Saturday, November 30, 2013

Alternatives to mine

Did you enjoy Thanksgiving and/or Hanukkah? Was it peaceful, hectic, some of each? The upcoming holidays will probably bring more of the same. Here at My Minnesota, we've held off on a rant or two because of the holiday season. But, there's a deadline coming up that we want to be sure you know about. On December 6, 2013, a state environmental impact statement on the proposed Polymet Northmet project in northeast Minnesota is to be released for a 90 day public comment period.

A November 27 Star Tribune article by Josephine Marcotty notes a recent mining industry analyst's report that the size of the operation could be expected to be more than doubled in the near future. That same article quotes the DNR communications director as saying "the agency can review only the project that’s been presented by the company.

“If the company seeks to expand its processing, that expansion will be subject to additional environmental review,” he said.

northeast Minnesota
northeast Minnesota            © harrington

In my opinion, that's not exactly the whole story. Here's a link to Minnesota's rules on EIS CONTENT. Now I'm not a lawyer, but I have been involved with a few contentious EISs. In light of what I see as pretty clear language on alternatives to be included, I'm at a loss to understand how the project ended up with the following final scoping decision.

"2.6 SCALE OR MAGNITUDE ALTERNATIVES The DNR and USACE will not evaluate an alternative scale or magnitude for the project. Although there may be environmental benefits from smaller amounts of mine waste associated with a smaller scale project, the cost of operating a smaller mine and ore processing facility for the diffuse ore body will adversely impact the feasibility of the project. As part of project development, the proposer evaluated various mill feed rates to estimate the economic feasibility of the project. The 32,000 tons per day (tpd) scale currently proposed was ultimately selected, however an 18,000 tpd scale was evaluated as part of the optimization process. During this analysis it was determined that the return on investment for an 18,000 tpd operation was not feasible. There is some smaller variability associated with the 32,000 tpd scale that would still be economically feasible, but the environmental benefits associated with this smaller degree of variability would not produce significant environmental benefits. The DNR and the USACE have determined that an alternative scale or magnitude would not feasibly meet the purpose of the project."

northeast Minnesota
northeast Minnesota         © harrington

Several commenters on the Scoping Document pointed out a need for "An alternative addressing additional sites, technologies and magnitude or scale of the project needs to included in the EIS." In my opinion, the Scoping Decision doesn't appear adequately responsive to those comments. Furthermore, determining that a smaller facility isn't (economically) feasible doesn't address, as near as I can figure out, the feasibility of a larger facility "where the real value is." The fact that the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy was one of the organizations that is reported to have made such comments, and is now expressing concern about the industry analyst's report described in the Star Tribune / Marcotty November 7 story, would make me very nervous if I were the individual at Polymet responsible for the success of permitting.

Try to track this as it plays out, and, if you're in a position to offer support to MCEA, the Sierra Club or others concerned about what's ultimately right for Minnesota's social, economic, and natural environment, offer support, good wishes, and maybe even a Christmas contribution so they can do a thorough job reviewing the draft EIS.

Should be an interesting holiday season for some folks. Philip Levine offers a a perspective on why this is so important.

Our Valley

By Philip Levin 
We don't see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay   
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment   
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

You probably think I'm nuts saying the mountains   
have no word for ocean, but if you live here   
you begin to believe they know everything.   
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you're thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn't your land.   
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats   
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men   
who carved a living from it only to find themselves   
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,   
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,   
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.

Friday, November 29, 2013

'Twas the day after Thanksgiving

Happy Holidays. I hope your Thanksgiving was as warm and wonderful as our. Today is Black Friday and Buy Nothing day. After noting that we haven't a spotless record for buy absolutely nothing day, I was informed that we are a counter-counter-culture family. We won't be mindless drones for either progressive or conservative causes. We're independent thinkers. So today we've helped support a very cool independent bookstore and coffee shop in Cambridge MN, a family owned Christmas tree farm in Isanti county, a local grocery store and bakery in Wyoming Mn, and a big box that didn't open early (on Thanksgiving) for Black Friday. Most of our time and money were spent locally on family Christmas decorations and presents. I think this comes under the heading of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. At the moment, the tree we bought this morning is up with only the lights and angel. The rest of the decorations come tomorrow and / or Sunday. Then it will look very much like this one. Each year there's a spirited discussion about which tree is the "right" size and shape. e.e. cummings somehow foresaw Charlie Brown's tree.

