Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's Eve Wishes

May what goes poorly in the year ahead be half as bad and what goes well be twice as good, and may you be wise enough to notice!


Franconia Winter, St. Croix River
Franconia Winter, St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington


To the New Year

By W. S. Merwin 

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible


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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Winding down the year

Neither the dog nor the dog walker took any pleasure in this morning's walk. The temperature was about -10. As the pair walked on the compacted snow, it squeaked. By mid-day, the sun brightened the sky but didn't raise the comfort level for man or beast nearly as much. The siders are probably someplace drinking coffee. It's too cold for them to be working.

The beginning of the end for a Christmas village
Photo by J. Harrington

Demolition has started on the gingerbread village. An evil troll(?) has consumed the first house and several of the trees appear to have been used as toothpicks. (burp) There were no survivors because there were no inhabitants. For public health and safety reasons, the abandoned village, whose residents apparently returned to the North Pole promptly after Christmas, has been cordoned off. Visitors other than the demolition crew are prohibited. Demolition will proceed as expediently as the debris can be digested. Fortunately, this deconstruction work takes place in heated quarters so it's not affected by weather conditions. If, instead of a Christmas village, there was a logging camp, do you suppose it would last until ice out and the river drive?

It might be a little early to wish you a happy, healthy and successful New Year, but then again on New Year's Eve you might be busy doing something other than reading My Minnesota's Best Wishes to its readers.

Burning the Old Year

By Naomi Shihab Nye 

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.   
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,   
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,   
lists of vegetables, partial poems.   
Orange swirling flame of days,   
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,   
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.   
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,   
only the things I didn’t do   
crackle after the blazing dies. 


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Monday, December 29, 2014

Time's up

Are you looking forward to next year? I am. 2014 has been a pretty good year for us so far, but some things that I started this year I hope will really come together in 2015. Some opportunities I missed this year will reappear next. (Who knew the Hinckley Fire Museum closed during the Winter?) I'll admit to not having made the most of each and every moment this past year, but I'm improving. One of the discoveries I've made is that achieving a balance between repeatedly doing things I know I'll enjoy and starting new things I haven't yet tried is a pretty constant challenge. With the cold returned this morning and the cloud cover mostly gone, I did notice that today's sunrise looked a lot like the one from about this time last year.

late December, Winter sunrise
Photo by J. Harrington

Recently, I checked Alan Lightman's book, The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew, out of the library and started reading it. In his essay on The Temporary Universe, he mentions a duration of "ten billion billion years," which may or may not be little more than theoretically interesting, since our sun has but some 5 billion years to go before it flames out. I'm reading the book and thinking about time as part of an effort to try to understand what we can realistically mean by "sustainable." Loosely, it means we can continue doing something forever, which is more than "ten billion billion years." Clearly, that has essentially no meaning in human terms. Conversely, I believe we're also doing ourselves and our descendants irreparable harm with our fixation on short term profits, measured each three months. The wisdom of the Native American--Onondaga Nation focus on having "always in view not only the present but also the coming generations" -- which has been phrased as "...to make every decision that we make relate to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come. . . ." is starting to become apparent. It gives us a time frame of about 140 to 175 years, sustainable for less than forever, but within a framework we humans can try to comprehend. If each succeeding generation uses the same time frame for its decisions, we humans might be around long enough to watch our sun grow cold. If not, ..? Something to think about next year, right? Or while we read Ms. Dickenson's lines.

Forever – is composed of Nows – (690)

By Emily Dickinson 

Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –

From this – experienced Here –
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years – exhale in Years –

Without Debate – or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be
From Anno Dominies –


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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Seasonal pleasures and treasures

The occasional break in the clouds showing sunlight and blue sky makes me wonder if we're about to trade The Nativity for The "Rapture". I don't know about where you live, but around here this Winter has been awfully dreary. Now it's about to get really cold again. The siding crew has been working this weekend. I suspect they want to get as much as possible done before they face the prospect of losing working days to below zero temperatures.

