Sunday, May 31, 2015

About temperature fluctuations

The first loaves of sourdough bread came out of the oven 10 or 15 minutes ago. The sequence I followed in mixing the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water and starter needs improvement, but we'll see how this first batch tastes. This is what it looks like.

first two loaves of sourdough bread
first two loaves of sourdough bread
Photo by J. Harrington

We've mentioned Anthropogenic Climate Disruption more than once on My Minnesota. One classic example, I think, is that Alaska has already had highs in the 90s and Minnesota hasn't. In fact, the cooler temperatures we've had in Minnesota are conducive to bread baking, something I try to avoid when the temperature gets into the 80s and the humidity climbs. I suspect plants and animals are starting to find life is like trying to be a baker with an oven that randomly jumps about from 200 to 400 to 175 for varying lengths of time. It would be tough to figure out how to adapt to that. I wonder how Bill Holm's hot spring was for constant temperature.

[UPDATE] The two senior members of the household have agreed that the bread is delicious. Because one of them seems to have developed a recurrent case of chronic dissatisfaction, he'll probably continue to tinker with how the dough is made. Maybe recipes are like poems, never finished, only abandoned.

Bread Soup: An Old Icelandic Recipe

By Bill Holm 
Start with the square heavy loaf
steamed a whole day in a hot spring
until the coarse rye, sugar, yeast
grow dense as a black hole of bread.
Let it age and dry a little,
then soak the old loaf for a day
in warm water flavored
with raisins and lemon slices.
Boil it until it is thick as molasses.
Pour it in a flat white bowl.
Ladle a good dollop of whipped cream
to melt in its brown belly.
This soup is alive as any animal,
and the yeast and cream and rye
will sing inside you after eating
for a long time.

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Learning to learn

I've been baking Artisan 5 minute homemade bread for a couple of years now. Unlike writing poetry, or blog posts for that matter, baking bread gets me out of my head and into the real world. The basic recipe I've followed involves mixing yeast, water, flour and salt, letting the chemicals work their magic to make the dough rise and then baking the risen dough, usually in the cloche in the picture. Everyone at home says they like the result and even I've found it difficult to screw up.

bread book, cloche and bread
bread book, cloche and bread
Photo by J. Harrington

Well, today I entered my next phase of bread baking and I've already messed up one of the fundamental steps. The birthday present of a sourdough crock and starter arrived yesterday. My Better Half, who hates to see surprises spoiled, gave it to me today as an early present because the instructions said to feed the starter within 24 hours of arrival. I opened the jar, followed directions, and had the beginnings of my starter happily feeding and bubbling away over night.

fed sourdough starter
fed sourdough starter
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning, before I had finished my first cup of coffee (which may have been a major contributor to my ineptness), I moved on to the next feeding phase, dividing the starter in half and adding more flour and water. Unfortunately, I had the correct the steps but in the wrong sequence. I added the flour and water before I divided the starter. It is no more possible to unmix flour and water from wet dough than it is to push toothpaste back into the tube.

I've already learned some valuable lessons from the process, and for me that's about as important as the crumb and crust of the bread. No, it's not to avoid undertaking important things before I've had at least one cup of coffee. I already know better than that but don't always listen to myself until I've finished my first cup of coffee. I relearned when I make a mistake to just keep going and make the most of what's left. The world isn't going to end if I have to start all over with fresh starter. In fact, I could even try making my own starter, which I'll probably do some day anyhow. I realized that many organic processes function well within a reasonable range of tolerances. I relearned that, as they say, "the proof is in the pudding," or, in the bread, as the case may be. I reinforced the old "if at first you don't succeed..." The starter will live happily in its crock, in a corner of the refrigerator for some time.

sourdough's home
sourdough's home
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm looking forward to seeing and tasting how the first loaves turn out. I want to see if the starter and resulting bread improve over time. I want to explore other approaches to using and making sourdough as a way to get more familiar with my need to trust the process and let go of some levels of control. I'll be sure to let you know how it all turns out, good or bad. I'm now involved in an organic system with a feedback loop or two. I should have done this years ago. Bread is for real. Unfortunately, I managed to spoil yet another of my Better Half's surprises when we were out shopping and I started looking for a Danish dough wisk. She told me to forget it, she had ordered one for my birthday. Sigh, sorry dear! I'll act surprised?

The Words Under the Words

By Naomi Shihab Nye 

for Sitti Khadra, north of Jerusalem 

My grandmother’s hands recognize grapes,   
the damp shine of a goat’s new skin.   
When I was sick they followed me,
I woke from the long fever to find them   
covering my head like cool prayers.

