The Simple Joy of Sunshine

As summer becomes more of a distant memory, these increasingly rare warm and sunny days feel ever more glorious. When the majority of the days now are cloudy, windy, and just plain chilly, I want to soak every ounce of sunshine out of days like this. Walking around without a jacket on a northern Minnesota October day is a gift from God that is to be truly appreciated.

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Roland running off some energy before gymnastics class at Diamond Point Park on Lake Bemidji. Walking with my family along a lake in the lovely sunshine makes my heart happy. I hope these are the kind of memories I carry with me through life (and not the tantrums, the bickering, the chores, the stress…).

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I could sit here and watch the waves and birds and falling leaves all day (on a day like this at least).

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This boy absolutely loves the warm sunshine. (Maybe it has something to do with the fact he lived the first three years of his life in Congo- a climate a bit different than Minnesota). The poor kid does not know what is coming. Enjoy it now, Roland!

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What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity.

These are but trifles, to be sure;

but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.

~Joseph Addison

A View from Above

The peak of autumn foliage is such a fleeting thing. It seems that every year, right when the colors are getting really good, the wind and rain decide to pay a visit and before you know it, all those gold and amber leaves are falling to the ground. It makes it difficult to plan an outing specifically to enjoy the peak of fall color. Between work schedules and weather conditions, we ended up visiting Itasca State Park just a little after the peak started to fade away. Some of the trees were already bare, but it made for pretty leaf- covered paths.

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We took a short walk to the 100- foot- high fire tower. It was a chilly and blustery day so my hands went numb gripping the metal rails as I trudged up the stairs. The height did not really bother me, but the sensation of a strong gust of wind blowing me off the tower was a little unsettling. Roland, our brave boy, did just fine with his daddy’s help.

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We were rewarded with this view from the top of the fire tower.The forest and lakes extended as far as we could see. I thank God that I am able to live near such a great expanse of undeveloped, beautiful land.

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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

-Albert Camus

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The wind was really beginning to blow so we quickly descended the tower and hiked down a nearby trail. We came across this picturesque lake and thought it would be a good spot for an autumn family picture.

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Roland and his daddy, enjoying being outdoors together on a lovely autumn day.

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A Time to Play

There is a small county park near our house that Roland and I usually visit about once a week. There is something there for both of us to enjoy: a playground for Roland and a walking path through the woods for me. We have a routine: Roland gets some of his crazy energy out at the playground first and then we head down the path into the woods. It has become a good lesson in taking turns and being willing to participate in an activity that somebody else enjoys. I also have found that taking a nice walk is a calming transition from the high- energy activity at the playground to the getting loaded up in the car for the drive home.

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Is there anything more cheery than yellow aspen leaves against a bright blue sky? You have to take time to enjoy those rare sunny autumn days.

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Running through the fallen leaves, a quintessential autumn experience.

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One of my favorite things is admiring the way sunlight gently filters through the leaves, especially when the leaves are showcasing their autumn glory.

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Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

Ecclesiastes 11:7-9

Autumn by the Lake

On one of our last warm days of Autumn, Roland and I took an outing to Norway Beach on Cass Lake. Matt was home sick so this was just a mommy and son day. We spent the afternoon leisurely strolling (and playing) on the beach, soaking up the warm sunshine and fresh air, and admiring the beauty of the lake.

Roland was in a hurry to walk down the stone stairs to the beach.

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There is something pretty magical about water. The brilliance of the sunlight reflecting off of it and the soothing sound of waves softly lapping upon the sandy shore touch a special spot in my soul. I do miss the mountains of Idaho, but I have begun to appreciate the pure pleasure of walking along a lake shore (and northern Minnesota has plenty to offer).

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The simple beauty of a leaf.

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I love early fall when there are so many vibrant colors all on the same tree branch.

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Give this boy a stick and sand and he is occupied for HOURS.

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A lovely place to sit.

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This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24

There is Fungus Among Us

One thing I have noticed while walking around the forests in Minnesota is that there are A LOT of mushrooms. There are mushrooms everywhere: on the ground, on dead trees, on live trees, in dense forests, in my backyard. I have seen them in so many colors: red, bright orange, yellow, brown, white and also in just as many shapes. We never saw such a multitude and variety of mushrooms when we lived in Idaho. I suppose the moist soil of Minnesota provides an ideal environment for them to flourish.

