Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sand in your face?

Following yesterday's thoughts in My Minnesota on mining's environmental management in Northern Minnesota, today's MinnPost has an informative piece by Ron Meador noting that "Frac-sand mining boom is accelerating and eluding regulators, analysis finds." This time its Southeastern Minnesota that's the area of concern. Combine that with  western and southern Minnesota's agricultural contributions to Anthropogenic Climate Disruption, and you might get the impression we're at war with the only home we have, and There is no Planet B.

Planet A and Planet B
A true-color NASA satellite mosaic of Earth.

At least as far as the frac sand mining in Minnesota is concerned, the EQB has devoted a page on their web site so you can try to keep track of what the state has done and is still proposing to do. DNR's reclamation rule-making schedule is here; The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has recently issued a second request for public comments on particulate emissions rule-making; Minnesota's Department of Health suggests that Health Impact Assessments should be part of the environmental review process (I'd like to see legislation making an HIA mandatory for mining, processing, transport and transhipment of silica sand). Once again, I think that rather than banning mining operations, Minnesota should be imposing environmental regulations, regardless of cost, to protect the "public health and welfare." If that drives up the cost of natural gas or other natural resource, we should use less of it. I think that's the way economics is supposed to work. Otherwise, those folks who are negatively affected end up subsidizing those who make a profit from the activity.

Minnesota's Impaired Waters
source: MPCA

Most economists I've read think rather poorly of subsidies. If energy subsidies aren't beneficial, I don't see why mining subsidies would be. Some smartphone makers are already charging a small fortune for their products. The price of natural gas has dropped significantly in the past few years. We need to start paying the real price, including the depleted environmental capital costs, of the resources we consume. Why? There is no Planet B and the most recent world populations forecasts have population increasing to 12+ billion. The issue isn't just the amount of change that's going on, but the increasing (increased) rate of change also. Minnesota is currently, or may soon be, paying the price in environmental quality and in quality of life for those who enjoy the outdoors or need water and air. If you're starting to think we're under assault, you may be right. See what Pogo has to say about it. Don't we live in

Interesting Times

By Mark Jarman 

Everything’s happening on the cusp of tragedy, the tip of comedy, the pivot of event.
You want a placid life, find another planet. This one is occupied with the story’s arc:
About to happen, on the verge, horizontal. You want another planet, try the moon.
Try any of the eight, try Planet X. It’s out there somewhere, black with serenity.
How interesting will our times become? How much more interesting can they become?
A crow with something dangling from its beak flaps onto a telephone pole top, daintily,
And croaks its victory to other crows and tries to keep its morsel to itself.
A limp shape, leggy, stunned, drops from the black beak’s scissors like a rag.
We drive past, commenting, and looking upward. A sunny morning, too cold to be nesting,
Unless that is a nest the crow has seized, against the coming spring.
We’ve been at this historical site before, but not in any history we remember.
The present has been cloaked in cloud before, and not on any holy mountaintop.
To know the stars will one day fly apart so far they can’t be seen
Is almost a relief. For the future flies in one direction—toward us.
And the only way to sidestep it—the only way—is headed this way, too.
So, look. That woman’s got a child by the hand. She’s dragging him across the street.
He’s crying and she’s shouting, but we see only dumbshow. Their breath is smoke.
Will she give in and comfort him? Will he concede at last? We do not know.
Their words are smoke. In a minute they’ll be somewhere else entirely.
Everyone in a minute will be somewhere else entirely. As the crow flies.


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Monday, September 29, 2014

An ounce of prevention for Poly?

Have you noticed that both the stock market and Minnesota's temperatures have been on a roller coaster recently? I can't quite figure out which is the leading and which the trailing indicator. Based on this report in Wilderness News Online, there's no such volatility in the public response (98% concerned  about or opposed to some element(s) of the PolyMet NorthMet mine proposal) to the Supplemental Draft Environmental Statement [SDEIS] on that project. Minnesota DNR hasn't even finished categorizing the 58,000 comments yet.

On the one hand, I'm glad I don't have the job of getting that project permitted. On the other hand (no, I'm not an economist), if I were charged with that responsibility, I'd want to see the project proposer be a lot more forthcoming about how the company is actually going to go above and beyond business as usual, "we will meet or exceed all regulatory requirements," and I'd want to see that happen a lot earlier in the process. At least we haven't reached the status of our neighbor to the east, where, according to the Wisconsin Citizen's Media Cooperative, Mining Industry Targets “Prove It First” Law.

