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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

Contributor(s): 
Fred Smith
Fred Smith, a native Iowan re-located to the wilderness of border country at the end of the century, has been writing of happenings in the upper Gunflint territory for going on eight years, first with the local paper, and since December 2008 for WTIP North Shore Community Radio. Fred feels life in the woods is extraordinary, and finds reporting on it to both a reading and listening audience a pleasurable challenge. Since retirement as a high school athletic administrator from Ankeny High School, Ankeny Iowa in 1999, the pace of Fred's life has become less hectic but nevertheless, remains busy in new ways with many volunteer activities along the Trail. Listen at your convenience by subscribing to a podcast.


Arts, cultural and history features on WTIP are made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Check out other programs and features funded in part with support from the Heritage Fund.

 


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Superior National Forest Update January 5, 2018

National Forest Update – January 4, 2018.

Hi.  I’m Wendy McCartney, fuels technician, with the first National Forest Update of the year.  The Update is the Superior National Forest’s way to keep you informed on things affecting recreation on the National Forest - road conditions, special events, or news in the natural world.  For a frigid week in the middle of winter, there’s actually a lot going on out there right now.

There’s no doubt that it’s been cold.  On paved well-traveled roads, black ice can be a problem as the water in car exhaust freezes to the cold asphalt and creates a thin layer of glare ice.  Watch out for this on Highway 61, particularly in areas where the road is shaded during most of the day and on bridge decks.  In the Forest though, on our less traveled roads, the cold and snow has actually improved conditions in some areas.  Soft roadways are not a problem right now.  Earlier in the season, we had to close some roads temporarily due to extreme ice conditions, but there has now been enough snow on top of the ice to create a layer with some traction.  This is not to say that you should be tearing down the roads at high speed - there are still plenty of slick spots especially in places where the snow cover has worn through back to the ice.

You won’t be encountering many logging trucks this week.  There’s very little hauling going on right now.  On the Gunflint District, trucks are hauling on the Firebox Road, Greenwood Road, Shoe Lake Road, and Cook County14.  People need to pay particular attention on the Firebox Road as it is dual use with a snowmobile trail.  There’s no scheduled activity on the Tofte District.

This weekend, you may encounter some different kind of traffic.  There are two race events going on January 6th and 7th.  On the 6th, the Norpine Fat Bike Classic is happening on the Massie - Hall Ski Trails and their connector trails.  It is a 24 mile race from the Superior National Golf Course almost to Cascade Lodge and back.  Skiers should be aware of bikers on the trail.  Usually bikers are encouraged to yield to skiers, but this weekend, skiers should have some sympathy for racers and let them roll.  Most of the route is actually groomed for dual use ski and bike this winter, so there should be ample space for both activities. 

The other race is the 100 mile Gunflint Mail Run Dog Sled Race.  This event starts at Trail Center on the Gunflint and runs on trails roughly parallel to the road up to Trails End and back.  The route crosses the road several times, creating plenty of spots for spectators to watch the dog teams.  Drivers on the road need to watch for parked vehicles and pedestrians and follow directions from volunteers at trail crossings.  If you are snowmobiling, be aware that dog teams will be on the snowmobile trail between County 92 and the Blankenburg Pit between 8 am Saturday and 3 am Sunday morning.  Be extra cautious if riding this section.

There’s some wildlife activity out there too.  The annual Christmas Bird Count in Isabella was possibly the coldest one on record.  There were low numbers of finches, redpolls, and pine siskins, but these birds congregate where there is a good cone crop and they were probably just somewhere else this year.  Some birds are actually starting to think spring.  Courtship is starting in our early nesting eagles and owls who could well be sitting on eggs by the end of the month.  And, there are some chickadees starting to sing their spring dee-dee song as our days start to lengthen.

But for now, bundle up, and make sure you’ve got a bucket of winter safety gear in the vehicle.  Enjoy our Minnesota winter and our snowy forest.  Until next time, this has been Wendy McCartney with the National Forest Update.
 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint December 22, 2017

Wildersmith on the Gunflint  -  December 22, 2017          by     Fred Smith

Although the north land has been tinkering with it for several weeks, the winter quartile is now official. The celestial bodies have aligned themselves for the semi-annual solstice signaling the first day of a new season. It’s a time of unmatched beauty in the purest sense regardless of seeming heartless at times.                                                                                                    

Darkness can be an un-nerving thing to many as daylight shows little sense of a warming obligation. Long shadows are casting chill out over the Gunflint gal right now with the sun having reached the end of its’ annual southerly swing.                                                                                                 
Due to our locale near the base of a granite range to our south, at this time of year the sun barely makes a peek over the ridge. With daylight minutes so precious, the AM sun doesn’t rise above the stone rim until nearly ten o’clock, and on cloudy days at Wildersmith, darkness starts closing in about 2:30 in the afternoon.  On some occasions it seems like all day is twilight time. Even on cloudless days “old Sol” just skips along the rocky edge scarcely giving us but sporadic glimpses of his presence.                                                                                                                                                                                                

