Listen Now
Pledge Now


 
 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

Contributor(s): 
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.

 

Podcast:
Subscribe

What's On:
{Priya Saihgal via Flickr}

Wildersmith: December 4

In spite of our first sub-zero mercury reading here on the morning after Thanksgiving, winter continues pretty much a non-issue. A minor snow ushered in December, but is likely gone by this airing with October temperatures hot on its heels. So it’s back to slush and slop on back country roads.  
    
Except for the dropping late last Tuesday, our first few days of this new month are acting like the previous thirty. It’s beginning to look like the “cold Grinch of the north” is not going to be around much this season. And it could well be, some of the big lakes might not have suitable ice by the January trout fishing opener at the rate things are going.    
                                                                                                                                                 
Being in a semi-winter mode, some critters of the “wild neighborhood” could be in a state of confusion.  Chipmunks residing about our yard are usually catching their first “Z”s of the season by now. In recent days both my wife and I have observed them scampering here and there still in the gathering mode.                                                                                                                                             
This activity being noticed makes me wonder if the temperate conditions have the bears experiencing sleeping disorders as well. At the very least, they surely can’t be into a deep slumber yet.                                                                                                                                                              
Thanksgiving at Wildersmith was special with some of the family members up from Iowa for the usual good times and chow-down. Its’ amusing how celebrating can continue in many homes after the big day as our menu bounty, remains in the giving order.                                         
                                                                                      
If your place is like ours, we continue trying new ideas to use up leftovers. Our common sense frugality seems evoked in author/news commentator, Tom Brokaw’s “The Greatest Generation” as we struggle to throw out our bounteous blessings. This is obviously a reflection of our up-bringing, during what were often, not the most affluent times. In all likelihood, my generations’ attitude is directly opposite of what most millennials have probably already done.          
                                                       
Regardless of the circumstance around your house, Thanksgiving at the Smith’s just keeps on giving. Turns out, as opposed to adding more to the garbage dumpster, we’ve been sharing inedible scraps from our gathering with critters of the neighborhood, and they seem delighted with their opportunity at a holiday feast.                                                                                                                                                                                 
Many residents of our “wild wilderness” were not bashful about joining at the feed trough. Their spread was doled out over several days making this experience last considerably longer than that of we humans.                                                                                                                                         
About every species of birds from the north woods, plus red squirrels, flying squirrels (at night) and countless pine martens have gathered at one time or another. Most amazing was the intensity of cleaning up that turkey carcass (bones and all).                                                                               
If there was ever a reason for blue and Canadian jays, plus chickadees and nuthatches, to have indigestion, it was this occasion. Following an avian assault on softer tissue elements, I stopped counting after a pine marten made five successive trips to carry off the boney remains. In slightly over two hours on consecutive days, our “big bird character” was history!                                                          
One might question if the side dish dressing/stuffing (in particular) would also be appetizing to this insatiable crew, but answers were provided almost before I cleared the scene. The feeding frenzy did not diminish as more of our un-eaten items were served up.  The multi-day critter eat-a-thon has tapered off by now, but our giving mood sure provided a priceless educational experience and entertainment.     
                                                                                                                                                       
A couple reports from neighbors along the Gunflint Lake south shore indicate an itinerant coyote. The canine cousins are not unusual to the Arrowhead, but seldom noted out this way. It would be my guess this one might serve up as a nice appetizer for the Gunflint/Loon Lake wolf pack, sooner or later.  
                                                                                                                              
Talking of the local pack, one member crossed my path during a recent MOP mail run. We made brief eye contact, from a short distance, before it vanished into the forest. It’s always a surprising privilege to intersect ways with such an iconic guy/gal. This mini rendezvous was another of those engaging, but untouchable, border country adventures.        
                                                 
Gunflint folks are reminded once again of the holiday open house this Saturday afternoon. Festivities begin at 3:00 pm and run until 6:00pm at the Mid-Trail/ Schaap Community Center.  Although not required, the GTVFD is seeking donations to the area food shelf. Gunflint resident participation will be much appreciated!  Y'all come for the food and fun!                                                                                                                                                      
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Looking, looking and looking for a kick-start to our season of snow white!
 

Listen: 

 
Fred's grouse

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 20

Finally, our upper Gunflint territory got some snow that counted. Although it is likely gone in all but shaded places as this scribing airs, those of us with affection for the fluff were excited, if at least briefly.

