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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: July 4

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More summer character crept into the upper Gunflint territory over the past week. The mercury, along with some nasty humidity, ascended to near 80 in places up the Trail.
However, the misery was short-lived with a front of thunder, lightning and brief heavy rain late in the past weekend.  I guess that Mother Nature’s fireworks might have been a prelude to our big birthday celebration of the next few days.
Our month of the “halfway moon,” as it’s noted in Ojibwe lore, finds this beautiful place on fire with floral blooms. A trek out the Trail is nearly blinding with an array of both native and non-native buttery yellow blossoms. Added to the blacktop’s golden edging are splashes of snowy daisies and orange hawkweed, an occasional clump of blushing wild roses and last, but not least, lupine spires of multiple purple shades, all of which will satisfy anyone’s rainbow cravings. One can’t help but gasp at this radiant spectacle!
Speaking of blossoms, those of the berry species are right on schedule in spite of their late start. Fruits of the forest are flowering abundantly in prelude to providing treats for the sweet tooths of the region, including the wild, and us not-so-wild, beings.
The wildlife throughout our surrounding forest often causes me to wonder what they might think about us two legged critters. Do they wonder about us, as we do them? I know that they see us when we don’t see them, but are their wheels a-turning like ours during the countless times we view them with wonder and amazement?
It’s unusual when some resident or visitor doesn’t mention an animal observation that has captured their fancy. A while back, a gal living over on Hungry Jack Lake shared a leisurely walk with a neighborhood fox. She spotted her soon-to-be furry companion at the side of the road just ahead. Stopping, it came trotting over to her, not showing any apparent concern. It was so close she could have touched it.
As she walked on Mr./Ms. Fox disappeared into the bushes, but the lady could hear it moving around as her stroll continued. Soon out it came and trotted in front of her up the lane. Nearing her cabin, the fox just sat down. As she neared where the red critter was sitting, it came back to her once again.
It became apparent that this animal had been habituated by one of us, and approached her thinking it could get a handout. With hunger pangs not being satisfied, it casually decided to move on and headed off, probably disappointed.
This wilderness occurrence is one of perhaps dozens where we happen into the uncharted realm of pseudo pet-hood with a wild neighborhood critter. Oftentimes in our exuberance over getting an up-close experience in the wild, we could be setting up these wonderful creatures for failure during tough times of their life. Although this lady enjoyed the experience during her walk, she was careful to let it go, not creating another unexplainable moment for the fox during its journey.
Another episode up toward the end of the Trail found a bear visiting a fellow’s deck one evening. Storming out with a tirade of loud and less than welcoming words, the uninvited visitor would not scram. After a brief eye to eye stare down, the cabin owner decided this wooly creature was apparently not uncomfortable with a human nearby.
In the end, the cabin owner retrieved his shotgun from inside. After a couple blasts into the air, Bruno came to understand that it was not wanted and left without incident.
This bear might never have grown comfortable with mankind were it not for someone’s either voluntary or involuntary actions. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the creatures were here first, and survived well for eons before our intrusion. Our willingness to be kind must be tempered into not creating a prospect of dependency for animals in the northern kingdom, particularly when they are bigger, run faster, climb higher and bite harder than us.
Celebrations of the summer season continue after a delightful open house /shrimp boil last Sunday for the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center, put on by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. A fantastic turnout enjoyed the simply great food along with much social interaction. Thanks go out to the organizers and all attendees.
Next week at this time, WTIP will be in the midst of its summer membership drive. The theme of this celebration is, it’s a “North Shore Experience.” Excitement commences next Thursday July 9, and all involved with this outstanding broadcasting venture encourage joining the family of listener-supporters as either a new or renewing member.
Then the following week finds attention focused on the Gunflint Trail Canoe Races. This long running event will be held Wednesday, July 16 on the waterfront at Gunflint Lodge. Food, fun, prize drawings and races will be running nonstop from 4 p.m. until the gunnel pump race near sundown. This is the granddaddy of summer celebrations on the Trail, with all proceeds going to the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire and Rescue Departments.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor America’s birthday in Gunflint, adventure land!

