Wednesday, April 30, 2014

National Poetry Month ending

Looking out the window of the writing room awhile ago, I noticed a bluebird on a tree branch. It looks as though we've got one pair using the house in front and another pair using the one in back. That helps to cheer me up on an otherwise grumbly, rainy day. We also had a visit this morning from a downy woodpecker, who was nice enough to pose while I got my camera, changed the lens and took his(?) picture.

downy woodpecker on deck baluster
downy woodpecker on deck baluster               © harrington

We're now reaching the end of our second National Poetry Month together. I've enjoyed it. I hope you have too. As we've written before on My Minnesota, we've found, with a little effort, we can match good to great poems with almost anything going on in life around us. I've learned that a poem often redirects any negative reaction I have to life's tribulations toward a more positive outlook and enhances my upbeat feelings about what's going on in my life. Since, I think, one of the reasons we're all here is to enjoy life when we can, I'm grateful poetry can enhance my life and, I hope, yours. We won't wait until next year before we revisit poetry. Meanwhile, Jane Hirshfield offers her enhanced perspective on a different way we might think about woodpeckers and the fact that we are, indeed, all in this together.

The Woodpecker Keeps Returning

By Jane Hirshfield 
The woodpecker keeps returning
to drill the house wall.
Put a pie plate over one place, he chooses another.

There is nothing good to eat there:
he has found in the house
a resonant billboard to post his intentions,
his voluble strength as provider.

But where is the female he drums for? Where?

I ask this, who am myself the ruined siding,
the handsome red-capped bird, the missing mate.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

This weather's a different kind of turkey

Let's try to put our delightful Spring weather in perspective. We live in Minnesota where, "Due to its location in the northern plains of the United States its climate is one of extremes." July is the only month for which we don't have recorded snow. I'm curious to gain insight into what climate change may do to our existing climate of extremes. What is extreme squared? All of this has been triggered by this morning's snowfall and the promise threat of more tomorrow. Some of us have been contemplating turkey hunting, but the prospect of frostbite and chilblains is causing second thoughts about even the second week in May. I wonder if this weather diminishes the degree of amore felt by one of these guys.

young turkey gobbler
young turkey gobbler                      © harrington

What's the point of trying to call a gobbler if you're shaking and shivering too much to even attempt a shot? As we start to close out National Poetry Month, let's see what Paul Zimmer has for hopes and dreams for wild turkeys.

A Romance for the Wild Turkey

They are so cowardly and stupid
Indians would not eat them
For fear of assuming their qualities.

The wild turkey always stays close
To home, flapping up into trees
If alarmed, then falling out again.
When shot it explodes like a balloon
Full of blood. It bathes by grinding
Itself in coarse dirt, is incapable
Of passion or anger, knows only
Vague innocence and extreme caution,
Walking around in underbrush
Like a cantilevered question mark,
Retreating at least hint of danger.

I hope when the wild turkey
Dreams at night it flies high up
In gladness under vast islands
Of mute starlight, its silhouette
Vivid in the full moon, guided always
By radiant configurations, high
Over chittering fields of corn
And the trivial fires of men,
Never to land again nor be regarded
As fearful, stupid, and unsure.  

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Water, water, everywhere

Do you suppose that this week's weather has anything to do with the movie Noah? Oh, wait, that was 40 days of rain. Four or five days of rain just seems like 40 to some of us. We have a "wet spot" in the back yard that might be able to float an ark by the end of this week.

wet spot on the Anoka sand plain
 wet spot on the Anoka sand plain        © harrington

Speaking of water, have you seen the story in the Star Tribune about the lack of required buffer strips in Minnesota's farm country. I don't know about you, but I've heard one too many times "Just let us do this voluntarily, we don't need to be regulated." The Strib story fits nicely with one (which you really should read) from Minnesota Public Radio on our groundwater supply . We've previously written about the story of White Bear Lake "disappearing" and the idea that millions of public dollars should be spent to divert Mississippi River water to augment the lake. How does that compare with the fact that 10% of our groundwater pumping is to abate pollution. (You know, contaminants that shouldn't have been there in the first place but their disposal  wasn't absolutely prohibited.) How many of our leaders in environmental protection agencies, or, better yet, our legislature and governor, have heard of and try to follow the precautionary principle? Do you suppose we could pass it as a constitutional amendment requirement for public service? Are you getting as tired as I am of public policies that seem focused on millions or billions for cleanup, pennies for prevention? Emerson has some beneficial words for us on water, especially the last four lines.


By Ralph Waldo Emerson 

The water understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Elegantly destroy.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Happy Birthday, SiSi!

Today isn't really her birthday, but it's been a year since we got her from the rescue folks. According to the vet last Thursday, she's put on 10 or 11 pounds (bouncing dogs make it hard to read the scale). It's been an interesting year. SiSi has helped keep me grounded about what's really important in life. She and I don't always agree about that, in part because she's younger, more energetic and can smell better than I ever could. The conversations we have about what's important are part of how she's training me to be a better owner and handler. My life has been richer and fuller and more rewarding because of her, and Franco, her partner in crime, and the daughter person and her fiancee, and my better half. As she usually does, Mary Oliver captures and shares the best parts (just change the "he" to "she" for SiSi). If you haven't yet, take a look at her Dog Songs.

SiSi, one year ago
SiSi, one year ago            © harrington


He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough

he turns upside down, his four paws
  in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.

“Tell me you love me,” he says.

“Tell me again.”

Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.

