Monday, June 30, 2014

Minnesota's healthy ecosystem?

As I've been traveling Minnesota's blue highways this year and last, taking more photos of "wild flowers" than ever before, I've noticed that many of the most conspicuous clusters, plots, tracts and beds of wild flowers are listed as invasive species. I've been aware of the issues of purple loosestrife for some time. Now, I find that the attractive orange flowers over many of the roadsides in St. Croix State Park are orange hawkweed.

orange hawkweed, an invasive plant       © harrington

Along the roadside bordering Wild River State Park's western boundary are clusters of Ox-eye daisies (white/yellow) with some (yellow) invasive birds-foot trefoil mixed in. Both are listed as invasive.

Ox-eye daisies(?) and birds-foot trefoil, invasive plants      © harrington

My concerns don't focus on whether it might be preferable to avoid  invasive species, I'm all for intact native ecosystems. I'm wondering if these widespread invasive wildflower outbreaks might actually serve as forage for our honeybee and butterfly populations. I'm also really curious when and if land managers will engage more in a holistic approach to management, rather than relying on remedial controlled burns, herbicides or mowing after the beachheads have been established. Or is that a job for our politicians? The green building sector, both construction and operations, is increasingly utilizing Integrated Pest Management. Some reference works can be found online, with much of the focus on controlling insect pests more than invasives. Maybe we need to take some lessons from the military about counter-insurgency? I think that, over the next generation or two, we're going to have our hands full adapting to climate change and, probably, peak oil and heaven knows what else. The more we can improve our basic land and water management abilities, the less we have to consider spending on remedial activities. Kind of like the way preventive medicine and our health system are supposed to work.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Climate it is a-changin'

Have you heard Gordon Lightfoot's Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald with its reference to "the gales of November came early?" I was thinking of that today when we visited the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. They have an exhibit on the construction of the Split Rock Lighthouse. "Shipwrecks from a mighty 1905 November gale prompted this rugged landmark's construction." That storm came on November 28, definitely not early.

Split Rock Lighthouse
Split Rock Lighthouse                    © harrington

I've been (belatedly) reading Bill McKibbon's eaarth the past few days. One of his major points is that the old earth we knew, which offered a sense of stability and, in general, predictability, is gone, even if we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions starting now. A topic I haven't seen written about (but neither have I looked hard for it) is the effect of increased volatility of weather and water levels on Great Lakes shipping. The Edmund Fitzgerald sank in 1975, which wasn't all that long ago. The water levels in the Great Lakes are being affected by global warming.
"There has been a significant decrease in ice cover in the Great Lakes. The loss of Great Lakes ice has allowed more water to evaporate in winter, resulting in heavier lake effect snow near the shore, and lower lake levels. Overall, the Great Lakes have lost 71% of their ice cover since 1973, according to a study by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL). Lake Ontario saw an 88% decline in ice cover, Superior lost 79% of its ice, Michigan lost 77%, Huron lost 62%, and Erie lost 50%. The loss of ice is due to increasing air and water temperatures."
How early can the gales of November arrive, and does it make a difference?Since the Iron Range has historically shipped its ore over (through?) the lakes (another exhibit at the History Center), I wonder if global warming is going to affect the viability of taconite mining. There also could be a question about whether the volatility of storm's frequency and intensity will affect the cost and availability of insurance for the ships used to transport the ore. This is just one set of questions that comes to mind regarding how Minnesota will need to look at options and issues as we begin to adapt to global warming. Most of the emphasis I've seen so far has been on the impact to farming and forestry. Those are the obvious considerations, but the more we look at the systems we've come to depend on, the more we need to look at alternatives, robustness, resilience and replacement, it seems to me, just as Weldon Kees describes changes not desired at

Land’s End

By Weldon Kees 
A day all blue and white, and we
Came out of woods to sand
And snow-capped waves. The sea
Rose with us as we walked, the land
Built dunes, a lighthouse, and a sky of gulls.

Here where I built my life ten years ago,
The day breaks gray and cold;
And brown surf, muddying the shore,
Deposits fish-heads, sewage, rusted tin.
Children and men break bottles on the stones.
Beyond the lighthouse, black against the sky,
Two gulls are circling where the woods begin. 
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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Last Child in the Scientific and Natural Area?

