Monday, March 29, 2010

Aerial view of the next Grand Slam tennis tournament

The big tennis tournament in France is held in the latter part of May into June. Bjorn Borg won the men's singles six times, Chris Evert won the women's singles seven times. By the magic of google, I have a bird's eye view of what the courts look like. There are three stadiums of sufficient size to hold a big tournament, and all the courts are composed of European red clay. It looks like a nice place to spend a couple of days in late spring.

The weather in St Paul is granting some preseason outdoor tennis play. Tomorrow. But today was a rest day and a chance to go to the History Center. There could be a reference book there ("The Alsace Emigration Book") that may be able to tell me the home town in the Alsace of one George Miller. He left France in 1828 at the age of five in the company of his dad, Jean Miller, and some other family members - three women and girls, Jacon and two Maries - to come to America. They arrived in New York on the good ship, Parachute, on May 14, 1828. He later took on the nickname Grossvater, married Harriet C. Bowen in Indiana, and became my great great grandfather - not necessarily in that order. The book I was looking for may be in the Minnesota History Center genealogy library, but unhappily, after a long walk to the building (to avoid paying outrageous parking fees) I discovered that the place is closed on Mondays. This search will be taken up another day.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pay phones are now half a buck to use

Sunday afternoon tennis was played inside again at Fort Snelling. The first outside match is tentatively set for Tuesday when the weather is expected to be very un-Marchlike for an actual March day - maybe into the 70's. Woohoo! My play on the court was better today, aided in part by the fact that I stretched and warmed up ahead of time. The players of geezerhood managed a few very good shots and a few that were perhaps unconscious or more likely lucky. As we left we decided that it's a very good thing that we've been able to play this well and this often into our dotage, and that if we quit we would likely soon thereafter, die.

Anyhow, after tennis and a nice lunch of leftover Papa Murphy's veggie pizza, I decided to see if there was any ice on the lakes in Minneapolis. I have seen Como in St Paul and the ice there is pretty much gone - a little blown to the downwind shore is about all that remains. I decided to circumnavigate Lake Nokomis and see if the water was all liquefied. As the photos demonstrate, there is still ice piled on the shore. There is still ice on the lake surface, too. I guess Nokomis is enough bigger and perhaps deeper than Como to allow it to keep its ice longer.

A closer view of the piles of ice.

I read on the Internet earlier today that almost all of the pay phones in this country have vanished. They were no longer needed because of all the cell phones in the hands of the populace. I went searching to see if I could find a working pay telephone. I found three locations where signs indicated pay phones. The first, at a gas station was missing the phone. The second, at Fort Snelling had a phone, but it was not in working order. This one, the third, was at West Seventh and Snelling Avenue. It actually worked when I dropped a quarter into the slot. As it turns out, pay phone calls are now fifty cents. Who knew?

Time scrams.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Again

The crocuses are persistent and are more numerous as the spring vacillates. They are the first flowers of the year, and although tiny, deserve admiration.

The one o'clock tennis session with the geezer group was at Fort Snelling tennis facility today. My play was pretty erratic and my normal confidence in my shot placement was noticeably absent. We split 6-3 sets and called it good enough. Some days, one can feel like he is going to play well and warm-ups seem to confirm the thought. Then the first few shots go awry and the tennis gets iffy. So it goes. Tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Crosby Farm is Flooded and Closed

A chilly March day after a string of pretty good Minnesota spring days gave me pause, but since the river crested yesterday, I wanted to see the beaver dam on Upper Lake. The weather creatures have been saying that this is the eighth worst flood on record at 18.5 feet above flood stage in St Paul. Around noon I drove to Crosby Farm and parked. Across the river from the top of the hill I could see Fort Snelling and Pike Island below. The photo below shows Pike Island and the Mendota Bridge in the far background. Pike Island is inaccessible and flooded. I soon found that Upper Lake is also inaccessible. So the beaver dam will have to wait for the water level to ebb. I had a nice brisk walk through the part of Crosby Farm that is still above water, and I managed to get enough exercise for the morning.

The Thursday night mixed doubles went a little late tonight because the next players didn't show up. We played on and were able to get in three complete sets - 6-3,7-5,6-4. We've been changing partners for the last few weeks, weekly, and playing the whole session with the same teams we began with. Tonight I was paired with Becky, against Jerry and Barb. Good tennis and no bickering. Then off to Yang's for grand chicken.