Mary Oliver

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bluebirds (of happiness?) arriving

I must admit that I'm astounded that, as April and National Poetry Month are winding down, there are still notable snow banks and piles along shady stretches of several local ditches. The forecast notes we can look forward to below average temperatures and rain (wet, not white, as someone said recently) for the next several days. April showers, May flowers and all that. As of last Thursday, North and South Lindstrom Lakes were still pretty well ice covered. Yesterday and today pussy willows have opened into catkins. In a few weeks, the local woods should start to look like this.

trees starting to leaf out (mid-May 2013)
 trees starting to leaf out (mid-May 2013)   © harrington

The bluebird seen today, another sign of Spring in these parts, will soon have more company. I'm thinking I'd better plan some photography trips for Spring wildflowers and hope I'm not too late. Mary Oliver's poem describes much of the arriving magic.

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

It was spring
and I finally heard him
among the first leaves––
then I saw him clutching the limb

in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still

and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness––
and that’s when it happened,

when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree––
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying,

and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward

like rain, rising,
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing––
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfect blue sky–––all of them

were singing.
And, of course, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last

For more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,

is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.

-Mary Oliver

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Coming attractions
(in addition to Summer)

The Jackpine Writers' Bloc of Park Rapids/Menahga MN area announces the release of Volume 23 of The Talking Stick. This publication is a collection of prose and poetry by writers with a connection to Minnesota, including work by me, My Minnesota's principal blogger. Books will be available for sale later this year at the Jackpine Writers' Bloc web site ,, and several northern MN book stores.

On a different front, although I haven't written about it much, I'm on the board of the United States Green Building Council—Minnesota. In a few weeks we'll be presenting our Third Annual IMPACT Conference, IMPACT 2014– Building a Better Tomorrow.

Thursday May 15 | 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Union Depot
214 4th St East | St. Paul MN 55101

IMPACT 2014 will bring together Minnesota’s green building community for outstanding education opportunities, quality networking and a showcase of innovative products and services. Education tracks are Energy & Performance and Design & Human Factors, along with innovative keynote sessions including Matt Grocoff's closing address titled "Designing for the Post-Carbon Economy: It's Zero or Nothing".

As an added bonus, the Union Depot will receive their LEED plaque during the conference opening and the story of the Union Depot’s historic renovation and journey to LEED certification will be incorporated into the conference experience. If you're interested in helping to build a more sustainable Minnesota, why not plan on attending. As Wendell Berry notes, our future is, in part, about our places.

Learn more and register

Wendell Berry


Planting trees early in spring,
we make a place for birds to sing
in time to come. How do we know?
They are singing here now.
There is no guarantee
that singing will ever be.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Renewable Range

More often than not reading the newspaper aggravates or depresses me. Not today. For some time, My Minnesota has been advocating that the Iron Range needs to look toward a more sustainable future than is likely to be provided by a continuing dependence on mining. Today's Star Tribune has a story that appears to be a major, beneficial move in the direction of a sustainable Iron Range. Neal St. Anthony writes that "Segetis picks Iron Range for $105 million 'green chemistry' plant" to be located in Hoyt Lakes.

We're taking what's been written in the story pretty much at face value for now. The economic impact seems pretty positive.
The Segetis project is forecast to have an annual $55 million economic impact, an inaugural 55 jobs, and support 545 jobs in related industries, according to a study from the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality.
Minnesota  renewable resource
Minnesota  renewable resource © harrington

To the extent that the project will be harvesting and using trees that used to go into paper and lumber, it looks like this might be a win-win-win for the Range. We congratulate the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and wish them and Segetis ecological and economic success. (Full disclosure: years ago I was peripherally involved in assessing a plan by then Governor Perpich to create a chop sticks plant in northern Minnesota. The current proposal by Segetis seems considerably more promising.) I would even suggest a rename to the Iron Range Renewable Resources Board, or something like that.

Jim Johnson, 2008 - 2010 poet laureate of Duluth, has a poem in his The First Day of Spring in Northern Minnesota that reads to me like a nice match for today's story.

Now We Cut Trees

The old man said as he raised the ax and let it fall, undercutting
the tree in the direction he wanted it to lean. Then the old man
set the ax head carefully inside the cut, the handle out like a
long finger pointing in the direction the tree would fall. The old
man paused looking in that direction. This, he finally said as he
began backcutting the other side, is the way of the poet.
   Having nearly cut through the tree, he stopped cutting, not
so much to catch a breath, but to push on the leaning tree.
   Just when you think he is a lunatic, the old man said as
the tree began to fall away in the once-pointed-at direction, he
discovers the world.

Jim Johnson

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Spring, pond

I hope you had a great Earth Day yesterday. Today we've made it to day 23 of National Poetry Month. On day 22, there was a bluebird sighting on "The Property." Also, in anticipation of some much needed exterior rehab, a bird's nest that's lived above the front door for many years was evicted. There remain several patches and piles of unmelted snow, but Spring continues its inexorable dance to Summer. The local pond is (once again) ice free. Upstream of the pond a Canada goose was sitting on the stream bank with his/her head tucked under his/her wing so that I wouldn't be able to see him/her. Silly goose! Sleepy goose?

ice out (again) at the pond
ice out (again) at the pond             © harrington

While standing near the pond, I listened to the sounds made by a variety of frogs and or toads. From what I've read, each species of frog has a unique mating call. That would make sense. What was a major surprise was that the Internet, the compendium of all human knowledge (but very little wisdom) doesn't seem to have a listing of names for the variety of frog sounds/calls. I found croak, peep (Spring peepers), harrumph or ribbit (bull frog?) but few other frog call sounds listed by name. Here's a link to a site with recordings of frog calls. I think I was hearing a lot of green tree frogs yesterday, to me they sound a little like grackles. The bull frog sounds like the didgeridoo I heard in a Crocodile Dundee movie, and I'm pretty sure the southern leopard frog was part of several Tarzan movie soundtracks. This could become a Summer project, naming frog call sounds or, we could just accept Jack Prelutsky's assessment.

