Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Not a creature was stirring.

It was a cold and windy Christmas eve. What little snow there was started to get that squeaky sound it gets when you walk on it as the temperature dips below zero (-17C). The north wind howled like a mythical creature determined to survive the worst extremes nature could inflict. I figured I better put the horses in the barn or die of terminal guilt knowing they could have it much easier. So I set up all ten stalls with heated water buckets, fresh fluffy bedding, and a good pile of hay in there feeders. When I turned off the last light before going back to the house the last sound I heard was the happy chewing sound horses make when they have a mouthful of hay. I smiled and walked out the door and into the north wind which was trying to burn and peel my face off before I got back to the house. It nearly succeeded.

The deer are still wandering around and it is fun to try and figure out where and why they go where they do. I let them test the ice first.
The Big Lake gets kind of whipped up when the wind comes out of the east. If I had taken this in the conditions we had last night I would still be there in a thick coating of clear ice, frozen in time and space.
Feeling like I can't bring all the needy critters in the house (it's not an ark) I try and feed them outside. This little guy was thanking me for breakfast the other day and held still long enough for me to take his picture. In trying to take bird pictures I leaned that they hold still for less than one second unless they are nearly dead.
Meanwhile, back at the barn, our former "barn kid" stopped by for a Christmas visit today. She was our chubby little nine year old neighbor when she came over wanting to learn about horses. She is now a beautiful college sophomore and will be working at a therapeutic riding center near Duluth this summer. She had to waitress last year and didn't think much of it. Customer, " There's a brown spot on this lettuce leaf." BK (barn kid), "then don't eat that one." Customer, "My coffee is cold." BK, "then drink it faster." She didn't actually say those things, but really wanted to. I am guessing the customer didn't realize the only things you can count on being green around here are spruce needles and nothing short of a forest fire can stay hot for very long in this climate. 

Earlier in the day on Christmas eve I got a delivery in the mail that really made my day. It was my own personal copy of "Trousering Your Weasel" by the famous blogger and former carrier of the U.S. mail Murr Brewster. It is as awesome as her blog. In fact it is a collection of her blog with illustrations and stuff. My toque is off to Murr for the effort. I was reading it on the sofa, but the bathroom, or bedroom, or even a closet would be an appropriate place to read it. Such a way with words that woman has and her husband Dave, well he is a man of great tolerance and good humor. I salute him!. Buy the book! you won't regret it!

That was brought to you by the Shameless Commerce Department.

Unless your world ended a few days ago, Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

What a difference a day makes.

Even my attitude has improved with the new snow. I put the critter cam back out in the woods not far from the house and just as I started to head back I heard a low mournful howl. I heard the neighbors' huskies earlier and it took a moment to register that it was no dog I was hearing. I would guess it was about 1/4 to 1/2 half mile away in a different direction than where people are. The new fallen snow had put a muffle on any extraneous noise. Always nice to hear our neighbor wolves. This is the view from the deck this afternoon. It is still snowing lightly. This part of the deck has been cleared twice
Of course, when you get new snow you have to remove it from places that you might want to be. The temperature was just a bit below freezing and there was no wind so Stitch put on a hat and some crocs and went out in her jammies to clear the deck. Gotta love these northern women!
Her cat, Beevis the Butthead wanted to go out and watch the birds. He realized that the snow might make him damp and his toes might get a little chilled so he found a good place to watch. He is near a pair of ceramic boots, so the title of the picture is Puss and Boots.
While the sun never showed its smiling face again today, at least the blanket of white will reflect any available light and that should make morning and evening chores a little more pleasant.

After a little time in the Great Outdoors I come into the house where Stitch and the Cooker are putting up the Christmas desecrations. This is a family affair and everyone wants to contribute. Bella the cat is doing her holiday impression of Judy Garland.
I think I'll just stay out of the way and be entertained by the troops.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Winter doldrums

It was a dark and gloomy November as usual. Once in a great while a sunny day will occur, but there are only a couple of them. It is well below freezing and the ground is frozen and unforgiving when if you should trip and fall. We had snow a couple of weeks ago, but it melted. 30 years ago it never melted after the first of November, but it is okay with me that it no longer does that. I no longer need the northern hobby of constant snow removal. Really, I am fine with that. Today was mostly sunny, though, and I got outside for a few hours (other than the usual chores) and looked around the farm. Here is one of the back pastures.

