A Boathouse Summer

As the weather changes to frigid and life slows down a bit, I have a little more time to write again. While I was able to share our hiking, camping, and raspberry picking along the Superior Hiking Trail, we also had plenty of good weather (and bad weather) moments from our home base- the boathouse.

As a refresher- Michael, Hutch, and I live off grid in the boathouse we rebuilt over two years ago. We live on the Mississippi River on an island in Winona, MN among 100 other boathouses but only a handful or two year-rounders like us.

We have “tea” with our neighbors on Thursdays when the weather is right. Tea might include tea. It might include Tullamore Dew whisky. On special occasions, Tea will be an entire bloody mary bar. Whatever beverage Tea is serving, it always includes good company, interesting conversation, and a couple of neighborhood dogs (not ours) and one neighborhood toddler (ours).

Living off the grid means no bills but arguably more chores. In the winter, these chores are tedious. In the summer, they are fun. The boathouse chores include but are not limited to: refilling propane tanks, refilling drinking water, refilling our 55 gallon drums of water used for showering and sinks, and the occasional emptying of our compost toilet. In the summer, we are fully powered by solar energy. In the off seasons, we may need occasional help from a friend- the Honda generator.

In the summer, chores are done by jon boat. We get our water from the local marina which is a quick jaunt upstream. We can also transfer our propane tanks by boat to vehicle to gas station and back again with much less effort than the sled pull technique that winter provides.

The only downfall of summer chores is when the fruit flies make their way into our toilet and proliferate like… like flies I guess. That cleanup is a dreadful job, and one that Michael has taken on 100% of the time. For the record, I did take care of the maggot situation we once had in our cloth diaper bin. This was a lesson not to leave dirty cloth diapers outdoors, and to potty train immediately- which is going quite well.

Some summer highlights on the boathouse include the following: the sunsets, watching our neighbor Gerty cruise by via boat no less than 3-4 times per day- almost always with his dog Banksy in tow (Hutch loves the doggies, he loves Gerty too but Banksy more), watching the Steamboat Days fireworks on the deck, using the boat as our primary transport (to the grocery store across the river, to “daycare” aka Grandma and Grandpa’s cabin on the river, or just to the parking lot which is a solid five minute walk otherwise), jumping off the deck into the river (diving board coming next year, already purchased via Craiglist ad), and e-bike rides to town or to the adjacent wildlife refuge… so many e-bike rides, 2,200 miles to be exact.

This year also brought us some roommates for a couple months.

Our friends Sam and Patty took up residence in our houseboat Neighbor Girl, the little steel hulled houseboat we lived in for four years before moving in to our current river residence.

You may remember Neighbor Sam from being a neighbor of ours when we lived in this boat in Saint Paul, MN. Sam had an adorable tugboat that he acquired from Lake Michigan. He also lived on his boat for four years.

Together, our boats and our selves navigated four wildly different seasons in an elusive wooded marina smack dab in the middle of the cities.

Now, having Sam & Patty here allowed us to revive Neighbor Girl as she had slowly become a glorified tool shed over the last two years.

Their presence also brought a lot of fun, a welcomed sense of community with shared meals and game nights, and new memories together like co-parenting an abandoned duckling, mastering “patty boarding”- pulling a kite surfing board behind the boat (named after Patty as we accomplished this on her birthday), and assisting in the capture of a fugitive.

Okay, I will share the fugitive story… It started on a blissful sunny afternoon when Patty, Michael, Hutch, and I boated to the boat landing to pick up Sam so he did not have to walk that treacherous five minutes across the island. Sam was briefly chatting with a stranger drenched in river water when we arrived. The stranger was frantic upon our arrival and requested a ride “down river”. I asked multiple questions like “are you okay?”, “what’s the matter?”, and “where do you need to go?” The stranger eluded my questions and became increasingly demanding that we give him a ride.

Meanwhile, Michael spotted a police officer pulling up to the landing and asked the stranger if this had anything to do with the cop over there. Michael got the cop’s attention, and the cop hurriedly made his way to the landing. The stranger became frantic as Michael started to pull the boat away from the dock. The stranger jumped onto the front of our boat. He slipped around with his wet feet as Michael gunned it in reverse. The stranger fell in the water. We were caught between the police officer coaxing the stranger to “just make it easy on yourself and come on in” and the stranger saying “I’m trying but I can’t, the current!” while the current was indeed aiding him in the officer’s direction.

We hung around as either a rescue or a capture boat but luckily, neither was needed. The stranger swam in and was arrested as a fugitive with a history of sexual assault. When I told my coworker this story, she asked “What is up with you running into criminals this year?” She was referring to my vehicle being stolen on Superbowl Sunday and being found outside the scene of a homocide… Well, let us hope 2022 brings less crime and more patty-boarding.

While one of our 2021 summer goals was to hike the Superior Hiking Trail, our other family goal was to take a few days to navigate our jon boat downstream and simply take in the Mississippi River in all of it’s raw and unassuming glory.

This would include tent camping on whatever sandbar we landed at, cooling off with a swim, and the occasional mingling with small river towns when we stopped to refill gas or groceries.

One of our greatest inclusions was to bring our e-bike along. All three of us can ride, and it was an easy way to see a town from top to bottom and side to side.

I try to keep a sort of travel journal whenever I go somewhere new. This started when we took our trip around the world and continues with trips within our own region or state. I highly recommend this practice as even the most magnificently tangible details dilute with time. Instead of trying to recollect the details of this river trip, I’ll include tidbits of the unrevised journal entries below.

Day #1

Michael has outfitted the boat nicely with a new spotlight and navigation lights, made a console hatch that locks, made a cover for the engine compartment, added our cedar chest to the front for our items, got a new prop, and strapped on our e-bike as well as our two gas cans and a water jug. We’re taking our jon boat with a bimini and the pack and play for Hutch.

We get to Lock #7 where a barge is headed upstream. I call the lock and find out it is a 1.5 hour wait. We find a sandbar nearby and hang out. Hutch runs around. We eat and drink and get in the water a bit. We find a baby turtle that Hutch is very afraid of.