Our back yard is full of hoary alyssum, with a good mix of purple vetch and hoary puccoon thrown in. The white, purple, and yellow flower mix is very pretty (ore so than shows up in the photo below). According to the Minnesota Wildflowers web site, hoary alyssum is "on the secondary noxious weed list for Minnesota. It is an invasive weedy plant often found in empty lots, on roadsides, and other sunny locations with dry disturbed soil." The Minnesota DNR notes that [it] "does not pose a threat to intact native grasslands at this time." USDA prescribes management using herbicides (primarily 2, 4 D) and suggests mowing may spread the seeds. MNDNR references repeated prescribed burns. The University of Minnesota's Extension Service notes that hoary alyssum has been reported to be toxic to horses, but not to "ruminants (dairy, beef, sheep or goats)..." So, we have a back yard full of an invasive species that's toxic to horses,

hoary alyssum, purple vetch and ???
hoary alyssum, purple vetch and ???           © harrington

but we don't have livestock, don't want to use herbicides, and are fairly nervous about prescribed burns within a 100 yards or so of the house. Also, it may be related closely enough to sweet alyssum to help ward off spells. Do we leave well enough alone? That's my inclination.
All of this ruminating about land management has been triggered by today's editorial in the Star Tribune, in which they opine that "DNR plan for expanded use of ‘natural areas’ is questionable." As I recall the June 23 Star Tribune story about our Scientific and Natural Areas (SNAs), there was an assertion that "the Legislature" has tied funding to the interests of sportsmen. I completely agree that this needs to be clarified. I write that as a long-time hunter, boater, angler and, more recently, photographer and forager. I think that qualifies me as a member of the public and a sportsman who's interested. I'm also interested in seeing SNA's better managed as we've noted previously on these pages.

plastic litter found in or near a Scientific and Natural Area
plastic litter found in or near a Scientific and Natural Area © harrington

If SNA funding is tied, by the Legislature, to multiple use activities, let's work to get the law amended. Maybe we could also get a program established to broaden whatever educational activities occur on and in our SNAs, so that Minnesota's children can identify the trees and wildflowers that grow near them, as well as (instead of?) the 100 or so corporate logos they can identify by sight. Maybe we could have better resources for use by teachers and funding for field trips? How about an excise tax on binoculars and photography equipment to fund field positions in DNR to work with schools. Or, if any or all of this is currently going on, how about better information sharing so the public knows how their resources are being used. I once camped in Itasca State Park in the summer and visited Yellowstone National Park, also in a different summer. In either case, if I had wanted to get away from it all, I would have found it already there ahead of me, from blaring music to self-centered obnoxious tourists. Give me Scientific and Natural Areas and Wildlife Management Areas any day! Joy Harjo knows what we need to:

Remember 

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is. I met her
in a bar once in Iowa City.
Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother's, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe. I heard her singing Kiowa war
dance songs at the corner of Fourth and Central once.
Remember that you are all people and that all people are you.
Remember that you are this universe and that this universe is you.
Remember that all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember that language comes from this.
Remember the dance that language is, that life is.
Remember.

~ Joy Harjo ~

(How We Become Human)

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Friday, June 27, 2014

The fruits of Summer

June is almost history. Fourth of July is coming up. We're moving into the essence of Summer. In addition to the forthcoming fireworks, another way to be sure of where we are in this season is to notice that, although fruit tree blossoms are long gone, tiny pears and apples are becoming noticeable. We've been getting back yard pears for years.

back yard pear tree (species to be determined)
back yard pear tree (species to be determined)     © harrington

What's new and exciting is that this is the first year that the two apple trees, planted last Summer as a father's day present, have borne fruit. I think it's the Snow Sweet that is with offspring (OLD ENGLISH ofspring, I love it). Here's a picture of what all the excitement is about. I'm not planning on having it bronzed, as my mother did with my first pair of shoes, nor am I looking for someone named Eve. I think we'll probably split it in quarters when it grows up so that each of us can have a taste (with maybe a slice for good old mother nature), unless, of course, the doe that's moved in to the back yard gets there first.

Snow Sweet tree's first fruit ever
Snow Sweet tree's first fruit ever          © harrington

Sans segue, but for the record, any relationship between yesterday's posting and today's Star Tribune story about St. Croix State Park's storm blowdowns is purely coincidental.

Nancyrose Houston writes like she spent a week at our house last month.

The Letter From Home

By Nancyrose Houston 
The dogs barked, the dogs scratched, the dogs got wet, the
dogs shook, the dogs circled, the dogs slept, the dogs ate,
the dogs barked; the rain fell down, the leaves fell down, the
eggs fell down and cracked on the floor; the dust settled,  
the wood floors were scratched, the cabinets sat without
doors, the trim without paint, the stuff piled up; I loaded the
dishwasher, I unloaded the dishwasher, I raked the leaves,
I did the laundry, I took out the garbage, I took out the
recycling, I took out the yard waste.  There was a bed, it was
soft, there was a blanket, it was warm, there were dreams,
they were good. The corn grew, the eggplant grew, the
tomatoes grew, the lettuce grew, the strawberries grew, the
blackberries grew; the tea kettle screamed, the computer
keys clicked, the radio roared, the TV spoke. “Will they ever
come home?” “Can’t I take a break?” “How do others keep
their house clean?” “Will I remember this day in fifty years?”
The sweet tea slipped down my throat, the brownies melted
in my mouth. My mother cooked, the apple tree bloomed, the
lilac bloomed, the mimosa bloomed, I bloomed. 


