As I type, I am on a train to Prague, Czech Republic. Colleen and I were in Munich for less than 24 hours, so to have time to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. There was so much more to see, but for now we’re on our way to Prague.
Now, let’s chat about Amsterdam.
After Berlin, Colleen and I took the train straight to Amsterdam. We arrived in the late afternoon and dropped off our bags at our hostel, which happened to be in the heart of the infamous Red Light District. This small part of the city was chalk-full of tourists. Many were window shopping, drinking beers on the canal, or sharing a blunt on the street corner. The streets themselves are quite narrow, thus exaggerating the fullness of space, as well as the ripe smell of weed. I’m not much of a partier, so I’m sure I didn’t appreciate the scene as much as someone who likes to smoke and drink, but walking the windy-narrow streets and maneuvering through the canals was very enjoyable. Also, seeing half nude women (and men) through the windows is something I won’t soon forget. Okay, enough about the Red Light District. There is so much more to Amsterdam than that 4-block section of the city.
Colleen and I had plans to meet our old high school friend, Lindsay, for dinner our first evening. We made plans to meet at a restaurant/brewery called Trost. Colleen and I decided to walk there, so to see a bit of the city. We took the long way there, having the canals as our trail guides (before coming to Amsterdam, I didn’t realize how many canals there would be). It was a treat to find narrows alleyways and house-lined streets overlooking the canals. Colleen and I noticed big window blockades and hooks on the top of the houses. Lindsay told us later that day that the hooks were used as a pulley system to bring goods from the canals. The hooks are still used today for goods, as well as pulling up heavy objects while people are moving in and out of their apartments!
When Colleen and I arrived at Trost, we were 15-minutes late due to getting a little lost and being very distracted by the beautiful buildings while walking around. Lindsay totally understood and then we enjoyed a tasty meal (and had the best beer I’d ever had: Belgium honey beer). After, we walked around the park with Lindsay, we meandered our way back home to the Red Light District. It was after dark when we arrived at our hostel, and it was evident that the that part of the city was only waking up by the time we got to bed.
The next day, Colleen and I woke up early to eat breakfast. I ordered coffee and yoghurt with muesli (with dates). I have to say that this small restaurant had the best coffee I’ve ever had and the yoghurt was also the best yoghurt I’ve ever had. The Dutch know how to make a tasty yoghurt and a good cup of coffee! After, Colleen and I explored more of the city, particularly looking for “secret churches.” Lindsay told us that in a previous century Amsterdam became mostly Protestant and its rulers decreed that persons affiliated with other religions must congregate in secret, as well as not publicly show their religious affiliations. This resulted in the creation of “secret churches and home churches.” Colleen and I found two Catholic secret churches while exploring the southwestern corridor and Colleen (on a different day) went on a tour of a home church in the northeastern corridor. I enjoyed learning a part of Amsterdam’s history that I’d never heard of before.
After, Colleen and I met Lindsay for lunch at Lindsay’s university. She’s working in the archaeological department, as well as working on her PHD, researching and studying the history of these mysterious stones that have been found all over the world. Very little in known about them and it’s her job to try and figure out a bit more about them. (I wish I could remember the name of the stones, but can’t at this moment). After lunch, Lindsay took us on a tour of the Jewish District. We walked through a flea market, she pointed out a few historic buildings, as well as her favorite museum: the Resistance Museum. While walking, I noticed gold plates on the ground in front of some of the houses. We read them and Lindsay translated that it was the names of the Jewish people who were expelled from these homes. The plates gave a year of when they lived in the home, when they were forcibly taken away, and some of the plates said where they were murdered (ex: Auschwitz, Buchenwald, etc). It was fitting to learn about these that afternoon because Colleen and I had already planned to visit the Anne Frank House later that afternoon.
We said goodbye to Lindsay and followed the canals northwest to The Anne Frank House Museum. We learned online that after 3:30pm, the house opens up for walk-ins only (since morning tours book up months in advance). We waited in a line starting at 2:30pm and found ourselves in the door by 3:45pm.
(On a side note, I went to get coffee before entering the house and had a hard time finding any because the one coffee shop near the museum only sold weed. I learned then that you can’t publicly sell weed in Amsterdam, but the country tolerates it if it is sold within a shop that sells other things, such as coffee).
First, a brief introduction of who Anne Frank was and why there is a museum named after her. Anne Frank, a 11 year old girl, and her family were Jewish and during the rein of the Third Reich, persons who were more than 1/2 Jewish by blood, Roma, homosexual, or a political radical were persecuted and sent to concentration camps (or “work camps” as they were called). The Franks went into hiding when it was stated that persons of Jewish decent would be taken to work camps. So, the Frank’s and a second family hid in a “secret annex” of Anne Frank’s father’s workshop for over two years, hoping to evade the hands of the Nazis. They were helped by their colleagues and friends and during this time, Anne Frank wrote in her diary about the daily routines of life during her time hiding, as well as her thoughts on humanity. The museum we visited is the very same place Anne and her family hid for two years.
As for the museum, it is split into three floors: the ground floor (the workshop), the second floor (the offices), and the third floor (the secret annex). There were quotes, photos, historical documents, and visual reproductions of what the house looked like while the Frank’s worked there, as well as when they hid there. There is no furniture in the building because Otto Frank (Anne’s father), decided it would be best to leave the house as it is, without any reproductions. The second floor has the original entryway for the secret annex (hidden behind a bookcase, specifically designed to hide the entryway). Walking up into the secret annex and entering the rooms of where Anne and her family hid for two years was unbelievably difficult. It was difficult not to think of the ghosts of the past, walking silently through the corridors, trying not to make a sound, so to not be found by the Nazis. Also, seeing where Anne must’ve written most of her diary entries and only peering up for a moment to the attic space, which is where Anne (and Peter) spent their long days of solitude, listening to the nearby church bells was eery, sad, and oddly insightful.
The last portion of the museum brings you through rooms with video/audio accounts of Anne’s friends and her father (the only Frank who survived the Holocaust). It takes you through how they were taken, where they were taken (Buchenwald, Dachau, etc), and how they died (if known). Anne’s original diaries are showcased and the final room is a room for remembrance and a room to share about your feeling about the museum in the computerized guestbook. There wasn’t enough time in the museum to really soak in everything, since there was a consistent push of viewers behind you, but I would still recommend the museum to anyone who is interested in learning more about Anne Frank and the Secret Annex.