I find camp just downstream across from Brownsville on Ryan’s Point. Hutch is asleep by 8pm. Michael and I join him in the tent at 9:30. I read a bit, fall asleep quickly, and wake to high winds and light rain at midnight. The tent is shaking and I’m amazed Hutch doesn’t wake. Rain starts again around 5am and sticks around until 8:30am. We play in the tent until it clears. We debate going home already as the weather forecast shows scattered storms all day and into the night. We take a gamble and keep going.

Day #2

We are glad we gambled. It is a perfect day.

We strip Hutch naked and let him play in the sand and water for at least two hours. He loves to have a cup and scoop and dump water over and over again. After two hours, I ask Michael, “How long do you think he would do this for?” Michael says, “at least a year.”

The blue herons are very active here and louder than I’ve ever heard them. I usually see them alone but here it seemed like they were playing some sort of game- calling eachother and dodging around. I love to watch them. They are my favorite birds.

We do family river baths tonight, giving Hutch a rinse with our clean water. The forecast states a 90% chance of rain tonight so we prepare for that. We are all together in the tent by 9pm.

Day #3

We never got rain last night. It is the driest year yet this year and the first time I’ve heard the word “drought” used for the state of MN, so I celebrate rain whenever it chooses to come.

Hutch woke twice in the night but very briefly. One time just to say, “mama, yup. dada, yup,” then back to sleep.

We biked around Prairie Du Chien for a good while on the e-bike. The weather was perfect in the morning but we knew rain was on the horizon. When we hopped back in the boat, a barge was ahead of us. I cruised to get ahead and get to Lock #9 first. It was 5 miles away but we did it.

The rain was headed our way from the north so we made a plan to drive just south of Lansing, park under a bridge, and visit the Driftless Area Museum while the rain poured down. We parked perfectly so the boat was spared of the 1.5 hour torrential downpour, and we enjoyed the museum.

Day #4

We wake early, of course, because Hutch always wakes early- 6am. It is already a perfectly calm day. We got on the water quickly and cut through the glass-like river. We see pelicans, a cormorant, and two eagles chasing each other in flight- a full grown and a juvenile, the juvenile chasing the full grown out of a tree.

We reach Stoddard. At the landing, there are many pickup trucks, and also a horse tied to a tree with an Amish cart nearby. We take the e-bike to explore and restock our ice.

It’s a beautiful day, a beautiful ride home. I drive us toward the sunset and play some music. We hit the last two locks perfectly- no wait time and we’re home by 6pm. I could live on this river forever with these guys… I just might.

I write about much of this as way to hold memories. Anyone who knows me knows that my memory for things, people, and events does not hold up well. Perhaps, this is why I was given a joy in writing- it is my way to to memorialize moments.

I want to remember Hutch’s unadulterated joy in watching the ducks swim by. I want to feel the swift euphoria as I jump to the river from the edge of our spiral staircase. I want to dwell in the admiration of watching our 86 year old neighbor diligently care for his boathouse, for the ducks, and for the island for over 40 years of purposeful boathouse-dwelling  existence.

I want to close my eyes and see the summer sunset as it casts it’s pinks and it’s oranges across the quietude of a still river, always interrupted by the noise of a landing duck or a family splashing at the beach across the water.

I know that our boathouse winters will hold and have held memories that would be equally painful to lose. I will transcribe those again too. In the meantime, I could not let this year pass without reflecting on the spontaneous, untroubled (except for the very sweaty, unair-conditioned days), and very colorful existence that a boathouse summer provides. Thanks for partaking in my untimely contemplation of a summer passed.

Oh, and happy holidays! May your cup of cocoa have perfectly melted little marshmallows, and may someone make you frosted cut-out cookies with multicolored icing so that you don’t have too. Cheers!

Raspberry Parade

If I were a physician, a medicine woman, a psychiatrist, a marriage counselor, or any person that’s expected to provide prescriptions for problems, I would grab my prescription pad and scribble “take a hike” for a good chunk of today’s troubles.

Michael, Hutch, and I are fresh off of eight days of hiking the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT).

We had guest appearances by our easygoing, adventurous friends Pete and Tracey (plus Kip the dog). We got to have them at The Northern Post as well. This was a true highlight. 

On another day, Neighbor Sam joined us for a full 13.5 mile day that ended at the dynamic Temperance River.

While near Grand Marais, we got to have my highschool pal Arran, who usually resides in Switzerland, along for probably the most beautiful and certainly the most dramatic section- Pincushion Mountain Trailhead to County Road 14.

We also got to stay with Arran’s mom and dad for a couple of nights. This is always a joy. Our time included good food, soccer, feeding goats, wonderful chats, and for us- necessary showers.

We made it a goal to jump in Lake Superior or any other body of water after each hiking day- a form of bathing I suppose, certainly the most enjoyable kind. 

With Pete and Tracey, we got a mid-day swim in Bear Lake. A loon was living here. His noises reverberated in the valley of this special lake that remained untouched by any road.

With Sam, we reached the mouth of the Temperance River at the end of the day and swam there. Being with Sam near the water always feels right. We met him five years ago as our neighbor in the the marina when we lived on the houseboat in St. Paul. Our memories with Sam always include water… or that damn tower (see tower tale blog post for details).

With Arran, we found ourselves very sweaty and in the right place for a cure- Devil Track River.

Our other swimming holes included Illgen Falls (a slightly hidden gem) and the classic Lake Superior dips at Split Rock River Wayside.

Outside of swimming, our eight wonderful days (in this third trip anyway; 20 days in total this summer) on the SHT included 102 miles of berry picking, song singing, joke making, discussion diving, and tidbits of silence… but not much of that.

Most of my quiet, tranquil moments were abrubtly interrupted by a sweet little voice yelling “Mama! Ra-berry!… Mama! Ra-berry!”

Raspberries, juneberries, thimbleberries, serviceberries, gooseberries, and the beginnings of blueberries lined our trails and filled our bellies. It’s no wonder all the bear scat is dark with berry juice and sprinkled with their seeds- the berries are everywhere.

