Sunday, August 31, 2014

Coincidence, or not?

Once upon a time, not very long ago, in a place not very far away, I didn't believe in coincidence. Now, here, today, I'm not so sure.

Last weekend my Better Half and I drove to Hackensack, MN to check out the Northwoods Art & Book Fair. I had submitted some work to their 7th Annual Poetry Recognition Event and was looking forward to doing my first public reading of a poem I had written to an audience neither friends nor relatives. As a related part of the event, the Northwoods Art Council distributed to those at the reading small pieces of paper with poems on them, inspired by the Academy of American Poets "Poem in your Pocket" Day. The poems were distributed using a collection basket from the church in which the reading was held. When the basket reached me, I took the top piece of paper without even glancing at the poem. I was preoccupied because I was scheduled to read next.

osprey in flight
River Presence
Photo by J. Harrington

This is one of the poems I read (but not the one that was a Popular Choice winner).

RIVER PRESENCE

This summer valley is river-full, fish-full, tree-full.
Tall trees in which I perch, rest, watch, nest.
           Until I hover in the air
                    Above the fish-full river.

Until—I plummet: air to water.
Talons full, wet, stunned, I arise.
My young wait, in a tall tree nest, to be fed.
Then, they rest. I rest. I am osprey.

My family shares with you
         this valley, this river,
                 the fish, the trees, the air,
                             our homes.

John Harrington
Now, don't jump to the conclusion that I'm comparing the quality of my poetry with that by Lord Alfred Tennyson. I'm just wondering if you think it was a coincidence (or not) that the poem I pulled from the collection basket was:

The Eagle

Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1809 - 1892

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
When I had finished my reading and looked at the poem in my pocket selection, I was delighted by the "coincidence" between my poem and my collection basket selection.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Weather we choose or not

Are you enjoying Labor Day Weekend, the last weekend of meteorological summer? I hope so. This weekend is the prelude to my favorite time of year. Soon, the trees will start to turn color and, all too briefly, will blaze brilliantly before their branches are bare. Apple season is almost upon us. Summer's uncomfortable humidity may evaporate (sorry, pun intended). I've recently sorted out that, in our world of Anthropogenic Climate Disruption [ACD], Minnesota can get visited by Polar Vortexes in Winter and have a Summer that seems like it has been cooler and more damp than average. If we were experiencing "Global Warming," the cooler Summer and colder Winter periods we've recently experienced here wouldn't make as much sense. That's partly why I prefer ACD. Another reason is that it includes the word Anthropogenic, an appropriate term for this age of human-induced changes to the earth. Finally, I think it's more fun to say "ACD" than GW.

This morning I had to take my trout landing net to do a "catch and release" on this guy (girl?) or his/her cousin after s/he had managed to get inside the screen porch. The mission was successful. Red-breasted nuthatches are starting to offer serious competition to chickadees as a "favorite at the feeder."

red-breasted nuthatch
Photo by J. Harrington
To have a hint of warmer weather during this Winter, our plans are to build and paint two bee hives for next Spring. This should be a fairly simple project for after the holidays. We'll also be looking at some other berry bushes for planting next Spring. I'm leaning toward highbush cranberries but was tempted the other day by something I saw about lingonberries. If we do both, we'll end up with "wild berry" honey, unless they bloom at separate times. Something else to sort out this Winter while I ponder Jane Hirshfield's advice about choices.

Rebus

By Jane Hirshfield 

You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.   
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,   
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.   
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,   
honey of cruelty, fear.

This rebus—slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life—
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?   
Not to understand it, only to see.

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,   
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.

The ladder leans into its darkness.   
The anvil leans into its silence.   
The cup sits empty.

How can I enter this question the clay has asked?


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Friday, August 29, 2014

Summer's golden days

This is the time of year when the local road sides fill with yellow flowers: goldenrod, sunflowers (mostly Maximilian, I think), black-eyed Susans, and cut-leaf coneflowers, some of each sometimes topped by the flame of a monarch butterfly. Less frequent, swamp milkweed shows its pink to pale purple flowers, as does something else with purple tones I've only seen when driving by at 70 miles an hour and haven't been able to identify. (One of the disadvantages of our high speed society: speed and wildflower identification are a tough combination, also on flying monarchs that float too close to the car.)

Black-eyed Susans with some spikes of curly dock
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday, the ninth chipmunk of the season wandered into our Hav-a-Hart trap. I've been releasing them more than two miles away so I don't think I'm getting repeat captures. Over the Winter I may have to research techniques for marking chipmunks the way bee keepers do with queen bees. Heavy gloves and dipping their tails in blaze orange paint? A small caliber paintball gun?

Late afternoon brought one of the local does and her twin, almost grown, fawns foraging on the hillside. They might have been looking for early acorns that had dropped. This photo is from several weeks ago.

mid-Summer doe with fawns
Photo by J. Harrington

I doubt we could apply this approach to non-ferrous mining in all of northern Minnesota, but I really like the creativity involved, as I enjoy the creativity with which Tara Bray captures the ennui that can arise at this time of year.

