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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:
"Much warmer temps and no new snow finds many of us ready to throw in the towel and get on with the season of re-birth"

Wildersmith February 10

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It’s sweet heart day in the northland! The time of hearts and chocolates finds the calendar chipping away at what was supposed to be the burden of winter. Rounding the corner just past the half-way point between our cold weather solstice and the vernal equinox, winter headed south for an apparent spring break.

A full week in border country of much warmer than normal temps and no new snow finds many of us ready to throw in the towel and get on with the season of re-birth. Fortunate for white landscape enthusiasts our snow pack out this way did not take a significant hit with the late March-April warmth. One happening of consequence though is that winter driving conditions on the Scenic By-way have all but disappeared. The usual snow-packed and icy blacktop extending from late November to March has evaporated into oblivion.

Left in the wake of our premature spring conditions we find an ugly grunge of over-applied road treatment chemicals. A “metropolis” look to the trailside snow banks is now beckoning for a refresher course in snow making. It’s hoped that “old man winter” will consider the upper Trail for his next delivery to the lower forty-eight.

Warm air that has been hovering over the cold snow pack has provided some mid-winter majesty, somewhat brightening the feelings of we truly winter-deprived beings. Several foggy nights and dawns have supported the properties for “Jack Frost” to do his rendition of “plein air” artistry.

Gunflint hillsides have been alive not with the “sound of music,” but crystallization as only “Jack” can muster from his palate. Add a little sunshine by mid-day and you have all the fixin’s for a glitter strewn holiday formal and a fairy princess’ dream come true. So, there has been something positive coming out of the less than zealous winter season.

Speaking of “plein air” activity, there has been a number of artists doing their thing through out the county lately. I had the chance to see one such devotee pursuing his craft after dark one evening outside the Trail Center restaurant.

I’m not sure what his subject was but he was out in the cold with his only light coming from the Trail Center neon reflections. I’m guessing that if he was working in watercolors to keep the tints a-flowing he may have been using some imbibing spirits. What an interesting phenomenon at this time of year!

The annual Cook County Ridge Riders fun “poker run” brought a brief respite to silence in the woods last Saturday. Snow sled engines wound tight as an eight-day clock were streaking down the Gunflint and other area lakes as players hopped from Trail Center to Hungry Jack Lodge to Windigo to Gunflint Lodge and Gunflint Pines collecting their playing cards before reaching final play of the day at Devil Track Landing in the late afternoon.

I’m sure that fun was had by all on a splendid day when some must have been trying for new land speed records. It was like a daytime meteor shower as they jettisoned by Wildersmith. Hope all got home safely!

That’s all for now! Keep on hangin’ on and savor the wonders of the woods!

Airdate: February 10, 2012

Photo courtesy of David Reid via Flickr.

"We all know February can easily mean “proceed with caution.” There is snow yet to fall and winds to howl..."

Wildersmith February 3

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February has called on us “up the Trail folks” in more seasonal fashion. Temps have been cold, but not bitter, with some decent snow, but nothing to boast about.

We all know February can easily mean “proceed with caution.” There is snow yet to fall, winds to howl and thermometers that can easily hit the bottom line. So for the next 29 days, one should not be fooled into thinking of spring green too soon.

Our good Objiwe friends and neighbors have such a good handle on this year’s segment that they have aptly named this the month of the full “sucker” moon (Namebini Giizis). Guess it’s best to take heed, for sometimes February does not have a sense of humor, but then again, we who choose to live here relish the grit of winter toughness, so bring it on!

A local angler shared a story of horror for one of the neighborhood whitetails last week. Somewhere in the mid-lake area of Gunflint, he observed a deer streaking down the ice. As it passed fairly close, he saw that the animal had a big chunk of flesh missing from its backside. Obviously, one of the local packs had helped itself to a bit of deer-burger.

The message must have got around the forest quickly about an injured ungulate, because soon after the terrorized deer raced into the distance, wolves one, two and three came out of the forest and onto the lake in determined pursuit. They too faded into the white landscape. It is fair to assume the fate of that injured deer was in the pursuing paws of the warrior hunters; just another day in the wilderness theater of predator-prey

Ice on Gunflint and Sag lakes is now of more substantial condition for travel. However, the usual pressure ridges are popping and shifting in many obscure places. The sudden upheavals and downside drop-offs are causing serious concerns for power sledders skimming over the nearly blinding white way.

