Listen Now
Pledge Now


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:
Loon (aaronHwarren/Flickr)

Wildersmith May 17

Wildersmith_20130517_finalcut.mp38.45 MB

Our second week of month five found that stubborn Old Man of the North slipping some but still unwilling to relinquish full command of his extended reign over the upper Gunflint atmosphere. The weather on our big Mother’s Day and fishing season opener was more of an April Fool’s celebration than that of a budding spring experience.

As expected, the ice remained solid on most of the big lakes, while howling northwest winds and snow squalls dominated the scene along the Mile O Pine Saturday and Sunday. By the end of Saturday and into Sunday our ground was white once more. And melt water standing on the Gunflint Lake ice cake was skimmed like it was December all over again.

Outside of the persistent big lake ice and prior to the weekend blast, our only remnants of winter were splashes of windrowed November and December snow in roadside ditches.  The new snow came hard and furious but measured less than an inch at Wildersmith.

With a warming forecast for border country going into week three, it’s a good bet the Trail corridor will be void of most white by the time this keyboard exercise hits the airwaves. Meanwhile, the prognosis for open waters on all area lakes remains tentative on the natural calendar.

Two issues of concern face area residents. The first issue is a potential for big winds on the days when the ice cake breaks from shorelines and begins to move. Strong air currents from any direction could prove dangerous for lakeshore fixtures like permanent docks and water lines. Those ice cakes have minds of their own and are willing to take out anything in their path with even a slight push from troubled breezes.

Our second item of concern is that even with the huge amounts of snow melt, the area is fast becoming tinder-dry. This neighborhood and on to the northwest has been void of significant rain for the past couple weeks with less than one-tenth of an inch in the Smith rain gauge. The latest snow will contribute little relief as the powerful sun will wipe it out in a matter of hours.

Many of us are fearful of wildfire potential, and doubly so when the ice is preventing the re-upping of wildfire sprinkler systems for the coming season. It would seem that burning bans for the area would be a no-brainer until both green-up and rain become reality.

Hope springs eternal as north woods flora are proceeding to sprout buds in spite of shivering temps for many days in May. Nearly every deciduous shrub and tree in the neighborhood has reached the green-tip bud stage. It would seem that the plant world will do some rapid catching up with a few consistent days of sunny warmth, and we’ll be green as usual when June comes a-calling.

Several folks have reported loon voices in the heavens over the past week or 10 days, but one has to question if their navigation systems might be a little confused with little open water on which to land. Wonder how long they can maintain a holding pattern, and if they run short of fuel, can a slippery wet ice landing be maneuvered. If our wilderness ambassadors do happen to land, how about a subsequent take-off?

Our forest has taken on a quieter note with the disappearance of those raucous crows and blue jays. I’m guessing they’re off to nesting somewhere. While I hear that the first hummingbird has been observed southwest of Grand Marais along Superior’s north shore, they had best consider waiting a spell before coming back to these parts.

In spite of the alarming decline in our county moose count this past year, several folks have reported sightings of moose with young’uns in the upper end of the Trail.  Perhaps they might be seeing the same ones, but it makes for happy reporting that not all have been wiped out. Maybe the surviving herd benefitted from the long winter with some of their parasitic nemeses possibly freezing out.

On a final note, congratulations to the folks down at Clearwater Lodge for becoming the owners of a newly-carved replica of their famous Billy Needham totem pole. The new one is in place where the original sentinel watched over lodge activities for some 65 years.

The new reconnection with Clearwater’s historic past was made possible through the generosity of Clearwater Lake resident craftsman Bob Olson. A formal unveiling will be announced sometime this summer, so check the Clearwater blog in order to be there for this next chapter in their story.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some wilderness time in the warming sun!

Airdate: May 17, 2013

Pussy willows

Wildersmith: May 10

Wildersmith_20130510_finalcut.mp37.9 MB

I’m back in the woods once more, great to be back at home sweet home.  Thanks are extended to Rosey, that nosey pup, and her dad from over on Hungry Jack Lake for keeping you in tune with the Gunflint scoop during my absence.

