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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:
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)



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)




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 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!”




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 - 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!



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)




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!


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)




Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 31

For non-believers in this Global Warming thing, sure hope they’re enjoying the roast! The upper Gunflint has not been spared over the past week, and these lousy hot temps are getting a lot of folks down.

As I prepare this week's commentary, no break is foreseen in the forecast. It’s forcing the moose and me to lay pretty low after mid-morning. Then again, being retired, I quit most work-related chores at noon anyway.

Guess we can consider ourselves fortunate in one aspect as the humidity has been bad enough, but not complicated with additional moisture. Then on the other hand, another week with nary a drop of rain around this neighborhood and the fuel load throughout the forest has grown tinder dry. The agencies charged with monitoring forest conditions are not being too public with concern, but we who live here know it’s dangerously dry on the wilderness floor.

This in mind, it would be a good idea for area residents and businesses to crank up the wildfire sprinkler systems (WFSS). Doing this not only assures their unit is in readiness, but also acts to dampen down property holdings.

I’ve found that an hour or so of WFSS operation in the early evening can do wonders cooling the house down during these miserable warm days. It makes for much more comfortable sleeping conditions if one does not have artificial cooling.

All this being said in regard to our atmosphere, it’s nice to bid this crabby hot July farewell. One positive, while planet earth bids this chapter adieu, if skies are clear we will be blessed with the “blue moon” on her last day.

The “thunder” moon, as it's called by Algonquin tribes, sends us off into August. The hope in these parts is those notorious “dog days” of month eight will be few and far between.

This magnificent million-square-mile wildflower patch continues blooming its fool head off. Early blossoms are fading to seeds while mid-summer varieties have taken over. It’s a time for drifts of Daisies, Black-eyed Susans and Fire Weed to escort one’s trip along the Byway.

A local fishing guide shared a recent experience he had not encountered in over 20 years of hosting fishing excursions. His angling customers were taken out on an area lake in search of big Northern Pike, and I was told they did get their wishes, but nothing extraordinary. Near the end of the day, one of the catch was released. No sooner had it hit the water, than an eagle appeared from high in the sky and swooped in for its catch of the hour.

If that wasn’t enough of a thrill for this fishing party, moments later a bear swam by their craft. It actually came close enough to provide some great photo ops. What a wonderful wild woods and water gift.

Later, as the group trailered the boat to head home, a trifecta of critter observations was completed when a moose met them on the road away from the launching access. One could not have scripted a better north woods encounter. This northern reality show will no doubt be etched in these folks’ memories for a lifetime, and probably will lure them back to this wilderness paradise often.

Fishing fortunes here at Wildersmith are not often met with success. In all likelihood, it’s because we aren’t fanatics about doing such. However, the grandsons were here for a visit last week and angling luck briefly turned around. On a trip up to Saganaga Lake, Tuesday before last, grandson, Lane Smith from Iowa, had the thrill of his young life. He hooked onto one of those Walleye “hawgs.” After an arm wrenching battle of several minutes he netted a 29-inch beauty. Lane says a big thanks to his guide, Adam!

It has been his family’s rule if anyone ever catches a “whopper,” it was going onto the wall. So this green and gold trophy was frozen and headed south for proper preservation and a “wall of fame” induction.

A week from this coming Sunday (August 9), the third annual Gunflint Woods, Winds and Strings chamber music concert will be presented at 4:00 pm in the mid-Trail (Schaap) Community facility. Many accomplished area professionals will be engaged in the collection of performing musicians. A reception will follow where one can meet and greet the players. Time is running out for seating reservations. If you haven’t reserved yours call Susan 388-9494 before it’s sold out.

This is Fred Smith, at Wildersmith, on the Trail. The great Gunflint Territory awaits you!

(Photo by Kenny Murray on Flickr)



Wild blueberries

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 24

Gunflint area atmospheric conditions remain on the sticky side as I commence with this week's scoop. Rain has been on the scant side since my last scribing and back country roads not treated chemically swirl with vehicular dust storms at every passing.

Summer is now officially a month old as we pass this fourth of five Fridays in month seven. The many Gunflint Community events of the past month have kept a lot of folks so busy, July has slipped away, barely being noticed. Although a few more special Gunflint events are on tab in a couple weeks, the area gets a brief break to just slow down and enjoy the magic of tromping out in the green forest, canoeing or fishing sky blue waters, berry harvesting, catching a critter adventure or continuing the process of “getting ready for winter.”

Mosquitoes must be reloading somewhere because they have lessened their onslaught around here, at least for the time being. This has enabled me to stop procrastinating on a few summer projects from my pre-winter check list. With five structures to maintain, keeping up with preservation is ongoing. Thus I have begun staining one side of each building in the second year of a four year sequence. You just gotta love it!

Speaking of berry harvesting, those collecting gurus have rung the picking bell. Reports confirm the crop is less abundant than in the past few years. However, the first batch I saw in a serving bowl was deep blue and scrumptious as ever. Since the blue pearl crop is apparently not a bucket buster, a real battle could be shaping up between bear and mankind to get their fill. Pickers will want to be leery of “Brunos” who may not be so willing to share a sparse patch. This time of year usually finds Ursa confined to blues picking, but our meager fruit crop could have implications for increased traffic around areas of human inhabitance. All should beware of the necessity to be good housekeepers so as to not tempt the hungry critters into becoming troublesome.

