Winter Water

If I had any doubts about winter’s arrival, it only took a trip up the North Shore to the Canadian border and beyond to confirm it.  While patchy snow powdered Duluth, the more northern climes delivered deeply flocked pines and enough snow on the ground to make boots a necessity.  Not exactly typical waterfall weather, but that was the whole attraction.

It took two stops at Kakabeka Falls north of Thunder Bay to catch in it bathed in sunlight.  Afternoon delivered the warmth and light we sought, and transformed the view into a thunderous sparkling delight.

Kakabeca Falls in winter Rich at Kakabeca Falls

Pushing further north, we ventured in search of Silver Falls.  Following unplowed roads into the park of the same name, we stopped to hike at Dog Lake.  With only vague directions to the falls, we declined the remaining narrowing white road onward.  Silver Falls await a return visit.

Molly hiking at Dog Lake

Just at the border, High Falls in Grand Portage State Park graced us with sunshine once again.  The Pigeon River flowed with gusto, even as its borders froze into creamy icicles.  Especially intriguing was watching the water falling behind the thinner icy patches.

High Falls in winter High Falls closeup

While Rich stopped to investigate the water fowl in the bay at Grand Marais, I found yet another water feature in the crystal remnants of recent wave action.

Icy bushes Grand Marais

The best part of all?  We had every single one of these sights to ourselves.  Apparently, we were the only ones out in search of winter water.

Kindness Rocks

It was the kind of activity that transcended ages.  Crossed cultural boundaries.  Steeped in good will.  The perfect activity for our visiting Czech family.

Surprisingly, it came as part of our farm share.  Our CSA farmer, Heather-Marie from Rising Phoenix Community Farm, does a lot more than provide us with bountiful fresh organic veggies all summer long.  She focuses on the community aspect as well.  Once a month she hosts social events for all the families that she feeds.  This time it was the Kindness Rocks Project.

Gathering on a warm summer afternoon at Hartley Nature Center, we found picnic tables laden with rocks and a supply of paints, paint pens and Mod Podge.  The idea was to paint the rocks with inspirational messages or pictures.  While I struggled to come up with designs, the girls dug in and swiftly produced colorful rocks with fun sayings.  Although we encouraged them to paint some Czech sayings, with a little help from their mom they turned out catchy English phrases and cute illustrations.  Soon the table tops filled with colorful rocks, created by young and old alike.

Pavla and girls painting rocks Rich and HeatherMarie painting rocks

The art project was fun, but it was only the beginning.  Next came the Kindness part.  Megan Murphy is the creator of this national movement, which “encourages people to leave rocks painted with inspiring messages along the path of life.”  The idea is that one message just might change someone’s whole day.  Our next step would be to find homes for our rocks.

I had thought we might scatter them during our travels and adventures over the next few weeks of their visit.  But forgetfulness meant the rocks were all still waiting in the garage on the last night of their stay.  An excursion was immediately organized, so that we could complete the mission.Kindness Rocks

Judging by the enthusiasm of the effort, the joy in clambering over giant rocks, the appeal in depositing the messages in secret hidey holes, this part of the project was a highlight of their stay.  The rock pile soon diminished, creating a rich repository of inspiration for future visitors.  Pavla translated the girls’ words for us: “Better than a playground.”

Bibi with Kindness Rocks Elenka with Kindness RocksBibi and Elenka hiding rocks

I had thought some rocks might make their way back to the Czech Republic to await being found there.  But it was far too much fun to plant them on the shores of Lake Superior.  Leaving the world with a little more kindness was the perfect finale to a wonderful visit.

Molly and Rich with Pavla and girls

 

Putting the Family back in Camping

The texts flew fast and furiously between family members. As the week wore on, the frequency intensified.

“Does someone have an extra sleeping bag we can use?”

“Anyone bringing bags?” Response: “I’m bringing trash bags.” Clarification: “Uh…the game bags?”

“Here’s a link to a spreadsheet to sign up for group meals. Each family will cook one breakfast or dinner.”  We could count on Carl to get us organized.

“S’mores! I’ll bring that stuff!”  Erik had his priorities.

“We’re running out of room. We travel with the kitchen sink these days.” That from Karen, mother of four.

“I think the whole point of car camping is to bring way too much stuff.” Little did we know just what Carl meant by that comment.

It was the first family camping trip since we took our kids to the Boundary Waters 15 years ago. That outing numbered 5 family members and required just two small tents. For this camp-out the same offspring spawned a total count of 9 adults, 7 kids and 2 dogs, including our Czech daughter, Pavla, and her two daughters.

