Saturday, April 28, 2007

my younger two kids...what can I say...

They love each other. Nearly as much as I love them. They are the best.

By the way, Calvin was at a sleepover at a friend's house. Otherwise, he most certainly would have been included!

the feel of rich soil

It was one of those Minnesota spring days, blue nearly cloudless skies, high temperature around 70, but with a gentle to moderate breeze. It being a Saturday, you can guess where I spent part of my day.
I had just received my order of onion sets from Territorial Seeds. In previous years I have grown onions from those dry little bulbs purchased at a garden center, but I never had much luck with producing big onions from them. Territorial offered bunches of mini onion plants, which I thought were much more alive and would give an advantage over dry, dormant bulbs. I ordered a package which contained a red, a yellow, and Walla Walla sweet onions. My uncle (mom's brother) lived in Walla Walla, Washington for a number of years before recently moving back to my grandparents' lake home. He always brought a big sack of onions when he and the family came for a midsummer visit. They're not good keepers, but they have a wonderful mild onion taste. I wonder how much of it comes from the variety, and how much from the soil. I'll find out, I guess.

Onions, I've heard, are heavy feeders and need a rich soil, so I went around to each of my raised beds, digging up a little soil, before I finally settled on the bed pictured above. This bed, I think, was one of the original raised beds we placed in this garden plot in 2004. My garden record keeping isn't all that great, but judging by the quality of the soil it is one of the older beds. Last year I had peas and Swiss chard (or was it kohlrabi? Basil? Bad garden record-keeper!), so the peas should have enriched the soil with nitrogen.

The dirt had a wonderfully dark, crumbly, rich feel to it, and I dug up a couple earthworms and grubs, which was a good sign. There is life in the soil. Most of it is not as obvious as an earthworm, but nonetheless important. It's intuitive to me: we should nurture and build up the soil, not blast it with chemicals that kill.

The picture above shows the "shovel test" I did to see how deeply the layer of workable topsoil went. The shovel blade is probably ten inches long, so you get the picture. The workable, living soil extends down below the raised bed itself. Three years ago there was nothing but crusty rocky sandy loam, reddish in color. Other, newer beds have a very different, more shallow profile.

Here's the bed after I finished planting; after this photo I topped it off with some old hay mulch from the potato beds. I finished planting potatoes today also; the bed I found frost in last week had warmed up considerably. I still have a lot of onion sets left over, including all the Walla Wallas; I'll figure out a place for them tomorrow.

My salad greens are up after planting two (three? Bad record keeper!) weeks ago. They grow under hoops covered with a floating row cover material I'm trying out this year. It's supposed to be permeable to rain, but I'm finding out it may be not that permeable. I water them regularly.

It's still a month away from planting time for most crops, like tomatoes and beans and peppers. I'm having a terrible time with starting tomato and pepper seeds this year. They germinate, grow for a week, then suddenly the leaves, and the plants, just disappear. I'm thinking it's a fungal disease, called "damping off", which irritates me because the seed starting soil mix I ordered specifically stated that it prevents damping off. I'm going to give a final try to starting some seeds tonight or tomorrow, but I may have to resort to buying plants. Sigh. So many varieties I know I won't be able to find at the local garden center!

UPDATE- It wasn't damping off. It was mice! They annihilated the last of my tomato seedlings last night and nibbled the leaves off the new pepper plants. There were holes dug in the soil in one of the flats. Now that's a new garden pest problem to me! So I dug deep in my pockets and ordered transplants from Seed Savers Exchange for some of the tomato and pepper varieties. Pricey, but I need my Brandywine and Stupice and Amish Paste heirloom tomatoes!

I could have done a lot more in the garden, but I didn't want to be out in the midday sun too long, this being one of my first sun exposures of the year. I was wearing shorts and a tank top, and parts of my body are a light shade of pink right now, but I got my Vitamin D!

