Taking an Old-School Snowshoe

20180120_121621It’s been about twenty years since I used my own snowshoes. I had the chance this week to dig them out and tromp around the grounds of a local mansion that’s open to the public for nighttime outdoor tours.

It was an expansive experience. What do I mean by that? Well, please, read on.

My snowshoes are old-school — made in Canada of wood with rawhide lacings. Tapering from a rounded nose to an elongated straight tail, they are four feet long. Their only nod to modernity are the plastic buckles and synthetic foot straps.

Not familiar with the various types of snowshoes, I looked mine up so I could describe them to you. I discovered they are an Alaskan snowshoe, which is supposed to work well on flat and rolling country with a deep snow pack. However, their length makes turning difficult.

My snowshoes were a Christmas present. I used them several times, but then my circumstances changed and I just didn’t have the motivation or opportunity to get out on them. But this nighttime snowshoe excursion sounded like fun, so off I went. It was held on the grounds of Glensheen Mansion, which is in Duluth, on the shores of Lake Superior. A group of about thirty people met and were divided among two tour guides who led us onto the grounds.

The quiet night air was about 20 degrees with little wind. Stars twinkled overhead as we shuffled over land that, in bygone days, held greenhouses where banana trees grew.

What I had forgotten about snowshoes is that they are like the land rovers of winter gear. You can walk up or down any kind of snowy slope with those things without worrying about slipping. That is, except for stairs. I don’t recommend their use on stairs!

At one point, we arrived on the shore of Lake Superior. We stood, rooted, listening to ice slush tinkling and crunching with the motion of low waves. The constellation Orion shown overhead, his slanted belt seeming to point down directly at us.

The sky was dark and huge over the lake. Even though we were within the city, we might as well have been miles away in a wintery wilderness. Almost immediately, a calmness descended on the group and we stopped talking, except for some exclamations of beauty.

I’ve been reading lately about how people’s brain wave patterns and emotions change when they view vistas like a great lake or an ocean, or even an empty desert landscape. We have a primal need for these wide-open natural places as much as we need the comforts of civilization.

A Northern Minnesota writer, Sigurd Olson, described these effects so well in his books about wilderness that I won’t even try to match him. But, as we stood on the shore, our hearts and our minds expanded — just for a moment — until it was time to catch up to the tour guide again.


The snowshoe hike ended at a cozy bonfire.


One of Life’s Mysteries


How can a fake Christmas tree, which is DEAD, grow larger and larger each year, until it no longer fits into its original box?

The Taste of Hope


Chef Sean Sherman

Native American chef, Sean Sherman, visited my fair town several weeks ago to promote his book, “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.” Given my interest in cooking and gathering wild edibles, I had to go. He spoke to a packed house along with his co-author, Beth Dooley, who is the food editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The event was sponsored by Zenith Bookstore.

One of the first things Sherman did was to disabuse the audience of the notion that Native American cuisine involves any type of fry bread. He works with pre-colonization food made with ingredients the natives grew themselves or foraged. These are things like squash, wild rice, chestnuts, fish, berries, and cedar boughs.

Sherman talked about how natives used all parts of edible plants and animals and how every one of those things had a purpose, “Except for wood ticks. They don’t have a purpose,” he joked.

A member of the Sioux tribe, Sherman grew up in a hardscrabble life on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  He became interested in learning about the foods of his ancestors when he was twenty-nine and was burned out from working as an executive chef in Minneapolis.

He took a year off in Mexico and ended up consulting for a restaurant there that focused on local foods. In his book, Sherman writes, “In an epiphany, I tasted how food weaves people together, connects families through generations, is a life force of identity and social structure. After seeing how the Huicholes held on to so much of their pre-European culture through artwork and food, I recognized that I wanted to know my own food heritage. What did my ancestors eat before Europeans arrived on our lands?”

Re-energized, Sherman returned to the U.S. with a plan in mind. After a lot of research and consulting, he formed The Sioux Chef in 2014 in Minneapolis.  He worked with other indigenous team members to cater events, operate a food truck, host pop-up dinners, and soon they will open a restaurant.

Sherman’s vision for revitalizing indigenous foods reaches beyond the Midwest. He hopes to spread an indigenous food system model across the country, which involves providing education and tools to native communities to reclaim their ancestral cuisines and an important part of their cultures.

And why not? It’s a diet that is hyperlocal and uberhealthy in more ways than just the physical. At the end of his talk at Beaner’s Coffee House (thank you Beaner’s!), samples of cedar tea sweetened with maple syrup were passed around. Man, was that good!

