Friday, October 18, 2013

The payoff

Vinny called me on my cell phone while I was still at work today. "Mom, can I take the bass boat to Island Lake? Austin and I want to go muskie fishing!" 

Of course I said yes. This being late October in northern Minnesota, the chances for good fishing days are getting slimmer by the day. And today was the annual Minnesota teacher's conference, a school holiday. And, a 16 year old, still grasping the idea of being able to take a boat to a lake, and with the knowledge and experience to launch and load a boat. Perfect opportunity.

Nina went with the boys and operated the trolling motor. It was a chilly day out there, with intermittent rain showers. They talked with a few locals, who were mostly taking their pontoon boats out of the water for the winter. They came back well after dark, Vinny triumphantly carrying a landing net with two nice northern pike into the house, oozing pike slime onto the floor. "What should I do with these tonight?"

"Put them in the cooler on the deck, or back in the live well." With nighttime temperatures hovering around freezing, those fish should be fine. And I am looking forward to a fish fry tomorrow!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Scenes from Ashland

The kids and I drove up to Ashland, Wisconsin for the weekend. We were going to go last weekend for Apple Fest in Bayfield, but the weather did not look good then. The Hermit had one of our boats at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College for some class wiring practice, and we wanted to give it a try. It was too windy on Saturday, but at least it was from the right direction to help the runners in the Whistle Stop Marathon. Nina and I made plans to run the half marathon next year!

The Hermit's college student apartment is about five blocks from the lake front. Saturday morning I woke up too early for a Saturday, around 6:30. I decided to walk down to the lake and see the sun rise. I ended up capturing one of the most subtly beautiful skies I have ever seen.

Sunday morning I was a bit more ambitious with my walk. I headed down the street to the intersection with a paved trail that had once been one of the railway lines leading down to the now-demolished ore dock that had once been the city's identity. I followed the trail east for a way before I ended up heading, as always, for the water. I found another trail that led along the lakefront for a while.

Sunday had a slight breeze from the northwest, perfect for fishing Chequamagon Bay. Perfect, except the fish were not biting. But, I did not mind. I was busy falling in love with the big lake.

I don't know, I have not had this feeling of love for a place in a long time. I do know I need to be near water, which is why I ended up working with fish. But this bay of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin feels like home, in a place I have spent very little time.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Same scene, different year

I am thankful that, if I have to have a 30 minute commute to work, at least I get to do it in light traffic with some gorgeous scenery along the way, especially this time of year. According to my computer, this photo was taken October 6, 2006. The leaves looked about the same today as I crossed the Kettle River.

I savor my drives to and from work this time of year, the brilliance and ever changing hues of the leaves. I know that in just a few weeks, cold gray November will be upon us, which makes the beauty of the leaves and the blue sky even more precious.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Testing Blogger app for iPad

This is a test of the Blogger app. Posting pictures from my iPad has been one of the major hurdles in resuming blogging on a regular basis. I had been going through Safari, and met with some success, but it seems they changed that on me. At the same time, they changed the Blogger app, and it looks better. So I leave you with a photo of my recent pepper harvest (yum!) and a vow to get this whole blogging thing together again. 

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Taste a little of the summer

"Canned Goods", by Greg Brown

One of the highlights of my summer was playing my first gig as a "featured artist". I have been playing and singing contemporary folk music for about 20 years now, but it has mostly been a "when I have time" thing. Funny how in real life, the things one is most passionate about almost always get a lower priority than earning enough money to pay the bills. I am also in the stage where my kids' interests (volleyball, baseball, band, fishing, etc.) take priority. Most of the time.

There are not a lot of opportunities to play music around here, although if I drive about 60 miles north to Duluth, there are a number of bars and coffeehouses that feature local, live music. But, largely through Facebook, I have gotten to know a few local musicians. Last summer, when the Moose Horn and Kettle rivers flooded, I volunteered to play at a benefit concert. The coordinator of the event, Luke, contacted me this spring about a concert series he and his church youth group were putting together, largely because they had felt the need for continued community service after the flood. Luke and the young people of Barnum put in a lot of hard work and planning to create "Chillin' in the Pavilion", the summer concert series at a log pavilion at the Carlton County fair grounds. 

