My oldest son went on a school trip a few weeks ago. The main purpose was to participate in the Barnebirkie, the children’s version of the largest cross-country ski race in North America. It takes place in northern Wisconsin every February. This is the twentieth year that the school has done this trip with middle grade students, so they have become experts at making it an enriching experience. In addition to skiing in the race with more than 1,000 other kids, they spend some time doing joint educational programming at the local middle school (this year, there was some kind of amazing science theme) and have a traditional meal with a Native American tribe. They also somehow fit swimming at the local community center into the packed agenda.
A week before the trip, a note came home in my son’s backpack that there would be a slight alternation to the schedule. The group would be able to visit the ice caves on Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands. For those not familiar with the Upper Midwest, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in northern Wisconsin is a true gem of a national park. There are 21 islands, windswept beaches, rocky cliffs, and lighthouses. In the summer, you can hike the 12 miles of lakeshore wilderness and paddle or boat around the islands. You can even camp on 18 of the islands, which are only accessible by water. You can even explore by kayak the amazing sea caves at the western end of the mainland part of the park.
In winter, the sea caves become ice caves. And in extremely cold winters, when Lake Superior freezes over, the national park service allows people to walk out over the ice and experience the ice caves from the inside.
As I have never been to the Apostle Island ice caves, I was excited that my son had this opportunity to visit them. It has been five years since the ice caves were last open to the public. One of the impacts of climate change has been that Lake Superior hasn’t been frozen enough to make access possible. Since the ice caves opened to the public on January 15, more than 125,000 people have made the two mile roundtrip trek over frozen Lake Superior to experience the ice caves.
My son sent took these pictures of his visit and texted them to me.
It’s an odd feeling – usually I’m the one who is traveling and sending the pictures back home to the rest of the family. But I really appreciated his willingness to share the experience of being inside the Apostle Islands ice caves with me.
With warmer weather, the ice is degrading and it is becoming unsafe to be on the lake. The National Park Service plans to close the Apostle Island ice caves to the public by 12:01 am on Monday, March 17.
With special thanks to my son Sevrin for the photos!
For more responses to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside, click here.
I first learned to cross-country ski when I was 19 and living in Norway. Learning to ski in a country where skiing is the national pastime was both a blessing and a curse. (The national slogan”Nordmenn er født med ski på beina” or “Norwegians are born with skis on their feet” may help you understand why little Norway is so dominant in the Winter Olympics.) The curse part was that I was 19 the first time that I strapped on skis; I think I spent most of that first afternoon either falling down or trying to get up. To add insult to injury, as I struggled to complete the “beginner” 2K loop, dozens of skiers zipped right by me – including both a 90+ year old pensioner and a baby. I would call him a toddler, but not for the fact that later I saw him crawling around on a blanket in picnic area by the parking lot. Nothing bursts your bubble quicker than the realization that even a kid who can’t walk yet can ski better than you can.
The blessing part is that cross-country skiing can be such a joyful experience. I learned in Norway that it is cross-country skiing is a sport that just about everyone can do. I also learned that skiing allows you to get out and experience nature in a way that is very different from the rest of the year. The stillness of the snowy woods can be breathtaking. In the silence, you hear your breathing and the rhythmic sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh of your skis, interrupted occasionally by the sound of an animal or a bird. Unlike summer’s cacophony, in winter each sound is individualized and accentuated, carrying alone across long distances. From afar, I heard the yank-yank-yank-yank of the red-breasted nuthatch while skiing on Lake Harriet last week; it was still calling when I skied up to it 10 minutes later. When you are out in the cold, but not feeling it because your arms and legs are working hard, pumping heat through your body – that’s when cross-country skiing makes you feel the power for conquering winter.
And then there is this. The unique light and colors of a deep winter day that perhaps can only be experienced on skis.
It’s been years now since I learned to ski. I rarely fall down anymore, although I am still passed on the trail by faster skiers. Truthfully, I haven’t been out on skis much in the recent past. Climate change and the warmer winters of the past decade have meant the snow conditions have been less than perfect in Minnesota. This winter, however, the snow conditions are wonderful. And I have rediscovered my joy in cross-country skiing.
This photo reminds me of something Henry David Thoreau once wrote,
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
This post is a response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected.
I know up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here on the bottom,
We too should have rights.
– Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle
This post is in response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above. Click on the link to see more!