Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mysterious North Shore?

First of all, Happy Halloween! 
We're not sure whether we were seeing murders of crows or unkindnesses of ravens during our drive up Highway 61. The ability, actually, lack thereof, to distinguish between crows and ravens is one of our major shortcomings. Traveling north of Duluth, we kept seeing flock after flock of either crows or ravens heading inland from the narrow strip of land between the road and the lake. We apologize for the lack of pictures. If there were a storm coming, this might have made more sense (we're sure it made sense to the birds). As it was, it turned into one more of North Shore's Mysteries.

photo of Superior shore at Cascade River
Superior shore at Cascade River       © harrington

Another North Shore Mystery has to do with geology, high bedrock in particular, and the affinity of tamaracks for swamps and bogs, and how it is that they find lots of swamps and bogs since there's some much bedrock near the surface. Presumably, God or the devil is in the details again. Speaking of the devil in the details, we each had a cold when we left and when we returned; the weather was cloudy all three days; the Grand Portage historic site was closed; peak leaf color was well passed; and we didn't see or hear any wolves. Did we have a good time? You bet. The company was great; food was really good; the folks were friendly; the Grand Portage state park was fascinating; we got some really good photos; we visited the North House Folk School (it's been a long time since I've wanted to go to school but they've got me hooked); we didn't have a schedule or definite itinerary; it was a wonderful change of pace and, it had been too long since just the two of us got away by ourselves. Did I mention the great company?

photo of North Shore tamaracks
North Shore tamaracks       © harrington

In honor of Halloween, Minnesota's North Shore, loons, lakes and poets, let's forego the obvious Edgar Allen Poe poem and take a look at

Ravens Hiding in a Shoe

By Robert Bly 
There is something men and women living in houses
Don’t understand. The old alchemists standing
Near their stoves hinted at it a thousand times.

Ravens at night hide in an old woman’s shoe.
A four-year-old speaks some ancient language.
We have lived our own death a thousand times.

Each sentence we speak to friends means the opposite
As well. Each time we say, “I trust in God,” it means
God has already abandoned us a thousand times.

Mothers again and again have knelt in church
In wartime asking God to protect their sons,
And their prayers were refused a thousand times.

The baby loon follows the mother’s sleek
Body for months. By the end of summer, she
Has dipped her head into Rainy Lake a thousand times.

Robert, you’ve wasted so much of your life
Sitting indoors to write poems. Would you
Do that again? I would, a thousand times.

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

North Country Town Transitions

One of the highlights of our Excellent North Shore Adventure was our visit to the North House Folk School campus. We're not sure we'd want to take up the life of a pioneer full time, but we have a strong and growing attraction to simpler, more basic times and values. Perhaps it's related to the growing awareness that, after a certain income level, more money doesn't necessarily provide more happiness. During the trip and since, we've become increasingly interested in the question of whether the good folks that live in Tofte or Grand Marais or Hovland or Grand Portage live all that differently than those of us in or near "the cities." Much of the area from Duluth north is covered with "For Sale" signs and prices that seem excessive compared to the rest of the real estate market. A lot of the employment is service and tourist related, which wouldn't seem create the kind of income needed to support the real estate prices. It just all seems out of balance. In the time we were driving Highway 61 (revisited), we saw less than a handful of people outside Grand Marais or the gift shops and galleries scattered along the highway. No one seemed to be doing yard work or anything like that. At one of the scenic overlooks, we noticed this cairn.

photo of highway cairn
 highway cairn  © harrington
There was a similar one by a roadside turnout, not looking nearly as scenic, near Silver Creek Cliffs. Maybe MnDot is becoming a little locavorish? At an event we attended last night, an associate was telling us about the fact that, in the Winter, it's possible, and fun, to hike up the frozen creeks. There are clearly a number of Minnesotans who care about and enjoy this country. I wonder if they also care about reducing fossil fuel consumption before all the fir trees and pines move up to Canada? How many recharges or battery swaps, if any, will it take to get to ski country in Lutsen driving a Leaf or a Tesla and will they ever make those EVs AWDs? Where will the charging stations go and can they be mostly solar powered? We don't think it's too soon to start thinking this way. We're going to need to be as adaptable and tenacious as the plants growing on this "hillside" near Grand Portage to deal with climate change's effects in our North Country.

photo of Grand Portage "hillside"
Grand Portage "hillside"       © harrington

In honor of tomorrow's All Hallow's Eve and October's passing, let's remember it with this poem by Bobbi Katz.


By Bobbi Katz

October is
when night guzzles up
the orange sherbet sunset
and sends the day
to bed
before supper
October is when jack-o’-lanterns
grin in the darkness
            strange company crunches
across the rumple of dry leaves
to ring a doorbell.
October is
when you can be ghost,
            a witch,
                        a creature from outer space…
almost anything!
And the neighbors, fearing tricks,
            give you treats.

