Monday, March 31, 2014

Spring, a fresh start

We've made it to the end of March. Things should get better warmer from here. Today's posting is going to be short and sweet. (I'm recuperating from the general anaesthetic they gave me for a procedure I underwent this morning.) Tomorrow starts National Poetry Month. We'll be focusing on the poems and poets in two books, one published by Minnesota Historical Society Press, Where One Voice Ends Another Begins and County Lines, an anthology from the League of Minnesota Poets, published by Loonfeather Press. Minnesota has a rich literary and poetry heritage that some of us believe deserves more recognition. Thanks for your understanding. By the way, we failed to note a couple of days ago that My Minnesota had reached 500 postings. Thanks for sharing them with us.

oak leaves starting
oak leaves starting   © harrington

Older, Younger, Both

By Joyce Sutphen 

I feel older, younger, both
at once. Every time I win,
I lose. Every time I count,
I forget and must begin again.

I must begin again, and again I
must begin. Every time I lose,
I win and must begin again.

Everything I plan must wait, and
having to wait has made me old, and
the older I get, the more I wait, and everything
I’m waiting for has already been planned.

I feel sadder, wiser, neither
together. Everything is almost
true, and almost true is everywhere.
I feel sadder, wiser, neither at once.

I end in beginning, in ending I find
that beginning is the first thing to do.
I stop when I start, but my heart keeps on beating,
so I must go on starting in spite of the stopping.

I must stop my stopping and start to start—
I can end at the beginning or begin at the end.
I feel older, younger, both at once.

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

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring's swift arrival?

Lat year we went from snow covered trees and ground in mid-April to open water full of waterfowl in late April. Today moderate numbers of geese were observed looking silly walking on the ice at Carlos Avery. Large flocks of geese were seen headed north. Male redwing blackbirds are perched on the cattail reeds. Many more robins are flitting through the underbrush. Not yet seen but heard are sand hill cranes and turkeys gobbling. All that's missing is open water (and melting the ice covering my driveway). Soon the woods should look like this:

ferns sprouting in Spring
ferns sprouting in Spring  © harrington

And yards will start to look like this:

day lilies growing leaves
day lilies growing leaves    © harrington

I'm starting to find it a pleasant change to be able to write about what's here this Spring as well as what's still to come. I bet you feel the same. Anne Stevenson knows how long it can seem until full-fledged Spring finally arrives.


By Anne Stevenson 

Spring comes little, a little. All April it rains.
The new leaves stick in their fists; new ferns still fiddleheads.
But one day the swifts are back. Face to the sun like a child
You shout, 'The swifts are back!'

Sure enough, bolt nocks bow to carry one sky-scyther
Two hundred miles an hour across fullblown windfields.
Swereee swereee. Another. And another.
It's the cut air falling in shrieks on our chimneys and roofs.

The next day, a fleet of high crosses cruises in ether.
These are the air pilgrims, pilots of air rivers.
But a shift of wing, and they're earth-skimmers, daggers
Skilful in guiding the throw of themselves away from themselves.

Quick flutter, a scimitar upsweep, out of danger of touch, for
Earth is forbidden to them, water's forbidden to them,
All air and fire, little owlish ascetics, they outfly storms,
They rush to the pillars of altitude, the thermal fountains.

Here is a legend of swifts, a parable —
When the Great Raven bent over earth to create the birds,
The swifts were ungrateful. They were small muddy things
Like shoes, with long legs and short wings,

So they took themselves off to the mountains to sulk.
And they stayed there. 'Well,' said the Raven, after years of this,
'I will give you the sky. You can have the whole sky
On condition that you give up rest.'

'Yes, yes,' screamed the swifts, 'We abhor rest.
We detest the filth of growth, the sweat of sleep,
Soft nests in the wet fields, slimehold of worms.
Let us be free, be air!'

So the Raven took their legs and bound them into their bodies.
He bent their wings like boomerangs, honed them like knives.
He streamlined their feathers and stripped them of velvet.
Then he released them, Never to Return

Inscribed on their feet and wings. And so
We have swifts, though in reality, not parables but
Bolts in the world's need: swift
Swifts, not in punishment, not in ecstasy, simply

Sleepers over oceans in the mill of the world's breathing.
The grace to say they live in another firmament.
A way to say the miracle will not occur,
And watch the miracle.

