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January 31, 2009 - Cannonball Comin'!

The other day I received an email from Karen, who will remain nameless, sort of, who first complements me saying, "I enjoy your blog," (Garsh, thank you very much Karen) and goes on to say "I would VERY much like to know the story of the cannon ball found in Minnehaha Creek. Please share!"

Karen is speaking of the cannonball image which graced the sidebar of this blog for quite some time. Well, I wish I had more information to relay, but it's probably just as well, as I tend to make a long story out of everything anyway... 
We live here in Minneapolis along Minnehaha Creek, not far from the Longfellow Gardens. 
A few years ago my friend Mary Lerman, (a.k.a. "Buckthorn Mary") Director of Horticulture for the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board for quite a while, gave me a copy of an article from the Minnesota Horticulturist magazine from the 1980's called, "Birds, Beasts, and 'Fish' at the Longfellow Gardens."
It's a great piece describing how the Longfellow Gardens have been somewhat "recreated" over the years, to duplicate or at least pay tribute to the way they were arranged in the late 1870's through the early 1900's. I've since done some searching to see if I could find a copy of that actual issue, but so far no luck. Possibly the U of M has one.
Anyway in a nutshell it describes how Robert Fremont Jones (nicknamed 'Fish', because he had "made his fortune" in the fresh fish business, he hated the name) came to Minneapolis, had an affinity for animals and ended up buying the property near Minnehaha Falls and creating a zoo which sported some pretty exotic species (much to the chagrin of the Parks Board who also wanted the property to link the parks system together, and to his neighbors.) 
He was quite an eccentric character; besides the zoo with it's birds, chimpanzees, baboons, over 100 monkeys, twenty lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, pumas, apes, bears, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, deer, moose, camels, buffalo, kangaroo, sea lions, and an elephant, he also built a house that was an exact (but smaller) replica of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Georgian Revival house (the "Craigie House" in Cambridge, Massachusetts), and erected a granite statue of the bard (not "The Bard," but Longfellow) on the property. 
Longfellow had of course made famous the "Laughing Waters" of Minnehaha in his epic trochaic tetrameter: "The Song Of Hiawatha," though he never witnessed the falls in person.
After getting really interested in this story (I've held back a lot of details here, including the story of the Longfellow statue's missing hands, thinking that I would like to publish the article and more if I can sometime because it's so darned interesting) huuuuup, deep breath, I did some web searching to see if I could find any historical paraphernalia regarding the zoo and area. 
Editor's note: the word "paraphernalia" has an interesting etymology. It comes from Medieval Latin, ultimately from Greek: a plural of 'parapherna' meaning "the bride's property beyond her dowry," from para- (beyond or other) + phernē (dowry), from pherein 'to bear'. It also has been described as "a large collection of small objects."
I love words. I wish I knew more of them. -Ed.
My web search turned up some local lore, as well as a few eBay hits. Interestingly enough, a couple were from eBay UK and they were for auctions that had already closed, but one was an awesome postcard and photo collection of Minnehaha Falls and Gardens, of all things!(?)
I emailed the person and tried to get a message through to them to see if the stuff was still around, but the web page was acting weird, and I never received a response.
Another result was in a list of items from an 'auction house' in Minnesota, which included a listing for "a three pound cannonball found in Minnehaha Creek in 1972."
Needless to say, I immediately checked this out, and found that auction had ended as well but was presented with an image of said cannonball with the cryptic title of "minnehahacrk1812cannonball.jpg." 
I tried some more searching to see if I could find a story describing when or where the cannonball was found, but no luck. If it truly is an 1812 cannonball, I can't imagine it would have made it very far from the Mississippi River, but you never know.
However, this research set off a little bell deep in my diencephalon.
When I was growing up, (in Ashland, Wisconsin) my friend John got me involved in the hobby of collecting antique bottles. Not just collecting them, but digging them up. You didn't know that's where bottles came from, did you? Yup, you just go out to where someone used to use something, dig around enough, and you'll probably find one. 
We had some "great" dumps in Ashland. There were many "ravines" where a creek ran maybe part of the year, a place that had become a neighborhood dumping site just because someone else did it first and by god it was convenient and I'm not going to pay someone to take my trash, that's ridiculous!  Places out by abandoned farmsteads, where people would just chuck stuff out their window, or "dump it by the train tracks," throw it in the creek, or cart it down to the lake (that would be Lake Superior, you know where you get your drinking water and flush your toilet into) and throw it in.
One of our coolest spots to "pick bottles" was on the shore of the lake next to the water treatment plant, especially in the spring when the water was way out. You could walk out in this semi-frozen muck and see what looked like an air bubble sticking out of the lake bottom. If you could grab it or pop it out with a stick, often times it would be an old bottle. Sometimes a patent medicine bottle, sometimes a beer bottle from the Ashland Brewery, sometimes a ketchup bottle from just a few years back. It was like buried treasure. If you wore rubber boots you could wade out a ways and pop up a bunch of bottles until the water was too muddy to see anymore. 
I can't begin to imagine how many biotoxins we absorbed, but who knew?  You lived to see that next bottle pop up and find out that it was old, rare, not broken, or just plain interesting.
Not that many were. You had good days when you would find amazing stuff and bad days when you found "diddly" as my dad would say. 
What was truly amazing were the physics going on there. You could spend hours trying to dig up what looked like a complete, classic antique bottle and find out the neck was cracked. Then you thought back and tried to imagine yourself as the person that last held that bottle. Maybe it was broken before it went to the dump. Maybe you dropped it on the kitchen floor in 1867 or 1912 or 1958.
Once on a spring day in ice cold water at the lake dump I saw a silvery bubble glowing maybe eight or ten inches underwater. I poked at it with a stick and saw that it was surrounded by rusted metal. I grabbed the whole mess and pulled. The metal disintegrated, fell away, and a perfectly sound, inner silver vessel from an ancient Thermos popped up and bobbed on the surface, filled with water and sank again. I pulled it out and was transformed, thinking, "Wow. All these broken bottles and bits we find, all this wave action and lake settling, all of these rocks and metal and crud nearby, here's this Thermos sitting there buried upside-down for decades completely unbroken and I just pulled it out of the lake. Amazing."
So gradually steering the helm back on topic here, on another of our treks to this particular spot, John and I were poking around and I came across some rounded metal object. I dug it out, and it turned out to be the biggest ball bearing I had ever seen. I was trying to imagine what huge crane or equipment this thing this was from, and we were both ooing and ahhing over it. 
In grade-school days you were cool if you showed up at the schoolyard to play marbles with a "steelie" or big ball-bearing, where everyone else had glass tiger-eyes. I never had steelies, but the kid whose dad worked at the junkyard always did, and I lusted for them. They were probably three-quarters of an inch diameter maximum. This steelie was like four inches in diameter and weighed a few pounds. 
I was fantasizing myself finding this thing years earlier, showing up at school with it, and ruling the world. 
I brought it home, cleaned it up the best I could, and it's still sitting on one of the glass inkwells I couldn't bear to part with in my mom's "back room" up in the old house. Never did bring it to school. Not that it would fit in my pants anyway.
I didn't occur to me until I saw that image of the cannonball, that is what it is. I looked up cannonballs and found they are known by their weights, i.e. "a three-pounder," "a sixteen-pounder", and so on. 
I think it's about a three-pounder. 
Where it came from, I have no idea, but it's about the same size as the Minnehaha Creek cannonball.

