Of Lighthouses and Books

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I found this gem of a book at Chequamegon Books in Washburn, Wisconsin. Would you read it? I especially like its promo blurb by USA Today: “A fascinating romp through the world of ‘stuffed’ animals.”

Somehow the phrase “fascinating romp” has never combined in my mind with the topic of taxidermy.

I did not buy the book. But I was impressed with the bookstore. The last time I visited years ago, the store looked like the kind of place where books go to die. It’s been spiffed up recently, with better lighting, ventilation, and a new back room that makes space for lots more books!

The topics are all well-organized and easy to find. It’s a book nerd’s dream. Stop in if you’re ever in Washburn.

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The back room in Chequamegon Books in Ashland.

While I was in the area, I had the chance to visit Raspberry Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. My bookish theme continued when the lighthouse keeper on the island showed me the traveling bookcase that the lighthouse service used to provide to help entertain the keepers and their families.

And I really do mean that he only showed me the traveling bookcase. Of our group that visited the island, I was the only one who opted for the $5 lighthouse tour, so I got personal service!

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Raspberry Island Lighthouse in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

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The view from the top of the Raspberry Island Lighthouse.

After the tour, I took a hike to an overlook along the coast of the island. On the way, I found this fine example of Canada yew.

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Christmas colors in August! Canada Yew is an important shrub for wildlife. Not often found on the mainland because it gets eaten by deer, it sometimes thrives on islands like Raspberry Island, which have few, if any, deer.

Books and lighthouses: a good combination for an outing….

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Still Living in a War Zone

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The Duluth Planning Commission. Image by KBJR-TV.

The rezoning plans for my neighborhood in Duluth are still alive. (For background info, see my previous post.)

The process is dragging out. Plans to rezone parts of Kenwood from Traditional Residential to Mixed Use Neighborhoods (and thus open them up to commercial developments) were supposed to be voted on at a planning commission meeting last month. But that meeting got postponed until this month.

In some ways, the delay is good because we were able to notify more neighbors about the plans. I drafted a form letter and distributed it to help give my neighbors ideas on how to respond to the commission, and they distributed it to other neighbors who were interested. We also had neighborhood meetings as part of National Night Out, and invited our city councilor to attend and offer advice on how to organize. (He is not in favor of the plans.)

In other ways, the delay is bad because it just drags out the uncertainty longer. At least one home on my street has been put up for sale because of the impending rezoning. I have delayed a much-needed backyard landscaping project because I don’t want to invest a bunch of money in a house that might one day overlook a parking lot or a bunch of business dumpsters instead of the current nicer view of my neighbors’ homes and large trees.

The fight also wears people down, so I’ve been careful not to let it consume me too much. I only pay attention to it when I have to. I’d much rather pay attention to Duluth’s ephemeral summer outdoor activities.

Things came to a head earlier this week when the rezoning plan was brought before the planning commission for a vote. Dozens of my neighbors packed the top floor of Duluth City Hall in the city council chambers, which are not air conditioned and were easily ninety degrees. Lucky me had the joy of hot flashes added on top of that.

True to form with this process, the first part of the meeting dragged out. We sat on the hard wooden benches for two hours before our rezoning issue was brought forward. It took so long that our city counselor had to leave for another engagement and wasn’t able to speak on our behalf. I was so disappointed in that!

The meeting was also held on primary voting night. Who does things like that? It almost makes one wonder if the planning department was trying to bring up the issue on a night when people had conflicts.

In the letter we received informing us of the delay in the meeting date, the planning commission threw us a bone, perhaps because they were receiving so many letters in opposition to the rezoning. They offered to “downzone” two outer areas in our neighborhood that currently could feature commercial development, in effect, making them Traditional Residential Neighborhoods in exchange for “upzoning” my neighborhood and several surrounding areas.

This downzoning was the first of our neighborhood issues brought before the council. During the public hearing time, nobody spoke in opposition to this move, although one planning commissioner was concerned that approving it would “tie the city’s hands” in terms of future development options, depending on what happened with the discussion of “upzoning” our neighborhoods.

