pameladean: (Default)

This is very long and detailed, so I’m going to try to put in a cut tag.

All right, I can't get that to work, not if it was ever so. I'm sorry.


On Tuesday Raphael and I went to Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. The forecast was for a sunny, almost windless day with a high of 87. The air quality was moderate. I complained about this the day before and Raphael asked if I'd prefer not to go. But Sherburne is actually a good place to go on a less than perfect day, because there's a seven-mile wildlife drive with stopping points for viewing whoever happens to be around; also a tiny oak savanna (1/10-mile loop) trail and a prairie trail with an oak grove in the middle with a bench (1/2-mile loop). And it's September; hiking season will be over at some point.

We got a late start but arrived with about five hours of daylight ahead of us. Sherburne is near Sand Dunes National Forest, and its soil is also sandy. It's a lightly rolling landscape full of marshes, pools, and prairie, broken by lines and clumps of trees. You drive through a short stretch of mature restored prairie to reach the actual wildlife drive. It was awash in blooming goldenrod and blue and white asters and rich brown grasses.

 We stopped at the Oak Savanna Trail and had a sandwich, read the list of plants presently blooming (six kinds of goldenrod, four kinds of white aster, two kinds of blue aster, rough blazing star, and boneset) and then walked out on the tiny boardwalk. We examined what looked like an abandoned bald eagle's nest through one of the spotting scopes provided, and then started looking at spreadwings (yet another kind of damselfly) in the tall grass that the boardwalk runs through.

 Here is an image of a spreadwing that one might see in Minnesota, though I don’t know if that’s what we did see.

 A flicker of motion in the distance caught my attention, and I looked up to see three sandhill cranes landing across the prairie near the road we'd come on. "A family," said Raphael, looking through the binoculars. "See the juvenile?" I did see the juvenile, which did not have all its red in yet but was almost as large as its parents. The cranes started walking through the grass, not unlike herons stalking through shallow water; occasionally they would bend their long necks down and poke around in the grass roots, and occasionally one of them would make a sharp dart and come up with food and swallow it.

It was hard to decide whether the cranes were more awesome through binoculars or just as tall shapes against the pale road and prairie, bending and straightening, wandering apart and together again. If you didn't look through binoculars you could also see meadowhawks darting around, the spreadwings rising to catch tiny insects and settling again to eat them, the unexpected wind shaking the oak leaves and the grass and the asters. From time to time a darner moved across the larger prairie, veering after prey or just powering along.

At last a truck came fairly fast along the road, raising a cloud of dust, and the cranes paused, considered, opened their huge wings and rose up, gawky but graceful, and flew away low over the grasses. We went back to looking at smaller wildlife

I was trying to spot a spreadwing through the binoculars when I saw what looked like an animated tangle of brown grass. I said to Raphael, “There’s some kind of mantis there!” and when Raphael expressed astonishment, I added, “It’s very stick-y,” which allowed Raphael to come up with the actual name: It was a stick insect. It took a few moments for me to describe its location and for Raphael to see it, and then I had trouble finding it again through the binoculars, but it was busy clambering around against the wind, so we did both get a good look at it. It was only the second stick insect I’d seen in Minnesota. The other was at Wild River State Park. That one was much larger and was rummaging around in a pile of leaves at the edge of the parking lot. This one was fascinating because its camouflage was so great, and yet it did have to move around, so you could differentiate it from the grass if you worked at it.

We’d arrived in the deep of the afternoon when smaller birds are quiet. We heard a few goldfinches murmuring, and a phoebe carrying on, and a chickadee. We left the boardwalk, admiring the asters waving in the non-foreseen but welcome breeze, and walked around the oak savanna loop. The little oak saplings tangled among the other shrubbery were already starting to turn red. White asters poked their flowerheads through leaves belonging to other plants, to startling effect. Autumn meadowhawks floated and hovered and darted, snatching up gnats from the clouds around them. We had seen a monarch butterfly in the asters while we were eating our lunch, and also a dark-phase swallowtail wandering over the grass; now we saw a painted lady butterfly.

We made an attempt to leave, but a darner landed on a drooping dead branch of an oak tree right in front of the car. The sun was behind it and we couldn’t get a good look without tramping heedlessly into the prairie, so we didn’t, but its silhouette was lovely against the brilliant sky.

 We drove on, past tall browning and reddening grasses, clumps of goldenrod, clouds of asters. Darners flew up from the sides of the road and zoomed away. We found at the turning that the refuge had reversed the direction of the wildlife drive since we were there last, which was momentarily confusing; but we found our way, and stopped at the Prairie Trail. I pointed out some thoroughly spent plants of spotted horsemint. We’d seen it in bloom, if you can call it that, at William O’Brien. It’s a very weird-looking plant. Here’s a photo:

 This observation continued my inability to accurately provide the names of things; I’d just called it horsemint and Raphael reminded me that that particular weird plant was spotted horsemint. There are other horsemints, but they don’t look so strange. As we stood looking over the rise and fall of the little prairie, with folds of alder and sumac, and lines and whorls of different grasses and goldenrod, all truly starred with the blue and white asters, I said that I loved how big the sky was at Sherburne. Raphael noted that it was a slate-blue just now; we assumed that was the haze of the wildfire smoke all the way from the west coast, a somber reminder of far too many things.

 We took the grassy path, startling small grasshoppers out of our way and stirring up meadowhawks from the tall plants and shrubs. We saw a monarch; we saw a painted lady. Passing through a little grove of young alders, on almost every tip of the dead trees intermingled with the living there was a meadowhawk perched. They swept upwards, snatched a gnat or fly, landed to eat again. Raphael showed me how to identify a female autumn meadowhawk: they have a definite bulge just below the thorax, which was easy to see against the sky. Darners zipped past from time to time. If it was a green darner we could usually tell even from just a glance. The others were mosaic darners, but harder to identify in passing.

 I think it was as we approached the oak grove that we started seriously trying to identify the grasses. We’d known big bluestem, aka turkey-tail, for years. After seeing it labelled repeatedly here and there, I could pick out the charming clumps of little bluestem, just knee-high, with their pale fluffy flowers lined up and catching the light. We’d looked at an informational sign at the trailhead, but its drawings of Indian grass and switch grass didn’t look right. Raphael pulled up the photo of the sign about grasses at the visitor center at Wild River, which had struck both of us at the time as much more informative than other attempts to depict native grasses; and we could suddenly identify Indian grass after all. It has a long, narrow rich brown seed head with varying degrees of spikiness; some are quite streamlined and others are tufty and look as if they need combing. And we felt more confident about the switch grass with its airy spreading seed heads.

 Raphael pointed out a beetle on the path, maybe a Virginia leatherwing, and then realized that it looked like a moth. A little research when we reached the oak grove and sat down showed that it was a net-winged beetle, and the entry even mentioned that it looked quite a bit like a leatherwing.

 The bench we were sitting on was made from boards of recycled plastic. At some point Raphael had had enough sitting and went ahead a little way just to see what was there. I’d noticed when I sat down that there were verses from the Bible printed on the back of the bench in some kind of marker. On the left was the passage from Matthew that begins, “Come unto me you who are weary and heavy-laden,” and on the right the passage from John that begins, “For God so loved the world.” These might have been written in different hands. But the passage in the middle was definitely in a different hand, and began, “We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine.” The ending of the passage was a bit smeared and I couldn’t read all of it, but at the bottom the name “hunter s. thompson” was clear enough. I followed Raphael and relayed the beginning of the passage. “Hunter s. thompson!” said Raphael, going back to the bench with me. “It’s from <i>Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas</i>.” Raphael looked this up too, and showed me the unsmeared passage on the cellphone.

 Giggling a bit, we went on our way. We were now well around the loop and into the straight stretch back to the car. From the other side I’d pointed out a lovely layering of grasses, goldenrod, a narrow cleft of willow scrub, and a candy-red line of sumac. Now we came to the sumac from the other side. On the path in front of us was a butterfly. “What is that?” said Raphael. “It’s a Red Admiral,” I said confidently, but it wasn’t. It was another Painted Lady. Raphael consolingly told me that they were both Vanessa, very closely related, but the Red Admiral is very common in Minnesota and I was chagrined that I’d misidentified something else as that.

 We came to a little stretch of boardwalk over a marshy area. On a shrub was a shimmery amber-tinged odonate. I pointed it out to Raphael. It turned out to be another autumn meadowhawk, though it looked as if it ought to be an Eastern Amberwing, or at least a Band-Winged Meadowhawk. It had perched on a bit of red-stemmed dogwood, just to be extra-cooperative. We went on through the cattails and willow, past a minute patch of open water and up onto the grassy path again. Raphael pointed out that where the path climbed back out of the tiny marsh there was a nice view over the rest of the open water and the winding marsh with more willow, and cattails, and a shrub we should have known but didn’t. (I briefly misidentified it as more red-stemmed dogwood, because it was my day to misidentify everything; but it had deep purple stems and leaves just starting to turn reddish.)

 On our right for the end of our walk was the brilliant sumac and the cleft of alder saplings, all their leaves fluttering and twinkling in the wind and sunlight; on the left a long slope of prairie grasses interrupted by goldenrod and asters. More darners sailed by. The sky had lost its smoky cast and was a fine late-summer deep blue. We came back to the car and Raphael began to drive away, but I exclaimed at the sight of a big clump of stiff goldenrod covered with pollinators. We didn’t get out, but looked our fill from the car. Big bumblebees, a Ctenucha moth, beetles, ambush bugs. Once Raphael started reading it, I had to edit this entry to correct the Ctenucha moth's name and type, so have another link, since they are very handsome:
There’s one more trail you can actually walk along, near the end of the wildlife drive, but there was a sign at the beginning saying that it was flooded. Before that we drove past long stretches of marsh, open water, and rolling prairie, all patched with clumps of trees. From time to time there would be a wider spot in the road, sometimes a formal space big enough for three or four cars, with a bench or two, or a platform over a low spot with spotting scopes and some informational signs about the wildlife; others just a metal platform with railings, where you could stand and look over the water. We tentatively identified the spot where we’d once common moorhens, which are not so common that we weren’t deeply excited. We’ve also seen muskrats and various ducks in these locations, and once there was a gigantic cloud of mosaic darners all brown and yellow – I seem to recall that some of them were lance-tipped darners, but I may be wrong. This time we heard water birds making a ruckus, but couldn’t see them. Darners came by in about the density that they had been all the while. Over one platform we saw what turned out to be a northern harrier; these guys have an amazing acrobatic flight, and they’re reddish on the underside and bluish on the back. I excitedly called this one a kestrel, which would be smaller and have the colors reversed: bluish on the underside and red on the back. We also very clearly saw a nighthawk with its white wing bars, though the sun was still up.

 We also saw some cedar waxwings fly-catching from a tree with a dead top, and heard a yellow warbler.

 At last we came to a stretch of water, islands, and snags so large that it had two separate viewing-spots. From the first we saw several groups of large white birds. I thought the first were swans, but they were white pelicans. There were also some swans, however. We came finally around a curve of the gravel road to an observation station in a little oak grove, overlooking the far side of this large sheet of water. This is where most of the dead trees are, and here, to our delight, we saw as we’ve seen before several times a very large number of cormorants. The sun was setting by then, off to our right. The sky was pink and the water reflected it. Many cormorants were roosting already, but some were still coming out of the water; they would land on a branch, sometimes settling and sometimes glancing off several different trees before finding one that suited them, or one in which the other cormorants accepted them. It was hard to be sure. Then they would spread their wings out to dry, looking as if they were practicing to be bats for Halloween.

 We found the swans and pelicans we’d seen from the other viewing station, though it was getting pretty dark by then. Cormorants still flew up into the trees and spread their wings. Through binoculars you could see the ones that had folded their wings now preening their breast feathers. Some of them had pale necks and brown fronts rather than being entirely black. I mentioned this to Raphael, who looked it up in Sibley and confirmed that those were juvenile cormorants.

 It was getting quite dark by then and the mosquitoes were starting to think about biting us in earnest. We drove past two more pools; beside one two groups of people we’d seen pass earlier, a third car I didn’t recognize from before, and a man using a wheelchair were standing and gesticulating. We pulled up and got out. The water and trees were lovely in the twilight, but we didn’t see any wildlife. The solitary man went away in his wheelchair, the unfamiliar car left, and we followed, watching the varied texture of the grass and flowers fade away into the dark.



pameladean: (Default)
Trying to catch up with hiking posts before I forget everything. We try to hike every week but have missed a number of weeks because of the weather. But here's another one we managed.

