Running into the Partridge Family on the Way to Work

Sunday, May 30, 2010
Despite living pretty much all my life in what many people refer to as “the middle of nowhere,” for the most part, I’ve always been able to walk to work. Like any rule, there are exceptions. When I was in London, I took the Tube to work and during my winter in the Twin Cities, I took the bus. Oddly enough, this winter was the first time I had to drive to work consistently. Granted, I do a lot of my work from home now, but I am officially back to walking to work again. Any commute, walking, tubing, driving, or what have you, can get grow stale with time, but I have a feeling my new commute will have plenty of pleasant surprises for a while.

This afternoon I decided to run over to work to drop off some stuff that was just taking up space in my home office and to get myself a little better oriented with the museum’s exhibits and trails when no one else was around.

When I got to the front gate, I decided to take one of the hiking trails in. No sooner did I step on the path, then I saw a partridge walking about confidently in the undergrowth. And heard a “peep, peep, peep.” Two little partridge chicks came scurrying out. One hung close to Mama next to a fallen log. The other chick ran across the path. So little! So fluffy! So cute! I know Mama Partridge isn’t really into having human “peeps” being all up in her nest, so I hung back and waited until the family had reunited and moved on. Which is why I only have a picture of Mama.

So I wandered down the trail. There’s a wildflower trail on the grounds specifically focused on pink stemless moccasin flowers, an orchid. I wasn’t on that trail so I was surprised when I spotted a pink moccasin in full glory right in the middle of the path. For some reason I thought it was too early for these guys, but I suppose it is almost June.

There are a lot of other wildflowers out too: star flower (below), Labrador tea, and false lily of the valley.

I did my thing at work, waited out a rainstorm and headed back home. It wasn’t until I stopped at the side of the road to let a car go by that I realized I’d walked straight past a turtle. I’m not sure why turtles insist that roads are great places to hang out. Last week, during one trip to town, I had to swerve around three of them. I’ll refrain from making the “why did the turtle cross the road?” cliché, but really, what’s going on here? This guy looked pretty spooked, but he was pointed toward the ditch, so I think he was headed in the right direction.
It felt like a treasure hunt. Everywhere I looked, something I hadn’t expected popped up. Who knows what’ll be out there tomorrow?!
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The Grocery Train Came In

Friday, May 28, 2010
Because the main industry in the area is tourism, anyone who’s lived here for any extended period time has had to answer their fair share of stupid odd questions from visitors. The universal favorite such question among locals seems to be “what’s that big river we’ve been driving along for a couple hours now?” (Lake Superior.) But there are other good ones, like “when do deer turn into moose?” Some, more legitimate, questions just grow weary with time such as, “what’s happening to the birch trees?” (A number of things: for one, birch trees don’t have very long life cycles and they’ve also been stressed out by an ice storm, droughts and invasive insects. Also, they die from the top down, which is a big part of why they look so very bad along the highway.)

And then there’s the one I never liked: “what do you do in the winter?” Part of what makes me so hostile to the question is that after graduating from college, I never knew what I was doing in the winter. Again, because of the tourist industry, a lot of jobs around here are seasonal. But there’s also an underlying implication to the question that makes me prickle. It seemed what they were actually asking was “this is lovely place to be in the summer, but you can’t possibly live here all year, can you?” I was never quite sure what to tell them: that we caught a ride on the steamer down to Duluth every October 1st? That we stayed and hitched up our dog sleds every month or so for the grocery/mail run?

Yes, we live 100+ miles from the nearest movie theater (which isn’t usually an issue, except when Sex and the City 2 has been released and you really, really want to go see it, even though you’re sure it’s going to be even worse than the first movie) but despite what we might want to think, we’re really not in the middle of nowhere. Sure, it can be hard to coordinate things like groceries, banking, laundry, and gas when you live 60 miles outside of the nearest town, but we make it work. In a lot of ways, I think it’s probably easier (and dare I say, less running around?) to drive an hour into town on a pretty much empty highway to run errands than it is to run errands in a metro area.

Still, every once in a while, it’s nice when the grocery train comes in. Whenever Andy or I venture out to the big city, we almost always make sure we do a major grocery run. The prices are lower and selection is so much better. (Did I mention that we live in a tourist town?) We mound the grocery cart to the point where I’ve been asked if I’m preparing for a blizzard. You can see the clerk shuttering as you cajole your cart – which by now has locking wheels – into the checkout line.

