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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:
Red Fox (Anthony Adams/Flickr)

Wildersmith September 21

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It’s official, the calendar says that our fall excursion is on schedule along the Gunflint Byway. For a day now, east is truly east and west is west with our daytime luminary, Sol.
Although autumn has been elbowing its way up the Trail for a few weeks, it seemed that we'd never run out of summer. I've had so much warm and sticky that I'm happy to finally see that equinox come to fruition. We should be able to really get on with this wonderful season! It's leaf peeper time!
Fire- and dragonflies are gone, a few hummingbirds are in their last sweet stop approach and murders of crows are caw-cussing throughout the territory as they begin to head wherever they head for the winter.
I've noticed a couple of the four-legged furry beings have been tending to the tick of the natural clock too. Several white tails have already started the exchange of their sleek copper-tone warm weather slickers for that cedar-bark gray of colder days ahead.
And a fox or two have shown themselves along the byway sporting thickening coats and those lush plumes trailing from their posteriors. With a few almost cold nights of late, I can just imagine them all curled up inside a den somewhere with that cuddly wraparound stole insulating their lanky bodies.
Another autumnal apparel quirk is showing up throughout the forest. The blaze orange of the shoot-'em-up crew is now drawing their bead on some unsuspecting wild thing. With bear, grouse and moose hunting season at hand, let's hope that the only statistics are counted in bag limits. Everyone is encouraged to be safe by being properly attired, including the unarmed folks that also trudge nature’s paths.
I sound like a broken record as I reaffirm that the rain gods continue with their border country work stoppage. A mere seven one-hundredths is all that has been measured over the past seven days at Wildersmith.
It is amazing that we had many timely rains during the summer extending through the first week of August. Since then, the faucet has been shut down to barely a few drips for the better part of the past six weeks.
Hope springs eternal that this gets turned around sooner rather than later. Streams and rivers are bone dry in most up-the-Trail locales. Meanwhile, lake levels that depend upon huge watershed infusions are declining at an alarming rate. The DNR Gunflint Lake level gauge at the Wildersmith dock is about one week from dropping off the scale, much the same as it did last year.
Temperatures have been unconditionally good during the same time period. We even had some near frost around here on a couple occasions. That "near frost" definition means close to crystal rooftops, but no cigar. There have been some serious reports of frost in other places and even an unconfirmed report of snowflakes in the Pine Mountain Road area.
"Getting ready for winter" chores are in full swing around the territory. Yours truly has been busy putting the finishing touches on the summer list of things to do.
A number of lakeside docks are on shore and the few remaining in our sky blue waters have seen their usual watercraft headed for winter storage. Inventorying the woodshed is the name of the game for all of us year-round folks, along with cutting and splitting whatever can be found for the '13/'14 season.
Another task for many of us is putting deer protection around succulent shrubs and adolescent trees. I've even given thought to mounting my snow blade, checking out snow blower operations and trying to decide when would be the best time to put on my winter wheels. The beat goes on and on.
One pre-winter job that should be put on hold for as long as possible is winterizing those wild fire sprinkler systems. Our extreme fire danger makes closing these down right now pretty risky! There'll be some time for this in October.
Keep on hangin' on, and savor this awesome place!

Airdate: September 21, 2012

Mountain Ash (Amanda Graham/Flickr)