The first substantial dose of the stuff accumulated anywhere from two to about six inches depending upon one's locale. At Wildersmith we received two inches whereas up the Mile O Pine a little ways, six inches required dropping the snow blade down. Funny how such weather variables can happen in only short distances apart.

Regardless of one's opinion about this seasonal character, it’s not debatable as to the elegance of this first sticky flake application. Every appendage throughout border country wilderness was laced in purity. So as Thanksgiving rolls around, us woodsy folks are thankful for this majestic natural blessing, and hopeful the remaining November skies will be spreading more white cheer real soon.

The waxing “freezing over moon” is nearing the month eleven pinnacle while we head to America’s festival of plenty. His “lunar highness” is a good bet to be glistening off open lake water. In spite of our heavenly liquid bodies being biting cold, rolling waves continue to hold off any coagulation.

Most animals of the neighborhood are fully changed into their winter garb. In a sampling, I spotted a snowshoe hare and an ermine, both of which were fully in tune with the newly frosted landscape.

Then on another note, the morning after our snowy spectacle, I was able to track several overnight visitors along the road on my way for the daily mail delivery. A meandering fox led me over the entire two mile trek to the mail box, while off and on prints of a marten, snowshoe hare, wolf and a solitary deer dented the bleached ground cover. There were no bear trailings so perhaps this brief swat of winter put them to bed.

Speaking of deer, neighbors along the Gunflint south shore spent the first week of their stalking time in quiet solitude. I’ve heard of only one buck being taken in this part of the upper Trail during week one of the firearms season. Although there may be a few whitetails here and there, it would appear the severe winter of 2013-14 and the wolves have pretty much wiped venison opportunities off the menu.

It may take several years for the herd to recover for hunter satisfaction. In the meantime, I ‘m certain the hunters I know are still contemplating the joy of their time outdoors in this splendid forest. Their hunting time is much like angling, “fishing is always great, but sometimes the catching just isn’t!” I hope their fortunes turned around during this second and final week of this season.

A new avian pet has adopted our yard as an apparent safe haven. In spite of making light of the “clucky” birds, it’s energizing to see this grouse guy hanging out around the place. His presence seems not affected by my moving about the yard so I would guess we are pretty much stuck with him. The gamely bird even did a photo-op for me last week. It was caught perched high up in a pin cherry tree pecking away at whatever critter bugs hole up on those branches.

We at Wildersmith hope you have a safe and glorious gathering while being thankful for the grand bounty we in America celebrate. Remembering there are billions of people on other parts of the planet not so blessed, wouldn’t it be nice to do some good things for each other during this time of violence, pain and suffering!

Gunflinters give thanks every day for this idyllic, peaceful place. We may be unorganized territory, but our state of civility far surpasses the sickening barbarism engulfing many world places at this moment. Citizens of the world, come to your senses!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Happy Turkey Day!

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: November 13

Atmospheric conditions along the Gunflint Byway have remained on the passive side of the ledger. As the area reaches the mid-point of our 11th month, unless things change abruptly, those not in tune with winter will be happy as clams noting the long cold season is being shortened by one segment.

This neighborhood has been yo-yoing since we last met, with abnormal warmth, then a couple days near normal and then back to September character. A skiff of white was recorded, but vanished quickly in the midst of one more “El Nino” swoosh.

It would appear the actual lake freezing over, as acclaimed by the Ojibwe “freezing over moon” of November, will probably be put off until next month. The usual skimming over of our smaller lakes, ponds and swamps by this time of year just isn’t happening.

Although the larger Gunflint Lake is traditionally one of the last territorial bodies to become solid, this “old Gal” is still offering a summer-time lure. Last Sunday, the purr of an outboard motor was heard near sundown from a late season angler heading home. Yes, fresh water angling in the midst of firearms deer hunting season. Wonders of the north land never cease to amaze!

In further testament to our extending tepid spell, another week has passed and more bear wanderings are being reported - no denning up just yet. Perhaps they are holding out for Thanksgiving leftovers.

A couple down the road had the thrill of recording a night time photo-op with a Canadian Lynx. This is the first “kitty” report heard from out this way in quite a while. They sent me a digital of the cat which was unfortunately not crisp enough to share, but you can take my word, this feline of the north was a handsome critter. Snowshoe hares and grouse should beware!

