positive notes however, have softened the effect during the current northern climate collapse. One of those was the full “little spirit” moon. In fact, the “big Cheese” in the night sky lived up to being called the “super moon.” Perhaps this year, “little” was a misnomer for “his lunar highness.”    
                                                                                                                                                
WTIP listeners have often heard my raves about Canadian sunsets over Gunflint Lake, but never have I gushed about a “moon set.” The scene was reversed last Sunday morning in the twilight hours when I was out doing critter chores.       
                                                                         
A glance toward the western horizon startled me into a gasp when I spotted the “hot orange” sphere as the orb was making its horizon decent. Doing justice to the spectacle finds me without enough descriptors. If others saw this brilliance, weren’t we all so lucky. If you didn’t get to see the setting of this celestial trek, please take my word for it, the show was of moonstruck intensity.   
                                                                                                                                                                
A second item in regard to the on-going downfall of the season northern folk cherish comes with both tongue in cheek seriousness and also a bit of humor. At the Christmas Open House of last Saturday, I was intrigued with stories shared by several residents about their experiences on our ice glazed back country roads. Thankfully, I didn’t hear of any injuries, but for every road or driveway circumstance, everyone has a tale to tell about “escapades on ice”, and how they are coping. My suggestion is to “keep on hangin’ on, things will get better, either with grit assistance from dry snow or spring.”   
                                                                                                                                 
Speaking more of icy adventures, I spoke with a fellow who pulled on his skates a few days ago and hit the ice over on Hungry Jack Lake. Guess for the most part the gliding endeavor was safe, but he did find spots where the hard water enabled seeing the lake bottom.      
                      
Whereas many lakes have several inches of ice enabling ice fishing, there are probably others with un-safe situations. Suggestion, proceed with caution.   

Happenings in the morning twilight hours at Wildersmith have my attention daily.  In the opinion of yours truly, there is nothing to match the energy explosion of each new day in the forest. Particularly, at this time of year when darkness extends past the seven o’clock hour, one can kind of sleep in and still arise in time to catch the wilderness world outside as it too wakes up.     
                                                                                                                                                                                        
As the night shift gang of martens, fishers and flying squirrels have punched out, it seems like “Christmas morning” around here when the day shift comes on. The glee of daylight, warming temps and breakfast has the daytime critters whipped up into a frenzy.  
                                             
It is such a joy to observe them flitting here and darting there as morning conversation clatters with a chorus of squawks, tweets and chatters. I feel like Santa Claus when going out to leave some nutritional tokens and see the little beings perched in line, waiting their turn. The company of the “wild neighborhood” is a never ending adventure. 
                                       
The Gunflint Community was treated to a delightful holiday season kick-off last Saturday night. Huge thanks to the GTVFD for putting on the festive occasion. Decorations were splendid and the food was dynamite. It was such a swell time to meet with friends and neighbors. I’m always amazed to see folks come out of the woods when I didn’t even know they were around.                              
Reports have trickled in telling of moose sightings around the mid-trail zone, episodes of wolf communications and a Lynx observation, all of which might be seen or heard unexpectedly.  Meanwhile, strange weather occurrences often prompt strange animal behaviors. Such is the case where a gal from over on Leo Lake reported the warm conditions have apparently awakened chipmunks around her place. Wonder if this might also have the bears turning over in their slumber? Let’s hope not!   
                                                                                         
And with one more critter tidbit, the same gal mentioned the sighting of a nasty raccoon in her neighborhood.  Boo, hiss, these masked invasives are not the most welcome out here! Guess we’d better alert the wolf/coyote patrol about extermination proceedings.    
                                 