Last week Raphael and I were very reluctant to leave the house, but we decided to go somewhere nearby and possessed of varying degrees of strenuousness. We went to Hyland Park Reserve, which is part of the Three Rivers Park District. We started at the lake where they rent out canoes and kayaks, hoping to see some Eastern Amberwings. We did see some; they are always both so familiar and so startling, small but very intense. Then we drove to the Nature Center, and after admiring the garden around it, set off through the woods to our first destination. We passed the Creative Play Area, which was a sea of mud, and Raphael remarked that either children would not be playing there or their parents would be very sorry that they had. We sat down on a bench that faces but doesn't really have much of a view of a pondy area. There's a screen of sumac and wildflowers in the way. The sumac was richly and abundantly going to seed in a very deep red. I remembered seeing deer down there a few years back, but the area where they'd been grazing was all water now. We stood up and used binoculars for a bit, but the light was dazzling on the water. There were some smaller ducks and some larger ones. On the way back to the car when the light had changed, we saw some identifiable wood ducks and some smaller dabbling ducks.

We headed for a little path that leads to the edge of another pond, but it had become a stream. We accordingly went on a more official path through a patch of woods and sumac. A woman running by remarked that she was seeing a lot of butterflies today. When we got to the pond, one ramp of the dock was waterlogged and the other muddy. We took a brief look at the water-covered approach, and some kind of heron flapped out of the grass at the pond's edge and back into it again further on. "Was that a heron?" I said, but it was hidden now.

On the muddy but passable side a woman, two children, and some toys were disposed in the sun. We edged past them, exchanging greetings, and the larger child showed us what he had caught in an ice cube tray. I remarked that the ice cube tray was a good idea, and he came after us to say that he had also caught about six leeches, so we shouldn't go swimming. We promised we wouldn't.

We've often seen kingbirds and swallows, as well as many dragonflies, swooping over this pond. Today dragonflies were a little scarce, but the turtles were out in force, dozens of painted turtles sunning themselves on a number of fallen logs and tilting snags. It took us a little while to notice the snapping turtles; the more remote ones looked like rocks and the nearer ones like swellings in the tree trunks and longs. But there were three snapping turtles lying along the logs. Raphael thought they looked like jaguars on branches and I thought they looked weirdly like wombats. They were too wide for the logs, so they were dangling their legs over the sides. Two remained alert, with their heads up; the third let its head dangle too. One of them was arranged across rather than along a branch, so its long tail also dangled. They were both imposing and very funny indeed.

We hung over the railing, looking at a few damselflies, watching a turtle swim up to the surface and put its nose up to breathe and another one climb onto a log and slide back again. Then I saw the heron again. It was shaped like a green heron but its markings were off. It had a streaky breast and its back was dark but not exactly green. I pointed it out to Raphael, "Green heron?" "Or is it a bittern?" said Raphael. When it stuck its neck out it looked very like a green heron, but they are usually so shy that I'm never sure of my identifications. The heron perched on a log, occasionally walking along it and stretching out its neck to look for food. Then I noticed the second one, some ways further along the shore. That one stalked into the reeds and came out with a frog, which it either washed in the water or kept having to get a new grip on before it could finally swallow it. The other heron preened itself extensively and then started flipping its very short tail around and suddenly puffing up and deflating a crest on top of its head. "I think they must be juveniles," I said. "The only other time I got a good look at a green heron it was a juvenile."

Shortly after the crest-puffing, the further heron flapped towards the near one, then veered off and flew away, followed by the second heron. We took another long look at the snapping turtles and turned back to walk around the tiny prairie restoration adjacent to the pond. There were dark-winged grasshoppers and meadowhawks. Goldenrod and yellow coneflower were blooming, along with some stiff coreopsis and a few white asters. As we climbed the hill towards the upper part of the prairie, we began to see monarch butterflies. I managed to see six or seven all at once, which was many more than we'd seen together for some time.

I was not having a great day physically -- it turned out that the pollen count on the Weather Underground page was wrong and I should have taken an antihistamine before leaving the house. While I do get drippy and stuffy with allergies, sometimes my main symptom is just a dragging fatigue. So we sat on several benches and enjoyed the rolling layers of tall grasses in their autumnal rich brown, broken here and there by clumps of goldenrod and bordered by dark green oak trees.

There's another trail we often take and we discussed it, but neither of us felt really up to it, so we looked up the green heron when we got back to the car -- indeed, our birds had been juvenile green herons -- and drove home through the summer evening.

pameladean: (Default)
I am really out of practice at these hiking posts, but this is better than nothing.

Yesterday looked like the best hiking day of the week, given various other constraints, so Raphael and I somewhat reluctantly pulled ourselves together and went to Wright County. There's a park in Monticello called Montissippi that is often rich in dragonflies and always rich in birds. Sometimes it's quiet and everything is hiding, but yesterday we were lucky. We went in hopes of seeing some clubtails that had been observed in that location by, as Raphael said, people other than us. We were lucky in a different way.

American Rubyspots are one of three species of damselfly often referred to as jewelwings that we see in Minnesota. I don't know if they are any less abundant than river and ebony jewelwings or just a little harder to spot because they're less dramatic and have a strong preference for sunny riverbanks and logs and rocks out in flowing water for their perches. But for some years I had only ever seen a single one, way up north at St. Croix State Park, perched on a rock in the abnormally low river during a drought year. Then Raphael found a city park that served as a convenient stopping-off place on the longish drive to Lake Itasca, and there were jewelwings in great abundance on the Mississippi River there; we got to see them doing their mating dances, and they were thick on all the emergent vegetation. This also happened during a drought year. We returned to the same spot several times and always did find some rubyspots, but when the river was higher we couldn't get right next to the vegetation they liked, and there was no exposed sand to walk on between the steep bank of the river and the strips of vegetation. The rubyspots were probably there, but we couldn't get to them as readily.

At Montissippi we've seen rubyspots on logs and rocks; on one memorable occasion, we saw exactly one, through binoculars, from the top of a bluff where the park has kindly placed a bench for better viewing of the river. The rubyspot was on a rock that, while nearer the shore than the middle of the river, was not particularly close; in any case, the bank was far too steep to consider climbing down.

There are plenty of images of rubyspots on the web. The first picture on this page is a male rubyspot:

And here's a female:

But none of them really conveys the quality of the insect in flight or even just perched on a dead stick or a broad leaf of river grape.

Yesterday the Mississippi River at Montissippi was high; we've had a lot of rain recently. I felt this would mean there would be no evident rubyspots, but I was wrong. The river was so high that there were no logs or rocks left unsubmerged, and the rubyspots had to come up to the top of the banks and hang out in the wildflowers and shrubbery there. There weren't any in the areas where we looked at first. We still had a grand time, because it was a lovely day for late August, though sticky, and the goldenrod and Old Man's Beard were blooming. The goldenrod was hosting an exuberant variety of tiny pollinators, including some tiny, extremely fancy moths we'd seen there before. The little mown area next to the parking lot for the boat ramp always hosts catbirds, and they were soon yelling at me while Raphael went back to the car to get a better lens for photographing tiny moths. Goldfinches swooped through or called gently, "Potato chip, potato chip, tato tato tato chip chip chip." Chickadees explained the dangers of everything in cascading buzzes, occasionally shouting, "Cheeseburger!" in the most melodious manner imaginable as a change of pace. Bluejays shrieked outrage, probably at hawks but maybe at us. Later on we heard redstarts and saw a female one dart from one impenetrable mass of vine-covered shrubbery to another. I heard several wrens burring and buzzing like tiny angry teletypes, and eventually one perched on a low dead branch and dropped several times to the ground as if it were catching insects. I think it was a winter wren, but I'm not at all sure; it was not cooperative about letting all of itself be seen. Its body shape and tail position were definitely wren-like, however.

At some point as we worked our way closer to the boat ramp, we started to see rubyspots. By the time we struck out through the picnic area to walk a little on the bluff top, we had found a border of wildflowers so dense with them that you could see three or four perched ones without having to turn your head.

There were also numerous powdered dancers and blue-fronted dancers; these are also largeish damselfies, but with a more standard wing shape than the jewelwings. They were prancing around the parking lot and perching on the railings of the fishing dock and on the boat ramp. We also saw a very fancy shield bug that decided to climb up my leg and walk around on my binoculars. I was worried about injuring it, so we tried putting it on a leaf, but it wasn't having any of that. Since it had liked the tie of my hat and also the strap of the binoculars, I offered it a grass blade, and it climbed off my shirt at once.

There's a bench in the picnic grounds with a view of the river, and for the first time I noticed that the oak trees lining the top of the bank were swamp white oak. A lot of the oak trees up on the top of the bluff were also swamp white oak. A few blue asters were blooming up there, and a great deal of both stiff goldenrod as well as other kinds of goldenrod. In time the sky clouded over to the point where mosquitoes started to come out and bite us. So we didn't sit on the bench overlooking the rock where we'd seen our sole rubyspot once, but noted that the rock was covered by water, though you could tell where it was by the way the surface of the river broke and moved around it.

Given the clouds and the mosquitoes, we went on to our next destination, which was in Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park. We've poked around the lakes a bit, but if I recall correctly we avoided the large swimming beach, and the others had access for canoes or other boats but no general way to get around on foot. So we've confined our visits to the Oak Savanna Reclamation Project Area, which at the moment is a really lovely rolling prairie full of native grasses and plants. The sky had cleared quite a bit while we were driving from one park to the other and the light was gorgeous. Yellow coneflower and goldenrod were the main things in bloom here. From a distance the grasses were red and brown and reddish brown. A few clumps of purple coneflower were still going, and the intriguing seedheads of many earlier plants stood everywhere among the big and little bluestem and switch grass. Raphael also successfully identified some side oats grama, which, like the other grasses, is lovely but looked especially ethereal in the evening light.

There are a couple of dead trees just at the start of the trail, and on the way back we saw a hawk sitting in the one closer to the prairie. It was not impressed with us, and we were able to get some good looks at it through our binoculars, though the light was a little difficult. We thought it would fly off when we passed under the tree, but it stuck to its post. Raphael got out the Sibley guide, and we decided that it was probably a juvenile red-tailed hawk. We went back to its tree again, treading quietly, but Raphael was carrying the open guidebook, and either the hawk saw something tasty out on the prairie or carrying a book was just one thing too many, because it flew off, gracefully, and disappeared over the grasses.


Edited to fix the first rubyspot link.
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
Hello hello! I have a huge backlog of things I want to write about, from my last hike of the season with Raphael to camping with Eric and doing early voting and going to see Ten Thousand Things' production of Pericles to my adventures with David in recovering my camera from a rental-car company's lost-and-found office in the twilight zone.

But right now I'm hoping some people local to me can recommend a tree service. Things have been neglected around here for too long. We need trees trimmed back from the house and from the power lines; there are bunch of volunteer trees that are a bit large for me to remove, though I could do it if I had to; and there's a big Chinese elm back by the garage that needs some attention.

An extremely nice man came out from Rainbow and opined that, while they would be happy to do the work, most of it did not require the services of trained arborists, and if you asked trained arborists to cut down a bunch of little trees and haul them away, it would take a lot of time and would cost us a bundle of money. He named a number that made me blanch and suggested getting some other bids. So I am thinking of saving the Chinese elm for Rainbow at some later date, and getting some competent people who aren't quite so exalted in their expertise for the rest of the work.

Recommend away, I beg of you! If you are comfortable with saying how much various services charged to do your work, and what the work was, that would be excellent.

pameladean: (Libellula julia)
The pattern of the weather has been remarkably consistent for several weeks now: heat and humidity during the week, often with severe thunderstorm warnings and torrential downpours; then a cool front comes in and Friday and the weekend are much cooler and drier. Sometimes the heat pounces on Monday and sometimes Monday is just a bit less pleasant and then the heat sidles up on Tuesday and the window air conditioner suddenly starts leaking water all over the floor, to the great alarm of Cassie.

So we keep having to go hiking on Friday. Then on Saturday and sometimes Sunday as well there are social events, and I also generally have a date with Eric over the weekend. This means that, since there is no way I am doing any major work in the yard in the kind of heat we've been having, and anyway with all the rain the grass is too wet to mow, I am not getting any yard work done. I think there are no social events this weekend (the last one had a MinnStf meeting, which was very pleasant indeed; and then a smaller party on Sunday evening, which was also lovely), so with luck on Sunday evening I might be able to do very basic maintenance before heading off to Worldcon.

