Sunday, September 27, 2009

A sharp-shinned hawk in the hand...





















...is worth more in the air.















Photos from Hawk Ridge.

Until we blog again...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Cove

Partly to see the movie and partly to get a look at the new independent movie theater, I went to see The Cove today. You've probably heard of it, a documentary about dolphins captured in one location in Japan, some to be sold to entertainment and swim with the dolphin companies, the remaining to be slaughtered and sold as mercury-tainted food.

It's a powerful mix of
beauty and humor, the inspiring passion and heart-breaking pain of members of the covert operation to witness and film what takes place despite many obstacles from local fisherman and the Japanese government, the decades-long burden of guilt carried by Ric O'Barry who blames himself for starting the captive dolphin industry because he captured and trained the dolphins used in the old tv show Flipper, the farce which is the International Whaling Commission, and the horror of thrashing dying dolphins in a sea of their own blood.

I hope you'll see it if you haven't yet, and that you, and I, and all who do see it, will find the strength to do what we can to fight this and all the other barbarities which surround us.

I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins
Like dolphins can swim

We can be heroes
Just for one day
--David Bowie

I liked the small theater and I'm sorry I won't get to see more films there. This was the first time in a few years I've been to a movie theater, and walking out in that semi-daze which follows a couple hours watching a good film on a big screen in a darkened room, I was reminded of one of my early days here. I went to a winter afternoon movie at the Norshor (almost across the street from the new theater and now a strip club) and snow began falling while I was inside. On the Lakewalk afterward, the snow on the ice near shore and the dark Lake beyond lent an arctic feel which made me imagine a white wolf leaping from ice plate to ice plate. No snow or ice today unfortunately, but thankfully no bloody dolphins, just the long empty horizon providing room to reflect and shift gradually between worlds.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Duluth? You Can't Handle Duluth!

A funny moment on this morning's Lakewalk. It was cloudy with some good waves coming in and some wise men apparently decided it would be a good day to offer themselves up to the Lake gods. I'm not sure if they got the chance because when I arrived on the scene the pickup truck's tires were already stuck half out of sight deep in the small rocks which make up the beach at the corner of the Lake. Not sure if they ever had the chance to get their two jet skis unloaded from the back, if they or someone else called the cop who was nearby in his car, if they were drunk or always that stupid. I lean toward the latter based simply on the ownership of jet skis as compelling evidence. Whenever I've seen one on the Lake, I've always wondered if that was legal and if so why.

I also wondered that a lot in Duluth when new buildings would go up. Recently, a couple with too many dollars and too little sense have been building a huge hideous eyesore of a house on 13 acres off Skyline Drive in an area where there were no houses. This monstrosity is visible not only in Duluth, but from Wisconsin, standing out against the natural background of trees on the ridge. Happily, some elves have apparently been at work vandalizing during construction including breaking all the windows. Now the owners have had the gall to request that the city close a scenic overlook three blocks away at night because of the traffic and noise. The last time I checked today's online newspaper story about this, there were 234 comments overwhelmingly expressing a low opinion of the house builders with several suggesting drive-by horn honking in the middle of the night and other elvishness to compete with the builders' selfishness.

Just a couple of the latest examples of the human behavior which diminishes the stunning location where Duluthians live. The location where yesterday I watched a merganser repeatedly gather himself backwards and then dive below the Lake's surface, the water rippling and sparkling in the sun. To my left, a honeybee on purple clover below the swaying yellow tansy buttons; to my right, a chipmunk ran past. No need for motors or mansions.

The stuff (including a 2010 Lake Superior calendar) is shipped, the bank account closed, the next two books to review (The Man Who Lives with Wolves, and Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows) ordered and on the way to the next address, and Walden the cat will be forced from my side Monday night when I'll also say goodbye to some friends and maybe need to get good and drunk before leaving Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm juggling my last moments with the Cat, the Computer, the Lake.

I've emailed a nature place where I hope to volunteer, and discovered a great speaker will be at an event at the animal place where I hope to volunteer; still waiting to learn the speaker schedule for the veggie fest before deciding which day to attend/volunteer. Three weeks to get in a whale watch before the season ends, various trail maps and applications are printed, Thoreau's country calls to me, I look forward to a warm hello hug from a good friend.