The departure on my annual southern trek for a stint as a referee at the Drake Relays in Des Moines was a struggle at best following the big April 19 snow. What a turnaround, though, upon our return. The one-lane drive to get up and out of the Mile O Pine tunnel of white on April 20 was found to be back to brown earthy mud just eight days later. Finally, Old Man Winter seems to have lost his grip on this part of the world.

Since that time, a few days of pleasurable sunshine has the wilderness back on track toward real spring. There is plenty of snow yet to be melted, but the forest has taken on the look of a zillion Dalmatians, spots of winter and spring throughout, so there is growing optimism! 

Nighttime temps are still dropping below the freezing mark as of this writing, so progress is slow with regard to our lake ice making its usual solid to liquid transition. It’s better than likely that the fishing opener this weekend will be a non-issue on most border country lakes. The time will come eventually, but it is anyone’s guess as to just when dipping a line from your boat in these parts might happen.

Meanwhile, the rites of our vernal season are starting to explode around us. Pussy willows have popped their husks, deciduous buds are swelling with pregnant expectations and the coniferous forest has perked up from its drab army green to sparkling emerald. 

The rage of the woods, however, are torrents of water tumbling from mountains on high. The spirit of crystal clear liquid oozing from shrinking drifts and building into tumbling tunes, while rushing toward our inland seas, is harmony to the ears. We forest dwellers know full well that this means the beginning of replenishment for our drought depleted lake levels. Now all wishes are for the gods of precipitation not to forsake this territory in 2013.

Members of the wild neighborhood are experiencing their rituals of the season as well. In spite of the extended cold, I’ve observed several critters shedding winter garb. I saw a motley moose recently with only part of its shaggy coat remaining, and the same has been happening to the red rodents that frequent our feeding trough. Speaking further of furry folks, the snowshoe hares in our neighborhood have a bit of that Dalmatian look too, while one of those poultry-poaching pine martens came by with a molting masked-bandit look on its face.

A couple of seasonal sleepers have awakened too. Chipmunks have been skittering about the yard. Also observed is evidence that our black brunos have returned, ravenous as ever, with several overturned garbage cans down around the Gunflint Pines Resort. So I’ve judged myself to be smarter than the average bear and put my many winter critter feeding facilities into storage.
If all these routines aren’t enough, above the roar of gushing creeks and rivers, I hear the cheer of robins returned; happy tweeting from dozens of their avian cousins and the drumming of a hopeful grouse boy looking for a mate is but a prelude to our warm season concert series.

The buzzing season is also but a few warm days away. The first of our north woods airborne biting squadron found a landing place on my hand just a couple days ago. However, this skeeter’s reconnaissance flight fell short of any extended mission with my first swat of the New Year.  Wildersmith one, biting savages nothing!

In spite of my fondness for winter, the best is yet to come knowing that with a better late than never sprouting of spring, rebirth of bounty in our natural world is unfolding before our eyes. Hip, hip hurrah!

On a closing note, hats off to organizers and dozens of Gunflint community volunteers who pulled off another splendid Ham Run Half Marathon/5K last Sunday morning. The sixth edition of the event went smooth as silk on a cold, mostly cloudy morning. Thanks go out to all the dedicated runners, too, for blessing the event with their presence.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the bloomin’ season ahead!  

This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

Wildersmith shares a squirrel story in this week's column (Loren Sztajer/Flickr)

Wildersmith April 19

Wildersmith_finalcut_20130419.mp35.33 MB

The calendar says spring, but our north country landscape indicates otherwise.  At the time of this keyboard exercise, little progress has been made on recognizing spring characteristics.

We tapped Old Man Winter for another couple small doses of snow, and temps have been none too warm as we pass the two-thirds point of month four.  In fact, last Sunday morning found the Zamboni full speed ahead and the mercury slightly below zero on our Wildersmith thermometer.  I almost had to fire up the old wood-burning stove.

