Thursday, October 30, 2008


Let's forget about politics for a while. Time for a little baseball. (By the way, congrats Phillies, even though I was kind of rooting for the Rays.)

A little rough on the delivery...

Could work on the release...

Mmmm...that one's in there...

Oops... a little high...or is that a slider?

STeeRike Three!!!

May I present to you an aspiring Major League pitcher. He tries to explain to me the difference between a slider and a curve ball and a fast ball. It's all in how he holds the ball, how many fingers against how many seams in the ball. Go for it, Calvin. He sure is an inspiration to me; if I only went after my banjo or mandolin with that much intensity and dedication!

I might add, it's a good thing that baseball is so white. We have lost a few this year in the grass and brush!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

more thoughts on Vote Yes Minnesota

As Election Day approaches, debate over Minnesota's proposed Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment has intensified. Dennis Anderson of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who once wrote a scathing article about why arts should not be included in a dedicated funding amendment, offers a good discussion of how the amendment would work and rebuts some of the most common criticisms of the amendment.

One of the themes that appears over and over in letters to the editor opposing the amendment is that the outdoors, and the arts, are for special interest groups only, and these special interests should compete with other causes--schools, transportation, health care--for appropriations from the Legislature, and not create a source of dedicated funding just for hunters and theater-goers' pet projects.

Is our society really so distanced from nature, and from the arts, that they are now seen as just choices on a menu? Does a generation or so of us really think that the outdoors is only for those who are "into" outdoor recreation, and the arts are just another diversion like golf or NASCAR?

Our ecosystem, and art--essentially a witness to our humanity--are NOT special interests. We need them whether we consciously realize it or not. They are essential to our survival and our identity.

As I mentioned above, there was initially intense disagreement about putting the environment and the arts together on one amendment. Even now Anderson seems to dismiss the arts part only as something that was politically necessary to include. But the environment and the arts are not two separate entities, and most journalists covering this issue fail to realize this. Greg at The Dharma Blog posted eloquently on this topic back in February 2007, a year before the Legislature approved putting the amendment on the ballot. To sum it up:

It has been useful for me to remind myself that the way I feel while standing before one of the Minneapolis Institute of Art's Van Goghs is not much different than the way I feel while paddling my canoe down the St. Croix River.

It is interesting that this feeling, this "stillness" as Greg describes it, is increasingly being found to be vital to our health. Richard Louv, author of the bestseller Last Child in the Woods and founder of the Children and Nature Network, tracks an ever-growing list of research showing the mental and physical benefits of interaction with nature, particularly with children. Lists and links to research can be found on the Network's website. A quick Google search of "fine arts health" provided more links than I had time to look at. There is a growing industry of arts consultants who specialize in working with health care facilities to design environments that have been proven to promote healing in hospital patients.

Maybe if people were more connected with nature and the arts in the first place, the overall health of the population would improve. There would be less obesity, less chronic degenerative disease, less depression. This would lead to fewer medical procedures, fewer prescriptions, fewer hospital stays with their inherent risks, and greatly reduced health care costs. I can't think of a single person that would be opposed to that! The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment could, in the long term, potentially generate more in health care savings than it takes in in revenue.

I sincerely hope this amendment gets passed, and that in addition to some desperately needed environmental restoration projects, and restoration of diminishing public support for the arts, a good portion of the money will be spent on initiatives that aim to reconnect people, especially children, with art and nature.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Getting ready for, I can't say it yet

Today was Turtle Freedom Day. The six painted turtles, which the kids had caught on various occasions and which we had kept in the aquarium in the cabin all summer, needed to prepare for overwintering in the pond. We found last year it's not good for a turtle's shell if it is kept in an aquarium over winter.

The turtles seemed unfazed by the cool water of the pond; they all scrambled happily into the water to be wild turtles once again. That is, until they are caught next summer on some turtle catching expedition.

Of course, any time there is a walk to the pond, there is Sally. And a few recollections of the summer's good days at the pond. Note the water level; it's as high as it gets.

