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:
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: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 11

With this week’s Radio Waves commentary, I begin year 14 of scribing the Gunflint scoop. It hardly seems possible I have been doing this since 2002. For those of you not familiar, the first six were for the Cook County News Herald, while the anniversary of my time with this great radio station will head off into year eight come December. What a great run it has been thanks to all the news makers and everyone who listens!

Labor Day weekend seems to be all about endings and beginnings. So many observe the holiday as the end of summer; it’s hoped this area follows suit with an end to the miserable heat and humidity which has hung over us for week one of month nine. I can’t think of one person I’ve encountered over the past seven who hasn’t had a not too pleasant comment about the continuing jungle-like conditions. Although autumn officially remains several days away by the calendar, it’s just time for a real beginning to the cooler season with all the happenings tied to the start of another academic year for the young people in our midst.

Moisture additions were minimal in these parts over the past week until this Saturday night into Sunday when a swell rain doused the territory. Most rain gauges topped out at about an inch. Fortunately, the heavens opened up with not too much an uproar around Wildersmith, just a good soaker.

Speaking more of endings, I continue to be captured by the intensity and mystique of daytime closings. If the days-end phenomena isn’t played-out on land or in the sky, it’s in-between on one of the beautiful border country lakes. Such was the case recently when the Smith’s day closed down in a boat on the lake. Conditions were such with warm steamy temps hovering over cool water of Gunflint Lake. The results found blankets of gauzy fog forming incongruous lake level layers as we skimmed the quiet ripples. The early evening magic was breaking through these ghostly clumps where one could see little, then opening into bright sun-setting brilliance. My mind suddenly reminisced to an old CD, entitled “Breaking through the Mist.” The serenity of this time on the lake aptly matched the tranquility of the melodious CD qualities as I remember them. In the cool of the evening, how sweet it was!

Another end of the day episode was brought to mind at sunset from our dock just days later. The display of “Sol” unfolded with another of those red-hot iron beams screaming down the lake from the northwestern horizon. While at the opposite end of the sky, lingering thin cumulonimbus puffs scooped up these blazing neon reflections as pink cotton candy. Meanwhile, dimming light in the east had the lake surface darkening. In concert with the molten iron look from the western heavens and pink vapor above the eastern skyline, the quaking waters did their thing by lathering on soothing, lavender tones. Although the light show interlude was short lived, it was truly one to behold. You just had to be here to totally appreciate.

At our hummer feeding station, we have but one of the elegant critters still hanging out. The rest of the flock has vanished. Guess they have taken off for points south. Another winged group we have been watching is the loons. They are noticeably gathering as they do prior to taking off. We had four circling in the waters off our dock one night last week, showing off their ritualistic diving skills. This exercise was led by one with others following suit, then dispersal and quiet conversation. Another fellow down the lake reports a gathering of six one night in front of his place, doing much the same. So it’s for sure, departure and flight plans are being made.

Regardless of recent temps not reflecting a change of seasons, more color is evolving in our deciduous parts of the forest. We have a striking red maple tree along the Mile O Pine declaring enough of summer. And several young birch trees, which turned golden early, have chimed in their support for a new season by casting away leaves. In a matter of days, this area might be at its peak. Come on out for a “look-see!”

Area residents, visitors and members of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society are reminded of the September Society meeting this coming Monday, the 14th. The site will once again be the Schaap (Mid Trail) Community Center. Beginning at 1:30 pm, the usual business meeting will be followed by a Trail Historical program. This month’s topic will be remembrances and stories of Irv and Tempest Benson. Scrumptious treats from our Trail baking masters will also be on hand. Y’all come!

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Peace and quiet along the Trail, is golden as the hillsides.

(Photo by Travis Novitsky)
 

 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: September 4

The weather outside turned frightful with the coming of September. After a fine fall preview for several days, summer bounced back to wring more juice out of me and the moose once again. August ended with a spectacular full “blueberry moon” over Gunflint land and lakes.

One night prior to the lavish lunar night, the area was tormented by a darkness-time series of thunderstorms. Lightning like an Independence Day celebration and a few deafening booms shook some of us right out of our slumber while causing the house to tremble.

Turned out the “bark” of the storminess was worse than the bite in terms of moisture as this neighborhood counted slightly over six-tenths of an inch. It was not much, but still appreciated.

Bear encounters have taken center stage in wildlife drama along the Mile O Pine. One such act took place at Wildersmith last week. Trying not to be one of those nuisance people who cause scary bear/human confrontations, the Smiths had not had any bear activity since the snow melted last spring. Suddenly a “Bruno” paid us a surprising and unusual visit just as we were feeling pretty smug about having not been bothered for several months.

