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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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Gunflint residents foster friendships with neighborhood foxes this week

Wildersmith November 11

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The season that north country folk anticipate at this time of year continues AWOE (absent without explanation). By this date in 2010 the territory had a blanket of snow that became the norm for the season, hanging around until the latter days of April.

Instead of slipping into those insulated stompers for slip-sliding around, we are still treading around on the cushy carpet of needles and leaf litter in summer hiking boots.

The atmosphere has stayed unusually warm for yet another week, acting more like we’re headed into an El Nino pattern instead of the predicted La Nina. Thus the air remains alive as one inhales the rich earthy smells of fall’s decomposing plant matter, while those usual frosty breaths of November expiration have been few and far between.

With basically no substantial precipitation through the upper end of the byway during the last week, the area is once again tinder dry with wildfire potential. Perhaps the only saving grace in the matter of fire danger is that nights have been much cooler than they were a few weeks back when the Pagami Creek inferno was raging not too far away.

Tourist traffic has slowed to almost nothing along the Trail. However, the onset of rifle shooting deer season this past Saturday saw vehicles cruising through with a “hot orange” glow inside as opposed to the customary top-mounted canoes and trailing watercraft.

As of this writing, I’m told hunting success in the Gunflint Lake area has been minimal. There seems to be little if any sign of the critters. There are many noticeable spots of hunter fluorescence in various high points along the Trail. Hopefully a change to colder and maybe some snowier conditions will bring some action to those orange-looking bushes that sit so quietly.

One local hunter noted the sighting of a doe with two wolves in hot pursuit. These two warriors were followed by two more, then two more and then two more for an eight pack total. It would be a good bet that these four-legged hunters had better luck than most of the two-legged pursuers around here, at least on that day.

It’s probably safe to say that the wolves have taken control over what was a burgeoning whitetail population just two or three years ago. As we might expect though, this too will cycle as dining opportunities diminish, the pack population will move on to better hunting grounds and the browsing population will eventually rebound.

A gal residing over on Tucker Lake tells of a growing friendship with a neighborhood fox. The fluffy tailed critter has become so friendly that it hangs around within whistling distance most all the time.

She tells of stepping out the door and if it is not in sight, a whistle has it coming in on the run, and when outside the lady is now carrying treats in her pocket for her newfound companion. How fun this must be!

Then another gal from over on Loon Lake shared that she had a fox walking up her driveway recently. Acquainted with the fox experience over on Tucker Lake, she stepped out and gave a whistle. Sure enough, this one came right back to her door in anticipation of a handout, which it did receive.

One would wonder if this fox might have been the same one, or have we humans domesticated them to the point that a whistle respondent gene has evolved? Jokingly, I’ll bet those gals down in the mid-Trail area, on Poplar Lane, who’ve been pampering neighborhood foxes for years are behind all this. Bless them all, for they shall inherit the wild kingdom!

On a final note, we at Wildersmith hope that everyone will step to the plate once again to show their support of this “deeply rooted” component in our wonderful northeast Minnesota community. WTIP’s fall membership drive needs you! Please give as generously as possible!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor our gray natural world!

Airdate: November 11, 2011

Photo courtesy of Art G. via Flickr.


 
Whiskey Jack

Wildersmith November 4

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The 20th anniversary of the northland’s great Halloween snowstorm was celebrated quietly with no repeat. In fact, spirits of snowy ghosts and goblins throughout the upper Trail were not too haunting at all. Being nearly at the end of the world, so to speak, there were so few spooks banging at the Wildersmith door that our candy cache remains intact except for a little in-house snitching.

The atmosphere has shown some sign of components soon to be in the offing as our ground was whitened with about a half inch in the early hours, and several mornings found a skim of ice on the smaller ponds and swamps along the byway since we last met on the radio. However, in both circumstances, the cold weather character could not be sustained as sun and wind vaporized things rather easily.

