I recently came across these photos, from a time before I owned a halfway decent camera, before I had a sleeping bag that packed down enough to fit into my brand spanking new backpack, before I was married to the guy who went hiking with me. We took a trip to the Yellow River State Forest in the northeast corner of Iowa, right on the Mississippi, to try out our new backpacks and our new relationship. I had lived in Iowa for five years by then, and had no idea it harbored such steep and beautiful backpacking trails. I should never have doubted.
It was just an overnight trip, two nights at most. The morning we drove back towards home, we stopped and had breakfast, I think in Harper’s Ferry, and acquired a couple of zucchini from this local guy who stopped in with extra produce from his garden. Breakfast in a local diner at the end of a trip is an unbreakable backpacking tradition for us these days.
Last summer, we rambled down towards Little Norway. Near Blue Mounds, WI, Little Norway is nestled in a little green valley originally farmed by a Norwegian pioneer in 1856. The farmstead, however, was abandoned after a number of decades. In 1926, a wealthy Chicago executive enamored with his Norwegian roots decided to make the valley his second home, and a place to house his collection of Norwegian antiques.
There are charming buildings, examples of Norwegian bunad, and a spectacular example of a 12th century-style stave church, built in Norway and shipped to Chicago for the World Expo in 1893.
Best of all, there are an abundance of tiny gnomes. My parents owned the Gnomes book, and losing myself in the imaginary world where different types of gnomes built their gnome societies in every conceivable environment was escapism of the best kind.
Of late, Little Norway has been struggling financially. It would be a real shame to see it go away.
Last Friday, as my husband’s family sat enjoying the South Dakota sunset, the weather finally broke. A fierce wind preceded the rain, and whipped glowing sparks from coals of our dying fire into a frenzy. The storm thundered its way right around us as we all laughed a bit hysterically from the shelter of the porch. The long dry spell was over.
As they say, it’s too late for the corn, but the soybeans will perk right up.
P.S. These ghoulish little black-capped chickadees had a strange attraction to the rather gruesome fresh deer kill.
When we were up by Duluth, we stayed in cozy cabins at Jay Cooke State Park in Minnesota. We thought maybe we would have a ski weekend. But this winter has been so snow-free, we had a hiking weekend instead. We saw a fresh deer kill, and more beaver-downed trees than you could shake a stick at.
Jay Cooke, by the way, was not a Minnesotan. He was an investment banker (maybe the first invesment banker) from Ohio. He financed the Union cause during the civil war, payed for the construction of the Northen Pacific Railroad, went bankrupt during the Panic of 1873, and then regained his wealth before dying in 1905.
A few weekends ago we drove up towards Duluth, MN. Duluth and its Wisconsin twin Superior are major Great Lakes ports, and have been for over a hundred years. At one time, Duluth supposedly boasted the most millionaires per capita in the country, mostly because of the Mesabi Range. Before the boom in natural resources, though, Duluth was subjected to one of the most famously scathing Congressional addresses in history. The Untold Delights of Duluth, as delivered by Congressman J. Proctor Knott in 1871, is worth a read.
While wandering around the wintery beach and the engrossing little Lake Superior Marine Museum, we just missed the passage of the gigantic Mesabi Miner through the ice-filled, narrow passage between piers. We did get to watch the aerial bridge levitating over the channel.
P.S. Duluth Packs have been made in Duluth for a long, long time.
Last night we skied. The moon was almost full. Snow on the fields reflected the moonlight brightly back to us. Trees lining the winter road cast black shadows across the path, causing our ski tips to appear and disappear in front of us. A helicopter and highway noise intruded during the first few minutes in the woods. But skiing, too, is a noisy, raspy act, like a creek’s grating forward rush. When the helicopter’s thud faded, we stood quiet, until the silence completed itself. The silence enveloped everything, occupied every space. Then we called to the great-horned owl, hooting out its rounded, penetrating song. If an owl was close, it did not reply. Skiing on, we took a wrong turn. Icy hills conquered us, and we fell. Sometimes we swooped off the path, into the woods, where our narrow skis broke through the crusted snow and we entangled ourselves in pine trees. Our laughter caromed off maple trunks. We grew quiet again, and pointed at constellations with unknown names through the dark branches. As the home lights shone upon us, the great-horned owl called back to us, his voice more gently feathered than we could ever repeat.
The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. It came as a surprise that we have a stone sanctuary to rival the best Europe has to offer. Although it was damaged in the August earthquake, the stained glass is still sensational, and the gargoyles are a perfect peekaboo of whimsy. Hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to hear the choir while you’re inside.