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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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


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

 

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Gunflint Trail

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 7

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The Trail folk are rounding out week two with the “Neebing (summer) Express” bearing down on the territory.  By next time we meet over the airwaves, our skinny spring will give way to the warm season solstice.

This final column for the spring season 2013 finds the atmosphere along the upper Trail remaining on the cool side. In fact the Smiths have even cranked up the woodstove a couple times since June took over. However, remembering how stifling it could be, there are no complaints coming from this resident of the woods in regard to coolness.

Once again the rain gods have forgotten border country, but on the favorable side of the ledger several spectacular sunny days were logged. On a less desirable side of things, fire danger is again on the upswing, and back country roads are choking in dust.

The sugar maples have been the last to unfurl their summer tokens in our neighborhood, thus completing the leaf-out process. With that, our summer camouflage is in place and things that we have been looking at for months are now obscured in many textures of green.

The gushing spring meltdown has rapidly given way to mere trickles in most streams. Due to the absence of rain over the watershed, and the slowdown of these sustaining lifelines, I’ve noticed the first drop in the lake level on the Gunflint. The same may already be happening on other area lakes too. The Gunflint Gal looks to have dropped about four inches from its high mark of a couple weeks ago.

The lake water is warming, although slowly. A check of the reading at the Wildersmith dock as of last Sunday showed a cool but improved 50 degrees. This is still not close to be inviting for a dip, so lake users should be cruising on the side of caution.

Since nearly all aspects of normal have been tardy with our spring, it is not unexpected that the black fly season has come late too. I don’t know this to be the case scientifically, but the cool weather must have them miffed. They’re always nasty, but they seem angrier than usual.

With these black fly nasties being one of the three ingredients for a good blueberry crop, it would seem that we might have another booming crop with a little more warmth and much needed rain.

The reconnaissance crew of mosquitoes has done their pre-season investigating and has called in their troops as well. So now it’s all about survival of the smartest. In these parts, I’m the “sultan of swat.” August can’t come soon enough!

With the frequency of moose observations along the byway on the decline, it was a real treat to catch one in a Trail-side pond during a recent jaunt. The big old gal was quite content to allow photo ops as she munched on swamp bottom tenders.

There was no accompanying calf that could be seen, and with her nonchalant approach to us nosy observers, one would think that she must have been childless. This becomes even more unsettling with the recent news from DNR researchers in regard to the alarming death rate among this year’s calf crop.

On the other hand, the bear population is reported to be immense with an estimated 12,000 in northeastern Minnesota. Not long ago, I heard about the sighting of a momma and her triplets How about that for a ready-made family?

The abundance of these brunos may also be a factor in the moose calf demise, but that is all part of nature’s plan. It’s us humans that must eliminate some of our unsavory practices to remove the part we may be playing in the moose decline equation.  

Happily, I have to report that the area “Teddys” have not made an appearance in the Wildersmith neighborhood, yet. Guess the folks down shore to the west must be keeping them occupied.

Another reminder that the fish fry at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center takes place this coming Monday, the 17th, at noon.  Plan to get out there early to take in the beauty of the surroundings, tour through the museum and savor the smell of fried “Missouri Walleyes,” potatoes and the trimmings along the shores of Sag Lake’s front bay.

Then one month to the day later, the annual Gunflint Trail canoe races take center stage. Planning is full speed ahead. Members of the Gunflint community are needed once more to step up with their volunteerism for the event. Please say yes when called upon, we need you!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the beauty of our northern woods!


 
Minnesota Lake

Wildersmith: May 31

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The Trail is just getting used to May and here comes June! My, how the days go by in paradise!
           
May was May in name only because most of the past 31 have been like late March or April. However, the past few days have begun to take on a summer feel. Guess it took the Memorial Day weekend to jump start the official warm weather season.

As we head off into month six, there are still a few reminders of winter here and there. We still have a mini glacier holding on along the Mile O Pine, and I see a couple more spots of dirty white ice packs down on County Road 20 And some folks are still being reminded of Old Man Winter while trying to thaw frozen septic tanks and mend broken water pipes.

The past couple weeks have seen seasonal residents return by the dozens. Meanwhile, with spectacular weather, the three-day holiday saw tourists by the car- and truck-load inundate the upper Trail. Visitors to the majestic Gunflint territory were seemingly bursting with energy for time on a lake or out in the forest after being unchained from the long white season.  I surmise that most lakes, like the Gunflint, were abuzz with the hum of boaters as vacation times begin to get under way.

