A Family Tradition Returns

The beginning of the Pramann Family in the United States. Johanna is in the center row on the left. Her husband Johan must no longer have been living at this time. Her son, Henry and his bride Margaret, are in the center row, right. Their multiple children make up the rest of the photo. My grandfather is the dapper dark-haired boy in the back row, second in from the left. Otherwise, it’s kind of a rough-looking bunch! I like that they included their bird in the photo (see cage in background).

Every two years during the second Sunday in June, members related to my father’s side of the family gather south of St. Cloud, Minnesota, and celebrate our relatedness. The Pramann Family Picnic began in central Minnesota in 1957, one hundred years after the original family farmstead was founded. (1857, which was one year before Minnesota gained statehood. The picnic was begun on the centennial on purpose.)

The “founding couple” (my great-great-grandparents Johan and Johanna Pramann) immigrated from Othfresen Germany. It’s speculated that they left, even though Johan’s family were the major landholders in the area, because Johan would not inherit the land because he was not the oldest son. Apparently, there was a tradition that the oldest son inherited the land and the younger sons were given money to build a house in town. Maybe that wasn’t good enough for Johan, so he came to the United States to seek his own land, with his wife and a foster daughter (Augusta, age six) in tow.

My grandfather, John Pramann

They spent seven weeks on the ocean and finally arrived in New Orleans, taking a boat up the Mississippi River. They disembarked in St. Paul, loaded their meager belongings on an ox cart, and walked beside the cart (the cart was small and there was no room to sit!) 77 miles to St. Cloud, Minnesota, where they stayed with some friends. That must have been a long trip.

Eventually, they settled in Fair Haven and had one son named Henry, who was my great-grandfather. Johan and Johanna were fairly successful farmers in spite of bad times, such as blizzards, fires, and grasshopper plagues.

Henry met his wife Margaret after she immigrated from Switzerland. They had seven boys and three girls. My grandfather John was their second son and was born in the family’s log cabin.

At our family reunion, those gathered usually identify themselves by which of the second-generation American children of Henry and Margaret they are related to. All I need to say is that I’m “John’s granddaughter” and the relative I’m speaking with can visualize where I fit in the family tree.

According to a biography that my Aunt Marguerite wrote, John was a good student. He went to the country school nearby and “remained in the top eighth grade for three years, he said, ‘until I learned all the teacher could teach me.’” With his older brother set to inherit the land, he realized the farm did not hold much of a future, so he went into town to get business training. That’s why my family aren’t farmers.

John moved to Minneapolis and worked for a hardware wholesale company (Janney, Semple, Hill and Co.) for two years and attended an evangelical church there (as did his two sisters) where he met his future bride Louise, “a blue-eyed young woman whose family attended the church and who was employed as secretary to the president of Metropolitan National Bank.”

My grandmother, Louise (Bonsack) Pramann

They moved to St. Cloud, which is about fifteen miles north of Fair Haven, where my grandfather eventually worked as a banker and insurance agent. He built their house with his own hands, but alas, it is not standing anymore. The neighborhood was demolished for a parking lot. Somewhere along the line, they switched religions from evangelical to Methodist, although I guess they are closely related.

One thing perhaps a bit unusual about this side of the family is that they had their own cemetery and church. In 1873, the Pramanns donated some farmland to the Evangelical Association so they could build the church and cemetery. A church was built in 1880 and was known as Gethsemane. The church was officially incorporated in 1887. Services were held there regularly every three or four weeks in the afternoon until 1920. The church is no longer standing. Henry and Margaret are buried in the cemetery, as are Johan and Johanna.

The Pramann Family Picnic was delayed by the pandemic. We hadn’t gathered since 2018, so I was keen to continue the tradition when it returned this year. About one hundred of us gathered in the city park picnic shelter in Fairhaven, Minnesota, last weekend. Everyone brought a dish to share and their own silverware and plates. I brought potato salad made from my mother’s recipe (with black olives, mustard, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar and dill). She often used to make it for these occasions. Families tend to sit together, but also mill around and talk to other relatives they haven’t seen in a while. Most live locally or elsewhere in Minnesota, but sometimes relatives from out-of-state attend. (Pramanns live in New York, Louisiana, and the West Coast.)

