Passing the Torch

The invitation came nearly a year ago. It was our turn to have the kids for Thanksgiving and our son, Carl, invited us all to Milwaukee for the holiday. We were quick to accept.

It’s a tricky game. Marrying off the kids and sharing them with the in-laws can be complicated. We should know, we went through it ourselves as young newlyweds. I remember well that first Christmas, traveling home to be with family. The good news was that both sets of parents lived in Duluth. The bad part was we spent Christmas Day ping ponging back and forth between houses trying to be everywhere at once. Not a wise idea.  The year we stuffed the car full of gifts for the trip home with the tricycle wheel spinning over one of the carseats, we reached our limit.  Christmas would be at our house in the future.

Those memories compel us to try and make it easy on our kids, allowing them take the lead and let us know what works for them. Fortunately, for starters at least, they have all managed to land on a common schedule. Thanksgiving with us one year, Christmas the next.

By now we’ve experienced both holidays “kidless.” It’s not so bad, really. The key is not to dwell on their absence, but to strike out and do something new. Viewed as an opportunity as opposed to a loss. Good friends become family for a day. Or we take ourselves somewhere new for a treat. Different yes, bad no.

Carl and Chelsea Thanksgiving turkeyThis Thanksgiving marks the first time we have been guests, not the hosts for a family holiday. It was a change, but adapting was oh so easy. Carl and Chelsea set a beautiful table and produced a bountiful turkey. The rest of us brought our favorite side dishes and desserts, all prepared ahead of time. I have to admit I watched in admiration as Chelsea calmly puttered over those labor intensive last minute sides of potatoes, gravy and vegetables. It brought back memories of my anxieties over gravy that would not thicken. Potatoes that took longer than expected. And getting greatly flustered over the whole bit required to bring it all together at once. I was happy to turn it all over to younger, very competent family members. Sure, we all pitched in. But someone was in charge and holding the reins. And that someone wasn’t me.

Hoeg Thanksgiving in MilwaukeeWhat a pleasure to sit at Great-Grandpa Hoeg’s long dining room table lit by his candelabra, surrounded by our family now numbering 11 and friends. We are now the top of this family line, and it is humbling to think that this fine array of individuals are the product of our own marriage 33 years ago. We are truly blessed.

I’m not entirely ready to give up hosting for good. I still crave gathering my family at Grammy and Grandpa’s house.  I still love anticipating their arrival and hugging each as they arrive and fill up all our available space.  It still feels right to have them all come home.

We have another invitation for Christmas, even though its technically not “our” turn. But who can resist waking up Christmas morning in a house filled with our grandchildren?  I’ll readily pass the torch for this one too. I just may ask for it back now and then.

Hiking with the Super Moon

When the sun shines, you just gotta get out there and enjoy it.  And when the temps are far warmer than they should be in November, there is no excuse for staying inside.  So although I have not been out hiking around Duluth for ages, I’ve logged four straight days of blissful rambles through our local woods.  I have to credit the weather for that.

My first foray was down Congdon Creek and back with my sister, Susie.  This was our backyard growing up.  We’d play in the woods and follow the creek on a regular basis.  I walked over the huge pipe every day going to Ordean Jr. High.  (You could never do that now!)  And yet, we were amazed by the beauty and extreme scenery that day as we meandered along the creek.  It was flowing faster than could be expected for late fall, and the high rock canyons and waterfalls left us in awe as we crossed and recrossed the river on the new bridges.

I followed that with the trails just below Hawk Ridge, with their outstanding views of Lakeside.  I still can’t quite work out which streets are which from that height, but it doesn’t matter. The lake stretched out in the distance, and the sun brilliantly illuminated the entire scene.  Even closer to home, I walked the Lester-Amity ski trails, delighting in seeing them now free of trees and ready for that first snowfall that signals the start of cross-country ski season.

Superior Hiking Trail mapThose were just warm-ups compared with yesterday’s hike on the Superior Hiking Trail with friend, Beth.  She took me on her favorite hike across West Duluth, which she calls the “greatest hits” for its wide array of natural scenery.  Starting from Highland and Skyline Parkway, we made our way on the Superior Hiking Trail across the ridges high above the St. Louis Bay to Lincoln Park.  For six miles, we walked through beautiful woods, kicked up leaves, scrambled over rocks and embraced the fall scene surrounding us.  Nature had retreated to its pre-winter state, brown and brittle with dry wispy remembrances of blooms past their glory days.  Beautiful in its own way.