Bitter cold has not consumed us yet, but several of our recent dawns have dished up some pretty hefty frosted layers on most everything sticking up in the air. At Wildersmith our coldest reading to date has only been in the high teens.

On the moisture side of the ledger, a few piddly shower attempts in the past week have netted less than a quarter inch, but it has kept things damp enough to chill the bones when added to the never-ceasing air currents.

So the beat goes on as we traipse into month 11. Ojibwe call it the month of the ‘freezing over’ moon (Gash Kadino-Giizis) while others in the north woods label it as the full ‘beaver’ moon.

Regardless of what one dubs it, excitement mounts with the end of one month in Halloween orange, and a beginning of another in hot hunter orange. This marks the opening of another firearms whitetail season. In a matter of hours, thousands of stalkers, decked out in their fluorescent outfits, will descend on border country and take positions trying to look like a tree or a bush.

All this hoopla is in hope of surprising some unsuspecting buck or doe that is more in tune with continuing the species than looking down the barrel of a 30 ought six. Not a pursuer myself, I wish both hunter and the hunted good luck, but most of all, let’s be sane and safe during the next couple weeks. For everyone else that might be out in the forest doing their thing during this time of year, remember to don your orange warning wear too.

The wintertime critters that frequent our deck-side feeders are back. That poultry-lovin’ marten has returned, remembering how well it has been treated in the past. And a cluster of whiskey jacks have hung around to make me feel guilty enough to get up and out early with a handful of bread cubes. The gray jay reward for my early day outdoor venture has been a visit to my hand and a peck on the digits if the serving is not enough.

The “white sox” are out along County Road 20 at almost any time of day or night, and they are not of the Chicago vintage. I’m talking about snowshoe hares, and all have slipped into their white winter leggings. I guess that I have not paid them much attention, but apparently their turn from summer to winter apparel must start from the ground up. A few have even taken on a white undercarriage.

At times it’s like you’re in a game of dodge ball trying to avoid the daredevils in white sneakers with the vehicle. Speaking of other daredevils in the wild, those hares don’t exactly have a lock on keeping you alert on backcountry roads. Minnesota’s ‘chicken birds’ must think that their hunting season is over because they are casually roaming about creating an occasional roadside surprise of their own. Between the hares, grouse and now crazy deer, vehicle operation is not for the faint of heart.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor dodging those wilderness surprises!

Airdate: November 4, 2011

Photo courtesy of Steve Urszenyi via Flickr.


 
"How's that for warm and cuddly?"

Wildersmith October 28

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Who would believe that October has come and almost gone? There she goes on the flurry of wings things headed south. November is creeping in on wilderness folk, like a ghost sneaking across the border.

Better late than never, the late month rain has finally favored us with our annual autumn aroma. One day last week, I got a fragrant whiff of that delicious damp woods ground and decomposing leaves that almost escaped us in the long dry weeks of this transition season.

Now’s a time for waiting, waiting for that great northern express to roll over the Canadian hills on those winds of month 11. The quiet wrinkles often forming on the smaller lakes by now have not had their ticket punched, and the gray clouds of the past days are bulging with what might be a belly full of snow. They are just waiting for an uplift to pierce them for the first big delivery of winter. I for one can hardly wait!

In the meantime, trends of the season are happening in stride. Tamarack spires, which now light up the forest, are about to sift gentle needles down to their final resting place, thus extinguishing the final sign of flora life in 2011. Whitetails are growing into amorous moods, and the last of spring-born waterfowl are just a skim of ice away from moving on. An inquisitive weasel stuck its head out of a hole the other day and it’s almost an ermine.

Yours truly has also made another move in anticipation and hope for that first white blanketing, by hooking on the snow blade. I’ve noticed that happening at a couple other places along the Trail too. Those involved with the cross-country ski business have been busy mowing and cleaning up the miles of trails throughout the territory. I would guess that pretty much everything is in readiness for a visit from the Old Man of the North.

