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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Fred Smith

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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.

 

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Photo of Gunflint Loons by Bonnie Schudy

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 12

June is fleeting along the Trail. It’s hard to reconcile the new month is close to half gone. By next week at this time, the solstice of summer will be at hand. And although we’ll only be into the first days of “Neebing” (summer in Ojibwe), the long countdown toward shorter daylight time begins.

Early June along the Gunflint has been on the cool side so far, and no one could be pleased more than the moose and me. To make living in the forest even more calming, much needed rain has been added to the “cool” mix. The upper Trail territory received a fine Saturday night into Sunday soaker, so wildfire danger has been abated at least for the time being.

The soaking rain has made for complications in the Trail reclamation paving project. However, I’m amazed at the rapid progress made in removing the old surface. Users should be reminded this course of action takes one back in time to days when the old “Gunflint Wagon Road” was little more than a gravel path. We should all try to exercise patience during this brief inconvenience knowing the road surface will be a wonderful improvement.

And while waiting in line with traffic delays, one can reflect on what our pioneers experienced - you’re living a little bit of Gunflint history.

Marvels of the new growing season continue to unfold. Along back country roads, fiddlehead ferns are uncoiling their fronds, and the coniferous forest is lit up like the holiday season with buds exploding into candles of next generation branches. It’s said a corn field can be heard growing on a humid summer night. One can also seemingly observe, should you pause to watch, these fuzzy candelabra of red and white pines stretching ever skyward, right before your eyes.

As I key this week's area scoop, observers at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center have been keenly focused on the loon nesting platform in the bay of the Sag Lake Corridor. I’m happy to announce the days of incubation for the two eggs are over. The chicks hatched this past Tuesday. The new parents have been diligent in their nesting responsibilities and all appears well with the new family. A photo of the mom, dad and babies can be found along with my column website at WTIP.org.

There is either a huge bear in this neighborhood or a small elephant based on a “calling card” left on the Mile O Pine recently. We all know bears “poop” in the woods, but doing such in the middle of the road seems unacceptable. But who’s going to tell ‘em?

I’ve heard a number of stories in regard to beaver activity in a few upper Gunflint locales. As we all know, engineering skills of these pesky critters is second to none. The beaver dam construction is increasing at an alarming rate on any number of creeks around these parts. This apparent overtime gnawing, and subsequent levee installations, are causing unexpected changes in wetland situations for some property owners.

A big summer weekend on the Trail commences with the first ever “Boundary Waters Expo.” The Expo will begin on Friday afternoon and go on all day Saturday and Sunday. Activities will be held at the Seagull Lake public Landing. This unique outdoor sport show of sorts will feature a line-up of exhibitors, demonstrations and outdoor living speakers. Exhibits will be under the “big top” while demonstrations and such will he held on both land and water. The event looks to be a great opportunity for wilderness living enthusiasts. For more detailed scheduling go to VisitCookCounty.com.

A second reminder is extended for the Sunday “Shrimp Boil” up at the end of the Trail. Beginning at 4:00 pm, following the close of Expo, this second annual fund-raising eat-a-thon (and bake sale) is being sponsored by the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. All are welcome. The event location is at the Seagull Lake’s Community Center. Parking is limited so car-pooling would be a good idea. Being a donor affair, a per-person donation is suggested. Proceeds will benefit the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Be there or be hungry!

Keep on hangin’ on and embrace this Gunflint gift!

 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: June 5

As Gunflint Country bid adieu to May, an exasperated “old man winter” took a brief swipe at the area. A couple mornings found low temps in the twenties at some locations. And believe it or not, a couple snow squalls blew through the Seagull/Sag/Gunflint Lakes around eight hundred hours on Saturday.               

The cold had many gardeners on edge for sure. At Wildersmith, we skimmed some ice on the bird-watering shell, and I overheard one fellow’s comment about the cold snap, suggesting “he guessed we’ve had our summer.”

Since that time, conditions have upgraded as our month of the full “strawberry moon” closes in on week one. It seems hard to grasp we are into month six, and his “lunar highness” is already into the books.  What a beautiful moon it was.                                                                                                                                              

We had some swell days, most of which ended with those magnificent “Canadian Sunsets” over Gunflint Lake. Those molten iron beams from “old Sol” as he called it a day in our land of “sky blue waters” remain spell-binding. There aren’t enough descriptors to duly honor the fiery reflections rippling up the lake during warm season evenings.

