Snowbound

We’re still waiting.  Two days ago at this time snow was falling in earnest.  Actually, it didn’t really fall, the wind swirled it in mad circles.  Whisking horizontally past the windows.  Sticking to the sides of the house.  Clinging to the trees.  It’s been a long time since the weather service used the word Blizzard.  This time it was accurate.  Snug inside, I enjoyed watching it rage.

Storming through the night, it finally tapered into delicate flakes as morning dawned.  Rich layered up and began the process of digging out.  Grabbing the yardstick from my sewing supplies, he took it down to the driveway.  Lest he be accused of exaggeration he had proof – 19″.  The accumulation took the life of his snowblower and required rigorous sessions of shovel, rest, repeat.  All day long.

Blizzard our houseThe news was filled with cancellations, including church services.  But no matter, we could travel no farther than the end of our cleared driveway.  Living on a remote road, we’re used to being last on the priority list for plowing.  So I donned my heavy boots and a backpack for a trip to the grocery store, grateful that it was so close.  Preparations for hunkering down.

Having covered the basics, I could hold back no longer.  This kind of snow just shouted Snowshoes!  And I answered the call.  That unplowed road was all that lay between me and forest land, crisscrossed by multi-use trails.  Not a sole trod before me, leaving deep pristine snow to explore.  Trees hung low, burdened with heavy blankets of snow, blocking my path.  Too pretty to disturb, I tried to skirt around them carefully.  The slightest bump released a mini-blizzard and sent branches flinging upwards.Blizzard snowshoeing 1Blizzard snowshoeing 2Silence reigned.  Only the plop of my snowshoes and the swish of trying to extricate them from the snowy abyss penetrated the quiet.  The sun began its gradual reappearance, signaling the real end of the storm.  Solitude worked its magic.Blizzard snowshoeing 3Day two dawned clear and cold.  The sunlight was as welcome as a rainbow after a thunderstorm.  Glistening snow.  Endless blue sky.  Warming rays of the sun.  Still the road remained clogged with snow.  There was only one sensible response.  Ski it!Blizzard XC skiing 1

Blizzard XC skiing 27 Bridges Road was rife with snowmobile tracks, boot prints and the occasional ski track.  It made for a firm if bumpy surface which beckoned me upwards, crossing bridge after bridge.  But the real payoff was at the top.  Branching off onto Hawk Ridge the walkers disappeared.  Snowmobiles had pummeled the surface into a reliable ski surface.  Lake Superior spread out to the horizon, the city of Duluth lay in grids below.  The snowbound confines of the house dropped away as civilization lay at my feet.Blizzard XC skiing 3Returning downhill, I wondered if the snowplow had come.  If I would have to find a new way home.  I’m not sure if I was relieved or disappointed to be able to ski all the way to the driveway.  Still snowbound.  Still waiting.  Time to plan tomorrow’s snowy adventure.Blizzard XC skiing 4

Lighthouse Mornings

As a lighthouse keeper, it’s my favorite time of day.  Up with the sun, I relish the quiet mornings before visitors arrive.  Each day is different, entirely at the whim of the weather.  This year was a perfect example, as my journal proves.

Day 1
It wouldn’t be a Crisp Point morning without my perch on the beach, tower looming overhead, waves pulsing and wind stirring the damp air.  With coffee thermos mug at hand and charred camp-stove toast slathered in peanut butter, I’m ready to put pen to paper.

Just being out here is an unexpected treat.  With rain beating our tent all night and a dismal forecast this didn’t seem possible.  But the downpour ceased with our sleep and the south wind brought warm breezes. I’m wearing three layers of clothes on this September morning feeling grateful.

Crisp Point beach writing

Light wisps of clouds skitter by below the more stationery cloud cover.  Cracks in that shield reveal patches of blue sky, more than I thought I’d see all day.  Lake Superior makes her own weather.  I drink in the scene and write.  The old fashioned way.

Day 2
Waves crash against the shore just as they have done all night long.  The white pulses against the sand regenerate, again and again, changing the shoreline moment by moment.  The sandy beach I walked yesterday has been reclaimed by the water, reaching high on shore.  Lake Superior has claimed all but 3 of the 15 acres that surrounded the lighthouse 115 years ago.  And still it seeks to alter the landscape, to sculpt its border.  I turn my footsteps in the opposite direction for this morning’s outing.

On my return, I climb the tower, seeking shelter from the wind.  I know a tall stool stands inside the windows at the top, nestled against the modern LED lamp.  The air is damp, the view obscured by fog.  Unlatching the doors to the catwalk, I press them open.  Fresh breezes and the drumming of the waves sneak inside, gradually clearing the view and my thoughts.

Crisp Point tower view

Day 3
“Is there any sunlight?”

“I doubt it, the skies were cloudy at 5:15am.  Wait! There’s a break in the clouds and a ribbon of light.  We might get a sunrise after all!”

That’s all it takes to jettison us from our tent into the predawn hour.  Already orange hues stripe the horizon and the clouds’ underbellies blush in pink.  I rush for my camera – teeth unbrushed, haystack hair, my eyes thick with morning gunk.  There is not a moment to lose.  Rich, of course, is out well ahead of me, already poised behind his tripod.

Crisp Point is picturesque in all conditions, but sunrise and sunset are when it truly shines.  So far we have been denied these sublime moments by persistent clouds and fully anticipated being skunked this year.  But maybe not!

Single minded and on a mission, Rich doggedly pursues angles, hones his focus, searches – and finds – exquisite vantage points.  In contrast, I point and shoot.  Change a setting here, try an artsy shot there.  But really, I’m out there for the display.  To see it with my eyes, not a lens.

Crisp Point sunrise

The vivid colors are certainly a draw, and evade my amateur shots.  It’s the flip side of the show I find more captivating.  It’s not the sun that’s the star, it’s the light it paints.

The dim shadow of the tower comes to life as a warm glow travels up its majestic height.  Bathed in morning gold, it emits a warmth unmatched by its small beacon.  The ephemeral effect is all the more alluring for the shortness of its life.  I drink in the moment.

Crisp Point sunrise glow

Crisp Point through driftwood

It is a final gift.  A fond farewell on our last Crisp Point morning.  Until next year.

Yooperlites

“There’s one!”

“Oh, that’s a really good one.”

“Here, your turn.”

“Wait, shine that light back over here.”

“Yes! Look at it glow!”

“Yea! Yippee! We found one!”

It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun in the dark. Giddy with our success, Rich and I press on, sweeping the flashlight over the rocks on the beach.

“Oh, another one!”

We would still be huddled by our evening campfire had it not been for a series of fortuitous coincidences.

Checking in with our contact for Crisp Point Lighthouse prior to our stint as Keepers, she alerted us to the fact that there had been frequent late night visitors this year. “They’re looking for Yooperlites,” she told us. It went right over our heads. We had no idea what she was talking about, but appreciated the heads-up.

Crisp Point map

Crisp Point Lighthouse 2019

Arriving for duty, I scanned the updated layout of merchandise in the Visitor Center taking in the new inventory. Passing the table of scrapbooks and resource books, the words jumped out at me. Yooperlites were featured on the front of the Mineral News newsletter. And my education began.

Just last year a gentleman began selling unique rocks he collected from Lake Superior’s shore in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Looking perfectly ordinary in daylight, in the dark these stones emit a brilliant orange glow under UV light. He marketed them using the name Yooperlites, based on the slang for UP residents (Yoopers).

That explained the nocturnal visitors. And why it was a new phenomenon.

According to the Mineral News, these are examples of concretions – sedimentary rock with minerals embedded in them. In this case, the mineral is believed to be fluorescent sodalite.

Interesting enough. Until a late afternoon delivery of supplies for the lighthouse that also yielded a key disclosure. There was a UV flashlight and samples of Yooperlite in the Visitor Center. Suddenly, we had the means to make our own discoveries.

With the last light fading from the sky we scour the rock strewn beach. It is surprising how many pinpoints of yellow or blue light shine back at us from the rocks, and how white rocks reflect that light. (Not to mention Rich’s white socks and my neon yellow shoe laces, which are blinding.)

But we seek the real gems. The rocks permeated with an orange glow. The more pocked with light the better. And they are there. As soon as the UV rays passes over those rocks, they light up. Not just colorful, they radiate from within. There is no mistaking them, and with each discovery we cheer and laugh, triumphant.

Yooperlites glowing

It is a heck of a lot more fun than hunting for agates. And a lot more successful. With each new Yooperlite we find, we are spurred on to uncover another one. And another. Selecting only the five best to keep.  Sure enough, in the daylight their hidden glow is locked deep inside.

Yooperlites daylight

I can’t wait to do it again tomorrow night. Oh, and did you know? I was born a Yooper.

Yooperlite w Crisp Point Lighthouse

The Little Cabin at 30

“Grammy, do you ever wish the cabin was bigger?”  I had to smile.  With 17 people gathered for the weekend, coming in and out of the modest abode, it was a fair question.  No sooner had I responded to the seven year old, “Yes, I do, Mya!” when her mother chimed in.

