Tag Archives: winter

Molasses

We just took a four day vacation to Minnesota’s North Shore, staring at the awesome expanses of Lake Superior, skiing, snowshoeing, reading, sleeping, eating and doing nothing at all. Aside from playing outdoors and relaxing indoors, we also visited some old friends of my parents who have found a wonderful place for their retirement in Grand Marais. And we saw a singer-songwriter who I used to be friends with in high school but who I haven’t seen in several years, during which time she has done quite well in the past year or two. There’s a good chance those two facts are related. Or possibly it’s just that she has it all: an amazing voice, a talent for songwriting, great confidence on stage, and passion. She put on a wonderful show Friday night in Grand Marais.

I don’t have a lot more to say about the vacation, but we did snap a few photos that I thought were worth sharing.

Alone

Sign
Some inconsiderate moose walked right down the groomed ski tracks. I tell ya…

Through

One Foot
On a river in the Superior National Forest off the Gunflint Trail.

Explore

Small

Relation
At Temperance River State Park.

Emerge

Size

Hostile

Creak
Taconite plant.

Homeward
Driving through Deb‘s neck of the woods on the way home. It was a real snowstorm by our standards and it was a lot of fun to drive along barely-plowed roads on a quiet Sunday afternoon with the pine trees blanketed in snow.

Bottom line: after a non-winter in the Twin Cities, it was good to spend a few day somewhere with snow and everything that winter should be. It was far too brief a time spent up there and we both realized even more how much we love the north country of Minnesota.

Distance

Rosie and I wanted to get out for a walk in some woods on Sunday afternoon, but we didn’t have the time to drive very far to get it or to go for a very long walk. The morning before I had gone to a meeting at the visitor center at the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge; I had never been there before and was surprised to find such a beautiful natural area only 10 minutes from our middle-of-the-city apartment. I didn’t find out anything about trails, but I figured there had to be some.

We went back on Sunday afternoon and a friendly volunteer pointed us in the direction of a trail that took us down the bluff and into the vast bottomland of the Minnesota River, less than a mile upstream of where it joins the Mississippi River. I’ve seen broad marshes and backwaters before, but this really blew me away. It is a sprawling land of oak savanna, marshes and a little bit of everything else.

Direction

I’m a sucker for juxtaposition. The wildlife refuge is probably less than two miles from the Mall of America, the largest indoor shopping mall in the country. It is also probably less than a mile from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The city of Bloomington is a first-ring suburb full of airport hotels and chain restaurants and lots and lots of pavement. I-494 running through the area (and on a long bridge over the bottomland maybe a half mile away) can be clogged with traffic at all hours of the day. The photo above is looking down the trail. The photo below is of the hotels looming over the area just behind. I wondered how many people who fly in to town for business, stay at the hotel, shuttle around in taxis for a day or two, eat room service and watch HBO in their rooms have any idea of the wildness below.

Juxtapose

Also very near the spot where those photos were taken was a cool dead tree that looked like a bony hand reaching toward the sky and a little creek rushing through the marshland. The creek tumbled down a little drop behind where I took the photo and we both agreed it was nice to hear the sound of running water.

Fingers

Location

We walked further on and came to the main channel of the river, which seemed very small in contrast to the sprawling valley it flows through. As we stood looking at the icy river, a man came along paddling a solo canoe. While we agreed that it took some serious guts to brave those frigid, funny waters where a small mistake could leave you very cold and in big trouble, it got our minds us looking to the open-water season ahead and the adventures of summer.

Balls

A ways further and we stopped and sat on the bank and had a piece of chocolate and talked about life. Across the relatively narrow river channel the other bank rose up and then beyond that was easily a mile of solid reeds before the other bluff rose up. The broad valley of this area, with historic Fort Snelling (one of the first permanent outposts in the region, constructed in the 1820s) positioned at the junction of the rivers, has always made me wonder. I wonder what it must have been like for that small outpost of soldiers, for the Indians that surely must have depended on the fertile valley. It must have been so big and quiet. Now there’s the jets overhead and the distant hum of the highway. It is still a remarkable and beautiful place.

