Thursday, December 31, 2015

Signs of hope

It's New Year's Eve. I don't much care if you have a sane celebration, but I hope you have a safe and fun-filled one. Here at My Minnesota, we're looking forward to next year for lots of reasons, among them, and near the top of the list, is that 2016 is when the world officially starts to measure "progress" against 17 goals intended to transform the world. If you're paying attention to the state of the world, you know transformation to something more sustainable is much to be desired.

Midnight, December 31, 2015, marks the start of a 15 year cycle during which progress toward meeting the goals will be measured against indicators for those goals. [We certainly wish our Minnesota would go back to doing something like that.] Maybe the step we missed earlier in Minnesota was including teachers and children. The UN has provided resources for that for the Sustainable Development Goals. If these goals and their indicators help us teach children to respect nature and each other, it would be enough to make even an aging curmudgeon like yr. obt svt feel extremely hopeful. Don't be surprised if, over the next year (or 15) My Minnesota takes a few looks at how world-wide sustainable development goals fit (or don't) with Gary Snyder's wonderful guidance to “Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.” That quote provides a nice bridge to the Snyder poem that, although we've shared it before, we want to use to close out this year and take us into next. There's plenty of reason for hope if we succeed in staying together and going light.

Spring: full of light and hope and trillium
Spring: full of light and hope and trillium flowers
Photo by J. Harrington

For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us,
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Adapting to the New Normal

I bet you know that today is the penultimate day of 2015. For 2016, how many folks do you think will catch on finally to the reality that the "New Normal" in weather, economics, politics, and just about everything, isn't going to be like the old normal only better? The number of times recently we've seen "unprecedented" weather, floods like those currently being experienced in the United Kingdom and the Mississippi River in the US, inequitable wealth concentration that mirrors the days of the Pharaohs, unarmed civilians killed by those who are supposed to "serve and protect," should start to have an effect on our expectations. Fortunately, we've also attained unprecedented agreement to do something meaningful about climate change. I think and hope the Naomi Klein is correct in her This Changes Everything. It's not just about climate change and fossil fuels. It's about growth and capitalism and corporations and globalism and "everything." We're beginning to learn just how correct John Muir is with his observation that:
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."
chickadee after a snow storm
chickadee after a snow storm
Photo by J. Harrington

Chickadees have adapted to today's world and even survive Minnesota Winters. Self-preservation (for humans) suggests strongly that we have some adapting to do ourselves, to keep the world we've been creating from doing us in. We all know that depending on exponential growth on a finite planet is insane no matter how much we reduce, reuse and recycle. We also have lots of existing guidance on how to create better development and a more sustainable future. Minnesota, back in the days when it had a state planning agency, produced Sustainable Development: The Very Idea. For 2016, might it be beneficial to pull out or download a copy and see how we're doing? I suspect there's lots of room for improvement before we can claim that we're following  anything like the Natural Step process. One example has to do with mining and how it relates to the four system conditions of a sustainable society. (You knew I'd get around to that, didn't you?)

sustainable society: 4 system conditions
sustainable society: 4 system conditions

Please read that first condition again: "nature is not subject to systematically increasing concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth's crust," Don't you begin to wonder, if mining companies are processing ore that is less than .5% (less than one-half of one percent) copper, when and how processing existing electronic waste makes as much or more sense than mining ore? Maybe it's like those electric utilities which, not being able to control access to the sun or the wind, question the value of renewable energy. Anyhow, it might not be only fossil fuels that we need to start leaving in the ground. Our current rates of extraction for ores are designed to support more and more growth on a planet with finite resources and waste sinks. If we really want to talk about becoming sustainable, it's got to be more than "sus-wash," right? (That's the best I can do for now on the equivalent of green-wash for sustainability.) Remember the old saying about "insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results?" Mining, and society, need to produced different results for the sake of our children and our own old age. How's that sustainability thingy working our for you? Can you begin to see a connection to A Guide to Simple Living? One last old-timey punch line for today. Remember the old "doctor it hurts when I do this" complaint?  And the answer: "Stop doing it." Can you see that connection?

Of History and Hope

By Miller Williams 
We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.   
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,   
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.   
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.   
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.   
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?   
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,   
to keep on going where we meant to go.