Emanating from Ostrava, Duluth, the Twin Cities and Milwaukee we converged on Great River Bluffs State Park. Filling four campsites with six tents, we gathered to spend two days together in the great outdoors.

Camping with kids ranging from 3 months old to 11 years was pretty brave – especially when it was a first-time experience for all of those kiddos.  Even the adults faced some challenges.  Karen surprised everyone by cheerfully forgoing her careful hair styling for the weekend.  Pavla agreed to the trip thinking we meant sleeping in “campers.”  Despite the snafu in translation, she and her girls quickly adapted to the more primitive tenting conditions.

Anticipating this weekend, I’m certain we all envisioned sunny warm days and crisp cool nights. In reality, we arrived in high heat and humidity under ominous clouds, and barely got our tents up before the monsoon-like rains descended. At the same time, Rich and I discovered that a tent, two sleeping bags and sleep mats were still sitting on the floor of our garage at home. It was an easy decision to scuttle our dinner cookout and nestle into the nearest pizzeria for the duration. A quick detour via Walmart solved the missing tent problem.

Nobody slept well. Little bodies wiggled. Bugs bugged them. Night fears erupted. Young ones rose with the sun.  Even those of us without youthful charges struggled in the heat. But it’s camping. It’s all part of the experience.

Although morning brought soggy conditions and stifling humidity, the group mustered on. Wads of mud collected on our shoes as we hiked. Bug spray permeated our pours. Clothing collected grime. A legion of lawn chairs drifted between campsites for meals.  Pavla learned a new saying, “like herding cats.” And smiles persisted.Family camping breakfastA trip to the beach on the Mississippi River soothed our sweaty bodies and itchy bug bites.  Ice cream cones on the return trip sealed the pleasure.  Big kids blew bubbles for little kids.  Erik and Katie gained favored status by sharing their new puppy.  A reluctant campfire finally caught and lulled us with its mesmerizing glow.  I basked in the revelation that my only requirement for the weekend was to sit, visit, play and drink in the presence of my family.Family camping swimmingFamily camping bubblesThe fact that the World Cup finals were scheduled for 10am Sunday morning gave little pause for concern to the sports enthusiasts in the family. At the appointed hour, those lawn chairs made their final pilgrimage to Carl and Chelsea’s tent site. A flat screen TV running off the car battery grabbed the local broadcast signal and game snacks graced the picnic table. Game on!  Although I chose an alternate activity, walking the dogs with the moms and kids, I had to admire the ingenuity.Family camping World Cup gameFamily camping hikingTexts flew once again on the way home and signaling safe arrivals.  Judging by the frequency of the term “great camping weekend” I’d say it was a success.  I hope it’s not another 15 years before we do this again.Hoeg Family Camping

 

Enjoying the Season

It’s that time of year again.  Not quite mud season.  Worse.  The piles of snow left on the ground have guaranteed this late winter phenomenon – thaw, puddle, refreeze, ice.  It wreaks havoc with sidewalks, creating skating rinks overnight.  It makes ski trails into luge runs in the morning, and slush in the afternoons.

This in-between season has forced me to modify my outdoor activities.  A creature of habit, I too often get in a rut, reluctant to vary my routine.  But Mother Nature is showing me that change has its rewards.

Lester River Trail

A hike on the Lester River Trail proved to be a viable option last week.  I found that rather than focusing on a workout on my skis, I could just meander and take in the snowy sights in the very same woods.  The trails were firmly packed by fat tire bikes and foot traffic, making travel easy.  It was an entirely different experience.  I was far more attuned to my surroundings.

At the Lester River overlooks, I wondered if I might have snowshoed up the riverbed.  But the sound of flowing water and open spots in the ice told me otherwise.  I was content to admire and follow my beaten path.  All was quiet on that weekday afternoon, making it a most peaceful venture.

One look at the puddles on the Lakewalk was enough to reroute my morning run.  Heading out before dawn, I have moved to the dry pavement of the Scenic Highway shoulders.  As a bonus, I have a perfect view of the sunrise over the lake.  One day a deep red line glows across the horizon.  The next a pale orange hue hangs above the low clouds.  The sun’s rays skitter across the lake.

By the time I turn around to head home, the low sun illuminates the snowy mounds that line the lakeshore.  Adjacent to the deep blue water, the face of the snowbanks reflects the sunlight. The backsides are bluey shadows.  It’s a color pattern that never grows old.  I watch it for miles.

Reaching via Brighton Beach, I find a new scene every day.  Over the weekend when the wind was calm, the water’s surface froze into a fine mirror.  Its thin veneer perfectly reflected the rocks, snow and ice.  The picture of calm.