It’s hard to believe our summer quarter is only three weeks away, with old Sol ready to linger for our longest daylight hour. Even more difficult to comprehend is our trek then heads the other direction again.  With our spring being mostly a non-issue, rebirth is hurrying with an explosion of virescence out this way.

We year-round residents have a passion for two seasons of color, the white one just past and the green one at hand.  And boy, how we love that green, let me count the shades.  

With their pine cousins providing the backdrop, deciduous parts of our forest are in varying stages of popping their foliage. The hills are alive with the hint of chlorophyll.  A trip along the byway is displaying ever-changing hues from almost chartreuse, to lime, sage, emerald and grass, to name but a few of the countless tints. Toss in those rays of sunshine and you have an early summer spectacle.

While rapid progress is being made on the infusion of docks, boats and canoes into area lakes and the usual seasonal cabin fixits, some of us are already into the next “getting ready for winter season.” Yours truly set about splitting and stacking of firewood last Sunday.  I’ve also been busy collecting blow down stuff from winter and have accumulated four burn piles for the next time we have snow.

 That firewood task happened after catching my breath from a day with good friends putting the Smith dock together and tackling an uncooperative leaky cabin waterline. It seems like one’s work is never ending out here in border country, but oh how we love it!

Air traffic is on the increase at our sweet juice station. The hummingbirds are circling in holding patterns for a shot of our sugary concoction, and not far from our dock on the Gunflint shore, we have a pair of common Mergansers hanging out with an apparent eye on setting up for a potential egg hatching.

 There’s also a lot of loon conversation on the water and through the air, and if that talk isn’t enough, somewhere around the Wildersmith yard a nest of young crows are adding their squawking two cents worth every once in a while.

Speaking of loons, the pair that has been nesting in the bay at Chik-Wauk Museum over the past two years has returned. As yet they‘ve produced no eggs, just doing a little housekeeping.  One can keep up with the process by going to www.chikwauk.com and clicking on the prompts.

Oh, and by the way, those other winged critters are beginning to debut with the itching stings and nips on us humans. The bug dope and nets are coming out, ‘tis the season!

Tune in again next week for more bloomin’ news! Until then, keep on hangin’ on, and savor a June treat along the Gunflint!

Photo by Mykl Roventine via Wikimedia Commons: Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


 
Northern Lights (Charlie Stinchcomb/Flickr)

Wildersmith May 24

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Alas, genuine spring on the Gunflint!  The power of Zigwan (spring in Ojibwe) has overcome the frosty spirit of a long winter.

Since our last meeting on the radio there’s a celebration of sort with winter’s final passing. The long watch for open waters on the big lakes ended pretty much all over the territory last weekend. Exact dates for disappearance of the hard water on Saganaga and Seagull Lakes are sketchy depending upon with whom you talk. The dates are firm, though, for Poplar and Gunflint lakes, as Sarah at Trail Center and yours truly here on the Gunflint declared ice out on May 17.

The ice on Gunflint Lake didn’t go without surging back and forth for several days, leaving shorelines stacked with crystal shards. Although I have not heard of any major shoreline damage, we here at Wildersmith came within a heartbeat of losing our water line to the marauding ice cake.

Another couple items are to be celebrated along with the full “budding flower” moon of tomorrow night. Some much needed rain finally dampened the territory along with our first thunder of the season, while canoeists and anglers are smiling as they are now free to buzz to their favorite fishing places.

With winter 2012-13 now into the books, a brief review of our long months past seems to be in order. I can only reflect on what has taken place here at Wildersmith as the cold facts might vary from place to place along this 57-mile Trail.

To say the least it was a doozy, starting slow, gaining momentum month by month and closing with a lingering fury! For us cold climate enthusiasts, it was satisfying to once again experience the true character of what defines us.

On snow, we had our first measurable amount on Thanksgiving (though flurries teased us on Sept. 22) and the last came on May 11-12. In between, 107 ½ inches were tallied with the largest amount falling on April 19, 23 inches.

The Gunflint Lake succumbed to solidarity Dec. 22 and regained liquidity May 17. Between those momentous occasions the coldest recorded low temperature was an actual bone chilling minus 43 on Jan. 24. A few days prior to that frosty morning we experienced our coldest daytime high temp in 14 winters here when we got up to a paltry minus 28, brrrr!