If conditions follow the current April trend, the Gunflint territory might be celebrating our full “maple sugar moon” in the week ahead on the breast of new fallen snow. At a time when we should be in jubilation over pussy willow fuzz and clocking the strain of aspen buds trying to burst from their husks, remnants of winter are still dancing in our heads.

We regulars residing out this way are taking these moments of nature’s insubordination in stride, while early snowbird returnees and visitors from suburbia are bristling at the inconvenience of ice, snow, slush and sometimes mud. For yours truly, an upside to this extension of winter is not bad, as it simply delays the onset of bitin’ bugs and shortens the season for the threat of sweat. Six to seven months of winter really isn’t unreasonable for some of us!

A downside of hanging on to the snow and ice pack for this extended period is when the meltdown does come it is likely we’ll be deluged in rapid runoff. The earth went undercover dry as a bone last fall, then froze that way.  A sudden turn to summer will send all that surface water rushing off to Hudson’s Bay and Lake Superior.

Soils up this way are in dire need of slow soaking daytime thaws and nighttime freezing to enable the thirsty forest to soak up that life-giving juice. At this time it would appear that our coniferous forest looks to be quite brittle. Some species are nearly in a state of desiccation. Not only is this a health issue for the forest, but crisp needles are an enhancement to the season of wildfire which is but a bare brown forest away.

While the greatest share of the forest is still under snow cover, the Gunflint trailside shrinkage is revealing its usual unsightliness due to the presence of mankind. It never ceases to amaze me that thousands of people who annually trek this 60-mile corridor through the pines and tout its majestic environment could be so indifferent with regard to littering our roadside ditches.

Much of the debris is in the form of beverage containers.  I find it unconscionable that the state of Minnesota, purporting to be so environmentally in tune, does not have a bottle/can deposit/return law!  Looks to me that this might create some new, much-needed job opportunities around our state and also help clean up some of our byway’s ugliness. Come on St. Paul, let’s get with it!
It’s pretty sad commentary that everyone can’t do their part and dispose of their own unwanted travel items in proper receptacles. It just seems that this task should be a no-brainer.

Further, it would be really helpful if some of our visitors would stop and voluntarily do a bit of roadside pick-up. It would be great if locals didn’t have to bear the full brunt of picking up after the polluters of the universe.  In the meantime, I’ll be sharpening my pick-up stick. End of lecture!

A closing note shares a crow/squirrel episode on our deck-side feeder.  Not long ago an early morning gathering of critters brought the neighborhood murder of crows to the Smith outdoor cafeteria in search of breakfast.

The usual ears of corn were in their place and one caught the attention of a hungry crow.  The trouble was a squirrel had assumed possession of the treat which was envied by the bird.

The scene was of interest as the crow squatted down on the deck rail not a foot away from the munching rodent and patiently waited for its turn at a few kernels.  The squirrel, in the meantime, had no intention of sharing and proceeded to give the ebony avian some devilish prattle in between bites.

That crow sat there for the longest time listening to the chatter and, I’m guessing, thinking about its next move.   In the end this old crow gave up in apparent disgust, afraid to challenge the mini-gnawer to a physical confrontation.  It squawked once and flew off to parts unknown. Squirrel one, crow nothing, this time.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor thoughts of bloomin’ days ahead in border country!

Airdate: April 19, 2013

Fred Smith brings us the latest from the Gunflint Trail (Matt Wan/Flickr)

Wildersmith April 12

Wildersmith_20130412_finalcut.mp36.77 MB

Fred Smith is a native Iowan and retired high school athletic administrator now living on the upper Gunflint Trail with his wife Fran. Each week, he brings us his commentary “Wildersmith on the Gunflint.” This week, he brings us the latest from the Gunflint Trail.

Wolf in the wild

Wildersmith March 29

Wildersmith_finalcut_20130329.mp36.96 MB

Adios March…it’s almost April…no fooling! The way month three has flown by makes me wonder if there isn’t some way we could slow life down.

As we greet month four, the upper Gunflint is on the brink of mud season. Serious spring warmth has not confronted us regulars, and it has been interesting to watch a tale of two seasons lately.