On our third and final day, Colleen and I went to the Van Gogh museum. To be honest, I would say this is the best curated museum I’d ever been to. It not only showcases some of Van Gogh’s most celebrated paintings, but it also shares Van Gogh’s story through informational signs, personal letters he wrote, and audio reenactments of letters written to him from his family and friends. I learned so much about his life that I never knew. Did you know that Van Gogh only started painting earnestly when he was in his late twenties? He started by painting farmers, but eventually became famous for his sunflower paintings, as well as his Stary Night. He was also a talented writer, which was only found out after his death. Did you know that his closest friends also became famous painters? And, lastly, did you know he had a mental illness, most likely Borderline Disorder, which instigated his famous cutting off his own ear and his eventual death by shooting himself in the stomach at the age of 37? All of this I learned while walking through the museum galleries, thanks to the amazing curator and Van Gogh Association that kept all of his writing, sketches, and paintings in good condition. I would encourage everyone to visit this museum if you find yourself in Amsterdam.
To end our time in Amsterdam, Lindsay joined us for dinner and then gave us a hug goodbye at the train station. We waved goodbye from the window and then Colleen and I prepared our train beds for the overnight ride to Carlruhe, which is where we would transfer to our next destination of Freudenstadt, Germany.
All the best,
*Will edit my posts later. Hope there aren’t too many mistypes!
Today’s post will be a little bit different from my other posts. Instead of sharing about an outdoor adventure, I will share with you a piece of writing I wrote for a writer’s night.
Since last August, I have been attending Poken Sword, a monthly literary salon hosted by 2001: A Space in Northeast Minneapolis. At these events, there is a theme for each month and each month local writers read aloud their writing based on the month’s theme. Some of the themes have included: labor, action, gratitude, creativity, connection, justice, hope, and spring. For the month of May, I was asked by the organizer to read something. I agreed and ended up reading aloud my writing to an audience for the first time. I was nervous, of course, but I received a lot of compliments on my piece. People shared with me that they connected with it and that they very much enjoyed how I read the piece.
The theme for May was Spring. Below is what I wrote. Enjoy.
Spring reminds me of many things.
Minnesota Spring is a time where the frozen buds of the previous year turn Minnesota’s barren, yet beautiful landscape into a colorful and diverse world. Maple, Oak, Hackberry, Basswood, and towering Cottonwood trees expel their flowering bodies and develop tiny, green or red leaves, as the Red Oak does. While standing beneath a Basswood in the early spring, looking up towards its adolescent and translucent leaves is a stunning light-green color that marvels at no other tree.
Before the forest is carpeted in False Lily-in-the-Valley and Wild Ginger, violets, from the Viola Family, burst from the ground in the not yet shaded woodland forest floor. They clasp their petals tight and then release their lower petal to allow the perfect landing pad for wandering pollinators. Dutchmen’s Breeches dot hillsides and lowland river valleys with minuscule flowers shaped as upside-down trousers. Even as the flowers dispel, the plant continues to stand out due to its intricately lacy and oblong leaves. While walking down ravines and entering the lowland, Virginia Waterleaf delicately brushes your boots, almost as if gesturing you along, inviting you to go deeper into the floodplain forest. Nestled in sunny patches, the bright purple Phlox flowers bring bursts of color to the expansive green ground cover. And as leaves begin to form and the forest canopy starts to close, the sunny forest floor disperses. In these shaded bits hide populations of Jack-in-the-Pulpit and if you’re lucky, you’ll be graced with the presence of a Queen Bumblebee collecting nectar from within the tubular base, safeguarded by the flower’s spathe.
After the frosts are long gone and there has been a heavy amount of rain comes the forest’s most elusive and mysterious inhabitant: the morel mushroom. Often found beside or near the base of dead elm trees, these mushrooms are like gold in a goldmine. People hike high and low, for hours on end, to find even just one morel. And when you find a patch, these spots stay a secret, not even told to your most trustworthy confidant. There is nothing that smells more like spring than the smell of cooking morels in salted butter.
With all of these things, they all remind us that spring, as well as life, is fleeting. So, it is important during those moments of observation, reflection, and ingestion to not take them for granted. We only get one spring per year, so it’s essential to appreciate the adolescent light-green Basswood leaves; to feel the lower petal of a violet between your fingertips; to listen to the echoing vibrations of a Queen Bumblebee within a Jack-in-the-Pulpit; and, most importantly, to eat your hand-picked morel mushrooms with deliberation and intention.
It seems Minneapolis/St. Paul has really come to life in the last three weeks. While walking around my neighborhood, I could smell the difference. The lilac bushes began to bloom a few weeks ago, releasing it’s wonderfully fragrant flowers. The spruce trees, which are generally sharp to the touch, have grown their new soft needles. The new growth releases a sweet, conifer kind of smell. And let’s not forget the smell of freshly cut grass.
As for what I have been up to, these last two weeks have been filled with outdoor activities. When I get off work or have a free weekend, I’m outside either gardening, walking, playing frisbee, or searching for mushrooms. Well, not any kind of mushroom, the morel mushroom!
Morel Mushroom Hunting in the Twin Cities
Before talking about my experiences morel hunting and how to find morels, I want to preface that I’m an amateur mushroom seeker. This is my first season in Minnesota and my third season overall because I went mushrooming twice while living in Oregon.
My friend, Jim, and I have gone out three times to seek for morel mushrooms. The first two times, we were in the Minnesota River Valley area, and the third time, we were in the Dakota County area. The images in this post are from our adventures in Dakota County.
While hiking through woodland forest, steep ravines, and colorful, wildflower-filled lowland floodplain, I’ve learned a bit about where to look and what to look for while morel mushroom hunting. This is not to say that this will work every time. Jim prefaced to me that you may find the most perfect place for a morel and for some reason, there will be no morel to be found. Morels can be fickle and may not be there. They are still a mystery.
Here are a few tips for the amateur morel hunter.
- Morels like to grow near dead elm trees, especially recently dead ones. In the photos above are two different elm trees. The photo to the right shows an old dead tree that wouldn’t have morels, but the photo shows the tree’s structure. The left photo is a close-up of the bark of a recently dead tree. You can tell it’s an elm in this photo because of the bark texture, as well as the way the bark peels off in patches. This is where you would have a high chance of finding a morel mushroom.