My grandmother’s days are made of bread,   
a round pat-pat and the slow baking.
She waits by the oven watching a strange car   
circle the streets. Maybe it holds her son,   
lost to America. More often, tourists,   
who kneel and weep at mysterious shrines.   
She knows how often mail arrives,
how rarely there is a letter.
When one comes, she announces it, a miracle,   
listening to it read again and again
in the dim evening light.

My grandmother’s voice says nothing can surprise her.
Take her the shotgun wound and the crippled baby.   
She knows the spaces we travel through,   
the messages we cannot send—our voices are short   
and would get lost on the journey.
Farewell to the husband’s coat,
the ones she has loved and nourished,
who fly from her like seeds into a deep sky.   
They will plant themselves. We will all die.

My grandmother’s eyes say Allah is everywhere, even in death.   
When she talks of the orchard and the new olive press,   
when she tells the stories of Joha and his foolish wisdoms,   
He is her first thought, what she really thinks of is His name.
“Answer, if you hear the words under the words—
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,   
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones.” 

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Rediscovering our "Original Instructions"

Earlier this week we started looking at reciprocity, balance and community. For several years now I've been involved with the Minnesota Chapter of the national U.S. Green Building Council [USGBC-MN], the folks who brought us Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design [LEED]. LEED is a green building certification program that recognizes sustainable communities are more than new construction and the site on which it sits. LEED certification is available for many existing buildings, depending on how efficiently and effectively they're operated. The latest version of LEED includes several pilot credit programs that have me particularly excited.
  • Social Equity, with three pilot credit options; and

  • Local food production, with options for all or most (I haven'tc done a cross check yet) of the current LEED project categories.

WEI's Amador Hill Farm & Orchard
Photo by J. Harrington

As I've watched USGBC and LEED evolve over the years, I've been especially pleased to see the increased emphasis placed on the relationship between green buildings and sustainable communities. The pilot credits reflect a recognition that healthy, sustainably produced, local food I think is likely to become an increasingly important element in sustainable communities. In fact, based on my observations and experience, there is a growing recognition that social equity is an essential element in a sustainable community. I can't think of anything more important for moving green building "mainstream" than creating and strengthening awareness of the idea that green building is a process, not just a product. The pilot credits listed above help build that awareness and offer a great opportunity to also build urban=rural linkages that  literally can broaden the geographic community needed to be both sustainable and resilient. John Donne had the right idea as far back as 1624. Native Americans have been emphasizing balance and reciprocity even longer than that. We have some catching up to do relearning much of what we used to know. At least we are making progress in a sustainable direction.

Cook's of Crocus Hill urban agriculture on Grand Ave.
Photo by J. Harrington

'No Man is an Island'

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Olde English Version

No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man
is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;
if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe
is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as
well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine
owne were; any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.


Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

To balance a dragonfly

The dragonfly squadrons were out patrolling yesterday. I drove under them so I couldn't tell what kind they were. I bet, even if I had been standing still and looking up, there's a good chance I still wouldn't have been able to tell you what we were looking at. I usually can tell the difference between a damselfly and a dragonfly but that's about it unless it's a sitting dragonfly and I've got my camera and field guide handy. I know their locomotion is different, but every time I see a dragonfly or two or three or..., I think of miniature "black helicopters."

Common Whitetail [female]?
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm glad for the way dragonflies consume lots of mosquitoes but also find them (dragonflies, not mosquitoes) basically interesting in a weird and wonder way. If we drained all the fields, wetlands and small ponds, we could maybe grow more field corn or soybeans at the expense of dragonflies and ducks and other wild things. That's not the kind of balance I want in this country. Do you? If we pay farmers to not grow crops on all their land, shouldn't we pay me to not build a sky-scraper on mine? That's a stretch, I know, but development and zoning are supposed to support the "best and highest use." We've spent too many years behaving as if that's always making the maximum amount of money and externalizing costs. We can do better. We need a system in which more costs are internalized and we subsidize people who can't afford food. I think we need to change much of our current system unless we can really slow down the effects of Anthropogenic Climate Disruption. Or, we can emulate Texas and see where that get's us.

Chalk-fronted Corporal (on left), Common Whitetail [female] (on right)

Photo by J. Harrington

Fly, Dragonfly!

By Joyce Sidman 

Water nymph, you have
climbed from the shallows to don
your dragon-colors.
Perched on a reed stem
all night, shedding your skin, you dry
your wings in moonlight.
Night melts into day.
Swift birds wait to snap you up.
Fly, dragonfly! Fly!

