Monday, September 30, 2013

A dark day?

Hi. Thanks for stopping by. I presume by now you've at least heard about the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. Grist has a pretty good summary if you're not up to reading the whole depressing report or even the summary for policy makers. Meanwhile, too many of the clowns in Washington, elected by us citizens, are ready to shut down the government and, while they're at it, continue to deny climate change exists.

photo of scorching sun
scorching sun                © harrington

This country, this world, is facing issues too significant for us to put up with malfeasance strictly for political gain. If anyone but politicians tried these actions, they'd be arrested for extortion. But, even if there's a shutdown, CONGRESS WILL STILL GET PAID. The other really frustrating aspect of this is that there are so damn many gerrymandered safe seats (for each party) that real political retribution would be difficult, although it's becoming clear that moderate Republicans are preferable by a long shot to tea baggers. Denial of reality for political or religious reasons, like war, is harmful to children and other living things.

On the other hand, Minnesota Public Radio's Kerri Miller, on The Daily Circuit this morning, bless her heart, had a vigorous discussion of the IPCC report and it's implications. Paul Hutner made some very worthwhile points about how the insurance industry and businesses in general are ahead of the politics on the climate change issue and that we will all pay for inaction as more and more megastorms like Sandy affect our economy. Shared risk anyone? Why hasn't mainstream media been doing more to report on these issues? Here's poet Lawrence S. Pertillar perspective on today's very obvious rant.

Gridlock Blocks

Gridlock blocks and stops,
Advancement.
And those who attempt to prevent this growth,
With their votes...
Choke,
On their own ineptitude provoked.

And there...
Under a glaring spotlight,
They've become stunned...
By those seeking to see them,
Get things done.
To eventually be revealed to everyone...
That gettings things done,
Is not one of their capabilities.

Upsetting a correct direction,
That has promise to become effective...
Is the only implementation used to increase,
An obsession the opposition uses,
To ensure complete defeat.
Even if it is at their own expense.

Lawrence S. Pertillar

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

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Noteworthy and Noted

Welcome. Hasn't this been a beautiful Autumn Sunday? It's also been an exciting weekend. Yesterday's posting title, Transitions, was more accurate than I knew at the time. The daughter person and her Significant Other [SO] are now officially engaged. The ring happened late yesterday. I'm really happy for them. They seem good to and for each other. He may now officially be "Fiancee," but he'll always be SO to me. All of that and a Vikings win. (Does it count since it wasn't in this country?) What more could we Minnesotans want?

photo of front yard clover and sunflowers
front yard clover and sunflowers     © harrington

This picture was taken this morning in front of the house. It shows (on the left) the way the clover has come in nicely. On the right, beneath the bird feeder full of sun flower seeds, are a number of sunflower plants starting to emerge. The birds (and squirrels) had dropped a bunch of seeds over the past few weeks. Recent rains caused them to germinate. Clearly, those seeds have no sense of the season. I'll be curious to see if any of them make it through the Winter. The local Audubon newsletter arrived a day or so ago. One of the writers mentioned that her hummingbird feeder had had only one visitor recently, presumed a migrant. I suppose that means I may as well bring in our humming bird feeder but I hate the idea of it not being there if migrants pass through. I have one more piece of interesting news from this weekend. Yesterday, as we were taking the dogs for their afternoon walk, what was curled up in the middle of the field entrance path but a salamander. I think that was the first salamander I've seen "in the wild" in Minnesota (and believe me, I've spent plenty of time in damp places out-of-doors). I didn't pay enough attention to be sure whether is was a tiger salamander or a spotted salamander, although I'm inclined to believe the latter. Sandra Beasley nicely covers several of today's topics in her poem.

The Piano Speaks


After Erik Satie

For an hour I forgot my fat self,
my neurotic innards, my addiction to alignment.

For an hour I forgot my fear of rain.

For an hour I was a salamander
shimmying through the kelp in search of shore,
and under his fingers the notes slid loose
from my belly in a long jellyrope of eggs
that took root in the mud. And what

would hatch, I did not know—
a lie. A waltz. An apostle of glass.

For an hour I stood on two legs
and ran. For an hour I panted and galloped.

For an hour I was a maple tree,
and under the summer of his fingers
the notes seeded and winged away

in the clutch of small, elegant helicopters.

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

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Transitions

Welcome. Thanks for visiting. Today has turned windy, cool and wet with some much-needed rain. The local trees are starting to look windblown and tattered. Leaves are beginning to pile up along roadsides and in the ditches. Pumpkins are beginning to show up on porches and steps. Autumn's transition seems underway and I'm getting excited about it.

rain clouds                © harrington

We went in to St. Paul this morning to take care of some business related to retiring and run some errands. Since we were almost in the neighborhood, we swung by Common Good Books, G. Keillor, prop. I went in to pick up a copy of the 2014 Poet's Market. I discovered that Will o' the Wisp Books has published Louis Jenkins Tin Flag, a volume of new and selected poems, including all those from Nice Fish (the play, not the volume of poetry). A copy is now residing in my "to be read" pile. I'm not giving up on my involvement with green building and sustainable development, but my retirement is going to focus more on writing and photography than my working career has allowed time for. That includes trying harder to prepare submissions and trying to get published. As part of this strategy, I've taken on the role of lead blogger and photographer for a different blog, the USGBC-MN chapter's Dynamic Green Home. I'm on the chapter's board and we're working with the Greater Frogtown Community Development Corporation to help make greener their rehabilitation of this house by contributing the interior painting and flooring refinishing and landscaping and a rain garden in the yard. Here's a different, and almost too true to be humorous, perspective on Home:

Dynamic Green Home #1    © harrington

Home Again, Home Again



The children are back, the children are back—
They’ve come to take refuge, exhale and unpack;
The marriage has faltered, the job has gone bad,
Come open the door for them, Mother and Dad.