Once

By Tara Bray 

I climbed the roll of hay to watch the heron
in the pond. He waded a few steps out,
then back, thrusting his beak under water,
pulling it up empty, but only once.
Later I walked the roads for miles, certain
he’d be there when I returned. How is it for him,
day after day, his brittle legs rising
from warm green scum, his graceful neck curled,
damp in the bright heat? It’s a dull world.
Every day, the same roads, the sky,
the dust, the barn caving into itself,
the tin roof twisted and scattered in the yard.
Again, the bank covered with oxeye daisy
that turns to spiderwort, to chicory,
and at last to goldenrod. Each year, the birds—
thick in the air and darting in wild numbers—
grow quiet, the grasses thin, the light leaves
earlier each day. The heron stood
stone-still on my spot when I returned.
And then, his wings burst open, lifting the steel-
blue rhythm of his body into flight.
I touched the warm hay. Hoping for a trace
of his wild smell, I cupped my hands over
my face: nothing but the heat of fields
and skin. It wasn’t long before the world
began to breathe the beat of ordinary hours,
stretching out again beneath the sky.


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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Beauty and the Beast

If I were to use the photo below as a metaphor for northern Minnesota, the sailboat (although not a canoe) would be the Boundary Waters and the ship would be mining. Just as both can be accommodated on Lake Superior, I believe that, if done properly and with more cooperation and additional limitations than exist today, northern Minnesota could benefit from nonferrous mining and keep the beautiful (but not really pristine) environment that we have today. I suggest that the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area isn't pristine because it shares an airshed that is already affected by offsite pollution. Many of the waters in the BWCA have uses impaired by mercury pollution levels in fish inhabiting those waters.

cargo ship and sail boat in Duluth harbor
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm not suggesting we accept defeat and let the BWCA be ravaged. I am proposing that the regulatory and legal structure we have for protecting northern Minnesota's environment is grossly inadequate to the task. I'm also suggesting that the desire for northern Minnesota to have more jobs that pay a year-round living wage will be subject to the ongoing boom or bust commodities economy that has troubled the Iron Range for years. I don't think the miners or the environmental advocates are likely to achieve what either group most desires as long as there's an on-going war between them. Beauty, all too often, is in the eye of the beholder. I happen to like dragonflies. Others find them scary.

dragonfly on screen door
Photo by J. Harrington

What I find really scary is the influence of global corporations keeping northern Minnesota under a threat of mining with inadequate environmental safeguards. In fact, politically, environmentalists seem to be losing the argument. The House of Representatives, over White House objections, passed HR 761, "the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2013." Many of us believe it could gut the environmental protections, such as they are, northern Minnesota currently enjoys. It passed the House with 15 Democratic votes, including one from Congressman Nolan. What troubles me even more, though, is that both of our Senators are backing comparable legislation in the Senate.

monarch butterfly in Duluth
Photo by J. Harrington
Several politicians and some lawyers that I consider friends have suggested as strategy that "if the law's against you, argue facts, if the facts are against you, argue law." The monarch butterfly is in trouble due to GMO's and their associated herbicides. Bees are in trouble far a variety of reasons including monoculture and herbicides. There is strong resistance to doing what may be needed to protect either species. I think we need to argue both the facts and the laws to change the ground rules and make Minnesota a world leader in sustainable mining. It won't be quick; it won't be easy; but, it should be doable and better than the alternative. This is a strategic change for environmental protection.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Can mining Northern Minnesota be made sustainable?

Thanks to the foresight of the Better Half, today we had a picnic lunch at the beach, that six or seven mile long sand spit in Duluth on the "other" side of the lift bridge. I can't remember the last time I was face-to-face with beach grass, probably more than 40 years ago. It was a very pleasant ending to a trip that was a nice break from our daily and weekly routine. Duluth remains one of my favorite places in Minnesota and this trip only strengthened that reaction. Most, but not all, of my past trips have been in the Winter, and/or focused on downtown. This time we stayed up near the University campus end of town. It's the first time I've stayed anywhere other than downtown or Canal Park. The photo below was taken from the patio of our room.