There may be a final photo or two in the next few days; if not, the next whenever post will be from the Pond or the Ocean instead of the Lake--it's all good water.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let the Water Come and Carry Me Away

I've been getting sentimental. Oh, who am I kidding? I'm always sentimental, and proud of it, despite the negative connotations the word has for many. I have fond memories of, sometimes even longings for, almost every place I've lived and woman I've loved. Today I couldn't help thinking of the woman who introduced me to Lake Superior many years ago because I knew just how she must have felt when she left to return to Ohio.

I've been waiting for a strong east wind to take my beach hike and today was the day. Blue sky, 20 mph wind, and foamy white waves steadily pounding the shore. I hoped for bald eagle sightings because this has always been my favorite spot to see them and some early migrants have been coming through town. Still, as I walked away from town, I was a little detached from the world and too attached to my thoughts. There were some birds I couldn't identify, and many beribboned trees, possible future victims all awaiting a decision about what to do with a small adjacent unnecessary airport. I wondered if I'll ever hear what befalls them. If a tree falls in Minnesota, does anybody hear in New England? No eagles where I'd sometimes seen them. I was becoming resigned as well as detached. I added a tiny "greentangle 2001-2009" graffito to a building covered with much larger expressions.

I reached the end of my outbound hike through the woods and began the beach return. The waves left little beach for walking in the area near the Superior Entry, and I picked my way among the driftwood and drifttrees, choosing one water-smoothed branch to use as a walking stick. After passing a sheltered section of beach with many small deer tracks, my stick came in handy to help push myself over some wave-sprayed boulders of the breakwater. I nudged a football sized rock with my foot, intending to close a small gap between slanted boulders but it fell deep between them. I wondered what a snapped tibia would do to my plans.

Then finally back onto the main beach and a section which seemed wider and flatter than any I've seen in my time here. The Lake moves in mysterious ways. I stood looking at the temporary churning wet rainbow of deep blue, white, brown, and green. Took off my shoes, pointlessly rolled up my jeans, and headed into the Lake. Nowhere near as cold as I expected. Stood there, looking. Enjoying. Leaning on my staff and dancing around a bit when an incoming wave gained some extra height or as the outgoing water pulled the sand from beneath my feet.
Regretting the days wasted on the way when I let the negative aspects of Duluth life make me forget where I was and what was all around me. Stayed there quite a while, breathing, windblown, watersprayed, wetlegged.

Eventually I returned to land and sat down on a log, pushing my feet through the warm sand to dry them, still watching the Lake and horizon to the northeast. Then, I looked down the beach toward town, and there, just above the treeline in my view, was the eagle, hanging almost motionless in the wind, flashing brilliant in the sun at head and tail. She repeatedly slid out of sight behind the trees and then repeatedly reappeared as I watched, waited, watched, waited. Every bald eagle sighting still seems like a blessing to me after all these years. Refreshed by water, wind, and wing, I stood as the eagle flew over, first with just a gentle twitch of wingtips, and then with vigorous full-length flaps.

Standing before that water, it seemed inconceivable to me that I might never experience this place again, even knowing that I was once sure I would return to New Orleans frequently and it's been twenty years since I was there.

Everything slips through these cold fingers,
It's like trying to hold water, trying to hold sand
--Bill Morrissey, These Cold Fingers


So I walked on, shaking my head at the lump in my throat and the beginnings of tears of joy, filled with gratitude for this beautiful day.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Don't Ever Stay at Hyatt Again

Honestly, I've never expected anything good to come from any for profit corporation. I've never believed a word that came out of the mouths of their spokespeople. I've always thought most rich CEOs cared more about their bonuses than they did about the lives of anyone who worked for them, and they would gladly commit any crime to maintain their lifestyles. But this seems like the latest new low.