Andy was out of town at the start of the week and he brought home several hundreds of dollars of groceries back with him. This is good, because while he was gone, I found we didn’t have nearly must food on hand as I had thought. Once I moved around the basically empty jars in the fridge that had been taking up space, I realized we had only a few things in the house that were readily edible: three bagels, stale rice cakes, and lots of mustard.
Things are looking at lot less dire now. I think we’ll have plenty of food for the next month, at least, although we do have to stock up on fresh veggies more often than that. An arrival from the grocery train is always welcome: it’s one less thing to worry about as the busy summer season begins.
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A B.A. Doesn’t Get You Out of Washing Cars

Monday, May 24, 2010
What do you do with a B.A. in English? -- Princeton, Avenue Q

The summer after I graduated from college, I worked at a canoe outfitters. I did a lot of things when I worked there, namely transporting guests to the starting points of their canoe trips and spending a lot of time in the packing room, putting together the guests’ food packs. There was a lot of cleaning involved in the job too and often times, when we were getting low on priority things to do, we were asked to clean the vans that we used to transport guests.

I feel far enough removed from the experience to safely admit that I disliked . . . . no, I abhorred washing and cleaning the vans. It just wasn’t much fun. I hated trying (and usually failing) to get all of the windows completely smudge free. I disliked crawling around the filthy floors with a Shop-Vac.

Indeed, I got pretty good at finding something else to do whenever I feared some van cleaning might be in order. I had a college degree after all. Let the lowly high school graduate (sorry Andrew) take one for the team and scrub down the vans. I didn't spend four years getting a B.A. for nothing. Heck, no was I going to make my living washing cars.

And still . . .

I have known for a while now that my car is certifiably disgusting. Still, I was waiting for the “big ah-ha” that would signal it was time to actually wash the car. When you live pretty far out of town and your driveway is gravel, it can seem pointless to wash your car: it’s just going to get dirty again. But  when I realized I was mildly embarrassed to pick up my car from the mechanic this afternoon, I knew my car was approaching a state of filth that warranted washing. 

As I approached the car, it became apparent. My car was not close to needing to be cleaned; it needed to be cleaned.

There’s been a lot of pollen in the air and what wasn’t in the air, was apparently on my car. That was kind of gross.

But the real clincher was when I realized my car so resembled a bit of nature that a bunch of diarrhea-stricken birds had decided to converge on it in the mechanic’s parking lot.

The abundance of bird shite forced me to take a good hard look at the Corolla, inside and out.

A lot of the gravel driveway had migrated onto the floor.

There had been some trips to town when the coffee jumped out of the mug. (We have travel mugs, we just usually can’t find them.)

So I washed my car. And I Windexed the windows and wiped down the dusty, dusty dashboard. I vacuumed out the whole car. Of course, it really didn’t take that long.

Here’s the shiny Corolla. A bit less sparkly after the 60-mile drive home from town, but sooooo much better.

What do you do with a B.A. in English? Well, for one thing, you can wash cars.

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You hear that?!? BEARS!!

Sunday, May 23, 2010
The other night, the neighboring dog treed a bear. It was just a little bear, only about two years old and probably the same one Andy and I spotted wandering around near the road about a month ago. Last night when I went for a walk after supper, I carefully picked my way around two fairly fresh piles of bear poo. It seems everyone's seen a bear this season.

“I think it’s going to be a bad night,” Andy whispered, just as I was about to fall asleep last night. “I think the bear’s going to get into something tonight.”

"Don't be so creepy," I grumbled.

But I knew he was right to worry. There was garbage in the back of his truck and it seems inevitable that a bear will find its way to the grill on the porch before too long. We've been lackadaisical when it comes to keeping our backyard free of bear smorgasbord.

Still, we found an undisturbed backyard and porch this morning. But we did find a message waiting on the local community website though:
The unseasonable weather may have something to do with the abundance of bears in people territory this spring. Our early, early spring roused the bears at an ungodly hour and with the decided lack of rain, the forest probably hasn’t been offering bears the best eating. I know I get a little bolder when I’ve gotten up too early and can’t find anything decent to eat!

Now, when the dogs around the bay start to bark, I start wondering if there’s a bear afoot. I don’t have a fear of bears, but I’m not exactly seeking out encounters with them either. When it comes to mammals on my porch, I’d rather have something like chipmunks scampering around. But if I expect bears to “stay in the woods” and then I go right ahead and move into the woods, well, it’s not the bears’ fault if my place is the first place they come knocking when food’s scarce.

The bears may be less than thrilled with our spring, but the garden’s so pleased with the warm weather that you can almost watch it grow before your very eyes. In no time at all, there'll be lettuce and arugula to eat.

I’d been worried about putting the little seedlings I’d started inside, thinking they might need a little more coddling before I placed them out in the volatile outdoors. As the plants in the garden have grown and grown this week, the seedlings inside did next to nothing. It seemed apparent that it was time to get the majority of plants into the ground.

