Tuesday, August 29, 2006

raising the rafters

We finally got an important phase of the house construction completed yesterday. With the help of my stepson Ryan and friends Tom and Chris, and a crane operator who lives less than five miles away, we got the roof framework up. In the above photo, the crane is lifting the center roof beam.

The complete span of the roof beam was in three pieces, so the two side pieces had to be matched up to the main center piece. For the most part, it went pretty smoothly.

When one side beam was lowered, it was longer at the top than at the bottom so it would not drop into place. 26 feet up in the air, standing one rung above the "Do not stand above this point" rung, wielding a running chainsaw, our friend Tom took care of the problem. He's a braver person that me.

Once the main beam was in place, the crane started lifting the rafters. The rafters were pre-notched and shaped, so they just had to be fitted together like puzzle pieces.

The rafters were lifted in pairs; once the first one was in place, a corresponding rafter, with a steel plate already attached, was lifted into place and the two were connected. We were running low on the large bolts required, so I had to make a run to the nearest lumberyard for more.

Once the pattern became established, the rafters went up quickly. I was amazed at how this team of individuals, none of whom was more than a casual acquaintance before, was able to work togehter with such efficiency.

All done. I can't help but admire this beautiful roofline, and think of the wonderful times to be had under the shelter it supports. There is still a lot of work to be done, I think the process will be infinite, but today's work was the major step forward.

My part in the day's work was largely supportive, making sure the children (6 of them) were safe and getting along out of the way, and recording the event with my digital camera. At one time we had two girls swimming, two boys stalking around with BB guns, and two boys playing video games. I was constantly back and forth, checking on things, but it all worked out okay. In the end I grilled bratwurst for everyone and we had a few beers and sighs of relief.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Morning walk, with horses

This is me and Drifter (as in High Plains), our newest addition. She's a nearly one year old buckskin. Ain't she cute!!!

She and Winnie, in the background, are in the new pasture we just recently fenced in across the creek. Our new house site is just beyond the tamaracks in the background. This pasture, this whole place, was amazingly beautiful in the morning sunlight, so beautiful I just wanted to stay there, lie down in the sweet grass, and feel the day wash over me.

But, of course, I had stuff to do.

A view into the dregs of humanity

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent yesterday in the information booth for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources at the State Fair. Although we were nowhere near the midway (Thank God, I even walked an extra block to avoid even a glimpse of the entrance with all its contorted Gypsy baroque figures that somehow creep me out!) I still managed to experience an entertaining view into what our society is made of. And that creeps me out more than the Midway statues.

I saw numerous people seemingly going nowhere while talking on cell phones. What's up with that? When I was growing up it was, "Meet me by the giant slide at 2:00". Not "I'm just past the horse barns now, on my way to see that fabulously cool babe at the DNR booth ;), and by the way did you know such and such and yada yada babble ad infinitum." I think some spend way too much time keeping in touch about what they are doing and not enough time doing it.

I saw one of my coworkers using a dipnet to fish a cell phone out from the ever-popular fish pond (Which, by the way, I helped capture a few fish for the effort). I was going to check it out myself after my work shift, but there were people lined up 3 or 4 deep. To watch fish swimming around. People really need to go out and connect with nature more.
I saw maybe a thousand different T-shirt slogans. My favorite was "Old people RULE!"

I saw people who seemingly just lived to collect brochures and free stuff. Even our honorable Governor Tim Pawlenty's face on a fan. When I was little it was the WCCO (TV and radio) shopping bag. Some things never change, thank God.

I saw a bunch of 14-15 year old boys riding around in circles on these little bicycle-scooter hybrids with about six inch bike wheels. They looked like they were very inefficient and pointless to ride, and their riders with their baggy pants looked pretty ridiculous. I think they thought they were cool.

And, I saw thousands of teenagers trying to look cool. Dagnabit, I was once one of them, and I don't know and don't care now if I ever succeeded in looking cool to anyone. The 4-H button I had to wear when I was staying at the 4-H building probably erased all doubts. Especially since I was exhibiting a rock collection.

I saw pieces of metal that don't belong piercing eyebrows, lower lips, tongues, and God knows what else. I have pierced ears, in fact three holes in one, one in the other, but earlobes were just meant to be pierced. Facial parts were not.