By tomorrow night it should have about 8 inches of fresh snow covering the grass.

We went to fetch the critter cam from an active game trail, but when we looked at the pictures there were none. The batteries had died. This is what it looks like on a tree (yellow Birch).
It was a good thing we moved it as the beaver cut down this tree. I didn't know they liked birch, but maybe with ketchup it tastes better. The little bastard rodent seems to have moved on as there is no current evidence on or around the frozen ponds.

Even our nearby little town is pretty quiet and gray. At least the gales of November have subsided, but they roll up the streets at dusk which is about 4:30pm (16:30) and all signs of life seem to dissolve.
There are always a few bright spots going into this time of year. In two weeks the days start getting longer and once we get through the holidays it starts to get noticeable, especially for me as I am outside at least twice a day feeding horses. Doing those chores in the morning and evening I tend to notice subtle differences in the length of day and changes in the season.

One of the brightest spots of any week is when Professor Batty publishes a new installment in his ongoing serial fiction. It's a great story set in Iceland (so far) with a well-woven plot and lots of intrigue. I haven't been reading as much as I would like to this winter, but this story makes me want more. Look out  Arnaldur Indriðason, Professor Batty is on your tail!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Late in November...

We have gone from autumn to winter this week. Back on the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald we had a bit of wind and dampness. The big lake was showing a bit of its dark side.
While looking for more dramatic pictures that I was never very happy with, I came across some young Canadian surfers trying to catch a wave in the not very well formed surf. I told them that I had done a bit of surfing forty-some years earlier on the U.S. east coast. They said that they thought salt water stung their eyes too much and I said there weren't any sharks in this lake either. Of course, I only had to wear a bathing suit or shorts instead of a wet suit with long underwear beneath it.
The freighters are coming in closer in order to avoid the wind and waves of the winter season. The shipping season ends around the middle of January when the Soo Locks (Sault Ste. Marie) freeze up. The Icebreakers come in mid-March to try and open the shipping lanes, harbors, and locks to get the season underway again. Here was one headed to Duluth last week. At night they look like floating casinos.
Distances are hard to judge, but this one is a couple of miles out. They look like ghost ships in January with the steam rising from the lake partially obscuring their form. I'll try to remember to post that effect when the time comes. Since it is dumb luck when I can remember my name, please don't hold your breath in anticipation of that event.

I need to show you what the critter cam looks like. In this picture it is mounted on a yellow birch tree. Fortunately I moved it because the beaver(s) took down the two closest trunks and the third is only a few bites from falling.
Even though we had a few inches of snow the other day there are very few tracks around the ponds other than deer, snowshoe hare, and pine marten (sable). No further beaver activity was noticed. I wonder where the soggy little bastard went?

Just before the snow, as the clouds were rolling in, the moon had risen in the east ( as it often does!). I was sitting in front of the barn and took its portrait. A "moon shot", or "shooting the moon", or maybe I was just being mooned by a heavenly body (in my dreams) is how I refer to it, but nevertheless here is what it looked like. Fullness comes in a few days.
So, as the shortening, cold, and gloomy days of early winter start to put me into a coma, I take solace in the fact that in four short weeks the days will start to get longer. The cats will start to shed in earnest as will the horses and I will be covered in discarded fur and hair (mine was discarded decades ago). Sneezing and spitting as the hairy byproducts try to invade my inner person is a sure sign of spring along with the natural harbingers that surround this rural area. But I'm getting ahead of myself as we only just passed the Thanksgiving holiday. Thank goodness my mind has the ability to time travel, although I shouldn't let it wander far as it is too small to be out by itself.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Culprits caught on camera!

Just as I expected, my furry neighbors couldn't keep still for long. But I have a new theory that may challenge some old ideas. The theory is that the racoons and the beavers are in cahoots. There they are hanging out in the same place, although not at the same time. They may be working in shifts, but I need to do more research to be sure. Too bad money for academic studies is in such short supply, otherwise I could get a grant, write a thesis, and be known worldwide in wildlife circles for my breakthrough ideas (can you say delusions of grandeur?). Here, my friends is the photographic evidence!

You can see by the time and date stamp that they work different shifts, so that idea is confirmed.

