Linger

I went out for what I believe to be one final nordic ski this winter (temps are forecast to rIsE substantially soon)…the skies in Iowa looked like this…
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The clouds were moving from west to east at such a swift pace, the sky felt like it was sucking me up & beyond…

The trail out back of our house looks like this…
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There’s a hard icy crust on top of the 4-5inch base. The trail was fast, slick, possibly a bit too exciting.

With the wind at my back, I thoroughly enjoyed the ski from trailhead to back fence.  Once I crested the hill at the back 40 & turned around to face the field, the wind smacked me hard.  My throat was already burning from the combination of exertion and cutting raw air, now any exposed skin ached.  I scrunched down in the skis and pushed hard & fast with my calves in order to get the return ski over with & out of the exposure.  At one point I was struck with a fierce headache across my forehead.  The wind was piercing and dense, no escape in the open field even beside the woods.

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In the yard I found Pepper enjoying the warm rays out of the wind & keeping an eye on the House Sparrow colony that lives in our bridal wreath bushes.
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Gathered up my gear & wondered if that was my final run this season…

Slicing across the last of winter’s snow, enjoying the pause that is these cold months, anticipating what lies ahead, but wanting to linger in this interlude.

Soon it will be spring.

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First Ski, bittersweet

June has been riding on my back as I cross-country ski since she was less than a year old.  I’ve listened to her chattering in my ear as I glide along the alfalfa field for four winters now.  Her birthday is at the end of this month and we’re thinking this will be the last year I am able to carry her while skiing.  Very bittersweet.  Brian took her skiing around the yard last night on her own set of skis (Merritt’s first pair).  The equipment was a little too big, but she was delighted with her first ski nonetheless.

Our baby girl is growing up.

(About 20/21 seconds in on the second video she pauses to listen to a bird.  That’s my girl.)

February finds us…

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Trying desperately to ski.

The huge snow we were blessed with this month has become an unwieldy, wet mess that is decidedly NOT optimal (or even so-so) for cross-country skiing. My skis are waxless, which is not helping. I tried very VERY hard to make skiing work over the weekend. I just wound up frustrated.

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Venturing to Faulkes Heritage Woods in search of a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers.

No luck. A very nice couple was out plowing their driveway next to the woods & told us they’ve seen the woodpeckers a few times at their yard feeders this year.  We’ll be back.

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Toasty.

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Building outdoor bonfires & cooking polish for dinner under the moonlight.

Saturday evening was such a great night.

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Chasing more rare gulls.

We got word of several rare gulls at Cedar Lake (a pathetic excuse for a lake, owned by the local power company & leased to the city; it is actually “a river slough that was modified around 1890 to become a cooling lake for the Sixth Street power generating station” according to the city’s website).  We raced over after Merritt got off school, not realizing the gulls are gone during the day & only return to the lake to roost at night.  The rare gulls we spotted (a Greater Black-backed, a Lesser Black-backed, & a Glaucous) flew in well after 6pm.  It was nearly dark.  We were freezing.  I could barely hold my binoculars steady.  My legs had basically froze off an hour before.  But it was so worth it.  While we waited, we observed some local gluttonous Canada Geese eating corn off the top of a train car parked nearby.  The older kids found it crazy.

I promise that is a Glaucous Gull (right).  Could this photo be any worse???

I promise that is a Glaucous Gull (right). Could this photo be any worse???

This is a terrible photo taken with a crappy cell phone through a scope in the waning light. This Glaucous Gull is a juvenile.  A HUGE gull.  There were at least six or seven local, experienced bird watchers/birders also at the lake that night (Monday).  They were extremely helpful individuals.  I don’t think we would have located all three rarities without their knowledge & assistance.  The birding world is such an awesome place.  I did manage to spot the Lesser Black-backed Gull (an adult) by myself as it flew in before anyone else.  That felt good. 🙂

How does February find you?

January Mud

Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac opens with an essay titled “January”:

January Thaw
Each year, after the midwinter blizzards, there comes a night of thaw when the tinkle of dripping water is heard in the land.

It’s a beautiful essay describing a day of reprieve amid winter’s torment.  I re-read it at the beginning of this month in anticipation of winter–finally winter!–around these Middle Lands.  No such luck.  We are stuck in Janaury mud.  And ice.  And, if you live on a homestead with a lot of animals, poo.  Such poo!  My Northwoods heart can’t take much more of this.  I snapped all these photos as I was doing chores in the afternoon yesterday.

I kept hearing Lee Greenwood’s Tennessee Christmas in my head as I slopped through slop.  And a bunch of other sappy Christmas classics. I’ve obviously got a case of snow-withdrawl.

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Come on weatherman,

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Give us a forecast snowy white.
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Can’t you hear the prayers
Of every childlike heart tonight?

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Rockies are calling,
Denver snow falling,
Somebody said it’s four feet deep.

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The song ends with some insanity about not really needing a lot of snow, only needing love, blahblahblah…I really was only hearing the first few lines in my head.
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My ski trail is melting!
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A few flakes were attempting to pass from the heavens to me, but it was slim pickins’. We could really use some snow.

I’ve truly had enough January mud.
I’ll pass on this epic thaw & take a blizzard to go, thank you.

A tender Tennessee Christmas
Is the only Christmas for me.

P.S.  I apologize if you, too, are now humming Lee Greenwood songs.

It’s Friday!

