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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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forest in snowtime

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 13

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            Regardless of how each one of us is taken with desire to be independent of interference in our daily activities, we usually find ourselves considerably dependent upon the conveniences of life and each other regardless of our denial.
 When hands get tied by glitches and bumps in the road, we come to see just how many times we take things for granted, and our dependency on the scientific advances of mankind and fellow human beings sure come oozing to the surface. “People really do need people.”
Such is the case with my non-deliverance of last week’s Gunflint scoop. A virus sickened the Smith computer, and my hands were tied, unable to produce. Thus “Ms. Dependability,” “Nosy Rosey,” the news-snooping pooch from over on Hungry Jack Lake, and her dad, came to my rescue. And, once again, my gratitude is ongoing.
Back in the saddle again, I bring you news of great joy! Folks throughout the territory are happy as frolicking otters due to the atmospheric happenings of this past week.
The upper Gunflint was rocked with a fine snow happening and the first real cold snap of the late fall/early winter. Yes we got white and plenty of it.  Although these parts didn’t receive as much as some areas in the snow belt, ours was real hard-earned crystal. While along the upper elevations of the North Shore, much of that snow was artificial stuff bloomed over the big lake. But I guess snow is snow!
To make sure our pre-holiday flocking isn’t going away any time soon, the great northern express ushered in some Arctic air. The frigid blast has had the Wildersmith thermometer stuck below the zero mark for several days.
One would think residing on the shores of Gunflint, we would’ve had a frozen lake surface days ago with these frigid temps. However, except for the far west end, the relentless wind prevented necessary still waters until this past Saturday night into Sunday morning.
The old gal finally slipped into her seasonal gear with an official “ice on” for 2013, Dec. 8. I’m assuming that both Loon and Saganaga lakes succumbed at about the same time. This date is one of the earlier frozen happenings on Gunflint Lake over the past several years. The earliest freeze up (in data recorded since the early 1980s) for Gunflint is Nov. 26, 1995.
On a related note, the Gunflint Gal no sooner had her winter coat in place than she ripped a deep gash in the new hard water apparel. With a screeching wail, she split about a hundred feet from shore for a long distance in both directions from my Wildersmith venue.  So the times of “talking water” begins, although they may not be in the happiest of tones.
The days of wind prior to Gunflint Lake solidarity enabled Mr. Jack Frost to visit our south shore. From the boiling caldron over near-freezing waters, with brush in hand he sculpted his way into oblivion, leaving delicate cut glass shards on every bit of our wilderness canvas. He has seemed to have outdone his usual Hallmark elegance, but I guess I say that every year at this time.
Not only are Gunflinters overjoyed with our winter beauty, the business of recreating in the snow is hurriedly getting under way.  Groomers of the cross-country ski trail system are hard at work, as are those who maintain the power sledding pathways.
And, with the deep fluff, those who traverse in the snow now have substantial reason to wear snowshoes. Meanwhile fishers of hard waters are anxiously testing the safety of ice depths since heavy snow cover has added some unwanted warming insulation to their support system.
As winter has socked us in, the little critters frequenting our deckside feeding quarters have stepped up their daily stops. Further, it’s a marvel how the larger animal folk (white tail deer) have begun to matriculate back into our neighborhood since the big shooting season ended. It seems most are previous visitors since they seem to know their way around, and the best windows in which to stare back at us.
 I guess the moccasin telegraph humming throughout our woods continues unabated in comparison with the oft-interrupted cyber technologies experienced by us humans. We at Wildersmith seem to have a real “animal magnetism” in regard to providing quality shelter and fast food opportunities.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the romance of our extraordinary wonderland winter!

