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Wildersmith on the Gunflint

Contributor(s): 
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 - October 30

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
October 30, 2020    
           
The northland and the universe bid October good bye under the brilliance of a “blue moon.” The Anishinaabe Band has a name for this 13th lunar happening of the year. For 2020, this celestial experience is between October’s “Falling Leaves” and the November “Freezing Over” renditions. Number thirteen is a “Big Spirit Moon”, chi manidoo giizis.                                         

 Our Indigenous neighbors proclaim the “blue moon” as a time of re-birth and healing. This “Big Spirit” couldn’t shine down on us at a more appropriate time!                                                

Since the falling leaves at this end of the Trail are a few weeks past, this weekend’s “Big Spirit” is a closer cousin to the “Freezing Over” moniker, with many smaller lakes having taken on the hard water look, although the actual full November moon is still thirty days away.                                                                      

As the big orb will be lighting up our night time life on Saturday evening, we may be able to set our clocks back to real time by the light, of the silvery moon. Yes, it’s time to regain our sense of reality as we “fall back” in our twice a year attempt to manipulate the natural world. One might as well make the timing move before retiring so an extra hour of slumber can be enjoyed Sunday morning.                                                                                                                                                                       

Gunflint Trail weather over the past seven days has lost the aroma of autumn. In fact, the essence is a frozen memory. Being traded for the scent of wood smoke, winter freshness has a familiar sting when one exits into the out-of-doors. While not bitter yet, we’re adjusting to the cold mode.                                                                                                                               

Some areas of the lower to mid-Trail got a good dose of snow, but the upper territory just received several lighter reps. Nevertheless, it has been enough to bring on some shoveling, driveway ploughing and some animal tracking. Although early, it surely looks the season, and if it hangs on until May, like last year in this neighborhood, it could be an eight month journey.  

There is likely some human grumbling about this early winter hit, but the cold and snow has likely convinced the “Bruno” population to crawl into winter quarters for a long winters nap, thus solving some problems. Let’s hope so, because I commenced with delighting the avian flocks by opening the deck side cafeteria. Arriving flights seem busy as it was when the hummingbirds were vying for sweet nectar.                                                                                                                                                                                

While those menacing bears may be out of our hair, another un-welcome visitor was up to some larceny down the road recently. A report came to me about a masked bandit, breaking into a place along Gunflint Lake’s south shore. An occasional raccoon rambles through the area, and this one is described as being larger than would fit in a large live trap, a real pig.                                 

 I’m told the Daniel Boone Hat look-a-like gained entry to a place, unlatched some cabinetry, made a mess and pilfered some goodies. How it was observed, I don’t know, but the furry thug is still on the loose. As these ring-tail critters are invasive, perhaps the local wolf pack might find this troublesome animal a menu alternative.                                                                                         
And speaking of wolves, with the fresh snow one day last week, I tracked one down the Mile O Pine during a run to the mail box. So the raccoon had better be looking back over its shoulder.                                                                                                                                                         
Glory be to the family of WTIP members, for the overwhelming showing of support during the “Phone a Friend” autumn fund drive. Congratulations to all who renewed their support, gave added donations as sustaining members and to 57 new members, a huge welcome. The family is well over thirteen hundred strong!                                                                            

WTIP is so grateful for your undying friendship, especially during what is a difficult time for so many people in our world of listeners. It is great to have friends like you, and we are so happy to be here for you! Thanks so much!                                                                                             
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail where every day is great in the woods, as we try to make sense of these troubling times. Keep on hangin’ on!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - October 23

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by    Fred Smith
October 23, 2020    

           
The march of autumn through month ten has either been stalled temporarily, or expired since we last met on the radio. The ground is white, the bird water dish is frozen, area ponds are skimming over and I don’t have my winter wheels mounted on the vehicle yet. But alas, the shovel is hanging by the back door with care, the snow blower started for practice on the second pull and the blade is attached to the pushing machine.                                                                                                                                            

If you have been following my scribing over the years, you might recall I have a simple, but unofficial way winter is declared to be in effect. While conditions might trend more temperate a bit in the days/weeks to come, I say it’s here when the mercury stays below the freezing mark for twenty four consecutive hours. Such was the case at Wildersmith last Saturday afternoon though Sunday.                                                                                                                                                                           

Further confirmation came from the avian world, as I was greeted along the Trail by the first flock of snow buntings exploding from the roadside shoulder as my vehicle approached. Another of the winged species, a Chickadee, was caught near me at the feed trough during a recent snow squall. The tiny bird looked to be giving me the eye, with a discerning gaze of, don’t you see me, it’s time; get a handful of seeds out here.                                                            