Mushrooms are not only interesting to look at, but they also have a key role to play in the ecosystem. When they have a symbiotic relationship with trees, mushrooms help the trees glean minerals and water from the soil while trees provide the mushrooms with necessary carbohydrates. When mushrooms feed on rotting wood (Saprophytism), they aid in decomposition, which returns nutrients back to the soil.

Nature does nothing uselessly. 

-Aristotle 

Roland excitedly pointing to a pretty, bright red mushroom.

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Mushrooms, at once both lowly and mysterious, add their share of intrigue to the quiet forest floor.

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These shelf mushrooms looked like they would be perfect handholds for climbing the tree. They were surprisingly sturdy, too. We wiggled one, expecting it to tear off or crumble, but it held on tight and kept it’s form. I was pretty impressed with their resilience.

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On this outing we hiked a small segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a 4,600 mile trail that traverses seven states as it connects North Dakota to New York. It is the longest of the 11  National Scenic Trails, but probably one of the least well- known.

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This was our first hike of the season that really felt like fall. The leaves were still mostly green, but it was chilly enough to bundle up in sweatshirts. Fall is in the air and it excites me! Autumn is by far my favorite season and this one will be the first Roland is home with us. I can not wait for him to experience the wonder of the world changing into this most beautiful and magical of seasons.

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The ever quiet and peaceful Lake Erin.

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Green Pastures and Still Waters

Schoolcraft State Park is a secluded, quiet place and it actually became the inspiration for this blog. The scenery was not particularly spectacular, but the peace I felt there is unmatched. We hiked an easy two miles through 300- year- old pine trees and along the Mississippi River, without ever meeting another person on the trail.

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On this outing, we were unusually lucky with wildlife sightings. We typically do not see much in the way of wildlife when we go out hiking. We don’t start our hikes until the afternoon, which is not when animals are most active and, with our three- year- old son, we are definitely not in sleuth- mode. However, on this day we managed a glimpse of a porcupine high up in a tree. Porcupines are adept tree- climbers and actually use their stiff quills to help them climb. Before moving to Minnesota, I had never seen a wild porcupine, but I have already seen three in the five months I have lived here. Now whenever I am walking around in the woods I am constantly scanning the tree branches for a moving ball of spikes. I think their natural defenses must make them less skittish than some other animals. Once you spot one, they don’t run away immediately, giving you a chance to enjoy watching them a bit.

Roland found this baby snapping turtle all by himself. I did not realize Minnesota even had snapping turtles and this one seemed especially out of place on the forest floor.

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Roland took this opportunity to practice his letters on the hiking sign.

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On the banks of the Mississippi River we spotted numerous frogs hopping around. That is one of the great things about nature- you never know what you will find. Some days all you get are trees and fresh air and other days you come face to face with some of the critters God created to share this world with us. sep-7-schoolcraft-sp-12

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The serenity of this park was like a breath of fresh air for my soul and brought to mind Psalm 23:

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

A Serene Evening Stroll

After our camping trip, life fell back into it’s normal routine, but that does not mean there is no time to appreciate nature. Even when we are not taking a weekend hiking trip, we can still set aside some time to enjoy being together outside. That is actually one of the best things about being outside- the togetherness. There is no television or computer screen to distract us and pull our attentions in separate directions.

After Roland’s gymnastics class we took an evening stroll by Lake Bemidji. We watched the geese waddling by the lake and the changing colors of the sky as sunset came and went. It was a perfectly serene evening. It is always so soothing to just be outside and take in the world at a slower pace.

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The legend of Paul Bunyan and his Blue Oxe was born in the Bemidji area. These statues were built in 1937 and are now considered the 2nd most photographed roadside attraction in the nation. When we first moved here in the spring, Roland would not get anywhere near these massive statues without crying. On this evening, he walked right up to them by himself and asked me to take a picture. My brave little boy.

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Over the summer Bemidji built a new Northwoods- themed playground. We never got around to checking it out, so on the way back from our walk we made a short visit. It is now officially Roland- approved.

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First Camping Trip, Part 2

Even though Tettegouche State Park was beautifully rugged, I enjoyed the views on the second day of our trip even more. Our destinations were more easily accessible, so it made the whole pace of the day more leisurely. Even though we visited two different parks, our walks were shorter and easier, giving us more time and energy to just soak up all the beauty of the area.

Our first stop was Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. The lighthouse was built in 1909 and protected sailors from the rocky shoreline for 59 years. It is now one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country.

