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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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

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


What's On:
frosty mornings

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 25

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[click above for audio]

            October got back on track in the upper Gunflint this past week. After wandering aimlessly for the first couple stanzas while holding hands with late summer, month ten kicked up her heels with a little winter preview.
            A couple frosty mornings found gauzy fog hanging over the warmer Gunflint Lake waters. Then clouds globed together late in the night of our full “falling leaves” moon, and by morning of last Saturday snow was flying.
            The mid-trail area received a pretty good dose while I was down in those parts for a rummage sale.  The white stuff was sticking to everything and in not too many minutes the Trail was coated for my first stab at winter driving conditions. This impromptu winter wonderland made our beautiful autumn quickly fade into a distant memory.
 Here at Wildersmith our snow was not quite as intense, nevertheless it provided us with the first coating of the season. By afternoon a few peeks of sun and a still-warm ground made it all disappear in spite of temps hanging out in the low to mid-30s.
With the temperature not getting above the freezing mark this past Monday and snow whipping about most all day, I’m invoking my self-imposed criteria that it ‘s now winter in these parts. You may recall from years past that a daytime high temp below the freezing mark at this time of the season gives me license to make such a bold proclamation.
Speaking of the Gunflint Gal, I ran a check of her water temp and found “warmer” to be only relative with the column of mercury diminished into the high 40s, brrrr! On another note regarding the lake, several rains late this summer and into the fall have brought the lake level up to the highest I’ve seen at this time of year in over a decade.
This in mind, the area must be finally coming out of the drought that has plagued us for  too many years to count. It was a great summer for growing things, and thank goodness, the trees are going into winter with fairly wet feet. Now if only Old Man Winter remembers to pile on the snow!
Back country roads twist and turn as we head through October. I find it uniquely artistic the way in which, with only minimal traffic, our fallen leaves are churned up and then banked in neatly windrowed roadside borders.  It’s almost as if they are plowed into formation to act as cushion for the layers that will be piled upon them in the months to come.
The times of daylight are noticeably shorter even with that nonsensical daylight savings gaffe. Darkness is now closing in on us by late afternoon, and it’s barely twilight at seven in the morning.  So our limitless bright sky of a few short weeks ago is now consumed by ever lengthening darkness. Nevertheless, our extended evening time grips us with crisp soft air and the reverent smell of wood smoke. It’s a time of peace, perhaps the quiet before the storm.
All critters in our northern universe are busy securing places to hole up for the cold times ahead. Over the years, we at Wildersmith have been spared the influx of those tiny rodents seeking a warm spot (knock on wood). However, tight as the place seems to be, those creepy spiders are finding ways to slither inside. I know I’m probably not winning the battle against the wriggling arachnids, but if they show themselves they’re mine.
All avian feeders have been reinstalled on our deck-side cafeteria. However, I’m still using caution in regard to going full bore on serving the winged critters for fear of inviting a hungry Bruno. Further, since the brown earth is still providing morsel opportunities, and with the cost of seeds, it won’t hurt too much to wait a while longer for the excitement of a feeding frenzy to commence.
We do have several airborne visitors coming by on a daily basis to check things out. Besides our feathered friends, another reunion of sorts is announced with the return of our furry old friend Piney, the marten. Mr./Ms. Marten has been in absentia since last spring, but apparently remembers a nice piece of chicken will be available in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, it has been munching on some sparse daytime-issued sunflower seeds that keep the chattering squirrels off my back.
The “All Welcome” WTIP fall membership drive is in full swing as we visit this week. We need your continued support!  So give us a telephone buzz or internet click to keep this northern marvel going and growing, and thank you very much!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the coming of the “great northern express”, there’s a light comin’ round the mountain.

an early trick or treat visitor

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 18

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[click above for audio]

