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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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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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Winter through a window

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 24

The days of waiting have dwindled and our anticipation intensifies toward this annual blow-out celebration. Everyone’s been scurrying here and there trying to finish this and that before settling down for this big day in America and around the Christian world. Hopefully on the 25th there can be a moment where all of us can reflect with some tolerance and love for all of mankind. Thinking of all the tragedies man has imposed on fellow man during the past year, might we take time out to share some contemplation of peace.

The Gunflint Trail has been quiet and peaceful of late with most winter related activities being on hold. Some mini-snippets typical of up north at Christmas-time have drifted over the territory, but for the most part people who enjoy the season of white remain in a state of frustration. In this season of hope, perhaps the grip of “El Nino” will let go with a gift of snow and cold as we head into 2016.

Pre-holiday gatherings are winding down with the big birthday bash at hand. As the season of holiday tunes dance in our heads, I will attempt to serve up my rendition of an old favorite with an up north twist. The lyrics may be a stretch, a composer I’m not, but you all know the melody. Titled, “The Twelve Days of Christmas Up North," here goes and bear with me.

On the first day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the second day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…two hairies pecking… and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the third day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…three martens racing…two hairies pecking…and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the fourth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the fifth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the sixth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the seventh day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the eighth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me… eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the ninth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…nine squirrels a scrapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the tenth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…ten bears a snoozing…nine squirrels a scrapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…eleven white tails browsing…ten bears a snoozing…nine squirrels a scrapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, the forest gave to me…twelve plodding moose…eleven white tails browsing…ten bears a snoozing…nine squirrels a scrapping…eight soaring eagles…seven ravens squawking…six gray jays begging…five wolves a-prowling…four foxes trotting…three martens racing…two hairies pecking and a lynx slipping up a tall tree.

Whew, that’s a lot of wild critters, I’m out of breath, fingers cramping and the keyboards a-smoking!

We at Wildersmith and those of the wild neighborhood hope you have a Merry Christmas, filled with love, peace and goodwill toward all beings! This is Fred Smith, on the Trail…

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the moment!

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(Cindee Snider Re /Flikr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 18

 Our Gunflint Trail winter has extended yet another week with no appreciable change in the temperate status. While the Grand Marais village received a healthy dose of liquid precipitation since we last met, barely a sniff collected in our wilderness neighborhood in some drizzling light rain and a scant couple inches of snow.

At the time of this report, the Gunflint lake area was slightly decorated in white. It seemed probable the territory might not have a white Christmas. However, in an unexpected notion, “Mother Nature” shocked us with 8 inches of the stuff in this neighborhood and even more in other places back down the Trail. Further, conditions for the big lakes of the upper Trail territory to become frozen in the near future are growing remote. Looking back at my data since 1982 for “ice on” over Gunflint Lake shows latest date as December 29 in 2001.

Most recently, in 2011 we waited until the 28th for the second latest incident of solidarity. At the rate things are going “ice on” for the Gunflint Gal could extend well past the first of the New Year. Anything is possible with this screwy weather phenomenon, but wouldn’t it be something if the larger lakes out this way didn’t freeze at all in ’15-’16. If this did occur, the January trout fishing season would open with watercraft and dip nets instead of snowmobiles and ice augers.

To contrast our current non-ice issue, a reflection from the past tells of Trail icon, Justine Kerfoot walking across Gunflint Lake on the ice, June 1, 1936. That year “ice out” occurred on June 3. Historically, that was a long winter in all of the Midwest. I don’t have info on the freeze up time that winter, but it surely could have been at least eight months of ice time around here.

Meanwhile, holiday preparations and celebrating goes on in the absence of usual north woods atmospheric components. Good cheer permeates the area with little more than nine hours of daylight, knowing in a few short segments our early sunsets will be history. “Old Sol” will have stalled out in its southward crawl, soon to resume a climb back northward.

After not seeing a moose in this area for many weeks, the trend was snapped for yours truly last week during a trip to Grand Marais. And, several other sightings have been mentioned by other local byway travelers. In my case, three were observed somewhere in the moose zone between the advertised viewing site and Lullaby Creek Rd. All three were yearlings or better, and appeared in healthy condition. They delayed my trek while reluctantly refusing to move from their blacktop salt lick. I have since heard of three moose being struck by vehicles on the Trail over the first two weeks of December. Guess two were killed and the condition of a third is unknown. The scenario makes me wonder if the three might have been the same ones I encountered.