- I’ve noticed that all the morel mushrooms we have found seem to be on south-facing slopes (except for a couple that we found in a dry, lowland floodplain). I assume the light and heat from the sun help the morel mushrooms, but again morels are a mystery because you may find morels in a north-facing slope. Here is an image of Jim walking up a south-facing slope, keeping an eye out for dead elm trees.
- And lastly, this is what a morel mushroom looks like. Some are more gray, while others are more brownish-yellow. With a knife, cut a quarter-inch above where the morel mushroom base reaches the soil (to avoid getting dirt, as well as to leave a part of the fruiting body in the soil). Then place in a mesh bag or whatever handheld bag you brought along (do not place in a backpack where the mushrooms could get squished). The true morels are hollow on the inside. If you find a mushroom that looks kinda like a morel, but you worry that you’ve picked the false morel mushroom (Gyromitra esculenta), then simply make a longitudinal cut from head to base. If the mushroom is hollow, then it’s a morel; if the mushroom is meaty and not hollow, then it’s the false morel!
Here is an image of two ferns: Lady Fern (I believe) and Maidenhair Fern. If you’re hiking and you start seeing a bunch of ferns, then you’re most likely on a north-facing slope. Morels may be around, but not as likely as on a south-facing slope.
Me wearing my hiking outfit
If you find yourself bushwhacking, make sure to wear the appropriate clothing (long pants tucked into socks, sturdy hiking boots, and a long sleeve shirt). Jim and I saw poison ivy while hiking—and you never know where there might be wild parsnip. Also, I wear clothes that I sprayed with anti-tick chemicals. It isn’t necessary, but I would highly encourage it if you are hiking on deer trails or in grasslands. There is also anti-insect treated clothing that you can buy at any outdoor store.
Morel hunting is a fun hobby and the best part is that they can be found almost anywhere, even in your backyard. With the knowledge you’ve learned in this post, I’d encourage you to explore your backyard or local park to see if you can find any morel mushrooms. They may be past season in southern Minnesota, so anywhere near the Twin Cities and north of that is probably fair game!
Spring is here and Summer is only around the corner in St. Paul, MN. The May Day Festival has come and gone; my pea, kale, and lettuce plants that I planted from seed have sprouted and are growing bigger and bigger each day; and my friend Jim and I have gone morel mushroom hunting—and have had success! Also, my front and back porches have finally been utilized for their purpose: to host friends during those alluringly warm summer evenings. One evening, four of us sat on the step of the back porch, looking up into the night sky. It was fortuitous because lo-and-behold, Jupiter and the moon were in alignment. Another evening, a few friends and I sat on the front porch eating pizza, chatting about a recent friend’s trip to Ghana, and laughing loud until we realized it was well past bedtime for my next-door neighbors’ children.
The morels. Some are more gray, while others are more brown. Jim and I fried them up with butter and salt; yum!
Well, enough about that, let me tell you about my short trip up to the North Shore.
Hiking the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) and Camping in Gooseberry Falls State Park
A few weekends ago, I decided to go up north for a couple nights. I had planned to mimic what I did the previous year (Hammock Camping on Minnesota’s Superior Hiking Trail), but on a different portion of the SHT. Similar to what I said in last years post, the best part about the SHT is that you don’t need to plan too far ahead. No permits are required and there are several entry points; most of which are easily accessible. All the information you may need can be found on the SHT Association’s website. Maps, trail conditions, and transportation services are just a few of the resources that the SHTA provides.
I had decided to hike the trail near Gooseberry Falls State Park for two reasons:
1. I had never been to Gooseberry Falls State Park and wanted to explore a new area.
2. It’s the nearest park north of the SHTA building, which is where I wanted to stop by before my camping trip to pick up a map and ask the staff what the trail conditions were like in the area.
I’m glad I stopped by because the staff told me that the trails up on the ridge line north and south of Gooseberry Falls SP still had ice and snow. They encouraged me to use crampons if I was planning on climbing up those steep, rocky cliffs. I hadn’t packed crampons and hadn’t prepped for icy/snowy conditions, so I decided to implement my plan B: camp overnight in Gooseberry Falls SP!
The Middle and Lower Falls in Gooseberry Falls State Park. Adjacent to the Visitor Center.
Above the Upper Falls, looking East to Lake Superior. That bridge is the highway and also has the Gitchi-Gami Bike Trail on the lower part.
I arrived at Gooseberry Falls in the late afternoon—after a 3.5-hour car ride listening to the 4th installment of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series: The Girl in the Spider’s Web. It’s a thriller! Before prepping my campsite, I decided to swing by the visitor center to pick up a map and to go hiking. I wanted to hike the state park trails, as well as on some of the SHT portions that bisect the state park. I first visited the famous falls that are only a quarter-mile from the visitor center (as seen in the photos above) and then I wove my way northwest following the Gooseberry River until I reached a bridge with signs pointing me toward the SHT. I crossed the bridge and found my first SHT signpost (the photo above) and followed the trail northwest toward Fifth Falls.
The SHT in Gooseberry Falls SP.
The hike wasn’t long, but it sure was scenic. The farther you walked away from Lake Superior, the deeper the river gorge became. I hiked off-trail for a short time to sit within the Gooseberry Gorge. I listened to the water and to the distant fisherman casting out their lines to snag a trout. I climbed back out and soon enough arrived at the bridge which crosses over Fifth Falls. I had a fantastic view of the gorge and ate a small snack while listening to the roaring falls below.
While at the bridge, I had to make a decision. Either, I could continue West up the ridge or I could loop back toward the visitor center. I had about 3 hours of sunlight and had to consider how much time it would take to set up camp, make a fire, and cook dinner. I decided to return to the visitor center, but I wanted to see a different part of the park, so I took the long way back. I also noticed that I could hike a different portion of the SHT if I hiked an extra 2.5 miles, which is exactly what I did.
Most Minnesota SP’s offer ski trails during the winter months. This is one of them in Gooseberry Falls SP.
Sadly, the portion of the SHT between Gooseberry Falls SP and Split Rock Lighthouse SP is closed (due to a private landowner closing off his land from hikers). There is a detour set in place on the Gitchi-Gami Bike Trail.