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Balance and reciprocity: community?

I had reason to be at William O'Brien State Park earlier today. The St. Croix look like it was running somewhere near bank full. There was a delightful cluster of what looked to me like wild geraniums in bloom along the road to the river access. It was a real treat to be out in the sunshine with a gentle breeze blowing and the birds singing and the river flowing.

Geranium maculatum (Wild Geranium)
Photo by J. Harrington

I've been giving a lot of thought recently to the question of why learn the names of the local plants and animals. I know that it simplifies being able to share information. After all, if you and your friend both know what an apple tree looks like, arranging to meet at the apple tree down by the river can work reasonably well. Seeing the geraniums and being able to recognize and name them helped me feel more at home than I had anticipated, sort of like getting to know the neighbors and their pets may not do much to help us feel at home when we're in our own home, but it strengthens our feeling of being at home in the neighborhood.

late June corn cover, 2013
Photo by J. Harrington

In my neighborhood, most of the local farm fields have been plowed and planted but aren't yet showing any plant cover, so the top soil is just sitting there waiting for the next good rainstorm to create more erosion. I've seen some recent reports on folks in Iowa planting "prairie strips" along with corn. Some of the funds for seeds came from Pheasants Forever which is also doing some work in Minnesota on pollinator habitat. Each of these look like the kinds of improvements that would benefit the Sunrise River and its negative effect on the St. Croix River. I'll keep my eyes and ears open to see if there's any local prairie strip work going on of if there's a local Pheasant Forever chapter working on something. I'd really like to see the Sunrise River watershed, and Chisago County in particular, become known as a model of how we can achieve a balance between use and abuse of the land and the resources there. We need to broaden the definition of "we" when we're reminded of Paul Wellstone's great quotation "We all do better when we all do better." Aldo Leopold provided the needed insight when he wrote about a land ethic: “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.”- Aldo Leopold Not surprisingly, I think Wendell Berry has it about right.

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry 
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

"Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" from The Country of Marriage, copyright ® 1973 by Wendell Berry

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

At home afloat in the bioregion

Near the base of the nested places that we call home is the Sunrise River watershed, which is tributary to the St. Croix River. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, much of the water in the Sunrise River and the lakes in the watershed fails to meet appropriate water quality standards. This, in turn, means that "The Sunrise River was identified as one of the greatest contributors of phosphorus and sediment to the St. Croix River (U.S. Geological Survey, 1999)." That surprised me, as did the number of registered feed lots in the watershed.

manure management needed?
manure management needed?
Photo by J. Harrington

I've lived in this area for a long while. Before moving to Minnesota, I became involved in environmental planning and management back when the 1972 Clean Water Act Amendments were being considered by Congress. Because of work I've been involved with over the years, I was not surprised to see that "BMP effectiveness monitoring is currently not being done widespread due to funding. There are not many funding opportunities to encourage this type of practice on the local level." (BMPs are Best Management Practices for non-point sources of pollution such as agricultural and urban runoff.) The largest reduction in a critical pollutant, phosphorus, is expected to be attained with the implementation of agricultural conservation tillage practices. The watershed has some folks who follow conservation practices, but, judging by the amount of snirt we saw in ditches last Winter, there's lots of room for improvement. I wonder if "snirt counts" could be a way to track improvements.

crop residue in the field
crop residue in the field
Photo by J. Harrington

We've been fussing and fuming for some time now about the fact that agriculture is largely exempt from water quality pollution reduction requirements. We've also expressed a lot of scepticism about whether a voluntary approach is likely to be successful. After all, if we Minnesotans were sufficiently inclined to follow "best practices" like obeying the speed limit, we wouldn't need as many traffic cops as we have. So, since many of the issues, concerns and opportunities we've written about (e.g., Minnesota River sediment reductions) are going on right in our back yard, so to speak, we're now commited to focusing on learning more about the local actors, actions and results, and writing about what we learn, during the next year or so, God willing and the river don't rise, to borrow a phrase that would be most helpful in Texas these days.

