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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

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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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - July 31

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
July 31, 2020    
“A” is for August, and the territory bids July adieu. We have cruised through July not paying much attention amidst Pandemic confusion.  “Where goes July, there goes summer” as the old saying goes. Sad to say, August will likely escape us as well, so we’d better not blink twice.                                                                                                                                                                                             

All kinds of memories linger about month eight. Autumn oozing in, Indian summer days, fewer mosquitoes and back to school are but a few. Whereas back to school as we remember is only a “maybe” under current circumstances, the onset of fall is more certain.                                                                                        

While late summer and early fall blooms are mutually converging with an array of colors, in the past days I have noted the first flora signs of things to come. Fire weed is fading and a few sprigs of dog bane and a scattering of ferns have turned from green to golden along back country roads,                                                                                                                        

Another weekend of hot and sticky kept moose in the bays and evergreen shade. It seems this area is stuck in a rut as border country had a third straight weekend of annoying perspiring. However, the “mom” looking over us, favored another reprieve with more normal coolness over the past few days. Thanks to “Mother N.”                                                                                                                           
Winged things have had my attention over the past week. The Monarch daycare at Chik Wauk Nature Center is excited to announce caterpillars are munching milkweed and chrysalis are emerging into the next generation of butterflies. Screened nurseries have about two dozen miracles in the waiting.                                                                                                                                                        

They should be due to break-out in just a few days, with this generation not too long from heading toward winter quarters. The question of the week is how fast can a Monarch fly? The Naturalist up there tells me, it is five miles per hour. That’s a lot of time in the air, and energy, to cover countless miles to their warm destination.                                                                                                                            
If listeners can’t go up to see this marvel of the natural world, keep track of the happening on Chik via Facebook.                                                                                                                                                                 

Meanwhile, hummingbird arrivals and departures at Smith’s international nectar bottle seem to have doubled since last weeks’ report. The hungry hummers are now consuming over two bottles per day (the equivalent of two plus cups). They must be near tipsy with a sugar high. It is obvious they must not have any dietary issues with the sweetness.                                        

The other day a couple of them pestered me as I re-filled the container while outdoors among them. They were close as a few inches from my hands trying to get a slurp ahead of their ravenous competitors while I finished the pour. What an amusing and interesting experience. I can’t think of a quicker being in creation.                                                                                                                                                                          

Over the past several days, “Woody” the chuck has paid us a visit. While I do not have a garden menu from which it could be pilfering, the plump rodent nestles right in with its squirrely cousins for a munch-along on seeds I’ve thrown out on the ground. Of interest, neither of them is bothered with each other’s presence, but will not allow chipmunks a place at their table.                                                                                                                                                   
If you might be thinking I’m asking for a bear visit, I’ve been doing it for several years and have had not a trace. Further, when this gang of seed crunchers finishes in a couple hours each morning, there is nothing but shells. So if a bear has happened by in darkness hours, there’s nary a crumb left.                                                                                                                                                                   

Folks who travel the Trail with any regularity should be smiling due to the speed with which the road re-construction is progressing. While the one-way traffic delays have been troublesome at times, they have not been overly long in my opinion. Visitors from Metropolis probably would disagree however.                                                                                                           

With the apparent first lift of asphalt laid in both lanes over the five mile stretch, it is already a vast improvement over the washboard we’ve been accustomed to for many years.                                             

Thanks to the project contractor and Cook County Highway Department for their diligence in moving this endeavor along.                                                                                                                                                          
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is an up-lifting exposure, to the wonders of creation!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - July 24

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
July 24, 2020    

The territory got another reminder of what July can be like last weekend, with another dose of hot and sticky, just as I predicted. It was short lived, however as “Mother Nature” stepped up to end our whining.                                                                                                                           

The Saturday night into Sunday morning saw the “gal” in charge of natures’ things flipped the switch to cool and nice by mid-day Sunday. Perhaps one of those lightening charges from the heavens recharged our natural air conditioning.                                                                      

Severe storm warnings were touted for hours over the County, but area residents were spared predicted damage as there was more “bark than bite” from the rumbling clouds and celestial fireworks. And, precipitation along the Mile O Pine was rather piddly once again, with less than a quarter inch at Wildersmith.                                                                                                                                         

While the stormy “apocalypse” did not happen, interestingly enough, the upper Trail turned around from gasping for a cool breath on Saturday, to long sleeves, sweaters and closed windows on Sunday. “What a difference a day makes.”                                                                                        
Those gale force northwest winds off Gunflint Lake on Sunday were “bullish” or better, “wolfish.” Gusts culled the forest of weak limbs and trees like the Canid pack has done to the white trail population out this way.                                                                                             