Speaking about our briny pathway, I’m amazed at what appears to be questionable applications of melting brine to the Trail surface when we get no more than a skiff of snow/ice. It's mind boggling if this is deemed prudent use of our road maintenance tax dollars. I can’t believe the number of times over the years when I have met a snow plow unit spreading this noxious material and seemingly scraping more off the asphalt than snow. What’s an even greater shame are the masses of drivers without common sense to slow down when road conditions become tricky, thus necessitating this chemical treatment. Even worse is the thought of this sodium chloride residue and other added unknown nasties ending up in our lake waters. It’s bound to get there eventually after decades of applications, and once such chemicals get in the water, it’s pretty much there to stay and all kinds of bad things begin to happen in this precious resource.

On another note, it makes me wonder if consuming copious doses of the briny elements might also be a contributing factor to our moose herd decline. If high dietary salt intake is bad for us humans, couldn’t the same be said for moose? I would think moose flourished for eons before man-made dietary supplements lured them onto our byway. Question is, couldn’t we be using just plain old sand? I’m betting we could be saving considerable tax dollars by eliminating the chemicals while lessening the chance for these compounds to taint lake waters and at the same time make for a reduced salt moose diet. Such a plan would also save corrosive wear and tear on both road surfaces and our vehicles, in addition to those quarter million dollar county plow truck/spreaders. Above all, it would be more appropriate from any and all environmental stand-points. It’s worthy of thought!

I’m stepping down from the soap box now, and wish everyone cheerier times and peace during the remaining days of 2015.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. It’s Christmas time in the forest! 
 


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: December 11

Sounding like a broken record, all I can say in regard to the Gunflint weather is winter remains ugly. To say the least, “border country normal” has seemingly taken a step backward with temps some 15 to 20 degrees above what the average might be, come week two of December.

As forecasters paint a continuing picture of a non-winter for these parts, the view is becoming dimmer with each passing day. One has to feel for those folks whose livelihood includes an ice and snow business component. What we are going through will have devastating economic impact if the atmosphere doesn’t belly-up with some cold and snow.

To take things a step further, thinking ahead to next summer, our wilderness territory could face some sad commentary. There will be reduced snow melt in the watershed to refill many already depleted lakes and underground aquifers. And as moisture is just not reaching the northland, there’s potential for a dry forest landscape with an ever-waiting fuel load. Our wildfire danger could be haunting.

Besides these troublesome moisture inadequacies, if hard freezing doesn’t occur, the billions of flying, gnawing and biting pests that often give up a goodly portion of their population to bitter temps will no doubt be beyond tolerable. In general, many usual natural occurrences are, and will be, turned upside down.

For many living out this way, our early “getting ready for winter chores” could have easily been delayed, if not avoided totally. One positive is the fuel needed to keep us warm is being saved, allowing us easier home heating bills. On the other hand, suppliers will no doubt raise the rates to offset their sales loss to protect their “bottom line.’’ Somehow, the consumers just can’t get a break in our capitalistic reasoning.

In spite of the seasonal weather gloom to this point, people of the Gunflint Community are busy making the season bright. One shining example in our territory is the twinkling, lonesome pine along the Trail at the west end of Birch Lake.

Whereas most American metropolises have their usual holiday lighting experience among thousands, if not millions of cheering people, we woodsy folks are quietly blessed with our remote sparkling sentinel in the midst of a zillion, quiet coniferous cousins. A big thanks to Daryl P. and any others who made it happen. We Gunflinter's notice and appreciate your offering of holiday cheer.

And by the way, for you readers and listeners not in the know, this lighting experience doesn’t come by just plugging it into the nearest socket. This tree requires daily battery exchange and charging, and is forever green, no recycling needed, just add more lights as it grows skyward.

A further moment of cheer was shared this past Saturday at a festive open house in the mid-Trail area. A full house of Gunflint friends and neighbors gathered to enjoy a late afternoon of visiting and munching at the Schaap Community Center. Big thanks to the Trail Volunteer Fire department for organizing this, their second annual get together.