Google "Hyatt housekeepers" and read the story of 100 Boston employees who were told to train some new employees who would cover vacations but later, as they were being fired, discovered they'd just trained their own replacements. No, of course you don't need a union, you can trust us. A lot of four letter words occur to me--scum, scam, vile, evil.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

You played it for her, you can play it for me!

I haven't been paying much attention to events in town lately, which I guess explains why I didn't know until yesterday that my two favorite singer-songwriters from the 80s and 90s (they're each still singing and writing but that's when they were most interesting to me) are playing here this month. Ignorance removed, I bought my ticket to see Fred Eaglesmith at the Red Mug (across the tracks from Dan's Feed Bin--"If we can't feed it you don't need it") later this month, and Greg Brown is playing outdoors after the Harvest Festival this Saturday--I'll go early to attend a couple workshops on raw food and wild food which might come in handy down the road.

For a couple decades starting in the early 80s which included time as a regular on Prairie Home Companion, Brown was far and away my favorite way to spend money on albums, cassettes, and cds, and his were the only lps I kept when I moved from Boston. For the upcoming move, I'm keeping seven of his cds (second only to Dylan) and twenty concert recordings (almost double runner-up Garcia).

Eaglesmith puts on some of the most entertaining live shows I've attended. When I last saw him at the same club three years ago, my face was hurting from laughing so much at the funny stories he tells between songs which are often very dark. I like dark, in case you haven't noticed. After a couple songs at that show he pointed out a few empty seats, including one next to me, to folks who were standing. "This guy looks like he could use a date," pointing to me. I said "Thanks, Fred" and he said he was just trying to help me out--it's hard to get a date these days without a computer. Uh oh, I'm going to be in trouble in a few weeks!

Altogether, I'll be keeping a total of about 200 cds, concerts, and cassettes (most of the tapes either made for me or by me). Along with the folks already mentioned, I'll still have what I consider the best of Beatles, Bromberg, Browne, Cockburn, CCR, Griffin, Harrison, Holiday, Kristofferson, Lennon, Marley, McGhee, Rolling Stones, Simone, Smither, Waits, War, Waterboys, Webster, and assorted others. If anyone's interested in who any of these people are or what I consider their best, ask and I'll tell you.

This weekend will also be Hawk Weekend up at Hawk Ridge, run by the same folks who do the peregrine falcon program I've spent so much time with during the past four Junes. It's been a record year for raptors counted in August--growing population, lack of food, early winter, better counting? Lots of possible explanations, but in any event I look forward to getting up there if not Sunday, then some other day before I leave town--I'm keeping an eye on wind direction and my schedule trying to pick a good day.

And of course, in the month I'm leaving town, Duluth has finally gotten a theater showing independent films.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Goodbye, Cool World

Two years, two months, and two days ago, I began this blog on the 162nd anniversary of Thoreau's move to Walden Pond. Today, on the 162nd anniversary of his leaving Walden Pond, it's time for the farewell, but not necessarily final, post. I expect there will be a couple more this month and maybe even an occasional one in the future if something exciting happens and I have convenient computer access.

In a few weeks, I'll be leaving the Superior Lake and all that's associated with it. No more Lake waves or Lake horizon, no Lake fog or Lake effect snow, no more 1000 foot Lakers. No more lovely mid-summer days with highs in the fifties. No more of the sounds of ice grinding and thumping and crashing. No more stretches of several bright glittery days when the temperature never rises above zero.

No more routine bald eagle sightings, no more unconscious knowledge that any walk outside could produce a bear sighting on sidewalk or trail, no more wolf tracks in the snow, no more falcon months filled with days of memorial and independence. No more easy walks to urban wilderness, no more waterfalls or thimbleberries. No more wild. No more room.

A couple days before I leave, no more of the cat I took in as a feral kitten almost five years ago, and without whom I probably would have left long ago. No more having the advantage of his senses to alert me to the darner and the spider just outside the window or the mystery in the wall. No more laughter as I toss balls the length of the hallway from bedroom to living room where he waits to leap three feet in the air and smash them to the ground with a paw, or as he follows my cursor across the computer screen, or his latest joy--taking a nap in the dresser drawer after I get my clothes in the morning. No more seeing him jump down from a window when people approach and then after they pass, standing on his back legs and craning his neck to watch them walk away. No more piteous cries in the kitchen intended to make sure I know he hasn't eaten in weeks at least. No more bundle of warmth curled beneath my arm or stretched between my calves.

