Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sliding toward Solstice

Cookies and ginger bread houses are being baked. The lights are on the tree. As much as I enjoy our fully decorated old fashioned tree, there's something about the simplicity of lights only that I find appealing. It may have to do with the number of times I read Peter Pan when I was younger, or how much I miss seeing fireflies on Summer evenings.

Christmas tree, lights and angel only
Christmas tree, lights and angel only
Photo by J. Harrington

While researching some details about next month's Winter solstice, I stumbled onto what look like some useful ways to celebrate it. I'm definitely going to try number 1 and probably 2. Maybe more, depending on how ambitious I get. It's not that there haven't been lots of good things happening this past year, more like my dreams keep exceeding my accomplishments. In case you're curious, here's what Robert Browning has written about that (a man's reach...).

Taylors Falls public library entrance
Taylors Falls public library entrance
Photo by J. Harrington

As we were leaving the Taylors Falls Lighting Festival Friday evening, the band was playing John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Happy Christmas, (War Is Over). Each year I hear that song somewhere and each year the lyrics about "and what have you done" make me wish I had done more the prior year. It's another version of Mary Oliver's question that ends her poem The Summer Day:
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"
This seems to be the time of year I usually try to find a better answer to that question. As I get older I've noticed that, although my answers improve, they don't do so as quickly as my awareness grows of just how precious all life on this earth is. Robert Louis Stevenson has this advice that helps judge accomplishments:
"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap
but by the seeds that you plant."
I noticed it in the gift shop while we were tree shopping and I'm going to practice it for the balance of this year and try for a full application next.

Winter Solstice

By Hilda Morley 

A cold night crosses
our path
                  The world appears
very large, very
round now       extending
far as the moon does
                                        It is from
the moon this cold travels
                                        It is
the light of the moon that causes
this night reflecting distance in its own
light so coldly
                                          (from one side of
the earth to the other)
                                        It is the length of this coldness
It is the long distance
between two points which are
not in a line        now
                                       not a
straightness       (however
straight) but a curve only,
silver that is a rock reflecting
                                                      not metal
but a rock accepting
distance
                     (a scream in silence
where between the two
points what touches
is a curve around the world
                                                      (the dance unmoving).
new york, 1969


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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Taylors Falls Fire and Ice Season

Taking pictures at night, in the cold, with moving subjects, is a challenge. Here's enough to give you a taste of the Lighting Festival and Parade that took place down the road last night in Taylors Falls.

Coffee Talk's ice luminaria
Fire in ice at Coffee Talk
Photo by J. Harrington


The lights are lit
The lights are lit
Photo by J. Harrington


The Cub Scouts float
Cub Scouts' float
Photo by J. Harrington


A "new fashioned" Christmas tree
A "new fashioned" Christmas tree
Photo by J. Harrington


Santa, Mrs. Claus and and elf
Santa, Mrs. Claus and elf
Photo by J. Harrington

The atmosphere and architecture last night were almost enough to make me feel like I was back in New England. I had fun. You should try to make it next year.

As I write this, the rest of the family is putting up the tree we went and got this morning. I'm not avoiding work, just remembering the "too many cooks" advice. My selection of Christmas music was roundly criticized because it wasn't the "traditional" Amy Grant cd we played last year. I was told that I had started a tradition. I knew that, but thought the tradition I started was that I got to pick the music, not that Amy had to be played first. Live and learn.

Decorating the Tree
by Kevin Crossley-Holland
 

A new poem grown from the ideas, images and lines of London primary schoolchildren. Commissioned by the Poetry Society 2013 
I am your tree. I grew in the north,
Year by year in the seasoned earth.
Sift, white shift, snowflakes, stars:
I was storm-shelter for carolling birds.
Dear creatures, what gifts have you brought?
The fresh mint of light. The dancing moon.
The hooves of reindeer, prancing on air.
The boom of a waterfall.
Wreaths of mist, twisting, rising.
We bring you time, come and gone.
I am ancient and always young
And I speak with countless tongues.
Your Tree of Life, your Guardian Tree,
I'll watch over you by night and day.
Dear creatures, what gifts have you brought?
Oh, so many! A friend for always.
Laughter. Upside down frowns.
Skateboarding from roof to roof.
The best parts of our own best memories.
We bring you hopes. We bring our dreams.
But darker than bats' wings – we're afraid
Of the dark. This dread, this ache
Before we wake. So far from home.
That man with a gun. Being alone.
We bring our fears. We bring sorrows.
I'm your World Tree, scarred long ago,
Oozing, sharp as hoar-frost on a bough.
I creak and groan but I rise above gloom
And wherever you are, I'll be your home.
Dear creatures...
I am a gift. So are you,
and I'll feed you blossom and sweet fruit.
I laugh, I weep, I wait in patience,
I sing for the healing of all nations.
Dear creatures...
This is all a waking dream
and I'll remember it for ever,
Our trembling tree where we are one.
If I could, I'd give you my name.
I'll give you my heart. I'll give you love.

