Saturday, May 31, 2014

Spring beauties

We all know that Spring is a time of new beginnings, right? Sometimes, though, some of us (OK, me) loose track of all that can mean. Driving Highway 8 this morning on our way to Marine on St. Croix to buy some of what may be the world's universe's best chocolate for a friend's birthday present, we were reminded of an oft-missed delight of Spring when we noticed our local buffalo herd was on the road side of their pasture where we could see lots of calves in the herd. For those of you who don't often get a chance to see such a sight as part of your normal travels, enjoy.

buffalo herd with Spring calves
buffalo herd with Spring calves           © harrington

Although mom and dad are looking kind of scruffy as they lose their Winter coats, the youngsters look sweet and swift. Speaking of swift, have you noticed that the earliest wildflowers are starting to swiftly fade as we move from May to June and from Spring into Summer. Season's changes are reflected in the recently opened wildflowers that can be found blooming in little noticed corners of our world.

roadside wildflowers
 roadside wildflowers       © harrington

Another sign that our seasons are once again changing is visible in this clear indication that the water levels in the St. Croix River have begun to drop. So, after reading this, go outside, enjoy! Come back when you've had enough of the mosquitos.

high water mark on St. Croix
high water mark on St. Croix    © harrington

Planting the Meadow

By Mary Makofske 

I leave the formal garden of schedules
where hours hedge me, clip the errant sprigs
of thought, and day after day, a boxwood
topiary hunt chases a green fox
never caught. No voice calls me to order
as I enter a dream of meadow, kneel
to earth and, moving east to west, second
the motion only of the sun. I plant
frail seedlings in the unplowed field, trusting
the wildness hidden in their hearts. Spring light
sprawls across false indigo and hyssop,
daisies, flax. Clouds form, dissolve, withhold
or promise rain. In time, outside of time,
the unkempt afternoons fill up with flowers.


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Friday, May 30, 2014

Local doings, or stoppings

eggs and rhubarb
eggs and rhubarb            © harrington

Life is getting really interesting here in the country. This morning, Franco the Rescue Dog chased (herded? Franco's a border collie cross) a bear away from our trash can. This afternoon, we headed off for the Chisago City Farmer's Market and bought eggs and rhubarb, asparagus, and tomatoes and green onions grown in either a tunnel or greenhouse.

asparagus
asparagus                    © harrington

tomatoes etc. grown in tunnel or greenhouse
tomatoes etc. grown in tunnel or greenhouse © harrington

They also had a number of plants for sale and a country / folk singer making nice music. Earlier, we had taken a trip to Almelund to check the farmer's market that was supposed to open at 3 PM. We got there about 2:50 PM and saw not a sign of a vendor. Maybe next week?

On our way home from the Chisago City market, we had a pleasant surprise that restored a little of my faith in human nature. The lady shown below was crossing one of the back roads in the industrial park. While I was turning our car around so I could take her portrait, I got to watch three other drivers intentionally drive around her. Before we left, she had climbed into the tall grass at the roadside and was headed back to her pond. I'm not sure where she might have laid her eggs, or if, or when they may hatch. I think it's just nice to know that some of my fellow humans are willing to share the road with non-human pedestrians. Complete streets anyone?

snapping turtle crossing road
snapping turtle crossing road      © harrington

On a not so pleasant topic, there's an on-line petition to stop frac sand trucks through Taylors Falls.
Please consider signing it.


All of the preceding has been brought to you by Gary Snyder's

"For the Children."

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Citizen artists

Our "Imagine the IMAGINING" meeting last night drew about a dozen of us to the upstairs room at Coffee Talk in Taylors Falls. There'll be another gathering tomorrow night at 6 PM Friday, May 30, at Pub 112 in Stillwater, MN. We're trying to figure out how to engage lots of folks ("citizen artists") in imagining what we would like the St. Croix Valley to be like in 2034 (twenty years) and how arts and culture can help it get there and become more mainstream along the way.

looking downstream to St. Croix and Taylors Falls
looking downstream to St. Croix and Taylors Falls     © harrington

One thing that occurred to me is the valley is geographically large, about 160 miles long and approximately 7,760 square miles in size, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. It's divided between two states and among a number of counties and cities and townships in each state, plus the federal National Park Service is a major stakeholder. This all presents a challenge in creating an identity residents of, workers in, and visitors to the valley can relate to. The valley is also one of the more ecologically diverse regions of Minnesota, encompassing parts of three biomes: the coniferous forest, the deciduous forest, plus some prairies interspersed. It has long been a region to which people came looking for a better life. For the most part, we've found it. Now, a large part of our job is to not screw it up.

