Nature Articles/Stories

The River is My Friend

I went south as far as I could.  I hit a wall of ice.  Floating ice chunks came from behind me, crashing, twisting, jutting up from the Mississippi where it iced over again, just south of the sand dunes.  It was late January, warm, about 5 degrees.  Eagles were the only other creatures plying these waters.  They found food, an unlucky fish too close to the surface.   I was a fortunate kayaker on a river shared with no one but eagles, I found something, too.Mississippi Wabasha Winter

The River calls year round, winter and summer.  I greet my old friend with a paddle and splash.  Fish jump as I paddle by, a not so subtle hello from the River.  We joke around, I smack my paddle in the water, it turns my boat sideways in one if its whirlpools.  The River looks at me with curious wonder from half sunken logs, then quickly dives back in as a turtle before I am aware it even happened.

The River and I are good friends; I call to it on nickname basis, Big Muddy, Father of Waters, Ole Miss., Mighty Miss.  The River is good friends with the eagles too, the fish, the turtles, the ducks; I guess that means we’re friends, too – I hope so.

 

 

 

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Eagle Goes for Fish, Eagle Eats Fish

Winter is here, and it’s cold and brisk thus far. (Well, technically it’s here in 9 more days, but -10 degrees = winter in my book).  I love the cold days, probably too much, and if you know me you probably have heard me say ‘There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing’ and then roll your eyes and think that I am actually a 67 year old in a 28 year old body.  All that might be true, but what cold days mean here in Mississippi River country are eagles, lots of eagles.

Bald eagles are here all year round, but when the Mississippi freezes and Lake Pepin is iced over there is one bastion, one last holdout of open water where eagles and other water birds too, come in droves.  Right now, due to the cold snap we are having, that section is down from the typical several miles, to less than 500 feet.Mississippi River Wabasha 12/12/2013
Lucky for me I chose not to work at home today and set up shop at Twain’s Wheelhouse Tavern in Wabasha overlooking the only open spot on the river.  I came with the idea of getting lots of work done, but that turned into me drinking coffee and watching eagles fish.  (In my time here I can say there are officially 4 less fish in the river.)

The eagles will get thicker as they move this way throughout winter and spring, come in March when eagle viewing is beyond words.  That might be hard to believe, as I am looking at 10 eagles right now without turning my head.
Back to ‘work’ now.  I kind of forgot what that was, screw it, back to watching eagles fish.

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A Family of the River

The Mississippi River has been part of my family for generations.  The Father of Waters has seen our family through births, graduations, marriages, and deaths.  The Anderson and Finnegan clans are a part of the Mississippi, and the river molds our lives.  As of this writing there are 7 of us, in four different cities, living a long its banks.  (And yes, I’m counting my soon to be sister-in-law because she is so awesome and I can’t wait for the “official” designation as family.)

My dad, born in St. Paul, Minnesota just off the banks of the river we call home.  I’d like to think his parents, my Grandma Capi and Grandpa Don, could see the river from the hospital bed, and soon after, as they brought my dad home for the first time, they crossed the bridge over the Mighty Miss. to their home in West St. Paul, as the crow flies, just a mile from its banks.  I’d like to believe that my dad’s mustache, undoubtedly present since birth, came from a mix of Mississippi River water and the young shoots of a shoreline Softstem Bulrush – just a theory.

2269 Apache

Halloween 1988 in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, two miles from the Mississippi.

My mom, born out in the lingering hills of Butler, PA, soon moved to her home in Mendota Heights, MN, two miles from the river and its confluence with the Minnesota.  There my grandparents raised 6 kids, my aunts and uncles, on a family famous location.  The home is more than a location though, the home was an institution, an institution that branched out from 2 grandparents to 6 kids to 17 grandkids and taught us the treasures of family, togetherness, and the simple joys of life.  Each time I drive by the house since it’s gone out of family hands I don’t leave with clear eyes.  Here’s to you, 2269.

I was raised in the shadow of the Mississippi, a couple of dozen miles west.  I was schooled further north 10 miles from its stretching waters.  I’ve lived on its banks, twice now, and I find it a tremendous source of comfort and excitement, a moving current into the future and a tie to the past.  Not a day goes by where I don’t gaze upstream thinking of my family in the Twin Cities just off its shore, or play (yes, I still play) on its banks, kayak its roaming backwaters, or pull a fish from its depths.

Riverview work station

Looking over the Mississippi as I Write.

And I can’t forget the upcoming, this summer the river will leave another lasting memory on our family as my brother Mark will be marrying his fiancée Kara, on its banks – we, the family and the river, can’t wait!

The river is my home, no matter if I’m floating it in a canoe, 30 miles away in my childhood home, or pointing it towards Apache Street.  It’s a part of me and it runs deep in my family.

 

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Our river ties….

Park Rapids Area, MN
Collegeville, MN
St, Joseph, MN
St. Cloud, MN
Minneapolis, MN
St. Paul, MN
South St. Paul, MN
Lilydale, MN
Mendota Heights, MN
Burnsville, MN
Inver Grove Heights, MN
Wabasha, MN
Winona, MN
LaCrosse, WI
St. Louis, MO

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Feeling Spring

Spring is here and it is during this season we see the aliveness of nature.  You might notice the air smells active, Hepatica pushing up from the Earth, or the trees flush with birds, unmistakably we notice the signs of Spring.Hepatica

If you spent the winter indoors or if you are out with binoculars checking birds off your list or scouring the earth for fresh growth your desire for the new is reaching a feverish pitch.  I get that this time of year.  My binoculars are usually in tow waiting for that first rose-breasted grosbeak, or catching the far off V of Canada Geese.