It was a great gig, from my perspective. A good number of people showed up, not just Facebook friends I had invited. It was relaxed, and well suited to the style of music I play. My set list included songs by Kate Wolf, Greg Brown, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Iris DeMent, and one original song, which I will post soon. 

This song, "Canned Goods", is, to me, everything gardening and home and family is about. Peaches on the shelf, potatoes in a bin. Supper's ready, everybody come on in. Taste a little of the summer, Grandma's put it all in jars.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Rainy night fire karma

Tonight I am proud of the fact that I managed to get a fire going in the wood stove on the first try. For some reason, fire starting has been a skill that has eluded me, and I have generally left it up to The Hermit. But since The Hermit is away during the week now, taking classes in Ashland, Wisconsin, weeknight fire starting duties are up to me for the most part.

It is supposed to be rainy all weekend, with high temperatures in the 50's. Very normal for this time of year, but I still feel I am owed a warm autumn, given the very late spring we had this year. My garden may have finally given up the ghost with 30 degree temperatures the other night, but I'm not ready to give up September into October.

I also started working on a project. On July 3rd, I had a wonderful time playing a one hour set of music at a pavilion at the Carlton County Fairgrounds. I hope to share some video on this blog soon, but I was also able to get a pretty good quality audio recording through the sound board. My task now is to break a 47 megabyte MP3 into individual tracks. A friend has assured me I can do this with the GarageBand app I have on my iPad. Big learning curve for me, but it is useful knowledge. And, I am grateful I have had some musical opportunities this year.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Back to the garden

I took a break from gardening last year, and I really missed it. Missed it, and kicked myself for being lazy enough to not put the effort into gardening. I had some problems to work through; my raised beds were falling apart and getting overgrown with some very stubborn grasses with tough roots, and the alternative was to plow up a new plot, which we did not have the equipment for. So I did a modest container garden on the front deck, with minimal results. The plot I had thought about plowing up got flooded in the Great Memorial Day Flood of 2012, so I was glad I had not gotten around to doing much with it.

This year we thought about it, and thought about it, and finally by chance found a local guy who had the right equipment to plow up an area that was outside of the limits of the flood. It was part of our old horse pasture, so the soil was very rich. Spring came late to Minnesota in 2013, and by the time we got the plot prepared it was early July. We bought leggy tomatoes and other greenhouse closeout plants at a discount, planted what we could, and hoped for the best.

As of today, October 2nd, I have some plants still growing although we have had a couple frosts. I did well with zucchini (how can you go wrong there?), and I will have my best pepper harvest ever. I harvested three red cabbages last weekend, first cabbages I have ever grown to a decent size, and I have had a few slicing cucumbers. I would have had more green beans, were it not for the deer. In future years I will need some sort of deer fence.

Tomatoes grew lush and green, but I will get few fruits. Deer, rot, and late planting all contributed. Likewise, most winter squash were planted too late, but I did harvest a couple spaghetti squash. A few other crops were a bust.

Still, all in all it was a success. I realized I NEED a garden to wander out to on a Saturday morning, and just marvel at things growing and possibilities. I missed having my own garlic; I will plant hardneck garlic yet this fall for next year. And I will get a deer fence.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Coming back

My friend Jayne at Journey Through Grace started doing an October blogging challenge today. Basically it involves writing about things you notice. Seems easy enough.

But, if it were that easy, why have I, and so many of my blogging friends, fallen out of the easy habit of blogging what we notice? We had a real community going there for a while, now it seems we have all migrated to Facebook. Not that Facebook is a bad thing, for me the connections it enables have been wonderful. And, I have to admit, it is a lot easier than blogging. However, I still have this urge to write, to expand my thoughts beyond a tweet or a status update. But I have gotten out of the habit.

