Shooting the Moon

There has been a lot of hype about tonight’s supermoon and the lunar eclipse.  Even I was intrigued.  So when Rich headed down to Canal Park to photograph the rising moon, I decided to accompany him.  The decision wasn’t difficult.  It was a beautiful mild evening, very calm and inviting.  Even if I didn’t get any great photos, it would be a pleasant outing.

As soon as we arrived, we noticed another photographer heading for the Lakewalk.  He had a fancy camera atop his high-end tripod that he carried over his shoulder in a rather cavalier manner.  In the other hand, he held a case that could only hold a huge long lens.  It looked like we were in the right spot.

We set up shop near the corner of the Lakewalk and awaited the moon’s arrival.  With two foreign freighters anchored in the lake, we tried to position ourselves so that the moon would rise near one of them.  But we wouldn’t know until it came up.  As we waited, an aura of expectation developed along the Lakewalk.  Nearly everyone sported a camera around the neck.  And the population of tripods rapidly increased along the shoreline.

It was a couple of walkers who ultimately clued us in to the rising moon when I overheard them pointing it out.  It was so faint on the horizon Super Moon 2that we could hardly see it – a light blue orb blending in with the murky distant sky.  And it was in the wrong spot.  Or more accurately, we were.  Hefting our tripods, we rapidly headed closer to the bridge where we could get a better angle.  By the time we moved far enough to capture the moon with one of the ships, the moon was far more distinguishable and took on an orange glow.  Now it was getting more interesting.

Schlepping our gear closer yet to the pier, we found an even better view.  We could combine the moon, the freighter and the lighthouse.  Soon we were synchronizing our snapshots with the flash of the lighthouse’s beacon.Super Moon 3The higher the moon rose, the better its reflection.  By this time we were surrounded by other photography enthusiasts, all enjoying the spectacle.  The camaraderie was infectious, and rather than being competitive there was common rejoicing whenever someone captured an exceptional image.

Super Moon 4Indeed, it was a beautiful night to be shooting the moon.

A Keeper’s Life

Crisp Point Lighthouse“Do you travel around to other lighthouses to do this?” a visitor asks. “No, this is the only place we serve as lighthouse keepers,” I reply readily. Crisp Point Lighthouse is unique, and that’s what continues to draw us here.

We are clearly off the beaten path. 36 miles from the nearest town. 18 miles of that on rugged dirt road. Folks don’t find their way here by accident. We learn that they fall into three categories: 1) Lighthouse aficionados who want to add Crisp Point Lighthouse to their list of visits. We happily stamp their lighthouse “passports.” 2) Agate hunters who know these shores harbor some real beauties and are less visited than sites with easier access. We welcome them to the beach. 3) Travelers who happen to hear about the lighthouse while in the area. We congratulate them for surviving the rough drive. (We even sell them stickers proclaiming the same.)

Grounds of Crisp Point LighthouseRegardless of purpose, the lighthouse and shoreline delight our visitors. We never tire of answering questions (as best we can) and showing the maps and photos of how the area once looked – before Lake Superior claimed nearly all the original buildings except the lighthouse. Those who have visited before marvel at the extensive work done by the Crisp Point Light Historical Society, not only to restore the lighthouse but to landscape and protect the surrounding sand dunes.

The remote nature of Crisp Point is one of its best features. At least in our book. There is no cell phone coverage of any kind, so the urgency of internet access, email, phone calls and other technology laden gadgets is nil. The only telephone makes emergency calls only. All we know and all that matters is what’s happening right here. We take each moment as it comes, which is a peaceful way to live. When not engaged in our keepers’ duties we thrive on life’s simple pleasures.

Blogging becomes a hand written affair. Perched on the beach, mornings are spent scratching out my thoughts – inspiration as near as the waves lapping just beyond my feet.Blogging on the beach
Rich has a wealth of photographic material, both day and night. His camera accompanies him everywhere. I fool around with a bit of photography of my own.

Rich photographing Crisp Point LighthouseSunrise and driftwoodWe spend a lot of time reading. And what better spot than on top of the world? Not even the pesky flies are able to bother me up there.

Reading on the lighthouse catwalkSunrise and sunset become our daily clock. We make sure to be up before the sun in order to watch it make its dramatic entrance. One morning I stumble on a “double sunrise” courtesy of the lighthouse windows. Sunset marks the transition to nighttime, with its bonfires and stars.

Double sunrise atop Crisp Point LighthouseThe beach begs for us to walk it. The rocks ask for us to collect them. The tower invites us to climb it. And we do it all.

