Thursday, February 28, 2013

A bridge too dear

photo of mist over the St. Croix River
© harrington
Welcome. Thanks for dropping in. I hope you've got your ice house off the lake by now. If not, stop reading and go take care of it. First things first. Open water's coming. If you're still here, celebrate with me the last day of the meteorological Winter of 2012-2013. Followed by sequestration kicking in tomorrow for the federal government. Don't forget to wear a hard hat to protect yourself from whatever pieces fall off due to furloughs and whatnot. Meanwhile, downstream of where this picture was taken, My Minnesota, aided and abetted by co-conspirator Wisconsin, is getting ready to spend about $750 million dollars on a bridge we don't need. The project has been supported by normally intelligent Democrats and the Tea Party supporters who want taxes cut and government to spend less, until it's their project that gets cut. As near as I can tell, the only real thing the St. Croix bridge has to support being built is that folks have been talking about it for a long time. For the record, I'm not objecting on environmental grounds, but on the basis of fiscal (in)sanity. If they actually do charge tolls for using the bridge, I'll fell a litle better, but not enough. So we've got sequestration, no federal budget as yet for a fiscal year that's half over, the prospect of a federal government shutdown by the end of March and a gerrymandered congressional district map that makes something like 99% of the seats safe for whichever party is currently filling them. Constitutional Convention anyone? Maybe it's time to hit the restart button. After all, Spring is a new beginning and all that. On a brighter note, and hopefully indicative of a new beginning, the city of Redwood Falls is one of  a growing number of local governments in Minnesota to adopt resolutions “recognizing the 150th anniversary of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862 and declaring 2012-2013 the Year of the Dakota.” Minnesota Prairie Roots has a nice posting about it. As you leave here, why don't you stop by there and take a quick look. Maybe, just maybe, not everything is going to hell in a hand basket right now. Drop in again tomorrow. Rants and raves served daily. Some days, like today, both provided for the price of one.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Groundwater at MNDNR all wet

photo of Japanese garden pool at Como Park
© harrington
Welcome. Thanks for coming. Look at the scene above. Doesn't it look peaceful, quiet, tranquil even? It may be the only water-related aspect of Minnesota that's not getting turbulent and over-extended. Do you by any chance remember that many postings ago, My Minnesota raised a question about whether groundwater withdrawal permits were actually evaluating the need for the withdrawal? Here's the original. I haven't heard yet that anyone is looking into the analysis supporting current permits. Well (pardon the pun), first things first. It turns out DNR isn't doing a very good job of enforcing the terms of the permits they do issue. Today, Minnesota Public Radio has an interesting story with the lead "Hundreds of water permit holders pumping more than allowed."The part that really caught my attention though was the statement that "But if the DNR is looking the other way on over-pumping, the agency is focused on at least one part of the water permit program: collecting fees from water permit holders. With few exceptions, they pay for the water they pump, and when they exceed their limit, they must pay more. The agency collects about $4 million a year from those fees."[emphasis added] This approach reminds me of the days when the Catholic Church sold indulgences. The more sinners sinned, the more the Church could collect. Does Minnesota have the environmental equivalent of a Martin Luther to lead a reformation? It sure seems to me like we could use one. Maybe the Anishinaabe could offer some guidance. The Protect Our Manoomin web site and blog has a listing of 7 guiding principles [scroll to the bottom of the page] that I wish DNR and some other state agencies would follow. I mean really, what's the sense of paying taxes (I know, I sound like a republican or a libertarian) if the agencies that are tax supported aren't doing their job properly? I don't want bigger government, or smaller government, I want better government. How about you? Stop by again to see if My Minnesota's all washed up or hung out to dry.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spring's color's coming

photo of red osier dogwood thicket
© harrington
Welcome. Thanks for stopping by. If you're a snow lover, shouldn't you be outside enjoying some of the last few days of Winter? Meteorological Spring starts this Friday. The vernal equinox is less than three weeks after that. This morning's moon, with a ring around it, was the last full moon of Winter (Ojibwe: Sucker Fish Moon, Namebini-Giizis or Dakota: Raccoon Moon, Wićta-wi). Before things soften up too much, I think I'll see about collecting some dogwood cuttings for decorations in the house and growing near a damp spot in the back yard. A few years ago, we tried planting some rootstock we got through the county Soil & Water Conservation District. It didn't take, I think because we let it sit around soaking too long before we planted it. Being able to look out the living room windows and see, in the back yard, bright red color against the snow would, no doubt, cheer me up in mid-Winter. The berries could attract more birds than we get at the feeders, other splashes of Winter color. Spring's a season of color, but not the only one. Autumn leaves, especially where there are maples, tamarack, and aspens (My Minnesota anyone?) would compete with Spring wildflowers if they weren't separated by six months or so. Spring, however, does a much better job with brown than any other season. Minnesota's mud season starts mainly in March (how's that for alliteration?) and sometimes flows on into April. For the sake of our neighbors in the Red River valley and in hope's of improving soil moisture, let's wish for a relatively slow snow melt with more infiltration than runoff. I'm not sure that's doable, but it is to be wished for. What are you wishing for as we begin to enter a season of rebirth, renewal and regrowth? My grandmother used to say "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride." I wish you'd find time to stop back tomorrow and check out what's growing or flowing here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Egged on, cooped up

