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.

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