Tuesday, December 31, 2013

To better days

I hope you all have a New Year's Eve full of friends and frolic. I'll see once again if I can make it to Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve. A friend of ours, the daughter person went to school with her, is back in Minnesota from Indonesia. She may be experiencing the world's definitive climate shock. The way this young woman has been living her life reminds me of a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He once wrote "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Trail through the field
Trail through the field             © harrington

That kind of thinking, and writing, makes me proud to claim Mr. Emerson as a fellow New Englander. As we look ahead to 2014, I'm afraid we've left our children with no option but to go where there is no path. Despite the current cold spell, our legacy to them will be global warming and a climate that's changing, an economy that fails too many of us and a broken political system. I don't know about you, but that's a legacy I'm not terribly proud of. It might sound trite, but my New Year's resolution is to do everything I can to leave my children a better legacy. Not more money or an easier life or more convenience and gadgets, but a better world. I hope you'll join me in this endeavor. We can start by using 2014 to create a better Minnesota. Ralph also wrote "Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail." W. S. Merwin calls our attention to the possibilities that lie before us.

To the New Year

By W. S. Merwin 

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

Wishing you a better year and a better world next year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Making a(nother) list, checking it twice

When I walked my dog SiSi early this morning, the temperature was about 20 below. Birds have been flocking to the feeders all day. I'm trying to figure out how it is that global warming seems to be occurring planet-wide, but not in Minnesota. If we could get rid of the degree of cold (pun intentional) we're now experiencing, I might be convinced that adaptation to climate change might be a better strategy than mitigation. I suspect we'll need lots of each.

birds flocking to the feeder
birds flocking to the feeder  © harrington
Have you written your list of resolutions for next year? Are you going to? Years ago I made a resolution to stop making resolutions. I've stuck to that one pretty well. These days, though, I'm starting to work on lists of personal goals and things to do this quarter, month, week... You get the idea. After all, even Woody Guthrie wrote a list back in 1942 or thereabouts. How does your list compare with his? One of the few things I'd add to his list is to "Read My Minnesota every day", but then, in 1942 there was no internet and, old as I am, even I wasn't around in 1942. If you read Woody's list carefully, you'll see that much of it covers basic maintenance. Lest we get too carried away adding new things to our respective lists, let's not forget what happens if we neglect maintenance.

Neglected barn
Neglected barn              © harrington
Vicki Hearne reminds us that Minnesota isn't the only cold, cold place that needs the feeders kept full (although January 6 is still a week or so away).

January 6

By Vicki Hearne 
We must stop bragging. There are limits
For us to the cold and the twelfth night
Marks them all. Just off the coast of Maine
The lobster boats pass, dragging their nets.
Capsize once in a while, in water
Like that you die, that’s all, that water
Isn’t even frozen. Not even
Frozen, and that’s as cold as it gets.
The hearts of birds beat voraciously
So they keep warm, so if you put out
A feeder, keep it full of the seeds
Their hearts feed on, then it is only
When their food runs out that you find them
Inexpressibly taut in hollows,
And that’s as cold as it ever gets.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Winter interlude

Yesterday was it foggy where you were? Our morning fog contributed mightily to the area's Winter beauty. The milder temperatures made being out and about a pleasure. Today, not so much. I'm not sure what created the purple(?) tones to the fog, but I'm pretty sure my camera's not lying.

Winter fog
Winter fog                     © harrington

Today's sunshine has been moderated by below zero temperatures. As long as the visibility stays reasonable for driving, I'll take the fog and the warmth. (Bet you saw that coming.) As is my way all too often, I've been fretting again. This time about whether mice or voles are going to girdle the two tiny apple trees to the right of the pear tree in the picture. I should have gone out and shoveled the snow cover away from their trunks while it was warmer, but I ended up having to focus on a plumbing repair as a higher priority. One thing about this Winter so far is that there have been far fewer mice in the traps. I'm not sure why but the difference from last year is notable (that's why I noted it). I suppose that may, or may not, help to account for the lack of local barred owls seen or heard this Winter. Still haven't seen a snowy owl either. Later in the day yesterday, the fog magically turned into hoar frost covering most of the landscape. I think it's hard to beat something like this as a Winter wonderland scene, unless it's purple fog, although Todd Davis reminds us that fog brings more than beauty into our lives.