Wild River State Park signage
Wild River State Park signage    © harrington

The valley has some great things going for it that complement its natural beauty. Much of the built environment exists at a very human scale. There are a number of organizations protecting the watershed while promoting responsible use and development (think gooses and golden eggs). There are also continuing challenges to the proper balance between use of the commons and private initiatives. One of the things I'm hoping the arts can do is to help improve our understanding of the uses and benefits of our commons. I'm also hoping this effort strengthens a sense of community throughout the valley. Stay tuned for further developments. Meanwhile, please read and think about this 17th century folk poem.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

The law demands that we atone
When we take things we do not own
But leaves the lords and ladies fine
Who takes things that are yours and mine.

The poor and wretched don’t escape
If they conspire the law to break;
This must be so but they endure
Those who conspire to make the law.

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
And geese will still a common lack
Till they go and steal it back.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Where do all the flowers go?

pear tree in blossom
pear tree in blossom             © harrington

The petals from the pear tree are drifting to the ground like a late Spring snow. One of the apple trees actually has blossoms, a complete surprise and delight. I have no idea what pollinates them but have hopes that next year it will be our bees doing it.

apple tree's first blossoms
apple tree's first blossoms         © harrington

The bushes up the road that we couldn't identify the other day look like they're one of ten or so species of service berries we have in Minnesota. We'll remember to check later this year, before the birds get to them all, and see if there are any berries. This morning a couple of does were working the ecotone at the woods / field edge. Some day soon I'm hoping for a glimpse of a dappled fawn or two. Although Minnesota's Spring seems to be particularly precious because it releases us from the grip of our often too long Winters, it occurs to me that each of our days in Minnesota is special. My Minnesota is a continuing example of relishing those distinctive moments that enhance the quality of our lives. It shows that they can occur daily, if we look for them. The same can be said about the poems and poetry we often include. We've found that a poem which enhances our joy or offsets our aggravation can usually be found, if we look for it. Learning to find and appreciate the beauty of nature and the beauty of words takes some effort. Anything worthwhile does.

suspected serviceberries
suspected serviceberries       © harrington

We were saddened this morning to learn that Maya Angelou, one of our country's inspirational poet-activists, passed away. May her spirit enjoy being free as a bird.

Caged Bird

By Maya Angelou 
A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind   
and floats downstream   
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and   
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.


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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

IMAGINING our St Croix's future

My Minnesota has, from time to time, written about the St Croix River Valley, "our" watershed. It's a really interesting and exciting place to be these days, what with The Heritage Initiative doing much to call attention to the valley's past. Now there's a focus this week on the valley's future. On Wednesday evening, May 28 at 7 PM, at the Coffee Talk in Taylors Falls, "our community will envision its ideal future and identify creative tactics to get there..." Building on the past to create a better future is often one of the keys to successful community and economic development. We're looking forward to the success of both efforts. From what we've seen, the arts and culture are playing more and more significant roles in sustainable rural communities. (Check our Other Paths list.) There'll also be a similar meeting at 6 PM Friday, May 30, at Pub 112 in Stillwater, MN.

"Coffee Talk" building at Taylors Falls
"Coffee Talk" at Taylors Falls              © harrington

 These meetings are Imaging the IMAGINING gatherings (make you think John Lennon?). According to Carissa Samaniego, one of only 17 national "Founding Cultural Agents" of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC): "During the Imagining we'll work as a group to discuss what we want our community to look like in the year 2034 and how we can leverage arts and culture to get us there. The ideas, images, and visions generated during this pilot round of Imaginings will be documented and fed back to inform the USDAC's national story and strategy which will be developed into a cultural policy proposal to present in Washington D.C. It's an opportunity for our valley to be a leading example for our nation."

