Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Breaking the silence

This blog post title has a double meaning. I am breaking my own personal silence on this blog, silence which was brought about by a winter that tried the best of my abilities to cope, as well as this mental block thing which challenges my every effort to write. And, lately, the question of the futility of blogging when most of the bloggers I know have given up, and blogging has gone from a platform for everyone to a means to "create content", "attract followers", and "monetize". And sell something. And hope someone hears you out there.

It seemed so much more friendly and open in 2006. But, times change and technology marches forward. It also means that few people are likely to ever read this. Given my innate nature to avoid controversy, that's a good thing. But sometimes, things happen that I just can't keep quiet about.

The second meaning of this post title has to do with something that was going on in 2006, actually from about 2000-2008, about 20 miles away from here. Apparently no one knew, or if they suspected something, they kept their suspicions to themselves. Minnesotans are like that.

On Friday, April 11, Victor Arden Barnard, age 52, was formally charged with 59 felony counts of criminal sexual conduct. His whereabouts are unknown; he was last seen in Spokane, Washington. He was the leader of a religious group (cult) called River Road Fellowship, which operated near Finlayson, Minnesota, until 2008. I won't link to the news stories; they can be easily found.

This pervert represented himself as a Christ like figure to the men and women whom he convinced to follow him, and to the children who had no choice in the matter. They had a religious community around here, and pretty much kept to themselves. I think I know some of the land areas which they communally owned, at least by the looks of it, and every so often I would see people in the grocery store whose manner of dress suggested that they were following some rules I did not know of. But, I have nothing against people dressing and living simply. Maybe they have something to teach the rest of us, if only they will interact.

This pervert established a "camp" for select young women in the community. With their parents' blessing, these young women went to live in a commune type situation, with Mr. Barnard presiding. I know the place; it was sold to the Salvation Army and is now a camp for inner city youth. But this "camp" the young women lived in was something different. These young women were supposed to be the "chosen", to remain virgins and never marry. Except when Mr. Barnard wanted their favors...

The group broke up in about 2008, when some of the men in the congregation found out that Mr. Barnard had also been taking liberties with their wives. The group scattered, with some moving to the Spokane area. In 2012, two young women who had been part of the camp came forward, and a long investigation ensued.

The reason I am writing about this is the inevitable image problem it gives Pine County. But further, it is about the apparent willingness of most of the people of this county to accept these stereotypes, and think there's no way to fix it. Most people around here, given this news, will say "Well, that's Pine County for ya!" I have seen tweets by young people that give into the myth that somehow this is just the worst hick place to grow up in. My response: If you feel that way, you aren't living, and you aren't trying.

Stuff happens everywhere. If it ain't yours, don't own it. If it happens to have happened in your county, but happened in an isolated group of individuals who refused to associate with the rest of the community, don't own it. There are derelicts everywhere. To think your school has more of them, or to think that once you graduate and move as far away as you can, your life will be so much better, does not solve anything. I am proud of my kids for acknowledging that not everyone is good, but still being proud of their school and becoming good members of their community.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

This cross country skier is back!

I have always loved cross country skiing. From my early beginnings, on wooden skis crossing Rush Lake to explore the mysteries of Heron Island, to my high school years, competing on my high school Nordic team although I didn't really know how to be an athlete, or didn't think I could be one, to my honeymoon and anniversaries at Gunflint Lodge, and early adult years getting to know the trails at Wild River State Park, skiing has been a part of me. But I never realized quite how much, until this winter.

Until the weekend after Christmas 2013, I had not skied for several years. This was a combination of my not making the time for it, a succession of winters with scant snowfall, and my having outgrown my old boots and having broken one of my fiberglass poles that had been with me since high school. I kept telling myself I would buy myself boots and poles if there was a winter when there was good snow, and I had time, etc. I see all of these now as nothing more than self defeating excuses.

As it turns out, this was a good winter for snow early on, and I received a sum of money on Christmas morning that would pay for boots. The day after Christmas I went to the nearest store, T & M Athletics in Willow River, who happened to have the exact boots and poles I needed. I am lucky to have a local store like that! I would have hit the trails that day, had it not been for a family Christmas gathering, and the Christmas Bird Count was the day after. I had promised my kids I would take them shopping to spend their Christmas dollars on Saturday, but not before I had a chance to try out my new boots and poles.

I was a bit awkward at first, and my skis could have used a fresh glide wax. But I skied a couple miles that first day back. I went back the next day, though it was below zero. I skied with a friend on New Year's Day. I started going to Banning State Park every chance I could get. I enjoyed seeing open water on the Kettle River when it was ten degrees below zero, I enjoyed gliding down slight inclines, I enjoyed finding the courage to ski down Skunk Cabbage hill and the Deadman's Trail both in the same day, without falling. But mostly I just enjoyed being out on the trails, my heart pounding and lungs bursting. Skiing.

