Thursday, April 30, 2015

Celebrate poems in your pockets and independent bookstores

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month for this year. It's also Poem in Your Pocket Day. Here's a poem from my very own pocket that I dashed off and Tweeted a little while ago in response to another Tweet that inspired me.

bloodroot blossoms and poem
bloodroot blossoms and poem
Photo by J. Harrington

Just because we've once again reach the end of National Poetry Month isn't a reason to be sad. Remember the saying "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened" which may or may not have originated with Dr. Seuss. Also, you can find good poetry, even great poetry, on-line and free at the academy of american poets and the Poetry Foundation, among other places.
Since we try to add a poem related to our daily musings, rants and raves here at My Minnesota, there's close to 300 poems stashed here. If you're more interested in a book you can hold in your hands, why not celebrate Saturday's Independent Book Store Day where we've found good selections of poetry:  Common Good Books or Subtext in St. Paul and the Bookstore at Fitzger's in Duluth has an outstanding collection of books by regional (local) poets and writers. But, for now, shouldn't you be outside enjoying a gorgeous Spring day like today, instead of inside reading a posting about poetry? Or, do you have a laptop or tablet or phone and a wifi connection, so you can enjoy sitting under a tree while you read. I hope so.

National Poetry Month

Field in Spring


Susan Stewart, 1952

Your eye moving
left to right across
the plowed lines
looking to touch down
on the first
shoots coming up
like a frieze
from the dark where
pale roots
and wood-lice gorge
on mold.
Red haze atop
the far trees.
A two dot, then
a ten dot
ladybug. Within
the wind, a per-
pendicular breeze.
Hold a mirror,
horizontal,
to the rain. Now
the blurred repetition
of ruled lines, the faint
green, quickening,
the doubled tears.
Wake up.
The wind is not for seeing,
neither is the first
song, soon half-
way gone,
and the figures,
the figures are not waiting.
To see what is
in motion you must move.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Can we, should we, connect these dots?

Another way to look at their assessments is to remember that the Clean Water Act set goals of fishable, swimmable waters in 1972, 43 years ago. Minnesota still has 40% of its waters that don't meet standards, as required by the fishable, swimmable goals of the 1972 law. In fact, way too many waters in Minnesota today carry a fish consumption advisory. Here's another dot to connect:

St Louis River in northern Minnesota
St Louis River in northern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

So, we have water quality "impairments" in the southern half of the state due to urban development and agriculture and up north, to attain "fishable" and reduce mercury impairments if the federal government does its part, "Air sources of mercury will have a 93% emission reduction goal from 1990 levels. Air sources will be divided into three sectors: products, energy, and mining."

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Legislature is busy trying to prohibit MPCA from enforcing the sulfate standard and, I think, the phosphorous standard [see Marcotty story above] because it will cost too much to meet.

Time for another dot or two. Again from the Star Tribune this month:
One of the hallmarks of sustainability is transparency. The way I connect the dots above is MPCA could do better on that factor in future dashboard reports. I think, instead of large tax cuts to those who don't need them, the House could help the state and the metro area do better by agreeing we need to clean up our own messes and not leave them for millennials to pay for. Minnesota used to have a strong brand as the state that worked and was noted for the quality of life and environment here. Speaking from my own perspective, our brand has slipped a lot since the late 1970s when I moved here. Do you suppose there's a connection between attracting intelligent, well-educated millenials and cleaning up both our act and our environment?

National Poetry Month

Light-years

By Hester Knibbe
Translated By Jacquelyn Pope 
It’s a beautiful world, you said,
with these trees, marshes, deserts,
grasses, rivers and seas

and so on. And the moon is really something
in its circuits
of relative radiance. Include

the wingèd M, voluptuous
Venus, hotheaded Mars, that lucky devil
J and cranky Saturn, of course, plus

U and N and the wanderer P, in short
the whole solar family, complete with its
Milky Way, and count up all the other

systems with dots and spots and in
that endless emptiness what you’ve got
is a commotion of you-know-what. It’s a beautiful

universe, you said, just take a good look
through the desert’s dark glasses
for instance or on your back

in seas of grass, take a good look
at the deluge of that Rorschach—we’re standing out there
somewhere, together.