That’s all behind us and with exception of a few mini-glaciers hidden in the coniferous shade, the past six months have melted into memories. So joyous was the winter, I celebrated its leaving by getting right into the lake.

The fact is, I was in that icy liquid twice, the day our ice left and the next day too. Both of the cool excursions were out of necessity and not out of a real zest for a cool dip.

Equipped with insulated cold water gear, I assisted with the installation of a neighbor’s dock the first time in, and then extended wild fire sprinkler system pumping lines out from the shores at three locales next day. I can assure all that the 30-something degree water is worthy of extreme caution for those hitting the canoe circuit or heading out on fishing escapades. Please be safe!

In our wild neighborhood an unexpected avian observation has captured the attention of folks down on County Rd. 20 where it intersects with the Mile O Pine.  A neighbor alerted us Smiths to a nest of ravens high in a giant white pine. I have since found that the nesting residents have been squawking for several weeks, and the two or maybe three youngsters are so big that mom and dad can’t even get in the nest. They are sure to take that first flight of independence any day, making for peace and quiet around there once more.

With the loons back on area lakes, one more homecoming is of mention. The hummingbirds have answered their northern call and are hungrily zipping about in search of some manmade nectar. No blooms yet, so it’s up to us!

Another animal account found yours truly in apparent close proximity to one of our wilderness warriors not long ago, and didn’t even know it. I had been in the yard doing some brushing and headed into the house when my wife made me aware that a wolf had just scampered along our lake shore not 100 feet away from where I had entered.

I don’t know that it had been sizing me up, but for sure, it was likely closer than I would have preferred it to be.  I’m happy that it was running away instead of at me.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the coming of the green!

Airdate: May 24, 2013


 
Loon (aaronHwarren/Flickr)

Wildersmith May 17

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Our second week of month five found that stubborn Old Man of the North slipping some but still unwilling to relinquish full command of his extended reign over the upper Gunflint atmosphere. The weather on our big Mother’s Day and fishing season opener was more of an April Fool’s celebration than that of a budding spring experience.

As expected, the ice remained solid on most of the big lakes, while howling northwest winds and snow squalls dominated the scene along the Mile O Pine Saturday and Sunday. By the end of Saturday and into Sunday our ground was white once more. And melt water standing on the Gunflint Lake ice cake was skimmed like it was December all over again.

Outside of the persistent big lake ice and prior to the weekend blast, our only remnants of winter were splashes of windrowed November and December snow in roadside ditches.  The new snow came hard and furious but measured less than an inch at Wildersmith.

With a warming forecast for border country going into week three, it’s a good bet the Trail corridor will be void of most white by the time this keyboard exercise hits the airwaves. Meanwhile, the prognosis for open waters on all area lakes remains tentative on the natural calendar.

Two issues of concern face area residents. The first issue is a potential for big winds on the days when the ice cake breaks from shorelines and begins to move. Strong air currents from any direction could prove dangerous for lakeshore fixtures like permanent docks and water lines. Those ice cakes have minds of their own and are willing to take out anything in their path with even a slight push from troubled breezes.

Our second item of concern is that even with the huge amounts of snow melt, the area is fast becoming tinder-dry. This neighborhood and on to the northwest has been void of significant rain for the past couple weeks with less than one-tenth of an inch in the Smith rain gauge. The latest snow will contribute little relief as the powerful sun will wipe it out in a matter of hours.

Many of us are fearful of wildfire potential, and doubly so when the ice is preventing the re-upping of wildfire sprinkler systems for the coming season. It would seem that burning bans for the area would be a no-brainer until both green-up and rain become reality.

Hope springs eternal as north woods flora are proceeding to sprout buds in spite of shivering temps for many days in May. Nearly every deciduous shrub and tree in the neighborhood has reached the green-tip bud stage. It would seem that the plant world will do some rapid catching up with a few consistent days of sunny warmth, and we’ll be green as usual when June comes a-calling.

Several folks have reported loon voices in the heavens over the past week or 10 days, but one has to question if their navigation systems might be a little confused with little open water on which to land. Wonder how long they can maintain a holding pattern, and if they run short of fuel, can a slippery wet ice landing be maneuvered. If our wilderness ambassadors do happen to land, how about a subsequent take-off?

Our forest has taken on a quieter note with the disappearance of those raucous crows and blue jays. I’m guessing they’re off to nesting somewhere. While I hear that the first hummingbird has been observed southwest of Grand Marais along Superior’s north shore, they had best consider waiting a spell before coming back to these parts.

