Friday, November 21, 2008

Frost on the kayakAfter a week and a half straight of cloudy, dreary, rainy, sleety, snowy, freezing weather, the sun is shining today! Ten days of grey really starts to wear on a person. I think the critters outside even felt better today, despite our single digit temps this morning. From my office window view of the front yard I could see many squirrels, both red and grey, out and about today, scampering up and around in the empty tree branches. I did not see the pileated woodpecker today, although he has been a frequent visitor lately. But no matter, the exuberant squirrels made up for any lack. As I stepped out on the front porch to taste the morning air and send my husband off to work this morning, I was struck by how beautiful a morning really is when the sun shines. A crow sailed by above the trees, its tail feathers illuminated by the low sun barely peeking from beyond the trees across the road. Chickadees and nuthatches were actively warming themselves up by flitting from branch to branch. A small flock of robins even landed in the tree near the front door, inspecting the berries still clinging to the branches. Frost sparkled on every smooth surface. I grabbed my camera and headed back outside to snap a few shots, to see if I could figure out the Macro setting on my little digital. I snapped a few shots of the frost on my car, and the kayak, and scurried back inside to warm up. Where did this ice come from??At lunch time, while my slices of potato and onion, drizzled with olive oil and herbs baked in the oven, I went for a walk down to the lake. It had been 10 days since I had last been down to the shore, Nov. 11, the last time I had paddled, a clear, sunny, calm day, where I had braved temps of 32 to get on the water one more time. I had not counted on it being my last. My paddling journal states the latest I had ever paddled, and this was back when we lived in Duluth, was November 18, and it had been 50 ° that day. I certainly believed I could break that record this year, as I was not yet ready to put my boat away in the sling under the back deck. But my walk down to the lakeshore today cracked any hopes I still had of paddling. Even if the temperatures climbed back into the high 20’s or low 30’s, temps I could safely navigate with extra layers of clothing and safety gear, the water was not going to cooperate. A large sheet of ice already covered most of the bay including the shoreline where I put in. In fact, there was so little open water left anywhere that I almost couldn’t believe it, as the smaller lake on the way to town had absolutely no ice on it at all when I passed by it only yesterday! Frozen bubblesMy disappointment at realizing my paddling season was officially “over” was soon replaced by utter joy and amazement at the beauty before me. New ice is a wondrous thing, especially if it freezes during a calm night. When that happens, the ice freezes crystal clear, giving you an eerie view of the bottom of the lake. I played around with my digital macro again, trying to capture the magic of the new ice and the bubbles where ice met sand. But lunch hours do not last forever, and I still had food in the oven. The walk back home, despite being uphill and cold, passed in a flash, as my mind was still elsewhere, savoring the stillness of the frozen water and the metamorphosis my lake had undergone during my short absence. I quickly remembered my hunger as I came into the house, greeted by More bubbles!the aroma of baked potatoes and onions. I hurriedly removed layers of hats, gloves, boots, and jacket on my way to the kitchen, as eager to fill up my now growling stomach, as I had just been to fill up my heart with sunshine and ice. Blessings!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Must be the place!I am playing "catch up" with my postings about things that happened when we first moved here, before I started my blog. So this actually occurred in mid-September, not mid-November! One of the very fun things about moving to a small town has been perusing the local papers. I get three different papers delivered to my house, none of which I had to ask for, they just come. They are filled with local area events, small town festivals honoring place & community, places to shop and eat, local vendors peddling their services, and the best part, the classifieds. Having spent the last 20 or so odd years living in big cities, it is with a grin that I read through the local small-town classified ads. “Tractor for sale.” Now that’s not something I would have seen in my Burnsville classifieds! Hay. Horses. Goats. Sheep. Rabbits. Cattle. Even an alpaca or two. These “for sale” ads are all foreign to me, but so intriguing. And the business ads – my favorite is an ad that runs every week for “Porky’s Pooper Pumper” (no lie!). Also intriguing are all of the area auctions. Everything from campers to business equipment to farm equipment to estate items, auctions are a big thing in this area, and I can count on at least a half dozen or so ads enticing me out for a weekend of shopping and bidding. Horse Arena come Auction HouseSo last weekend, which dawned sunny and beautiful, I decided to do just that – visit my first auction. The one I picked happened to be an estate auction. It is easy to lure me with the possibility of antiques shopping. There was no address printed in the ad, just a description of which exit to take off of the freeway and which direction to head once on the exit (west). So I headed out somewhat blindly, counting on good signage to guide me there. I needn’t have worried. After a scenic two mile drive on a country road, a sign “Auction parking ahead” clued me that I was getting close, then a string of cars along both sides of the road indicated I had arrived. Since this auction was at a residence, not a warehouse, the only parking was along side the highway. But no mind, I maneuvered my Geo Prism in behind a white Ford pickup truck, put up my sunshade (my black car heats up like a kettle on a campfire) and got out of the car, checking first to make sure no one was roaring up behind me on the highway. What is this stuff?I walked a block or so past other parked vehicles and some beautiful horses in the pasture and then entered the driveway to the property. It was full of old equipment. I am not a farmer so I don’t pretend to know what any of it was. It was all intriguing though, some pieces looking like giant porcupines, and most with a coating of rust belying a lifetime of outdoor hard labor. There were vendors here, too, so we could all munch along on our hot dogs as we waved our numbers around. But the horse arena that housed the auction was an even more impressive sight – it was chock full of things old and interesting. Looms, antique cream separators, washing machines, horse equipment, cast iron. Just in time for ChristmasI wandered around for a long time, taking in the sights, smells and sounds. There was a lot to look at. I watched and listened to the cadence of the auctioneer - “Who’ll start the bidding at $20? How about five, who’s got five??” His assistance suddenly calls out “Yep” as she spies someone shaking their number. The bidding goes up, five (Yep!), six (Yep!), seven (Yep!) and so on, to ten… now it’s paused at ten as the auctioneer tries for 11. Nobody moves, and the item is sold for ten dollars. I learn real quick that items are grouped up in lots of similar items, so to get the piece you want, you have to be the first high bidder of the lot to get your pick and choice of items in the lot. If you get first pick, you can take as many items from the lot as you want for the price you won on it, so you could take the remaining items for $10/each. If you decline, then the same offer goes to the backup bidder (the one that made the last bid before you). They can then pick items out of the lot for the price you won. If they decline, the lot starts over for bidding. Welcome to my auction!There were a few items I was interested in possibly bidding on – quite a few old kerosene lamps in particular – but of course, they, too, were auctioned as a lot, and the high bid was $45, a price too steep for my blood, even for first pick. I watched the activity for another half an hour then decided it was time to head back home. I walked out to the car past the horses again, one of which wandered over to the fence for a photo op. He was stunningly beautiful. He seemed totally unconcerned about all of the activity in his driveway. But it was time to head out and on to our next big adventure – the Almelund Apple Festival. Stay tuned for that adventure, coming soon!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ready to go for a paddleI am the proud owner of a 16’, 38# cherry red Epic brand kayak. This beauty is light enough to car top all by myself, yet fast and sleek in the water, a dream to paddle. The small town where we live is surrounded by lakes, and there is a nice lake a half of a mile from our house. So despite the days getting shorter and colder seemingly overnight, I still try to slip in a paddle every chance I get, if I’m lucky, about twice a week. A few weeks ago I noted the following story in my paddling journal. The weather was chilly that day, in the 50’s (ok, so maybe that wasn’t really that chilly, because today as I write this it is in the low 20’s!), but the sun was still shining, although it was close to sunset by the time I pulled my boat off the car and set her by the water. It was the first time this season I would have to wear a jacket, hat and gloves to paddle. The dock had recently been pulled out of the lake, too, which meant a semi-wet-foot entry would be required (yes, I am able to do a dry entry & exit from docks, providing the water levels aren’t too far below the dock). This method minimizes the amount of water I get into the boat, and keeps my feet dry – important when the weather, and water, turn colder. With the dock out, I’d have to lay my boat parallel to the shoreline and as close as possible to the beach, lay my paddle down perpendicular to the boat, propped just behind the seat, and use that as a brace while I sat down on the back rim of the cockpit and gingerly picked one foot at a time off the beach and into the boat. Once settled into my seat, a few pushes with the paddle and my boat was free of the sand.

