(Note to Readers: I apologize for being absent for over a year but a lot has changed in my life since I posted last April. Getting married is an adjustment anyway but when two farmers working on different farms get married and both farms are with family and trying to undergo major improvements in productivity and efficiency there is a lot more to adjust to then just being married. Also, I realize these next few posts about the wedding isn’t my usual and is quite long, even being split up into parts; however if you enjoy my writing I ask that you bear with the length and read the whole thing – it is the most personal and intimate of all my stories thus far. And with any post, if you really enjoy the story, I would appreciate feedback on what you liked about it. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my stories!)
Funny how I thought, for months leading up to the big day, I’d have time to go for my usual walk the day before and the day of becoming a married woman and also to write what I was feeling. How silly. Time goes too fast for those things while preparing for such a big day. Also, it seems odd, but I have a hard time actually writing how I feel while it’s happening. And I’m not very disciplined at making myself write about the experience while it is happening or shortly thereafter – something I really need to work on since it improves the quality and accuracy of the telling. I want to describe the day and emotions as true as possible and also the week leading up to it.
A jumble of emotions tumbled about inside of me as I lay in bed. July 21, 2019 had come, the long awaited day. I had set an alarm on the off chance of oversleeping. I lingered in bed, looking at the large wall map hanging on the wall at the foot of my bed, my bookshelf overflowing with novels and trinkets of nature (rocks, nuts, a couple of feathers), the painting Aleesha had made – this was the last time I would wake up in this room, it wouldn’t be my room anymore, I would no longer live here. I wanted to hold onto this moment, linger just a little bit – I suppose I was saying goodbye. Yes, a jumble of emotions. Such happiness! I had waited so long for this day, and too many times doubted it would come, despite God telling me nearly three years before that it would. So excited to wear the dress, squealing with delight on the inside – this was my day to be a princess, and a prince more handsome than I could believe waiting for me! A smile erupted across my face. I can’t wait to see Jesse in his gray suit. But I wondered: Will the wedding be really beautiful though? Will the decorations turn out as beautiful and elegant as I desire? Will the food impress? Will the kids be good? I hadn’t even seen my sisters and the girls in their completed dresses, will they stun? But other thoughts cast clouds of sadness on my happiness and excitement. This would no longer be my room. I’m leaving Mom, Isaiah, Jonathan, Cian (our dog), and the farm. No more hanging out in the evenings with Mom and Cian. No more relaxing on my spot on the couch. I’m leaving Mom. With these thoughts and feelings swirling around in my head, Mom came into my room to say good morning and spend precious moments alone with me on this last morning of me waking up here, while I was still in bed.
“Good morning, Peanut. It’s your wedding day!” She was bursting with happiness and yet her voice had a catch as she held back tears. “It’s a beautiful day, just like we prayed for.” She sat on the edge of my bed, a hand on me. “I’m going to cry. I’ve already cried a few times. I was on the phone with Larry and cried; on the phone with Lars and cried.”
I smiled, but my throat tightened with its own tears, I felt so overwhelmed with love, happiness and sadness. “I’m going to cry too.”
“I wanted to pray with you before the day starts.” She prayed a prayer of thankfulness and blessing, blessing over the day and the marriage, and that God would be honored through the day’s events. The dams broke, the tears flowed; neither of us could hold them back any longer. The tears began slipping down our cheeks with the start of the prayer, Mom thanking God for me and what an incredible gift I was to her, and the beautiful person I had become. Mom’s love for me was palpable as was God’s, as if that love had become a being all its own and also wrapped itself about me. The tears had only just begun for the day – Mom shed more than I did, but there were a few times I had to battle them back.
Mom left my room shortly after she finished praying, back to the kitchen to keep working on preparations. It was time for me to get out of bed and eat some breakfast.
I’m getting married today! – With that thrilling thought I jumped out of bed and joined Mom in the kitchen. In a matter of minutes I had my breakfast made and sat down in the living room to eat since the table was covered with pans and plates and napkins. Thankfully nervousness hadn’t yet kicked in; other than the unbelievable amount of preparations to do yet for food, cleaning the yard, and decorating, I felt quite calm as I ate my breakfast. My thoughts wandered to Jesse – what was he doing right now? How was he feeling? What was he thinking? I could hardly wait to see him in his suit – gray is such an amazing color on him and suits and tuxes look stunningly good on him. I couldn’t believe our wedding day was finally here! Eeek! I wanted to write down how I was feeling; the tangle of emotions, extreme excitement, thankfulness it was finally my turn – but I failed miserably, too much excitement to be able to write. I wrote one measly paragraph.
People began arriving before I finished trying to write. Aleesha showed up sometime between 8:30 am – 9:00 am with Therese and Elena to help with anything that needed to be done. I was amazed and touched by Aleesha and her girls arriving so soon. Jonathan had been up working since 5:30; he milked so I could sleep in. Isaiah started in on things around 6:30. Cheryl Magnell, Mom’s market helper at Mill City and another mom to me, arrived either shortly before or shortly after Aleesha. She worked with Mom to get food ready.
At least one person, and there were probably others, thought we were crazy to do all the food ourselves since it is so much work. While we worked frantically to prepare food yesterday, the thought probably had crossed our minds more than once. And perhaps Mom was thinking it now as she worked. Actually, Mom had planned to provide all the produce, meat, ingredients, etc. and have a chef friend of hers do the food preparation and cooking, but a family emergency put an end to that plan. Mom did more hands on work with the food than she had intended.
When you are in the midst of wedding planning and drawing close to the day and things aren’t going according to plan and/or are proving to be more challenging than you’d expected, you begin to question if a wedding (rather than justice of the peace) was a good idea and if it will be worth it. For months, and especially the last three weeks or so leading up to the wedding, I wondered what I had gotten us all into. I worried and wondered if it would turn out as beautifully and splendid as I had planned, hoped and envisioned. Even with only a few hours left to go I wondered – could we pull it off? Will it be as wonderful as I’m hoping and dreamed it would be? How will the decorations turn out? Of course quite a bit of my anxiety that morning could have been taken care of if we had chosen to do a traditional indoor wedding, all of the decorating could have been done the day before. In fact, the decorating would have been done the day before if it hadn’t rained nearly all day, dropping two inches! What a nightmare that was – Jesse’s sister Anna was really stressed; she’d planned to do the decorating then. Karin, Jesse’s mom, assured me a small army of people would come right away in the morning to get everything ready. Sure enough, Anna and Rachel (Jesse’s youngest sister) arrived with Rachel’s husband Wes not long after Aleesha had. Then our friend and groomsman Ethan came and helped set up tables and other things.
But despite people telling us an outdoor wedding in Minnesota is a bad idea, either it’s too hot or too cold, buggy or rainy, or a combination therein – I had decided a couple of years ago, yes, before he proposed, that I wanted an outdoor wedding on the farm. It is so us – we began dating on a hay bale still in the field; we spend most of our time outside, and we’re both farmers. Plus doing it on Mom’s farm provided a more intimate, private and special location. However, two farmers getting married on the farm did not mean redneck. Oh no, though farmers, Jesse and I are classy – not redneck, hick, hillybilly, or country bumpkins, rather farming intellectuals with taste. I wanted a gorgeous wedding, it had to look and feel bridal; I was going for and hoping to achieve classy, elegant, beautiful, and something reflecting Jesse and me. I wanted flowers, an arbor. We found some neat antiques to use. Classy wooden signs. Flowers and books on the tables. For a couple of weeks, Anna and I messaged back and forth on decorations – she was incredible, so creative! The local flower club offered to provide flowers for the tables. We had planted 29 pots of flowers in May to place around the yard where the ceremony and reception would take place.
