Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bid (meteorological) Winter adieu

To wish the last day of meteorological winter good-bye, this afternoon I drove by one of the two sugarbushes nearby. There were no buckets hanging yet. Last year the taps were in and the buckets hanging by the third week in March so there's time to get it done yet this year. Everything should be in place by the time we get to days above freezing and nights below 32F. The extended forecast offers hope of that in a couple of weeks. I haven't ever tapped a tree, but I've hand drilled holes and driven nails. I'd guess no more than 10 minutes a tree, six trees and hour. That would make what was there last year appear to be less than half a days work for one person. What do you think?

sugarbush in March
sugarbush in March
Photo by J. Harrington

It felt good to be back in a part of the county I haven't visited for several months. The country was pretty much as I'd left it including a few cornfields still standing unpicked. We'll try to work in at least weekly trips to see if sap gets gathered this year.

The Forest at the Edge of the World

By Rynn Williams 

Today I left groceries by the playground on Hudson
and tried to haul, up toward my block,
a cross section of a maple grown too large,
chainsawed into manhole covers. Alphonso,
Super for All Buildings east of the projects,
stopped sweeping. He leaned his bald broom
against the stoop, nudged the wood with his toe.
“Nothing to do but roll it,” he said, hands
deep in his pockets. I nodded,
barely believing my luck in the midst of asphalt,
transistor radios, and the wet smell of dogs
as he squatted eye level with the log, heaved it
against his shoulder like a man who bears
a handmade cross for miles on his pentitent back.
I saw a kind of glory in his eyes, he understood
the heft of the trunk, nicks in the damp bark.
I stood on the side and righted the thing
and together we rolled this boulder of tree
past the Indian deli, the Russian shoe repair,
the Caribbean bakery. “You can smell the forest,”
he said, as we reached my stoop, wood
in the crook of his neck, sawdust and humus and sweat.
And we hoisted the thing, one step at a time, stopping
only to breathe the scent of sap and after a good half hour
it was filling the whole of my apartment—
the shade, the damp smell, that enormous presence—
light brown rings so perfect my whole life
fell right down inside them, concentric circles,
tree within tree, the single slab a world within itself—
suddenly it was thirty-five years ago:
I stood on the edge of a forest, someplace upstate,
and looked up into the branches of my first
true and majestic tree, in the first real forest—trees
instead of buildings. Oh the breadth of those limbs—
after the taut geometry of elevator, fire escape, lobby,
to see through branches to the sun—I believed
the world was mine, there was sap in my veins,
the tree was limitless, the scent of the tree,
the bark and the branch and the six-year-old sightline,
which goes on to the edge of the known world.

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

More daylight brings melting, mud, and maples

Yesterday we shared with you the Phenology Checklist from the Annanberg Learner Journey North web site. The first set of questions has to do with how much our photoperiod (daylight) increases each month from January 20 through May 20. For our local neighborhood, it looks like this:

So, on average we gain just a little more than an hour of daylight per month, or about two minutes a day. From my now vague recollections of grammar school days, I recall learning that the days got longer in the Spring and shorter in the Autumn. I don't remember learning anything about how much per day or month. I find it's more satisfying to know it's about a minute in the morning and another in the evening than to just grasp the general concept.

melting at the dark edges
melting at the dark edges
Photo by J. Harrington

The local road is starting to absorb some warmth from the sun and melt ice and snow patches at their edges, even though the temperature is staying well below freezing. If I'm not careful, I could start to get encouraged. There's a local sugarbush or two about 15 or 20 miles from here. This weekend might be a good time to see if they've got their buckets hung yet. Sap might start flowing in the next few weeks.

[the snow is melting]

By Kobayashi Issa
Translated By Robert Hass 

The snow is melting
and the village is flooded
      with children.

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Great Expectations of Spring

If we can hang on for 2+ days more, we will have made it through another meteorological Winter in Minnesota. The good folks at Annenberg Learner have created a fantastic web site that includes a Signs of Spring Phenology Checklist. It looks to me like the kind of tracking and learning experience I enjoy. I'm going to see how much of the list I can complete. If any of you reading this are distant from Minnesota and the upper Midwest, we could partner and compare notes. Use the comments box if you're interested.

some of the mixed flocks feeding
some of the mixed flocks feeding
Photo by J. Harrington

We're still enjoying the typical end of Winter mix of birds at the feeders. If you look carefully, you'll see a purple finch on the left, two gold finches in the middle, and a chickadee-dee-dee or the right. We've also had visits from a red bellied woodpecker, a red-bellied nuthatch, hairy and downy woodpeckers and, at ground level the other day, a male cardinal. [UPDATE: while writing this, a pileated woodpecker was exploring the trees between the house and the road.] Watching these folks at the critters is definitely a few steps up from looking for snow fleas, but my Better Half and I needed an improved "Spring fix." Remember the saying about "if the hill won't come to Mahomet?" Well, think about Spring and Minnesota in place of a hill and Mahomet. Yesterday, we went and got a small piece of Spring to serve as a beacon for what will some day (soon?) arrive. Here's a picture of what's hanging next to the main entrance to the kitchen, where we see it several times a day.

blue crocus, daffodils
blue crocus, daffodils
Photo by J. Harrington

Admittedly, compared to last year's Polar Vortex (and this year's East Coast), we've been lucky so far and there's only another four or five months left of this year's snow season. It will be wonderful if the rest of Spring arrives before all the blooms in the pictured plants have faded, but I'm not counting on that.