            The Smiths are back in Gunflint country after an Iowa visit with kids and grandchildren. Once again I’m indebted to my K-9 proxy “Nosey Rosey” and her dad for bringing you the local scoop during my absence.
            My return to the woods finds a few folks muttering frustration that fall has not progressed too much. Lacking the usual October gales and cold season preliminaries, our season of annoying flying/biting bugs has been extended way too long. 
On the other hand, many are relishing these great semi-summer days. We all should be reminded that official autumn is not even a month old as yet, and the usual character of month 10 in these parts will soon stand up to be counted. Remember the Halloween blizzard of 1991!
            A great deal fall of headway has been made in regard to forest defoliation throughout the Gunflint Corridor. Most, if not all, leaves are off the deciduous trees along with past generation needles from their distant white and red pine cousins.
 About all remaining for this aspect of the season has been left up to the tamaracks.  Many of them are in various stages of showing off a golden glow prior to making their lacy contribution upon the tawny carpet already in place.
            With this new blanket layered on our northland earth, every bit of heavenly moisture is now being captured by the natural decaying process, tendering an aromatic essence only Mother Nature can deliver. There is really nothing to match the fragrance wafting through the woods while tramping about on an autumn day.
            Under the full “falling leaves” moon, our area will be reflecting an early glimpse of spook season this weekend. With only a couple weeks until Halloween spirits are celebrated, the lurking skeletal remains of a now-naked forest will be casting ghostly shadows down in anticipation of ghoulish illusion.
            We at Wildersmith had an early trick or treat visitor a few nights ago. Decked out in its mask and furry costume with a ringed tail, this early beggar came banging around and was seemingly not to be deterred as I attempted to discourage it with hollers of loud intensity. I think this guy/gal may have been here before.
Grudgingly it retreated off into the forest. However, the pangs of hunger had it sneaking back up onto the deck a short time later.
For this second visit, I was more cordial, and offered a blueberry treat. A trick was also conjured up by yours truly if the treat was to be had. The sweet morsel was served in the rear confines of a cozy live trap.
We watched the visit with a flashlight through the windows. Not bothered by our leering bright light, the masked bandit showed mouthwatering interest in this delectable discovery.
Apparently not the brightest of its family litter, it spent several minutes maneuvering the cage about the deck trying to figure out an entrance point. Finally after examining all aspects of the potential dining nook, the entrance was located and access was gained.
 The bread and blueberry jam proved to be yummy, but the quarters seemed a bit confining.  After a few brief licks a decision was made to carry-out. The step back to turn around proved its undoing, clank.  Someone slammed the door!
Rather than agonize over the incarceration, it set about finishing what it came after. Soon the joy of this beggar’s night grew old.  Frustration at spending more time in there became acute.
To relieve its ill feeling I proceeded out into the dark and dispatched it to a new location. By next day, I’m sure that its spirit was again ambling through the woods.
Unless this unwanted ghoul has family nearby, I’m betting the raccoon saga at Wildersmith is over. That is, until another one hops off the next truck delivering sweet corn or watermelon from points south.
Meanwhile folks up this way continue to check items off their “getting ready for winter” list. Yours truly is nearing the end of my check-offs. With exception of installing deer protection on a few areas of young conifers and readying snow removal equipment, we at Wildersmith say bring it on.
By this time next week, we at WTIP will be into our “All Welcome” fall membership drive. Please remember this community radio treasure is for you and about you.
 Continued growth and quality programming needs you! Gracious listener support has been strong in the past and remains a must for the future.
 I hope everyone will ready with either a telephone or online pledge as the drive commences Thursday, Oct. 24. Keep in mind, “All are Welcome!”
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the riches of border country!

{photo by russavia, courtesy  of Wikimedia Commons}

Autumn has arrived...! (Photo by Bryan Hansel)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 4

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Border country offers a “Boozhoo” (welcome) to October. September ended on a stunning note throughout the Gunflint corridor. The past week or 10 days in these parts have been magical in regard to our north woods transition from a warm to cold atmosphere.

If ever I have seen one, this autumn seems to be the most beautiful on record for yours truly. However, if you have followed me over the years of this column, you will remember that I have said this more than once about this dramatic multicolored experience as each year supersedes my previous recollections.

Our month of the “falling leaves” moon has been so aptly tagged by the Ojibwe ancestors of long ago. Mother Nature has many tasks to look after with the coming of each succeeding season.

This yearly segment is no exception as Sh” has now taken on the role of carpet layer in our northern forest. After a few short days of flaming iridescence, the tokens of flora life high in the forest have begun to trickle earthward.

With the help of a steady rain and gusty winds last Saturday night and into Sunday, the layering of leaves and age-old pine needles got under way. A trip leaf peeping with friends last Sunday found the umpteenth thousandth layer of such accumulation being put in place by “Her Highness.”