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?   
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head   
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child   
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,   
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,   
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set   
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet—
but looking through their eyes, we can see   
what our long gift to them may come to be.   
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What's the story?

Do you find your hopes rising as we near a New Year? We're once again presented with a fresh start, if not a blank slate. Rather than an entirely new novel, each of us gets to start a new chapter in the story of our life, hoping that next year will be better; that unfulfilled dreams may finally come true; that the puzzle's pieces will fit together into a beautiful picture; that the narrative will lead closer to a "happily ever after." A new year brings the freshness of the North Country under a new covering of snow.

fresh, untracked snow
fresh, untracked snow
Photo by J. Harrington

Barry Lopez, in the current issue of Poets and Writers magazine, shares some perspectives worth considering as we approach New Year's Eve.
"The reason we tell stories, to judge from what I have seen among traditional people, and what I believe was already well worked out by Cro-Magnon people, is to keep each other from being afraid. We tell stories and write poems, historically, to keep awe and aspiration and comprehension and the other components of hopeful lives bright in each other's hearts. Storytelling is how we're moved to take care of each other when we recognize how extremely thin the veneer of civilization we cherish is, and how very hard it is to keep that veneer from shredding in the wind."
Lopez' perspective seems to me very different than my recollection of the stories found in Grimm's fairy tales, which tell of the bad things that can and do happen to those who don't obey their parents or follow the rules. An antithesis to Grimm's stories can be found in A. A. Milne's descriptions of the  adventures of Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh and their friends. Most of the Native American stories I've read also seemed more aligned with Lopez' and Milne's view of stories (and people) than those collected by the brothers Grimm.

My experience has been that people change to move away from pain and / or toward pleasure. Most of us need to change to keep our veneer of civilization from shredding due to things like climate change, systemic racism, and police who see to many citizens as "perps". Maybe if more of us, and that includes My Minnesota, told more stories that triggered awe and apprehension rather than fear and loathing, we would see more of what we hopefully look to as progress. That's not something that fits neatly into a New Year's resolution like "eat healthy" or "be happy," but perhaps we can resolve to be aware of the stories we're telling and living. Here's an example of a a quick story that helped me rekindle my awe and aspiration: VIDEO: A White Namekagon Christmas. See if you can find at least one more story every day of 2016 that reminds you of the awe and other components of a hopeful life. You could even practice during what's left of 2015.

Stories Are Made of Mistakes

By James Galvin 

Even the pole bean tendrils sought out and gripped their
frames within six hours of my setting them.
                                                               One of the things
that is breaking my heart is that I can’t trust language to
express any thanks.
                            My pole beans, my honeybees, my coyotes,
my dog, all my good horses.


The black mare I shouldn’t have bought and bought, and once
I had, should have shipped, bucked me, too, the first time
I got up.
            But God she was a beauty.
                                                 I thought if I just rode her
I could ride her down.
                               Her name was Sara and we kept it at that.

All she wanted to do was run.
                                          Ears back, flat out, nose pushed
into the next life.
                         I wanted her to learn to walk.


After about a year of chop I turned her uphill on a good gravel
road and said, “OK, you bitch, you want to run?”
                                                                      I let go
her head and gave her the steel.
                                                I’d never been on a horse so
      I’ve never been on one since.
                                                So fast you couldn’t
count the beats in the rhythm of her gait.
                                                                         But when,
after some miles, she started to flag, I said, “I thought you
wanted to run,” and dug her out again.


The pole bean tendrils sought their frames within six hours
of my setting them.
                           They broke my heart.
                                                            They gripped.


A patch of sunlight mottled the shade.
                                                       Whether she never
saw the root that snaked through the shadow or was just too
far in front of herself, I’ll never know.
                                                      She stumbled
and fell.
            First on her knees then over.
                                                      We rasped together
down the gravel road, black mare on top of me.
                                                                     We rasped
to a halt.
             She jumped to her feet.
                                                She stared at me.
could see the bone in both her knees.
                                                      Ribbons of hide hanging.

Blood like volunteer firemen beginning to rise to the occasion.


Ten years later, today, I’m riding her.
                                                       I keep her reined
in most of the time.
                            She tosses her head, snaps tie-downs.

She dances and whirls, doubles under and rears incessantly.