In spite of the alarming decline in our county moose count this past year, several folks have reported sightings of moose with young’uns in the upper end of the Trail.  Perhaps they might be seeing the same ones, but it makes for happy reporting that not all have been wiped out. Maybe the surviving herd benefitted from the long winter with some of their parasitic nemeses possibly freezing out.

On a final note, congratulations to the folks down at Clearwater Lodge for becoming the owners of a newly-carved replica of their famous Billy Needham totem pole. The new one is in place where the original sentinel watched over lodge activities for some 65 years.

The new reconnection with Clearwater’s historic past was made possible through the generosity of Clearwater Lake resident craftsman Bob Olson. A formal unveiling will be announced sometime this summer, so check the Clearwater blog in order to be there for this next chapter in their story.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some wilderness time in the warming sun!

Airdate: May 17, 2013


 
Pussy willows

Wildersmith: May 10

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I’m back in the woods once more, great to be back at home sweet home.  Thanks are extended to Rosey, that nosey pup, and her dad from over on Hungry Jack Lake for keeping you in tune with the Gunflint scoop during my absence.

The departure on my annual southern trek for a stint as a referee at the Drake Relays in Des Moines was a struggle at best following the big April 19 snow. What a turnaround, though, upon our return. The one-lane drive to get up and out of the Mile O Pine tunnel of white on April 20 was found to be back to brown earthy mud just eight days later. Finally, Old Man Winter seems to have lost his grip on this part of the world.

Since that time, a few days of pleasurable sunshine has the wilderness back on track toward real spring. There is plenty of snow yet to be melted, but the forest has taken on the look of a zillion Dalmatians, spots of winter and spring throughout, so there is growing optimism! 

Nighttime temps are still dropping below the freezing mark as of this writing, so progress is slow with regard to our lake ice making its usual solid to liquid transition. It’s better than likely that the fishing opener this weekend will be a non-issue on most border country lakes. The time will come eventually, but it is anyone’s guess as to just when dipping a line from your boat in these parts might happen.

Meanwhile, the rites of our vernal season are starting to explode around us. Pussy willows have popped their husks, deciduous buds are swelling with pregnant expectations and the coniferous forest has perked up from its drab army green to sparkling emerald. 

The rage of the woods, however, are torrents of water tumbling from mountains on high. The spirit of crystal clear liquid oozing from shrinking drifts and building into tumbling tunes, while rushing toward our inland seas, is harmony to the ears. We forest dwellers know full well that this means the beginning of replenishment for our drought depleted lake levels. Now all wishes are for the gods of precipitation not to forsake this territory in 2013.

Members of the wild neighborhood are experiencing their rituals of the season as well. In spite of the extended cold, I’ve observed several critters shedding winter garb. I saw a motley moose recently with only part of its shaggy coat remaining, and the same has been happening to the red rodents that frequent our feeding trough. Speaking further of furry folks, the snowshoe hares in our neighborhood have a bit of that Dalmatian look too, while one of those poultry-poaching pine martens came by with a molting masked-bandit look on its face.

A couple of seasonal sleepers have awakened too. Chipmunks have been skittering about the yard. Also observed is evidence that our black brunos have returned, ravenous as ever, with several overturned garbage cans down around the Gunflint Pines Resort. So I’ve judged myself to be smarter than the average bear and put my many winter critter feeding facilities into storage.
If all these routines aren’t enough, above the roar of gushing creeks and rivers, I hear the cheer of robins returned; happy tweeting from dozens of their avian cousins and the drumming of a hopeful grouse boy looking for a mate is but a prelude to our warm season concert series.

The buzzing season is also but a few warm days away. The first of our north woods airborne biting squadron found a landing place on my hand just a couple days ago. However, this skeeter’s reconnaissance flight fell short of any extended mission with my first swat of the New Year.  Wildersmith one, biting savages nothing!

In spite of my fondness for winter, the best is yet to come knowing that with a better late than never sprouting of spring, rebirth of bounty in our natural world is unfolding before our eyes. Hip, hip hurrah!

On a closing note, hats off to organizers and dozens of Gunflint community volunteers who pulled off another splendid Ham Run Half Marathon/5K last Sunday morning. The sixth edition of the event went smooth as silk on a cold, mostly cloudy morning. Thanks go out to all the dedicated runners, too, for blessing the event with their presence.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the bloomin’ season ahead!  