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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Blown away in a state park

Earlier today I made a trip to St. Croix State Park in Pine County. I'm working on a poetry-photography project for which I had hoped to be able to get some white pine photos in the Park. As the DNR staff said, I should have been there before the storms in 2008 and again in 2011 caused as much damage as they did. Plan B involves a trip to the Bemidji area to visit the Lost Forty.

St Croix State Park storm damage
St Croix State Park storm damage       © harrington

Of course, I reconfirmed that our Minnesota DNR still has a sense of humor. The picture below is of a "designated trout stream." It reminds me of some of Hemingway's scenes from Nick Adams fishing trip to the Big Two-Hearted River. I could figure out how to drift a worm downstream, but there's no way I could figure out how to cast any sort of fly in that jungle. I was standing on the road shoulder when I took the picture, so I suppose I might have been able to flyfish 20 or 25 feet or so, as long as I didn't hook a Chevy Impala or something on my backcast.

designated trout stream in St. Croix State Park
designated trout stream in St. Croix State Park     © harrington

There are some pretty summer wildflowers growing along the sides of the roads in lots of places in my neck of the woods. I'll see if I can identify them tomorrow or over the weekend. I just hope what I saw today doesn't become typical of what our forests will look like after a generation or two of global warming. Wendy Videlock writes of the forest as it once was. Hawks may now soar but, as it is today, there's no deep to the forest I visited.

Hawk

By Wendy Videlock
The forest is the only place
where green is green and blue is blue.
Walking the forest I have seen
most everything. I’ve seen a you
with yellow eyes and busted wing.
And deep in the forest, no one knew.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Prairie and pines

Yesterday, early morning, we had clear skies, a waning crescent moon and a bright, shiny Venus right next to it just before sunrise. What I didn't have was my camera on a tripod, so all my shots are streaky due to the amount of time the shutter was open, even though I bumped the ISO up to 1600. This morning, I had my camera on a tripod and very cloudy skies. Sigh. At least it hasn't rained (or snowed) yet today.

back yard prairie, flowers and grass seed heads
back yard prairie, flowers and grass seed heads       © harrington

If this were a forest, the flowers would be understory. I'm not sure if the same terminology applies to grasses and prairies. The different forms the seed heads from different grass species are taking is amazing and, to me, delightful. I'm also in awe that, on the same small (relatively) patch on Minnesota, we have prairie and pines within shouting distance (or less) of each other.

pine trees next to (in?) the prairie
pine trees next to (in?) the prairie           © harrington

Is Karen An-hwei Lee trying to convince us pines and grass are mirror images of each other?

Dream of Ink Brush Calligraphy

By Karen An-hwei Lee

In prayer:
quiet opening,
my artery is a thin    
shadow on paper—
margin of long grass,
ruderal hair, sister to this
not yet part of our bodies
your lyric corpus of seed
in rough drafts of pine ash,
chaogao or grass calligraphy  
in rough drafts of pine ash—
your lyric corpus of seed
not yet part of our bodies:
ruderal hair, sister to this  
margin of long grass,
shadow on paper,
my artery is a thin
quiet opening
in prayer.


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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sustainable St. Croix,
part of a continuing series
Chisago County sand bur

As soon as we settle on an "official" name for our Little Free Library, we'll be able to complete the registration process and do some more promotion. The corner where it sits has now been mowed and paving blocks make a path to the library. (I just hope the narcissus come back next Spring.) Maybe we can find some free or very inexpensive copies of Wilhelm Moberg's The Emigrants series to put on the shelf, or maybe one of the neighbors might leave some. That might help draw a small crowd.

A mowed front yard for the Little Free Library in the Woods
A mowed front yard for the Little Free Library in the Woods    © harrington

Speaking of neighbors, our neighbors in both Taylors Falls and North Branch might be interested to know that the Land Stewardship Project has produced a fact sheet on Frac Sand Mining A Threat to the Land, People and Communities. (full disclosure: I've been a member of LSP for years, ever since the had Wendell Berry here to do a reading.) On transport, the sheet notes that hauling is

