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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.


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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)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 9

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Whereas the last Segment of 2014 was pretty meek weather-wise, the first week of the New Year has seen winter step up on the Gunflint. Our first weekend of January brought out the best cold season character so far.     

In fact, the romance of a spectacular north woods night was never more eminent than this past Sunday. A dashing touch of new white, calm, biting cold air and a caress of “full” lunar luminance were just plain spell-binding.

About all that could have been added to the charisma of these semi-dark hours would have been a blessing from the Aurora Borealis. They could have possibly occurred, but the crystal heavens were so lit up that the usual “northern lights” were most likely not of their dazzling brilliance. This nocturnal segment was a poet's dream!  

From mid-trail on out, anywhere from six to about twelve inches of snow was deposited Friday night into Saturday. Here at Wildersmith the count was slightly over eight inches.    

As the snowfall ended, Sunday and Monday mornings saw the mercury follow suit, dropping to the coldest lows of the season. Depending upon one's location along the byway, temps dipped to anywhere from the low twenties to low thirties below the nothing mark. At the Smith place our Sunday low hit minus thirty-two (actual temperature) and then thirty-six below come Monday. 

In spite of the cold instances this past weekend, there is still some alarm about ice thickness on our Gunflint Gal. Insomuch as most area lakes have twelve inches and upwards, the ice on Gunflint has both safe ice of up to twelve inches and several unsafe thin areas that taper down to about two to four. Of course no one knows for sure exactly where and how far the unsafe areas extend. So it would be a good bet for those traversing the Gunflint to stay in close proximity to shore.  

The weekend weather turned out to be extraordinarily realistic for the running of the Gunflint Mail Run Dog Sled race. Bitter cold and fresh, deep snow harkened back to “earlier Gunflint times” adding modern day authenticity to the colorful event.   

Congratulations and thanks to organizers, sponsors, handlers and of course, to the stars of the show, those dogs and their brave mushers for this historical re-enactment of travel from our wilderness past.     
Although the hunting season for the two-legged stalkers of white tails has ended, the hunt goes on with wolves of the Gunflint Lake neighborhoods. A couple deer provided fast food opportunities for the local “pack” down around Gunflint Lodge recently. Further, about everyone I’ve talked to lately tells of some wolf howling experience during darkness hours.    

A neighbor down from me on the Mile O Pine took part in a howl-along from his deck with the iconic critters last Friday evening. Guess the pack was quite cordial in responding to his solo contributions. How about that for a wilderness experience!  

Speaking of white tails, we at Wildersmith were surprised recently with the return of an old “deer” friend. This wild pal had been hanging out around here each of the past few years, but was late on arrival this season.   

Thinking “Notch” might have succumbed to either of the two stalking groups mentioned above we were delighted when this big fellow showed. By the way, his given moniker is based on the feature of a large notch having been taken out of one ear. I can only suspect it occurred with the point of a combatant's antler while doing battle to show his manhood.

Keep on hangin’ on , and savor the pleasure of peace in the north country!  


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 2

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Happy New Year everyone! We at Wildersmith hope your holiday season has been peaceful and rewarding.     

So we’re trekking off into 2015 with wishes for renewed efforts toward a more tranquil world and new dreams of prosperity, respect and equality for all. Let’s face it; the past year just hasn’t been a blue ribbon accomplishment for much of civilization, the good old USA included.                                                            

It’s great to be back in Gunflint territory after spending the Christmas week with kids and grandkids In Iowa. Where I was in Iowa, their holiday time was quite springlike with no snow cover, warm temps and off and on rain showers, definitely not winter or Christmassy.                                                                                                                                                 

Those southerly conditions got me a little worried as to whether our winter character might have taken another big meltdown hit while I was away. Needless to say, I was relieved to find the beautiful white landscape pretty much intact as I got to the top of the hill over Grand Marais when returning.                  

Although little precipitation was added during my absence, while keying this week’s scoop this past Monday morning a breath of Old Man Winter sent the mercury skidding to 25 below in this neighborhood.

Guess we are pretty lucky up this way, as the cold season ambience is a sham in many places throughout the northland, especially along the Superior shore. Perhaps Father Winte” will shake loose with some white enhancement as we plow into this New Year. We need more for sure!