Tragedy was averted last week when an unsuspecting fisherman plopped his sled into a drop-off that swallowed up his machine to the windshield top in no time at all. Luckily the person was well aware of the dilemma and did not panic, bailing off the sinking machine and quickly swimming a short distance to safe ice where he scrambled out of the icy water.

Rescued by a companion, he was hustled off to the warmth of a hot shower. Thankfully he was found to be in good condition, unharmed from this harrowing experience, truly a story ending happily.

This frozen water happening was somewhat unusual as the ice fractured and squeezed downward in opposition to traditional upward pressure shifts. The icy layer in this case actually settled to a depth of about four feet, and for some unknown reason, remained there suspended. The suspended ice shelf turned out a blessing, saving the sled from a deep descent to the bottom. Next day the machine was frozen in about two inches of fresh ice. After some careful planning and maneuvering, the snow machine was cut from its icy hang-up and winched onto safe ice.

It has since been disassembled for a drying out, put back together and is now back in service. Sledders should be on their utmost alert to these continuously changing lake ice situations during weather times of up and down temperature swings.

Our Trail went to the dogs this past Monday, and what a day it was for those canines. The Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Race took center stage, and it appeared to be a great experience for dogs, mushers, handlers, sponsors and a few hundred spectators.

Talk about spirit of the wilderness: It was at its peak as energy to run over flowed for the pullers of 16 Mail Run sleds. The rapidly organized event went off without a hitch. To yours truly, it was a howling success!

Congrats to the sponsors and all who lent a hand. It was so neat that one should hope that it will not be just a one-time shot!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor the silence of falling wilderness snow.

Airdate: February 3, 2012

Photo courtesy of Acid Pix via Flickr.

"Although it was not really bone chilling, like often has been recorded (40-50 below), serious ice-making cold set in this week"

Wildersmith January 27

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With our northwoods January fading fast, the month got a little brittle last week. Typically, the third stanza of month one is the coldest of the season and it was no exception so far this year.

Although it was not really bone chilling, like often has been recorded, (no 40 to 50 below), serious ice-making cold set in at Wildersmith. Several days of minus something helped get the ‘Zamboni’ started.

A winter tune of a different note was humming through the forest. The cedar trees were snapping soulful cracks as their sap stiffened to the popping point. Meanwhile the lake outside my door was rumbling occasional baritone notes while shivering in her thickening coat. The old Gunflint Gal even coughed up a thundering bass note or two the other night that shook the house. And if Nature didn’t conjure up enough seasonal noise, it was so cold that the deck around the house popped like a kettle of corn.

All this sudden cold stuff still amounted to only one-half of what it should be as we went another week with meager snow. However, the “old man of the north” must be taking pity on us, because as I key the Gunflint scoop, we are getting a timely dose of fresh crystals. Although it is not exactly a deluge, our Gunflint community is nevertheless thankful.

In spite of the less than normal depth of white, snow activists are making the best of it. Cross-country skiers are having wonderful times on the great trails out this way. Snowmobilers meanwhile are getting along, but dealing with very rough trail circumstances while the sleigh ride business is heavenly as ever and ice anglers are drillin’ and a catchin’. No one should be hesitant about coming out for a little winter fun, we are still open!

The lack of winter stymied the annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Race, but not Cook County’s Frank Moe and Odin Jorgenson. With the Gunflint Trail being about the only Minnesota place with any snow, things were happening fast as they began to organize what will be an abbreviated Beargrease substitute. A meeting was held this past Wednesday to solicit volunteer help for the Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Race.

It will be short and sweet, but nevertheless, an exciting chance for mushers to give their dogs a run. The competition will be a sprint to be sure, starting at 4 p.m. this coming Monday, Jan. 30 from the Devil Track Lake Landing. The mid-race check point will be at Trail Center that night, and will finish back at the Landing early next morning, Jan. 31.

This is great for the area and if you can help out in any way give either Frank, (218) 368-0661 or Odin, 370-5934 a call. If you can’t help, get out and at least give these teams a cheer. Look for more race details on Boreal Access. Guess a little snow is a whole lot better than no snow!

This isn’t the only sled dog race in the making. Planning is under way for the sixth annual Mush for a Cure in just a matter of weeks. The big pink schedule of events along the Trail will take place the weekend of March 9 through 11. This colorful extravaganza has contributed over $100,000 to breast cancer research during the past five years. Get involved however you can, more information is available on the “Mush for a Cure” website.