A Threat to Roads and Safety

          Hauling frac sand from mining sites requires a major increase in truck traffic on rural roadways (loaded frac sand semi-trucks weigh up to 40 tons). Two mines proposed near St. Charles, Minn., would generate an estimated 1,200 truck trips per day, and they are among a cluster of other mines proposed in the immediate area by the same company. In the city of Wabasha, Minn., a major frac sand transfer facility is being proposed that would mean hundreds of frac sand trucks coming from Wisconsin and travelling through residential areas and past a nearby hospital.
          Besides crowding roadways, risking public safety, and producing massive amounts of diesel fume exhaust (considered a major human health risk), this increased truck traffic places an economic burden on already over-extended local units of government that are responsible for maintaining roadways.
As I've been working my way through the feasibility study for a National Heritage Area for the North Woods and Waters of the St. Croix, I note that one of the fundamental goals of such an initiative would be to:
 Create sustainable economic opportunities based on our region’s heritage to enhance communities, livability, and quality of life This would be accomplished by linking economic growth with resource stewardship and sustainable practices. Culture and recreation will be promoted as economic drivers, and a focus on heritage development will result in the creation of new jobs and innovative opportunities. One element of this is using shared heritage and stories to guide tourism and to thoughtfully attract visitors throughout the region to reduce impact on the special resources now more frequently visited and bring exposure and economic benefit to those areas that seek it.
There is also mention of a cooperative, regional approach to increasing economic development in the watershed. I think it would be really unfortunate if frac sand mining and transport turned out to be a skunk in the woodpile that stunk up the possibility of future cooperation among the communities in the watershed. The Taylors Falls folks who don't want more frac sand truck traffic have a Facebook page and a MoveOn petition. Some of the North Branch residents are reported to be in opposition also. Since North Branch already has an Industrial Sands drying and screening and rail shipping operation, and the folks that run that note on their web site that
In addition to processing our own industrial sands, Barton Industrial Sands is positioned to work with others to provide custom screening solutions to deliver products to markets in partnership with others.
I suppose it would be entirely too logical to hope that Barton and SSS could cut a deal. Of course, that wouldn't get North Branch their $1 million or so they hope to reap by selling some property to SSS.

Heritage Park in Taylors Falls overlooking the St. Croix River
Heritage Park in Taylors Falls overlooking the St. Croix River © harrington

As a resident of Chisago County, wherein both North Branch and Taylors Falls are located, I wish there were a mechanism (and some leadership) to negotiate some sort of a regional answer, kind of as a practice run for future cooperation. Or, do you suppose a threat to extend the Metro Council's Fiscal Disparities tax base sharing program to Chisago County would bring folks to their senses? Sand seems to have a way of bringing out less than the best in us, even according to Lillian Moore.

Mine

By Lilian Moore 
I made a sand castle.
In rolled the sea.
            "All sand castles
            belong to me—
            to me,"
said the sea.

I dug sand tunnels.
In flowed the sea.
            "All sand tunnels
            belong to me—
            to me,"
said the sea.

I saw my sand pail floating free.
I ran and snatched it from the sea.
            "My sand pail
            belongs to me—
            to ME!"


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Monday, June 23, 2014

Summertime, and the livin' is ...

One of my all time favorite songs is Joni Mitchell's The Circle Game, which has this wonderful line: caught a dragonfly inside a jar (although, to be candid, I'm partial to listening to Tom Rush's version). No jar today, but, using a camera and some patience, I caught this dragonfly, which I'm fairly certain is a female Common Whitetail Skimmer. Working on dragonfly (and damselfly) identification makes wildflowers seem easy. At least wildflowers do a better job of holding still (until the breeze catches them).

Common Whitetail Skimmer (female)
Common Whitetail Skimmer (female)       © harrington

Last night I finished reading a book that I'd like to share with you. I really enjoyed it, even though the author (Kathleen Dean Moore) lives on the "wrong" (West) coast (wrote the old New Englander from the East Coast). The book's title is Pine Island Paradox. It's a series, actually, four series, of essays in which she writes about the connections between us (humans) and the rest of nature. (That theme brings to mind another Joni Mitchell song, Woodstock, which has another great line: got to get ourselves back to the garden.) Maybe you've heard the Zen saying "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear?" That might explain why, shortly after I finished reading Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass, I discovered Kathleen Dean Moore's writing on the Center for Humans and Nature web site. More and more I'm becoming convinced that our ability to weave nature into our daily lives, whether they're lived in an urban or rural environment, is a critical factor in trying to live a happy, sane life. (See #3 on this 10 Ways to Boost Your Happiness list.) I'm also coming to believe that values will probably trump technology as we look for ways to live sustainably on a planet that's getting warmer and more crowded by the season. Anyhow, within the next few days, I'll be returning my copy of "Paradox" to our local library. I think I'm going to get my own copy so I can mark it up with marginalia. You might want to see which, if any, of Moore's books are available at your local branch. Summer is the season of "Summer Reading Lists," isn't it? And this scene, also taken this morning, looks to me like the essence of a sultry Summer day. It did have mosquitos to match before they're eaten by dragonflies.

Sultry Summer: Pond
Sultry Summer: Pond                     © harrington

The Vanity of the Dragonfly

By Nancy Willard 

The dragonfly at rest on the doorbell—
too weak to ring and glad of it,
but well mannered and cautious,
thinking it best to observe us quietly
before flying in, and who knows if he will find
the way out? Cautious of traps, this one.
A winged cross, plain, the body straight
as a thermometer, the old glass kind
that could kill us with mercury if our teeth
did not respect its brittle body. Slim as an eel
but a solitary glider, a pilot without bombs
or weapons, and wings clear and small as a wish
to see over our heads, to see the whole picture.
And when our gaze grazes over it and moves on,
the dragonfly changes its clothes,
sheds its old skin, shriveled like laundry,
and steps forth, polished black, with two
circles buttoned like epaulettes taking the last space
at the edge of its eyes.