 The power of our new season’s sun has been turning roof tops with southern exposure from shrinking white to sparkling drippy icicles. Walking just a few dozen steps to the shady north side of the house, I find nary a drip falling and the chill of winter remaining a reality. So one can see we are in the midst of the year’s quarterly climatic tug-of-war.

That said, a reflection on territory atmospheric happenings during the past seven days has provided little excitement. It’s been pretty normal for this time of year, pleasant days and cold nights. Here at Wildersmith we have still been seeing zero to single digit temps setting a thickening crust on the snow pack after dark, which softens under sunny daytime rays.

 Along our Mile O Pine and other less traveled back country roads, you would barely notice that spring has made much headway.  Yet out on the Trail blacktop, the snow banks have been gnawed away pretty good. In fact, remnants of the winter road de-icing are making for an ugly look of urban snow, yuk!

Lately a “murder of crows” has taken over around our neighborhood. When they are not strutting around the yard scratching for nutritional elements, they are winging through the tree tops like a storm cloud. Their raucous conversation has put the silence of the woods on temporary hold.

Just a few days ago, while trekking down the Mile O Pine, we came upon two huge handsome wolves. Both these wilderness icons and the Smiths were surprised to meet each other. In the blink of an eye, the canine originals turned and galloped off into the forest.

Passing their off-road exit, I was surprised at the indentations their bodies made as they struggled through the deep snow. It became quite evident that travel off the plowed road is very difficult for them, as well as other wild critters, particularly when they break through the crusted depths.

A recent report from down at Gunflint Lodge tells of an employee having a close up meeting with another wolf. Whereas wolves most usually high tail it in human encounters, I’m told that this one did a brief stare down before turning the other direction. Knowing they prefer venison, it would still be a little unnerving if they didn’t quickly vamoose upon a close-up human juncture.

I was made aware that two fishermen came upon another downed moose carcass. This one was observed at the far east end of Gunflint Lake. Because there were enough of the remains, it was determined to be that of a cow. So it’s another one down and counting on this sad saga of moose population decline.  It might have been two MIA if she had been in an expecting way.

I’m guessing it could be blamed on the wolves once again. However, if she was healthy, that likelihood could be questioned, as the Arrowhead herd has more than wolf issues. Those canid lupis have a way of picking only on the afflicted or very young. It’s a good bet that this one’s demise may have been due to a stressed physical condition.

On a closing, but amusing note, the deer are pacing back and forth by my lower level windows stopping to peek in at me as I key this week’s scoop. A forlorn look in their big brown eyes indicates that they want a handout. Boy, do they have me conditioned!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the thought of coming April showers, be they solid or liquid!

Airdate: March 29, 2013

Chipmunk (-infinity-/Flickr)

Wildersmith April 5

Wildersmith_20130405_finalcut.mp36.67 MB

The upper Gunflint Territory seemed headed toward a lamb-like end to March. We were teased with a couple swell early spring days, then came Easter Sunday. All talk of April making a blissful entry, with an end to low digit temperatures, was dashed by a resurgent lion-like slap from Old Man Winter.

Our parade to Grand Marais for Easter church services was marked not with thoughts of bunnies, eggs and celebration, but stymied by snow showers and serpentine whiffs of snow slithering down the cold byway ahead of strong northwest winds.

It was almost as if the great spirit of the north was howling, “Just not so fast my border country buddies. Ghostly reminders of Jack Frost and I will cede to spring only when I say it’s time.”

Although new snow accumulations amounted to little, here we are, almost a full week into month four, with the bloom of a new season hovering in a cool holding pattern. Regardless of melting yet to be done, time cures all, and the virtue of patience will prevail knowing we’ll get a blessing of days for rebirth, perhaps as soon as tomorrow!

Until then, it’s back to gloves, sheepskin hat, insulated boots and heavy coat! No foolin’, it was minus 2 at Wildersmith on April 1 with wind a-howlin’.

Those last few days of month three were so inviting. How inviting was it? It was so inviting that I brought the old rocking chair out of storage onto our sunny deck and walked around in a sweatshirt, even though walkway and driveway snow piles remained well over knee deep.