My Frog Is a Frog

By Jack Prelutsky 

My frog is a frog that is hopelessly hoarse,
my frog is a frog with a reason, of course,
my frog is a frog that cannot croak a note,
my frog is a frog with a frog in its throat. 

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Earth Day: good life

In the early 1970s, the good life in Minnesota—the state that works, exemplified by then-Governor Wendell Anderson, made the cover of Time magazine. This occurred several years before I moved to Minnesota to work for the Metropolitan Council. In those days, the Twin Cities and the Council enjoyed the kind of progressive reputation which currently seems to belong to places like Portland, OR. It's been some time since I've heard a positive reference to Minnesota as a state that works.

A quick search on the internet turned up a 2003 Minnesota Public Radio reprise of the Time story, in which former Governor Anderson "says the biggest change in Minnesota since 1973 is the state's political parties and how both parties are interested in catering to special interests rather than nurturing leaders who govern for the common good." I agree that, as far as I can see, Minnesota (and Minnesotans) seems to have become much more focused on "me" than on "we."

Fast forward another decade, MinnPost now takes a retrospective look at the Time cover and story. They find that "The progressive consensus that Wierzynski and Time magazine discerned back in 1973 has retreated in the years since then. Even in this current liberal moment of 2013, our DFL governor and DFL-controlled Legislature seem unwilling to consider the kind of broad based, share- the-sacrifice tax increases that helped pay for new public initiatives during the early 1970s." MinnPost's conclusion: "'State That Works' cover offered a Minnesota image that doesn't fit as comfortably today."

Both the MPR and the MinnPost assessments attribute causes for change to the political sector. Most politicians I've know were consensus gatherers, not change agents. I've lived in Minnesota since the late 1970's and can attest that political changes, including a significant loss of moderate Republicans, helps to account for some, but I don't think all, of "what happened." I believe we're experiencing a number of unfortunate impacts of global capitalism, including some spillover to the nonprofit sector, where a focus on "Market Orientation" has been proposed as a fruitful approach. The definition of "Market Orientation," used by a notable local nonprofit is "Maximizing resources to benefit low-income or disinvested communities by calibrating forces of government and the civic and nonprofit sectors with the private market, helping everyone to adapt better to what works." On the surface, this might seem like a progressive public-private partnership approach. On further consideration, however, I believe it suffers from several fatal flaws. The first concern I have is that this definition of "market orientation" differs greatly from that found in the Business Dictionary ("A business approach or philosophy that focuses on identifying and meeting the stated or hidden needs or wants of customers. See also product orientation and sales orientation." Read more: This means the question of what works has to involve "for whom" and also be based on a clarification of who are the customers, low-income persons, disinvested communities or public and civic sectors and the private market.

I think there are more sustainable ways to approach the question of how to optimally benefit low-income or disinvested communities. For example, Donella Meadows, in her seminal "Indicators and Information Systems for Sustainable Development," provides a framework (initially proposed by Herman Daly) based on making distinctions among ultimate means (natural capital), intermediate means (built and human capital), intermediate ends (human and social capital) and ultimate ends (well-being). I believe we need Minnesota leaders in the private, nonprofit and public sectors to move beyond the concept that economic and human development is a zero sum game and help us create a sustainable future for all. Past Minnesota leaders have already recognized such an approach as a necessity.

During the late 1980s, the Blandin Foundation engaged two of Minnesota's most notable communicators to create a book (published by Blandin in 1990) entitled Minnesota: Images of Home. Photos by Jim Brandenburg and text by Paul Gruchow captured what I think are Minnesota's most desirable and characteristic qualities and did it in a way I've yet to see be done as well, let alone better. Most encouraging to me, however, was the philosophy and perspective expressed by Blandin's then president, Paul M. Olson who wrote something I believe is highly relevant today: "… our state faces a special challenge: the struggle to hold a common purpose in the face of economic realities that threaten to divide and polarize us…So both urban and rural Minnesota are caught up in the tensions of enormous change. At the same time, a growing economic gap threatens to divide rural Minnesotans from their urban cousins, and the wealthiest urbanites from their neighbors, who have not shared in recent income gains. It will take discipline, imagination and determined leadership to keep us working together as a communities of communities toward what is good for all Minnesotans… We will not succeed if we do not--all of us-- feel bound to a common place, if we do not sense the many ways in which our history, our climate, our land, and our cultural experiences all cast us together. We acknowledge our many needs; we cherish our many resources, our many points of view; but if Minnesota is to work well, it can claim only one interdependent future."

Interdependence and being bound to a common future are not the first thoughts that occur to me when I hear the phrase "market orientation." I think that markets represent an intermediate means that may help meet some societal needs efficiently. I have major problems when a market orientation concept is (mis)applied to trying to create ultimate ends (well-being) or is proposed to serve to value ultimate means such as ecosystem services. But that's a whole different conversation.

Although I'm not a particularly religious person, for Earth Day 2014 I think we would be well served to remember the dictum from the New Testament: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." We could also stand to be more mindful of Gary Snyder's vision in his magnificent poem "For The Children."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hearing limits

Yesterday was Easter. Tomorrow is Earth Day. Most of the recent snow fall has melted. Spring Is a New Beginning. That makes today an opportune time to remind everyone that some Iron Rangers are working on answers to the question (raised by My Minnesota during the online conversations about the need for and effects of the proposed PolyMet NorthMet project) of what a sustainable Iron Range would look and work like. This coming Saturday, April 26, the 2014 Iron Range Earth Fest is being held at Mt. Iron. I'm delighted to see that The Land Stewardship Project, of which I'm a long-time member, is putting on a Farm Dreams Workshop that evening in the My. Iron Community Center. I just don't believe we're going to leave the earth in the shape our children need and deserve if we continue to put holes in the stratosphere, dig very, very large holes in the earth's crust, or blow the tops off of mountains so we can recharge our smart-phones and tablets. Nor do I believe we need to return to a subsistence life as hunter-gatherers as the only alternative. We do need to limit our greed and self-centeredness and learn to live comfortably within the resource limitations the skills, knowledge, wisdom and the earth's limited capacity to support us and all our relations can provide.