In other news, I saw a male evening grosbeak today. I had seen a few late last fall, and none throughout the winter, when I usually see them at the feeder. Evening grosbeaks are a boreal forest species, preferring to spend their time even more Up North than where I live. But there he was in all his yellowness. Maybe I'm more Up North than I think.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

expanding on wonder

Wonder is walking out the same door, looking out the same window, walking the same path every day and seeing something new each time; or if not seeing something new, seeing something as it had never been seen before, or as if it had never been seen before.

Wonder is the deep sigh, the gasp upon spotting an eagle, the inward smile upon being serenaded by a sparrow. It is what makes one take notice of the smallest starflower, a butterfly, or a gleaming-winged unnamed insect.

Wonder is the sense of how every note in a Mozart symphony is just right, just as it should be, and how did one mere mortal conjure up the One True Voice?

Wonder defies words. To reduce a sudden sensation of wonder to a vocalized exclamation is to trivialize it. I feel pretty silly when I hear myself utter "Cool!" when I behold a soaring eagle. An eagle isn't cool. An eagle just is.

Note: I got into a groove at work today, and I wrote this out with pen on a scrap of paper, in about fifteen minutes. I haven't edited or added to it, yet. Let me know where I should go with this.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Quote for the day

"Wonder is my second favorite condition to be in, after love--and I sometimes wonder whether there's even a difference: maybe love is just wonder aimed at a beloved. Wonder is like grace, in that it's not a condition we grasp: wonder grasps us. We do have the freedom to elude wonder's grasp. We have the freedom to do all sorts of stupid things. By deploying cynicism, rationalism, fear, arrogance, judgmentalism, we can evade wonder nonstop, all our lives."

David James Duncan, from the essay "Wonder; Yogi; Gladly", in God Laughs and Plays

I hadn't run across any writing lately that really blew me away, until I started reading this book. And this is just the first chapter.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A good spring day at home

This is my home as you would see it from the road, or at least from the pond beach. It's looking good since the addition of the house roofline.

It was one of those glorious spring Sunday mornings, the kind where you realize there is so much you could do but only a finite number of hours to do something. I decided to get the most grim, unpleasant job done first. I went out to our "pet cemetery" and dug a hole. The daffodils were starting to come up on the other graves there. Then I got Puffball's body out of the freezer and buried him. In the process of digging, I came up with a number of rocks, which I arranged in a circle around the filled hole. I brought my flute out and played one verse of "Amazing Grace".

Next I decided the priority of the day was getting potatoes planted. I could have also planted sugar snap peas and Swiss chard, but that will get done some time this week. I could not even get all the potatoes planted, because I discovered frost in one bed that still had a heavy layer of mulch. Potatoes planted there would likely rot. I'll let it thaw and dry another day or two.

While I was preparing potato beds, I heard the voice of a sandhill crane. I looked up, thinking it was flying low, but then I saw it so high in the sky it was barely a speck, circling on the thermals. For a bird with a six foot wingspan, it had to be a couple thousand feet up. Was it just enjoying itself, circling up there, calling out every once in a while for the fun of it?

Later I heard a high pitched Kee-ir! Kee-ir! and knew, from a similar day last year, it was a pair of harriers. I saw them circling together. I wonder if it was the same pair from last year.

In other bird news, the yellow bellied sapsuckers have arrived, as well as ruby crowned kinglets and even the first yellow rumped warblers! Soon the woods will be busy.

We did the first official swim today, sort of. Starflower and Mr. Attitude wanted to play on the beach and maybe go in the water, so I took a break from garden detail and watched them. They decided maybe the water was still a little cold. The skies turned overcast while we were out there; it is raining as I write this, and the temperature has fallen ten degrees.

Hopi and Sally were out exploring while I was gardening, and they happened to find a good mud hole in the wetland beyond the garden. Sally thought she looked good in darkface. I took her out to the pond before I allowed her back in the house. By the way, Maggie was with The Hermit as he was doing some errands in Duluth. I told him he had to take at least one dog, and he thought he could get some good attention with a puppy. ;)

Just another spring day here at Sand Creek. Life is good.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

what's my religion?

