Backyard Skiing

My faith in winter has been restored.  After weeks – no months – of brown trails I found it hard to maintain my enthusiasm for cross-country skiing.  Sure, we could drive to find enough snow for skiable trails, but that wasn’t the point.  I was used to walking out the door with my skis, sauntering up and over the bridge and skiing off into the woods.  The lights for night skiing seemed to mock me each time I saw them shining through the trees in the evenings or early mornings.

Lester Amity Trails 1Lester Amity Trails 2All it took was a 5″ snowfall to set things right again.  It was enough for the city groomers to ply the trails for the first time all winter.  February 10 has to be a record.  Since then we’ve been graced with light snowfalls that have continued to renew the trails.

The first time I ventured out on the trail, I could feel it.  That sense of well being.  Of gliding over the snow in Lester Amity Trails 3our own woods.  Every turn was familiar and I took pleasure in passing my favorite spots along the way.  The steep hills were still a challenge, and the long downhill on the way back brought on its requisite chill.

Now I remember why I like cross-country skiing.  Getting outside on the snow.  Relishing the silence of the woods.  Pushing hard to go up and riding back down.  Feeling the skis glide across the snow.  Being the first one out on fresh corduroy.  The brisk air on my face.  The toe warmers glowing in my boots to ward off the cold.  And if I’m lucky, feeling the warmth of the sun shining down.

Granted, conditions aren’t always perfect.  There are those days so cold that my skis forget how to glide.  And my fingers freeze soon after I begin skiing.  At times the trail gets worn down from all the skiers, turning hard and crusty, begging to be regroomed.

Yet desLester Amity Ski Trail signpite any drawbacks, it’s still “our” ski trail.  And I’ll keep going back to ski.  After all, it’s right in our backyard.

Birkie Regrets

Molly Birkie 2012

Finishing in the 2012 Birkie

Birkie Fever.  It’s all around us.  The excitement, anticipation and tension fill the air.  But not in this house.  Last year was the first time we skipped the event since our initial Birkie in 2009.  (Okay, I skied the Korteloppet that year, graduating to the full Birkie the following year.)  But that was different, as we were out in Colorado skiing.  A reasonable trade-off.  This year we’re home.  And living in Duluth and active in the Duluth XC Ski Club, it feels like everyone but us is heading for Hayward.

Uncertain of our winter plans this year, we didn’t sign up for the Birkie.  We thought we might try something different – a new race, or perhaps more travel.  As the winter progressed without snow, it seemed like a prudent decision, and even the races we did enter lost their appeal.  As the Mora Vassaloppet approached, we found it hard to justify driving two hours each way to ski a few kilometers around and around on lake ice.  We skipped that favorite race.  The appeal of winter and skiing was hard to sustain.

On the positive side, I haven’t had to worry about getting in loads of K’s on the trails, building up to the hilly 51k race.  We haven’t had to drive miles and miles chasing snow.  I could bury the anguish over lack of snow by running the lakewalk.  So it certainly has reduced the stress in that department.

But now with the Birkie a day away, I can’t help but wish I too were waxing my skis to perfection and setting out to ski with the thousands of other participants.  I miss the challenge.  I miss being a part of it all.

Registration for the 2016 Birkie is bound to be open soon.  There’s a high likelihood I’ll trade my regrets for next year’s Birkie Fever.

The passing of a generation

Losing a parent is never easy.  It means accepting that the constants in our lives – the parents who have always been there for us – are vulnerable and human.

Burying the first parent leaves an imbalance.  The pair becomes one, and the sense of loneliness and loss is palpable.  In many ways, it strengthens the parent-child bond.  The parent who never handled finances before now needs help.  The parent who never cooked in his life really enjoys sharing a home cooked meal.  They come to depend on us just as we once relied on them for life’s basic necessities and the bonds of love.

As long as one of them was still alive, we could still visit the family home.  We could still keep alive some of the traditions they established, even if they no longer understood or were aware of the meaning.  But still we carried on for them.

When the second parent slips away, the tie is severed completely.  It feels like a layer of childhood has just been peeled away, exposing the raw exterior of adulthood.  For those of us who have been the “sandwich generation” we just lost one piece of bread.  Life will never be the same.

Mom and Dad Brewer "drawers"My dad died almost 21 years ago.  Mom was lost to us through Alzheimer’s years before her final exit, which was over three years ago now.  Closing out her estate made it all so final.

But Rich’s father was still alive.  We continued to have a link to the generation above us.  As recently as this past Christmas we made sure to be with him for the holiday, delivering his favorite julekake for breakfast.  A tradition that goes way, way back and he passed on to us.

Flowers for Mom and Dad HoegHis recent death brought that to an end.  No longer do we have any parents on this earth.  Two of them lived long enough to become great-grandparents.  We had a good long string of generations going.  We were very fortunate.  We spanned close to a century.  Suddenly, that range is a lot narrower.

It’s still to soon to comprehend.  Life’s balance has shifted.  But I don’t feel it yet.  I’m still contemplating the passing of a generation.

Fire and Ice

There are a number of factors that go into selecting the route for my morning run.  How fierce is the wind?  What direction is it coming from?  Do I want to do hills or not?  Has the lakewalk been plowed?  Is there likely to be ice melt?  How far do I want to go?  All are serious considerations.

Today, the deciding factor was something entirely different.  Will there be a good sunrise?  An affirmative answer to that question trumped all others.  I would head up the shore.

I was a bit early for Brighton Beach.  The colors were pale and uninspiring as I passed along the jumble of ice crumpled against that shore.  So I pressed on.  I was grateful that the shoulders on Scenic 61 were less snowy than yesterday, and when no cars were in sight I admit to trespassing on the road where the tire tracks cleared the pavement.

Lake Superior sunrise 1It wasn’t long before the colors began to deepen.  First a brilliant red, followed by fiery orange. Generally, I don’t stop for anything on my run.  But after what seemed an eternity of gray cloudy days, I was prepared for this early morning display.  My super compact camera was snuggled into the back pocket of my tights. Lake Superior sunrise 2

As the sun rose, the colors lessened, but I was intrigued with the way they reflected off the pockets of water trapped between passages of ice.  I could see it better with my eyes than the camera could, but it was still worth a shot.  Another trip across the road to snap a picture.

The whole display was short lived.  Before long the clouds crowded in and obliterated the horizon, snuffing out the light show.  But it still lit up my day.  I carried the spectacle with me for miles, and it warmed me from within.  There’s nothing like a good sunrise to make all feel right with the world.

How lucky I am to live in such beautiful surroundings.  Not many people get to witness fire and ice in the same sunrise.

A Mighty Wind

I could hear it howling outside while it was still dark.  By morning it was gusting up to 33 mph hour.  But I didn’t know that.  Better not to check the weather app.  I’d find out soon enough.

Very little keeps me from my morning run.  Certainly not a little wind.  So out I ventured. I fairly flew down the Lakewalk going with the wind, but had a hefty price to pay on my return.  It was a battle just to get home, and I got plenty of sympathetic looks from the runners going the other way.

Rich had much different ideas about the wind.  Clearly it was an opportunity.  He was eager to see the resulting waves on Lake Superior, so after lunch we ventured up the North Shore in search of “splashing and dashing.”  With the wind coming out of the NE, it brought all the ice down to our end Lake Superior Waves 1of the lake, packing it against the shore.  As a result, we had to drive all the way to Split Rock Lighthouse before we found enough open water for some real wave action.  But the paths through that park brought us down to an action-packed shoreline.  Just past Ellingson Island across from the lightLake Superior Waves 2house, we found plenty of wind and waves.

We were buffeted by the wind as much as the water was, and it was a tricky business picking our way across the icy, snowy rocks and standing up against the gusts.  The wind was relentless as were the waves, pounding one after another against the shore and filling our ears with the roar of the water.

CLake Superior Waves 3ontinuing on to Beaver Bay, we spotted another good display from the road.  It was worth stopping to watch, as the crashing water shot up high into the air above the icy rocks.



Heading back to Duluth, we were amazed to see bright sky and sunlight on the horizon.  That necessitated a stop at Brighton Beach.  There the wind had an entirely different effect upon the lake.  The force of the wind continually pushed the ice up onto the shore, breaking it into thin sharp shards of ice, and mounding it into fanciful formations.

Over the sound of the wind, I heard something else.  Looking out across the ice, I could see an icy river moving by, pushing and crunching whatever was in its way.  Sure enough, the wind was continuing to move the ice down the lake, destined for another pile-up further along the shore.

Brighton Beach iceLake Ice 2

It was relentless that wind.  I may not have appreciated its force on me, but its fury in nature was worth venturing out to see.  Indeed it was a mighty wind.

The Super Secret Birthday Activity

We were told to be ready by 9:30am.  Wear comfy clothes and be prepared to spend time outside.  That was the extent of the instructions issued by my three children.  The assembled multitudes included their significant others, our two grandkids, my husband Rich, and me.  The occasion?  My 60th birthday!

Three-year-old (almost) Mya brought me the first envelope before we left the house.  Ominously, the heading of the the contents said “Clue #1.”  What followed was a lengthy poem (definitely a Molly-ism) that revealed that we were going to:

“Go find the places where memories were made,
And relive the memories 60 years laid.”

Molly and the birthday cluesFollowing that I opened my first real clue, which turned out to be a word game.  As did all the rest.  Yup, another Molly-thing – I love word games!  Crosswords, cryptoquips, scrambled words and more had to be untangled before the next destination became apparent.  I could see that this was going to be a fun adventure.

Piling into two cars, wBirthday Cluee proceeded to cover the city.  Leaving no detail to chance, Carl had optimized our route and each of the kids contributed an equal share of the puzzles.

Favorite family spots, schools and our wedding venues were among the places we visited.  Houses figured high on the list – those where I lived, my best friends’ homes, and of course, Rich’s house.  Clue 4 Grandmas MarathonWe even paid tribute to my parents, in their final resting place.  Their imagination was boundless.  And everyone showed immense patience and interest as my stories poured out with each stop.  Some scenes begged re-enactments, such as running Grandma’s Marathon past the corner where the kids always always waited with my mom to cheer me on.  We got the biggest laugh out of the “nunny bunny clue.”  I leave the rest to your imagination.IMG_0670 Our final stop was at the Aerial Lift Bridge.  Time for a family photo and a big group hug.  A warm lunch awaited us at Grandma’s Restaurant – a fitting finish to our journey.Clue 18 Aerial Lift BridgeEighteen clues in all.  Eighteen times we all piled out of the cars and posed for pictures.  Eighteen puzzles to solve.  Innumerable memories.

60 Birthday CollageThank you kids.  It was the best Super Secret Birthday Activity.  Ever.