On the Road: Homeward Bound

Sunrise off I-94 in northern Minnesota

After the Mallard Island art residency and a couple of days visiting with siblings, it was time to return home to Seattle.  Work would soon be beckoning again.  Mentally, I was also feeling the end of my vacation and I was ready to go back.

I planned virtually no sightseeing or painting stops for my return road trip, and I so I plotted the quickest possible route on I-94 and I-90.  No more moseying along country roads.  I tried not to get ahead of myself and wish the journey over,  but to simply flow moment by moment, staying open to the scenery along the freeways and taking breaks as needed.

About 35 miles from the Minnesota/North Dakota border, I saw a large flock of blackbirds rise in mass from some trees along the road.  I pulled over to the side of the freeway (possibly an illegal move, but there was very little traffic) to enjoy the sight.  I had always wanted to see a murmuration of starlings, and wishful thinking made me hope my dream was being realized.  My birding experts (my brother and sister-in-law) said that this flock was more likely to be blackbirds, which also migrate in huge flocks.  I love the mystery of any mass movement of animals, and I enjoyed my moments of being amazed on the side of I-94 about an hour into my return journey.

Flock of blackbirds taking wing in mass

I drove straight across North Dakota with stops only for gas and bathroom breaks.  I had driven I-94 eastward on my road trip, so this was familiar landscape.  I had planned to stop for the day at the North Dakota/Montana border, but it was just late afternoon, so I decided to press on.

I drove from sun up to sun down, plus a bit more.  After 755 miles, I had made it to the end of I-94 and the start of I-90 near Billings.  Gosh, Montana is a huge state!  I pulled into a rest stop and slept in the car.

Sunrise along I-90 on the way to Bozeman, MT
Sunrise along I-94

I woke a bit before sunrise on Day 2 of my return journey, and I immediately hit the road.  As day dawned, I could already see how hazy the atmosphere was.  The haze from the summer’s wildfires never really dissipated for the rest of the drive back.  It made for reddish sunrises and sunsets.

The landscape along I-90 in Montana was much hillier than along Hwy 2 to the north.  More grazing land; fewer wheat or other fields.

I stopped in the little town of Three Forks and stretched my legs by strolling the small-town Main Street.  I stepped into the historic Sacagawea Hotel , with its beautiful lobby and front porch lined with rocking chairs.  I saw a wild deer near a pond and meadow as I was leaving town.

Main street in Three Forks, MT
Interior lobby, Sacagawea Hotel in Three Forks
Deer along the road

I finally made it across Montana. (The 80 mph speed limit helped eat up the miles!)  From there, driving the narrow panhandle of Idaho was a snap.  By early evening, I was in my home state of Washington.

I didn’t really want to drive after dark, but I was now anxious to get home.  The 300 miles of I-90 crossing Washington State was a familiar jaunt, so I didn’t mind missing the scenery in the dark.  I took a long break for supper and a stop at the Ritzville Library.  Then I began the final leg of my journey home.

Old building in Ritzville

The last sunset was a spectacular Grand Finale.  Even though I was in a hurry to get home, I kept stopping along the freeway exits to photograph the changing sky.  (I will post some of those sunset photos in tomorrow’s blog post.) At long last, I walked across my doorstep at 10:30 p.m.  I had driven 786 miles in one day.  After a marathon two days of driving almost nonstop, my journey was over.

 

 

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The Family Farm in My Brother’s Hands

The woods

On Saturday after I returned to the mainland from Mallard Island, I pointed my car south and drove 6 hours to the Minnesota farm where I grew up.  My youngest and oldest brothers each own and live on half of the farm, and on Saturday my youngest brother was hosting a reunion for the extended family on my father’s side.  The reunion was winding down by the time I finally arrived.  I missed seeing my three surviving aunts and many cousins and their kids.  Thankfully my siblings hung around to see me.  Seven of the nine of us kids made it to the reunion.   After all the cousins left, my siblings and some spouses talked around a fire pit as we roasted hot dogs.

My brother has made many changes and improvements since my Dad died.  He replaced the old farmhouse, garage, and machine shed with new structures.  Only the old red barn remains from my parents’ and grandparents’ time on the farm.  My brother has worked hard to bring the farm into the modern age, and I love all the improvements.  He keeps everything trim and neat and orderly.  The land still holds the memories of our childhood there, and it still feels like I am returning home whenever I travel there.

Hayloft in the old red barn

Part of what is bringing the farm back to life are the animals.  In the last decade of my father’s life, he no longer kept domesticated animals.  Now my brother is raising hogs and a few beef cattle and lots of chickens.  There are at least four or five barn cats and two dogs that have the run of the place.

Early morning and the pigs are sleeping lined up like sausages in a pan

Watercolor painting of a cow (started on my last visit to the farm a year ago; finally finished)

I was able to spend just one night and morning with my brother and his family before continuing my drive.  Here are two of my favorite pictures from this year’s trip to my childhood farm home:  another lovely red sunrise . . .

