Kauffman Stadium Staats CP-294The Fourth of July is celebrated many ways, and this year for me that meant family.  We made a trip to the Kansas City area to spend the weekend with family and friends; that meant good barbeque, cold beers, a summer sunset over a field of wildflowers, an orange full moon rising in the east, catching up with friends, a boat ride on a local lake, and even a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium between the KC Royals and the Minnesota Twins.  The series is always a good one, and on this night we celebrated a Twins win followed by a huge fireworks show at the stadium.  So many things to be proud of on July 4th, and so many things and people to be thankful for too.

Baseball parks_StaatsWe celebrated summer this week with baseball – three nights of it, to be exact.  The Twin Cities was host to the US tradition of the MLB All Star Game and Home Run Derby.  Target Field sits in downtown Minneapolis, with the skyline looming beyond the outfield.  The stands were filled with Minnesotans and baseball fans from across the country, totaling over 41,000 people.  The setting was festive, the fans were all in great spirits, the players were enjoying the traditions, and the baseball was memorable.  The following night we took in a Minnesota tradition – a town ball game in Miesville.  Jack Ruhr stadium sits off a county road with the beauty of a mid-western sunset over the cornfields as its backdrop.  The Miesville Mudhens played well, but were not a match for the Austin Greyhounds on this night.  The crowd of about 100 locals enjoyed both the evening and the baseball.  Two contrasts – each with their own sense of grandeur and traditions.

Summer sunrise over the lake_StaatsWe arose in the dark early yesterday morning and headed north to one of our favorite little lakes.  With the boat in tow, loaded with fishing and camera gear, we were set for a summer outing.  We had only just headed out from the landing when the sun cleared the horizon and broke over the tree line.  The clouds reflected the colors of the sun, and the reflection came alive in the surface of the lake – both in the calm water, and in the wake behind the boat.  This glorious sunrise was only a prelude to the rest of the day.  We had packed a breakfast to enjoy on the boat in our “lake with a view.”  The fishing was good; we caught a mess of crappies and sunfish (some of the best lake fish for eating).  The morning remained pleasantly cool, and we marveled at the sandhill cranes that passed overhead and the loons that called from another area of the lake.  Before we knew it, a full six hours had passed.  After the trip home to unload and shower, we then headed to the Minnesota Twins baseball game (another rite of summer).  The crowd enjoyed a well-played game under the summer sky, and celebrated the Twins’ win after the sun had set.  One full day with two of my favorite summer past-times;  I can’t help but feel so fortunate to be able to enjoy all of this.

On a beautiful late-spring afternoon I was lucky enough to have tickets to the Minnesota Twins baseball game against the LA Angels.  Even better was that I got to go early to see the Twins’ batting practice.  The sun was warm, the sky was blue, and our hopes were up for a win that night.  After the Twins’ batting practice was over the Angels came out for their warm up.  As the sun was moving lower into the sky it created dark shadows from the stadium deck that stretched across the outfield.  For awhile it seemed most of the action was anywhere but in left field, as these three players seemed quite content to rest on their bats, soak up the sun, and cast long shadows over the green turf.  In the end, the Angels beat the Twins.  But I’ve learned that baseball isn’t just about wins and losses –  it had been a beautiful afternoon and night for a baseball game.

I have certain expectations and rites that I associate with the season of summer.  My bucket list includes:  (1) a baseball game with cold beer and popcorn, (2) putting the canoe in the water, (3) sharing a late-night bottle of wine on the deck, (4) eating cherry tomatoes fresh-picked from the vine, (5) watching a sunset, (6) a bicycle ride on an early Saturday morning that includes a stop for breakfast, (7) fishing (hopefully successfully!), (8) a chocolate malt from the dairy barn at the Minnesota State Fair, (9) swimming or wading or dangling my feet in a cool lake when the temperature is scorching, and (10) sleeping in a tent.  Up until last week I’d checked off all my items except the last one, so my mission was to go camping.  We ventured off to the southeast corner of Minnesota.  Passing through acres and acres of corn and soybeans in the center of the state, we eventually came into the rolling hills and bluff country that’s to the west of the Mississippi River.  The landscape is beautiful, with two-lane highways and county roads that curve and twist and go up to the tops of the bluffs and then sky-rocket down into the valleys.  We found our way to a Minnesota State Park that’s nestled in one of those valleys – Beaver Creek Valley State Park.  The park is situated so the creek flows right through it.  Even to get to our tent site the road crossed the creek four different times.  We weren’t driving on bridges, we were actually fording the creek and driving through it.  We set up our tent at the base of a hillside nestled among the trees.  Our days were spent hiking and exploring the park and the valley, along with this far southeastern corner of Minnesota.  With all our outdoor activities, hot temps, and warm sunshine we slept well in our tent under the canopy of trees in the valley with the full moon high above in the sky.  And just across the road from our campsite we could hear Beaver Creek, babbling its way throughout the campground and the valley.

Although Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes that is actually quite modest as there are thousands more.  The advantage for those of us in urban areas in the state is that we are never very far from a wonderful lake.  Within a 10-mile radius of our home are a dozen plus lakes to enjoy.  On a calm summer’s evening earlier this week, we launched our canoe for a leisurely paddle.  We took along a light dinner to enjoy, a transistor radio to listen to the baseball game, and good attitudes to relax and appreciate the beauty of summer in Minnesota.  The colors of the sky and sunset reflected in the quiet waters of the lake.  In this photo you can see the power lines and electrical towers of the city, but you can’t see the interstate highway that is just on the other side of the far tree line.  On this evening there was no noise audible from the traffic, and we were serenaded by the call of a loon that was residing somewhere on the lake.  Except for the power lines, we could have easily been miles away from our urban life.  We were out on the lake for only a couple of hours but this short respite from the hustle and bustle, the noise and cacophony of the city life was a wonderful way to appreciate and savor the best of the summer season.

As we headed into the first day of spring, the week seemed to have been filled with ups and downs.  Our weather has bounced from 60’s to 40’s, from spring to winter.  My favorite NCAA basketball team, the Jayhawks of Kansas University were up and then down, causing my brackets to bleed red.  But today has ended the week on an up note.  The Minnesota Twins held an open house for their season-ticket holders and we had the opportunity to see the brand new Target Field.  Just like someone getting dressed up for company, the skies were blue, the sun was warm, and we learned the stadium is a gem!  From our seats near the first base foul pole to the upper deck to the clear image on the scoreboard to the speaker system that you can actually understand — it’s all good.  And to add icing on the cake, we’ve learned that our home-town MVP Joe Mauer has agreed to a contract extension.  The team is looking good, and now our new stadium is almost done.  Spring is in the air when you know opening day for baseball is just around the corner!

As a photographer, I consider myself a visual person.  My eyes are constantly moving across whatever scene is in front of me, scanning for details, for patterns, for the beauty of the scene.  Yet this week I’ve been attuned to the sounds in the air as we transition from winter to spring.  With temperatures above freezing throughout the whole week, we’ve been serenaded with the sweet sound of running water.  The gutters and drainspouts are gurgling once again — a sound we haven’t heard since early December.  The street curbs are filled with water running from the snowmelt down to the storm drains.  Every house and building overhang is dripping as the snow is melted by a warmer and brighter sun.     As I was walking in the neighborhood this afternoon my ears caught the sound of a group of young boys playing catch and the distant radio broadcast of a spring training baseball game.  I think spring is the one season that’s announced by a cacophony of sounds, all that are welcome with the promise of warmer weather, green grass, blue skies and warm sunshine.  Yes, we still have mounds of snow and the sidewalks are becoming small canals as the water melts with nowhere to run, but we have hope in this annual ritual.