looking south toward Duluth, MN
Photo by J. Harrington

While we were waiting for our picnic lunch to be made up, I came across a month-old issue of Zenith City Weekly, an alternate newspaper that had an interesting piece by Anne Stewart about all the mining exploration across northern Minnesota that we don't hear much about. It once again made me think that we need to get started trying to make mining in Minnesota more sustainable than it has been. We're supposed to be in a new normal, but most of the rules of the mining game were written a century or more ago. We can do better. I'm not sure if this is the best place to start, but it is a place to try to broaden the conversation about mining in Minnesota. These ten principles were taken from a 2003 effort by "the International Council of Mining & Metals (ICMM) commissioned member companies to implement and measure their performance against 10 sustainable development principles."
1. Implement and maintain ethical business practices and sound systems of corporate governance....
2. Integrate sustainable development considerations within the corporate decision-making process....
3. Uphold fundamental human rights and respect cultures, customs and values in dealings with employees and others who are affected by our activities....
4. Implement risk management strategies based on valid data and sound science....
5. Seek continual improvement of our health and safety performance....
6. Seek continual improvement of our environmental performance....
7. Contribute to conservation of biodiversity and integrated approaches to land use planning....
8. Facilitate and encourage responsible product design, use, re-use, recycling and disposal of our products....
9. Contribute to the social, economic and institutional development of the communities in which we operate....
10. Implement effective and transparent engagement, communication and independently verified reporting arrangements with our stakeholders....
I found these principles in an online article at miningglobal.com. Of course, as always when dealing with a topic like this, follow former President Reagan's advice to "Trust, but verify." On the other hand, if much of northern Minnesota could end up being mined, I'm not looking forward to the results if we follow history and past practices. These principles could be a step forward if we are willing to move past a simple win-lose decision-making process. Maybe, just maybe, we could cause Dylan to rethink these closing lines from North Country Blues.
The summer is gone
The ground's turning cold
The stores one by one they're a-foldin'
My children will go
As soon as they grow
For there ain't nothin' here now to hold them.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Will climate change mean less coal through Duluth?

Last night we enjoyed a boat tour of Duluth's inner and outer harbor. To be honest, as interesting as it was, it mostly made me nostalgic for Boston Harbor. I keep experiencing cognitive dissonance when I'm near Lake Superior because my history tells me that this much water is supposed to have a salt smell, which is clearly missing from Superior. I'm not sure whether I'm glad we weren't here Sunday night. Talking to one of the staff at Duluth Trading this morning, he said he's never seen anything like the lightning that lit up the sky Sunday night.

I accomplished something else this morning enables me to scratch "visit Hawk Ridge" from my bucket list. I've been coming to Duluth off and on for many years, and have, of course, heard a lot about Hawk Ridge. I just could never seem to fit a visit into my schedule. This morning, I got there and saw for myself that it offers not only a vantage point for seeing migrating raptors, but also a great place to take pictures of Superior, like this one. The ship on the right is anchored directly off our hotel room where I'm writing this.

Lake Superior from Hawk Ridge, Duluth
Lake Superior from Hawk Ridge, Duluth
Photo by J. Harrington

Part of the harbor tour narrative noted that lots of coal gets shipped out. According to the Port's web site, about 40% of the cargo through Duluth is low sulphur coal. I wonder how long that will continue as utilities move away from burning coal to generate electricity. A quick online check to see if any of Minnesota's response to climate change reports talk about that issue found Minnesota 2020's report that doesn't touch on reduced coal shipment through Duluth. I'll be interested to see what's said when and if they update it. If we ever get really serious about reducing green house gases, it's going to require more changes than remembering to turn out the lights when we leave the room. It will probably turn out to be a new day dawning on Duluth, with different opportunities but good ones. That's probably going to be true for all of us. I certainly don't miss banking the coal fire in the basement furnace, one of my chores when I was a kid in Boston.

a new dawn on Superior at Duluth
a new dawn on Superior at Duluth
Photo by J. Harrington

Banking Coal

By Jean Toomer 

Whoever it was who brought the first wood and coal
To start the Fire, did his part well;
Not all wood takes to fire from a match,
Nor coal from wood before it’s burned to charcoal.
The wood and coal in question caught a flame
And flared up beautifully, touching the air
That takes a flame from anything.

Somehow the fire was furnaced,
And then the time was ripe for some to say,
“Right banking of the furnace saves the coal.”
I’ve seen them set to work, each in his way,
Though all with shovels and with ashes,
Never resting till the fire seemed most dead;
Whereupon they’d crawl in hooded night-caps
Contentedly to bed. Sometimes the fire left alone
Would die, but like as not spiced tongues
Remaining by the hardest on till day would flicker up,
Never strong, to anyone who cared to rake for them.
But roaring fires never have been made that way.
I’d like to tell those folks that one grand flare
Transferred to memory tissues of the air
Is worth a like, or, for dull minds that turn in gold,
All money ever saved by banking coal.


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Monday, August 25, 2014

Wildflowers or billboards?

After a day trip to Hackensack, MN on Saturday, today I'm in Duluth, and will be for a couple of days. Although I don't have photos to back up my impressions, there seem to be many more highway billboards along I-35 than I remember from years past. It makes me wish for the return of Ladybird and her highway beautification efforts. The lack of design standards for much of our highway (and other) commercial development is obvious. Requirements for "adequate" parking and corporate branding seem to be the controlling factors. That's not the way New England Villages were built, nor is it dominant in downtown Marine-on-St.-Croix.