Christmas cookies, a fading memory
Christmas cookies, a fading memory
Photo by J. Harrington

Most of the Christmas cookies are gone, although Santa brought enough candy to keep my blood sugar spiking until Easter. As part of my effort to hold off on major rants until the New Year, I'm going to list the books I got for Christmas instead of fussing about our Agriculture Department, the mining industry and our legislature. I promise that, starting January 2, this mellow old elf will take a break and the rants and raves will return in force. Meanwhile, I really appreciate having received for Christmas, in addition to the Valley of the St. Croix Poems, these books:
  • The Unauthorized Audubon by Laura B. DeLind and Anita Skeen
  • All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon and Katherine Tillotson
  • Fall Pictures on an Abandoned Road, Poems by Richard Fenton Soderstrom
  • 20x20 Art & Words, 2008, Jackpine Writers' Bloc
  • 20x20 Art & Words, 2011, Jackpine Writers' Bloc
  • Intriguing Owls, by Stan Tekiela
  • Trees Up Close, The beauty of bark, leaves, flowers, and seeds, Nancy Ross Hugo, photographs by Robert Llewellyn
  • Essays After Eighty, Donald Hall
  • The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, Rebecca Solnit
Each of these works has a special meaning for me, particularly Donald Hall's, which gives me a goal to aspire to (writing essays after 80), Solnit's, because she almost always gives me hope for the present as well as the future, and the Jackpine Writers' Bloc because of my love for Minnesota writers and writing (and because they published one of my poems this year). Plus, as I may have mentioned previously, I have a theory that, as long as my stack of unread books is high enough, I get to stay alive to read them.

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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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Poetry from the past at Christmas

It's been some time, and then some more, since I've been really surprised by a Christmas present. I mean before this year. The Daughter Person, aided and abetted, no doubt, by her New Husband, gave me a chapbook of poetry. She managed to find it at a local Historical Society and sneak it past my nose the evening we all went to the Taylors Falls Christmas lighting festival. No doubt I was busy taking photos of things like a one man crosscut saw while she was being devious and surreptitious and creative.

Taylors Falls Historical Society exhibit
Taylors Falls Historical Society exhibit
Photo by J. Harrington

Someone named Teresa Kelly O'Reilly, whose family came from Boston, wrote Valley of St. Croix and Other Poems. It's copyright 1937 and was published as a saddle-stiched chapbook in St. Paul. Illustrations are by Rose M. Lyon and remind me of the work of someone I've long admired, Francis Lee Jacques. Contained within the book is a reference to a rock outcrop known as Old Man of the Dalles. I hadn't heard mention of it/him previously, despite living in this area for a number of years and recently starting research on a book that will be, in part, about the St. Croix Valley. More than almost anything else, the fact that the Daughter person was knowing and caring enough to realize how much I'd enjoy the book, and sneaky enough to keep me from noticing her picking it up when we were at the Historical Society, so she could surprise me on Christmas morning, made this Christmas a very special one. It helped me get in touch with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, always, as Scrooge learned, something to be treasured.

Oh Lovely Rock

By Robinson Jeffers 
We stayed the night in the pathless gorge of Ventana Creek, up the east fork.
The rock walls and the mountain ridges hung forest on forest above our heads, maple and redwood,
Laurel, oak, madrone, up to the high and slender Santa Lucian firs that stare up the cataracts
Of slide-rock to the star-color precipices.

                                                                  We lay on gravel and kept a little camp-fire for warmth.
Past midnight only two or three coals glowed red in the cooling darkness; I laid a clutch of dead bay-leaves
On the ember ends and felted dry sticks across them and lay down again. The revived flame
Lighted my sleeping son’s face and his companion’s, and the vertical face of the great gorge-wall
Across the stream. Light leaves overhead danced in the fire’s breath, tree-trunks were seen: it was the rock wall
That fascinated my eyes and mind. Nothing strange: light-gray diorite with two or three slanting seams in it,
Smooth-polished by the endless attrition of slides and floods; no fern nor lichen, pure naked rock...as if I were
Seeing rock for the first time. As if I were seeing through the flame-lit surface into the real and bodily
And living rock. Nothing strange...I cannot
Tell you how strange: the silent passion, the deep nobility and childlike loveliness: this fate going on
Outside our fates. It is here in the mountain like a grave smiling child. I shall die, and my boys
Will live and die, our world will go on through its rapid agonies of change and discovery; this age will die,
And wolves have howled in the snow around a new Bethlehem: this rock will be here, grave, earnest, not passive: the energies
That are its atoms will still be bearing the whole mountain above: and I, many packed centuries ago,
Felt its intense reality with love and wonder, this lonely rock.