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Friday, November 28, 2014

'Tis the season...

The Christmas season has officially started since Santa landed in New York city at the end of yesterday's Macy's parade. (Don't forget to watch Miracle on 34th Street when it's on.) Did you have a wonderful Thanksgiving? I hope so. Although the daughter person and her newly-acquired husband are off braving Black Friday madness, much of today around here was spent watching an ungrateful bluejay, two woodpeckers and a gray squirrel that were unwilling to share quarrel about access to the suet and sunflower feeder. Meanwhile, the other birds kept sneaking sunflower snacks.

birds at feeder and suet
birds at feeder and suet
Photo by J. Harrington

The quarrelsome foursome disappeared from the feeders for awhile when one of the local barred owls perched in the oaks on the north side of the house. S/he stayed around long enough to let my camera, which I had foolishly left overnight in the car in an unheated garage, warm up. I got a few decent shots like the one below.

barred owl in oak
barred owl in oak
Photo by J. Harrington

Soon we'll be off to the Taylors Falls Christmas festival. Someone in the family (not me) wants to try their first taste of booya. I want to see if I can finally catch some of the season's joyful spirit to take the place of my grumping about premature cold and snow. With luck, I may even get a decent photo or two to share.

A Barred Owl

By Richard Wilbur 
The warping night air having brought the boom
Of an owl’s voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
“Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?”

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.


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Thursday, November 27, 2014

On Giving Thanks

Full of life
Photo by J. Harrington

Happy Thanksgiving!


Many of us have more for which we can be thankful than we realize, that includes these Haudenosaunee words to express out thanks.

Do you think you can Skip Black Friday, especially if it starts later today? Instead, you could spend your time today and tomorrow with family and friends. Then you can spend your money locally during Small Business Saturday at the fine establishments linked below. An even better strategy would be to plan to visit a wonderful coffee shop (almost) each has nearby.
Common Good Books

subText Books

Scout and Morgan Books

Valley Bookseller
(coffee shop under construction)

Magers and Quinn Booksellers

On this Thanksgiving, and every day, My Minnesota wishes you joy, an abundance of blessings, and the company of loved ones.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Settling down, settling in

A chronically gray sky sheds white flakes of snow. Squirrels steal from bird feeders. Red bellied wood peckers, with mostly red heads and bellies of white or dun, and flashing blue jays add splashes of color to bare-branched woods. Crows add motion to roadsides and tree tops.

red bellied woodpecker
red bellied woodpecker
Photo by J. Harrington

The neighborhood bear and chipmunks are sleeping off Autumn's overindulgences. Seemingly endless streams of mice hurl themselves into toothless but deadly trap jaws, set to reduce endless trails of turds left in kitchen drawers and on pantry shelves.

For the next several months, the house will fill with the tastes-good aroma of fresh-baked bread, home made stews and soup, and, on a good week, the delicious smell of cookies in the oven. Roof edges will fill with just bloomed icicles that grow and shrink as we freeze and thaw. The front hall hosts crowds of boots and gloves, mittens and scarves, warm, oversized coats topped with a mix of hats.

tendrils of deer trails
tendrils of deer trails
Photo by J. Harrington

Our back yard snow will display growing tendrils of deer and turkey tracks, mixed with splotchy trails of squirrel leaps and cottontail hops. Every so often  the white board will be wiped clean by several inches of fresh powder, until the oaks and the pear tree again draw hungry foragers looking for morsels not yet discovered.

Regardless of the calendar or the number of weeks until Solstice, Winter seems to have settled in for an extended visit. Enjoy the season's slowed tempo, tasty temptations and occasional weather tempests. Although it may not seem so at times, Spring will be here soon, but not until we've shared Thanksgiving, Solstice, Christmas and New Years, starting tomorrow.

Choices

By Tess Gallagher 

I go to the mountain side
of the house to cut saplings,
and clear a view to snow
on the mountain. But when I look up,
saw in hand, I see a nest clutched in
the uppermost branches.
I don’t cut that one.
I don’t cut the others either.
Suddenly, in every tree,   
an unseen nest
where a mountain   
would be.
                        


                              for Drago Štambuk


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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

To protect (what?) and to serve (whom?)

I've been struggling today to not go off on a super rant. I completely disagree with the outcome of the grand jury's deliberations on the Michael Brown killing. I'm also distressed about the killing, by a uniformed police officer, of a 12 year old in Cleveland, OH. As I was pondering how to write about these events, and what they have to do with the themes usually found here, I found myself flashing back to the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. I was in college, being chewed out in the dean's office for something or someone or other that I hadn't shown proper respect. The news that the president had been shot came over the dean's radio and my alleged misdeeds became much less significant.