Spring high water, St. Croix River
Spring high water, St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

A River

By John Poch 
God knows the law of life is death,
and you can feel it in your warbler neck,
your river-quick high stick wrist
at the end of day. But the trophies:
a goldfinch tearing up a pink thistle,
a magpie dipping her wing tips
in a white cloud, an ouzel barreling
hip-high upstream with a warning.
You wish you had a river. To make
a river, it takes some mountains.
Some rain to watershed. You wish
you had a steady meadow and pink thistles
bobbing at the border for your horizons,
pale robins bouncing their good postures
in the spruce shadows. Instead, the law
of life comes for you like three men
and a car. In your dreams, you win them over
with your dreams: a goldfinch tearing up
a pink thistle. A magpie so slow
she knows how to keep death at bay,
she takes her time with argument
and hides her royal blue in black.
Shy as a blue grouse, nevertheless God
doesn’t forget his green mountains.
You wish you had a river.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, May 25, 2015

In memoriam

My dad served in the air force during World War II and the Korean "conflict." He's been gone for some years now and, most of the time, I'm not aware that I miss him. Like too many fathers and sons I've know, we struggled to get along and understand each other. Without men like my father, and other members of "The Greatest Generation," who would we hippies and rock and rollers have had to rebel against? I've noticed that what passes for leadership these days doesn't offer much prospect of The Greatest Generation's being superseded any time soon.

grass with wild flowers
grass with wild flowers
Photo by J. Harrington

I had thought that since the Korean conflict was a United Nations "police action" and the U.S. never formally declared war, it may have been the unfortunate start of a number of other military actions in which the elected leadership of this country put successive generations "in harm's way" without what I consider full national accountability, i.e. a declaration of war. A quick review of "Declaration of war by the United States" on Wikipedia proves me correct, but it was Truman's decision to not ask for a declaration. It does seem to me that, before this country again gratuitously commits the lives of its citizens, fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, brothers, sisters, to conflict, those who are least likely to be called to bear arms should display their leadership responsibility more transparently, but then, unlike me, you may not be fed up with and dismayed by the growing chorus of "I voted against" before "I voted for." Let me phrase it this way: if I owned a business, any business, I'd be much more likely to hire a veteran than an ex-politician. What does that say about those we continue to vote for? Why can't we do as well at the ballot box as we do on the battlefield, or have they become linked?

Photo by J. Harrington


By Carl Sandburg 

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
                                          I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
                                          What place is this?
                                          Where are we now?

                                          I am the grass.
                                          Let me work.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Great governor, good governance

Several days ago we wrote in disgust and dismay about legislation the 2015 session of the Minnesota Legislature had sent to Governor Dayton. The dismay related to substantive content in the bills, particularly some very bad environmental policy. The disgust was triggered by the process by which those policy provisions, some of which had not been heard in any committee, were inserted during the "dead of night" into omnibus budget bills. Although the Minnesota Constitution does not speak directly to the question, this writer strongly opposes the idea that policy should be included in budget bills. All policy should be heard openly, in one or more committees, and adopted, amended or rejected on its own merits. I may get some pushback on this next point but the provisions of several of the bills in question strike me as coming dangerously close to constituting terroristic threats. I pose that assessment based on this definition of such threats, which includes the phrases:
  • "to cause serious public inconvenience, in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience."
  • "or influence the conduct or activities of a branch or agency of the federal government, the state, or a political subdivision of the state."

bees need real pollinator-friendly plants
bees need real pollinator-friendly plants
Photo by J. Harrington

Perhaps I need to take a remedial reading course, or some lawyers and legislators need to rewrite at least parts of the definition so it can't be as readily misapplied by folks like me, but elimination of longstanding environmental provisions, intimidation of state agencies, and the abolishment of a citizen board certainly strikes me as intended to "influence the conduct of ... the state in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such inconvenience." Legislatures and legislators seem to have developed the idea that, since they create laws, they are above the law. I don't think that's what the founders of this country had in mind. I haven't studied enough about the founders of Minnesota and the authors of that constitution to speak to what was intended.

water quality needs improvement
water quality needs improvement or protection
Photo by J. Harrington

Governor Dayton deserves thanks for his vetoes yesterday of two bills that had, in the opinion of many Minnesotans, very egregious provisions concerning Minnesota's environmental protection framework. He has dealt a serious blow to the degree of cynicism often underlying the scribblings of this scrivener. We should look forward to more of Governor Dayton's support for Minnesota's citizens and environment as we move through the special session and into the 2016 session. As voters we need to chose carefully those who would represent us in the legislature if we truly look forward to the day that cynicism regarding politics and politicians will be less well founded than it has become over the past few decades. Corporate "persons" don't vote, they just buy votes. Minnesota and the rest of the United States deserve better than that. We have better in the recent actions of our current governor and can hope legislative leaders listen to citizens more than "persons."