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Friday, December 26, 2014

'Twas the day after Christmas

Regardless of who actually wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas," I'm going to steal borrow a line and get ready to settle down for "a long winter's nap." The wedding in October, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, all overlain with a remodeling project has given us a fairly hectic six months or so. Yesterday's flurries added a seasonal coating that gave our Christmas the ambiance we needed. After the presents were opened, and the Son Person's birthday celebrated, and the dogs walked, I took a few moments to capture the effects of Winter's gentle return. It's one of the times when "a dusting of snow" seems the perfect description. Enjoy your holidays and the beauty of the season.

a dusting of snow on conifers
a dusting of snow on conifers
Photo by J. Harrington


the snow coated the tops and southern sides
the snow coated the tops and southern sides
Photo by J. Harrington

Snowfall

By Ravi Shankar 

Particulate as ash, new year's first snow falls
upon peaked roofs, car hoods, undulant hills,
in imitation of motion that moves the way

static cascades down screens when the cable
zaps out, persistent & granular with a flicker
of legibility that dissipates before it can be

interpolated into any succession of imagery.
One hour stretches sixty minutes into a field
of white flurry: hexagonal lattices of water

molecules that accumulate in drifts too soon
strewn with sand, hewn into browning
mounds by plow blade, left to turn to slush.



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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus: Holiday!

Season's greetings and wishes for a happy, healthy new year. Plus a fond hope that your December 26 list is much shorter than Nesbitt's.

video

The video shows what a Minnesota Christmas is supposed to look like.

December 26

By Kenn Nesbitt 

A BB gun.
A model plane.
A basketball.
A ’lectric train.
A bicycle.
A cowboy hat.
A comic book.
A baseball bat.
A deck of cards.
A science kit.
A racing car.
A catcher’s mitt.
So that’s my list
of everything
that Santa Claus
forgot to bring.


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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Minnesota, weather for the birds

It's Christmas Eve. The gray sky looks more like late October or early November. The temperature is in the mid-30s. Yesterday SiSi and I went for a walk out back and came back soaking wet more than cold. Outside, it doesn't look or feel like a typical Minnesota Christmas. If this is an indication of what global warming can do to our fourth season, we might as well move to San Diego and await "the big one."

unseasonably green and bare fields
unseasonably green and bare fields
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm uncertain whether it's been the unseasonably warm weather or something else, but so far we haven't seen purple finches or cardinals at the feeder. Woodpeckers have been feasting on the suet, and chickadees on the sunflower seeds. Maybe it's been all the commotion raised by the construction crews that's kept away the more timid avifauna. They're certainly not perched in a Christmas tree, as was Billy Collins'--

Christmas Sparrow


The first thing I heard this morning
was a rapid flapping sound, soft, insistent—

wings against glass as it turned out
downstairs when I saw the small bird
rioting in the frame of a high window,
trying to hurl itself through
the enigma of glass into the spacious light.

Then a noise in the throat of the cat
who was hunkered on the rug
told me how the bird had gotten inside,
carried in the cold night
through the flap of a basement door,
and later released from the soft grip of teeth.

On a chair, I trapped its pulsations
in a shirt and got it to the door,
so weightless it seemed
to have vanished into the nest of cloth.

But outside, when I uncupped my hands,
it burst into its element,
dipping over the dormant garden
in a spasm of wingbeats
then disappeared over a row of tall hemlocks.

For the rest of the day,
I could feel its wild thrumming
against my palms as I wondered about
the hours it must have spent
pent in the shadows of that room,
hidden in the spiky branches
of our decorated tree, breathing there
among the metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn,
its eyes open, like mine as I lie in bed tonight
picturing this rare, lucky sparrow
tucked into a holly bush now,
a light snow tumbling through the windless dark.  


Wishing you and yours a warm and peaceful Christmas and holiday season full of wonder and love.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Making sense of Christmas

I will miss Joe Cocker, although I was never a huge fan. He sang what I believe are definitive versions of two songs that serve to remind us, or me at least, of the point -- counterpoint found in the warmth of the season and the loneliness of those who feel they're on the outside looking in and, sometimes, of those who only seem to be on the inside. Cocker's performance of With A Little Help From My Friends at Woodstock always seemed to me to be more what the song was really about than the Beatles' ever quite managed. Several Christmases in my more distant past have been celebrated less with family and more with a little help from my friends. Then, when Cocker sang A Bird on the Wire he captured, at least for me, the challenge many of us face, particularly at Christmas: that of fitting in and getting along. That challenge can be difficult during the most relaxed times of year but is often made more challenging during this "friendly, festive" (stressful) season. (Think about the movies Home Alone or It's a Wonderful Life.") Thanks, Joe, for providing a voice for those who realize that the happiest of times can be but a brief, sour, note away from the blues and that feeling the blues can be the way to feel better.

