Friday, October 9, 2009

a seat at scenic cafe On a visit to my folks this summer, I took a leisurely drive up old Highway 61 from Duluth to Silver Bay. I stopped for lunch along the way at the Scenic Cafe and further on up the road, stopped again to take a walk down to a river. Hwy 61 has lots of rivers. It brought back memories of my last few years living in Duluth, when I learned how, through the good folks at the UMD Outdoor Program to winter camp and ski frozen rivers. I have skied many of the rivers between Duluth and Two Harbors and beyond, and it was nice to remember this as I sat soaking up the warm sun on a rock on a Friday afternoon. Brad Nelson Designs Velkommen Just outside of Two Harbors I stopped again, at one of my favorite gift shops, Brad Nelson Designs, located in a Norwegian stabbur, a building style originally used as a storehouse for food or grain. While perusing their many European imports and Brad’s own designed and handcrafted silver jewelry, I chatted with Brad’s mother, who often manages the shop (I just had to buy one of her handmade stuffed Swedish dala horses and a felted eyeglass case). Afterwards I strolled around outside to snap some more pictures. dala horse In addition to his design work, Brad maintains an extensive rock garden, adorned with succulents, flowers, intriguing stones, bits of architecture and other interesting artifacts. He was given a stone slab in the shape of MN which will soon be incorporated into one of his rock walls. MN Rocks! If you ever find yourself on a leisurely pace up the “North Coast,” I recommend you take the Old Hwy 61 route on the outskirts of Duluth and make sure to stop for lunch and a gander at Brad’s work and gardens. You may just find the North Coast to be one of your favorite vacation destinations. Farvel! Cheers! To visit my web album with more photos from my visit to the north coast, click Here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Now before you all get excited about the new attraction in Houston, let me just clarify – I’m talking Houston, MN (as in Hugh-ston) not Houston, Tx (as in Yew-ston). But regardless of how you pronounce it, the Houston Nature Center and surrounding area is a wonderful place to explore. I had the delightful opportunity of spending some time in the area recently, when my long-time friend and Adventure Buddy Mary asked me to join her for a weekend of canoeing on the Root River. Our plan was to paddle halfway between Houston and Hokah the first day, camping overnight at the Mound Prairie campsite on the river, taking out in Hokah the second day. So we shuttled our vehicles to the take-out and then up to the drop-off point, stopping at the Houston Nature Center for a map and directions to the parking area and put-in location.
Alice the Great Horned Owl Karla Kinstler and Alice, a 12-year old Great Horned Owl greeted us upon our entry into the nature center building, which houses a variety of owl-related gift items in addition to being a hub of nature programs that cover a variety of topics. Karla was friendly and helpful in getting us the information for our canoe outing, and we were soon on our way. After parking a vehicle at the Hokah landing, we made our way back up to Houston and unloaded at what appears to be a large sand pit on the edge of the river. We were warned by Karla not to park too close to the dredging machinery. We didn’t ask more about what that entailed, but we did try to park well to the side. When we walked down to the sandy landing, we noticed right away that there was nothing solid to launch from – no dock, no cement strips, just a bunch of mud and sand, enough sticky mud to suck the Keens right off my feet.

mud-luscious 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. Mooo Are Yooouuu? 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.

Antler impression in the bridge 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.

Are we there yet? 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. hitchhiker 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. HNC Tent/picnic area 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. Mary's tent 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. Morning fog 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.