The Wildersmith neighborhood even had a spring shower of the liquid variety before the return to February. All over the area, art work of Old Man Winter was taken over by Sol, and nature’s heat source did some reduction work on the snow pack.

The Mile O Pine, like many seldom-traveled winter roads, saw the warmth allow a few patches of brown gravel bleed through months of packed wintry buildup. Those brief days of meltdown also gave way to a few puddles, a bit of trickling water, and our first mud.

During my travels down the road and tromping through the woods, there is confirming evidence that we’re shrinking the deep snow. I’ve found that a number of baby trees which have not seen the light of day for some time are proudly poking their growth buds skyward. Similarly, their older forest brethren are perking up after months of bearing the weight of winter decorations.

Meanwhile, the powerful sun has chiseled out countless shapes in roadside snow banks. The Trail, now completely free of slippery patches, has miles of etched windrow embellishments that lend themselves to an aggregation of imaginative beauty, in spite of their grungy color. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder.

Life goes on in the wild neighborhood. Critters come and go daily, and I’ve noted a couple cases of seasonal bumps. And I don’t mean those in the road.

Specifically, I reference belly bulges on several expectant does, while on the opposite of white tail genders there are swelling knots where crowns of manhood will soon be growing.

It’s also a good bet that our warm days stirred the slumber of our north woods Brunos, as well as chipmunks and those not-so-popular skunks. About the only critters probably not aroused at this point is the first generation of nasty biting bugs. I don’t know of anyone who would feel bad if those winged savages forgot to show up. We should be so lucky!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor thoughts of the spring takeover!

Airdate: April 5, 2013

Canada Lynx (myheimu/Flickr)

Wildersmith March 22

Wildersmith_20130322_finalcut.mp37.09 MB

‘Twas the days before spring, and all through the woods, the critters were stirring in shivering wonderment. So goes the story up the Trail as month three has been much less than spring-like so far.
Under a growing “crust on the snow moon” (Onaabani Giizis), the topper was this past Sunday when the Wildersmith neighborhood awoke to a shocking minus 29. This followed the five previous mornings where our mercury column registered at least zero or below. It’s been so cold that we are making ice on area lakes, thus adding to the 3-foot cake already set on most bodies including Gunflint.
There has not been any significant snow shrinkage out this way, due to the cold. But neither has what we have on the forest floor grown during the past seven. Only a couple dustings has freshened us as storms once again have missed border country. We’ve had mostly sparkling clear days where the brightness and power of old Sol caused me to forget about the frosty January-like sunrises.
One has to remember that a year ago at this time the snow was all but a memory. And the lake ice on our Gunflint gal made an all-time record exit on March 25. What a difference 365 days can make!
As can happen quickly, our more normal March might be reversed to real spring between the time this scribing is keyed and when it comes out over the waves of cyber-space. Here’s wishing, though, that a few more droppings of the winter element might blanket us before mud season and dreams of green poking through the meltdown actually become a reality.
Wild neighborhood critters continue making candid appearances. The lynx that has been frequenting the grounds around Gunflint Lodge was recently observed in pursuit of a snowshoe hare by a lodge guest. I was not told whether the race outcome favored the cat or the rabbit.
Over the past couple weeks, white tail traffic has increased considerably about our place. I guess nourishment must be hard to come by under the crusted white. It’s been entertaining to watch a few crows browse about between the hooves of my brush-pruning deer.
I don’t know if there is a precise term for describing a bunch of pine martens, but if there is such, it can be applied to the scene on our deck-side cafeteria. A number of them are often cavorting about at almost any given time of day or night. I observed one leap-frogging over another recently in quest of the next open sunflower seed station, quite amusing.
Recently a member of the Gunflint/Loon lake wolf pack has been on fast food surveillance duty through the yard.  Evidenced by tracks, scat and territorial marking, it has yet not brought in the troops to execute their predator exploits.  
Meanwhile friends from over on Hungry Jack Lake share an ongoing saga of a moose carcass serving nutritional needs of many hungry creatures in their neighborhood. The end of life for this waning icon of the north woods might be blamed on the wolves too but, then again, it could have just been its time.
So players in our wilderness drama of search and survival continue keeping the Wildersmith two, and most other Gunflint residents, with our noses to the glass during these waning days of this long white season.
In a closing salute, yours truly sends a big thanks to all who stepped to the plate in our “15 reasons” membership drive. If you missed getting your token of support in during the 5 ½- day run, your willingness to be a part of the WTIP family will always be accepted and much appreciated. Just call or click at any time!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the equinox signal of an ending and beginning!

