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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: November 21

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Beginning this week’s Gunflint scoop finds the weather outside frightful. Howling northwest wind is driving snow horizontally, and temps are tumbling to what will most likely be their lowest of the season to date.  But the wood stove is so delightful!                                                                                                                                                      
Although our territory continues to miss the big snows plaguing places south, Old Man Winter looks to be gaining a better grip with each passing day. Ice thickness on some smaller lakes has increased to the safe walking point. This in mind, sportsmen might be trading their difficult venison quests for some hard-water angling. The big lakes remain rolling and cooling in anticipation of a night with serious calm and subzero temps.                                                                                                                                                                   

While I can’t speak for the masses of deer hunters stalking this area, a couple Gunflint/Loon Lake buddies have tagged their white tails, marking a successful 2014 hunt. Apparently, after a slow first week, bucks seem to be moving back into these parts. Hope we get through this closing firearms weekend with a safe and fruitful pursuit.                                                                                                      

This is such a wonderful time of year! The exploits of wilderness critters can easily be documented, compliments of our white landscape. Our “Biboon” (winter) carpet enables the observation of uncountable trails of animal activity.       

I can’t help but get a kick out of following the prints of a fox as it meanders down our Mile O Pine. In search of rodent munchies from a roadside snow bank, paw marks zig and zag from one side to another in uncanny pathways.  

On the other hand, wolf passage takes a considerably more defined direction. One can easily assume this canine kin is on a straight-line mission, seldom veering off course in doing white tail reconnaissance.                                                     

In spite of not seeing many deer tracks yet, their casual, browsing hoof prints find them often scuffing along dragging their feet as if they are exhausted. Then again, they might be in  energy-saving mode should an unexpected predator escape become necessary.           

Add in the footmarks of uncountable smaller creatures in our “Northern Wilds” and a land of mystery and enchantment is authored for us woodsy adventure seekers. One can only imagine what they might have been up to.                       

A fellow living on the north side of Loon Lake shares about coyotes making a recent visit to his yard. Guess they found bird-spilled sunflower seeds to their liking. It’s not unusual to find coyotes around the county, but this sighting is the first I’ve heard of out this way in some time. Perhaps the moccasin telegraph will alert local wolf packs in order that they might have an interest in these uninvited pests.                                                                                                                                    

And speaking of other less-than-welcome north woods nuisances, a raccoon has been hanging out at a place up the hill from Wildersmith. To my knowledge it has not made a visit to the Smith yard as yet. Nevertheless, I’m on the lookout for this masked bandit. A cozy north woods cell has the vacancy sign out, complete with a complimentary treat of bread and blueberry jam.  Those ring tails just love bread and jelly!                                                                                        

The Wildersmith two made a quick run to northwest Iowa last weekend. In so doing, I was amazed at the usual post Thanksgiving shopping madness having already commenced. It seems as though the vaunted Black Friday holiday shopping insanity has been scooched up to almost Halloween time. Will this American craziness ever end?                                                          
I hope everyone will at least take a moment to give thanks for our bounty this coming week with a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.    

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a back country venture!

(Photo by Brad Carlson on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 14

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Wildersmith adds his “many thanks” to all who stood up and pledged during the membership drive of last week. It’s most heartwarming to see so many wonderful WTIP followers come to the front for this vital support endeavor.                                                                                             
To everyone who put a paddle in the water for WTIP during this past event or earlier in the year, you can’t be thanked enough for sharing your bounty. Hurray, the fundraising goal was reached once again!                                                                                                                  

Halloween is over, but it’s hard to tell because there are still plenty of big orange costumed objects out in the woods. Now most of the orange is of the hot variety, and rather than being at ground locations as pumpkins usually grow, the orange characters are silently hanging out up in trees throughout the territory. 

We are a week into the state firearms deer hunting season and from what I’m told by the locals, the venison pickin's, are pretty slim. The border country predators have done a job of culling the herd into a “bucks only” season. With such low numbers, most likely not too much ammo will be expended.

I suppose it will take a few years for the white tail numbers to rebound, what with the hungry population of bears and wolves continuing to stalk this particular hunting zone. However, hunters fear not, for Mother Nature will find a way to make things balance out. 