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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Quiet Sunday

Yesterday, the Daughter Person helped her Fiancee (who did most of the work) put together, paint and install our own Little Free Library. We'll get it registered in the next few days ($34.95 for the Steward's Packet and charter sign) and then do some more promotion. Obviously, we're also going to have to do some mowing before we promote it too much (or just let the readers beat a path for themselves?). It's mounted on the bur oak to keep it back from the road and because at least one member of the crew thought it had to be there or the magic would be lost.

Little Free Library in the Woods
Little Free Library in the Woods         © harrington

The weather forecast this morning called for a 40% chance of thunderstorms this afternoon. We just hit 100% probability where we are. I spent much of the morning working on a poem while watching darkening clouds roll in, so before it poured, the Better Half and  I went for a walk up "The Hill" and inspected the wild flower paririe on "The Property." After only twenty years or so, it's beginning to look a little like I think a prairie (shortgrass) should. See for yourself. This might be one of the best things to come out of our rainy, extended Spring.

 back yard prairie
 back yard prairie                          © harrington

A pair of rose breasted grosbeaks showed up back at the feeder this morning. We hadn't seen any around for the past couple of weeks or so so it was nice to confirm they hadn't moved out of the area. After all, without relocating except to look out different windows or be in the front instead of the back yard, we have a Little House in the Big Woods or a Little House on the Prairie. That definitely makes for an interesting neighborhood, although Carol Light has more pieces of prairie included in her poem.

Prairie Sure

By Carol Light

Would I miss the way a breeze dimples
the butter-colored curtains on Sunday mornings,
or nights gnashed by cicadas and thunderstorms?
The leaning gossip, the half-alive ripple
of sunflowers, sagging eternities of corn
and sorghum, September preaching yellow, yellow
in all directions, the windowsills swelling
with Mason jars, the blue sky bluest borne
through tinted glass above the milled grains?
The dust, the heat, distrusted, the screen door
slapping as the slat-backed porch swing sighs,
the hatch of houseflies, the furlongs of freight trains,
and how they sing this routine, so sure, so sure—
the rote grace of every tempered life?


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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy Solstice! Welcome to Summer!

Where I am, and for most of Minnesota, there's a good deal of sunshine in store for us today. We're overdue. Clouds plus fairly heavy fog this morning dimmed the sunrise, which might have been more important if this were Stonehenge. Now that we're officially into Summer, I can't wait to see what weather's in store for us after our outside the box Winter and Spring. Do we return to something we'll recognize or continue to explore new variability?

This morning I headed for The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis to take a class on how to market writing and get it published. I've taken classes there in the past and it felt good to be back. On the way home, driving through our little section of Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, I confirmed something I thought I noticed a few days ago. Different families of geese have goslings of wildly different sizes. There's little guys like the ones posted here yesterday, and below, plus some that look to be about half grown (not shown). Such variety wasn't obvious in years past. I also don't understand how Mother Goose teaches her kids to stay off the road. None of our semi-obedient dogs would be off leash that close to traffic.

goose and goslings
goose and goslings                      © harrington

One of Summer's pleasures is taking time to relax and enjoy the sunshine. Amy Lowell tells all about it.

Bath

By Amy Lowell 

The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air.
       The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light.
       Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their reflections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my finger sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots. The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.     

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sustainable St. Croix,
part of a continuing series
National Heritage Area or frac sand economy?

Once I overcame my fear of the strange, bright light in the sky today, I noticed that the hill out back is covered in colors. There's lots and lots of some white wildflower I'll need to go and identify (I've been told it's boneset but I don't think the pictures of boneset match what's in the field. I think it's hoary alyssum.), increasing amounts of hairy vetch (purple), and an abundance of hoary puccoon plants (yellow). The flowers, the sunshine, and the fact that our basement isn't flooded have combined to put me in a good mood, and to extend my deepest sympathy to many of my fellow Minnesotans.

goslings and goose                             © harrington

This little flock, and a couple more like them, are another reason to be happy today. If they aren't the cutest, they're in the top five or so (along with puppies, kittens, ducklings, and, if your name is Hagrid, baby dragons).

On a much less cheerful note, the frac sand facility proposed for North Branch, that we were informed a while ago was not going to proceed, is apparently back in play. We have a number of concerns about this project, if what we've read is basically accurate. First, we're not sure MoveOn petitions are the most effective way to address this kind of problem, but they may be the best available to concerned citizens until the upcoming election. Second, the concept, reported in the June 12 linked story ("back in play") of looking at a "bypass" around downtown Taylors Falls, strikes us as being just short of a fantasy or a fairy tale. Third, we hope the folks in the Valley, on both sides of the River, begin to think about is how well the advantages of a National Heritage Area designation, currently being explored, might be offset by additional development of heavy industry with traffic needs that conflict with tourist traffic.