I got a bit of work done in the garden, including mulching my blueberry plants, above, with a generous helping of pine needles from the white pine near the bed. I have never done that before, but it's supposed to be good. I also brought some newly unearthed rocks and arranged them to start the edge of what may be my lingonberry bed next year.

I have been digging in some of my garden beds, trying to remove the thick layer of weeds before winter. I have six beds done; I don't think I will get to all 21 by freeze up. But anything I do is more than I did last year.

I kept pausing to look at the tamaracks behind the house. Their golden needles were especially beautiful against the sapphire blue sky. But weather is an ever changing thing here in Minnesota, and tomorrow promises to be cloudy, rainy, gloomy, even perhaps snowy?

NO!!!!! I'm not ready for this!!!!!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

politics not getting in the way of life

I had a big political rant planned. In a nutshell, I'm tired of single-issue voters, or those who will allow a campaign sign in their yard for a candidate they approve just because of party affiliation. Or a single issue. Or whatever. We have a practically non-existent race here in the 8th Congressional District of Minnesota, and the one who seeks to unseat the incumbent just has not proven to me that he is even remotely qualified to represent all of northern Minnesota. Just look at his political vision, if any, here.

Yet, I have seen signs for this candidate widely distributed in this area. In front of abandoned farmsteads and soccer fields, for one. If I were a soccer mom, I would be outraged. But when a sign for this candidate is posted in front of a residence, I can't help but wonder why the resident agreed to the implied endorsement. I have three political signs in front of my home, visible to the perhaps twenty vehicles that pass by our road daily. We chose them carefully, not just because some party rep came around and asked if they could post signs in our yard. I thought about the candidates or issues I was endorsing. I wonder if anyone with a sign for the Republican candidate for 8th Congressional District of MN looked any further than "Pro-life. Anti-gay, Pro-2nd Amendment rights."

Also, would a candidate of this caliber adequately represent those of us in his constituency whose views maybe opposed his? I don't know. I don't know this about any candidate who runs on one or two issues and claims to have strong beliefs.

Okay, I maybe got my political rant in regardless. Anyway, today I saw three eagles perched in a tree near a hayfield where I have recently seen many sandhill cranes. And I went out of my way to see snow buntings, which The Hermit called me earlier to report had arrived. I was rewarded by seeing one flock.

At home, we had a good crop of winterberries this year.
The tamaracks are a lovely gold.
We have horses again. This is Shiloh.

And, here is our future egg supply.

I tried to get the pictures to post big, like I usually do, but it isn't working tonight.


Oh, speaking of peace, someone in the vicinity of where I work decided that my "War is not the answer" bumper sticker, which reflects my hard-to-categorize religious beliefs, was somewhat offensive enough to black out the "not" with a piece of electrical tape. Unfortunately, I suspect first one or more of my coworkers, but it could also have been one of the school bus drivers in the town where my office is located; we share a building. While harmless shenanigans are the norm where I work, I find it reprehensible that someone would go so far as to interfere with my free speech. Peace, indeed.

Okay, so politics are getting in the way of life. Dang it.

Peace, again. And while I'm on a tangent, I saw a beautifully kept 1971 Volkswagen Bus at the laundromat today. I was so intrigued by it, my normally shy self pulled into the laundromat and asked the guy who was sitting outside if that was his Bus. He said yes, and I said it was beautiful. We used to have one like that. Long story. It made my day to see such a well kept relic of the 1970's.

Monday, October 20, 2008

How could I have forgotten the cranes?

I saw them! A huge flock, maybe twenty or so, last Thursday. I thought they were all long gone. But I think they might be, now.

Whiter Biter the ever loving cat is hanging on me now, doing everything possible to make sure this post does not work. What does he have against cranes? Blue Flame, my other cabin cat, has decided to go on another hermitage under the cabin. Oh well, he will come out when he's hungry enough.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Big Manitou Falls mini road trip

Did you know that the highest waterfall in Wisconsin (165 feet), and the fourth highest waterfall in the United States east of the Mississippi River, is less than thirty miles from Sand Creek?

Neither did I, until recently. Wisconsin keeps her secrets well.

