Wednesday, April 26


I was raised to view the return of the robin as emblematic of the beginning of spring. You know, "When the rob-rob-robin comes bob-bob-bobbin' along." It just doesn't work any more. Even in Minnesota, the robin is a year-round resident. Their numbers are fewer in the winter, but there are robins in the Twin Cities in January.

I suppose the swallows probably still do return to San Juan Capistrano on March 19th. But that's in California. Here in Minnesota, March 19th can hardly be called the beginning of spring. So I've awarded harbinger status to the red-winged blackbird, which I've seen daily for the last couple of weeks. They aren't around in the winter. They live on bugs for the most part, so they don't come to Minnesota until we are producing the insect populations for which we are sometimes disparaged. Hence, they are my designated harbinger of spring.

I did NOT select the red-winged blackbird because I am against an equitable division of labor in a family unit. Though the RWB could clearly stand for that proposition. Other than its "manly duties", the male RWB does little except (1) stake out a territory; (2) fly around its boundaries; and (3) defend the territory from intruders like crows, hawks and eagles. Keep your eyes open and you will see a male RWB doing just that sometime this summer. The females do everything else in raising the family (please, Kate, no vitriolic letters to the blog). Nest building? Female job. Hatching the kids? Female job. Feeding the kids? Female job. Anything not listed in the short list of male "jobs"? Female job.

And the males are much better looking than the females. Many people think the female is a big sparrow. They don't even get credit for being a RWB. I guess that is a male job too. Still, I like their call. I love to watch them at the cabin. Though I am NOT A SEXIST, they are a favorite bird of mine. And now, officially, my harbinger of spring.

While I'm at it, I should make the same suggestion that my friend Tom Hampson made to me many years ago. Bird watching is a great hobby. You can do it anywhere. And a great way to start is to make it a habit to try to identify every bird you see. Once you do it for a while it becomes second nature. Ogden Nash wrote, "You can get the heebie jeebies, separating Chickadees from Phoebes." But really, he was wrong. With just a little bit of effort it becomes easy to identify the common birds. You start to recognize how they fly. Where you see them. What shape their wings are. So when you see an uncommon bird (at least if you are as big a nerd as I am) it's kind of exciting. I could hardly wait to get back to my bird book when we saw this Stellar Jay in Bryce Canyon.

I don't keep a "life list" in a numerical sense. But I love seeing a new bird. The chance to bore my family and friends with this information is just a bonus. I encourage you to become a birder. You can decide on your own about the "bore your friends and family" part. I've lost touch with my birdwatching friend Tom. But I think of him often. Especially when I see a new bird.

And just a note to honor if I can two friends, Phil and Richard. Men in their early 70's, both of whom we lost to cancer this week. Two wonderful men. Very different. Phil was a favorite client. Always with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. A good businessman who kept things in perspective and was a joy to be around. Richard had more of a Peter Pan personality. In some ways he never "grew up" (and I mean that as a compliment). But physically, boy did he grow up. A holiday party with Richard and his sons and their friends was the one time in my life where I had the chance to stand in a conversational circle and look up at everyone else's chins. And I will be eternally grateful to Richard. For he is the reason that Kate moved to Minnesota in the first place. Two very nice men. They'll be missed.

Saturday, April 22

Still Achin' After All These Days

I'm sitting here enjoying my coffee on a Saturday morning. Back from three fun days in Omaha with 140 other Scoular employees. And I realize that my legs ache. And not from standing too long at Scoular social gatherings. I'm still aching from the curling orientation that Kate and I did on Tuesday night.

In spite of the fact that I've been biking to work throughout the winter, that I just returned from a hiking trip in Zion and that I stretch regularly, my legs still ache from the rigors of an hour of curling four days ago. It turns out that the delivery of a curling stone is a fairly unusual position for me. Not that my form really resembled the woman in the photo. But that is the move Kate and I were trying to make. Trust me - it's not a natural posture.

Though I'm aching a bit, the curling was really fun. "Barnie" - our instructor (no, not that "Barny") - taught us the basic moves. We even got to play a two-end game. Won by our squad 1-0 on the strength of a shot of mine that scored. I'm sure it only scored due to Kate's skill as a sweeper. I was already a convert to curling, but now my curling Jones is even stronger. I'll try to break in to the ranks of regular curlers next year. By then my legs should feel fine again.