Getting the yard work done while also keeping up with farm work was a challenge, but we prayed for help and help came. In May, Jesse and Ethan cut up a fallen tree and cut down and cut up two more that were looking like they’d come down in a storm. A lady from church came and weeded and replanted a flower bed by one of the houses in the middle of June. Jonathan labored on the yard in the evenings and weekends around a full time job for weeks. Isaiah and I helped him out around farming. Karin mowed the lawn. Aleesha’s family helped the most, allowing her kids to help us out around their own work on their farm. At the beginning of June, all of Aleesha’s daughters picked up sticks in the backyard where the ceremony was to be. On Tuesday before the wedding, Malachi and Elena helped cut down a huge patch of ragweed and other weeds by the barn and helped me weed the flower beds around Mom’s house. They returned on Thursday, with Lexie to finish the flower beds and do some other work. The tent was delivered and set up on Thursday too. It was bigger than we’d expected; we knew the dimensions, at least the length and width but were totally blown away by its colossal height. A circus tent came to mind. Its wavy top created a whimsical feel, perfect for a wedding.
Since I have so many nieces and nephews (and Jesse has a few), I couldn’t pick a couple to be ring bearer and flower girl and leave the rest out. So instead I included all of them. Mom and I talked it over, way back in November, she would make matching dresses for the girls and vests for the boys – again taking on more work for the wedding but I wanted to do this special thing for the kids. Of course because kids grow so fast it couldn’t be done very far in advance – Mom began work on them in June. Aleesha came over and helped cut out patterns and the pieces of the dresses. For the majority of the sewing Mom was able to use her sewing machine, but there were many hours of hand stitching to do on each dress. She made thirteen dresses. Mom also decided to do the alterations on my dress which was a lot of work, since I am not that tall. The bodice, with all of its layers and beading took a lot of thinking and time to fix. Shortening the skirt, with its two layers of satin and 4 layers of tulle was also a challenge. I helped her with hemming the skirts. She worked on it for over a month before it was finally finished. My sister’s dresses needed alterations too but they were relatively easy to do. They were done the Monday before the big day; a lot was accomplished in those six days.
Thirteen year old, Therese was an amazing helper. She came the week before – just a week and a half to go – to help with whatever she could; she was dying to help with wedding preparations, especially the sewing. I am so touched by this dear girl’s desire to make my wedding perfect for me – she is amazing. I am humbled that I have a niece who loves me so much. Initially, she was just going to spend the one night, but Jason and Aleesha were really awesome to let her stay two nights. She and I had a wonderful time together. Honestly though, she accomplished more than I did. She arrived Wednesday evening, so of course we had amazing girl talk, mostly about Jesse and my love story and the wedding stuff but we covered many other topics. Thursday morning, we worked in the greenhouse for a couple hours before it got too hot – talking mostly about the power of prayer and hearing God speak, miracles happen. Then we went into the house to work. Therese cut out all the patterns and vest pieces for the boys, staying fairly focused even though it became tiring very quickly. I was antsy, short attention span; I couldn’t focus on one task for long before I jumped to the next. I was jittery and chatty with excitement, thankfully not nerves yet. I was working on getting the house cleaned up so that we didn’t have to worry about it during the wedding week and to have it clean before my sisters showed up to help with things. Therese laughed at my lack of focus, thinking it was cute. – I felt like I was the child and she the adult, but in a good way. It was the most time we’ve been able to spend with each other and most of it just the two of us. It was also the most special time we have ever spent together thus far, mostly because everything was about to change, our last girls’ day/night before I became a married woman. And we had the best conversation about prayer and how God loves doing amazing things for his children, we just need to pray bigger, let God show off. The time spent with Therese was or rather is so dear and precious to me, I am so thankful Aleesha and Jason let her stay the extra night. With the anticipation and jumble of emotions, anxiety over how we’d pull it off, I really needed a best friend to talk to, someone who wouldn’t mind listening to me babble and bursting joy, even though they’d heard it already. Therese also did a lot of the hand stitching on Mariya’s dress and she did all the hand stitching of the vests, during the wedding week.
Amber, my sister, and Lloyd arrived on Monday. Lloyd spent most of his time watching their kids so Amber could participate and help out with wedding stuff. Amber cut out tablecloths and quilt squares for guests to sign from cream colored muslin. On Friday, she began the pie making. Johanna helped a little with the pies that day too but also made hair pieces for the three of them and all the girls. We got a late start on things on Friday, Mom, Isaiah, and I had to get ready for Mill City Market and Johanna and Amber were later than they planned on arriving. Friday’s dreadful heat also lowered productivity. Malachi milked at the Polson’s Friday morning then came to our farm and helped with yard work and whatever needed doing, then went back to the Polson’s to milk so the guys could do a bachelor party for Jesse and come to the family party that night here. Aleesha brought Elena and Isabel, and Leo, twenty month old, over mid morning. Isabel helped in the kitchen and she also put the papers with the lyrics for the hymns in each program. Elena helped wherever she was needed, staying the whole day. Aleesha worked on flowerpots – weeding and mulching them, moving the pots out of the shade. Leo tagged along. She left shortly after noon to get home to take care of her other kiddos. That night we had a family party; Mom, my siblings and their kids, Larry, Grandma and Grandpa Benike, Jesse, Lars and Karin (his dad and mom), Anna and her family, his brother, Adam, his girlfriend, Courtney, Ethan and Daniel, our best man. It was just fun, low key family time, letting the two families mingle and have a chance to visit before it got crazy. Before the party began, Sylvia, Aleesha’s three year old, asked, “Is this the wedding?” – She was eager to wear her new shoes, her wedding shoes. It was an awesome night with the family, celebrating and anticipation building, but the best part was Jesse’s text to me after the guys left early to continue the bachelor party, which was, “You looked so pretty tonight babe,” with a smiley face. And he looked so handsome and ready. It was a good night and I felt so blessed.
