Thursday, January 31, 2013

North Country weather

photo of animal tracks in the snow
© harrington
Just came back into the house after taking the dog for a walk. I'm almost (but not quite) ready to join the climate change deniers. Actual temp about 4 degrees; windchill in the -30 range; lows tonight forecast to be around minus 15. I think one of the reasons that the photo shows just tracks and no critters is they have more sense than we do. When the weather gets like this most creatures around here (except us humans) bed down out of the wind and stay there until the cold spell or storm breaks. Of course, I'm not referring to those who were already hibernating or torpid. I'm glad I've got a nice stack of books to be read and, as soon as my Novocain wears off, I'll be able to sip some hot coffee. Today involved a much overdue trip to the dentist. Better done on a day like today than on a warm spring or summer afternoon. Do any of you remember spring or summer? How about autumn? On this last day of January winter is starting to seem about as long as my time in the dentist's chair (or vice versa). Tomorrow begins February, the shortest, cruelest month and the month of the Hunger Moon. One month from now, we should at least be able to see spring from the southern realms of My Minnesota. Up on the Range, add four to six weeks. This could be as good a time as any to go put on Girl from the North Country (second stanza):
"If you go when the snowflakes storm
When the rivers freeze and summer ends
Please see if she's a coat so warm
To keep her from the howlin' winds."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Known unknowns?

photo of moon with ring around it
© harrington
The evening before the snow storm earlier this week, the moon over most of My Minnesota had a ring around it. I remember my mother and grandmother telling me that a ring around the moon means it's going to rain (or snow in the winter). I recently finished reading a book on the colors of nature that explains the physics behind "red sun in morning, sailors take warning--red sun at night, sailors' delight." I'm not sure at the moment if I'm pleased having acquired that additional knowledge. Sometimes, I think we may be better off just accepting that the world is the way it is. On the other hand, there's always Will Rogers recognition that "It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so." I think that the whole question of economic growth, and the necessity for it, is conventional wisdom that's out of date. Ron Meador, in a yesterday's Earth Journal, writes about Gus Speth and Gus's perspective that more growth isn't the answer to our current problems. As Ron states "It's hard to gain ground in the arena of public opinion by pitching higher prices for energy, food and vehicles as positive values." I usually find myself more than agreeing with Ron. This time I'm not so sure. Higher prices for energy, food and vehicles are what the global economy usually strives for. It's called profit maximization. Another way to maximize profits is to externalize costs, such as environmental protection. Let the public's tax dollars pay for clean air. We've been following this philosophy at least since the industrial revolution and look where it's gotten us. There are growing studies that indicate that, after a certain level of economic security has been reached, more money or material goods doesn't make people more happy. Isn't the point of the economy supposed to be to serve people, not the other way around? Herman Daly and Jeffrey Sachs have some interesting thoughts on this topic. Sometimes, just because something's hard to achieve is all the more reason we should work toward it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A bird in the ...

photo of birds in a snow storm
© harrington
Guess who needs more practice mastering depth of field and point of focus? I think these are house finches to the left wearing red (red, left, fits). Other options would be pine grosbeaks or purple finches. My bird identification skills are about as good as my photography skills. On the other hand, I do know that's a gold finch on the right and the red bellied woodpecker picture wasn't bad. This time, I thought that the camera was focused on the two birds, but the camera was determined to outwit me and chose the branch in front of them as a point of focus. These are two more of those things where, the harder I have to work to get it right, the more I'm determined to do so: photography and bird identification. When I was spending more time fishing, and not catching, I never did sort out whether I was fishing in the right place but the wrong way or the right way in the wrong place, or both and other. I mean when I know somethings not working, that's often all I know. Then I have to decide: should I move, try something different,  move and try something different? The fish and I rarely read the same books. Now it turns out, neither do the birds and I. They know who they are and probably don't care one whit whether I know who they are or not. So, they don't assume the same poses as my bird identification resources. The good news is that many neighborhood birds, as I noted yesterday, arrived at the feeders in an abundance of beauty and copious variety, thanks to the snow storm and the mixture of old fields, forests and wetlands in my their our neighborhood. Taking even out-of-focus pictures of birds in a snow storm is more fun than contemplating blowing the snow after the storm. Don't you agree?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Beauty is as beauty does