Speaking of grouse, their numbers must be in an upswing cycle. It must have been a fertile year for chick production. In my travels through this neck of the woods I see uncountable numbers of the seemingly dimwitted “chicken birds.”

Continuing avian excitement engulfs the Smiths anytime we step out the door. For some reason, known only to our winged neighbors, the chickadees and nuthatches are infatuated with our presence. I’ve heard of this from other long time Gunflint residents but this tweeting experience is a first in going on 17 winters here. It's like an attack of the birds. They expect to be fed, and we have fallen right in line with their feeding-frenzy expectations. This experience with our feathered friends, in addition to being enjoyable, has proven educational too. Getting an up-close look at their routine of hammering each morsel into a nook or cranny of tree bark is amazing to watch. Their system of warehousing and inventory control would probably even wow “Amazon.”

All this being said, guess we (Smiths) might be included in the “dimwitted” category for getting such a kick out of their greedy companionship!

Last weekend a winter season visitor came back to our deck side feed trough. “Piney” the marten stopped by, having not been seen since the meltdown of last spring. It was easily recognized as one of our previous marten visitors with a tiny notch missing from one ear. Hungry as usual, it spent considerable time munching sunflower seeds much to the annoyance of the usual squirrels and bluejays.

One adventure of north woods living is wondering and imagining where these “wild neighborhood” critters have been, and what they’ve been up to during their transient times. We’ll obviously never know, but it’s energizing nonetheless realizing this one survived the wild for another year, and came back looking quite healthy and remembered a nice place to get an easy meal.

Although not a whitetail deer has been observed for months around Wildersmith, there must be scent of such a return in the air. Wolf reconnaissance has been noted (although not physically witnessed) with evidence from the timber canines found along our Mile O Pine. So the saga of predator and prey lives on, only now a human factor has been tacked on for a few weeks. It is hoped the stars of fate are aligned for both the stalked and the stalkers in this wilderness drama.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! We're keeping an eye out for the stalled “great northern express!”

 

 

Listen: 

 
Misty Morning {v2r76 /Flickr}

Wildersmith: November 6

A few days before the trick or treat evening found the upper Gunflint with a prelude to winter. Our first measureable snow fell in an after dark time slot leaving an inch or so in many spots along the Trail.                                                                                                       
Beautiful as the sticky stuff was our first winter driving conditions proved to be on the dicey side during a trip to town by yours truly next morning. The slushy conditions were short lived as mid-day temps upped over the freezing point and my return trip was smooth sailing.                               
Since the brief snowy encounter, “old man winter” has pulled in his horns, giving way to his “El Nino” nemesis. Temps, warmer than normal, are the order as we finish off November week one.  In spite of the mild thermometer readings, it has not felt all that warm due to several drizzly, cloud covered days.                                                                                                                                         
 Typical of November times, it’s been just plain damp and dreary! I guess this is the way things are going to be from here on out as the God’s of natural happenings cool our north country earth prior to freezing solidarity.                                                                                                                                                       
There’s a new found beauty in the forest now. With nary a leaf left hanging, Gunflints’ coniferous timber has the forest all to itself. 
I’m pretty passionate about things evergreen, and a gaze, across valleys to the granite hillsides of a zillion pine spires, is majestic.  The landscapes’ interlude of naked deciduous beings scattered among the forever green, suggests a time honored mosaic of piney hues and gray/brown silhouettes piercing border country horizons at all points on the compass. Our current wilderness surroundings are as uniquely captivating as the Technicolor show just completed. Beauty is, for sure, in the eyes of the beholder, and for this observer, this season of cold anticipation is visually magical in a special way.                                                                                                       
The white tail deer hunting season for riflemen gets underway with a bang (no pun intended) this weekend. With forecast evidence of there being no tracking snow and mild conditions, the hunt may not be the most productive.                                                                 
Nevertheless, deer stalkers will not be deterred. Caution is the buzz word no matter where one’s trekking in the surrounding forest. Blaze orange is the proper attire. Good luck to all, and know for sure, before the trigger is squeezed! 
A gal down the road and I were visiting the other day in regard to whether the bears had turned in for the winter. Neither of us had any proof one way or the other. Next day a call from a fellow residing on the Trail south of Loon Lake confirmed at least one of the hungry critters is still dining out.                                                                                  
Preparing for his winter trek south, he cleaned out the “refrig.” putting the remaining foodstuffs in an ice chest on his deck. Attending to other chores, a subsequent glance outside found a giant “Bruno” sitting on his deck, munching a bag of tortillas.                                                                 
After a stern, vociferous lecture, the bear grudgingly departed, only to return later destroying an empty bird feeder to add further annoyance to its visit. So in answer to inquiries, at least some of the ravenous marauders remain out of den and into the gorging mode.                                                                                                        
Calling all WTIP listeners, website readers and streamers, the final fund raising endeavor of 2015 is underway as this weeks’ Wildersmith scribing/broadcast comes your way. “This little community radio station, that could”, is all about great home-town, home-grown and “home-made” ambition.                                                                                                                                                            
In spectacular fashion for nearly two decades, this amazing broadcast “phenom” has spread its’ forum for news and entertainment far beyond the tip of Minnesota’s Arrowhead. To keep WTIP onward and upward requires financial assistance from many sources. Listener support tops the list.                                                                                                                                                        
Once again, this “home made” community connection in Cook County and around the world is asking its’ many publics to become a new member of the WTIP family or to renew your previous membership commitment. On-going radio excellence needs continuing re-inforcements!                                                                                                                                                                              
Don’t delay make your pledge call now, locally at 387-1070; or toll free at 1-800 473-9847; or click and join at WTIP.org                                                                                                                                          
This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith!  WTIP needs you!
 