In January I happened to hear about a ski race in Ashland, Wisconsin. 10 kilometers, flat course across Chequamegon Bay to Washburn, Wisconsin. I had a place to stay in Ashland, so I figured "Why not?" Yeah, why not ski my first, longest ever race in nearly thirty years?

The week before the race, I was home four days out of five with the kids and myself sharing a nasty stomach bug. The day of the race I decided I would not eat anything I would not want to see again hours later. But I felt pretty good.

The starting line was divided into areas where skiers were supposed to "seed" themselves by suggested times. I, not knowing what to expect for a time, hung out between the 45 minute and 1:15 signs. 

The start was like a freeway jam slowly freeing itself into motion. The first ten minutes of the race, I felt like I was inching along with the crowd, waiting for things to thin out. There were a couple bottlenecks where ice conditions forced everyone to merge into a small crossing area. I did not feel like I got up to speed until about the third kilometer. I started feeling confident. I started passing people. I was amazingly agile at changing lanes. With classic style cross country, there are a couple grooved tracks set in the snow. If you want to pass someone, you have to find an opportunity, and switch over to the passing lane. I only fell once while doing that. 

Even as the skiers along the course thinned out, I found myself pushing harder all the time and getting frustrated when I got caught behind slower skiers for any length of time. I though maybe it was good that I got behind people, to pace myself, but I realized two things: I felt good, and I felt competitive! I would push myself as long as I could, and pass people whenever the opportunity arose. 

There were rest stops set up every kilometer or so, with hot cider and water, maybe a bonfire, and maybe even live music, or a snow sculpture of a fire breathing dragon that breathed real fire. They go out of their way to make this race fun! That said, I only stopped at one rest stop, because I had this horrible gob of mucus in my throat and I needed water. Even so, I felt bad when I saw skiers passing me.

I had thought at first that the course would be a straight shot across the bay, with the lights of Washburn growing ever larger. Not so. The course, lit by thousands of candle luminaries, zigged and zagged in order to bring it up to 10 kilometers. Every time I rounded another bend I thought I was headed into the final stretch. The last hour of the race was a blur of dark, lights, staying on the trail, passing skiers, and thinking the next rest stop along the way was the finish line.

When the real finish line finally came into view, I was still amazingly not tired. In the last minute, I left the grooved track to pass a couple more skiers. Hey, I wasn't in this just to have a leisurely ski at this point. When I crossed the finish line, I was sprinting. So fast I missed the display that showed my time. 1:31:13. A bit longer than I thought, but hey, I finished! And I could have skied a lot harder, I felt so good!

Later at the apartment, I looked up my time and standing. Overall for skiers I placed 732nd out of 2266; I was in the top third of all skiers! That includes skate skiers, who are always faster! For women I placed 280th out of 1174; for my age class, 36th out of 180. Pretty darn good for a woman who had not skied in years until the weekend after Christmas. 

I will continue to ski this year as long as there is snow. This spring and summer I will run, keeping up fitness for skiing while training for a half marathon. Next winter, more ski races! Mora Vasaloppet 42k classic? We'll see. As long as it's fun. :)


Friday, January 31, 2014

Knowing the cold

Before this winter, I thought I knew a few things about cold weather. After all, I'd been blogging about it since 2005, and we've lived in this house, more or less, since 2008. But, every winter is different. This winter is challenging my nerves, but it is different. So here's what I have learned:

1) I can tell the temperature in the morning by the action of the storm door. If it is below -15, there is no pressure in the pressure door closer thingy. So the door slams, and it's cold.

2) I can tell the temperature by the bedroom floor. If it is below -20, my feet will go numb in less than a minute. It's cold.

3) I can generally, but less accurately, tell the temperature by how my nose feels when it's sticking out of the nest of down comforter and wool blanket. It depends largely on whether I stoked the wood stove in the middle of the night (most nights unfortunately I cannot muster whatever it takes to do that!)  

4) My car will start at any temperature it has encountered thus far. The battery gets a bit sluggish when the temperature is below -30.

5) The creak of the compacted snow underfoot sounds a lot different at -30 than it does at 0.

6) When you set out with the specific goal of seeing a snowy owl, you will not find one.

