Friday, February 28, 2014

Cultural Identity?

Does Minnesota have a cultural identity? Since we are geographically large and are becoming more and more diverse, do we need one to be governable?

Split Rock Lighthouse
Split Rock Lighthouse      © harrington

The photo essays posted here the past two days have prompted me to do even more thinking about a nearby state's Declaration of Cultural Identity that I recently found on the Internet. With very little editing, I could comfortably fill in the word "Minnesota" almost everywhere you see a series of blanks like this _ _ _ _ _ _. What do you think? Would something like this work for Minnesota? If not a Declaration of Cultural Identity, how do we make a better start on the great work described by Paul Gruchow and mentioned here a few days ago?

Southwestern Minnesota Wind farm
Southwestern Minnesota Wind farm   © harrington

Washington, D.C. isn't the only place in our country suffering from rancorous gridlock. We haven't yet reached the level of dysfunction our "leaders"(?) regularly exhibit, but it seems to me we're moving too rapidly in that direction for our own good. Combine that with an understandable level of parochial self-satisfaction and a dollup of "not invented here-ism" and Minnesota could soon loose the quality of life for which we've become noted. Personally, I'd really like to see us turn the fragmentation we've created over the past few decades into a much more coherent mosaic of the Minnesota we'd like to live in and can identify with. Maybe a good place to start would be to turn down the volume and the games-playing on the PolyMet NorthMet project and devote those wasted energies into creating a sustainable Iron Range with living wage plus jobs and the resilience needed to adapt to the changes global warming is bringing to to our North Country and the rest of Minnesota. Does that work for you?

Evening at Duluth Harbor
Evening at Duluth Harbor      © harrington

By the way, at the beginning of this week, I sent a copy of the Cultural Identity Declaration below, without the blanks, to Minnesota's Humanities Center through their web site's "Contact Us" email address. I asked if they knew of any Minnesota statement of cultural identity comparable to what I sent. I'll let you know if I ever get a reply.

Reaffirmed by the _ _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _ Arts Council – 2008

We affirm that all lands and people on Earth hold equal and worthy distinction in expressing their individual cultures. We believe that art is the universal language, and as such, is the expression of our common humanity. Through the arts we give voice, color, form, texture and meaning to the vast range of what it is to be human.

As _ _ _ _ _ _s, we declare this to be our cultural identity:

We are a people whose spirit is shaped by the land and tied to the seasons. Time is marked by the cycles of planting and harvesting and migrations of wildlife. Landscape is an integral part of our being.

We are a people whose loyalty belongs to our neighbors. Climate and geographic distance often hinder our joining together, yet our sparse population intensifies our belief in each other and the value of the individual. Everyone and everything is closely related.

We are a people whose individual ethnic heritage is maintained and valued. Sovereign nations of Native Americans, descendants of pioneers, and recent immigrants possess and preserve distinctive traditions. We strive to understand and respect the diversities of all _ _ _ _ _ _ cultures.

We are a people whose existence is perpetuated by faith. Our spirituality gives us a common bond with humanity and strengthens our relationship with nature. Through respect and love of the land, we strive to maintain a quality of environment for generations to come.

We are a people whose contribution to world culture is on our own terms of excellence. We create, we interpret, and we present art within the _ _ _ _ _ _ framework, telling the world of our sense of place.

We are a people whose quality of life depends upon our artistic expressions. We believe the arts influence the desires, beliefs, values, and character of our people. The _ _ _ _ _ _ landscape and spirit are reflected in our art.

James Wright describes much of the kind of Minnesota I remember and want again.