Once up on the ridge line, there was more.  Each opening of the trees brought stunning views of the city and shipping lanes below.  It wasn’t hard to marvel over the beauty of the city where we live, and our good fortune in choosing it.City View from SHT 1We started late enough in the afternoon that sunset crept up on us mid-hike.  The blue sky began to pale and the city glowed in the low angle of the sun.City View from SHT 2I was anxious to see the rise of the Super Moon, which is one of the reasons we chose this hike.  We began searching for its debut, peering out over the lake at every opportunity.  It was Beth who first spotted it, low and pink, still reflecting the colors of the sunset in the opposite direction.Super Moon 1That part of the hike was magical.  Every view of the moon was different.  Framed by new scenery.  Taking on more vivid colors.  Peering out at us from its perch in the sky.  I didn’t even care that my good camera and tripod were in the car.  I preferred to see it all live, and snap the occasional haphazard picture with my pocket camera.Super Moon 2All were great hikes.  Restorative and soul enhancing.  But that last bit was extra special.  It’s not every day that you can hike with the Super Moon.

The Many Moods of Crisp Point Lighthouse

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This gallery contains 20 photos.

The lighthouse easily dominates our existence, well beyond our duties as light-keepers. We have the luxury of time to observe it under constantly changing conditions. Its personality varies as much from minute to minute as it does between days. Camping … Continue reading

A Crisp Morning

Perched at the top of Crisp Point Lighthouse, I stand out on the catwalk before dawn. A golden glow stretches across the sky between the narrow bands of clouds that cling to the horizon. My hopes for a spectacular sunrise fade as the promise of glowing reds fails to materialize. I am unaware that the rising sun has yet to work its magic.

Descending the tower, I set out down the beach. The wind of the past two days has calmed and only residual waves lap the shore. It is only when I turn around away from the sunrise, that I see the first colors of the morning.

Crisp Point morning 1

By the time the pinks and blues fade in the distance, the sun begins to spin gold in the clouds directly overhead. A totally different light show is in progress. This sends me scurrying to the opposite side of the lighthouse. Such a brilliant contrast leaves me marveling at the wonders of a single sunrise.

Crisp morning 2

Next I wait for the sun to climb high enough to illuminate the lighthouse itself. Gradually it paints the tower, starting with its red top and slowly migrating downward. In the process it also throws shadows from the towering pines against the white structure. Mother Nature is such an artist!

Crisp morning 3

The morning is still young, and already I have witnessed so many reflections of the rising sun. As full daylight develops, I capture the classic blue sky photo. Compared to the earlier drama, it feels quite ordinary.

Crisp morning 4

At last the sun begins its other duty, warming the brisk 36-degree air. It's time to start the campstove and make my morning coffee. I'm ready to thaw my hands and inner self. This has been a crisp morning indeed.

 

Chilling out at Crisp Point

Keepers sign

Five layers of clothing. And a buff around my neck. Wool socks, a ski hat and winter gloves. All topped with a heavy down jacket. It’s my daily attire. Just enough to keep me warm.

I stand in the Crisp Point Lighthouse Visitor Center manning the gift shop. With temperatures in the 40s the cement walls are welcome shelter, but lacking any heat source the building does nothing to aid my cause. Gentle shivers involuntarily rack my frame as I strive to maintain body heat. I fear I’m losing the battle. But I am determined to muster on.

Visitors regard us with a mix of incredulity and awe. “That your tent out there?” they ask as they shiver in sympathy. They too are outfitted in winter gear. I answer with a grin and a touch of macho pride, “Yes, and it’s the warmest place around.” They are mighty grateful we are here, keeping the lighthouse open for them. And honestly, we are happy to do it.

Tent at Crisp Point

We quickly learn to manage. Nothing generates heat like exercise. So I escape for an energetic run each afternoon and relish shedding hat and gloves as I go. I return with enough residual heat to handle a cold sponge bath. Rich follows suit riding the sand on a fat tire bike.

Rich and fat tire bike

A hot meal goes a long way, warming our innards. Followed by a blazing campfire, evenings are quite comfortable. Crawling into my down sleeping bag at night I feel the warmth immediately radiating around my body. My little cocoon keeps me toasty all night long, nestled into the soft sand. I wasn’t kidding about the tent.

Cooking outside
Dinner outsid
CAMPFIRE

With fresh reserves of heat I’m primed for sunrise. I feel impervious to the wind and cool air as I search out the best vantage points for the morning light show, followed by a brisk walk down the beach. This is my favorite time of day here. Even in October.

