Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota


storm snaps

I’ve gotta say, don’t you just love cellphone cameras? They allow us to capture so many things that only a few years ago would have remained only in our mind’s eyes, if at all.

Here are a couple recent scenes which made me happy I had my cellphone along. The first was during my commute home, when a storm was darkening the sky less than a mile away, while the sun shone brightly from the other direction. The freaky contrast was delicious.

farm w storm behind

The photo below was taken just about 9 p.m. as Mike and I crossed the Hennepin Ave. bridge into downtown Minneapolis for the all-night Northern Spark festival. As the sky suggests, it was to be a very rainy night. I suppose both images are pretty representative of our wet and stormy spring!

Minneapolis at Northern Spark sm



Around Labor Day we made a brief excursion to the North Shore with some good friends. Our lovely cabin in Lutsen was right on Lake Superior’s rocky shoreline. One of the things about these rocks and boulders I find endlessly exciting is the beautiful lichen. I’m like a kid in a candy shop!

Lutsen lichen rock 1

I painted these using a small kit I’d put together for sketching, consisting of cigar box with duct tape hinge, small plastic spice jar used as water container, and some paint brushes with ends broken off to make them fit in my bag.

Companion animal: Least chipmunk

Lutsen lichen rock 2




Amazing tree

Fall has come very late to Minnesota this year, and we’ve have many days of warm weather and near-blinding sunlight. This has made most everyone very happy, including plein air painters!

In the parkland near my house, I have a favorite tree that I can see across the grassland during my regular walks. This tree continues to amaze me – its heartwood is absent, presumably scorched away by lightening and perhaps fire years ago. There is also a hole in its bark one can see right through. Yet the tree stands strong, alone on the hillside, always with a full, healthy display of leaves.

Here are a couple paintings I did over the past week featuring this tree, along with a quick sketch of the adjacent treeline and wetlands.

Companion animals: garter snake(s), deer ticks

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April snowstorm

I’m probably one of the last people in Minnesota who is still happy to see snow. And snow it did yesterday – perhaps 8″ in our area.

It’s been awhile since I’ve taken my camera out for a spin, so I stopped by Tamarack Nature Center in the blustery aftermath to see what Nature had to say.

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A look at the lake

There is a beautiful, shallow lake nearby my house, bordered on one side by a road which provides lovely views by car. A couple weeks ago I set out on my bike to find a spot from which to paint, knowing that might be difficult since the lake is surrounded by mostly private land. As it turned out, there was just ONE lake view I was able to find without trespassing, alongside the public boat launch. So be it.


Onion river

This painting was done last month when I was up on the North Shore, following the plein air painting course I’d mentioned earlier. Even though I liked the painting, I wasn’t sure I was done with it, but the longer it sat, the more complete it felt.

I painted this along the Onion River, where there are some striking geological formations. It takes a fair amount of rock hopping to get around the riverbed, and the black flies were pretty fierce, but the magic of the river is worth it.


Centerville Trail

Yesterday was one of those beautiful days we wait for all year. I took my paints out to the bike trail in Centerville and found a shady spot. It was fun painting in the company of bikers and dog walkers passing by.


New water project

From this blog or otherwise, you probably know I have a special interest in water. This week I started video production on a new documentary about regional issues of water use, that I’m guessing will have a lot to say about our consciousness and management of water in Minnesota.

Right here in the northeast Twin Cities metro area, the water levels in many lakes have been steadily decreasing in recent years to historical lows. The reasons for this have not been clear. Around White Bear Lake, the situation has obviously impacted residents and businesses on the lake. But it’s also seriously compromised the lake’s recreational features, likely affected local tourism, and been a major downer for a community whose identity is centered around this beautiful and historical body of water.

Moonrise over White Bear Lake, January 2012

This past year city, county, state and federal governments collaborated to support research by the US Geological Survey (USGS) to determine the cause of White Bear’s lake level declines. The findings to date were presented at a White Bear Lake Conservation District meeting this week.

One of my most formative experiences when first coming to Minnesota was taking a limnology field course at Lake Itasca, and I’ve been something of a water geek ever since. I’m still trying to get a handle on all the USGS study findings, but am fascinated by the methods they used – sampling wells to look at isotopic markers of different water sources, using a submarine EcoMapper to sample water quality along the lake bottom to find indications of seepage, examining well pumping volumes over time, etc. – to figure out what may be going on.

If you’re interested, you can soon view the findings at the USGS website. In a nutshell, the data indicate that our recent decline in lake levels are associated with greater pumping from high capacity wells (commercial, municipal, and irrigation) that has come with increased development in nearby cities. To a lesser extent, the decline also reflects a decrease in precipitation over the last several years. It’s pretty clear that our water use and water bodies in the area are directly linked through the Prairie du Chien aquifer below us.

