Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ah, the luxury

This is my tiny living room, in my tiny house. Notice the happy kids, the Christmas tree, the TV with satellite and antenna connections coming through the wall, that a Rinnai 1004 direct vent LP heater?

Suddenly we don't have to bring in wood, and restart the fire at 3 am. Unless we want to. And we can go away for the day, or even overnight, and the house won't freeze or be inefficiently heated by a heater with no thermostat. And no exposed flame, no hot surfaces, very safe. The best part is we can move this baby into the new house, and it should be able to heat the whole place. That is, if we choose not to heat with wood. I still think wood is more renewable, more sustainable, if not a whole lot more work and mess. And nothing feels like a wood fire sometimes.

Still, nothing feels like waking up at 3 am and not having to worry about whether your spouse has been awake to stoke the stove.

Edited to add: I forgot to thank Chris Brockman, who spent his whole Saturday helping with the installation! Chris, you're wonderful!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

2007 Pine County Christmas Bird Count

Today was my second time participating in my local Christmas Bird Count. I had such a fun time last year, I was eager to sign up for this year's count. I ended up assigned to a group with two birders I had counted with last year, Jim and Steve, and one birder, Diana, who lives near where I work and is very familiar with this area.

This is typical of the roads we traveled on our quarter of the count circle. We had had a few inches of snow in recent days, so it was good we were traveling in an all wheel drive Subaru (not mine). The only problem with this particular road was that in most parts it was twisty and curvy and there were big scary logging trucks traveling at unsafe speeds. But another group did spot a Great Gray Owl along this road in the afternoon, and I tried unsuccessfully to see it in the twilight after the count was over. I think I will be driving this road some late afternoon this weekend...I love those owls. They are a big part of the reason I started this blog.

This was one of the highlights of our day; a ruffed grouse within thirty feet of the road, looking perfectly content in a crabapple tree.

Other highlights came mostly early in the day; within the first hour we came upon a house with feeder that hosted numerous Pine and Evening Grosbeaks. I had not seen large numbers of Evening grosbeaks in a few years, so this sighting was special. We also saw a bald eagle and rough legged hawk in that first hour. I had the excitement of calling a Pileated woodpecker who I only saw because I was scanning a monotonous aspen stand as we were driving by. It presented itself perfectly, bright red crest up. Later in the day we saw a large flock of wild turkeys take flight into some tamaracks as we tried to count them.

But this was special. How often do you see a young bovine dining at a bird feeder?

This happened to be just up the road from my house, a half mile away. My kids are friends with the kids who live there. I thought about calling them and letting them know there was a cow on the loose, but it stayed close by and I think they took care of it.

We also saw more rough legged hawks, bald eagles, and most of the birds you would expect to see here. But even if we hadn't seen anything significant all day, I have to say I totally enjoyed the company of the group I was with. We all got along, cracked jokes, told stories, shared Christmas cookies, and shared the excitement of every bird we saw. So thank you Jim, Steve, and Diana, for a wonderful day birding in my "stomping grounds".

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas quote of the day

Mr. Attitude: Hey Mom, could you help me out with this Transformer?

Me: I'd love to, but I'm really Mommed out for the night. (hours of wrestling with plastic, wires, computer software, and winter driving)

Mr. Attitude: Okay; Hey Mommed Out For the Night, will you please help me?

Me: :) You bet.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

another look

A mile down the road, a minute later...

the afterglow

Yesterday, Calvin and I selected a small spruce (not my first choice of species, but I didn't want to go trudging through knee deep snow being too picky), and the kids and I (mostly the kids) decorated. Their Christmas spirit is such an inspiration.

I usually don't get much into most of the popular Christmas music, just because it's so overplayed, but Saturday after my banjo lesson I needed something festive to listen to on the long drive home. I picked up Peter Ostroushko's Heartland Holiday and noticed among the tracks was Dylan's Girl From The North Country. Any holiday album with a Bob Dylan track has to be way cool!

Heartland Holiday was exactly what I was looking for. It contains familiar carols such as "Carol of the Drum" and "Stille Nacht", but also ranges into Dylan, Ukranian folk songs, Ostroushko originals, Appalachian carols, and an amazing version of "Carol of the Bells". If anyone can pull off a high energy, extended mandolin jam with this tune, it's Peter Ostroushko. Brilliant.

Today will be spent baking, cleaning, wrapping, and all the usual stuff. I wish all you readers a very happy holiday and all the blessings of the season.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Solstice sunset

Sun, I welcome you back in your journey to the Northern Hemisphere.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thinking John Denver

I had a great musical moment with Starflower and Mr. Attitude tonight. They had the last in a series of after school cooking classes sponsored by Community Ed, so I left work a little early to pick them up.

I have been on a bit of a John Denver kick lately, spurred by hearing one of his songs on the radio. John Denver was my musical hero when I was a kid; I learned a few of his songs when I first learned how to play guitar.

So I was enjoying a John Denver Greatest Hits CD in my car this afternoon. After the kids joined me in the car, we continued to listen to it. When "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" came on, I thought about giving my monologue about how JD and that song meant a lot to me when I was growing up. But I didn't.

When the song came to an end, Starflower said, "I like that song! Can we listen to it again?"

I obliged, of course. Four times. :)

I cannot tell them what to like; that is up to them to figure out. But I am beaming with pride when my kids pick up on a song I really enjoyed as a kid. Of course, it's the song; it is a classic. It has that appeal that reaches across generations.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Seven Random Things meme

I've been tagged for this meme by one of my oldest blogging buddies, Lene at Counting Petals. Well actually she's not old, she's younger than I am, but you know what I'm saying! :)

When I started thinking of things that would be remotely unique or interesting about myself, I had a sneaking suspicion: "Hey, haven't I done this before?" Sure enough, back in August, I did the Eight Random Facts meme, and even listed two extra things. This made it more difficult; I was careful to not duplicate anything.

So here goes:

1. Like Barefoot Gardener, I often have very epic, vivid dreams with the most outrageous characters and storylines. Sometimes I even compose complex prose and poetry in the dreams. If I don't wake up too quickly, sometimes I'm consciously aware of what I'm dreaming. It's way more entertaining than TV!

2. When I was little, I wanted to have a Jeep or a van and drive around the country, especially the Rocky Mountains, camping and singing John Denver-like songs. I heard "Rocky Mountain High" on the radio yesterday and I had major flashbacks to that dream of my youth.

3. I don't "get" a lot of poetry or visual art. I "get" some classical music, but it helps if I've played it. Like Beethoven's First Symphony, Mahler's First (last movement), and Schubert's "Unfinished".

4. I used to absolutely love water skiing. I haven't done it for about twenty years. I was also into wind surfing for a while. I still have the sailboard at my dad's garage. I would like to try it again someday.

5. I absolutely hate making phone calls, especially at work. If I can get work business done by email, I will.

6. I just Googled some key words from my Master's thesis, and to my knowledge it has been referenced in just one publication in 14 years. I'm glad I'm not a scientific posterity junkie. I'm just glad I passed.

7. I haven't even started doing Christmas cards yet. Sigh.

I am now headed out to the cook shed to make some gourmet Swedish meatballs for my office potluck Christmas party, and for our dinner tomorrow. I figured, we have lots of ground beef in the freezer, might as well make something with it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

just so you know

We had a much better day, for the most part. I rearranged the woodpile again, then we took the kids and a couple friends to see "Alvin and the Chipmunks". We did not stay with them, we drove around until the movie was over. I somehow thought my bottle of Swix ski wax remover was in our storage shed, so we drove there, but it was not there. I want to get my cross country skis in shape, but I'll have to find a new bottle of wax remover I guess. There is a layer of dirt about a sixteenth of an inch thick on my skis. Not good.

I played banjo again, even dug into a downloaded tablature version of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett". I am going to try to schedule a lesson at Homestead Pickin' Parlor next Saturday, I feel it is necessary for me to make the next quantum leap in my playing.

So we're doing okay. The Hermit wants to return to work after the first of the year, just for something to do. That's a good sign.

I finally saw a nice light morph rough legged hawk today, on the way home from the movie. I had been wondering where the rough leggeds were. And we saw three bald eagles, at different places. Very nice. The pine grosbeak flock is still hanging around.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

lonely Saturday night

Skip this post if you want to. I have absolutely nothing to say, I've had a couple vodka cranberry grapefruit juices, and I'm just killing time before my "official" bedtime of 9 something. I already practiced my banjo, and even the mandolin. After the banjo warmup, I really sounded better than ever on mandolin for some reason. Still, whenever I play a musical instrument, it seems like it's never enough. I don't want to be a mediocre musician.

