Thursday, June 30, 2005

Stormy night

Yesterday morning I learned from a local TV weather reporter that I am living in the middle of a mini tornado alley, thanks to the effects of Lake Superior some forty miles to the northeast. In the years we've had this place, there have been several severe storms, including one that topped off the giant spruce right next to the cabin. Being a few miles from town, a weather radio is essential equipment, although during daylight hours there is no substitute for watching the sky. Having animals helps too; they are particularly sensitive to abnormal weather.

But for some reason I wasn't worried last night. Even though I'd heard ominous forecasts all day long, by evening the weather was just cool and breezy with a little rain. The kids were in bed, except for Joey who insisted on staying up and watching "The Lone Ranger". I went to sleep around ten. At around 10:45 I woke up when Russ put a now-sleeping Joey in bed with me. It was raining hard. I glanced up outside the window; occasional flashes of lightning illuminated the branches of trees gently swaying. I was just settling back to sleep when I heard the robotic voice on the weather radio in the other room: "The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning...Pine County...Doppler radar indicated...Askov...moving towards Bruno..." Hmmm...sounds close. I glanced outdoors again. Torrential rain, slight breeze but I was convinced it didn't feel like tornado weather. I was more concerned about the prospect of hail ruining my garden. Still the simulated voice continued: "take cover immediately...flash flooding..." Take cover. Where would we go? The only basement we have is a small cellar in the foundation of the new house; it isn't even covered yet. It would be a lot of trouble and perhaps more dangerous to rouse the kids out of bed, run them to the car in the pouring rain, and drive to the neighbors' house. All things considered, inside the cabin in bed was probably the safest place to be. If anything was happening.

Lady, our yellow lab, was snoring on the foot of Nina's lower bunk. The cats lounged on the bedroom floor. Aren't animals supposed to go crazy if bad weather is approaching? I listened outside; the rain pounded, the wind breezed through the pines. A normal rainstorm. I pretended to be asleep while Russ paced around, looked outside, listened to the radio. "Flash not drive across water in road...tornado warning...has been allowed to expire...". Whew.

Such is the nature of my faith. In the eye of the storm, when fierce winds blow, I just know, somehow, that everything is going to be okay. I can be a fierce mama bear sometimes when it comes to protecting my kids, but inside there's a voice that tells me when to act, and when to remain still and not to worry. And I find myself trusting this voice over the mechanical simulation which draws its conclusions from abstactions. I trust the Real.

I checked out my garden first thing in the morning, and everything was fine. The clear plastic was still up on the tomato hoop houses, plants were standing up, even the bean tepees were in place. On my drive to work I looked for damage, for evidence, but saw not a single leaf or twig on the ground.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Garden update

I spent Saturday morning working in the garden, before it got too hot, and learned a lesson that can apply to many things in life: if something seems overwhelming, take it one piece at a time. Simple advice that has been repeated in many different forms, but well worth a reminder from time to time. On Saturday morning when I wake up there is always one brief moment when the day looms full of possibilities. Then I start to go over my mental "to do" list, and the hours of the day suddenly seem not long enough.

So I made up my mind that the garden would be the task of the morning, but even the garden can be a complex job. There were tomatoes to plant (still!), weeds to be pulled everywhere, edges to be trimmed, paths to be mowed, one bean tepee to set up again after the wind blew it down, etc. I threw some tools, a jug of water, the tomato plants and some seeds into the garden cart and headed out.

My garden is a series of thirteen wooden-sided raised beds, with four more square bins for potato plants. I promise pictures some day, when everything is bigger and better looking. I took a systematic approach to the day's work, which is surprising for me considering my more spontaneous, distracted personality type. I started with one bed, did all of the weeding and planting until it looked respectable, then moved on to the next. At any point I could look back and see that progress had been made, bed by bed.