Saturday, I woke up to the sound of rain hitting the roof of the house. No, no, no, not rain! We have too much to do. I prayed all morning and most of the afternoon that it would quit – it was late afternoon before it did. Aleesha came mid-morning with all her kids, except I think Malachi came later. They had no power at their house. Thankfully, we did. The power was out for a bit at the Polson’s too. I was busy making bread for crostini. Mom was doing lots of different things at once. Aleesha and Elena started in on pies right away, they had twenty to make. I believe Therese was working on finishing touches on sewing vests. Lexie entertained the younger kids, but she and Isabel also helped with crostini. At this point there was a lot going on so I don’t remember who all did what. Jason came and got Sylvia, and I believe Bernadette went with them, to have naps; Leo was going to go as well but fell asleep before that. Johanna and Amber showed up too but it was afternoon when they got there. We had leftovers from the previous night for lunch; good thing there was plenty because no one had time to make lunch. Isaiah and Jonathan were cleaning their house since we were going to use it for getting ready and to hangout in between photos and ceremony. Cheryl arrived around 4:00 pm to help with food preparation. Thank goodness Anna and Rachel were doing the rehearsal dinner. Ben, our sound guy and photographer arrived late afternoon to scout the place. Thankfully, the rain had stopped so we could do rehearsal. Then everyone began trickling in for rehearsal. We weren’t ready at all – Larry was seasoning the meat, my bridesmaids were still making pies, I was still doing bread. Cheryl took over for me once I had it all kneaded, still needing to be shaped and baked. I got dressed and went out to greet people. I asked Haley, Daniel’s wife, and Rachel if they could take over the pie making. They jumped right to it. Rehearsal was a little slow to start and chaotic to get everyone rounded up. My sisters barely had time to change into something nice, and clean. But we did finally manage to get everyone together for it. Surprisingly, although we’d just had two inches of rain, it wasn’t too muddy. We had a great time with rehearsal, shared lots of laughs. It was getting more and more real with each passing day; it was really going to happen. We had everyone there to practice, including Jason who would be in charge of lining everyone up – the most difficult task partnering the kids. (Just before rehearsal began, Sylvia asked, “Is this the wedding?” I explained to her that we were practicing for the wedding.) Phil had us all walk down three or four times to get the hang of it, make sure everyone was comfortable. The main challenge was we didn’t have the chairs set up for a frame of reference. One time Larry playfully scolded Jesse for trying to take me before he was ready to give me away; so the next time Jesse didn’t step forward to take my hand, Larry asked him if he was going to and Jesse said he didn’t want to get in trouble for taking me too soon. After Phil was satisfied we’d gone through it enough times, we went over to the tent to eat supper. Rachel and Anna had decided to do tacos for rehearsal dinner. I sat next to Jesse, Ethan was on his other side, Daniel across from him and Ben across from me, while we ate. Jesse and I were leaning into each other. Ben commented, “I’ve never seen you two together this way,” referring to our intimacy and being really comfortable with one another, touching. Our intimate group found it fascinating that at the other table Larry, an atheist, Phil and Michelle, liberal pastors, and Jason, a Catholic, all with very different ideas, having a really good and respectful conversation about Christianity while drinking wine. After eating, Johanna turned on music and a disco ball for the girls/kids to have an impromptu dance lesson, which really didn’t have much instruction. This was perhaps the best part of the whole day and the most memorable. I joined in, dancing with my nieces. The intimacy, joy and a tinge of sadness because everything was about to change, made it so incredibly special. It was almost like I was saying goodbye to them. I danced with each one of Aleesha’s six daughters; although at first, Therese was too embarrassed to dance, which added to the fun. Jason and Malachi tried to get her to dance. Elena, Lexie and I tried. Amirianna, Amber’s eldest, who was eight, danced too. Ember, Johanna’s two year old, preferred dancing on the table and walking all the way across the tent on table tops, charming our friends and Jesse’s family. Aleesha and Jason danced a little bit, but I don’t recall if Amber and Lloyd did. I tried getting Jesse to dance but he was too busy talking to others and told me to enjoy the kids. Jason danced a little bit with his daughters and Leo. It was so precious and sweet – I found it interesting that the people I spent the most time with that night were the people whom I’d spent a lot of time with throughout the past week, but they’re my closest people. I will always hold that dance party with my nieces as a dear and precious gift. Happiness overflowed; it truly was a celebration but also a farewell. I paused dancing to say goodbye and goodnight to Jesse, hugging him tight – I didn’t want him to leave yet, saying goodbye to him has always been hard. But this would be the last time I would say goodbye to him because we were parting for the night. Strange thought! I returned to dancing with my girls, embracing Lexie and then Bernadette as we swayed to a slow love song. My heart was bursting. So much love. So much joy. And so strange to think this was both an end and a beginning. I will always be their beloved Aunt Bethany, but I would no longer be their unmarried aunt who lived with their grandma, which brought both joy and sadness. I wish words were adequate to describe that dance, the intimacy, love and how I felt. I embraced each girl long and hard as if it would be the last. How blessed I am to have such relationships. The night was incredible and a bit surreal. It ended with Leo saying my name for the first time ever, while they were saying goodbye, a cherry on top. It felt strange to lie down in my bed, it being the last time. Excitement, anticipation, and nervousness, danced around my head as I tried to fall asleep.
That was Saturday. Wow, so much happened in a week.
We were really close to the road now; this was new territory for me. Birds continued to twitter. Red-winged blackbirds kept singing their conk-la-ree song.
“Looks like a beaver’s damming the culvert.”
“Yep, the beaver has decided it doesn’t like that water going through here.”
I laughed a little at that, beavers are so determined. A moment later, “Looks like a scent mound.” A pile of dirt mingled with dead rushes, a mini mountain. It looked fresh. It was exciting to see several signs of beavers.
“Mmhmm,” responded Larry.
I loved the trees in this area; they had so much character, beings standing in the marsh. Beings of untold wisdom. I wanted to reach out and touch them, perhaps they would impart some of that wisdom and tell me the story of the marsh; perhaps they could recall the history better than any person.
We went around a bend, turning right. There was green! A couple of cattails had begun to grow. A train rumbled by, taking a few minutes to pass. Somehow the train was less disruptive than the airplane. It didn’t mask the bird sounds – twittering of sparrows, red-winged blackbirds’ conk-la-ree, squawking of geese. We were quite close to the train track now, well, we were still many yards away, but close. We could see the train passing by. Larry turned the canoe again, a slight bend to the right, and we were facing north. Vegetation crept into the water. Another big area of open water was ahead of us. I spotted a duck; I was unable to identify it for I only saw its back and at a distance – black down its back, up its neck and head, and brown sides. It flew away at our approach.
“This is interesting; the water is coming real fast up from the river and flowing back in here.”
“Oh!” I took in the trickling water, enjoying the sound. It was curious watching it essentially flow backwards. “Yeah, that is pretty cool.” I heard a duck quack. We stopped at what looked to be and probably was a beaver dam – sticks, rushes, piles of mud. It certainly seemed placed there to regulate the water flow. However, it wasn’t working properly with the water level so high since it was flowing backwards, upstream. I wished we’d had time to pull the canoe over the dam and continue following the meandering channel upwards. I yearned to keep going. But alas, there just wasn’t enough time to. Larry turned the canoe around, retracing our path. Though we were backtracking there was still plenty of things to observe, it provided a different perspective and I noticed things I didn’t while coming from the other direction.
“There’s another scent mound.” This one was a bit larger and further away. “Beavers are busy in here.”
“Mmhmm,” agreed Larry.
The lone goose continued to squawk. Where was it? And what was bothering it? Red-winged blackbird called out again, hoping for a female to notice. Another bird twittered. The naked trees provided an unobstructed view of the road. A couple of trees had buds beginning to open. Their lovely forms were reflected in the water. Another airplane flew over. We went along slight bends and curves in the water. Vegetation encroached on both sides of the channel. Hank whimpered. Dogs barked in the distance. Snag branches stuck up out of the water in some places. The canoe bumped up against some snags and plants, emanating a scratching sound. A noisy goose flew over head. Red-winged black birds continued to call. Relaxing and refreshing; my spirit soared.
