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Archaeologists are not unlike truckers. Exploring Minnesota and Wisconsin's oddities, scenery, culture, back roads, and eateries helps keep me sane.

14 July 2011

Shifting Gears.

It's been about 7 weeks since I left Wisconsin for the wilderness of Northeastern Minnesota.  The highlights are:  no more lengthy hotel life, no more constant shovel testing, no more construction monitoring, no more Scott Walker.  I will definitely miss weekly jaunts all over Wisconsin and all of the wonderful adventures they presented.  5 years anywhere is too long for someone with as much wanderlust as I have.  I'm embracing this new chapter, with all of its ups and downs.  Luckily, there are more ups than downs, depending on how you look at things.  The plan is to start a certificate program in Environmental Education this autumn.  If that doesn't happen, then, well, everything will turn out how it's meant to be. 

One of the best parts about Minnesota life so far is definitley the forest.  I'm just going to let the photos express what I've loved about the last 7 weeks. 

Forest Creatures
Completely unaware of us, giving us a show. So special!

A wolve's back paw.
Luna moth.

Beaver art.

An unhappy moose sow, fleeing the scene.

Not every creature is my friend.

Forest Sights
The Brule River, Gunflint District.

Murphy Creek, Laurentian District.

Fulton Creek. At least it was a creek until the beavers decided otherwise.  Tofte District?

An old railroad and sawmill camp, Laurentian District.

Forest Delicacy 


Gaywing or Bird-on-the-wing.


No clue, but it's pretty.

I have no mushroom knowledge... yet.

We've got the dragon and the damsel... where's the knight?

Although I've worked and played outside and in the woods for years, I never have and never will like insects.  Except these ones.  As long as they don't touch me...


They are beautiful.  They come in all sorts of amazing colors.  They eat mosquitoes.  I want to put them on leashes and attach them to my clothes so they eat all of the mosquitoes that threaten me.


All the same beauty and perks of dragonflies, with some minor biological differences.  I bet you see damselflies all the time and refer to them as dragonflies.  Until last week, I did too.   

Here's how to the tell the difference.  If you can't remember most of the details, just remember this:  When in a resting position, such as pictured above, a dragonfly's wings are spread out to the side and a damselfly's wings sit behind them over the body.

10 March 2011

History Happening in Madison, WI; 9 March 2011

This is not the news, only an individual narrative of experience, with assistance from my Android phone.

I’m still trying to get my head around what happened in Madison last night. I left my weekly guitar lesson about 6:15 p.m. and saw my phone lit up with texts, “Republicans are separating collective bargaining from budget repair, don’t need quorum to vote, trying to pass tonight, now. Spread word. See you at capitol after guitar?” It was drizzling, and I was hungry, but I figured I could go yell a few, “SHAME! SHAME SHAME” chants and go grab some food afterwards. I’m lucky I had an Odwalla bar in my purse to snack on (since I’ve been subsisting on coffee, Odwalla bars, and ibuprofen – skinny jeans are getting baggy!) because last night turned out to be a non-stop outpouring of heartbreak and determination.

It was hard to find a parking spot and there was a line to get into the parking ramp. The word was getting out and people were flooding into downtown. I joined one of my best friends on the King Street corner, with vuvuzelas roaring and crowds chanting, “LET US IN!” She noticed I was on the verge of tears, but I was determined not to cry until I knew what was going on. I got on Twitter and Facebook and read that the Republicans passed their “non-fiscal” initiative 18-1, with Dale Schultz as the only “NO” vote. Thank you, Dale! People with bullhorns were trying to announce that the Democrat Assembly was attempting to hold a hearing to make it legal for people to enter the capitol, but they were being denied a room. I don’t know what was true or what was happening, only that people were desperate to get inside. My friend went to find a quiet spot to call her mom, and I stayed with the crowd, talking to fellow protesters to figure out what was going on. As with all of the other protests, the crowd was diverse. Kids in strollers, senior citizens, students, teachers. But the mood was shocked and hurt.