photo of two llamas
© harrington
Welcome. Thanks for stopping by. Recently, I've been researching whether it's worthwhile to contemplate constructing a "bear-proof" chicken coop. I've found a couple of examples on-line. For one I'd need a welder and metal working skills that I'm a little short of. For the other, I'd need a portable saw mill and more trees than I have available in my back yard. Other folks have suggested that a guard llama is sufficient. Actual, the suggestion was that two llamas are better and three are ideal. I think it was on a different site, one for rescued llamas, that I came across a factoid that it costs about $1,000 a year for hay per llama. At this rate, home grown eggs could start to approach the price per ounce that my grouse and trout and waterfowl used to cost. As I remember, my rugged outdoors colleagues and I decided that we (and our wives) would be happier if we didn't actually finish some preliminary cost per pound calculations on stripers, bluefish, cod and wild game. On the other hand, the bears haven't tried to break into the garage to get at the trash can, which, during the summer, lives in the garage so that I don't have to clean up the trash on a daily basis after my friendly local Ursus americanus has visited its snack bar (would that be a snack bear at the snack bar?). It might be more fun, and my budget, such as it is, could come out ahead, if I forget about the chickens and concentrate on finding a nice 14 foot aluminum fishing boat to replace the 16 footer I sold several years ago. That would also be more consistent with the heritage of Minnesotans who believe that every Minnesota family has a God-given right to a boat and a camper or cabin up north or all three. Now, if only most of the fish in Minnesota didn't come from waters that had consumption advisories against eating too many fish caught in them. Minnesota's Environment and Energy Report Card does mention mercury several times. It carefully points out that it's a naturally occurring element and that we're making progress reducing the amount discharged to our air and water. To me, that's kind of like describing Attila the Hun as rude. The entire Report Card smacks too much of Minnesota nice while there are too many corporations ready, willing, able and hell-bent on raping and pillaging My Minnesota. We can create more and better jobs retrofitting our homes for energy efficiency and raising chickens in the back yard (unless there are too many bears in then neighborhood, in which case we should raise or buy a boat). Rants and raves (sometimes both) delivered daily in My Minnesota. Please stop back and find out what's being served tomorrow.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Water torture?

photo of icicle dripping
© harrington
The row of stalactite-like icicles hanging from the roof edge and soffit had an end of Winter growth spurt yesterday. The thaw-freeze cycle fails to drain the gutters quickly enough so they and the downspouts fill with ice and overflow, growing more icicles. The gradual emergence of Spring in My Minnesota has some downsides. On the other hand, if it suddenly turned to 60 degree days and 40 degree nights and stayed there, our neighbors in the Red River valley would have flooding problems from the rapid runoff. We'd have problems with a diminished groundwater supply. Much of the appeal of green building in a state like Minnesota has been related to energy savings. The ability of green neighborhoods and buildings to conserve water both indoors and out needs to get more attention. These issues, and an increase in healthy living environments eventually leading to reduced health insurance costs, should be getting the kind of subsidies that fossil fuel and other extractive industries receive. Today's Star-Tribune has another feature on Minnesota's growing water shortage. That's in contrast to the EQB's Environment and Energy Report card that treats water shortages as an emerging issue rather than one that's here, now. That report also wags a finger at "increased development" as a culprit without including any reference to the quality of development. Green buildings use less water than  buildings built only to meet code requirements. Stop and think about it (or at least slow down and think about it), reduced water consumption means that local governments can accommodate more employment and residents without having to increase investment in water supply and treatment infrastructure, without having to expand wastewater treatment facilities. Moving to managing surface flows for stormwater, sending it into rain gardens and other green infrastructure, reduces the investment required in stormwater pipes, many of which will increasingly turn out to be undersized for Minnesota's future climate. One of my favorite writers (of fiction) has been quoted as saying "the future is already here, its just not evenly distributed." Duluth has experienced the future with last summer's storm. White Bear Lake is experiencing the future with the disappearance of it's lake. The Pipestone Water District is experiencing the future by sending water-intense businesses elsewhere to more abundant (for now) supplies. Another quote, this one picked up from before the time I became a recovering planner, "Trend is not destiny." Our Minnesota has some trends that are, to me at least, deeply disturbing. They don't have to be our destiny unless we can't reach agreement on an alternative future. State Planning Agency anyone? Oh wait, former Governor Pawlenty decided such an organization was a waste of taxpayers' dollars and eliminated it. God bless those Republicans for saving us money. Maybe we should also eliminate the DNR's water permitting section and then those pesky permit problems would also be gone. Thanks for stopping by. Please come again for positive suggestions and positively snark comments on improvements to our Minnesota.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Repair, reuse, recycle

photo of old Duluth fire house
© harrington
A few days ago, I got an email telling me that the restoration of this old fire house in Duluth was just about done, as was the construction of new apartments on the north side of this block. I've been involved in the preservation and reuse of several buildings in Duluth, and Minneapolis, and lived for awhile in the converted historic Nelson School in Stillwater. Since I still consider myself a New Englander, a group noted for hanging on to their historic roots and edifices, I suppose I come by this involvement naturally. If you've read some of my prior postings, you know that I believe that one of the best ways to protect great undeveloped places is by creating great developed places like Minnesota's cities and towns. (Actually, I believe that creating great cities is a wonderful idea all by itself.) It's really hard, as far as I can tell, to create a sense of place where everything's new. Bright and shiny is fine for cell phones and laptops, but where I live I want there to be at least the possibility of growing roots, and roots seem to grow best in old soil. The latest issue of American Poet arrived in my mailbox this week. Much of it focuses on introducing younger poets to a broader audience. I'm all for that but find as much, or perhaps more, pleasure reading an anthology of "old" winter poems interspersed with illustrations that look like old fashioned wood cuts or copper etchings. The latest issue of Yankee magazine also arrived this week. It's all about the power of place and how "our homes and our land define who we are." I wish I had more of a sense that those of us who "live, work and play" in My Minnesota believed that. Instead, too many of us seem hell-bent on making a buck today with little or no regard for tomorrow's consequences. I slip into that mode from time to time myself. But I like myself better, and the results of my decisions are more satisfying, when I remember and act on the words of Chief Seattle “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” There are many rural centers with historic buildings that offer wonderful reuse opportunities. As long as we have DFLers in both houses and the governor's office, what if we asked them to help create jobs in Minnesota by preserving our heritage and extending the state historic tax credit program for at least a decade. The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota is doing some good work with their Main Street and Sites Worth Saving Programs. Having additional sources of equity funds for rural center redevelopment couldn't hurt. New Englanders are (in)famous for a "use it up, wear it out, repair it" approach to life. Think about whether we could use more of that approach here. Thanks for stopping by. Please come again to see what's old and/or new in our Minnesota.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Encounter on a snowy road