Five years later, in 1968, we lost, to assassins with guns, Martin Luther King in April and Robert Kennedy in June. Those two killings preceded a late August Democratic National Convention, which was noted for, among other things, its association with a police riot, according to the Walker Report. That time, eight police officers were indicted by a federal grand jury.

storm clouds
storm clouds
Photo by J. Harrington

In 1968, these United States were suffering, I believe, from a lack of community and comity almost as bad as today's. We were a nation motivated, in my opinion, too much by fear and too little by other fundamental characteristics of humanity. Today I believe that we have exceeded our previous nadir and are continuing to sink further  into hostility at a time when we need, more than ever, to find ways to work together.

To lead this back to today's title and to Ferguson, MO, Aldo Leopold, in his profound Sand County Almanac, proposed that we need a land ethic.
"Leopold understood that ethics direct individuals to cooperate with each other for the mutual benefit of all. One of his philosophical achievements was the idea that this ‘community’ should be enlarged to include non-human elements such as soils, waters, plants, and animals, “or collectively: the land.”"

a new day
a new day
Photo by J. Harrington

How do you think we're going to be able to enlarge our sense of community to "the land"when we have seem to lack a sense of community with our fellow humans? Do you think we'll be able to respond successfully to issues that may require a land ethic, like climate change, if we can't, as a community, as a society, agree that police need better legal standards about when the use of deadly force is appropriate and reasonable and to provide those standards before we experience another tragedy? I fear that otherwise the police may become widely perceived as serving only to protect the property and wealth of the 1% from the rest of us. That is something I hope none of us would support. All of the models for a sustainable world I'm familiar with include as necessary elements: equity, economy and ecology. From what I see in the news these days, we have a long way to go on each of these fundamental considerations, but, perhaps, most of all on equity. A sustainable United States is something that should give all of us reason to be thankful, if we can attain it.

Justice, Come Down

By Minnie Bruce Pratt 
A huge sound waits, bound in the ice,
in the icicle roots, in the buds of snow
on fir branches, in the falling silence
of snow, glittering in the sun, brilliant
as a swarm of gnats, nothing but hovering
wings at midday. With the sun comes noise.
Tongues of ice break free, fall, shatter,
splinter, speak. If I could write the words.

Simple, like turning a page, to say Write

what happened, but this means a return
to the cold place where I am being punished.
Alone to the stony circle where I am frozen,
the empty space, children, mother, father gone,
lover gone away. There grief still sits
and waits, grim, numb, keeping company with
anger. I can smell my anger like sulfur-
struck matches. I wanted what had happened
to be a wall to burn, a window to smash.
At my fist the pieces would sparkle and fall.
All would be changed. I would not be alone.

Instead I have told my story over and over
at parties, on the edge of meetings, my life
clenched in my fist, my eyes brittle as glass.

Ashamed, people turned their faces away
from the woman ranting, asking: Justice,

stretch out your hand. Come down, glittering,

from where you have hidden yourself away. 


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Monday, November 24, 2014

Tsundoku or not tsundoku, that is the question

I just learned this morning that the Japanese have a word for an affliction I developed a few years back. The word is "Tsundoku." One of challenges finishing my letter to Santa is there are a number of books I want to read sometime soon but I have a number of unread books already piled up in various places around the house. Although I relish the physical feeling of a real book in my hands, and can't picture trying to read an ebook in bed (I'd probably drop it on my face and cut myself), I can see that having an ebook reader could really reduce clutter and free up some storage space around home. On the other hand, it could also easily turn into the equivalent of an alcoholic's hiding bottles where no one can see them. After all, nothing would show would but the tablet. The "books" would be out of site, out of mind. I'm brought up short on this approach though every time I remember how much I dislike using my Better Half's iPad. I much prefer the MacBook Air on which these blog postings are composed. I wonder if there's a word for an overloaded ebook reader.

a pre-Tsundoku book case
no Tsundoku yet
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday's speculation about today's ice-covered local roads was, unfortunately, correct. Slippery conditions were even enhanced by this morning's freezing drizzle. There have been reports that global warming / climate change could make Minnesota more like Missouri. The increase in days of freezing drizzle the past few years seems to support that. The overnight dusting of snow and today's precipitation aren't likely to make for good skating ice, I'm afraid.

a dusting of snow with bird tracks
a dusting of snow with bird tracks
Photo by J. Harrington

Thanksgiving will be a welcome change later this week. It will be the first time we get to celebrate with the newly weds who have been busy doing post-wedding reorganizing. Then, on Friday, we're planning on catching the Christmas lighting in Taylors Falls. With luck, the daughter person will find the time, energy and ingredients to bake some of my favorite cookies over the weekend. I may even have finished my letter to Santa by then.

Because You Asked about the Line Between Prose and Poetry


Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned to pieces of snow 
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.

There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.