Yet another winter function has added glow to the rapidly approaching birthday of all birthday celebrations. The Borealis Chorale and Orchestra performed their longstanding tradition of holiday spirit for two full houses last Sunday and Monday evenings in Grand Marais at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. A few of our upper Trail neighbors were included in the ninety person choir and 20-piece instrumental ensemble. Congratulations and thanks to all for another awesome concert.

The roaming coyote mentioned last week has been seen again in the neighborhood so the wolves haven’t got it yet. I’m betting it will meet its “Waterloo” soon, as the wolves are hungry, with few, if any venison opportunities.

And speaking of those whitetails, they are going to be more difficult challenges for their predator adversaries with bare ground readily available, thus allowing easier “sprint for life” pathways. For sure, it seems certain a severe winter may not be an issue for them in 2015-16.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

(Photo courtesy of Tal Viinika on Flickr)

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{Priya Saihgal via Flickr}

Wildersmith: December 4

In spite of our first sub-zero mercury reading here on the morning after Thanksgiving, winter continues pretty much a non-issue. A minor snow ushered in December, but is likely gone by this airing with October temperatures hot on its heels. So it’s back to slush and slop on back country roads.  
    
Except for the dropping late last Tuesday, our first few days of this new month are acting like the previous thirty. It’s beginning to look like the “cold Grinch of the north” is not going to be around much this season. And it could well be, some of the big lakes might not have suitable ice by the January trout fishing opener at the rate things are going.    
                                                                                                                                                 
Being in a semi-winter mode, some critters of the “wild neighborhood” could be in a state of confusion.  Chipmunks residing about our yard are usually catching their first “Z”s of the season by now. In recent days both my wife and I have observed them scampering here and there still in the gathering mode.                                                                                                                                             
This activity being noticed makes me wonder if the temperate conditions have the bears experiencing sleeping disorders as well. At the very least, they surely can’t be into a deep slumber yet.                                                                                                                                                              
Thanksgiving at Wildersmith was special with some of the family members up from Iowa for the usual good times and chow-down. Its’ amusing how celebrating can continue in many homes after the big day as our menu bounty, remains in the giving order.                                         
                                                                                      
If your place is like ours, we continue trying new ideas to use up leftovers. Our common sense frugality seems evoked in author/news commentator, Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” as we struggle to throw out our bounteous blessings. This is obviously a reflection of our up-bringing, during what were often, not the most affluent times. In all likelihood, my generations’ attitude is directly opposite of what most millennials have probably already done.          
                                                       
Regardless of the circumstance around your house, Thanksgiving at the Smith’s just keeps on giving. Turns out, as opposed to adding more to the garbage dumpster, we’ve been sharing inedible scraps from our gathering with critters of the neighborhood, and they seem delighted with their opportunity at a holiday feast.                                                                                                                                                                                 
Many residents of our “wild wilderness” were not bashful about joining at the feed trough. Their spread was doled out over several days making this experience last considerably longer than that of we humans.                                                                                                                                         
About every species of birds from the north woods, plus red squirrels, flying squirrels (at night) and countless pine martens have gathered at one time or another. Most amazing was the intensity of cleaning up that turkey carcass (bones and all).                                                                               
If there was ever a reason for blue and Canadian jays, plus chickadees and nuthatches, to have indigestion, it was this occasion. Following an avian assault on softer tissue elements, I stopped counting after a pine marten made five successive trips to carry off the boney remains. In slightly over two hours on consecutive days, our “big bird character” was history!                                                          
One might question if the side dish dressing/stuffing (in particular) would also be appetizing to this insatiable crew, but answers were provided almost before I cleared the scene. The feeding frenzy did not diminish as more of our un-eaten items were served up.  The multi-day critter eat-a-thon has tapered off by now, but our giving mood sure provided a priceless educational experience and entertainment.     
                                                                                                                                                       
A couple reports from neighbors along the Gunflint Lake south shore indicate an itinerant coyote. The canine cousins are not unusual to the Arrowhead, but seldom noted out this way. It would be my guess this one might serve up as a nice appetizer for the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack, sooner or later.  
                                                                                                                              