Wildersmith September 14

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If silence is golden, then it’s going to be pretty quiet in these parts. Gold is the catchword as the forest is exploding through the Gunflint hillsides. By the time this scoop reaches you readers and listeners, our landscape will be one to behold.
With only a few spindly showers over the area since we last met over the airwaves, border country remains sadly dry. The mood is kind of eerie as residents are edgy with regard to the possibility of somebody being careless with fire, or an act of nature happening in the form of a lightning strike.
Luckily, thus far this section of the Superior National Forest has been spared while several patches to our west and north have been experiencing a number of small blazes. We on the Gunflint are thankful that people in proximity to these burns have not been adversely affected. Further, all can be grateful that the Forest Service has got right after these incidents, and at this writing, all are either out or contained.
One element of fall is the smell of burning leaves; however, if you live in the forest this is not a pleasant thought. A smell of autumn that is welcomed, though, is the aroma coming from fallen leaves when they’ve been spritzed with a bit of rain.
I got my first whiff of fall just a few days ago following one of our feeble showers. That marvelous indescribable scent would be worth a fortune if it could only be captured and put in a bottle. Ahhh, the essence of our changing times!
The last rose of summer has long since passed, but the last blooms of this fading season are hanging on in dazzling color. Large leaf asters are about the last vestige of bright color against the muted backdrop of other dying wilderness flora. They’re out in abundance this year, and as opposed to their usual white to pale blue color are the most vivid tint of lilac I’ve observed during my short time in the wilderness.
Speaking of roses, our extended dry spell seems to have spelled doom for this year’s rose hip crop. They are rapidly wilting on the stem and many will not be maturing as firm fruit when the first freeze usually sets them in readiness for harvesting.
Some friends who reside over on Loon Lake report that they had a bumper crop of mountain ash berries this year. Their three trees were loaded with the cheery, cherry red fruit until a flock of cedar waxwings invaded one day last week. There were an uncountable number of the hungry birds and in one days setting, they devoured the entire crop. I have since found that this is not an unusual happening.
We all know that loon pairs are forever. They love, honor and serve each other just as human unions can do. A local fellow tells of sitting on a dock recently when a loon popped up out of the water within a few feet from where he was perched.
To his surprise the handsome bird had been fishing and brought its catch out of the water. After a bit of shaking the finny and dunking it back underwater a couple times, the amiable bird swam off a short distance to where its mate had surfaced and “served” it the catch of the day.
How’s that for an affectionate gesture in our often-tough natural world? This avian love affair kind of goes hand in hand with the amorous snapping turtle story of last week.
Some 60 members of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society took part in a historic cabin tour last Saturday.  The event, which was open to members only, found the touring participants getting to step back in time as they journeyed to seven cabin/homes in the historic district on the shores of Hungry Jack Lake.
The GTHS is grateful to the property owners for opening up their celebrated dwellings while sharing hospitality and storied information about their wilderness havens. Raves were heard from the visitors, leaving many thirsting for more such opportunities. Hopefully, this might become an annual fund raising event for the historical society. Kudos to all the organizers and the gracious homeowners!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor gold in “them thar hills!”

Airdate: September 14, 2012

A snapping turtle catching some rays on Saganaga Lake (Blue~Canoe/Flickr)

Wildersmith September 7

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‘Tis the season for kick-offs: another school year, football, etc. For yours truly, it’s a kick-off time too. It was 10 years ago with this scribing that I started this trek of bringing folks the Trail scoop each week. As I begin year 11, I want to thank everyone for the kind words of encouragement as well as sharing some of their north woods happenings on occasion. 
More north woods romance blossomed for us wilderness folk last week as the unusual second full moon of August burst over the horizon to greet chapter nine of 2012. What a showing this lunar experience turned out to be for those in lake country!           
Raves have been heard from up and down the Trail in regard to this once in a blue moon showing. Skies were crystal clear, setting the stage for a grand arrival, which happened just before 1950 hours on day 31.
Fortunately the Smiths and a swell friend were out on the Gunflint ripples cruising when the celestial body first peeked above our eastern shore line. We watched intently as the faint heavenly creation grew quickly to a stunning full size. Yes, the rising movement was discernable!
Then if that moon magic wasn’t enough, a turn of the craft 180 degrees found Sol doing his daily disappearance act. With the usual pre-sundown haze of late, our daytime luminary was piercing the northwestern sky like a molten spear complete with a blinding hot iron bar reflecting off the lake. The setting scenario extended beyond our scope of imagination and was lending a bridging hand toward the lunar visitor from the east.
The ambiance of being in the midst of this astronomical rhapsody was exhilarating, totally beyond adequate description! Hope all you readers and listeners got to share a moment of this enchantment.
A secondhand report came to me about two area fishermen that happened upon a gathering of loons while angling on North Lake. Not too unusual except that they counted 13 in the grouping. While counting, I am told that the bakers’ dozen broke out in a yodeling interlude. This choral call of the wild had to be something special, probably not often presented where humans could hear. There’s nothing like being in the right place at the right time!
Being in the right place at the right time recently meant another unusual natural experience for a couple living up on Gull Lake. The scene was set in the lake not far from their shore when two huge snapping turtles surfaced in a frenzy of thrashing water. The observation of the aquatic activity went on for some time before it became evident that the hard-shelled critters were not fighting, but more likely in some sort of amorous ritual.
They were tumbling over and over while hugging in a belly-to-belly position only interrupted for brief moments of heads above water to gasp a snort of air. Trying to find out whether this was just a late summer fling, or if it was a normal time for beginning the reproductive cycle, I turned to north woods naturalist, Chel Anderson.
I would have guessed that this natural occurrence might happen after coming out of hibernation in the spring, but Chel’s research found that snapping turtles can mate anytime from May thru the summer. So this surely could have been the beginning of this terrapin couple’s extending the reproductive cycle, more than just a summer romance.  
As golden birch leaves begin trickling ground-ward, autumn is picking up a little more momentum. Area roadsides are gathering the fallen tokens and with the breeze of passing vehicles, I see them blown into rows like soldiers lined up for inspection.       
The crimson of sugar maples sprinkled through the coniferous forest is in an accelerating mode and should be in full regalia in not too many more days. With the help of some morning frost, continuing warm afternoons and maybe some rain, foliage will be spectacular.
More signs of advancing times are being noted in a decline of hummingbird activity at area sweet stops, along with the bombing of rooftops as squirrels harvest cone provisions from the white pine treetops.
Thinking about critter survival, during the winter months a gal down the road shares of watching a major excavation by a chipmunk. I’m told that this one was trying to bury an entire ear of corn. Guess it was quite a digging exercise for the greedy striped rodent.
Lastly, the territory has taken on a sudden stillness with the passing of summer’s final fling. The Labor Day weekend was bustling as I have not seen in recent years but all has become quiet on the northern front. Now begins the time of waiting, waiting for arrival of the “northern express!”
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the sensations of autumn!