The scene is set one evening near sunset. This household was having a quiet evening with newspaper and Kindle surfing. A clunking noise around the house caught my attention. Figuring it was sure enough a bear, I sprung from my chair to investigate the goings-on. A couple trips outside around the deck found nothing, so back to the reading.

Once again the thumping occurred and since the winds were buffeting the area, it seemed reasonable something was banging against the house. A further search of the grounds outside found no activity, so it’s back inside. More noise and then another excursion, only this time it’s farther out away from the house. I didn’t venture far when I turned looking up to see old “black Jack” staring down at me from the roof. Yes, the culprit was on my roof. It was at the opposite end of the roof from me and was obviously quite surprised, as was I. I quickly acted like a big bad bear myself with some roaring bellows sending the bear scaling down a nearby cedar tree. It was a medium-sized critter, maybe a two or three year old, that raced off into the forest not to be seen again. What it was doing up there, only the bear knows. Certainly nothing edible was up there. Guess curiosity must have gotten the best of it.

Curiosity captured me too, since “Br’er Bear” saw fit to tear some shingles off the roof while prancing and pawing around. It’s obvious this animal was about as bright as a five-watt bulb having an apparent appetite for crispy asphalt components.

Another Ursus encounter has been shared by a gal down the road. In this case she came upon a bear along her shoreline as it was completing a long distance swim from the Canadian side of Gunflint Lake. This is a good mile or so across, and I’m told Mr./Ms. bear was huffing and puffing as it scrambled up on shore. One has to wonder if it had a Remote Area Border Crossing Permit and/or Passport.

The big one didn’t linger long once reaching land as it high-tailed off into the woods without incident. A digital of “Bruno’s” aquatic exploits is included alongside my website column at WTIP.org under “Community Voices.”

On a winged note, a barred owl has been taking up part-time residence in a woodshed down along the Mile O Pine. It seemingly has some degree of comfort with human beings. A pesky red squirrel dispatched by a neighbor was placed in close proximity to the owl hang-out and was later observed being consumed by the hungry bird.

This interaction brings to mind a special time in Gunflint area history where iconic lodge owner, Peggy Heston, once befriended an orphan owl, and it soon adopted Peggy as its forever caretaker. Perhaps “Ole,” as it was named back then, is a distant relative to the recent Mile O Pine nocturnal bird. A picture of this striking new tenant is also attached to this week’s website column.

As we enter into this last big weekend of summer, don’t forget the annual pie and ice cream social on Sunday up at Chik-Wauk. The serving of sweet treats commences at 11:00 am and continues until 4:00 pm. The event is sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society as a fundraiser. A gift shop sidewalk sale will also be going on while local author John Henricksson will be on hand in the museum for book signing.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Gold can be found in “them thar hills,” it’s “leaf peeping time!”

 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 28

 
My, oh my, where has August gone? Entering this last weekend, it seems like we just started chapter eight.

Our planet celebrates this passing monthly segment with the full, “blueberry” moon Saturday night, before we head off into the last calendar days of summer.

With the warm season recreational time winding down, the Trail is busy, busy, busy. Visiting wilderness enthusiasts are eagerly trying to grab just a little bit more of this peaceful paradise before school and other activities begin to reconsume their lives. In the meantime, while our seasonal neighbors are starting to bring in boats, docks and closing the cabins, those of us residing here full time are engulfed with the sudden thought of checking items off our “getting ready for winter” list.

Yours truly still has a couple of pressing items on my late summer “to do’s” with one more building side to stain and firewood, and although split, yet to stack. Then the usual “close down” winterizing tasks commence, remembering tolerable days in September and October whiz by pretty quickly.

Our past week up the Trail has been seasonally comfortable. In fact, the Wildersmith neighborhood experienced a first taste of fall with a couple mornings slipping into the high 30s. To confirm that atmospheric things are beginning to change, winds were howling cold cries like those of a winter storm as I started scribing the local scoop this past Sunday night and into Monday.

We were issued some moisture over the past weekend, although accumulation around this place was nothing to write home about. The area did, however, receive a good soaking of at least an inch and one-half a few days after our last radio meeting, thus wetting down the crispy forest landscape.