"downtown" Marine-on-St.-Croix
Photo by J. Harrington

Fortunately for those of us who don't see everything as a commodity to be bought at the lowest possible price, Minnesota has a number of scenic byways. Along some, perhaps all, of them, you can find curly dock. There was a lot of it visible on the drive north this morning. The Better Half has collected a lot locally for potential use as table decorations in an upcoming wedding. The family has slowly been getting into the get it local,  live sustainably pattern. We haven't gone as far as I'd like (wrote the recovering perfectionist) but we're actually going further than I expected. I was looking at the home-made table candles in small, glass preserve jars, and bouquets, and runners that combine lace and burlap, and thought "that's pretty cool!" Photos will be forthcoming some day soon. In the meantime, I'm realizing that some things turn out even better than I had hoped. That's a nice feeling.

Do you prefer the old (left) or the new (right)?
Either looks better than a "big box."
Photo by J. Harrington

When I take a look at the natural world, including some of Hubble's photos of deep space, I see a lot more beauty than would appear to be absolutely required. Since I'm becoming more and more interested in the relationship between beauty and sustainability, I find that situation very encouraging, almost as encouraging as:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

By Wallace Stevens 

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,   
The only moving thing   
Was the eye of the blackbird.   

II
I was of three minds,   
Like a tree   
In which there are three blackbirds.   

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.   
It was a small part of the pantomime.   

IV
A man and a woman   
Are one.   
A man and a woman and a blackbird   
Are one.   

V
I do not know which to prefer,   
The beauty of inflections   
Or the beauty of innuendoes,   
The blackbird whistling   
Or just after.   

VI
Icicles filled the long window   
With barbaric glass.   
The shadow of the blackbird   
Crossed it, to and fro.   
The mood   
Traced in the shadow   
An indecipherable cause.   

VII
O thin men of Haddam,   
Why do you imagine golden birds?   
Do you not see how the blackbird   
Walks around the feet   
Of the women about you?   

VIII
I know noble accents   
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;   
But I know, too,   
That the blackbird is involved   
In what I know.   

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,   
It marked the edge   
Of one of many circles.   

X
At the sight of blackbirds   
Flying in a green light,   
Even the bawds of euphony   
Would cry out sharply.   

XI
He rode over Connecticut   
In a glass coach.   
Once, a fear pierced him,   
In that he mistook   
The shadow of his equipage   
For blackbirds.   

XII
The river is moving.   
The blackbird must be flying.   

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.   
It was snowing   
And it was going to snow.   
The blackbird sat   
In the cedar-limbs.


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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Artists -- Community Assets

Yesterday was the first time in quite awhile that I've been "up north." Allowing for some changes at the margins, it looks pretty much as I remembered it. The 19th Annual Northwoods Arts & Book Festival was a major aesthetic improvement over all the highway strip commercial development that has grown like toadstools in Minnesota. On the one hand, it might be reassuring to know you can get exactly the same burger or soft drink in Baxter that you've become used to in Bloomington. Maybe it's also helpful to know that 371 in Baxter works the same as 494 in Bloomington. Then again, the more every place (no place is every place) everywhere becomes like everywhere else, the less reason I find to go anywhere. Alternatively, it seems to me that one of the advantages local businesses can have over online shopping is that people can experience people in local places created by local businesses. I can guarantee you that I wouldn't drive 150 or 200 miles to get the same food I can get at home. If any of the local art fairs have a book and poetry section, I haven't noticed. Next month, the Jack Pine Writers Bloc is having a writing workshop and book release party just south of Park Rapids. I don't think I'm going to be able to fit that trip into my schedule, but I wish I could.

Lake Mille Lacs, launch and "walleye chop"
Photo by J. Harrington

Much of Minnesota has become too much like the rest of Minnesota except for one of our greatest assets, our writers and artists. They're all different enough to make almost any trip worthwhile, unless, of course, all you want is "same old, same old." The rest of the good news is the growing recognition of the role that cultural resources can play in economic and community development. The International City Managers Association identified these

"Benefits of Asset-based Economic Development

Asset-based economic development can have many benefits for communities, including:
• Long-term, sustained economic growth
• Local return on investment
• Job creation and retention
• Increase in per capital income
• Increase in local tax base
• Strengthening regional networks"
I have noticed, though, that trying to manage local cultural assets, including writers and poets, can be as challenging as managing the walleye population in Mille Lacs or chosing the right novel to read.

To A Lady Who Said It Was Sinful to Read Novels

By Christian Milne 

To love these books, and harmless tea,
   Has always been my foible,
Yet will I ne’er forgetful be
   To read my Psalms and Bible.

Travels I like, and history too,
   Or entertaining fiction;
Novels and plays I’d have a few,
   If sense and proper diction.

I love a natural harmless song,
   But I cannot sing like Handel;
Deprived of such resource, the tongue
   Is sure employed — in scandal.


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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Art, Writers, Culture and Fairs, Oh My!