(Photo by bzd1 on Flickr)

Black Bear

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 27

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Life along the Gunflint is generally leisurely and laid back. It can be a time for R & R regardless of whether one is a full-time resident or a weeklong visitor. Nevertheless, the sands of time are passing us on into the second half of the year ’14 at an unbelievable pace.
We’ll be checking off June in a few more days, and are headed to the Independence Day holiday after which many declare that summer is half over. The thought of that seems hard to reconcile when summer is officially only a week old as I scribe this week’s Gunflint scoop.
The atmosphere up the Trail continues a bit on the lesser side of normal. Not that I’m complaining, but the clouds and rain seem relentless. Thankfully, this area has not been deluged like other places around Minnesota. We’ve had just enough to keep the streams and rivers gushing merrily, river system lakes holding at stabilized levels and wildfire potential in the low to moderate range.
Meanwhile temperatures have been comfortably cool, right on, for me and the moose.  Outside of Old Sol (who can be a beast this time of year) being in absentia on most days, the past seven in Gunflint Territory have been fresh and good as they can get.
The black bear population out this way seems to have burgeoned into an uncountable number over the past couple years. About everyone I talk with recently has had a bear episode to share.
We find the Brunos up to their usual antics of satisfying insatiable appetites while waiting for our berry season to come on. By the way, a statement has been made in regard to a blueberry prediction. It’s been said, that on a scale of one to 10, the crop may be an 11 considering the timely moisture and horrendous crop of black fly pollinators.
One such growler story came from a local excavation worker who came to lunchtime with an equally voracious hunger. It seems he opened his hatchback and dug out the lunch box, leaving it exposed while he ran a brief errand (a matter of scant minutes) to another place on the site.
Guess the bear was watching all the time, and when the opportunity presented itself, Mr./Ms. Bear snatched the cooler box and made off into the woods. Returning, the stunned fellow didn’t know what to think, so a search was set in motion. After a time of tramping around the territory, the missing food container was found. The box was chewed considerably, and missing, of course, were the contents. The bear even topped off sandwich selections by drinking the guy’s bottle of bug dope.
In another incident, a couple from over on Loon Lake report that their neighborhood bear helped itself to half of a 55-gallon compost barrel in one night’s sitting. Then the critter returned the next night to finish it off. Anyone who does composting knows that this stuff does not give off the most appetizing aroma. One has to believe that this wild garbage collector might have had a heck of a bellyache for a few days, and oh, talking about bear breath, wow, this had to be bad!
Folks out this way who try gardening know that if it’s not deer or snowshoe hares, woodchucks can be enemy number one. A gal tells of a fox who has assisted her gardening efforts by working at reducing the ground hog population around her place.
On one particular morning, the fox came into her view carrying a deceased young chucker in its mouth. Not too unusual, except the fox took the lunch fare and laid it beside another from a previous hunting excursion. And, as if two weren’t enough, it headed back for another.
One has to wonder if this wasn’t a momma fox with youngsters to feed. If such was the case, it must have been easy pickins with an apparent absentee mother woodchuck. She was probably out ravaging somebody’s garden/flower patch in order to also feed her own. It’s a sometimes sad, but vicious cycle for members of the Wild Neighborhood.
For a little people news, a reminder is passed along in regard to this weekend’s “Tending the Trees” project. Volunteers should plan to arrive by 10 a.m. Saturday at the End of the Trail Campground boat landing. Come prepared for outdoor work in the dense underbrush as re-forested tree saplings are to be released from their competitive vegetation surroundings.
Work will be conducted along the Seagull Nature Trail under direction of USFS and Gunflint Scenic Byway Committee personnel. For additional information, call Rich Kujawa at 387-3768, but don’t wait too long, the event is here and now!
A second notice is for the “celebration of summer” open house at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center this Sunday. Organizers are putting on a “shrimp boil” lunch from noon until 2 p.m. Plan to make a day of it with a visit to the museum and perhaps some hiking on the many trail system opportunities. Of special note is the fantastic temporary museum exhibit of Butterflies, Skippers and Moths.
Keep on hangin’ on and savor, Mother Nature’s Gunflint offerings!

Strawberry Moon

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 20

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Weather’s been nippy and wet over the past few days, but that’s how it is out this way sometimes. It sure beats 80 and humid, and makes one really appreciate those bright blue segments.

Our wet part has both a plus and minus to the atmospheric mood. On the minus side, it’s enabling more available open water for mosquito propagation. The good news is that the cool wet forest is keeping fire danger at low ebb.

On another positive note about wetness, the forest is unbelievably lush. If green is good, this place is heaven right now. The timberland is showing off an array of quaking new leaves along with candles of next generation branches on the coniferous species. It’s so captivating watching the candle-like luminaries grow into needle-covered limbs as summer meanders by.

Every Gunflinter has been wishing so hard for summer to come following our six hard months of winter. After tomorrow morning’s solstice, it’s officially here. Sure seems difficult to accept that the current run of long daylight minutes will begin trekking in the other direction once again. We shouldn’t despair though, as we will have many fine days before we begin to notice the decline to any extent.

Our northern nighttimes have been amazingly bright with the “strawberry” moon of last week and only about four hours of actual darkness. Twilight at both ends of the daily transition runs very late and comes out very early.

The Bruno is back in the Wildersmith neighborhood and paid us another deck visit. This time the black critter showed up during daylight hours so we got a real good look.  Happily for yours truly, this guy/gal is pretty much a sissy when it comes to my presence.