Airdate: March 22, 2013

Musher at Much for a Cure (by Stephan Hoglund)

Wildersmith March 15

Wildersmith_FinalCut_031413.mp310.17 MB

After last weekend’s snow, it seems hard to believe the official calling of spring is only five days away. This neighborhood got only about five inches but I’m told there was more in other places down the Trail.
Temps were just right for a nice flocking of the forest as the “great white spirit” of the north paid his visit. We are hoping that it will not be his last, as every little bit of precip is a blessing. So the snow banks that have been gnawed on by old Sol have been replenished for the time being, and the wilderness canopy is decked out like it was going to the prom.
Ahead of its calendar time, America has declared spring with that daylight savings time nonsense. Yes, we sprung forward an hour out here in the woods too, for what I know not, except that it’s dark when I wake up once again.
The Gunflint Lake ice was alive for a second consecutive weekend with the big pink celebration. Events went off like clockwork in the fund raising effort to support national breast cancer research.
Official figures have not been confirmed, but it has been reported that the endeavor raised nearly $40,000 this year. If this is correct, it would put the seven-year total at well over $100,000, pretty cool for a small but energetic bunch of woodsy folks!
Main event on the weekend card was the dogsled run. Once again it was a blast to see about 30 entries hit the Trail. Many states were represented from as far away as Louisiana. Of special interest were several entries from the Samoyed Dog Club of America. This event is obviously gaining nationwide attention when mushers are coming from far and wide.
Although finishing first is not the main objective, it is always interesting to hear which team reaches the mid-Trail destination ahead of the rest. This year’s fastest finisher was Jessica Berg-Collman. I’m told that her time was just over two hours while the final team took about five hours.
Congratulations to all the mushers for blessing this event with their presence. And a great border country thanks to all the organizers, many volunteers, hundreds of donors and sponsors for making this a superb happening! Good job, Gunflint community and all of Cook County!
The next few weeks will be a somewhat subdued as momentum begins growing for buddin’ time. It’s of interest that although it has not been as warm as a year ago at this time, I recently happened on a few fuzzy pussy willow buds peeking out of their husks. A humorous thing about this observation was that it happened while I was plowing snow along the Mile O Pine last Sunday morning. Bet they’re glad they had fur coats on!
In spite of the recent snow, another sign of the times presented itself when I saw the first crow return to the yard. This one was busy scratching for morsels from where deer are prancing and pawing during their daily browse. It wasn’t long before I heard some raucous chatter, so there are more somewhere about the neighborhood.
Coupled with our thoughts of new birth in the region, our Gunflint Green-up is not too many weeks away. Scheduled for the first weekend in May, coordination of the event is being handled by the folks at Gunflint Lodge. If you’re interested in helping or participating, look for more details at
The new snow has further enhanced the trails for some great cross-country skiing. There will likely be some days ahead where the snow may be sticky; nevertheless, there is plenty of time to hit the region’s groomed system before we call it a winter.  
Speaking of tracks, a fellow who grooms these ski trails tells me about seeing plenty of lynx activity. Movement of the north woods tabbies around the Gunflint Lake area extends from the south rim trail on the east to the Cross River on the west. He indicates an interesting trait-- that they most often paw right along in the tracks set for skiers. Probably easier walking, pretty smart, huh!
On a final, but very important note, your community radio station is in the midst of its “15 Reasons” spring membership drive. To keep this broadcast treasure moving forward for all of us, your ongoing participation and financial support is needed.
Don’t wait, call 387-1070 or 800-473-9847 or click and join NOW!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor this vernal time in the making!