I saw people who apparently thought any-kind-of-deep-fried-food-on-a-stick was a sacrament. I even heard rumors of "hot dish on a stick", but did not wish to investigate.

I talked with a few people, many of which I could tell knew nothing about "natural resources" except from what they had seen in the last ten minutes in the DNR building. People asked questions about things that, given the chance, I would seek to find the answer myself instead of going to the fair to ask some uniformed professional.

And I saw crowds. Did I mention I hate crowds, hate the way I have to walk in an erratic, zigzag pattern to get from here to there because all the zombies stand around in clusters and walk with no regard for anyone but themselves. As a matter of fact, it's not the crowds, but the self-absorbedness of the individuals within the crowds that disturbs me to no end. It's all about me, I guess, me and my attitude. My outer presentation matters more than what's inside.

Oh well. I like my little piece of heaven here in the country, with towering white pines and howling coyotes. I'll stay in my little world as much as I can.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

State Fair--the first weary report

It's 11:13 PM. Blogger just ate up the first post I was typing about my day spent at the Great Minnesota Get Together, as it is billed. As I saw it, it was the Great Minnesota Festival of The Dregs of Humanity.

Not that my day was trying or stressful. Far from it. I was situated in an information area on the shady north side of the massive log DNR building, with about eight comrades from all the various disciplines of resource management, so if anyone asked me about duck seasons I could literally tell them where to go. To the Wildlife specialist seated next to me.

It was more relaxed and fun than I imagined. The guy in charge, from the DNR's Information Bureau, was more than appreciative and helpful and gracious that we field staff would give up a Saturday to face the public and hand out brochures. I got to talk to a few coworkers from around the state that I normally don't get to see. And there weren't too many weird people asking weird questions.

Fred and Missy even showed up. Cool to have some friends come visit.

But, after viewing the massive throngs, I can't help but wax philosophical about the ways of society. Keep in mind, I don't visit malls, I avoid crowds whenever possible, so what comes as a revelation to me might be obvious to everyone else. The 95% rule is definitely in effect. We have 5% of the population to count on for our salvation. The rest are just bloody sheep.

More to come. I guarantee it. But we had to take the kids to the fireworks in the second closest town, so it was a full day. So more later.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

getting pickled

My DSL connection is running slow tonight, as it usually does when it rains, not that I mind the rain.

I took the day off, since I have to give up this Saturday in service to the state, and because The Hermit had business to do. And I had pickles waiting to be made. Canning is a big time commitment; not the canning itself, but the preparation. I had to locate enough wide-mouth canning jars, wash the dust and bugs out of them, and cut up garlic and harvest more dill heads. I found out it takes a long time to get the canner to boiling on my stove.

The end product was eight quarts, a full canner load. Two of these were my first batch of fermented dill pickles. They look really bad, since the brine gets cloudy from fermentation and someone happened to spill some red Kool-Aid in the bucket yesterday! But I checked them carefully, and they weren't slimy or smelly, so they were good. I have about four more quarts bubbling away in another bucket.

The way my family goes through pickles, this batch will last all of two months, maybe.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Road work

Usually, my commute is something I don't even have to think about. No traffic, no traffic lights, nothing but bucolic scenery and whatever music I have in the CD player. It's almost 30 miles one way, longer than I would like but for now it's the best option available. My Honda Accord wagon gets nearly 30 miles to the gallon, so even with gas prices I'm doing okay there.

But this summer, The Powers That Be have conspired to shut off every route I have to the south and west, in the name of Better Roads. My morning commute went like this: All was well until I entered Danish Town, where I saw a train sitting motionless on the tracks at the crossing. This town has a poorly placed siding that the railroad company likes to use right at Rush Hour in Danish Town. It basically cuts the town in half for upwards of twenty minutes sometimes. Yes, the local officials and state legislators have been on the case, so far to no avail.

I was able to cut to a southbound road out of town, taking the longer but in this case quicker route through Quarry Town. But as I came within a mile of crossing the river into town, I encountered a flag person, dressed in the usual day-glow prison garb, with STOP sign firmly turned my direction. I had enough time to get out of the car and close the back hatch more firmly. I was also blasting an Iris DeMent CD I hadn't listened to for a while. "Our Town" always makes me cry.