Everything seems to have taken off growing with the hot weather of the last week and the relatively warm nights. The pole beans are about eight inches high, still not grabbing the poles yet but looking leafy and green; the butternut squash that I planted from seed in the same bed already looks robust. Broccoli plants are not forming heads yet but have increased greatly in size. Cabbage seedlings are still tiny, although I have not given up on them completely. The tomatillos are already blooming and large enough to need staking. The Diva cucumber plants doubled in size over the weekend. Tomatoes are all in various stages of growth but looking good; the ones in the covered hoop houses seem to be the biggest. I planted extra tomato plants in the last unplnated bed, throwing caution and gardening sense to the wind as I crowded plants closer together than normal and didn't label everything.

I think I will buy some new carrot seed and replant, which I can still safely do this time of year; only a few carrots sprouted. I thought parsnips were a bust as well, but I discovered two seedlings that looked like they may be parsnips; I'll keep them in and see. All in all, things are looking good, as good as can be expected anyway.

Monday, June 27, 2005

success Posted by Hello

Oak Lake Posted by Hello

Gone fishin' Posted by Hello

Gone fishin'

We finally did it. After years of excuses and missed opportunities and mowing around the boat trailer, we fired up the Evinrude and went fishing on Friday evening. My eight year old son had been fishing before, but this was a first for my daughter and younger son. We decided we can't have any more kids, because then we'd have to get a bigger boat.

It was the most relaxing, fun evening I had had in a long time. No tangled lines, no hooks embedded in flesh, and we actually caught a few fish! With the kids we were rigged mainly for bluegills and the like. We ended up with 7 or eight bluegills, one large black bullhead, and one large yellow bullhead. I was the only one who didn't catch anything, but I was having too good of a time watching everyone else and being on the lake to even care.

Friday, June 24, 2005

heard, but not seen

I solved an almost lifelong mystery today. There is a bird with a warbling, bubbling call, kind of like a trickle of water flowing in a rocky stream, up and down, back and forth. I remember hearing it often at Grandma and Grandpa's lake place. Since there were abundant house wrens there, and their call was similar, I just assumed in my young mind that it was a variation of the house wren's call.

This spring, when I had lived at our place long enough to know the soundscape, I realized that this bird's call was part of it. I also realized that there were more and more birds that I may have heard but had never seen. I had never put my house wren hypothesis to the test; this bird could be something new and different.

Last night I heard a bird call once, a strange melodic whistle in the moonlight. I tried to keep it in my mind long enough to check on eNature BirdAudio when I got to my computer at work. Unfortunately I did not find out what this bird was, but in the course of clicking on various birds I suddenly heard something familiar--the warbling vireo. That warbling, bubbly song. That's it! One more name to add to the multitude of living things that share my home. Although it is only heard, not yet seen, it exists and that thrills me.

Other birds heard but not (or only rarely) seen:

Red eyed vireo
Sedge wren
Ruby crowned kinglet
American redstart
Black and white warbler
Song sparrow
Least flycatcher
Alder flycatcher
who knows how many more?

And for those who "enjoy" nature by racing through it on their four wheelers, I say how can you enjoy nature when you don't even stop to hear it?

building our own house

How to Overthrow the System: brew your own beer, kick in your Tee Vee, kill your own beef, build your own cabin, and piss off the front porch whenever you bloody well feel like it. --Edward Abbey

I've done the brewing thing before, and I need to get back into it. I could almost do without the TV, but the kids would object and I would miss my Northern Exposure and Beverly Hillbillies DVD's once in a while. Beef, well not yet, but we've got 50+ chickens to put in the freezer by the end of summer. We built the cabin, now we're going for the big time: our own house.

How many people can say they've designed and built their own house these days? I mean actually built, with their own sweat and labor, not "we told the architect what we wanted and paid a contractor to build it", in the sense that "designing" and "building" are so often used. To quote from Beverly Hillbillies:

Mr Drysdale: John Barrymore built this place.

Jed Clampett: And he's a right fair stonemason to boot!

Around here, even a new house built on-site is a rare thing; manufactured homes are the norm. And although they try to look different, they all tend to look pathetically the same.