Talking of the local pack, one member crossed my path during a recent MOP mail run. We made brief eye contact, from a short distance, before it vanished into the forest. It’s always a surprising privilege to intersect ways with such an iconic guy/gal. This mini rendezvous was another of those engaging, but untouchable, border country adventures.        
                                                 
Gunflint folks are reminded once again of the holiday open house this Saturday afternoon. Festivities begin at 3:00 pm and run until 6:00pm at the Mid-Trail/ Schaap Community Center.  Although not required, the GTVFD is seeking donations to the area food shelf. Gunflint resident participation will be much appreciated!  Y'all come for the food and fun!                                                                                                                                                      
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Looking, looking and looking for a kick-start to our season of snow white!
 

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Fred's grouse

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 20

Finally, our upper Gunflint territory got some snow that counted. Although it is likely gone in all but shaded places as this scribing airs, those of us with affection for the fluff were excited, if at least briefly.

The first substantial dose of the stuff accumulated anywhere from two to about six inches depending upon one's locale. At Wildersmith we received two inches whereas up the Mile O Pine a little ways, six inches required dropping the snow blade down. Funny how such weather variables can happen in only short distances apart.

Regardless of one's opinion about this seasonal character, it’s not debatable as to the elegance of this first sticky flake application. Every appendage throughout border country wilderness was laced in purity. So as Thanksgiving rolls around, us woodsy folks are thankful for this majestic natural blessing, and hopeful the remaining November skies will be spreading more white cheer real soon.

The waxing “freezing over moon” is nearing the month eleven pinnacle while we head to America’s festival of plenty. His “lunar highness” is a good bet to be glistening off open lake water. In spite of our heavenly liquid bodies being biting cold, rolling waves continue to hold off any coagulation.

Most animals of the neighborhood are fully changed into their winter garb. In a sampling, I spotted a snowshoe hare and an ermine, both of which were fully in tune with the newly frosted landscape.

Then on another note, the morning after our snowy spectacle, I was able to track several overnight visitors along the road on my way for the daily mail delivery. A meandering fox led me over the entire two mile trek to the mail box, while off and on prints of a marten, snowshoe hare, wolf and a solitary deer dented the bleached ground cover. There were no bear trailings so perhaps this brief swat of winter put them to bed.

Speaking of deer, neighbors along the Gunflint south shore spent the first week of their stalking time in quiet solitude. I’ve heard of only one buck being taken in this part of the upper Trail during week one of the firearms season. Although there may be a few whitetails here and there, it would appear the severe winter of 2013-14 and the wolves have pretty much wiped venison opportunities off the menu.

It may take several years for the herd to recover for hunter satisfaction. In the meantime, I ‘m certain the hunters I know are still contemplating the joy of their time outdoors in this splendid forest. Their hunting time is much like angling, “fishing is always great, but sometimes the catching just isn’t!” I hope their fortunes turned around during this second and final week of this season.

A new avian pet has adopted our yard as an apparent safe haven. In spite of making light of the “clucky” birds, it’s energizing to see this grouse guy hanging out around the place. His presence seems not affected by my moving about the yard so I would guess we are pretty much stuck with him. The gamely bird even did a photo-op for me last week. It was caught perched high up in a pin cherry tree pecking away at whatever critter bugs hole up on those branches.

We at Wildersmith hope you have a safe and glorious gathering while being thankful for the grand bounty we in America celebrate. Remembering there are billions of people on other parts of the planet not so blessed, wouldn’t it be nice to do some good things for each other during this time of violence, pain and suffering!

Gunflinters give thanks every day for this idyllic, peaceful place. We may be unorganized territory, but our state of civility far surpasses the sickening barbarism engulfing many world places at this moment. Citizens of the world, come to your senses!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Happy Turkey Day!

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 13

Atmospheric conditions along the Gunflint Byway have remained on the passive side of the ledger. As the area reaches the mid-point of our 11th month, unless things change abruptly, those not in tune with winter will be happy as clams noting the long cold season is being shortened by one segment.

This neighborhood has been yo-yoing since we last met, with abnormal warmth, then a couple days near normal and then back to September character. A skiff of white was recorded, but vanished quickly in the midst of one more “El Nino” swoosh.