Ten minutes later the queue of traffic gets the go-ahead. I drive through town, past Fred's house, and the rest of the drive is smooth sailing.

On the way home, I discover that Quarry Town has been for all practical purposes, shut down for road construction. I wanted to stop at the grocery store to pick up a few things, but the shortest route was at a standstill. I took the longer route, only to find that Main Street is down to one lane, also at a standstill. I detoured on the back streets to the grocery store, which was strangely empty. I guess.

There are three major entrances to Quarry Town, from the east, north, and west. It is, in my opinion, extremely poor planning to have them all basically shut down at the same time. Yes, the smooth new road surfaces will be lovely, but I pity the person clinging to life support in an ambulance who comes across this mess.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Northern waterthrush

This is not the way I prefer to have my first sighting of a bird species. I found this one recently killed, probably by an automobile, on a street in town as I was going for a noontime walk.

If I had been moving at a faster pace, even bicycle speed, I would have missed it entirely, or dismissed it as one of those "little brownish birds" that cannot be identified from a moving vehicle. But because I was walking, I gave it a look longer than a millisecond and knew that this was not something in my realm of ordinary. Although I have been identifying birds for over thirty years, I did not recall seeing this one before.

It was just under six inches in length, with dark olive-gray back and wings and a lovely pale yellow breast spotted with gray-black. The spots were arranged slightly in streaks, and the bird had a buff eye stripe. The narrow bill suggested a warbler or vireo.

If I had brought my digital camera with me, as I usually do, I would have taken a picture or two and placed the bird off the street, in a more dignified place. I was a block away from the office, barely starting out, so I didn't feel like turning around already to bring the bird back to the office for identification. So I walked about a mile holding a dead bird lightly in my hand. Other birders would understand, wouldn't they?

I brought it in and showed my coworkers; I did not have a bird guide with me but my boss had one, from his ornithology class he said. It was at least 25 years old, but I noted the pages were in near perfect condition, barely used. He is obviously not a serious birder. I had grown up with that particular field guide, so I knew just where to find warblers, and there it was, on the same page as the ovenbird: Northern waterthrush.

This one was probably a migrant; they are, I guess, fairly common north of here and I would not be surprised if I had a few of them over the summer at Sand Creek. They prefer wooded riparian areas and bogs, not city streets. They winter in Central and South America. It always amazes me how a bird I can hold in the palm of my hand can navigate such amazing distances. I wish this one had been more successful in its journey.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

blue spotted salamander

Although I don't recall ever seeing one before, I guess the blue spotted salamander is fairly common in Minnesota woodlands. Calvin found this one while helping The Hermit pick up a load of firewood; apparently they like woody debris, and there were lots of small earthworms under the woodpile for this one to eat. We are keeping it in a coffee can for now; I need to find some salamander food tomorrow!

I mentioned firewood; on Saturday we picked up about four cords of mixed oak, maple, and birch firewood, cut and split, from a guy about two miles away from us. It took three trips with the pickup truck; The Hermit and Calvin made the first two runs while I was at the farmers market with Starflower and Mr. Attitude, then when I came back I went and helped with the third load.

There's something about heating with wood, something tangible. You know where the wood comes from, it's not like the furnace coming on automatically, being fed by a natural gas line from somewhere. We got to know a neighbor by purchasing wood from him; since when does one interact with the customer service rep at the gas company? You can look at a woodpile and see where your next winter's heat is coming from, something not to be taken lightly here in Minnesotarctica. Plus, forced air does not compare to the warming power of a woodstove.

I mentioned the farmer's market. While I'm not participating as a grower this year, I'm making up for it by being a customer. I must say I am impressed thus far; the growers are all truly local, there's no flea market junk allowed, and there has been some high quality produce. I came away this week with organically grown watermelon and muskmelon, green beans (mine aren't quite there yet, but all the growers say theirs are just about done), green peppers, sweet corn, apples, and a mix of heirloom tomatoes that didn't look like any variety I was growing. Everyone seemed to have an abundance of cucumbers, which I myself am experiencing, so no sales there.