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Intergenerational equity

Today was an interesting day. For the first time since last October, I think, the interior of my black vehicle warmed in the sun. That was a very pleasant surprise. All four of the adults who live at "the property" headed for Natural Built Home in Minneapolis to pick out some marmoleum flooring samples. After eliminating half a dozen or so colors as "too yellow," or "too much blue," or something, we settled on four light to dark neutral colors. We ended up with four because, for every one of the samples we brought home, two or three of the four of us liked it, but none of the samples could garner four votes. Assuming we work out the arrangements needed for the daughter person and her fiancee to acquire "the property" from those of us in the older generation, a balancing act is needed between those who will finance the improvement and those who will probably live with it the longest. This raises some really challenging concerns about sustainable development and lovable buildings. We don't all love the same things. Is there any way to make a building generically lovable? Stewart Brand's book How Buildings Learn offers some insights, such as shearing layers, that may be useful. We'll report at some point in the future about how this exploration of multi-generational sustainability turns out. Personally, I'm not sure a compromise that makes everyone equally unhappy is an answer.

St. Croix Chocolate Co. (behind pine on right)
St. Croix Chocolate Co. (behind pine on right)  © harrington

On a sweeter note, we dropped by Marine on St. Croix during our return trip. St Croix Chocolate Co. was having a sampling and Easter preview today and some in our merry band really, really didn't want to miss it. Many (all?) of their chocolates include local and/or organic products, so they're the kind of company I like to support (along with independent bookstores and coffee shops). Instead of indulging my sweet tooth, I spent time walking about "downtown" Marine and taking some photos. I know that Marine is reminiscent of a New England village, but I was trying to understand if that was all of what I found attractive about that place. I finally realized that, like New England villages, it is built at a human, walkable scale. Unlike downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul. Marine, or even Stillwater for that matter, can readily be comprehended by folks.

part of Marine's "downtown"
part of Marine's "downtown"      © harrington

Main Street

(For S.M.L.)

I like to look at the blossomy track of the moon upon the sea,
But it isn't half so fine a sight as Main Street used to be
When it all was covered over with a couple of feet of snow,
And over the crisp and radiant road the ringing sleighs would go.

Now, Main Street bordered with autumn leaves, it was a pleasant thing,
And its gutters were gay with dandelions early in the Spring;
I like to think of it white with frost or dusty in the heat,
Because I think it is humaner than any other street.

A city street that is busy and wide is ground by a thousand wheels,
And a burden of traffic on its breast is all it ever feels:
It is dully conscious of weight and speed and of work that never ends,
But it cannot be human like Main Street, and recognise its friends.

There were only about a hundred teams on Main Street in a day,
And twenty or thirty people, I guess, and some children out to play.
And there wasn't a wagon or buggy, or a man or a girl or a boy
That Main Street didn't remember, and somehow seem to enjoy.

The truck and the motor and trolley car and the elevated train
They make the weary city street reverberate with pain:
But there is yet an echo left deep down within my heart
Of the music the Main Street cobblestones made beneath a butcher's cart.

God be thanked for the Milky Way that runs across the sky,
That's the path that my feet would tread whenever I have to die.
Some folks call it a Silver Sword, and some a Pearly Crown,
But the only thing I think it is, is Main Street, Heaventown.

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

Friday, March 28, 2014

When does Spring get sprung?

Every so often, I have to take a hard look around me and admit that the problem isn't with the world, it's with my expectations. This is one of those times. We all know that the March temperature has been running 7.5 or so degrees below average. But that's an abstract metric that needs to be related to reality. I took a look at some photos from around the end of March for the past six or seven years. Here's what the back yard looked like on March 31, 2007.

Snow-free back yard, March 31, 2007
Snow-free by April 2007          © harrington

I can remember quite a few April trout fishing trips in which the world, and much of the water, was brown or tan. Winter was over but there was no real sign of Spring. And there have been years like 2012, when April 2 yielded open water and leaves starting to open on the local trees.

April 2, 2012: water and leaves open
April 2, 2012: water and leaves open    © harrington

Then, as we all remember too well (unless somehow we repressed the memory) there was last Spring (to use the term very loosely). On April 19,  after much of Winter's snow had melted, we got to enjoy this encore:

mid-April snow, 2013
mid-April snow, 2013           © harrington

All of which makes me very dubious about comparing today's local weather with anything. Weather is too highly variable. Climate, on the other hand, is all about statistics, long term trends and a scope approaching the global. According to recent reports, we'd best figure out how to adapt to the kind of extreme weather events that will make the differences between Minnesota's "early" and "late" starts to Spring seem like child's play. Why, because we can't, or won't, overcome our addiction to fossil fuels. Homo sapiens (Latin: "wise man"), indeed! By the time we change, or burn all we can "economically recover," we may all be living in Dante's Fourth Circle of Hell.