I will attempt to get back into the habit. I will write about things I notice, hopefully without issues from iPad and iPhone photos (I have not taken a photo with a stand alone digital camera in a while.) I will write about this summer, about becoming the mom of a licensed driver, about gardening again after a hiatus, about the musical things I have done, about time passing and family and hope and despair. In other words, about life.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Friday morning I woke to 15 inches of new snow. I have lived here for eleven winters now, and I have never seen a single snowstorm like this. Oh wait...this isn't winter anymore. This is April. Last year at this time I was spending my work days riding around in boats on open water.

School was canceled, and there was no way my Ford Focus was going to make it out the driveway or our back road, which didn't get plowed until late in the afternoon. So I emailed the office, saying I would not be in, and settled down to a cup of coffee and checking the news online...something about a manhunt in Boston

All day Friday had a surreal, dreamlike quality to it. I usually relish a day at home, but I had a hard time settling down to do anything. I was disoriented, not by the national news, but the mound of snow pressing against my back door, snow that had slid off the metal roof. After a long Minnesota winter, just when robins have arrived and normally I'd be hearing the frog chorus...the relentless snow, the woodpile buried and almost gone, how much more can one take? I'm beyond the trite complaining that has become a staple of Minnesota culture, the resolve of those who say they hate it here but somehow can never bring themselves to pick up and leave. I love it here; I have lived other places, and this is the only place I'll ever call home. But with the flood and the April snow all within the space of a year, the moose near the Canadian border dying off at an alarming rate, intense windstorms leveling forests just to the south of here, I get this uneasy feeling that this is the beginning of a long storm to come, a storm we humans have helped to create...I'll come back to that later.

While the Boston Marathon bombing was a horrible, malicious act, I have been disturbed by the media coverage surrounding it. Sure, the news outlets have a job to do, but it seems lately none of them have the grace to say "we don't know yet." Speculation, intimidation. And Twitter, so I can hear the latest unfounded speculation. And while yes, this was big, Boston is not the center of everyone's universe, and this was not a national crisis. That's just what a terrorist would want us to think.

What's more, it seems the media had this double standard of wanting to make us scared, yet highlighting acts of "bravery" that make us feel all warm and fuzzy about ourselves. Is it really news that people rushed to aid others rather than running away? Absolutely not; it's human nature! Is it surprising that we have not de-evolved into a society where it's every person for him/herself? I'm not surprised. And I bet people weren't "cowering in fear" all day Friday when the authorities ordered the city of Boston shut down. It was a wise thing to do from a public safety standpoint; the fewer vehicles out on the road in the event of a high speed chase, the better. Law enforcement did their job, and it is one of the toughest jobs in the world. I understand their elation at having brought an end to this drama, but it was not exactly an occasion for cheers and high fives. Save that for when the Bruins win the Stanley Cup.

My point, and I do have one, is this: Why, when people are hurt and a threat by "terrorists" to our security is perceived, does it result in such drama, but when injury is perpetrated on our home, our habitat, our environment, in the name of profit for a few, do we turn away, or justify it, or maybe take a little feel good, symbolic action? This happens every day, and our society has marginalized those who can see the damage as "environmental wackos". This planet is our one and only chance to prove we can sustain ourselves; we ain't going to start a colony on Mars to save the damage we've caused here. It's a grand experiment, and so far it's been bought out by short sightedness and greed. We can do better. Maybe.

I for one could do with a little less global warming. These April blizzards and historic floods are really getting to me.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Owl outing

Way way back at the beginning of this blog, we had a winter here in northern Minnesota that was full of great gray owls. I could not drive to work without seeing a dozen or more. It was amazing, and it was probably what got me to start blogging.

There has not been a northern owl irruption like that since, and there may never be. But recently I had heard of numerous sightings of boreal owls near Duluth, with a few great grays also reported. With the ever-present chance of seeing a snowy owl at the Superior airport, I decided it might be worth a day trip. I mentioned my tentative plans on Facebook, and I found a friend, Diana, whom I knew from the Christmas Bird Count, who was interested in accompanying me. When it comes to birding, two sets of eyes are much better than one.