This is by far the most painful part of leaving. Knowing I've taken care of him as long as I could doesn't make abandoning him any easier now or in my future memory. Huge thanks to T and W and their cats for taking him in, if not exactly with open paws, at least not with open claws. Instead of a cat, I'll soon usually be living with an OK miniature dachshund and a pit bull I've never met. You can fill a backyard with dogs and not have as much wildness and independence as in one house-cat.

No 24/7 computer/internet which, while extremely inconvenient in many ways, may well be a good thing--I've been very aware of how much less time I've spent doing the activities I enjoyed before I bought this thing. I'll bus or walk a couple miles to use one twice a month to order from my Amazon free books newsletters and occasionally to post the reviews and use email. I expect to spend a lot more time writing, but very little if any time blogging because of the limited computer time. There will be television for the first time in months but I hope to mostly avoid it rather than let it take the computer's place. I'll be doing some housesitting of cats and chickens when my dearest old friend is away, and sharing some hikes and meals when she's not.

I hope to get in a whale watch (reports and photos from recent trips here) before the season ends in late October. I plan on attending the Maple Farm Sanctuary Open House/Picnic for the second time (first time) and hope to become a volunteer there if I can arrange transportation. In the city, I look forward to the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival as well as bookstore browsing, visiting old neighborhoods, eating at longed-for restaurants, and hugging favorite trees I got to know when I lived a couple blocks from the Arboretum.

I've been researching the town where I'll be spending most of my time and though I have no illusions of matching Duluth's natural beauty or solitude, I've found several areas I've never visited ranging from state forest to wetland--it's always fun to explore a new place. Along with a coffeehouse which brings in some big names in the singer-songwriter category, there's also a college with strong dance and theater programs so there will be some entertainment without having to go to the city. And one stop away on the train is an Audubon sanctuary where I might be able to be a volunteer naturalist.

I'm walking away from a lease, credit card debt, and most of my stuff--between my own circumstances and the economy, I don't expect to ever have a serious job or my own apartment again. And I'm mostly fine with that--every moment that I spent at a "real job" or in the mainstream world was a lie, surrounded by people who eagerly destroyed what I valued in the world. For the short term, I'll try to find some part time job to cover minimal expenses while I spend most of my time with my father and grandfather trying to be useful doing the sort of house and yard chores which made me never want to own a house. It's a very unpredictable situation--given that they're in their 80s and 100s respectively, they could die before I even get there or my father might live another twenty years. They're the main reason I'm leaving now. I'd rather stay here enjoying the cat and my home until the last possible moment, even if that meant walking off into the woods during the first good blizzard, but I'm reluctant to have them worry about me being homeless and haven't seen them in a couple years so I'll try to make the best of a less than ideal situation and see what happens.

I obviously agree with many of Thoreau's ideas, but I've never had his skills or self-sufficiency. It has always amazed me that I've lasted as long as I have in the mainstream world. I've been close to the edge several times going back at least as far as almost dropping out of college during my senior year despite my high grades and reputation as a big man on a small campus. This time, I'm going over the edge. There's sometimes a great relief in letting go when you've been hanging on too long, especially when you didn't really want what you were clinging to anyway. This has never been my society--even when things were going smoothly for me personally, I found it difficult to live among people who treat animals and the natural world the way most people do. But although I wasn't interested in being a part of it, I was not able to figure out how to be apart from it. I've always been better at enduring than entrepreneuring, better at going away from a situation than at going toward one. We do what we can with who we are.

Freedom may be just another word for nothing left to lose, but independence is a lot to lose and besides the cat, that's the main thing I'll be giving up for now. I ended that first July 4th post with this sentence: Use your independence wisely; we're all a lot more dependent than we like to acknowledge. I'm not sure how wisely I've used it but I've certainly enjoyed it during the past nine years since I left full time employment and big city life, both by choice and because my wild primate mind and body simply couldn't cope with it anymore, always knowing that I was enjoying a very fortunate but temporary gift to myself.