It would appear the actual lake freezing over, as acclaimed by the Ojibwe “freezing over moon” of November, will probably be put off until next month. The usual skimming over of our smaller lakes, ponds and swamps by this time of year just isn’t happening.

Although the larger Gunflint Lake is traditionally one of the last territorial bodies to become solid, this “old Gal” is still offering a summer-time lure. Last Sunday, the purr of an outboard motor was heard near sundown from a late season angler heading home. Yes, fresh water angling in the midst of firearms deer hunting season. Wonders of the north land never cease to amaze!

In further testament to our extending tepid spell, another week has passed and more bear wanderings are being reported - no denning up just yet. Perhaps they are holding out for Thanksgiving leftovers.

A couple down the road had the thrill of recording a night time photo-op with a Canadian Lynx. This is the first “kitty” report heard from out this way in quite a while. They sent me a digital of the cat which was unfortunately not crisp enough to share, but you can take my word, this feline of the north was a handsome critter. Snowshoe hares and grouse should beware!

Speaking of grouse, their numbers must be in an upswing cycle. It must have been a fertile year for chick production. In my travels through this neck of the woods I see uncountable numbers of the seemingly dimwitted “chicken birds.”

Continuing avian excitement engulfs the Smiths anytime we step out the door. For some reason, known only to our winged neighbors, the chickadees and nuthatches are infatuated with our presence. I’ve heard of this from other long time Gunflint residents but this tweeting experience is a first in going on 17 winters here. It's like an attack of the birds. They expect to be fed, and we have fallen right in line with their feeding-frenzy expectations. This experience with our feathered friends, in addition to being enjoyable, has proven educational too. Getting an up-close look at their routine of hammering each morsel into a nook or cranny of tree bark is amazing to watch. Their system of warehousing and inventory control would probably even wow “Amazon.”

All this being said, guess we (Smiths) might be included in the “dimwitted” category for getting such a kick out of their greedy companionship!

Last weekend a winter season visitor came back to our deck side feed trough. “Piney” the marten stopped by, having not been seen since the meltdown of last spring. It was easily recognized as one of our previous marten visitors with a tiny notch missing from one ear. Hungry as usual, it spent considerable time munching sunflower seeds much to the annoyance of the usual squirrels and bluejays.

One adventure of north woods living is wondering and imagining where these “wild neighborhood” critters have been, and what they’ve been up to during their transient times. We’ll obviously never know, but it’s energizing nonetheless realizing this one survived the wild for another year, and came back looking quite healthy and remembered a nice place to get an easy meal.

Although not a whitetail deer has been observed for months around Wildersmith, there must be scent of such a return in the air. Wolf reconnaissance has been noted (although not physically witnessed) with evidence from the timber canines found along our Mile O Pine. So the saga of predator and prey lives on, only now a human factor has been tacked on for a few weeks. It is hoped the stars of fate are aligned for both the stalked and the stalkers in this wilderness drama.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! We're keeping an eye out for the stalled “great northern express!”

 

 

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Misty Morning {v2r76 /Flickr}

