Sunday, August 31, 2008

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Books are wonderful and marvelous things. Bookstores are exciting lands of promise and opportunity. Used bookstores are the best, for they offer secrets and treasures of times long past and just past, things wonderfully loved by some previous owner or things just a little too off kilter to have made the keep/send-away cut during some house tidying blitz. I love the smell. I love the organized disorganization. I love the old bindings and the gold lettering and the curve of a traditionally bound spine. I love the handwritten names and inscriptions in the covers and the notes in the margins. I love the bargains. I love the moment of the find!
A book by itself is just ink and wood fiber and glue and maybe some thread if well bound. Lying by itself on a shelf, it is nothing but potential. It takes human eyes to read the words and a human mind to make those words into thoughts and ideas. And no two people ever read exactly the same thing even though they may read the same words from the same book. All words read from all previous books influence how the minds understands the words of each new book.
There is never enough time to browse any used bookstore and never enough time to read all that piques my interest there. They gather on my shelves, far too many for me to ever read in my lifetime, but still, the sight of them, their musty odor, they give me joy!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Contour Farming

I think it was fourth grade. I think it was a science book. We were learning about conservation and there was the photo and I fell in love. Imagine, farm land so unlike the perfectly flat thin-line-horizoned boring expanse of my North Dakota homeland that rain water might come rushing down the slopes in a storm and cause erosion! Farm land so hilly that it needed bands of crops perpendicular to the down of the slope to conserve the precious soil. I loved the idea that somewhere, farmland that interesting and potentially beautiful existed and that somewhere, people cared enough to conserve it. I think that might make me a science nerd.

Do We Owe John McCain a Vote?

I have heard it a number of times, from rational reasonable people: "I want to find a reason to vote for John McCain because of his war record." As if we owe him for his service to the country, for his suffering for 5 years as a prisoner of war. Are we that guilt ridden about war that we would make a desicion about who we elect as president of our country for such a reason? McCain, near as I can figure, spent 5 years as a prisoner of war, was beaten several times and tortured several times, and spent most of the time confined in a cell alone. Details are sketchy since he refuses to say much and since he as successfully pushed for legislation to keep all records sealed. So he apparently did endure pain and suffering. Does that mean we owe him the presidency? No. I means we owe him adequate medical coverage. Both physical and psychological. It means we owe him the ability to make a living if the war experience rendered him unable. That appears not to be the case. However, we owe those things to all the other hundreds of thousands of those injured as a result of all wars, then and up to and including the current one. Who endured more suffering? John McCain as a POW or today's soldier who had half a leg and a hand blown off by a roadside bomb and is in a hospital or rehb center today? Can we give that young man or woman a turn at the presidency as well? Sorry folks, I feel some sadness that John McCain had to suffer, and some gratitude that he was willing to serve in the armed forces to 'defend and protect' our country, but no one owes him a vote for it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Prairie

Okay, it isn't really 'my' prairie, but I have planted things in it and weeded things out of it and visited it with and without my kids and taken hundreds of kids through it and maybe even hundreds of adults through it and met wonderful interested and interesting people in it. All prairies are special, but this one is especially special to me!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hillary's Speech