2012 family Christmas tree all decorated
© harrington

[little tree]

By E. E. Cummings 

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see          i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don't be afraid

look          the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you're quite dressed
you'll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they'll stare!
oh but you'll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we'll dance and sing
"Noel Noel" 

Thanks for stopping by during the holidays. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

From all the turkeys in My Minnesota
wild turkeys
wild turkeys                  © harrington

wild turkeys
wild turkeys                 © harrington

wild turkeys
wild turkeys               © harrington

wild turkeys
wild turkeys                  © harrington

Driving toward the Lac Qui Parle River

By Robert Bly 

I am driving; it is dusk; Minnesota.
The stubble field catches the last growth of sun.   
The soybeans are breathing on all sides.
Old men are sitting before their houses on car seats   
In the small towns. I am happy,
The moon rising above the turkey sheds.

The small world of the car
Plunges through the deep fields of the night,   
On the road from Willmar to Milan.   
This solitude covered with iron
Moves through the fields of night
Penetrated by the noise of crickets.

Nearly to Milan, suddenly a small bridge,
And water kneeling in the moonlight.
In small towns the houses are built right on the ground;   
The lamplight falls on all fours on the grass.
When I reach the river, the full moon covers it.   
A few people are talking, low, in a boat.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanks, given gladly

Today, the day before Thanksgiving, I'm thankful that I live in My Minnesota with my family (now including the daughter person's fiancee), in our warm home with our circus of dogs and our wildlife neighbors. I'm grateful for all the Community Supported Agriculture programs and farmers' markets that provide wonderful food at reasonable prices. I'm grateful for the books I've accumulated over the years and the pleasure they've brought me. I'm thankful that I've had an opportunity to learn to take better pictures and that my fingers are still nimble enough to play at the guitar. When we take the dogs for early morning walks it's usually still really dark. If there's no cloud cover, the moon and the stars are stunning. (I'm grateful that living in the country means the light pollution is limited.) Looking up at all the space between the stars makes me feel really tiny as I realize just how big that part of the universe is that I can see. At that point I'm especially thankful for the love and companionship of the aforementioned family and dogs. It would be a tragically lonely universe without them. These things for which I'm thankful are but the tip of the iceberg of my blessings. I still have a modicum of physical, emotional and mental health. I have a life despite a very close call last summer. I still have opportunities to try to accomplish some good and express some love in and for this beautiful world of ours. Finally, but far from least, I'm thankful to each and every one of you who's taken some time out of your busy life this past year to stop by and visit. Please come again when you can. In the meantime, enjoy Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. Stay warm and loving and grateful for what you have and keep in mind, please, where it came from.

Thanksgiving star lights
  Thanksgiving star lights          © harrington

The Thanksgivings

By Harriet Maxwell Converse 

We who are here present thank the Great Spirit that we are here
          to praise Him.
We thank Him that He has created men and women, and ordered
          that these beings shall always be living to multiply the earth.
We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its products
          to live on.
We thank Him for the water that comes out of the earth and runs
          for our lands.
We thank Him for all the animals on the earth.
We thank Him for certain timbers that grow and have fluids coming
          from them for us all.
We thank Him for the branches of the trees that grow shadows
          for our shelter.
We thank Him for the beings that come from the west, the thunder
          and lightning that water the earth.
We thank Him for the light which we call our oldest brother, the sun
          that works for our good.
We thank Him for all the fruits that grow on the trees and vines.
We thank Him for his goodness in making the forests, and thank
          all its trees.
We thank Him for the darkness that gives us rest, and for the kind Being
          of the darkness that gives us light, the moon.
We thank Him for the bright spots in the skies that give us signs,
          the stars.
We give Him thanks for our supporters, who had charge of our harvests.
We give thanks that the voice of the Great Spirit can still be heard
          through the words of Ga-ne-o-di-o.
We thank the Great Spirit that we have the privilege of this pleasant
We give thanks for the persons who can sing the Great Spirit's music,
          and hope they will be privileged to continue in his faith.
We thank the Great Spirit for all the persons who perform the ceremonies
          on this occasion.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Autumn's wind down winding up?