Airdate: September 7, 2012

"With the cool, wisps of wood smoke will soon be wafting through the woods foretelling of the magical fall changes in store..."

Wildersmith August 31

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The Gunflint bids farewell to month eight under a full gaze from that “old man in the moon.” The past chapter of 2012 has quickly trudged off into the history book, beginning in a full lunar experience, and taking a curtain call with another gleaming glimpse of “his Fullness.”
A little bit of summer angst surged in the final week of August. The sticky warm-up even prompted a resurgence of some those bitin’ bugs, mosquitoes, yuck!
Enter, and welcome September! The month of the wild rice moon now offers hope for a few frosty mornings in the northland. With the cool, wisps of wood smoke will soon be wafting through the woods foretelling of the magical fall changes in store.
Remembering a favorite saying about this special place is that “it’s only cool, when it’s cool” yours truly is anxious for that first visit from Jack, the man, Frost. Nobody does it better, when it comes to interior decorating of our Gunflint forest.
During the past week, only a smattering of heavenly moisture has fallen in the territory. That which has accumulated in select spots is barely enough to wet one’s whistle.
Around the Wildersmith neighborhood, our rain gauge has caught drops that have been measured only in a few hundredths. So we are kissing August goodbye and offering little remorse for her rapid passing, since she has put us back into that drought mode.
Perhaps with September’s call, rainmaking will be in the cards so that the area can begin soil soaking in advance of winter’s freeze-up. Nature’s flora need wet feet before going dormant to avoid adversity when next spring unfolds.
Another of September’s call comes in the clanging of the school bell. The last hurrah of summer is front and center this weekend with the big Labor Day holiday. Many of the seasonal residents of the area will be calling it a season.
School days will be beckoning this coming Tuesday, for not only our Gunflint kids, but also all of those vacationing folks. So it’s best wishes for the coming year, and hit those books with a vengeance!
We had some rough seas here on Gunflint Lake last Sunday. It was one of those days when common sense would tell you that it’s best to not take chances in a watercraft of any kind.
Yet the wonders of ignorance will never cease as one of those self-appointed experts decided that he could handle anything the old Gal had to offer. While the up lake trip to Bridal Falls with the wind and waves was tolerable, I’m told the return voyage against the bashing torrents turned to be a harrowing experience.
In the end, this terrified family was finally able to pull into shore safety just a couple docks down the line as the bucking waves were beginning to fill the boat. Thank goodness a potential tragedy was averted!
Neighbors helped the frightened family get back to their point of departure. This surely had to be a hard lesson learned by the decision-makers’ risky undertaking. You don’t mess with Mother Nature, or more specifically, with an angry Gunflint Gal. Some folks will just never learn!
Bald Eagle sightings are not unusual here on the Gunflint, but when they happen several days in succession right over the Wildersmith dock, and at a low altitude, there has to be a reason. The sudden appearance of this splendid bird is sure to be caused by the discovery of an animal carcass that probably zigged when it should have zagged. 
This apparent wilderness fast food establishment seems to be drawing raves from many hungry beings of the wild neighborhood. Such enthusiasm is heard through the woods from a collection of raucous avian voices, including this eagle that makes a daily, back and forth flight along the mid-Gunflint Lake shoreline to share in the sustenance.
The Gunflint corridor is so blessed to have such an active and caring group of volunteer protectors; I’m referring of course, to our EMTs and firefighters. The EMTs recently offered both new and refresher training to the public in CPR.
Several folks along the Gunflint have participated and found the time to be well spent. The instruction was most beneficial and professionally taught. I would encourage others in the territory to take advantage of these opportunities whenever they are extended. The training might just save a life!
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a September song!

