Saturday, December 27, 2008

New on Penelopedia's Bookshelf... and a yummy snack

This Christmas Dave and I received two beautiful books from my daughters which I am delighted to add to that special bookcase where I keep books about nature, gardening, cooking, and eating locally... the bookcase that, in the end, was really the inspiration for the Penelopedia blog.

I'm not a WCCO listener, but those who are will, I understand, probably be familiar with Jim Gilbert, who hosts a weekly call-in show called Nature Notes. (You can subscribe to podcasts here -- look for Nature Notes about two-thirds of the way down the page -- and I plan to do that.)

Gilbert has taken years of his observations and those shared by his regular contributors and put together a substantial and beautifully illustrated paperback guide to Minnesota phenology called Jim Gilbert's Minnesota Nature Notes: what to look for, week by week throughout the year, with respect to birds, animals, flowers, foliage, crops, precipitation, temperatures, ice-out dates on the lakes, and much more. I love the little downward-tilting nuthatch perching on the "M" of Minnesota on the cover. I look forward to reading this book straight through and then returning to it again and again for reminders of what can be observed around us if we just take the time to notice.

The Farm to Table Cookbook: The Art of Eating Locally, by Ivy Manning, is a gorgeous hardcover that would look wonderful sitting on a coffee table. Organized seasonally, the book is intended to help those who buy what is fresh and in season and are looking for new and delicious ways to serve those early spring greens, wild mushrooms, orchard fruits or winter squash. As a winter meal, how about Twice Baked Irish Potatoes with Stout [as in Guinness] Onions & Kale?

Yet another treat on Christmas day was a snack I bought on a whim at Just Food co-op during its recent anniversary open house: Sing Buri Cashews with dried pineapple, peanuts, lemongrass and Chinese chili, from Sahale Snacks. To tell the truth, I had just about OD'd on nuts this holiday season, and my waistline shows it, but these brought a tangy, zingy, sweet, chewy new quality to rich but heart-healthy nuts, and the pouch is not so big that anyone will go too far overboard on them. Definitely recommended.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Real Minnesota Winter?

This is an unusual amount of snow to be piled up by our mailbox in December; we probably haven't had this much snow over the course of a whole winter in some recent years. Of course, this heap is somewhat misleading, since we live on a circle. The plow has to clear the whole circle, so it deposits far more snow at the curb than it does when just going along a normal road. This morning's inch or so of snow turned into about eight inches in the driveway.
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Sunday, December 21, 2008


Detail from for conditions about 15 minutes ago. A good day to stay close to home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Harvest" Sculpture During Snowfall

This was Ray Jacobson's "Harvest" sculpture at the riverfront pedestrian plaza, more formally known as the Sesquicentennial Legacy Plaza, this evening as snow fell and my camera's flash turned the snowflakes into orbs of light. The dark river behind the sculpture adds to a feeling that the night sky descends to an unusually low horizon, as if we are standing atop a steep hill. I love the contrast of black, white, and glowing bronze and lights.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

On the Periphery of a Blizzard

Here in southeastern Minnesota we are expected to remain on the periphery of the blizzard hitting North Dakota and northern and central Minnesota today. Even the periphery is experiencing an extreme change in conditions. When I woke up this morning I could hear water dripping from the eaves, and as I drove 50 minutes north to St. Paul at midday it was still 39 or 40 degrees F. as I came into the metro area, according to my car's external temperature gauge. Less than an hour later as I headed back south it read 28, then steadily dropped until 20 minutes later it was down to 15 degrees. The roads that had been wet with mist as I headed northward had been scoured dry by rising winds and cold -- freeze-dried, more or less. I thought of the five-day blizzards described in Laura Ingalls Wilder's books and felt myself lucky to have reliable transportation and a safe warm house to return to, and to be only on the periphery of this storm.

Addendum: At 7 p.m. it is now down to 3 degrees F., with a wind chill of -17, according to That's a 36-degree drop so far, and the night is young.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fascinating Tundra Swan Migration Project

One recent evening, while idly browsing the internet, we discovered the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Alaska Science Center project that has been tracking 50 tundra swans from several populations in Alaska, following their fall migration. In Google Earth, linked from the website, you can see where each swan, fitted with a satellite transmitter, was on a particular date, and when individual geese passed through the upper Mississippi. There are two very different migration patterns. Swans from the Arctic coast of Alaska headed southeast through central Canada and the upper Midwest, and most of this so-called Eastern population of swans are now in the Chesapeake Bay area of the east coast. The Western populations based in western Alaska came through the western states to northern California. To be able to follow individual birds as they cross a continent is truly a fascinating use of satellite technology.

A fact sheet about the tundra swans that pass through the upper Mississippi is available from the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center of the USGS in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Golden Eagles in Minnesota & Wisconsin

Photo of Don, resident golden
eagle at the National Eagle Center,
by Ecobirder.

Winter is a good time for bald-eagle-watching on the upper Mississippi. Ecobirder recently posted a piece about the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota, where the river tends to stay open all winter because of the turbulent influx of the Chippewa River from Wisconsin.

I was fascinated to learn that in addition to a large winter bald eagle population, this region supports a significant winter population of golden eagles. On Golden Eagle Survey Day last January, 37 golden eagles were tallied in the greater region, mostly in Wisconsin. Having grown up in California, where the golden eagle is the state bird, I (and my resident birding expert as well) had mistakenly thought of goldens as exclusively western birds, but as the distribution map at All About Birds shows, their wintering grounds can include most of the eastern half of the United States (probably primarily for the far northern population?), though the site also describes them as "rare in the east."

A day trip to the National Eagle Center and the surrounding region is a nice winter outing. I recommend it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Goose Tracks

This afternoon I was amused to see these goose (and perhaps some duck) footprints in the snow-on-ice at the edge of the river, disappearing (of course) into the water.

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