Easygoing desert locusts about to ravage the countryside!

Sharon forwarded me this article from today's "Strib" as we call it in Minneapolis, also known as the "Star-Tribune newspaper." Normally I would associate this quality of journalism with say Fox News, or a Yahoo thumbnail, but this is the Associated Press for um, gosh sakes. 
I especially like the last sentence.

Brain chemical jolts lonely, solitary locusts into insatiable gangs (all it needs is an exclamation point and it's ready for the National Enquirer)
January 30, 2009

A chemical that affects people's moods also can transform easygoing desert locusts into terrifying swarms that ravage the countryside, scientists reported. (Something tells me that's not exactly how the scientists put it) "Here we have a solitary and lonely creature, the desert locust. But just give them a little serotonin, and they go and join a gang," observed Malcolm Burrows of the University of Cambridge in England. (Thanks, for breaking down all those years of research for us, Malcolm - this is definitely the "Hard Science"  George Bush was looking for)

The brain chemical serotonin has been linked to mood in people. It plays a role in sexual desire, appetite, sleep, memory and learning. Under certain conditions, (makes quotation marks with fingers) locusts triple the amount of serotonin in their systems, changing the insects from loners to pack animals, Burrows and his co-authors report in the journal Science. (That's Science!  With a capital "S"!)

These packs can be devastating. Last year, a swarm nearly 4 miles long plagued Australia. They also occur in Africa and Asia and have affected the western United States.

"Now that they know what causes the swarming behavior, scientists can begin looking for ways to prevent it."


That's it. That's the whole article! 
Let's get on with preventing this, for lack of a better word, "nature" as soon as possible.

Senses Working Overtime

This 80's song popped up from the depths of my iPod the other day whapped me in me head something fierce. It's such a great poem (and song) for an infinite universe, I felt I had to pay some homage to it here. We should sing it at the nature center. Remember...
- T.


Hey, hey, 
The clouds are whey.
There's straw for the donkeys, 
And the innocents can all sleep safely, 
All sleep safely. 

My, my, 
Sun is pie.
There's fodder for the cannons, 
And the guilty ones can all sleep safely, 
All sleep safely. 

And all the world is football-shaped
It's just for me to kick in space
And I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste
And I've got one, two, three, four, five 
Senses working overtime
Trying to take this all in. 
I've got one, two, three, four, five 
Senses working overtime 
Trying to taste the difference
'Tween a lemon and a lime
Pain and the pleasure
And the church bells softly chime. 

Hey hey, 
Night fights day. 
There's food for the thinkers, 
And the innocents can all live slowly, 
All live slowly. 
My, my, 
The sky will cry 
Jewels for the thirsty, 
And the guilty one's can all die slowly ,
All die slowly. 

