Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Catholic Girls in the North Woods

Saturday, October 17th, bring your Sweetest to Somer's Hall at the College of St. Scholastica to hear some Catholic girls read what it's like on the fringes.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cairns of Springtime

Late March, along the beach at Park Point, the first cairn I have ever seen made of ice.

One week later, nature brought us some glass sculptures in the sand.

And the St. Louis River gushing through Jay Cooke State Park, the surest sign that spring is coming...right after the foot of snow expected tomorrow.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Film Premiere: Walking Into the Unknown

One of my first reporting assignments in the Northwoods was for a profile of Dr. Arne Vainio for New World Finn.

Dr. Vainio, half Ojibwe and half Finnish, is one very interesting guy. Besides being a husband, father, and a family physician, he writes about healthcare (you can read his articles at News from Indian Country), and has converted his own car engine to run on used French fry oil - which he gathers from local restaurants and processes in his garage.

As a physician, Dr. Vainio was frustrated that the hardest patients to reach were people who never came into his clinic - middle-aged Native American men. In other words - him. As he approached his 50th birthday, Dr. Vainio decided to face his fears of being on the other end of the stethoscope and become a patient in the doctor's office. To share his journey and inspire those hard-to-reach patients to take care of their own health, he brought along a film camera.

The result is the documentary "Walking Into the Unknown", which traces his journey through the healthcare system as he gains a deeper understanding of himself and the health risks he faces - including the cultural risks such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, suicide, and alcoholism.

The film will premiere this Monday, March 23, at the University of Minnesota-Duluth's Marshall Performing Arts Center at 7:00 p.m. The premiere is free and open to the public.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Chess on Ice

Mark and I moved here for the winter sports - skiing, climbing, skating - but who knew there was such a thing as "curling"?

Apparently, my yooper husband knew: growing up on Canadian tv channels, he was well-acquainted with the rock-throwing, shuffle-board stylings of cold-climate curlers.

Since moving here, I've heard plenty of talk around the fireplaces of new friends about the two kinds of granite used for the 44 lb handled-rocks (one kind of granite mined from a special underwater Scottish quarry), the special shoes one wears, and the fact that curling is more like chess on ice than shuffleboard.

But last night, as I went down to the Duluth Curling Club to watch some of the action, I was amazed by the skill and grace of these curlers. Delighted by the friendly banter on the sidelines. And intrigued that a sport as seemingly athletic as bowling would be reportedly as addictive as golf. "You can be having a great time today," one 25-year curling expert told me, "and tomorrow, you'll think you've never thrown a rock."

Dare I add a new winter sport to my growing list of fun things to do in the northland?

(Check out The Curling News for all the news that's fit to curl.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Kortie, ho!

You never know when hours of effort will suddenly come together in an effortless, perfect day.

Let me just give you a brief history of my life on cross-country skis. Three years ago, I rented waxable skis in Sault Ste Marie, Canada; the rental shop neglected to tell me I would need wax. For three days I skied on bare planks, taking home black-blue-green knees and hips and a bruised ego. The following year, on a winter honeymoon in the Italian dolomites, I stood atop a hill for about an hour and a half, refusing to ski down to my husband at the bottom. I have skied a dozen times since, trying to conquer my fear of hills, trying not to take myself so seriously.

I don't know why I signed up for this year's Kortelopet; it just seemed the thing to do.

I fell once at the Birkebeiner extravaganza: in the parking lot, walking into the Telemark Lodge before the start of the race. I wasn't even wearing skis yet. I thought this may be a bad sign.

I took off in Wave 9 with the classic skiers, Mark and Tom in front of me. Within a kilometer they were skiing far ahead, and I was left alone on the beautiful course with thousands of other skiers. The sun came out; the sky turned purple; it started to snow. It was absolutely beautiful. I felt the intense trepidation at the top of each hill. I conferred with those around me about the hill we were about to face. "It's okay," said Kristin, a physician from Rochester, "It's tracked." We zoomed down together, and she told me this was her first year skiing.

Okay, I thought, if Kristin can do it, I can do it.

Atop another huge hill I met a man who told me, "Just steer your shoulders in the direction you want to go."

This was the single best instruction I have ever received for skiing. Suddenly, I was racing down hills as if I had grown up on skis. My legs were steady, my mind firm. I had no fear. Around 8K I started to get tired, around 15K my legs were burning, but I couldn't stop smiling - it was an absolutely perfect day, a perfect trail, and at the end I announced next year, I'm doing the whole Birkie.

Thank you to everyone who volunteers for the Birkebeiner - this is the best-organized long-distance race I have ever seen. Thank you to the folks who beat the drums, who hold out cups, who ring the cow bells. Thank you to the trail groomers. And thank you to our hosts, Tom and Sandy and Tom and Sue, who cook the meals, make the beds, and keep the irons hot. Toko Correction Wax is a godsend.

Friday, February 20, 2009

It's Hard to Sleep on Christmas Eve

Or, in this case, the eve of the Birkebeiner.

The American Birkebeiner is a 50K (that's 31 miles) cross-country ski marathon from Cable to Hayward, Wisconsin. Now in its 36th year, it is inspired by the 800 year-old Norwegian legend of Birkebeiner skiers saving the baby son of King Sverresson and Inga of Vartieg by carrying him to safety during the Norwegian civil war in the winter of 1206. The baby grew up to become King Haakon Haakonsson IV.

The first commemorative Birkebeiner race was held in Norway in 1932, and ever since Norwegian skiers carry a pack symbolizing the 18-month old Prince Haakon.

Five years ago I had never heard of the Birkebeiner, nor had I ever been on skis. But love can do strange things to a person, and I was smitten with a man who had skied the Birkie twice. So I bought a set of fancy cross-country skis way too fast for me and last year, inspired by the pre-race exuberance at race headquarters, I signed up for the Prince Haakon 8K.

If you have no expectations, if you are a nervous skier, if you just want to go out and have fun in the snow, the Prince Haakon race is wonderful. You get to climb "bitch hill," you get to ski across a frozen lake, you even get to cross the finish line on Main Street. The elite, serious skiers have long-gone by the time us slow-pokes get out there, and it's all viking helmets and fun.

8K is manageable, even for someone who's afraid of hills. At one point during last year's race, I felt inspired by an experienced skier with today's my birthday written on his shirt; he took off his skis and walked down a steep hill. I had been standing at the top of the hill, trying to decide what to do. "How do you know when to take off your skis?" I called down to him. "When you don't want to fall on your birthday," he called back.)

So this year, living in a northern town with many groomed ski trails 15 minutes from my house, I have been facing my fear of hills. I have been learning about wax. And tomorrow, I'm signed up to ski the Kortelopet, the 23K half-Birkie.

Granted, I'm in the very last wave, and it will probably take me more than three hours. It's supposed to be a warm day, and a fast trail (read between the lines - ICY), so who knows what will happen. But I'll have some of Mark's Super-Sinful Chocolate Chip Cookies in my pocket, a cheerful readiness for the peaks, and a Hail Mary ready for the zoom down.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What's This About a February Thaw?

Nobody warned me that Duluth undergoes a "February thaw." What about the eight months of winter Northern Minnesota promises?

Rain, melting snow, and freezing crusts make for bad skiing - but good hiking. Mark and I took the suggestions of our fellow Park Pointers and hiked out to the end of Park Point on Saturday. Two hours wandering around among pine trees, sandy beaches, and a frozen Lake Superior. Temps in the teens and rosy cheeks...Happy Valentine's Day!