Saturday, May 5, 2018

Time Marches On

I dusted off this old blog and decided to try and pump some life into it. As the title indicates time has continued to pass and I am now in my 82 year and less than  three months to go before I am 83.

While getting old is pleasing in many aspects, the key is staying healthy and active. I had two months of ill health in February and March, I am now on the road to recovery and looking forward to getting a number of projects completed.  I once read that for every hour we work physically, we live a hour longer.  I have no idea if that is true but I like to believe it.

A serious problem with getting old is that if you get injured or fall sick it takes twice as long to recover than it did when we were young and spry.

I have included this photo I took of a doe and her young fawn, right in front of my driveway, after exiting my woods.  I saw them many times in the woods and had the feeling this was the first time the doe took her offspring out of the woods into the open fields. The fawn was just bounding and bouncing with apparent joy.

I kind of think I feel the same way about my eighty-second spring.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Old Barns and Cupolas

On a recent road trip through the south central part of our county I endeavored to find and photograph the last of the old barns and fancy cupolas. In almost every case the house is empty and the farm abandoned, while the barn is in a sad state of disrepair.
Perched high above the farm yard sits the barn cupola.  They came in a variety of shapes and sizes. In the beginning they were all made of wood and hauled to the roof peak during the final stage of construction. Carpenter took some pride in finishing the barn with a unique cupola which included an arrow weather vane which always started out pointed north. Strong winds and winter storms made it a challenge to keep the arrow pointed north. The fanciest ones also indicated the four main directons of the compass with the letters N, E, W, S.
Sometime during the 1940's and 50's they began to appear in all metal construction and were factory made. This limited the variety of the designs but they did get a little more fancy, while the metal increased their life considerably.
During the active life of the barn the top of the weather vane was decorated by a typical rooster, farm animal or a special design such as a sailboat.
As the farms were abandoned these decorations were either shot down by vandals or removed for safe keeping.  It is unusual to see one still in place today.
Note this unusual pair, each with four letters of the compass.
If you have any knowledge of any existing barn cupolas, particularly ones with a weather vane, contact me and I will try to take some photos.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Life expectancy in 2015

I took a few self portraits today. I plan to change my profile portraits on-line and keep up with the ravages of  time. It is too late to make any drastic changes.  I must just accept what I look like and concentrate with staying healthy and active.

When I was born back in July 1935 in Canada I believe my life expectancy was under 70 years. In less than five months I will be 80 years old and have a life expectancy of 87, up one year from my my previous calculation.  One of the good things about becoming a very senior member of society is that your life expectancy stays apace. So that's not a bad eightieth birthday present.

My present goal is to press on to at least 90 years of age.  I will endeavor to maintain my blog on a regular basis and try to increase my followers. They increased by one this January so I now have a total of four. I do not endeavor to reach a large number of people just for the sake of the numbers. However a steady increase would indicate my blog content is on the right track.

Perhaps I might even receive a few comments from readers to just prove they exist.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Uncle Eric's house

When I first came to this area of Kittson County, MN some thirty five years ago I tried to buy some land where I could build a house.  For a brief moment in time I tried to buy the nine acres of land that Uncle Eric's house sat on, but it was not for sale. I was not related to Eric but the house was always referred to by others as Uncle Eric's.

 The house sat forlornly on the edge of the riverbank woods at least a half mile from the nearest road. It had been built in the early 1900's so it was over fifty years old during my first visit. Erick was a farm laborer and worked mainly at farms in the area and at the same time tended his few acres. For a couple of the early years it seems he had his deaf sister living with him and they communicated by sign language.

The house was vacant when I first saw it and remained that way ever since.  Uncle Eric and his sister died at least fifty years ago and the little house has faced time and weather alone and in silence ever since. With the farm field on one side and the river behind it, access to the site was difficult but it could be seen briefly through the trees from the high side of the river a half mile away.

During the period of time I have lived in the county I have watched many a house and barn demolished by so called progress. Many other died a slow death from a broken back caused by snow loads in winter.  Others were burned and the remains buried.  Recently I realized that Uncle Eric's place was not going to last much longer so I grabbed my camera and the snowshoes and headed out.

This river photo was taken near the road closest to the house which lies in the distant tree line on the farthest side of the field.  The house sits in the trees to the left of the opening you can see in the woods on the sky line. The river swings wide to the left in a half circle and passes behind the house.
The snow was deep so the first challenge was to get down the steep river bank in the foreground and onto the frozen river. We had experienced a number of very cold nights before there was much snow on the ice so I was confident that the ice was thick and safe.