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A change of scenery?

As much as we enjoyed our visit to the North Shore and Grand Portage, and we did, it was nice to get home to our own bed, to say "Hi!" to our dogs and the other inhabitants of our home, to have our normal coffee from one of our favorite cups and to see an oak tree or two again. Thanks for putting up with our short posts the last few days. We'll share more of the experience of the trip in future posts. Here's a view of the Lake Superior shore beneath our room.

To our eyes, the locale doesn't seem very hospitable (wave washed rock), but look at the amount of life captured by lichens, mosses, bushes and heavens knows what else. I don't know about the rest of the universe, but on earth, life seems to try to thrive wherever there's an unoccupied niche. That probably also applies to the human inhabitants of the area and to those, like the snow buntings, that find our North Shore territory better pickings in the Winter than their arctic breeding grounds. We noticed quite a few flocks once we got north of Two Harbors. Here's one bunting that posed in the middle of the road for us as we were taking shots of the Sawtooth Mountains.

In light of all that's being said these days about the potential impacts of global warming, I find the tenaciousness of life to be an incredibly optimistic sign. I'd like it even more, I think, if we focused on mitigation of causes (burning fossil fuels) rather than adaptation. The North Woods might become a northern extension of what's left of the Big Woods but that won't be the same. Minnesota is beginning to look at what needs to be done to adapt to reasonably anticipated local climate changes. I think we'd be better served with a more robust approach. Unless I missed it, the linked summary has no response from the Department of Employment and Economic Development. I've no idea why. Maybe folks think employment won't be affected? Particularly in northern Minnesota, I'd be concerned about that. We don't want to end up picturesque but dilapidated like these abandoned(?) fishing shacks.

Geraldine Connolly could well have spent some time in the Arrowhead before writing this poem.

Flathead Lake, October

By Geraldine Connolly
The eagle floats and glides,
circling the burnished aspen,

then takes the high pines
with a flash of underwing.

As surely as the eagle sails
toward the bay’s open curve,

as surely as he swoops and seizes
the struggling fish, pulling

it from an osprey’s beak;
so too, autumn descends,

to steal the glistening
summer from our open hands.

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Back from the North Country

Today is another quick posting day. We drove back from Tofte and could use some down time. The tamaracks on the North Shore are at about peak color. There was one short stretch of Highway 61 that was bordered by them on both sides.

We stopped along the road to glean a couple of clusters of showy mountain ash berries. One set of "berries" got separated and planted this afternoon. The other will get to germinate in the refrigerator for a couple of months and then will be planted in pots in the house. We'll see if any of this actually works and let you know come Spring and Summer of next year.

I wonder how many of those that try to wrest a living from the North Woods feel what Arna Bontemps refers to in his poem.

A Black Man Talks of Reaping

By Arna Bontemps
I have sown beside all waters in my day.
I planted deep, within my heart the fear
that wind or fowl would take the grain away.
I planted safe against this stark, lean year.   

I scattered seed enough to plant the land
in rows from Canada to Mexico
but for my reaping only what the hand
can hold at once is all that I can show.

Yet what I sowed and what the orchard yields
my brother's sons are gathering stalk and root;
small wonder then my children glean in fields
they have not sown, and feed on bitter fruit.

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

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Up, up, North

Today is another brief post day. We've been off site-seeing and traveled as far as the Canadian border. First we stopped in Grand Marais, after driving from Tofte, through Lutsen. Sunday morning in Grand Marais is a quiet time.

Grand Marais' harbor        © harrington

From there we headed north through forest that, if it had been vegetables, could best be described as picked over and shop worn. Less than an hour later we arrived at Grand Portage. The National Park Service historic site was closed so we went up to the state park, which is within site of the customs station.We're still discussing whether we can actually see Isle Royale toward the horizon.

Grand Portage/Canada coastline  © harrington

Back to Grand Marais for lunch at the Angry Trout. We've been trying to get to eat there off and on for about 5 years. Then a quick tour of the North House Folk School buildings and bookstore. A reason to return next Spring or Summer. In the interim, Billy Collins poem Canada will help bring back the memories.


By Billy Collins

I am writing this on a strip of white birch bark
that I cut from a tree with a penknife.
There is no other way to express adequately
the immensity of the clouds that are passing over the farms   
and wooded lakes of Ontario and the endless visibility   
that hands you the horizon on a platter.

I am also writing this in a wooden canoe,
a point of balance in the middle of Lake Couchiching,   
resting the birch bark against my knees.   
I can feel the sun’s hands on my bare back,   
but I am thinking of winter,
snow piled up in all the provinces
and the solemnity of the long grain-ships
that pass the cold months moored at Owen Sound.

