Tag Archive: minnesota


i hoped i would manage to post a few more times before this trip, but i didn’t, so we’re just going to go with it.  little fish (whom i was going to abbreviate LF, but now that i look at that, might just call her the elf) is now nearly six months old and we have embarked on her first big overseas adventure — we’re visiting the US for two weeks, followed by south america for three.  door to door, the trip over from auckland took us 42 hours, since we stayed out near the airport the night before we flew out so that we were close by for our 6am check-in time.  the elf was amazing throughout; she slept for nine hours on the trans-pacific flight and only had a little trouble with her ears on our final descent in the states — thank goodness, because that kid can really scream when she needs to.

we headed up to the lake cabin on saturday evening and are now basking in the late-autumn woods.  today was  mostly sunny, with some scudding clouds, and it was gorgeous weather for being outdoors.  last winter we had a piece of land selectively logged to improve the health of the remaining trees and to replant in some longer-lived species, and while it was difficult in some ways to see the much clearer landscape where beloved dense forest used to be, in other ways it was still quite beautiful.  the tamaracks have gone golden and we had broad panoramic views of them across a big wetland at the back of the section.  the seedling popples from this year are already 7-8 feet tall in some places and their broad green leaves glowed backlit in the sun.  what were previously fields of purple asters have now become meadows white fluffly seed heads, and the marsh grasses were hay-colored, dotted with small patches of sky-blue water.  we even saw a few late frogs and toads basking in the afternoon sun.  so while the walk was a far different experience from previous times we’ve been here, it was still lovely.  and it is indescribably good to be back in the woods.

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flump, plop, flop

when we returned to the cabin the next morning, we found that the ice had gone out a few hundred meters on the lake , leaving a wide stretch of clear, glass-calm water near the shore.  birds chirped and hopped in the sun-warmed trees, snow patches had shrunk visibly, and a few squirrels chattered to let us know that our return was not entirely welcome.  we left them some piles of sunflower seeds as a peace offering, and went for a long exploratory walk across the road, to visit the big swamp.  spring, although young, was everywhere – in the thawing, soggy ground; in the silver pussywillows; in the ubiquitous mushroom colonies.  i think we picked the right evening/morning to visit.  :)

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stopping by woods

the goal of our drive north was to visit the cabin to see how it had fared during the exceedingly snowy winter.  (answer: just fine.)  while we couldn’t stay there overnight without risking severe pneumonia, we were at leisure to walk up and down the hill, over variously bare or still-snowy ground, listening to the trees dripping, the dwindling ice sighing, and the few early-returned or hardy over-wintered forest dwellers (though no chipmunks were apparent), making the most of the final sunlight moments.  the air was crisp and clean, the ground spongy underfoot, and the broken ice drifted past the shore at a slow walking pace, melted into unlikely sculptures.  the sun set over the lake, far, far from where we ever see it in the summer, and a ghostly mist began to rise off the river we like to canoe on hot summer days.  far from seeming bleak, the cabin actually still feels magical at this time of year, perhaps even more for showing us an early-spring face we only rarely see.

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the road north

two weeks ago today, we drove from omaha up to the lake in northern minnesota. we had been home from north carolina for nearly 18 hours, so high time to get moving again…

in omaha, the air had a spring balminess to it that didn’t quite match that of north carolina, but was still a cheerful indicator of winter’s past tense. as we drove further north, however, chilliness began to set in and it soon became evident that winter was not toothless everywhere, just yet. we did see an amazing diversity of bird life – waterfowl migrating back north (pelicans, trumpeter swans, loons), raptors (kestrel, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, osprey), ground birds (turkeys, grouse) and waders (several blue herons, and we heard sandhill cranes, although they stayed out of sight behind the treeline). when we stopped, song birds flitted through the trees (chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, phoebes), and a bluebird flew across the road right in front of us. truly an avian cornucopia!