Currently, it’s 78 degrees and muggy, making it at least the seventh day in a row with a high in the 70s, if not 80s. It’s hard to feel terribly bothered with “frosts” when the highs are so very high.

Still, if frost isn’t a worry, drought is, for both me and the bears. Another good soaking rain is probably the best way to get the bears back to playing in their gardens and me playing in mine. In a perfect world,
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It hurts, still probably not too sexy for my shirt

Friday, May 21, 2010
During our chilly winters, people around here like to act like we’re crazy for living in such an inclement climate. “Why do we live up here?” we grumble as we pull on our down jackets and stumble outside to plug in our car heaters. We act like we’d rather be in the Bahamas. But when given a choice of getaways, it seems few of us usually opt for some place truly warm and tropical. I’m not sure there’s enough sunscreen in the world to handle the demand if every Minnesotan packed up their bags for Hawaii.

The majority of this week has been warm: sunny with highs in the low 80s. We pretend to like it. “Beautiful!” we gush. But really, it makes us feel like this:

In the heat we wilt like the poor little pepper plant I think I killed on the deck in full south sun yesterday.

We turn into summer refugees. We get cranky, irrational and dehydrated. Deep down, we know we’re programmed for cooler weather.

For instances, last week at trivia everyone was in absurdly good spirits. I should mention that it was about 57 degrees and it had been raining all day. Yesterday, when it was sunny and warm, everyone huddled around the table, looking exhausted and like, maybe, our dogs had all just died.

I once heard that if you’re not exposed to hot temperatures before you turn two, your body limits its development of sweat glands, which is why people from Georgia handle heat a lot better than us cold-blooded Minnesotans. It’s also probably why my feet and fingers swell up like balloons in the heat, making it impossible to remove my Claddagh ring.

When we do travel to warmer locales, like Vegas, we have to strategically plan our warm weather activities so we don’t get sick in the sun.

Please note that the high spirits in this picture can be explained by the fact that it is 10 in the morning and thus, not quite 104 degrees yet. Also note that the sunshirt and big floppy sunhat Donna needs to keep from turning into a tomato required her to check in luggage for this weekend trip.

This Irish skin of mine craves mist and highs in the 60s. It requires a lot of sunscreen. Sometimes, often at the start of the summer, I forget just how much sunscreen is required to maintain my skin’s natural lunar glow. Which explains how this happened:

Who doesn’t like a farmer’s tan, complete with a watch line?

It’s what I get for sitting out in the midday sun for three hours yesterday. From now on, it’s officially sunscreen season.

We love summer around here. We really do. But does it have to be so hot?
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Pythagoras and Black Flies

Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I’m a fan of the smelly stuff. I’m not into expensive perfume, but I do like to start my days with just a touch of lovely smelling body spray. I’m just anal enough to have a winter scent and a summer scent. I once had a coworker kindly describe this personal quirk of mine as “sophisticated.” I think that “eccentric” and “crazy” are probably more apt descriptions, but nonetheless, when snow starts to melt, I reach for my containers of cherry blossom products. When the autumn nip returns, the cherry blossom stuff gets shelved and the vanilla scented products come out. But what I really, really need to learn to do is to stop reaching for the smelly stuff during the summer.

If you’ve spent any time in northern Minnesota in the spring, you know where I’m going with this. Biting insects are fans of the smelly stuff too. “Mmmm,” the little black flies and mosquitoes think when they smell me coming. “What is that . . . a bit of cherry blossom mixed with . . . what’s that? Ohhh, my favorite: BLOOD!”

The black flies made their spectacular entrance into Summer 2010 this week. As I dig in the garden or shovel around gravel in the backyard, the black flies get all riled up and hungry. Right now I’m itching away behind my ears, one of those lovely little spots (ankles are another great place) where the blood is close to the skin and black flies belly up. I know the black flies pollinate the blueberry plants, but I wish they would take a lesson from their fellow pollinators, the bees, and only take a nice chomp out of me when I’ve actually committed a crime against them.

Since I feel the need to spritz myself with a bit of body spray every single morning (if only I could be so consistent with taking my multivitamin) maybe it’s time to replace the smelly products in the bathroom with a big ol’ basket of bug spray.

It seems smelly stuff + black flies = bug bites is theorem nearly as infallible as a2+b2=c2. We’ve been testing out Pythagoras as of late around here. That’s because Andy’s building a shed in the backyard. So far my job in the project is grunt worker and mathematic consultant. Since I took a class entitled “Logic” to complete my analytical reasoning requisite at college, this is pretty terrifying. But it turned out my distant memory of a2+b2=c2 was pretty useful when it came to setting the shed’s corners. Those diagonals can be really helpful!

