Friday, April 29, 2005

Missing the frog chorus

The cold weather of the last week has silenced the frogs for now. It seems eerily quiet in the evening and at night without them; about all I hear now is the woodcock, still faithfully performing his display at twilight, and one ruffed grouse drumming in the distance. The forecast does not look encouraging, with highs in the 40's-50's and nighttime lows from 25-30 for at least the next few days.

My pet theory of the day is that a rogue flock of ivory billed woodpeckers was responsible for the toppling of the Devil's Chair rock formation along the St. Croix River earlier this month. (see this link for details).

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Marsh marigolds at Sand Creek

If I had a digital camera, which I may be getting shortly if there's money left from the tax refund, I would post a picture of a few marsh marigold plants, surrounded by glittering frost, beginning to bloom among the brush stubble and debris left from the crew that cleared the powerline right of way a few weeks ago just north of Sand Creek. Marsh marigolds are optimists, and survivors.

Other than that, it's been cold and rainy/snow flurries this week, not much new happening on the migration front. I ordered seed potatoes yesterday. Around here it's not too late to plant potatoes Memorial Day or later. I ordered Yukon Gold, Red Gold, Purple Viking, Desiree, Garnet Chile, and French fingerling. I'll have a colorful root cellar if all goes well! I still have to start a few more tomato and pepper seeds. Some of the ones I planted must have gotten the damping-off fungus, and some didn't sprout at all, but there are a few, notably Maskabec, that are looking healthy, about 3 inches high.

I cut some stinging nettles the other day for dinner, the young small leaves which are supposedly very nutrient dense. The first time I served steamed nettles, a year ago, Russ thought I was trying to do him in. He liked them the other night, steamed and served with melted butter. They tasted like spinach. I'm going to try fiddlehead ferns this spring; we have lots of ostrich ferns growing in the woods every year.

UPDATE: here's a good link for wild edible plants: Foraging with the "Wildman"

Monday, April 25, 2005

Sapsucker moon, and music

My suspicions were correct; the marsh marigolds are not yet blooming anywhere near my house, and with a barrage of cold fronts expected to continue through the week, they will probably hold off for now. I am reminded that the first giddy eighty degree days of April in Minnesota are just a teaser.

The bird of the weekend was the yellow bellied sapsucker. A pair of them were busy calling and cavorting among the small spruces and aspens just a few feet away from the house, apparently undisturbed by our coming and going. What an unfortunate sounding name; "yellow bellied" implies cowardice, and "sapsucker"...well, someone must have been in a strange mood when they decided to name the bird based on that particular feeding habit.

A yellow shafted flicker has been pecking at the broken top of the old spruce (See: Saga of the Spruce) the last couple of mornings. Excavating a nest cavity perhaps?

We had a wonderful evening Saturday meeting some new friends and playing music. I had been wanting to find out if there was anyone anywhere near here who played bluegrass, folk, Celtic, or other acoustic music. I had been missing the challenge and interaction of playing with other musicians as opposed to playing alone or with a recording. Ironically enough, I got in touch with someone through an Internet forum--says something about community when in your daily interactions in real life you don't get to meet the very kind of people you are looking for! He and his wife turned out to be wonderful people with whom Russ and I have a lot in common. They had also invited Tom, a friend of theirs who brought his son, Vincent's age. We had lots of good, thoughtful conversation, great food and drink, and Fred and I played some Celtic songs, fiddle tunes (though neither of us plays fiddle) and some Greg Brown, Kate Wolf, and Gillian Welch songs.

Russ mentioned that he is envious of the fact that I am able to get completely "lost" in the music I am playing. I don't know if that is completely true; to get lost in music, as in prayer or meditation, requires a degree of mental discipline, and some other mysterious element that intervenes and transforms the physical act of producing sound into a higher, more enlightened moment. A moment where I am "there" in the sound waves of my flute, a moment in which the words of the song lift my voice, a moment where my heart beats the rhythm. Annie Dillard describes this kind of awareness in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a copy of which I don't have handy to quote.