“There’s another painted turtle,” I pointed out. We began to hear the purring of the leopard frogs again. I continued to marvel at their song. The barking dogs grew increasingly louder.
“Little too breezy!” stated Larry.
“Yeah.” The sun was warm but the air cool with the breeze. Hank groaned. I laughed at the strange sounds he was making.
“Sit. Sit down. Sit,” Larry gently but firmly commanded Hank. I was enjoying the rock of the canoe and let the sound of leopard frogs wash over me – trying to ignore the barking dogs, taking the opportunity the lull in conversation provided to lose myself in the song of the leopard frogs, that incredible gravelly purr. The bridge came into view – signaling that our time on the water would all too soon draw to an end. Another lone goose flew overhead squawking. A train whistle blew. Hank continued to whine and whimper but at least the dogs had ceased barking. “Conk-la-ree,” another red-winged blackbird called.
“Another painted turtle,” pointed out Larry.
“Where? Oh, I see it.” The turtle had crawled out on to a snag; lying in the water. Like all the other turtles it quickly slipped back into the murky depths. The bridge continued to loom closer. Birds twittered and chirped. There was another lull in the conversation for a minute or two – listening, just listening.
“There’s a big bass right there.”
“Do you see it?”
“No.” A little sad I was unable to see it. I heard the train whistle again, further in the distance this time. I saw another duck, perhaps a lesser scaup – it had a black head, gray back and beak. I didn’t really get a good look at it. However, it didn’t look like the ones I’m comfortable identifying. I’m not sure Larry saw it. The barking of the neighbor’s dogs resumed. Hank whined. A mourning dove cooed. A car drove by on the road. We were now fast approaching the bridge. I observed another small flash of green – a couple more cattails beginning to grow. We were in the shadow of the bridge. Larry pushed the bow of the canoe as close to the bank, at the landing, as possible so I could step out. I had already put my camera away, slung the bag over my shoulder, grabbed my water bottle and stepped out. I pulled the bow up on to the bank.
Larry said, “OK, that’s good.” I quit pulling. He walked to the front of the canoe and jumped out. Hank jumped into the water for a quick dip then ran up the bank and shook off, flinging water everywhere. Larry and I lifted the canoe, carried it to the truck and loaded it. Larry said, “Next time we should go out in the evening.”
Larry expertly maneuvered the canoe around the swaths of vegetation. The deep, gravelly purr continued. There again was a lull in the conversation, both of us content to listen to the marsh, so alive with spring activity – purring leopard frogs, a red-winged blackbird; a group of swans sounding like trumpet players rehearsing somewhere out of sight. And again the drone of another airplane interrupts, which I tried very hard not to pay attention to, trying to focus on the marsh. Hank whimpered and whined. But still the frogs kept going. Some individuals’ noise sounded more like contented grunts, less like purring. Others sounded almost like animated movie frogs ‘croaking’, although more like ‘creaking’ than ‘croaking’ – like the sound of trees creaking in the wind. Each singer a male eager to mate; in the height of breeding season, males will attempt amplexus with other males or anything else floating nearby including aluminum cans. The droning airplane continued on and Hank whined, but even so I reveled in the incredible choir of the frogs; the purring was so prevalent I could feel it, not just hear it, as if it was a part of my being. I enjoyed the feeling, oneness with the amphibian singers.
We had been heading west, across a wide stretch of water until we hit a wall of vegetation, a low lying wall, but not penetrable by canoe. Larry smoothly turned the canoe south, the wall on our right.
“That a muskrat, you suppose?” There was movement in the rushes.
“You see something moving around in there?”
“Uhhuh.” Hank whined again. Water gurgled as the paddle sliced through it.
“We haven’t seen any Blanding’s!” Larry remarked disappointed.
“We should be seeing them,” he lamented. Larry had begun turning the canoe westward again, around a bend, taking us into another channel, narrower than the last.
“Are there map turtles?”
“Ah, there probably wouldn’t be any maps in here. They’re out on the Miss.”
“OK. That’s what I thought.”
“It’d be rare.”
I heard the wild piping of sandhill cranes but couldn’t see any.
“There’s a painted turtle. Ooo, nice sized one too.”
Hank whimpered again.
“I think there’s a turtle right there. Maybe. Or it could just be a clump of dirt. Right by those…hmm, hard to see…yep, definitely a turtle! Hmm, that one might have been a Blanding’s, maybe.” I could only make out the very top, rounded part of the turtle’s shell among the rushes, not enough to identify it.
“Might have been a Blanding’s?”
“Might have been. It looked bigger than a painted…” gesturing with my hands, “it was about this big.”
“Could be, I think it had a dome. It seemed too big for a painted turtle. And it definitely had a smooth shell.” After a moment of quiet, “Oh, there are some turtles!” Pause. “Those are painted turtles.” Geese honked, flying overhead. “One of my nieces, when she was about three – we’d found a painted turtle wandering on the farm and told her it was a painted turtle – she asked who painted it?” We both laughed.
“Sit, Hank. Hank, sit. Sit. Sit, Hank. Good boy,” Larry instructed the dog.
An airplane flew over again. A red-winged blackbird sang. Suddenly, I wasn’t hearing leopard frogs as we went further along the channel. “Conk-la-ree,” another redwing blackbird or perhaps the same one called out. A kingbird chattered. Again the redwing blackbird called. Hank groaned or sighed or maybe it was a “hmph”. The airplane faded. Water bumped against the side of the canoe, a relaxing sound. The landscape was so dreary – cattails dried and brown, the grass and rushes a faded gold, trees bare skeletons. I saw a blackbird perched in the upper branches of a small tree; the red on his wing the only bright color around.
Larry turned the canoe right, into a tiny opening in the tangled cattails, barely wider than the canoe. “A bufflehead ahead of you,” he pointed out.
“Where? Oh, now I see it.” A black duck with a couple patches of white swam in a ‘pond’ area, walled off by vegetation. “Conk-la-ree,” rang out the red-winged blackbird. The vegetation against the canoe made a horrible screeching noise as we went through the small waterway. There was another bufflehead, close by to the first; a pair. I hadn’t seen the male right away. He had more white; a side profile looked like a black streak running from his face, down his throat, neck to along his back. Side and belly white and a large patch on the back of his head. They swam around each other, unconcerned by our presence. I was surprised our noisy entrance into the pond area didn’t raise more alarm with them. I heard a lone goose squawking somewhere off in the distance, out of sight, its squawking continued nonstop for a couple of minutes. A beautiful female gadwall floated on the water, across the pond, near the far side, corner. She was a lovely gray. A chorus of leopard frogs performed in the pond area; once again their purring could be felt within me not just a sound in my ears. I relished the reverberations throughout my body, in the deepest part of my being. A red-winged blackbird wanted to be heard too. As we drifted on the water enjoying the sights and sounds – a landscape waiting to green, ducks swimming, frogs purring, goose squawking, red-winged blackbirds singing – Larry got Hank to re-situate, “Hank, come here. Sit. Sit. Stay. Good boy.” An airplane again intruded upon the sound track of the marsh, droning on for a few minutes. Trees lined the other side of the pond area. Cattails and rushes a tangled mass at the trees’ feet, separating them and the water. I spotted two sandhill cranes flying to the west of us. Though it was just a glimpse, I was excited to see them. I took one more look at the gadwall, wishing she was closer for me to observe better. I suppose Larry didn’t want to get too close to the ducks, this way we wouldn’t disturb them. The water licked against the canoe. Amid all the other sounds I heard the twittering of song birds, most likely chipping sparrows. Larry dipped his paddle back into the water, effortlessly turning us around. Hank whimpered, a long drawn out whimper. The canoe scraped against the vegetation once again, although this time it didn’t create the horrible high pitched screeching, just a lower -pitch scrape. We were through the narrow waterway, back on the ‘channel’. The sound of leopard frogs disappeared entirely back in the channel. Red-winged blackbirds’ song continued, as did the twittering.