Airdate: August 31, 2012

Photo courtesy of Travis Wiens via Flickr.

"...The foliage of aspen and birch are beginning to favor aurous tones over their virescent tints of the past few months.."

Wildersmith August 24

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Ambiance of adventure in this north woods territory is ever present, but is never more cherished than as we pass from season to season. Such is the case right now while summer fades into its final stanza.
In this resident’s opinion, autumn is gathering momentum earlier than usual. It would appear that the color show will be a few weeks in advance of most.
Flora along the byway is tinged with early crimson, and the foliage of aspen and birch are beginning to favor aurous tones over their virescent tints of the past few months. As a whole, there are an amazing number of golden tones already on stems, and this in advance of uncountable hues of brown that will soon follow summer’s last hurrah.
Mother Nature has provided some splendid weather over the past seven. However, the rain gauge has pretty much been stuck on empty during the same segment.
The area is getting nerve-wrackingly crunchy in regard to ignition potential. Therefore we have hope both for rain and that common sense will prevail with visitors and residents alike, if any type of burning is necessary.
Invasive species are continuing topics of conversation for those of us that really care about out north woods naturals. Everything from flora renegades, to water nemesis, to crawling invertebrates and even a few winged and four-legged critters keep on invading our midst with full intent of taking over our pristine paradise.
Sadly, due to our insatiable human greed, I would have to say, but without absolute scientific proof, that we Homo sapiens are most likely either directly, or indirectly, the cause for a good part of what is happening in our part of the planet. Even sadder is that a good share of our population is unwilling to bite the bullet and change our lifestyle in order that our natural place, as we would have it, might regain and sustain command over these nasty elements.
So much for my soap box prattle, I just fell off. I will tell you, though, that I had an encounter with a north woods invasive just a few days ago. It is the second episode with this species in 2012. My regular followers on WTIP will recall my details of a visiting masked bandit this past spring.
It turns out there are obviously more than one of these critters that have moved in and are now taking up residence in border country. A kin to my spring visitor showed up on the Wildersmith deck one night last week.
Like its cousin, this one too turned out as easy pickins for exclusion from the neighborhood because of a gnawing appetite that included a sweet tooth and not much savvy. Once again a small pig-sized raccoon could not resist the aroma of my enticing PB&J.
As the trap door slammed shut, the unwelcomed varmint’s journey came to an end. Humanely, it was dispatched to those happy hunting grounds out in the forest where it will provide sustenance to native critters that have called this place home for eons.
The mystery remains about how these masked invaders get here. It seems like it would be a long walk from their usual more southerly habitat. Perhaps they hooked a ride with some of that southern state sweet corn that is sold from the back of a pick-up in several north shore locations? Whatever the case, there are now two less of the troublesome bandits hanging around trying to upset the wilderness cycle of life.
What a great day for the Mid-Trail Property Owners Association this past Saturday. Their annual fundraiser, on behalf of the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMT folks, drew what looked to be a record crowd. At day’s end, the event garnered just shy of $10,000.
The winner of the mid-trail quilt raffle drawing was Jo Ann Krause, who just happens to be a mid-trail resident. Congratulations Jo Ann, and a huge thanks to all those who had a hand in organizing this fun and worthy event!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor the magic of summer to fall along the Trail!

Airdate: August 24, 2012

Photo courtesy of BruceCyg via Flickr.