photo of red bellied woodpecker in a snow storm
© harrington
I believe the bird pictured at the suet in yesterday's snow storm is a red bellied woodpecker. I know that's a goldfinch at the tube feeder. But redbellied? The head is obviously red and the name redheaded woodpecker was no doubt already taken. Nevertheless, there's no obvious red on the belly of the bird. Why not striped or barred redheaded woodpecker? One more of life's mysteries I'll probably never comprehend. This may be what Adriana Trigiani was referring to when she wrote that "Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved." I've been trying to live that philosophy for a number of years now. Try as I might, I keep seeing problems and exercising what I believe is one of my significant skills: solving problems. I've never solved a problem in a way that did anything for my sense of awe and wonder (which is never, ever to be confused with shock and awe). Rachel Carson has written several great books, among them The Sense of Wonder. Recently, that has been  augmented by Orion Magazine's collection of essays Wonder and Other Survival Skills. Look at the variety of birds that come to feeders, the incredible beauty of most of the photographs from the Hubble, learn that seed cells exhibit metabolic processes. Slow down long enough to write a brief note about it. This adds incredible value to my life. If I'm to thrive, not merely survive, I need to nurture my sense of wonder. Do you? As I become more and more convinced that sustainable development requires a large dose of beauty, I find that openness to beauty plays a greater role in my life. May your life be filled with more beauty than you deserve.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Emergent success

photo of dawn redwood seedlings
© harrington
Look really, really hard. Can you see the seedlings emerging from the peat. There's three of them (I think). A belatedly arriving Christmas present from my wonderful wife was a bonsai kit containing seeds for dawn redwoods, peat moss amended potting soil, growing pots made of some kind of organic fiber (coconut?), a soil/root rake and a pair of scissors, plus a growing container to hold the "forest." For almost a week after I planted forty or fifty seeds it looked as if none of them were going to germinate. Then, life emerged. This whole process started me wondering if seeds, dormant as they are, are alive. They scientific answer turns out to be Yes. Metabolic processes at the cellular level are, for me, right up (down?) there with the Higgs-Boson particle so I'm really glad the seed's cellular processes functioned and the cells grew enough for me to notice seedlings with my naked eyes (and camera). Seeing green, growing things in late-January gives me hope that what passes for Spring in My Minnesota may actually arrive, geese and cranes will return from southern climes, life will emerge from hibernation and dormancy, and bass bugs won't bounce when I cast them on the water. I'll continue to report from time to time on the success (or not) of this exploration into bonsai trees from scratch and such other goings-on as I think may be of interest or encouragement.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Call of the wild

photo of a coyote hunter in a field
© harrington
This is a picture of my daughter's significant other [SO] on his way back to a ground blind (not visible in the photo). He's returning after placing a coyote call in the small cedar behind him. We, SO and I, sat in the ground blind late one afternoon during the closing days of black powder deer season. That accounts for the florescent orange he's obviously wearing. After an hour or so of sitting quietly and playing with the call, we decided that there weren't any local coyotes that were going to come and play with us that day. Fast forward to last night. There is snow cover in the "back yard." The moon was waxing gibbous (full will be tomorrow) so there was night light. About 8:30 or 9:00 PM, the SO heard howls outside. He bundled up, took the call, asked if I wanted to come (being considerably older and therefore, presumably, somewhat wiser, I looked at the sub-zero temperature and, regretfully, declined. (When I was about the same age as the SO is now, I used to use a full moon/full tide excuse to drive for several hours to a beach to see if any striped bass wanted to come out and play. Evening temperatures were in excess of 60 degrees on the plus side of zero. I may be crazy, but I'm not yet totally insane.) Anyhow, after placing the call in a handy bush, SO proceeded to call and wait quietly. Success! sort of. He managed to call in a small pack of 5 or 6 coyotes that refused to break cover and emerge from the woods onto the snow-covered-brightly-moonlit field where he could see as well as hear them. Instead, they had split into two small groups (or it may have been two separate groups to begin with) each on one side of the field, howling back and forth for quite awhile. It was exciting for SO, interesting perhaps for the coyotes, and about as productive as many of my striper expeditions. Lack of success usually makes me more interested in getting out again to play the game. I think it may be the same with SO. How about you?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Have you herd?

photo of tracks in the snow on the deck
© harrington
The snow, and the tracks, are (temporarily?) gone from our deck. The tracks were created by one or more squirrels and by Franco, our rescue dog border collie mix, ardently chasing said rodents from the area. Franco does this, I believe, because keeping the deck free from squirrels (and tigers for that matter) gives him a sense of accomplishment. We are lacking sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and any other herd or flock animals on which Franco can unleash his herding instincts. Frustrated herding instincts make life highly unsatisfactory for dogs like Franco. The other satisfaction Franco gets chasing squirrels from the deck has to do with allowing more birds to the feeder when the squirrels aren't dominating them. Franco enjoys watching the birds almost as much as he enjoys barking at squirrels. I've noticed recently that actual squirrels don't have to be present for Franco to chase them away. He often demands the opportunity to charge, barking loudly, through the walkout door and onto the deck whether I (or he for that matter) can see squirrels or not. I guess this comes under the heading of preventative squirrel chasing. Maybe he can smell them through the door? No, I'm not buying that. He likes the chance to feel dominant, that he's done something worthwhile. No one in the family lets him herd them. A guy needs some outlet for his desire to create order in the world. Don't we all?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Priced in