{photo by Kevin Fillips via Wikimedia Commons}
 
 
 


 
Chickadee

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 29

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            Northwoods breaking news: We’re into the holiday season! We’d better get ready, because here it comes.  It can’t be stopped, let alone be slowed down!
            Our time in month 11 has rapidly slipped toward oblivion as we gathered for our day of giving thanks. Here’s hoping that your day with family and fixins’ was healthy and happy!
            Those of us residing in the Gunflint wilderness gave thanks yesterday just for the privilege of living in the marvelous northern Riviera. In fact, most of us Gunflinters give thanks every day for the abundance of miracles this natural universe bestows.
            It would seem appropriate to reflect on some of this northern bounty.  Here is a “top 10” list of things that one can hear in upper Gunflint neighborhoods at this time of year. All of which I would consider “manna for the soul, from heaven.”
            Number 10…Red squirrels slamming the lid on their lunch box feeders as they run in
                                   and out hundreds of times a day. 
Number 9…”Chit…chat” of countless chickadees, nuthatches and friends while
                      gathering at the feed tray.
            Number 8…The last lapping of lake rollers dashing our granite shoreline.
            Number 7…Barking of a lonesome red fox on its nightly sojourn through the
                                  neighborhood.
            Number 6…Wind howling through the pines as the “great northern express”
                                  barrels across the border.
            Number 5…Early morning roar of the snow plow clearing our pathway to
                                 civilization.
             Number 4…Thunderous eruptions from the lake as she fits into her frozen winter
                                 coat.
            Number 3…The first pop in the forest as freezing tree sap solidifies on a sub-zero
                                evening.
            Number 2…A call of the wild from wolves of the pack.
            And… the Number 1 thing… heard in the Wildersmith neighborhood and
                                throughout Gunflint Territory this time of year…
      Nothing… but silence… and the serenity of a bright starlit frosty night
      with flashes from aurora borealis.
            There are few things in the universe that can compare with the mystique and magic of a day or night during winter in the northern wilderness.
Winter’s horizon is nearing and letting in the cold like an open door. At a time where cold clings to every bit and being, the very word itself is a fact of life that draws mankind close in warming links with our natural world.  We tremble with excitement for adventures of survival ahead!  How favored we are!   Thanks be to creation!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor this great time! Hope to see you out and about shopping in our Arrowhead communities.

{photo from Mike's Birds via Wikimedia Commons}


 
not frozen yet

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 15

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            Whew, two weeks of November are in the books for Gunflint country and all is well. Out here in border country, it’s our quiet time of year. In spite of the peacefulness, we feel momentum building for the holiday season.
            A close look at the calendar finds Thanksgiving Day a mere three and a half weeks from Christmas. Man, talk about all this excitement compressed into such a short span; hectic is an understatement.
Color our world white! Last weekend the area celebrated another snow happening, just on the eve of deer shooting season. This time the forecasters finally got one right.
The white blanket of snow gave us a delightful winter look. So we’re all decked out, and the white flocking covered up our now-departed autumn Technicolor. It sure seems that fall succumbs to its end much easier than summer, which hung on forever.
            Fall fishing has been all but abandoned in favor of lugging a gun through the woods. One local fishing guide, however, was out in his boat a couple days last week.
He was not angling, but carrying a passenger who was doing some government agency mapping project in the upper reaches of Saganaga land and waters.  After just a few hours out in the elements, the guide’s summation was that conditions were way too cold to be out in a boat.
            The “freezing over/full beaver moon” will be at its pinnacle this weekend. With a little luck our almost never ending cloudy skies will split open so that we can observe his luminance.
There is nothing more bedazzling than a full moon over a white blanket. The Wildersmith thermometer registered our first serious cold earlier this week. The mercury was barely on the plus side of zero. In spite of a predicted minor warm-up, I hope that the cold hangs in there so we’ll have snow left on the ground by full lunar time on Sunday morning.
            Congratulations to Chel Anderson on the excellent scribing in the most recent edition of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer (MCV) magazine. Chel, one of our locals and also a WTIP volunteer, is not only a dedicated ecologist and botanist, but a gifted writer. I recommend finding a copy and taking a look at Chel’s perspectives.
            Another item in MCV caught my eye and has special meaning for not only outdoor adventurers, but all people. It is on the inside of the back page, and is entitled, “The Life of a Day.” The passage is written by Tom Hennen.
 This enjoyable piece of prose about says it all, making one step back and assess every day as being pretty important. After reading Mr. Hennen’s essay, my opinion is confirmed that “all days are good, and some are even better.” Good reading, catch it if you can!
Daylight is dimming well before five o’clock now. Each cloudy day is even closer to dark by 3:30 or 4, so doing chores outside has its limits.
The Smiths fortunately have wrapped up all winter preparations. Our last chore was a trip up onto the roof for cleaning out the wood-burning stove chimney.  While aloft on yon shingles I also did a final rain gutter clearing.  And now, our snow shovels are hung by the doors with cheer, in hope that St. Winter will soon be here!
Meanwhile I’m into the woodshop for some sawdust making, and the lady of the house is busy quilting.  It’s wood-burning and soup-making time in the woods! Could life be any better?
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the advancing adventures of our silent season!
           