Friday happenings include coloring the neatest {& most recent} paper craft set from Made by Joel with my Junebug. I ended up completing most of the coloring myself, but June has been the one playing with the set all day–such simple fun! My kids & I adore Made by Joel artwork & paper crafts. All he asks is a small Paypal donation in exchange for your download (or not, he’s very generous like that, isn’t that nice?).

Following our crafting morning, June & I went for a ski before the trail completely melts away in the January thaw. Our two cats are always right behind the skis when we head out, silently padding along one track or the other.

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June added herself--"the baby"--to the family & that's me in an awesome handknit sweater coat.

June added herself–“the baby”–to the family.

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Pepper follows.

Pepper follows.

Socks relaxes after his long walk.

Socks relaxes after his long walk.

Merritt's snowman bird feeder.

Merritt’s snowman bird feeder.

Merritt made the sweetest snowman birdfeeder last night after school.

He was very proud of his work.

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Make Ready

Purl

Purl running ahead as we ski. Always running.

Dormant Coreopsis

My sleeping flower beds.

Home

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Reflections of June

Reflections of sleeping June.

Coop

Coop closed for the night.

Feed

One last cup of seed before nightfall.

Archer

Snow begins to fall…it’s coming…

The cold descends tonight…zero-degree temperatures no longer harbor much of a bite this winter due to the polar air that keeps plunging so far south from the North. Brian & I decided to take a quick ski about our property this afternoon in the balmy 30-degree (F) temps before the winds pick up creating blizzard conditions. June took her nap on my back as we skied over several dormant fields surrounding our house. The dogs tagged along. I trekked about the yard afterwards so June could sleep a bit longer as Brian finished up his evening chores. Tomorrow will dawn bitter.  Cold.  We’re making a fire now, warm inside our home as the wind descends & snow kicks up tiny tornadoes across the empty fields beyond our windows. I feel the cold through the walls & electrical outlets. Incredible the changes that can take place in just an hour in Iowa.

Weekend Wandering

Hickory Hills Park {Saturday} :: Winter Hiking

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Dudgeon Lake State Wildlife Management Area {Sunday} :: Cross-Country Skiing

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Snow Wigwam :: Our New Guest House

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We spent Saturday & Sunday close to home, wandering. Wandering quite literally, actually, something Coralee & Merritt apparently do not enjoy if it means breaking trails with their skis on through reeds taller than themselves–oops!

On Saturday we drove northwest into neighboring Tama County to visit Hickory Hills Park. I have never seen a Snow Bunting, a fact I am starting to think is odd considering how common these birds are during the winter months in Iowa, as well as in my home-state of Wisconsin. I had read on the American Birding Association’s Iowa Bird List that a flock of Snow Buntings had been observed just north of the park. The kids have been keen to add a Snow Bunting to their Life List, so we headed out. Ice was quite bad. The wind was horrible. The birding not good. We saw a hawk (probably a Red-tailed Hawk) & a small flock of Canada Geese on the drive. A couple Northern Flickers in the woods while hiking. We hiked to the top of the hill overlooking Casey’s Lake. Coralee & Merritt found two charmingly beautiful bird nests  in the crooks of thorny berry bushes on the hill. The nests were lined with rich moss & now dusted in snow. Berries & wayward leaves had fallen into the nests during this period of dormancy. Coralee desperately wanted to take one home, but we left both intact for what I am sure are enchanting little birds to use again next season. Brian packed a meal of homemade deer sausage, sharp cheddar & crackers. We ate it next to the lake out of the trunk of our car while Coralee & Merritt slid around on the ice near the shore. Deer sausage with a sharp cheddar tastes incredibly good next to a frozen lake I have discovered. I wore my Steger Mukluks on the hike (a gift from my dad at least fifteen years ago) & they are as perfectly-awesome as ever!

On Sunday around noon we tried to ski at Dudgeon on a small parcel of land disconnected from the main park by both road & water. We pass this normally boggy area everyday on our drive to school or to town. From the road it looks so quaint. Some trees, open grassy areas, lots of reeds pepper the parcel. There are trails which appear to skirt around the edges of the entire relatively-square area. We brought both dogs–mistake! Each dog tried to get itself run over at least once by running up along the highway ditch as we skied away from our parking spot.  Those two about gave me a heart-attack. The “trails” don’t connect to each other. Short, little jaunts of about an eighth of a mile each, at best. We finally ventured into the brush & weeds & small groves of saplings to cross to the far northern section which appeared to have a trail skirting the boundary line along a hill. The skiing was atrocious, the kids were off-their-rockers in the reeds which were snapping in their faces, the creek was not frozen completely, it got rather warm & we were all dressed for much colder conditions, I slipped in my skis & fell with June on my back (no harm done, she’s fine, so don’t worry!), my bum was soaked from falling, Merritt had a meltdown in the middle of a particularly reedy area and flung his skis and poles into the bush (that’s SO his mother twenty years ago!!!), our curly-haired “wolf” Archer (Brian could actually pass for this description lately, he needs a haircut!) somehow managed to pick up every burr in the place. We did see six turkeys & once we finally made it to the back boundary the skiing was enjoyable on the hill….all five minutes of it! Ninety minutes after embarking on this calamity, we were back at our car with June passed out on my back & the older two declaring they were NEVER going to this place AGAIN! I wouldn’t recommend it, either, at least not to ski or hike….maybe canoe or kayak in the spring/summer when it floods with over six feet of water or to turkey-hunt, we saw an incredible amount of turkey tracks as we skied.

Weekend wandering at its best, eh?!