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February 29, 2008

This post is dedicated to the memory of Kenny Schweikoffer.

Happy and I stopped by the Stone Arch Bridge on our way back thru town today.
I wanted to see the river now that the water levels returned to normal after the drawdown event of last week. It was again flowing beautifully over the falls of St. Anthony. During last weeks event it was a strange sensation to see the river after all the water had been let out of it, there really was nothing to reference it to, especially with the extreme cold temperatures causing icing on everything and with such a bright contrasty day. The scale of the picture was gone. I wished I had taken those same images last summer to have a graphic example of how much things can change.
Love it or loathe it, it's the new Guthrie Theater. The walkout thing to me looks a little weird from the road, and I always sped up a little when biking under it while it was in construction, but the views from the 4th floor open air balcony are monumental. It salutes the river in a very unique way.

The work continues on the 35W bridge project, 24/7 as they say. Large pylons for the new bridge are in place already and the bridge design shown on the kiosk in the Mill City Museum is a definite improvement for pedestrians compared to the old style. I know those workers are looking forward to spring and warmer temps.

Happy Leap Day!

You know, that day where we take all of our "found moments" from the last four years and stick them together to magically make one whole day out of them? Who says you can't make up time! We control the vertical and we control the horizontal!
And thru theoretical physics we, um, "know", that Gravity Slows Time*, so Happy the Dog here, in his leap away from Earth, is actually growing older slower than he would on the Earth's surface, hence why he looks so young and Happy! So this leap year thing is actually a good thing in more than one dimension! Now I just have to find my Quantum Leap (tm) watch, so I can reset it. Okay, if two trains with twin Happys are leaving Newark at 3PM...

*Awesome that our whole reality is based on something so bizarre

This just in...

Infinite Universe passes the 100th post mark!

Thanks to Nikola Tesla for dropping by to help celebrate.
And for inventing alternating current.

I never noticed he has no pinkie until now. Hunh.

And in the "Corrections" column...

You may remember this fellow
from a post dated January 7, 2008. Thinking it was a baby groundhog (a.k.a. "Woodchuck") but not understanding why a baby groundhog would exist in early January in Minnesota, (they are usually born in mid to late March, or even early April in these parts) questions shrouded the story from day one.
Recently, more facts have come to light.
I am told by experienced local naturalist Scott Ramsay, that it is unlikely to be a groundhog.
But, say I, "groundhogs are of the Order Rodentia, (derived from the Latin, "to chew") and I know rodents have orange incisors, it's a characteristic trait."
"Um yes", Scott tries to break it to me slowly, "all rodents EXCEPT groundhogs have orange incisors, which have white. No one really knows why that is."
"D'oh!," says I.
"Plus," Scott adds, "groundhogs are usually about that size WHEN THEY ARE BORN LIVE, and they have no hair." This animal has hair and is as large as a baby groundhog, probably making it older than a baby groundhog.
Owing to its size, the color of the teeth, the large head in relation to the body size, the gray underfur and the brown uberfur, the short furry tail and the active winter feeding and tunneling, we now hypothesize that this animal is a Synaptomys cooperi, the Southern Bog Lemming.
The only fork in that road being that Southern Bog Lemmings aren't generally known for inhabiting this corner of the state, and at this low of an elevation.
Small mammal and Muridae experts feel free to join in at will.
More on this nail-biting story as it progresses...

February 28, 2008

Bad Hair Day

Oh, the long-suffering snowperson. Not only do they have to stand out in public, with perfect posture and naked as it were, they have to bear the anguish of a reed canary grass mohawk and having a bunch of chokecherries hanging out of their nostril. Oh, the lack of humanity. Gone are the days of a stovepipe hat and a smile made of coal. At least they gave it a front row for creek hockey.

Striated by snowflurries

February 27, 2008

Chickadee hits the high note.
Seems to be "bird week" here in SE Minnesota, the woods are full of chirping, squawking, whistling, hooting and peeping. And you can hear it OUTSIDE of the visitor center as well. The black-capped chickadees were chatting it up out at the Refuge today when I returned the snowshoes from last weeks hike. They didn't seem too put off by a smelly dog and a smelly guy with a camera and tripod. Happy the Dog had found something off-color to roll in when I was focusing on other things the other day, and the best I could do before leaving for my night shift was throw him in the shower and try to suds him up with Pert. I didn't realize how tenacious the Pert would be, and now it tends to precede his arrival into a room. Then my NorthFace gear got totally smoked out with the 7th grade survival skills groups from yesterday. Building campfires all morning tends to be hard on your eyes and clothes, I find. At least most of the Axe for Men scent is gone now. I'll withhold comment for a future Op-Ed column on that.... grumble, grumble.