Wilderness warrior sightings are coming in almost daily. The Gunflint/Loon Lake Pack, or at least parts of it, has been seen a number of times cavorting around on the Gunflint ice. And several of us have observed the monster wolf of the gang in many different Gunflint Lake neighborhoods. It’s big and healthy, apparently not missing any meals.

It’s unusual to catch sight of a wolf at all, let alone seeing more wolves than white tails, particularly in the Gunflint Lake area, but that’s the way it seems. Then again, maybe there’s the reason, more predators than prey. I’m guessing the pack will eventually move on as venison opportunities become less and less.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the best of border country!

Airdate: January 27, 2012

Photo courtesy of Liz West via Flickr.

Hoary Redpoll

Wildersmith January 20

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Winter in the north woods, mellow as it has been, is already a month old and whizzing by fast. The minutes between sunup and sundown are gradually increasing to the point where we are having about nine hours of daylight.

If that isn’t giving us enough notice about things to come, folks are already getting those spring seed and plant catalogs. And, the Farmer’s Almanac says it’s time to start planning spring veggie and flower gardens.

The season we had all hoped for along the Gunflint seems as though it will be a non-entity. Spring is not far from peeking around the corner and we are running out of wintertime opportunities. I know one of those green thumb gals in the area who I can almost bet is getting those seedling pots and grow lights lined up.

The scourge, of a border country winter that hasn’t been, reflects a territory so moisture starved it’s scary. As we went into the cold time, the area was already choking in drought. We always bank on some hefty amounts of frozen moisture to fill things back up come spring but, unless there is a huge turnaround, that’s not going to happen.

I for one am deeply concerned about the danger of more wildfire tragedy when what little snow we do have dries up come April and May. I’ve already heard of some unattended campfires flaring up down in the burn area of Pagami Creek where there is little to no snow. The rest of the Arrowhead wilderness is about to become just as vulnerable.

When the coming season of brown and dry replaces white, one would hope that timely burning bans will not be left to chance by governing agencies. With our ever changing, unpredictable climate, history over the past half dozen years has shown that just when agencies assumed conditions were tolerable for campfires and burning, they really weren’t; the proof is in the forest.

Temps did fall enough to do a little ice enhancement on Gunflint Lake. Hard water improvements came in the nick of time for our trout opener. My friend down the road indicates that the thickness ranges from near a foot right near his shore to about five or six inches 100 yards out to where he set up his trout camp. This says nothing to other areas further out and where there is rushing water beneath.

Come last Saturday morning, a few brave souls screamed by Wildersmith on their snow machines headed for their usual trout hangouts. I must say that they used common sense and stayed quite close to the shoreline. To my knowledge there have been no plops through the ice around here. By the way, what few catching reports I’ve heard indicate the action is slow to moderate depending upon the locale and possibly skill.

Molly Hoffman, our well-known Cook County avian expert and WTIP volunteer, came to my rescue after last week’s scribing on unusual birds coming into the mid-trail area. She shared with me that the whitish redpoll I mentioned was most likely a hoary redpoll. Guess the ghostly looking birds are often seen dining with their true red cousins.

The other bird of mention, which I thought was a lady pine grosbeak, was in fact an immature male pine grosbeak. Guess the adolescent males can have the bright yellow-red plumage that gives them a bright feathering appearance, somewhat parrot-like. As they mature, their orangeish quills eventually give way to the brilliant rosy pink to which we are accustomed.

The pack is still in our neighborhood as they practiced their winter song for the trout fishing neighbors last Saturday night. Then come morning the Smiths did some tracking of a threesome that came out onto Mile O Pine. The trio was side by side and went further than we eventually cared to follow--what an adventure. One of the three had imprints in the snow larger that the palm of my hand.

On MLK day I got word from my ice fishing friend that a huge wolf was observed coming out of the woods along our Wildersmith shore. Trudging icebound to the northeast, I suppose it was on survey detail for another venison dinner.

It seems tragic that these marvelous warriors of our wilderness are going to be put in peril once again at the hands of the trap ‘em/shoot ‘em up human race as they come off endangered species listing.

We supposedly civilized folk just can’t leave the many aspects of our natural world well enough alone. One would think that the people of Minnesota would know better than to let a hunting season happen for this revered historical component of our natural resources.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a peaceful forest moment.

Airdate: January 20, 2012

Photo courtesy of Omar Runolfsson via Flickr.