I could see Lake Superior at the highest elevation I reached while on my hike.
Once I reached the highest point, which was also pretty close to the SHT trail entrance, I descended back down into the Gooseberry River valley. I made sure to hike a bit slower, so to fully appreciate the evening sunlight’s long shadows and the quiet surroundings.
Soon enough, I got to my car, registered for my campsite, and prepped for the chilly evening (it was below freezing, can’t remember the specific temp). I first set up my tent, blew up my sleeping pad, set out my sleeping bag, and stuffed a stuff sack with my extra pair of clothes to make a pillow. Once my bed was prepared, I then got to work finding small twigs for my campfire. It had rained the previous couple days, so many of the twigs were wet, but I lucked out and found a handful that were pretty dry. I also walked to Lake Superior’s rocky shore—I forgot to mention I was camping just beside it—and found remarkably dry driftwood! (As a heads up, driftwood makes exceptional firewood. It’s so lightweight and dry that it’ll catch fire easy. It makes making a fire so much easier.) While I was searching for driftwood, the sun had set giving the rocky shore and Lake Superior a purple hue (as seen in the featured image).
Lake Superior at sunset
I returned to my campsite with everything I needed: kindling (tiny twigs and newspaper), small twigs, driftwood, and firewood bought from the visitor center. I carefully stacked my twigs in a teepee shape. Smaller twigs were on the bottom, larger ones on the top, and then I lit the kindling with a match until the fire caught. Once the driftwood caught flame, I knew it would take no time at all for the logs to catch. Soon enough I had a roaring fire to keep me company as the evening quickly became cooler and cooler.
As I prepped my meal (dehydrated red beans and rice), I was surprised by a bright light illuminating the small grove of trees to the east. It almost seemed like a boat light was shining the shoreline. I walked over to see where the light source was coming from and was in awe when I saw that is was the full moon rising over the horizon. The moon was remarkably bright, the brightest I had ever seen. I sat down for a while—keeping an eye on my fire—and watched the moon rise over the horizon.
The following morning, I heard reports that it was going to rain or even snow later in the day. I was planning on camping one more night in Gooseberry Falls SP, but decided not to, since I didn’t want to camp in snowy conditions. I noticed the storm wasn’t going to hit until after 4pm, so I made the decision to visit Split Rock Lighthouse State Park before heading back toward the Twin Cities. With this in mind, I packed up my camping equipment, cleaned my campsite, and said farewell to Gooseberry Falls SP.
Split Rock Lighthouse
It only took 30 minutes to drive north on Highway 61 to reach Split Rock Lighthouse SP. I parked by the Trail Center and hiked north toward the lighthouse. I walked beside the lakeshore and then was engulfed in an aspen forest. There were young white pine trees scattered in the undergrowth that were either planted by park staff or were in natural succession. As I continued on the trail, I could see the lighthouse getting closer through the trees. There were also informational signs talking about the park’s history, which was very interesting to read. Soon enough, I reached the lighthouse and visitor center. I walked up the steps of the lighthouse and watched as distant barges crossed the horizon heading south toward Duluth. As I watched, I let the cold wind hit my face and listened as Lake Superior buffeted the cliffs below.
From the south side.
I hiked for most of the morning and had a small lunch on a boulder south of the lighthouse. After, I returned to my car to begin my drive back to the Twin Cities. I decided to take a pit stop in Duluth to explore the town. I won’t go into detail about my time in Duluth, but I believe I walked at least 4 miles around the city, including on the bike trail that borders Lake Superior. I couldn’t of asked for better weather while in Duluth. It surprised me how much warmer and sunnier it was, though I only drove 1.5 hours south!
The rest of my drive went smoothly. I listened to my audiobook and reflected about my trip. Though I only camped one night, hiking on the SHT, sitting beside a campfire, watching the moonrise over Lake Superior, and exploring two new state parks (as well as Duluth) was well worth the drive.
Thanks for reading. In my next post, I may go into more detail about morel mushroom hunting in the Twin Cities!
On the bike trail just north of downtown Duluth.
As I write, I am sitting in the sunroom of my apartment. I can hear the sparrows chirping outside, all huddled together due to the cool, crisp morning. I see a handful of brave birds leaving their shelter to scavenge for plant matter, which’ll be used for their nests. I even see a bunny that found the carrot greens I left out the previous night. This scene reassures me that Spring has come— 春が来た (haru ga kita). For most of us Twin Citizens, we all know that winter lingers longer than expected at times, but I think that this winter will be behind us before we even know it.
Well, before I get too carried away talking about Spring, let me tell you about a fun wintery activity I did with my sister and a few friends in February.
Jim looking out towards the Minnesota River Valley’s Louisville Swamp.
Louisville Swamp: Backcountry Snowshoeing to Historic Jab’s Farm
In my previous post, I mentioned that there were two highlights while my twin sister was visiting. The first was a cabin getaway with friends in Hayward, WI; the second was returning to one of my favorite parks in Minnesota—Louisville Swamp—during the winter and snowshoeing across the swampy valley to the historic Jab’s Farm.
We arrived at the entrance of Louisville Swamp—adjacent to the Renaissance Festival parking lot—in the early morning. The group consisted of my sister, her two friends Ted and Weige, and my friend Jim. Before setting off, I did a short snowshoe demonstration for everyone (similar to the demonstration I would give while on one of my L.L. Bean guided tours). After everyone was acquainted with their snowshoes, we began our snowshoe journey through the snow-clad prairie and oak savanna.
My sister with oak savanna as her backdrop.
Colleen’s friends Weige and Ted (and Colleen in the back). Ted visited from Pittsburgh and Weigi visited from Boston.
Though I had been to Louisville many times,—generally to look for wildflowers or birdwatch—I had never explored the park during the winter. It was a whole new experience seeing the frozen landscape, especially the frozen swamp itself. It was delightful. Oddly enough, while following the upper terrace trail (Mazomani Trail), we found ourselves in the middle of a flock of Eastern bluebirds. I wasn’t expecting to birdwatch while on our winter adventure, but the unexpected warm winter must’ve encouraged these migratory birds to fly north a bit earlier than usual. It was a treat to see vibrant blue brighten the stark, white scenery.