Nevertheless, area folks dealing in snow business activities are finding that what we have is enabling visitors to enjoy their time of wafting wood smoke from a cabin stove, cracking sap in frozen trees, whispering air through the pines and screeches from shifting lake ice.                                                                                                                                          

Shortly before the Smith departure southward, our north woods holiday spirit was enriched with a second pre-Christmas concert. And, it occurred right here on the shore at Wildersmith. This serenading expose was not as elegant as the annual Borealis Chorale of early December presented in Grand Marais; nonetheless it favored an impromptu natural expression of border country magic for the season at hand.                                                                                                                                                                               

This choral group featured the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack. Usual howling experiences last only a few precious moments, however this time the performance went on for better part of a half hour. Tenor and bass voices may not have been in perfect harmony, but the spirit of their “moody blues” was one to behold.                                                                                                                         

By coincidence, the timing of this howling experience (Dec. 17) came about on the same night as the Gunflint Lake took on its winter coat. On the breast of new fallen snow and temps well below zero, it almost made one wonder if there might have been a celebratory spiritual connection between ice-on and the canid lupus sing-along.   

Hearing this gathering was so filled with energizing adventure. In spite of not being on the same wave of communication as Brother Wolf, I felt in tune with their “Call of the Wild.”           

On a final note, it is with sadness that I report on the passing of another early Gunflint Trail resident. Lawrence “Woody” Wooding passed away Dec. 11 in Sarasota, Florida. He was 96.         
Mr. Wooding was a property owner on East Pope Lake. He lived in what once was the former Gunflint Post Office along County Road #92 during the early 1950s, having purchased the place from then postmaster, George Stapleton, in 1953. Gunflint community condolences are extended to his surviving family.                            

This weekend finds us rejoicing in the Full Wolf/Great Spirit moon (Gichi Manidoo Giizis). It seems implausible we can be celebrating so many happenings all at once; the beginning of a New Year, a full moon, a two-week-old winter season and the topper, receiving the first 2015 seed/plant catalog. This is too much excitement for an old geezer!                                                     

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor this new beginning!


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 19

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‘Tis the week before Christmas, and oh what a mess, Old Man Winter has taken another hiatus!  Yep, border country experienced another December weekend meltdown as “Mr. Frigid” has gone AWOL. Perhaps the “global warming Grinch” took him south?                        
Drippy, dismal weather was the order, and those depending upon winter conditions for economic sustenance have had to put cold season activities on hold. The atmospheric scene even produced some April-like showers around Wildersmith last Saturday night and on into Sunday/Monday. In an area where there’s no business like snow business, one has to feel sad for the folks depending on such.         

About the only thing going has been some hard-water angling. In spite of the soggy surroundings, walk-on conditions are favorable on nearly all lakes except Gunflint and Saganaga (Sag). Meanwhile Sag and Gunflint refuse to cooperate with the ice in process. It’s difficult to get reports on Sag, but my watch over the Gunflint Gal has observed couple of almosts, giving way to wind and, now, abnormally warm temps.                                                                                                

A little Gunflint Lake ice-on trivia shows an average date of Dec. 13 (since 1982). Last year, she slipped into her winter coat on Dec. 8. The earliest date on my short-term data sheet was Nov. 26 in 1996, while the latest is Dec. 29, in 2001. One thing for sure, our Gunflint freeze-up is beyond the average, and unless we get some serious cold soon we’ll be pushing up against a new late record entry.         

Serious consequences occur with meltdowns in back country. This is usually a late March until May happening. As thawing and refreezing happens, our secondary roads, driveways and walking paths become slippery nightmares. Keeping the vehicles out of the ditches and our bodies upright can be challenging. About the only things mitigating these hazards are cold dry snow or spring. So everyone trekking about up this way should proceed with caution until normal returns.                                                     

On a brighter note, a couple days prior to the dank weekend sogginess, our Gunflint Lake shore was blessed with some Jack Frost artistry. Every time he performs his glazing craft, I’d swear it’s the best ever, and this instance was no exception. The most recent expression found him exploring a medium of icy needlework.                                                                                                   

As moist foggy air drifted over the lake and slid up the elevation of our landscape, the adjacent forest was converted into a sparkling wonderland of elegant diamond styluses. During my daily trip to the mailbox, I checked out several needlelike appendages up close. They ranged from a quarter inch up to nearly an inch in length, and when you multiply them by trillions you can understand my awe of the woodland brilliance.                                                                

I was completely captivated by the glistening brilliance as the sun occasionally pierced the clouds. The beaming setting was like I’d been caught in the middle of a glitter explosion. This scene extended as far as my eyes could see!   