When we took the plunge and moved here, with three kids, we had three options: haul in a manufactured home, add on significantly to the existing cabin, or build a completely new house ourselves. Actually, #1 wasn't really an option, mostly for the reason that most designs didn't allow for doing what we wanted, like heating with wood or even orienting house and window for maximum passive solar heat gain. Plus, they all tend to look pathetically the same.

Adding on to an existing place that wasn't really designed to be added on to presents its own challenges, and would likely end up costing as much or more than building new. I didn't want to significantly alter the character of our cabin either. Some day I envision it to be a nice little guest house/writing/music studio. We did add on a room just to spare our sanity this last winter.

So we went with the third option, and with any luck we'll be moving in this fall. No, I should say we WILL be moving in this fall. It's our dream, it's what I live for, and we will find a way to do it. I'm guessing it will be a work in progress for quite some time, but as long as we've got a (steel) roof over our heads, insulation in the walls, windows to let in light, a fire in the woodstove, and a pantry full of canned (and bottled) goods, I will be thankful. Thankful for the beginning of living a life that shows what we believe in.

And as for the front porch, although three year old Joe is getting quite skilled at that art, I prefer to do my business a little bit further away from the house.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

feeling the blogging love

I didn't think it would lead to this. Imagine, feeling a connection to people thousands of miles away, whom you've never met face to face, and having it mean something!

I started blogging after a thread in a message board I post at, very infrequently now. It asked who on the board was blogging. I read it, followed some of the links, and thought, "This sounds like fun!" Thus was born Sand Creek Almanac. It has grown into something larger for me, a daily challenge to write, to record the things around me, to communicate with an unknown audience. It is truly an inspiration. At first I thought I would write better if no one was watching me, but now I think about what I write, even if its only a paragraph or two, and I think we're all better off for the increased consciousness.

Today I think a very significant thing happened in the blogging world. I read someone's post, thought, "This sounds like something I read yesterday", and wrote a comment that connected the two blogs. Judging from the subsequent comments, I think they hit it off. And I think, without blogging, how could a thirtysomething mama ever communicate something in common with a couple of twentysomething Kerouac aficionados? Who ever thought that Two Hearted Ale would forge a common connection across the Blogosphere?

What I'm saying is, thanks, all of you, for being there and for commenting. And don't be afraid to criticize me, I can take it, I know it will make me a better writer and person. And, specifically, thank you Dan, Erich, Dharma Bum, Lene, and Sylvia. You've been an inspiration.

broken washer

I already managed to break something on my wringer washer . Arrrgh! Grandma used the thing for forty years, no problem, and I have the thing one week and something breaks. It's the wringer bushing assembly, the thing that holds one of the rollers in place. Maybe I tried to feed something too thick through the wringers. At least, thanks to Russ' web surfing this morning, he located someone in Illinois who carries parts for old Maytags. The nice thing about this washer is that anyone, even someone as mechanically inept as me, can look at it and make a reasonable guess what's wrong. There is no complicated circuitry, no fancy touch pads or automated dials.

Maybe this is my punishment for not sitting down and having a nice long talk with Grandma and asking her about the ins and outs (little pun there) of wringer washer use. I sometimes forget that she grew up in an age like no other, when electricity and automobiles and washing machines went from being new ideas to ways of life. She grew up on a farm, one of six siblings, daughter of a Swedish immigrant and a first generation Swedish American in Grasston, Minnesota. She knows the Swedish language well enough that she is occasionally called upon to translate early church records. She probably knows a lot about what I am trying to learn, about raising food and canning and washing clothes and sewing and other farm home activities. I have learned to can pickles and tomatoes from her.