Speaking of water, levels continue to dwindle around the region. The weekly measurement recorded at my dock will soon fall below the last tick on the DNR gauge. This usually happens in September. So unless the skies break loose with an unusual deluge in the watershed during the next couple months, Gunflint Lake and maybe others will be at frightening low levels by the time we start thinking about ice.                                                                                                                                     

The summer hiatus of ruby throats has ended at Wildersmith. The streaking little birds are attacking the sweet stop-over with a vengeance. One can barely land and gulp a swallow, before being driven off by others. There’s no calm hovering in line for a turn. They are consuming a bottle of nectar a day.                                                                                                                                                    

An interesting sidelight at the sweetness station finds rusty back bumble bees engaged too. I found this out by accident a few days ago when retrieving the bottle for a refill. One of the stinging critters refused to separate from its position at the fake floret and rode inside the house, only to be dislodged when I began the daily rinse out.                                                                               

Mr. Bumble was none too happy, but luckily for yours truly, the bee decided to escape by buzzing into the window screen. A handy dish rag covered the angry insect, and I transported it back outside. Neither the bee nor I were harmed. Then it happened again, a day or so later.                                                                                                                                    

Perhaps this bee has developed affection for me, much like the squirrel that greets me every day at the woodshop door to demand seed time. Guess I should smarten up and pay more attention before luck gives way to a stinging confrontation.                                                                                                                     

Each Saturday, I volunteer in the Nature Center on the Chik Wauk Campus. In addition to working with visitors along with the Naturalist/s, it is my goal to learn one new component about our natural world, no matter how trivial it may seem.                                                                            

It goes without saying I don’t have enough days to put a dent in the uncountable happenings of our ecosystem. Nevertheless, learning there are over 100 world-wide species of mosquitoes, to three species of thistles found in this area and countless invasive plants trying to take-over border country, I’m invigorated by the things happening that I have never thought about.                                                                                                                                                                
This past weekend, the question was raised about bears eating berries. Specifically, how many berries do you suppose a bear can eat in a day?                                                                        

Through investigative research from the North American Bear Center, the Chik Wauk interns found that bears can eat as many as 30,000 berries a day. That would be mostly blue berries at this time, up this way. Doing some dimensional analysis, based on approximate numbers of berries in a commercial 12 ounce container, this calculates into 161 pounds per day, or the equivalence of three shopping carts full.                                                                                                                               

Now I can’t imagine who might be willing to get close enough to research this tidbit, but if it is near accurate, folks better be getting out there soon, or the blue gems will be gone with a few big bear gulps.                                                                                                                                                                             
In a related matter, the annual biggest blueberry contest is under way along the Trail. Weigh-in stations are located at several resort locations and Chik Wauk. An even nicer rain, this past Tuesday will likely help pump them up, so get a pickin’.                                                                       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is an awesome refuge from the ills, of humanity!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - July 17

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
July 17, 2020    

How can this be happening? We have surpassed the half-way point of July, and it seems the calendar just flipped over into 2020’s seventh segment. Although the calendar says we have plenty of warm season left, summer looks to have started its’ slide with the Independence Day celebration. I know some folks who declare summer is over after the 4th fireworks.        

Summer character released its hot, sticky grip on the Gunflint territory over the past few days. Daytime temps slipped back into the low seventies in this neighborhood, and night times into the fifties. While it has been a pleasant relief for the moose and me, we are likely to get another dose with August peering around the bend.                                                                                                     

Whereas forest management agencies have abandoned the campfire ban and other burning restrictions, claiming widespread rain, it seems ill-advised as rain has been spotty in the upper Gunflint.                                                                                                                                            

While places in the mid-trail area got deluged recently, if the area around Gunflint Lake and northward had been assessed, it is evident fire danger has not been suppressed to any extent. At Wildersmith, two separate rain events in the past week trickled a mere total of one-third inch.                                                                                                                                                                              

This is not exactly what one would call a drought terminator. It is prudent for residents to be diligent with regular sprinkler system applications to their property. The forest is still crunchy dry and most streams have dried up.                                                                                                                   
With the scarcity of rain in the past weeks, amazingly the berry season is getting under way. I’m told hikers are finding blues along some of their treks, and wild raspberries are coming on. I’m keeping eyes on a secret patch of Juneberry bushes, but they have a ways to go. In any case, there’s a good chance the berry harvest will be discouraging unless the heavens provide some kind of juice.                                                                                                                                                

The Mile O Pine neighborhood has experienced some candid animal sightings in the past week. A lone wolf made its’ presence known on a couple different occasions, while a momma bear scared the “hee bee jee bees” out of a gal as she walked down the MOP unknowingly past her cubs.  Guess the worrisome momma bear stood upright and grunted a warning, but otherwise made no aggressive moves. No harm, no foul as the lady moved on without further interruption.                                                                                                                                                                           
Another one of those serene north woods mornings caught my attention a few days ago. The day began with sun peering through uncountable foliage openings to spotlight an equal number of golden splotches on the forest floor.                                                                                                              

It was cool enough to condense moisture on every green component, including a night time installation of arachnid fiber art. Air currents were minimal, but just enough to make the fiber sway at times, glistening as beams lit up teardrops of joy, celebrating another dawning.           