Dear March - Come in - (1320)

Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886 

Dear March - Come in - 
How glad I am -
I hoped for you before -
Put down your Hat - 
You must have walked -
How out of Breath you are - 
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest -
Did you leave Nature well - 
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me -
I have so much to tell -

I got your Letter, and the Birds - 
The Maples never knew that you were coming -
I declare - how Red their Faces grew -         
But March, forgive me - 
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue - 
There was no Purple suitable - 
You took it all with you -         
Who knocks? That April -
Lock the Door -
I will not be pursued -
He stayed away a Year to call 
When I am occupied -         
But trifles look so trivial 
As soon as you have come
That blame is just as dear as Praise 
And Praise as mere as Blame -

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

National Poetry Month is coming

For the past several years, I've been a member of the Academy of American Poets. Each April since 1996, the Academy and its partners have sponsored National Poetry Month.

2011 National Poetry Month Poster
Bright Objects Hypnotize the Mnd

According to their web site, as part of that celebration, they:
  • ... offer the Dear Poet project to help teachers and students engage with the art of poetry in a meaningful way.
  • ... commission an artist to create an official National Poetry Month poster, which they distribute free of charge to over 120,000 teachers, librarians, and booksellers nationwide.
  • ... provide resources, including downloadable poems, for National Poem in Your Pocket Day.
  • ... publish and distribute a new poem every day through Poem-a-Day.
  • ... host range of special events and readings in April, including their star-studded annual Poetry & the Creative Mind event.
  • ... act as the official clearing house for news and information about National Poetry Month.
  • ... offer inspiration and resources for celebrating National Poetry Month on the local level, including tips for teachers and tips for librarians. (Share tips from your own celebrations by emailing or tweeting them to @POETSorg using #npm15.)
  • ... ensure that poetry gains national attention in the media each April by sending press releases to editors and journalists across the country. As a result, thousands of articles about poetry appear in newspapers, magazines, and online media outlets.
I don't remember when My Minnesota started to include a poem at the bottom of each daily posting, sometime around the middle of 2013, I think. That means we've managed to find a poem that relates to each day's topic for going on two years. Poetry can be an important part of life if we want it to be.

2009 National Poetry Month Poster
Do I Dare Disturb the Universe

I'm not sure what we're going to try here for National Poetry Month this year. Once we've decided, you'll be among the first to know. My Minnesota has a lot of poets and poetry to celebrate and a number of independent local book sellers where we can support our local economy by buying a volume written by one Minnesota's own and sold by another. I suspect you may find a lot of that here as we enjoy April's many pleasures.

In lieu of a poem today, enjoy Paul Simon singing April - Come She Will. (I know all to well we don't get to skip March, the Month of Mud, St. Patrick's Day and milder temperatures, I hope. At this stage of Winter, I'm hanging on and looking for respite.)

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A promise soft as a butterfly's kiss

Minnesota is certainly not Capistrano. Swallows are not butterflies. The promise is not the reality, but if you look to the right hand side of the page, you'll see a new widget-thingy in the sidebar. It took a little bit of hacking to get the Monarch Butterflies Journey North installed and working. In the process of trying to get Blogger to do what I wanted, I traded a few emails with a former Minnesotan now working for Journey North and living in Vermont. We agreed it'll be awhile before any monarchs are seen in Minnesota. That doesn't keep me from looking forward to their return. There are so many problems in the world about which we can do little but complain. Keeping monarch butterflies around isn't one of those issues. Ordering some swamp milkweed and maybe some butterfly weed is on the To Do list and I decided I'd rather write today about butterflies and flowers and Summer than complain about cold and wind and the amount of snow blowing off my roof. I'm also getting curious about the plantings we made last year and which will make it through the Winter and bloom again come Spring. In fact, I'm looking forward to my own reblooming come Spring.

monarch butterflies on Northern Plains Blazing-star
monarch butterflies on Northern Plains Blazing-star
Photo by J. Harrington

Song for Chaim

By David Shapiro 

If one saves a butterfly, has one saved the world?

Rabbi says: If one saves one butterfly, even with long wings,
one butterfly that has fallen into water, it may be said:
“He has saved the whole world.”

If one saves a motley moth, is it the same?

