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Wildersmith on the Gunflint: January 13

 Red squirrel in winter
Red squirrel in winter

Official winter on the Gunflint is nearly a month old, and winter it is. Following our last radio visit, a couple snow days at Wildersmith netted eight more inches for the seasonal total.

Beyond this feature, the neighborhood has been cold, really cold! As I begin this report around the Smith place, six out of the past eight days have failed to see the mercury eclipse the zero mark with most warming only into the teens below. This past Sunday was the first in several where the thermometer finally jumped to near zero. It’s amazing how warm it can feel at zero after what we’ve experienced.

Cold as last Saturday was (getting up to minus single digits) one would never know it was such with enthusiasm over flowing along the upper Trail. Sled dogs and their mushers had the spotlight for the much anticipated Gunflint Mail Run.

Trails through the woods were spectacular and fast as hundreds of handlers, volunteers and spectators cheered the frost-covered teams during their symbolic mail delivery journeys. In the end two winners were crowned.  The eight dog (seventy mile) race was won by Chad Schouweiler of Irma, Wisconsin. While in the twelve dog (110 mile section), Ryan Redington of Ashland, Wisconsin lead the pack to the finish.

The weekend of colorful activities was another splendid sampling of the Gunflint community coming together in celebration of our natural world decked out in white. Congratulations and thanks go out to organizer, Cathy Quinn and near one hundred volunteers for all the time and hard work show casing a bit of Gunflint history and the magic of what we Gunflinters cherish every day.

A big thank you is further extended to many wonderful sponsors for providing essential resources. Of course, special recognition goes to Sarah Hamilton and her dedicated staff at Trail Center Restaurant for the superb hospitality as the event host.

Last but surely not in the least, a great bunch of mushers, their support teams along with stars of the show, their canine heroes, merit our gratitude for coming to the Gunflint.  

Before and after last weekends’ barking happenings, the peace and quiet of the forest has prevailed except for a moment of frenzy between yours truly and one of those pesky red squirrels. It took place at our deck side feeder one morning. This could be one of those believe it or not trivia, but believe me, it happened. A little background “info” is necessary to set the scene.

Each day I set out two ears of corn, attached to small platforms with a screw protruding to hold the cobs in place. The items are for any critter willing to gnaw on them, but generally they are stripped by the blue jays and/or squirrels in a matter of minutes to an hour or so.

The shelled cobs are then left in place until the next day when I collect them, replacing with refills. These cobs are saved for fire starters in the wood burning stove. The saga begins now, only a few mornings ago.

In the process of putting provisions out for the day, I removed one cob from its connection and laid it on the seed tray while I proceeded on to the next station. Out of the corner of my eye, a blurr caught my attention. Looking toward the source, a squirrel had darted up on the rail and grabbed the shorn cob. Immediately “little red” began to nibble on the end and then decided to abscond with the prize.

Without giving much thought, I started hollering at the larcenous rodent thinking I could scare it into dropping the cob. Obviously we were not in the same communication mode because it paid no attention, and made off down the rail, cob in its jaws.

In a few steps, I caught up to where a tree branch provided escape potential for the little varmint. For some unknown reason, it decided to stop, right in front of me. The two of us were now barely a foot apart. Surprised I could get this close, I made a quick stab at the stolen goods. Unbelievably, the red critter offered no resistance as I took my belonging right from its tiny paws.

The little gal/guy then made a leap to the adjacent tree, perching on a nearby branch, chattering “what for” at me. Again, we were not communicating in understandable terms, but I had a feeling I was catching the devil. Apparently with no hard feelings, my trickster buddy has returned, not missing a meal opportunity since.

So that’s my story, and I stand by it. Sorry, but you really had to be here to fully appreciate. It’s just one more joy of living in the untamed paradise we call border country.

Not all was fun and frolic along the trail this past weekend. The Gunflint community was saddened after receiving word about the death of a longtime neighbor. Don Lease, who lived in the mid-Trail area passed away last Friday in Saint Paul following a brief, but sudden illness. Our sympathies go out to wife Eleanor and his family on the untimely loss of this kind and gentle husband, father, grandfather and friend.

For WTIP, this is Fred Smith, on the Trail, where every day is great, and full of mysterious goings-on! 
 

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