Sunday, January 31, 2010

my one wild and precious life

Tell me, what is your plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

- Mary Oliver, from "The Summer Day"

I have still been feeling the winter blahs lately. The temperatures dropped this week and we were flung back into the throes of a normal Minnesota winter. I have to remind myself in just one month it will be March, the month when spring begins to unfold.

Out of boredom, or maybe desperation, I went to the library one day and ended up browsing the aisle that contains "religion", "psychology", "self help", "nature", and "auto repair". It is, after all, a small library. I ended up with a self help book written by an architect. Really. Sarah Susanka, of "The Not So Big House" fame, has a book entitled "The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters". Of course I have been living the experience of building the "not so big house" for a while now, and I have learned a lot about interior design from her books. And who says you have to have a degree in psychology to write a self help book anyway? It's been done.

I'm about halfway through, and while I enjoy the architectural perspective, I realize it is just another self help book. And I realize that my life is not so big to begin with, compared with the examples. But like any good self help book it has gotten me to think about my life. In one chapter there is an exercise that asks the reader to "recall any situations where Providence moved to create the perfect conditions for your own exploration or pursuit of an interest or passion." For some reason I thought of something I had never considered before.

When I was in sixth grade, nearing my twelfth birthday, I played the violin. I was doing okay, pretty good really, but for some reason it just didn't excite me. Then one day, I don't know how or where I came up with the idea, but suddenly I just knew: I wanted to play the flute. What's more, I knew I was going to do it. My conviction must have impressed my mom, who went so far as to speak with the coordinator of musical education for the school district. After all, they needed all the violinists they could get and flutists were a dime a dozen. But I ended up learning the flute, even accompanying the church junior choir and playing a solo on Easter Sunday, barely six weeks after I started!

So where has the flute taken me? I only wish that passion and confidence had stayed with me, that I had dared to dream I could be...a flautist. But then again, I would not be here in this life I know, so let's not even go there with the "what if's". But I still have the passion for music, and it's been showing itself more often in the last year or so. What if I could still invite that passion to move me to action, to make my life more about music?

Then yesterday I was tagged in a Facebook note by my dear blogging/FB friend Jim. He asked to respond to the question "What are my plans for living my one wild and precious life?" (See the Mary Oliver quote above)

My plans? Have I ever had any? It seems I've just been rolling along with the flow. I like a lot of things about where the flow has taken me, but what if I had the courage to make plans? I know, nothing makes God laugh more than humans making plans. But somehow, and this is going to sound incredibly stupid, I never realized I had the choice to make things happen and live my dreams.

So my plans? Practice. More practice. Make a commitment to play music with others. Print a business card: "Musician". Write those songs I've been meaning to write. Sing whenever the mood hits me. Join in. Play flute under the bridge even when there are canoeists within earshot. ;) I knew it when I was not yet twelve. I've been ignoring it for way too long. I plan to be a musician. Well, I already am, but I mean even MORE of a musician. One who actually is heard in public.

I have been having some incredible times with the flute lately. I'm reeling on the reels, and jigging with the jigs. Not that I'm ignoring the other instruments; the guitar was out of its case for a while, as was my singing voice. Both were fairly in tune for having been ignored so long!

Friday, January 22, 2010

I remember the year of the great gray owl...

...and perhaps the greatest thing that came of it.

Five years ago we were in the midst of a northern owl irruption that I may never see the likes of again. Great gray owls were everywhere. Sometimes it was difficult to drive on the roads without hitting one; I never did, but I did pick up one or two unfortunate ones and brought them to the local wildlife office. I looked forward to my 30 mile commute, eager to see just how many owls I could count without really trying.

I was sort of in a sleepy mode in need of awakening back then. We had lived here just over two years, and were just coming off being very close to moving away in what I understand now would have been the mistake of our lives. God acts in strange and mysterious ways, and there had to be a God to have orchestrated that in the twisted way it turned out for the better. Maybe someday I'll be ready to tell that story. Or not. All that matters is that we are still here.