As we enjoyed the view from the upper terrace, Jim gave Weige, Ted, and Colleen a brief natural history of the Minnesota River Valley. I’ve read a lot about this river, but it’s always nice to relearn the geological and ecological history of this beautiful area. In summary, during the most recent glacial period, the Minnesota River used to be much wider. During this time, the river carved out a wide, sweeping valley from South Dakota all the way to Minneapolis/St. Paul; thus, the Minnesota River Valley. Now, the river is much smaller and a fertile valley surrounds the river, allowing diverse ecosystems and biomes to thrive. Louisville Swamp is a prime example because this corridor of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most diverse. It includes marsh, lakes, streams, oak savanna, restored prairie, rock formations, bottomland forest, and upland forest. And that’s only the different types of ecosystems. If I were to list off the number of fauna and flora that live within each of those ecosystems, this blog post would go on for a very long time. So, that’s why I love Louisville Swamp. I love the diverse landscapes and the unpredictability of bird sightings since there are so many birds that seek refuge in the area.
Beginning our hike across Louisville Swamp
After our history lesson, we descended into the valley and followed a trail until there was a clearing to the swamp through the lowland forest. When we reached the shore, Jim pointed to the island in the distance and said we should walk out to it and eat our lunch there. We all agreed and happily snowshoed across the frozen shore.
Jim at the edge of the island pointing to the best place to climb up
While walking towards the island, I looked straight ahead and was so surprised by how clear everything looked. The sky was a crystal blue, the clouds and snow were a pure white, and the island seemed almost like a painting, framed by the surrounding scenery. I stopped walking and I placed my hands in front of me and made a rectangle out of my fingers. I internally framed the island within my hands and imagined it as an actual painting. It was fun when Colleen and my friends eventually walked into the frame. It made natural painting all the better.
Colleen and Jim prepping lunch
We made it to the island, climbed to the top of a boulder, and ate our lunch. There was a wind that cut through our coats and gloves, but it didn’t really bother me too much since I was eating delicious food with such great company.
Walking toward the southwest side of Louisville Swamp
I haven’t mentioned about the backcountry aspect of this trip. Well, once we were off-trail, we had to make our own. As seen above, when we hiked to the island and then to the SW side of the swamp, we only had the sun and the untouched snow to guide us. Luckily, Louisville Swamp isn’t a complicated place, so we knew if we walked SW that we would find our final destination: Historic Jab’s Farm. Climbing up the terrace on the southwest side was not as easy as the north side. We eventually found an entry point and carefully walked up the terrace, using the snowshoeing knowledge I had taught earlier in the day.
Ted leading the way to Jab’s Farm
Once we reached the upper terrace, we found a trail surrounded in bluff-upland forest that lead us directly to Jab’s Farm. I had visited Louisville almost a dozen times, but I had never seen Jab’s Farm—mostly due to Flood’s Road Trail being flooded each time I had visited previously. So, I felt exhilarated when I finally saw the rooftops of the old farmsteads in the distance and even more so when we were able to snowshoe in-between the ruins. From within, you could see a barrel stove and the remnants of windows and floorboards (I believe some of the ruins were refurbished by the park system). I wonder what it must’ve been like to live in such an isolated place back in the late 19th century.
(I won’t go into detail, but this area hosted parts of the 1862 US-Dakota War. I wrote about it in my previous post about Louisville Swamp).
After exploring the ruin, we turned ourselves around and retraced our steps back to the island and then back to the north side of the park. Similar to before, the views were so clear and as I snowshoed across Louisville swamp, I continued to imagine myself walking into a beautiful painting.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it!
Till next time,
Colleen and I
You may have noticed that I haven’t written a blog post in awhile—not since my Black Lives Matter in Minneapolis post. Between then and now, I attended a second march called the Justice for Jamar Unity March. I uploaded videos to my Youtube page, if you want to see speeches and footage of the march.
Well, pertaining to my blog’s inactivity, let’s just say that I was on a hiatus.
Though this blog was silent for a few months, I must tell you that I kept myself very busy. Obviously, the holidays came and went. I welcomed the new year with friends, family, and finishing Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice—what a fantastic way to start a new year. In early January, I started two new jobs. One job, I am a snowshoeing guide for L.L.Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School. I lead day trips and Starlight tours in Hyland Lake Park Reserve’s Richardson Nature Center. It’s a fantastic part-time job. I’ll continue into the warmer months as a kayak and paddle boarding instructor. For my second job, I work in the human services realm as an Independent Living Specialist (ILS). It is my first time in this line of work and I’ve been enjoying it. Continuing into mid-January, I moved into an apartment in St. Paul with a friend of mine. I’ve loved living in St. Paul, especially since I live so close to the Mississippi River. And, lastly, in late January, my twin sister, Colleen, arrived [from China] to the Twin Cities to spend over three weeks with family.
Colleen and I made waffles to celebrate her arrival to the USA.
There were many highlights while Colleen was in town, but the two main ones were hosting a Wisconsin cabin getaway with friends and backcountry snowshoeing across Louisville Swamp in the Minnesota River Valley Wildlife Refuge. I’ll focus on the cabin party in this post, since I believe that Louisville Swamp deserves a whole post on its own.
A Weekend In Hayward, WI: Skiing on Spider Lake and Hiking in Chequamegon National Forest
A year ago, my twin sister visited and the one thing she asked of me was, “Molly, plan an awesome party for me!” Well, to be honest with you, I failed on planning a fun event for her a year ago, but I wasn’t going to let that happen again. This year, during my sister’s visit, I planned a bunch of fun things, one including a Cabin Getaway Extravaganza! I invited a dozen friends to join my sister and I to share a weekend off of Spider Lake just outside of Hayward, WI. (Thank you Mary and Rick for graciously letting my friends and I use your cabin!)
Many of the attendees arrived on Friday night. My sister was kind enough to cook us all an authentic Chinese meal and then the rest of the evening was spent playing board games, chatting, and staying up late laughing about who knows what.