Stillwater on the St. Croix RIver
Stillwater on the St. Croix RIver                        © harrington

Minnesota is, has been, and, I hope, will continue to be a national leader in supporting the arts and integrating the arts into the lives of Minnesotans. This is reflected, in part, by the fact that of the 17 Founding Cultural Agents, two are from Minnesota. Terry Konechne is leading a similar effort in the Minneapolis area. I'm looking forward to seeing a crowd of folks from many age groups and cultures, including Native Americans, participate.

Please join us in Taylors Falls on Wednesday or Stillwater on Friday, and visit the Imaginings page on the USDAC's web site to sign up for the Imagining near you. Together, we can make a difference.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day Memories

I remember youthful excitement as the honor guard fired their salute, and, often before they had left, scrambling, along with peers, to grab a spent shell or three as a souvenir. Mothers, fathers, grandmothers, cousins, sibling gathered to pay respect to those who had died protecting us, or had passed away since serving in the last war or police action, while some of us too young and dumb to have our draft cards yet looked for fun where we could find it. Michael Anania reminds me what Memorial Day was like in my family of origin. Have yours been like his?

trillium, In Memoriam
trillium, In Memoriam                      © harrington

Memorial Day

By Michael Anania 
It is easily forgotten, year to
year, exactly where the plot is,
though the place is entirely familiar—
a willow tree by a curving roadway   
sweeping black asphalt with tender leaves;

damp grass strewn with flower boxes,
canvas chairs, darkskinned old ladies
circling in draped black crepe family stones,   
fingers cramped red at the knuckles, discolored   
nails, fresh soil for new plants, old rosaries;

such fingers kneading the damp earth gently down   
on new roots, black humus caught in grey hair   
brushed back, and the single waterfaucet,
birdlike upon its grey pipe stem,
a stream opening at its foot.

We know the stories that are told,
by starts and stops, by bent men at strange joy   
regarding the precise enactments of their own   
gesturing. And among the women there will be   
a naming of families, a counting off, an ordering.

The morning may be brilliant; the season
is one of brilliances—sunlight through
the fountained willow behind us, its splayed   
shadow spreading westward, our shadows westward,   
irregular across damp grass, the close-set stones.

It may be that since our walk there is faltering,
moving in careful steps around snow-on-the-mountain,   
bluebells and zebragrass toward that place
between the willow and the waterfaucet, the way   
is lost, that we have no practiced step there,
and walking, our own sway and balance, fails us.

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Minnesota Nice as Spring

Traffic was really, really light this morning during our trip into and out of St. Paul. It looked like almost everyone had left town for the holiday weekend. Because the county has so thoroughly torn up old Highway 61 between Wyoming and Stacy, we remembered to take an alternate route. As we headed toward Highway 8, my Better Half noticed a hillside full of large-flowered trillium in bloom. I made a careful U-turn, pulled onto the shoulder, took out my camera and here's what they looked like.

hillside of trillium
hillside of trillium                          © harrington

Discovering this delight after a morning spent drinking coffee while watching the backyard bluebird, the pear tree in blossom, listening to goldfinches, sandhill cranes, gobbling turkeys, and a variety of songbirds reminded me of why I get so frustrated by the delayed arrival of Spring around here. It's such a wonderful treat when it arrives that, unlike waiting for Christmas, the anxiety about when and if Minnesota's Spring will finally arrive is compounded by the certainty that, if Spring delays too long, its arrival will be overshadowed by Summer. Our Spring is just too nice to miss that way. It's one version of "Minnesota Nice" I completely support. Marge Piercy reminds us of coming attractions that help us get over losing Spring to Summer.

pear tree in bloom
pear tree in bloom       © harrington

More Than Enough

By Marge Piercy 

The first lily of June opens its red mouth.
All over the sand road where we walk
multiflora rose climbs trees cascading
white or pink blossoms, simple, intense
the scene drifting like colored mist.

The arrowhead is spreading its creamy
clumps of flower and the blackberries
are blooming in the thickets. Season of
joy for the bee. The green will never
again be so green, so purely and lushly

new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads
into the wind. Rich fresh wine
of June, we stagger into you smeared
with pollen, overcome as the turtle
laying her eggs in roadside sand.