Golden brown flakes were floating down in our pathway like squalls of an autumn blizzard, while tawny needles of red and white pine pierced the air space like early winter sleet. And, as we tooled along the byway, these reminders of another growing season danced and skipped alongside and behind to what will most likely be their final resting place.

What a seemingly sad farewell to the joyous quaking and awesome shade that characterized our summer. As I reflect on our leaf peeping trek, we probably never give thought to the fleeting life of a deciduous leaf.  How about a leafy memoir?

Born at the end of a growing season, these tiny embryos of plant life remain curled in their winter husks for seemingly months on end. With a sudden burst of warm energy from old Sol come late March or April, these buds of a new generation wake up and begin to feel the juices of life enter their veins.

Gradually peeling off their winter coats they flex to open and accept the light of a new day. Soon stems of their lifelines are strengthened to enable a fluttering of movement. By June in these northern latitudes, the green hands are palm up, ready to meet the tribulations of life in the forest.

The solstice of summer finds them basking in the sunshine, turning their backsides up for an impending thunderstorm and hanging on for dear life during windy days. What a life!

By July’s end, minutes of daylight are slowly diminishing and the processes of life start taking notice. Green pigment production dwindles as other characters of their make-up step forward.

August finds them turning restless with change. Come September they are proudly dressed for the harvest celebration, but nervous with cool anticipation. Suddenly, life takes a turn. Juices of vitality begin to wither, flush pigments fade and the stem of support gives way. Gusts of the season cause them to lose their grip, and it’s the beginning of the end.

It’s October, leaves tumble and fall, skittering about until finally nestled on the forest floor.  They are not yet done, though, in their leafy contribution to creation. Decaying atrophy adds them to the eons that have gone before them providing nutrient substance for a new generation yet to come. And the beat goes on!

Amazing is the minimal duration for these verdant creations. While other species in the universe may also experience short spans of life expectancy, none seem to offer the rapture of a zillion dazzling leaflets growing green, to yellow, to orange, to red and even in death, a russet tone. Their grandeur will forever capture us. Happy fall!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor this abundant beauty in the northland!


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 27th

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            There have been big changes in the scenery since we last met along the Trail. It appears Mother Nature was just waiting on the calendar to really get after the landscape pigmentation changes.
            In just a matter of days the big show has exploded. The striking tapestry of golden tones, along with a glow of molten red iron on our sugar maples, is simply breathtaking. The blur of our new autumn is just one of those “you gotta see” moments in time. I encourage everyone to make time to experience the Gunflint in full color regalia, but don’t wait too long.
            The morning of the day we ushered in our Technicolor season, it sure felt like fall too. In fact, it was downright cold last Sunday. The Smiths arose to a good hard freeze with rooftops crusted hard in crystal. So I’m feeling that summer can surely be put out to pasture.
            Moisture was on the menu over that past week as well. The rain gauge at Wildersmith had to be emptied twice with a total of well over two inches. I’m told that there was even more in other places along the byway corridor. It came to mind during the dousing of a week ago Thursday that, given a few degrees colder, we could’ve had a heck of a nice snow.
            It’s been like a zoo around the neighborhood in recent days. We had a late night deck-side visit by one of those invasive masked bandits. This makes the third straight year a raccoon has encroached on our neighborhood. Others living along the South Gunflint lakeshore indicate never having seen one. Why me?
 This migrant did a number on my apple tree. It managed to break a substantial branch out of the center, while pilfering part of the first good crop I’ve ever cultured.
 I’m now lying in wait for this alien with a fine slice of bread and jelly (this has always been well received in previous entrapment efforts.) If this masked ringed tail returns to take the bait, there will be more to come on this adventure.
A wanted guest made a cameo appearance last Thursday when a huge bull moose was reported ambling on the Mile O Pine not far from our driveway. I did not see it in person, but confirmed the visit upon seeing a trail of big hoof prints.  We haven’t had one of these icons down this way for several years, so this sighting was great news.
 The scoop on his visit was that it sported a massive rack, a real handsome devil. Since ‘tis the amorous season for these big critters, there is hope that there might be scent of a female companion somewhere nearby.  If such would transpire, we might experience more frequent visits from the now dwindling herd.
As a follow-up to the moose passing by, a third member of our wild neighborhood stopped by a day or so later. This one was also uninvited, and not necessarily wanted up on our deck, looking in the window. This peeping Bruno was of medium size, maybe a yearling. It was quite inquisitive after being discovered prowling around, but quickly high tailed it when I un-loaded a shot from my blank starting pistol.
I don’t know if this north woods Yogi had an eye for my apple tree either before, or after, it was dispatched. Next morning, I found a second incident of animal vandalism. Only this time, the tree was more seriously damaged.  The tree, which is not too far along in years, has taken two good whacks in a week.
 I can only imagine how it must have looked with about a 200-pound teddy perched precariously, munching my ripening Haralsons. At this writing, none of the three wild characters has returned for a curtain call. In the meantime, Act Two of this saga suggests that I’d best be picking what’s left of my apples, as I just got word of a momma bear and her twins frolicking just over the hill, grrrrr!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the north woods glow, as October’s banging on the door!
{photo by Darkone courtesy of Wikimedia commons}