In the meantime, last Friday Raphael and I were not really feeling a strong enthusiasm for going hiking -- or, well, if someone else had done the necessary laundry, made us some sandwiches, and teleported us to a nice spot, we'd have been fine with it, but the preparation did not thrill us. However, Friday was a gorgeous Minnesota summer day of a sort that I often fear is on its way out as the hell of climate change sweeps over us. So Raphael, after consideration, remarked to me that while we have visited the Minnesota part of the Carpenter Nature Center several times, there's a Wisconsin annex that is almost entirely comprised of prairie walks. The Minnesota side is a good mix of woods, wetland, and prairie, but it is too woodsy for the level that the mosquito population has reached this year, with so much rain in a month that is often dry if not actually drought-stricken. So a preponderance of prairie walks seemed like a good idea. The drive was also not terribly long. So I did the laundry, and in the morning I made the sandwiches, and we set out, late, because I usually prep lettuce and tomatoes and make salmon salad the evening before, but we did manage to get out of the house.

There was construction on 94 and a terrific amount of slow-moving traffic until we were well past St. Paul, but eventually we crossed over the St. Croix River into Wisconsin, took Exit 2 for Carmichael, and drove on increasingly smaller roads until a short gravel one led us to a clearing with a house, some small outbuildings, a large flower and vegetable garden, and a gigantic Porta-Potty. We weren't sure it was the right place, but one of the outbuildings had a supply of maps and a notice that Henslow's Sparrow, which nests on the ground, was doing so in the area. A pleasant man introduced himself and asked if we'd been there before, and recommended a particular trail when I said we hadn't. We ungratefully went a different way, on the reasoning that the trail he recommended was higher up than most of the prairie walks and would be nice near sunset.

Since we were in Wisconsin, we were up on a ridge; there was a trail called the Ridgeline Trail with views of a valley with a farm in it and the next ridge over. We went along this until we came to the first prairie, and eventually crossed the road to another one. Each prairie had bluestem and other native and, probably, non-native grasses, intermingled with wild bergamot, gray- and green-headed coneflowers, rudbeckia, daisy fleabane, prairie primrose, a little butterfly weed, hyssop, vervain, a bit of liatris (most of it being visited by monarch butterflies). The paths were mown grass and white clover. The distribution of the flowers and grasses was different in each section of prairie we walked through, though most of the plants were the same. The texture and color variations were different, and the sound of the wind in the grasses. We passed a little grove of aspen seedlings, their leaves rustling. We saw the monarchs, and a butterfly that turned out to be a common buckeye. There were sparrows in the grass and in a clump of trees, but they didn't look like the picture of the Henslow's Sparrow. We saw two birds with white tail feathers flying away fast; they might have been meadowlarks, but we couldn't really identify them. And we saw smallish browny-golden dragonflies, flying fast, tilting like turkey vultures on the wind and flapping more than familiar dragonflies usually do. Raphael thought they might be wandering gliders, and a look at the dragonfly book when we got back to the car confirmed that they were. The wandering glider is the most widely distributed dragonfly in the world, migrates thousands of miles, and has been spotted by ships at sea. But this was the best sighting of them that I'd ever had.

We went back to the car and around one more short prairie loop, reluctantly deciding to leave the rest of the Ridgeline Trail to another time, possibly in the fall when there would not be any mosquitoes. The little prairie we walked around last was different from all the others. Next time I should try to take some pictures.

pameladean: (Libellula julia)
Ooof. Well, I voted in the Hugos, in the nick of time. I had actually, in the course of trying to keep up with the field, already read almost all of the legitimate nominees. I made an earnest attempt to read the others, and even got right through a number of the shorter ones, just in case there was a hidden gem, or a trick ending to a drearily predictable beginning. Alas, there was not. I didn't vote in a number of categories, including the dramatic presentations, short and long, because I didn't have enough information. I read quite a bit in the Related Work category but was not much enlightened. I'm glad that's over.

I'm still working on setting up the Patreon. I hope it won't be too much longer. There's a myriad of tiny decisions that are surprisingly difficult to make.

The weather has been wild and not altogether predictable; though the overall implications are grim, I love looking at the Scientific Forecaster Discussion on Weather Underground and seeing remarks like "The models have not been notably helpful in determining convection" and similar sentiments. I actually feel for the forecasters quite a bit. In any case, the effect on me so far has been mild compared to tornadoes, dangerous straight-line winds, repeated flooding, the loss of trees, the death of campers in the BWCA, and damage to buildings, cars, and people in both northern and southern Minnesota. Mostly it's meant that scheduling hiking has been difficult. Raphael and I did make it to Hyland Park Reserve two or weeks ago and to William O'Brien State Park last week.

Hland had a resonable number of dragonflies, notably widow skimmers; also swallows feeding their young in snags sticking out of a pond, a young bullfrog making its rubber-band noise where you could actually see it, an osprey and one youngster on the osprey platform, and a space of emergent vegetation cut down almost to the waterline, which I thought at first must be the work of park staff getting rid of unwanted plants, but turned out to be the work of a very assiduous muskrat. The muskrat was closely focussed on its task, so we got the closest view of one that either of us has ever had. It shied once at something we weren't sure about, unless it was alow-flying skimmer; and again when we walked around to its other side. But it soon returned, nibbling away and letting us admire its little blunt face and tucked-in ears and even its long flexible tail. The meadows were full of wildflowers, wild bergamot, coneflowers, butterfly weed, a tiny white flower I can never recall the name of, some leadplant, anise hyssop, and more.

At O'Brien we saw more widow skimmers, a twelve-spotted skimmer or two, an Eastern amberwings or two out over the water, a stray Hallowe'en pennant or so, many blue dashers, and some powdered dancers and meadowhawks. Both the lake and the river were very high, so that the sandy verges we can usually walk upon were under water. We decamped to the prairie sooner than usual; it was abundantly flowery, with wild bergamot in greatest numbers, but also gray- and green-headed coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, purple prairie clover, leadplant, horsemint (a very weird plant indeed), and much more. Goldfinches were calling everywhere; the thistle has begun to go to seed, so it's their nesting time, and their "potato-chip, tato-chip, chip-chip-chip" was everywhere. Once or twice we saw them swoop by, but mostly we just heard them. On the upland prairie trail we stopped by a group of five or six dead trees, one live tree, and a dense growth of bushes. It was full of birds: a cedar waxwing, a nuthatch, two elusive woodpeckery birds that were not flickers but were probably sapsuckers, a brilliant and enormous robin. We heard Eastern wood peewees but never saw one; the same with wrens, except that Raphael was pretty sure of one wren sighting. Swallowtail butterflies were also abundant, including a giant swallowtail that ws very impressive indeed. There were the usual bluebirds and tree swallows on the lower prairie and around the parking lot where the birdhouses are.

pameladean: (Libellula julia)
On Wednesday, Raphael and I went for our first expedition of the year, to see the ephemerals at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. To see the early ones at their peak we ought to have gone last week, but the weather didn't cooperate.

We got a reasonably expeditious start, especially for the first hike of the year, and even though we had to stop at my clinic so I could pick up my medication. We usually get off the freeway at the Northfield exit and go through town to pick up Highway 246, thus giving me a glimpse of Carleton and the Cannon River. But the GPS suggested staying on the freeway til the next exit, going instead through Dundas, and picking up 246 somewhat further along its length. Dundas is not Northfield, but I had fond -- mostly -- recollections of biking there from Carleton for a huge annual used-book sale. I didn't like biking along the shoulder of the road in the dust, but the books were excellent.

I had said to Raphael as I put on my fleece sweater and picked up my raincoat that I expected to be alternately too warm and not warm enough, and this prophecy was amply fulfilled. It was very sunny and intermittently very windy. Up in the picnic ground it was quite chilly. Down by Hidden Falls the air was almost still and the sun really beat down.

One of the pleasant things about Nerstrand is that there are ephemerals even in the picnic grounds and the campground. Anywhere the grass is not mown are trout lilies and false rue anemone and occasional other native wildflowers. You can see the tiny trout lily leaves spreading out through the mown grass. If Nerstrand ceases to be able to afford to mow its lawns, or civilization falls, the trout lilies will fill up all that mown space now occupied by grass, dandelions, and creeping charlie.

The Park Office was closed, so I sat on the bench they have on their west-facing porch and watched for birds while Raphael filled out the form for an annual park pass. One downy woodpecker and three or four little delicate sparrows with a rufous crown and a black eye line, were scratching around in the leaf litter under the bird feeder. And there was one white-throated sparrow, or what I took for one, though we didn't get a good identification until later. We had a sandwich at a very windy picnic table.

Then we walked through the campground, keeping an eye out for red-headed woodpeckers, but we'd arrived at the height of the afternoon and most birds were silent and absent. We went along the short gravel trail pointing out false rue anemone, purple and yellow violets, swamp buttercup, and the leaves of wild geranium to one another. Then we took the very steep path down to Hidden Falls. Larger patches of false rue anemone, clumps of wild ginger, nodding trillium, a few blossoms of cut-leaf toothwort; and as we got down to the damper areas, dark-green horsetail ferns and, below where a stream went down to join Prairie Creek, some marsh marigold blooming away. Things were intensely green and there were many flowers, but it looked strange to me. I finally realized that, while the false rue anemone was more or less on schedule, it would ordinarily bloom in a much emptier landscape where the understory plants were not leafed out, nor the wild geraniums so far along in their own growth. The trees would usually show just a hint, a mist of green, and you could see quite far into the woods because only the trunks and branches of trees and shrubs impeded your view. The view was much shorter and more cluttered this time. In some years there would hardly even be any violets yet, but they were thick along most of the damper trails that we took. And the spring beauty, while we did find some eventually, was not nearly as widespread as you would expect. We had also missed most of the Dutchman's breeches, though we did find a stalk or two here and there.

We went down the wooden steps to the rocky shore below the waterfall, and sat on a bench in the sun for a while. Clouds of tiny insects were dancing in the sun, coming together in a dense ball like a globular cluster and then bursting apart only to coalesce again. I was just about to point out to Raphael that they were a dragonfly's dinner without the dragonfly, when a green darner darted into their midst and started snapping them up. I made sure I had remembered to tell Raphael that Eric and I had seen darners at Eloise Butler, and Raphael told me there had actually been one in the back yard.

Eventually we got up and went back up the other side of the trail, the steeper side with steps. Last year we got to see the Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily in bloom, but it was done this year. There was plenty of false rue anemone, newly-opening ferns, early meadow rue with its flowers like little fringed lampshades, more violets, a little spring beauty, one or two blooming wild geraniums, fantastical ash buds, and hundreds of trout lily leaves, with here and there a patch of blossom in a shadier or cooler spot. At one point Raphael asked me what pollinated trout lilies; we thought it was bees but weren't sure. A little further along the trail, Raphael saw a bumblebee taking a good long time inside a trout lily flower, so that seemed to be that. We saw a number of bumblebees zipping around in the course of the day.

We climbed the trail and sat down on the bench that the park has kindly put just before the really steep part. The wind was fitful. All the green was fresh as fresh. The sky was almost autumnal in the intensity of its blue -- we thought this might be because the humidity was low, but we didn't know. It was hard to get up and go on up the hill, but we did. We came almost immediately upon a large number of extremely weird plants that we were fairly sure we had looked up before but failed to retain the name of. I think, having poked around online, that they were wood betony.

Once back at the top of the hill, we had a hunt for the yellow lady-slipper orchids we'd seen there just once, and then went back to the picnic ground and had another sandwich and took a different trail that crossed Prairie Creek and then gave us a choice of which way to go. We decided to take the White Oak Trail back downhill to the water, since it was such a dry spring; sometimes it's too wet to take the lower trail by the creek at all. The upper part of the trail was full of trout lilies, violets, and false rue anemone, with the occasional Jack-in-the-Pulpit or trillium. As we came down into lower and damper levels again, the false rue anemone came into its own. Along the creek banks it grew lushly with ferns and reeds and violets and some lovely clumps of blue wood phlox, which I think of as blooming much later. We stood on the bridge admiring the phlox on the other side for a while, and then walked on to the where the Beaver Trail intersects the White Oak, and sat down on yet another bench. The light was starting to mellow out, and everything was still the tenderest green imaginable, starred with flowers and yet-emerging leaves and dancing small insects. Several times we saw the shadow of a butterfly -- or maybe just of a blowing leaf.

