Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rafa Bows

After 31 straight wins at Roland Garros, Rafa Nadal lost today to Robin Soderling, a 24 year-old Swede in four sets. A huge upset. The four time French Open champ will have to wait until next year for his fifth title. The way is somewhat clearer now for Roger Federer to win his first French Open.

It was another of those great days in May that are not nearly common enough. The lilacs continue to bloom. This is another variety of lilac that always blooms about ten days after the common variety. The blooms and scent are somewhat alike, but recognizably different. The back yard smells mah-velous.

St Paul has a poetry project as part of the maintenance of the sidewalks in my part of the city, at least. They have a cache of poems that they imprint in new slabs of sidewalk when they are put in. Public Art St Paul had a contest to get people to send in short poems suitable for public display. They had an entry fee and a first place prize of $150. Their site has an explanation and the poems themselves. I discovered this example on Goodrich Avenue, I think, several blocks east of here.

Herb is back from another trip to Chicago and he brought back some of that Japanese candy Pocky. He says that he drove the rain on the road between here and Hudson. The sidewalks here remain dry.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wood Tick Wonderland

The day after Memorial Day was cloudy and cool. The crowds at the various places of remembering were gone, and I had decided to visit a place I remember pretty well, but one that doesn't exist in the way it used to exist fifty years ago. I took a drive in the country. To Wisconsin.

This is a view of Dick's Ranch from the far side of the County U bridge over the Yellow River (not far from the junction of FF and U). Richard Anderson owned this land until he died in 1954, 55 years ago. The land is now controlled by the Burnett County Historical Society to commemorate an old trading post that existed there in 1803 - 206 years ago. It's named Fort Folle Avoine, which translates roughly to Fort Wild Rice. I used to do some fishing off this bridge as a lad.

The farm buildings have disintegrated over the years and not much is left to indicate that Richard and his large family actually lived here for at least 40 years. In contrast, the trading post was burned down after a single season in business - 1803. The silo foundation which stood next to the old barn is still visible, and probably a hazard to hikers. Plants are growing out of it.

Richard's spouse, Hansine, had a flower garden that was created by filling the center of an old tractor tire with dirt and planting flowers in it. The tire was still in place, but the flowers have been replaced with forest plants. It was located somewhere between the house and the barn.

I came across an old washing nachine that was still lying in the yard. I think it belonged to the Anderson family, but can't really swear to the fact. It's a really old style washing machine, as you can see. It's been there a long time.

I walked along the driveway, past the foundation of the house and the farm sheds. The pump is still standing, too, but not pictured here. The Historical Society has a nature walk in the "woods" that used to be the farmyard. They have signs that identify various interesting trees as one walks along the trail. One stands next to the large oak tree by where the house used to be and identifies it as a white oak. I think it may have been planted by Richard 75 to 100 years ago. I know it was there when I played in the yard as a child. I guess it's a wild tree again.

This is the old driveway to the farmyard. There used to be a garden on the left side of the drive, and maybe on the right side, too. The culvert for drainage under the drive is still in place and seems functional.

The trees have grown a lot. New trees have appeared. There are still a lot of woodticks on the grounds. Four of them came home with me and met their doom soon after I discovered their existence.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day is early this year

Another beautiful day in May. One of the nicest days ever. A little windy to bike, but nice enough to walk about. The best part of the day was a hike at Bruce Vento State Park with Herb. He was checking out the sandstone castle on the bluff. It's an area that has been used by young people to climb and explore the art of rock climbing. Herb was looking for a spot to get a good photo when I took this one. The trees and grasses that have been planted - many by PP - are doing well and everything looks green and healthy.

The second photo depicts an interesting dilemma for someone. It's a bicycle lock that is in locked position around a tree, but there is no bike to be seen. It looks like someone lost the key to the lock which was holding the bike, but was able to rescue the bike somehow without it. Or maybe something completely different than that happened. I took the picture anyhow.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Familiar Face

It was a nice day in May. The temperature topped out in the mid-70's. It was take a 53 year-old to lunch day. I found this guy over by Metropolitan State University, a place founded by an old, sometime teacher of mine, G. Theodore Mitau. It's also a place known reasonably well by Mr. Moohoo. I've known the guy in the photo all his life. The statue of Snoopy is a trade mark of St Paul, and there are dozens scattered throughout the city. This one is just outside the Metro State office where Andy works. We went for a sandwich and a walk through Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, not far from where he works. I was able to point out some of the prairie restoration and plantings done there by PP at her job with Americorps. Burr oaks and hackberry trees. The sanctuary is greening up nicely and seems to be becoming a more popular place to walk in nature.

