Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween 2014!

The temperature dropped into the mid-twenties this morning. Even with a warm jacket I could feel the cold when I walked the dog. Tonight we'll have more of the same under a waxing, gibbous, first quarter moon that shines (maybe under scudding clouds?) on the Trick or Treaters and other creatures of the night. All of those whose blood still flows warm had best bundle up. Although some Minnesotans are invigorated by this kind of weather, I'm grateful to have a warm home to come in to from the cold.
I'll ply the fire with kindling now
I'll pull the blankets up to my chin
I'll lock the vagrant winter out and
I'll bolt my wanderings in

Joni Mitchell ~ Urge for Going
Jack-o-lanterns from years past
Jack-o-lanterns from years past
Photo by J. Harrington

Over at the St. Croix River Association they've announced the winners of this year's photography contest. The Starlit River winner, with the details of how it was taken, definitely inspires me to try more night photography. It's also a treat to see that there are river otters around. From the playing around with my camera that I've done so far, to have something worthy of entry next year will require much more familiarity with my equipment than I have at the moment. I occasionally get a really nice shot but it's by relying more on luck than skill. Or is that the secret ingredient for a long and happy life?

No matter how skillful or lucky I may get with a camera, I don't ever expect to photograph anything like the spirit Katie Capello helps us see from the "other side." RIP all!

A Ghost Abandons the Haunted

By Katie Cappello 

You ignore the way light filters through my cells,
the way I have of fading out—still
there is a constant tug, a stretching,
what is left of me is coming loose. Soon,

I will be only crumbs of popcorn,
a blue ring in the tub, an empty
toilet paper roll, black mold
misted on old sponges,

strands of hair woven into
carpet, a warped door
that won’t open, the soft spot
in an avocado, celery, a pear,

a metallic taste in the beer, a cold sore
on your lip—and when I finally lose my hold
you will hear a rustle and watch me spill
grains of rice across the cracked tile.


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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Clouds get in your way?

The World Series has been won (and lost). It's time for the boys of Summer to take their toys and put them away until next Spring. This morning I caught a glimpse of blue sky that cheered me mightily. Most of the time, though, the clouds look more like they're threatening snow than rain. I'm trying to sort out if it's the quality of the light, the clouds, both, other that seems to transform Summer skies that look like rain to Autumn or Winter skies that look like they're full of flakes. And sometimes, in fact often, threatening clouds do nothing but.

rain clouds? snow clouds? mixed?
rain clouds? snow clouds? mixed?
Photo by J. Harrington

When was the last time you lay on your back and decided what the clouds looked like? Don't you think it's time to try that again? After all, if it weren't for clouds, we wouldn't have sunrises like this one.

a cloud-enhanced sunrise
a cloud-enhanced sunrise
Photo by J. Harrington

Joni Mitchell sings about so many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way. That's probably true for many of us, including me all too often, but I'm slowly beginning to realize how insubstantial clouds really are. In fact, I've heard that sometimes they even have a silver lining, even if only to provide an opportunity to take a nap or to remember to listen to Simon and Garfunkle's version of Cloudy. And, I have it on very good authority that, no matter how cloudy the outlook after next Tuesday's elections, the world is unlikely to end no matter who wins or loses. Ralph Salisbury's Six Prayers should cover us.

Six Prayers

By Ralph Salisbury 

Thunderer     God of the turbulent sky     may
my turbulent mind shape
for my people
rain clouds
beans
pumpkins
and yams.

East Spirit
Dawn Spirit     may
birds awaken in
the forest of teeth
whose river     your color     must say
frozen mountains’
prayer that you
will loosen them.

Spirit of the North
whose star is our
white mark
like the blaze we chop in the black bark
where the trail home
divides
even in
our homes
we need
you to guide.

Spirit of the Sunset West
may gray clouds
hiding friends from me
glow
like yours
that we grope
toward each other through
a vivid rose.

Spirit of the South
direction of
warm wind
warm rain
and the winter sun
like a pale painting of a morning glory
help me     Spirit     that in my mind humble things
a man may give to his child may grow
the blue of berry
orange of squash
crimson of radish
yellow of corn
when the green of even the tallest pine
is wolf tooth white.

Spirit of the Earth
keeper of Mother Father
Sister Brother
loved ones all
once praying
as I pray
or in some other way
Spirit     the black dirt
is like the black cover of
a book whose words
are black ink I can
not read
but I place my brown hand
on snow
and pray that more than snow
may melt.