We referenced our guide book Wild Berries & Fruits by Teresa Marrone to learn more about what was what. We sampled chokecherries (astringent AF) and rose hips (mostly seeds with a potato-like skin). Sam tried the bunchberries with an unimpressed reaction. We avoided the baneberries (toxic, both red and white ones) as well as the sarsparilla and the blue-beaded lilies (both inedible).

Michael proofread this blog and didn’t want me to forget the scootberries. Our guidebook stated that they are inedible because they cause problems like diarrhea. In Michael’s words: “That sounds less like a problem and more of a solution.” And that’s all you need to know about scootberries.

The raspberries were the most abundant. We would spend 10 minutes picking at one patch and still leave hundreds for the next hiker.

Like a true Minnesotan, Michael began to sing this well known Prince song whilst among the berries: Raspberry parade, the kind you find in a second hand store. Raspberry parade, if it was warm she wouldn’t wear much more.

Like me, you are probably thinking, “whaaaattt Michael?..”

I paused for a moment and said, “Michael, did you just say raspberry parade?”

Michael, “yes.”

Me, “Michael, it’s raspberry beret… the kind she finds at a second hand store.”

Michael, “….”

We both eat a handful of berries now and have a moment of silence.

Michael, “I don’t think so.”

Me, “… are you serious?”

Now, in the middle of the woods, I must dig my phone out of my backpack, turn it off airplane mode, hope and pray for cell service, and Google this very obvious win I’m about to experience.

With pride, I show him the true lyrics of the very popular song titled RASPBERRY BERET.

My ego is large now. My belly is full of raspberries. Michael is humbled. Life is good, and we sing his version of Raspberry Parade the rest of the trip.

When you hike for 8 plus hours per day, you and your hiking partners cover a lot of conversational ground. Hutch’s content revolved around the word “ra-berry” 90% of the time. This is now the longest word in his vocabulary, but he learns it out of necessity so he can direct his mama from his borrowed (Thanks Tannica & Sam!) Kelty carrier throne atop his father’s back.

“Mama, ra-berry!… Mama! Ra-berry!” Sometimes, I oblige and hand-pick the juiciest berry for our little forest prince. Other times, I’m simply too sore or exhausted or blistered to perform one more bend in the hot sun mid-ascension to the rocky ridgeline. During those times, we’ll pass the alluring berries quickly and ignorantly and say, “let’s keep looking,” and in 0.2 seconds, Hutch has scouted out another patch.

This is our third hiking trip on the SHT this summer. We have completed 221.5 miles with the goal to complete a total of 249.5 miles from Martin Road in Duluth to the northern terminus by the end of this year. We only have 28 miles left now.

This trail is one that we’ve wanted to acquaint ourselves with since buying land here in Two Harbors in 2015. These northern woods are both wild and comforting, two adjectives I also use to describe my husband; perhaps that’s why I love them both so much.

These north woods are different than the Hutchinson prairies that Michael grew up on or the deciduous driftless region that raised me.

These woods have an abundance of northern white pines (Michael’s favorite tree) that draw your eyes straight to the sky and cedar trees (my favorite) that grow erratically yet purposefully from any boulder or bog.

The trail has both robust and trickling streams, beaver ponds that come alive at night with a delightful cacophony of creature noises, waterfalls that feel other-worldly, backcountry lakes untouched by any sense of civilization, ridgelines that bring you close to heaven, and valleys that make you feel small again.

We scare up grouse a couple times a day, and on once occasion, we were attacked by what I assume to be a mother grouse.

The bears remained elusive while we saw their berry-ridden poop everywhere. I now fear the grouse more than the bear.

Moose prints were seen a couple of times- an animal we dream about catching a glimpse of. Unfortunately, we are much too chatty to allow for this fortuity.

Human sightings were only occasional- a surprise to us as this trail is incredibly accessible with trailheads every 1.7 to 11.8 miles. Some days, we saw nobody.

One day, we met a 73 year old woman named Jean. She was hiking 11 miles by herself. Her husband would pick her up at the end of the day. He did this every day for her- drop her off at the start and pick her up at the end.

Jean ran into a bear before she ran into us. We had our lunch break with her as she regaled us with her decades of hiking stories. I loved her.

Near a trailhead, we met a family with a little girl who greeted me by saying, “I like your purple everything,” as they skidaddled past us. It strangely made my day, and I thought: should I start using a version of this compliment? Perhaps, I will tell others, “I like your everything,” or “Your everything is wonderful.” I don’t know.. maybe this statement is most endearing from a five year old.

Another observation about the Superior Hiking Trail humans: most hikers (and especially the solo thru-hikers) were female. This was a pleasant surprise.

I have been hiking in a variety of ways and in many places for over a decade, and my gender is usually outnumbered. I find the same trend in boating- males everywhere.

Perhaps I share certain pieces of me most online- the forest activities and the river living- because I want other women to know that these places are for them. Of course, women have always been here, but it is harder to find the representation- the books about them, the public figures, etc. I have read my fair share of Mark Twain, Sigurd Olson, and Henry David Thoreau, but it is harder to find a book written by a woman like Jean.

(Side note: After intentionally seeking these out, I have found two books about women in the outdoors and am reading them both right now. I highly recommend these books pictured below. Rivers Running Free is now on my list of favorites. Thank you Gina for the book borrow.)

Back to the SHT shiz. I have talked about the incredible beauty of the trail, but there are hard parts too. I feel obligated to include the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My feet blister every time. My combination of moleskin, tape, and nylons under wool socks only ease the discomfort. By day four, the blisters finally pass the stage of pain with every step.

Camping with a one year old can be amazing or terrible. We changed course to day hiking after a night in which Hutch acquired a face full of bug bites nearly swelling his right eye shut. In that same night, Hutch woke at 4am crying to leave the tent and go into the darkness to play with the bears and the bugs. I should include that the camping sites are all group sites which is wonderful but not at 4am with a crying baby.

We decided to complete our third trip by day hiking only. This eliminated some of the aforementioned problems and allowed us to carry lighter.

We needed a “shuttle” to park or get back to our vehicle each day, so we utilized our electric bike.

The bike was a perfect shuttle service and even allowed us time on the Gitchi Gami bike trail. We are able to triple up on the bike, so it’s as good as a car for these short distances. It is also Hutch’s very favorite thing. If you see his front perch view here, you can understand why.