The colder trend of late has excited some of the avian critters in the neighborhood. My gray jay pal has been coming each morning about daybreak to see if I’m out serving breakfast. However, I’ve yet to get out there in time to greet it with a hand full of treats.

In recent days, my tramping around outdoors has found the chickadees swarming about my cap. A few red-breasted nuthatches have been busy chirping about their expectations too.

Thank goodness I have at least some sunflower seeds on hand, as I see that the price has gone through the roof. It makes me wonder if there is anything that ‘big oil’ doesn’t control in this country.

I’ve been told by one winged critter provider, who went to a lesser menu item, that the blue jays come in for a nibble and just spit it out. Guess we’ve created a gourmet attitude that may require some adjusting. Come to think of it, more than just the birds need an attitude adjustment these days!

In my last couple trips up and down the Trail, I’ve come across several foxes. They are rapidly accumulating that fine winter coat, and those feather-duster tails are magnificent. I can just imagine them curled up in winter quarters with that fabulous furry appendage drawn up and around in insulation against the northern elements. How’s that for warm and cuddly?

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a thought of the next wilderness adventure!

Airdate: October 28, 2011

Photo courtesy of Mike Baird via Flickr.


 
It's amazing how quickly the scenery changes this time of year

Wildersmith October 21

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A big atmospheric turnabout has happened along the upper Trail. Our Indian summer wilted last weekend as raging winds brought an abrupt end to the unusual warmth of October’s first two weeks.Three straight days of the roaring forest had a few of us crying ‘enough is enough,’ with tree branches being rearranged and electricity flickering in the gusty assault.

Temperatures quickly returned to more seasonal readings, but the winds augmented a feel that was even colder. It was one of those see-your-breath days last Sunday afternoon as I finished up a few more tail-end outdoor chores.

The northwestern surge through the border country even kicked up a couple showers of snow pellets and flurries in the latter part of the day along the south shore of Gunflint Lake.

My whining about the discouraging dry conditions must have finally found a place where someone would listen. The territory got a timely dousing of rain just before the winds took over. Wildersmith’s rain gauge measured just about 1-1/10 inches while residents in other parts have said they got even more.

Hopefully that happening breaks the spell, spiriting a trend toward wetter times. It was a blessing to be sure, but about all the heavenly offering did was quiet the cornflake crunch of leaves that have practically disappeared from their summer attachments.

It is amazing how the scenery has changed along the Trail now that Mother Nature’s camouflage has dropped off. The colorful autumn scheme has changed to the muted hues of grays and tans, exposing things back in the forest that haven’t been seen since leaf-out five months ago.

I haven’t observed too many deer out this way as yet, but those that I have seen are in the process of shedding their summer wear for the coming season. Now that this is happening, they are even more difficult to pick out with their attire blending into the brush of the drab forest, so drive carefully.

There are bunnies all over the place. It appears that they have had a great summer working on their multiplication. A gal traveling down the Mile O Pine a few nights ago counted up to 17 of the hopping critters in a short one-mile stretch. I even saw one that has started the brown to white transition.

With such an apparent burgeoning hare population, it would seem that there might be more lynx stalking about this winter. For sure though, the hunting should be better for fox and other wild folk that enjoy a lagomorph dinner once in a while.

I don’t know how grouse hunters did on a whole. They surely didn’t make a big dent in the numbers as I see it. DNR reported a couple years ago that their numbers would be heading in a down cycle, but it seems there are more grouse than I’ve seen in several years. Maybe that decline will happen, but at this point in time, those Minnesota Chicken Birds are strutting around everywhere you look.

Heading into the weekend of Moose Madness throughout the county, a few reports continue trickling in about Alces alces sightings. The most recent came from a grouse hunting crew that spotted a huge bull just south of the mid-Trail area.

Although our worries continue about their demise, it is encouraging every time you hear about one that is still upright. Gooo Moose!