Dennis Todd

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 20

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Tragedy has once again hit the Gunflint community. For the second time this summer the area has lost one of its friends. Longtime Gunflint Lodge fishing guide, Dennis Todd, has been lost in a boating mishap. The incident occurred on a return fishing excursion from Northern Light Lake early last Thursday evening.

Accurate details of just what happen are unavailable as this week’s commentary was being prepared. It is known that a passenger in the boat was thrown into the icy waters of Trafalgar Bay along with Mr. Todd. This person was able to swim to a nearby island to safety, but the guide never resurfaced. The survivor, who was wearing a flotation device, was eventually able to summon assistance from another group of fishermen a short time later. Search operations for Dennis were initiated as soon as word got back to land communications, and was administered by Ontario authorities from the Thunder Bay Marine unit.
Mr. Todd’s body was recovered by divers in 46 feet of water just after noon last Sunday. He was the most senior member of the Gunflint Lodge’s guiding crew, and had been serving lodge guests in that capacity for 27 years. He lived in Missouri in the winters. The Gunflint Community offers heartfelt condolences to Dennis’ immediate family, his Gunflint Lodge family and his many friends and neighbors. His always jovial mood and smiling face will be missed!
Word has also been received about the passing of another area summer resident. Frank Smith of Black Mountain, North Carolina died of pneumonia complications this past week. Frank and wife Jean shared cabin property on the shores of Loon Lake, off North Loon Lake Road. Like many others, they had a deep affection for this precious place and had spent many joyous times here in the woods until ill health constrained them to assisted living back in Carolina. Sympathy from Frank’s Gunflint friends and neighbors is extended to Jean and his family.

With autumn about to become official, the weather in the area has followed suit.  Here on Gunflint Lake we’ve had several days that were just marvelous. On a couple occasions, the feeling was mindful of those late October times when brisk northwest winds over thrashing waters called for two layers to quell the cold shivers. And, we even received more rain!  Ahh, it’s getting to be my time of year!

The migration that started several weeks ago for some of the avian flocks is now in full swing. A day doesn’t seem to go by that I don’t see at least one flying “V” high in the sky, as a sense of urgency is permeating the northern latitudes.  Further, it would appear that our hummingbird gang has called it a season. The last filling of their sweet nectar station has gone untouched for the past several days, indicating they must be en route south.  Those winged critters who do hang out year-round have begun to circle the wagons, so to speak. I’m noticing an increased gathering of chickadees, red breasted nut hatches and blue jays after being AWOL most of the summer.

A big bird happening was reported by friends over on Hungry Jack Lake during a recent fishing venture. The event was initiated when a small fish was released back into the lake but did not survive. A watchful eagle soon made a pitch for the floating finny and lifted it high into the pines. An osprey apparently took notice of the goings-on and had another idea about who was going to get the fish dinner. It soared in and literally bumped the eagle from its perch. The underwater fare went tumbling earthward, and the raptor battle was on. An airborne attack ensued as the osprey continued strafing the eagle. The eagle finally had enough and retaliated. This soaring skirmish eventually ended up in mid-air, talon-to-talon combat. After several seconds of tumbling through the heavens and roughing each other up, the eagle disengaged and winged off into the wild blue. It is unknown if either celebrated victory with a filet-o-fish that afternoon. It would be a safe bet some other critter of the wild woods probably made off with the eagle’s catch, and might be wondering how this fish could be so far from water.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor this heaven on earth, as we celebrate, the equinox of fall!


Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 13

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The Gunflint corridor is at the halfway point of month nine.  That in mind, I pause at the thought of kicking off my 13th year of reflecting on weekly Trail happenings and commentary.

Who would have thought I’d carry on for a dozen years bearing the news about the Gunflint? Much less than I’d be treading in the footprints of that eloquent icon of this wilderness, Justine Kerfoot, who reported for decades.  Whew, my, how time flies, and what an honor it is being blessed with so many cordial readers and listeners.

The wilderness atmosphere has been reasonably mellow for the past seven segments. We cooled a bit and then warmed for a couple days before settling back into a typical mid-September north woods feel.

As I finalized this keyboard exercise for today’s release, the upper Trail received some much needed rain. Moisture deliveries had been almost nonexistent, and the territory’s earth had become crispy dry from the previous allotment until this past Monday’s dose.
It would appear that the natural fireworks set off during the thunderstorms of a weekend ago did not kindle any announced fire activity. Thank goodness!

As the neighborhood critters are getting serious about pre-winter chores, most of us year-round border country folks are into getting ready for our cold season too. Yours truly has already checked a couple things off my list with lingering thoughts of just how much longer I can wait to do some others.

Several of our snowbird friends and neighbors have put away the boat, pulled in the docks, battened cabin hatches and set their GPS gear for southerly latitudes. Meanwhile those of us hangers-on are sitting pat, anxiously waiting for the next adventure. Maybe we’ll get an early arrival of the great northern express.

Bear activity is edging nearer to the Wildersmith place as one “sleek monster of the Mile O Pine midway” was seen cruising down a neighbor’s driveway. A younger version also crossed the Smiths’ path during one of our down-the-road excursions.  

I was amused as it stood at the side of the road looking first one way and then the other before crossing. It kind of reminded me of youngsters heading off to into another school year, which also happened in these parts last week.

During one of several trips up to the Chik-Wauk Museum site over the past week, I had occasion to come across a dashing red fox. Although it appeared thin and lanky, I was impressed at the fullness of its coat and, more so, its fluffy white-tipped tail. We can only imagine how cuddly that’s going to feel wrapped around Mr./Ms. fox on a frozen silent night in the not-too-distant future.

The autumn color transition seems to have stalled out in the past few days. Perhaps that is because Mother Nature couldn’t seem to make up her mind on which way the weather should go. A few red fringes are beginning to tip our maple leaves, while only slight pigment changes are happening to the birch and aspen, and many are simply drying up and falling off. I’m still feeling that by the time this scoop reaches you, we’ll be seeing a big change as the daylight minutes are rapidly giving way to darkness heading into the due west sunset next week.

The last wild roses of summer are long gone, gone to hips every one. And only a smidgen of wild blossoms are hanging in there, that being goldenrod and those invasive tansies. There are, however, vivid patches of blue or lavender decorating back country road sides. I’m making reference to a great year for wild asters. These hardy blooms are twinkling as the last bastion of our wild flower season, and most are as deeply tinted as I’ve seen them in years.

About the only berries of color remaining are the striking fruit of the mountain ash trees. These stand out like the proverbial sore thumb… that is, if the bears in your neighborhood have not made a harvest visit.

A gal from up at the end of the Trail did however, report finding a swell patch of late blues last weekend. Guess her bucket was filled to the point of providing two late season fresh blueberry pies. How could the bears have missed these?

Keep on hangin’ on and savor northern blue skies shining on you!