The city apartment is leaky and cold,
The landlord lascivious, greedy and old—
The mattress is lumpy, the oven’s encrusted,
The freezer, the fan, and the toilet have rusted.

The company caved, the boss went broke,
The job and the love affair, all up in smoke.
The anguish of loneliness comes as a shock—
O heart in the doldrums, O heart in hock.

And so they return with their piles of possessions,
Their terrified cats and their mournful expressions,
Reclaiming the bedrooms they had in their teens,
Clean towels, warm comforter, glass figurines.

Downstairs in the kitchen the father and mother
Don’t say a word, but they look at each other
As down from the hill comes Jill, comes Jack.
The children are back. The children are back.

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

Friday, September 27, 2013

Earth day? Earth night?

Yesterday we touched on the importance of relationships. I also intended to share a wonderful web site I recently discovered when searching for information about Joe Paddock, an oral historian, environmental writer and poet, I decided that might be too much for one post and so, saved it for today. Have you heard of John Caddy, poet, naturalist and teacher? He lives sort of down the road, in Forest Lake. I have one of his books of poems.[click the cover for more]


His web site is Morning Earth. It celebrates the Confluence of Art and Ecology. It also, to close the loop, has a page about Joe Paddock. I now have two reasonably real models to help me formulate how I want to spend much of my time during retirement, which starts next Tuesday. Sometimes life is better than one has any reason to expect it to be. With all due respect, Robert Bly is more than I'm prepared to be. John and Joe seem attainable, so to speak. They make me think of Thomas Smith, with whom I've taken some classes at The Loft and who I saw again about a year ago at an environmental writing seminar at the Audubon Center of the North Woods. These folks are members of a community to which I aspire and would be proud to be accepted as a member. John's Morning Earth site also has some very impressive education pieces that help us learn ecology. I wish knowledge of fundamentals of ecology was required to graduate from high school. We, and the world, would probably be far better for it. Jane Yolen (another kindred spirit?) shares similar thoughts in this poem.

Earth Day



I am the Earth
And the Earth is me.
Each blade of grass,
Each honey tree,
Each bit of mud,
And stick and stone

Is blood and muscle,
Skin and bone.
And just as I
Need every bit
Of me to make
My body fit,
So Earth needs
Grass and stone and tree
And things that grow here
Naturally.

That’s why we
Celebrate this day.
That’s why across
The world we say:
As long as life,
As dear, as free,
I am the Earth
And the Earth is me.
Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Can you relate?

Today is Thursday. That means it's pick up day at WEI's CSA (week 14). First, though, we stopped at Peterson's in North Branch to get a 50 pond bag of sunflower seeds for the birds. It was a nice day for a drive. Along the road between North Branch and Amador we noticed little color but a number of oaks that appeared to have dead leaves. As we got closer to the farm and the St. Croix, there was more color but nothing yet spectacular. Here, see for yourself.

photo of fall colors starting to show
fall colors starting to show     © harrington

The other thing we noticed was a number of turkey vultures soaring in a southerly direction. Beginning migration? Now that we've covered the local updates, there's a blog posting I want to be sure you know about. Kaid Benfield had a post yesterday on the Natural Resources Defense Council's "Switchboard" blog, City sustainability is about the environment, even when it isn't. Before he gets into little libraries, he makes reference to the idea that "If our urban solutions don’t work for people – if we don’t make cities wonderful places to live, work, and play – they will never sustain enough favor to work for the planet." That seems to me a lot like what we've talked about when we claimed that we need to make great cities to protect the environment. I don't know if John Muir was the first to notice, but I do know his memorable (and accurate) observation "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." Sustainability is about relationships. If we want to have a viable future for our children and our grandchildren and their children, we'd best try to keep this in mind. Relationships, and values. Now, here's another perspective of today's fall colors and following that, a different perspective on the impact of relationships on the world.

photo of  fall colors barely noticeable
 fall colors barely noticeable     © harrington

Laws of the Universe

By Albert Goldbarth


The renewal project is doomed: because
its funding board’s vice-president resigned: because   
the acids of divorce were eating day-long   
at her stomach, at her thoughts: because
her husband was neglecting her, in favor of his daughter,
who was dying: because her husband,
bi and edgy, bore an AIDS sore that was ripe   
enough with fear and woe to throw this whole   
thick network of connections off its balance
and down a hole of human misery. Haven’t we seen it happen?   
—when a crowded room at a party was tilted   
perilously askew by the weight of two   
wept tears that weren’t as large as a housefly’s wings,   
that couldn’t have filled a pistachio shell.
Thanks for listening. COme again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Changing of the guard?