Nevertheless, Minnesota has some notable limitations in its own sulfide mining regulatory framework, as described in the report "Sulfide Mining Regulation in the Great Lakes Region: A Comparative Analysis of Regulation in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin & Ontario." Here's a link to the Minnesota Summary, which finds, among other shortcomings:


Minnesota’s policy goal does not necessarily require or aim for “functionality” but rather emphasizes doing the best job possible and returning the environment to the best “practicable” state:
...it is the policy of the Department of Natural Resources that mining be conducted in a manner that will reduce impacts to the extent practicable, mitigate unavoidable impacts, and ensure that the mining area is left in a condition that protects natural resources and minimizes to the extent practicable the need for maintenance.
Minn. Rules 6132.0200. The limitation provided by “to the extent practicable” is in keeping with the general policy of Minnesota’s regulation, which attempts to balance environmental protection with the promotion of economic development:
... it is hereby declared to be the policy of this state to provide for the reclamation of certain lands hereafter subjected to the mining of metallic minerals [...]to control possible adverse environmental effects of mining, to preserve the natural resources, and to encourage the planning of future land utilization, while at the same time promoting the orderly development of mining, the encouragement of good mining practices, and the recognition and identification of the beneficial aspects of mining.
Minn. Stat. §93.44.
As I read the analysis of this particular provision, my concerns about the stringency of financial assurance and long-term environmental protection are heightened. If PolyMet and it's major investors were adamant about having a very proactive environmental management system in place and operating, maybe more than 2% of the 58,000 comments might have been positive. There are enough environmental horror stories associated with international mining that its social license may be close to being expired in many places. What's that old saying about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure? Here's a link to advice on sustainability from Global Mining magazine: 6 Sustainable Initiatives You Need to Implement in Your Mining Operations.

I'm just guessing here, but if the initial DEIS had truly been done proactively, could it have saved 2 or 3 years of environmental review prior to even getting to the permitting? See the Initiative about Transparency.

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

SIgns of the season


  1. Yesterday, during the afternoon, chipmunks number 12 and 13 wandered into the live-trap. Not together, of course. Each got a spray of florescent pink hair dye before being transported to a release location a couple of miles away.  

  2. During dog-walking and rodent-transporting, I noticed the air full of what I think are Ladybugs. Since both ladybugs and their similar-looking cousin Multicolored Asian Lady Beetles are supposed to be beneficial, I'm taking a live and let live approach, except for those that land on the back of my neck.

  3. The afternoon brought another treat whens I noticed that "Gimpy Gobbler" is still around. He and three of his "bros" wandered through the yard, no doubt feasting on beetles of whatever kind we've got. Seeing that "Gimpy" has made it through the Summer pleases me all out of proportion to any rational response.

  4. Icing on the cake came later when I saw a pileated woodpecker fly across the road as I was doing my second chipmunk transport.

  5. Country road where pileated woodpecker was seen
    Photo by J. Harrington

  6. Finally, last evening, as I was letting SiSi out for her evening potty break, we spooked a couple of whitetails from the back year.

All of this, plus the growing, almost glowing, fall colors brings home again why I enjoy country living. I like going to a play now and then but I almost always, more than once a day, find something to enjoy in the neighborhood, and am slowly learning to manage some kinds of irritants, like an excess of chipmunks, although two in one day is pushing it. Lisa Williams' poem makes me think of Autumn. What about you?

Road

By Lisa Williams 

This is what poetry is (says the Road),
a laying down of uniform pattern
across a land you can't control
but which you think it best to flatten.
It's far from vivid. Look at the whole
flamboyant forest! Look at the paths
that can't be uttered by a mouth
and at the scattered arcs of light
more integral to this wide planet
than words will ever be. Your lines?
Like railroad tracks that cut the bracken,
bring something through, then disappear.
No one knows what speck was taken
or where it moved, and no one cares.


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Saturday, September 27, 2014

September operating report

This morning my Better Half pointed out a blue flower she doesn't recognize and claims not to have planted. It's growing from the area where she transplanted poinsettias from last Christmas season. Here's a picture:

Unidentified blue flower bud
Photo by J. Harrington

It looks a little like a Bottle Gentian, but they're described as "A cluster of flowers sits at the top of the main stem." I'll watch and see what, if anything, develops.

A day or two ago I finally spotted a couple of woolly bear caterpillars, one of which, unfortunately, had been run over. Each looked to me as if the brown band was about 4 sections wide and the black bands on either end were relatively narrow. If we believe the folklore (your choice) we're in for a relatively mild Winter. Personally, because it cheers me up, I'm buying in to the folk lore prediction until it's proven wrong. After all, we may experience an El Nino this Winter, right? In the meanwhile, since the local dragonfly population is severely reduced, I wouldn't mind a couple of hard frosts to clear out the late season hatch of a multitude of small, vicious mosquitos that is making being outside an annoyance.

Autumn day
Photo by J. Harrington

The house is surrounded by hornets looking for a place to overwinter. A few leaves are starting to drift down from the trees, while many of the leaves are still green. I'm ahead of my usual schedule and got my flu shot already this year. This morning, opening day of duck season, sounded like WW III for about 15 or 20 minutes. Not a sound since then in our bluebird weather. All in all, it looks to me as though My Minnesota is within normal operating parameters, much as things were in Flanders as the leaves fell.

The Falling Leaves

By Margaret Postgate Cole 
November 1915 
Today, as I rode by,
I saw the brown leaves dropping from their tree
In a still afternoon,
When no wind whirled them whistling to the sky,
But thickly, silently,
They fell, like snowflakes wiping out the noon;
And wandered slowly thence
For thinking of a gallant multitude
Which now all withering lay,
Slain by no wind of age or pestilence,
But in their beauty strewed
Like snowflakes falling on the Flemish clay.


