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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: March 27

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Since we last met over the WTIP waves, spring has backed off somewhat along the Gunflint. The final stanza of March is dwindling, and the “madness” of the month has consumed many of us with NCAA women’s and men’s events in basketball, hockey, and wrestling to name just a few.

The basketball bracket sheets in the Wildersmith house are amiss with red ink as we stumble along the picking trail. About the only thing that I can predict with any certainty is the “mania” video programming format will contain mostly marketing propaganda with a little basketball sandwiched in between. How could any of those round-ballers ever get tired with all those TV time-outs?

Back to the Trail, more seasonal temps returned with a couple nights below the zero mark here in our neighborhood. Meanwhile, the same old record is spinning from a precipitation standpoint, still dry as a proverbial bone and getting drier. When our snow is gone, border country is going to be in a world of hurt with fire danger as ground-level brush will be crunchy dry. We can only hope the decision makers will react with burning bans proactively and not wait for wildfire to break out like happened in 2007. Furthermore, a little message to the snow/rain gods is more than welcome!

With winter character on the wane, activities are nearly at a standstill. The last of what will be a farewell to trout season happens Saturday and Sunday with Trail Center’s annual catching event on Poplar Lake. For details, give Sarah a call at the restaurant.

Cross country ski trails are still useable but slick with frozen crust which cannot be endearing to the inexperienced. Snowmobiling pathways are pretty much beaten to death so the sledding season is about “kaput,” unless new snow would do an April curtain call (it does happen you know).

Speaking of the “s” word, our spectacular white landscape along backwoods byways is grudgingly taking on the ugly look of usual urban accumulations. Receding under watchful beams from a surging March sun, it’s sad to say goodbye to such nature-made beauty. With recent daytime temps back at hanging out below the freezing mark, “Old Sol's" rays are doing just enough to barely melt exposed surfaces on roads and walkways causing them to re-freeze to Zamboni exactness.

In my brief time up here, I’ve not seen walking and driving conditions in many protected locales so scary slick and they seem to be worsening. There’s a growing icy concoction on the Mile O Pine now giving vehicle operators a stern test of maneuvering skills. Urban dwellers who whine about winter driving obstacles ought to see this mess. I thought it was bad last year, but the 2015 rendition of deep icy ruts in the mini-glacial build-up near the North Loon Lake Road intersection may be the topper during my time of watching spring rituals. It’s the ultimate in “speed bumps.” Key to getting through is four-wheel-drive and don’t stop, or one might be there until June.

A week ago I mentioned the return of crows in our area. That the crows are back is an understatement. The last few days has seen hordes of them in the yard picking through winter's remains. It seems they find some undigested items in “deer droppings” to their liking, yuck. It’s amusing to watch when they are spooked, and take flight. It’s like a dark storm cloud swooshing through the forest.

Deer visitors in our neighborhood have been in absentia for several weeks. I don’t know what is going on other than wolves have been managing the herd over the past several years so there’s just not many left. We did have a couple come by and hang out in recent days, but they had to share the corn hand-out with two adopted “chicken birds” while avoiding those under-foot ebony pickers at the same time.

Pussy willow buds are burgeoning with anticipation in a few spots along the Mile O Pine, and our forest floor is taking on the look of a spotted dog. Where the winter wind whisked snow away, melting has left bare ground. Then there are other places where the white stuff remains a couple feet deep.

It's sugar time in the forest as sweet juices of life begin oozing into spires of the wilderness.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a thought of green leaves and rippling sky blue waters.

(Photo by Mo Barger on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 20

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Out Gunflint way, it turns out that “old man winter” is exactly as the phrase denotes -- he’s old. Like us other “old geezers,” he can’t carry on with much zest anymore. The old guy of the north coughed, sputtered and limped away last week, and caved in to “old Sol.” In addition to shrinking snowbanks, he left us with dripping roof tops, backwoods roads in various states of ice, slush, mud, and running water along with a few grumpy winter season fanatics.

Yep, today kicks off official spring, ending the winter and sending us northern folk into “mud” season. Then it will be back to getting ready for winter. This area is luckier than most in the upper Midwest, as we still have a goodly amount of snow left where the sun can’t reach, but too many more days like the past week and our white landscape, too, will be history. Ours has hung on because we are still freezing back up at night. Thus, the month of the “crust on the snow” moon is fitting.

