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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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.



What's On:

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 13

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The Gunflint corridor is at the halfway point of month nine.  That in mind, I pause at the thought of kicking off my 13th year of reflecting on weekly Trail happenings and commentary.

Who would have thought I’d carry on for a dozen years bearing the news about the Gunflint? Much less than I’d be treading in the footprints of that eloquent icon of this wilderness, Justine Kerfoot, who reported for decades.  Whew, my, how time flies, and what an honor it is being blessed with so many cordial readers and listeners.

The wilderness atmosphere has been reasonably mellow for the past seven segments. We cooled a bit and then warmed for a couple days before settling back into a typical mid-September north woods feel.

As I finalized this keyboard exercise for today’s release, the upper Trail received some much needed rain. Moisture deliveries had been almost nonexistent, and the territory’s earth had become crispy dry from the previous allotment until this past Monday’s dose.
It would appear that the natural fireworks set off during the thunderstorms of a weekend ago did not kindle any announced fire activity. Thank goodness!

As the neighborhood critters are getting serious about pre-winter chores, most of us year-round border country folks are into getting ready for our cold season too. Yours truly has already checked a couple things off my list with lingering thoughts of just how much longer I can wait to do some others.

Several of our snowbird friends and neighbors have put away the boat, pulled in the docks, battened cabin hatches and set their GPS gear for southerly latitudes. Meanwhile those of us hangers-on are sitting pat, anxiously waiting for the next adventure. Maybe we’ll get an early arrival of the great northern express.

Bear activity is edging nearer to the Wildersmith place as one “sleek monster of the Mile O Pine midway” was seen cruising down a neighbor’s driveway. A younger version also crossed the Smiths’ path during one of our down-the-road excursions.  

I was amused as it stood at the side of the road looking first one way and then the other before crossing. It kind of reminded me of youngsters heading off to into another school year, which also happened in these parts last week.

During one of several trips up to the Chik-Wauk Museum site over the past week, I had occasion to come across a dashing red fox. Although it appeared thin and lanky, I was impressed at the fullness of its coat and, more so, its fluffy white-tipped tail. We can only imagine how cuddly that’s going to feel wrapped around Mr./Ms. fox on a frozen silent night in the not-too-distant future.

The autumn color transition seems to have stalled out in the past few days. Perhaps that is because Mother Nature couldn’t seem to make up her mind on which way the weather should go. A few red fringes are beginning to tip our maple leaves, while only slight pigment changes are happening to the birch and aspen, and many are simply drying up and falling off. I’m still feeling that by the time this scoop reaches you, we’ll be seeing a big change as the daylight minutes are rapidly giving way to darkness heading into the due west sunset next week.

The last wild roses of summer are long gone, gone to hips every one. And only a smidgen of wild blossoms are hanging in there, that being goldenrod and those invasive tansies. There are, however, vivid patches of blue or lavender decorating back country road sides. I’m making reference to a great year for wild asters. These hardy blooms are twinkling as the last bastion of our wild flower season, and most are as deeply tinted as I’ve seen them in years.

About the only berries of color remaining are the striking fruit of the mountain ash trees. These stand out like the proverbial sore thumb… that is, if the bears in your neighborhood have not made a harvest visit.

A gal from up at the end of the Trail did however, report finding a swell patch of late blues last weekend. Guess her bucket was filled to the point of providing two late season fresh blueberry pies. How could the bears have missed these?