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

How to improve our environmental policy

Yesterday's MinnPost had a story by Stephanie Hemphill that made me smile: Tribal efforts — and influence — on environmental policy are growing. Earlier in the week, My Minnesota had written about sustainability and time frames. We concluded that the Oren Lyons' Onondaga Nation concept of making decisions that take into account seven generations into the future made a lot of sense and is a helpful way to put sustainability time frames into a human scale. We had also written about our perception that MPCA's mercury standard for water quality comes up short in several ways. We believe that Native American involvement in the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental policy on good old Turtle Island will benefit us all. To suggest we need to choose between jobs and the environment is to suggest our health depends on sacrificing either our muscular system or our respiratory system. My Minnesota thinks we need both to thrive.

early Spring, St. Croix River valley
early Spring, St. Croix River valley          © harrington

In fact, we think that Minnesota would be well served if it had the benefit of a cross-cultural "think and do" tank for a sustainable Minnesota future. Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy the weekend and that it's full of pleasant memories for now and the future. The style of Lucy Larcom's poem is not entirely to our taste, but the content is highly topical this weekend.

The Nineteenth of April

By Lucy Larcom 

This year, till late in April, the snow fell thick and light:
Thy truce-flag, friendly Nature, in clinging drifts of white,
Hung over field and city: now everywhere is seen,
In place of that white quietness, a sudden glow of green.
 
The verdure climbs the Common, beneath the leafless trees,
To where the glorious Stars and Stripes are floating on the breeze.
There, suddenly as Spring awoke from Winter’s snow-draped gloom,
The Passion-Flower of Seventy-six is bursting into bloom.
 
Dear is the time of roses, when earth to joy is wed,
And garden-plot and meadow wear one generous flush of red;
But now in dearer beauty, to her ancient colors true,
Blooms the old town of Boston in red and white and blue.
 
Along the whole awakening North are those bright emblems spread;
A summer noon of patriotism is burning overhead:
No party badges flaunting now, no word of clique or clan;
But “Up for God and Union!” is the shout of every man.
 
Oh, peace is dear to Northern hearts; our hard-earned homes more dear;
But freedom is beyond the price of any earthly cheer;
And freedom’s flag is sacred; he who would work it harm,
Let him, although a brother, beware our strong right arm!
 
A brother! ah, the sorrow, the anguish of that word!
The fratricidal strife begun, when will its end be heard?
Not this the boon that patriot hearts have prayed and waited for;—
We loved them, and we longed for peace: but they would have it war.
 
Yes; war! on this memorial day, the day of Lexington,
A lightning-thrill along the wires from heart to heart has run.
Brave men we gazed on yesterday, to-day for us have bled:
Again is Massachusetts blood the first for Freedom shed.
 
To war,—and with our brethren, then,—if only this can be!
Life hangs as nothing in the scale against dear Liberty!
Though hearts be torn asunder, for Freedom we will fight:
Our blood may seal the victory, but God will shield the Right!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hot stuff

Today has been an interesting and mostly enjoyable day so far, not even counting this wonderful weather we're finally enjoying. This morning we went looking for a boat that comes close to what we want and can afford. The best we saw has a few drawbacks and so we're checking it against what else is available. Even more exciting, from my perspective, is that on the way home from White Bear Lake we stumbled across a controlled burn at Bald Eagle Lake Regional Park and I had my good camera in the car. I'm not a fire bug, but a couple of years ago, using iMovie, I created a poem / photography piece on prairie grasses, part of which referred to prairie fire. The photo I had to use was what I had, not what I wanted. So, ever since, I've been looking for an opportunity to replace it with a photo of an actual prairie burning. If you're interested, here's the YouTube version of the original. Sometime soon I'l create and upload a revised version. As Paul Valery has written "A poem is never finished, only abandoned." Maybe I'll finally abandon the prairie grasses suite after the soon to be done update. Here's one of the shots I took this morning that I'm considering as replacement for the one in the iMovie.

prairie restoration controlled burn
prairie restoration controlled burn          © harrington

Today was also just the right day for taking photos of the Spring beauty of my home territory. I need to look up this bush to find out what it is. The trees are mostly aspen, with a few maples and pines in the background. The heron is a recent (returning?) visitor to the local pond. Happy Spring. I wish you all an enjoyable, wonderful, memory filled holiday weekend.