This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.


 
Wildersmith shares a squirrel story in this week's column (Loren Sztajer/Flickr)

Wildersmith April 19

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The calendar says spring, but our north country landscape indicates otherwise.  At the time of this keyboard exercise, little progress has been made on recognizing spring characteristics.

We tapped Old Man Winter for another couple small doses of snow, and temps have been none too warm as we pass the two-thirds point of month four.  In fact, last Sunday morning found the Zamboni full speed ahead and the mercury slightly below zero on our Wildersmith thermometer.  I almost had to fire up the old wood-burning stove.

If conditions follow the current April trend, the Gunflint territory might be celebrating our full “maple sugar moon” in the week ahead on the breast of new fallen snow. At a time when we should be in jubilation over pussy willow fuzz and clocking the strain of aspen buds trying to burst from their husks, remnants of winter are still dancing in our heads.

We regulars residing out this way are taking these moments of nature’s insubordination in stride, while early snowbird returnees and visitors from suburbia are bristling at the inconvenience of ice, snow, slush and sometimes mud. For yours truly, an upside to this extension of winter is not bad, as it simply delays the onset of bitin’ bugs and shortens the season for the threat of sweat. Six to seven months of winter really isn’t unreasonable for some of us!

A downside of hanging on to the snow and ice pack for this extended period is when the meltdown does come it is likely we’ll be deluged in rapid runoff. The earth went undercover dry as a bone last fall, then froze that way.  A sudden turn to summer will send all that surface water rushing off to Hudson’s Bay and Lake Superior.

Soils up this way are in dire need of slow soaking daytime thaws and nighttime freezing to enable the thirsty forest to soak up that life-giving juice. At this time it would appear that our coniferous forest looks to be quite brittle. Some species are nearly in a state of desiccation. Not only is this a health issue for the forest, but crisp needles are an enhancement to the season of wildfire which is but a bare brown forest away.

While the greatest share of the forest is still under snow cover, the Gunflint trailside shrinkage is revealing its usual unsightliness due to the presence of mankind. It never ceases to amaze me that thousands of people who annually trek this 60-mile corridor through the pines and tout its majestic environment could be so indifferent with regard to littering our roadside ditches.

Much of the debris is in the form of beverage containers.  I find it unconscionable that the state of Minnesota, purporting to be so environmentally in tune, does not have a bottle/can deposit/return law!  Looks to me that this might create some new, much-needed job opportunities around our state and also help clean up some of our byway’s ugliness. Come on St. Paul, let’s get with it!
It’s pretty sad commentary that everyone can’t do their part and dispose of their own unwanted travel items in proper receptacles. It just seems that this task should be a no-brainer.

Further, it would be really helpful if some of our visitors would stop and voluntarily do a bit of roadside pick-up. It would be great if locals didn’t have to bear the full brunt of picking up after the polluters of the universe.  In the meantime, I’ll be sharpening my pick-up stick. End of lecture!

A closing note shares a crow/squirrel episode on our deck-side feeder.  Not long ago an early morning gathering of critters brought the neighborhood murder of crows to the Smith outdoor cafeteria in search of breakfast.

The usual ears of corn were in their place and one caught the attention of a hungry crow.  The trouble was a squirrel had assumed possession of the treat which was envied by the bird.

The scene was of interest as the crow squatted down on the deck rail not a foot away from the munching rodent and patiently waited for its turn at a few kernels.  The squirrel, in the meantime, had no intention of sharing and proceeded to give the ebony avian some devilish prattle in between bites.

That crow sat there for the longest time listening to the chatter and, I’m guessing, thinking about its next move.   In the end this old crow gave up in apparent disgust, afraid to challenge the mini-gnawer to a physical confrontation.  It squawked once and flew off to parts unknown. Squirrel one, crow nothing, this time.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor thoughts of bloomin’ days ahead in border country!

Airdate: April 19, 2013


 
Fred Smith brings us the latest from the Gunflint Trail (Matt Wan/Flickr)

Wildersmith April 12

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Fred Smith is a native Iowan and retired high school athletic administrator now living on the upper Gunflint Trail with his wife Fran. Each week, he brings us his commentary “Wildersmith on the Gunflint.” This week, he brings us the latest from the Gunflint Trail.


 
Wolf in the wild

Wildersmith March 29

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Adios March…it’s almost April…no fooling! The way month three has flown by makes me wonder if there isn’t some way we could slow life down.

As we greet month four, the upper Gunflint is on the brink of mud season. Serious spring warmth has not confronted us regulars, and it has been interesting to watch a tale of two seasons lately.

 The power of our new season’s sun has been turning roof tops with southern exposure from shrinking white to sparkling drippy icicles. Walking just a few dozen steps to the shady north side of the house, I find nary a drip falling and the chill of winter remaining a reality. So one can see we are in the midst of the year’s quarterly climatic tug-of-war.

That said, a reflection on territory atmospheric happenings during the past seven days has provided little excitement. It’s been pretty normal for this time of year, pleasant days and cold nights. Here at Wildersmith we have still been seeing zero to single digit temps setting a thickening crust on the snow pack after dark, which softens under sunny daytime rays.

 Along our Mile O Pine and other less traveled back country roads, you would barely notice that spring has made much headway.  Yet out on the Trail blacktop, the snow banks have been gnawed away pretty good. In fact, remnants of the winter road de-icing are making for an ugly look of urban snow, yuk!

Lately a “murder of crows” has taken over around our neighborhood. When they are not strutting around the yard scratching for nutritional elements, they are winging through the tree tops like a storm cloud. Their raucous conversation has put the silence of the woods on temporary hold.

Just a few days ago, while trekking down the Mile O Pine, we came upon two huge handsome wolves. Both these wilderness icons and the Smiths were surprised to meet each other. In the blink of an eye, the canine originals turned and galloped off into the forest.

Passing their off-road exit, I was surprised at the indentations their bodies made as they struggled through the deep snow. It became quite evident that travel off the plowed road is very difficult for them, as well as other wild critters, particularly when they break through the crusted depths.

A recent report from down at Gunflint Lodge tells of an employee having a close up meeting with another wolf. Whereas wolves most usually high tail it in human encounters, I’m told that this one did a brief stare down before turning the other direction. Knowing they prefer venison, it would still be a little unnerving if they didn’t quickly vamoose upon a close-up human juncture.

I was made aware that two fishermen came upon another downed moose carcass. This one was observed at the far east end of Gunflint Lake. Because there were enough of the remains, it was determined to be that of a cow. So it’s another one down and counting on this sad saga of moose population decline.  It might have been two MIA if she had been in an expecting way.

I’m guessing it could be blamed on the wolves once again. However, if she was healthy, that likelihood could be questioned, as the Arrowhead herd has more than wolf issues. Those canid lupis have a way of picking only on the afflicted or very young. It’s a good bet that this one’s demise may have been due to a stressed physical condition.

On a closing, but amusing note, the deer are pacing back and forth by my lower level windows stopping to peek in at me as I key this week’s scoop. A forlorn look in their big brown eyes indicates that they want a handout. Boy, do they have me conditioned!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the thought of coming April showers, be they solid or liquid!

Airdate: March 29, 2013


 
Chipmunk (-infinity-/Flickr)

Wildersmith April 5

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The upper Gunflint Territory seemed headed toward a lamb-like end to March. We were teased with a couple swell early spring days, then came Easter Sunday. All talk of April making a blissful entry, with an end to low digit temperatures, was dashed by a resurgent lion-like slap from Old Man Winter.

Our parade to Grand Marais for Easter church services was marked not with thoughts of bunnies, eggs and celebration, but stymied by snow showers and serpentine whiffs of snow slithering down the cold byway ahead of strong northwest winds.

It was almost as if the great spirit of the north was howling, “Just not so fast my border country buddies. Ghostly reminders of Jack Frost and I will cede to spring only when I say it’s time.”

Although new snow accumulations amounted to little, here we are, almost a full week into month four, with the bloom of a new season hovering in a cool holding pattern. Regardless of melting yet to be done, time cures all, and the virtue of patience will prevail knowing we’ll get a blessing of days for rebirth, perhaps as soon as tomorrow!

Until then, it’s back to gloves, sheepskin hat, insulated boots and heavy coat! No foolin’, it was minus 2 at Wildersmith on April 1 with wind a-howlin’.

Those last few days of month three were so inviting. How inviting was it? It was so inviting that I brought the old rocking chair out of storage onto our sunny deck and walked around in a sweatshirt, even though walkway and driveway snow piles remained well over knee deep.

The Wildersmith neighborhood even had a spring shower of the liquid variety before the return to February. All over the area, art work of Old Man Winter was taken over by Sol, and nature’s heat source did some reduction work on the snow pack.