Fog turned to hoar frost
Fog turned to hoar frost        © harrington


By Todd Davis 

In this low place between mountains
fog settles with the dark of evening.
Every year it takes some of those
we love—a car full of teenagers
on the way home from a dance, or
a father on his way to the paper mill,
nightshift the only opening.
Each morning, up on the ridge,
the sun lifts this veil, sees what night
has accomplished. The water on our window-
screens disappears slowly, gradually,
like grief. The heat of the day carries water
from the river back up into the sky,
and where the fog is heaviest and stays
longest, you’ll see the lines it leaves
on trees, the flowers that grow
the fullest.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Weekend wondering

Did you know that Central Minnesota is creating a Resilient Region? They prepared a local Sustainable Development Plan with the help of funding from federal grants. One of the cornerstones of the plan's economic development strategy is creation of a RENEWABLE ENERGY PROOF OF CONCEPT CENTER PLANNING GRANT INITIATIVE (REPOCC), which, they claim, can lead to "a dynamic Minnesota renewable energy cluster"..."drawn from wind, biomass, solar and other ascendant renewable capabilities [that] offers substantial job-creation potential throughout the state."

Winter sunset
Winter sunset              © harrington

I wonder how much energy is needed throughout the Iron Range. I wonder how much of it is supplied by renewables. I wonder what's going to supply needed electricity as coal becomes more and more expensive. I wonder how much of an advantage "early movers" in this field might be able to establish. I wonder how much water pollution, if any, is created by "mining" the sun and wind. Is it likely to require treatment for up to 500 years? Are renewable energy jobs subject to outsourcing or market volatility? I wonder if anyone is looking at these kinds of questions instead of drawing battle lines and building barricades on either side of the NorthMet proposal EIS.

Snow covered fields
Snow covered fields       © harrington
Have you ever seen Edward Burtynsky's photographs of industrial landscapes? How do his pictures of tailings compare with your vision for Minnesota? I believe we can create a better Minnesota. Do you? Do we want Minnesota's Iron Range to become just another Bluff Road?

Before Dawn on Bluff Road

By August Kleinzahler 
The crow’s raw hectoring cry   
scoops clean an oval divot
of sky, its fading echo
among the oaks and poplars swallowed
first by a jet banking west
then the Erie-Lackawanna
sounding its horn as it comes through the tunnel
through the cliffs to the river
and around the bend of King’s Cove Bluff,
full of timber, Ford chassis, rock salt.

You can hear it in the dark
from beyond what was once the amusement park.
And the wind carries along as well,
from down by the river,
when the tide’s just so,
the drainage just so,
the chemical ghost of old factories,
the rotted piers and warehouses:
lye, pigfat, copra from Lever Bros.,
formaldehyde from the coffee plant,
dyes, unimaginable solvents—
a soup of polymers, oxides,
tailings fifty years old
seeping through the mud, the aroma
almost comforting by now, like food,
wafting into my childhood room
with its fevers and dreams.
My old parents asleep,
only a few yards across the hall,
door open—lest I cry?
                                 I remember
almost nothing of my life. 

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Growing jobs on the Range?

Some years ago, when I worked for Minneapolis Economic Development, I came across a concept called Economic Gardening. It's an alternative to the "big game hunting" model of economic development. (If any of you remember when Minnesota was "in the hunt" for a Saturn plant, you know what I'm referring to.) At the time, I thought it could be a useful for the city's  economic development efforts, so I made a "pitch" presentation at a staff meeting. To my knowledge, my effort to convince the city to pursue economic gardening strategies failed miserably, with one exception. One of the staff members who heard my pitch subsequently went to work in economic development at Hennepin County. He seems to have convinced Hennepin County that a version of Economic Gardening offers a worthwhile return on investment. A pilot effort with Carver County has now expanded into the Twin Cities Area Economic Gardening Partnership, involving 5 metropolitan area counties.

