Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sawbill Trail - Part Two - Drizzling Afternoon

Truly, it seemed we had picked the best day for this drive. There was off and on rain, but it was more off than on and that created the opportunity for some great pictures. Also, we saw no one else on the road since getting off the main highway, so it felt like we were the only ones in the whole region.

We passed so many side roads with signs like this:

And, it was really tempting, but we only took a couple and didn't travel too far down those roads. Seeing no other cars on the main gravel road meant there would be no one to help if we got stuck. There were intermittent cell phone signals and that just increased our feeling of being off the grid; great for an adventure, just not conducive for surviving disaster.

We were on the edge of the Boundary Waters recreation area. There were no power lines or poles. A few of the cabins we caught sight of (and there were only a few) had some solar panels peering out through the woods. We were no more than 10-20 miles from Lake Superior, yet this seemed like an entirely different ecosystem - wild and untouched by human development despite the fact that we were traveling on a gravel road. The Jeep kept getting muddier and muddier and we were thankful we had plenty of wiper fluid, something we learned to stock up on before a long jeep drive, a lesson we learned the hard way.

A rainy drizzling Autumn afternoon revealed so many different colors and shades of green. Maybe it was because the landscape wasn't dominated by leafy green. Whatever it was, it seemed like the moss and the pine were vibrant and shining.

There was so much plant life in different stages of growth. Tall pines reaching for the sky, little baby evergreens cradled against glacier placed boulders and colorful rocks.

There is something so sensual about spending an afternoon like this with my lover. I had such a sense of primal, almost feral energy passing between us as we glanced over at each other after we spotted another new shade of green, another glistening patch of moss. We would recklessly jump out of the Jeep into brown mud or red mud, and not give another thought to the mess that could all be dealt with later back in town, back in the order and cleanliness of civilization. For now, it seemed that each bend in the road promised a new sensation, a new discovery, a new way to love the earth, the sky, each other.

Eventually, we found a spot for lunch and for me, these jeep drives always lead to what I think of as epic lunches. These epic lunches always and only consists of sandwiches, chips, fruit and cookies, but the location is what makes it grand and out of the ordinary. On this day, we had found Crescent lake, likely a popular canoe lake in fairer seasons, but today it was quiet. We lunched in solitude, except for one another. We parked right up next the edge of the water and my eyes played tricks on me as I imagined skinny branches of trees as the legs of a gangly moose. Or a reflection in the water a loon surfacing from the lake depths.

Sepia took over as I was processing this shot. It captured the mood and glorified the fog rising over the lake.

We still had another 25 miles to go on this 56 mile circuit on the edge of the Boundary Waters and on the edge of the Laurentian Highlands. We passed a continental divide that confused the rivers and sent streams flowing in awkward directions.

Suddenly, there were lakes everywhere, on either side of the road. Is that ice I spotted on some of the shallow lakes? Yes, it was and that was a frightening reminder of the next season just waiting to begin with a rush of cold air from Canada. How far were we from Canada. It couldn't have been more than 30 miles.

The freezing ice created natural jigsaw puzzles, fragile yet geometrically and chaotically beautiful. The ice was pushing the air into bubbles that appeared in cloudy pockets.

The cattails lined the edges of these lakes, standing tall and pristine in a shade of royal brown, distinctly more bold than the blanket of fallen leaves.

After lunch is when we started spotting more wildlife. We searched the lakes for wading moose, but luck was not with us that day. The Big D is always telling me to keep my eye out for wolf tracks because of his hopes of capturing one on film. I always snicker incredulously at this request. I was duly impressed when he slammed on the brakes and started backing up to the spot where he say these tracks. Not wolf tracks, but deer. A little too small for moose, but it could have been a small moose.

I wish that had been our only encounter with deer. I'll tell you why in the next segment of this journey.

Another mile or so and we found this owl who clung precariously to the top of this tree. We stayed here for a long time waiting patiently for this owl to take flight. Instead, he (or she) stared at us and did little head slides back and forth, occasionally spinning its head all around to spot prey. Any sounds from another type of bird seemed to send this owl off on high alert, but it remained perched on that choice spot while we drove away.

A little closer to town, we thought we spotted another owl. Here is where we encountered traffic again, but we took the risk to pull over on the side of the road on a curve with cars and SUVs whizzing by. This owl was in a distance and as I shot a few pictures through my zoom lens, I began to realize this bird was situated too perfectly in the center. It wouldn't move, or twitch when the Big D honked the horn. It wasn't bird at all! It was some sort of decoy, a plastic fake! Humbled, we started our descent into Grand Marais.