A couple miniscule showers over the past week helped put the finishing touch on border land green-up.  We are now consumed with foliage to the point where one can no longer look into the woods and see some critter looking back. All sorts of wild perennial blooms are popping out, and we’ve harvested rhubarb from the Wildersmith yard.

More moose sightings have come in than I’ve heard in several years. This is good! One fellow tells of counting six north woods icons in the past week, all being in varying locations along the “Trail” so they obviously were not the same one.

A couple reported seeing a cow and her calf in the swamp opposite side of the road from Mayhew Lake. Meanwhile a gal residing on Leo Lake had a young bull casually wander through her yard and briefly step out onto her dock for a little sight-seeing. If she’d been calling for “all hands on deck” this was surely more than one could expect. I’ve included a digital of this gawky guy with his velvet head dress along my website column at WTIP.org.

Other babies are now coming into the world, notably, whitetail fawns. Folks are reminded to leave them alone if found lying quietly in apparent abandonment. Momma deer often leave them for short periods of time, and are generally not too far away. In other words, don’t fool with “Mother Nature.”

Members, residents/visitors are reminded of the first summer meeting for the Gunflint Trail Historical Society. The gathering will be held at the Seagull Lake Community Center this coming Monday, June 8.

Beginning at 1:30 pm, after a brief GTHS business meeting, Mr. Steve Elliot, Director of the Minnesota State Historical Society, will speak about issues related to the Gunflint Trail. As usual, treats and conversation will follow.

GTHS members and friends are invited to the second annual “Shrimp Boil.” This fundraising event, which will include a bake sale, was a delicious success last year so mark your calendars for Sunday, June 14, and don’t miss it! The event will be held at the Seagull Lake Community Center beginning at 4:00 pm.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor some Gunflint magic!

(Photo by Lee Zopff)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 29

It was a glorious holiday weekend in Gunflint territory until the actual Memorial Day when dismal and damp took over. With inviting weather, the Trail was alive with as many vehicles as one could think of pulling and toting a sundry of wildwoods gear and water craft. Warm conditions made us year-around residents forget about the winter past.

Although our cold season was not too intense, we nevertheless have had reminders of such on the ground since last November. As of last Sunday (May 24), the last of our ice build-up along the Mile O Pine passed into history. So if I count right, winter character engulfed us in some manner for seven months. The Wildersmith neighborhood recorded what should be its last snow on Tuesday, May 19th. Leaf-out is nearing completion and should be in full bloom within the next few days. Beautiful as winter can be along the Gunflint Corridor, spring is equally dazzling. A trip on the Trail this time of year is breath-taking with a mosaic blur of green tints from mountain tops to valley bottoms. Could there possibly be “fifty shades of green?”

After some timely rains mid-month, the area has been on the dry side lately. This condition has not stymied the onslaught of buzzing biters. The black flies are attacking with their usual vengeance, while the mosquito coalition is still gathering for training in their blood letting antics.

On another wilderness note, ticks are on about every item protruding from the earth. Several folks have shared observing many smaller ones. This might indicate they could be the dreaded black-legged deer ticks. Care should be taken with daily body examinations if activity takes one into the brush or grass of any kind. I hate to think about how the animals of our “wild neighborhood” are being tortured by these noxious creeps.

Cameo appearances by several members of the animal world have been reported. Any number of moose have been sighted in the twilight hours of both am and pm. But to date, I’ve not heard of calf observations in spite of usual deliveries around this time. Several accounts have been shared about a momma bear and her twins carousing throughout the Gunflint/Loon lake vicinity. I’m sure this family is just the tip of the iceberg for “Brunos,” as thousands call border country home.

Over the past few years, near the locale of our mailbox, a raven pair has nested high in the white pines. This time of year they are always squawking the accolades of new babies. On a recent day while waiting for a somewhat tardy US Postal delivery, more than the usual yapping caught my attention. After a few moments of scanning the tree tops, I found the culprit. It turned out to be a juvenile raven perched on a rather obscure branch. I don’t know how it ended up on this particular limb, but there it was. Whatever the case, my time was amused watching this kid, as it worked up the courage to make perhaps its maiden flight. With a great deal of commotion, flapping the wings, hopping from one direction to another, calling for help and the like, the youngster just couldn’t get into the air. This must have gone on for the better part of a half hour. When I departed the site, junior raven was still there. I haven’t observed it since, so bravura must have ultimately prevailed.

In the final analysis, my semi-annoyance with late mail was tempered into oblivion while sharing this growing-up process in Mother Nature’s world.