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Friday, September 26, 2014

Legacy

The house is beginning to take on an air of excitement normally found the week before Christmas. Packages are arriving. Food and drink to celebrate have been purchased. One week from tomorrow is "The Wedding." So far it looks as though the leaves will be close to peak color and the outdoor arrangements that have been set up in advance held up fairly well through some local weather.

Autumn colors
Photo by J. Harrington

After "The Wedding," the house will get a major makeover: new roof, windows and siding. We've been working with the bride- and groom-to-be on colors and options because they're planning on living with us and buying The Property in a few years. That's giving me a whole new perspective on the relationship between people and place. I grew up in New England, where there are houses that are several hundred years old and still in daily use. Living on some version of a family farm (not industrial) is about as sustainable a life as I can envision. I know that Minnesota has a number of Century Farms. I suppose I'm starting to grapple with the differences between real estate and home. I'm looking forward, I think, to following my reactions through this whole process. When a dad, that would be me, relates to his little girl as an adult and friend, the relationship grows. Change isn't always easy, but, so far, the changes we've been making on "The Property" and in our relationships with the place and each other, feel right. I think, I hope, that will continue. The prospect of leaving more than ashes and memories as a legacy has lots of appeal. Frank Steele seems to understand.

Misty Autumn morning
Photo by J. Harrington

Part of a Legacy

By Frank Steele 
I take pillows outdoors to sun them   
as my mother did.  “Keeps bedding fresh,”   
she said.  It was April then, too—   
buttercups fluffing their frail sails,   
one striped bee humming grudges, a crinkle   
of jonquils.  Weeds reclaimed bare ground.   
All of these leaked somehow   
into the pillows, looking odd where they   
simmered all day, the size of hams, out of place   
on grass.  And at night I could feel   
some part of my mother still with me   
in the warmth of my face as I dreamed   
baseball and honeysuckle, sleeping   
on sunlight.


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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Where we pray Minnesota doesn't join Alice down the rabbit hole with California and D.C.

This morning I came across a notice that the Interior Department and the state of California had released a new renewable energy plan. I thought that was progress until I read that
The 8,000-page plan covers 22.5million acres of public and private land in the California desert, and was unveiled in Palm Springs by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell with Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and top state land management, energy and wildlife officials.

renewable solar energy
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm not even going to start ranting about how absurd an 8,000 page plan is, even to cover an area (22.5million acres) almost half the size of Minnesota. (There are 640 acres in a square mile. Let me know, please, if I messed up the calculations.) To get back on point, here's a key piece of information from the DoI press release:
The public comment period will run through January 9, 2015. A recorded informational webinar to help the public navigate the DRECP documents will be available on Friday, September 26 at www.drecp.org and will be broadcast on October 9, 2014, at BLM, FWS and CDFW offices throughout the DRECP planning area. Formal public meetings will be held in late October and early November throughout the DRECP planning area and surrounding population centers. Future meetings will be announced at www.drecp.org. For instructions on how to submit written comments, view informational webinars, see meeting details and to sign up to receive email notifications, please visit www.drecp.org. Comments may also be submitted in person at the aforementioned public meetings.
Apparently, Interior doesn't believe in providing functional links in their press releases or they would have provided a link to www.drecp.org and not just a note that it's the address of a nongovernmental web site. (And why would a governmental plan be hosted on a NGO web site? Wouldn't that be similar to Minnesota hosting the PolyMet NorthMet SDEIS on the MiningMinnesota web site?)

renewable biomass energy
Photo by J. Harrington

On a normal day, I can easily read 100 pages. So, if I read nothing else, I could wade through 8,000 pages in about 3 months, leaving me a week or so to prepare comments before the comment period ends. Without having read the document, I am greatly unimpressed with the process. Here's one example of why: On the DRECP web site there's a page of links to the Draft DRECP and EIR/EIS documents, one of which notes "The Draft DRECP and EIR/EIS is also available on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website." The last time I checked (about 20 minutes ago) F&WS was part of Interior. Why the Interior press release doesn't include a link to the F&WS web site is beyond me. Anyhow, at the F&WS location, you can readily find a PDF of the 60 page Executive Summary Sixty pages is slightly less than 1% of an 8,000 page document. As far as I'm concerned, and I'm against Anthropogenic Climate Disruption and for renewable energy, I'm much more in favor of less disruptive, much smaller scale neighborhood renewable energy projects that don't require 8,000 page plans. Interior's and California's plan is supported by folks like
... Mark Tholke, a vice president at EDF Renewables, an energy company that has built plants in the desert, said rooftop solar is inadequate to address climate change.

“Many of us feel a real urgency to get as many (plants) up and running as possible, as soon as possible,” Tholke said. To slow climate change, he said, “we need to do a lot more than rooftop and distributed generation. We need cost-effective, large projects.”
Spoken like someone who makes a living building cost-effective large projects.

renewable wind energy
Photo by J. Harrington

As I recall, the Internet is a cost-effective large project designed on the basis of connecting lots of small projects. It was going fine until the government and industry started putting profits ahead of purpose. Maybe we'll have the foresight in Minnesota to show California how it should be done with neighborhood scale projects, including those on tribal lands. It took us a long time to create the problems we're facing these days. We created them by relying on single purpose, industrial scale, profit maximizing developments created based on short term time horizons to make them cost effective and profitable. Even (especially!) recovering planners know that "More of the same never solved a problem." Isn't it time we started acting as if we expect to be around for awhile and treated the earth, including the desert as Josephine Miles would have us do?

