Friday, October 9, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
For as long as I can remember, certainly my entire adult life, I have detested the feeling of muddy, dirty, or sticky things. I can remember dreading the carving of the pumpkin each October, as I hated reaching my hands into the slime and pulling out strings of mucky seeds. I still do, come to think of it, but now I use a big spoon instead. So it was a bit of a stretch for me to take off my shoes and “walk the muck” to the landing, but somehow we got the canoe and all of the gear loaded and soon I was crawling out over our packs to the bow of the canoe, where I would take up my paddle, as Mary pushed us off from the shoreline. The current was quick, but there were few hazards to beware of, and no rapids. After paddling languidly for awhile, I decided to turn around so I could see and chat with Mary easier. The current was strong enough to carry us along just fine without paddling, so we indulged in quite a bit of chit chat and just floated along. Sometimes sideways, sometimes backwards, but always flowing down the river in the right direction. The day was absolutely beautiful. Driving into town the previous night I had heard predictions of rain all day. Well, I was certainly happy the forecast was wrong this time – blue skies, fluffy clouds and sunshine as far as the eye could see. We laughed and chatted and dangled our toes in the cool water and ate a lunch of homemade hummus, crackers, tomatoes, sprouts, gorp (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts… with a few extras) and of course, chocolate. No outdoor adventure is ever complete without chocolate!Mile after mile of lush green shoreline passed us by on either side. We never saw another boat or any houses. We only saw 3 humans total, the entire trip, at a private campsite on the bank. Previously our adventures had taken us much farther north to escape the traces of humankind, into the reaches of the BWCA and the Superior Hiking Trail. We were both amazed at the seemingly wilderness experience so much closer to home. There were other living beings along the river that day however. Cows. Lots of cows. They would see us coming quite a distance away and start moo-ing. We heard them before we saw them, and I always had to smile when I saw another group of them. Some were lounging, some grazing, all seemed curious by our presence on the river. One herd, the largest in number, started running away from the river, many cows moo-ing very loudly. We were perplexed – were we really so scary? One cow seemed especially loud... and then we saw two young calves running out of the woods, down the trail towards the rest of the retreating herd, and she stopped calling. Oh, so not so different than us humans calling to our errant kids to get out of the woods and come home, I thought.
Up ahead a bridge crossed the river, and Mary realized we must have passed our campsite. So soon? It seemed we had just begun paddling. If we had covered that much ground, I mean river, that fast, that meant we must have been paddling about, well, about 4 miles/hour! Wow. For floating along and chitchatting, not really paddling much at all, we were traveling faster than I normally do in my ultralight kayak! If that really was the bridge at the Mound Prairie take-out, then we had already missed our campsite by a mile, which meant turning the boat around and heading straight back up stream. We decided we would have to try. We did want to stay on the river that night, and that was the only campsite between us and our take-out point. So, upstream we went. And we paddled. And paddled. And seemed to make very little headway against that current. Our arms, relaxed from our leisurely afternoon of floating, were certainly getting a workout now. It took about 30 minutes to reach our destination, when we finally spotted the sign we had missed on the bank on the way past the first time. There was a fallen log at the shoreline that we pulled up next to, a place to hold onto in the rushing current. We decided I would get out and go up the bank (all mud and weeds) to take a look at the camp site. Deciding was the easy part. Finding mud stable enough to support me was the hard part.
With the help of my canoe paddle, I finally navigated the steep muddy slope up to the top, about 10+ feet nearly vertical from the water level. I walked around looking for any sign of a campsite. I’ve been visiting remote campsites in the BWCA since my teen years, so I am no stranger to the sight of a campfire ring and a Ranger Box. I saw signs of neither. I headed deeper into the woods. Old cowpies littered the grassy areas. I spotted a structure of 2x4’s, possibly the old legs of what should have been a picnic table, rotting away on the forest floor. Ditto for the ranger box, which looked like it hadn’t been used (nor would I would have wanted to try it) for a decade. The fire ring was covered in fallen down trees. It was clear this site had not been maintained or used for a very very long time. I went back to the bank to give Mary the bad news. There was nothing to do but paddle the rest of the way, to the take-out, and go back to the Houston Nature Center and check out their walk-in tent sites. I noticed when I was getting out that a large frog had jumped into the boat, as if to say, “Take me away from here too!” After paddling downstream a ways, the frog reappeared from the bottom of the canoe and rested on my Duluth Pack, seeming to enjoy the view. We paddled to the bank and let him off. Hopefully his new location will suit him better. Once off the water and loaded up, we headed back into Houston. The walk-in sites (a mere $10/night – with a very nice real bathroom & showers!) it turned out were ours for the picking, with not another soul in sight in the entire place. We selected the site furthest away from the nature center, at the back corner of the clearing, not far from a cattail encircled pond where scads of frogs and red-wing-blackbirds sang out cheerfully as we prepared our dinner and set up camp. We were both pretty tired after dinner and headed into the tent before dark. As we lay awake with nothing but screen between us and the sky, frogs continued their lullaby and fireflies started dancing across the open grass. I fell asleep quickly and slept soundly all night. When I awoke, I had no idea what time it was. Birds were singing and the light still seemed like early morning, sometime around 7-ish, so I got up as quietly as possible and went for a walk. Fog hung low along the edge of the hills. Dew still rested on the leaves of the wildflowers and wild grasses along the paved bike path. Coneflowers were just getting ready to unfurl their petals, while earlier-blooming white campion and sweet clover bloomed profusely.