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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Learning to see

When I go fishing, if I'm not catching anything I'm never sure if it's because I'm trying to catch fish where there aren't any or there are fish where I am but they don't want what I'm offering. I'm noticing a similar pattern with Minnesota's Spring weather and wildflowers. I reported yesterday on my failure to find and photograph pasqueflowers in bloom at the St. Croix Savanna Scientific and Natural Area. I'm not sure whether I was looking in the wrong place, I wasn't looking hard enough, or the bloom has come and gone in that location. The back yard pear tree that was blooming in mid-April in 2012 didn't flower before mid-to-late May last year. Minnesota Wildflowers lists the pasqueflower as blooming March - May. I didn't notice anything that looked like the photos they have of plants at various stages of development so another trip is probably worthwhile. I'm encouraged by the fact that, for years, I never could seem to find any trilliums, and then, after I found (OK, my Better Half showed me) my first one, I saw them "everywhere." I may have too many years of having trained my eyes to notice the movement or form of game, game birds, and waterfowl to become really good at spotting plants that  just hold still and look beautiful. Maybe I could get some special clip-on filters or lenses for my glasses and then see flowers the way bees are supposed to. We see what we want to see; what we're trained to see; what we expect to see. Too rarely do we simply see what's in front of us, just as it is.

Trillium grandiflorum (Large-flowered Trillium)
Photo by J. Harrington

As April winds down, we can look forward to seeing Poem in Your Pocket Day on Thursday, and then, in May, I expect to see some of the local snakes start to sun themselves on the road. I hope to see scarlet tanagers and rose-breasted grosbeaks at the feeder, and the return of hummingbirds. I'm also looking forward to getting and planting my very own pasqueflowers and some more swamp milkweed for any monarch butterflies that wander by. I see that one of the apple trees seems to have come through the Winter fairly well and am hoping the other is just a late bloomer (actually, leafer). All of the preceding, and some reading I've done recently, makes me wonder if we humans really need to try to get more to be happy, or if it's different that we're looking for, because we're, or at least some of us are, too easily bored. That makes me wonder  what I mean as a distinction between "more" and "different." Nature seems to have a pretty good handle on her version of a circular economy. We need to work some more on our own version, I think.

National Poetry Month

The Garden Buddha

By Peter Pereira 

Gift of a friend, the stone Buddha sits zazen,   
prayer beads clutched in his chubby fingers.   
Through snow, icy rain, the riot of spring flowers,   
he gazes forward to the city in the distance—always   

the same bountiful smile upon his portly face.   
Why don’t I share his one-minded happiness?   
The pear blossom, the crimson-petaled magnolia,   
filling me instead with a mixture of nostalgia   

and yearning.  He’s laughing at me, isn’t he?   
The seasons wheeling despite my photographs   
and notes, my desire to make them pause.   
Is that the lesson?  That stasis, this holding on,   

is not life?  Now I’m smiling, too—the late cherry,   
its soft pink blossoms already beginning to scatter;   
the trillium, its three-petaled white flowers   
exquisitely tinged with purple as they fall. 


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Monday, April 27, 2015

Ephemera

Would Minnesotans enjoy days like today as much as we do if such days weren't as rare as they are? We can see, hear, smell and almost taste the earth and all its residents coming alive. Maples are blushing with red flowers. Willow weeps are bumblebee yellow and poplar leaves, chartreuse. It seemed like a wonderful day to see if I could, first, find the St. Croix Savannah Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) and then look for the pasqueflowers rumored to be blooming there. The good news is I did find the SNA. The bad news is my streak of not finding pasqueflowers to photograph continues. I am, if nothing else, consistent. I was also persistent stubborn enough in my search to hike up a steep hill to the peak of the SNA. From the top I could see that most of the prairie was beneath me and had been hidden by the hill's shoulder. I could have spared myself the climb if I had simply followed the path not taken around the hill.

I had more success, by a little, yesterday. One, though only one, of the marsh marigolds was blooming. The others look as though they're ready to burst their buds any moment, but they hadn't yet. Here, take a look for yourself.

one marsh marigold in bloom
one marsh marigold in bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

many marsh marigolds ready to bloom
many marsh marigolds ready to bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm not sure whether the difference in blooming times between William O'Brien, 25 miles or so south of here, and the wetland out back is typical this year or if our spastic weather has something to do with it this Spring only. It has been fun trying to figure it out, for what it's worth. (Thank you, Buffalo Springfield.) The dandelions around Stillwater have turned some front yards more bright yellow than green. I suppose if pasqueflowers were as common as dandelions, I wouldn't be as persistent at trying to get some good photos of them, just as if I lived in San Diego, I would be more inclined to take a day like today, a week like this week is supposed to be, for granted. If we're constantly surrounded by pleasure and beauty, don't we tend to notice it less, to take it in stride? Isn't that something to watch out for? There are too many in Nepal, and more to come, I fear, who will never again get a chance to enjoy what passes for Spring in the high mountains. Let's hold a prayer in our hearts for those living and those already gone ahead of us.