I don't have this kind of experience too often playing music, especially at home when I'm lucky to be free from distractions. We have a banjo playing friend who at times goes off into "banjo world" to explore new improvisations. I was "there" maybe a couple of times the other night; once when we spontaneously launched into an Irish tune, and I somehow had the tune committed to memory enough that it flowed without thinking. I can't even remember what the name of the tune was. Then, after dinner (and a good single malt Scotch) I loosened up, started singing Gillian Welch's Tear My Stillhouse Down, not even knowing if I would remember all of the verses. I didn't, but we rocked anyway.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Marsh they're early!

I had to make a drive cross country today, to Little Falls which is right smack dab in the middle of Minnesota. There are no major roads from here to there, just county backroads through miles and miles of rocky pastures, woodland, and marsh. It was kind of a gray dreary day, with intermittent rain showers, not the best weather for seeing things but I brought my binoculars just in case. I saw lots of kestrels and bluebirds and a few harriers, among other bird species. Then, along the ditch in a wooded area, I saw the first clumps of bright yellow blossoms...marsh marigolds! (Caltha palustris). This has to be the earliest I have ever seen them, at least since I've been keeping track of such things. I don't know if they are in bloom at Sand Creek yet, we're usually a little colder than everywhere else. I remember the first day we saw them last year, which had to be early May. I also saw some sort of small tree along the edge of woods in a few areas that was blooming with clusters of white flowers.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

What I'm listening to lately

Last night on the way home from work it was a compilation of Rossini overtures on CD. Why? Because eight minutes into the "William Tell Overture"'s The Lone Ranger! I played that one just for Joe. Then after repeating it three times, I was in a pretty good mood so I popped in Sam Bush's Peaks of Telluride. When Joe is in the car I always have to skip ahead to Pastor Mustard doing his Heen recitation. Joe can almost recite the whole thing. Then I usually skip to Girl Of The North Country, the Bob Dylan song played as a mando/dobro duet with Jerry Douglas, then one of my all time favorites, Same Ol' River. Incredible solos, incredible energy.

The album I've been playing most often is Natalie MacMaster's Blueprint. This is fast becoming one of my all time favorites. I first saw Natalie in 1994 or 1995 at the Merle Watson Festival, and was impressed with how she could get an entire festival audience tapping their feet. This album, produced by Darol Anger, has Natalie playing with a who's who list of my favorite musicians: Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas, Matt Flinner, and so on... Medleys of strathspeys, reels, and jigs maintain Natalie's Cape Breton style but are flavored with nuances of bluegrass, newgrass, and acoustic jazz. The Ewe With The Crooked Horn, opening up with Sam Bush's signature mando chop rhythm, reminds me of another all time favorite album, The Telluride Sessions by Strength in Numbers.

The one tune that has grown on me most, however, is Johsefin's Waltz. Perhaps it's my Scandinavian heritage that draws me to this piece, written by Roger Tallroth of the Swedish group Vasen. Slow, bittersweet, dancing the thin line between light and shadow, joy and melancholy, never leaping too far to one side, this is everything a slow waltz should be. Darol Anger's spare, melodic arrangement captures this essence perfectly, and Natalie's soaring fiddle wails the full range of emotion. I can't express enough in words how cathartic this piece is to me. I compare it with Ashokan Farewell; the sound is timeless.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Spring appears overnight

Okay, time to stop being so political, for a while anyway. The way it's going, if I sit inside and rant for a day, I'll miss most of spring! That's the way it goes here in Minnesota; when spring finally arrives, as it has a bit early this year, it makes up for lost time. Things happen overnight. Now nearly all of the aspens are leafing out, as well as willows. Hills are painted lime green and ruby over the gray of branches. I went for a walk at noon along the dike between the fish rearing ponds and the river near my office. Almost spontaneously, the ground on the slope facing south, towards the river, is covered with the mottled leaves of wood anemone. No flowers yet, but maybe tomorrow. I did come across a flowering sedge at the edge of the path that I can't identify; the only thing I can find on the Internet is Carex physorhyncha, offshoot sedge. I never noticed it before.