Trying to Name What Doesn’t Change

By Naomi Shihab Nye 
Roselva says the only thing that doesn’t change
is train tracks. She’s sure of it.
The train changes, or the weeds that grow up spidery   
by the side, but not the tracks.
I’ve watched one for three years, she says,
and it doesn’t curve, doesn’t break, doesn’t grow.

Peter isn’t sure. He saw an abandoned track
near Sabinas, Mexico, and says a track without a train   
is a changed track. The metal wasn’t shiny anymore.   
The wood was split and some of the ties were gone.

Every Tuesday on Morales Street
butchers crack the necks of a hundred hens.   
The widow in the tilted house
spices her soup with cinnamon.
Ask her what doesn’t change.

Stars explode.
The rose curls up as if there is fire in the petals.   
The cat who knew me is buried under the bush.

The train whistle still wails its ancient sound   
but when it goes away, shrinking back
from the walls of the brain,
it takes something different with it every time. 

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

Thursday, March 27, 2014

"We've got it covered?"

Do you recall seeing anything in the Twin Cities' news media about the opposition to Enbridge's "Alberta Clipper" pipeline? A search of the Star Tribune's web site yields articles about Minnesota's Public Utilities Commission deliberations, and about the "environmental opposition" from the Sierra Club and MN350. What seems to be missing, at least I couldn't find reference to it, including doing a search on "enbridge horseback protest" is any mention of the protest ride organized by the Native American environmental organization, Honor the Earth. What I find most strange about the lack of coverage is that the protest was noted in newspapers throughout the northern part of Minnesota. It was even picked up by a couple of national blogs, Huffington Post and TreeHugger.

northern Minnesota hillside
The slippery slope of lack of coverage?        © harrington

Lest you think I'm singling out the Star Tribune, I'll report here that I neither could I find a word about the protest on MinnPost, although Twin Cities Daily Planet did have a couple of opinion columns and MinnPost reported, back in 2010, that Enbridge has pipelines in Minnesota and an Enbridge line in Michigan sprang a notable leak. Compound what I see as a lack of coverage with recent stories about how devastating the Exxon Valdez oil spill has been and still is 25 years after it occurred. Then multiply that by the 40,000 plus or minus public comments on the SDEIS for the proposed PolyMet NorthMet mining project (which was well covered in the Star Tribune), and I have to wonder if a pipeline would have to run under the Vikings stadium or Target Field before local news outlets would say boo. Minnesota is one state, isn't it? Aren't we all in this together? That's not a conclusion I'd draw from reading or watching the local news. Maybe that's why months ago I started reading The Guardian to find out what's happening in the good old U.S. of A. As William Carlos Williams has noted “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” David Tucker helps us understand a "slow news day."

northern Minnesota roadside cairn
Lost our way?   © harrington

Today’s News

By David Tucker 

A slow news day, but I did like the obit about the butcher   
who kept the same store for fifty years.   People remembered   
when his street was sweetly roaring, aproned   
with flower stalls and fish stands.   
The stock market wandered, spooked by presidential winks,   
by micro-winds and the shadows of earnings.   News was stationed   
around the horizon, ready as summer clouds to thunder--   
but it moved off and we covered the committee meeting   
at the back of the statehouse, sat around on our desks,   
then went home early.   The birds were still singing,   
the sun just going down.   Working these long hours,   
you forget how beautiful the early evening can be,   
the big houses like ships turning into the night,   
their rooms piled high with silence.

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Don't be deceived

If you look at the photo immediately below, you might easily swear that Spring couldn't be within a 1,000 miles. You might be incorrect.

late Winter, early Spring Carlos Avery pool
frozen marsh               © harrington

Just before the photo was taken, a pair of bald eagles were seen soaring together over the marsh in what looked like early mating behavior. Spring was less than 1 mile away, if you look up and not around. Tomorrow's forecast talks about rain and Sunday's high temperature is supposed to be in the 50's. I'm getting giddy with anticipation. I had to go get some ant baits today. The "sugar ants" have become active, another sign of warmer weather. Soon, Spring will be busting budding out all over.  Here's a clear indication. Look at those leaf buds just waiting for some moisture and warmth to erupt. One of us here at My Minnesota keeps forgetting (or refusing to remember, more likely) that Spring creeps in on little cat feet in the north country while Winter leaves by patches.

leaf buds and scales
leaf buds and scales       © harrington

A Patch of Old Snow

There's a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I've forgotten --
If I ever read it.