This "atypical weather nonsense" is playing havoc with thickening ice on the big lakes in Gunflint Territory

Wildersmith Jan. 13

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Winter on a yo-yo, yes! Another northwoods meltdown slipped in on the territory just when we thought “Mr. Cold and Blustery” had things under control. He just can’t get a grip and starts that slip-slidin’ around with way too much ease. Folks out the Trail are none too happy.

This atypical weather nonsense is playing havoc with thickening ice on the big lakes out this way. Saganaga and Gunflint lakes remain quite iffy safety-wise as the lake trout opener hits.

Over the past week there’s been considerable splitting of the ice on Gunflint. In fact, looking down on the old gal from high up on the ridge, she took on the appearance of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.

It might be blamed on the pressure exerted from those violent winds of several days ago. Whatever the cause, water seepage in all these seams has left plenty of slush and even some standing water in a number of places.

Meanwhile, the smaller bodies, frozen for weeks, have more than enough safe ice, but they may not offer the favorite trout fishing holes of their big mamma cousins. For sure, I would hope that common sense prevails with regard to driving one’s vehicle onto the ice like many do to set up “Trout City” at the west end of the Gunflint Gal.

A mid-Trail report came to me about some unusual avians hanging out. It seems that the redpolls have moved in en masse to at least one feeder. Among them was an albino redpoll. I know it seems somewhat contradictory to call it a white redpoll, but a digital computer image confirmed it was what it was.

Then another unusually marked lady pine grosbeak showed up at the same feeder. This little gal was brightly colored about the head and breast as opposed to the typical muted gold head and gray-brown body. If she hadn’t been hanging out with her brethren, she might easily been mistaken for a parrot with her coat of many colored feathers.

The Gunflint/Loon lake wolf pack has been making a number of nightly sojourns around this neck of the woods. Late one evening last week, they stopped by on the ridge above Wildersmith and entertained us with a lengthy choral interlude. Their voices needed no amplifying to be easily heard even with the house buttoned up tight against the cold. What a neat treat!

Speaking more to northwoods adventure, the great warrior howling was fitting on a spectacular starry night when the waxing “wolf/great spirit” moon had things lit up in iridescent blue snow. Talk about romance of the wilderness, these moments couldn’t have been any better.

Although yours truly has not seen the aurora borealis lately, I am always anxious to learn about this heavenly phenomenon. If one is interested in learning more, there is a great writing about northern lights in the latest edition of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. The author puts scientific/technical information into easily understood language.

When it turns cold enough again that it requires cuddling up with some good reading, that same periodical has a couple informative articles on fox and fishers, which are members of Mother Nature’s clan around here.

And lastly, a nighttime trip down the Trail last week found a moose trifecta. They were observed getting their licks off the salty road just above the Laurentian Divide overlook. Must have been good, too, because they were out again on the way back up, only this time all that was observed was their back halves as they scurried into the forest.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor some good thoughts for snow!

Airdate: January 13, 2012

Photo courtesy of Jukka Vuokko via Flickr.

"Marshmallow globs hanging on every limb are a flocked delight"

Wildersmith January 6

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Gunflint territory is headed off into a new year and the month of the full “wolf great spirit moon” (Gich Manidoo).We folks cherish this special place and sure hope the essence of our January moon is more winter-like than its “cold moon” brethren that just passed. December’s lunar rendition surely didn’t live up to its usual namesake!

Just a few days into 2012 the atmosphere is already better suited to the season. Howling winds, blowing snow, and a little sub-zero at Wildersmith ushered in this new stanza of history.

With a deluge of watered-down football bowl games, dated Christmas deco to be put away and a frosty out-of-doors, it has been a great time to hunker down soaking up warmth from the old wood stove. This north woods forest is truly the best place in the universe for savoring occasional whiffs of wood smoke and quietness though the weather outside was frightful as we bid 2011 adieu.

The digits on my hands are also confirming that winter apparently has finally gotten a grip. The annual dry cold splitting of finger-tips finds me struggling to even button a shirt or lace up and tie my boots. Several man-made moisturizers have little affect for yours truly in neutralizing the crispness of “old man winter” once he decides to take things over. It seems that I just get one healed up and others crack open I guess this is the only negative thing that I can say about this wonderful time of the year.

Another sample of winter’s fervor is the quickness with which it can make ice. Such an example was observed on the twenty-eighth of December when the Gunflint Lake gal succumbed to ice. She froze over for good in the wee hours of that morning.