This scenario of sparse deer numbers may speak well for the dwindling moose herd. Perhaps the element of fewer deer, as hosts to brain worms which can result in devastating neurological disease in moose, might set the stage for a resurgence of those numbers.  Only time will tell on this issue, along with a balancing out of the predator problem. 

Not only is the area void of deer, more importantly, we need moisture. The upper trail neighborhood continues to be bypassed by major precipitation deliveries. Yes, we’ve experienced a few trivial snow efforts, but that is about it for the past several weeks.  

On the other hand, temperatures are about normal, thus allowing old mother Earth to cool enough for the support of what little snow has fallen. The landscape is minimally white, but at this news gathering, more was in the offing.                                                                          

Remembering last winter, this neighborhood did not get a substantial snowfall until Thanksgiving Day. That’s when winter really began to get going in earnest. So we should not be too dismayed about a major dumping not yet having been recorded.

A couple critter species that change their wardrobe color seasonally have completed the task at my last sightings. This process might indicate that convincing winter conditions are just around the next curve in the byway.     

We’ve discovered that a “gam” of ermine has apparently taken up winter residence under the insulation blanket on our septic mound. They have finished their apparel conversion to pure winter camo except for the black tip on their tail.

It was a treat when we discovered the little weasels darting in and out from under their new digs during a brief white-out squall last Saturday. There was so much scampering about it was hard to decide just how many had taken to the new residence.   

Meanwhile the latest lagomorph observation found the north woods “wabbits” are in readiness to fool predators as well, with their newest snow bank disguise. In the case of survival for these hares, it’s often all about “splitting hairs,” and the hip-hop colony around here is prepared in full dress whites. 

With intensifying cold there are murmurs throughout the forest other than winds through the pines. For the last week, I have not been made aware of any bear sightings or engagements. It would be a good bet that the hum from area Bruno dens could, at last, be the snore of “sloth” sawing logs. Happy dreams to all, and to all, a long winter’s nap!  

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a bounty of north woods memories!

(Photo by Fabio Bretto on Flickr)

"Whiskey Jack"

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 7

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Act two of the Gunflint prelude to winter hit the marquee late last week. It’s not to be unexpected this time of year, but when an early storm hits with the ferocity like this one did, it probably made some folks shudder about possible things to come.                  

The sudden grizzly character of “old man winter” came as bit of a surprise on the night before trick or treat. It blitzed us only a couple short hours, but howled like it was a January rendition.  

In the aftermath only an inch or two or three accumulated in the upper Trail region. By next morning, temperatures had plummeted and the landscape was a white wonderland.           

Scenes from this production left us with reminders of winters past. Travelers had to pull off for lack of visibility and the Trail was glazed in slipperiness. Horizontal snow left everything with a north northwest exposure plastered with the wind-driven crystals while the lee sides were cast in a mosaic of uncovered shadows come daylight.                                                                                                                                          

The area went into a mini deep freeze for a couple mornings with the temp at Wildersmith dropping to ten above by last Saturday morning. Our trip into Grand Marais for church the next morning found many smaller lakes and swamps along the byway had taken on their first skim of ice.                                                                                                                                                                                  

This initial ice on is always a treat for yours truly. While some will probably equate this with watching paint dry, I find the crinkling process of liquid becoming a solid to be an intriguing natural wonder.  

I do not dwell on premonitions as in the case of the latest winter happening, but in thinking back, something might have been in the wind a couple nights prior. On those evenings, I couldn’t help but notice the roar of wind through the trees had a wintertime sound.                          
To me, for some unexplained reason, movement of air in the winter has a more unrestrained resonance than it does at other times of the year. Perhaps the leaves of other seasons buffer the frightfulness of our cold season blasts. While there may be no scientific basis for my thinking, winter wind is what it is, many times unmerciful, and that’s what it was for this first serious wintry revue!  

I was recently informed about a gal out his way who’s had north land flower arrangements on her table in every month since last March (probably some early southern exposure Daffodils), with the last blooms being harvested just prior to the collapse of autumn last week. I’m told all such blossom gatherings were of the outdoor variety, not hot house pansies.  

Yes that’s March into October, eight months! I’m not aware of what this lady’s last flower cutting was, but happening in late month ten, goes to show that not only are we residents hardy, but so are many of the natural beings that bloom around us. 