PP is still at White Earth while her car is being repaired. A minor parking lot wounding. She'll be back next week. Unky Herb is off to Chicago again this weekend in the Corolla. Busy. Busy. Busy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Mississippi River in St. Paul Reaches High Water Mark

The Mississippi in St Paul crested today - or maybe tomorrow. Since I've been amusing myself with the consequences of the spectacle of too much river to fit within the banks, I went to the river try to record the high water mark. It was harder than I expected. The St Paul police, in keeping with their duty to protect the public, have blocked off most of the routes to the river with orange plastic fencing. And they have assigned some officers around the area to catch the stragglers and those who don't read signs very well.

I took this picture from the Wabasha Bridge overlooking Raspberry Island. The railroad bridge just down river from Raspberry Island has amassed a clog of tree trunks, branches and various other pieces of junk. The protectors of the bridge decided to clear the clog and sent out the heavy equipment on the tracks. I spent some moments on this pretty day watching guys work on unclogging the Mississippi. I assume they successfully completed their task, but I went on to try and get a picture of the Harriet Island water level.

I managed to find an area where the orange fencing was missing and was able to get to a vantage point where I could see the great lawn of the island and the river beyond. I hurried to take the photo because the St Paul cops (in the photo) were on their way. Shortly after the photo I was accosted by an officer who explained politely that the park is closed and that I should scram. I engaged in some conversation, drawing on my stature as a senior citizen, and asked if I might take a photo or two more. She explained that if she let me do it there would be a crowd of other folk expecting the same privilege. That, of course, is the standard line that is always used on juveniles to shut off the fun. It worked on me, too. No arrest was necessary. I thanked her for her service and walked out to my auto. Then I drove to the lookout near the high bridge for more viewing.

No tennis today, but tomorrow starts my four days in a row. The outdoor courts continue to look inviting, but it's still a little chilly and the wind is also a factor.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Marching On with Soggy Boots

It's getting to be springy. The crocus plants outside my door are relentlessly pushing up through the old growth around them. It's sure nice to have flowers again. Soon there will be tulips and that most relentless of all flowers - dandelions.

The flood down by the river continues to progress. I went down to check out the current state of Harriet Island. The big open lawn where the Taste of Minnesota occurs every July is flooded and Raspberry Island is closed to the public - too dangerous, the signs say. I was at Harriet Island around noon and there were a lot of people using the sidewalks that were still open. The running folk from the businesses in the area were pounding the pavement and gawkers with cameras, me included, were out and about taking photos of the spectacle. The crest, the high point of the flood, has not yet arrived, but will in a day or two. The river is quite wide, but I don't think that any buildings are threatened. That's the river bed, on the other side of the sidewalk in use by strolling citizens. The St Paul Cathedral can be seen in the background, Science Museum to the right in the frame.

I took a photo from up on the hill to show what parts of Harriet Island are flooded. The Wabasha Bridge is on the far right. Unless you live near the floodplain, this flood is pretty much a non-event.

Outdoor tennis is coming soon. I actually have seen some of the St Paul courts in use, but I'm still attached to my indoor schedule.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick's Day

The Irish got a really nice day for a parade. I decided to park by Harriet Island and go see if I could catch a leprechaun. On the way, I passed by the big river getting ready to overflow its banks. This photo was taken on Raspberry Island a little before noon. The river is full of ice chunks and woody debris. And moving fast downstream. There will be some real flooding in St Paul by the weekend, say the weather gurus.

The parade was the typical St Paul St Patrick's Day parade. Everyone with any Irish blood wore green and marched down the city streets. The crowds are large and some beer was being consumed on the street. The St Paul politicians, including the mayor, were in the parade wearing the green. And there were bagpipe bands.

The rest of the day was sunny and beautiful. Spring is in the air.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Raspberry Island Bench

It was rainy today, a much less attractive day than yesterday, but it seemed like a good day to watch the river adjust to its new volume of water. I ended up very near Harriet Island at Raspberry Island. Raspberry Island is an island in the Mississippi River under the Wabasha Street Bridge. It used to be known as Navy Island until just a few years ago. It has been renovated and improved, adding trees, trails and benches. The bench below has a very good view of the Mississippi as it rises towards flood stage. [I guess I've taken on Santini's bench quest for a while.]

There is also this sign at the downstream end of the island that is meant to keep crazy people from going swimming there. Today there were no crazy people in sight when I visited. The river looks pretty dangerous, too, with large trees and ice floes floating down towards Kansas City.

Spring is an iffy thing in Minnesota. Tomorrow is supposed to be warm and sunny again - maybe 60 degrees again. I'm okay with that.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Bench by Minnehaha Creek

It was a very nice day in the northland. One of those "one of the nicest days in the history of days," March edition. It was 59 or 60 degrees, warm enough to finish melting most of the snow in my yard. Thus, after lunch I went to Minnehaha Falls to see how the water was flowing and to generally walk through the areas that previously were too icy. The walk from the falls to the Mississippi River was pretty but still very brown. The whites have disappeared and the sprigs of green have not yet appeared. The water was roaring over the falls and flowing rapidly to the Mississippi, and when I got to the river, it was noticeably high. There were guys fishing in the river from the bank and a few boats with guys trying to hook a river fish.