When I stormed out to run it off, the bear found itself cut off from its only escape route off the deck. It decided to bail, proceeded to scramble under the safety bracing and eventually fell off the deck after hanging suspended for several seconds. Unscathed by the 10-foot fall, it grudgingly ambled off into the woods.

Gunflint Lodge is the site of the annual North Shore Health Care Foundation BBQ this Sunday, June 22; social hour commences at 4 p.m. with dining at 5. Early reservations are no longer available, but I feel certain those without reservations will be accommodated. Dining entertainment is being provided by Gerald Thilmany of Loon Lake. All proceeds from this yearly fundraiser go to the foundation’s endowment fund.

Next Saturday, June 28, the U.S. Forest Service in partnership with the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway Committee and the Gunflint Trail Association is conducting a “Tend the Trees” day. This event is being put on as a continuing follow-up to the Gunflint Green-up campaign which has been ongoing since the tragic Ham Lake Fire in 2007.

As most will remember, the USFS, many Byway locals and people from all over the state have joined hands each year since the fire to begin reforestation of some 36,000 acres of national forest that were burned during the siege. Some 100,000 trees have been planted since. It’s now time to go back out into the planting areas and “release” the saplings from the competitive vegetation that has grown around and over them.

 The happening on the 28th is a volunteer effort and many are needed to help out. Interested folks should gather at the Trail’s End Campground boat landing at 10 a.m.

Byway committee members and Forest Service personnel will be there to direct workers to the area along the Seagull Nature Trail in need of tending. Workers should bring loppers and/or nippers plus appropriate outdoor wear, sunscreen, bug dope, a sack lunch and water. You can stay for an hour or all day! Please come and tend the trees, they need YOU!

Then the following day, Sunday, June 29, a celebration of summer is being held at the Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center with an open house. From noon until 2 p.m. a shrimp boil will be served as the dinner fare with a free will donation being appreciated.

Attendees will want to visit the museum and get a look at the new temporary exhibit of Butterflies, Skippers and Moths found throughout Gunflint Territory. Visitors are also encouraged to check out the newly released Chik Wauk Cultural Landscape Review.

This is a fabulous historical document about the famous resort from its inception to the present. The book was prepared by the professional historic landscape firm of Quinn Evans Architects in Madison, Wisc., in cooperation with citizenry of the Gunflint community both near and far away.

The day is also an opportunity for Gunflint Trail Historical Society members to re-up and new members to get on board.  And last but not least, why not hike about the site and just get some enjoyment of this magical place in border country?

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor, the sum, sum summertime along the Trail!


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 13

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“June is bustin’ out all over” as the old tune goes, and it couldn’t be more fitting for folks coming to and living in the upper Gunflint Corridor. The time is proper that we’re also busting out with the full “strawberry moon” (Ode’imini Giizis) while completing week two of month six.
More and more of our wilderness earthly treasures have popped up over the past seven days. Just when I thought the forget-me-nots had forgotten us, they have sprung to life. And those delicate moccasin flowers are a-bloom, while the first wild rosebuds of the season are puffing with anticipation.
Further, notice is made of those controversial non-native lupines having sprouted buds along area roadsides. These colorful spires will soon be either a blooming blessing or an invasive curse depending upon one’s point of view.
The lake level on our Gunflint Gal has begun to recede from the spring run-off, and has warmed into the low 50s. Such being the case, yours truly will be able to finish my dock installation.  My first installation exercise was put on hold by too-high water at the jetty’s deepest point. Also water temperatures will no doubt be more conducive than the high 30s when I first attempted the maneuvers on Memorial Day weekend.
Since my last scribing, the Smiths experienced a visitor to our deck that matched the color of the night. Yup, a yearling bear stopped by in search of some easy supper.
I believe it was just making door-to-door checks to see if some foolish folks might have left a bird feeder out. Fortunately for us, he found the trough bare. I encouraged his departure with an obnoxious blast from my blank starting pistol along with a few u-welcome words. Last I saw, it was high tailing off into the dark forest.
Bruno has not been back since, but left a reminder of what it thought about my hospitality by dropping a calling card at the top of my driveway.
The folks over at Cross River Lodge report an uncommon avian hanging out around their facility. There are birds too numerous to name in these parts, but observers don’t remember ever seeing this visitor up this way. I’m guessing the cooing critter has a GPS problem and made a wrong turn on its way to the Pigeon River. Of course, I’m only joking!
It seems this pigeon dropped in a while back and has taken a liking to the easy nutritional fare. The bird could be someone’s pet or perhaps that of a study group as it has been tagged. If anyone in the area has lost their air mail proxy, or knows of how to get it headed in the right direction, they should give Cross River Lodge a call at 218-388-2233.
Not only is the upper Trail celebrating the prospect of summer (Neebing in Ojibwe), Gunflint Community residents will be marking completion of the third and final stage of the Volunteer Fire Department facility enhancement projects. The spiffy new Fire Hall #3 and Seagull Lake Community Center will be hosting an open house/dedication and dinner this coming Tuesday, June 17.
For anyone not familiar with the former fire hall site, the new facility is located in the same locale (at #7 Seagull Lake Access Road, across from the Seagull Creek Fishing Camp). The open house will commence at 4:00 pm to be followed by followed by dinner and a short program. Dinner will be served beginning at 5 pm. The meal, which is free to all, is being provided through the generosity of Upper Lakes Foods with preparation by several volunteer food service masters.
Congrats and thanks to everyone in the Gunflint Community for dedicating themselves and their resources to making these three important fire and emergency facility upgrades a reality! Another great community success story, well done!
On a related GTVFD note, planning is under way for the annual Gunflint Trail canoe races. The event will happen Wednesday, July 16th, again on the Waterfront at Gunflint Lodge.  The call is for all hands on deck by chairman Chris Steele; many volunteers are needed! You can contact Chris at 388-9485. Mark your calendar for this fundraising fun.
Another reminder is made about the memorial service this coming Saturday for Eleanor Matis. The remembrance will be held in the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center at 2 pm. All who knew her are welcome to share in the celebration of her life.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some Gunflint adventures!
 (Photo by Jason Hollinger on Wikimedia Commons)

