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.

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 their 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.)

 

Moving Port

It is 6:45am on Saturday, August 24, 2019: Day #2 of driving Neighbor Girl down the river to her new port of Latsch Island, Winona, MN. We beached our sturdy steel houseboat on a sandbar last night near Mile Marker 810. One lock and dam down, four to go.

The river treated us kindly yesterday. Perhaps she feared that I would flood her with my tears. We left our home yesterday. More specifically, we drove our houseboat out of her home port. We left Watergate Marina in Saint Paul, Minnesota- our home base for the last four years.

We bought our houseboat there five years ago, left the country to travel to 13 others assured that in six months, we would have this 142 square feet of living space to exist on for the summer. One summer of living aboard turned into a fall, a winter, a spring, and three more years just like that. Michael and I joyfully resided on this tiny floating home together tucked away in a quiet park marina along the floodplains of Saint Paul where even the locals don’t know we exist. (Trust me, getting an Uber pickup had about a 45% success rate.) We continued to exist there purposefully and peacefully with eight other boats year-round and countless more during the seasonable and vibrant summers.

During these last four years of life, I worked at Hennepin County Medical Center at a job that I loved for challenging every part of me and showing me the hardest and most beautiful parts of humanity. Michael and I spent weekends building our cabin up north. We got married. We made a baby. We made a whole family in this marina and some very best friends; I’m looking at you tugboat and sailors. So, as we leave port with Ken and Roger tossing our lines, it’s no wonder that the Mighty Mississippi fears I may flood her waters with these unsupressable tears that well up from the pit of my gut and burn my heart on their way up to my pathetic sniffling face.

Watergate Marina is beautiful on this day- a sky as blue as I’ve ever known it and a sun that casts down an easy 70 degrees.

Video: Leaving Port

As we slowly leave the marina, I hand the wheel to Michael and spend a minute on the stern (slightly embarrassed by the puddle I’ve become) as our home harbor disappears from sight. Michael joins me, and I tell him, “I’m not sad, I’m just so so grateful.” He hugs me and says, “me too.” We agree that there is nothing more we could have wanted out of these last four years. For us, they were perfect. When I finally clear my eyes to look up at Michael, he has two big tears living on his cheeks- a rare sight on his typically cheerful and mischievious face.

Now, on this Saturday morning, we revel in our first day of river boat journey success and last night’s very primal joy of sitting along the river’s shores with our feet in the sand and a warm campfire glow across our faces. Today, we are fresh-faced and confident going in to the biggest test that trusty Neighbor Girl has had to face in her last four years with us and likely in her 49 years of existence: the Lake Pepin crossing.

Lake Pepin is where the Mississippi River becomes it’s widest and deepest for a stretch of 22 miles. Lake Pepin widens to a distance of two miles and has an average depth of 21 feet and a maximum depth of 60 feet.

For those of you who have not done much river travel, I will enlighten you on the treachery of wing dams. The Mississippi River is lined with them. Wing dams are human constructs that were built during the 1930s and ’40s with the purpose of crafting a deeper and more reliable navigation channel. These wing dams were built prior to the present day lock and dam system as a means to control the flow of the river. Wing dams extend partway across a river channel and often go undetected depending on the depth of the water at that time. If the water is low enough, you will see a line across the water that delineates a smooth water surface upstream and a choppy water texture downstream of that wing dam. It takes a practiced eye to identify these.

Now, on to the treacherous part. Wing dams are unmarked. Boats and boat engines are frequently wrecked by these shallow lurking structures. The good news? Wing dams do not exist within the main channel which is marked by red and green steel buoys. “Red, Right, Return” means that the red marker will be on your right as you return north. Since we are traveling downstream, the green is on our right and the red is on our left, or so we expected…

At the head of Lake Pepin where the water widens considerably, the reassuring red and green channel markers suddenly become non-existent. Things had been going very well so far. With a high level of confidence, I thought, “no big deal, the whole width of the river must be open for business.” We didn’t bother to check the river charts that Michael had downloaded on his phone. Within 15 minutes of cruising cockily along the Minnesota shore, I blazed our little houseboat right into a submerged sandbar. The engines grumbled as they tried to process the run-in with sand and thick weeds. My relaxed mood shifted to “shit, shit, shit.” This was not the spot to lose an engine.. or two. Thank God we have two. I inched out of this disaster and let the engines relax. They sounded gruff for ten minutes before regaining their deep calming purr. We lucked out. Michael checked his river charts and sure enough, the elusive submerged bar was marked on there. “What the f***. If that’s been known long enough to include on a chart, why isn’t there a frickin’ marker by it?!” I exclaimed this in defense of my sweet old boat and dented captain’s pride. Michael laughed, and we chugged on.