Someone from the MLK, Jr. Street side shouted that the doors were open. People ran en mass around the corner and up the giant flight of stairs. I was one person away from entering the door when a trooper appeared in the door and angrily shoved the girl in front of me out of the way so he could close the door. She started yelling, “He assaulted me! Assault!” That was the first act of aggression I’d witnessed in three weeks at the capitol, and it stopped me in my tracks. I backed away and jumped up onto the ledge of one of the giant columns. Soon I was surrounded by hundreds. Opportunists took advantage of a slight opening in the door and began to struggle with the troopers forming a barricade. Other protesters stepped in between to take pressure off the law enforcement while the crowd shouted, “PEACEFUL! PEACEFUL!” In the meantime, someone inside slipped into the bathroom and opened the window adjacent to the doors. People streamed inside by the dozens until troopers came to shut and lock the window. They must have been understaffed inside and stopped guarding the bathroom, because the window reopened three or four more times, each time dozens more getting inside. The troopers announced that the King Street entrance was open for entry, but someone in the crowd who just came from there yelled BS. My friend had already made it inside, being in the right place at the right time when she phoned her mother. I had several opportunities to get inside, but something stopped me. I was tired and hungry and did not know what being inside would mean. A lock-down? Sleeping on the floor? Being arrested? I think I cared about the latter least of all. But in the end, I’m more like the silent and steady Saint Bernard who will rush in and assist when someone is getting hurt, not the angry little ankle-biter who’s going to take on a pitbull trooper.

I ventured back to the King Street entrance to try to find out more information. A guy on a bullhorn announced that there were 1000 people inside who would be locked in there for the night with no bathroom access, but food would be delivered. For real? A few more glances at Twitter and Facebook provided information that the Assembly would vote on the amended bill in the morning. I was freezing and about to make my way back to my car when someone again shouted from the MLK, Jr. Street side that the doors were open and people could enter.

It was an uninhibited entry this time, no law enforcement to be seen anywhere. I made my way inside and wiped my muddy boots off on the doormat before treading across the marble. I found my friend, and headed to the second level. She said it appeared to be a coordinated effort by the law enforcement to stop guarding the doors. Inside, the crowd was roaring! I had never been on the second level, and even though it was warmer, the sound was incredibly muffled. I couldn’t hear what was being spoken, only chants and cheers and vague sounds of a brass band. People were clipboards were collecting signatures as complaints that the evening’s vote violated the open meeting laws.

After an hour or so of trying to find out more updates and being jostled around by the swarming crowd, we wearily sat underneath the liberty bell to decide what to do. I decided I wasn’t willing to stay the night, being overtired, hungry, and overworked. I applaud those with more dedication, but I needed my bed. The sound of bagpipes started, signaling the entrance of a Fire Fighter’s parade. I had seen them on video, but not in person. I stopped on the main level on the way out to get a glance at the pipers. The crowd began to sing, “Solidarity Forever” in unison, the song in its entirety. That was a good note to leave on.

Outside of the capitol, I saw that police had the Square completely blocked off to traffic. News vans and cameramen were everywhere. En route to the parking ramp, I had to cross Doty Street. At 11:00 p.m., cars were streaming by with signs in their windows and honking to show solidarity. Some even beeped to the tune of, “This is what democracy looks like!” It was loud and completely amazing. Even the parking lot attendant, who said she was supposed to remain non-political, could not hide her smile and admiration about the honking cars and outpouring of the people. She told me after I left the lot, that I should honk if I supported the workers. So I did.

Later I lay in bed unable to sleep, caught up in a mix of disgust, bewilderment, awe, disbelief, and pride. “Solidarity Forever” rang in my head upon falling to sleep and waking up. What does the next week bring, Wisconsin? The next month? The next two years?

Wish I could join you in solidarity this Saturday, but I will be partying down out of town for my littlest nephew’s 2nd birthday. Only a celebration with one of my beautiful nieces and nephews could keep me away. They are the biggest piece of me, and the reason I’ve been back in Wisconsin for the past five years. And even though I’m a public employee, union member, woman, and future educator, I fight this fight mainly for them and the quality of their future education.

Ask yourself, Republican congressmen – Is an annihilation of our state’s education system really worth keeping union dollars from Obama’s 2012 campaign? SHAME.

Again, this isn’t my usual blog, but I needed to process the overwhelming events that happened last night. Be safe out there, protesters, and keep working diligently with the mentality that this is for US, not this is for ME.

13 February 2011

How I Will Deal with Wisconsin's Budget Crisis, Thanks to Scott Walker

I will be the first to admit that I have many blessings in my life and that many in my state are experiencing more hardships than me. I have worked hard for what I have, put myself through college and graduate school, and worked my way up the ranks. I left a private sector job across the country 5 years ago to return home to Wisconsin and be closer to family and my ever-growing brood of wonderful nieces and nephews. I turned down well-paying private sector positions across the country to return home to Wisconsin as a Limited Term Employee (no union, no insurance, no paid time off, no sick leave), earning $9 less an hour than the job I was leaving. I fought for, earned, and accepted a permanent public sector position, knowing that it would be years before I earned what I had made in the private sector, and knowing that I would be extremely lucky if I got a raise more often than every 3 years. As a permanent employee, I would not be earning over time pay for those numerous 50-60 hour construction weeks, evenings after work spent tracking down property owners for land access permission, and prep work to keep a crew of 10 busy and efficient during the work day. Yes, I have been occasionally laughed at by construction workers who tried to tease me for being one of the “privileged ones” but they didn’t laugh for long once they realized they earned more at 18 fresh out of high school than I did at 29 with a Masters degree.  Still, I do not regret any of my choices.