What happens next will be the main subject of this film. I’m especially interested in capturing the community and planning discussions, as well as any policies and/or actions that may result.

This week at the Conservation District meeting, working with the videography and production assistance of Tim Splinter, we were able to capture a range of questions from the Board and residents during the meeting itself, as well as additional comments from local residents, a business owner, and a civil engineer. The meeting room itself was packed.

Among the people we talked with was Fletcher Driscoll, a distinguished hydrogeologist and lakeshore resident. His comments mirror the feeling I have that we may be entering a new era in our relationship to water here in Minnesota.


Barn Bluff, Redwing

Last month on one of the few warm days we’ve had this spring, I took a hike with Mike up Barn Bluff in Redwing, MN. Overlooking the Mississippi River Valley, the top of the bluff allows one to see more distinctly the islands streaking the wide river and the contours of the many hills surrounding the river plain.

At this point the grass was just starting to emerge, and the only things with much color were the evergreens. In the bright spring sunlight most of the color of the landscape was washed out. I did a sketch of the lines and forms before me, think a bit of Depression-era painters who tended to simplify shapes and lines.

A couple weeks ago I painted the same scene, making edits here and there, and having some fun using color to define the different shapes. I’ve left the painting kind of sketchy, partly because when I returned to it today, anything I added felt wrong and I ended up scrubbing it out. The painting was telling me it was fine the way it was and didn’t want me to mess with it.


A visit to Chisago County

Last week, with the temperature breaking 40 degrees, I had spring fever and decided to venture out of town. Recently I’ve been reading The Emigrants series of novels by Vilhelm Moberg, about a group of Swedes who migrated to America in the mid-19th century, and settled in Chisago County about 30 miles north of where I live. This area still retains much of its Swedish heritage, and was calling me to come and connect with it some more.

Here and there along the county roads, it’s common to see barns, outbuildings and perhaps original homesteads that echo the lives of the early Swedish settlers. As in Moberg’s books, early settlers often lived in one room houses, perhaps like this one.

Leaving my car to take this shot, it wasn’t 1 minute before an older couple kindly stopped to see if I was having car trouble. Somehow I don’t expect to make as much contact with people when I’m out in the country, but on the contrary, this was just one of several encounters that afternoon that made me feel like I was among friends, family and neighbors.

Struck by a particularly nice farm, with its silos gleaming in the afternoon sun, I pulled over on the side of the road to take it in. The resident cows greeted me with interest, and I was reminded of some passages in Moberg’s second book in which the family’s borrowed cow was treated as an honored family member. Having a cow and fresh milk made all the difference to the family’s survival, especially over the winter.  I could tell from their surroundings and response to me as a human that these cows were also well loved and cared for.

Heading down the road I was enthralled by some gigantic power line poles rising above the corn fields. My movements to shoot them eventually drew me into conversation with a crew from Excel Energy who were out repairing some lines. Seeing them using a crane up in the sky on this bright spring day was a thrilling sight. Aaron Desrosier, their foreman, shared all kinds of fascinating information with me about power lines, like how incredibly heavy and strong the lines are; and that in California lines must be buried enclosed in a tube and so can be pulled out when broken, while in Minnesota lines are buried as they are, and left there when new ones replace them. One of the coolest things Aaron shared was that the repairmen (and women?) working on the lines get dropped down and picked up on top of the poles by helicopters, leapfrogging their way along. Wild! As a former farm boy, Aaron remarked that the work wasn’t much different from stringing and repairing fences.

I honestly wasn’t actively seeking out references to the Swedes of the last century, but it did seem like they were rising up to meet me. This cemetery, circa 1878, lay along a busy road, across from a school and business. The names and dates spoke clearly of those who had settled here, their lives beginning in Sweden and ending in Minnesota.

Looking for a snack I dropped into the Many Voices Booksellers and coffee shop in Lindstrom, and discovered a wealth of love and stories, expressed through the decor, items for sale (including yarn!!), and above all the store’s manager Patti Jirovec. Almost immediately we fell into deep and wide-ranging conversation about Life, and along the way I learned about the special vision and experiences of the store’s owner Jamie. As I savored my tea and donut, I took this picture of Patti spinning.

Some days it seems like the Universe just opens up its arms to you and you fall in. It was only 2 1/2 hours that I spent in the Chisago area, but it felt like during that time I saw the past so clearly in the present, found I had friends I never knew I had, and felt my life expand exponentially.

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