A Blessing

By James Wright 

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness   
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.   
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.   
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me   
And nuzzled my left hand.   
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Minneapolis American Indian Cultural Corridor II

Before we get to the second part of the American Indian Cultural Corridor photo essay, let me share a couple of "factoids" that surprised me. The 2012 Native American population for all of Minnesota, according to Census Bureau estimates, is [was] 1.1% of a total state population of 5,379,646, or about 59,176 Native Americans. The Native American percentage in Minneapolis, at 2% is greater than that for Minnesota, but since the city's population is much lower (392,880) the actual Native American population in Minneapolis is about 7,858, but that's more than 13% of Minnesota's total Native American population. To put this in a different perspective, the Native American population in Minneapolis is greater than the total 2012 population of each of twelve of Minnesota's 87 counties, I think that's more than enough to help support activities on an urban commercial corridor.

part of "Ancient Traders Market" [ATM]   © harrington

Northland Visions at Ancient Traders Market
Northland Visions at ATM       © harrington

place making at Ancient Traders Market
place making at ATM      © harrington

raven(?) and turtle and (?) at ATM
raven(?) and turtle and (?) at ATM   © harrington

ATM's Maria's Cafe black bear window bars
ATM's Maria's Cafe black bear window bars  © harrington

OJIBWA license plate on Volvo
in the ATM parking lot        © harrington

stylized deer bike rack
stylized deer bike rack         © harrington

Heid Erdrich writes of something I think we all hope to see soon for this season, but not forever.

Last Snow

By Heid E. Erdrich 

Dumped wet and momentary on a dull ground
that’s been clear but clearly sleeping, for days.
Last snow melts as it falls, piles up slush, runs in first light
making a music in the streets we wish we could keep.
Last snow. That’s what we’ll think for weeks to come.
Close sun sets up a glare that smarts like a good cry.
We could head north and north and never let this season go.
Stubborn beast, the body reads the past in the change of light,
knows the blow of grief in the time of trees’ tight-fisted leaves.
Stubborn calendar of bone. Last snow. Now it must always be so.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Minneapolis' American Indian Cultural Corridor I

Today, instead of writing about the Winter that's here or the Spring that's coming, let's do something very different. Last Summer I went into Minneapolis to take a number of photos of the American Indian Cultural Corridor on Franklin Avenue. Reading the stories today about Minnesota's current sulfate standard being "about right" and MPCA's forthcoming efforts to specify which waters are wild rice habitat, made me think that now might be a good time to share many of the pictures I took as part one of a photo essay. The next time I do anything like this, I'll be sure to include people in my pictures of places.

American Indian Cultural Corridor signage
American Indian Cultural Corridor signage  © harrington

All My Relations Gallery
All My Relations Gallery       © harrington

All My Relations Gallery signage
All My Relations Gallery signage   © harrington

on display at All My Relations Gallery
on display at All My Relations Gallery   © harrington

bicycle racks (hitching posts?)
bicycle racks (hitching posts?)       © harrington

Many Rivers East, affordable housing
Many Rivers East, affordable housing   © harrington

Many Rivers East, entrance
Many Rivers East, entrance      © harrington

street "furniture"
street "furniture"            © harrington
There's more to come later this week or sometime next. If your haven't been to this part of Minneapolis for awhile, you might find it worthwhile and interesting to check out after the snow melts. Meanwhile, I wonder how universal the role of a kitchen table is. Joy Harjo's description captures much of the kitchen tables of my childhood.

Perhaps the World Ends Here

By Joy Harjo 

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sing Spring songs

Negative number highs are back in Thursday's forecast. That sent me to my phenology books to see what's "normal" for this time of year. I've again discovered how abnormal normal is when it comes to Minnesota's weather. Jim Gilbert's Nature Notebook for February 23, 1978 (one of my first years in Minnesota) reads "Today at 11:11 a.m. we broke the long string of below freezing days. The Twin Cities area temperature hasn't been above 32°F since December 18, sixty-six days ago..." Since we had our little thaw last week, we haven't beaten that record this year. Another encouraging report comes from February 27, 1975 where Jim reports "We haven't had a really warm day, we still have one to two feet of snow on the ground, and yet the air is filled with avian strains. The cardinals and chickadees continue their whistling, woodpeckers their drumming, and white-breasted nuthatches together with nearby blue jays continually break forth with their special spring songs." We should see the first active chipmunks of the year sometime between now and March 11. Maybe they'll help us greet the first canada geese which should be returning about then.

