Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Solstice and Sleeping Bears

Whew! The days are getting longer. I love that about Winter Solstice. It puts a little extra spring in my step, a little shimmer in the snow shovel. The town of Grand Marais celebrates Winter Solstice with a puppet show event, done by a clever group of townspeople that call themselves the Good Harbor Players. It's worth the trip. We were planning on making it, but Daniel and I were both down for the count that day-- each of us held down a different couch. Except for the Harry Potter movie, when we held down the same couch. Luckily, it was a quickly passing cold, and not the dreaded H1N1 apparently, because now we're up and free to enjoy a few more seconds of light each day. It's really dark up here in the arctic circle, a big day when we turn the corner. Big day!

Den Discovery
The other day I think we found a bear den. On a subzero day, Andy noticed what looked like steam from a manhole cover. Only we don't have those here. I investigated a little further, and found the steam coming from a hole in the side of the hill---about the size of a basketball. No tracks. Gave me a little neck prickle. Andy checked again the other day--and still no tracks, but frosty breath and icicles around the hole.
Since we're not going to play National Geographic scientists, I started looking up the local bear expert, Lynn Rogers--from Ely actually. He gets pretty close to the bears he studies. And I learned a little about hibernating bears too--not a true hibernation, but more of a winter lethargy...and I learned about how they "recycle" themselves, and convert wastes somehow into proteins. Check out Lynn Rogers Study

How cool is that?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Survival of the Fittest

I was driving down the Gunflint Trail the other day, happy as a clam, even though it was wicked cold outside. Must be some sort of physics to the sub-zero weather that makes the sky extra blue and the sun extra bright, the landscape particularly spectacular?

I was alone, listening to the Lou Rawls Christmas album. I never think to listen to Lou Rawls any other time of year, but he is so smooooooth. Check out Christmas is the Time. You might be surprised that you have to have it too!

All was well in my Christmas card world—when I came upon a wolf, trotting down the centerline. As I pulled up to him, he spooked a little, but when I stopped the truck, he kept on his course, and ended up right next to my car door.

I had a good long time to study him.

I’ve been thinking on wolves a lot lately. We see them so often- impressive and healthy—they’re the talk of the neighborhood. I wonder how can so many wolves find enough to eat? As the temperature drops, Denali gets hungrier earlier and earlier for her dog food---predictably twice a day. How often does the pack get a snack?

As this wolf approached, I noticed he was unusually skinny, he looked a little pink. Then I could see he had no fur on his belly or legs. He was sort of bloody in spots. And when he looked in my eyes, even his eyes were looking bloody; a very sad sight. I’ve read about mange in wolves-caused by tiny mites that attach themselves to their skin or fur—causing fur loss, and lesions-this seemed like a nasty textbook case.

When I see wolves this close---and they make direct eye contact, I imagine I can read their eye language. One time, I was stopped in my car, the kids just got on the schoolbus- a big guy strolled next to me—he gazed at me and my wildly barking Denali—calmly in a way that made my neck prickle, like “I know where you live” and I said back to him (with my narrowed eyes, if he could read them) “If you come any closer my to my kids or my dog, I swear I’ll kill you.” This alarmed me, I’d never considered killing a wolf, ever, but I sent the message just the same. Once at the garbage dumpsters I was honking to get two of them to move --they looked up from eating garbage “You gotta be kidding, WE’RE not moving.” Or once I whistled Denali away from playing with two adolescents they looked at me like” Wha……are we supposed to come too?” The two gigantic ones I saw this fall, too cool for their pelts , looked at me like I was insignificant in their path---an annoyance if anything.

This mangey guy's eyes were pleading with me…. like “Do you have a sandwich or bacon or something in that warm car?” The painful cold seemed to take the wild animal out of him. Maybe he had a pack, and they turned him out. I had my camera, I could have taken a photo, but it seemed insensitive. I can’t think that he could still be alive now. I was looking in the bloodshot eyes of death, in a survival of the fittest world.