blooming bushes
blooming bushes                         © harrington

local leafing out
local leafing out                         © harrington

blue heron fishing
blue heron fishing                   © harrington

Memorial Day

By Michael Anania 
It is easily forgotten, year to
year, exactly where the plot is,
though the place is entirely familiar—
a willow tree by a curving roadway   
sweeping black asphalt with tender leaves;

damp grass strewn with flower boxes,
canvas chairs, darkskinned old ladies
circling in draped black crepe family stones,   
fingers cramped red at the knuckles, discolored   
nails, fresh soil for new plants, old rosaries;

such fingers kneading the damp earth gently down   
on new roots, black humus caught in grey hair   
brushed back, and the single waterfaucet,
birdlike upon its grey pipe stem,
a stream opening at its foot.

We know the stories that are told,
by starts and stops, by bent men at strange joy   
regarding the precise enactments of their own   
gesturing. And among the women there will be   
a naming of families, a counting off, an ordering.

The morning may be brilliant; the season
is one of brilliances—sunlight through
the fountained willow behind us, its splayed   
shadow spreading westward, our shadows westward,   
irregular across damp grass, the close-set stones.

It may be that since our walk there is faltering,
moving in careful steps around snow-on-the-mountain,   
bluebells and zebragrass toward that place
between the willow and the waterfaucet, the way   
is lost, that we have no practiced step there,
and walking, our own sway and balance, fails us.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Planting seeds of sustainability

We've written several times about sustainable mining on the Iron Range and suggested some resources on sustainable mining. Yesterday, we noted that Molly Priesmeyer blogged on the Star Tribune's web site about "Ensia, a print and online magazine published by the Institute on the Environment and the University of Minnesota".... The online version has an article that begins to get at something I've been thinking about for some time: What Does a Sustainable Future Actually Look Like? It has some worthwhile links but the bottom line, as I read it, is "it depends." Since we spent time over the past weekend planting saxifrage and a marsh marigold and an elderberry bush and some other  things at the fringe of the back yard "wet spot," I began to wonder how long those plants might last, whether they will become self sustaining, and how that fits with my ideas of sustainable living, since life spans, although longer for people than for many plants, are still finite.

newly planted marsh marigold
newly planted marsh marigold       © harrington

Then, yesterday evening, I was rereading John Tester's Minnesota’s Natural Heritage An Ecological Perspective. He writes that the land that is Minnesota was once at the equator; and eons later under an ocean. That certainly limits the kind of time frame I'd put around sustainability. It makes the Native American concept of taking into account impacts seven generations into the future make a lot of sense. These days that would be somewhere between 150 and 200 years. I doubt that these saxifrage will last that long, but their descendants might.

newly planted saxifrage      © harrington

This starts to bring us back to the Iron Range where, we know, some day the ore will be played out. In the meanwhile, the economy will be subject to boom and bust, depending on global commodity prices for steel. Loggers who counted on old growth timber, coal miners, and many others in extractive sectors are each faced with the question of "Is this what I want for my kids?" No matter how traditional the work, it's sustainability over the next seven generations is questionable under a business as usual scenario. The impacts of global economy decisions is often brutal on today's and tomorrow's generations of families. I was raised to believe that a big part of the American Dream was a better life for my kids than I had and my parents had. Maybe we should set up a program to explore with the children of the Iron Range what they hope their future will be like, as these children in West Virginia's coal country are doing. Those are the kind of seeds I'd really like to see planted, and have us understand time as Whitman does.

Kosmos

By Walt Whitman 

Who includes diversity and is Nature,
Who is the amplitude of the earth, and the coarseness and sexuality of the earth, and the great charity of the earth and the equilibrium also,
Who has not look’d forth from the windows the eyes for nothing, or whose brain held audience with messengers for nothing,
Who contains believers and disbelievers, who is the most majestic lover,
Who holds duly his or her triune proportion of realism, spiritualism, and of the ├Žsthetic or intellectual,
Who having consider’d the body finds all its organs and parts good,
Who, out of the theory of the earth and of his or her body understands by subtle analogies all other theories,
The theory of a city, a poem, and of the large politics of these States;
Who believes not only in our globe with its sun and moon, but in other globes with their suns and moons,
Who, constructing the house of himself or herself, not for a day but for all time, sees races, eras, dates, generations,
The past, the future, dwelling there, like space, inseparable together.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Gardening jobs on the Range?