Last Summer, while on the way (actually, a different way) home from the WEI CSA farm in Amador, we saw a really well made, really dilapidated, outbuilding on one of the farms near Wild River State Park. I took several pictures and continued home. Several weeks later, out of idle curiosity, I retraced that route, or so I thought. The building wasn't where I'd left it. As dilapidated as it was, I didn't think it had totally collapsed and disappeared. It would have left some sort of trace. Because it troubles me when I misplace my car keys, let alone an entire building, today's activities included a very methodical search, using the county plat book. I had a helpful navigator, the daughter person's fiancee. Each road was checked off as it was driven. After we had covered about 7.5 miles, criss-crossing the township, there it was, right where we'd left it.

old out building
old out building                 © harrington
I'm still toying with the question of what could be done with the lumber if the building were purchased and deconstructed. Bookshelves and coffee tables come to mind. I don't think the logs are wide enough for that to work well. Maybe it will still be there if I ever come up with a reuse idea. Yesterday's photos of the Christmas lights weren't the best. After dark, but before supper, I played with my camera and got a couple of pictures that provide a better sense of the magic of Christmas lights. Here's hoping your holidays are at least this bright and cheery and you home warm and full of love (and loved ones), a setting more comfortable than Thomas McGrath portrays in his poem.

Christmas house lights at night
  Christmas house lights at night        © harrington

Christmas lights and greenery closeup
Christmas lights and greenery closeup    © harrington

Beyond the Red River

By Thomas McGrath 

The birds have flown their summer skies to the south,
And the flower-money is drying in the banks of bent grass
Which the bumble bee has abandoned. We wait for a winter lion,
Body of ice-crystals and sombrero of dead leaves.

A month ago, from the salt engines of the sea,
A machinery of early storms rolled toward the holiday houses
Where summer still dozed in the pool-side chairs, sipping
An aging whiskey of distances and departures.

Now the long freight of autumn goes smoking out of the land.
My possibles are all packed up, but still I do not leave.
I am happy enough here, where Dakota drifts wild in the universe,
Where the prairie is starting to shake in the surf of the winter dark.

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Signs of the season(s)

Today, while skimming one of my favorite phenology books, Jim Gilbert's Nature Notebook, I was reminded that lakes don't freeze over until all of the water has cooled to 39 degrees. This explains why the smaller lakes and ponds freeze first. It also means that it's the volume of water (surface area X depth) that needs to be accounted for, not just the depth or the size. So the wide but shallow Carlos Avery pools are now frozen. As of Saturday, the larger local lakes appeared to still be open, due to their depth and surface area.

open water at Carlos Avery
Carlos Avery pools           © harrington
Other signs of the season are showing up. Christmas wreaths and other decorations are for sale at several local big box garden centers. Poinsettias have made it all the way home and are now gracing the top of the piano and the corner of the desk on which this is being written. On Sunday, those who put up Christmas lights (and do most of the leaf raking and removal) received dispensation to do the lights, even though it's not yet Thanksgiving. They want to be sure for the opportunity to complete the seasonal task without benefit of snow on the ground or in the air. The results are simple but effective and attractive to my eyes. Some seem to prefer turning Christmas lights into a carnival display. We prefer a more basic approach such as the one below.

Christmas lights, greenery and oak leaves
Christmas lights, greenery and oak leaves     © harrington
We'll see if we can find a better time when it's darker and the lights show better. This picture shows most of the lights and lets you see the futility of trying to clear leaves when surrounded by oak trees. The driveway was essentially clear two days or so prior to taking this picture. Lyn Hejinian may have had this time of year in mind while writing this:

from constant change figures

By Lyn Hejinian 

constant change figures
the time we sense
passing on its effect
surpassing things we've known before
since memory
of many things is called
but what of what
we call nature's picture
surpassing things we call
since memory
we call nature's picture
surpassing things we've known before
constant change figures
passing on its effect
but what of what
constant change figures
since memory
of many things is called
the time we sense
called nature's picture
but what of what
in the time we sense
surpassing things we've known before
passing on its effect
is experience

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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Minnesota's stars

Yesterday, the season's first purple finches showed up at the feeder. We also had a visit from a Northern Flicker. Chickadees are drinking the water we keep putting out. Then, if we forget, they try to chip the ice with their bills. That contest, given how much a chickadee weighs, seems really unfair.

 chickadee contemplating feeder
chickadee contemplating feeder   © harrington

This morning the moonlight, stars and broken clouds made a beautify sky to watch while walking the dog. On the other hand, the temperatures made for a hurried walk and little time to observe nature's nighttime beauty. I think I'm past due to spend some serious time with my camera and some instructions on nighttime photography. Until then, enjoy the stars in this poem.