While wandering, I also took the opportunity to meander amidst the metal sculptures of the park. Old bikes and other metal scraps had been transformed into people, animals and even swings. After my walk it was time for breakfast and then packing up our camping gear and heading home, by way of Mary’s family’s cabin first for a picnic lunch. We discussed where to place her new (reclaimed) claw foot tub (outside, somewhere that could be filled using the electric pump, with a view of the west), checked out how the newly planted garden was growing, ate another great meal, outside on the picnic table Mary’s dad and friends had made, and tested out the hammock, basically procrastinating as long as possible before getting back in the car for the 3-4 hour drive home. Mary and I both agreed – for family-centered outdoor enjoyment, Houston and the Root River and surrounding areas are going down on our list of favorite places to visit and play, even if you have to tolerate a little mud between the toes to get there.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
After a few songs it’s time to head back home again. There are still things to do when I get back to the house. Critters to feed, bread to mix up and start to rising, clothes to take off the drying racks (ok, so maybe I still do a few things from scratch here and there), pictures to download onto my computer, a blog story to start fleshing out. The bike speeds along nearly effortlessly on the short ride home. I notice the sun streaking through the clouds, and enjoy the cool wind on my face and the perfect temperature. There are no bugs even. The elk have all retreated to the back fence line of their respective pastures, far beyond the reach of my small telephoto lens. The fields and fences rush by and in a blink, I am turning back onto my street and passing up the long leafy, canopied driveway to my house. The light is softly filtering through the trees behind the house; the sun is close to setting now. The frogs chirrup from the nearby swamps, a sound that will come through the open windows of my bedroom tonight, lulling me to sleep. And I, for a few hours tonight anyway, am no longer a caged tiger in this beautiful lush green jungle. I am just a Country Gal, the restlessness from earlier today spent along the roadside as the miles flew by, buoyed by memories of the elk and the sunshine, of crowds, songs and laughter. I am home again, and I am at peace.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Last year we switched out all of the light bulbs in our rental unit and the duplex we own, for CFL’s. We also traded in our 2005 Hyundai Tucson SUV for a 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid, trading in 21mpg for 45mpg. We bring our own bags for shopping, bring our own “to-go” containers to restaurants, our own water and coffee mugs on the road, and recycle everything we possibly can. So this year, when we looked at our lifestyle and once more said, “What can we do?” we decided to focus on food. We have long been patrons of whole foods grocery stores, seeking them out wherever we have lived. We try as much as possible to secure organic options, not just in produce but also our grains, pasta, sauces, spices, snacks, etc. But we felt we could go even further, when we found out that those luscious organic tomatoes have probably traveled 1500 miles or more to reach the grocery store shelves. So, we decided to educate ourselves on where our food comes from. Even more disturbing than the distance most foods travel to reach our stores, and our plates, was learning that, according to this information from Sustainable Table, every week 330 family farmers are being forced out of business and leave their land. “The dramatic expansion of industrial agriculture (or factory farming) has made it increasingly difficult for small family farmers in the US to stay in business. Instead, the food industry has become dominated by a handful of giant corporations which benefit from government policies that favor large-scale production.” So, we started checking the addresses on packaged foods before we put them into our grocery cart. And labels on the produce shelves. I was saddened to see onions from Peru (yes, as in South America!) on the shelves of a local grocery store last summer when I knew there were fresh, locally grown onions down the street at the local farmers’ market. We moved to this area too late last summer to join a CSA, or community sponsored agriculture program, where you purchase shares up front from a local farmer in return for fresh produce all summer long, but we vowed to select one for 2009. A local alpaca breeder, Peggy from Sunrise River Alpacas tipped us off to a local CSA called Nitty Gritty Dirt Farm. We visited their blog and decided they would be a great local option for us. We are close enough to run over and pick up the food order each week, attend their festivals and workshops, even volunteer on the farm. And, they have a fun farm name. Last