Such grayness isn’t bothersome to yours truly, but for folks in despair over these oft short gloomy days, better moments are never-ending. It hardly seems imaginable that with one tick of the solstice clock, daylight minutes will be counting up again although barely noticeable for the next couple weeks. Please keep on Hangin’ on and focus on the beauty of this frosty paradise. Sol is creeping back our way.                                                                                                                                                             

Perhaps with “Biboon” (winter in Ojibwe) confirmed on the calendar, the “great spirit of the north” will get more serious about seasonal obligations. Cold forces have been on the downward swing over the past several days, but in spite of clouds hanging heavy with a belly full of snow, the area remains on the short side of the much needed stuff to really jump start the business of our winter customs.                                                                                                                                                  

Whereas the “Zamboni” got cranked up for several days of ice thickening, we could only muster about five to six inches of fluff in this neighborhood since our last meeting. This is hardly enough to strap on the snowshoes or skis or to make a good snow angel. Nevertheless, this meager dropping from the heavens has “re-decked the halls” along back country roads.                     

One doesn’t need a Hallmark card as a reminder of winter elegance. We border country folk just step out the door. In the words of nature photographer, Jacques Dupont, “we see so many ugly man-made things going on in the world, but the splendor of nature is the counter balance,” especially during our time of this frosty magic. All of mankind should be so lucky as to have an appreciation of that for which we have been blessed, but so often take for granted.                                                                                                                                                  
The coming days and nights are of great significance for human kind, celebrating relevant reverent rituals. As folks gather with friends and family, it would be my hope there be a time of reflection on what a mess we continue making for each other. Furthermore, to make a commitment to be less greedy, less self-indulgent and a lot less “selfie” while doing for others, as you would have them do for you.” Do some good, to just be doing some good in a world seemingly going mad!                                                                                                                                                                     

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, with all of us “wild neighborhood” critters, wishing that all your Christmas’ may be white!”                                                                                                                                                                        
Safe travels if you must, and see you next year on the radio, WTIP of course!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint December 15, 2017

Wildersmith on the Gunflint  -  December 15, 2017       by     Fred Smith
The second full week of December found “old man winter” back on the job. Although a suitable delivery of white has yet to be received, a few mini doses have seasonal decorations back in place along the Trail.                                                                                                                                               
Boy, the gritty dry stuff has really made a difference in traversing our glazed back country roads, both on foot and in a vehicle. The gripping power of cold snow is surprising when compared with ice.  

                                                                                                                                         
Territory temperatures have dropped into the real ice making mode. As I started this weeks’ report last Sunday, the mercury has been hovering from just below to barely above zero both day and night.                                                                                                                                                          
Talking of ice making, the lake outside my door succumbed to the still, minus something air and put on her winter coat last Friday night into Saturday morning, the 8th/9th. I’m officially reporting the 9th to the state/ice-on records keeping folks. I’m told ice began sweeping down Gunflint Lake west to east at almost the same hour as Loon Lake to our south late day Friday. At this time, I’m unable to confirm ice on Seagull or Saganaga, but one would have to assume, those lakes went hard water about the same time as Gunflint and Loon.                                                                                                                                        
The Smith’s had gone several weeks since seeing a moose, but such changed as we traveled to Grand Marais a few days ago. We literally didn’t bump into one, but a nice looking cow slowed our trip somewhere in the moose zone around Lullaby Creek. With new snow, guess we might expect to see more out on the black top, sopping up ice and snow melting brine, drivers, beware!                                                                                                                                                          
Recently another chapter in the on-going predator/prey drama happened right on our deck side feeding rail. Two furry adversaries stopped by at the same time, and it turned out not too pretty. One of our marten regulars came by for a piece of chicken while a red squirrel approached for a little seed munching.                                                                                                                  
The ensuing confrontation commenced as the squirrel climbed over one feeding unit and came face to face with the marten. Both startled each other and the marten abruptly changed its menu choice from barnyard fowl to rodent.                                                                                                                                     
A chase took off across the deck with the squirrel eluding capture by leaping into a white pine nearby. It seemed as though the pursuit was over. However, the squirrel apparently had memory lapse and ventured back. This time the saga did not end on a happy note.                                                                                                                                                                                               
Although I did not actually observe the showdown, the marten returned too and must have lain in waiting, nabbing the unsuspecting seed cruncher this time. To make a long story short, within moments of the first chase, I looked out to find a dead squirrel lying on the feeding rail.
Meanwhile, a marten (I assume the same one) leapt from a nearby tree proceeded along the rail, picked up its dinner surprise and dashed off. This fray must have been the ultimate in fast food.                                                                                                                                                                           
Although this was a sad natural happening (with my wife shrieking in squeamishness) it would have been interesting to observe the life or death encounter take place.                                            
A day or so later, we were entertained when a pair of the weasel kin critters stopped by simultaneously. Seldom appearing more than one at a time, these two martens were either romantically involved, siblings or perhaps parent and child.                                                                            
They shared the same feed box leap frogging back and forth over each other while munching the sunflower morsels, then, playfully cavorted around the deck, before fading off into the woods one after the other. I would like to have seen if they were so cordial with each other had a piece of meat been the fare.                                                                                                
Survival is the name of the game in the “wild neighborhood”, an everyday part of life. A fellow down the road shared an experience of such just last Sunday. The scene played out on the recently frozen Gunflint Lake ice.                                                                                                                        
With the newly surfaced international lake access, it was a perfect opportunity for animal traffic. One can only guess which way the meeting came from, but it ended up with a white tail out on the ice and the wolf pack in urgent pursuit. Needless to say the deer was not too effective on the slick surface while the pack had a slightly better grip on things. The end came quick as the venison critter was soon taken down in agonizing fashion.                                                                  
According to the observer, this chase ended in a violent attack. The spectacle was a wretched end of life for one and of life sustaining satisfaction for another, sadly a necessary element in the total scheme of creation.                                                                                                                  Closing on a more cheerful note, with a number of Trail residents included, the annual Borealis Chorale and Orchestra Christmas Concerts were presented last Sunday & Monday.  As usual the chorus and orchestra gave a splendid performance. This amazing group of local singers and musicians is something to behold, most certainly setting the stage for the season where “LOVE IN THAT STABLE WAS BORN.”                                                                                                                                                                          
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where everyday life in the wildland, smacks of adventure and intrigue sandwiched in between earthly peace and quiet!
 