wet foot entryThere was very little wind as I set out, so I headed east across the lake towards the sunny side (my put in was on the west side, which would be in complete shadow soon). The sun was close to setting, and I felt an urgent need to get across the lake to those last sunbeams before they disappeared for the night. My boat cut sleekly through the water, and my arms, strong from paddling, made haste getting us across. I paused to watch the sun dipping behind a cloud, scattering its rays through the sky. I pressed on, up the north east side of the shoreline towards the little finger that ran out of the lake and inland. Once in this narrow channel of water, my rhythm slowed down and I began to take in more of my surroundings.

Water plants grow thick here, and water lilies mark the edge of the channel the boats use to get in and out of this waterway. Last month on a sunny day while paddling this stretch, turtles that had been basking in the warm surface water between the lilies would suddenly slip down into the water as I went by. One time I looked down just as my paddle entered the water and realized I was about to paddle into a turtle, a really big turtle – maybe 18” from nose to tail – and thus averted my stroke to avoid it. When it’s too cold for turtle watching, there are still plenty of fish to surprise among the water plants. But in actuality, they startle me probably even more than I startle them. When the water is green or brown or too dark to see through, they like to swirl quickly right beside my boat, leaving a tiny whirlpool in their wake. Sometimes I’ll be lucky enough to have a fish jump close to the boat. Also startling. One time I was able to stop my boat and watch two otters feeding near the edge of the shore. There were no turtles or jumping fish or otters on tonight’s paddle. I completed my exploration of the little northeast channel a wee bit disappointed and turned my boat around, sad to be heading home already, but watching as the sun slipped further down behind the west shoreline. As I existed from the channel, a white duck called loudly nearby, attracting my attention. I had seen this duck as I headed into the channel also, but this time it was standing on the shoreline, seeming to be leading a small group of mallard ducks behind it. They all slipped into the lake not far from my boat, and began paddling out the direction I was heading. I slowed down the pace of my paddling to watch, but even at my slowed pace I caught up quickly, and all of the mallards took off in flight. The white duck, however, remained in the water, quacking very loudly and paddling furiously as the mallards flew off. It continued to quack loudly as the ducks flew a short distance away and then landed on the water again. The white duck quickly paddled towards the group of mallards, still calling, and they in return paddled back in the white duck’s direction. Epic kayakBy this time they had moved out of the path I was heading, so I was able to paddle past them without disrupting them a second time. Once past, I turned in my seat to watch. The white duck continued towards the others and soon they were all reconnected in one group, heading in one direction, together. I pondered about what I had just seen. Were they somehow related? Or just random ducks that happened to have some kind of connection? Was the white duck a female that had helped raise these mallards? Her calling out to the mallards as they flew off certainly, to my untrained ear, sounding like a mother scolding her young for getting out of arm’s reach. Of course I will never know the answer to this mystery. But it left me with a warm feeling inside, despite the cold air seeping into the seams of my jacket and through the plastic seat beneath me. Whatever the reason, there seemed to be a connection between the large white duck and the mallards. A connection across color and size and species. A lesson and an example for me to take home. I looked for those ducks on my paddle again tonight. I did not see them. I hope that wherever they are, they are together, enjoying the bond of their unique connection.

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