photo of snow falling in front of pine trees
© harrington
The tops of the oak branches outside the window are covered with an inch or so of snow. This morning's flakes were small but multitudinous. Driving was like looking through a gauze curtain. In the dark, I barely saw the doe lying in the middle of the road. Whether she had run into or been hit by a car ahead of me (none were in sight) or has lost her footing on an icy patch, I'll never know. I was grateful that I had a chance to drive around her. Thank you all-wheel drive! I continued on for a bit and then called 911 on my cell phone (after pulling to the roadside). The person who answered seemed impatient to be done with me, perhaps thinking that I was reporting a deer crossing the road, not lying in it. She disconnected with a "we've got it, someone will check it out." Perhaps I'm being too judgmental in my impression that the operator was intent on clearing the line in case there was a real emergency. If some driver didn't see the doe in time to miss her, or if they swerved and went into the ditch, it would become a real emergency for someone as well as for the doe. On my way home, I looked but didn't notice any signs of an accident or blood near the road. Maybe everything turned out well for all concerned on a snowy Winter morning along county road 36 in My Minnesota. The situation reminded me of William E. Stafford's poem Traveling through the Dark. Car-deer crashes happen all too often. Clearly, wild animals haven't adapted to something traveling at 30 to 70 miles an hour. I'm not so sure humans are adapting well to traveling speeds at the higher end of that range. There's a saying I came across a long time ago that goes something like "just because you can do something, doesn't mean that you should." Sort of like Justice Holmes' analysis of falsely crying fire in a crowded theater. So, please remember that it is possible to go slower and still get to where you're going in a reasonable amount of time. This is especially true if the alternative may involve tow trucks, wreckers or ambulances. There's a reason we humans need to stop and smell the roses. It's hard to do at seventy mph. Speaking of stopping, I'll stop now and hope you stop back again. Thanks for coming.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Win a little, lose a little

photo of red osier dogwood
© harrington
Welcome, Take a look at the photo above taken today. It's pretty clear to me that the local red osier dogwood hasn't yet greened up for Spring. The bright red against the white is pretty enough though that I don't really mind. Obviously, the tamaracks/larches aren't showing yet this year's leaves. Most of the local oaks still are hanging onto last year's foliage, which means this years leaf buds haven't yet swelled enough to loosen the old leaf stem and, the current weather forecast is talking about 3" to 6" of snowfall over the next 24 hours or so, and yet, and yet....
photo of snow melting from south facing roadside
© harrington
The sun has returned far enough north that it has the strength to warm dark pavement, or exposed soil, causing snow melt from south facing roadsides. It is now less than a month to the Vernal Equinox (March 20 this year, if you're wondering). Franco the rescue dog and I encountered the first chipmunk of the season day before yesterday. I think we're at that time of year in My Minnesota when the seasonal changes take one step forward, one step back and one step sideways, kind of like the Minnesota Legislature which is also in season. Speaking of the Legislature, according to the Land Stewardship Project, there's supposed to be hearing on the fracking sand issue next Tues., Feb. 26, at noon in the Senate Environment and Energy Policy Committee in Room 107 of the Capitol. LSP is looking for a crowd at this hearing and people prepared to testify again. Please contact LSP's Bobby King at 612-722-6377 or bking[at] for more information. One thing that kind of amazed me when I recently went back and reviewed the Minnesota Energy and Environment Score Card prepared by/for Minnesota's Environmental Quality Board was that fracking sand never was mentioned as an issue under air quality, water quality, land use or transportation (or anywhere else for that matter). If you have some time and energy, you might want to share with the EQB your opinion about that apparent oversight. Other than that, Think Spring! unless of course you're an ice angler, snowmobiler, snow shoer etc.... By the way, thanks for stopping by. Make it a habit. I enjoy the company.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Small victories

photo of dawn sky
© harrington
A colleague of mine recently told me that, toward the end of a Minnesota Winter, she focuses on tallying small victories. The more I've thought about her strategy, the more sense it makes. Here are some of the small victories I've experienced today. 1) As I pulled out of the driveway at 6 AM this morning, the sky had color in it, sort of like today's photo. 2) When I reached St. Paul, the pale band had risen from the horizon and been backfilled with a deep, rich red. 3) Bluestem Prairie had a great synopsis of the fracking sand hearing players. [Thank you, Sally Jo] 4) I found online a really cool politician (a phrase I rarely use). Susan Allen, district 62B, wrote a thank you note to those resisting the Keystone XL pipeline. [Thank you, Susan.] 5) One of my colleagues updated me on the EQB's planning for the Environmental Congress scheduled for March 15. [Thanks, Jim] 6) The sun shone most of my drive home. 7) The air temperature was warmer and the wind chill less today while walking the dog than they were yesterday. 8) My dawn redwoods continue to grow. 9) The staff meeting, while too long and boring, was not a disaster. 10) I'm now blogging and enjoying it. There is something to this small victories philosophy. [Thanks, Lauren] Have you ever tried it, especially late in the Winter with snow in the forecast? Maybe some people are just naturally grateful for the good things in life. I know I have to keep working at counting my blessings. Fortunately, it's good, honest work. The kind I need more of. Thanks for stopping by My Minnesota. You're welcome to come anytime, pull up a browser and leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Something special this day comes

photo of sandhill cranes dancing in farm field
© harrington
Thanks for visiting. Welcome. I certainly hope it wasn't me, with my persistent "Spring is relentlessly approaching" that triggered this single digit cold with snow forecast for later this week. If it was, I'm sorry (ice anglers or snowmobilers in the crowd excepted). I really shouldn't take for granted that Winter will eventually end here, just because it always has. Nor should I fail to appreciate the everyday wonders that surround me, but I do. The picture of the sandhill cranes dancing in a farm field a few miles from where I live was taken late last Spring. One of the reasons we live where we do is because my wife and I like having sandhill cranes as neighbors, even if only occasional neighbors. Nevertheless, we see them in the neighborhood often enough that I've begun to take such sightings for granted. In contrast, over the weekend, I was reading a page from the blog of a writer/teacher/naturalist in New Mexico. On January 25, 2013, she wrote that "A group of cranes dancing would make me feel special, as though handed a gift I didn’t deserve but had always coveted." If I stop to think about it, I've probably been handed many gifts that I didn't deserve but had coveted. How about you? Of Minnesota's many treasures, are there any that you no longer see as special because you've gotten used to having them? Would Minnesota be Minnesota without the north woods? Without the prairies? (Careful, now, they are almost gone.) Without the Minnesota, Mississippi and St. Croix rivers? Without the bluffs and karst of the southeast, and the groundwater that feeds the trout streams? If you could, would you sell any or all of these treasures? For how much? Would that be enough to pay for something that's irreplaceable? So you could then take the money and move to some other place that's beautiful and has what you just sold? Maybe we should listen more carefully to someone like the poet Gary Snyder, who advises us to “Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” Where in our Minnesota are you planning to dig in? Stop by again some time to see what we're digging into in My Minnesota.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Winter green