On a final note, neighbors along the Mile O Pine enjoyed a raven adventure of their own. In fact, this ebony-hued critter might have been from the same nesting pair mentioned earlier, as it was in the same neighborhood. Their raven tale came to pass while sitting on their deck enjoying a wonderful mid-day lunch. Without warning this brazen “black beauty” swooped down and landed on a birdfeeder tray, barely feet away from them. Momentarily looking them over, the big bird lifted off into a nearby tree top. Hoping the curious critter might be lured back, the lady of the house went to her bread-box cache and brought out a slice. She broke bread into seven pieces, laid them in a row on the tray and went back to sit for a possible return visit. In a short few moments the raven touched down once again. It scarfed up all seven scraps at one time and was soon off into the wild blue yonder, beak full of dough. What an extraordinary treat to break bread with a member of our wilderness world. An exclusive photo of the bird, with bread in beak, can be seen with my Wildersmith website column on WTIP.org.

Keep on hangin’ on and savor a Gunflint summer adventure!

(Photo by Betty Hemstad)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 22

The Gunflint spring has been on hold since we last met on the radio. Cool to cold temps and mostly cloudy skies have been the order. As you might recall from last week's scoop, I mentioned snow was predicted for the area. And, for the out-of-the-area audience, yes it did snow in the wee morning hours of May 12th. By daybreak our spring forest was decked out in the usual beauty of snow. White fluffiness stuck to every woodsy appendage. Some places measured up to an inch. Snow was a “no harm, no foul” scene for growing things though, as by the following afternoon we were back to brown ground with scattered green shoots.

Since winter's flashback, the territory has experienced a couple minor rain shower opportunities, all of which have at least temporarily tempered wildfire danger. However, the hope for more of such liquid applications does not go away.

By the way, as I key this week's scoop, it's “deja vu” with a forecast of another white border country lacing. We’ll know if it came to pass by air time this weekend.

While our weather ran a “foul” note over the past seven, I’ve been alerted to a few “fowl” happenings. Two of these come from the folks down at Cross River Lodge. The first tells of 5 trumpeter swans landing on the Gunflint waters near their west end shores. This sighting alone is pretty neat, but having them actually perform trumpeting skills in an impromptu concert is even more awesome.

Many residents in lake country have been adopted by wild ducks at one time or another. Such is also the case at Cross River Lodge. I’m told a pair of Mallard ducks have been returning for 4 consecutive years, and the quacking pair is back once again to make it a quintuplet. The pair has been tabbed “Donald and Clara,” and have made themselves right at home with high expectations for regular rations. I suppose the two will soon present family additions to the bread line.

Another bird report comes from Sag Bay at Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. I was there this past week for a chimney/roof issue and observed the resident loon pair has returned to nesting digs. Happy days are here once more as mama loon is sitting on what must be the next generation. Remembering last year, the two did not hatch any offspring. This incubating exercise will merit watching for the next month to see what happens. The “Loon Cam” from the museum will be focused so folks can keep track of the activity on a day to day basis.

Speaking of the Chik-Wauk Museum, the facility opens Saturday, beginning its sixth season. Hours of operation continue from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm daily. Gunflint history buffs will want to get in there and see this year's new temporary exhibit, entitled “The Paper Trail.” The display is a collection of writings, diaries and journals authored by any number of Gunflint Trail pioneers.

One more note in regard to the Museum site, the Gunflint Trail Historical Society (GTHS) is excited to announce that construction has been started on the new Nature Center facility. The building is scheduled for completion by summer's end with exhibit installation to follow for a visitors' grand opening a year from now. The GTHS has again enlisted the design group at Split Rock Studios (SRS) for exhibit presentations. The GTHS Nature Center Content Committee has been working hard with SRS and it looks to be an outstanding venture, enabling and enhancing more of the historic Gunflint lore. There may be a bit of construction inconvenience in the parking area, but visitors should not be discouraged from coming up for more of the Chik-Wauk magic, and to watch as the new facility takes shape.

Memorial Day weekend has slipped up on us quickly this year. Area folks are reminded Sunday marks the annual fund-raising pancake feed over at YMCA Camp Menogyn. Are you “Hungry Jack?” Serving time is from 9:00 am ‘til noon. Meet at the landing on West Bearskin Lake for the pontoon jaunt to hot cakes, sausage and a reconnection with friends and neighbors.

Keep on, hangin’ on, and savor the beginning of our summer Gunflint season!