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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Treats, tricks and treasures

It's becoming clear to me that Halloween this year is likely to be a low-key affair, unless we get another Halloween blizzard. Our two lead pumpkin carvers got married early this month in the "back yard" and, although we're all pretending that we've recovered, I'm taking those claims with a grain or two of salt. Notwithstanding complaints about how much work carving is, and how icky (no "e," I looked it up) cleaning the "pumpkin guts" can be, I'm also sensing a need for more decompression time for the newly weds and the bride's parents.
the "altar" in the back yard
the "back yard altar" for the wedding
Photo by J. Harrington

Here's what our table looked like a couple of years ago. I kind of miss having something like it and may have to bestir myself to see about a Thanksgiving cornucopia or something that will look good on the table for most of November.

Halloween jack-o-lantern from 2011
Nice pumpkin carving and table decorations
Photo by J. Harrington

In the more than twenty years we've lived here, I don't think we've had one Trick-or-Treater come to the door. When our Tricksters were younger, we used to take them somewhere more populous where they could go door-to-door with their friends. Since I no longer have someone else's treats to raid, I'm debating whether to indulge myself by buying some of my favorite candy treats "just in case some kids show up," or to give my waistline and blood sugar a break and forego a Halloween stock-up this year.

a small cove on Minnesota's Lake Superior shore
a small cove on Minnesota's Lake Superior shore
Photo by J. Harrington

Last year at this time the Better Half and I were way up north, enjoying some time alone by ourselves and taking one of our all too infrequent looks at Minnesota's "North Shore." This year we never did make it on the brook trout fishing trip I had envisioned as an excuse to go back (late, wet Spring etc.). That gives us something we can look forward to next year and enjoy planning for this Winter. Of course, with our weather these days there's always a chance we'll be tricked out of our anticipated treat, even though it will be the wrong season for that.

Trick or Treat

By Nancy Price 

The ghost is a torn sheet,
the skeleton’s suit came from a rack in a store
the witch is flameproof, but who knows
what dark streets they have taken here?
Brother Death, here is a candy bar.
For the lady wearing the hat from Salem: gum.
And a penny for each eye, Lost Soul.
They fade away with their heavy sacks.
Thanks! I yell just in time.
                                             Thanks for another year!


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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What's in a name

A month or so ago, we were pondering the identity of a blue flower in the front garden. Susan Foss, the artist behind Minnesota Goose Garden, kindly suggested it "looks like vinca," rather than my guess of a Bottle Gentian. Anyone who's managed to get something like 400 plants used by the Ojibwe planted and identified in a walkable garden definitely outranks me when it comes to wildflower identification, but I haven't, until now, tried to double check and acknowledge her hypothesis. After taking a look at my usual reference sources, I think Susan is probably correct, although almost all of the periwinkle photos available portray an opened blossom, one of the main reasons I had trouble with identification (in case any field guide authors ever read this page). It's listed as an invasive species so either this Autumn or next Spring, once I can find it again, it will get weeded out, unless we decide to try it as a ground cover on the shady north side of the house.

Common Periwinkle ("vinca")
Photo by J. Harrington
Now that it's late October, the suet feeder is back up. We bring that and the sunflower seed feeder in a night because we're still reasonably sure the local bear isn't yet in hibernation. The return of the suet has brought about the return of woodpeckers to the feeder, hairy, downy and pileated. They seemed to largely disappear over the Summer and their red feather patches add a nice spot of color on a cold, cloudy, dreary day like today. We're also seeing the usual chickadees, nuthatches and goldfinches, plus an occasional squirrel who shows up to give the dogs something to bark at and chase away. I often wonder what they think they're seeing when they bark at creatures not there. Sometimes it's hard to know what we see and what words to use.

Goldfinch and nuthatch
Photo by J. Harrington

What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use

By Ada Limón 

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.


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Monday, October 27, 2014

Minnesota birds make feathers fly for Halloween

There is an unverified source of information (this is the Internet, after all) that lists crows, ravens, owls and vultures as birds associated with Halloween. We have some of each in My Minnesota although we do not, and probably never will, make reference to Angry Birds unless we're writing about the Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Crows? probably
Crows? probably
Photo by J. Harrington

Can you readily distinguish between crows and ravens? I rarely get to have them stand or fly side by side so I can easily notice the raven's 20% size advantage. Thankfully, there are several other clues we can use, but from now on I'm going to rely more heavily on the fact that, given their range differences, if I see a medium to large black bird around here, it's probably a crow. If I'm way up north, I'll pay more attention to the possibility it could be a raven. Not saying ravens are never (nevermore?) found this far south in Minnesota, just that it's not common.

As for owls, Minnesota has about a dozen species of them, according to the Department of Natural Resources. In a Halloween context, maybe we should check with the Department of Unnatural Resources? How else would you explain the way many owls have such camouflage patterns in their feathers that they disappear rather unnaturally. By the way, how many of the 15 could you find?