By Marjorie Pickthall

Now in the West the slender moon lies low,
And now Orion glimmers through the trees,
Clearing the earth with even pace and slow,
And now the stately-moving Pleiades,
In that soft infinite darkness overhead
Hang jewel-wise upon a silver thread.

And all the lonelier stars that have their place,
Calm lamps within the distant southern sky,
And planet-dust upon the edge of space,
Look down upon the fretful world, and I
Look up to outer vastness unafraid
And see the stars which sang when earth was made. 

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

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Premature delivery?

Today's high temperature was in the upper teens. The house windows are covered with frost. The small ponds and marshes are once again frozen.

Larger bodies of water are still open. That's where the remaining geese will concentrate until they too decide to head south. Astronomically, it's late Autumn for the next four weeks or so. Meteorologically, Winter starts in about a week, at the beginning of December. Between the breeze and the temperature today, I'm ready to believe Winter's here already.

Lines for Winter

By Dave Lucas 

Poor muse, north wind, or any god   
who blusters bleak across the lake   
and sows the earth earth-deep with ice.   
A hoar of fur stung across the vines:   
here the leaves in full flush, here   
abandoned to four and farther winds.   
Bless us, any god who crabs the apples   
and seeds the leaf and needle evergreen.   
What whispered catastrophe, winter.   
What a long night, beyond the lamplight,   
the windows and the frost-ferned glass.   
Bless the traveler and the hearth he travels to.   
Bless our rough hands, wind-scabbed lips,   
bless this our miscreant psalm.

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

Will climate change us?

This morning a delightful, and useful, discovery was brought to me via The site has a piece on "What's Design Got to Do with Environmental Solutions?" Since I'm interested in the arts, design and environmental issues, it caught my eye. The mnartists' article was largely about the redesign of a website (ensia) from the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment. ensia deserves kudos for both its design and its content. The features are well written, topical, informative and thought provoking. The notables are brief and insightful. I've been only to ready to rant about things in My Minnesota which don't, in my opinion, warrant our approval. I'm really happy to be able to note in this case, well done U of M IoE. I'll return regularly to see what's new and notable on ensia. (For reference, I regularly read a number of blogs and web sites on the environment and sustainability. The increase in depth and thoughtfulness of the content at ensia, compared to the sites I've been reading, is remarkable.) Now, if we can get Minnesota's leadership (political, intellectual and business) to convince us that there are distinct advantages to making Minnesota the most sustainable state in the union, we'll really have something going for us.

snow fringed pond covered with ice
 backwoods beauty            © harrington

We live where the diversity of the natural beauty is magnificent. We know that wasting resources (natural, human or capital) isn't a best business practice. Yet we persist in engaging in the fallacy that we are faced with a choice between jobs and the environment. Not so. Germany has one of the strongest economies in Europe and is leading the world in the transition to renewable energy. I'd like to see Minnesota in a similar position in the US. Renewable energy and energy efficiency jobs are likely to pay better and last longer than jobs created through sulfide mining. Cook County is reported to be making progress with their broadband internet initiative. Such efforts will help create additional employment opportunities. Minnesota is competing in a global economy. It seems to me we should be looking to win a race to the top and concede the race to the bottom to China. If any of you are old enough to have seen the movie The Graduate, you may remember the great line about one word "plastics." Today, I'd say the one word is "energy." To which we could add renewable or efficiency, either has a lot to do with design and the environment. Maybe we'll reach a point where most of us learn to work with nature instead of trying to dominate her. Maybe not. I've read that 400 ppm carbon dioxide is the maximum we can reach and not trigger more than a 2 degree temperature increase. We've still got 2 or 3 ppm to go. We have time to adjust and keep snowy winters in Minnesota. Don't we? Or we may end up:

Minnesota winter wonderland
Minnesota Winter 2013      © harrington


By Pura López-Colomé 

Enormous solids were falling
from who knows what heights,
who knows what places.
I trembled,
and in my mouth
an inky taste. Precise.

Hail, maybe,
enormous kernels of ice;
coming down,
with a scandalous impact,
didn't bury me, terrorized,
under the covers.
It didn't happen, it wasn't that.

A below zero temperature   
circulated through the soft center of my bones.
A truly searing cold.   