That's the first half of my weekend. Today we went to church, which will be a post in itself, and I spent the rest of the day washing dishes and folding laundry, seemingly mundane tasks, but somehow I enjoyed just being home doing them.

Friday, August 18, 2006

late august

It is raining now, a strong rain that maybe will give the fall lettuce and kale seed I have planted an incentive to grow. The rain is surrounded by darkness, the darkness comes a little bit earlier each day it seems.

The nighthawks were flying and circling tonight, in loose flocks but with their intentions known: migration. Graceful as swallows, but bigger, and not seen here until their fall migration. It is time. Funny how one minute you're planting, the next minute it's all over.

I think I may have seen a wolf this morning. It was foggy, more like a September morning fog, and I could not see too far up the road, but there was a shadowy large gray figure that trotted off the road a few hundred yards in front of me, didn't bound off the road like a deer, was not black like a bear. The Hermit thought he heard a wolf this morning, not a coyote, so it is probable.

All was still earlier in the light of day, except for the crickets and one complaining nuthatch. It is the time of year when birds are all but invisible.

I hold it close, like I do all of the seasons these days. Every new day is different, each has something to say. The only constant is change; the earth spinning, tilting, traveling. To quote Wendell Berry, only music keeps us here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

What is a "chune"?

Find out here . My friend and fellow musician Fred has finally taken the leap into the blogging world, and if his writing is any bit as good as his mandolin playing it should be an interesting read. In his words:
I intend to try to reignite my long dormant writing skills and try and create --in prose, pictures, links, and comment/dialogue--the feel of one of my favorite musical experiences: the jam.
Join in- no musical experience necessary!


I've been catching fish the easy way again. Who needs a rod and reel when six amps and a dipnet will do? (Disclaimer- I'm a trained professional. Do not try this at home!)

This beautiful smallmouth bass came from somewhere on the St. Croix River. It was probably the first 20 inch smallmouth I had ever seen, weighing in at 4.5 pounds. For some reason it does not look that big in the photo, probably because my coworker, who is holding it, has enormous hands. And by the way, that's not an anomalous adipose fin in front of the normal spiny dorsal fin; it's part of a life jacket or something on shore.

Greg Brown has a great quote about flyfishing for smallmouth bass and trout in the song (actually a really cool Beat-esque spoken poem with musical accompaniment) "Eugene" off his new album, The Evening Call. "Smallmouth bass aren't all finicky like trout. Trout are British; smallmouth bass are Polish."

I gotta get a fly rod and head on down to the river.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

an unexpected date with a horse

Starflower on horse. Beautiful.

Monday afternoon when I returned to the office from another day on the river, late as usual, I had a message from The Hermit. He and the kids were having lessons at a place a few miles from work, and he was wondering if I would pick up Mr. Attitude and Sally. When I arrived, Mr. Attitude had been promised a ride on a horse, so the idea of leaving early with him was out the window.

The Hermit (#1 horse person of the family), Starflower, and Calvin were in the midst of riding lessons in a large indoor arena when I arrived. I was amazed at the good training of the horses; these people really work with them and love doing it. This is a homeschooling family; the kids are young adults who have a passion for horses and an encouraging, enthusiastic manner in their teaching. I enjoyed being there so much, I even finally agreed to get in on the action.

This is me riding Whiskey (named after Jack Burns' horse in Edward Abbey's The Brave Cowboy. ) The Hermit has bought her and she will be coming to live with us soon.

And, as promised, Mr. Attitude got his ride. His eyes lit up and he was grinning from ear to ear. On the right is Alex, who was our teacher for the day along with his sister Jessie, and they were both impressive. Oce Mr. Attitude got to the arena, he kept insisting "I know how to do this!" And to my surprise, Alex and Jessie stepped back, keeping an eye from a distance, and let him ride, controlling the horse, himself. As a mother I was plenty nervous, but also learned a lesson. In the same situation, I would have said "No! You can't do this yourself! You have a lot to learn, and you're too young for this right now!" Maybe I need to strongly resist the motherly urge to say such things. He got along fine with the horse. He even wanted to go faster, and was permitted to ride at a faster pace, with someone leading the horse. Did he find a point of caution, where enough was enough? Nahhhh! After all, this is Mr. Attitude.

