Our own Black Friday

The day dawns bright and clear.  Having laid out a clear strategy for our Black Friday shopping expedition, Rich and I hop in the car.  After the required stop for latte, I’m fueled with caffeine and ready to do battle.

The road to ElyNot content with the local offerings, we make our way to a distant renowned marketplace to do business.  It’s a taxing two hour drive.  The further we travel, the quieter the road.  Barely a car passes.  Soon snow appears – a harmless quantity and just the thing to put us in the mood for this holiday shopping trip.  It clings to a few trees and coats the roadway, barely touched by tire tracks.  Sunlight snakes through the trees and the sky is that winter blue overhead.  All we hear is the thrum of the tires.  Yes, it’s a rough trip.

At long last, we approach civilization.  The streets are navigable and traffic is tolerable.  We wait through a single stop light.  There, up ahead is our destination – and our choice of parking spots right in front.  We ease into a generous space, note the lack of parking meters, and emerge into the sunshine.  Ah, Ely is a great place for our Black Friday shopping.

The store windows are trimmed with evergreens, and attractive displays entice us into Steger Mukluk Co.  We first take time to browse through the merchandise, energized by all the outdoorsy offerings.  There are just enough customers to generate a friendly buzz, with no need to elbow our way through the aisles.  Despite our casual approach, we have one true mission and ultimately make a beeline for the footwear.  It’s Steer Mukluks that we’re after.  The king of warm boots.  What we hope will be the end of cold feet.

MukluksIt takes a lesson and several tries to get the laces right.  Cross them over just so.  Cinch them tightly.  Pull snugly.  But once done right, the boots conform to our feet.  And we’re sold.  Rich dreams of endless hours out photographing the Northern Lights in the snow.  I envision long treks on snowshoes and sledding with grandkids.  All with toasty warm toes.  We make our purchases without hesitation.

Rich shopping in ElyGiddy with our recent acquisitions we walk the quiet main street, meandering in and out of pleasant shops.  We treat ourselves to lunch.  We ponder our real holiday shopping duties and come up with a creative idea or two.  But feel no sense of urgency to fulfill them just now.

The trip home offers more scenic views and I admit to nodding off now and then.  It has undoubtedly been a successful day for us.  Just doing our bit to offset the rest of the world’s shopping chaos on this Black Friday.

Stoney-River-Molly-1Stoney River


Seasonal Mix-up

Amity Creek bridgeIs this really November?  Just across the street Amity Creek is roaring, filled to the brim with fast moving water rushing over the rocks on its trip down to Lake Superior.

I love the sound of the waterfall, the natural white noise of nature that I can Trail along Amity Creekhear from our house.  And despite the Amity CreekAmity waterfalls into The Deepsspitting rain, it seems a fine afternoon to walk the trails along Amity Creek following the swollen waters.  Every turn brings a renewed appreciation for the beauty of our neighborhood.  The amazing outdoor wonders that are just outside our door.  The sound of the water fills my ears, drowning out any possible infiltration of human or automobile sounds.  It’s just me and the riverbanks.

And yet, something is amiss here.  This is the time of year the creek should be barely more than a trickle.  I should be looking for ice crystals on the placid thinly coated waters.  Watching my step to avoid slippery patches.  Better yet, gliding over the snow on newly groomed ski trails.

The creek is a pretty good barometer.  There seems to be some kind of confusion in the seasons.  Last spring, the usual daredevil kayakers were stymied by the lack of snow and non-existent run-off.  The creek was so low, none of them dared shoot the falls to plunge into The Deeps. They would love today’s tumultuous waters.

Last I checked, Thanksgiving was still on the calendar for next week.  I just hope I don’t find swimmers at The Deeps when I go for my post-turkey stroll.

Sunset Cycling

After two months sitting dormant in the garage, my bicycle is back out on the road again.  These oddly warm days of November have enticed me back onto the seat, and it sure feels good.  How could I forget how wonderful it is to fly along Scenic 61?  My feet going in circles, the wind whistling through my helmet, the whir of my gears and the lake my constant companion.  Never mind that it’s chilly, I’m wrapped in layers of clothes and my toes grow colder with each mile.

Sunlight on the birch treesThe shorter days catch me by surprise.  I’m enjoying the golden glow of the sun behind me as I ride up the shore.  Its low light reflects off the white of the birches and bathes the shoreline in amber as it slips down in the sky.  I pedal on, in search of a good vantage point for a photograph, oblivious of my narrowing window to return.North Shore sunset

At last a gap in the trees provides me with a view.  Turning around, I find a stunning sunset.  The sun is making its final descent to the hillside of Duluth, and in its final moments the brilliant yellow flare is almost blinding.  The rest of the sky is just beginning to take on a fiery orange cast, each cloud becoming the perfect reflector for the sun’s rays.  I snap photo after photo, trying different viewpoints and settings, hoping to capture the magic before my eyes.

Returning to my bike, the road is visibly darker.  Daylight is fading fast with the sun’s disappearance.  I have a good 40 minute ride to get home, and it quickly becomes a race with the diminishing light.  Thankfully the flashers on my bike have retained enough battery power to make me visible to cars.  But they do nothing for my own night sight.  What might be a dire situation is actually a thrill.  With each passing mile, the sky intensifies to an even deeper red, reaching high overhead.  The trees have become flat black silhouettes, outlined in sharp contrast with the crimson backdrop.  Looking higher, I discover an ultra-thin crescent moon perched in the darkening sky above.  My legs pump and I spin toward this magnificent scene.  I drink it all in with my eyes, knowing I can’t afford any more stops on this trip.  Perhaps it’s all the more beautiful for its ephemeral nature.

Night sky at homeMy own neighborhood is darkest of all.  The last few blocks lack a streetlight and I am pitched into near total darkness on our rural road.  There the moon hangs over the neighborhood homes, and I am thankful to return safely.  Yet all the richer for my sunset cycling.

Staying after Class

Writing Class

Class was dismissed, time to head home. Or so I thought. It was the end of a wonderful 4-day stint in Grand Marais, rubbing elbows with real authors and nascent writers at the inaugural North Shore Readers and Writers Festival put on by the Grand Marais Art Colony. My time there was jam packed with workshops, craft seminars, entertaining speakers, readings by authors and book related special events. I left with a head full of inspiration, myriad ways to improve my writing, and great role models among both presenters and attendees to fuel my ambition.

The noonday sun shone brillliantly in the deep blue sky. I shuffled through the fall leaves while breathing in the brisk air, listening to the waves crashing against Lake Superior's shore as I walked back to the motel. After days indoors perched on chairs, listening intently, thinking and practicing writing, the outdoors felt envigorating. So when Rich proposed staying on for another day, it didn't take me long to overcome my natural inclination to stick to the original plan and agree to the extension.

Northern Lights Lake Trail

In short order we headed up the Gunflint Trail. With hunting season just opened our hiking options were limited, but Rich assured me no sane hunter (or deer) would choose the steep trail up alongside Northern Lights Lake. The trail rose steeply rewarding us with nice views of the lake through the trees. Navigating the path required careful attention to where I was going. Avoiding slippery rocks, wet mud and tree roots kept my eyes riveted on the trail. Perhaps that's what brought the forest floor into such sharp focus, with all its intricate detail. There the lichen spread its delicately patterned fronds over the green mossy ground cover. From a distance, it resembled a field of cauliflower. Up close it was like fine lace.

Lichen along the trail

Similar looking decor proved to be something else entirely…snow! Just a gentle reminder that winter is not far away.

Snow along the trail

The silence of the trail was a calming influence. With only the wind rippling through the trees as accompaniment to our falling footsteps, it made for a relaxing retreat. My only regret was that the trail wasn't longer, to prolong our foray into the woods.

With the fall days rapidly growing shorter, by mid-afternoon the shadows were lengthening and dusk was already beginning its advance. We chose to spend the remaining hours of golden sunlight at the harbor, watching the waves crash on the rocky breakwater. By then, I was grateful for bringing a warm jacket, gloves and hat. On the North Shore, one can never be over-prepared for the weather.

Grand Marais harbor

As the sun set behind the lighthouse, casting its fiery glow, I knew we'd made the right decision. It was worth staying after class.

Grand Marais sunset