So the issue was combined with the discussion of our neighborhoods. The commission gave first speaking rights to those in favor of the rezoning. Only one person spoke: Dave Holappa, a realtor who owns a house in the rezoning area. He whined (it’s my blog, so I can have opinions!) that when he bought the house in 2006, comments by city staff gave him the impression that rezoning would happen faster than it has. It’s pretty obvious that he wants to buy more properties in the neighborhood so that he can sell them to a developer because “developers want a significant land parcel in place.”

Then came the time for those opposed to the project to speak. Five people did so. The first was Jim P. who lives in my neighborhood. He eloquently said that it makes no sense to allow for the possibility of commercial development in a healthy, functioning neighborhood with families. He stressed the city’s need for single-family housing, of which our neighborhood has plenty.

“Development would totally change the neighborhood,” he said. “Why take an achieved goal to try and reach another goal? You’re telling our neighborhood that our homes are not as important as more commercial development.” He stressed that our neighborhood already has enough such developments (Kenwood Village, the shopping mall, a Walgreens, etc.)

As Jim left the podium, he asked all of those in the room who agree with him to stand. In a moving show of solidarity, almost everyone did. I suspect those who didn’t were in the room for other issues on the agenda. (Oh, and I bet Dave Haloppa didn’t stand.)

The next speaker was Tom B. He said that there’s already a lot of apartment buildings in the neighborhood and that it can’t sustain more. Right now, the area has many good neighbors and that the rezoning proposal would not make for good neighbors.

The third speaker was Chad R., who lives in a street behind Kenwood Village, a new apartment development. He listed all the problems that the new development caused for residents of his street, punctuating each one with a tap of his finger on the podium. He argued that the issues caused by previous developments need to be solved before new developments are built. The audience applauded him when he was done.

Another speaker made the point that traffic in the neighborhood is so bad it already takes him ten minutes every day just to get out of his driveway. Because there’s no development project pending for the rezoning area, he didn’t see the necessity of pre-emptive rezoning.

After a lengthy discussion, the planning commission decided they needed more information to make their decisions. They tabled both rezoning issues as topics for a “brown bag discussion.” They will be taken up again next month.

So, the good news is that after we all passed three hours sweating and gaining sore butts from sitting on those hard benches, the rezoning didn’t pass. The bad news is that the war will be dragged out even longer. But at least the commission is taking the matter seriously and is putting time into it.

As I left the building, one of my neighbors commented, “If this is government at work, then it’s obvious that government needs a better budget for air conditioning!”

That, at least, I can agree with. And I’m going to bring a pillow to the next meeting.

Beauteous Billings Park

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People who live in Duluth are sometimes snobbish about their city parks and trails. They think they’re the best in the Twin Ports. I know, I have been guilty of such civic offenses.

Well, I had my eyes opened when I attended a recent after-work picnic in Billings Park across the bridge and the state line from Duluth in Superior, Wisconsin. In all my years of living in the area, I had never been to this gem of a park. It’s gorgeous!

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The park features several picnic areas, a playground, grills, a volleyball pit, and trails along the bay. I’ve been back the the park twice more to walk Buddy and to paddleboard. With a public water access and calm bays to explore, the park is great for human-powered watersports.

20180723_191415I urge fellow Duluthians to put aside their prejudices and explore Superior. Get out there and get your Blue Mind on!

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“I was blown up eating cheese.”

That’s my favorite quote from the 1932 movie, “A Farewell to Arms,” starring Gary Cooper. He says it when he’s in the hospital after being wounded in a bombing. His doctor friend is about to operate on him and asks if he was doing anything heroic during the bombing. All Gary Cooper can come up with is, “”I was blown up eating cheese.” LOL!

Somehow, I don’t think a line like that would ever happen in today’s movie industry.