Fiddlehead Fern

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 6

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It took until June, but the last of winter’s snow cover is now gone along the Mile O Pine. However, we still have some areas of frost in the ground as evidenced by a culvert or two containing ice remnants.
So I’ll close the books on the season that was, with a few winter facts as a sampling of what the northland endured. I qualify these items by saying this data was from the happenings in my neighborhood. Other places in the Minnesota Arrowhead could have had way more or less snow and/or cold, depending on the natural character of a particular location.
Snow accumulation at Wildersmith was 120 1/2 inches. We experienced just shy of 100 days where the temperature was below zero. And we had lake ice from December 8,, 2013 until May 19, 2014. For those of us that cherish winter personality, it was one to behold!
Those chilling facts are behind us now, and the territory has advanced to near full leaf-out stage. Again this week the upper Trail sweltered in a few days of early summer-like humidity. This has brought out the marsh marigolds, dandelions, wild strawberry blossoms and fiddlehead ferns, to name but a few of our ground level perennials.
On a less than happy note, the first wave of mosquitos has taken over with a vengeance, itch, itch, and droves of black flies are clouding my bug net as I begin stacking next year’s firewood. Everyone should be putting out a welcome flag to all bats and dragonflies ASAP!
Our tinder-dry conditions at this end of the Trail were tempered somewhat last Sunday and Monday with some much needed rain, although the amounts at this place were less than overwhelming. With slightly over an inch in my rain gauge, we’re breathing a little easier about fire potential for the time being.
Prior to the rain, yours truly turned on the wildfire sprinkler system (WFSS) as both a test run and to dampen down the crunchy forest floor. I would recommend that everyone who has such a system to be doing the same when these increasing drought-like conditions begin to make you feel uneasy.
As a sideline, running the WFSS system for an hour (one tank of gasoline) on a hot humid evening will greatly surprise you by how it cools down the house and surrounding area, in addition to creating that fire safe umbrella of moisture.
The re-setting of lakeside docks along with launching winter-stored watercraft is proceeding at a steady pace in upper Gunflint lakes, while the human snowbirds continue their gradual return to the woods.
Meanwhile, a couple Bruno returnees have been sighted along the Mile O Pine, and the snowshoe hares observed recently have pretty much completed their summer wardrobe ensemble with now dirty-looking white socks.
And not long ago a local ravens’ nest has taken on an empty look as I watched the young’uns out on a touch and go training flight exercise. They sure grow up fast!
Memorial services are being held at the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center for a couple of long time area residents who have passed from our midst. All are welcome to attend as the upper Gunflint reflects on the lives of these two friends and neighbors.
The first such remembrance is for Dennis Todd. It will be held Saturday, June 7 at 10 a.m. Dennis guided fisher folks out of Gunflint Lodge for some 27 years. He perished in a boating accident late last fall on Lake Saganaga.
The second service is for Eleanor Matsis, a top-notch area educator and also a devoted pioneer employee of the Gunflint Lodge. Ms. Matsis will be remembered on Saturday, June 14 at 2 p.m. Eleanor was a resident of the Care Center in Grand Marais at the time of her passing this past winter.
A couple more notes of interest come from the Cook County Invasives Team (CCIT) and the U.S. Forest Service. The director of the CCIT, Angelique Edgerton, encourages residents with questions and concerns about possible invasive plant species around their home/cabin properties to please give her a call. She would welcome an opportunity to come out for individual visits to both identify and give consultation for eliminating problem invaders. Angelique can be reached at 387-3772.
A timely educational experience is being offered by the Forest Service on dealing with bears. Suzanne Campbell of both the Tofte and Gunflint ranger stations is interested in meeting with area lake property owner groups to share insights on living amongst the sometimes bothersome critters. Sharing in the program will be Mary Manning, a local DNR conservation officer. If your group would like to schedule this event, give Suzanne a call at either ranger station number.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the blooming Gunflint!