There has been at least one positive consequence in regard to the hot time this territory experienced a couple weeks ago. Perhaps we can blame it on the “global warming thing,” then again maybe not. For whatever reason these northern border residents have already picked ripened tomatoes. If the sun returns to hold off an early nipping, the projection is we’ll be having several more by the time this broadcast column comes your way. The scarlet fruit happening is highly unusual for us as there have been only a couple times over our first 16 years where our lonesome plant escaped frost and cold to provide harvest opportunity. So BLTs will now be possible with a home grown flavor!

Air traffic at our hummer feeding station is continuing at an unrivaled pace. If air traffic controllers had to deal with such unguided landings and departures like we have, they’d surely be going stark raving mad! By the way, final hummingbird departures should have occurred during the past few days according to the Farmers’ Almanac.

Recently, another active avian gathering was shared by a lady residing down the road. It was a golden day at her feeder when the unit was a sudden stop-over for a flock of goldfinches. She sent me a digital of the flashy lemon-colored birds having lunch, which I share with you on my website column at WTIP.org - dropping down under “community voices.”

Gathering is on the increase at ground level in our yard, too, as neighborhood squirrels and their distant cousins, chipmunks, are packing away their own harvest. Seeds and morsels of all kinds are being stashed here and there. They are constantly underfoot seeking a hand-out whenever I step out the door, no matter how quiet I try to be.

I read sad commentary in the local paper recently of an orphaned bear cub in the county which escaped a feverish rescue effort by local law enforcement only to succumb to a tortuous shore side run-around by a bunch of rowdy people. The chase panicked the little critter to take to the lake, where it ran out of energy and drowned.

Living in this wild area, we are often found to be dealing with what authorities call nuisance bears. I often contemplate there are probably not nuisance bears at all, just nuisance people setting them up for a bad rap. Have we no common sense or conscience?

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith! Leaf peeping fortunes are just around the next curve along the Gunflint Trail, be on the look-out!
 
 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 21

Gunflint’s August week three is complete. After a miserable few “dog days” in the second segment, our weather has reverted to more tolerable conditions.

How hot was it? It was so uncomfortable both I and my glass of lemonade were in a constant sweat. Meanwhile, moose, bears and the like throughout our animal kingdom had to be suffering, too, in the sudden tropics around 48 degrees north. This spell hung on for what seemed like an eternity until a cooling northwester broke the panting last Sunday. My moose friends and I are looking for a continuance of the fall journey as my scribing hits the air waves.

Our venture toward autumn is on the move in spite of the daily roasting experience. Colorful nuggets of the coming season are beginning to hang heavy on their branches. Highbush cranberries and mountain ash berry cronies are in rapid transition to harvest crimson. Further, those ruby jewels of the forest, wild rose hips, dangle brightly in their prickly thickets awaiting a finishing frost, adding yet another tint to our green landscape.

Speaking of the approaching harvest time, the ritual for avian migration southward is on the upswing. While some species might have already hit the flyway, uncountable male hummingbirds have been fueling up at our sweet juice station over the past ten days in prep for their trip. It’s amazing these mini-birds drink as much as they do. Over the past week, we have been making a one cup batch of nectar every other day. And the competition for drinking rights has been fierce.

In yet another pre-flight situation, loon pairs are gathering in their usual groupings making plans to head out soon. At the same time, their off-spring remain calm and collected while fattening up and exploring the innate GPS that will get them to the Gulf shores in a few weeks after mom and dad take off.

A chart topping angling experience was shared with me recently. It surely must be a fishing story surpassing any one's mind might conjure up. The scene was on the east Bay of Saganaga Lake near the Chik-Wauk Museum site. The subjects were absolute “master fishers,” ones who seldom are denied a catch, “real pros.”

On this particular day, a member of the resident loon pair was observed shortly after a successful dive. The big bird surfaced with a sizeable finny, and was struggling in the process of devouring such.

A competing fish lover must have been watching from afar and decided to take things into its own hands, or in this case, talons. Without warning, an eagle plunged toward the loon and snatched lunch from the startled bird. A flurry of confusion and loon hollering was to no avail as Mr. or Ms. America soared off into the heavens, lunch intact, not to be seen again. One has to assume, like most fisher men, after the “big one” got away, this neatly attired critter was back at it sooner, rather than later (after its heart settled down).

Speaking further of fishy things, the MNDNR has been doing some netting for walleyes, lake trout and herring here on Gunflint Lake. This is part of ongoing research conducted every three years. It will be nice to hear what their efforts produced upon completion.

What looked to be the largest turn-out ever showed up at the mid-Trail fund raising bash last week? As usual, the doings were smashing with a record total of some $12,000 being tallied for the Trail Volunteer Fire and Rescue folks.