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Chippy in a Pumpkin

Wildersmith on the Gunflint December 8, 2017

Wildersmith on the Gunflint  -  December 8, 2017     by     Fred Smith

With forecasts of new winter things to come, Gunflint weather has remained under the spell of a cold and snow sabbatical. As more of the seasonal character has disappeared, another week of little moisture and minimal cold has we frost loving folks in an out of sorts mood. 
                                          
A couple of positive notes however, have softened the effect during the current northern climate collapse. One of those was the full “little spirit” moon. In fact, the “big Cheese” in the night sky lived up to being called the “super moon.” Perhaps this year, “little” was a misnomer for “his lunar highness.”    
                                                                                                                                                
WTIP listeners have often heard my raves about Canadian sunsets over Gunflint Lake, but never have I gushed about a “moon set.” The scene was reversed last Sunday morning in the twilight hours when I was out doing critter chores.       
                                                                         
A glance toward the western horizon startled me into a gasp when I spotted the “hot orange” sphere as the orb was making its horizon decent. Doing justice to the spectacle finds me without enough descriptors. If others saw this brilliance, weren’t we all so lucky. If you didn’t get to see the setting of this celestial trek, please take my word for it, the show was of moonstruck intensity.   
                                                                                                                                                                
A second item in regard to the on-going downfall of the season northern folk cherish comes with both tongue in cheek seriousness and also a bit of humor. At the Christmas Open House of last Saturday, I was intrigued with stories shared by several residents about their experiences on our ice glazed back country roads. Thankfully, I didn’t hear of any injuries, but for every road or driveway circumstance, everyone has a tale to tell about “escapades on ice”, and how they are coping. My suggestion is to “keep on hangin’ on, things will get better, either with grit assistance from dry snow or spring.”   
                                                                                                                                 
Speaking more of icy adventures, I spoke with a fellow who pulled on his skates a few days ago and hit the ice over on Hungry Jack Lake. Guess for the most part the gliding endeavor was safe, but he did find spots where the hard water enabled seeing the lake bottom.      
                      
Whereas many lakes have several inches of ice enabling ice fishing, there are probably others with un-safe situations. Suggestion, proceed with caution.   

Happenings in the morning twilight hours at Wildersmith have my attention daily.  In the opinion of yours truly, there is nothing to match the energy explosion of each new day in the forest. Particularly, at this time of year when darkness extends past the seven o’clock hour, one can kind of sleep in and still arise in time to catch the wilderness world outside as it too wakes up.     
                                                                                                                                                                                        
As the night shift gang of martens, fishers and flying squirrels have punched out, it seems like “Christmas morning” around here when the day shift comes on. The glee of daylight, warming temps and breakfast has the daytime critters whipped up into a frenzy.  
                                             
It is such a joy to observe them flitting here and darting there as morning conversation clatters with a chorus of squawks, tweets and chatters. I feel like Santa Claus when going out to leave some nutritional tokens and see the little beings perched in line, waiting their turn. The company of the “wild neighborhood” is a never ending adventure. 
                                       
The Gunflint Community was treated to a delightful holiday season kick-off last Saturday night. Huge thanks to the GTVFD for putting on the festive occasion. Decorations were splendid and the food was dynamite. It was such a swell time to meet with friends and neighbors. I’m always amazed to see folks come out of the woods when I didn’t even know they were around.                              
Reports have trickled in telling of moose sightings around the mid-trail zone, episodes of wolf communications and a Lynx observation, all of which might be seen or heard unexpectedly.  Meanwhile, strange weather occurrences often prompt strange animal behaviors. Such is the case where a gal from over on Leo Lake reported the warm conditions have apparently awakened chipmunks around her place. Wonder if this might also have the bears turning over in their slumber? Let’s hope not!   
                                                                                         
And with one more critter tidbit, the same gal mentioned the sighting of a nasty raccoon in her neighborhood.  Boo, hiss, these masked invasives are not the most welcome out here! Guess we’d better alert the wolf/coyote patrol about extermination proceedings.    
                                 