Desert

By Josephine Miles 

When with the skin you do acknowledge drought,
The dry in the voice, the lightness of feet, the fine
Flake of the heat at every level line;

When with the hand you learn to touch without
Surprise the spine for the leaf, the prickled petal,
The stone scorched in the shine, and the wood brittle;

Then where the pipe drips and the fronds sprout
And the foot-square forest of clover blooms in sand,
You will lean and watch, but never touch with your hand.


September 1934

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Red lantern days

This morning, as I was watering the chrysthanthemums, it started to sprinkle. I closed the nozzle, put down the hose and went into the house. Before I started this post, I looked out the window. Water was no longer falling from the sky. Sometimes, Mother Nature can be as contrary as "Mary, Mary." If a decent dousing doesn't arrive before this afternoon, I'll finish the hand watering. I had been forewarned, since, although I spent yesterday afternoon playing with my camera to avoid a repeat of that morning's star photography debacle this morning, as I congratulated myself for being ready, I noticed while walking my dog, this morning's sky was nicely cloud covered.

Winterberry bordering a swamp
Photo by J. Harrington

Last weekend was more of a success. While out exploring, I noticed the striking red berries pictured above. I took a couple of photos and finally identified the plant as Winterberry or Black alder. I'm glad we didn't bother to pick any since the notes state: "the fruit should not be eaten by humans as it is a purgative." Even though it's still September, the bright red fruit made me think about Aldo Leopold's October essay on Red Lanterns in A Sand County Almanac . I used to hunt ruffed grouse (often known as a partridge in New England) in October, although I never tried Leopold's strategy of moving from blackberry bush to blackberry bush (whose October-red leaves were Leopold's red lanterns). I have often wandered from sugar maple to sugar maple or apple tree to apple tree, enjoying different kinds of red lanterns.

Another "red lantern" of Autumn
Photo by J. Harrington

The fact that Minnesota supports a fairly healthy ruffed grouse population carried some weight in my long ago decision to move here. I've found that country populated by ruffed grouse, and streams full of brook trout, serve as major attractions that My Minnesota can offer to those of us who love wild country and this time of year. Years ago John Voelker explained my perspective better than I ever hope to, and I wouldn't be surprised if Sandra McPherson hasn't visited some of the coverts I used to hunt.

Grouse

By Sandra McPherson
This water flows dark red   
            from alder tannin:   
boot-stain river   

                        between white rocks.   
            An ouzel, flannel-feathered,   
sips the current up.   

                        Mossgatherers   
            spread their patches   
across a dry, flat turnaround.   

                        They seem embarrassed,   
            want to shelter in the dark.   
A coyote running in broad day;   

                        stumps ruffling   
            with sulphur polypores   
woodsy to the tongue,   

                        woody to teeth. Early   
            yellow leaves paste river to its bed;   
blackberries drop, the last,   

                        many out of taste   
            and strictly smudge.   
Puddles loop in the road:   

                        Bottomland—   
            the foolhen   
waits there for   

                        the fool gun,   
            gray throat-down free in a burst,   
the pose, the afterslump.   

                        Carcass beside spirit.   
            O come to my hand, unkillable;   
whatever continues, continue to approach.


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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jump starting Autumn's first full day

I can only surmise that when James Russell Lowell wrote
And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
he had never spent a September day like today in Minnesota. Even the local white pines are getting into the act, turning their clusters of five needles yellow before letting them drop. I bet neither had he spent a late, late night, bordering on early morning, watching the big dipper and listening to several packs of coyotes responding to each other, or to the low-key whoo-whooo of the owl in the nearby woodlot, a call that may have instigated all the coyote commotion.

White pine needles turning color
Photo by J. Harrington

I was out in the pitch dark wrestling with a tripod on a crowned gravel road, trying, unsuccessfully, to take some photos of the stars, when the Better Half took Franco for a walk in the dark. It's still not clear whether Franco or I startled each other more. I'm not sure what he though I was, but for a moment I was concerned that the rumbling sounds I heard were coming from the neighborhood black bear. No serious damage seems to have been done to any of the parties involved, but it could have qualified as a cardiac stress test for both dog and man.

Maroon, copper (?) and yellow chrysanthemums
Photo by J. Harrington

This year's assortment of chrysanthemums will remain unplanted until after the wedding. Some or all of them will be used to decorated the locale of the ceremony then they'll go into the ground in the unrealistic hope that they may survive the winter and return to life come Spring. Meanwhile, we have to pay careful attention to the leaf color and the color of the seeds to confirm our suspicion that the maple trees on the property are red maple and not sugar maple. Red maple will also produce sap for making syrup, but I've read that it takes half as much sugar maple sap as red maple to make an equivalent amount of syrup. It might be fun to play with anyway, come next Spring. It would be for, as they say, personal consumption. Speaking of next Spring, I was both saddened and gladdened to learn that a class I had wanted to take, that conflicted with a certain wedding, has been canceled but a variant may be offered next Spring or Summer. A good reason to strive to survive another Winter in My Minnesota, but not until after we all finish enjoying the rest of this freshly started Autumn and remember to leave some land wild.

