Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wolf Puppies Howling Practice

Tuscarora guest Greg Mickelson shared some of his video footage this week--taken last July where they found one of the home sites for the resident wolf pack. We were lucky to be able to keep tabs on them for awhile, along with the staff and guests. They are so cute, it still breaks my heart a little every time I watch this.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Learning to Drive

In two weeks Shelby turns 16. She's a good driver, calm, coordinated, competent. Of course, it will help us when she can help facilitate the extracurricular chaos, she's eager to pass this big liberating milestone . I know every parent goes through's just my first time, learning to LET her drive. Alone. In the dark. Up the Gunflint Trail. In the winter. I just can't imagine.

On the way to the bus stop this morning, in the little dip before the access road--the car thermometer hit -30 degrees. As smart as Shelby is, she still comes hopping up the steps to grab her oatmeal and zip out the door --with wet hair and a short sleeved shirt. (In all fairness, she also slips into pack boots, grabs her parka, and swears she has a hat and gloves at the bottom of her backpack.) I'm a mom, it is my job to remind her that she could die.

Earlier, when I started the car, I had a little sub sub-zero warning, first from the squeaky quality of the snow (it feels different when it's below -20 degrees). The car doors felt like they might break, the electronic dash messages were funky, the sky was so clean and clear and still; it was wicked cold.

Last weekend, Daniel had a hockey tournament in Inver Grove Heights...isn't that lucky? Right in the epicenter of a Minnesota blizzard, it snowed 3 inches an hour for awhile on Saturday afternoon, and that was too much for the plows. As we passed through my old Mpls neighborhood --I remembered the biggest challenges for me when I was learning to drive--merging from 35W to the Crosstown--to get to Southdale. Even as we drove slowly through the piles of snow, there were people, cars, Perkins restaurants nearby.

That was quite a contrast to last night's drive up the Gunflint Trail. It's such a dark snowpacked tunnel through the woods. I drove the first 30 miles, with the funny but distracting car pool boys singing about "Spuds and Tubers" in the back seat, raucous like they were in a pub. I had a feeling it was a moose night--and yes, it was. I can't help but yelp sometimes, they're such big monsters when they suddenly appear out of the darkness to the middle of our path.
After we dropped the boys off, Shelby took over. Along the way, we talked about possible scenarios--what if you were alone and slid off the road right here, right now? Do you leave the car? How many miles to the nearest house? How often to the cars come by? No cell phone service. What kind of clothing back-up do you have? I don't want to scare her, but...... I actually want to scare her.

And then she came on another moose--a young male, with a smallish rack. He kept looking at us with such wide frightened eyes--actually, we could only see one monster eye at a time. Shelby slowed down, and took note of where she was--the straight stretch up by the Octagon House by Loon Lake---a safer-than-usual place to stop, so she did. We watched the guy go in the ditch, then trot up on the road, then the ditch, then the road, then he started slipping--it was comical, actually, but we did not want to rush him because it is a LOOOOOOOONG way for him to fall on the pavement. She turned off the brights to lessen his panic as he slid and trotted safely off the road. She handled herself well, not a close call, not even a little yelp.

Do you know what ? I'm always glad to discover that the moose hunters didn't shoot all the moose again this year. Even if they are big monsters that come out of the darkness and startle a yelp out of me, it's still nice to see them. Sort of.

And you know what else? Shelby's pretty good at merging onto the Crosstown from 35W too. At some point, I'll be OK with all this. I guess she'll turn 16 either way, she's going to get a driver's license, and........I guess, I'll have to let her drive the Gunflint Trail. Alone. In the dark. In the winter. I just can't imagine.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tuscarora Winterland

Yesterday it stopped snowing, and the sun came out, it no longer felt like the White Witch had taken over Narnia. It was such a nice day.

So, what started out as a little kicksled ride down the road with Denali---- ended up as a video project fuzzy bandwidth challenge--with quality not even that great to start with.
Oh was especially intended to send Matt Hahn and the gang in Indiana all kinds of good snow ju-ju. Here's what Minnesota winter does to your familiar Tuscarora places...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Snow is falling, snow on snow. Snow on snow on snow.

It keeps falling. And we keep shoveling and plowing. It seems as though the sky should run out of snow, one of these days. It must be finite.

Thanks to Kari for sharing a photo of her Tuscarora Thanksgiving this year. This was taken at least 12 inches ago. And it just keeps falling..........

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Winter Walk

Andy said that I’m not allowed to contemplate the meaning of my life when I’m running a fever for the 2nd day in a row. Then he took the kids out in the heavy snow to do the hockey circuit. I was left wrapped in layers of fleece, under a dog, to die a slow and painful death.