I’m happy to announce the lone seasonal beacon of life in the Gunflint north has been lit!  Thanks to the devoted folks on Birch Lake for lighting up our lives. This twinkling sentinel might be said to reflect a likening to a lone star in the night announcing the birthday of all birthdays! Passing that glimmering tree in the dark of night is a remarkable reminder we are not alone on this journey.   
                                                                                                                                          
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day in the wilderness is great... Blessed are the north woods!
                                                
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint December 1, 2017

Wildersmith on the Gunflint - December 1, 2017     by     Fred Smith

Going into the final scene of 2017, activity amongst us humans is easy going along the Gunflint Byway. It’s the shoulder season for businesses along the Trail while we all wait in anticipation for winter to get fully underway.                                                                                                       
Life is pretty calm as the sands of time trickle toward another new year, but atmospheric things are a happening not to the liking for many of us.       
                                                       
Right after the big turkey day, “old man winter” took a hike, leaving the area in a mire of rainy clouds, drippy roof tops and snow melting to slush. Being under the white pine canopy, the yard around Wildersmith had minimal snow, and what was there is now melted back to autumn brown. Guess we’ll be starting winter all over again. Other places throughout the forest still have a measure of snow, but everything white has taken a beating.  
                                                          
A brief thermometer down tick returned conditions to the ice making mode before spiking up once again over the past few days. This made for slippery going, with backcountry roads, driveways and walking paths in a state of being an accident waiting to happen. So far, the Smiths’ have been cautious remaining in the upright position, but it isn’t easy. I hope the same for others moving about along the Trail.           
                                                                                                                           
With our pronounced driveway incline, I sometimes wonder if the vehicle might be there until spring, should I not be able to negotiate the curvy hill to upper level parking. Actually, getting up the slippery slope is of less concern than coming down. Knowing trees are the only means of halting an uncontrolled slide into the lake, it’s always a “white knuckler” in the absence of dry snow.        
                                                                                                                                     
Whereas a meltdown used to happen about once a season, such situations seem to be occurring with far more frequency over the past few years. With the approaching holiday season in mind, yes “Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” and yes, “Ginny”, “climate change” is becoming a real nag on nature!   
                                                                                                                                                     
One might expect a return to normal “Biboon” (winter in Ojibwe) eventually, but in the meantime, those of us with a zest for snow/cold remain rather subdued. Perhaps the cold, “little spirit” moon, of Sunday morning, can get our “spirit of the north” off his duff and back to work. Maybe a little “snow dance” would add support!                                                                     
A couple of friends were hiking the Lonely Lake Trail and high cliffs above Gunflint Lake last weekend and shivered at an episode of howling wolves. Wonder if the pack might have been beckoning the “old man of the north” to get back on track?    
                                                                                                                                        
The cold season set back is no doubt causing  frustration with business owners as they are gearing up for seasonal activities. In as much as last week, cross country ski tracks were laid in the mid-trail area around Bearskin Lodge, and other trails in the system were being packed. It would appear the now diminished snow pack might be putting prep’s on hold. Meanwhile snowmobilers are also stymied with too little snow to even open their sledding system, and ice making has turned oozy.        
                                                                                                                                                  
On a brighter side of things out this way, residents of the Gunflint Community are reminded of the OPEN HOUSE CHRISTMAS PARTY, Saturday (the 2nd) from 4:00 to 7:00 pm. The Trail Volunteer Fire Department is hosting the doings at the Schaap Community Center (Mid-Trail). Food and refreshments are provided by Department members. All Gunflint neighbors are invited! In the SPIRIT of this giving season, a donation to the local food shelf is welcomed!     
                                            
Although the landscape blanket is depleted at the moment, planning is well under way for the colorful Gunflint Mail Run January 6th. With the race little over a month away, the call is out for volunteers. Many are needed to make this upper trail dog sledding adventure happen.       
                  
