Sur la Prairie

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The prairie was bright with goldenrod.

 

We packed a picnic lunch and headed east to Afton State Park in eastern Minnesota. It was a glorious day: 75 degrees, gentle, dry breeze and puffy clouds in azure skies. A hint of fall was in the air.

 

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Three ecological areas converge at Afton: savanna, hardwood forest and floodplain. The river valley rises and falls before it descends to the river valley. We started on a prairie walk that cut east into the forest. We walked along the St. Croix river after we reached bottom. The path there is a converted railroad bed. Perfectly flat and shaded by oak, maple and basswood.

 

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We spent four hours at Afton Park. We promised outselves we would return in the fall when the leaves turn color.

 

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The beaches are sandy. The water is cool, clear and tea-colored

 

 

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iPhone 4s Camera, Close Up Shots

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Native (mostly) Minnesota wildfowers

 

My dog, Marble, and I went for a walk today on a wooded trail. June is the time for wildflowers Minnesota. Forest blooms are subtle and muted. You must get close to appreciate them.

All I had with me was my iPhone 4S. I was surprised at how close I could get to the blooms. The quality is better than I expected.

Below are a few of the pictures I took. I used the Snapseed app for editing. All on my iPhone.

This Place is Too Cold For Hell

 

 

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‘Winter Night’ (Mucha, 1920)

 

Winter is the dominant season Minnesota. Allow me to prove it:

  • January-February are ‘Deep Winter,‘ a time when you pray for days above 10F. Cars scream when started. Skin splits. Static arcs across a room.
  • March is ‘Normal Winter,’ a mild season people in semi-tropical places like New Jersey would call ‘Winter.’
  • April is Post-Winter, a period of gentle blizzards.
  • May-June are ‘Spring.’
  • July is ‘Summer.
  • August-September are known here as ‘Autumn.’
  • October is ‘Pre-Winter,’ a period like Post-Winter when King Boreas shakes a few flakes on our heads.
  • And November-December is ‘Winter We Like Because It Is Christmas Time.’

That’s SEVEN months of Winter! Most of the year is cold and crappy in Minnesota.

 

What the hell am I doing here?

 

Forecast

Our five-day forecast. This is called “normal.” Ugh

 

 

“I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.”

— Bill Watterson

 

 

 

Sashay To The Foshay

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The older Foshay once dominated the Minneapolis skyline. Now it is obscured by newer, taller buildings.

 

Today we went to see the old Foshay Tower in downtown Minneapolis on a crystal-clear September day. We got some museum passes at the Washington County Library (4 free!) and took advantage of the free downtown weekend parking.

The old  Foshay was built in 1929 as an homage to the Washington Monument which is itself modeled after granite obelisks in Luxor, Egypt. I would say the Foshay is ‘inspired’ by the two other obelisks because it really doesn’t look like them. (And one could say the Foshay influenced the ‘Doctor Who’ costume designers — the Foshay looks like a giant Dalek.).

The building is a historical monument, so the W Hotel, its latest occupant, took pains to restore the Art Deco ornamentation in the interior and avoided modifying the exterior facade in any way. The elevators are exquisitely detailed in brass artwork. The lobby ceiling has been restored as well. No dancing nymphs from 1929 to be found; the W makes sure you know you are in a trendy hotel with pink neon lighting and blue glass sparkles. Yet the combination of old and new work beautifully. Art Deco is elegance — the W prudently embraced it with their own, modern elan.

The Foshay was the tallest midwestern building outside of Chicago for many years. It was a point of pride for Minneapolitans decades after it was built, and though it was superceded by the taller IDS tower in the 70’s, it still is beloved by its people.

 

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The building still bears the name of its creator, Wilbur Foshay. Although he hoped otherwise, few people today know who the egotistical Foshay is.

 

In the distance you can see downtown St. Paul. The IDS tower and the Wells Fargo Building are much taller than the Foshay. Each corner is labeled for the compass point it faces.

 

There is a very narrow observation deck around the top of the building. I am troubled by heights, so it took me a while to walk around the deck. I kept my back to the wall at all times.

We could see all the way to downtown St. Paul, the Minneapolis lakes and the grassed top of the downtown Target Center.

At each corner (N, E, S, W) there is a free telescope  to see into the horizon. The day was so clear, we had no trouble seeing fifty miles away.