chickadee in oak tree
winter chickadee          © harrington

As more and more of us live in cities and suburbs we too often loose contact with the natural world. We become reliant on technology (weather forecasts delivered on radio, TV and the Internet) and, as we go from our attached garages, down the road to the garage or parking lot at work and into the work place, we often don't slow down enough to listen for the songs of Spring. I was often guilty of that pattern myself. It seems to me that, more and more, we spend too much time and focus too much attention on earning a living instead of having a life. I keep reading about the studies that show how, after a certain level of income is reached, more money doesn't make us any more happy. I hope our kids read those studies soon. It's bad enough that a cardinal probably knows more about the inevitability of Spring than I do. I'd hate to think that a bird brain like that might be happier than a smart guy like me who's learned not to take happiness for granted but hasn't figured out how to put some aside.

purple finch and male cardinal in pine tree
purple finch and male cardinal in pine tree   © harrington

The Trickle-Down Theory of Happiness

By Philip Appleman 

Out of heaven, to bless the high places,   
it falls on the penthouses, drizzling   
at first, then a pelting allegro,
and Dick and Jane skip to the terrace   
and go boogieing through the azaleas,   
while mommy and daddy come running   
with pots and pans, glasses, and basins   
and try to hold all of it up there,
but no use, it’s too much, it keeps coming,   
and pours off the edges, down limestone
to the pitchers and pails on the ground, where   
delirious residents catch it,
and bucket brigades get it moving   
inside, until bathtubs are brimful,   
but still it keeps coming, that shower   
of silver in alleys and gutters,
all pouring downhill to the sleazy   
red brick, and the barefoot people   
who romp in it, laughing, but never   
take thought for tomorrow, all spinning   
in a pleasure they catch for a moment;   
so when Providence turns off the spigot   
and the sky goes as dry as a prairie,
then daddy looks down from the penthouse,   
down to the streets, to the gutters,   
and his heart goes out to his neighbors,   
to the little folk thirsty for laughter,   
and he prays in his boundless compassion:   
on behalf of the world and its people   
he demands of his God, give me more.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, February 24, 2014

A few small victories

I think we're making some minimal progress toward warmer weather. The high temperature for Thursday of this week was negative three. Now it's zero. So, for the rest of the week we're looking at daytime highs of zero or above and lows all in the negative numbers. This is a very small victory, but I'll take it and be grateful for it.

St. Croix 360 has a story about a recent hike through a Standing Cedars' property along the St. Croix River in which over-wintering robins are mentioned. Yesterday, the daughter person and her fiancee snowshoed back into the wilds of Carlos Avery to take some photos of a "warm spring" (open, flowing water) they've discovered that turns out to be habitat for a pair of overwintering robins. I've asked them to share some of the pictures and do a guest blog posting. Stay tuned. I don't know how you feel about it but I found the sight of open water to be more than a little heartening as we slowly try to dig out of this winter.

snow fleas in melting snow February 2013
snow fleas in melting snow    © harrington

One year ago to the day, it was warm enough that we had snow melting and snow fleas jumping. This year, what with our Polar Vortices and recent snow fall, the melting we often see near the base of trees as Spring nears is nowhere visible. I'm tired enough of Winter and snow and cold and writing about each that I'm even willing to forego the beauty of the rising sun sparkling on ice-coated windows. Remember, for a ship to come in, the water must be open.

rising sun sparkling through ice-coated window
a billion ice-coated stars       © harrington