By Brian Russell 

the unthinkable prospect
of a world in which I am left
to my own devices

which are few and as soon
as the batteries die useless
first order of business

I draw a map in the sand
mark where I stand as the capital
of civilization   within me the
detailed blueprints of the pyramids
and the concept of zero
beyond me the finite frontier

the many miles of undeveloped
shoreline with spectacular views of a
sea filled with intricately depicted
monsters   I have a lot to do before

I introduce the new world
to art and astronomy and industry
medicine and technology
ethics politics democracy

by a show of hands we shall elect
which tree to burn in the first fire

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

As May winds down

I haven't been surprised to see ruby-throated hummingbirds at the oriole feeder. It's use by the local downy woodpeckers has caught me off guard. I hadn't noticed that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site notes "Occasionally, Downy woodpeckers will drink from oriole and hummingbird feeders as well." No photos yet, but stand by.

Several red-winged blackbirds have been using the feeders this year, which is unusual although they are know to feed on sunflower seeds at feeders, they're supposed to prefer the ground. Since I took down the tray feeder because it was being used heavily by the squirrels, the red-wings are using the screen tube feeder.

red-wing blackbird at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

It looks as though hoary puccoon is starting to bloom up on the far hill in the back yard. It's a week or so later than the earliest time listed in the Minnesota Wildflowers web site, but I'm learning that the birds and plants often don't follow our schedules. As the weather becomes more erratic from Anthropogenic Climate Disruption, I wonder how many phenology listings will have to be modified. I've read a little about it using observations compiled by two of our long-standing writer-naturalists, David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold. So, we can now, with assurance, add to death and taxes, change. In honor of the vote in favor of love, taken today by the Irish people, we'll close with a poem by the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney, about blackbirds, life, love and ....

hoary puccoon in bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

The Blackbird of Glanmore

by Seamus Heaney
On the grass when I arrive,
Filling the stillness with life,
But ready to scare off
At the very first wrong move.
In the ivy when I leave.

It’s you, blackbird, I love.

I park, pause, take heed.
Breathe. Just breathe and sit
And lines I once translated
Come back: “I want away
To the house of death, to my father

Under the low clay roof.”

And I think of one gone to him,
A little stillness dancer –
Haunter-son, lost brother –
Cavorting through the yard,
So glad to see me home,

My homesick first term over.

And think of a neighbour’s words
Long after the accident:
“Yon bird on the shed roof,
Up on the ridge for weeks –
I said nothing at the time

But I never liked yon bird.”

The automatic lock
Clunks shut, the blackbird’s panic
Is shortlived, for a second
I’ve a bird’s eye view of myself,
A shadow on raked gravel

In front of my house of life.

Hedge-hop, I am absolute
For you, your ready talkback,
Your each stand-offish comeback,
Your picky, nervy goldbeak –
On the grass when I arrive,

In the ivy when I leave.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, May 22, 2015


I'll admit that September is not usually when I think about wildflowers. My photographic record clearly shows that, by September, the meteorological beginning of Autumn, I'm thinking about leaves turning color, fresh apples, and chrysanthemums. My Better Half notes that asters often are in bloom in September. Minnesota Wildflowers lists more than 250 native plants that bloom in September, so clearly I've been missing quite a bit. I'll be better organized and have an additional focus on wildflowers this September. I'll also try to get back to the Minnesota Goose Garden before the asters are past their prime.

New England aster (in October)
Photo by J. Harrington

Something I've noticed during the past few years is a lack of field guides organized by county or, better yet, by bioregion.  For example, the Sierra Club covers the entire "North Woods" of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan in one volume. Minnesota has a high degree of flora that are shared throughout the state, depending on habitat, but I've wondered how challenging it might be to try to identify the 25 most common trees, plants, reptiles etc. by county or bioregion. I have no doubt we'll return to this topic after I've finished with the blooming by season listing and compared that to the Chisago County list of plants. It seems to me that, as many of our lives drift further and further from direct links with the natural world (other than mowing the Kentucky blue grass lawn) it would make sense to try to localize our natural resources inventory as a way to provide an easier entry to going local, so to speak. On the other hand, I know there are ruffed grouse living in greater numbers north of here in the forests and south of here along the Mississippi River bluffs. Why there are so few to none here I haven't figured out yet. Things like that might complicate any "most common" approach, although the Minnesota wolves' range is still limited to northern Pine County and hasn't reached this far south, yet. Might it someday, he asked hopefully?