I have a confession to make: I am a geology nerd. I won a 4-H purple ribbon at the 1984 Minnesota State Fair with my rock collection. So I am always on the lookout for geological oddities. Rock outcrops fascinate me; it is as if we are given a glimpse into the ancient history of this little piece of earth we call home.

My home on Sand Creek lies within a half mile of a geological hot spot called the Douglas Fault. About 500 million years ago, the continent started splitting apart along a line that stretches from Superior, Wisconsin to the Twin Cities, maybe even more. It stopped, eventually, and we have not had any earthquakes to speak of lately, but there is an ancient basalt bedrock juxtaposed against a more recent sandstone bedrock. If we drilled a deep well we would be going through sandstone; the nice little rock outcrop a mile and a half to the east is basalt.

I was doing a little Internet research on the Douglas Fault recently, and I found out that Wisconsin has two state parks with waterfalls that are there due to the Douglas Fault. And one of them, Pattison State Park, was less than an hour's drive away. So today the kids had a holiday from school due to the annual teacher's convention, and I was due for a self-imposed holiday from work. The weather was nice, so I tore the kids away from Wii Major League Baseball 2007 for a while, and off we went.

The Black River, source of this water grandeur, arises about fifteen miles northeast of my home in a bog; hence the water is very dark stained from the interaction of acid and plant tissue. The falls is a very short walk from the parking lot. The view is limited to a couple of places, however, and there is no way to get to the bottom of the gorge. That was fine with me. I didn't get any memorable pictures of the falls, due in part to camera movement caused by a very excited Labrador on one of her rare big days out with the family.

We took a half mile hiking trail down to the bottom of the gorge, downstream from the falls. The kids settled easily into the throwing rocks thing. If you look beyond Calvin, you can see that the bedrock cliffs here are sandstone, not the basalt that the waterfall was tumbling over.

There were some amazing white pines along the trail, although I am proud to say I don't think any one of them was bigger than some of the pines we have here on our 40 acres. They are impressive though.

Although I very much enjoyed our destination, I think the kids and I enjoyed the journey as much, if not more. We traveled through some very back country roads that went through Holyoke, Minnesota, a town immortalized in a song by a band I really like, The Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank. One of the nephews lives in Holyoke, and I'm pretty sure we passed by his house. There are not that many houses in Holyoke.

Not that much later we passed through Foxboro, Wisconsin. This is it.

I wonder about the history, if there is one, of this town that maybe never was.

After the falls we drove on up to Superior, which was only thirteen miles away. We laughed at how there was a bar every half mile down Wisconsin 35. I told the kids "We're in Wisconsin now, that's why we sometimes drive to The Shack on Sunday!" In fact, I was driving to The Shack to pick up some Summit Scandia beer that was on sale. 3.99 a six. I was thinking of how, if I knew where the Barack Obama campaign headquarters was in Duluth, I would pick up a sign or something. Then, a curious thing happened. The kids wanted to drive back home through Foxboro, so in turning around and driving through downtown Superior I happened to drive right by the Obama Superior headquarters. So I stopped in, made a nominal donation, and got my sign. Which is now at the end of my driveway, next to the Franken and Vote Yes.

All in all, it was a wonderful day. The natural beauty that surrounds this place where I live never fails to amaze me.

Edited to add: Here is a view of the entire waterfall. When I was posting this last night, for some reason I didn't think this photo was "good enough". But I decided I could not post about this magnificent falls without showing the bottom half, which is a more sheer vertical drop.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A little fall color for you

Those are "my" crabapple trees, which technically aren't mine. Some farmer planted this row of them a long time ago, when they still had hopes of making a life here. While the giant spruce still remains, the house, the barn, are long gone. Aspens are growing through the blown-off roof of a tin shed. Our neighbors still hay some of the 120 acres, but it is otherwise vacant. I still may harvest some of the abundant fruit for jelly. In my spare time. Which I have so much of these days.

The colors are changing by the hour as leaves fall. Maples and birches have pretty much given up, while aspens are glowing gold and tamaracks are starting to turn.