On top of being a wonderful social event, attendees made the usual auction a rollicking good time trying to out-bid one another on dozens of donated, artisans’ items. In the final event of the afternoon, the uniquely crafted quilt by the mid-Trail quilters was raffled off. Out of over 850 chances sold, Ruth Westby, who lives on Clearwater road off the Trail, had her name drawn. Congrats to Ruth on her good fortune, and thanks to the dozens of mid-Trail folks joining hands to organize this special annual event.

In closing this week's Gunflint scoop, the centennial celebration at Clearwater last Saturday evening was hugely spectacular. With so many kin of pioneer founders Charlie and Petra Boostrom on hand and subsequent owners of the Lodge and outfitting business in attendance, perhaps a million memories were relived in the hallowed lodge and on the ever-popular front porch. With great food and conversation, nostalgia reigned supreme while the great North Shore Community Swing Band played away the sunset into darkness. What a sweet “Clearwater” revival.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. The Gunflint is gunning for a summer ending and a fall beginning, don’t miss it!

(Photo by Jason Mrachina on Flickr)

 

Listen: 

 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 14

Upper Gunflint weather has been on the pleasant side during our first August stanza. In fact, whatever normal might be, it has been right on point. It’s been so nice we have come through the infamous “dog days” of the month unscathed by miserable heat and humidity.

Those dealing in weather lore say depending one’s latitudinal location, the “dog days” of summer will end on August 11. Let's hope their foretelling holds until the beginning of real autumnal cooling.

By the way, I recently read some month eight data by a Steve Gottschalk. Mr. G is a self-taught weather observer and student of climatic folklore. He states, “August sheds one hour and fifteen minutes of daylight between the first and last days.” Guess I would never have thought to count the minutes lost in our cyclical count-down. This in mind, is it any wonder daylight seems to dwindle so quickly this time of year. Where have all the minutes gone, gone to nighttime every one.”

Just when agencies monitoring wildfire conditions in the area finally acknowledged publicly we were in a bad drought circumstance, “Mother Nature” baled the territory out late this past Saturday afternoon with a gully-washing downpour. Much thunder and lightning accompanied the spotty storm along with hail in some locales. In the end, residents out this way measured from one-half to as much as two inches, thus tempering wildfire potential for the short term.

As the storm was winding down near sunset, a final surge somewhere in the territory knocked out electric service along the Mile O Pine. The few folks in our neighborhood sat in the dark for slightly over two and one-quarter hours.

Kudos are extended to sheriff's office dispatch and those great line technicians from Arrowhead Electric Coop for their quick attention to our dilemma. Their timely action is especially noted knowing AEC service people had to come from headquarters in Lutsen, which is an hour and one-half drive, and then locate, for repair of the interruption problem.

Once again we are grateful for their commitment to us. And by the way, there was enough concern we received a phone call from the sheriff's office shortly after power was restored to confirm our being up and running. Thanks to all!

As mentioned last week, month eight is that of the Ojibwe, full “blueberry moon,” or it can also be tabbed the “sturgeon moon” by other Native Americans. Not only is August known for this “blueberry lunar” occurrence, it is further recognized as the month of “tall weeds.” This label is more than confirmed along our Mile O Pine and most likely other back country roads. Some wild grass species seem “high as an elephant's eye.”

After a busy week on the Gunflint activity calendar, another event pops up to catch our attention. The good folks down at Clearwater Lodge and Outfitters are proudly celebrating their centennial year of outfitting business along the Trail, yes, one hundred years!

Festivities are open to the public. Things will commence around the Lodge tomorrow night (Saturday). A BBQ/cook-out is planned for all attendees beginning at 5:00 pm, and musical entertainment from the “North Shore Community Swing Band” will follow beginning around 7:00 extending until 9:00.

The happening looks to be a real “eatin’, singin’ and dancin’ hoedown” at this historic Gunflint attraction. Everyone come and share anniversary kudos with Clearwater on this milestone occasion.

Fast forward a few weeks to the Labor Day Holiday and mark your calendar for the yearly pie & ice cream social up on the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center grounds. Sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society, sweet treat serving will happen from 11:00 am until 4:00 pm on Sunday September 6.

Volunteers to provide pies are always needed. Area residents willing to offer up a pastry delight can give Sally Valentini a call at 388-0900, and thanks in advance.