           
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 
Minnesota “chicken bird” (aka grouse)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 8

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The “freezing over” moon illuminates our territory as this Gunflint scoop comes your way. Configured in slipper shape, the “man in the moon” finds our pre-winter theatrics of a week ago having lost some of their grip out this way.
Moisture has been scant as temps have edged above the freezing point during most days following the usual frosty-roof nights. Occasional glimpses of sunshine and light breezes have coupled with the warming to allow the ice cover on some trailside lakes and ponds to step back into liquid form.
As “Tagwaagin” (fall in Ojibwe) creeps toward its midpoint on the calendar, I find the winter welcome wagon crews are out in full force.  Any pathway traveled throughout the area will find flocks of those pert snow buntings exploding from roadside venues to briefly lead one to the next flurry of white-tailed birds, and on and on they go.
Another sign of the times is observed in our Minnesota hares. The north woods bunnies are rapidly slipping into their winter garb. Recently, I’ve witnessed a couple that had already put on their white sox, and the summer camo was almost more salt than pepper. Bet they are hoping for white ground cover more than yours truly.
The frequency of pine marten visits continues to increase around the Wildersmith haven. The other day two were observed chasing each other around the yard. Since they are pretty much solitary mammals, this activity makes me wonder if there wasn’t some late season hormonal action prompting a courtship. This would be unusual since most breeding pursuit happens in mid to late summer.
            Speaking further of area feathered friends, a gal from an undisclosed residence in the upper Gunflint called a while back sharing that she went out on her deck and found 11 of those Minnesota “chicken birds” (aka grouse) pecking around at the base of her steps.  For fear of bringing hunters’ blazing guns down on her place, she asked that I not share her locale.
             I’m betting that this was a late-hatching family that had not flown the coop of mother’s guiding wings. So although the DNR indicates our oft-bewildered, or as local folks would call them, just plain stupid birds are in a down cycle, there are many survivors still hangin’ on.
            As the Smiths were headed in a southerly direction toward town not long ago, we encountered a small flock of big white birds that had apparently the same southern intentions. It turns out that what we observed were snow geese. I have never seen them up the Trail before, but local birderMolly Hoffman confirms that what I saw was what I saw. They can often be seen in this area as they migrate along Superior’s north shore toward the gulf coast.
            This is a perfect time of year to assess what has happened in the forest during the past growing season. Traveling along the upper Trail, one can see that the ravages of a blow down (1999) and three wildfires (’05, ’06 & ’07) are becoming less and less traumatic. The new coniferous growth, now standing alone since the deciduous folk have shed their summer dressing, is teeming with seemingly uncontrolled bounty.
            The “changing forest” has stunning new generation pines growing everywhere. Even the most recent examples of fire-exposed granite are rooting countless thousands of volunteer jack pines.
And where mankind has given Mother Nature a hand, hundreds of thousands of white and red pines are stretching skyward with green energy.
Against the backdrop of evergreen, the golden hue of tamaracks is all that remains of fall’s color show, thus providing more evidence that abundant patches of those delicate treasures have also popped up to take the place of departed old-growth woodland generations.
Obviously, the gal in charge of nurturing these forest gifts has things well on the road to recovery, and it goes to show you can’t keep the good old gal down for long.
Although most of us will not be around to see the forest as it once was, it is so heartening to see this amazing change thriving before our eyes. We are so blessed to be a part of this magnificent transformation. 
At this time of gathering and harvest, our hearts are filled with thankfulness.  We are privileged to watch as tragedy fades and forest life flourishes into treasure once again.
On a final note, the Minnesota firearms deer-hunting season commences this weekend. Thousands of venison seekers will be out and about disguised as trees and brush in pursuit of a prized white-tail buck.  All are urged to use common sense, and be courteous, cautious and safe. Happy hunting!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the bounty of the north woods!

{photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons}


 
Pumpkin

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 1

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            The north land bade month 10 a spooky good bye, and greets November with a new moon while returning to Central Standard Time this weekend.  All are reminded to reset that clock before turning in Saturday night (we’re “falling back” once again).
October was a half and half measure of time in the upper Gunflint territory. The first half refused to accept the idea of a departing summer, tricking us into short sleeve complacency.
Abruptly with week three, summer cashed in its chips, giving way to more typical border country weather. Our second half has seen little sun; clouds galore, snow cover has come and gone, along with damp/raw temperatures that have varied little from nighttime lows to daytime highs.
Some would say it’s been downright gloomy, but that’s to be expected while creeping into November. As we begin layering up to go outside these days, the seasonal transition remains magical with winter anticipation for a lot of us back country folk. That’s why we live here!
Our colder spell has caused smaller bodies of water throughout the area to skim over with the first ice of the season. On our Wildersmith deck, the bird watering shell has frozen a couple times and remained solid for about three days before a peek of sun loosened it up for a brief reprieve. With a confirmation of things to come, the thermometer sank to 10 degrees this past Monday morning in our neighborhood.
In spite of the ground still being relatively warm and unable to hold snow cover for more than a day or two, I’ve found some places where there are a couple inches of frosted terra firma. While attempting a bit of driveway leveling, I found my shovel balked at getting through the thinly frozen layer of my gravel stock pile.  And when the scoop did break through, the clumps unloosened did not break up without some good whacks. So times of winter solidarity gain day by day.
Lake waters are dangerously cold now. A fellow down on the west end of Gunflint tells of his fingertips turning nearly blue/black in a matter of minutes while being submerged as his dock was brought to shore for winter storage.
 With the building of our usual November winds and typical, yet-to-freeze, rough inland seas, I would hope that common sense prevails in regard to taking any kind of watercraft away from shore.  The slate gray liquid is way too frigid for an accidental dip as we head toward “walk on water season.”
 Late fall explorers might as well leave those canoes and kayaks on top of their vehicles and stick to navigating on foot. Also remember that the fashion hue of the month is blaze orange as hundreds of game hunters are out and about.
Honors have come to two of our Gunflint neighbors during the past week. Bruce and Sue Kerfoot, owners of the historic Gunflint Lodge, have recently been inducted into the Minnesota Resort and Camp Ground Association’s Hospitality Hall of Fame.
Congratulations to the Kerfoots on being recognized by their peers for their dedication to the hospitality industry both here in the Gunflint Community and statewide. I feel certain they share this recognition/honor with a great team of supporting employees.
Congratulations are extended to the WTIP family of listeners for their tremendous support in the “All Welcome” fall membership drive that ended this past Monday. Once again you have stepped to the plate and hit a grand slam with your financial commitments.
Over $22,000 pledged speaks volumes to the loyalty and respect that countless listeners have for their community radio station.  WTIP, in 15 years, you’ve come a long way baby!
Thanks to everyone who participated, and although the official drive has ended, it’s never too late to renew a membership or join as a new family member. Call in, click on or stop by!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the howls of November blowing through the pines!
 
 

{photo by Kristin Molinaro via Wikimedia Commons}
 


 
frosty mornings

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 25

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            October got back on track in the upper Gunflint this past week. After wandering aimlessly for the first couple stanzas while holding hands with late summer, month ten kicked up her heels with a little winter preview.
            A couple frosty mornings found gauzy fog hanging over the warmer Gunflint Lake waters. Then clouds globed together late in the night of our full “falling leaves” moon, and by morning of last Saturday snow was flying.
            The mid-trail area received a pretty good dose while I was down in those parts for a rummage sale.  The white stuff was sticking to everything and in not too many minutes the Trail was coated for my first stab at winter driving conditions. This impromptu winter wonderland made our beautiful autumn quickly fade into a distant memory.
 Here at Wildersmith our snow was not quite as intense, nevertheless it provided us with the first coating of the season. By afternoon a few peeks of sun and a still-warm ground made it all disappear in spite of temps hanging out in the low to mid-30s.
With the temperature not getting above the freezing mark this past Monday and snow whipping about most all day, I’m invoking my self-imposed criteria that it ‘s now winter in these parts. You may recall from years past that a daytime high temp below the freezing mark at this time of the season gives me license to make such a bold proclamation.
Speaking of the Gunflint Gal, I ran a check of her water temp and found “warmer” to be only relative with the column of mercury diminished into the high 40s, brrrr! On another note regarding the lake, several rains late this summer and into the fall have brought the lake level up to the highest I’ve seen at this time of year in over a decade.
This in mind, the area must be finally coming out of the drought that has plagued us for  too many years to count. It was a great summer for growing things, and thank goodness, the trees are going into winter with fairly wet feet. Now if only Old Man Winter remembers to pile on the snow!
Back country roads twist and turn as we head through October. I find it uniquely artistic the way in which, with only minimal traffic, our fallen leaves are churned up and then banked in neatly windrowed roadside borders.  It’s almost as if they are plowed into formation to act as cushion for the layers that will be piled upon them in the months to come.
The times of daylight are noticeably shorter even with that nonsensical daylight savings gaffe. Darkness is now closing in on us by late afternoon, and it’s barely twilight at seven in the morning.  So our limitless bright sky of a few short weeks ago is now consumed by ever lengthening darkness. Nevertheless, our extended evening time grips us with crisp soft air and the reverent smell of wood smoke. It’s a time of peace, perhaps the quiet before the storm.
All critters in our northern universe are busy securing places to hole up for the cold times ahead. Over the years, we at Wildersmith have been spared the influx of those tiny rodents seeking a warm spot (knock on wood). However, tight as the place seems to be, those creepy spiders are finding ways to slither inside. I know I’m probably not winning the battle against the wriggling arachnids, but if they show themselves they’re mine.
All avian feeders have been reinstalled on our deck-side cafeteria. However, I’m still using caution in regard to going full bore on serving the winged critters for fear of inviting a hungry Bruno. Further, since the brown earth is still providing morsel opportunities, and with the cost of seeds, it won’t hurt too much to wait a while longer for the excitement of a feeding frenzy to commence.
We do have several airborne visitors coming by on a daily basis to check things out. Besides our feathered friends, another reunion of sorts is announced with the return of our furry old friend Piney, the marten. Mr./Ms. Marten has been in absentia since last spring, but apparently remembers a nice piece of chicken will be available in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, it has been munching on some sparse daytime-issued sunflower seeds that keep the chattering squirrels off my back.
The “All Welcome” WTIP fall membership drive is in full swing as we visit this week. We need your continued support!  So give us a telephone buzz or internet click to keep this northern marvel going and growing, and thank you very much!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the coming of the “great northern express”, there’s a light comin’ round the mountain.
 
 


 
an early trick or treat visitor

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 18

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            The Smiths are back in Gunflint country after an Iowa visit with kids and grandchildren. Once again I’m indebted to my K-9 proxy “Nosey Rosey” and her dad for bringing you the local scoop during my absence.
            My return to the woods finds a few folks muttering frustration that fall has not progressed too much. Lacking the usual October gales and cold season preliminaries, our season of annoying flying/biting bugs has been extended way too long. 
On the other hand, many are relishing these great semi-summer days. We all should be reminded that official autumn is not even a month old as yet, and the usual character of month 10 in these parts will soon stand up to be counted. Remember the Halloween blizzard of 1991!
            A great deal fall of headway has been made in regard to forest defoliation throughout the Gunflint Corridor. Most, if not all, leaves are off the deciduous trees along with past generation needles from their distant white and red pine cousins.
 About all remaining for this aspect of the season has been left up to the tamaracks.  Many of them are in various stages of showing off a golden glow prior to making their lacy contribution upon the tawny carpet already in place.
            With this new blanket layered on our northland earth, every bit of heavenly moisture is now being captured by the natural decaying process, tendering an aromatic essence only Mother Nature can deliver. There is really nothing to match the fragrance wafting through the woods while tramping about on an autumn day.
            Under the full “falling leaves” moon, our area will be reflecting an early glimpse of spook season this weekend. With only a couple weeks until Halloween spirits are celebrated, the lurking skeletal remains of a now-naked forest will be casting ghostly shadows down in anticipation of ghoulish illusion.
            We at Wildersmith had an early trick or treat visitor a few nights ago. Decked out in its mask and furry costume with a ringed tail, this early beggar came banging around and was seemingly not to be deterred as I attempted to discourage it with hollers of loud intensity. I think this guy/gal may have been here before.
Grudgingly it retreated off into the forest. However, the pangs of hunger had it sneaking back up onto the deck a short time later.
For this second visit, I was more cordial, and offered a blueberry treat. A trick was also conjured up by yours truly if the treat was to be had. The sweet morsel was served in the rear confines of a cozy live trap.
We watched the visit with a flashlight through the windows. Not bothered by our leering bright light, the masked bandit showed mouthwatering interest in this delectable discovery.
Apparently not the brightest of its family litter, it spent several minutes maneuvering the cage about the deck trying to figure out an entrance point. Finally after examining all aspects of the potential dining nook, the entrance was located and access was gained.
 The bread and blueberry jam proved to be yummy, but the quarters seemed a bit confining.  After a few brief licks a decision was made to carry-out. The step back to turn around proved its undoing, clank.  Someone slammed the door!
Rather than agonize over the incarceration, it set about finishing what it came after. Soon the joy of this beggar’s night grew old.  Frustration at spending more time in there became acute.
To relieve its ill feeling I proceeded out into the dark and dispatched it to a new location. By next day, I’m sure that its spirit was again ambling through the woods.
Unless this unwanted ghoul has family nearby, I’m betting the raccoon saga at Wildersmith is over. That is, until another one hops off the next truck delivering sweet corn or watermelon from points south.
Meanwhile folks up this way continue to check items off their “getting ready for winter” list. Yours truly is nearing the end of my check-offs. With exception of installing deer protection on a few areas of young conifers and readying snow removal equipment, we at Wildersmith say bring it on.
By this time next week, we at WTIP will be into our “All Welcome” fall membership drive. Please remember this community radio treasure is for you and about you.
 Continued growth and quality programming needs you! Gracious listener support has been strong in the past and remains a must for the future.
 I hope everyone will ready with either a telephone or online pledge as the drive commences Thursday, Oct. 24. Keep in mind, “All are Welcome!”
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the riches of border country!
 

{photo by russavia, courtesy  of Wikimedia Commons}
               


 
Autumn has arrived...! (Photo by Bryan Hansel)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 4

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Border country offers a “Boozhoo” (welcome) to October. September ended on a stunning note throughout the Gunflint corridor. The past week or 10 days in these parts have been magical in regard to our north woods transition from a warm to cold atmosphere.

If ever I have seen one, this autumn seems to be the most beautiful on record for yours truly. However, if you have followed me over the years of this column, you will remember that I have said this more than once about this dramatic multicolored experience as each year supersedes my previous recollections.

Our month of the “falling leaves” moon has been so aptly tagged by the Ojibwe ancestors of long ago. Mother Nature has many tasks to look after with the coming of each succeeding season.

This yearly segment is no exception as Sh” has now taken on the role of carpet layer in our northern forest. After a few short days of flaming iridescence, the tokens of flora life high in the forest have begun to trickle earthward.

With the help of a steady rain and gusty winds last Saturday night and into Sunday, the layering of leaves and age-old pine needles got under way. A trip leaf peeping with friends last Sunday found the umpteenth thousandth layer of such accumulation being put in place by “Her Highness.”

Golden brown flakes were floating down in our pathway like squalls of an autumn blizzard, while tawny needles of red and white pine pierced the air space like early winter sleet. And, as we tooled along the byway, these reminders of another growing season danced and skipped alongside and behind to what will most likely be their final resting place.

What a seemingly sad farewell to the joyous quaking and awesome shade that characterized our summer. As I reflect on our leaf peeping trek, we probably never give thought to the fleeting life of a deciduous leaf.  How about a leafy memoir?

Born at the end of a growing season, these tiny embryos of plant life remain curled in their winter husks for seemingly months on end. With a sudden burst of warm energy from old Sol come late March or April, these buds of a new generation wake up and begin to feel the juices of life enter their veins.

Gradually peeling off their winter coats they flex to open and accept the light of a new day. Soon stems of their lifelines are strengthened to enable a fluttering of movement. By June in these northern latitudes, the green hands are palm up, ready to meet the tribulations of life in the forest.

The solstice of summer finds them basking in the sunshine, turning their backsides up for an impending thunderstorm and hanging on for dear life during windy days. What a life!

By July’s end, minutes of daylight are slowly diminishing and the processes of life start taking notice. Green pigment production dwindles as other characters of their make-up step forward.

August finds them turning restless with change. Come September they are proudly dressed for the harvest celebration, but nervous with cool anticipation. Suddenly, life takes a turn. Juices of vitality begin to wither, flush pigments fade and the stem of support gives way. Gusts of the season cause them to lose their grip, and it’s the beginning of the end.

It’s October, leaves tumble and fall, skittering about until finally nestled on the forest floor.  They are not yet done, though, in their leafy contribution to creation. Decaying atrophy adds them to the eons that have gone before them providing nutrient substance for a new generation yet to come. And the beat goes on!

Amazing is the minimal duration for these verdant creations. While other species in the universe may also experience short spans of life expectancy, none seem to offer the rapture of a zillion dazzling leaflets growing green, to yellow, to orange, to red and even in death, a russet tone. Their grandeur will forever capture us. Happy fall!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor this abundant beauty in the northland!


 
Raccoon.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 27th

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            There have been big changes in the scenery since we last met along the Trail. It appears Mother Nature was just waiting on the calendar to really get after the landscape pigmentation changes.
            In just a matter of days the big show has exploded. The striking tapestry of golden tones, along with a glow of molten red iron on our sugar maples, is simply breathtaking. The blur of our new autumn is just one of those “you gotta see” moments in time. I encourage everyone to make time to experience the Gunflint in full color regalia, but don’t wait too long.
            The morning of the day we ushered in our Technicolor season, it sure felt like fall too. In fact, it was downright cold last Sunday. The Smiths arose to a good hard freeze with rooftops crusted hard in crystal. So I’m feeling that summer can surely be put out to pasture.
            Moisture was on the menu over that past week as well. The rain gauge at Wildersmith had to be emptied twice with a total of well over two inches. I’m told that there was even more in other places along the byway corridor. It came to mind during the dousing of a week ago Thursday that, given a few degrees colder, we could’ve had a heck of a nice snow.
            It’s been like a zoo around the neighborhood in recent days. We had a late night deck-side visit by one of those invasive masked bandits. This makes the third straight year a raccoon has encroached on our neighborhood. Others living along the South Gunflint lakeshore indicate never having seen one. Why me?
 This migrant did a number on my apple tree. It managed to break a substantial branch out of the center, while pilfering part of the first good crop I’ve ever cultured.
 I’m now lying in wait for this alien with a fine slice of bread and jelly (this has always been well received in previous entrapment efforts.) If this masked ringed tail returns to take the bait, there will be more to come on this adventure.
A wanted guest made a cameo appearance last Thursday when a huge bull moose was reported ambling on the Mile O Pine not far from our driveway. I did not see it in person, but confirmed the visit upon seeing a trail of big hoof prints.  We haven’t had one of these icons down this way for several years, so this sighting was great news.
 The scoop on his visit was that it sported a massive rack, a real handsome devil. Since ‘tis the amorous season for these big critters, there is hope that there might be scent of a female companion somewhere nearby.  If such would transpire, we might experience more frequent visits from the now dwindling herd.
As a follow-up to the moose passing by, a third member of our wild neighborhood stopped by a day or so later. This one was also uninvited, and not necessarily wanted up on our deck, looking in the window. This peeping Bruno was of medium size, maybe a yearling. It was quite inquisitive after being discovered prowling around, but quickly high tailed it when I un-loaded a shot from my blank starting pistol.
I don’t know if this north woods Yogi had an eye for my apple tree either before, or after, it was dispatched. Next morning, I found a second incident of animal vandalism. Only this time, the tree was more seriously damaged.  The tree, which is not too far along in years, has taken two good whacks in a week.
 I can only imagine how it must have looked with about a 200-pound teddy perched precariously, munching my ripening Haralsons. At this writing, none of the three wild characters has returned for a curtain call. In the meantime, Act Two of this saga suggests that I’d best be picking what’s left of my apples, as I just got word of a momma bear and her twins frolicking just over the hill, grrrrr!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the north woods glow, as October’s banging on the door!
 
 
{photo by Darkone courtesy of Wikimedia commons}

               


 
Dennis Todd

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 20

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Tragedy has once again hit the Gunflint community. For the second time this summer the area has lost one of its friends. Longtime Gunflint Lodge fishing guide, Dennis Todd, has been lost in a boating mishap. The incident occurred on a return fishing excursion from Northern Light Lake early last Thursday evening.

Accurate details of just what happen are unavailable as this week’s commentary was being prepared. It is known that a passenger in the boat was thrown into the icy waters of Trafalgar Bay along with Mr. Todd. This person was able to swim to a nearby island to safety, but the guide never resurfaced. The survivor, who was wearing a flotation device, was eventually able to summon assistance from another group of fishermen a short time later. Search operations for Dennis were initiated as soon as word got back to land communications, and was administered by Ontario authorities from the Thunder Bay Marine unit.
           
Mr. Todd’s body was recovered by divers in 46 feet of water just after noon last Sunday. He was the most senior member of the Gunflint Lodge’s guiding crew, and had been serving lodge guests in that capacity for 27 years. He lived in Missouri in the winters. The Gunflint Community offers heartfelt condolences to Dennis’ immediate family, his Gunflint Lodge family and his many friends and neighbors. His always jovial mood and smiling face will be missed!
           
Word has also been received about the passing of another area summer resident. Frank Smith of Black Mountain, North Carolina died of pneumonia complications this past week. Frank and wife Jean shared cabin property on the shores of Loon Lake, off North Loon Lake Road. Like many others, they had a deep affection for this precious place and had spent many joyous times here in the woods until ill health constrained them to assisted living back in Carolina. Sympathy from Frank’s Gunflint friends and neighbors is extended to Jean and his family.

With autumn about to become official, the weather in the area has followed suit.  Here on Gunflint Lake we’ve had several days that were just marvelous. On a couple occasions, the feeling was mindful of those late October times when brisk northwest winds over thrashing waters called for two layers to quell the cold shivers. And, we even received more rain!  Ahh, it’s getting to be my time of year!

The migration that started several weeks ago for some of the avian flocks is now in full swing. A day doesn’t seem to go by that I don’t see at least one flying “V” high in the sky, as a sense of urgency is permeating the northern latitudes.  Further, it would appear that our hummingbird gang has called it a season. The last filling of their sweet nectar station has gone untouched for the past several days, indicating they must be en route south.  Those winged critters who do hang out year-round have begun to circle the wagons, so to speak. I’m noticing an increased gathering of chickadees, red breasted nut hatches and blue jays after being AWOL most of the summer.

A big bird happening was reported by friends over on Hungry Jack Lake during a recent fishing venture. The event was initiated when a small fish was released back into the lake but did not survive. A watchful eagle soon made a pitch for the floating finny and lifted it high into the pines. An osprey apparently took notice of the goings-on and had another idea about who was going to get the fish dinner. It soared in and literally bumped the eagle from its perch. The underwater fare went tumbling earthward, and the raptor battle was on. An airborne attack ensued as the osprey continued strafing the eagle. The eagle finally had enough and retaliated. This soaring skirmish eventually ended up in mid-air, talon-to-talon combat. After several seconds of tumbling through the heavens and roughing each other up, the eagle disengaged and winged off into the wild blue. It is unknown if either celebrated victory with a filet-o-fish that afternoon. It would be a safe bet some other critter of the wild woods probably made off with the eagle’s catch, and might be wondering how this fish could be so far from water.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor this heaven on earth, as we celebrate, the equinox of fall!