Red Balloon Rising

By Laurel Blossom 
I tied it to your wrist
With a pretty pink bow, torn off
By the first little tug of wind.
I’m sorry.

I jumped to catch it, but not soon enough.
It darted away.

It still looked large and almost within reach.
Like a heart.

Watch, I said.
You squinted your little eyes.

The balloon looked happy, waving
Good-bye.

The sky is very high today, I said.
Red went black, a polka dot,

Then not. We watched it,
Even though we couldn’t

Spot it anymore at all.
Even after that.


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Sunday, April 26, 2015

April fooling with fire

Early this morning, after sunrise but before brightlight, I was sitting in the living room, reading Jane Hirshfield's absolutely fantastic Ten Windows : How Great Poems Transform the World, which I got a couple of weeks ago from Sue Zumberge at Subtext Books [see if she still has a copy, get it and read it, you'll thank me if you enjoy poetry]. As I put the book down to reach for my coffee cup, I noticed through one of our shiny, clear, new windows a wild turkey hen perched on the deck railing. She modestly refused to pose for a photo, as did the male red-winged blackbird that's shown up at the feeder several times this past week. Although unusual, a blackbird has visited us in years past. Never before has a turkey been seen on the deck unless it was nested in the Weber. Wildflowers are often more of a challenge to find than rare visitors at the feeders, but at least they hold still for pictures once you've found them. Now we move from unusual birds to unusual weather, or is it?

The following three pictures were each taken in mid-April of 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively. In case you can't read the ruler in the bottom photo, it's 13 inches of snow. What's "normal" for a Minnesota Spring? Do we base it on 2 out of 3 years? This year the pear tree is just leafing out but there's no notable snow. That makes it 50/50 for a four year period.

mid-April 2012 pear tree blooming
mid-April 2012
Photo by J. Harrington

mid-April 2012 pear tree snow covered
mid-April 2013
Photo by J. Harrington

mid-April 2014 13 inches of snow
mid-April 2014
Photo by J. Harrington


The lack of snow this Spring  made it easy several weeks ago for Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources to conduct a prescribed burn around the entrance and at the east side of Highway 95 through William O'Brien State Park. The post-burn ground was, naturally, blackened. As of this past Friday, the grass in the burned areas was greener than anything I'v seen in quite awhile. I have, in the past, seen photos of wildfire recovery in some of our western national parks and forests. It took several seasons for regrowth to show the recovery I saw this past week. I suppose that's one of the major differences between prescribed burns and wildfires. I'm not sure how troublesome the rest of our "usual" Spring grassfire season will be this year.

National Poetry Month

As When Drought Imagines Fire

By David Roderick 

Loot my point of view,
                                               hove my heart
                free from its hived booth
though I know your smoke,
                                            its black blossom,
is a substance I’ll never become:
                              colors
              of plaster and grass I’ve prepped
flawlessly, rivers I’ve whittled thin.

It’s a personal matter to me, the wind.
But let it be our cathedral feeling:
                                                              a sculpture
of ash
                               dragging its robe over
the hills because of us,
                                             because of me.
Yellow is hurried,
                              but red moves like a swarm
               through toothpick homes,
               pans over roofs,
                             where the ethos we child
                                             from the ground
will blacken to ruin.
                                                           Let’s glory
              this roughened nap
of landscape,
                           this parched Arcadia,
with one nude-struck match and a breeze.


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Saturday, April 25, 2015

A pretty afternoon's perspective

I've started today's posting three times already. Each time I wandered onto the subject of what the Minnesota Legislature is doing, I started to get dyspeptic and dyslexic in my typing I'm so frustrated by the self-serving short-sightedness of much of what they're passing and trying to pass off. So, for now I'm intentionally following Calvin's advice, as I found it on Twitter yesterday.
This past week, hoary puccoon prairie buttercups(?) started to bloom on our little piece of sand plain. West of the puccoon buttercups, in wet lowlands, royal ferns emerged. I'm used to seeing fiddlehead ferns that aren't all covered with white hairs so it took awhile to figure out what I had photographed.

