Napatree

In my mind I am often on Napatree. You're welcome to come along.

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March 31, 2015

Yesterday the temperature rose, the last of the snow melted and the kids moved across  the landscape on their skateboards, razor scooters and rollerblades. The neighborhood had busied up. I had to make a run to Menards where I noticed Easter lilies were on sale, yup, Easter lilies at Menards, though I was there to purchase seed starter soil and bird seed. As I was leaving the store, I heard a woman open her car door and speak in baby talk, a high and affected voice. “Sweetie Pie,” she said, “I missed you. Did you miss me you darling girl, were you a good girl?” I of course turned around to see who she was talking to, who had accompanied her to Menards. It was a Siamese cat. A cat was perched on the back of the driver’s seat.

6:36 am cdt | link 

March 30, 2015

 

Today I went to Napatree. I had to go. The snow on the point is all gone and though it was windy, it was a spring wind. It appears that an osprey has claimed one of the two high platforms built expressly for the raptors and that a hard winter has caused some damage, roof damage, to the swimming cabanas. Though the shops aren’t open, there was renovation work being done in the jewelry shop across the parking lot from the Yacht Club. It felt good to be there, on Napatree, to check on things.

 

The baby is weighing in at three and one half pounds. He can regulate his own body temperature and has been moved to a regular crib in the NICU. All are thrilled.

9:26 am cdt | link 

March 29, 2015

 

I enjoy watching birds, reading about birds, listening to birds sing. But I do not refer to myself as a birder. I keep no lists nor do I seek out birds other than the ones that share my territory. But I have birder friends. This morning I heard a brief story on public radio of how one man, I think he was from South or Central America, became a birder.

 

The man related that when he was a kid he shot a song bird with his gun. Proud of himself, he took the bird to his grandmother who was not particularly happy with what her grandson had done. She cooked the small bird, served it to her grandson and suggested that he eat it. She also told him this. “Never kill anything that isn’t necessary for keeping you alive."                                     ______________________________________________

 

In the Econo super market I noticed a plastic container at the end of the checkout counter. The writing on it read only this. "Danke. The high school German Club." The container was stuffed with money to which I added my change. In spite of our human weaknesses, of which we have many, we are a connected people. Our sorrow is collective.

9:16 am cdt | link 

March 28, 2015

 

A friend recently gave me a clutch of flowers for what she assumed was a favor but was in truth, no favor at all. But I appreciated getting them and I love looking at them on the shelf in my front hall. They make me happy. White wax flower, a yellow rose and a blue delphinium. Perfect. Somewhere I read that a purchase of something huge makes you happy for at most, two weeks. The new car smell brings happiness only briefly. Life is complex. An acknowledgement, an invitation to lunch, a chance meeting with an old friend can make you happy. We have different happiness triggers at different times.

 

I just asked someone what made him happy. “When things come together,” was his reply. The song of the newly arrived red-winged blackbirds is, at the moment, making me happy. Last week I saw happiness in action at school. When two first grade girls discovered they were both wearing the same polka-dotted tights, they grabbed hands and began jumping up and down in a circle. Watching them made others happy, too. 

 


9:45 am cdt | link 

March 27, 2015

I haven’t really looked at the MN DNR eagle cam for a few days but I checked in this morning. One of the three eagle babies died three weeks ago, but its surviving siblings seem to be doing well and are getting to be a good size. Two living eagles from three eaglets is, I have read, pretty much the normal ratio. The eagle nest is huge and I now understand why. The eaglets constantly stretch their wings and wobble around on big feet. They need room to do this. The parent eagles watch this action, occasionally giving nudges and pokes. I know there are those who spend a great deal of time, more than me, watching this life story unfold on their computer. To be a voyeur to this nest life is fascinating and educational, and it provides a virtual connection to the wild. A good kind of addiction.

9:52 am cdt | link 

March 26, 2015

The talk in the afternoon turned to college freshman roommates. Though everyone in the group had gotten along well enough with their frosh roommate: the zealous cheerleader, the smoker, the subscriber to Brides Magazine, the roommate with the same name, the roommate who only stayed a year before returning to Florida and the heartbroken roommate whose high school boyfriend had gone into the seminary to become a priest and because of this listened mainly to sad choral and glee club singing, no one had maintained close ties with that first year roommate. After a few moments of roommate horror stories someone volunteered this. “Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear how those old roommates would describe each of us?”