Ahead a painted turtle perched on a small part of a snag protruding out of the water. One back leg stretched out behind. Neck stretched out and up, face to the sky, enjoying the warmth of the sun, conducting a prayer of thanks for the sun. As we drew near, the shy turtle slipped back into the water. The airplane finally receded. Now we were quite close to Highway 84, so it was replaced by a car driving by, momentarily drowning out the vocal birds but mercifully was gone quickly.
“Aww, there’s a little paint. Cute.” It slid into the water and vanished. I observed a chopped down tree, the lumberjack a beaver. The severed part came to an end, like the tip of a crayon. A fence post stood next to it. Another tree had a bald spot, it grew horizontally along or in the water, it may actually have been dead. The rounded bald spot, exposed bone, was a knob.
“Ring- necks to your right.” Larry pointed out. I had been so captured by the landscape around us, we’d entered into a more wooded area, that I almost didn’t see the birds right in front of us.
“Right? Oh yeah!” A male and female were enjoying a morning swim. She was nearly a solid color and appeared smaller. He led the way, head held high, proud. His head, neck, breast and back black; side gray, belly white. Despite their names, I couldn’t make out the ring around their necks. (There had been a few bends in the channel to get to this point.) He had a white crescent on his face, just ahead of his mostly black beak with a spot of white towards the tip. They were lovely. Looking further ahead, I saw two more; another male for sure but the other one could have been either. (Looking at the photos later, I wonder if that other one was a ring-necked duck, its markings almost look more like a teal.) At first they swam away, almost leisurely, until we drew too close, then they ran on the water, webbed feet sent up sprays of water, and they lifted off, flying out of sight. I only had a minute to observe them and photograph them.
My attention was momentarily pulled away, “Oh, there’s two turtles.” The water slapped gently against the canoe. Oddly, I no longer heard the purr of leopard frogs while we explored this side pond. Hank, of course, was whimpering, desperately wanting to leap in the water. I returned my attention to the egret, which flew again, this time resting at the other corner of the north end. Larry pointed out another turtle.
“I just saw a turtle sticking its nose up above the water. There’s one over there and one over here.” I laughed, delighted with so many turtles. “And there’s another one.”
The canoe rubbed against a log, squeaking. Dogs barked, another interruption to the tranquility of the marsh. My attention shifted back to the lingering egret. (We’d only been on the water for not quite ten minutes.) Finally, the egret lost patience with us and flew away. I watched it go. Eyes still skyward, I saw two other large birds.
“What are those two big birds up there flying around?”
“Pelicans!” responded Larry.
“Ok, I thought they were pelicans or swans.”
Larry then told me of a large flock of pelicans he saw the previous day. He had turned the canoe around and we were heading back to the pond entrance. Taking the canoe back through the entrance created a loud noise as the rushes and snags scratched against the side of the canoe.
“Oh wow! I don’t know why but I just like pelicans. They’re just so cool looking!” The sound of barking dogs diminished a little while we went through the rushes but resumed as soon as we were on the other side. The sound of leopard frogs recommenced and I tried to block out the barking dogs and enjoy the calling frogs instead.
“It sounds like they’re purring,” I remarked. “Aah, snapper!” I exclaimed, almost shouting with excitement, as I spotted a large turtle in the water below.
“Snapper?” asked Larry, his interest piqued.
Larry pulled the canoe forward and then halted so he was in line with the turtle. He put down the paddle (or maybe he used it to lift the turtle up) and leaned over the side of the canoe reaching into the water. With a bit of effort, struggling and grunting, he lifted the turtle up out of the water.
“Oh, wow!” My voice dripped with awe as I admired the beast Larry had pulled up.
Hank was also interested in the turtle, hoping it was something for him. “Hank, no. No, Hank.” Larry admonished the dog. Larry held the big turtle over the canoe, holding it in front of him, with his arms outstretched.
“Oh, wow!” I exclaimed again, seeing just how big the turtle really was. Although snapping turtles can get bigger, this one was about the size of Larry’s torso. He held the fearsome Chelydra facing outward, hands on either side of it, avoiding the mouth and large claws. Its mouth was gaping wide, almost like a smile except that it wasn’t at all happy about being hauled out of the water. Front legs hung down, webbed toes spread. The back legs up, possibly trying to kick Larry, looked like a jumper’s legs splayed out while in mid air. Tail was curled, almost pointing to its plastron, underside, which Larry had also turned toward me so that it was on display. Its skin, which appeared quite thick, was covered in tubercles, bumps. On its front legs the tubercles were bigger and in rows. This was an intimidating looking creature, a force to be reckoned with.
“Definitely looks like a dinosaur!”
“Want to go back, buddy?” Larry asked the turtle.
“He stinks.” The smell comes from living on the bottom, covered in mud and decaying vegetation.
“Did you get a good picture of him?” Larry asked. He gently placed the turtle back into the water.
“I think so. I took a couple so…” I trailed off not needing to finish, going back to photographing. There were trees on our right and small ones, probably alders ahead of us. Larry picked the paddle back up, and we continued our little voyage. The purring of the leopard frogs was all-encompassing; it reverberated in my chest, a thrilling experience. A red-winged blackbird called out, “conk-la-ree”. A kingbird chittered somewhere close by; its song was made up of high, sputtering notes, followed by a buzzy-zeer, recurring numerous times.
“A picture of him [the snapping turtle] on the bottom would have been neat,” remarked Larry.
“Yeah. I would have had to been right over the top of it.”
“Could you have gotten a good picture?”
“Mmm, I don’t know. It would have been kind of fuzzy [from the water]…” I gazed into the water below me, “There are lots of minnows.”
“Yeah.”The breeze seemed to have picked up, or maybe I just noticed it now that we were out in the open again. The bridge was on our left, a ways away; we were parallel to it. “Something just went into the water over there.”
“What took off, a turtle?” asked Larry.
“I don’t know.” I was watching a pair of blue wing teals swimming in the water ahead of us. I enjoyed watching them, but was surprised they weren’t flying away yet with our fast approach.
“Hmm, they’re not too concerned with us.” I was able to get a nice shot of them. “There we go,” the pair of ducks finally flew away. A blackbird called, he sat in the branches of a tree, which was just budding – the perfect picture of spring.
“Up the hill, past there, the pasque flowers are in bloom on the prairie.”
“I should take you on the prairie.”
“Ok, yeah. I have not seen those yet. I keep missing them.”
“The wind is picking up!” remarked Larry.