The customary birds of winter are gathering in mass around this neighborhood in hope easy seeds will suddenly appear. I have yet to open the seed barrel for fear of attracting a hungry sloth onto the deck.

In all likelihood, the “Brunos” may be holing up as I write. Perhaps by this time next week, I’ll feel secure in opening the avian feed bag for the anxious “tweeters.”                                                                                

Some of the earliest winged returnees were a pair of “Whiskey Jacks” (Canadian Jays).This sociable couple are a welcome sight after being AWOL from Wildersmith all of last winter.                                                                                                                                                                          
WTIP listeners and website followers are reminded community radio programming does not spring forth like north woods flowers. It takes fruitful enrichment through periodic public funding campaigns.                                                                                                                                                                       
To keep our exceptional North Shore resource growing onward and upwards, don’t forget to make a new or renewing pledge during the current “Many Thanks” membership drive.     

Every dollar counts! Call now at (218) 387-1070 or toll free at 1-(800)-473-9847!                                                                           

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the north woods spirit of our “freezing over” moon!


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 31

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At the time of this Gunflint news scooping, the upper Trail has just come off a swell week of warmer-than-normal weather. More specifically, it’s almost been too nice as we’ve had barely a smidgen of rain, and the forest is pretty much a dangerous pile of dry leaves and brush. Every resident and user of this territory should exercise care with regard to any burning.                                                           

With ghosts and goblins in the offing, everything seems to be in readiness for chapter 11 of 2014. Leaves are down and neatly windrowed along roadsides by the breezes of passing vehicles. This natural order is the advent of soon-to-be snowplow turnings. Tamarack needles have sifted to earth and “getting ready for winter chores around this place are completed. About all I see left to be done is Mother Nature” sending the bears off to slumber.                                                                                                                                   

So we’re off into what our Ojibwe neighbors call the month of the “freezing over” moon. We know our sweet fall days are numbered come November. That in mind, folks are reminded to “fall back” with their clocks before retiring on Saturday evening. Yep, we’re going back to standard time early Sunday morning. Enough of this manmade twisting time nonsense!                  

Another bear incident has been brought to my attention. This time the growly culprit became enraged and attacked a dog over in the Loon Lake neighborhood. This attack seems rather unusual as most barking dogs will send a bear readily up a tree. Perhaps this scenario involved a cub, thus provoking a protective Momma. I’m told the midsized canine was chewed up quite badly. In a frantic attempt to save the dog, its owner chanced a difficult shot during the battle. He fortunately dispatched the bear without hitting his pet during the melee.                                                                                                                                                                                         

At this writing, the dog, named Ike, is in a difficult recovery mode back home in Duluth. Ike has no broken bones, but his hide is sutured up like a hand-stitched quilt. Best of luck to Ike and his master, as the hope is for no infections from the wounds.

As we celebrate this night of sometimes eerie happenings, folks are reminded of the wicked snowstorm that did in Halloween back in 1991. Longtime Gunflint residents will forever remember the 40-plus inches of white that buried sections of the territory 23 years ago this weekend. The storm goes down in infamy as a trick that was no treat! 

A trip last weekend back into the mayhem of metro America once again affirmed why so many folks cherish this area as a place of revival and renewal. The Smiths enjoyed a special time with family near the metropolis, but we we’re soon to realize once again how great this area can be. When we returned to the pristine peace as we headed home down the Mile O Pine, there was no human hubbub, only a welcome of wind whispering greetings through the pines and ripples giggling against the shore. 

Too many people and too many vehicles, all in a hurry to only the Lord knows where. And we call it civilization! In this neighborhood, the often lonesome roar of a chain saw or hum of a wood splitter offers solace to the soul far surpassing the uproarious clamor of a world seemingly gone mad. Hurrah for the quiet of border land!

As we enter into this month of bounteous celebration and Thanksgiving, the first order of business is radio revelry at WTIP. The fall membership drive kicks off next Thursday, November 6.    

Themed “Many Thanks,” it’s a time when the abundance of community radio programming is honored by pledging to support this ever-expanding North Shore asset. This time, it’s a two-fold time to give thanks, both for those who make the day-to-day operations happen, and to those who have fiscally bolstered the efforts for many years. What a team for which to be thankful!