Moments of quiet, calm, unassuming, beautiful peace! So comforting in a world oppressed with human turmoil!                                                                                                                                   

On a concerned side of the ledger, serenity as we know it throughout the Superior National Forest and BWCA is about to be diminished if a telecom behemoth has its’ way. Word is silently permeating about in regard to a bigger communications tower being erected above Gunflint Lake that will include wilderness connectivity for cell phones. The current tower will be replaced with a new, even taller structure.                                                                                                                              

While some advocates will swear the need for such, a good many more will be aghast to think our border country natural world is now succumbing to electronic tentacles of civilization. The spread of this telecom connectivity threatens the cherished wild character of serenity and presence, dictating “digital roads” everywhere and beyond, all to the benefit of corporate telecom profiteers.                                                                                                                                   

At the expense of ever diminishing, precious, protected land, one has to wonder how this can happen when the Wilderness Act stipulates, there shall be no commercial enterprise in the designated wilderness. The intrusion of cell phone noise pollution into the solitude would also seem to be in violation of federal laws, specific to the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. Food for thought, Gunflinters!                                                  

In closing, big thanks go out to new and renewing members of the WTIP family. Once again, you have stepped to the plate during these uncertain times in support of your Community Radio station. You met the goal! Over $30,000.00!! It goes without saying, you are the greatest!                                                                                                                                                                            

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day, is, an incredible blessing!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - July 10

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
July 10, 2020    

Gunflint summer has turned ugly during the first third of the month. Desert like temps and relentless drought have many of us woods residents reeling in discomfort.                                        
It’s surely not like the good old days when folks came to border country for natural AC. Our recent hot spell is dramatically confirming a much warmer trend during the past two decades of my residency. This is not to say temps haven’t experienced hot moments in the past but the duration and intensity seems to be expanding each year.                                                             
I do not have expertise in botany so I could be wrong but the growing season for some members of the plant neighborhood look to be changing in step with a warming climate. I’m already seeing some green things going to seed as if it was August and we’ve not yet reached the half-way point of July. Then again it might be just a quirk of nature for these emerald beings.                                                                                                                                                       

As I begin this report on Sunday after the Fourth of July hoe-down it looks as though Cook County escaped wildfire ignition. I see a number of areas around the country were not so fortunate even four spots of the western Superior National Forest dealt with small fires.      
Meanwhile with a million acres of tinder dry landscape around us it could take days to detect a wisp of smoke from a smoldering ember. Residents and caring visitors should be hoping …for two situations… to occur… firstly… big rain… needs to happen…and second, burning restrictions should remain in place. I’ve noticed aircraft overhead on recent occasions… so one has to think US Forest Service aerial fire surveillance is underway.                                                     
By the way this neighborhood did receive a minimal dose of precip in the past couple days for which we are thankful. In spite of the blessing it was a far cry from resolving our desperate need for more. The hot July sun gobbled this up in a few hours.                                             
Last weekend looked like a good share of urban Minnesota headed into the territory. Outfitter and resort parking facilities were packed to the gills. A report from one regular visitor to the BWCA indicated in all of his years he had never seen so many folks in the wilderness. Guess this un-organized land is the best way to social distance from COVID mayhem of suburbia.                                                                                                                                          

Since we last met a hatching announcement has come from the nesting platform in bay at Chik Wauk. One little puff ball cracked out on July 1st.                                                                          
Momma loon soon went back to the nest to nurture in a sibling to # one, but a couple days later, it was discovered # two did not survive its entrance into the world. There is no way of confirming what went wrong but excitement for the new arrival was dampened.                         
This loss is a natural world story in itself. Timing is everything for human observations in the woods. It happened the Museum director was checking things out on the loon cam a couple days after the first baby appeared and noticed some unrest on the nest.                                                                                  
Digital in hand, she captured some remorseful moments for the new mother as she examined her motionless chick. Then mother loon sadly removed the shell parts piece by piece dropping them into the lake water. All this time the lively first hatched was trying to keep up with her during the housekeeping chores.                                                                                                
This seldom, if ever seen chapter of life in the animal world can be viewed on the Chik Wauk Facebook page, just scroll down… click on the nested loon photo… and listen too.                          