mountain ash, northern Minnesota
mountain ash, northern Minnesota   © harrington

Why am I telling you all of this? Because it occurred to me while thinking about the NorthMet proposal that the best defense is a good offense. In additional to raising all of the legitimate concerns that exist regarding the proposed Polymet NorthMet mine development, maybe some environmental group (Sierra Club? Others?) might want to go on the offensive and try to work with the local governments on the Iron Range, the IRRRB, and any other potentially responsible party to see if Economic Gardening can help bring more than 360 "high paying" jobs to the Range with considerably less risk to the environment than the NorthMet proposal. In my opinion, one of the significant constraints to Environmental Impact Statements is the way "alternatives to the proposed project" are usually defined. Understandably, project proposers don't want to foot the bill for "speculative options." By the same token, that often means that viable, but longer term prospects that could create comparable benefits with less cost don't always get reviewed in an EIS process. I'm also interested in seeing environmental organizations taking a more active role in promoting and achieving sustainable development instead of leaving themselves wide open to the perception that all they do is oppose everything.

Sawtooth Mountains
Sawtooth Mountains           © harrington

I believe it's going to take all the talent, skill and resources each of us has to adapt to climate change and ameliorate its long term impacts. I don't believe we're going to achieve those goals unless we learn to communicate with each other and work together. The last time I looked, there were no really viable, let alone good, alternatives to continuing to live on our home planet. We need a better approach to development. I think it would be really impressive if Minnesota set a national example on attaining sustainable alternatives to undesirable projects, instead of allowing opponents and proposers to continue a (pardon the expression) "scorched earth" battle about who's right and who's wrong. In my experience, there's usually some of each on both sides of almost any issue. Isn't it time to find a more sustainable approach to economic development in greater Minnesota while we wait for Congress to pass a farm bill providing subsidies to corporate farmers? Otherwise, mightn't we end up living the North Country Blues? [lyrics]

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Winding down

Did you all find what you were wishing for under the tree? I hope so. Santa and my relatives were very kind (especially the no neckties part). Several of us around here are in a post-Christmas mode, experiencing the let down that often comes after a great day, something about what goes up must come down. This morning, for a few minutes, there was a brief glimpse of sun in the sky. (Since we're just back from watching The Hobbit, part 2, I'm tempted to say that sunrise looked like the eye of Sauron, but I won't.) It was pretty striking, though. It looked like this.

Winter sun rise
Winter sun rise             © harrington

You may have noticed that the rants on these pages have been few and far between recently. That's not because there's nothing to rant about. We've been trying to keep in the spirit of the season. Now that the season is winding down, we'll start ramping up the rants. (I know, I know, you can't wait.) While we're still in a mellow mood, though, here's a picture from this morning of some snow capped oak branches. I think it's a pretty winter sight, although it would definitely be enhanced if one of the snowy owls that has migrated to Minnesota were perched on a branch. (Some of you might have figured out by now that I have a "thing" for owls.) Edward Thomas writes about an owl in a way to make us mindful of those, like the long term unemployed, who haven't fared as well this season as many of us have. If we're the greatest country on earth, why can't we do better by our vulnerable citizens? (Just asking.)

snowy oak sans snowy owl
snowy oak sans snowy owl     © harrington

The Owl

By Edward Thomas 

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill,
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered, too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice. 

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

We know that Christmas is about children and rebirth and renewal. We believe that one exceptional child came to us to save all children. Our young, our children, are all special to us. Here is a Christmas wish from My Minnesota for you and those you care about. Enjoy and, please, stay: 
Forever Young

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young 

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young 

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young 
Bob Dylan

Thanks for the Christmas visit. Rants, raves and reflections will return to their usual place tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve wishes


Merry Christmas
to All!

May your holidays be full of love, warmth and joy 
and peoples' presence!

We've already posted one of the best poems there is for today. Fortunately there's more than one that fits.