Sunset over Gunflint Lake (bdearth/Flickr)

Wildersmith August 17

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The third weekend of August recorded seven days of tranquil weather passing through the upper Trail. There have been no dog days to this point, and us regulars hope that atmospheric things continue with the calm autumnal trend.
Since our last meeting on the radio, most areas in our territory picked up nearly an inch or so of moisture in one overnight setting. However, with this keyboarding exercise, we’ve dried out and are once again beginning to choke in the dust of our backcountry roads.
Area lake temperatures continue the slow downward trickle. A check of the old thermometer at our Wildersmith dock showed the mercury hovering at 68. So dips in the lake are becoming less frequent and are causing more of a gasp when one does such an entry.
My nightly dockside sunset monitoring has been quite frustrating of late. It seems that regardless of how clear the skies have been about an hour before sundown, some early evening clouds gathering over the Gunflint Gal have spoiled those pure Canadian sunsets.
Nonetheless, flooding rays from behind those cloud formations have dished up some exciting neon halos on the puffy perimeters, so all observations have not been a total bust.
With the focus of the past two weeks on the Olympics, a fellow Mile O Pine resident came upon an up-north version of aquatic activity with international flavor while boating down Gunflint Lake. As evening shadows were building, he observed a dark silhouette moving along the surface.  From a distance, he pondered that it was surely to be a loon with chicks on board.
Movement toward the Canadian shore was deliberate and he soon gained on the stroking mystery critter.  It was soon discovered that this was no loon. In fact, this was way too big, maybe a moose?
Proximity was finally accomplished to where he could discern the inexplicable swimmer. Turns out it was a momma bear heading to Canada, and clinging to her back were two cubs. Guess Ms. Bruno was no Michael Phelps but was nevertheless making slow and steady progress through the rolling waters.
Some visitors to the area also shared their observation of another wild aquatic adventure. It seems like everyone, critters included, wants to get into the act following all the blue liquid that’s been spilling out of our TVs lately. In this happening, they not only got to see a treasured Gunflint moose, they saw a pair of them (a bull and a yearling). The monsters of the byway were doing a moose version of the dog paddle across Clearwater Lake. What a vacation memory this stands to be!
The past birthing season for black Teddy’s in these parts must have been quite prolific. It seems that on about every other trip taken in either direction along the Trail I’ve seen a cute cub scampering across my path.
Sure is a shame that the adorable bear tots grow up to sometimes be so annoying and/or disagreeable. Then again, if it weren’t for us humans being around, how could they be called such, or would we even know?
Saturday is the day for which mid-Trail folks have been waiting. Their annual flea market, gift boutique and auction kicks off at 1p.m. This event has been a fun activity along the Trail for many years and also raises funds that help support the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department and EMT crews.
Many wonderful hand-crafted items will be on the auction block, and the final event of the afternoon will see the winning ticket drawn for that always unique, Mid-Trail quilters’ labor of love!
All of the activity will be held at Fire Hall #1, mid-Trail. Plan to make an afternoon of it while taking an always lovely, late summer venture up the Trail to join in the fun!
On a final note, the pie and ice cream social held at Chik-Wauk museum and Nature Center last weekend was a huge success. A north woods spectacular day saw over 200 luscious pieces of pie served. Thanks go out to the organizers, volunteer set-up folks, servers, pastry specialists and of course the attendees.
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the waning days of the season!

Airdate: August 17, 2012

"More etchings of autumnal splendor are beginning to appear in the woods..." (Topyti/Flickr)