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Sunday, November 23, 2014

November Winter

The bad news is, when the temperature drops, our gravel township and county roads are likely to turn into skating rinks. The good news is, the temperature drop could lead to decent skating ice instead of the slushy crap we often end up with. Walking the dog this morning almost put me flat on my back a couple of times. I don't expect improved traction when the compacted snow refreezes. At least we don't have to worry about lake effect snow where we live and a snow covered sand plain prairie does have its beauty.

snow covered sand plain prairi
snow covered sand plain prairie
Photo by J. Harrington

If the weather forecast is in the ball park for later this week, please don't expect me to give thanks for a high temperature in the low teens on Thanksgiving Day. That will mean that, within less than a week's elapsed time, we will have gone from enjoying typical March weather (yesterday and today) back to mid-Winter weather. This looks like it could be a roller coaster Winter since the extended forecast mentions a longer warming trend the first week of December. That would at least make me thankful we aren't enjoying another extended Polar Vortex. Even though this is Minnesota, known for our "Up Northiness," I'm bothered that global warming seems to literally be occurring almost everywhere on the earth except here. Well, today needs to be a short posting. I have a letter to Santa to finish before

November Becomes the Sky With Suppers for the Dead

By Gordon Henry Jr. 

I am standing outside
in Minnesota
ghost wind recalling
names in winter mist

The road smells
of dogs two days dead

White photographers talk in
the house of mainstream
media

I can’t articulate
the agony of Eagle Singer’s
children to them.

We celebrate the old
man while another
generation shoots
crushed and heated
prescriptions
sells baskets,
machinery,
the fixtures yet to be
installed in the house,
yet to be heated
by the tribal government,
for another night
stolen by the stupors
and the wondrous
pleasure of forget
everything medicines.

Back inside
Uncle Two Dogs rolls me
a smoke out of
organic American Spirit

I look to a last cup
of coffee.

The way home
fills with snow
our tracks
human and machine.


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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Protecting Minnesota's Brand

While thinking about "Minnesota's Brand" and yesterday's post here, I remembered some other news this past week. The citizens of North Branch, Taylors Falls and elsewhere in Chisago County have been pushing for alternatives to a proposed increase in frac sand processing in North Branch. Since the existing operation has been fined thousands of dollars by MPCA for air quality violations, the citizens' concerns are understandable.
Tiller Corporation penalized for air-quality violations

Contact: Ralph Pribble, 651-757-2657

St. Paul, Minn.— The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has penalized the Tiller Corporation, which operates a processing and shipment center for silica sand in North Branch, Minn. for multiple violations of the facility’s air quality permit.

The company built the facility in 2012-13 and began operating following issuance of an air quality permit from the MPCA in January 2013. Silica sand is brought to the facility from mines Tiller operates in Wisconsin, and processed for use in hydraulic fracturing and other industries. The product is shipped by rail and truck from the facility....

To resolve the violations, Tiller agreed to pay a civil penalty of $85,000 to the state. In addition, the company agreed to modify certain emissions control equipment and complete modifications to mitigate noise within 90 days. When those measures are complete, the company will conduct noise monitoring and submit results to the MPCA.
The current newsletter from the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club (re)notes the perils associated with the proposed PolyMet mine including the continuing water quality violations associated with the site.
The tailings basin is currently leaking 2.9 million gallons per day of contaminated water into the St. Louis River watershed. The current leakage is already in violation of water quality discharge permits.

St. Louis River at Duluth Harbor
St. Louis River at Duluth Harbor
Photo by J. Harrington

Just last September, MinnPost noted that the St. Louis River remains a source of major concern about mercury contamination and its effect on our children.

On the bright side, Minnesota's current unemployment rate is well below the national average. That would seem to say that, at least in Minnesota, jobs and the environment aren't mutually exclusive. Full employment can be achieved despite stringent environmental protections. In fact, some might argue that it can be attained because of such regulations. We don't have to gut our environmental regulations to attain economic success. As the recently elected Republican majority in Minnesota's House contemplates their agenda for the next two years, I hope they keep in mind how much better Minnesota is doing than many of those states to the south of us who think that "cancer alleys" are the key to economic development. We know better.

"green roof" plantings at UMN
"green roof" plantings at UMN
Photo by J. Harrington

We weren't kidding yesterday when we suggested Minnesota is the state where you can have it all, but only if we're smart enough to protect what we already have. We should be known (branded) as the state that helps employers attain stringent environmental standards, not one that trades today's employment for tomorrow's tax payer funded cleanup.

Smoke

By Philip Levine 

Can you imagine the air filled with smoke?
It was. The city was vanishing before noon
or was it earlier than that? I can't say because
the light came from nowhere and went nowhere.

This was years ago, before you were born, before
your parents met in a bus station downtown.
She'd come on Friday after work all the way
from Toledo, and he'd dressed in his only suit.