This morning MinnPost carried a Cyndy Brucato column about Iron Range DFLers echo GOP mining rhetoric in letter to Klobuchar, Franken. Reading it, and the responses from Senators Klobuchar and Franken, left me with the extremely unusual feeling of being the only adult in the room. (I think it's only happened once or twice before. ; >) Let me first try to clarify a few points as background. I'm not against development. I'm not against mining. I do believe we have a deeply flawed system that hinders our ability to provide both living wage jobs and a clean, livable, enjoyable environment. I further believe this flawed system is made even less workable by political "solutions" that often make Republicans and Democrats look like the Hatfields and McCoys and sometimes makes the Democrats themselves look like, oh, never mind. And, finally, I know there are alternatives to the mining versus the environment war.

northern Minnesota
northern Minnesota                        © harrington

Here's ten basics as I see them:
  1. Minnesota has a history of iron mining.
  2. That means there should be iron mine areas that have been successfully reclaimed and turned into assets.
  3. Here's a link to MN DNR's web page on mine reclamation. (I'm underwhelmed by the examples of mining reclamation success.)
  4. Minnesota's Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board's page is a little better, but still nothing to really brag about, in my opinion.
  5. We're losing sight of the human context of the issues when we frame them as jobs versus the environment. Both are needed for a thriving human community.
  6. Our next door neighbor to the north is working toward the concept of sustainable mining.
  7. There's an existing knowledge base on sustainable mining that can be built on and added to.
  8. There's a proven economic development concept called Economic Gardening from which Minnesota, and the Iron Range in particular, might be able to gain a substantial benefit.
  9. There's a number of Democratic Minnesota politicians and environmentalists reengaging on longstanding, unresolved issues instead of solving 21st century problems.
  10. As a recovering planner, I can tell you that "more of the same never solved a problem."
Buckminster Fuller is supposed to have observed that “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Do you suppose that might apply to the Iron Range, mining, and economic development in northern Minnesota? It's about work and earning a good living, isn't it?

What Work Is

By Philip Levine 
We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to   
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,   
just because you don’t know what work is.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Standard misunderstanding?

Over the weekend, I spent a little time reading about Elizabeth Warren, the senior senator from Massachusetts, the state where I grew up. One of the consistent assessments of her strengths is her ability to take complex government regulations and explain them in a way that the ordinary lay person can understand them. I wish she'd find the time and energy to take on explaining water quality standards and Total Maximum Daily Loads. I started working on water quality management back when PL92-500 was the "Muskie-Blatnik bill." I'm aware that setting water quality standards is a complex, and often contentious, process. However, I'm not willing to concede that those responsible for that work, such as Minnesota's Pollution Control Agency [MPCA] and Department of Natural Resources [DNR], don't have a major responsibility to explain both the process and the outcomes in such a way that the average Minnesotan can readily understand what's going on. I think we're a long way from that situation.

some of Minnesota's waters
some of Minnesota's waters           © harrington

In a simplified version of the federal law's requirements, all waters are supposed to be "fishable and swimmable" unless there's a very solid reason those standards can't be met (impaired waters). On the MPCA's web page describing how the Agency and USEPA are going to address Minnesota's "Statewide Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)" the following statement can be found: "There is a strong connection between the Minnesota Department of Health Fish Consumption Advisory (FCA) and MPCA’s impairment determination. When the FCA limitation is more restrictive than one meal per week, the water body is impaired." This is where I take a strong exception to how MPCA is interpreting or applying a standard. If a water is supposed to be "fishable," I would argue that there should be NO ADVISORY on fish consumption. There's another statement on the same page that makes me wonder if the author really meant what he or she wrote. It may seem like a quibble, but stating that "The long-term goal of the mercury TMDL is for the fish to meet water quality standards..." can't be correct. Fish don't meet water quality standards, water does. Take a minute and go read through the web page yourself. See if you don't think it could use some of Elizabeth Warren's explanatory expertise. This is going to be important to Minnesotans, because mining is a contributor to the mercury water quality and fish consumption issue ..."Of the anthropogenic emissions originating within Minnesota in 2005, an estimated 56% was from energy-related sources, 21% was from mercury products, and 22% was from taconite processing (MPCA 2005)." (see page 18 of the WRC summary) and I'm not sure we have the proper framework in place to address the issue. The UMN Water Resources Center has prepared a nice 56 page summary that's more readily understandable, at least to me, than the hyperlinked, cross-referenced material offered up by MPCA on their web site. It would be helpful if MPCA would describe their technical, regulatory and legal processes in such a way that so we citizens and taxpayers can get a better idea of what's going on without having to major in reading regulations. I wonder if Merwin spent too much time with regulations before he wrote Memorandum.

