Paddling into Deep Summer

DSC05846FixedI awaken at 6 a.m., roll over and look at the lake outside the window. The water is smooth as a scrying mirror. The sun peeks over the spruces, encouraging a lake mist to form.

If I were more ambitious, I’d be out paddle boarding right now. Instead, I roll over and shut my eyes, lulled into a doze by the trills of hermit thrushes deep in the forest.

An hour later, I open my eyes to the same scene — the lake still calm, mist still rising.

Although in my book, 7 a.m. is still early to rise, I succumb to the siren call of my standup paddle board. It is early July and the temperature is already 70 degrees outside – one of those days that Minnesotans dream of during February. It would be criminal not to enjoy it.

Russ and the dog are still sleeping, so I quietly get out of bed and don my swimsuit. I tiptoe out into the dew-wet grass toward the boat house – feeling like a teenager headed for an illicit rendezvous. However, I am responsible enough to leave a note on the kitchen table: “Gone paddleboarding!”

DSC05814Opening the boathouse door, I inhale. There’s nothing like that old boathouse smell – decades of damp, mixed with a little mustiness and a hint of worn wood.

I heft my board and paddle, carefully closing the door so I won’t wake those in the cabin. On my way to the dock, I pass a bunch of blueberry plants covered with small blue sapphires – berries ready for picking. I can’t be distracted, though. They’ll have to wait.

As I settle my board into the water, I giggle inwardly. Hardly typical behavior for someone nearing retirement age, but a quick glance at the lake has told me it will only be me and the loons out there this morning. Life cannot get much better.

I head out in a clockwise direction around the lake. This just seems natural. The night before, a small parade of pontoon boats were all going counterclockwise. We’re living in the northern hemisphere. The toilet water spins clockwise. I figure it’s better not to go against the spin.

My board skims the surface easily. In the clear water below, bluegills rush to hide in the reeds. Water plants stand still and straight as trees. As I paddle, the mist seems an elusive dream. I know I’m in it, but I can’t see it when I arrive. The mist is always just out of reach ahead, playing tricks with my senses.

All of the other cabins are silent, still shuttered for the night. I only see a couple of other ladies, each sitting on shore, enjoying their morning coffee. I wave and they wave back.

My morning idyll is shattered by a pain in the middle of my back, between my shoulder blades. A horse fly or deer fly has found me! As I struggle to paddle into position so that I can safely use my paddle to scratch it off my back, I marvel at how these flies know exactly where to bite where they can’t easily be swatted. It’s like all the babies attend Fly Biting School were the teachers point out the safest places on people and animals to chomp.

Board in position, I carefully balance while lifting my paddle to scratch my back. Success! I don’t fall off my board and the pain disappears, along with the fly. Although a nuisance, these flies need clean water to live. Their presence is an indicator of a healthy environment.

The rest of my paddle is uneventful, if you can call relishing every summer sight and sound uneventful. I arrive back at the dock feeling like I’ve paddled into deep summer.

I am so thankful to be able to enjoy this morning, especially since there are so many people gone from this Earth due to the coronavirus, who will never have the chance to experience such things again. It was worth getting out of bed early.

Now, where are those blueberries?


Kingsbury Creek Trail, Duluth


A view from the Kingsbury Creek Trail, Duluth, MN.

Prepare to be confused and impressed. Russ and I checked out the Kingsbury Creek Hiking Trail near the zoo in Duluth recently. We were confused because so many trails intersect in the area. There’s a mountain bike trail, and the Superior Hiking Trail, a gravel trail, and a footpath. We were aiming for the footpath, and think we found the right one, but since it was our first time on it, I’m not exactly sure.

Whatever trail it was, the scenery was impressive. Quiet pools in the creek attracted Buddy the Wonderdog. Huge white pines evoked awe. If we have to be quarantined, Duluth isn’t such a bad place for it.




Coronavirus Chronicles: The Social Distancing Police

Social distancing Brianna Taggert

Image courtesy of The McLeod County Chronicle.

Today, I saw a news photo on social media that was taken by a former intern of mine. Brianna Taggert is working for The McLeod County Chronicle in the small Minnesota town of Glencoe. Her photo shows people kneeling in a public square in a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. Four people in the foreground are kneeling close together.

One social media commenter criticized the protesters’ lack of social distancing. I’ve found myself thinking the same thing when I see personal posts on social media of big families, who I know don’t all live in the same house, getting together for gatherings during the pandemic. It’s only natural to question the wisdom of this.