And all the world is biscuit-shaped, 
It's just for me to feed my face, 
And I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste, 
And I've got one, two, three, four, five, 
Senses working overtime 
Trying to take this all in. 
I've got one, two, three, four, five, 
Senses working overtime 
Trying to taste the difference, 
'Tween a lemon and a lime, 
Pain and the pleasure, 
And the church bells softly chime, 

And birds might fall from black skies, 
And bullies might give you black eyes, 
And busses might skid on black ice,
But to me it's very, very beautiful ˇ 
(England's glory!) 
Beautiful ˇ
(A striking beauty!) 

And all the world is football-shaped, 
It's just for me to kick in space, 
And I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste, 
And I've got one, two, three, four, five, 
Senses working overtime 
Trying to take this all in
I've got one, two, three, four, five 
Senses working overtime
Trying to tell the difference
'Tween the goods and grime
Turds and treasure 
And there's one, two, three, four, five 
Senses working overtime 
Trying to take this all in
I've got one, two, three, four, five
Senses working overtime
Trying to taste the difference
'Tween a lemon and a lime
Pain and the pleasure, 
And the church bells softly chime.

Amendum to the Addendum

Well, gentle reader, another write-in candidate has cropped up on the "name the nasty pieces of crud that you try to karate kick off your car fenders at the gas station" ballot, in true democratic fashion.
No, it's not Ralph Nader, it's: Carcicles
Very crafty. Subtle, yet obvious. 
And if that weren't enough, as some of you are probably wishing it were, also cryptically written on that same ballot was: Fenderbergs
Too right! 
Maybe we should have run a caucus and a primary first.
So, summing up the contenders so far, here are your candidates and their tallies:

"Car Turds"
  1 (11%)

  1 (11%)

"Fender Fudge"
  2 (22%)

"Mudflap Mallow"
  0 (0%)

"Pothole Pudding"
  0 (0%)

"Salt Stalactites"
  2 (22%)

"Snow Boogers"
  1 (11%)

"Tire Tacos"
  0 (0%)

"Wheelwell Wedgies"
  2 (22%)

Or so. Margin of error 2%

With the write-ins; a.k.a "None of the above (email it over)" leading by a sizable margin, I can
see this is going to be a true Minnesota-style election. Haven't heard anything from Jesse yet. (Of course he was once quoted as calling the press: "a bunch of jackals". I'm not sure if that includes bloggers. Probably, more so.)

16 days left to vote! Git ta clickin'!

January 27th, 2009 - DOG BITES TURTLE!

  If I could do one of those "spinning newspapers" like from the dissolves in an old movie (hmmm, not a bad idea, are you listening Blogger/Google...? Of course you are, why even ask, it's like living in an Orwell novel, tomorrow it will happen and I'll get no credit) anyway if I could do a spinning newspaper, it would stop on your screen with a screaming 72 pt. font headline: DOG BITES TURTLE!
We had a near catastrophic event the other night when Sharon got up from the computer to do something she hadn't planned and found that Happy was "playing with something" that turned out to be Jackie the Turtle.
Somehow, and I really have no idea how she managed this, Jackie had flipped herself over the wall of her habitat, made the four foot drop to the hardwood floor, and found herself being chomped by an overstimulated Happy who (thankfully) obediently dropped her on command, but damage had been done.

Luckily, she just lost one of her larger back scutes along with some edging on her shell and seemingly no tissue damage or blood loss was involved. That white thing is a rib from her backbone that is normally attached to the shell.
I feel bad for not having set up a better containment system. She had never even gotten close to getting out before, but I should have expected it would happen at some point. 
We have her on two different color heat lamps and they had just turned off on the timer, so she may have been seeking a warmer spot. Or just jazzed up and managed to hook into some traction on the plastic wall, who knows, most turtles are pretty good climbers, especially the aquatics.
Ironically, this was on the same night that we had gone out to eat with some friends and they had just told us a horrible story about how they came home from work early one time and found that their dog had crashed through the top of their glass coffee table, and that THEY felt so bad for not foreseeing it. The dog survived fine, BTW. But it was a full horror movie scene, as one might imagine. The dog had limped around to all the windows looking for a way out, losing blood the whole time. Jeez.

I think Jackie will be okay, knock on wood. There seems like no tissue damage, and she's eating. Her shell scutes curling is pretty natural, so that's not dog-related. Hopefully she keeps infection away and the shell grows back or around the area effectively. 
I talked to a couple naturalist friends and the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in town, and the verdict's still out on whether the shell will grow back or not. I guess with adult turtles when they are crushed or their shell is cracked, there is still a good chance they can heal. The reptile vet usually gives them a antibiotic injection and they fill or patch the shell with a dental adhesive used by dentists on human teeth. It's designed to slowly disintegrate as the animal grows and mends itself. They pretty much only use it for adult turtles though as their shell and bones stop growing after while. With young turtles everything is still growing, so it would need to grow with them. 
They said there's a chance that over time, some or all of the shell may grow back, it may be deformed, or may encircle the old wound, much like a tree does when growing around a fence or foreign object. Time will tell. Could be months or years though. 
We've had some adult turtles at the nature centers that have lost pieces of shell and we've actually super-glued them back on.
In this case, I guess it's the best case of a bad scenario. She was definitely active and swimming right when we put her back into the habitat, after a few minutes of being as withdrawn into her shell as tightly as possible. No obvious problems with her back legs. 
For the last couple days she's been basking on the rocks and drying herself out. It looked like there was one small raw area near her tail that has scabbed over since "the incident." 
I wasn't sure if she wanted to be in the water so I set up the feeding tray with a rock as an "island" in the middle, and put her down there and dropped in some food so she could take it if she wanted. It was pretty funny. First she stuck her neck out as far as she could, smelling around, and then eased herself into the water with her sore end sticking out, then finally just went for it and starting nomming shrimp voraciously. 
She seems no worse for wear, but has been spending more time out of the water than usual.
Ugh. We'll keep you posted.