It got down to 20 below again last night, although tonight it's cloudy so it will be warmer. I will have to fill the bird feeder first thing in the morning, the chickadees and pine grosbeaks have managed to clean out about five pounds of seed in a day or two. It still amazes me, having this flock of about a dozen pine grosbeaks hanging around here all day. Maybe I'll try to take pictures tomorrow.

I washed dishes this morning, which is about a three hour ordeal, well, counting the time I spend cleaning and organizing the cook shed. I can't wait to have a kitchen sink. And a real kitchen that is the center of the house, as my new kitchen will be. The Hermit asked what I had spent my day doing, and I said washing dishes, and he replied as if it were something to not be proud of, an empty chore. My reply was this: "It's a necessary task, and it is kind of satisfying to get it done. It gives me some time to think and listen to music. Why complain about it?"

My attitude is the only one I can change. But maybe it can be an influence.

I did my first Christmas shopping yesterday, and it could not have gone any better for someone like me. I knew what I wanted, I went into a store I thought would have it and they did, the whole transaction took under five minutes. Now if the rest of it can only go as well...I'm not good at this.

The Hermit is doing as well as can be expected, improving slowly, although he is frustrated at improving so slowly. We had a doctor's appointment yesterday that, in my opinion, was totally worthless. Just checking the numbers. We did tell the doctor that, after some careful consideration, he is not taking one of the prescribed medications (statin for cholesterol that really isn't that high). She tried to use scare tactics ("you don't want him to have another stroke, do you?") to which I could have replied "Hmmm...yes, it is interesting that he developed this condition a couple weeks after STARTING this medication that is supposed to protect him." I've done my homework, and I ain't no fool. Treating the symptoms does NOT equal restoring equilibrium and wellness. Especially when someone's making big bucks off of treating the symptoms. My Grandma is 88 years old, and not on any prescription medication.

He's in bed now. I'm lonely. I want my husband back, the one I was walking on the beach with a little over a month ago. I know we'll get there again, but it can't happen soon enough.

Maybe I'd better get that banjo out again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

my lovely daughter

This is my beautiful Starflower after her Christmas piano recital this afternoon. She played wonderfully; in my (biased) ear I would rank her as one of the top performers. She did not miss a note, her timing was brilliant, and she even had some expression.

The dress is retribution for my mommy guilt over not buying her more pretty girl stuff over the years. I'm just not that good at shopping, but I promise to get better, and, when you have to drive about sixty miles to get to the shopping places, that's another factor. But she needed a pretty dress for tonight, so I drove to Wal Mart, fifteen miles the wrong way from where I work, last night and found the prettiest dress they had in her size, and some tights, shoes, necklace, and some hair clips. She was thrilled.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Simplifying ain't easy

The horses are no longer here. The sheep will be gone by the end of the week. Gone, to good homes. We can no longer take care of them.

It's a huge admission to make. The Hermit was always more the animal caregiver than I was. I do not have the will, nor the energy and time, to take over bringing water and hay and feed across the creek, not to mention to the small pasture on this side of the creek. The sheep are easier, but the effort we put into caring for them is still too much at this point. We need to get down to the basics, and build from there as we are ready. Which is maybe what we should have done from the start. I think we got into too many animals too soon, and it distracted from our main goals.

I asked The Hermit about the horses tonight, and he didn't even want to talk about it. The horses were his thing. I respect that.

We still have chickens and geese and rabbits and dogs and cats. That is more than enough.

I am relieved.

Monday, December 10, 2007

ice ferns

Now here's something really cool you only get to see when it's really cold!

This is one of Togo's water buckets, after it froze overnight. The fern-like, pennate aggregations of ice crystals actually extend out from the sides of the bucket, although it doesn't show up well in this photo. As the water rapidly froze, water molecules released heat, driving water vapor into the air where it rapidly condensed. That, or the ice fairies were at work.

A little bit of chilly beauty. Today the high temperature is supposed to approach a tropical 20 degrees F.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

cabin fever

This cold and snow came on so fast and furious, a period of adjustment is inevitable. Not that we're not adjusting to other things...but sometimes I wake up in the morning and almost cry when I think of what has to be done.

But I get over it. And tomorrow, a couple friends are coming over to organize the woodpile, cut down pieces that are too long for our small stove, split the pieces that need another splitting, and maybe pick up another cord while we wait for our propane heater. I'm tired of stumbling out to the woodpile at 7 AM and finding only round pieces, especially birch, or too- long pieces, or rotten wood. We need some good, 5-6 inch split pieces of oak and/or maple, no longer than 14 inches.

Today I went into town to do laundry, and was surprised to find I was the only one there. A man pulled in a few minutes after me, but we talked and laughed about how we had the place to ourselves. A few people came in later, but all in all it was very tolerable for a laundromat day.

Later in the afternoon we headed for the school pool. Although the kids enjoyed the recreation, my primary goal was showers. Hot showers, as long as we wanted. Even The Hermit took advantage of the showers, although he did not swim. I have been feeling a pulled tendon in my leg, but it felt much better after swimming and gentle stretching in the water.

The pool always puts me to sleep, however. I just want to slip into flannel jammies and crawl under the down comforter when I get home from the pool! But I had to bring in wood, feed and medicate Togo, etc.

Tomorrow I'm taking it easy (as possible).

Friday, December 07, 2007

Land of the Wind Chill Factor

(any John Prine fans out there who can name that tune?)

Is your local meteorologist the most highly paid member of your local news staff?

Does the weather merit more time and detail than the sports?

Do you know what a wind chill factor is, and does it affect your day to day activities?

At you latest church potluck, was there lutefisk and lefse? If not, was there at least one "hot dish" on the menu?

If you answered "yes" to all of the above, you are a Minnesotan.

Overnight temperatures here are expected to approach twenty below, and we are on the map for a "wind chill advisory" from the National Weather Service. But, as Bob Dylan put it, "it don't take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." I know it's cold out there. If you live here long enough, you know that when the day, and the evening, is clear, and there is snow cover on the ground, you'd better be ready for COLD.

I don't know if I am. I hope I brought in enough wood.

I am seriously hoping for a "January Thaw". In December, already.

I am also hoping that Sally, my yellow Labrador who is seriously in heat, will just get over it SOON. It's almost tragic, watching her prance around Togo while he turns to me and says, "what's up with that?" The bad part is, I have to go out there and literally drag her away from the newly uninterested party. Pathetic.

Speaking of Togo, added to my daily complicated routine is taking three pills of Doxycycline, burying them in a ball of hamburger, and giving them to Togo with the rest of his food. Twice a day. Only about 25 more days of that.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

today's bird count

Bald eagles- 2
Pine grosbeaks- everywhere. We're having a real irruption of them this year.
Snow buntings- 2 flocks
Mourning doves- one small flock, strange for so far north
Turkeys- one flock. I got to see two of them fly when my car got too close for comfort. With the snow on the road and the way I was skidding, even with anti lock brakes, I thought I'd have me a turkey dinner.
Chickadees- the constant of the winter.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

buried in snow...and life

We got another six inches today. I wasn't expecting so much, but what can one expect from the weather? That means we'll have to shell out another $30 for a guy to plow our long driveway. Just two days after the first snow. And there's no way I'll get the pond cleared unless we get the snow blower started. I'm counting on that pond for winter recreation. In case you haven't heard, I love skating.

I picked up Togo from the vet today, after he got neutered, just in time to keep Sally protected in this her time of heat. It turns out he has Lyme disease and one other tick borne disease I can't remember the name of. Might as well keep everyone, people and animals, on antibiotics around here. But why is it that humans have to jump through hoops and inaccurate tests to get a Lyme diagnosis, and then doctors are reluctant to prescribe more than 14-21 days of antibiotics, the minimum necessary to fight the disease, when a dog can get diagnosed in a day and get a month's worth of Doxycycline? And, Togo is usually in an area of minimal grass and dirt. If he can get Lyme disease, we all are at risk.

Then my dad called with the sad news that his sister, my aunt Cheri, age 62, died of a stroke while vacationing with her daughters in Amman, Jordan. Unbelievable. The last time I saw Cheri was at my mom's funeral, and I so wanted to reconnect with her. I guess it will never happen. Jordan seems like a strange vacation spot, but I guess she was always into Mideast politics. I hope I can contact her daughters, my first cousins I haven't seen in over twenty years, and connect somehow. The scary part is, both Cheri and my grandma, the only female family I know of on my dad's side (grandma was adopted), died suddenly in their early sixties.

Wow. Life is so unpredictable. I've had that lesson driven into me these last few weeks.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

winter scenes

Now that we've had some snow, things are looking like winter. I had the chance to take these photos after I took Calvin to a friend's house this afternoon. I love my Subaru; it handles winter conditions so well.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

200 some channels

First- I found my boots, and the snow shovels! just in time. I also found a down parka of mine that I haven't worn in several years, but I feel like bringing it out this year.

The DirecTV guy arrived today, despite howling winds and about eight inches of snow, and connected us with the world. The kids are going crazy with the remote, navigating the new TV-sphere. I will probably only get my chance at it at about 3 AM. I would really love to catch up with The Food Network.

It is a nesting kind of night around here. Don't know how I'll deal with the snow in the driveway yet, but it will happen somehow.

The pine grosbeaks were calling from the trees, but I don't know why they do not show up at the feeder.

Sorry if I sound so flat lately. I'm just kind of mentally wiped out. The weather does not help.

Friday, November 30, 2007


We saw the doctor today, and The Hermit will be having physical and speech therapy next week. I'm glad this new doctor finally got what he needed ordered, but I am still a little mad at his other doctor, who should have ordered these things upon discharge from the hospital two weeks ago today.

I am very drained right now, or I would write more. It is so damn cold here, I can hardly function. Not to mention, we are supposed to get a significant snow accumulation tomorrow. I do not know where my boots are, much less the shovels. We are way below normal in temperature. It does not help things here.

Forgot to add...I had a couple guys from the church we rarely attend come over and clean the chimney. I got nervous this morning when I saw sparks shooting from the chimney; that signals a minor chimney fire and I really don't want to go there. I don't want my house to burn down.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I feel like...umm...scum?

I may have met The Lunch Lady From Hell today. In the grocery store. And I feel like...ummm... the stuff amoebas scrape from between their toes, if they had toes.

I picked up Mr. Attitude from school today, because it is his birthday, but Starflower had piano lessons, so we had to hang around until 4. We went to the grocery store, where he was telling everyone it was his birthday. I don't know where he gets this, I was so shy when I was his age.

Anyway, Mr. Attitude started talking to this woman in the produce section. I did not recognize her, although by the way she talked it seemed she was familiar with our family. She asked me how my husband was doing. I thought this was strange, since very few people in the community know of our situation. But when she said she worked at the pool, and asked why I hadn't showed up lately, I knew she knew us a little, but still why would she ask...

It was not until later that I made the connection. Mr. Attitude told me she was one of the lunch ladies. A lunch lady...who asked me about my husband...oh sheeeet. I am very sure she was the one I sent a very nasty email to, about how we were sorry we hadn't paid the lunch bill due to recent circumstances...

Maybe she was nice to me out of kindness. I'm sure she knew I was the one who had blasted her in that email, yet she was so kind. I don't know if she knew if I knew wh0 she was. Oh well.

I will never, ever send an email out of pure anger again. I was just protecting my kids, but I guess it just wasn't right, now that I have met the recipient face to face.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

the true cost of winter

I just placed an order for over a hundred clams to Land's End to outfit Starflower for the winter. I am glad we are able to do it, but what about all those families out there who don't have anything left over after groceries and heat? If they have money for groceries and heat, after a place to stay? You can get coats at the thrift store, and I plan to bring one of Starflower's old ones there tomorrow, but really it costs to stay warm. Heat isn't getting any cheaper, although we get by pretty easy with wood. But wood ain't easy either in some ways that I am appreciating a lot lately. Wood is heavy and messy. Wood does not come pre-cut into convenient shapes and sizes. And wood has to be carried in two or three times a day in a cold snap like this.

The Hermit got up around 4:30 this morning and started the fire (in the woodstove, that is). God bless him, he's so much better at it than I am, even now (starting a fire in the woodstove, that is, what were you thinking?).

And God bless my stepdaughter, who drove up from Nebraska just to be with her dad for a few days, and who put the plastic up on our porch windows (the computer is in the porch, and I am no longer freezing while blogging), got pizzas for dinner, took the laundry with her, brought in a dog size kennel so the rabbits could stay inside and warm, and was all around great to come home to tonight. She's staying at her mom's in Cloquet, but she will be bringing a cake on Thursday for Mr. Attitude's birthday.

not the coldest spot in Minnesota

I've blogged before about how I live in a strange cold spot that often rivals International Falls for low temperatures. I've had frost in every month of the year. I've questioned my thermometer's accuracy, but even if it reads a few degrees low there's no denying it was cold this morning! That thermometer read zero, my car thermometer read 4 when I drove Calvin out to meet the bus at 6:30.

But most cities north of here were reporting below zero temperatures. Whatever was correct, zero or 4, was downright tropical compared to other spots in Minnesotarctica.

Still, it's mornings like this that make me think indoor toilets are a good idea.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

in search of snow buntings

I am glad I have a spouse who will ask to go for a drive and look for snow buntings. That's one thing we can do, and I am glad to do.

Snow buntings, like their name suggests, are winter birds, visitors from the tundra, but I think their name more suggests their habits; a flock of them looks like a small snowstorm.

I never started seeing snow buntings until I lived here, five years now. Now I look for them every time I drive along roadsides in open areas. They act very much like horned larks, but we don't have many larks around here. Their flocks may be interspersed with a few Lapland longspurs; I have not positively ID'd one yet, but I hope to see one this year.

So we went driving at about 10 AM on a sunny morning, but we did not see any snow buntings. We did have a great look at a bald eagle, met another locally renowned hermit, husband to a former gubernatorial candidate, on the road and exchanged a casual wave, and saw a gorgeous lake stirred up by wind (wish I had brought the camera!). We also saw some geese, along with some hooded mergansers on a small lake that was strangely unfrozen. And numerous ravens.

Later, we had a re-heated Thanksgiving dinner with my stepson and his girlfriend and her son. I should be doing dishes, but they can wait. I just had to play banjo.

We're getting satellite TV tomorrow, which should be a good diversion for The Hermit, and my stepdaughter postponed her M.S. thesis defense for a while so she could be here Monday or Tuesday for a while. A neighbor who once got a ticket for shooting on our land (almost hit The Hermit) has offered to help out any way he could. Community is a good thing. :)

Oh, and we found a home for one of our outdoor kittens. My stepson and his girlfriend adopted one of them, which leaves us with a herd of one less cats around here. I would take them to a shelter, but that would only be transferring the problem.

November road

Friday, November 23, 2007

where the rivers freeze, and the summer ends

Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline...

I went for a long walk this morning. November is a strange time of change here in Minnesota; the first half of the month I just want to huddle in front of a warm fire, then gradually I come out of my shell and take on the below freezing temperatures and the howling winds.

Please see she has a coat so warm...

I still have to get our serious winter gear out of storage bins in the garage. I was a bit under dressed for my walk, but I survived. Even ran a little. It was good to get out and breathe fresh air and feel my body move. And have some time to myself where I could just get lost in movement and the air around me.

I was greeted this morning by a redhead on the large dead spruce that is just outside my window. I have been seeing lots of Pileated woodpeckers, they are actually pretty common around here, but their size and red crest just leaves me in awe every time I see one.

And we were visited by as many as a dozen chickadees at a time at the feeder. Since they see chickadees at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, I assume some of them must migrate from areas further north. I really don't think our resident population is this huge! I've already gone through one 50 pound bag of black oil sunflower, and it's not even winter yet.

We had to get out today, so I drove The Hermit and Starflower and Mr. Attitude (Calvin was at a friend's house) to Duluth, where we ate at McDonald's (I even had a double cheeseburger-yikes!) and did a little grocery shopping and booze shopping in Wisconsin. :) We drove over the two high bridges over Duluth Harbor and saw a few ships. It was partly sunny for a change, and it was nice to be driving around, although I'm not used to being the driver. Just one of the many changes in our lives recently.

On our drive we saw a robin (late for here), a turkey vulture (ditto), and one bald eagle. There are places in Duluth where I could have seen some rare gull species, but I didn't get to them today. Unless a rare gull shows up in the Super One Market parking lot in West Duluth, I have little chance of seeing it.

(song quotes from a native Duluthian, Bob Dylan of course. )

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

our medical system

I left a message with The Hermit's doctor's nurse this morning, at about 9:30 AM. I, as a spouse, have been left out of the loop of his diagnosis and treatment, and I just wanted to know what's going on.

As of 9 pm, I have not had a response.


UPDATE-- see my comment. Good news.

banjo therapy

Learning, and playing, the banjo has gotten me through these rough times more than once already.

Today I got to the point where my hands were on auto pilot, for a couple brief moments, and it was such a great feeling. I am so far away from where I want to be with this instrument, but I realize it's a long process, maybe shortened by my experience with music in general and other stringed instruments.

Banjo is different, though. My experience is mostly with melody instruments, ones that play only one note at a time. Playing banjo means coloring the melody with a cloud of notes, which I am not used to. But I will get used to it.

I just love the sound. So haunting, so raw. So living. Okay, I am addicted to banjo. And mandolin.

I admit, there are times when I just sit there and strum an open chord, and get lost in the sound.
For you non music philes, I apologize. But I have to do this once in a while.

November gray

November has to be the bleakest month of the year around here. The leaves are all gone from the trees, the sky is usually dreary gray, and it's dark. No snow on the ground either to hide all the yard clutter and bare spots and leaves.

I have been moving around in a surreal world; driving to the hospital for tests, driving home so exhausted I can hardly stay awake, coming home and having to chop kindling and feed animals and keep the fire burning (we are getting an efficient propane heater next week, which will help a lot in that regard). I'll probably go to work tomorrow, at least for a while, so that will be a break.

No news yet, although I put in a call to the doctor this morning while The Hermit was having a carotid ultrasound. I'm waiting for him to call back, and I have some serious questions for him.

But in a fit of perhaps insanity, or perhaps the reality that we aren't really up for driving sixty miles to Grandma's for Thanksgiving dinner, I bought a 20 pound turkey that may or may not fit in my small oven. We're having that, and a wild rice casserole that has become our tradition, stuffing, baked squash, mashed potatoes, and even homemade cranberry sauce. But not a home baked pumpkin pie; some nice lady named Mrs. Smith put it together for me. ;) Okay, I admit, I do like cooking, especially since I get to escape to my cook shed and listen to CD's or the radio. My stepsons might come over. It will be fun.

The chickadees are good therapy. They know how to stay busy and cheerful, even in November.

Forgot to add: we're getting satellite TV on Monday. Starflower's comment: "Hurray! Now we'll never be bored!" I just groaned.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


So, despite the optimism I have presented in the last couple of posts, we really don't know what is going on. We are going in for an MRI tomorrow, which may explain some things.

He is still very weak on his right side. Speech, though better, is not 100%.

I have not had an easy weekend. Besides getting through daily life, I have been wondering on all sorts of outcomes. But, I always come out with this easy feeling that, no matter what, we will get through this. Although I practically had a nervous breakdown last night, and I've hardly eaten for 2 days. I did have a good talk with the kids, who were understandably nervous about why Daddy isn't the way he usually is.

My stepson and his girlfriend and her 8 year old son came today to pick up a load of wood and stack it and help with the animal chores. I love them. They were making some jokes about D (her son) maybe having to buy beer someday for his uncle (Mr. Attitude, who is almost 6). The fact that that is being talked about blows my mind. But, everyone is way concerned about their Dad.

Friday, November 16, 2007


The Hermit is home now. They discharged him this morning, but he walked out before they had all the paperwork done. Oh well. His doctor said it was okay, so I guess that's good.

He's still kind of weak and a bit uncoordinated, but his speech is much better. He's on an antibiotic; the doctor was kind of skeptical about the Lyme connection, but I'm glad he at least agreed to try it.

I think he'll get better, but it really has me thinking, how quickly life could change. And the uncertainty; what is causing this, and will it get better?

We went out shopping for a few groceries, and when we came home we were greeted with this:

A male Pine grosbeak, actually two of them, paid a short visit to our feeder. This one looked so huge, his feathers were all fluffed out against the cold. The high temp was 35, but it was sunny. When we met the kids at the end of the driveway when the bus dropped them off, our shadows were about a hundred feet long.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

please send prayers, good thoughts, or whatever

The Hermit is in the hospital.

But first, the good news. I just talked with him and he sounds a lot better than he did before. So I don't think the situation is critical.

For the last day or so he had been having some difficulty with balance, and also with talking. He looked and sounded drunk, although I knew otherwise. The talking part was the weirdest. He said he was thinking normally, but he had a delay in retrieving the right words and his speech was slurred.

I told him he needed to see a doctor NOW. Typical male he is, he insisted "I'm fine!" He finally agreed to go to urgent care this morning and they admitted him.

His doctor initially thought he had had a stroke, but tests did not indicate it. We are convinced it is Lyme disease. He was treated for it about a month ago, with ten days of antibiotics. Which is NOT enough to wipe out an acute Lyme infection. Three weeks at the minimum, a month is better.

He is planning on checking himself out tomorrow, regardless of what the doc says. Like I said, he sounded way better, not 100%, but a lot better on the phone after taking one antibiotic pill.

I gotta go do chores and pick up kids from school and chop wood and start a fire and stuff. Be back later this evening.

Monday, November 12, 2007

a day off, a day together

It was the perfect formula. I had the day off, The Hermit had the day off, all of the kids were in all day school (finally), and it was a gorgeous day, weather-wise, for November in Minnesota. We hadn't had a day alone together in oh so long, so the plans were made. We headed to Duluth, my absolute favorite city in the world, and Park Point, my favorite place in my favorite city. I have written about Park Point before, I'm too lazy to link, but we've had some good days there with the kids, went to a totally fun music festival there this summer, and did some awesome birding there this fall.

I so apologize for the tipsy horizon in what was to be a perfect study in blueness. It's my camera's fault; I swear I had the guidelines lined up with the horizon. Anyway, ain't it blue?

We hiked a long way down the beach until we came to near the end, where there is a nice pine forest on the dunes. It was hard walking on the loose sand, so we took a break and just took it all in.

The pine forest contains an incredible lichen micro-forest. It almost looks magical. There are also plants like wintergreen, which typically grow on acidic areas with little topsoil.

We hiked back on a hiking/ski trail that runs through the pine woods. I had never been on that trail before, but The Hermit, in another lifetime, used to spend a lot of time there. He has seen snowy owls out on the end of the point. I was keeping my eye out for gray jays, having heard a few of them were spotted around Duluth. I didn't see one; in fact, I saw almost squat for birds. A couple of American tree sparrows were the highlight of my day. The shorebirds are gone, the ducks were few, even ring billed gulls were rare. But I didn't mind.

We ate lunch at a little Mexican restaurant, and perhaps regretted it. The special of the day was two tacos with refried beans and rice, but both of us could barely eat one taco apiece. Not that it was bad food, we just felt so full. And sleepy afterwards. I just don't go for quantity foods anymore.

Then a quick stop at the food co-op for organic greens and coffee, then a scenic drive on the bridge over the St. Louis River estuary into Superior, Wisconsin, Wisconsin being the home of the Green Bay Packers who routed our hapless Vikings 34-0 on Sunday. I don't follow football much, but I know this will be a major topic of discussion at work tomorrow.

We saw domestic freighters waiting out along the shore, and "salties", seafaring freighters carrying exported grain. I just love the excitement of living so close to the furthest inland seaport in the United States, seeing ships come and go. Sometimes I think I could live in Duluth. Lake Superior has a life of its own, always changing and beautiful.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

worldly thinking, among other stuff

We had parent teacher conferences the other night. Unfortunately, the Hermit was away on business, so he could not be there, but otherwise things went well. Very well. The teachers all had nothing but good things to say about my kids. I am beaming with pride, yet I do not understand how I am so blessed with such great kids! Even Mr. Attitude, who is much more "intense" than his brother and sister, got rave reviews from his teacher. I am so darn proud of them all.

Starflower started piano lessons this week. She had had lessons last year, but her teacher retired, and I had been lazy about finding her a new teacher. It just happened that I checked the school Web site last week, and found out that the band teacher was now teaching piano lessons. I called the Community Ed office and got her scheduled in. I am so impressed with the band teacher in this school; he goes above and beyond the call to create a great program with a limited budget. And he is giving his time after school to teach piano. Wonderful. And Starflower has been great about practicing since her lesson.

I have been practicing my musical instruments too. Mostly banjo, on which I have the most to learn, but today I also got out my guitar and octave mandolin. Heads up: I have a video planned, in which I sing and play octave mandolin at the same time. I still need to practice before this becomes a reality.

I have the day off tomorrow, Veterans' Day holiday! I don't know what to do with myself for a whole day off. Maybe catch up on blogging!

Sunday night dancing

It's a new tradition, at least these last couple of weeks. The Hermit goes on Rhapsody, searching out music, and we dance. Music like REM "It's the end of the world as we know it", and the song about Andy Kaufman "Man on the Moon". The Talking Heads (Once in a Lifetime), and The B-52's Love Shack. All great dancing stuff. I get a great aerobic workout, the kids have some fun, and hey, it's all good fun. Even Sally gets involved.

Oh, by the way, that is The Red Green Show in the background. Netflix rules.

Monday, November 05, 2007

today in Minnesota

The big fluffy flakes of snow are falling, interspersed with breaks in the clouds, even sunshine at times. Typical November day.

I'm taking the day off, since the kids had the day off from school (teacher workshops). I'm beginning to question the wisdom of that choice; everyone, including a friend, is inside playing video games. But I'll have the whole afternoon to get my mandolin, banjo or whatever out and have some "me" time. At least that's the plan.

I was so into making banjo videos yesterday that I completely forgot to mention I saw my first pine grosbeak of the fall! A beautiful male visited the feeder for about twenty minutes, but he did not cooperate for a photo. Then this morning, I heard some shrill whistling calls and saw three evening grosbeaks in a tree! They visited the feeder briefly. The winter birds have arrived, but I still have not seen any snow buntings.

On Saturday The Hermit and I took a drive to a little lake nearby to scout for duck hunting. We saw hundreds of ring necked ducks and bluebills, and three trumpeter swans! Beautiful. I hadn't seen a trumpeter in a while; they are rare but slowly making a comeback. The Hermit went back to the lake yesterday afternoon to hunt; the ducks were there but they were not enticed to come into the decoys. I don't think The Hermit was too disappointed.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Deb plays banjo!

Live from Sand's me!

It was a bit dark, and my cinematographer (Calvin) kept moving in front of the light, get the idea.

Friday, November 02, 2007

starlight boating adventures

My job consists of mostly predictable shifts, 8:00-4:30 unless we're running late. Occasionally we have special projects, like electrofishing for largemouth bass in late spring (the best way we know to quantify the population), or electrofishing for walleye young of year in fall (again, the best way we've found to evaluate spawning success). I mostly avoid these night shifts, partly because there are always willing others, and partly because, well, I'm a creature of routine. Bedtime is 10 PM at the latest.

Yesterday I was asked if I would be available to electrofish that evening; one guy's wife had bowling or some other lame excuse. :) It turns out I was available, and I didn't want to appear to be the only one at the office that did NOT go night electrofishing. But the thought entered my mind: When I was a neophyte fisheries specialist fifteen odd years ago, one of my first assignments at this place where I work (again, not still) was to electrofish that same lake at night. I think it was late September. All I remember was, we ended up paddling to shore in the dark due to some motor malfunction. It couldn't happen twice, on the same lake, now could it?

So we went to the lake, it was dark by seven, we scared a flock of a couple thousand ring billed gulls up off the water for a moment or two, and then we started pumping voltage into the water and stunning fish. The fish do recover from a momentary jolt, it just takes a minute. We were after walleye, particularly young of year although we would measure every size we caught. We found everything from 8 to 25 inch walleye, among other species.

After our last run, we could see the lights across the lake, about a mile, where we had the truck and trailer parked. It was about 9 PM, plenty early. We started to motor across, but suddenly our lights did not seem as bright. According to the designated driver, the voltage meter had been going lower all night, and now our batteries were critical. Uh-oh. Then the motor died. Double uh-oh. The motor was trimmed high, at about the surface, and we had no power to move it down, much less power start it.

Now, being an electofishing boat, this boat has a generator built in. But by some odd quirk of fate, it is wired so you cannot charge batteries or run lights off it! What genius! The motor apparently does not even have an alternator that charges the batteries. Double genius. We had a flashlight on board, but its D batteries were critical. Triple genius.

So there we were, about a mile from our destination (although I did not realize that at the time, thank God), without ANY power, completely in the dark. Apparently there is a way to start the motor manually, and one of my coworkers started working on that while one started paddling with an oar.

I eventually took over the oar as that coworker went back to look at the motor problem. I paddled with all my strength for about twenty minutes, maybe gaining about a hundred feet or so. It seemed like we were not getting any further away from the nearer shore. They finally got the motor started...sort of. After about a minute it sputtered and died. My two coworkers took over the oar and high-resistance dipnet (special Fisheries weapon) while I steered. Fifteen minutes later, we started the motor and ran it again for about two minutes before it died. Repeat process a few times. I should have been getting really worried, but somehow I kept a "we'll get through this, after all we did the same damn thing FIFTEEN YEARS AGO!" attitude. I am older and wiser now.

Finally we got to a point (literally) where the guys could walk the boat along shore (no sense having a third person messing things up.) It turned out they walked about two thirds of a mile, and we arrived at the access at a little after 11 PM. I arrived home a little after midnight, immediately settling into my computer chair and a glass of Shiraz. I got 5 1/2 hours of sleep, so I'm turning in early tonight.

I am never going to that lake again, especially at night. I must be jinxed. And, I hope I'm done with boat adventures for the year.

But the stars were nice. I did see one shooting star.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Nature sightings today

Approx. 7:45 AM: I saw this little dark thing crossing the road. At first I thought it was a wind blown leaf, but it was moving on its own speed. Suddenly, I saw the outspread wings of a Northern Goshawk, about to come in contact with the front of my vehicle. Luckily it didn't. It was about to swoop on the vole, and I messed up its breakfast. I'm sorry. Glad I didn't hit you!

The Hermit called me at work to tell me he had finally spotted snow buntings just north of our place. They were no doubt pushed south by the strong northwest winds we've had today.

And tonight, as we were headed into town for trick-or-treating: A silhouette on an aspen branch turned out to be a Barred Owl! Cool! I've heard them here, but hadn't actually seen one for a long time.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

happy critters

It was cold this morning; our thermometer, which tends to read cold, said 15 degrees at sunrise. So naturally, the kids were reluctant to bring the bunnies outside right away. Instead, they created the "Mini Lop Hotel". Sweet. The Hotel, by the way, is a doll house built for me by my grandpa. Of course I had to pass it on to my daughter.

Why do these sheep look so contented? Because they just spent the day outside, grazing on fresh grass, while we moved their pen. They were good sheep, not straying outside the bounds of home and yard. And now they have a pen that isn't so spongy with layers of hay and sheep droppings and rain. I was thinking, I could really get into being a shepherd; lots of time to think, and play banjo.

We also got the young chickens moved from the chicken tractor to the main chicken house, and I weeded a couple garden beds, then The Hermit moved four loads of dirt and composted horse manure from the horse enclosure. It was a farmy kind of day, and I enjoyed it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I am now a banjo player

I made the journey 100 miles south today to a certain music store just outside of Minneapolis to pick up my banjo and get my first lesson on what to do with it. It was quite an experience; I was making this trip solo, which meant instead of pushing on the imaginary brake in the passenger seat, I had to deal with city traffic, something I find increasingly difficult to do. I also made my first trip through the I-35W detour, bypassing the infamous bridge collapse. The detour went smoothly, but traffic piled up at 35W and 62 (The Crosstown). I made it to the store just ten minutes ahead of my lesson.

My instructor, Russ Rayfield, was wonderful. He was delighted to find out I already played several stringed instruments, so I wasn't starting from scratch. By the end of the lesson he basically gave me a few picking patterns to learn, saying "if you know these, you can play any song!" That is exactly what I wanted; not a plodding, song-through-song introduction to banjo, but a license to experiment and find out what works best for me. I won't be able to make it there for lessons very often, if ever, but at least I have a good start.

After the lesson I made a trip to Trader Joe's to pick up a case of Three Buck Chuck (good wine, incredibly cheap) and some other goodies, then on the way home, a stop at an Old Navy outlet store because Starflower desperately needed more jeans to wear to school. I found them, and a couple cute T-shirts for myself. I almost didn't buy them, because I have this terrible self-denial frugal habit I inherited from my parents. But then I thought, heck, I've spent over $300 on myself today with the banjo, what's a couple $15 shirts? I never do this.

After dinner, I excitedly got my banjo out of its case. I tried to play a couple patterns from the photocopied sheets my instructor had given me, but my mind wandered, my fingers followed, and soon I was just winging it, playing whatever came into my head. I picked out a nice rendition of "Amazing Grace" (which is probably THE most perfect melody ever written; "Ashokan Farewell" (Jay Ungar) and "Johsefin's Waltz" (Roger Tallroth) come close) and did some other amazingly melodic stuff.

It is a gift I cannot comprehend, that I can pick up an instrument totally new to me and, within an hour, be making music. I am totally mesmerized by the sound of the banjo. I don't have one of the loud ones with a super heavy resonator. Mine is open backed, quiet but somehow more resonant than my other, wood-topped instruments. And the close open tuning of the don't have to stretch like you do on guitar or mandolin to play a melody. It just happens, once you know the intervals of the strings. I just may spend the day banjoizing tomorrow. I'm that hooked.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How to scare your mom

I told Calvin, "We've already been to Urgent Care once today (Starflower, suspected pinkeye). We are NOT going again!"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

blogging blues

As long as I have some time to kill (I promised myself--NO HOUSEWORK, I'M SUPPOSED TO BE SICK AND RESTING!) I thought I'd do a little blog makeover. What do you think? Is it readable enough? Blue enough?

I also called and scheduled a banjo lesson for Saturday, when I'm going to Minneapolis to pick up my banjo! I'm excited; the teacher I ended up with plays jazz banjo as well as bluegrass, so I won't be learning strictly one style. I do want to learn clawhammer (old time) banjo some time, but I think it would be best to get a broader introduction to the instrument.

I've been taking Coldcalm, a homeopathic cold remedy, and it seems to be working; I don't feel nearly as lousy as I thought I would! I've been pretty skeptical about homeopathy, but maybe there is something to it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Score: Trout 1, County 0!!!!!


Sorry I didn't get around to posting the details. I came down with a cold bug yesterday and didn't feel like posting last night. Mr. Attitude and I are taking a sick day here at home.

It turns out that this was probably a result of miscommunication between the area fisheries manager, the area hydrologist, and the county highway department. They have an annual meeting to discuss scheduled projects, and I guess it was not mentioned at that time that Sand Creek was a trout stream. Actually, Sand Creek is still technically a county ditch, so even though it is a trout stream, there is no law that would prohibit the culvert replacement this time of year! Unbelievable. But, when I got to work yesterday, my boss was on the phone with the county highway engineer, and he convinced them to hold off with the project due to trout stream concerns. The crew was already out there on site, but they didn't get a chance to start anything.

Whew. That was a close call.

The next step is to get Sand Creek un-designated as a county ditch, which I guess is a rather lengthy process. The county is probably reluctant to lose ditch status on any stream, because you never know when some new, profitable agricultural operation might want to set up in the swamps upstream (That's why the county isn't too fond of wetlands laws either). However, I am unaware of any farmer that is using the creek as a drainage ditch, so there may be little opposition from landowners.

I just can't believe it all came down to me speaking up! If I were more New Age, I might even say I feel empowered. : )

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sand Creek's trout are in danger

I'm not normally given to sensational titles, but I don't believe I'm exaggerating one bit on this one.

It all started yesterday afternoon when we were baking chocolate chip cookies. It turns out I was out of baking soda. I called one neighbor; not home. I called another, and they were home and had some baking soda I could use. They live on the road to the north, just east of the creek, less than a mile as the crow flies. As I was driving there, this is what I saw:

Six shiny new culverts, and a backhoe. Uh-oh.

The neighbor informed me that the highway department was planning to replace the culverts on Monday. He looked baffled when I said "They're not supposed to be doing that this time of year!"

Now, I'm not against road improvement projects when they are necessary, AS LONG AS the county takes proper steps to protect wildlife and water resources in the process. I don't want to stand in the way of someone just doing their job. BUT, OCTOBER IS THE WORST POSSIBLE TIME TO REPLACE CULVERTS ON A BROOK TROUT STREAM!!! It's their spawning time, and any digging in the stream bed WILL cause sediment to be washed downstream, destroying any eggs that have been laid in the round gravel bottom nests called redds. One culvert would be bad enough, but SIX of them, several in a small feeder tributary, will in effect destroy that area for spawning. The brook trout population in this part of the stream has at most two or three year classes; one missed year class could significantly reduce the population, if not wiping it out altogether. The culverts could also impact upstream areas; if they are not placed at the proper height, water could be impounded; brook trout do not thrive in stagnant water.

If that ain't enough, stream flows are very high after recent rains. I'd like to know how they plan to pull a culvert without washing out the entire road and having to haul in more fill. It would have been a perfect time to do this project earlier in the summer, when flows were low and trout weren't spawning.

I've left messages with the conservation officer, the area fisheries manager (my supervisor), and the area hydrologist. If all else fails...maybe a little activism, Monkey Wrench style???

I'm mad enough to do it, but I have so much at stake...

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Remember this?

With our recent rains, the pond is full once more. It's hard to compare the photos because they were taken from slightly different vantage points, but I assure you the water level has risen by over a foot.

How much rain have we had? I don't know, because I haven't felt like sloshing out to the rain gauge, but in the last few days I'm guessing a few inches. Today it's supposed to finally move on, pushed by some strong winds from the southwest. Yesterday the wind was out of the northeast and there were supposedly 10-14 foot waves on Lake Superior. I thought the six foot waves were bad enough!

I think we've had enough rain now. And wind. I need to get my garlic planted, and I want The Hermit to take the tractor and scoop up some good composted horse manure to fill the garden beds for next year, but the horse pasture is a muddy mess right now. I might end up planting the garlic in the same beds as last year, just because they have the most good soil in them. We also need to move the sheep tractor, the poor woolly things are sitting on a spongy bed of old hay.

At least the geese are happy.

Birds of note: Yesterday I saw my first rough-legged hawk of the fall.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

tamarack gold

It's that time. The last hurrah of fall. The maples have come and gone, the oaks and aspen didn't show all that much, but now it's time for tamaracks to show their colors. Although all of our conifers, including red pine and white pine, shed some needles this time of year, tamarack (aka "THE LARCH!") do it in style, turning golden for a while.

I saw my first Northern Shrike of the fall, as I drove by at about 55 mph. They must follow the flocks of Dark eyed juncos, which are everywhere since a week and a half ago. I also saw a high flying flock of ducks, courtesy of a little brown bird I decided to get a better look at while on my lunchtime walk. I could not ID the bird, but I did get a glimpse of the ducks just because I had my binoculars on the bird. I could not see that flock with my own eyes, they were that high.

It's been pretty rainy; the pond is now at full pool, after being at an all time low in August. Tonight was calm and partly cloudy, so I spent a moment out at the pond enjoying the stillness. There is so much stillness around here sometimes, I should just drink it all up.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Seen in front of the wood stove last night

Before ten o'clock. Everyone except the dog was just dog tired.

Calvin had perhaps better accommodations for his sleepiness, although underneath that reddish slippery slipcover lies The Ugliest Couch In The World. It has certainly seen better days.

Friday, October 12, 2007

quiet waters

I took this photo on the way home from my Lake Superior birding adventure. I stopped at a little lake with a canoe-only public access and walked down the hill to shore. After a day of big waves and pounding surf, the stillness of this small water was soothing.

Much of my drive home was surrounded by a thick blanket of fog, but the closer I got to home, the lighter the sky appeared. Within ten miles of home the fog had lifted, skies were clear, and it was about ten degrees warmer than it had been at the beach.

Friday morning weather: 32 degrees and snow showers.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Inland sea birding, part 2

After we exited the LL Smith (which now I realize I left my insulated Caribou Coffee cup aboard...sigh...), our first objective was to go get lunch somewhere...somewhere WARM. Steve, a birder from the Twin Cities whom I had met on the Pine County Christmas Bird Count last year, joined us for lunch at Grandma's, a Duluth fixture. Lynne and I shamelessly gobbled down cups of wild rice soup...we needed to warm ourselves up!...and then had some excellent sandwiches.

After lunch, we decided to drive down Minnesota Avenue, across the famous Aerial Lift Bridge, to Park Point (aka Minnesota Point). There are many good places to view birds there, both on the harbor side and the lake side.

On the harbor side, we first pulled over when we saw a few birders with spotting scopes. This had to be good. We encountered a flock of 200+ diving ducks, including Greater Scaup, Surf Scoter, Black Scoter, redheads, American Black Ducks, Common Goldeneyes, and a few others. My interest in birding was revived my senior year in college when my Vertebrate Zoology professor took our class on a field trip to a small lake which at that particular time held a great diversity of ducks. It was a magic afternoon, and I felt some of that same excitement as I scanned the flock in the harbor. Both Scoters were lifers for me.

We pulled over a few blocks later when we saw a group of birders with spotting scopes looking at...a couple of specks out in the harbor. Kim Eckert, master birder of the area, said that there was a probable Barrow's Goldeneye they were checking out. That would be a rare species here. I saw it flying, but I can't say as I could tell it from the Common Goldeneye it was flying with, so I won' t claim a lifetime sighting for it today.

We drove on to the end of the point, parked, and walked along the beach on the lake side, where we observed a flock of little shorebirds, which we would find out later were sanderlings and dunlins. Then we relocated our trip leader, Mike Hendrickson, in front of the public beach house (closed for the season) at Park Point, scanning the turbulent water for birds. He had heard reports of a Sabine's gull, a rarity in the area, so he was looking for it.

There was a loose flock of ring billed gulls working the beach, so any one of the flying or walking white feathered things could be the unusual creature. But, after a few minutes of active looking, I had the quintessential novice (who you calling a novice? I Id'd a painted bunting when I was 5!) birder's moment. I, looking with my 8x binoculars, asked, "What's that darker backed, smaller gull out there? On the beach!" For a few perplexed moments, a few birders with spotting scopes tried to figure out what I was talking about. Then the joyous call: "Sabine's Gull!" It was sitting there, oddly enough, in a footprint in the sand. I wonder how long it had been there. You'd think we had struck gold. The Sabine's is a rarity around here, and to see their underwing markings in flight is a precious experience. I had unwittingly pointed out a highlight of the day for more than one birder.

Ah, the wonder of it all. Just when you think you've seen everything, you see the unexpected if you look just a bit closer. That, I think, is why I love watching birds. There is always something new, something unexpected, and something to learn.

I still have a lot to learn, but I thoroughly enjoyed spending the day with another birder, Lynne, who also feels she has a lot to learn. Wouldn't it be boring if we knew everything, could ID every bird at 500 yards, if everything was predictable? The great joy of this trip was, nothing, including the weather, was predictable, it just happened. When the big waves hit, I was scared, but thinking back on it, when was the last time I was at the mercy of Nature? I have a hard time describing how this made me feel; excited, to say the least. Alive. More alive than in a long time.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

getting my feet wet in Duluth harbor birding...part 1


Today was the long awaited day in which I would meet my blogging friend Lynne, board a Lake Superior research vessel, and look for pelagic bird species off the coast of Duluth, MN. The trip is planned to coincide with the migration of various loons, jaegers, gulls, ducks, and shorebirds on Lake Superior. I had never been on a boat in Lake Superior, which I thought might be fun, and I had never seen many of the species we were looking for, which sounded fun, and there were a bunch of good (way better than me) birders signed up, which sounded really fun.

However, when I called up the weather report at 5:30 AM, it looked gloomy. 25 mph winds from the east, fog, and potential thunderstorms. My spirits sank, but I still had the prospect of meeting Lynne and all the other birders and doing some birding from shore, if we did not go out.

We all met at 7:30 AM with our leader, Mike Hendrickson, and the boat captain offered three options: 1) we could do a limited trip out on the lake, and get seasick; 2) we could do a longer trip in the protected waters of Duluth/Superior Harbor; or 3) we could give up on the prospect of a boat trip and try birding from land, no charge. We reached a consensus on #2.

So we boarded the LL Smith, and we headed out on waters I have seen only from land and bridges, the harbor protected by Minnesota Point and Wisconsin Point. We saw several Great Lakes ships and some "salties", ships that would venture beyond the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Atlantic Ocean. It has been a good year for salties; the grain harvest in many parts of the world has not been good, so they are shipping lots of grain from the Midwest.

Part of the birding strategy involved "chumming" seagulls with popcorn. We were all required to bring at least a bag of popcorn; Lynne scored more than a few bags from a Wal Mart. One couple brought this huge bag of cheese corn, which looked more like orange paintballs when it was tossed out.

We hadn't seen many birds in the harbor, and the whole trip was kind of improvised, so the captain and Mike decided to run out as far as we could into the little channel that separates Minnesota Point from Wisconsin Point, heading out into the open lake. That's when things got interesting.

The closer we got to the lake, the larger the waves got. Which was okay, when we were headed into them, sort of. We were seeing lots of herring and ring billed gulls, and even a bald eagle. But sooner or later we had to turn around...

One good 6 foot wave eased me uneasily into a sitting position on the picnic table on the stern of the boat. I clung to the table while we turned around. Okay, I thought, as long as I hang on, this is okay. We headed towards the lake once again, and once again the waves grew. This was a big enough boat, but I started having visions of plunging into a trough and being swamped by the biggest wave ever. Seriously, these were the biggest waves I'd ever seen, anywhere.

While we were turning around once more, suddenly I glanced to starboard and saw some huge rollers coming our way, and we were at an angle to them. We were tossed up, then down, then up, down, and suddenly water came rushing over the stern. All of us in that part of the boat were instantly soaked over our knees.

I don't think anyone, including our leader, envisioned anything like this. Everyone was okay, but lots of us were very wet. Add that to the strong wind, and temperature of about 50 degrees, and suddenly I had the strong urge to be sitting in front of the wood stove at home. However, I am somewhat used to working in boats, in smaller waters but similar weather conditions. I was a bit chilly but within my comfort zone, and as we approached the calmer waters of the harbor I enjoyed the trip more and more.

We didn't see most of the birds we were hoping to see; a close up view of a Caspian tern was about the highlight of the trip. The most commonly seen species was the cormorant. However, I don't think anyone was really disappointed; after all, we got out on the water, and had a chance to get to meet others with the common interest of birding. One birder on the trip had been the leader of my Christmas Bird Count group; we recalled tramping through pine woods to be rewarded by seeing a Gray Jay, unusual for the area. It was good to connect faces to the names I see on the Minnesota Ornithologist's Union listserv.

But the day was not over...plenty of birding opportunities existed on Park Point...stay tuned!

Friday, October 05, 2007

group "goals/accountability" blog?

I posted this in a comment, but I thought it would be better to throw it out here on a post.

I noticed there were a few regular readers here who have goals they would maybe like to reach, but maybe don't have a huge support system in real life to help achieve them. You already know my latest goal (losing about 50 pounds), and I have a few others, but again no big support system. So, here is my idea:

A group blog. We post our goals, our progress, our lack of progress, our need for someone to slap us in the face and tell us what we need to do, our suggestions, our life experiences, etc.

I know I have a lot of stuff I would like to post about, that I don't necessarily want to get into on my blog, which I try to keep at about 20% or less personal stuff. So this group blog would be a place for that, and a place to develop conversations through comments.

I'm thinking this would be public, so we could link to it on our respective blogs and anyone who cared could comment, as long as it was in a supportive way. Or, if we wanted it to be private, it could be that way also.

So who would be interested? Even if you're shy about posting your personal stuff, I would still welcome any cheerleaders or observers.

Comment here, or email me at flutemandolin AT gmail DOT com.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

perfect fall day

It was beautiful here. I went for a 2.4 mile walk at noon and worked up a sweat. In case you're wondering, when I go for a walk somewhere I call up a map on my GIS (Geographic Information Software) at work and measure it down to the foot.

When I got home it was too nice to sit inside cooking yet. So we parked outside at the picnic table, watching migrant ruby crowned kinglets and some kind of thrush (Hermit? Swainsons?) work their way through the underbrush. I brought out my octave mandolin, tuned GDGD (sawmill tuning, very modal sound, not tied to any one major key) and played a few songs in the evening light while sipping a White Russian. I can't wait till I get my banjo.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

resolve, and accountability

I almost started another blog today. In fact, I started it, then deleted it. I came to my senses and realized I hardly had the creative juice for one blog, let alone two, let alone three.

That blog was to be about some personal changes I am striving to make. Most importantly, I want to lose weight. About fifty pounds. Yikes. I am not going on a diet; I already eat pretty well and, from what I've seen, diets just don't work. What I am doing is mostly increasing my physical activity. I have to get more serious about exercise. Also, I'm being selective about the kind of exercise I do; I've heard the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism. So I'm going to be this kind of metabolic goddess, eating away at my vast stored reserves. At least in theory.

The other blog was supposed to be my accountability, but I quickly realized I was setting myself up for failure by imposing yet another blogging time eater on myself. So I'll try to be accountable here. It doesn't fit in with the main themes of this blog (except maybe The Good Life) but as I've seen recently, I have a pretty good community of folks here who will encourage me. Right? I'll try not to bore you with excessive self analytic self improvement type drivel.

So here we go. I walked 2.6 miles today over my lunch hour. I felt like I could walk twice that far, if I had the time. I also previewed a Pilates DVD from the library in the morning and decided that this particular DVD was not for me, and maybe DVD's may not work altogether, but if I learned a few key exercises and practiced for ten to fifteen minutes in the morning, that just might work.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"The War" by Ken Burns...anyone else been watching?

I admit--it has had me breathless, in tears at some points... and yet I can't stop watching. I think it is important to watch. My father in law fought on Okinawa and Tarawa...and has the shrapnel to show for it. He is now in his eighties and suffering from Parkinson's disease.

When they showed the bodies in the concentration camps...I could hardly breathe. Such an atrocity, and yet I feel I never got the full sense of what went on from my high school history class. I think we were still in shock and denial then. Well, now this woman is no longer in denial. This...was...unthinkable. Hope we as a global community see some much better days.

Monday, October 01, 2007

orphan girl

Warning... way personal, family truth stuff here (and it's boring, believe me)

Today, October 1st, is my one and only brother's 43rd birthday. I would call him, as he usually does on my birthday, but I really don't know how to contact him. He's in Singapore, on his third deployment there from his employer. I didn't get any contact info from him before he left; apparently it was not on his list of priorities. I called my sister in law tonight and left a message, trying to get a phone number or an email or something, but I would be amazed if she called back. We're THAT close. (Sarcasm noted?) UPDATE- she passed the message along to him. All is well.

My mother passed away almost two years ago from cancer. (Has it been that long?) My mom was my main contact with the family, although we were never as close as I would have liked to have been. My dad, bless his heart, has all the social skills of Rain Man, with whom I think he shares some neurological similarities. He can't handle our family visiting for more than an hour or so. If that.On my mom's side, I have my 88 year old grandma, who still thinks I'm in first grade or so. And that no emotions but happiness should ever be shown. And my mom's brothers, who I'm not really close to. Which is hard, because my mom's brother John now owns my grandparents' lake place, where I practically grew up on weekends. Part of my soul lives there. I have been there once this summer. Just once. I feel like part of me belongs at the place, owns the place, and they invite me once a year. I could be closer to my uncle LeRoy, who went to the college I went to and was almost a hippie; he joined the Peace Corps after graduation in 1972 and served in South America. He lived with our family for about a year after he came back. Now he drives a new Mercedes every year. Go figure.

On my dad's side, I have an aunt in the Washington DC area, an uncle in the Bronx, and a couple second cousins in the Twin Cities and Arizona who I haven't talked to for years. And a couple first cousins I've hardly ever met.

Old high school friends? The two I had, we lost touch years ago. I really don't think I have anything in common with the suburban masses I graduated with, anyway.

College friends? I was too damn weird, to uncommitted to any one social group. Outsider. I finally started making friends in graduate school, but it was too late.

What I'm saying is, I really wish I had a family. You know how many calls we get per week from friends or family? Zero, except for the calls from The Hermit's old duck hunting buddy. And I wish I had friends. You're it. My blogging buddies. I love every one of you. Hope I'm not putting too much pressure on you that way.

So this is my pathetic life, revealed. Ah well, I think maybe sometimes I'm all the better for being a nature hermit. Sometimes nature is the best company. Sigh.

*****this post has now been edited, out of respect for certain family members who might check in see what the news is from my neck of the woods. :)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Wildlife seen or heard today

6:00 AM: Coyotes howling at the near full moon.

7:15 AM: Starflower notes a blue jay at the feeder.

7:43 AM: White tailed deer crossing the road.

7:48 AM: A BOBCAT...Yes, a real live bobcat, crossing the road. Woo-hoo!

7:53 AM: More deer. Damn road goats.

4:50 PM: A flock of crows above Sand Creek catches my attention with their carefree flying acrobatics.

6:00 or so: Calvin and I were out looking at the rabbits, when I noticed some movement in the gray dogwoods next to the shower. I went to the house to get the binoculars. I came back, and he told me there was a ruffed grouse next to the shower. I could not see it for the longest time, but then...there it was! How could I miss a bird the size of a young chicken? But there it was, eating gray dogwood berries like they were the nectar of the gods. Amazingly camouflaged, this bird was. And it didn't seem to mind our presence a mere 25 feet away.

I don't think I could have asked for a better ordinary day.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Hawk Ridge

Today, for the first time in my life, I volunteered to take an hour bus ride with 27 fifth graders on a field trip. I was doing it for my own selfish reasons, however. After all, we were going to Hawk Ridge, a nationally known birding area that, although it is so close, I had never visited during fall migration.

The good folks at Hawk Ridge have a program where they come to fourth grade classes in the spring and give talks about raptors, usually showing a captive owl or two. Then in the fall, they invite the fifth grade classes, all expenses paid, to come to Hawk Ridge to see migrating raptors and hopefully, get to see a banded one being released.

We got really lucky. We got to see not one, but two juvenile sharp shinned hawks, about the size of blue jays, be released after banding. One lucky girl from the class got to hold the first hawk and release it. The look on her face was precious.

Isn't that bird just a beauty? Those talons, that look in its eyes. I had only seen one or two sharp shinned hawks in my life, so this was a real treat.

The funny thing was, they keep the birds in a cylindrical container after banding to keep them calm. The cylindrical container this bird was held in was...

...two very old STEEL beer cans, Red White and Blue brand, duct taped together!

Both hawks flew away rapidly, apparently glad to flee their recycled confines.

During the course of the class, I kept scanning the skies with my binoculars and was amazed at how many hawks appeared, soaring, riding the thermals. I could hardly tell species, even with binoculars, but there were quite a few accipiters, probably mostly sharp shinned hawks judging by size, and a few buteos. I did learn a bit about how to identify groups of hawks by their flight patterns, and also how they managed to count individual hawks flying over. Apparently there is one narrow point where they leave the thermals, and at this point they fly by in almost a straight line, so individuals can be counted, and presumably identified by experts.

And I kept looking over Lake Superior. The sky was cloudy, and the lake a steel blue gray in sharp contrast to the warm fall colors around the shore. It was beautiful, but as I got my camera out to take a picture, I got the dreaded "replace batteries NOW" message. My replacement batteries, which I had grabbed off my desk at work without testing, did not work either. Rats.

All in all, I thought it was a great field trip and a wonderful opportunity for the kids. But...I was the only parent who went along. I thought other, more normal parents went on class field trips all the time. Was I wrong in that assumption, or do most parents simply not care about anything to do with nature?

Monday, September 24, 2007

more Banning photos

Here's the view from underneath a rock ledge, looking upstream into the Kettle River.

When I asked Mr. Attitude what he liked best about this hike, the first thing he thought of was "the trees growing on the rock. How do they do that?"

I don't know. Life is amazing.

And this is my attempt to show you that we were looking down 100 foot steep slopes to the river. Do you see that little bit of silver among the tree branches? That's it. And it made me nervous, with my offspring. :)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Banning State Park hike

I re-found out today that I live about fifteen miles from one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Just look at that photo; that is the Kettle River, as it flows through a narrow sandstone gorge. And that sky...definitely September in Minnesota.

The entrance to this gem in our state park system is a few hundred yards down the road from the entrance to my kids' school. I pass by it every day. So why is it that I have not hiked these trails in 1 or 2 years?

The salon where I get my hair cut is also very close to the park entrance. So when I made appointments for me and Starflower for this morning, I had an idea. The leaves should be pretty, it's supposed to be a gorgeous day, so why not go for a walk in the park? Mr. Attitude was in, but Calvin decided to go on errands with Dad. Starflower and I got similar, shorter than usual haircuts, then we were off to the park.

We took a trail loop that took us past 100 year old abandoned sandstone quarries, which have grown over with new vegetation; in the woods you could hardly imagine you were standing in an old mine. We passed sheer cliffs of sandstone, with the parallel marks of drills, where miners drilled down and then sent explosives down the small holes, shooting slabs of sandstone away from the formation, so they could be cut and sent away on rail cars.

The whole operation was pretty much through by the 1920's. Buildings were being made by structural steel, not rock (although there is a classic look to a stone building!) so the market collapsed for sandstone. Fortunately, the state acquired the land surrounding these former quarries in the 1970's so it could be preserved as a state park.

We were not alone. There were many people hiking the trails, and I was surprised to encounter a Chinese speaking party, as well as a couple who looked maybe Indian, or Tibetan. Everyone looked like they were enjoying the weather, the river, and the spectacular leaf color.

Geology lesson for the day: This photo was taken looking upward through an elliptical hole in the rock. This kind of hole is called a pothole or kettle, hence the name Kettle River, and is formed due to the actions of a river that was once much larger. Somehow, as the glacial melt river was cutting through this geological fault, which made this sheer canyon of ancient sandstone, some rocks got caught in eddy currents. They spun around and around...and in doing so, cut deep holes in the sandstone. This park is full of evidence of how water acts on stone, in geological time. And how humans act on stone, in less than geological time.

I had forgotten how deeply the river cut through the bedrock in this small area. There were parts of the trail where one side dropped off in a steep hill a hundred feet or more. Which is really fun to hike with an impulsive 5 year old...I kept telling him "Keep on the left side of the trail! The left side!" I think the canyon must approach 200 feet in some areas. I am perhaps over sensitive to heights, so in some parts of the trail I was actually getting dizzy. Again, I had fogotten what geological wonders lurked so close to home.

I have made a sort of goal for myself, since I sprung for the $25 State Park sticker that will allow me entrance to any state park for one year. I would like to hike in Banning State Park, or in slightly more distant Jay Cooke State Park, or cross country ski, once a month. I really have no excuse to not stop by Banning once in a while. Hope it's a good snow year too; I really miss skiing.