A young house finch preparing to call home.

February 26, 2008

Happy Duck

Confucius says, "You do not know the thickness of the ice until it cracks."
In this case, on the creek it's about 14 inches.

Nicely lit ducks.
Several dozen ducks seemed to be repeatedly flying large orbits around our neighborhood after I got home from work.
Maybe they were used to hanging out at the airport.

A hearty cultivar of some type of miscanthus (I think) flying it's flags in our icy gale from the north today. The sun was whispering spring, but the wind was screaming winter.

February 25, 2008

Enjoying a nice warm, (35 F) sunny day today, and the animals were taking advantage of the break from the cold. Happy the Dog and I hiked down to the mouth of Minnehaha Creek where it enters the Mississippi, and there we witnessed a virtual aerial extravaganza going on. First, about 200 ducks came quacking, honking, and flying with much alacrity down the river. Next, and even louder came the crows and ravens, and their reason for rousing the rabble flew in ever-increasing circles: an American bald eagle, a juvenile bald eagle and two red-tailed hawks.Magestic, what else can one say. Not troubled in the least by the noisy crows flying at their wingtips. And if the crows were loud, the piercing shriek of the eagles was like the Queen Mary taking on a VW Bug.
Young pup Eagle.

Red-tailed hawk and crow having a "domestic."

Red-tail, sans crow.

Don't do it young Mr. Robin! It looks tasty but it's buckthorn!
Your pooper will not be happy!

Hey look, I see somethin' stinky to roll in! Bonus.

February 24, 2008

It seems like our Airport Dog Park is always a good place to capture a nice wide angle sunset. A open incline terminating in low swampland, and facing west with a wide field of view. The important thing is to develop a keen sense of hearing for the footsteps of a dog running full-speed / open field towards you while wearing a ski hat (you are the one wearing a ski hat, not the dog, altho the dog may be wearing a bandana) because as soon as they see you bend down and adjust your tripod, it's like you are now at their mercy, they are interested in you and your strange contraption that might be a tennis-ball thrower or have something to do with treats.
So it adds another level of challenge to the photographic disipline, you have to set up your tripod, line up the shot, press the shutter, wait for the shutter, and grab the tripod and camera in one swoop just before the dog reaches you and attempts either the flying body tackle, the behind the knees clip and roll (now outlawed in semi-pro), or the pull up short, graze you slightly, circle back and try to lick your lens while you turn in circles at an ever-increasing speed trying to pull your gloves on.

Happy makes friends with a Spitz.*
*Note: The strange button-shaped appendages on Happy's butt are actually swirly hair patterns, and are beyond our control.

February 23, 2008

Big news of the day - The crocus is blossoming in February!!!
Anikin is speechless, well even more than usual. In the last two days two white blossoms appeared on the smaller set of plants, and popped open in the morning sun today. I grew something! I grew something!
I thought this was a unique exposure. No, Happy the Dog isn't caught in a raging forest fire on an Arctic lake. It was shot using my camera's "Night Mode" which opens the shutter for 3 seconds (in this case) then fires off the off-camera flash using rear-curtain sync. The net result is the parkway bridge in the background, street lights, and vehicle lights are captured during the long part of the exposure and the dog and snow are captured by the flash as the shutter closes. Seems a bit surreal to me as the time lapse part of the image suggests motion and passage of time while the camera flash part of the image freezes that particular moment. Somehow they fit together in the same time-space continuum. As Einstein would say, "It's all relative."

February 22, 2008

We closed the book on the last edition of this years "Friday Night Candlelit Ski" at Wood Lake tonight, ending on a positive note with good turnout and near-balmy 15 F temperatures.

For Amber Waves of Grain.

Are cattails grain?

February 21, 2008

Moonrise over Wood Lake

The Full Moon Snowshoe Hike (well, almost - it was full yesterday) at Wood Lake Nature Center, Richfield, MN set the stage for some long exposures this evening. The squiggles and lines are airplanes that had moved across the sky while the shutter was open (it was a 30 second exposure), streetlights and car traffic sporadically light the trees. The pink tones are from the reflected city lights. On the big version you can see tons of stars, fox tracks, and our snowshoe trails. Nice night.