However, I’ve refrained from commenting. I don’t know the circumstances of the people involved.

  • Maybe they are all living together temporarily and are exposed to each other every day – they are in a pandemic social bubble together.
  • Maybe they’ve all had the virus and are not contagious now.
  • Maybe they’ve all been super careful about their exposure and have made a considered, conscious decision to expand their bubble to include other family members now.
  • Perhaps the viewpoint of the images gives a false impression of how close people really are to each other.
  • Maybe the photo was taken a year ago.

For example, in the protest photo I mentioned, it looks like the people in the foreground who are right next to each other could easily be members of the same family. They are well away from other people. Seems pretty responsible to me. For the people in the background, I can’t really tell how close the groups of people are to each other because of the viewpoint of the photo. But if they are family groups, it looks like they are appropriately distanced.

The New York Times posted an article about social bubbles back in April. It offers excellent commentary on this topic.

One of Brianna’s professors from the University of Minnesota Duluth, John Hatcher, said this about the photo:

It’s Brianna’s “second day on the job and she’s covering what may be the most important story of her career. What I most appreciate is that this story shows us that the impact of George Floyd’s death is not just being felt in larger cites or solely by people of color. This is a story that is prompting action by people across our country and the world and in even in Glencoe, Minnesota, population 5,467. Let’s hope all of this is just the beginning of how we all reflect on what needs to change in our society and our own lives.”

That’s the real takeaway message of this photo.

Of course, this photo is different from images of protests in larger cities where it’s obvious that people are not practicing social distancing. And that’s why public health officials have asked them to self-quarantine for two weeks. I have serious doubts about whether any of them will do so, but I can’t control what other people do. I can only control what I do, and I can make suggestions to my family about what we should do.

I refrain from commenting on social media because I am not the social distancing police. And even if I did comment, it’s not going to make people change their behavior. Such commenting is for public health officials, not me.

Please, think twice before you make knee-jerk judgments on such photos. I’m not trying to control what YOU do, just making a suggestion to think before you type.

That Time I was Invited to Join Mensa


Credit: National Institutes of Health.

Back in my high school days – when cowl neck fuzzy sweaters were in, hair styles were big, and women’s shirts sported shoulder pads large enough for the wearer to participate in professional football – I took the ACT test to get into college.

I studied out of a large book, which offered practice questions and reviews of math concepts. Now, I’m sure students must be able to do this all online, but this was back in the 80s, before most people had any inkling about computers.

I’m not sure if the test is still in the same format, but back then, most of it was multiple-choice. The most useful thing I learned from studying for the ACT was how to identify incorrect answers so that I could home in on the correct ones. The hardest things about the test were figuring out its format and its unwritten rules.

All my studying paid off. I scored very high in the English section, and higher in the math section than if I hadn’t studied. My overall score was good enough that I didn’t need to worry about admission into the college of my choice. It was also elevated enough that I received a letter from Mensa in the mail one day.

Mensa International is an organization for people with high IQs. As author and comedian David Sedaris says in “Me Talk Pretty One Day” (which I just finished reading), Mensa members “come from all walks of life and get together every few weeks to take in a movie or enjoy a weenie roast. They’re like the Elks or the Masons, only they’re smart.”

Growing up in the northern hinterlands of Minnesota, I had never heard of Mensa. After opening the letter, I mentioned it to my mother, and her first, and only, response was, “Ach, you don’t want to join that!”

So I didn’t.

I was so taken aback by her reaction, I didn’t ask her why I shouldn’t join them.

Looking back over the decades, I have a twinge of regret that I so blindly followed my mother’s advice. How might my life have been different if I had surrounded myself with high-IQ people?

But I also realize my mother’s knee-jerk reaction was truly Minnesotan. It’s not part of our culture to brag or make ourselves stand out. (See more in my post about “Minnesota Nice.”)

Perhaps my mother was afraid my head would swell with self-importance were I to hang around other intelligent people. Or, maybe she figured they were all a bunch of dorks and exposure to them would increase my social awkwardness. Or she could have been threatened by having a daughter labelled as “smart.” I don’t know. My mother has passed, so it’s not like I can ask her now.

A couple of years ago, I looked into the qualifications for joining Mensa. They’ve upped them now. My ACT score is a few points short. Another way to qualify is through an IQ test. But an IQ test just seems like a lot of work to me now. I wonder if they grandfather (or in my case, grandmother) people into the organization based on the year they took their ACT?

Even if I did get in somehow, I suspect I would feel like a fraud. I am not naturally brilliant; I just know how to study, and I read a lot.