There are a few tiny sprouts up in my garden; I don't remember which row is which at this point, but at this rate we'll be having fresh salads in a few weeks.

Lockdown "results"

In my previous post (The Lone Ranger) I mentioned the lockdown at my childrens' school on Friday. An explanatory note from the district superintendent said that all lockers had been searched, but no weapons were found. However, he reported that several students had been suspended. Russ picked the kids up from school yesterday, so he stopped by the principal's office and asked what the suspensions were for. The principal said that that information was confidential. Hmmm...he was not asking names or anything, just curious as a parent to know if his children were ever in any kind of danger. A reasonable request. So he asked a teacher, who repeated that he/she really was not supposed to give out that information, but just between them, and understanding the concerns of a parent, he/she confided that the following offenses were found during the locker search:
  • Tylenol (supposed to be registered with nurse's office)

  • a couple of Swiss army (pocket) knives
That's all, folks. In the name of keeping our kids safe, hundreds of students were detained in their classrooms for hours. Some poor student, carrying legal over the counter medication but not following "procedure" is now suspended from school. And as far as I know there's no law classifying pocket knives as concealed weapons and thus regulating their presence, except in schools and airports I guess.

What's to keep a school official from phoning in an anonymous threat to justify locker searches? (Orange terrorism alert; see the parallel?) Is there a procedure in place to prevent the planting of "evidence" resulting in student suspension? Why are parents not allowed to know the truth? I may be reaching here, but this reminds me of the revocation of rights under the Patriot Act.

Yes, I'm concerned for my childrens' safety while they are at school. I know there is a small but real danger that what happened at Red Lake could happen there, or anywhere. There is also a larger danger that we could be involved in an automobile accident on the way to school. Should we deal with that danger by requiring drivers to register their routes and destinations, and be subject to search and arrest if they deviate from normal routes?

Our children are being trained to accept limits on their rights in the name of "homeland (or homeroom) security".

Edited to add: I just found out that they searched all students' cars too. This is not looking good. :(

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Lone Ranger

Joe, my three year old son, is into The Lone Ranger these days. We have some of the old shows on DVD, and lately that has replaced road construction videos as his number one entertainment choice.

I admit I've been watching the shows myself. Once I get past Clayton Moore's stiff delivery of his spoken lines and Tonto's TV-Indian English, the premise of the universal fight for truth and justice is, I think, much more appealing than the shows of today which are nothing more than blow'em up special effects. I find it interesting that the Lone Ranger shoots to wound, not to kill, because it is up to the law to decide whether a man lives or dies, not the man with the six gun. The Lone Ranger brings men to justice but does not play God. And he uses silver bullets, which brought up possibly the first metallurgic discussion Russ and I have ever had. Do the silver bullets, which presumably melt at a somewhat higher temperature than lead, cause less internal injury and therefore create less chance of death? The Lone Ranger's model of justice is not an "eye for an eye", but rather that the truth will prevail and guns and bullets are just tools in the process, tools to be used with respect and restraint. The Lone Ranger does not act for personal glory; the mask hides his face, and his identity, because who he is is less important than the service he is doing. And there is a fidelity between Tonto and Kemosabe, teaching that good works will be returned to us in some way.

Maybe in today's reality of school shootings and the seeming disrespect of the young perpetrators for human life, we need to return to the old values the Lone Ranger taught us.

The reality, brought home by the recent shootings at Red Lake and most recently, a lockdown at Vincent and Nina's school last Friday due to a rumor that some students might be bringing firearms to school, has had me considering my position on the role of guns and gunplay in childhood, particularly male childhood. The boys, inspired in part by the Lone Ranger, have been having gunfights all weekend. Saturday night, when we went for a ride in the pickup truck with me and the kids in back, Joe was shooting at everything he could with his toy gun.