That’s good, because it’s pretty much all on Andy to turn this into a shed.

I’m sure he’s up to the challenge. I’m happy to help where I can, but I’ve probably pretty much exhausted all and any assistance I have to offer.

It’s been absolutely gorgeous up here, with highs around 80 for the last three days. Kind of a strange time to finish up a sweater, but there you have it.

I’m still trying to gain my equilibrium with the new job. I’d gotten pretty good at the self-employment gig (well, should probably have been making slightly more money) and now it’s time to figure out what this new challenge I’ve taken on is all about.
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Sunday, May 16, 2010
Tomorrow marks my return to gainful employment. That is, tomorrow I will leave the house, perform assigned tasks, record my hours, and after couple weeks, get a check. This is as opposed to my current form of employment in which I plunk down and type away at the computer for hours on end, get a headache, check Facebook, check blogger, eat lunch, go for a walk, eat my second lunch (I may actually be half hobbit), type away at the computer some more and every once in a while get a check in the mail.

To prepare myself for this drastic switch in income method I’ve spent the weekend weeding. Not only did I tackle the quack grass in the garden, I sifted through various other projects that have been languishing around the cabin, trying to weed out and complete what I could. I got all my freelance work finished (well, the deadline is tomorrow), got myself a commentary commentary ahead of schedule, finished a sweater, and even did a semi-final edit on the first radio script.

This weekend was Fishing Opener and it’s hard to imagine a more ideal weekend. Right now there’s a fishing boat bobbing out in the bay in 75 degree weather with just a touch of breeze. It’s really not about the fish on days like this. I bet on openers when it’s spitting snow and rain, it’s a little more about the fish.

The garden loves the warm weather. A bunch of onions poked up yesterday morning and I think there might be some peas joining their ranks as well. Some of the seedlings have spent their weekend out on the deck in the true sunlight for the very first time.

The sweater I finished this afternoon is also sunning itself. I had to block the snot out of the sweater (yep, a technical term meaning to pin the knitted garment down to a flat surface to “set” the stitches so the garment hangs right when it’s worn) because the garment is just ever so slightly too large and I’m trying to shrink the sweater in the sunlight. This might be the equivalent of trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, but it seemed worth a try.

It feels too much like summer to be fussing about a sweater. The whole weekend has had a contented, “Anne of Green Gables” sort of feel, filled with good friends, family, laughter and simple pleasures. If this is summer, I say bring it on.
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Oil and Vinegar; Bikers and Scenic Byways

Thursday, May 13, 2010
Last fall, the road we live off was designated as a National Scenic Byway. The road is confusingly nicknamed “The Gunflint Trail,” leading many a well-intentioned hiker to set off down the 57 miles of paved two-lane highway and wonder if they missed a turn. The road is heavily wooded, curvy and a bit hill, with basically no shoulders to speak of. It truly is a scenic road, but it’s just that: a road, not a trail. And that is why I cringe every time I have to swerve around a biker pedaling down the road in a lane of traffic, like I did on Tuesday.

I should state that I have a couple issues with bikers. For one thing: bike shorts. You can’t tell me that those look good on anyone. If you venture out in public wearing bike shorts you deserve nothing less than a firm tongue lashing from What Not to Wear’s Stacy and Clinton and Project Runway’s Tim Gunn. That’s right. And Tim Gunn.

Also, I can’t seem to shake the feeling that bikers are kind of overly self-satisfied. This is probably just a personal issue, but whenever I drive past a biker looking all environmentally and fitness conscious, I feel this need to yell, “I drive a Toyota Corolla! I’m a good person too!”

The chain fell off my bike when I was fifteen and as such, I have not exactly been out biking a lot in the last decade. In fact, I think I have been on a bike once in that time period: in Ireland’s Aran Islands where the wind blew so hard that we had to petal downhill. I guess seeing bikers always brings up some sort of inferiority complex inside me that stems from never getting that bike of mine back in working condition.

I am so torn by the whole biking thing. I know that it is a wonderful transportation option that keeps not only the rider, but also the environment healthy. But whenever I see a biker, no matter what the circumstances, I am always struck by a sense of impending doom. If I am driving and happen upon a biker, I become convinced that I will hit the biker and they will die. If I observe someone biking in heavy traffic, I become convinced that the biker will be hit and I will watch them die. If I am a pedestrian, I become convinced the biker will hit me and I will die. Needless to say, I was pretty much constantly on the verge of heart attack during our trip to the Pacific Northwest last month, where everyone bikes.