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Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 15

The big day for anglers found most having to bundle up in winter layers. Although we’ve had worse conditions some years, this semi-arctic opener caught a few by surprise after some glorious sunny days leading up to our official fishing season. Clouds, winds and rough surf made the first weekend a bit uncomfortable. Temps hovered in the thirties and forties with some near-frost in the Wildersmith neighborhood Sunday morning. So if the finnies weren’t biting, for sure, the cold wind was!

In spite of the weekend weather blip, Gunflint territory continues its march toward green. Aspen are unfurling their next generation of leaves to cast a muted sage tint to our granite landscape. Birch and other deciduous beings are sporting bulging green buds in anticipation of more sun and a much-needed drink of water. By the time this scribing airs, there’ll be a full-fledged aspen quaking.

Meanwhile, with the life-line of sap flowing freely again, our evergreen forest has lost its drab Army-green look in favor of a bright new verdant twinkle. The region's dry spell extended almost another full week before finally getting some substantial rain. Most of the upper trail measured near an inch. A few blooming species couldn’t be held back though, as crocus, daffodils, marsh marigolds and Siberian squill have blossomed without regard for both shivering temps and thirsty soil. Now other flowering things will rapidly begin to burst open when warmth returns!

While keying this week's scoop, a forecast for possible accumulating snow in the area has the green thumb of Loon Lake nervous about early sprouting beets and peas in her planting patch. However, I’m guessing those veggies will be hardy enough to take a brief white blanketing should such materialize, providing it doesn’t hang around long.

A recent winged returnee seems undaunted by the brisk conditions. I observed the first ruby-throated hummingbird a couple days ago. One would think those delightful hovering critters might be wondering if their time of arrival shouldn’t have been temporarily delayed a couple hundred miles south. To take this discussion a step further, I wonder what they find for nourishment this time of year when few feeders are available and even fewer nectar-giving posies have popped. Barely bigger than bugs themselves, I guess small insects must be the only menu choice.

One positive in regard to the current brisk May conditions is the buzzing biters have been slowed. They just aren’t so feisty when it’s cold as it was last weekend. But fear not, these north woods terrorists will get their nips in due time (the bug net is in my pocket).

Cooler weather has not retarded the advance of a few warm season creepy crawlers. As always happens, ants, spiders and a couple other unknowns have found some less than obvious points of entry into the Wildersmith digs. So we are not swatting, but have been squishing.

I’m hearing of many single bear sightings but not any serious breaking and entering incidents to date. Oh yes, there have been the usual bird feeder munchings but who can blame a hungry bear. We humans just don’t get it sometimes! There is no bear-proof avian feeder. Just days ago, a local fellow tells of seeing a bear along one of our back country roads. While approaching in his vehicle, the bear started across the road, apparently not paying much attention. Suddenly startled by this rolling machine, the bear turned tail to get away and promptly, ran head first into a tree. It was a real stunner. The “bruno,” dazed momentarily, shook off the impact and rambled on into the brush. You can’t keep a good bear down! Suppose it has a concussion? At the very least, it’s probably grumpy with a headache. Perhaps this one needs glasses or better yet, a helmet.

On a final note, word has been received on the passing of another border country icon. The last chapter of the Chik-Wauk Lodge and Resort operations is written with the death of Bea Griffis in Harlingen, Texas on May 8th. Bea was 90 and had been in ill health. She was preceded in death by husband Ralph. Together they hosted uncounted numbers of wonderful vacation experiences from the mid-1950s until 1980. Gunflint Community condolences are extended to the thousands of people whose lives were touched by Bea, Ralph and the Chik-Wauk magic! Their memory will endure forever!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a greening Gunflint territory!

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(Big Swede Guy /Flickr)