Enjoy your holiday weekend. Please remember why and for whom we have this holiday. I'll understand if you've better things to do than stop by and read. Of course, if it rains a lot, as noted in today's Writer's Almanac...

May opens wide

The rain that came down last night
in sheets of shaken foil while thunder
trundled over the Bay and crooked
spears of lightning splintered trees
is rising now up stalks, lengthening
leaves that wave their new bright
banners tender as petals, seventeen
shades of green pushing into sun.
The soil feels sweet in my hands
as I push little marigolds in.
Bumblebees stir in the sour cherry
blossoms floating like pieces of moon
down to the red tulips beneath
the smooth barked tree where a red
squirrel chatters at my rescued tabby
who eyes him like a plate of lunch.

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

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Which side are you on?

First off, be sure to read today's Earth Journal column by Ron Meadore. He raises interesting questions about Governor Dayton's "agricultural buffer" legacy as it comes out of the legislative session. Second, check out the Ani DiFranco album and/or performance from which I borrowed today's title. I think we're looking at a much broader problem for the Governor and the Democrats if he doesn't veto bills which have terribly egregious environmental provisions. We're going into a special session anyhow. Budget bills without policy would be better than bad policy. 
Even though many of our major environmental laws were brought to us with notable assistance from Republicans, they were enacted in the days when bipartisan compromise didn't pull an automatic trigger for a knee-jerk primary challenge in the next election cycle. Between those good old days and now, it was the Democrats who brought us the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] and are now trying to foist a secret Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] on us. As I read the history and prospects, NAFTA and TPP have and will do serious damage to two of the constituencies that have long been supportive of Democrats, labor and environmentalists. Now, at least in Minnesota, those claiming to represent labor interests on the Iron Range are joining with Republican agricultural interests to gut Minnesota's long-standing and previously successful environmental protections, ignoring public health and recreational employment factors that also make up major elements in our economy.

Minnesota needs cleaner waters, not standards exemptions
Minnesota needs cleaner waters, not standards exemptions
Photo by J. Harrington

If the governor doesn't veto bills with unduly onerous environmental provisions, I suspect more and more Minnesotans will take a closer and closer look at the Green Party because we feel that the Democrats don't have our environmental backs. It seems really hard to get folks to understand that the economy and jobs aren't just about "saving money" on consumer goods. They're also about air clean enough to breathe, water clean enough to drink and swim in and support fish and wild rice we can safely eat. It's about saving money on health costs and creating enough jobs that enable folks to earn enough to pay for decent housing and education for their children. All the pieces need to work together, even under divided government. Or, perhaps a better strategy for many of us might be to stop our enabling behavior and let the pro-free trade, anti-environment free riders wreck everything. Then hope that will bring enough of those who don't bother to vote in off year elections to their senses to join us and engage in fixing what's been broken. Minnesota already has 40% of its waters not meeting "fishable-swimmable"standards, much more in some parts of the state. What's an additional 10% or 15% level of failure? We can't safely eat most of the fish from most of our waters right now. 

Minnesota needs cleaner air - solar does it
Minnesota needs cleaner air - solar does it
Photo by J. Harrington

After all, our air is not as bad as urban China's. We don't yet have to wear breathing masks. That means we could save a few more dollars by burning more coal. Maybe this global warming stuff won't be as bad as the scientists say. Our politicians know what we want. They keep trying to give it to us. The nice thing about America is we get to choose and live with the consequences. But the choices are supposed to be made with our informed consent, not behind closed doors and made at the last minute by those whose primary concern is to get reelected every 2, 4 or 6 years. Some of us, or our children will have to deal with the consequences for much longer than that. Or if, like us, you believe the "choice" between the economy and the environment is a false choice, that we don't have to settle for either/or, think about how we can get more creative politicians working for us in a better system.

I Went into the Maverick Bar

By Gary Snyder 

I went into the Maverick Bar   
In Farmington, New Mexico.
And drank double shots of bourbon
                         backed with beer.
My long hair was tucked up under a cap
I’d left the earring in the car.

Two cowboys did horseplay
                         by the pool tables,
A waitress asked us
                         where are you from?
a country-and-western band began to play   
“We don’t smoke Marijuana in Muskokie”   
And with the next song,
                         a couple began to dance.

They held each other like in High School dances   
                         in the fifties;
I recalled when I worked in the woods
                         and the bars of Madras, Oregon.   
That short-haired joy and roughness—
                         America—your stupidity.   
I could almost love you again.