Keep on hanging on, and savor these autumn times!

Airdate: October 21, 2011

Photo courtesy of D. Bjorn via Flickr.


 
There's a crackling crunch under foot this week up the Gunflint

Wildersmith October 14

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Back at Wildersmith once more! Again my thanks go out to Rosey’s dad for covering me while I made a quick run to Iowa for a grandson’s visit. How about that swell moose calf rescue story that he shared?

Just days ago, the northland celebrated the full “falling leaves” moon, and the Ojibwe tribal ancestors surely put the right handle on it. That’s exactly what’s happening throughout the upper Trail territory.

The usual cool winds of October have been blowing hot and dry of late. So the usual autumn aroma of damp decaying leaves is absent from the scene, and instead there’s crackly crunch under foot.

Those warm southerly winds have put a sudden stop to the color show, and our forest blush is giving way to scraggly skeletons of denuded aspen, birch and maple. Along with the layering of deciduous tokens, Mother Nature has textured the forest floor with those tawny white pine needles and rusty fronds of white cedar in her annual fall blanketing event.

A trip up or down the Trail now finds that dancing leaves have taken center stage. Leaflets are being wisped about. As traffic passes by they are caught up in scurrying excitement like little kids at holiday time. More wilderness magic!

Meanwhile, we are about to experience the last of our seasonal tree transitions. Those marvelous tamaracks are in the midst of doing their illumination thing too. This coniferous affair is one of the nicest of all pigmentation incidents. Sadly, all too soon those delicate golden needles will also be added to the final calling of harvest time, and it will be time for a covering of another color.

Those of us that are still hanging out in border country remain on pins and needles (no pun intended) with regard to wild fire danger. After a terribly dry month nine, October has not offered much help in the way of precipitation. At this writing, the Wildersmith rain gauge has barely been dampened with a puny 12/100ths of an inch.

I have even washed my vehicle, which always seems to generate some rain and ensuing mud on the road, but that has been to no avail. A dance for the rain gods is surely in order, but since I’m no dancer that is not an option. It would seem that something has to happen soon to give us a break in this severe desert-like atmosphere.

It’s comforting to know that we have wildfire sprinkler systems in the neighborhood. I’ve cranked them up a few times to dampen things down, adding an umbrella of humidity around the place. I hope other area residents are doing the same.

Winter preparation chores continue along the Trail and around the Smith place too. Young conifers are being netted for protection from hungry whitetails and summer plants have been relegated to the compost pile.

The boat has been brought to land and winterized, while a great neighbor and his buddies lent a lot of muscle to bringing in the dock for cold season storage. By the way, the Gunflint Lake water temps were in the mid-50s when this was going on.

With only a couple home winterizing jobs remaining and a bit of necessary snow removal equipment tuning at hand, guess Old Man Winter can probably bring it on.

Ghost and goblin time being a little over two weeks away brings back memories to longtime Trail residents of the notorious Halloween storm that buried some of the area in over 3 1/2 feet of snow. I probably needn’t remind anyone that it was exactly two decades ago for that historical weather happening. Do you suppose a repeat could be in the cards for the 20th anniversary? Let’s keep our fingers crossed, for moisture of any variety is most welcome, and will help in squelching that persistent Pagami Creek fire.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor fall in the wilderness!

Airdate: October 14, 2011

Photo courtesy of life is good (pete) via Flickr.


 
Dagwagin (fall) has officially arrived in Gunflint territory!

Wildersmith September 30

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It’s official now, Dagwagin (fall) in the north woods. After weeks of anticipation, the glorious season of color is what it is!

Wow, the digital opportunities are nearly beyond belief as the hues of autumn have exploded throughout the territory during the past seven days. The leaf-peeping fans had better not wait much longer as the colored tokens will soon be falling into history.

Last Sunday, a trip to the end of the Trail was nothing short of magnificent. In places, our trek took us through tunnels of golden ambiance with an occasional opening where a splash of scarlet maple was almost blinding in front of a beaming September sun.