I take it for granted. I didn't know that people worked for 72 years to make it legal for women to vote. I didn't know that the right to vote came to women only 88 years ago. Imagine working for 72 years on an idea, to have it shot down again and again and again. for longer than many peoples' entire lifetimes. I have been working intermittently and occasionally and sporadically for prairie restoration and preservation for about about 15 years and I think that is a pretty big deal. I have had a few successes and more than few failures. And each failure about made me give up on it. I cannot imagine the disappointment that must have been in the air with each mounting defeat for the 72 years it took to get women their right to vote!
Yes, I really really really hoped for a woman president in my life time, and yes, I really thought Hillary Clinton had the stuff to be the first woman president, and yes, for quite a bit of the primary season, I really believed it would happen. The disappointment was hard to shake. It is hard to shift loyalty to Barrack Obama. But it is the right thing to do. If this primary campaign had been Barrack against nearly any other possible candidate, Barrack WOULD have been my certain choice. Wait, is David Carradine a Democrat? I might have picked him over Barrack. But I don't think he ever expressed much interest. So I will support Barrack Obama. Because a vote for John McCain is a vote against fairness and equality for women. Any man who would joke that his wife should be in a beauty pageant just doesn't GET IT. Obama gets it. He conducted a respectful campaign against Hillary Clinton. I have heard too many bitter Clinton supporters say they are going to just not vote. I have heard others say they are going to write in for Hillary. The first option, not voting, is a slap in the face to all those people who worked for 72 years to get you the right to vote. Not voting is NOT an option. The second proposal of writing in Hillary Clinton might feel good. But it will be a wasted vote. There will never be enough people doing that to make a difference. You got your chance to vote for Hillary Clinton in the primaries and I hope you did, but now is the time to support Hillary Clinton by voting for the candidate her party, the Democrats, will run for president. Now is the time to, like Hillary Clinton, support and vote for Barrack Obama. It is your duty to those people who worked to get you a vote for 72 years and it is your duty to Hillary Clinton and it is your duty if you are someone who thinks '4 more years of the last 8 years' is a terrible idea. Please don't squander your vote trying to make some point. Support Hillary by supporting the Democrats by supporting Barrack Obama for President in 2008. That is how we will make history.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Big Job Ahead

There lies three tons of slate tile for the central bays of the ground floor and both bathrooms. To be installed by said homeowners, otherwise know as the cheap bastards, in order to save 'tons' of money.

The Saga of the Duct Taped Duct

That there duct with the duct tape in the previous post below has a story. It has been installed and torn out and installed and torn out and installed, so that duct tape is kinda like a big ace bandage. It is our mature experienced duct. It's been around. First, the HVAC guys installed it in a stud cavity (the magical place between the 2x4s that make up the walls) that is where the gas fireplace vent must to go. So at one point in time, it was nicely riveted in place and smooth and flawless. Well, it goes all the way through the floor above and connects to a flare for the heat vent that will be in the wall up there, so it had to be unriveted on both ends, wiggled out, moved over, and rethreaded through a new hole in the floor and reriveted. Then the spray insulation applicator tried to insulate along the sides of it. The foam insulation spread around the curved edges to the back and expanded, acting like a wedge to push the duct out of the cavity too far for drywall to cover. So the insulation had to be carved and sawed and chipped away, in a process involving one of those big scrapers often used for chipping ice off sidewalks and a huge power tool called a reciprocating saw, tools that made me cringe to see in such proximity to my precious timber frame posts. Then the poor duct had to be removed again so the insulation behind it could be cut out. And the insulation sticking to it had to be carved and scraped off. Then it was reinstalled. Again. I guess the seam there was a little gappy so the installer felt the need to bind it up in a little duct tape. Well, in that it will all be covered up in drywall soon enough (okay, NOT soon enough to suit me but that is another story.) all that matters is that it works, not that it be pretty.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Duct Tape On A Duct

Now that's unusual!

Volunteering at the Heirloom Garden Show

Every year, we go as the 'experts' to interpret our areas, to teach people what we know about the particular aspects of history and nature that we have been assigned. And each time, we learn more from the people we talk to: Details, stories, related information. I have never volunteered that I did not get back more from it than I put into it. It is a gift indeed to be allowed to serve in such a capacity. And as a parent, it is a gift indeed to have children who love doing it and to have places like Garfield farm that welcome them.

Heirloom Garden Day

It is one of the several events at year for which we volunteer at Garfield Farm and Museum.
Growers of heirloom vegetables and other related products show the results of their efforts. There are groups that preserve the genetic diversity of heirloom plants like these and those groups rely on individuals and their gardens to grow the plants and preserve the seeds each and every year.