Back then we called this a date, some times
a blind date, though they'd written back and forth
for weeks. What actually took place is now lost.
It's become part of the mythology of a family,

the stories told by children around the dinner table.
No, they aren't dead, they're just treated that way,
as objects turned one way and then another
to catch the light, the light overflowing with smoke.

Go back to the beginning, you insist. Why
is the air filled with smoke? Simple. We had work.
Work was something that thrived on fire, that without
fire couldn't catch its breath or hang on for life.

We came out into the morning air, Bernie, Stash,
Williams, and I, it was late March, a new war
was starting up in Asia or closer to home,
one that meant to kill us, but for a moment

the air held still in the gray poplars and elms
undoing their branches. I understood the moon
for the very first time, why it came and went, why
it wasn't there that day to greet the four of us.

Before the bus came a small black bird settled
on the curb, fearless or hurt, and turned its beak up
as though questioning the day. "A baby crow,"
someone said. Your father knelt down on the wet cement,

his lunchbox balanced on one knee and stared quietly
for a long time. "A grackle far from home," he said.
One of the four of us mentioned tenderness,
a word I wasn't used to, so it wasn't me.

The bus must have arrived. I'm not there today.
The windows were soiled. We swayed this way and that
over the railroad tracks, across Woodward Avenue,
heading west, just like the sun, hidden in smoke. 

Source: Poetry (June 1998).           


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Friday, November 21, 2014

Rebranding Minnesota?

Have you seen the coverage of the "rebranding of Minnesota?" There's this blog posting and a Star Tribune article, each of which was triggered by this event at the Walker Museum. I would respectfully suggest that the question of Minnesota's identity is not one that can be readily answered by any brand. Minnesota is large (84,397 square miles), the 12th largest state in area. By comparison, all six New England states total 66,507 square miles and half of that is in Maine.

Bob Dylan Way sign
Minnesota brand?
Photo by J. Harrington

Minnesota is home to four different biomes and, as of 2000, about 71% of its population was urban. We have Lake Superior, the North Woods, mining and agriculture and forestry and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area and Fortune 500 company headquarters and lord knows how many professional sports teams and venues and ...  So, although I wasn't able to attend the Walker's event, I am curious about what it is folks think we should be branding and to whom? Personally, I though we were on the right track when Time magazine branded us as the state that works and home to the good life. I suppose, now that we're in the twenty-first century, that might not be considered good enough, or is it that we fear we can no long deliver on either promise? If we're just looking for an update, we could try "the sustainable state," conveying the idea we intend to be here for a long, long time and support balanced economy, equity and ecology. You know, an aspirational brand. Or, if we really want a tag line, how about "Minnesota, where you can have it all?"

Mississippi River in the Twin Cities
Minnesota brand?
Photo by J. Harrington

Chanson Philosophique

By Timothy Steele 

The nominalist in me invents
A life devoid of precedents.
The realist takes a different view:
He claims that all I feel and do
Billions of others felt and did
In history’s Pre-me period.

Arguing thus, both voices speak
A partial truth. I am unique,
Yet the unceasing self-distress
Of desire buffets me no less
Than it has other sons of man
Who’ve come and gone since time began.

The meaning, then, of this dispute?
My life’s a nominal/real pursuit,
Which leaves identity clear and blurred,
In which what happens has occurred
Often and never—which is to say,
Never to me, or quite this way.


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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book 'em, Danno

Yesterday was the National Book Awards (NBA) ceremony. When, on a day like today, the midday temperature in sunny Minnesota is in the mid-teens, it's nice to sit inside and think about books and reading. Knowing Minnesota's reputation as a publishing and reading hub, I did a quick scan of the NBA winners and contenders to see how well represented we were (are). I didn't notice notable Minnesotans among the authors or publishers in the Fiction, Nonfiction, or Young People's Literature Categories. In Poetry, however, our very own Graywolf Press published two of the five finalists: Second Childhood by Fanny Howe (who lives in New England); and Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.

stream near Port Wing WI
Is it time yet to "think Spring?"
Photo by J. Harrington

I mention New England because that's where I'm from and, just yesterday, I ordered a recently published anthology of contemporary Vermont fiction because I want to see how the included authors write about Vermont as "place." I bought that book knowing that these days I haven't come close to getting caught up on or making a meaningful reduction in the stacks of unread books around the house. Compounding this struggle is the fact that, by the end of this weekend, I'm supposed to have finished my letter to Santa, which often includes a request for books I want to read before the eight or nine "holds" on them at my local library have finished. Although I have a theory that the penury-burdened gods of New England won't let me pass on as long as my stack of unread books is tall enough, I'm not convinced they'll protect me from being crushed to death if the stack becomes tall enough to topple on me. Maybe it's time for a trip to a fly-fishing emporium to see what temptations can be found there that could be mentioned in an epistle to a certain red-suited, white-haired, jolly old elf. If nothing else, they might have some books on fish and fishing that will help get me through the Winter and psyched for Spring.