In less than twelve hours, the folks down at Cross River Lodge reported that the thickness was such to support the predator-prey theater. A wolf-deer chase took out over the newly formed hard water and in no time at all the warrior had corralled its favorite entrée and opened a temporary fast food venue.

Since that time, several inches of insulating snow have slowed the “zamboni” process. Further support for the tenuousness of our Gunflint Lake ice comes from a neighbor telling of a creek running full bore through his property that is dumping icy liquid along his shoreline. While there might be supportive ice in spots, many unknowns remain under this vast cake. I would advise caution on any ice walk ventures for a few more days.

Our pre-New Year’s Eve snow made the forest stunning once again. Those marshmallow globs hanging on every limb are a flocked delight. Before the howling winds set in last weekend, another eye catching deco resulting from the previous fluffy application is the little white lids stacked on the clumps of yet uneaten mountain ash tree berries. The scenario reminds me of a cherub choir with their rosy faces and frosty stocking caps all lined up for a holiday concert so cute and petite!

The wind whipped snow probably sent those tiny hats a scurrying but has since created a different art scene of special mention. Although the dense forest prevents the drifting to which the plains dwellers are accustomed, the placement and chiseling of white crystals in a zillion different places throughout border country are beholding spectacles. One doesn’t have to trek far away from the house to experience the intriguing marvels of these “nature-made” ivory sculptures.

That’s all for now! Keep on hangin’ on and savor a growing winter wonderland!

Airdate: January 6, 2012

Photo courtesy of chenmeister64 via Flickr.

As winter arrives, the first of Wildersmith's usual white tail gang returned to the homestead.

Wildersmith December 30

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Just like old-time cowboy hero, Gene Autry used to sing, “I’m back in the saddle again.” It’s great to be at home sweet home in Gunflint Country after a fine time with family and friends back in Iowa.

Many thanks go out to that Nosey Rosey from over on Hungry Jack Lake for subbing. I got back to border country just in time to hear Rosey’s day before Christmas commentary. Wow, I mean bow-wow, I didn’t know of this canine’s talent at carol crooning.

While I was away, and since my return, winter in the northland continues to struggle against this global warming monster. Although there are still calendar days to come for the newly arrived season, it appears more and more that this is going to be another of those winters that wasn’t. Our drought continues!

A few trickles of snow have blessed the territory in the past week. Thank goodness they came in advance of Christmas Eve so things were freshened up in pristine fashion for that night of nights.

Temperatures also have remained unseasonal; in fact they are somewhat warmer than they were earlier in the month here at Wildersmith. The usual sub-zero readings remain missing in action.

This factor, along with incessant winds, has kept the Gunflint Lake water rockin’ and a rollin’, ice free as I scribe on Christmas Night. There was a partial coating late last week but the Christmas weekend winds have sent that a-packin’ as icy crinkling along our granite shores.

My lake freeze-up statistics as passed on to me by the late Check Tiffany go back as far as 1982. The latest icy cover-up in that span of years is December 29, 2001. Things could change rapidly between this keying exercise and broadcast time, but at this point it looks as though a new modern day record might be set for ice cover on this old Gal.

How about that magnificent after dark sentinel in the north woods over along the Trail on Birch Lake? For those not in the know, a couple great Birch Lake guys, along with help from a local cherry-picker operator decorated a near perfect 20-foot spruce spire with hundreds of holiday lights.

What a treat to round that curve and see that wonderful tribute to the season. It may not be as significant as the star over Bethlehem, but it sure brightens the way in a place that is most symbolic for its truest sense of peace on earth. Thanks Tom, Daryl and Dennis!

What with the glut of commercial exuberance during this time of year, it has been great to be here in the woods where we can celebrate the simple gifts of our natural wonder. Since our southern trip return, the Smith’s have been gifted by visits from a couple of Mother Nature’s clan.

Just days after our homecoming, a handsome warrior of the wilderness happened through the yard. Mr. Wolf was obviously on some sort of reconnaissance mission, but did stop long enough for me to get some good mental images stashed away in my database.

Then a day or so later, the first of our usual white tail gang returned to the yard. It was a real surprise as they are so sparse of late. I had not expected any at all. Now the word must be out on the deer hotline, as a number have discovered that the lights are on and we are home.