Earth NASA
Earth NASA

One of Joe Paddock's poems from DARK DREAMING, GLOBAL DIMMING seems like a good fit today.

Joe Paddock


We move within great
than the immense flight—guiding rhythms: yahonking geese
who know their way, coiling vines
that find the sun, honeybees
that dance for their hives,
describing point by point, the way
to flower-finds. Most Perfect guidance

From everywhere in the universe,
the immense flight—energy
and wisdom of the infinite—
continually swarms in on us,
but, fixed on glut, lean bellies
and beautifully abstract breasts,
bushels, the market, bull and ber,
we cannot hear! Our sensitive
ear has been jammed

We could be
guided, continually
corrected by the whole
wondrous webbing,
were we open....

Through blood-tinted twilight,
shifting flights, energy patterns
elaborating wisdom, winging

steadily away.

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

The Easter Bunny has been here and, we hope, to the homes of all those everywhere who love children of any age and chocolate.

traces of the Easter Bunny
traces of the Easter Bunny                © harrington

Perhaps today Spring will rehatch from Winter and help Jane Levin's little blue stems to grow tall.

can Spring finally hatch from these Easter eggs?
can Spring finally hatch from these Easter eggs?       © harrington

Jane Levin


ten little blue stems at sunset
the minyan stands tall
bends in unison
wispy heads bob to earth
then sky
     then earth again
whiskers quivering

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Memories made and remembered

Several days ago my better half and I were visiting Taylors Falls. We stopped for coffee at Coffee Talk. While we waited for the barista to finish doing her thing, I poked around to see what looked interesting. To my surprise and delight, there on the counter was something I haven't seen since I was a child in the last millennium. They had maple (sugar) candy from Don's Sugar Shack. I bought a package containing two pieces of maple-leaf-shaped candy and wondered if the sap came from the sugar bush I photographed back in March.

sugar bush near Wild River State Park
sugar bush near Wild River State Park     © harrington

As I recall from my younger days, maple candy used to appear in Christmas stockings and, sometimes, in Easter baskets. Anyhow, after we finished our coffee and exploring, the candy sat untouched in the house for a couple of days, until we shared one of the pieces. At first bite, my mouth became at least half a century younger. At second taste, I flashed back to some of the Vermont country stores that I used to visit when I was in my 20s and poking around the nooks and crannies of New England. All of this makes me wonder what other treats in my back yard I've been missing because I haven't done enough exploring. Marcie R. Rendon (Mahnomen County), in her County Lines poem "grandmother walks," makes it clear that exploring can be remembering as much as traveling.

Marcie R. Rendon

grandmother walks

          grandmother walks moonlit trails
          sucking maple syrup cubes
          birchbark wraps itself around her
          while black bear guards her path

at the water's edge,
in a rock upon the path
flickering in an evening flame
i see her face

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Friday, April 18, 2014

A moment's peace

Welcome to Day 18 of National Poetry Month. Once again our snow cover is disappearing. Flocks of frantic birds will find it easier to find sustenance without a foot of snow perched on their universe.

birds at snow-covered feeder
birds at snow-covered feeder   © harrington

Solid (snow and ice) will turn to liquid, maybe even evaporate as gas, if it gets warm enough, and most will seep into the ground or flow overland. That takes care of earth, air, and water, being driven by the fire of the sun. Four basic elements, at least three of which would also be involved with drying clothes on a clothesline. But, using a clothesline would require measurably more time than the few seconds it takes now to move clean clothes from the washer to the dryer next to it. It would mean lugging a basket full of clothes outside, pinning them to the line, hoping it doesn't rain or that the traffic on the township road doesn't kick up too much dust, going back and taking down the dry clothes and bringing them into the house. Folding would be the same whether air dried or dryer dried. Somehow I've been convinced that the convenience of using a clothes dryer is preferable to spending a few moments in the sunshine, listening to the birds while I hang clothes. If we put the line near the (to be created) hummingbird/butterfly garden, the environment for the launderer would be a major improvement over the laundry room. Even without a garden, the yard is a major improvement over the laundry room's environment. So why am I willing to continue to trade the convenience of a clothes dryer for the pleasure of a few moments in the sun and fresh air, with the added benefit of reducing my carbon footprint? I suppose, this being 21st century America, I've been convinced by appliance makers and sellers, by utilities, by the advertising industry they employ, and by most media outlets, that saving time by using "labor saving" conveniences lets me do more with my life, such as watching more commercials on TV or the Internet. I'm slowly starting to wise up to the idea that more rarely improves the quality of my life. More is often the cry of the addicted/addictive personality (if there is such a personality). Maybe Less truly is More.

Watching the St. Croix River flow
Watching the St. Croix River flow             © harrington

Much of this thinking was retriggered a week or so ago when I took a few moments to sit on the bank and watch the St. Croix river flow. No noise except bird calls and the gently riff of flowing water. No sense of "there are six other things I should be doing." That's becoming one of the better reasons I can think of to create the clothesline and the garden. I may have my moments of dumb, but I'm trying hard to outgrow being willfully perverse. In County Lines, David Pichaske (Yellow Medicine County), with an assist from CSN&Y, reminds us of the importance of what we teach our children, including how to spend our time.