I know, evolution is supposed to work that way, and strenghten the wolf population. But I was still sad as I drove on, I had to turn off Lou. Just wasn’t in the mood for him, or it didn’t seem respectful.

All of a sudden I realized the pristine wilderness I was driving through was as cruel as it was lovely. And I was part of it. I had to figure out if I was doing my job…after all, as a mother, I’m to prepare my children to survive in this world. Are they “fit” enough? What does that mean? Should I be teaching them primal survival skills, just in case? Hmmm, am I even qualified for that? Not so much. What does it mean to take care of yourself, and what does it mean to be part of the pack….and the bigger pack, and the world pack and…

As I approached mid-trail I saw an animal dart and thought—Woah…there goes another one. Closer I could see it was just a large fox. A very healthy fox, with a winter coat that they can fluff somehow. He was fat and fit and furry---. Wow, he was so healthy, I’ll bet he could have taken out that wolf…

I don’t have mange, but I sure felt part of a pale and furless and weak species. Should I be bringing soup to somebody today? Should I be paying for universal health care? Or should I be filling our basement with cans and working like crazy to inform potential canoeists? Too many questions, I can’t wrap them up.

So I turned on Lou again. But I wasn’t singing along. Just listening and thinking. He is really smooth.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas in July by Lindsay Frost

by Tuscarora summer staffer, Linsday Frost

Tis the season yet again. Oh yes, I do mean final exams. Year in and year out, I find myself getting excited about the new season, the snow, seeing friends and family and having a bit of time to relax, but instead I am stuck with my head in a 42 pound text book. Well, right now I can’t focus on biology or geomorphology or anything else. All I can think about is a very special Christmas at a place very dear to me.

This summer at Tuscarora, we had Christmas in July. It started out as a little spark of an idea and then slowly transformed into a very, merry and magical day.

One day while sitting around, probably after dinner or over the lunch break, some of us on staff kicked around this little “Secret Santa” idea just for fun. Then we added that we could have “Christmas in July”. Well, by the end of June, everyone had drawn their special someone, and in addition to being a secret gift exchange, the gifts had to be handmade from materials found at Tusc. Well, a few weeks went by and we kept ourselves busy because we were, well, busy. The date was approaching at full speed (I can’t recall exactly when it was—sometime around July 26th I believe). Everyone was bustling about after their daily shifts. The shop always had a light on and people were running around trying to find materials and hide their half-finished presents.

Everyone started whispering this and that’s about what they were making or who they thought might have them. We were giddy. The whole thing reminded me of those long nights before Santa would come—not being able to fall asleep and wondering what was going to come the next morning.

With a few days left before the big day a chimney appeared on the front porch of the staff cabin. Soon there was a “fire” (made out of colored paper and a fan for a flame effect), and even stockings hung on the chimney with care

. A tree was added to the room along with red bows, yardo ornaments, and green scrubby cut outs. And one by one, presents started to appear under the July Tree.

People took on other little projects of their own as well—lefse making, cookie baking, handmade decorations, even gingerbread tents. Chef Justin prepared a spectacular holiday dinner and everyone put on their Sunday bests. I remember it being quite a strange sight at Tuscarora to see everyone all spiffed up, but we were! The table was set with cookies and candies, flowers and decorations, and the buffet spread featured a holiday roast, mashed potatoes and gravy,

and green beans.

Everyone came in and we took turns opening our stockings which were filled with outfitting candy.

Then we all enjoyed the holiday meal and even played a little Ahrendt family game. (We all choose a “famous person”, wrote their name down, and then had to match the person to their famous person. It was a really fun game, and I think I’m going to try it out at my family’s Christmas this year. ) And then, after stockings, and dinner came the really, really exciting part of Christmas.

Everyone loves presents, right?!