We only had one biking hiccup- a flat tire. It was being used for shuttle in the morning when Michael drove it alone back to us after leaving our car at the endpoint. He went flat with 4 miles to go and got a text through to me in a place with minimal cell service. In 10 minutes, I recruited a stranger named Maddy who had driven to our trailhead from his direction. I asked, “Did you see a hitchhiker a few miles away?” She said, “Yup, I thought about getting him but knew my mom would kill me.”

Maddy offered to pick him up now. She was smart though and asked me a few personal questions that she then made him answer before letting him in her car. He got the questions right, whew.

He hid the bike there in the woods until we could pick it up after our hike. Maddy wouldn’t take the payment we offered her. She said, “Someone did the same for me a few weeks ago.” People are good. Thank you Maddy.

Unfortunately, this year was much drier than normal leaving some trail water sources unavailable. We use the Sawyer filter (highly recommended) to filter water from any stream or pond.

The lack of water is usually a non-issue on the SHT. This year was different, so while we used our filter frequently, we also carried more water to assure hydration.

The wildfire haze was another new feature. Our weather report provided air quality alerts telling us to avoid extensive activity in the outdoors…hmmm, and our views of Lake Superior had a smoke-stained filter.

Campfires were banned completely. None of this is normal.

I write in this blog for fun, for a place to keep memories, for a place to share lightness in a sometimes heavy world, and to show a life that we work to keep simple, clarified, and reduced down to only what feels real- free of excess and free of societal expectations.

In time, I find that I cannot both enjoy the simple life that the woods and the waters offer us and omit the important discussions of stewardship as well as the environmental detriments being caused by human greed, gluttony, and the generational conditioning that has led us to create such harmful habits to each other and to the earth.

I have a lot of thoughts on these things. They are stored somewhere important in my brain, probably right next to all the Prince lyrics. I will share more of this in future writings, potentially more Prince as well.

I will keep my writings balanced like I believe life should be. Living lightly and living purposefully is not mutually exclusive.

I hope you stay along for the ride. Like forest prince Hutch in his Kelty carrier throne, I will feed you many sweet and sun-kissed raspberries and a few sour ones. They will both be worth a taste. Thanks for joining our raspberry parade.

Well, SHT

And within a matter of ten minutes, we came across a police officer. She seemed to be taking inventory of the miscellaneous items astrewn across the Superior Hiking Trail: a broken folding chair, a torn shirt, garbage, and plastic bags stating “Patient Belongings” pouring out items like puke bags, kleenex, and gauze. As she talked to us, these statements stuck hard and fast to the deep place where my mom anxieties live: “we’re looking for this guy”, “he’s well known to police”, “we think he’s camping in the area”. I muttered, “Do you think it’s safe to be camping with our baby?” She replied, “Well, yeah, just get out of this general area” as she waved in every direction. And with that, I was ready to complete our 47 miles in that single day.


I never watch crime shows. I always say that I spend far too much time in the woods to infiltrate my brain with that. The scenario above would have been the perfect set for such a show- sunny day, unsuspecting couple with baby, friendly cop, bizarre items placed perfectly in disarray. Even without crime TV influences, my mom brain spent the next two hours considering every scenario. I thought, “shoot, I should’ve asked for his name or what he looks like… now, we’ll meet a guy on the trail and have no idea if it’s him.” At some point, I decided I would befriend him. If we met him, I wouldn’t want him to feel threatened. If things really escalated, I had bear spray- something I insist to bring and Michael believes is unnecessary. To be honest, he’s probably more correct.


I start with this whole story to show you that fear is alive and well when trying something new. This would be the first multi-day hiking and camping trip that we’ve done since Hutch was born. We would be backpacking 47 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) on this trip with plans to complete the remaining 250ish miles in separate trips later this summer and fall. This flatter first section (from Duluth to Two Harbors) would be our trial run. We slept in a tent with him the night before the trip to see how he would do. It was a total disaster.


Hiking and camping without our one year old child would be business as usual. Backpacking with a baby was new territory.

Would he tolerate being carried for most waking hours? Would he nap in the carrier or would we have to stop and put up the tent? Would he even sleep at night next to us and not in his crib? Would he cry all night and wake up every other camper? How would the bugs be? Will it rain? Will it get cold at night? Will he get eaten by a bear? My dad warned about bears and reminded me that Hutch would be “a tasty little morsel”. I don’t worry much but I found my mom mind exacerbating every little idea.


Backpacking with a baby also comes with extra weight. We do cloth diapers which are not light, especially when wet. He still breastfeeds but needs extra milk in addition to that; dried milk formula would have to be brought. I insisted that we not only filter the water we give Hutch but that we boil it too. We used a thick sleep sack for his sleeping bag, and I brought him snow pants to wear on the cold mornings when he wanted to play in the mud. Our packs were not light.


After two hours of hiking away from “this general area”, every single worry dissipated. We got in our groove with good conversation, plenty of play breaks where we strapped Hutch’s shoes on and let him run around, snack breaks of Nutella slathered on tortillas (highly recommended), perfect weather, and a basic joy of just being together in one of our favorite places- the woods.


Hutch was incredibly adaptable. He fell asleep easy and was able to sleep straight through the night by the 3rd night. He tolerated being in the carrier for 8ish hours per day and napped there too. While Michael and I got at least three ticks on us per day, Hutch had none. We were very dedicated to twice-a-day tick checks. The mosquitoes were not out yet- a true luxury.

We learned that we could dry the wet cloth diapers on the back of our packs; they would then be lighter and reusable. I got nearly a dozen painful foot blisters (waterproof shoes might not have been the best idea). A friendly hiker borrowed me moleskin, and I soaked my feet in the rivers. They no longer hurt by the third day. We were faster than we expected completing 11 to 15 miles per day and averaging two miles per hour. We finished two days earlier than we expected. The section completed was Martin Rd. to Reeves Rd. We will continue northbound as time allows.

The uninterrupted time together outdoors is truly as good as life gets. It’s incredibly refreshing to be removed from society with phones off and our eyes on what surrounds us. Being a little unnerved about something felt good for my system; I think everyone should try it- let fear happen and embrace some healthy discomfort. Also, I will continue to avoid crime shows at all costs.