We left—onto the freeway shoulders—
                         under the tough old stars—
In the shadow of bluffs
                         I came back to myself,
To the real work, to
                         “What is to be done.”

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

From unknown unknowns to known knowns

We've previously shared Will Rogers wonderful quotation "It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so." The there's former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's "...there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know." My knowledge of Minnesota's wild flowers clearly falls into the third Rumsfeld category, and qualifies me as one able to speak knowledgeably about Rogers'  knowing what ain't so.

Here's the count of native wild flowers blooming per month, as listed on the Minnesota Wildflowers web site.
  • April               89
  • May              235
  • June              421
  • July               476
  • August          413
  • September    269
  • October          89
and what the numbers look like when charted:

I would not have suspected that the count would peak in July, but then my knowledge of wildflowers and woodland plants has mostly been related to what ruffed grouse and woodcock depended on and what deer browsed on. On trout fishing trips, I've noticed early season ephemera that come into and disappear from blossom before the forest canopy closes, and fruit trees coming into bloom late in Spring and early in the Summer season probably biased my ability to see what was right in front of me in July and August. I am susceptible to seeing what I expect to see, or want to see, rather than what's there. Some of what we can look forward to seeing "there" in bloom in August are:

black-eyed susans and common mullein
Photo by J. Harrington

prairie blazing star
Photo by J. Harrington

silky prairie clover
Photo by J. Harrington


Some—the ones with fish names—grow so north
they last a month, six weeks at most.
Some others, named for the fields they look like,
last longer, smaller.

And these, in particular, whether trout or corn lily,
onion or bellwort, just cut
this morning and standing open in tapwater in the kitchen,
will close with the sun.

It is June, wildflowers on the table.
They are fresh an hour ago, like sliced lemons,
with the whole day ahead of them.
They could be common mayflower lilies of the valley,

day lilies, or the clustering Canada, large, gold,
long-stemmed as pasture roses, belled out over the vase--
or maybe Solomon’s seal, the petals
ranged in small toy pairs

or starry, tipped at the head like weeds.
They could be anonymous as weeds.
They are, in fact, the several names of the same thing,
lilies of the field, butter-and-eggs,

toadflax almost, the way the whites and yellows juxtapose,
and have “the look of flowers that are looked at,"
rooted as they are in water, glass, and air.
I remember the summer I picked everything,

flower and wildflower, singled them out in jars
with a name attached. And when they had dried as stubborn
as paper I put them on pages and named them again.
They were all lilies, even the hyacinth,

even the great pale flower in the hand of the dead.
I picked it, kept it in the book for years
before I knew who she was,
her face lily-white, kissed and dry and cold.

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Summer full of wildflowers

Yesterday we took a peek at some of the wild flowers that bloom in June, which is the start of meteorological Summer. Photos of plants which blossom in July start with a nearby rain garden that has more plants in bloom than I can readily identify.

rain garden with butterfly weed, brown or black eyed susans, purple coneflowers
Photo by J. Harrington

purple prairie clover
Photo by J. Harrington
carolina or prairie larkspur
Photo by J. Harrington

Last year seemed particularly full of Summer rain, and the wildflowers responded more beautifully than usual. Tomorrow we see what's flowering in August. Work has begun on the review of which month(s) have the most blooms listed and by how many. I'm getting curioser and curioser about  how that's going to turn out. Once that's done, we can see what happens when we match it against vascular plants native to Chisago County.


By Karma Larsen 
Milly Sorensen, January 16, 1922 - February 19, 2004 
It was the moonflowers that surprised us.
Early summer we noticed the soft gray foliage.
She asked for seedpods every year but I never saw them in her garden.
Never knew what she did with them.
Exotic and tropical, not like her other flowers.
I expected her to throw them in the pasture maybe,
a gift to the coyotes. Huge, platterlike white flowers
shining in the night to soften their plaintive howling.
A sound I love; a reminder, even on the darkest night,
that manicured lawns don't surround me.

Midsummer they shot up, filled the small place by the back door,
sprawled over sidewalks, refused to be ignored.
Gaudy and awkward by day,
by night they were huge, soft, luminous.
Only this year, this year of her death
did they break free of their huge, prickly husks
and brighten the darkness she left.

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

Monday, May 18, 2015

The bloom is off the (legislative) rose

Once, many years ago, I was involved with getting some legislation through the Minnesota legislature. For the most part, we were successful. Years before than, I was involved in the "Spring cleaning" (i.e., mucking out) of a horse barn. Of the two, I much preferred the Spring cleaning. It was a more rational process that involved less horsesh*t.