All jokes about death aside, it is a huge concern. When I was little, one of my mom’s coworkers was struck by a motorist while he was biking into work. Luckily he was wearing a helmet (which split into two pieces) and after a long time hooked up to all sorts of machines in the hospital, he was okay. But he was very, very lucky; there have been fatal biking accidents here too.

A couple summers ago, a guy came into my workplace at the time and asked about biking on the Gunflint Trail. “Oh please don’t do that,” I gasped. “There’s no shoulder. There are curves and people driving won’t see you in the middle of the road until they’re on top of you.” His partner snorted. “We’ll be fine,” she said. I tried to convince them that they didn’t understand the danger. I might even have done some clutching at my heart. I think the guy thought I was going to cry. I thought I might cry too.

I guess it comes down to this: I know you should be able to bike wherever you want. I know that it is the right, smart thing to do. I wish there was the infrastructure across the country where motorists and bikers could coexist in harmony.

But this is not one such harmonious place. Here it is dangerous to bike. So if you must bike on a scenic byway, please be careful and realize that not only are you putting yourself at risk, you’re also put the motorists who must swerve around you in a less than ideal situation as well.
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Spring Times Two: Babies and Wildflowers

Tuesday, May 11, 2010
The old adage in northern Minnesota when it comes to seasons is that we don’t really have seasons. Rather, we get “winter, mud season, and a week of summer.” But really, it seems we have two sorts of springs up here in the Northwoods. The first spring comes with a trickle of water, a nub of pussywillow, when the snow begins to recede. With a chilly promise of green and growth, the first spring ushers in the dreaded mud season when the outside world become a mess of muck and dead grass.

Then, a month or two later, the second spring materializes. When things are actually green. When wildflowers start to peep out from the forest’s floor.

Gradually, we’ve been entering into that lovely second spring when it starts to seem like summer might really be coming after all. The strawberry and blueberry plants have been flowering for a couple weeks. I know people have been seeing violets up here for a while now, but I didn’t stumble across my first one of the year until Andy and I were out punting about for morel mushrooms on Sunday.

(No morel luck: not even false ones. Despite getting a bit of moisture last week, things remain pretty crispy out in the woods and on Sunday, I crunched my way through what was last year a very fruitful field of blueberries.)

If you spy a blooming violet, chances are your gaze will fall on a clump of wood anemones. These equally miniature spring wildflowers (violets and anemones are probably only about 4 inches above the ground) are out in full force. I love finding wildflowers and pointing them out to others, but goodness “anemone” is a hard word to say. I always feel like I’m trapped in Finding Nemo when I yell out to Andy that I found “an anemonemone. Amnemonemomne.”

As we drove home from the ill-fated morel hunt, we spotted a yearling moose beside the road. That must mean that Mama Moose has had this spring’s baby (or babies – they seem prone to twins.) When the new babies arrive, the yearling moose who have been hanging out with Mom all winter get the boot so Mom can devote her time to her infant(s). Oh, the joys of being an older sibling.

With this second spring promising summer, Andy’s been busy getting the gardens all set for the summer planting.
It’s looking really good.

Meanwhile, I’ve done a second seed planting inside to hopefully make up for all the seeds that didn’t sprout the first go-around. I’ve always had a soft spot for Four O’Clock flowers, so of course everything else I planted sprouted while the peat pots with the Four O’Clock seeds have just sat there and rudely sprouted a couple strands of grass and nothing else. We’ll just give that a second try, shall we.
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Life for Rent

Monday, May 10, 2010
If my life is for rent and I don't learn to buy,
well I deserve nothing more than I get
cause nothing I have is truly mine

Since graduating from college three years ago this month (May 13, 2007, to be exact) I have moved seven times.
Granted, they haven’t all been big moves (but some have): two of the moves were back to my childhood bedroom in my parents’ house. Technically, I’ve moved to my parents’ house three times in this time period, but since I spent last summer bopping around between my parents’ house on weeknights and the Shack and the cabin on my days off, I’m not sure what exactly we’re calling last summer. Living out of a suitcase?

The point is, that since graduating from college and supposedly “getting on with my life,” my life has fallen into a haphazard cycle of six-month periods that involve a different job and a different living space. All of my belongings have not all been at the same residency since I was 18. As much as great trips like the recent New York City trip can inspire me to throw away dreams of a permanent life and instead spend my life jetting off to fascinating locales, there’s a deeper part of me that’s ready for this spiral of six-month periods in my life to settle down into something a little more linear.