Now it's on to something new. My expectation is that this next phase will last through the winter, after which I suspect everyone involved will be ready for me to move on but I have no plans for what I'll do next, only possibilities. That way of life doesn't come easy to me, who'd rather schedule spontaneity, but I think it's as it should be--our longing for security probably makes less of all of us; it certainly has made less of me. As for those possibilities, I'd be happy to get certain room and board jobs--anything involving animals or nature would obviously be great. Thirty years ago I had a Yellowstone dish-washing job lined up which I never made it to because of ill-timed illness; maybe I'll try to get that again. I wouldn't be completely surprised to find myself in a tent city, a nonreligious monastery, or walking through your town in the snow, on a blue highway or a railroad track or a Sea Shepherd ship, in a very fine little brown house with three cats in the yard and a creek running behind, or in the park here every day next June watching falcons. I might even transform into an elf or an alien life form. The world is always full of possibilities.

Thanks to all who've been a part of this blog; I've enjoyed your comments and visiting your own sites. If you've enjoyed the book reviews here and would like to keep up on what I'm reading, my user-id at Amazon is jd103. Just search there for one of the books I've reviewed here such as this one, find my review and you'll be able to click on my ID to see all my reviews. See you on the trail.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Same Trails, Different Lives (Hiking in Duluth V)

Today I followed the same long loop I wrote about in May so this will just be a shorter update. I still haven't done those three long hikes on the west side of town and time's rapidly running out so I needed to wake up my lazy legs.

The Lakewalk is now paved as far as 43rd Avenue East which gave me seven new blocks to check out since that last post. It goes by some nice tall trees in the upper 30s but then becomes very much a neighborhood trail with houses and intersecting streets. Back in the 20s, a gravel pedestrian path has been added between some of those buildings which
never should have been built there and the Lake. This is a nice little birding area with a lot of warblers among the weedy growth on either side of the trail. Vindictive guy that I am, I chuckled at all the construction noise going on across the street from some of those other buildings which never should have been built there and the thought of the residents having a sewage overflow tank to go with their private Lake view.

On up by Tischer Creek where I was happily surprised to find a few thimbleberries still remaining for me. I didn't see any deer from my lunch spot as I did last time, but in place of the last hike's pileated woodpecker (#5 on my favorite birds list) I did watch some strange behavior from a blue jay (#8). He was in a tree about ten yards from me and then seemed to be falling though the undergrowth to the ground, calling as he did so. A lot of movement continued among the shrubbery until he eventually seemed to use one shoot to pull himself back up off the ground. It's difficult to describe but it seemed so odd that I wondered if he was injured or intoxicated on some berries but he did fly away. I later looked around the area but didn't see any fruits or nuts or signs of caching. Over at the pond, I watched a leopard frog stay in one spot for a couple minutes.

I was looking forward to visiting the jewelweed patch along Chester Creek because I hadn't visited it this year and I love the plant--the beautiful orange flower, the exploding seed pods, the soothing juices. Before I reached the patch I was heading for, I stopped in amazement to see a jewelweed dam in the creek. Because of the many boulders in the creek, fallen trees and branches often get snagged during the spring thaw when the local creeks become miniature roaring whitewater rivers. Lots of additional debris had accumulated in this case, with some water going under and some around. Along the length of the natural dam, dozens (hundreds?) of jewelweed sprouts rose high above it obscuring the wooden infrastructure. I stepped on a rock in the water to take a closer look at this impressive scene buzzing with insects among the flowers. As I looked at one area, I noticed movement from the corner of my eye and thought, that's a mighty big bee. A more direct view revealed a hummingbird who visited several more blossoms as I watched. Later at the more convenient trailside patch, most of the seed pods were very early in their development, but I found one which was screaming, "Touch me! Touch me!" And so I did, and it was good for both of us.

Maybe one of those long hikes to report on tomorrow depending on how I feel when I wake up, and the farewell (but not necessarily last) post is coming Sunday.