photo of sprawled subdivision
© harrington
Where this (still uncompleted) subdivision sits today, sandhill cranes used to feed. I know because I used to see them once or twice a week. Across the road from this development are farm fields. Between this subdivision and the nearest commercial center are more farm fields. You cant see the storm water pond just beyond the widely spaced pine trees, but several small flocks of Canada geese spend summer there, at least for now. Before you get all up in my face about homes for people being more important than food for cranes, let me say that's not the point I'm getting at. I find little that's attractive about these houses and their vinyl siding in their location miles from anything but farm fields and more houses like these. This is what you get when you drive 'til you qualify. What you loose are sandhill cranes and, eventually, probably the geese too. If we're going to give up cranes and geese, and maybe foxes and butterflies and ..., can't we get something more attractive and functional in return? The National Association of Home Builders [NAHB] cites a study that claims "The 2012 estimates show that nationally a $1,000 increase in the price of the home price leads to pricing out about 232,447 households."By most of the calculations I've seen, the average house costs somewhere between $100 and $200 a square foot to build. That means that for every reduction of between 5 and 10 square feet in the average house size (equal to less than one closet?) another 200,000 plus households could afford to buy a home. They'd be priced in. Even more could be priced in if they didn't have to have two or three cars to get to work and soccer etc. The average car costs something like $5,000 to $7,500 per year. That's about two to four times the average home energy bill and something like 25% to 40% of the average yearly mortgage. So, if we just used more of the knowledge we currently have (nothing rocket science here), more families could afford homes, we could cut down on green house gas emissions while saving agricultural land and wildlife habitat. What do you say NAHB? How about a pricing in study?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Died of natural causes?

photo of deer track in old snow
© harrington
The deer that left this track along the edge of my township road knows intuitively that in weather like we've been having, energy conservation is a matter of life and death. At a global scale, we're facing pretty much the same thing. Weather like we've been having in My Minnesota makes me glad I'm the proud owner of a new 97% efficient natural gas furnace. It replaced an old, inefficient oil burner. By my calculations, the difference in fuel cost will pay for the furnace over a three year period. After that, the savings go into my pocket. Yet, the federal government just decided to delay nationwide implementation of increased efficiency standards for furnaces because "it would cost too much." That leaves open the questions of what's "too much," and why. Should cheaper, less efficient alternatives be available and who else is ending up paying more so some folks can be free riders? It also raises the question of why isn't there a better public education effort to get us consumers to recognize the total cost of ownership? It isn't just the first cost of purchase, but the continuing cost of operations that we need to take into account. Why is it that we have MPG stickers on cars and trucks but not on buildings (Btu/square foot would do nicely, adjusted for heating or cooling degree days). Each year hundreds, or thousands, or more, people die and untold numbers suffer because the earth's climate is becoming more volatile, storms are becoming more violent, sea level is rising and our adaptation isn't keeping up. The city of Duluth is working on designing a new surface/storm water management system. Last summer's storm made it clear that the current system isn't adequate. White Bear Lake's water level is way down. I think there's more than a slight chance that both of these costs, and many more, have to do with green house gases from burning fossil fuels. The linkage between the built and the natural environment may never be more clear than seen in the impacts of climate change/global warming. We need to learn there is no such place as "away" to which we can transfer costs. We're all in this together.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ground zero

photo of winter field and forest
© harrington
Somewhere in these trees are a number of holes filled by chickadees. Somewhere behind the trees are bedding areas for the local deer. I suspect both birds and deer are spending much of their time huddled in resting spots, conserving energy. Today the temperature briefly rose above zero for a few hours. It's now back to subzero readings. We humans seem hell bent to ignore this painfully, sometimes dangerously, cold spell. This would be a good time to renew your acquaintance with that book you've been meaning to read, to improve your skills at making a decent cup of hot chocolate, to settle down in front of a crackling fire in the fireplace (woodstove if you're more eco-conscious than romantic) and stay warm while you chill out inside. I missed the evening news but imagine that on one of the local stations, or maybe in Duluth, a news reporter threw a cup of hot water into the air and watched it freeze before it hit the ground (or snowbank). Do you ever wonder how the Anishinabe/Ojibwe, Lakota and other indigenous people made it through weather like this? At least they didn't have to deal with dead batteries or flat tires. But then, neither did they have AAA to help. (Maybe HHH, happy horse helper -- not until  the Europeans arrived ensteed. [Sorry, cold weather like this causes me brain burn without ice cream]) Where were we? I've read that their winter camps were often in the forest, which would reduce exposure to the wind. Mightn't we be better off these days if we re-learned to work with the seasons rather than dominating them?