Our national pastime (baseball) has drawn down, but everyone in the WTIP universe can make another hit for the season by re-upping with a financial promise starting late next week. The fund raising effort runs through Monday, Nov. 10.                                                                                                                               
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the sounds of silence in the woods!

(Photo by zoomyboy on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 24

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Pre-winter has been playing tag with autumn since our last meeting. The upper Trail has experienced samples of both, with snow and cold sandwiched in between a few great days. Yours truly actually made a winter declaration last Saturday.

My self-established criteria for declaring such is realized when the daytime temp at Wildersmith fails to rise above the freezing mark.                                                                                                                                                 

Although things turned for the better a day later, the first snow that stuck around here lasted throughout the day and into the next evening in spite of midday sunshine. And in shaded areas, ice on deck boards and in a bird watering shell told of the chill.  Thus, my pronouncement!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

The Friday night/Saturday morning wind-driven snow all but finished the leaf fall in most places with only tamarack needles still clinging to their summer perches. We’ve advanced to the haunting time of year when uncountable deciduous skeletons are lurking overhead.                              

Now we can see into the depths of the forest for the first time in a few months.  It looks as if those scraggy branches could reach out and whisk one off into this muted eerie thicket. How appropriate that Halloween time is sneaking into the shadows.                                                               

One of the many bears of the territory came back to Wildersmith in the past week. I don’t know whether or not it was the same one I ran off Sunday before last.                                                            

Whatever the case, this time Bruno snuck into the yard while we were away and apparently became belligerent at finding no munchies around. The grumpy one attempted an ascent into one of my apple trees and in so doing broke off a sizeable portion, probably for maybe no good reason other than to get even with me. There was not one apple produced this season to tempt its sweet tooth.                                                                                                                               

This episode is just one of countless other damaging encounters along our Gunflint south shore this fall. One gal tells of tossing a skillet at one of her brawny visitors, hitting it in the head, only to have it turn and hiss at her before ambling off. Other stories have been shared of doors and windows being torn open, refrigerators being overturned and several places ransacked.                                                                                                                                                                 

Guess we can consider ourselves fortunate as bear visitations have not turned into dangerous people confrontations. To encourage our marauding sloths to turn in for their long winter’s nap, we need some serious cold!                                                                                                                                                               

During my recent rambles around the territory, I’ve had occasion to see a number of snowshoe hares. All have been caught in early stages of seasonal re-dress. Most look as though they’ve pulled on white socks or in few cases, the more advanced have just slipped into their PJ bottoms. I don’t know if this wardrobe exchange is early or not, but this lagomorph transformation is intriguing.                                                                                                                                                                   
I recently read of another old wives tale in regard to winter weather prognosticating. The source gives notice that increased activity of spiders seeking indoor quarters is a sure sign of a bitter cold winter ahead.                                                                                                                                                                           

At Wildersmith, it seems as though we’ve had an inordinate number of spiders creeping around the place so far this fall. That being the case, we’ll see if the arachnids’ connection with forecasting has any substance. Since human forecasters are offering a much different prediction for this part of the country, we’ll assess the spinner projection come spring.                                                        

In the meantime, it would seem hard to match our previous season siege.  Remember we had nearly 100 days where the Wildersmith morning mercury registered below zero, brr!                                                                                                                        

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the peace of a region gone quiet!

Snow Buntings

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 17

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As I forecast last week, some swell sunny days have sprung forth from the leaden skies of our first two weeks in month 10. However, here we are at the midpoint and October is already showing the wrinkles of middle age.                                                                                                                
The last of those buttery birch leaves are barely hanging on, while other leaflets having already reached earth are crunchy as a fresh box of Wheaties. Among the coniferous part of the forest, previous years’ white and red pine needles have ceased their blanketing of the forest floor, but we have yet to see the usual dose of white cedar fronds adding their texture to the browning landscape.                                                                                                                                          

Meanwhile, those delightful tamaracks are stealing the show in the final act of Mother Nature’s autumn tinting extravaganza. As the foliage of 2014 takes a final bow, it’s only right these lacy creations should top off the layering process with their feathery down.                                                                                                                                                                              