Last, and possibly least popular, turkey vultures, which are often found in Minnesota during the warmer months, most years are often headed south by the time Halloween arrives.

In my mind, there's no way to avoid here reference to Poe's The Raven. Rather than post a copy of the poem as written, enjoy it as read by the inimitable Christopher Walker, complete with sound effects. You might also want to listen to some of the other versions listed as "Bonus Tracks."

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Choices have consequences

One of my favorite reasons for supporting local bookstores is more often reflected in some stores than others. When Northernlights Books was open in Duluth's Canal Park, I used to try to get there every few months because they had a section on local poets and poetry. Neither of the independent bookstores I most often get to in the Twin Cities has seen fit to honor my urging (complaining?) and set up something similar. I want to know about local issues, thoughts and perspectives, and that's not anything I'd every expect from online sellers or what's left of national chains, which I used to avoid on general principles. Fortunately for me and other local bibliophile locavores in my neck of the woods, Scout & Morgan in Cambridge usually has a well organized and identified selection of local books written by local authors. I'm in the midst of reading and absolutely enjoying The Road Back to Sweetgrass by Linda LeGarde Grover. Although I don't live in northern Minnesota, I've spent a fair amount of time working and visiting there and recognize many of the settings. It's well written and has me feeling regretful each time I have to put it down. Check your local independent bookstore or public library for a copy.

Autumn tamaracks in northern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

Thinking about life in northern Minnesota brings me again to the issue of mining and jobs. The notion that the Iron Range may need to choose mining or a more sustainable future is reflected in a thought-provoking piece referenced in The Daily Yonder about "Why millennials are avoiding small towns." It states:
“Small towns will have to hustle to recruit and retain millennials, experts say. The American Planning Association urges local planners to mimic the appeal of city centers by creating “density.” That means keeping the walkable neighborhoods and traditional town centers that millennials say is key to making a community a desirable place to live.
A little more digging reveals that Alexandria MN is #7 on the 2013 list of "best" small towns on the Livability web site. Also providing some insight is the concept that, just as manafacturing is starting to reshore to the US, the rural brain drain is starting to reverse itself to become a brain gain.
“We want our youth to stay, but at the same time, we want them to have the opportunities that they are not going to have if they necessarily stay here,” explained a rural high school educator and interviewee. “We want them to go out and find these opportunities, but… we need some of the more successful ones to come back and… really push the town to grow and succeed.”
The more I look into what's going on these days to support sustainable rural living, these less I run into any reference to "high-paying mining jobs" as the way to that future, unless they also bring in value added work. I am again reminded that we didn't leave the Stone Age because we ran out of rocks.

Questionnaire

By Charles Bernstein 

Directions: For each pair of sentences, circle the letter, a or b, that best
expresses your viewpoint. Make a selection from each pair. Do not omit
any items.

1.a) The body and the material things of the world are the key to any   
       knowledge we can possess.
   b) Knowledge is only possible by means of the mind or psyche.

2.a) My life is largely controlled by luck and chance.
   b) I can determine the basic course of my life.

3.a) Nature is indifferent to human needs.
   b) Nature has some purpose, even if obscure.

4.a) I can understand the world to a sufficient extent.
   b) The world is basically baffling.

5.a) Love is the greatest happiness.
   b) Love is illusionary and its pleasures transient.

6.a) Political and social action can improve the state of the world.
   b) Political and social action are fundamentally futile.

7.a) I cannot fully express my most private feelings.
   b) I have no feelings I cannot fully express.

8.a) Virtue is its own reward.
   b) Virtue is not a matter of rewards.

9.a) It is possible to tell if someone is trustworthy.
   b) People turn on you in unpredictable ways.

10.a) Ideally, it would be most desirable to live in a rural area.
    b) Ideally, it would be most desirable to live in an urban area.

11.a) Economic and social inequality is the greatest social evil.
    b) Totalitarianism is the greatest social evil.

12.a) Overall, technology has been beneficial to human beings.
    b) Overall, technology has been harmful to human beings.

13.a) Work is the potential source of the greatest human fulfillment.
    b) Liberation from work should be the goal of any movement for   
       social improvement.

14.a) Art is at heart political in that it can change our perception of   
       reality.
    b) Art is at heart not political because it can change only
       consciousness and not events.


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Saturday, October 25, 2014

As the leaves take leave...