(Photo by Robbie on Flickr)

Black Bear

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 30

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Mother Nature turned the lights out on Old Man Winter over the long Memorial Day weekend. Apparently with no regrets, the gal in charge of all things natural advanced the mercury so much as to make us north woods folks forget about spring while we bid farewell to a seemingly short May.
Suddenly we have moved right into summer with some 80-degree readings. The sticky circumstance surely must be silencing the whiners about our long cold season. For yours truly and probably the moose, about two or three days of this nasty heat is enough. Too much more of this heat and my ungulate friends and I will be calling for falling leaves.
Strange as that might seem, the area is barely into leaf out time. There are bulging buds and green tips enough to give the hillside horizons an emerald tinge, but it looks as though we’ll be a good ways into June before the “chlorophylling” process is complete.
Meanwhile, the upper Trail territory has dried out once more with no rain since the dousing of over a week ago. In spite of the snow which had us buried for months, and now is all but departed, the ground cover is bone dry. No, melted snow does not denote the area is safely damp. All we have to show for the meltdown is muck under foot.
The long weekend found the Gunflint a-buzz with pre-summer visitors. Vehicles galore were humming in both directions, most either toting or pulling some type of watercraft. Road traffic eventually terminated at some special water location where both canoeists and fisher people were romancing our crystal lakes.
I must say that it’s been quite a contrast from 10 days ago when we were listening to the crunching of ice shards to hearing the sloshing of foamy rollers against our granite shores. In either case, the scores were and are unmatched rustic orchestrations!
Another beautiful unlikeness was observed by yours truly an evening before our Gunflint Lake ice out. As old Sol was setting over the patchwork of open water and floating ice bergs, a unique mosaic of peach, orange, pink, crimson and purple reflections were cast off the irregular surface, in an awe-inspiring experience.
In comparison, my first observation on the newly opened liquid found Mr. Sunset casting an infrared light bar from horizon to my eye which was superimposed over a rippling royal purple overlay. Talk about natural beauty; the mystique of a border country lake at days’ end doesn’t get any better, regardless of the time of year.
The charm of our wild critters at this time of year is borne out in the new faces of the neighborhood. Such is the case with a momma bear that’s been observed in a number of Gunflint/Loon Lake locations. The big Momma is being accompanied by three wonderful little Teddies. I’m told the family is quite a sight. My suggestion is she and the hungry cubs not be tempted by human carelessness, as she’ll no doubt be very protective.
On another note from the wild, there’s been an invasion of north woods terrorists. First ones I’m noting are ticks. Guess they came through the bitterest winter in years with flying colors. Everyone had hoped there’d be a good freeze out of the creepy monsters, but apparently such is not the case, ick!
Then, along with our first real warmth, the mosquito reconnaissance squadron has invaded. These big guys are not real biters, but just “ GPSing” those of us with blood in our veins for the big onslaught from their hungry cousins.
And, if that isn’t enough, a short Memorial Day stroll along the Mile O Pine found a gang of those black flies lying in the weeds just waiting for this unsuspecting soul. So ‘tis the season, sweat and nets!
One has to wonder what the creator had in mind when these nasty critters were added to the universal listing of all things. I realize that each of these disgusting varmints must play some sort of role in the ecological plan, and skeeters and black flies are nutrition to something up the line. But come on, what being with any sense would eat a tick?
It looks to me that outside of the flies pollinating blueberries and bats eating mosquitos, there is little favorable that can be said for any of our wilderness pests.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a summer song!