Of Modern Books

By Carolyn Wells 

  (A Pantoum) 

Of making many books there is no end,
   Though myriads have to deep oblivion gone;
Each day new manuscripts are being penned,
   And still the ceaseless tide of ink flows on.

Though myriads have to deep oblivion gone,
   New volumes daily issue from the press;
And still the ceaseless tide of ink flows on—
   The prospect is disheartening, I confess.

New volumes daily issue from the press;
   My pile of unread books I view aghast.
The prospect is disheartening, I confess;
   Why will these modern authors write so fast?

My pile of unread books I view aghast—
   Of course I must keep fairly up to date—
Why will these modern authors write so fast?
   They seem to get ahead of me of late.

Of course I must keep fairly up to date;
   The books of special merit I must read;
They seem to get ahead of me of late,
   Although I skim them very fast indeed.

The books of special merit I must read;
   And then the magazines come round again;
Although I skim them very fast indeed,
   I can’t get through with more than eight or ten.

And then the magazines come round again!
   How can we stem this tide of printer’s ink?
I can’t get through with more than eight or ten—
   It is appalling when I stop to think.

How can we stem this tide of printer’s ink?
   Of making many books there is no end.
It is appalling when I stop to think
   Each day new manuscripts are being penned!


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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Leading up to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one week from tomorrow. For one thing, I'm thankful I don't live near Buffalo NY. I'm thankful the furnace is working (knock on wood). There are too many things I've come to take for granted. I didn't have to go out and snow blow today. My new son-in-law took care of that. Most nights when we all get to sit down together for supper and it's my turn to say what made me happy that day, I've had answers that I was pleased to share. I'm thankful for my family and that I occasionally have the sense to slow down a little bit and realize that we should no more celebrate Thanksgiving one day a year than we should each honor our Higher Power only one day a week. The Haudenosaunee have a "Thanksgiving" Prayer that I've found worth remembering and reading more than once a year or even once a week. After noting some of the comments and statements yesterday, from august members of the world's greatest deliberative body(?), on the pros and cons of approving the Keystone pipeline, it occurs to me that, as a culture, if I may use that term loosely, we haven't studied the Iroquois principles of democracy as much as we should have. I'm thankful we still have an opportunity to learn those lessons and take them to heart just as we have, for a while, at least, an opportunity to treat the earth with something closer to the level of respect Native Americans have practiced and learn from them how to live more sustainably on and with Turtle Island. I'm also thankful that I have such a flock of interesting neighbors.

post-Thanksgiving turkeys
Photo by J. Harrington

I hope that, with a little (very little) effort on your part, over the next week you can discover how much you have to be thankful for, each and every day.

Passing Rez School the Day before Thanksgiving Day, Unoriginal Sin and a Redskin Pilgrim’s Retrogression

By Ralph Salisbury
Footpath passing a school,

undiscovered by a nun
black at her blackboard’s explanation
of Vanishing Americans’ vanishing, I find myself

flagged, by two not quite red rows,
unfurled into grin, two white, and by one
five-pointed, pale star.

My lips let my teeth pledge allegiance,
again, my fingers orbiting their own warmth,
around this pen,
as straight as Old Glory’s tall pole, but
admittedly, ingloriously smaller, and,

as the star descends, it draws,
from Christian calendars’ precision constellations,
a child—hand cramped
from fisting fact onto dusty black
clutching a wand,
to draw him Everywhere.

Though the teacher scowls
us back to my dead, risen from
The Trail of Tears

as chalk,
this day before Thanksgiving Day; a child
will lead, as I finish taking my walk.


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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The place where Winter lives

These days as I walk the dogs, some of the lyrics from Joni Mitchell's Urge for Going create an earworm.
Now the warriors of winter
They gave a cold triumphant shout
At least we're not suffering from a Polar Vortex. Then it would be really, really cold, instead of just really cold. The dogs have started hobbling and limping from freezing paws, and I'm doing my best to avoid falling on my ass in case my paws slip on the icy strips in the road. And other places east of us have it worse.

North America freezes

I can only believe that this pattern is attributable to bad karma, no doubt brought on by climate deniers and Keystone XL supporters. I can almost hear the weather gods saying "They don't believe humans are warming the atmosphere? OK, fine!

This blog and some other projects I'm working on are motivated by my interest in the relationship between writing (poetry and literature and ...) and place. One of my favorite bloggers, from one of my favorite places, has edited an anthology of Vermont fiction. I'm planning on getting a copy. You might want one too. And, so that Minnesota doesn't feel unloved here on My Minnesota, note that Milkweed Editions has a similar volume by Minnesota writers. It's not clear if all those stories are set in Minnesota. I can see my stack of unread books is likely to grow. There are worse vices.