It turned out that I have the kind of strep throat that only shows up on the 24 hour test, so even though we live 47 miles from a pharmacy that is closed on Sundays, it is a lucky thing that the doctor who cultured me in this small town is also a friend who tried to arrange for a nurse in the ER who happens to live up the Gunflint Trail…to get the antibiotics to me.

I’ve been reading a mystery by Nevada Barr about the wolves on Isle Royale. It’s fiction, but the Winter Study is not. Before I moved here, Isle Royale was the only place I’d ever heard a wolf pack howl. I read everything I could find that David Mech wrote when I was in college, and when the MN Zoo was new, I sat in the observation hut to watch them a couple times---but the way they paced there made me sad. I didn't imagine that he wolf population would rally in such numbers, that someday I would have so much direct contact with them. We saw one yesterday and Shelby said---"Well, he is certainly playful." He was romping in the new snow just like Denali does. Usually—the adults are much more serious, slinky, and deliberate.

Shelby wrote a speech this week outlining her position on wolves as an endangered species. We have an estimated population of around 3000 wolves in Minnesota— mostly in the north woods. The DNR recently re-petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to have the wolves removed from the endangered species list, and the federal agency has until March to make a decision. It has been interesting to listen to her tangle with her own mind as she studies the complexities and public opinions that accompany species management issues.

By afternoon, the snow stopped, and since I hurt all over anyway, I took my fevered self outside for a walk. Actually it was a shuffle, a little bit delirious, but very pleasant too. Denali and I saw no wolves. Not cold, very still, and unbelievably quiet. I tried to take pictures, to capture how beautiful it was, but I found I wanted my photos to capture the stillness, the pure silence--and I couldn't do that.

You can see that the lake is frozen in our bay, and we got enough snow to slush up the shore ice. Somehow we’ll figure a broomball rink, but it won’t be easy or early.

The air made me feel alive again, and I was grateful to be out in it, in a slow motion kind of way.

The hush of the woods was like walking through a prayer. I had been listening to Rabbi Jonathon Sacks. (I don't believe it was just the fever!) I was in the deep snow, quiet gray standing in the presence of a deeper form of knowing--the Being at the heart of Being. The calm, the beauty of the world reminded me--although I was experiencing complete solitude, I was not alone in the universe. I will never be alone. Whoa. I will never be alone.

After awhile, Denali hadn’t nearly had her fill of bounding, but I spotted the house, and I could see the light above the couch, and it was calling my aching body back to my murder mystery. I am grateful that there are places in this world where complete silence exists. I'm grateful for the spirituality that wild places can inspire. And also I'm very grateful for the couch.

The BWCA: A Compatability Test? And an essay by Valerie

John introduced Valerie to his favorite Boundary Waters places this September. He's a long-time guest--and, while I don't believe he was testing their relationship...not a did remind me that it happens sometimes.

Future in-laws sometimes sponsor a check out how prospective spouses fit in with the camping family. One guy covertly requested NOT to be in Bunkhouse 1 with his new date...because it held memories of his last girlfriend in Bunkhouse 1, and she hated camping.

Some couples go into the woods all giddy and come out early...obviously ready for their separate ways. We see them coming and going, and have started to recognize the pattern. Sometimes it's even worth a friendly private wager.

A camping trip can make or break you, that's for sure. I have a photo moment of the first trip I took with Andy....and we both loved the woods. I don't know what we were fighting about---we were so young then, but the photo is of me sitting on a log, shooting daggers at the camera, obviously picking out the M&M's from the gorp (the biggest cardinal sin). The M&M's's a surprise that we made it anyway.

Sometimes, we just have to share a private smile when the couples are very terse upon exit and hand over the credit cards separately....they won't even LOOK at each other anymore.

I should quit being so cynical. There was another married couple, former staff members, who arrived this fall just syrupy giddy, so happy to be together, she was newly pregnant, they met here---it didn't matter if a monsoon started, they were already in heaven.

Anyway, John sent a copy of a nice essay Valerie wrote for college this fall, and they have allowed me to post it with their photos here. Of course I can't say anything for sure, but I'd guess Valerie is hooked on the Boundary Waters and John is hooked on Valerie. To witness these sparkly moments is definitely a fun part of this job.