After dessert (ice cream is a family tradition and must be served!), a family meeting ensues, conducted according to Robert’s Rule of Order, where minutes from the previous family meeting are read and approved. There’s a treasurer’s report, new family picnic organizers are elected, and various family members are recognized for their youth or age. In the past, people have verbally noted new deaths and births, but this time, everyone was encouraged to write those down on a special form so the family tree could be updated later.

The picnics originally were held at the homestead farm. Then they moved to the city park in Annandale, Minnesota, and then to Fair Haven. In the past, the group sung hymns and pledged allegiance to the flag, but now we just eat, talk and meet.

The Pramann homestead farm outside of Fair Haven, MN, as it looks today.

The weather can be unsettled in this part of the country in June. As a child, I remember my family packing up and leaving one picnic early when the sky turned a sickly green from an oncoming tornado. For last week’s picnic, Russ and I drove through an unexpected rainstorm on the way.

I had never seen the cemetery and church site, or the original homestead before (that I can remember), so, when the chance came to visit them during the picnic, I was eager. A cousin led us on the car ride north of town and down a gravel road to the sites.

The trees were the first thing I noticed about the small cemetery. Several pines tower over it, one with graceful twisting limbs. These trees feed on the bones of my ancestors.

Headstones bearing the name Pramann and other surnames from Gethsemane churchgoers dot the ground. Some markers are written in German. Some are so old the writing had eroded away. Some are so modern their occupants haven’t died yet. Farmland surrounds the cemetery and the Pramann homestead is visible a short way down the road.

Several other relatives arrived at the cemetery after us and regaled us with old family stories. One, that I recall hearing before, involved “how Johanna fed the Indians.” The story was written by my grandfather John (in “Some Facts on the Genealogy of the American Branch of the Pramann Family” – Jan. 1964), but basically, Johanna was home alone one day, cooking. A group of Native Americans – probably Dakota (Sioux) – arrived and asked for something to eat. According to my grandfather’s account, “She placed the large kettle on the floor, where the group sat and ate potatoes and even unbaked dough. After finishing their eating, they left, but a few days later, a whole venison was left on their doorstep.” The couple thought it might have been left in thanks for the food Johanna had provided.

Thankfully, their interactions with the natives were peaceful, or I might not be here to write this blog.

My grandfather John was interested in genealogy and was instrumental is beginning the Pramann Family reunion. My aunt found this prayer in his papers, which he must have recited for one of the reunions. Although dated and patriarchal, I think it sums up the thankfulness that many immigrant families must feel on coming to the United States.

We thank thee, our heavenly father, for the foresight of our forefathers in migrating to this free county where we can worship as we wish. In thy sight we are all equal regardless of nationality, color, creed, or church affiliation.

Lord Jesus, as thou “didst break the bread and bless the loaves by Galilee” bless our food and pour thy heavenly benediction upon us, receive our thanks and keep us all in perfect unity with each other and with thee.

Amen

The Pramann Family Picnic meeting commences in the Fair Haven city park picnic shelter, 2022.

Trillions of Trilliums

Great white trilliums, Trillium grandiflorum

When Russ alerted me to the presence of trillium wildflowers as we cycled along the Munger Trail near Duluth, I leapt off my bike, dug my phone camera out of the seat pack, and haphazardly laid my bike on the shoulder as I scampered to get a closer look at the white beauties.

Russ was probably having a minor heart attack at my treatment of my bike, but the sight was worth a little equipment abuse. You see, trillium blooms only last for a short window of time each spring. Because I’ve missed seeing them the past few years, I didn’t want to miss the spectacle this year.

The flower’s three white petals make it easy to recognize. Sometimes they turn pink when stressed by cold or aging. They don’t have a scent, but for me they epitomize the North and the glories of living life here. They grow in maple or beech forests in eastern North America, as far west as Minnesota. It’s also the official symbol of Ontario Canada.

A pink trillium, which means that it’s stressed out.

This is one flower species best left alone in its natural habitat. If you want some for your garden, make sure you purchase cultivated trilliums, not wild ones that have been dug up. There’s some controversy over whether there are actual cultivated trilliums. If anyone knows a reputable source, let me know!

Trilliums sprout from bulbs and take seven to ten years to bloom in the wild. So, think twice or even three times before you go picking that pretty white flower. It’s really better just to take photos and enjoy them that way.

I took a few pictures of the flowers along the trail, then we continued our ride. Eventually, we turned around and took a bit of a different route back.

