Tag Archive: us 2010

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.

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…

escape to summer, part 4

now we get into the wilderness.

for several months, we had planned to spend a few days of this trip canoeing in the boundary waters with a pair of intrepid, canoe-savvy friends – betyper and her husband. although the plans took a small last-minute detour, changing the destination to voyageurs national park, the result was still spectacular. we had never been to either spot, so one swath of deep northwoods scenery was as good as another to us; plus, betyper has previously coached/wheedled/forcibly dragged several groups of teenagers through voyageurs national park with no loss of life (in french, no less). we hoped to be relatively low-maintenance in comparison.

so the four of us organized a mess of gear, two canoes, and a couple of grocery runs, and we headed north from the cabin on a sunday. we stopped only to greet the blackduck town mascot on the way, and to admire the churning, rusty waters of big falls.

three hours later we were loading the canoes at ash river, having made our various sacrifices to weather and wind gods. two by two, we paddled over the glassy-smooth waters of lake kabetogama in shimmering afternoon sunlight, pausing about an hour in for a refreshing swim in the shallow channel between a peninsula and small island. betyper remarked on the calm waters with some amazement; apparently the gods were pleased by our sacrifices, and were granting us safe passage. as the evening gathered, we traveled deeper into the park, among a maze of islands that reminded me of nothing so much as a game of entdecker.

we did have a few moments of excitement when a storm cloud loomed over the trees to the south, complete with dull booms of distant thunder; our languid search for an official campsite took on a slightly more purposeful edge.

however, since (more) primitive camping is also perfectly acceptable if you are willing to forgo a long-drop and fire ring, and the first several official sites we passed were taken (and also because we’re just tough like that), we soon found a lovely low rock shelf to pull the canoes onto and made our own campsite. we were sheltered by a long arm of land to the right and trees overhead, which proved extremely fortunate since one of our tent poles broke and we wound up half-suspending our ceiling from a branch. while we rigged our slightly lopsided shelter for the night, betyper started the dinner initiative, and may i take the time to say that couscous and fresh vegetables with pesto have never tasted better.

as twilight descended, the water lapped gently at the rock shelf and our overturned canoes. the last pink sunset hues from the sky caught tiny ripples on the lake’s surface, loons called, and a few stars began peeping out overhead.

oh, and a toad moved into my shoes.

escape to summer, part 3

after the waldsee reunion and the chipmunk circus, it was time for the next main event of the trip – the family reunion.  every four years, all the descendents of one set of great-grandparents (collectively known as the k’s) get together for a weekend somewhere – over a hundred of us.

on our way, we made a little detour through the twin cities and to st olaf, bumbly’s alma mater.  all was verdant and beautiful outside, and cool and tranquil within.

after a necessary stop for hoagies in northfield, and for the pebbles, who arrived that evening into the cities, we were ready for the reunion.  this year’s gathering was in wisconsin, and it involved a fine montage of s’mores, cricket (kiwi partners represent!), river tubing, family trivia, and a pageant about the life of our great-grandmother.  all set in the middle of beautiful, lush, summery woods.and, of course, there were also long-awaited catch-ups with rarely seen cousins.  in fact, we also organized a smaller reunion for as many of the immediate cousins as could attend – a victorious outing to the twins’ new stadium!the weekend was rounded out by staying with friends, with whom we would shortly disappear into the northern borderland wilderness of voyageurs national park.  we held an overnight planning session and were only mildly distracted by the local fauna.  which was, in turn, only mildly distracted by us.

escape to summer, part 2

once the festwochenende had wound down, we repaired to the verdant bubble of cabin life, accompanied by my old friend and scrabble-rival spam.  more swimming, frisbee, good food and games followed, along with the next installment of the summer’s project: taming the local chipmunk population.  mom had started feeding the cheeky local chippies on two large boulders in the meadow, and had gotten them to the point where they would stomp and chuck impatiently if they felt they’d been underfed on a given day.  having read about the brazenness of chipmunks and seen the greedy gleam in their little seed-maddened eyes, i decided to see how close they were actually willing to get for a cheekful of sunflower seeds.
answer: very close.

