A Happy Houseful

I haven’t touched my email in three days. I haven’t even checked it. And the world hasn’t stopped.  In fact, I’m more in touch with reality than ever.  Just a step outside my bedroom door life abounds.

We built our retirement house for the two of us.  We took into consideration IMG_0301that we wanted to be able to host overnight guests and family visits.  But just two years into full-time occupancy, we have a rapidly expanding family.  So we are a bit space challenged when everyone comes together.  But I can’t imagine farming them out to hotels.  And fortunately, they are all good sports about it.  So far.  I call it “making memories.”

IMG_0315For Thanksgiving weekend we shoehorned 9 family members into the house. Including 2 little people.  On the sleeping scale the little peeps weigh in on the light side, cocooning in narrow crevices on our backpacking sleep mats. Any other way you measure it, they tend to dominate.  Especially on an energy and volume level.  But to me, they are happy messes.  Happy noises.

IMG_0267There is nothing better than being surrounded by family.  Everyone pitching in.  Big family meals.  Piling into a van to go to a movie.  Breakfast around the kitchen island. Laying down Brio train track. Running to the grocery store for yet more milk.  Playing card games late into the evening.  Who cares about email?

I’m a proud mama and happy to see our kids making their way in this big world.  But I still love nothing more than having them come home.  Especially when they all come at once.  No matter that we’re a bit squished.  This is more than a happy houseful.  It’s an overflowing heart full.IMG_0254 trimmed


Nature’s Imagery

What to show out of town guests?  That’s not hard when we live in such a beautiful area.  With visitors here this week, it was an easy choice to drive up the North Shore and share a few of our wonderful state parks with them.

When we planned this visit, we assumed we would be walking the trails at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in crisp fall weather with leaves underfoot.  Winter’s early arrival changed the context but did not deter us from our plan.  We just needed boots and a few more layers of clothes.  There were few other visitors in the park and we enjoyed exploring the lakeside trails with their view of the lighthouse.  Snow was everywhere, and it was tricky walking on the pebble beach.  Some rocks were frozen together in clumps, others harbored hidden ice, the rest were loose, creating rickety footing.  As much as I love the shoreline, I was relieved to return to the trail.

With plenty of pictures of Split Rock in my albums, I searched for other sights of interest. It wasn’t long before I became fascinated with the shapes and patterns created by nature all around me.  Soon I found plenty of images to capture.IMG_0186 IMG_0179 IMG_0177 Moving on to Gooseberry Falls State Park, we found frozen waterfalls.  I never guessed that the falls would be encrusted in a frosty facade by November 19!  We could hear the water moving under the ice formations, and enjoyed the drippy icicles left on the surface.  Once again, I found plenty of material for my study of nature’s details.IMG_0196IMG_0201 IMG_0200Our final stop was back in Duluth.  We arrived at Canal Park in time to see the Walter J McCarthy Jr slip through the piers and under the bridge.  Evidence of its trip through the frigid lake was plain to see, with its ice encrusted bow.  Mother Nature’s study in white. IMG_0206No matter how many times I visit the North Shore, there is always more to see and enjoy.  This time it was a matter of looking more closely instead of viewing the big picture.  That’s where I found nature’s imagery, in ice and snow.

The indecisive ore boat?

It was bitterly cold.  The wind was so fierce that I had to stop and blow warm air into my mittens cupped over my face to revitalize my nose every few miles.  But still I persisted.  Very little keeps me from my morning run.

Tadoussac 2

The CSL Tadoussac – photo by Steve Geronazzo, courtesy of Shipfinder.co

My destination was Lief Erickson Park via the Lakewalk.  Passing under London Road next to the railroad tracks, I reached the lake shore for the first time.  As always, when I see a boat out in the lake, my heart does a little flip and I am grateful for living next to the wonderful body of water we call Lake Superior.  Seeing an old style ore boat is even better, connecting me back to the days when all boats had such graceful lines and majesty.  So seeing the CSL Tadoussac heading out into the lake was distraction enough to help me forget the wind and cold.  I had something much more appealing to focus on.

But then things got really interesting.  The boat began to turn toward shore.  Running to the next open view point, I stopped to watch.  Before long it had done a complete 180 and was heading back to port.  Why would a boat come out of the harbor only to change its mind and return a short distance later?  It didn’t appear to be having any trouble as it steamed back toward the bridge.  Continuing on my run, I followed its progress, and sure enough before long the bridge lifted for the incoming boat.  I didn’t actually see the boat go under the bridge, as by then I had turned around myself.   But I did hear the boat and bridge salute each other as it slipped under the raised bridge deck.

The whole episode might have remained a mystery to me, but this is where it helps to be connected.  As soon as I contacted Konnie at Lake Superior Magazine, she was on the case.  She in turn went to her shipping experts who not only solved the puzzle, but provided a visual explanation.