O Canada, as the anthem goes,
scene of my boyhood summers,
you are the pack of Sweet Caporals on the table,   
you are the dove-soft train whistle in the night,
you are the empty chair at the end of an empty dock.   
You are the shelves of books in a lakeside cottage:   
Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh,   
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson,   
Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery,
So You’re Going to Paris! by Clara E. Laughlin,
and Peril Over the Airport, one
of the Vicky Barr Flight Stewardess series
by Helen Wills whom some will remember
as the author of the Cherry Ames Nurse stories.
What has become of the languorous girls
who would pass the long limp summer evenings reading
Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, Cherry Ames, Senior Nurse,   

Cherry Ames, Chief Nurse, and Cherry Ames, Flight Nurse?
Where are they now, the ones who shared her adventures   
as a veterans’ nurse, private duty nurse, visiting nurse,   
cruise nurse, night supervisor, mountaineer nurse,   
dude ranch nurse (there is little she has not done),   
rest home nurse, department store nurse,   
boarding school nurse, and country doctor's nurse?

O Canada, I have not forgotten you,
and as I kneel in my canoe, beholding this vision   
of a bookcase, I pray that I remain in your vast,
polar, North American memory.
You are the paddle, the snowshoe, the cabin in the pines.   
You are Jean de Br├ębeuf with his martyr’s necklace of hatchet heads.
You are the moose in the clearing and the moosehead on the wall.
You are the rapids, the propeller, the kerosene lamp.   
You are the dust that coats the roadside berries.   
But not only that.
You are the two boys with pails walking along that road,   
and one of them, the taller one minus the straw hat, is me.
Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, Raves and Reflections served here daily.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Superior report

Today's posting will bee s brief one. We've been traveling up the North Shore most of the day and we're kind of worn out. The first picture shows a strange cloud formation that looked like the Lake was smoking. The second is of Split Rock Light House. Tomorrow it's off to Grand Marais and, probably, Grand Portage.

photo of Lake Superior "Smoke"
Lake Superior "Smoke"       © harrington

photo of Split Rock Light House
Split Rock Light House        © harrington

We got a few flakes of snow or sleet this afternoon and the roadsides north of Two Harbors were full of Snow Buntings. This poem by Barton Sutter of Duluth fits the region and the upcoming season.

A Little Shiver

By Barton Sutter

After the news, the forecaster crowed
With excitement about his bad tidings:
Eighteen inches of snow! Take cover!
A little shiver ran through the community.
Children abandoned their homework.
Who cared about the hypotenuse now?
The snowplow driver laid out his long johns.
The old couple, who’d barked at each other
At supper, smiled shyly, turned off the TV,
And climbed the stairs to their queen-size bed
Heaped high with blankets and quilts.
And the aging husky they failed to hear
Scratch the back door, turned around twice
In the yard, settled herself in the snow,
And covered her nose with her tail.

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, Raves and Reflections served here daily.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Autumn's peak?

Yesterday was the last CSA share pickup for this season. Driving up to get the apples and squash and green tomatoes and..., we had a definite Dr. Seuss moment or two, trying to convince ourselves "Don't be sad because it's over, be happy because it happened!" It's the middle of Autumn, not the end, but it didn't feel that way. It's the middle of Autumn, not the end of Summer but it didn't feel that way. This year's weather makes it tough for us to figure out where we are and what comes next. Only this morning we were looking at an earlier edition of Jim Gilbert's Nature Notebook, one of the better phenology resources we're aware of. For October 23, he lists fall peak color dates for native tamaracks in Carver County. Carver isn't terribly far south of here so there should be a fair correspondence in the dates. With one early exception, peak color was around the 22nd or 23rd of October. This picture was taken this afternoon just up the road from where this is being written. It doesn't look like peak color to me. Although there are some bright yellow tamaracks on the left front, I see a fair amount of green behind them and to their right.

photo of peak tamarack color?
peak tamarack color?            © harrington

We'll see if we can date peak color (in our opinion) or if the needles came down faster than their colors turn. Many of our local deciduous trees are getting to be as barren and bare as the local farm fields. Except for the oaks, many of which hold onto their leaves until Spring, branches are getting more and more sparsely colored.

photo of leaf-sparse tree line
leaf-sparse tree line           © harrington

For now, the oaks are settling in to their earth tone palette of Autumn, before changing to Winter's brown and tan monotony, decent cover for returning tree sparrows, which should be starting to show up some time soon.

photo of earth tone palette oaks
earth tone palette oaks          © harrington

Charles Ghigna nicely captures the season's sense of movement in this poem.