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The lighthouse sits on the edge of the rocky bluff in the picture above. It cost an extra $10/ adult to get anywhere near the lighthouse so we contented ourselves with the distant views. Besides, we were a bit distracted by Lake Superior’s almost vacant and absolutely gorgeous rocky beaches.

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Roland put his crazy three- year- old energy to use and spent his time running away from the waves (although, his timing was not perfect and he ended up pretty wet by the time he was done). I on the other hand, seated myself down on the rocks, basked in the warm sunshine and lost myself in the sounds of the lake. I decided that there are few things in this world that will take your cares away more than the rhythmic sounds of waves crashing on the shore and then receding back over the rocks.

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A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.

~Henry David Thoreau

Our second stop for the day was Gooseberry Falls State Park. This park was not only very pretty, but it was also much more fun to explore than I was expecting. A network of stairs takes you by Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls. At the bottom of each waterfall there are large areas of flat rocks and shallow streams of water that were perfect for playing. The landscape was so interesting; the water had carved out little arches and caves in the rocks so you never knew what unique feature you were going to come across next. Gooseberry Falls is the closest state park on Lake Superior to Duluth so there was a large number of visitors there, but there were enough nooks and crannies for everybody to find their own little spot to explore.

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The photo below gives a good overview of the area’s landscape. You can see people playing on the rocks and shallow water between the waterfalls. The blue in the background is Lake Superior.

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We were able to finish our day’s activities early enough to get back to our campsite and have a campfire. A little bit after the mandatory s’mores eating was done, I looked up into the clear night sky and saw that the northern lights were hovering right above us. We watched the dancing white streaks in the sky until our necks were sore. They weren’t as amazing as the ones we have witnessed while living in Alaska, but it was special all the same. Maybe even more special since seeing the aurora borealis outside of Alaska is more rare and this was the first time Matt, Roland and I have watched one together. It felt like a special little blessing from God, just for our family. It was a perfect end to our first camping trip together.

First Camping Trip, Part 1

I grew up camping. Every break from school my parents would hook up the pop- up camper and we would hit the road. We lived in Miami, but I ended up seeing and appreciating many places throughout the country that my classmates knew very little about. Camping and travelling with my family are my happiest childhood memories. Ever since I became an adult and got married, I longed to share those experiences with my children. It has been a long wait (many years of infertility issues and then a 3.5 year long adoption), but my husband and I finally took our son, Roland, on his first camping trip.

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We took our maiden trip as a family of three to Minnesota’s North Shore of Lake Superior. Most of Minnesota is city, farmland, or forest (and lakes) and the scenery does not change very quickly. It was nice to leave the flat, boggy forests of the Bemidji area for a couple days and enjoy views of some vast open water.

We camped at Jay Cooke State Park, which is just south of Duluth, and worked our way up the first 60 miles of the North Shore. It is 150 miles from Duluth to Canada and 1,300 miles if you want to drive the whole perimeter of Lake Superior, which happens to be the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. We did cram a lot into our two day trip, including four different state parks, but we saw only a small section of this impressively large lake.

Jay Cooke State Park turned out to be not only a convenient, but also a scenic base camp for us. The St. Louis River, Lake Superior’s largest U.S. tributary, runs through the park. As we walked over the suspension bridge, we enjoyed views of rugged rocks and rapids.

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On our first day we drove to Tettegouche State Park and “oohed and aahed” over the views of Lake Superior along the way. We only had one day to enjoy this large and diverse park so we focused on the highlights: views of the lake and Minnesota’s highest waterfall. First, we trudged up the many stairs to Shovel Point and we were rewarded with a view of Lake Superior’s intricately jagged shoreline.

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On the way back down the stairs, we decided to go down even more stairs to reach the lake shore. We found a pretty little cove and enjoyed it all to ourselves.

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By this point we were already getting a little tired of stairs so we were less than thrilled that our next hike also consisted of mostly stairs. The lure of High Falls kept us motivated, though. There was no way we were going to miss the highest falls in the state. The lovely High Falls drops 60 feet before flowing into the Baptism River, which eventually makes its way to Lake Superior.

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We ended up walking around 4.5 miles, most of which was going up and down stairs. We got plenty of exercise, fresh air, and beautiful views (and our 3- year- old son did very little whining on the longest hiking day of his life!). Challenging your body to see something new and wonderful is always satisfying. We thoroughly enjoyed Tettegouche and we were thoroughly worn out by the end of the day, but we were excited about what adventures lay ahead on our last day on Lake Superior.

We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.

-Anonymous