Tag Archives: fall

Barnstorming (without an airplane)

7 Jan

I love a good barn. The older the better. So I asked someone I know if he’d be willing to let me explore and photograph his lovely, old specimen of barnishness. Happily, he said yes, and even though the hunters didn’t appreciate that I had taken over “their” space, I spent a good half hour or so exploring the lovely old weathered barn where once cows and sheep and horses (and at least one homeless man) lived. Now it’s home to barn swallows and mice and dust motes.

And the ghosts of chickens past.

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Minnesota and Me

18 Oct

The bird bath has dried up from all the wind and I really must disassemble it and shove it under the deck as the only creature using it now is the cat (“Yummmm…the world’s largest water dish.”) and she’s sure to break it one of these days in her acrobatic leaps from the deck.

We’ve put the hoses in the shed, all drained and freeze-proof. The tomato cages are lying on the shelf beside the empty flower pots. I dug up my two amaryllis bulbs and they’re drying out, waiting to be doomed to the furnace room for the next several months. One of them should be fine…the other one seems to have lost its roots and I’m fairly certain that keeping it is foolish, but I’m an optimist.

My solar-powered frog has died a noble death, though he still looks cute sitting on the deck. In the winter, with a beard of snow, we call him Dumbledore. Or Gandolf. Depending on which O’Donnell you ask. I can’t bear to banish him to the shed…I need something hopeful to look at when the temperatures have reached obscene levels and the dirt road we live on is snowed in like The Shores of Silver Lake and I’m Laura Ingalls.

Dumbledore...aka Gandolf...sans his beard.

The longest we’ve been trapped here waiting for the snow plow is three days. Yes, in modern America. Lucy was one week old. Luckily she was born two weeks early or I could have really gotten to understand pioneer life far more than I ever wanted to.

The tremendous bummer about this time of year – the thing that makes even a confirmed optimist cringe – is the knowledge that there are five months of winter yet to come. But, bizarrely, I’m looking forward to the first snow. If only the first would be the last! There’s something fun about the first snow. The first fire in the fireplace. The first time I wear a scarf legitimately rather than acsessoristicly. (Try finding that in the dictionary!) Any snow after that is just mean-spirited.

Just a cool Fall picture from the neighborhood.


BUT…and I mean this with all sincerity…I chose this life. I like Minnesota, where the only mountains (at least in my neck of the woods) are actually just clouds on the horizon, taunting me with their faux-snow-covered peaks. I have fallen for this trick of theirs more than once. “Look!” I’ll think, my heart leaping disloyally. “The mountains are out!” And then my brain catches up with my heart. “Oh. Never mind. Shoot.”

I miss real mountains. And real ocean. When I first moved to the Duluth area, I stared in dumbfounded shock at the people who said, “Oh, you must love Lake Superior! It’s just like the ocean!” After smiling weakly at these kindly-but-misguided attempts at helping me feel at home, I would walk away thinking, “These people have obviously never been to the sea.” And somehow all their words just made me sad. Lake Superior – while being a very cool/beautiful/impressive body of water and I really, really like it – is NOT the ocean! It doesn’t smell right! It doesn’t have tides that strand you on the rocks if you keep your back turned too long, or tide pools teaming with creepy-crawly life or Bull Kelp that you gather up and make pickles from…at least if you’re really adventurous, you do.

I miss those things terribly. Around here the only sea breezes come from my air freshener and the starfish are all named Patrick and are drawn by some dude in a studio somewhere in California, ad nauseum, ad infinitum, amen.

But, thankfully, there’s this great invention called the airplane. And I have come to realize that it can take me – often for free, thanks to my husband’s air miles – to those gorgeous, mountain-filled paradises. So long as I can get to the airport through the raging blizzards. (Yes. I speak from experience. Several experiences, in fact.)

The thing is, if I’m willing to admit to the absolute truth, the Pacific Northwest is not perfect either, and, truly, I’m not sure that I’d fit in there anymore. I’ve actually lived AWAY from there longer than I lived there. In my mind, of course, I have idealized it. Fact is, nowhere is perfect, except in memories. Or, perhaps, on the pages of a book. That’s why I’m a writer – one reason, anyway – because, when I’m making up my own world, everything is just the way I want it. (Except for those pesky characters who INSIST on turning left when you wanted them to turn right. And nothing, no-how, can force them left. People have a mind of their own – even made-up people.)