Ranunculus rhomboideus (Prairie Buttercup)
Photo by J. Harrington

Osmunda regalis (Royal Fern)
Photo by J. Harrington

It's getting towards that time of year when we can look forward to seeing scarlet tanagers and rose breasted grosbeaks at our feeders. The extended forecast has much warmer temperatures in store for us. We are, for the moment, in much better shape than those living in Nepal, although some day the Yellowstone volcanic system could change that, but don't let that bother you for now. Our more immediate problems are being created in St. Paul. Enjoy the pretty afternoon.

National Poetry Month

By the Stream

Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872 - 1906

By the stream I dream in calm delight, and watch as in a glass,
How the clouds like crowds of snowy-hued and white-robed
      maidens pass,
And the water into ripples breaks and sparkles as it spreads,
Like a host of armored knights with silver helmets on their heads.
And I deem the stream an emblem fit of human life may go,
For I find a mind may sparkle much and yet but shallows show,
And a soul may glow with myriad lights and wondrous mysteries,
When it only lies a dormant thing and mirrors what it sees.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Going local

Spring supposedly moves north at something like 15 miles per day (I've seen 13 to 16 listed on web sites). That may explain something I noticed yesterday. In mid-day, I was at William O'Brien State Park. The marsh marigolds there were in bloom and looked like this. Can you see the little bits of yellow blossoms?

marsh marigolds in bloom
marsh marigolds in bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

Later in the day, I checked a nearby wetland behind the house. The marsh marigolds there were still closed, with no yellow noticeable, as you may be able to see.

pre-bloom marsh marigolds
Photo by J. Harrington

I don't think the difference was due to local late afternoon sun rather than mid-day sun at the state park. We're about 15+ miles north of William O'Brien. I'll check this weekend and let you know if the local flowers have started to bloom. I'm not sure about relative differences in elevation, although that's another factor that affects Spring's movement. It's nice to sometimes have an opportunity to check a rule of thumb and find that it seems to fit reality.

It's also worth noting how sensitive nature is to local conditions. Do you suppose adaptation to local conditions has something to do with her ability to be resilient and adaptable? Is it too big a stretch to compare nature's local sensitivity to the banks and cable companies many have judged "too big to fail?" Local economies that are excessively dependent on one or two global markets can suffer severely if that global market has a downturn. Why local leaders would want to increase that dependency is beyond me. One of the basic lessons in business, I thought, is never let one client be responsible for the majority of your income. South St. Paul learned that about stockyards. The St. Croix River valley doesn't produce much timber these days. Northern Minnesota needs unpolluted lakes and rivers (and broadband) to reduce its dependence on the boom and bust of global economies. Edward Abbey had a rule of thumb about living locally: 
“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

― Edward Abbey, The Journey Home: Some Words in Defense of the American West


National Poetry Month

All Trains Are Going Local

By Timothy Liu 
Slowing down your body enough to feel.

Thought you were at a standstill
but you were only slowing down enough

to feel the pain. There are worse things

than running to catch the train, twisting
your ankle, the afternoon fucked.

Running to get to or away from?


the stranger who helps you up
wants to know, you who are so used to

anything scribbled on a prescription blank.

Just want the pain to go away, you say,
surprised to find yourself

reaching for someone else's hand.


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Thursday, April 23, 2015

The poetry of Spring

So far this April we haven't done much out of the ordinary to celebrate National Poetry Month. Let's do something about that today. First, my Better Half sent me a link this morning that I want to share.
  • The BBC has a marvelous piece on WB Yeats (pronounced "Yates," rhymes with ate) on how to read a poem. Definitely worth a read and listen.

  • Next, one of my favorite poets, Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser, has an interview in the Daily Yonder. I continue to be motivated in my writing by his ability to find the wonder and poetry in everyday things.

  • Finally, for today, the Huffington Post has Mandy Kahn's "Thirteen Thoughts on Poetry in the Digital Age."
My Daughter Person gave me a great suggestion this morning. I was complaining about my inability to find wildflowers. She suggested I check out William O'Brien State Park. Here's some of what I saw:

Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot)
Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot)
Photo by J. Harrington

Caltha palustris (Marsh Marigold)
Caltha palustris (Marsh Marigold)
Photo by J. Harrington

the first dandelion of the season
the first dandelion of the season
Photo by J. Harrington

I need to spend some time with field guides to sort out what else I photographed today. I'm glad I sometimes have enough sense to listen to the younger generation.