Now that the ponds are skimming over with ice it will be interesting to see what happens next. I haven't seen any activity this week except for where the camera isn't. I am thinking that deer hunting season is some sort of holiday for the rest of the critters while the deer try to avoid an untimely death. The animals seem to have different labor laws with more time off for quality time with their families and most of the work is seasonal. It seems to work for them.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wild life

Is it life or is it wild (sorry Memorex). When a person remembers to put out a critter cam about 100 feet from the house just to see what creeps around when we are not looking, it can reveal all kinds of interesting things. The usual does walk on by of course.
A few days later you get the male of the species checking things out. "What was that perfume I caught a whiff of?"
But the real surprise was the sighting of a species that used to be extremely rare this far north. I saw one of these about 10 years ago and was so surprised I almost drove off the road. I hadn't seen one since I left the Twin Cities some 20 years before. This time, however, there were not one, not two, but three of the cute little monsters in a clump.
I heard it on good authority that a road-killed possum was seen by Two Harbors, which is only about 90 miles from here (south). More evidence of climate change, I would say.

So when I went to get the critter cam and look at what was on it, I took a stroll to the lower pond and noticed some beaver activity. Today I went to explore this a bit more and was surprised again (the great thing about low expectations is that I am rarely disappointed and often pleasantly surprised!). The beavers have been busy (no surprise there, however). They fear no tree.

What I found to be unusual though, was the beaver sense of art and design even though they are known for their great feats of engineering. It reminds me a bit of our friend Andie the engineer. While I knew she was a fairly brilliant engineer (also, kind, compassionate, and cute) she also has a degree in music. Back to the beavers after this slight digression. They apparently are more into sculpture than film or painting as you can see by this.
I think I'll go set up the critter cam by the ponds. I just need to be careful not to put it on a tree marked for destruction (or food or whatever) or one that will be hit by one falling. The beavers are actually dropping the trees where they want them. People with chainsaws are rarely as accurate unless they are professionals.
I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fall panic

It has been busy on the farm as it always is this time of year. We try and have some fun in between critical chores which makes for some pretty hectic schedules. We went to get the Cooker some new glasses last month and found out she needed cataract surgery. It's done and she no longer needs bifocals. I told them I would like that surgery, also, but only if I could get zoom lenses. I was being facetious, but they said research is getting to the point where that may be possible someday. Whodda thunk it?

The seasons are rapidly changing. I grew up (assuming I finished the process) in Delaware, where autumn and spring linger for quite sometime. Here in Northern Minnesota the change is rather abrupt. There are the usual signs like colored leaves and migrating birds.
The geese were wondering why that jackass with the camera is chasing them.

The Cooker and Stitch went to an ACTHA (American Competitive Trail Horse Association) ride down by Duluth yesterday. Stitch used my horse and came in second in her division. Pretty good present for a first timer and birthday girl. She is leaving the Cooker down there because the Cooker needs foot surgery tomorrow morning. Stitch will bring the horses home and I will go to Duluth to be with the Cooker. We should be home tomorrow evening and Stitch will have left for a work related trip for the week. That means I get to do everyone's chores and play nurse to the Cooker. Well, it's a good excuse to take some time off of work. The Cooker has to stay completely off her foot for two weeks which will make it a challenge for her nurse (me) as she tends to be a non-compliant patient. A good thing I kept those ropes and handcuffs from our younger days! Just kidding! Really!

Some of the weather changes bring some gloomy mornings.
And then we get some windy days to get rid of those pesky leaves. If I were the type of person to rake leaves I would feel useless up here. Nature takes care of that.
These are not "Edmund Fitzgerald" storms, but we may get a couple of those in the coming weeks. It is just part of the moodiness of the big lake. Some days I wonder how the breakwalls survive the pounding, even in the fairly light winds. (Click on the picture to see the outer wall of the harbor a bit larger).
Other days it can be the most serene place imaginable like it was yesterday morning.
This morning I finally got around to replacing a leaking valve that controls my outside spigots. I thought I just finished building this place and now I am having to do maintenance.  Time really goes by fast. The Cooker was just a young chick when I met her and now she needs a little maintenance, too. Time used to flow like a river. Now it seems more to flow more like a bucket. Events seem to have a place in time of their own, but I can't tell if it was a few weeks ago or a few decades ago. Should I be lucky enough to live a couple more decades I wonder what time will seem like then?


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Blah, blah, blah

I am watching and listening to the first presidential debate. If my horses could produce so much manure in such a short time I would be a rich man. I will do my part when the time comes, but enough is enough.