One’s Ship Comes In

By Joe Paddock 
I swear
my way now will be
to continue without
plan or hope, to accept
the drift of things, to shift
from endless effort
to joy in, say,
that robin, plunging
into the mossy shallows
of my bird bath and
splashing madly till
the air shines with spray.
Joy it will be, say,
in Nancy, pretty in pink
and rumpled T-shirt,
rubbing sleep from her eyes, or
joy even in
just this breathing, free
of fright and clutch, knowing
how one’s ship comes in
with each such breath.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Winter weary

There's less than a week left of February. On March 1 we start meteorological Spring. I'm concerned that the weather gods may not be aware of that. On Thursday, February 27, the high is forecast to be in the negative single digits. Our normal average is 33. The next day, Friday, February 28, our high is supposed to reach the positive single digits. Our average high for the 28th is 34. Could this be March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb? If we have many more winters where the rest of the earth continues to have above average temperatures, and the Midwest and East and Southern US have weather like we've had, might that not become a competitive disadvantage? Much as I care for Minnesota, if I knew every winter was going to be like this one, I'd start to look for somewhere warmer to make a home. Living here would be even worse if I lived in the city and parked on the street.

red osier dogwood (late February 2013)
red osier dogwood (2013)    © harrington

It was about this time last year that we collected some red osier dogwood. There's going to have to be a lot of melting before we can think about that this year. With luck, we'll soon have a nice snow melt and sap run and be able to put February and this Winter behind us.


By Bill Christophersen 

The cold grows colder, even as the days
grow longer, February's mercury vapor light
buffing but not defrosting the bone-white
ground, crusty and treacherous underfoot.
This is the time of year that's apt to put
a hammerlock on a healthy appetite,
old anxieties back into the night,
insomnia and nightmares into play;
when things in need of doing go undone
and things that can't be undone come to call,
muttering recriminations at the door,
and buried ambitions rise up through the floor
and pin your wriggling shoulders to the wall;
and hope's a reptile waiting for the sun.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Is Minnesota our home?

Lake Superior from Minnesota's North Shore
Lake Superior from Minnesota's North Shore   © harrington

This morning, the StarTribune reported the results of a recent Minnesota Poll about the PolyMet NorthMet project. One third of those asked were uncertain, "an indication that many Minnesotans are either uncertain about the trade-offs between economic development and environmental risks to one of the most beautiful parts of the state — or are simply not paying attention to the debate." It's the possibility that a substantial number of Minnesotans may not be paying attention to the debate about protecting one of Minnesota's iconic places that troubles me a lot. I find even more troubling, however, the assessment by a spokesman for the polling organization that "that many Minnesotans are less likely to care about a mining controversy in a distant part of the state..." [than about medical marijuana or raising the minimum wage]. In 1990, the Blandin Foundation published a wonderful book about Minnesota, with text by Paul Gruchow and photography by Jim Brandenberg. You can still find some copies available online if you search for Minnesota: Images of Home.

Gruchow's closing comments in Images of Home seem to me to offer a worthwhile alternative to the assessment above, about the possibility of Minnesotans not caring about what happens in some distant some part of their state. Here's Gruchow:
Another definition of home is that it is the place we are proud of. It is the place we keep up, improve, show off, defend. It is the place we regard as an extension of ourselves. The reverse side of pride is shame. We will know that we have begun to think ecologically when we are ashamed for our biological home to be seen in disorder. When our polluted rivers embarrass us, when our eroding soils are a humiliation, when the failures of our relatives--the wood turtles, the maples and basswoods, the trout lilies--are seen as an ugly reflection upon us personally, then we will know that we have begun to think ecologically.

We have, to paraphrase Wes Jackson again, colonized Minnesota but we have not yet discovered it. That is the task before us: to find this place, to learn to know it, to discover how to love it, how to make a community of it. Let us this day begin this great work. Let us make of this place, at last, a home.
Mountain Ash in northern Minnesota
Mountain Ash in northern Minnesota    © harrington

Gruchow and Brandenberg have come to know Minnesota and Minnesotans better than I ever may. On the other hand, I have begun to consider Minnesota home, in the way that Gruchow writes about. In that vein, I'm hoping that of the thirty-three percent uncertain, 32% can't make up their minds about the identified tradeoffs and less than 1% just don't care. Even that 1% would be too many in my opinion. Minnesotans should be a communty that doesn't suffer confusion of the hive.