I find it hard to ask her about life on the farm, however. When I tell her we're raising chickens she'll tell me what a horrible job it was to butcher them and how she would never do that again. She tells me of long hard days spent weeding gardens and digging potatoes. To this day she is insecure about her cooking ability because she was constantly told her sister was a better cook. So whenever we talk about the old days, I get the idea that she doesn't understand why I want to do things that way because it's so much easier to buy food from the store. I think many people from her generation accepted the idea that modern conveniences would save them lots of hard, menial work. I seem to be the only one in my family that sees things in a different light. I'm the only one who expressed any interest in the wringer washer.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Okay, enough feline stuff. I almost forgot to write about Sunday, the afternoon spent lounging out at the pond while the kids splashed about and caught tadpole/frogs. Russ was feeling a bit better, enough to be out and about building new quarters for our rapidly growing poultry. The guinea keets are already resembling mini adults but with camouflage brown feathers. The Rhode Island reds already have enough wing feathers to fly up to the edges of the pens and roost. We have so many different breeds of layers, it's interesting to compare growth rates and habits. Hopefully the guineas will help to reduce the deer tick population...these tick borne diseases are scary!

Sunday was hot and sunny, too hot to do much in the garden during midday. I washed a week's worth of dishes with Nina and Vincent's help, then made a chicken salad for lunch. Then it was off to the pond. I mostly do lifeguard duty, sitting in my lounge chair watching the kids. There is a steep dropoff so I have to keep constant watch, but the kids seem to know where it is and how to avoid it. I initially swam across the pond a few times to cool off, but that was enough water time for me. The water is cold in the middle; I'd say its cold enough to raise trout, but too cold for me to spend too much time swimming in it. When I was Nina's age I could spend all afternoon in the water, and she is even more so--a regular mermaid. She has even gone swimming in Lake Superior at Park Point beach in September, not bothered one bit by the water temperature! So I suntanned and read a bit of On the Road while she swam, Joe played with the Tonka heavy equipment, and Vincent caught tadpole/frogs.

At what point does a tadpole become a frog? Does it just spontaneously go to the water surface and take its first breath, trusting that its lungs are ready? Does it go back and forth between lungs and gills for a while? We now have a minnow bucket containing several leopard frog/tadpoles in various stages of metamorphosis. They are more frog than tadpole, breathing on the surface and propelling themselves with newly developing legs, but they still have tails. I had never really seen frogs in that in between stage before.


Why, why, WHY do kittens have to be so damn cute?

(insert mental picture of four week old orange kitten with huge blue eyes staring at you)

We have too many cats around here already. I like cats, and I haven't seen a mouse in the house or cook shed for ages, but I hate to think what they might be doing to the local bird population.

I didn't ask for cats. They just showed up from the farm across the road. Evil Calico, the wild eyed matriarch of the kitty clan, decided to have a litter of kittens here two summers ago. Then another litter last year. Natural selection, tomcat predation, and my inattentive driving have kept the population somewhat under control, which is good because I don't have the money to spay or neuter the whole herd and, with the kids around, I don't have the heart to shoot any of them...yet.

I had the urge to do in Evil Calico last night, after she tore a chunk of flesh from my finger as I was tossing out some meat scraps. Evil Calico has never been a nice kitty, the kind that curls around your legs and purrs. She lurks in the shadows, looking out with her demonic green eyes. But she is a scrapper and a survivor, and a fierce mother. Just after the hypodermic clawing incident, as I was whimpering and wrapping my finger with a Band Aid, Cub told me to come look at something. And there it was, The Kitten. cute. How damn cute. The big-eyed spawn of Evil Calico herself.

Thank goodness there's just one. For now.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

This week, around here

The last few days my husband has been flattened by some unknown, flu-like bug. So yesterday he went to the doctor, and the diagnosis is Ehrlichiosis (don't quote me on the spelling), the "other" disease humans can get from deer ticks around here. My daughter and I went through Lyme disease last year, and as far as I know we are cured, but this is a new thing. Hope it will go away soon, with help from antibiotics. I'm telling him it's God's revenge for complaining about the weather, to be bedridden on a beautiful day like this.