The grand drama of this winter testimony lasted for the better part of 24 hours, and then, with an upward blip in the thermometer, was dripping history. The show was truly a magical moment in my memories of wilderness life. One just had to be here to fully grasp the regal charm of Mr. Frost!                                                                                                                        

On a final note, a trip down County Road 20  a few days before the snow became slush, another moment in north woods time popped up. One of those ghostly snowshoe lagomorphs scampered across the road in front of my vehicle.   

In a rather amusing occurrence, the long-eared critter must have misjudged its distance from the windrowed snow bank. In attempt to scale the white mound, it leapt too soon. In a flurry of snowy confusion, it went head first into the bank. Surprised to say the least, the bleached bunny flopped about and bounced straight up in the air before suddenly blending off into the scenery.       
With a growing number of lynx sightings in these parts, I think yours truly should have been the least of this rabbit’s worries. Guess it just might have been a “bad hare” day!                                                                                                        

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the joys of the holiday season. Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!

(Photo by Contemplative Images on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 12

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Headed toward the midpoint of the month and the north woods winter has become a big frump. Our area is going on nearly two months since we had any worthwhile precipitation. Although border country did get a scant coating of white stuff earlier this week, the substantial deliveries of such have gone elsewhere, making us look like a desert tundra in several locales.    

Our minimal snow cover is stimulating many of the wild neighborhood critters to be out and about. I’ve either observed or been told of nearly every animal one could expect to see around here this time of year.                                                                                                                                                                    
Moose sightings are becoming a daily norm along the Trail during the twilight and nighttime hours. On a couple ramblings up and down the Trail I have found any number of gatherings along this 60-mile salt lick. As recently as last Monday the Smiths got a rare, up-close photo op with a big cow along the Trail. She was so cordial as to walk up out of a ditch to within a few feet of the vehicle and pose, looking us straight in the eye.                                                 

Many other folks also report encountering the iconic guys and gals out getting their mineral fix. I don’t know if we are all seeing the same ones, but if not, it is encouraging that there could be a stabilizing of the moose herd along the byway corridor.                                                                
Numerous accounts have been filed on wolf activity. A gal skiing over in the Crab Lake area reports of a caucus along the ski path during the past few days, although they had dispersed long before her arrival. Then as recently as last weekend, a pack of seven made their way from Canada across Gunflint Lake near Gunflint Lodge. Nobody I know of challenged them on being legal immigrants. Meanwhile, there are plenty of signs that they are making nightly sojourns along our south shore and up on the Mile O Pine.     

Adding to the adventures of nocturnal animal movement, on a recent late-night trek down the road toward Wildersmith, we encountered a big beautiful lynx intersecting our path. The big cat didn’t allow for much of a look-see as it scampered off into the forest headed toward Heston’s Lodge as we passed.                                                                                                      

A few whitetails have come back to our yard since closing of the rifle hunting season. For the most part, they seem to be returnees from previous years. All are familiar with these surroundings, and know exactly what windows through which they can see us and transmit their forlorn hungry look.

We are already observing more fox activity about the yard than we had all of last year. My superior skill at catching the tiny rodents in a couple outbuildings is more than keeping them supplied with bonus treats for just passing through.   

