Tag Archive: us 2011


apart from the zoo, the final week of my trip at home was made of nice, quiet days at my parents’ house.   the cats and i entertained each other (in very different ways… leo likes games of hide-and-seek, exploring cardboard boxes and bags, riding on shoulders, and napping on your chest; for fizzgig, it’s more of a wary circling with occasional hissing [she does most of the hissing, but sometimes you just have to answer], until she sits on your lap and pretty much dares you to move or fidget); i joined dad and limo on walks, cooked a bit, played a lot of scrabble with mom, and did more stuff triage in my room. 

tragically, it was too wet outside to get drafted into any yard work, but at least the flowers were happy.

and so the final few days passed.  i left with more than twice as much luggage as i’d had on arrival, but there’s still plenty to do when we return for christmas. :)

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.

waterfalls and wilderness

during our visit to the lake house, my uncle took us on a couple of nice hikes to admire the local scenery.  by ‘nice hikes’ i mean treks through the gorgeous woods that started on reasonably obvious trails but rapidly became more… adventurous.  streams were crossed on slippery logs, muddy precipitous hillsides were scrambled and slid down, and at one point, my uncle tied himself to a tree with a length of rope so he could edge out toward the lip of a 100-foot waterfall. ‘don’t worry,’ he called gaily from the edge.  ‘the rope isn’t that long, so if i fall, i’ll only land in that first funnel down there.’

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at the lake house

spring in north carolina

on our way out to my uncle’s lake house, we traveled a lovely section of the blue ridge parkway.  the dogwoods are in bloom, the tenderest spring green leaves are appearing on the trees, and the mountain views alternated between classic smoky blue panoramas and veils of streaming clouds, pouring up over the peaks.  in short: spectacular.

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i’m on a train in north carolina, and i have been on it for eight hours.  it is an hour behind schedule, an hour off from my destination still, and we are stopped with locomotive trouble.  this seems like a good opportunity to look back over the last few much more enjoyable days, the review of which will hopefully subdue my urges to kill someone.

so, boston!  i stayed with my college friend mensch, her two lovely, culinarily spectacular roommates, and her wry, chunky cat, brussel (above).   upon landing, the city greeted me with a gorgeous sunset and several colorful characters, just to remind me of their gregarious ubiquity around town.  first was a rather vacant individual who sat next to me on the bus, lolling his head over toward me every couple of minutes to ask a few more slurred questions.  these ranged from queries on whether i had any children (and may lose me a bet i made with the pebbles about how many people would raise the subject on this trip – i, apparently optimistically, did not foresee this as a frequent topic of conversation with strangers), to whether there was much gang activity in new zealand.  i was divided on how to answer this line of questioning – was it an attempt to appraise my gang-savviness?  however tempted, i refrained from saying, ‘yes, and the most vicious is the colossal squid gang, of which i am king.’  then, on the walk from the t-station to mensch’s house, another garrulous person approached me, with a running environmental commentary that evolved into  ‘wow, that’s a lot of stuff you’re carrying!  pop pop!  you got a baby on there, too?  no?  oh, sorry’ as he walked past.

apart from the chatty strangers (of which there were several more, including a hotelier-gymnast from barcelona who tried to convince me to come to starbucks with him – no go for several reasons), the visit was a fantastic mix of visiting old stomping grounds (wellesley, neaq) and catching up with very good, far-too-seldom-seen friends.  there was an octopus encounter to rival the one that got me hooked on cephs, some 13 years ago, at the very same tank. the final morning was something of a strike-out, when i failed to check the garment district’s opening hours before going there, and then discovered that an old friend whom i had decided to try dropping in on unannounced had actually moved to chicago a few months earlier, but i did find a nice exhibit on arthropods at the harvard museum of natural history, and spent some time happily peering at claws, segments and various other jointed appendages in jars.  and some very cool ceph items in the gift shop.

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a quick swoop through dc was next, staying with koenigin and encompassing another quick series of location and old friend visits.  there was a delicious ethiopian dinner (now traditional for dc visits), and pilgrimages to the old neighborhood and to the bookstore that the pebbles remembers with great fondness, despite being the object of a failed pick-up attempt the last time he visited there.  (i considered, but ultimately decided against, buying him a book on gaydar.)  there was ice cream, a stammtisch with some other waldsee veterans, a visit to the baltimore aquarium, admiration of the copious new leaves and blossoms on trees, and a rather chilly reminder that april weather is fickle and often wet.  there were busy and important people in shiny shoes crammed into trains, pointedly ignoring each other in spite of very close quarters, and ambient discussions of the averted government shut-down, and descents down 126 non-functioning escalator steps into deeply subterranean metro stations.  in short, everything i remember about dc from previous life and visits.

and then, inevitably, we reach the point where this narrative catches up to the present moment.  it didn’t even have to travel terribly fast to catch up, since we are still sitting in the same train station.  the sun has set, the train is dark inside since the power is out, we have just been told it will be at least another 30 minutes, and a couple of small children in the back of the car are treating us to a rousing chorus of ‘bad romance’.  people are on cell phones all around me, expressing varying degrees of pragmatism and ire.  my parents have been informed that we will be arriving by bus, but no one on the train has been told this information; i am torn between waiting it out, and spreading the news.  either way, i think i will stash my laptop in preparation for an ever-more-imminent riot.

epilogue: an hour later, my parents picked me up, having driven from our destination in lexington.  thank cthulhu for cell phones.  i found someone to speak german with in the meantime, and was just generally thankful to have broken down close enough to be rescued, unlike many other poor sods who were waiting to go to charlotte but wouldn’t arrive until probably 1am or so.  we got home around 10, 3.5 hours later than i was supposed to arrive, but it could have been so, so much worse.

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new england aquarium

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