Friday, March 27, 2009

B. D. Johnson and the Trespassing Ducks

Another bunch of volunteers from the Loonfoot Valley left yesterday, headed north to help fill and stack sandbags. The Twin Towns are having a rough time this year.

Here, the Loonfoot River's flooded part of Milldam Park, same as it does most years, but there's been no serious trouble around here.

For the most part.

Riverfront property is a treat to have: as long as the river keeps a respectful distance.

B. D. Johnson's place is a split level, with the garage and entry up near the road, and a really nice living room lower down, facing the Loonfoot River. He has glass patio doors, and windows right down to the floor. The idea, he told me, was to have a place where he could sit back and get close to nature.

This year, nature came met him half way.

The Loonfoot river's about a half inch, he figures, below his living room floor now. He's got a line of sandbags around the house, but water got through, or under, anyway.

The ducks and drakes on the river aren't changing their habits all that much: but since the river's expanded a bit, they've been getting quite familiar with B. D.'s living room. Yesterday, a pair of them swam up to the sandbags, waddled across to the inadvertent reflecting pool by the house, and swam up to his back door.

Getting closer to nature is one thing, B. D. told me. Nature getting close to you can be a tad unsettling.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Springtime in Minnesota: Snirt, Slud, and Chirping Birds

Spring is supposed to be about green grass, brightly blooming flowers, cheerfully chirping birds, lots of sunlight, happiness, and all-round niftiness.

That's not what springtime in Minnesota is like.

Around here, it's the time when winter melts, a period which combines the more unpleasant qualities of both summer and winter.

Dust, dirt, and debris deposited by winter winds on successive layers of snow are systematically revealed and combined as water runs off.

Minnesotans developed a specialized vocabulary to deal with our alternatively-pleasant springtime. The combination of snot and dirt that accumulates during winter is "snirt" snow plus dirt. An "open winter," with exposed soil, leaves a lot of. This year we had lots of snow, so there wasn't that much snirt.

As it melts, snirt turns into snud. Sometimes the snirt melts so fast, it turns to slud. (Snow and mud, snow and liquid mud, respectively. And revoltingly.)
And there's water. Cold water. Cold water that runs over pavement by day and freezes overnight. In the morning, what appears to be a damp sidewalk or street is a perfect, smooth, skating-rink-slick layer of ice.

Then there are the trees, bending over this desolate and soggy scene with the charm of discarded oven-cleaning brushes.

And, in their branches, birds. Their chirps, warbles and squawks remind me that, if I wait long enough, the snud will rejoin the soil, grass will turn green, and trees will sprout leaves.

And, no matter how unlikely it may seem at the time, summer will come.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th and the Bijou Opera House

Just about everybody knows that Friday the 13th is supposed to be unlucky, and that there's nothing to that superstition.

These days, of course, everybody knows there isn't anything to silly superstitions. There are plenty of 13th streets, and the Apollo 13 mission - - -. Bad example. All three astronauts made it back, though, so it couldn't have been all that unlucky.

In the 1880s, thirteen New Yorkers formed The Thirteen Club to debunk superstition, and kicked things off by walking under ladders into a room strewn with spilled salt.

That club was a big success, and soon had hundreds of members: including William McKinley, an honorary member who became president and was shot.

Inspired by the success of The Thirteen Club, a number of Loonfoot Falls' leading citizens formed their own Thirteen Club in the summer of 1908.

The Loonfoot Valley Thirteen Club held its first, and nearly its last, meeting in the old Bijou Opera House. Walking under ladders to a meeting hall on the second floor, the members spilled salt, broke seven mirrors, and started jumping on cracks in the floor. In unison.

The men were, as gentlemen of substance are wont to be, rather substantial. The Bijou's architect hadn't counted on something like one and a third gentlemanly tons bouncing on the meeting room's floor.

Which cracked under the strain, sending the clubmen rushing downstairs.

Knocking over a kerosene lamp on their way.

Setting fire to the Bijou Opera House.

Which burned to the ground.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Strange Case of the Untimely Duck

We're a little north of where mallards winter, but once in a while we see one of those green-headed wonders in the dead of winter. I have no idea whether they're the avian equivalent of daring explorers, or ditsy ducks with poor navigation skills.

I saw one of these out-of-season mallards the other day, out by mosquito flats. He was walking around on one of the ponds. Maybe it was my imagination, but he seemed to have a puzzled look. I half-expected him to stamp on the ice, to see if it really was solid.

He's probably getting his food from around the dam: There's open water there year-round, almost. Or maybe he spends most of his time around one of the spring-fed lakes. It's a rare winter that doesn't have open water somewhere.

That's good for the occasional misdirected duck, but not so good for ice fishing enthusiasts, cross country skiers, and other folks who like to get out in winter. After the fact, it's fun to have a story about putting a leg through an ice fishing hole, or walking a mile in frozen snowmobile pants. But when it happens, breaking through ice is just plain dangerous.

Back to Dudley, the misdirected mallard.

He waddled around for a little while, pausing now and again, and finally flew off. Almost any other creature, and I could imagine that it was contemplating the wintry landscape. But there's no level of willing suspension of disbelief that'll make a duck seem intellectual.
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