The birding reports made it sound like we could just drive along Scenic Highway 61 along the Lake Superior shore until we encountered parked cars and spotting scopes, which would point the way to a boreal owl. Alas, the boreal owls, which would have been a life species for me, were evading even the most ardent birders that day. But we had one sighting and photo opportunity that made the day worthwhile:

During the great gray owl irruption of 2005, I did not yet own a digital camera, which was frustrating given the number of perfect photo opportunities I had. This shot more than makes up for it!

Friday, February 08, 2013

DNR EagleCam

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources now has its own Eagle Cam, and apparently the parents couldn't wait to be Internet stars because they laid their eggs in January, much earlier than normal for Minnesota!
DNR EagleCam
Unfortunately, this video stream will not work for those of you who, like me, do all my home Internet on iPad these days. Come on, Flash and Apple, get along already!

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

From "Notes on the Art of Poetry"

If you want a definition of poetry, say: "Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing", and let it go at that. All that matters about poetry is the enjoyment of it, however tragic it may be. All that matters is the eternal movement behind it, the vast undercurrent of human grief, folly, pretension, exaltation, or ignorance, however unlofty the intention of the poem.

The joy and function of poetry is, and was, the celebration of man, which is also the celebration of God.

-Dylan Thomas, from 'Notes on the Art of Poetry', 1951

Friday, February 01, 2013

Birds, cats, science, emotion, and compassion

If you follow any news media online, chances are you have read about a study that came out this week, estimating the numbers of birds and mammals that are killed by domestic cats (pets and feral) each year. And, even from respectable, restrained news outlets such as NPR, this story was accompanied by sensationalist headlines, such as "That cute kitty is a killer!" Well, duh. Anyone who is familiar with cats, or has watched an episode of "Tom and Jerry", knows that cats have a desire to kill small animals. That's why humans found cats useful, long before the advent of the Internet and cat videos.

A disclaimer: I am an avid bird watcher, and I have cats. Three indoor cats, to be exact, and three cats that hang around my house outdoors, the remnants of a once larger "cat colony" that showed up uninvited here the summer after we moved in, nine years ago, in the body of a promiscuous female I called "Evil Calico". The bird loving me and the cat loving me had intense internal struggles about how to handle the outdoor cat population; bringing excess cats to a shelter was not an option around here, and although we have a .22 rifle, I never felt right about the killing solution. As it turned out, the number of cats eventually dropped to two females, one male, and a kitten has not survived to maturity in two years. This "cat herd" did provide my Best Cat Ever, though:

Anyway, back to cats killing birds. The news releases about the study provoked the usual response: bird watchers shared it on social media, and my local birding listserv lit up with posts from birders getting in their two cents' worth about "irresponsible cat owners", "this is astonishing", etc. I, being the scientifically trained skeptic I am, wondered if there was more to the story than the sound bites and headlines. Something about a study that could provoke such rancor did not seem objective and scientific to me.

I read the published paper, which can be found at no cost here. Since I seem to have left that part of my brain that deals with methodology and statistics behind as soon as I defended my Master's thesis, I was glad that another source, Vox Felina, did a thoughtful job of critiquing the methodology and conclusions.

Now, I think we can find some points that cat people and bird people can agree upon. And, I think the media did a disservice to both groups by portraying each as single minded fanatics. One, cats, if left to roam, will kill what they can. Sometimes they won't even eat it. (Humans have this same disgraceful habit) Two, there are specific areas, such as islands, where predation by cats, whether pet or feral, has contributed to the decline, and even extinction, of some species. For these areas, a recovery plan, if feasible, should definitely address the harm done by cats.

...a study that gives numbers without context is meaningless. Do we have population estimates of the bird population in the US? As a fish biologist, I know how difficult it is to get an accurate estimate of the population of fish in a small lake.
...a study that gives numbers without any estimates of what species are killed, and in what proportion to the total, is meaningless.
...The issue of mortality is hard to convey to a public who does not have a basic understanding of animal population dynamics. A certain number of any species will succumb to mortality, without affecting the overall population. Certain species that are adapted to the urban environment may occur in higher numbers than what would be expected in nature, and may also be preyed upon by urban cats.