 
                                                                               
           
 
 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 30

The Gunflint October is idling in neutral as month eleven is about to slip into gear. Most days of the past week our weather has taken on a November look with more gray than blue overhead along with bone chilling winds.

Although temps have not been bitterly cold, one has the feeling “old man winter” is about to rise from his recliner with a dose of something soon. Summer/fall has passed on and November will be slipping across the border in a couple days. It won’t be long until permanent skims will be glazing area lakes and ponds as water temps are heading south rapidly on these leaden tinted, cool days.

This neighborhood received another meager ration of rain over the past seven segments. Again, there was less than a half inch in my rain gauge, but it’s doing the right thing in regard to soaking the ground. Murky clouds and cool air don’t allow for much drying out this time of year. So this is good for all things needing to freeze damp.

Meanwhile, as the tamaracks are dusting off the last of their golden needles, and with Halloween at hand, long-time Gunflint residents are holding their breath so to speak in hope a storm the likes of 1991 doesn’t throw a ghostly white blanket over trick or treat activities. For those who weren’t a part of the “beggars” time dropping, this territory received upwards of 40+ inches of white 24 years ago at this time. Not living here myself back then, it’s hard for me to grasp snow to such a depth falling at one interval.

Ghosts and goblins will be trekking about the county this year on the heels of the Ojibwe “falling leaves” moon. Having made its tenth appearance of the year this past Tuesday, his “lunar highness” will still be lighting the way and creating frightful shadows behind trillions of timber beings.

Although few youngsters live, or venture from town out this way, everyone is urged to be on the look-out for the little masked creatures darting across roads and driveways. Let's make it a safe and sweet end to October.

Although I receive many comments on moose sightings, it’s been some time since yours truly has come upon one of our dwindling iconic herd. However, my moose observation fortunes got a boost a few days ago.

While traveling up toward end of the Trail, near Seagull Fishing Camp, a huge bull emerged from a swampy domain and crossed right in front of my vehicle. It was not a close call from a collision point of view, but heart stopping nonetheless. Slowing to watch as it trudged off into the forest one direction, a peek the other way, found another of similar enormousness munching some swamp water goodies.

I had to wonder if I might have barely missed out on a battle for the engagement of a fair moose maiden between the one now on my right and the other to my left. It would surely seem the two were not sharing cordial greetings about where the girls are. Whatever the case, like yes, there is a Santa Claus, a few moose are still out and about.

The next day while talking with a local gal about my sighting, she shared observing a pair of bulls in the same location just hours earlier. Perhaps it was the same pair. If so, maybe they’re DNA brothers, then again, territorial issues just might not have been settled before my interruption of the previous day. And yet, could there be four of the big guys in the same neighborhood? It’s “Moose Madness” deja vu.

A timely reminder comes your way as we return to true “sun time” this coming Sunday morning. “Falling back” from another of mankind's manipulations, don’t forget to reset those clocks before you go to bed Saturday evening.