“You have to remember, Mya, when I was little it was only the five of us here.  It was just the right size for us.”  She was right.  How well I remember coming up the driveway for the first time, knowing right away that it was made for us.  Perusing the knotty pine interior, the stone fireplace, and the two tiny bedrooms.  It was the simplicity of the place that appealed to me. The bookshelf to stock with cabin reading. The short wooden dock, enough for our 12′ boat.  It was a place to build family memories.

What is it about a remote cottage, with its cramped space, mismatched dishes, mattresses that sag, raggedy towels and a needy wood stove that is so appealing?  The yard games we never play at home are entertaining there.  Bonfires invite storytelling.  Grilled meat tastes better.  The chilly lake dares intrepid swimmers and fishermen. Board games take on new life, and fierce competition.  It’s a-ok to lie in a hammock or sit on the dock and while away the afternoon reading.  Or snoozing.  And we have front row seats for the Northern Lights.

For so many years the cabin has been our haven, away from work, school and too-busy lives.  Time slows down there.  Priorities shift.  Time slips away, but the cabin doesn’t change.  We still treasure the simple existence it offers.  I still get excited bumping over the dirt road as we approach that driveway yet again.

Those three little kids in the bunk beds are now grown and married and have produced five (almost six!) grandchildren for us.  Carrying on the tradition, they have come to treasure their own family time at the cabin.  It’s still just the right size for them.

It was their idea to celebrate this milestone.  This Labor Day marked the 30th straight year we have gathered as a family with our good friends the Readingers and their offspring at the cabin.  Admittedly, we had to farm a few members out to beds in nearby resorts this time, but they all converged on the cabin throughout the day.  As Mya noticed.

Thirty years generates a lot of memories.  Everything we did triggered flashbacks, smiles, rolling eyes, laughter.  It was a weekend of déjà vu as grandchildren followed in their parents’ footsteps.

It was a celebration of friendship.  Of lasting bonds that form over years of sharing, from being new parents to empty nesters.  From being children to new parents.  From carving out time away from work to relishing retirement.  And through it all, we still relish cabin life.

We did our best to recreate some of the best moments.  Some, like this one, came as a pure gift.  Like a blessing on our gathering.

The remainder will have to wait for the next gathering, at the Same Time Next Year.  And 30 years beyond.

The End of an Era

It sat in the empty lot adjacent to the bait shop.  Nothing fancy, but in excellent shape and with plenty of good years left in its life.  The humble pontoon boat spoke to us.  Well, most of us anyway.

We’ve never had a new boat.  In the 29 years we’ve owned our modest cabin, our boats have matched the aura of this unassuming haven in the forest perched on a pristine lake.

The first was a 12′ row boat, which we proudly outfitted with a 1.5 hp motor.  We still own that boat.  We next became proud owners of a 16′ open boat with a steering wheel.  With 25 hp we could even pull lightweight water-skiers.  We called it the Silver Bomb, and it was Rich’s beloved fishing rig.  That was succeeded by the Green Boat. It was heavy and leaked below the floor, but it had cool seating up front and went fast when we upgraded to 50 hp.

In each of these boats we could bank and turn, roar across the lake.  As the boats grew in size we could twirl kids and grandkids on wild tube rides, entice water-skiers out of the wake.  We’d pile in wearing our bulky life jackets, holding wiggly little ones on our laps, keeping an eye out for those who insisted on leaning out over the edge of the boat.  We baited many hooks and caught fewer fish.  Three generations of memories were compiled in those motorboats.

But all that’s about to change.

In an age when pontoon boats dominate the boat lifts around the lake, the idea of having a safe platform for little ones and oodles of space for family boat rides was appealing.  And that simple tan and green used pontoon sitting on the pavement wearing a For Sale sign was the perfect solution.  Or so I thought. And so did the kids.  And grandkids.  “I don’t want a pontoon boat,” Rich stated firmly.  The patriarch had spoken.

I had to admit, I wondered if our age was showing.  If I was falling for something too tame.  But returning to our collective visions of family outings, I hardened my resolve. And we won him over.  Or at least got him to relent.

Rich and I took it out for its inaugural voyage.  When three loons surfaced and began fishing nearby, Rich’s camera came out and his shutter flew in rapid bursts as we drifted.  He even admitted the pontoon was a much more stable platform for photography.  Whew!

That simple pontoon now occupies our lift next to the dock.  It sits in readiness for our annual family and friends gathering over Labor Day.  In place of zooming and swishing, we’ll cruise and relax, drinks and snacks at the ready.  We’ll anchor and jump into the lake, exploring new swimming spots around the lake.  We think we can even give tame tube rides.

Not such bad tradeoffs, as we enter this new era.

Letting Go

Life is a balance.  A delicate one at that.  After decades of aiming high, how does one gracefully readjust one’s sights?

Just last June I was flying high.  I had qualified for the Boston Marathon, along with my son Erik, his wife Katie and her cousin Brendan.  Conditions at Grandma’s Marathon were nearly perfect, propelling each of us down the shore of Lake Superior to cross the finish line with good margins to secure us a spot in that most prestigious of marathons.  Swept away by the tide of our victory, our quartet vowed to run Boston.

Boston Bound foursome

Plans were made.  We found housing and received our confirmation emails for the race.  All looked good for a spring run.  Until it didn’t.  Pain, injury, arthritis and bad running habits all linked arms to throw a wrench into my training.  Weeks of rest and cross-training turned into months with no improvement.  Winter stepped in and obliterated the Lakewalk with snow while temperatures plummeted deep into the negative range.  I knew from experience that training for Boston in the midst of winter was a challenge, but this was ridiculous.

The ambiguity hung over my head for months.  One week I’d feel hopeful and set my sights on “just finishing” in Boston.  The next I was pragmatic and knew that the time to adequately prepare was waning.  On one hand I’d done it all before.  Twice in fact.  First on my own, to celebrate turning 50.  The second time I crossed the finish line hand-in-hand with my daughter, Karen.  On the other hand, this was a chance to run it with my son and his wife and share in their joy.  To prove I could still do it.

Boston finish 2005

Boston finish 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my journey, I sought plenty of advice.  Confiding in my daughter, I poured out my dilemma, that I was considering dropping out of the race.  “Oh Mom!” she sighed.  “That means admitting you’re getting old!”  It wasn’t what I expected at all.  But her uncensored sentiment revealed something else.  She perfectly mirrored my own mother’s unwavering belief in me.  I smiled to realize that the generations had flipped, and the void left by my mother eight years ago had just been filled.

Oddly enough, just as I felt I was turning the corner through physical therapy I also knew the answer.  This wasn’t about proving anything.  It wasn’t about getting old.  It was about the long run.  Literally.  It was about healing, gaining strength and building myself back up in order to continue to do the thing I love.  Running.  For years to come, not just one day.

It’s not easy conceding to reality.  Come Boston Marathon day I know my heart will twist as I follow Erik and Katie out there on the race course from a distance through text alerts.  I’ll wish I was there, doing it.  But if it means running with my grandchildren and staying active into my real old age, then I made the right decision.  It’s not giving up.  It’s letting go.  There’s a difference.

On Location

Donning every possible layer of outdoor clothing I own, I pull on my mukluks, fling a camera around my neck and grab my notebook.  It’s time for the start of the Arrowhead 135!

At the 7am start, it’s -9 degrees with a touch of snow falling in International Falls MN.  Bikers, runners and skiers line up and head down the Arrowhead Trail as fireworks light up the inky sky.  The race takes its heritage seriously, ranked as one of 50 toughest races in the world.  The finish line is 135 miles away.Skier in Arrowhead 135

These intrepid athletes will endure up to three days on the trail, with temperatures predicted in the -22 degree range by morning.  My role is far easier.  And warmer.  I am here to cover the race for the Lake Country Journal, a beautiful glossy magazine that covers all things related to our northern lakes area.

Teaming up with Rich, we have created a new niche for ourselves – find fun events that interest us, sell the idea to a magazine, attend and experience them, then produce a story.  I write, he takes the photographs.

Today we leapfrog the trail, catching the racers at intervals along the way.  Rich looks for unique photo opps, I make mental notes of what I see – the steadfast determination in the racers’ eyes, the thick boots, the ice encrusted beards and fanciful antler hat.  We have time to warm up in the car.  The racers have only their energy to heat their bodies.

Biker in Arrowhead 135I would never be here if it weren’t for my writing.  Seeing folks pursue the impossible.  Following the Holiday Train.  Leaning the ins and outs of sled dog racing.  Attending a home grown radio show.  Then bring them to life for others.  New horizons, unique adventures, a break in my strict daily routine.  It’s a privilege to be able to write about topics of my own choosing.Runner in Arrowhead 135It wasn’t always this way.  Getting here has a been a seven year journey of my own.  I got my humble start in writing with Lake Superior Magazine, which accepted my first cold submission.  Editor Konnie went on to gently mentor me year after year, offering me more stories as my skills improved.  Just seeing my work come out in print was a big thrill.  And it remains one of my favorite magazines to write for.

As today’s racers doggedly push on toward the finish line I remain vigilant as we chase them down the trail, composing lines in my head, shaping the story to share with my readers.  It’s already been a memorable adventure, and we haven’t yet seen them press on through the dark of night.  But when they do, I’ll be there.  With my talented photographer husband at my side.  On Location.Molly and Rich at Arrowhead 135