Annual Rite of Spring

Does two years running make an annual event?  I’d like to think so.  For the second year in a row, Rich and I have been lured up the North Shore for our inaugural spring bike ride along the lake.  All it takes is a good weather forecast, plenty of warm sunshine and that glistening blue water.  Oh, and the disappearance of snow.  Or most of it, anyway.

By coincidence we chose a Monday exactly one week earlier than last year’s ride.  But the conditions were strikingly similar.  The temperatures were in the 50s and the wind was off the land, avoiding that cold lake wind chill factor.

IMG_3830We decided to ride from Gooseberry Falls State Park to Beaver Bay and back again.  That section of Lake Superior was ice-free near the shore, so we were able to enjoy views of the open water at its finest.  Conditions on land were not quite so uniform.  Wherever the sun shone, the ground was bare.  But shady areas still had an abundance of snow, and deep in the woods winter still reigned.

The same held true on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail.  Wherever it paralleled highway 61 and had plenty of sun, it was clear.  But where it dipped down toward the lake and snaked through the woods, the bike trail was buried in snow. We hopscotched from trail to highway shoulders as conditions warranted.  Fortunately, there was little traffic to bother us on a spring weekday morning.

IMG_8113With the spring runoff, the rivers and streams were in prime form.  Gooseberry Falls was a rushing torrent, with water gushing over the rocks in a thunderous roar.  Along the shore, water forced its way over the stone cliffs, forming spontaneous waterfalls where normally none exist.  Ordinarily the Beaver River is barely noticeable when driving over the bridge, but that day it was hard to miss the teeming water.

IMG_3832The whole premise of this early spring ride was to enjoy the journey.  Since we had few miles under our wheels yet this season, there was no point in trying to press for speed.  And the novelty of the warm day just begged for lingering.  All the better for taking in the sights along the way.  No trip up the Shore is complete without stopping to admire Split Rock Lighthouse.  And we had to stop for IMG_3834Adirondack Chairs – just like in Gaspé!

The only thing missing was an ice cream break.  I’m still not sure how we let that happen.  We will have to improve on that next year.  On the first balmy spring day.  The 3rd annual rite of spring.

 

 

 

Morning Harbor Rounds

Nearly every day, Rich goes off on his morning rounds.  Camera in hand, he’s in search of birds, sunrise or both.  I usually opt for an early morning run, or other outdoor workout.  But this morning’s “springy” 18 degree temperature with a cold wind gave me pause to reconsider running in the afternoon sunshine instead.  Since Rich’s route would take him around the harbor this morning, I decided to accompany him.  I may not be a bird aficionado, but I do so love the water.

IMG_3802 trimmedWe began our harbor tour at Miller Creek, and worked our way eastward.  There we found a flock of Canada geese who weren’t too pleased with our intrusion.  They immediately fled from the open water onto the wet ice, some of them comically falling through the thin glaze in their haste.  And they did add some local flavor to the distant view of the bridge. IMG_3804

From there we went to the end of Garfield Avenue, under the High Bridge (since the day it was built, that will forever be its name to me!).  At the old Interstate Bridge, now converted to a walking and fishing pier, we were met by yet more geese.  They were equally thrilled with our presence.

I’d never walked out on the old bridge, and this was a beautiful morning to do so.  I loved the way they suspended the walkway under the old railroad bridge span, that used to swing freely on one end to form an opening for boat traffic.  The repetition and symmetry of the bridge parts appealed to me, as well as the contrast between the old weather beaten wood and the gleaming metal framework of the High Bridge.

Photo Apr 16, 2 27 53 PM

IMG_3819Behind the Arena (okay, another old name) we found the ice cutter Mackinaw.  In preparation for leading a convoy of boats to the Sault, it was being serviced by not one but two oil trucks.  Who would have thought that would still necessary in mid-April?

No harbor visit would be complete without Canal Park.  The gates to the end of the south pier had opened within the last few days, so we crossed over the bridge to walk down its length.  A hearty fisherman was peering over the side as he brought in not a fish but a thermometer.  Thirty-two degrees he declared.  Brrrr!  Everything’s a month behind, he informed us.

IMG_3822I was fascinated to learn recently that the Inner South Breakwater Lighthouse is actually owned by two citizens of Duluth.  Deemed no longer necessary by the Coast Guard, and with no interested non-profit organizations, it was purchased through an online auction.  Interesting just what you can buy on the web.

Rich got his bird photos, and I relished my time beside the water.  The brisk sunny morning left me chilled but happy with my choice.  It was a good morning for hanging around the harbor.  And I really enjoyed my afternoon run.

 

A Day of Storytelling

Some things can't be orchestrated. They happen in their own time. When all the stars align. Today was one of those days.

We've been with Dad Hoeg for a week now, making sure his recovery stays on track. He honestly doesn't need us for much. We're mostly an insurance policy at this point, and we try to keep him company. I've done my best to plant leading questions and gently probe some family history, but all to no avail. He stays mum.