You might listen to SprinRed-winged Blackbirdg.  The unmistakable trilled “o-ka-Ieee” of the Red-winged Blackbird or the “killdeer-killdeer-killdeer” cry of the Killdeer.

Some of us taste Spring.  The sweet taste of maple sap dripping from the tap into your bucket.  It takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to produce one gallon of syrup, more if you tap other maple species.

You might smell Spring.  Wet earth and decomposing plant matter give Spring that active smell.  The air almost feels cleansing, purifying to our winter weary souls.

Some of us will feel Spring.  We feel it in our fingers as we plant this years’ garden and we feel it in our spirits, that extra sunshine giving us something to smile about.

Spring is felt and sensed on many levels.  It gives us something, a trickle of life we need after a winter of snow and cold.  It is now when we sense the aliveness of nature.

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Drink Tree! White Pine Tea

Drink white pine tea!  It is an easy tea to make and a tasty tea straight from the woods, or your yard, or the park.  Nowadays when I go hiking or camping I save some packing space and don’t bring any tea.  Coffee…don’t be foolish, of course I bring coffee.  But for that midafternoon drink or fireside elixir, I drink from the nectar of Pinus strobus, the mighty White Pine.

White Pine has tons of health benefits.  Full of vitamins A and C (5x more C than a lemon).  It is an antioxidant, immune system booster, and prevents scurvy (but really though, who gets scurvy these days…?).  The health benefits are endless are currently being studied in depth.  Visit The Amazing All-Purpose Pine Needle Tea for more information on the myriad of benefits.

 

The tree itself stands with such a stature in the northern and eastern stretches of this continent that it was coveted by the loggers of yesteryear and of today.  It grows tall and straight and big.  Today, we don’t see it logged as much – and that’s due to how the tree grows.  It is a fire dependent tree.  Once clear cut, the quick growers start to come in, the aspen, the birch, and they grow quick and shady.  Shading out future strobus’ and preventing their growth.  And with how we humans have looked at fire in the wilderness over the past century, it hasn’t had that fire it needs to grow dominant and reseed itself.

Caution!!  Women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant should not drink pine needle tea in general, as some species of pine are abortifacient, meaning it could cause an abortion.  The species to avoid are the yew, the Australian Pine, and the Ponderosa Pine.  To be safe, avoid all pine needle tea.

This is a frequent beverage at the B&B, tastes great and is great for you and it’s free!  Uber easy to make, try it for yourself and enjoy the flavors of the Northwoods.

 

How to brew:

1. Find a White Pine and pick needles.

 

2. Put needles in pot and fill with water.  Boil 5- 10 minutes (the longer the stronger). Discard needles and drink!

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Taking a Hammer to Your Christmas Tree

I was hammering Christmas trees into a muddy stream bank in Northern Minnesota, adorned with chest waders, and chilly fingers.  It’s not what you picture happening to the centerpiece of your Christmas decorations, providing habitat and refuge for trout in Minnesota’s streams and rivers.  It was here in mid–September 2011, 20 minutes from the nearest town, over rough roads, through logged over fields and in a 5 foot wide stream your 2010 Christmas tree might have made its final resting place.

From your trees beginning to its return back to the earth, it has a story to tell.  Maybe your tree is commercially grown, shaped perfectly for your decorative desires, rich in nooks and crannies for hanging your favorite ornament, or maybe it’s wild grown, not having a clue what Christmas is, why ornaments go on them, and why the heck does a dead tree belong in your house in the first place.

Little known is that for just $5, you can go to your nearest National Forest and cut down any tree you would like for Christmas (Just call up the Forest Service office for a permit).  A Balsam Fir, native to Minnesota, and relative of the ever popular Frasier Fir makes for a perfect tree.  What more romantic an image than packing the family in the car, aiming North, and trudging through the forest and finding that perfect tree for our home.  (I always advocate for hot beverages, and for adults, hot beverages with brandy).

33 Million (real) Christmas trees are sold every year in the USA, 93 %of them recycled, that means they are chipped for playgrounds, gardens, hiking paths, you name it, or they can be used in erosion prevention on shorelines and stream banks.  And each tree throughout its life sucks up 1 ton of C02, go real Christmas trees!  The simplest way to find your own tree to cut is Google tree farms near where you live – that’s what we did, and three perfectly pruned White Pines are adorning the house.

I can’t forget my mom’s favorite post-Christmas Christmas tree usage…leave it out back, in the yard or in the woods.  The birds find shelter in there throughout the cold winter and so do various critters.  And the needles can become next year’s bird nest.

However, your tree might be one of the lucky ones, invited to the Big Show as I call it, chosen by the Minnesota DNR to provide habitat to trout.  Pounding the trees into stream banks not only helps to stabilize the bank but it provides a place for trout to hang out, away from the main current so as not to burn energy, but close enough to dart out and snatch passing food.  The trees will also catch debris and sediment, helping to create the important meandering a healthy trout stream needs.

So, get a real Christmas tree.  Do the environment a solid.  Give a bird or a trout a home.  And celebrate with a warm cup of cider and brandy.

Happy Tree Cutting!