National Poetry Month

Dandelions

By Peter Campion

After the cling of roots and then the “pock”
when they gave way
                                     the recoil up the hand
               was a small shock
of emptiness beginning to expand.

Milk frothing from the stems. Leaves inky green
and spiked.
                      Like blissed-out childhood play
              turned mean
they snarled in tangled curls on our driveway.

It happens still. That desolating falling
shudder inside
                            and then our neighborhood
                seems only sprawling
loops...like the patterns eaten on driftwood:

even the home where I grew up (its smell
of lingering
                      wood-smoke and bacon grease)
             seems just a shell
of lathe and paper. But this strange release

follows: this tinge like silver and I feel
the pull of dirt
                            again, sense mist uncurling
               to reveal
no architecture hidden behind the world

except the stories that we make unfolding:
as if our sole real power
                                                    were the power
             of children holding
this flower that is a weed that is a flower.


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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day Milestones to celebrate?

Happy Earth Day. By now you've probably heard that President Obama has been reported to claim that Senator Warren is just plain wrong about the facts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Of course, as Huffington Post and others note, it's hard to be sure since the Obama administration has classified the the negotiations and related documents. As one who believes that the strategy to "Trust, but verify" was one of the few worthwhile things to come from the Reagan administration, I can only reply to President Obama "say what?"

prairie flowers at Wild River State Park
prairie flowers at Wild River State Park
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm still disappointed that the Clinton administration brought us the North American Free Trade Agreement, which I continue to believe did major disservice to two of the democrat's longest-standing constituencies, environmentalists and labor unions. The "side agreements" on protecting the environment and labor rights seem to have substantially less effectiveness than the jurisdiction exercised by the World Trade Organization. Minnesota's Iron Range claims to be suffering from unfair trade practices in the international steel industry, compounded by claims that it takes too long and is too difficult to get redress from the damage of "steel dumping." I haven't yet seen an analysis that would support those assertions either, but Public Citizen has published a 20 years of NAFTA report, with data, that states
"The data show that NAFTA proponents’ projections of broad economic benefits from the deal have failed to materialize. Instead, millions have suffered job loss, wage stagnation, and economic instability from NAFTA. Scores of environmental, health and other public interest policies have been challenged. Consumer safeguards, including key food safety protections, have been rolled back...."
The Economics Policy Institute also has criticized NAFTA's "benefits." It's a contentious issue and one of my biggest critiques is that the basis on which the anticipated wins and losses for these kinds of agreements are rarely (never?) documented. To paraphrase Jerry Maguire, "show me the jobs." I don't expect any projections to be absolutely correct, but at least we could judge future realities against well-defined expectations and, perhaps, limit the debate to more productive lines. All of which brings us to one of my wishes for future Earth Days in Minnesota.

great blue heron at Carlos Avery WMA
great blue heron at Carlos Avery WMA
Photo by J. Harrington

Once upon a time, Minnesota had a set of broadly agreed upon and formally adopted goals called "Minnesota Milestones." They were goals and indicators of progress, or lack thereof, toward attaining those goals. For this Earth Day and future ones, I'd like to see Minnesota bring back Milestones and measure how we're doing against them. Maybe it might help bring some modicum of civility to our political discourse. I don't know about you, but I'm fed up with bickering along the lines of "she said, he said" that are focused on scoring points, not progress. These are the Environmental goals (in bold) and indicators (numbered) in the last (1998) version of Milestones I could find:

Minnesotans will conserve natural resources to give future generations a healthy environment and a strong economy.
     55 Energy use per person
     56 Renewable energy sources
     57 Vehicle miles
     58 Air pollutants
     59 Water use
     60 Timber harvest
     61 Solid waste and recycling
     62 Toxic chemicals

Minnesotans will improve the quality of the air, water and earth.
     63 Urban air pollution
     64 Water quality in lakes and rivers
     65 Nitrate in ground water
     66 Erosion of cropland

Minnesotans will restore and maintain healthy ecosystems that support diverse plants and wildlife.
     67 Wildlife habitat
     68 Changes in land use

Minnesotans will have opportunities to enjoy the state’s natural resources.
     69 Parkland and open space
     70 Recreational trails

cottontail under bird feeder
cottontail under bird feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

I think most of the goals and indicators would still be worth measuring today and into the future. I find it much easier to trust when it's also easier to verify. Don't you? Maybe next Earth Day we can celebrate the return of Minnesota's Milestones and some progress toward attaining them.