But for now, it was the year of the great gray owl, and I was feeling kind of lonely and isolated, and I somehow found out about blogging. "Cool", I thought, and signed on and started one up. I had to think a bit about the name; what to call this crazy journey I was now about to document to the world? Out of the blue it came to me: Sand Creek Almanac. A nod to Aldo Leopold, and a recognition of one of the important natural features on our land. Well, not so natural in that it was ditched straight as an arrow about 90 years ago, but maybe I will do something to fix that some day.

I did not expect much at first. I did not even own a digital camera then, so no day to day photographic owl updates. I was writing, and with that I found an important outlet I had been missing. Then I got my first comment. I think it was from Dan of Through the Woods (formerly A Payne Hollow Visit). Wow, I thought, people anywhere can find what I write, and some even are moved enough to share a few words with me?

So it's just kept on growing from there. I know there are some that think blogging is dead since Facebook and Twitter took over, but I still think there is a place for each kind of social media. For the record, I enjoy Facebook in moderation, but it can never replace the depth of what I want to write here.

My fifth "blogoversary" was yesterday; I don't know how I missed it! I feel as if I've been no less than reborn by blogging. I'm not being sentimental, I really think blogging has taught a social recluse like me how to connect with people. I have met a few new friends in person, and consider many more as true friends. I enjoy the day to day exchange through comments, and I have learned so much from all of your blogs. So a toast to five years at Sand Creek, may there be many more, and may I always awake to find new posts from my blogging friends!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

the winter blahs

It was a beautiful Sunday for January, partly cloudy with a high of 38. It's the middle of a 3 day weekend for me. Yesterday I went running for the first time in a while, and I was all excited about making an effort to stay in shape over the winter and to get outside and enjoy life.

So why did I spend most of my day indoors, half heartedly doing random things and not enjoying much of it?

I feel like I've hit a wall. Stuck in a rut. I think maybe no small factor is the fact that we are still two months away from spring. Sure it's nice to be halfway done with January and to be having great weather at this point. But February, for all its brevity, can be the longest, dreariest month of the year.

It also doesn't help that I am aching from my exercise efforts yesterday. I wore my boots running, and while they supported my feet just fine they weigh about twice as much as my running shoes.

On the bright side, I have played lots of flute and banjo this weekend, and I can tell the more I play the better I get. I saw a bald eagle while I was running yesterday. And today Mr. Attitude, while playing video games, spotted a hawk flying outside. It landed in a tree long enough for me to get a look, with binoculars, and I decided it was either a juvenile Cooper's or a juvenile goshawk. I didn't know what details to look for that would distinguish the two while I was looking. Judging from the map, it is more likely a goshawk, which would be a great yard bird sighting!

And the Vikings scored a convincing victory over the Cowboys. Now I'm not nearly as much of a football fan as I am a baseball fan, but it's fun to have Minnesota go this far in the playoffs!

Maybe watching a little "Cheers" and "Frazier" with Mr. Attitude will help. :)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

making bigfoot tracks

A late Christmas present arrived yesterday. A long time ago, The Hermit returned something to a sporting goods store and got an in-store merchandise credit, which in a moment of guilt, weakness, or whatever, he gave to me. From time to time I had thought of what I might spend it on, but I never made up my mind and forgot about the whole thing for a while.

Until last week, when we saw some snowshoe tracks when we were driving around. That made me think...I sure would like some snowshoes...oh yeah...the merchandise credit! I quickly went online and found a reasonably priced pair of recreational snowshoes. Notice the "made in the USA" label; these were made by Redfeather in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

I took them for a test drive today, through some tamarack woods behind the house, along the creek for a while, then across the sedge and alder swamp to some aspen woods. I found out quickly that snowshoeing is not just a walk in the woods. You have to lift your legs more than with regular walking, and even with snowshoes I was still sinking in about six inches with each step. At around 170 I am probably close to the upper recommended weight for this model, so that didn't help. But then again if I do this whenever I can it will help me to lose that extra 30 pounds.

I saw lots of signs of wildlife: rabbit highways are everywhere, and once I got into the aspen woods I saw lots of deer tracks and even deer beds like this one:

As the deer's body heat makes a depression in the snow, the snow helps to insulate the deer and keep it warm. I saw at least a dozen of these beds in the woods. One of them was right next to this:

This is a deer stand we built about 15 years ago. I have hunted from it once or twice, but not for a long time.