If Trail folks have helped before, organizers need you once again. If you have not been a part of the team in previous years, but want to join in, get in touch with the Mail Run volunteer coordinator Cathy Quinn, 218-387-3352 ASAP, or sign-up on line…gunflintmailrunvolunteer@ @gmail.com.                                                                                                                                                                
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every-day life in the forest, is great, regardless of slushy set-backs!                                                                    
     
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint November 23,2017

WTIP News     November 24, 2017     Wildersmith on the Gunflint    by  Fred Smith

‘Tis the season, let the holiday madness begin, while we “Gunflinters” watch the chaos from afar. Blessed is our border country peace and quiet with the bounty of “Amazon” and UPS just a click away. No crowds, no fuss, what a deal!                                                                                                          

Speaking of good tidings for the coming season, the Smith’s will be looking forward to those good folks over on Birch Lake lighting up their annual holiday sentinel in the coming days. With exception of some decorative lighting in the mid-Trail business area, this sparkling testament to the holidays, adds a glitter of excitement to the otherwise absolute dark of night, along the byway.                                                                                                                                                                         

Another seasonal happening is the Borealis Chorale held in early December at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in the village. Several of our Gunflint Trail neighbors are members of this amazingly talented choir and orchestra. I’m told practices have been long underway.                                                                                               

We at Wildersmith hope your stuffing day was a pleasant gathering of family and friends.  The Smith’s had the pleasure of working/serving at the forty-fourth UCC Community dinner. Locally, this long running Thanksgiving celebration is such a joy for both the preparing volunteers and those who come to partake in the bounty.                                                                                                                                                        

Nationwide, and even on the local scene, there is however some measure of sadness. If we, in this self-proclaimed greatest country of the world, really pay attention, over forty millions of our fellow citizens struggle with hunger while living in poverty, including thirteen  millions of children who go to bed hungry each night.                                                                                                                                                  

How can we ever be so self-satisfied in times of this on-going need, while over indulging? This is a “great American tragedy” and should be real food for thought as we begin to “just go nuts at Christmas.”  Instead of putting Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror, every one of means should be looking at themselves in this mirror asking, “what can I do”!  Solving this domestic hunger problem alone will better define the US of A as “truly” great!                                                                                                                               

Reflecting on our wild country weather, it’s been pretty seasonal for the second straight week. A couple mini snow, sleet and freezing drizzle episodes have been the only moisture happenings in the upper Trail region. Meanwhile the mercury spiked up for a drippy day or two and then scurried back down to make more crust on the miniscule fallen white.                                                                                             

With coldness in mind, the big lakes up this way remain rolling with even the slightest whimper of wind, while ice making continues on lakes south of the Laurentian Divide. I’ve observed Poplar Lake, the largest down that direction, has put its’ on winter coat, so those up toward Trails end, can’t be too far behind. A couple nights of calm air should do the trick.                                                                                      
 
By the way the average “ice on” for the Gunflint is in the second week of December. I’m guessing the yearly “ice on” contest pool for those living around Gunflint Lake is taking dates right now!                                                                                                                                                                                         
A fresh skiff of snow last Saturday night covered the crusty blanket in the yard around Wildersmith. Not to beat a deceased horse about my observance of tracks in the snow, foot prints in the fluff were so many one would think a herd went through. Fox and pine martens, to mouse tunnels and other neighborhood beings in between, left their imprints. All of which were headed in a hundred different directions.                                                                                                                           

Cross country skiing is on the minds of many, and trail preparations are well under way. However, the grooming process is only in the packing stage. According to Dan Baumann at Golden Eagle, the snow base is adequate, but tracks have not been laid as this weeks’ report airs. I’m sure other sections of the mid to upper Trail system are at similar stages of getting ready. A check of lodge websites will surely advise when final touches have been applied. In the meantime, skiers are welcome to come out and get on the packed lowland stretches.                                                                                                                    

Recently, during a break from saw dust making, a frenzy of blue jays caught my attention. At our deck side eatery, two of the provision stations feature ear corn on a spike. I watched as half dozen jaybirds took turns badgering each other for position in order to chow down on the golden grains.                                                                                                                                                                                  

Now some of you listener/readers might be wondering if this guy doesn’t have enough to do, other than watching a flock of birds making pigs of them self. Guess I don’t, but I did find interesting, there was one, a bully amongst the bullies; two, there may be some apparent pecking order; and three, the number of maize seeds gorged into their gullets ranged from six to twelve per stop.                                                                                                                                                        

The gluttonous interlude found the two cobs devoured of their golden elements in fifteen minutes. While it would seem they might choke, none did during this chapter of my “wild neighborhood” story.                                                                                                                                                              

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as each one offers something new, to see and learn! 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint November 17

WTIP News     November 17, 2017     Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith

As “old father time” would have it, we’ve passed the halfway mark of November.  While the days have whisked by, the day of the big gobbling bird is suddenly on the menu. Although we Americans should be giving thanks every day for our bounteous blessings, its striking many can only bundle thanks into one day a year.                                                                                                               
“Old man winter” has pulled in his horns in recent days. However, it didn’t begin until he had delivered some frosty reminders of things to come. During the cold snap, the Wildersmith neighborhood recorded our first below zero temps and a couple days where the mercury could rise only into the single digits.                                                                                                                                        
Talk about dedication or maybe craziness, during one of those single digit days last week, a boat of fisher people went by on the Gunflint Gal. To yours truly, one must have a serious addiction to angling to be wetting a hook in such bitter conditions and dangerously cold waters. Fishing through the ice is one thing, but the risk this time of year seems not worthy.                                         
The other element of the season has been sparse, as a few clippers have whistled through dropping only a skiff each time. Nevertheless, it was enough to freshen up the six to eight inches already layered throughout the territory until the recent meltdown.                                                                                           
An interesting article caught my attention recently in the November-December issue of MINNESOTA CONSERVATION VOLUNTEER. Author Mark Spoden relates to sounds in the cold stillness of the woods from a deer hunters point of view. As I have often talked about din in the winter forest, Spodens’ spin on trying to be noiseless while getting from the vehicle to the deer stand is abundantly humorous. In addition his commentary is thought provoking on the incidental clatter we take for granted, inadvertently made while trying to be quiet in a noise-filled world. I urge listeners to get a copy of MCV and enjoy this article. Regardless of one’s enthusiasm for hunting, the last paragraph says it all!                                                                                                                                  
 I can’t help but reflect joy in the pure beauty of driving down a back country road this time of year. Such white charm is never so taken for granted until on a return trip from the village, I perused through forty plus miles of man-made slop on the Trail with temps hanging around the freezing point. It’s amazing what a mess we humans can make out of such purity, all for the sake of drivers never having to slow down.  I can accept it has to be for safety benefit, but it is so grungy.                                                                                                                                           
Contrast was stark as I departed the public thoroughfare onto the privacy of the Mile O Pine. The gray/brown wintry sloppiness of human conveyance routine, suddenly gave way to another world.                                                                                                                                                                        
Roadway snow remained white as the day it fell. Except for the snow plowers’ blade and a few pair of tire tracks, the path less traveled showed nary a trace that anyone had passed. This un- tainted majesty of winter off the beaten Trail goes unmatched in the total scheme of natures’ seasonal bounty, including our autumn color show. To carry beautiful viewing a bit farther, snow in general covers up a lot of the worlds’ ugliness. How lucky are we backwoods beings!                                                                                                                                                                                        
The season of joy and giving got off to a rambunctious start last week with the “Join Together” membership drive here at WTIP. As always, energies were in high gear as staff and volunteers put together a well-oiled program seeking year-end financial support for this shining beacon in the north.                                                                                                                                                         
Once again, members, both renewing and new, stepped up with their pledges to help see WTIP through the winter ahead. Five and one-half days, of both frivolity and yet serious commitments, netted the WTIP Staff and family of listeners hope and happiness for a bright 2018. From everyone at the station, congratulations and thanks to ALL that made it possible. What a Family!                                                                                                                                                                
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the symphony of cold stillness, reveals!
 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint November 10, 2017

WTIP News     November 10, 2017     Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith

Here we are smack dab into November, and the character of month eleven seems right on schedule. Border country has experienced a little bit of everything weather-wise. Since we last gathered on WTIP, about the only climatic element which we’ve seen little of is sunshine.                                                          

Over the last week it’s snowed some, melted some, rained some and snowed some more. As I scribe this weeks’ news, the gales of November are slamming waves against the granite shores of Gunflint Lake and frigid temps have taken over. There’s plenty of bite in the frosty air.                                                                                                                                                                         
Clouds over head caused this territory to miss the “freezing-over” moon of last weekend, but the spirit of “his lunar highness” has been gaining momentum in recent days. With exception of the bigger bodies of water, lakes are iced over along the Trail, and wetland ponds are locked up for the winter. Yes, the “freezing-over” moon is doing just that!                              

The great Minnesota deer hunting season kicked off last weekend, and reports from hunters around the Gunflint Lake area are disappointing. Few if any tracks have been observed let alone the real thing. One hunter stated, the only tracks in the snow have been those of the Gunflint/ Loon Lake wolf pack. It’s for certain the wolves are so in command they have forced the deer population into near extinction in the upper Trail. This venison happening has occurred by both consumption and herd migration toward the North Shore highlands above Grand Marais. Though few and far between, there are a handful of the white tailed critters around, so perhaps this next week will see a little luck for those sitting in the woods.                                                        

Around Wildersmith, the fisher is becoming an everyday kind of guy/gal. One night it will make enough clatter while rummaging around to wake me up, then on other darkness sojourns it just leaves imprints in the snow as an attendance check-in. To date there hasn’t been too much animal protein as an attraction, but nevertheless, it has a greedy appetite for sunflower seeds.                                                                                                                                                                
A fellow down the road reported another chapter in the wildland predator/prey saga. This time he spotted a pine marten loitering around the yard. Apparently hungry, “old Marty” had its eye on a squirrel who’d been munching around his feed tray.                                                                                 