Keep on hangin’ on and savor northern blue skies shining on you!

white cedar seed clusters

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 6th

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            Folks are humming that September song as Mother Nature appears to have surrendered her hot, grouchy attitude. Last weekend found the upper Trail both cooled and dampened down. It was about time, too!
            A couple rain episodes leading up to and including part of the long Labor Day holiday tallied nearly 1 3/4 inches in the Wildersmith gauge. The heavenly dousing couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for our brittle woods.
As it was, plenty of thunder and lightning accompanied the moisture deposit. The spirits of stormy illumination put on a brilliant, but dangerous display over borderland waters. We sure hope those natural fireworks didn’t strike and ignite some unwanted incendiary activity. Residents are keeping their fingers crossed that such didn’t happen. Guess we’ll know in a few days.
The coolness ushered in on the first day of this new month was quite refreshing after the sultry last part of August. Cooling conditions were such last Sunday evening that I actually saw puffs of breath while out doing some early evening grilling. Now this is what the north woods should be about.
The frozen cream and pie event at Chik-Wauk last Sunday was held amidst all kinds of weather. Nevertheless, many guests showed up to celebrate a culinary happening. In fact, the variety of pastry delights matched the mosaic of atmospheric formations throughout the busy afternoon.
Many thanks to members of the Gunflint Community for their contributions of help in making this event a sweet sensation!
During one of the few blue-sky moments at our end of the Trail festivities, an unexpected guest buzzed in to check out the colorful serving table line-up. Just a few of us worker bees witnessed the aerial episode. It was so spontaneous that it caught most by surprise, and even had some doing a “did you see that” double take.
Guess the assembly of vivid fruit wedges caught a hungry hummingbird’s eye. The tiny ruby throat dove in and momentarily hovered over a decadent piece of cherry-cranberry pie.
It was however, able to resist a sampling, which was not the case for a couple hundred humans. In a blink of an eye, the inquisitive hummer apparently decided “paradise found” could be gained elsewhere and soared off to parts unknown. Meanwhile, we astonished observers were left humming about the incident.
With a week of September under our belts, the “wild rice/harvest moon” is sprouting in the heavens. A sense of “Dagwagin” (fall in Ojibwe lore) is in the air.
If one can gain any insight from the squirrel intensity for harvest and subsequent storage around our yard, perhaps we should expect a winter that might be early and harsh.
 I’ve never seen such a vigorous cutting of white cedar seed clusters in any of my previous autumn seasons. If all those morsels are going to get salted away, there’s going to be some worn out rodents by the time our earth turns hard with frost.
A gal from over on Hungry Jack Lake tells that a late hatching of loon babies in her locale finds them in a hurry-up maturation mode. They are also assuming considerably more independence from the parents than might be expected for being such tardy arrivals.
Actions of these two species would make one wonder if members of our wild neighborhood might have inklings that the “Mom” in charge of things up here might have a winter surprise up her sleeve.
Checking back into my atmospheric journaling of a couple years ago, our Wildersmith neighborhood recorded snow and sleet to cover the ground briefly on Sept. 14. And we had midday snow showers on Sept. 22 in 2012, while a few years earlier the Hungry Jack/mid-Trail area got some four inches of snow on Sept. 30. Anything can happen, we shall see!
Leaf Peepers had better be getting up this way soon. The rainbow of autumn colors is about to burst on our granite hillsides. One might even see a bruno or two as they depart their nesting places around picked-over blueberry patches in search of winter quarters. It’s spectacular time in Gunflint Country, don’t miss it!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the “change and parting.”

{photo courtesy of Homer Edward Price via Wikimedia Commons}

Gunflint Trail lake

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 30

It’s a jungle out here!  As I commence keying this weeks’ Gunflint news, our once cool summer paradise is in the midst of tropical sweltering.  And, the situation is not one bit acceptable with many of us folks who are into insulated boots and parkas.
How hot has it been? It’s so hot that I’m seeing very little of the critters in the “wild neighborhood. They are seemingly more adept at letting us know its’ too hot for much of any activity, than that contemporary media sensationalism called “heat index.”
It seems nonsensical that things have been dumbed down to the point that Americans have to be told it’s hot out. In my generation as a kid, we never had to be told it was dangerously hot, you just knew it! 
I know that this unbearable spell will pass, but our bragging about what a wonderful summer it has been is being stifled. One thing for sure is conditions as they have been recently, makes one have an even deeper appreciation for times when the breathe freezes right in front of your face. For yours truly, I can always get warmer but have trouble ever getting cool enough during these miserable times.
Our circumstance on much needed precipitation has not improved by even the slightest since we last met on the radio waves. Our parched forest floor remains bone dry.