Swinging And Missing

“You’re really swinging and missing lately.” I said this to Michael after a day of driving and disappointments.

First, we drove to the Minneapolis Police Impound to retrieve our stolen vehicle that just got released from its homocide hold. Next, Michael drove three hours to Two Harbors to pick up our fourwheeler from the mechanic who could make it drivable but not fixed.

Third, Michael drove three hours back to River Falls to pick up Hutch and me but not before running out of gas on the freeway in the dark three miles from a gas station in -5 degrees.

He hopped on his bike that he brought with “just in case”. After getting 2.75 miles along, a police officer pulled him over on his bicycle telling him “you can’t be biking on the freeway”, so now he had a police escort. When he began to get his gallon jug that he brought with to fill with gas, the officer said, “why don’t you go ahead and get yourself a gas can.” Apparently, he also can’t be putting gas in an old water jug.

As Michael sat in the cop car on his way back to the vehicle, Michael thought about explaining our stolen vehicle situation and asking for his perspective. Michael reconsidered, thinking that talk about stolen vehicles and homocide holds might increase the cop’s suspicion about him- a slightly disheveled guy who was driving a vehicle that doesn’t belong to him (it’s my sister’s). Instead, Michael discussed the weather and thanked him for the ride.

Now, I would not have told Michael he’s “really swinging and missing lately” had we not had a whole week that resembled this day.

Earlier in the week, while we were house sitting at my parents’, our battery inverter/charger at our boathouse stopped working. We switched it with the one in our houseboat along with the houseboat batteries. We charged our batteries with a generator but in the cold, the oil gets so thick that sometimes the generator does not detect enough oil and shuts itself off. This must have happened right after we left the boathouse leaving the batteries not fully charged. Our heating system is in-floor heat only.

The next time Michael returned to the boathouse, three of the floor in-floor heat loops froze solid. Michael switched back to our new batteries since the houseboat ones were having difficulty taking a charge. Once the batteries were working again, the hot water heater would not kick on. The boathouse was now an igloo.

Our trusty neighbors Moses, Gerty, Polly, and John saved the day by lending a shed heater to get the temps up and a multi-meter to help troubleshoot the hot water heater situation plus an allen wrench to fix the hot water heater and oil needed for the generator. It took a village.

The problem with the hot water heater ended up being the pressure switch which was likely overpressured by the frozen pipes. Finally, after two days of this, the charger, the batteries, the generator, and the hot water heater were all working again. It took an additional two days for the in-floor heating to unfreeze, and luckily, without leaks.

Shout out to Gerty for checking on our house multiple times while we were gone to make sure everything was trending in the right direction. We have the best neighbors.

Okay, I know I breezed over the whole stolen vehicle and homocide hold situation earlier, and I know that we have some true crime junkies that read this, so I’ll briefly explain the scenario.

Michael, Hutch, and I were in Minneapolis staying with friends for a weekend.

On Sunday, we loaded up our vehicle and started it. We went inside where we could visualize the vehicle from the window and got wrapped up in our Minnesota goodbye that lasted 5, maybe 10, probably 15 minutes- you know the standard tradition: say goodbye, hugs, chat about the weekend that evolves to when we’ll get together next, then “let me give you some snacks for the road”, goodbye again, another side discussion, more hugs, etc.

When we got outside, we no longer had a vehicle. It was found six days later but was on a “homocide hold”; we knew only this until two days later when the detective called back telling us we could retrieve our vehicle as it was not determined to be part of the incident but just at the scene. Two days after that, we got our vehicle back.

They took most of our things and left their own treasures: half a bag of Cheetos, a bag of gummy worms, a bar of Ivory soap, some makeup, air fresheners hung up to mask the newly acquired smoke smell, baggies that once contained something, and some women’s jeggings- multiple pairs but not my size. They did have good taste in Cheetos- jalapeno cheddar- my favorite. Michael threw them away before I could finish them off.

The vehicle ran but has some new noises to it including a grinding noise in the vents when you turn on the heat; how does that even happen?… When Michael first looked at the vehicle, he told the Impound Guy, “It could be worse. It doesn’t look like they used it as a toilet.” Impound Guy, “Yeah that happens quite a bit actually.” Michael, “Really?” Impound Guy, “Yeah, they usually use the center console.” Michael, “I could see that.”

If you know Michael, you know he’s a swinger. Wait, that came out wrong… I’ll try again. If you know Michael, you know that he doesn’t sit on the bench. He’s the first to go to bat no matter the pitcher, the score, the… I ran out of baseball metaphors.

Anyway, Michael always goes for it, and he most always hits home runs. He tries everything and is successful 95% of the time- about the same efficacy as the Pfizer vaccine.

So, this week, Valentine’s Day week, I told my husband, “Hey, you’re really swinging and missing lately.” I told him that because it’s true, and whether he’s hitting homers or striking out, I love him like crazy.

Like An Old Blind Raccoon

I’m not sure where I read it or heard it or thought of it, but there is a saying that lives in my brain that goes: “If you don’t leave this world looking a little weathered, you haven’t lived hard enough.” I think about this all the time. I see it in the wrinkles of my elders, the water lines on the trees that mark the coming and going of a big flood, and in the charm of an old (boat)house. They all have stood through some shit, and I am here to admire.

Social media is weird. It is often filled with snapshots of “pretty” parts of a life. People love to use filters that take away their perceived flaws. I’m not here to tell anyone how to be, but I really miss seeing wrinkles and scars.

We have an old blind raccoon on the island. One eye is missing and the other is opaque. She still knows her way around. She goes to my neighbor’s boathouse every night to find a little food. She seems resilient and industrious and wise. If that raccoon could talk, I would happily sit down and listen.

Tomorrow is my birthday- the final day of 2020. I love this about my birthday, that my new age also marks a new year.

As I walked the island a few days ago, I took note of all the pieces marked by time: the beaver chewed trees, the exposed roots from erosion, the water lines from flooding, the way trees grow slanted from years of wind patterns, and the brush piles of invasive buckthorn.