Autumn's Way

By Charles Ghigna

In their yellow-most goings,
leaves of maple
ride breezes to the ground.
You can hear their sound
each autumn afternoon
as the crisp air cuts
through the trees
and hurries us along
the golden sidewalks

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, Raves and Reflections served here daily.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Locavore's footprint

We've been trying, for the past several years, to eat more
local, healthy food. We haven't yet tried the 100-mile diet challenge, or anything like that. As we've mentioned here on an almost weekly basis, we've been getting weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares from the Women's Environmental Institute Farm at Amador Hill. The round-trip drive has added to our carbon footprint, but it's been considerably less than the 1,500 to 2,500 "food miles" traveled from farm to table for non-local (big box?) foods. Another major source of our food has been the Mississippi Market Coop in St. Paul. (Which, in the Winter, offers too many out-of-season fruits from South America for my comfort.) The trip to the coop is usually combined with several other errands, mostly entertainment related, so that carbon foot print is spread over several categories. Some of our food (mostly the processed/packaged variety) comes from a local big box or small box grocery store. We've been pleased to note some increase in both the source identification and the local sourcing of a number of items in each of these venues. When eating out, locally sourced is a major screening criteria in picking a restaurant. Finally, we've added harvesting our pears, gleaning crab apples, and, this year, planted some apple trees and harvested chokeberries. Next year may lead to the addition of one or two bee hives and, perhaps, more shopping at farmer's markets instead of a CSA share.

photo of back yard pear products
back yard pear products          © harrington

Is this behavior going to make a dent in our climate change problems? Admittedly, not if we're the only family in the county trying to eat locally. But the local and organic food sectors are major growth elements in today's economy. So, not only do we get better tasting produce, we've reduced our total food miles considerably, we've enhanced the local economy instead of sending our profits to Bentonville, and, we've enjoyed responding to the challenge of getting creative with finding tasty, healthy ways to use fresh produce.

photo of jars of chokeberry jelly
chokeberry jelly             © harrington

My Minnesota is rapidly approaching its 365th daily posting. We missed a few days last Summer while we were in the hospital. Over the next year, we think we'll keep the local focus but try to talk more about sustainable living, especially in the country, resiliant and restorative development, and, hopefully, rural arts and how these pieces can come together as part of a rural sustainability and economic development strategy. For now, let's enjoy Don Thompson's poem October, it seems to fit the weather and the season quite well.


By Don Thompson

I used to think the land
had something to say to us,
back when wildflowers
would come right up to your hand
as if they were tame.

Sooner or later, I thought,
the wind would begin to make sense
if I listened hard
and took notes religiously.
That was spring.

Now I’m not so sure:
the cloudless sky has a flat affect
and the fields plowed down after harvest
seem so expressionless,
keeping their own counsel.

This afternoon, nut tree leaves
blow across them
as if autumn had written us a long letter,
changed its mind,
and tore it into little scraps. 

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Autumn afternoon

Today seemed like a good day to try to sort out which species of oak trees we have growing on the property. We're sorry to have to say that, until recently, we knew there were oaks and let it go at that. After reading much of Gary Snyder and some additional bioregional writings, we became embarrassed at not being better acquainted with the neighbors we've had for almost 20 years. We think it was the discover of black cherry trees that served as out tipping point. Welby R. Smith's Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota has been sitting on the bookshelf for several years. Mr. Smith writes "The state's oaks fall into two major groups: the red oak group (section Lobatae) and the white oak group (section Quercus). We were doing moderately well until we reached the statement "Oaks hybridize eazily within their own group..." After looking carefully at some of the leaves, we have tentatively arrived at the following identifications:

photo of bur oak leaves
 bur oak                         © harrington
photo of northern red oak leaves
northern red oak            © harrington
photo of white oak leaves
white oak                    © harrington

As we were taking these photos of oak leaf clusters, we glanced to our right and, there by the side of the road, stood a whitetail doe, ignoring the fact that it was early afternoon, in fact, almost mid-day. Her expression wasn't really clear, but her body language indicated she was trying to figure out who we were and what we were up to. We took her picture. At this point she was about 100 yards or so away. (The scale of the picture makes it look like more.)

photo of whitetail doe (distant)
whitetail doe (distant)      © harrington

We decided it would be fun to see how close we could get to her before she had had enough. We walked 10 or 15 yards with the camera in front of our face and out arms tucked close to our sides, stopped and took another picture. She stood still, still figuring. Same routine twice more, she's still standing there. One more time resulted in this picture:

photo of whitetail doe (closer)
whitetail doe (closer)      © harrington

At this point, she decided she didn't want to play anymore, swapped ends, raised her flag, and disappeared into the woods. We headed back to the warm house. These kind of chance encounters are, it seems to us, much more likely to occur in the country than in the city. They're one of the major reasons we live where we do. We seem to always be among Aldo Leopold's "Cannots." There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. (A Sand County Almanac). Bruce Weigl's poem reminds me of the days in Vermont when the grouse hunters (unarmed for deer) saw all the deer and the bow hunters (ill-armed for grouse) flushed most of the grouse.