February 20, 2008

I was part of a special field trip today, a once in twenty years photo opportunity. This is the Mississippi River where it passes over Saint Anthony Falls near downtown Minneapolis. The bridge in this picture is the "Stone Arch Bridge", a National Historic Monument and part of the grain mill scene that defined our "Mill City", back in the mid-nineteenth century. The Army Corps of Engineers still operates and maintains Lock & Dam Number One here, the first lock you will encounter travelling south from the headwaters of the Mississippi to Minneapolis. The Lock & Dam are designed to allow boat traffic (especially barges, which are still often filled with grain) to move up or downstream over the 49 ft. difference in elevation. So it goes that every twenty years the "The Corps" open the gates at the Ford Dam a few miles downstream and lower the water levels at St. Anthony to check the structural integrity of the various spillways and inlets that feed the lock, and today was that day!
It's interesting because my friends at Friends of the Mississippi River decided to offer a tour of the event guided by National Parks Historians, and 75 people signed up in the few hours of the news release. After adding two more tours, which both filled up the same day, they ended up with three tours of 45 people each, plus 200 on the waiting list. And all to go out on a day that started out at -12 F, with a -24 F wind chill to look at a river with no water in it. Hey, we love our river. And we want to see what it looks like without much water in it. Who wouldn't?
In the above photo, the normal water level is up to the lighter colored stone on the bases of the arches. None of the snow & ice covered earth is visible under the bridge. The water level has been lowered around 13 ft. It doesn't sound like much, but that's 13 ft. across the entire span of the river for miles.The morning found the Muddy Miss not so muddy, but steamy in the cold temps. Ice covered the exposed rock, and big sheets and cups of it caved in around the edges where the water had receeded.Mini-marshmallows of ice developed in the spillways. With the wind at our backs, the hiking was fine, but after the turn-around and heading back into the wind, the moisture from the dam and wind-chill was really punishing. Successful clothing combinations were the "hot-topic" of the day.
I think some birds like this Red-tailed Hawk welcomed the lack of deep water to provide more hunting grounds, while the geese and ducks were looking a bit perplexed about having to share their pools with relatives and squawked their grievances as the tours filed by.

February 19, 2008

Okay. Today I have a "fish story." Here's Matthew, the new winter intern at Wood Lake Nature Center. 8:30 AM, he and I head out on the lake with our ice auger, two underwater video cameras, long pvc poles to attach to the cameras so they can be manipulated from above the ice, ice skimmers, sleds, etc. The mission is to auger two decent holes to drop the cameras down to show the school group arriving in about half an hour what it looks like under the ice, so they can experience life as a muskrat, the program theme is "Muskrat Safari."
The lake bottom is extremely variable at Wood Lake, you can drill your hole where you think there should be deep water (13 ft. is the deepest I have recorded) and you can drill thru a lot of ice only to hit stinky muck and no water. That's basically what happened to me with my try, so I gave the auger over to Matt and he is doing his best. It's no small task getting thru the ice either, the temps here have been below zero for a pretty good stretch, and where I tried, the ice was about 25 inches thick (!) measured off the skimmer handle. We have a battery powered auger, but eh, it's still a bit of a workout. So as I'm pulling my gear over to my next likely spot to try, Matt's hole is just breaking thru to water, and he's kind of narrating the proceedings, interspersed with fishin' stories from last weekend... "Jeez, that's alotta ice.... Did I tell ya last weekend I caught a 41 inch Northern? Yeah, man, biggest Northern I ever seen. Me an my buddyz zup on this lake by Eden Prairie. Whoap, got some plants here... More plants... Breakin' thru... Hey, where'd that fish come from?!? Aww man, I just hit a bullhead with the auger and pulled him right out of the hole!!! Needless to say, I had to run over there to witness this firsthand, and sure enough, the guy drills a hole in the ice and the fish literally pop out of the lake and swoon at his feet. I said, "Matthew, you are a born fisherman."
Matthew holds up his "trophy."
An entire lake full of water and the guy skewers a six inch fish with a 30" ice-auger. Maybe he should think about a career in the pro anglers tour.