“Yeah.” Another redwing blackbird called out. There was a lull in the conversation. I tuned into the sounds around me, the ever present murmur of frogs, redwing blackbirds; the relaxing sound of moving water, the canoe slicing through it, the wind manipulating it.
“Goose nesting platform,” Larry pointed out.
“It was probably never used by a goose. It was probably used by a muskrat to build a house. And then the goose came and nested on top of the muskrat house. So I guess it worked indirectly.”
“Yeah,” I chuckled.
(McCarthy Lake is not a lake but a marsh, the Zumbro River used to run through it; there are large swaths of thick aquatic plants and trees throughout the ‘lake’, in the middle, on the edges, randomly spaced, that are like islands. Then there are a couple of ‘channels’ that meander about, sometimes narrow, sometimes wide. In the spring there are far more wide, open areas of water that become filled in with aquatic plants, including wild rice, as the season progresses. The boundaries of the channels are ambiguous.)
To be continued…
April 28, 2018
We almost weren’t able to go canoeing today. Larry and I had planned we’d go in the afternoon but he called me in the morning saying it was too windy, we’d have to cancel – the wind was suppose to pick up considerably by afternoon. With crushed spirits, we decided to reschedule for another day. A little while later, Larry called again saying we should go out at eleven. I was thrilled to be going canoeing after all. Arriving at Larry’s before eleven; we were able to get to McCarthy Lake, unload the canoe and set out by 11:12 am. As usual we had Hank, the dog, with us.
The first sound I heard after stepping out of the truck, besides male red-winged blackbirds hoping to attract mates, was a sound I’ve never heard before, or can’t recall hearing before, a deep, low purring. Whatever creature was responsible for making the sound seemed to be all around us. I just about asked Larry what kind of bird was making the sound but decided not to just yet. We put the canoe in by the bridge; as always, I stepped in first, then with coaxing from Larry, it was Hank’s turn and then Larry stepped in. He handed a paddle to me, just in case, which I lay down beside me, and then he pushed us off and we were on our way.
Now underway, and before I could ask, Larry provided an explanation for the purring, “The temperature can be measured by the calling of leopard frogs. They only call at a certain temperature.” Male leopard frogs begin to call when water temperature gets above sixty eight degrees Fahrenheit; the air temperature wasn’t quite sixty degrees, perhaps the water was warmer or since they starting breeding in late April they were eager to get going.
“Really? Huh, that’s cool!” How thrilling that the omnipresent sound was leopard frogs! Though we couldn’t see them, it was reassuring and exciting to hear them; we knew they were there. Like their name sake, leopard frogs are spotted, dark splotches against a green background. Leopard frogs were once the most widespread frog species in North America. In Minnesota, their numbers have been steadily declining since 1960 – red leg disease, pollution, pesticides and loss of habitat have been the main culprits for the decline. Being migratory (moving from breeding ponds in the spring to overwintering ponds in the fall) their habitat is broken up by roads. This is also a contributing factor to their decline; I’ve found a few dead on roads.
I listened to the sounds more intently on this adventure – I heard a couple of swans in the distance, the splash of the paddle blade against the water, propelling us forward. McCarthy still had to dress; trees remained naked though some had buds and the cattails, rushes and sedges were golden straw strewn on the fringes of the water of the wide channel stretched out before us. The water level was high from snow melt; it had snowed heavily for three days two weekends ago (the 14th and 16th) and then again on Wednesday last week (the 19th). The cold weather hanging on so long that it had kept spring at bay a month longer, although waterfowl had returned in March. I noted a couple of kingbirds perched in a tree. They added their voices to the mix too. There was no break in the purring frogs and the song of red-winged blackbirds was nearly constant too. The canoe scraped against some vegetation.
“There’s a pair of green teals,” commented Larry.
“Yeah!” I had just noticed the pair tucked near a swath of vegetation that juts out into the water. They noticed us too and were quite quickly in the air, as we drew near. “Oops, there went a muskrat, I think.” An airplane droned overhead, the roar of it an interruption to the symphony of the marsh. We weren’t headed up McCarthy just yet, Larry was steering the canoe slightly eastward to an alcove, a small pond-like area almost cut off from the rest of McCarthy Lake by aquatic vegetation.
“Turtles,” said Larry. He has incredible eyesight; those turtles sunny themselves were barely a bump above the vegetation when he called my attention to them. A duck, perhaps a wood duck floated on the water, almost as far away as the turtles. Trees lined the sightline ahead of us; skirted by rushes, grasses, cattails and sedges. The biggest of the trees, possibly elm, had buds ready to open into leaves any day now. A dead tree sported a couple of woodpecker made holes.
A few seconds beyond Larry’s announcement of the presence of the turtles, “Oh yeah, I see them!” I was just able to make out their forms on a log, ahead and to the right of us – still far enough away I could just make them out looking through my 300mm lens. There were three of them, all painted turtles. Two rested flat against the log, one at the other’s back end. The third was perpendicular to the others, feet appearing to be on the shells of the other two, lifting itself up, Little Mermaid style. All of their noses were lifted high. Larry had turned the canoe towards them.
“They’re so cute!” I admired the turtles. The top one jumped in the water as soon as we began heading toward them and the front one followed suit quickly. The third one didn’t want to give up its sunny spot, lingering on the log a moment longer. I spoke for it after the other two slipped off, “It feels so nice in the sunshine; don’t make me go back in the water,” then as it slid into the water, “Ok,” with a resigned voice. It slid off just as we approached the log. The airplane roar grew a little less, no longer masking the purring of leopard frogs. The turtles disappeared in only a minute from sighting them. When it comes to seeing sunbathing turtles, you have to look fast to even catch a glimpse or be some distance away.
“Oh, beautiful!” In the turtles’ absence, I looked across the small alcove, an egret remained standing in the entangled, dead vegetation on the water’s edge. I was mesmerized, my eyes not straying as we approached, snapping photos one after another. At first the egret had its left side turned toward us, and then it turned around to face the trees on the bank. It shifted back and forth several times, paying attention to us but not yet threatened enough to move away. Then with a showy spread of its wings, it was suddenly in the air. What grace and beauty! Its white feathers were impossibly bright. It held its long neck in an “s”, and long legs dangled at first then stretched behind as it flew. The large bird should have looked gangly and awkward but instead was grace and poise. I was disappointed the egret was flying away, following it with my camera as it left. The disappointment didn’t last, however. The bird hadn’t gone far, just to the north end of the little pond area. Larry had skillfully turned the canoe to the left, also following the egret’s flight. So we were still close to it. Watching it stand in the rushes, turning its head to look at us, Larry observed, “It’s not acting quite right.”
“What do you suppose is wrong?” it turned and walked a couple of feet to its right.
“Doesn’t seem like a very…,” Larry paused to choose the right word, “thrifty egret.” We both watched the bird.
To be continued…
(Note: Read https://bethanybenike.com/2019/03/14/a-blizzard-of-a-lifetime-part-i/ before reading this blog, they go together.)
March 1, 2018
I was a bit lazy on Tuesday and Wednesday too, back at home I certainly could have snowshoed. However, it wasn’t until yesterday morning, Thursday that I finally went out to snowshoe. I’m glad I did! The snow was perfect! I went out again in the evening. This morning too. This time with my camera. Might as well enjoy the snow while it is here.