weekend, we attended their annual spring festival and blessing of the fields. We enjoyed meeting Gigi and Robin, who own and run the farm, who are both delightfully engaging, along with many of their summer interns and many other share members. We wandered the grounds and saw a wide variety of livestock – bunnies, chickens, turkeys, goats & kids, sheep & lambs, two steer, some young pigs, and about a dozen ducks. We feasted on brick oven pizzas, created by Dustin, intern and chef extraordinaire. During a short ceremony, we blessed the fields (whose names span the alphabet from A-I, starting with Abundance and ending with Integrity), the bees who will work tirelessly this year to pollinate the crops, and all of the animals. We also prayed for more rain. The fields are so dry that the top layers of newly planted fields are literally blowing away. After all of the wandering around, chatting, eating and meeting people and animals, the afternoon was gone and it was time to head back home again. I am very glad we visited. I have found a great peace in knowing exactly who is growing the food I will soon be eating, and exactly where it is coming from and how it is being grown. I look forward to learning how to use what is in the box each week in creative ways, whether long-time favorites or new and unfamiliar varieties, building our meals around them. I also look forward to learning how to can and dehydrate some of it, to enjoy throughout the fall and long MN winter ahead. If this all sounds too intimidating, don’t fret – it’s easy to get started eating locally. Use your fingers to find local, sustainable foods. Here are some sites to get you going: Resident of MN? Check out the MN Grown directory, maintained by the MN Dept. of Agriculture. Using this directory we located fresh locally made gourmet cheeses and buffalo meat at Eichten’s Hidden Acres, locally grown and bottled, award-winning wines at Winehaven Winery and Vineyard, grass fed beef and pork raised with no chemicals or antibiotics from Hidden Stream Farm (they ship our bacon directly to us), and even our popcorn is now MN grown, from Clem’s Homegrown Popcorn (also mailed to us). The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of thousands of family farms, restaurants, and other outlets for fresh, locally grown food. Its listings include farmers’ markets, CSA programs, and even vegetarian eateries. If finding healthy grass-fed meats, dairy and other edibles is on your agenda, check out Eat Wild, whose site also includes information on the benefits of raising animals on pasture (for example, did you know that grass-fed meats are lower in fat and calories than grain-fed, and can actually lower your LDL cholesterol levels?). Don't feel like you have to make radical changes to make an impact. Start small. Visit your local farmers' market. Try one meal made from local ingredients and taste the freshness difference. Before you know it, you'll be hooked like we are. Who grew your food? Eat locally grown food, support global sustainability, enjoy your food, and smile.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
Slowly we climbed back down off of the counters. We took our plates to the table and enjoyed our meal. But each time I walked back over to the sink, I couldn’t help glance into the empty nest, half expecting some curious baby to have returned to the safe and comfortable place it had known for the last 14 days. And every time the empty nest stared back at me, I felt a little sad. I had come to enjoy checking on them throughout the day. Any time I was at the sink, all I had to do was look up, and four pairs of eyes looked back at me. Or one pair, with three pair shut sound asleep. Or no pairs, just four beaks agape in what I imagined were robin snores.
Today, after checking the empty nest at least a half a dozen times, I headed down to the basement to see if my teenager was ready to go to work. She had been working on tidying up all stuff in the boxes and bins she recently moved back home with, when things fell through with her roommate in town. It is, in a word, a big mess. I sigh but acknowledge she has made some progress over the last two days. Our nest was empty for 6 months. No longer. Our baby has fledged and flapped her wings about in the wide world beyond, only to return again when the world was a bit too much to handle.
Where will the robins go when the winds blow and the rains torrent this summer? Will they have a safe place to take shelter from the storms of life? It won’t be back in their little nest, that is for sure. But I send a prayer out to the universe that wherever they are right now, they will find shelter from the storms, and that perhaps next spring, they may grace our window again with new life and new hope in the spring sunshine. And I send another prayer out, that our own little fledgling will also find her wings and the strength and courage to leap from the nest again, ready to explore the world once more on her own. Blessings - Victoria