I don’t have a family to provide for, but I still have to budget every month to be able to enjoy my hobbies and extracurriculars. Hard work and budgeting has allowed me to pay down enough of my debt to be able to enjoy my place in my community and to make healthy decisions for myself. I’m willing to make sacrifices for the good of my community and environment; it’s part of my liberal nature. I realize I’m lucky to enjoy some of the luxuries I do. More than lucky, I’ve earned it. However, if Walker’s proposed bill passes, I will have to make do with a 10% pay cut. My community, sanity, and general state of happiness will take a big hit. And to think I’m plotting a career move into education, because I think teaching kids how to appreciate nature and the outdoors is important for their health and well-being. I might have to find a rich husband and do this on a volunteer basis. Because let’s face it… education AND the environment? I’m screwed.

Here are some of luxuries I’ll be cutting or drastically reducing to deal with Scooter’s proposals.  I can see how some of these things might sound trivial to some... but then, this is what I have worked for.  Not you.

  • Yoga and Pilates through Sun Prairie’s community parks and rec. I use these classes to gain strength after months of digging and laboring, to avoid further complications and physical therapy for my back and shoulder.
  • Buying local free-range or grass-fed meats. I recently saw Food, Inc, and it disturbed the hell out of me. Did you see what that family in the film had to live on because they couldn’t afford fresh produce? I suppose I could just eat a burger and pretend it’s not made from parts of 1000 cows.
  • Buying less organics in general. I wish I could eat them all the time, but sometimes it’s just not a reality on a budget. Should I renew my Willy St Co-op membership?
  • Guitar lessons at the Madison Music Foundry.  Have I mentioned that music is sanity?
  • Dropping in at the Goodman Community Center’s fitness room. I could jog outside in the winter like some of the more hardcore people, but why not patron my local community center IF I can afford it?
  • Feeding my live music addiction at places like the Majestic and High Noon Saloon. Should I spend more weekends at home watching Redbox DVDs and parking my ass on the couch?
  • Having dinners and brunches out with the girls. We especially enjoy the downtown Madison businesses like Graze that serve meats and produce from local farms. I hear Applebee’s is cheap.
  • Buying and collecting vinyl from places like Half Price Books and the Exclusive Company.  I'll just raid my parents' collection some more.
  • Shopping at downtown boutiques like Patricia Shoppe and The Driftless Studio. I can find cheaper, less thoughtful gifts elsewhere.
  • Occasional happy hours at the Atwood/Willy St Bars after work.  Where else is better to vent about the stresses of a job than the Harmony Bar, Alchemy, or Weary Traveler?
  • Visiting local businesses such as restaurants, shops, and museums, in towns across the state when I am stationed in their communities for work. Hotels have free cable for a reason, I guess.
  • Spending weekends driving across the state to visit friends and family. If only there was a train…

What will you have to cut?

06 February 2011

Who Cares If It's Winter -- Play Outdoors!

This blog may need to transition to something else, just like my life is.  I'm trying to move away from shovel bumming, which will make my travel for work much less frequent.  However, my gypsy blood will continue to take me to amazing places like the ones I've written about.  So here's a start to blogging about travel for play, rather than necessity.

Where's a better Wisconsin place to kick this off than Devil's Lake?  It's one of my favorite places to snowshoe.  The lake and surrounding cliffs are so amazingly beautiful, and winter keeps away the hoards of vacationers who frequent the hot spot in the warmer months.  Nothing like competing with hundreds of people for a "camping" spot and trail hiking.  I'll take winter at Devil's Lake over any summer day there.

The best part of shoeshoeing at Devil's Lake is walking across the lake and standing where you would normally be a boat.  Sometimes it's scary as hell... an adrenaline walk?  But you can't beat the view.

Standing in the middle of the lake is essentially standing in the middle of the gorge surrounded by Baraboo quartzite ridges.  Geology nerds, unite. 


The only proper way to follow up a fabulous winter hike was with a scrumptious vegetarian lunch at Wisconsin Dells' Cheese Factory Restaurant.  I heart their curried chickpea stew so much.  Along with fried bananas in a Thai peanut sauce, cappuccino, and slice of Princess cake to share -- yes, please!  The restaurant always has international wait staff, along with most places in the Dells.  Our Polish waiter asked if it was either of our birthdays, and even though it wasn't, he wanted to sing us the Polish happy birthday song.  Completely brilliant.