A positive in regard to this early thaw is the Gunflint black-top is now clear and dry. Since November, “hold your breath” winter driving conditions have been the order. At least for the time being, those slippery hazards have disappeared. The daily meltdown definitely has drawbacks as most wilderness walking surfaces are treacherous ice due to nighttime “Zamboni” re-enactments, my driveway included. A fall on such ice a few years back reminds me of my age and difficult recuperative capacities. Now, my daily runs down the drive are more like creeps (toes down first, followed by “baby steps”). So far so good, as I’ve maintained an upright position during 2014-15.

One more adventure this time of year is bringing my vehicle down the same greasy incline. Those who might be familiar with my passage situation know it’s a bit steep. And I know I don’t have a lock on difficult private roadways, others out this way have similar driveway scenarios. Over the years, learning to navigate the descent has taken some time. After initial “white knuckle” attempts during our first winter (1999-2000), while hoping to not end up in the snowbank and/or lake at driveway's end, I finally figured things out. The process is simple; put the “tranny” in neutral, creep it down foot by foot, caring not to lock up the brakes and pray a little. However, in spite of currently being pretty sure of myself, trepidation still commands my attention. So much for the look at a few idiosyncrasies of north woods life.

The woods are alive, not with “The Sound of Music,” but with the racket of returning crows. A “murder” of the ebony critters flew into the Wildersmith neighborhood on recent thermal wings, setting off noisy morning jabbering. There’s real off-beat harmony when both the crows and bluejays announce daylight is breaking. Along with the black and blue voices, there seems to be a renewed energy among the smaller avian, both winter residents and migrants headed back north.

I’ve noticed an unusual number of north woods “chicken birds” (grouse) scurrying the byway roadsides. I would guess this could be a dangerous time of survival for them as crusted snow makes for less than easy access to hiding places under snow cover. Another couple weeks of this warmth and those sleeping growlers will be coming out, among them, many momma bears with new babies.

I did see another of those cold season sleepers out and about the other night. A skunk crossed the path of my vehicle in the mid-trail area. So all kinds of slumbering beings are, or will be, getting our attention soon. Speaking of garnering attention, trout fishing season has minimal days left. Many anglers are still waging the finny wars through the ice. It would be well they pay close attention to those troublesome spots where ice is known to decay upon early warm-ups. Guess there’s already some open water around the access to North Lake from Little Gunflint and the narrows from Gunflint Lake into Magnetic Lake also looks to be open. All are encouraged to be safe in their on-ice exploits until lakes are liquid once again.

In closing, a sad note has been received of another Gunflint Community member passing away. Ms. Douglass Cutcliffe, a seasonal resident of Loon Lake, departed this heaven on earth for one higher up not long ago. Survived by husband, John, the couple enjoyed many summer visits to their cabin on Loon. The Gunflint Community extends peace and comfort to her family.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the beginning of renewal time along the Gunflint!

(Photo by Len Matthews on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 13

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A week into daylight savings time and we are March-ing along to a hint of spring. Already coming up on the halfway point of 2015 segment three, we at Wildersmith saw our first temps above the freezing mark in many weeks. Miracles of March are soon to be observed. Winter resident avians are pairing up; wolves, foxes and coyotes are gestating the new generation; sap in sugar maples will be oozing upward; our snow cover will be receding from the base of trees; snow fleas will pepper our white carpet under warming rays and pussy willow buds are soon to swell. Yes, there’s renewed oomph in old Sol.

Prelim to our current vernal prelude, the mercury still had the gall to bury itself below zero a few days out here in week one of the month, and a few inches of white were added to our less-than-normal seasonal tally. It’s hoped by yours truly, and a few others, that winter does not give up the ghost just yet. Based on the puny winter precipitation tally thus far, it stands to be an unnerving spring fire season should the landscape dry up earlier than usual.

Winter outdoor activities remain on our mind though, and were even more tolerable last weekend. Compared with terrible cold conditions last year, Sunday’s annual trout fishing derby had this year’s participants thinking they’d died and gone to heaven with moderate winter conditions. Ninety entries signed in, building an immediate ice community on Gunflint Lake. The atmosphere was abuzz with conversation and occasional screaming snowmobiles. By posting time at 2 p.m., the trophy board was impressively full. The winning “laker” was turned in shortly before the closing deadline, weighing in at 8 pounds 11 ounces. Jordan Ekroot was the lucky catcher and took home the $500 first prize. Congratulations to Jordan and organizers for making this another great event!