Meanwhile, our wet, windblown snow took down the “last leaf of summer” on the birch outside my window, now making that season a distant memory. Another observation, found a hanging Fuchsia plant gave into the “old man of the North” with icicles hanging from its leaves last Sunday morning. The oddity is, it was left out to be enjoyed as long as possible, because it was in the most beautiful condition of the entire blooming season. So it’s definitely time the call should be made for all to begin hunkering down, especially the bears.                                                                                                                                                
Having undeniable affection for winter, this is my favorite time. There is nothing more energizing than the first white covering on the landscape. And with the first snow, usually of the wet sticky nature, the coniferous forest was decked out waiting for the first shutter click of a Hallmark Card photographer. Snow is a wondrous element of the many atmospheric components as is turns a multitude of both man-made and natural ugliness into unmatched crystal magic.                                                                                                                                                               
The weekend of Cook County “Moose Madness” events passed with uncountable visitors along the Trail in hope of seeing one of those live north woods icons. How many live animals observed is unknown, probably few. A couple gals did report a cow and calf being spotted in some unannounced location along the Byway. The most likely sightings were “Murray the Moose” down in the village or “Mickey the Moose” in the Nature Center on the Chik Wauk Museum Campus.                                                                                                                        

While volunteering at the Nature Center on Saturday, I made several moose calling attempts to the enjoyment of several visitor groups. As you might expect, with commotion of vehicles and people, none came ambling out of the forest, but we all had fun!                                                                                                                                                                                    
A neighbor up the Trail shared weekend video of a young moose meandering around his cabin during two separate late night occasions. In between the moose ops, even more interesting was another video where audio caught a choral rendition from the end of the Trail wolf pack.                                                                                                                                              

There was a variety of howling tones which must have included some juveniles, all yet to change the yipping pitch of their puppyhood voices. One has to wonder if they had moose steak on their minds. We’ll hope not, but we’ll never know.                                                                            
 In closing, remember, WTIP has always had a friend in you. Why not give your Community Radio friend a call?  Its’ the “Phone a Friend” membership renewal time, and furthermore, WTIP is hoping to add new friends to the list.                                                                                      

WTIP is in the midst of this third and final drive for support in 2020. Continuing pledges of support are very important during this Pandemic tragedy.                                                     

Phone lines are open, and the website is waiting for you to click on and pledge now.  It’s WTIP.org or locally call 218-387-1070 or toll free, 1-800-473-9847. Won’t you be our Friend?            

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, even when the weather outside is frightful!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - October 15

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
October 16, 2020    

Surpassing the half way mark of month ten, finds autumn activities are slowly grinding to a halt. Even though fall, by the calendar, is not quite a month old, “leaf peepers”, hikers, fisher people and back country paddlers are coming to grip with the idea favorite warm season ventures are about done.  Here at Wildersmith, with barely a hand full of golden tokens hanging on, I’m watching two Birch trees outside my window for the last leaf of summer.                                                                                                                                               

Yes, hunters are still out in the woods, but for all practical purposes, this complicated 2020 summer is history. A few summer businesses have closed and others will be following suit real soon. Getting close to the shoulder season, those with winter operations will be pausing to catch their breath and gear up for activity in the season of white.                                                                             

The county will be alive one more time this weekend as the annual “Moose Madness” events will capture the attention of visitors from around the state. While most activities take place in Grand Marais, traffic along the Gunflint By-Way will likely be busy in hope live moose will come out of the forest for some photo ops. For a complete schedule of events, check out the website at Cook County Visitors Bureau (CCVB).                                                                                                       

In case the “real McCoy’s” don’t show along the Trail or back country roads, folks can come on up to the Nature Center at Chik Wauk and get an up close look at the new moose exhibit. The moose recently donated by a generous Gunflint Lake family is a handsome dude and very photogenic. The donors called him “Mickey Moose”                                                                                                                                                
Speaking of Chik Wauk, the Campus facilities will be closing the doors for the season after Sunday. Museum hours are 10:00 ‘til 5:00 while the Watercraft Exhibit Building and Nature Center are open this Saturday only, 11:00 ‘til 4:00.                                                                                             
Atmospheric happenings in the territory have been of little consequence since our last gathering around the radio. A positive rain fall in this neighborhood during the past few days dampened the landscape and likely enhanced the essence of the season. Meanwhile, temps were neither too warm nor too cold, but several gusty days made a sweater or sweatshirt feel comfy.                                                                                                                                                             