Molly at the top of Crisp Point LighthouseThe world continues to turn despite our ignorance of news and current affairs. We are probably as removed as the early lighthouse keepers in this remote spot. And we love it. It’s the keeper’s life for us – at least for five days a year.

An Enchanted Evening

The latch engages with a satisfying click as we close the Visitor Center for the day. The grounds of Crisp Point Lighthouse are always open and a few visitors remain to enjoy the setting sun. They require little of us as volunteer keepers, and we’re ready to enjoy another glorious evening on the shore of Lake Superior.

Rich in our dinner spot at Crisp PointOur plein air dining room awaits as we prepare our dinner on the grill and camp stove. It’s a challenge to plan meals with food that will last for five days without fresh ice for our cooler, but nevertheless we eat well. Perhaps it’s the ambiance that makes everything taste so good.

By the time we’ve finished our meal sunset is approaching. Living in Duluth we never see the sun set over Lake Superior, so we appreciate the treat. This trip we have been blessed with clear skies and just enough clouds at the horizon to create that special red glow. We have our choice of venues for this spectacle. A bench above the beach, a log in the sand and even the top of the lighthouse are all at our disposal. We linger, knowing that the greatest brilliance develops well after the sun has disappeared below the horizon. And we are rewarded.
Sunset at Crisp Point 1Sunset at Crisp Point 2
Molly at the campfire Crisp PointThe night is still young and I’m ready for the next glow. A stack of firewood awaits and our fire ring is at the ready. The dry wood roars to life and flames soon dance at the whim of the wind. The sky darkens as we stare into the blaze and the array of stars overhead intensifies with each passing moment. Looking up away from the fire we can already see the Milky Way and the Big and Little Dippers – the full extent of our astronomy knowledge. But it’s enough.

Before calling it a night, I attempt a few star pictures with the lighthouse. As my shots flash briefly on the camera display, I see it. That unmistakable glow, there on the left at the base of the lighthouse. Before my eyes can detect them, the Northern Lights show up in my photos. Abandoning my star project, I alert Rich and move to the shore to watch. A green band appears in the sky, arching up and over the lake.
Crisp Point Lighthouse at night
The show is brief but still a thrill. Rich is ecstatic – this is what he most wanted to see and photograph here. Although the lights have dissipated, Rich sets up shop under a blanket in a lawn chair overlooking the lake to wait. Lacking his fortitude and conviction, I head for the tent.

Over an hour passes with no action and still Rich waits. Even he’s nearly ready to call it quits, but hangs in there just long enough. The Northern Lights reappear and present a real display. Rich is in his element, capturing the Aurora and the lighthouse together.Crisp Point Northern Lights

Apparently the display was too ephemeral for Rich to wake me up in time to see it, so I missed that highlight. But I don’t feel cheated. I still had an enchanted evening.

Good Morning, Lighthouse

I’m groggy as I come to. My eyes are filled with “sleepy dirt,” the vestiges of a restless night spent in a tent. My body craves more rest but my will is stronger. I want to see the sunrise.

Crisp Point Lighthouse sunriseEmerging from the tent I step out into the balmy air, a happy surprise on Lake Superior in mid-September. The sky has just a faint orange tinge in the east. I turn toward the lake and there it is, Crisp Point Lighthouse. Our host for the week. Standing tall and just starting to catch the soft glow of the rising sun it welcomes me yet again.

This is our second stint as volunteer lighthouse keepers here. In return for our light duties we are privileged to be the sole inhabitants of this unspoiled shoreline for five days. We have a campsite for one, miles of Lake Superior beach and our majestic lighthouse.

Crisp Point sunrise over the beachThe visitor center does not open until 10am, leaving us with precious morning hours to commune with this beauty on our own. And so I waste no time in beginning my solo trek down the beach. Heading east, the gray sky gradually lightens to blue and the sun’s brilliance increases. I’m shielded from a direct view of the sunrise by the tree lined shore, which serves to prolong the magic of the sun’s colorful entrance. The action of the waves on the shore is mesmerizing and I am entranced with the fanciful shapes of enormous tree trunks thrown up onto the sand.Crisp Point driftwood

For once there is no hurry in my step. I feel no sense of urgency here, have no destination except forward. Camera in tow, I indulge myself in a few artsy shots. I’m no photographer but it’s a satisfying endeavor.Crisp Point beach reflection

Crisp Point lighthouse through driftwoodYesterday’s visitors reported several moose sightings, including on the beach. I fancy I see a few hoof prints, but my only wildlife encounter is a lone bird.