David Pichaske

Teach Your Children Well

"and feed them on your dreams"
—Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Can tell you only what I have come to know:
clean, black cut of new-paved road
(always north and always uphill)
flanked by yellow beans and khaki corn;
behind, hollow moon dragging her sullen face
toward dark tangle of the Yellow Medicine River
(cottonwood, deer, fox, and pheasant);
ahead, flame of northern lights, aurora borealis,
and, always, firm distance of the pole star.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bird brains?

Between the snow storm and birds invading the house, it's been a strange 24 hours. As you can see, we got a little more than the 3+ inches that fell in "The Cities." We didn't quite reach Isanti's 19 inches, but we came close. No more jokes about the "Ides of April" (when the snow started), but I can't promise to not clean and rig fly fishing equipment even at the risk of triggering things like the scenes below.

Snow covered deck railing and bird feeders early April 17
Snow covered deck railing and bird feeders early April 17     © harrington

15 inches of snow on deck railing
15 inches of snow on deck railing            © harrington

If you don't recall yesterday's picture of juncoes, take a quick look. Last night we had a male junco in the family room. I have no idea how he got into the house. Much chasing around, unsuccessfully at first with a large landing net, then successfully when a smaller, softer meshed trout landing net was brought into play. The snow was deep enough that he couldn't be released through the porch screen door so he was released out the front door. This morning there was a pair of juncoes (male and female) trapped on the screen porch. after a few ridiculous attempts with the trout net, I gave up, got a snow shovel from the garage, waded through snow drifts that reached over the top (and drifted snow into) my Steger mukluks, and shoveled enough snow so the screen door could be propped open. The juncoes were then shooed out and the door closed. This country living stuff is so exciting. If you're old enough to remember Laugh-In, picture Arte Johnson's Wolfgang saying "interesting, but strange." [update: two more juncoes are in the screened porch, they must be hopping through a hole on the bottom of the screen door while they're feeding on seeds dropped from the feeder. I'll have to patch the hole as soon as I release these two captives.] All these feathered visitors put me in mind of one of the poems in Joe Paddock's DARK DREAMING, GLOBAL DIMMING.

Joe Paddock


We are not less
than the immense flight—
pterodactyls, dragonflies, eagles,
bats, ganders, the mighty
little songster wren—all
spiraling through time
toward us and the surround
of now, and within the great skies
of our flesh, this flight
is always with us, winging
hungry through the blood,
neurons, such happy geese, yelping:
"Yes! Yes!" and again, "Yes!"

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April showers (snow?)

April showers bring? It's been snowing most of the morning here. In "The Cities," not so much. Here's what the back yard looked like earlier today. The two saplings in the fence are the apple trees I've fretted about all Winter. The good news is that mice (or voles, or whatevers) didn't girdle their bark under cover of snow (at least not yet).

April (snow)showers bring slush           © harrington

After my debacle trying to photograph the blood moon and eclipse the other night, I'm working harder at deciphering the multitude of options on my DSLR so I might start knowing a little more about how to make it do what I want it to. (I already know what I'm doing, I'm too often experiencing debacles.) I practiced a little this morning on the juncoes that are moving through (wide aperture [smaller number], shallow depth of field). Maybe writing it out like this will help me remember how it works.

Juncoes on their way north               © harrington

This afternoon and early evening I'm taking my better half to fundraiser for the Minnesota Chapter of the United States Green Building Council. (I'm on the board of directors.) It's called Dine Away for Earth Day (Earth Day is April 22). There were scheduling conflicts on the 22nd so we're doing it tonight. We'll be at the Red Stag in Minneapolis. If you're not snowed in and in the neighborhood, stop by, join us, buy some raffle tickets and help support a more sustainable and green Minnesota. For day 16 of National Poetry Month, Tom Hennen's Out of Nothing from Where One Voice Ends Another Begins describes how I wish today's weather had turned out. I can deal easily with one snowflake.

Tom Hennen

Out of Nothing

Snow began slowly. Only one flake fell all mornng. It
was talked about by everyone as they gathered for
coffee. It brought back memories of other times.
Dreams of ice skates, long shotguns waving at geese,
cities lighting up somewhere off the prairie horizon
in the cold gray day. Only one snowflake but it fell
with the grace of a star out of the damp, ragged air. It
filled the day with a clarity seldom noticed. It stood
out sharply as a telephone pole against the skyline of
the winter we each keep to ourselves.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The mother of all seasons?

pre blood moon, pre eclipse moon
pre blood moon, pre eclipse moon   © harrington

Did you stay up late to see the blood moon eclipse? Did you wake up early to watch it? Have you seen the winter storm warnings for 4" to 8" of snow tomorrow? Are you ready for the plagues of frogs and locusts next week? Oh, wait, that last part is just the arrival of Spring and Summer around here. The winter storm warning is probably my fault. I made time yesterday to clean a couple of fly lines in anticipation of actually getting out trout fishing sometime soon. Let's see, last year we got our final snow storm around May 3. That's only a couple of weeks away. Sigh!