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: May 8

           
The Smiths’ are home in the woods once more and I’m back at the keyboard again. After my annual stint as a member of the referee team for the Drake Relays in Des Moines, it seems like I’ve been away from this northern paradise for months not two weeks.                                
My return to the keys finds us having passed the Ojibwe “budding flowers” moon (Zaagibagaa Giizis) and chalking up one week of month five. My how the days whiz by!                              
With only a few white remnants left in shady spots along the Mile O Pine, “old man winter” has passed the baton to spring in the upper Gunflint. Such was marked by “ice out” on our Gunflint Lake May 3rd. If other area larger bodies of water haven’t already followed suit, the disappearance of their solidarity can’t be far away.                                                                                      
Our first segment of ice free water found brisk west winds rolling the happy liquid against our granite shore line just as it was before it ceased last December. It’s always joyous when ripples begin lapping up on the rocks.                                                                                                
Many smaller lakes have been open for several days now, and with these open waters have come the return of many “quacker” species and of course our charming loons. It’s such a delight to hear the happy yodeling from up and down the lakes.                                                                                               
And if these winged creatures aren’t creating enough excitememt, angst is noted as the first regiment of “skeeters” is buzzing about. Of course these mini drones are the non-biting reconnaissance crew that’s doing GPS work on us humans for the next real terrorists. To take this discussion further, I heard a report from a couple early season hikers who returned to base covered in wood ticks, ick! Guess we have to take the bad with the good in regard to this warm weather happening.                                                                                                                                               
The territory remains longing for a good spring soaking. Our open water is finding everyone scurrying to get their wildfire sprinkler systems up and running. At least properties can be soaked down artificially until “Mother Nature” breaks loose. A fellow I know had to dig his WFS pumping line out of snow bank in order to get his system going last weekend.                                         
Another rite of spring took place last Saturday with the eighth anniversary of the Ham Run half marathon and 5K. The day was spectacular, one of the few times for the event, and a far cry from last year when conditions were not the most favorable with still frozen lakes and frosty air. Nearly one hundred entries enjoyed the experience of the two races from Gunflint Pines Resort for the 13.1 mile race and Seagull Fishing Camp for the 5K. Thanks go out to all in the Gunflint Community for volunteering their time in making this event a marvelous tribute to the memory of our infamous 2007 Ham Lake fire.                                                                            
The next exciting activity is due to reconvene this weekend with the Minnesota Walleye fishing opener, as usual on top of Mothers’ Day. Remembering last year on opening day when ice fishing could have been more appropriate, this year an auger will not needed.                                                                                                                                         
 Happy angling to all casting their first line of 2015 but be particularly careful in floating craft as water temps are still dangerously cold! Yours truly can attest to it as I was briefly in the Gunflint Gal’s high thirty degree water earlier this week to set my WFSS lines. Even in my wet suit, the chilly waters got my attention!                                                                                                                                                       
Whereas many folks living in these parts have deep concern over any number of invasive plants and animals, another new one seems to be lurking and bears watching in the years to come. Not only are we being ambushed by the Emerald Ash Borer, an article in the April issue of National Geographic magazine, “The Bug That’s Eating the Woods”, calls attention to another critter ravaging Ponderosa/Lodgepole Pine forests in the western US and Canada.                     
Our warming climate nemesis is fostering epidemic proportions of the mountain pine beetle. It has devastated more than 60 million acres of forest from New Mexico through British Columbia since the nineties, and their movement in heading eastward along the northern US/ Canadian border.                                                                                                                                                                 
Most everyone knows that Ponderosas/Lodgepoles are not native to northern Minnesota, but Jack Pines are, and the gnawing critters are also known to enjoy the JP species as well. With the flourishing natural reforestation of Jack Pines in our fire ravaged areas of Gunflint Country, we now have one more invasive issue for which to be on the look-out.                                                    
According to the Nat. Geo article, the beetle movement is not near us yet, but one has to assume our MNDNR and local Cook County Invasives Team is monitoring the progress of this western migrant as it moves eastward in the coming years.                                                                                   
Keep on hangin’ on, and savor Gunflint sky blue waters once again! Happy Mother’s Day!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 17

What a difference a week can make! This area of borderland went from minus something on Easter morning, to almost sweltering seven days later. Whew, put away those layers and break out the Speedo! I’m betting what moose we have left were sweltering in their winter coats.

Last weekend saw temps soar into the forties, fifties and even some sixties. There was wide disparity dependent upon one’s locale and whether the thermometer was in the sun or shade.

Regardless, “Mother Nature” took over with some big-time snow and ice melting. If the “old gal” wasn’t in enough of a hurry to get spring moving, the melting liquid was, as it spilled out of the hills in rushing torrents toward area lakes.

Our winter was on the wimpy side so to speak. Nevertheless, snow left in its wake was enough to make rivers etch cavernous gullies across and along the Mile O Pine. It seems all the white tried to depart at once last Saturday and Sunday. I’m confident other back country passages were equally gashed.

In all of our sixteen winters at Wildersmith, this is the worst winter aftermath of flooding and mud season observed, and it’s just getting going! If this nightmare of gushing water isn’t enough, a more subtle situation is building by the hour. There still has been minimal rainfall to dampen the growing expanse of dry forest brush. It’s a double-edged sword – we need the rain, but not more water.