Monday, January 21, 2013

A MEER failure

photo of wind farm in SE Minnesota
© harrington
Why is it that the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board isn't asking the questions that need to be asked to create a sustainable and resilient future for My Minnesota? Despite the fact that three of the agencies that are members of EQB (Commerce, Employment and Economic Development, and Transportation) have major roles in creating Minnesota's built environment, their Report Card's only specific question about the man-made environment has to do with infrastructure: "What adaptation practices might be necessary to maintain agriculture, forests, physical infrastructure, and fish and wildlife populations in the face of climate change?" The question reads to me very much like a "how do we have our cake and eat it too?" kind of framing. One of the Report Card's questions on Energy strikes me as being even more short-sighted, incredibly so: "How do we find the right balance between coal, natural gas and renewable energy sources?" The thought processes behind these questions, such as they are, seem embedded in an attitude of appropriate subservience to corporate masters who must not be overly offended. I once knew someone who pointed out to me that it was unwise to annoy a dragon, because I was crunchy and good with ketchup. That very point of view seems to pervade the report. As an alternative, how about a question such as: What is the maximum amount of renewable energy that Minnesota can generate reliably to minimize its fossil fuel combusted baseload? We could combine that question with one that goes something like: How can Minnesota create and pay for the type of energy grid needed to support a sustainable energy future? We could also begin to recognize the accomplishments, limited though they are to date, of the green building sectors and others who are working to create a Minnesota that worth living in in the future. Perhaps we might engage in conversations about the major obstacles to a more sustainable and resilient Minnesota and how those obstacles could be most readily overcome. I found little, if any, of that kind of perspective underlying the Report Card. For that reason, it's a significant disappointment. I had higher expectations (perhaps hopes is a more accurate term) that the Report Card would have at least recognized that the proper definition of a problem is half its solution. A problem is defined not by its symptoms, but by its causes. Causes are sadly lacking in the Report Card. I'd definitely give it an "F" for plays well with others and a "D" for pays attention in class.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chill out

photo of winter morning moonset
© harrington
Yesterday's howling winds delivered arctic cold to My Minnesota. Today's high temperatures are forecast to stay in the single digits. This is the weather that encourages some of us to stay in and plan spring and summer activities. The wind should have swept the pond hockey championship ice clear of snow (and maybe audiences). The temperatures might thin the crowds at the Crashed Ice race in St. Paul later this week if it doesn't warm a little. Although most hardy Minnesotans know how to dress for below-zero wind chills, many of us have enough sense to not go and stand around outside in the cold watching others be active. Keep your bird feeders full, maybe add some suet; make sure your car is plugged in (if you can); ease your concerns about how you look (until the temperatures ease); don't leave your pets outside without shelter; and, as they used to say on Hill Street Blues "Be careful out there." I don't want to loose any readers to terminal frost bite.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


photo of ice crystals on a window
© harrington
Once I thought that change would come the way an acorn becomes an oak tree: taproot developing to support an expanding trunk and crown that would dominate the sky. Other times it seemed that progress would come as waves upon a beach, sometimes gently, sometimes crashing, always washing away the sand, although most of the time many grains remained. Now I'm wondering if progress arrives as ice crystals, starting separately, reaching out, slowly connecting until it has formed a solid coating, each individual crystal linked to others, similar, distinct, together stronger, more complete, E pluribus unum. I'm thinking that one of the ways that ice crystals, and liquid water for that matter, come to prevail is combination rather than domination. My windows are never covered by one giant ice crystal but by many combined. Ice and water follows an and strategy rather than an or strategy. As I look at what I consider failed strategies these days, it seems to me that they're based on ors, not ands. Ecology teaches us, if we're willing to learn, that successful communities aren't based on monoculture. Now matter how many acres a corn field covers, no matter how great the harvest, its value is naught without a market. I hope that those who govern in My Minnesota, and those of us who elect them, can be at least as smart as ice and water. You and I can be twice as strong as you or I. Right, Minnesota?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Great cities, great places

photo of marsh and trees in autumn sunshine
© harrington
It's possible you may wonder what yesterday's post about mixed use development has to do with places like the one you see above. I believe that we need to create great cities to protect great places. Throughout history, cities have been associated with crowding, crime, pollution, illness and the like. Over the past few centuries, we've learned much more about where and how to build beautiful communities that incorporate nature and function well for people. Aldo Leopold has written about honoring a land ethic. Most cities are build on land that once served other uses. Some cities are bringing back urban agriculture. Minneapolis and St. Paul keep doing more to honor the beauty and recreational uses of the Mississippi as it flows through. Many of the communities in My Minnesota are eminently walkable. More could be. Ian McHarg has provided guidance on which natural functions most deserve protection from and inclusion with urbanization. Donella Meadows talks to us about paying attention to feed back and learning to dance with systems. Take a minute and think about what you experience in a vehicle at 60 or 70 miles and hour compared to what it's like to walk or bike and what you hear and see and smell at that more human speed and scale. If we don't do more to use what we already know about creating great cities, we're going to continue to want to move away from each other so that some of us don't have to put up with the rest of us. Once we're spread out enough (How's that sprawly thingy working out for us?), we need to substitute travel time for distance as a measure of convenience. In a well-designed mixed use neighborhood, travel time and distance are human scale, not auto scale. Places like the one above can be left undeveloped by developing more places like Crocus Hill in St. Paul, or Washington Avenue near the Open Book building in Minneapolis. Or your neighborhood?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Connecting the dots