Welcome. Thanks for stopping by. Despite the warm, wonderful weather, this evening's anticipated fish chowder and home made bread is going ahead as planned. We'll see if temperatures in the mid-seventy's are a decent fit for chowders and stews and warm bread fresh from the oven. Don't get me wrong, I love this kind of weather. Don't you? Snow lovers will get their Alberta Clippers soon enough. Meanwhile, we can enjoy a smooth transition from Summer through Autumn to Winter.

photo of white pines dropping needles
white pines dropping needles    © harrington

Pine trees don't loose all their needles at once. I'm starting to wonder if being first to market yields a true competitive advantage if we're looking at the kinds of changes I think we're going to need in the future to have a more sustainable Minnesota. Look at electric cars. They actually need substantial support systems, charging stations, reduction in range anxiety, better batteries. It's more like an ecosystem change than a new product. (Personally, I'm looking for something like an all-wheel drive Volt pr a hybrid Outback.) Evolution often happens more gradually because, I think, all the pieces have to work together. This is like the concept of Integrative Design in sustainable development. All the subsystems need to be working together or they'll fight with each other a lot. Waterfowl, during Spring migration, tend to follow open water north and often arrive en mass. This can make for some tough times if a late storm and refreeze arrives. That would put major populations at risk if the storm were wide spread. In the Autumn, migration is often a trickle south affair. Although, I've been in western Minnesota at times when it seemed as if every duck and goose in the universe was flocking up to take the same train south.

loafing waterfowl             © harrington

These reflections have started me wondering how much we might benefit from applying biomimicry concepts at a broader scale. I think we need to look at something like that because I don't believe we're going to be able to make the transitions we need by using technology alone. To paraphrase someone like Bill McKibben or Anne Leonard, it's hard to see how we can "consume" our way to a better world. Jane Hirshfield has an interesting perspective on the kind of changes we've been reflecting on in this poem.

To Judgment: An Assay



You change a life
as eating an artichoke changes the taste
of whatever is eaten after.
Yet you are not an artichoke, not a piano or cat—
not objectively present at all—
and what of you a cat possesses is essential but narrow:
to know if the distance between two things can be leapt.
The piano, that good servant,
has none of you in her at all, she lends herself
to what asks; this has been my ambition as well.
Yet a person who has you is like an iron spigot
whose water comes from far-off mountain springs.
Inexhaustible, your confident pronouncements flow,
coldly delicious.
For if judgment hurts the teeth, it doesn’t mind,
not judgment. Teeth pass. Pain passes.
Judgment decrees what remains—
the serene judgments of evolution or the judgment
of a boy-king entering Persia: “Burn it,” he says,
and it burns. And if a small tear swells the corner
of one eye, it is only the smoke, it is no more to him than a beetle
fleeing the flames of the village with her six-legged children.
The biologist Haldane—in one of his tenderer moments—
judged beetles especially loved by God,
“because He had made so many.” For judgment can be tender:
I have seen you carry a fate to its end as softly as a retriever
carries the quail. Yet however much
I admire you at such moments, I cannot love you:
you are too much in me, weighing without pity your own worth.
When I have erased you from me entirely,
disrobed of your measuring adjectives,
stripped from my shoulders and hips each of your nouns,
when the world is horsefly, coal barge, and dawn the color of winter butter—
not beautiful, not cold, only the color of butter—
then perhaps I will love you. Helpless to not.
As a newborn wolf is helpless: no choice but hunt the wolf milk,
find it sweet.

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Year to year

Hi. Welcome. Something I've noticed recently, looking at pictures from this time last year, is how much difference there is in the tree color. We're just really starting to see colors develop (OK, chlorophyl fade) in this neck of the woods.According to DNR, the general area is in the 10% to 25% range. (WIld River State Park is listed at less than 10%.) Personally, I think 12.7% overall but what do I know?

start of fall colors              © harrington

Today's weather is a slip back to Summer that's supposed to continue until the weekend. I love this weather but haven't yet solved the how to dress question for cool mornings and hot afternoons. It seems as though I'm always taking something off or putting something on. This is the kind of day I'll try to remember next February. Most of the local sandhill cranes still seem to be around and most likely will stay for the next few months. I'm thinking of starting a "bucket list," and a trip to Nebraska to see Spring migration at the Platte River is likely to be on it.

photo of sandhill cranes in field
sandhill cranes in field       © harrington

This is the kind of weather and the season to reflect on and enjoy:

The Summer Day

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bee all that you can bee

Hi. Thanks for stopping by. One of the seasonal activities that we don't really enjoy around here is the annual effort of wasps and their like to find places in the house to winter over. On the other hand, have you read, or heard, about the problems bees are having world wide, concentrated in the US and Europe? That could be devastating to agricultural crops which depend on bees for pollination. More broadly, it could also  threaten entire ecosystems. But, did you know that the University of Minnesota is home to one of the world's current experts on bees, Dr. Marla Spivak?

photo of bee on yellow Chrysanthemum
 bee on yellow Chrysanthemum     © harrington

Dr. Spivak and either her Bee Lab or the Bee Squad provides classes, I think through the Extension Service, on Beekeeping in Northern Climates Part 1 (Getting Started in Beekeeping). So, since we've pretty much decided that goats or sheep might not be the best fit with our sand plain soils and vegetation, we're going to sign up for a class and see about setting up a couple of hives next Spring. The "Urban Honey" folks in the cities shouldn't get to have all the fun. Besides, we're not in favor of anything that threatens entire ecosystems, especially if, for a few hundred dollars and some time, effort and land, we can do something to help .

photo of bee on pansy
bee on pansy                   © harrington

Stay tuned for occasional reports on any progress we make. I've already flagged the idea on needing an electric fence because of neighborhood bears. Maybe that will just be a first step in making this place more dependent on solar and less so on natural gas and coal. I'd feel pretty good about that. Speaking of feeling good, I bet this poem, The Miracle of the Bees and the Foxgloves, by Anne Stevenson, will help you feel good.