the landscape, though still clearly in the very early stages of post-winter recovery, was also lovely to drive through in itself. for some reason, the sky never looks the same anywhere else as in northern minnesota. on this particular day, the deep slate-blue of distant clouds, which appeared to be sifting sheets of powdery snow onto neighboring counties, contrasted beautifully with the standing golden remains of last year’s crops, and the air was calm enough for crystalline reflections in ponds and lakes (sometimes, of geographically unlikely beasts).

much as i love new zealand, spending time in minnesota, whatever the season, is always a homecoming.

escape to summer, part 9

the final day up north was rich in natural beauty, and i won’t write much about it since the photos speak for themselves. i went back up to camp and took the traditional sunset walk around buck lake, and got up early the next morning for the final sunrise over kabekona. just like last year, the only early morning wildlife sighting was a young red squirrel, who was so excited/irritated by my presence that he set up a constant chatter and stamped from side to side in a frantic dance.

the one thing i wish i could represent more accurately with pictures or words was an eerie, beautiful tree deep in the waldsee woods with glowing mushrooms all up one side of the trunk. these were probably Armillaria sp., and although i can find some cool photos of it online (here and here and here and here), i like this illustration the best for conveying an appropriate sense of wonder and otherworldliness.

escape to summer, part 8

just four posts left for this trip… i can do it…

after the reunions (waldsee and family), camping, and final few days of all being at the cabin together, parts of the group began to drift back to various corners of the planet.  bumbly and gizmo returned to new zealand; the pebbles scampered off to montana to visit a friend and see yellowstone; mom headed south to omaha to be at work for the start of the school year.  this left dad and me a few days of relative solitude together at the cabin, which we put to good use.  along with more snorkeling, treehouse time, and good food, we planted some trees, canoed out to watch some sunsets, tidied up the cabin, and did something none of us had ever done before — we kayaked lester lake.  the lake is about a mile long and the site of a recent natural resource triumph over capitalism.  we had been back there for several walks and made a few interesting wildlife sightings, or at least seen signs of wildlife.

on foot, a fair stretch of the northern shore can be accessed, including some impressive white and red pines, lush meadows with pressed grass hollows where deer sleep, and the trickling beaver dam that probably made the lake.

but the southern shore and eastern tip remained mysterious, until we took the kayaks back and had a look around.  it was a hot, calm afternoon and frequent splashes were required to keep cool, although the floating muck around the edges of the lake made splashing appealing only toward the center.  we made it all the way to the eastern tip and i followed a winding ?stream/inlet/outflow around a few extra bends, until the muck got too thick for easy passage.  not a terribly appealing body of water beneath (or on) the surface, but the surrounding woods were lovely, the quiet was absolute, and two pairs of bald eagles were fishing.  one could easily imagine what most of the northwoods were like before people arrived, or at least before particularly destructive cultures took over.  and while no particular natural wonders made this place stand out for preservation, it was good to know that sometimes, such quiet, unassuming — yet beautiful — places can be recognized as worthy of protection.

escape to summer, part 7

after we got back from voyageurs, everyone had a few more days together at the lake.  these were filled with swimming, games, and good food, as well as blissful naps and, of course, chipmunk-spoiling.  the weather was warm enough to swim not only ourselves, but also the dogs; it was also warm enough to take dad’s underwater-capable camera in for a few snorkeling trips.  and while the lake wildlife might not be as spectacular as what you’d see diving in the ocean, it’s still pretty nifty.

once again, the stars have aligned (in a tiny 8-eyed formation, the way i imagine it) on webnesday.  this morning, one of my colleagues sailed into the office, announcing that she’d brought me a present — a large, newly dead Cambridgea foliata in a jar.  she assured me that she had found it dead in the driveway and was not responsible for its demise, and it looks pretty untouched — loooong legs curled serenely, biiiig jaws (another male) folded tidily.  i plan to have a good look at it under the microscope as soon as i get the chance — but not today.  (sorry, how much of a tease was that?!)  instead i can, in good conscience, continue in the theme of the US trip, with all the nice spiders i saw along the way.  as usual, there was a nice variety.  dad had started to scout them out for me even before i arrived, announcing that there was a nice orb weaver established near the cabin basement door.

he had even started to feed her.