8:25 am cdt | link 

March 25. 2015

 

The writing assignment for this week, a piece about your grandfather.

 

This is what I know about my grandfather. He was French and English, he was a fur trapper and trader. I have heard that he had a way with a knife, that he carved beautiful pieces out of wood. I have also heard he was addicted to alcohol, that he killed a man and that he died in prison.

 

My grandfather gave me my father and my paternal aunts, Hazel and Doll, all of whom I dearly loved. He gave me no land, no money, no handed down investments, no artifacts of any kind not even a photograph. But he gave me what I hold important. My story. 

8:26 am cdt | link 

March 24, 2015

 

Recently, someone asked where I was born. Eau Claire. Eau Claire, Wisconsin. When Helen, my childhood friend, and I would talk about Eau Claire, we made Eau Claire out to be grander than it was. We live in a town of almost forty thousand we would tell ourselves, we have two parks, Carson and Rod and Gun, and we have the SAF building which is made of marble and has four floors and an elevator. We have a rubber plant. We also have two hospitals in Eau Claire, Sacred Heart for the Catholic sick and Luther hospital for ailing Lutherans. Helen and I were pleased about the name of our town because French words implied sophistication. We felt more than a little superior to kids who lived in Mondovi or Eleva Strum.

 

When I moved East moments after graduating from college, people I met would almost apologize after they had asked, and learned, where I was from. “Oh,” they would say. A square state with cheeseheads and cows and Pabst beer, a flyover place peopled with characters like the ones on Garrison Keilor’s radio show, I could hear them thinking. A few years ago my travel writer Connecticut friend was sent on an assignment to Egg Harbor in Door County, Wisconsin. When she got back she said she’d been to a fish boil, visited lots of art galleries, ate cherry pie and swam in Lake Michigan. She told me she was happy to have visited  Door County, Wisconsin, because now she could picture my Eau Claire. She now knew, she said, exactly where I was from.   

8:38 am cdt | link 

March 23, 2015

 

It was the third day of spring and it snowed. Everywhere white. There was too much snow for the planned plow of the gardens, Becca was unable to till before she left for Europe, too much snow for friends to drive to Northfield for a restaurant dinner. So we bundled up and took Scarlet for a run in the park.

 

The park was a Christmas scene with the snow falling wet and white on everything, including Scarlet’s black fur. Last week’s shorts and skateboards, lawn raking and pick-up ball games forgotten as the rapidly falling flakes obscured visibility. Time had seemed to take a giant shift backwards except for this. It was cold, it was white.  But in late afternoon you could hear the birds. They knew it was spring and they were singing

8:49 am cdt | link 

March 22, 2015

 

The redwing blackbirds have found their way to the shoreline of the open pond and seeing them, I am reminded of Louise who had a serigraph in her home of the wetland birds done by an Old Lyme, Connecticut, print maker named Bill Steves. Louise, so many years ago, taught me things that I needed to know right at a time when I needed to know them. She was my friend and she died so young. The sight and sounds of the birds bring back my memories of her.

 

Four calendula seedlings appeared in the greenhouse yesterday. There will be more this morning when three inches of snow are expected.

 

The sign announcing a wedding reception at the old Grand Theater downtown today says this. “Now I can kiss you anytime.” 

8:10 am cdt | link 

March 21, 2015

On the day before spring vacation, the kids bubble over with excitement. It is difficult to keep them focused and on task. The weather outside the window is also inviting, adding to their restlessness. I am standing near the end of the line of first graders, stalled for a moment in the hall, when one little girl tells me she is so excited because her family is going to California to visit her cousins during spring vacation. Another little girl chimes in her family is going to Cancun in Mexico, another shares that she and her mother and aunt are going to Florida. A small boy in the line among the girls puts his hands on his hips and says this. “Well I, am going to Owatonna.”  

7:52 am cdt | link 

March 20, 2015

 

Yesterday was a Textile Center day, a day for street activity and French food and city faces.  From my car widow I saw a large dog, a boxer without a leash, walking side-by-side on a city street, with a smaller animal I assumed was another dog. But when I was close enough to see the animals well, I realized the smaller animal was a dark gray cat.