If the fox don’t get these rodent catches, then the pine martens have been readily cleaning up any leftovers. We have either one or several that are now visiting with regularity. One night last week, one was found inside a tiny squirrel lunch box feeder on our deck side feeding rail. It was trying to finish off the remaining sunflower seeds.                                                                

This may not seem too unusual except that the volume inside the tiny feeder was maybe 5x5x5 inches. Once inside the unit, the animal found itself sitting on top of what it wanted to eat. I could see, by the way it wriggled around, that it was apparently perplexed at not being able to dine in comfort. The marten finally solved its dilemma by exiting, and then opting a head-first-only entry. It must have worked because the feeder was empty at my next refilling visit.                                                                                                                                                                              
A night or so later, a battle took place at our feed trough. Although I didn’t observe or hear the commotion, I suspect there was some disagreement over who gets what. It’s my suspicion that it could have been two martens sparring over a chicken part. Or perhaps, a single marten did in a flying squirrel for some late night dining.                                                                                                  

Whatever the scenario, it must have been a vicious confrontation. At feeding time the next morning, I found the blood-spattered remnants indicating there had been trouble at the “OK Wilderness Cafe.”                                                                                                                                                          
It’s a menagerie around here, and life isn’t for the faint of heart in our critter world!                                                                                                                                
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor our open zoo!

(Photo courtesy of Fred Smith)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 5

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The upper Gunflint territory enters December, and I’m beginning to get a little nervous in regard to our area continuing to be missed by major snowstorms. I realize it’s still pre-winter according to the calendar, but moisture reserves of snow in the forest are necessary to avoid an unnerving dry spell before our next green-up. The temperatures have surely favored opportunity for some nice seasonal decorating in anticipation of a delivery.  

Speaking of temps, the area experienced some serious cold over the past week. With only a minor warming hiccup last Saturday, the stage was set for the unfrozen big lakes to finally cover up as mercury skidded into the teens below at our place. 

Shortly after sending out last week’s scoop, the water on Gunflint started taking on the winter shivers. Ice-up soon progressed to the point where our Wildersmith shoreline froze about a third of the way to Canada. It stayed that way, gaining a little more each day, but still having open water toward the Canadian border.

I was thinking we might get a total November ice-on which hasn’t happened in nearly two decades (November 26, 1996 to be exact). When I was about to write this happening into my weather records diary, Mother Nature initiated a border country tug-of-war. A strong Arctic front crashed down on us Saturday night and the fight was on, wind against ice. 

The fury of howling air sent the remaining open water into a churning rage. By Sunday morning, the north wind won the battle. Our infant frozen coating had ceded to the furious seas. The Gunflint gal, except for a protected west end, was in sky blue status once again.

Ice cakes were stacked up on our granite shore as slushy remains bubbled up in rolling waves against a spectacular crystal mass. So the Zamboni process on Gunflint Lake will be re-convening with our next quiet night.                                                                                                                             

One nice thing about restarting this ice-over happening is that we get a second episode of hoar frosting along our shore. With frigid air over warmer water, the look of a boiling cauldron will be casting moisture-laden clouds ashore to magically glaze every exposed forest appendage. If there ever was a Hallmark holiday card setting, it just had to be captured around here during one of these spectacular times!                                                                                                                             

A funny thing happened on my way to the mailbox a while back. Approaching the line-up of postal receptacles, I noticed a large black item sitting on top, and thought it was a parcel in one of those black plastic garbage bags. Getting closer, to my surprise, the object turned out to be a common raven.                                                                                                                                                                                  

It took flight as I pulled alongside. I didn’t give much thought about why this ebony critter was there in the first place as a pair has been nesting in the area for a few years. A closer check found the USPS had delivered a package to a neighbor’s box. The item was too big to fit inside, so it was sacked in a protective plastic wrapper and left on top.                             

Apparently, the container caught the attention of this curious avian and it could not resist a little postal inspection. This inquisitive being didn’t know it’s a federal offense to tamper with other peoples’ mail. I observed it also cared little for the fact the item was a cardboard box wrapped in plastic protection, because it had torn open the bag, pecked about a 6-inch hole in the box and pulled out part of the contents.                                                                                                                                

Somewhat comical, it was nevertheless a bad scene for the intended recipient as the contents were no doubt damaged, with no recourse. The neighbor eventually got to the mail box and picked up a tattered delivery.                                                                                                                          

In visiting with him about the incident, he revealed with an iffy grin, catch this; the contents of his package were in fact, a bird feeder.                                                                                        

How about that for a rare happenstance? That bird had some kind of intuition and also a bit of larceny in its heart. But it’s not going to be a jailbird.     