I spent part of this morning watching leaves close to the house fall from left to right, while those further west by one hundred or so yards fell right to left. Swirling breeze? Anyhow, the trees are becoming bare enough to make it fairly easy to spot haunts drifting through the air come Halloween.

haunted jack-o-lanterns
Halloween haunts
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday we had dinner in Minneapolis at the Smack Shack in the North Loop area. We ate outside on the patio and had to request that the space heater(?) closest to us be turned down because it was too warm, in late October, in Minnesota! (I hope that's a sign of things to come this Winter.) As has been the case each time I've eaten there, the food was really good and, on the drive home, we got to watch an incredibly attractive sunset. Here's a similar version from a few weeks ago (for reasons I don't begin to understand, iPhoto's file export washes out the deeper reds in almost all sky shots, he fussed).

Autumn sunset
Autumn sunset (faded version)
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning while I was poking around the Internet, I came across something I didn't know existed and want to look into some more. Thanks to Birdchick, I learned that it's possible to attach a digital camera to a spotting scope. I'm going to see how the costs compare with an upgrade to my telephoto lens, but the examples shown are better than most of my shots, although I suspect that has as much to do with the photographer as it does with the equipment. Now, in celebration of the season and my Irish heritage, please enjoy:

Samhain

By Annie Finch 

(The Celtic Halloween) 

In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.

Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil

that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.

I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother's mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings

arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
"Carry me." She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.


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Friday, October 24, 2014

Will the glass leaf turn?

I was pleased to see Dennis Anderson, in his column in the Star Tribune today, echo one of the points raised by My Minnesota earlier this week, that consideration be given to whether "glass deaths" are compensatory or additive. I was also really happy to see him putting the issue in the context of young people and sustainability. Years (and years) ago, I was a member of the NRA. At the time, unintentional consumption of lead shot by ducks was found to be contributing to lead poisoning of the resource and the Fish and Wildlife Service mandated the use of nontoxic shot. NRA persistently opposed that requirement and I tired of their obstructionist position and dropped my membership. Haven't considered re-upping since.

If I were the commissioner of a national nonprofit that generated multimillions of dollars for my member organizations and was having trouble maintaining the perception that my organization was environmentally benign and family friendly, I might want to consider having having a chat with some members about showing a greater sense of self-interest than seems to be the case with some members these days. Shouldn't everyone be a team player?

bare trees and tattered leaves
Photo by J. Harrington

Back to the outdoors front, this is a good time of year to get a sense of where the oak trees (most still holding many leaves) and tamarack (gold leaves not yet dropped) are located in our mosaic of woodlands. Many of the other deciduous trees are looking tattered and bare thanks to some recent winds and the way the maples and basswoods have loosened their leaf stems. Daily I watch leaves floating and drifting down to become next year's compost or future years' forest duff. If you look carefully, you can see some of the trees in the photo above are stripped of their leaves and others are looking scruffy.

Sharp Glass

By Minnie Bruce Pratt 

Shattered glass in the street at Maryland and 10th:
smashed sand glittering on a beach of black asphalt.

You can think of it so: or as bits of broken kaleidoscope,
or as crystals spilled from the white throat of a geode.

You can use metaphor to move the glass as far as possible
from the raised hands that threw the bottle

for their own reasons of amusement, or despair, or the desire
to make a cymbal crash in the ears of midnight sleepers.

Or you can use words like your needle, the probe curious
in tough heels, your bare feet having walked in risky places.

You can work to the surface the irritant, pain, the glass
sliver to blink in the light, sharp as a question. 


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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Enjoy what we can, prevent as we can, mitigate where we can, adapt when we must

The sky is overcast and the air full of mist. The driveway is full of leaves, mostly oak, its North side lined with orange pumpkins and maroon, copper and yellow chrysanthemums. There are increasing numbers of coot (mud hens) on the water at Carlos Avery. Halloween is a week away. The Cornell Ornithology Lab has a cool download of owl sounds available at no charge, plus a page of typical owls. Owls are one of my favorite creatures and I have a sweet tooth and a strong preference for Autumn over Winter, I'm enjoying this time of transition.

the driveways Autumnal glory
Photo by J. Harrington

Over the next few weeks, I'm looking forward to taking some trips through Chisago and Pine Counties to get a sense of the upper St. Croix area when its not hidden by leaves. One thing I'm curious to see is if the impact of the storm-downed trees in St. Croix State Park from the wind storms several years ago is more or less stark without a backdrop of leaves. I also want to take a look at Jay Cook and see how the recovery from the 2012 flood is coming.

St. Croix State Park wind storm survivors
Photo by J. Harrington

As I recall a long ago Summer trip through Yellowstone National Park, where I got stuck in a traffic jam as bad as anything at rush hour along 494 or 694 around the Twin Cities, and look at our more popular state parks, I start to wonder at what point outdoor recreation becomes an extractive use of the land. The Congress for a New Urbanism has an interesting and helpful transect of rural to urban land uses. As part of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources adaptation to climate change planning, it would be helpful to consider how the transect approach can be applied to parks. If Minnesota still had a state planning agency that might be more readily achievable.