Tadoussac route

The CSL Tadoussac’s route, from Shipfinder.co, and my route – I’m the red X watching the boat turn

Shipfinder.co tracks ship movements worldwide, and by zeroing in on the port of Duluth, it is possible to view the exact movements of any recent vessel.  As soon as the Tadoussac’s route displayed, the answer became clear.  She hadn’t come out from the harbor at all – that was just my own mistaken assumption.  Instead, she had been anchored outside the harbor awaiting her turn at a dock.  When her turn came, she must have needed more room to maneuver to get a good point for entering the narrow ship canal, so headed down the lake before doing her U-turn and pointing toward the bridge.

I really should have thought of that.  After all, I just wrote a story for Lake Superior Magazine about boats using the “free parking” outside the harbor!  But logic doesn’t always flow through the cold brain of a runner.  It seemed far more exciting to consider the dire consequences of the ore boat that appeared to change its mind.  And yet, I’m glad there was a simple explanation.  We both had a good run this morning, me and the Tadoussac.

It’s here to stay

Winter.  Snow.  I can’t see it going anywhere soon.  While we have had early snowfalls in the past, I don’t remember anything that feels so permanent.

It’s a bit of a shock to the system.  One day I’m out puttering in the garden, reaping seeds from some of our perennials and scattering them in bare spots in the hope of generating new blooms.  The next day the plants are all covered in snow.  I’ve had to dig into the storage boxes that contain my out of season clothes.  Now where were those heavy wool sweaters?  Time to exchange them for the sleeveless tops and flimsy running clothes in my drawers.  It’s taking a while for my body to adjust to these frigid temperatures.  Single digits bring a penetrating chill.

Snowy running trailI know I should be out on the ski trails. Rich claims that they are amazingly good.  I did give them a whirl one day.  But I can’t quite give up running yet.  It’s been a challenge, dodging the crusty snow left behind when they plowed the Lakewalk, but each day it gets better.  And I have a great excuse for running a slow pace.

The biggest bonus was having the sun come out the last two days.  What a transformation, from dark and dreary to sparkling contrasts of white and blue.  I was inspired to run all the way down to Canal Park and back just to spend more time alongside the deep blue lake.  How I wished I could capture it with more than just my eyes.

Brighton Beach with snowThis morning, I discovered that my tiny camera would fit snugly into the key pocket of my winter tights.  There was no chance it would bounce around there, which drives me crazy.  So I was in business.  I didn’t repeat my visit to Canal Park, but made a swing through Brighton Beach instead.  There I found the same blue/white combination I find so Lester River icing upappealing.

I was amazed to see just how much freezing is going on already.  Lester River was filling in with ice, creating a wiggly pattern through its snowy banks as it made its way down to Lake Superior.  If this keeps up, soon it will disappear below its icy surface.

Even if fall does briefly reappear, it won’t feel real.  By now we all know where this is headed.  Winter is here to stay.

Hello Boots

I have been reacquainted with the new boots I bought last winter.  If today’s weather is any indication, we will see a lot of each other for the next six months.  Good thing I really like them.

It’s only November 10.  Barely out of the single digits.  Not long past Halloween and the earliest snowfall in my memory, back in 1991.  This one is nothing compared to that blizzard, but it still looks plenty white out there.

IMG_1474I was content to stay inside as the flakes fell throughout the day.  Working on my latest writing assignment seemed the perfect excuse to hole up and avoid the slippy slidy world out there.

But by late afternoon I just had to venture out in it all.  Groceries for dinner were as good an excuse as IMG_1477any, and I opted to walk to the store.  The world was hushed by the new layer of snow, and few vehicles were moving on our out-of-the-way road.  It was easy to make believe it was mid-winter.

With temperatures promising to stay well below freezing for the remainder of the week, it doesn’t look like this snow is going to disappear any time soon.  Rich is already chomping at the bit to strap on his rock skis and start the XC ski season.  Honestly, I was hoping for a few more weeks of good running weather.  But I may just have to ski a few loops around the golf course tomorrow instead.  Today snow boots.  Tomorrow ski boots.  Why not?

O Christmas Tree

Capitol Christmas Tree emblemFor 45 years, the National Forest Service has provided the nation’s capitol with it’s Christmas tree.  And this year it came from “our forest.”  Not only is our cabin in the Chippewa National Forest, we actually lease the land it sits on from the Forest Service.  So I feel justified in identifying with this tree.  Not only that, but the man who cut it down – Minnesota’s logger of the year – was from Marcell.  Home to the bait shop, just down the road from the cabin.  It doesn’t get much more personal than that.