The second challenge after crossing the river was to get up the steep river bank on the far side. Once I was up the deep snow on the bank I passed through the old gate opening and started my trek to the distant house. My snowshoe track can just barely be seen to the left of the fallen tree seen in the photo. The nearest residence is at least a half mile away as the crow flies.
The close-up photo of the house shows it was a story and a half with a lean-to on the right hand side. The front door is missing along with the steps. Only one pane of glass remains unbroken. Notice it had a solid brick chimney.  The old weather grey siding shows very little of what remains from the original coat of white paint.
The photo from the rear of the house indicates it was a small home and the winter snow loads over the course of many years has broken its back. The final collapse is only a winter or two away. (The following winter it gave up the fight and was crushed flat by snow.
The last pane of glass is doing its best to hold the snow back, but its too late. Even the trees around the house have died.
The trip back across the field and river bank was uneventful but the struggle up the river bank was a trial. Later I realized the effort was worthwhile when I learned the little old house was down.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mystery tracks in the snow.

On a recent snowshoe outing in our woods in Northwestern Minnesota I came across a track in the fresh fallen snow.  As I stood there looking at it I was unable to think of what kind of animal would make such a track.
The track was continuous and had a half round shape as if it had been made by a fat snake. I rarely see a track that I cannot identify because there is a limited amount of wildlife in my woods, especial in the winter.

With my curiosity aroused I started to follow the track and then noticed a couple more of the same type. After a short walk I came to what I realized was the beginning of the tracks and took another photo. ( See next photo below)

This spot was very helpful because it indicated that some type of bird had landed in the snow. The
   Photo shows that the bird approached from the left and marks of it two feet can be seen to the left     of the hole in the snow, showing where it landed. This hole was deeper than the rest of the tracks. A bird when landing sets its wings and makes a downward beat to slow the decent. The long marks in the snow to the left of the landing hole shows where the edge of the left wing touched the snow. Five distinct marks show where the wing tip feathers made a light mark.

The imprint and track showed me it was a large bird and had to be a Ruff Grouse as at least six presently reside in these woods. In normal winter conditions a Ruff Grouse walks on the surface of the snow with ease, and rarely sinks in more than an inch.  This bird was sinking in at least six inches and was having to push forward with its chest to make any forward movement in the soft snow and this resulted in the unusual tracks.

The third photo shows the landing site of another grouse that came from the direction at the top of the photo.  Again the marks of the feet can be seen at the tope of the photo while the wing tip feather marks are seen on the left side of the photo.  As the birds wade off, they sink so low in the snow that the bottom parts of the folded wings leave drag marks in the snow.

Once I felt satisfied that the tracks were left by Ruff Grouse I tried to understand why these birds were sinking so deep on the snow.  As I  thought back to the beginning of our recent weather I believed I had the answer

A few days ago we received two or three inches of light fluffy snow the slowly fell during the night and early morning. This was followed later in the day by strong winds that ranged from thirty to forty five miles an hour and created a ground blizzard across our region.

The winds stripped the loose snow off the fields until it was airborne and blown in vast clouds across the landscape.  Where ever the winds blew across wooded areas the winds were slowed and the snow settled in the woods. As the storm drew to a close the winds died down and these vast clouds of snow settled gently in the protected woods.

The ground blizzard resulted in the top five or six inches of newly deposited snow to be so light and fluffy it would not support the grouse and they sank chest deep and had to struggle to move about.
The fact that the grouse experienced a mild fall and were rather fat and heavy contributed to their problem.

The mystery of the strange tracks in the snow was solved.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Beginnings

I last posted to this blog March 15th 2011 and that makes it almost four years ago.  I find the length of that gap hard to believe.  There were many reasons, but mainly I seemed to just get too busy and let everyday life run me.  Since today is the first day of a brand new year I thought that it was a good excuse to restart my blog and my reflections on life past, present and future.

Another excuse is the fact that I purchased a new camera and have a great urge to get out and photograph the county around me and test the new features it provides. I bought a Kodak PixPro AZ521 with a 52X lens.

 Last, but not least, I have to consider that I could  be running out of time.In six months, give or take a day, I will reach my eightieth birthday. I hardly need more incentive to contribute something worthwhile to my blog.

