Wildersmith April 19

Wildersmith shares a squirrel story in this week's column (Loren Sztajer/Flickr)
Wildersmith shares a squirrel story in this week's column (Loren Sztajer/Flickr)

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The calendar says spring, but our north country landscape indicates otherwise.  At the time of this keyboard exercise, little progress has been made on recognizing spring characteristics.

We tapped Old Man Winter for another couple small doses of snow, and temps have been none too warm as we pass the two-thirds point of month four.  In fact, last Sunday morning found the Zamboni full speed ahead and the mercury slightly below zero on our Wildersmith thermometer.  I almost had to fire up the old wood-burning stove.

If conditions follow the current April trend, the Gunflint territory might be celebrating our full “maple sugar moon” in the week ahead on the breast of new fallen snow. At a time when we should be in jubilation over pussy willow fuzz and clocking the strain of aspen buds trying to burst from their husks, remnants of winter are still dancing in our heads.

We regulars residing out this way are taking these moments of nature’s insubordination in stride, while early snowbird returnees and visitors from suburbia are bristling at the inconvenience of ice, snow, slush and sometimes mud. For yours truly, an upside to this extension of winter is not bad, as it simply delays the onset of bitin’ bugs and shortens the season for the threat of sweat. Six to seven months of winter really isn’t unreasonable for some of us!

A downside of hanging on to the snow and ice pack for this extended period is when the meltdown does come it is likely we’ll be deluged in rapid runoff. The earth went undercover dry as a bone last fall, then froze that way.  A sudden turn to summer will send all that surface water rushing off to Hudson’s Bay and Lake Superior.

Soils up this way are in dire need of slow soaking daytime thaws and nighttime freezing to enable the thirsty forest to soak up that life-giving juice. At this time it would appear that our coniferous forest looks to be quite brittle. Some species are nearly in a state of desiccation. Not only is this a health issue for the forest, but crisp needles are an enhancement to the season of wildfire which is but a bare brown forest away.

While the greatest share of the forest is still under snow cover, the Gunflint trailside shrinkage is revealing its usual unsightliness due to the presence of mankind. It never ceases to amaze me that thousands of people who annually trek this 60-mile corridor through the pines and tout its majestic environment could be so indifferent with regard to littering our roadside ditches.

Much of the debris is in the form of beverage containers.  I find it unconscionable that the state of Minnesota, purporting to be so environmentally in tune, does not have a bottle/can deposit/return law!  Looks to me that this might create some new, much-needed job opportunities around our state and also help clean up some of our byway’s ugliness. Come on St. Paul, let’s get with it!
It’s pretty sad commentary that everyone can’t do their part and dispose of their own unwanted travel items in proper receptacles. It just seems that this task should be a no-brainer.

Further, it would be really helpful if some of our visitors would stop and voluntarily do a bit of roadside pick-up. It would be great if locals didn’t have to bear the full brunt of picking up after the polluters of the universe.  In the meantime, I’ll be sharpening my pick-up stick. End of lecture!

A closing note shares a crow/squirrel episode on our deck-side feeder.  Not long ago an early morning gathering of critters brought the neighborhood murder of crows to the Smith outdoor cafeteria in search of breakfast.

The usual ears of corn were in their place and one caught the attention of a hungry crow.  The trouble was a squirrel had assumed possession of the treat which was envied by the bird.

The scene was of interest as the crow squatted down on the deck rail not a foot away from the munching rodent and patiently waited for its turn at a few kernels.  The squirrel, in the meantime, had no intention of sharing and proceeded to give the ebony avian some devilish prattle in between bites.

That crow sat there for the longest time listening to the chatter and, I’m guessing, thinking about its next move.   In the end this old crow gave up in apparent disgust, afraid to challenge the mini-gnawer to a physical confrontation.  It squawked once and flew off to parts unknown. Squirrel one, crow nothing, this time.

Keep on hangin’ on, and savor thoughts of bloomin’ days ahead in border country!

Airdate: April 19, 2013


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