To make a long story short as possible, the marten got after the red rodent chasing it up a tall spruce tree. Cornering lunch potential at the tree top with no means of escape, a leap to the branch of a nearby tree found the marten having nabbed a squirrel dinner. With a meal secured, it was next seen scrambling down the timber and then scampered off into the forest.                                                                                                                                                                                        
As the snow has been thawing some, then re-freezing to a crusty state to make natural seed sources scarce, avian traffic has become a blur in recent days. Most notable seed tray visitors have been those blue bullies of the airways. At times we have a “blue wave” of jays swarming the feed tray. Since we’ve seen almost no blue in the skies of late, they do offer a bit of azure brilliance, but scare the daylights out of all the little winged fellows.                                                                      
More sadness has befallen the family of Jean Foster who I mentioned as passing away in last weeks’ column. Just six days following her death on October 25th, husband Robert Foster died in Hospice on November 1st. The two resided in West Des Moines, Iowa, but spent summers on Gunflint Lake for decades. Life takes many turns as it has in the case of Jean and Bob where ironically, their times together continue in another heavenly place. Peace and sympathies to their daughters and granddaughter from the Gunflint Trail friends and neighbors.           

Word is out on a Bluegrass Concert Saturday (the 11TH) up this way. The event will be held in the Conference Center at Gunflint Lodge beginning at 7:30. Featured artists are Bluegrass Hall of Famer, Dick Kimmel and Pamela Longtine.  For ticket information call, Gunflint Lodge 388-2294 or go to their website, https://www. gunflint.com/bluegrass-stringband-concert/                                                                                                                                                                              
The WTIP fall/winter membership drive is in full swing. My “Join Together” pitch from last week is now a reality. WTIP needs you!                                                                                                        

Please don’t forget your end-of-the-year giving couldn’t go to a more worthwhile community non-profit venture. Show your support with a pledge by calling 387-1070 or toll free at 1-800-473-9847; or click and join online at WTIP.org; or stop by the studios at 1712 West Highway 61 and commit to help in person. Thanks in advance for caring, from the Wildersmith two!                                                                                                                                                                                       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Trail, where every day is great, as told by winds through the pines!
 
 
 

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Moose - Barbara Friedman via Flickr

Wildersmith on the Gunflint November 3, 2017

WTIP News November 3, 2017     Wildersmith on the Gunflint      by     Fred Smith

The usual warning of November hit a few days early this year. The curtain call of autumn came abruptly last week with our first winter storm. Although it was not as bad here as other places in the northland, the four to six inches in the upper Trail was a good start to the new season. However, there is a qualifier to this report; the earth is still warm and much could be melted from the ground up by broadcast time, we’ll see!      

The first snow of the season always creates a great deal of excitement for everyone in border country, regardless of the annoyance or hardship it may cause. Most who live above forty-eight or forty-nine degrees north can hardly wait for the first episode of natural tree decorating.                                                                                                                                                                

The late October dropping in this neighborhood did not disappoint as the wet sticky white clung to everything pointing skyward. Every year I swear the first coating is the most beautiful ever, and this year is no exception. For those trying to capture digital winter splendor, this was the place to be. The magic of snow covered pine was especially glorious along the Mile O Pine as I begin keying this weeks’ Gunflint scoop.                                                                                                                   
The recent winter-like happening didn’t come close to the record Halloween season storm of twenty-six years ago. In all likelihood, most 2017 ghosts did their trick or treat thing, like snowshoe hares, blending inconspicuously with our pale landscape.                                                                                                          

With our eleventh month only hours old, the full “freezing over moon” will be beaming down on the northland this weekend. Incidentally, as the monthly lunar experience graces our frosty forest, the reality of standard time makes its’ semi-annual return. Don’t forget to “fall back” as you retire on Saturday evening, or you’ll be out-of-step with the rest of humanity next morning.                                                                                                                                                                 
Another feature of the first snow allows us residents to see who of the “wild neighborhood” has been prowling around during darkness hours. Tracks in the fluff revealed a pine marten stopped by the Wildersmith place, likely looking for a hand-out of the usual poultry parts.

Meanwhile, a neighbor down the road had a visit from a fisher (a marten on steroids) while another left foot print evidence of being here too.  Tracks in the snow never cease to stir up adventurous thoughts about success in the realm of predator pursuit and prey survival.                                   

A day or so prior to the siege of ice and snow, during an evening drive along the Trail, the Smith’s came upon two moose blocking our path. We hadn’t seen one in some time, so as usual, this was a treat.                                                                                                                                          
Both were cows, not hanging out together, but separated by a couple miles. Fortunately, their silhouettes against the setting sun back drop were observed early enough to avoid a collision, and neither chose to be stubborn about getting off the road, so “no harm, no foul” to either moose or vehicle.                                                                                                                                                  

Other animal tidings would find it reasonable to assume, bears have retired to dens, while whitetail deer hunting season commences this weekend. Safe and happy hunting to all! For the next couple weeks, those in outdoor activities should be dressed in warning gear and on the look-out for those folks in blaze orange or hot pink sitting out in the woods trying to act like a bush.                                                                                                                                                