The horses were very tired after we were through with them. So were the parents. And Mr. Attitude fell asleep in the car on the way home.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Starflower is seven

My beautiful daughter turned seven years old today. She came into the world the way she is; headstrong and determined. Labor was only 4 1/2 hours from the first contraction; patience has never been one of her virtues.

In her early months we nicknamed her "Sirena", which rhymes with her real first name. We got a babysitter once for a couple hours out, and the sitter ended up calling her mom to come over out of desperation. Later on I had to scramble to find daycare, only to have the provider call me after 2 hours saying "Come get your children. Your daughter won't stop crying and she is disrupting our routine". I should have told that nanny from hell where to go. My daughter knows a bad situation when she sees one.

Looking back, Starflower's early years were anything but stable. By her second birthday, we had moved into the fourth place she had lived in. We celebrated her third on a beach in northern California. By her fourth, however, we were here to stay. But as a result, she is remarkably accepting, adaptable, and thankful for every little thing. She is a multi-award winning student in school, not to brag or anything but it just goes to show how living on the edge builds character.

Did I mention she can practially belch her ABC's? Her favorite movies are "Raising Arizona" and "The Big Lebowski". Such a little lady I'm raising.

Her present was a horse riding outfit: shirt, jeans, and riding boots, SIZE 6 1/2. That's ladies, not girls! She towers over her best friends. But she's not too big to sit on my lap for a cuddle.

So happy birthday Starflower, my only daughter. I ain't a perfect mom, far from it, and I don't deserve such an angel as you. Keep on being yourself!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Chickens sitting around on their cans

This was dinner. We bought fifteen organically grown chickens to put in the freezer yesterday, and had these two for dinner tonight. No, didn't bother raising our own this year, too many other concerns to think about, like getting a roof over our heads for the winter. But these were a deal at less than 5 bucks apiece.

We originally got the beer can chicken recipe from The Hermit's sister. The liquid in the can (you can drink it and fill it with water if you want) steams the chicken from inside while the outside grills. It was all delicious, and plenty of leftovers. Side dishes were corn on the cob (of course, this time of year) and new red potatoes from the garden. Starflower liked them a lot.

On the other hand, we got some sad news today. There is a couple who raise and board horses near us. We knew this couple from when we lived seventy miles south of where we do now, and they used to have a place near there where The Hermit boarded his first horses. Anyway, they just found out that he has throat and liver cancer. I don't know, maybe there's some hope, but it does not look good. She called to see if we would take one of their horses; at this time they can't be bothered with caring for as many horses as they have. The horse is the mother of one of ours, so it would be a natural match. Of course, we're taking her. On top of the two more horses The Hermit is buying ( I have nothing to do with horse transactions. Nothing. ) that will bring our total to six horses. Maybe I better start to like riding.

And a musical note, dedicated to Jim of Earth Home Garden. Jim, I finally got around to listening to the Reeltime Travelers, and the song "Little Bird Of Heaven", which you recommended, is now on my list of all time perfect songs. I tried it out on guitar tonight, and there is one chord I don't even know the name of, but I just happened to find it. It fits me like an old glove. I also like "Hallelujah", but that will be another day's practice. Anyway, thanks Jim, you old hippie you, you've turned me on to some good music. Maybe some day we'll make our way out to Big Bear Lake. :)

Friday, August 11, 2006

A day on the St.Croix

This is the eagle that spent the day alternately laughing at us ( I think I heard him) and thanking us for the abundance of slightly stunned redhorse suckers that were easy scavenging. It's the only picture I got; I was too busy wielding a long-handled dip net, weighing catfish, and trying to help the boat driver avoid shallow places and rocks.

Sometimes I think I have a really fun job. Today was one of those days. The mission: along with J and The Intern, electrofish a short stretch of the St. Croix River, a Nationally-designated Scenic Riverway. This particular stretch has Minnesota's largest state park on the Minnesota side, and some equally wild-looking land on the Wisconsin side. The river banks are lined with mixed hardwoods and some beautiful stands of white pines. The companion eagle enjoyed vantage points from some dead white pines.

In case you're not familiar with electrofishing (and how many people are?), our boat is an 18 foot flat bottomed jon boat equipped with a generator, output control box, and electrodes that dangle from booms suspended in front of the boat. One person drives the boat, and two of us, leaning against a sturdy railing around the front platform, dip up fish as they are temporarily stunned by the electrical current. Just seeing what turns up is fun in itself. Add a river that can turn shallow unexpectedly, scattered boulders that suddenly meet the underside of the boat, and it is a true adventure that makes me long for a lazy paddle down the same stretch of river in a canoe.

Today we dipped up numerous redhorse, which are in the sucker family. There are five species of redhorse we saw today, some specimens pushing ten pounds. My arms got a workout dipping them up and putting them in a holding tank in the boat. We also dipped several large muskellunge (twelve plus pounds), walleye, smallmouth bass, and channel catfish. In our last run of the day, we ran into a plethora of catfish, some weighing over ten pounds. I have a healthy respect for catfish; in my first year of work, an eager coworker reached into his dipnet and ended up with a catfish spine embedded in his hand. So I approach them cautiously, although I would love to return here and catch a meal to grill or fry.

We had some harrowing times as we ran down a small shallow rapids, then realized there was no easy route back up the rapids to where we needed to get back to the launch site. Alternately getting out and pushing, then running the motor while pushing off boulders, we managed to maneuver our boat where perhaps no such boat should go.

Although we returned to the office a half hour after quitting time, it was, all in all, a great way to spend a working day.

P.S. As I write this, late in the evening as I listen to Greg Brown's new album, the coyotes are yipping and howling up a storm, just across the creek. Wow.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

dinner from the garden


Okay, I'll admit we are most definitely not insectivores. But Calvin was very proud of the fact that he whittled a willow stick to a sharp point and impaled a grasshopper. That boy has some tribal instincts in him!

What I meant to brag about here was the garden-harvested component of our dinner tonight. On the left, broccoli, all second shoots; in the middle, tomato, Pruden's Purple (Or Caspian Pink, if I could just find my garden notebook from planting time!) Anyway, the first beefsteak tomato of the season, and delicious. On the right, Swiss chard, sauteed in olive oil with two garlic cloves, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (Can't grow lemons here, sorry!) and pine nuts. I'm wondering about the pine nuts; I mean, we do have pine trees, but harvest would present a problem due to the height at which the pine cones grow. Oh, and notice the basil sprig in the middle. That is, I think, Genovese basil, from seeds I saved from a garden long forgotten somewhere else, and it is the most potent, fragrant, intoxicating basil to be found anywhere. Basil, like hops, is a sign that if there is a God, it likes us and wants us to be happy. (Attributed to Ben Franklin, in part)

This was not the whole meal; accompanying it was fried shrimp from a Big Box store, shipped from somewhere on this earth. That's local, isn't it? The shrimp, however procured, was delicious. I promise some day we'll find a way to grow our own in a tank in a greenhouse.

Entertainment was provided by a local hillbilly band. They say a good time was had by all. ;)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A walk in Sand Creek

For being the title feature of this blog, you would think that Sand Creek would be a regular feature here. As it is, I have rarely mentioned or photographed this water, this connection to the St. Croix and Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. Why do I not devote more blog space to Sand Creek?

For one thing, as evidenced in the above photo, Sand Creek is not very photogenic. There are no waterfalls, no rapids, no crystal blue shimmering pools. Sand Creek is a ditch. Really. It is still legally considered a county ditch although I know of no agricultural connections to it in the entire watershed. The natural watercourse was straightened in 1918, a time when speculators were trying to entice farmers to the logged-off land here. Straightened creeks are not happy creeks; they yearn to meander freely. Yet Sand Creek adapted better than most, soaking up flow from numerous springs in the area and creating habitat that supported native brook trout within the ditch banks.

Another reason is that Sand Creek is not very accessible. To get to the creek today I walked through the horse pasture, out the back gate, through a tangle of alder and willow with stinging nettle and thistle here and there, up over a steep former railroad crossing, down to the water which is heavily guarded by more alder and willow. I could have walked out to the road, taken a little access driveway on the other side of the creek, walked along the north bank a ways to where low grasses grow up to the stream bank. But I favored the direct route, through the brush.

It was an easy walk as far as streams go; no slippery boulders, very slow current, no deep mucky pools. There was the occasional remains of an old beaver dam, which gave the benefit of diversity; where there was an old dam, the stream narrowed and gained velocity, carving a pool directly below. The substrate was mostly sand, with some crunchy gravel areas which provide good spawning habitat for brook trout. The last time my coworkers shocked this stretch of stream, they found a few adult brookies. Today they were probably in the shady areas along the right side of the picture.

Today's walk, however, was for a deeper reason than mere blog fodder. I wanted to wade the creek, experience it close hand, so I could better try to understand a disturbing trend I've witnessed the last year or two: the water is getting more cloudy. Three years ago, the first spring we lived here, I walked the north creek bank and could look through the water and see brook trout redds (nests) on the gravel bottom of the creek. The water, although brown-colored from tannic acid, which is produced naturally in soft water swamps, was very clear. This year, during spring runoff and a period of base groundwater flow from extreme drought, the water has remained distinctly cloudy.

It should not look like this. I should be able to see the bottom here. Somewhere upstream, sediment is washing into the creek. Looking at the land ownership and use, I'm guessing that some logging took place in the last two years on private land, and the loggers did not follow Best Management Practices, which would be applied on public land, to avoid impacts to the stream. Or it could have been removal of a large beaver dam, but the effect of that would not have lasted as long as this has been happening. I was noticing the turbidity as early as last year.

This is what it should look like. The Hermit and I took a ride today to a road crossing about a mile upstream, then to one maybe five stream miles upstream. This is the latter; the water is brown, but distinctly clear, much clearer than where Sand Creek flows through our land. So whatever it is that's causing the turbidity is happening a few miles upstream, below the upper road crossing.

I can't let this sit. I am concerned about the effects on the few brook trout that inhabit the stream; they are sight feeders, they need cold, clear water to survive. Excessive sediment in the water will choke their spawning areas, cause water temperatures to rise to lethal levels for trout, and make it difficult for trout to find food.

I work for the very state agency that is responsible for the stewardship of Sand Creek, a designated trout stream. I am going to bring this up to my supervisor tomorrow, although I'm not very optimistic about a prompt response. But I will persist; this is my home watershed, this is a creek that someone has to care about, this is a creek that I care very much about. It deserves better than to be suffocated by bad land management.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

tangled up in blue

I wish I could take the credit for harvesting these, the best blueberries I have ever tasted. But the credit goes to a berry farm I just found out about, six miles away from me as the crow, or more likely and picturesquely, the raven flies. I found these at the new farmer's market in the nearest town; $2.50 per pint when I bought 8 pints. Tomorrow we'll have blueberry pancakes for breakfast, then I'll be jammin'!

I can take credit for these, however, my first ripe tomatoes of the season. These are all Sub Arctic Plenty, I think; a suitable name for this climate. I also picked two ripe Yellow Pear tomatoes, but the evidence was quickly digested. :)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

practicing, not noodling

The fingertips on my left hand ache. I am purposefully developing calluses. I just finished my second serious practice session on mandolin in as many days. And I'm hearing results already!

I'm almost ashamed to say, I don't know if I've practiced an instrument consistently for about five years or more. Sure I've played through songs here and there, but the intent was more to amuse myself, which didn't always work because I'd stumble over a passage, my fingers would feel awkward, the left hand didn't always care what the right hand was doing. Same with flute, only substitute the breath, the embouchure (lip position), and the fingers.

My music teachers were right. The only way to be good is to practice, practice, practice. And it must be mindful practice; it's a thinking process. The result: you teach your body the song, and whatever body parts are required to play the song. The song, and the movements that are parts of countless other songs, become second nature, like breathing.

Today I listened, I repeated, I worked slowly before I worked up to speed. I played a passage until the rich, dark, luscious tone of my instrument shone through. I played until I could play unconsciously. I listened. And after a while, I liked what I heard. Then, satisfied with a serious workout, I let myself noodle around, playing tunes I knew, playing whatever was in my head. And you know what? Even the noodling sounded better.

Practice, practice, practice. I need to make it a part of me again.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

oh no!

I've been asked, nay, commanded, by the powers that be to work a shift at my employer's information booth at the Minnesota State Fair this year, on a Saturday nonetheless.

I could not imagine an assignment less befitting to my personality. Spending eight hours in the hot sun dispensing information to perfect strangers is not my idea of a good day spent working. I would much rather do my consulting long distance, as I have done recently with Pablo.

What bothers me is that I told my boss I might be able to do it, if no one else was available. I never said flat out, Oh yes! I would LOVE to do it! That was my mistake, I should have been less agreeable and invented an unavailability. Or I should have told him flat out no, I'm not the person cut out for the job! I hate cities, I hate crowds, I hate talking to people, I hate answering stupid questions, it just reminds me too much how the general public is out of touch with the way things are.

Oh well. My kids have never seen the state fair, and every kid's gotta see it, right? The Hermit can take them around while I'm doing my best to exchange pleasantries with the general public. I think one of the benefits is my family gets free tickets. I think.

They better have Summit on tap at the beer garden when my shift's over. And there better be some good music at one of the free stages. Grrrrr...

a visitor at dawn

I awoke at 5 this morning to the sound of the bird feeder being dismantled. Not that I recognized it as that sound right away, but this sounded a lot different than Puffball trying to climb the window screens. The Hermit heard it too, and shone a light out the window.

There, about five feet away from the house, was a black bear. A very large one. It let go of the bird feeder when the light shone on it, but it took its time sniffing around before it shuffled off into the woods.

I guess I've grown complacent about bears this summer; I did not see one around all spring, when they are at their hungriest, and I assumed by now there's plenty of food for them in the woods. But with the drought we've had until last weekend, the berry crop was probably a complete failure, probably not as many insect grubs around, or whatever else bears eat. When they're hungry, they come looking. In retrospect, it was not a wise choice to put suet cakes in the feeder.

I'll clean up around the yard a bit this evening, make sure the garbage lid is secured down, run the grill to burn off any excess grease, get the remaining suet cake off the feeder and scrub it a bit, take the thistle seed feeder in, shut the cookshed door tightly...

...and probably not sleep, even though there will be a shotgun handy. It's a last resort, but a reasonable precaution.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


click on photo for larger-than-life detail

I find lately that when I make a decision to do something thoughtfully, deliberately, and simply, I am rewarded in unexpected and wonderful ways.

Yesterday it was a walk at lunch time. It was 95 degrees outside, with high humidity, and I could have easily decided to stay indoors in the air conditioning, or hopped in my car to drive to the store to get something to drink. (I am usually more prepared than I was yesterday, bringing drinks and lunch from home.) But I thought a little exercise and fresh air, no matter how hot, would be good for my sluggish, unmotivated state of mind and body.

Stepping out felt like plunging into a hot tub. I walked slowly, stretching muscles and joints stiff from sitting too long. I would not have wanted to go anywhere further than the three blocks to the store where I purchased an iced tea and a diet soda. I drank the iced tea on the walk back, its unsweetened slightly bitter coolness refreshing. A couple of older women in a black Cadillac stopped and asked me directions to a popular restaurant out by the freeway. How odd, I thought, usually out-of-towners come via the freeway and think the restaurant is the town.

I walked on with my eyes scanning the ground ahead of me, a habit I picked up as a child when I would walk gravel roads looking for agates or other interesting stones. Recent rains had washed the layer of dust from stones in the new gravel that was recently spread on the parking lot at work. A reddish stone caught my eye, but I did not stop at first. I walked a few steps, then decided to back up and take a look. There at my feet, half buried in the gravel, was a finely red and white banded Lake Superior agate, one of the nicer ones I've found. A reward for the simple act of walking, the deliberate choice to walk, and the thoughtful state I find myself slipping into when I walk.

The life we are gradually building for ourselves on the land is starting to reveal its rewards. It is often easy to slip into the mindset that things are not happening here as quickly as we would like, and we should pursue higher-paying opportunities elsewhere temporarily to save up enough to return and pick up where we left off. We have come dangerously close to actually doing so in the past, but we were fooling ourselves. We could have never come back. So we have persevered, learned patience, grown roots, made friends. The rewards are many, large and small, seen and unseen.

Update: Camera back up and running, the photo now shows a few of the agates I have been personally rewarded with, including the one from this post, lower right.