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

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Tipping point

Welcome. Happy Autumnal Equinox. Now we're really into the season. Meteorological Autumn started back on September 1. Now we've added astronomical Autumn. I haven't seen anything yet this season as spectacular as the small maple in the picture but, within the next week or two I'd be surprised if I still hadn't.

photo of maple tree in Autumn
Autumn maple  © harrington

The DNR web site has a nice report on color change and a collection of visitors photographs if you want to check the season's changing status. Colors in the St Croix Valley seem to be slightly ahead of the surrounding area. In honor of the season, I'm going to return to bread baking, which I rarely bring myself to do during Summer. Home made bread goes so well with the stews and chowders that start to punctuate the weekly menus around here as temperatures decline and sweaters appear. Last night we had the season's first chili and a fish chowder has been promised for the near future.


Since we live somewhere that is dominated by oak trees, most of our fall colors are earth tone shades of maroon and brown, but there are enough maples scattered around to enliven the view. Instead of taking a trip just to see the colors, we are more likely to head down along the east shore of the Mississippi toward Alma, Pepin and the Harbor View Cafe. If we time it right, we get to see lots of swans on their migration. If not, our consolation is delicious locally sourced food from Harbor View.

Charles Ghigna's poem, Autumn's Way, adds aural aspects to our sense experience of sight and taste. Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Balanced

Tomorrow's the Autumnal Equinox. This morning, about 3 a.m., while walking Si Si, I saw the Harvest moon. It was full and very white and high in the sky, not the low, huge, orangish moon I usually think of as Harvest. The sky was, at least briefly, clear and the stars glimmered. After Si Si took care of her immediate needs, we went back to bed. Three a.m. on a Saturday is too early to start the day.

August 2013 full moon         © harrington

Unless, of course you're a duck hunter and shooting starts legally one-half hour before sunrise. By that time today the clouds had moved back in and, I can vouch that at one half hour before sunrise it's difficult to impossible to be sure of what species you're shooting at. Anyhow, at the duly appointed hour volley after volley went off. I don't know where the ducks came from since I've seen precious few in the air or on the water the past month or so. These are some of the points Dennis Anderson raised in his column [read complaint]  yesterday about Minnesota's adjusted duck opener rules. We used to open at noon, when it was easier to tell what you had chosen for a quarry. Now, we may be exploiting ducks the way we do fracking sand, natural gas, copper-nickle ore, farmland and forests. "Harvest" our resources today, they, and we, may be gone tomorrow. Didn't work out too well for the passenger pigeon.

photo of pair of ducks up high
pair of ducks up high       © harrington

Think about what we would do without the grace of the world Wendell Berry writes about in The Peace of Wild Things. Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Time to harvest what we've sown

Welcome. Tomorrow promises to be an interesting day. It's Minnesota's duck opener, and it's Field Trip day at Three Rivers Park District's Silverwood Park. Tomorrow night is the Harvest Moon. I'm used to Minnesota's tendency to schedule a multitude of things I'd like to do at the same time every May weekend. Now it's starting to happen in the Autumn, too. If we didn't already have other plans, I'd probably be at the Field Trip, although one of these years I need to hunt ducks with the Daughter Person's Significant Other. According to Dennis Anderson in today's Strib, we'd better do it soon before the ducks are all gone. Mr. Anderson isn't very happy at the moment with our Department of Natural Resources.

photo of flock of ducks up high
flock of ducks up high          © harrington

The first, and only, time I've been to Silverwood was a couple of years ago. The Minnesota Chapter of the US Green Building Council held an event there. It's a gorgeous place, and far enough away that I'm almost tempted to move into "The Cities" to be closer. There's a worthwhile piece on the mnartists.org web site about the art in the park. The park's commitment to art programming has developed nicely, it seems, since I was last there and it seemed pretty solid at the time.

photo of pumpkin harvest
pumpkin harvest              © harrington

From now through November is the time we gather the harvest from the field. We can also take time to see what fruits we've produced internally. Both should be celebrated. We can be grateful for both. The local soy bean fields have pretty much all turned yellow. Field corn is mostly tan instead of green, some is even being harvested. I've noticed that it's terribly easy to have seasonal changes going on all around me that I fail to "see." I've also noticed that when that happens, I become less grounded and less happy. Country living provides fewer opportunities to connect with different people but more chances to watch see the natural world respond to changes in temperature, daylight and precipitation. Unless you're a teenager, grounded can be good.

Marge Piercy has a poem, Colors passing through us, that seems to me to be just right for this colorful season. Take a look and see what you think.

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

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Slow soil

I don't know about you, but between threatened government shutdowns, climate change, and underperforming epull tabs, I could use more good news. Today I found some. It might even help something like the poor, beleaguered patch of Anoka Sand plain that's my "back yard," at least if we were actively farming it.
photo of Anoka Sand Plain grass
sand plain yard             © harrington

The Land Stewardship Project's blog, earlier this month, reported on some encouraging "healthy soil" developments coming to us out of North Dakota. In Burleigh County, some farmers are taking the next step in soil conservation. They're using a combination of cover crops, rotational grazing and no-till farming to increase the soil's natural ability to increase it's own fertility. That's definitely restorative development in my book.
photo of storm clouds
       storm clouds                  © harrington
Since we seem to be experiencing more and more highly variable weather, Minnesota is now suffering a "flash drought" (you learn something new every day) and, this year, we've been suffering from "weather whiplash," another new term for me. With extreme weather events (Boulder CO flooding) and greater volatility becoming more common, and the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone getting filled with Minnesota River valley agricultural soil, I'm hoping Minnesota farmers are willing to learn some lessons from their neighbors to the west. To quote Aldo Leopold A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. (A Sand County Almanac, p.262) Do you think we can begin to act on this concept more and more, or will we, like the farmer in W.D. Ehrhart's poem, be only farmers of dreams?
Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Apples and snakes and sin, oh my!