After being so excited to see a few trilliums, imagine how excited I was on our return trip to see whole hillsides covered with them! To get close enough for photos, I had to scale a ravine and fend off a million mosquitoes. But it was worth it because I saw a pink trillium close-up as well as trillions of trilliums on the hillside. Note: I did not step on any trilliums in the process.

I ended the ride feeling replete with trilliums, and that’s a rare feeling indeed.

Trilliums as far as the eye can see makes for a happy Marie.

Bikes Before the Storm

“Bikes Before the Storm,” taken at Joni’s Beach on Madeline Island in Lake Superior.

A photo I took last summer earned an honorable mention in a national “Coastal Love” contest organized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management. The images chosen celebrate America’s coastlines – both salt and freshwater.

Sailboats moor off the beach and I suspect the bikes were there for boaters to use to get around town after they row ashore in their dinghies. I was on the beach for a sunrise shoot, but as you can see, the sun was not cooperating.

Getting photo honors is a first for me, so I’m pretty psyched. You can see the other winners here: https://coast.noaa.gov/about/photo-contest/.

To see more of my photos, visit my photo collection page.

Marie Does Kickboxing

I’m not sure what got into me last week. I saw an ad on Facebook and signed up for a free kickboxing lesson at a gym within walking distance of my house.

Well, I do sort of know what got into me. At the beginning of this year, I grew aghast at the post-menopausal weight that had crept upon my thighs (and butt!) with little pig’s feet, so, I signed up for Noom, an app that helps you track your food intake, exercise, steps taken, and thought processes around food.

The program has been very helpful and effective. I’ve lost eighteen pounds so far and still have a few more to go. I can tighten my belt three or four more notches than before. Pretty soon I’ll need to buy smaller jeans!

I noticed the gym when it opened a few years ago and joked with my girlfriends that we should try it, but in my mind, I figured the sport was for people younger than those in their late (ahem) fifties. But since losing weight, I’ve been feeling a bit feisty and ready to try something new. Plus, the more weight that comes off, the harder it is to lose because your body becomes more efficient using calories. One of the things Noom suggests to counteract this is to up the intensity of your workouts. Kickboxing would certainly be more intense than walking, biking, and elliptical striding, which is what I’ve been doing.

My main goal with this lesson was not to get broken. Having fun would be a plus.

I just returned from my lesson and I *think* I’m still intact (I’ll know better tomorrow after the stiffness sets in). And, it was FUN. I enjoyed punching the crap out of something without any social consequences. I must have subterranean anger that needs an outlet! Plus, the music was good.

Here’s how it works: The instructor interviews you about your fitness goals, motivations and any injuries you may have. Then it’s time to get moving. There are nine stations. You exercise alone at a station for three minutes. Then there’s a thirty-second interlude where the staff call out different exercises for everyone to do, like holding a plank position or doing mountain-climbers. Then everyone moves to the next station. Instructions for what to do are written on placards at each station. Time is kept by a lighted box on the wall.

Station exercises include sit-ups, kicking a heavy bag, doing uppercut punches on a wrecking ball-type heavy bag, and practicing traditional punches on a speed bag. The exercise I failed miserably at was jump roping. Apparently, jumping is not in my adult repertoire of activities. The activity I was surprised I could do fairly well were sit-ups while holding a medicine ball.

I like that, even though you work out at a station alone, you’re with other people who are working out in the same room. It’s rather like weight-lifting that way. But on the thirty-second interludes between stations, everyone works together doing whatever torture, er… exercise the instructors call out.

At the end, the instructor had me step on a machine that calibrates body composition. It basically said what I already knew – I’m doing pretty good for my age but could lose a few more pounds.

Then, the instructor outlined the three monthly exercise plan options they offer. I chose the cheapest one (because I’m cheap) and was issued my VERY OWN boxing gloves (I chose pink and black), wrapping tape, and heart monitor. I was also able to choose my own boxing superhero name, which will be shown on the public monitor display in the workout room. I chose “Magma” because it starts with M like Marie, plus cuz I’m so hot.

I may regret all this tomorrow when I can’t get out of bed, but for now, I’m feeling pretty darn good, and for a Minnesotan, that’s saying a lot.

Westward Ho! Part 2 – Lake Tahoe

Lower Eagle Falls on its way into Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe. Fannette Island is in the background.

After Russ and I spent a few days in Yosemite National Park (see Westward Ho! Part 1), we drove north on twisty-turny mountain roads to visit Lake Tahoe, famed for its crystal-clear waters and scenic mountain vistas.

We had a few days there by ourselves before my youngest son and his lady friend arrived to join the fun. The weather cooperated while we were by ourselves – 70 degrees and sunny, which was similar to the weather we experienced in Yosemite, and much different than the rainy, gray weather in our hometown of Duluth. We felt so fortunate to escape and soak up some Vitamin D sunshine for a while. Snow crept in for the latter part of our trip, but it was a mountainesque snow globe kind of snow, much prettier than what we get at home, so we weren’t bothered.

The view out the back window of our condo.

The first thing that struck me was that the forests seemed healthier than those in Yosemite. Yes, there were some burned over areas, but they were few and far between compared to Yosemite. Apparently, the drought wasn’t as severe here.

Our condo in South Tahoe backed up against a National Forest, so we had a view unmarred by evidence of humankind, which was fine by me. Tall ponderosa pines and scattered boulders greeted us each day.

Fannette Island in Emerald Bay

Our first stop was Emerald Bay Vista, just outside of South Tahoe. Wow! What a view. This picturesque bay is probably the most-photographed feature of Lake Tahoe, with its turquoise waters and conical island in the middle. The island is named Fannette Island and it sports a small square stone building at its peak, which was built as a tea house by the people who used to live in Vikingsholm, an impressive Nordic-style house on the shoreline nearby.

We also hiked to Cascade Falls, a waterfall that empties into Cascade Lake, which is not far from Emerald Bay. Despite what the Internet and guidebooks say, the hike is NOT easy (don’t believe them!). Maybe the beginning of the hike is easy, but the trail quickly turns into a strenuous, rock-strewn and up and down experience. The falls themselves weren’t that impressive, but the views of Cascade Lake and Emerald Bay almost made up for it.

The next day, we hiked to Lower and Upper Eagle Lake Falls (the trailhead is near the Emerald Bay vista). The lower falls is right near the highway and if you don’t have a lot of time, I’d suggest you spend it here rather than hiking to the upper falls. At the lower falls, you can walk right up to the top of the waterfall where it spills precariously down the mountainside and into Emerald Bay – super impressive!

The Safari Rose tour boat.

That evening, we took a champagne sunset cruise aboard the Safari Rose, an aging luxury yacht that used to be the company boat for Minnesota’s 3M Corporation (think post-it notes). Its African-themed décor was probably quite the thing back in 1959 when it was built, although it doesn’t really stand the test of time. The outside of the boat looks like it could use some TLC. But, we enjoyed the cruise into Emerald Bay and the chance to see Fannette Island up close.

One tip: get in the line to board the boat early because seating is limited. We did not know this and ended up sharing a table with a very accommodating family of four from California who didn’t mind having a couple old folks sitting with them.

We ended up taking a day cruise later in our stay with my son and his girlfriend on the same boat. The tour narrative included new information, so we feel like it was worth doing it twice to learn new things (plus, we got our own table this time!)

Nevada Beach

A paved bicycle trail runs through the forest in many places, including near our resort. We used it to access Nevada Beach and Round Hill – home to a fifty-year-old closed resort. Its buildings are still intact and provide an interesting diversion among the trees.

One of our last days, we drove around the entire lake. Some of our relatives had raved about the town of King’s Beach on the north end of the lake and said we “had” to see it. Perhaps because it was early in the season (and snowing) many of its attractions were closed. But we found a good gift shop and did our best to support the local economy.

On our very last day, after finding a trail we wanted to hike closed, we ended up walking on the paved bike trail to Baldwin Beach during a gentle snow fall. On our way back to our car, we had the privilege of glimpsing a black bear, which was walking on a large downed tree about 100 feet away from us. Luckily, the bear was afraid of people. As it reared back its head to turn around and hightail it back the other way down the tree, I caught a glimpse of a white ruff of fur on its neck. We were glad the bear was running away from us and not toward us.

After enjoying ten days off, reentry into the workaday world was unpleasant for me, especially because I had a big event to host the day of my return, but I wouldn’t trade this trip for anything. Tahoe is truly beautiful, as I hope my photos will attest.

Cultivating Beauty Within a Family

A few of my photographs are featured in an art show that’s currently on display at my church. The show is open to the public. If you are in Duluth this summer, pop in and take a look! (Unitarian Universalist Church of Duluth, 835 W. College St.) The show will be up until Fall.

This post is a presentation I gave along with other artists for a service today that was centered on the show and the theme of “cultivating beauty.”

The image that started it all (my first image that was critiqued in my photography class). Big Bay State Park, Madeline Island, Lake Superior.

During Christmas when I was a freshman in college, my parents gave me an Instamatic camera. I suspect my mother was the driving force behind this gift, as she had begun dabbling in photography. She was a member of the Duluth Camera Club and was starting to take classes with the likes of Les Blacklock and later, his son Craig.

I had fun with the camera and even used it for a visual communication class I took for my journalism studies. Then, when I graduated college, I graduated cameras. My parents gave me an Olympus 35 mm film camera. My mother showed me how to use it, thinking it would be a great way to document my next adventure, which was grad school through the Audubon Society’s Expedition Institute – a traveling school bus classroom that focused on the outdoors and environmental education.

How that camera survived a 20,000-mile journey across America without a camera bag, I’ll never know. But I used it to capture the beauty of the rugged landscapes we traveled through all those years ago.

Once I got into the workaday world as a science writer, the camera came in handy for stories I needed to cover. Eventually, it malfunctioned and, having to buy a camera by myself this time, I downgraded back to the point-and-shoot type.

After I had children, I noticed that my youngest son was interested in photography. He was only 6 or 7 when we went to Yellowstone. We bought him one of those disposable Kodak cameras so that he could take his own pictures on the trip. He enthusiastically clicked away at geysers and majestic elk. Then, when he went to college, I continued my mother’s tradition and helped him buy a Nikon digital camera, since he was interested in taking a photography class. He loved this beginner-level camera and soon bought his own, more advanced Nikon. He’s since started a side business in portrait photography.

I was interested in getting a more serious camera around that time, so I bought out his part of the original Nikon and it became my own. He showed me how to use it, but my phone camera was so much easier, that Nikon mostly stayed in its bag.

Then came the day when my boss at work suggested I take a photography class instead of the typical writing classes I take every year. She liked the images I was able to capture with my phone and wondered what I could do with more formal training.

I was taken aback by her suggestion. After all, I’m a writer, not a photographer. Taking photos was always just a side dish in my life – something I did while doing something else – never the main course.

The idea stewed during the pandemic until last summer when I felt it might be safer for such an endeavor. I found a week-long sunset photography class through the Madeline Island School for the Arts in Lake Superior. My job deals with communicating water research, so I figured I’d get some photos that would come in handy.

I already knew how to frame a photo, but an F-stop? ISO? What are those?

The class was a crash-course in camera settings. Each day, we offered up one image for critique by the instructor and our classmates. I’d never had an image critiqued before. With trepidation, I submitted my first – it was a greenish photo with pine branches against rocks and water. The instructor said, “This photographer knows what they’re doing. Who took this photo?”

I thought, “I know what I’m doing?” I identified myself and listened to his suggestions for a few improvements, glowing inside all the while. None of the other students had been moved to take a photo of that particular scene, and the instructor discussed how everyone sees beauty differently. He said, “You can take a dozen photographers out to a park and they’ll all come back with different images.”

Maybe there really was something to this photography hobby? Maybe I could be both a writer and a photographer?

I returned home with a big confidence boost, new knowledge of my camera and of the photo editing software. I loved having another way outside of words to capture the grandeur of nature that I see around me. Of course, the camera is much more limited than our eyes, but the photo editing software gets things a bit closer to what our eyes actually see.

I have my mother to thank for getting me started in photography and I am glad that my son continued this family art. I’m excited to participate in the UU Art Show – it’s my first one!

Russ and I recently returned from a trip to California that was centered around photography. My photographer son was along, and we had the chance to meet a distant cousin for the first time. As we discussed our lives with our cousin over breakfast, we discovered that she’s a portrait photographer, too, focusing on babies. On a hunch, I asked her what brand of camera she uses.

My son and I exchanged meaningful looks when she uttered, “It’s a Nikon.”

Westward Ho! Yosemite National Park

The view from the Tunnel View pulloff in Yosemite National Park. Bridalveil Falls is on the right, Half Dome is in the middle and El Capitan is on the left.

The last time I was in Yosemite National Park, it was on fire. I was there to put help put it out. That was 32 years ago (!) when I worked for the Forest Service. (See that story in “Why I Miss Wildland Fire Fighting.”)

I journeyed to the park this time to be a photographer-tourist.

As Russ and I planned a long overdue (due to Covid) vacation to Lake Tahoe, we discussed what to do there. It came to light that Yosemite was within driving distance and that Russ had never been there before. Well, that would never do.

A sequoia near Mariposa Grove.

“You’ve got to see it!” I said. Wise man that he is, we made plans to begin the first few days of our trip in Yosemite and then drive to Tahoe. Thus, began our Westward Ho adventure.

In late April, we flew into Fresno, CA, and then drove about 90 mins to our lodge just outside the park. Our first foray on the day we arrived was to Mariposa Grove, which wasn’t far from the lodge. We eagerly hiked two miles to see the grove, only to be mystified when we discovered it was closed!

How can a grove of ancient sequoia pines be closed, you ask? Well, you’ve got me on that one. There were no signs at the trailhead giving hint of this closure, nor did we see anything obvious online. But after we made it back to the (closed) visitor center near the grove, we did see a small sign that explained the grove was closed until 2023 so that the trail could be rehabbed.

The grove had a fence all around it, which prohibited people from using the trail that runs through it. Thankfully, we were at least able to view the trees from outside the fence on the road that runs past it. Disheartened, we walked back to our car on the road, which was much easier than the trail. Positive points are, we saw a mule deer (see photo) and a cool rock cut alongside the road (see the other photo).

Another closure to be aware of is that Bridalveil Falls – the iconic waterfall that’s the first thing tourists see from the Tunnel View overlook and when they approach the park from the south, is closed. This is another closure that’s not very well publicized by the Park Service. But you can still get close to the base of the falls if you are a bit intrepid.

We spent the next few days driving through the park and doing more hiking. We visited Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake (an easy two-mile round-trip hike on a closed paved road), Cathedral Beach, and Valley View. Valley View was hard to find because there were no signs that designated it, just so you’re aware. We tried unsuccessfully to find it our first full day but figured it out by the second day. We also ate lunch one day at the historic Ahwahnee Lodge, which is in the park.

Russ’s favorite experience was visiting Yosemite Falls. There’s an upper and lower part of the falls, and he appreciated the aesthetics of the approach as you walk toward the falls. I think mine was Mirror Lake. As you can see from the photos, the reflections of the backside of Half Dome in the water were stellar, and I enjoyed the scenes available along Tenaya Creek.

One thing that struck me was how rough the forest looked. Wildfires had obviously burned all the way into the Yosemite Valley floor. That must have been nerve-wracking for the park service. And many areas on our drive to the park were burned or showed evidence of wind damage. California has been experiencing a drought for the past three years and it sure showed. Perhaps the fire that I worked on so many years ago was only the beginning?

Timber salvage operations were taking place in the burned areas of the valley when we were there, necessitating some traffic disruption. BUT it was Spring, and the waterfalls were full, conveying runoff from the High Sierras. The water-full bounty a glorious sight to see, as John Muir would have said.

I hope you enjoy my photos. Next up: Lake Tahoe or maybe a post about my first art exhibit. I’m not sure which I’ll finish writing first.

As always, please do not use photos that have my signature on them. Others you may use with permission.

Pelican Spring

An American white pelican comes in for a landing on the St. Louis River, MN. The bump on its bill denotes that it’s a breeding bird. The bump falls off after the birds have mated and laid eggs.

Last week I took the long way home from work. My route took me past Chambers Grove Park, which is in the far western part of Duluth, along the St. Louis River. I had heard that the pelicans were back, resting there on a stopover during their migration north, and I wanted to see them.

I brought my camera in case the birds were close enough for me to photograph. Alas, the experience reinforced my thought that I really need to buy a more powerful telephoto lens! Also, the light was right in my face, harsh and white, fading out everything on the far side of the river where the pelicans rested.

Luckily, a few were flying around, and I was able to get at least one good shot.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, pelicans were “virtually unseen in Minnesota between the late 1800s and 1960s. Fishermen destroyed them out of the erroneous belief that they competed for game fish, and pesticides took a toll.” They mostly prefer nongame fish and do not compete with anglers.

No pelicans in this shot (but they are nearby). I just liked the cloud and water patterns. St. Louis River, MN.

Thanks to environmental reforms and protection, their numbers have recovered. Minnesota boasts one of the largest populations of nesting white pelicans in the world. I thought I’d share my photos from my sojourn with you.

If you’d like to see some better, close-up images of the birds, please visit Richard Hoeg’s blog, “365 Days of Birds” for some great shots.

Despite the snow we’ve been having lately, their presence is a sure sign that spring is coming.

