It was a good Friday. We jettisoned our plan to visit the open pools at the Blackdog Plant and instead headed north to the Coon Rapids Dam. Along the way we stopped at a Peace Park just north of I-694 and wandered down to the Mississippi, where we spotted some common mergansers and also a few golden eyes.
A bit further up East River Road we stopped at the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts, which is housed in a Greek Revival building dating back to 1847. There wasn’t much traffic on the road, the building is ensconced in woods just south of a park where Rice Creek flows into the Mississippi, and it wasn’t too difficult to imagine the scene 150 years ago, when it served as a tavern and inn for the Métis who brought the ox carts down from Pembina, on the Canadian border, laden to overflowing with buffalo hides.
Those rough-and-ready outdoorsmen would be surprised to see what's become of their tavern.It’s an art center now, with a gift shop and an exhibition space. There are paintings and tapestries on the walls in the front room and a miniature lecture hall off to one side. Upstairs two elderly women were doing chalk studies from life of two teenaged kids posing on the other side of the room—fully clothed, hooded sweatshirts and all.
There was also a “writer-in-residence” room on the second floor, but it was empty. The writer herself may have been talking on her cell in the room across the way.
But the room I liked best was the art library, sandwiched between the studio and the writer’s eyrie. One wall was loaded, floor to ceiling, with old art books. I felt like I was back in McCosh’s bookstore, or B & H. Of course, the books weren’t for sale, and that was better yet. I have plenty of old art books I haven’t read at home. I recognized quite a few of the titles on the shelves.
Back downstairs, the friendly receptionist—she may have been the program director for all I know—filled us in on some of the rumors about ghosts, and trap doors, and tunnels leading off toward the river. Not long ago they hired some experts to determine if an occult presence could be verified. The results were inconclusive. But I could almost believe her. The building has a fine, arty, antique, resonance. I took a picture of what appeared to be a fleeing ghost just as I was descending the stairs.
Our next stop was the Coon Rapids dam. I didn’t want to pay the five dollar parking fee but I’m glad we did. In the pools above the dam and on the river further upstream we saw scads of hooded mergansers, one pelican, rafts of coots, geese galore, a few shovelers, and also a smattering of scaup and ring-necked ducks. One obligatory eagle (immature) rose up from the beautiful aspen woods.
It's quite emotional, and almost thrilling, to see hundreds of ducks of several species milling about, lifting off and descending somewhere else, obeying instincts or rituals that have driven them for countless generations.
We were walking in some places along the groomed but fading ski trails. The coloring is still nice, with the dogwoods and willows shouting out more brightly than ever. But skiing is over.
After a quaint lunch at the Cajun Potluck in a strip-mall in Shoreview, we made a final stop at the Rice Creek Regional Park in Centerville (where our Anoka County Parks parking fee was still valid). After viewing the fine collection of stuffed ducks and owls and grouse in the visitor center, we tromped out through the wet snow toward the marshes that make up the better part of the park. Along the way we saw goldfinches (now rapidly turning yellow) and a couple of mourning doves.
But our best sighting occurred on our way back to the car. We heard something that sounded a little like a woodpecker. Then I looked up and said, “Are those sandhill cranes flying overhead?”
“That’s what I thought I heard,” Hilary said. And at that moment, they clucked again, as if to leave no lingering doubts about their identity.
“The migration is afoot,” I said. But then began to wonder out loud whether the word “afoot” can be applied to a vast movement taking place hundreds of feet in the air.