Saturday, June 25, 2016


It is Midtsommer! The days are long and the nights aren't very dark either. The moon may have something to do with that. I was up at 4 this morning and didn't need to turn on any lights to see where I was going. Normally I don't get up quite that early, but hey! It's the weekend! My brain activated before my body was able to get out of bed and I made up for it with a nap later on. One of the dead giveaways for knowing it is midtsommer is my Swedish neighbor (and chiropractor when I need one) is celebrating. The Swedes really make it a major party time for everyone. One of the reasons given for the celebration is the birthday of John the Baptist, although I don't think the calendar was the same back then and I doubt there was a birth certificate involved. Sankthans is what it is sometimes referred to and means St. John. Of course it was a pagan celebration long before all that.

Scandinavians of all persuasions celebrate it on about the 23rd of June, Midtsommer eve. Correct me if I am wrong and I might be. It is right about the time of the summer solstice, not coincidentally, or sommersolverv in Norwegian. It is celebrated with lots of bonfires and sometimes they are big. I think I read that the record height for a bonfire in Norway was about 40 or 45 meters (132 to 148.5 feet) which is a damn big recreational fire.

It is also celebrated in many other countries like Spain and Croatia , as well as most of Europe and even here in the United States. I don't hear much about it here probably because it is nearly the 4th of July and that takes up most of our holiday concentration. Most celebrations here were brought over by European immigrants. I am thinking probably the ones before my parents.

Locally, at North House Folk School it is celebrated with a wooden boat show, puppets, storytelling, a dance, and a bunch of other activities. On the Home Page the guy in the picture at the upper right rowing is Mark. The whole thing (a folk school in northern Minnesota) was his idea and I was privileged to serve on the original board for the first 6 years or so, but I digress.

In an ideal world we should all (those of us in the Northern hemisphere anyway) take this time to get out and enjoy life. It is a great time for vacations and being outdoors. There are a few unfortunates that have to work even harder this time of year. Those of us in the building business and all those in the tourist business have to make hay while the sun shines and time off is a dream for a different season. Sometimes we still sneak away for a while anyway while the days are warm and long. I am lucky enough to have been far enough north at this time of year so that it almost gets dark before lighting up again. I think I need less sleep when in that latitude and can save my hibernating tendencies for winter.

If I really needed a summer culture fix there are a few interesting things going on locally, but I think I would head to Duluth, that cultural mecca of Northern Minnesota. I could take in a Lyric Opera  of the North's production of Les Uncomfortables. It has been getting rave reviews. The Tall Ships are coming in August which would be awesome to see, too.

Here in Grand Marais we have the 26th annual Art Festival on the weekend of July 9th and 10th with over 70 local and regional artists. Sometimes the weather can play a major role in that, however, as it is outdoors. Fisherman's Picnic is a big deal in early August. There is a parade, fireworks, log rolling, fishburgers, softball tournament, contests, raffles, live music and my personal favorite, the fish toss. Four days of mayhem on the harbor.

The following weekend is the Pow-wow and Rendezvous Days at Grand Portage by the Canadian border. Even I have played music there for the Voyageur encampment.

I'm not mentioning all the other stuff that goes on, but there are foot races and bike races, museums and berry picking, and constant activities that aren't difficult to find. All this in the next six weeks or so.

It is a short and intense season and it is under way now.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


"She was a big boned gal from Southern Alberta, you just couldn't call her small," sang K.D. Lang. While Vedas' dam was actually from Manitoba, her sire was from Valhalla Centre, considered Northern Alberta. She was at the top end of size allowed by the breed standard and we often referred to her as "Big Vee" or just "Biggest". Sometimes we called her "last hole Vedas" because all the tack and equipment we bought or used on her had to be adjusted to the last hole. She was very feminine and our most affectionate horse always nickering softly at me and offering her soft nose to exchange breath and get a kiss. I had to oblige her.
That's her with her granddaughter Beezer (Bethany Star). She's half asleep with birds getting nesting material from her back during her spring shedding.

She was the Cooker's main riding horse for a number of years and taught her a few lessons on how to stay on a horse. Vedas didn't like water on trails and would do whatever possible to keep her feet dry. This included getting very close to the wet spot, be it a creek or puddle, bunch herself up, and take a great leap with nearly the power to achieve orbit over the offending dampness. This taught the cooker how to stay on a leaping horse. Here is a pic from one of our local horse shows where all four feet are off the ground where she is trying to get airborne by outrunning gravity.
You'd think a big girl like her wouldn't be terribly fast, but you would be surprised. It's true she wasn't a Thoroughbred, but at our local shows she could be quite motivated. She tied for second in the barrel race against an Appaloosa and when they had a runoff, both horses bettered their time by half a second. When Vedas ran like that she reminded some of a freight train as the ground would tend to rumble. She did pretty well in those fun shows and came home with more than her share of wins.
As you can see, Stitch did well with her, too.

She had some funny quirks. She loved being scratched wherever it itched. Her butt itched this one time so she backed up to a fence made of 2x6 lumber and started to rub. I heard a loud snap as the board broke and ran to rescue her so she didn't get a giant splinter in her ass. After that if she needed her butt scratched she would back up to me or whoever was there and look with expectant eyes. Sometimes she would point at the itchy area with her nose and if the itchy part was under her she would lift a leg, usually hind, in order to facilitate the job she needed you to take care of.

One of the things she learned well was to give to pressure. She eventually got very easy to control with the minimum amount of effort from the rider.  If, from the ground, I needed her to back up I would just grab her tail and ask her to back while giving a slight pull. I don't recommend doing this to just any horse.

She got to represent the breed at the Greater Minnesota Horse Expo one year along with our grey gelding, Mirage, seen here waiting to go into the arena in the Parade of Breeds.
  She also loved going to the breed show in Blue Earth Minnesota, where all the attendees at the Faribault County Fair did their best to rub the fur off her nose. She loved the attention. We knew she was special and took her to be evaluated. The evaluation is a process where several judges look over the horse for conformation and movement. They can usually do it in about twenty minutes and everything is on the line for a good score. These scores are most often used to evaluate the breeding program and the quality of the horses being presented. I didn't know much about it, but did the best I could back in July of 1998. I had never even shown a horse in hand for a halter class let alone an evaluation.  Blue ribbons are scores over 80 Reds from 70 to 80, whites are under 70. We got a disappointing 72. It wasn't a terrible score but I was a bit bummed out because I knew she was better than that. I really wanted her to have a better score.

Over the next couple of years I learned a lot more about the process and also how to present the horse in the best way and show the judges her quality. We did our homework, went to seminars, and prepared for the evaluation that was to come in July of 2001. For at least four months preceding the evaluation she was ridden at least four times a week and she and I worked in hand so that she would do anything I needed her to do on a loose lead. When It was time for the evaluation I was a different person showing a different horse.

Vedas was in good shape and so was I. I showed them a big walk and several speeds of trot with me running full out and Vedas in a big extended trot. We pulled up to the judges for a closer inspection and she stood up with head held high and a pride that came from believing in her own awesomeness. The judges were impressed. I knew we would get a much higher Red ribbon. We got the highest Blue at the show of an 83.25. That put her in the top 4% of evaluated Fjord mares in North America. I barely kept my tears of joy in check as we walked up to the judges to get our ribbon. I was in shock, but if Vedas had never done anything else beyond that it would be okay with me.

Of course, her eyes are half closed in the picture.

She gave us a lot of pleasure through the years, but was showing her age for the last two, or so. Here she is about 10 years after the evaluation with her pasture mate, the short and chunky Pookie, but Vedas still knew that she was special.
She was slowing down last winter and giving her older pony pasture mate, Frisky, something to look at and someone to hang out with.
We shared the farm with Vedas for 19 years until she died Friday morning at the age of 24. We will all miss her terribly.