Hi! Have you noticed that apples are coming/have come into season. I stopped by the Mississippi Market co-op today and noticed that Sweetango apples are on sale. You may remember that for Father's Day this year one of my gifts was not one but two apple trees in the back yard, purchased, planted, watered and sprayed against cedar rust blight (after the fact) by the daughter person and her significant other. That's him on the left and her on the right.

photo of apple tree planting
planting backyard apple trees                     © harrington
I'll be watching carefully this Winter to see if any of the local deer manage to get at the trees despite the fencing. Apples have been a blessing, and a bane, of humanity since the beginning. But then there's Johnny Appleseed, the Amador Apple Festival, apple pie, apple butter and a whole host of other goodies. You have my fondest wish for a crisp, ripe, juicy and tasty Minnesota Autumn full of apples. Yusef Komunyakaa nicely captures the
apples, blessings, and tribulations of us human folks in South Carolina Morning. See what you think, but be sure to stay away from guys like this when you're thinking about eating apples.
snake in the grass?              © harrington
Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rain drops keep falling on my head

Welcome. Yesterday we were talking about designs and developments that are life supporting and enhancing. We have, fortunately, an increasing number of those in Minnesota's built environment. The University of Minnesota has green roof installations in a variety of locations such as this one. 
Even in the wilds of Chisago County, the local library in Wyoming has a beautiful rain garden. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently announced Minimal Impact Design Standards. The use of green infrastructure is a growing (ahem) strategy for storm water management from Chicago to Malmo. Eight strategies are helping to restore natural systems in our built environment. We already seem to have channelized, paved over, enclosed, engineered and otherwise eliminated many natural water functions in our built environment. At last some wiser folks are getting some attention. As a result of the approaches we've followed historically, we have about 40% of Minnesota's surface waters that are officially impaired.  White Bear Lake is disappearing while we continue to allow groundwater withdrawals and consider "tapping" the Mississippi River instead of seriously considering conservation based on requiring the installation of "Water Sense" fixtures in new development and retrofitting them in existing buildings. We could also look seriously at groundwater replenishment through green infrastructure.

It seems to me that, compounding our problems, is a continuing desire for simple, easy, if expensive, solutions. Rarely, that I'm aware of, does nature work that way. As I understand it, evolution tries lots of incremental changes that eventually produce a "better fit" between an organism and its environment. Monoculture is generally frowned upon. Diversity is rewarded. That's the kind of development philosophy I think we need more of. That, and more of the perspective shown by Wendell Berry in his poem Water.

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

What's the use?

photo of Carlos Avery WMA South Pool
© harrington
Hi! Thanks for visiting. Several people whose opinions I respect have recently suggested that I seem to value "things" only because of their utilitarian qualities. I've been thing about that for some time now. I understand, I think, why they have made the assessment they have. Frequently, my primary response to something or someplace is "what can I do with this?" That question has a distinctly utilitarian flavor to it. When I learn the name of a wildflower, I'd also like to learn if it has, or has had, a function purpose in addition to its attractiveness. Some would call the area in the picture a swamp, and they would be accurate in many ways. But it serves more purposes (is) more than a swamp. At times like those pictured, I think it's beautiful, peaceful, calm, relaxing. At other times it provides: a place to hunt waterfowl; to go fishing; to store floodwaters; habitat for turtles; fish for osprey's; etc. Lots of uses that, the way I look at things, enhance its beauty. Reading poetry often makes me feel good; sometimes sad; sometimes happy; usually makes me think; sometimes makes me angry. Is poetry less appealing if it also serves some other purposes? Over the billions of years that nature has been evolving, the designs that have emerged often serve multiple purposes including being attractive, efficient and effective. Over the years that I've been working in environmental protection and sustainable development, I've learned that adding solutions to an existing process is rarely as effective or inexpensive as redesigning the process to eliminate the need for the added solution. Remember 3M's Pollution Prevention Pays? That slogan says prevention, not treatment or mitigation. It seems to me that we need to bring more of a similar perspective to the design of our buildings, neighborhoods and cities. What can an ecological perspective teach us about having a better world with less likelihood of destroying the support systems that we depend on for clean air, clean water, food, comfort and company? Should we think about starting with a land ethic, making us just another member of the land (biotic) community? Don't think of it as a step down for people. Think of it as a step forward in self preservation or think of it as you will after reading, but please, think of it.

Imaginary Countries: The Real World

By Michael Sharkey

In the real world
lovers part at morning with a kiss
and look back longingly
before they pass from sight.

They go insouciant to work
and smile at times;
their life’s Vivaldi.

Others bring what poetry they can into a life
by counting days
until employment comes again.
They look at cherries in the fruit store and imagine
biting in. They look so good.

Children break from singing in the drill hall,
burst outside to toss their frisbees in the park.
A boy plays Satie on the piano;
two Americans embrace
as traffic whispers up the drive.
They are embarking for the real world’s farthest shore.

In the real world
someone signs petitions
every moment, tidies other people’s trash
and greets another who is loved by someone else.
This is how the real world copes with being economics,
mathematics and ecology and botany
and waiting for the bus.

Costumed people earn their living slipping
from the real world to persuade us to buy moon-cakes,
supple skin and perfect hair.
We smile to see them aping us.

Gymnorhina tibicen swoops low and boasts her turf:
the children run and shout out, ‘Magpie’
while the bird recalls the day in mimic song;
order then restored, she dines alfresco on their scraps.

And while we watch Magritte’s sky turn El Greco,
roofs de Chirico beneath the plastic clouds,
a plane is pasted on a sudden patch of blue.