I honestly knew very little about this Christmas tree program before now.  I missed it entirely in 1992, the last time the Chippewa National Forest provided the tree.  But something about this year’s tree peaked my interest.  I was fascinated when reading about how it was cut down.  One doesn’t just fell a Christmas tree.  No “timmmmber” for this tree.  It was painstakingly secured and carefully lowered by two gigantic cranes onto a specially built wooden crib on a flatbed truck.  There it was wrapped and cradled for its 2,000 mile journey to Washington DC.  At 88 feet tall, this white spruce required a 100-foot long truck and trailer for its transportation.

Out of the 30 stops the tree will make along the way, one of them was in Duluth.  It was scheduled for this evening, and I decided I had to be there.  So camera in hand, bundled in winter jacket, hat and gloves, I headed down to Bayfront Park.

IMG_0128I’m not sure what I expected to see.  Surely, I should have realized it would be housed in its truck.  But still I felt rather underwhelmed to only be able to see a few branches of the tree through the windows at the back of its special truck.  Like everyone else around me, however, I took my requisite pictures of  the truck.

Photo Nov 05, 9 29 42 PMHaving anted up my $5 for parking, I wasn’t willing to leave it at that.  The park was brimming with families, enjoying the bonfires, s’mores, hot chocolate and cookies on offer. With a good share of Bentleyville lights already glowing, it had an eerie IMG_0129feeling of early Christmas without the snow or deep chill.  I’m not a fan of pushing the Christmas season so far in advance, but this particular celebration seemed justified by the presence of The Tree.

Wandering over to the booths, I was soon engaged in conversation with the folks from the Chippewa National Forest.  There we traded Marcell stories and expressed mutual love for North Star Lake.  I met a man from Choose Outdoors, a non-profit organization that supports public lands by promoting outdoor recreation and an active lifestyle.  Now that was right up my alley.  He was part of the support crew for the tree’s journey, and in fact had accompanied several Christmas trees from their source all the way to Washington DC.

My conversations transformed the evening.  Suddenly it felt quite enchanted.  The joyful spirit of the families surrounding me was infectious.  And returning to the tree’s truck, I realized just how long it really was.  Not your ordinary semi.  Quite impressive, really.

IMG_0141I took a few more glaces around to admire Bentleyville’s own unique Christmas tree.  It danced and spun through the magic of modern technology and its light show.

May the nation enjoy Minnesota’s tree when it first lights up on December 2.  O Christmas Tree indeed.

The annual haircut

It was part of our philosophy in building our house. Low maintenance. The less work we needed to do on upkeep, the better. Our cement siding (you'd never know to see it), the garden full of perennials and the unstained deck are all pieces of that strategy. So is our lack of lawn.

Starting with a wooded lot, it was an easy decision to keep it as natural as possible. But the simple logistics of building resulted in some clearing and “yard” on one side. It turned out to be a fortuitous outcome as it exposed the south facing side of the house to penty of sunshine – particularly on the deck. I am thankful for that warm, sheltered oasis many mornings while nestled into my Adirondack chair, coffee at hand.

A cultured lawn on that steep slope was out of the question. Mowing does not belong in the vocabulary of retirement or low maintenenace. Instead, we opted for tall grasses sprinkled with wild flowers to populate the grounds surrounding the house. A more natural look. That's what we call it, anyway. The terms unkempt, wild and scraggly have also been uttered within my earshot. I can't say I disagree. There are days when I feel the same way about it. But like most things, I've grown used to it. And a wee bit attached to the concept.

In the spring, it takes a while before the grass grows enough to hide the lumpy nature of the ground. But it fills in quickly and grows at an alarming rate. By mid-summer, I could get lost in its tall shoots, which easily tower over my 5-foot frame. At times I think it may overtake the young trees we have planted, but we have yet to lose one in the jungle out there. Gradually the wild flowers begin to bloom. More of them appear each year, easing my conscience about the unruly yard. By fall, it bears some resemblance to a wheat field. The brownish cast blends with the autumn leaf tones and assumes an air of legitimacy.

And then it's time. With winter approaching, the days are numbered for our waves of grain. It has to be cut. This is no job for just any lawn mower. It takes a powerful machine and an intrepid operator from Boreal Natives to deal with our grasses. The procedure cuts, chews and mulches our grass forest down to a rough stubble. The cost of this specialized service debunks any myth that this approach to yard work is a cheapskate's alternative to weekly mowing.

I used to feel better at the end of this process, when the grasses had been tamed. But this year feels different. The house looks naked. The yard lacks its foliage. Just last week, I led our toddler grandkids on a rugged adventure through the tall grass. That landscape is now gone. Rich misses it for a different reason. He says it signals the start of winter. I'm not ready to even consider that yet.

Looking on the bright side, this approach eliminates any need to rake leaves. Any leaf that could possibly find its way to the ground gets ground up in what I've dubbed the annual haircut. Mission accomplished, pawning off another of those pesky maintenance chores.