Then yesterday, (I say as I take off my reporter's fedora and sling it to a peg on the coat rack) I had to go back to Refuge to return all the snowshoes I had borrowed for the Winter Night Hike on Saturday night that no showed up at. Except me. 
I can't blame anyone, as it was about -3 F with a -15 F windchill, but it was the first time I have been completely "skunked," with no one showing up. I hiked anyway and scared up a large bird I thought at the time was a turkey. 
Hap and I took a hike while we were there Monday however, and scared up what I'm pretty sure was the same bird. It definitely wasn't a turkey. Much smaller and flew with a lot of wing-noise, and gliding something like a grouse or a ???
The other weird thing was that on the path out we had seen a little vole (sort of a big furry mouse/lemming) rummaging around the edge of the path like we weren't even there; like he couldn't see or smell us. Then he turned and started ambling towards us, I was trying to hold Happy behind me and get my camera set up at the same time. I managed to get a couple shots of him before he caught on, but something was up with him.
It was very cold and he was out rambling around, picking up rabbit turds and discarding them, then running stiffly out onto the paved path where he may as well have had a neon sign on his back saying, "FREE LUNCH" to every hawk and raptor that lives nearby.
I scared him back into the weeds again and we continued our hike. After we had completed the loop I wanted to come back around to the spot where we had seen the bird to see if we could scare it up again for another look. No such luck, but as we were heading back to the parking lot, I looked at the last place I had seen the vole run to and noticed what looked like tracks hopping back to the pavement. As I was turning with a puzzled expression thinking, "why would he go that way...?" I saw that Happy was putting the first chomp on him at the end of his leash. I made him spit, but I'm not sure how much he did to the poor little nipper. There was no blood, but the vole was writhing a bit and cleaning his feet, and definitely had some dog drool on his back. 

Ack! Watching animals suffer my domestic pet's instinctive predatory tendencies! Everywhere I look! 
Plus I volunteer at the Refuge, and they tolerate dogs there, but don't encourage them necessarily, so there I go disturbing the natural balance with my damn domestic pet, just like I've told oh so many people why it's not allowed for them to bring their pets into Wood Lake or Springbrook for the same reason. 
I'm Mr. Hypocrite. I ended up picking up the poor little bugger with my mitten and setting him into a "cave" of some tree roots with a nice leafy bed. 
Good luck, little vole. I still can't figure why he'd be all whacked out on such a cold day. After I picked him up he just sat their with his eyes half-open, shivering. That was my thought when we first had seen him was that he had woken up too early for some reason and was snow-blind or something. Dunno.

One more thing, kinda strange. I woke up the other day fro a very vivid dream where I was in a musical instrument store and saw this unique instrument made from beautiful wood that I had never seen before. 
I tried to draw it later that day, something like this:

The weird thing about it was that it was a stringed instrument that reminded me of something like an oversize dulcimer, except it had strings on both sides and two fretboards, that is to say the front and back of the instrument, with two strings on one side and three on the other. 
Strange as well was that the ebony black fretless fretboards ran the entire length of the instrument on both sides. It had a built up base that seemed to lead you to thinking you'd play it standing up like a cello or viola, and it was about viola-sized, but I picked it up and started playing it like a guitar, somehow instinctively knowing the spacing on the fretless board and getting some really nice tones out of it.

I didn't much think about it when I woke up, but later thought it would have to be very thin to be able to have a fretboard on each side, yet it was all acoustic and had F-holes on the both of the "tops."
After telling a friend about it, he suggested that maybe you could have two complementary tunings and rotate it around to play one side, then another. 
I came back with that you could tune one side to one key and the other to another, and play the funky break in the middle of your song and then go back to your original key by rotating to the other side.
It occurs to me after drawing it out that it might do better as an instrument played with a bow, as you could hold down strings on one and/or both sides and if they were tuned complimentarily, the resonance would come through the instrument and create harmonics with the other set of strings, even by playing only one side. 
I looked through some of my guitar collector books and there are some similar looking single-sided instruments; notably lap-steel, and Hawaiian guitars. It also reminded me slightly of McCartney's Hofner bass of Beatles fame. 
So there you go. Makes me want to finish my guitar project that has been sitting in the corner since last March. I may need to go talk to a builder about that.

>> End of newswire. Signing off.