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

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mum's the word

© harrington
© harrington
Welcome. The good news is we got a little much-needed rain last night. It left us with a cool, cloudy Sunday afternoon. Since I'm in my nice warm home, I'm pretty comfortable. The pictures are before and after this Autumn's planting of mums. They add a nice touch of color, don't you think? The weather, the season, planting mums, and another project I'm working on, all have me thinking about the meaning of home. Robert Frost, in his poem The Death of the Hired Man, offers at least three insights to the meaning. According to Warren, the farmer,
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”
Warren's wife, Mary, has a more charitable view,
“I should have called it
Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”
Silas, the Hired Man, gets the last word by having come "home" to die, as he does in the poem. Home, for each of us, is clearly some place where we have connections. They may be associated with the ashes of Spot or Lady buried in the back yard. They may be tied in to the kitchen plaster wall marked with pencil lines and heights, measuring children's growth. When we used to have births, and deaths, at home, connections and memories may have been deeper. Do local hospitals and funeral parlors create a connection to the local community? Does home require a string of memories of special times such as Christmas, with its tree or Thanksgiving with its family gatherings? Is your home the place where you grew up (I vaguely remember from my fundamentals of sociology family of origin and family of procreation.)
or the place where your family lives now? Are they the same? As you may have read here, as much as I've come to love Minnesota, and raised a family here, I still consider New England, especially Massachusetts, "home." It's where my parents are buried; where I grew up; where I first kissed a girl; where I learned to drive and swim and experienced many other firsts. There are many places in New England with which I have a strong connection, at least in my memories. Where's home for you? What makes it so? Does it include a connection with one or more pieces of land? Linda Parsons Marion touches nicely on aspects of home we haven't yet mentioned. Don't you think?

Home Fire

                                           By Linda Parsons Marion

Whether on the boulevard or gravel backroad,
I do not easily raise my hand to those who toss
up theirs in anonymous hello, merely to say
“I’m passing this way.” Once out of shyness, now
reluctance to tip my hand, I admire the shrubbery
instead. I’ve learned where the lines are drawn
and keep the privet well trimmed. I left one house
with toys on the floor for another with quiet rugs
and a bed where the moon comes in. I’ve thrown
myself at men in black turtlenecks only to find
that home is best after all. Home where I sit
in the glider, knowing it needs oil, like my own
rusty joints. Where I coax blackberry to dogwood
and winter to harvest, where my table is clothed
in light. Home where I walk out on the thin page
of night, without waving or giving myself away,
and return with my words burning like fire in the grate.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Profit motive

St. Croix River view
© harrington
Hi. Thanks for stopping by. The picture shows the view looking downstream on the St. Croix River from the Visitor's Center at Wild River State Park. I think it's a magnificent vista. Others might prefer to think about the development possibilities. All those trees without rooftops showing through seems to make some folks nervous and others angry. That probably helps explain why there's going to be a brand spanking new and improved multi-lane bridge several miles downstream near Stillwater. The fact there there is currently a multi-lane Interstate highway bridge crossing the St. Croix about five miles downstream from Stillwater isn't good enough for lots of folks, especially some who like to rant about budget deficits and the cost of the Affordable Care Act. But, enough. My real point today is about connections. How connected do you feel to the St Croix River, or the Mississippi River, or your local stream? How connected are you to the land on which you live, the neighborhood in which you live, the city or township in which you live? Do you feel any connection to your home, or is it primarily an investment? Have you grown up near where you live or are you, like me, a transplant learning to adapt to new soil and climate? We Americans have always been a restless, moving on people. Perhaps we've reached a point in our history, and that of our country where we need to seriously consider what we lose as we migrate from hot spot to hot spot, always in pursuit of the elusive dollar. When chasing more and more, have we lost track of the blessings we already enjoy? Isn't that both a tragedy and an invitation to lose it all? If you read this blog at all regularly, you may have figured out that I'm not terribly religious, but I do lean toward spirituality. Writing this, however, I'm reminded of the question from Mark's gospel "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" I've never come up with a good answer to that question. Have you? Is the kind of world and the lives talked about by Sina Queyras in Acceptable Dissociations really what we want more of? Is that what you love about where you live?

Acceptable Dissociations

By Sina Queyras

1
Meanwhile the expressway’s hum, it roars into
Her, the expressway cargo and tree-lined, stretched
Radio towers, mowers its horns and hogs, its beef 
And bread vans, hour after hour, laptop, radar
Detectors from New Mexico, Idaho potatoes, HoHos
And Cheetos, all organic grain-fed, pieces of chicken, 
Pieces of cow, slices of pig, kernals of corn, diced carrot,
All packaged meals, she of drums, her mile after mile
Of interchange escape into itself rest stop, progress 
Is welcoming and bidding adieu, states drinking
Her progress, passing tolls, Motel 6 she hum as glass
And EconoLodge, passing itself traces of Ashland 
And Peoria, Willingboro, Paterson, every inch of it grafted,
Numbered, planted, barriered, mowed, guardrailed,
O my citizen consumers, for the time, infinite, 
Replaceable, scaling these walls of sound and motion,
Dipping in, expressing oneself, expressing oneself,
Expressing oneself.

2
Wonder warships at citizens in blue, the number
Lining the leaf, infinite expressways, and scaling
Blood, soil a Camden, shouting over water Sunday 
Steel passing the in and sky noise, another abandoned
By of one to mills, at steel, above bone, gazing (euphoria,
Nostalgia!) citizens, up leaf, citizens, wonder! Infinite warships 
Sunday and abandoned a shouting expressways, noise,
Across in blood, steel, lining passing bone, at gazing
Blue mills, scaling the water another number to in 
The above soil by of steel up one and sky at the
Over Camden, citizens, euphoria nostalgia!
All along the avenue spronging, tent-like, their attitudes 
Way ahead of them. My computer screen, waving. Where
Is your horse?
Is your horse? she said, and there was nothing I could say.
What I want is generally tidy. What I get often can’t dance. 
What wants a date who can’t dance?
Who wants a line without rhythm?
Who wants a line without thought?

3
Occasionally there is anger. Occasionally she takes her one good foot and applies it to surfaces otherwise flat and safe, the expressway progressing itself through her, expressly. 
(I live here because the country I once lived in is now a corporate washroom, where there were once gardens now oil refineries turn night into day and farmers into militiamen—you won’t even understand this, and your teeth gleam!) 
Once again the feeling comes, like a sprong in the groin, an abundance of feeling that is sharp, almost hostile in its need to overtake. Several women in pink felt it coming. They turned, their pierced ears like arrows in her thigh. 
Sprong, sarong. I ask you? 
Over the course of several weeks developers wiped out all the trees in a town in A to avoid having them designated as essential sites after a rare woodpecker was found to be nesting in the town. Woodpeckers are not essential. Trees are not essential. Trees are ornamental. Humanity is ornamental. Prophet is everything. 
This poem resembles urban sprawl. This poem resembles the freedom to charge a fee. The fee occurs in the gaps. It is an event. It is not without precedent. It is a moment in which you pay money. It is a tribute to freedom of choice. 
Reality is a parking lot in Qatar. Reality is an airstrip in Malawi. 
Meanwhile the expressway encloses, the expressway round and around the perimeters like wagon trains circling the bonfire, all of them, guns pointed, Busby Berkeley in the night sky.

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

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Autumn winds blow chilly and cold*

photo of early Autumn colors
© harrington
Hi. Thanks for the visit on this beautiful Autumn Minnesota day. Leaves are starting to turn color. earlier today I picked up, from the Mississippi Market co-op, the first Honeycrisp apples of the season. When I walked the dog this morning about 4:30, the temperature was about 43° F, downright chilly, but I was warmed today to learn that one of the postings on My Minnesota did a fair amount of good for one of my favorite places in Minnesota. Nina's owner used as part of a successful grant application (without my being aware of it, not that I'd have objected) the posting from March 1 this year about Third Places. If I hadn't been talking to her today, I never would have known. Blogging into the ether of the Internet infrequently triggers the kind of responses some of us bloggers would like. That's understandable and it makes news like a got today a very pleasant surprise. One of the differences, I think, between print authors and bloggers, is print authors have editors (and, eventually, readings with an audience). Bloggers mostly have to rely on comments, of which, all too often, there are few. I'm guilty of that [not commenting] myself on a number of blogs that I read frequently. Maybe we can all do a better job in the future of letting folks know when we enjoy or used something they write. Speaking of the future, do you see the seasons as a linear path to the future or as a recurring cycle each year, or both? Where did your perspective come from? I know that the seasons return each year and that each year, with my allotted seasons, I can expect one less to enjoy. That's Autumn speaking too. Speaking of Autumn, take a look at this poem by Jane Hirshfield. I really relate to the first half or so. The ending is, for me, far more bitter than sweet. How about you?

The Heat of Autumn 


The heat of autumn
is different from the heat of summer. 
One ripens apples, the other turns them to cider. 
One is a dock you walk out on, 
the other the spine of a thin swimming horse
and the river each day a full measure colder. 
A man with cancer leaves his wife for his lover.
Before he goes she straightens his belts in the closet, 
rearranges the socks and sweaters inside the dresser
by color. That’s autumn heat:
her hand placing silver buckles with silver, 
gold buckles with gold, setting each 
on the hook it belongs on in a closet soon to be empty, 
and calling it pleasure.   
Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily. 
*April Come She Will lyrics, Paul SImon

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fading out

Hi. Welcome. Please pretend there's a photo of some fading and tattered Summer flowers up above this text. Google's Blogger software is malfunctioning. I've tried several of the solutions recommended on-line. They worked for a day or two but the issue keeps returning and getting worse. I guess this is an example of getting what you pay for.
Anyhow, Summer  seems to be getting as faded and tattered as the (missing) picture of the flowers above. The weather this Spring and Summer have left me feeling about as washed out and crumpled as the roadside flowers are becoming. If I were younger, I might seriously look for somewhere that had four seasons with moderate Summer temperatures. We used to do better in My Minnesota. In the future, being able to take a cool, refreshing shower might be more of a challenge if our drought continues and water supplies dwindle.
Did you notice the August 31 article in the Strib about "tapping" the Mississippi River to "fix" the White Bear Lake shrinkage issue? What really dismays me is nowhere is there a mention of water conservation as all or part of a solution. Yet the Strib also has a previous article on Nature not being able to keep up with Minnesota's growing demand for water. And we're officially back in drought status over much of the state. Will we ever learn? Do you think any of this will get better as climate change and global warming continue?