Kathryn Simmonds nicely captures the ephemeral quality of the joys of this time of year in the woods. Some of the changes coming to fields and forests in My Minnesota will be sudden, others more gradual. Will we learn to move toward prevention, mitigation and adaptation as climate changes where and how we enjoy life here?

In the Woods

By Kathryn Simmonds 

The baby sleeps.
Sunlight plays upon my lap, through doily leaves a black lab comes,
a scotty goes, the day wears on, the baby wakes.

The good birds sing,
invisible or seldom seen, in hidden kingdoms, grateful for the in-
between. The baby sleeps. Elsewhere the Queen rolls by

on gusts of cheer — 
ladies wave and bless her reign. The baby frets. The baby feeds.
The end of lunch, a daytime moon. The leaves

are lightly tinkered with.
It’s spring? No, autumn? Afternoon? We’ve sat so long, we’ve walked
so far. The woods in shade, the woods in sun, the singing birds,

the noble trees.
The child is grown. The child is gone. The black lab comes,
his circuit done. His mistress coils his scarlet lead.


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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mining between rocks and hard places

This morning on The Daily Yonder there was a story about a documentary film on uranium mining in Colorado. If you care about mining and its impacts in Minnesota, it would be a worthwhile read, I think. It points out the difficult balancing that needs to be taken into consideration, and fits nicely with Monday's Duluth News Tribune story regarding the growing number of health professionals raising concerns about the proposed PolyMet mine project's public health impact. A few days ago, My Minnesota fussed and fumed about the Precautionary Principle and its application to a relatively bird-safe "People's Stadium." It seems even more apropos to the questions being raised about the proposed mines impact. Even more broadly, it would seem, given continuing uncertainty about mining's long term viability from an economic as well as an environmental perspective, as exemplified by Duluth Metals recent actions. [By the way, I loved the note "/NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION TO US NEWSWIRE SERVICES OR DISSEMINATION IN THE UNITED STATES /"] (Thanks to Aaron Klemz for the Tweet.)

northern Minnesota rocks and hard places
Photo by J. Harrington

At the other end of the Iron Range (So to speak) Ely is doing its best to reinvent itself. One of the big questions they're going to have to deal with, I believe, is that the kind of folks who could live (and work or vacation) anywhere aren't usually too much in favor of local environmental contamination. Since metallic ores are a nonrenewable resource, at some point the "high-paying mining jobs" will be gone. How long that may take is speculative. The environmental mess that's historically been left behind isn't. I'm beginning to think that many places dependent on extractive industries are going to have to choose, or we collectively have to convince mine owners and financiers that it's in their best interest to do more than the minimum legally required for environmental controls and reclamation. This quote for PolyMet's Vice President makes me wonder about mining's ability to display enlightened self-interest.
Bruce Richardson, PolyMet vice president of corporate communications and external affairs, noted Monday that a similar request by a few medical professionals was made before the public comment period on the environmental review closed earlier this year. He said the time to raise the issue has now passed.
“To try and work it outside the process is neither appropriate nor productive,” Richardson said. The environmental impact statement “thoroughly addresses health-related impacts of the project.”
That kind of approach reminds me of many years ago in Massachusetts, when I used to have to try to deal with Army Corps of Engineers staff and their "design, announce, and defend" mentality. Sigh! I think this is worth protecting, don't you? How about the health of our children and grandchildren? How many folks would intentionally trade their child's health for a job, no matter how well it paid?

Lake Superior rocks
Photo by J. Harrington

The Planet Krypton

By Lynn Emanuel 

Outside the window the McGill smelter
sent a red dust down on the smoking yards of copper,   
on the railroad tracks’ frayed ends disappeared   
into the congestion of the afternoon. Ely lay dull

and scuffed: a miner’s boot toe worn away and dim,   
while my mother knelt before the Philco to coax   
the detonation from the static. From the Las Vegas   
Tonapah Artillery and Gunnery Range the sound

of the atom bomb came biting like a swarm
of bees. We sat in the hot Nevada dark, delighted,   
when the switch was tripped and the bomb hoisted   
up its silky, hooded, glittering, uncoiling length;

it hissed and spit, it sizzled like a poker in a toddy.   
The bomb was no mind and all body; it sent a fire
of static down the spine. In the dark it glowed like the coils   
of an electric stove. It stripped every leaf from every

branch until a willow by a creek was a bouquet   
of switches resinous, naked, flexible, and fine.   
Bathed in the light of KDWN, Las Vegas,
my crouched mother looked radioactive, swampy,

glaucous, like something from the Planet Krypton.   
In the suave, brilliant wattage of the bomb, we were
not poor. In the atom’s fizz and pop we heard possibility   
uncorked. Taffeta wraps whispered on davenports.