Addendum to the addendum

I heard a new term describing the accursed "nasty pieces of crud that you try to karate kick off your car fenders at the gas station" last night that definitely should be in the running. It's straight-forward. Descriptive. Uses proper representative mental imagery: car turds
It just makes sense, sometimes they drop off by themselves, sometimes no amount of kicking and screaming can get rid of them.
Sharon and I witnessed one anomaly that breaks that name the other day, however. It was by far the largest, (and I've seen a lot in my day) piece of car turd, fender fudge, or road salt stalactite I HAVE EVER SEEN. It sat in the intersection of 35th Avenue South and East 52nd Street like Jabba the Hutt in his Tatooine palace.
I wish I would have taken a picture with someone standing next to it. It looked like it came off the mudflap of one of those giant Tonka truck dump trucks. It was enormous. Monumental. Transcendental. It was waiting to take someone out.
I'm not sure what became of it. We went by yesterday and it was gone. They must have needed a front-end loader to move it. Maybe they shipped it to Gibraltar as a backup.
Drive with caution, Minnesotans. Don't trust the car turds.

Addendum to the car crud poll

Well, Blogger won't let me edit the poll here on Infinite Universe about naming "those nasty pieces of crud that you try to karate kick off your car fenders at the gas station" because "voting has already begun" according to them. 
I guess that's fair considering all the problems Minnesota is having with it's senate seat election, what with Flying Spaghetti Monsters , lizard people and all.

However, we've had a write-in candidate: "Snow Boogers."

So if you have any other official write-in suggestions for fender crud, don't write them in the margins of the blog or blacken your oval and cross it out, and then write your candidate next to it. Just email it to the pollmaster here at Infinite Universe. Your votes will be tabulated in proper democratic fashion. Trust me!
We can't have another debacle like 2008.
- Ed. I mean, -Tim.

January 20th, 2009 - The Eagle's Eye

My close personal friend and hairstylist, Albert Einstein, once said: 
"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."
Well, ain't it the truth.
It might not all happen at once, (except under extenuating circumstances; black hole singularity, old Star Trek episodes, when the class bell goes off and you're still hanging your coat in your locker) but it sure seems to go by quickly at times. So to speak.
I mean, it's the third week in January and I've got pictures from weeks ago I haven't even put up yet! And now my driver's license is due again! How does that happen?!
So rewinding time here, (like anyone even knows what "winding a watch" or god-forbid, "winding a clock" is anymore) I'm taking a step back to January 8th; when Sharon, our friend Betsy who was visiting from California, me, and Happy who came along for the ride, took a drive down to the Eagle Center in lovely but freezin'-ass cold Wabasha, Minnesota.
Wabasha is south down historic (if you follow Bob Dylan) Highway 61, past Red Wing (where the shoes and Sturdiwheat comes from) along "the Rivva," (that would be that Mississippi one.) 
They have this very cool Eagle Center there that is right on the river bank. You can see lots of waterfowl and raptors right from the window (we saw some HUGE Tundra Swans, some bald eagles, geese, ducks, what-have-you) there and on the way down. They said there were over eighty eagles in the river not far from there that morning. (There was still open water in many places, questionably sane ice-fisherpersons in others.)

Inside, at least at the time we were there, they had four eagles. The Golden eagle (above and next) was one of my personal favorites, but they were all hard not to be partial to.

They also had three Bald eagles, I think all were there as a result of accident or injury. They were all pretty healthy though, and we pretty much had the run of the place on a cold weekday so they put on a feeding show just for us, answered all our questions, and put up with me taking endless flash photography.

It was pretty much the first time I had wanted for a power-pack for my flash, as I just about melted down my batteries a couple times. I noticed later that my images were "yellowing out" after a few cycles as my flash was weakening and room lights were cutting through.

It was totally awesome and amazing to be that close to these type of birds though, we were literally a few feet away during the show and in the exhibit room. My 70 - 300mm lens was too much magnification at times. That's never happened before either.
In March they are going to have "Eagle Week" with a bunch of featured programs and one day with twelve birds and local naturalists available for pictures. 
We HAVE to make time for that.
Meanwhile, I'll post some more from there next time. That's the problem with getting these opportunities, you take so many frames it's hard to go through them all and figure out what you like!
Oh, and Einstein also had another quote about time: "The faster you go, the shorter you are."
Maybe that's why time seems so short...

January 16, 2009 - Frosty the Windowpane

Oy, yoy yoy.
I have been trying to fight off whatever "bug" I caught (and I hate that term, I should stop using it especially because it's probably a virus, and not even on the same radar screen as far as organisms go) for the last two weeks by working on too many projects at once.
And I'm not saying I caught it by working on too many projects at once, I'm saying I'm fighting it off by working on too many projects at once, just by doing so many things it makes my head spin and snot flys out. It's a weird cold/flu thing, I still have a nasty cough in spells, but it "feels" better (if ya know what I mean) and my energy level is up more often. Why bother describing it?

The sub-zero weather we've been locked into for a week hasn't made it any easier for anyone here in Minnesota. It just hasn't been the sunny, cold weather that tends to put off Seasonal Affective Disorder either, it's been more the permanent four-in-the-afternoonish dim cloud that makes you wonder if you should turn on the lights or not.

On the other hand (which is kind of cold and chapped right now), it is great for those frosty window etchings that nature creates, destroys, changes, as the day goes on. Makes you want to study fractals.

It seems like I always have to post one day of this kind of stuff at some point during the winter. I'll have to go back and look to see what day it was on last year.

So, keep it together everyone, and keep it "bundled up." Have some hot chocolate and grab a book or go skating somewhere near a warming shack. I know the sun is just over the horizon.
Or something like that...