Saturday night (December 6) the north woods will celebrate the full “cold/little spirit” moon, and the timing couldn’t be better. With the spirit of our lunar experience and this approaching festive season, a gala open house invitation is being extended to Gunflint residents, their families and friends.                                                                                                                                                                                

The Gunflint Trail Volunteer fire Department is hosting a “thank you” event at the Schaap Community Center (Mid Trail Fire Hall #1) beginning at 3 p.m. and running until 7 p.m. It’s a time for the volunteers to express their gratitude for the fantastic community support of the three facility improvement projects during the past couple years. Every Gunflinter is invited to kick off this holiday season with friends, food and fun.          

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the sights and sounds of this northern paradise!
(Photo courtesy of Fred Smith)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 28

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We wilderness folk are bidding November farewell, following the annual day of American bounty stuffing.  Hope your Thanksgiving was a comforting time!    

On the brink of chapter 12 (December), area residents watched as Old Man Winter slipped into a listless warm stupor last weekend.     

Those days saw our colder than normal month turn a damp dismal gray. With temps hanging out near the freezing point, fog, drizzle, dripping rooftops and sloppy roads were the order. It was unseasonably ugly. Thus our meager snow cover was depleted, leaving barely enough to say we have white on the ground.                                                                                                     

As I pull together this week’s Gunflint story, there was promise of a return to what it should be this time of year. Sure enough, completing this week’s scoop found the territory with a new coating of white.  December has come on us in a flash. Let’s hope the cold is back to stay and the “great man of the north” brews up even more forest flocking.                                                                                                                       

Prior to the warmup of last weekend, several mornings of both near and below zero allowed further ice enhancement in the upper Gunflint. A couple of the larger bodies took on their winter coat as both Seagull and Poplar lakes sealed up on the night of the 19th. I don’t have data on these lakes with regard to early hardening water, but it would seem this hasty ice on could be a near record. Meanwhile, Gunflint, Sag and Loon lakes continue teasing us, with their only ice showing as build up on rocky shore lines from the pounding wave action.                                                                                                                                                                 

Last Sunday saw the Minnesota rifle season for deer come to an end. I haven’t heard of many bucks being taken out this way. However, it has been reported that one fellow took a buck which, when tracked down, had a huge buildup of ice on its rack. There’s opinion the big fellow must have swam across Gunflint Lake from the Canadian side. Due to the frigid air temps during the aquatic journey, water splashing up on his regal crown froze instantly.        

Another hunter tells of being so well camouflaged while sitting and waiting for that prized buck, a wolf walked right by him and didn’t even notice. It would be my guess the wolf was either so intent on its own hunting expedition, or had a bad smeller and poor eyesight. In either case, it would seem that both parties should be happy one didn’t notice the other.      

While deer herd numbers are down in this part of the Arrowhead, it was a pleasant surprise when a momma and her offspring showed up in the Wildersmith yard a few days ago. Along with tracks in our snow along the Mile O Pine, we can confirm at least some have survived both predation and a bad last winter.                                                                                                                                                                  

The frosty blast of week three saw a terrific increase in air traffic to border country bird feeding stations. Both outgoing and incoming visitors at Wildersmith are of the customary varieties. The bulk of the winged folk seems to be a larger than usual number of those “jet blue” arrivals. I’m speaking of the blue jay bullies. It must have been a great reproductive year for the blues.                

An unusual and lone grackle has also landed, and apparently found our provisions to its liking. This iridescent black beauty has been here for several consecutive days. In comparison with other frequent flyers, this guy/gal appears not one bit intimidated by the squawking jaybirds. It will be of interest to see if it continues to hang out, or is a bye, bye birdie.     

Another feed trough returnee made a nocturnal visit last week. Although it was not specifically observed, one of our neighborhood pine martens came by investigating the menu offerings, leaving tracks all over the snow-covered deck. I can’t tell if it has been back since the melting snow has eliminated my tracking opportunities. I have cordially invited the critter back though, by offering a couple marten menu favorites, poultry pieces.                                                                                             

It won’t be long and all of our winter critter friends will be back in the fold at Wildersmith!                                                                                                                                                                                  
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the charm and mystery of our December, “cold, little spirit moon.”          

(Photo courtesy of Evan Leeson on Flickr)