© harrington
Before the demolition, before construction started, before the recent water main break, this is the Jaguar dealership that stood on the site of the new Whole Foods mixed use development at Hennepin and Washington in Minneapolis. I believe that Minnesota could use a whole lot more mixed use development in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Spring Valley, Thief River Falls, Rochester and points in between. There's a recently completed mixed use affordable housing development I know about in Rochester. Cascade Creek Apartments received a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Certification from the US Green Building Council. Minnesota has a growing number of developments that are LEED certified, including commercial, residential and mixed uses. They'll help us live healthier, more energy-efficient lives in a more sustainable and resilient Minnesota. If you noticed the recent coverage on climate change, you'll understand (I hope) why that's important. Not as a LEED project, but as part of a Main Street revitalization, the downtown commercial center of a southeastern Minnesota county is pulling together mixed us renovation by combining commercial improvements on the ground floor with the rehabilitation of residential apartments on the second floor. This should put more potential customers on the street to patronize downtown businesses. It also helps provide work force housing for local employers and gives empty nesters an opportunity to get away from yard work (some love it, others don't) and snow shoveling (some love it ...). Mixed use development and infill development are challenging, usually more so than building big boxes on the outskirts. Minnesota's Environment and Energy Report Card mentions several times the need to connect the dots. Mixed use development in My Minnesota's large cities or small towns is about as dot-connected as it gets.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

All fall down

photo of a deteriorating barn
© harrington
I've been reading through Minnesota's Environment and Energy Report Card. There's lots of interesting information therein but, overall, the report is a major disappointment to me. The section on water reports that 40% of  Minnesota's surface waters don't meet required water quality standards. We knew that already. By my estimate, the barn pictured above is about 40% below standards. I figure the next good storm could level it. Hopefully, nothing of value will be inside when it finally collapses. I don't think we can say the same about what's in My Minnesota's waters, that they contain nothing of value so we don't have to maintain their quality. The section on land use made absolutely no reference to green building, sustainable development or resilient communities. It did include a question to ponder that asked about adapting to climate change, but not a damn word about minimizing its impacts. Hopefully, that option will be covered in the energy section. I haven't read that section yet. Anyhow, the biggest disappointment so far as I've read is that I find absolutely no sense of urgency or crises in the report. It's as if on parents' night, your darling child's teacher said "Hi, Mr. and Mrs Jones. Little Jonny is flunking most of his courses and is well on his way to becoming a sociopathic misanthrope, but don't worry, I'm sure he'll grow out of it if we just leave him alone." Or, it mirrors the clinical detachment with which the oncologist delivers his life-shattering news. There's supposed to be an Environmental Congress this March, at which "State leaders will meet in a one-day summit to review report card findings, discuss public feedback received at citizen forums, and begin planning a blueprint for Minnesota’s environmental future..." I hope for the sake of Minnesota and its citizens, present and future, there's a better balance between how we use our natural resources, how we clean up the mess we've already made, and how we can design, build and operate a better Minnesota, starting yesterday, than I found in the Report Card. I also hope those who participate in it will display a greater sense of engagement than seems to be in the Report Card.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The ides of January

photo f sunrise
© harrington
Based on a quick check of the information available at the US Naval Observatory web portal we've gained more than 20 minutes of daylight since the winter solstice of 2012. Despite ups and downs (and downs) in our daily temperatures, the seasons churn inexorably forward. Spring approaches on little (frozen) cat's feet. My wife reported that, earlier this week, during an early morning dog walk, she heard a turkey gobble. About two months from now, the Canada geese and other waterfowl will have returned although most water will still be ice covered. In yet another sign of Spring, a belated Christmas present arrived yesterday. Today I started my new bonsai garden from dawn redwood seeds. I'll report any triumphs or tragedies as they occur. By the way, today's moon is a waxing crescent, 22% full. It was really pretty catching glimpses of it as I drove to work this morning. Seeing its reflection in the black ice, not so much. Snow is forecast for later tonight and tomorrow morning. I need to figure out how to take pictures of snow falling on cedars.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ticked off

photo of a butterfly (moth?) on a gravel driveway
© harrington
Would you care if you had to live in a world without butterflies or moths? What about dragonflies? Robins? Eagles? Hawks? Owls? What if the only place you could see them was in a zoo? What if there were only one zoo in Minnesota? In the U.S.? Would it be OK to let all non-human critters just exist in cages? Are you wise enough to begin to unravel the world and just save the important pieces? Monarch butterflies need milkweed. Milkweed spoils suburban lawns. All the beautiful, green, Kentucky blue grass in the world won't support Monarch butterflies. Long ago, one of my favorite writers, Gene Hill, taught me a lot about the relatedness of all things to each other when he explained to his five-year-old daughter Jennifer that the reason there are dogs is so that ticks will have something to bite. He went on to explain the reason people hunt is to have an excuse for a house full of dogs who exist to support ticks. Once I had read and understood his wonderous logic, I realized I needed to not mess up what I didn't understand. That's worked out pretty well for me so far. How about you?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Where do you love?