I say, let them play. It has been shown that even in households where toy guns are forbidden and gunplay is reprimanded, boys will use anything and everything as guns, even forming a gun with the thumb and index finger. I even did that as a kid. Vincent even used Doofus the cat as a gun! I simply don't have the patience to go against nature.

The kids that grew up watching the Lone Ranger did not turn into school shooters. Instead many of them were shipped off to Vietnam and told to "shoot 'em all and let God sort them out." Our government, acting alone, is sanctioning the killing of thousands in Iraq, in the name of defending our selfish, consumptive, amoral lifestyle. In an atmosphere with no moral compass, where going out in a selfish blaze of glory and taking innocent lives in the process is an appealing idea to some teenage males, something is wrong. We need the Lone Ranger to seek out the truth and work for justice. We need to arm our children with silver bullets of wisdom and self-restraint.

Spring green, and ruby crowned kinglets

I noticed the first bright yellow-green aspen leaves emerging from buds this morning on a few trees. Although the catkins (flowers), which resemble gray caterpillars, are out in full force, most aspens are not leafing out yet and usually do not until the beginning of May. Apparently a few scattered stands of aspen clones have it in their genes to leaf out earlier than the rest. This has been a warm April, with temperatures a few days in the 70's. While the probability of frost is still all but certain, and a snowstorm would not be out of the question, the chances of that happening are diminishing.

I have a new bird to add to the list of those species I have observed here at Sand Creek. It has probably been here before, but for some reason I had just not identified it. The bird, aptly named ruby crowned kinglet, is a tiny species, mostly grayish olive and identified by a prominent eye ring, light wing bars, and although it is difficult to see, a jewel of ruby red feathers on the head of the male. The song is distinctive, a loud melodic, precisely phrased series of notes. It is the song that first made me notice these small birds flitting around in the balsams. I stood there for five minutes with the binoculars, trying to catch a glimpse of one, yet I saw nothing but chickadees. I was beginning to think maybe the chickadees had a song I hadn't heard of, when I finally spotted a kinglet in an aspen.

What amazing discoveries are there to be made, right before our eyes, when we take the time to quietly observe!

Friday, April 15, 2005

Refrigerator musings

I don't have too much to write today, but after the last post I want to balance things out and look on the bright side of things. I came home yesterday to see our garden cart full of canned and boxed foods and our coolers full of frozen meat that the pastor had brought over. Now we need a refrigerator! We just had electricity run in here last fall, after using a generator for the last two years. We have mixed emotions about hooking up to "the grid", but the monthly electric bill is a lot lower than the cost of a month's worth of gas for the generator, and it cuts down the noise pollution here. We're still hoping to go solar some day but the initial cost is out of our reach right now. We have one panel that could provide a limited amount of power, and I think we should hook that up to the new house as a backup and to reduce consumption and pollution even if only by a minuscule amount.

But back to the refrigerator, since it was late fall when we got power there was no immediate need for a refrigerator; Nature supplies plenty of free refrigeration here in Minnesota for a good part of the year. But now the days are getting warm enough that the coolers need ice and we can't keep frozen stuff. My living without a refrigerator has changed my views on the necessity of one though; now it seems the ultimate absurdity to keep a refrigerator inside a heated space in winter, consuming electricity to keep food cold, when a cooler on the porch will do just fine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Church politics *sigh*

We have been attending a small, rural, nondenominational church for the past two and a half years. It was nice going there when we were under the assumption that these were a committed group of believers who lived their faith and welcomed "outsiders" like ourselves. I mean, most of the members are probably related somehow. When we first attended, the church had no pastor and was actively searching. A few months later, members almost unanimously voted to call Pastor D. Although he and I have a few differences in beliefs, which I for the most part keep to myself, he has challenged me to think about what I believe, and what it means to be a Christian. He and my husband have gotten to be good friends. He spent several days helping to build the addition on our house. I truly believe he is concerned with the spiritual well being of everyone in the congregation, and he is intelligent and compassionate.

So I was deeply saddened yesterday when he stopped by to announce that he had turned in his resignation on Sunday.