Nothing having to do with monsters came to pass.
Nothing to do with interminable distances.
No brutal incidents.
Only the agony of acorns.
Only a cycle that completes itself
every few years
and transforms into a tropical forest
a choiring oak grove.   

Which is the fear.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mining my own business

Rebecca Otto, Minnesota's State Auditor, has what I think is a wonderful opinion piece in today's Star Tribune, explaining her "No" vote on sulfide mining leases. The Minnesota Executive Council recently approved 31 nonferrous leases. Go read the whole article, we'll be here when you get back.  
Finished, good. Thanks for coming back. There's a long list of environmental organizations with long, long lists of complaints and concerns about sulfide mining: Friends of the Boundary Waters, National Wildlife Federation, and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy among others. What troubles me even more deeply, however, is the September 26, 2013 report from Minnesota Public Radio that "A Majority of Minnesotans are Unaware of the Proposed Mining Projects." I know we all lead busy lives. Some of us have even started to minimize our reliance on "mainstream media" in the U.S. because they often fail to report on stories that concern us. We do need to be aware of potential threats to our local treasures though, don't we? Road cuts through rock are tough enough to deal with. How many of our lakes and streams don't meet water quality standards now? How well have we done protecting the groundwater that supports White Bear Lake? Is it only about jobs?

Jobs are important. I'm not arguing against jobs. Mining jobs no doubt pay more than the service jobs associated with tourism. But, how many mining jobs, for how long, will be needed to compensate for lost jobs if tourists start avoiding northern Minnesota because is has become the environmental disaster that many fear? How many of the good paying jobs will go to folks already living in the area? I wonder if the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement will take a look at the net economic gains or if we'll have to raise that concern as part of the public comment process? 
I'm not against mining. This is being typed on a computer with lots of metal and rare earth metal used to produce it. I am against subsidizing corporate profits through inadequate social and environmental safeguards being applied to risky ventures. (I'm also not in favor of massive public subsidies for NFL team owners, but that's another post.)  I'm particularly against the public having to assume any anticipated environmental costs over a 500 year period, when "The average life expectancy of a multinational corporation-Fortune 500 or its equivalent-is between 40 and 50 years." This all brings back the dismay I experienced when the U.S. approved NAFTA with what seemed to me and some others to be grossly inadequate social and environmental safeguards. I find it enough of a challenge dealing with the impact of a democratically elected government on my life and environment. As corporations (persons according to the Supreme Court) become the electors of our government, my concerns become elevated. How about yours? What kind of Minnesota do you want to live in? Richard Hugo gives us food for thought with this poem about life after the mines have closed.

Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg

By Richard Hugo 
You might come here Sunday on a whim.   
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss   
you had was years ago. You walk these streets   
laid out by the insane, past hotels   
that didn’t last, bars that did, the tortured try   
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.   
Only churches are kept up. The jail   
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner   
is always in, not knowing what he’s done.

The principal supporting business now   
is rage. Hatred of the various grays   
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,   
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls   
who leave each year for Butte. One good   
restaurant and bars can’t wipe the boredom out.   
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,   
a dance floor built on springs—
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat   
or two stacks high above the town,   
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse   
for fifty years that won’t fall finally down.

Isn’t this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn’t this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?   
Don’t empty houses ring? Are magnesium   
and scorn sufficient to support a town,   
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze   
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?

Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty   
when the jail was built, still laughs   
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,   
he says, I’ll go to sleep and not wake up.   
You tell him no. You’re talking to yourself.   
The car that brought you here still runs.   
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it’s mined, is silver   
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily. (Thank you, Rebecca!)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Royale pain

The Isle Royale wolves are back in the news and on the radio again. More specifically, public discussions are underway about what to do. According to Ron Madore at MinnPost, the options are:
  • Let the wolves die out and leave mainland wolves to decide whether, and when, to recolonize the island.
  • Let the wolves die out, then reintroduce new packs captured for the purpose.
  • Attempt a "genetic rescue" by bringing a small number of new wolves to the island, in hopes that adding new genetic material will improve the population's health and resilience. This is the option now favored by John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson, longtime directors of research into the wolf/moose population balance on Isle Royale. 

From our recent trip up north, here's a very distant view of the island in question. (It's the dim land near the horizon, not the obvious islands more clearly visible.)