I thought about how everything that’s good gets marked up by time and experience- the trees, long relationships, your favorite pair of shoes. I wondered about the experiences of the blind raccoon and how she has had to adapt. I thought about us, the humans, how we have had to adapt. I wonder how we will move forward in the coming years with the experiences that 2020 has brought us.

I see that people like to look past the reminders of hardship. The evidence of erosion, floods, and invasive species that I see on a routine walk are often ignored. I wish we could all step forward without the filters- embracing the wrinkles and scars and flood lines, talking about them, learning from them, and honoring them.


Tomorrow, I will have lived on this earth for 32 full years. More and more, I am appreciating the weathered parts of me, even the breastfeeding boobs that have inevitably developed some sag; they’ve earned it. Cheers to another year of living full and hard and wearing the wear and tear like a badge of honor, unfiltered and honest, like an old blind raccoon.

Remembering The Nightcrawlers

I love bad weather. I love that it knocks us off our routine, makes us uncomfortable, and bring us Minnesotans/Wisconsinites together in a collective “What the hell is up with this?” kind of way. I have to include Wisconsin in my posse now that we’re living out on the river somewhere in no man’s land between the two dairy-loving, football-crazed, lake-loving, hardy-living states. Also, I love the cheeseheads.

Two days ago, on October 20, it snowed multiple inches all over the place. (That is exactly the sentence I would say if I was hired to be a weatherwoman.)

Today, I woke up to a gray yellow sky which is a color that makes no sense. It felt otherworldly.

My neighbor texted me to watch out for an alien invasion. Allegedly, there have been multiple encounters with former residents on this island, and today looked like the set for exactly that. My mind wandered and made up stories as the eery energy eminating from the sky and off the oddly calm waters infiltrated my system. I then heard a clunk clunk against the boathouse and jumped with the flashing thought of a landing spaceship. It was just a log brushing against the barrels, and it is a noise that happens here every 3.5 hours. My imagination got the best of me.

Shortly after my stint of imaginating aliens, Michael called me. He is rained out from work. Reason #5 that I can appreciate a little bad weather: we will now have the rare day off together.

I think I like bad weather in the same way I like the dark. It heightens my senses and allows me to feel fully present. You can bet that I am paying attention to every broken branch, every print, every sound, and every motion as I walk through the woods late at night. For those five minutes on my walk home, I don’t think about what my patients are going through, about Covid and about missing many of my favorite humans, about politics, about anything outside of my present experience in these woods. It’s enlivening and so necessary. Also, when I’m most alert, the neighorhood beaver slaps it’s tail at me and makes me pee my pants, so there’s that.


If you think back on the last year, I guarantee that some of your most vivid memories include inclement weather. They do for me.

I remember bringing Hutch home from the hospital during a winter flood. The icy water was up to our knees and I yelled to Michael, “as long as it doesn’t reach my stitches!”… uffda. We stayed at our neighbor’s house that night after discovering that our heat went out.

I remember the hip deep snow at the cabin- Hutch’s first time there. It was such a challenge just to move through, and it provoked plenty of fall-related laughter.

There were the hot days that I submerged Hutch in his bathtub while I lived in just my underwear.

There was the mid-summer tornado that skirted around us. It was mighty and dark as we tracked it’s path just south of us. I remember the warm air, the whipping wind that switched directions ten times a minute, and the maternal worry that pulsed through my body as I asked Michael, “Should I put Hutch in a life jacket?”

I remember the wet and humid days walking through the island. I felt transported to a rainforest- a wild place so green and isolated.


As I walked home in the dark on Monday, I thought, “Why do I love this so much? Why do I love this dark walk that also feels both cold and wet?” I dug into that wonder until I remembered gathering nightcrawlers with my dad as a very young kid. It felt just like this night. I might have done this thirty times or maybe just once, but my body remembered the thrill.

I would have never dug up this memory had I not tried. Our minds are cluttered with so much.

The brain begins to carry only what we exercise; this is science. I see it in practice as my stroke patients must repeat actions to strengthen a neural pathway that they lost. If they repeat a thought over and over or an action over and over, that pathway will regenerate and grow stronger and more accessible with repeated input.


If we exercise gratitude over worry, our minds will land there first. If we perseverate on the flaws of a person, our minds will execute that negative thinking the next time we consider them; the same goes for positive thinking. If we start to stereotype, those connections will only grow stronger with each practiced thought until every person we meet or every experience we have gets put into it’s prescribed box.

But, if we relive the nights with the nightcrawlers, if we remember the thrill of being wet and in the dark way past bedtime and this is learned to be fun and not scary or uncomfortable, we will start to carry those kinds of feelings in the forefront of our cluttered minds. If we take time to enjoy bad weather or humorously entertain stories of aliens or perseverate on what is so good in each person we meet, the neural pathways in our minds will grow stronger toward these inclinations. We will feel enlivened.

So today, when I catalog the gray yellow sky in my memory, I will remember Hutch crawling on me at 7am and the neighbor’s dog visiting and licking both of our faces into a smile. I will remember a day off with my family with nothing planned. I will think about aliens, ya know, just for fun.

 

Board But Not Bored

In times like these, a person does one of two things to stay sane. You keep your mind busy or you keep your hands busy, and often, these coincide. My husband has the busy hands. I have the busy mind. Mine feels a lot less productive. Since the busy mind is a bit of a weird place, we’ll stick to the topic of Michael’s busy hands.

The first thing I have to say about Michael’s hands is that, thanks to my relentless but warranted nagging backed by CDC guidelines, they are usually well washed. He tends to leave the sink prior to the 20 second mark, but I’m sure to remind him.

In the last four months, a lot has happened. We finished out our boathouse. We had winter. We birthed a baby. We had a flood in the winter (strange). We finished our bathroom and finally have a working shower. The snow melted, and spring came (kinda). We fell in love with being parents. We finished out our kitchen. The pandemic came. I started work again. We had the spring floods and have to boat everywhere, a lovely or treacherous portion of my commute depending on the day. The snow came again (classic Minnesota). And most recently, we (Michael) built our deck and established entry by means of a spiral staircase. Michael’s hands have been busy. Mine help intermittently when my boobs aren’t busy but breastfeeding is truly a full time job.