Crisp Point sunrise

By the end of our five days we are coping well. More than that, really. Continue to love it here. I miss the warm days when I could sit on the beach and write, or nestle up on the lighthouse cat walk to read. But it’s still a privilege to claim this remote beauty as home for a spell. Good thing. We’ve signed up to return next October. To chill out.

 

Finding Crisp Fall Colors

Fall leaves have been a tease this year. Throughout September and the early part of October we cycled through upper and lower Michigan amid scattered fall colors. Leaves were just beginning to turn, surrounded by their green neighbors. Isolated pockets of color delighted us. But it was only a hint of what was yet to come.

That was actually a blessing for us. We deliberately planned to miss peak leaf season due to the tourists it attracts. We had no desire to cycle crowded roads or fight for motel rooms populated by leaf peepers. So we took pleasure in seeing the mild nascent display.

Returning home to the Northland, it was no surprise that the leaves were past peak. Color remained, but many trees were already bare. So we expected nothing more when we drove through the UP to Crisp Point Lighthouse. Nature had a gift for us this time, and we traveled a shoreline of brilliance. Trees at their finest blanketed the countryside and adorned the lakefront. Stopping at the overlook in Munising provided a fine view in the late afternoon sunlight.

Molly and Rich fall leaves
View at Munising 1
View at Munising 2
Leaves in Munising

The road into Crisp Point Lighthouse is notorious for being rough. Its 18 miles of dirt road is susceptible to potholes, washouts and bumps. You have to really want to see the lighthouse to make the trip. This fall the area saw unending rainfall, resulting in flooding on the road. We encountered numerous puddles that stretched the full width of the road, daring us to cross. Navigating them tentatively at first, we gained confidence with each one and ultimately plowed right through.

For everything that road delivered in adventure it compensated with beauty. By the time I went for a run in the afternoon, the pools had become reflecting ponds and the colors popped against a deep blue sky.

Fall leaves Crisp Point road
Leaf reflection Crisp Point 1
Lead reflection Crisp Point 2

Catching the colors against the lighthouse required patience and the right angle. But the chase was half the fun.

Crisp Point colors 1
Crisp Point colors 2

My autumn is now complete. I found fall colors after all. Where I least expected them.

 

A Brush with Civilization

Spending days on end on a bicycle has a way of holding the outside world at bay. For five weeks, on our Liberation Cycling Tour, our possessions consisted of the limited clothing and a couple of electronic devices in our panniers. Food choices were constrained by what was on the menu at local diners. We didn’t ride in a car, watch TV or listen to the radio. We remained blissfully out of range of the antics of the upcoming Presidential election.

Returning home has reopened a wealth of choice. A closet full of clothes present themselves each morning, requiring a decision on what to wear. I can smother my home made toast with natural peanut butter as I savor my favorite morning coffee. My car easily transports an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I have all the tools I need for preparing them to my liking. I still don’t watch TV and only dial in to MPR on my car radio.

 

My body is most grateful to rest in the same familiar bed each night. Sleep patterns begin to resettle into normal again. My feet relish the expansiveness of ordinary shoes. I get the haircut I have been craving. The eyebrows I have ignored are waxed into submission once again.

First on my priority list for re-entry is seeing family. Hugging those I love. Then connecting with friends. Coffees, dinners and conversations follow. I re-engage with writing and begin a new story assignment.

Apple orchard

Oh, it does feel good to return to civilization. But it is an ephemeral phase. A tease. A fleeting moment. We are off again.

This time it’s the car we pack. It is stuffed to the gills with camping gear, food and warm clothes. Feeling flush with space, we bring a larger tent, thicker sleep mats and our own pillows. Car camping brings unfettered luxury.

It’s time for our annual 5-day stint as lightkeepers at Crisp Point Lighthouse. For the third year in a row, we are returning to man the visitor center and welcome all who come to see this remote light and walk its pristine beach.

Molly at the top of Crisp Point Lighthouse

Our keeper’s campsite for one comes with no electricity, drinking water, cell service or internet access. If we felt removed from normal life while on our bikes, this is truly off the grid. We are able to enjoy the solar power in the visitor center by day, and the flash of the lighthouse by night. Beyond that, silence reigns. Our only connection with the world beyond our 18 mile rustic dirt road will be the visitors who make their way here.

It was nice while it lasted. That brief brush with civilization was enough of a taste to want more. For now that will have to wait, for a worthy purpose. It will be all the sweeter in a week, when I expect to indulge in a good healthy dose of home life. With all its comforts.