WTIP members are reminded of the annual organizational meeting this coming Monday, October 19 at 7:00pm. The meeting will be “Virtual” as a Zoom or telephone Webinar. Go to WTIP.org for link information on connecting ID numbers.                                                                

The annual report will be given, and members will vote for 2020-21 Board of Director candidates. This is an important meeting in light of the COVID-19 situations affecting your community radio station over the past nine months, so please join in!                                                   

Notice is also given in regard to the Fall Membership drive. The five and one-half day event commences this coming Wednesday, October 21, and continues until noon on Monday the 26th. As nearly every aspect of our daily lives has been altered since last February/March, the same is true of life at WTIP, thus making this campaign for member support even more critical than past solicitations.                                                                                                                                            

While millions have been infected by this tragic virus, there are few Americans who have not been linked into related economic strains. The WTIP Board of Directors, staff and your fellow members hope all will be able to step up in some way----- either as a new member or with a renewal of your patronage.                                                                                                                             

The theme of this fall endeavor is “Phone a Friend.” Since mutual friends help friends, please give us a call when the drive opens next Wednesday or sooner, if you would like.          

As studios remain closed to the public due to this Pandemic, operators will be waiting for your call at 218-387-1070 or 1-800-473-9847. Of course pledges are also accepted on line at WTIP.org and click on the pledge now button.                                                                                                              

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as the awe of nature favors solace and inspiration!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - October 09

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
October 9, 2020
    
           
Autumn along the Gunflint has been a mixed bag in recent days. Some days have been sparkling and others clotted with leaden clouds. At the moment, early October doesn’t seem to know which way it’s headed.                                                                                                                               

Chilly temps brought on the scent of wood smoke from stoves and fireplaces last weekend, but since then things have moderated somewhat. Before this current mercury up-tick, parts of the territory got a brief preview of winter precipitation with flurries, snow squalls and a little sleet on a couple occasions. While white evidence did not last long on the warm earth, the volume was so minimal it did little to alleviate the continuing dry spell.                                                                     
 
Testimony to the on-going dryness is noted in streams and rivers. A trip up Round Lake Road toward Tuscarora finds the Cross River flowing barely a trickle. Further up the Trail, the mini waterfalls on Larch Creek above the Seagull Guard Station is bone dry, and Seagull Creek looks also to be only on an over the shoe level.                                                                                          

Most lakes are on the same low level list too. I recently noticed the bay of Saganaga Lake at the Chik Wauk Museum Campus is so shallow a small squadron of ducks was able to dive and collect morsels off the bottom without getting their tail feathers wet. This is all so sad, but what are you going to do? Prayers for wet relief are not being answered.                                

Meanwhile, the tinted spirits of fall have peaked. Along the Mile O Pine, there are now more leaves on the ground than on our trees. The final component of our color show, the Tamarak conifers, is into the final autumnal chapter. The delicate needles are taking on their usual October golden tone. This happening is so awesome as these trees have such contrast with the evergreen surroundings. And as winds have churned from all directions on the compass lately, coniferous cousins have pretty much released all old growth needles.                                                                                          

So “Mother Nature” has just about completed her “getting ready for winter” job. She will soon be turning over reigns to “Jack Frost” and that “old Man winter” for the freezing aspect of life in the north woods.                                                                                    

Speaking of “getting ready” yours truly is whittling away at my list. I can count on one hand the chores remaining which will include a snow blower check, mounting of the snow blade and polishing up the shovel.                                                                                                                      

A report came to me just days ago of an unusual game bird observation. The scene might happen often, but is seldom seen. A couple discovered a covey of grouse in a tree near their lakeshore. There were ten, of the seemingly simple minded birds, apparently harvesting munchies. I’m calling this gathering “a covey, in a birch tree” which could be substituted in the lyrics of a holiday song favorite. A digital is shared that can be found on the WTIP website with the Wildersmith Column under Community Voices drop down.                                    

Sadness hangs over the Gunflint Community like November clouds as another of our dear neighbors has passed from our midst. Word was received last Saturday on the death of Julie Henricksson. Julie and renowned/author husband John were mainstays on the south shore of Gunflint Lake for many years until difficult health issues forced a move away from their beloved wild land summer home, to assisted living in Lake Elmo, MN. Gunflint Community condolences are extended to John and her daughters, along with uncountable friends and neighbors.                                                                                                                                                        
A reminder to area residents, while the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic flu shots drive through at Gunflint Lodge had to be canceled last Tuesday, the process is to be re-scheduled for another date. Please keep an ear to the ground for the new time. Get those flu shots!                            