an angel overseeing Christmas
an angel overseeing Christmas
Photo by J. Harrington

As one musical legend leads to another, this morning I made a fascinating discovery. I never knew that Johnny Cash had recorded not one, but several Christmas albums. So has Willie Nelson. I now have something else to check out over the next year to see if we (I?) need one or more of these previously undiscovered treasures. Christmas, Yule, Solstice are feasts for all of the senses of those of us lucky enough to be able to enjoy them. There's the sound of Christmas music, and sleigh bells on the roof, and the crinkling of presents being unwrapped to the peals of children's laughter. There's the smell of Christmas cookies and trees and, sometimes, fresh snow and wood smoke. There's the sight of Christmas lights and holly decorations and candles. There's the taste of egg nog and Christmas candies and a goose or ham or roast beast for Christmas dinner. Last, and certainly far from least, there's the feeling of warmth coming in from the cold, of warmth being surrounded by caring family and friends, including the exuberant warmth of four-legged friends. If you're enjoying this at Christmas, after you realize how lucky we are, take a moment to reflect on those birds who haven't been as privileged as we have and think about what we can do next year to make Christmas better for all of us birds.

Good King Wenceslas

By John Mason Neale 

Good King Wenceslas look’d out,
    On the Feast of Stephen;
When the snow lay round about,
    Deep, and crisp, and even:
Brightly shone the moon that night,
    Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
    Gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither page and stand by me,
    If thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he?
    Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence.
    Underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence,
    By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh,and bring me wine,
    Bring me pine-logs hither:
Thouand I will see him dine,
    When we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went,
    Forth they went together;
Through the rudewind’s wild lament,
    And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now,
    And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know now how,
    I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page;
    Tread thou in them boldly;
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
    Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod,
    Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
    Which the Saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
    Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
    Shall yourselves find blessing.


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Monday, December 22, 2014

The shortest day has come, and gone

We seem to be making actual progress around here. I'll need to make one last check, but I think I'm finished Christmas shopping for this year. Thanks to the initiative of my new Son-in-Law, the TV antenna is once again conveying its signal all the way to the television set. (There were a few issues with the removal and reinstallation of the antenna and then the siding installation helped unconnect the old coax cable connections.) Most of the new windows will be installed by the end of today.

New Moon
New Moon
Photo by J. Harrington

Did you celebrate yesterday's Winter Solstice? Not only was last night the longest night, it was also a new moon and overcast. That's about as dark as you can get. Now, can you feel the days getting longer already? (That's a joke!)  I find the 3 month seasonal lag between days starting to get longer and Spring finally, officially, arriving, then, later, between Summer Solstice' longest day, starting Summer's three month run, fascinating. For someone like me, having the sun start to return is one of the best Christmas presents ever. For those who enjoy snow sports, they've got at least three months of Winter to look forward to, and in Minnesota many years, four plus months. This all seems to work out pretty well for everyone. I suppose, as with many things in life, how we feel about something depends a lot on how we look at it, the cup half full or half empty perception. For this holiday season and all of next year, may your cups be at least half full on all of the days of every season.

sunshine through pines, longer days ahead
sunshine through pines, longer days ahead
Photo by J. Harrington

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!


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Sunday, December 21, 2014

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas

There's lots of activity around the homestead: baking, both cookies and bread, shopping trips, present wrapping, and walking dogs through the "snain" (that's a snow rain mix). In the city this morning, it was coming down in big, wet globs of flakes (unfortunately barely visible in the photo. Funny, you looked much bigger in person Mr. Snowflake.) As we left Nina's, I caught a strong wiff of wood smoke that went amazingly well with the snow flakes tumbling down.