She makes me the butt of ridicule:
                                                 “So, uh, Jim, how old
is that mare?”
                     “She must be twenty now.”
                                                             “Don’t you think
it’s time she was broke?”
                                    Every once in a while I let her
run and break my heart.
                                    Anyone watching stops breathing.


If I ever get to heaven and know who I am, I’d like to over-
hear my daughter tell a story to her children.
my dad used to ride this black mare...”

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Steps in a long journey

late 2015: a colorful sunset
late 2015: a colorful sunset
Photo by J. Harrington

As the sun begins to set on 2015, we'll continue our thoughts during this quiet time of year. Perhaps we're becoming a little less like Eeyore, but these days we seem to be noticing more of what we consider good news. Those who know us also know how deeply to discount the chance we've become Pollyanna-ish. Plus, we have no expectation that the news will ever be all, or even mostly, good, but, it would lift our spirits a considerable amount to have a better ratio of good to standard [bad] news. Here's some of the positives we've found recently to give you a sense of what we're talking about:
If we combine these items with the Vikings making it into the playoffs last night, we could start to get downright giddy for the New Year, even before the bubblies been opened.

Poetry by Thich Nhat Hanh

The good news

they do not print.

The good news

we do print.

We have a special edition every moment,

and we need you to read it.

The good news is that you are alive,

that the linden tree is still there,

standing firm in the harsh winter.

The good news is that you have wonderful eyes

to touch the blue sky.

The good news is that your child is there before you,

and your arms are available:

hugging is possible.

They only print what is wrong.

Look at each of our special editions.

We always offer the things that are not wrong.

We want you to benefit from them

and help protect them.

The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,

smiling its wondrous smile,

singing the song of eternity.

Listen. You have ears that can hear it.

Bow your head.

Listen to it.

Leave behind the world of sorrow,

of preoccupation,

and get free.

The latest good news

is that you can do it.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Guide to Simple Living?

The latest issue of Yankee magazine arrived yesterday. It includes a "Back to Basics" section that lists where to learn DIY (do it yourself) skills. That fits nicely with my longstanding and growing interest in artisan products, skills and values, but the geographic coverage is understandably limited to New England. In the DIY spirit, I'm going to use this as an opportunity to adapt Yankee's post and beam framework to start, hopefully with your assistance, a list of Minnesota sources for learning these, and similar skills. Here's the list:

artisan bread baking
Photo by J. Harrington

  • Cheese Making
  • Open Hearth Cooking
  • Canning and Food Preservation
  • Butchering Meat Processing
  • Spinning and Weaving
  • Bee Keeping
  • Homesteading
  • Farming and Gardening
  • Carpentry and Building
  • Other?

Textile Center: Wisdom Rug
Photo by J. Harrington

We know that the North House Folk School [catalogue] in Grand Marais offers some of these skills plus many that weren't listed in Yankee. I'm going to poke around the Internet and see what turns up in Minnesota. I already know about bee keeping courses through the University, and have read about local wood fired baking and written on these pages about baking home-made bread. Please use the comments [if you can make them work] to let me know of any related courses you're aware of. Maybe we could turn this into some sort of "Angie's List" of DIY skills teaching / training. Not a bad way to start the New Year as far as I'm concerned. What do you think?


By Floyd Skloot 
My wife sits in her swivel chair
ringed by skeins of multicolored yarn
that will become the summer sweater
she has imagined since September.
Her hand rests on the spinning wheel
and her foot pauses on the pedals
as she gazes out into the swollen river.
Light larking between wind and current
will be in this sweater. So will a shade
of red she saw when the sun went down.
When she is at her wheel, time moves
like the tune I almost recognize now
that she begins to hum it, a lulling
melody born from the draft of fiber,
clack of spindle and bobbin, soft
breath as the rhythm takes hold.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Thoughts during quiet time

Our white Christmas gets a "tardy" but not an "incomplete." This morning's dog walk was filled with snowflakes and silence. That fits well with the quiet time expected between now and New Year: time to take stock, consider adjustments, contemplate goals for the near future, while enjoying the beauty of snow-filled woods.