 Meanwhile, back down the Trail at Trail Center Lodge, a huge turnout enjoyed a marvelous day at the “Dog days of Winter.” With leadership impetus from Sarah Hamilton and organizational assistance from many contributors and volunteers, a number of snow-related activities were held on the ice of Poplar Lake. Observers took great interest in the short run dog sled races for participants of all ages. There were 32 dog team entries so it was a yelping good time. Another event, skijoring, captured considerable attention. Seventeen teams (dog/s & skier) took to either of the three- or five-mile courses. From the smiles on everybody’s faces, one could see the “Dog Days of Winter” possibly becoming an annual event. It had the nature of being great family fun! Thanks to Sarah and all for making it happen!

It appears the upper Trail sky line could be taking on another character. Cook County and the state of Minnesota are now planning to build an additional communication tower near Seagull Lake at the end of the Trail. The addition to the viewscape of the area is being requested of the state by Cook County to apparently fill some weak spots in communication coverage by existing equipment. The tower would be located about one and one-half miles from Seagull Lake and could be seen from everywhere in the blow down/fire scarred corridor and far into the BWCA wilderness. It would be the most prominent visible feature on the landscape for miles around. This proposal is causing considerable angst among some residents and business owners of the area. It’s not that these folks are against enhanced communication capabilities for safety reasons.

They would just like to see proponents’ exploration into alternative technologies that would not involve erecting an unsightly tower in this visually sensitive area. It seems hard to believe with all our American know-how and ingenuity that some type of communication amplification system couldn’t be produced to better fit into the natural Trail’s End surroundings.

Sharing concerns on this issue, like any other, is your right and responsibility!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor winter as it winds down!


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 6

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The Smiths have returned to the woods. We enjoyed a pleasant trip to Iowa for a visit and time with our kids, but it sure is great to be back in the peace and quiet of border country. Oh that hubbub of our so-called civilized society, too many cars and too many people!

Month three has pulled into the station, with a week-long layover already, how time flies! And speaking of time flying, we spring forward this weekend to the nonsensical manipulation of our clocks with regard to the sun (Daylight Savings Time). When will we ever learn?

Our short-lived February is into the books. A reflection of the month weather-wise found the Gunflint Trail more like January than what we would have normally been accustomed to, very cold. Could it be March will be our February? Perhaps our northland weather sequence might be off by a month. Guess time will tell, we’ll talk again after the 31st! In any event, the Ojibwe month of our full “crust on the snow moon” didn’t exactly come in like a lion, instead more like a domestic kitten. I’m still hoping we’ll do some snow catching up before winter takes down the tent.

It’s always captivating to return to Wildersmith following one of our excursions southward, especially with regard to the many critter visitors having passed through the yard. Fresh snow happened during our absence, so there were uncountable tracks headed in infinite directions to contemplate. One’s imagination can run wild wondering about the adventures of who and what made those impressions in the frosty landscape. I’m betting we missed plenty of untold stories.

Our homecoming brings further enjoyment when the local “wild” receive vibes via the “moccasin telegraph” that the Smiths are home. Having consumed every possible morsel on the feed trough during our leave, all who usually dine here are ravenous with excitement knowing of the nourishing possibilities. Then, once the goodies are laid out, it’s almost comical to watch the onslaught get under way. Within moments, they are on foot or wing. The scene takes on a “natural world” look, like we humans on “Black Friday.” Such enthusiasm!

It’s a big weekend here on the Trail! Sunday will provide two opportunities for wintertime fun. The annual trout derby picnic and fishing contest will take place on Gunflint Lake. Entry to the lake can be gained at the west end boat access with registration between 9 and 11 a.m. (one must be registered before drilling that hole and you must have the DNR trout stamp on your angling license). The contest entry fee is $10 for sponsoring Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club members and $20 for non-members. All fish must be weighed in for posting by 1 p.m. The usual cookout will proceed throughout the day and there will be raffles and an award ceremony announcing the derby winners. Should be another great day on the north woods ice!

Back down the Trail on Poplar Lake at Trail Center Lodge, another time of free family fun is in the offing. It’s the “Dog Days of Winter.” Many activities are planned including a snowman competition, snow sculptures, skijoring, dog sled derby (8-,6- & 4-dog kid runs), a bonfire to keep warm, along with hot dogs and marshmallows for roasting with hot cocoa too. For more details go to: or Perhaps you can catch both events. Whatever the choice, there’ll be plenty to do! Come on out and up the Trail!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some Gunflint winter magic!