A new planet bloomed above us; in its light
the stumps of cut pine gleamed like dinner plates.
The world was beginning all over again, fresh and hot;   
we could have anything we wanted.


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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Star light, star bright

Early this morning we had a waning crescent moon. Not much light but very attractive. Sometimes it's nice to be in the dark. We'll get to try something like "darkness at the break of noon" this Thursday with the partial solar eclipse at sunset. [I've probably been spending too much time listening to the CDs of Dylan's 30th Anniversary concert. He wrote lyrics for the ages, especially this one.]

After sunset, the sun also rises
Photo by J. Harrington

Speaking of stars, and don't forget, to the rest of the Milky Way our sun is just another star, there's a wonderful piece about Wendell Berry by Darby Minow Smith in Grist. Wendell, as always, just makes sense in such a way that I often am left starry-eyed and wonder why we don't all just do as he says. Especially when the alternatives frequently involve situations where utilities must innovate or go extinct, or efforts to resurrect a moribund nuclear energy sector. How quickly we seem to forget situations like Fukishima, and, please, don't give me any "can't happen here" nonsense. As soon as all the legislative bodies on earth have unanimously rescinded Murphy's Law, we can talk. Actually, I'll make it easier, as soon as Congress unanimously rescinds Murphy's Law we can talk.

The Sound of the Sun

By George Bradley 

It makes one all right, though you hadn’t thought of it,
A sound like the sound of the sky on fire, like Armageddon,   
Whistling and crackling, the explosions of sunlight booming   
As the huge mass of gas rages into the emptiness around it.
It isn’t a sound you are often aware of, though the light speeds   
To us in seconds, each dawn leaping easily across a chasm   
Of space that swallows the sound of that sphere, but   
If you listen closely some morning, when the sun swells   
Over the horizon and the world is still and still asleep,   
You might hear it, a faint noise so far inside your mind
That it must come from somewhere, from light rushing to darkness,   
Energy burning towards entropy, towards a peaceful solution,   
Burning brilliantly, spontaneously, in the middle of nowhere,   
And you, too, must make a sound that is somewhat like it,   
Though that, of course, you have no way of hearing at all. 


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Monday, October 20, 2014

Changing Autumn's scene

This Autumn is about as perfect as last Spring wasn't. I hope noting this brings on more of the same and doesn't simply jinx us. Many leaves are now down, but those that are still hanging on by their leaf stems are really colorful.

oak leaves in a breeze
Photo by J. Harrington

Almost all of the pears are down. These folks [below] did much of the clean up. They're the most deer we've seen at one time in the back yard since we stopped Winter feeding a number of years ago.

three deer plus two deer are five deer
Photo by J. Harrington
Unrelated to most of our regular topics here, it seems to me that, at the rate the Vikings are going, those protesting the racial slur name of the opposing team on November 2 may well be the largest part of the crowd at that game. If you want more info, it can be found here.


The Delight Song of Tsoai-talee

By N. Scott Momaday 

I am a feather on the bright sky
I am the blue horse that runs in the plain
I am the fish that rolls, shining, in the water
I am the shadow that follows a child
I am the evening light, the lustre of meadows
I am an eagle playing with the wind
I am a cluster of bright beads
I am the farthest star
I am the cold of dawn
I am the roaring of the rain
I am the glitter on the crust of the snow
I am the long track of the moon in a lake
I am a flame of four colors
I am a deer standing away in the dusk
I am a field of sumac and the pomme blanche
I am an angle of geese in the winter sky
I am the hunger of a young wolf
I am the whole dream of these things

You see, I am alive, I am alive
I stand in good relation to the earth
I stand in good relation to the gods
I stand in good relation to all that is beautiful
I stand in good relation to the daughter of Tsen-tainte
You see, I am alive, I am alive


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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Does the "Peoples Stadium" give precaution the bird?

Have you heard of the Precautionary Principle? Most versions I can find online read about like this:
When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.
I would respectfully suggest that the wanton destruction of a portion of the migratory bird population constitutes harm to the environment, particularly in an age when the threat of mosquito-transmitted diseases is increasing due to Anthropogenic Climate Disruption's effects and said songbirds have been know to eat said mosquitos. David Sibley (of the Sibley Guides) has nicely given us an insight into the relative impact of windows on birds (no pun intended for a change).