And then we have conflicting issues of compassion. The drive of compassion in humans is undeniable; it is what keeps us civilized, it is what gives us hope. One side has compassion for the prey, the poor vulnerable victims of a predator brought upon all corners of the earth by humans. One side has compassion for the cats; it is not their fault they are here, and that they have an urge to kill (a Sylvester and Tweety cartoon comes to mind, in which Sylvester attends a twelve step program for his "addiction"). Cold, hard science tends to disregard compassion. In my career I have seen, on one hand, ridicule for people who bring "nongame" species in (i.e. songbirds) for rehabilitation; on the other, I have seen many people who choose wildlife management as a career who think the only good cat is a dead cat.

Can we find common ground? I think the media hype surrounding the "study" that came out this week only serves to divide people. As is the case with most stories that qualify as "news" these days.

UPDATE: Apparently I am not alone in thinking this way. NPR blogger Barbara J. King questioned the statistical validity of the study,  as well as its usefulness:
Demonizing cats with shaky statistics, however, won't help us build the pillar of understanding required to strike a satisfying balance between the needs of cats and their supporters with the needs of wildlife facing a feline threat.
There is a (mostly) thoughtful discussion in the comments section of King's blog post.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

An anniversary, and a reintroduction

Hello, my name is Deb and I am the author of this blog called Sand Creek Almanac. A few days ago I realized I have been writing this blog for eight years now. Many things have changed in my life, and in the interconnected lives we share on the Internet. I feel as if I have gotten out of touch with blogging, time and time again, and I have been doing some soul searching as to the reason I do this in the first place, what I want this blog to be, and even what I want my life to be in the next ten years or so.

I started this blog when blogging was the new Social Media. Some wrote it off as a way for narcissistic types to share every detail of their lives on the Internet, but I started out with no such pretense; I just thought it would be a fun way to challenge myself to do some writing, to share my life. And my life was anything but normal; I lived with my husband and three kids, ages 7, 5, and 3, in a small cabin on 40 acres in a very rural wooded area in Minnesota. As a bonus, the winter I started writing this blog was the winter this region saw an incredible irruption of Great Gray owls; I would routinely see a dozen or more on my way to work. Great fodder for writing, at a time I needed it.

Year have passed, my posting frequency has dwindled, and Facebook and Twitter have taken over as the way to share life stories. As I see it, blogs have gotten to be a promotional tool. While a few of my original blogging friends have remained faithful to the medium, I have perceived a "get big or get out" movement in blogging. Sand Creek Almanac gets about 25 hits a day, mostly from random Google searches. Not big in any regard.

Yet, I still have this urge to write, to tell my story, or to weave stories. I am not the same person I was eight years ago, nor would I like to be. I am the mother of teenagers who have plans for their lives, and in less than ten years I may be an empty nester. At the same time, I have a job that I like, I am Assistant Area Fisheries Manager for a four county are in east central Minnesota, but I can't see myself doing that until I am 65 or older. In fact, I would like to retire and start a new chapter in my life in ten years or less. I am going to be 46 in a month and a half.

So, I am turning to the things I like to do: writing and playig music. I can't see making a career out of the latter, although I would like to be in a band that plays once in a while, just for fun. But writing...yes I know, the success rate is horribly low, but, it is something I have always felt called to do in some way. And that's where I think this blog can help, can be a beginning.

So again, my name is Deb, and I am hereby re-commiting myself to the art of blogging, and what it might lead to, if only for the discipline it teaches me. I will write stories, about Vinny who takes Sally (the labrador) on long walks on weekends; about Nina, who has a goal to go to medical school; and about Joe, who loves epic stories like The Hobbit, swords, and who recently won the school Geography Bee as a fifth grader.

Thanks to my long time readers, and I am looking forward to meeting many more on this journey.