I am twenty-five. My plan is to heck through the world with a B.A. until a master’s degree proves necessary. So far, so good, at least when it comes to making a living with a B.A. in English. (Garrison Keller references at this point are strongly frowned down on.) Yet, I’m far enough removed from my collegiate experience to be ready for my life to settle into a more natural ebb and flow of seasons instead of being a revolving door of change. It seems as though life might be headed in that direction, but I’ll let you know how things look in six months.

I can tell you one thing, it’s high time to stop listening to NPR’s Marketplace. Every time, I happen to listen to that show, I find myself worried about paying off student loans. I wonder if I've already missed the boat on saving for retirement. I start to feel the need to be a fiscally responsible adult. Then I remember that I’m an English major.

Finances are pretty straightforward when you’re a freelance writer. Since I have no money, I manage my finances with one cardinal rule: Spend as little as possible. Whatever’s left over gets sat on. Is that for retirement? I’m not really sure. It seems like a decent idea.

Lately, Andy keeps bring up the idea of buying property before the real estate market turns around. Logically, it makes pretty decent sense. But to be honest, I find it all to terrifying, too “grown-up” to truly contemplate. (I suppose when you reach the point of needing a plant sitter for your houseplants, you’ve probably stumbled across the bridge into adulthood without knowing it.) I’d rather not deal with questions about loans and mortages. I’m even less excited to deal with the more pressing question: where do I really want to be for the foreseeable future?

Right now, I look up from my computer to stare out the window, where water laps at the lake’s shallows. If this is life for rent, things are pretty good. But that chicken coop I sometimes dream of isn’t going to materialize until I learn to buy.
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Greening Up the Gunflint

Sunday, May 9, 2010
For the past four years (three years in an official capacity), the local community has set aside a weekend each May to focus on forest regeneration. Originally, the reforestation began because of the people of the community was hungry for some solidarity. After the 2007 Ham Lake Fire experience, people wanted to plant trees, not just to replace the trees that had been lost in the fire but also to regain a sense that life and the forest were both returning to a more normal, familiar pace of things. In the May 2007, a group of neighbors gathered to plant trees in the areas burnt over by the Ham Lake Fire. And they kept planting little white seedlings during the two Mays that followed, only this time they invited others to join them and dubbed the event “Gunflint Green Up.” It was quite the success. In 2008, 500 people gathered that May weekend to plant trees along the Gunflint Trail.

I have always been on the edges of this fire and subsequent events. I was finishing up my degree when the actual fire burnt and for the last two years work has kept me an arm’s length away from the Green Up events. So somehow, this past weekend ended up being my first Green Up. We didn’t plant trees. Instead we “released” them.

(One of the things I’m most excited about with my new summer job is that I think it’ll be much less likely that I’ll be called “Ranger Ada” this summer. That doesn’t mean I don’t mind acting like “Ranger Ada” every once in a while.)

That’s right, we poked around the burnt areas looking for trees that had already been planted and then we trimmed brush and undergrowth away from them. The organizers warned us yesterday that finding the little white pine seedlings might be a little like an Easter egg hunt. The area we were assigned to clear out was pretty brushy and it was hard to tell if past year’s planters had actually ventured through the heavy undergrowth to plant trees. Andy and I spent a lot of time smashing our shins against fallen, charcoal tree trunks and picking twigs out of our hats. At one point we thought we heard a moose splashing around in a nearby bay, so I spent a good ten minutes crashing through the woods to find, you guessed it, a now very moose free bay.

We did find some little seedlings and clipped away undergrowth to let the sunshine in. We pulled bindweed away and nipped a raspberry, dogwood, alder and aspen that could crowd out the white pine seedlings and rob them of nutrients.

When we got back to the cabin, we planted some white spruce trees around the property.

It’s hard to know if the little seedlings we found yesterday will someday grow to be the towering trees with their cloudlike branches of needles that (along with the moose) have become somewhat iconic symbols of the region. It’s unlikely that all six of the white spruce trees we planted yesterday will really take off. But we gave some trees a little better chance to survive what Mother Nature might have in store for them and if they do, this corner of the world will be just a little bit greener.

Last but not least, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! We love you, so much.
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A Day Off of Sorts

Friday, May 7, 2010

The seedlings are starting to pop up!

Things have been kind of nutty around here lately. (To think the full-time job hasn’t begun yet!) We’re pretty well settled into the new living space for the summer, but there still remains a sense of transition. This morning, as I prepared to help out with a filming about my summer employer, I realized I didn’t know where my matching mittens, hat, and scarf were. It was 40 degrees and I was supposed to be filmed outside. All I could find was a black polka dot scarf, teal gloves, and a navy blue beret. So I went bareheaded and sans mittens and sniffled my way through it. Now I’m back in the cabin, nursing a cup of cocoa. The weather which was so unseasonable for the last two months has taken a turn for the seasonable. We have rain/snow mix predicted today.