Winter's woods
Winter's woods
Photo by J. Harrington

The guardian, back in 2008, had an interesting interview with James Lovelock (Mr. "Gaia"). He suggests we 'enjoy life while you can: in 20 years global warming will hit the fan'. He was 88 at the time of the interview and is now 96. Statistically, that makes him even less likely to see 2028 than I am (not that I'm wishing anything terminal on either of us) and leaves slightly more than a decade for us to enjoy ourselves before it hits the fan. The attitude / philosophy he displays during the interview reminds me very much of the Beatles insouciant cheekiness when they first hit the shores of the U.S. It also remind's me of Dylan's refusal to be categorized or classified. Lovelock dismisses renewable energy: "He saves his thunder for what he considers the emptiest false promise of all - renewable energy." He claims it can't meet contemporary needs. I haven't yet seen numbers to convince me that, with a combination of better design, construction and management of our buildings and our land use and transportation systems, wind, solar and other renewables, plus decentralized generation systems and improved grid management, along with reduced consumption, wouldn't allow us to maintain and create a better quality of life for all but the 1%. I haven't been keeping up on the Donella Meadows Institute's web postings, but catching up there is on my list for later today. Her writings on "Limits to Growth" become more relevant by the moment.

We can't effectively accommodate continuous demographic and population growth on a finite planet. A sustainable future requires rethinking our economics as well as our technology. We need to think and rethink which of our values gets priority. That's not a bad use of the quite time many of us will have over the next week or so. Minnesota has already seen the effects as failing capitalistic systems for mining and agriculture and global markets create water pollution and invasive species and diminished viability for locals and tourists. Minnesotans might be able to have anything they want, but we can't have everything we want. Conversations about what we want, what we really, really want should start as soon as we learn to speak civilly to each other. That would be a worthwhile resolution goal for next year, starting now.

Cold Turkey

By Joshua Mehigan 
They’re over now forever, the long dances.   
Our woods are quiet. The god is gone tonight.   
Our girls, good girls, have shaken off their trances.   
They’re over now forever, the long dances.   
Only the moonlight, sober and real, advances   
over our hills to touch my head with white.   
They’re over now forever, the long dances.   
Our woods are quiet. The god is gone tonight.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

May this season fill your spirit with light and love

Christmas lights

and next year fill your life with health and happiness!

In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 106

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson 
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
   The flying cloud, the frosty light:
   The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
   Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
   The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
   For those that here we see no more;
   Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
   And ancient forms of party strife;
   Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
   The faithless coldness of the times;
   Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
   The civic slander and the spite;
   Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
   Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
   Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
   The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
   Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Happy Christmas Eve

Peace on ...

Good will to all

                  Christmas Bells

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

    I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
    Their old, familiar carols play,
        And wild and sweet
        The words repeat
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And thought how, as the day had come,
    The belfries of all Christendom
        Had rolled along
        The unbroken song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Till ringing, singing on its way,
    The world revolved from night to day,
        A voice, a chime,
        A chant sublime
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Then from each black, accursed mouth
    The cannon thundered in the South,
        And with the sound
        The carols drowned
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    It was as if an earthquake rent
    The hearth-stones of a continent,
        And made forlorn
        The households born
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And in despair I bowed my head;
    "There is no peace on earth," I said;
        "For hate is strong,
        And mocks the song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
    "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
        The Wrong shall fail,
        The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men."


God bless us every one!

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On the Eve of Christmas Eve

Snow is falling gently. Chick-a-dees, nuthatches and woodpeckers are flocking to the feeders. Squirrels dust snow from the top of oak branches as they travel through the trees. Much of Minnesota seems destined to have a white Christmas. I've gained an insight into cultural conditioning.

I've never, at least since I learned to drive, been a big fan of snow. If it stayed on lawns, forests and fields I might feel differently. It doesn't, it accumulates on roads and sidewalks and driveways, each of which then requires shoveling or snow-blowing or plowing. The diminished traction induces irrational exuberance by drivers of 4-wheel-drive pickup trucks, many of whom sport lift kits higher than the operators I.Q. Travel in snow requires an ability to turn and stop as well as go, but you know that. Despite all of that, I'm willing to admit that it does look more like Christmas now than it did a day ago. Since this is Christmas Eve Eve, that's a good thing.