 

I am continually aware how little I know about animals. I observe their ways but do not know them. Watching the resident duck pair, on the pond outside my window, gives me huge pleasure. On the Minnesota DNR eagle cam, a site I regularly visit, one of the eaglets has perished but the two living eaglets seem to be thriving. I watch and am fascinated.

 

Once, years ago, I was in the kitchen of a friend who was feeding her baby. The child, who was probably about a year old, was sitting in a high chair and my friend was carefully cutting up pieces of food for her child and placing them on the tray of the high chair. I remember thinking that if you saw nothing more than that mother’s hands, you would understand the word mother. There was in the act of placing that food where her baby could reach it, a tenderness that was remarkable.

 

Yesterday I had the privilege of watching a parent eagle feed its young tiny bites of fish. I know I was watching species survival but I was also taken back to my friend’s kitchen. 

5:57 am cdt | link 

March 19, 2015

Let’s go have dinner. In St. Peter. In the college cafeteria. Good. I don’t feel like cooking but I feel like a ride. And leaving town and seeing different faces. Dinner and dessert, maybe cake. Angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream. Last night, just right.

7:03 am cdt | link 

March 18, 2015

 

In last Friday’s New York Times, an article appeared about American Indian art found in Europe. Soldiers, traders and priests responsible for the almost forgotten painted robes, embroidered slippers, and feathered headdresses acquired in the 19th century and tucked away in French and English chests and cupboards. These art pieces, one hundred and thirty in total, are currently being shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

I loved reading about this art work, particularly about the Indian clothing. As the author of the article said, we wear, all of us, our histories as clothing. As a child my paternal aunt made me a buckskin jacket. On the pockets she burned in, with a wood burning tool, various designs and symbols. I did not understand at the time, what I was wearing. Out of sight in the attic of my childhood home, like the European cache of art, was the culture my father could not claim.  A wide belt, decorated with brightly colored beads on a black background, head bands of black fur I loved to stroke attached to the ends of it. An embroidered pouch of porcupine quills was a favorite piece of mine along with a soft deerskin robe that I loved to wrap around my shoulders. The author of the article said that most of the Indian art in the current Metropolitan exhibit incorporates the images of animals or are made from parts of them. Like the art relegated to our family’s attic. 

8:18 am cdt | link 

March 17, 2015

 

Napatree news is this. The baby is gaining. His weight is now two pounds 12 ounces. After some respiratory issues, he is breathing on his own.

 

Here, life in the pond teaches me how little I know. For three days the mallard male and female ducks appeared a pair. They came regularly to dine on the grassy area outside the patio doors where bird seed had blown to the ground. When the female had her head down picking through the grass for seeds, the male stood watch. When it was his turn to eat, she adopted the same, wary behavior. Late yesterday afternoon another male appeared, gliding in as ducks do, to where the pair paddled in tandem on the open water. The three idled around for a bit, then the female and the new male flew off leaving the female’s original partner behind. He was soon joined by another male. Then, about a half hour later, the female and her new guy reappeared. One could ask how I was able to distinguish which male mallard was which. I can do this because the original suitor was small and squat, the new mallard males were larger, taller. Someone, anyone, could say I am too involved in my pond observations. They would be right.

7:57 am cdt | link 

March 16, 2015

It was a warm weekend which made it a beautiful weekend. Beautiful for opening up the gardens, planting seeds in the greenhouse and for watching the duck pair who are now enjoying the almost totally open water on the pond. From my front row seat I have the perfect vantage for duck observation and I find the duo remarkable: the cant of their heads, their duck way of rising out of the water, their coloration, their devotion to each other. As my connection to them grows I am more aware of neighborhood dogs, of curious kids, of the fox who also lives on this land. With my concern for the ducks I am unable to be objective. I am aware that I have entered dangerous territory, too.

6:49 am cdt | link 

March 15, 2015

The large table in the village café was filled with six very young children and their two fathers, their two mothers. I had no idea who these families were but at another time, years ago, I might have known them. They might have been Emily, Tom, Sam and their parents and Steven, Kerrie, Meg and their parents. At another table in the eatery, very close to where I was sitting, a handsome father ate with his about three-year-old, or so, son. The small boy’s chin almost brushed against the table top but he sat quietly and ate carefully. But what was remarkable about the pair was the delight they shared in being together. The father talked to the small boy like he was a colleague, a contemporary. They shared observations that made them laugh together. When I was leaving I paused for a second and told the handsome father, a person I didn’t know,  I thought he was a wonderful dad. He grinned and said he appreciated my kind words.