Developing the Land

By Stephen Behrendt 

For six nights now the cries have sounded in the pasture:
coyote voices fluting across the greening rise to the east
where the deer have almost ceased to pass
now that the developers have carved up yet another section,
filled another space with spars and studs, concrete, runoff.

Five years ago you saw two spotted fawns rise
for the first time from brome where brick mailboxes will stand;
only three years past came great horned owls
who raised two squeaking, downy owlets
that perished in the traffic, skimming too low across the road
behind some swift, more fortunate cottontail.

It was on an August afternoon that you drove in,
curling down our long gravel drive past pasture and creek,
that you saw, flickering at the edge of your sight,
three mounted Indians, motionless in the paused breeze,
who vanished when you turned your head.

We have felt the presence on this land of others,
of some who paused here, some who passed, who have left
in the thick clay shards and splinters of themselves that we dig up,
turn up with spade and tine when we garden or bury our animals;
their voices whisper on moonless nights in the back pasture hollow
where the horses snort and nicker, wary with alarm.


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Monday, September 22, 2014

Sustainably rural

Sometimes I get to share some really good news. Today is one of those times. If you read all of this posting, or almost any posting on My Minnesota, you can be reasonably sure that your intelligence, or at least your attention span, is well above average. If you're a regular reader, we already know that your taste is well above average. What triggered this pandering, you're probably wondering?

A new dawn for rural sustainability
Photo by J. Harrington

I've been faced with a challenging decision after reading a recent blog posting that notes that the average attention span of Americans has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds during the past decade or so. I came across the initial link on a different blog that was about the Internet moving to digital story telling and the need to keep it short. That comes from the "give 'em what they want" school of communications. As I read it, I could hear my mother's voice asking me "if all your friends jumped off the garage roof, would you join them?" Now, I'm in favor of telling a story in an effective way, but that doesn't mean I think we should reduce everything to accommodate the attention span of a goldfish. I give an audience (at least this one) more credit than that (plus, I have been known to talk or write more than the minimum absolutely required on a subject).

I'm going to assume you're familiar with the story of Romeo and Juliet and / or the way it was retold in West Side Story. The movie ran slightly more than 2.5 hours. I haven't tried to time the play, but 2.5 hours is more time than needed to Tweet: Boy and girl meet, fall in love, marry, screw up fundamental communications, one (West Side Story) or both (Romeo and Juliet) die. Although that's less than 140 characters, I don't find the synopsis very satisfying, nor do I intend to shorten postings here to something that can be read in less than ten seconds (unless I decide to start posting only haiku each day).

Here's more good news that ties together nicely with yesterday's climate change march: more and more rural communities are moving toward sustainability. The first of today's examples can be found on The Daily Yonder, the same blog that brought to my attention the growing interest in brief video messaging. A key paragraph about growing rural sustainability in Macomb, Illinois states:
The range of projects and groups is wide, including reducing solid waste, preserving historic areas, creating a new food cooperative, and starting two community supported agriculture operations. We’ve also established the Prairie Land Conservancy, Environmentally Concerned Citizens, Lamoine River Ecosystem Partnership and a green student organization.
The sun shines on Fond du Lac solar power
Photo by J. Harrington

Minnesota has a similar efforts through the University's Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, but the other example I want to point out today comes from the Duluth News. The Fond du Lac Reservation will soon be the site of a $2.5 million, 1 megawatt, solar farm that will help power the band's Black Bear Casino. Minnesota Power is helping to develop and fund the project. If you read the whole article (it'll take more than 8 seconds) you'll see that the band has undertaken a number of projects helping to make the band more sustainable. (I had the pleasure of working with them during several years past on a couple of green affordable housing developments.)

Light-years

By Hester Knibbe

Translated By Jacquelyn Pope

It’s a beautiful world, you said,
with these trees, marshes, deserts,
grasses, rivers and seas

and so on. And the moon is really something
in its circuits
of relative radiance. Include

the wing├Ęd M, voluptuous
Venus, hotheaded Mars, that lucky devil
J and cranky Saturn, of course, plus

U and N and the wanderer P, in short
the whole solar family, complete with its
Milky Way, and count up all the other

systems with dots and spots and in
that endless emptiness what you’ve got
is a commotion of you-know-what. It’s a beautiful

universe, you said, just take a good look
through the desert’s dark glasses
for instance or on your back

in seas of grass, take a good look
at the deluge of that Rorschach—we’re standing out there
somewhere, together.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Welcome Autumn!