photo of Duluth in the evening
© harrington
Someone once explained to me that one's perspective on the aesthetics of a number of things in Duluth varied greatly depending on whether one was at lake level looking up, or on the ridge, looking down. Duluth has many attractive aspects: bright city lights, varied topography, lots of activity. Is that the kind of place you love? Or, do you love farm country, relatively peaceful, quite and unhurried, full of live stock, hay, corn, soybeans and a growing number of wind turbines?
photo of cows, hay and wind turbine in a field
© harrington
Life in a small town or rural city has lots of positives when it comes to raising a family. Did you grow up loving where you were or couldn't you wait to be grown and gone? I lived in a big city (Boston) until third grade, then spent a number of years in a small town close to the ocean. My Minnesota has almost too many places that appeal to me, especially if they're near water: the Southeast bluff country with trout streams and apple orchards; the Arrowhead with Superior, streams full of brook trout, nights full of wolf howls; the prairie region with potholes for waterfowl, prairies for bison, regional centers for people. Choice is a good thing to have. How about you? What about Minnesota would you really miss if it were gone? It's important for us to know this, because every day, from now on, we have to act to protect what and where we care about. We can't take if for granted anymore.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mud and moss

photo of kingbird nest and chicks over doorway
© harrington
We've had a nest like this over our front door every year since we've moved into our house. I think the nest and youngsters belong to an I think the nest and youngsters belong to an Eastern Kingbird. (For the record, I wouldn't want to have to try to make a living with my bird identification skills.) Every five years or so, I get annoyed with the mess on the front porch and,remove the nest in the autumn, after its been abandoned. The following spring, bits of mud and moss once again begin adhering to the ledge over the front door. I'm never sure if its the same bird, one of last year's hatchlings, or if the ledge over the front door is such prime real estate among kingbirds that word gets around while they're wintering in warmer climes. By now, you're justified in wondering what this has to do with winter in My Minnesota. Yesterday, there was mud on the road in front of my house. Today, that road is frozen solid, the temperature is in the mid-teens, the wind is gusting to 25 or more miles per hour and thinking about spring and moss and mud is how I manage to get through. (Also for the record, along with mud and moss goes open water. I didn't make it to the St. Croix River this week. It's still on my list and you'll be among the first to know when I do.) Think Spring.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tracking the truth

photo of pheasant tracks in snow
© harrington
Animal tracks abound beside and on country roads. I know for a fact that the tracks shown above were made by a rooster pheasant because I saw him make them. You may wonder why I have a picture of pheasant tracks instead of one of the pheasant himself. Short answer is uncooperative pheasant. Longer answer: I couldn't slow down the car, turn around, get out the camera, turn it on and focus it on the pheasant before he decided that the frozen alder swamp away from the road would be more appealing than posing for me at roadside for absolutely no model fee. I may need to start putting the camera on the passenger's seat (when there's no other passenger) as I leave work. That would mean though, that in order to work on protecting my DSLR, I would need to drive even more cautiously than usual (you can fade the laughter any time now). It might be worth it if I can  get more photos of creatures rather than just creature tracks. I have noticed that, when my camera is handy, I tend to slow down more, look about more, pay greater attention to details, than I do when I'm in my normal frenetic state. New Englanders have a saying that "deer tracks and striped bass rumors make mighty thin chowder." The same can be said about rushing through life, especially when it's being lived somewhere as beautiful as My Minnesota.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A MEER Card?

I had heard about the recently completed Minnesota Environmental Congress meetings held throughout My Minnesota. Somehow I had missed the related publication of The Minnesota Environment and Energy Report Card. It seems that the Congress meetings were lacking some reasonable accommodations. According to my friends at the Minnesota Environmental Partnership:
"No definitive record was made of the citizens’ input, however, which is unfortunate because many comments pointed out omissions, errors, and misleading information in the Report Card.  That is why it is important that you submit written comments to the state online, even if you attended a forum.
Review the Report Card (Note:  the Report Card is an 8MB file)
And then submit a comment to the responsible state agencies, pointing out one or more problems that you see and asking that the final revised Report Card reflect your concerns.
Deadline for responding: Please take action by 4:00 p.m. Tuesday, January 15th.