I have been traveling weekly to Duluth, about a 5 to 6 hour drive round trip. The cooker went to get new glasses a while back, but the eye doc said it wouldn't help. Cataract surgery was the only way to get an improvement. It has turned into a relatively simple and quick procedure thanks to modern research and medical practice. Hopefully next week's trip will be the last for a short time to finally get her glasses. The nice thing is that we are getting pretty good at driving along the coastal waters of Lake Superior and learning to enjoy the time. Last week was the second eye and it went very well. The surgery center was next to a good Italian restaurant (lunchtime!) and that was next to the Rose Garden at Leif Erikson Park. I am embarrassed to say I had never been there before. The good news is that I had my camera and a new (used) macro lens to play with. It was a beautiful sunny day and the colors were vibrant.
It was nice to take the time to stop and smell the roses. They have over 3000 rosebushes there!
The Scenic Railway goes right by the park as does the Lakewalk.
Even the working class (Ann Romney's "Those people") can enjoy their lunch breaks.
Even the gulls have a nice view of the lake.
Did you spot the bird?

It's easy to find this place as it is along U.S. 61 made famous by many things, but this man in particular who has this stretch as his namesake.
You may need to click on this picture to see what I am talking about.

Yet again we bid farewell to the air conditioned city with a look back toward the Lift Bridge, entry to the harbor, and say, "We'll be back next week."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Politics? Sort of

It was hard to completely avoid the back-slapping mutual admiration society that is a political party convention these last couple of weeks. "We're great and the other guys (and a few token women) really suck" seems to be the basic message. It is still mostly old white guys deciding what should happen. Even as an old white guy I find it appalling. After the Republican convention I had a picture in my mind, but it wasn't quite clear. I was reminded of something I had seen in the past, but could not put a finger on it. Thanks to the interweb and the many great minds out there in cyberspace someone had brought that picture to clarity. You may have seen it already, but for the sake of clarifying my own thoughts, here it is.

I knew there was something familiar about those guys!

I have voted in all the major elections in the last forty years or so as I felt it was my civic duty. The reality is that voting is like buying a lottery ticket. It makes you feel good and gives you hope for just a few hours or days, but in the end nothing much changes and life just goes on. No big cash rewards, no more security or even better health care. Any changes that come are very gradual and mostly unnoticeable. Tax increases or cuts are not noticeable for someone of my income. Two or three dollars a week doesn't make much difference other than helping to offset the price fluctuations of gasoline, or not.

I usually don't go into politics much here because there are more eloquent and intelligent people that do it much better. A recent post from Robert the Skeptic asked to share this video. And a good point it makes.

The leaves are changing and the bright colors of summer are starting to fade. I tried to catch a little splash of color by the greenhouse and I think I did.
Even though it is Saturday I sometimes have to work at my day job. It's not too bad, really, but sometimes the rewards of just going to and from town are quite enjoyable. Rush hour is about 4 vehicles on the road at the same time. Most of the vacationer families have gone home and school has started for most of the school kids and college kids. The crowds of summer have dwindled except for the leaf lookers over the next month or so. Usually they only come on the weekends. About halfway home I stopped and looked back toward the little town where I work and took this pic (with a vintage lens). Even though work was busy, the ride home was quite calming.

It has been very busy around the farm and I have not been keeping up with all the blogs I love to read. Most of you know who you are. I should be able to catch up soon. Thank you all for your comments. It is good to know that when you reach out a little there are those who understand. Sharing joys and struggles is part of the human experience and I appreciate all that has been shared.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Thoughts

What a bizarre week.

You have your "legitimate rapist" telling everyone about secret secretions that prevent pregnancy when your rapist is "legitimate" as opposed to "illegitimate". It would seem that politicians now think they are qualified gynecologists. You can tell by the smarmy arrogant smile they wear when they think they have said something brilliant. The good news is that there are a bunch of them meeting in a place this week that is in line with the edge of a hurricane. Maybe some of them will be washed out to sea. The bad news is that they won't be eaten by sharks. It is because they either taste like the shit that comes out of their mouths or just a professional courtesy.

Then there is Anders Breivik, the mass murdering right wing batshit crazy whacko, killer of children, and savior of the white master race was finally convicted of something and sent to prison. Maybe he will become a victim of his own twisted thoughts and just stop breathing. Maybe karma will be a great equalizer.

Neil Armstrong died yesterday. I think his accomplishments as an astronaut will be an example of what humans can achieve if they take a moment to stop the killing and the general neglect of their fellow humans. Of course there will always be those who don't believe the moon landing ever happened. "the dream never dies, just the dreamer."

The Cooker and I had to go to Duluth for a medical appointment on Thursday, the first of many for the next couple of months. On the way back I got to see a very rare sight which I was not able to capture on my camera because I didn't have it along. It was the end of the rainbow! It was right by the Cascade River about 50 yards off shore. The colors were moving around on the shimmering water in a most amazing display. Yes, I was tempted to jump in the frigid water and dive to see what was below the surface. It would have cost me my life, but maybe I would finally know what lay at the end. I decided not to risk it for now as I am still needed at home and at work. Just for a moment, though, I seriously wondered while continuing on down the road. Besides I really need to see England , Norway, and Iceland and all my relatives in those wonderful places. I miss them all.

 But then, when you least expect it, you open the garage door to find Norma Jean standing on the roof of the car.

Or you get lucky while garage saling on a Saturday morning and find a treasure chest full of new old toys to play with. Even this picture was taken with a vintage lens from the treasure chest.
Then you go for a walk in the woods and find something that may be the result of the Icelandic "Hidden People" who have followed you across the sea. They reminded me that there are things I will never really know about.
As you go back to the house you go by the apple tree and see that they are just about ready.
When you get to the back yard you feel safe and secure because Bella has got your back.

My own little world is a haven from the rest of wondrous, but whacky world we all have to share. Most days I'm glad to be here.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange,
Ch-ch-ch-changes, Oh look out you Rock 'n rollers
Ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange
Ch-ch-ch-changes, pretty soon now you're gonna get a little older.
Time may change me, But i can't trace time. - David Bowie

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Curiosity and summer

From an old family friend at the JPL in Pasadena:

"Space and Curiosity/Mars fans, it's Saturday evening, about one day and 3 hours before we learn how Curiosity did on her way down to the surface.  Here's what I found on my computer yesterday and today about the landing.

I noted these items from our 4 pm daily cruise tag-up meeting (the last one will be tomorrow, then a series of surface tag-ups starts):

> Telecom subsystems reported nominal at the 4 pm tag-up today. The DSN is GREEN.

> Additional items of note:
- the MSL-Mars distance at UTC (or GMT) Saturday/Sunday day transition was 241,000 miles, similar to the Earth-moon distance. Mars, as seen from the spacecraft at this time, has twice the apparent diameter of the moon as seen from the Earth.
- Project approved early installation of second chance software (Johnny Grinblat activity lead), moving installation to doy 218T01:00 UTC (this evening, 6 pm local) rather than the nominally planned 08:00 UTC. The purpose is to do this important activity while the crew is fresher than they would be in the middle of the night.
- Mars weather (now clear skies) and space weather (only a low-energy coronal mass ejection from the Sun) are OK."
Hopefully, Curiosity will not crash after the ten years and thousands of people's work went into it. Maybe we'll see some pictures tomorrow.
It has been busy with summer activity on the farm. Stitch was participating in the Dragon Boat Races again this year. That's her steering the craft of the "Women on the Edge" team.
It was a beautiful day on the harbor and Lake Superior has gotten warm enough for some brave souls to  take a plunge.
Yes, that is an airplane parked at the beach. Dangerous Dan, the pilot, was giving rides to all those who would fork over the cash. As the harbor was busy with the Dragon Boat Races and airplanes and sailboats (oh my!) there were some traffic issues like when Dan wanted to take off and the Hjørdis (star of North House Folk School's sailing program) seemed to be in the way. Don't worry, it's just an optical illusion and there was plenty of room (maybe).
Of course, optical illusions abound on the water. Having grown up on the shores of the Delaware Bay and now living near Lake Superior I can attest to that. Now I have photographic evidence that things are not always as they appear. Here, it looks like Dan's plane is parked on the breakwater.
It isn't.

I have watched some of the prOlympics recently and always appreciate the more obscure (at least to me) sports. Like most men, I could watch women's beach volleyball all day. Truth is I used to play a lot of volleyball for fun and in leagues (as did my father Otto) and could watch all volleyball. However, summer is passing much more quickly than I anticipated and there is much to do. The weather has cooled a bit and the leaves have lost their brilliant green color so I better get my arse back outside and get something useful done.