Sunrise on the farm
Sunrise reflections in the pond near the driveway

 

 

On the Road in Minnesota

Northern Minnesota landscape
From the backroads of northern Minnesota

In my two decades growing up and going to school in Minnesota, I rarely travelled in the northern part of the state.  On this trip, I crossed the border into Minnesota at Fargo and then continued north to Bemidji, where I spent a few days relaxing with my sister and her husband at their cabin on Big Turtle Lake.  It was a lovely interlude between my road trip from Seattle and the start of my art residency on Mallard Island.  We took a long bike ride one day along the Paul Bunyan Trail.

Birch trees are among the deciduous trees lining the Paul Bunyan Trail

When you are in northern Minnesota you can see why the state’s slogan is “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.”  The land is mixed woods and marshes and farmland, and lakes and ponds dot the landscape in between.

Sunset from my sister’s dock on Big Turtle Lake

I left Bemidji early on Sunday morning to head even farther north to International Falls, where I would meet the nine other artists at Bald Rock dock for the start of our week on Mallard Island on Rainy Lake.  Three times I saw deer alongside the road.  There was little traffic.

On Hwy 71 going north to International Falls

I had time to visit the Rainy Lake Visitor Center in Voyageurs National Park before our meet up time.  I walked the Oberholtzer Trail there.

Along the Oberholtzer Trail at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center
Oak leaves and acorns from along the trail
Maple leaves just starting to turn color

It was still too early in the season for Minnesota’s spectacular displays of colored fall foliage.  But driving along Hwy 53 south to my family farm, I saw little pockets of color.  A teasing taste of the flaming landscape to come.

Trees just beginning to turn color along Hwy 53 in Minnesota

It was still green farther south.  As I drove the final few miles to my brother’s farm, I enjoyed the Midwest sky full of high, white clouds.  (We rarely see skies like this in Seattle.)

The road home
Dragonfly

My Art Residency on Mallard Island: September 3 – 9, 2017

View from the western tip of Mallard Island

Last week I spent 6 days as one of ten artists in residence on Mallard Island in northern Minnesota.  I applied for and was awarded this residency by the Ernest Oberholtzer Foundation, whose mission is to maintain the legacy of Ernest Oberholtzer — wilderness preservationist, explorer, book collector, and one of the founders of the Wilderness Society — and his North Woods home on Mallard Island as a “source of inspiration, renewal and connection to Indigenous Peoples, kindred spirits, and the natural world.”

I was the only painter among this year’s group of artists; others included writers, photographers, a sculptor, musicians, a composer, and researchers.  The week-long residency offered us time to work on our own individual projects in a supportive and convivial environment.  Mallard Island is a tiny island on Rainy Lake, which borders Canada and northern Minnesota.  It was remote — I was without internet access or cell phone — and rustic — no hot water nor flush toilets.

I first heard about Mallard Island years ago when I read Louise Erdrich’s Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country.  This was also my introduction to Ernest Oberholtzer, who was instrumental in saving the Quetico-Superior Wilderness from a lumber baron’s plans to dam and alter the Rainy Lake watershed.  Here is Erdrich’s brief synopsis of Oberholtzer’s life:  “He was born in 1884, grew up in an upper middle-class home in Davenport, Iowa, suffered a bout of rheumatic fever that weakened his heart.  He went to Harvard, where he made friends with bookish people like Conrad Aiken and Samuel Eliot Morison.  His heart kept bothering him.  Told by a doctor he had just one year to live, he decided to spend it in a canoe.  He traveled three thousand miles in a summer.  Paddling a canoe around Rainy Lake watershed and through the Quetico-Superior wilderness was just the thing for his heart, so he kept on paddling.  He lived to be ninety-three years old.”

Cedar Bark House and the Cook House as seen from the water

Oberholtzer established his home on Mallard Island — accessible by boat in summer and across frozen ice in winter.  Writer Bill Holm, who was also one of Mallard’s artists years ago, described Mallard as one of three “skinny sardines of rock and scrub timber” (Eccentric Islands).  Holm continues, “Mallard is only twelve hundred feet from stem to stern, in places as narrow as fifty feet from port to starboard.  A leisurely stroll of five minutes will get you from one end to the other.  It was not a vast kingdom physically, so Ober set about making it large in other ways.”

Mallard has nine eclectic buildings, three compost toilets, an outdoor sun shower, two pianos, numerous canoes, a wind-up gramophone, and over 11,000 books.  It was this personal collection of books in its unique wilderness setting which attracted me to the idea of Mallard Island and led me to investigate the Oberholtzer Foundation’s programs.

Ober’s Boat House (now Library)

I will write in more detail about my week on Mallard Island in some blog posts to follow.  For today, I will showcase the watercolor journal pages I completed during my stay, as well as a few other small paintings.  Enjoy!

I spent some time on Sunday morning at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center of Voyageurs National Park before our departure to Mallard Island

Leaves I found along the Oberholtzer Trail at the Rainy Lake Visitor Center, Voyageur National Park
Mallard had a crabapple tree laden with fruit
Zinnias from the flower box on the deck of Cedar Bark House
Banged up teapot in the kitchen