(Photo by Skijor 13 on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 20

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Our third stanza of February is complete, and we round the bend in this short month with the March express bearing down on us. Reflecting on the sweetheart time of last week, we had a really cool Valentine’s holiday. More emphatically, “cool” is an understatement. The cold outside was downright frightful. The Wildersmith neighborhood and northward experienced several days well below zero leading into the “big red celebration” and these minus temps have lingered.

A typical February happening found our thermometer hitting minus 36 this past Sunday, while Valentine’s Day saw the daytime high not making it up to 20 below. Those temps are actual (none of that hokey wind chill sensationalism). We north woods people readily know when it’s dangerously cold and don’t need to be told about it. Seems amazing we have to continually dumb things down to protect people from themselves.

To make weather matters a bit more difficult out this way, fresh snow a day or so in advance of the new blast was packed by howling winds and instantly frozen into beautiful works of north-country sculpture. So although the outcome is magical, movement about during the time was nightmarish.

The big drag races for power-sledders this past Saturday went off as scheduled over on Hungry Jack Lake, in spite of the bitter conditions. Over 20 racers entered the four-class , with some running in multiple classes. Three of the classes (700 cc, 800 cc & open categories) were dominated by Greg Gresczyk, while Jeff Doegee won in the 600 cc division.

A third event in the hat trick of winter activities sponsored and organized by the Cook County Ridge Rider Snowmobile Club is just around the corner. Their annual fishing derby on Gunflint Lake is scheduled for Sunday, Mar. 8. Fishing, food and fun is the order of the day so plan on coming out and dipping a hook.

Signs, signs, signs, everywhere’s got signs! If there isn’t enough already impaling the earth along our nationally recognized pathway, apparently the Gunflint Trail is falling prey to more, as was announced at a recent Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee (GTSBC) meeting. The bombshell was dropped by Cook County highway department engineers, leaving byway committee members in a state of shock and dismay.

The crux of the new project is to line every tight winding curve, from Trail’s beginning to end, with a wall of reflective chevron warning markers. All in the name of safety for Trail users, these new installs will be in addition to existing curve and speed reduction warnings that have been in place for years. Several members of the Gunflint Scenic Byway Committee aired less than favorable opinions on the plan, as it will surely make the natural aspects of a trip through the woods far less scenic. With the mission of this Committee being “to act as advocates and stewards for the preservation, protection, understanding and maintenance of the natural historic intrinsic values of the Gunflint Trail and its corridor,” the plan does not sit well. Though wanting safe travels for all Trail users, the GTSBC believes this plan is unnecessary overkill.

Taking this discussion a step farther, additional signage can do nothing to avoid driver related behaviors of inattentiveness, speeding, DUI or dozing off, the most common causes of accidents. The question being asked, is why create a complex “metropolis atmosphere” of directional symbols when such will do little to keep drivers on the paving. Having already passed previous warnings, certainly any attentive vehicle operator has plenty of directional assistance, if they just pay heed. The Scenic Byway Committee plans further discussion with hope to head off more signs throughout our unorganized territory. Stay tuned for more as it becomes available.

Opinions from residents and user friends in regard to this controversial sign issue could certainly be shared with our county commissioner (Heidi Doo-Kirk) and/or the Cook County Highway Department.

On a more exciting note, the needs of your community radio station are on center stage here and now. The 2015 spring membership drive is now under way, and is appropriately themed, “Because of You.” It’s “because of you” that we have this vibrant community radio station. Further growth and development of the great programming to which we are accustomed, will also only continue “because of you.” So it’s time to spring forth with a monetary token of your appreciation to keep WTIP moving forward. The drive lasts until noon on this coming Monday, but don’t put off calling any longer. Give operators a call right now; 387-1070 or 800-473-9847 or click and join at and tell’ em the guy from Wildersmith said this, “because of you.”

Keep on hangin’ on and savor February in a Gunflint setting!

(Photo by Jay Kleeman on Flickr)

Pine Grosbeak

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 13

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Fresh snow has re-dressed the upper Gunflint. A welcome dose of fluff arrived last weekend, adding about another 6 inches to the landscape in this neighborhood. To go along with this snowy delivery, temps are holding in normal mode for mid-month two. The new flocking came just in time for sweetheart celebrations of roses, chocolates and other heartfelt delights. Pending a sudden reversal of weather consequences, our cool forest is dressed up in pearly white for the Valentine’s ball!