On a brighter note, shortly after we moved to "The Property," I put up a wood duck nesting box on one of the trees out back. I then promptly ignored it for a number of years (except for an annual cleanout). Lacking any preventive maintenance, it eventually gave up, fell down, and then apart. The same fate befell the bat house I had mounted in an oak tree close to the house (here comes the bright part). We now have, thanks to the daughter person's woodworking fiancee, a brand, shiny, new bat house installed where the wood duck box used to live.

newly installed bat house (front view)
newly installed bat house (front view)     © harrington

If we do end up with bats in the bat house, and swifts or swallows in the "purple martin" house (so much for truth in advertising), the indigenous dragon flies may have enough help to keep the local populations of mosquitoes, black and deer flies down to a tolerable level (that's if we ever do get to Summer, see "winter storm warning" up above). We'd much rather have bats, birds and bugs (rather than "bug spray") helping to control local nuisances since we're planning on adding bee hives this year or next and some of us are old enough to have read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring when it was first published. Just in case any bats (young or old) are reading this blog and looking for a nice Summer home, here's a side view of the handsome new bat house. It's big enough for an extended family but, as Heid Erdrich reminds us,   words, like Minnesota's seasons, can be fluid.

newly installed bat house (side view)
newly installed bat house (side view)     © harrington

Heid Erdrich

Offering: Words

Gichimookomaanima: speaks American, speaks the Long Knives' language

Mother, if you look it up, is source,
(fount and fountainhead—origin,
provenance and provenience,
root) and wellspring.
Near her in the dictionary you will find
we all spring mother-naked,
(bare, stripped, unclothed, undressed, and raw)
with nothing but mother-wit
(brains, brain-power, sense) our native wit
with which we someday might mother,
(nurse, care for, serve, and wait on)
if we don't first look it up and discover
the fullness of its meaning.

Such interesting language, this tongue,
(our diction, idiom, speech, and vernacular)
also sign language,
(gesture language)
and contact language,
which was English or Ojibwe,
either way; both spoke forward our mother country,
our motherland (see also fatherland,
our home, our homeland, our land)
called soil in English our mother tongue,
our native language that is not my Native language
not the mother language Ojibwe:
wellspring of many tongues, nurse, origin, and source.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, April 14, 2014

That time of year

Don't forget there's a Lunar Eclipse tonight! Tomorrow is the Ides of National Poetry Month. Yesterday the weather and my mood were a pretty good match. I spent more time than is good for me grumping about the gray, cloudy day. It wasn't a bad day for reading and getting caught up on some filing but I'd yet to buy this season's fishing license or get any rods and reels ready for an outing. I wanted to be out in sunshine and warmth doing something less productive but more fun than filing. I took a late afternoon walk, to confirm whether the pond up the road was ice free. It was. Back home, as the day was coming to it's close, one of the most spectacular sunsets I've seen in a long time exploded onto the western horizon. See for yourself (as is often the case, the reds in the "save for the Internet" version are washed out compared to the original).

One of Spring's spectacular sunsets
One of Spring's spectacular sunsets          © harrington

We've now reached that time of year when we bring the bird feeder from the deck into the house each evening. The evening I get absent-minded and forget will be the night the local bear decides to visit. Such is life in the country. Scott County poet Frances March Davey has a poem in County Lines that captures one of my character flaws that often becomes particularly prevalent at this time of year.

Frances March Davey


Why do I always wish
For other things—
For Indian Summer's smoky haze
In quiet Springs?

Why do I want the gentian's blue
Instead of hepatica's silvery hoods?
Why do I want the grebe's call?
Why do I long for Autumn woods?

Why do I always want some other thing?
In the Spring the Fall,—in Fall the Spring.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Country schedules, city schedules

I don't recall if I've mentioned previously in My Minnesota that one reason for living in the country instead of the city is that, if I want to see a play or eat at a particular restaurant, I can buy tickets or make a reservation for a date and time certain. Wildlife, waterfowl, storms and many other natural phenomena that I care about and enjoy watching aren't readily scheduled. Yesterday evening provided a classic example. During late dusk (after sunset, before full dark) three does decided our back yard should be checked out to for anything good to eat. The four human adults in the house had been eating popcorn and watching a movie when we noticed we had company. (Thank heavens for pause buttons.) It was dark enough that I couldn't get a decent natural light photo and I didn't want to spook the deer by using the flash. I probably need to play some more with the telephoto lens and low light conditions. I didn't want to set up a tripod for a longer exposure, and the does weren't exactly standing stock still. Anyhow, the pleasure of seeing three healthy, active deer within a 100 yards or so isn't something I could pencil in on my calendar if I lived in an urban environ. As a matter of fact, unless our weather cycles become more stable, even figuring out a schedule for ice out will continue to be an interesting exercise each Spring. As you can see below, turkeys, unlike deer, often wander through during the day and present opportunities for the kind of photo shown.

tom turkey at wood's edge
tom turkey at wood's edge              © harrington
The Minnesota stream trout season opened yesterday, and today is day 13 of National Poetry Month, which makes this a good time to share Ronald Gower's (Wabasha County) The Way of Trout from County Lines.

Ronald Gower

The Way of Trout

How explain that
It must be this way
My face turned upward
Unless it is only
In this way
To walk in beauty.

It is all ritual
And the crafted
Fly must be a
Perfect song
To walk in beauty.

The water is
A sheet of music
With no notes
and one at hem.
But you must read
To walk in beauty.

A piece of water
Breaks, a note
Turns solid fire
Perfect music
As you walk in beauty.

Trout too catch fire
Sing, hook in lip
Send music up
The line and rod
To end in beauty.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

A breath of fresh Spring air

Yesterday afternoon we saw a number of raptors drifting north. Are they following the snow melt line? This morning we had a brief, gentle rain, a real rain; not freezing rain, not a "wintry mix," not freezing drizzle, a real, honest to goodness Spring rain from heaven. In the woods, the last patches of snow are melting and green is starting to replace white as a dominant color. One of my favorite authors, Robin Wall Kimmerer, wrote a book with the title Gathering Moss. I've almost finished reading it.

moss uncovered by snow melt             © harrington

It makes me wonder why some of the tree trunks in the nearby woods are covered with moss while others' that look as though they're from the same kind of tree, are bare. That's yet another aspect of this amazing world we live on about which I don't know nearly enough. I do know that April's snow melt and fresh, damp earth smell have reminded me it's time to put up a clothes line and ease off on the use of the clothes dryer. It's been too long since I've slept on freshly air-dried sheets.