UPDATE: A major step in the right correct direction:
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's DashBoard

National Poetry Month

Shall earth no more inspire thee

By Emily Brontë 

Shall earth no more inspire thee,
Thou lonely dreamer now?
Since passion may not fire thee
Shall Nature cease to bow?

Thy mind is ever moving
In regions dark to thee;
Recall its useless roving—
Come back and dwell with me.

I know my mountain breezes
Enchant and soothe thee still—
I know my sunshine pleases
Despite thy wayward will.

When day with evening blending
Sinks from the summer sky,
I’ve seen thy spirit bending
In fond idolatry.

I’ve watched thee every hour;
I know my mighty sway,
I know my magic power
To drive thy griefs away.

Few hearts to mortals given
On earth so wildly pine;
Yet none would ask a heaven
More like this earth than thine.

Then let my winds caress thee;
Thy comrade let me be—
Since nought beside can bless thee,
Return and dwell with me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

'Twas the day before Earth Day

If you're any kind of Harry Potter fan, I'm sure you remember the Whomping Willow on Hogwarts grounds. At one time or another today, almost every tree I saw had the winds blowing them about in pretty good imitation of the  WW. I'll write about the wind, and the flowering dogwood and/or magnolia trees I saw blooming exuberantly in St. Paul this morning. I will not mention the snow flurries that have been falling off and on most of the day. I've been oh so careful not to put away my winter boots and sweaters, but I did take the snow brush out of my car last weekend. I hope that's not what triggered today's weather. It appears as though the climatologists are on target with their claims that climate change means greater volatility in weather patterns. Looking at Minnesota's weather for most Aprils, I'm hard pressed to fathom how that could be.

turbulent clouds
turbulent clouds
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm sure you know that tomorrow is Earth Day. In fact, it's the 45th anniversary. Are you planning on doing anything to celebrate (that is if you're not shoveling snow)? In case you haven't made plans yet, let me offer a few suggestions. The St. Croix 360 web site proposes we become a river steward or get involved with Project 1 and
"...take a minute this Earth Day to take one action for the planet. Some suggestions include:
  • Pick up ONE piece of trash
  • Write to ONE restaurant to introduce recycling bins
  • Make ONE phone call to a politician
  • Write ONE check to a non-profit organization that promotes a healthier environment
  • Buy ONE thing from a local farmer or business"
There's another organization I've recently read about that may interest you on Earth Day (or any day starting today). It's The Next System Project and I hope it's the next big thing.

National Poetry Month

Earth Day

By Jane Yolen 
I am the Earth
And the Earth is me.
Each blade of grass,
Each honey tree,
Each bit of mud,
And stick and stone
Is blood and muscle,
Skin and bone.

And just as I
Need every bit
Of me to make
My body fit,
So Earth needs
Grass and stone and tree
And things that grow here
Naturally.

That’s why we
Celebrate this day.
That’s why across
The world we say:
As long as life,
As dear, as free,
I am the Earth
And the Earth is me. 


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Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring's "soft" opening

At least where I am it hasn't started snowing, yet. Are you familiar with the phrase "soft opening?" I've concluded that in Minnesota, April is the soft opening for Spring, which has its grand opening here-abouts each year in May. Minnesotan's don't seem to get as excited about either turkey hunting or trout opener, each of which occurs in April, as they do about walleye (the state fish) opener in May. I don't think it's because of the proximity of walleye opener to Mother's Day but, then again, I'm not much of a walleye angler either. Twenty years ago or so, I trailered my boat up to Mille Lacs where a friend had a cabin. We were going to do the midnight opener routine. When we went out to the boat about 11:30 pm or 11:45 pm, there were several inches of fresh snow covering the bottom of the boat. I'm still recovering.

last year's newly planted forsythia
last year's newly planted forsythia
Photo by J. Harrington

The forsythia (above) that we planted last May seems to have made it through the Winter, but this Spring there are only a handfull of blossoms on a few of its branches. The lilac that we planted next to it is questionable. Deer may have browsed it into oblivion before we put a wire mesh guard over it. When (if?) the sun comes out again, I need to take a peek in our "wet spot" and see if the marsh marigold survived. Our back yard section of the Anoka Sand Plain is tough on transplants. With luck, and some hard work, the apple trees may have made it through their second Winter. When I checked a couple of weeks ago, it was too early to see any signs of life or leaves.

freshly planted marsh marigold
freshly planted marsh marigold
Photo by J. Harrington

Later this week I'm going to head to a local Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) to check the status of the wildflower blooms this year. Last year they didn't show much before mid-May. It seems to me that, if there were as much uncertainty every year about when Christmas would arrive as there is about the arrival of Spring in our north country, we'd never survive the holidays.