I guess I’m satisfied I was invited and could have joined Mensa if I really wanted to — but that I am just too Minnesotan to do so.

Guest Post: Eating Invasive Species, A Pandemic Alternative

By Sharon Moen

If you know Marie of “Marie’s Meanderings,” you know a few things. She loves her family, which includes biological kin and people like Russ, Buddy the Wonderdog, and me. She enjoys food and foraging, is committed her job at Sea Grant, and devours books. Knowing these things about Marie prompted me to ask her if I could share some words with you about food and COVID-19.

If you are reading this, then she said, “Yes.”

“No, no, a thousand times no!” That’s what I imagine Marie said when a far-right-wing talk show host spluttered his willingness to eat his neighbors in the aftermath of the pandemic, given the high meat prices and shortages. She is against cannibalism and stuff like that.

Someone like Marie would invite you over FOR dinner, not AS dinner. If you accepted the invitation and whatever COVID-19-inspired guidance was in vogue, Marie might deftly turn a local invasive species into haute cuisine.

Here in Minnesota, invasive species foragers could rustle up a rusty crayfish potpie in a cattail-root crust accented with dandelion salad. If in Florida, they might prepare a double lion: lionfish with dandelion greens.

Posh, eh? I bet someone like Marie would even ferment some dandelion wine to complement the meal, if only there were time. I know for a fact that she recently cooked fern fiddleheads from her local forest.

Speared lionfish

A speared lionfish in Belize. Be careful not to touch the poisonous spines! Image by Mike Sierszen.

I’ve joined Marie for meals and meanderings from Scotland to St. Martin. Believe me, the experiences were memorable! I’ve also had the privilege of tagging along with people trapping rusty crayfish in Minnesota and spearing lionfish in Belize to be used as food.

During these adventures, I learned a few valuable lessons about attracting and handling these pesky invaders:

Pro tip #1: Bait your invasive crayfish traps with fish heads and leave the traps in the water overnight. You’ll likely have a pile of bones and a mess of crayfish by morning.

Pro tip #2: Tie scissors to your spear when hunting lionfish. Use the scissors to cut off the poisonous spines before touching the fish.

Rusty crayfish S Moen

One night’s rusty crayfish catch on the St. Louis River several years ago, reflects the scale of infestation: 57 traps, 2,140 crayfish. Image by Sharon Moen, Minnesota Sea Grant.

I also learned that as invasive species harvests make their way to tables, people along the way often gain a better perspective about why these species are so economically and ecologically harmful. Aquatic invasive species like rusty crayfish and lionfish tend to outcompete native species and disrupt food webs through their sheer numbers and voracious appetites. Crayfish claws and lionfish spines also make playing in water more hazardous. Their presence can reduce property values, and hurt recreation and tourism industries.

Through her job at Sea Grant, Marie and her colleagues conduct public education initiatives helping to control the spread of aquatic invasive species. During her storied career, Marie even organized an invasive sea lamprey taste test.

While you wait for her to tell you that story, consider reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma in which Michael Pollan challenges readers to understand where food comes from, what’s in it, and the processes involved in bringing it to human lips. The challenges of feeding yourself and those you love have always been real but they are manifesting differently through the COVID-19 pandemic. Be a thoughtful omnivore. Weigh the choices about what could be eaten and what is et.

Our friends at “Northern Wilds” magazine recently published an article on consuming dandelions. You can find many crayfish and lionfish recipes online. There’s even a cookbook published by the Institute for Applied Ecology you could add to your pandemic collection: They’re Cooked: Recipes to Combat Invasive Species.

Someday soon I’m looking forward to inviting Marie and Russ over to share dinner, not to be dinner. I’ll likely include an invasive species in the mix. What would you serve?

Be kind and stay optimistic.

Editor’s note: Sharon is available for freelance writing work. If interested, please contact me through my website and I’ll put you in touch with her.

The Power of Spring


The Horton Covered Bridge over the Amnicon River lower falls in northern Wisconsin.

Lured by free entrance to Wisconsin State Parks during the pandemic and a sunny day, Russ, Buddy and I meandered down to Amnicon State Park to see the surging waters and feel the power of spring.

We weren’t the only ones. Many others had the same idea, and almost all of them brought their dogs, too! However, everyone was careful to keep the six-foot distance rule while hiking and enjoying the view.

The Amnicon River did not disappoint.  Standing so close to such power is a reminder of forces we have no control over, and that nature does just fine without us.


Upper Falls, Amnicon River State Park.

The river is thirty miles long, flowing from headwaters somewhere near Amnicon Lake, through eight counties and into Lake Superior.  Along its journey, the river’s elevation changes 640 feet, about a third of which happens in the park.


Huge ice chunks piled along shore of the Amnicon River. Each one is about half the size of a car.

The picturesque Horton Covered Bridge has graced many a calendar page and no doubt hosted many a wedding ceremony.

Happy spring, everyone, despite everything.


Coronavirus Chronicles – The Invisible Enemy

Coronavirus CDC

The coronavirus. Image courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control.

Well, I won’t be meandering anywhere but between my house and grocery store anytime soon. Although nobody in Duluth, Minn., has tested positive for coronavirus yet, most people are limiting their travel and hunkering down at home. At work, we were told to start telecommuting last Monday, so I’ve been working at home — much to Buddy’s delight!

When Russ and I went grocery shopping earlier this week, it felt a bit like venturing into a war zone – one with an invisible enemy. Is it safe to touch this box of cereal, or are virus germs on it? Is it okay to talk to this person we know in the grocery aisle or should we stand farther away? When we bring the groceries into our home, is the virus hitchhiking along?  Wait, did I just touch my face? Aaagh! Should we wash our hands before we put the groceries away, or after? We decided to be extra careful and wash our hands twice.

Both Russ and I are in high-risk categories. Russ because he is older than me and male. Me because I am recovering from surgeries and have some lung issues due to allergies. So that’s a source of concern. Another source of concern are the things I learned when I took an epidemiology class for my master’s degree in public health journalism. I learned enough to know that this virus could be very bad. My instructor told us that the world was overdue for a pandemic. Usually, they occur every hundred years. The last one was in 1918 with the Spanish flu. Predictions were for the disease to originate in China because of the close living conditions there between people and farm animals.

Well, we made it 102 years. Not bad! But here we are, dealing with something with which few people have experience (except for these two ladies who are in their 100s.)

One of my writer friends, Lucie Amundsen, wrote an opinion piece recently for our local newspaper (“Our caring can be this crisis’s silver lining”) where she exhorted people to commit compassionate acts in the community as a way of coping with coronavirus. “Nothing combats fear and anxiety like action,” she said. “Do something. Do that thing you’re good at and share it up and down your street.”

While lying in bed this morning, I thought about what I’m good at that could be shareable. I don’t think it’s wise to share things face-to-face on my street, but I have this blog. I’d like to think of you all as my virtual neighbors. I’d also like to think I’m pretty good at writing. This thought train led me to remember a quarantine romance parable I wrote a few years ago, which is especially apropos for these times.

As with many writers, I take care not to share stories on my blog that I think could be published. (Publishers usually want stories that have not been published elsewhere, not even on personal blogs.) But, due to the nature of this story and the nature of the circumstances we find ourselves in, I am going to share my short story, “The Shower Singer,” as a serial in my blog.

The tale is set in Minneapolis. The story does not provide all the answers. It makes readers think. It’s one of a series that I’m working on for an anthology on the theme of deceiving appearances. I’ve completed five stories and am currently working on a sixth. I figure once I have seven done, I might have enough for a book.

I will start the series tomorrow. I hope it offers a fun, but relevant distraction during these trying times for you, my virtual neighbors, as we fight an invisible enemy together.

Wowed by a Pow Wow

DSC05701I meandered just a bit south to Carlton, Minn., to attend an Ojibwe pow wow for work. More like I white-knuckled it on the drive due to a snowstorm.

I made it to the venue and ended up glad I endured the stressful drive. Why? Because pow wows are fascinating and fun! If you ever have the chance to attend one, you should.

I’ve been to a handful in various locations across the U.S. Every time, I come away impressed by their friendly vibe and the dose of a different culture.

It’s also refreshing to be in the minority for once. Being outnumbered by Native Americans for a few hours administers a dose of empathy for what they must feel most of the time in larger society. And the regalia the dancers wear is so impressive. I could tell they spent a lot of time and effort to make and choose their dress.

I attended the pow wow as part of a teacher workshop I’m doing a story about for work. The workshop offered educators from Wisconsin and Minnesota the opportunity to learn more about Ojibwe culture and their relationship to water to bring into their classroom lessons. Attending the pow wow was part of the experience for the educators.

Before the pow wow, we were given an etiquette sheet so we could avoid making clueless-white-person faux pas.