The sunrise over Whiplash Lake
I woke up early on Saturday morning—before dawn— to go on a solo snowshoe hike. Before setting out, I enjoyed walking from my room to the garage door and hearing the snores of sleeping friends through cracked doors—what a reassuring sound. Setting off towards Spider Lake at pre-dawn was one of the highlights of my whole weekend. It’s my favorite time of the day, that fleeting moment of morning twilight. I walked on the frozen lake and listened to the distant chickadee calls. Soon, I realized that for prime sunrise watching, I had to migrate to Whiplash Lake. It was a very short hike to Whiplash and I was fortunate to catch the sun come over the tree-line just as I exited the forest trail (see above photo).
I returned to the cabin and found only one friend awake. We made coffee and bacon and, soon enough, several more friend appeared, awoken by the delicious smells. It was decided over breakfast that people wanted to spend the day outdoors, either snowshoeing or skiing.
Snowshoeing and skiing across Spider Lake.
My sister being adorable, as always.
We were fortunate to have warm weather, so most of us spent the whole afternoon outside, enjoying the exercise and sunshine. I couldn’t of thought of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
Colleen and I
As the day progressed to night, more friends arrived to share in the festivities. Dinner was cooked, a fire was made, and charades was played to celebrate our last evening together. Most of my friends were up late in the night; some were sitting in front of the fire talking about philosophy, a few were cuddling on the couch reminiscing about the past, and several were in the kitchen playing games. If you were curious, I stayed close to the fire.
The next day, I awoke early again, though not as early as before, and invited my sister to join me to Whiplash Lake for a morning hike. We bumped into a couple of friends while leaving and we all ended up at Whiplash together. It resulted in some amazing photo opportunities because the morning fog hadn’t settled yet, resulting in a hauntingly beautiful morning hike.
Hiking to Whiplash LakeThe fog was beginning to settle.We hiked across the lake to this section of the forest.
Walking across the frozen, foggy lake was an unforgettable experience. I’m happy to have been able to share the experience with my sister and friends. It was a helluva way to start a Sunday morning.
When we walked back, many more friends were awake, ready to enjoy their last day at the cabin. Several of the people went out on Spider Lake again to practice their snowshoeing and skiing skills. Well, I had decided earlier in the weekend that I wanted to visit Chequamegon National Forest. On a map, it showed that it was only a 15-minute drive to the border, but I didn’t know if there was a hiking trail nearby. My sister, a few friends, and I took the risk and drove East on WI 77 toward the national forest to find a trail.
As we entered the Chequamegon National Forest, not only was there a trailhead, there was also a full blown ski trail and parking lot. We pulled into the lot, paid the national forest fees, and then we were off. I’m sorry to say that I forgot my camera, so the only evidence of our hike was one selfie at the 2-mile turnaround point.
Obviously, we were having so much fun!
I’m so glad we took the risk to drive to Chequamegon National Forest. The trail itself was well groomed and some of the trail sections wove through old growth conifer forest. Though, most of the sections were newer growth forest bordered by swampy marshland. I wouldn’t recommend this trail during the mosquito hatch—unless you have a bug suit—but I can imagine that during the early spring and fall, this trail would be absolutely beautiful. Spring would bring the delicate wildflowers that thrive in this kind of environment, while Fall would give sweeping views of green conifer forest with the occasional pops of deep yellow from the local aspen and birch trees. Who knows when I’ll be back on this trail, but when I do return, I look forward to sharing the experience with you.
Thanks for reading. In my next post, I’ll write about my experiences snowshoeing across Louisville Swamp with my sister and a few friends.
For good measure, here is one last cute picture of Colleen…
A lot has happened since I last spoke with you and if you have been watching the news, then maybe you have seen Minneapolis on its headlines. I’ve seen articles on the BBC, The Guardian, and the New York Times, but if you haven’t heard, then I’ll do a quick recap.
In the early morning on November 15th, an unarmed man named Jamar Clark was in a scuffle with the police. He was fatally shot at the scene and died a day later, determined by doctors as a gunshot to the head. Since then, witness reports have flooded in, saying that Jamar was unarmed, that he was handcuffed, and that he wasn’t resisting the cops. The police say otherwise. They say that Jamar fought back and reached for an officers gun.
There seems to be a lot of inconclusive information in the air, but in the end, it doesn’t matter if Jamar did fight back. It doesn’t matter if he was handcuffed. And it doesn’t matter if he did try to reach for the gun. These allegations are blurring the whole picture. What really matters is that a police officer should not kill a citizen. The police are not the ones to judge if someone deserves to die or to live. They are not the executioner.
Sadly, for black americans, this is the reality. They do not feel safe in their own communities (especially for black folks in the north side of MSP). The police cannot be trusted because racism stills runs deep in the MPD and for all US police departments for that matter. For years, the twin cities’ police department has “repeatedly been caught for racists and white supremacist behavior” (quoted from linked article above), even being linked to KKK-affiliated groups.
Since the death of Jamar Clark, communities have come together to protest for the wrongs done by the police. They also want the police to release important information about the incident, such as video tapes, audio, and personal statements. They want #Justice4Jamar. It first started when protesters stood together on I-94 northbound, blocking traffic for most of the evening on November 16th.
After 42 protesters were arrested, the #BlackLivesMatterMinneapolis movement came together in full force and started the Minneapolis 4th Precinct occupation. This is the police department that houses the officers who were involved in the Jamar Clark shooting. Peaceful protesters have occupied the area for almost 2 weeks now, advocating for #ReleaseTheTapes. Volunteers and advocates from all over the Twin Cities have come to donate food and firewood. Others have served hot food, which is free for all people who attend or visit the occupation.
Earlier this week, on Monday November 23, occupiers mentioned that a few masked folks visited the occupation. They yelled racial slurs and disrupted the peace. They were self proclaimed white supremacists. It was later that evening when these masked folks returned to the occupation, saying the same racist remarks as before. People were mad, causing unrest throughout the whole occupation. Some protesters and occupants tried to mollify the situation, but before anything could be done, the masked men pulled out their guns, shot five protesters, and ran from the scene. Luckily, no one was fatally shot.
On Tuesday November 24th, there was a scheduled #Justice4Jamar march starting at 2pm. The plan was to march from the 4th precinct to Minneapolis’ City Hall and the Federal Courthouse.
Over 2000 people attended to show their support for #BlackLivesMatter and for #JamarClark.
Chants were echoed from the north side all the way to the heart of downtown Minneapolis. Marchers chanted, “Black Lives…Matter!” “Prosecute The Police, No Justice No Peace!” and “Jamar…Clark!” Another chant included putting your hands up in the air and saying, “Hands Up…Don’t Shoot!” After an hour of walking, the march found themselves in front of the Federal Courthouse. Black Lives Matter Minneapolis leaders, local NAACP leaders, and other #BlackLivesMatter allies spoke to the crowd. They spoke of Jamar Clark, what the people were marching for, and they shared stories from locals who had been shot or maced by police and opposing parties.
The speaker’s voices were heard and the cheers and chanting continued all the way back to the 4th precinct. The energy in the crowd was palpable. After the march, a party was held in front of the 4th precinct, which included music and hot food. People of all colors gathered together to promote for peace, to promote for justice, and to promote for change.
The occupation will continue until the desired information is released for the Jamar Clark case. Till then, if you want to get involved or help further the cause, you can find information about upcoming events or fundraising opportunities at the Black Lives Matter Minneapolis Facebook page. Their next event is #BlackGiving. Consider volunteering or attending if you’re free on Thanksgiving day.
Black Lives Matter
If you live in Minneapolis or do not live too far away, then please feel free to join me at Midwest Mountaineering’s Winter Outdoor Expo this upcoming weekend! If you don’t know what the outdoor expo is, then I’ll give you a brief summary. Twice a year, Midwest Mountaineering (an outdoor retail store in downtown Minneapolis) hosts an outdoor expo, where they invite hundreds of exhibitors and host over a hundred presentations. There are also sales all week, so if you’ve been waiting for the right moment to buy those warm wool socks, then this is your chance. I think the best night is Friday night. It’s the Beer and Gear Social. It’s a great opportunity to meet other outdoor enthusiasts, drink good local beer, and to win prizes from gathering raffle tickets at exhibitor tables. The store also hosts the Best of the Banff Film Festival World Tour. There are showings on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening.
My MWM coffee cup (won from a previous expo)
I’ll be working all weekend in Thrifty Outfitters, so feel free to say hello. I’m also presenting about my two-month trip on the West Coast, mostly focusing on my 2.5-week national park road trip with my brother. This is what the outdoor expo newspapers says about my presentation, “In past expos, Molly has presented about travels in Mongolia and Japan. This last summer, Molly traveled for two months to experience as many national parks as possible. In this presentation, she will show photos from her trip, tell stories about using couchsurfing.com and Airbnb.com, talk about traveling on a budget, and share a short film documenting her road trip across the Southwestern USA.”
The presentation will be at Midwest Mountaineering’s Expedition Stage (basement of the store) starting at 10:30am on Sunday November 22nd.
Feel free to come and invite your friends.
The donuts before being placed in boiling hot oily goodness.
We made powdered, plain, and cinnamon donuts….yum.
Even custard donuts!!
Halloween has come and gone, which means the evening’s daylight has done the same. I try to think positively about the upcoming dark days. When long winter nights arrive, it’s the perfect time to get cozy with a book. It’s also a time for bonding with friends over potlucks, board games, movie nights, and craft parties. And my favorite, it’s the time to catch up on video games that you’ve set aside, such as Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
Well, enough about Halloween and dark nights, let’s talk about hiking in Minnesota! In my last post, I finished off my road trip series; I wrote about Monterey, CA and hiking at Big Sur National Sea Shore. In this post, I’ll catch you up with some of the hiking I’ve done while back in Minnesota. The first of my hiking adventures was exploring Jay Cooke State Park with my friend Lisa!
Two hours north of the Twin Cities and housing the official start of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) is Minnesota’s Jay Cooke State Park. The park is bisected by the roaring St. Louis River, which results in rugged river trails and north woods vibes. If you want to go to the Boundary Waters, but don’t have the time to take a long weekend, I’d recommend going to Jay Cooke. The trails are rugged and sometimes hard to follow, just like the trails I remember up north. Also, the thick mixed hardwood-confier forest is a welcome reminder that you can get a north woods feel only two hours away from the city.
After a two-hour drive, Lisa and I arrived at the visitor center. We retrieved a map and got great trail advice from a local park ranger. We told him we wanted to be on trail for the whole day, so he gave us a 6-7 mile loop trail to check out. From the visitor center, we headed towards the iconic swinging suspension bridge. The wind cradled us back and forth as we walked to the middle. From there, we peered down and got a good look of the glacially-etched rock formations below. Oddly enough, the large boulders and bedrock were slanted, at least by 45 degrees or higher. I’d never seen something like that before. It’s amazing how diverse the geology can be from state park to state park.
We crossed the bridge and I saw the familiar SHT symbol on a trail marker. I didn’t realize that we were on the SHT when we had first started walking. Knowing this made me smile as we walked along the wide dirt path. Soon enough though, our planned loop veered us right, off the SHT, towards the river. In my mind, I said “see you later,” because I knew I’d be back hopefully when doing a thru-hike.
We followed the trail till it took us down to the river itself. We went off trail and climbed up one of the large slanted slate boulders. It was tricky because it was slick and there weren’t many footholds. It was well worth it though, the view of the river was fantastic. (photo taken by Lisa)
As I mentioned before, Jay Cooke’s trails really reminded me of the national forest way up in Northern Minnesota. This is because there were century’s old white oak, the trail was rugged and sometimes a little dangerous, especially due to the muddy patches and scrambling rock sections, and there were no other people on the trail. Though we were not far from a town and a bustling road, when on trail we felt secluded and alone; now that was my favorite part.
We had learned from informational signs that there was a flood within the last 5 years, which resulted in closed off hiking trails and roads. I could see the destruction while we walked on the river’s edge. There was a definite line where the river had been flowing when the water was really high. There were uprooted trees, exposed roots, and uneven ground. It’s obvious to see that the park staff have been working hard to get the trails back to tip-top shape because there was fresh wood chip trails from time to time. It will be cool to come back to this section of the trail to see if instead of North Woods forest, maybe a floodplain forest will take root.
The trail took us inland (Photo taken by Lisa)
The serpentine River Trail (Carlton Trail) wound us inland and dropped us off in a birch forest. The leaves were at peak color, resulting in a yellow glow that engulfed our view of the sky. From above, we could appreciate the yellows, reds, and oranges of the falling leaves, while below we could appreciate the sounds of crunching leaf-liter and the feeling of ferns caressing our pant legs. It is these sounds and feelings that reaffirm my love for hiking. After about two hours, we reached the halfway point of our hike, which was a bridge that crossed Otter Creek. Before crossing, we climbed to the top of a slanted rock way up above the riverbed. From there we got a breathtaking view of the park.
On the North side of the St. Louis River, we followed a paved bike trail, wide ski trails, and even the side of the road at certain sections. Though the rest of the hike was less secluded, it still had some great things to offer. The Thomson Cemetery welcomed you with a century old hand drawn sign, there were patches of large white oak, which is always a treat to see (since almost all of the Minnesota white oak was cut down in the 1800’s), and there were river trails that hugged the river’s cliff edge. Our hike back to the visitor center was full of good conversation and laughter and was accompanied by stellar fall colors and the sound of the roaring river.
Overall, I really liked Jay Cooke State Park. I plan on coming back again and exploring all the different trail sections. And, hopefully, I’ll be back in Jay Cooke soon with my backpacking backpack, prepared to walk 296-miles through Minnesota’s diverse landscapes.
Till next time. Much love,
Lisa saying goodbye to the St. Louis River
In the Twin Cities, Fall is almost of its way out and winter is just around the corner. The sugar and silver maples are still holding onto their leaves, gifting Twin Citizens with their bright hues of yellow and red-orange. But, most other trees have lost their leaves and are preparing for this upcoming winter. As always, I have kept myself busy. I went to Jay Cooke State Park with a friend a couple weeks ago and just this last weekend I went camping at Great River Bluffs State park with a gaggle of friends. I’ll write blog posts about both trips in the next coming weeks. I’ve also been volunteering for BareBones Productions, which is a Halloween/Day of the Dead inspired puppet show. It’s one of my most favorite things to go to in the Twin Cities. Their first show is this Saturday October 24 starting at 7pm. There’s also shows starting at 7pm on October 25, 29th, 30th, and the 31st.
Well, for now, let me finish up my Road Trip Series and end it with a fun short film summarizing the whole thing.
In my last post, I wrote about the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and camping in Sequoia National Forest. After that, my brother and I drove west toward Monterey, CA. Why Monterey? Well, when we first started out trip, Monterey Bay wasn’t on our radar. It wasn’t until we bumped into our father in Jackson, WY that we even considered it as a destination. He told us about Monterey and told us to try and fit it into our trip, since it is one of his favorite towns. The reasoning behind liking Monterey is because one of his favorite authors is John Steinbeck and Steinbeck spent a lot of time there. I have read a few of my dad’s favorite books, such as The Crow Road by Iain Banks and The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas. One of his all time favorites is Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. He let me borrow his beat-up copy a few years back and I remember enjoying it immensely, I especially liked my dad’s notes which were found on every page. Cannery Row is set during the Great Depression and follows characters (who are probably real people Steinbeck met while living in Monterey back in the canning days) working and living on Cannery Row, a street lined with sardine canneries. It’s a really good read, I’d recommend checking it out.
Thanks to my father, we ended up spending three nights in Monterey, which ended up being the perfect place to unwind after two weeks of driving and camping across the southwest. On the first night, my brother and I explored Fishermen’s Wharf and ate clam chowder for dinner; yum.
Watching the mackerel circle around an exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
On Saturday, we relaxed in the morning and then walked along the famous Cannery Row. Though it has been rebuilt mostly for tourism, the road still has a nice charm. The road borders the bay and you can still see the old buildings that once housed canneries. If you squint your eyes, you can almost imagine what the road was like back in its heyday (let’s not forget that you also have to imagine the pungent smell of sardines). At the end of the road, is the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Jamie and I had tried to be frugal while on our trip, so we decided to indulge by spending a day at the aquarium. I’m so glad we did because we saw some amazing exhibits.
My favorite was the squid and octopus room, though the bird exhibit was fun as well (the birds were all pre-identified, so I added a bunch onto my bird app! Nerdy, I know.) We spent most of the day walking from exhibit to exhibit and we enjoyed every second of it. In the evening, I met up with an old friend named Hanna Muegge. We met in middle school (right?) and became closer through taking the same A.P. classes and hanging out during Track and Field tournaments in high school. Even since I’ve known her, she’s always been an athlete. She was on varsity basketball, she even played for the German national basketball team, she got a few track and field high school records (which I believe haven’t been beat yet?), and now she is trying out Pro-Cycling. She’s a very talented and determined lady and I look forward to seeing where she goes next. Here’s her website and profile.
Big Sur National Seashore
Jamie and I decided to spend our last full day of our road trip hiking at Big Sur National Seashore. We drove south for about an hour and found our way to Pfieffer Big Sur State Park. Jamie had never been on Highway 1, so I made sure to drive on the way down so he could completely enjoy the ride. We were fortunate to have great weather. We made it to the park and spent a few hours walking beneath towering coastal redwoods and hiking high up into the coastal mountain range. I totally understand why people love living in California. There’s only so few places where you can get perfect, sunny weather, while also being able to climb into some low elevation mountains and end the day at the beach. That’s what my brother and I did that day. Though I still love my good ole Minnesota, it’s hard to beat mountain to ocean hikes.
After hiking at Pfieffer, we considered driving back to Monterey, but I decided to continue driving south for another short while, just to take advantage of the beautiful scenery. I mean, who knows when my brother or I will be back here, you know? Well, I’m glad we drove south because we found ourselves at a very tourist-heavy section on the road. There were tons of cars parked and people were all walking towards the same direction. Jamie and I looked at each other and thought that whatever is around here must be pretty cool, so we found a parking spot and joined the crowd.
Jamie and I found Big Sur’s famous McWay Falls. I’m glad we followed the crowds because this section of Big Sur had stellar views. One viewpoint had the waterfall and a spotless beach and the other viewpoint had jaw-dropping views of the cliff-lined coast. Just, wow. What a way to end our final day on the road. The next day, Jamie and I packed up our bags, said goodbye to Cannery Row, and drove back to San Francisco. We took Highway 1 for most of the way, soaking up our last views of California’s gorgeous coastline.
Thanks for reading and now for the best part: a fun short film documenting my brother and I’s road trip! It’s called Road Trip 2015: National Parks, Hiking Trails, and Sista-Bro Bonding. Enjoy!