The informal lost and found system around the city lakes is leaning heavy towards winter accessories. And always makes me feel a little warmer on these increasingly cold mornings. What's the most unusual lost object you've seen displayed?
Walking around Lake Calhoun, (ok, well, not technically around it, just along one side so that I eventually end up at Rustica bakery for a croissant) it struck me how unfortunate it is that two of the state's most lovely water birds are called by such un-lovely names.
Plying the icy steel-blue waters of the lake in autumn, you still see a few loons left before the choppy surface freezes and chases them away. Their strong silhouettes appear and disappear as they feed. Apparently the name loon comes from an ancient term for diver, as they are also known as Great Northern Divers.
Unlike other birds their bones aren't hollow, enabling them to dive to great depths. In addition, those red eyes help them to see underwater. But most endearing is the sight of them sailing along with their babies on their backs.
Notable not only for the diving, their calls are unique and distinctive. With a tremolo, a wail, a hoot and a yodel in their vocal vocabulary, it's the maniacal laugh of the tremolo that might earn them the saying, "crazy like a loon".
Others not versed in loon behavior might think the name derives from lunacy or lunatic, but that has more to do with being moonstruck. And who's not heard of crazy like a bat, fox, bedbug, insert your own choice here?
That doesn't stop many Minnesotans from co-opting the catchy phrase loon-acy for all manner of sporting and social events.
And then there are the coots. They gather up in flocks come winter, bobbing along the cold whitecaps in tidy little groups. They are an unassuming but fashionable soft slate shade with a light-colored bill.
Their name derives from cote, the old English word for a nesting area for pigeons, doves, etc. Yet all you can picture is a cantankerous "old coot", because rarely does the word coot appear without the old. And do you ever think, if you do, of the cute little duck-like bird without a quick mental image of said "unpleasant senior male"?
Occasionally people find their name so unsuitable they change it, I'd love to change mine. I often wish I'd insisted on everyone calling me Roon or Roonie like my husband does. It's more friendly and cheerful, more era-neutral. I was named after the old B-movie star, Rhonda Fleming. That name sticks you solidly in the 1950's category with no chance of escape. People have resurrected Ruby, Louise and even Maxine, but you rarely hear of a baby Rhonda.
I should have jumped on the name change thing before one of my cousins beat me to it, deciding she didn't like hers either, switching to a moniker more like that of a romance novelist. But did it really change how I see her?
Just as well the loons and coots are oblivious to how we label them.
It used to be when I went away, as in leaving Minnesota, I missed any family members I left behind and sleeping in my own bed. And not much else. There just wasn't that pull, that tug of the heart that says there's no place like home, even after five years.
In fact, I'd fantasize about living wherever it was I happened to be visiting at the time. Coming back from two weeks in New York City, it was different this time. I certainly had no flights of fancy about living in the Big Apple. All I could think about was getting back to the Minne-apple.
Helping my daughter move to NYC for an internship required quick lessons in city living. It's one thing to go to NYC, eat out, see a few shows and shop when you can grab a cab. It's not quite as glamorous when you're figuring out subway routes, laundry, groceries and the everyday drudges of living. Oh, and what do you do if you lock yourself out or lose your purse before you know another single soul in such a ginormous city?
I've been going on and on lately about how much I enjoy getting around my new neighborhood on my own two feet. People are probably tired of hearing me go on and on about how much I love walking, now that I live near infrastructure that makes it so simple. So easy to get on your high horse when your car is sitting in the driveway for those times, like when it rains, or it's too windy or you need to get somewhere in a hurry.
Boy, that changes when your own two feet are the only option. Life in NYC is exciting, exhilerating even. But it was also exhausting and exponentially expensive. After one week my feet resembled ground beef. I yearned for the delicious luxury of climbing into my car and whizzing to Target. Call me soft.
It was more than that though. Forgive me all those readers living out in the western burbs, sure it's woodsy, watery and scenic, but it wasn't the way I roll.
After only a few months living around the city lakes, I realized I'd found my niche, my tribe, whatever. I missed my neighbors and hood. I worried that I might miss the trees turning. I missed the cafes. I missed my morning walk around the lakes.
I even ventured to think there's no place like Minneapolis. Who would have thought?
When you've moved as much as I have, what you lack in rootedness and continuity, you make up for in opportunity. I've had the chance to live in so many places and houses seeped in history.
Our second home in Kansas, the second time around, had a whimsical quality with its random-cut, indigenous limestone. The design came from a hasty sketch of a British farmhouse viewed from a foxhole. When the soldier came home he realized that vision at #1 St James Place, but in the very middle of the Midwestern US.
Our home in the hills of Herefordshire, England started out as its eponymous name, The Malt House, sometime in the 1700's but the beams were the product of extremely early efforts at recycling. Those timbers were first used on old ships and already had 500 years on them.
Our brick Italianate Victorian in Illinois came with a deed that started out with "I, A. Lincoln..." The house was built in 1874 but the lot was platted by a young surveyor that would later find a higher calling.
Now walking the dog by the woods in my newest neighborhood, little did I know I was following in the footsteps of Thoreau. Say what? Yep, it turns out that Henry David Thoreau left Walden and ventured out to Minnesota seeking the clean air and pristine waters of our state as a possible remedy for his tuberculosis.
I can't imagine embarking on a journey in throes of such misery but apparently he kept up appearances to his young traveling companion, Horace Mann, Jr., convincing him that he was faring well. Stopping in Minneapolis, they stayed at Mrs. Hamilton's boarding house situated somewhere around what is now William Berry Park between Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.
It seems that during his visit, Thoreau was intent on finding a species of wild crabapple that he had first spied in Illinois. A record of his pursuit of Malus coronaria is documented in Wild Fruits, Thoreau's Rediscovered Last Manuscript. Following instructions from several individuals he explored the ridge above Lake Calhoun looking for the wild apple but struck out. Eventually he found a cluster of trees he was seeking on his own.
Back in New England a year later, Thoreau died. Believing as he did that heaven was "under our feet as well as over our heads", I'm glad he got the chance to explore the area while it still had an air of wildness.
So now when I walk the dog along the trail that winds through the leafy triangle I wonder what he would have thought of Lake Calhoun and the woods along the parkway. Would he marvel at the downtown skyline mirrored in the waters? And what would he think of the buckthorn that mars the understory below the oaks and maples?