(Photo by beingmyself on Flickr)

Oriole in Flight (Geoffrey Gilmour-Taylor / Flikr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 23

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The month of the racing steeds is heading into the home stretch. And yep, here we are  in May’s home stretch with the Memorial Day weekend. And yep, we still have splotches of snow and ice hanging on.
Our upper Trail weather is on the upswing in spite of a couple mornings where we made ice and also had a day of flurries. The good news is our days are actually getting warmer regard- less of the above glitches, maybe not normal but better than last week.
 There’s even better news too, as the area had been void of any moisture for a number of the recent diurnal segments, but an overnight dropping last Monday night into Tuesday morning quenched the bone-dry ground cover and forest brush. Wildersmith received just shy of an inch.
 Many of us residents had been nervous as to the growing wildfire potential. One would think there ought to be an annual automatic burning ban invoked this time of year. Thinking back as a reminder, if such a ban had been in effect in 2007, when it was dry as it has been of late, the 75,000 acre Ham Lake tragedy would likely not have changed lives and scarred the forest for generations to come. The dousing has at least tempered our nervousness for the time being.
            As I began keying this week’s commentary (May 18), many lakes had shed the winter cover. However, the views across Gunflint, Loon and several other area bodies remained clogged with ice.
            Then in the blink of an overnight’s time, the Gunflint decided enough was enough and Loon was close to the same. By daybreak Monday (May 19) only a couple mini Gunflint icebergs were left, slowly advancing toward the east end sandy beach. And by mid-afternoon even they had been swallowed up by the lapping waters.
Needless to say, yours truly is thankful my lake water line didn’t catch one of the big cakes for an unwanted trip as it did last year. As I monitored the long ice dispersal happening and its relationship with my vulnerable water supply, I was nevertheless charmed by the beauty of this ice ending break-up.
Unless one is present in the land of sky blue waters at the right time, you can’t fathom the remarkable shapes and sparkling clarity of these crystal chards. There’s a dab of magic in knowing they started as serene wrinkles on a quiet surface last Dec. 8 and have evolved into monster masses capable of moving huge boulders and crunching anything in their path. No pun intended, but this coming and going of the congealing process is really cool!
            Fishing activity is growing with the opening of more area bodies. Of the big three or four out this way, Seagull Lake has opened first and is seeing several anglers and canoeists. The folks at Tuscarora Lodge share that early season back country enthusiasts are eagerly skimming out over the freshly opened water.
            There are birds, birds everywhere. Some have just returned home (first hummingbirds have been spotted) while others continue passing through. Also have a report of a Baltimore Oriole sighting over on Loon Lake.
            The Smiths had an uncommon visit from a pair of male rose-breasted grosbeaks last weekend. The twosome spent the better part of two days hanging out around here. They were interesting in the fact each found our windows inviting, and did not slam into them as do the local blue jays. Each flew up to the sill, hovered and then perched within an inch of the glass for minutes at a time.
             I’ve got to think they were infatuated with seeing themselves up close. Their heads turned and twisted in all possible directions, examining every angle. Reminded me of the female gender getting dolled up in front of a mirror for a night out on the town!
            With the Memorial Day Holiday at hand, I remind readers and listeners that the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center is opening for year five this weekend. Daily hours are from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. through mid-October.
            I got a recent sneak preview of the 2014 visiting exhibit. This year’s exhibit subject is about some beautiful, but maybe over looked, winged critters from our natural neighborhood. It features a stunning display of butterflies, skippers and moths found in Gunflint territory.
            If you can’t make it this weekend, you still won’t want to miss this onetime featured exhibit along with many other activities and ever-growing history of the Gunflint Trail. Make plans to visit sometime during the summer season ahead.
            Another rite of our north woods Memorial Day weekend celebration is noted over on West Bearskin Lake at YMCA Camp Menogyn. The staff is once again serving up their pancake and sausage breakfast fund raiser. Serving runs from 9 a.m. until noon on Sunday morning.
            Organizers are keeping fingers crossed that the West Bearskin ice will be out by Sunday morning. Plan to meet at the camp dock for a great pontoon ride to breakfast while renewing many Gunflint acquaintances.
            Keep on hangin’ on and savor the Gunflint’s time of rebirth!

Snowshoe Hare (DSikes/flikr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 16