Edginess is mounting throughout the Gunflint corridor with governing agencies reluctant to invoke critical burning bans. It seems like they should be in the active mode instead of waiting to react until after wildfire erupts from some careless human action.
Every rain forecast over the past two weeks has been ninety-nine and nine tenths percent wrong in these parts. The only moisture in the Wildersmith rain gauge since we last met, measured only .02 inches.

Weather forecasting is not a pure science, but the process looks to be much like playing major league baseball, one can perform at the ten to thirty percent level and still get paid. Most other professions would call that a failure and send you packing. Those prognosticators would perhaps come out right more often if they were forecasting an eighty percent chance of no moisture as opposed to their usual twenty percent chance of precipitation. An eighty percent chance at anything is always more exciting than twenty! Enough soap boxing!
The downward spiral of our lake level on the Gunflint Gal is ongoing. Our contributing watershed creeks and streams are bone dry.

Up the Trail near the Seagull Guard Station that splendid little waterfall feeding Larch Creek was spilling nary a drop as I drove past a while back. Pretty sad!
Meanwhile, as lake level surfaces evaporate into oblivion, the temperature of our waters has reversed its downward trend of a few weeks ago, spiking back up into the low seventies. In the absence of artificially conditioned air for most back country residences, folks have gone back into lake dipping for temporary relief along with those “whirly gig” things from yesteryear, called fans.

And if the sweating misery isn’t enough, the hot spell has raised the ire of a new generation of “skeeters.”  Any disturbance of earth around the yard has brought out several other obnoxious buzzing critters too. It seems like you just can’t win sometimes. Oh for a good freeze!

As summer gives us a harsh dose of reality, our last weekend of month eight and the vacation season is fading before our eyes. To celebrate our Labor Day holiday and kick-off a final family fling before the return to school, a cool treat can be found at the end of the Trail on Sunday.

The annual ice cream and pie social sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society takes place this Sunday, September 1st at the Chik-Wauk Museum site. Serving hours are from 11:00am to 4:00 pm.

The featured fare will be homemade pie, prepared and donated by area pastry artisans, and of course, a sweet scoop of north woods coolness. Everyone’s invited out to the “land of sky blue waters” for the launching of our fall season. I’ve already discovered some “gold in them thar hills!  So come on along!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor a “September Song.”