Rabbi: It is valid. If one saves a dirty monkey from a flame,
for example, it is as the saying is: He or she has saved the whole world.
It is valid for all creatures, and not more so for the creatures who know
how to recite the blessings. It is always valid, even on the Sabbath.
It is said: The creatures of the sky are owned by no one, like the land.

If one saves the Book from being destroyed, is it also saving a world?

Rabbi: God forbid, yes, saving the book from the fire,
saving the book or books from the fire, is known to be comparable.
He who saves a book and he who
writes a holy book, it should be said:
They have saved the whole world like a book.

If one saves a rose, one rose,
from the garden of your dead Teacher,
is it still appropriate to think:
She has saved the world.

The Rabbi was silent and seemed troubled. He replied:

If the house of the great teacher is in ruins,
and the garden is a scandal, and one saves
one rose from his garden it is said even
of one rose: It is like saving the world.
It is also said the rose will grow as large as the world.

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

Does Minnesota's legislature have a climate change adaptation strategy?

Do you know that the mining industry has a 2013 report on how to adapt their operations to climate change? Even prior to that, the David Suzuki Foundation underwrote a 2009 study CLIMATE CHANGE AND CANADIAN MINING: OPPORTUNITIES FOR ADAPTATION. Now I for one have never considered the mining industry to be particularly progressive. On the other hand, the David Suzuki Foundation is a leader in sustainable development and quality of life. As for My Minnesota, the National Resources Defense Council recommends that Minnesota pick up the pace, so to speak, on our climate change adaptation efforts. Their major recommendations are that:

Minnesota's Wild and Scenic St. Croix River
Minnesota's Wild and Scenic St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

  • Minnesota should prioritize and focus on consolidating the existing fragmented adaptation approach into a single state - level planning effort that connects all relevant parties and agencies. This statewide initiative should develop specific, goal - driven actions for state agencies and local governments to implement.

  • To reduce pollution and the state’s contribution to climate change, Minnesota should implement concrete and mandatory measures to reduce statewide greenhouse gas pollution.

  • Minnesota should move strongly toward the implementation of these “no regrets ” strategies, which address existing water quantity and quality issues as well as build resilience to future temperature and precipitation changes associated with climate change.

Minnesota's scenic Lake Superior
Minnesota's scenic Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

Rather than belabor the point here, of whether Minnesota has yet  acted on those recommendations or any like them, you might want to think about asking your legislator, particularly if you're from the Iron Range, what they've done, or are doing, to help Minnesota work with its basic economic sectors, including mining, to adapt to one of the biggest threats our economy is facing. A very, very quick scan of the ICMM report leads me to believe that Minnesota is likely to face problems and / or miss opportunities if we don't promptly follow up on the NRDC's recommendations. Based on our own 2013 report, I think we may be faced with a "locking the barn door after the horse is gone" situation. Not to single out the Department of Natural Resources, but in the 2013 Adaptation Report, they state:
Adaptation Strategy Project
DNR’s Climate Change Adaptation Team is completing the identification and evaluation of adaptation strategies for forests, wetlands, open systems, and aq uatic systems this summer. Adaptation strategies for water resources will be identified in early 2014. [emphasis added]
If the strategies were indeed identified in early 2014, I would hope to be able to find reference to those strategies somewhere on the DNR web site. I can't. If anyone can point me to them, please do so in the comments section for this page.

I'm more and more seeing climate change adaptation as akin to cancer. We know that early detection and treatment increase the patient's prognosis, but all to often we don't want to face the prospect of bad news. Then we take more of a "we'll get to it when we can approach" that I don't think will serve us well over time. We seem to have a penchant for confusing the urgent with the important.

[UPDATE: Here's an additional insight into increasing volatility.]

from constant change figures

By Lyn Hejinian 

constant change figures
the time we sense
passing on its effect
surpassing things we've known before
since memory
of many things is called
but what of what
we call nature's picture
surpassing things we call
since memory
we call nature's picture
surpassing things we've known before
constant change figures
passing on its effect
but what of what
constant change figures
since memory
of many things is called
the time we sense
called nature's picture
but what of what
in the time we sense
surpassing things we've known before
passing on its effect
is experience

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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Time to get serious about climate change?

Many of us here in My Minnesota may need a reminder of what we're seeing today. It's called a blue sky. Here's a photo for historical reference. This particular photo also contains a crow (rounded tail). In case you've forgotten, blue skies are usually

blue skies smilin' at me
blue skies smilin' at me
Photo by J. Harrington

accompanied by sunshine coming from the large yellow object in the daytime sky that's supposed to provide both light and warmth. It's the ultimate energy source for all of earth, but you knew that. The good news is that, technically, (meteorological) Winter ends a week from today. The bad news is our Anthropogenically Disrupted Climate doesn't seem to care about technicalities.