St. Croix Falls and Taylors Falls
St. Croix Falls and Taylors Falls            © harrington

We also wonder if the National Park Service might have concerns about a bypass around Taylors Falls or about augmenting the capacity of the current bridge, since it's not clear that the design of that facility is based on the amount of heavy truck traffic that includes frac sand. All of this is coming along at a time when legislatures at the state and federal level are reluctant to provide the funds needed for currently committed and programmed projects. We have few doubts we'll be revisiting this issue again and again. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, please note that Jeff Daniel Marion could easily have been writing about the St. Croix River. Maybe he was.

Playing to the River

By Jeff Daniel Marion 

She stands by the riverbank, 
notes from her bagpipes lapping
across to us as we wait

for the traffic light to change.
She does not know we hear—
she is playing to the river,

a song for the water, the flow
of an unknown melody to the rocky
bluffs beyond, for the mist

that was this morning, shroud
of past lives: fishermen
and riverboat gamblers, tugboat captains

and log raftsmen, pioneer and native
slipping through the eddies of time.
She plays for them all, both dirge

and surging hymn, for what has passed
and is passing as we slip
into the currents of traffic,
the changed light bearing us away.


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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sustainably St. Croix
a continuing series

For the second consecutive morning, SiSi and I were splattered by heavy, wet, rain drops during our early constitutional. It's hard to say which of us was less happy about getting rained on soaked. If we had started 10 minutes earlier ...? My mother, and her mother, used to tell me "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride." I think we got as wet as we did because 1) I didn't get up as early as SiSi wishes I would, and 2) she didn't take care of business as quickly as I wish she would (or as quickly as she does when the temperature is close to zero). When I stop to think about it, though, I enjoy a warm shower and she enjoys a warm bath. Will we ever find standing in the rain to be a sustainable pleasure? Maybe when the weather gets warmer and the drops aren't as large.

SiSi, the yellow lab?, when dry
SiSi, the yellow lab?, when dry              © harrington

While we're talking about sustainable, I want to follow up on yesterday's mention of the opportunities for sustainable development in the St. Croix River Valley and the Iron Range. The University of Minnesota's Duluth campus has been involved in a program currently centering on Duluth that might be readily expanded to or replicated on the Range or in the Valley. (It felt like an old Roy Rogers' song writing that phrase.) There's a Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP) that received some Minnesota Department of Health's Statewide Health Improvement Program [SHIP] funds. They're working on creating a Lake Superior Good Food Network. Some of the counties involved are also in the St. Croix River Valley. I wonder if the model they used could also be adapted to be helpful for arts, artists, historical locales and storytellers? Local networks always remind me of that great scene from Miracle on 34th Street, where, in the spirit of the times, if Macy's doesn't have what the customer wants, they'll send them to Gimbals. Some of the local farmer's markets we've been checking out this Summer sort of reflect that approach by including local artisans as well as farmers. It's the same rationale Target and Wal-mart used to start selling food, only in reverse. One of the better metaphors I've come across to describe a local economy is to think of it as a bucket. Goods and services purchased out of the area are holes in the bucket. The fewer holes, the easier it is to keep the bucket full and local folks employed. Sometimes, it takes a food hub to help close a hole. I'm glad UMN-Duluth has started a ball rolling on this. I wonder if anyone on the Range or in the Valley will pick up that rolling ball and try to run with it. (Did you see what we did there instead of writing about kicking the bucket or making it a golf metaphor with a bucket of balls? ; >)

Chisago City farmers market                 © harrington

Joyce Sutphen superbly reminds us why we need family farms and farmers markets.

The Last Things I'll Remember

The partly open hay barn door, white frame around the darkness,
the broken board, small enough for a child
to slip through.

Walking in the cornfields in late July, green tassels overhead,
the slap of flat leaves as we pass, silent
and invisible from any road.

Hollyhocks leaning against the stucco house, peonies heavy
as fruit, drooping their deep heads
on the dog house roof.

Lilac bushes between the lawn and the woods,
a tractor shifting from one gear into
the next, the throttle opened,

the smell of cut hay, rain coming across the river,
the drone of the hammer mill,
milk machines at dawn. 
In addition to today's poem, you might enjoy reading the commentary linked below that, I think, fits today's posting rather well.

Haiku Economics

Money, metaphor, and the invisible hand.

by Stephen T. Ziliak 

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sustaining our places

Once again, I'm grateful we live on the well-drained Anoka Sand Plain. Our back yard's "wet spot" hasn't yet dried up this year, but, other than that we're faring better than southwest Minnesota and International Falls. The rain has been good for this year's new plantings and the trees and bushes we planted last year. On the other hand, the folks who have been canoeing

back yard "wet spot"                        © harrington

the St. Croix River this week
could have had better weather. Despite the short term benefits to our property, I'm hoping the weather patterns we've been having this past Spring and last Winter don't become part of our "new normal." Although the clouds and the rain have done wonders for the local poison ivy patches, I don't think we're going back to the idea of keeping a small herd of goats. It would be nice if we could find a small local herd we could rent. I don't like spraying toxics even on poison ivy, neither do I want to suffer from it. A sustainable solution would be nice.