I don’t know if recent bear looting up near the end of the Trail was caused by a lack of berry opportunities, but several repetitions of breaking and entering resulted in considerable damage to properties and scares to people. Eventually this annoying animal had to be dispatched to the “great hunting ground in the wild blue.” This is unfortunate, if in fact, we two-legged beings carelessly provided this four-legged animal with favorable circumstances for criminal activity.

Hummingbird traffic to area nectar stations is back on track. After probable nesting hiatus, the mini-drones are a blur both landing and taking off from our sweetness jar at Wildersmith. It’s obvious they must possess the most intricate global positioning system in the universe to be able to avoid mid-air collisions with not only each other and on occasion, yours truly, but also countless stationary obstacles is beyond wonder.

Speaking of more Gunflint wonders, The Gunflint Community and many others from around the county stepped up big time at last week's annual canoe races event. A final tally of proceeds in support of the Trail Volunteer Fire and Rescue crews counted a record net of slightly over $23,000. What a tremendous effort by all involved! Another congrats and thanks to everyone!

This is Fred Smith, at Wildersmith, on the Trail -- enjoy the peak of summer along the Gunflint!

(Photo by Cynthia Zullo on Flickr)



Wildersmith on the Gunflint: July 17

Having reached the halfway point in July, Gunflint weather has turned frightful for the moose and me. Although hot humid conditions have not been as bad in these parts as other places in the Midwest, it has nevertheless been uncomfortable for my ungulate friends and those of us who have a disdain for sweating. Meanwhile, those favoring stickiness of jungle-like tropics must be happy as clams.

A timely rain soaked the area earlier this week. And although this moisture added angst to our sticky air, it was nonetheless welcomed after minimal amounts the previous seven. After many days of smoky skies reflecting huge Canadian fires in Saskatchewan, we are thankful for the rain cleansing our air and tempering our own wildfire danger, at least for the time being.

The Gunflint forest is lush with green. It’s incredible how consuming “Mother Nature” is with regard to growing things. She certainly has the “master green thumb.” It seems in the blink of an eye, wild grass species along the Mile O Pine are six feet high. Taking this a step further, much of this grassy flora is presently going to seed as summer whizzes by. A faint glimmer of fall is in the distance.

As of last weekend, word from 3 area blueberry pickers tells of limited harvesting to date. However, by the time my scribing hits the air wave things could be turnin’ up blue in them “thar” patches.

One of these pickin’ “pros” did indicate there appears to be less fruit on upper branches than in past years. Her thought is late frost might have doomed some blossoms before the blackflies did their pollinating exercises. As I drive the Trail this season, it’s evident vast areas exposed by the Ham Lake Wildfire, creating perfect habitat for expanded berry development in recent years, have rapidly given way to sapling trees of many varieties. I’m no expert, but it would seem growing shade from the new forest generation will no doubt diminish many sun drenched areas of prolific berry production as years progress. However, like fisher folks with their hidden depths, long time berry picking masters will still have their secret spots so the blue pearls will be had by some.

There’s a conspiracy in select locations along the south shore of Gunflint Lake this summer. Fortunately not one schemed by some humans, but this arrangement is of a natural order. Several residents tell of more than usual numbers of raven families in this locale. There is also one such within ear shot of Wildersmith.

If one is not familiar with the naming of a group of ravens, Webster defines such as a “conspiracy,” thus our Gunflint Conspiracy. These glossy corvine beings (crow-like birds) can also be known as “unkindness.”

It would seem this “unkindness” tab to be more appropriate as their continual raucous conversation, particularly the youngsters, grows annoying after hours on end. Their vocal chords must be tougher than rawhide!

Another grouping in this “wild neighborhood” is frequenting our yard in growing numbers lately. However, I cannot find Webster being accountable for assigning a handle to more than one in this assemblage. I’m talking about at least a half dozen red squirrels gathering all at one time for some regular seed scrounging in a small grassy patch. With enough chatter to sometimes match the raven talk, it would be my thought the rodent groupies should be called “mayhem” because that’s what it is during their dining experience.

The thirty-ninth Gunflint Trail Canoe Races hit the waterfront at Gunflint Lodge this past Wednesday. As usual, a fine turn-out for the annual Volunteer Fire Department and EMS crew fundraiser witnessed more great community spirit and enthusiasm. Congratulations, and thanks to races Chairman Chris Steele and his nearly one hundred volunteers for putting on another splendid show.

The grand prize giveaway, that fabulous kayak from the Wenonah Canoe Company, found Clare Cardinal of Central Iowa as the lucky winner. More thanks are extended to many charitable county merchants and crafts people for donating prizes to the always exciting raffle drawings.

As one of dozens of volunteers at WTIP, and on behalf of all associated with broadcast production, a repeated thanks is extended to the over three hundred new and renewing members for their support of last week's “feelin’ groovy” celebration. It is heart-warming to have so many community radio followers step up to assure WTIP remains the vibrant resource it has become over the past eighteen years. We’ll all do our best to keep the radio waves hummin’ with tip of the Arrowhead and north shore spirit!

On a final note, seating reservations for the Gunflint Woods, Winds and Strings chamber music concert at the Schaap Community Center on August 9 continue on sale. Be reminded there are only 150 seats available, and the first two years of performances were sell-outs, so secure your spot for this classical performance ASAP by calling Susan at 388-9494.

This is Fred Smith at Wildersmith, on the Trail. Wilderness adventure awaits you on the Gunflint!