On our way back we saw what the body of what we thought was a dead red fox alongside the trail, right by where I took the pictures above. I don’t know how we didn’t see it the first time, except that it was on the other side of the trail from the view out across the expanse of the river which had captured our gaze.

Dead Fox

The walk was very flat, which isn’t what we usually go for, but it did have a good climb back up the bluff at the end. It got the heart pumping and I was sweating when we got to the top.

The Outside Loop

Yesterday morning I woke after a short night and with a bothered head. I didn’t give in to my pillow and blankets but got up to coffee, water and a friend passed out on the couch.

We sat for a while recalling the night, a funny night celebrating a wedding at a studio space in the warehouse district of Minneapolis, one with a jazz quartet and keg stands, a chocolate fountain and noise complaints from upstairs, well-dressed friends and the bright skyscraper horizon, and congratulating a lovely couple on a smart decision. As much as I write about being in the woods on this blog, and as much as I read about wilderness and wildlife and fishing and all those kinds of things, I can’t help loving the city.

Rosie was in Madison, Wisconsin for the weekend so I was flying solo at the party. It’s strange how now that we’ve been married for a over year, I feel off when I go to something like that alone. Luckily, many of our friends were there and they looked after me, but I realized that the more dependent you become on another person, the more you don’t feel like yourself when you’re separated.

After dropping Mac off at his car where we’d left it outside the party, I stopped at home and then drove out of the city and to a park that I know better than any other park, and that I love because of it. I understand this little piece of woods.

***

It’s a city park, but at least a couple hundred acres. When I was on the cross-country ski team in high school we practiced there four nights a week in the winter. We skied every one of the many hills. My friends and I also spent many nights and Sunday noons at this park playing capture the flag, sometimes getting 15-20 people out there to run and hide in the snow or in the moonlight. It is also where we frequently rode our mountain bikes during the summer.

I had a backpack with water and snacks in it. I wore boots and jeans and the shell of my jacket. I didn’t linger long in the parking lot because I was already getting lost in my thoughts and a dog came up the trail from the other direction warning of its masters’ imminent arrival.

I walked up a trail and around a corner and found where someone had dumped their garbage from what appeared to have been an interior painting job. There were sheets of plastic, five gallon buckets, ground cloths, old newspapers. Disgusting. I poked through it a bit hoping, just hoping, that they left some piece of mail or something that would have their name or address on it. No such luck. Sooner or later the city would come and remove the garbage, in the meantime it would scar the land a little more.

Quiet wooded bowls
Windy ridges
Glacial land

The next section of trail ran along a high ridge looking down on the small interior lake. The hill next to where I walked dropped sharply down for maybe 100 or more feet. A few hundred yards down the path I came to where they had installed a nice bench with a good view of the lake. Unfortunately, they had also seen fit to take out a swath of the hardwood forest that blankets the park on the hillside below the bench to improve the view. It didn’t upset me that bad: this is just a city-owned park. It’s not wilderness or even a state park or forest. And it was a nice view of the lake after all.

The middle of the trail was icy and I mostly walked on the shoulders where the snow hadn’t been so compacted by feet and skis earlier in the season. There wasn’t a lot of room to the sides so I frequently crossed the icy middle to take advantage of better walking on either side of the trail.

I walked as fast as I could on the slippery trail, planting my feet hard to dig the tread into the crusty snow. I wanted to work up a sweat and I wanted to get to the farthest reaches of the park. When our ski coaches wanted us just to rack up some kilometers we would ski what was simply called the “Outside Loop.” It was actually more of a figure-eight, but it took us around the perimeter of the park. I hadn’t been to the back half for several years and I wanted to go there today.

All of this
God
or in his image

The sun was out. There’s been little of it for the past month, and when it has shown up it seems like I’ve always been at work, buried behind tinted windows and flourescent lights. Now I was in the woods and the leafless trees cast sharp shadows across the snowy ground. The sun also finally seemed to really be coming north again and with a clear sky it didn’t feel so far away like it often does this time of year.

My quick pace shortly brought me to the powerline cut that slices through the middle of the park, creating the front and back halves. The cut is wide and raw, though I’ve never minded it all that much. It’s kind of like the bench with the trees cut below. A quiet reminder of where I really was to punctuate the occasional sounds of far off cars on the highway. I would rather not be allowed to ever pretend I am in a wilder place than I am. The powerlines bring us light and heat and running water, the highway had brought me here. Someday when I’m far away from asphalt and steel I’ll appreciate it as much as I should.