Christmas in the City
Christmas in the City
Photo by J. Harrington

In the country, our mostly snow "snain" added wonderful highlights and outlines to the reeds and rushes and heightened the sense of being alive with a fresh, damp smell.

snow-covered marsh
snow-covered marsh
Photo by J. Harrington

But the highlight of the day, so far, was the trip into Penzey's, with all the wonderful spice smells inside. We make a trip each year about this time as part of our Christmas tradition. Now, what I want for Christmas next year is a new and improved smart phone that can capture the aromas of places like Penzey's, or the balsam and fraser fir scents at the tree farm or the alive dampness of the marsh. I don't know if anyone's working on that technology yet, but they should be. Many of our memories are entangled with aromas. It would be great to capture what our memories smell like as well as being able to photograph them.


Photo by J. Harrington

Smoke in Our Hair

By Ofelia Zepeda 
The scent of burning wood holds
the strongest memory.
Mesquite, cedar, piñon, juniper,
all are distinct.
Mesquite is dry desert air and mild winter.
Cedar and piñon are colder places.
Winter air in our hair is pulled away,
and scent of smoke settles in its place.
We walk around the rest of the day
with the aroma resting on our shoulders.
The sweet smell holds the strongest memory.
We stand around the fire.
The sound of the crackle of wood and spark
is ephemeral.
Smoke, like memories, permeates our hair,
our clothing, our layers of skin.
The smoke travels deep
to the seat of memory.
We walk away from the fire;
no matter how far we walk,
we carry this scent with us.
New York City, France, Germany—
we catch the scent of burning wood;
we are brought home.


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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Happy Solstice Eve!

Tomorrow is the shortest day -- longest night -- this year. Then the sun will start slowly, very slowly, very, very slowly, to return to the north. Although I really enjoy Christmas, I wonder if the earth and us inhabitants would be better off if we returned to, or at least were more aware of and involved in, the pagan background to this special time of year. More and more, I'm wondering whether we don't need to add some druidry or shamanism, or both, to the global capitalism juggernaut (instead of the global capitalism juggernaut?). Actually, since my family occasionally reads this and worries that I'm getting all new age mystical as I enter my dotage, what I'm proposing is a massive restructuring for corporate entities.

A shiny new day for a warming new era?
A shiny new day for a warming new era?
Photo by J. Harrington

The way things work now, so to speak, is that profit maximization opposes environmental protection and social equity because costs associated with those latter two concerns can be treated as externalities, so profits can be increased. I think what is needed is a new, earth-centered, corporate legal framework that requires social equity and environmental protection responsibilities be met internally, before taking profits. Sort of like Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility on steroids. Here's why. We all live on one earth. There is no "Planet B." Henry Ford realized that paying his employees a wage that allowed them to afford an automobile made business sense. That kind of common sense is becoming increasingly uncommon these days, it seems to me. One way to move in the "new and improved" direction, with Minnesota taking a leadership role, would be to require that mining entities have ISO certified environmental management systems and a "clean" human rights record to qualify for a mining license in Minnesota. Corporate Social and Environmental responsibility should start at home and shouldn't be a game between regulators and regulated with "shell" corporations serving as pawns in a huge chess game. I'm only to happy to give this concept to my adopted home state and, particularly to the Iron Range, as a Christmas Solstice present. I hope you enjoy it and use it in good great social and environmental health. For tomorrow, here's a chant.

Winter Solstice Chant

By Annie Finch 
Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,
now you are uncurled and cover our eyes
with the edge of winter sky
leaning over us in icy stars.
Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,
come with your seasons, your fullness, your end.


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Friday, December 19, 2014

A Christmas full of hope

I bet you've heard the saying "If you want to make god laugh, tell her your plans." Next year, in 2015, I'm going to see if substituting hopes for plans let's me create a new version that goes something like "If you want god's help, tell her your hopes." Although this year has had many high points, it's also had a fair share of stress. As a mechanism for coping with the efforts of choosing a contractor (for the house), the chaos of construction (on the house), Christmas madness (in the home, during construction), and consolidation (of various retirement funds being held by too many administrators), all of which have stretched out over the past several months, I'm starting to focus on good things for next year.

Guardian of hope
Guardian of hope
Photo by J. Harrington

Here's some of what I'm hoping for: 
  • at least a couple of trip possibilities, maybe one to the BWCA and another to a music festival in Grand Marais; 
  • with the ending of construction and the related banging and pounding and chaos (leaving room for other kinds of chaos), maybe finally finishing a poetry/photography/iMovie project I've been working on for months;  
  • more walks with the dogs; 
  • maybe, with lots of luck, getting back into fly-fishing. 