I stepped down off the wooden deck, stooped over to strap my feet into the snowshoes, pulled on my mittens and grabbed the poles. I was off. Across the driveway, up a steep and tall snow pile – glad of the aid the poles lent. How exciting, standing on top of the perhaps eight foot snow bank! I felt like I was on top of the world, queen of the hill – with a new perspective, providing an elevation in mood as well. Now, how do I get down and on to the other side? I looked for a less steep way down the backside of the snow bank. Ah, there, a little further to my right. A rapid decent down the snow pile, nearly a tumble but for the poles giving me balance. Despite the snowshoes, I sank in a bit. Another step though and I was walking on top of the snow. Along the path through the trees, I trotted. My pace was faster than it had been a week ago, hardly sinking in at all. Around last year’s pig fence. Around the west end of the greenhouses. Past the big garden, hard to tell where the edge of it was. I had prayed for snow, so I thanked God for his abundance as I trekked along the field. I marveled at the frost brushed plants that still stood above the snow, particularly the milkweed pods. I was amazed and delighted to be walking on top of the snow, only just sinking in – last week I was sinking down nearly a foot in some places and perhaps deeper in others. Snowshoeing is so refreshing and energizing. I was feeling better already; my spirits beginning to lift. The morning trek was a balm to my weary soul.
There’s so much to enjoy on a trek across the snow – tracks from critters, the curve of the sculptured snow drifts, the sparkle. At the first set of tracks, I dropped my poles and sank to one knee, took the lens cap off and switched on my camera. Getting it to focus on snow is tricky. The sun was behind some clouds so it wasn’t the best photo. These tracks were tiny, created by a small rodent – mouse or vole. Standing back up, a pole in each hand, I continued onward. Only a few paces away, I dramatically dropped back down on the snow, this time to photograph coyote tracks. It was a treat yesterday to see all the coyote tracks; my reasoning for taking my camera out with me this morning. A few feet further on and another set of small rodent tracks caught my attention, a bit different than the first set. I prayed the cloud would move so I’d have better light for photography.
I’d been heading south. Coming upon the property line, I turned east, still keeping up a quick pace. There were several coyote tracks back here too, but I didn’t pause for them, hoping for better light. The property line in some places is just a row of vegetation, in others remnants of a fence can barely be seen above the snow, and then a few small trees, sparkling with their frost jewelry. Many yards eastward, I came to our woods, the property line turned south again, for a ways before turning east again, wrapping around the woods – I thought about meandering in them but didn’t want to take the time today. I continued onward, the woods on my right, a fence in much need of repair along its edge. Another turn, this time to the left, taking me in a northern direction, woods and fence still on my right.
Northward bound, the sun finally broke through the clouds, just in time for me to photograph coyote tracks crossing my tracks from yesterday. The coyote tracks were encouraging; I was glad to see them – these predators are much needed. The frost coating the trees glimmered and twinkled in the sunlight; it was rather quite dazzling. Nature was showing off her beauty, flaunting it. It was easy to be besotted with her. Yesterday’s trail led me up a slight incline and then another turn east. More coyote tracks. Splendid! I stepped over the nearly buried fence, leaving the cultivated part of our farm for the wild part. I paused to stand in awe of the snow on the slope of the big hill I stood upon. Myriads of tracks filled the slope. I felt like I stood on a mini glacier. Here, I indulged my love for photography and nature, trying to capture the stunning drifts and the colossal amount of snow. Such beauty. Snow adorns the winter landscape, creating loveliness from dreariness. I turned and went back up the slope; I’d only gone down a few feet, stepped back over the fence wire and continued onward. Soon I had to turn again to my left, heading north yet again. I admired the trees and the tracks in the snow, and the sparkle. I noticed a coyote scent post, comically right next to the top of a rusted fence post – this made me smile.
Around another bend, a right turn, and back to heading east. So many rabbit tracks among the trees in this spot. A few feet further along and there were more coyote tracks; but no sign of them catching the rabbits. Again the fence line turned. I stepped gingerly over the fence in front of me. The tracks and drift the center of my attention. Along the edge of the drift, on the hill slope, the tracks seemed to have packed down a spot in the snow. Onward, the drift plunged over the side of the hill, a glacier engulfing the sumac forest. I plunged down the steep, firm drift, stepping over sumac reaching above the snow as if they desired to be rescued. A few twigs snapped off. The tracks were so interesting. Wait those tracks, further down the slope, weren’t coyote or rabbit tracks but bird tracks. Too small to be turkey, I postulated they were pheasant tracks. I turned to follow them up the slope on my right, with my eyes. Wow! There were wing prints in the snow, a bird snow angel. I dropped my poles and lunged up the slope clumsily to get a closer look. Incredible! I walked back to the poles, picked them up and continued down the slope a few steps more, then turned to my right, west, around some larger, less buried sumac. I paused to enjoy the birds. Chickadees and sparrows fluttered about, happily singing as if spring is around the corner. Somewhere a cardinal whistled. A woodpecker tapped a tree. It was a lovely morning.
I turned right once more, toward the daunting slope; I had to go back up to the top of the hill. (I was nowhere near the bottom, still above the middle.) But there was adventure and excitement in the prospect, the mini glacier was more vertical than horizontal. The teeth on the bottom of the snowshoe proved their worth as they bit into the side of the gigantic drift, giving me much needed traction. Indeed I felt like I was traversing a glacier, scaling a wall of snow. I stepped over the fence, climbed just a little further and then I was back at the top. I wasn’t quite ready to turn around just yet so I walked along the fence line north for several more yards. My legs were beginning to ache. I was hot and sweaty. Time to turn around. I zigzagged back the way I came, following in my tracks. Not lingering to take photos, I kept up a pretty good pace, although a few times I slowed as the ache and exhaustion of my legs continued to mount. My physical energy had sapped away by drudging across so much snow, almost a two mile trek by the time I returned to the house. My mental energy, however, had been boosted.
I’m content. The snow can be done falling now until December. But it is snowing as I write this, and it is so beautiful, so peaceful, and so quiet.
‘If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.’ – Vincent Van Gogh
March 1, 2019
Funny how inspiration comes in unexpected places. For instance, this morning it came on my tea bag string. – ‘If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.’ – Vincent Van Gogh. Yes indeed. With the aftermath of the blizzard on Sunday, I was quite bothered by everyone complaining about it on social media and wishing for ridiculously warm temperatures, eighty degrees! (Eighty degrees in Minnesota is almost always miserable; it comes with humidity levels at least that high more often than not, and lots and lots of biting insects from which even harmful bug sprays only give marginal relief. Wish instead for sixty degrees, that’s a far more comfortable temperature.) I was on the fence about writing a blog about the blizzard and this winter, but seeing this quote while sipping my morning tea and then enjoying an hour of snowshoeing in the best snow I’ve had the pleasure of snow shoeing in, I was encouraged to write. Yes, we’ve had a lot of snow in the month of February, record breaking amounts. And yes, the huge amount of snow as caused inconveniences; dangerous commutes, roofs collapsing, school cancelations, and the tiresome work of moving such a large volume of snow, etc. (People who’ve lost their barns to the snow do have a right to complain and wish for spring; in 2010 our steer shed roof collapsed, thankfully not killing any of the animals, and it is definitely a hardship.) People gripe and whine, on and on and on. People complain that spring won’t come until July – complaining about the snow and cold temperatures as if it is the end of April instead of just February. Snow in February is a good thing! It could have spread its self out a bit though, a little more snow in December and January would have been great.