I managed to avoid much physical exercise today, other than the nature trek and a little lawn mowing. The lawn is dry and we need some rain, but the warm weather the last few days seems to doing my two tomato plants a world of good. I like to mow almost as much as BB, but my lawnmowing didn't cost nearly as much as her last outing. Mine was just $40. It's a different story line however.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ninety-three Again

It was too hot and too windy to bike or play tennis. It made 93 degrees again for the second day in a row, and the breeze was in the 25-30 mph range much of the day. But I did manage to get in a set and a half of tennis at 4 pm at Marie Park. It was not as much fun as usual, but better than a sharp stick in the eye. I managed to be on the winning side for the complete set and also did not hurt myself. A successful outing.

This photo was taken at Linwood on my way home from checking out the progress on the Linwood courts. The courts haven't been worked on since yesterday. No progress. The strength of the wind may be seen in the flapping of the flag of the USA.

The French have been running their national championship in Paris at Roland-Garros for a long time. They have had a hard time finding a French national who can win the tournament. The last French man to win was Yannick Noah in 1983 (the year that PP was born) and the last French woman was Mary Pierce in 2000. The Americans, too, have had some recent droughts in the win department. The last USA man was Andre Agassi in 1999, and the last USA woman was Serena Williams in 2002. It is also true that Chrissie Evert won the French Open 7 times.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tennis Court Progress

The temperature rose into the nineties today. It was the hottest day, so far, of 2009. I had the day off from tennis and indulged in a little gardening. I planted a double row of carrots, to go with the tomatoes and two kinds of lettuce. I also have basil and chives growing in the yard. There will be salad.

The court builders have been at work on the resurfacing of the Linwood tennis courts. The asphalt surface has been put down and leveled, and the big machines are gone. I have been checking on the work in progress and have yet to see anyone actually working at the site, but there is visual evidence that they have been on the job. I suspect that they may sneak onto the site late at night so that no one sees them make progress. There is still a lot of work to do until the courts are playable. Stay tuned.

Roland Garros was a French aviator who was shot down in combat in World War I one day short of his thirtieth birthday, on October 5, 1918. He was credited with shooting down three enemy (German) planes. He was a noted aviator before the war, but wasn't known as a tennis player. He was, however, a religious fan of the game. The stadium where the French Open is played was named for him in the 1920's. In 1913 he became the first man to fly across the Mediterranean Sea.

A link to the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Marie Park courts vs Roland Garros

Across the pond there are a couple of tennis courts. I played two sets of tennis there this afternoon in 80 luxurious degrees. This is Marie Park in Mendota Heights where a lot of my summer tennis ball smacking is done. The courts are well sheltered from the wind and well hidden from casual passersby. The pond shelters a lot of birds. Today they were notably red-wing blackbirds.

The French Open begins May 24, next Sunday, at Roland Garros in Paris. They have a website where one could purchase tickets, usable if one were to spend some time in Paris between May 24 and June 7, when Raphael Nadal takes his trophy home (and his check for about a million dollars.) I was looking at this year's price structure to see what it might cost to actually take in a few matches. Of course, it varies depending on the part of the tourney one wants to see (the finals are the most expensive) and the venue where one sees the match. The main stadium (Phillippe-Chatrier) is the most expensive and Suzanne-Lenglen is next, and it ranges down to the 15-20 outside courts that hold the matches of relative unknowns during the first week. There are differences in the prices within the large stadia, too, depending on how close to the action one wants to be. Lots of differences, but the range of prices for a single day's ticket ranges from the best seats at the finals at P-C at 85 euros (about $115) to matches on the outside courts during the first week at 21 euros (about $28.50). These are tickets for all day, so one would see a lot more tennis the first week, because there are a lot more players still in the draw then. One should probably factor in the price of the airline ticket to France, too, but these are numbers to consider.

A schematic of the center of the tennis world starting Sunday - Roland Garros.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Sweet Day

The lilacs are still blooming in my own backyard.