Folks who can never get enough of summer are surely saddened, but for others this season of temperate transition can’t help but bring smiles of deep appreciation for the wonderful things that the natural gallery has on exhibit right now.

Our starlit, dreamcatcher nights are gradually giving way to the distant smell of ice, but regardless of one’s seasonal preference, all days are good, and some are even better here along the Gunflint Byway. So why not come along and enjoy?

October is banging at border country doors. Binaake-Giizis, the month of the ‘falling leaves, harvest and hunters’ moon’, is leaving the station. Scarlet and gold will be dripping from the skies as winds sentimentally whisk the tokens of fall into a frenzy that in 31 days will likely be flakes of white. We might as well get on board, have the ticket punched and enjoy a ride through the sky blue north woods yonder.

In spite of being barely into this gorgeous season, our trip mentioned earlier found us encountering a couple flocks of the winter welcome wagon. Yes, those snow buntings have already shown up and were a blur as they winged up in front of the vehicle leading us through paradise found. It makes me wonder if this seemingly early arrival might be an indication of the old man of the north’s premature arrival.

Moose sightings are on the increase after a warm summer found very few of the massive critters out posing for a photo op. I’ve heard of several vehicle stoppages at various places along the byway in the past week.

The moose rut might be starting to wane somewhat according to the calendar, but to hear tell of a visiting moose caller, the juices are still running. Seems this fellow and his spouse were out hiking and came upon a valley opening onto a small lake. For the fun of it, he decided on spewing a few unk’s and what to his wondering ears should he hear, but a rapid response from yon’ hillside.

This brought on a pair of communications from another direction, followed by a battle clacking of antlers. The first responder then uttered another call. That was followed by the noise of him thrashing through the timber.

As the human part of this equation was beginning to wonder where safety could be sought, a fourth call from moosedom echoed from a third direction. With discretion being the better part of valor, the couple made haste from the territory without looking back.

One will never know what the culmination might have been. It’s nice to know however, that there are still at least some big guys out there somewhere, what with the peril facing the Arrowhead herd.

For the record, the raccoon mentioned last week has not yet taken the bait, but the neighborhood chipmunks have surely enjoyed my sweet corn provision. Guess I might try a little bread and PB&J.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor a little bit of northern heaven!

Airdate: September 30, 2011

Photo courtesy of Sholeh via Flickr.


 
September has arrived, and so have cooler temperatures! Wildersmith hit a low of 22 degrees this month.

Wildersmith September 23

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Truly, east is east and west is west as old Sol kisses summer goodbye. “Fire & Ice” over the past week has been a prelude to our northland equinox.

Mother Nature snarled at places close by with the raging Pagami Creek wildfire. Then, not too uncharacteristically, gave us a brief preview of things to come with a day of snow showers, sleet and rain on our 14th day of month nine.

Added to the natural turmoil were a couple mornings of frosted rooftops as the morning temp at Wildersmith hit an early season low of 22. So with sudden abruptness, the garden-growing season has come to an end. Tender veggies got hit pretty hard unless covers were thrown over them.

Moisture accumulations have been minimal, but nevertheless welcomed by both worried property owners and fire fighters throughout the county. Gain in containment of the massive, 100,000-acre burn has been slow, but steady as of this writing last Monday evening.

Meanwhile winds in the fire storm calmed, and thankfully, have remained blowing mostly away from the upper end of the Trail. Let’s hope that it stays that way! After the fires in 2005, 2006, and 2007, Gunflinters feel nothing but sympathy for those folks to the south and west who are experiencing the terror that comes with flames, wind and smoke. Everyone is praying for a safe return to normalcy soon!

As the growing season ended, the intensity of migration has stepped up. The hummingbirds have departed border country for winter places and those flying wedges of Canadian honkers have been observed headed in a perpendicular direction to the jet stream.