The Oxen

By Thomas Hardy 
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
Thanks for visiting. Your visits mean a lot. Come again when you can.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Thoughts on Christmas eve eve

Last night I watched, out of the corner of my eye, the last few minutes of the Pittsburg-Green Bay game. They were playing out doors, in the snow, the way some of us think that football was meant to be played. Our local snowfall  last night prompted another round of shoveling stairs and decks and blowing driveways this morning. We're also seeing lots more activity at the feeders when the snow comes down. A few times in the past few days we've had a Northern Flicker at the suet. No photos yet, but we'll watch for an opportunity.

birds at feeder in snowstorm
snow covered holiday frenzy     © harrington

Have you gotten excited about what you hope to find under the tree on Christmas? Are you thinking yet about resolutions for next year? I'm thinking that local, organic, sustainable, renewable and, with luck, indigenous will play a large part in both my Christmas and my 2014. I read something the other day by Winona LaDuke that made me think (her writing almost always makes me think). She claims that "there is no such thing as sustainable development. Community is the only thing in my experience that is sustainable." As someone who is intimately involved with green building and "sustainable development," I think she has a legitimate point.

white christmas tree
white christmas tree     © harrington

If we think about development as the conversion of green fields, the natural environment, into a built environment, she's right. If we recognize that much of sustainable development involves restorative (re)development of brown fields or gray fields, if we continue to move toward creating a built environment that is adaptable and long-lasting (not yet a mainstream trend), then I think she's misjudging what sustainable development is trying to accomplish. As I understand it, it's working toward becoming more involved in building communities, not just developing things. That's one of the reasons that sustainable development recognizes social equity is a significant element of sustainable development. Although, I'd definitely like to see more emphasis given to  weaving indigenous values into any approach to sustainable development and to doing more to restore that which historically has been "appropriated" (taken) from Native Americans. Wouldn't you like to find some of that under your tree this year, next year, and into a sustainable future?  I doubt that we can create the future we want unless we all build it together. So, here's another perspective on indigenous that we can unwrap over the next few days.

Morning Talk

By Roberta Hill Whiteman 
—for Melissa L. Whiteman  
“Hi, guy,” said I to a robin   
perched on a pole in the middle   
of the garden. Pink and yellow   
firecracker zinnias, rough green   
leaves of broccoli,
and deep red tomatoes on dying stems   
frame his still presence.

“I’ve heard you’re not
THE REAL ROBIN. Bird watchers have   
agreed,” I said.”THE REAL ROBIN   
lives in England. They claim
your are misnamed and that we ought   
to call you ‘a red-breasted thrush’   
because you are

He fluffed up. “Am I not
Jis ko ko?” he cried, “that persistent   
warrior who carries warmth
northward every spring?”
He seemed so young, his red belly   
a bit light and his wings, still
faded brown. He watched me
untangling the hose to water squash.

“Look who’s talking!” he chirruped.   
“Your people didn’t come
from Europe or even India.   
The turtles say you’re a relative   
to red clay on this great island.”
Drops of crystal water   
sparkled on the squash.

“Indigenous!” he teased   
as he flew by. 

FOOTNOTES: Jis ko ko is the Iroquoian name for Robin. In the story, he is a young warrior who confronts the old man of winter. The old man uses ice and brutal winds to keep Jis ko ko’s warmth away from the earth. When the old man shoots him on the chest with an arrow of ice, the young man bleeds and transforms into the bird. Even as a bird, he continues his purpose, bringing warm rain and growth—green leaves, flowers and fruit.