Wildersmith August 10

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With each passing day, signs of fall continue creeping into the north woods. Most notable since we last met on the radio was the coolness of last weekend. Fact is that last Sunday morning really gave notice of things coming down the pike when the temp dipped in to the mid-40s at Wildersmith. It was actually sweatshirt time, quite September-like, and pretty much stayed that way most of the day in spite of a bright Sol and azure skies.
More etchings of autumnal splendor are beginning to appear in the woods as a few moose maples are starting to curtail chlorophyll production, giving way to early stages of red/orange pigments. Meanwhile a flurry of tansy gold has exploded along area roadsides, and the black-eyed Susans are beaming like Hollywood starlets. Not to be forgotten, a couple juvenile sugar maples on the Mile O Pine have also detected the number of daylight minutes diminishing with daily regularity. They too have a tinge of scarlet haloing their leaf edges.
The first full week of August has seen the upper Trail dry out.  Precipitation in the meager amount of only four-tenths of an inch is all that has fallen since that end of July drenching.
All days are beautiful up the Trail and some are even better, but we residents sure do have an appreciation for regular rain… so it’s hoped that we don’t get caught in another one of those arid ruts that are plaguing many other parts of the country.  Thus far Mother Nature has been pretty darned good to us this summer.
With the usual seasonal happenings moved up about four to six weeks so far in 2012, one has to wonder if the next atmospheric segment might be coming in advance too. In addition to the early fall character mentioned both here and last week, it seems that the lake water at our dock on Gunflint is following suit.
Whereas the underwater mercury reading had declined to the low 70s last week, a check at keyboarding time of this scoop showed a drop to 70. This may only be temporary should we get another warm spell but, if not, this early change could be a significant hint that our Gunflint white time might come to stay in October as opposed to the usual November.
Tokens of prediction might also be coming from a few of the critters around here. The hummingbird activity has stepped up considerably at our sweet juice station. In the past week, the hubbub of take-offs and departures is suggesting that the mini birds might be tanking up in advance of an early departure.
Further, any number of the squirrels and chipmunks in the neighborhood are no longer engaging themselves in just hanging out and gorging themselves at our feeders. They are now busy in the pickup, transport and winter storage mode.
One of the real blessings for this time of the year is that the airborne fleets of stingers have backed off, at least in this area. For whatever reason, this reprieve from mosquito attacks is marked and welcomed.
I did, however, find that not all the bitin’ buzzers have tamed down. While I was doing a bit of tree removal recently, a swarm of (I guess honey) bees let me know that I was not welcome in their domain. Thank goodness I do not react adversely as some folks do, because several nips only served to make me realize that I’d better pursue another locale.
A few reminders of people happenings are now in order. The Pie & Ice Cream Social at Chik Wauk Museum and Nature Center is Saturday, the 11th. Serving begins at 11 a.m. and runs ‘til 4 p.m. Come and enjoy the fruits of the forest!
The next weekend is the big Mid-Trail flea market, gift boutique and fundraiser auction, all at Fire Hall Number One along the Trail. Activity runs from 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 18. Don’t miss this fun!
And, in closing, don’t forget the regular membership meeting of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society, this coming Monday, Aug. 13. The gathering will again be held at the Gunflint Lodge Conference Center beginning at 1:30 p.m. The program feature will be “Growing Up on the Gunflint” as three local gals who spent their summer childhood years along Gunflint Lake share some of their experiences. Treats will be served!
Keep on hangin’ on and savor an August offering on the Gunflint!

Airdate: August 10, 2012

Wild Rose Hips

Wildersmith August 3

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“Neebing” has moved into August, and before the northland can even blink its eyes, the full blueberry moon has come and gone. Yep, a couple nights ago the big cheese in the heavens glistened down on the land of midnight blue waters.

If you missed this one, though, we’ll have another before Augustus will bade us farewell. I don’t know what the Ojibwe call it, but this a month of the blue moon.

A review of the week’s weather has seen a goodly amount of rain in the Wildersmith neighborhood, and some typical summer temps, not too hot and not too cold. The rain gauge readings in my yard totaled just about four and one-half inches with one effort yielding a wonderful two during one overnight drenching.

This rain has held the Gunflint Lake level summer decline in check for the time being. It had been dropping off about three-quarters of an inch per day in spite of the off and on rains that have happened in the past six weeks.

The rain has also cooled the water temperature slightly. At our dockside, a week ago, it was 78 degrees, and since, has dropped off to the low- to mid-70s in concert with some cooler night air.

Our new month has me thinking of autumn. The dogbane along area roadsides has already taken on a 24-carat hue. I see wild rose hips having emerged into their brilliant scarlet tone, and there’s a strange early color transition in the tamaracks up on the Chik-Wauk site.

It’s also harvest time in a big way all over the territory. Take your pick from blueberries, serviceberries or the reds of raspberry and thimbleberries. It looks to me like there’s going to be a lot of potential for pie makin’ and jam/jelly preserving.

Another moment of time in the forest has shown me a number of those wooly caterpillars. All observed to date are nearly coal black with little to no brown.