Doris Lueth Stengel

At the Clothesline

I lift my arms
to hang a pillowcase.
My face turned upward
warms in daffodil sum.

On the birch crown
a cardinal whistles
for his mate,
while the neighbor's cat
glides through grass
tail twitching.

I stoop, grasp corners
of a sheet, pin one end,
another pin midway
and one at hem.
The sheet fills with April,
a landlocked sail.

The condominium complex
nearby forbids clotheslines,
depriving residents
of this ancient ritual,
this bending and reaching
humble and praising,
usurping their right
to rest in beds fragrant
with a hint of resurrection.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring heads north

Today there were quite a few bluebills (scaup) on the South Pool of the Sunrise Unit of Carlos Avery . Wood ducks and scaup were mixed on one of the local ponds. I assume the woodies will become locals and the scaup are following open water to their breeding grounds north of here.

Scaup on the South Pool
Scaup on the South Pool               © harrington

As far as I've been able to discover, this area isn't noted for bluebills during the autumn duck season. I've read speculation that many (most?) of them skip over Minnesota these days as they head south.
Janet Holmes' poem, Birding, in Where One Voice Ends, isn't about waterfowl, but her observation that "wild isn't always where you want it seems to me to be spot on.

Janet Holmes


Some pursue quantity, a lifelist
personalized to the range and predilections
of a patient soul with binoculars angled up,
pencil ready, the mind's handy abacus
poised to click the next accumulation;
some seek particular birds
that return each year, old regulars
sentimental about their habits;
some just want the exotic,
the deep hues, rich excesses of rainbow
animate and winged and seldom seen.
But wild isn't always where you want it—
off the deck where the siskins fed all winter
framed by the kitchen's glass. You go
upwind of the heap of roadkill
at the highway department's utilitarian lot
where carcasses rot behind the dinosaur plows,
the graders out of season. New habitat.
What's struck by a truck goes back
to its role as provender, as surely
as if wolves patrolled these parts again:
whitetail gone to ribcage, their unaesthetic bones
marking the carnage where flyhatch
happens. Because of the semi
speeding down 61, you scope
warblers spangling the decomposing mound
with their brilliant golds, the crimsons you covet.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Caring for all my relations

Spring in Minnesota is something to celebrate. An overheated, perpetually ice free world, not so much. In yesterday's mail I received my copy of a recently published book I had ordered, So Little Time, Words and Images for a World in Climate Crisis. It combines poetry and photography to help us care about what we are doing to ourselves and our fellow inhabitants of earth, our only home. The publisher's web site has this quotation: "In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."—Baba Dioum  This sentiment echoes the perspective in Original Green that helped convince me sustainability is about what values we hold and honor as much as or more than it is about the technology we use. In a similar vein, Robin Wall Kimmerer, in Braiding Sweetgrass, encourages us to consider reciprocity as a healthier way to engage the earth and our fellow creatures. To honor the upcoming 34th anniversary of 1970's first Earth Day, My Minnesota today offers a brief interlude in our National Poetry month line up of Minnesota poets so we an share the first stanza of a poem from So Little Time. The poem was written in Gaelic by Seán Ó Riordáin and translated by Greg Delanty. If you see fit to get a copy of So Little Time, I think you'll enjoy it and learn from it.

water levels rise as snow and ice melts
water levels rise as snow and ice melts     © harrington

Seán Ó Riordáin

Apathy Is Out

There's not a fly, moth, bee,
man, or woman created by God
whose welfare's not our responsibility;
to ignore their predicament
isn't on. There's not
a madman in the Valley of the Mad
who we shouldn't sit with
and keep company, since
he's sick in the head
on our behalf.
That stanza provides a wonderful segue to Minnesotan Tom Hennen's poem from County Lines, Animal of the Earth

Tom Hennen

Animal of the Earth

For the first time I understand
I'm an animal
Warm breath.
Moving shaggy arms
To encircle another.
Looked at
By beasts
That fly
Walk with four feet down
On tiny scales that shine like flecks of spring.
The only animal
That wants to write a book
That moves so uncertainly through the cold
That spends so much time
Gazing at the sky
That listens for itself
Among the rustling sounds.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Home field advantage

This morning my better half and I drove the St. Croix Scenic Byway (plus a few side trips) from Taylors Falls to Rock Creek. I'm working on a project that is trying to capture, through photography and poetry, relationships between the built and the natural environments and how people experience them. Much of what we saw this morning were flooded and muddy farm fields, scattered subdivisions, tributaries flowing full, and both open and ice covered stretches of the St. Croix. One thing that struck me as we drove along was how segregated the river and its valley seem to be from the surrounding countryside, much of which is given over to small acreages with horses, interspersed between larger cornfields and dairy or beef cattle operations, with the occasional McMansion thrown in just because someone could.

forest to farm to residential
forest to farm to residential                  © harrington

From any sort of distance, this fragmentation of the countryside isn't that obvious. The river appears to flow through a relatively untrammeled, natural setting. Closer examination reveals the contrary. Just as different species have varying needs for their homes, humans exhibit a wide range of tastes and desires. Looking at the setting above, I'm not sure how close to nature this kind of country living brings people, but perhaps that isn't why they chose to live where they do. Home does mean something different to many of us but it should include roots, family and nurturing, as Angela Shannon writes in her poem, "Carrying Home," from Where One Voice Ends Another Begins.