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas' eve eve eve

On this last weekend day before Christmas, we traveled much of the eastern side of the Twin Cities metro area. The snow this morning made the roads a little slippery on the way into St. Paul, but the snow had stopped and the roads were just wet by midday as we headed to Stillwater. We took highway 94 and then went north on 95. That gave us a chance to see the progress on the new, absolutely essential, river crossing all of 5 miles north of the Interstate 94 crossing. G*d knows we Minnesotans and Wisconsinites(?) can't be expected to travel 10 miles or so out of our way to cross a river, especially a scenic one. I'm sure the new bridge will do nothing but enhance the aesthetics of traveling the St. Croix Valley and will, no doubt, solve all of the traffic problems beautiful downtown Stillwater experiences on a touristy summer day. As some of you know, I'm a recovering planner. When I was a practicing planner, I learned that "more of the same rarely (never?) solves a problem." There are some local traffic engineers and politicians I wish would learn that lesson. Enough snark for now. We're just about guaranteed a white Christmas this year. The forecast calls for about another 4" to 6" of snow by Wednesday (that's Christmas, you know). I bet that several times between now and then, the back yard will look like this.

White Christmas (trees)
 White Christmas (trees)          © harrington
I was pleased to see that the Strib's story about four state parks to check out in the Winter included Wild River. I was even more pleased to see that Wild River trails are not for snowmobiles. I realize that snowmobiles have their place and that lots of folks take pleasure from trail riding. I just happen to think that the place for snowmobilers to have fun isn't everyplace. My enjoyment of Winter peace and quiet and being able to hear the soft hissing of falling snow is readily spoiled by the roar or snarl or whatever of an internal combustion engine. If we allow snowmobiles everywhere, the next thing you know we'll be ignoring Wild and Scenic River regulations and putting an additional bridge a hop skip and short snowmobile ride upstream of an existing bridge. What kind of sense would that make? About as much sense as seeing a pileated woodpecker at your Winter feeding station. S/he showed up a few times last Winter. I'm hoping for a repeat performance this year unless it takes a blizzard to force his/her return.

pileated woodpecker
pileated woodpecker © harrington


By William Carlos Williams 

years of anger following
hours that float idly down —
the blizzard
drifts its weight
deeper and deeper for three days
or sixty years, eh? Then
the sun! a clutter of
yellow and blue flakes —
Hairy looking trees stand out
in long alleys
over a wild solitude.
The man turns and there —
his solitary track stretched out
upon the world. 

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Solstice sunrise?

Happy Winter Solstice! (I think that's an appropriate greeting.) As near as I can tell, we Minnesotans are suffering overcast conditions as they did at Stonehenge, but our celebrations are likely to be quite tame compared to the festivities our cousins across the pond engaged in. If our local weather were more cooperative, I might have been able to grab a solstice shot something like this, minus the leaves of course. Maybe next year?

local sunrise (not solstice)
local sunrise (not solstice)     © harrington

Is it just me or do you detect a slight similarity in appearance between Merlin and a certain jolly old elf who's going to be visiting in just a few days? I doubt I could get behind Santa with a sword. That's carrying the naughty and nice thing too far, but since I've never heard of Santa arriving at Stonehenge, I don't think we have to worry. Santa comes at night after we're all asleep and the celebration at Stonehenge is during the day when we're awake (although some of the folks at the Stonehenge celebration may make us think we're dreaming). If you use your imagination a little, you might be able to picture a sunrise in this photo, which is about what it looks like around here today.

winter morning
winter morning             © harrington

I hope you're grateful for the beauty provided for free in our Minnesota. Think about what your taxes might be like if it weren't for the free services Mother Nature gives us. Aren't clean air and clean water among the best presents ever? Where would we be without them? One of my Christmas wishes is for fewer children who "forget everything." I'm trying to figure out how to go back and remember.