The question I haven't yet seen raised (and maybe I just missed it) goes like this: Both wolves and moose are immigrants to the island. If human intervention is decided upon this time (2nd or 3rd option above) how long until another intervention is needed? The island will stay an island, I presume. I recall only too well Stewart Brand's observation in the Whole Earth Catalog that "we are as gods and might as well get good at it." I also recall Einstein's thought to the effect that "God does not play dice with the world." It seems to me that any course that involves direct human intervention is playing dice with Isle Royale. We've tried before, in different times and locales, to "manage national parks. One example is documented in Playing God in Yellowstone. From my perspective, our track record as gods is less than sterling. Let's carefully consider Aldo Leopold's guidance and see if we can figure out how it would apply to the island situation. He wrote "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." I agree with the philosophy. I've simply found that sometimes, integrity, stability and beauty can be mutually exclusive. Think about it. Think also about whether wolves are iconic wild creatures or not and whether, indeed, we are as gods.

On A Moonstruck Gravel Road

By Rodney Torreson 

The sheep-killing dogs saunter home,
wool scraps in their teeth.

From the den of the moon
ancestral wolves
howl their approval.

The farm boys, asleep in their beds,
live the same wildness under their lids;
every morning they come back
through the whites of their eyes
to do their chores, their hands pausing
to pet the dog, to press
its ears back, over the skull,
to quiet that other world.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A hope full Thanksgiving

I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving next week. Santa arrives at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Time spent with family. Good food. The real start of the holiday season. I discovered this morning something else for which I'm grateful., A Journal of the Build + Natural Environments, has a guest editorial in the current issue. Its entitled Notes Composed in the Dark of Our Time and was written by Priscilla Long. It's about hope. This Thanksgiving, I'm going to concentrate on remembering all we have to be hopeful for. I don't know about you, but I find it all too easy to loose sight of what's going better, or at least OK, in the face of all that's not going well or is headed in what I think is the wrong direction. One of my favorite writers, Paul Hawken, wrote a book several years ago called Blessed Unrest. One of the outcomes of that book was a web site named, The Social Network for Sustainability. If you're having trouble being thankful in light of all the world's trials and tribulations, follow some of the links above. I hope they help perk you up. Try Emily Dickinson's poem too.

a flock of five wild turkeys
things with feathers           © harrington

"Hope" is the thing with feathers - (314)

By Emily Dickinson 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Deer, deer November

The wind is dying down. The clouds are dissipating. I have a cup of hot coffee with cranberry honey and 1/2 and 1/2. Life, for me at the moment, is good. This morning's cloud cover pretty well killed any view of the full moon. The local deer population, and, we think, one large doe in particular, is eating its way through our front porch pumpkin collection.

deer-munched pumpkins
deer-munched pumpkins     © harrington

I certainly don't begrudge them the treat, but I do wish deer were more partial to eating buckthorn and poison ivy. We have an abundance of both. I noticed that the DNR reports deer harvest is down this year, at least so far. They attribute it to the windy opening weekend. That makes sense to me, but in an unscientific survey, it seems to me that the local hunting pressure is down this year. Since we still have a lot of venison in the freezer, the hunters in the household have been otherwise engaged this season. Joan Mitchell nicely summarizes Minnesota Novembers in her poem.


By Joan Mitchell 

The rusty leaves crunch and crackle,
Blue haze hangs from the dimmed sky,
The fields are matted with sun-tanned stalks —
Wind rushes by.

The last red berries hang from the thorn-tree,
The last red leaves fall to the ground.
Bleakness, through the trees and bushes,
Comes without sound.

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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November dance

Leaves have been flying off and on most of the day. Even the oaks are letting go of more of last season's photosynthesizers, rather than hanging on until Spring. The grass heads have been bobbing and weaving in the wind, creating  a fairy dance that celebrates Autumn.

Autumn's grass seed heads
Autumn's grass seed heads    © harrington
There was lots of discussion this morning over coffee about beekeeping risks and rewards. We don't want to make the investment in some hives and colonies if any of us are really allergic to bee stings. We're going to work on getting that sorted out and see about joining the beekeeper's association to learn some more and, hopefully, get some actual experience before spending any notable amount of money. We seem to be becoming radically commonsensical around here.