St. Croix River valley upstream from Taylors Falls
St. Croix River valley upstream from Taylors Falls    © harrington

Angela Shannon

Carrying Home

I am carrying home in my breast pocket:
land where I learned to crawl,
dust that held my footprints,
long fields I trod through

Home, where Mother baked bread,
where Papa spoke with skies,
where family voices gathered.
In my palm, this heap of earth
I have hauled over hills and valleys.

Releasing dirt between my fingers,
I ask the prairies to sustain me.
May my soil and this soil nurture each other,
may seeds root and develop beyond measure,
may the heartland and I blossom.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Open water!

I wasn't able to get to the St. Croix until today.
Upstream from Osceola, the river is bank to bank open water.
My Winter-weary spirit soared when I saw it.
(Local lakes are still ice covered, although the ice in shallow bays is starting to get discolored and recede from shore in a few places.)

St. Croix River open water    © harrington

Some trees are starting to open their leaf buds, despite snow cover still hanging on in shady areas.

leaf buds starting to open
leaf buds starting to open       © harrington

Feeder streams are free flowing and bank full.

bank full feeder stream
bank full feeder stream     © harrington

I think we've made it to Spring 2014! Connie Wanek's poem "Ice Out", in County Lines, nicely fits today's report. Isn't it fantastic that National Poetry Month brings Spring to the north country?

Connie Wanek

Ice Out

The south wind discovers a loose thread
and winter begins to unravel.
The furnace blows a warming reverie
The first black and blue butterfly
materializes. The second.
They find each other.

The snow fort is in ruins.
Stacks of ammunition
have melted into the grass.
A float plane with stiff wings
banks over the pines, turning north;
an eagle, too, searches for open water.

Open water. A window to the bottom.
Sometimes the water is co clear
that it hardly exists
except as a change in viscosity.
The island has its moat again,
the moon its mirror.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Snow melts, ground warms, ice goes out

After last week's storm, the snow bank in front of the house is back to about where it was on April 1. The gap is 27 inches (about 70 cm) between the bottom of the bird feeder and the top of the snow. You can also see the largely ice-free driveway for which the dogs and the dog walkers are grateful.

27 inch gap. snow melt progress
27 inch gap. snow melt progress  © harrington

We couldn't grab any photos of them yesterday or today, but bufflehead have arrived and are moving through. As this is being written, the outside temperature is in the low 50's. Some members of the household have planted seeds and are anxiously awaiting sprouting. Others keep finding what, in person, appear to be undersized compost bins, suggesting a home-made solution may be needed. We're all also working on the question of where the beehives and the chicken coop should go, remembering that locations that are convenient in summer may not be so with a foot or two of snow on the ground. The same issue is playing out with the "permanent" location for the compost bin. Country living at its best is a four season affair. The pond up the road hasn't yet reached open water, but it's getting close.

early Spring pond
early Spring pond               © harrington

David Mason

The Pond

Downcast thermometers record one truth
of winter, through the clear light hints of spring.
The furnace blows a warming reverie
where I drop anchor somewhere in the woods
with a girl I haven't seen for twenty years.

I find the pond secluded in the park,
filled by a waterfall beside a bluff
where we held hands and jumped, yelling love,
laughing to find ourselves alive again
and young as always, touching each other's skin.

Tonight the temperature is due to fall
an arctic stillness settle on the prairies...
The years slow down and look about for shelter
far from forests and far from summer ponds:
the mind ghosting out in a shoal of stars.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Jobs: yes; Environment: Yes; DFL: ?

This morning, a planter of tulips has replaced the holly bush that used to be on the book case. A pot of yellow narcissus adorns the dining table. It's two weeks until Easter and waterfowl plus open water have arrived at Carlos Avery. The mallards were far enough away they only show in a larger picture. The trumpeter swans and Canada geese are large enough to stand out in a blog-sized photo, as is this close up of a red wing blackbird.

red winged blackbird watching ice melt
red winged blackbird watching ice melt         © harrington

trumpeter swans and open water (Sunrise River)
trumpeter swans and open water (Sunrise River)    © harrington

Canada goose (on ice) and trumpeter swan (in water)
Canada goose (on ice) and trumpeter swan (in water)      © harrington

Perhaps as significant as the open water is the fact that, for the second time within the past week, our driveway is functionally ice free. A different significant discovery was reported in today's Star Tribune. "Iron Range rebellion halted wild rice initiative." Having tracked this issue for some time, I can't say I'm surprised, just deeply disappointed. As far as I can see, Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor party has two major constituencies these days: labor and environmentalists. It's been too long since we've seen any sign of the kind of political leadership that could create necessary alliances (like the Minnesota Blue-Green Alliance) in northern Minnesota. It seems to me that lacking leadership with foresight and direction, the Iron Range communities will always face the kind of future Loren Niemi describes in his poem Hibbing, a future with neither jobs nor a desirable environment.

Loren Niemi


In the town where I was born the scarred
earth could always be seen, the bloody
slag piles, the boom and bust on the fortunes of steel
making mountains where molehills once stood.

My father's and a thousand other fathers'
childhoods carried away in ore cars
to feed American progress while
the mines devoured the ground where houses stood.

If I were there, I'd join the crawl
up First and down Howard
behind the wheel of a souped-up hot rod
capable of speed but rumbling in second gear.

Nowhere to go, nothing to do,
my cousins boil the night away with unnamed desire
to graduate and leave looking for anything
that is not this town, this work, this life, this fear.

If I were there, I might not be so lucky—
end up supporting a family for union wages
measuring time by the mine whistle

in a land dying but never quite dead.
Never quite rich, still restless and working for retirement and the cabin on the lake or
a kid's college education like the one I'm getting
because my old man left that town long ago.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.