I did some gardening this morning. Some unknown creature ate the tops off all of my orach plants, while ignoring the abundant lettuce, spinach, arugula, tatsoi, and mizuna in the same raised bed. Definite preference for purplish plants there! I pulled all of the arugula, tatsoi and mizuna plants, which were bolting. I'll maybe plant some carrots there; my first planting didn't seem to take too well. Or I'll plant some more spinach, which my kids all love. Strange, isn't it...they all love broccoli too.

I think I saw a Veery today, for the first time. Their song permeates the air around here, but they are very hard to see. I heard one of their calls, which sounds somewhat like a part of the song of the cardinal, and I saw a thrush like bird where the call was originating from.

I'm not feeling much like writing now, so maybe a bigger update tomorrow.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

song lyric idea...first draft

This just came to me as I was taking a noon walk. Much of the inspiration came from this post by lene at Leaning Birch.

Let me stand in the dark
so I can see you
let me fall to my knees
so I can run
plant my feet on solid ground
ancient roots of the white pine
so I can soar like an eagle
in the sky

That would probably be the chorus. Verses are yet to come...another walk someday perhaps.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Other homestead stuff

I guess I was so excited about the washing machine that I didn't get around to mentioning that we got chicks on Friday. We have about 100 of them, about half various egg layers including buff Orpington, barred rock, Rhode Island red, golden laced Wyandotte, silver laced Wyandotte, and black Australorps. The other half are hybrid fryers. So far we aren't too impressed with them; they don't seem to know enough to keep from drowning in the waterer or trampling each other. There are also a few guinea keets. We will be getting a few more chicks this week.

Rain and more rain. I have too many plants that still need to get planted in the garden, and seed potatoes, but it's just too wet. My stepson came over yesterday to help Russ work on the new house and put up a tarp covered garage we've been meaning to put up for two years now. He stayed over to do some more work today but so far they've been rained out. The forecast, dare I say, looks good for the rest of the week though.

It's the time of year for oxeye daisy, orange hawkweed, Indian paintbrush, phlox, and lupine. We don't have too many patches of wild lupine here but there are some areas where garden lupines have naturalized and are blooming like crazy. The starflowers are still blooming along the trail, joined by wild lily of the valley and bunchberry. I'm keeping an eye out for potential blackberry picking sites, which are revealed by the blossoms right now.

Monday, June 13, 2005

My "new" washing machine

We went to my aunt and uncle's lake place on Saturday, and we picked up three very useful items, all for free, because they were no longer being used by their owners. I like the idea of being able to reuse items that are well built, even if they may seem a bit anachronistic. One was a hand-crank meat grinder, which will come in handy if we buy a hog, shoot a deer, or even find a good price on chuck roast. Another was a wood stove, which we have no immediate use for but may eventually end up in a garage. The third, and the best deal of all, was a 1958 Maytag wringer washer.

Laundry has been a problem ever since we moved here. Once a week my husband or I have had to drive fifteen miles into town and spend up to $20 at the laundromat. This process took up the greater part of a day by the time everything was sorted and folded, and left me with frazzled nerves. Laundromats are generally dreary places to hang out, especially with three young children. In some urban college areas I imagine there are laundromats that make the experience bearable by serving alcoholic beverages or having Internet access available, and the people that frequent these places might even be interesting. But around here the only entertainment is a few old Good Housekeeping magazines, Christian tracts, and the bulletin board. It's an unwritten rule that people don't talk to each other except to complain about the dryer on the end that doesn't work, or the person who brought in fifteen loads and shoved five comforters in the super size machine, then went to the bar and left everything sitting for two hours. I have tried to bring in reading material, but I only get a few sentences read before I have to keep Joey from climbing into a dryer or tossing unknown objects into other peoples' washers.

The environmental impact of washing laundry this way leaves something to be desired as well. There is the gallon or more of gasoline consumed to bring the laundry to town, the energy and water consumption by the washers and dryers, the treatment of wastewater and leaching of chlorine and other chemicals from detergents and fabric softeners. And doing such quantities at a time means I have little time to pay individual attention to clothing items that may require special care. Stains don't get pretreated, buttons get lost, and the lifetime of the garments is perhaps shortened.