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as natural magic engulfs each day.
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - October 02

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
October 2, 2020    
         
The gate is open, and here is October. We’d better pay attention or this segment will pass us by quickly as did the month nine cousin.                                                                        

It is noteworthy the Ojibwe, “falling leaves” full moon peaked when the calendar turned over, and if that lunar occasion wasn’t enough astronomical radiance, we’ll be catching a “blue moon” before November flips the page.                                                            

October winds will be puffing a harsher theme, sunrise will be getting later, shadows will be getting longer, dark skies will come earlier and silence of the forest will become deeper. It is also likely the landscape could be white in time for the “blue moon” arising on the thirty-first day.                                                                                                                            

Since the last time we met on the radio, and before month ten squeezed in, the upper Gunflint reached the summit of our 2020 “Technicolor” spectacle. You’ve heard me say this before, but the show this year looked to be the best ever during my twenty-one observations. When “Sol” has been on high beam, the collage of hues is nearly blinding.                                           

Quickly as the colorful glow of fall grew, the majesty is beginning to take some final bows. Maples are dripping scarlet flakes and the slightest breath of wind has birch and aspen in squalls of golden tokens. All of which are blanketing back country roads with an endless tribute to summer memories. By the time this report hits the air many bare branch skeletons will be lurking over-head, and sighting through the woods will be visibly improved.                                                   

Sometimes it seems like all one has to do is to speak up or whine a bit, and good things trickle forth. Such is the case with my comment last week about missing aromas of the season. The essence of autumn was soon after enhanced when this neighborhood got a nice soaking rain. Eight tenths were recorded over a couple days. The much needed moisture seems to have nourished an on-set of fall fragrances. Guess pungency may have been waiting for the official first day of the changing season.                                                                                           
On a recent trip to the Village, some nature reflections were captured on several Trail side lakes. Especially provocative was a perfect likeness of the gold and green shore line forest reflected off the mirror smooth Swamper Lake.                                                          

The past couple of weeks have been a “shutterbugs” delight. So too for “leaf peepers’ as visitors are keeping the black top busy. It must also be an art lovers’ joy, driving the Trail through this natural exhibit and opting a stop at the annual GM Art Colony Studio Tour over at Hungry Jack Outfitters.                                                                                                                                                   

While “wild neighborhood” critter reports have been minimal, we know they are out there somewhere. Recent trail cam shots at the Chik Wauk Campus have recorded wolves, bear and lynx confirming their existence with a candid photo op.                                                     

The Smith’s verified there are still moose to be found after not having observed one for months. A handsome dude in full regalia greeted us along the Trail between Birch and Mayhew Lakes during the same trip mentioned earlier.                                                                          

The big fellow startled us a bit and then decided to run alongside the vehicle for a short distance before heading off into woodsy obscurity. I can only guess this iconic guy was looking for a girl-friend. Seeing a moose was an added North woods treat to the colorful excursion.          

The melodic chirping of small avian has slacked off to mostly that of chickadees and red breasted nuthatches. Meanwhile, the ranting and raving chorus of crows/ravens and blue jays along with a percussive pileated woodpecker are catering accompaniment for enjoyment of the days to come in our October verse. The Gunflint Trail, a gift for the senses!                                 
For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is magical, marvelous and miraculous!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - September 25

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
September 25, 2020    

GREETINGS…THIS IS NEWS…AND A VIEW…FROM THE GUNFLINT TRAIL
 
Here we are once again; September engine 2020 has roared past Gunflint station with the old caboose a few lengths from heading off into oblivion. It’s hard to imagine we are humming the final stanza of a September song.                                                                                       

Recent days in the upper Gunflint have been splendid. Temps have bounced back from last weeks’ frostiness to more normal expectations…under smoke filtered sunshine. The warmth has even aroused some members of the insect population.                                                          

Meanwhile the smoke from those west coast infernos is caught in the jet stream and is high aloft, dimming “Sol’s beam. Luckily, to date, the usual noxious smell and ensuing air quality difficulties seem to be minimal around Wildersmith.                                                              

Like a broken record there is no good new with regard to rain since our last meeting. A few drops last Saturday morning is all we have been able to muster along the Mile O Pine, barely dampening the dust.                                                                                                                        

This in mind, a component of autumn is missing. Although color aspects are full speed ahead, the aromatics of dank earth and decaying leaves is not yet wafting through the forest. So woods users are kicking up dust and crunching a very dry landscape until “Mother Nature” opens the spigot to allow the delight of seasonal pungency.                                                                                                                                                         

While parts of the upper Trail are in varying stages of fall intensity, the Mile O Pine is beyond vivid. There is little to say that was good about the 1999 Derecho but the big blow down did allow sunshine to enable a sparse advancement of maples in places of the upper Trail.                                                     

Twenty plus years later, we are beyond the spoils of the tragedy as scarlet beauties are on fire. The crimson is mingled with oranges and golds against the evergreen back drop in a breath taking mosaic. Every day seems to get a little brighter and in the words of distinguished… Phenologist and educator Larry Weber they are “tree---mendous!                        