The Bees

By Bruce Mackinnon
One day the bees start wandering off, no one knows why.   
First one doesn’t come back, and then another and another,   
until those who are supposed to stay and guard the hive, those   
who are making the royal jelly and feeding it to the queen,   
those who form different parts of the great brain, must   
put down what it is they are doing and go off in search—   
having no choice, not if the hive is going to survive,   
and where do they go, each one vanishing, never to be seen   
again, off wandering in the wilderness, having forgotten   
how, forgotten what it was they were after, what it was   
that gave meaning, having known it at one time, now   
a veil drawn. Is it that each one is a cell, a brain cell,   
and now they’re failing one by one, plaque to Alzheimer’s,   
or the way the cells in the esophagus will begin to mimic   
the stomach if the acid is too intense, if you’re sleeping   
and the valve won’t close, a lifetime of eating and drinking   
the wrong things, those cells compensating, trying   
their best, but opening the door to those other cells,   
the wild ones, the ones that call those bees, out there,   
somewhere, lost, having nowhere to return at night,   
their search for nectar fruitful, their small saddlebags full,   
but no one to go home to, no home, no memory of home,   
it’s as if they’d stumbled into some alternate world,   
one looking like ours but just a glass width different,   
just a fraction of sunlight different, the patient waking up,   
finding herself wandering, someone leading her back   
to bed, but there is no bed. Confusion of the hive,   
they call it, and the hive dies, each bee goes down,   
each light goes out, one by one, blinking out all over town,   
seen from a great height as the night ages, darkens,   
as you’re parked in your car with your own true love,   
until it’s just you two and the stars, until it’s just you.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Other kinds of Minnesota snow birds

Somewhere this morning I read that we had twenty-four inches of snow cover. My better half keeps saying "it'll all be gone soon." I wish that the beauty it brings weren't so counterbalanced with inconveniences.

snow encrusted trees
snow encrusted trees        © harrington

To say that birds have been flocking to the feeders wouldn't convey the sense that Hitchcock could have used our deck yesterday and today to film some scenes from "The Birds." Watching  the goldfinches land on windblown branches covered with snow almost as deep as they are tall was a treat. As he frequently does, Robert Frost puts things into a human perspective.

goldfinches on snow covered branches
goldfinches on snow covered branches   © harrington

Dust of Snow

By Robert Frost
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued. 

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Weather, or not

Since mid-morning, I've been watching the precipitation change from rain/freezing rain to sleet to snow to rain/freeing rain to sleet to snow. I'm sure you get the picture. We've already had an above average snowfall this Winter, no doubt to compensate for our snows that lasted into May of last year. This, plus some reading and thinking I've been doing recently, has started me thinking about how closely weather and a sense of place are related. No one would ever confuse Death Valley with any part of Minnesota, especially with Tower and Embarrass vying for coldest place in the continental U.S. But then, I've always associated cactus with such places as Death Valley and never with Minnesota. Turns out I was wrong. We're home to prickly pear at several different locations, mostly in southwestern Minnesota. If I stop to think about it, much of the basis for Minnesota's four separate biomes derives from long term weather, also known as climate. Southeast Minnesota gets almost twice as much annual precipitation as does the northwest part of the state (deciduous forests in the SE, prairie in the NW). Much of what I've been reading recently, that has me thinking about all this, is something I discovered online, Windfall: A Journal of Poetry of Place. It emphasizes the Pacific Northwest, where they also get snow and ice storms. I'm thinking it would be great if Minnesota and the upper Midwest had something comparable.
Minnesota's anual average precipitation