On the way back to the falls this bench caught my attention. It's sitting a few yards from the creek and is a pretty good spot to sit and contemplate one's existence on this earth, and to be glad to be outside in nature on such a pretty day. The bench had been tagged by graffiti, but that's what happens to public structures these days.

As I long as I was at the falls, I snapped a few shots. The ice mantle that has encased the falls for the last few months is still nearly intact, and the water is burbling over the precipice. Spring at the falls is different than winter and fall. It has a different feel, energetic and fresh.

No tennis today, but I noticed that the courts are shedding their snow cover, and soon outdoor tennis will be breaking out on city courts.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ice on the Lakes and Rivers

After tennis at the Fort Snelling Emporium of Geezer Tennis, I went outside and found spring. The thermometer in my car said 64 degrees. That's warm enough to play outside, if only that pesky layer of ice, and below it the muck, would cooperate. When I got home, my son, UH, was outside without shoes or a shirt basking in the heat. I know, this is false spring, but worth celebrating, or at least enjoying. I went down to Crosby Farm Park to see if the ice on Upper Lake had taken its leave. As you can see in the photo, there is some open water, but ice remains. It's too cold to swim. I circumnavigated Upper Lake and walked along the big river for a while. There were plenty of sun worshippers out, but the river is starting to swell and flooding is expected.

Since it was still very nice late in the afternoon, thanks to daylight saving time, I went to Harriet Island further down the river. The river is not covered with ice, but there are ice floes and pretty big chunks of ice flowing down towards New Orleans. The city looks pretty secure, much of it up on the bluff, but the flood plain may very well live up to its name in the weeks ahead.

It was my fourth consecutive day of tennis. By the time we (the other geezers and me) finished with our two sets, I was tired and ready for some food and some leisure activities. The sets were split 4-6, 6-1, but Dr. Bill was the big winner today. He's been playing well lately and is a force to be reckoned with among this group of seniors. I have tomorrow off from the wars.

John, one of the geezers, and a recreational biker, recommended a good biker documentary about the Tour de France in 2003, called "Hell on Wheels" about the German team, Telecom, that that great horse of a man, Jan Ulrich, led in a dual with Lance Armstrong. The movie is more about Eric Zabel than Lance, but seems to catch the spirit of the event, according to John. I'm going to look for it at Blockbuster.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Harriet Island and the High Bridge

The snow is rapidly leaving us, replaced by puddles and the stuff that won't melt. Harriet Island is pretty much deserted on March days like this, but in the early part of July is the home of a large party. The Taste of Minnesota then fills the island with people searching for unique eats and a place to watch fireworks. These benches are unused and just recently freed from their icy bonds. This idea of photographing benches comes from Santini and I must give her credit. The area behind the benches contains a lot of puddles, but in a few weeks it may be completely under the waters of the mighty Mississippi, if the floods come. Spring in Minnesota can be an adventure.

The high bridge over the Mississippi as seen from Harriet Island is never in any danger of being inundated by flood waters. It has a ghostly look on foggy days, and might serve as a "before" photo in a "before and after" sequence when the flood comes. There is still snow on the ground, but the warmish temps and the rain will soon take care of that.

Tennis. I've played twice in the last 24 hours with mixed results. I split sets last night, playing with the hardcore girls. I hadn't played them for two weeks and it was nice to get back to the action and the competition. I seemed to tire towards the end of our time on court, but was able to rejuvenate myself later with some of that fine Yang's Szechuan cuisine. Although, I must admit that eating spice food that late in the day can be problematic for one with geezer credentials.

This afternoon the geezer gang and I had another set to on the courts at Fort Snelling. It was a very close first set, and I was pleased that my energy level was pretty good for the whole set. We had a lot of closely competed points in the second set, but the score was not reflective of the quality of play. I really like playing these guys. For a bunch of geezers they don't give much quarter, and stay competitive until the end. They get over winning and losing and forget any animosity immediately after the sets are done. They also often forget the score while the match is in progress, which sometimes results in a delay while we, in concert, try to remember the last three or four points. Getting old is not for sissies. [GOINFS].

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It Rained Again Today

So I made bean salad. Unky Herb bought french cut green beans instead of the cut to order ones, which varied the aesthetics, as did the carrot, but it was totally edible.

And I got my hair cut. Well, I actually got all of my hairs cut, what there are of them.

