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Archive for the ‘Things That Fly’ Category

Three Loons On Island Lake, October 17th 2019, iPhone Video, Island Lake, near Cromwell, Minnesota, video © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


We are back in the Twin Cities. The morning we left Island Lake, the moon set in a dense fog. Three loons surfaced to greet the day. Magical is an overused word, but that’s how it felt sitting on the end of the misty dock watching sunlight hit the circling reeds.

We weren’t ready to step into work life Friday morning. The five-thirty alarm interrupted my dreams; the October sky seemed too dark for a waking body. When left to our own devices, we stay up late for creative work, rise later in the morning. We don’t naturally awaken at 5:30 or 6 a.m. in the city.

The ways we make a living around office computers and machinery hum (so different from the Taos hum) remind us of the unnatural habit-forming rhythms our bodies endure to live in a metropolitan landscape: traffic, crazy harried drivers, school bus dodging, and overcrowded parkways.

Cities are beautiful in a different way. Later we’ll take a two-mile walk around an urban lake and go to a friend’s home for an evening fire. The choices we make. I choose to keep writing.

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Island Lake, Cromwell, Minnesota, iPhone Shots, October 16th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


We are out of the sauna followed by a dip in Island Lake. It’s the evening before we leave to travel home. We sit in black easy chairs in front of wall-length windows writing and working on photograph archives. Over the week we saw six pair of trumpeter swans, three common mergansers, one pair of eagles, and at least ten loons. A mature eagle just swooped down and flew in front of the window, then glided on through the birch.

“She’s here,” Liz said, looking my way. Our eyes lock. I feel my heart swell and break open in tears. We came to make space for grief, for the passing of Liz’s mom in September. Sadness is the other side of the joy I feel being here: walking in the autumn air, sitting on the dock listening to the cries of the loons, eavesdropping on a family of Canadian geese with Nikon binoculars. The goslings stay with the parents (who mate for life) for at least a year. Blood pressure is down, pores are clear, my heart beats low, even and steady.

We stopped to meditate on the one and a half mile walk around Loon Lake in Savannah Portage State Park. If I hadn’t portaged on canoe trips in the Boundary Waters and sank up to my knees in mud, I might not know what it’s like to carry a Duluth pack on my back, a canoe over my shoulders.

The Savannah Portage is part of history, a long, wet walk from Lake Superior near Duluth to an eastern bend in the Mississippi River just west of Big Sandy. Liz and I like to travel to places we haven’t been before. We are only a few hours from the Twin Cities; we had the lake all to ourselves. The reds and oranges of the maples are past peak, but the yellows of the birch and poplar are popping. Yellow. Soothing, bright, clear.

I am grateful for downtime. My gratitude list grew tenfold over the week. I know it’s a luxury to be able to take time off to grieve. After a loved one dies, the work-a-day world continues to churn. Mother Nature has given us solace. A place to sit on a glacial lake facing West, the direction of later life, the domain of sunsets, and oceans, and the sit bones of mountains.

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Cody, Wyoming, iPhone Shots, May 13th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

View from Marylin’s, Cody, Wyoming, iPhone Shots, May 13th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It was a month ago to the hour when my mother-in-law died. Liz was on her way back from a business trip in Tulsa, Oklahoma when her sister called. I was sitting by Lake Como in St. Paul, Minnesota about to eat my lunch when the phone rang. The Dallas airport echoed in the background; Liz’s voice was brisk but heavy. “Mom just passed away,” she said. “She went peacefully.”

Marylin had requested a bath the night before. Tracy, Liz’s sister and her mother’s caregiver, had gotten up, given her mother a bath, and was combing her hair when she stopped breathing. I could picture this because when Liz and I were in Cody, Wyoming in May, Liz brushed Marylin’s hair as she sat in her favorite chair by the window with a clear view of the bird feeders. When Liz was finished, Marylin gently closed her eyes, smiled, and seemed in total peace after a night of tumultuous dreams.

I miss my my mother-in-law; grief takes many forms. Marylin was like a second mother to me. She championed my writing like my own mother, Amelia, who supported my creative life even when it twisted, turned, and spiraled up and down. Marylin and Amelia never met, but felt a love and kinship to each other. They were there for Liz and I through courtship, dating, and marriage. They saw only our love for each other and the compatibility of our lives together; there was never any doubt. I will always be grateful for that.

A few weeks ago, Liz and I watched the documentary on writer Joan Didion, “The Center Will Not Hold” by her nephew Griffin Dunne. When the film ended we sat in silence and wept. Dunne uses intimate archival footage, photographs and on-camera interviews to document the span of Joan Didion’s life. Having lost her husband and daughter within the span of two years, Joan knows grief; it gnaws at her bones.