The Mile O Pine, like many seldom-traveled winter roads, saw the warmth allow a few patches of brown gravel bleed through months of packed wintry buildup. Those brief days of meltdown also gave way to a few puddles, a bit of trickling water, and our first mud.

During my travels down the road and tromping through the woods, there is confirming evidence that we’re shrinking the deep snow. I’ve found that a number of baby trees which have not seen the light of day for some time are proudly poking their growth buds skyward. Similarly, their older forest brethren are perking up after months of bearing the weight of winter decorations.

Meanwhile, the powerful sun has chiseled out countless shapes in roadside snow banks. The Trail, now completely free of slippery patches, has miles of etched windrow embellishments that lend themselves to an aggregation of imaginative beauty, in spite of their grungy color. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder.

Life goes on in the wild neighborhood. Critters come and go daily, and I’ve noted a couple cases of seasonal bumps. And I don’t mean those in the road.

Specifically, I reference belly bulges on several expectant does, while on the opposite of white tail genders there are swelling knots where crowns of manhood will soon be growing.

It’s also a good bet that our warm days stirred the slumber of our north woods Brunos, as well as chipmunks and those not-so-popular skunks. About the only critters probably not aroused at this point is the first generation of nasty biting bugs. I don’t know of anyone who would feel bad if those winged savages forgot to show up. We should be so lucky!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor thoughts of the spring takeover!

Airdate: April 5, 2013


 
Canada Lynx (myheimu/Flickr)

Wildersmith March 22

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‘Twas the days before spring, and all through the woods, the critters were stirring in shivering wonderment. So goes the story up the Trail as month three has been much less than spring-like so far.
 
Under a growing “crust on the snow moon” (Onaabani Giizis), the topper was this past Sunday when the Wildersmith neighborhood awoke to a shocking minus 29. This followed the five previous mornings where our mercury column registered at least zero or below. It’s been so cold that we are making ice on area lakes, thus adding to the 3-foot cake already set on most bodies including Gunflint.
 
There has not been any significant snow shrinkage out this way, due to the cold. But neither has what we have on the forest floor grown during the past seven. Only a couple dustings has freshened us as storms once again have missed border country. We’ve had mostly sparkling clear days where the brightness and power of old Sol caused me to forget about the frosty January-like sunrises.
 
One has to remember that a year ago at this time the snow was all but a memory. And the lake ice on our Gunflint gal made an all-time record exit on March 25. What a difference 365 days can make!
 
As can happen quickly, our more normal March might be reversed to real spring between the time this scribing is keyed and when it comes out over the waves of cyber-space. Here’s wishing, though, that a few more droppings of the winter element might blanket us before mud season and dreams of green poking through the meltdown actually become a reality.
 
Wild neighborhood critters continue making candid appearances. The lynx that has been frequenting the grounds around Gunflint Lodge was recently observed in pursuit of a snowshoe hare by a lodge guest. I was not told whether the race outcome favored the cat or the rabbit.
 
Over the past couple weeks, white tail traffic has increased considerably about our place. I guess nourishment must be hard to come by under the crusted white. It’s been entertaining to watch a few crows browse about between the hooves of my brush-pruning deer.
 
I don’t know if there is a precise term for describing a bunch of pine martens, but if there is such, it can be applied to the scene on our deck-side cafeteria. A number of them are often cavorting about at almost any given time of day or night. I observed one leap-frogging over another recently in quest of the next open sunflower seed station, quite amusing.
 
Recently a member of the Gunflint/Loon lake wolf pack has been on fast food surveillance duty through the yard.  Evidenced by tracks, scat and territorial marking, it has yet not brought in the troops to execute their predator exploits.  
 
Meanwhile friends from over on Hungry Jack Lake share an ongoing saga of a moose carcass serving nutritional needs of many hungry creatures in their neighborhood. The end of life for this waning icon of the north woods might be blamed on the wolves too but, then again, it could have just been its time.
 
So players in our wilderness drama of search and survival continue keeping the Wildersmith two, and most other Gunflint residents, with our noses to the glass during these waning days of this long white season.
 
In a closing salute, yours truly sends a big thanks to all who stepped to the plate in our “15 reasons” membership drive. If you missed getting your token of support in during the 5 ½- day run, your willingness to be a part of the WTIP family will always be accepted and much appreciated. Just call or click at any time!
 
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the equinox signal of an ending and beginning!

Airdate: March 22, 2013