Brighton Beach ice 1

I returned later in the day to see what sculptures the wind had made with the fragile ice.  Sure enough, ice shards lay stacked in random fashion on the shore, glinting in the sunlight.  As I walked the shore to take in Nature’s art work, I kept hearing an eerie whining sound.  I turned to see rocks skidding across the surface of the ice, as if they were miniature curling stones.  The resulting harmonics emanated from the rocks, changing pitch as they slowed and then stopped.  I wondered how the responsible adults figured out this musical phenomenon.

Brighton Beach ice 2

This morning brought an entirely different experience.  Once again traveling through Brighton Beach, I caught sight of Rich taking photographs.  Following the trajectory of his camera brought this image into view:

I don’t know what possessed these young men to ride their fat tire bikes off the ice bergs to plunge into Lake Superior, but it was enough to stop me mid-run to watch.  (To see Rich’s video, click here.)  I may have found new ways to enjoy the outdoors this season, but I will stop short of trying this one.

 

The Alternative to Skiing

The shuttle deposited us in a sea of deep white snow.  Just me, Susan and our snowshoes, and a big sign marking the entrance to the Superior Hiking Trail adjacent to Sugarloaf Road.  “It’s well marked,” the driver told us.  But once in the woods, the trail was just a vague indentation in the snow.

She promised us we’d need our snowshoes, as opposed to the other trails near the highway.  “Those are so well used, you can walk them in your boots.”  We went for virgin territory, and we got it.

Snowshoeing SHT

Ahead, tall tree trunks cast long shadows, crisscrossing the soft white snow.  Baby pines, the next generation of towering trees, added green décor complimenting the deep blue of the sky beyond.  The enticing scene beckoned.

This was a cross-country ski trip, but we had abandoned our skis for the day.  The day before, the cold temperatures and chilling wind tested our mettle skiing the frosty trails, speed whipping away our meager warmth faster than we could generate it.  So we decided on a day tromping through the woods instead.

We didn’t have to go far before we had tracks to follow.  Animal tracks.  Plenty of deer scampered around.  Rabbits left their signature imprint.  Some tiny critter stamped out a precise symmetrical trail, a perfect wintry zipper.  But it was the wolf imprints that held our gaze.  Impossibly large, they forged ahead on the trail.  Other padded feet came and went, but these tracks stayed with us for the duration of our hike.  I hoped our canine companion knew how to read the blue blazes to keep us on the right trail.

High in the sky, the bright sun delivered warmth whenever it reached us.  In the dark shadows of the trees, the temperature plummeted.  The deep silence of the woods was broken only by the plunge and shuffle of our snowshoes.  Gasps of delight, and “oh this is so beautiful” escaped our lips, confirming the choice we’d made for the day’s activity.

Susan snowshoeing SHT

Reaching the ridgeline, the trees thinned and we had the promised expansive views of the lake.  Traveling high above the shoreline we could see for miles, a full 180° or more.  Each creek we crossed had some form of a wooden bridge – a reassuring sign we were still on the trail.  Crossing Crystal Creek was the most challenging, scrambling down a deep ravine to reach the covered bridge at the bottom.  Climbing back up the other side proved to be easier.

Snowshoeing SHT 1

The sudden appearance of numerous snowshoe tracks marked our approach to the Caribou River.  The spur route down to the parking lot was impossible to miss.  Already missing our wilderness route, we followed the river and admired its icy formations as we returned to our car.

I’ve hiked bits and pieces of the Superior Hiking Trail through the years.  It’s a treasure that’s easily taken for granted.  This winter excursion reminded me how the seclusion of the trail works its magic.   During that trek the rest of the world fell away. My mind rambled as I paced.  I reveled in the nature surrounding me.  And I never regretted skipping skiing that day.

Molly snowshoeing SHT

 

Following the Elephant Tracks

There used to be loads of blackberries on this trail. I remember a year when we picked two full ice cream buckets full. Today we each carry a bucket in hopeful anticipation, but it seems to be overkill. Where are the berries?

I’m at the cabin, with my sister Betsy and her husband Bill visiting from New York. Deciding to hike the nearby trails in Suomi Hills, I see a good opportunity to take stock of the berry status. Normally we pick blackberries over Labor Day weekend, but just in case we tote buckets on this foray.

The trail is overgrown with high grass and thick foliage. The well worn path in my memory has disappeared, but is still navigable. The side growth is equally dense, packed with tall bushes, ferns and vegetation that is not blackberry vines.

Betsy blackberry picking Long past the point where I once found the first blackberries, I spot some. Sparsely intermingled with the other plants, they are far from abundant. The vines we do find are anything but ripe. They range from green immaturity to pinkish red “getting there.” We call them vines with plenty of potential. Just now, they hold only one or two fully ripe blackberries ready to fall from the grasp of the vine. And we claim them. Oddly, others look past their prime. They have either lost their berries already or literally withered on the vine into hard brown dried up knobs. Our harvest is meager.

Bill blackberry pickingThe hike turns into a stroll. A search for the berries. Eyes scanning the undergrowth, we seek out our treasure. Farther along the path, the blackberry presence multiplies. More ripe berries per vine, more vines per square yard. Hope is renewed.  Venturing into the brush to reach the more succulent fruit, the persistent thorns tear at our clothing and skin. We are ill clad for this endeavor. Sweaters and fleece are prime targets, catching on the least of the prickers. Exposed skin below our shorts take the brunt of the sharp barbs, bearing scratches in all directions. But still we pursue those berries just beyond our reach.

Molly Betsy Bill w blackberriesIn the deep thickets, there is evidence of those who have preceded us. They leave behind large swaths of trampled vegetation in their efforts to reach the berries beyond reach from the trail. I call them elephant tracks. Making no effort to walk with care, these foragers leave destruction in their path. Unkindly, I am convinced the culprits are of the human variety. Berry pickers with no consideration for nature. I dismiss the possibility that it could be animals on the same hunt.

These blatant paths lead to more blackberries, I’m certain. And I make a mental note to pack my hiking pants and a windbreaker for my next trip to the cabin a week hence. Because I will be back. Hopefully my timing will coincide with the next round of ripening. And I will be fully equipped to reach the farthest berries. When I follow the elephant tracks.

Our sweet reward

When the Sun Shines

The wind whips through the newly sprouted leaves on the trees, their shadows a fluttering dappled pattern on the deck.  Beyond, the sky is that classic deep blue with small cottony puffs floating here and there.  The sun is warm on my face as I type, drinking it all in.  When the sun shines, I have to be out in it.  I’ll endure the dim laptop screen in preference to my superior computer setup inside.  The sunshine is too precious to waste.

One of the greatest benefits of retirement is the loss of distinction between the days.  No longer do we have to confine our activities to weekends.  Nor do we have to take our holidays when the calendar schedules them.  So we took our own Memorial Day Weekend early, based on the weather forecast.  We chose the days when the sun would be shining.

Our first priority was to do some cycling.  Between Rich’s back injury this winter and alternate travels by car and plane this spring, we had yet to cover any significant miles.  Finding that lodging was difficult, even midweek, we chose two 55 mile out-and-back day trips using the cabin as our base.

Mississippi RiverThe first followed the Great River Road from Jacobson to Palisade.  The Mississippi River meandered back and forth in that stretch, greeting us roadside every now and then.  We had the route to ourselves, and reveled in some wildlife sightings.   A deer crossed in front of us, followed by a wolf.  He paused to give Rich at Palisade Cafeus a glance but resumed his original pursuit.  A skunk stopped me abruptly, blocking my path down the shoulder.  I felt it was not worth risking his wrath to pass.  Rich followed a porcupine into the woods, as the critter spread his back quills in a showy display as he fled.

We found lunch at the Palisade Cafe.  Your typical small town cafe with ceramic roosters and memorabilia  adorning the shelves, the waitress knew the locals’ orders before they uttered a word.  Sampling the local offerings, we recharged our batteries for the return trip.

The next day took us far north.  Driving to Littlefork we cycled from there to Lake  Kabetogama on the border.  The sun shone gloriously all day and like the day before we benefited from good pavement and lack of traffic.  We made our way to the Voyageurs National Park Visitor Center.  Although it was not yet open for the season, it did give us access to the lake and a view of its blue expanse.   This time it was breakfast that we ate at the Rocky Ledge. The area was heavily populated with resorts, and the staff was bracing for the onslaught of the holiday weekend.  That morning, however, we were the sole customers.Molly overlooking Lake KabetogamaVisitor Center on Lake KabetogamaIt felt good to be back in the saddle and doing multi-day rides  Naturally I became anxious to get out touring again. It also told us we were not quite ready.  We were grateful for a tailwind to push us home that day as we began to tire, and our sore bottoms were evidence that we needed more time in the saddle.  But it was a start.

Molly feet in boatNestled back in the cabin, we stayed on for two more days, while the sun shone.  The lake was still quiet, with few cabins occupied yet in advance of the weekend.  We had the place to ourselves.  It reminded me why I love being there so much, particularly when the weather is nice.  By the time it began to cloud up on Saturday, we were packing up to go home.

We missed spending Memorial Day at the cabin.  But we also avoided the rainy days.  We made our own holiday weekend, when the sun was shining.