We had 22 miles of Lake Pepin ahead of us; three hours of white crested waves beating our steel hull from all sides. We were fortunate that the day’s wind came from ahead as Neighbor Girl does not fair well in a side wind. A side wind of today’s speeds would have forced us to sit this day out, but with a head wind, we pressed on. We quickly learned that both of our bilge pumps were in working order… whew. Water was leaking in from somewhere, or everywhere as the decks were fully rinsed with each wave. Thankfully, our pumps had no trouble keeping up and expelling this intake. Neighbor Girl was doing great.

What I did not expect from our Lake Pepin crossing, besides that disruptive submerged sandbar at the start, was that the main channel crosses through the middle rather than along the shoreline; this caused us to be nearly a mile from shore for most of the venture. With the wild wind splashing from ahead, mysterious dark waters for a mile on all sides, and migrating birds overhead, we felt like true river nomads now! We cranked the music, danced at the helm, and celebrated feeling free and dry in our little moving home.

Later that night, following a celebratory dinner at Slippery’s Bar in Wabasha, we ran our boat aground once again in an attempt to beach up for the night. Neighbor Girl made it out of grounding incident #2 unscathed, and we found another, more perfect spot to make dinner and watch the sun set behind the distant bluffs.

Video: Beach Camping

As night fell, a beaver played near our boat. We did our best to keep quiet and observe his antics, but he caught a glimpse of us, slapped his tail, and dove smoothly away.

It is now Day #3 of this river boat adventure. We wake just south of Alma, WI to find that we have no maple syrup for the pancakes I have been dreaming of all night. These are the things that matter at sea- a good warm meal in the morning and a cold hard drink at night.

Since my little growing fetus disallows me from the cold hard night drink, I am living for these warm morning meals. My husband must love me or something, because we backtrack a mile to Alma’s city dock with the mission of maple syrup acquisition and a propane tank refill. We get distracted by good conversation and fresh pretzels at The Alma Bakery where we are introduced to a 50% off closing sale at The Junk Market down the street. Two hours later, we reboard our boat with propane, fresh pretzels, four wooden folding chairs, a canvas painting of a ship, some sort of antique cutting tool, and with the baker himself for more conversations on scheming and dreaming. The baker didn’t end up departing with us. I suppose he had more pretzels to make after we cleaned him out. The syrup never made it on board either. We are far too distractable to ever become pirates, at least productive ones.

We left Alma at 11:15am, made it through Lock and Dam 5 at 1:12pm, and through the final lock, Lock and Dam 5a, at 2:35pm. We were greeted on the other side of the lock by two boats- one with my parents and the other with the Brandon family. It was a lovely welcoming. We made a small parade to my parent’s cabin where my sister and more family boarded for the final stretch to Latsch Island.

We arrived at The Wheel House, our future floating home under construction, at 4:45pm. We docked with a bang… literally. Michael drove flawlessly up until this climatic point when he made a small but very audible dent in the side of our new boathouse. The excitement got the best of him. I’m taken back to over four years ago when we took Neighbor Girl out for her first trip. With a fresh coat of paint, newly placed engines, and not a bit of knowledge on how to drive this big box of steel with twin engines and no keel, we enthusiastically headed for open water. As brave as ever, we felt like two free birds exploring a world of new possibilities; it was a very familiar feeling that resided in us throughout these last three days. Eventually, on this day four years ago, Neighbor Girl’s maiden voyage came to an end; it was time to dock her back in the slip. Michael took the wheel, used both the wheel and the two throttles to steer (We later learned that this was the beginner’s mistake. You must only use the throttles and no wheel if you hope to park without incident.), and not-so-gently rammed in to the bowsprit of our neighbor’s much nicer boat. Luckily, only ours came out with a scar- a four foot gash through the cabin’s port side. Neighbor Girl’s beauty scar still remains today.

The Wheel House now has an upstream scar to match. These two little river homes now live side by side, each with an imperfection to remind us of the joy in our wildest ideas and new beginnings. May we never be ashamed of these scars or scared to make new ones; they each tell a great story. May we continue to live our lives being too novice, unintimidated, a little stupid maybe, and much too eager in all the new and unusual waters that come our way. May we sometimes forget the syrup and come home with pretzels and a new friend instead.