My Autumn Leaves

By Bruce Weigl 
I watch the woods for deer as if I’m armed.
I watch the woods for deer who never come.
I know the hes and shes in autumn
rendezvous in orchards stained with fallen
apples’ scent. I drive my car this way to work
so I may let the crows in corn believe
it’s me their caws are meant to warn,
and snakes who turn in warm and secret caves

they know me too. They know the boy
who lives inside me still won’t go away.
The deer are ghosts who slip between the light
through trees, so you may only hear the snap
of branches in the thicket beyond hope.
I watch the woods for deer, as if I’m armed. 

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, Raves and Reflections served here daily.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Adapt, naturally

Several days ago we closed the storm windows. They're now covered with condensation as moisture escapes in the hot air from the house to be collected on the inside of the colder storm window pane. As the temperatures continue to drop, soon we can expect to see something like this on the windows.

photo of frost on the storm windows
frost on the storm windows    © harrington

The ice crystals reminded us of what we read earlier this week about the woolly bear caterpillar. Today, we saw the season's first woolly bear. We may see if we can overwinter him/her in the house. If we can't find and follow good directions, we'll turn it loose.

The more we learn about Nature's variety, the more amazed we are."A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology by Marshall and Sinclair points out that climate change and decreasing snow cover may be exposing woolly bears and other freeze-tolerant insects to repeated freeze/thaw cycles." Think, for a moment, about whether we can expect woolly bears to migrate north with warmer Winters or whether this astounding evolutionary adaptation will be lost because it's no longer necessary, or, even worse, if repeated freeze thaw cycles will increase their morbidity and result in woolly bears being extirpated from Minnesota. Speaking of climate change and extirpation, did you notice that, on Sunday, the Star Tribune had a major front page story on Saving the Great North Woods? We're glad to note mainstream media is starting to pay attention to this issue of climate change without the debilitating pro/con debate. The Will Steger Foundation has a fascinating and fantastic video on the impact of climate change on the Minnesota Prairie. We're not sure if we wish Bill Holm and Paul Gruchow were still with us. They could (and have) magnificently tell the story of what we're in the process of losing, but we suspect their hearts would be breaking as they told it. They each loved the Minnesota prairie that much.

photo of prairie thimbleweed
prairie thimbleweed             © harrington

Whether we're concerned about the North Woods, the Prairie, or somewhere in between, Charles Harper Webb has a message for us.

The Animals are Leaving

By Charles Harper Webb
One by one, like guests at a late party   
They shake our hands and step into the dark:   
Arabian ostrich; Long-eared kit fox; Mysterious starling.

One by one, like sheep counted to close our eyes,   
They leap the fence and disappear into the woods:   
Atlas bear; Passenger pigeon; North Island laughing owl;   

Great auk; Dodo; Eastern wapiti; Badlands bighorn sheep.

One by one, like grade school friends,   
They move away and fade out of memory:   
Portuguese ibex; Blue buck; Auroch; Oregon bison;   

Spanish imperial eagle; Japanese wolf; Hawksbill   

Sea turtle; Cape lion; Heath hen; Raiatea thrush.

One by one, like children at a fire drill, they march outside,   
And keep marching, though teachers cry, “Come back!”   
Waved albatross; White-bearded spider monkey;   

Pygmy chimpanzee; Australian night parrot;   

Turquoise parakeet; Indian cheetah; Korean tiger;   

Eastern harbor seal ; Ceylon elephant ; Great Indian rhinoceros.

One by one, like actors in a play that ran for years   
And wowed the world, they link their hands and bow   
Before the curtain falls.

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, Raves and Reflections served here daily.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Tricky seasons

By my count, Halloween is ten days from now. It seems a little early for Mother Nature to be doing Trick or Treat with us. Clearly, her sense of "seasonal" is different than ours, since yesterday she dumped five inches of snow in the county north of us. In St. Paul this morning there were snow flurries. Driving home, snow ghosts drifted across the road ahead of the wind. I much prefer the seasonal decorations found in this picture.

If you had asked us if we had an interesting pumpkin carving on the dining table a couple of years ago, we're pretty sure the response would have been "Dunno, might have." Photos with embedded time and date stamps eliminate that uncertainty. The owners and operators of the group home our son is in usually do up Halloween in a big way, including pumpkin carving contests. I thought the creativity in this one was outstanding.