Home is where your dog lives
Truthiness at Christmas
Photo by J. Harrington

Santa's not going to be leaving any of this under the tree or in the stockings. He might, however, leave something(s) that will increase the liklihood that we'll actually get to realize some or all of these hopes. As Elie Wiesel noted in his 1986 Nobel lecture, Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. We hope this holiday season and all of next year are full of dreams and joy and hope for you and those you care about.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - (314)

By Emily Dickinson 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.


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Thursday, December 18, 2014

'Twas a week before Christmas

Today I'm feeling as if I've been caught in a time machine and developed some sort of psychic whiplash. MinnPost has an article by Brianna Bierschbach on "Why are Minnesota's elected officials studying a 30-year-old legislative session?" I was there during that session, working with friends and associates on a couple of pieces of legislation. I was also a stunned and mortified observer when a "friendly fire" point of order killed a prospective raise for my boss just about half an hour before Speaker Jennings gaveled the session to a close sine die. Fortunately, it wasn't one of the pieces I was working on. Politics then, as now, is full of surprises. Kind of like Life.

I have no idea where the move to normalize relations with Cuba came from. In fact, I never saw it coming. It puts me in some sort of deja vu to the days when there was a pre-Castro Cuba. (I'm old enough to remember that.) Neither did I expect that the Governor of New York would ban fracking or that the Obama Administration would block oil and gas drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay. I'm happy to put each of those surprises under the tree to be unwrapped as presents for a better, more sustainable future.

Taylors Falls Library at Christmas
Taylors Falls Library at Christmas
Photo by J. Harrington

Since the front of our house is an undecorated construction zone, enjoy the picture of the front stairs of the Taylors Falls library. Now that the hammering and pounding is diminished today, I can actually think about and be glad we avoided the chaos of construction last Autumn while we were in the midst of the wedding preparations and celebration. Christmas comes every year. Weddings are only supposed to happen once. (Not always true, I know, but we live in hope.) Therefore it is better to have construction chaos at Christmas time than at wedding time. Having been through all of this this year, my preferred solution would be to have remodeling done during a year when there are no weddings in the immediate family and to have a house sitter in charge during construction, while the normal occupants are off on an extended cruise or similar vacation. Unfortunately, neither my karma nor my bank account will support that approach. I am really happy the house didn't collapse as the old siding was removed. This barn shows what can happen when maintenance is deferred too long. No reindeer will be landing on that roof and no babes will be laid in a manger there.

a collapsed barn
a collapsed barn
Photo by J. Harrington

The Hammer

By Carl Sandburg 

I have seen
The old gods go
And the new gods come.

Day by day
And year by year
The idols fall
And the idols rise.

Today
I worship the hammer. 


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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Home for the holidays

Many years ago, in the last millennium, when I was a youngster, Perry Como had a hit song titled "(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays." At this time of year, I think we all want to be "home," whatever that means to each of us. My feelings about home and Christmas have changed over the years. Until I reached high school, Christmas was pretty much my Mom and Dad and my sisters and my dog and a decorated tree with presents under it and reindeer on the roof and Santa down the chimney and stockings hung with care. As I got older, before I started getting wiser, home became less central to Christmas. There were girlfriends and their families and, as soon as I was old enough to have my license, driving around to visit friends and see the Christmas lights and... Home became someplace not to be, but to be away from, especially from the overseeing eyes of adults.

Christmas candles in a Marine on St. Croix home
classic Christmas candles in a Marine on St. Croix home
Photo by J. Harrington

My understanding of what home means was very limited in those days. My vision of what home could mean even more so. Fortunately, from about the time I was in the fourth grade until I graduated from the eighth grade, my family lived in a wonderful old Victorian house in one of Boston's southern suburbs. It was about a half mile walk, bike ride or drive to the central business district, train station, movie theater, churches and school that I attended. The town harbor, which ultimately opened onto the Atlantic ocean, has another half mile from the town center (our "village"). That house, our home in it, and the relative nearness of the harbor, shaped much of my life and were, collectively, some of the nicest presents my parents ever gave me, although, like most kids, I was too young and dumb and to know just how lucky I was at the time.

the backyard view through the glass of our new window
Photo by J. Harrington

All of this is leading up to a suggestion that you consider getting a special book as a Christmas present for someone, including your very own self, that cares about what home and family means. I'm starting to read it again and to realize just how wonderful it is. The book in question is -- The Heart is All That Is: Reflections on Home. Think about the times you've read here about local foods and a local economy and sustainable living and restorable development. I hope you didn't think that those ideas are worth following just for their own sake. Well, they are but they're worth a lot more when used to make a better home for all of us. Speaking of making a better home, the picture at the start of this paragraph was taken through the nice clear glass of our new window looking out at the back yard pear tree where the deer feed and the lilac bush to the right where they better not. May your home this Christmas be as warm and full of love as ours and with a view you enjoy as much as we do ours.