The Poem that Took the Place of a Mountain

By Wallace Stevens 

There it was, word for word,
The poem that took the place of a mountain.

He breathed its oxygen,
Even when the book lay turned in the dust of his table.

It reminded him how he had needed
A place to go to in his own direction,

How he had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked his way among clouds,

For the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion:

The exact rock where his inexactnesses
Would discover, at last, the view toward which they had edged,

Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,
Recognize his unique and solitary home.


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Monday, November 17, 2014

Is Another Minnesota Miracle possible?

You may have seen the news that the US and China have reached agreement on reduction of greenhouse gases, climate change and clean energy. Promptly thereafter, Republicans, who had argued that the US couldn't do anything without China's participation, found fault with the agreement. This has become of increasing interest to me since the outbreak of Arctic air we're experiencing here in Minnesota, while neither a Polar Vortex nor directly attributable to Anthropogenic Climate Disruption, follows last Winter's Polar Vortex in making life less pleasant and comfortable than typical. But, and here's the real point, based on some research being done right here in Minnesota, and elsewhere, I've started to wonder how much we could accomplish for both jobs and the environment if we stopped treating them as an either / or situation and had politicians that wanted to actually solve problems.

Minnesota North Shore River
Photo by J. Harrington

I just learned this morning that the University of Minnesota, Duluth, is doing some promising research on bacteria that might be able to consume sulfates from our northern rivers. This could, if true, help both wild rice production and mining jobs. That made me wonder if something similar could work with mercury. I'd much rather have mercury removed from the food chain than fiddle with whether the fish consumption advisories are conservative enough. The answer appears to be: possibly. There are mercury-eating bacteria. Now, all of this caused me to further wonder, in an uncharacteristically optimistic vein, what would happen if politicians acted to solve problems other than getting (re)elected? How about genetically-modified politicians who try to actually accomplish something? I could probably support that kind of GMO. After all, bacteria solving some of our notable environmental problems seems consistent with the concept that humans are simply one way bacteria reproduce themselves, sort of like the chicken and the egg. Something to think about and look forward to being thankful for some day, wouldn't you say? Maybe the upcoming Republican majority in the Minnesota House could take a lead on being sure the studies being done are adequately funded, and the Senate could think it's a great idea to support. Another Minnesota Miracle?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Happiness baked in

Yesterday at supper, the recently married daughter person insisted we each had to share something that made us happy during the day. I though it was a great idea (although I didn't let her know that) and very convenient that she started this happiness sharing about the same time I noted on My Minnesota my own efforts to be more appreciative of what I have rather than focusing on how to get what I want and don't already have. Then, this morning, I came across this notice that the Pope is sharing A List of 10 Tips for Becoming a Happier Person. It must be something in the air or the time of year.

Anyhow, here's some of what made me happy today:
  • I scooped flour from a flour cannister made by Guillermo Cuellar, who was featured on Minnesota Original some time ago. 
  • As this is being written, I'm baking artisan bread with that flour in a cloche from Guillermo. (I keep trying to develop a more artisanal life style.)

  • bread on the left, cloche on the right, cook book in front
    bread on the left, cloche on the right, cook book in front
    Photo by J. Harrington

  • At the bird feeder we've had a hairy woodpecker and ared bellied woodpecker, you know the red bellied with the almost entirely red head, plus purple finches and the usual chickadees and nuthatches and goldfinches
  • I'm warm and dry; this morning's coffee was great, as usual; and, to go with the bread, we're having home made french onion soup for dinner.
  • Oh, yeah, and, despite the inconvenience the snow and cold brings on, it also brings this kind of beauty to the neighborhood


a dusting of beauty, November snow
a dusting of beauty
Photo by J. Harrington

Bread

By Richard Levine 

Each night, in a space he’d make
between waking and purpose,
my grandfather donned his one
suit, in our still dark house, and drove
through Brooklyn’s deserted streets
following trolley tracks to the bakery.

There he’d change into white
linen work clothes and cap,
and in the absence of women,
his hands were both loving, well
into dawn and throughout the day—
kneading, rolling out, shaping

each astonishing moment
of yeasty predictability
in that windowless world lit
by slightly swaying naked bulbs,
where the shadows staggered, woozy
with the aromatic warmth of the work.

Then, the suit and drive, again.
At our table, graced by a loaf
that steamed when we sliced it,
softened the butter and leavened
the very air we’d breathe,
he’d count us blessed.