Robert Frost

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dreams, wishes and wisdom

The sun is shining. The sky is blue with few clouds. The breeze is up and the temperature down. Today's high temperature is forecast to be about 50% of our average high for today. I've started a list of wishes (or prayers) for the immediate future running through the remainder of the year. It's an online alternative to a "God box."

St Croix river upstream from Franconia
Would you put an oil pipeline crossing here? Where?    © harrington

  • May today be the last day this year there is frost on my windows.
  • May the ice be gone from the driveway by next Monday.
  • May the local rivers have ice off by April 3.
  • May the local lakes have ice out by April 10.
  • May I get out fly-fishing as often as I want.
  • May we find at least six sugar maples to tap.
  • May the mice etc. have left the backyard apple trees alone.
  • May the weather the first week in October be extraordinarily nice and sunny and warm and dry.
  • May my writing and photography improve and My Minnesota's readership grow.
  • May Democrats relearn how to be progressive so we once again have a two party system in this country.
  • May we learn there is no such place as "away" and financial assurance isn't.
I already know I have a terrible track record of putting some things into a "God box" only to claw them back out again. Most of what goes into the box are things over which I (we) have no control. May I learn to let go of what I can't change and to work smarter on what I can, such as how often I go fly-fishing. Do you suppose our legislature could use some God boxes?

Bald eagle in poplars
Bald eagle in poplars   © harrington

Carl Sandburg has some important reminders about who we are and where we came from.


By Carl Sandburg 
There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.    

There is a fox in me . . . a silver-gray fox . . . I sniff and guess . . . I pick things out of the wind and air . . . I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers . . . I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me . . . a snout and a belly . . . a machinery for eating and grunting . . . a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me . . . I know I came from salt-blue water-gates . . . I scurried with shoals of herring . . . I blew waterspouts with porpoises . . . before land was . . . before the water went down . . . before Noah . . . before the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me . . . clambering-clawed . . . dog-faced . . . yawping a galoot’s hunger . . . hairy under the armpits . . . here are the hawk-eyed hankering men . . . here are the blonde and blue-eyed women . . . here they hide curled asleep waiting . . . ready to snarl and kill . . . ready to sing and give milk . . . waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird . . . and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want . . . and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

March moments

This morning, as I was heading off to a meeting for a project I'm working on, I decided to leave my camera at home. I'd be traveling known routes that I had traveled just a few days before, and wouldn't have much time to spare for photography. Of course, that's why I saw what I think was a snowy owl perched in a tree overlooking the Carlos Avery tundra. Naturally, as I passed by the same tree on the return trip, there was no sign of whatever I saw earlier. Having learned to never say never, I'm not sure I can now say "never again" will I leave the camera at home because I won't need it. A small sign of Progress on the season front showed itself as I was coming south on Highway 65. A little north of the Cambridge exit there were a number of Canada geese and some swans sharing open water in a wetland on the west side of the highway. They were visible despite the "Spring snow storm" through which I was driving. Since they probably spent the Winter somewhere warmer than Minnesota, and I didn't, they're probably taking today's weather more in stride than I have.

March 24: 25" gap between feeder and snow bank
March 24: 25" gap between feeder and snow bank  © harrington

For obvious reasons, we haven't made much progress on the melting front over the past week. The gap between the bottom of the feeder and the top of the snow bank has only grown by 3 inches, from 22 inches a week ago to 25 inches today. After tomorrow, we're looking at a consistent series of daytime high temperatures above freezing, so we hope to be able to report a major improvement in snow melt next week. As she often does, Jane Kenyon captures the moment, this one in March.

Spring snow

A thoughtful snow comes falling . . .
seems to hang in the air before
concluding that it must fall
here. Huge aggregate flakes
alight on the muddy ruts
of March, and the standing
water that thaws by day
and freezes again by night.
Venus is content to shine unseen
this evening, having risen serene
above springs, and false springs.
But I, restless after supper, pace
the long porch while the snow falls,
dodging the clothesline I won’t
use until peonies send up red,
plump, irrepressible spears.