The following organizations are participating in this action alert:
    Alliance for Sustainability
    Audubon Minnesota
    Fresh Energy
    Friends of the Mississippi River
    Izaak Walton League of America--Minnesota Division
    Minnesota Environmental Partnership"
 One of the hardest lessons for me to remember is to never attribute to maliciousness what can be accounted for by stupidity. I guess Minnesota EQB folks must have figured that they'd just be able to remember all those comments from the forums. Help them out and send in your comments, after you've read the report.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Snow fleas flee snow?

photo of snow melt on gravel road
© harrington
Can you see the melt and the mud in the road above? Today's high temperature was above freezing, again. Tomorrow's forecast calls for rain. Rain in January in My Minnesota used to be unheard of. Maybe in Missouri, but not in the North Country where we're more used to extended spells of zero or below. As I grow older I find that I more easily become winter-weary, even when winter isn't really. This is the kind of day when taking the dog for a walk can be a pleasure (depending on the dog). Since the temperature was above 20 degrees, and the sun was shining, I kept looking for snow fleas on the snow banks. Once again I didn't see any. Have you ever seen a snow flea. Have you ever even heard of snow fleas? Maybe I have to put seeing snow fleas on my bucket list. Maybe I need a bucket list to put seeing snow fleas on. When the weather is colder and snowier, its easier to stay in and write lists. When its like today, we should be out looking for snow fleas and other signs of life.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In wildness is the preservation...

photo of autumn vista
© harrington
What do you think? Is this a photo of wilderness? There's no sign of human activity (other than the photographer). No powerlines or cell phone towers visible, not even any jet contrails. In My Minnesota, we should be able to talk intelligently about what's wilderness, since we're home to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area. A recent court decision will increase the cell phone coverage by allowing a tall cell phone tower that will be visible from within the wilderness area. Do cell phones belong in a wilderness? Would Jeremiah Johnson carry a cell phone? I know, we're not mountain men any more. So, according to the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man,..." But, one of the major protectors of wilderness areas in the US, the Bureau of Land Management, says on one of its web pages: "The majority of BLM Wilderness Areas allow some degradation of air quality associated with moderate industrial and population growth." That makes me think of the Monty Python scene where the Black Knight, having lost both arms in a battle with Arthur, insists "its just a flesh wound." Untrammeled means unrestricted or unrestrained. The area in the picture above is restricted by the township road from which the picture was taken. Is taking a cell phone into an area a restriction or restraint? When does a flesh wound become terminal?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Conservation and conservatives

photo of sunny January afternoon, winter woods
© harrington
Today has been another of those winter days that make me glad I live in My Minnesota. Reasonable temperatures, even a little melting. No breeze or wind to speak of. Late afternoon sun through the woods throwing shadows like nets cast over the landscape. Although getting old and worn, the snow cover is full of tracks of deer, rabbits, squirrels. They've moved through without being noticed, leaving behind only faint traces of their passing. Sometimes that can be said of most of us. Today's warmth and melting had me (prematurely) thinking about fly fishing and open water. Maybe later this week I'll check out the St. Croix and see if the water's open there. If I do and if it is, I'll bring back a photo of flowing water for those of you tired of staring through 6" holes in the ice. Dennis Anderson's column today wrote about the need for Minnesota DNR to have better marketing. I'm not convinced that's the issue. When I was learning to knock about in the outdoors, conservation was considered the wise (and sustainable) use of natural resources and the difference between conservation and preservation was understood. Many of the most ardent conservationists were Republicans. When I take a look at Minnesota's and the nation's capitols, I wonder if either a Democrat or a Republican understands conservation or the need for it. Let's all pray to our higher powers that we learn how to start electing conservationist conservatives (or is that conservative conservationists?).

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Over the damn?

map or Minnesota's Impaired Waters, 2010
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
This map is not a pretty sight. Let me share with you what it means to me, without getting into lots of semi-legalistic technicalities. This map means that My Minnesota has done a lousy (that's the technical term) job of managing the use of its water resources. In 1972, more than 40 years ago, Congress passed and the president signed into law the Clean Water Act Amendments, which mandated attainment of "fishable-swimmable" quality by 1985. We're running a little behind schedule, but then, in 1949, Congress passed legislation declaring that every American is entitled to a decent home and living environment. We're still working on that one too. To be fair, we have made some progress in Minnesota. Here's a recent (2011) map of the waters that were previously impaired and have been restored.
map of "restored" waters
 With this kind of accomplishment, why should we be concerned about the possible impact of sulfide mining in northern Minnesota or fracking sand in southeastern Minnesota. The other natural resources there are no more useful than the moon. Are they?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Full moon?

photo of an almost full moon setting
© harrington
Today the moon is in its Third Quarter (43% full). From here, we can't see the crap we've left behind. In sight, out of focus, out of mind? Would we be able to notice mining activity if it started in the future? Would it be easier, more profitable, and generally better for us all if someone figures out how to mine the moon before be learn how to reduce, reuse and recycle here on earth? Is mining the best and highest land use for the moon? If we discovered the moon was made of rare earth(s) needed to create our iPhone 37's, would we mine it out of existence? What would a mining reclamation plan for the moon look like? Who would require and review an Environmental Impact Statement? Thank heavens we won't have to answers these questions for the next year or two because we can rip the hell out of the BWCA and level the bluffs in southwestern Wisconsin and Southeastern Minnesota. We have the resources there so, are we obliged to mine them? It reminds me of when my kids were about two years old and every other word out of their mouths was "mine," "mine," "mine." My kids have grown up. What about the rest of us, including you, Mr. Kramka?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Natural value(s)