In a matter of hours, year 11 of the 2000s passes off into the history books. It’s our hope from Wildersmith that your year has been prosperous and rewarding in spite of our tumultuous world. May the New Year be fruitful and happy for everyone!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a little bit of wilderness peace…and put in a little appeal to the snow gods!

Airdate: December 30, 2011

Photo courtesy of Ben Edwards via Flickr.

Winter Moon_Photo by Suzanne Gougherty.jpg

Wildersmith, December 9

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As our northland Christmas season progresses, “all is calm and all is bright.”
The bustle of human activity has not been impeded by any atmospheric extremes along the Trail. In fact, the non-weather happenings in border country are making those of us who love and depend upon winter white somewhat anxious.

At this scribing on Dec. 5, the area has had only a dusting of seasonal precipitation since we last met on the radio. So the winter drought continues.. come on “La Nina.”

Temperatures in the meantime have settled in at about normal. At Wildersmith, the mercury has dropped below the zero mark a couple times, but nothing to write home about. The prognosticators are calling for an even deeper dip by the time this cyber-broadcast zings out into space.

Ice making continues on most lakes, quiet bays and swamps. The surface is about safe for walking in some instances, but one should proceed with caution before venturing too far out from shores.

The water on the big three lakes, Seagull, Saganaga and Gunflint, continues to ripple and roll at the beck of daily early winter winds. We are still hopeful that the final chapter in this ‘Zamboni’ process will occur soon.

The county came alive with the sound of music this past Sunday and Monday evenings. Cook County’s community holiday concert was performed brilliantly by the Borealis Chorale and Orchestra to standing room only crowds, and a number of our Gunflint Trail neighbors were involved.

Congratulations to everyone who made this happen once again. Although there was no ‘Aurora’ involved, the ‘Borealis’ and orchestral accompaniment certainly brightened the hearts with seasonal spirit echoing from the tip of the Arrowhead to the end of the Trail.

The magic of the season was further enhanced as we Smiths drove home from the Sunday concert. Driving out the Trail after dark can often make it appear as though one is driving off into a black hole. Previous snow efforts have left the byway pretty much covered in bright white, yet the light at the end of the Gunflint tunnel was seemingly non-existent for miles and miles.

Temperatures plummeted to zero on the truck thermometer near the South Brule River Bridge and then bounced back up and down in various locales as we trekked along. Jack Frost was busy setting glitter on roadside branches just beyond our headlights. The ground level twinkling was another light show to remember, mindful of what was going on in the lustrous skies overhead, heaven on earth. Giving full recognition to the off and on sparkling is next to impossible. You just had to be here to get the full effect.

In addition to the frosty decorating, a fresh dusting of snow the night before had smoothed the landscape so tracking of critters was also splendid during our darkness venture homeward. I must say that although the moose population decline remains most perplexing, there was trailside evidence that made it seem like thousands had been out tramping around in the moose zone between the South Brule Bridge and Bearskin Road.
We did not see one of the monsters of the byway in person, but imprints proved there was much prancing and pawing of many a hoof.

Then as we started the last leg for Wildersmith along the Mile O’ Pine, a member of the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack suddenly popped out of the forest and led us down the road a short distance for just one more north woods adventure. What beautiful night of sights and sounds!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor some wilderness mystique!

Airdate: December 9, 2011

Seeing snow-covered trees is "kind of like meeting up with some old friends that have been long obscured on a summer vacation"

Wildersmith December 2

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After a Thanksgiving run to Iowa for a family visit, the Smiths are back in the woods. One thing for which I continue to be thankful is that “wonder dog” from over on Hungry Jack Lake. Rosey and her dad are a scribe’s blessing by offering to scoop up news along the Trail when I have to be out of the area.

Old Man Winter has been somewhat jittery what with the big warm-up during Thanksgiving week. I missed most of his slip-sliding about, and it’s just as well since I’m not into melt-downs after declaring it winter.

Our return to Wildersmith happened just after a nice dose of snow decorated the Trail. The white covering came as quite a surprise after leaving a warm, murky Grand Marais on the final leg of our nearly 600-mile one-day trip.

Soon after reaching the top of the hill above town, the winter wonderland opened before us. Showers of snow were flitting through the beams of our headlights and for the next 50 miles we enjoyed the magic of “serpentine” white slithering down the byway in front of us.

Many at our age dread the thought of snow, let alone having to drive in it. This was not the case for us Smiths. We trekked along following the tracks of some unknown vehicle that had passed earlier, not unexpectedly never meeting another soul headed in the opposite direction.

