Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Two Harbors

On a slight hill overlooking Agate Bay in the town of Two Harbors, Minnesota, is Two Harbors Light. Built in 1891-1892, the lighthouse is still in service (though it is now listed as a "private aid to navigation" and no longer maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard).

Actually out in Agate Bay is a second lighthouse, Two Harbors East Breakwater Light. This much smaller structure was built in 1906 and remains in official service.

Two Harbors is very much a working harbour, and has been since the late nineteenth century. The boat below, the Edna G., was built in 1896, spent most of her career (except for two years on the East Coast during the First World War) right here in Two Harbors, and at the time of her retirement in 1981 was the last coal-fired, steam-powered tug working on the Great Lakes.

Dwarfing the Edna G. in the photo below are two enormous railway piers (out of sight to the left is a third, now out of service) from which Canadian National Railway cars loaded with taconite dump the iron ore directly into the holds of cargo ships.

At the time of our visit, one such ship, the Arthur M. Anderson, had just finished loading. (The Anderson, incidentally, was the last ship in contact with the Edmund Fitzgerald and the first on the scene to search for survivors.) We watched her (in the West, a ship is always "she" even if named for a male director of U.S. Steel) slowly back out of the dock and laboriously turn...

...then head out past the breakwater lighthouse to Lake Superior, where she remained in sight for at least an hour, headed up the lake toward Thunder Bay.

By some estimates, up to three-quarters of the steel produced by the United States during the Second World War originated in the Iron Ranges of northern Minnesota, ending up in ships, tanks, and airplanes throughout the European and Pacific theatres. So, some pretty significant ore moving through here...

Jessa and I, though, are more inclined to notice other types of natural resources—squirrels, wildflowers, moss and lichen, even rocks without economic or strategic value—so here are some more pictures from Two Harbors. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Franklin's ground squirrels

After some technical difficulty, we're finally starting to get some of our Minnesota pictures uploaded, and I'm sure it will not surprise our loyal readers if we start out with some squirrels: Franklin's ground squirrels, to be more precise.

The "field guide" shot below nails the identification and shows the features that make Poliocitellus (formerly Spermophilus) franklinii such an archetypical ground squirrel: small ears, long fingers with blunt claws adapted for digging, and relatively sparse tail. The heathered or "checkerboard" pelage in contrasting colour, olive brown against the grey head and tail, is a trait shared with some other ground squirrels. 

The colour contrast is even more evident in this next photo, and I prefer Jessa's more intimate "portrait" photography, don't you?

These squirrels rather seemed to enjoy having their pictures made, even hamming it up for the camera on occasion. I assume Franklin's in more remote locations would be warier, but these ones in the town of Two Harbors are well-acclimated to human activity.

Franklin's ground squirrels are a tallgrass prairie species, but they like to be near thick vegetation and are often found adjacent to marshes, as these were. Such locations offer plenty of food and escape cover. This part of Minnesota, though, is not really part of the prairie province; by most reckoning, the North Shore of Superior is well into the North Woods, and as such the presence of Franklin's ground squirrels was a bit unexpected. Yet here they are...