It was tough going, even with snowshoes, across the swamp where sedges hold a layer of snow above the ground. The actual snow depth is a foot or less, but I was breaking through two feet or more of snow crusted sedges. But it is even more difficult for the deer, who don't have snowshoe feet.

My wildlife highlight for the day was seeing a snowshoe hare, white as the snow! Of course it was way too quick for me to get the camera out of my pocket. But the real thrill was just being outside in the middle of winter. From time to time I would stop, breathing in the cold air and the silence. I felt alive, not hibernating. The swamp was a challenge to get across, but the big thing was, I was outside.

Here's a view of my house you won't often see.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

early morning mandolin

I had a little extra time this morning, for a change. Starflower had to wake up early to make it to school on time to leave for a special science field trip. She's been excited about it all week, partly because in one of the sessions she signed up for she gets to dissect a cow knee, and partly because only a few selected "smart" students from fifth and sixth grade get to go on this trip. The Hermit drove her to school, so I had an extra half hour to myself.

I was feeling a little guilt over not keeping up my resolution the last couple of evenings. I had forgotten how I don't get home until after six and then there's dinner to make and all that, and I'm usually pretty exhausted afterwards. I was also feeling a little guilty about not having played my mandolin in a while, which is probably why I had a dream that someone gave me three "extra" mandolins they happened to have lying around. So I tuned up the mando and played for ten or fifteen minutes. It was a nice quiet morning meditation.

That is, until the phone rang. The thirteen year old girl down the road missed the bus, and was wondering if I could give her a ride. Again. That's the second time this week. I suppose I could say no and leave her to face the consequences, but I'm not her mom. I'm beginning to suspect maybe her mom isn't even at home, or if she is, she has picked up some old destructive habits and is sleeping it off. So a ride to school is no big deal.

Time to mobilize the remaining troops. I enjoyed this so much I might keep the alarm set for 5:30 every day.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

a resolution

I quit making New Year's resolutions a long time ago. I love the idea of New Year's Day, a clean slate and all that, but if you live in the northern latitudes you may understand that the darkest coldest time of the year is not the time to tackle vices with any success. The vernal equinox might work better for that. :)

But in the spirit of the season, I offer one resolution that so far (for 2 days) I have kept: I will play a musical instrument every day. I don't care if it's one minute or four hours, just the act of getting an instrument out of its case, holding it lovingly, and playing a note or song or two is something that brings me joy. And why not take the time every day to do something joyful?

Friday, January 01, 2010

the eagle and the raven

The Hermit and I went for a New Year's birding drive this morning. I had planned on going for a morning walk, but with temperatures hovering around zero I thought I might freeze my face off or something. The rest of the weekend does not sound much better.

We drove to the feeder where a few days earlier, on the Christmas Bird Count with Lynne, Steve, and Jim, I caught a brief glimpse of what we decided later was a Spotted Towhee. This bird is very rare in Minnesota, and I think this was the first record of it ever in this county. At any rate it's a lifer for me, although I can't remember how many birds are on my life list. Two hundred or so.

The Hermit and I did not see the towhee, nor the female red winged blackbird that had been there for the CBC, nor the male cardinal (believe me, it's a rarity around here). We did see chickadees, blue jays, and downy woodpeckers. We drove for miles after that and enjoyed the dazzling sunlight, the beauty of the woods and cabins covered in snow, and the old barns and the bogs. But it was what we saw before we even got to the towhee spot that will stay with me for a long time.

I spotted something soaring in the sky. "Eagle!" I called out even before I got the binoculars focused. "Two of them!" The Hermit called out. Indeed there were two birds, but I noticed one of them was smaller, darker, and had a wedge shaped tail. Raven!

What was so odd, so strangely delightful, was that the eagle and the raven were soaring as if they were a pair. The eagle was the leader, and the raven imitated every circle, every wing stroke, staying near the eagle as if they were united in some unseen way. There was no sign of aggression, as ravens and crows often show towards raptors. The two unrelated birds were soaring in harmony. We watched in awe as they circled off into the distance.

Now you may believe in messages from some higher power, or you may believe all the messages are already written down, or you may not believe at all. I do think I was meant to see this. And on New Year's Day, I think it bodes well. May we all accept our differences and fly together as the eagle and the raven.