In another more amusing “wild neighborhood” observation, I’ve been watching one of those little red rodents apparently doing some pre- winter preparations.                                                      
If you followed my winter time scribing you might remember reference to a squirrel cashing in on my daily seed distributions with trip after trip to a secret cache in a snow drift below my deck.                                                                                                                                             
I don’t know if this is the same one, but it sure could be. The little gal/guy is still on the run each day with seed after seed trip after trip, non-stop, scampering into a hollow, in the log rip-wrap, close to the winter time warehousing. There must be a zillion seeds down its’ burrow.  Each trip is near 100 feet round trip. Watching those stubby legs, makes me think how pooped the little one must be, by days’ end.                                                                                     
The Community Radio station of the northland is in the midst of its’ summer membership drive as this Gunflint scoop comes your way. The 2020 summer theme is “Honoring Volunteers” not only at WTIP which is Volunteer driven in so many ways, but all Volunteers.                                                                                                                                         

Not only is this Pandemic world changing for everyone, a “new normal” is evolving for the radio source, upon which, all of us rely. WTIP is counting on a contact from our listening audience to help see us through these unpredictable times.                                                    
With distancing the new norm, the drive organizers ask pledges to be made on-line at; (click on pledge now… for donating options) or mail in a support gift to PO Box 1005 Grand Marais 55604.                                                                                                                                      
The drive runs through noon on Monday, but don’t wait until the last minute. Show your support today!!!                                                                                                                                                    
 For WTIP this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail where every day is majestic among the towering pines!!!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - July 03

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
July 3, 2020    
While some people thrive on hot sticky, beach cruising conditions, the moose and I find such miserable. And that’s just what it is, misery in the making as we celebrate Independence Day number 244.                                                                                                                     

“Sunstroke is no joke!” Such can be a distinct possibility in many places across the nation including border country on this holiday weekend as “Sol” gives us a dose of southern heat. With north woods natural air conditioning out of order for fireworks celebrations, the moose and me, declare frost cannot come soon enough! Sure makes winter look not so bad.            

In the meantime, the sun is taking its toll on both land and water. The blistering heat has enhanced drought conditions throughout the upper Trail. June ended with a meager thirty day rain total of slightly over three-fourths of an inch along the south shore of Gunflint Lake. The “lions’ share” of that fell in the first two weeks. At Wildersmith, we’ve counted just six one-hundredths of an inch in the past ten days.                                                                                        

The crunchy forest is a wildfire accident waiting to happen. Those of us living in the woods are thankful the agencies in charge have at long last put a burning ban into effect over the forest. With hundreds, if not thousands, of people out in the wilderness over the next days and weeks, it is just a matter of time until some human would make a bad decision with a campfire. “Smokey the Bear” is likely pretty growly about this arid situation, so let’s not stir him up!                                                                                                                                                   

It is my suggestion residents of the territory start activating their WF sprinkler systems a couple times a week until the spell ends. This is not a cure all, but a good measure to create an umbrella of protective moisture over your property just in case.                                                                 

I don’t get lake level reports from around the area, but I do report levels to the DNR for Gunflint Lake. Since the official gauge went into the lake on June 12th, at the Wildersmith dock, the lake has gone down a good four inches. This is a lot of water, gone in a short time, and worse, since the lake level was diminished even before the snow melt dried up. To say we need rain is an understatement!                                                                                                                                   

On a brighter note, another celebration occurs in concert with the usual Fourth of July explosives. The Ojibwe, “half-way moon” is ushering in part two of 2020. It would be nice if the lunar happening is the only thing lighting the dark sky at this flashing, boom-boom time, for fear igniting a potential disaster.                                                                                                           

Another celebratory occasion of local interest is added to the weekend of events. The Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center marks the tenth anniversary of opening its’ doors to share the romance and saga of the Gunflint Trail, but COVId-19 has spoiled a planned gathering of members and friends.                                                                                                      

However, during the hiatus, the GTHS is inviting all to a virtual party on Saturday. Check it out on Chik-Wauk .org via Facebook for a special program. The party is produced by staff and the summer interns, culminating with a real cake.                                                                                              
In addition to reminiscing the first ten years, a virtual grand opening of the new Interpretive Cabin will feature a sneak preview of what visitors can experience when the Campus does re-open.                                                                                                                                    

Speaking of re-opening, the Chik-Wauk Campus is schedule to re-open next Friday, the tenth, pending any un-expected state-wide health department mandates. Any change in the date will be announced on the CW website.                                                                                  

Visitors should expect restrictions based on CDC recommendations. Bring a mask, sanitized hands and some patience as Chik-Wauk welcomes in visitors.                                                 