The first substantial freeze whitened roof tops in this neighborhood last weekend. It seemed appropriately untimely, as our coldest morning was the one chosen to bring in the Wildersmith dock.                                                                                                                                         

Nevertheless, with visible puffs of breath, my good neighbor, his son and my dear wife took to the task. The contrast between assembly last spring with water temps in the high 30s and rippling liquid up to my chin was noteworthy. This time the H2O hovered at 52 and was not more than waist deep, due to the seasonal outflow headed to Hudson’s Bay.                                                                                                                                                                                       

While still in the water task mode and clad in my wetsuit, wildfire sprinkler systems were retired from service for the coming winter. Both jobs well done and checked off the getting ready for winter list! Now it’s time for less critical preparations as we make ready for enhanced cool down, let her freeze! By the way, not to raise anyone’s ire, I did get the snow blade put on my pusher!                                                                                                                                                        

Guess I must have spoken too loud last week about the big bear who’s been visiting many Gunflint Lake residents but avoiding the Wildersmith neighborhood. No sooner had last week’s column hit WTIP airwaves than a gal living up the hill behind us let me know the ravenous critter had paid a visit to her place overnight. My how word gets around on the moccasin telegraph!                                                                                                                                                              

She shares that the big fellow did a job on the door to a seed storage facility before she dispatched it with some harsh words and banging racket. It may be pressing my luck but at this scribing, our place has been passed by and the welcome mat is not out!                                                  

Oops, I boasted too soon!  The big guy or maybe one of its kin attempted a little trespassing up onto the deck last Sunday evening. I had a brief discussion with the burly one and fired a couple shots into the air to assure him I meant business in regard to being an uninvited guest. Tail between its legs, the shadowy beast scurried off into the darkness.                                                     

Speaking of critters which are more tolerable, the Gunflint winter welcome wagon has hit the Trail. Flocks of snow buntings have been seen gathering in several roadside locations during my weekly treks up and down the Trail. Up to their usual tactics of exploding right in front of one’s vehicle, I’ve already been startled on a couple instances by an eruption of their little white rumps fluttering happily off into oblivion.                                                                                                             

I haven’t heard many reports of grouse hunter successes, but if they’re not bagging any, it’s not because there are no birds. I see plenty of the quirky unassuming chicken birds at almost every turn of my head along any number of back country roads. The past hatching season must have been a productive one for coveys of this much sought after game bird.                       

On a final note, if you haven’t made a trip up to check out the Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center during the summer, time is running out. The facility will be closing for the season after this coming Sunday. It will be your last chance to view the wonderful temporary exhibit of Gunflint butterflies, skippers and moths. Don’t miss this special display, along with a chance to do some early holiday season bargain hunting in the gift shop.                                                                                                        

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the accents of October along the Gunflint Trail!

(Photo by Daniel Arndt on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 10