A chart showing estimated numbers of birds killed annually
by each of several different causes. Data from various sources.

The United States government, through the Fish and Wildlife Service, notes:
Added to deaths from natural causes, such as adverse weather, predation, or starvation, human-related bird deaths may result in greater mortality than a population can withstand. In other words, it is the cumulative or combined impact of all mortality factors that concerns scientists most. (emphasis added)
That certainly reads differently to me than the assessment in Saturday's Star Tribune editorial. Furthermore, the bottom two lines in the chart above certainly don't seem to support Dr. Zink's comment in that same editorial that
“People keeping their cats indoors would have a far greater impact on bird survival than whatever happens with the stadium,” said University of Minnesota ornithology Prof. Robert Zink.
Nowhere in the preceding is it suggested that habitat destruction is not a major, or perhaps the major, contributor to migratory bird mortality. Wildlife, including songbirds, can't be stockpiled and saved for the future. It has a natural life cycle. I've been a bird hunter of grouse and waterfowl long enough to know that. I also know that wildlife managers are concerned about whether hunting mortality is additive or compensatory to natural mortality of a population. Shouldn't entertainment complexes and "peoples' stadiums" be looked at in the same way?

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Foot in mouth disease or nefarious plot?

The Star Tribune's Editorial Board has managed to put together an editorial today (Keep bird deaths in perspective) that, in my opinion, represents one of the most stupid and shortsighted rationales I've ever seen in that publication. I believe it is representative of just about everything that is wrong with much of corporate america's thinking. "We've screwed things up badly enough so a little more won't really hurt," is a way to paraphrase their subheading "In the big scheme of things, the stadium’s impact will be minimal."

female bluebird
Photo by J. Harrington

Usually, even if I disagree with their position, in the past I have been able to respect how the Editorial Board justified that position. If I accept their "reasoning" this time, I have to also conclude there was no reason for Congress to have passed the Clean Water Act Amendments of 1972. Our rivers were polluted enough, one more fire or untreated wastewater discharge won't make that much difference.

scarlet tanager
Photo by J. Harrington

If we're going to create a more just and sustainable world, we have to expect much more leadership from organizations like the Star Tribune and even the Sports Facilities Authority (SFA), since Governor Dayton I suspect has an interest in their decision making. I can't even get myself to the point of asking "what were they thinking?" because I find in the article no evidence of a thought process that isn't focused on protecting the status quo. Unless, perhaps under the new Republican ownership, the Star Tribune Editorial Board is trying to cost Governor Dayton the election by supporting a short-sighted position of the SFA. The governor has appointed the chair and two other members, a majority of the five. That must be it. (Full Disclosure: I'm a member of the Audubon Society and our local chapter isn't very happy about the glass.)

[UPDATE: Here's what I consider a more responsible approach to the topic.
]
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Friday, October 17, 2014

Urge for going time

We're past mid-October. Halloween is on the horizon. It's been more than a week since a chipmunk wandered into the live trap. That may mean that this season's total count of those caught, transported and released will end at 14. Here's number 13 or 14 scampering to freedom.

video


Sandhill cranes are disappearing from the fields and marshes. This trio and the rest of their gang were last seen a week or two ago.

Three sandhill cranes and two crows
Photo by J. Harrington

Northern ducks have migrated down. Bluejays are everywhere. Song birds show up briefly in the woods and head South again the next day or so. The driveway is leaf-covered. High temperatures for the rest of the month aren't forecast to come anywhere near yesterday's 70s. There are enough bow hunters in the woods that the deer are spending more time close to the house. From somewhere, a late season hatch of mosquitoes has avoided being killed by the frosts we've had. They seem to be the only local creatures without some kind of Urge for Going.

The new roof should start going on the house next week. Windows in late November or sometime in December, siding after that. Guess who's hoping that, until all the work is done, there's going to be no more than a dusting of snow for Christmas .

The Singers

By Craig Arnold 

for Boyce 

They are threatening to leave us          the nimble-throated singers
          the little murderers with the quick pulses
They  perch at the ends of   bare branches          their tails
          are ragged and pitiful          the long green
feathers are fallen out          They  go on eating and eating
          last autumn's yellow melia berries
They do not care that you approach          cold corpses
       rot in the grass          in the reeds
The gray-shouldered crows hobble about          the wren
          barely a mouthful          cocks her pert tail
and threatens to slaughter the white-footed cat in the bushes
          They do not understand that they are dying