I went to a wedding today. The bride, a cousin of mine, was the age my mother would have been, 60 something, the groom a Lutheran minister somewhat younger. She for the first time, he the second. They both looked so earnest, I just about cried. I wish them well.

The service was held in a little Lutheran church in a little town, the town where my great great grandfather settled when he came over from Sweden. So I have roots there, probably as much roots as I know of anywhere. I was related to maybe half the people at the wedding through my great grandparents. Overall, they're a pretty tame bunch, very Lake Wobegon. No wild wedding reception, no black sheep, except maybe me. ;)

I couldn't help but think, however, that it's been a very long time since I've attended a traditional Lutheran church service, and how rote and recitational it all seemed now. I was raised in that denomination, even went to a Lutheran college, but lately I've been, well, led differently. My church is now more among the white pines and frog choruses and chickadees and eagles. What a contrast to the liturgy at the wedding service today, complete with Nicene Creed and Holy Communion. The church of doctrine, of organ music and hymns written by sadistic church musicians. I used to think I couldn't carry a tune, thanks to hymnals all written in the wrong keys for my voice, with hymns that droned excessive verbiage with plodding unpredictable melody.

It felt really familiar to me; I knew all the congregational responses, sang along, knew what was coming. But then again, I felt like I did when I was twelve years old and attended my first Roman Catholic mass with a friend when I was a guest at their family cabin. The ritual overwhelmed me then, the genuflection and kneeling and holy water. I was in a panic by the time Communion came along, but then I was saved by my friend's mother who whispered "You can stay here. You only take Communion if you are confirmed Catholic." Which was strange, since I had taken my First Communion as a Lutheran a year before. But when in Rome...

So at least I know what I'm not. But what am I? A worshiper who delights at watching the mating display flight of the snipe? Who is thrilled that she may have seen a peregrine falcon today, not enough info to verify but the wings were so falcon-like? Who noticed the arrival of the yellow bellied sapsuckers on this rainy but warm day? Who thinks Handel's Messiah just can't compare to a frog chorus on a warm spring evening?

My favorite hymn is "How Great Thou Art", appropriately Swedish in origin:

O lord my God
when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand has made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
The power of the universe displayed

Then sings my soul
my savior God to thee
How great thou art
How great thou art
Then sings my soul
my savior God to thee
How great thou art
How great thou art!

When through the woods
and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees
When I look down
from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze
Then sings my soul
my savior God to thee
How great thou art
How great thou art
Then sings my soul
my savior God to thee
How great thou art

The world, the creation, is good. Let's treat it that way.

Friday, April 20, 2007

we interrupt this regularly scheduled Friday night vodka-tinted rant to give you...

Maggie. I gotta admit, she's cute.

I had no idea I would be surrogate parent to yet another puppy today. The Hermit had warned me he needed a Chesapeake, told me he had one picked out, but...he drove all the way to Fargo ND today (he was halfway there, granted...had to work a wildlife "banquet" last night...) to get her. Didn't warn me that tonight we'd have one more shredder of everything shreddable in the house!

Chesapeakes are supposed to grow larger than Labs. Yikes.

But she is cute, and I like her puppy temperament a lot better than that Brittany we have.

And isn't that a nice-looking boy holding her?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

damn phoebes

They're in the new house. Again. Despite the fact that the only entrance for them is under the eaves.

I'll leave a door or window open for them. I guess.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

What I forgot to say..

I got enough material for about a week's worth of posts yesterday. It was that wonderful of a day. And tonight the wood frogs and spring peepers are singing, so life is great.

I forgot to mention yesterday, the water in Sand Creek looked very clear. Unsweetened tea colored clear, as is the custom and water standard here. I had posted last year about my worries that the water was turbid. I wonder if that had anything to do with the drought, if water coming from groundwater is perhaps more turbid than runoff water. Either way, the water looks good this spring.