I don’t know if there is any significance to this coloring issue. I remember someone once mentioning that the darker the woolies, the harsher will be the coming winter. So much for that old wives tale, but if there is really something to it, bring it on and let’s see!

Several critter reports have come my way during the past week. A gal down the road tells of having a quartet of pileated woodpeckers land in her yard. They came in single file formation and touched down in the same manner. They hung out for a while, then departed one right after the other. I have never seen four in one group at the same time. Perhaps it was parents and kids on an educational outing.

Same lady also tells of having a loon pair cruise into and around her little bay on Gunflint recently. This is not too unusual, but the fact that momma loon had three chicks crawl onto her back via an extended wing seems rare to me. I have never seen a loon pair with more than twins.

Up the animal ladder another rung or two, I have two reports of a large Canada lynx sighting. The bigger-than-usual cat was first observed in the middle of South Gunflint Lake road by a bicyclist. More recently, it came into and hung out in a resident’s yard along the Mile O Pine, providing a number of photo ops.

If this fat cat is as large as reported, it’s no wonder that I’ve been noticing a scarcity of snowshoe hares lately. From a nutrition standpoint, this wild feline probably thinks it’s died and gone to heaven, because we’ve been seeing an increasing number of the long ears for the past couple years.

Getting back to thinking of pies, residents and visitors alike should mark their calendars for the third annual pie and ice cream feast sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. The sweet treat event will be held Saturday, Aug. 11 on the grounds at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Donations from the fundraising effort will go to the Museum to assist with continuing program development.

A trip up the Trail will be well worth the time to get a sampling of the great pastry skills of resident bakers. Think of that, pies from the fruits of the forest served out in the forest, it can’t get any better!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the sweetness of the woods!

Airdate: August 3, 2012

Photo courtesy of Jerry Kirkhart via Flickr.

Canoe Lineup, Gunflint Canoe Races 2012

Wildersmith July 27

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One can hardly believe that by the next time we meet on the radio, July will have been chalked up to the record books. 2012 is flying by out of control everywhere, including here along the Gunflint Trail.

The brunt of the vacation season is upon us up and down the Trail. While the warmth of the summer has a few of us somewhat grouchy, our weather has been a welcome relief for everyone coming into the territory from all places south.

Mother Nature has been yo-yoing around in the past seven days. A couple segments have been downright outstanding for July, but the rest have been a no-fun example of heat and humidity.

Further, she gave us another dose of that “not much rain for now” (about a half inch total for the past week here at Wildersmith). This precipitation neglect has made stepping through the woods on the crispy side.

To make things worse, due to a few spotty summer storms that have cropped up, lightning has set off several fire episodes, creating some smoky conditions here in the upper Trail reaches.

Last Saturday morning folks along Gunflint Lake awoke to smoky smells and skies. We were finally brought up to speed that there was fire in Manitoba as well as a few lightning-ignited spots around Ely and near the Pagami Creek inferno of last summer.

Winds eventually swept the unwelcome memories of fire away, and we breathed a sigh of relief. Yet we know all too well that we’re never completely out of danger as long as there are people, lightning and tinder dry elements that can combine to change things in a hurry. Thanks again to the firefighting folks who jumped on these hot spots before they could become a major problem!

We all must be extremely careful since there seems to be an unwillingness to invoke burning bans. So much for all the science on the issue of fire danger; it’s d-r-y, dry out here.

The annual Gunflint Trail canoe races are history for 2012. Huge thanks go out to the Jamiesons (Margit & Jim) and nearly 100 or so volunteers that worked to make it happen. A final tally of the resources raised for the Trail Fire and Rescue Departments showed that their coffers were increased by approximately $14,500.

In so doing the Gunflint community had a swell evening of fun on an absolutely splendid northwoods evening. The grand prize drawing found Karen Reilly of Rochester, Minn., taking home the Spirit II Wenonah Canoe.

I recently heard of a security breach at a residence up near the end of the trail. It turns out that there was some peculiar breaking and entering. The residents came home to find screens damaged on their porch and that someone had done some rummaging around in the enclosure, but nothing seemed to be missing.

Screens were patched, but no sooner was this done than a second illegal entry happened, and this time the culprits were caught. A surveillance set-up eventually found the intruders to be hungry flying squirrels that gnawed their way inside.

The curious nocturnal beings were easily deterred after determining who they were by simply closing the windows, although I’m sure that with this steamy weather, it has not been the most comfortable solution.