Ice Storm Paralyzes City 
Poets hope for extremes in weather—
It’s part of the job.
Sure, sure, antennae of the race,
Speaking the eternal verities,
Poets yearn for spring, 
But spring comes too soon and too easily.
Daffodils now in February,
And Portland still hasn’t had a big snow,
A big freeze and silver thaw.
We haven’t yet known we’re alive 
By seeing the world’s heart stop:
The crack and whoosh of a fallen branch
Too loaded with ice to hold,
The rifle shot cry of wood too cold
To stay silent— 
We hope for the brittle hard world of legendary winter
To stop commerce and the quotidian
And in the deathly tranquil city to tell us:
Look at your breath: You, are, alive.
Look at how little you need to survive

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

No skating through this Winter

As I write this, we've just paid almost $3,000 to have ice dams removed from both the north and the south roof edges. We're under a Winter Storm Watch for snow tonight and tomorrow (5 to 9 inches) and, after tomorrow, who knows when the next thaw will occur. Once the ice dam crew left, the daughter person's fiancee began shoveling snow off the roof (garage and house) while my better half and I tried to find somewhere to stack it at ground level away from the house. We ran out of storage space before we ran out of snow. I find minimal consolation in the fact that New England, my original home, has been getting hit repeatedly with storms that tracked well south of us. Nor do I recall much concern in New England about ice dams, probably because I lived close to or on the coast, which was often notably milder than even five miles inland. Meanwhile, here is a look at some of what was steamed off our roof today.

north side roof ice dam
north side roof ice dam                 © harrington

Part of the problem with a Winter like this is that waving a white flag is useless, because whoever's in charge can't see it against the snow banks and snow drifts. There's no real way to surrender under these circumstances. Maybe the republicans can build a long, tall wall along the Canadian border and keep those Polar Vortices way up north where they belong.

 If we can hang on a few more days, the average daytime high will reach 32 starting on February 23. I don't know about you, but since that's only four days  away, I might try a short-term hibernation and sleep that long.
Fellow New Englander Robert Frost find Winter and Summer comparably destructive in this poem.

Fire and Ice

By Robert Frost 
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Chasing your tail(ings)?

Some years ago, about 2007 or 2008, I believe, I had the responsibility and the pleasure of driving James Howard Kunstler from Mankato to MSP airport. This was a few years after the publication of his book The Long Emergency, Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, which I had read well before I met the author. It was a pleasant drive full of stimulating conversation. Unbeknownst to me, JHK was a fellow fly-fisherman. We talked about the local (SE Minnesota) fishing and hatches and how those compared to upstate New York. I remembered the book, and the conversation, while continuing to ponder the question of a sustainable Iron Range. One of the points Kunstler raises is that "in general, we will probably have to return to a settlement pattern of towns and small cities surrounded by intensively cultivated agricultural hinterlands." That sounds to me very much like the current development pattern on the Iron Range, if you substitute intensively mined for the intensively cultivated lands. As far as I know, there's enough land to do more cultivation of crops for local consumption. The more the land is mined and used for tailings, the less is available for future cultivation.

northern Minnesota tamarack forest
tillable? probably not          © harrington

Why should I think it might be worthwhile to give some credence to JHK's prognostications? For one thing, he seems to have done a pretty good job of anticipating the current gridlocked insanity that passes for governance in Washington, D.C. when he wrote "It is my view, for instance, that in the decades to come the national government will prove to be so impotent and ineffective in managing the enormous vicissitudes we face that the United States may not survive as a nation in any meaningful sense ..." I'm not suggesting that JHK is anything like infallible. I do suggest that farsighted leadership might want to have lots of local folks read the book and have discussion groups about how well the Range might fare if only 10% to 20% of what Kunstler writes comes to pass. Without a global market for copper and nickel, where does the money come from to provide financial assurance and keep the water treatment facilities operating? Have metals markets served the taconite miners well? I'm going to spend some time rereading The Long Emergency to see if it has any strategies or tactics that look like they might be promising for consideration by those counting on PolyMet for the future. We'll revisit Mr. Kunstler and his ideas in the near future. Outside of northern New England, I don't know of too many places that have tried hard rock farming. Would the Iron Range become Chicago if it could?

northern Minnesota near Lake Superior
tillable? probably not          © harrington


By Carl Sandburg 

Hog Butcher for the World,
   Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
   Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
   Stormy, husky, brawling,
   City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
   Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Promises made, promises kept?