Metal Sculptures 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

beloved Sekini So, it’s happening. I’m slowly going stir-crazy. The canopy of the thick woods which surround the beautiful home we’re living in near Lindstrom have leafed out completely, obliterating much of the day’s sunshine and light, and much of my good mood and optimism. I have the pleasure and pain of working out of an office in my home. My husband’s long commute and lately, long working hours have left me alone for a good 10-14 hours/day. Sounds like paradise, right? What’s the problem? Most people only dream of the hours of undistracted time that face me every day. “Why, if that were me,” (the voice in my head perks up, which, for some unknown reason, has a high, lilting southern accent,) “I would finish up those chores that can never get done when the kids and spouse are around, complicating the schedule. I would start a new hobby, or several! I would exercise every day! I would cook meals from scratch, sew my own clothes, start a business, watch TiVo for hours on hours uninterrupted!” Yes – you probably would. The first day. Maybe even the first week. And then, heading into that second week, Monday morning around 8am when you hear the garage door close and you watch your husband’s vehicle pull out of the driveway on his way to work, knowing you will likely not have a verbal dialogue with another human being for at least 13 hours from this moment, you start to feel just a wee little bit depressed. Yes, I have my work ahead of me, more than I can get done in the 10-hour day at my computer. I am thankful the phone does not ring off the hook like at my last job. But some days, I wish it would ring at least once in awhile. In my job, I’m lucky if I get to hear a human voice on the phone once a week, during our weekly status calls. Many weeks the call gets bypassed in lieu of putting out more important fires. Sometimes I can go weeks on end without talking to anyone from my company’s home base in Austin, TX. And last year, I went 14 straight months without seeing anyone in the business – not a coworker, not a boss, not a client or a prospect. Nobody but my own small family, day after day after week after month through the longest, coldest, darkest MN winter I can remember. Self-acclaimed introvert that I am, even that was too much “alone time” for this chick. Thank goodness I have the farm just 5 miles down the road to visit. Regular chats with Betty at Spirit Song Alpacas definitely keep me saner. Even scooping up the dung piles is enjoyable when you can do it with a friend. And the alpacas, well, they certainly help my sanity. I have found it nearly impossible to be sad or lonely or angry or depressed around those critters. I absolutely love being around them. But sometimes I can’t get to the farm. And sometimes the green cave of leafy jungle surrounding the house gets just a little bit too oppressive to stay home. When my calls to Austin go unanswered and I am about to lose it if I don’t have some kind of human interaction, then it’s time to head into town. So around 6:00pm tonight, I jump onto my 25-year-old Sekini 10-speed (or should I say 5-speed, since I only use one of the chainwheels) and head down the driveway. I realize as I reach the cul-de-sac that I forgot my camera in the house. Yesterday I forgot my camera when I headed into town to the bank. I was driving along a frontage road near a pond and passed two Canada Goose families with their goslings, right by the roadside, well within camera range, fuzzy yellow backs taunting my empty camera hand. Not about to make that mistake again, I backtrack to the house to retrieve it. I am not disappointed. About half a mile from my house I pass an elk farm. There is one bull elk in the front pasture, who rarely comes close enough to the front fence to even attempt a photo. But as luck would have it tonight, he’s standing near the fence line, the evening sun backlighting the velvet on his antlers. He is so beautiful he takes my breath away. I try not to disturb him as I approach the fence, stopping only long enough to snap a couple of pictures and walk quietly away again. bull elk Soon I am happily making my way through the town of Lindstrom, looking for the Lions Park. I may not know anyone out here tonight, but by gosh, even being in a crowd of people who are not actually interacting with me has a charm of its own. Especially when the crowd is happily ensconced in folding camp chairs, enjoying the Taste of Lindstrom event (munching on local cuisine from Lindstrom food vendors) and eagerly awaiting the start of the Wed. night Harmony in the Park concert, a special treat tonight featuring the Elvis Experience, a performance by Elvis look-alike (and sound-alike!) Steve Marcio. Centennial Bandstand 1894-1994 I wander the grounds awhile, snapping photos (is it still called “snapping” when it’s a digital camera?) and enjoying the antics of small children and dogs, young people and old, all milling around staking out the best seats to watch the show, which hasn’t started yet. I cross the covered bridge and locate a park bench which seems to offer a decent view, and since I did not pack along my own camp chair, a nice spot to rest a bit after all of the biking. The introductory music begins and then Steve/Elvis comes to the stage as the crowd claps and hoots.
Click below for a 50-second video of Elvis performing “It’s Now or Never.”

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. Lion head fountain in Lions Park 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. sunset on Hwy 20 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