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

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Playing taps for Winter

I'd be inclined to attribute my frustration with Spring's tardy arrival to my normally impatient outlook on everything, except the temperature this month is about seven degrees below average. Not one or two degrees, but seven, that's a bunch of below average highs and lows. It looks like the local woods are still holding about 8" +/- of snow. Walking the dogs, when the wind picks up, is often downright unpleasant. The Old Farmer's Almanac calls for April and May to have above normal temperatures around here, although their chart for May shows below normal temps, so who really knows. If we could get a few days warm enough to melt our snow cover, then the ground could start warming and we might be in better shape than we've managed so far. But, just as we can't see the river flowing beneath the ice, nor the sap rising beneath the bark, we should ask what else is there that we are not seeing?

ice and snow covered St. Croix river
snow-covered bluffs, ice covered river    © harrington

As the weather warms, and the deciduous trees on our property grow this year's leaves, I'm planning on marking the maple trees to see if it might be worthwhile to make some of our own maple syrup next year. I'll need to check on which kind of maple tree I'm looking at and make sure the diameter is at least 10" about 4 1/2 feet up. Because this will be a "romantic" effort more than a production activity, I'm going to want to see if I can find the old fashioned metal buckets  with tented covers and spiles (taps), instead of the plastic you see in the photo below. While I still lived in New England, I remember seeing some sugar bushes using the plastic tubing, but I liked the sharper sound of sap dripping into metal rather than plastic. So, regardless of how this Spring turns out, I've got something to look forward to in late Spring this year and, with luck, early Spring 2015. Sarah Littlecrow-Russell's Song from a Reedless Flute captures feelings similar to those I have these days for the times I spent in Vermont.

local sugarbush being tapped
local sugarbush being tapped           © harrington

Song from a Reedless Flute

By Sara Littlecrow-Russell 
You are beadwork woven by a broken Indian woman
That I mend with cautious, needle-pricked fingers.
You are raw sweetness of burning chaga
Scraping my lungs and startling tears.
You are the bear claw necklace
No longer caressing
The space between my breasts.
You are cigarettes
That I quit years ago,
But sometimes smoke anyways.

You are maple syrup on snow
Melting on my tongue
Until I ache from the cold.
You are the cedar tree
Sheltering my childhood
From unwanted caresses.
You are the star blanket
Sliding off the bed on autumnal nights.
You are a stubborn braid of wiingashk
That must be relit with a dozen matches
Before it releases thin streamers of sweetness.

You are the love song
Played on a reedless flute
That only spirits hear.

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

Saturday, March 22, 2014

They're back!

Yesterday, I thought I saw a wind-driven goose sail across the back yard. My better half, who has much better hearing than I, reported hearing geese while she was walking her dog late in the afternoon. The time has come, or will be here by week's end, to watch for the arrival of red wing blackbird males perched on the cattails at the marsh edge. The three Canada's in the distance, shown below, were photographed during Thursday's excursion along the St. Croix.

Canada geese, cloudy skies, St. Croix River, Spring 2014
three Canada geese           © harrington

Today, while driving past some of the back waters along the St. Croix river, we noticed a flock of 6 or 8 turkey vultures squabbling over something or other. Since Minnesota is well within their identified Summer only range, I'm assuming they've returned from wintering grounds to the south. At the risk of jinxing us, the extended forecasts indicate that March may well go out like a lamb. I'm looking forward to that. Meanwhile, I'll search for beautiful women for the rest of March.


A bear under the snow
Turns over to yawn.
It's been a long, hard rest.

Once, as she lay asleep, her cubs fell
Out of her hair,
And she did not know them.

It's hard to breathe
In a tight grave:

So she roars,
And the roof breaks.
Dark rivers and leaves
Pour down.

When the wind opens its doors
In its own good time,
The cubs follow that relaxed and beautiful woman
Outside to the unfamiliar cities
Of moss.

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

Friday, March 21, 2014

The sun'll come out -- tomorrow?

Take a look out your window. Unless you have plane or train tickets to somewhere warm, this is about as good as it gets for the next week or so. You could go and check out the Spring flowers at the Como Conservatory, or, you can check wherever you buy flowers to see if they have any forsythia bunches blooming. Last weekend I displayed some rare common sense when I asked my better half to see if she could find some forsythia while she was shopping. I volunteered to pay for a couple of bunches. They really help the living area take on an aura of Spring.

forsythia blooming for Spring
Spring decorations              © harrington

We have a forsythia bush in the front yard that needs to be transplanted or replaced. We have well draining soil in abundance, but the full sunlight that makes forsythia happy will never reach the plan in front of the house, shaded from the western sun by the house and from eastern and southern sunlight by some tall oaks and white pines. This is the year I want to will get a forsythia and lilac planted where they belong and we can see and smell them on Spring and Summer evenings. I'm starting to think and act a bit more like "the man who planted trees." If you haven't read it, you might want to check it out someday soon. Here's a link to one version. Claude McKay offers another way to respond to a Winter such as we've just had.