(that last photo is his… i had to put it at the end because it’s better than all of mine.)  ;)

there were a few other pretty spectacular ones in and around the cabin, including an amazingly fat, glossy black one (same shape as the first one from last summer) with a red stripe, who had taken up residence, appropriately, in the shiny red canoe.   i took some photos of her but can’t find them, so i’ll come back and edit this if they turn up.  bumbly got startled by a large wolf spider scuttling out of a puzzle tube, and had the presence of mind to capture her for me; this proved to be one of the coolest spiders all summer, because she was just about to molt.  i’d never watched a spider molt before, and it was kind of amazing to see the soft body emerging from the old, perfect shell, and to watch her flex her legs as the new chitin hardened. 

in hindsight, the sieve was probably not the best photographic background, but she needed to be suspended from something while the molt was taking place.  oh well — i know for next time.  when she was finished, we tried the eye-shine trick with her (as with the other lycosid), and it worked — i just can’t get over the sparkly eyes!

we also found a couple of very cool spiders back at lester lake (more about this lake to follow) — lots of grass-spiders (Agelenopsis spp. — like this one), and one lovely little crab spider hiding in the clover.

to round things out, the zoo in omaha (where we went at the end of the trip) had a very cool exhibit on that included spiders from… hmm.   malaysia?  seems likely.  anyway, hanging in their gossamer webs high above the admiring (and/or squicked out) public were lots of our old friend Nephila.  one of the  keepers even brought one down so we could get a better look – man, they are amazing.

and that’s what i did with my summer vacation.  ::::)

escape to summer, part 6

on day three of the voyageurs trip, you may recall that i awoke to daylight through the trees overhead.  the daylight had pink and grey tinges, due to the time being approximately 4.15am, and i only became aware of it because an evil, evil crow found a branch directly over our tent from which to shout


crows have a particularly fine sense of mischief, and this one displayed his for the next several  minutes, at great and gleeful volume.  but i am nothing if not a resilient sleeper, so i rolled over and didn’t wake until another noise weaseled its way into my distinctly fuzzy brain.  it was a kind of creaking, shushing, sighing noise that grew more ominous as i realized what it was: wind.

our plan for the day was to paddle back to our entry point at ash river, accompanied by betyper and husband.  from there, we novices would make our way back to the cabin, while the two more hardcore canoe aficionados went back in for another couple of days.  the paddle out consisted of the stretch we had covered on the first day (about two hours), plus the extra forty minutes we’d done on the previous morning to reach the current campsite — all in all, perhaps seven miles.

what you can’t see on the maps in the other two posts is the six-mile stretch of open water that stretches to the west of our take-out point.  the stretch over which the wind has a lot of unobstructed fetch.  we had also conveniently minimized this geographical situation in our memories — after all, on the way in, it took us two hours over glassy waters, with a light and pleasant tail-breeze.  on this final morning, gazing out over the distinctly rougher water during a rather subdued breakfast, we began to suspect that we had undervalued the easy going.  several small red toadlets and the infernal crow were the only wildlife apparent as we set off.

i will not walk you through the travails of that day in any great detail.  suffice it to say that it took us over four hours to get out, and that during no single moment on the open water were we able to stop paddling without losing several hard-won minutes’ worth of distance.  sometimes we were blown  backwards while still paddling forwards.  there were periods of grim determination punctuated by howls of rage and occasional brief lapses into despair.   small islands were ducked behind for momentary cover and our snack food supplies dwindled steadily.  there were whitecaps everywhere, horizontal bursts of spray and the constant monotone rush of the headwind.  the passage of motorized craft (often waving cheerfully, the bastards) was met with blistering glares, a lot of bad language (inaudible in the gale, luckily) and — i’m pretty sure — a secret desire from each of us that we would be offered a lift/tow.  a couple of bald eagles were enjoying the fine soaring conditions, but other than a couple of quick photos (costing us precious yards of headway) we couldn’t really spare them the attention they deserved.