Memorandum

By W. S. Merwin
Save these words for a while because
of something they remind you of
although you cannot remember
what that is a sense that is part
dust and part the light of morning

you were about to say a name
and it is not there I forget
them too I am learning to pray
to Perdita to whom I said
nothing at the time and now she
cannot hear me as far as I
know but the day goes on looking

the names often change more slowly
than the meanings whole families
grow up in them and then are gone
into the anonymous sky
oh Perdita does the hope go on
after the names are forgotten

and is the pain of the past done
when the calling has stopped and those
betrayals so long repeated
that they are taken for granted
as the shepherd does with the sheep


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Monday, May 19, 2014

Does transportation add value?

Yesterday, Steve Berg had a great piece in the Star Tribune: "Roads won't fix themselves. Transit won't just materialize." In my opinion, it would have been substantially improved if he had included reference to the report prepared by the University of Minnesota's Center for Transportation Studies and delivered to the Minnesota Legislature at their request and direction. The news release for the study is dated back in 2009, so I can only assume that legislators, even those with very busy schedules and tough reelection campaigns, would have had time to read it. One of the major problems with governance these days, it seems to me, is that political churn effectively destroys much of the institutional memory needed to effectuate solutions that call for longer range thinking. Add gridlock and we have a situation that requires constantly reinventing the wheel. Private wheels and public roads work well in places that will never be transit dependent.

Minnesota North Shore highway
 no LRT or BRT here         © harrington

Anyhow, I commend Mr. Berg for noting that the citizens of Minnesota have been failed by both Republican and Democratic leadership, perhaps not equally, but effectively. At several times during my career as a regional planner I worked intimately with transportation planners. I did not then and do not now understand why massive public sector investments allow the private sector to accrue much (almost all) of the benefits. Shifting to, or adding, value capture makes sense to me. Nor do I believe that it would require a split between the value of the land and the value of the improvements to the land. Much of the value of a building derives from its location, including accessibility, and much of the energy consumption associated with a building derives from getting occupants to the building. I am, perhaps too optimistically, assuming that some day our political leadership of both parties will wake up to the fact that climate change is going to be an economic disaster and that we should do more, now, to pick some low-hanging energy conservation strategies. One way to do that would be to include major road reconstruction (rebuilding, not just resurfacing) projects as another source for value capture and move ahead with some pilot efforts next session. Maybe this is a topic we should remember to discuss with those who want our votes this November, both for the governor's office and House seats.

CBO projected Highway Trust Fund balances

The highway trust fund is expected to be broke this autumn or the next. We better have some answers soon or we can all just stay home and phone it in. Supporting the Trust Fund with general revenue would be like fighting wars we don't tax ourselves to pay for. We'd never do that, would we? In a less snarky and hopefully more constructive vein, I've noticed that the price of gasoline has varied widely over the past several years. Saturday, I bought gas locally at $3.399. Yesterday, I drove past another station in the same chain, located about 15 miles from the station I used Saturday, and gas was $3.559. It occurred to me that, instead of letting all of this variability in price end up in oil company's profits, we could set up a scheme that established a baseline price, say $3.40, based on the last several years average price. Then, as long as gas was less than the baseline, there would be no gas tax increase. If oil companies raised gas to $3.41, we would add on a $.05 gas tax (or some other reasonable amount). We'd just be skimming some profits from oil companies, not increasing the price of gasoline with this kind of approach. Actually, to make the rationale and calculations easier, I suggest we should match the gas tax increases to the gas price increases penny for penny. It works for me, but then, I think complete streets should include non-human users.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Live, and let live