I bet you wonder why I talk about floods so often. Well, we base our activity around the rise and fall of these waters. We adjust the ropes that hold our home to shore accordingly. We plan if we can walk our asses to the parking lot. If we can walk there, we debate wearing knee high boots or waders. If it’s a job for waders, perhaps we just go by boat. We park the boat in different spaces according to the river level.

We like to park at “LIPS”- Latsch Island Phone Service, where the one phone for the whole island once existed. It was the island’s central station for socializing. It still is as Neighbor Ernie greets us with a smile and stories whenever we dock, and on sunny days, multiple boathouse dwellers cross paths as we navigate our boats around each other (six feet apart of course).

The water is high enough now that we boat through “Bathtub Slough”, a cut through a cluster of boathouses tucked behind the ones that line the channel. We duck under a communication line at the entrance and greet Pirate Pat on the way. We have to raise the motor in the shallows and navigate around the cement bases that used to hold up the railroad bridge. As Neighbor Polly explained this route to us, she said, “It’s actually pretty fun.” It really is… except in the sleeting rain at midnight.

Back to the busy hands that built our deck. Knowing the flood was coming, a few days were spent schlepping boards for our top deck: 146 to be exact, some as long as 26 feet.

The twelve posts sticking out of our roof were scaled, cut level, and long boards spanned the whole way to connect them. More boards were attached to connect those boards. Finally, the top deck boards were applied. (Insert “bored” during quarantine joke here.)

As we wondered how to best access the deck, Michael consulted his trusted friend Craig. Craig has this list that Michael is very fond of. On Craig’s list is where we bought a boat, perused for fire towers, found this very boathouse (well, the former one that lived here), purchased our land up north, found the van that we outfitted into a moving apartment, and now, we found the answer to our deck access dilemma- a steel spiral staircase. Craig, you slick son of a gun, you’ve done it again.

As does everything in this lovely flood season, the staircase needed to travel by water. To make this happen, we would use our boat as a pusher and our neighbor Polly’s dock as a platform to carry the stairs. Michael strategically attached a few boards to the front of our boat to protect it and keep everything straight when pushing the 8ft x 20ft platform. Michael connected the platform with rachet straps that spanned from the boat’s two front cleats to the platform’s back two cleats.


Michael navigated this 40ft caravan through Bathtub Slough and up to shore where the spiral staircase was waiting on a flatbed trailer.

Before the 1000lb staircase was tied down to the trailer, Michael laid sheets of plywood underneath so when the dock met the trailer, he could use more rachet straps as winches to more easily slide the staircase onto the platform.

As he pushed the platform downstream toward our end of the island, Michael’s floating spiral staircase was a site to behold.

Erecting the staircase was the sketchiest part, and like many sketchy endeavors, the most fun.

 On the deck, we (Michael) used a 15 to 1 pulley system with a rock climbing belay device as brake. With the dock butted up to the downstream corner of the boathouse, we (Michael) tied the pulley system to the far end of the staircase and started pulling.

When the staircase was at 45 degrees, we were able to funnel the base in place with some strategically affixed scrap boards. After plenty of pulling and lots of lines tied off in every direction to keep the 1000lb mass from swinging side to side, the staircase was finally home.

Boathouse living is certainly made for busy hands and for busy minds too. There are always ropes to retie, barrels to replace, unexpected weather conditions to navigate, floating trees or other surprises to dislodge, off grid ideas to bring to life, or creative solutions to maximize small spaces. This 24ft x 24ft space is no barrier to busyness or joy or fulfillment or intrigue; it provokes and nurtures all of these.

At the end of the day, it is time to put busy hands and busy minds to rest. This little floating home is especially good for this. It’s 7pm as I write this. Michael is making a ruckus on the deck as he works on the railings. He’s been at it all day. A boat zoomed by and left a wake that makes me feel slightly tipsy. I admire the bold and distinguished colors that fill the feathers of the neighborhood mallards. The ducks fly west from John’s house; they make a splash as they settle on the water in front of me. The water rhythmically flows in the other direction as if to bleed off the colors of the setting sun. I let my busy mind settle down on these simple things.

Alright, it’s time to get Michael off the damn roof. Stay busy if you must but stay rested too. This is a weird time. At the end of the day, settle down on the simple things. (If you say this final paragraph twice, you’ve washed your hands for 20 seconds.)

 

The Warm Glow

We build a fire from the scraps that built our home. We smile in it’s warm glow… If that’s not the metaphor I need right now, I don’t know what is.

We are in the midst of wild times. Trust me, my maternity leave ended in the thick of a global pandemic. I had to trade in the comforts of my mom robe and slippers for evening shifts donned in scrubs and uncertainty. But tonight, I don’t work, and tonight, my husband built a fire for our little family of three: a fire fueled by the unusable scraps, the broken pieces, and the unnecessary slices of a former whole. In less metaphorical language- he was burning up the leftover trim.

I do this thing sometimes where I try to capture moments with mental snapshots. I focus on the present and all the tangible pieces it provides- the warm glow on Michael’s face, the still but crisp air when I step away from the fire, the variety of colors that the flames provide- darker at the base and lighter as it rises, how Michael set up the chairs on pieces of wood so they won’t sink into the mud, our boot imprints in that mud, the outline of our boathouse over the still water, the way the lights of Winona glare through the cottonwood trees, the secure feeling of holding Hutch close to me as he sleeps so peacefully in my arms.

I started this practice of capturing mental snapshots years ago when Michael and I were traveling around the world. We didn’t have cellphones to capture every second, and I didn’t want to forget how good some of those moments felt or smelled or looked or sounded. It’s now become a form of meditation, a source of calm in wild times.

I am a nurse. I talk to a patient about his upcoming surgery as he coughs on my face. He later has a fever. After this shift, I go home to sleep next to my husband and baby. A nearly debilitating amount of fear accompanies that experience.