Not that I was blindsided by the announcement. Russ had talked with the pastor last week and found out about some disturbing things that have been going on among certain members of the church. He shared this news with me in a 5 am discussion Sunday morning, and we decided then not to attend church that day.

We so wanted to believe that we had found, for the first time, a church where we fit in, where people acted according to Christian standards without bickering over details. Where love prevailed. They'll know we are Christians by our love, right? Wrong. These same people, who outdo each other to appear pious and reach out to others, are a bunch of self-serving, backstabbing, two faced, egotistical fakers. Apparently they don't want their pastor, the leader whom they appointed, to rock the boat, to challenge them spiritually. They don't even want him preaching on Easter and other certain Sundays! And the sweet honey voiced woman who leads singing praises, she and her uber righteous servant of God husband, have called the pastor Satan's helper and spit in his face. Literally. They have helped to create deep division within the congregation. And what for? Self-righteous bitch.

My first reaction is to leave, to seek fellowship elsewhere. I told the pastor yesterday I have misgivings about associating with that church anymore. He understood but he is concerned with the health and future of the congregation, and that we should consider staying and showing our support for what we would like to see in this church. But there are certain people right now whom I don't know if I could look in the eye and say "Peace be with you". And we're not even full members yet; how much influence do we have? I don't know. Personally, I've been considering the Quaker path seriously and I would like to check out a meeting; however the closest is fifty miles away and I don't know how I could justify driving that far, consuming gasoline, in order to find fellowship.

I think a lot of what's going on is indirectly a reaction to some events that have affected people in the congregation lately. Our lay worship leader and elder member has had serious health problems lately and has been unable to participate in a leadership role; that leaves a huge hole that maybe others are scrambling to fill for their own reasons. There have been layoffs, among those affected, the chief instigators of division. Maybe what they are doing arises out of chaos and uncertainty, maybe in their need to find something solid to hold onto they have taken a few differences with the pastor and turned that into a radical belief system.

I am praying; praying about my family's spiritual life, praying for healing in the church, both spiritually and physically.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Magic, alive evening

It is just after sunset, and the air is alive with the sound of Western chorus frogs, wood frogs, and spring peepers. The woodcock are making their amazing display of skydancing, landing in the vicinity of my garden, where today I planted my first seeds: various lettuce, spinach, mizuna, tatsoi, arugula, orach. The thermometer hit 70 degrees today, and I spent most of my time outdoors, abandoning washing the dishes when a friend from church, Richard, showed up with his metal detector. Our property contains part of the old St. Croix logging railroad right of way, which operated from 1890-1896 (approximate), and Richard is the local authority on logging railroad history. He found several artifacts today, including the best Peavey hook he's ever found. And a pair of ox shoes, like horseshoes except made in two pieces for the hooves of oxen.

The air outside is just full of music, dancing, life. What a wonderful time of year.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Me and the kids, May 2004, Wolf Creek Falls in Banning State Park, MN Posted by Hello

Sand Creek, August 2004 Posted by Hello

And now...Deb learns to post pictures!

My two explorers, May 2004 Posted by Hello

Ice out, and a chorus of frogs

The pond was almost completely ice free when I got home last night. It was so beautiful to see the reflection of the blue sky and the white pines in the water once again. I went out with the boys and watched them play by the edge of the water for a while, building dams and throwing stones.

I drove home with the car windows slightly open, and as I headed north out of town I heard it--the first frog song of spring! Around here Western chorus frogs, which make a noise that has been described as the sound of running your finger along the teeth of a comb, are the first frogs to vocalize in spring. They weren't singing at home however; I think the little wetlands they hang out in on our land are shaded enough that they haven't warmed up as fast as some others.