Wildersmith: November 6

A few days before the trick or treat evening found the upper Gunflint with a prelude to winter. Our first measureable snow fell in an after dark time slot leaving an inch or so in many spots along the Trail.                                                                                                       
Beautiful as the sticky stuff was our first winter driving conditions proved to be on the dicey side during a trip to town by yours truly next morning. The slushy conditions were short lived as mid-day temps upped over the freezing point and my return trip was smooth sailing.                               
Since the brief snowy encounter, “old man winter” has pulled in his horns, giving way to his “El Nino” nemesis. Temps, warmer than normal, are the order as we finish off November week one.  In spite of the mild thermometer readings, it has not felt all that warm due to several drizzly, cloud covered days.                                                                                                                                         
 Typical of November times, it’s been just plain damp and dreary! I guess this is the way things are going to be from here on out as the God’s of natural happenings cool our north country earth prior to freezing solidarity.                                                                                                                                                       
There’s a new found beauty in the forest now. With nary a leaf left hanging, Gunflints’ coniferous timber has the forest all to itself. 
I’m pretty passionate about things evergreen, and a gaze, across valleys to the granite hillsides of a zillion pine spires, is majestic.  The landscapes’ interlude of naked deciduous beings scattered among the forever green, suggests a time honored mosaic of piney hues and gray/brown silhouettes piercing border country horizons at all points on the compass. Our current wilderness surroundings are as uniquely captivating as the Technicolor show just completed. Beauty is, for sure, in the eyes of the beholder, and for this observer, this season of cold anticipation is visually magical in a special way.                                                                                                       
The white tail deer hunting season for riflemen gets underway with a bang (no pun intended) this weekend. With forecast evidence of there being no tracking snow and mild conditions, the hunt may not be the most productive.                                                                 
Nevertheless, deer stalkers will not be deterred. Caution is the buzz word no matter where one’s trekking in the surrounding forest. Blaze orange is the proper attire. Good luck to all, and know for sure, before the trigger is squeezed! 
A gal down the road and I were visiting the other day in regard to whether the bears had turned in for the winter. Neither of us had any proof one way or the other. Next day a call from a fellow residing on the Trail south of Loon Lake confirmed at least one of the hungry critters is still dining out.                                                                                  
Preparing for his winter trek south, he cleaned out the “refrig.” putting the remaining foodstuffs in an ice chest on his deck. Attending to other chores, a subsequent glance outside found a giant “Bruno” sitting on his deck, munching a bag of tortillas.                                                                 
After a stern, vociferous lecture, the bear grudgingly departed, only to return later destroying an empty bird feeder to add further annoyance to its visit. So in answer to inquiries, at least some of the ravenous marauders remain out of den and into the gorging mode.                                                                                                        
Calling all WTIP listeners, website readers and streamers, the final fund raising endeavor of 2015 is underway as this weeks’ Wildersmith scribing/broadcast comes your way. “This little community radio station, that could”, is all about great home-town, home-grown and “home-made” ambition.                                                                                                                                                            
In spectacular fashion for nearly two decades, this amazing broadcast “phenom” has spread its’ forum for news and entertainment far beyond the tip of Minnesota’s Arrowhead. To keep WTIP onward and upward requires financial assistance from many sources. Listener support tops the list.                                                                                                                                                        
Once again, this “home made” community connection in Cook County and around the world is asking its’ many publics to become a new member of the WTIP family or to renew your previous membership commitment. On-going radio excellence needs continuing re-inforcements!                                                                                                                                                                              
Don’t delay make your pledge call now, locally at 387-1070; or toll free at 1-800 473-9847; or click and join at WTIP.org                                                                                                                                          
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith!  WTIP needs you!
 
 
                                                                               
           
 
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 30

The Gunflint October is idling in neutral as month eleven is about to slip into gear. Most days of the past week our weather has taken on a November look with more gray than blue overhead along with bone chilling winds.

Although temps have not been bitterly cold, one has the feeling “old man winter” is about to rise from his recliner with a dose of something soon. Summer/fall has passed on and November will be slipping across the border in a couple days. It won’t be long until permanent skims will be glazing area lakes and ponds as water temps are heading south rapidly on these leaden tinted, cool days.

This neighborhood received another meager ration of rain over the past seven segments. Again, there was less than a half inch in my rain gauge, but it’s doing the right thing in regard to soaking the ground. Murky clouds and cool air don’t allow for much drying out this time of year. So this is good for all things needing to freeze damp.

Meanwhile, as the tamaracks are dusting off the last of their golden needles, and with Halloween at hand, long-time Gunflint residents are holding their breath so to speak in hope a storm the likes of 1991 doesn’t throw a ghostly white blanket over trick or treat activities. For those who weren’t a part of the “beggars” time dropping, this territory received upwards of 40+ inches of white 24 years ago at this time. Not living here myself back then, it’s hard for me to grasp snow to such a depth falling at one interval.

Ghosts and goblins will be trekking about the county this year on the heels of the Ojibwe “falling leaves” moon. Having made its tenth appearance of the year this past Tuesday, his “lunar highness” will still be lighting the way and creating frightful shadows behind trillions of timber beings.

Although few youngsters live, or venture from town out this way, everyone is urged to be on the look-out for the little masked creatures darting across roads and driveways. Let's make it a safe and sweet end to October.

Although I receive many comments on moose sightings, it’s been some time since yours truly has come upon one of our dwindling iconic herd. However, my moose observation fortunes got a boost a few days ago.

While traveling up toward end of the Trail, near Seagull Fishing Camp, a huge bull emerged from a swampy domain and crossed right in front of my vehicle. It was not a close call from a collision point of view, but heart stopping nonetheless. Slowing to watch as it trudged off into the forest one direction, a peek the other way, found another of similar enormousness munching some swamp water goodies.

I had to wonder if I might have barely missed out on a battle for the engagement of a fair moose maiden between the one now on my right and the other to my left. It would surely seem the two were not sharing cordial greetings about where the girls are. Whatever the case, like yes, there is a Santa Claus, a few moose are still out and about.

The next day while talking with a local gal about my sighting, she shared observing a pair of bulls in the same location just hours earlier. Perhaps it was the same pair. If so, maybe they’re DNA brothers, then again, territorial issues just might not have been settled before my interruption of the previous day. And yet, could there be four of the big guys in the same neighborhood? It’s “Moose Madness” deja vu.

A timely reminder comes your way as we return to true “sun time” this coming Sunday morning. “Falling back” from another of mankind's manipulations, don’t forget to reset those clocks before you go to bed Saturday evening.

Also be advised to start digging out the “blaze orange” gear as the rifle season on deer opens next Saturday. Sharing the woods with amorous crazed deer and excited hunters can be dangerous, be prepared!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! The express of November is cruising into this idyllic Gunflint territory, right on schedule!

(Photo by Gary Siesennop)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 23

Since our last radio visit, my self-imposed criteria was met in regard to declaring autumn history, in spite of what the calendar says. Winter at Wildersmith happened a few days ago when after a cold night, the following daytime high temperature failed to rise above the freezing mark.

Furthermore, this neighborhood had several mornings of hard frost before recovering in the early part of the week. And to take the cold even more seriously, the area had a forecast one evening featuring the “s” word; however, none of the white stuff is known to have materialized. A mediocre rain fell in concert with a blast of nighttime winds bringing our color show to an abrupt end, ushering in the aforesaid cold spell. Yep, most all leaves have blanketed the wilderness landscape.

This has left the forest with eerie skeletal remains reaching up into the territorial heavens. To view from afar, across our valleys to the surrounding granite hillsides, our denuded trees look to be a mass of gauzy cobwebs with a ghostly cast. How appropriate “Mother Nature” is so casually playing a key role, in adding to the Halloween mood.

As the deciduous part of the forest met its demise, the last character of autumn is glowing radiantly out this way. It's “tamarack time” along the Trail. This final act of the growing season finds our golden coniferous spires brightly lighting up the byway. It’s almost to the point of a blinding blur against a sunlit backdrop. Sadly, these luminous needles don’t last long, and they’ll be raining down with the next gush of pre-winter flurry. In the meantime, this sylvan spectacle is one to behold!

The cold being such, I’ve broken out the winter Carhartt. As I put finishing touches on “getting ready for winter" chores, I must say keeping the warmth in felt pretty good to the creaky old bones!

Speaking of wearing apparel, a mystery of such is ongoing after a recent laundry drying incident. On one of these last days where clothes could be hung out on the line to dry, my wife dispatched a few items, giving no thought about what might happen, other than fresh-smelling garments at day's end. Following several hours in the sun and a fall breeze, she proceeded to retrieve her hangings. Unpinning the last item (a black t-shirt of yours truly), the unit was found to be tattered beyond belief in two locations where it was attached to the line. The mystery is how this did happen? The shirt was in mint condition when hung up. To date there are no substantial answers. The notion is some tight-wire trekking critter is to blame. Conjecture around the house, as well as with neighbors, focuses on either squirrels, chipmunks or woodpeckers. The answer may never be confirmed, but my best guess is, it was a squirrel in need of winter quarters nesting material.

It wouldn’t be the first time around here one of the red rodents has made off with some man-made materials. On one occasion, I observed a red gnawer running off with a cotton glove I had left out. Then at another time, I watched one of the varmints untie a swatch of hemp-like twine from a winter-tethered shrub. The twine, incidentally, ended up as part of a nest in the HVAC unit of my vehicle (a costly fix to be sure). So my assumption possibly has substance, nevertheless, I’m out one of those nice (but not cheap) Duluth Trading Co. shirts.