celebrating Winter Solstice
celebrating Winter Solstice
Photo by J. Harrington

Last night the younger generation shared a Solstice celebration, including a small fire, out of the wind in the lee of the house and garage. (Yes, of course it was in a fire ring.) The Daughter Person and Son-In-Law had a handful of friends and relatives, some still local, some back in town for the holidays, some back in the country for the holidays, over for pasta and catching up. It brought to mind times when I would gather with friends in Mad River Vermont or on Cape Cod. Christmas was for "family," but Solstice, Winter or Summer, was pretty much for fellow heathens and pagans, many of my friends in those days. I was pleased we had at least a small, local celebration of this Winter's Solstice. I fret about how much we've become a rootless nation where too many fail to recognize our dependence on Nature and each other. One of my Solstice wishes for all of us is that, as Joni Mitchell wrote and sang, we "get ourselves / Back to the garden…" After all, I don't think it was coincidence that Christ's birth took place in a stable.

Speaking of birthday's, Happy Birthday and many happy returns to Robert Bly!

A Christmas Poem

Christmas is a place, like Jackson Hole, where we all
To meet once a year. It has water, and grass for
All the fur traders can come in. We visited the place
As children, but we never heard the good stories.

Those stories only get told in the big tents, late
At night, when a trapper who has been caught
In his own trap, held down in icy water, talks; and a
With a ponytail and a limp comes in from the edge of
the fire.

As children, we knew there was more to it —
Why some men got drunk on Christmas Eve
Wasn’t explained, nor why we were so often
Near tears nor why the stars came down so close,

Why so much was lost. Those men and women
Who had died in wars started by others,
Did they come that night? Is that why the Christmas
Trembled just before we opened the presents?

There was something about angels. Angels we
Have heard on high Sweetly singing o’er
The plain. The angels were certain. But we could not
Be certain whether our family was worthy tonight.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Zen of Christmas

Are you beginning to sense a shift in life's tempo from frantic endeavor to quiet anticipation? Often, I've found anticipation to be more rewarding than experience. Looking forward to all the things I could do when I became "grown up" set up expectations I'm still trying to meet. (I know, Yoda ~ Do or not do. There is no try.) Zen has much to teach about losing our expectations and experiencing the moment. Christmas offers many opportunities to practice Zen. For example, whether or not it's what you "really, really wanted," there is no such thing as the "wrong present." I doubt the Christ child had much use for frankincense, myrrh or gold. We are already beginning to receive some of this season's most important gifts: longer days and the expectation that life will be renewed in all its fullness as the days grow and the nights shrink. Temperatures are only a lagging indicator.

a spirit of Christmas
a spirit of Christmas
Photo by J. Harrington

I don't intend to preach as much as share some lessons I hope I've learned over many Christmases of giving and receiving gifts. I've found more joy in giving a gift that brought real pleasure to the recipient than from almost anything I've ever been given. I've also failed, too often, to adequately appreciate a gift and all the giver's love and caring and hard work it represented. It isn't really the thought that counts, it's the love that triggered the thought. [Read Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town.]

If I'm not making myself clear, try reading or watching (hopefully again) "A Christmas Carol." Keep a close eye on Scrooge as he learns that having it all is only worth what you can do for others with all you have. That's something on which I believe Zen and Christianity are pretty much in agreement.

What to Count On

By Peggy Shumaker 

Not one star, not even the half moon         
       on the night you were born
Not the flash of salmon
       nor ridges on blue snow
Not the flicker of raven’s
       never-still eye
Not breath frozen in fine hairs
       beading the bull moose’s nostril
Not one hand under flannel
       warming before reaching
Not burbot at home under Tanana ice
       not burbot pulled up into failing light
Not the knife blade honed, not the leather sheath
Not raw bawling in the dog yard
       when the musher barks gee
Not the gnawed ends of wrist-thick sticks
       mounded over beaver dens
Not solar flares scouring the earth over China
Not rime crystals bearding a sleek cheek of snow
Not six minutes more of darkness each day
Not air water food words touch
Not art
Not anything we expect
Not anything we expect to keep
Not anything we expect to keep us alive

Not the center of the sea
Not the birthplace of the waves
Not the compass too close to true north to guide us

Then with no warning
       flukes of three orcas
                 rise, arc clear of sea water

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The longest night

Today is the (northern hemisphere's) Winter Solstice, bringing us the year's shortest day, longest night, and the start of meteorological Winter. My Minnesota wishes you Merry Solstice! and hopes Yule enjoy this season and the next year in health and happiness. [We also hope you'll forgive the seasonal pun.]