Now that that's out of the way, let me ask you this: When you think of wildflowers, do you mostly think only of Spring? That's been my tendency until I started looking at the photos I've taken over the past several years and then, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, looked at the automatically applied time stamp on the photos.

Last year in June we still had trillium, although the older blossoms were fading to pink. We also had columbine and hoary puccoon in bloom.

fading trillium in June
fading trillium in June
Photo by J. Harrington

columbine in June
columbine in June
Photo by J. Harrington

hoary puccoon in June
hoary puccoon in June
Photo by J. Harrington

The Minnesota Wildflowers web site has a "What's in Bloom" section. Some rainy day soon I'll see if I can figure out how much overlap there is from month to month and how many species bloom each month. Meanwhile, tomorrow's posting will feature the pictures we have of blooms for July and, maybe, August. Now that I think about it, horse manure contributes nutrients for plant growth and no one or nothing is useless that at least serves as a bad example. In case you missed it, we just circled back to the legislature, and congress too for that matter.


By John Clare 

Come we to the summer, to the summer we will come,
For the woods are full of bluebells and the hedges full of bloom,
And the crow is on the oak a-building of her nest,
And love is burning diamonds in my true lover's breast;
She sits beneath the whitethorn a-plaiting of her hair,
And I will to my true lover with a fond request repair;
I will look upon her face, I will in her beauty rest,
And lay my aching weariness upon her lovely breast.

The clock-a-clay is creeping on the open bloom of May,
The merry bee is trampling the pinky threads all day,
And the chaffinch it is brooding on its grey mossy nest
In the whitethorn bush where I will lean upon my lover's breast;
I'll lean upon her breast and I'll whisper in her ear
That I cannot get a wink o'sleep for thinking of my dear;
I hunger at my meat and I daily fade away
Like the hedge rose that is broken in the heat of the day. 

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

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Best and highest use

Sometimes something is sooo obvious that I don't even notice it. Ever since we bought "The Property" I've fussed off and on about what we should "do" with it. We live in the country but we don't have horses, goats, sheep or even chickens. Once upon a time we helped raise a small flock of ducks from eggs as a school science project. They mysteriously and suspiciously disappeared from what is now the dog run one afternoon when we weren't around. Whether the predators were two or four legged, or the quackers simply escaped, was never determined. The idea of bee hives is, perhaps permanently, on hold. This past week, it finally occurred to me that what we are doing with the property is providing habitat for song birds, dragonflies, native plants, turkeys, deer, snakes, turtles, frogs and heaven only knows what else. The "use" we get from that is the pleasure of watching things come, grow, go and generally do their own thing. The world would no doubt be in better shape if humans limited their "improvements" to real property. I'll try to keep that in mind the next time I start worrying about whether what we've done is the "best and highest use." This isn't just real estate. It's a home we're sharing with a number of neighbors and distant relations.

"the neighborhood in Spring"
"the neighborhood in Spring"
Photo by J. Harrington

bear track in the back yard sand
bear track in the back yard sand
Photo by J. Harrington

goldfinches and scarlet tanager under feeder
goldfinches and scarlet tanager under feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

Earlier today I wrote the following poem. It seems to fit the blog theme, or, perhaps, established it.

Listen to the Silence
Hear here
What is not there
Then Dawn drops
Birdsong rises
Attend the moment

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

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Success for the birds

I finally managed to get some pictures of a female oriole at the backyard deck feeder. The male hasn't yet been as cooperative. Hummingbirds, both male and female, are using it too. So far, no one is feasting on the dehydrated meal worms I have out front. It may be time to move them out back again and take our chances with the squirrels. It's more important, I've read, that the mealworms be available after any eggs have hatched.

female oriole at feeder
female oriole at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

hummingbird at oriole feeder
hummingbird at oriole feeder
Photo by J. Harrington


By Patricia Clark 

You can have the grackle whistling blackly 
        from the feeder as it tosses seed,

if I can have the red-tailed hawk perched
        imperious as an eagle on the high branch.

You can have the brown shed, the field mice
        hiding under the mower, the wasp’s nest on the door,

if I can have the house of the dead oak,
        its hollowed center and feather-lined cave.

You can have the deck at midnight, the possum
        vacuuming the yard in its white prowl,

if I can have the yard of wild dreaming, pesky
        raccoons, and the roaming, occasional bear.

You can have the whole house, window to window,
        roof to soffits to hardwood floors,

if I can have the screened porch at dawn, 
        the Milky Way, any comets in our yard.

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