Wildfire is just a campfire's spark or dry lightning away from dangerous sudden ignition. It seems implausible that the DNR would invoke much needed burning bans throughout the county while the US Forest Service is not placing a ban on campfires for the Superior National Forest & BWCA. Everyone out this way remembers all too well the 2007 Ham Lake tragedy which was started by careless use of a campfire in extreme dry times such as currently exist.

The concern for wildfire danger is further magnified for area residents and businesses with frozen lakes not allowing wildfire sprinkler systems to be made ready for emergency usage.

More rites of the season have been in evidence over the past week. On a recent trip to Grand Marais, the Smiths came upon a couple late date Easter bunnies along the Trail.

At the time, there was still plenty of windrowed snow along the blacktop and these two critters were taken for clumps of dirty snow. As our trek got closer, it was evident their snowshoe hare DNA has them in early stages of changing to warm weather attire. Yep, they were a little bit white and a little bit dusty brown.

To date, I’ve heard of the first bear sighting along Gunflint Lake, so the winter feeders have been put away. Another sign of the times finds robins flitting about while my open wood shop door has been inviting enough for chipmunks to come snooping around.

Our deck-side feed trough experienced activity beyond the usual seed munching last week. To describe the scene, the action involved feeding, moreover it turned out to be a food fight, and please understand sharing this story will take longer than the actual event.

The stage is set with two characters, a squirrel and a pine marten. Squirrels are here all hours of daylight and spend a good deal of time in two small feeders I’ll call squirrel lunch boxes. These little six-inch by six-inch units are enclosed with a hinged shed-like roof for entry. One side also has a plexiglass window. Meanwhile pine martens are daily visitors, too, coming in for a poultry treat from their own swinging door eateries.

On this day, a squirrel had taken up occupancy in one lunch box, peacefully brunching away. Happening by about the same time, a marten came cruising along the deck rail checking out its fast food chances. Finding a kin had already partaken of its allotment, the marten proceeded along the rail, stopping to sit on top of the squirrels’ lunch box.

At this moment the marten detected the unit to be occupied and hopped off to sneak a peek in the tiny window. Seeing lunch potential inside, in a flash, Mr./Ms. Marten popped up the feeder roof and dove in on the surprised squirrel.

From that point on, confusion reigned supreme as the squirrel sought to escape being the entrée in this fight for food, and the marten determined the rodent was its intended. Seeds scattered about in a flurry as the skirmish spilled out onto the deck rail.

A squirming squirrel, in the marten’s mouth, fought violently. In the end, the tiny red rodent apparently got a nip or two of its own in on the marten's cheeks. Remarkably, the much larger fur ball dropped its prey. Both animals fell to the deck and the squirrel made a mad scamper to apparent safety, not to be seen again while the marten disappeared, unrewarded.

One has to wonder if either animal sustained a major wound as evidence of blood-spilling was not found. Perhaps they were both back the next day – mysteries of life in the woods continues!

Keep on hangin’ on and savor the adventures of spring!

(Photo courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library)

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 10

Ten days into April and suddenly it’s hard to tell if spring is going to take hold as easy as it seemed back in March. Area folks have had high hopes, but so far it’s been disappointing, especially with our frosty Easter weekend. Along with a couple sieges of howling winds during the past week, the topper was Easter Sunday at Wildersmith when we awoke to a semi-winter, minus four degrees on the mercury column. Added to the sputtering season at hand, the heavens continue to misfire on moisture over the upper Trail.

In spite of our atmospheric misgivings, life goes on in border country. And, I must say human energies abound with activities scheduled for the coming of summer vacation times. Planning is well underway for the eighth annual Ham Run. The half marathon/5K runts run events through the upper Gunflint Trail Byway Corridor are scheduled for Saturday, May 2. This enthusiastic event serves as a reminder of the tragic Ham Lake wildfire that ignited in 2007 on May’s first Saturday, and devastated many lives and thousands of wilderness acres. Details and registration "info" for the running can be found on the official race website, www.cookcountyymca.org , or call the Cook County YMCA.

Meanwhile, the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center is heading toward another Memorial Day weekend opening. My how time flies! Since the awesome historic facility opened its doors on July 5 2010, thousands of visitors have filed through the doors to view and hear the Gunflint story.