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            With one exception the Gunflint territory has made significant strides in the march into spring over the past seven days. Warmer daytime temps and some timely rain showers have things advancing nicely.
            The one exception I reference is lake ice. Although many shallower bodies of water and a few bays on the larger lakes have turned liquid, the big lakes in the county remain locked up in winter persona.
            This being the case, opening day fishing activity in this part of the state was non-existent to marginal at best. So the upper Gunflint area, as a fishing destination, has marked a second consecutive year where Old Man Winter has ruled.
 Fishing on opening day up here in border country has always had anglers on edge so this happening was not too unexpected. Plus the cold water this time of year is not the most conducive to good luck, but just wait a couple more weeks. There were a few brave souls, however, who put in where possible, and at least one I know of came home with a nice lake trout.
            Speaking of brave souls that do challenge the icy conditions, I’m reminded of a story from yesteryear. It seems the lake ice back then might have been similar to 2014. The subject of this saga decided ice on opening day was not going to deter him.
Donning waders and winter wear, he loaded gear (including an ice auger) into his canoe and cautiously pushed out onto the frozen surface. Testing things, step by step, he advanced until he found a favorable spot, then drilled a hole in the crystal and dropped in his jigging equipment. Sitting back in the canoe, in time he had a strike, and eventually pulled a nice trout up through the icy orifice.
With a fresh laker in his watercraft, equipment was reloaded and step by step, the canoe was ushered back to shore. And then it was supper, fresh from a truly icy lake, in “the land of sky blue waters.” How’s that for a fish story? And what determination!
Shifting gears back to spring, a few snow bird neighbors are beginning to wander back to the northland. And the real snow birds of Minnesota have been circling the skies looking over former nesting quarters for the past week.
I’m talking about common Loons.  A number have been reported searching for their old retreats only to be delayed in some areas by minimal open water. Apparently their internal clocks were not in sync with our lengthy Gunflint winter.
 I was privileged to watch last Saturday as the nesting platform in North Bay (which is now ice free) at Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center was towed into place. It was both interesting and a bit comical to watch the loon pair of that neighborhood.
They seemed as excited as kids in a candy store, skirting the potential nesting retreat as it was launched and then following while it was pulled into position to be anchored off. Within seconds after the towing folks cut loose, the pair was making a “wings-on” inspection of the re-located digs. I assume they found it to their liking.
Spring apparel is being noted on any number of beings from the wild neighborhood. Recently the Smiths spotted a yearling moose that was partway through taking off its now-shabby winter coat.
Then farther down the Trail, we encountered a few snowshoe hares that are in transition to warm weather gear, being almost out of and not quite into their seasonal camouflage. Apparently their feet are the last body parts to make the change, as all were still hopping in white socks.
And last but not least, the red squirrels frequenting our deck are in various stages of un-dress, having partially molted into cooler fur coats.
On another topic for this week, I can’t help climbing onto the old soap box for my annual declaration of disgust with my fellow man. Now that the snow banks are retreating back from the traveled parts of our byways, we observe once more that a certain sector of our society has not grown one iota in respect for our treasured Gunflint Trail view scape.
Unsightly littering of packaging and a sundry of other trash stands out obnoxiously in our barren ditches. I for one say this behavior is totally unacceptable both here and anywhere for that matter. Couple these messes by uncaring masses with the often natural forest mishaps and we find this time of year looking like an ugly duckling following the winter shroud’s exodus.
We humans seriously need to control what we can in regard to the trails we leave and partner with Mother Nature’s green-up to lessen the impact of those not-so-lovely natural accidents.  Then all will be good in this heaven on earth!
In spite of my “soap box” rhetoric, there’s a rebirth of beauty taking hold in them thar  Gunflint hills. The frozen juices of our coniferous forest are flowing freely once again. Evergreens are overcoming their drab winter look with a refreshing twinkle of warm-season greenhood. And in a few weeks, their budding deciduous cousins will “spring” forth with their virescent contribution too. Folks out this way can hardly wait!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the coming of the green!

young rhubarb (Miika Silfverberg/Flikr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 9

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            After one week of month five, the Gunflint Trail territory is slowly growing in spring character. Winter remnants remain in many shaded places, but the majority of our border country landscape is revealing barren brown earth.
            In spite of our improving conditions, the Wildersmith neighborhood received what must have been a final swipe of winter last Saturday evening and then again on Monday morning. Each repetition was short lived, but was enough to whiten the ground as if to remind us that it could likely be a farewell encore!
            Meanwhile lake ice is gradually showing signs of deterioration. The surface in several instances is weeping with melt water on top of ice which may still be more than 2 feet thick. In some places on the Gunflint Gal, the white cover is sporting spots of gray, indicating a start to the rotting process.
            Streams that feed some 1,500 lakes in the county are surging through the watersheds. Those rushing waters will soon be swelling lake levels to the highest point in a number of years. Needless to say, it is uncertain as to whether there will be much open water for the North Country (Minnesota Lakes) opening of walleye season tomorrow (Saturday).  It’s anybody’s guess as to when the big ice cubes will be in liquid form.
            Back country roads, including the Mile O Pine, are deliberately progressing toward improved passage. In the case of our pathway through the woods, drying has taken place where snowbanks have receded back into the roadside ditches. However, we still have several dicey places where ice dams command careful vehicle maneuvering.
Around the Wildersmith yard, some brave rhubarb and a few unidentified green shoots have peeked through the cool soil during the past few days. And a friend from over on Loon Lake tells of scooping away an icy bank near her house to discover daffodils and tulips standing up in the snow.
In the animal world, just as I predicted a couple weeks ago, the bears have come out of winter slumber. Although the folks reporting such have not actually seen any inky brunos, several sources confirm evidence of the usual bear calling cards.
            Many of us year-round residents are already into spring cleanup. It is unbelievable how much comes down out of the forest canopy during the winter. The Smiths have already started two piles of brush for our next winter burning piles. So readers and listeners who are unfamiliar with our three-season year, can see that while we are deep in the middle of mud season, we’re already lapping over into the next northern segment, which is “getting ready for winter.”
            Speaking of other clean-up efforts…with leadership from the folks at Gunflint Lodge, two volunteer crews and a few U.S. Forest Service folks, the seventh annual Gunflint Green-up continued this last weekend. Work was conducted up near the end of the Trail at Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Sprucing up was done to clear hiking trails along with planting of more coniferous seedlings.
            I’m told there is more cleanup to be done on trails around the museum site, especially up on the Blueberry Hill pathway. Any area resident who would be interested in volunteering help with this process should give Kathy Lande a call at 388-2261. Both Kathy and the Gunflint Trail Historical Society would surely appreciate your assistance.
            It was a cool day in more ways than one last Saturday. Not only was the atmosphere cool, but the coolest were nearly 100 runners who took to the 5K and half-marathon course in the Ham Run.
            The day was great for distance runners! And spirits were not dampened by the misty cold elements. Roadside snowbanks lined the Trail in several places and racers were serenaded by babbling waters where creek coordinates encountered the course.
            Another element of coolness was the absence of bugs to terrorize runners, spectators and officials, as has been the case in some years. Guess we can thank Old Man Winter for hanging around in support of all who took part in this wilderness trek. Thanks also go to all the organizing volunteers for making this an awesome event.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the coming of our full “budding flower” moon, a sure sign for all things that grow!