 

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Apple Time

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Each September we head out to the country to get fresh apples. A favorite destination is Fischer’s St. Croix Farm Orchard in southeast Washinton county, Minnesota. There are many varieties, from old-fashion sauce crabapples to the newer Honey Crisp. They sell them by the peck, half-peck and bushel. We always get the ‘utility’ grade apples to cook down into applesauce or pies.

The little store offers a variety of things to buy (preserves, honey, melt-in-your-mouth caramels…). There are small farm animals for the kids to see. Fischer’s has other fruit for sale depending on season, but we come for the perfect apples.

The air around the place smells of apple juice. I imagine Fischer’s is a delight in late May when pink-white apple blossoms perfume the air.

 

 

Goodness comes out of people who bask in the sun, as it does out of a sweet apple roasted before the fire ~ Charles Dudley Warner  

 

Forget Art Galleries, Take Me To A Kitchen Store

I just go nuts in gadget places and can waste hours in hardware and cooking supply stores. Especially fun are the restaurant supply places with their giant mixers and mongo aluminum cookware. IKEA, Home Goods and Bed, Bath and Beyond can transfix me, too.

But the high-end kitchen stores are above even those wonderful places. With their colorful crockery stacked on steel rollaway carts, they are the art galleries of housewares.

One of my faves is the Chef’s Gallery in Stillwater, MN. Yesterday we stopped there on our quest for the perfect kitchen compost pail. I was easily distracted by all the shiny stuff: All-Clad pans, Roseli utensils, Le Creuset pots, Wusthoff knives … sigh.

I whipped out my iPhone and snapped these photos. An employee asked me to stop — it’s against store policy. Sorry, ma’am, but your store is just too gorgeous to deny me. And so I share with you, dear readers.

I Live On The Moon

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This is what I see nearly every morning from November through March. No, it’s not a nice suburban street, it’s the frigging Moon. I leave before 6:00 and return at 6:00. This means it’s night when I leave and night when it return. And this is what I see: tumbling boulders of white, grey and brown. The sky is black. My headlights pick out deep shadows just as a Moon Rover would. Hell, I might as well take Apollo 11 to work.

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Sometimes winter sort of vomits on you

Okay, when the sun comes up on those non-gloomy overcast days, you do see purple shadows and sparkly things. At those times I live on Antarctica. Towering pillars of steam climb into the sky from furnace flues. That’s when it’s normal-cold, say 0 ℉. When it’s -20 ℉, the sky is a Dantesque bloom of steamy mushroom clouds. Even the sound of things is different; tires squeak; metal shrieks, tiny birds titter, unseen.

Minnesotamesas

 
The snow never melts in Minnesota; you get to look at the same piles of the stuff for nearly six months. They get higher and grayer as November moves to March. People must get around, so the highway departments hire Filth Trucks to push it somewhere incovenient, like, say, your driveway. When they can’t find a driveway, they just push  it into big piles I call ‘Minnesota Mesas.’  The Filth Trucks’ job is to ensure everything is coated with salt and muddy sand, including the Mesas. In the late spring these slowly melt,oozing brine and grunge for weeks afterward.

For gardeners like me, this is a time of near-despair. I await the better weather, the end of this confinement. If I scrape away the deep snow, I may find a bright patch of green perennial leaves. But I pace the house and make my plans. It’s early January now. I have another THREE MONTHS of looking at Minnesota Mesas, car turds (don’t ask) and yellow dog snow.

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Sedum  flower heads

People from warmer parts of the world really don’t understand the sense of total siege that winter reallyis. Family from tropical Texas send us Christmas cards with vignettes of snow-covered houses or sparkly fir trees. I NEVER send cards of winter scenes.

Humans don’t belong here. Our young species, Homo sapiens, evolved over 200,000 years ago in central Africa, far, far from any Ice Age glaciers. Thag and Oona never had to shovel their way out of snowy cave. No, they had some property on the savanna with a little summer place in the rain forest when it got too hot. I bet Oona had a great tan year-round. We’re just not designed for cold weather: we don’t have shaggy coats; we can’t hibernate; and fact is, we would die of hypothermia if our naked bodies are exposed to subzero temps. A parakeet has more cold resistence. We’re really hothouse orchids.

I have no extended family here. If my children settle someplace better, say, a coastal town with a one-month winter. I’m heading down to them. Permanently. I am SO out of here the day I retire.

I’m thinking … Panama!