The Museum gift shop will also be holding its annual driveway/sidewalk sale during the same hours so bring Christmas gift lists and beat the mall madness of “black Friday,” at this magical “end of the Trail” place!

This is a beautiful time of the year for a trek to Trail's end. Plan to reunite with friends and neighbors, eat, shop and check out construction progress on the new Nature Center building.

This is Fred Smith, on the Trail, at Wildersmith. Beauty and adventure is yours to capture along the Gunflint!

Listen: 

 
Gunflint Lake

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: August 7

A week into this month and our Gunflint weather has mellowed from the last ghastly segment of July. Cooling northern air settled over the area and a brief thundershower in the wee hours of last Sunday morning calmed the dust in this neighborhood. Although the rain was not of major consequence, the dropping dampened the thirsty forest floor for at least a day or so.

Chapter eight of the year was ushered in on winds to remind us of November gales. As I commence this week's Trail review, three consecutive days has seen Gunflint Lake and her sky-blue cousins thrashing in frenzy.

The geographical alignment of the lake outside our door makes her most temperamental when prevailing west-northwesterly air comes barreling down “the pike” in earnest. In fact, the “old gal” is most unforgiving of anyone who does not give her respect during times of wrestling with the gales.

I know of at least three near disasters during the rough seas of last weekend here on Gunflint Lake. Two involved canoers having to seek refuge assistance while another episode found two boaters caught in a violent storm-front surge which ended up with an emergency stop at the Wildersmith dock.

In both instances the lake-faring navigators were experienced folks, but ended up being no match for the fury of our angry Gunflint waters. All were well taken care of by friendly, accommodating Gunflint south shore residents. So all is well that ended well!

Our dockside observations provided a seldom seen aquatic trek up the lake one evening last week. This adventure occurred during a somewhat calmer time of the recent blustery sequence. The fact of the matter is this incident took place in the hour or so prior to the storm front surge mentioned above.

Heading eastward (up the lake) three innovative canoeing parties had apparently conceived a plan to take advantage of the breezy conditions. Aligning themselves side by side, a tarp (maybe it was a canopy top) was stretched between the two outer canoes at the bows with rear corners of the resulting sail anchored in the hands of two comrades in the sterns. Meanwhile the third unit was sandwiched in between with the stern paddler of this canoe steering the catamaran like craft.

The crew seemed quite experienced in sailing maneuvers as they cruised by us on-lookers in no time at all. Apparently headed toward a rendezvous at Camper's Island, they soon disappeared from view. I’m guessing they beat the storm to a shore side campsite, or maybe they’re caught up in the trees near Bridal Falls still hanging onto their sail. In any event, it was intriguing to watch them battle the rolling waters.

The upper Gunflint heads off into week two of this month of the “Blueberry Moon” (Miinike Giizis) focused on a busy next few days. Sunday is a chamber music concert, Gunflint Woods, Winds and Strings. It begins at 4:00 pm in the Mid-Trail (Schaap) Community Center. Requests for last minute seating reservations can be made by calling Susan at 388-9494. At this writing, it is unknown if seating remains available.

Scheduled for the next day, Monday (the 10th) is the August meeting of the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. This gathering begins at 1:30 pm in the Seagull Lake Community Center. The program will feature Earl Niewald, retired USFS/Gunflint District Ranger who served during the BWCA controversies of the late 1970’s. This should be an interesting historical reflection! Treats will again be served after the program.

Then on this coming Wednesday, August 12, the annual Mid-Trail fundraising bash for the Trail Volunteer Fire and EMS crews takes center stage. The Flea Market, Gift Boutique, Auction and Quilt Raffle commences at 1:00 pm in the Schaap Community Center. This is always an energetic event, especially the often hilarious bidding wars for some great handcrafted items by local artisans. Come early and stay late, for the big quilt drawing around 4:00 pm. Soft drinks and baked goods will also be on sale. Be there or be square!

The Gunflint summer has whizzed by. In the minds of some out this way, summer is over after July 4 while others say it's “kaput” following the downtown Fisherman’s Picnic.

This thought is being confirmed by “Mother Nature,” too, as the ground level flora, dogbane, is now golden along area roadsides and a few birch trees and young maples are beginning temper chlorophyll production in this time of dwindling daylight minutes. And according to the Minnesota DNR, the August stanza also shows lake water temps peaking during this first week and slowly trending southward from this point forward. So the beacon of fall is beginning to glow!

This is Fred Smith, at Wildersmith, on the trail, don’t miss the unused warm season days up the Gunflint!

(Photo by David Griffin Photography)

 

Listen: