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. :)