Did I mention that this is a crazy time? I’m sure you’ve noticed. It’s uncertain and scary. It’s also many other things. Let us not forget that we are still very much alive. I still sit in front of a warm fire. I cuddle my smiling baby. I watch the birds migrate right outside my front windows. I read books unrelated to the chaos. I drive my boat under the moonlight on my way home from work. Sometimes, less preferably, I drive my boat in the freezing rain on my way home from work. This is a crazy time but there’s beauty too. Believe it or not, sorrow and joy are not mutually exclusive.

We build a fire of the scraps that built our home. We smile in it’s warm glow. The pandemic will pass. It will not pass without some loss. We have been forced to strip down- to only buy the basics, to eliminate our social calendar, to limit our interactions to only our household (and if you’re not doing this one yet, you must; it’s critical), to go nowhere or do nothing with our extra time, to just sit by the fire or watch the birds migrate.

We will be changed. Things that seemed to matter before may not so much matter again; they may become mere scraps of our newly built selves. This pandemic will pass. We will sit by a fire again with all the ones that we love. We will burn the parts of a former self  that no longer serve the foundation of a good and meaningful life. We will smile in it’s glow.

It Takes A Village

Belonging. Love. Acceptance. No matter what human you come across, that human desires each of these things. We all do. The crabby coworker, the drunk uncle, the friend who never returns your calls, the introvert, the extrovert, that guy in The White House who tweets nonsensical criticisms, and everyone you love or despise, they all want these: belonging, love, and acceptance. I will refer to these three desires as “a village”.

In 2018 until the spring of 2019, over 300 tents accumulated in a small area alongside Highway 55 in Minneapolis. These tents became a village of homeless people who now made a place they could call home. I drove past this community on my way to work and often pondered the good and the bad of a place like this. Of course, living in a tent in winter was unsafe, drug use was prevalent, and sanitation was challenging. However, people who once felt alone and vulnerable to dangers on the street now had a village- people nearby that would support them, check in on them, or simply accept them. I get it.

After passing the hundreds of tents and pondering a life experience outside of my own, I get to work. I’ve been a nurse for eight years now and four of them have been in the area of rehabilitation- rehab of trauma, stroke, burns, amputations, spinal cord injury, etc. I have found that the two factors that most contribute to quick progress and good outcomes are these: the patient’s health prior to injury (the healthier then, the better they heal now) and their village or the amount of support and involvement that surrounds them now. Do they have a horde of family or friends or at least one or two tried and trues that check in daily, bring food, decorate their room in photos and cards, make them laugh or let them cry in company? Without doubt, that patient will heal better and faster.


Belonging. Love. Acceptance. Having a village and contributing to one too. These are human necessities. Forget our modern society’s idea of necessities- a big house, new car, or big paycheck. I’ll take my little floating home, rusty old truck, and part time schedule any day. It’s the village I can’t live without. I need my family, my friends, and my neighbors to stay sane, healthy, and quite literally afloat. My baby boy needs them too.

I gave birth to Hutch on January 9. On the evening of January 11, it was time to go home. I fed him at the hospital as Michael packed up our stuff and brought in the carseat. After Hutch was fed and bundled up, I put him in the carseat. Eager to get on the road, Michael quickly fastened the carseat latch at Hutch’s chest, and the plastic latch broke. Michael tried to repair it to no avail. He showed the nurses. After they asked why the latch looked melted (part of Michael’s repair attempt), they told us we would need to get a new one. Michael drove to WalMart (a store we recently vowed to boycott which is a whole other story) to get a new carseat. An hour later, Michael was back. We opened the “new” carseat and put Hutch in it. It wreaked of cigarette smoke… WTF. We ruefully continued with our departure, hurrying home to get Hutch out of this cigarette basin as soon as possible.


What Michael and I did not know is that the river level had risen two feet in that single day. Our life on the water revolves around the attitude of the river and for the last five days, our focus was diverted to meeting and loving our little boy. We forgot to check in with Ol’ Man River. The river height was 10.8 feet this day when it usually sits around 7 feet.

Ice dams had caused the rise. As we carried Hutch across the island in the dark in 12 degree weather, we came upon the flooded center portion of the island. One of our neighbors had left a canoe for himself and the other islanders to traverse this section. Hutch very quickly had his first canoe ride. We came upon another flooded portion. We didn’t have our headlamps but the moon was full. We thought we could walk this part. I had my knee high boots on; Michael did not but felt fine getting his shoes and pants wet. We went separate ways, each believing one way would be better than the other. We both got soaked. The water went past our knees, into my boots, and after this, we could not wait to get into our warm little home.

Another unexpected circumstance greeted us as we opened the door to our boathouse. The batteries had drained down to nothing, and the usually cozy boathouse was sitting at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. I wanted to cry. I was exhausted and holding my bundled and hungry baby while feeling like the worst mom to ever walk the planet. First, he had to ride in that disgusting carseat. Now, we didn’t even have a warm home for him.


It was 7pm when we got to our cold boathouse. It would take the rest of the night to charge the batteries and reheat our home. In that moment, we were wet and without warm shelter, but we were not without our village. We could have traversed the island again to stay with our land-dwelling relatives or we could walk the 30 feet to our neighbor John’s house.

We called John. As always, he was there for us. He happily put us up for the night- a night that involved many instances of baby cries, lots of breastfeeding- something I was still getting used to and was quite the process, and a full takeover of his main room with a bassinet set up, diaper supplies, etc. We were welcomed and warmed.

I recently read a book by Sebastian Junger titled “Tribe”. It discussed the value of a village and the detrimental effects of not having one. As always with books read, I wrote down some of my favorite quotes.

The following two quotes ring true to me as I recall comfortably sitting on Neighbor John’s couch feeding Hutch as he watches the Tennessee Titans upset the Ravens in the divisional playoff game:

“Some people are generous. What made him different was he had taken responsibility for me.”

“Robert Frost famously wrote that home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”


In an increasingly individualistic society, I choose to rebel in small ways. I choose to be vulnerable and allow others to do the same, to keep my door open and lack hesitation in entering the open door of another, to live minimally and buck the culture of consumption, and to share experiences, stories, and life with a village of people both similar to and different than myself.

I choose to raise a son in this ever-growing village of love, belonging, and acceptance. I hope to allow him the priviledge of knowing a plethora of human experiences outside of his own. It takes a village. It always has.