Gunflint Trail Historical Society

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 23th

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            After a few weeks of pre-autumn weather, Mother Nature hath taken it away. The earlier part of this segment has seen the north woods atmosphere returned to more seasonal times, warm and sticky.
            Our regular delivery of moisture has also been withdrawn by her “highness.” Here at Wildersmith, we have measured a measly 5/100ths over the past 10 days. 
So the forest floor is getting somewhat crunchy underfoot. And as we are drawing down on vacation season under a waning full “blueberry moon,” everyone should be cautioned to use care and common sense with regard to campfires throughout Gunflint realm.
The Trail was alive with the “Sound of Music” this past Saturday, as the first ever classical chamber music concert took center stage on the Gunflint Community activity calendar.  With the site being no Carnegie Hall, one would never have known it as all were consumed by stunning performances in the Gunflint woods at the Schaap Community Center facility, mid-Trail.
Enough cannot be said for the wisdom of some dedicated Gunflint Trail Historical Society members in conjuring up such a wonderful idea of bringing classical music to un-organized territory. Special thanks are extended to all involved in putting this splendid fund raising event together for the Society.
A sell-out crowd of some 150 (the facility would hold no more) was wowed by eight superbly gifted professionals. Several local artists were joined by others from both the Twin Cities and Chicago. Virtuoso performances engulfed the simple hall as calming breezes caressed attendees on a spectacular north woods afternoon.
 With a long line of professional performing credits, these musicians donated their time and talents to add a touch of class to our tough as nails wilderness surroundings. Both the Society and an enthusiastic crowd of area friends and neighbors are grateful for these highly skilled folks making this a marvelous border country experience. Hopefully this event will not be a one-time shot!
If this great happening wasn’t enough from the energetic GTHS folks, they will be holding their annual pie and ice cream social Labor Day weekend, Sunday, Sept. 1. As usual the sweet tooth event is happening on the grounds at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., and is a fundraiser for continuing Chik-Wauk operations.
This is a great time for a trek up the Trail to catch some early leaf peeping.  It’s also an opportunity to pay a visit to the museum for a look at the new temporary Boostrom pioneer exhibit and the new little theater production. And, along with viewing other attractions that might have been missed on a previous occasion, maybe do a little hiking too.
Any Gunflint resident willing to volunteer assistance in setting up the facility or better yet, donate your favorite pie creation, should give Sally Valentini a call at 388-0900 ASAP.
Fall is a time of gathering for all species. The first animals in this northern part of the universe seem to be getting at the ritual early.
 The rodent folks around the yard have already begun the harvest process. My gnawing red-coated friends are busy cutting both white and red pine cones from high in the forest, and are also trimming those succulent seed clusters from our white cedars.
 Meanwhile, their striped chipmunk cousins are doing their thing as well. It seems they are picking up the dropped scraps from the squirrels and scurrying off for storage bunkers wherever on a never-ending basis.
It’s a busy time around the Wildersmith nectar station for the hummingbirds too.  Guess they must be building up for the coming departure from border country international airport on to the next chapter of their jet-set lives.
One more thought comes to mind on another member of our wild neighborhood.  We’d all better be paying attention to the Brunos. They will soon be scavengers of unsecured garbage nooks as their fattening up time commences. So humans beware!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor a north woods venture!

berries of summer

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 16th

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            It’s pleasing to be back at the keyboard in border country.  It sure is great to be home in unorganized territory after two weeks of spending time in Iowa with family.
The hubbub of civilization surely makes one appreciate the magic we have up here in the wilderness. The solitude of looking out into the marvelous natural world around us far exceeds the best urban life has to offer. In spite of metropolitan proximity to 21st-century amenities, the culture shock of countless people driving vehicles in uncountable directions and house after house after house is way too consuming any more for this old duffer. Guess I just belong in the woods!
I can’t help but reflect on the recent blog post of our Trail neighbor, Sue Ahrendt, over at Tuscarora. Her articulation about lost life in the nearby BWCA forest, coupled with the loss of a good Gunflint friend and neighbor over the past weeks, puts into perspective the precious experience of savoring life in the wilderness. Our hearts reach out to the loved ones and friends as they agonize with this sadness.
On a happier note, our return to Wildersmith and the Trail corridor found us easing into fall. The onset of my second favorite time of the year (winter is always number one) has me energized with anticipation of the Technicolor show about to unfold.
An initial sign of the season comes as the dogbane has taken on its golden glow. I also noted that a couple immature maple trees have recognized the dwindling number of daylight minutes and are sporting some early autumnal foliage.
Although we will likely have some warm Indian summer days ahead, a couple nights where the temps dipped into the high 30s have added accent to what the flora is telling us. The splendor of autumn along the international border is peeking over the horizon with yet a month remaining until the calendar declaration.
A gal down the road is sputtering about the cool trend as she can no longer stand the temperature of the lake water for her daily dip. Water temps here on the Gunflint Gal are falling through the 60s. So it really gets one’s attention upon that first entry.
With two weeks of month eight into the books, it’s a “berry” good time of year. Added to the glorious blueberry crop, raspberries, thimbleberries, service berries, high bush cranberries and the like are coming on fast. Another sign of the times are those magnificent scarlet rosehips. Patches of those red ovals stand out like holiday decorations along back country roads while clumps of mountain ash tree fruit are rapidly gaining their ripened hue.
A visit to a swell friend down the road, who might be the Queen of blueberry pickers, found us coming home the other day with a fine pouch of those blue pearls. This gift of blue-black jewels may not quite equal winning the recent $425 million Power Ball, but a bit of blue heaven nonetheless.
The annual Mid-Trail fund raiser on behalf of the Volunteer Fire and Rescue crews was reported as a huge success last week. The flea market, gift boutique and auction resulted in a fine donation of some $10,000 to the Volunteer coffers. Congratulations and thanks to the organizers, donors and community members for their hard work and ongoing commitment to this worthy cause.
 By the way, the quilt raffle associated with the event found a local gal holding the winning ticket. Judy Ross, who has a cabin on Little Ollie Lake, took home the Mid-Trail Quilters work of art. Congrats to Judy!
            This Saturday the 17th marks the first chamber music concert ever on the Trail. Earlier in this week, I was informed the musicale is a near sell-out with only a few tickets remaining. 
If any folks are still interested in being audience to this special event, it would be well to call the Chik-Wauk Museum ASAP, 388-9915, as only hours are left before the performance.
            The Gunflint Woods, Winds & Strings program will commence at 4 p.m. in the Schaap Mid-Trail Community Center. A “Meet the Artists” reception will follow.
            Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the autumnal preview!

