We made it through the longest night of the year. Last night, the sun (sol) stood still (stice) Thanks to dozens of bonfires and some drum circles along the shores of Lake Superior during the night, the sun did finally return this morning, right on schedule.
The sun rose basically in the east, of course, but it rose 23.5 degrees south of east, the furthest that way it gets all year. Watching the sun rise over the cloudy horizon this morning from Park Point, it came up over Wisconsin.
In the summer, from our view in Duluth, the sun rises right up out of the long end of Lake Superior.
Okay, that's the solstice, the first day of winter. It can start snowing now. Anyone got a drum circle for that?
The winter of 2011-2012 is off to a slow start. Nature has not provided much snow to the North Shore area. I've chronicled desperate times before in this blog, from back in 2008, when we weren't skiing until late December and I biked on the beach and ran screaming down ski trails. I'm grumpy now, wanting to get out on real snow on a real trail.
The Duluth Denfeld Hunters Nordic Ski team has been skiing on snow for two weeks now. Thanks to the generosity of Spirit Mountain, the Denfeld team has been able to practice and race on the man-made snow of the slopes.
It was a bizarre scene this week at Spirit when Denfeld hosted their annual ski race. Drizzle all day had turned into a heavy layer of fog perched right at the top of the hill in Duluth. Driving into Spirit there was just a dusting of snow in the woods. Then you walk out toward the racecourse and suddenly there's two feet of snow on the ground. There were more cross country skiers than downhill skiers, and those skinny skis stuck out in a ski world more about wide skis and wider snowboards.
The course started right by the chalet and went uphill. Skiers disappeared into the fog and dark. Less than a minute later, they zoomed out of the fog straight down the ski run, snowplowing or step-turning to make the big curve around the chalet.
Although it was desperate measures for these desperate times, the foggy hilly race was a lot of fun. The Denfeld boys took second place, behind the mighty East High School. It was actual real skiing at a North Shore ski area. Despite all that, I'm still grumpy. Maybe next time they'll let me on the course.
We're not all that into Christmas here. But I kinda thought we had a tradition going. For six or seven years now, the whole Slade/Rauschenfels family has gone up the North Shore a ways to get our Christmas tree. We go to Herb Sellin's tree farm, 2.5 miles up from the Highway 61 Expressway on Homestead Road.
This last weekend, on a lovely Saturday afternoon, Sally and I headed out...without the boys. The older son was at a ski meet, and the younger son was feeling sick. So, in an early glimpse of future empty-nesting, it was just the two of us tracking along on one of our few holiday traditions. It was fun but a little...empty.
Herb's trees scatter across a large field, but we knew right where to head. It's tradition. Every year I suggest getting a white pine, and every year we head to the patch back and to the right...where the balsam firs are. For the last few years, I've handed the cutting over to our older son, who's done an admirable job with the Sven Saw. Now that job fell back to me.
The tree sits in its stand on our back deck for a few hours...
Then gets brought inside and decorated. Tradition says we listen to Willowgreen's Winter album.
My own North Shore Christmas tree tradition goes back much further than this. From the family cabin in Little Marais, it's a quarter-mile hike through the birch woods to the old pioneer field at Granny's Beach. Over the decades, spruce trees have grown in to slowly cover the old field. Because they had grown in the open, the trees were fuller and greener than any conifer we'd find in among the birches. Still, the best of these trees was as spindly and awkward as the last tree left on any commercial tree lot.
Family tradition also dictated that any tree that gets taken has to free up another tree to grow. That's an early lesson in sustainable forestry, I guess, but it also ensured that every tree was at least a little lopsided.
I remember back before we found Herb's lot when I brought both boys out to the field to find a tree. The younger one was in the backpack, the older holding my hand and walking alongside. Coming back through the birch woods with our scraggly spruce tree, the older one got tired and I ended up carrying him in one arm, dragging the tree with my other arm, and still carried the younger one on my back.
Herb's trees are full and rounded and nearly perfect. I'm good with that; I like how our trees fill up the room.
What I'm not good with, quite yet, is losing my boys. Sports and sick bugs be darned, I've got a tradition to fulfill.
Duluth is a city on a hill...a sometimes very steep hill. What would it be like to strap on downhill skis and swoosh down to Lake Superior? This video was shot in British Columbia, but about half the scenes could totally be in Duluth's Central Hillside neighborhood. I loved the barking dog and the old guy with the bike trailer.