I guess between the Muskrat Safari and Cross-country Ski instruction for preschool - 6th grade, I didn't get enough wind-chill today so I had to take the pup out for a walk when I got home. Nice sunset down at the Lagoon.
I think folks are getting a bit testy about the long run of cold weather we're into tho. The drying effects are taking their toll on hands, lips, eyes and throats. It's a chore to take your nineteen layers on and off all day, and part of you is inevitably sweating when another part is getting frostbite. It's always a crapshoot when you insert that car key into the ignition with your biggest mittens on and play the "Will it Start Lottery." If it does start it usually grumbles about it for the first few blocks while your tires gradually get round again and that molasses mixture you call 5W-30 warms up enough to reach all parts of your engine. Soon you are scraping frost off of the INSIDE of your windshield (at the stoplight of course, why bother until you need it) and your heater fan (misnomer) is blowing it into a continuous loop so that you feel like you are in a life-sized snowglobe.
This is the kind of weather that induces previously sane, well-adjusted people to zip-tye large pieces of cardboard over their radiators to get that last bit of heat into the cockpit (hey, it's -20 and you're worried about it over-heating!?) and as long as you're out there you might as well strap something onto the grille to enshrine as a mascot, say an old Christmas wreath, your kid's favorite stuffed animal, a duck decoy, maybe some deer antlers, you know, something to bring a little "class" to a 15 year old Buick. When the weather preaches, you must heed. Desperate times, require desperate measures. Kind of like Richard Dreyfuss building a Devils Tower out of mashed potatoes at the dinner table. Things must be done, gods appeased, ids quelled. Spring is just around the corner. Just around the corner. Just around the corner...

February 18, 2008 - Presidents Day

In honor of President's Day,
I bring you a new UNDERWATER Mount Rushmore:



& Blandy

So much smarter than some presidents.
So much more charisma than some presidents.
So much more personality than some presidents.
So much higher up the food chain than some presidents.
Able to breathe thru their butt, much like some presidents!

The similarities are astounding!

In the few days since we last checked in with Anikin the Manikin, it seems there has been a drastic turn of events. After nearly getting thrown thru the window in a fit of crocus-wrassling, it looks as tho Anikin has reversed his political affiliations and turned tree-hugger. He told me in an exclusive off-camera interview that after banging his head on the windowsill, he realized in an epiphany that he and the crocus essentially "came from the same stuff", and that he hoped "we all could just get along."

"Peace out," added the crocus.

February 17, 2008

Busy day down in the Minnesota river valley. Working backwards thru my day, the monthly photo hike at the Refuge went pretty well. This time around it was a night hike, and it did not disappoint. A few steps onto the trail and we heard a dysfunctional raccoon family having a domestic squabble. Something about "that lout" never getting off his lazy arse to provide food for the family but him being sick and tired of being branded as a thief every time they visit relatives. We quickly moved on, and I took some flash+time exposure shots at the floodplain observation deck.

Time exposure+an off-camera flash at the sloughs. All that orange light-pollution insidiously collects on your CCD chip as the seconds tick by. When you look at the scene at the start, it's barely perceptible, but after a 30 second exposure it looks like everything is preserved in a block of amber. Even my +2 EV pre-flash couldn't kill it.

We saw at least one owl, a Barred, not wanting to give up his hunting area to a bunch of low-life stinky humans that can barely see in the dark. So it hung out for awhile, allowing itself to be photographed from multiple angles. Later we saw another, or maybe the same owl blast out of the cedars farther upland, but this time he wasn't up for hanging around for idle chatter.
It is said that if you were to stick a newspaper to the goalpost of a standard football field, an owl could read the newsprint from the other goalpost. What is not known however, is if they normally skip straight to the comics.

Regressing back to this morning, here we have some of the major players from the Sierra Club Wetlands Stewards cleaning out, counting hatched / unhatched eggs, logging and putting in the new cedar bedding for our wood duck friends. The results were far better than anticipated. Only one house out of 8 had no signs of inhabitation. The other houses all having eggs, duck down, or fragments to clue together last year's lovely Minnesota timeshare getaway. Okay Mark, tell us who our lucky winner is....Not these guys, unfortunately. They are kinda pretty tho. Well, better luck next season!

February 16, 2008

Happy the Dog did some aerobics and socializing at the airport dog park today.

Hey, I think that lady about a mile and a half away is taking treats out of her pocket! I had better get over there!

The brown dog jumps over the lazy um, snow.

February 15, 2008

Ahh, another Friday Night Candlelight Ski at Wood Lake, another beautiful sunset. It's nice to be paid to walk around in the woods at sunset. Life's too short to miss many sunsets.
I pull my little sled full of milk carton luminaries around the track, trying to spread them out so the skiers will be able to follow the course direction, and still have enough to get right to the trail's end with the last one. Last week was perfect. I set the last one and was right by the door. That will probably never happen again. This week I had four left over.
Lunar eclipse next week. Something to remind us we're on a spinning wet rock somewhere in space, whatever that is, and that we don't hold all the cards.