Discovering the Minnesota Discovery Center

We’re in that awkward and dreary “shoulder season” when the snow conditions are too crappy for skiing but it’s still too cold to bicycle or do anything else outside. The trees are bare, what little grass is showing amid the snow piles is brown. It was time to explore somewhere new indoors. So, Russ and I meandered north to the largest museum complex outside of the Twin Cities.

It’s had several names since it opened in 1977 near Chisholm in northern Minnesota. First it was the Iron Range Interpretive Center, then Iron World USA, and now it’s the Minnesota Discovery Center.

Perched near a defunct open pit mine and atop underground mine shafts, the Minnesota Discovery Center tells the story of the Iron Range through exhibits, interpretation, programming, and research materials. It highlights the story of the immigrants who migrated to the Iron Range (or the Iron Ridge, as President George W. Bush once mistakenly said during a campaign speech in Duluth). The immigrants came at the turn of the 20th century to find work in the iron ore industry. Native Americans are also featured.

Apparently, everyone else was holed up in their homes because we had the place almost to ourselves on a Saturday afternoon. We were able to wander through the exhibits totally unimpeded. So unimpeded that when Russ saw a person standing in front of an exhibit, he mistook it for a mannequin until it moved!

The lower level of the center features exhibits about the immigrants’ journey to the United States, examples of what a schoolroom and a saloon were like, and information about conditions of the land farther back in time – geology and fossils.

The saloon

I must have been feeling lonely because my favorite exhibit was the replica saloon, complete with mannequins who were playing cards and standing at the bar. Back in the day in the nearby town of Hibbing, there were 6 dry goods stores, 12 general stores, and 45 saloons! People had their priorities and it wasn’t churches back then. Saloons were social centers where miners shared the news of the day, had a drink, and spent time with each other.

Both floors of the center offer views of the Glen Mine Pit, but I chose to look from the second floor. The open pit mine was closed in 1957 and trees have started to reclaim its banks. The second floor also features a movie theater. With the push of a button, Russ and I had our own private showing of the documentary, “Iron Range: Minnesota Building America.” This floor also provides access to a research center.

The Glen Mine Pit

The discovery center’s restaurant is closed for the season, but their gift shop is open. During summer, they offer trolley tours of the grounds, plus there’s a mountain bike park that opens in mid- to late-May and a mini-golf course. I’m sure it must be a busier place in summer.

As we left, the staff at the reception desk were marveling at the “crowds” that were visiting the center. One exclaimed, “There were four people in here already and we just got eight more!”

They were serious.

Russ and I just gave each other a look and chuckled.

If you’re still social distancing due to the pandemic, this is the place for you. But if you get too lonely, you can at least socialize with the saloon mannequins.

More saloon mannequins

Hearty White Chicken Chili

The weather is still wintry here in the North – stubborn snow piles linger, and more snow is falling as I type this. A few days have been warm enough to provide a hint of spring, but today is not one of them. Everyone is bundled back up in their puffy jackets and boots. A perfect time for a bowl of thick, creamy goodness.

This is a recipe I saved from our local newspaper. It was originally written by Bea Ojakangas, Duluth’s Scandinavian version of Julia Childs. I have modified it over the years to make it wheat- and corn-free, plus I’ve changed some of the spices more to my liking. If you want to make it with wheat, the original flour measurements are included. If you want corn, simply add a can of corn when you add the beans. Instead of cream, I prefer evaporated milk because cream is just too rich for me these days. This makes 4-6 servings.

Bon appetit!

White Chicken Chili (Wheat- and Corn-Free)

½ lb butter
1 T chopped garlic (or ½ tsp dried minced garlic)
2 lbs chopped chicken or 2-10 oz cans of chicken
2 cups white onion, cut in large chunks (one large onion)
¾ cp gluten free all-purpose flour (or ½ cup regular flour)
2 tsp cumin
sprinkle of chili powder
salt to taste (I use 1-1/2 tsp sea salt)
pepper
4 cups chicken broth (I use Imagine organic vegetarian no-chicken broth)
1 pint cream (or 1 can evaporated milk)
2 cups cooked navy beans (1 can beans)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add garlic and cook until it starts to brown, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken and onion and stir together. Slowly add the flour to absorb the butter. Add the cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, and broth. Simmer approximately a half-hour. Add evaporated milk (cream) and beans. Simmer another 15 mins.

Serve topped with sour cream, shredded white cheese and chopped parsley, if desired.