white cedar seed clusters

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 6th

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            Folks are humming that September song as Mother Nature appears to have surrendered her hot, grouchy attitude. Last weekend found the upper Trail both cooled and dampened down. It was about time, too!
            A couple rain episodes leading up to and including part of the long Labor Day holiday tallied nearly 1 3/4 inches in the Wildersmith gauge. The heavenly dousing couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for our brittle woods.
As it was, plenty of thunder and lightning accompanied the moisture deposit. The spirits of stormy illumination put on a brilliant, but dangerous display over borderland waters. We sure hope those natural fireworks didn’t strike and ignite some unwanted incendiary activity. Residents are keeping their fingers crossed that such didn’t happen. Guess we’ll know in a few days.
The coolness ushered in on the first day of this new month was quite refreshing after the sultry last part of August. Cooling conditions were such last Sunday evening that I actually saw puffs of breath while out doing some early evening grilling. Now this is what the north woods should be about.
The frozen cream and pie event at Chik-Wauk last Sunday was held amidst all kinds of weather. Nevertheless, many guests showed up to celebrate a culinary happening. In fact, the variety of pastry delights matched the mosaic of atmospheric formations throughout the busy afternoon.
Many thanks to members of the Gunflint Community for their contributions of help in making this event a sweet sensation!
During one of the few blue-sky moments at our end of the Trail festivities, an unexpected guest buzzed in to check out the colorful serving table line-up. Just a few of us worker bees witnessed the aerial episode. It was so spontaneous that it caught most by surprise, and even had some doing a “did you see that” double take.
Guess the assembly of vivid fruit wedges caught a hungry hummingbird’s eye. The tiny ruby throat dove in and momentarily hovered over a decadent piece of cherry-cranberry pie.
It was however, able to resist a sampling, which was not the case for a couple hundred humans. In a blink of an eye, the inquisitive hummer apparently decided “paradise found” could be gained elsewhere and soared off to parts unknown. Meanwhile, we astonished observers were left humming about the incident.
With a week of September under our belts, the “wild rice/harvest moon” is sprouting in the heavens. A sense of “Dagwagin” (fall in Ojibwe lore) is in the air.
If one can gain any insight from the squirrel intensity for harvest and subsequent storage around our yard, perhaps we should expect a winter that might be early and harsh.
 I’ve never seen such a vigorous cutting of white cedar seed clusters in any of my previous autumn seasons. If all those morsels are going to get salted away, there’s going to be some worn out rodents by the time our earth turns hard with frost.
A gal from over on Hungry Jack Lake tells that a late hatching of loon babies in her locale finds them in a hurry-up maturation mode. They are also assuming considerably more independence from the parents than might be expected for being such tardy arrivals.
Actions of these two species would make one wonder if members of our wild neighborhood might have inklings that the “Mom” in charge of things up here might have a winter surprise up her sleeve.
Checking back into my atmospheric journaling of a couple years ago, our Wildersmith neighborhood recorded snow and sleet to cover the ground briefly on Sept. 14. And we had midday snow showers on Sept. 22 in 2012, while a few years earlier the Hungry Jack/mid-Trail area got some four inches of snow on Sept. 30. Anything can happen, we shall see!
Leaf Peepers had better be getting up this way soon. The rainbow of autumn colors is about to burst on our granite hillsides. One might even see a bruno or two as they depart their nesting places around picked-over blueberry patches in search of winter quarters. It’s spectacular time in Gunflint Country, don’t miss it!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the “change and parting.”

{photo courtesy of Homer Edward Price via Wikimedia Commons}

Gunflint Trail lake

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 30

It’s a jungle out here!  As I commence keying this weeks’ Gunflint news, our once cool summer paradise is in the midst of tropical sweltering.  And, the situation is not one bit acceptable with many of us folks who are into insulated boots and parkas.
How hot has it been? It’s so hot that I’m seeing very little of the critters in the “wild neighborhood. They are seemingly more adept at letting us know its’ too hot for much of any activity, than that contemporary media sensationalism called “heat index.”
It seems nonsensical that things have been dumbed down to the point that Americans have to be told it’s hot out. In my generation as a kid, we never had to be told it was dangerously hot, you just knew it! 
I know that this unbearable spell will pass, but our bragging about what a wonderful summer it has been is being stifled. One thing for sure is conditions as they have been recently, makes one have an even deeper appreciation for times when the breathe freezes right in front of your face. For yours truly, I can always get warmer but have trouble ever getting cool enough during these miserable times.
Our circumstance on much needed precipitation has not improved by even the slightest since we last met on the radio waves. Our parched forest floor remains bone dry.

Edginess is mounting throughout the Gunflint corridor with governing agencies reluctant to invoke critical burning bans. It seems like they should be in the active mode instead of waiting to react until after wildfire erupts from some careless human action.
Every rain forecast over the past two weeks has been ninety-nine and nine tenths percent wrong in these parts. The only moisture in the Wildersmith rain gauge since we last met, measured only .02 inches.