Disturbance Weeds

We tend too much to think of people and nature as separate, of the plant and animal world as having evolved separately and independently from us. I learned early in my horticultural eduction that there were 'disturbance weeds' that grew in places where the soil was, well, disturbed for some reason. They grow now as our agricultural weeds, and try as we might to spray and cultivate them out of our fields, they grow at the edges and untended places enough to keep seeding in. The thinking seemed to be that they evolved to handle some 'natural' disturbance such as erosion or a tree being uprooted or animals wallowing or digging. But it turns out, the archaeologists are saying, that those plants evolved to fill the openings made by another kind of disturbance entirely. Those plants evolved to fill the edges of the disturbances made by human camps. The centers of our camps we kept clean by our working or playing there, but the edges, we disturbed enough to keep the perennials plants from growing, so these native annuals had to grow abundant seeds and have short life spans to constantly re-green those areas of not quite enough disturbance to keep clear but too much disturbance for the perennial plants of the surrounding ecosystem. So they co-evolved with us and followed us from camp to camp on our cloths and shoes and among the seeds of our crops plants. Turns out we are not so separate from nature after all, but really just one part of it.

Ragweed is one such disturbance weed that many of us are allergic to.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It's What You Raise Them For

You wake up with them in the night and rock them back to sleep and get them their shots and read to them and take them to interesting places and sign them up for lessons so they can learn fun things and get them to meetings and events and encourage them in their schoolwork and buy them books and magazines and cool toys and teach them everything you can get them to pay attention to and then they go off and leave. The oldest is leaving for his second year of college in the morning and I am happy for him and proud of him and very very sad. They are a set and they have both been with me for many many years and I will miss him and his smile and his spunk and his music every single day. It is hard, but not quite as hard as last year. He will do good and have fun and we will see him at Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


They horse around with each other. They make jokes at my expense. They won't take my philosophical and practical questions seriously. They make fun of me when I get excited about the prairie. They won't pose for pictures.

They are funny. They are kind to each other. They do things with me. They go places with me. They ask me questions about nature and the prairie and art. They tell me about the things that happened on their summer trips with others. They marvel at new discoveries in the prairie. They make me laugh and smile. They are wonderful amazing sons!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Views From Second Story

Varnishing the Frame and Ceilings

The sanded white pine wood of the post and beam timber frame and the 2x8 tongue and groove ceilings looks light and soft after it has been sanded clean and smooth.
When it takes on a coat of varnish, the surface of the wood has a bit of a sheen and a darker richer appearance that lets the knots and grain and spalting stand out.

We rolled on then brushed smooth two coats of a water based varnish that lets you recoat as soon as it is dry, so that the (scary) scaffolding would not have to be moved as much. As a recovering acrophobe, I prefer to stay closer to the floor. The boys, who include rock climbing as one of thier chosen hobbies, were glad to clamber up (scary) ladders and climb up to work from the (scary) scaffolding that was sitting on (scary) boards over the (scary) opening to the floor below. I worked only from the lower ladders, mostly on the ground floor.

The water based varnish does raise the grain a bit. So in areas where people will touch the posts and beams, we plan to give is a quick sanding later to smooth it back out, then add one more coat.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Car Accidents

What was your first 'accident' in a car? Just because I have been riding around with a teen driver who is accumulating his 50 hours of driving to get licensed might have nothing to do with why I am asking this now. Maybe I am just wondering. Don't ask too many questions. And call the burgundy stripe the entire length of my white van an accent detail.
My first mishap was when I was leaving the high school parking lot and turned too sharply and made a little scraping dent on the car next to mine. A car that happened to belong to my high school biology teacher. I skulked in to make my confession and accept his wrath and he just said "How could you tell you did anything? There are so many other dents and dings and scratches and rust, who will know? Have a great evening and see you tomorrow."

Sunday, August 17, 2008


It is done. The timber frame and the wood ceilings are varnished! Sixteen gallons of water based interior polyurethane varnish rolled on then brushed smooth. It was a big job and it took many people many days. The teenage boys particpated willingly and patiently and kindly for days, and for one of them, school starts Tuesday, and the other leaves for college Friday, so it was part of how they spent their precious summer. But they are wonderful kids who make the best of everything, turning work into fun. Now there are others who have to do their jobs before we return to the site to lay flooring. I will be complaining about that as it happens, you can be quite sure!

The Ferry Ride From The Island

The ferry ride from Rock Harbor back to Windigo at the other end of the island, then on to Grand Portage, Minnesota was long. We were tired. We were happy. To ride the ferry back along the island where we had just backpacked over the last many days was exhilarating in a way. To look at all that land and know we had been there, that we had each walked it with our own two feet and slept on its ground and felt its rain and breathed its air and watched its creatures and drank its water was amazing. Rarely do you get a chance to step back, like in a MapQuest zoom, to see what you have traversed from such a different perspective. We were a little impressed with ourselves, yet a little humbled at how fast the ferry covered the same distance, with such graceful swift ease. But still! We did that! From one end to the other! We were too tired to say much about it, more than a few brief observations, but we all knew it as we rode. We did it! We really hiked that island from one end to the other!

Ways to Hike

One can rush through a hike, ticking off the miles, to call it an achievement. I heard one backpacker at the end of the journey, as we waited for the ferry back, tell a companion that it was a 'knock down' for him, to prove he could do it, to prove he was stronger than the island, that it couldn't get him. I think he viewed his trip a success, but I don't think he had a very good time. His point was to be in control, to do something to the island, to beat it.

One can pause to enjoy and wonder, to wander and look and listen and turn over the leaf and look at the flower up close and wait and watch the moose until it leaves the pond. One can take the time to use all the senses, to catch your breath and take in the quiet and then to absorb the sounds of the birds and insects and the leaves moving, especially in the aspen forests. One can ponder the light coming through the leaves of the ferns and through the canopy overhead. This is my approach, to let the island happen to me. It is a little scary perhaps. to admit that I am not in control and must adapt to the conditions to remain comfortable, but I think it is a more real way to approach such a hike and a more rich way to live in general. It takes a little or a lot longer to cover the miles but I think people who approach it this way have a much better time at it. The slow meandering backpacker gets into camp later but has fewer blisters and less chance of injury, and has more pictures and more to write about in their journal in their tent after dark.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thoughts From The Ferry

On the ferry back to Minnesota, there were things running through my head like:
"I sure hope I don't need major surgery to fix this knee."
"I wonder who I can give my gear to because I am never doing anything like this again."
"Will I ever forgive my family for making me do this?"
"That sure was beautiful, but was it worth it?"
"I wonder if my gear will mold before it dries out."
"I can't believe I just backpacked 50 miles."
"My feet hurt. My ankles hurt. My knee really really hurts. The other one hurts too. The place I fell on my shin hurts. My wrists hurt. My back hurts. My forehead hurts from that fall."
"I wonder how soon I can get some fresh fruit."
"I can't wait to sleep in a bed."
"That short shower was not enough. I really need another longer one."
"I think I might go to a mall when I get back."
"That was sure beautiful and we saw some amazing things. But was it worth it?"
"I saw a moose."
"I sure wish I could sleep on this boat."
"I saw lady slipper orchids."
"When will my knee quit hurting."
"I wonder what kind of woodpecker that was."
"What time it is? Can I have more Advil?"
"That island sure was full of fantastic views. I wonder when I will be certain that I am glad I went."
"My kids sure are cute when they sleep."
"I hurt in way too many places to be having fun."
But these two people? She was reading Travel magazine and he was reading a travel guidebook on Guatemala. Planning their future trips before they are even off the ferry from this one.

Double Favorite Day

With my favorite food category being fruit and my favorite fruit being raspberries, you can see what degree of bliss I was experiencing the day I pulled up to the farm stand and discovered not one but two kinds of raspberries! Yes, I ate them all that same day and yes, there was a price to be paid for that. But oh, they were so very very delightfully tasty!

Friday, August 15, 2008

At Rock Harbor

The ferry boat harbor was the end of the trail. I hit the flush toilets with their running water and shopped the camp store. I found canned peaches to satisfy my fruit craving and cheese to satisfy my salt craving and the most wonderful food of all, ice cold soda pop. We shared the cheese with some backpackers we had met up with at various points on the trail and visited with at a couple campsites, then set out to find the Boy Scouts, assuming they had beat us on the rocky shoreline trail, but they were not there yet. So we snuck into the harbor cafe to get some non-dehydrated food cooked over an actual stove. After they found us we caught up on the day's news. Because my knee was beginning to hurt a bit, I decided I had better get in my missing mile before I couldn't move anymore, so we headed off on a trail farther on toward the tip of the island, where we found more magnificent views. On the way back, we encountered a huge woodpecker, the kind that must have inspired the cartoon Woody. Shortly after returning from that walk that put me ahead of my 50 miles to qualify me for my second Boy Scout patch, my knee suddenly stopped working and I could not go up or down stairs and could barely walk at all on a slope. Everyone else went back to camp to set up and I stayed at the harbor to wait for them for dinner and the ranger talk.

Day 6 - Daisy Farm to Rock Harbor

This was our last day of backpacking, as we neared the west end of the amazing island. It poured in the night so everything was soaked, including the shoes that had nearly dried from the previous rains. The trail followed along the shore of Lake Superior as the trail gets rockier and rockier, climbing over a slight ridge to the shore of a bay called Tobin harbor to a park like trail along the shore of the bay. After smugly announcing that careful hikers do not fall during a camp discussion of who had fallen and how badly, I slipped stepping down a smooth faced stone slope and twisted an ankle and fell on a knee and shin, causing a huge red welt that promised to hurt more later. I was glad we were on our last day, because an injury like that can flare up in camp and cause delays the next day. We had been warned by the Daisy Farm ranger, John Denver, that the trail got rockier and rocker the closer one got to the harbor, and advised to cut up over the ridge to a flatter trail on the Tobin Bay side of the peninsula. The cut over the ridge initially seemed treacherous, but that turned out to be a false alarm, and the trail on the harbor side was relatively flat and smooth, with a slope down to the harbor water on the left and a slope up on the right. The harbor side alternated between evergreen trees that obstructed the view and opening that revealed it to make us ooh and ahh all over again each time we were treated to another harbor view. At first, the bay was very narrow and the other side was close, then as the bay widened, there was more lake and less background to the views, giving fresh perspective each time. We happened upon a duck family that we watched for a while. We were chipperly chatting along enjoying out last day out with a cheerful optimism when BAM I was face first on the trail with my pack pinning me to the ground and my head in searing pain. My partner behind me was enjoying a laugh at my expense and commenting that it was a good thing I fell on an area of soft moss and ferns. I uttered something unprintable that I was forgiven for later and pointed out that just under a misleadingly thin layer of moss was sharp jagged rough hard rock. He helped me up and helped twist and wiggle my pack back into place and asked where I hit. I pointed to my forehead under my bandana and he asked to see, so I lifted the bandana. He visibly winced back a little and said 'ooh, that's not gonna be pretty in a couple days'. Uh, thanks. We trudged on, and I tried to be grumpy about not one but two injuries, but the trail and its views were just to amazing. I kept thinking of it as a Japanese garden on some botanical park. The trail was that wide and that level and the views were stunning and the vegetation was lush. When we arrived at the harbor, we dumped out packs with great relief. A wonderful day filled with beautiful views and a sense of satisfaction that only hard work can bring.