At last we began the walk back along the creek to the steep trail with the steps. The flowers were still very lush and intermingled, but there were fewer ferns and grasses or reeds. At some point something in the soil or light changed, and the understory thinned out, and there was a bit of what I'd been missing: mostly bare shrubs arching over patch after patch after patch of false rue anemone. "So many windflowers!" said Raphael, and I looked at them closely. The air seemed quite still, but they were still moving just a little on their flexible stems.

Raphael suggested that we climb the half of the Hidden Falls trail that we had previously come down. The light was much better for seeing small things by then, and that half of the trail isn't quite so steep. The main discovery was a single hepatica blossom still hanging on in its nest of three-lobed leaves. The last third of the trail was a bit of a slog, and we sat on the bench at the top of the hill when we got there. The light was mellower yet. Through the green and gray of the woods a barred owl called, and again, and again, and then after a pause yet again. Eventually we went and sat on the porch of the park office. The tiny sparrows with the rufous caps, downy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatches, white-throated sparrows (we saw the white throat this time), and a single chipmunk, flew down to get seeds or suet, or kicked up the litter on the ground. You could hear the whoosh and ruffle of their wings as the birds came and went, and the scratch and rustle of the chipmunk's feet. There was some squabbling amongst the sparrows, and two nuthatches had a battle over the suet feeder. More distantly, we saw an elusive woodpecker that could have been a flicker or a red-bellied woodpecker; and finally we saw a flash of black and white and red as a red-headed woodpecker appeared briefly and then provided a glimpse, a longer look, another glimpse, always moving around to the other side of the tree or flying across the road to hide in trees with too much foliage. On our walk back to the car, a flash of black and red and white showed amongst the plants by the path. "It's a towhee," breathed Raphael, and it was, kicking up the litter much more violently than the sparrows had.

We had our last sandwich at a now really chilly picnic table, and Raphael got me to take the Sibley out of my backpack, and looked up the sparrows. Like the wood betony, they had been looked up before but we'd forgotten. They were chipping sparrows, and the first elusive woodpecker was indeed a red-bellied one.

We drove home in sunset and twilight. Then we had to come back to earth and do the year's first tick check, but that's just part of going hiking.

pameladean: (Libellula julia)
Eric and I visited the garden briefly last weekend; we were having a discussion of different driving routes for his old and new apartments, and he mentioned that we hadn't taken this bit of 394 in quite some time, but used to use it as a fast way to get to Eloise Butler from my house. "Eloise Butler," I said reflectively, meaning, hey, the garden is open and it's not a horrible day in terms of weather. So we dropped by quickly, postponing our grocery shopping.

It was classic very early spring in the garden. No overall mist of greening leaves, but the occasional fantastical bud, sticky-tight, or half-open, or frothing out its small leaves in unrecognizable shapes. We heard red-bellied woodpeckers saying Quirrrr quirrr quirrr. Here and there the little white candles of bloodroot stood about, wrapped in their gray-green fringed leaves. On the slope where they surprise us every time, clump after clump of sharp-lobed hepatica bloomed in pink and blue and white, bowing and shaking on their thin stems in the spring breeze. Trout lily leaves were up in abundance. The false rue anemone was up here and there, many of its leaves still reddish. Skunk cabbage was red and redolent in the marsh.

The little snow trillium was blooming furiously just up the hill from the swamp boardwalk.

So that was our first visit, and we were very glad to have made it. We went back with forethought yesterday. It was a hot day. I resent hot days in April more than I can say. It should not be hot before the leaves are out. It should not be hot in April at all.

That said, by the time we had left the steep driveway and taken the little gravel trail that leads down the hill to the front gate of the garden, I had become resigned to the weather. Before we were halfway up the drive, Eric pointed out a deer crossing it, in a very leisurely manner. We were able to spot her again, standing in the brush on the righthand side of the drive and looking at us, ears alert. She was mostly able to blend into the thin wavery brush, but the ears gave her away.

We were hearing a lot of red-bellied woodpeckers, and one flew past and gave us a couple of good quick views in between its trips behind whatever tree we were looking at it in. Then we heard a Woody the Woodpecker laugh, and Eric said, "That's not quite big enough to be a pileated -- no, wait, it is a pileated." Sure enough, that crazy hammer-head with its stripes, and the remarkably huge body of the woodpecker showed briefly before this one too, in the manner of all woodpeckers, moved around behind the tree so that we couldn't see it any longer. We were enormously pleased, feeling that anything after this would just be extra-fancy icing.

We decided to go up to the meadow first. We had left it unvisited the last time because not much in terms of flora happens there early in the year; but I'd recalled that there is a little prairie smoke and some pasque flower up there and we thought we would look for them. There were some nice clumps of bloodroot along the trail under the white pines, and then many leaves of Virginia waterleaf, and some thistle and aster rosettes, pushing up through the few remaining fallen stems of last year's prairie. When we came around the bend and saw the first part of the meadow, everything seemed very open and empty; in summer and fall, the plants and grasses are shoulder-high on me, but now nothing more than a few inches high was visible. It looked as if they might have burned the slope of meadow visible from the approach, not recently but maybe last fall sometime: the thick layers of fallen grasses and prairie flowers were missing. We'd seen plum trees blooming in people's yards as we rode the bus to the park, but the little arch of wild plum that leads to the meadow proper was just coming into bud.

We went down the slope and onto the path that goes around the central meadow hill, where we were intercepted by a tall dark-haired young man with a walking staff. He asked if we wanted to see the owlet. Well, yes, we did. He pointed it out to us, but we couldn't see it -- he was much taller than I am, and there was a screen of brush that confused the eye. "I'll walk you down to it," he said, so we followed him down to the lowest part of the meadow, where finally, just the other side of the garden fence, we saw a big cream-colored ball of fluff with an owl's face, clinging very firmly to a short stub of a branch not very far from the ground, blinking from time to time, and looking like any fledgling simultaneously terrified, winsome, and bewildered. We had encountered one of the staff on our way down, and she and the young man were discussing the mother owl, which after quite a lot of work Eric and I managed to see high up in a white pine behind the owlet's tree. "Look for her little white bib and the horns," the young man urged, and they were there, but she was very well camouflaged. So they were great horned owls, which we've hard hooting many times and seen silhouetted against the sky on the other side of the garden. But we had never seen an owlet before, or had a glimpse of an adult that showed the white bib.

After a while we thanked the young man and went on up the next hill, stopping to look down at a little loop path that is packed with ferns during the garden's proper season. The ferns weren't up yet, but there was a good patch of bloodroot down at the bottom of the loop. A cardinal was tuning up from the evergreens, and a few more red-bellied woodpeckers quirred somewhere hidden. We went along the edge of the hill and sat on a bench, marvelling at the view when there were no leaves to block it. The clump of birches at the other end of the meadow had new pale green leaves. The meadow was still brown, but Eric noticed a dragonfly, a migrating green darner; and then another; and then the sun came out from behind the clouds and backlit six or eight darners and the cloud of tiny insects they were hunting.

We finally tore ourselves away and went back to the bottom of the central hill to check for asparagus spears, but it was too early. We went down the steep trail through the woods with its sheets of emerging trout lily leaves, and I saw a single plant of Dutchman's breeches, fine frilly leaves and ridiculous white and pink flowers on their tiny stalk. Further down were more hepatica, a number of clumps of actual rue anemone in pink form for easier identification; and, increasingly as we went downhill, big patches of false rue anemone, in bud and blooming shining white, according to the light they were getting. We decided that we'd see the most flowers if we bypassed the marsh and went along the far side of the woods, so we did that, noting in passing that the marsh marigolds, which had been up last week, now had minute yellow buds. The skunk cabbages had put up bright green leaves and were somewhat less stinky. Eric noticed that the patch of Virginia bluebells on the left side of the path had buds, some still pink and some blue already. The snow trillium was still blooming ferociously, and we started to see first individual trout lily buds and flowers, and then, as we went up the far slope of the woods above the marsh, a patch of yellow trout lily, and another, and another, and then sheets of white ones interrupted by clumps of yellow. I remarked that another name for the yellow trout lily is the dog's-tooth violet.

We passed some people who told us that they had seen four deer and three wild turkeys. We felt smug about our owlet, but when we saw the first wild turkey hen poking around under a fallen tree trunk, we stopped and gaped at her anyway. At some point we sat down on a bench overlooking the marsh, and Eric checked the time and the bus schedule and we realized that we'd have to hurry. We didn't do very well at that, however. There were other hen turkeys; there were flowers and fantastical shrubs budding, the trillium leaves we had seen last week, had their pointy buds well out, and it's a bit of a hilly slog back up towards the Martha Crone Shelter. When we got there, a nice man told us there was a tom turkey displaying, and he was, right on the path that goes past the periwinkle further on; so we watched him for a while. He was missing a tail feather, but still a splendid sight. I've seen a tom turkey displaying his feathers once before, but hadn't really noticed how the rick black feathers of the back get into the act as well, so that he looks as if he is part very upset cat. The hen turkeys stalked stolidly through the dead leaves, poking with their beaks for insects, and at least pretended to ignore him. We got our best view when a woman with a camera made him decide that he should turn back and go into the woods just below the shelter.

We had missed our intended bus by then, but they were about to close the shelter, so we dawdled up the hill and, when one of the staff came to lock up, out the gate and up to the parking lot, where we sat on a bench under the beautiful river birch they have there and watched the quintessential common animals disport themselves in the grass: a robin, a gray squirrel, and an Eastern chipmunk. The disparate birdsong that we'd had as background had changed to chickadees saying, "Cheeseburger," over and over, establishing their nesting territories. Wee went slowly back down the driveway, now lined with robins about twenty feet apart, and found our bus stop, and went home.

pameladean: (Libellula julia)
On the weekend of October 10 and 11, [ profile] arkuat and I went camping at Great River Bluffs State Park.

Prologue )
Camping )
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
On Tuesday, Raphael and I went to Elm Creek Park Reserve. After a generally lovely hiking season, we'd missed three weeks in a row: one because it was too hot, one because of a dental appointment and Cats Laughing concert, one for reasons I can't recall, but that probably included inertia.

Tuesday was forecast to have a high of 83 F and to be sunny but very windy. We don't normally go hiking when the wind is gusting to 30 mph because it makes photography difficult or impossible. But summer is ending and our weekly hikes with it, so we went. We had gone to Elm Creek in the spring to see ephemerals and the wild plum blooming, and on the pond by the Nature Center we had seen a pair of trumpeter swans.

When we went out onto the boardwalk, there were a lot more than two swans on the pond. A woman who had been observing them through binoculars came and talked to us. "There are eight cygnets," she said, "And there's the male, on the left." There was another large all-white swan on the right. The rest were a mottled gray, though almost as large as their parents. She told us that Lake Rebecca (I think; another Three Rivers Park District park) had four cygnets and that there had been a sandhill crane with offspring on Goose Lake, though they had disappeared sometime in July. We expressed pleasure at all the good swan news, and she wished us a beautiful day and left.

The adult swans were stationed on either side of the mass of young ones, which mostly moved as a group. Looking at one adult through binoculars, we saw that there was quite a large group of ducks on the bank behind it. It was very shady over there, and at first all I could see were some of their orange feet. Raphael, with better vision and better binoculars, said some of them were wood ducks, and once I had that clue, I could see their markings. A couple of them eventually slid into the water and swam around into the sunshine. A parent swan swam by, dipping its large black feet in and out of the water like oars, followed by one young one, the wind ruffling its mottled feathers until some of them stood straight up. There was a partially-submerged log full of painted turtles of various sizes, with their heads all pointed in the same direction. A green darner swooped over the reflection of sky and clouds. All around the pond, small yellow flowers bloomed profusely. I think they were Nodding Bur Marigold. I've seen them near water for years but never looked them up before.

As we were leaving the boardwalk, Raphael pointed out an Eastern phoebe in a dead tree.

We had a sandwich, refilled our water bottles, and head out to the prairie restoration. On the way there, abundant stands of goldenrod (possibly showy, but anyway one of the kinds with a feathery flower head) and clouds of blue and white asters lined the path, with a few larger purple ones for contrast. The leaves of sumac were beginning to turn candy-red. Once we got to the prairie proper, there was stiff goldenrod with its flat flowerheads, and more asters, including one large pink one that looked a little unsure of its welcome. The liatris had mostly gone to seed, but we found one or two plants still blooming.