Today we're heading for the Northwoods Art and Book Festival in Hackensack, MN. I've been seeing more and more references to sustainable rural community economic development benefitting from a relationship with the arts, plus, it looks like fun. I went to the state fair once and still haven't developed a taste for "chocolate covered, deep-fried books on a stick," so it's up north for us. I'm going to be reading a few of my poems. Now that I'm toughened up by email rejection letters, I thought I'd test what in-person audience reaction does to or for my writing. UPDATE: One of my submissions was a Popular Choice winner. Sue Ready, Northwoods Arts Council's Poetry Chair, facilitated the poetry recognition event. (Thanks, Sue.) Here's a link to her blog posting on yesterdays event.
Ever Ready: Northwoods Art and Book Festival-Poetry Recognition Event.

mist-filled St. Croix River Valley
Photo by J. Harrington

Maybe the arts activists in the St. Croix River Valley could organize something like the Northwoods Festival, including a large emphasis of Minnesota and/or Valley authors to augment the existing Valley potters' tours. ArtReach St. Croix seems to be pretty much focused on the Hastings to Stillwater stretch, and the St. Croix Splash lists reading and book signings of individual authors. Something in the Taylors Falls / St Croix Falls vicinity that  also draws from the upper Valley might work. I hope we haven't reached the point where almost everyone in the general vicinity of the Twin Cities is reading just ebooks or on-line but I also realize that the St. Croix Valley is much closer to The Loft Literary Center at Open Book and to the Twin Cities Book Festival than Hackensack Minnesota is. I also remain frustrated by the reluctance of local bookstores to have a regional or Minnesota section for poetry. I continue to believe we have much literary talent to honor and celebrate locally and having an ongoing, aggregate focus on local authors and poets, in addition to the Annual Minnesota Book Awards, contributes to that. Joyce Sutphen, our poet laureate, tells us why it's important.

Bookmobile


I spend part of my childhood waiting
for the Sterns County Bookmobile.
When it comes to town, it makes a
U-turn in front of the grade school and
glides into its place under the elms.

It is a natural wonder of late
afternoon. I try to imagine Dante,
William Faulkner, and Emily Dickinson
traveling down a double lane highway
together, country-western on the radio.

Even when it arrives, I have to wait.
The librarian is busy, getting out
the inky pad and the lined cards.
I pace back and forth in the line,
hungry for the fresh bread of the page,

because I need something that will tell me
what I am; I want to catch a book,
clear as a one-way ticket, to Paris,
to London, to anywhere.  


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Friday, August 22, 2014

Leading neighborhood development

The furniture builders
Photo by J. Harrington

I spent part of this morning wearing my board member hat and welcoming a great crew of volunteers from Wells Fargo to the USGBC-Mn's second Dynamic Green Home on Edmund Avenue in St. Paul. As I was leaving, the volunteers were doing "loosening up" exercises before they started to cut and nail unrelated pieces of wood into Adirondack chairs for the yard. The fact that the property is a double lot makes the patio furniture a really nice touch. While driving home, I tried to put building yard or patio furniture into the context of green building priorities. If the lumber came from within 500 miles of St. Paul, the furniture might qualify for green building points for locally sourced material, but I don't think that would be its major contribution. The longer I'm involved with sustainable development, sustainable living and green building, the more I'm coming to realize that the key to success is more people than technology. If people don't care about a place or a building, it won't be cared for and that makes it not sustainable.

a rain garden in the making
Photo by J. Harrington

The yard will have three rain garden areas. Rain gardens do helpful things to manage storm water and increase groundwater infiltration. Properly planted, they also give urban dwellers a better sense of the changing seasons, depending on what's blooming. If you have comfortable furniture to sit in the yard near the rain garden, you're more likely to notice changes of what's in flower. That's biophilia mixed with phenology. Again, depending on what's planted in the rain garden, or elsewhere in the yard, the local hive of bees or the neighborhood monarch butterflies might benefit. So, as with many of the good things in life, a rain garden doesn't just do one thing. It helps us realize how everything is related to everything else by six or fewer degrees of separation. Another way to to think this is to realize that every the Dynamic Green Home makes green living more affordable for a low or moderate income family, puts a foreclosed house back in the tax base, stabilizes or increases property values in the neighborhood, provides a "green home" within walking distance of the Green Line LRT and, as an engineer friend of mine used to say "providing multi-objective, multi-benefit programming," or something like that. The rest of us can more readily remember that rain gardens and green homes create win-win-win-win... windows on and doors to a better world that we can almost whistle up.

The Whistle

By Kathy Mangan 
You could whistle me home from anywhere
in the neighborhood; avenues away,
I’d pick out your clear, alternating pair
of notes, the signal to quit my child’s play
and run back to our house for supper,
or a Saturday trip to the hardware store.
Unthrottled, wavering in the upper
reaches, your trilled summons traveled farther
than our few blocks. I’ve learned too, how your heart’s
radius extends, though its beat
has stopped. Still, some days a sudden fear darts
through me, whether it’s my own city street
I hurry across, or at a corner in an unknown
town: the high, vacant air arrests me—where’s home?


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Thursday, August 21, 2014

How Current Are Minnesota's Energy Efficiency Standards?

Today we're venturing into an area we try to stay away from, building codes and green building certification requirements. If one isn't involved on a daily basis, migraines are easy to come by. We promise to make it short and sweet.