Also be advised to start digging out the “blaze orange” gear as the rifle season on deer opens next Saturday. Sharing the woods with amorous crazed deer and excited hunters can be dangerous, be prepared!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! The express of November is cruising into this idyllic Gunflint territory, right on schedule!

(Photo by Gary Siesennop)

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 23

Since our last radio visit, my self-imposed criteria was met in regard to declaring autumn history, in spite of what the calendar says. Winter at Wildersmith happened a few days ago when after a cold night, the following daytime high temperature failed to rise above the freezing mark.

Furthermore, this neighborhood had several mornings of hard frost before recovering in the early part of the week. And to take the cold even more seriously, the area had a forecast one evening featuring the “s” word; however, none of the white stuff is known to have materialized. A mediocre rain fell in concert with a blast of nighttime winds bringing our color show to an abrupt end, ushering in the aforesaid cold spell. Yep, most all leaves have blanketed the wilderness landscape.

This has left the forest with eerie skeletal remains reaching up into the territorial heavens. To view from afar, across our valleys to the surrounding granite hillsides, our denuded trees look to be a mass of gauzy cobwebs with a ghostly cast. How appropriate “Mother Nature” is so casually playing a key role, in adding to the Halloween mood.

As the deciduous part of the forest met its demise, the last character of autumn is glowing radiantly out this way. It's “tamarack time” along the Trail. This final act of the growing season finds our golden coniferous spires brightly lighting up the byway. It’s almost to the point of a blinding blur against a sunlit backdrop. Sadly, these luminous needles don’t last long, and they’ll be raining down with the next gush of pre-winter flurry. In the meantime, this sylvan spectacle is one to behold!

The cold being such, I’ve broken out the winter Carhartt. As I put finishing touches on “getting ready for winter" chores, I must say keeping the warmth in felt pretty good to the creaky old bones!

Speaking of wearing apparel, a mystery of such is ongoing after a recent laundry drying incident. On one of these last days where clothes could be hung out on the line to dry, my wife dispatched a few items, giving no thought about what might happen, other than fresh-smelling garments at day's end. Following several hours in the sun and a fall breeze, she proceeded to retrieve her hangings. Unpinning the last item (a black t-shirt of yours truly), the unit was found to be tattered beyond belief in two locations where it was attached to the line. The mystery is how this did happen? The shirt was in mint condition when hung up. To date there are no substantial answers. The notion is some tight-wire trekking critter is to blame. Conjecture around the house, as well as with neighbors, focuses on either squirrels, chipmunks or woodpeckers. The answer may never be confirmed, but my best guess is, it was a squirrel in need of winter quarters nesting material.

It wouldn’t be the first time around here one of the red rodents has made off with some man-made materials. On one occasion, I observed a red gnawer running off with a cotton glove I had left out. Then at another time, I watched one of the varmints untie a swatch of hemp-like twine from a winter-tethered shrub. The twine, incidentally, ended up as part of a nest in the HVAC unit of my vehicle (a costly fix to be sure). So my assumption possibly has substance, nevertheless, I’m out one of those nice (but not cheap) Duluth Trading Co. shirts.

On a final note, in regard to last week's comments about the energetic chickadees swarming me anytime I’m outside, the lady of the house has now been adopted by a pair of the dainty birds. They won’t leave her alone since she started offering an open hand full of seeds. It’s so amusing to observe this moment in nature as they pluck one seed at a time from her hand, zip off to a nearby branch, hold the seed down with their mini-clawed toes, crack it open, munch it down and zoom back for another. What a ritual! This newly acquired friendship is the “best of all worlds” in terms of pet/human relationships. They really don’t need you, but they’ll be your pal and entertain you -- for a treat of course. And, they can be left alone without the neighbor having to care for them.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith, counting the days ‘til the forest becomes crystalline!

 

( Photo by Larry Krause on Flickr)

Listen: 

 
Junco {Kelly Colgan Azar /Flickr}

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 16

Our wilderness territory is halfway through the month and fall is fading fast. The dazzle of our golden canopy is dimming rapidly, along with daylight minutes escaping like they were part of a jail break. November winds are whistling in the distance.

A glorious couple of Indian summer days last weekend made for what might be the last warm hurrah of 2015. The upper Trail was glorious as the byway begins to wither of its’ autumn character.