Our extended forecast, for what it's worth, doesn't show any daytime highs above freezing until  March 7. I think it's been mentioned in one or two postings here that Minnesota's weather would be really pleasant if our average highs and lows and precipitation amounts and all of those things were not derived from such a range of extremes. For example, February's average low is 12°F, the average high is 29°F. Those are Winter temperatures that make going for a walk acceptable to pleasant, if the wind isn't blowing very hard. Those averages, though, are bracketed by a record low of -33°F and a record high of 64°F.

Minnesota's April showers
Minnesota's April showers
Photo by J. Harrington

One of the results of climate change is supposed to be an increase in volatility in precipitation, where we get fewer, larger storms. If we get a correspondingly volatile pattern in local temperatures (Polar Vortex, anyone?) our averages may stay about the same or increase slightly, but our daily lives are likely to be much less pleasant. I haven't read enough of the details or the appendices of the IPCC reports to know if my concerns are well founded, but the impact of the June 2012 rains in Duluth, or this Winter's snowfall in New England, give a hint that daily life might become as average as Minnesota's temperatures. This New York Times article should trigger some thinking about what it might mean to strategies that defer infrastructure investments and the challenges of budgeting for snow removal or, in the case of hourly workers, trying to address social equity. We'd best be thinking about more than moose and forests when we think about the cost of adapting to climate change. And the longer we take to respond, the more we'll need to adapt. We're not now faced with the degree of drought California has. Give us a little more time to dawdle and we'll get there. Once again, take a look at how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reports we're doing on meeting our Green House Gas reduction goals.

MPCA GHG reduction graph
source: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

At the rate we're "progressing," it's going to be a huge challenge to meet even greater 2025 (30%) and 2050 (80%) reductions. This looks to me like something that should be taken into account on all those national rankings of best places to live work play and invest your homeowner equity. Think it'll get added anytime soon? Or will we continue to rely on things like the Great Recession to "help" us reduce our green house gases? Remember that old saying about what isn't measured isn't managed?

My Weather

By Jane Hirshfield 

Wakeful, sleepy, hungry, anxious,
restless, stunned, relieved.

Does a tree also?
A mountain?

A cup holds
sugar, flour, three large rabbit-breaths of air.

I hold these.

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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A serendipitous discovery

Last October I took a trip to the Minnesota Goose GardenMy Minnesota has several previous posts from that trip.

Minnesota Goose Garden in Sandstone
Minnesota Goose Garden in Sandstone
Photo by J. Harrington

During that visit, I was pleased, but not surprised, to see an acknowledgement of Frances Densmore's ethnographic work. I knew her name from our copy of her book "The Strength of the Earth, The Classic Guide to Ojibwe Uses of Native Plants."

Explanation of the Goose Garden
Explanation of the Goose Garden
Photo by J. Harrington

Today I encountered Densmore's name in a completely new context. This time I was surprised but delighted to see her name listed next to Minnesota's own Robert Bly, poet, editor and translator. That juxtaposition occurred thanks to Bly's role as editor of The Sea and the Honeycomb: A Book of Tiny Poems and his efforts, as translator, after Frances Densmore, of an Ojibwe prayer. Combined, Bly and Densmore, and the original author(s), brought this profound insight to us from Minnesota's past:
"Sometimes I go about pitying myself,

and all the time

I am being carried on great winds across the sky."
I will hold those thoughts close to my heart while crawling through the last weeks of Winter, toward Spring's renewal and another visit to the Minnesota Goose Garden where I will say "thank you" to Frances, to Ni'sucwe'yaci'kwe (Woman blown about by the wind), and to the Ojibwe people who have helped Minnesotans have both roots to grow and wings with which to fly.

Frances Densmore and Ni'sucwe'yaci'kwe
Photo by J. Harrington

Elemental Conception

By Heid E. Erdrich 

She wants to grow from the rich-rotten trunk
of the stamp left to sprout in the chain-linked
alley yard. She wants to be born there.

Or out of dry wind rushing debris around
and cleaning the world like a slate that
hasn’t yet written how her birth will be

if she be born slick-wet and shimmering
in rings like gas spill, born from long trickles
run off curb-piled snow that flows in curtains

any northern winter when it is possible to burn
in water, when flakes against skin so cold brand
their pattern on the new-thought, engraved self.

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

Friday, February 20, 2015

Minnesotan's well-being drops, or does it?

Gallup - Healthways has released a new report on the state of American well-being. Minnesota is rated 11th, at the top of the second quintile. The factors used in the new rating are:
  • Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals (MN rank: 24/50)
  • Social: Having supportive relationships and love in your life (MN rank: 26/50)
  • Financial: Managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security (MN rank: 6/50)
  • Community: Liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community (MN rank: 12/50)
  • Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done daily (MN rank: 16/50)
I find two things particularly notable, and disappointing, about the report.

First, the 2014 version is similar to, but different than, previous year's reports.