But after lunch Dad's tongue finally loosened. Something triggered a story, and before we knew it another followed. He got on a roll and was unstoppable. No need for us to encourage him, he had plenty of fascinating material. It didn't matter that some stories recycled within minutes, or that unrelated topics were spun together. Two hours later, we were still at the table with our dirty dishes in front of us – an unheard of transgression in a household where everything is tidied up immediately. But no one cared, and we were still listening intently.

I commenced making a batch of cookies thinking Dad was winding down, but no. He kept me company with more tales throughout the baking process. It was an afternoon of insight and delight. I happily abandoned my usual afternoon bike ride so as not to miss anything.

We took Dad to a pizzaria for dinner tonight. On the walls were pictures of New York City, baseball players and other memorabilia. That sent Dad down another trail of stories. We were fascinated as he related tales of the famous people he had treated or met during his many years of medical practice. I never knew that he had crossed paths with Judy Garland, or that Babe Ruth had been treated at the Duluth Clinic.

The whole mood of our visit was transformed today. While previously each day seemed so long and we wondered just how to fill it, this day flew by. We were taken on a number of journeys and privy to Dad's brush with the aristocracy and a life style of yesteryear. It was past 10pm by the time we all headed to bed – shockingly late for Dad.

Storytelling is a gift. And we were the grateful recipients today.

 

Music in the Park

We’d seen the signs all week long.  Music in the Park on Sunday evening.  It was an alluring invitation – right in the development, a warm summery evening, and only a bike ride away.  With Dad feeling tired and interested in going to bed early, we decided to treat ourselves to a night out.

Approaching the park, we were amazed to see the line-up of cars.  And even more surprised by the golf cart that passed us, with a glass of wine in the hand of the passenger!  Realizing that the event was in a private venue, it suddenly dawned on us that anything was fair game.   Indeed, all around us were gourmet picnic spreads, bottles of wine, and even tables with balloons.  We arrived with two cans of pop and the remnants of a bag of pretzels in hand.

Without lawn chairs, we settled Concertourselves on an open patch of grass and flipped open our pop.  Clearly we were a pitiable site, as we soon had offers of a blanket, food and wine from the friendly people around us.  Being good Minnesotans, we politely declined several times.  But we could hold out only so long, and ultimately succumbed to glasses of very nice red wine.

The music turned out to be lively and fun.  While enjoying the doo wop rock, blues and classic country music of the 50s and early 60s, the concert was suddenly interrupted by sirens.  The Blues Brothers arrived via an old police car with a classic Bellaire sheriff’s vehicle in pursuit!  They joined the musicians and doubled the entertainment.  Between the music and the warm evening, it was a great time.

Blues Brothers and MollyWe decided it was best to leave before dark, which just happened to be when the Blues Brothers made their exit.  Naturally, they clamored for a picture with me, so I graciously obliged!

In the words of the musicians, “Oh what a night…”

 

Spanning the Generations

It feels as though we are living in a time warp. Leaping three family generations in a week has dramatically influenced our daily routine and energy requirements.

Last week we hosted our two grandchildren, age 2 and almost-4 for three days while our daughter and her husband went on a long awaited trip. We were instantly reminded how busy toddlers can be, and the wisdom of having children at a young age. It's a good thing we are both very fit, as we needed all our reserves to keep up with these two whirlwinds.

Ben and Mya enthralled by the train

Even at this tender age, the kids have amazing memories. Ben eagerly awaited the reappearance of the Lionel train set that came out when they last visited in January. Unfortunately, the train proved a bit finicky and we had to do a lot do dancing and explaining while Rich spent a frustrating and hair raising day trying to get it to work. Fortunately he ultimately prevailed, and the train chugged around the track once more. Rich even replenished the liquid smoke so the engine could send up puffs of smoke. Whew!

Making our favorite chocolate chip cookies

My specialty is baking with the kids. Ben is meticulous about measuring and pouring ingredients into the bowl, and loves the whole process. Mya's favorite part is spooning out the cookies. Both like to eat the dough, particularly when I'm not looking. And we all proclaimed the finished cookies delicious.

From squabbles to hugs to the endearing things they said, they kept us on our toes. It was an action-packed three days. As usual, we were only able to squeeze in a couple of the excursions I had planned for them. Somehow just managing meals, naps, diaper changes and playtime seemed to fill the days. And it still resulted in lasting memories.

This week we are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Jumping from Minnesota and toddlers to Florida and Rich's dad has been quite a shift in focus. Recovering from a serious staph infection and lengthy hospital stay, Dad Hoeg has gradually been regaining his strength. The purpose of our visit was to help care for him at home and provide company and transportation.

Upon our arrival, we were surprised and pleased to see that Dad Hoeg has progressed to near-independence. In fact, today while we watched (with a little trepidation) he made his first solo trip, driving himself to the barber. While our care duties are light, we still continue to hang near the house. His routine governs ours. And our pace of life has slowed waaay dooowwwnn.

Mealtime!

The little things in life have now become the highlights of our days. A trip to the grocery store becomes a social event, as all the workers greet Dad by name. Watching any activity on the quiet street out the kitchen windows is always a source of conversation. Judge Judy is not to be missed on TV at 4:00pm. And going out for dinner is a big treat, for all of us.