One by one we took turns opening our gifts. We started with Dano since he is the youngest. His secret gift came from Andrew—a book that was borrowed long ago. Then Andrew opened his. Andrew got bread. Dano baked him three, homemade loaves of delicious bread. Shelby was next, and I was her secret gifter. I made her a “Taste of Tuscarora” cook book and included some ingredients for one of her favorite desserts. Then Sarah opened her gift. Shelby made her a water bottle covered with colorful window clings and filled with homemade toffee. Paul was next, and Sarah had made Paul a birch bark bookmark and a braided leather glasses strap. He looked FANTASTIC in his gift! Mike opened his gift next, and I have got to say that Paul takes the cake (or at least the Christmas cookies) for the gift he made Mike. Do you remember that rock-em sock-em robot game? Well, Paul made a wooden rock-em sock-em doll with hinged arms and the works. It was really an amazing creation. Maggie opened her gift from Mike next. He painted the Tuscarora logo and made a birch back frame for it. Now Maggie gets to carry a little bit of Tuscarora with her wherever she goes. Cass was next, and she got a hand melted glass bead necklace from Maggie. Then came Caitlyn’s turn. Cass made Caitlyn a hand-sewn canvas bag (from a rice sack I do believe) with the classic blue Tuscarora emblem, so Caitlyn gets to carry Tuscarora with her as well. Justin opened his gift from Caitlin. She carved him an incense holder and had the best wrapping paper job. Then came Jenn. Jenn got a double gift from Justin. First, she got a beaded and braided necklace that she wore quite well I must say. Then, she also got to open a very special staff gift. Justin made a Tuscarora Target for the staff—a play-off on a mealtime inside joke. The Tuscarora Target hung at the front of the table for the rest of the summer. I was last to open my gift. Jenn had me, and her gift embraced everything Tuscarora. It was a collage featuring a green scrubbie (for “making it shine”), a pine cone and daisy, our friend the Febreeze logo, a WTIP logo (the best radio station on the Gunflint Trail), and the Tuscarora emblem just to name a few. We laughed and giggled and even gave out a few “Aww’s” as everyone opened their gifts.

I know that everyone loved their gifts and enjoyed making them, too, but there was something far more special about this day then the presents. I have tried to write about the feeling, warmth and overall magic of this day, but I just can not seem to convey it all on paper. We all laughed and shared stories, and even sang and danced while doing the dishes. It honestly felt like coming home and being with family for the holidays. So here I sit with Christmas and winter break soon in sight, and I am thinking about this very special Christmas in July.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. I hope you too get to create your own memories this holiday season and remember those from seasons passed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas---

We went out to our favorite spot to cut down a Christmas tree last night. We take a scrawny young balsam from under the powerlines, where they are not allowed to get too tall anyway. This is the theory.

It is a nice little tradition, even as the kids get older, the weekends get busier, and we have trouble finding a time with sunlight and all 4 of us together.
When I was a kid we’d drive for an hour and make an afternoon out of it. For us, a very short walk, maybe a 15 minute exercise from start to finish, but a good memory, nonetheless.
I also remember Christmas tree lots where we had to keep the dogs on leash---so they wouldn’t bother the other people. We never leash Denali, but as Danny trudged ahead, at one point he hollered back for us to hold Denali---until the wolves disappeared.

Wow. Wolf sightings lately are only slightly less frequent than grouse sightings on the wildlife meter. I sure hope they’re finding enough to eat. (Do they eat the grouse? They must…I hope they do.) Well fed tender black labs might become a mighty appealing morsel.
Daniel found a tree, Denali was oblivious to the wolves, and –the holiday season has spun around us again!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Welcome Winter

We woke to a cold blue Saturday morning. Denali and I went out early, the sun was extra vivid, reflecting on the snow--- calm and bright, stunning actually. I’ve been waiting for days like this.

Andy took Daniel to a hockey tournament this weekend. We're a tag team with our hockey goalie--who is happiest when he's on the ice.

Shelby had some friends over last night. After making Christmas truffles, they spent the evening creating a mini horror movie. The thing is, none of them have ever even seen The Shining.

But they filmed a scene in the snow at the phone booth, and….it was so quiet here in the dark coldness, and… it's funny to see how similar the horror ideas are---ones that a winter resort inspires ----yikes!

Most of the wintery woods photos are courtesy of Sheryl,
a neighborhood friend who came for a snowy walk this afternoon. Really nice.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pond Sakting

Hooray! We've starting skating.