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Just past the full, “falling leaves” moon, the upper Gunflint territory has experienced a typical month 10 atmosphere. We’ve had more clouds than sun, more wind than calm and more cool than warm. So when the sun peeks through and offers some warming rays, it sure has been welcome.
With enough rain to keep things damp, some parts of the Trail even experienced a sneak preview of the season to come. Yep, biting northwest winds and snow squalls last Saturday had many of us thinking about pre-winter chores yet to be completed. A few places saw some of the white stuff stick, but a day later the wet fluff was pretty much history.
Nevertheless, one would expect additional nice days before the polar express whistles its arrival. Hopefully, my final “getting ready for winter” tasks will be checked off by the time snow shoveling and pushing become the norm.
A trip up or down the byway Trail finds our golden torches rapidly dimming. The glory of sunshine in the tree tops has faded into falling autumn leaves over the past seven.
The annual theatrics of dancing leaves has taken center stage and is now showing at every curve and undulation of the blacktop. Whether prompted by a gasp from Mother Nature or aroused by a passing vehicle, the fallen tokens are skittering here and slithering there into perhaps their eternal resting place along this paradise pathway.
As fall grows closer to winter, many upper border country folk recall the good old-fashion pasting we got not too many moths ago. And most are wondering what might be coming down the pike.
Whatever one’s opinions might be about last winter, Mother Nature’s north woods world apparently had some good come out of the frosty whiteout experience.  Recently, a fellow working for the DNR trapping gypsy moths throughout Cook County and parts of Lake County was on the Mile O Pine checking those little green boxes hanging in the woods.
He related to me that he was finding very few egg masses anywhere. In fact, his findings from this past season have numbered less than 100, in comparison with 2013 when some 20,000 plus were found throughout search territory. Opinion thus far indicates that the over-powering cold of last winter must have frozen them out. If this can be confirmed scientifically to be the best possible answer, hurrah for cold and bring it on!
On another creepy crawler note, after early spring reports of bad tick situations for some locales, I’ve heard little to nothing from midsummer on with regard to the nasty things. Perhaps I’m not in the right place to hear such gripes, but then again, maybe old man winter did in some of these infectious critters too! Should all of these Bugsy happenings be true, we shouldn’t be looking down our nose so harshly at the great white fellow of the north.
It’s been reported by a resident down at the end of our Mile O Pine that a bull of the moose variety has been hanging out. I’m told the big fellow was rooting about this guy’s yard leaving evidential aroma of his romantic intentions for any wishful female coming into the area.
The fact that he has been in the neighborhood would indicate he knows of potential for amorous happenings in just a couple weeks. Since the white tail population has diminished considerably over the past few years, perhaps we’ll see a little expansion of some moose madness in this neck of the woods.
A monster Bruno has been reported in several places along Gunflint Lake. The marauding critter is no doubt nosing out whatever edibles mankind has carelessly left out. As a prelude to turning in for a long winter’s slumber, the bear is leaving no garbage can unturned. Yours truly is thankful it has not found its way into the Wildersmith neighborhood, shhh.
The tragic fatal accident of the past week on the Trail serves as a reminder that those slow down warnings at various curves in the road are there for good cause. We Gunflint residents are saddened by this happening and extend condolences to the family for their lost loved one.           

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor our changing times!

(Photo by Al_HikesAZ on Flickr)


Grouse by Richard Minnick of Hungry Jack Lake

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 3

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The Wildersmith two are back on the Trail. It’s great to be home after a swell visit with our daughter in Iowa. The return brought us into a simply stunning trip up the Gunflint Byway. Mother Nature has one-upped her effort of last year in regard to the seasonal color show. I know this is supposed to be a Minnesota Viking state, but one would sure have to think again as to the natural color scheme out this way. With nearly 60 miles of aspen and birch gold set against the vast green coniferous backdrop, the landscape certainly leads one to think Packers green and gold, ha, ha.                                                                                                                                    

The few sugar maples existing in this part of border country have seen their leaves drip to this earthly place so the orange and red tones are gone, but golden hues are mushrooming day by day. The brilliant yellow tokens, tunneling the Trail and lining sawtooth hills and valleys, create the lush effect that old Sol is sitting in the treetops. It would seem you could almost reach up and grab a handful of sunshine.                                                                                                                                                                

To match the wonder of this glowing time, the territory has been blessed with some spectacular Indian summer days during the final week of month nine. The daily segments up through last weekend couldn’t have been better for folks to get out and enjoy this short but unequaled time of year.                                                                                                                                              

The area has been a leaf peeper’s delight!  It’s somewhat disheartening that this beautiful season is so short-lived. We are only days from being deluged with the flakes of fall. Past years’ needles and leafy tokens of 2014 are already departing their lofty summer positions along the Mile O Pine to softly blanket our forest floor. Yet, there’s beauty in this happening too, as the new carpeting provides a mellow, natural woodsy makeover.                                                                                                                                                                     

To take things a step further, short as our color show can be, the beauty of winter up here doesn’t take a back seat to this special prelude, as it is glorious in its own right. So all we northlanders have to do is remember, reflect and look forward to the next day, because something extraordinary is bound to capture us. Enjoy the hues now as we might be seeing white by mid-month, this of the “falling leaves” moon. We just can’t lose!                                                                        

There’s a possible message in my frosty prognostication, considering the unending flocks of Canadian honkers taking advantage of these great flying days. At least six wedges of the noisy commuters flew over Wildersmith last Sunday.                                                                                                                   

Speaking of other airborne avian, a leaf peeping tour with friends earlier this week found a couple of gorgeous white swans sitting on the waters of Swamper Lake. We were far enough away that it was difficult to discern whether they were of the Tundra or Trumpeter varieties. It’s most likely they were Tundras, as their flyway sometimes allows stopping over this area while en route to the mid-eastern coast.                                                                                                                         

Later in the tour, we had the rare pleasure of observing a handsome grouse in full plumage. This dapper fellow was touting his percussion skills in front of three ladies of the woods along a back country road.  His stately fanned tail feathers were something to behold.                                                                                                                       

A few weeks back, I shared about a colony of snowshoe hares hanging out around our place. Almost no sooner had those words been uttered, and the moccasin telegraph heard me calling, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”                                                                                                                         

Word sounded through the woods, apparently to be picked up by some interested felines. A friend down the road has since called to let me know a couple lynx had been carousing about his yard. So I’m guessing these cats of Canadian vintage are having visions of “wabbit” dinner. Apologies to my wiggly nosed friends, so to speak, for letting the cat out of the bag.                                                                                                                                                                         

I was advised by a couple fisher folks, who were recently dipping a line on the north Shore of Gunflint Lake, that their catching attempts were interrupted by a quartet of north woods comics. Somewhere between shore and the Canadian Island, four curious otters came out from a cove and proceeded to investigate these visitors.                                                                               

The foursome entertained for several minutes with their usual jovial antics of bobbing up and down while executing aquatics skills.  The weasel kin eventually swam off in quest of their own catching fortunes.                                                                                                                                               

Otter sightings are not unusual, but it had been a long time since these observers had seen any, so it was a wild neighborhood treat revisited.                                                                            

Keep on hangin’ in there, and savor an October to remember!


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 19

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Another week has passed along the Trail as we inch ever closer to autumn’s equinox. Samples of what’s ahead in the atmosphere were observed during the past seven days.
Although it did not happen in some places throughout the territory, there was enough cold in the air on a few mornings at Wildersmith to nip our deck-side tomato plants. If the frost-tempered air wasn’t cold enough, yours truly witnessed the first white flakes of the season on one of those mornings of week two.
Our early cold evenings even prompted a fire in the wood stove. Plus, on a couple of my daily midweek mail runs, the smell of wood smoke permeated my senses. There’s a certain wilderness magic in a wood-fired aroma harkening back to life’s simpler times.
Even as we warmed somewhat into early this week, damp gray November-like skies and brisk winds did not serve to warm the soul too much. So, I bade the cool experience welcome by brewing up a nice batch of corn chicken noodle soup. Yes, there’s a magic in that too!
Entering the third week of the month, area lake temps are in steady descent. The reading dock-side here on Gunflint’s south shore stood at 58 degrees last Sunday. That in mind, the climatic snapshot of border country is becoming clearer by the day. A side note to this is that the cold liquid is nearing a time when there is immediate hypothermia danger, so watercraft users beware and be safe.
While precipitation has been scant over the past seven, a combination of cool air, clouds and less powerful sunshine has kept the forest floor sodden. This has set the stage for fallen leaves to begin their musty process of decay, inevitably lending itself to that captivating smell of fall in the forest.  I’m getting whiffs of enchantment already!
There’s a growing blush to the maples along our Mile O Pine pathway. While a few of them have made the full transition, most are adding a little scarlet twinkle daily. This area might be fully flashy by the time this scribing hits the air waves this weekend.
Further signs of these colorful times are being noted. More area snowbirds have taken wing southward, as are true avian flocks. It must be making ice somewhere north of here as Canadian geese have been wedging in a southerly direction too. I observed two airborne V’s honking low overhead since our last airwaves meeting.
Attention, all pre-used stuff seekers. What may be the longest garage sale on the planet opens this weekend. By longest, I imply from the initial bargain site to a last stop bartering opportunity. It runs somewhere around 22 miles.
Plan to head up the Gunflint Trail either this Saturday or Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Signs will lead you to the treasure you’ve probably been looking for. There’ll be many stops between Clearwater Lodge (mid-trail) and the end at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters, so don’t miss it!
An incident of illegal refuse dumping is being investigated by county law enforcement and the USFS. The episode happened on USFS land at the Cross River brush pile site during the past couple weeks. Many items of junk and garbage were found by Forest Service employees in the area, which is only intended for public disposal of Firewise brush clean-up.
While this current investigation continues, all users are reminded any illegal dumping in this area will prove to be more costly (in fines) than if unwanted goods are appropriately disposed of with local haulers.
One of our north woods pioneer connections recently departed this heavenly place to one higher up. Word has been received on the passing of Norbert “Norbie” Mayer. Norbert was the son of Lydia and stepson of Art Nunstedt.  The Nunstedts and family were builders and original owners of the Chik-Wauk Lodge and Resort, now maintained as the Chik-Wauk Museum. Condolences are extended to surviving members of the family from his beloved Gunflint/Grand Marais community.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a fall fling along the Gunflint Trail!