The 2013 Gallup - Healthways report on Minnesota's state of well-being, inclusively covers the period from 2008 through 2012/2013. These are the factors used for those years:
  • Well-being Overall
  • Life Evaluation
  • Emotional Health
  • Work Environment
  • Physical Health
  • Healthy Behaviors
  • Basic Access
Based on a quick review, I found no explanation for the changes in factors nor suggestions on how, if at all, to compare the 2014 rankings with those of prior years. With that caveat, here's the table showing Minnesota consistently near the top for the six years 2008 through 2013.

So, are we faced with the question of whether Minnesota's drop out of the top 10, usually the top 5, into the second quintile is due to changes in how well we actually are or simply to changes in the questions asked and how the rankings were compiled? Are we really getting less well or is the drop due to the assessment changes, or both?

I'm more deeply troubled by something missing, as far as I can tell, from both versions of the survey. For an evaluation of well-being, there's no information at all provided that would let us compare Minnesota's environmental quality with our physical and emotional and financial well-being. There is growing evidence that contact with nature is good for human health, that environmental pollution is a notable health risk and that we're creating an environment too toxic for our children to thrive.

I'm pleased to see Gallup - Healthways doing longitudinal assessments that could be useful in better establishing the benefits of more sustainable, "green" living and working. There's room for improvement, as always. In light of the concerns identified above, I believe Minnesota would be better served if we worked more consistently to tell our own story and tracked our progress over time. We'll visit these themes again next week. Minnesota has an annual operating budget of multibillions of dollars. Isn't it time Minnesotans started to track, on a consistent basis, what we're getting for our money?

Landscape Survey

By John Brehm 

And what about this boulder,
knocked off the moutaintop and
tumbled down a thousand years ago

to lodge against the streambank,
does it waste itself with worry
about how things are going

to turn out? Does the current
slicing around it stop itself mid-
stream because it can't get past

all it's left behind back at
the source or up in the clouds
where its waters first fell

to earth? And these trees,
would they double over and
clutch themselves or lash out

furiously if they were to discover
what the other trees really
thought of them? Would the wind

reascend into the sky forever,
like an in-drawn breath,
if it knew it was fated simply

to sweep the earth of windlessness,
to touch everything and keep
nothing and be beheld by no one? 

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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Dogwood shows its true colors

Yesterday afternoon seemed much colder than even the windchill indicated. Of course, had I waited until today to photograph the redosier dogwood growing along the flood plain of my local river, I would have suffered even more. I still don't understand where all this bitter air is coming since the ice caps are melting. Wouldn't reduced ice cover make for a warmer Winter Arctic? From what I've noticed so far, climate change seems to offer lots more pain than pleasure. Anyhow, as promised, here's what the dogwood looks like this year.

redosier dogwood, February 2015
redosier dogwood, February 2015
Photo by J. Harrington

Comparing the colors above with this bright red from February 2013 leads me to conclude that the earlier photo was of primarily new growth and so it appeared more red than what we see above; that my belief that redosier dogwood becomes brighter red as we approach Spring is in error; that I do qualify as a member of the "what we think we know that just ain't so" society, and, that I'll need to return in late April or mid-May to see what the stems look like as the green brightens. Once again it's been made clear to me that it's important to pay attention to the details and to watch trends over time. Tomorrow we'll look at some Minnesota trends that could stand to receive additional attention.

The Long Voyage

By Malcolm Cowley 

Not that the pines were darker there,   
nor mid-May dogwood brighter there,   
nor swifts more swift in summer air;
    it was my own country,

having its thunderclap of spring,   
its long midsummer ripening,   
its corn hoar-stiff at harvesting,
    almost like any country,

yet being mine; its face, its speech,   
its hills bent low within my reach,   
its river birch and upland beech
    were mine, of my own country.

Now the dark waters at the bow
fold back, like earth against the plow;   
foam brightens like the dogwood now
    at home, in my own country. 

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Do we know if Minnesota becomes less sustainable?

Several times on My Minnesota we've mentioned how much we like Bobby Kennedy's assessment of our Gross National Product, especially these lines:
the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.

riverfront development, Mississippi River in Minneapolis
riverfront development, Mississippi River in Minneapolis

The same assessment can be applied to Minnesota's very own Gross Domestic Product. It hasn't always been this way, nor does it now have to be. Economics, that dismal science, is necessary but not sufficient except to those who would have us know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. There is an alternative measure to GDP that has been used in Maryland and Vermont. It's called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). It starts with something like a Gross Domestic Product, but from that it deducts the costs of pollution and loss of natural resources and adds the value of volunteer services and makes a number of other adjustments.

Minnesota does have its own Compass ... Measuring Progress. Inspiring Action. There are a number of very useful resources on the Wilder Foundation's Compass web site. Unfortunately, the indicators and resources provided don't translate into a comprehensive measure that tells us, overall, whether we're making progress or not.

I started thinking about all of this again when I recently saw and heard references to an Atlantic article about how great Minneapolis is [The Miracle of Minneapolis], and then noted that the Washington Post raises the question, is Minneapolis great for all its inhabitants? What about the racial disparities gap?

Minnesota GDP versus Minnesota Progress Indicator

It turns out that we've know about how great we are, and our problems, and how to measure our own progress for quite a few years. In the late 1990's Minnesota developed a progress indicator similar to the GPI. We produced an update for the first year of the new biennium.

I haven't researched why we didn't continue with genuine measures of our actual progress. Presumably for reasons similar to why we no longer have a State Planning Agency. It can be politically inconvenient if there are publicly available long term trends that demonstrate which party's policies produce better results and for whom. We wouldn't want voters to be confused by all those numbers, now, would we?

As we read the reports and analyses on the effects of climate change, including droughts, water shortages, an occasional Polar Vortex, disruption of our current northern Minnesota habitats and the animals that depend on them, we might think it would be wise to reconsider our need for indicators on whether we're actually making progress or not. FOr example, we've been told by some of our politicians that the Keystone pipeline should be supported because it's safer than rail. Perhaps those politicians haven't checked with or are disregarding the assessment of those who assert:
"Don’t buy TransCanada’s argument that crude-by-rail disasters demonstrate the need for the Keystone XL pipeline. In fact, the two transport methods have very little to do with each other.

“The vast majority of crude moving by rail in North America is moving east or west from the Bakken shale or other shale sources,” says Swift. “That’s not the tar sands crude that Keystone XL would have shipped south from Alberta. Keystone XL wouldn’t take crude off the rails.”

In the past four years, North Dakota oil producers have rejected two proposed pipelines, because they prefer the flexibility of rail. It allows them to sell their products to whichever market is paying the highest price at the time of delivery. Oil producers don’t see pipelines as a replacement for crude-by-rail. They want both."

Now I'm off to take some photos, promised yesterday, of the local redosier dogwood. No poem today.

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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grasping twigs for Spring's signs

Two years ago, on February 21, 2013, the local red osier dogwood (or, depending on your information source and spell checker, redosier or red-osier dogwood) looked like this. From what I read, the bright red color is on new growth. I've always thought that the brighter color was a sign of Spring's longer and sometimes warmer days.

redosier dogwood in color
redosier dogwood in color
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm betting that this year, there will be little, if any, bright red color. Tomorrow I'll go get a photo of the same bushes shown above and see if I'm right. I'll post tomorrow's photo here. Our friends at Eloise Butler have this to say:
"The "red" refers to the color of the bark of branches, stems and twigs in fall, winter and spring; more greenish-red in summer."

The USDA plant guide list a fascinating variety of uses Native Americans had for this plans and notes that:
"The bark and twigs are reddish to purple and fairly smooth from autumn to late spring; after the leaves have fallen, the deep burgundy branches add color to the winter landscape. The bark, twigs, and leaves are bright green in spring through summer."
I'm wondering if my "knowledge" of redosier dogwood qualifies me as a member of the club of folks described by C. Kettering (also attributed to M. Twain among others) as "It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so."

Planting a Dogwood

By Roy Scheele 

Tree, we take leave of you; you’re on your own.
Put down your taproot with its probing hairs
that sluice the darkness and create unseen
the tree that mirrors you below the ground.
For when we plant a tree, two trees take root:
the one that lifts its leaves into the air,
and the inverted one that cleaves the soil
to find the runnel’s sweet, dull silver trace
and spreads not up but down, each drop a leaf
in the eternal blackness of that sky.
The leaves you show uncurl like tiny fists
and bear small button blossoms, greenish white,
that quicken you. Now put your roots down deep;
draw light from shadow, break in on earth’s sleep.

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

Monday, February 16, 2015

How clean is clean?

Members of the Minnesota Legislature, on both the Republican and the Iron Range sides of the aisle, say they want cost-effective, clean environment that doesn't hinder business or cost jobs. So let's think about how that would work. Industry uses global sources for raw materials. Industry supports the World Trade Organization. According to Global Exchange, "The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and certain agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) were written to prioritize rights for corporations over protections for our shared environment." So, business is a major influencer of environmental regulation at the state and international scale. Where I come from, that's known as taking several bites at the apple. Full disclosure, I used to represent the Metro Council in wastewater discharge permit hearings. I'd find it frustrating to work out permit compliance details at the state level only then to have the federal Environmental Protection Agency insist that even more stringent requirements, costing more money, were needed to protect the quality of the Minnesota, Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers. The state and federal regulators were taking two bites at the apple. I understand some of the frustrations business representatives and legislators experience. I also learned to look at the other side of the coin.

Mississippi River in Minneapolis
Mississippi River in Minneapolis
Photo by J. Harrington

Few legislators I've met are willing to say, as an example, they only want the air to be clean enough so that a specific number of thousands, or millions, of people will suffer from asthma attacks, and only a specific number of hundreds, or thousands, will die from those attacks. If we're going to have cost effective solutions, we need clear goals. How many will we allow to get sick  and what percentage of the sick will be allowed to die cost-effectively to save a few dollars business profit and increase shareholders' distributions, and, for others, political donations. Is that a political decision? If not, it's a regulatory decision involving the kind of balancing act staff and scientists of regulatory agencies have to perform when they propose an environmental standard. It hasn't been 23 years since a Pollution Control Agency representative had to justify it's proposed actions to the public, including the legislature. It has been that long since some US Steel facilities in Minnesota had valid environmental permits.

western Wisconsin's bridge to economic growth
western Wisconsin's bridge to economic growth
Photo by J. Harrington

MinnPost notes that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA] was established prior to the creation of a federal Environmental Protection Agency. As true as that may be, federal delegation establishes who's calling the shots. Perhaps some Minnesota legislators would want to consider whether Minnesota businesses would fare better with a local Citizens Board (like we have with the MPCA Board) having primary oversight or dealing directly with EPA Region V staff in Chicago. The Federal government used to have a very limited role in water pollution control. That changed as a number of states started to win a race to the bottom to attract industry with weaker state regulatory standards. If that's what Minnesota wants we could rebrand ourselves as "Mississippi North."

I probably wouldn't be going on about this so much except that it puts me in mind of a Buckminster Fuller quote I ran across the other day.
Humans beings always do the most intelligent thing…after they’ve tried every stupid alternative and none of them have worked
Happy Presidents' Day!

Old Woman Nature

By Gary Snyder 

Old Woman Nature
naturally has a bag of bones
                tucked away somewhere.
                a whole room full of bones!

A scattering of hair and cartilage
               bits in the woods.

A fox scat with hair and a tooth in it.
               a shellmound
                      a bone flake in a streambank.

A purring cat, crunching
               the mouse head first,
                       eating on down toward the tail--
The sweet old woman
               calmly gathering firewood in the
               moon . . .

Don't be shocked,
She's heating you some soup.
                            VII, '81, Seeing Ichikawa Ennosuke in
                      "Kurozuka"—"Demoness"— at the Kabuki-za

                                                       in Tokyo

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Another gray day

Rest in Peace, Philip. Your work here is done, well done.

Philip Levine was a Pulitzer prize winning former U.S. poet laureate, whose poetry has been linked to and cited several times on My Minnesota. He wrote about Americans when we were world leaders in manufacturing real, durable goods and not just vaporous virtual reality. His poem, What Work Is, captures the intensity and ambiguity of work, family, and the passions to which we humans are prone. I have read that he did not suffer fools and have been told I share a similar character trait. Sometimes, I'm outrageously pleased with the company I get to keep, no matter how tenuous the association. As Detroit slowly returns to life, I hope someone there channels Philip's spirit and talent to capture it.

a gray mid-Winter day
a gray mid-Winter day
Photo by J. Harrington

In the midst of another cold, cloudy, depressing (see above) mid-Winter Minnesota day, the dogs look bored, frustrated and cabin fevered as much as their owners, possibly more. I still haven't figured out how best to balance not wishing my life away and wishing it were Spring or early Summer. Several of the folks I follow on Twitter have been sharing photos of crocuses starting to bloom and other signs of a world that is greening up. The extended local weather forecast is dominated by below average temperatures. Below average in February, in Minnesota, is cold, not Polar Vortex cold, but cold enough to take much of the fun out of being outside. The good new is we aren't getting buried in a never-ending blizzard like the East Coast. The bad news is the snow cover isn't really enough to support snow shoeing, cross-country skiing or sledding. As of today, I think I'm dropping "global warming" from my vocabulary. As far as I can see, we're clearly experiencing climate change brought on by Anthropogenic Climate Disruption. Winters in Minnesota show little sign of warming.

Burial Rites

By Philip Levine 
Everyone comes back here to die
as I will soon. The place feels right
since it’s half dead to begin with.
Even on a rare morning of rain,
like this morning, with the low sky
hoarding its riches except for
a few mock tears, the hard ground
accepts nothing. Six years ago
I buried my mother’s ashes
beside a young lilac that’s now
taller than I, and stuck the stub
of a rosebush into her dirt,
where like everything else not
human it thrives. The small blossoms
never unfurl; whatever they know
they keep to themselves until
a morning rain or a night wind
pares the petals down to nothing.
Even the neighbor cat who shits
daily on the paths and then hides
deep in the jungle of the weeds
refuses to purr. Whatever’s here
is just here, and nowhere else,
so it’s right to end up beside
the woman who bore me, to shovel
into the dirt whatever’s left
and leave only a name for some-
one who wants it. Think of it,
my name, no longer a portion
of me, no longer inflated
or bruised, no longer stewing
in a rich compost of memory
or the simpler one of bone shards,
dirt, kitty litter, wood ashes,
the roots of the eucalyptus
I planted in ’73,
a tiny me taking nothing,
giving nothing, and free at last.