photo of dawn redwood treelings
© harrington
Welcome, Thanks for stopping by. I thought today, being Presidents' Day, and George Washington having that apocryphal story about chopping down a cherry tree hung on him, would be a good time to update you on the growth of my dawn redwood forest. As you can see in the picture above, I haven't killed the seedlings. As a matter of fact, no seedlings were harmed in the production of this forest. (You can probably also see in the picture above I'm still struggling with depth of field, but that's a different kind of growth issue.) Given water and nutrients and sunlight, nature is pretty resilient. (Doesn't mean we should trash it though, but you knew that.) While, out of general curiosity, I was researching the viability of seeds, I came across the advice to put them in water and the viable ones will sink and the others will float. That reminded me entirely too much of an old New England test for whether or not a woman was a witch so I didn't follow it. My way of checking on whether the seeds in the kit were viable was to plant them about a month ago. I have, thus far, many more treelings than the instructions suggested I would. On a cold, gray February day, they're great company. Cheerful but quiet. I'm looking forward to seeing them actually branch out. I'm also looking forward to warmer, melting days when it'll be a pleasure going for a walk in the woods and seeing the green that overwintered in My Minnesota. There should be some green mosses and lichens. Before we get to melting, however,  most extended weather forecasts are mentioning daily snowfall, some plowable. The good news is that should help with our drought and DNR's concerns about an explosive spring for grassfires. Those of us who live in grassfire country find an ordinary Spring exciting enough without explosives. Keep your ears open for mating great horned owls and your eyes open for legislative shenanigans. It's legislative season, you know. Please make time to swing by again tomorrow. We'll be here continuing to opine on what there is to love and  love not so much about our Minnesota and, from time to time, reporting on successes (or lack thereof) in growing things and taking their pictures.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

... a good life

photo of Gimaajii Mino-Bimaadiziyaan Builing, formerly Duluth YWCA
© harrington
Thanks for stopping by. Today's post is a rave, not a rant. I hope that doesn't disappoint you. I know you can't quite read it, but the street sign in the center of today's photo reads "Second Street." The large building behind the street sign you can't read is the American Indian Community Housing Organization's Gimaajii Mino-Bimaadiziyaan (an Ojibwe phrase that means, “Together we are beginning a good life.”) supportive housing conversion of the old Duluth YWCA. In addition to  supportive housing, an American Indian Center is part of the development effort. On March 2, AICHO will be hosting a book launch event for Al Hunter’s “Beautiful Razor” at Trepanier Hall,  212 W 2nd Street,  right next door to Gimaajii Mino Bimaadiziiwin building. Louise Erdrich, writes, ‘Al Hunter’s poems are healing songs for the earth and the human spirit.  For the sake of the moon, for the sake of our hearts, I am glad that he is writing.”

According to the invitation I received, the event is free and open to the public.  Books will be available for purchase during the book signing and reception. 
Doors open at 6:00 PM
Performance: 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Book signing/Reception: 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Guest musicians will include:
Kathy McTavish, Cello
Michael "Waabi" Furo, Pedal Steel
Larissa Desrosier, Guitar, Vocals
Jake Vainio, Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Piano

Event contact:  Nicole at 218-722-7225
[Full disclosure: I was involved in the redevelopment of the YWCA to the GMB. Those of you who stop by with any regularity know I'm partial to Duluth and the liveliness and quality of Duluth's writing and artistic realms. My favorite independent bookstore used to be Northern Lights Books in Canal Park. They had one of the few regional poetry sections I've ever come across (are you listening Common Good Books and Subtext?). That's where I discovered Al Hunter's second book of poetry The Recklessness of Love Bawajiganan gaye Ni-maanedam. I bought it, read it. I too am glad Al Hunter is writing.]

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Energy renewed

photo of canada geese and swans in spring marsh
© harrington
Thanks for stopping by. Welcome. In a few more weeks, some of my neighbors (see photo) should have returned from their southern vacation. Others have stuck around and braved the winter with us. Let me ask you a question: would you or your neighbors want a frac sand mine next to your houses? Let me try another: would you want sand trucks driving ceaselessly along the same county roads that school buses use to take your kids to and from school? Let's assume I can guess your answers to those questions (I don't think it's Yes). Then, the next question becomes: why should our other neighbors accept those risks and inconveniences so we can save money on our heating bills? We can create alternative jobs with solar and wind energy, with energy retrofits on houses to save heating bills. We don't need frac sand and we don't need fracking to produce natural gas. There are alternative paths we can follow and those paths don't involve fracking the environment and our neighbors, and, maybe our neighbor's kids, to save a few bucks burning natural gas that's a "clean" fossil fuel, which means it's only about half as dirty as coal or oil. In my lifetime, I've shoveled coal into the basement furnace of a triple decker in Dorchester (look it up, it's one of Boston's neighborhoods). I've spent a fair amount of time in deer camp cabins heated with wood stoves. Places in Colorado limit wood burning because of air pollution but our "representatives" in D.C. can't get their heads around climate change. (Bet you thought I was going to write something else after "heads," didn't you?) At home, we just replaced a fuel oil furnace with a 97% efficient natural gas furnace. Would I rather heat my house with renewable electricity? Yes. Would it be easy to do that today? NO. Why? Because renewable energy doesn't get anywhere near the subsidies that fossil fuels get. Renewable energy, in general, doesn't screw up the environment as much as fossil fuels. At least I haven't yet read about solar energy advocates blowing the tops off of mountains to build collector systems. I hate to say this because I don't like to admit I've made a mistake but, the way things are going in Washington, I wish I'd voted for Hilary. Now my wife and daughter can say I told you so, but that's not the point. Between weak-kneed democrats and weak-brained republicans, we citizens have to show some leadership and lean on those who are supposed to represent us and not the corporate persons who fund their campaigns. (By the way, I'll accept that corporations are persons when one of them is sentenced to death.) Thanks for listening. Go eat something good and renew your own energy. By the way, if it's not clear what all of this has to do with My Minnesota and enjoying the clean air and water we're suppose to have, send me a comment and I'll arrange for private tutorials on connecting dots. More writing and rants on wrongs and raves on rights tomorrow. Meanwhile, there's a group headed for D.C. and a hearing in St. Paul. Please think about what you can do to support those folks. We need their help and they need our support. Stay warm and well in the meantime.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Why are we here?