It seems lately, my days have been disintegrating into splinters of themselves. It’s been feeling as though I’m back in college, cramming for finals once again. I have fond memories of college, but those three weeks or so leading up to finals every college semester are not times in my life I would voluntarily repeat. On two separate occasions, I wrote a ten + page paper over a weekend, from outline to bibliography, doing all of my research on Saturday and all of my writing on Sunday.  (I should note that in both cases, the professors had outlined their courses so you were meant to work on the paper over the course of, pretty much, the entire semester.) Somehow, no matter how things get planned out, I always end up with cram sessions. And it is a cram session in which I exist at the current moment.

But there’s only so much running around for interviews and research and phone tag, a person can take. So I’m taking the day off. I wrote a radio commentary this morning, did the filming thingamajig before lunch, and now I am blogging. I think that will be it for the day. I might even stoke the fire and sit down with the Anne Lamott book I’ve been meaning to read since December. If the weekend goes as I think it may, it’s going to be busy. So I think I’ll tuck in a quiet moment before the last big push of freelance work takes place next week.

For one thing, it’s been ages since I’ve read through an entire Funds for Writers newsletter. C. Hope Clark’s weekly newsletter comes out every Friday afternoon and it’s pretty much the definitive guide out there for writers looking for any sort of funding for their craft: be it grants, freelance markets, residencies, you name it. Since the start of April, I’ve skimmed through the weekly emails (and the bi-weekly Total Funds for Writers). Although I’m currently not searching for funding, I always look forward to reading Hope’s editor comments and I feel like the newsletters help me keep on top of the writing industry as a whole. I’ll be glad to take the time it takes to read through today’s newsletter in its entirety this afternoon.

Whatever this weekend finds you doing, I hope you at least have a moment or two filled with whatever makes your heart happiest. Happy Friday!
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The Morel Mystery or Marooned by Mushrooms in Minnesota?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010
In the early part of last summer, Andy and I spent a bit of time poking around in the woods, searching for the elusive morel mushrooms. I was researching an article about fire regeneration, so it made sense to take a gander for the mushrooms while I was out snapping pictures of forest regrowth. Morels are reportedly known to pop up in burnt areas in the two – three year window after a forest fire.

Today marks the three-year anniversary of the Ham Lake Wildfire’s start, which burnt approximately 75,000 acres. In some ways, it hard to believe the traumatic spring of 2007 is three years past. But the forest itself has rebounded beautifully and that means that magical window for morels may be closing. If there were ever morels out there to begin with . . . .

That’s where the debate comes in.

Morels are definitely to be found in the southern reaches of Minnesota. Andy and I talked to some fellow morel mushroom hunters yesterday and they said morels were popping up all over the place in Indiana last week. The old timers swear they used to find morels up here. I believe “trash bags” was used as a unit of measurement. But the old timers are also stingy on details and they’re not saying where exactly they found enough morels to fill trash bags.

Last year Andy and I searched and searched. We looked in places where people had hinted at finding morels in the past. We look on high ground, we look on low ground. We look under burnt logs, around tree trunks. All we ever came across were false morels.
These brain-resembling mushrooms are fun to come across (and as amateur mushroom hunters, whenever we stumbled upon some we would assure each other that “we must be on the right track”) but the mushrooms aren’t good eating. I don’t think they’re poisonous, per se, but I also don’t think you’d feel really great if you sautéed them up in garlic butter and tossed them in pasta. Andy maintains that the only place he’s ever seen morels was at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, where they sold for about $40 per pound.

So the hunt continues.

We set out on Sunday afternoon and found some bitty false morels.

We also found a ton of flowering blueberry bushes. That’s the beautiful of searching for something elusive: you never know what extraordinary thing you might find instead.

We did some good news on the morel front over the last 24 hours though.


Mushrooms are known to spring up after a rainfall so there could be some morels lurking out in the newly hydrated forest right now.

Now the trick is to find time to hunt for them. I spent the better part of the day in the car, driving around to interviews. The upside is that I got some great material for a couple projects I’m working on. However, I’m far too road weary for any great mushroom quest. Perhaps I’ll settle for a nice cup of tea.
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Death by Noodles

Monday, May 3, 2010
For Christmas, Andy gave me a Thai cookbook. We cook a fair amount of rice-based, noodley, tofu-ish stuff and I was happy to have a go-to guide to Thai cooking instead of having to rely on search engines for my Thai food cooking forays. While helpful in some regards, I feel as though the internet has yet to replace the value of a good cookbook when it comes to recipes.

