Thursday, December 24, 2020

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, a letter to all of you.

It has been another year, I'd say this year looks like last year, but it isn't.  2020, a year like few others, especially in my lifetime.  We are alive.  We are trying to be festive, but to be honest, we haven't put up a tree this year and last year's tree in the RV got squashed by a box of books so I'm recycling a 2019 picture of Leroy to wish you a Merry Christmas.

Maybe we should celebrate Festivus this year, but my knee is sore from driving so much and so "Feats of Strength" would not be good.  "Saying of grievances" for 2020 would be long, maybe too long and most involve COVID.  Ahh, well, maybe we should celebrate the tradition of the Yule Cat, an Icelandic tradition of telling the children  a story of a large vicious cat, lurking in the snow waiting to eat anybody who isn't wearing new clothes for Christmas.  I guess this would be hard since these are the 'Yule Cats" in my house this winter. This is what I have to deal with, and these cats would hardly scare a stirring mouse and definitely not petulant children.
"Yule Cats" Tiger and Snowball, be afraid, be very afraid.  There was a story in which I told a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses about Snowball the attack cat, "Don't let her purring fool you, it is all a secret ploy..."  but that wasn't a 2020 event, no one came to visit us, so I'll move on.

so the year that was 2020.....  

We started 2020 in Costa Rica on a family vacation, spending time with our kids, which are grown and are starting lives of their own.  this was sort of a late planned trip, one which was sort of organized by the seat of my pants, one in which it could have been a fiasco, worked out and was quite enjoyable.  Don't let the sign deceive, it was a shack in the woods, but a woods filled with monkeys and sloths.

While we explored the mountains, I of course went birding, here with a collared aracari.  

We came home, Allwin, went back to University of Wisconsin where he became a PhD Candidate for Chemistry.  Tyko went to Chicago where he is now a second year Medical Student at Rush Medical School, and Lauren went to Hamline University in St. Paul, now in her Junior year.

We....went went back to Florida to catch up with our RV

We rented a lot for the winter north of Tampa.  We enjoyed the sun, took up pickle ball, walked, and stayed warmth.  I did a little birding, chasing a rare bird in Naples and saw the local specialty, the Bachman's sparrow (below).
We saw manatees, tortoises, and some butterflies.

In late February, we went on a theme cruise out of Tampa, it was a bit of a fiasco and ran in the shadow of something ominous, COVID.  The cruise atmosphere was flat, I tried birding, but it was both windy and raining.  We organized birding tours in Mexico and Honduras (Roatan). We saw lifer birds like the cute Cozumel emerald, butterflies...erato heliconian, and Mayan ruins. 

We floated around quarantined ships in Cozumel, and generally tried to stay away from everyone, especially Europeans.

We returned March 1, just as COVID was taking a hold of everything, I flew back to Minneapolis for dental work on the 3rd, was extra suspicious of everyone, became the last on both flights, Cloroxed my rental car, and coming back, Cloroxed my seat on the plane.  This would be my last plane flight for how long?

We sort of isolated ourselves in Tampa, the club next door to us, barred us from entry on the 10th, and our RV park, closed the pool by the 16th, and the park we rode bicycles in on the 17th, reasons of which seemed to just be fear.  Lauren had been kicked out of school to go online so she was home alone.  I had begun stocking up for a long isolation as soon as we returned.  Anything instant online was sold out by a week later.  by the 19th, we decided best to head home.  It would be easier in South Dakota.  The virus would get to the Dakotas last, which proved correct.  We drove the RV hard doing 1775 miles in three days.  worried that everything would be closed, we did find truck stops for gas, ate in our RV, and found open campgrounds.  I arrived home on my birthday.  It was a surreal day, to say the least.  Who would have guessed I'd be toasting being 54 speeding on a freeway with an unknown scourge at our heels.

I came home, instantly picked up our half of beef, a case of wine I had ordered arrived the same day, and we unloaded our supplies, and went to the store and as people in South Dakota hesitated, myself and a bunch of Hutterites fought for vegetables, until only celery remained.  This day left us with 6 months of food.  

Tyko has just returned from a trip to Seattle, when his school closed, he moved in with his brother in Madison.  By Easter, they begged us to come home for a visit and how could we say no, but I think they brought COVID with them, it was a wonderful visit not knowing if the world was ending or what.  A week later, I had a fever and significant gut issues, so did Silja and interestingly, our cat Tiger, Tyko's cat, got pneumonia, making what we had really suspicious for the Plague.  Cats can get it, but they shake it easily enough.  As my chest began to feel tight, I cursed and started a countdown to the ICU, but something odd happened on my way to Sanford health, nothing really happened.  day 9 came ...and went.  The cat got better too.  I asked the Vet for a COVID test on him but they couldn't do it, and me, the state wouldn't test me as COVID didn't cause GI issues or so they parroted, (which never made sense since that was quite common in Europe and New York).   
So, we never got tested.

