Category Archives: Nature

As the Seasons Turn

My father’s extended family hails from the north woods, so even though I grew up in St. Louis, I experienced the Minnesota/Wisconsin climate from an early age. When it was time to look at colleges I announced to my parents that I would only go to a college in Minnesota or Wisconsin.  When college/grad school was over for me and wasband, we hightailed it to the Twin Cities.  I’ve been here every since.

This morning, I noticed it was snowing at about 8 a.m. and my mood jumped up a couple of notches just seeing it. I love snow and cold.  Spring, summer and autumn are nice but winter is my season of choice.  I love visiting tropical locales but I don’t think I would happy in a place that didn’t have winter.

I took pictures all morning and even though I knew that snow in mid-October wouldn’t last, I was a little wistful when it stopped around noon.

Of course, this is seriously early for snow, so I didn’t start pulling out big sweaters and coats just yet. And I still wore my zorries to the gym and the grocery store!

What is your favorite seasonal transition? Have you transitioned to your winter clothes yet?

Regionality

While on our recent road trip to visit relatives in central Georgia, I was able to take a side trip to Greenville, SC, for a reunion with nine friends from college. We do this every couple of years now, and one of our rituals is a Saturday night book swap. The book I offered this time was Gardenias, by one of my favorite “regional” authors, Faith Sullivan of Minnesota. I’ve loved her books since one of her earlier publications, The Cape Ann; in fact, I included a used copy of that book for background, since it has some of the same characters.

Wiki has this to say about American literary regionalism, or local color: “In this style of writing, which includes both poetry and prose, the setting is particularly important and writers often emphasize specific features such as dialect, customs, history, and landscape, of a particular region.”

I was delighted to find that the book I drew, One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash, was also by a regional author – Carolinian Appalachia – and now that I’ve finished the book, I’ve learned some background history of the area I just visited. I also got to hear some local dialects; got to know some characters whom I would probably not have found in, say, Minnesota; and read descriptions of places I’ve seen only from a distance. And although the ending to this tale was sad, I would probably read another book by Ron Rash.

I have found (and loved) over the years several authors I whom I consider to be regional writers, but will wait to see if other Baboons name them before I do. To that end:

Do you have a favorite regional author? Is there a region of the USA that you would like to learn about through reading?

Death in a Jar of Salsa

I gave one of the nurses at my office a about 40 lbs. of tomatoes this year, since she wanted to make salsa. We had an abundance and I was glad to get rid of them. She said she got other tomatoes, too, and canned 60 jars of salsa. She gave me a jar earlier this week, and it was all I could do to smile and thank her when she handed it to me.  Once I got up to my floor, I flushed it down the toilet.

Perhaps I am overly cautious, but I would never can and process anything in a used Hormel ham hock jar using the original cap.  She hadn’t even removed the ham hock label.  I know that salsa has lots of acid in it from the vinegar, and that her salsa will probably be fine, but, still, this person is a nurse and there are some basic rules of hygienic food preservation that you just never violate. There was a story in the Fargo Forum a few years back about some well meaning woman in the eastern part of the state who invited people for Sunday dinner, fed them home canned peas, and killed half of the guests with botulism.  Those stories  stick with a person who does any home canning.

Tell about some gifts you would have rather not received.  Got any canning or food preservation disasters or horror stories? Am I being alarmist?

VS Travelogue – Mount Etna

I know that Mount Etna on Sicily is one of the earth’s most active volcanos because it comes up in crossword puzzles all the time.  So it was with a bit of trepidation that I traveled to Sicily with a client two weeks back.  I stayed in Taormina which means you drive past Etna and then sleep in the shadow of the volcano.

The Sicilians do not refer to Etna as “volcano”; they prefer to call it “la montagna” since mountain is a feminine noun in Italian and they definitely believe Etna to be a mother figure.  More than one of the Sicilians I met said that they look to “la montagna” every morning to see the constant steam that rises from the top.

One person told me that they think of Etna as a properly functioning pressure cooker.  As long as she is emitting steam, she is not in any danger of exploding.  Of course when there is an eruption, the lava flow is very slow; a study of deaths in historical time reveals that only 77 folks have lost their lives due to Etna.

So feeling a little more secure we headed up Etna one morning on our trip.  First you take your car (or bus) up to the Lodge which is at 1910 meters.  Then you take a cable car up to 2500 meters.  THEN you get on a big 4-wheel bus (looks a little like the polar bear vehicles you take in Churchill) that climbs over lava up to 2900 meters.  Then you climb that last bits on the inactive crater just to the east of the main (active) caldera, up to 3150 meters.

It’s an eerie feeling, since everything you travel over once you get on the cable car is like a moonscape; totally black and crunchy; in 2001-2002, an eruption destroyed all the tourist infrastructure down to the Lodge.  And even though it was plenty warm at the bottom, it was windy and fiercely cold at the top.

Of course all this lava means that the regions around Etna are extremely fertile and the wonderful Etna wines can only be bottled with grapes grown on the mountain (kinda like you can only call it champagne if it comes from the champagne region of France).  We had a wonderful lunch at an Etna winery before heading back to the hotel that made me glad that I had visited one of the most active volcanos on the planet!

Have you ever visited a place you were a little afraid of?

Disaster

October 8 was the anniversary of three terrible fires in 1871-The Great Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire, and the Port Huron Fire.  There were other, smaller fires  in the region that raged the same day as well.  It was dry in the Wisconsin/Michigan lumber regions, and the conditions were just right for a perfect storm of fires.  Thousands of people died. Some posit that meteorites from a passing comet may have started the fires, but that seems unlikely.  Small fires used to clear land, as well as very dry conditions and a very windy cold front that blew through, are probably the causes.

Once, out here on Halloween about 15 years ago we had a terrible range fire in the two counties just north of us. Warm and drought conditions during the fall had left the pastures very dry. On Halloween, a very windy cold front came through and, somehow a fire started and hundreds of acres and cattle were lost.  It was terrible, but not as terrible as the fires of 1871.  I can hardly imagine what it must have been like.

A friend of mine is obsessed with the Titanic Disaster.  She even went on the 100th anniversary commemorative cruise out of England and had period costumes sewn for the occasion. She knows everything there is to know about the Titanic.  I only like hearing about disasters if there is a happy ending to the story, which there rarely is, although I must admit I spent a good chunk of my adolescence reading about the Black Death.

What disasters have you experienced. Which famous disasters fascinate you?