You may not be able to tell, but there's a Turkey Vulture in the trees. Some Bald Eagles migrated through, too, but I need a better lense to prove it!


And so I imagine my mountains. I hang pictures of the ocean; of my son, sandy and happy at age two, holding up a shell to his daddy at the Oregon coast. I put sea-shells on my piano and beach-glass on my desk. I bundle up. I cling to scarves like life-vests. I say “uff da” to fit in and I’ve even tried eating Lutefisk. Once. That was enough.

BUT…and let me make this perfectly clear…I will NEVER “borrow you a pencil”. (Though I’d be glad to loan you one.) Because, let’s face it, there are somethings Minnesotan that I’m willing to claim. And somethings that should just be left alone.

Bird Brain

20 Sep

It’s a race against the birds and the stamina of my camera-holding arms. Can I stand here, poised and ready, long enough to actually catch the birds at the feeder, or will I wilt under the pressure of gravity and my muscles and miss the perfect shot? So far the birds are winning.

A beautiful male, come for a bite to eat.


The Baltimore orioles are fattening up for migration. I’ve had about five pairs this year, and I love them. They arrive in the spring along about the second week. Well, okay, May 9, 10 or 11, to be exact. (I’ve kept records of their arrival for the past 6 years. Yes…I’m THAT kind of birder. I think I may have better bird arrival records than shot records for my children. Good thing the doctor’s office keeps records of their own.)

For a month or so I see them daily as they eat me out of grape jelly, greedily gobbling the glistening mounds of sugary fruit. Mountain orioles come to the jelly too, and cat birds, and house finches and even robins fight for the purple goodness. The grocery store puts grape jelly on sale and I buy four jars at a time, receiving quizzical looks from the non-ornithologically-minded clerks.

Lovely birdies en masse.


I hear the orioles through my open windows before I see them and it takes a time or two each spring for my mind to register what I’m hearing, full as my world is of random noises, electronic bears and cats fooling me into actually looking on the deck for the poor distressed kitty while my children laugh hysterically that they fooled Mom yet again. (Yes, I fell – more than once in my youth – for the “gullible is not in the dictionary” joke. You’d think a girl would learn.) But the oriole song eventually breaks through the white noise in my brain and I raise my head – slowly, non-threateningly – and look out the deck door to the pie tin I nailed to the rail the year we moved here and which has survived storm after storm for 6 years now.

There they are. Orange. Black. Glorious. God’s gift to spring-hungry Minnesotans.

I gaze, transfixed, and woe betide the child who races upstairs, lungs expanded, in mid-inquiry, “MOM?”
“Quiet.” I whisper. “Be still. Hush now, and come look. See the dear little things?” Lucy calls them Jelly-Birds and I like that.

More beauty of the season.


We never take the orioles for granted because we know how brief their visit will be. Every time we spot them, child or adult, we quietly call for the others to see. We bask in their presence, are blessed by their melody, amused by their antics. Katie thinks it’s unfair that the females are so pale and dull. I agree, aesthetically, the women have been gyped, though I know God had His reasons.

A gyped female. Still, I love her!


During the middle of the summer, the orioles are nowhere to be seen; too busy raising their family to bother with such frivolities as entertaining the humans. Then, like bookends to the season, they come back for my jelly along about the last week of August, scoping out the neighborhood for sustenance once again. The pie tin is long-since empty by then, and they hop hopefully to the edge of the plate and let out a tiny chirp, a small inquiry, a subtle reminder that they still exist and they deserve some jelly-love to fatten their bellies for their long haul south.

I love this last sight of them, love hearing them squabble over the best bites of jelly. They fight each other off, the greedy things, and I can’t help but laugh, though I dread what’s coming: long, white months of bird-less, soul-less cold.

Another bird that's fixin' to fly away. These pelicans are so great. I love seeing them all summer long.


I wonder if some housewife in Mexico appreciates my birds the way I do. Surely their color alone is enough to stir the coldest heart to smile? Each time I see them for that week or two at the end of the summer, I wonder if this is my last sight of them, my last glimpse until next May. But I never know if it’s the last time – how could I? Then one day I realize it’s been a week or more since I’ve seen them and a small stone of sadness settles into my stomach.

They’re gone now. The geese are fixin’ to follow. It’s fall, loathe though I am to admit it.

Goodbye, little friends. Hurry back.

QUESTION: What creature brings a smile to your day each time you see it?

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