Renewed energy springs to life once again in 2015 as a new temporary exhibit highlights the coming season in addition to the usual naturalist programs. This year's display, themed "The Paper Trail," focuses on cultural aspects of celebrated Gunflint Trail pioneers and characters with journals, diaries and writings for hands-on reading and review. The Gunflint Trail Historical Society has recently announced their first museum manager, Ada Igoe, has departed for other career endeavors. Ada created a strong foundation of leadership for the museum operations. Happily, the Society wishes Ada the best while welcoming her replacement, Bonnie Schudy. Bonnie, well known for many years of working at various Trail resorts and outfitters (most recently at Gunflint Lodge and Northwoods Outfitters), brings not only great knowledge of the Trail/back-country life, but also boundless energy and enthusiasm in taking the reins from Ada. Come opening day, area residents and visitors will want to stop out and welcome Bonnie as she kicks off the sixth year of sharing the Gunflint Trail of yesteryear.

On another note, GTHS plans are in the works to celebrate the Chik Wauk Museum's fifth anniversary of operations with a big fundraising benefit/feed. The bash will be held at the end of the Trail Community Center (fire hall #3) on Sunday July 5. I’ll share more details as they become available. Early into June, more Gunflint activity hits the Trail with the first-ever Boundary Waters Expo. Mark calendars for June 12-14 and get online at www.VisitCookCounty.com/BWCAexpo for more "info" on this family-friendly, hands-on event for all ages. The days will be well spent featuring speakers, activities, demonstrations and more!

Further inquiry about life along this historic corridor is renewed once more in a new book release. A snippet of the writing is featured in the newest edition of Boundary Waters Journal, and the article really whets one's appetite to get at the Jack Blackwell work titled, BOUNDARY WATERS BOY—The Alec Boostrom Story. The Alec Boostrom Story is being touted by one publishing enthusiast as the best historical account he has ever seen about this legendary territory. Alec, by the way, is a younger brother of the renowned Clearwater Lake resident, Charlie Boostrom, who in his own right, along with wife, Petra, is an acclaimed Gunflint Trail pioneer. Gunflint Trail historic fanciers will want to get this one when it hits the stands. Perhaps a contact with BWJ at 1-800-548-7319 might provide a potential release time.

The Gunflint Trail Community wishes to thank two members of our local volunteer fire department who have retired. Respecting their wish to remain anonymous, the Gunflint Community nevertheless wants these heroes to know how grateful we are for their commitment and dedication to service over these many years. All "Gunflinters" wish them well in future endeavors!

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor the adventure of renewal in Gunflint border country!

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: April 3

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With a forecasted warm-up over the past few days, winter caught its breath and took another swipe at border country as Palm Sunday was memorialized. Perhaps this was the “old winter geezer’s” last hurrah until October/November. The day broke calmly, but by sunrise, the Wildersmith neighborhood was deluged with wet heavy blowing snow. In a matter of not quite two hours, we were all decked out in three to four inches of white lace.

I think it snowed harder than any other time observed this winter. I’m told driving conditions during the morning were horrendous in most parts of the county let alone out this way. Although the accumulation is sure to be gone in a short time, any moisture nowadays is a blessing.

Planet earth welcomes April, and with it, no foolin’, tomorrow's full “maple sugar” moon (Iskigamizige Giizis in Ojibwe). March slammed the door in a bit of a “lion's” tirade and many out this way are anxious for “April the Beautiful.” The “madness of March” has spilled into April, but this American craze will be history before we meet again on the radio. Timely or not, our attention turns to those overcompensated “boys of summer.” Play ball!

I just heard one of those “you just had to be here stories.” It comes from a fellow residing over on West Bearskin Lake. Although eagle cams from places south are already revealing 2015 hatchings, seems “tis just now, the season” for romance around forty-nine degrees north.

Not long ago a seldom seen mating ritual between an eagle pair took place near this guy's dock on the frozen lake surface. One would think this courtship would likely be consummated high in the heavens, but for reasons unknown, this “nationally recognized” couple decided this heaven on earth was a proper place for committing to a new generation. Guess it was some observation spectacle. Sadly, in the excitement of this awesome happening, remembering to do a little digital recording escaped those watching.

In another north woods incident, a local fisherman recently came upon a “race for life” over the Gunflint Lake ice. He observed a wolf/deer chase across the lake while cruising his power sled to a secret catching location. The wolf was pursuing from the Canadian shores (suppose it didn’t have a passport either) intent on silencing a growling stomach. Our ice out this way has transformed from crusted snow and/or slush covered to perfect hard water. With the mid-March meltdown and subsequent recurring freeze-up, it’s glass smooth in places. The angler guessed the lake surface was going to be a no-win situation for this white tail. Those deer hooves just weren’t made for speed skating. Deciding to “make this deer’s day,” the sled was maneuvered in a direction with hope for diverting Mr. Wolf back from where it had come. Guess it worked, as I’m told the pursuer did a turn-about and gave up the quest for venison. For this deer, the state of affairs had to be “happy days are here again,” relief, after a near calamity, at least for the moment. It could be “race back on,” with a twitch of an ear or blink of an eye!