Winter sunrise, short day
Winter sunrise, short day
Photo by J. Harrington

Our family's longest night (so far) wasn't on the Winter Solstice, although it was close to it. Our first born, a son, arrived on Christmas day many years ago. Labor actually started on Christmas Eve. That night confirmed my belief in the old saying "they also serve who only stand and wait." I didn't have to do any of the hardest part but I still can't stand watching the Yule log on television. The longest night of my life brought the best Christmas present ever.

Since the year our son was born, Christmas in our home begins at midnight and continues only until noon, December 25th. At noon the celebration becomes his birthday and he gets to open his birthday presents. Creating a virtual "firewall" between Christmas and his birthday seems like the better choice, rather than celebrating an alternative birthday on the Summer Solstice or something. Since these are the shortest days of the year, to savor them we should slow down instead of rushing through short days toward something we think or hope will be better.

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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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

I'll bee home for Christmas

Of all the animals I've associated with Christmas, bees had never been on the list or in the creche. There were sheep in the fields where the shepherds were keeping watch, and donkeys and cows in the stable, and the camels on which the Three Wise Men traveled, but bees? Well, as of today's Writer's Almanac, Carol Ann Duffy has fixed that. Bees may not have been part of the traditional Christmas scene, but I'll be mindful of them in the future, especially since the poem, and the bees themselves, highlight the interdependence, reciprocity, community and sharing that I believe is the heart of this season. Conversely, if our Winters keep warming, and we don't cut back on our use of pesticides, Winter clusters of bees may become just another Christmas memory.

bee hives in Summer
bee hives in Summer
Photo by J. Harrington

bees on honeycomb
bees on honeycomb
Photo by J. Harrington

The Bee Carol

Silently on Christmas Eve,
the turn of midnight’s key;
all the garden locked in ice —
a silver frieze —
except the winter cluster of the bees.

Flightless now and shivering,
around their Queen they cling;
every bee a gift of heat;
she will not freeze
within the winter cluster of the bees.

Bring me for my Christmas gift
a single golden jar;
let me taste the sweetness there,
but honey leave
to feed the winter cluster of the bees.

Come with me on Christmas Eve
to see the silent hive —
trembling stars cloistered above —
and then believe,
bless the winter cluster of the bees.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas - local presence

Today is supposed to be the busiest day of the Christmas shopping season. I don't like crowds so I'm home writing and baking bread and wrapping presents and sorting through photographs. The Better Half is off shopping for a new vehicle, something I need to do myself if I can ever figure out the balance point among what I want, need, and can afford. The Daughter Person and Son-In-Law are headed "Up North" for a Christmas visit with his relatives. I thought, earlier today, I had seen some blue sky and sunshine but it was probably just a SAD-induced hallucination. The local forecast continues cloudy, but warmer, for most of the next ten days. Sigh!

2015 lighted Christmas tree
2015 lighted Christmas tree
Photo by J. Harrington
The reason I'm sorting photos is our local Creative Arts Community is organizing the 2nd annual That's What Eye Saw photography show, opening on January 21st, 2016. I'm trying to decided if I have anything worth printing and putting on display. At the Creative Community Christmas pot luck the other night, I was fortunate to discover several other local poets/writers. We talked about organizing a writer's group, something I've been looking for for quite awhile. The Loft is a wonderful resource, but Minneapolis can be a long drive from here during January, February and March. Local is usually good and, sometimes, the more local the better, depending on how we define local and region.

Since I've started to really focus on local foods and other resources, I've been discovering that there's more to be found in "the neighborhood" than I expected. As a Christmas present to myself and those long-suffering souls who have to put up with me and my chronic dissatisfactions, I'm planning on spending the rest of this year taking a careful look at what we already have instead of looking for what's next. (You're probably noting that I've decided this after the Christmas shopping should be done.) I'm going to bring (Do or do not. There is no Try ~ Yoda) a more local balance into life as well as continue to think and write about bioregionalism. It's called walking the talk, a pretty good deal. Now, if you'll excuse me, my earlier hallucination has returned, this time in the western sky. I don't want to miss it.