7:29 am cdt | link 

March 14, 2015

A friend passed along her copy of Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal for me to read, which I did. Pretty much in one swoop. Old age and the infirmities of old age, terminal illness and dying are the subjects of this book by a physician author who writes beautifully and who never, for a moment, looks away from his subject. I read it sitting at my desk overlooking the pond. Often I would glance up to watch a pair of mallard ducks idling in the open water at the edge of the pond. Ducks who have taken up residence in the weedy water where I can, much to my delight, regularly observe them. The book is not as much about a good death as it is about having a good life until death. An often difficult, sometimes impossible, task in a culture that relies on medicine to prolong life. It is a book whose subject we might not want to think about but should because the author presents, with hope, ways of dealing with the most difficult scenarios. The book, I felt, was hopeful.  Like the sight of the pair living their wild life outside my window.  

7:21 am cdt | link 

March 13, 2015

We didn’t win. From the eight team field, The Biologists, won. But we really did okay.  Lots of laughs, lots of fun. As for the questions about the fisher’s diet, the shrew’s teeth, the percentage of fresh water on earth and the Bull snake’s young, if we could have given them more thought, we would have nailed them, too. I’m pretty sure. What we did get correct, a question we knew the answer to and would have never guessed would be appearing, the number of Minnesota lakes. The answer 11,843, required no guessing. Phew.

7:58 am cdt | link 

March 12, 2015

Tonight’s the night of the Nature Trivia Contest. I can’t say that I’m ready, I can’t say that I’d ever be ready. I checked out a couple of books I’ve barely looked at, I’ve looked up a couple of facts I’m sure not to recall. I have no idea what type of questions might be asked, I hope not to embarrass myself and the three others on my team. As for nature facts, this is pretty much what I know. There are thirteen different turtle varieties in Minnesota. Our state tree is the Norway pine, our state gemstone is the Lake Superior agate. The grey wolf, which was put back on the threatened list in 2014, weighs between 50 and 80 lbs. Our garden zone is listed as 4 A, and only 1% of native prairie remains in Minnesota. That’s it. That is pretty much the extent of my knowledge. Except for this. Land of 10,000 lakes, wrong. There are 11, 842 lakes in Minnesota.

6:59 am cdt | link 

March 11, 2015

With daylight savings in effect since Sunday, it is dark when I rise and the light lingers now until shortly after dinner. We still have the same amount of daylight with or without moving our clocks around but longer lasting days, after a Minnesota winter, are welcome. It is outdoor after supper time that I loved as a kid and it is outdoor after supper time that kids still enjoy. With electronic devices momentarily abandoned, the whisper of spring a siren call, last evening I watched play that involved chasing, biking, kicking and throwing a ball, and running just for the joy of running. Watching was pleasure.

8:03 am cdt | link 

March 10, 2015

Moving here in January, I have known the pond, until two days ago, only one way. My knowledge has been of a flat white shape ringed with dried, yellowish grasses. I have looked down on the snowy flatness and observed the tracks of rabbits and foxes. After a snowfall I have seen the sun captured there in sparkling flakes, I have seen powdery dunes created by a west wind. But today the pond has a new face. Only an icy island remains and around its edges clouds are reflected on the open water. A flock of geese has circled the pond several times and this morning, mallard ducks paddle there in small circles. The winter pond has straightened up and caught my eye. It has drawn a deep breath and reminded me, it is alive. 

7:49 am cdt | link 

March 9, 2015

This is the way in Minnesota. Every day you put on your heavy coat, your gloves or mittens, the necessary hat, the warm boots. Every day. Then one day the shadows are longer, the light softer. On that day the ice on the pond is coated with water and you notice, for the first time, that the trees look very pregnant. On the soccer fields a cluster of children run holding the strings of kites, and on the sidewalks babies make their debuts in strollers and carriages. Dogs, not wearing coats, are walked by people not wearing hats and college students in shorts jog through the neighborhood. When that day comes you whistle or hum a tune beneath your breath. When you think no one is looking, you dance.

6:24 am cdt | link 

March 8, 2015

 

Today we commemorate the Selma to Montgomery March referred to as Bloody Sunday.