Video: Celebratory Champagne

When You Have To Boat To Your Boat

“Whatchya writing about?”, says my husband as he shaves his face over the sink while sitting next to me on our bed. There are no distinguished spaces here. It is one room containing all the aspects of a home… except for no laundry machine or any sort of closet. I tell him, “the flooding”. He says, “whoa, that’s a biggins.” “I know; where do I start?”, I say, “at ten feet, twelve feet, eighteen feet?” Michael says, “Start at the bottom of the river.”

I still didn’t know where to start so here we are. I began by giving you the visual of Michael inches away from me at 1:12 am while I sit cozy in bed tip-tapping away on the keyboard. We have three candles lit because our power is out. It’s been out for 22 days now. We’re borrowing Neighbor Mike’s generator because ours fell in the river last night at 4am. I know it was 4am because I wake every time the generator turns off. I’ve turned in to one of those people that has to sleep to the sound of a fan, except in my case: a generator. The whole dock hums of them at night. I met a neighbor for dinner on the dock yesterday and we yelled across the table to hear each other over the loud drone- it was lovely. Anyway, here we are. We’re off grid. Our generator is in pieces to “dry out” on our boat’s floor. There is six inches of snow on our dock. We have to kayak to and from our boat to traverse the flood waters. And Michael shaves his face at 1am while I try to process these last few weeks of Minnesota madness.

Spring isn’t always like this. We usually don’t get flooded out of our parking lot. Our power has never been turned off. We’ve never received an email from the city to evacuate our floating homes due to major flood levels… how strange that none of us checked our email that month.

One month ago, the marina started buzzing with the information that this would be a year of historic flood levels. Would it be something like 2014- a river crest of 20.13 feet? Many neighbors were familiar with this year and smiled as they shared stories from it. It was one year before Michael and I made the marina our home. Could it be something akin to 1965, the highest waters here in recorded history? The river crested at 26.01 feet then.

I’ll quickly brief you on the river levels. The river depth here in Saint Paul, MN is about 9 feet deep. There’s a ton of history on how the 9 foot navigable channel was established. The Upper Mississippi River was not always navigable, not even close, but humans have knack for manipulating nature to suit our wants. I read a book recently that brilliantly goes through the history of our local river: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I highly recommend it: “The River We Have Wrought” by John O. Anfinson. Anyway, back to river levels. The action stage is 10 feet, the flood stage is 14 feet, the moderate flood stage is 15 feet, and the major flood stage is 17 feet.

In the week leading up to the river’s rise, the harbor’s waters remained frozen, and the summer’s boats lined the parking lot just waiting for the spring thaw and eventual release to their dock slips. This year, this transition from dry dock to water would not happen naturally or smoothly. It would require a 65 foot barge pushed by a tug to break up the frozen ice. It would require volunteers to chip away at snow and ice surrounding the stands that held the seasonal boats on land. It would require hundreds of different maneuvers to get the seaworthy boats (boats that can float) in water and the not so seaworthy ones on high ground. The parking lot was going to flood, maybe six feet high. This meant that all the boats safely stored on the lot for winter would not be so safe anymore; they would be floating away… and fast.

This year’s flooding was already different from that of 2014. In 2014, the flooding happened in June- a rather pleasant time of the year to hassle with extra water. Now, it’s March; it’s cold and everything’s frozen. We are understanding these things: we’ll soon be off grid as the power will be turned off before the water reaches the breaker box, we’ll be kayaking to and from our boat as the parking lot is sure to flood significantly, and if all the boats on shore can’t get in the now frozen harbor, they will float away, sink, or surely be damaged. I’m not sure we’ll be telling stories of this flood with a smile on our faces.

Letters were written to the city officials, and the marina acted quickly and with minimal rest. They got that barge to come in and break up the marina’s main channel. Volunteers came forward in impressive numbers to break up the ice within the dock slips and where the barge could not reach. The marina employees worked tirelessly to slip in 48 boats in a span of three days. The boats would be safe.

The water rose quickly, and when we arrived from a weekend away, the liveaboards were in full flood mode. A dinghy dock was established, Neighbor Sam purchased a new motor for his dinghy while Neighbor Mike purchased a new generator, Neighbor Roger lended me his neighbor kayak for the flood season, Neighbor Sam gifted us gimbaled oil lamps for the weeks of power outage to come, and Mystery Neighbor delivered my rain boots directly to Neighbor Girl’s door. As evidenced over and over again, lots of looking out for each other seems to happen here when conditions aren’t fabulous.