Claytonia virginica (Virginia Spring Beauty)?
Claytonia virginica (Virginia Spring Beauty)?
Photo by J. Harrington


National Poetry Month

Headlong

By Rae Armantrout 

As one
may be relieved
by the myriad
marigold faces
held aloft
beside the freeway — 
their articulation — 

and, too,
by the rush
of notes
following their own
likenesses
in these headlong
phrases

Relieved of what?
Relieved of what?


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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nor any drop to drink

Today's cloudy, rainy weather has me thinking about water. When I was young, I lived near the Atlantic Ocean, specifically Dorchester Bay and Hingham Bay in Boston Harbor, later near Duxbury Bay and Cape Cod Bay. I spent time at, on and around a number of rivers like the Neponset near Dorchester and the Weir in Hingham. Later I boated, fished and clammed on the North and South Rivers in Marshfield. Much of my professional career was spent working on water quality and related land use issues, including the quality of the Charles River in Boston, when it was advisable to get a tetanus shot if you fell into the water. In Minnesota I've been on the Mississippi, the Minnesota and the St. Croix as well as the Lake Superior, Duluth Harbor, St. Louis River complex. I've waded the Snake, the Whitewater, a number of smaller streams in northern Minnesota and a few trout streams in western Wisconsin. Water has been a major part of my life, for both business and pleasure.

Lake Superior
Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

In the Bible, the Book of Genesis speaks about the surface of the earth being covered with water before either light or land were created. Many of the Native American creation stories I've read refer to the earth being covered with water before there was land. Water is one of the world's great commons. We are all responsible for protecting it. Thanks to the Clean Water Act, in the United States some are more responsible than others, like George Orwell's 1984, in which some animal are more equal than others. That's not fair. Agriculture has, for the most part, gotten a free ride when it comes to meeting water quality requirements. Mining has also been exempted from obligations other sectors of our economy, other organizations trying to make a profit, are expected to meet.

Cities and industry have to treat their wastewater and have discharge permits for much of their stormwater. Transportation departments have to cover their salt storage piles. Too many farmers are objecting to doing much of anything until someone can show them exactly how much of the pollution is coming from their fields. States used to play those games with each other. That's one of the reasons the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, more than 40 years ago.

St. Croix River
St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

It isn't, as far as I know, municipal or industrial discharges that are killing large areas of the Gulf of Mexico. It's agricultural pollution. Citizens of Des Moines shouldn't have to pay more for clean drinking water because upstream farmers are maximizing profits and discharging nitrates. The farmers' discharges, whether found to be legal or not, aren't, in my opinion, moral or equitable. I've know enough farmers to have learned that they want visitors to behave responsibly. Leave gates they way you found them I was taught. Farmers need to accept their responsibility to behave responsibly and leave water the way they found it, so others can use it without having to pay to clean up someone else's mess. Isn't that what fair, independent grown ups do, clean up after themselves? If we need to keep some form of a "cheap food" policy, I'd rather directly subsidize some consumers than exempt all producers from environmental responsibility, but then, how much of a subsidy have other industries received to meet clean water requirements?

National Poetry Month

Out of Water

By Marie Ponsot 

A new embroidery of flowers, canary color,
                        dots the grass already dotty
                        with aster-white and clover.

I warn, “They won’t last, out of water.”
The children pick some anyway.

In or out of  water
children don’t last either.

I watch them as they pick.
Still free of  what’s next
            and what was yesterday
they pick today.