Since I last met you on the radio, this neighborhood was granted a little rain. By little, I mean the Wildersmith gauge registered less than a half inch.

We’ll take it, although not much was accomplished in soaking the dry landscape before our long winters’ nap sets’ in. However, the scant “precip” was enough to grease up back country roads and dirty the sides of everyone’s vehicle.

In spite of the meager moisture, leaves and elder needles from a “gazillion” trees are falling from on high like a summer downpour. I’m guessing the Lion’s share of our leaves will be down as this weeks’ scoop comes your way, especially should we get any kind of wind and/or rain combination. We north woods folks are thankful for not having to rake them up.

It’s a wonder how short one’s memory is during this time of retiring leaves. Suddenly one can see things off into the forest that have been foliage obscured since last spring. This newly found view is every bit as energizing as it was when buds began opening just six months ago! Boy, does time fly!

There is a sort of homey warmth in the leaflets as they collect to texture their final resting place. Accumulating summer wafers of life takes me back to days as a youth where we kids could hardly wait to rake up a big heap for a myriad of fun-loving adventures.

Then re-grouping the crunchy fronds once more, and having Dad light them off in a blaze of glory, sending their ashes wafting heavenward amidst choking smoke. You can’t do that anymore, at least in suburbia (too many ultra-sensitive noses), but I share, you haven’t really lived until you get the truest aroma of fall from a mass of burning leaves. Seemingly, the fragrance parallels the romance from a wilderness cabins’ wood burning stove.

Those of us who have lived this autumnal drama will forever remember this nostalgia. Life was so much simpler then (although maybe not for our parents) and probably more enriching than we ever realized at the time.

A flurry of harvesting chores continues around the yard. Many small members of the “wild neighborhood”, both land based and winged, are either stashing for the cold months ahead or migrating through.

I had a curious chipmunk step onto my shoe one day last week and run up the leg of my blue jeans thinking I was passing out pre-Halloween treats. Finding I offered only an empty hand, the tiny fellow/gal reversed course and zipped off for another source. I’ve recently been spreading sunflower seeds out on the ground away from the house in a small patch for all these hungry critters. Thus far the little gang of diners has not spread the word too far, and I’ve had no bear visitors. Fact is, after a few hours, there is barely a shell left to attract a “Bruno” so all of us are happy.

Black capped chickadees and red breasted nuthatches are particularly excited when I venture outside and they flit about my head as a reminder it’s feeding time. Also in the mix are uncounted numbers of migrating juncos joining in the frenzy. Sure is nice to be wanted. Speaking of juncos, I’m fascinated by the way they hang out along our twisty backwoods roads and then fly ahead of my vehicle for often lengthy distances before darting away from the traveled path. This traveler guiding character seems similar to those snow buntings.

By the way, our winter welcoming, bunting birds may not be far away. And, on another note, there’s a lot of honking up in the wild blue. 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 9

The celebration of autumn during week one of October has been splendid. Our borderland weather conditions just couldn’t be much better. Sunny daytime skies and a blitz of starry crystal nights have seen several segments of morning frost followed by warm pleasant afternoons in the 50 degree range.

Our world is in an ongoing never-ending tragedy of violent, self-serving man against man, but beauty and peace in the wilderness surrounding this little house enables a Utopian escape. This is especially true this time of year.

Unfortunately the pleasant atmosphere has left the area on the dry side. It’s going on two weeks since this neighborhood has had any rain. The lack of moisture seems to be taking a toll on the color show with many leaflets wilting in drought-like stress and falling off without maxing out their fall pageant. Should the rain gods not loosen up and substantially wet the forest down before ground freeze-up, conditions will not bade well for zillions of trees come next spring. Like a few years back, if the forest goes to bed bone dry, we might expect some serious evergreen winter burn if hard freezing comes after initial thaw commences.

Recent cold evenings have prompted the first fire in the wood-burning stove at Wildersmith. With the coziness of a warm fire, I caught up on some reading in a couple periodicals. Two informative articles in the fall edition of INTERNATIONAL WOLF provided additional insights into Canid Lupis management and another, on the moose decline in northeast Minnesota. If listeners are not subscribers to the wolf magazine, I suggest locating a copy at your local library -- interesting information. Then our own MINNESOTA CONSERVATION VOLUNTEER (September/October issue) had two scribings which are suggested reading, too. One features discussion of maladies and predation affecting our moose herd, while a second story entitled SPLENDID FLIERS addresses particulars of avian migration. Hope you can get hold of this great bimonthly DNR publication.