The tennis wars resume tomorrow - rain or shine.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Dude Cops Oscar

April may be the cruelest month, but March is probably the ugliest. The dirty snow that emerges from the day's snow melt is not pretty. Gray days, that drizzle and go home early, are not pretty. Those potholes in the roads are not only ugly, but also destructive. It's enough to make a guy whine.

Retaining a measure of optimism, I went down by the river in the rain to see about the flood situation. The water is coming pretty strongly down the river, but flood stage is quite a ways away. The Jonathan Paddleford was tied up at the dock at Harriet Island so I had a subject to photograph. You can also see the water level in the background. I'll watch the river over the next month or so to see if the legion of condos on Shepard Road are able to withstand the probable flood. It seems pretty foolhardy to have built them in the flood plain where they now stand. I remember the flood of 1965 when Shepard Road behind where the condos now stand was closed by flood waters.

I've played tennis twice since my return from the sunshine state, but today was an off day. It'll be easier to roust a game when outdoor courts are again usable - and longer daylight hours are created by daylight savings time. I'm off the courts until Thursday night. Daylight savings time returns this weekend.

Jeff Bridges is still "The Dude."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ice Fishing Continues into March

I was back at my tennis schedule this morning at Wooddale. The expected cast was in attendance for my reentry to geezer tennis after my journey to Florida. We managed two complete sets in about two hours. The second set was a first occurrence of a sort. After 55 years of tennis there are very few firsts left. We decided to play out a very even set (rather than play a tiebreaker), but were unable to come to resolution. With about ten minutes left before we were to vacate the court, with the score 10-10, we finally decided to play a seven point tie breaker. It's a unique place to engage in tie breaking. It was the first time I have ever won a set at 11-10.

Later in the day after a lunch with the Daughter of Norway at a new Thai restaurant, Mango Thai on Selby, I went to check out the ice on Como. I found that there are still ice fisher people willing to brave the possibility of ice failure even this late in March after a string of days with highs in the 40's. The ice will be gone in less than a month, but today the ice was strong enough. In the photo you can see the new weather front coming in from the southwest, changing the bright sunshine to a chance of rain.

There were some of those "stay around" mallards hanging out on the ice on the lake. They were clustered near an open water spot near the edge of the lake where water was draining into the lake body. Yes, open water on the lake where the icers were fishing. Plus I was able to get another decent shot of wildlife in the saintly city.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rays' Grapefuit League Baseball

I saw the Tampa Bay Rays defeat the Baltimore Orioles this afternoon in the second game of their 2010 Grapefruit League spring training season, 6-5. Most of the players usually accepted as starters had left the game about in the fifth inning, so the deciders of the game were scrubs, but pretty good ones. This fellow is a Rays' southpaw pitching in the ninth. I didn't get his name. He gave up a homer which tied the game shortly after this photo.

This Oriole batter is grounding out to shortstop. The ball off his bat is visible in the shot. A later batter tied the game with a homer and Tampa came back with a triple and a walk-off single in the last of the ninth to win.

I took this photo from the third base side of the field where our seats were located in section 215. There was a pretty good crowd for a day when they announced the temperature at 58 and the "wind chill" at 38. Many of the good folks in attendance left early.

A picture from the left field corner featuring Santini and her funnel cake. That tall yellow pole is the foul pole. The three home runs hit today went to right center field and were aided with a strong wind (think wind chill).

It was a nice enough day for a Minnesotan playing hooky from the dirty snow.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ollie's Pond Park

We tried a new place to explore today. It's a mile plus around Ollie's Park Pond on foot. It's a pond without an outlet and looks sort of swampy. There were black ducks and some white ibises on the weedy water, and wind in our hair. No alligators were sighted in the pond. We walked around it twice.

I guess there are fire ants here, too. Santini pointed out some ant hills that looked pretty innocuous, but I understand that they deliver a pretty nasty welt if they take a dislike to your actions. I've decided not to go barefoot until I get back to the Saintly city.

Rays-Orioles baseball tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Charlotte Sports Park

It rained and got windy today. It's ok. There are no banks of dirty snow here. There are white water birds hanging around on docks next to water in the liquid form. We had a walk around the neighborhood and noted the large number of "for sale" signs and houses that seem empty of human presence. One homestead with fliers in the box next to "for sale" sign, and not located on the water, specified $57,900 as its asking price. The real estate market here is in a deep slump. The bird in this photo, a white heron I think, doesn't seem to be affected by the economy.

Yesterday, we bought tickets to watch the Tampa Bay Rays spring training opener at Charlotte Sports Park against the Orioles from Baltimore. The game is Thursday afternoon. Santini is standing by the map to the complex. We have seats along the third base line.

The Twins will be here next week to play the Rays, I think, but I'll be gone, back to the land of dirty snow banks and geezer tennis.