Weeks have come and gone now- more than three of them. We are still off grid. Roger’s still letting me use his kayak. We’re getting our day time warmth from the sun (if it’s out that day) and our night-time warmth primarily from candles or our solo propane heater that kicks off frequently for no good reason. We gave up trying to power our fridge, so we’re consuming a hardy amount of dry goods and making more frequent trips to Mickey’s Diner.

We are caught up to the present now. Just when we got settled in to this off-grid flood life, the 5th biggest April snowfall on record blasted us with nearly 10 inches. As temperatures dropped in to the twenties and the wind picked up to 20 knots sustained and 51 gusting, our generator landed in the river at 4am. Michael retrieved it, but it hasn’t been able to be revived. We woke up to one cold boat being tossed back and forth by the unrelenting winds. With my winter coat on, I packed a bag with three days worth of clothes. I impulsively determined that I would find somewhere to stay until this wintery spell seceded. I stormed off the boat in my knee high rain boots in to the snow and across the flood waters. In that moment, I thought I’d be gone until summer.

My rage did not last long. That night, I was back on the boat with my three days of belongings put away and a borrowed generator for heat. It is now 1:12 am. I’m cozy in bed, loving this boat again in all her resilience and charm. “Whatchya writing about?”, he says… I write without really knowing I guess. I start with one small thing, event, person, and I wring it free of all the sensations it has to offer. I write to understand this life all over again; to feel it fully. It goes too fast otherwise. I write to share the beauty in life and the funny in it. I write to honor the very essence of living stripped from all the extras. “The flooding,” I say. I’ll start there. Of course, I start the story talking about him. I can’t help it; it’s just where I feel the most.

If you’re wondering how we (Saint Paul, MN in the year of 2019) ended up in the historical flood contest. The river peaked at 20.19 feet. Yes, 20.19 feet in 2019; I bet you won’t forget that now. It’s the seventh highest in recorded history. The river was higher (and colder!) than 2014, but not as high as in 1965. What a year to have two floating homes on this mighty Mississippi.. uffda. We’re not out of the woods yet, but so far, both are surviving. I wouldn’t say thriving but definitely surviving; I’ll take it.

Since I started this story with Michael, I’ll end with him too. I like to bring things full circle. Since Michael and I work evenings and not always the same evenings, the commute home during flood season has involved a kayak trip from dinghy dock to boat between the hours of midnight and 2am, either alone or together. At first, I though I would dread this after a tiring shift at the hospital. It morphed in to one of the favorite parts of my day (except when that April blizzard hit; screw kayaking in that mess). The water was the most calm at night. It looked like glass, and the moon shine would light our path home. On my nights alone, Michael would always text me things like, “wear your life jacket” or “paddle over the parking lot; it’s more shallow there”. We also debated nightly on which was the best exit point at the dock. I liked to venture straight to our dock finger where a ladder dipped in the water to meet me. Michael preferred to go up the walkway at the dock’s end; it was a gradual slope up and one he insisted was less risky. The water is still icy cold, so any fall in could be dangerous.

One morning, I woke up to Michael blasting through the boat’s door in only his underwear. I didn’t have my contacts in or glasses on, so this was just a strange, blurry vision at first. He had fallen in the water, swam to the dock, got assistance from our neighbors to fish the kayak out, and then stripped his wet clothes off and hung them outside to dry. (The clothes were later found to be frozen stiff.) I couldn’t help but to laugh at him as this blurry image shared his story. “And you always tell me to be careful,” I said, “how ironic.” So, for the official record of Mississippi River fall-ins over four years of life aboard: you can tally Michael’s at a whopping three, while I sit cockily here at zero.

April 2019 Stats To Remember:

  • The 7th highest river crest with a height of 20.19 feet.
  • The 5th largest April snowfall in history.
  • An astounding jump in the river fall-in count with Chelsi securing a 0-3 lead. Booyah.

Boathouse Build (Month One)

We wake to our alarms signaling our impending 4:30am departure. I struggle with this but am eventually invigorated by Michael’s joy in a project weekend. We make our typical Kwik Trip stop right outside of the city for a large dose of caffeine.

The air is thick with humidity & it’s reminiscent of time in another more tropical slice of the world. This comparison fills me with excitement as I remember all the early morning departures we’ve had in lands far away- getting the van going in New Zealand before sunrise so we wouldn’t get in trouble with where we parked, rising before the heat in Thailand to get our morning run in, and packing our bags in the dark to catch a train in Europe. My bones are alive; my spirit is ready.