In a couple of weeks, too soon, it will be stark gray branches. But the crabapples will hang on to feed Bohemian waxwings in the middle of winter.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

kitchen moving day

Sally is kind of bewildered by this whole thing. She has never lived in a house with a kitchen.

And neither have I, for almost six years.

As I am typing this, our dinner, baked macaroni and cheese, is in the new oven in the new house. We weren't planning on moving the kitchen to the new house just yet, but yesterday we ran out of propane in the cook shed. I had just gotten our dinner of egg rolls and pizza rolls (Bad mom! Convenience food!) heated up when I realized the stove was not cranking out any more heat. I was negligent in not noting when we last bought propane for the cook shed; a 100 pound cylinder usually lasts 4 months or longer.

Big dilemma. Do we buy more propane until we get the wiring and stuff ready to cook in the new house, or do we go for the change? The answer seemed obvious to me. I was tired of hiking over to the cook shed and making two or three trips to haul meals over. And, paying for propane when we had a like new electric range sitting there in the new house was folly. So we went for the change. Luckily our friend and handyman Chris was available to help out.

We moved the refrigerator too. It took me over two hours to clean it, but I was not going to have anything less than a sparkling clean refrigerator in my house! I will never thaw wrapped beef in the refrigerator without a pan under it again.

Obviously, there is much work left to do in my kitchen. But tonight I feel like a queen.

Friday, October 10, 2008

autumn roadshow

The lighting was not the best for photos today, but I had to at least show a glimpse of the peak of fall color around here. Overnight the aspens turned golden, and the maples are losing leaves already. The Hermit told me even the tamaracks are turning, which means fall color is on the downward slide.

Wind and Rain, please pause and let me bask in the beauty of one more glorious day before you do your necessary work on the leaves. They fall without your help anyway.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Unconnected for a day

Our broadband connection was out at work today. Since I was the only one in the office for most of the day I juggled calls between our Internet provider and our department IT guy. I'm glad the IT guy volunteered to talk to the support staff at the Internet provider, because I really don't know anything about this voodoo. They finally pinpointed the problem to the router(isn't that a woodcrafting tool for making edges and signs?) and hopefully we will have a new one in place tomorrow.

I felt lost. I had projects to work on that did not require connection with the outside world, but being connected has become an integral part of my normal work day when I am in the office. I think back to ten years ago, when dialup was a new thing at the office and most of us weren't on GroupWise. So much has changed. Now I would rather email than make a phone call any day.

But mostly I missed browsing blogs. I don't want to stay out here in the chilly cabin for too long, so I won't catch up tonight. Hopefully I'll be connected some time tomorrow.

And, in other notes, please don't ever buy Shurfine brand Italian sausage. All three of my kids and I independently came up with the conclusion that it tastes like what cow excrement smells like. Really. I was looking forward to a good dinner, and it turned to crap. Most of the sausage got fed to the outside cats, who are hungry enough to not care what the stuff they are eating tastes like. Of course, I'll be calling the store tomorrow. I hate doing that, wish me luck!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

quiet house

Not much in the way of house finishing or other useful business got done here at Sand Creek this weekend. I did wash two weeks' worth of dishes, but that's just maintenance work. The Hermit and I, excited as we are about moving in to the new house, are a bit weary of all the "essential" work that still needs to be done before winter, of having people, friends though they may be, over several days a week to wire, insulate, stack wood, etc. Our bank account is also weary. If I've learned one thing in a pay-as-you-go building project, it is this: Electrical wiring is not cheap, even when you don't contract out the job.

We did, however, have an unexpected night where it was just me and The Hermit (well, and Sally) in the new house. My stepson and his girlfriend and her son spent the afternoon and asked the kids over to their house for the night. They live about 70 miles south of here, on the outskirts of the cities. So there we were, the two (three) of us rattling around in this big new house, not quite knowing what to do with ourselves! We ended up watching a movie about Babe Ruth that we had rented from Netflix for Calvin, of course. It was good.