That Child

By David Wagoner 
That child was dangerous. That just-born
    Newly washed and silent baby
         Wrapped in deerskin and held warm
Against the side of its mother could understand
    The language of birds and animals
         Even when asleep. It knew why Bluejay
Was scolding the bushes, what Hawk was explaining
   To the wind on the cliffside, what Bittern had found out
         While standing alone in marsh grass. It knew
What the screams of Fox and the whistling of Otter
    Were telling the forest. That child knew
         The language of Fire
As it gnawed at sticks like Beaver
    And what Water said all day and all night
         At the creek's mouth. As its small fingers
Closed around Stone, it held what Stone was saying.
    It knew what Bear Mother whispered to herself
         Under the snow. It could not tell
Anyone what it knew. It would laugh
    Or cry out or startle or suddenly stare
         At nothing, but had no way
To repeat what it was hearing, what it wanted most
    Not to remember. It had no way to know
         Why it would fall under a spell
And lie still as if not breathing,
    Having grown afraid
         Of what it could understand. That child would learn
To sit and crawl and stand and begin
    Putting one foot forward and following it
         With the other, would learn to put one word
It could barely remember slightly ahead
    Of the other and then walk and speak
         And finally run and chatter,
And all the Tillamook would know that child
    Had forgotten everything and at last could listen
         Only to people and was safe now.

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Solstice eve

Tomorrow is Winter Solstice. The weather is supposed to be sunny and temperate. I hope you've got your shopping done so you can celebrate the shortest day of the year with those closest to you. Daylight has reached its nadir for the year. The Noongwa e-Anishinaabemjig created a language lesson for the Winter Solstice that includes the sentence "Today the sun stops and looks over all of us on earth to see how we are living." I like that concept, that there are others in the universe who are interested in how we are living. We seem to make some progress from time to time but too many of us, too often, fail to show enough respect for our home and each other. While you're celebrating this season with your family and friends, remember that others could use some thoughtfulness and caring. This rabbit person probably appreciates the fact that birds are messy eaters (and that, by the garage, we left a canoe to be lived under).

cottontail feeding under bird feeder
cottontail feeding under bird feeder       © harrington

I know I appreciated the fact that there's some sunshine today, that I got to enjoy a Cajun breakfast with family and friends at the Louisiana Cafe, and that I had the rare sense to resist buying just a book or two this close to Christmas. I also appreciate the fact that all the major present shopping has been completed, I think, and that, while I've been writing this, someone, probably the daughter person's fiancee, has been blowing snow from the driveway. In her book that I just finished reading, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer makes a number of points about the need for reciprocity in our relationships with each other and the earth. It seems to me that that's a lot of what we try to achieve with our (at least seasonal) desire for Peace on Earth, Good Will to All. It would help a lot, I believe, if we could manage to remember that reciprocity and good will need to be constant in our lives, not just part of a seasonal celebration. Do you think we could manage that?

Cathedral Creche
Cathedral Creche               © harrington

Emily Dickinson certainly has good will to spare in this poem about snow flakes.

Snow flakes. (45)

By Emily Dickinson 
I counted till they danced so
Their slippers leaped the town –
And then I took a pencil
To note the rebels down –
And then they grew so jolly
I did resign the prig –
And ten of my once stately toes
Are marshalled for a jig! 

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Winter renewal

As yesterday's high temperatures drop, a fresh coating of frost climbs up the inside of our storm windows. No doubt this kind of behavior should be expected when we're at C'mas minus 6 and counting and the Winter Solstice is the day after tomorrow.

frosted window pane
 frosted window pane           © harrington

Snow is forecast for this afternoon or evening (or both). This morning's dog walk in the bright moon light through the shadows tree branches cast on the snow covered road was a treat. The moonlit snow fields had an almost fairy tale character to them. One of the reasons to have a dog is so you have an excuse to get up early and enjoy the world. Without a dog, I'd probably be inclined to sleep in. Wet noses on forearms and tongue-licked ears prevent that around here. Without kids and dogs around and underfoot, the holidays would be more peaceful but a heck of a lot less fun. Speaking of fun, "Thank you" to both Minnesota Blog Cabin and Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy for picking up on and promoting  This land is your land? Readership almost went viral. That was lots and lots of fun.

always ready for a walk
always ready for a walk        © harrington

William Carlos Williams could well have been shadowing me during this morning's walk with the dog, taking notes for his poem about:

Winter Trees

By William Carlos Williams 

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas week and counting

Cmas minus 7 and counting. I can see the end of my buying and wrapping sequence from here. It's a little more complicated for families like ours that have an actual birthday to celebrate on December 25. Our son's birthday starts at noon. Christmas ends at 11:59 AM. Keeping Christmas and birthday presents straight is easier some years than others. I'll let you guess whether this year is one of the easier ones or not.