At the top of the hill is a bench beside a red-stemmed dogwood bush, with a small oak tree across from it. We sat down for a while. Blue asters were growing up through the red branches and red-spotted leaves of the dogwood. Everything rushed and rustled in the wind. The bluestem was turning golden brown at the top, and if you looked across the hills, at first they seemed all grass. Within the grass, held upright by it, were goldenrod and asters and the dull green of leadplant with its seedheads very dull purple.

The restored prairie runs downhill to a bike path, on the other side of which is a shrubby meadow backed by woods. As I remarked to Raphael, I have probably a dozen photos of that view from later in the autumn. Today most of the trees were still green, but there was one on the horizon with a puff of orange at the top, and some poplars far off to the left that were turning pale gold. We got up and walked down the hill. Just short of the bike path was what used to be a river of goldenrod, now being infiltrated by bluestem, with islands of aster and red clover. Raphael said it was the quintessential Three Rivers Park meadow, on what used to be farmland and hasn't yet been completely restored as prairie. We reminisced about our first visit to the park, when we had hiked the meadows on the other side of the pond. They had contained almost no native grasses or plants, but reminded me of the floral background of a medieval tapestry in their variety and precision.

It smelled like autumn, though most of the leaves were still on the trees and green.

Because it was September, I said to Raphael as we crossed the bike path, "Let's get a ring and take it to Mordor, shall we?" Raphael suggested that it would be easier to sell the ring on Craigslist. "Some might consider that irresponsible," I said. Raphael noddd. "Wizards, what are you going to do." "Really. Making marks on people's doors and ruining their paint jobs." "You could sell it as scrap," suggested Raphael. "Yes, then somebody else would melt it down for you." "It might end up as a filling, though." "That would be bad." "Chips have gold in them. You might end up with a secret computer."

We went through small oaks and leftover fruit trees, around a corner dense with reddening sumac, and onto the wooded creek path. We had taken it in the spring when all budding shrubs and trees were full of fantastical half-open leaves in many shapes and colors. There was blue wood phlox blooming. Now it was dense greenery and goldenrod. All the time the wind whooped and roared and swooped and all the leaves rustled and the grasses and goldenrod bent and rippled. We saw a bird riding the wind like a child on a scooter. It was small but very raptor-like, with a pale underbelly. We couldn't get a clear look at it, but it was lovely to see how the wind was its element.

In the deeper parts of the woods, the wind died a little and mosquitoes started trying to eat me. I moved along as fast as I could, but it seemed very hot. Eventually I got out my phone and was affronted to see that it was 88 degrees. At least the humidity had dropped a great deal. We were glad of the wind.

We went down to the bridge over the creek and along to a clearing that has a vault toilet and a couple of picnic benches, because I needed to sit down. The clearing has the creek on two sides; you can't see it when things are so lush, but you can hear it, and the light over it is different. There are maple, basswood, and birch trees in the clearing, and a tumble-down stone oven. Bluejays yelled over our heads, and chickadees explained things to one another. Eventually the mosquitoes found us, and we went back over the creek, past the dense sumac hedge and the river of goldenrod islanded with its asters, up the steep hill to the bench and the tiny oak. We sat for a while, and then came gently downhill, looking at the backlit golden grasses and the leaves on the oaks and lindens.

pameladean: (Libellula julia)

Everybody is fine.  There are no mice in the house -- possibly to the disappointment of the cats, but not to my own.

Eric and I started camping this year.  He has backpacking ambitions that I do not share, but I suggested that I could accompany him on early jaunts to check out various aspects of the activity.  In mid-May, we borrowed a very nice three-person tent from my brother and camped in the back yard.  This taught us useful things about how many warm clothes one needed for a night in the upper forties, and gave me practice in getting out of the tent and putting on my shoes in the middle of the night before heading for the bathroom.

On the Wednesday before Memorial Day, we drove up to Temperance River State Park and camped in their campground.  The rental car was a little tiny Fiat, but we were only staying one night and managed to cram all of our stuff into it.  We arrived too late to buy firewood from the park office, but we did get the tent pitched before dark.  I had reserved the campsite, so it was backed up to the bathrooms -- the real bathrooms, with hot water and flush toilets.  This worked out fairly well for a person of so many nocturnal risings.  The campground was nearly deserted when we got there.  We had a cold dinner, I think, and made our major non-practical discovery: Temperance River State Park is a very good place for star-gazing.  I hadn't expected much because our previous excursions to Lake Superior, including one during the peak of the Perseids, had all involved heavy fog.  But it was a clear, dry night, not a wisp of fog, and the sky was stunning.  We wandered around the deserted campsites between us and the lake, craning our necks, for several hours.  I had brought the astronomical binoculars that David and Lydy most kindly gave me a couple of years ago, but we never actually got them out.  It was not the right time of the year to see the Milky Way, which is disposed all around the horizon then, but Corona Borealis, Coma Berenices, and many other fine sights were visible.  And Eric taught me about the Polaris clock, which was actually useful when I got up later to use the bathroom and had no idea what time it was.

The temperature got down into the thirties that night, but fortunately my sleeping bag, a gift from Eric, is extremely warm and I was able to hand over my unnecessary sweats for him to use with his summer-weight light quilt.  The next day was sunny and warm.  We had a cold breakfast and went down to the mouth of the Temperance River, which was breathtaking.  The lake was very calm, and you could see where the river was mingling with it by the color changes and the rapidly calming local agitation of the water.  Then we hiked up the Temperance River past various marvels I am hoping to upload photographs of before I post this.  There is a lot of geology on the Temperance River, and some extremely ancient rocks, and waterfall after waterfall after waterfall.  Near the lake the river is far, far down in a potholed narrow gorge where hidden falls alternately hide in the shadows and catch the sunlight to show that root-beer color of all the Lake Superior rivers, which uniformly have their origins in peat bogs and are full of tannins.  Later the river widens but is no less rocky, and you get shallower, terraced falls and rapids.  The trees were leafing out in Minneapolis, but this far north they had barely begun.  The birch catkins were out, however.  One could see far into the trees, dark spruce and pale birch, last year's leaves paving the ground, ferns and mysterious wildflower rosettes just emerging.

That was our May trip.  On June 7th, we borrowed Lydy's car, B (for Behemoth) and went to Wild River State Park.  This time we had firewood; we also had my brother's Coleman stove.  We took a very pleasant, albeit mosquitoey, walk along part of the Trillium Trail, and then cooked our first outdoor meal.  Thai Kitchen rice noodle soup, when well augmented with tofu, spinach, scallions, and red bell pepper, plus extra soy sauce, sesame oil, and chil oil, made a very substantial supper.  The evening cooled off fairly quickly and the mosquitoes retreated.  We had made a fire just in case the Coleman stove was cranky, so we sat beside it seeing things, cityscapes and Martian landscapes, in the flames and embers until it burned itself out.  Then we went to look at the sky.  Here we got the fog we had not had at Temperance River, but there was a moon and a moonlit foggy meadow and a few stars visible overhead, so we were contented and went to bed with grand plans for a long hike in the morning.

Temperance River and Wild River both say that their tent pads are "sand and gravel."  Temperance River piles its tent pads with wood chips.  Wild River does not.  We each had a single sleeping pad.  I have never slept on such a hard surface in my life.  Every part of me that touched the ground was sore well before morning.  We were both so sleep-deprived that we decided not to do any major hiking.  Besides, it was a warm day and the mosquitoes were out in full force to make up for having had to abdicate the evening before.  We heated water for tea and coffee, ate some random picnic food from the cooler, and packed up.  We did take a scenic route back, and stopped by William O'Brien State Park briefly so that Eric could see their prairie restoration.

So that was our camping experience before we went back to Temperance River on September 15 through 17.

In the meantime we had discussed and researched the question of sleeping pads, and Eric had pointed out that having two light foam-pads was much cheaper than buying one of the cushy inflatable pads, so in the end I handed my pad over to him because it was a bit small for me, and ordered two larger Thermarest light-weight pads instead.

Eric also made and tested an alcohol stove, using a 5.5-ounce cat food can scrounged from our copious supply, and a hole punch.  He made a windscreen of heavy-duty aluminum foil and a pot stand of hardware cloth, and bought a two-person cook set: pot, lid, and a clever pot-holder that could double as a handle and also allow one to remove the lid without burning oneself.  He successfully boiled water on his back deck, and later we took the cookset out into my back yard and cooked a cup of Uncle Ben's Instant Brown Rice, which upset the ants a lot but was perfectly edible.

That was our out door cooking experience before we went back to Temperance River.

We -- by which I mean I -- don't do well with early departures, and we only see one another once a week, so we planned to drive as far as Duluth on Sunday evening, the 14th, stay in a hotel and eat at the Duluth Grill, and then go on up to the park the next day, in plenty of time to buy firewood and set up camp before sunset, which was alarmingly earlier than it had been in May.

Eric arranged to collect the rental car at 3:30, meaning he would probably arrive at my place around 4:30.  I was still scrambling to get everything ready when he texted me to say that he was running late and would tell me about it when he saw me.  He arrived at 5:30, and I was actually ready.  The rental car was a Volkswagen Tiguan -- they were out of subcompact economy cars.  This was lucky on two counts.  The first was that Eric had chosen Enterprise for several reasons, among them that they will come and pick you up and take you to the car-rental facility.  However, they only do that on weekdays.  So he bicycled over to get the car, and halfway there a pedal fell off his bike.  He said that biking with one pedal was faster than walking, but it wasn't any fun.  The Tiguan, however, was more than large enough for him to load the bike into so he could take it home and get his stuff.

When we drove north on I35 to Wild River, we had decided to wait until we were out of the Cities to get gas, and ended up in a suburban morass in both Arden Hills and Columbia Heights that even Google Maps had trouble getting us out of, and lost a lot of time.  So this time we waited until Lino Lakes, and pulled off at a Holiday right by the exit ramp, with a very clear path back to the freeway, and got the gas.  Eric put the key in the ignition, and the car took exception to this and locked the ignition up.  There was no owner's manual in the car.  There never is.  I guess people must steal them; I don't know, but it's very annoying.  Volkswagen tech support was closed.  Enterprise didn't answer its phone.  Eric finally gave the steering wheel a violent yank to one side, and the car condescended to start.  Eric explained that he had once had the same thing happen with a U-Haul truck and tech support for U-Haul told him to yank the steering wheel.  He had tried this at once with the Volkswagen, but apparently the maneuver needs to be done with a lot more violence than seems reasonable.

We were late enough getting to Duluth that we just went straight to the Duluth Grill.  We discovered this restaurant in May.  Before it opened, the only place in Duluth (other than the excellent co-op) that was vegan- and vegetarian-friendly was Pizza Luce, which is well enough, but not something we have to drive to Duluth for.  The Duluth Grill grows vegetables and herbs in its parking lot and is perfectly clear on the concepts of vegetarian and vegan.  They have some odd prejudice against soy -- you get coconut milk to put in your coffee if you don't want dairy, and their go-to vegan protein is chickpea-flour polenta.  This is a little dry when made into an "omelette," but really delicious when cubed and fried as protein substitute in a stir-fry.  I can also eat fish and goat- or sheeps-milk cheese, so there's a fair amount of choice for me on their menu.  The first time we were there they were perfectly fine with making the ratatouille, which comes with polenta, in the vegan form, and then letting me have the goat cheese that goes on top of the regular version.

Eric and I split an order of onion rings, because we were hungry.  He got the bleu cheese dip and I got the ketchup.  I then had fish tacos, which were excellent.  Eric ordered the Wrenshall pasty, which comes with bleu-cheese-and-bacon coleslaw.  He was quite confounded by the extreme richness of the pasty crust and the high proportion of beef in the filling.  We took half of it, along with one of my tacos -- the onion rings were pretty filling -- back to the hotel, had a relaxing evening, and went to bed.

I was awakened by a loud thump, and saw that Eric was not in bed.  I called out to him and got no answer.  I leapt up and ran to the bathroom, where to my horror I found him lying flat on his face, and not responsive.  I ran back and got my cellphone, and then thought that 911 would ask questions I didn't have the answers to and that Eric would be irate if he had to go to the ER for no reason.  I spoke to him and patted him, and got some groans in answer.  I took a closer look and saw that there was what seemed like quite a lot of blood soaking into the hotel carpet where his head was.  I spoke to him again, and this time he spoke back, leapt to his feet, took one look at himself in the mirror, and bolted into the shower.  He said a few minutes later that he had looked like Oliver Wells playing Banquo's ghost, only with somewhat less blood.