photo of summer sunrise over soybeans
© harrington
Driving to work this past week, I've been able to notice the beginning of sunrise. Have you realized how much longer the days have grown? Before we know it, snow covered fields will be transformed into something that looks like the photo above. That's if the drought begins to ease. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources warning about the potential for an explosive grass fire season this Spring caught my attention. Although there are locations possibly more vulnerable, we live in grass fire country. Have you noticed that so far I've jumped from Winter to Summer and back to Spring? It's been that kind of week, hard to focus on one thing at a time. In fact, one of the biggest challenges of living in My Minnesota is deciding which, among many, outdoor pleasures to enjoy. I can hear you thinking that that's the kind of problem we all should have. I think we all have it whether we admit it or not. There's gleaning seasonal wild foods; there's fishing (preferably in open water) for both cold and warm water species; there's photography; cross-country skiing; hiking; biking; surfing (Superior); dog training; hunting; just kicking back and watching what's going on; gardening; cooking what just arrived from the CSA; picnicing... Clearly, I could go on for awhile because I left out boating and canoing and flying kites and.... Now, the question I have for you is are any of these activities improved by sand mining? Is sulfide mining likely to make fishing for brook trout a better experience? Could we create more jobs if we tried harder to reclaim minerals from electronic waste? Are we, as Minnesotans, doing the best we can to create a sustainable Minnesota? Have we yet started to learn to take a view that stretches beyond this quarter's profits? If the comments are working, feel free to share your thoughts. Please stop by again to share mine. Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Mine, mine, all mine!

photo of raptor skull
© harrington
Happy Valentine's Day. Thanks for stopping by. Remember a poster with the saying "war is not healthy for children and other living things?" I'm starting to feel the same way about mining. Monday's posting on snow storm, sand storm elicited a great set of comments. I'm reprinting them here because I don't like the way Blogger buries comments and I think the ones submitted are important. Jim Erkel wrote :
There are a number of developments relating to the possibility of a GEIS for silica sand mining and processing. The Environmental Quality Board has been considering a petition for a GEIS for some time. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health recently recommended that Winona County perform an EIS for several proposed mines that the agencies believe should be considered as part of a single project. And, the Minnesota Legislature is considering several bills that would fund a GEIS.

One question that hasn't been answered yet is whether a moratorium on permitting additional mines and processing facilities can or should be imposed during a GEIS. Under its rules on environmental review, the EQB can't impose a moratorium if it decides to proceed with a GEIS. However, some of us have argued that it has such authority under the Critical Areas Act. Some of the legislation moving through the Minnesota Senate would also establish a moratorium if a GEIS is funded.

I also find that Bluestem Prairie is a great source of information on sand mining and I highly recommend it. The Land Stewardship Project is leading the charge on the legislation to fund a GEIS and establish a moratorium. They have a lot of information on specific projects that have been proposed and about how well (or not) local governments in southeast Minnesota have responded to the sand rush.

It is important to remember that silica sand mining isn't only a concern in southeast Minnesota. The maps of commercially available sand deposits show broad swaths up through the Twin Cities and into the northern suburbs and also up the Minnesota River Valley. It truly is an issue of statewide concern.
Thanks, Jim. Shortly after reading Jim's comments,  I received an email notice of a DVD that's been made of last year's sled dog delivery to the governor by Frank Moe a petition with thousands of signatures expressing concerns about mining in sensitive areas of northern Minnesota. I'm really pleased that My Minnesota has folks like Jim and Frank and Sally Jo helping the rest of us keep track of the threats to Our Minnesota. Please stop by again tomorrow to check out the latest rant or write on what's yours, mine and ours.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Spring fits start

photo of chickadee and gold finches in snow storm
© harrington
Melting today; tomorrow's Valentines Day; two weeks from tomorrow "permanent" fish houses have to be off the ice. Tonight we're supposed to get another inch or two of snow. The fits and starts toward Spring continue. We'll probably replace the suet (see photo) once or twice more before we take a late Spring break from bird feeding. I need to do some more research on when the local black bears are likely to find sufficient natural food to leave the feeders and trash cans alone. Last year I was overly optimistic and we lost about 30 pounds of sunflower seeds and had to clean up the trash in the yard twice before we moved the trash can into the garage. The sunflower seeds stayed stored in the house all summer. I don't mind as much when the bear climbs the stairs to the deck, but when she (I think she's a she) climbs the corner post to the deck and takes out two panels of screening during the climb, I get about as aggravated at the critter as I do at myself for being so dumb. This post actually relates to yesterday's thoughts about local wild foods. If I had kept up with my learning that blossomed with Euell Gibbons, I would have taken into account that blackberries don't ripen until August or so; strawberries maybe in July. A bear won't easily feed from out of hibernation until June on just green plants (and morel mushrooms?) if sunflower seeds are there for the taking. Being in tune with the seasons, like many aspects of a natural life, doesn't take kindly to a dilettante's approach (not that I'm a dilettante or anything ; >). One of the reasons I started this blog is because writing about something every day makes me pay closer attention to what's going on around me. I think this is similar to what Buddhists refer to as Mindfulness. Being more mindful in my day to day life comes from taking the time to write down what I see during the day and trying to reflect my feelings about what I've seen. Maybe I need to study some more on Don Rumsfeld's known knowns and known unknowns. Or, I could pay more attention to Will Rogers' "It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so." Last Spring, I knew there was enough food by Memorial Day to keep bears satisfied. The bear(s) knew it wasn't so. Stop by tomorrow to learn more about what I think I know that may or may not be so.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Life, naturally