Welcome! Last weekend, after two days of business meetings in Duluth, I took the opportunity to drive up the North Shore (of Lake Superior, or what one postcard now dubs the “North Coast”) and visit my folks for the weekend. On Saturday my folks suggested a visit to the Finland Heritage Site, located about 3 miles from Finland, MN on Cty. Rd. 6. In addition to several preserved buildings from the early 1900’s including a Visitor Center housed in the first forestry building in Finland from 1927, there is a brand new museum that is still in process of being finished, which will have story boards depicting the lives of early Finnish settlers covering events up to the present multi-ethnic community. Of special note – the saw blade sign on the visitor center belonged to my great-grandfather Axel Enerson. It was passed to my grandfather Archie and then to my mother Ellen. My parents donated it to the historical society, where my father is the treasurer. Great grandpa Axel's saw blade The heritage site resides on what used to be the 40-acre homestead of John Petaja, who was referred to as “John Pine” by the locals, a Finnish immigrant who settled the acreage at the early age of 20 and lived his entire adult life as a bachelor on this site. There are several interesting stories about John, which were relayed to us by the caretaker of the site, Judy Reinke. John Pine's homestead cabin One thing she pointed out to us was the sliding panel on the wall behind his cook stove, which she slid aside to reveal the place where John used to hide his liquor bottles. There is a story about the mailman finding john along side the road one day, and, thinking he was injured or possibly deceased, stopped to check on him only to find he was asleep in the grass. John reportedly said upon waking that hauling the water from the spring on the other side of the road tired him out, and he was merely taking a nap. We think perhaps the liquor bottles had something to do with it. Another interesting story about John was he used to report to his neighbors that when the “time came” for his death, he would never be found. And one day in is 80’s, he disappeared without a trace. Oddly enough, his breakfast was found on his kitchen table, the door cracked open for his cats, and his pension check still sitting, uncashed, on the table as well. Park Hill School In addition to John’s restored cabin, the site also houses the Park Hill School, a one-room school house that replaced an even smaller 1-room school, called the Lindstrom school (ironic because I live just outside of Lindstrom, MN, several hours to the south). Park Hill School was closed in 1928, but has been well preserved. Several small desks line up single file in the classroom. In the corner rests the heating stove. Big windows let in the light and make the one room seem much bigger than it really is. In the small room with a sign on the door declaring “Women Teachers,” there is a handmade loom that was owned by Esther Hakkarainen and reportedly bought in the 1930’s for $30. thru the looking glass After touring the school we passed by the Alex Rousku Sauna, circa 1920, and then wandered among a collection of antique farm implements, and I asked my father about the uses of several of them. Both my parents grew up on farms, and I never tire of asking them how this item or that tool where used. dump rake We also hiked the nature trail, although part of it was still closed down due to the massive number of downed trees caused by the April 8 ice storm, the damage from which is still evident all the way from my folks’ property near Silver Bay, on up the shore nearly to Tofte, and inland to Finland. John Pine's Pines After our short hike it was time to leave the heritage site. As I gazed one last time down the straight rows of planted pines, perhaps the only witnesses remaining as to what really happened to John Pine, the wind blew softly among them and I could almost hear them say, “When the people are all gone, we will still remember. We are here.” Siunausta - Blessings!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

For several years now Kelly and I have been making some rather unusual New Year’s resolutions. Instead of joining the gym, vowing to lose 10 pounds, get in shape (round is a shape, isn’t it?), we have decided each year to focus on one area of our life where we can reduce our environmental impact, in big and small ways.

kid goats 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. chickens 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. baby bunny 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.” hog heaven 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. frisky steers 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. lambs 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. brick oven pizza - yum! 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. seedlings getting ready for the fields 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