Meanwhile, I had a similar experience when a chipmunk came into my wood shop through an open door and apparently did not get out before the opening closed. I came in a day or so later to find that the panicked mini-rodent had scampered in a hundred different directions knocking items off windowsills and walls, generally kind of ransacking the place, while seeking an escape route.

I never did find it in the facility and never observed the critter departing as I made my first re-entry. After a few days, though, the old whiff, whiff method led me to its final demise. I’m surely the one to blame on this one!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor a cool cruise on a lake in Gunflint territory!

Airdate: July 27, 2012

Fireweed is already in bloom this summer...

Wildersmith July 20

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Mother Nature turned on those of us residing up the Gunflint this past week. After affording us some swell weather in the week prior, she slipped in some of that hot and sultry stuff, and had most of us whining with a wish for December-like relief.

The humid conditions have since sent a good number of folks to the water, which by the way is also warming more than we would like. Here at Wildersmith the dockside lake temperature stands in the mid-70s, and that is what it should be a month from now. If the warm water spiking continues, we’ll be having some natural “fish boils” in August.

It’s a definite fact that the summer season is advancing much faster than normal (whatever that means). Late summer flowers are already in bloom and we’ve not even reached the mid-point of “Neebing” dog days. Fireweed, goldenrod, black-eyed Susans and a few asters are heading the list of early roadside floral arranging. Could it be that we might just evolve into an early fall? Sure hope so, maybe even a long winter!

Our neighborhood was leaning toward that dry-as-a-wilderness-bone scenario over the better part of a week until late last Saturday afternoon, when a sudden thunder boomer drenched the Wildersmith neighborhood with slightly over two inches.

The moisture appeared to be very spotty though, as I’m told that the end and middle of the corridor got little to nothing. So while this little bit of paradise is sticky as an equatorial jungle, other parts of the territory remain parched and are getting worse with the blistering sun’s continued assault.

Folks are advised once more to be running those wildfire sprinkler systems to keep things damp around their places, and to be assured that all systems are in working order. Further, caution cannot be emphasized enough with regard to any kind of burning, even though things appear lush green.

On a lighter note, I decided long ago that it is simpler to join in support of the squirrel brigade rather than fight them. I have thus installed some feeding structures called “squirrel lunch boxes.”

The units are mini-sheds that have a hinged roof. It doesn’t take long for most of the red rodents to process lifting the roof lid and then crawling inside for their ration of seeds.

Since the berries have come on in the past week or two I don’t feel so much at risk in having them out there as a potential draw for bears. I do, however, take them in at night.

Oftentimes I have opened the lid to refill and found one of the little ones staring me in the face. Usually we are both startled and while I jump back, the squirrel scampers away.

The other day though, I popped that lid and there was one of my little friends. Guess I should have knocked first. This time it just looked at me, gave me a good scolding and went right back to rummaging through the shells for another bite.

Slightly taken back by this rude welcome, I closed the lid and went on to filling the next unit. A moment later the hungry animal was out and highly interested in the newly-cached feeder, not one bit embarrassed or apologetic for the way it had treated me. Guess I’m lucky that it didn’t choose to bite the hand that feeds. Life goes on for me and my wilderness pals!

It seems that the mosquito assault has subsided to sporadic rather than continued fits of rage. This too might be telling in regard to some unusual climatic shifting, in parallel with the other phrenology occurrences that we’ve been observing. We can only hope that this is not a respite to allow for the birth of the umpteenth generation of the bitin’ buzzers.

Folks who could not make the July Trail Historical Society meeting this past week missed a great program. Jim Wiinanen, who has long ties with the Wilderness Canoe Base near the end of the Trail, presented an energetic talk about his experiences on the Gneiss Lake Hiking Trail, before it succumbed to the 1999 blowdown and the subsequent Ham Lake Fire.

Jim, in concert with several other key people, was instrumental in helping to get the Gneiss Lake Trail spur cleared and re-opened to Blueberry Hill this past spring. The new addition to the trail system around the Chik-Wauk grounds is receiving rave reviews.

In a final note, referencing Blueberry Hill, the heavenly blue morsels are on all over the territory. Get out and get them!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor this land of lily pads and loons!

Airdate: July 20, 2012

Photo courtesy of Bruce McKay via Flickr.