In closing, listeners are reminded of the summer membership drive which commences this coming Wednesday, July 7th. While the format has been altered by the Pandemic, the intent remains the same. And the “good times” will be rolling as usual, only from a distance, as we are now getting somewhat used too.                                                                                                             

The WTIP crew will miss your call in voices or in studio visits, so pledges on-line or by mail will fill the void. Until we can meet again more cordially, keep rowing the boat through these turbulent waters! Thanks in advance for continuing to support Northshore Community Radio!                                                                                                                                                              

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is storied, with pioneering mystique!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - June 26

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
June 26, 2020
June is in its last days as this Gunflint report is airing. While minutes, days and weeks have not changed in length, the first half of 2020 nevertheless has evaporated amidst turmoil and tragedy the likes of which U.S. history has not recorded.                                                                                      

Although many issues of this COVID mess remain in a raging mode, one can only hope the year’s second half is not a remake. It will only be possible, if WE the people make it happen through continuing safe practices.  The nasty, is not over!   
In the meantime, we’ve reached the pinnacle of “Sol’s ascension into the northern hemisphere. With just under sixteen hours of sunrise to sunset time, and adding an hour plus of twilight time at each end, we are in a border country version of the mid-night sun.                                                

I’ve discovered such conditions of extended daylight find the hummingbirds having started their engines as early as four in the morning, and still landing at our sweetness station going on ten in the evening. That’s a lot of beats per day on those delicate wings, and uncountable slurps of nectar.                                                                                                                       

Another remarkable story from our natural world came my way recently from the west end of Gunflint Lake. It seems a frantic call came out from a resident explaining they had a duck or something down in their cabin chimney. Wondering if a neighbor could help, investigation found it was in fact, a large duck.                                                                                                                           

The animal seemed near the bottom, but was not accessible through the fireplace. Since a duck cannot fly straight up this was a complex dilemma. With a bit of Gunflint ingenuity this man of the hour was suddenly cast in the role of hero or zilch. Sizing things up, he rigged up a snare of plastic conduit and flag pole rope.                                                                                                             

While not sure if this could work and if the creature could even be lassoed, let alone be saved, it seemed the only alternative. The idea was to snare the duck around the neck and pull it up the dark hole. Would the outcome be good?                                                     

Nevertheless, shining a light down while feeding the snare toward the “quacker”, luck was on “ducky’s” side, the rigging fell in place as hoped. With a careful tug, cinching the braided necktie, up the chimney it rose.                                                                                                                           
This Good Samaritan, who is always at beckons call through-out the territory, grabbed the duck not knowing what to expect. Loosening the mini noose, in a blink of an eye the soot covered critter was off into the wild blue yonder, to the cheers of excited observers. What a lucky duck!   
Asked what kind it was, this duck savior replied, it was a “black” duck. How the duck got into this quandary is not known. It could be the duck perched atop the warm chimney on a brisk cold day, perhaps dozed off and fell in. This speaks well for having a screening cap on ones chimney.                                                                                                                                  

Another piece on things that fly has my attention lately. I have never observed such numbers of white admiral butterflies along the Mile O Pine. Only “Mother Nature” knows why.
The Chik-Wauk loons are still on the nest, and perhaps there will be a happy announcement coming around Independence Day.                                                                                         

It is always a thrill to be in the presence of a “wild neighborhood” critter as long as one is not being considered as menu item. My most recent experience was crossing path with a momma bear and her triplet cubs. I don’t know who was startled most, yours truly or the Bruno family.     
Folks will want to keep track of the virtual programming from up at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center. Daily snippets ranging from Phrenology on Mondays to night sky on Saturdays can be found via CW social media platforms.  Check them out!                                         

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is celebrated, with the pomp of nature!

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - June 19

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
June 19, 2020    

Whereas summer has been edging its way in for several weeks, the season is official as this Gunflint scoop hits the air. Summer Solstice is a happy time for some folks and a bit disconcerting for others at the realization daylight minutes will soon begin diminishing. Whatever the case, there’ll be ninety days of fun and sun.                                                                                                                     

The past few Gunflint days have been quite summer like after a bout of June chill late in week two. While not happening frequently, there have been frosty days in month six. The territory along with most of northern Minnesota experienced a couple mornings of light frost or at least pretty darn close. It was enough to cause serious North Country garden growers to cover up some of their tender sprouts.                                                                                                                                    
As the thermometer has been like a yo-yo, the upper Trail has returned to dust bowl conditions. It sure doesn’t take long for the forest to dry out, and we are choking on dusty back country roads. Early days of the new month looked like we were getting out of the semi-arid rut prior to green-up, but the past week could only muster slightly more than a dampening of the rain collection tube in this neighborhood.                                                                                                                            