{photo by Angelo Juan Ramos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons}

Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 26th

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This green tunnel through the woods has forever been blessed with magic, and the past week saw the “old gal” who is in charge of things adding some much needed enhancement.  Rain the likes of which this area has not seen in a while came and hung out long enough to energize rivers and streams into raging serpentines.
            Many roads and driveways were gashed with washouts, but on the good side, lake levels were raised substantially from their usual summer decline. Here on Gunflint Lake, the surface level has upped a good foot from input throughout the watershed.
            The rain gauge at Wildersmith did not register as much as several other places in the upper Gunflint. Nevertheless, I’ve recorded 3 1/4 inches since we last met on the radio waves.
 Meanwhile, the stickiness has lessened for the time being, and a swell cold front gave us a taste of autumn this past Sunday.  With a morning low here on the Mile O Pine of 39 and sunny afternoon skies with a high in the 50s, all that was missing from a simply splendid day was some fall color. It was definitely a day from which a border country travelogue could be written.  As July has almost faded into the annals of 2013, we north woods folks hope this natural air conditioning extends into the coming of August.
Folks who put nectar out for the hummingbirds are being treated to a real buzz around their feeders. Just off the hatch, these tiny miracles of avian flight are swarming these scarlet stations like bees attracted to fruit tree blossoms.
Many report that every perch on their sweetness units are occupied continually with cousins swooping about in holding patterns. Patience among these little guys and gals often gets strained when they are so hungry, often erupting into mid-air combat skirmishes. One would have to think that these wonderful creatures must really be tired after a day darting about at near-blinding speed.
An exciting link, about a lynx, came to me the other day from friends over on Hungry Jack Lake. Guess the feline casually strolled through their yard, probably in quest of an afternoon snowshoe bunny treat. Another report comes from that same area along the south Hungry Jack road where a momma moose and her calf were spotted.
Meanwhile a wolf has been seen tramping around the neighborhood where Mile O Pine and County Road 20 intersect.
            And if you haven’t seen any bears of late, they’re probably busy in the blueberry patches. The precious blue morsels are on the stem and ready for harvest. So far, those I’ve seen are of prime quality, big and plump. It would look as though the area will have a bumper crop, so grab those buckets, watch for the brunos and have a pickin’ good time!
Kudos are extended to the organizers and volunteers of the Clearwater Lake cabin tour. I heard many oohs and aahs from attendees as they trekked around the lake getting an up-close look at the wonderful north-country domiciles of those gracious homeowners. Sincere thanks go out to all who opened cabin doors to share a bit of their Clearwater resident history.
On a final note, the annual Gunflint Canoe Races are in the history books with another successful run. A magnificent evening on the waterfront at Gunflint Lodge a week ago Wednesday saw a record number of participants hit the lake in the various canoeing events. Proceeds from the event’s many activities came in from all directions and, in the final tally, over $12,500 was netted in support of our Gunflint volunteer fire and recues crews.
Thanks go out to everyone who pitched in as raffle/auction prize donors, event planners/volunteers and participants. The drawing for that grand prize, the Wenonah Canoe, found the Baker family of Gunflint Lake getting to paddle it home.
Summer events on the Gunflint community calendar seem to be never-ending. Next up on the docket is the Mid-Trail property owners flea market, auction and gift boutique. The date is Thursday, Aug. 8 beginning at 1 p.m. in Fire Hall #1 /Mid-Trail. Don’t miss this energetic occasion.
Then on Saturday, Aug. 17, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society is hosting its first chamber music concert, by and for residents and guests of the Gunflint Trail. This classical chamber music, in a north woods setting, is heralded as “The Gunflint Woods, Winds and Strings.” It will begin at 4 p.m. in the new Schaap Mid-Trail Community Center. Featured will be music by Grieg, Bach, Chopin, Britten, Hoover, Rossini and Beckstrand.
 Tickets include a post-concert reception. With a limited number available to be sold, you can get your reservation secured by calling the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center at (218) 388-9915, or order online at Watch for headlines on the performing artists in weeks to come.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor times in the northern sun!

{photo by Michelle Lynn Reynolds via Wikimedia Commons}

Water drops on blades of grass

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 19th

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Both July and summer are flying by. Having missed the past couple weeks of bringing the Gunflint scoop to you, it’s good to be back home in the woods.
            After a visit with family in Iowa, it was easy to reconcile living in the realm of 48 degrees north following the days of heat and humidity down that way. It seems that some of the nasty humidity even followed the Smiths back since it it’s been a bit on the sticky side over the past few days.
            I was pleasantly surprised to find a little over an inch of liquid in the rain gauge upon our return.  And this past Sunday, Mother Nature saw fit to bless us with about another 2 1/2 centimeters. Thus far July has accumulated slightly over 2 inches in the Wildersmith neighborhood.
            This is just so welcome out this way! While many areas of our great country have been swearing at the copious amounts of rain and flooding over recent weeks, we who live on the edge of wildfire danger for many months of the year are extremely grateful for anything wet to moisten this precious forest resource. Rain certainly never dampens our spirits!
            Lake water temps have warmed to a more than comfortable range for recreational dipping. It seems unreal that only eight weeks ago the ice went out, and the possibility exists that in another eight weeks we could see flakes in the air.
Here at the Gunflint dock, last Sunday’s lake reading was 74 degrees. Good for us humans but not too satisfying for those denizens of the deep who prefer cold northern waters.
            Fish catching has been spotty to good depending upon the time, place and skill level. A recent hatching of mayflies must be affecting their appetites for things on the end of a hook, as my visiting grandsons are finding the harvest numbers frustrating.
            Speaking of other hatching things, the ongoing battle with mosquitos has surged in these parts since our return. During last Sunday’s rain the stinging urchins were in a particularly foul mood.
Due to the excess and toughness of these nasty north woods antagonists, it makes me wonder if maybe they might have been more appropriately suited for selection as our state flying critter. Just kidding of course, but I’m betting they annoy the loons too!
The charge of Mother Nature never ceases to amaze.  The changes in the flora along the Mile O Pine and other back country roads since our southerly trek are nothing short of remarkable.  Roadside grasses have grown to nearly head high and are proceeding toward going to seed. Meanwhile, the candles of new growth on the coniferous branches have already matured into hearty stems and next generation evergreen stylus.
Early summer blooms are running to seed as well, and those next in line to flower are bidding for rays to allow their turn in our northern sun. It’s a glorious, virid jungle out here!
Gunflint Trail Historical Society members are reminded of the Clearwater Lake historic cabin tour this coming Sunday, July 21. Organizers report that only a few tickets remain. If interested, members can call Lee Zopff promptly at 388-4465 to secure a reservation. This event should be a splendid trip back in time. See you there!
From Wildersmith and all points beyond, congrats and thanks to the over 300 parties who pledged their support during the WTIP Shine On membership drive last week. The tremendous support for your community radio station is both heartwarming and energizing!
 The station’s board of directors, staff and volunteers are deeply appreciative of the many kind words expressed during the fund drive. Because you pledged, we also pledge to continue growing this air waves gem in the Arrowhead with quality programming!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the fleeting summer!   
             Photo by Belinda Rain via Wikimedia Commons: Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Forest wildflowers.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 28