Gary Cooper

Biking in the Rain on the Alex Leveau Trail

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A view from the Alex Leveau Trail in Carlton.

We heard through the bicycling grapevine that the Willard Munger Bike Trail was all repaired (from the storm damage a few years ago) and open now in its entirety. So my friend Russ and I headed to Carlton, Minnesota, to catch the trail there and bike to our hearts’ content.

The only problem was, the bicycling grapevine was WRONG. When we got to the Munger Trail parking lot in Carlton and started biking toward the trailhead, we found a large sign that said the trail was closed!

Another trail is accessible from the same area, named the Alex Leveau Memorial Trail if you head southeast across the railroad tracks. I had biked it a few years ago, and remembered it was there.

Somewhat disconsolate, we biked that instead. But our mood soon lifted because the trail is just so gosh darn nice. It features views of wetlands and farmlands, barns and raspberries. Without huge hills, it’s an easy ride, and would be a good trail for children to try. But it’s not too monotonous either.

20180730_125246The segment we travelled is 6.5 miles long. Most of it is a paved trail, but when you get near Wrenshall, you have to follow the highway for a while. At the 6.5-mile milepost, the trail seems to dead end at a highway. We weren’t sure where to go from there, so we just turned around and went back to Carlton, although I think there might be other parts of it farther on.

The trail was named in memory of a former county commissioner and dairy farmer who was an advocate for using abandoned railways as public trails.

As we biked back to the parking lot, a series of “pop-up” rainstorms popped up. We thought they would miss us until the wind changed and one caught us. The rain spatters were cold, but we kept warm by biking.

If this had been a romance novel, getting caught in the rain could have led to a passionate embrace in rain-slicked bike clothes. But it’s kind of hard to kiss when you’re both wearing bike helmets and you’re trying to go fast enough to ward off the chill.

So we opted for just being thankful to arrive back to our vehicle wet, but no worse for wear – no road rash from slippery pavement, no lightning strikes nearby. Sometimes, in your elder years, that’s as good as it gets.

A Lake Superior Sailing Experience, Part Two of Two: In Which I Become a Winch Wench

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We sailed in a 32-foot Westsail.

When our sailing captain was hoisting the genoa sail during my recent trip (see Part One), the block for it broke off the top of the mast. A block is a pulley that the line (rope) for the sail goes through. Let’s just say it’s a rather necessary piece of equipment if one wants to use a sail.

We had other sails up, however, so we were able to voyage to our desired destination without the genoa. But the issue needed to be addressed. So after we anchored off Outer Island in the Apostle Islands (the most remote of all the islands), our captain decided on a daring and strenuous plan.

DSC04744.JPGMy friend Russ was to hoist him up to the top of the mast so he could replace the block with a spare he happened to have on board. This feat would involve several ropes and climbing gear, along with the help of a winch. Russ was supposed to pull the rope by hand, which was wrapped around the body of the winch spool several times for support.

My job was to take pictures of the event and pray that our captain did not fall and hurt himself in the process. If that happened, let’s just say we would have a questionable chance of making it back home. So I felt I had a rather important job.

The captain donned his harness and got all the ropes in place. Russ started pulling, I started taking photos, and the operation commenced.

Now, you should understand that masts are tall. I’m not sure exactly how tall, but they seem even taller when you’re on a boat that’s rocking in the water, even if the rocking is gentle.

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Captain on his way up the mast…

Russ was able to get Captain about a quarter of the way up the mast when his progress slowed and it became obvious that more person-power was needed. So I pocketed my camera, put the handle in the winch, and hauled away. Between my winching and Russ’s pulling, we were able to get Captain half-way up the mast where he had a different job to do, fixing something else that had broken a while ago.

We rested while he worked, but soon he was ready to go to the top. Man, we winched and pulled as hard as we could, and slowly, steadily hoisted Captain all the way up. Thankfully, the waves and winds remained calm, and he was able to do his work.

Then his legs started going numb from the pressure of his harness. And clambering up a mast is hard work, even if you’re being hoisted. And I suspect it’s a bit scary up there.