I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.

We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.

-Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

After Liz called on September 5th, 2019, I could not finish my lunch. I sat in a Chevrolet Silverado staring at the lake, wondering at the breadth of Marylin’s spirit as it lifted skyward. The day was cloudy, the wind erratic and scattered. Summer was letting go.



Summer’s End, September 5th, 2019, iPhone Video, Rain Garden, Lake Como, St. Paul, Minnesota, video © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Rest In Peace, Marylin. I miss the way you smiled and called me your daughter-in-love. I miss the depth of our conversations around writing, haiku, and politics. I miss the way you held Liz and me in your heart in a bubble of love. I miss your love of theater, your writing and your contributions to redRavine. I miss your optimism and the way you gave back to your community and the world around you. I know you are with your father, maybe running by the Pacific Ocean with Queenie, wild and free. I am a better person for having known and loved you. We will meet again.

-written October 5th, 2019 between 10:45 and 11:30 a.m. CST. Everything is in Divine and perfect order right now.

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Scandia Honeybee, Scandia, Minnesota, iPhone Shots, August 17th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Liz and I spent a beautiful morning on a St. Croix riverboat tour with the Twin Cities Museum Meetup group. After the captain of the Princess docked the boat, we walked around glacial potholes in Interstate State Park, then drove to the Gammelgården Museum in Scandia for the annual Spelmansstämma (Immigrant Fiddle Festival). When the music was over, we walked around the grounds and I took a close up of this lone honeybee on an end-of-summer pilgrimage. Liz reminded me that it’s National Honeybee Day. I have gratitude for the day and the place in which we live. It is filled with wonder.

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Sandhill Crane Migration, October 2016, iPhone Video, Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, Santiago, Minnesota, October 2016, photo © 2016 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Years ago I traveled to a blind near the Platte River in Nebraska to see the sandhill crane migration. And on another road trip through North Dakota, I witnessed The World’s Largest Sandhill Crane. A few weeks ago, I drove just outside of Zimmerman to view the cranes again at the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge in my homestate of Minnesota (go to the link to download a crane viewing map). By the middle of October, the refuge hosts more than 6000 cranes as they roost at night in refuge wetlands, then fly out to area croplands to forage during the day.

Part of the thrill of the migrating sandhill cranes is hearing their collective call and recognizing that some studies date their DNA back to the dinosaurs. For more information about the evolution of the sandhill cranes in Minnesota visit The Resilience of Sandhill Cranes, Once common here, then rare, this native bird has returned to Minnesota by Carrol Henderson.

-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, November 5th, 2016

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Tornado, June 1959, Droid Shots, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming, May 2016, photo © 2016 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



In June 1959, a tornado roared over the south rim of the canyon directly before you. Its path was along Granite Creek to your left and through what used to be Granite Creek Campground. One person was killed. The twister ripped up timber and laid it out in the pattern you see now.

While tornadoes usually occur on the plains, several have visited the Big Horn Mountains. Blowing down mountain timber at 10,000 feet above sea level, these tornadoes are among the highest on record. The Forest Service salvaged part of the downed timber, but the steepness made it difficult to retrieve trees from upper slopes. A road at the bottom of the blowdown area enabled some clearing and reseeding. Most of the scar has revegetated naturally.



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Along the ride from South Dakota into Wyoming and on to Cody, it was quiet, except for the wind. Tornadoes in Minnesota at 830 feet; tornadoes in Wyoming at 10,000 feet. And what about the spelling? Is it Bighorn or Big Horn? I discovered this notation in a post by Emilene Ostlind at the Wyoming State Historical Society:

Note: The U.S. Geological Survey uses “Bighorn” as a single word to refer to natural geographic structures–Bighorn Basin, Bighorn River, Bighorn Canyon, Bighorn Lake, Bighorn Mountains – and “Big Horn” as two words to refer to human establishments such as the towns and counties named Big Horn in Wyoming and Montana. The U.S.G.S. also lists “Big Horn” as a variant spelling for geographic features, and both spellings are used on maps and other published materials. Growing up in the town of Big Horn I learned to write my address or refer to my school with two words, and to describe the mountains with one word: the Bighorns.

The discovery and joy of road tripping.

-posted on red Ravine, Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

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imagePrehistoric, Droid Shots, Hill City, South Dakota, June 2016, photo © 2016 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

bone to bone they fly / 50 million years ago / ocean desert sky

 

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Road trip across the country. A cairn at the Black Hills Institute in Hill City, South Dakota. Grateful for the gift of time.

-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, June 11, 2016

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