our destination crawled into sight a cruel two miles before we would reach it, and i was nearly ready to accept my future as a berry-eating hermit on the wild shores of lake kabetogama once i realized how far we still had to go.  we pulled into a small, choppy bay for one last reconnoiter and swapped canoeing partners, to pair veterans with rookies for the final push.  i still don’t know how we actually did it.  i have a vague memory of singing/yelling german pirate songs into the wind and bargaining with any power that was listening.   and then — miraculously — we were there.  while i didn’t actually kiss the ground, i did jump pretty much straight back in the lake to rinse off the accumulated sweat, spray and general toxic mood.   of course, things seemed brighter immediately — we were stationary (but could move forward with minimal effort when we chose!  happy thought indeed!), finished, and exhausted but proud, because HELL YEAH WE JUST DID THAT.  betyper began chatting up a recently arrived pontoon and organized a ride back to the campsite (thank god — although we heard that the towed canoe went entirely underwater  at one stage on the trip back).  the pebbles and i brought our car down, packed it, and tied the canoe on.

and then it was time to part ways.  i’d like to say that we spoke eloquently about our accomplishment and parted with congratulatory high-fives, but, anticlimactically, i think we were all too shell-shocked to do much more than wave dazedly and wander off in opposite directions.  we did catch up with the other two one more time in the twin cities before the end of the trip, and after that safe passage of time, agreed that further joint adventures would definitely be on the cards.  rough last day or no, the trip was amazing and we were deeply grateful to share it with good friends (who also happened to be brilliant organizers and guides).  the surroundings were stunning, the food and companionship excellent and the memories some of our best from the trip.  as for the trip out… i don’t know if it made us stronger, but it didn’t kill us, and i’m content with that.

escape to summer, part 5

(continuing the chronicle of voyageurs national park)

the following morning, we were awakened by a symphony of furious whining from the mosquitoes hurling themselves against the outside of the tent (and a few itchy spots where the mesh had sagged against our skin during the night, apparently admitting hungy probosci). but it was another gorgeous day, with a light breeze bearing the smell of propane-fueled instant coffee, thanks to the earlier-rising betyper. over a hearty breakfast of porridge, we devised a cunning plan to paddle only a short distance, claim a campsite for the night, and leave most of our stuff before setting off on the day’s main adventure. this secured us an absolutely gorgeous site on the edge of an island, above a tall rocky outcrop complete with lake-view fire circle.

we were smitten. this site also boasted a formal ‘tent-pad’ of packed sand, pit toilet with wooden screening wall, a tree-stump autographed by zorro (or perhaps norro) and a little artistic surprise in the water at the far side of the site.

after a brief exploration and quick tent-pitch, we hung a yellow bag in a lakeside tree to show the place was occupied, and set off for the day. our goal was to reach kettle falls hotel (green spot below), some six miles northwest of our campsite (yellow spot below), situated on a narrow waterfall on the us-canadian border and accessible only by boat.

the four of us went in a single canoe (with the two duffers in the middle providing turbo-boosts as needed) and reached the falls in about two hours, sometimes zigzagging over to skirt the dangerous foreign shores of canada. the hotel itself was quaint and reasonably quiet. a few groups of pontooners (many of whom had ogled us as some kind of non-motorized curiosity on the trip up) came and went while we ate a hearty lunch on the screened porch, sampling the local cuisine and ale. we checked out the famous sloping floor in the bar (look closely) and the falls themselves, then took a brief power-nap in the mid-afternoon sun before the return trip.

the breeze had picked up some, and the turbo-boosters kicked in across a few open stretches, but we were comfortably back on our island paradise by late afternoon. the ledge and clear water surrounding it created an excellent swimming site (for us, and an apparently aquatic stick insect that backstroked past), and served to make us clean and hungry by dinnertime. we ate looking out across the water, utterly content, and were treated to a glorious sunset and glass-calm waters (perfect for skipping stones).

as darkness closed in, we lit the campfire we’d set earlier in the day and stayed up to watch it settle slowly into orange embers. loons called and the stars came out, fringed with either hazy clouds or faint northern lights (we couldn’t be sure). we eventually dragged our weary but blissful selves off into the tents, and i set my alarm for a few hours later to check the northern lights, but when i woke up, i found i had missed them slightly…