Boundary Waters (an essay by Valerie)

My alarm goes off at 8:30, but I am already awake. I was so worried about my first college class that I had woken up on my own. I can feel the anxiety flowing through my body as I jump out of bed. I am so nervous I am not even hungry for breakfast. I fix my hair, brush my teeth, and get dressed in what seemed like a split second. After getting ready I race to the El stop down the street to board the train to the Loop. Waiting for the El I see people hustling past me each entranced in their own situation too busy to think about the world around them. I hear the roar of the train coming and my heart begins to beat faster. “I hope this is the right train and that it’s going the right way” “What if I can’t find the right building let alone the right classroom” were a couple of thoughts pounding in my head. I barely fit into the train car because there are so many people squished into it. I feel like a sardine smashed into a can that has no more room. Unfamiliar faces are everywhere I look and I am intimidated by their confidence. In this overwhelming environment I become even more stressed about my class, about getting lost, about my professor being horrible. My apprehension skyrockets, and I lose all ability to think logically.

Then it hits me. I close my eyes and regress back to a time of serenity. I am no longer on the frantic El car with my world whizzing by. I find myself in a place so peaceful that nothing would dare to disturb me. The air is so clean I take a long deep breath to rid my lungs of the exhaust and cigarette smoke from the city. My mind is calmed by the soft sound of the water. The gentle stroke of the wind loosens my nerves, and the taste of untainted air relaxes my racing heart. I am sitting on a rock right off our private island that we worked so hard to reach earlier that day. Our island was perfect; It had magnificent pine trees flourishing all over, and a charming spot to share our meals, and a swimming area that would have made an otter jump for joy. I have caught the sun just as it sets down behind the trees.The magnificent colors of orange, purple, pink, and blue blend together to make a sunset that is worthy for an artist’s painting. The water is so calm the only ripples are made from the mosquitoes skimming the surface for food. The warm pleasant temperature invites me to stay outside even longer and witness the beauty before me. The crickets begin singing their song of serenity. Every part of me is in complete harmony, relaxed, calm, and at ease. I forget about the craziness of the real world. Even in the craziest of times in my life, I can find peace by remembering that moment in the Boundary Waters; that moment of tranquility.

“The next stop will be Jackson”. I’m back on the El and ready to take on my first college class. I am collected and have faith that I will find my class with ease. The fear of my professor being awful has disappeared, and I am actually excited to learn. I no longer see strangers around me but other friendly faces ready to start their day. While the train is still going at full speed, I am no longer intimidated and can see the remarkable buildings as we pass them. I realize that all other freshman were feeling the same anxiety that I was, and I was thankful that I had a place to visit to calm my nerves. After my memory from the boundary waters I am relaxed and confident that I can succeed in whatever that day throws at me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Here's Winter

I feel like we skipped November, and that is OK with me , so often it is the blandest month of the year. We just might have jumped from October to December.
Yesterday, the threat of a snowstorm chased me out of bed early to try to finish up with fall chores. While our extended family in Minneapolis was getting dumped on, Shelby and I were filling Trashy Pete (our oldest pick-up) with pine needles and making one last run to the brush dump. Petey is also helping Shelby learn to drive a stick shift, I love that.

Shelby's friends came up later---last week's 60 degree temperatures had them planning a day on mountain bikes. Who bothers to check the forecast? Early in the afternoon, they biked in blaze orange...good sports, but only for about an hour as the snow started to pick up. the snowstorm hit, they decided to take the uncarved pumpkin off the porch and cook it. In a very inefficient but entertaining use of several hours, they made two really good pies, and I don't usually like pumpkin pie. Andy, Daniel, and his friend Lars finally arrived from the hockey game in Ashland (and that is a groan in a snowstorm) but it was cozy and pumpkinny here, and they eased right in. I like these kids.
They stayed in one of the cabins--a sleepover perk of November, and while they slept through the morning Andy and I went for a run. We only got 4 or 5 inches I suppose, but, the woods lived up to the fresh white winter wonderland cliches. It's lucky that snow is so lovely, the air is scrubbed clean, because it feeds my soul.

When these adolescents finally got up, they went out to "play." This same group has done that for the last 7 winters.....why stop now? I guess it's what the first snow does. And though it has made our world black and white, when 6 days ago we were paddling and portaging, it is soft and new.
The seasons remind me that all good things must come to an end, and all good things must have a chance to start up as well. Ready or not

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gotter in November

It was 60 degrees, it was November 8th...and we paddled to Gotter just because we could.