After the Winter

By Claude McKay 

Some day, when trees have shed their leaves
     And against the morning’s white
The shivering birds beneath the eaves
     Have sheltered for the night,
We’ll turn our faces southward, love,
     Toward the summer isle
Where bamboos spire the shafted grove
     And wide-mouthed orchids smile.

And we will seek the quiet hill
     Where towers the cotton tree,
And leaps the laughing crystal rill,
     And works the droning bee.
And we will build a cottage there
     Beside an open glade,
With black-ribbed blue-bells blowing near,
     And ferns that never fade.

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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

In search of Spring

Some years, when it seems as though Spring will never come, we need to go looking for it. This is one of those years for My Minnesota. On Tuesday, we noted that the Mississippi River, downstream from Mill Ruins Park, is open water. Today we went in search of open water along the St. Croix from Wild River Park to Osceola Landing. There is a little open water near Taylor's Falls / Interstate Park. Most of the river, though, looks like this

ice covered St Croix River in Franconia
St Croix in Franconia           © harrington

or this

ice covered St. Croix River at Osceola
St. Croix at Osceola       © harrington

There are many more places where the ice is dicey than where the water's open. As we were driving around though, we did see three swans and several small flocks of Canada geese. Although there's no way to be sure, not having  seen any geese or swans in all Winter in the area we drove today, I'm guessing (hoping, actually) that some of the waterfowl we saw are migrants returned and not those who over-wintered. A more certain sign of Spring was found in the nearby woods. Someone is tapping their sugar bush. The tops of the pails are snow covered from our recent storm.

collecting sap for syrup
collecting sap for syrup           © harrington

Louis Jenkins knows how there is no substitute for real maple syrup and when not to "make do."


By Louis Jenkins 
I take the snap from the center, fake to the right, fade back...
I've got protection. I've got a receiver open downfield...
What the hell is this? This isn't a football, it's a shoe, a man's
brown leather oxford. A cousin to a football maybe, the same
skin, but not the same, a thing made for the earth, not the air.
I realize that this is a world where anything is possible and I
understand, also, that one often has to make do with what one
has. I have eaten pancakes, for instance, with that clear corn
syrup on them because there was no maple syrup and they
weren't very good. Well, anyway, this is different. (My man
downfield is waving his arms.) One has certain responsibilities,
one has to make choices. This isn't right and I'm not going
to throw it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Subsistence foraging

From some of what I've read, this is the time of year, and the kind of weather, that might have, in the old days, caused Native Americans to eat roots and bark to stay alive. We're fortunate to have more than adequate supplies of food and fresh vegetables in our home. But, in anticipation of (preparation for?) any forthcoming Armageddon, some of the folks who live here thought it might be interesting to learn how to prepare pine bark. Here are photos of the preparation process. Collection photos you'll need to find on your own. There were only two pair of snow shoes, and the collectors didn't take photos.

white pine bark strips         © harrington

separating outer bark and cambium    © harrington

full bowl of cambium            © harrington

"green" fingers stained by outer bark  © harrington

cambium soaking in water   © harrington

draining cambium strips     © harrington

cambium strips on cookie sheet     © harrington

dry in oven (200 degrees, 30 minutes)  © harrington       

dried cambium ready for grinding        © harrington

Kimberly Blaeser helps move us into Spring with her Haiku Journey.

Haiku Journey

By Kimberly Blaeser 

i. Spring

the tips of each pine
the spikes of telephone poles
hold gathering crows

may’s errant mustard
spreads wild across paved road
look both ways

roadside treble cleft
feeding gopher, paws to mouth
cheeks puffed with music

yesterday’s spring wind
ruffling the grey tips of fur
rabbit dandelion

         ii. Summer

turkey vulture feeds
mechanical as a red oil rig
head rocks down up down

stiff-legged dog rises
goes grumbling after squirrel
old ears still flap

snowy egret—curves,
lines, sculpted against pond blue;
white clouds against sky

banded headed bird
this ballerina killdeer
dance on point my heart

         iii. Fall

leaf wind cold through coat
wails over hills, through barren trees
empty garbage cans dance

damp September night
lone farmer, lighted tractor
drive memory’s worn path

sky black with migration
flocks settle on barren trees
leaf birds, travel songs

october moon cast
over corn, lighted fields
crinkled sheaves of white

         iv. Winter

ground painted in frost
thirsty morning sun drinks white
leaves rust golds return

winter bare branches
hold tattered cups of summer
empty nests trail twigs

lace edges of ice
manna against darkened sky
words turn with weather

now one to seven
deer or haiku syllables
weave through winter trees

Northern follows jig
body flashes with strike, dive:
broken line floats up.