To test the camera I headed for the north branch of the Two river a few miles away. The snow was only a few inches deep so it was not difficult to get about. It was a bright sunny day and right away I found I had a problem. The new camera does not have the usual view finder.  This camera is fitted with the new three inch LCD screen.  The bright sunlight made it very difficult for me to compose my pictures.  Keep in mind that I have owned a camera since I was fourteen years old and they all had a view finder. I have no choice but to adapt and learn how to use the new screen. I did a little research when I got home and discovered that I could increase the light intensity on the screen and bumped it up to the highest setting.  I will see if that makes a difference on my next outing.

The following photo shows the Two River a few miles northeast of Lancaster.  I have canoed it a couple of times in the past.  The land the river flows through is very flat farmland but the river has cut a decent channel through the terrain with the result it is very scenic from the seat of a canoe.

One of the main features of the camera that attracted me was the zoom lens.  To test it out I found the remains of an old log barn and took a couple of shots that show the log construction and the grain in the wood.  The photos were taken from some distance away and not with the close-up feature.  

I believe this barn was built very close to a hundred years ago and the roof has already been ripped off.  The balance of the building will soon be destroyed. you will notice that the corner construction of the walls was not built in the typical log fashion where the logs were cut and stacked to overlap the lower row and stick out six to ten inches.  In this example the ends of the logs were cut off even with the face of the wall.

The photo of the gray wood from the old window makes me think of the great number of rain storms and snow storms it has experienced.  How many times did the old farmer look out through this window to check the weather before beating his way through the snow drift to the safety of his home.

As I left the old abandoned farm site a Ring-necked Pheasant flew across the yard in front of me. As I fumbled with my camera settings a second one left the shelter of the woods a few seconds later.  They are the first ones I have seen locally in at least ten years when they were more plentiful. Our milder winters will increase the odds of their survival.  As I drove away I was disappointed that I missed the chance to test the camera on a flying peasant.

Note that at one time the cracks and holes in the wall were filled with mud or cement and little of it remains.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ground Blizzard - 60 mph Winds

The forecast warned us many hours in advance that North Dakota and Northwestern Minnesota was going to be hit with a blizzard. Early reports from western North Dakota confirmed 60 mph winds with gusts over 70 mph. As the day progressed and the storm failed to appear, many people, writer included, continued their daily routine. By dark on Friday March 11th, 2011 we had strong winds but little snow and it appeared the brunt of the storm was going to miss us.

I drove into town late in the evening to visit friends, but I kept one eye on the weather conditions outside.
One favorable condition of the storm was the report that it would end by midnight. I waited until after midnight and then got in the truck and headed for home a few miles away. While still in town I appreciated that the winds were still very strong and any snow in the air was being driven horizontally.

As I left the protection of the town the winds increased, as did the blowing snow. When I was about a mile south of town all protection from buildings and trees were left behind and I drove into the full force of the storm. As I continued south the wind blew from the northwest and the sky filled with blowing snow that crossed my path from right to left.

On the prairie, snow blowing firecly across the road has a tendency to cause a driver to drive in the direction of the snow. Headlights are virtually useless as the snow in the air reflects the light back so you see nothing but white snow in front of the vehicle.

The blowing snow has a hypnotic effect on the driver and it takes concentration to stay on the road. To make matters even worse an increase in the wind causes what we call a "white out" when absolutely nothing can be seen for four or five seconds. Just the sound of the storm is enough scare you.

When I lost the last protection from the trees, I slowed right down and had to look out the drivers window at the ground. The pavement was free of snow as the winds were so strong the snow was blow across it and out into the open fields. No other vehicles were on the road so there was only a minor chance of running into something.

It was at this point that a firece gust of wind caused a white out and I was unable to even see the pavement out the side widow.  I applied the brakes and brought the vehicle to a stop and sat there waiting for visibility to improve.

When I went to move forward the truck would not move.  I opened the door and saw snow.  I was no longer on the road.  With difficulty I got out and walked around the truck in the blinding winds and snow.  I had to hold onto the truck the whole time or I would have been blow into the field.  I soon determined that I had crossed the highway to my left and was now sitting still facing north, but on the side of the ditch.

I was only a few feet from the pavement but the tires on the left side were in a foot of hard snow while the tires on the right side were in six inches. I tried to back up in my tracks but they had already filled in with snow.  Any attempt to rock the vehicle back and forth did no good because the snow was packed hard.

The roar of the wind was so strong that it would have been very difficult to talk to someone, if I had not been alone. It was impossible to face the wind and snow and you could only look down at the ground or down wind. The truck was being buffeted strongly by the blizzard winds and was rocking from side to side.

When I got back into the truck to warm up I realized I had three options. The first was to stay put and wait till morning or until the storm blew itself out.  I had enough gas and was warm so that was the best option.