On a final note, I don’t know when pine martens deliver new babies, but I’m guessing such might have been the case during the past few weeks. Without giving notice, the cuddly critters came up AWOL from their usual stops for a little poultry poaching at our deck side cafeteria. Apparently, it’s none of my business where they go, but we are engaged with them once again as they have returned, hungry as ever, day and night. They are just delightful to watch!

Keep on, hangin’ on, and savor the blooming of month four on the Gunflint.

(Photo courtesy of the USFS)


 

Wildersmith on the Gunflint: March 27

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Since we last met over the WTIP waves, spring has backed off somewhat along the Gunflint. The final stanza of March is dwindling, and the “madness” of the month has consumed many of us with NCAA women’s and men’s events in basketball, hockey, and wrestling to name just a few.

The basketball bracket sheets in the Wildersmith house are amiss with red ink as we stumble along the picking trail. About the only thing that I can predict with any certainty is the “mania” video programming format will contain mostly marketing propaganda with a little basketball sandwiched in between. How could any of those round-ballers ever get tired with all those TV time-outs?

Back to the Trail, more seasonal temps returned with a couple nights below the zero mark here in our neighborhood. Meanwhile, the same old record is spinning from a precipitation standpoint, still dry as a proverbial bone and getting drier. When our snow is gone, border country is going to be in a world of hurt with fire danger as ground-level brush will be crunchy dry. We can only hope the decision makers will react with burning bans proactively and not wait for wildfire to break out like happened in 2007. Furthermore, a little message to the snow/rain gods is more than welcome!

With winter character on the wane, activities are nearly at a standstill. The last of what will be a farewell to trout season happens Saturday and Sunday with Trail Center’s annual catching event on Poplar Lake. For details, give Sarah a call at the restaurant.

Cross country ski trails are still useable but slick with frozen crust which cannot be endearing to the inexperienced. Snowmobiling pathways are pretty much beaten to death so the sledding season is about “kaput,” unless new snow would do an April curtain call (it does happen you know).

Speaking of the “s” word, our spectacular white landscape along backwoods byways is grudgingly taking on the ugly look of usual urban accumulations. Receding under watchful beams from a surging March sun, it’s sad to say goodbye to such nature-made beauty. With recent daytime temps back at hanging out below the freezing mark, “Old Sol's" rays are doing just enough to barely melt exposed surfaces on roads and walkways causing them to re-freeze to Zamboni exactness.

In my brief time up here, I’ve not seen walking and driving conditions in many protected locales so scary slick and they seem to be worsening. There’s a growing icy concoction on the Mile O Pine now giving vehicle operators a stern test of maneuvering skills. Urban dwellers who whine about winter driving obstacles ought to see this mess. I thought it was bad last year, but the 2015 rendition of deep icy ruts in the mini-glacial build-up near the North Loon Lake Road intersection may be the topper during my time of watching spring rituals. It’s the ultimate in “speed bumps.” Key to getting through is four-wheel-drive and don’t stop, or one might be there until June.

A week ago I mentioned the return of crows in our area. That the crows are back is an understatement. The last few days has seen hordes of them in the yard picking through winter's remains. It seems they find some undigested items in “deer droppings” to their liking, yuck. It’s amusing to watch when they are spooked, and take flight. It’s like a dark storm cloud swooshing through the forest.

Deer visitors in our neighborhood have been in absentia for several weeks. I don’t know what is going on other than wolves have been managing the herd over the past several years so there’s just not many left. We did have a couple come by and hang out in recent days, but they had to share the corn hand-out with two adopted “chicken birds” while avoiding those under-foot ebony pickers at the same time.

Pussy willow buds are burgeoning with anticipation in a few spots along the Mile O Pine, and our forest floor is taking on the look of a spotted dog. Where the winter wind whisked snow away, melting has left bare ground. Then there are other places where the white stuff remains a couple feet deep.

It's sugar time in the forest as sweet juices of life begin oozing into spires of the wilderness.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor a thought of green leaves and rippling sky blue waters.

(Photo by Mo Barger on Flickr)