By James Lasdun 

They peopled landscapes casually like trees,
being there richly, never having gone there,
and whether clanning in cities or village-thin stands
were reticent as trees with those not born there,
and their fate, like trees, was seldom in their hands.

Others to them were always one of two
evils: the colonist or refugee.
They stared back, half disdaining us, half fearing;
inferring from our looks their destiny
as preservation or as clearing.

I envied them. To be local was to know
which team to support: the local team;
where to drop in for a pint with mates: the local;
best of all to feel by birthright welcome
anywhere; be everywhere a local...

Bedouin-Brython-Algonquins; always there
before you; the original prior claim
that made your being anywhere intrusive.
There, doubtless, in Eden before Adam
wiped them out and settled in with Eve.

Whether at home or away, whether kids
playing or saying what they wanted,
or adults chatting, waiting for a bus,
or, in their well-tended graves, the contented dead,
there were always locals, and they were never us.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas and the Hundred Acre Wood

Christmas is just a week away. We've been getting just enough snow flurries around here to put a coating on the ground and a feeling of Christmas in the air. Are you excited? If I were more like Tigger than like Eeyore, I would be. (I'll pr'olly never be well adjusted enough to be like Winnie-the-Pooh.) Although I'm embarrassed to admit it, I've either never known or forgotten that
Winnie-the-Pooh first appeared by name on 24 December 1925, in a Christmas story commissioned and published by the London newspaper The Evening News.
not Winnie-the-Pooh eating not honey
not Winnie-the-Pooh eating not honey
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm heartened and encouraged to learn the relationship between Pooh Bear and Christmas isn't dependent on Disney's doings. Much of what I believe about the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, I learned from television and from reading Winnie-the-Pooh on Management, The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet and wearing my Joan Baez - Grateful Dead Peace Concert sweatshirt with Pooh and Piglet on it. I am firmly of the conviction that the world would be a much better place if each of us studied these works as part of every standard curriculum (curricula?). A world in which our "bear of very little brains" is the leading management and philosophy resource would be a marked improvement over what we have today.

Unfortunately, I don't seem to be able to locate any tomes about Winnie-the-Pooh on Sustainability. We need some of those too, don't you think? After all, look below at how the six functions in the work of a manager are germaine to implementing the climate agreement. They might even work for making mining and agriculture more sustainable:
  1. Establishing Objectives
  2. Organizing
  3. Motivating
  4. Developing People
  5. Communicating
  6. Measurement and Analysis
This requires further thinking. That requires seeing if there's any honey to sweeten a cup of coffee to wash down some Christmas cookies. While I'm busy eating thinking, please keep this in mind for this season:
"Christmas is a togethery sort of holiday" said Pooh "Thats my favorite kind" said Piglet, "Togethery and Remembery"
— A. A. Milne
Pooh and Piglet know "Togethery and Remembery" are found in our hearts, not in Christmas stockings nor under the tree. You can't buy them, only share them.

Furry Bear

By A. A. Milne 
If I were a bear,
   And a big bear too,
I shouldn’t much care
   If it froze or snew;
I shouldn’t much mind
   If it snowed or friz—
I’d be all fur-lined
   With a coat like his!
For I’d have fur boots and a brown fur wrap,
And brown fur knickers and a big fur cap.
I’d have a fur muffle-ruff to cover my jaws,
And brown fur mittens on my big brown paws.
With a big brown furry-down up to my head,
I’d sleep all the winter in a big fur bed.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

For the birds

I'm beginning to learn more about the pros and cons of bird feeder design and construction than I ever anticipated. Last Christmas I got the feeder on the right, the copper one with the screen tube. Nuthatches have shown a preference for it, as have the woodpeckers. The top is held down by the kind of push-button latch found on some boot lacings. It works fine except when we had those really strong winds several weeks ago. They vibrated the top up and down so much that it turned sideways, like a sail, and carried the mostly empty feeder across the deck.

the copper-topped, wind-blown feeder in the snow
the copper-topped, wind-blown feeder in the snow
Photo by J. Harrington