Airdate: March 15, 2013

Pine Marten (George Lamson/Flickr)

Wildersmith March 8

Wildersmith_finalcut_20130307.mp38.19 MB

Whew, a week of March has come and gone already. Our semi-winter continues in the upper Gunflint. With spring peeking just over the southern cliffs, Old Man Winter paid the area another visit over the past few days.
Although he was only half hearted, his frigid offering sent us a reminder that there might still be a bit of vigor remaining before the season is relinquished. This neighborhood has had no new snow since the Feb. 23, but the past weekend experienced a couple wintery minus 20-something mornings.
This lack of moisture is beginning to wear on a few of us regulars. Reading that the long-range forecast is for more intense drought in the coming warm season, wildfire danger continues to hang in the back of our minds, as the meager snow pack is not growing and will soon be diminishing.
It is hoped that the regulating authorities are paying attention to making the tough call when burning bans become a necessity. In the meantime, it would be nice if the moisture gods would shower down on us with more regularity.
We humans sit back smugly most of the time thinking that we have it over the lower beings of the animal world with regard to reasoning power. Living in the woods and watching the happenings in the wild neighborhood, I’m not so sure that our superiority should be taken for granted.
Obviously, those of the wild kingdom spend the better part of their lives in survival mode as we do, only in more subtle ways. I marvel at the alert attention every critter of the woods pays toward not becoming the next meal for an adversary up the food ladder rung. Whether one is a marten, deer or chipmunk, each is always looking over its shoulder.
My point is made with regard to the wisdom of a pine marten hanging out around our deck-side feed trough recently. On this particular day the little gal/guy was intent on nutritional sustenance from the various sunflower seed stations.
As I observed, it was keen how a few bites were taken with regular time outs to peek here and look there making sure that some predator wasn’t lurking in the shadows. In this particular instance, it was suddenly spooked by something and scurried into a small roof-covered feeder.
Once secure, it would stick its head out from under the eves and apprise the situation. After a few moments of checking to make sure all was clear, it made its way out into the open for more munching. Another repetition of being alarmed soon occurred and back it went into seclusion. In a few moments, it was out in the sunshine once more.
I became intrigued about what was causing the marten’s concern.  At that moment, I caught a glimpse of an in-flight shadow on the pine canopy back drop.
An avian flying overhead, a fairly large one at that, could have been a raven or perhaps a raptor. Simultaneously I saw Piney with its head to the sky. In the blink of an eye, it was back under cover.
Putting two and two together, I reasoned that “big bird” was the nemesis for my furry visitor. Now, whether “big bird” was on reconnaissance for its next meal or not, I will never know. However, with three on-your-guard scampers by the marten, one would have to wonder if this wasn’t the case. For sure, the reasoning power of my marten friend was leaving nothing to chance, and we think we’re so smart!  
The annual trout fishing derby was held under splendid blue skies on Gunflint Lake last Sunday. A fine turnout occurred as over 90 anglers registered. In addition to the fisher people there looked to be at least a couple hundred more observers in families and friends. The short-term city on ice was a buzz of activity with every type of angling and travel rig one could imagine.
When yours truly was down on the ice near the end of the contest, there were 12 trout mounted on the board. The largest was a 6-pound 9-ounce whopper pulled through the hole by John Konig. It turned out that John’s catch caught him the $500 first prize. Congratulations to John and everyone that dipped a line. Thanks go to all the organizers for making this another fun event.
It’s not quite spring, and not everything is coming up roses just yet. However, everything will be coming up pink this weekend. The Mush for a Cure is now front and center on the wilderness stage. Preliminary events to Saturday’s big dog sled race kick off this evening (Friday) at Windigo. Hope to see everyone out in support of this worthy event!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the hot pink weekend.