January 10, 2009 - Skiing under the inauspicious biggest full moon of the year

I don't often have "bad days" when I'm working as a paid naturalist or paid XC ski instructor, but today I was doing both, and did.
Well, the less said the better about that, so I'm going to post some pics from last night. 
I will say however, that today we were promised the "largest full moon of the season," and since I was still dragging my ass around the long loop at Wood Lake about an hour later than I should have been, I had a great view of the moonrise and I cannot deny it was very spectacular.
But due to unforeseen circumstances, possibly caused by the full moon itself, I did not photograph it, and am bathing in the remorse of that circumstance. 
Possibly the filling of the moon caused the catastrophic chain of events that made my whole day suck monkey butt. I have my doubts, but if a butterfly moves it's wings in Florida, it COULD cause an avalanche in the Andes. You would have to prove that to me inconclusively though.
Meanwhile, back at yesterday...

I had my "little camera" all tweaked and ready to go as I walked out the door of the nature center last night, dragging my sled full of luminaries (candles not prophets) to set up the Candlelit Ski. As soon as I made the corner around the building, our resident deer sort of half-heartedly ran-off as it has been wan to do lately, and then stopped to stare me down. 
I clicked into auto-flash mode, but the diminutive little G2 had only enough flash power to light up his retinas and no more. Goofy picture. It reminds me of a great photo my old boss, Don Blichveldt at Liberty Photo showed me once. He took it while testing some super-power flashbulbs (these things were at bigger than incandescent bulbs used in the home,) using his Linhoff 5 x 7 folding view camera.
He was standing on the shore of an inland lake in Northern Minnesota. He wanted to test the range of these enormous flashbulbs, and so had set up a tripod light facing out towards the water, synced to his camera, which was also on a tripod.
The night was pitch black, cloudy, no moon, no external light pollution. The water was lapping the beach blotting out ambient sound. He checked his gear and figured he was ready to go. As he struck the shutter button, the bulb light popped off with the sound and fury that only flashbulbs can. Meantime Don was looking out across the lake and noticed that when the flash went off there was a man out on the lake in a small dingy, about 150 ft away, that Don had absolutely no idea was there until he fired his camera. He was bent over digging into the bait-well, his head turned towards the camera with an extremely shocked, slack-jawed, "deer in the headlights" expression on his face, wondering what the hell had just happened. The resultant photo was perfectly exposed and a total hoot.

Anyway I snapped a couple more as I picked up of the luminaries for the night, one looking north towards the Nature Center and the condos beyond, and one looking south out towards the quiet frozen marsh.
There is plenty of "light pollution" (I think Richfield uses a lot of Mercury Vapor or Sodium-Arc lights on streets and buildings and the resultant muddy-red is ubiquitous at night.) In a way it's eerily interesting. The blue light on the snow close to the camera is my 7 LED headlamp. Interesting in it's own way.

So that was a very calming situation compared to today. We saw a red fox running along the edge of the marsh and into the cattails earlier with a 4th grade student group, made their day. The foxes seem to hanging pretty close to the build lately. We've found that they are marking our snowshovels with fox musk (which smells vaguely of skunk), and also a luminary that was left out side from the program before, as well as fenceposts, holes, and areas close to the gate.
I wonder if people that overdouse cologne onto everything they own think in the same way, perhaps even subconsciusly. 
Maybe they are marking it so they know it's theirs, or maybe they purposely make it so stinky and unpalatable that no one would want it anyway. There are a lot of copycats in nature.

January 7, 2009 - Long Shadows and Solemnity at the Dog Park

The sun was almost as low as the temperature when we headed over to the Airport Dog Park on Wednesday. The wind-chill was in the "slam your nostrils shut range," something akin to drinking too much ice cold milk on a hot summer's day and having your frontal lobes slam into your low-hanging cranial door jam.
Even the dogs were affected. Well, most of them, they were going at hyper-speed to try and keep warm.

There was one contraindication though, an old golden retriever that happily sat in the permafrost and chomped on a favorite stick, totally incorrigible to the cold. She looked as though she was happily sitting on the beach at Spring Break. Freakish.

The sun was so low in the sky as it always as this time of year at our latitude; and with our winter permaclouds the light lent an air of solemnity, and I don't know, I guess 'isolation' to the day.
This is enhanced when you are walking around inside a huge jacket with a sweatshirt under it, both hoods up and a hat on, thick gloves and a couple layers of pants to boot. You turn your head and nothing on the outside turns with it. Sort of a spacesuit. You can feel the extremely cold and rude wind trying every loose gap and seam with one hand, while it slaps you in the face with the other, but somehow you're cut off from it. It's not like it's outside a window or anything, but your little cloth bubble makes it temporarily manageable. It's a weird feeling, sounds are muted, your tactile sense is changed and your eyes are fighting the cold dryness and bright reflection. I like it.

The ironic thing, and isn't there always an ironic thing, is that the sun is actually closer to the Earth in winter. At least in the Northern Hemisphere. 
Correlation is not causation. But you knew that...

January 7th, 2009 - Dog Walk Runs Afoul Near Falls

Just another day walking the dog out on the parkway.  Same old clouds, same old snow, same old turkey running down the jogging path...
Same old tur...