It’s with sadness I report one of our wonderful winter Gunflint amenities is ending its long run. After 20 years of yesteryear magic and splendid hospitality, the Patten Family Homestead Sleigh rides are “hanging up the harness, closing the barn doors and putting the hot chocolate pot away for the last time.” Depending upon snow conditions, the two-horse open sleigh will make its final trips through the Bow Lake woods on March 28. Mark, Nancy and their family have provided thousands with marvelous memories under many starlit northern nights. All Gunflinters thank them, wishing all the Pattens, “Happy trails.”

Our new snow enhanced conditions for the annual Cook County Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club (CCRRSC) fun run last Saturday. I don’t have results at this scribing, but the event must have been a huge success based on the 160-plus power sleds passing by Wildersmith on the Gunflint ice. Congratulations and thanks to event organizers!

By now, if you haven’t already heard, the “Mush for a Cure” is officially off for 2015. However, another Gunflint Community sledding event, organized by the CCRRS group, is scheduled for tomorrow (Saturday). Their annual drag races commence on Hungry Jack Lake, with registration at 11 a.m. and racing at noon. Musical entertainment is scheduled through the afternoon from 1 p.m. until 5. Should be a roaring good time, but put in your earplugs!

With February at the midpoint, some folks are already thinking spring. The green thumb gal from over on Loon Lake advised me she is thinking fresh summer vegetables and has her first seeds in growing pots under indoor sun. No doubt she’ll be the first in this area to be picking cukes and peppers, perhaps even by daffodil time?

Speaking of February and the recent Groundhog Day commemoration, there’s a humorous item floating about cyberspace. It features a wolf sitting in a stately position with the caption, “The groundhog came out and said six more weeks of winter, so I ate it!” Fitting for these parts, but it’s hard to know if Brother Wolf was happy or sad with the whistle pig’s prediction, or just hungry?

Since the DNR announced it is tightening walleye rules on three lakes in our area, there’s plenty of kibitzing both pro and mostly con about the plan. Of course the plan for Gull, Seagull and Saganaga is well intended, but is causing considerable consternation among guides/ professionals and everyday anglers. The revised regulations are intended to protect smaller walleye (14 to 16 inchers) in those bodies which all lie partly in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The rub between DNR and fisher folks is an apparent difference of opinion on data regarding population of those prime eaters. Whereas the DNR indicates diminished numbers of smaller walleyes, those fishing with regularity say there is plenty of this walleye population that are now slated for protection. This change will go into effect March 1 and extend for 10 years. The ruling provides that walleyes must be at least 17 inches long and lowers the daily bag limit to three instead of six.

The new bag limit is surely going to cause plenty of angst between enforcers and fisher people catching in Canadian waters (with a bag limit of four) and then crossing back through Minnesota waters. What an enforcement nightmare this will be!

Closing this week’s scoop, I’ve made an interesting observation about one particular area critter. Our wild neighborhood world is all about survival, “survival of the fittest.” In connection with survival, timing and patience is absolute. It would seem few critters have much patience when hungry. It’s “grab and git.”

Observing considerable bird traffic each day, I have found there is one avian with unthinkable patience. The Smiths have numerous pine grosbeaks visit each day, and they exhibit the patience of Job as it relates to other winged varieties, especially the blue jay bullies. I’m amazed the way these pink beauties sit in nearby trees waiting for an opening in the jaybird frenzy. Then they calmly gather at the trough until again driven back into the branches by the rude blue. Obviously, their stoic tolerance is incredible!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor the winter loveliness along the Trail.

Doak Walker

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: February 6

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As the full moon of February lit up our lives through this first week, Old Man Winter took a half-hearted swipe at our territory. His offering was in the form of bitter cold readings to kick off month two.

How cold was it? Temperatures in the Wildersmith neighborhood were buried below zero for several days into midweek with overnight lows hanging out around minus 30. It was so cold last Saturday night, our deck either expanded or contracted with three thundering claps, raising me from slumber in horror!

His highness Mr. Frosty, however, forgot this seasonal package for the North should include snow, of which barely an inch dusted us last weekend. A recent trip to Trail Center for our midweek dinner outing featured a huge bull moose along the way. It’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but the big guy seemed to loom nearly 10 feet tall from toes to tips of his ears as those golden eyes reflected our vehicle headlights. Thankfully, he only challenged our “right of passage” for a few moments before stomping off into the forest. To our surprise, the return trip found Mr. Moose back out near the same spot around the burn area of Little Iron Lake. The county-supplied lick of road salt must have been intensely tempting to this iconic fellow.

