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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Spring In Bloom

It's May in the north woods and everything is turning a gorgeous shade of green. It feels like this year we've enjoyed an extra-long spring. The winter was mild, the weather turned warm exceptionally early, and spring has just lingered on and on. And now for the last few days, just when it seemed possible that summer would burst upon us prematurely, in the middle of May, our temps up here have cooled off deliciously and we've had several days of much needed rain, bringing our April showers just a bit late, but who cares, as long as the rain is finally falling? 

Here's the "next bluff to the west" of us, known locally as Cascade Mountain and beautifully visible from our deck and kitchen window. This shot was in April, with that brilliant 
yellow-green of very early spring...

...then a few weeks later, with lots more leafed in...



About the first thing around here to show signs of regeneration is the pussy willow...

 Ferns start wriggling up through last year's fall leaves... I haven't tackled learning about the myriad of different ferns in our woodlands yet... still working on the warblers... By the way, saw a Blackburnian today... 


Don't you just love the green of early spring aspen leaves, back-lit by the afternoon sun? You can almost hear the endless music of those little fluttering leaves...

Our lookout on the ridge, in April...


And gettin' greener all the time...


Whoopee! The lupines we scattered last year are popping up all over the place! Come back in a month or so for pix of those delectable purply-blue spiky flowers...
 If look down once in a while, what treasures are to be found lying right at your feet! 
Here's a nodding trillium... 
 A vine known as purple virgin's bower...


 Our ridge trail is hard to capture on film. In person, it is much more mysterious and other-worldly... Think of every fairy tale from your childhood and all those characters who made perilous journeys through the deep, dark woods... 
 ... but our woods aren't perilous in the least, and the path is cushioned by a thick layer of moss and cedar needles... Mmm, smells great! 

 Take another look down. This is the wild sarsparilla! Local legend Knife Lake Dorothy apparently made her homemade root beer from native sarsparilla root (not the same as what commercial root beer is made of, which is a vine that grows in the Caribbean)... 
Check her out here: http://rootbeerlady.com/


I thought this might be a sarsparilla blossom, but my guidebooks tell me this is wild ginseng... apparently no relation to the Asian variety, and eating it won't help your memory at all... um, what was I saying again?
 This one is kind of eerie... A common (at least on our land) woodland plant called Bluebeard's Lily. Apparently the name comes from its brilliant blue berries, which are highly poisonous.  Here it is before the blooms pop open...
...and now this week the little lily flowers are opening up very sweetly... will have to come back and get some shots of those toxic blue berries... 



A pretty little Canada Mayflower...


A nice surprise for us this year, after some large mostly dying trees came down, and after we beat back some of the icky nasty invasive stuff, we discovered our land has been populated with this nice looking flowering shrub...
 It has many names but is mainly known as serviceberry. Smells nice, and the berries, which show up in June (pretty early for these parts) are apparently very tasty! 

 More woodland blooms... Starflower...
 ...another gorgeous specimen of a trillium...

 ...wood anemone...

...and the flower featured on our "home page" for some weeks, known (appropriately, I think) as Spring Beauty. 

I could keep delaying this post until I have captured all of the flowers that are currently competing for pollinators this week... but what the heck, I'll sneak a few in here and there in posts to come. Check back soon for the ongoing sagas of the veggie garden, our (mostly my) attempts at conquering our semi-cleared corner of the north woods, of yet another new building, and more new toys! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Getting By With A Little Help From Friends and Family

Greetings from Cascade Bluff again! In the interest of filling in some blanks in our ongoing saga, I'm posting today about two big projects that we took on this spring. We had LOTS of help with one, and just a little with the other... 
Val's cousin Ryan is an extremely intelligent and creative guy who also happens to farm in Western MN. He's one of those guys who can solve pretty much any problem, mostly using whatever is lying around... Kind of like the McGyver of Lac Qui Parle County. Word got out to Ryan that we were thinking of installing a gate across our private road up at Cascade Bluff, since we were seeing evidence that folks had been hunting on our land without permission... So, Ryan got to work. He designed and manufactured a gate for us, to specifications, and delivered it personally to our townhome in Bloomington when he was in the metro area for his daughter's concert. It was, of course, raining like crazy that afternoon!

Here is Ryan arriving in his pick up, with the pieces of the gate in the truck, and Val standing by to help unload...
 