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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

Enjoy this Spring trillium bouquet!

roadside trillium
roadside trillium
Photo by J. Harrington

Only fourteen days until meteorological Spring,
34 days until Spring Equinox!
Warmer weather? Who knows?
Do you live in Minnesota?
Is your fair young love going or staying?

Song to a Fair Young Lady Going out of Town in the Spring

By John Dryden 
Ask not the cause why sullen spring
         So long delays her flow'rs to bear;
Why warbling birds forget to sing,
         And winter storms invert the year?
Chloris is gone; and Fate provides
To make it spring where she resides.

Chloris is gone, the cruel fair;
         She cast not back a pitying eye:
But left her lover in despair,
         To sigh, to languish, and to die:
Ah, how can those fair eyes endure
To give the wounds they will not cure!

Great god of Love, why hast thou made
         A face that can all hearts command,
That all religions can invade,
         And change the laws of ev'ry land?
Where thou hadst plac'd such pow'r before,
Thou shouldst have made her mercy more.

When Chloris to the temple comes,
         Adoring crowds before her fall;
She can restore the dead from tombs,
         And ev'ry life but mine recall.
I only am by love design'd
To be the victim for mankind. 

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

Friday, February 13, 2015

A cabin fever induced pattern

Sometimes I see a pattern developing while it's still in very early stages. This week may have been one of those times. On Monday I went out to take some photos. I noticed that the south and east facing slopes were pretty much snow free, while the north and west facing slopes were largely snow covered, much like the St. Croix River, which has snow cover on its ice cover and looks like this. That's about what I expected.

snow covered, ice covered St. Croix River
snow covered, ice covered St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

On the way to the river access, I had to cross a small stream. It was open and flowing and looked cheerful. Seeing the water riffling along made me smile. I felt happy. I've always been drawn to water moving like this.

open, flowing tributary
open, flowing tributary
Photo by J. Harrington

A day or so ago, which was also a day or so after seeing the flowing water, I dug out one of my fly boxes, the one full of flies I usually cast for smallmouth bass, a number of which live in the St. Croix River. I opened the box and took out a few flies, put them on my desk where I could see and touch them, and smiled. The look and feel of those flies made think of good times past and those still to come, I hope. That made me happy.

Tucked in almost out of sight among some wooly worm type flies were a couple of streamers I didn't recognize. After a day or so of subconscious simmering, I remembered that they're called Spruce Flies and are often fished for steelhead. I was then at a loss as to why I had them and had them stored in with smallmouth bass flies. Then it occurred to me that, once or twice upon a time, I had planned a trip fly fishing for steelhead in one of the North Shore streams that feeds Lake Superior. I never made that trip and never added to my two flies for steelhead. Rather than leave them in the back of a drawer, I had put them in the smallmouth box "just in case." Remembering, without outside assistance, the name of the Spruce Flies made me happy.

open, flowing St. Croix River
open, flowing St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

The pattern I see is that I'm putting more and more focus on open water and fly fishing. That's also making me suspicious about just how much cabin fever (open water fever?) I have. Ice fishing as a stop gap presents a couple of problems. First, most ice houses aren't big enough to accommodate a fly rod. Second, a bass bug or streamer cast at this time of year just bounces. As a Valentine to myself, I think I'll spend part of tomorrow cleaning a fly line, reel and rod or two. Spring's just around a couple of corners, unless you live where I used to, along the New England coast. Their pattern may mean blizzards come June. Salt water's usually open though.

Encounter in the Local Pub

By Eleanor Wilner 

Unlike Francis Bacon, we no longer believe in the little patterns we make of the chaos of history.
               —Overheard remark

As he looked up from his glass, its quickly melting ice,
into the bisected glowing demonic eyes of the goat,
he sensed that something fundamental had shifted,

or was done. As if, after a life of enchantment, he
had awakened, like Bottom, wearing the ears of an ass,
and the only light was a lanthorn, an ersatz moon.

It was not that the calendar hadn’t numbered the days
with an orbital accuracy, its calculations
exact, but like a man who wants to hang a hammock

in his yard, to let its bright net cradle him, but only
has one tree, so hewild and aware of itknew
he had lost the order he required, and with it, rest

his thoughts only a sagging bundle of loose ends,
and the heart, a naked animal in search of a pelt,
that once fell for every Large Meaning it could

wrap itself in, as organs are packed in ice for transit
from one ending to the next, an afterlife of partsand
the whole? Exorbitant claimnot less than all,

and oddly spelled; its ear rhyme is its opposite,
the great hole in the heart of things. The goat,
he noticed, had a rank smell, feral. Unnerved,

he looks away, watches the last of his ice
as it melts, the way some godlike eye might see
the mighty glaciers in a slow dissolve back into sea.

He notes how incommensurate the simile, a last
attempt to dignify his shaking gaze, and reaches
for the bill; he’s damned if the goat will pay. 

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