Weather forecasting is not a pure science, but the process looks to be much like playing major league baseball, one can perform at the ten to thirty percent level and still get paid. Most other professions would call that a failure and send you packing. Those prognosticators would perhaps come out right more often if they were forecasting an eighty percent chance of no moisture as opposed to their usual twenty percent chance of precipitation. An eighty percent chance at anything is always more exciting than twenty! Enough soap boxing!
The downward spiral of our lake level on the Gunflint Gal is ongoing. Our contributing watershed creeks and streams are bone dry.

Up the Trail near the Seagull Guard Station that splendid little waterfall feeding Larch Creek was spilling nary a drop as I drove past a while back. Pretty sad!
Meanwhile, as lake level surfaces evaporate into oblivion, the temperature of our waters has reversed its downward trend of a few weeks ago, spiking back up into the low seventies. In the absence of artificially conditioned air for most back country residences, folks have gone back into lake dipping for temporary relief along with those “whirly gig” things from yesteryear, called fans.

And if the sweating misery isn’t enough, the hot spell has raised the ire of a new generation of “skeeters.”  Any disturbance of earth around the yard has brought out several other obnoxious buzzing critters too. It seems like you just can’t win sometimes. Oh for a good freeze!

As summer gives us a harsh dose of reality, our last weekend of month eight and the vacation season is fading before our eyes. To celebrate our Labor Day holiday and kick-off a final family fling before the return to school, a cool treat can be found at the end of the Trail on Sunday.

The annual ice cream and pie social sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society takes place this Sunday, September 1st at the Chik-Wauk Museum site. Serving hours are from 11:00am to 4:00 pm.

The featured fare will be homemade pie, prepared and donated by area pastry artisans, and of course, a sweet scoop of north woods coolness. Everyone’s invited out to the “land of sky blue waters” for the launching of our fall season. I’ve already discovered some “gold in them thar hills!  So come on along!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor a “September Song.”

Gunflint Trail Historical Society

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 23th

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            After a few weeks of pre-autumn weather, Mother Nature hath taken it away. The earlier part of this segment has seen the north woods atmosphere returned to more seasonal times, warm and sticky.
            Our regular delivery of moisture has also been withdrawn by her “highness.” Here at Wildersmith, we have measured a measly 5/100ths over the past 10 days. 
So the forest floor is getting somewhat crunchy underfoot. And as we are drawing down on vacation season under a waning full “blueberry moon,” everyone should be cautioned to use care and common sense with regard to campfires throughout Gunflint realm.
The Trail was alive with the “Sound of Music” this past Saturday, as the first ever classical chamber music concert took center stage on the Gunflint Community activity calendar.  With the site being no Carnegie Hall, one would never have known it as all were consumed by stunning performances in the Gunflint woods at the Schaap Community Center facility, mid-Trail.
Enough cannot be said for the wisdom of some dedicated Gunflint Trail Historical Society members in conjuring up such a wonderful idea of bringing classical music to un-organized territory. Special thanks are extended to all involved in putting this splendid fund raising event together for the Society.
A sell-out crowd of some 150 (the facility would hold no more) was wowed by eight superbly gifted professionals. Several local artists were joined by others from both the Twin Cities and Chicago. Virtuoso performances engulfed the simple hall as calming breezes caressed attendees on a spectacular north woods afternoon.
 With a long line of professional performing credits, these musicians donated their time and talents to add a touch of class to our tough as nails wilderness surroundings. Both the Society and an enthusiastic crowd of area friends and neighbors are grateful for these highly skilled folks making this a marvelous border country experience. Hopefully this event will not be a one-time shot!
If this great happening wasn’t enough from the energetic GTHS folks, they will be holding their annual pie and ice cream social Labor Day weekend, Sunday, Sept. 1. As usual the sweet tooth event is happening on the grounds at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., and is a fundraiser for continuing Chik-Wauk operations.
This is a great time for a trek up the Trail to catch some early leaf peeping.  It’s also an opportunity to pay a visit to the museum for a look at the new temporary Boostrom pioneer exhibit and the new little theater production. And, along with viewing other attractions that might have been missed on a previous occasion, maybe do a little hiking too.
Any Gunflint resident willing to volunteer assistance in setting up the facility or better yet, donate your favorite pie creation, should give Sally Valentini a call at 388-0900 ASAP.
Fall is a time of gathering for all species. The first animals in this northern part of the universe seem to be getting at the ritual early.
 The rodent folks around the yard have already begun the harvest process. My gnawing red-coated friends are busy cutting both white and red pine cones from high in the forest, and are also trimming those succulent seed clusters from our white cedars.
 Meanwhile, their striped chipmunk cousins are doing their thing as well. It seems they are picking up the dropped scraps from the squirrels and scurrying off for storage bunkers wherever on a never-ending basis.
It’s a busy time around the Wildersmith nectar station for the hummingbirds too.  Guess they must be building up for the coming departure from border country international airport on to the next chapter of their jet-set lives.
One more thought comes to mind on another member of our wild neighborhood.  We’d all better be paying attention to the Brunos. They will soon be scavengers of unsecured garbage nooks as their fattening up time commences. So humans beware!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor a north woods venture!