Lake water temps have tumbled quickly with the first cold blast. At last temperature check from the Wildersmith dock, the mercury had slipped to 63. This is about 10 degrees down from the warmest point of the summer.

Added to water temps’ demise, our Gunflint Lake level on the DNR measuring gauge has dropped below where I can even get a reading. This attests to the seriousness of drought for this region. For a fact, the surface may be matching last year’s when it was lower than longtime residents had ever seen. It makes me wonder if this trend will ever be reversed, as it’s been a decade with such arid conditions at this end of the Trail.

Out of daybreak last Sunday, a regular wintertime visitor returned to the feed trough. One of those nomadic pine martens apparently remembered where it could get a good chicken dinner. It was thin as a rail indicating that a little poultry plate would be just the ticket. I can only wonder where it’s been all summer?

A night later, an unwanted visitor showed up. This appearance featured the biggest raccoon that I have ever seen. It was sniffing around the deck-side seed trays, but got little more than some smells. It looks like I’ll be trying my skills at live trapping the masked bandit for displacement to another locale.

The woods must seem a lonesome place at times to critters of the forest. Last Sunday, a trip down the Mile O Pine, in a cold drizzling rain, brought us upon a lone wolf.

Although looking quite healthy, it appeared to be rather forlorn as it stood looking toward this humming monster of a truck. After checking us out briefly, it ambled off into the trees. I suppose it was hungry and maybe looking for a comrade or the rest of the pack. At times life must be a struggle for those of the wild neighborhood.

Everyone along the Gunflint is probably torn, wishing for both great sunny days in which to celebrate the color show, and yet yearning so badly for a stint of rain and cool to set the fire danger on its ear. Hopefully, we’ll get a little bit of both.

Keep on hangin’ on and pray for wildfire containment!

Airdate: September 23, 2011

Photo courtesy of dbang via Flickr.


 
Wildersmith spotted evidence in places along the Gunflint where a few young birches are dropping leaves

Wildersmith September 9

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My how time flies! The first week of our month of the wild rice/harvest moon has slipped away.

With it, yours truly is heading off into year 10 of keyboarding upper Trail happenings. I never thought that this weekly exercise would have lasted this long. I can’t thank everyone enough for reading, listening and sharing a story or two, plus the kind and encouraging words.

As the stained glass window of our wilderness world opens wider with each passing day, our fading growing season is giving way to fleeting autumn colors. It would seem that by mid-month it should be a leaf-peeper’s dream.

Not to rush the Dagwagin (Ojibwe for fall) along, I see evidence in places along the Mile O' Pine where a few young birches are dropping leaves. This seems a bit premature, but it could be due to the dry atmosphere that’s in concert with the relentless winds of the past several weeks. Whatever the reason, it’s a sign of change in the air when you see those golden tokens lying on the ground.

I’m no plant expert, but the past growing season appears to have been quite prolific for tree growth. In spite of being parched throughout most of the summer months, new tree growth along the upper byway, especially on post-blow down natural starts and plantings, has been phenomenal. Many Wildersmith trees have added up to as much as three feet since bud-out time.

With bear hunting season commencing, there is at least one bear that has a leg up on its pursuers. With all this trickery of baiting the Bruno folk, I’m told of one such critter that took things into its own paws and beat the stalkers to the punch.

A hopeful hunter arrived in the area recently with bait stashed in the back of a pickup. Failing to thoroughly think strategies through, the vehicle with a likely aromatic kettle of whatever was parked and left overnight.

Obviously, a bear in the neighborhood did think things through. Sensing that this wild gourmet fare was eventually intended for some furry critter, it might as well be put to good use. Getting to the tasty stuff was no problem, such a wonderful opportunity!

Easily breaking into the pickup box, dining must have been pretty rewarding. Mr./Ms. Bear made off like a bandit, probably with a grinning face, once again ‘bearing’ out that you must be on your toes at all times with Mother Nature’s wild neighborhood.

Another bear report comes from the Seagull Lake area where a few folks have experienced ursine encounters recently. One has to hope that temptations are not being fostered by human activities such as bird feeders and unsecured garbage containers. It would be a shame if a bear had to be dispatched because we two-legged critters put it in an unenviable position. Sometimes it’s hard for us to remember that this was Bruno’s territory first.

The fourth annual Taste of the Gunflint and second pie & ice cream feed at Chik-Wauk Museum was a resounding success last Sunday. The Trail was a-buzz with traffic as hundreds of people enjoyed making their way to check out nature’s wonders and sample tempting treats at the four stops.

Not even scattered downpours, gusty winds and cool temperatures could put a damper on the enthusiastic travelers as they rushed to get in on the action at Bearskin Lodge, Trail Center Restaurant, Gunflint Lodge and the Chik-Wauk site.

Thanks go out to all who made the trip, participating business owners and organizers of the pie and ice cream dessert finale at the museum. What a day!

As a reminder, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society will be meeting this coming Monday, Sept. 12. This is the last meeting of the summer season. Our featured speaker, with some historical Gunflint anecdotes, will be distinguished north woods resident and author/historian John Henricksson. The gathering will be at the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center, beginning at 1:30 p.m. All members, wannabes and Gunflint friends are welcome. Per usual, treats and beverages will be served.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the sweet forest!

Airdate: September 9, 2011

Photo courtesy of stpaulgirl via Flickr.


 
Cattails have matured in roadside swamps up the Gunflint Trail

Wildersmith September 2

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September has come a-calling in our north woods. Everything about autumn is for real now!

‘Tis the season, for amorous moose, for white tail deer exchanging their copper colored coats to a camouflage shade of cedar bark and for other resident fur-bearing critters to start thickening their wraps as the cooler nights intensify.

Cattails have matured in roadside swamps, purple asters are twinkling in the spotlight of a dawdling summer sun and skies are murmuring with the seasonal beckon of migrations south.

The harvest season is well under way up the Gunflint too, as folks are laying in all types of berry and garden crop preserves. That green thumb gal from over on Loon Lake has been in the pickle-making business for some time, and now I’m told she is making sunshine pickles on her roof.

Guess it takes about four days of consistent rays to make the curing process work and what better place to get the best of what old Sol has to offer than ‘up on the house top.’ Just when I thought that ‘up on the house top’ was only for reindeer, here’s a new twist. Yes, the onset of a September song is resonating in the forest to a number of different tunes.

The past week again saw raucous winds tormenting those that prefer time in marine craft. It seems that we’ve been experiencing a big November-like blow, down Gunflint Lake about every other day.

For a second consecutive week, a couple wilderness adventurers had to seek refuge at the Wildersmith dock when they could no longer face those angry waves. Some visiting folks have been getting a hard lesson in small craft navigation. Bet they’ll think twice next time out!

A trip down the Trail on a recent cool dewy morning dealt up some spectacular crystal observations. No, they were not frost, not just yet, but it sure reminded me of things to come when Jack Frost starts making his fall calls.

Although Halloween is weeks away, spiders have been spinning their webs of intrigue with regularity. Now the cool of our darkness hours is causing these lacy works of art to capture condensing moisture, making them magically visible as the rays of Sol beam through their silky strands.

This is fiber art at its best! A journey along the Byway gallery in the hour right after sunrise is the best time to experience Mother Nature’s silken handiwork.

To get another Taste of the Gunflint don’t forget the Sunday, Sept. 4, trek out this way. In addition to the end of the Trail pie and ice cream stop at the Chik Wauk Museum,
your taste buds can be whetted at Bearskin Lodge, Trail Center Restaurant and the Gunflint Lodge Bistro. Plan to stop by between the hours of 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to say hello and experience their tasty hospitality. Your diet can be resumed after Labor Day!