During the wondrous homeward adventure there was hope that a moose would surely make an appearance, but alas, there was nothing more than a couple foxes making a perpendicular intersection with our path.

What a splendid place this is when a fresh six-inch flocking spruces things up. There are some special trees along the Mile O’ Pine that have always caught our eye because of where and how they are tucked into the landscape. It’s such a joy to see them all decked out in winter wonder, kind of like meeting up with some old friends that have been long obscured on a summer vacation.

So the end of the year scramble is upon us. The month of the “cold moon” is heavenly in the northland. The real cold leaks in and freezing trees will start a poppin’ like corn in a kettle.

Now that we have white reinforcements, the wind has been thrashing out of the north-northwest. The Gunflint Lake gal and other large bodies are still rolling in against the shorelines resisting the time when they will be stilled for the next several months.

With an average Gunflint Lake freeze-up time around the 12th of the month, she knows her lapping time is limited. All we need is a sub-zero night or two with some calm air and the job will be done.

December’s a time of love and deep meaning like no other. It quakes with excitement of joyous Silver Bells, sleigh rides and chestnuts roasting o’er an open fire.

I can hardly wait for the adventure of an Ojibwe “Biboon” (winter) as it comes into focus with impending mystery! Tracks, tracks in the snow, who knows where they go?

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some peace in the wilderness!

Airdate: December 2, 2011

Photo courtesy of rattyfied via Flickr.

Fir Boughs

Wildersmith November 18

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Quiet is the catchword in border country as we pass the halfway point of month 11. An occasional distant boom from a deer hunter’s rifle, winds whispering through the pines and waves being dashed along granite shorelines are the only blemish on what most would call dead silence. There has even been little avian noise around the deck-side feeders at Wildersmith.

The upper end of the Trail got its first real blanketing of snow late last week. Accumulations were light and varied depending on one’s locale, but for the most part, two inches seemed to be the maximum.

Yours truly made a trip to Grand Marais as the winter stuff was tapering off. The forest was decked out in feathery crystal, refreshing memories of the beauty that Mother Nature bestows with her purity from the heavens. There’s no business like snow business.

Real quickly my regard for those winter driving conditions was renewed. The Trail was obviously snow-covered. Although there were no close calls, the trip involved a bit more time and a tighter grip on the wheel. At this keyboarding, the ground is still white where shadows of mountains and forest blank out the sinking sun, but the byway has dried off to normal for the time being.

In the meantime, temperatures settled down below freezing for a few days and along with some still nights, many smaller bodies of water took on that smooth as glass hard water look. The below freezing daytime readings, which is my self-imposed criteria for declaring winter, has allowed me to make the formal proclamation for these parts.

The celebration of harvest time is rapidly gaining our attention as the “beaver moon” is waning motionless on the fringes of our planet. Thanksgiving in our land is a wonderful opportunity for reflection. In the northland, folks are particularly blessed with uncountable natural gifts that might be taken for granted by some outsiders.

I hope that everyone will give a moment of thought and thanks, as the day approaches, for the skies, the stars, the lakes, the trees, the winds, the critters, the friends and the family that makes existence both here in the forest and far, far away so rich and rewarding.

The kick-off that Thanksgiving gives to the holiday season got under way here at Wildersmith, although not quite as soon as most American merchandisers. The post-blow down coniferous plantings around the place have now grown to the point where they are in need of firewise pruning. Thus yours truly has been busy for a few weeks snipping greens and stashing them for the usual seasonal decorating.

This past Sunday my dear wife, who enjoys wreath making, decided it’s time. So the process was initiated in the lower level of the house. I must say that considering all the smells of north woods outdoors, there is nothing that I enjoy more than the perfumed
fragrance of fresh cut pine and fir boughs.

With the garland exercise at hand, the home interior has the distinct whiff of a forest sachet. Mmmm, what a great time of the year, wood smoke outside and holiday aromas inside. Oh, and I must add, how about that spicy smell of baking pumpkin bread? Life can’t get any better!

Wildersmith wishes to add a Gunflint Trail thanks to everyone who renewed or newly joined the WTIP family of supporters during last week’s “Deeply Rooted” membership drive. What a refreshing time it was as the community of WTIP radio listeners stepped up and “walked the talk.”

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a season to give thanks!

Airdate: November 18, 2011

Photo courtesy of Julia Weatherbee via Flickr.