Partly cloudy with the temperature over 70 degrees — Spring. Earlier today, while the sun was shining, one of our local bullsnakes was out sunning him(her?)self on the road. I'd rather s/he was chasing and catching pocket gophers but I'm hoping to spend part of the afternoon enjoying some sun so I suppose I can't begrudge the same to one of my fellow inhabitants of earth. Although I did disturb the snake enough that s/he decided to move on. I suspect that was probably just as well.

bullsnake sunning on the road
bullsnake sunning on the road            © harrington

Although I have fished since I was a youngster, and been a hunter most of my adult life, I have never understood why someone in a motor vehicle feels compelled to drive over a snake sunning itself or a turtle crossing the road. I'm not referring here to the occasional, accidental herpicide, but I've seen some drivers intentionally change course to run down an animal defenseless against an opponent that's encased in steel and weighs several tons. My cynical side is only too willing to consider such behavior indicative of a deep seated socio-pathology and reason enough for such people to spend eternity in the seventh circle of hell. This may mean I'll never become a great Buddhist. Anyhow, I think that the definition of "complete streets" should be broadened to include non-human users of our roadways in addition to "pedestrians, transit riders, bicyclists, and drivers." (Maybe I would make a great Buddhist after all.) Denise Levertov suggests that animals are a source of joy whose presence we should appreciate.

Come into Animal Presence

By Denise Levertov 

Come into animal presence.
No man is so guileless as
the serpent. The lonely white
rabbit on the roof is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.
The llama intricately
folding its hind legs to be seated
not disdains but mildly
disregards human approval.
What joy when the insouciant
armadillo glances at us and doesn't
quicken his trotting
across the track into the palm brush.

What is this joy? That no animal
falters, but knows what it must do?
That the snake has no blemish,
that the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings
in white star-silence? The llama
rests in dignity, the armadillo
has some intention to pursue in the palm-forest.
Those who were sacred have remained so,
holiness does not dissolve, it is a presence
of bronze, only the sight that saw it
faltered and turned from it.
An old joy returns in holy presence.

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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Farmer's Market finds

a plant table at Chisago City Farmer's Market
a plant table at Chisago City Farmer's Market          © harrington

Yesterday, before we went to the Carrie Newcomer concert, we stopped by the Chisago City Farmer's Market. They had half-a-dozen or so tables set up, mostly with plants but there were some local crafts and food too. My Better Half bought an array of growing things to go into the flower bed we seem to be starting down by the "wet spot" in the backyard, plus some green onions to go into an upcoming meal. I took a few pictures, behaved myself around the baker's booth selling luscious-looking cupcakes (Peace&Sweets had a table) and started to wonder about how hard it would be to grow plants from seeds, no doubt a carryover from my wildflower photo excursion earlier this week combined with an increasing (growing!) desire to do something real and natural. Could such be a new career possibility? Probably not, but it's fun to consider.

The plants bought are native, non-invasives as far as I can tell and weren't treated with neonicotinoids (the master gardener selling them was slightly offended at the question):
Visiting the Chisago City Farmer's Market is part of an alternative this year to buying a Community Supported Agriculture [CSA] share. We decided to check out several of the local farmer's markets to see what's available and support our local economy in a way that's not limited to one producer. It's also a good way to get acquainted with folks who live in the area but not in what passes for our rural "neighborhood." I did not expect to find a local source for kimchi but the sauerkraut didn't surprise me. Judith Harris nicely captures how it goes at these things.

kimchi and kraut at the Chisago City Farmer's Market
kimchi and kraut at the Chisago City Farmer's Market  © harrington

End of Market Day

By Judith Harris 

At five, the market is closing.
Burdock roots, parsley, and rutabagas
are poured back into the trucks.
The antique dealer breaks down his tables.

Light dappled, in winter parkas
shoppers hunt for bargains:
a teapot, or costume jewelry,
a grab bag of rubbishy vegetables for stew.

Now twilight, the farmer’s wife
bundled in her tweed coat and pocket apron
counts out her cash from a metal box,
and nods to her grown-up son

back from a tour in Iraq,
as he waits in the station wagon
with the country music turned way up,
his prosthetic leg gunning the engine.