Ryan moving gate parts into our garage for temporary storage...
This is where the story goes from wow that's really nice of him to Wow that's incredible!  The gate is made of steel pipes and old manure spreader wheels... Yes, you read that correctly! Really gotta love the ingenuity here. These are the two wheels (from a manure spreader most likely from the 1930's), the axles will serve as posts for the gate. This is really a key point, since up at Cascade Bluff, digging a hole for a suitable gate post would otherwise require a backhoe to pound through the rocks and clay. You can't just go out and dig a hole up there, you have to be creative! 

And Ryan Ulstad is nothing if not creative! 
 Well, he's also extremely nice, and very humble... Thank you so very much, Ryan! You are a prince! (A Viking prince, most likely, with all that Norwegian blood!)

At that moment our plan was to head north with the gate in our own, somewhat smaller Ford pick up, in about 48 hours. Problem was, how to get the gate parts up into our truck bed? Enter our great friend Randy Lewis, who graciously agreed to come over the next day and help us out with the lifting and the planning.

Here's Randy posing with the finished load in place... Many thanks for all your help and practical advice about loading up a pickup, Randy! 

...kind of magnificent, isn't it?
 ...fortunately I remembered to buy straps to hold the whole thing down...
No trip north on the freeway with a gate poking out the back of your truck would be complete without a blast of caffeine, right? 



We arrived uneventfully at Cascade Bluff and unloaded the gate. Now the idea behind those manure spreader wheels is that you simply set them on the ground (no post hole diggers required) and pile up a bunch of rocks on the wheels to hold them in place. 

Turns out, rocks is one resource we have aplenty up at Cascade Bluff! 
This was the first truckload of rocks... It ended up taking about five truck-bed-loads full... (heaves big sigh)

The first few rocks in place, with the upright and cross beam of the gate threaded onto the old wheel axle...

And more rocks... 

 We got more help from our friend Nick, who helped with the set up of leveling everything out and bolting the gate crossbeams in place...

Val and Nick, official Cook County Gate Inspectors at work...
 Here's a man who loves his work! Thank you, Nick!

Ta da! We have a completed gate, and that sucker is not going anywhere! Look at all those rocks-- must weigh about a ton on each side! 

Look closely at the gate, now complete with reflectors! We are ready for anything now...


Our second big spring project was something akin to bringing coals to Newcastle... (We've been to Newcastle, by the way, and guess what their main industry is: coal mining... ) We decided to plant some trees!  As one of our dear friends Linda, said, when she heard about this project: OMG, you live in a X@%^&8!! forest, why do you want to plant more trees???  All too true, but the problem is we've got lots of the wrong kinds of trees, and would like more of the right kind of trees!  If you hear Kathy's voice behind this particularly loony idea, you are absolutely correct... 

We heard about an opportunity to buy bare root saplings of native trees and shrubs through the Soil, Water and Conservation service... Sent in out forms and check in April, and in May, came to town to pick them up... 
We met our friend Maxine for coffee beforehand... Max is a Master Gardener for Cook County, MN, and is generous with her time and advice about all things gardening... Thank you so much, Max! 
Our sack of bare root trees in the back seat, ready to go... 

Now these little fellas don't look like much at this point, so I spared my readers from photo after photo of all 25 white pines, 25 mountain ash, 20 sumac and assorted dogwood, nannyberry, native plum and highbush cranberry bushes... But couldn't resist a few close ups of the newcomers!

A cute little white pine...
 A line of sumac on some ground that was shoved around during construction. Staghorn sumac are reputed to grow well on disturbed, clay soils and hold the banks in place well to prevent erosion, a perfect solution for us for this spot. And we look forward to the fabulous orange and red fall colors, too. These "saplings"--ie, sticks--look for all the world like they are dead as can be... but a few days later were sprouting leaves...
 For those not familiar with the area, these north woods were once dominated by huge, magnificent white pines, red pines and the ancient white cedars... pretty much only the cedars are left. The pines fell to our axes since their wood is straight-grained and terrific for building things (think tall ships masts). If you've never been in a mature white pine forest, you've missed something very special. These behemoths of the tree world are tall and straight, with branches coming off far above and long needles. When the wind moves, it sounds like soft hissing... the eponymous "whispering pines"... With a more recent shift in the climate and environment, white-tailed deer are now far more common up here than a century ago, dislodging the moose and woodland caribou. Caribou and moose ignore the pines, but guess what deer love to eat more than anything? You guessed it, white pine seedlings. Hence the fencing around the trees, which we will have to replace with taller, bigger circles as they grow -- but hey, that's a while off... 
In the meantime we are planning to do our best to help our new guys thrive. Wish us and our new "right" trees all the best!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Goin' With The Flow

It's been quite a while since my last post, but lots has been happening at Cascade Bluff. I have some catching up to do with photos and updates, so here goes. 