photo of winter woods with oak leaves
© harrington
Can you see the oak leaves still attached to the trees in mid-winter? That's know as marcescence. I've found several possible explanations on-line but no one seems certain of the evolutionary benefit oak and beech trees derive from this characteristic. Scott Russell Sanders and I ended up somehow talking about this last September. I've no idea how we ended up on the topic. We agreed that if there weren't an evolutionary advantage, oaks would probably behave more like maples and aspen and drop their leaves like well-behaved deciduous trees should. I, recalling my readings about ruffed grouse budding apple and aspen trees in winter, wondered if the retention of the old leaf stem, which frequently stays attached until the new bud in spring forces it loose, was a protection from grouse feeding on the buds. I'm surprised that no forestry or ecology Ph. D has published a dissertation on it. Trees providing food and shelter to wildlife clearly establishes that there's more to the value of a tree than can be measured only in board feet or Btu's. Unfortunately, My Minnesota seems to have some folks in its Department of Natural Resources who only seem to be able to measure the extractive or harvest value of our resources. Today's MinnPost has an article in which "Division of Lands and Minerals Larry Kramka, noted, 'If we have this vast resource here, if we know we can do it the right way, aren’t we somewhat obliged to mine it here?'" It's beyond me why anyone would think that we have an obligation to consume any and all our resources. That seems to mirror a perspective that we have to spend everything we earn (nothing for savings); that conservation has no value, and, yes, that the value of timber can only be measured in board feet. I hope Mr. Kramka's note was taken out of context. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure that Aldo Leopold would be embarrassed that Mr. Kramka hadn't begun to learn to think like a mountain.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Moon set

photo of winter moon set
© harrington
Do you pay any attention to the moon? Do you know its phases? Do you know the difference between a waxing moon and one that's waning? It's one thing to not pay attention to what's right under our feet. We don't want to spend our time looking down. But why wouldn't we want to know more about what's right in front of our eyes? Is it because we can't "do anything" with it? (Lord knows we've left enough trash on it already.) What about those lines from The Night Before Christmas?
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snowGave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
Have you ever been out in the snow on a full-moon winter's night in My Minnesota? Every time I have, it triggers the next line about "what to my wondering eyes should appear." One thing we can certainly do with the moon is enjoy it. See moon rise. Watch moon sets. Learn when its waxing or waning. I know I paid more attention to the moon when I lived on the east coast and chased striped bass. The moon affected the tides and stripers were most likely to be found within casting distance of a beach at night, when the moon was out. With winter's shorter days, we have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the night sky. Let's not miss them.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Crystal clear

photo of sunlight on frosted windowpane
© harrington
The night before last the local temperature dropped to minus ten to minus fifteen degrees Fahrenheit. That's the kind of winter temperature I remember as standard winter fare in My Minnesota. Snow turned squeaky-cold. Eyeballs that shrivel at the slightest breeze. Glistening expanses of crystal reflections everywhere we look. Some neighbors heat their houses with wood. The smell of wood smoke in the morning as I drive to work is a special winter treat. Soon, great horned owls will be mating. Spring equinox is about eleven weeks away. Canada geese should be back in about eight to ten weeks. To some of us, winter may seem as though it will last forever but in Minnesota, seasonal changes progress as inevitably as death and taxes. For those of you who really enjoy winter, cherish these days, especially the sunny or snowy ones. The rest of us will look for bright and sparkly distractions to get us through to mud season. If Minnesota's average temperatures weren't created from such extreme ranges, I don't know how we'd keep the riff-raff out.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Guiding star

photo of Christmas tree ornament
© harrington
Happy New Year. We've made it through 2012 which brought us: the election, the Mayan end of time, Christmas, and, I think technically, we've gone over the fiscal cliff and are in a free fall zone and have survived or are in the midst of environmental and social justice disasters too numerous to mention. All that activity, so little accomplished. One of the blogs I follow, Minnesota Prairie Roots, recently had a posting of a Christmas window display in Faribault. (spoiler coming) It concluded with the assessment: "If it had been three wise women, they would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole and brought practical gifts." When I finished smiling (the casserole was a nice addition to the versions of prior times I had seen or heard this saying), I thought that the same thing could be said if they were actually wise men. Maybe the difference isn't based on gender but on what we consider wisdom. Worshiping individual power (a king) by giving gifts (bribes?) is one approach to how the world works. I'm not sure it represents wisdom. Wisdom depends on which star we follow for guidance. An alternative vision of wisdom builds community and mutual support by helping neighbors, even if they're from out of town. In today's world, I think it's know as "pay it forward." Which star are you following this year? Are you seeking community, or individual power? What is it about living in My Minnesota that you love most?