Word is out now from the County Highway Department in regard to some serious road issues in the curvy section of the Trail alongside Swamper Lake. We are told deteriorated (collapsing) culverts under the road surface merit immediate attention (before winter). We are therefore notified construction will begin before the end of this month, and to expect traveling delays as the fixes are made. Projections are for completion about two weeks after work commences.

Another Trail issue has come to travelers’ attention with the recent installation of directional signage for ATV (4-wheeler) usage. In compliance with recent County Commissioner action to allow usage of such vehicles on certain portions of the Trail (to connect with off-trail paths), there are signs, signs, everywhere, we’ve got signs.

Although these signals of information are well intended, numbers of such Byway regulatory intrusions are mind boggling. It would seem there’s a great deal of overkill, perhaps to the point of being confusing for a visiting ATV user, while local 4-wheel riders certainly are in the know as to where they can go to access their trail-riding system under the new policy. I believe it prudent to review the issue of continual proliferation of this state and national Byway treasure with unnatural emblems to supposedly protect humans from themselves. This being said, when segments of our society can’t read, don’t read or pay little attention to regulations anyway (thinking the rules are only for the other guy), couldn’t this signage issue be rethought? Amen, I step down from my soap box!

On a final note, long time Trail residents and fishing/hunting clients from Gunflint Lodge will remember Kevin Walsh. Kevin moved from the area several years ago to south-central Minnesota. As you may recall, he was a gardener extraordinaire, even here in the North Country’s short growing season. His skills at raising veggies have expanded now that he is located where they have real dirt. This past growing season he decided to work on one of those giant pumpkins. Remembering his skill at growing extreme zucchinis, one would expect he would have big success with a pumpkin. That he did! He recently entered his huge squash family member in a contest down in Ames, Iowa. The entry from Kevin’s garden weighed in at 1,293 pounds. Wow, that sounds enormous! Regrettably, his “fat Amy” as he called her, was out-done by six others with the winner coming in at over 2000 pounds. I wouldn’t look for Kevin to take this sitting down. I could see him being challenged to even bigger and better pie-making fruit next year.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. The technicolor Gunflint show is tumbling earthward, better get up here soon!

 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: October 2

After a quick run to Iowa for a visit with kids, we Smiths are back on the Trail. It’s great to be home as fall (Tagwaagin in Ojibwe) opens up in full array.

Our color show around Wildersmith could peak this weekend while this scoop comes your way. With the exception of wintertime's fresh snow adornments in the forest, autumn in these parts is simply the most beautiful of all possible seasonal characters.

Spicy aspects of fall have engulfed this neighborhood. Last weekend, the deciduous forest was lit up like the nightly Vegas Strip. Bright sunny skies beamed through yellow, orange and red leafy compounds in a mind boggling blur through granite uplands.

At ground level, the landscape shows early departing leaves building up along back country roads windrowed by local traffic and occasional leaf peepers. Simultaneously, the coniferous forest is not to be outdone and is contributing its annual layering of elder needles to the cushy wilderness carpet.

Added to this nostalgic happening are the faint fragrances of damp ground and the onset of decaying foliage. This aroma of the forest is dispersed by soft fall breezes and suddenly, outdoor lovers are captured by the aura. If we could only bottle this sachet!

It’s hard to concentrate with so much natural magnificence all around, but time is whizzing by. Last minute “getting ready for winter” chores are piling up like fall leaves. There are not many docks left on Gunflint Lake. In fact, I might have been one of the last one to take in my summer observation planks and the boat. Thanks to a great neighbor and his son, this “to do” item is now checked off my list.

I’m now onto stacking more firewood, readying the snowblower, mounting the snow blade, wrapping baby trees with deer protection, draining hoses and other numerable winterizing tasks that go along with living at 48 degrees north. Tedious, yes, but the adventure, mystique and anticipation of this magic transformation from warm to cool and then cold is well worth it to this old guy!

Tales of bear encounters continue throughout the territory. It seems as though most reports come from places where concentrations of people are high. Obviously, bears have figured out people can be an easy touch due to careless habits with appetizing nutritional items (in other words, garbage).