As I drove home with his book on the car seat beside me, I was excited to learn more about Native American cuisine. I could still taste the tangy cedar and sweet syrup on my tongue. To me, it tasted like hope – hope that this movement will undo some of the damage to native cultures, and hope that it will interest more people in taking care of the natural world. You don’t pollute places where you gather your food. If we look on our whole landscape as a big grocery store, perhaps we will take better care of it.

The Year in Blogging, 2017


This was my favorite image from 2017. I took it at the beginning of the March for Science, which happened in Duluth, Minn. I call it “Standing Strong for Science.”

My fifth year as a blogger has come to a close. I hear in the blog-o-sphere that such longevity is unusual. Most bloggers only maintain their efforts for a year or two. What can I say?  I keep doing it because I keep coming up with stories to tell and places to visit. I don’t have any goals other than sharing my stories. Well, there might be a bit of book promotion in there, but I try to keep that to a minimum. Oh, and there’s also that time I tried to save my job, but more about that later…

In 2017, my blog saw the most traffic so far. It had over 4,500 visitors and over 6,100 views. I’m sure part of that is because there’s more content so my blog shows up in more searches, but I’d also like to think it’s because people find what I have to say of interest and of use.

I’m sure if I was active on more social media channels, I could up those numbers. But upping numbers is not my goal, it’s just a nice side-benefit of telling stories.

Here are the most popular stories for the year:

# 1 Why Sea Grant is a Kick Ass Program (And Not Just Because I Work There) – This was my plea for people to contact their congressional representatives to save the federal program that employs me. The post got shared widely among my colleagues and friends, and guess what? It worked! We all still have our jobs with an organization that works to study and protect one of our most basic requirements of survival: water.

Not only was this post the most popular for 2017, but for the entire time I’ve been blogging.

Congress ignored the President’s budget cut for us, and even gave us a little bit of a raise. It’s nice to know that your country values you. Alas, the president has zeroed out our budget once again for next year, but I’m not freaking out because the Sea Grant leadership suspects that congress will keep us in the budget as before.

Anyway, thank you for the support you all provided!! It means a lot.

#2 Iams Dog Food Alert!—This story didn’t take off right away like the Sea Grant one did. Its popularity is unfortunately based on the fact that many dogs other than mine have had bad reactions to the sneaky changes this company made in the recipe of their dog food. This is one story I wish wasn’t popular, but more and more people keep finding it though searches. I am glad the story is providing them with answers, but sorry that their dogs are having problems.

#3 Minnesota Singer/Songwriter Jacob Mahon – This is a short post that I whipped out in about 10 minutes after seeing a new Duluth-based musician. I suspect part of its appeal is that it was short and to the point, plus the guy is good! The story was shared by several people, which helped lead to its popularity. Go Jacob!

#4 and #5 The Lake, it is Said, Never Gives Up Her Dead and Remembering Black Sunday in Duluth – I group these two together because they are about the same topic, and because they follow each other in popularity. Fifty years ago, three of my cousins drowned in Lake Superior. The stories are about the incident and a special ceremony that was held on the lake in their honor and to remember the people who tried to rescue them. They serve as a reminder of how powerful this lake can be.

#6 Challenge: Describe Your Community in One Word – This story, which I wrote in 2014, describes the efforts of myself and a friend to find one word that describes the people who make up Duluth, Minnesota. I’ve noticed that this story pops up in a lot of searches, especially from the Philippines. I suspect there’s a school teacher there who is giving his/her students the assignment of coming up with one word for their city or country. My blog has probably been plagiarized for many a school paper, but that’s okay with me!

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

Heavenly Food: Adventures in Northern Arizona – Part 5


The Cameron Trading Post Restaurant near the Grand Canyon. Note the pressed tin ceiling.

This will be my last installment about Sedona, and it deals with the next best thing to the scenery: the food!

Our first morning in town, we made our way to Creekside Coffee after seeing it advertised on television. What a way to wake up! Perched on the edge of a hill on the second floor of a galleria, the café offers a stunning view along with just about any kind of coffee one would want, plus pastries and organic fare. Wine is also available.

Another great place for breakfast is the Coffeepot Restaurant (near Coffeepot Rock). I didn’t eat there, but my traveling partner did and said it was great. They offer 101 different types of omelets!

We usually ate lunches we packed ourselves. But the one time we ate a restaurant lunch was at the English Kitchen in Jerome. See my previous post about that divine and spooky BBQ experience.


The mussels and chorizo appetizer from the Mariposa.