Friday, April 14

Life Finds A Way

I've spent this Good Friday raking leaves off the gardens. Those of you in more Southern climes probably did that months ago. It's something I really like doing. It is really knd of amazing when you think of it that life finds a way to regenerate after a long winter. Ours wasn't particularly cold, but still a Minnesota winter is not exactly life sustaining. Yet the perennials poke their way through the ground and grow in the way the climate allows. Though we help the process by covering the gardens with leaves, it's nothing that might not happen naturally.

And this idea of life finding a way regardless of the odds struck me often on our trip to Zion. These trees growing out of the side of a wall of rock amazed me. How can they survive in such a tough climate growing out of the side of a rock? Yet they not only survive, they flourish.

And the flowers find a way to bloom as the snow melts, before the high temperatures begin to average over 100 degrees.

They are prettier to me because of the seemingly inhospitable conditions they grow in.

Spring, you have to love it.

Friday, April 7

Time Marches!

Today, as we leave Zion National Park, is Peter’s 18th birthday. And I can’t think of a better place to celebrate the passage of time than Zion. Every mountainside layer of sandstone, every pile of fallen boulders, every peak reminds you that time is a major component of this place. I remember Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption saying that geology is the study of pressure and time. And this is a place where that really comes alive.

Of course, Peter’s 18 years – or Kate’s 54 or my 53 – are just the blink of an eye. But not completely so. In 1965 there was a major change in a mountain called the Sentinel that changed the canyon. Not completely, but materially. And 40 years later it’s really easy to see the effects.

Still, Zion has a humbling quality. Yesterday we hiked to a place called Observation Point. A hike of four miles each way that took us from the canyon floor to about as high as any point in the canyon. In a sense, from where the Virgin River is now to the place or time where the River started to create this amazing canyon.

Not as death defying a hike as Angel’s Landing. But to me a very satisfying one. Part of the hike through Echo Canyon was just beautiful. The view from the top was breathtaking (if a little cool).

In honor of Peter’s birthday and to honor the stratification of Zion Canyon, Peter and I each brunched on a Down Under Burger at Oscar’s in Springdale. A half-pound burger, with layers of egg, garlic, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole and onions, barely surrounded by a whole-wheat bun.

Quite a fitting sendoff from Zion. I can think of few places that are more amazing.

Now it’s on to Vegas.

Postcard from the Edge

Las Vegas is the polar opposite of Zion, and the three of us like the Zion pole much more than the Vegas pole. And I know, what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. Still, I would note a few facts.

I am now officially too old for roller coasters, especially the one at the New York, New York casino. If you see me about to get on a roller coaster, please stop me.

The Blue Man Group is very cool. An amazing experience. While the three of us may not be "Vegas People" - we all loved the Blue Men. In fact, they are so cool that Peter joined the band.

Casinos are easier to walk into than out of. We were sucked into the Caesar's Palace Casino, Swirling Vortex and Time Warp last night and barely made it back to the street.

Las Vegas people watching is tremendous - especially as the day moves on into the night.

A good cup of coffee is very hard to find in Las Vegas. I find this a truly amazing fact. This seems like a place where a great morning coffee is essential. I long for the Mean Bean (Springdale, Utah) or Dunn Brothers or Caribou. We did find one Starbucks, but the length of the line showed that many others are also in search of a fine cup of seed.

Penn and Teller are also cool (in a non-Vegas act sort of way - as Penn is quick to note). We can only assume that Teller agrees.

And if you want a great place to eat - try Olives at the Bellagio. Just a wonderful sendoff from Las Vegas.

Now it's back to our nice Minnesota reality. I don't need regular doses of Las Vegas. But Zion, that is a worthwhile destination. To say the least.

Wednesday, April 5

Gambling – Utah Style

Sunday morning, Kate, Peter and I flew to Las Vegas. It was one of those “O Dark Thirty” flights. We were at the airport by 5:30 a.m. (this hard on the hills of “springing forward” for daylight savings time). So we arrived in Las Vegas by mid-morning. Did we head straight to a casino for some high stakes gambling? No way. There was no need. We were on our way to Utah!

You may not think of Utah as a bastion of gambling. I didn’t either. Straight-laced people who don’t go for gambling or that sort of thing. Lunch in St. George was a drawing to an inside straight. A town that looked like it was all built in the last 10 years. Franchises everywhere. But we found a good place – the Bear Paw Cafe if I remember right. And had a great lunch. Then it was on to Zion National Park for some hiking.