This morning we woke up on our own leisurely schedule, and after a hearty breakfast of ham and eggs and kale and onions I did a triple header on music: mandolin, flute, and banjo! There are so many times when I pick up an instrument only to find no inspiration to play, to explore, to practice a line over and over until I get it down. This was, happily, not one of them. I decided how I sound on a particular instrument is not related so much as to how long it had been since I last picked up the instrument (mandolin was probably a good 4 months or more), but more to my state of mind when I do finally pick it up. My state of mind was perfect for music this morning. The weather helped; after a glorious blue-sky fall day yesterday it was cloudy, cool, and windy, threatening rain. All the more reason to stay indoors in front of a warm fire with a favorite instrument.

The Hermit unfortunately had to leave after noon for a business event he has been dreading. I was left alone in the silence of the house for about an hour before I had to drive to pick up the kids. It was peaceful, and restless at the same time. The first thing I did was vacuum the new wool rug on the living room floor. Go figure. I did get some good banjo sounds in after I settled down. I had never been alone in that house before!

The drive to The Outskirts was rainy and full of weekend traffic on their way back, but I listened to Greg Brown's "Covenant" and "Milk of the Moon" CD's. Greg Brown is perfect music for fall.

My computer is still in the old cabin, which is minimally heated. I am off to sit in front of the wood stove, to be with my children and feel the love on this rainy October night.

Friday, October 03, 2008

two cat night

I have two cats on my lap right now, as I search for existential meaning in the blog world.

Is there anything more sweet?

an Aldo Leopold quote to ponder

"It would appear, in short, that the rudimentary grades of outdoor recreation consume their resource-base; the higher grades, at least to a degree, create their own satisfactions with little or no attrition of land or life. It is the expansion of transport without a corresponding growth of perception that threatens us with qualitative bankruptcy of the recreational process. Recreational development is a job not of building roads into lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind."

from "Conservation Esthetic", date unknown

Thursday, October 02, 2008

the prodigal cat, and other weirdness

Blue Flame is still alive and well. The kids lured him from underneath the cabin a couple of days ago. He had likely not ventured from that spot since he went missing a week and a half ago. He is in the cabin now, about five pounds lighter and I had to cut a massive cat dreadlock from his back. But he is still as sweet and stupid as ever.

There are frost advisories for tonight, but they are all to the south of here. Go figure. I covered up three tomato beds and one pepper/eggplant bed in the vain hopes that they will still produce a viable harvest. I need to give it up already.

I made the mistake of walking by the crabapple trees yesterday, their branches loaded with rosy red fruit, and I started thinking...maybe it's time I did a batch of jelly again. Or that liqueur. So I may be a kitchen warrior this weekend.

And my kitchen may finally get the change of venue in the next couple of weeks. The electrical inspector gave the okey-dokey today, so the first priority is insulating, then completing the outlets, then moving the fridge and workbench countertop and connecting the range and hood, and I'll be cooking in the new house! Right now it's a real pain, the cook shed is many steps away from the house, especially if it's raining. And I hate going off by myself to cook. Then again, going off by myself is nice sometimes. I get to listen to whatever music I want.

I had a huge spike in hits on my Site Meter today, due to a post that almost slipped away unnoticed about ATV's. Apparently it got noticed by someone who posted a link on an ATV group listserv, and I got a couple of comments. I will have more to say in a future post, but I couldn't help but notice what a defensive bunch they are. I never really got the answer I was seeking. Oh well, Dan from Payne Hollow provided some comic relief. Thanks.

Finally, I have gone political, as you can see from my sidebar. I listened to an Obama speech from LaCrosse, Wisconsin yesterday and it was electrifying. He spoke to everything I believe is wrong with this country, and what he would do about it. The best part was when he spoke about education, how he wanted results but didn't want the teachers to teach for the tests. He wants kids to learn art and music too. Amen! And as for the Vote Yes Minnesota, we have the chance to vote on a constitutional amendment that would add a 3/8ths percent sales tax devoted to clean water and outdoor and cultural heritage, with all the proper citizen oversight. How could that be a losing proposition? Those kinds of things just won't get funded otherwise.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Lord's Lake

Sometimes a heavy grey sky says more about fall than a clear blue one.