berries of summer

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 16th

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            It’s pleasing to be back at the keyboard in border country.  It sure is great to be home in unorganized territory after two weeks of spending time in Iowa with family.
The hubbub of civilization surely makes one appreciate the magic we have up here in the wilderness. The solitude of looking out into the marvelous natural world around us far exceeds the best urban life has to offer. In spite of metropolitan proximity to 21st-century amenities, the culture shock of countless people driving vehicles in uncountable directions and house after house after house is way too consuming any more for this old duffer. Guess I just belong in the woods!
I can’t help but reflect on the recent blog post of our Trail neighbor, Sue Ahrendt, over at Tuscarora. Her articulation about lost life in the nearby BWCA forest, coupled with the loss of a good Gunflint friend and neighbor over the past weeks, puts into perspective the precious experience of savoring life in the wilderness. Our hearts reach out to the loved ones and friends as they agonize with this sadness.
On a happier note, our return to Wildersmith and the Trail corridor found us easing into fall. The onset of my second favorite time of the year (winter is always number one) has me energized with anticipation of the Technicolor show about to unfold.
An initial sign of the season comes as the dogbane has taken on its golden glow. I also noted that a couple immature maple trees have recognized the dwindling number of daylight minutes and are sporting some early autumnal foliage.
Although we will likely have some warm Indian summer days ahead, a couple nights where the temps dipped into the high 30s have added accent to what the flora is telling us. The splendor of autumn along the international border is peeking over the horizon with yet a month remaining until the calendar declaration.
A gal down the road is sputtering about the cool trend as she can no longer stand the temperature of the lake water for her daily dip. Water temps here on the Gunflint Gal are falling through the 60s. So it really gets one’s attention upon that first entry.
With two weeks of month eight into the books, it’s a “berry” good time of year. Added to the glorious blueberry crop, raspberries, thimbleberries, service berries, high bush cranberries and the like are coming on fast. Another sign of the times are those magnificent scarlet rosehips. Patches of those red ovals stand out like holiday decorations along back country roads while clumps of mountain ash tree fruit are rapidly gaining their ripened hue.
A visit to a swell friend down the road, who might be the Queen of blueberry pickers, found us coming home the other day with a fine pouch of those blue pearls. This gift of blue-black jewels may not quite equal winning the recent $425 million Power Ball, but a bit of blue heaven nonetheless.
The annual Mid-Trail fund raiser on behalf of the Volunteer Fire and Rescue crews was reported as a huge success last week. The flea market, gift boutique and auction resulted in a fine donation of some $10,000 to the Volunteer coffers. Congratulations and thanks to the organizers, donors and community members for their hard work and ongoing commitment to this worthy cause.
 By the way, the quilt raffle associated with the event found a local gal holding the winning ticket. Judy Ross, who has a cabin on Little Ollie Lake, took home the Mid-Trail Quilters work of art. Congrats to Judy!
            This Saturday the 17th marks the first chamber music concert ever on the Trail. Earlier in this week, I was informed the musicale is a near sell-out with only a few tickets remaining. 
If any folks are still interested in being audience to this special event, it would be well to call the Chik-Wauk Museum ASAP, 388-9915, as only hours are left before the performance.
            The Gunflint Woods, Winds & Strings program will commence at 4 p.m. in the Schaap Mid-Trail Community Center. A “Meet the Artists” reception will follow.
            Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the autumnal preview!

{photo by Angelo Juan Ramos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons}