Fall on the St Croix River 11114_StaatsFall colors are peaking in some areas of Minnesota and today promised unusually warm temperatures with blue skies — a perfect combination for an early morning canoe trip on the St. Croix River.  As we put the canoe into the water south of Taylors Falls, dawn was just breaking, the morning was crisp and quiet, and the water was calm.  We paddled south and had the river to ourselves.  Slowly the sun crested the bluffs on the Wisconsin side of the river, and the light was golden on the Minnesota hillsides.  Our trip was filled with wonder at the basalt cliffs that fall straight into the river, and at the beauty of this gorge.  A short stop for coffee and some pear bread on a sand bar was accompanied by an eagle flying overhead.  The morning was magical in its stillness and color, and this National Scenic Riverway renewed our appreciation for the beauty of fall and the area we live in.

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Burns Lake sunset_StaatsWe’ve just returned from a most relaxing and refreshing vacation.  A mere four hours north, in the land of lakes and pines, is a sure spot to restore one’s spirit.  The Minnesota north woods were calling us, and we were not disappointed.  The weather was perfect with highs in the 70’s and lows in the 40’s.  I photographed six beautiful (and equally different) sunsets, one full moonrise, three peaceful sunrises, and many adventures in between.  We caught more than our share of bass, crappies, and sunfish.  We canoed over an aqua-marine lake, and hiked through the woods.  And during all of these we were accompanied by the sounds of the loons – a haunting yet wonderful call.  Without the distractions of television, radio, news, and city-life we quickly decompressed into a life of quiet and simple pleasures, relaxation, and the appreciation of the beauty and wonder of this area of Minnesota.

After record-breaking heat this past week we finally cooled down a bit yesterday.  And with a Saturday evening with nothing to do we loaded the canoe on the car, grabbed our fishing rods, and headed out for some lake-time.  As we put in to the water the winds died down, and as sunset approached we knew we were in for a treat.  Our paddles whispered as they entered the water, the dragonflies were dancing over the surface, and we could glide over the lily pads in quiet.  I would fish, then stop and photograph.  I’d then put my camera away convinced that the sunset couldn’t get any better, only to pull it back out again.  It was a wonderful way to end the day –  the quiet of the lake and a mess of sunfish and crappies.  And when this morning dawned with quiet and calm too, I headed out early on my bicycle for a quick ride.  Like last night there was a great magic in the early hours.  The birds were awakening, there was little traffic, the wildflowers were blooming by the sides of the road, and my bike tires sailed smoothly across the pavement.  These truly are the “magic hours” and they make me appreciate all that is wonderful about this time and this place.

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.

In the hustle and bustle of the holiday weekend I needed to return a book to the library.  For some reason whenever I return one book I always leave with multiple books — it’s just the way I do things.  Today I had a list of books I was hoping to find.  I knew I would be happy if just one of those books was available for check out.  But today was my lucky day as I found three of my hoped-for books on the shelves.  Not to be disappointed though, I found two other books that caught my eye.  With a smile on my face I breezed through the self check-out and walked out of the library into the afternoon sunshine.  I was surprised by the great feeling and happiness that I felt carrying my pile of books — I felt lucky and fortunate to appreciate the joy of reading and books.  You can tell a little bit about me by my selection of books.  I have photography books, books about the midwest plains, a couple of books about the canoe and boundary waters area of northern Minnesota, and a book about a woman who returns to her roots in Kansas (my native state).   So later this weekend you’ll likely find me relaxing on the deck with a cool drink and immersing myself in one or more of my library books.

Whenever I’m out on a lake I’m always looking around at the sky, the clouds, the shoreline and the reflections — anything for a delightful image and photograph.  Last week I wrote about musical patterns that I saw in the surface of a lake with the reflection of cattails and lily pads.  This week I found raindrops dancing on a lake surface.  It was early evening when we put our canoe into the water, with a sun sinking into the west and a bank of clouds passing by.  The sun was still out and when I looked around I could see small circles on the surface of the lake, and not of the fish-kind.  Although we couldn’t feel it ourselves it was starting to rain.  The single drops spaced themselves on the surface of lake, making beautifully concentric circles and ripples spreading outward.  With the sunlight and the blue sky reflected in the surface, I was presented with a wonderful photographic opportunity.  As quickly as the rain had started, it then stopped.  After awhile the sun slid below the horizon, painting the sky a shade of pink and orange; the full moon rose over the trees, the stars filled the sky above, and we were treated to another beautiful summer’s evening on a Minnesota lake.

With a weekend full of activities that already included an art exhibit reception, a 40-mile bike ride, and a baseball game, we decided to head out early this morning for some peace and quiet on a local lake.  We had hoped to be on the lake as the sun was rising, but Mother Nature had other plans and the dawn began overcast and cloudy.  As we launched our canoe we had the entire lake to ourselves, surrounded by the special stillness and quiet that is reserved for the earliest times of the morning.  The lake was calm and we paddled near a shoreline that was lined with cattails and had lily pads floating nearby.  As I looked at the lake surface and the reflection I felt like I was looking at a sheet of music with staff lines and notes placed in a pattern that was meant to be played and interpreted.  Perhaps it was a prelude to the day that was just beginning — a time of wonder and calm when all the world seems still and all you have to do for the next hour or so is relax in your canoe, paddle on the lake, and enjoy the hours as they quietly develop.