By contrast, the wringer washer is an incredibly simple technology that consumes relatively small amounts of electricity and water. It is quiet, and the gentle agitation is easy on clothing. My grandma always said the wringing process takes more water out of the clothes than the spin cycle of an automatic washer, so the drying time is less. And the drying is the best part; free solar energy, and the clean smell of clothes dried outside, no artificial fragrances necessary.

Yesterday we set the machine up outside, next to the shower, and gave it a trial run. Except for the electrical plug, which needed replacing, everything worked perfectly. I selected a load of the kids' clothes, presoaked them in a metal washtub, transferred them to the machine, and agitated them for about fifteen minutes. I drained the wash water, ran some rinse water, then started wringing. What fun--the whole family was there in an assembly line: Joe and Vincent handed me clothes, I put them through the wringer (avoiding the proverbial "tit in the wringer"), and Nina and Russ hung them on a wooden drying rack and a makeshift clothesline.

I often think our modern "timesaving" appliances create a disjunction that prevents one from any involvement or pleasure with the task. The assumption is that washing dishes by hand, or doing anything with laundry except for putting it in and out of machines, is a waste of valuable leisure time, and the appliances supposedly spare one from this drudgery. However, when we remove ourselves from the tasks necessary to live the way we do, we lose the possibility of finding enjoyment in the task itself. I enjoy reconnecting to the task, getting my hands wet, understanding that this is not drudgery but a vital activity in our family's life, an act of beauty, art, and prayer in its execution.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Just outside the office door

What a pleasure it is to work in a place where I can still have some connection to the outdoors, instead of in a cubicle maze twenty stories up in some city. Just this morning right outside the office front door, we were treated to the sight of a female snapping turtle who chose that unusual spot to deposit her eggs. I snapped a few photos on the office digital camera.

snapping turtle laying eggs, 6/10 Posted by Hello

reaching the mouth of the river

This is it. Today, after more than 32 years working as a fisheries technician with the Department of Natural Resources, Al is retiring. I have known Al for over twelve years and worked with him for nearly eight. If that doesn't make sense, I left my job here in 1999 and came back in 2003. Long story. Anyway, Al was a dependable and hard worker who could be counted on to do whatever task the boss had for him.

Al's favorite assignment, and one in which his work skills put the rest of us to shame, was sturgeon sampling with hook and line. Yes, this was a legitimate, sanctioned duty that yielded valuable data concerning the lake sturgeon populations of the Kettle and St. Croix rivers. Al is pictured below with one of his prize specimens, which was tagged and released.

I can't imagine walking into work Monday morning and not seeing Al at his usual spot at the end of the table. Al, you could be set in your ways and stubborn as a mule sometimes, but I'm going to miss you. Best wishes!

Enjoy your retirement, Al

Al on the job Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Tomato crazy

I can't think of much to write about today, so I'll continue my garden description with the tomato varieties I planted. I have five 4x8 raised beds of tomatoes now, with a total of 40 plants in the ground. Most if not all of the varieties I have planted are heirlooms; that is, they are open-pollinated (not hybrid) varieties, ones from which seeds can be saved. Many of the varieties were introduced in the late 1800's or early 1900's, and were the preferred kinds until seed companies started ensuring future sales by introducing patented hybrids. I became interested in heirloom tomatoes back in 1993 or 1994 when I had my first garden at our house in a semi-rural housing development. My husband happened to hear about the company Seeds of Change on the radio, and we ordered their catalog. The idea of time-tested varieties, selected for superior flavor and suitability to local conditions and passed from generation to generation, appealed to me. When I tasted my first home grown Brandywine, I was forever hooked. I now refuse to buy out-of-season tasteless tomatoes from the grocery store.