The good news is there appears to be a major breakthrough to make it more straightforward to get commercial, industrial and highrise residential buildings designed and constructed as green, energy efficient edifices. The plethora of different sets of standards are going to be formally aligned.


If we hope to minimize the problems attributable to Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ADC), then we need more efficiency in the production, distribution and use of energy and less production of green house gases in the process.

The not so good news is that "The agreement does not extend to the low-rise residential sector for the time being, but Owens says preliminary talks have already begun to address housing as well." We hope they'll have early success and be able to accelerate the agreement's coverage of the low-rise residential sector. We need a clearer picture of where we are and how far we need to go. Just this morning, I read on Twitter (John Myers, Duluth News Tribune) about "Minnesota state government trying to spur citizen action on climate change with new effort..."

I went and looked at the referenced report and, as I skimmed it, noticed some statements that could be considered misleading or inaccurate. On page 14 is the statement "Building Energy Codes—Minnesota uses the most efficient codes in the nation so that new homes avoid air leaks, inefficient lighting, heating and cooling equipment, and more." That doesn't align very well with the information on the residential tab of USDOE's energy codes web pages, not does it appear consistent with Minnesota's own assessment from 2012-2013.
"The results of this study indicate that code compliance for commercial buildings in Minnesota is already over 90%, meeting the ARRA standard for all three building categories assessed. However, residential buildings were only about 75% compliant on average, falling short of the ARRA standard. This lack of compliance for residential buildings is largely due to the differences between the current Minnesota energy code and the ARRA Standard."

I've been told that Minnesota is working on updating it's code to meet the 2012 national code. That's supposed to become effective early next year, but some of the national energy requirements have been scaled back in Minnesota's version rolled back the wall insulation requirements. To get a better handle on what Minnesota could, and, I believe should, be doing, take a look at Deep Decarbonization Pathways. More governmental leadership, and clearer communications, would help Minnesota get, and stay, on track with our own green house gas reduction goals. The Minnesota report mentioned in the Duluth News article acknowledges that our 2015 goal is 15% reduction and we won't meet it. My Minnesota wrote about that back on July 1 of this year.


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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Look this way, smile!

Do you remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? If Goldilocks were a photographer, I wonder if she would ever have found a camera that was "just right." I'm still working on it.

My workhorse camera is a Canon 60D, metal body, not entirely comfortable for carrying long distances, especially hung around my neck on a strap. One of the regular readers of this blog is my Better Half's Brother [BHB]. Last Christmas his kindness and generosity led him to send me a Canon Powershot N plus a small hard case with a belt loop to carry it. Until recently, I've been too wrapped up in learning how to better use the 60D to spend time trying out the "new toy." This week I gave it a shot. (No apologies for the pun.) I admit it is much easier to carry than a metal bodied DSLR weighing about 1.5 pounds. The ring for telephoto zooming is convenient and, very roughly, comparable to using a telephoto lens on a DSLR. I can't figure out how to use the touch screen to release the shutter without simultaneously moving the camera, I suspect in part because I also find it challenging to use the LCD instead of a viewfinder to frame the picture.

A lot of this comes down to what you're used to, or readily can get used to. The alternative to using the LCD touchscreen is a ring in front of the zoom ring. I can make that work in the warmer seasons, but have no hope of being able to use it if I have gloves on. All in all, I'm happy to deal with some of the tradeoffs between the two cameras, since I'm a firm believer in choice being better than no choice. Yesterday's exercise was triggered by the sighting of a great blue heron when I didn't have the "big" camera in the car and I didn't know how to zoom my cell phone's camera. The time had come to try out the "N."

great blue heron (with Canon Powershot N)
Photo by J. Harrington

family of geese (with Canon Powershot N)
Photo by J. Harrington
I suspect that, with more practice, I'll get better results but these aren't bad for openers. So, it's time to say a sincere "thank you" to BHB for increasing my photographic options during one of My Minnesota's two seasons, you know, road work and Winter. Obviously, the man in Berry's poem needs to learn about self-timers and tripods. There's so much to play with many options when it comes to photography.

The Vacation

By Wendell Berry 

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.


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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Working together

For the most part, I believe that things worth doing are worth doing for their own sake. Every once in a while, though, I do something that brings unanticipated and wonderful collateral benefits. Slightly more than a month ago, the Better Half and I, along with a number of others, were part of the St. Croix River Valley IMAGINING. One benefit of participating, that we didn't know about when we signed up, was that participants were offered some plants that monarch butterflies like. We brought a couple of those plants home, dug some holes, and inserted their root balls. The plants grew, blossomed and attracted monarchs. It worked!

meadow blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis), I think, with monarchs
Photo by J. Harrington

I've probably seen, without really seeing, monarch butterflies before, but I wasn't mindful of them, nor was I aware how much they are in trouble. Although we've got milkweed plants growing over much of the property, I haven't seen any caterpillars. Obviously, though, we do have tufts of flowers. Maybe, by myself, I can't stop excessive use of herbicides or eliminate GMOs, but, by myself, I can plant meadow blazing star and leave the milkweed alone. What could we accomplish together?

The Tuft of Flowers

By Robert Frost 

I went to turn the grass once after one
Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
Before I came to view the levelled scene.

I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
And I must be, as he had been,—alone,

As all must be,' I said within my heart,
Whether they work together or apart.'

But as I said it, swift there passed me by
On noiseless wing a 'wildered butterfly,

Seeking with memories grown dim o'er night
Some resting flower of yesterday's delight.

And once I marked his flight go round and round,
As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

And then he flew as far as eye could see,
And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

I thought of questions that have no reply,
And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

But he turned first, and led my eye to look
At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

I left my place to know them by their name,
Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

The butterfly and I had lit upon,
Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

That made me hear the wakening birds around,
And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

Men work together,' I told him from the heart,
Whether they work together or apart.' 


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Monday, August 18, 2014

Making Minnesota Milestones More Meaningful

Recently, My Minnesota noted that the Minnesota Milestones 2011 Summary reported one in ten of the environmental indicators showed a positive trend. "On the positive side, lake water clarity in Minnesota appears to be improving overall, with more lakes showing improvement than deterioration." Although lake water clarity improvements are desirable, this improvement needs to be considered in light of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's findings that "Monitoring suggests that about 40 percent of Minnesota's lakes and streams are impaired for conventional pollutants..." We don't know the relationship between the 40 percent impaired and the improved clarity lakes. Clarity could be improving in a lake that failed water quality standards not directly related to clarity, such as mercury or coliform bacteria. A general observation is that government could probably stand to undergo major improvements in the way it collects and presents data. Too often, it seems, there's overwhelming data with little information provided. This returns us to our earlier thinking about ways and means. An economist I've long admired, Herman Daly, developed a triangle that help's show what's involved. I prefer this to some other models because I like the way it portrays human well being and society's intermediate means being dependent on the natural environment.

from the Sustainable Sonoma County web site

For work that she did with the Balaton Group, Dana Meadows elaborated on Daly's Triangle in the report Indicators and Information Systems for Sustainable Development. That version (from page 69 of the report) looks like  the one below (download the PDF from the linked page to see it in a larger size):


Alan AtKisson has taken the Daly/Meadows triangle and turned it into a compass. Auburn University has chosen the Compass model and has a nice explanation of essential sustainability concepts on the linked page of their Office of Sustainability section of their web site. Any of these examples offers an improved way to organize, present and think about Minnesota Milestones. The existing model, which should be built upon since it came from out grassroots, could be augmented to include other relevant, regularly collected metrics (MPCA's impaired waters list comes to mind) and organized to fit a hierarchical framework such as Meadows'. I don't think government needs too many more stories about government programs with insufficient oversight or training. We can't all be like Daniel Langton.

School

By Daniel J. Langton

I was sent home the first day
with a note: Danny needs a ruler.
My father nodded, nothing seemed so apt.
School is for rules, countries need rulers,
graphs need graphing, the world is straight ahead.

It had metrics one side, inches the other.
You could see where it started
and why it stopped, a foot along,
how it ruled the flighty pen,
which petered out sideways when you dreamt.

I could have learned a lot,
understood latitude, or the border with Canada,
so stern compared to the South
and its unruly river with two names.
But that first day, meandering home, I dropped it.


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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Measuring Minnesota's Sustainability

Yesterday, August 16, was World Honeybee Day. Although I'm a beekeeper wannabe, somehow that important information escaped me until this morning. (I think it has something to do with the schedule I have for early morning checks on a number of web sites compared to mid-morning updates for several of those sites.) Anyhow, the photo on the (belated) linked announcement gives me an indication of just how much I need to improve my macro photography. I know that digital photography means I can take lots of shots at no additional cost. It doesn't mean that the subjects (bees and flowers in this case) will hold still long enough for me to take all those shots. Sometimes, though, I just get lucky.

bee on pansy
Photo by J. Harrington

My Minnesota has been on a "sustainability kick" recently. We hope to convince Minnesota to go "back to the future." Evidence can be found on the Minnesota Sustainable Communities Network's web site. On it there's a page called Sustainability 101. It has lots of resources and explanations. What troubles me, though, is there's a time gap that keeps the subject from becoming "today's news." Minnesota Planning's 1998 publication Sustainable Development: The Very Idea, although updated in 2011 with Minnesota Milestones data through 2008 or 2009, isn't likely to generate much news coverage in 2013 or 2014, even though, on balance, it appears that we haven't yet turned the corner on sustainability, according to this summary in the report.

Environment

The Environment goals are divided into four sub-goals. First, Minnesotans will conserve natural resources to give future generations a healthy environment and a strong economy. Second, Minnesotans will improve the quality of the air, water and earth. Third, Minnesotans will restore and maintain healthy ecosystems that support diverse plants and wildlife. Fourth, Minnesotans will have opportunities to enjoy the state's natural resources. The indicators related to the Environment are aligned to these five areas.