I got his glasses for him and a wet washcloth for his head wound, which was swelling and still bleeding.  Then I put on some random clothing over my pajamas and got some ice.  Once he was established with an ice pack, he started looking for the number of his insurance company's nurse line and I started looking up head injuries on the internet.  WebMD terrified me, but I looked at the size of his pupils and asked the questions they recommended, and all was fine on that front.  There was no joy on the number for the nurse line, however.  Eric had had his wallet stolen a few weeks ago, and didn't have a new insurance card yet.  The number apparently is only on the card.  I did a search for public nurse lines in the Duluth area, but every nurse line now is locked up tight with an insurance company.  Before Pawlenty got his claws on Minnesota's budget, HCMC had a nurse line that anybody could call for free.  I used it a number of times when David and Raphael and I were all uninsured in the early years of this century.  But Pawlenty cut all useful things' budgets, and the nurse line is no more.

Eric emailed his doctor, since he couldn't call anybody useful.  I cleaned up the blood in the bathroom and soaked the towels in cold water.  "Cold water for the marks of blood," I said, remembering Mrs. Williams unnecessarily giving this advice to Jack and Stephen in Post Captain.  It worked, too.

Eventually it had been two hours and I checked Eric again, and he was still fine, aside from feeling as if he had been punched in the face, which of course he had.  We discussed the situation.  His pasty and the unexpected richness of the meal he'd eatenhad disagreed with him, which is why he had gotten up in the night; and the hotel has very high toilets.  He used the term "vasovagal reaction" and felt that unconsciousness had preceded and been the cause of the head injury rather than proceeding from it, so there was really no reason for alarm.  I stated categorically that we couldn't possibly go camping now and that he shouldn't drive home either, and sent email to my household and family.  Eric remarked mildly that he didn't think it would be necessary for anybody to come fetch us, and decided, he told me later, not to argue about the camping at the time.

I decided that he didn't really need to be checked every two hours, as WebMD recommended.  I gingerly cleaned up the scalp wound with the rubbing alcohol I had brought along for tick bites, and found in my toiletries kit a large and ancient bandaid dating from the time I spilled boiling peppermint tea down my front when I had the flu.  It was just the right size for the lumpy bleeding head injury, so I applied it; and we tried to sleep.  I kept waking up and making sure he was breathing, and around six a.m. I did wake him up and make sure he was lucid.  He was momentarily quite puzzled at why I was behaving so oddly, but finally said, 'Oh!  You're checking on me!"  Sometime before that I called the front desk and got our checkout time extended by an hour, which was as much as the very nice man at the desk could do without consulting his supervisor, who came on at 11.

At 9 my brother called me back and I talked to him in the bathroom.  He said he could come and get us any time.  Lydy had also said that she or she and Steven could come get us, though not until the following day.  David volunteered the use of his car, but had to work.  Lydy's car was showing the Check Engine light, which was why she either needed to use David's car or come in Stephen's.  Raphael looked up bus options for me.  This was all very cheering.

I hated to do it, but I woke Eric again so we could consider the options.  He checked his email, and most miraculously, there was a message from his doctor.  She asked a bunch of questions, but basically said that if he had been unconscious for less than five minutes and had none of a list of alarming symptoms, he should be fine to continue his trip, camping and all.  So I dithered for a while, but the doctor's remarks were really quite clear.  She, too, used the term "vasovagal reaction," which pleased Eric immensely, since he had called it the night before while the blood was still streaming down his face.  I emailed everybody to say we would continue on our trip; Eric also emailed with details of what his doctor had said.

I had gotten some of the blood out of the carpet the night before, but the stain was still there and still wet.  Once we were dressed and packed up, Eric found the housekeeper and warned him about the blood, and left him a large tip.  We threw away the leftover pasty; I ate my fish taco; and we packed the car.  We were of two minds about the Duluth Grill, and I was still of two minds about Eric's driving anywhere.  He suggested that he drive a bit and we could both see how it went, and we ended up going to the Duluth Grill with the intention of seeking out something light.  I don't think anything could have been heavier than that pasty, anyway.  Eric had a basic breakfast that included a nice side of kale, and I had the vegan version of their breakfast skillet, which was a bed of hash browns lavishly covered with hominy and black beans and salsa.  Their salsa, like all of their condiments, was made on the premises and extremely fresh and tasty.  I also had a nice pot of Darjeeling, given how short of sleep I was.  I called my brother and took him off alert and thanked him profusely.

It was becoming increasingly clear even to one of my worrying disposition that Eric was fine except for a stiff neck,  a large lump on his forehead and various scrapes, so we admired the flower-and-vegetable gardens in the parking lot one last time, and drove north out of Duluth to Temperance River.

We loved the drive, the changing topography and the changing trees and underbrush, the glimpses of the lake, the full-on views of the lake, the road cuts through fresh pink or weathered gray or black blocky igneous rock.  Fall color was not much advanced.  Some sugar maples had turned or partially turned, and the sumac was strongly considering the matter.  The grass on the sides of the road was full of tansy, asters, and goldenrod in full bloom.  We stopped at the park office and got our firewood, though we had to go back for a map and a fire starter.  Our campsite had a resident chipmunk, which presented itself almost at once, in case we should want to feed it anything.  The campsite had a view of the lake, not so much framed as somewhat obscured by a handsome couple of birches.  Still, you would just glance up, and there at the end of the road was the lake.

The campground was full of darners.  There was a mown space near the bathrooms, surrounded by shrubs and taller vegetation, in full sun at the time we arrived.  Darners sailed and darted through the air as thick as the leaves that were not yet falling.  There were a lot of mating wheels.  The one darner that landed on the wheel of the car was very probably a Canada darner, and all the ones whose color I could see were blue and brown, so mosaic darners of some kind or another; but they were too active to provide much information.  In between them and lower down swam large numbers of yellow-legged meadowhawks in red or amber, hovering and turning after gnats and no-see-ums.  On subsequent days, the meadowhawks were less in evidence, but there were always many darners.

Our campsite was decorated with ferns and a lot of seeding fireweed.  The fluffy seeds blew through from time to time and occasionally drew a darner to mistake them for something edible.

We, by which I mostly mean Eric, though I held things down a time or two, pitched the tent, and we put our pads and sleeping bags and night things into it.  Then we set off in the remaining light to climb Carlton Peak.  This sounds more impressive than it is, but it was fairly steep in spots.  In other spots it was flat and boggy, and once it was steep and boggy.  The trail is part of the Superior Hiking Trail, and winds among spruce and birch trees.  It was packed with exuberant ferns and brilliant moss, set off by the occasional clump of asters and one gorgeous set of orange-spotted mushrooms that Eric pointed out and photographed.  Here and there granite interrupted the trail or the hillside.  There were a lot of young, bright spruce saplings crowded under their elders.  And many, many fallen birch logs, which do give an understory an air.  Eric was keeping an eye out for places that I could sit down if I needed to.  My knees have been acting up recently and sometimes they have a small tantrum.  He told me that he had marked some nice birch logs as possible seats, but as it turned out, they were shells held together by the tough birch bark, while their centers had rotted out.  As we got higher up, there was more and more rock, til the trail was a mixture of twisting spruce roots and granite, some of it level and some not so much.

It was a three-mile round trip, which I could do on the flat easily enough, but things kept getting steeper.  I finally had to sit down; Eric found me a nice rock and then scouted ahead and came back to report that the summit was not very far off and had actual benches.  So I toiled up the remaining slope, and there was a little flat spot with two benches, large and small spruce and birch trees, random pieces of granite, and glimpses of intriguing prospects through the trees.  It would be very interesting in early spring.  We had tried to climb to the peak in May, but the obvious way there -- Carlton Peak Road -- started out unimproved and rapidly degraded into not there at all.  The little Fiat was not up to the task, so we turned back; hence our eagerness to find a better way.  I'd found a Yelp! review that helpfully said that one should take Sawbill Trail instead and find the parking lot and trailhead for the Superior Hiking Trail.  Eric confirmed this with his SPT maps, and so we succeeded this time around.

The summit was full of pale fluttering insects that, when finally persuaded briefly to land, turned out to be tiny, tiny moths; probably very fancy ones if one could see them through a camera lens or binoculars, but they were too busy dancing in the sunlight to alight anywhere for long.  It got chilly, and we reluctantly started down.  There were far more views on the way down, when we weren't scrambling and keeping an eye ahead.  They were still fragments between the trees, but very pleasing nonetheless.

The trail crosses the road at one point, so I sat on the steps there and let Eric go the last little way to the parking lot at the trailhead, collect the car, and then collect me.  He had hoped there would be views of the lake from the summit, but the area was too leafy.  But when we drove back down the road to the campsite, Eric pointed out the lake to me.  I had, with my Midwestern eyes, interpreted it as a dark gray band of cloud on the horizon.  I had a lot of trouble making the shift in perspective to see that it was a body of water below us, until we were close enough to see some variation in the color of the water.

When we got back to the campsite, Eric actually cooked on the alcohol stove, occasionally watched by the chipmunk.  We had whole-wheat couscous with a packet of Knorr vegetable soup mix and some chopped onion I'd brought in the cooler; then we added broken-up silken tofu, soy sauce, and olive oil at the table.  It was surprisingly tasty and sustaining.  Eric made the fire and we sat by it while the sky darkened.  It took a long time for the fire to burn down and I was very sleepy when it finally had.  It was a clear dark night.  Sitting in our campsite with the light on the bathrooms blazing away, we could see the Cygnus portion of the Milky Way with its dark rifts.  We walked down to the lake and saw the stars inside the Great Square of Pegasus, and as a special treat, with our unaided eyes we saw the double cluster between Perseus and Casseopeia.  I've seen it through a telescope by the kind auspices of [ profile] jiawen, so even though it was just a misty patch, seeing it with my eyes was exciting.  Eric was also very pleased to see Fomalhaut, which he is still used to being higher in the sky in the Bay Area.  It was low but perfectly visible.  And we saw Delphinus, which is a constellation I always like to admire.

It was cold and late, so we went back to the tent and went to bed.  When I got up for the inevitable bathroom trip, parts of the sky had clouded over, but a patch that held Orion, the Pleiades, and Mars shone out, while the half-moon disported itself with a triple rainbow ring all around.  It was a windy night, air roaring through the birch and evergreen trees; and you could also hear breakers crashing on the shore of Lake Superior.

In the morning the alcohol stove provided hot water for coffee or tea and for instant oatmeal, which we had with soy milk.  The chipmunk raced through the campsite several times.  I don't recall at exactly what point it came right up to Eric and later to me and looked expectant, but it only did that once, apparently deciding that we coudn't take a hint.

Eric had gotten up before I did and gone down to the lake and over to the mouth of the river, where he saw a merganser running on the water to get past the turbulent place where the river entered the lake.

We had decided to leave the decision of whether to stay a second night until we had spent the first night.  I had had some trouble with the organization of my possessions and the need to crawl in and out of the tent repeatedly, which my knees didn't much like, but in the lovely morning I decided I could take another night of it.  I'd promised to let Raphael and David know what we decided.  This meant we had to charge up our cellphones with the car charger and find some wi-fi.  Eric had always wanted to see Grand Marais, so we put all the food into the car and drove off along Highway 61.  Most regrettably, we had forgotten to bring any music, or we might well have played Dylan.

This drive was also interesting, with more and more views of the lake and a sudden change in the topography, and in the height and nature of the trees; then another sudden change back so that the landscape looked more as it does near Tofte and Schroeder and Temperance River.  Every time we crossed a creek or river we gaped in whatever direction was handy, either towards its mouth at the lake or upstream.  Many of the rivers were far down in rocky gorges, some almost invisible; a few were wider and more placid.  We also passed Five-Mile Rock, which I mistakenly recalled as the cause of the Mary Ellen Carter's demise, but I remembered about a week later that that was actually Three-Mile Rock.

Grand Marais was windy and quite cold.  I liked it, perhaps possibly because of a strong literary background in seaside towns.  I kept thinking that this or that place would be an intriguing one to stay, and wanting to go into bookstores.  Eric found it too touristy, but was glad to have gratified his curiosity.  We stood by a wall overlooking Lake Superior for a while, looking at the red boulders and gravel and a flock of gulls, and then stopped for gas, since it was either cheaper or the same price as at the Holiday in Tofte.  Eric had taken advantage of the cellphone service to check the weather forecast for Wednesday, which said showers, but didn't say when.  I was able to text Raphael and email David from my phone, but the phone had been behaving oddly in the matter of text messages, so eventually we stopped in the parking lot of an IGA where there was a little piece of the 4G network, and I called Raphael and left a message.  David was at work, so I didn't call him.