“Mother earth” meanwhile, must have held on to snow melt under the canopy as the bloom of summer is in full swing. The ground level rainbow is spirited with both perennial natives and some beautiful, but noxious non-native invasives. Although not yet at the peak, uncountable golden blossoms are lining the byway, interspersed with lupine and occasional wild roses, and just think, there’s more to come.                                                                                                                                                

Although the Chik-Wauk Museum Campus facilities are closed, many visitors are walking in to trek the hiking trails. I received a report from a foursome who recently hiked the Blueberry Trail, sharing a colorful experience. I’m told they counted 122 (pink) moccasin flowers and a great number of golden lady slippers. Their exercise had to be a wonderful way to brighten what have been some gloomy moments for peoples of the world, during the past three plus months.                                                                                                                                                                           
While lamaenting the annoyances of our iconic nipping north woods insects in recent weeks, I’ve also observed some pleasant happenings. In recent days, I happened upon a puddling of butterflies, at one of the few damp spots along the Mile O Pine.                                                                                                                     

One occasion was of the Fritillary family and the other was Canadian Swallow Tails. With uncountable thousands of these delicate creatures on the edge of an “insect apocalypse” it is not only intriguing, but also encouraging to see a congregating of these magic members of our ecosystem.                                                                                                                                                                                   

I was in the lake water this past weekend working with a friend to put in the dock and boat lift. At fifty-four degrees, I must say the water temp was a far cry from the high thirties of May 6th when I set out the wildfire sprinkler system lines. Nevertheless, when waves of the wet stuff splashed over top of my waders, it got my attention.                                                                                                                 

In other matters of water, brief conversations with a couple fishermen, indicate unhappiness with catching of late. I don’t know if it was the same for everyone, but by indications of packed parking lots at lake access points along the Trail, there were a lot of anglers out having a good time. Fishing is always great, but sometimes the catching is not.                        

On a related note about floating craft, it makes me wonder if there is anyone in America who does not own a canoe or kayak. They are uncountable traveling up and down the Trail these days.                                                                                                                                                                                            
 In closing, since the Wildersmith dock is now into the lake, the Smith’s enjoyed the first of many moments last Sunday, mesmerized by the beauty of blue skies, lush green mountain sides and rippling waters. I assume many others in Gunflint territory are doing the same!  Life by the water couldn’t be anymore sparkling! Happy summer!                                                                                                                             

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day seems unrivaled, until the next!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - June 12

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
June 12, 2020    
Wrapping up week two of June finds the wildland of border country settling into early summer in a sea of green. The countless shades of green are just amazing. “Mother Nature” must have chlorophyll of all hues in her veins.

Weather in the territory has been pleasantly refreshing with some natural air conditioning. Last Sunday was even more than cool as another load of firewood was consumed by the wood-burning stove taking the chill off forty-degree temps. It has since warmed a bit.

A blessing from the heavens surely lowered wildfire danger on the same day. I don’t have reports from other places along the Byway, but the Wildersmith gauge gulped up over one and six tenth inches.

We haven’t had a rain like this one in ages. The forest had its’ thirst quenched at least for the time being. This is good too as there have been a number of small fires set in the Superior National Forest during the past two weeks, all blamed on ill-advised human decisions with campfires. Some folks will never learn!

This liquid happening not only created mud puddles we haven’t seen since the ice and snowmelt, but likely was critical to blueberry crop development. So it seems 2020 opportunities for the blue gems could be great with both moisture in the ground and those terrorist, black fly pollinators, buzzing at the ready.

It is likely with the big rain renewing depleted streams, running water will bring on another wave of the bloodthirsty critters. While berry augmentation is so important to our sweet tooth, we’d better be careful for that which we wish. There will be an increased surge of bites and annoying itching. And, if they don’t get you, the mosquitoes will surely pick-up any slack in this seasonal insect picnic with humans being the featured entre.

If the word hasn’t reached some listeners yet, the Covid-19 has resulted in the cancelation of the annual fundraisers for support of the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department. Nevertheless, organizers of the Gunflint Trail Canoe Races and the Mid-Trail Property Owners Auction festivities recognize a continuing need to sustain operations and equipment replacements for our Trail Heroes. So things are going to look different in 2020.

It’s “bearly” a day when I don’t see a picture of some north woods “Bruno” posted on line. There must be more than a “sloth” of the ebony critters, or else a few are making widespread travels through the forest for photo ops.

On another note, the Chik-Wauk Campus staff is re-energized at the return of the missing loon pair. The hope is re-nesting will result in the miracle of a new generation which could be expected around 4th of July.