The local Autumn Equinox is about 9:30 tomorrow night. This morning, on the last full day of Summer 2014, the Daughter Person (DP) and her mother (my Better Half) were preparing to attend DP's very own bridal shower. Since boys aren't invited to or allowed at those kind of things, DP's father person took DP's fiancee on a trip along the St. Croix River to see if we could spot a kettle of hawks migrating south. In the hour or two spent watching and driving around, we saw one individual hawk (not migrating), a pair of mature bald eagles, a turkey vulture and a murder of crows (below). While not an outstanding success, neither was the trip an abysmal failure.

A "murder" of crows riding a thermal updraft
Photo by J. Harrington

In addition to watching for hawks, we got to enjoy the colors along the river, which, though spotty, are eye-catching, especially in broken sunlight. I noted that, prevalent along the river gorge are oaks and other trees that stay green until later in the season. At this time of year, the mix in the forest is much more obvious than in Summer, when everything's green.

Spots of color along the St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington
Unless we get some unanticipated weather disaster, I think this year's foliage will be at peak color about the same weekend as the wedding. That was the idea in setting the schedule. Another part of today's trip included a few stops to collect some more colorful leaves for the flower girl to scatter from her basket. This fits with the theme and the effort ensure that many of the wedding decorations, to my great pleasure, will use local, natural materials. I think something like the leaves below is at least as attractive as (more than) rose petals for those of us who cannot (or will not) live without wild things.

Flaming maple leaves
Photo by J. Harrington

The Beautiful Changes

By Richard Wilbur 

One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides   
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you   
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.

The beautiful changes as a forest is changed   
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;   
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves   
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.

Your hands hold roses always in a way that says   
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes   
In such kind ways,   
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose   
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.


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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Being neighborly

I don't mind, much, when one of the neighbors nibbles
the pear tree.
Whitetail deer nibbles pear tree
Whitetail deer nibbles pear tree
Photo by J. Harrington


I even understand when one comes to "borrow" a cup of
sunflower seeds.
Black bear eats sunflower seeds from bird feeder
Black bear eats sunflower seeds from bird feeder
Photo by J. Harrington


I do wish they'd clean up after they're done
looking for snacks on the deck.
Black bear scat on deck
Black bear scat on deck
Photo by J. Harrington


But a certain pair of this year's fawns is headed for big time trouble unless they stop eating the newly planted forsythia and lilac bushes.
Whitetail deer (on left) eating newly planted lilac bush
Whitetail deer (on left) eating newly planted lilac bush
Photo by J. Harrington


Connie Wanek understands about

Mysterious Neighbors

By Connie Wanek 
Country people rise early
as their distant lights testify.
They don’t hold water in common. Each house
has a personal source, like a bank account,
a stone vault. Some share eggs,
some share expertise,
and some won’t even wave.
A walk for the mail elevates the heart rate.
Last November I saw a woman down the road
walk out to her mailbox dressed in blaze orange
cap to boot, a cautious soul.
Bullets can’t read her No Trespassing sign.
Strange to think they’re in the air
like lead bees with a fatal sting.
Our neighbor across the road sits in his kitchen
with his rifle handy and the window open.
You never know when. Once
he shot a trophy with his barrel resting on the sill.
He’s in his seventies, born here, joined the Navy,
came back. Hard work never hurt a man
until suddenly he was another broken tool.
His silhouette against the dawn
droops as though drought-stricken, each step
deliberate, down the driveway to his black mailbox,
prying it open. Checking a trap.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Environmental regulation consumption advisory

I'm going to make a wild guess that he hadn't read yesterday's story about citizen concerns on mercury discharges in the St. Louis River when "PolyMet spokesman Bruce Richardson said the poll results are consistent with the company’s research that shows residents are willing to let environmental regulators manage the decision." The last time I took a look, Minnesotans were getting increasingly concerned about whether their government was doing enough to protect public health and the environment. That's one of the reasons there was a recent forum in Duluth, seeking commitments from public agencies to accelerate the cleanup of the St. Louis river and other mercury contaminated water bodies in Minnesota.

St. Louis River in Duluth
Photo by J. Harrington

A different example of citizen concern landed in my in basket within the past few days. Someone posted a comment on My Minnesota to be sure we knew about the fact that North Branch and Chisago County residents have concerns about the possible health impacts of a frac sand processing and transfer facility proposed for a North Branch industrial park. That's in line with the recent Minnesota Pollution Control Agency decision to respond to local citizen concerns and require an environmental review of a frac sand operation in Winona. It's my belief that, if Minnesotans were willing to let environmental regulators and local officials manage decisions that affect the health and safety of Minnesotans, there wouldn't be as much push back as we're seeing. As things stand, even our beautiful wild and scenic St. Croix River has a number of fish consumption advisories. (By the way, the fish consumption advisory for rivers is only 18 pages long. The advisory for lakes runs to 193 pages.)

Wild, scenic St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

I don't believe that business as usual is going to cut it any more. I'm glad to see that residents of Minnesota and a number of other places are getting tired of picking up the tab for cleanup after corporations have siphoned the profits out of the local environment. Maybe that frustration will create a new and different kind of corporate inversion financing that most of us could probably support. You know, something that helps the 99% and not just the 1%. Maybe, just maybe, we're starting to put being a citizen ahead of being a consumer. That would be a massive improvement in the quality of life and the quality of the environment for most of us. Those in Scotland decided to stick with the United Kingdom, but they did so based on informed consent. That's what I think most Minnesotans want their local officials and environmental regulators to provide and honor. Something to think about as you read Incantation and when you vote come this November.