In our neighborhood, we can't recall even one Trick or Treater showing up at the door in the 20 or so years we've been here. When the kids were younger, we drove into town on Halloween so they could enjoy the traditional treats. We tried to make sure while they were in school that we avoided the kind of trick in this poem by Kenn Nesbitt.

Halloween Party

By Kenn Nesbitt
We’re having a Halloween party at school.
I’m dressed up like Dracula. Man, I look cool!
I dyed my hair black, and I cut off my bangs.
I’m wearing a cape and some fake plastic fangs.

I put on some makeup to paint my face white,
like creatures that only come out in the night.
My fingernails, too, are all pointed and red.
I look like I’m recently back from the dead.

My mom drops me off, and I run into school
and suddenly feel like the world’s biggest fool.
The other kids stare like I’m some kind of freak—
the Halloween party is not till next week.

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, Raves and Reflections served here daily.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cherry-picking Autumn

Yesterday, while walking the dogs in the back yard, we noticed a tree whose leaves had turned bright orange. Based on the color, some of us thought it might be oak. Others voted for maple. Both were incorrect.

photo of black cherry fall colors
black cherry fall colors        © harrington

We didn't even know that Minnesota has a native tree known as the black cherry, let alone that one or more were growing on or near our property. Without waiting for the weather to improve, we need to see if some of the trees in front, near the road, that we have been thinking were buckthorn, are actually black cherry trees. That would be a pleasant surprise. In particular, we'll look carefully at the bark -- we're back with a pleasant surprise. Leaf and bark match yesterday's identification, making some allowances for difference in the age of the trees showing in the bark. We still have a bunch of buckthorn to be pulled, but it's not coming from the black cherry trees.

photo of black cherry tree bark
black cherry tree bark         © harrington

If you start to think about using the fruit of the black cherry, be sure to note that the pits are toxic. Also, the USDA writes that "Black cherry leaves, twigs, bark, and seeds are poisonous to livestock." It's nice to know that the fruit is beneficial to wildlife. Melissa Kwasny mentions Black Cherry Moon in her seasonal poem about chokeberries. Enjoy.


By Melissa Kwasny 
The Crow call this time of year the Black Cherry Moon
when the rose hips are blood-bright,
spattered on their overwrought stems, and the creek
calls so clearly in words almost our own
as we come sliding down the bank.
Last night, we covered the gardens in plastic.
The chickadees were back after their wide diet of summer.
We ate the last trout, its spine curved from disease.
So much can go wrong, I want to know
what you will promise me as our hands reach in and in
through the copper, the carmine leaves.
I know you are lonely, alone with your grief
for your parents who are not my parents, for your life,
which, despite all, is not my life. The cherries
are thick here, hanging in clusters, purple-black from frost.
It started to rain and I am chilled by it.
Each day, we promise, we will talk of our fears
of intimacy, how we still expect to be hurt when we love.
You bring me a coat from the back of the truck,
but I want to stop our task now, to sit in the cab
of the truck while the gray spills, slick with thunder.
What if I kissed you there in depth.
After so many years, I can misunderstand the difference
between instinct and obligation, how my hand
continues to grasp the stems. Keats said
poems should come easy as leaves off the trees,
but see how they cling and wrestle with their ties.
And now, the sun shines. It is not this grace
I had imagined. When Keats said poems, I meant   
love. The chokecherries roll easily
into my palm, then fall into the plastic bag that binds
my wrist. Over and over, until we have enough,
until our fingers are bruised with their dark juices. 

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, Raves and Reflections served here daily.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mixed Bag

Aren't you glad we don't have to choose just one from the colorful but somber earth tone palette of the oaks or the fiery, florescent flames of the maples or the gold of the aspens and tamaracks? If Mother Nature practiced the same kind of monoculture that many of our industrial farms promote, our lives would be diminished and our forests less resilient.

photo of earth-tone oaks
earth-tone oaks                © harrington

Resilience may have to become a dominant characteristic of My Minnesota if we are going to have a (sustainable) future, and, it seems to us, that much of our historical training and education has focused more on efficiency (monoculture and mass production) than on efficacy. If you consider a recent study of climate change's impact on local communities, it appears as though we Minnesotans are in a better position, or at least have more time to adapt, than many other places, but, let's not loose track of the trouble our moose population is in and that much of it is attributed to global warming.

photo of flaming maple
flaming maple     © harrington

Fortunately, Minnesota is developing responses and adapting to our new reality. There are not one but two conferences next week that you should know about and see if you can fit into your schedule. On Tuesday, there's an all day stakeholder workshop on Scoping in response to Legislation passed in 2013 [that] requires the Department of Commerce to develop the scope for a Minnesota Energy Future Study of how the state can transition to a sustainable energy system that does not rely on fossil fuels. Then, on Thursday, October 24, Fresh Energy is convening a community solar conference. Solar has several roles in climate change. Eliza Griswold notes a mythic one.

photo of tamaracks and oaks
tamaracks and oaks          © harrington

Ovid on Climate Change

By Eliza Griswold 

Bastard, the other boys teased him,
till Phaethon unleashed the steeds
of Armageddon. He couldn’t hold
their reins. Driving the sun too close
to earth, the boy withered rivers,
torched Eucalyptus groves, until the hills
burst into flame, and the people’s blood
boiled through the skin. Ethiopia,
land of   burnt faces. In a boy’s rage
for a name, the myth of race begins. 

Source: Poetry (December 2012).           

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, Raves and Reflections served here daily.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Seasonal changes

This morning's Star Tribune has an interesting article about sandhill cranes staging at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge for their southward migration. The trip written about occurred at the end of September, which is about the time we started noticing a growing scarcity of local cranes. This is getting to be like a detective story or a jig saw puzzle sorting out clues and fitting pieces together. The fact that sandhill cranes are resurgent in Minnesota definitely goes on the plus side. On the minus side we can put the cancellation of the Beargrease sled dog race. A sign of the economic and climatic times?

photo of flock of sandhill cranes feeding
flock of sandhill cranes feeding            © harrington

This picture was taken at the end of August of this year. I'm now guessing that it represents several local families flocking up prior to heading for a larger staging area in mid-to late September. Speaking of Autumnal migrations, we've been meaning to ask if you've seen any woolly bear caterpillars this Autumn. We haven't seen any yet and that seems unusual. Yet another seasonal change occurs next week. It's the final week of this year's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share with the Women's Environmental Institute Farm at Amador Hill. It's been fun and challenging trying to keep up with the amount of fresh vegetables that has arrived each week for the past several months. Some of us have found new recipes to make tasty use of veggies we used to despise (who said zucchini?). Even so, we occasionally felt overwhelmed by the daunting quantity and variety of produce provided. Maybe next year we'll forego a CSA share and try local farmer's markets instead (or not, we'll see).

One of the great things about My Minnesota is the local food production and delivery system. We have CSA's, farmer's markets, urban agriculture, food coops, gleaning, organic and local family (not industrial) farms and the magazine Edible Twin Cities to help us keep track of it all. Plus, we're one of the most literate and literature-supporting places in the country. We enjoy a surfeit of riches, more than enough to keep sane people happy. T.E. Hulme's poem Autumn captures much of this season of changes in language reminiscent of Minnesotan Robert Bly.


By T. E. Hulme 

A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, Raves and Reflections served here daily. Poetry often.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Peace and love enough

Early this morning (late last night) we had a waxing gibbous moon, about 98% full. Tonight, we experience the full October moon. Depending on which source you check, that makes it the full hunter's moon (Old Farmer's Almanac), or the leaf falling moon (Abenaki and Anishnaabe), white frost on grass (Algonquin) or other Native American names that fit the local phenology. There are many different ways to speak the truth.

full moon                      © harrington

One thing we can be sure of, when the moon is full, that's enough. There is no more moon to reflect light. We should think about how to work that concept into our consideration of "what is enough." I find it very appealing to envision Minnesota becoming a state that recognizes better is enough. Even (especially?) America's sweetheart, Oprah, knows a good thing when she sees it: “If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” From some  of what I've been reading  in The Wisdom of the Native Americans, many of them had a pretty good handle on "enough."
Look at me -- I am poor and naked but I am the chief of the nation. We do not want riches, but we do want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches. We want peace and love. 
Red Cloud 
If you haven't yet, take a few minutes and go watch "The Story of Solutions." I don't know anyone who thinks we can keep going the way we've done in the past. And, despite growing up listening to the Lone Range on radio, I don't think it's possible to "return with us now to those thrilling days of yesterday." Seasons may be circular, but a it seems to me that time is a line that may be bent 360 degrees and flows "forward." For our purposes, time is basically linear. New leaves will grow next Spring, the old ones will be transformed into duff.

photo of Autumn leaves
 Autumn leaves              © harrington

Today's poetry comes as the lyrics in a performance of Hazy Shade of Winter by Simon and Garfunkel. It seems to fit well. Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, Raves and Reflections served here daily.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Enough again already