Molly breakfast on the beachI care about the time only in order to savor my breakfast on the beach. Sensing a few faint hunger pangs, I make my way back to stoke up the camp stove and prepare my coffee and homemade raisin bread toast. It tastes ever so much better perched on a log, my feet planted in sand below the great beacon. Visitors will begin arriving shortly, but for now the view is still all mine. Good morning, lighthouse!Crisp Point sunrise from the tower

Opportunity Cruise

It's not a complete accident that we took that sunset cruise. But it took a lot of fortuitous coincidences to bring not about.

Returning to Crisp Point Lighthouse for our second stint as volunteer keepers, I knew we'd pass Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore en route. I was eager to see the shoreline from the water, but our extra day for exploring had been sacrificed to other commitments at home. Our son, Erik, had just returned from a backpacking and kayaking trip on the area, and his fresh enthusiasm and praise for the scenery unwittingly planted a seed.

With only 30 miles remaining to reach Munising, I gave in to a nascent idea. The weather was so perfect, might there still be a way to see Pictured Rocks after all? Eeking out a cell signal I managed to discover a sunset cruise and confirm that seats were still available. We would arrive in town with barely 40 minutes to spare, but it could work. I wasn't sure Rich shared my enthusiasm enough to jettison our plans for a relaxed salmon dinner in our kitchenette unit. But the photographer in him couldn't resist the late golden glow on a natural landscape. The race was on.

We checked into our motel, dumped our gear and donned warm clothes in record time. We even had enough minutes to spare for Rich to grab a sandwich en route to the dock. As we stepped up to the end of the long line of waiting passengers the boat's doors opened and boarding began.

But we still had one final hurdle to clear. Our captain's first words were a warning. The day's windy conditions had generated 3-4 foot waves and the father out we went the more uncomfortable it would get. Rich looked at me for an answer, as I readily sicken in big swells. However this was my brilliant idea and I wasn't about to give up on it. I declined the offer of a full refund and with that we departed.

Molly on Pictured Rocks cruise

Although I could feel the growing swells and the edges of a familiar queasy sensation, stationing ourselves outside where I could stand and watch the shoreline helped me ignore the pitching of the boat. I was determined to make this work, but really it was Mother Nature who came to my rescue as the winds subsided and we had only rough chop for the remainder of the voyage. My system instantly sensed the change and I rejoiced in knowing I could enjoy the scenery and even take a few photos.

The rear deck turned out to the the ideal spot for viewing. Protected from the wind we staked out a front row position along the railing. It was chilly enough for me to be glad I had brought a hat and gloves and was not too vain to wear them. The outdoor air was refreshing and we could still hear the captain's spiel. Sprinkled with dry humor, he kept us informed as well as entertained with just enough commentary to educate us on what we were seeing.

Pictured Rocks 1
Pictured Rocks 2
Pictured Rocks 3
Pictured Rocks vertical stripes

The scenery did not dissapoint, from the dramatic colors to the uniquely shaped rocks. I was surprised to learn that it was the minerals leaching out of the rocks that “painted” them, as opposed to differing colors in the strata of the earth. That explained why the stripes were vertical not horizontal as I'd expected.

Cruising was all the sweeter for its opportune nature. Evening if we'd planned it, we could never have counted on the perfect evening sunlight. And with each passing moment on our return trip the light became more golden. Those were the best views of all.

Pictured Rocks 5
Pictured Rocks 6
Pictured Rocks 7

Sometimes things just work out for the best. I not only got to see Pictured Rocks and in ththe finest light. That cruise was the perfect opportunity.


Breaking out of the Mold

It’s easy to get in a rut.  Especially for me, a lover of routine and efficiency.  But inspired by meeting with a group of outdoor enthusiasts last night, I was determined to try something new this morning.  So throwing out all my known routes, I set my bike on a new course.  I was ready to explore.

Skyline Bike Route MapThe early hour brought a chill to the air, and the later-rising sun took its time to warm things up. Despite being well bundled, it was nippy cycling straight into the wind.  There was little let-up as my initial leg took me inland, heading due west for a long stretch.  But there were side benefits.  The sun felt warm on my back and the newly laid pavement was a wonderful surface for cycling.

Pelican CoffeeBy the time 15 miles were behind me, my paltry dinner the night before had faded, compounding my chill.  Treasuring the thought of a warm-up, I was thrilled to find that Pelican Coffee was nearby.  With a slight alteration in course, I was soon walking through the door.  Normally, I never stop while on my bike rides.  But I was rather getting to like this new mode.  With a well crafted latte and Nutella scone gracing the table in front of me I savored the ambiance of this newly launched community focused, global missions based enterprise.

Warm and well fueled, I resumed my ride.  Heading back toward Lake Superior, I ultimately reached the scenic portion of my route.  I have never cycled Skyline Drive from end to end across the city of Duluth, so that is exactly what I set out to do.  I had the perfect sunny day for the broad scenic overviews that abound, and my pace slowed considerably as I stopped frequently to admire and take pictures.

IMG_2395Enger Tower called to me as I passed, so I took that in as well – an uncharted detour.  It seemed pointless to stop at the bottom, so I climbed the beautifully restored tower and took in the 360 degree view from the top.  My timing was perfect as the US Coast Guard Cutter Alder was just about to pass under the Aerial Bridge.  Coast Guard ship going under the bridge

Bong Bridge and St. Louis River

Bong Bridge and St. Louis River

Duluth stretching along the lakle

Duluth stretching along the lake

Creating a view of the lake I greatly enjoyed checking out the various neighborhoods that stretched across the city, from mansions to tidy little homes.  Duluthians will do anything for a view of the lake.  So I had to chuckle at the owners of this house who were determined to see the lake from every level – including from the hot tub perched above the roof.

Crossing from west to east, I eventually found my way into familiar territory.  East Skyline Drive passes through Hawk Ridge, which is now in its peak season for bird watching.  That perch high above Lakeside was teaming with folks sporting binoculars and cameras to catch the migrating birds.Hawk RidgeIt was all downhill from there to return home.  Thirty-six miles after I set out, I was still smiling.  It felt so good to break out of the mold and do something different.

Sod Roofing 101

The entry on our calendar just said “Rich work.”  It looked like an all-day affair for one of his birding organizations.  “We’re putting a sod roof on the visitor center at the Sax Zim Bog,” came the reply to my inquiry.  “Wanna come and help?”

So much for asking a simple question.  I had to admit to some curiosity.  Just how does one create a sod roof, anyway?  There was only one way to find out.  I was in.

Sod delivered to the roofDecked out in grubby clothes, ready to battle through the heat of the day, we arrived at the same time as the sod was delivered.  The roof of the center was already covered with a black underlayment, ready for its organic green canopy.  As promised, there was a portable stairway adjacent to the building, eliminating the need to climb up ladders with the heavy loads.  Expecting to carry roll after roll of sod up to the roof, the gathered workers were elated when the delivery truck came equipped with a small forklift.  Two full pallets of sod were swiftly transported to the building and effortlessly hoisted to roof level – hooray!  From there it was quick work to stash the rolls on the roof.

Hoisting rock to the roof Before we could lay the sod, the gutters around the perimeter had to be filled with gravel.  A huge pile of rock sat at the bottom of the steps, which we tackled with shovels and buckets.  Those much stronger than I could scoop up a 5-gallon bucketful in a single movement and haul two of them up the stairs.  Others operated a pulley to lift additional loads to roof level.  I merely shoveled.  Bit by bit, slowly filling buckets for someone else to carry and distribute around the roof.

Laying the sod was the fun part.  The first layer went grass side down.  Apparently, that is the age-old method of doing it. The sod rolled out easily and with many hands working, the roof was quickly covered.  The second layer was added in the opposite direction, and a cushy green surface soon evolved  The only detail work involved was cutting the sod to fit odd spaces for perfect coverage.  Left over sod was added as an extra layer on the highest portion of the roof, where the vegetation was most likely to dry out.First layer of sodSecond layer of sodSod roof nearly completeAnd that was it!  It wasn’t even 11:00 am when the crew posed for a group shot on the roof, congratulated themselves on a job well done, and rejoiced in having an unexpected half a day free.

Completed sod roofThe project was not quite complete.  Before our departure, arrangements were made with the local fire department to come with their pumper truck and water the new roof that afternoon.

I was covered in loose dirt and swatting flies, but was glad I had joined in.  I may not have moved as much rock, or rolled out as much sod as others, but it was fascinating seeing it all come together.  And I’m anxious to come back years hence to view the mature growth, complete with wildflowers.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to break out of my routine and do something different.  But when I do, there are always rewards.  Even if I never use this knowledge again, I’ve now had my crash course in sod roofing 101.