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Saturday, November 15, 2014

We can't have jobs and the environment if we give away the environment

Sometimes it's obvious to me why I'm not a politician. Today is one of those times. After winning a squeeker of an election, my Democratic congressman broke with his party to vote with House Republicans to send a bill to the Senate approving the KXL pipeline. There are two aspects of his vote that I'm not sophisticated enough to understand. First, the congressman from the Eighth District had previously wanted to require that the pipeline be built with American steel. I can understand that political trade off, since his district includes Minnesota's Iron Range. I don't support that trade off, but I do understand it. The good Congressman didn't get his amendment and voted for the bill anyhow. He claims that his constituents want to see more political compromise. I'm one of his constituents and think he fails to understand the difference between compromise and capitulation. Furthermore, the bill the House approved has a Republican's name attached to it. The Republican congressman from Louisiana who's running against Democratic Senator Landrieu. So, as I see it, at best any Senate vote for the pipeline becomes a tie affecting who wins the senatorial runoff in Louisiana. Plus, the Democrats have already lost control of the Senate for at least the next two years so are they trying for a larger minority? Clearly, I need a remedial course in political calculus. Unless this is all a strategy to make the President look strong when he vetoes the legislation, if he vetoes it.

Minnesota's North Shore beauty
We can have this and jobs only if we're smart
Photo by J. Harrington

All of the preceding [UPDATE: a similar perspective] mad(e) me wish I hadn't written yesterday about keeping to a minimum tantrums posted here. As an alternative, I'm going to try reverting to one of the principles my friends and I followed as teenagers growing up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston: "Don't get mad, get even." That went nicely with "Fool me once, shame one you. Fool me twice, shame on me." I've read several recent analyses that postulated that Democrats harmed themselves by "running away" from Obama and not offering a clear vision of what they stand for. We've written here, more than once we think that we want a more of a choice than that between a moderate Republican, labeled "Democrat" for public consumption purposes, and a Tea Party Republican labeled Republican. I don't intend to not vote in the future, but I certainly won't be at all concerned about "wasting" my vote on a candidate from the Independence or Green Parties. The Democrats have fooled me once to often by pretending to support the labor and environmental standards I favor. I started out as a proud Democrat, then I became a reluctant Democrat. Now I'm a disaffected one. I suspect I'm not alone. There was an interesting Tweet on Twitter this morning. There are no jobs on a dead planet. I'd like to see the Democrats adopt that as a slogan for the 2016 elections.

What Kind of Times Are These

By Adrienne Rich 
There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled
this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it's necessary
to talk about trees.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

The Past is Prologue...

The first post on My Minnesota arrived on November 5, 2012. Today we're uploading post number 730. That's two years worth of "daily" posts over 739 days, or an average of .99 posts per day. (We missed a few days last year while in the hospital for some surgery.) I suppose that means for the next year we could be going through the "terrible twos." (Some of you may claim we've been at that since day one.) We may experiment with some directional changes but will try to keep any tantrums to a minimum.

If you've been watching you might have noticed that the general format we've followed includes commentary and / or seasonal observations plus photographs and, most days, a poem that's relevant to the day's topic. So much for poetry not having any relevance for daily life.

hairy(?) woodpecker female
hairy(?) woodpecker female
Photo by J. Harrington

With the premature arrival of Winter this year, the bears are tucked away and woodpeckers are back at the feeder. That means once again I have to brush up on the differences between downy and hairy woodpeckers. No problem distinguishing either of them from the occasional pileated.

pileated woodpecker
J. Harrington Photo

Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up, as you know. That means it's time to take stock of what we have done and how much we appreciate life as it is. While poking about on Twitter this morning, I came across a piece that gets into how being one of the 1% isn't all good, for anybody. Not that I'm worried about becoming a 1%'er, but I have noticed some tendencies along the lines of "the more I have the more I want." Our advertising and marketing folks have been really successful with me. This season of sharing and gratitude is a good time for me to once again focus on my half-full cup instead of spending much time "supposing."

Suppose

By Phoebe Cary 
Suppose, my little lady,
      Your doll should break her head,
Could you make it whole by crying
      Till your eyes and nose are red?
And would n’t it be pleasanter
      To treat it as a joke;
And say you ’re glad “’T was Dolly’s
      And not your head that broke?”

Suppose you ’re dressed for walking,
      And the rain comes pouring down,
Will it clear off any sooner
      Because you scold and frown?
And would n’t it be nicer
      For you to smile than pout,
And so make sunshine in the house
      When there is none without?

Suppose your task, my little man,
      Is very hard to get,
Will it make it any easier
      For you to sit and fret?
And would n’t it be wiser
      Than waiting like a dunce,
To go to work in earnest
      And learn the thing at once?

Suppose that some boys have a horse,
      And some a coach and pair,
Will it tire you less while walking
      To say, “It is n’t fair?”
And would n’t it be nobler
      To keep your temper sweet,
And in your heart be thankful
      You can walk upon your feet?

And suppose the world don’t please you,
      Nor the way some people do,
Do you think the whole creation
      Will be altered just for you?
And is n’t it, my boy or girl,
      The wisest, bravest plan,
Whatever comes, or does n’t come,
      To do the best you can?


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