It was United States Tennis Assoc. (USTA) tennis night at Wooddale. It was my first chance to play for Jerry's 8.0 team in quite a while. Sundays have been the province of permanent court time at Fort Snelling until yesterday. My partner, Barb, and I played second doubles against a couple of thirtysomething players. I don't usually go into much detail about matches, because you really have to be there to get the full flavor, but the flavor of this match was sweet, wild honey sweet. We lost the first set, without any service breaks, in a tiebreaker, 7-6. The second set went along pretty well until the opponents got a service break to go up 5-3. We were able to break back for 5-4. Then it was my serve and we had to fight off two match points to tie the set at 5-5. The next two games were close, but we won both and the set at 7-5. Then, in USTA tennis the winner is determined by a super tiebreaker - the first team to 10 points and ahead by at least two, win. We won some key reflex points and cruised 10-3. The victory was sweet. And we had fans to watch - nine of them - the other two matches had finished and they and captain Jerry stayed to watch.

So I came home and PP and I had some almost Mexican food from Chipotle as celebration for a day well spent.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Twenty Stars

After my usual Saturday tennis competition at Wooddale, I came home to find the youngsters here and looking for an adventure in nature. We decided that Pike Island offered a nice walk in the woods with a relatively high chance of sighting a deer or maybe an eagle. And it's only ten minutes from my door.

On the way we walked by old Fort Snelling. The flag flying against the cool, blue sky has only twenty stars. I know that Fort Snelling is a historic site, so flying an old flag is probably okay, but I am hard pressed to know when the USA had a flag with only twenty stars, maybe sometime near the Civil War. I'm sure there is an internet site that will tell me. [The twenty star flag was the official flag for only one year, 1818.]

The three mile walk around Pike Island took a while, and on the journey we discovered several hollow trees. They reminded me of Winnie the Pooh and his honey tree. PP said she could live in this particular tree, so we asked her to get inside and see how it fit her domestic requirements. The place did not have indoor bathroom plumbing.

Herb was taken by the multitude of dead limbs lying about. They look like ninja hitting sticks. We had a good time trying to knock hanging dead branches out of trees above the path. PP called them widow makers. It was a nearly perfect day for woods walking, fifty-five-ish and sunny. Unfortunately, we saw neither deer nor eagle on our rounds, but there were wood ducks, geese, poison ivy, and some wild turkeys at a distance, a distance beyond the photo taking range of my camera.

Another beautiful day in east central Minnesota.

Friday, May 15, 2009

When is Lilac Time in Your Town?

The lilacs came out today. They have been working on gaining flowerhood for a few days, but they are pushing out their unique fragrance in earnest now. Today was the first day. These lilacs are in my own backyard. The bush is actually in my neighbor's backyard, but it generously overflows into my space, and I appreciate that fact. I think that in other parts of the country the lilacs flower at different times. Maybe the lilacs in other parts of the Capitol City aren't flowering now, but in my neighborhood the fragrance of lilacs is all around. [My blog history shows a lilac photo on May 10, 2007 - the day I took it.]

I was busy during the sunny part of the day, mowing and watering and checking out my new plants - tomatoes included. It rained tonight, so it's wet and not conducive to outdoors activities. And the weekend is expected to be coolish.

I managed to get in a couple of sets of tennis at Fort Snelling. The after effects of my activities of the last couple of days got to me by the second set, and I found myself with more than my usual share of mis-hits. The tennis was still good enough and close enough to be entertaining, a key measurement of contentment. It was the last scheduled indoor session at Fort Snelling, and we were the only foursome in sight when we left the building at 2:45. Tomorrow we go outside to Marie Park and the vagaries of wind and sun. Let the summer tennis season begin.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Out and About

It was a little chilly this morning when I visited Linwood. The city has been renovating the tennis court that is closest to me. The court has had an awful surface for several years, but this year, they scraped the money together to make it better. I'm guessing that some of the money is from the federal stimulus package. This particular project has been shovel-ready for years. When I went by at about ten a.m. there were no laborors to be seen and the heavy equipment was parked as you see it. When they finish the job, I plan to be one of the first citizens to test out their handiwork. It's within walking distance.

Around noon, after stopping to buy some sushi to-go at Kowalski's, I went over to Como Park to enjoy the lake. The fruit trees are budded out in glorious reds, pinks and whites. You can see a couple of clusters across the lake in my photo. I savored my sushi and walked the path around the lake. It was cold on the downwind side of the lake, but there were people out and about who were not at all dressed for the cold. It looked much warmer than it actually was. There were even a couple of young ladies sunbathing on a blanket very close to the path.

