Wild city // Summer 2012: highs and lows

Yard birds

The best bird sighting of the summer: I am in a lawn chair tipped back, and I see a bald eagle glide over our house just 10 feet over our roofline, and then away.

Blue jays have been especially active in our yard this year, and I’ve been admiring their hue. My field guide describes the jay as “a showy, noisy, blue bird with a crest,” emphasis on the blue. The book describes the jay’s cry as follows: “A harsh slurring jeeah or jay.” A bird that says its own name. Another call, one that sounds to me like a rusty gate being opened, is described as “a musical queedle queedle.” 


I have mother issues (long story). I’d like to think I handle them with grace 364 days a year, but I am probably kidding myself. For sure I don’t handle them well on Mother’s Day. This year was particularly knotty. Nothing was going right. 

My husband and I, in an attempt to improve the mood, declared it Manure Day instead, and decided to drive out of town to a farm that had sheep manure for sale. I wanted to give my plants a good boost of nutrients so that I could grow more of our food this year. The day was bright and hot, the drive tiresome. The farm was much further out of town than we’d expected. We rode along without speaking. When we finally arrived, no one was home. There was nothing to do but turn around and drive back. It seemed that even our larky outing would bring us zero joy. 

Partway home, my husband yelled, “Did you see that?” He pulled over, turned around, and drove back a little way. Sure enough, right next to the highway was a falling-over sign that said, “Free Manure.” The feet of the sign were sunk into a large pile of composted horse manure. An old shovel stood in the pile. 

We laughed out loud, then got busy shoveling the stuff into large trash bags, dragging these heavy, squishy, faintly smelly bags up the embankment, and hoisting them into my husband’s trunk. We stood for a moment and looked at the barn and the horses in a pasture set back from the road. Our spirits renewed by manure, we drove happily back home.


I have enjoyed kayaking at the head of Minnehaha Creek, up by Gray’s Bay dam, but when I heard that zebra mussels, an invasive species, had made their way into Lake Minnetonka a couple of years ago, I was discouraged. I hadn’t been back. In late August of this year I wanted to give it another go. I checked the website, which said the dam was closed, so I knew the water level would be low, but this didn’t prepare me for what I saw. 

When I had first visited the source of the creek years ago, I was thrilled to see the configuration up there: The creek left the lake, and rolled through a beautiful marsh in a relatively wild area, though suburban. The wide channel led away, toward the city, toward home. But after a couple years of record heat and extended drought, and of little water coming over the dam, the channel up there is totally grown over by marsh grasses and reeds. There is no channel, no opening at all. 

Even the pool of water near the dam is low and punky. I knew that the creek by our house had been slow, but after seeing that not a drop is coming out of the source lake into the creek I realized that the Minnehaha, right now, is not really a creek at all.


I am 57, and quite active. The thing that makes me feel youngest is bicycling. It transports me back to childhood. I enjoy being in motion, I sing while I ride. I was on the Midtown Greenway this summer, and I pulled out to pass a guy who was wobbling around on his bike. I tried to give him wide berth, but was also mindful of an oncoming bicycle. The rider of that one, a young woman, apparently felt I hadn’t left her enough room. As she whizzed past, she spit out: “Where do you want me to go, you old bat?”

Old bat? Me? Of course it stung, but I also found it funny. If you call a writer a name, we analyze the words. Why are old people called bats, I wondered? Old goat makes sense for an old guy with a beard, I guess, as goats have beards, but what in the world do old people have in common with bats? I still don’t know.

Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at the Loft Literary Center