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

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Almost there

Of no immediate practical use, but encouraging none-the-less, the Mississippi River through downtown Minneapolis is ice free. I had an early morning meeting today and, driving West River Road, I noted that the open water was basically everywhere. On the other hand, I almost put myself in the ditch a couple of times by trying to ignore how sloppy the local roads, which were clear and dry when I left early this AM, had become covered by inch or three of melting snow, with another 4 to 6 inches coming this afternoon and evening. I just love this tug-of-war season. Remember last Spring? We had record-setting 12" to 18" of snow at the beginning of May, the My Minnesota files have photos of a snow storm on April 19.

April 19, 2013 snow storm
April 19, 2013             © harrington

Basil Johnston, in his book Honor Earth Mother, makes reference to Winter Maker arranging to have Zeegwun (Spring) captured and held in a cave. Living in Minnesota makes me wonder if the story is a myth or the Ojibway equivalent of "reality TV." No indication yet that the geese are back, which doesn't surprise me. Last year they could be heard in numbers by April 1. By April 25, there was open water full of ducks and geese and gallinules galore by April 25. Be patient, Grasshopper. Spring is coming. She waits just south of the horizon until the annoying remnants of Winter return to their home beyond the North Country. When she arrives, she may be out of breath from her sudden rush. According to Gary Snyder, March in Kyoto is a lot like March in Minnesota.

ducks, geese and gallinules galore
April 25, 2013           © harrington

Gary Snyder: Kyoto, March

A few light flakes of snow
Fall in the feeble sun;
Birds sing in the cold,
A warbler by the wall. The plum
Buds tight and chill soon bloom.
The moon begins first
Fourth, a faint slice west
At nightfall. Jupiter half-way
High at the end of night-
Meditation. The dove cry
Twangs like a bow.
At dawn Mt. Hiei dusted white
On top; in the clear air
Folds of all the gullied green
Hills around the town are sharp,
Breath stings. Beneath the roofs
Of frosty houses
Lovers part, from tangle warm
Of gentle bodies under quilt
And crack the icy water to the face
And wake and feed the children
And grandchildren that they love
— from Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day

It would please me no end if Mother Nature were wearing more green today. Maybe next year she will. Thursday is Vernal Equinox, the start of astronomical Spring. Unfortunately, the fifteen day weather forecast looks like we're going to maintain below average temperatures through this month. If this Spring is like many others Minnesota Springs, we could continue below average temperatures right up until we leap into the 90's. Sigh!

22" gap from feeder bottom to snow bank
22" gap from feeder bottom to snow bank     © harrington

We are making progress reducing the snow cover that's holding down the temps of our Spring "warm-up." The gap under the bird feeder has grown to 22", almost double last week's. Driving along 35E yesterday, I noticed that bare ground is starting to show up in a number of places, none of them contiguous. The sun, on the rare occasion that it shows its face, is warming dark colored tree trunks enough to begin melting the snow around the base.

melted snow around the base of tree trunks
melted snow around the base of tree trunks     © harrington

Based on the records of Spring's arrival in prior years in this part of Minnesota, we can expect another six to eight weeks of mud and brown, and then green will start breaking out all over, about two months after St. Patrick's Day. For today, Billy Collins doesn't quite reach the level of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky's--`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:" but the sounds of his words have the ring of Irish to them. Mirled and clabbered, indeed!

Irish Poetry

By Billy Collins 
That morning under a pale hood of sky
I heard the unambiguous scrape of spackling   
against the side of our wickered, penitential house.   

The day mirled and clabbered   
in the thick, stony light,   
and the rooks’ feathered narling   
astounded the salt waves, the plush coast.   

I lugged a bucket past the forked   
coercion of a tree, up toward   
the pious and nictitating preeminence of a school,   
hunkered there in its gully of learning.   

Only later, by the galvanized washstand,   
while gaunt, phosphorescent heifers   
swam beyond the windows,   
did the whorled and sparky gib of the indefinite   
wobble me into knowledge.   

Then, I heard the ghost-clink of milk bottle   
on the rough threshold   
and understood the meadow-bells   
that trembled over a nimbus of ragwort—   
the whole afternoon lambent, corrugated, puddle-mad.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Regulatory ragtime

Today's StarTribune has a story about the regulatory regrets arising from "lax chemical oversight" in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Thirty years ago, state regulators let General Mills leave a swimming pool’s worth of chemicals beneath the Como neighborhood of southeast Minneapolis.

