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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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River Otter

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 4

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No foolin’, it’s April!  As the keying of this week's scoop began filling the monitor screen, the weather guessers were predicting another swipe from “old man winter.” Will March depart and April arrive, one in the same, like a lion? By the time this scribing reaches readers and listeners, we’ll know if the projected winter-storm warning panned out, or whether it was just another “wolf cry.”
           
Since we last met on WTIP, the Wildersmith neighborhood picked up another four inches of snow and a couple more mornings of below zero. Thus we’ve extended our daily sub-zero awakenings to 92 for the season, and our snow tally has risen to 105.5 inches.

However, we were teased last Sunday with a magnificent day. Our snow pack shrunk a little and roof tops actually turned solids into liquids as the powerful sun warmed some parts of the Gunflint territory to 40 degrees.

Bare places have appeared on my driveway, something not seen since before Thanksgiving. While down along the Mile O Pine, our mini glaciers oozed more liquid than usual under the blazing “Sol,” soaking the packed snow into slush. This meltdown action kicked off the first of our soon to be run-off trickles which will eventually become wash-out gullies.  It may be spring, but up here we call it the coming of “mud season.” 
           
Our day was so nice that all little critters coming in for feeding seemed to be in a cheerful mood. The regular chickadees and nuthatches were flitting and chirping like I haven’t seen in a while. And, those pesky squirrels soaked up sunshine, munching on seeds with only an occasional pause to bully each other away from their position along the feed tray.
           
In the meantime, this vicinity has been taken over by a growing dark cloud. I’m speaking to a burgeoning siege of crows. Every day seems to accommodate a few more of the squawking jumbo avians. It’s quite an invasion of “The Birds,” along with their inharmonious conversation.
           
Life can be tough in the “wild neighborhood” regardless of the season. In addition to our on-going predator/prey theater, another instance of ferocity in the woods was noted right here on our deck recently. 

You may recall a while back I mentioned a pine marten came by with battle wounds on its shoulder. Another showed up not long ago with severe open wounds on its face. In this instance, the animal appeared to move about in good fashion but displayed some ugly loose torn flesh.

Seeing this, kind of made us observers wince at the pain it must have been enduring. It has me curious as to what this guy/gal encountered and what the adversary might have looked like following whatever the confrontation.

Was it a family feud or some other forest competitor? Guess I’ll never know, but I can conjure up all sorts of possibilities, maybe a fisher, a lynx, an owl or perhaps an eagle??

On a more jovial note, some friends over on Loon Lake tell of an amusing otter experience. The lady of the house skis seriously on trails her husband grooms daily. It seems an otter must have been watching this trail grooming process and developed a curiosity about a particular down-hill stretch.
 
Twice in the last week, the frolicking animal decided that this manicured incline would be a great sliding hill. During each of two next day tours of duty, the groomer found imprints where the fun-loving critter went belly down and careened the entire length of the slope. I’m betting this would have been a stitch to watch, and a good unscripted scene for “funniest home videos.” Obviously, this is a place where more than just we humans can have a fun time in the snow.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor our time of warming transition!

(Photo by ArcheiaMuriel on Flickr)


 
Gunflint Trail

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 28

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The Wildersmith two are back in the woods. It’s always a joy to return to this northern Riviera following one of our southern road trips.

Now that spring is official, it’s mostly quiet around border country with exception of the whispering pines and the roar of an occasional snowmobile.

For the second homeward trip in a row, we encountered a snowstorm. Driving conditions had us white knuckling it from just north of Forest Lake all the way to Grand Marais.

Kudos go to our Cook County snow removal guys that maintain the Gunflint Trail. It was in far better winter driving condition than I-35 or US 61 along the big lake, neither of which had been given much clearing attention as we plowed along.

While our trip to Iowa City encountered spring in the air, with bare ground and daffodils beginning to peek skyward, our return found conditions in this neck of the woods still in winter character.

In fact, the Old Man of the North reasserted himself this past weekend with a refresher on what we in this area are all about. After the 6 or so inches of new snow at Wildersmith, he then reminded us that sub-zero temperatures are still at his command and has since dished up a few more nights of teens below the nothing mark.

We are now at 89 days and stiill counting of below-zero mornings for the winter along the Mile O Pine. Then again, it’s still March, so why not?

Therefore residents of the upper Gunflint continue scooping, plowing, shivering and watching their woodpiles dwindle. We look forward to the days of sky blue water splashing against the granite shores.

Hope does spring eternal as sensed in the annual onslaught of seed and plant catalogs, all of which have long since been perused on frosty January evenings.  Winding down the first quarter of 2014, more signs are in the air and tree tops.

The crows have returned to our neighborhood. They must be wondering if their return might be a bit premature in these frosty conditions. A murder of them has been hanging out around here each morning. Perhaps the biting cold is what their raucous morning chatter has been all about.

Meanwhile the next generation of wild neighborhood babies is growing in tummies of wolves, fox, martens and sundry other woodsy characters. Ravens and Canadian jays are sitting on eggs, and cubs are probably getting itchy for momma bear to take them outside the birthing den.

A neighbor indicated that she spotted a chipmunk on one of those early, warmer March days. It would appear that others of the slumbering critter crowd will be awakening soon throughout the territory. Look out, the skunks will be next.

We need not fear that winter will never end. Spring will be here when the “mom in charge of things” decides it’s time, complete with a rebirth of buds, bugs and bites! In the meantime, we’ll just relax and enjoy the pristine white beauty of the marvelous season as it slowly retreats into history.

A report has just come to me that the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack was in concert along the shore in our neighborhood.  Do you suppose they were in practice for a spring chorale?   More likely, they were sharing a GPS on the latest fast food venue.

I’m told the family must have been split apart as they were in serious chit chat back and forth from what appeared to be two different locations. Guess it was a real howl!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor more of north woods outdoor adventures!
 


 
Pine Marten

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 14

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At the time this weeks’ scoop commences, it appears that Old Man Winter might have slipped on the ice and lost his grip. Gunflint residents are smiling at the beaming sun and near to above freezing temps that graced the area last weekend.

However, it’s with tongue in cheek that we celebrate too much too soon. We are still but a week away from the vernal equinox and everyone can remember when late April 2013 brought the worst snow of the winter.  Some areas of the Gunflint territory got two feet or more.

Nevertheless, the relief from bitter cold is gratefully accepted as we honor the “crust on the snow moon” for March in a couple days.

The sudden warm-up couldn’t have come at a better time for the white tails in our neighborhood. They certainly must be under stress, and the few that come through our yard are taking on an emaciated look.

I have noticed that several of the more mature bucks are displaying swelling knots on their foreheads. Obviously, they are in the know as to spring character being on the way.

By the way, the deer have apparently missed the cue to turn their clocks ahead. It seems they are still on Central Standard Time as they are showing up around the yard an hour later than usual.  This is just one more example of humans screwing up another thing for some of the Wild Kingdom!

It’s been a tough winter for one pine marten, which came by our feed trough the other day. The beautiful fur coat had a ragged blemish where a large bite wound appeared on its right shoulder. Who knows how that might have happened? The big scar reminded me of many deer that come by with a bite out of their side or rump, or with chunks of an ear missing.

Speaking of pine martens, we had a first-time Wildersmith visit from a close cousin. A fisher, the larger version of the marten/weasel family, has made two nightly visits in the past week.

It looks to be a healthy critter although a bit scarier than its cuter relative. Due to its size and rather ferocious look, I wouldn’t want to meet up with a live one in a defensive circumstance.

I may have more to share if this guy/gal comes by scavenging again. I know one thing for sure, it makes a pretty good clunk when jumping down from feed tray rail to deck.

Another unusual animal sighting was reported to me just a few days ago. Two different residents observed a white wolf in the Gunflint/Loon Lake area.

Since white wolves are of the Arctic variety, this would seem unlikely, as we are a long ways from that territory.  However, these observers saw what they saw, but perhaps it was just one of our own gray wolf gang that was born with a silver/blond coat. A little research confirms that on occasion a gray wolf will turn up with a cream or even white coat.

The sighting looks to be a ghostly mystery. Hope this “white shadow” shows itself again for further confirmation.

Not only is the weather a tie that binds folks in these parts together, a sense of community is certainly another fusing element. I’m talking about volunteerism.

Two hugely successful endeavors were completed this past weekend. One was the eighth annual “Mush for a Cure.” This event benefitting National Breast Cancer Research once again was a splendid example of what a small village of people can do when they put their heads together.

Highly organized, the many planned activities went off without a hitch due to wonderful leadership and county-wide participation and cooperation. I’ve heard wonderful comments from both mushers and spectators.

Fund raising numbers are still being tallied at this writing, but it is estimated that somewhere in the neighborhood of $40, 000 will be contributed to this search for a cure. Thanks go to all who pitched in to make the happening a big success!

Special recognition is extended to all mushers and their handlers as well as the “bald, brave and beautiful” trio. You were all in the “Pink!”

The other event was our own community radio station’s spring membership drive. Talk about volunteers, how about the great WTIP staff, a fellowship of in-kind and in-house worker bees and our community of listeners, both local and nationwide. Many people stepped up to put this much needed funding process over the top once again.

We welcome 35 new pledging/contributing members to the WTIP family and salute our loyal renewing membership. Congratulations, and thanks to all for helping exceed the spring forward goal. Enjoy “THE” radio station of the north shore and north woods!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a bit of north woods heaven!

(Photo by SolidElectronics on Flickr)
 


 
Gunflint Lake

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 7

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As Gunflint Territory turns the page into March, Old Man Winter is still gnashing his teeth. Keeping his pedal to the metal, the “great white father” refuses to loosen his bitter cold grip.

Although significant snow has been a missing character for several days, frigid temps are ongoing. When one would think that 30 below should be history, at least two mornings since we last met on the radio have exceeded that mark in our neighborhood, while minus 20s have filled in the gaps on most other days.

So the beat goes on with what must be a record number of mornings where sub-zero cold has been chronicled. The count at Wildersmith as of this past Tuesday morning was 79. Day after day, it’s enough to make your eyebrows frost, nose drippings freeze, forehead ache and toes numb.

Bitter cold and a brutal west wind greeted some 30 “grizzly tough” entries in the annual trout fishing derby on Gunflint Lake last Sunday. It was definitely not for the faint of heart. Believe me, the weather was biting more than the trout as not too many catches were hung on the board by contest closing.

It might be a good bet the May walleye opener will be better suited to ice fishing than was this past event. Perhaps the sponsoring Cook County Snowmobile Club should think about a re-run in month five (or six).

The largest catch of the day was a fine trout at just under six pounds. The lucky catcher was Matt Packer of Fridley, Minn. This weekend visitor to the upper Gunflint took home a first place prize of $500 and of course the lunker, a frozen fish stick.

Attention is now focused on this weekend’s “Mush for a Cure.” Color the days pink as excitement reigns over numerous activities to raise money for National Breast Cancer Research.

The featured events are two dog sled races (a short and long course) that commence late Saturday morning from the waterfront at Gunflint Pines Resort. There are a number of related activities too, including the “bald, brave and beautiful” contest on Friday evening.

This celebrity head shaving will clip off at 9:30 p.m. up the Trail at Windigo Lodge. Check www.mushforacure for a complete listing and time schedule for all happenings.

Saturday morning, yours truly and several Gunflint/Loon Lake neighbors will be serving pancakes and the trimmings as part of the fundraiser. The feed takes place from 8 until 11 a.m. in the lodge at Gunflint Pines. 

So bundle up in your pink duds and come on out for a big two days of fun with an awe-inspiring purpose!

Spring is seemingly farthest from our minds out here with oceans of snow and cold. Yet some spring-like nonsense is being sprung on us this weekend. Yep, it’s the time when America sets the clocks ahead early Sunday morning (2 a.m.).

Adding a little soap-box commentary to my weekly scoop, it would seem the country’s masses are already wound way too tight with things to do and get done. Yet, a few decades ago some self-appointed expert thought we should alter creation and perhaps enable us to cram more into life’s 24-hour segments by moving the clock ahead an hour. Our leadership fell in line! So here we are, and whatever you do, don’t get left behind, “spring ahead.”

On a note that makes far more sense than daylight savings time, there is an important “spring forward” event going on right here and now. It’s the annual WTIP spring membership drive.

The four and one-half day run commenced Thursday and extends until noon on this coming Monday, March 10.

The time is now to step up and renew your support for this tip of the Arrowhead communicating treasure. Please do some “springing ahead” that makes real sense. Give us a call at 218-387-1070 or 800-473-9847; stop by at 1712 West Highway 61; or just click and join at WTIP.org.

Keep on hangin on, and savor the sounds of the north land, on WTIP!
 


 
Snow-Covered Branches

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 28

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The northland closed the books on chapter 2 of 2014, and welcomes the third stanza.  February turned out much the same as her predecessor, cold and quite snowy by months end.

The brief encounter with warmer conditions about ten days ago was short lived in these parts as a healthy dose of white and recurring frosty temps added to the glory of this season. The warming power of “Sol” excited some winter weary folks up this way. And the gleaming rays even had roof edges making stalactite artwork where it was able to peak around and through the forest shadows.

February’s third week snow accumulations pretty much assure winter activities will continue for weeks to come throughout the Gunflint corridor. Snow is “moose belly” deep and shows no sign of diminishing much with one of our snowier months bearing down on us. The latest dropping at Wildersmith brings our season total to eighty-seven and one-half inches.

Gunflint country is quite busy the next couple weekends. This coming Sunday, March 2nd finds the annual Trout Derby taking place on the west end of Gunflint Lake.

Sponsored by the Cook County Snowmobile Club, participant registration runs from 9-11:00am and all fish must be turned in for judging by 2:00pm. A $500 prize will go to the catcher of the biggest “lunker.” This is always a fun day with a fine “on the lake” cook-out, come on out and enjoy!

Our deep white cover will make for an interesting run of the annual “Mush for the Cure” which is just a week away. The 8th consecutive year of this “Pink Extravganza” is being held on March 7 & 8.

Many activities are part of this exciting time along the Trail. Events commence at 5:00 pm on Friday the seventh and conclude late Saturday afternoon of March eighth. To see a full slate of all activities, check-out the “Mush for a Cure” website.

A re-designed course for the long distance mush will find both the start and finish happening on the icy waterfront of Gunflint Pines Resort. The short course race commences Saturday morning at 10:00 am with the longer distance dogsledders following at 12:00 noon.
In the previous seven years some $186,000 has been raised and contributed to National Breast Cancer Research. In 2013, $43,000 was raised. This years’ target is $50k!

The time is now to throw your support behind this fantastic effort. Donations can be made on- line via the “Mush for a Cure” website, or at several business locations along the Trail.

If you have a favorite team in either race, or one of the three entries (Ana Genz, Corey Christianson or Craig Horak) in the “Bold, Brave and Beautiful” contest, show them you’re backing with a contribution pledge as soon as possible.

As if we humans aren’t having enough trouble finding a place to move and stack all the snow, many critters of the “wild neighborhood” share the struggle, only in terms of survival.

A few deer have returned to the yard following my time away. It’s for sure they are in a difficult grapple with the cold white elements. Traversing this deep powder is taxing their strength, endurance and perhaps, if they possess such, emotional composure. I find they’re not getting off the beaten path once they have one established.

And if the white tails aren’t facing enough turmoil passing through the forest, the Gunflint-Loon Lake wolf pack has them in their sites. Three sites of venison dinner have been consumed along our Mile O Pine in recent days, and more have been reported by the folks down around Gunflint Lodge.  Before we reach the season of re-birth, it’s going to be a tough next few weeks for this nervous species.

On a less stressful note, seasonal beauty in the wilderness reigns supreme. This territory is an artists’ and photographers’ delight.  A trip to town for church last Sunday found an elegant sample of natural artistry. In this exhibition, the creations were on the move.

West-northwest winds were chasing loose snow around in un-countable modes of swirling, slithering wisps between the tunneled roadside banks.  Not one of the serpentine configurations matched another as they danced and bounced from side to side during our forty-eight mile trek through un-organized territory.

Occasionally, a sinuous tuft of white would try to escape the windrow barriers along our pathway. Suddenly a gauzy shock would leap up as a ghostly phantom only to explode in a glorious poof, captured once again. The winnowed flurry would then settle back to the road top and re-organize for another twisting tumble.

Mile after mile found us marveling at the dramatic exhibition on this asphalt pallet. What a trip!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor beauty and power of white!

(Photo by clickclique on Flickr)


 
Snowy landscape

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 21

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It’s with a heavy heart that the Smiths return to Gunflint Territory. Followers of this weekly endeavor realize that I have not been at the keyboard over the past month.

Sadly, our time was spent in Iowa with our daughter and her cancer-stricken husband during his final days. Those who have fought this battle or had family members go through the same know of the horrible times.

In our son-in-law’s case, he was not going to get well, but in time, this family will heal and get better. To all of you who have shared your concerns and sent condolences during this difficult time, a sincere thanks from the two at Wildersmith and our daughter in Iowa City.

With winter at the two-thirds mark on the calendar, my return to the Gunflint finds both snow banks and ice dams growing while the temps have been relentlessly buried below zero. Over the past few days, a few folks have been encouraged with a prognostication of seeing the freezing point on the mercury column. This is something not seen here at Wildersmith since late November. In fact some are cheering when we just get above the nothing mark.

Weather is a common tie binding most folks together in this part of the world. A little chitchat over coffee or at the card table is to be expected. Tales of weather woes and extremes at ones place over that of another often becomes a game of one-upsmanship.

How cold was it, who had the most snow or who had a frozen water line or septic problem, keeps conversations lively during this long season. As an example, a call to a lady down the road last Sunday found that she had a cool minus 35 while the Wildersmith thermometer only recorded 34 below. She gave a hearty hurrah as this is the first time this winter her temp has been colder than the Smiths’.

A few weather facts from this Gunflint neighborhood confirm what those of us here already know. It’s been a true, “days of old” winter to this point.

Since our first dose of snow on Oct. 20 and up through this past Sunday’s deposit, I’ve measured 74 inches. This is not too bad for out here in the hinterland away from the more prolific big Lake effect droppings.

Meanwhile, since Dec. 6, we’ve had 66 mornings where the thermometer was below zero. To take that a step farther, of those 66, 44 daytime highs did not get above the zero mark. Even on a number of days where we were not in negative territory, we still hunkered down with single digit readings. My thanks go out to Kathy Lande from up on Seagull Lake for filling in the missing data for the 20 plus days I was away from my thermometer.

To date, our coldest recorded morning low was minus 45 on Jan. 2, and the coldest daytime high was minus 32 on January 6, BRRRR! There was no going outside except to the wood shed on that day! But we still love the magic of Mother Nature’s gifts.

The Valentine’s Day full moon was nothing short of spectacular on the breast of our latest new fallen snow. The landscape was drowned in neon blue, snowy reflections and towering coniferous shadows.

My extended absence has seen the white tail regulars disappear, gone to snow fields elsewhere. Since our return late last week only one has come by seeking a handout. And our daily visits from several pine martens have ceased, but the birds and red squirrels are slowly finding their way back to the feed trough.

Earlier this month, prior to one of my journeys south, I had an up-close experience with a lynx. While cleaning snow from the deck, one of the stately north woods felines ambled from beneath where I was working.

Quietly, it sat down in the snow about 20 feet from me gazing off into the forest. Apparently on the lookout for an afternoon snack, its focus casually turned toward me. For a few moments we made eye contact. It must have decided I was not an immediate threat and resumed the scan for prey. After several minutes the regal cat stalked off into white oblivion. What a wondrous wild woods encounter!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the adventure of this cool northern landscape!

(photo courtesy of Minnepixel)


 
Lynx at large

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 17

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Hark, world, the northlands month long span of bitter cold has broken.   Week two of the new year, finds the territory in the midst of our version of a “January thaw.”
It’s a welcome reprieve for many area residents.  However, I talked with a local gal who was pleased at finally being above zero, but starts getting nervous when winter edges toward the freezing mark as it did last Sunday.
 I suppose her reasoning is that after all, this is winter and we are not in need of any kind of melt down until April or May. I can’t agree with her more.
Then I talked with another fellow recently that wants the minus thirty to forty something days to go away, but bring on the snow. This snow issue is also found to be agreeable with yours truly.
In spite of the extended sub-zero times since early December, the warmth within the bowels of the earth has kept liquid running. I’m noticing ice dams building along our Mile O Pine where culverts are frozen tight. With water continuing to bubble forth from deep within, it looks as though we’re going to have some bigger than usual mini-glaciers in not too many weeks.
Last weekend, when the layer of warm air was hanging over the cold forest ground, another spectacular build-up of hoar frost took place on the high cliffs over-looking Gunflint Lake. Every time I observe one of these crystal natural wonders, I realize how blessed it is to be living in the midst of such un-ending beauty. Further, as we often get these frosty portraits, each one seems to surpass the memory of any previous.
 Beyond the majesty of our wilderness in winter, being able to catch a glimpse of a few “wild neighborhood” critters on occasion doubles up on our boon of good life things. Sightings of some area favorites have been noted since we last visited over the air waves. Smith travels between Wildersmith, mid-trail and Grand Marais found us crossing paths with snowshoe hares, a Canadian Lynx and moose.
 Both the snowy bunnies and their adversarial Lynx were spotted along county road # twenty. Although neither were in close proximity to being in a chase and catch mode at that moment.
Then on two separate Trail excursions, we came upon moose doing some roadside “brine tasting” after dark. Each time we were startled by their presence, but thank goodness, not close to having one mounted on the hood!
Those white tail pals who hang out around the place have been here and there lately, quite skid dish I might say. The Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack has been doing some reconnaissance work along the Mile O Pine as evidenced by their tracks and territorial marking. I haven’t actually seen one but know they’re lurking about surveying the hunting landscape.
A resident shared a Lynx episode of recent happening. It seems some visitors here to see the New Year arrive came upon one of the stately felines sitting in the middle of the road.  It was not far from Heston’s Lodge, again off county road twenty.
They stopped to observe the cat that smugly declined to move from the right-of-way for some time. Eventually the athletic north woods kitty stalked off to the edge of the road. Suddenly it shot up a tree. In a matter of moments it was back down with a “catch of the day.”
Apparently concentrating on the “snack at hand/paw,” it really wasn’t begrudging them from driving past. It was just focused on a red squirrel high in those branches, and it was not going to be denied the exact preying moment by these onlookers.
To end this predator/prey chapter, the border country “Tabby” came walking up the road toward the sitting vehicle right past the surprised beholders with rodent in mouth. It was probably smiling and purring not knowing how the hunting escapade made someone’s day!  What a treat for these folks!
Another dose of entertainment commences for many folks this weekend with the Trout fishing opener on lakes outside the BWCA. Ice on the Gunflint Lake has stretched downward to some twenty-six inches, and is no doubt likewise in most other area locations.
 However, slush still seems to be an issue, and care remains to be exercised on any hard water, regardless of perceived safety or second hand information.
Speaking of ice fishermen, a grandson who lives in northwest Iowa and has a passionate zest for the sport started his college education this week. Boy, they sure grow up fast, makes me feel pretty old! Guess he’ll be hitting the books now, more so than jigging through the ice. Good luck Lane!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor an adventure yet to happen!
 
 

{photo courtesy of Michael Valentini}
 


 
"snow happens"

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 10

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            I may sound like a broken record as we scoop the trail this week. The not-so-new news is that severe cold still has Gunflint residents by the throat.
            This sub-arctic territory is completing its fifth consecutive week of Arctic likeness. Days with temps above zero can be counted on one hand in this neighborhood.
 And we are yet to reach what is normally the coldest time of our winter season. It’s hard to believe that it could be much worse. However, old timers can surely remember times a few decades ago when unofficial readings were at or near 60 below in select locations deep in the Gunflint woods.
“Snow happens” and a rather surprising snowstorm blanketed the area since our last meeting. The 6 or so inches of added fluff enhanced our white landscape to the point that the Trail might be called the great white scenic byway.
Out here deep in the forest, knee high and/or more snow makes for difficult high stepping without snowshoes. An added note is that the deepening snow cover is going to make for a hard white-tail winter.
Traveling to or from Grand Marais can be a testy “Biboon” (winter) driving experience. Due to the terrific cold, ice and snow pack on the blacktop cannot be budged by mankind’s scientific melting concoctions. Therefore, slippery is the buzzword for vehicle operation.
 Add an occasional moose obstruction to these slick conditions, plus many metro/suburbanite visitors terrorizing the roadway with too much speed for the conditions, and you multiply the hazards. Further these drivers are often belligerent about yielding one-half the road, and then there’s one of those overly cautious creepers who makes the impatient ones take crazy passing chances.  That in mind, a trip in to civilization can be a real white knuckle experience.
Being a driver who respects speed limits and operates cautiously on slick roads, yours truly marvels at the deep indentations in the Trailside ditches from slide-offs. I wonder just how fast those drivers were going or what caused them to leave their mark along the Trail. Based on the many disturbed snowy windrows, the tow truck business must be booming in Cook County.
 Seems like we just experienced the December “little spirit” moon and suddenly here we are within a few segments of the Ojibwe “great spirit” lunar happening.  The Algonquins recognize this January occurrence as the “full wolf” orb.
A clear night should be perfect theater for a “great spirit/full wolf” moment of howling. A visit from aurora borealis would make it all the better, perhaps a night of nights in the celestial northland.
With the trout season opener just a week away, ice-making on border country lakes is full speed ahead. Needless to say night after night of ambient temps from 25 to 45 below zero makes it easy for the old man of the north to produce hard water. My neighbor did some drilling just a week ago on the Gunflint and found nearly 18 inches of clear crystal. There’s probably even deeper ice in many locations.
To close this week I share a warm and cuddly. It seems that three white tails have adopted the Smiths as their winter keepers. The bitter cold has them settling down in straw-strewn nests over my septic tanks most evenings.
Through my dining room window, I checked them out one late night last week. Silhouettes against the white, I found bucks “Notch” and “Half ear” along with a doe, tightly curled up nose to belly, and apparently sound asleep. I suspect that they were covered with frost (they usually are when they move about the yard in the mornings). Nevertheless, they looked to be comfy warm and contented in the still of the night.
It kind of reminds me of the days when our kids were small and we knew they were nestled all snug in their beds on many a cold winter night. Makes you feel warm all over!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the mystique of a winter night deep in the wilderness!

{photo by Richard Webb via Wikimedia Commons}


 
winter moon

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 27

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            As we have passed the miracle birthday of the Christian world, our northland paradise sees the year winding down with a waning “little spirit” moon. 2013 has seen its triumphs and tragedies but goes into the annals as pretty much like most of those preceding, with aspects of good and bad, happy and sad, depending upon the view of the beholder.
            The Wildersmith two hopes your time together with family and friends over the past few days was full of love and gaiety.
During the past week border country weather has not been frightful. Nevertheless, it has remained cold in our neighborhood, so a fire in the stove has been just delightful. It’s been a December to remember.
Temps have peeked up above the zero mark a few times for a welcome moderation. However, it has not been enough to force the natural Zamboni to curtail the ice making mission.
I’m hearing that the prolonged cold is curing the slushy conditions on many deeply snow-covered lakes. By trout opener in a few short weeks, ice should be great. However, operating on the side of caution is always warranted on any lake ice, at any time!
Up to this scribing time, a few puny snows have enhanced the white winter blanket, but not by much. It has been just enough that yours truly has been back at it, shovel and/or broom in hand nearly every day, whisking away anywhere from a skiff to three or four inches.
As we contemplate peace and serenity this time of year, the territory along 48 degrees north is the ultimate in soul-soothing solitude, quiet as falling snow. Even the winds have shown us mercy for the past several days.
It seems the deer frequenting our yard have a good feel about peaceful conditions too. Lately, a growing number have adopted this spot along the Mile O Pine as one of safe harbor.  This will be the case for the time being, at least until “brother wolf” catches a scent and scatters them like wind-driven snow.
 Under luminance of a great December moon over the breast of new fallen snow, we’ve been able to observe many white tails all snug in their beds just east of the house. Although they probably move about during the long darkness hours, many are found resting in the same spots when morning light dawns a new day.
They then spend much of the daytime lounging and browsing around the neighborhood. This scenario depicts one more charming element of residency in the northern forest.
On a related note, we had good fortune of a few clear nights when our “cold moon” was growing to its full splendor. The regal luster brought to mind the title of an old tune “A Blue Christmas.” However, the song’s lyrics didn’t really fit my thoughts during those viewing moments.
 For us in this part of the universe, a lyrical contrast was played out on these waxing nights as “A Blue Christmas” took on a new, more appropriate, meaning for the season. The brilliance of moonlight over the wilderness landscape was displayed in a panoramic azure elegance! Coupled with a zillion trees casting long eerie shadows, those north woods nights were otherworldly, enchanting!
Now we’re closing the books on the 13th year of the new century and heading toward 2014. The light of the New Year is coming over the eastern hills and ‘round the bend. I hope the coming 365 are as fruitful and rewarding as we can make them! May peace and goodwill toward all men be walked, instead of talked!
Happy New Year!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a happy ending and a new beginning!

{photo by Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons}
 


 
winter hunting

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 20

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            Border country has been living up to its true character since our last meeting at WTIP. It’s “Biboon” (winter) for sure in this marvelous unorganized territory. 
We passed the night of the “popping trees, little spirit” moon a few stanzas ago. In a matter of hours, we’re headed to our hemispheres shortest daylight exposure of the year marking tomorrow’s winter solstice. And, with only 10 days remaining, it seems unbelievable 2013 has wound down so quickly.
It’s an understatement if one was to say that it’s not been really cold. Well, just how cold has it been? Although mercury levels can vary much from place to place in these parts, when it’s as cold as it’s been, a few degrees either way makes little difference.
 It has been bone chilling! There’s been none of the minus 40 to 50 which might be ahead in about 30 days. Our current frigid experience has ranged from minus 18 to minus 25 most mornings, with 31 below being the coldest!
I can only speak for the thermometers at Wildersmith which have extended into the second straight week of not rising above zero. Yes, the big freeze-out went into effect during the night of Dec. 5. Since that time the best we have managed for a daytime high temp has been around 4 below. Doing the math, at the time of this scribing, adds to over 11 consecutive days (264 hours and still counting) of nothing but brrrr!
This place is especially not for the faint of heart. If one is of that timid persuasion, then this is why Arizona, Florida and Texas were created! For those of us that do endure and enjoy, it is what it is. You just layer up and get on with the frosty life.
Meanwhile our snow fall occurrences have been minimal compared to earlier in the month. These recent reps have freshened up our already heavy laden branches but not required any serious removal efforts at least in this neighborhood. However, it’s snowing as I finish this week’s news scoop, so scooping perspectives could change.
This splendid time of celebration was kicked off for the Smiths a couple Mondays ago with attendance at the annual Borealis Chorale and Orchestra holiday concert “Tidings of Joy.” Once again it was a classy performance!
 Several of our Gunflint Trail friends and neighbors joined in the cast of nearly 100 from around the county. Congrats and thanks to all for the glorious revue of this special birthday remembrance!
The trip back up the Trail after the concert event found the nearly 10-mile stretch between the south Brule River Bridge and east Bearskin Road to have been a place of conclave for our dwindling moose herd. Although we did not see any of the northern icons, it was heartening to observe there had been so much hoof traffic during this time of moose population instability.
During a subsequent trip to town later in the week, we came upon a cow and her calf trailside in the same area. Further, a friend has shared that she encountered three sets of three moose (yes, that’s nine) on a recent evening trek on the Trail.
It is advisable that any after-dusk travel in this moose zone should be approached with caution. There will no doubt be more of these roadway gatherings for “brine” tasting and we don’t need any moose ending up as vehicle hood ornaments.
It was pretty exciting a few days ago when I looked out and found one of the local bucks had dropped a part of his masculine symbol.  This half rack was barely visible sticking out of the deep snow along a path through the yard. It was conveniently not far from my back door.
The big guy has since come back void of the other side as well. I’m now challenged to do some snowshoe stomping over what must be a hundred different paths in search of the cartilaginous trophy.
A friend down on County Road #20 has discovered the first seasonal renewal of predator/prey drama on the new Gunflint Lake ice. It is intriguing how easily those deer/wolf confrontations play out on the muted winter landscape. This is in contrast with warm weather kills. Knowing that the canid lupis are hungry every day, we seldom hear any recognition of those fast food acts during our season of green.
The holiday season reaches its pinnacle in a few days with the Christian world celebrating the birthday of all birthdays. We at Wildersmith hope that you and yours have peaceful and enriching time together, sharing renewed love that seems often lacking in our busy commerce-driven world.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor this miraculous occasion!

{photo by Forest Wander via Wikimedia Commons}