So life is good here. The trout still aren't biting, neither are the creek chubs or common shiners. But we've been out looking for them, and that's what counts.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

an anti-melancholy day!

Today was so great I have to post twice. The first, (well, this year it's the second) time we have a sunny day in the spring, with high temperature above 50, well, it's pretty exciting. My cheeks are still flushed, not with excitement, but a touch of sunburn. :)

The pond is now free of ice, as of yesterday. There has been a pair of mallards hanging around; I hope they are thinking of nesting.

I had a haircut/eyebrow waxing appointment at 9:00. Yes, I'm blessed with what would be a very thick unibrow, and I have just enough vanity in me to want to control it some.

When I arrived home, I parked out front to avoid mud. As I was walking in the trail to the cabin, I heard a tapping noise. Of course it was a woodpecker, I was just curious what it was tapping on. I scanned the trees, then looked down on a fallen bough to see a female black backed woodpecker!

So I went out to try to get a photo of the woodpecker (unsuccessful), and the mallard hen (see above). The Hermit and Mr. Attitude were on a recycling run, and when they came back Mr. Attitude got out of the truck to see me by the pond. He and I proceeded to go on a little walk. By the way, he chose the sweater, I didn't. Please click on the photo to enlarge; his look is precious.

We came across a couple of local fellows fishing in the creek. It was Calvin and his friend Keith, who had spent the night. Trout season opened today, and they were anxious to see if the brook trout were biting. They weren't; at least not on bacon fat.

They walked away from video games for this. Imagine that.

Next, Attitude and I walked around the horse pasture across the creek. Mr. Attitude enjoyed running so Drifter, our one year old filly, would start running with him.

After our walk, which we both enjoyed immensely, I attempted to get a little work done in the garden. I planted spinach, lettuce and other greens, but there was Calvin with his baseball bat and ball, and then Calvin with his fishing pole, asking if we could go out fishing some more. Guess who won. The verdict: Trout in Sand Creek don't bite on bacon. Searching Ebay for a fly rod.

It was a day of letting go, of letting my kids lead me, of being in the moment. It was the sort of day the first REAL day of spring in Minnesota should be. I am hearing frogs tonight, and it is beautiful.

woo-hoo! Rare yard bird alert!

I have a female black-backed woodpecker in the woods near my house! Sorry, no photo, at least not yet. She's fairly tolerant of human activity, but as soon as I get my camera out she hides behind a tree.

Black backed woodpeckers are a species of boreal spruce forests. Sand Creek is at about the southern limit of their usual range. They forage for insects under tree bark by picking off the outer layer of bark, which is why I thought these tamaracks may have been visited by one. When we first moved here, I saw a male black backed woodpecker in our dead spruce by the house. I thought I saw one last fall, but I wasn't sure.

I saw the female this morning as I was walking up the path to the cabin, having had to park my car out front due to the mud factor. I heard a tapping, and scanned the pines for what I thought was probably a hairy woodpecker. Then I looked down and found it on a large white pine bough that had fallen about a year ago. I just happened to have the binoculars in my hands (how often does that happen?) and it gave me a good chance to look before it flew up into a nearby pine. I knew immediately it wasn't a Hairy, because its back was solid, glossy black.

This is the fallen bough, which has had much of its bark picked off. This woodpecker has been around a while! I am hoping there's a male lurking somewhere nearby.

Friday, April 13, 2007

can I indulge in some melancholy?

Yes, I'm feeling that way tonight. It was a beautiful day, springlike, perhaps convincing me that the second coming of spring was going to be the real thing. I saw a bluebird, and lots of kestrels.

But yet, there was this un-right feeling. Perhaps it was from taking Mr. Attitude to kindergarten roundup today, and finding a group of mostly apathetic parents. Who mostly looked under 25. I didn't make any spontaneous friends there. Sigh.

I like a lot of the teachers at the school, that is, until fourth grade. A kindergarten teacher, who had had Starflower in her class, remarked to me: "He's really sure of himself, isn't he!" Yep. That's my Attitude. But all I see is negativity from Calvin's fourth grade teacher. Punish him for his weaknesses, don't acknowledge his strengths. The "weaknesses", by the way, are a few late assignments. It makes me want to take him out of school altogether. I feel like I'm seeing his enthusiasm for school being drained, right before my eyes. Homeschool comes to mind, a lot. I am secretly hoping there are some fifth grade teachers who care. I am going to do everything in my power to make sure Starflower does not end up with this nattering nabob of negativity for a fourth grade teacher. My kids deserve better.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Fun with school registration forms

Mr. Attitude has "Kindergarten Roundup" tomorrow afternoon, where next fall's kindergarten class gets to see the classroom, meet the teachers, and get evaluated for readiness. Mr. Attitude of course has already been to the school many times for Calvin and Starflower's conferences and activities, so he knows the ropes, and I think the teachers already know him.

Accompanying this event, of course, is a pile of paperwork which I am completing right now. Some of it is mandated by the state: what language do you speak at home (I'm thinking of writing in "Saami and Gaelic"), what nationality/race/ethnic background the child is (do you want the full or abbreviated pedigree?), etc.

The pink form in front of me right now is called the "Kindergarten Readiness Checklist", which puzzles me because nothing on the entire first side has anything to do with readiness. It asks for basic info such as address, birthdate, then an ominous bold headline reads: "THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION IS NEEDED TO PUT ON YOUR CHILD'S PERMANENT RECORD" ("child's permanent record" underlined for added emphasis). Wow. Serious stuff. THE PERMANENT RECORD. I remember being too afraid to speak up in class because every time I was wrong it might go on My Permanent Record.

Anyway, here's the stuff they are requesting for THE PERMANENT RECORD, and some of the responses I'm tempted to fill in.

Parents' nationality: Father Samoan, Mother Laplander

Parents' health: I'm tempted to go into excessive detail...actually I'm leaving it blank. None of their business.

Parents' denomination: tens and twenties? Really, are they prohibited from writing the word "religious" on the form to clarify the question a bit? Another blank. I'm not even sure myself.

Parents' occupation: Occupied.

Business address and phone: I don't work for a business, I work for the State.

Marital status: They have blanks for both "Married" and "Living together". If we're married and living together, are we required to check both blanks?

Brothers and sisters: name, sex,age, birth date, and birthplace... Okay, I can understand name, sex and age. But why would their birthplaces need to be on Mr. Attitude's PERMANENT RECORD?

Members of household other than parents and siblings: Name: Sally Sex: Female Age: 1 Position in household: Dog, often curled up on the bed.

Dwelling: They didn't have a category for "undersize cabin".

Do you live on a farm? This one actually made me think. I wrote yes.

Does your child have a room of his/her own? Yes. under construction. If not, shared with whom? 4 family members, two dogs, two to three cats, etc.

Special interests or hobbies: Bidding on eBay items from sellers in the UK. Watching "The Big Lebowski".

A few more basics, then: Is your child extremely shy or quiet?


just ask any employee of any store he's been in with his dad. :)

What types of control are most frequently used? Mostly remote and Game Cube. Oh, you mean behavior control? You mean I'm supposed to CONTROL my child, as if he were a TV or Game Cube? I prefer unconditional love, respect, and openness myself. But I've been known to yell sometimes.

And, finally after a couple mundane health-related questions: Is there anything special that you would like the kindergarten teacher to know about your child?

Yes. I love him. Even when he drives me nuts. Good luck, and remember I'm trusting you with the most important person in the world.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

You know it's springtime in Minnesotarctica when...

  • one day it's short sleeve weather, the next it's parka weather.
  • the wind chill factor is still a factor in May.
  • you find Canada geese turning around and heading south again when the ponds re-freeze.
  • you never know from day to day if you can keep the beer chilled on the outside step, or have to put it in the fridge or a cooler, or bring it inside before it freezes.
  • it's sunny and 25 degrees outside, but the sunlight is so strong it melts ice and snow.
  • you see pictures of ice-covered crocuses in the newspaper. Really.
  • you're almost ready to put the winter boots away, but you follow you gut instinct and leave them out. Later you're glad you trusted your inner polar bear.
  • your coworkers set nets in the little open water on a lake to get the northern pike run, and end up chiseling them out of ice.
  • roads are covered with snow, but the frost boils still hold pockets of unfrozen water.
  • you take a chance and wash your car when the worst of mud season appears to be over, and it snows a foot the next day.

This second winter we're experiencing is a cruel, cruel joke.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

disapproving robins

"I knew we should have stayed in Florida another week or two!"

We've had close to a foot of snow here in the last 24 hours. I know. Dreadful. The roads are the worst; a little slush on top, combined with those jerks who would tailgate me when I am doing my best to drive safely.

These robins were just a small part of the many birds at the feeder today; dark eyed juncos were the most abundant, also fox sparrows, house finches, cardinals, and an occasional red bellied woodpecker. This is April in Minnesota!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Puzzler: Who was here?

While on my way back from the magical trout stream bedrock outcrop, I saw the above scene. I apologize for the picture quality, although it shows what i wanted it to show.

Notice the gray bark on most of the tamaracks, and the bright reddish brown bark on some of them. The question is, who did that?

A hint: they like woody habitat.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

hidden creek

After a rainy weekend spent indoors with the kids, not to mention a broken GameCube (We're getting it fixed, but meanwhile The Hermit found a standby on Ebay for $25), I needed to get out. Yes, earlier I had made it walking as far as the pond, but this little cat named Ms. Otto kept following me, and I didn't want to get too close to the neighbors across the road and find out what they were really discussing outside this afternoon. So I had to escape through muddy driveway and muddy roads with our van, for just a little break.

The van didn't have much gas, so I didn't venture out too far, just along a dead end road that goes to the east less than a mile north of here. I was hoping to see a raptor or two, or some other signs of spring. I drove up the road, noticing the torrent of water flowing where last year I was walking over wet rocks but still seeing brook trout.

I drove up close to the end, then turned around in a driveway. Driving back, I decided to stop at a small area that has intrigued me. There is a bedrock outcrop there, and a small road flag on the north side of the road warns of the danger, if there is one. I pulled the van to the side of the road, turned the engine off, and got out.

The ground was saturated with the recent rainfall, but it was not too much. After all, on a bedrock outcrop, there's not going to be too much mud! I heard the rushing of water, hidden in a deep crevice below. As I approached the sound, I saw bright green.

The moss and lichens show that there is no topsoil here. But they are doing thier best to take care of that situation, dissolving rock and dying and building up an organic layer.

Not too far off the road, I came to a steep ledge, and there was the stream rushing below. In this particular area, it looked like it cut through a break in the bedrock. The banks at one point were about twenty feet high. I felt as if I had stumbled upon a magical place, a geological oddity in this land where flat shrub swamps are the rule.

This picture hardly gives it justice; the undergrowth got in the way. I was standing on a high, narrow ridge of rock.

I had not seen this creek in this area before. I had always seen it as a little roadside ditch. But now I understand I was only seeing part of the picture along the continuum.

This part of the stream looks very trouty. Given the bedrock, there are likely spring seeps that keep the stream temperature cool in summer. Good shade here too.

So that was my surprise blessing for the day. I also heard my first ruffed grouse drumming this year, as I was walking back from that spot along the creek.

Earlier, I was in the cookshed doing something (or possibly escaping) when Mr. Attitude came running in. "Mom, what kind of birds go woo-woo?"

"That could be swans!" I was out the door. Just in time to see a flock of tundra swans flying low, right over the house. Woo-woo. This is so awesome.

Totally unrelated, tonight we watched the movie "Borat". It is hilarious. Tears of laughter at some points. Highly recommended.