Incantation

By Czeslaw Milosz 

Translated By Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Pinsky 

Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.

Berkeley, 1968

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Minnesota's Mercury in retrograde?

A story in today's Star Tribune caught my attention in part because I think it fits with a much bigger issue. Folks up in the North Country are accusing the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA] of putting jobs ahead of children's health by not following through on a collaborative mercury reduction study. After reading the article, I can understand why folks are upset. One point in particular made me wonder if the reporter mis-wrote something or if the MPCA is engaging in theoretical science.
“They all say it’s sulfates,’’ Lotthammer [MPCA staff] said. “We know that sulfate is a factor, but it’s not the only factor.’’

She said MPCA researchers are now studying a range of possible factors that could convert mercury into a form that gets into the food chain and builds up in game fish.

Scheduled to continue at least through 2017, those studies relate to factors such as water temperature, water flow, sunlight, carbon and natural organic matter, she said. The research will dissect the complexity of the food chain, down to tiny bugs in the sediment.
Lake Superior,  Duluth Harbor in the background
Photo by J. Harrington

Now, I'm pretty sure we can do something about sulfates and even reduce mercury concentrations. I'm ready to accept that a lot of other factors "such as water temperature, water flow, sunlight, carbon and natural organic matter" may be involved. But, I'm at a loss to envision what MPCA would propose to do to mitigate the impacts of water temperature, water flow, sunlight ... on mercury bioaccumulation. On the other hand, neither do I understand why Minnesotans haven't expressed outrage at the fact that MPCA has established that, for Minnesota water quality to be classified fishable, consumption of fish can be limited to one meal per week. That, it seems to me, may have environmental justice implications for Native Americans and, speaking strictly personally, doesn't fit my definition of fishable. I've been known to eat more than an average of one meal of fish (less than a half pound's worth per meal) for a year. Delays in mercury reduction while the science is improved may raise another kind of equity issue. Western Lake Superior Sanitary District has a nice report on Mercury Reduction Project Guidance for Wastewater Treatment Plants. If the public sector wastewater treatment is doing its share, it seems reasonable to expect others in the private sector to do the same.

Years ago, I encountered the concept "The perfect is the enemy of the good." I don't recall where I came across it, but I took it to heart as a counter to my perfectionist tendencies. I wonder if the MPCA staff and board are aware of that philosophy and how it might fit with their efforts to improve water quality and reduce bioaccumulative mercury. There's a hearing on this in Duluth this evening. I'm looking forward to seeing reports on what is said and done. I also wonder how EPA is going to look on Minnesota's results if they aren't consistent with federal and international water quality standards.

The bigger issue I referred to at the start of this posting is that environmental protection was much more straight forward when our rivers caught fire and were obviously polluted with human waste. Now we're looking at more invisible, longer term and globally sourced pollution that's much more challenging to address. That's progress? At least the Tuckerman poem finds a light after a dark night. We should be able to do the same.

“Roll on, sad world! not Mercury or Mars”

By Frederick Goddard Tuckerman 

from Sonnets, Second Series

                      XVII

Roll on, sad world! not Mercury or Mars
Could swifter speed, or slower, round the sun,
Than in this year of variance thou hast done
For me. Yet pain, fear, heart-break, woes, and wars
Have natural limit; from his dread eclipse
The swift sun hastens, and the night debars
The day, but to bring in the day more bright;
The flowers renew their odorous fellowships;
The moon runs round and round; the slow earth dips,
True to her poise, and lifts; the planet-stars
Roll and return from circle to ellipse;
The day is dull and soft, the eave-trough drips;
And yet I know the splendor of the light
Will break anon: look! where the gray is white! 


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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Summer ebbs, Autumn rises

Soy bean fields are slowly turning golden. Corn is starting to dry and turn tan and tattered. Sumac is red and maroon. Maple leaves are flaming. Tamaracks and aspens are yellowing before needle and leaf fall. Flocks of flickers are heading south. Soon we'll see murmurations of blackbirds. Late Summer's lethargy is leaving. Autumnal activity is accelerating. That may help explain

Tamarack needles yellowing
Photo by J. Harrington

why yesterday I transported and released about 2 miles distant chipmunk number eleven. The last 3 or 4 have been captured in the Hav-a-Hart trap with no bait at all. From now on, and all of next season, I'm planning on using a tool offered by my Better Half [BH]. She provided me what's left of a spray can of "neon hair spray." I want to know if we're catching the same critter more than once because I find it really hard to believe that we have that many chipmunks around the house. On the other hand, I'm really dubious that any of them are travelling a couple of miles (as the crow flies) just to get back to our local sunflower seed supply.

video

Since there's less than a week left in meteorological Summer, today we're going to note that, although we didn't get out trout fishing, we did manage a couple of fly-fishing trips to the St. Croix, took a number of nice photos, took several pleasant trips with the BH, had some fun with the Daughter Person and her fiancee, avoided serious injury, met some nice folks, made progress on a poetry / photography project I'm working on and had one of my poems selected as a Popular Choice winner at the Northwoods Art and Poetry Fair. All in all, Summer's cup was at least half full. I hope yours was as good or better.

One of the definitive indications that Summer is over is that kids are back in school, and so am I. Tonight I'm starting a class on lyric essays at The Loft Literary Center. Who knows, I may even share some of the assignments, or practice them, here. In the interim, enjoy this lyric about a different chipmunk.

For the Chipmunk in My Yard

By Robert Gibb 

I think he knows I’m alive, having come down
The three steps of the back porch
And given me a good once over. All afternoon
He’s been moving back and forth,
Gathering odd bits of walnut shells and twigs,
While all about him the great fields tumble
To the blades of the thresher. He’s lucky
To be where he is, wild with all that happens.
He’s lucky he’s not one of the shadows
Living in the blond heart of the wheat.
This autumn when trees bolt, dark with the fires
Of starlight, he’ll curl among their roots,
Wanting nothing but the slow burn of matter
On which he fastens like a small, brown flame.


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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An Iron Range Prospectus, or two

I bet if you try, you can remember when you were learning the fundamentals of writing a Compare and Contrast essay. Today, we're going to try something similar, but include a few shortcuts in the form of hyperlinks. The topic is "Which Kind of Future for Minnesota's Iron Range Is Most likely To Lead to Sustainable Employment?" Example number one is a recent story about the turmoil in the Cliffs Natural Resources Board.
“Cliffs has taken measures to reduce our cost structure, reduce our operational footprint and consolidate where it makes sense,” spokeswoman Patricia Persico said in a statement.
Example number two describes the setbacks in financing a taconite processing plant that may create 350 jobs at some future time. It's unclear when and if the final(?) part of the financing package will be put together.
Struggling Essar Steel Minnesota has failed to secure the equity financing needed to save a critical bond deal to complete construction of a $1.8 billion taconite plant in Nashwauk, Minn.

Now, local officials worry that the project and 350 future jobs are up in the air.

northern Minnesota trail marker
Photo by J. Harrington
Example number three comes from South Dakota via an Iron Ranger. Somehow Aaron Brown was allowed to take a vacation away from The Range. He has a fascinating report on the economic development progress being experienced in Mitchell, SD, home of the Corn Palace. At first I thought my computer had led me astray and I was reading The Onion. Here's why: about Mitchell, Mr. Brown writes that:
this city has quietly reinvented itself as an economic center for technology, marketing and manufacturing. The nation’s leading supplier of rural telecommunication services developed itself right here, and billboards for miles around tout new high-paying jobs in Mitchell.

... investments in existing companies and tech infrastructure allowed hometown entrepreneurs to build an international communication software company in Mitchell. That brought more than 500 high-paid software developers and communication professionals to town.
So, we can compare 350 jobs on hold due to problems financing a taconite plant, plus turmoil on the board of a long established Iron Range stakeholder that is now focused on cost cutting, plus a promise of maybe 360 "high-paying" jobs, offset by hundreds of years of environmental risk --  if Minnesota permits copper-nickel mining to proceed with the PolyMet project -- and contrast that  with 500 high-paying jobs that weren't there a decade ago in MItchell, SD, that don't threaten the local environment and that depend, to some extent, on the quality of life in Mitchell, SD, which has corn but, to my knowledge, no mines.

If you were to look at the Iron Range as if it were a startup company and you were an angel investor considering your options, which strategy would you support, mining or high tech? Here's that Blandin on Broadband info, in case it helps. Remember, we need to choose what we want. We can't have it all, no matter how American we are.

The True-Blue American

By Delmore Schwartz 

Jeremiah Dickson was a true-blue American,
For he was a little boy who understood America, for he felt that he must
Think about everything; because that’s all there is to think about,   
Knowing immediately the intimacy of truth and comedy,   
Knowing intuitively how a sense of humor was a necessity   
For one and for all who live in America. Thus, natively, and   
Naturally when on an April Sunday in an ice cream parlor Jeremiah   
Was requested to choose between a chocolate sundae and a banana split
He answered unhesitatingly, having no need to think of it
Being a true-blue American, determined to continue as he began:   
Rejecting the either-or of Kierkegaard, and many another European;   
Refusing to accept alternatives, refusing to believe the choice of between;
Rejecting selection; denying dilemma; electing absolute affirmation: knowing
         in his breast
                  The infinite and the gold
                  Of the endless frontier, the deathless West.

“Both: I will have them both!” declared this true-blue American   
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, on an April Sunday, instructed
         By the great department stores, by the Five-and-Ten,
Taught by Christmas, by the circus, by the vulgarity and grandeur of
         Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon,
Tutored by the grandeur, vulgarity, and infinite appetite gratified and   
         Shining in the darkness, of the light
On Saturdays at the double bills of the moon pictures,
The consummation of the advertisements of the imagination of the light
Which is as it was—the infinite belief in infinite hope—of Columbus,   
         Barnum, Edison, and Jeremiah Dickson.


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