Listener/readers will remember my commentary a few weeks back about a bear pilfering my greasy bar-b-que gloves. I was surprised just days ago when an anonymous reader or readers in Iowa took pity on me, and shipped a replacement pair. What a neat, but unsolicited gesture! Thank you so much, Mr. &/or Mrs. whoever you are!                                                                                                         

It’s with sadness I announce that word has been received on the death of another Gunflint Trail neighbor. Jean Foster, of West Des Moines, Iowa and a longtime summer home resident on the west end of Gunflint Lake passed away on October 25, in Des Moines. Gunflint Community condolences are extended to her husband, Robert, three daughters and a granddaughter.                                                                                                                                               
A final note comes for all WTIP users. At this time next week the WTIP family will be in the middle of its fall/winter membership drive. The excitement begins on Thursday, November 9 and runs for five days, ending at noon on the 13th.                                                                                                    

As with every fund drive, member participation is critical to ensure continued growth of WTIP, the BEST in community radio. If you are a current family member, we need you to re-invest. If you have never joined, but enjoy what this broadcast Phenom has to offer, you’re invited to “Join Together” with the extended WTIP family from around the globe.                                                                                                              

It’s easy to do and your support is so appreciated. Phone in a pledge, do so on-line, or even better, stop by the studios. For more details, go to the web site, WTIP.org.                                                                                                             
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Trail, where every day is great, especially when “Biboon” (winter) gets rolling!
 
 

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LeaflessTrees.jpg

Wildersmith on the Gunflint October 27

WTIP News     October 27, 2017     Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
October splendor has been shining down on the Gunflint territory over the past seven days. Temperatures have been bouncing around between cold and moderately warm for this time of year. Our only glitch in the atmosphere comes in regard to being left on the dry side of the moisture ledger for more than two weeks along the Mile O Pine. 

 With less than two tenths here at Wildersmith during this time, it makes one a little nervous concerning fire danger since protection systems have been put to bed for the coming winter. 
                                                                             
Since we last met on WTIP, the upper Gunflint landscape has edged ever closer to winter. Few leaves are left hanging while Tamarack needles have had their day of glory, and are tarnished into the dusting off stage.                                                                                                                             
I’m always amazed at the seemingly un-countable shades of brown summoned by “Mother Nature” as summer dries up through the autumn season. With hues from buff to coffee bean brown, we’ve got them all, along this magnificent scenic by-way.                                                             
So the Gunflint color show continues with now toasted embellishments, still beautiful in such a distinct way. It’s surely worth another trek out this way, to soak it all in, before the next act takes our border country stage.                                                                                                                                                             
These times in the wildland are exclusively unique. Quiet rules supreme as summer/fall hubbub has almost ground to a halt. There are few snippets of hullabaloo pollution disturbing the tranquility of nature doing its thing. Sounds of late October are minimal except for those of natural creation.  
                                                                                                                                              
Winds in the pines whisper sweet nothings of warm day remembrances, while waiting to turn on a warning roar from the great “spirit of the north.” Added accompaniment comes from white caps dashing the granite shores. All the while, those in our ‘wild neighborhood’ chirp, chatter, squawk and snipe at each other, as they go about their daily survival routines. 
                                                                                                                                 
We who stay to endure the cold and white can peacefully reflect on these cherished wilderness blessings right outside our back doors. It’s a time when cool evenings deliver the romantic aroma of smoke from a wood burning stove, favoring thoughts of a warm cozy doze in the recliner. It’s a time when tree sap starts thickening down to the roots. It’s a time when snowshoe hares pull up their white socks to belly wader heights while other fur bearers are changing to heavy duty camo apparel and some burrow in to cold season quarters.  It’s a time to relish! 
                                                                                                                                                               
Although winter-like conditions are only in the long range planning stages, I’ve noticed the cold season “welcome wagon” out along trail sides over the last few days. Those neighborly snow buntings seem to be getting an early start on gathering seed fare from roadside shoulders, and are erupting with skyward flare at the approach of an on-coming vehicle. To see the perky little avian confirms a sign of things to come. 
                                                                                               
In the meantime, on recent days when the sun shines warm, hordes of obnoxious summer time bugs have been re-invigorated. Black flies, mosquitos and pesky gnat like critters are re-enforcing cries from us humans for cold and to stay cold! I’ve even seen a few folks outdoors doing pre-winter chores wearing their bug nets. Buggy conditions like we’ve been enduring of late are usually un-heard of as trick or treat night nears. 
                                                                                  
Speaking of Halloween night in the offing, the first quarter of the “freezing over” Ojibwe moon, is on high right now.  We could do well to have a little of its “cold spirit” to send the swarming nasties a packing.                                                                                                                                                           
Until this happens, Gunflinters can think back to the blizzard of flakes that stopped ghosts and goblins activity deep in its tracks in 1991. There were no bugs then, but up to forty plus inches of snow. Those were truly, the “good old days.”  
                                                                                                   
For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, where every day is great, regardless of what might be causing those bites and itches!
 

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