 canoeing, a sustainable use of the St. Croix River
 canoeing, a sustainable use of the St. Croix River        © harrington

We've been writing off and on about sustainable development in the St. Croix River Valley and on the Iron Range. The current issue (2nd quarter 2014) of IQ magazine, put out by the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls, is focused on the Millenials. What caught my eye as I skimmed through this issue was the sidebar on "What Millenials want from where they live." There are three key factors listed: "Diversity; Broadband; and A More Thoughtful Lifestyle." That sounds a lot like what the former and unreconstructed hippies I hang around with are looking for. Sometimes, the generation gap may not be as wide as we fear. Since several of the counties in the St. Croix watershed are also in the service area of the Initiative Foundation,  we'll try to check into what the IF is up to from time to time. Meanwhile, Ann Struthers nicely points out how flowers help create a life and a sense of "place," something else Millenials are reputed to want.

Planting the Sand Cherry

By Ann Struthers 

Today I planted the sand cherry with red leaves—   
and hope that I can go on digging in this yard,   
pruning the grape vine, twisting the silver lace   
on its trellis, the one that bloomed   
just before the frost flowered over all the garden.   
Next spring I will plant more zinnias, marigolds,   
straw flowers, pearly everlasting, and bleeding heart.   
I plant that for you, old love, old friend,   
and lilacs for remembering.   The lily-of-the-valley   
with cream-colored bells, bent over slightly, bowing   
to the inevitable, flowers for a few days, a week.   
Now its broad blade leaves are streaked with brown   
and the stem dried to a pale hair.   
In place of the silent bells, red berries   
like rose hips blaze close to the ground.   
It is important for me to be down on my knees,   
my fingers sifting the black earth,   
making those things grow which will grow.   
Sometimes I save a weed if its leaves   
are spread fern-like, hand-like,   
or if it grows with a certain impertinence.   
I let the goldenrod stay and the wild asters.   
I save the violets in spring.   People who kill violets   
will do anything.


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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Weathering the country's web

As I write this, there's a white tail doe bedded down under an oak tree about 30 yards away. The doe is probably the one in the photo. I assume if she had a fawn this year the fawn would be with her, or she'd be with it.

our "backyard" white tail doe
our "backyard" white tail doe              © harrington

We did have a doe and fawn wander through the backyard the other day, so we know some are out there. Franco, the rescue dog, behaved like an idiot and barked at them, scaring them off. He was probably frustrated because he couldn't herd them. That would be something to see, a border collie herding white tails? I don't think so.

On the way home Sunday we came through Washington County. I had the preferred camera with me and remembered to stop and take some photos of this cool, weathered old barn. There's something about old barns that really pleases me, probably because I don't have to maintain them.

weathered old barn
weathered old barn                   © harrington

The weathered wood, the rustic style, puts me in mind of Vermont, or Maine, or western Massachusetts, "home" to this transplanted New Englander. One of my favorite writers, and one of the best essayist we've ever produced, Mr. E. B. White (also the author of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan) also had a thing for old barns and livestock. Those of us who care about old barns, farms, spiders and writing are in good company.

The Spider’s Web ( A Natural History)

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.

E.B. White

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Home improvements

Before it starts raining today, I want to go take some pictures of the decorative grasses that were planted yesterday as part of the site preparation for the day when the Daughter's Fiance becomes my Son-in-Law. Here's what they looked like before the transplant. I'm assuming they're not considered invasive or they couldn't have been sold at a commercial nursery. Then, again? (Further research indicates the grasses are considered an annual in our planting zone, but invasive in Florida, California and the south and southwest U.S. in general.)

pre-planting ornamental grasses
pre-planting ornamental grasses        © harrington

Before the grasses could be planted where the bride-to-be wanted them, the husband-to-be and the father-in-law-to-be had to remove some smaller cedar trees. That was more of a chore than I wanted on Father's Day. The small tractor we have doesn't quite have the muscle for stump pulling. When I used to drive a full size pickup 4WD, that worked nicely. No, with my heart in my throat, I put the Subaru Outback to work. Other than the fact that the rope kept sliding off the stumps, and I had forgotten how sharp cedar needles are, it worked well. Here's the largest stump we had to deal with. I think the tap root went down further than the trunk went up.

pulling a cedar stump
pulling a cedar stump                         © harrington

Since we're working on establishing a small orchard, mostly apple trees, I think we're going to extirpate the rest of the cedar tree population on "The Property." After yesterday's experience, we may rent a stump grinder for the larger trees, or hire someone to grind them for us. I don't want to begin to think about what it must have been like years ago to clear some of the fields around here with hand saws and oxen. James Galvin seems to have a grasp that how we think about where we live depends largely on our perspective.