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June is fast fading into the record books, and the halfway point of our year in border country is peeking over the horizon.  While time has quietly slipped away, we are already a week into summer with the sun having made its solstice stopover before heading back south.
Skies were mostly gloomy leading up to the full “super strawberry moon,” which was at its pinnacle in the wee hours last Sunday morning. Thus, this area was denied the glory of celebrating the close proximity of his “lunar highness” until the next evening when clear skies gave us a break.
In spite of the many gray days, Mother Nature failed once again to deliver on much needed moisture for this part of the territory. The minute 16/100ths found in the Wildersmith rain gauge since we last met has barely settled the dust. Further, the lake level on our Gunflint Gal has dropped another few inches, as our moisture subsidy keeps missing us in favor of all areas south.

Meanwhile the lake water temps here have improved into the low 60s. I even observed some brave souls swimming off the dock at Gunflint Lodge last Sunday.
The dry soils, however, do not seem to be having an adverse effect on flora development in areas along the byway and our back country roads. Flowering plants are beginning to bloom their fool heads off.

Wild roses are the headliners right now while those non-native invasive lupines are coming on fast with their rainbow spires. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, a portrait of the forget-me-nots and columbine in our yard at Wildersmith is sharing a beautiful story.

I’m told that there is a great blueberry bloom. So if the black flies are doing anything (like pollinating) besides tormenting us humans, folks had better be lining up their buckets and baskets. It would appear that there will also be a fine crop of wild strawberries if all patches are anything like the unusually big bloom of the tiny plants here along the Mile O Pine and in our yard. Pickin’ will make for a “jammin’ good” pie time!
Meanwhile, munching is good in several ponds and swamps along the Trail as a number of moose sightings have been noted. There is one pond along the Trail above the Laurentian Divide where both a cow and yearling bull have been hanging out on each of our last few trips to town.  A number of lucky visitors have been afforded photo ops. Thanks Mr. & Ms. Moose!
The 16th annual North Shore Health Care Foundation fundraising barbeque was the social feature of the week up this way. Nearly 70 people turned out to enjoy the fare at Gunflint Lodge last Sunday evening. Proceeds from the event go into the foundation endowment, from which many county health care projects are granted funding assistance. Thanks are extended to organizers, the staff at Gunflint Lodge, musician extraordinaire Gerald Thilmany and those who attended this fun gathering!
July is but days away, and along with the great American birthday celebration of the Fourth, a couple more Trail happenings are rapidly approaching for area residents and visitors. I’ve already mentioned the annual canoes races on the 17th, while a second happening is the historic Clearwater Lake cabin tour on the 21st.  Mark your calendar!
The tour of these historic places on Clearwater is being sponsored and organized by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society for members only. The 60-ticket allotment for the marvelous Hungry Jack Lake cabin tour was sold out quickly last year.