photo of snow falling on cedars
© harrington
Several times in recent weeks I've promised (or threatened, depending on your perspective) to take a picture of "Snow Falling on Cedars." The phrase is the title of an award-winning novel from 1995 that was subsequently made into a movie. The title has always resonated with me, kind of like an ear worm, maybe because I keep confusing it with The Cider House Rules in which an apple orchard was one of the settings. My appreciation for cedar trees, the wood has a wonderful aroma, is diminished by my desire to have an apple orchard and the fact that cedars host cedar-apple rust. There are a number of cedar trees on our property and elsewhere in the neighborhood.  Based on past experience though, I think the percolation rates that come with living on the Anoka Sand Plain are a more limiting factor to potential orchard's success. Twice we've planted fruit trees on the hill behind the house. A solitary pear tree is all that remains. In later summer and early autumn it attracts most of the neighborhood deer. I suppose it's possible that I'm more of a hunter-gatherer than a farmer. That would explain a lot of the curves and dead ends I've run into in my grandiose plans of living a self-sustaining life. Do any of you remember Euell Gibbons and Stalking the Wild Asparagus? I first read that book in the mid-1960's. It fostered my desire to be a harvester and gleaner, although I've been wise enough to stay away from wild mushrooms. I've settle for things like chokecherry and the few wild strawberries and  blackberry plants on the property that are fun to harvest if we get to them before the local bears do. Living in harmony with nature would undoubtedly be easier if we humans were less greedy and if nature were more cooperative. Perhaps much of the joy of living with nature is like the joy of blogging. It comes from trying to get it right. Stop back tomorrow to see how we're doing with that (that was an editorial "we").
For reasons I can't understand, the reply to comments function doesn't work for me (in 3 separate browsers) so I'm posting replies here.

To WildBill: Thanks for the comment. If you haven't yet discovered My New England by Frank Woolner, I think you'd enjoy reading it.

To Anonymous: Thanks for sharing. Wild leek and ham sounds more appealing (I think) than a "booya" offered as a fundraiser by Minnesota's fire fighters.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Snow storms, sand storms

photo of whitetail doe in snow covered field
© harrington
During yesterday's snow storm, I played with my new telephoto lens. The doe in the picture above was more than 200 yards away. I need to learn more about manual focus and, maybe, setting the white balance for snow? I also finally managed to get my picture of "snow falling on cedars." I'll share that later this week. Two consecutive good days on a weekend in February, who would have thought it possible? And the goodness was enhanced since the daughter's Significant Other ran the snow blower and cleared the driveway. While he was doing that, I started reading North Country. It looks as though, if I pay attention, I may finally learn, among other things, which tribes/bands of Native Americans lived where in Minnesota. The references to lands that, in the past, teamed with game and other resources made me ashamed of how we've treated the land and the creatures living on and from it. Then again, today in the blogosphere, I found Sally Jo Sorenson on her Bluestem Prairie blog writing about Minnesota voices rising for full-scale state GEIS for industrial scale frac sand mining. For those of you who don't recognize the acronym, GEIS stands for Generic Environmental Impact Statement. I've been involved in both helping to prepare and helping to criticize past impact statements. If ever I've seen a situation that called for one, frac sand mining and processing does, especially for addressing the mitigation requirements. It seems to me the situation is similar to northern Minnesota's concerns about sulfide mining. I'm tired of seeing my tax dollars go to clean up the environmental messes that mining companies created because we would lose jobs and tax base if we didn't rape the environment. Externalizing costs, as the economists refer to it, means that you get richer at my expense. If companies can't afford to clean up their mining mess, then it seems to me society can't afford what it is they're proposing to mine. [I told you yesterday there would be rants and writes ahead.] The good news is that My Minnesota may actually put the brakes on a sand mining avalanche. After all, years ago we actually decided we didn't need a new airport on prime farmland. We haven't done as well with professional sports stadia (that's plural for publicly subsidized playground for grownups) but there's always hope for tomorrow, especially if you come back to read whatever I'm going on about then.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"A" day

photo of Guthrie Theatre, Mill City Museum Farmer's Market, Lofts
© harrington
Yesterday was an "A" day full of "C"s: cities, coffee and culture and cutting. We started at Nina's a home away from home (that's the literal we, not the editorial nor the regal, my long-suffering wife kept me company and tried to keep me honest much of the day). Having sipped my way through most of a medium cappuccino while my wife was across the street at the "Y," I left her finishing lunch and headed downstairs to Subtext, the neighborhood bookstore. (If I ran the world, every neighborhood would have a bookstore and and a coffee cafe like Nina's.) At Subtext, I bought a two titles on Minnesota's history: Mni Sota Makoce, the Land of the Dakota, and North Country, the Making of Minnesota. Each seems to emphasize a need to rectify and clarify traditional versions of Minnesota's history. Other pieces of Minnesota's history added to my library were: Sigurd F. Olson's Wilderness Days; Laura Erikson and Betsy Bowen's Hawk Ridge; and Revisited, a book of poetic and prose musings about Bob Dylan and his lyrics. All told, much fodder for future postings to My Minnesota has been added to my cultural hayloft. [I'm not sure I like that metaphor, but try to live with it.] From Subtext, we made a brief stop at Mississippi Market for organic and or local provisions, and then proceeded from St. Paul across the Mississippi to Minneapolis. [Sidebar: God knows how, but the Mississippi is showing some open water.] A stop at the Guthrie (see the photo above) and a magic piece of plastic got us tickets to the world premier of "Nice Fish" a play based on the prose poems of Duluth's  Louis Jenkins. Then to Eversharp in the Stinson Avenue industrial district where a knife that has been calling to me for several weeks was reduced to possession as was a new cutting board. Home to unload, let the dogs out, and head to the movie complex where we (this time "we" includes wife, daughter, son, significant other, etc.) watched an hour too long half a book version of The Hobbit. Meanwhile, back at the house, my dawn redwood seedlings seem to be coming along nicely. Stop back soon for future progress, or lack of progress, reports from My Minnesota. Rants and writes served daily.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Spring coming to Minnesota!