The second, was to try and dig the vehicle out, get back up on the pavement, and slowly work my way home. The last option was to leave the vehicle and walk the mile or so back to the house. All the advise in the world states, stay in your vehicle. Most people die when the get lost in the blizzard and walk in circles until they finally fall down and freeze.

After sitting a short while, I decided that I would at least try and dig the vehicle out as I always travel in the winter time with a large shovel, known locally as a grain shovel.  I was wearing a warm coat and had on my head a stocking cap. So it was up with the coat collar and down with the hat and I jumped out.

I started at the back of  the truck where the loose snow lay in the tracks.  I was able to shovel the loose snow away and with each shovel full I hardly had to lift it up a foot and it was instantly blown from the shovel and took off into the darkness for parts unknown.

After about five minuets the cold winds and snow would force me back into the truck to warm up. I was in and out a half dozen times before the snow was cleared from behind the truck. I also cleared the snow away from behind the front tires. A couple of times the wind grabbed the lower section of the shovel and I almost lost it, had I not held on tightly with one hand on the handle. It was a very good demonstration just how strong the winds were blowing.

Getting back in the truck was always difficult as the wind first tried to rip the door off, then made it difficult to get the door closed again. Once I was warmed up I tried to back the truck up. By driving forward and back for about three feet I made room to make a run at backing up. In a matter of moments I was  moving freely but then the tires started to spin, they lost traction and the back of the truck started to slide down the slope into deeper snow in the ditch.

The only choice was to get back out and continue shoveling. After a few more tries at backing up onto the road and sliding further into the ditch I gave up and got back into the truck to warm up. Once I was warm I decided that I had to change my plan and try to drive forward. It would mean shoveling away a lot of snow in front of the truck as well as  from under the vehicle and back tires.

At the point the wind started to work for me.  As I cleared away the snow down to the dirt and grass the wind kept in clean and no further snow built up. After many trips in and out of the vehicle I had enough snow moved away to attempt to move forward.

It is at this point you realized that if it does not work you will be forced to spend eight or ten hours waiting for help.  I cautiously put the vehicle in gear and it began to move forward but then once again the back tires lost traction and moved down the slope. The truck was now facing the road and the rear was much lower than the front tires which were on the gravel shoulder. It was time to rest and think things over.

Digging in the cutting wind and snow takes all your energy and concentration.  I could think much better when I was in the truck and warmed up. I realized that with the front end on the edge of the road I not longer had to worry about shoveling snow from the front tires and could concentrate on the back.  If  I could dig down to the dirt in the ditch I should be able to get traction and get out. It was worth a final try.

Out I went for one last try. The wind and snow had not let up in the slightest but now any snow I dug away from under the vehicle and around the tires was whipped away and kept away. After many in and out trips I was ready to make my last attempt. As I shifted into gear and applied the gas I could feel the tires starting to dig into the dirt. The more dirt I dug, the more dirt it packed in behind the truck so I was able to rock the truck back and forth until I got more room to make the run up the slope.

Eventually, with each roll back and forth I was able to climb the slope higher and was very happy when the back wheels reached the pavement.  It was at the very moment, when I sat sideways blocking the entire road, that I had thoughts of some large truck appearing out of the blizzard to hit me broadside. Not good.

I was very quick to get turned south and then with the door window open I watched the pavement very carefully. A couple of times I saw the yellow center line and moved right to stay on my side of the road. The winds kept trying to force me across the road.

The vehicle moved at a crawl as I knew I was close to my road where I had to turn east. I could see a sign between the gust of snow that showed I was at the intersection.  I made the turn very slowly as I had no intention of going back into the ditch.

My spirits were lifted when I got on the gravel side road and slowly started eastward. At this point the winds seemed to be coming more for the west, blowing the snow down the road ahead of me. I left the window open and stared down at the gravel on the road and made sure I did not leave it for the snow filled ditch. It seemed to take for ever as I moved forward at a crawl, and a lot slower than a person could walk.

After almost a mile I reached the protection of my woods that was to the left and this slowed the wind down so I had a little more visibility.  I was a pleased to see my mailbox by my driveway. Once I turned into my drive and my woods, visibility was almost normal and it was a great relief to turn off the truck and head into the house.

The next day I had a few sore muscles from the marathon of shoveling but I considered myself lucky compared to the many people that spent anywhere from eight to eighteen hours before they were rescued.

So far I have not heard of anyone that lost their life. I got home at 2:30 a.m