This year's early spring thaw led to some pretty spectacular waterfalls. These first few are the falls of Cascade River that are about 1.5 miles above our property. They run through a section that is shared by all the property owners in our "association". Though you can't see them in these photos ('cause I can't get a shot without standing in the middle of the stream) they are a double falls, in total about 15 feet or so high. This was the rush of water in late March of 2012...




We visited Grand Portage State Park in late March, too. Within a short walk of the visitors' center is High Falls -- and were they ever a-pumpin'! 


For those of you who complain that I never post pix of us (or of me, more precisely), here we go... proof that we were there! 


So of course, with an early thaw, a gardener's thoughts turn to... vegetables. But even an early spring can be dicey at latitude 47 degrees, so I talked Val into making us a cold frame this year. For those of you not "in the know" gardening-wise, a cold frame is a box with a glass or at least clear top that sits in your garden and allows sunlight in but keeps frost out, like a mini-greenhouse. We schlepped to our favorite local hardware store and bought some corrugated plastic panels....

 ...Val got planning and measuring and started combing through our continuously shrinking pile of scrap lumber left over from the construction project (s)...
 ...and a half a day later, voila! A cold frame, made from plywood, some wood siding, some 1 by 4 lumber, a lot of screws and ingenuity...
 The scraggly girl wearing tye-dye is me, proudly showing off the cold frame in place in our raised bed. Even we weren't dumb enough to plant anything in it in March, however...



The home lumberjane's work is never done... We can see that our current wood piles are dwindling, and we need to set some by for winter 2013... Yes, you read that right... We chose about 7 or 8 feeble looking birch trees and got to work... Val wearing the appropriate protective gear... Me filming the event for the 6 o'clock news...

Some of these trees are not all that handy to get to with a vehicle, so it was nice to have a sled to drag them out of the woods...
 ...and there will be lots more of this coming...
 Just wait til you see how much we've got done when the next posting comes out! You'll be amazed... well, I was amazed, anyway...


What the heck is going on here, you might well ask? This, friends, is a northern gardening experiment. Being determined to have some actual flowers that are hardy for this climate, and hoping to choke away some of the nasty burrs and spiny junk that sprouted out of the disturbed construction earth, I tried this little experiment this year. Each plastic jug is a small green house (starting to get the theme?) for a kind of wildflower perennial that will grow well up here, but that isn't easy to get going directly from seed. These guys like to be "overwintered" before the seeds will sprout reliably. So you have your choice, to sow this year, hope the birds don't eat everything, and hope for plants next year, or try this....

 Here are my little greenhouses sitting outside in the cold and snow, "overwintering" for a month or so as a short-cut... at least that's the theory...
 These little baggies are my attempt to sprout some mountain ash seedlings from seeds we gathered last fall... again, a nice theory...
 Close up of greenhouse style #2...
 Some gloomy late winter weather... but alas, it wasn't enough. 
 This year, the spring was so fast and so warm, that my little greenhouses turned into fungus factories... no cute little wildflower plants! Aw, darn, and we spent so much on all those plastic jugs and plastic salad boxes!! 
 Well never say that we are at a loss in making work for ourselves... Heaven forbid that we would ever just sit in the cabin and read or something... 
There is more scrap lumber to change into something useful, so....
 Val designed me a gardening bench! 
 Not bad at all for a cardiologist...
 Here is the bench in place, awaiting some pots and stuff...

Finally, this spring we were determined not to be overwhelmed again by the Invasion of The Cluster Flies! We asked around among friends and found these two heroes! Meet Bill and Katie Dalin. They are the owners of a local company called North Shore Superior Pest Control, and they are fantastic!  One treatment with something made of chrysanthemum powder, of all the cool things, and the cluster fly population dropped to nearly zero. Yay!! 


But even heroes can't keep the mud off their vehicle when they visit our place in the woods! 

Next posting coming soon -- lots of new things to show off and promises to keep!