I took my hat off and stood for a while soaking up the sun. I was breathing a little heavy and happy to feel the cool air rushing into my lungs.

Memories of lost days
flicker on these
shadowy trails
Sun coming back
Images take shape

The powerline cut is like a gate to the back part of the park and as I re-entered the woods I was happy. The trail shortly brought me to a junction where five trails came together. The intersection formed a small clearing which was silent and still. The woods around me were the typical hardwoods and I could see through them in all directions to where hills rose and fell in every direction.

I had three trails facing me that all led further back into the park but I already knew which one I would take. I took the leftmost trail and soon came to a corner where a chain link fence ran along one edge. I walked up to the fence and looked at the strange barren landscape on the other side. Some years ago the land had been contaminated in some way, I’ve never known why. Either a landfill or a dump or something. Now it’s bare of trees and there are strange posts sticking up out of the ground and in one spot something that looks like a giant water sprinkler creates wild ice sculptures in the winter. The land is being cleaned by people who are smarter than me and I just stood on my side of the fence and looked at it and wondered for a moment before turning back toward the woods.

The most dangerous hill in the park for skiiers now lay below me. It started with a steep top section where I remembered how it was nearly impossible to keep your speed down, then took a slight short jog to the right before making a ninety degree left turn around some big trees. The whole trail was closely bordered by the woods and was truly dangerous, especially after getting skiied by 100+ members of the ski team, half of whom snowplowed the heck out of it, turning the trail to ice. On foot it was not difficult and as I picked my way down the hill I remembered the feeling of making it around the corners and racing down the steep and straight bottom section.

Dancing birch
Asleep
Like a dog
running in his dreams

As soon as the descent was over the trail went right back up. I leaned into the hill and welcomed the burn in my legs. At the top I stopped for a drink of water and then saw a rock a few feet of the trail with a nice view over the depression which I had just skirted on the trail. There was just a little snow on the rock so I scrubbed it off and sat down to enjoy having made it this far corner and having such a nice view.

Creaking trees
Unknown banging
over that hill
train whistle
clattering cars

Cold green limestone
Breeze and gusts
The hill below me
Calls

Even though I had zippd up my jacket as soon as I stopped moving, my sweat soon began to chill me and I knew I should get moving again. I also knew that on the far side of the bowl another trail ran back to the five-trail intersection so I decided to cut straight through the woods which I had just been admiring from above and afar. I slipped my backpack back on my shoulders, put my gloves on and went down the hill.

***

It was a much needed sojourn outside. I’m leaving for the east coast for the week in about two hours. I’m going to Connecticut for work for two days and then down to New York City to visit my brother. As is my tendency, I am nervous about leaving home. But I am also excited. I love New York. It is gigantic and loud and there are people everywhere always. But in ways it can feel more like a small town than anywhere else I know. Like I said before, I like the city in many ways. New York is the greatest city I’ve ever been to. It is a wilderness all its own. It is so big and so loud that you can be whoever you want, do whatever you want, and chances are no one will think twice about it. The open-mindedness is refreshing.

So, look for some photos and some stories of that different place this week.

“Attitude is Good”

I didn’t see the news at all this morning, so I left the house with no concept of what the temperature was. It’s been really cold for three days, and as a Minnesotan who likes to think he’s in tune with the rhythms of nature, I kind of expected it to be a little warmer out.

It was not. It was cold. I coughed stepping out the door. My car started only with protest. The walk in from the parking lot was really cold, the pants I’m wearing today are thin. But still, after a good cold stretch, you just start to assume it’s warming up. It has to, right? So I tried to guess the temperature and figured it was maybe 0° or possibly all the way down to -5°. Finally checked the temp on startribune.com… It’s -11° right now.

Dear Lord. The funny thing is how I reacted. I assumed it had to be warming up. I stepped outside and found it quite cold. Still, with my warming-up mentality, I guessed that it was 10 degrees warmer than it actually was.

Attitude. It’s all about attitude.