Gunner says, "Vat iss dis turkey doo-ink, mit da down dee parkvay a runnink?!"

Doo dee doo. Just running down the parkway. Woops, can't go that way, too many cars. 
Think I'll peck in the street. Hunh? What are these guys honking at anyway? 
Woops, heh heh, I guess it's me! I had better run back this way!

See ya!
Meanwhile, the train is going by and Happy is clueless. 
Turkey? What turkey? Can't you hear the train going by?! 

January 5th, 2009 - Yoga, for Turtles

There are poses in some of the various disciplines of yoga known as "Turtle Poses."
The Hatha pose above, to me at least, exemplifies the symbolism to the turtle form better than many of the others, with which I find myself studying the pose for an inordinate amount of time and commenting, aloud or to myself, "Wha...?"
Whether or not the reptiles we know as turtles do yoga, has yet to be proved conclusively. 
I feel that if any of the animal kingdoms would do yoga, the turtles, with their extremely subtle evolutionary changes and their humble, meditative lifestyles would be an obvious shoe-in for the yogis. 
Sure, there are the cows with their ruminating. (ruminate comes from the Latin: ruminare, which seems to be one of those Latin pun-words, it means literally "to chew the cud" or "to turn over in the throat" with somehow, someone, simultaneously attaching the meaning, "to ponder" or "to turn over and over with the mind" as well. Kind of a joke on their own original meaning. Some Latin dictionary editor must of had a sense of humor because I find a good deal of this in Latin...)
So cows purportedly contemplate a lot, but you never really see them doing the disciplined yoga to go with it. Well, maybe long-held standing poses, but nothing too challenging. 
Then there are the sloths, whose zen-like concentration allows them to remain hanging in jungle trees for almost five days without defecating, and long enough for their thick fur to grow layers of green algae which adds to their natural camouflage. Still, this is not what I would call yoga, and I do not recall any yoga positions called, "The Sloth", in any of the many yoga disciplines that I'm familiar with.
Our Painted Turtle "Captain Jackie", however, seems to practice both the meditative and physical attributes of yoga conditioning, though not through the above "turtle pose," at least as we know it.

She has been documented with her eyes closed and with one or both back legs extended while in a basking position, and on rare occurrences, with three legs extended in a full bask, partial bask, or "dead-man's float" water-supported yoga session (presumably when she has much on her mind and world-size problems to contemplate).

I felt a bit guilty as I obviously made her feel self-conscious while I snapped these pictures. 
I didn't ask for a model release ahead of time, and she was obviously keeping a squinty eye on me. 
I thought I could just quickly get her as she was concentrating with her third eyelid down, but I should have realized that when you're in the "Zen," nothing gets past you, even though you might not acknowledge it. I can humbly and honorably state: my intentions were pure, my only fault was that in my rush for a candid shot I became overzealous, I admit it. I wanted to get the "real deal." 
Now I guess I have to renegotiate after the fact, never a good thing. 
You young and aspiring photographers out there - take heed... even if it's a relative or a model that you've worked with before, make sure you get that release BEFORE you start the shoot.
Okay, end of lecture.
I've spoken to other naturalists about this "turtle posing," and believe me, wild theories abound. The most popular of which points out that these semi-aquatic turtles must stick their limbs out while basking out of water so that the soft folds of their under-skin have a chance to dry, lest they harvest bacteria that can develop forms of shell-rot and what some have come to call the reptile equivalent of "jock-itch."
Well, let the theorists wave their flags. You and I and the turtle all know the true meditative and holistic advantages that are gained through practicing; "The Turtle Pose."

January 4th, 2009 - Bass Ponds Flashback

I have to take a slight backstep here to back to December 23rd, 2008, as I never got to posting any pics from our "Owlish" Photo Hike at the Bass Ponds. 
Although we didn't see or hear any owls, we did see a shrike in a tall tree while we waited in the parking lot to see if anyone else was going to show up. 
One hearty soul besides Sharon and myself braved the cold and new snow, which turned out to be great for snowshoeing. 
Down at the water we saw a wood duck couple, which was a little unusual for this time of year, and lots of mallards and geese; the normal fodder in open water at this time.

In the ice and snow where the watercress grows... it's amazing to see watercress growing here all year around. The green sticks out like a neon sign.

A tall cottonwood. It's developing a sort of an ice crevasse up the trunk, but it seems no further worse for wear. 
The mini-waterfall with some green stuff trying desperately to hang on under the cold water and current. If this was Alaska that would probably be twenty feet high, but since it's Minnesota it's about eight inches.
One of those extra-fancy man-hole covers they have by the semi-conductor company. Whatever they pour down there would probably make your hair curl too.

January 3rd, 2009 - Ice Exploration

This may look like a giant Alka-Seltzer tablet about to bring the fizz that relieves, but it's actually a distant cousin. It's a gas bubble trapped in the foot-think ice under the Minnehaha Creek bridge, which is beginning to show signs of pockmarks from the recent freeze-thaw and the salts that get splashed on the ice from the traffic above. Not sure what the Greenlandic name for that is, but we call it icebubble.

Poor Happy smells so many good things going on under the snow and has to stick his entire head in there to vindicate his nostrils every few minutes. This freeze-frame image (quite literally) was after the head had been retracted, but before the actual full body shake-off prepares the snurfling device for another deep dive. 