This year was the first in five years that I've been able to start tomato plants and had a place to plant more than just a few of them. I had a few growing in containers last year but it was a half hearted effort that ended with a heavy frost on August 10th.

Here are the varieties, as I can remember them while sitting here at work. Ones that are tried and true include Brandywine, to which there is no equal; Rose, a variety from Johnny's that is advertised as "Some say it's just as good as Brandywine..."; Stupice, which may yield my first fruit of the season; Amish Paste, a great tasting productive variety that makes good salsa; Yellow Pear, which even my son, who won't touch red tomatoes in any form but ketchup, likes.

Others that I have not tried, or maybe tried but forgot or got mixed up with other varieties, include: Wisconsin 55, Black Cherry, Mother Russia, and Black from Tula, courtesy of Martin "Paquebot" Longseth of Wisconsin; Maskabec, Enterprize, Martino's Roma and Tiffen Mennonite, from Sand Hill Preservation; Siberia, Aker's Plum Pink, Green Zebra, Omar's Lebanese, Garden Peach, and Legend, from various sources; and some kind of Roma that grows nicely in containers, according to my neighbor Patty. So that's 20 varieties, and I'm sure I may have missed some.

Seedlings are starting to come up in the non-tomato beds: pickling cucumbers, winter squash, pole beans, rutabagas, cabbages, radishes, and second plantings of lettuce and beet greens. I'm enjoying fresh mixed lettuce salads every day, with some orach, arugula, spinach, and mizuna mixed in. The tatsoi is starting to bolt already; I don't know if I have much use for this green. And the spinach is getting out of control huge! I steamed some in the microwave last night and the kids even liked it.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Monday nature stuff

I had a Marlin Perkins moment today, when a video camera would have been handy if not priceless. A coworker and I were out on a lake, driving under a bridge and through a channel that connects the two lakes. The channel has a lot of nice emergent vegetation and water lilies, good wildlife habitat. As we were motoring through we heard a hen mallard quacking anxiously. We looked towards the shore and there was the hen, with her ducklings about ten feet out in the water, and on the shore stood a fox. I stopped the boat and we watched, for a good minute or more, as the fox just stood there contemplating the potential meal, and the hen swam back and forth, quacking up a ruckus. Finally the fox turned and trotted back into the woods; we stayed to watch if it went far away but we didn't see it. Real life drama at its best.

I came home to the sight of two naked butts, and one with swimming trunks, in our pond at the front of our land. My husband had the kids out swimming. What a wonderful sight, I mean, this is what childhood is supposed to be! I stayed out with them for another hour, drinking a beer and watching their innocence as well as the reflections of the white pines in the water. The Dharma Bum had a recent post about sitting still and watching the water and the sky. My pond isn't that big, but at least it's something that I can get that feeling any time I want.

At sunset I took Togo (my Siberian husky puppy) out for a walk. There in the driveway, not there before during the swimming, was a painted turtle laying her eggs in the middle of the driveway. I marked the spot with a rock, and I'll try to mark the nest so we don't drive directly over it.

Yesterday we found a red bellied snake. Russ was mowing out by the pond, and I flipped one of the canoes over so I could move it, and there it was. However, today it is either roaming free inside the cabin or it was an unsatisfying meal for a cat. We also saw a small snapping turtle up close, and a wood frog. Can they really learn this shit in school?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Rainy Sunday morning

Russ and I are up a little before seven; it is raining and we are drinking coffee. The kids are in various stages of waking up, but for now there is mostly quiet. We are talking about our search for meaning, how we want to find who we are and what we were really meant to do on this earth, in this life. I don't want to go to the grave with nothing more but good intentions. We talk about our quest for the direct spiritual experience. Some people seem to find great meaning in going to church services, but that has never done it for either of us. We think what it would be like to belong to a true community of believers, who did not follow any one scripture word for word but opened ourselves to receive the spirit directly. And we would have some incredible bluegrass gospel music at every service.