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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Give Spring a hand

Late afternoon yesterday we went for a drive through the countryside. Celebrating the arrival, however brief, of warm weather in Minnesota prompted a trip to the Taylors Falls Drive-In for dinner. The pale red blush of red maples in flower is noticeable almost everywhere. Weeping willows have morphed from early season yellow to chartreuse as Spring's green creeps up (down?) their limbs. Leaves on many of the local shrubs and poplars are the size of mouse's ears. Day lilies have emerged. Oaks are being recalcitrant about bursting their buds and letting their leaves down. Their time will come soon enough.

day lilies emerging
day lilies emerging
Photo by J. Harrington

Even allowing for microclimate differences, have you noticed the differences in emergence periods among species in any given year, as well as from year to year? It's a good reminder about not putting all our eggs in one basket. They also offer extended periods of sequential ephemeral delights as we watch the north country awaken from a long Winter's nap.

the blush of Spring
the blush of Spring
Photo by J. Harrington

Ephemeral also describes the beauty of sunsets at this time of year. They're much warmer than during Winter, but fade quickly to night.

a warm Spring sunset
a warm Spring sunset
Photo by J. Harrington

National Poetry Month


E. E. Cummings, 1894 - 1962

          III

Spring is like a perhaps hand 
(which comes carefully 
out of Nowhere)arranging 
a window,into which people look(while 
people stare
arranging and changing placing 
carefully there a strange 
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps 
Hand in a window 
(carefully to 
and fro moving New and 
Old things,while 
people stare carefully 
moving a perhaps 
fraction of flower here placing 
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.


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Friday, April 17, 2015

Mining beyond compliance

Have you noticed a similarity in the statements from spokespersons for proposed mining projects in northern Minnesota? I have. In response to Representative McCollum's proposed legislation, the National Park and Wilderness Waters Protection Act, restricting new mining in the Rainy River basin, Twin Metals issued a statement. According to northern Minnesota's Timberjay, it contained this: “The vast Rainy River basin contains millions of acres of valuable state and federal minerals, and in much of the area environmentally responsible mining is currently allowed and encouraged by both state and federal law,” said the company.

PolyMet asserts, on its web site, that it "Working with state and federal agencies, we are demonstrating that our NorthMet Project will meet all applicable Minnesota and federal environmental standards."

I haven't yet seen an acknowledgement from either proposer that others in the mining sector are working to find cost effective ways to go beyond compliance with current regulations and move mining to serve as a major contributor to a sustainable world.

Minnesota's North Shore on Lake Superior
Minnesota's North Shore on Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

There is an overwhelming (or underwhelming, depending on the starting point) difference between compliance (we will do what is required in the regulations and permits) and superior performance. We see a lot of those changes occurring in the green building sector highlighting the differences between buildings built just to meet code and those designed, constructed and operated to obtain and maintain a green building certification such as the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED, and those projects targeted toward zero impact, such as those being developed in accordance with the Living Building Challenge. European countries are investigating the possibility of zero impact deep mines. Using Google search, I can find no similar activity for the U.S. Would it be helpful for Minnesota to work with mine developers and owners, environmental regulators and advocates and other stakeholders to lead the US toward zero impact mining? Minnesota is facing contentious environmental issues in the northern third of the state from iron mining and proposed copper-nickle mines. Southern Minnesota continues to grapple with frac sand mining impacts.

Instead of responding to developers proposals and simply being reactive, might we not better serve this and future generations of Minnesotans by being proactive? Obviously, at least the one of us posting this thinks so. I've become impressed by how much improvement an integrative development process can contribute to a project. It's been some time since "Design, Announce and Defend" has served as a successful project management strategy, yet that's essentially what we're doing in mining, with an EIS or two tacked on. Maybe we can find a way to apply integrative design to mine developments and avoid generating 58,000 comments on the second version of an EIS because the first version wasn't acceptable. Think how much money and aggravation could be saved and how much of the environment protected if we learned to cooperate, go beyond compliance, and get it right the first time.

National Poetry Month

Elliptical

By Harryette Mullen 

They just can’t seem to . . . They should try harder to . . . They ought to be more . . . We all wish they weren’t so . . . They never . . . They always . . . Sometimes they . . . Once in a while they . . . However it is obvious that they . . . Their overall tendency has been . . . The consequences of which have been . . . They don’t appear to understand that . . . If only they would make an effort to . . . But we know how difficult it is for them to . . . Many of them remain unaware of . . . Some who should know better simply refuse to . . . Of course, their perspective has been limited by . . . On the other hand, they obviously feel entitled to . . . Certainly we can’t forget that they . . . Nor can it be denied that they . . . We know that this has had an enormous impact on their . . . Nevertheless their behavior strikes us as . . . Our interactions unfortunately have been . . .     


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