Windows

By Rachel Sherwood 

From this height
the sunset spans the whole world
before me: houses and trees are shadows
neon flares between them like sudden fire
the freeways run, always
strangely vacant with riderless cars
empty air

the windows up here
refract the blue slate and rose light
making the hills on the horizon collide
with ideas of Sussex, piedmont
or the cold clear wind of the Abruzzi
but that is never what is out there.

At home, the lamp curls its aurora
into the corners of the room
and out the windows
squares, rectangles of light
stake out a territory on the ragged lawn.

In the center of things
between the pressing of the window and air
— a small space —
there is a meeting that defines
nothing, everything.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Weathering Christmas construction

All right, all together now: All I want for Christmas is my fifty degrees (back). Then I can wish you Merry Christmas. Don't ever let anyone convince you this is a good time of year for window or walkout door replacement. The crew is making good progress, but it's basically trading one open hole in the wall for another. I keep telling myself it will all be worth it when it's done. Actually, the view through the new living room windows is amazing. The seal on the old ones let go some years back and they were less than crystal clear to look through. I had sort of envisioned the installers would be working inside a "plastic tent." Was I ever wrong. On the bright side, the new roof was done before the rain came and the snow returned. Lest we (me?) forget, this is the season we celebrate someone born not in a warm home but in a stable heated by animals. Our three dogs, well, two of them at least, throw off a lot of heat around here so we can't complain about that either. The Daughter Person's dog, being a southerner, has a hard time coping with our northern climate. We will try to be sure none of the three, individually or in combination, break the new doors anytime soon. They're a little competitive on who gets through the door first to chase the squirrel, real or imaginary.

Marine on St. Croix "Main Street"
Marine on St. Croix "Main Street"
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday we were writing about New England villages. Marine on St. Croix comes close to reflecting the scale and a "village on the green." It's also home to St. Croix Chocolates, our favorite local chocolatier. We recently picked up our white chocolate snow men that, I think, go in our gingerbread village. If you're in the vicinity of Stillwater to Taylors Falls, you should swing by Marine and see what chocolate piques your fancy. If the weather is like it was over the weekend, you might also get to see an entire city, such as Stillwater, look like it's a city in the clouds.

Stillwater lost in clouds of fog
Stillwater lost in clouds of fog
Photo by J. Harrington
Between the weather and the home improvements / remodeling, this is becoming one of the more memorable Christmases we've ever had.

The Coming of Light


Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light. 
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves, 
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows, 
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine 
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.


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Monday, December 15, 2014

A village at Christmas

We all know that Christmas is all about children. Sometimes, though, the way it's about children isn't what we expect. That's what's happened to me this Christmas. Several years ago, I took a sudden interest in gingerbread houses at Christmas. Now, among a long list of skills I haven't acquired, baking gingerbread is near the top of the list. Last year, as I recall, the Daughter Person, with perhaps some assistance from my Better Half, made and decorated a wonderful gingerbread house. My major contributions were purchasing much of the candy used for decoration and doing most of the post-Christmas consumption clean-up. This year the Daughter Person, with some assistance from her new husband, the same person who used to be her old boyfriend and former fiancee, has outdone herself and created a whole gingerbread village.

a ginger bread village at Christmas
a ginger bread village at Christmas
Photo by J. Harrington

Those of us who come from New England hold Villages in a special place in our hearts. It was the village that was home to the smithy, that held the village green or commons, where neighbors met and the "shot heard round the world" was fired. New England villages at Christmas, with white clapboard churches looking over the green and a general store across the green, offer a subdued celebration of the season. (Pilgrims for many years had a ban on Christmas celebrations.) Simple candles in windows offer welcome to travelers seeking shelter or food. Excess commercialism and neon lights are mostly missing. The kind of classic simplicity about which I'm waxing nostalgic can be found in a few places in Minnesota. I took a photo of this one yesterday.

classically simple Christmas beauty
classically simple Christmas beauty
Photo by J. Harrington

Between a gingerbread village on the dining room table, and classic simple beauty down the road, Minnesota this Christmas is feeling more and more like "home" to this transplanted New Englander. I continue to derive great pleasure from two of my all time better Christmas presents: a loving Daughter Person, originally presented to me by my Better Half in early December, and a house home in the St. Croix valley. As I recall, we moved into our home just before Christmas time, many years ago. I have also had a few other wonderful presents delivered at this time of year, such as my favorite son, delivered on Christmas day, but that's another posting.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost 

Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.