We drove back to our campsite, which was much warmer than Grand Marais, and made sardine salad with more of the onions, mustard, and vegan mayonnaise.  I then discovered that Coborns' had delivered the wrong bread.  I'd ordered Breadsmith Honey Whole Wheat, but we had gotten an English muffin bread instead.  Fortunately, unlike many English muffin breads, it contained no dairy.  It was a nice enough bread, but we both much prefer whole grain.  The lunch was quite satisfying, though, so we set out to explore another portion of the Superior Hiking Trail.  Eric was interested in actually seeing some of the campsites set up for the hikers.  At Temperance River State Park they are contradictorily near the Cross River.  Our lovely hike up the river in May had been heading for those campsites, but we didn't have time to get there before we needed to drive back to Duluth.  It was, in fact, six miles, which is way past my abilities at the moment.  Eric consulted the increasingly useful maps for the trail, and discovered that the trail we had followed from the mouth of the river crossed a road before heading for the campsites, and that there was a trailhead and some parking at the side of the road.  So we drove to the trailhead, which put us three miles from the campsites rather than six.  I was still very dubious about how far I would get, but we started out, figuring that we would just see.

Before we started up the trail to the campsites, we went down to look at the river.  There was a waterfall with a lot of flat slabs of granite to walk out on; the falls at that time was a thick thread of brown water tumbling down a narrow space and then widening out into rapids.  Eric took some pictures, and then we set out on our explorations.

It was a sunny, hazy, somewhat humid day, and we were both soon covered with sweat.  The mix of trees in the forest was very different from that going up Carlton Peak.  There was a lot of maple, basswood, and some oak, and comparatively less birch and spruce.  Eric also noticed at some point that trees we'd been carelessly categorizing as yet more spruce were actually hemlocks.  The way was very boggy in places, with pretty good boards laid across the marshier bits, a lot of shrubbery I couldn't identify, ferns, moss, purple and white asters, and some wildflowers I didn't recognize.  It was as beautiful as the other section of trail we'd hiked the day before, but less austere.  It was also, if possible, even steeper.  Eric went ahead to check things out a couple of times and spurred me on.  In time he told me cheerily that the next bit was so steep that there were actually steps.  Well, there were logs laid across and the earth between them had been gravelled, but it was all on a sufficiently steep slant that I told him, "I am going up this on my hands and knees, and I am coming down it on my butt."  After the first half of this intention had been accomplished, there was a flattish bit and some more fragmentary but pleasant views.  Fall color still was not at all advanced, but the sugar maples were turning; some were all blazing red or orange, some were still half green.  They stood out like beacons in the overall green of the forest.  Mosquitoes came out and bit us in a desultory way when the breeze died.

We reached a steeper area, and Eric scouted ahead again.  This time he came back shaking his head and said that he could not in good conscience take me up any more slopes like that.  He'd hoped that the trail would go along the side of the bluff, but it was now clearly headed right over it.  I apologized profusely for not having gotten in better shape, but he said he was quite satisfied with the progress we'd made; it was getting actually hot, and more full of mosquitoes, and he knew more than he had before.  Also, of course, the trail was beautiful.

We went back down, again seeing different views that we were at more leisure to appreciate.  I have occasional failures of proprioception, not really vertigo, but a general feeling that I don't quite know whether where I want to put my foot is a good idea.  If I have something to hold onto, or even just to brush lightly with my hand, I'm fine, but I tend to suddenly get paralyzed when there is no convenient tree or railing.  I believe this to be a side effect of one of my medications.  Eric was extremely patient, giving me his hand whenever I developed the idea that if I took another step I would fall off the trail.  And I did, indeed, go down the so-called steps on my butt.  Luckily, I was wearing a pair of men's cargo pants from Land's End (women's cargo pants don't have good pockets, to my intense annoyance).  They were described as "stain resistant," and while I didn't really care about that when I bought them, it was true and came in handy.  The dust and dirt had dropped off my pants before I took them off that night.

We had a conversation later that evening when I reminded Eric that we had also hiked a piece of the Superior Hiking Trail from Duluth when we were up there in May, and that the trail seemed to me to be all of a piece, like a series of gardens designed by one person.  He said it had probably been scouted and marked out by one person.  The bits of the trail that I've seen have a meandering quality with a lot of attention to fairly small views, through the arches of leaning trees or over large rocks.  There are many small-scale exquisite bits: twisting spruce roots over pink rock with a patch of moss and a scattering of orange leaves; ferns between birch trunks; ferns around rocks; fallen birch logs covered with moss and bracket fungus; boulders decorated with lichen and leaned over by more ferns.  It's extremely pleasing to look at at almost every turn.

When we got back to the campsite, Eric started the fire at once to try to keep the mosquitoes at bay.  It was very smoky, which did keep them at bay but annoyed us in a different way.  The wind was variable, and mostly blew the smoke right over the picnic table.  Eric eventually became a human bellows until the fire was hot enough not to smoke.  Then he lit the alcohol stove, again watched intently by the chipmunk, and cooked a couple of packets of Thai Kitchen instant rice noodle soup.  We added tofu, onions, spinach, soy sauce, and olive oil at the table, and it was once again tasty and satisfying.  Then we sat or lay around near the fire, moving to avoid the smoke when the wind changed.

The sky was clouding up.  We had some brief glimpses of constellations as the clouds moved away in the wind, but more clouds kept coming up.  At last we admitted that we would not have another evening of star-gazing.  Eric said he was completely prepared to go to sleep at 8:30.  I said that I didn't think I could do that.  I normally go to bed at 1 a.m.  In any event, it took the fire long enough to die down that it was between nine and ten when we went to bed, and I was plenty tired enough to go to sleep.

At some point in the night, I heard Eric make a sound like "Baaaph!" followed by the very calm remark, "I think there's a mouse in the tent.  Something ran over my face."  My supremely wise response to this was, "Jesus Christ.  Where are my glasses?"  I knew where they were; I'm not sure whom I was addressing.  I put my glasses on.  Eric located the mouse with his flashlight, I unzipped the tent flap, and we crowded together well away from the opening while Eric chivvied the mouse with the light.  It did not want to be in the tent at all, and ran featly around the extreme edge, got lost in my raincoat briefly, and then went out.  It was a plump, sleek little mouse.  Eric said, once we had zipped up the flap and gotten settled again, that when he felt it run over his face it was very obviously a mouse -- little tickly feet, brush of fur, weight not that of an insect, maybe some body heat too.  The unfortunate sequel to this event was that some time later I heard or dreamed that I heard a rustling right next to my ear, in my raincoat.  It was the second night in the tent and I had not heard anything like that, though there were plenty of noises outside.  I told Eric I thought the mouse hadn't left, or there was another one.  We opened the tent flap again, but didn't actually see a mouse, so we shut it up once more and tried to go back to sleep.

In the morning when the light was beginning, rain began plopping and pattering onto the tent.  I kept hoping that it was just dew falling off the trees -- this had happened at Wild River -- but it went on for too long.  It was not, in the end, a great deal of rain, just enough to mean we had to pack up things while they were wet.  We had a bit of a scramble to get fed and dressed and packed.  The chipmunk ran along the concrete curb and carefully checked out the alcohol stove, then raced down the road towards the lake.  We left before the time we had decided was the latest we could leave.  We had lunch in Duluth at the Duluth Grill.  I don't actually recall what Eric had this time. I got their breakfast stir-fry in the vegan version, with the cubed polenta, onions, red bell peppers, broccoli, garlic, and a huge bed of amazing kale, with a side of red flannel hash.  This meal amply made up for any lack of vegetables while we were camping.

We had an easy drive back to Minneapolis.  It was hot and sunny there.  I was exhausted, not having really gone back to sleep after the second, probably imagined, mouse incursion; but Eric spread the tent parts to dry in the back yard.  I undertook to check them before sunset and put them away if they were dry, but in fact he drove home, unloaded his stuff, returned the car, took his bicycle to Sunrise Cyclery, got new pedals, and arrived back at my house in time to pack up the tent himself.

ETA: There were no mice in the house when I began writing this entry, but Lydy informed us this morning that she had found a dead mouse in the sunroom in the formerly cat-free zone, now occupied by the temporary cats.  So at least one of them is a mighty hunter.

Also, I want to get this post up and it is quite long enough, so if I do post photos, I'll put them in a separate entry.

pameladean: (Libellula julia)
I'm sorry that I haven't been posting much at all.  I have really no idea why.  I write posts in my head all the time, but they never make it to the screen.  Since one must begin somewhere, I'll begin with Raphael's and my latest hike.

We went out to find dragonflies last Wednesday.  It was a cloudy day until late afternoon, but the only day of the week without major chances of thunderstorms all over it.  We went first to a park on the Mississippi in Wright County.  There's a picnic area with the world's most cramped porta-potty ever, and there's a boat launch area with a parking lot, a mown area right on the river with a couple of benches for people to admire the view, and a surround of mixed woods and shrubbery and a little bit of meadow.  We went specifically to see American rubyspots, a kind of damselfly.  I've also had good luck seeing birds in this area while Raphael is photographing the odonates.

The river was very high and fast.  It's usually ten feet or so down from the banks, and there's a place where an outfall pipe drains water into the river where we have been able, in the past, to walk on the mud and sand of the shore amongst the roots of enormous cottonwoods.  That area was flooded well up the tree trunks, and the muddy bank down which we've scrambled was under water.  I seldom go there with Raphael without at some point planting myself on a bench and watching the Mississippi go by.  It's usually slow and quiet.  That day, it was racing along and gurgling and rustling in all the trees and plants it usually can't get at.  It was visibly wider and full of rills and ripples.

The boat launch area was just a shallow half-circle of gravel, its usual gradually-descending length completely covered with river.  The park people had had to take out their rolling dock and leave it in the mown area by the parking lot.  Dragonflies were landing on it when the light brightened, but they weren't very cooperative.  There were clubtails, female common whitetails that I disgracefully misidentified as four-spotted skimmers, and an actual four-spotted skimmer.  On the emergent vegetation and shrubbery next to the river were numerous bluets (another kind of damselfly), stone flies, a single glittering tortoise beetle; and, yes, a handful of American rubyspots, fluttering around and flashing their vivid red spots, sitting with wings folded on grass blades or dead sticks, and delighting the eye whatever they did.  We also saw some twelve-spotted skimmers, mostly on the wing; and some Eastern forktails, an undersized damselfly with a bright green, black-lined body and two blue segments near the end, without which I never really believe summer has begun.

At some point I went over to the picnic area to use the horrible porta-potty, and coming back flushed what looked like a female widow skimmer.

We heard more birds than we saw: American redstarts, eastern bluejays, gray catbirds both mimicking other birds and wailing like Siamese cats, song sparrows, goldfinches, and yellow warblers.  I actually saw a catbird warbling away, mixing up song sparrow and robin and bluejay notes with wild abandon.  I saw a single yellow warbler from a distance.  But the best bird we did not hear at all.  We were coming back to the car, which we had parked by a fallen tree.  We used to park under it before it fell down.  A tiny blue-gray bird with a white eye-ring and a black stripe on the top of its tail flew down to the fallen trunk and started poking around.  We walked slowly to within six feet of it.  It really didn't mind us at all; whatever might be in the log was too interesting.  It was as insouciant as a chickadee.  Raphael stealthily removed the lens cap that had just been put on in preparation for leaving, and ended up dropping it.  This was a terrible affront, and the bird left.  I dug out the Sibley at once, however.  I looked under chickadees, but there was nothing like it.  It had also reminded me of a kinglet, so I checked that family next, and there it was -- the blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Then we went to Lake Maria State Park.  This is another Big Woods remnant, like Nerstrand, though I believe less extensive.  The drive to the boat launch and picnic area by the lake goes through a gently rolling landscape of basswood, oak, and maple, with a gorgeous green-lit part that is all maple and has no understory, just fallen mossy maple branches and previous years' leaves.  We started to see dragonflies swooping past, and flying up from the road, in fairly large numbers.  We stopped at the Rare Turtle Crossing; the turtle in question is the Blandings turtle.  We didn't see any turtles.  The dragonflies were mostly chalk-fronted corporals, with a smattering of dot-tailed whitefaces.  There were white-faced meadowhawks, too.  I tried to encourage the chalk-fronted corporals to land on my shirt, which they have been known to do by the dozen; but I think the sun wasn't strong enough to tempt them.  They did dart under my hat for mosquitoes several times.

