Wildersmith On The Gunflint Dec. 22, 2009

Northwood’s Christmas Service and sleigh ride at Okontoe held last Saturday night
Northwood’s Christmas Service and sleigh ride at Okontoe held last Saturday night

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Days of anticipation, cinnamon, chocolate and joy are finally here ….Pre-Christmas congregating has been going on for days and days since Thanksgiving and now is the time for the excitement to get serious as the Christian welcoming is again renewed.

The decades old Northwood’s Christmas Service and sleigh ride at Okontoe happened last Saturday night. The joyous season at hand brought together nearly a hundred family and Gunflint friends for a time of reflections and song honoring the marvelous Christmas Story.

Dating back to 1971, the traditional “old fashioned” Christmas observance was held in the humble chapel near the Bow Lake sight of Okontoe and the Adventurous Christians Retreat. The chapel, newly completed after ten years, has plenty of sweat equity invested by hundreds of dedicated people, and it showed, with glowing ambiance. 

After the service, treats were served and folks moved outside for caroling around a toasty bonfire. The sub-zero temps had noses “just a chillin’,” but this didn’t stop many from jumping aboard the horse drawn sleigh for rides in the snow on a splendidly romantic starlit night. What a magnificent celebration for the birthday of all birthdays!

Everyone has heard of the Black Forest, but few are blessed with getting to observe the north woods white forest. That is what we experienced at Wildersmith for many days over the past two weeks while the Gunflint was trying to freeze.

Finally the big lakes have frozen. Gunflint completed her annual winter course on the 16th. Her cousin just to the south, Loon Lake, succumbed a couple days earlier, while Seagull and Saganaga have also followed suit. So lakes are all buttoned up for the winter. The clouds of steamy vapors are calmed and sounds of restless waters have silenced until sometime next May.

The Gunflint freeze was about four days later than the average date of December 12th based on my data collection since the early eighties. Trying on her new coat has caused some apparent consternation for the Gunflint Gal as there has been a bit of   howling, screeching and squawking since the icy garment made its debut.

The pinnacle for short daylight hours has arrived and passed. With the Solstice of winter, the pendulum is now swinging longer as we head in another direction. It always seems funny that as we are shivering in this northern paradise this time of year, the first seed and plant catalog of the season has arrived, obviously promising things to come.

A heads up is issued to Trail travelers at night. The moose are now congregating in the moose zone (from the North Brule River Bridge to mid-trail) for their nightly salt lick. Several sightings have been reported but thank goodness, no collisions as yet. A daytime run up or down the byway confirms their having been there as the prancing and pawing of big ugly hooves heads in all snowy directions.

If anyone is familiar with the work of photo-artist Jim Brandenburg, they will surely remember his striking photo on the cover of “Brother Wolf.” The Smith’s had an opportunity to observe a glance at a similar pose recently on a trip down county road 20/50 only this one was live!

A handsome wolf happened in front of our vehicle and bounded a short distance up into the woods. Suddenly it stopped for a look at this large red monster. We halted and opened the window while fumbling for digital equipment.

Sure enough he checked us out as we did the same. Slowly it circled about behind a big pine only to stick its head around for another peek. And there it was, for an instance, a “photo-op” nearly identical to what Brandenburg had so splendidly captured many years ago.

Unlikely as it would seem, my human frailties bungled the chance to permanently record this secretive wild experience. So it will have to go down as an etching in the memory bank. What a gift at this time of year, one that will always be remembered when ever I drive by that spot.

Keep on Hangin’ on, and Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good day!


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