They soon came to regret it.
As I read the article, it escaped me how the Como neighborhood / General Mills pollution fiasco is any different than the "solution" proposed for the PolyMet / NorthMet pollution. I can guarantee that none of today's regulators will be around 500 years from now. I doubt that any will still be here 200 years from now, although some may still be here in 30 years to do their own handwringing about "if we knew then what we know now."

Superior's rocky shore      © harrington

I might not be as perturbed by all of this were it not for a Winona LaDuke article I recently read on the Twin Cities Daily Planet, in which she wrote, regarding tribal treaty rights:
Enter the Environmental Protection Agency. In late January, I paid a visit to Region 5 EPA, sort of like an individual tribal citizen would. I came to ask a few questions of the EPA, which, in my mind was the one branch of the federal government which would protect the environment. After all, that’s its name. The conversation I had was disturbing. First, I asked why the proposed PolyMet copper Mine had been given an “F” rating, rare as that may be, in their 2009 Environmental Impact Statement and if there was any way to not fail with that project.

After all, a study of modern sulfide mines in the U.S. found that 100 percent of open pit mines in climates similar to northeastern Minnesota violated water quality standards. In the U.S. as a whole, 84 percent violated water quality standards; of these only 16 percent had predicted a high potential for contaminant leaching. Among sulfide mines predicting low acid mine drainage potential, 89 percent in fact resulted in on site acid mine drainage. The hard rock mining industry is the largest source of Superfund liability to taxpayers, costing more than $2.6 billion so far. The EPA estimated the cost of remediating existing pollution at hard rock mining facilities is between $20 and $54 billion. It would seem like these facts would not change.

In PolyMet Northmet proposal, the EPA, gave the PolyMet project a failing grade. The EPA gave this low a rating to less than one percent of similar projects. Undaunted, mining proponents spent over $20 million to reissue a supplemental draft of their environmental impact study.

So I asked the EPA, “What could PolyMet ever do to not fail the regulatory process?” I asked this, because water quality impacts, like the sulfuric acid which would come from the proposed mine would peak, say 500 years from now. And, I wasn’t really sure, which junior Canadian mining company was going to be around to take care of that. I was told by one of the EPA reviewers that I should be thinking about mitigation, basically, not preventing. This has bothered me ever since. Then, perhaps more bothersome was the lead officer there telling me that the EPA was really the “Environmental Pollution Permitting Agency.” That was their job nowadays. I basically said, “Say it ain’t true … after all, this is my agency.” So, what is this to say? In my opinion, it is to say that the EPA may have lost its way and need a bit of encouragement to protect some of those federal laws like the Clean Water Act.
I used to believe that the only worthwhile thought to come out of the Reagan administration was to "Trust, but verify." Now I'm leaning toward an assessment that there were a total of two valuable thoughts during those eight years, the second one being "Just say no!" not just to drugs, to all those corporations and regulatory agencies who promise "we'll take care of it." Perhaps the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce cares enough about all those "high paying mining jobs" that they will start a fund among their members to guarantee no pollution offsite for the PolyMet or other sulfide mining projects. Or, they could use a mesh of broken promises to capture what escapes.

Superior, near Grand Portage
Superior, near Grand Portage     © harrington

Iphigenia: Politics

By Thomas James Merton 
The stairs lead to the room as bleak as glass   
Where fancy turns the statues.
The empty chairs are dreaming of a protocol,   
The tables, of a treaty;   
And the world has become a museum.

(The girl is gone,
Fled from the broken altar by the beach,
From the unholy sacrifice when calms became a trade-wind.)

The palaces stare out from their uncurtained trouble,   
And windows weep in the weak sun.
The women fear the empty upper rooms
More than the streets as grey as guns
Or the swordlight of the wide unfriendly esplanade.

Thoughts turn to salt among those shrouded chairs   
Where, with knives no crueller than pens, or promises,   
Took place the painless slaying of the leader’s daughter.

O, humbler than the truth she bowed her head,   
And scarcely seemed, to us, to die.
But after she was killed she fled, alive, like a surprise,   
Out of the glass world, to Diana’s Tauris.

Then wind cheered like a hero in the tackle of the standing ships
And hurled them bravely on the swords and lances of the wintry sea—
While wisdom turned to salt upon the broken piers.

This is the way the ministers have killed the truth,   
       our daughter,
Steps lead back into the rooms we fear to enter;   
Our minds are bleaker than the hall of mirrors:

And the world has become a museum.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.