Only one of 10 environmental indicators showed a positive trend. It should be noted that widely-accepted statewide environmental indicators are hard to find and national comparisons are scarce. [emphasis added]

Three indicators changed to a negative direction. Minnesotans are using more water resources. Data sources point to declines in many species of breeding birds, raising concerns about the health of Minnesota’s diverse ecosystems. Participation in traditional forms of outdoor recreation has declined as younger generations turn to alternative forms of entertainment.

On the positive side, lake water clarity in Minnesota appears to be improving overall, with more lakes showing improvement than deterioration.

The remaining five environmental indicators showed no clear change. These include greenhouse gases, energy consumption, frog and loon populations, and air and water quality.
I've had the pleasure of working for government, for "for profit" businesses and in the non-profit sector. In each of the three, effective managers stressed that "what isn't measured, isn't managed." Effective managers also recognized the need for consistent and frequent communication. Because of that, I was favorably impressed when Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) and the National Park Service (NPS) teamed up to develop a "State of the River" report for the Mississippi as it flows through the Twin Cities. I know that our governors have delivered State of the State addresses to Minnesota's legislature on a regular basis. Do we need legislation that requires the governor to report on Minnesota Milestones as a required element in a State of the State address? I think that might help focus our, and our local media's, attention on some important news that otherwise gets neglected or "spun" in a different direction by special studies and press releases.


For example, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA] prepared a 2010 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report (dated 2013) as called for since "The Next Generation Energy Act of 2007 set targets for energy conservation, renewable energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions. The Next Generation Energy Act set a goal that would reduce GHG emissions in 2015 to a level 15% below the 2005 level, and also for 2025 and 2050 emissions levels to be 30% and 80%, respectively, below the 2005 emission levels (Minn. Stat. § 216H.02)"

My Minnesota has elsewhere noted that Minnesota does not appear to be on track to coming close to meeting the 2015 goal. MPCA's web page about the report doesn't highlight that issue. A more generic problem, however, is that the legislature can change the requirements for the report's contents at their convenience.
"This report fulfills the requirements of Minnesota Statute §216H.07. In the past, this report included both a greenhouse gas emissions reduction progress report per subdivision 3 and a discussion of legislative proposals to achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions per subdivision 4. Minnesota Statute §216H.07 subdivision 4 was repealed in 2012."
There's a fundamental problem with tracking progress if progress indicators, including those of legislative performance, are revised frequently. Minnesota had been making what seemed like reasonable progress toward becoming a sustainable society. The challenges have increased. Interest in defining and tracking progress seems to have waned in Minnesota. Does that seem wise? Can't Minnesota do better, regardless of which party controls which organs of government? Don't Minnesotans deserve better? Are we confusing ends with means? If we don't report it, it doesn't exist. Isn't that the way North Carolina governs when it comes to rising sea levels?

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Not stasis, sustainable

The poison ivy and the sumach are showing splashes of red. Patches of yellow can be seen in some of the local groves of deciduous trees. The tamaracks are fading from darker green to chartreuse. I'm sitting on a screened porch in sultry weather that threatens to produce thunderstorm later. Sweet corn is for sale locally at bargain prices. We are at Summer's cusp, the beginning of the change of seasons.

bee on sunflower
bee on sunflower
Photo by J. Harrington

I don't know about you, but I had developed a distorted mental image of sustainability, so that, once attained, it was like a solution in equilibrium. I was imagining it as kind of a perpetual recycling, or the replicator on the Star Ship Enterprise. I haven't been able to reconcile that image with what I think I've learned of the history of the universe and evolution on earth. These days I think Heraclitus, he of not stepping into the same river twice and change is the only constant, may have anticipated sustainability by several thousand years.

high water, St. Croix River, Spring 2014
high water, St. Croix River, Spring 2014
Photo by J. Harrington

Of the different approaches to sustainability that incorporate change, I'm inclined to think that The Natural Step fits best with how the world works and with my preference for using a systems approach. The latter goes back to my earliest encounters with sustainability in Limits to Growth. The Natural Step's foundation involves four principles of a sustainable society derived from four system conditions:


I've read, and reread, The Natural Step for Communities and been impressed by the variety of strategies and tactics others have used to move toward the attainment of the Four Principles. Of course Minnesota, being Minnesota, has developed a variety of sustainability models of its own. Unfortunately, over the past few years, we seem to have drifted back to more of a business as usual approach, rather than treating the recent economic "great recession" as the opportunity it was, and still can be, to hit the reset button for Minnesota's future, or we could look for Kay Ryans' "charms that forestall harms"

Linens

By Kay Ryan 
There are charms
that forestall harm.
The house bristles
with opportunities
for stasis: refolding
the linens along
their creases, keeping
the spoons and chairs
in their right places.
Nobody needs to
witness one’s exquisite
care with the napkins
for the napkins
to have been the act
that made the fact
unhappen.


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