This morning I had coffee with a friend and colleague at Nina's. We agreed we had to try to get together more than once a year.

Nina's Coffee Cafe   © harrington

I'm still working on learning how to take decent pictures of Christmas tree ornaments. Last year's were mostly out of focus. A couple of this year's are decent. This first one is because I've been giving the daughter person "little angel" ornaments for a number of years now. That may (or may not) end with the upcoming wedding next autumn.

glass angel ornament
angel ornament    © harrington

This one is because we have almost as many dogs as we have people living here. (Don't let them know I referred to them as other than people.)

HOME is where your dog lives ornament
for dogs and dog lovers   © harrington

I hope this Christmas you're home with your loved ones, or at least with your loved ones if you're not at home.

Christmas Away from Home

By Jane Kenyon 
Her sickness brought me to Connecticut.
Mornings I walk the dog: that part of life
is intact. Who's painted, who's insulated
or put siding on, who's burned the lawn
with lime—that's the news on Ardmore Street.

The leaves of the neighbor's respectable
rhododendrons curl under in the cold.
He has backed the car
through the white nimbus of its exhaust
and disappeared for the day.

In the hiatus between mayors
the city has left leaves in the gutters,
and passing cars lift them in maelstroms.

We pass the house two doors down, the one
with the wildest lights in the neighborhood,
an establishment without irony.
All summer their putto empties a water jar,
their St. Francis feeds the birds.
Now it's angels, festoons, waist-high
candles, and swans pulling sleighs.

Two hundred miles north I'd let the dog
run among birches and the black shade of pines.
I miss the hills, the woods and stony
streams, where the swish of jacket sleeves
against my sides seems loud, and a crow
caws sleepily at dawn.

By now the streams must run under a skin
of ice, white air-bubbles passing erratically,
like blood cells through a vein. Soon the mail,
forwarded, will begin to reach me here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dry leaves before the wild hurricane...

Today's temperatures have been a pleasant change from recent experiences, even though my windshield may now be perpetually road-muck covered. The wind though has been ripping many of the remaining leaves from the local oak trees and sending them whirling around the yard and down the road. They make interesting patterns on the snow out back.

snow with oak leaf clusters
snow with oak leaf clusters              © harrington

They also make it obvious where someone has been walking (as if the snow didn't do the job). I think these are my oak-leaf filled foot prints from a trip to the compost pile, mixed in with those from a deer who wandered through (perhaps thinking the compost pile is a feeding station).

But leaf-filled footprints  look best, I think, when they can be photographed from a high angle in a single line disappearing into the brush. From the drag marks, I'm guessing these are deer tracks (plus, I'm pretty sure none of the human occupants of the property, or their dogs, have been walking in this location).

If it didn't get much colder than today for the rest of Winter, and the wind died down, and the sun actually shone, I could enjoy our Winter weather. Maybe for Christmas? (But not the night before.)

Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas

By Major Henry Livingston, Jr. 
’Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem;
“To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow.
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas cookie time

This morning, early, there was no need for a flashlight while walking the dog. Full, full moon occurs tomorrow. This morning it was only full. How often do you suppose the full moon occurs on Winter Solstice? The Farmers' Almanac has a list. Yesterday and today I had the honor of helping to get several packages of Christmas cookies sent to various locations around our country. That's usually a sign that holiday preparations are almost done and the madness is winding down. I'm happy to vouch for the fact that there will be some very lucky cookie recipients sometime soon.