Friends and neighbors of the late Dr. Catherine (Catie) Lush are invited to gather on Labor Day at 10 a.m. in the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center. Catherine summered on Gunflint Lake for the better part of seven decades, passing away June 13 at the age of 94.

Another of those great Gunflint icons, this long-time area resident will be remembered for her endearing smile, many years of wonderful friendships and service to folks throughout the upper Gunflint territory, when emergency medical treatments were needed and there was no Grand Marais hospital or EMT personnel.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the blush of autumn!

Airdate: September 2, 2011

Photo courtesy of D'Arcy Norman via Flickr.


 
Golden rod and tansy blooms line roadside ditches as fall approaches

Wildersmith August 26

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August is waning in the northland. You can feel it in the perpetual whispering through the tall pines. Almost Indian summer days have been the order, mostly sunny and warm with pull-up-the-covers nights.

A couple days have been more than just breezy too. Winds thrashing down Gunflint Lake caused considerable angst for most marine navigators regardless of skill level.

A couple of obviously unassuming urbanites, who had no business in the first place even venturing out onto the rough waters, had a tough trip motoring east up the Gunflint Gal last week. They then found the turnaround for a return trip westward even scarier, as their craft was being tossed about like one of those hot colored fishing bobbers on some 4- to 5-foot rollers.

In a wise effort to avoid an unwanted dip in the lake, they pulled in at a south shore dock a couple places down the way. They were found in a shocked state, wondering if they were headed in the right direction to Gunflint Lodge and how far it was, by yours truly and my good neighbor walking up the Mile O Pine.

Since the Lodge was yet a few miles away, being a good Gunflint Samaritan, my kind neighbor cranked up his car and gave one of the two out of breath wannabe adventurers a ride back to his point of departure. The other member of the party sat down alongside the road with her big dog and waited for the partner to come back with transportation.

Potential tragedy was avoided by this couple, but I can’t imagine for the life of me why anyone in their right mind would tempt fate with Mother Nature causing such a stir?

One of our local berry picking enthusiasts tells me of finding a nice patch of raspberries. In the center of the matted prickly stalks was a nest of some proportion where an animal had apparently been holing up.

She’s guessing, and I’m betting that she’s right, it must have been a spot where br’er bear settled in for a nap and, most likely, easy red berry picking.

With September lurking, northland folks can see the handwriting on the wall. Roadside weeds are a hodgepodge amongst the golden rod and tansy blooms, twisting in the winds, only now unable to untangle themselves. Time is running short for berry picking Brunos, hummingbirds seem to be nervously intolerant of each other at the nectar station and I’ve observed a couple of the non-parental loons partying overhead during the sundown hour. It seems they must be in the early stages of the impending gathering prior to their long trip (probably checking their GPS bearings).

On the domestic side, anxiety is growing for gardeners up this way in regard to green tomatoes that are surely never going to ripen before frost. There is also a sense of ‘just how long do I have left before I should start thinking about winterizing the boat and pulling in the dock.’ Yes, it’s unmistakable, summer is almost gone and for some, breakin’ up, as always, is hard to accept!
But, take heart northlanders, the wonders of autumn are accelerating. The Labor Day holiday is both an ending and a beginning. Our granite mountainsides and rugged valleys will soon be alive with a color show to boggle the mind, and the solitude of crystal blue lakes will capture the momentary reflections of border country in its fall ‘go to meetin’ attire. It’s a time of celebrating the memories of a season past in Technicolor, so come along and enjoy the journey.

Speaking of Labor Day weekend, folks up this way should be marking the calendars for a trip to the end of the Trail on Sunday the fourth. Yup, plan to come up to the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center for the second annual pie and ice cream social.

Organizers of the fundraiser will provide a taste of the Gunflint with great pies baked and donated by area residents and businesses.

The sweetness festivities will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Why not make a day of it? Plan to take in the museum, hike the trails and enjoy treats from the best along the Gunflint!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a wilderness in transition!