January 2nd, 2009 - Come on everybody, get Happy!

Trudging across the tundra of the Pog Dark earlier today, had me feeling glad I brought a scarf. My "barn coat" is great except for the small shortcoming of not having a high throat collar. 
It's got a thick hood, it's long enough to keep my butt warm, it's cut spaciously enough to wave my arms around, BUT a vortex of superchilled air always seems to be working around the throat area. I'm generally not a fan of scarves, but I am a fan of practicality. And now I've got the Space Plague that has been going around, so I'm in superbundle mode.
This reminds me of an image that has been stuck in my subconscious accumulator for the past week or so. When Sharon and I were walking the dog on Christmas Day up in Ashland, the storm had just rolled through and all the trees, roofs, and any available flat or slanted surface was covered with eight to ten inches of snow.
As we walked up the alley towards my mom's house, I caught the vague shuffling of a thickly clad humanoid form emerging from their backdoor. They had on one of those infinitely black, quilted down, full-length trenchcoat style parkas, with the hood drawn so no features showed themselves.
Out they came from through backdoor of an ancient white house, carrying an implement with a extremely long handle that just kept coming and coming and coming out the door, until the T-shaped head finally emerged and I recognized it as a snow rake. They crouched down and swiveled the tool to get some leverage, cold and slow like a Samurai, and I reeled as my mind saw before me what could only be the shocking silhouette of :
THE GRIM REAPER, with a roof rake.
No scythe for the Reaper in Northern Wisconsin. It's the glint of a 12ft. aluminum roof rake, the faceless void and the bones creaking inside an overstuffed parka of doom that send the already shuddering penitents to their icy eternity. Harrowing.

Why run, when you can fly...?

Another sweet sunset at the park. Happy got his ya-yas out and we met some cool, funny dogs - and their owners as usual. Nice outing.

January 1st, 2009 - Happy New Year, 2525

When I was growing up, we had a "45" (you know, that thing like a CD, only it's bigger and revolves 11.1 to 4.4 times slower) by Zager & Evans called, "In the Year 2525."
I was thinking about it this morning and then Sharon said, "Yup, Happy New Year, now we have to remember to write 2009." It got me thinking about how we put so much importance on our own sort of virtual system, because we have to.
It's been weird for me to write "two-thousand... anything," maybe because of being born in the sixties, (the 1960's, that is) or maybe it's just the way I look at numbers. Numbers are weird for me. I'm not sure if other people feel weird about them too, or in the same way.
I suspect they do feel weird about them, because living through the passing of a millennium number was a big deal for a lot of people, especially with the "Year 2000 Bug" hanging over our heads.
When I was a kid there was a lot of talk about "what it was gonna be like in the year 2000," (I didn't think I was going to be alive, as I've said before I was extremely superstitious and didn't think I'd live past 13, then trying to imagine myself being 39 was like trying to imagine another dimension, it just couldn't be done and we'd probably get hit by Haley's comet anyway.
Then as it got closer it was, "Dude, where do you want to be when the millennium flips?" If it all blows up, where would your favorite place to be at the end be?
At some point though, I realized 2000 was just a number. Not only was it just a number, it was just a number in a system of time that we made up ourselves, starting not at the beginning of time but somewhere quite a ways down the road from the beginning. 
Then we went and changed the whole system a few times, and now we have at least six different systems in use.
We could have said it was 1999 yesterday and go through it again if we wanted and it would mean just as much really. We'd just have to get everyone (well, almost everyone) to believe in it.
Time like a river, "it always flows past and you never see the same water twice." Or do you? How do we know? If we go by the adage, "Matter cannot be created nor destroyed," the same raindrops keep going past (evaporation / transpiration cycle) and we've drunk the same streams as the dinosaurs. How do we know time doesn't loop in the same way?
The Year 2000 Bug was a little different, it was actually taking the number 2000 to mean something quite literal, and we invented the numbering system for that too, except I guess we didn't think the same computers would be around and have to count it, or we had very little foresight (scary) or trust in our own programming abilities. Either way, we seem to have headed off the "big crash," although it does rear it's annoying head occasionally, even now. 
Some have said that it was all just a sham to sell more computers, software, labor, and equipment, but if that's what it takes, look at how much we've improved our hardware, software, and computing abilities because of all the upgrades. It may have cost more at the time, but intelligence wise it was a big step forward. Environmental impact wise, ugh, I hate to think about it.
So back to Zager & Evans. In their song they take you through some future date milestones, pondering the plight of man along the way. 
Then the last stanza goes, 

"now it's been 10,000 years 
man has cried a billion tears 
for what he never knew 
now man's reign is through 
but through the eternal night 
the twinkling of starlight 
so very far away 
maybe it's only yesterday... "

I woke up thinking, 10,000 years? Why has it been 10,000 years? That would only be the A.D. stuff. If this song is talking about evolution, it would actually be (we think) something like 6 million years (supposed "Dawn of Man") + the 10,000 Zager & Evans years.  Give or take a million years. Or more. Or some would argue, (but I personally don't lend them much credence) much less. 
The thing is, I think in their song however long it was, was really just long enough for us not to notice it happened. 
Oh well. Great song, anyway. Happy 2009.