I understand the spring fever itch, especially now that it is March; I understand the desire for warmth, sunshine and green grass underfoot – it will come, it always does – and the feeling of being tired of winter, it will come to an end, don’t you worry. However, wishing and complaining won’t melt the snow, won’t make you feel better. Instead, go out and enjoy the snow! After being gypped on snow the last several years, weathermen promising that this will be the winter of a lot of snow and then it didn’t happen, I was really longing for a lot of snow. I prayed for snow, even while it was still summer, I prayed we’d finally get a really snowy winter. In January, it seemed we’d yet again have a meager snowfall winter. I wanted to snowshoe. And winter should be snowy. The plants and animals native to Minnesota need snowy winters. Farmers need snowy winters; winter kill of hay is a big problem in winters without much snow. Snow is a good thing. Several times this winter, I watched with sadness as all our snow disappeared by melting or sublimation. December and January had been disappointing; we’d get a decent amount of snow and then a few days later it would melt or we’d barely get a dusting.
Then February rolled in. Oh, what delight! Snow storms every week, make that at least two snow storms every week. Several of the storms dropped eight to twelve inches of snow each. Saturday night, Sunday morning was such a storm – twelve inches over the course of twelve hours, falling at various rates throughout that time. The snow had begun falling before we finished milking; Jesse and I walked to the house with snow falling gently around us. Excitement and anticipation filled the air; this would be quite the storm! Wind came up sometime in the night. Looking out the windows Sunday morning it appeared we were completely snowed in. Not only did we receive another foot of snow but the high gusts of wind throughout the night had been busy sculpting the new and old snow creating tremendous drifts. Stepping outside was a bit of a shock, a blast of cold air hitting my sleepy face. I hadn’t realized the temperature was going to drop so much, the wind assisted in the chill. I navigated through the snow drifts, trying to go around the deepest spots to avoid it spilling into my boots – milking with wet socks would be very unpleasant. Stepping into the barn was a welcome respite from the wind. Settling into the rhythm and warmth of milking cows, being in the barn with the blizzard howling outside was comforting, it just felt right. Jesse, his mom and I gathered at the door on the south side of the barn, to marvel at the storm still intensifying. The cold was enough to knock the wind right out of you. But the lack of visibility, the height of the drifts and the rage of the wind was a sight to behold, something to stand in awe of. The wind continued to blow all day, such power and rage. We watched trees sway and bend in the huge gusts, some of which were fifty miles per hour – incredible. I was awed by nature’s raw power – the madness of such strong winds. There was beauty in it and wonder. (‘If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.’) Adventure and excitement. The raw power and fury of nature. And the power to shut down a chunk of the state, which lent to the adventure and excitement. Monday it was all over, except that traveling was just about impossible and not advised, and in fact was restricted. It was a hundred year storm; we’ll probably not see another storm of its magnitude in our lifetime. (Not the amount of snow, but the power of the blizzard afterward.) Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my snowshoes with me to Jesse’s.
March 29, 2018
The winter passed away without me taking a walk on the sand dunes or on the frozen marsh. So Larry and I decided it was about time to go exploring again. It was just warm enough that we could canoe!
As we approached the bridge, Larry commented on the number of birds on McCarthy, lamenting, “There’s a lot of birds we’ll put in the air.” Larry had originally planned to go up McCarthy but decided we’d go down Schmoker’s channel instead. I think there were a couple of reasons Larry decided not to go up McCarthy; first it was filled with birds and he was loathe to put them in the air, second because McCarthy is more open and the breeze would have caught the canoe too much. There may have also been a concern with ice on McCarthy since at 28 degrees Fahrenheit the morning was a few degrees colder that what we had been expecting. We put the canoe in around 7:50 am.
The marsh was filled with the melody of migrating waterfowl, a dissonant symphony of many different songs. I was thrilled to just be a part of the phenomenon of the stopover of the migrating birds. It seems there is always something new for me each time Larry and I venture out. We have ventured out many times while the migrating waterfowl are stopping over, resting in the area before moving on; so I’ve heard the sound before but this time the melody of the migrating birds was my focus, held my attention and awe. The water was dirty from the ducks – I loved the smell.
The first birds to engage my attention was a pair of Canada geese swimming elegantly in the water on the left. We were just close enough to them to make them aware of our presence, making them edgy, watchful and vocal but not enough to frighten them away. Another pair was far less visible and almost unnoticed on a mound of vegetation and snags. They were both sitting. Could they be nesting already? Canada geese are some of the loudest birds I have encountered in the marshes. Sandhill cranes may rival them in loudness and yet seem not as noisy.
We were perhaps starting out a little too early, although it was the golden hour, everything bathed in the morning sun and beautiful but to photograph anything in the southeast the sun was perhaps too low yet – my photos were almost all washed out. Photography wasn’t the best anyway with the birds startling and taking to the air as we drew near.
Larry expertly and effortlessly guided the canoe down the tree lined channel. I tried to take it all in but there was so much to process. Sandhill cranes spoke somewhere off in the distance, out of sight, not nonstop like some of the other birds but frequent. Mallards quacked as they flew away. Honking and squawking of Canada geese was frequent. Larry identified pintails, ring necks, hooded mergansers, black ducks, and wood ducks – he’s skilled, able to distinguish between each bird’s song or call from the medley and able to tell each species apart as it flew off. He was also quick enough to have a glimpse of them before they took to flight. I struggled to keep up with it all, not seeing some birds until they were already flying and vanishing beyond view before I could really have a look at them. I heard the different bird calls, but my brain wasn’t able to isolate each one and pin it to species – I still have a long way to go learning bird calls and being able to distinguish between calls in a medley. And I may be even further away from being able to identify a bird in flight. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the dozens of birds in each bend of the channel. There were always a couple of birds lingering on the water after the others took flight, waiting a little longer before deciding they should fly. From far off, I could hear the swans trumpeting, so very faint at first but louder the further we went. Birds weren’t the only subject to engage my eyes – the landscape around us caught my attention too. None of the trees on either side of us had really started to wake up from winter yet – only a few even had buds beginning to open. Another attention grabber was the size and number of beaver scent mounds. Since learning about beavers marking their territory with scent mounds and learning what they look like, I am eager and quick to spot them. Seeing so many large fresh scent mounds intrigued me. Alert, I scanned the water’s edge for any beaver that might happen to be out. We followed the bends and curves of the channel, to the great waterfowl medley. Larry had to do very little steering, none of the fallen and partially submerged snags lay in our course. The elegance and form of the snags never cease to dazzle and interest me.
We came upon another group of ducks, a dozen or so mallards. Green heads of the males glowing iridescent in the morning sun, emerald dots bobbing on the water. Males and females mixed, enjoying a morning swim until we drew too near and startled them. They protested the interruption as they flew. Again, not all the birds took flight at once. It’s a shame that even in the quiet, slow canoe we were putting birds in flight. We were sad that our presence disturbed them and yet at the same time it is in their interest to not be indifferent to people. I enjoy the bend and curve of the channel; at each new bend I wondered what I’ll see this time.