photo of pine trees in snow storm
© harrington
By some time tomorrow, my back yard may again look like this. A mixture or rain and snow and, maybe, freezing rain or drizzle falling from cloudy skies making Minnesota's winter too much like Missouri's. Meanwhile, back where I was born, they're getting hit with a super, classic nor'easter that's dumping about the same amount of snow as happened weeks before I left Massachusetts for Minnesota. The price we pay to enjoy four seasons! After all my prattling about forthcoming Spring, King Boreas isn't yet finished with us for this year. But, cheer up, it's all good. Snowmobilers get cover on which to ride, dog-sledders may actually get to run in the John Beargrease this year, and, despite sudden setbacks to us warmth-loving types, Spring's approach is ceaseless, unrelenting, unstoppable. Humans may be able to screw up the Earth, but we haven't yet figured out how to break the universe. Give us time, though. We're still a relatively young, inventive, creative species. Wait until we learn how to walk AND chew gum at the same time. No more climate change then. We'll geoengineer a solution and break the universe simultaneously! Please stop back soon and feel free to share rants or raves about your Minnesota in the comments.

Friday, February 8, 2013

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the ...

Last night I wrote a poem in honor of Governor Dayton's budget message and the news that the moose population in My Minnesota has dropped by a third in the past year. Think about a future Minnesota without moose; with quail replacing ruffed grouse. Minnesota could become the land of 1,000 or 500 lakes. Is that what we want? Is it "too expensive" to fix?

PrePrometheus, heat was heaps
Huddles, fur wraps
Summer naked
Winter sleep

Spark stolen, comfort tindered
Smoke swarmed, hauled
Cinders shielded friction
Bowed and mastered,

Life’s cord measured
Ashes to ashes
Middens to nourish
Smoke holed in stacks

Coal, coke, peat and char
Dustbins to skies darkened
Hearths and beds warmed
Dampers dampened, fires banked

Wood warmed twice
Cut, burned
Coal mined, mountains turned
Ashes to dust

Earth punctured, gas flared
Oil pumped, shale fractured
Pipes lined, sands tarred
Rigs blown, people scarred

Barrels reserved
Wood pile diminished
Gas and oil gone
Middle east finished

Ashes to ashes
Gas to the sky
Carbon entrapment
Planet fry die
I think the comments are working again. Don't know where the gremlins came from. Sorry for any inconvenience or frustration. Please stop by again soon.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Springing from Winter

photo of winter woods approaching spring
© harrington
Although many of us rely on the calendar and the snow cover to tell us it's still Winter, wilder creatures are already behaving, or soon will, in anticipation of Spring. Yesterday we considered the increase in Spring scents. Today, let's contemplate contributions to cacophony. Back in the woods above, a pair of great horned owls may be acting horny (great horny owls?). Egg laying will begin in a week or two, if it hasn't already. Look for chickadees to soon be perched near the tree tops singing dee-dee-dee. Cardinals begin tuning up their mating songs and getting ready to attack their own reflections in handy windows. The sounds of Spring grow from a small chorus to a crescendo over the next several weeks as song birds are joined by waterfowl calls, crane cries and the trilling and whispering of water released from its frozen prison. Spring peepers, referred to as "pinkletinks" by one of my favorite rugged outdoorsmen writers, are a month or so from serenading each other and us from nearby tree branches and damp spots in the back yard. Robins will be returning. Ravens will begin acting like acrobats and looking to establish their own territories. Winter's sleep is becoming more shallow and easily interrupted. Celebrate each day's growth of warm and cool sounds in My Minnesota and stop by again soon.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The scents of seasons

photo of snow tracks becoming dimples
© harrington
Old tracks and daily dustings of snow create snow dimples. The tracks lose all definition and become simple depressions in fresh snow cover. Unless, that is, you're a dog or have a sense of smell that works as well as a dog's. Taking Franco the Rescue Dog (we needn't go into who rescued whom) for his afternoon walk, I noticed he was determined to explore what used to be there -- in those tracks -- and left behind those wonderful smells. I wonder -- if I could sniff the way he does if it would be useful, enjoyable, or just sensory overload? When there are fresh deer tracks, he is ever so eager to follow them. Other times he uses the same pattern I was taught to follow if I lost a blood trail, mark the sport where you're starting and make wider circles until you cut it again. I remember reading, over the years, that some scenting conditions are better than others, as I recall, warm and damp were better than most others. Winter's cold and, sometimes, damp, so I suppose that benefits Franco explorations ("But it's a dry cold" he says).  Would that I had his enthusiasm for most things in my life. Having a pet like Franco makes me aware of how much pleasure I can miss just because I'm not in the mood. That, in turn, reminds me to work on my Zen acceptance of what is and enjoyment of the pleasures that are mine if I'm just open to them. I don't recall ever seeing anything about Buddha's reincarnating in rescue dogs, but neither have I read everything there may be on this subject. Stop by again some time soon and see what other wonderful aromas are arising in My Minnesota. (Hint, imagine Spring coming soon full of fresh, damp earth smells. What about the aroma of mucking out and spreading the manure from the barn across the road? Can you tell if its a cattle or a horse barn?)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A peace of sunshine

photo of sunshine on frosted window
© harrington
That unusual light you see in the window and trees pictured above is sunshine. You remember that, don't you? Say it again, slowly: sun   shine. Longer days without sunshine [dis]temper my normally sunny disposition. But on afternoons like today, partly sunny, temperature over 20, the world seems headed in the right direction. Driving through Carlos Avery on my way home from work, I could almost see the open water. In another five or six weeks, the geese should be back. Music for this time of year includes "Here comes the sun" -- Richie Havens' version please, Little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter; "Sunny Goodge Street" -- Judy Collins' version please, Drinking the sun, Shining all around you; and maybe even Sunshine on my shoulder, of course, the John Denver version -- Sunshine almost always makes me high.
This afternoon's sunshine, which makes stars day-blind, reminds me of a Wendel Berry poem I'd like to share with you:
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry
As I wrote yesterday, soon we should be able to enjoy wood drakes and herons resting and feeding on water. For today, enjoy the Peace of Wild Things in My Minnesota and, please, stop back again soon.