This guy did a fabulous job of capturing a fall canoe trip---

Boundary Waters Canoe Trip

If you have 4 minutes to watch a video, check it out.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Flying Pains

During our October camping trip, the adolescent loons were lingering. I always feel tender toward them when they are left behind this time of year. What do they think when the adults gather and ditch them? They made a lot of confused hoots, lonely. This year I had extra worries about them, wondering what will happen when they get to the Gulf Oil spill. Is that a problem? It doesn’t seem like a problem anymore, but I still would like to figure out how to call to them.…… “Go to Maine..Fly east… to Maine!” I don’t actually know what kind of instinct sets up which direction they go, because their parents have long since migrated.

We saw one or two of these young loons on almost every lake we visited. One evening, camped on Ester Lake, we set up our chairs in the front row of the show, while one guy tried and tried and tried to fly by our rocky point. He just wasn’t getting it, and truly, we could feel his panic. It’s October, buddy. If you don’t get it this month…..well, then it will be November. And then you are really in trouble. What happens to the immature loons who die at freeze up? Otters? Not a bad species to support, but still. We were bonding with this guy.

Every time he failed, he’d give a pathetic half-tremolo kind of whine. I know they’re mostly silent during their first season, but we heard a bunch of them working on the calling along with the flying. They sort of had half- calls, cries of disappointment. We looked at the full moon over the calm lake, and there he’d go again---slapping those wings on the water at the wrong angle. Awkward, ineffective.

Early in the morning, from the tent I awoke to hear him try again. I could almost feel him hold his breath and get up the gumption and then go slapping the surface like a maniac….. and then he was so very disappointed, and I realized I had been holding my breath and I was disappointed too. How could I help him? What could I do? If only I could coach him on how it should sound. I’ve heard it all summer long…..less whappy, more….light and choppy. What could I do for him?

Sometimes I feel like that when I’m trying to help my kids learn to fly. I want to share all of that knowledge that I have---I’ve spent so many years slapping my wings at the wrong angle, surely I could save them time? Maybe then they could fly farther than I have ever migrated. Seems like a great plan to me.

Wouldn’t it have been ridiculous if these gawky adolescent loons were still riding on their parents’ backs? From the time my kids were newborns, this motherly love has so blindsided me, that I can see myself liking that part, as a mother loon, and letting them stay on just a little longer. Maybe I’d decide that our situation was different—we might just buck the system, and ride our own way.

Through breakfast that morning, we continued to witness the pathetic attempts and the disappointed cries. And then, awhile later, the same loon gearing up to try it again, I kept thinking on the parenting parallels. Of course, Andy and I are not migrating any time soon...we're still here to love our adolescents, to help make good decisions, to help them make sense of things, give them support, and hand out money....but sometimes I have to remind myself we are not here to make life easier, to prevent pain, to diminish their struggles.

Easy enough with sports—no pain=no gain. As a math educator I know they have to pound their heads against new concepts. The only good problem solvers are the ones who have confidence to figure out what to do when they don’t know what to do.

But somehow, watching the kids as they figure out who they are and where they fit in the world—are struggles harder for me to embrace. Friends, loyalties, betrayals, pettiness won’t crush them either….sometimes, I just want to shield them from all that. From the disappointments, from the inefficient slapping of the wings.

Even with the most loving intentions, isn’t it ironic that by shielding them from that kind of pain we would then be sabotaging their potential? It’s the last thing we want to do…to actually encourage them to become less than the people that they were born to be. It’s such a paradox.

Definitely, it’s a good thing that it is also within my kids’ instincts to break away and have ornery moments. So I can slap the side of my head and remind myself what I already know. It’s a good thing I have wise friends who gently slap my head into place once in awhile too.

It’s also a good thing when we get the golden moments, when the moon is coming up and the lake is calm, when we know they’ll eventually get there, and we can just lean back in the crazy creek chairs and watch.

(Check this guy out!---I didn’t take the video, nor did we see any such quick learners— but he amused me)

Monday, November 1, 2010

October's End

We're winding down here at Tuscarora. The paddling season is nearly over, we've closed a few of our seems mostly hunters are visiting the Gunflint Trail, a quiet time for us.

I woke up on Saturday morning and I couldn't help the little jolt of snow joy. Remember when snow meant nothing but frolicking fun? This time though--I wondered about the team driving up to run.
The Cross Country team/parents gather on Saturday mornings, for the long slow training runs. Some run 10, some 5, some hike, some bike...........then we have breakfast. I love this tradition....Cook County has some beautiful trails. Since I'm usually late on the draw.....we hosted the very last one here at Tuscarora.

Chris is a unique coach. He is very blunt....during the Tuscarora Triathlon once he passed me running ---and said.."Well, at least you can swim." There is no room for false praise, but he is just as excited about improvement in his slowest runners as he is about his all-state runners. His goal is to promote life-long running fun and health. And he is full of success stories---along with a team of 40+ runners, which is really something for a small town and an independent sport.