An incredibly beautiful place is Zion. It was late afternoon by the time we arrived, but we still made it to the park for an early evening hike to the Emerald Pools that was really nice. Then we found a really fun dinner place – compete with a Polygamy Porter (why have just one? Take a six pack home to the wives). It was looking like a Royal Flush. Then my right eye started bothering me. I decided to wash my contact. A losing gamble, as it turned out. All we can figure is that someone with lots of hot sauce on his hand had used the sink before me. I washed my hands, turned off the faucet, reinserted the contact and immediately felt an amazing amount of pain. Hot poker in the eye. And the worst part of it was my eye slammed shut and I couldn’t get the contact out. I returned to our hotel room and extracted the contact but my eye watered all night and didn’t stop hurting. Nose running. Eye burning. I was shocked when Kate and Peter accused me of snoring until I remembered the eye event.

Monday we had an amazing hike up Angel’s Landing in Zion – a strenuous hike that begins with a few thousand feet uphill and then arrives at a narrow stretch with a big dropoff on either side and chains to help climbers. At that point, Kate decided quite rationally to rest on a rock. Peter and I crossed the shoulder and came to the final climb, across a ledge and then rapidly up to the top of Angel’s Landing. Peter was all systems go, but it seemed like too much of a gamble for me. Not due to the climb up so much as concern about the climb back down. So I sat and watched Peter climb on from a place that was magnificent itself. The spine you see in the background of this photo is the Angel’s Landing hike.

In retrospect, a very poor choice. I could rationalize that I wanted Peter to have the pleasure of going beyond where his father could go, but that would be simple rationalization. Gamblers should know when to roll them, and I folded them. After Peter returned safely with memories that will last forever, we climbed a couple of miles on the West Rim which was also amazing (and we were the only 3 up there – somewhat of a change from the popular Angel’s Landing hike). Lots more truly amazing sights there as well, and then the long climb back down to our hotel.

It was time for beer and wine – which can’t be purchased at anyplace other than Utah licensed stores. And that’s when the gambling really began. Because the first Monday in the month, according to the person behind the counter, is when the Beehive State rolls the dice and adjusts the wine prices. The young woman before us had drawn a losing hand – a $5 bottle that had magically transformed itself into a $9 bottle overnight. It was our turn to play “slot wine buying.” The DeLoach chardonnay must have been last month’s bargain. It shot from $10 to $15. But our Kenwood Zin (Lodi) made only a small move – from $9 to $10. Our Clos du Bois Pinot stayed the course at $12. And then we hit 7’s across the board as our Renwood Creek Pinot Noir went from $14 to a stunning $5.95! Kate went back for another bottle, taking the young woman with her. We left feeling like lottery winners.

Which, with the beauty of the day and the beauty of the place and the joy of being together, are.

Hoodoo We Think We Are?

On Tuesday the forecast was for less nice weather. So we decided to head to Bryce Canyon to see the hoodoos for which the area was justifiably famous. Bryce is at a higher elevation – and like true Minnesotans, we thought that it would be preferable walking in the snow than the rain.

In fact, the weather cooperated just fine. Peter, not so much. Complaining – well, perhaps not complaining but at least strongly noting – the poor night’s sleep due to snoring blamed primarily on Kate(!), Peter opted to remain in the car and sleep while Kate and I hiked for a couple of hours. To me at least, Zion is magnificent and breathtaking, whereas Bryce has a sort of fairyland quality. It’s kind of otherworldly, in the best sense of the word. Kate and I enjoyed the slide down to the bottom of the canyon and the “stroll” once we got there.

Kilroy joined us, since Peter didn’t. Peter did make a couple of quick forays from the car to the viewing platforms in the rain.

And he was pleasant all along – which is all you can ask of a high school senior. And we didn’t bug him too much to do this or that. Which is all you can ask of the parents of a high school senior.

This morning (Wednesday) it is raining “cats and dogs” (do they call it raining “mule deer and wild turkeys” here? – those are the only animals we have seen here), as I am pinned down in a nice coffee shop called the Mean Bean listening to the patter of the twentysomething local folks enjoying one another’s company. They are having a long discussion of mattresses. We are really not all that different.

Kate and Peter are probably pinned down in bed in the hotel room. I could use the modern technology of the cell phone to call them – but waking them in this weather might be a mistake. When I came in I could see the sunrise on the mountains for thirty seconds or so. Then darker and darker clouds obscured that view. I can now see the mountains again. Soon I’ll start declaring this the “quitting shower” as my mom has done for many years. But I think it’s all good. Today we plan on walking along the river. It should be wild after this rain.

Springdale has internet access only in the library from the hours of 10 – 6. Today should be the first day that we will be in the town during those hours. So I’ll post this and check my email. Kate just walked in with foggy glasses and a very wet raincoat. Cheers!

Hey, while I was sitting here getting this posted, the skies have turned blue. We're off!