In the meantime, Wildersmith has not been bothered by the marauding critters. Now just wait, since I’ve made this statement, we’ll be paid a “Bruno” visit. It never fails, but any curious Ursa stopping by will not find any temptations.

Getting ready for winter continues on at a hectic pace for red squirrels and their rodent chipmunk cousins. The other day one of the feisty seed fetchers got so excited for a hand-out it accidentally got under one of my size thirteens. It didn’t get squashed, but did get its toes pinched. The little guy/gal scrambled off giving me the devil. In a matter of seconds, it was back after me, only this time keeping a more reasonable distance.

Alas, after all the hoopla of this month's “super” full, wild rice moon, such was a flop out this way last Sunday evening. Blue daytime heavens gave way to late day clouds and by the time we should have been enjoying the splendor of this lunar extravaganza, rain drops were falling on our heads. So we’ll try again in another 18 years.

In the meantime, the “falling leaves” moon, of segment ten, will be spinning its fall yarn near ghosts and goblin time. Timing for this one is a spooky coincidence.

In lieu of sadly missing the “super” man in the moon, on a happier note, one of our favorite upper Gunflint neighbors is celebrating a milestone birthday. Long time seasonal resident, Ken Rusk, turns 98. Think of all the things he has seen and been a part of in his lifetime. He’s a walking, talking Gunflint history book. Happy 98th, Ken!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Come on along and enjoy the miracles in Gunflint color.

Listen: 

 
Ruffed grouse

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 18

The days out this way have been magnificent examples of pre-fall. Our nights have been pleasantly cool while the daylight hours have been just above requiring a jacket. It may be premature, but I’ve put fans into storage believing we might have just run out of summer.

Anticipating autumns arrival in the middle of next week, our neighborhood was reminded of the “vernal” transformation with a one day sampling of what 32 degrees feels like, just in case we forgot. And, on the ground, wild flower activity has diminished to almost nothing except clumps of purplish asters and some hangers-on goldenrod.

Meanwhile, although folks are enjoying the great daytime character, it’s gone dry once again. As I began keying this week's scoop, this neck of the woods has had but a half dozen drops of rain since we last met. The supplier of rain has completely forsaken us. Wonder if we might be seeing the early effect of that “El Nino” thing.

Speaking of water, or the lack thereof, Gunflint Lake temperatures have tumbled southward into the mid-sixties at the Wildersmith dock. The mercury decline, as on other area lakes, seems somewhat slower than in other years although I don’t have recorded data for an accurate comparison (maybe I’m all wet on this issue).

I’m not totally in tune with all causative factors affecting the leaf tinting process, but our thirsty conditions look to have slowed the development and quality of the forest color show. Just when I predicted great leaf peeping by this time, we’re in a holding pattern.
If moisture relief doesn’t come soon, Wildfire Sprinkler Systems may need to be fired up as a precautionary measure. It seems advisable the units shouldn’t be winterized just yet.

With bear hunting season in full swing, the next round of game pursuit is grouse (also known as north woods chicken birds). From what I can observe, there are plenty of the dippy unpredictable birds around. Three of the dull minded critters were hanging out in our yard over the past couple weeks. They were energized by a fine crop of highbush cranberries, mountain ash berries and something on my apple tree leaves. We often see them pecking around on the ground, but this trio spent most of their time up in the branches consuming every available berry. They then took to stripping two apple trees almost completely of leaves (guess those leaves must have had some insects to their liking). They are gone now, so curious hunters need not invade the privacy of the Mile O Pine.

Most all animals in the “wild neighborhood” are now in some stage of readying for winter, from stashing vittles to putting on their winter garb. Night time travels during the past week found the Smiths crossing paths with a number of snowshoe hares.
As these northern bunnies skittered in a confused manner in front of my headlights, it was evident they are readying, too. All observed have put on their snowy boots and one looked as though it had pulled on clean white long johns.

While bear activity has been absent around here since the roof episode, other upper Trail folks have not been so lucky. I heard of one such black Ursus having to be dispatched after getting into a cabin down at Gunflint Lodge. I’m betting those cabin guests had more of an up-north experience than was ever expected.

In another situation, a fellow down the road ran one off only to have it stop and hide behind a tree. The rather large “Bruno” then proceeded to play peek-a-boo with him before, thankfully, leaving without incident.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Come on out to the Gunflint, where autumn is “falling” about us!

(Photo by Snowshoe Photography on Flickr)
 
 

Listen: