Thursday, March 30, 2006

high water on Sand Creek

At pablo's request, I took this picture of Sand Creek from the road while walking Togo this afternoon. (It is very difficult to take a clear photo, in low light, when you have a very strong husky pulling at the leash!) When the water is this high, we can hear it rushing over a big beaver dam way back in the swamp.

About halfway up in the photo if you look to the left of the creek you can see the remains of an old logging railroad crossing. The logging railroad was in operation for a short time in the 1890's when there were still vast acreages of white pine around here. We have a friend who has found many artifacts of the railroad with his metal detector.

In front of the railroad crossing, which is much steeper than it looks in the photo, is the swimmin' hole. Twelve feet deep or more, with spring fed, cold water in the middle of summer. I'm sure a brook trout or two find refuge there. We have not been swimming there recently; we want to be confident that the kids can handle the deep, cold water. But if you have a big inner tube, there is a nice eddy current that will take you in lazy circles as long as you want.

At normal water levels, the nearest part of the creek would be about half that width, and run in two almost distinct channels.

I think this is as high as it will get; most of the snow has melted and run off. Our cabin and new house site are located on somewhat higher ground, a hundred yards or more away from the creek, which is mostly confined by old ditch banks. In other words, flooding has never been a concern.

It was incredibly quiet today as I walked with Togo. I think the frozen ground amplifies every sound, while the damp, thawing ground mutes sounds.


I awoke early this morning to something I had not heard for months; the sound of raindrops on the roof. It stayed well above freezing last night, so this rain will help to wash away what's left of the snow and ice. Sand Creek is running high from all of the recent snowmelt, although it's not flooding as of yet. Although the pond is still definitely ice covered, water is flowing out the outflow culvert. When the pond froze last fall, it was after a heavy rainfall and the water level was very high.

Goldfinches, purple finches, juncos and evening grosbeaks were making a lot of noise this morning, but the song I enjoyed most was that of a robin perched high in a treetop. Although I had seen robins over a week ago, this was the first robin song I heard.

Yesterday it seemed bluebirds were everywhere, which is unusual for this place; they generally prefer more open areas. I guess if you count marsh and alder swamp as open area, we do have a lot of that. On my to-do list this year (as if it isn't long enough already) I want to plan and put up bluebird nest boxes, near the garden and also across the creek where I saw bluebirds two days ago. The creek would also be a good spot for a wood duck box or two.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

a blessing

At least that's how I see it.

I had to get to the post office by 4:00 to mail something. Calvin and Starflower were out front already, where I had parked the car, with Sally. Mr. Attitude was looking for his boots; he thought he maybe left them out in the mudhole we call our parking area, which is why I parked the car out front. Since he had no alternative footwear handy, I grudgingly agreed to go out to the mudhole to look for the boots. I saw them, ten feet out into the mud. As I was making my way out there, I looked up just in time to see a bald eagle gliding low, just ten feet above the upper floor of the new house. It headed out towards the chicken coop, which created no small ruckus, then off over the tamaracks towards the creek. I was breathless. Wow.

A second later I heard the excited shouts of Calvin and Starflower: "Let's go tell Mom! Mom, we saw a huge eagle! Its wings were ten feet across!"

Could it be anything but a blessing on this wonderful spring day?

Update: Another blessing, this time at 4 am when I was taking the puppy outside. The first woodcock of spring, peenting in the dark!

the garden revealed

So it wasn't all just a dream There really was a garden under all that snow!

With the warmth of the sun, the snow and ice have been melting fast this week, revealing all of the forgotten memories of last fall and renewing the promise of a new growing season. This time of year requires patience however; the snow never melts as quickly as I'd like it to, and then there's the mud. It will be at least two weeks before the soil is thawed and dry enough to work so I can plant the first greens. I did get a head start on greens, though. I have arugula, corn salad, chives, cilantro, and lettuce seeds planted in flats indoors. The first tiny sprouts of arugula appeared this morning.

A flock of purple finches and juncos arrived at the feeder today; I had not seen these birds since perhaps January. Now I awake to a chorus of Canada geese and sandhill cranes as well as chickadees and evening grosbeaks.

The kids are finally playing outdoors in the warm sun; it's nice to have a quiet break indoors without the TV or video games. I'm still moving a bit slowly, but at the same time enjoying the opportunity to take it easy.

Monday, March 27, 2006

placeholder post

I'm feeling sore and crabby today. My entire body hurts, no doubt related to my efforts yesterday to remove as much snow and ice as humanly possible from the floor of the new house. My rationale was that it would hasten the melting, and more importantly, the drying process, so we could restart our building efforts sooner, but I neglected to consider the fact that repeated kicking, stomping, lifting, throwing, and other physical actions beyond my normal routine could cause stress to joints and muscles. On top of it all, I have swollen glands in my neck, the indicator of a virus trying to take hold.

It's also the first day of spring break for the kids, and The Hermit is away on business until Wednesday, so I'm taking the days off to be with them. My mind, therefore, is not in a place where I can write anything coherent, let alone thoughtful. Although I have ideas. I heard the sandhill cranes today for the first time, and I saw two bluebirds when I was taking Togo for a walk. Hopefully I will regain my will to write soon.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

go hawks

I normally am oblivious to sports, especially prep team sports. But I just found out my alma mater Robbinsdale Cooper is in the state 4A (biggest schools) boys basketball championship for the first time in thirty years. My mom's hometown team, Braham, won the 2A title this afternoon. Cooper plays for the title tonight; I don't know if I will be able to watch it here, or if I will be able to watch my other secret favorite sport, figure skating (World Championships).

by the way...isn't that cool, the Cooper Hawks? Although I bet not a member of the team has seen a live Cooper's hawk. Where I live right now, it's the East Central Eagles, another cool mascot. I could not relate to the Lions or the Tigers or something that does not exist here. Minnesota professional sports teams have done well lately, naming the Timberwolves (basketball) and the generic Wild (hockey, although I much preferred the North Stars. )

I really don't know if I would be able to pay attention to a full basketball game. I played basketball in junior high, until I realized I basically sucked at basketball, and was much more cut out to be the flute player in the pep band in the stands. I hate watching basketball, either live or on TV. Too much action, too fast; baseball is more my pace.

Nevertheless, I wish them luck. When I was in high school we were the perennial last place team in the conference. I had the coach for a teacher in algebra, and his teaching skills were on par with his coaching skills.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A discussion of Boyle's Law over lunch, with Calvin the Genius

Who needs public school?

Calvin has been home the last two days with a slight, but aggravating, virus. I grew up thinking that fizzy lime drinks e.g. 7up are good for such ailments. Who knows. Anyway, as we were having lunch, staring at a 2 liter bottle of Sierra Mist, he says to me:

"If you went diving way deep, and you came up too fast, would you die?"

"Well, you'd have some serious problems." I was certified for scuba diving many years ago. I started explaining about gases in the blood, and how they responded to changes in pressure.

"What would happen if I took this bottle way up in the atmosphere in a helicopter and threw it out the window?"

" would explode, I guess." I could see the light bulb in the imaginary cloud above his head.

For a certain mass of an ideal gas at constant temperature, pressure*volume=constant. Boyle's law. Calvin gets it already. This is high school physics here!

By the way, Starflower brought his report card home for him. Straight A's. Of course. The trick is to keep him interested.

And, speaking of Starflower, what do you do when your 6 year old daughter remembers more of "The Big Lebowski" than you do, and implores you to watch it again tonight? She says: "Other parents don't let their kids watch movies with swear words, but you do!" I explain to her that the words are not there to tell people how to talk, but to accentuate the characters that are portrayed. I think she understands. I read somewhere the F-word is used like 278 times or something in that movie, dude. ;)

at peace with the "farm" life

I have never wanted to "crow" on this blog about how I've found the ideal, simple, sustainable country life. Because I'm still working out the many details and mental adjustments of it.

In fact, more often than not, I'm raising my hackles about one aspect or another of animal husbandry.

I will even tell you I'm not much of a horse person.

But, truth be told, the more time I get to spend with the animals and thinking about my gardens, the more I like it, the more I gain the confidence that I can do this.

I have had the last two days off of work while Calvin goes thru yet another mild virus, enough to keep him away from school but not enough to keep him off video games. Go figure. But, instead of blogging the day away and wishing I was at work, blogging the day away, I have found a lot of things that need doing around here but haven't because I or The Hermit have been at work. And I have found the ambition to actually do some of them.

I wasn't raised on a farm, and it's been an adjustment having animals to care for. Also, we pretty much jumped in over our heads, to put it mildly. If I had it to do all over again, we wouldn't have horses yet, and our chicken order last spring would have been much smaller. But you live and learn.

It is a lot easier, however, caring for animals when it's not -10F outside and you have a bit of time to putter around. On a nice spring morning like today, I can go out there without bundling up; even the jacket over my sweatshirt was a bit much. And without having a time schedule to adhere to, I do things that otherwise would not get done. I pitch up the hay the horses have torn loose from the round bales and rolled in and spread all over. I gather the hay that has been too trampled and dirtied for the horses to eat (spoiled creatures, they are) and bring it over to the chicken yard. The chickens appreciate having a layer between them and the mud, as well as the occasional grass seeds to eat. I gather all the old dirty eggs from the nest boxes (a couple broody hens have made this more difficult) and put fresh hay in the boxes so the eggs will stay cleaner.

I stopped short of cleaning out the floor of the chicken coop today, that's a task in itself, plus there are a few mean roosters that make the job more challenging. A few too many; chicken soup, anyone?

I'm starting to think I don't really miss my job on a day like today, a spring day with fresh air and the smell of damp earth so full of possibilities. If we had the house done, and all the bills paid for, would I really need to go back to that job and do mediocre things for fisheries resources? The satisfaction of placing my online seed orders this morning far eclipses anything I could do at work. I got my heat mat out today, the one I put under my seed flats, and the smell of the rubber warming in the sunlight really got me going; it brought me back ten years when I first started starting my own tomatoes and other plants. I may plant lettuce and greens yet today; I'm warming the potting soil in the sun right now.

Ah spring, so full of possibilities.

p.s. I found out today it's really, really hard to take good chicken pictures. Believe me.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

signs of spring/sightings

It's starting to look a lot like spring here; the major indicator is the driveway which is appearing from under a crust of snow. I know better than to even try to wash my car until things dry up a bit; right now there are mudholes and puddles in various places. It is much improved from last year, however, when I could not even drive all the way back to the house.

Another indicator is the chicken yard, which is a mudhole. Since I have an unexpected day at home with two sick boys (who aren't quite sick enough to not play video games!) I may go out there and try to scrape up some old hay or other cover to make things less messy. The geese and duck don't seem to mind though.

Male red winged blackbirds are beginning to take their places on old cattail stems and shrubs, claiming their territories before the females arrive a couple weeks later. I saw my first kestrel yesterday, and robins and bluebirds are appearing here and there.

In one of those "if I only had the camera ready" moments, I saw three bald eagles perched in one tree, their white heads brilliant in the sun. Then, Calvin exclaimed from the passenger seat, "There's another one in the air!" Sure enough, a fourth was soaring nearby.

In another "missed camera opportunity" I got a good view of a northern shrike perched in a shrub by the side of the road. I very rarely see these.

Monday, March 20, 2006 the math

If there's anything in particular that I want to accomplish before I turn 40, I have one year left to do it, as of today. I better get busy!

But today I'm taking the day off, relaxing, and The Hermit is going to make a dinner of seafood fettucine and margaritas. Maybe we'll get around to watching The Big Lebowski, which recently arrived from Netflix.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

nice day for a walk

Here's the family, sans Hermit who was taking the photo. Sally, in my arms, is eight weeks old and has been a part of the pack for two weeks today. She has grown so much, and she enjoyed our family walk down a logging/snowmobile trail two miles south of our house, running and romping most of the way.

It was a nice mild almost-spring day despite the snow, but maybe the snow was a good thing; we saw lots of tracks. Cottontail rabbit, snowshoe hare, bobcat, and even, I'm pretty sure by now, wolf. I posted a photo of it on Whorled Leaves, apropos to our book discussion of Barry Lopez' Of Wolves And Men. I am thrilled.

inspiration from strange places, part 2

While randomly paging through a compilation book called Earth Prayers this morning, I came across this meditation from Wendell Berry:

At start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter's accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck,
have listened to too much noise,
have been inattentive to wonders,
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

I guess I'm not the only one who has had a religious experience cleaning the outhouse.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

spring cleaning

I had the urge today.

The urge to clean, that is.

I'm not posting pictures, lest anyone actually find out how hideously small this place is to begin with. It is small, and it was cluttered, and that clutteredness sent me into mental tormentitude. I need some semblance of simplicity and order. So, armed with the Shop Vac and two wastebaskets, I set out to find order.

The Shop Vac now contains the bodies, living or otherwise, of probably a thousand Asian beetles that were clustered in the windows. Not to mention other unmentionable residues. Lets just say it had a workout today. And it just may contain the occasional Lego or spare penny or other such treasure. I don't care. And the house is as clean as it has been in months.

I also took the bold step of taking out the winter jackets and coats of the adults in this house. I don't picture myself wearing my long Indian blanket wool coat any more this year, nor will The Hermit have reason to don his Carharrt insulated coveralls to do chores. It is nearly spring, after all.

I got into one major battle along the way; Calvin was utterly distressed by the fact that I had changed the sheets on his bed. So distressed, that we reverted to the original ones. I don't know, I still claim Asperger's runs in the family. Resistance to change, major symptom.

My stepdaughter came for dinner. My totally cool stepdaughter, who is on her last day of spring break from graduate school (environmental studies) in Nebraska. We all enjoyed her visit.

Starflower is a little under the weather; she is sleeping on the couch with a fever. Poor girl.

I will post a picture of Sally, the rapidly growing puppy, tomorrow. Smart dog, she is.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Blogger bad

My apologies to all for the blogfuckery that has occurred over the last 24 hours or so. Hopefully all has returned to normal. I am very forgiving, but considering paying the few extra dollars to have my blog on my own server, thus avoiding further uncontrollable blogfuckery.

Will resume my normal schedule of abnormal posting tomorrow. I'm too Bigfooted tonight. ;~)

frosty morning

This is quite a wintery scene for one of the last days of winter, but it did get down to 5 degrees last night. On the other hand, I saw a huge flock of robins in town yesterday, and one solitary red winged blackbird this morning. Slowly but surely, spring will arrive.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

surprise! I'm in I and the Bird #19!

Coturnix at Science and Politics is the host of the latest edition of I and the Bird . I've been too lazy to submit anything the last few times around, but somehow he scouted out my "more grousing" post and included it as an "editor's choice". Thanks, Coturnix, I'm flattered to be included in such a great lineup of bird-related blogging; go check it out.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

too cold for spring yet

After a brief respite with high temperatures in the 40's, we are back to winter weather here; last night it got down to 0 degrees, while, of course, the surrounding area was ten degrees warmer. I've been looking at detailed topography maps, trying to analyze the effect of Lake Superior, and I can only conclude that the warming effect of the lake pushes colder air masses just a bit to the south, and we are in just enough of a valley (we're talking elevation change of 100 feet or less) that the coldest air settles in this little pocket of ours. Hooray for microclimate.

Our temperatures notwithstanding, the shipping season opened up in the ports of Duluth and Superior at a record early date this year, with the first ship going out Tuesday the 14th carrying coal. The railroad four miles west of here, which we can hear plainly, was a nonstop rumble of activity on Sunday; now I know it was trains carrying coal to be shipped out at the earliest possible date.

But this little cold snap makes me lethargic for some reason. I am so looking forward to spring, but when it drops below freezing all I want to do is huddle under a down comforter or in front of the woodstove. I was going to start lettuce and other greens, but even that will have to wait until I can step outside without freezing. It didn't help that we got about three inches of snow on top of the melting mass, with perhaps more on the way. The Twin Cities got more than we did, for once, but they had nothing to begin with. And forget about enjoying it in March; I'm not going to get out the cross country skis for a day or two of skiing, much as I miss it.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the signs of spring posted on blogs that are south of 46 degrees north latitude, or near an ocean.

morning song

Every morning, starting around sunrise, the evening grosbeaks gather in the upper branches of this aspen tree near the house, chirping loudly. Get about thirty or forty of them chirping, and it's a raucous, joyful cacophony. They do this for about half an hour before descending on the sunflower seed feeder in waves of black, white, yellow, and gray.

I don't know why they are called "evening" grosbeaks; they are really morning birds.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


I found this in the middle of a seldom-traveled road; from what's left it looks like a Northern Goshawk.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

inspiration comes in strange places

Warning: composting toilet talk ahead. You've been warned.

I'm feeling more confident in my "spirituality", for lack of a better term, these days than I think I ever have been. I feel okay admitting I don't know all the answers, even though I'm pretty sure of how I should lead my life. As for a God, no doubt, I can see it in the daily miracles of life around me. However, I don't believe this higher power is asking me to read a certain book, follow any particular practice, or identify with any organized religion. It just wants me to realize my abilities and live in harmony with the other species that inhabit this place. To do good things.

I found inspiration this morning in the music that surrounded me: The cacophony of about 5o evening grosbeaks with their shrill chirps filling the crowns of the trees; the welcome honking of Canada geese, back from a long winter journey; the spring songs of chickadees; and what I thought was the warbling song of the first bluebird of spring.

I found inspiration in just doing a job that needed to be done: I cleaned out the composting toilet. Yeah, I know, how does one possibly find inspiration in THAT?

The composting toilet is one of those port-o-johns we bought from a relative in the business when this place was a weekend cabin. This year, instead of adding liquid deodorizing chemicals, which really don't do the job and keep things an anaerobic, gooey mess, we just went with the bucket toilet idea and added wood shavings and sawdust with every deposit. Much more easy on our senses and the groundwater. We built a compost bin, and have been transporting the products there occasionally. Well, today things were starting to "top out", so armed with a spade and a bucket, I set out to make some space. No, it didn't stink; it smelled more like the wood shavings, until I got down towards the bottom where things were saturated and anaerobic. There had been enough warm weather so things weren't all frozen together. I ended up hauling about ten five-gallon buckets to the compost pile, where the stuff will hopefully heat up and break down into rich organic matter. Returned to the earth to build the soil, rather than flushed into the ground or into a wastewater treatment facility, then to a river. Instead of stepping aside of the cycle of life, I am in it up to my elbows, so to speak. And got some great exercise as well.

And how many folks can say they cleaned out the composting toilet, THEN went to church sevices? We hadn't been to church for months, but Starflower wanted to go and I went just to see how everyone is doing there. From my above writing, you may be surprised that I would set foot in a Christian church service at all, but I do care about the people there, who helped us out at a time when we needed it, without passing judgment or requiring anything in terms of a proclamation of faith. There were a lot of people there who were really genuinely happy to see us again, and I could say the same.

The service itself was somewhat lacking; I found myself biting my tongue and restraining myself at the too-right-wing interim pastor's sermon when he talked of how drunks and homosexuals would not get into the Kingdom of God, and how he referred to a tribe of Native Americans as "naked savages". arrrgh. And the second hymn was "Onward Christian Soldiers", probably my least favorite hymn, classified under the heading "Spiritual Warfare" in the hymnal. arrrgh. But I also found that when I am challenged like that, I tend to think about why it is I react the way I do, and the thought process helps me better to define my beliefs. So I get inspired, not in a raise-your-arms uplifting kind of way, but in a roundabout questioning way.

There you have it. I managed to work birds, humanure, and church into one post.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Those pesky pileated wood-
peckers. See what they can do to the base of a balsam fir? And this isn't the first time; the smaller hole to the left is from a year or so ago.

This tree obviously hosts a population of carpenter ants, one of the favorite foods of pileated woodpeckers. I wonder which is more damaging to the tree: the ants, or the woodpecker's efforts to eat the ants? Of course, if the tree already hosts the ants it may be already nearing the end of its life and starting to decay. That's a shame, because it is a nice big tree close to the cabin. But we have plenty other balsams, and if it doesn't pose a danger to the cabin, we'll leave it standing to provide a home for pileated woodpeckers, chickadees, and other cavity nesters.

I noticed this excavation today as I was playing emergency midwife to one of the outside cats. But that's another post.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Kettle River

the Kettle River, Sandstone Minnesota

I cross this beautiful river every day on my way to and from work. It was the first State designated Wild and Scenic River, and rightly so. This view is looking upstream; the Burlington Northern railroad bridge, the same railroad that is about 4 miles from my house, is visible. On the left extending upstream are the remains of old sandstone quarries, which gave the town of Sandstone its name. The quarries ceased operation in the 1930's or so, but were the source of the stone for many beautiful Romanesque style buildings in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The river has some nice smallmouth bass, walleye and northern pike, as well as lake sturgeon. I caught and released a 48 inch, 20 pound sturgeon out of this river 12 years ago, when we were sampling and tagging sturgeon for work. Honest, I got paid to go fishing.

Art Hawkins, conservationist, has died at 92

Art Hawkins, a retired Fish and Wildlife Service employee and former student of Aldo Leopold's, died yesterday afternoon. According to his daughter Amy, he was in perfect health for his age, sharp as a tack, and had been his usual, active, involved, good natured self right up to the end. He had been out for a hike at his farm north of St. Paul, enjoying a warm springlike day and watching ducks and geese on the marsh he loved so well and fought to save. Amy found him near the barn, walking sticks in hand and binoculars around his neck, around 5 pm. He died in much the same way as his mentor Leopold did, suddenly, without prolonged suffering, outdoors. It was how he would have wanted to go.

Many wildlife biologists are more at home outdoors in the field than indoors meeting with people and getting involved in issues related to conservation. Not Art. He was an activist, an advocate for waterfowl and habitat. He helped to form the Wood Duck Society, a group devoted to studying this species and educating people about conservation. He successfully fought developers who wanted to build on his marsh, although he was the subject of lawsuits intended to silence him. It was partly because of his fight that the state of Minnesota passed legislation against such lawsuits. He often had letters to the editor published, intelligent but sharply critical of waterfowl management policy and habitat destruction.

I had the privilege of knowing Art personally, and he was a warm, kind person. We had dinner at his house several times and I was always impressed by his knowledge, passion for life, and sense of humor. He and his wife Betty sent us Christmas cards and gifts when Calvin and Starflower were born. Just a week ago as I was driving on I 35E north of St. Paul, I looked across his marsh, his farm visible from the freeway, and thought of him. I wish we had kept in touch more. He will be missed. I hope those who learned from his example will keep up the fight for the health of the land.

Added 3/13: Here is a link to a more complete story about Art Hawkins, from the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

going hi tech

I'm blogging on wireless, dude! Just less than a month ago we only had dial-up, and now thanks to The Hermit's new job, which is an adventure in international telecommuting, he has a fully equipped laptop. And, I'm learning all about my new cell phone; for the first time we have two of them, with all the bells and whistles, all the better to stay fully connected, of course.

What I can't figure out now is who I am going to be in touch with constantly, or why in the world anyone would possibly need to reach me while I'm in the produce section of the grocery store. As it is, we rarely get land-line phone calls, even from family. We're just not the "I just had this thought, so I had to call someone and tell them!" kind of people. Which is somewhat of a paradox, because I blog and tell my random thoughts to the world.

What I want to find out first is how to download a Bela Fleck or Sam Bush ringtone. :)

misty creek

(click on image to view full size)

This is Sand Creek, about a mile downstream from my house. The undulating pattern of ice on the edge caught my eye last night as I was driving home, so this morning I did a quick drive by photo. The creek is ditched and way too straight in this section, but the pattern in the ice shows that water does not want to flow in a straight line.

By the way, Misty Creek was the name of the first bluegrass band I played in. Well, I guess it was the only one. So far.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

the last Minnesota hero

This will probably seem very out of character for me. After all, I don't normally write laments about sports heroes. But today when I heard the news that Kirby Puckett had died at the young age of 45, I could not help but be sad. I think he was one of the best, and one of the last of the golden age of baseball.

Kirby Puckett was part of the Minnesota Twins team that rose above all odds to win the World Series in 1987, and again in 1991. Kirby's skill at center field, and his ability to hit home runs when it mattered the most, made him the essential part of those victories. I still remember watching him; my heart leapt with joy when I saw him make an impossible homerun-stealing leap and catch. And he always seemed to do it with such joy.

I remember failing an Organic Chemistry test in my junior year of college the day after the Twins won the World Series. And I have no regrets; who could study at a time like that?

I noticed how he always made the sign of the cross whenever he stepped up to bat. I'm no fundamentalist, but I think he truly believed that his abilities at baseball came from a truly higher power, and that sign was an act of submission to that power.

My father in law was there at the Metrodome to watch Kirby's last at bat, which was a tragic, ignominious ordeal. Puckett was hit squarely in the face with a high speed pitch. The next spring, he woke up one day unable to see out of one eye. The two events were unrelated; he was diagnosed with glaucoma, and his baseball career was over, just like that.

I truly think part of his soul died when he was no longer able to play the game he loved. He went through some troubled times in his personal life, which were unfortunately amplified by the media. I think we all realized at that point, that he was just a human like all of us. A hero, no doubt, but very human.

What makes me really sad is that I think that with Puckett's passing, we have seen the end of an era. Not just in baseball, but in a time of innocence here in Minnesota, when everyone had parents or grandparents on the farm, when The Cities were still unsprawling, when everyone listened to the Twins games on WCCO radio and cheered with every home run, when there actually were towns like Lake Wobegon, and everyone had connections to them. Major league baseball still meant something besides enormous salaries, and the players still had a love for the game. I fear all of that has been lost somehow, that this world has grown a little too big and commercialized for heroes like Kirby Puckett to exist today.

Kirby, have fun on the Field of Dreams. I know you're there.

blogging about blogging

It's almost spring, and time for a little housecleaning on the sidebar. My blogroll was getting quite large, so I thought I'd break it into categories. Easier said than done. For one thing, I find that I am quite narrow-minded in the types of blogs I read; they all have something to do with nature, appreciating nature, living in harmony with nature, gardening, homesteading, living more simply, etc. A lot of blogs I read, like the types of music I listen to, seem to defy any conventional categorization. I thought "Towards a saner lifestyle" might be a good category, until I realized that all of the blogs fell under that heading, so if you're on the list you are now officially a "Blogger For A More Sane Existence". Even though I question the sanity of some, myself included.

The subcategories are "Food for Thought", "The Art of Seeing", "Nature and Place", and "Homegrown". Again, a lot of blogs could fit more than one or all of these categories. It was a judgment call for me. I don't even know which one of these I would file Sand Creek Almanac under.

I also wanted to call your attention to the most recent addition, under "Homegrown", Raising Frolic . I had seen it once or twice courtesy of Liz at Pocket Farm, but I didn't realize until Gina commented here yesterday that Raising Frolic was another northern Minnesota blog. Through email I found out we probably live within sixty miles or so of each other. Woo-hoo, a local blogger!!! And a very good read; check it out.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

may I introduce to you....

...Sally, the newest member of our family. She's a yellow lab, six weeks old, and absolutely adorable.

Friday, March 03, 2006

more grousing

The ruffed grouse were back late this afternoon, about a half hour before sunset. There were four of them, perched in chokecherry trees picking off buds. There must be something about the chokecherry buds this time of year, maybe they're just open enough to be palatable.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

house grouse

I'm afraid to walk out my front door right now. Well, not so much afraid, but I don't want to disturb what's out there. Two ruffed grouse are sitting in the branches of the black cherry tree next to the cookshed door. I went out the back door to take a leak, and two more flushed from the spruce tree by the bird feeder. We are surrounded!

I first was made aware of them when Starflower, Mr. Attitude and I were walking to the house from the car, after picking Starflower up from Girl Scouts. As I approached the house I felt, not heard, an explosion of wingbeats. I happened to look up in the black cherry tree and I saw a branch swaying where there was no breeze. Then, in a higher branch, I saw the motionless form of another grouse. I tried to get a picture, but the camera would not focus in the low light.

Ah, the everyday gifts of living here.

Dog on the loose

Togo is an outside dog year round. Being a Siberian husky, he has thick fur and does not mind the cold, as long as he has his dog house (not pictured) to sleep in. But huskies have a tendency to run, so they must either be kept in a large kennel or on a long chain. For now, Togo gets the chain.

But lately he has figured out how to get off his chain. It happened at least four times yesterday, so it isn't by accident. He runs around in circles until the chain gets twisted so tight it won't even bend. Then apparently he uses the leverage from the tight chain to undo the clasp that holds the chain to his collar. Pretty clever, and I think he is proud of himself. When he gets loose he stays close to the house, waiting until I come out to see him. I can almost hear him laughing at me: "Silly human. You keep putting me back on my chain, and I know how to get loose!"

I'm thinking of a certain piece of hardware, although I don't know what it's called, that might solve the problem. It's a chain link that can be screwed open or shut; I'll have to find one.

By the way, that's the new house in the background, waiting for spring (and some extra money) so we can start building some more!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

sick kid, it breaks my heart

Calvin has been home from school for two days now with some gastro bug. Fortunately he hasn't puked since early this morning, but the dizziness, headache, and fever are still there.

I, as his mom, feel totally helpless. I can't even find the thermometer, not that I need to because I know when he has a fever. All I can do is give him some Advil once in a while. I thought he was feeling better this afternoon, but then I saw him go listless and cover up in blankets and I knew the fever was coming on again. Rats.

Update: We went to the doctor today. It's always a judgment call, in your gut you know it's just some viral thing and you feel kind of stupid going to the doc, but at the same time you feel like a bad parent if you don't at least check it out. So I spent the $20 copay (and the $80 deductible, which will show up later) to find out that it's just some viral thing. We couldn't get in to our regular doctor so we saw a nice young woman doctor, fresh out of med school no doubt and probably 7 months pregnant, and she did well in investigating, I think she even tried to make me feel like the visit was worthwhile. And Mr. Attitude was at his finest; I let him stay in the playroom they have in the waiting area while we went into the examining room, only to find him wandering the rat maze of hallways twenty minutes later trying to find us. Then I would not let him go back to the playroom while we waited for test results, and he had a complete meltdown. Oh well.

turning point

I felt it in the air last night as I walked out to do chores. It was in the lingering warmth of south facing walls, in the softness of the snow and the slickness of the ice; it was in the gentle breeze sending whispers through the lofty pines and in the rich smell of earth where the snow had melted away.

The spring thaw is coming. Winter is losing its grip.

Yesterday was warmer than it has been, with a high of nearly 30, but it's not just the weather patterns of daily highs and lows. The sun is rising higher in the sky, the light is more warming and intense, light streaks the eastern sky before I wake up and the last indigo of twilight lingers long past dinner.

All of these subtle changes are etched in my sensory memory, but it is the smell that I react to the most. Damp earth and white pine needles, minerals and decomposing leaves, the way the pine wood siding smells when the noonday sun hits it. It is the smell of life, turning, cycling, returning. It fills me with new life and new hope. It makes me want to run, to fill my lungs with this new life until they are burning inside, then collapse on a south facing hillside with my face to the sun, my eyes closed, bathing in the warmth that is so welcome because of its long absence.

Last night I walked out to the compost pile just after sunset, and I listened to the silence of the lavender sky, felt the chill on the blue snow. My mind tells me snow is white, but at that moment I trusted my eyes and saw pale aster blue reflecting a deeper blue in the air. I stood looking at all the life around me, the expectation, the anticipation. Spring is coming, as it will.


In response to the comments on this post, which turned into a treatise on bouzoukis, rolling chords, traditional Celtic style, and diadokokinesis, here is a picture of my bouzouki being cautiously played by Mr. Attitude. This one is an octave mandolin, which means the pairs of strings are tuned one octave lower than a standard mandolin. Some players string a bouzouki like a 12-string guitar, with one of each of the sets of lower strings of a different gauge and tuned an octave higher than the other, but I just use sets of identical strings.

This one was made by Flatiron and has a spruce top with birds eye maple back and sides- very pretty wood. I can't say I'm an expert at playing it, but I love it for its deep, resonant tone.