Two kinds of Christmas cookies
my favorites                 © harrington
While driving through the light snow on my way back from a meeting in St. Paul, I stopped at the Forest Lake library and requested a copy of the book for next month's Art book club reading. For January 2014 (do you believe that, 2014?) we're talking about Maya Angelou's Gather Together in My Name, the second volume in her multi-volume autobiography. I've been very pleasantly surprised with the breadth and depth of the discussions that have centered on, but not been limited to, the content of the two books read thus far. The discussions have been almost as good as Christmas cookies.

snow flake sugar cookies
snow flake sugar cookies       © harrington
Good coffee, good books, good conversation and good cookies make for a great Christmas as far as I'm concerned. (It doesn't always take four "goods" to make one "great." That's just the way it worked out this time.) Speaking of good books, Braiding Sweetgrass goes somewhere beyond good in my mind. Robin Wall Kimmerer has some wonderful concepts on what it means to be indigenous and an exploration of what it means to be "naturalized" if not indigenous. Since I've long admired Wes Jackson's Becoming Native to This Place, it's encouraging to see a new perspective on how we can develop better relationships with the only home we have. Speaking of home, did you know sweetgrass is native to Minnesota (although, apparently, not to Chisago County), and, in fact, the Minnesota Historical Society and the Mille Lacs Indian Museum are offering a sweetgrass basket workshop this coming April. That goes on my list of possibilities for next year. If you work it right, and don't get greedy, you can manage to have bits of Christmas all year round (but Christmas cookies come only at Christmas). In honor of my very own Christmas elf cookie baker, I want to share Noel by Anne Porter.

Santa, holly, and Christmas tree cookies   © harrington


When snow is shaken
From the balsam trees
And they're cut down
And brought into our houses

When clustered sparks
Of many-colored fire
Appear at night
In ordinary windows

We hear and sing
The customary carols

They bring us ragged miracles
And hay and candles
And flowering weeds of poetry
That are loved all the more
Because they are so common

But there are carols
That carry phrases
Of the haunting music
Of the other world
A music wild and dangerous
As a prophet's message

Or the fresh truth of children
Who though they come to us
From our own bodies

Are altogether new
With their small limbs
And birdlike voices

They look at us
With their clear eyes
And ask the piercing questions
God alone can answer.  

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily (and sometimes Christmas cookies).

Sunday, December 15, 2013

This land is your land?

As many (all?) of you know, there's a proposal for Minnesota's first copper-nickel mine that's the subject of a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. One of the major arguments in favor of allowing the proposal to proceed is that it will "create" 360 well-paying jobs. That may seem like a lot. In fact, according to the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, "Between 2000 and 2011, mining employment in Minnesota fell 25% to 4,245 jobs in 2011, according to the state's Department of Employment and Economic Development." So, the number of jobs "created" may disappear in the volatility of world demand (and prices) for the copper-nickel or other mined resources. On the other hand, here's a link to the images of copper mine pollution in the United States. Here's a different link to nickel mine pollution. Now, here's a link to pictures of Minnesota's Boundary Waters. It doesn't take much imagination to juxtapose copper-nickel mines and Boundary Waters and not like the results.
Sawtooth Mountains           © harrington

But, you say, we'll have financial assurances from the mining corporation that the long term (hundreds of years) pollution will be "cleaned up." Well, from the BBC comes this piece of information: "The average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 index of leading US companies has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century, from 67 years in the 1920s to just 15 years today, according to Professor Richard Foster from Yale University." Business Week reports that commercial corporations have only been in existence for about 500 years, the same amount of time pollution from the NorthMet project may require treatment. I suspect it might be a little tricky trying to collect from a non-existant entity in 200 years or so.

I firmly believe, and have argued here before, that Minnesota, if wisely managed, can have both jobs and a beautiful, clean (if not pristine) natural environment. But, we're already failing to meet water quality standards in much of the area that could be affected by the proposed mining project. Does anyone think the proposed project will actually improve things?
northeast Minnesota            © harrington

Let's look at this from a different perspective. If Minnesota's state government were a Fortune 500 business, and were about to make a massive long-term investment in a company responsible for meeting and maintaining water quality standards on the Iron Range for the next 500 years, would you buy stock in that company? That's what you're being asked to do by the mine's proposers. Wouldn't you think there might be a less risky way to get 360 "high-paying" jobs created up on the Iron Range? How about an aircraft maintenance facility?