Over the past few months, we’ve been experimenting with the cookbook with pretty much across the board successes, with the exception of one rather bland stir-fry. I’ve been wanting to cook more from the book, but haven't always had the time and usually lack some key ingredient. Although at the moment I’m busy with plenty of freelance stuff, my time is fairly unstructured and I find myself with the time and inclination to make more creative dinners. On Saturday night, I made a noodley chicken and broccoli dish that was wonderful. Last night, after a trip to town for ingredients, I decided to whip up some Chiang Mai noodles which calls for, among other things, coconut milk, curry powder, shitake mushrooms, red peppers, celery and peanuts. It seemed hard to go wrong.

I browned the minced garlic in the oil and stirred in 2 tablespoons of red curry paste. 2 tablespoons?!

Yup. 2 Tablespoons. 
It seemed a little spicy to me (I don’t think I’ve ever used more than a teaspoon of red curry paste in a recipe before) but it was what the recipe called for, so I forged ahead. Half an hour later, we sat down to dinner.

I tentatively took a bite. It was spicy. Really spicy at that. After about three bites, I felt as though my mouth was glowing. My lips seemed to reverberate with heat. My face might have turned a little red. I wasn’t sure I could make it through the whole bowl of food. The heat was so intense it masks any other flavors in the dish.

“Whew,” said Andy, setting down his bowl of noodles to take a break from the heat. “That’s really spicy stuff. I mean, that’s really hot, I mean . . .”

He took another bite. Then he threw up: all over a batch of clips I’d been meaning to scan into my portfolio. (He claims he bit the inside of his mouth and that's what trigger this incident, but I have my doubts.)

“Throw it out,” Andy gasped as he ran to the fridge to get a glass of cold water.

But those shitake mushrooms were expensive. I didn’t want to waste them. So I popped the remaining noodles back into the colander. I filled up the bowl the noodles had been in with water and dumped the bowl of water over the noodles in the colander. Noodles with a Curry Wash. It worked perfectly. The awful spiciness went down the drain, leaving behind the noodles' more delicate flavors and just a hint of spice. It still wasn’t the best thing in the world. But we were able to eat it and now there’s just a small container of leftovers in the fridge.

Today seems like such a Monday. Things are getting done, kind of. Mostly the day has been a nightmare of correspondence in which I make plans to get things done. Well, that’s something at least. I should get one article draft done before the end of the afternoon and should also tackle some reading I need to do for another project. There's a drudgery of housework that could use some attention, but that can wait just a bit longer.
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Welcome Back

Sunday, May 2, 2010
Minnesota’s state bird, the common loon, doesn’t winter in the state. Instead, in the middle of November, loons head down to the Gulf of Mexico, where they stay into April. Sometimes they head home to find the Minnesota lakes pretty well iced over, but this year with our early spring, they came home to open waters.
When I was thirteen, my family went on a Civils Rights Tour (until I started college, I assume all families had themed vacations) down through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. When we were in Biloxi, MS, we had a chance to head out into the Gulf on a fishing boat. As we were nearing the harbor at the end of the cruise, one of the other tourists pointed at a large grey bird swimming alongside the boat. “What’s that?” the person asked the captain. My brother and I both rolled our eyes. For crissakes. Couldn’t they see it was a loon?!

But when loons are in the South, they loose their distinctive tuxedo of feathers that they don all summer long, nor do they sing while in the Gulf. In essence, loons become recluses in the winter and as a result, people in the South aren't nearly as enamored by these solid boned divers as we are up here. So we’re really glad to have our loons back in northern waters. They just narrowly escaped being victims of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill.
Of course, there are plenty of birds and other marine wildlife who will be affected by this massive environmental disaster. It makes me sick to think that this oil spill is worse than Exxon Valdex. I wish there was something tangible I could do to help with the Gulf disaster, but it seems like the best thing we can do is reduce our dependency on oil, foreign or not.

I’m also glad to be back in the Northwoods. I had a wonderful time in New York City and it sounds as though the NYPD and other city officials did an excellent job defusing the amateur bomb in Times Square and managing the situation last night. But I’m okay with having been removed from that drama by a good 1000 miles. We feel pretty safe up here in the middle of the Continent. But with lots and lots of wind this weekend, and not too much rain, everyone’s worried about potential wildfire.
The seedlings are just starting to plant from their sunny spot on the kitchen table. This morning, three cosmos seedlings were stretching out in the light of day. Andy’s been putting lots of time into revamping the garden beds outside. With a bit of luck, the kitchen table will be overflowing with seedlings to plant in those beds in no time.
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