Thanks for listening. Sorry about the missing picture. I hope Google will stop being evil to me and fix the Blogger software. The Blogger software still isn't fixed, I found a workaround. Come again when you can. Rants, Raves and Reflections served here daily.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Going to the dogs


photo of Si-Si playing with soap bubbles
© harrington
photo of Si-Si checking out soap bubbles
© harrington
One of the nice things about children and dogs is their ability to keep people from getting too wrapped up in themselves. Ignoring, or trying to ignore, a 2 AM feeding for a screaming infant rarely works well. Ignoring your dog when s/he tells you that "I need to go out RIGHT NOW" is another losing strategy. The other night, my daughter decided to play with blowing soap bubbles. Si-Si the blond bomb rescue Labrador had never seen anything quite like them (left). She soon discovered if you bite them they burst; if you chase them they burst. They're lots of fun (right). It's been awhile since I've laughed like that. For a variety of reasons, I needed that laughter. Si-Si (and Franco, my wife's border collie cross rescue dog, and Ruark, our daughter's rescue dog import [still trying to figure out breeds] from North Carolina) continue to test my patience and training skills. They're dogs and they enjoy being dogs, even if that gets them yelled at from time to time. They seem firmly committed to the idea that a dog's first job is to be him (her) self and second job is to have fun. We humans seem to often to forget that, basically, we're also animals and our first job is to be ourselves. The other night, I watched a George Carlin (you remember the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman?) video on you tube on his "Philosophy for Old Age." That, and some other things I've been reading and watching recently, make me wonder how it is that we came to take ourselves too seriously and to underrate the problems we create for ourselves, others like us, other species, and the world we all depend on. Have we come to see hubris as a solution rather than a distraction? I haven't yet met a dog that suffered from hubris. That's another reason just about every house should have at least one. Gene Hill has covered it better than I. If a dog, preferably your dog, isn't part of your life, you're missing more than hairs on the rug and holes in the yard. Try the poem below as a clincher. Humans and dogs are part of nature and the more we remember that, the better off all three of us will be.

If Feeling Isn't In It

You can take it away, as far as I'm concerned—I'd rather spend the afternoon with a nice dog. I'm not kidding. Dogs have what a lot of poems lack: excitements and responses, a sense of play the ability to impart warmth, elation . . . .
                                                                            Howard Moss
Dogs will also lick your face if you let them.
Their bodies will shiver with happiness.
A simple walk in the park is just about
the height of contentment for them, followed
by a bowl of food, a bowl of water,
a place to curl up and sleep. Someone
to scratch them where they can't reach
and smooth their foreheads and talk to them.
Dogs also have a natural dislike of mailmen
and other bringers of bad news and will
bite them on your behalf. Dogs can smell
fear and also love with perfect accuracy.
There is no use pretending with them.
Nor do they pretend. If a dog is happy
or sad or nervous or bored or ashamed
or sunk in contemplation, everybody knows it.
They make no secret of themselves.
You can even tell what they're dreaming about
by the way their legs jerk and try to run
on the slippery ground of sleep.
Nor are they given to pretentious self-importance.
They don't try to impress you with how serious
or sensitive they are. They just feel everything
full blast. Everything is off the charts
with them. More than once I've seen a dog
waiting for its owner outside a café
practically implode with worry. “Oh, God,
what if she doesn't come back this time?
What will I do? Who will take care of me?
I loved her so much and now she's gone
and I'm tied to a post surrounded by people
who don't look or smell or sound like her at all.”
And when she does come, what a flurry
of commotion, what a chorus of yelping
and cooing and leaps straight up into the air!
It's almost unbearable, this sudden
fullness after such total loss, to see
the world made whole again by a hand
on the shoulder and a voice like no other.
Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A sense of Summer

photo of dragonfly on a plant
Welcome. Thanks for the visit. Can you see the dragonfly in the left center of the picture? They're very challenging to photograph. I don't know how some of the photographers who specialize in dragonflies do it. I've had "a thing" for this creature most of my adult life. Have you ever dreamed you were flying, not in a plane, but like a bird, or a dragonfly? I remember dreams like that from my childhood. As I got older I used to enjoy watching dragonfly's flights while I was fly fishing for bluegills and sunfish at Indian Head Pond in Hanover, MA. The rank smell of water, reeds, and muck, or the ok-a-li of a blackbird, often brings back pleasant memories of quiet evenings after work playing catch, and release, with poppers and pan fish. Sometimes, a largemouth bass would be unaccountably tempted to engulf the morsel of a bluegill popper, and I'd have my hands, and wrists, and elbows, and arms full for a few minutes. Another thing that satisfies me about dragonflies is that they eat mosquitoes. I wish they also feasted on wood ticks, but that's life. Despite having a couple of guidebooks, I rarely get a close enough look to be able to identify specific species. It seemed to me that I didn't see as many dragonflies this year as in years past. And as we move more and more into Autumn, I see fewer and fewer dragonflies. Maybe next Summer, when they again helicopter over the back yard and nearby wetlands, I'll be more successful. We live in hope, don't we? I have discovered at least one fascinating web site that includes, among other things, a page on the Meaning of a Dragonfly and What it Symbolizes. And as we're talking about dragonflies and Summer's waning, here's a poem about Summer's end, dragonflies and some of the company they keep.

Redwing Blackbird

Feet firmly perch
thinnest stalks, reeds, bulrush.
Until all at once, they attend my
female form, streaked throat, brownness.

Three fly equidistant
around me, flashing.
Each, in turn, calls territorial
trills, beckons ok-a-li, ok-a-li!

Spreads his wings, extends
inner muscle quivering red
epaulet bands uniquely bolden.

Turn away each suitor,
mind myself my audience.
Select another to consider,
He in turn quiver thrills.

Leave for insects.
Perhaps one male follows.
Maybe a few brood of young,
line summertime.

Silver Maple samaras
wing wind, spread clusters
along with mine, renewing Prairie.

As summer closes, I leave
dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies,
mosquitoes, moths, spiders, crickets for

grain, see, Sunflower;
join thousands to flock Sky—
grackles, blackbirds, cowbirds,     starlings—
Swarming like distant smoke clouds, rising.
Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.