In other news from end of the Trail, after months of winter weather delays and the Pandemic, there is a chance the all-sky camera will be up and running on the Chik-Wauk Campus by next week at this time. Check Chik-Wauk .org for an official announcement.

Finally, in Gunflint Trail Historical Society news, although the usual June, General Membership meeting was cancelled, due to the Pandemic, the Board of Trustees met in Zoom on June 8th.

The Board is pleased to announce results of mail-in balloting for the election of new Trustees. Elected for two year terms were; David Coleman of Clearwater Lake, Lee Hecimovich of Poplar Lake, Bruce Kerfoot, Tucker Lake and LaRaye Osborne of Poplar Lake.

The GTHS welcomes our new leadership, and with deep gratitude, thanks Barbara Bottger, Judy Edlund, Bud Darling and Les Edinger for their dedicated contributions over multiple terms of service.

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is curious, and naturally amazing!


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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - June 5

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
June 5, 2020
As days fly by so quickly, it is not surprising the planet is already a week into month six. While life along the Gunflint Trail sails by too, it’s less complex in un-organized territory.                                            
n the last days of May, conditions in the atmosphere were fairly pleasant with moderate daytime warmth and cool comfy nights. In fact during a couple nights, it was down-right chilly. I had to cover my tomato plants, and one of those evenings required a revival of the wood burning stove.                                                                                                                                                         

The territory was even surprised with a fine rain on one overnight. Most of the upper Trail measured about a much needed inch, with the rain gauge here clocking in at nine tenths. But all the soaking power is past now and we are back to dusty roads and crunchy underbrush.                                                                 

With the passing of Memorial Day and glorious rain, the Northland can put a stamp of approval on summer, even though the calendar claim is two weeks away. Leaf out is now achieved as the maple trees in upper Gunflint reaches have finished the process.                                                         

I’m now energized watching the growth of next generation branches on trees of the coniferous forest. Those long hidden buds have emerged into fuzzy candles, soon to be tender arms of evergreen splendor, reaching to the heavens.                                                                                                      

Meanwhile, the next blooms in line are smiling sunwards. Forget-me –nots, have forgotten us not, with columbine, lady slippers and wild strawberry blossoms leading into the summertime parade of color and sweetness.                                                                                                                                  

Speaking of strawberry blossoms, the timing of their arrival couldn’t have been more appropriate. The Ojibwe, “strawberry moon” is cast for the lead role in the cosmos this weekend. The lunar experience will be at its’ fullness tonight after partial cameos the past few days.                                                                                                                                                                                            

Elsewhere in the wild blue yonder, the latest lift-off from Cape Canaveral was a splendid exercise in jet propulsion. But I find such drive is trifling to the lightning speed of hummers around the Wildersmith nectar station in the past few days. I think it’s of interest the Hummingbird dexterity in changing directions at top speed would be beyond the likes of Spacex and NASA engineering. And these mini flyers can dock in space at the juice bottle with far less complexity. Nevertheless, both bird and rocket are marvels of creation.                                                                                                                                                                   

A little more on the “wild” side of things in our neighborhood, bear evidence is revealed along the Mile O Pine. While a close neighbor reports of a calling card left in his yard, the Smith’s have not been bothered to date, at least where we can tell.                                                                   

However, we did have a cute little “teddy” run across in front of the vehicle a few days ago. I’m guessing mamma heard us coming and rushed off into the bush as the little one just couldn’t make the stubby legs go fast enough to keep up. It was so cuddly. It’s too bad they have to grow up to be so growly.                                                                                                                                                                                
I’m told the missing loons at Chik-Wauk have been heard nearby, but not seen at their nesting platform. On other things that fly, I came across an informative article in the June/July edition of National Wildlife magazine. Entitled, “Bird Brainy” , author Jennifer Holland, talks of crows, sharing that these savvy black beauties thrive among us, both despite  us and because of us. After reading, I would suggest we humans reassess using the term “bird brain” so loosely, a murder of crows is pretty cagy. Catch this informative scribing on line or at your local library.                                                                                                                                                               

Speaking of Chik-Wauk, virtual programming will be ramping up content on social media in the coming week. To preview, I’m told by producers that Mondays, will be live streamed with naturalists Eddie, Josh and Micaela talking about Chik-Wauk goings-on, Wednesdays are going to be wildlife days, Thursdays will be throwback Thursdays, and Saturdays will starry Saturdays. Look for some cool things on Chik-Wauk SM platforms. They’d appreciate your likes.                                           

By the way, the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center opened to the public ten years ago July 4th. What a way to celebrate your tenth birthday, temporarily closed because of sickness.                                                                                                                                                                                    
On a closing note, thanks to the volunteers from the Gunflint Lake Property Owners Association and the Seagull-Saganaga Property Owners for cleaning up litter along the upper Trail. Together, they teamed-up to pick-up over 13 miles of human environmental disregard.                                                                                                                                                                                   

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is extraordinary, and some are even better!