This year, as the dreary end of Winter becomes the enlivening promise of Spring, I'm going to pay more attention to what's going on in the neighborhood. I won't be driving a daily commute and spending hours inside a windowless office, so I'll have few, if any, excuses. I'll listen to what the trees have to say as they're coated in a late Winter, early Spring blanket of fresh snow. I'll listen even more carefully to their reaction as they are once again freed from a frigid, white cloak.

 trees cloaked in white
 trees cloaked in white        © harrington

As Spring deepens, and the snow-packed roads enter mud-season, I'll note the fresh aromas of the season change. The crisp freshness of the frozen mornings and the fecund fragrance of sun-warmed afternoons. Cardinals will be singing "cheer, what cheer'" and I will cheer their chorus. Chickadees will sound their "dee, dee, dees," to which I will add a "Zip a dee doo dah." Spring in Minnesota is one of those seasons that is often more rewarding in its promises than in their fulfillment. That's no reason to not thoroughly enjoy it. Within the next few weeks, I'll start at least a weekly check for ice out on the St. Croix River. The sight and sound of flowing water, when it comes, will be reward enough for what I expect will be several premature and fruitless trips.

late Winter, early Spring road
late Winter, early Spring road    © harrington

Somewhere around the ides of March, maybe a little later, I'll expect to start  hearing the local gobblers each declaring that he's the king of his own local hill. They'll be competing with the returning Canada geese and sandhill cranes to see who can most joyously trumpet the arrival of our most fragile and ephemeral season. I can't wait for the show, and the trailers start to run tomorrow, through the end of this week. Listen for the sounds of water dripping and the test the wind for the smell of moisture-laden air. That's the kind of change that will do my heart good. Jon Anderson seems to understand how best to respond to Winters like we've been having.

You Must

  by Jon Andersen
You must have a hope
that will let you stomp and sing
at any cold dawn.
You must not wait
to love the student who loves you
and would like to kill you.
You must read the story again
and again to the child
who receives you with a bovine stare.
You must get up
every day to punch in
not dreaming on transcendence,
not desiring new heroes or gods,
not looking the other way,
but looking for the other way
and ready to talk to everyone on the line.
You must not wait
for official approval
nor general consensus
to rage.  You must
come again to kneel
in shiny, rock-strewn soil
not to pray, but to plant.
Yes, even now
as ice caps melt and black top
goes soft in the sun
you must prepare for the harvest.
- See more at:
Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Iron Range Mining, revisited

In a past post, I've wondered what a Sustainable Iron Range would look like and would work like. It took me awhile to discover them, but there's a local group working on the answers to those questions, the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability. They sponsor an annual Iron Range Earth Fest. According to the web site, the fest "will be happening this year in on April 26th, 2014 in Mt. the Mt. Iron Community Center, Messiah Lutheran Church & Merritt Elementary School." I think I'll try to get there this year.