I write this morning to honor those who risked their lives and well-being to change what needed to be changed. I also write to thank them for their courage, their fortitude and their non-violence.

 

Recently I heard the moving Apartheid song, "Something Inside So Strong," written by Labi Siffre. “The higher you build the barrier, the taller I will become…the more you refuse to hear my voice, the louder I will sing”. These are good words, these are the right words. Yes. But these are words that should not have to be sung.

8:35 am cdt | link 

March 7, 2015

The news from Napatree is this. It has been cold and windy, the thermometer hovering around freezing. There are stirrings in Watch Hill, crocuses in bloom, occasional cars at the yacht club, teenagers flying a kite near the bath houses. And news of the baby is this. Everyday looks more hopeful. He has gained six important, hopeful, wonderful ounces.

7:52 am cst | link 

March 6, 2015

 

Ringling Brothers announced yesterday that they will, by 2018, totally phase out elephants from their circus performances.

 

There seems something broader in this announcement than just awareness of the cruelty inflicted on wild creatures by confinement and a torturous life of performing. A correlation of a kind. Maybe, I feel, if we recognize and acknowledge the right of an elephant to live its elephant life, we will more readily recognize and acknowledge the right of every human being to live a fulfilling life regardless of skin color, sexual identity or religion.

 

We benefit by trying to understand, and by strengthening, our connections to our fellow human beings and we benefit by recognizing, and honoring, our connections to a wolf, a loon, and an elephant, too.  

7:59 am cst | link 

March 5, 2015

The writing assignment for this week, a piece about television. Who watched what, and when.  Lucy was mentioned and Mr. Peepers and Mr. Wizard and Victory at Sea and Lassie and Howdy Dowdy and the Three Stooges. Also The Honeymooners, Hit Parade, Mr. Ed, Queen for a Day, What’s My Line, Mayberry RFD and Father Knows Best. Test patterns were written about, black and white sets and getting up off the sofa to change channels. Early television brought a wider world into an ordinary living room and, for me, the unrealized dream of dancing on American Bandstand. 

5:56 am cst | link 

March 4, 2015

Watching the eagle cam is not going to help me in the nature trivia contest but I check in anyway. And today I checked in as a parent eagle, I think it was the mother because female eagles are larger than the males, was feeding her three young the bits and pieces of a squirrel or rabbit. What I saw was amazing. Somehow the mother knew which infant eagle to feed and she knew how long the tiny birds could be exposed to the cold. In spite of her fierce looking bill, her hard eyes, her killing talons, she moved and acted with what I can only describe as tenderness. When the feeding was over she took pains fluffing her body over the young, pulling sticks and twigs that were in the nest closer to her body for more insulation from the weather. It is difficult for me to describe exactly what I was watching because it was so beautiful. I was watching wild.

8:37 am cst | link 

March 3, 2015

I didn’t see the robin. But I heard it singing.

6:50 am cst | link 

March 2, 2015

At the moment I’m studying geology. Well, not really studying hard, I’m just boning up a little for a trivia contest at River Bend Nature Center. Our team of four has been informed that one area of questioning will cover rocks and minerals. I remember one of our kids had a box sectioned off into little squares and in each of the squares were rocks like gneiss and gabbro, granite and obsidian. Printed names accompanied the rocks and I am wishing now I would have paid more attention when my child talked about his collection. This quick perusal of rocks and minerals is a reminder of how little I know about things geological, about anything, really. I do know this. Stalactites hang down and stalagmites form from the ground up. The childhood mites and tights rule, locking in that knowledge.

6:31 am cst | link 

March 1, 2015

An old woman stood in the doorway of the small restaurant waiting to leave. She was bundled up, slightly stooped and she stood unmoving, waiting, in the enclosed entranceway. After a few minutes two men stepped up the steep entrance step, opened the door and entered. As they came in I her heard say to them. “You are my guardian angels. I have been waiting for someone like you to come.” The startled, motorcycle riding pair, however, did not look like anyone’s idea of guardian angels. The old woman explained to the duo that she had two artificial knees and the step, without a railing, was impossible for her to manage. Almost before she could finish speaking she was lifted up by her elbows,  her handbag swinging, off the ground and down the step. They gently put her down and she thanked them with a beautiful smile. “Oh, thank you so much. And the food is very, very good.” 

9:16 am cst | link 


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