On First Seeing a U.S. Forest Service Aerial Photo of Where I Live

By James Galvin 

All those poems I wrote
About living in the sky
Were wrong. I live on a leaf
Of   a fern of   frost growing
Up your bedroom window
In forty below.

I live on a needle of   a branch
Of   a cedar tree, hard-bitten,
Striving in six directions,
Rooted in rock, a cedar
Tree made of other trees,
Not cedar but fir,

Lodgepole, and blue spruce,
Metastasizing like
Bacteria to the fan-
Lip of a draw to draw
Water as soon as it slips
From the snowdrift’s grip

And flows downward from
Branch to root — a tree
Running in reverse.
Or I live on a thorn on a trellis —
Trained, restrained, maybe
Cut back, to hold up

Those flowers I’ve only heard of
To whatever there is and isn’t
Above.


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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day!

Yesterday was a fun day. In the morning we (Better Half, Daughter Person, Fiance of Daughter Person and I) met up with Son Person and his aide to see How to Tame Your Dragon 2. Everyone enjoyed it, some more than others. I think it had something to do with how close you are to the target audience's age. I don't think it spoils the plot if I note that driving themes in Dragon 2 were family, fathers, and the role of an alpha male. After the movie, four of us, minus Son Person and aide, headed for Wild River State Park to catch a presentation on raptors by Chris Colb of the the Wisconsin DNR.

Great Horned Owl and friend
Great Horned Owl (on right) and friend Chris             © harrington

During the presentation, we learned that female raptors are larger than the males. All of which (movie and presentation) was interesting fodder just before Father's Day. The jobs of fathers and mothers seem to get more complicated and challenging as we "progress" into the 21st century, more so for humans than for raptors, but changes like global warming and pollution affect us all. My wish for all of us on this Father's day is that we be successful at making a sustainable living in our communities while we have a sustainable life with our families.

The visit to Wild River was followed by a stop at Coffee Talk in Taylors Falls on our way home. It was a nice family day in between my birthday (don't ask!) and Father's Day. James Wright reminds us to enjoy our fathers, and our children, while we can. We did that yesterday and get to do it again today and tomorrow. We wish you the same.

female red-tailed hawk with friend Chris      © harrington

Youth

By James Wright 

Strange bird,
His song remains secret.
He worked too hard to read books.
He never heard how Sherwood Anderson
Got out of it, and fled to Chicago, furious to free himself   
From his hatred of factories.
My father toiled fifty years
At Hazel-Atlas Glass,
Caught among girders that smash the kneecaps
Of dumb honyaks.
Did he shudder with hatred in the cold shadow of grease?   
Maybe. But my brother and I do know
He came home as quiet as the evening.

He will be getting dark, soon,   
And loom through new snow.
I know his ghost will drift home
To the Ohio River, and sit down, alone,
Whittling a root.
He will say nothing.
The waters flow past, older, younger   
Than he is, or I am.


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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Flowers, herbs and dyes

Yesterday was interesting in several ways. We (the Better Half [BH] and I) went our to see what's blooming on our little patch of Anoka sand plain. One new plant, that we had noticed from a distance, brought a red tinge to the grasses. Neither of us recalled every seeing this plant in the 20 + years we've been walking this property. I took some photos; she cut some samples. When we returned to the house, I promptly went to the Minnesota Wildflowers web site and searched under "red flowers" and "what's blooming." No answers. The BH, meanwhile, had checked our copy of Wildflowers of Minnesota: Field Guide. No results. By then I had found our copy of the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers--E: Eastern Region and searched. Success! Our mystery plant was the last one listed in the red flowers section. We have a field full of sheep sorrel. That made it easier to find on the USDA's wildflower site and allowed me to confirm it's not included on the Minnesota Wildflowers site, although it is on Minnesota Seasons.

red or sheep sorrel
red or sheep sorrel                        © harrington

It's starting to become clearer to me why Richard Louv, in Last Child in the Woods, could write that a child can identify 1,000 logos, but not 10 plants native to his or her region. In addition to the issues Louv writes about, we need better resources, and including field guides with more information on what local plants can be used for. Herbalists and those who make dyes from native plants could be helpful here if their information were cross referenced to online field guides, and vice versa. For example, boneset is listed on WebMD, but theres no photo nor link to one.

hoary puccoon, used for dye
hoary puccoon: used for dye?              © harrington


boneset (white flowers): medicinal uses?
boneset (white flowers): medicinal uses?          © harrington
Carl Rakoski shares a different perspective on lost knowledge.

The Old Codger’s Lament

By Carl Rakosi 

Who can say now,
“When I was young, the country was very beautiful?   
Oaks and willows grew along the rivers
and there were many herbs and flowering bushes.   
The forests were so dense the deer slipped through   
the cottonwoods and maples unseen.”

Who would listen?
Who will carry even the vicarious tone of that time?

In the old days
                        age was honored.
Today it’s whim,
                         the whelp without habitat.

Who will now admit
                            that he is either old or young   
or knows anything?
All that went out with the forests.


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