Monday, February 4, 2013

St. Croix country

photo of spray over the St. Croix River at St. Croix Falls
© harrington
I thought perhaps some of you might enjoy being reminded of what water is like when it's not snow or ice. I took this photo of the St. Croix last summer near beautiful downtown Taylors Falls. (We needn't go into the fact that I was actually outside of My Minnesota in St. Croix Falls, WI. My wife and I were there to attend a Storyhill concert at the Festival Theatre. Taylors Falls doesn't have a comparable venue.) Spray rising from the river, green foliage, a warm summer evening all lie ahead of us. For this week, however, we seem destined to die the death of a thousand cuts snowfalls. Coping with a daily dose of 1/2" to 1" of snow wears thin after the first two falls. Coping with the St. Croix, other than the falls, is a treat. I've waded it, boated it, driven along it on both sides, driven across it at Stillwater, Osceola, Taylors Falls and, as I recall, near Grantsberg. It's been the scene of adventures such as the one I had one evening, while I was wading and fly fishing at the junction of the Snake River and the St. Croix. I managed somehow to annoy a beaver that was swimming upstream toward me. Maybe it saw me as an obstacle between where it was and where it wanted to be. I'll never know. Anyhow, said beaver proceeded to swim in circles around me, making noises that sounded like something Rod Serling was auditioning for the Twilight Zone. I, for a change exhibiting more brains than testosterone, reeled in, waded ashore and waited for the wild life to clear the area. In addition to seeing, and sometimes experiencing, wildlife, the landscape of hills, bluffs, farms and forests makes the St. Croix valley a visual treat.  It's also home to a number of talented potters and other artists and artisans. All in all a better place to be than to be from, agitated beavers notwithstanding. I hope you feel the same about My Minnesota and stop back soon.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Flooded with ideas

photo of storm clouds over new development
© harrington
Yesterday I skimmed through an interesting post in Planetizen that led me to the full Scientific American post on geodesign (not geoengineering). If, in Minnesota, we're going to try to minimize  problems that arise from spring flooding in the Mississippi and Minnesota basins, or to help Duluth be successful at replacing their washed out infrastructure, I thought maybe we should learn more about better ways to respond to our tendency "in recent years to overdevelop land at the expense of natural habitats, as well as population growth and climate change, which have left communities increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters..." I was heartened to see that Tom Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the U played a prominent role in a recent conference on geodesign, not in Minnesota but in California. Then I noticed that My Minnesota was not mentioned among the places actually applying geodesign. I was dismayed. But then I remembered that here in Minnesota, we decided several years ago that having a state planning agency was an unnecessary expense. Since our economy is recovering faster than those of our neighboring midwestern states, that must have been one of the reasons. In Latin that approach is called "post hoc, ergo propter hoc." You run into a lot of that kind of reasoning in political circles, especially those that deny climate change is either occurring, or largely attributable to human activities, or both, as in "So if climate change isn't occurring than it can't be responsible for the increasing frequency and intensity of storms that have been occurring recently and we don't have to do anything about it because the insurance companies (profit making job creating private sector) will pay off claims so folks can rebuild right where they were and we can all go merrily on our way and geodesign is totally unnecessary and will no doubt lead to more job killing regulation." I'm glad we settled that. Let's see how much deeper into the sand we can push our heads, or maybe we should ask Dean Fisher to share with us his insights on how geodesign might benefit Minnesota. I'd go to a local conference like that, even if it didn't fill the River Center. How about you?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The well seasoned life

photo of pileated woodpecker at suet feeder
© harrington
"Punxsutawney Phil" is reported to have NOT seen his shadow. So according to Phil, we're due for an early Spring. I'm all for that. Even though this winter hasn't been all that bad by the standards of My Minnesota, it's been enough of a challenge that it brought this pileated woodpecker to the feeder. That's been a rarity, even though we can often hear their hammering in the nearby woods. Their undulating flight makes me often wonder if they've started feeding on fermented fruit instead of carpenter ants. Writing about ants makes me think of Summer and trout fishing, but, before we get to the pleasures of warm afternoons and clumsy ants, we can celebrate Valentines Day, ice out, crappie season, bass opener, and getting back to other outdoor activities. The Twin Cities offer many urban (read indoor) pleasures, especially during the winter season, but the sight of the Mississippi frozen over deadens my soul. I've spent much of my life trying to focus on and enjoy seasonal pleasures and to participate in local economies, CSAs, and Slow Food. Ever since the Northern Lights bookstore in Canal Park in Duluth closed, I keep looking for an independent shop with a section of local/regional poets. Some enjoy traveling. Others, including me, find the pleasures of travel  somewhat overrated and the pleasures of home underappreciated. Trying to get a clear sense of what a place is all about in just a week or two and, in that brief time period, anticipating changes is well beyond my capabilities. Living local someplace with at least four seasons comes very close to letting me have my cake and eat it too.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Dogged by climate change?

photo of snow falling on oaks
© harrington
Snow is falling softly as I write. Not as much as in this picture from earlier in the week, but enough to freshen the snow cover in the fields and whiten dingy roadside snowbanks. For someone who has nowhere they have to go on a Friday evening, it's a visual treat. If you listen hard enough, you can hear the snow whispering as it falls, an aural treat. Stick your tongue out and catch flakes on it, an oral treat. If snow doesn't have to be plowed, blown,  shoveled or driven through, the fun outweighs the pain. In a couple of weeks, we're planning on participating in a local event hosting dog sled teams. I hope there's enough snow on the ground that the sleds can use runners instead of wheels. Who would have thought that in My Minnesota, the John Beargrease sled dog marathon would be postponed this year due to lack of snow, although wasn't it canceled last year? Wouldn't it be a shame to lose all the snow treats we can enjoy in Minnesota just because we think it's too expensive to pay what energy really costs?