On a final note, in regard to last week's comments about the energetic chickadees swarming me anytime I’m outside, the lady of the house has now been adopted by a pair of the dainty birds. They won’t leave her alone since she started offering an open hand full of seeds. It’s so amusing to observe this moment in nature as they pluck one seed at a time from her hand, zip off to a nearby branch, hold the seed down with their mini-clawed toes, crack it open, munch it down and zoom back for another. What a ritual! This newly acquired friendship is the “best of all worlds” in terms of pet/human relationships. They really don’t need you, but they’ll be your pal and entertain you -- for a treat of course. And, they can be left alone without the neighbor having to care for them.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, counting the days ‘til the forest becomes crystalline!

 

( Photo by Larry Krause on Flickr)

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Junco {Kelly Colgan Azar /Flickr}

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 16

Our wilderness territory is halfway through the month and fall is fading fast. The dazzle of our golden canopy is dimming rapidly, along with daylight minutes escaping like they were part of a jail break. November winds are whistling in the distance.

A glorious couple of Indian summer days last weekend made for what might be the last warm hurrah of 2015. The upper Trail was glorious as the byway begins to wither of its’ autumn character.

Since I last met you on the radio, this neighborhood was granted a little rain. By little, I mean the Wildersmith gauge registered less than a half inch.

We’ll take it, although not much was accomplished in soaking the dry landscape before our long winters’ nap sets’ in. However, the scant “precip” was enough to grease up back country roads and dirty the sides of everyone’s vehicle.

In spite of the meager moisture, leaves and elder needles from a “gazillion” trees are falling from on high like a summer downpour. I’m guessing the Lion’s share of our leaves will be down as this weeks’ scoop comes your way, especially should we get any kind of wind and/or rain combination. We north woods folks are thankful for not having to rake them up.

It’s a wonder how short one’s memory is during this time of retiring leaves. Suddenly one can see things off into the forest that have been foliage obscured since last spring. This newly found view is every bit as energizing as it was when buds began opening just six months ago! Boy, does time fly!

There is a sort of homey warmth in the leaflets as they collect to texture their final resting place. Accumulating summer wafers of life takes me back to days as a youth where we kids could hardly wait to rake up a big heap for a myriad of fun-loving adventures.

Then re-grouping the crunchy fronds once more, and having Dad light them off in a blaze of glory, sending their ashes wafting heavenward amidst choking smoke. You can’t do that anymore, at least in suburbia (too many ultra-sensitive noses), but I share, you haven’t really lived until you get the truest aroma of fall from a mass of burning leaves. Seemingly, the fragrance parallels the romance from a wilderness cabins’ wood burning stove.

Those of us who have lived this autumnal drama will forever remember this nostalgia. Life was so much simpler then (although maybe not for our parents) and probably more enriching than we ever realized at the time.

A flurry of harvesting chores continues around the yard. Many small members of the “wild neighborhood”, both land based and winged, are either stashing for the cold months ahead or migrating through.

I had a curious chipmunk step onto my shoe one day last week and run up the leg of my blue jeans thinking I was passing out pre-Halloween treats. Finding I offered only an empty hand, the tiny fellow/gal reversed course and zipped off for another source. I’ve recently been spreading sunflower seeds out on the ground away from the house in a small patch for all these hungry critters. Thus far the little gang of diners has not spread the word too far, and I’ve had no bear visitors. Fact is, after a few hours, there is barely a shell left to attract a “Bruno” so all of us are happy.

Black capped chickadees and red breasted nuthatches are particularly excited when I venture outside and they flit about my head as a reminder it’s feeding time. Also in the mix are uncounted numbers of migrating juncos joining in the frenzy. Sure is nice to be wanted. Speaking of juncos, I’m fascinated by the way they hang out along our twisty backwoods roads and then fly ahead of my vehicle for often lengthy distances before darting away from the traveled path. This traveler guiding character seems similar to those snow buntings.

By the way, our winter welcoming, bunting birds may not be far away. And, on another note, there’s a lot of honking up in the wild blue. 

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