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All the way to the top!

Before he had the job completed, he wanted to come down. So we lowered him, with me standing behind Russ and holding the rope as a backup in case another set of hands was needed to steady his descent.

When Captain’s feet touched the deck, we all breathed secrets sighs of relief, even if the job was incomplete. We couldn’t sail as fast without the genoa, but suddenly, that seemed all right for now.

And I gained yet another new sailing skill on this trip, that of a Winch Wench.

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Outer Island sand spit, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

Other things I learned as a Lake Superior sailing newbie:

-You need to be willing to take orders.

-You have to be willing to be taught everything, even how to go to the head (the boat had a compostable toilet).

-Bring your winter clothes, even in the middle of summer.

-Pay attention all the time to everything.

-The captain is the boss of the ship, but the lake and the winds are the boss of the captain.

-Bring along good food, good music, and good scotch. They can go a long way to make up for any uncomfortableness.

Anyone else out there have more to add?

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Sunset in Grand Marais Harbor, Minn.

A Lake Superior Sailing Experience, Part One: Chocolate Milk and Biting Flies

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I recently meandered out onto Lake Superior on my first extended sailboat trip across it with some friends. We left Duluth, Minnesota, and headed to Wisconsin’s Apostle Island National Lakeshore, and then traversed the western arm of the lake to Grand Marais Harbor in Minnesota.

Since I am writing this, you know I survived the three-day trip. If fact, I would like to think I thrived, despite turning green with seasickness once (I avoided hurling, though!) and having to wear all my winter gear, plus hand warmers, on the 4th of July.

I learned a lot about sailing, but still have more to know. And I got a firsthand look at conditions on the lake, which is useful for my job, since we fund research projects on Lake Superior.

Two things struck me and my sailing companions. The first was the color of the water. Almost all the way to the Apostles it was the hue of chocolate milk. The large extent and persistence of the coloring was unusual. There were also floating logs to watch out for.

According to a news story I read upon returning home, the condition is due to a series of recent heavy rains that have sent thousands of tons of silt into the lake. Chequamegon Bay, on the other side of the Apostles, is also experiencing heavy sedimentation.

Usually, the chocolate milk dissipates within a few days, but this round of it is lasting longer than usual because we kept having downpours every few days. Most of the sediment comes from the Nemadji River and its red clay banks, along with the St. Louis River.

We also had more than double the amount of usual rainfall for the month of June. Anglers and charter captains are having to travel farther than usual out into the lake to find clear water for fishing.

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Stable flies covering jeans during a beach walk. Good thing they can’t bite through denim!

The second notable thing were the flies. Known locally by the name of “ankle-biters” or sand flies, stable flies look like a common housefly but they are meaner because they bite – usually a person’s ankles. I can attest that there are roughly a gazillion of them out on the lake and its shores this summer.

The only thing that saved us from certain insanity on a shore trip to Outer Island was the fact that we were wearing jeans, which they couldn’t bite through.

The flies congregated in seething clusters from our knees down, rarely venturing farther up our legs. Thank goodness they had no interest in our bare arms or we would have had to run screaming back to our dinghy!

According to a story on National Public Radio, researchers have figured out how and why the flies and other biting insects like mosquitos do this. They think these biting bugs target feet and ankles because we are less likely to notice (and therefore kill) them. They hone in on their target by smell, and apparently, the sweat and skin on our ankles smells different from that of the rest of our body.

Besides wearing jeans, we found it helpful to elevate our feet off the ground while we were on the boat. They didn’t seem to be able to find our ankles if they were level with the rest of our legs. Conditions on the boat never got bad enough that we needed to apply repellant, but we were glad we had some along, just in case.

Although the water wasn’t its typical crystal-clear blue, and we had many insect stowaways aboard our sailboat, Lake Superior was still magical. I greatly enjoyed spending time on it, and hope to do so again someday.

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A bear got to this beach before we did.