I’m happy to announce the lone seasonal beacon of life in the Gunflint north has been lit!  Thanks to the devoted folks on Birch Lake for lighting up our lives. This twinkling sentinel might be said to reflect a likening to a lone star in the night announcing the birthday of all birthdays! Passing that glimmering tree in the dark of night is a remarkable reminder we are not alone on this journey.   
                                                                                                                                          
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day in the wilderness is great... Blessed are the north woods!
                                                
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint December 1, 2017

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 1, 2017     by     Fred Smith

Going into the final scene of 2017, activity amongst us humans is easy going along the Gunflint Byway. It’s the shoulder season for businesses along the Trail while we all wait in anticipation for winter to get fully underway.                                                                                                       
Life is pretty calm as the sands of time trickle toward another new year, but atmospheric things are a happening not to the liking for many of us.       
                                                       
Right after the big turkey day, “old man winter” took a hike, leaving the area in a mire of rainy clouds, drippy roof tops and snow melting to slush. Being under the white pine canopy, the yard around Wildersmith had minimal snow, and what was there is now melted back to autumn brown. Guess we’ll be starting winter all over again. Other places throughout the forest still have a measure of snow, but everything white has taken a beating.  
                                                          
A brief thermometer down tick returned conditions to the ice making mode before spiking up once again over the past few days. This made for slippery going, with backcountry roads, driveways and walking paths in a state of being an accident waiting to happen. So far, the Smiths’ have been cautious remaining in the upright position, but it isn’t easy. I hope the same for others moving about along the Trail.           
                                                                                                                           
With our pronounced driveway incline, I sometimes wonder if the vehicle might be there until spring, should I not be able to negotiate the curvy hill to upper level parking. Actually, getting up the slippery slope is of less concern than coming down. Knowing trees are the only means of halting an uncontrolled slide into the lake, it’s always a “white knuckler” in the absence of dry snow.        
                                                                                                                                     
Whereas a meltdown used to happen about once a season, such situations seem to be occurring with far more frequency over the past few years. With the approaching holiday season in mind, yes “Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” and yes, “Ginny”, “climate change” is becoming a real nag on nature!   
                                                                                                                                                     
One might expect a return to normal “Biboon” (winter in Ojibwe) eventually, but in the meantime, those of us with a zest for snow/cold remain rather subdued. Perhaps the cold, “little spirit” moon, of Sunday morning, can get our “spirit of the north” off his duff and back to work. Maybe a little “snow dance” would add support!                                                                     
A couple of friends were hiking the Lonely Lake Trail and high cliffs above Gunflint Lake last weekend and shivered at an episode of howling wolves. Wonder if the pack might have been beckoning the “old man of the north” to get back on track?    
                                                                                                                                        
The cold season set back is no doubt causing  frustration with business owners as they are gearing up for seasonal activities. In as much as last week, cross country ski tracks were laid in the mid-trail area around Bearskin Lodge, and other trails in the system were being packed. It would appear the now diminished snow pack might be putting prep’s on hold. Meanwhile snowmobilers are also stymied with too little snow to even open their sledding system, and ice making has turned oozy.        
                                                                                                                                                  
On a brighter side of things out this way, residents of the Gunflint Community are reminded of the OPEN HOUSE CHRISTMAS PARTY, Saturday (the 2nd) from 4:00 to 7:00 pm. The Trail Volunteer Fire Department is hosting the doings at the Schaap Community Center (Mid-Trail). Food and refreshments are provided by Department members. All Gunflint neighbors are invited! In the SPIRIT of this giving season, a donation to the local food shelf is welcomed!     
                                            
Although the landscape blanket is depleted at the moment, planning is well under way for the colorful Gunflint Mail Run January 6th. With the race little over a month away, the call is out for volunteers. Many are needed to make this upper trail dog sledding adventure happen.       
                  
If Trail folks have helped before, organizers need you once again. If you have not been a part of the team in previous years, but want to join in, get in touch with the Mail Run volunteer coordinator Cathy Quinn, 218-387-3352 ASAP, or sign-up on line…gunflintmailrunvolunteer@ @gmail.com.                                                                                                                                                                
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every-day life in the forest, is great, regardless of slushy set-backs!                                                                    
     
 

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