North Shore of Lake Superior close up
North Shore close up     © harrington

I believe the Iron Range Earth Fest is a very important initiative because I don't believe those of us in favor of responsible environmentalism and sustainable development can just say "No." To my way of thinking, that's too much like Tea Party Republicanism. Another reason is that I know the City of Minneapolis once depended on "basic industries" like sawmills and flour mills. These days, I don't know of any flour or saw mills that make a notable contribution to the city's economy unless they've been repurposed into historical/cultural educational uses and/or new uses providing commercial and residential space. The river which originally powered the mills is still there. Power sources changed and evolved. That's been the way of the world and the way of growing economies. The city's economy became more diverse. I would think (and hope) that those who live there would find such diversity presents a preferable kind of future for the Iron Range than a continued reliance on mining, whether for taconite or copper-nickel. I'll admit, I don't live on the Range. I've visited once or twice and driven through a few more times. That's not enough to qualify me to offer suggestions on what the Range should become. But, when I look at what's proposed for the Iron Range, I wonder what, if anything, has changed, or, if the area continues to depend on mining, what will change from the lyrics written by a native of the Range many years ago. If I did live on there, I think I'd want something better for my kids and personally, I don't see mining as the way to get it. Apparently, neither did Dylan (last three lines).

Lake Superior's North Shore
Lake Superior's North Shore    © harrington
North Country Blues
                           by Bob Dylan

Come gather 'round friends
And I'll tell you a tale
Of when the red iron pits ran plenty
But the cardboard filled windows
And old men on the benches
Tell you now that the whole town is empty.

In the north end of town
My own children are grown
But I was raised on the other
In the wee hours of youth
May mother took sick
And I was brought up by my brother.

The iron ore it poured
As the years passed the door
The drag lines an' the shovels they was a-hummin'
'Til one day my brother
Failed to come home
The same as my father before him.

Well a long winter's wait
From the window I watched
My friends they couldn't have been kinder
And my schooling was cut
As I quit in the spring
To marry John Thomas, a miner.

Oh the years passed again
And the givin' was good
With the lunch bucket filled every season
What with three babies born
The work was cut down
To a half a day's shift with no reason.
Then the shaft was soon shut
And more work was cut
And the fire in the air, it felt frozen
'Til a man come to speak
And he said in one week
That number eleven was closin'.

They say in the East
They're payin' too high
They say that your ore ain't worth diggin'
That it's much cheaper down
In the South American towns
Where the miners work almost for nothin'.

So the mining gates locked
And the red iron rotted
And the room smelled heavy from drinkin'
Where the sad silent song
Made the hour twice as long
As I waited for the sun to go sinking.

I lived by the window
As he talked to himself
The silence of tongues it was building
Then one morning's wake
The bed it was bare
And I's left alone with three children.

The summer is gone
The ground's turning cold
The stores one by one they're a-foldin'
My children will go
As soon they grow
For there ain't nothin' here now to hold them.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The beginning of the end (of Winter)?

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day, full of love and hugs and chocolates made from fair trade, organic, shade grown beans plus local ingredients. Our local source of such dark treats is St. Croix Chocolate Co. Obviously, if we had written about this yesterday or Thursday, we might have spoiled a surprise. Earlier this past week, we had a different kind of pleasant surprise. After an overnight light dusting of snow from one of our frequent "Alberta Clippers," the deck was covered with a number of bird tracks.

bird tracks on snow-dusted deck
bird tracks on snow-dusted deck   © harrington
Are you excited about our upcoming thaw? I would be more so if it weren't for the ice dams on the north and south roof edges, and the fact that they're not likely to melt as quickly as I'd like. I may break down this year and hire someone to steam the damn dams off, or once again wait and see. Even though Spring is rarely one of Minnesota's best executed seasons, I'm looking forward to seeing bare ground, late spring flowers, and, yes, even mud. It's been that kind of Winter. Jane Cooper shares a promise of upcoming Spring.

Hunger Moon

By Jane Cooper 

The last full moon of February
stalks the fields; barbed wire casts a shadow.
Rising slowly, a beam moved toward the west
stealthily changing position
until now, in the small hours, across the snow
it advances on my pillow
to wake me, not rudely like the sun
but with the cocked gun of silence.
I am alone in a vast room
where a vain woman once slept.
The moon, in pale buckskins, crouches
on guard beside her bed.
Slowly the light wanes, the snow will melt
and all the fences thrum in the spring breeze
but not until that sleeper, trapped
in my body, turns and turns. 

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can. Please be kind to each other while you can.