I saw this year's first load of Christmas trees on Friday. The Arboretum is getting decked out in Christmas finery. Thanksgiving is next week. We're entering the holiday season even though temperatures are running in the mid-40s. This Thanksgiving I'll have a lot for which to be grateful. The daughter person and her fiancee spent much of this afternoon helping me (or maybe I was helping them) purge and organize the utility room in the basement. We had reached the point that we needed to move three or four things to get at any one thing. Our bridge hadn't yet collapsed, so to speak, but the area was showing the effects of a lack of maintenance. That's getting taken care of. I might once again look forward to, rather than dreading, entering the vicinity. Tonight's full moon might not be visible unless the clouds disperse. Here's an almost full version to enjoy, followed by a poem that reads as if it were written for today.

Like Coins, November

By Elizabeth Klise von Zerneck 

We drove past late fall fields as flat and cold
as sheets of tin and, in the distance, trees

were tossed like coins against the sky. Stunned gold
and bronze, oaks, maples stood in twos and threes:

some copper bright, a few dull brown and, now
and then, the shock of one so steeled with frost

it glittered like a dime. The autumn boughs
and blackened branches wore a somber gloss

that whispered tails to me, not heads. I read
memorial columns in their trunks; their leaves

spelled UNUM, cent; and yours, the only head . . . 
in penny profile, Lincoln-like (one sleeve,

one eye) but even it was turning tails
as russet leaves lay spent across the trails. 

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

To bee or not to bee

All day today was spent at the Minnesota Arboretum attending a University of Minnesota class on the basics of beekeeping in a northern climate. There were about 250 attendees. Beekeeping is on the ascendency. It also is reported to have a fairly high estimated attrition rate (only 10% to 20% still doing it after 5 years). It's complicated, but would encourage beekeepers to pay attention to a number of details that might otherwise be ignored, for example, what's blooming when. Furthermore, I hadn't know that honeybees depend on pollen from oaks, maples and some other trees early in the season. Beekeeping fits with sustainable living and self sufficiency. It looks like we're going to be getting into beekeeping this Winter (getting organized, ordering) and Spring (setting up). Stay tuned for details such as the electric fencing to dissuade the bears. Meanwhile, today's weather calls up a poem like Tim Bowling's, although we've already had first frost.

honeybee on maroon pansy
honeybee on maroon pansy       © harrington

The Last Days of Summer Before the First Frost

By Tim Bowling 

Here at the wolf’s throat, at the egress of the howl,
all along the avenue of deer-blink and salmon-kick
where the spider lets its microphone down
into the cave of the blackberry bush—earth echo,
absence of the human voice—wait here
with a bee on your wrist and a fly on your cheek,
the tiny sun and tiny eclipse.
It is time to be grateful for the breath
of what you could crush without thought,
a moth, a child’s love, your own life.
There might never be another chance.
How did you find me, the astonished mother says
to her four-year-old boy who’d disappeared
in the crowds at the music festival.
I followed my heart, he shrugs,
so matter-of-fact you might not see
behind his words
(o hover and feed, but not too long)

the bee trails turning to ice as they’re flown.

Thanks for listening. Come again soon. Rants, raves and reflections served here daily.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Minnesota, enlightened

Every once in awhile, Minnesota gives us an Autumn day like today so we can feel justified in coping with what's on its way. Mid 50s, gorgeous sunrise, beautiful early morning mist and frost. I hope you got to enjoy at least some of it.

 November sunrise over misty field
 November sunrise over misty field © harrington

The day just kept getting prettier and better (spelled warmer). Then, this afternoon, moonrise was a wonderful counterpoint to sunrise. Sunlight reflected is to sunlight as a mirrored image is to your loved one's face. A pale copy but stunning none-the-less.

November moonrise over woods
November moonrise over woods  © harrington
Henry David (a fellow New England born) writes of the moon as if he were enlightened.

The moon now rises to her absolute rule

By Henry David Thoreau 

The moon now rises to her absolute rule,
And the husbandman and hunter
Acknowledge her for their mistress.
Asters and golden reign in the fields
And the life everlasting withers not.
The fields are reaped and shorn of their pride
But an inward verdure still crowns them;
The thistle scatters its down on the pool
And yellow leaves clothe the river—
And nought disturbs the serious life of men.
But behind the sheaves and under the sod
There lurks a ripe fruit which the reapers have not gathered,
The true harvest of the year—the boreal fruit
Which it bears forever,
With fondness annually watering and maturing it.
But man never severs the stalk
Which bears this palatable fruit.