Chapel in the Hills
This weekend marked the end of my 4th decade on this planet. I did not dread it like so many stereotypical birthday cards suggested I should. There was no angst, no sudden realization that “oh no, my life is half over!” No shopping on for a red convertible or figuring out what medical methods I can employ to retain my fading youthful appearance. No, the weekend, and new decade, ushered in rather peacefully, despite my 19-year-old’s constant reminders about how “old” I am now. Reflecting back on my life so far, I can see it just gets better and better. My teen years were full of anxiety, lack of confidence and lack of direction. All I knew was that I was ready to be out of the house and into the wider world, and leave my small-town and small-school labels behind me. My twenties were also full of anxiety, lack of confidence, lack of direction, lack of finances, and to top it all off, several dysfunctional relationships and a large dose of single-parenting. There is not enough money in the world, if it were even possible, to pay me to go back and relive my twenties. But there were bright spots, too. I met some of the dearest people, whom I still cherish as my closest friends. I finished my college education, while working full-time and single-parenting, graduating Summa Cum Laude as my 8-year old cheered from the audience, “Yea Mom!” I faced my fears and jumped out of an airplane. I faced my fears and learned how to navigate using a map and compass, to travel by canoe through the wilderness, to sleep alone in the dark woods. I traveled to Germany and Ireland and Africa. Yet I was still eager to leave those tumultuous twenties behind and enter my 30’s. My fumbling as a na├»ve new parent was behind me. All of my dysfunctional relationships had been terminated, and the required amount of grieving and emotional detoxification (not to mention years of counseling) were under my belt. My thirties had to be better than the last twenty years, I sensed, and I looked forward to them. At age 31 I met my beloved. We were married two years later in a storybook setting in a Norwegian Stavkirke outside of Rapid City, SD. The rest of my 30’s were a blur of financial difficulties, parental struggles dealing with my daughter’s increasingly bizarre and scary behaviors (results of her anxiety disorders), and health challenges for my daughter and husband, culminating in three hospitalizations in 11 months, all of which were for life-threatening conditions. Through all of this turmoil and chaos, my beloved stood beside me like a rock (well except for the time HE was hospitalized for 10 days… then he laid beside me like a rock). I could not have made it through this last decade without his unwavering love and support, and for that I will always be grateful. Somehow, we all survived all of the challenges. I will always remember my 30’s as being exceeding difficult, but also blessed in so many ways. My daughter grew up into a beautiful, endearing, entertaining individual. And of course, more adventures. The purchase of my ultra-light 16’ cherry red Epic kayak, in which I have spent hours upon hours of delightful paddling and wildlife spotting. Camping, canoeing, the “Superior 35” (35 miles on the SHT for my 35th b-d). Back to Europe - Scotland, then Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day. Then a once-in-a-lifetime family trip to New Zealand and Australia over Christmas and New Year’s. And now, my 40’s. What lies ahead? What new adventures, what new lands? I am so excited to find out. Life is more stable than ever before. We have gotten through most of our financial challenges. Our child is safe and stable and happy and healthy. I am contemplating how to incorporate even more writing into my days. I believe I have a book or two in me, about getting through those tough times. I am no longer anxious or lacking in confidence or direction. I have my entire life ahead of me. And I have no regrets. Bad choices, yes, I have made many – experience is the toughest teacher of them all, but the end result is wisdom and compassion and a strength that cannot be forged any other way but by braving the depths of hell and coming out the other side. Yes, I look forward to the next 40+ years of my life. But, I could still use that little red convertible…… Blessings -

Friday, May 22, 2009

pile of robin babies
The babies are gone. Those incredible blue eggs which hatched into a vulnerable pile of blind, featherless beaks, barely strong enough to lift their heads up when mom or pop arrived with a mouthful of worms… whose collective dog-pile barely made lump in the bottom of the nest, who grew bigger daily before our eyes, popping out feathers, changing colors and growing until they outsized their nest, decided yesterday, on exactly their 14th day after hatching, that it was time to go.
mamma and 2 beaks At 7:00am yesterday morning, all 4 were still piled into the nest. By my 9:00am coffee pot trip, 3 remained. I searched the ground under the nest – no sign of the 4th. All day I checked back on them from time to time, and all 3 were still piled in there. Two of them took turns standing and stretching their wings, preening and sitting on the edge of the nest, but neither dared make the jump. The third seemed content to sit still beneath the other two, contemplating what lay ahead perhaps. At 6:30pm when my beloved got home all 3 little birds still stared at us every time we passed by the kitchen sink window. When I returned at 7:00, only 1 baby remained. He/she looked a bit lost now, all the siblings suddenly gone, the nest which was overcrowded moments before, nearly empty. But this baby didn’t seem to be in any big hurry to leave. I had to wonder if it was perhaps the 4th baby, the one that hatched the day after the rest, the one we had dubbed “slowpoke.” It was impossible to tell which was which, they all looked alike to our non-robin eyes. Would it take yet one more day to mature, as it did to hatch? We wondered, and the robin wondered back at us through the glass. We started to prepare our dinner on the counters near the window, glancing over every few minutes to see what it was up to. Then suddenly, I looked and the nest was empty. We had missed it, we had missed all of them take that fateful leap. We scrambled up onto the countertops in order for a better view, and searched the ground below our windows and the bushes and nearby trees. My beloved's keener eyes saw it first, in the nearest tree, its spotted breast differentiating it from one of its parents. It was hopping from branch to branch, mamma robin not too far away, calling to it. We watched it for awhile, until it had hopped up too high and out of sight.

3 amigos 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.

lone ranger 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.

empty nest 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
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