Our environment has changed from dodging toys strewn across the floor to making sure our beds are properly made and up to Dad's rigorous standards. Nothing is ever out of place here.

Dad's improved health does allow us to get out and enjoy the beautiful warm weather. Even just sitting out on his patio is a pleasure. We've done a lot of reading, taken walks in the warmth of the evening after dinner and enjoyed the blossoming plants in his yard.

What a difference a week makes, navigating this generation gap.

 

Life in the Slow Lane

Florida. The land of retirees and a whole different pace of life. While we technically fit into the retiree category, we have not yet adopted a more leisurely pace. So it’s a bit of an adjustment to adapt to this alternate lifestyle.  Even for a short visit. But with the loan of my sister-in-law’s bike, I’m making progress.

It’s called a cruiser. One speed, fatGetting the hang of this cruiser tires, big wide handlebars, a cushy seat and coaster brakes. Hers must be a designer model as it also has white sidewalls and is an eye-catching mint green. Truly a classic.

We all had this kind of bikes as kids – it’s what we learned on. So it should be intuitive, right? Well, not quite. After spending the last two years perfecting the nuances of my long distance touring bike with it’s umpteen speeds and cycling shoes, suddenly this masterpiece of simplicity felt foreign beneath me.

My first challenge was the handlebars. Their wide reach meant that any small movement was magnified by the front tire, making it extremely sensitive. As I set off down the road, I felt as though I was veering right and left. I was just certain that I would plow into the path of the next approaching car. Fortunately, it quickly evened out as I pedaled.

The bigger hurdle was stopping. How the heck was I supposed to use my feet for both braking and standing up when I stopped? I don’t remember that ever being an issue as a kid. Perhaps as an adult I think too much. I’m sure I left a few layers of rubber sole on the pavement at the first few intersections. But I gradually got the hang of braking with one foot and dropping the other to catch myself before falling. Mostly. I admit I’m still working on smoothing out that technique.

Thankfully, this area has wonderful bike paths. Wide, smoothly paved and totally lacking in hills, they are perfect for cruising on a bike. Once off the neighborhood streets, blissfully safe from cars and with few intersections, I began to get into the experience. I enjoyed the cooling effect of the wind on the hot, sunny afternoon. Lacking my tight fitting cycling gear, I relished the sloppy way my soccer shorts flapped in the wind, and my loose T-shirt fluttered around me. No need to be aerodynamic.

With only one speed, I discovered the joy of coasting. On gentle downward slopes, the bike sped up of its own accord. I couldn’t ratchet up any gears for more force, and it was pointless to spin my feet faster and faster in an attempt to catch up with the speed of the tires. So the only thing to do was glide and enjoy it. Whee!

When I did cross the occasional drive, I made sure to slow down and anticipate traffic. With an occasional wobble when cars approached, I figured they must think me a doddering grandma out on my bike. Then I realized that’s just what I was! A humbling thought, but not enough to deter me.

Riding for the pure joy of being outside in beautiful weather soon took over. Miles were inconsequential. Speed was meaningless. Distance didn’t matter. A novel experience. Life in the slow lane. I think I’m starting to get it.

Escape from Everlasting Winter

In a winter already renowned for it’s below zero temperatures and lasting deep snow on the ground, we faced yet another winter storm warning just as April approached. We were plenty accustomed to bracing for storms, but this one held another threat for us. The impending nasty weather perfectly coincided with our scheduled departure for Florida. Our escape was in jeopardy.

But the preparations went on. It was hard enough to make sense of the t-shirts, shorts and sandals piled on the bed to be packed. Envisioning wearing them was even more of a challenge. It must have had a lot to do with the piles of snow staring at us through the windows.

Fortunately, weather forecasts are imperfect at best, and this storm failed to materialize as early as predicted. We breezed up to the Duluth airport and our flight departed right on time. Whew! Let the storm rage, now that we were safely out of its reach.

Canal-Park-By-Air

Canal Park by Air – taken by Rich Hoeg

Our flight path took us right over Canal Park where Rich took a dramatic photo out the window. Lake Superior’s icy surface was ubiquitous. The open channel through the Aerial Bridge showed up in stark contrast, and quickly dissolved into tightly clustered ice chunks which gave way to solid ice. Clearly the hard work of the Coast Guard ice cutters was short lived. It was easy to see why the nascent shipping season had come to a rapid halt.

Florida feels like another world. It’s green everywhere, flowers are in bloom, and the sun sheds a genuine warmth. In fact, sitting in the sun reading my book I get hot. But I’m not complaining. Running early in the morning is refreshingly cool, and my natural impulse is to avoid the wet spots from the automatic sprinklers. But the ice I expect is far from reality. What pure joy!

photo

To double our pleasure, we check the webcam back home. Ooh boy, does it look ugly looking down our front steps. Icy rain splatters the windows and it just plain looks cold. My weather app reports dangerous high winds, and friends confirm the terrible driving conditions. It’s a winter storm all right, not an April Fool’s joke. Or is it?

No matter.  We have escaped for now.  We will worry about the everlasting part when we return.