20200118_134851 (2)I thought I’d share a few of the more interesting points with you. The first is that a pow wow dancer’s clothing is called “regalia,” not a costume. The info sheet says, “Costumes are worn to present yourself as something you are not.”

The sheet does not say what regalia is, but one could assume from the definition of costume that regalia is clothing that reflects a dancer’s true identity. Think of a queen. Her ceremonial clothing wouldn’t be called a costume (unless someone who was not a queen wore it.) It reflects her regal status.

The dictionary offers three definitions of regalia. One is, “the emblems, symbols, or paraphernalia indicative of royalty.” The other is, “decorations or insignia indicative of an office or membership.” The last is, “special dress (especially finery).”

I suspect the last two definitions are the most appropriate when thinking of pow wow clothing – the dancer’s clothes reflect their membership in the tribe(s), and they are clothes not worn every day.  But I also like the idea that their clothing shows their true identity, and that identity is royal.

Another interesting guideline is not to touch a dancer’s regalia. It’s considered rude. I can see how having someone else’s hands all over something so personal could be an invasion of personal space and privacy.

The last is not to pick up an eagle feather that has fallen off someone’s regalia, or take photos of it being retrieved. The etiquette sheet states: “If you see a feather or regalia on the ground, do not touch it but do inform one of the dancers. They will take care of it properly.”

Eagle feathers are sacred to Native Americans, as is their regalia, so it makes sense they don’t want just anyone’s grubby hands on them. I also assume some ceremonies must be associated with retrieving a fallen feather.

End of lesson. Now you know few rules. Go out and find yourself a pow wow! It will be good for you.

The Year 2020 in a Cartoon

I was listening to a recent episode of National Public Radio’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” podcast when my heart leapt with joy. The guests were talking about the year 2020 and the grandiose ideas people had in the past about how we would be living today.

What got my heart going was when the host mentioned the “Sealab 2020” cartoon.

I had been thinking about that cartoon lately, with it being the year 2020 now.  Until listening to the podcast, I was beginning to wonder if anyone else but me remembered the short-lived series.

“Sealab 2020” only ran from September until December 1972, but it made a big impression on me – with my proclivities toward all things watery. The setting was an underwater lab. The dramas and intrigue of the 250 “oceanauts” featured heavily, as they faced challenges ranging from environmental disasters to attacks from giant squid.

As a nine-year-old, I envisioned myself as one of the oceanauts by the time 2020 came around. Alas, I am still landlocked, and I don’t think there are any large underwater labs in operation at this time.

My dream did not come to pass. But at least I work for Sea Grant, and that’s almost as good!

The Top 4 Marie’s Meanderings Posts of 2019

NRRI image

Me, staffing the Water Bar. Have a drink! Image courtesy of the Natural Resources Research Institutue.

We made it through another year of blogging, dear readers! It felt like I didn’t blog quite as frequently as during the past six other years of this blog, but I have enough content that search engine-directed visits keep the stats steady.

In fact, during 2019, the number of people visiting my blog almost doubled, going from 7,100 to 13,300, with over 15,400 views.

Here are the four most popular stories from this year. Why four? Because it’s a nice even number.

#1 Bellying up to the Water Bar – This post was connected to my job for a water research organization. We hosted a water bar, where people could taste water from different parts of the state. The event was designed to celebrate the importance of clean water. People mentioned in it shared the post, which accounts for its popularity. But I’d also like to think it’s also because people care about water.

#2 The Jayme Closs Case and the Importance of News Headlines – This was my rant about a local kidnapping case and the headlines it generated when the young lady was “found.” I thought the headlines should have read that she escaped her captor, instead. I Tweeted this opinion, which blew up the Twitterverse and freaked me out good, because I had only just started a personal account on that platform. Jayme seems to be recovering well from her ordeal, thanks to the support of her family and community. And Jayme, if you are ever ready to tell your side of the story, remember, I am here to help! (And a gazillion other enterprising writers, I bet.)

#3 Five Things to do in Freeport, Bahamas – Russ and I traded in the white snows of Minnesota for the white sands of the Bahamas last February. I must have been in an odd-numbered frame of mind, sharing five popular locations and activities to do there — from creating your own perfume, to wave riding for miles on the ocean.

#4 In Which my Writing Inspires Theft – This post offered a peek into the glamorous life of a local author. A lady I met in my church bathroom told me she liked my story on American martens that was in Lake Superior Magazine so much, she stole it out of her doctor’s office so she could send it to her grandchildren in Japan. High praise, indeed!

Thank you again for meandering with me, and Happy New Year wherever you may be . . .