Sand Creek is still high from the recent heavy rains, and the ephemeral waterfall along the road across the Kettle River is still flowing. I saw four sandhill cranes in a hay field north of town this morning, and what I think was a sharp tailed grouse flying across the road. What Russ and I haven't heard much is the drumming of ruffed grouse; usually by this time the woods ring with the booming sound.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

My drive to work 4/7/2005

I'm going to try to record sightings/observations from my daily drive to work. I live almost 30 miles away from my job, a fact I'm not too happy about with the price of gas (both monetary and the hidden costs-environmental degradation, war, health). Maybe some day I can get a hybrid vehicle or go biodiesel; probably in the future I won't have a choice in the matter. But I do enjoy the drive; it takes me along some beautiful rural roads and across the scenic Kettle River. Very different from the 26 mile commute I used to make down Interstate 94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul during rush hour! I also get the chance to observe numerous birds, and occasionally other wildlife.

I'll start with the highlights from yesterday. In the morning a bald eagle, which apparently had been feeding on roadkill, suddenly took flight from the left side of the road. I slowed down, knowing how long eagles take to get airborne. We passed under it, as it flew just a few feet above the car. The wingspan was as wide as the car! The eagle was just getting its white head and tail feathers; perhaps it will mate for the first time this year.

On the way home, I saw three great gray owls. I was almost ready to write a farewell to these birds, as I had not seen one in almost a week. I assumed they had moved further north. They are a bit harder to see now that the snow cover is gone; all three of these caught my eye as they were flying.

Now for this morning: lots of juncos and robins, my first yellow shafted flicker of the year, mallards in the ditches, a grackle with a twig in its mouth--nest building?--a bluebird, several kestrels, and...a female pheasant! Unusual around here.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Just found a great book at the library!

And it's so ironic that the first thing I want to do is hop on the Internet and talk about it...(rolling eyes) It is The Plain Reader, edited by Scott Savage. The subtitle reads "Essays on Making a Simple Life". It contains essays by a number of authors, including some of my favorites such as Gene Logsdon, Wendell Berry, and John Taylor Gatto, on various themes: Making a Life, Choosing Health, Working, Unplugging the Media, Reclaiming Distance and Place, and Seeking Knowledge and Wisdom. Thus far I have only read the introduction, and two of the essays on Working, and I feel that many of the words are describing the direction to which my life is drawn.

What is amazing is that I did not go searching for this book. I went to the library to pick up another book I had on interlibrary loan, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, and to browse the religion/spirituality section hoping for some enlightenment. I came back with four volumes' worth of enlightenment, and Mahler's Fifth Symphony on CD.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Notes from Sand Creek

Spring arrived in full force over the weekend, with high temperatures in the 60's. Sunday afternoon I relaxed in a lounge chair on our "beach" by the pond while the boys dug in the mud and sand. There is still ice on the pond, but it is getting darker and pulling away from the edges. The kids found a brook stickleback (Culaea inconstans)in the shallows. Our pond has been there for nearly two years, but we have not put any fish into it. So how did a school of sticklebacks get there? There is an overflow culvert, that in times of high water could connect to the creek; maybe that was the route. If that was the case, I wish a school of brook trout would find its way in there!

Saturday night I woke to the chorus of a flock of tundra swans making its way north by night. The next morning, two more flocks flew over in undulating "V" formations.

Over the last few days I have seen or heard song sparrows, robins, phoebes, and bluebirds. The woodcock makes its nightly performance. Although ruffed grouse appear to be low in number this spring, I think I heard one drumming in the woods while Vincent and I went for a walk. And Sally the turkey has apparently found herself a beau; Russ said he heard a tom gobbling in the woods, and she hasn't been seen since.

The yard and driveway are thankfully drying up. There are still a few persistent mounds of snow in shady spots, but I can walk outside without wearing rubber boots! My raised beds are still wet, and frozen in the morning, but if this weather keeps up I may be able to plant lettuce and other greens this weekend. I so long for a huge fresh picked salad instead of buying one of those pathetic bagged salads at the grocery store!

Oh, I was turning on to the road from the driveway this morning, I caught a glimpse of a large, dark animal on the edge of the road near the next driveway down. It was gone by the time I got near. If it had been a dog, it would have stayed on or near the road. If it had been a deer, there would have been a few of them together. BEAR?