We talk about how our closest spiritual experiences have been in nature, particularly on beaches. We recall one beach in Mendocino County, California, where we spent a totally unprogrammed day listening to the waves, building driftwood sculptures and using driftwood sticks to drum on the bigger logs. It seems we felt close to God then. We talk about other places, other beaches: Edisto Island in South Carolina, Park Point in Duluth. We talk about our childhood memories of beaches and wild places, Russ in the coastal lowlands of South Carolina at his grandmother's house, I at my grandpa's place on the St. John's River in Florida. I used to walk out on my grandpa's long dock and watch herons, egrets, anhingas, snakes, crabs, and other creatures at the water's edge. The best times were when we would take the boat out; we even saw manatees out in the river.

We talk about fishing, how Russ took it for granted that everyone had a mile long pier on Lake Erie to fish from as a child. He and his buddy used to go out every day and fish for perch; it was within walking distance from their houses. They didn't need an adult to drive them, and it was totally unprogrammed, not "soccer practice at 6 at the humongous complex ten miles away from home".

We talked about travel, how we long to go back to some of these places in our childhood and discover new places. Public schools make it difficult; travel must be planned during school breaks, although it can be done during the school year the administrators make you feel like you are breaking the law and disrupting your child's learning process if you want to take them out for a week or two.

Lately we have been discussing the need to preserve folk knowledge, of building techniques, cooking, canning, sewing, and knitting. I don't know how to knit; I learned to crochet as a teenager and made one afghan, but I am curious about knitting. I want to spin wool and make wool socks and sweaters. We look through the course catalog from North House Folk School in Grand Marais; here they teach everything from knitting to boat building. Perhaps I can revive some of my Scandinavian heritage through knitting.

Just some rambling thoughts on a rainy June morning.

Friday, June 03, 2005


I got to spend some time outdoors today, in the name of work. I was inspecting lakeshores, places where people have applied for a permit to remove aquatic vegetation so they can swim/fish/get their jet ski or boat out into the water. Unfortunately I can't just rubber stamp a big "NO" on any permit application that involves the use of herbicides. I can understand using a little elbow grease to cut and pull a few plants in a small area, but why it is legal to spray poison in public waters is beyond me. So my job is to make sure that any plant removal is justified, and that the impact to the lake is minimal.

I also don't understand why, when someone from the cities buys a lake lot these days, they feel obligated to clear it, mow it to within inches of the water, put up a barrier of riprap, and put up the kind of landscaping so as to render it indistinguishable from the suburban lot back home. Then they build a mini-mansion to use as their "weekend place". I find the old fashioned, small cabins much more charming, and the visual impact is much more favorable to the up north experience of going to the lake. Now if the septic impacts were only so benign...

My old friend Aphanizomenon is already beginning to appear in the water column. Looking like finely shredded grass clippings, this blue green algae thrives on excess phosphorus and nitrogen from runoff and leaching from septic systems. By mid summer it forms layers of scum tinged bright turquoise, hence the name "blue green" algae. I am not allergic to many things, but I am definitely allergic to this particular algae. Years ago, when I was doing some netting (for work) on the same lake I was at today, I told my partner that within thirty minutes I would be sneezing uncontrollably, and I was right. And that was just from working in a boat on the surface of the water. Swimming in it would require heavy doses of Benadryl. I found out the particular species when I was in graduate school and took a course called "Biology of Algae". Our field work took us to a lake in eastern South Dakota that at the time had the consistency of pea soup. After canoeing out and taking a scum specimen, I was sneezing and rubbing bloodshot eyes in the back seat of the professor's car all the rest of the way to the Black Hills. Microcystis or Anabaena didn't do it; just Aphanizomenon.

I heard two loons calling as they swam and dove out in the open water, but I did not see if they had any chicks yet. Not living on a lake, I don't get to hear their calls too often and it is always a pleasure. And, as I was standing on shore writing some notes, a ruby throated hummingbird came within two feet of me, hovering just inches off the ground, and took a few sips from a Creeping Charlie blossom.