En route back home, we made a necessary stop alongside Dr. Evermor's Sculpture Park to photo the road side sculptures in the snow.  I can't believe I haven't made it inside this place yet.  It's on the list!


03 February 2011

If You Ever Have the Chance to Live in Galway...

It’s been said that Ireland is good for the soul, and Galway may be best of all. If you mention Galway to an Irish native, they always say, “That’s the best spot.” People love Galway for a reason. Things happen in Galway. The city draws in people of all ages, from all cultures, seeking a change or adventure. Time spent there allows them to both grow up and feel young again, fall in love, figure out who they are, discover their truth, let loose, and realize what they shouldn't settle for. Galway brings emotions to the surface and helps the grieving and downtrodden become strong again. It’s a bit of an escape, but not enough of one to leave reality behind. New friends and new music are discovered every day. A short holiday to Galway won’t reveal all of these things.  Spend at least a few months there.

If you make to Galway, try the following. Words, photos, and video only hint at the magic. There really are no words.

Walk the cobble streets and explore the pubs and cafes. There’s always a friendly ear or newspaper as a companion to your drink. At least one day you’ll find yourself settling in for a morning coffee and then falling off the same bar stool eight hours later.

Shop Street from the Neachtains flat.

Stroll along the River Corrib or along Galway Bay to Salt Hill. Think, meditate, let the water and the air hypnotize you.

 The River Corrib emptying into Galway Bay.

               Jumping at Salt Hill.                           Sunset along the walk to Salt Hill.

Grab some cans and a picnic lunch from the Saturday market and sit in the sun near the Spanish Arch. There’s no buzz better than a warm spring or summer day.  Try the crepes.  And the samosas.  And the curry... and then more crepes. 

The Spanish Arch on St. Patrick's Day.

Look up and to the side. There are remnants of medieval life everywhere, carved in stone. Walkways, windows, lentils, fire places. A lot of Galway’s history never left it.

Lounge around in Eyre Square. It’s where Galway’s journey begins for many people getting off the trains and buses.

A summer day at Eyre Square.

Become a regular at Tigh Neachtain. Their regulars are the best craic. Someone might be playing music in the corner. Maybe it’s Gerry. Maybe he’ll draw you a picture or write you a poem. Maybe Denis has a story (but don’t take his seat!). Find a nook. You might start to believe in ghosts after spending some time at Neachtains.

 Hanging in a nook at Neachtains.              Denis in his spot.

Mural outside of Neachtains.

Go to Taafes, The Crane, or Tig Coili’s or several others for a trad session. Anyone with an instrument is welcome to jump in.

Play music on the street or at an open mic. There’s music everywhere. You can walk the length of Shop Street, and as soon as one performer’s song starts to fade, another’s grows stronger.

Buskers and performers on Quay Street.

Friends having a laugh and earning a few quid.

Dance in the clubs. Pubs close early… midnight-ish. And then it’s all about music. Live bands at the Quays or DJs at the likes of GPO or CP's. Just dance. http://galwaynightlife.ie/

Dancing at Cuba (RIP Cuba, will you be resurrected?).

If you’re not done drinking when the clubs close, there’s always a house party. Enjoy the comradery of like-minded people, passing around guitars and having a chat. Make it to a few sunrises and stroll home amongst the lads unloading kegs for the new day’s imbibing.

Friends and flatmates in the Neactains flat.

Check out the festivals. The Galway Arts Festival, the Oyster Festival, Race Week. Every festival and every bank holiday is as big as the next. Get used to drinking, and then walking it all off.

Galway Oyster Festival.

The crowd during the Galway Arts Festival... or was it Race Week?

Get used to a slower paced life. There are more days off, things are open fewer hours. There is plenty of downtime. Socializing is part of a the culture, no matter where you’re working or studying.

Go with the flow. Galway’s flow will pick you up and carry you to where you need to be. Just let yourself go.

14 October 2010

To the Heartbeat of a Larch or the Larch in my Heartbeat

Larches lining Webb Lake, Wisconsin

The larch or tamarack is a stunning tree in autumn.  I didn't know this tree existed among other conifers until I was bombarded by a sea of gold last fall.  But then, I grew up in southern Wisconsin.  This tree is extremely cold tolerant, found on the edges of tundras, in mountains, near the arctic, and - to my delight - in far northern Wisconsin.  It's a deciduous coniferous tree, and I didn't know those could exist either.   

 I learned something new and now it's one of my favorites.

Sumac is also beautiful in autumn...

30 degrees and an October sunrise over Webb Lake