The turtle crossing is a low section of the gravel road with a large pond on one side and a smaller one on the other.  As I walked to where the concentration of dragonflies was greatest, I noticed a number of shallow scoopings in the sand under the gravel of the road, as well as several deeper ones.  When I passed them again in pursuit of a corporal, I saw that the deeper scoopings were littered with rolled-up bits of white, leathery-looking material.  I think those were the shells of turtle eggs, and the scraped-out places must have been turtle nests, and I just hoped the turtles had hatched and made it to the water rather than the eggs' having been eaten.

We went on to Lake Maria.  There were corporals basking on the concrete parking markers, seven or eight to a piece of concrete sometimes; and on the picnic tables; and on the trees.  We went around to the lake shore.  The picnic tables there were all sitting in pools of water, looking forlorn.  There's a path through the higher ground between parking lot and lake shore, with short paths leading at intervals down to the lake.  We saw that the park had put thick boards held together with two-by-fours down in two places so that people could get out to the fishing dock.  We went out and admired the lake and its fringe of rushes.  The sun had been in and out a lot, as clouds moved in and away again.  Right now it was cloudy but the light was fairly strong.  Raphael pointed out the effect of the light on the lake water, which looked like molten metal, and we watched it lap past for a while.

There were a lot of mosquitoes and we were getting tired, so we used the palatial state-park vault toilet and drove out of the park, through the green undertree light, speculating about what spring wildflowers might be here, before the mosquitoes.

pameladean: (Default)
David went around the yard a week or two ago and took some splendid photos. You can look at them here.

I had a lovely time at Wiscon and managed not to bring any horrible viruses home with me. Raphael and I went to Murphy Hanrahan Regional Park earlier this week and saw clouds of dragonflies, mostly dot-tailed whitefaces with a leavening of frosted whitefaces, common whitetails, and at least one twelve-spotted and one four-spotted skimmer. Over the weekend Eric and I went to Eloise Butler, where we saw dozens of four-spotted skimmers and a goodly number of whitetails; not to mention two large and extremely oblivious wild turkeys browsing under the birdfeeders. We also went to Lebanon Hills Regional Park, where we were too late for dragonflies but delighted to see fireflies twinkling and flashing in the vegetation next to the fire road.

Also, I had a writing date with Pat WINOLJ, made copious notes, and wrote 500 or so new words on the Liavek novel. The style of the novel as written so far pleases me a lot, but it's rather mannered, and getting back into it will be interesting.

pameladean: (Default)
David went around the yard a week or two ago and took some splendid photos. You can look at them here.

I had a lovely time at Wiscon and managed not to bring any horrible viruses home with me. Raphael and I went to Murphy Hanrahan Regional Park earlier this week and saw clouds of dragonflies, mostly dot-tailed whitefaces with a leavening of frosted whitefaces, common whitetails, and at least one twelve-spotted and one four-spotted skimmer. Over the weekend Eric and I went to Eloise Butler, where we saw dozens of four-spotted skimmers and a goodly number of whitetails; not to mention two large and extremely oblivious wild turkeys browsing under the birdfeeders. We also went to Lebanon Hills Regional Park, where we were too late for dragonflies but delighted to see fireflies twinkling and flashing in the vegetation next to the fire road.

Also, I had a writing date with Pat WINOLJ, made copious notes, and wrote 500 or so new words on the Liavek novel. The style of the novel as written so far pleases me a lot, but it's rather mannered, and getting back into it will be interesting.

pameladean: (Default)
I don't know why I'm so thoroughly out of the habit of posting. One of the things I like about reading my friends-list is the combination of homely everyday detail and really chewy intellectual posts. I am not very good at making the latter -- I start them, revise them, get bogged down in some detail of nuance or research, and eventually lose them somewhere. But I can do daily life.

The juncoes are here. I was concerned for a week or two that the Norway maples would not get a chance to turn yellow, instead dropping their leaves madly while still green; but they have managed, and if I walk to the end of my block and look back, there is the proper tunnel of gold, leaves drifting down onto the black asphalt of the street. They are not mallorns, and there is certainly no asphalt in Lothlorien, but the effect seems Tolkienesque in any case.

It was a peculiar summer in many ways. As I mentioned at the time, I cracked or bruised a rib at the end of April, and just when that was healing up nicely I got the Wiscon Death Cold and coughed for five or six weeks. While I put in basil, mint, thyme, and two tomato plants much earlier than I had managed in 2010, only the herbs thrived. I forgot about the thyme and have not used it for anything. David and Lydy kept the mint well pruned by harvesting it for their drinks, and it is probably going to take over the world next year. Eric and I were going to make spring rolls using the fresh mint and basil, but we never did. The basil is unhappy with the frost or near-freezes we've been having at night, but the mint and thyme are still looking fresh and happy. I should put some thyme in the soup this evening. We had a pot of rosemary on the front porch, too, and I did make good use of that; but I failed to bring it inside the first night temperatures threatened to go below freezing, and it gave up and died.

Raphael and I did fairly well with hiking, under the circumstances -- my rib injury and the horrible virus from Wiscon weren't the half of it. June was cold and rainy; then Minnesota Republicans forced the shut-down of the government because they have an insane desire to control women and oppress poor people, so the state parks closed on July 1. Raphael and I were up on the North Shore at the time, at Temperance River State Park. The park, I think like most of the parks thereabouts, is divided by Highway 61. We started with the lake side. When we went out to the lake, there were no notices. When we came back, all over were simple printed pages saying that the park was closed. We went across the highway and up the river anyway. We were there because somebody in the 1990's had seen boreal snaketails in the powerline clearance. They did not appear, but the river and its rocky surrounds were spectacular. The powerline clearance runs over a tilted slab of basalt, broken up by water, scattered with patches of thin sand shading to soil in which hawkweed and other wildflowers grow, with here and there a juniper or an aspen sapling. A young deer with just the velvet stubs of antlers wandered out of the woods beyond the clearance and set about grazing. He knew we were there, but he did not give us any wide-eyed paranoid looks, did not freeze and think about running. He looked us in the eye, swaggered, and ignored us. His dignity was upset, however, by the fact that his antlers obviously itched. He had to stop from time to time and scratch them with a hind leg, which was both impressive and hilarious.

We had planned to stop at Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock on our way back south, on the grounds that the parks would still be in perfectly good order even though officially close. However, both parks include rest areas that had been blocked off with barricades, so we had to give up, cursing the Republicans in the legislature. Even if they had behaved like reasonable beings, the closure of St. Croix State Park would have distorted our hiking year. We did have several excellent visits to Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge.

Eric was working night shift until July, and then a classic mid-continental heat wave moved in, so we didn't do any hiking until much later in the year. We made one road trip to look at fall color, staying in LaCrosse but spending much of our time at Great River Bluffs State Park. We did also visit Perrot, avoiding any bluffs this year but hiking along the Riverview trail, where we saw an egret sitting atop a muskrat lodge; and also along the Black Walnut Trail, which was more hilly than we expected but full of goodness, including the biggest black walnut tree either of us had ever seen.

Writing has been frankly terrible. I don't even want to try to come up with the number of words I've written. I certainly don't need even the fingers of one hand to do so. I'm feeling a little cheerier since I did a reading of the new second chapter of the Amazing Expanding and Shrinking Novel at Conjecture -- many thanks to Laura Krentz for asking me. It was useful to see that the new structure actually worked rather than being a heap of disassembled incidents bunged together with semi-colons. I'm looking at my present projects with somewhat more equanimity, at least.

Aristophanes, although bony, seems to be thriving. A failed attempt to remove a mat from his belly us to the emergency vet late on the day before I was to go to Wisconsin with Eric. They were very nice to us, calling the wound a grooming injury, as if he had done it himself; I guess some cats do damage themselves yanking out mats. The vet tech who brought him back to us also exclaimed, "You guys, he's in such good shape for his age! You must take very good care of him!" He had to have ten days' worth of antibiotics, which Raphael heroically put down his throat; and he had to wear a blue cone, which he bore with great insouciance, much to my surprise. He did have epic grooming sessions when it was taken off though. He seems fine now. When I take him out for walks, he mostly patrols his yard, sniffing carefully, and then goes back in. But a few days ago he tore across the front yard to the maple on the boulevard, ran six or seven feet up its trunk, dropped down, tore through the side yard to the back and all the way to the garage, tore back to his favorite mulberry and ran up that, and then tore to the back door and pawed at it to be let in. I must have been a very funny sight, lumbering after him fast enough that the leash was never taut but quietly enough that he wouldn't take fright at the MONSTER FOLLOWING HIM.

I'm rereading the Aubrey/Maturin books, finding all much better than I remember. This is especially gratifying for the volumes after The Thirteen-Gun Salute, though I still expect to be very annoyed with O'Brien for one or two things nearer the end.

I am reading all of you, but I tend to forget that I actually can comment now, Opera's update having apparently fixed my problem with LJ. I'll try to provide more blather soon.

pameladean: (Default)
Angels have snow-blowers.

Yes, that's all. What do you expect from an atheist?

The last storm total I saw was 17.1 inches, at the airport. We haven't had so much in one go in quite some time, but I think the real problem was the high winds.

I spent most of yesterday shoveling madly, to no apparent effect. I haven't looked at the driveway yet. I am too sore to do anything today, and I was fretting about needing to get the back cleared out because we are low on cat food for the kidney-impaired, and needing to get the front cleared out so groceries can be delivered tomorrow. Yes, other people in this house can shovel, but two of the three had a miserable afternoon yesterday: after futilely attempting to find a restaurant open so they could have lunch, they found that the alley had not been plowed, and got stuck on 37th Street and had to be rescued by kindly passers-by, so that David ended up parking miles away, and then walking home because the buses were no longer running. And the third person can't do everything. But some neighbors so bundled up that I didn't recognize them did our front sidewalk, the walk from that to the house, and EVEN WENT THROUGH THE PLOW RIDGE TO THE STREET. David and Lydy brought their cars back as the angels were finishing up, so perhaps one of them knows who they are. I didn't go out to see because my boots were still wet. But I am so grateful. If it's just the back, I expect we can manage.

I am not sure whether this storm was really so bad, or whether all the budget cuts made it impossible for the city to do its job properly. Certainly the wind's blowing painfully-moved snow right back where it had been before could not have helped matters at all.

I'm very glad neither the power nor the internet went out.

May all of you who need them have angels with snow-blowers arrive in a timely fashion.

My brain is still growing back, so I don't feel I have much other news. I'm working on a report of three short, thematically-related trips that Eric and I made between August and November, but it's coming along slowly. I'd like to have written up some of the hikes Raphael and I did, too, especially to Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, but my memory is a bit spotty at this remove.

pameladean: (Default)
Raphael and I have been on a number of lovely hikes that I haven't written up.

Eric and I went to Duluth for three days and had a glorious time looking at waterfalls and swimming in Lake Superior, and a less glorious one losing the car key on the beach and having to wait for a locksmith while beset with biting flies. is having a kind of slow-motion panel discussion of Robert Heinlein in the context of a new biography by William Patterson, Learning Curve. This first volume covers Heinlein's life through 1949; another volume will appear later. It's full of lovely tidbits, but so detailed that absorbing it is a slow process. I am blogging over there in the terrifyingly stellar company of Sarah Hoyt, John Scalzi, Charlie Stross, Mitch Wagner, and Jo Walton. Things have slowed down quite a bit over the weekend, so there's a chance to catch up on the discussion, if it's the kind of thing that interests you. I had a couple of half-written posts that more or less got scooped by my swifter, more experienced fellow bloggers, but I hope to manage another one before the week-long panel is over. In the meantime I'm enjoying the lessons on how it's done.

My camera died sometime between last week and when I got it out to photograph waterfalls. It turns out that David got a good deal on it, and replacing it will cost more than I feel comfortable spending until I turn my book in, so I am sulking a little. However, David will lend me his own low-end camera for any special occasions, if I remember to ask for it.

Aristophanes is flourishing, to my great relief.

The revisions continue less arduous than before, but quite seriously pesky just the same. I am presently assembling Chapter 18 from stone knives and bearskins.

My best to you all; I am trying to catch up with everybody else's doings.

pameladean: (Default)
Three hikes, behind an LJ cut for your convenience, and in rather less detail than some earlier ones:

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park )

Frontenac State Park )

Crow-Hassan Park Reserve )


pameladean: (Default)

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