A big cousin of the local pine marten clan has been viewed recently. To avoid the attraction of trappers, all I’ll share that is the fisher has been seen at undisclosed locations down this way. Seldom seen observations of this critter found it to be a healthy looking specimen.

Gunflint Trail area dog sled races are now into the books, but the hills are still alive. The sound of barking dogs cedes to the drone of snowmobiles this weekend. The sixth annual Cook County Snowmobile Club Fun Run is the weekend feature out this way. Registration for the event can be made at either Devil Track Landing or Hungry Jack Lodge between 9 a.m. and noon this Saturday. The always energetic “poker card run” is to be concluded by card hands due back at the Landing by 5:30 p.m., with awards, food and fun to follow. Hope everyone has a safe day!

Elsewhere in the county, the 12th annual Snowarama power sled excursion for the benefit of Easter Seals runs this Saturday as well, beginning at Grand Portage. This event has a website, so check it out for additional information.

More winter activities throughout the county begin today with the kick-off of the annual Winter Tracks festival. Many cold/snowy events are scheduled from now through the 15th. Check out the Winter Tracks Festival website for more details.

Back to sled dog events, I’m told plans are on hold for the annual Mush for a Cure which has benefited National Breast Cancer Research over the past several years. Guess another sled dog event has scheduled on the same date, luring many of the “pink” participants away. It’s too bad organizers of such events couldn’t have better communicated/coordinated dates so each could have had their day in the snow.

Alas, the football season is over! Don’t take me wrong, I’ve been as avid as the next guy, with my enthusiasm dating back to the days of Doak Walker, Jim Brown, Alex Karras, Bart Starr, Mike Ditka and the like, when they played for little money and love of the game. I still treasure the days when I got to play and later had the privilege of coaching many fine young men in the high school game. But it’s hard not to be cynical about America’s game with the shenanigans and egos of players and coaches who cash in with obscene millions of dollars when we have so many countrymen living in hardship.

This cynicism is further magnified when some ungrateful participants behave like a den of cheats and crooks. Yet we label the main event, “Super?” Moreover, the malarkey of so-called professionals is hyped by uncounted numbers of self-appointed media experts to the point of being regurgitating nonsense. So I watched, the somewhat, “Super Bowl” with tongue-in-cheek zeal. Guess this NFL phenomenon might easily be equated as a microcosm of our country in general. Sadly, millions of our fellow citizens continue to feed the beast (just fathom, the cheapest ticket at nearly $10,000). It makes one wonder if we will ever regain a sense of perspective.

Ooops, just fell off the soap box!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the mystery of life in the wild!

(Photo courtesy of Kidsandcauses on Flickr)

Sleeping Dogs during the Beargrease

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 30

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Chapter two of the New Year is at hand. It hardly seems right the January act should have escaped so calmly in these parts. Believe it or not, shadows have shortened and daylight is steadily tagging on more minutes, though barely noticeable on cloud-covered days. Somewhat surprisingly, we are quickly approaching the Ojibwe full “sucker moon.” It will light up our northern universe after only the second verse of February. And this lunar happening comes one day beyond the annual weather prognostication visit from the whistle pig, woodchuck/ground hog. Whew, month two is already a blur!

Old Man Winter has been a slacker in our area for the third straight week. While off doing his thing in other parts of the country, his lack of attention to business around here is wearing on folks who really live for the character of the season. Conditions of the past week have been above the norm temperature-wise, although our snow depth has not been noticeably depleted. Current snow depths range from about a foot and a half to over 2 feet in the mid-trail, with lesser amounts as one gets to Trail’s end. With many gray days recently, those pregnant-looking clouds haven’t delivered much in spite of a minor few inches earlier this week.

One happening of note is that the water bubbling from deep within Mother Earth has now begun to trickle out from dammed-up, frozen road culverts. The Mile O Pine has a few areas where growing ponds are flooding the travel portion of our pathway. Remembering February can be every bit as ouchy as her kin just past, this winter leakage will eventually build into mini-glaciers when deep winter cold makes a return engagement. Folks who reside where these leaks dump into area lakes are telling me shoreline ice has developed quite a layer of slush just under the snowy crust. So whereas the ice beneath is probably pretty safe, getting to it might result in finding one’s boots filled with icy liquid.