The open tray feeder on the left fills with snow, as you may imagine. This Winter I replaced it (and the tube feeder the bear ate two years ago) with a new style. I couldn't quite bring myself to spend $100 or so on a Droll Yankee model (remember the feeder-eating bear?) so I thought a less expensive "knock-off" would do. It got filled and hung last Sunday. Notice what appears to be the tight-fitting green top? It was a slight challenge for me to remove to fill the tube the first time.

the oft decapitated tube feeder
the oft decapitated tube feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

Well, twice since Sunday I've found that top on the ground under the feeder. The first time there were no clues as to what had happened, although I suspected maybe a neighborhood raccoon. This morning I noticed the top on the ground again, but this time I also noticed a pair of red squirrels taking advantage of the missing top. Now I'm trying to sort out if the squirrels are the culprits that actually "decapitate" the feeder. That would seem to fit with living in a neighborhood where the mice, or something, are sneaky enough to eat peanut butter from the traps without getting caught. If the local rodents(?) get much more creative, we may have to consider a "barn cat." The squirrels have already figured out the border collie is not fast and smart enough to catch them, so they just run away, climb a tree and blow raspberries while the dog barks maniacally. The intended, and unintended, users of bird feeders are some of the more entertaining, but bemusing, aspects of country living.

Two Stones with One Bird

By Charles Bernstein 


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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Christmas, weather or not

This being Minnesota, I think the correct comment on today's local weather is "that's different," especially when looked at from the slightly broader perspective that includes the past few days:

Christmas snow cover 2013
Christmas snow cover 2013
Photo by J. Harrington

  • Today is December 16 so we're in meteorological Winter

  • Today is December 16 so we're in astronomical Autumn

  • If it's Winter, the chipmunk captured yesterday in the Hav-a-Hart trap should have been hibernating

  • If it's Autumn, that could explain the thunder snow / rain storm that came through awhile ago

  • If this is Winter, the local ponds should be ice covered. They aren't.

  • If this is Winter, there should probably be several inches of snow on the ground. There isn't.

  • If this is the "new normal" for local weather, it's going to play hob with phenology

  • If you think this is just a short-term aberration, read Sandra Steingraber's The Discontent of Our Winter from several years ago

Christmas snow cover 2014
Christmas snow cover 2014
Photo by J. Harrington

If we get another Polar Vortex like last year's, I'm going to learn to hibernate myself, but I have to admit, this only looks a lot like Christmas if you live right on either coast. I hope it doesn't become Minnesota's "new normal" for the Twin Cities at Christmas season.

The Snow Is Deep on the Ground

By Kenneth Patchen 

The snow is deep on the ground.   
Always the light falls
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.

This is a good world.
The war has failed.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the snow waits where love is.

Only a few go mad.
The sky moves in its whiteness
Like the withered hand of an old king.   
God shall not forget us.
Who made the sky knows of our love.

The snow is beautiful on the ground.   
And always the lights of heaven glow   
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Singers of the Season's Songs

It's 10 days until Christmas, about a week until Winter Solstice, and my head is full of Christmas confetti thoughts and song lyrics. For example, Bob Dylan didn't record his Christmas album until he was well into his 60's. To my knowledge, Janis Joplin never recorded a Christmas album. If she had lived longer, would she have recorded one? What would it have sounded like?

"'rocking around the Christmas tree"
"'rocking around the Christmas tree"
Photo by J. Harrington

Having recently played Melissa Etheridge's Christmas album, I suspect Janis might have had a similar take on the songs of the season. It would have been interesting and entertaining if we could have had that pleasure. At the folkie end of the spectrum, Joan Baez recorded almost entirely traditional material on her Noel album. She included "Christmas in Washington" on Dark Chords on a Big Guitar. Judy Collins has both all on a wintry night and Christmas with Judy Collins, with the same fourteen songs on both, plus two others on "Christmas." Joni Mitchell doesn't seem to have a Christmas album but her song River has the lyrics "it's coming on Christmas" and captures what for too many are the melancholy feelings that are triggered by the season.

One of my earliest favorite Christmas albums was recorded by Elvis Presley, the eponymous Elvis' Christmas Album, which is included in RollingStone magazine's The 25 Greatest Christmas Albums of All Time. Their list includes a number of albums I wouldn't give house room to, plus quite a few that are on my list. Maybe that's why Santa has to check his lists twice.

I Hear America Singing

By Walt Whitman 

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.