Later in the afternoon I took a bike ride. It's my third of the month, and again it was windier than I like it when I bike. I went down by the state capitol and coasted around among the monuments to the various wars that we've indulged over the 150 years of statehood. The Minnesota flag was blowing in the wind. It pretty well indicates the force of the breeze, but it also shows that the sun was shining brightly. The Minnesota flag is a nice blue color, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Greener and Greener

I thought about taking a bike ride. I thought better of it after consulting a couple of weather sites. As it turns out, it might have gone okay. It was windy and threatening rain. And, as predicted, it later rained and the wind increased in exuberance.

Alternate plans were called for. The rabbits in my yard looked to be a threat to my newly planted tomato plants. "Marigolds are the answer," I thought. Highland Nursery has a large selection of various colors of marigolds and now, after a strategic purchase, my tomatoes are protected by a few yellow flowers. It may be a puny plan, but it's my puny plan.

Then I went to look at the big river, down at Harriet Island. The city of St Paul seems to be spending quite a bit of money improving the river banks under its control. I hope the money is federal stimulus money, but I suspect its coming from the increase in property tax levies that are an annual treat in the Capital City. The improvements include a new set of picnic areas in the area where the Jonathon Padelford riverboat is moored when not carrying tourists up and down the river. It's an old style showboat with musicians and other entertainment.

I noticed these lines painted on the side of the ticket office for the Jonathon Padelford. They show why Harriet Island is a park, used for entertainment events, rather than being a residential island. In 1965 and again in 2001 the majority of the island was under water. The Mississippi takes what it wants when it wants it, and it's best to stay out of its way.

I walked along the river for about an hour, enjoying the forest vegetation as it gets greener and greener. Spring is here and is here to stay. I need to tell PP that there is a lot of buckthorn in the area that should be chainsawed to the ground. And I know she can do it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Marsh Marigolds

There was Sunday tennis at Fort Snelling. It was the fourth day in a row for me and I managed to play pretty well anyhow, but, by the end of the session, I was starting to feel fried and was asking about the availability of oxygen. It was the last Sunday indoors for the season and next week begins a somewhat more sane schedule for my tennis ball smacking.

When I got home, the Prairie Princess was arriving from Mother's Day festivities with her mom, and wanted to show me the work that she and the other members of MCC had done last week at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary just west of Mound's Park Boulevard. They planted a bunch of oak and red maple trees and generally improved the area. I have been there four times this year and each time the environment gets greener and I recognize a few more of the native plants. With PP leading the way, I now know about marsh marigolds, the yellow flowers that surround her below. They seem to be the most prolific of the flowers currently blooming at Vento.

Next is a photo of PP at Carver's Cave, a sacred Indian cave which at one time was known as Wakan Teepee. There is a fine reflecting pool in front of the cave, and in the background you can see the very many white stakes supporting trees that PP and her Americorps troop planted last week. The whole area is being transformed into an oak savanna. The trees will be a forest in a few decades.

On the way out of the park, as the sun was beginning to go away, I took a photo of the St Paul skyline and the cloud infested sky. The state capitol is off to the far right. It was a beautiful, albeit coolish day on the Minnesota tundra.

We got home in time to order a bunch of takeout food from Pad Thai - including egg rolls and dessert sticky rice. Unky Herb made it home in time to join us in the repast.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Blue Bells and a stump

It was a Saturday for indoor tennis at Wooddale, the next to last Saturday of the indoor season. It was good that we were indoors, because the weather has relapsed to middle April. The mercury stayed in the 50's for the day, and I was glad to be inside playing tennis.

Later in the day I donned warm clothes and ventured to Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis to check out the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. It's a long standing garden established in the 1930's by a Minneapolis teacher and botanist, a garden that tries to grow native wildflowers. This time of year the species include trillium, wild ginger, toad lilies, and blue bells. The blue flowers below are Virginia Blue Bells (so PP tells me) and they grow in profusion at the garden. There wasn't much sun today, but when this picture presented itself, there was a break in the clouds.

There were also a lot of down trees in the area. They leave the trees to rot in place to give a naturalness to the wooded slopes. The old stump with the new growth around it made a nice contrast, so I include the photo I took.

When I got home Herb was back from Afton State Park, where he was taking photos (50 or so, he said), and PP was home from her full day of hard labor at MCC. She was wearing her new steel toed boots that are required when wielding chain saws. We were hungry, so we went out for Tex-Mex food. Love that guacamale.