(Photo by Chlot's Run on Flickr)


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 12

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Who would have thought that I’d be scribing a weekly news column following my retirement fifteen years ago? Even more remote is the fact I’d still be doing such going on thirteen years later. And likewise, further removed, I’d be heard through the marvels of cyber space and radio waves!
Bottom line, this is a personal celebration for having been blessed with a great opportunity to get to know so many wonderful people during this weekly Gunflint journey.  Reporting the goings-on in this marvelous piece of creation has offered many cherished moments. Thanks go out to all the encouraging well-wishers and many who’ve also shared a snippet about life’s happenings out this way.
As month nine advances into its second segment, pre-fall enrichment continues. Each passing day presents an advanced image on our landscape canvas. Yes, September is calling!
The first Aspen leaves are trickling earthward, fireflies and most butterflies are gone, we’re hunting bears and grouse, white tails are refashioning their coats, moose are becoming amorous, hummingbirds have intensified their nectar stops and I know of one fellow having already put up his deer stand. Yes, September calls!
The essence of Gunflint in autumn is unavoidably refreshing! It’s hard for yours truly to fully grasp whether the actual adventure of a seasonal change has seized me, or is it the nostalgic rhythm of color, textures and aromatics that is so uplifting.
If one is not in the mood for fall just yet, a trip down any Gunflint back country road during the next couple weeks will have one humming a September Song before you can return to the Trail blacktop. Too bad this bouquet we call fall (Tagwaagin in Ojibwe lore) can’t be bottled up for safe keeping and used during those less than awesome times.
Speaking of stashing the essence of fall, many are in the final stages of preserving our north woods wild berry bounty. Gals down the road have been busier than “proverbial beavers,” putting up jar after jar of jams, jellies and fruit flavored salsas.
Likewise, canning specialists are boiling up the best of what this cool growing season has yielded from the garden. And, that is not too much I’m told. I see plenty of green tomatoes having to be fried as opposed to making red before frost.
Aside from the cold dilemma for domestic gardening, conditions have provided for a wonderful growing season in the natural kingdom. Most trees, of which I can see the tops, have added nearly two foot of new growth. Meanwhile the territory is well into that time when mushrooms of all colors, shapes and sizes are just exploding. I’ve never seen so many varieties in my short time here in the forest.
So much for human preparations, as fall unfolds the “wild neighborhood” critters are busy in the stashing mode, too. Rodent varmints frequenting the Wildersmith yard have planted so many seeds I wonder how these nutritional nuggets will ever be found once our white blanket is in place. They must have either terrific smellers or immense memory capacity. 
In recent weeks, a colony of snowshoe hares has established a provincial settlement around our place. This is the first time I’ve seen so much hopping activity hereabouts. Chances are their presence could mean some rare Lynx visits when winter’s on deck. Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!
I’ve been hearing several stories about the woodchuck populous fattening up on whatever they can find and wherever they can find it, from domestic flowers on household decks to unprotected garden goodies. Guess all creatures of the universe see the light’s been turned on in the winter cabin down the road and we’d better be ready.
I’m deep into thinking of winter readiness. I’ve happily finished putting preservative on five property buildings, am contemplating when too shore the boat lift and dock, stacked winter burning debris, whacked weeds for the final time and cut back some of summer's out-of-control undergrowth. And, as the old 1970’s tune from the Carpenters’ declares, “we’ve only just begun.”
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor this precious life along the Trail!

(Photo by chotda on Flickr)