Wildersmith on the Gunflint - May 29

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
May 29, 2020    

May turns the reins over to June kicking-off next week, and closes the books on month five after another dry week in the upper Gunflint territory. One can never put much faith in weather forecasting, but the way things have been going, there’s a 100% chance it will be doing something, hopefully wet along the Gunflint Trail.                                                                                                                                                                    
While there have been more clouds of dust along backcountry roads than puffs of moisture in the skies, conditions for us two legged beings have been splendid. Sunshine and warm temps have brought on the green.                                                                                                    

The deciduous forest has come alive with quaking aspen and birch, exploding under the influence of chlorophyll. A trip up the Trail from the Gunflint Lake look-out mimics a glorious emerald blanket draped on the granite mountainsides. In many places the curtain of camouflage has nearly masked all Ham Lake fire evidence of thirteen years ago.                                                           

At ground level, countless varieties of verdant sprouts have pierced the earth. Marsh Marigolds and those “Dandy” lions are beaming a buttery contrast to the growing sea of green. During my daily mail box run, I’ve been watching fiddleheads uncoil their lacy fronds by several inches per day, all in readiness for summers’ concert series. And our vision into the forest is soon to be totally obscured as dense lower underbrush of the wild lands fill in the voids.                                                                                                         
As I mentioned in the last scoop, the onslaught of biting bugs was minimal. Well, I take the ill-characterized opinion back. The nasties have exploded in a fury, same as our leaf out. “Skeeters”, black flies and a zillion other gnat sized terrorists have forced the issue with “bug dupe and netting.                                                                                                                                                     

Although all things are eco-purposed, one has to wonder why in heavens’ creation these mini-monsters could not have been programmed only for plant pollination with a taste for sweets instead of flesh. Oh well, this too will pass, come September!                                                        

Speaking of the other terror about us, one would think the Pandemic had evaporated like the last winter snow. Decoration Day weekend found the area engulfed with visitors. Parking lots at outfitters and resorts seemed packed with vehicles. While these business folks surely need help, residents of the Trail and all of Cook County hope the outsiders don’t open the flood gate to the deadly epidemic which hasn’t yet invaded border country.                                                

On a less serious note, one of our visitors time fishing with dad and two grandpa’s in North Lake over the holiday weekend was great! Smiles on the young angler’s face almost match the length of the trout he displays. See his happy face alongside the Wildersmith column under the drop down Community Voices at For those fisher people not so lucky, yes, there are fish to be caught, sometime.                                                                                                                                                               

“Mother Nature” operates in unpredictable ways at times. Such was the case on the loon nest in Sag bay at Chik-Wauk Museum Campus. Word comes to me telling of the loons having departed the site after setting-up housekeeping a couple weeks ago. The couple was there one afternoon and gone the next morning.                                                                                                                                                   

It’s a good bet they were driven off by either a black flies onslaught or by a member of the Sag Lake eagle convocation. A drone observation indicated there were no eggs in the nest. It is hoped the pair might return as this is known to have occurred at other sites and in other years, but nothing can be certain.                                                                                                                 

Warmth of the past week finished off the last reminder of winter 2019-20. Gone along the Mile O Pine is the final mound of white. In our neighborhood, we had white on the ground, in at least some form, since last November 11th, and it disappeared just a few days ago on May 23, totaling 97.25 inches.                                                                                                                                                                      
The season in general reflected our warming climate, not experiencing extended stints of bitter cold of years past. There were only three nights where the temperatures exceeded minus thirty, with the coldest Wildersmith readings of minus 34 on consecutive mornings, February 13 and 14.                                                                                                                                                                              
Official ice cover on Gunflint Lake came December 11 and departed May 5 which is about normal based on my data since 1982. Lake ice drillers tell of depth on the Gunflint being in the thirty plus range, and such hard water had difficulty gaining more thickness due to heavy insulating snow cover right after freeze –up.                                                                                                                
So that’s a wrap on winter at this wilderness place! Yes, it was beautiful, but we’re also happy to be seein’ green again!                                                                                                                                                    
On a closing note, while the Chik-Wauk exhibit facilities are closed for Pandemic reasons, an energetic crew has been planning virtual activities to maintain connections with the public.                                                                                                                                                                             
Visitors can now visit the Campus through the magic of technology by way of the website: or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter@chikwaukmuseum. Please check the sites regularly for cultural and natural history programming snippets both indoors and out around the site. The staff would love to hear from you!                                                                                                        

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as new woods adventures are revealed!