Airdate: March 8, 2013

"...sunshine glistening off mounds of snow piled here and there in kaleidoscope sparkles..." (realityfanclub/Flickr)

Wildersmith March 1

Wildersmith_20130228.mp36.16 MB

The upper Trail is “marching” into month three as February bids adieu in lamb-like character. Following a rather harsh first three weeks, the month of hearts and chocolates faded away with Old Man Winter delivering our snow to many places south and starting an early spring meltdown.
The conditions have been terrific, with several days of sunshine glistening off mounds of snow piled here and there in kaleidoscope sparkles. This has made for wonderful outdoor activities in the woods.
A day or so prior to the calming of our atmospheric conditions, I was down on the shore of Gunflint watching as two fishermen were attempting to retrieve a dead four-wheeler. It was one of those days when the wind was a-howling out of the north and a light snow was being whipped into white oblivion.
The stalled unit could not have been much farther from land in any direction, and the visibility made it nearly impossible to see them in the struggle to bring it to shore. Two days later, and after several unsuccessful towing modes were attempted, the ATV was brought to land with big sleds under each of four wheels.  
Their demise made me think about just how unforgiving this territory can be sometimes, tough as old leather, but with a beauty of adventure to behold. This trip to the Gunflint will surely be one to remember for those poor souls.
This coming Sunday, March 3, marks the first of two big weekends along the Trail. The annual trout fishing derby, which dates back to 1957, will see ice anglers from all over gathering on the Gunflint Lake ice to try their hand at catching the biggest fish. By the way, the largest finnie registered between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. will bring the catcher a nice $500 award!
This happening is a real treat as a mini-community springs up on the ice in a matter of minutes and then disappears in much the same fashion after a few short hours. While the catching may not be great for everyone, there is a guarantee that fun will be had by all!
Next weekend, the seventh annual Mush for a Cure sled dog race will be held along the Trail. This event has as its mission to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. It will kick off two days of everything coming up pink, Friday and Saturday, March 8 and 9.
With the main event being the dogsled race (starting @ noon Saturday) running from lake shores at Gunflint Pines Resort to Trail Center, the congregation of entries and the sourdough start are some kind of magical, hot-pink excitement! Hope everyone able can get out and support at least some of the many scheduled activities.
By the way, if you wish to contribute to the mission by helping with pledges to a particular musher, just go to the Mush for a Cure website or look for their collection canisters at many places throughout the county. You can also support the event by contributing to “The Bald, Brave and Beautiful” head shaving contest. Several contemporary legends of the territory have their locks on the block. Let’s not let them off the hook!
Living in the wilderness is such a privilege! Each day can provide an adventure or observation that may be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Such has been the case since we last met on the radio.
A friend tells me of an experience paralleling that of the fabled “Tortoise and the Hare,” only this account is north-woods style. Seems he was out dipping a line through the ice when he noticed a snowshoe hare coming lickety-split across the Gunflint from Canada. He soon discovered that this unusual sprint across the frozen crust was being prompted by a hungry fisher. The race for survival soon turned to be no contest as the dashing “wabbit” was about a mile down the lake when the pursuer called it a day for this particular quest.
Recalling the terrapin/rabbit story, slow and steady usually wins the race. However, this border country episode confirms that speed is always a determining factor in life for another day. Hare one, fisher nothing!
Another spectacle of the wild happened on one of the most recent sub-zero mornings at Wildersmith. This one is so captivating and tranquil.
The white tail population has been waning for the past three or four years, and we have only a few that browse around the yard anymore. So it is a rare diversion when any come by and hang out for a length of time.
On this particular frosty morning, a doe and her yearling fawn graced us by finding a place for a little R & R amongst our lakeside balsam stand. The two curled up with noses to their chests in a snowy nest and caught a little shut-eye. They napped for some time, which must have been quite long considering their typical transient tribulations for survival.
For both the observers and, I would guess, those wild neighborhood critters, the scene was a remarkably hushed and calming moment in this part of the northern forest.
On a final note, Gunflint Trail wishes for a happy 95th birthday go out to another of our iconic pioneers, Lawrence “Gus” Wooding in Sarasota, Florida!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the peace of our great north woods!

Airdate: March 1, 2013