over the next few weeks, we grew able to recognize at least four individuals with relatively distinct characteristics, who also mostly appeared in distinct locations, probably associated with individual territories.  some of them grew bold enough to climb our legs and sit on our shoulders, while others remained relatively skittish, although even these shyer ones would hand-feed if we sat still long enough.  we did feel some initial twinges of guilt about acclimatizing them to humans so shamelessly, but on the other hand, their territories clearly did not bring them in contact with any other humans, plus we read that they would forage on fine-weather days to create caches of food for bad-weather days and cold weather.  so really, we were just giving them some winter insurance, and their brief, strange season of tameness shouldn’t affect them too much.  i also can’t imagine that there’s much room for memory in those little skulls, so i doubt the habituation will last long.  i also suspect we will find a meadowful of sunflowers next year thanks to forgotten caches.
it’s pretty hard to find a creature cuter than a jumping spider… but these guys are worthy competition.

escape to summer, part 1

this blog’s most consistent theme (recent arachnophilia aside) has been travel, so it seems only fitting that i resurrect it from a long dormancy with chronicles of a new trip.  the pebbles and i have just returned to nz from our near-annual sojourn to the US, and maybe writing about it and sharing some of the photos will stave off some of our longing to still be there in the lovely summer weather among far-too-seldom seen family and friends.  not that we have much time for moping – we move into our new house in ten days and i start a new job (well, new amalgamation of previous jobs) tomorrow.  but the vacation is over, so i will enjoy revisiting it in odd moments during the coming days and weeks.

i headed across the pacific for the 18th time  (i think) in late july, a week before the pebbles.  waldsee was celebrating its 50th birthday the following weekend, an event not to be missed.  bumbly and gizmo traveled across the same day, but because we don’t seem to be able to coordinate group travel to save ourselves (witness the pebbles and i, who did not travel together on a single flight this trip), they came separately and arrived about three hours later than i did – leaving time for IKEA pilgirmage number 1 (of 3) and swedish meatballs for dinner.  mom swooped us all up in good order and we drove like a carful of zombies straight up to the cabin (if zombies ever drive straight up to cabins?), arriving at about 3am.

the next day was a beautiful, perfect lake day with light breezes and calm waters for swimming, adjusting to summer weather and a significant time difference, and the first tentative sun-exposure of pasty winter skin.  everyone spent all day taking deep breaths of the clean northwoods air and breathing deep sighs of delight just to be there.  a fabulous spaghetti dinner rounded out the day and let us know that we were really back.

waldseefest began the following day, with over 200 staff and camper alumnae rumored to be attending, in addition to the ~200 people already on site for the normal program.  i have no idea what the final number was, but many, many old friends and lost acquaintances were there to take part in a perfect mixture of organized activities and general hanging out around the marktplatz.  there were songs, campfires, swims, woodfired pizzas, dedications, speeches by various important figures including the german ambassador, and beautiful cool nights camping on the fussballplatz.  on one night we heard coyotes singing in the woods nearby.  the stars were as spectacular as ever and the only pall cast over the weekend came from some dear friends being stuck in dc due to bad weather.  however, they have hinted that they might come to visit us in new zealand for christmas, so we will hope for that as a possibly even improved plan B.

one of the main discussion themes for the weekend was waldsee’s future – summer camp, as a luxury experience, is of course in decline in the US at the moment, and the nonprofit language villages have had several sobering years of falling enrollments.  but the creation of a new waldseestiftung to help with scholarships looks like a very positive development, and seeing how some of the kids and staff have grown in the years i’ve been away, and the way the program is still nurturing people, suggests that the program does indeed have a strong future.   a new, permanent site for the japanese village is under construction, and the arabic village that opened most recently is doing well, so i am confident that the wonderful learning experiences tucked away in a magical little corner of northern minnesota will continue.

the celebration weekend was the first time i’ve really taken a good camera around waldsee at leisure, and i did my best to capture the essence of some of my favorite spots and memories of the years i worked there.

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