Incidentally, PP informs me that her new nickname at work is "Wild Card", because of her unexpected witticisms, so she may now bear the initials "WC" in future blogging opportunities.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Bike Ride to the Capitol

The nicest day so far this year. I took another bike ride this morning, a short one to be sure, but a bike ride. I wanted to save some energy for Thursday night tennis, so I took the Trek to the Minnesota Capitol grounds and back. I took a picture of the bike in front of the state's Viet Nam War Memorial. It's always sobering to stop there and see the names on the wall, a few that I once knew. It was a beautiful morning, so I rode on, over to the Capitol building where the Legislature is in session, dealing with a large budget deficit and a recalcitrant governor. There were some people setting up loud speakers and doing a sound check as I stopped to check on the activity.

The warm day kept me busy. I mowed the lawn, bought some groceries and waited for the tennis match at Wooddale. It was the last Thursday night inside for the spring season. The hardcore girls had a USTA match tonight so we played instead with all men. We played three sets, all reasonably good tennis, and called it a night. I was tired and hungry. I stopped at Yang's for lomein, and now I'm just tired.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A River Runs Through It

Midmorning was nice and sunshiny. I decided to check out Lilydale Tennis Club, to see what is happening to the place I played indoor tennis for 10 or 15 years. It was purchased for about $5 million a while ago to be razed and the land used for upscale condos overlooking the Mississippi. The buyer got caught in the real estate bubble and the property went back to the bank about a year ago. The building still stands and sits vacant today. There was no sign of any activity where 3 years ago, a thriving tennis community lived. So it goes.

So I walked down along the Mississippi in Lilydale Harriet Park, below the bluff. It's pretty wild territory for an urban setting. There were deer tracks and sign of geese and ducks and beaver. While I was walking in the wooded area along the river, one of the tourist riverboats was going down river towards the port of St Paul. The Smith Avenue Bridge is in the background. A good blogable photo, thought I. I walked a long way along the river on a dirt path in the woods until I reached the railroad bridge which used to cross the river into St. Paul. It's a swing out sort of structure that looks to be locked in the open position.

Then I had a look at Pickerel Lake across the road. I met some fishermen coming off the lake on the way to their car and they reported bad fishing luck today, but said that they had caught some large Northerns there in the past.

And this photo is here to prove that there are beavers in the area, ambitious beavers who, in this case, bit off more than they could gnaw. The tree is still alive and standing, but somewhat weakened by the beaver's effort.

Another beautiful day in east central Minnesota.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Old Coot

Following the theme of the last three days - another bird, this time a coot.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Another Day for the Birds

Another bird photo. This is from Como Lake, too, and may be the same kind of bird as yesterday - an egret perhaps. As usual, he spooked as I tried to get close enough for a satisfying shot, and he flew off across the lake. I took the photo anyhow, and it seems to be a reasonably good action shot. There is even a mallard sitting on the lake surface. I'll probably go back to photographing flowers and river bank scenes. They don't spook so easily.

It was a beautiful weekend day in Minnesota. I spent some time doing spring yard cleanup. PP's native plantings needed some water, and there was also still some remnants of last year's growth standing around, and so I removed some of it. Then I went off for 90 minutes of tennis at the Fort Snelling bubble. It still seems to be a shame to play inside on a day when the thermometer in my auto reached 70 degrees, but we paid for the time and so we played. As usual, there were good points and bad, but the second of the two sets was the most competitive and we ran out of time at 6-6. It was fine because I was running out of steam and ready to take a day or two off.

Herb took his bike to Mississippi Market this afternoon to grocery up. He carries most of the goods in a backpack, so he made two trips. It's not very efficient in some ways, but he used no gas, and managed to get in a few more miles on the bike.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Shadow Knows

I was shutout on theme day yesterday. I had no reasonable shot of a shadow by the time I knew it was the theme. Today was nice enough to generate real shadows, so, after my tennis match, I went in search of something that might be usable. This bird was standing in Lake Como as I arrived, and was friendly enough to stay until I snapped the shutter, but very briefly after that he flew off, taking his shadow with him. Is it a crane or an egret of some kind? Only the Shadow knows? The park was extraordinarily busy today, because it was easily the nicest weekend day in a moon or two.

I had three plus sets of tennis to play this morning. My tennis prowess is suffering from too much play, and I feel like I could take a day off. That is likely to be Monday. Tomorrow is one of the last indoor sessions for the year at Fort Snelling. The weather outside is just too nice to waste playing inside. And I'd like to get some miles on my bike so that the Prairie Princess doesn't sneer at my mileage and my gear selection for climbing Benhill.