I got an email the other day from a very sweet reader & knitting friend wondering what happened to me because my online presence has been pretty sporadic lately. Suffice to say, the last couple weeks have been very hectic. We had a vacation planned and before that happened I had a few self-imposed deadlines I was trying to hit. First, I was working with my daughter to get her through the last of her 1st grade curriculum (which she did — yay!). Then, I was trying to finish my In Stillness sweater (which I did — yay!). And then there was just the sheer mass of vacation prep.
You see, on my birthday at the end of December my husband announced that he had arranged for us to take a weekend away in February. He had managed to get my parents to agree to watch the kids and then he also received special permission to be away from work over the Valentine’s Day weekend. The last trip he and I took alone together was 5years ago, so it was kind of a big deal. In any case, in the throes of it all I discovered that it’s one thing to pack for a vacation where we are all going to be together — it’s a whole other animal to prepare for a trip where we’ll be separate. We needed different gear, separate toiletries, some school work for the kids, not to mention the extra bulk that winter always requires. And of course, there was the dog on his special diet which required me to cook and measure and mix and individually package his meals for five days (he’s an 80lbs dog, so that’s a lot of pinto beans & pumpkin). In short, it was a lot of work — all for a very good cause and I was happy to do it — but it was a lot and required a lot of time just to get ready and out the door.
Now this vacation. Most couples would probably find a snug little cabin or B&B. Or maybe — for the more extravagant — a quick bit of jet setting to somewhere nice and warm. We aren’t most couples though. Our destination…
About 50miles northwest of Duluth, Minnesota. This is pretty close to the middle of nowhere. True, there are roads and basic infrastructure and you mostly get cell reception so this isn’t the wildest of the wild, but we’re talking about cruising through towns that are small enough that they don’t have a gas station or grocery store. The best way to describe it is that all at once it is very big and very small.
One very special place in this particular wilderness is the Sax-Zim Bog. I’m willing to bet that 51 weekends out of the year, you might blink and miss this place if you weren’t looking for it. If you happen to be there — as we were — for the annual winter birding festival, however, you’ll see a shocking number of cars parked by the community center. You’ll notice school buses slowly trolling the local highways full of adults plastered against their frozen windows, all with binoculars hanging around their necks. This is the Sax-Zim Winter Birding Festival and this would be our weekend getaway.
After a night at my parents’ settling the kids in, my husband and I took off on our long journey north. It’s a 6hour trip from my parents’ house to Duluth — which offered pretty much the closest accommodations to the bog area — and we left early. We arrived in time for a late lunch at Fitger’s Brewhouse, a landmark and must-visit if you are in the area.
Over the weekend we dined here twice. I enjoyed delicious fish tacos for lunch and we shared a beer sampler. The dinner we spent here I enjoyed the insanely good Whitefish Burger — made with locally caught whitefish — and my fave beer, the Apricot Wheat (although really I had at least four favorites and I’m not even much of a beer drinker). Clearly, this place is highly recommended should you visit the area!
From here, we hopped out to see what birds we could see around town. Down by one of the bridges there was a bit of open water where we were able to watch a whole lot of mallards as well as some really beautiful goldeneyes. The common eider I hoped to view was unfortunately no where to be seen. We continued down Minnesota Point where we got out and hiked the short way to the beach.
Like any beach in winter, it’s a pretty spectacular sight — the perfect mix of yellowy-browns, white snow & clouds, and these delicate blue skies. There was an element of awe though — I’ve seen how wild Lake Superior can be, felt its chilly waters, but to see it frozen as far as the eye can see…
The ice is very solid, but the fact that you can pick up big 2″ thick chunks that have been heaved up to the surface….
Well, it took some convincing for me to walk out a ways, but I did it. The quiet was ever quieter as we made our way out onto the ice. I thought about the immensity of the cold it takes to make this mighty body of water stand still, but I didn’t really comprehend it. Little did I know, that I’d get a decent taste of that cold soon.
It was only about 10 or 12°F with a decently brisk wind, so after our jaunt onto the lake we did a little shopping to warm up. Duluth Pack is a local company that makes the most gorgeous, well-made bags and we just happened to drive past so that seemed like a great place to stop. I’ve been carrying a Deluxe Shell Bag as a purse for at least 5 or 6years and it is still holding up great. I have my eye on a new pack, but that can wait until my current one requires retirement. Still, it was fun to see all the options in person. Plus, I knew where the next stop would be… Yarn Harbor. I’m Knitting Sarah, after all, so there had to be some vacation yarn on my birthday/valentine’s day trip!
This shop has been on my to-visit list for a couple years and it felt like a big ‘finally!’ that I at last set foot inside. They are about to move to a new location, so I was prepared for stock to be low but I was pleasantly surprised by the variety of yarns available. My husband very sweetly toured the shelves with me for a bit — he actually picked out most of the yarn I ended up adopting — but those last two or three laps around the store, I think he gave up. He did, however, very patiently sit down and find some reading on his phone. He’s a very patient guy.
I left with this…
Some Worsted Peace Fleece in the Ancient Fern colorway. My hubby pointed out that it was definitely my color — at once it is brown and green with pops of red and a subtle bit of orange here and there. I’m thinking of perhaps knitting up Jared Flood’s Cypress with it.
My dear also picked out this…
The locally dyed 3 Irish Girls’ Adorn Sock in the Cooler By the Lake colorway. The perfect blue, grey, and burgundy, made this a must-have for socks. I had the very kind ladies at the shop wind it for me in hopes that I’d get to it before arriving at home. It ended up just wishful thinking, but honestly, it’s even prettier wound that it was in the skein and that’s saying something about how gorgeous this skein is.
And last, but not least…
Another skein of 3 Irish Girls Adorn sock in the Hawk Ridge colorway. This skein was a total impulse purchase while I waited to check-out. I looked at it and said to my hubby, “Hey, that one’s named Hawk Ridge.” And he said, “Then you definitely need it. Put it in the pile.” I didn’t argue. Hawk Ridge is a well-known observation point for watching hawk migration in Duluth in the fall, so it could be neither a more appropriate a treat for a birding weekend nor more beautiful.
With plenty of wool in hand, the true birding portion of the weekend could begin. We headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep before the couple of long, wonderful days to come.
Check back for part two of this story tomorrow!