It appears the best ice for travel is out in the middle, at least here on the Gunflint Gal. A couple snowmobilers who travel Gunflint Lake to their fishing spots tell about the ride being miserably rough due to pressure ridges and drifted snow. Their description compares sledding to being worse than boating on those big roller days of summer.

Inland, cross-country skiers are finding delightful conditions with tolerable temps and fantastic groomed trails. Businesses on the x-c trail circuits are raving about this being one of the best seasons in years. Meanwhile other activities such as dog sled rides and horse drawn sleigh rides are enjoying bustling schedules.

While ice fishing is always good, the actual catching part has been having its ups and downs…though fellows I know tell there are plenty of fish to be caught and they know just where to pull them through the ice. So having a “filet-o-fish” is no problem.

The Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is now history. The entourage of dogs and mushers quietly pawed their way to mid-Trail this past Monday, even a bit ahead of schedule. Amidst pleasant midday temps and beautiful falling snow, in the matter of a few hours, this winter quiet spot in the road grew into a short-term mini-city. Handsome, athletic pooches, busy handlers, doggy doctors, support rigs of all design and sizes; plus myriad working officials/volunteers and observers engulfed the mandatory four hour stopover site with a hum of activity. It’s hard to fathom the many styles and colors of winter wear gear that was on display, some fashion extravaganza! Even the performing athletes took to their rest time under a rainbow of blankets and other such coverings. What a colorful event!

Previous Beargrease runs have come into the area at night. The teams’ arrival this year during daylight hours provided race enthusiasts a chance to get a great up close look at the stars of John Beargrease’s historic (1879-1900) long-distance mail run re-enactment. Then, in what seemed like a blink of the eye, break time and vet check was over, and the canine teams were off once again. Their energy and exuberance goes unmatched. They howled and pranced to get going toward the halfway point turnaround at Gunflint Lake. The marathon journey’s final leg, some 150 miles back down the Superior shore corridor to near Duluth, concluded Wednesday morning. Talk about endurance, toughness, determination and love between man and dog, this adventure has it all!

A big salute goes out to everyone involved with making this annual commemorative celebration a huge success.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a Gunflint adventure trek!

Pine Marten in Feeder

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 23

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January continues slipping away. As the days have flown by, temperatures in border country have moderated from the bitter cold snap which introduced the New Year. Moderation in these parts means daytime teens and twenties depending upon how deeply one is situated in this hinterland.

It is truly amazing how warm even zero can feel after what folks have endured. One would think our version of the January thaw would usher in some snow; however, a meager inch or so is all we have mustered since we last met on the radio. We remain moisture starved for yet another week.

The opening of the trout season out Gunflint way was quite pleasant, but the first day of catching left a lot to be desired, so I’m told. Then the next day showed improvement from a hooking standpoint according to my friend down the road as limits were pulled through the ice borings.

Wolf activity around here remains an almost daily point of conversation. Another choral practice occurred up on the ridge above us a few nights ago. A gal living near the gathering up there said their wild harmonics sent her to shivers. On another occasion, our daily trip to the mail box found a large lone wolf crossing the Mile O Pine not far in front of us (we were riding on the RTV). Then on the return trip, it had come back onto the road. “Brother Wolf” proceeded to meander ahead keeping its distance, occasionally looking back over a shoulder to keep a close watch on our infringement into its territory. After some distance, the “husky gray” casually disappeared into the forest not to be seen again. While neither we nor the wolf were felt to be in a confrontational position, it was nevertheless somewhat eerie, as both parties kept an eye on each other. What a wild woods adventure!

Visiting pine martens have been bringing a new/unusual observation almost daily. Last Saturday afternoon was a topper, thus far. To set the stage, I share that on our deck I have installed a heated bird/animal watering dish. The unit occasionally runs dry through both use and bitter cold evaporation. Such was the case on this day when a youthful marten had been hanging around munching at our cafeteria of goodies. I happened to look out at the right moment when the fuzz ball went searching for a drink from the receptacle. Discovering the bowl empty, further investigation by “Marty” (as we’ll call it) and the “lights came on,” this strange thing was warm to the paws. One could almost see the “wheels a-turning” in its little head. Hmm, this must have felt good on a cold afternoon. Sitting down felt good, too, and then it circled a few times as if preparing a nesting retreat and curled up in ball. Wrapped with its furry tail over the nose, the inquisitive critter closed its eyes and proceeded to catch a few zzzzzz. In a neighborhood that is cold and often cruel, this little guy/gal had found peace, if only for a short time. The “cat nap” extended for more time than I expected, before a noise in the woods startled the little one back to reality, and it was off into the tree tops.