Those wishing to attend should get at making those reservations ASAP for what will be another fabulous trip through Gunflint history. Event planners have expanded the allotment to 75.  Tickets can be purchased by calling Lee Zopff at  (218) 388-4465.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a Gunflint holiday!

Lake Trout

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 21

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The Gunflint Territory is in celebration mode this weekend.  The solstice of summer” marks the first happy event today (the 21st), and a full “strawberry moon” (Ode’imini Giizis in Ojibwe) closes down (Sunday the 23rd) what will surely be a festive few days in the north country.
Visitors galore are trekking up the Trail. Caravans of traffic, either toting or pulling some variety of watercraft, are pouring into the hundreds of favorite rest and relaxation venues. It’s tourist season and folks in those business ventures are going crazy with exuberance at their return.
Weather conditions over the past seven have been on the delightful side, pleasantly cool at night and tolerably warm during the daylight hours. The area around Wildersmith even got an unexpected half-inch snippet of rain last Sunday evening.  Thus, the crunchy dry forest floor has been temporarily relieved of fire danger, but more precipitation is welcome.
The Smiths’ neighborhood has remained void of visiting bears for another week. However, those buzzing carnivore visitors are making life in the forest pretty miserable.  One has to feel sympathetic for any being with blood in their veins as those biting/stinging varmints must number in the bazillions right now.
I watched recently as a cloud of bugs was tormenting a squirrel during its breakfast at our deck-side feeder. This feisty rodent seemed near the end of its wits while trying to eat just one seed and at the same time fend off the ravenous, unforgiving pests. It was sad, but also a bit humorous, as it swished its tail like a helicopter prop and occasionally jumped up in the air like a jack-in-the-box to clear the air around itself.

And if the airborne biters aren’t bad enough, those creepy ticks are so thick at ground level they can almost trip you. The insect critters are at us from all directions right now!

Speaking of yet another northern animal oddity, this one took place under water. A friend hooked onto a good-sized lake trout from his dock not long ago. The ensuing battle to land the big hog took some time, and just as it was in sight near his dock, an unknown being came streaking through the water in an apparent attack on his catch.

The attacker must have quickly assessed that the “attackee” was too big a bite to handle, and veered on by. Thinking it was maybe a huge northern pike, this fisherman was surprised when the sub-surface jet popped up out of the water a few feet away from his thrashing finny.  It turns out this was another well-meaning Gunflint fisherman: one of our local loons. By the way the trout measured in at some 34 inches, wow!
As thousands of visitors are coming up the byway to celebrate the wonders of our natural world, the Gunflint community gathered last week to honor some of its own. At the grand opening of the newly developed fire department facilities, nearly 250 friends and residents came together in recognition of the hard work of many dedicated people.
Folks were in awe of the new Schaap Mid-Trail Community Center and adjacent fire and rescue equipment storage facility. The viewing opportunity turned out to be a great social meeting as well. Friends both seasonal and year-round conversed about the past winters goings-on and were treated to some fine north woods dining under the big top.
A big thanks to the event organizers, provision donors and a great group of cooks and servers. And of course, congrats and thanks to the dedicated planners, design people, fund raisers, financial supporters and construction trades people that made this dream come alive!
A dismal past Monday morning blossomed into another sparkling midday up at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. The fifth annual fish fry fundraiser brought in over 100 folks for the big shore lunch event on the Sag Lake front bay.
A huge thanks to all the Gunflint Trail Historical Society Volunteers who pitched in for the site set-up and to prepare/serve the fixins’. Kudos also go to Gunflint Lodge Guide Dennis Todd for providing the fish, as well as the staff at the Lodge for providing the rest of the menu items. Listeners not in attendance missed out on a great day and scrumptious food!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor wonders in the land of sky blue waters!

{photo via wikimedia commons courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service}

Black bears near Seagull Lake, Cook County, MN.

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 14

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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!
(Above "trail cam" photo by Debbie Benedict and Jim Raml)