And so it goes. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Where the rivers freeze and the summer ends

The winter of 2013-2014 has, by all accounts, been brutal. I am proud to be a Minnesotan, and I take a certain sinister pleasure in hearing weather reports from states on the Eastern Seaboard, where six inches of snow and 10 degrees above zero is considered a "snowpocalypse". We Minnesotans are winter tough. The city of International Falls regularly reports the lowest temperatures in the nation. But this winter has been unusually relentless. I hear it is the second coldest winter on record in Duluth, MN. And that is from a city that has seen its share of cold.

It started in early December, the day I finally bought a car for Vinny, a 2010 Ford Fusion with high highway miles but in beautiful shape. We had decided the 1990 F150 pickup had too many things that needed fixing, and gas mileage was not acceptable. The day after we signed the papers and brought it home, it snowed. So much snow that both of our cars got stuck in the driveway coming home.

Then it got cold. Seriously, bone chilling, 30 below zero cold. We got the cars dug out, and paid $85 for having the driveway plowed. Too much snow for our 4 wheeler with plow attachment. We realized the recent delivery of wood was comprised of mostly birch. Any Minnesotan or New Englander will tell you that, while birch is great for starting a fire, it burns hot and fast and does not have the staying power of oak or maple. Still, it is wood and it is heat, so that's a good thing.

Still, we use propane to heat the cabin. A very inefficient setup, but we like having that space. I bought 250 gallons in early November. Right after New Year's, the tank was at about 5 percent, and we called for an emergency weekend delivery. When I saw the bill, I was floored. $2.29 a gallon, plus a $100 "off hours" charge. Luckily I have credit with the company, and did not have to pay it in cash.

That seems like a bargain now, with prices above $4 per gallon and rising daily. The Midwest, for various reasons, is in a propane supply crisis. If the tank had not run low when it did, the 300 gallons would have cost us twice as much. And that is for "luxury" heat. We could close up the cabin and have everything, including the Xbox, in the house where the wood stove is. But for now, we're good, but if the propane runs out, I will not buy more.

We will get through it, and spring will come. And I have many more stories to tell

Friday, October 18, 2013

The payoff

Vinny called me on my cell phone while I was still at work today. "Mom, can I take the bass boat to Island Lake? Austin and I want to go muskie fishing!" 

Of course I said yes. This being late October in northern Minnesota, the chances for good fishing days are getting slimmer by the day. And today was the annual Minnesota teacher's conference, a school holiday. And, a 16 year old, still grasping the idea of being able to take a boat to a lake, and with the knowledge and experience to launch and load a boat. Perfect opportunity.

Nina went with the boys and operated the trolling motor. It was a chilly day out there, with intermittent rain showers. They talked with a few locals, who were mostly taking their pontoon boats out of the water for the winter. They came back well after dark, Vinny triumphantly carrying a landing net with two nice northern pike into the house, oozing pike slime onto the floor. "What should I do with these tonight?"

"Put them in the cooler on the deck, or back in the live well." With nighttime temperatures hovering around freezing, those fish should be fine. And I am looking forward to a fish fry tomorrow!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Scenes from Ashland

The kids and I drove up to Ashland, Wisconsin for the weekend. We were going to go last weekend for Apple Fest in Bayfield, but the weather did not look good then. The Hermit had one of our boats at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College for some class wiring practice, and we wanted to give it a try. It was too windy on Saturday, but at least it was from the right direction to help the runners in the Whistle Stop Marathon. Nina and I made plans to run the half marathon next year!

The Hermit's college student apartment is about five blocks from the lake front. Saturday morning I woke up too early for a Saturday, around 6:30. I decided to walk down to the lake and see the sun rise. I ended up capturing one of the most subtly beautiful skies I have ever seen.


Sunday morning I was a bit more ambitious with my walk. I headed down the street to the intersection with a paved trail that had once been one of the railway lines leading down to the now-demolished ore dock that had once been the city's identity. I followed the trail east for a way before I ended up heading, as always, for the water. I found another trail that led along the lakefront for a while.


Sunday had a slight breeze from the northwest, perfect for fishing Chequamagon Bay. Perfect, except the fish were not biting. But, I did not mind. I was busy falling in love with the big lake.


I don't know, I have not had this feeling of love for a place in a long time. I do know I need to be near water, which is why I ended up working with fish. But this bay of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin feels like home, in a place I have spent very little time.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Same scene, different year

I am thankful that, if I have to have a 30 minute commute to work, at least I get to do it in light traffic with some gorgeous scenery along the way, especially this time of year. According to my computer, this photo was taken October 6, 2006. The leaves looked about the same today as I crossed the Kettle River.

I savor my drives to and from work this time of year, the brilliance and ever changing hues of the leaves. I know that in just a few weeks, cold gray November will be upon us, which makes the beauty of the leaves and the blue sky even more precious.