Needless to say, for us observers the happening was one to be filed in the bank of memorable forest experiences. It will be interesting to see if the animal remembers and comes back another time seeking this artificial warming spot. My problem is whether to fill it with water once again or leave the napping venue dry???

Our area entertains another big winter happening in the next few days. The participants in the annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon will be heading out of Two Harbors toward our territory on Sunday afternoon. Trail Center on the Gunflint will be a check-point stop-over on the front end of the trip. Teams are slated to begin arriving during the afternoon (around 3:00 pm) of this coming Monday.

This is great opportunity to observe the dogs and mushers before they head on up the Trail to make the half-way turn-around and journey back toward a Duluth finish. A few of our own Cook County mushing teams will be entered, along with many others from around the country, so come on out and show some Trail Community support! To follow the race progress, visit the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon at

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the richness of our historic Gunflint past!

(Photo by Fred Smith)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 16

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At the time of this week's keyboard exercise, the Gunflint territory is seeing little movement by we human animals. As of this past Monday evening, the Wildersmith neighborhood was completing a ninth straight day where the temperature has not been above zero.

Life has pretty much been about trips to the wood shed, curling up with a good book near the humming wood burner and sipping a warm drink or a hot cup of soup! Residents are pretty much just hunkered down waiting out this not too unusual cold streak.

With the opening of the lake trout season, ice anglers are hoping for a break. But I’m guessing no matter what the conditions, they will not be deterred from auguring a hole in the hard water.

The extended cold snap has been both good and bad in terms of snow. It’s good because what we have has been maintained, but bad due to moisture opportunities having been held at bay to our south. Barely one half inch has been added during the past seven in our neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the animal world continues its normal survival tasks, fighting off the bitter elements and dodging predator situations. The “wild kingdom” is tough out here!

A couple of visiting whitetails spent a cuddly morning at Wildersmith last Sunday. In a relaxed mode for a few moments, after a time of browsing the moose maple shrubs, they decided our yard was a good place to settle down for a cold winter's nap. For the better part of an hour these two snoozed, nose to belly in snuggled comfort of snowy nests.

One has to observe scenes like this to fully appreciate the calmness these wild critters so seldom experience as they’re on high alert most of the time. It was a peaceful, precious diorama of north woods life!

Our supply run to Grand Marais last week provided further wild sightings. Several moose were on the loose, and we happened along at the right time. Four healthy specimens were observed at various places in the mid-trail moose zone.

Beyond those up-close roadside encounters, there was considerable evidence of even more activity based on tracks in and out of the snow banks at any number of byway locales. Let’s hope winter treats them well during the balance of the season. Survival activity around our yard continues as well. From tiny voles and other related rodents tunneling about just under the snowy surface, to pine martens dashing from tree tops to ground and back, plus birds, birds, birds; there is little quiet time from sun-up to sun-down.

The Smith’s enjoyed a pair of juvenile pine martens one day last week. This must have been their first appearance here at our deck-side food trough. The two seemed overjoyed with the easy grub opportunities as they sampled poultry parts, sunflower seeds and a can of bacon grease. Their frolic included several acrobatic stunts while exploring this new world of food service at Wildersmith.

Confirmation of members in our Gunflint/Loon lake wolf pack occurred during the past week. Two separate reports were received counting eight, in single file, perusing the Gunflint Lake south shore. Their hunt goes on, and on!

Sadness hangs over the Gunflint Community again this week. Word has been received on the December 22nd passing of Nathalie Rusk. She was 95 and passed at Gunderson Hospital in Whitehall, Wisconsin. Nathalie and husband Ken have been active members of the Gunflint Trail Community for some forty-four years while residing at their summer place on Seagull Lake. Such a sweet, talented person, Nathalie was a joy to be around and will be sorely missed. Gunflint Trail condolences are extended to Ken, her two daughters and a bevy of grand, great-grand and great-great-grandchildren.

Keep on, hangin’ on, and savor a thought for more snow!

(Photo courtesy of Jack Hynes on Flickr)