Thursday, October 4, 2012

Road and river

The furnace went on for the first time this season. It kicked in almost reluctantly.  

It hasn’t been needed in such a long time. 

It must have reasoned, in its dull mechanical way, that we could make it a while longer. We could let it stay off a few more days.

We almost could have. The walls of the house have retained some of the pleasant summerlike heat which today is turning its back on us. 

It’s been a lovely run of weather. But most definitely it’s time for the furnace to do its thing.

Gusts tear at the leaves. Twenty-five mile speeds will play havoc with even the best combed dos, as witness the disarrangement to the trees that still have foliage.

I swept one layer of fallen leaves off the deck. It’s already crunchy with those that followed.

The orange and yellow maples, illuminated to perfection by forenoon sun, have gone from splendid to stripped through the wild workings of the wind. Mild fall, which has held on, is finally conceding to mightier forces.

As if shaking the last of the beach sand out of our sandals we’ve been on the go a lot. You try to pack in one more memory, and then another, before the inside season literally leaves no more outs.

We were at the Arboretum earlier this week. The macro color, as Al calls it, was eye-popping gold and russets. The trees, shrubs and grasses shimmered in October sunlight.

Above the burnished hills Canadian geese (migratory perhaps but as likely the permanent crowd) squawked in vee formations across the blue sky.

Another day was spent at Hastings and Red Wing enjoying the Mississippi River.

Al has been keeping tabs on the new bridge construction at Hastings. A couple extra trips have been taken that way through the summer and fall.

I’ve written of our love affair with Highway 61. It’s a beautiful road in the northern part of the state as a recent trip again verifies.

It follows the curve of the north shore of Lake Superior. It enters forests and passes innumerable streams and waterfalls. It’s very photogenic.

This national route has a different allure as it leaves the Twin Cities going south. This is the stretch that most speaks to me.

Highway 61, and the equally charming Hwy 35 on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River, earn rave reviews in travel blogs and travel magazines.

They’re called among the prettiest drives in America. The area the two roads take in is currently in the news for a different reason. The scenic region has become a center of frac sand controversy.

It’d take another day to address the issues tied to fracking, a mining process which uses sand, as it applies to this beautiful fragile portion of the Upper Mississippi.

From an environmental and appreciation view my thought is this. Outside interests have a moral obligation to listen to, respect, and concede when necessary, to the inherent interests of residents.

The local populace lives in the place impacted, after all. They’re the ones left to deal with any problems when all is said and done, and the last truck or final piece of construction equipment is taken away.

These folks, many of them lifelong residents, are generally not the ones who gain, financially or otherwise. 

Outside concerns too often have a vested interest in someone else's resources, with the intent of earmarking these resources for other places or other uses.

Whenever citizenry is involved there should be exercised a thorough program of planning and proceeding with thought to the future.  

This includes proper weighing of facts and careful scrutiny of end results for all concerned, including effect on land, air or water quality.

It may be slow and tedious deliberation. This is all to the well and good. It assures a degree of responsibility which can prevent grievous mistakes in the long run.

The Mississippi River, as many other places because of the extreme gift of their natural surroundings, gives to all. It's among accessible places we go to for renewal  individually and as a society.

These locales are not just another sandpile or dumping station from which to extract maximum value indiscriminately. 

Frack mining debate goes on in the river valley. It will continue to be the testing grounds for grassroots action. 

What's at stake is deeper than residents versus "other." The issue has the potential to divide communities and neighbors as opinions are formed, sides are taken and irreversible decisions are potentially set in motion. 

A more positive outcome might be a better informed willingness to work together on all sides toward the best long-term solution, which I hope will be the case.   

Wow. That was waiting to be said. But the discussion isn’t for now. Our day, with the oaky river bluffs not quite turning, but the weather sure to do so, was a time to concentrate on the feel-good moment of the river town experience.

At Colvill Park in Red Wing is a garden we seek out when in town. It’s a joyous garden. I believe it’s tended by volunteers. It has raised beds which get the blooms to you without having to bend.

It's not a big garden. It’s designed for easy enjoyment. It's segmented into themes - butterfly, moon (white flowers), kitchen, children's area of miniature plantings, plantings for fragrance and the like.

I learned two new flowers with the assistance of a volunteer gardener. I appealed to her expertise as she did some end-of-the-season pruning.

We came to identify my questioned flowers as cleome and turtlehead. You can’t help but admire a species with the name turtlehead. It has to stand out above the rest.

My friendly floral guide said a party for the volunteers was held in the park last week. Pumpkin and apple pie were served from tables on the lawn. It sounded wonderfully small town and fun.

Next up for us was coffee. In Red Wing we like to go to Caribou Coffee. The handsome two-story brick building was originally the railroad station.

I walked around the station house to what was the front of the building in the railroad days. A planted row of crabapple trees beyond the platform is a bucolic touch on this once bustling side.

The platform faces the river which is close but isn't visible from the depot. Grain elevators and a screen of trees afford a setting typical of so many Midwestern  rail stops of the minor order.  

My thoughts wandered to Minnesota-born writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Returning as a student from his eastern colleges at the start of winter holidays he possibly came home by train this way.

Perhaps he stomped his boots on the snowy platform during the short stop as the train chugged him home to St. Paul.

On the coffee shop grounds (no pun intended) a table sat apart from the other tables. It was under a crabapple tree. The shade it offered made an inviting spot to settle with our coffee.

Tiny red crabapples were thick in the branches above us. It was a lovely bower for hiding away.

Two nearby trees stood in the last of their fall colors. One tree was almost bare. The second tree emptied in the snap of a finger.

Blasts of wind are often considered the perpetrators of leaf fall. The blow loosens their tenuous anchorage.

This was lighthearted release. The leaves as one unit slipped into the breezes and filled the air with a golden swirl of unpremeditated freedom.

Anyone pulling into the parking lot a moment later might have noticed two bare trees ready for winter. 

But the dance of the leaves was ours to remember when we come back in the spring and the new buds are tender green.  

It was appropriate that the rumble and dust of trucks delivering corn from the fields was background to  picnic lunch at Levee Park. Our possibly last outing of  fall was catching the pace of busy harvest.

The pattern of industry heard in the noises of the truck engines was duplicated on the river. Barges were nosed expertly toward the port by tugs for loading with grain from tall storage bins.

These barges, their season soon over, go downriver in  the reduced water levels of the drought-stricken Mississippi.

The harvest activity was, in its own way, as ideal a fall scene as the bright foliage we came to see. 

Ro Giencke – October 4, 2012


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