I finally got out and forced myself to get fresh air.  It was good to be alive and if that was the plague we were lucky.

I spent the spring in hiding and looking for rare frogs at the cabin
Boreal chorus frogs

second recorded wood frog in Day County South Dakota

COVID life was more than just mucking in swamps for frogs

I finished book on my photography in the spring
A few people bought it, and it was something to do.  I think it is a nice collection of my photos of trips in the past.

I also spent the summer writing and researching a book with my mother Susan, I have never called her so many times.  It kept us both isolated with something to do.  I am really proud of this project which was a bucket list item and my 2019 Christmas gift to her.

I think this is the definitive history of Grantsburg and the surrounding area in this period (1920-1985), and turned out really nice, and we have just started to sell these.  We'll see if the non-profit that produced this ever has any profit for other projects, as who buys books?  How can you even market books in the time of COVID?

I wrote two other projects isolated due to COVID, riding the creative high that I got on, the first, a history of Club Orient Resort on St. Martin, I'm having someone editing that now, and I just tracked down some obscure newsletters with key info, so I may need to add that in somewhere.
Yeah, sigh, maybe too NSFW for some of you, and I also don't know what I am going to do with it.  Not sure it is worth the production costs.  It is loaded with 30 year old photos I stumbled upon (I ate dinner with a woman who had an entire famous professional photographer's collection in her garage.  There is also a segment of the former owners that either see things differently or haven't moved on, but we'll see.

I also finished our adventures of 2019, including trips to ..Curacao, RVing all over the US, Bahamas, Roatan, Jamaica, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa, The South Atlantic, France, and Canada
I did a world big year birding in 2019, and had a whole lot of fun going on the road less traveled.  But again, despite being done, what am I doing with this book?  I don't know, so there it sits.  

In 2020, we were going fishing three times to Canada, cruising to the Amazon and off to Bhutan and Thailand, all of which cancelled or postponed.  How long until a postponement becomes a cancellation? 

In June, saying heck with it, a friend and I cannonballed to Arizona to see a very rare bird, an eared quetzal.  we did 3500 miles in 96 hours, I got two lifer birds including the quetzal.

My family, going insane due to COVID isolation, came to visit us in late June, we rolled the dice and everyone was disease free.  We could only rearrange the wall, play with the Yule cats, check on the cattle at the ranch, or the level of the flood water, so many times.  How often do you dust a stuffed bobcat?

It was time to venture out, a little.
My niece Lily with our old dog, trying to get her to eat

Silja, Lauren, and Allwin, went to Oregon in August to her nephew Tristan's wedding.  They were being careful and even braved a plane flight which we had to use a credit for before they maybe went bankrupt.  
the three with Aunt Carol (right)

at least my kids were being safe

We headed off out west on an RV trip as South Dakota's covid cases started to rise the day after first frost in September.

 Winter was coming.  It was time to go.

We spent a week in Oklahoma, four north of Phoenix, then a week in San Diego County.  We visited friends in Tucson area, before camping for a week in SW New Mexico, a week in West Texas, before we got to Florida on December 1, just before the winter rains found us, we saw odd butterflies like this snout...

other people who had too much time on their hands, Sanderson Texas

we hiked....a lot, even with friends.

looked for the Marfa lights but all we found were strange things

 and some stuff we saw, well, seemed like messages from previous years, almost like 2020 never happened at all

the year of the tarantula seeing them in three states and three species

It was like we had come a full circle, back to Lutz Florida where COVID had all started, in two weeks, I chased birds to Key West twice, seeing this red-legged thrush, hopefully avoiding COVID, which I tested negative a week later, and then we headed north, just as we heard that some bad things were happening to Silja's dad.

so alas, it wasn't all mindless travel.  We had some deaths in 2020, luckily not from COVID, the only family members with COVID were my sister, Jena and my two young nieces.  They all did well, and only my sister had any symptoms.

The bad news, My father-in-law, Don Kramer broke his femur in early December, and in recovery had complications and died suddenly.  Don was a quiet, religious man, and somehow he put up with me.  Don's loss is still sinking in here at the holidays.  He'd had some close calls before but those weren't his time, unfortunately this one was.
Donald Kramer (1926-2020)

We also lost our dog in July, very sad and I still ,miss her too.  This dog was a travel companion, liked pizza and hated bicycles
Brighid (2006-2020)

Sigh....I'll miss Don, and I miss my dog.  Why do we love pets so?
Two Christmases and is like a bad movie, this whole year has been a bad movie.  but well, 2021 begins anew, vaccines are a coming, the COVID case load up north is dropping AND God willing we'll slide south again early in the year....2021 plans?  

Eurovision 2020......maybe they'll have it, but will it be Eurovision 2021 but will it happen?
The Summer Olympics....will it happen?
Will the Canadian border open for fishing?
Will rare birds show up?
Will we get springer spaniel 3.0?
More yule cats?
Will they have to yank out our President kicking and screaming?
Will I write more books, or will anyone buy my old books?  Will their be book singings?  Will there be anything ever again?  
Will the grass grow on our ranch, will the butterflies fly, the birds return, or will this snow ever melt?
All I can say is that the Vikings will NOT win the Super Bowl or the Gophers go to the Rose Bowl, with or without COVID, the wind will not stop blowing on the Prairie,  these things are certain, everything else, is purely speculation, but Olaf will be there to write about it.

Merry Christmas and to a better 2021,

Olaf, Silja, Tyko, Allwin, and Lauren


Sunday, December 20, 2020

RVing in the time of COVID 11: Sidetrack home

 I grew up in northwestern Wisconsin, went to medical school for two years in Duluth Minnesota, lived in Superior, Wisconsin for 7 years, and during and afterwards, supervised Emergency Rooms in International Falls, Moose Lake, Cloquet, Grand Marais, Two Harbors, Virginia, and Roseau, as well as worked at Baudette, Crosby, Aitken, Aurora, and Cook, Minnesota as well as the three hospitals in Ashland, Hayward, and Spooner, WI.  I trapped and ice fished northern lakes.  I've said before I have ice water in my veins. I cross-country skied, curled, and learned to skate. Working at all of these northern outposts such was my life to be on the road in the north country,  I've seen cold, snow, ice, buried cars, gotten frostbite, broken through the ice, and along the way seen a lot of wildlife and especially, birds.

Lately though, I have taken to becoming a migrating bird, a creature of the sun, and more of a fan of sand and warm waves, than that of freezing fog and cold winds.  I asked my wife to marry me just down the big lake they call Superior.  Home though is north, and nothing feels better than the cold and snow of the north, so despite CDC advisories we went home for Christmas, but along the way, my father-in-law, Don Kramer, aged 94, fell, broke his femur and last Thursday night, died.  I've known Don since I started hanging out with my future wife, his youngest daughter in 1989.

Don was an electrical engineer, went to the Univ of Wisconsin, and was part of the brain trust at Honeywell during the Sixties working up the corporate ladder in Europe.  He had married a preacher's daughter from Wisconsin and had started a family, but the European life wasn't her cup of tea and as such decided to give that up for his family, and they moved back to Minneapolis.  He tried consulting, ended up back at Honeywell, got laid off during the cutbacks after the space race in the Seventies and then he finished his career at the power plant in Elk River, possibly having forgone success and riches but had five kids, including a cute one which caught my eye.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Don had no vices.  Created no waves, and well, was a model citizen.

Over the years we've gone on a couple of trips together.  Don once caught a nice lake trout on a rather tough fishing trip to Ontario otherwise.  There was a trip to Hawaii before my daughter was born, nothing bad happened, nothing weird happened.  I remember going to a Luau, we ate poi.  There were a few other trips, but like everything and everyone, we were busy with our lives, and in retrospect, maybe too busy.  Don never said much but I guess that was okay, maybe I just didn't need a talking to? I don't have a lot of amusing anecdotes about him, he just wasn't that kind of guy to create many.  

We ended up in northern Minnesota this weekend, remembering Grandpa.  My wife was so distracted, she ran our of gas in the tunnel in downtown Duluth and had to get towed to a gas station.  If there is a worse place to run out of gas for 300 miles, I don't know of it.  We all needed some better distractions, and luckily Silja finally got up north safely. 

The checklist of winter distractions for me:

Rough-legged hawk: check

Ruffed grouse:  check

Boreal Chickadee:  check

Canada jay: Check

Pine Grosbeak: check

White-winged crossbill:  check

Great Gray Owl: Check (great sighting, just took off my lens cap and the click spooked it and it flew away

Snowy owl:  check, well sort of, everyone else saw it but me

Common goldeneye:  Check

King eider: check, ....a king eider?  who knew?

Evening grosbeak, redpolls, spruce grouse, northern shrike, other owls, well, it is good to leave some meat on the bone for later.

White winged crossbills

from a ski lift

ruffed grouse

rough-legged hawk

pine grosbeaks

Female king eider

common goldeneye

an eagle watching the female eider

Others in our group had different distractions.
Before you give us too much crap, we all had negative COVID tests this week and how much COVID risk is there outdoors?  Masks and eye protections....check

The restaurants, bars, and spas were closed as were the warming huts, but still people were skiing but social distancing was a bit in short supply in lines for the lifts.  Cook County, Minnesota has the lowest COVID rates in the Midwest, not many people but plenty of tourists.  Hard to make any conclusions.

Christmas is coming, so stay safe.

I guess I have two Christmases and a funeral.


Golden dreams and memories

  Today brings me to the north suburbs of Chicago.  Although not for a bird even though a lifer bird had been flying tantalizingly close to ...