The sun rises over the dense clouds along the Mississippi River as we drive south on highway 61- my favorite drive in the world. It’s soon battered by rain, and the sound of rain makes my eyelids heavy. I lay my head on Michael’s lap as he drives. I wake as we park next to the river. My mom and dad have the boat ready. We are off.

The rest of the morning goes something like this:

1. Tie the boat to the half demolished boathouse & release it from its anchored points on the island.

2.Realize the boat has no control to actually turn the boathouse upstream. This is the first moment that I question our sanity.

3. I wonder, “How did we not plan for a rescue boat… or at least an extra anchor?”

4. We correct our course by pushing the boathouse off the boat and maneuvering it many times this way until pointed upstream toward our destination.

5. We soon approach three bridges. We narrowly miss one, bump the side of the other, and pass through seamlessly on the last.

6. Our rope begins to fray. We reinforce with a second rope.

7. Jeff approaches us on his fishing boat. I feel relief that we’ve stumbled upon a very capable and willing rescue boat.

8. We are going slowly but surely. In other words, it’s going very well.


9. I’m pretty sure the dudes get bored with our efforts moving along so flawlessly. They decide to get Jeff involved. Surely two boats will be better than one…


10. Strategizing happens. Should the boats be staggered? Where should they anchor? Mom and I, the poor souls on the boathouse at the mercy of their decisions, wonder why we’re changing what’s working here. Well Ma, let’s sit back and watch this; it’s gonna get good.

11. We pick up speed and right as Mom says, “This is actually working pretty good”, the entire right side of the boathouse gets tugged off; we’ve lost a valuable anchor point. Michael yells out, “Maybe we should just go with one boat!”… ahh, yeah dudes.

12.Scott joins the forces right as we approach our destination. We now have three boats involved; one to tug and two to rescue, watch, advise, etc. If you know river people, you know they can’t sit out on a good adventure.

13. Our ropes break just before pulling in and somehow, someway the boathouse floats perfectly in to place on shore. We’ve made it.


Our buddies show up in the afternoon and everyone is quickly put to work. We have demo to do and new frames and barrels to acquire from the farm and assemble for float. As we drive to the farm, my dad says to Michael and me, “Are you running out of friends yet?” My family has this running joke that Michael and I are bound to lose our friends as whenever we invite them somewhere, Michael is notorious for quickly putting a shovel, saw, or paintbrush in their hands. The good thing is that they know us well enough now… they’ve all arrived in their work clothes.


Have I updated you on the weather yet? Well, it’s still miserably humid and hot- a heat index of over 100. I sweat so much that I don’t pee all day. The nurse in me says a quick prayer for the well-being of my kidneys.
The demo of the old boathouse is the suckiest part. It’s full of moldy insulation, some disgusting carpet under the floor, and multiple mouse dens. My dad works crazy hard from dawn to dusk and he’s the one on the crowbar really giving her hell. He falls in the water twice. I wonder, “Is this how most people honor their dads on Father’s Day? Here Pa, lets destroy some shit together and take zero breaks in the asphyxiating heat.” He’s the best.


The treasures we find in demo include a tarot card and a rat carcass. Our friend Sam suggests we frame both. I consider framing the tarot card but I’m pretty sure it floated in to the raging bonfire… that can’t be good luck.

As if you didn’t consider the aforementioned activities super-duper fun, here comes the most exciting event- transporting the new platform (frames + barrels) in to place where the old boathouse formerly existed.

Like everything else, Michael and I spend the twenty minute drive from the farm discussing the best way to make this happen- where do we put them in the water, how many frames do we float down at once, how do we attach them, what do we use to transport, how many people are needed and where. If you imagined that it would be hard to agree on all these different variables, you are correct. We agreed on none of them at first and then compromised until we were left with one main disagreement- how many frames do we float down at once. I was adamant about one while Michael was advocating hard for three. We settled on two.


With Dan and Ang at the helm of the kayak (our tug boat) and Michael, Beth, Garner, and I aboard the barreled frames with paddles, we way too easily and quickly navigated 2/3 of our new boathouse platform in to place. We were not without a rescue boat in the distance; Ma and Pa observed in the channel with country music on blast.

If you read through this whole thing without knowing what the heck we are even up to, I’m going to rewind for a minute. In the fall of 2016, Michael and I purchased a boathouse- a floating cabin on Latsch Island in Winona, Minnesota. The boathouse had been housing bats and rats for some time now and was beyond decent repair. We’ve since made new boathouse plans and this summer is our summer to execute them.


Prior to this weekend, we got our city building permit, boathouse association approval, and various supplies. One weekend was spent acquiring 100 blue barrels (which pack the platform to our boathouse allowing it to float), prepping them with dry ice (to keep them expanded), and sealing them with silicone. Thanks to Chris and Ben for that weekend! I hear it was full of really good smells since the barrels came from Watkins and held flavors like bubble gum and caramel.

The next weekend was spent picking up LOTS of wood from Menards and building the nine 30 foot frames. Thank you Sam Henninger and Kelly Brandon for assistance there along with help from cousins Chaniah and Zoe. Big thanks to Grams and Gramps for letting us use their shed for construction and storage.

The third weekend and one I could not be there for (thank goodness because this one made me the most nervous) was dedicated to cutting down part of a dead, overhanging tree that reached high in the sky over our boathouse site. The Sams (Sam Larson and Sam Henninger) were in on this one. Some demo and oversized bonfires happened then too. I can imagine that Sam H. (or “Neighbor Sam” as we endearingly differentiate him) was very involved in the tree climbing portion and Sam L. (or “Sam Sam”) in the fire tending portion as these are their bread and butters; that weekend certainly had the right humans for the jobs.

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This weekend brought Dan, Ang, Beth, Garner, and Rachel to the river for a perfect Mark Twain-esque adventure story.

Jeff and Sara Brandon and Scott Yess, three neighborhood river gurus, also helped to streamline the disgusting and difficult demo process.


After weekends like this, Michael and I wonder what we could ever accomplish without our village- our family and friends who are willing to fall in the water, climb uncomfortably tall trees, inhale bubble gum scented air all day, navigate a kayak with 30 feet of timber attached to it, and take evening swims in the river in lieu of a real shower. I wouldn’t be surprised if our friends visit for the free food- brunch at Grandma’s house or dinner by Mom, but whatever keeps them coming, we are thankful.


And finally, Michael and I talk incessantly about the blessings we have in each of our parents- the backbone to our village. On Sunday (Father’s Day), I woke up to my dad cutting up wood from the demo the day before. He had been up since 4am working on this project. He goes and goes until sunset. He doesn’t say much and at one point I turned to Michael and said, “Has Dad said anything yet today?” Michael says, “I don’t think so.” Shortly after, I hear Dad unintentionally mutter, “I’m exhausted”. As much as I ask him to rest, he never does. He also never drinks water which I find absurd. In every project or dream we come up with, he’s right in the trenches with us- always doing the dirty work, the heavy lifting, the early morning jobs, and the late night grind; he smiles at the end of an incredibly long day and I know he loves this as much as we do.

Mom is there too, every time. She’s keeping us fed, keeping our spirits high, contributing logical insight during stressful moments, and getting her hands as dirty as the rest of us. Within this process, Michael’s parents are cheering us on from out of town. They’d be right here with us if they could- before sunrise or after sunset; they know hard work and love a good project. I see them in Michael throughout all of this.


As we drive home on Monday morning, we’re exhausted but happy. Michael points out the tan lines on my shoulders and for the first time all weekend, I look in the mirror. My hair is all over the place, and I can’t believe I didn’t pack more than one headband to tame this mess. I have dirt stained legs from work this morning and sore shoulders and scattered bruises from the days before. I’m happy to carry these pieces of the weekend home with me. I look over at Michael who is coping with the idea of a work week indoors. “Make it fun,” I tell him as he drives away to work. “I will”, he yells back.

Tonight, I read Michael all of this and he tells me that he remembers what the tarot card was- the one we found in the boathouse wall. It was the “Ten of Wands”. We google this and find the following on www.tarot.com: “The Ten of this suit represents an all-out effort, an obsessive commitment to a task which demands everything you’ve got. The person shown in decks with pictures is in no position to rest until he makes it inside the stout walls of the well-defended castle in the distance. If he fails, he will become prey for the highway robbers after dark. It doesn’t matter that he’s overloaded and underfed. With this card, you have to do whatever it takes to get to completion — nothing can be allowed to interfere.”

This page goes on to say, “The Ten of Wands in this position advises you to remember the true, simple heart of your youth and all the idealism it held. Now may be the time to reach deep into yourself and identify your purest, most wholesome impulses. As you do this, allow your optimistic and honorable side to see what’s good about the world.”

“Make it fun,” I tell him as he drives away to work. “I will”, he yells back.