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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Will climate change Minnesota's Christmas?

Climate scientists are reported to have observed that global warming/climate change/Anthropogenic Climate Disruption will increase weather volatility. Paul Douglas was muttering about wind chill last July. This past November was brutally cold, as was most of last Winter. Now, in mid-December, it's like March. Fortunately, we know that Santa can deliver presents with or without snow on the roof and Rudolf's red nose can help Santa find his way even through fog like yesterday's and today's. But, as I looked at bare fields in December, I thought about what that does to mice and voles and moles and those that feed on them. No snow cover or intermittent cover, no subnivian zone, or at best an intermittent one. Nothing you can count on.

bare mid-December fields
bare mid-December fields
Photo by J. Harrington

Candidly, I wouldn't be upset if the mouse, vole, mole populations declined enough due to lack of snow cover that snakes had to concentrate more on pocket gophers. But, of perhaps more interest to the rest of you is this question: would you plan a Winter vacation, snowmobiling, ice fishing, dog sled rides, whatever, if the odds were no better than 50 / 50 that there'd be the snow or ice you needed? Marketing tubing or snow boarding might become a real challenge. I'm pretty sure temperatures like those we're having this weekend, in the 40's and up, are too warm for successful snow-making. The weather doesn't have to be constantly too warm to mess up WInter enjoyment, it just has to be volatile enough that you can't count on it. Susan Steingraber has written well about this at a personal scale. Think about what this kind of uncertainty may mean for a Polaris, Arctic Cat, Gunflint Trail resort, and at the scale of the regional, state and national economy. What about Utah's and Colorado's ski resorts and those they employ? The good news is, there was a sufficient (minimal) agreement in Lima for work on a Green House Gas reduction treaty to proceed. The bad news is, those who are supposed to know about these things claim the agreement won't keep the average temperature rise to a hoped for 2 degrees, it will allow for more like 3.5 or 4 degree change. I have no idea how that translates into an increase in volatility. Be sure to at least skim far enough in Steingraber's piece to get to the sentence about "... my son believes himself to be alive on a dying planet, ... because all the generations of parents before mine have been unable to deal with the facts and mount a response of sufficient scale to solve the problem..." Shouldn't we be doing more to be sure our children and theirs can enjoy a Merry Christmas? Or do we think we should substitute year-round boating on the St. Croix, as we float beneath the new and improved wild and scenic river bridge? We could put a fake Christmas tree on the poop deck of the yacht.

new, improved St. Croix-Stillwater bridge
new, improved St. Croix-Stillwater bridge
Photo by J. Harrington

Snow Signs

By Charles Tomlinson 

They say it is waiting for more, the snow
   Shrunk up to the shadow-line of walls
In an arctic smouldering, an unclean salt,
   And will not go until the frost returns
Sharpening the stars, and the fresh snow falls
   Piling its drifts in scallops, furls. I say
Snow has left its own white geometry
   To measure out for the eye the way
The land may lie where a too cursory reading
   Discovers only dip and incline leading
To incline, dip, and misses the fortuitous
   Full variety a hillside spreads for us:
It is written here in sign and exclamation,
   Touched-in contour and chalk-followed fold,
Lines and circles finding their completion
   In figures less certain, figures that yet take hold
On features that would stay hidden but for them:
   Walking, we waken these at every turn,
Waken ourselves, so that our walking seems
   To rouse some massive sleeper out of winter dreams
Whose stretching startles the whole land into life,
   As if it were us the cold, keen signs were seeking
To pleasure and remeasure, repossess
   With a sense in the gathered coldness of heat and height.
Well, if it's for more the snow is waiting
   To claim back into disguisal overnight,
As though it were promising a protection
   From all it has transfigured, scored and bared,
Now we shall know the force of what resurrection
   Outwaits the simplification of the snow.