Pussy Willow

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 2

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The Smiths are back on the Mile O Pine after a trek south where we visited kids, grandkids and reconnected with many friends.  I was also a member of the great officiating crew for the 105th annual Drake relays in Des Moines on the last weekend of April.

The Drake event was held under spectacular weather conditions with sun and temps in the mid-70s. I therefore came home with a sunburned face and ears. It was another world from what I left and subsequently returned to. Nevertheless it’s great to be back home in the peace and quiet of our special place on the northern Riviera.
It seemed that Old Man Winter must have been scribing his final lines last week (April 24 and 25) when border country got another dose of snow. Reports I get are that anywhere from 4 to 12 inches blanketed the Trail depending upon one’s locale.

This just has to be the winter guy’s closing stanza. That being said, our total at Wildersmith stands at close to 120 inches for the season. Not bad, huh?

The ice on Gunflint Lake remains firmly in place at this writing and is probably about the same on all other big bodies of water out this way. I do see hope along the Trail, as liquid is standing on most swamps and small ponds that line the corridor byway. While places of open water can be observed flowing under both Brule River bridges down at the trail’s lower end, and the Cross River is roaring in the upper reaches.

At long last pussy willow buds have escaped their winter husks, but May flowers remain buried in snow, quietly awaiting their time in the sun. The hard winter has taken its toll on a great number of coniferous forest members. Our bitter cold months left millions of branches with brown needles. Most will recover when buds send out the next generation shoots but in the meantime the evergreens look like death warmed over.

Thinking mud season would improve as I departed for Iowa on April 16, the return finds our road conditions along the Mile O Pine barely changed. In fact they are worse in a couple locales as the demise of roadside ice dams continues to disperse what appears to be an un-ending ooze of water. I’m guessing I can’t take off my winter wheels just yet. Maybe we’ll be dry in those places by July!

Although winter has not totally relinquished its grip, people out this way are kicking spring off anyway. The first big Trail happening is being held Saturday. The seventh annual Ham Lake Run highlights the beginning of a new season. The 5K and half-marathon events commence at 10 a.m. Saturday from the Seagull Fishing Camp and Gunflint Pines Resort respectively, running on the roadway, finishing at the Seagull Lake parking facility near Trail’s end.

This is a fun event commemorating the tragic Ham Lake Fire of 2007 while celebrating the energy of rebirth in the scarred forest. In the past years, fund raising proceeds have gone to various nonprofit organizations. This year’s returns will go to the Cook County YMCA.
Late registrations can be completed by visiting or call 218-387-3386. If you’re in the area, come on out and give these hardy runners a cheer!

Since it’s now May, plans are well under way for the fifth seasonal opening of the Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Opening day will be Saturday, May 24 (Memorial Day weekend). Hours of daily operation remain from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Staff and museum volunteers are busy getting ready. A new temporary exhibit for 2014 will feature our natural world with a wonderful display of area butterflies, skippers and moths. A new and improved sound system has been installed in the little theater which should enhance a quieter visitor experience. In addition, many new items will be featured in the gift shop.

The Gunflint Trail Historical Society invites you to once again make plans for a visit to this magical place at Trail’s end during the coming season. Make a day of it with a museum tour, a hike on the trails system and maybe a picnic around the bay.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor our trickling streams and the reappearance of brown earth.

(Photo by Marilylle Soveran on Flickr)