We've talked more than a few times about the idea of "enough." If we're going to get serious, as we think we should, about shifting from constantly wanting "more" to producing "better," because we can't produce "more" sustainably until we get some of the replicators off the Enterprise. (Are we sure how they work?) Many folks would say that we have more than enough books in our personal library. (In weak moments, we might agree.) However, there is always another book that we want, or convince ourselves we need. Conversely, it seems reasonable, even in Minnesota, to assume we can only wear, or take off, so many clothes. If our closets are more overflowing than our bookshelves, do we have "enough" clothes for four seasons? Do we need "more?" Could we get along just fine with fewer, but better? If we have too much perishable food at any one time, we end up throwing out what would have been perfectly good food if we had consumed it in a timely fashion. (By the way, last night's chicken soup was better than usual, and, although it didn't cure us, we found that one bowl was "enough.") Nature often seems profligate (see dandelion seeds etc.). Does this pine tree have "enough" cones; are there excess cones; why do the other trees nearby (also pine) not have any cones?

photo of pine tree heavy with cones
pine tree heavy with cones    © harrington

Sometimes (always?), what seem like simple questions aren't. Or at least there aren't simple answers. In part, we believe that's because we have a tendency to use words imprecisely. Two rowdy dogs are often told "enough," when the speakers actually mean "that's way more than enough, stop what you're doing before we totally loose it with you ruffians." The extended local forecast is making reference to frost, freeze and flurries in the foreseeable future. It won't be too many months before some of us will have had "enough" of Winter (by which we mean that we're sick of it and will Spring please come RIGHT NOW). Maybe we need to study what Todd Boss has to say on the subject.

photo of frost, freeze, flurries?
 frost, freeze, flurries?          © harrington

It Is Enough to Enter

By Todd Boss 

Read the Q & A

the templar
halls of museums, for

example, or
the chambers of churches,

and admire
no more than the beauty

there, or
remember the graveness

of stone, or
whatever. You don’t

have to do any
better. You don’t have to

the liturgy or know history

to feel holy
in a gallery or presbytery.

It is enough
to have come just so far.

You need
not be opened any more

than does
a door, standing ajar.

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rainy days and Tuesdays

Wet day. Afternoon dog walk ends with soggy dogs and even more soggy dog walker. The clay in the class V aggregate is washing out and into the bordering fields and driveways. Wet, dripping leaves get blown from wet dripping tree limbs. The black dog doesn't want to do his business. He'd rather stand in the drizzle and smell what's on the wet wind. Dog walker represses rage. Black dog circles, and circles and circles and stops and starts and is finally finished. Wet dogs and wet jackets add needed moisture to the indoor air. The house's warmth feels good after standing out in the damp chill. Wet jeans off and hung. Dry jeans on. A rainy Autumn afternoon in Minnesota doesn't need to be shoveled, can't be skied on, helps soil moisture for Spring, makes even normally happy chickadees grumpy. (If you look closely, you can see the rain drips on the bottom of the feeder arm.)

Rainy afternoons in Autumn are time for nostalgia and reading poetry, especially children's poetry. Do you remember the nursery rhymes and how they sounded when Peter, Paul and Mary sang It's Raining?  Alternatively, if I'd had the foresight to make the dough yesterday (which I didn't) it could have been a great afternoon for baking bread to go with this evening's chicken soup.

Everyone in the house has the miseries to one degree or another. Coughs, sore throats, raspy voices, severely diminished energy and generally feeling icky (pardon the technical term). When everyone's feeling like this, it's definitely time to be praying for and working on better, not more. Thinking about yesterday's post and today's reports out of D.C., wouldn't most of us like to see a Washington that worked better, not more of the same? I think Annie Leonard is really on to something. with her Story of Solutions. Kenneth Rexrothe, in a very different way, is on to this weather and time of year.

Falling Leaves and Early Snow

By Kenneth Rexroth

In the years to come they will say,
“They fell like the leaves
In the autumn of nineteen thirty-nine.”
November has come to the forest,
To the meadows where we picked the cyclamen.
The year fades with the white frost
On the brown sedge in the hazy meadows,
Where the deer tracks were black in the morning.
Ice forms in the shadows;
Disheveled maples hang over the water;
Deep gold sunlight glistens on the shrunken stream.
Somnolent trout move through pillars of brown and gold.
The yellow maple leaves eddy above them,
The glittering leaves of the cottonwood,
The olive, velvety alder leaves,
The scarlet dogwood leaves,
Most poignant of all.

In the afternoon thin blades of cloud
Move over the mountains;
The storm clouds follow them;
Fine rain falls without wind.
The forest is filled with wet resonant silence.
When the rain pauses the clouds
Cling to the cliffs and the waterfalls.
In the evening the wind changes;
Snow falls in the sunset.
We stand in the snowy twilight
And watch the moon rise in a breach of cloud.
Between the black pines lie narrow bands of moonlight,
Glimmering with floating snow.
An owl cries in the sifting darkness.
The moon has a sheen like a glacier.
Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, Raves and Reflections served here daily, with a dose of nostalgia on rainy days.