Thanks for listening. Come again when you can. Rants, raves and reflections, but never mooning, served here daily.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The arts of November

Yesterday was our 365th posting. We have now made it through a year both chronologically and by blog-post count. Thank you to those who show up from time to time to see what we have to say around here. Were any of you up early enough this morning to see the brief, beautiful sunrise? I didn't move quickly enough to get a photo worth sharing. This afternoon's skies have cleared and the temperature is seasonal. Last night's arts book club meeting was a real pleasure. There were about seven of us, two staff and one intern from the Franconia Sculpture Park and four "civilians." The primary topic of conversation was the book Draw it with your eyes closed: The art of the art assignment (Paper Monument, 2012). The various arts represented (music, textile, visual, poetry, et. al.) made for insightful comparisons on similarities and dissimilarities in assessing the benefits and impacts of art on the creator and any audience. Between the setting and the conversation, I was briefly transported back to my younger days and time spent near or in Mad River, Vermont, hanging out with with some closet and some obviously "outed" hippies. Upon returning home from the sculpture park, we discovered that the front door pumpkins, which had been lightly nibbled the night before, must have tasted good enough that someone or something (deer most likely) had come back for a full course meal.

chewed on pumpkins (deer?)
chewed on pumpkins (deer?)    © harrington

Although we missed capturing this morning's sun rise, on our way out last night, we grabbed an interesting shot of the moon through the oak branches. The November full moon is a few days away (the 17th). The Anishnaabe(Chippewa, Ojibwe) call it the freezing moon [gashkadino-giizis(oog)]. The shallow ponds and marshes are mostly frozen again. I think the name is apt,and more accurate than the Old Farmer's Almanac claim of beaver moon.

I wonder if Howard Nemerov was at St. Paul's Ginko Coffeehouse when he wrote this November poem.

The Consent

By Howard Nemerov 

Late in November, on a single night
Not even near to freezing, the ginkgo trees
That stand along the walk drop all their leaves
In one consent, and neither to rain nor to wind
But as though to time alone: the golden and green
Leaves litter the lawn today, that yesterday
Had spread aloft their fluttering fans of light.
What signal from the stars? What senses took it in?
What in those wooden motives so decided
To strike their leaves, to down their leaves,
Rebellion or surrender? and if this
Can happen thus, what race shall be exempt?
What use to learn the lessons taught by time.
If a star at any time may tell us: Now.

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sun shine on my shoulder

Last night's Wild River Audubon chapter meeting at the local library was an absolute treat. Pat Collins, who teaches 7th grade life science in the local schools, gave a wonderful, amusing, informative and heartening presentation on global warming, climate change, energy conservation and renewable energy. I'm going to use him and his information as an inspiration to get solar panels for the homestead or, at least, have a damn good reason why not. Unfortunately, Xcel Energy may turn out to be that good reason. We'll start tracking this more closely since Xcel provides much (most?) of the electricity they supply to Minnesota from either coal or nuclear plants. I think the world would be much better off if we eliminated both and relied much more on solar. At home, we've already swapped most of our incandescents for either CFLs or LEDs. We've got a new 97% efficient furnace. The cars we drive are reasonably fuel efficient. We're making progress with our carbon footprint.

Sun power for solar energy
Sun power for solar energy    © harrington

In New England, where I was raised, there was a strong emphasis on living within one's means, including not spending down "the capital." It seems to me that using fossil fuels is the energy equivalent of spending down the capital. For nuclear, we still haven't agreed on a "permanent depository," so how do we justify continuing to create more waste? The solution I'm thinking of would involve freestanding panels in the "back yard," similar to but smaller than the set up at the Audubon North Woods Center.

Audubon North Woods energy array
Audubon North Woods energy array  © harrington

It might be advisable to spend some time considering the questions raised in Untermeyer's poem Faith before we determine our next energy strategy.


By Louis Untermeyer 
What are we bound for? What’s the yield
   Of all this energy and waste?
Why do we spend ourselves and build
       With such an empty haste?

Wherefore the bravery we boast?
   How can we spend one laughing breath
When at the end all things are lost
       In ignorance and death? . . .

The stars have found a blazing course
   In a vast curve that cuts through space;
Enough for us to feel that force
       Swinging us through the days.

Enough that we have strength to sing
   And fight and somehow scorn the grave;
That Life’s too bold and bright a thing
       To question or to save.

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