They are threatening to leave us          how quickly we forget
          the way they taught us how to play our voices
opening soul to weightlessness          like the Spartan poet
          singing under the burden of  his old bones
to the chorus girls with their honey songs and their holy voices
          how he wished he could scoot like a kingfisher
lightly over the flower of  the waves          who boasted
          I know the tunes of every bird but I Alcman
found my words and song in the tongue of the strident partridge
          Where will we find songs          when the sleek-headed
mallards are gone          who chase each other around the pond
          the reluctant duck and the lovesick drake
The way she turns her head to the side to scold him
          whack  whack  whack  whack  whack          the way her boyfriend
chases off  his rival and then swims back          reeb  reeb
          with feeble reassurances          the way
he sits on top of  her          the way she flaps her wings
          to keep above water          the way they look
pleased with themselves          wagging their tails          smoothing
          each feather back in its right place

They are threatening to leave          but you may still catch them
          saying goodbye          stealthed in the cedar and cypress
at dawn          in the dark clarity between sleep and waking
          A run of  five notes on a black flute
another          and another          buried deep in the mix
          how many melodies can the air hold
And what they sing          so lovely and so meaningless
          may urge itself  upon you          with the ache
of   something  just beyond the point of  being remembered
          the trace of a brave thought in the face of sadness


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Thursday, October 16, 2014

The colors of joy

After yesterday's doom and gloom posting, I'm happy to share a couple of pieces of good news today. At least one small speedbump has been put in the path of end runs around irrational governance in Wisconsin. The Star Tribune informs us that Wis. city's land grab to attract frac-sand mine is overruled by state agency. In Massachusetts, where I came from, I think the last annexation must have been over a hundred years ago, sometime in the late 1800s, so I was surprised at how much of it is still going on in the midwest. Some recent local annexations in Minnesota's Chisago County seemed to me to exceed any rational assessment of land needed for urban development for a long time to come, but, that's not immediately relevant. Trempealeau County is supposed to have appropriate environmental regulations for frac sand operations, but only in townships. Our old friend Superior Silica Sands wants the City of Independence to annex the property they want to mine. I'll leave it to you to think about why. Wisconsin's Department of Administration ruled the "shoestring annexation" wouldn't meet state legal tests. I hope the two townships involved decide to contest the annexation and don't get bought off.

One of Autumn's palettes (try the yellow or tan block)
Photo by J. Harrington

Of probably less significance, but nevertheless heartening, is an Internet discovery I want to share. I see myself as primarily a writer. During Spring (greens) and Autumn (reds, yellows, browns etc.), I've found my lack of fine arts training and education a hindrance when describing the plethora of colors and shades to be seen. Checking for a "color dictionary" gives me hexadecimal notations good for computers but not so much for humans. Then I found this color thesaurus. Thanks to Ingrid Sundberg for the effort and results. A fine example of art being a gift economy. Have some fun and match the colors of the leaves  and grasses (forbes?) with the names in the thesaurus. It's far from as easy as I thought it would be. Now, ask yourself, if you were creating the world, could you do any better with the colors? I didn't think so.

Another Autumn palette (try the red block)
Photo by J. Harrington

Next, I want to make a quick mention of Will Steger's commentary piece on the growth on Minnesota's clean energy economy and the jobs that go with it. I've been hoping someone was working on this. Turns out someone was.

As today's final note, yesterday we uploaded our 700th posting. We missed a few days last year, but basically we've been at this daily for coming up on two years. Once we reach that milestone we may move to a less rigid schedule of several times a week, but we'll try to remain more colorful than eight colors.

Men Say Brown

By Henry M. Seiden 

On the radio this morning: The average woman knows
275 colors—and men know eight. Women say coffee,
mocha, copper, cinnamon, taupe. Men say brown.

Women know an Amazon of colors I might have said
were green, an Antarctica of whites, oceans of colors
I'd stupidly call blue, fields of color, with flowers in them
I would have said were red.

From women, I've learned to love the browns,
the earths, the dusts, the clays, the soft colors, the colors
brought out from the mines, hardened ones,
hardened in fires I would call red; the colors of the furies;
the reconciling colors of the cooling ash.

By myself I know the evening colors when the sky goes
from blue to another blue to black—although it's a lonely,
whitish black sometimes,
                                                                        like the color of sleep—
the way dreams are lit by the light that's thrown
from nowhere on the things you find in them. Last night
there was a turtle, I would say it was brown or green,
or it was a snake, mottled, a kind of grey, disguised
as a turtle, red spots as if painted on the shell,
a palish greenish underside—vulnerable, alone
swimming in water I would say was colorless.

I woke to the pale colors of the morning—no one
has a name for those: the white-rose white you see
through the white of the curtains on the window,
the milks, the creams, the cream a galactic swirl
before it turns to brown when your wife stirs it in the coffee,
the faint drying oval on the silver of the spoon.


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