After spotting that one fake, I began to see them everywhere. I'm still not sure why they were places on these poles. Is it to scare of seagulls? Geese?

The drive down into Grand Marais was extremely foggy with little or no visibility. I'll save that adventure for the next post. If you've never been in this area I highly recommend it. But, go, if you can, during the off-season so that you can have the whole region to yourselves!
Read More »

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Abundant Gratitude

There is so much to be grateful for this day. 6 months of a healthy pregnancy. 3 more months to give us time to prepare. The wonderous anticipation of the arrival of our new little family member.

The joy of buying tiny little baby booties.

And immense gratitude for my hubby who graciously helps me set up the shot!
Read More »

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sawbill Trail - Part One - Late Morning

Our friends and neighbors always ask us how we find out about the great Jeep trails and scenic drives we take while on little trips away from the city. I say a good guidebook makes the difference between a good trip and a stressful trip. A good guidebook is often found for free at the library. I always cross check with a large online book seller to read how others have commented on each particular title.

Once we found ourselves out in the middle of Nevada-nowhere, hadn't seen another vehicle for at least 100 miles, met lots of cows, and made a scary turnaround near a volcanic crater that should not have been accessed without a 4-wheel drive vehicle. We had a rental car. I read just about every guidebook I could find before going to Moab and even that led to a slightly stressful trip through Pucker Pass, but that could have been because we got a little overconfident.

As far as the North Shore of Lake Superior goes, I used to just look closely at maps to find little lines indicating dirt roads. This time around I got Scenic Driving Minnesota (by Phil Davies) at my local library and photocopied a route that seemed pretty promising between the town of Tofte (where we are staying) and Grand Marais (where we had planned to go anyway). How convenient to find a longer inland route than just taking the scenic lakeshore drive.

We had planned to do this on Tuesday, but Monday ended up being quite rainy so not good for a hike. We headed up the Sawbill Trail, a road we had traveled on a number of occasions to a rustic national campground. But, back up a minute and gaze upon the fabulous breakfast that the Big D made us in preparation for a long day of driving.

It's great staying at a place that has a kitchen. Bluefin Bay has great rooms with fireplaces and excellent views of the lake. Having a kitchen is also convenient for making up some lunches, yet another necessity for a long day of driving. We tend to go to places that have no places for food or services available. Get a packed lunch and a full tank of gas and you're good to go!

Now, on to the scenic drive!

The day was misty, drizzly and foggy which normally would keep people indoors, but for us, it's an opportunity to have the region all to ourselves. We only saw one other vehicle and that was close to where we turned off the highway. The colors of Autumn were rich and vibrant, and made more so by the misty droplets. The rain was off and on and that made the Jeep really muddy.

The drive took us through the Laurentian Highlands which Phil Davies describes as "a rugged landscape of forests, lakes, wetlands, and streams, passing the highest point in the state". Me? I'd just describe it as Northland paradise.

We crossed the Temperance River at least seven times as we made our way on this 56-mile arc towards Grand Marais.

The Temperance River flows all the way into Lake Superior and there it bubbles and roars through narrow canyon-like gorges. But here, it was much tamer and every time we crossed it, the river showed a new element of her personality.

The deeper we got in land, the taller the trees got. We passed grouse and mink on the side of the road. We lingered and awed over all the shades of green in the moss and in the pine needles.

All this in the late morning, before we stopped for lunch.

Next up: an afternoon on the edge of the Boundary Waters.
Read More »

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Wikipedia says "the term [babymoon] has come to be used to describe a vacation taken by a couple that is expecting a baby in order to allow the couple to enjoy a final trip together before the many sleepless nights that usually accompany a newborn baby. Babymoons usually take place at a resort that offers appropriate services like prenatal massage."

Combine this with the Gales of November and you've got the perfect North Shore getaway for Lotus and her Big D.

We headed out of the city two hours later than planned, but hey, it's all about relaxation and we've got the whole week off, so problem, mon. Stopped into Nokomis for lunch, way after the lunch hour. We had the bar to ourselves.

I love sitting in this smaller, more intimate area. I liked it a whole lot more when I was able to have a glass of Sir Duluth beer, but that's OK, I ordered the killer lemonade. The more formal dining room is not our style and I just know the raspberry vinaigrette that came with my field salad would be splattered all over the white table cloths in less than a minute.

We've had two rather wonderful, special meals at this place a few years back, but those were experiences especially reserved for that time, not this one. We came here right after I defended my doctorate dissertation. Trying to recreate that great day is not possible, but the food was good anyway. I used to love the salad because it was surrounded by a long, thin strip of an English cucumber. Not this time. The server actually had the salad pre-split because I mentioned that we were going to share it. I love sharing a plate with my lover. Oh well. Also ordered the kobe burger and that had changed too. I'm a burger purist. This one had goat cheese and pesto on it. I don't like goat cheese and because I'm pregnant I'm not supposed to eat soft cheeses. The Big D loved it and even finished mine off. That I loved! I love that I'm married to man that would eat a burger with these fixings. I know far too many people would have sent it back to the kitchen. The meal was better than I'm letting on - this is just my disappointment coming through. The sweet potato fries were awesome!

And the drive can't be beat. The rain started just as I finished taking some pictures. The fog rolled in and the waves picked up. That's exactly what I was hoping for. I can't wait to sleep tonight with the sound of the waves crashing up against the rocks right outside our window.

We arrived at Bluefin Bay just before sunset. We have an unobstructed view of the water. It's sunday so the resort is sparsely occupied. The Gales of November special allows us three days here for the price of two. We unloaded the Jeep and headed towards the water. Fall seems like the perfect time to be here, but the weather is unpredictable. We had planned some hikes, but that may not be possible if there is a lot of rain. We have a drive planned that takes us inland on a rustic route to Grand Marais. And of course, some Christmas shopping in Grand Marais. Perhaps some pizza at Swen and Ole's.

I shot a whole lot more but had left my remote shutter control up in the room, so many of my photos are a little shaky. Oh well, there'll be a chance for round two.

We have a kitchen. I have a wild rice soup bubbling on the stove as I write. There is a wonderful fireplace. I have wireless access that allows me to sit here and blog a bit. And there is a reason why I am blogging, an everyday sort of activity while here in North Shore paradise. I forgot the carrots for the soup, our Bialetti stovetop coffee maker, the swiss cheese, and something to carry our lunch sandwiches. So, I'm washing and reusing the ziplocks I have and am pouting a bit because I can't drink wine or smoke a cigarette. You see, every other time we have come up here I have had free access to my vices. And memories of those vices hit me hard as I sat in front of the fireplace. It's just not the same, I'm sorry to say.

Yet, tomorrow is another day. And if it rains hard and long enough, I might just give in and get that prenatal massage. I've never had a massage and the Big D is insisting. Who am I to argue? Of course, tomorrow will be better. There's nothing like waking up to the big lake GitchiGummi.
Read More »

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The City at Night

Down by the Mississippi River is such a beautiful part of Minneapolis. Although the St. Anthony Falls area has a sordid and sad history in a previous century, in this century it has transformed into a wonderful outdoor space that we frequent in every season of the year. There used to be an actual waterfall in this part of the river, but the rocks were blasted away to make a power plant which was only in operation for a little over ten years (I think). Whatever amount of time it was, I do know that it was a ridiculously small amount in comparison to the lifelong destruction that was forced on the area.

This has always been a place of celebration for us. We came here to celebrate the coming of the Millennium. That was when the City could still afford fireworks. There used to be two sets of fireworks on Independence Day, now there is only one, if any. We have come here on numerous anniversaries, walked onto the island and down to the water. One anniversary we found a big, fat bald eagle in the tree branches above our heads.

These are images of the Stone Arch Bridge which allows only pedestrian traffic. It was built in 1883 for train traffic. There is a large arts festival there in the summer. At the east end of the bridge, I know of a yearly "Fais Do-Do" that is organized by a displaced Louisianian. If ever you happen to stumble by on that day, stop and dance a bit or somehow enter for the prizes which are usually odd t-shirts scavenged from thrift stores in and around New Orleans.

There are stairs that lead down to the river where you will almost always encounter a fisherman or two, even at night. The stairs lead to a path carved out by the foot traffic of adventurous and at times, rebellious teenagers. The path leads towards some of the industrial plants that are too close to the river for my comfort. But that's a prime example of Minneapolis and the efforts to reclaim some of the natural beauty in the area. The plants are evidence of the area's industrial history and hopefully a reminder of what not to do. The bridge is a commitment to the future of sustainable development in an environmentally conscious way.

That night while shooting, I kept getting caught up in the trees, bare and silhouetted against the bright lights of the bridge.

As we moved closer and under the tree line, the contours of the stone came into view. I am awed by the craftsmanship that goes into building such a structure. And to think this was built in the early 1880's.

That's an image of the new Guthrie Theatre that was built just a few years ago. I am happy that they chose the river for its new location. The more interest there is in this area, the longer it's chances for survival. In recent years, the Mill City farmer's market has opened. I like that the area is lively and accessible to all, even to the eagles and the fish and the geese.

Read More »

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Down by the River

Last night we met some friends down by the river. We always have fun when we hang out with this couple and it was great to be out for dinner. This is a shot of the streetlamps right outside the restaurant. I love the rustic, old cobblestones that line the street that runs right along the Mississippi River.

DE (the man in this couple) is a photographer and our plan was to shoot some nighttime images of the city after dinner. Unfortunately his camera batteries were dead, but that worked out great for me as he was able to focus on giving me tips. But, oops, I hadn't read my manual well enough to know which setting I needed to control the shutter speed. This morning I re-read my manual and discovered that it was one setting that I hadn't thought to try last night: bulb. Who would thought it would be "bulb"? Anyway, it turned out OK because I was shooting with my tripod which allowed for some incredible shots. I'll be posting these images over the next few days.
Read More »

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Airstream coffee shops

On one of our last trips to Moab, Utah, we decided to take our return trip through southern Colorado. We spent the night in Cortez, then spent the next morning at Mesa Verde National Park near Durango, Co. On our way into Cortez we passed the Silver Bean Coffee Shop. If I remember this right, there were at least two locations for this coffee shop marked with an Airstream. What a wonderful idea!

We returned the next morning but a little too early. Neither of the coffee shops were open for business and since we were on a schedule and not wanting to pass up Mesa Verde, we moved on without coffee.

It was fun driving around the Airstream.

There seemed to be a whole lot of little coffee shops like this in southern Colorado, occupying the corner of a parking lot or in a crumbling little lot of its own. I didn't quite get it down right. I didn't know how to order the right amount of cream and sugar. Well, the sugar was easy enough, but there always seemed to be too much cream. Certainly, there are a number of coffee shops with drive-thrus here in MN. I just always go inside as there is often a seating area as well.

These my memories of southern Colorado: cute little drive-thru coffee shops and wonderful local breweries eager to send you along your way with a full growler. Yum.
Read More »

Monday, November 16, 2009

A sort of dirty review of Kingsolver

I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I utterly engrossed in this book and totally fascinated with all the information. Warning: there may come a good number of posts about this book. And, truthfully, not all of this is new information. It's just that she's briliant at how she articulates some of this stuff and how she draws connections between themes that are highly relevant to this era.

On top of all that excitement, it seems that her growing season is similar to where my CSA is located so I'm getting to read her own enjoyment in growing many of the same vegetables. I'm glad I bought this book as I do intend to read it again next year during the local CSA season. There are great suggestions for cooking up the vegetables along with wonderful meditations about how to develop a sense of eating whatever is in season.

I've gotten ahead of myself - is that the right phrase? - who knows, I'm just so excited about all the above mentioned things that I'm just zipping through this, not thinking about structure or flow. ANYWAY, this book is a memoir about her family moving to a small farm in Virginia (I think. Somewhere in the Appalachians, that I know for sure) and more specifically, a year of growing, living and eating off the land.

My mind went into overload when she started talking about promiscuity being the basis for mainstream America's relationship with food. Interesting how she states that we encourage young people to wait a while before having sex, yet do not restrain ourselves from eating vegetables out of season, no matter how tasteless they may be, not thinking at all about the cost of transporting said vegetables from far-flung tropical locales (and thus maintaining our dependence on foreign oil supplies) - all this just to satisfy our craving for everything now. She says "We're raising our children on the definition of promiscuity if we feed them a casual, indiscriminate mingling of foods from every season plucked from the supermarket, ignoring how our sustenance is cheapened by wholesale desires" (31).

It seems to me that food and sensuality are intimately tied together. Wow! Look at all them puns in one sentence. Yes, I meant them all - the intimacy, the kinky ties, and all. This book is definitely full of fun puns and hot references. For example, her description of flowering plants gets quite sensual when she writes "since they can't engage in hot pursuit, they lure a third party, such as bees, into the sexual act..." (63).

Again, ANYWAY, now I turn my easily distractible mind to asparagus. It seems that growing a sustainable and successful crop of asparagus is somewhat like growing a good relationship. Asparagus takes years, at least three or four, until there is an edible harvest. And a "well-managed asparagus bed can keep producing for twenty to thirty years" (28). It is possible to abuse an asparagus bed and one can do this by prematurely whacking off any new shoots before the three years are up. To do so is to "make the plant sink into vegetable despair and die" (28). If one is patient then there is the reward of (and I love this phrase!) "an edible incarnation of the spring equinox" (29).

Did you know that asparagus were once considered an aphrodisiac? Or that the church banned it from nunneries? I think this has more to do with the shape of the asparagus stalk and the voluptuous nature of the plant rather than any bodily effects. This seems clear to me in this botanical drawing of asparagus.

And especially so in this image of steamed asparagus, all hot and slick with oil, ready to put in the mouth (sorry! I couldn't help myself!).

I'm having a great time these days thinking about food. I'm understanding the importance of my food co-op more and more as each day passes. Sadly, I had always thought of it as overpriced and overly concerned with gourmet tastes and appetites. I would only buy things there that I couldn't buy at the regular supermarket. But, now I'm making smarter decisions that help me fit it all into our limited budget, buying from the bulk bins, for example, or picking up three brown eggs and smaller portions of food stuffs. Also, buying in season is much cheaper, even at the regular supermarkets.

I hope you'll check this book out. It certainly was a wonderful surprise for me!
Read More »

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Autumn Mums

I can't decide if Autumn is my favorite season because of the bright changes to all the trees around me. Or because everything seems be in my favorite colors.

Read More »

Friday, November 13, 2009

Weekend Fire and Bare Trees

Last weekend was so warm and wonderful. We headed up to our Airstream retreat and had one of those magical weekends full of love and life. The fire was warm and the firepit was filled with brown oak leaves.

The trees were bare and the geese flew in over our heads to their place just north of our property. Must be a nightly pit stop; we saw groups of geese converge on the spot from all different directions.

We awoke at about 3:00 in the morning to pee and the early morning sky was breathtaking, all glittering with stars and bright with a half moon shining to the northeast. Too cold for a picture, but I doubt that will leave my memory for a while.

I got very excited about bringing the little one up there to our retreat. Sadly though, the Big D had to prepare the boat for winter. The boating season is entirely too short up in this region. We only took the boat out a couple of times and the canoe only saw the water once. Hopefully next summer things will be different.
Read More »

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Yoga Partners

Faithful and true. These two always join me on the mat. Sometimes it can get a bit crowded or one of them get a little scratchy or bitey. Nonetheless I welcome the company.
Read More »

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Annona Gourmet and squash bread

I have such interesting experiences when I head into Annona Gourmet. The first time I was in there I did shots of olive oil. Who knew you could do such things. This time I did some shots of flavored olive oil and balsamic vinegar blends. I needed olive oil and I really like the idea of being able to refill my bottle every time I need to buy more. I also get a 50 cent discount when I bring in the bottle. I purchased Arbequina which apparently is just fine for cooking but also great on vegetables. I only tried a couple this time and remember thinking this one had a clean, light finish on it and yet, still full of flavor. It's pictured here on the left. The larger bottle on the right side is the black cherry balsamic vinegar I bought last time.

I couldn't get out of the store without trying out something else. The minute we walked in we were handed a sample of a rice blend which of course, I ended up buying. I tell people I have to stop sampling because inevitably I'll buy whatever I like. Of course, that doesn't stop anyone from handing me more.

This visit's spectacular find was a blend of lime olive oil and coconut balsamic vinegar. Ok, everybody now...put your lime in the coconut...oh, never, just look at the two little bottles in the middle of this great line-up.

It was suggested that we cook shrimp in this blend. Oh. My. Goodness. I'm heading to coastal seafood right now...right freaking get some shrimp.

We also tried a blood orange olive oil and black currant vinegar which was mouth-wateringly gooooood. Going to buy those two next time. Hey! I just realized I did good. I didn't buy everything that tasted wonderful. Must have been the Big D's steadfast influence on my side.

The owner of this fabulous store suggested we might need some bread. Hah! I already had plans to make bread that afternoon and so, I did. Whoo-hoo! My first loaf of bread. It was a squash braid.

I did good! Can you tell I'm excited! Ok. Gotta run and get my shrimp! Bye.

Read More »