All who live along similar pristine pathways are enjoying gift while it lasts’. Knowing this awesome happening is short lived, unfortunately, a melancholy end to this spectacle is in the cards.                                                                                                                                                    

Some tokens of gold and rust have already started to descend from their summer connection, and are being windrowed by the few passing neighborhood vehicles. The array of golden rows along the roadway brings to mind that our back country pathways will be outlined in white after a few more weeks are recorded.                                                                                                                                                            
Earlier in our week, stiff breezes created a mini blizzard of coniferous needles. These elder generation needles are adding another layer of landscape carpeting to the “duff” accumulation of thousands of years. Talk about plush!                                                                                                                                            

The rut is on in “moosedom.” Over in the Iron lake area, some grouse hunters reported a first sign setting the stage for establishing territory and attracting attention of a member of the fairer gender. They came upon an area of tree bark scrapes and a lot of hoof prints crushing the surrounding brush. Ungulate romance is in the air!                                                    

Speaking of grouse, good reports are coming in from hunters on their first weekend, and DNR information tells of many successes for bear chasers as well.                                                                                      

The Gunflint Community is saying good bye to a family of historical renown. Bruce Kerfoot, son of the iconic Justine, and wife Sue are departing the North woods next week. Bruce who has lived on the Gunflint Trail since birth, and Sue will be moving south into Missouri, establishing new residency near son Robert and his family.                                                   

Legends of the Kerfoot family date back to the 1920’s, and Bruce has observed Gunflint Trail history unfold on a daily basis for all of his eight decades living around and operating Gunflint Lodge.                                                                                                                                               
Both Bruce and Sue are living chapters of Gunflint Trail history. And, their contributions to the Gunflint Community are uncountable.                                                                                                                                                                     

While they plan to winter in their new digs to the south, I’m told they plan on summers back on the Trail. So they will continue ties with many old friends and neighbors.                                                  

The Gunflint Community wishes them the best in their new life endeavors and always welcomes them back to their place of many memories!                                                                             

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, as “Mother Nature” whispers “can do” with confidence.
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - September 18

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by    Fred Smith
September 18, 2020    

Our Gunflint September keeps on “rollin’ along, just as its eight predecessors have. The colorful leaf revue is now in the spotlight as the Equinox makes autumn official in just a few days.                                                                                                                                                             

The north land cold spell of last week has backed off a bit, dishing up more splendid days. Although, a few evenings have still required ambiance from crackling embers in the wood burning stove.                                                                                                                                    

While we all savor the recent pleasantness, it has been of little benefit to the drought like conditions of late. Places in the upper territory are crispy as falling leaves begin to accumulate and ground level brush turns tinder dry.                                                                              

The terror of wildfire along the west coast is an eerie reminder of what this area endured with the scorching Ham Lake Inferno of 2007. Burning of any kind should be exercised with caution whether resident or visitor. Probably wouldn’t hurt to test those wild fire sprinkler systems as a precautionary note. It seems a burning ban would be prudent!                                                                                                                     
 Activity in the forest continues with many visitors flooding area outfitters and resorts. It will become even more crowded this weekend with the addition of hunters for the grouse season opener.                                                                                                                         

With warning to all hunters, please be safe with those firearms and extra cautious with anything that could ignite the forest. And a warning as well to those “Minnesota Chicken” birds, you’re in the sights as a menu item this weekend.                                                                                                  
While the water temps on Gunflint Lake continue to ooze downward, so too is the lake level. It has been below the last notch on the DNR gauge at my dock for two weeks now.                            

I have lived here twenty-one years and never seen the “Gunflint Gal” so low. I was even nervous about getting the boat off the lift for its trip to winter storage, but made it OK. It is doubtful things will change by ice time as any precipitation will be gobbled up by the dry earth before running off the watershed.
                                                                                                         
So as days fly by, I try to check off at least one item from the “getting ready” list each day. Knowing really nice days are limited a few more chores were crossed off since we last met. These were some of the easiest, and I continue procrastinating on some of the less pleasant. You’ll find me in the lake this weekend as some good guys from metropolis will help me bring the dock ashore.                                                                                                                                                                        

Isn’t it exciting learning the sky canopy over the BWCA and Superior National Forest has been officially recognized as one of 13 darkest sky regions on the planet by the International Dark Sky Association? I guess most of us who live here already knew this by just looking up at night.                                                                                                                                                                  

We Gunflinters will soon be able to share this with the world. Final technical adjustments for the All Sky Camera, at Chik Wauk Museum, are nearing completion for beaming end of the trail digitals from the heavens.                                                                                             

 It has been a slow week for “wild neighborhood” critter reports. Neighbors down the road have been experiencing bear visits to their yard, but none have bothered us at Wildersmith to date. There may be others, but I’m not hearing of recent bear shenanigans.                  

A note of concern comes from folks up at end of the Trail who last year indicated what they believed was a spike in moose numbers, but this year things appear to have changed. With few animals being observed, the word is there are a couple wolf packs patrolling territories up that way and competition for prey maybe the reason for the downturn. Hopefully the big critters are there somewhere and have been just cooling it in obscurity of the fir forest.                                             

If sadness of the missing moose isn’t enough, I regret reporting one of our upper Trail neighbors passed away recently. Mervin “Merv” Meeks lived along the Sag Lake Corridor on the Sag Lake Trail. Merv will be missed by not only his family but his Sag Lake friends and neighbors. Gunflint Community Condolences are extended to his wife Marilyn and all who knew and loved this kind man.                                                                                                                                                   

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where the power of nature is awesome, and every day is special, in the land of trees and water!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - September 11

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
September 11, 2020    

           
For many, September is one of the most exceptional times of the year. It is like a new year so to speak with many aspects of our culture re-upping. In Gunflint territory, we are on the cusp of the usual beautiful happenings over the next several weeks.                           

Whether it be late season fishing, waiting for a bear to take the bait, trekking back country for grouse, hiking a trail, doing dock time at the edge of ripping waters, cruising the Trail leaf peeping, taking one last paddle in the BWCA, catching a late day Canadian sun set or watching the dark sky, this is the place to be.                                                                                                             

While some “fall” rituals just occur, almost going un-noticed, others captivate attention with almost overnight changes or suddenly coming up absent from our warm season daily routines.                                                                                                                                                  

Waves of warblers have hit the air waves, hawks are cast toward warmer locales, Canadian honkers are wedging their way south and our hummingbirds may be drafting in honker airborne wake.  Last weekend the “hummers” were noticeably missing from the Wildersmith sweetness station after consuming countless bottles of simple syrup for weeks on end. And I’m betting some of our neighboring “snowbirds” have joined the migration too.                                                                                                                

Along the Trail and other back country roads the first real scarlet leaves are identifying our obscure population of sugar maples, and dashes of gold from last week are growing in mass taking over our rocky elevations.                                                                                                                  
At ground level, ferns of many species are fading to brown, and magically, a variety of mushroom are popping up where the previous day there was nothing. Including the water temp falling into the high fifties on Gunflint Lake, these are a few observations as we mellow into the times of growing calm and quiet places.                                                                                       

Atmospheric conditions have been joining in on this autumnal communal. We have been tinkering with high thirty degree readings until the last few mornings when freezing cold got serious. The area received some precipitation but usual trickles of roadside ditches have gone bone dry. When the upper Trail has been sunny, the days have been marvelous.                     

With the early September cold, I detected the first whiff of smoke from a neighbor’s wood burner in the middle of Labor Day. And as sundown closed out the holiday weekend, cool conditions and the relentless wind prompted the first seasonal firing of the Wildersmith wood stove. I’d almost forgotten how comfy it feels when that old stove is consuming a little birch.                                                                                                                                                          
Along with several annoying gusty days, outer wear has turned to sweaters, sweatshirts, and hats as a few winter chores have been checked off the getting ready list. If these conditions are a precursor to the real gales of late October and November, locals had better anchor things down.                                                                                                                                                                     

Speaking of “getting ready” chores, a few boats have been brought ashore for winter, and a pile of future years’ firewood has been stacked in the Wildersmith woodshed. In addition, some fire wise trimming and clean-up has been piled for white season burning.                                                                                                                                                                          

Bear activities are beginning to percolate over the “moccasin telegraph.” A recent report came to me about an attempted Ursa breaking and entering at a residence along South Gunflint Lake Road.                                                                                                                                                

In the wee hours of the morning a momma bear and her cubs clawed in through a window causing quite a stir. While the momma got part way through the opening, her cubs made it into a porch area before being discouraged by frightened residents.                                                  

Last week a visiting bear hunter reported a “wild neighborhood” parade of critters caught on the trail cam over his baiting station. A moose, two white tails, a fox, a wolf, a skunk, some grouse, a sundry of rodents and of course, a bear stopped by to investigate the aromatics, even consuming a good deal of the luring treats. Can you imagine a wolf with a donut in its mouth? Yup, a local Canis Lupis with a sweet tooth!                                                                                       

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, along the Gunflint Trail, where every day is a journal of natural marvels!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - September 04

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith
September 4, 2020    

           
As days fly by, so have the years. Yours truly is entering year eighteen of doing this weekly scoop on upper Gunflint Trail happenings. It hardly seems possible, but I can still remember Vicki Biggs-Anderson, then Editor of the Cook County News Herald twisting my arm to pick up the column that was briefly authored by Ginny Anderson of West Bearskin Lake, following decades of extraordinary reporting by Gunflint icon Justine Kerfoot.                                                   

Starting  September 2nd, 2002, the next seven years were spent scribing for the newspaper. I am delighted to have seen new opportunities open with this great WTIP Radio endeavor. Once again, my arm was wrenched by then station manager, Deb Benedict, and it has been a blessing for sure.                                                                                                                                                                                 

I’m so thankful for the many kind listeners who tune in each week, or read the Wildersmith website posting.  And to the staff that have been so accommodating, patient and helpful, I am so grateful.                                                                                                                                                    

So I’m off into the wild northland this week sharing tidings of autumnal arrival. A pleasant week saw “fall” gaining added momentum. Our recent step back to drought like conditions has been tempered with a timely rain in this neighborhood a few days ago. While the amount was not of the wash-out intensity, over one-half inch filled the puddles and moderated fire danger for the time being.                                                                                                                  

In spite of that dubious dry landscape situation, “Mother Nature” is a moving the ritual along toward the annual color spectacular. A trip along the Trail or back-country roads last weekend found several green things heading into the autumn times of their life.                          

Moose Maple leaves are in a state of rusty oxidation while the granite highlands are speckled with golden tokens on a growing number of paper birch. Along the Mile O Pine, the gravel pathway has begun to accumulate leaflet memories of a dwindling summer.                                    

With the Fireweed all but gone, other late season blooms are taking over. Golden Rod and lavender Asters are filling in to do battle for sun and rain along with a sundry of invasive blooms not worthy of mention.                                                                                                                        

In this mad world of un-ending technology advances, having a website or re-upping an out-of-date marketing concoction is a right of passing for survival so to speak. Living out in the wildland, somewhat distanced from urban madness, us woodsy folk still cannot escape watching web schemes either.                                                                                                                      
However, our web watch is more focused on the original fiber makers. As summer draws down, these days are the best for observing Arachnids at work, or at least, the results of their marvelous nighttime artistry.                                                                                                                           
Although “skeeters” are pretty much gone by now, there are still plenty of insects to be caught in a variety of spinner traps. After all, spiders have to eat too!                                              

At the Smith’s, we watched an orb web for several days as it hung on, glittering with dew in the early morning sun. What a remarkable creation, engineering preciseness that worked to a “T” catching night-time nutrition for some eight legged being. Before winds demolished it, the silken netting was strewn with uneaten bits of many late hour feasts.                                                                                                                     

Times of frost are nearing when the architects of thread will disappear for a few months. So put down your smartphones, get out and observe a “real” natural world web before it’s too late.                                                                                                                                                
With bear hunting season now open, and ruffed grouse seeking but two weeks away, all woods users are reminded to dig out the fluorescent apparel. “It is the season” to be seen in this dashing safety attire.                                                                                                                                                              

Another word on the “gathering season”, the tempo has stepped up around the yard with rodents of all kinds. Trip after trip with jowls packed full are the business of the day. Aside from breakfast, the gnawing little varmints are non-stop from trough to depositories unlimited. The little critters must have exceptional GPS systems in order to re-locate during cold snowy times                                                                                                                                                                  

As the meteorological summer is over, there will be some splendid days of colorful changes ahead. Plan a day trip up the Trail to enjoy this often short lived spectacle, and perhaps visit the magic of Chik Wauk. Trails and picnic sites will be splendid, and the Museum is open!                                                                                

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day, is captured with natural magnetism!
 

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Wildersmith on the Gunflint - August 28

As I mentioned thirty days ago, we’d better not blink twice, or we’ll miss month eight. Well, we are on the brink of flipping the page to September, and like most of our summer, August on the Gunflint has slipped away, nearly unnoticed.                                                                         

This whirlwind of days leads us into month nine with a quick visit from the Ojibwe, “wild rice” moon on the second day. So set eyes to the sky for another one of those great fall lunar shows.                                                                                                                                               
While talking of celestial happenings there are only two days left to tune in for the virtual dark sky caravan at facebook.com/UMDPlanetarium. Shows begin at 7:00 pm and Livestream the moon and planets at 8:30 p.m.                                                                                                                               

Northwoods weather has been of little consequence since our last meeting, not too hot and not too cold, with little precipitation in this neighborhood of the upper Gunflint. Meanwhile, the water temp on Gunflint is declining into the high sixties depending upon where readings are taken.                                                                                                                                                                   

I don’t receive many fishing reports from the area, but one of note came from a six-year-old who hooked his first big one last weekend while fishing with Grandpa on Gunflint Lake. Guess there was a lot of excitement in the boat when what turned out to be a ten-pound lake trout took the bait and ran. One can only imagine the look on the little guy’s face when the “lunker” was finally netted. See a picture of the youngster with his catch above.                   

While the words of the day for many months, has been “social distancing”, this scene has taken on a different look around our yard. A small gang of my “wild neighborhood” buddies gathers most every morning, like a group of human “geezers” gathering for coffee.                                                               

As listeners might recall, I have been spreading a row of seeds out on the ground in the AM for little birds and beings who care to partake. This scene is pretty much dominated by the red rodents nearby and occasionally a chipmunk or two.                                                                                       
On any number of days, there may be as many as seven or eight squirrels coming by for a bite and a little chatter. The interesting condition of this gathering is the arrangement of bodies. It seems un-imaginable these varmints configure themselves in a row, straight as a line of first graders headed for the school lunchroom. Catch this too they are evenly spaced, at about a foot or so apart.                                                                                                                                                            

If one was to physically place them in this manner, you couldn’t do it more precisely. It makes me wonder who is in charge. Is there an “alpha” in the group? Whatever, this takes “social distancing” to an unexpected level of compliance.                                                                                   

Keep an ear to the radio or eye to the web site; I’ll eventually have a camera in hand to announce and confirm this anomaly of the animal world.                                                                                                                            

Clouds of sadness hangover the Gunflint Community with the loss of two well-known friends and neighbors. Janice Anne “Rabbit” Matichuk passed away following a difficult illness on August 4/5 at her home in Atikokan.  Janice lived and traveled the upper Gunflint via Saganaga (Sag) Lake as the long time Cache Bay Ranger in the Quetico. She is survived by children Leif and Ingla and will be sorely missed by many Gunflint Trail friends and Sag Lake neighbors.                                                                                                                                                    

Dr. Kyle Edlund passed away as the result of a tragic plane crash into a lake near Ely on the night of August 20. Kyle, a dentist in Woodbury, and his family have longtime ties to the Gunflint Trail. He was an avid supporter and contributor to the Gunflint Trail Historical Society and Chik Wauk Museum. Kyle celebrated many special days at his cabin on Saganaga while fishing area lakes. He is survived by his parents, Judy and Jim Edlund of Road Lake along the Trail, his family and uncountable friends along the Gunflint.                                                                                                    

Community condolences are extended to the families of both Janice and Kyle.                                   

Another Gunflint tidbit comes from the Friends of the Gunflint Trail Fire Department. Final tabulations have been released regarding the “Safe Summer” fundraiser. Wow, a grand total of $57,543.00 was raised! Congrats and thanks to all!                                                                                    

In closing, another great day on the Gunflint found me catching a few rays and contemplating the wonderful forest around me. We Gunflint residents are so fortunate to be living in an “island of forest (Goodall).” This island of Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness satisfies a great passion for trees.                                                                                    

While varieties of trees display an ambiance separate from the cousins around them, they all have a commonality of constancy. Whether it is the expiration of life-sustaining oxygen or the absorption of our Co2 wastes, they even offer so much more.                                                                                        

One can name perhaps dozens of things trees may provide; like wide limbs of dense foliage to provide shade from “old Sol” or to protect us from the rain; homes for uncountable creatures of creation; sturdy roots to hold our earth in place; or whispering soft melodies in the breeze.      
                                                                                                                                                                          
Most of all these slender or thick, fibrous beings of the woods favor a place for peaceful refuge from the world around us. Trees are far more than leaves and needles above; they are a stronghold for order and serenity.                                                                                                                                                              

This being said, I find troubling, recent reports of visitors infiltrating this northern island of trees and abusing this precious creation with remnants of un-caring practices. There is no place for this. Attention humans, “leave no trace!”                                                                                                                                             

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is a precious sample of creations genius.
 

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