So the run for the day - the Centennial Trail, in the bright sun---and snow. It's Shelby and Daniel's favorite, so .........they all slid through it! I think there is nothing so bonding as exercise in the blue sky snowy woods.

Later in the day, the Murder Mystery crowd showed up. This crowd is game for anything.

Notice the French Maid, the Butler.......and Fabio the pool boy.

Can you tell by the photo that shady Neil the chauffeur was the killer?

The sisters were dressed in lovely velvet gowns, .....and only one of them needed a chin-wax.

On Sunday--we decided to stay home for Halloween. We were a little nostalgic about that, the marking of a new era. We could have hauled into town, and even trick-or-treated---some kids do, but Daniel wryly realized that he's a little tall for that. 5 years ago trick-or-treating was the most fun thing imaginable, and now......they're sort of exempt. Nobody actually wants to go back in time, but for all of us (maybe especially me) was bittersweet.

So we went for a paddle (freezing) , Daniel made his pizza dough and carved a pumpkin, we watched a movie, and had a mellow Halloween. I felt lucky to live here, and lucky to still have time with the kids. It was really nice.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Controlling Fires

Last week, it was perfect fall weather for prescribed burns. So the Forest Service started a few. Today it's raining, and there only a titch of smoke smell left. (this photo from our deck is a smoky sunset , not flames. I thought it was sort of shocking and sort of beautiful)

The way I see it, prescribed burns are still forest fires. I wouldn’t complain about them, I’m all for them actually………………except that I don’t like forest fires. I could preach about fire as a necessary part of the regeneration of boreal forest ecosystem yahdahyahdah. I even believe it. I paddled through my beloved Kekekabic Lake a while ago, and thought---"Oh boy, this place sure needs a fire." Everybody likes renewal and new growth, but does anybody really like the death and destruction that proceeds it? It’s so much gentler just to have the old trees rot and grow mushrooms, don't you think? It's like the National Geographic specials where the lions eat the antelope. I don't watch those parts, I hate that.

Incidentally, I know that Kekekabic Lake isn’t actually mine, and yet I still claim it. I have good memories there, it is long and cliffy and haunting. With hidden pictographs, sort of. It's hard to get to--a little off the path. This is why I thought they should have consulted me before they burned near it. Isn’t that the way the BWCAW is? We all think we own our favorite spots.

Often, the USFS is so good at these controlled burns that you can’t even see much evidence when you are on the travel routes. And unless you have a strong opinion about a certain cedar stand, you may never notice. There’s a lot of pathless woods in between the lakes, where nobody goes on purpose. I completely get it, it's a little dose of chemotherapy for the forest. But still, they started forest fires in my neighborhood, near my Kekekabic Lake. I don't have to like it.

In September I wrote a note to my friend Diane who lives outside of Boulder in the Fourmile Canyon. I could so empathize with her stress at that moment—as she watched a wild fire blowing toward her home on a windy night, wondering if/when her family would be evacuated. I’ve seen competent fire fighters rush around with tools and tactics and front lines of attack, full of confidence, completely unable to tame the fire.

These October fires were not wild at all. It must have been sort of a heady experience for the fire specialists, like directing the wind or commanding the rains. It must have been the same giddy feeling that ancient people had when they first harnessed fire. We do what we can to survive, don’t we? It’s part of evolution, to manipulate the environment, to protect the people. Or to get ahead, or accomplish something useful. Those early firekeepers must have been freer to migrate to colder places. Cooked meat must have been safer= increased life spans. Once they figured it out, fire was a handy agricultural tool. And it had to be a status thing too. I'll bet the "haves" walked with just a little extra swagger around the "have-nots."

There seemed to be no Gunflint Trail controversy around these fires. Helicopters dropped fire, smoke and ashes and carbon filled the air and nobody complained. We all remember. Especially at Tuscarora we remember. Those prescribed burns completed in 2003 saved us here at Tuscarora, without a doubt. They were textbookly successful. And we trust the fire people. Pretty much, you know, but they are still igniting forest fires and that is still a risky business.

Someday these woods will burn again…….and someday maybe the fires will stop short of Gunflint Trail private property because of these prescribed fires. Who knows?---Any future summer wildfires are much easier to tame ahead of time in October, that's for sure.

Prescribed burn season here is officially over, I believe they completed their objectives, and I’m glad about that. After all, Andy is just learning to roast marshmallows again, and this last week........ was a minor setback.