The tradition marks the new season. Really, we're so anxious we almost jump the gun on this--but the moose pond by the mailbox isn't so deep. It’s dark by the time the kids get off the bus, get a snack, tie on their skates. Somehow the darkness and the cracking ice increase the thrill. But pretty soon we fall into silence, with only the sounds of the skates cutting and scraping the black ice, (well, along with the cracking) and we go on and on and on. We can just barely make out the line of the trees in this darkest time of the year.

I think about last spring, when the trumpeter swans were considering nesting here---for 3 weeks or so. And the moose come and go all summer, with unpredictable regularity. For awhile a beaver family lived here, and one quiet evening when Shelby and I stopped our bikes, I think we could hear the kits inside the beaver lodge.

But the other night, we seemed to be the only life around.

We tried to ignore the creaks, or at least not squeal much. We’re risking thigh high mud, which would be plenty unpleasant, but not like lake ice. We got braver and braver, and ventured further outside our previous tracks, before we finally quit for dinner.
We’re anxious to get on Round Lake, but conditions aren’t actually perfect, and there is still some open water out the Brant Lake way. The shoreline by us has frozen, with some snow. A braver woman would be out there shoveling, but---I’ll give it a few more days!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Melancholy Gray

It's late autumn, and it has been rainy gray for two days. When I drive the car out to the bus, it's so beautiful it makes my heart hurt. It's a poignant ache, and it gets me, like listening to Barber's Adagio for Strings.

Remember in Kindergarten, when your favorite color was one of the things that defined you? What kid ever picks brown? They know to stay away from doesn't exactly mean happy days. It's rich and beautiful, especially as a skin color.... but not for flowers and rainbows.

So, for awhile I tried fighting this late autumn gray mood. I take Fish Oil pills, Dave says they make happy chemicals in the brain. And Mary says Vitamin D gives a little substitute sunny boost, so, I pop some of those too.
I have a friend that takes her “team” for long runs through the woods, and it’s starting to grow on me. I don’t run fast, but I try not to fall down too much and it’s such a nifty trick to move through the woods without a canoe on my shoulders, I can go for long distances and I feel like a little jack rabbit. Love that, but the speediness is certainly an illusion. Oh boy is that an illusion.

But, I've given up the fight. I'm not unhappy, but I can’t be sunniness when the season is so tinged with melancholy. We’re just too connected to the outside here---. So, I'm leaning into the rain. It's working for me. I sit quietly at the edge of the overlook at the end of my solo trail and watch the fog. The days are short, the light is diffused. But it is so very quiet and incredibly lovely.

Writer Parker Palmer says that the seasons are a metaphor for life, and--yep, that might fit. The brown dormancy of the plants-remind me of death and endings. He says, truth is revealed through the paradoxes. That the contrast paints the whole picture. On first glance, light and dark seem like opposites, but actually they define each other. Death defines life, diminishment defines beauty.
Does this mean the dreary days enhance and define the cheerful sunny ones? And so it is with my life? In the sunny summer when my days are full, there is no time to look up from my life. These late November days are slower, quieter, more contemplative, I spend more time catching up with Andy and the kids. And--this contrast helps me paint a complete picture?

Today I walked off the access road---now that the grasses are dead, it's easy to check on the little pines that we planted last spring during Gunflint Green Up. Those little guys are liking the rain. Then I remembered how the plants use autumn to scatter seeds, and so they prepare for the seasons ahead.

The fleeting snow buntings that flock ahead of my car are like bird ghosts in the fog. I don't know what they represent, but they play chicken with me, and I can't swerve away or I'll end up in the ditch... on the rare occasion when one is too slow, and it pops my windshield--I hate that. What would that mean Parker???

And the people in sunny-always Arizona, how do they fit in the contemplation? What would their metaphor be? If I ever meet Parker Palmer, I'm asking him.

In the meantime, I'm ready for snow now. Cheerful fluffy crisp blue days. It's time for deep winter. I say, bring it on~!