We saved the piece de resistance of dining for after a full day of hiking near the end of our trip. We made dinner reservations at Mariposa, a Latin-inspired grill. We chose partly for the scenery — the restaurant has a wall of windows that look out to the red rock hills. The only glitch in our plan was that it was dark by dinner time! Duh.

But our view of the food more than made up for the lack of an outdoors view. And even though something went wrong with our reservation through Open Table, the hostess was able to find a spot for us.

We started off with cocktails. After hiking past juniper trees all day, I opted for a drink made from juniper berries (in the form of gin) called a juniperita. Other ingredients include St. Germain liquer, lemon juice, and agave. The lemony sweetness was the perfect refresher for my desert-worn pallet.

For an appetizer, we shared mejillones con chorizo, a mussel and sausage dish served in a white wine bouillabaisse with charred corn. O.M.G. – the sauce was divine! We dipped our bread in it, and could have been happy just with that. The sausage complemented the mussels surprising well.


The grouper.

For entrees, Linda had grouper, which was the fish of the day. It was served with Campari fire-roasted tomatoes, charred corn, white wine and herb butter, frijoles negros and quinoa pilaf. She allowed me a wonderful taste. I had skirt steak served with roasted rosemary potatoes and frijoles negros.

Have you ever had a steak that melts in your mouth? It’s a rare thing, and that’s what this was. I had a hard time eating it because I kept making noises of gustatory satisfaction.


The skirt steak.

Although tempted, we opted out of dessert because we had a plan, and we made our way back to our resort. Although it was only 43 degrees outside, a hot tub awaited steps away from our unit. We hearty Minnesotans donned our swimsuits and ran out to the hot tub with wine, chocolate truffles and mint fudge in hand.

The candy was from the Sedona Fudge Company. Life doesn’t get much better than when it’s spent in a hot tub under the Arizona stars, accompanied by chocolate and alcohol. I truly felt like I was on vacation.


The Navaho taco (front) and other fare from the Cameron Trading Post.

The last notable eating spot we had a chance to sample was the Cameron Trading Company Restaurant near the Grand Canyon. Want a Navaho taco that’s bigger than your head while viewing Navaho blankets worth thousands of dollars? This is your place then.

Established in 1916, the trading post was the place where Hopis and Navahos bartered their wool blankets and livestock in exchange for dry goods. The restaurant’s ceiling of pressed tin is flanked by walls featuring cabinetry and stained glass from years past. A huge stone fireplace decorated for Christmas warmed us while we ate.

I had a Navaho taco, which is the most popular thing on the menu. It’s composed of a large round piece of fry bread, smothered with a combination of ground beef and beans, topped with lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese and crowned with chopped green chilies. Spicy salsa is served on the side, but it was too much for my bland Minnesota taste buds.

So ends my accounting of this meander. I would go back in a heartbeat. There are more rocks to see, trails to hike, places to eat, and energy vortexes to experience. Thank you for journeying with me through words.


The Cameron Trading Post Restaurant fireplace.

Steelhead and Clam Chowder

Steelhead ChowderThis was my Christmas Eve dinner. Hey, don’t look at me like that! While not typical, this chowder is totally holiday-appropriate, with red and green colors provided by the ham/steelhead and the green onions.

I modified this recipe from a crockpot version. This was the first time I used steelhead instead of cod or haddock because I “accidentally” found a nice fillet for half-price at the grocery store. All I can say is, yum!


What the soup looks like before the potatoes and milk are added.

1 lb fish fillets (torsk, cod, haddock, steelhead, etc.)
2-6.5 oz cans of clams
3 slices bacon (diced) or 1-8 oz package of diced ham
1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup green onions, chopped
2 large potatoes, pared and cubed
2+ cups water
1-1/2 tsp sea salt
¼ tsp pepper
1-12 oz can evaporated milk

Chop the onions and cube the potatoes. Cut the fish fillets into bite-sized pieces. In skillet, sauté onion and bacon (or ham) until golden in two tablespoons butter. (But if you use bacon, no butter is needed.)

Add all remaining ingredients except evaporated milk. There should be almost enough water to cover the ingredients. (Feel free to add more, if two cups isn’t enough.)

Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add evaporated milk and cook 10 minutes more.

Grand Canyon Joy


“Wherever you have friends, that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.” A Tibetan saying.


The Observation Tower on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Dali Lama.

“Whoever gives you love, that’s your parent.” Dali Lama

“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” Nelson Mandela

These quotes, which are worthy of pairing with Grand Canyon scenery, came from “The Book of Joy.”


The Grand Canyon in Arizona.