Friday, July 31, 2015

How you live -- light pollution

Today's bioregional How you live quiz question aligns nicely with last night's / this morning's full blue moon (blue full moon?).

To what degree does light pollution obfuscate the night sky in your region? (Extra credit if you answer using the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale)

This is one version of a regional Bortle Scale

This link's to a slightly different display (centered on Minneapolis) with the Dark-Sky scale attached. Minnesota has several dark-sky observation sites. The nearest to us is McGregor. The answer to the question is our region includes most of the scale. We live in a 4 to 4.5 on a Bortle Scale, near the border of orange and yellow in this figure.

Blue moons occur with some regularity in song. Elvis Presley sang about two different blue moons. At least, I think they were different.
I saw this morning's full blue moon while dog-walking. It looked pretty much the same as any other full moon. The next blue moon will occur on January 2, 2018. Today, on the other hand, will never come again. So, does that suggest we should photograph our calendars or should we be more mindful of each moment?

The Prediction

By Mark Strand 

That night the moon drifted over the pond,   
turning the water to milk, and under   
the boughs of the trees, the blue trees,   
a young woman walked, and for an instant

the future came to her:
rain falling on her husband’s grave, rain falling   
on the lawns of her children, her own mouth
filling with cold air, strangers moving into her house,

a man in her room writing a poem, the moon drifting into it,   
a woman strolling under its trees, thinking of death,
thinking of him thinking of her, and the wind rising
and taking the moon and leaving the paper dark.
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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

How you live -- recycling plastics

I didn't know it at the time, but I first encountered the idea of recycling when I was much younger and learning to fly fish. That's when I read Lee Wulff's famous statement “Game fish are too valuable to be caught only once.” Catch and release fishing is one form of recycling a resource.

old barns with little or no plastic can be deconstructed and recycled
old barns with little or no plastic can be deconstructed and recycled
Photo by J. Harrington

Bioregional living includes the recognition that nature doesn't produce waste, resources are recycled and natural economies are circular. One way to avoid waste is not to produce it in the first place. Another is to find alternate uses for products when their primary purpose has been served. A third is to recycle products that aren't suitable for reuse. I don't know about you, but I keep forgetting that the concept to "reduce, reuse, recycle" what would otherwise become "waste" is actually a hierarchy. Sliding down that hierarchy to recycling brings us to today's bioregional question.

bookshelves made from recycled barn roofing boards
bookshelves made from recycled barn roofing boards
Photo by J. Harrington

What types of plastic are accepted by your regional recycling center?

Minnesota counties have long played lead roles in Minnesota's solid waste management system. Recycling legislation was enacted in 1973. [Full disclosure: I have from time to time over the years worked in and on the periphery of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area solid waste planning sector.]

Chisago County requires household waste collectors to provide recycling collection including: Chisago County Curbside Recycling "Plastics: milk jugs, water, soda, and juice bottles, condiment, dish, and detergent bottles, shampoo, soap, and lotion bottles. No plastics without a recycling number stamped on it"

Our household waste collection service accepts: "Plastic containers marked with a number 1-7 recycle logo. No plastic bags." So the answer seems to be "all plastics identified as recyclable."

[UPDATE: Meanwhile, the search for sustainable plastics continues.]

The Bear at the Dump

By William Matthews 

Amidst the too much that we buy and throw   
away and the far too much we wrap it in,   
the bear found a few items of special
interest—a honeydew rind, a used tampon,   
the bone from a leg of lamb. He’d rock back   
lightly onto his rear paws and slash
open a plastic bag, and then his nose—
jammed almost with a surfeit of rank
and likely information, for he would pause—
and then his whole dowsing snout would   
insinuate itself a little way
inside. By now he’d have hunched his weight   
forward slightly, and then he’d snatch it back,   
trailed by some tidbit in his teeth. He’d look   
around. What a good boy am he.
The guardian of the dump was used
to this and not amused. “He’ll drag that shit   
every which damn way,” he grumbled
who’d dozed and scraped a pit to keep that shit   
where the town paid to contain it.
The others of us looked and looked. “City   
folks like you don’t get to see this often,”   
one year-round resident accused me.
Some winter I’ll bring him down to learn   
to love a rat working a length of subway   
track. “Nope,” I replied. Just then the bear   
decamped for the woods with a marl of grease   
and slather in his mouth and on his snout,   
picking up speed, not cute (nor had he been   
cute before, slavering with greed, his weight   
all sunk to his seated rump and his nose stuck   
up to sift the rich and fetid air, shaped   
like a huge, furry pear), but richly
fed on the slow-simmering dump, and gone   
into the bug-thick woods and anecdote.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How you live -- governor's environmental policy?

Describe in specific detail your governor's environmental policy.

If Mark Dayton, Minnesota's 40th governor, has an environmental policy, it's not well documented on his web site. A separate, independent, site, On the Issues, has quotations from Governor Dayton's service in Minnesota's executive branch, more on his votes as a US senator from Minnesota, but only one aspirational environmental statement as governor.

Minnesota's St. Louis River named to 10 'most endangered' list
Minnesota's St. Louis River named to 10 'most endangered' list
Photo by J. Harrington

Click here for 8 full quotes on Environment OR background on Environment.
  • Protect clean air to breathe & clean water to drink. (Feb 2013)
  • Development conflict comes mostly from miscommunication. (Jul 1998)
  • Voted YES on including oil & gas smokestacks in mercury regulations. (Sep 2005)
  • Voted NO on confirming Gale Norton as Secretary of Interior. (Jan 2001)
  • End commercial whaling and illegal trade in whale meat. (Jun 2001)
  • Rated 79% by the LCV, indicating pro-environment votes. (Dec 2003)
  • EPA must do better on mercury clean-up. (Apr 2004)
  • Health impact assessments for environmental health. (Apr 2006)

renewable energy and organic foods have increased
renewable energy and organic foods have increased
Photo by J. Harrington

It remains to be seen whether the Governor's stated desire to protect clean air and water can be attained given the legislation he has signed. The recently ended 2015 legislative session has been described as "a disaster for those passionate about clean water, clean air, and renewable energy in greater Minnesota." It included the legislative dissolution of the independent citizen's governing board of the Pollution Control Agency and sufficient legislative interference with that agency's delegated authority under the federal Clean Water Act to prompt a petition to the US Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw delegation of the water pollution permit program. On the other hand, if the Governor's initiative for agricultural buffer legislation is actively implemented, the negative water quality effects of industrial agriculture should be reduced.

A 2014 review of the Governor's 2010 campaign pledges found
"Governors aren’t only defined by what they run on, of course, and there were a host of big issues Dayton didn’t talk about in 2010 that he was either forced to address — or sidestep.

"The environment falls into the latter category. When GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson says that Dayton “is beholden to some pretty extreme environmental groups,’’ it may say more about Johnson than it does Dayton. In fact, Dayton has made few environmental initiatives. Much to the chagrin of people on both sides of the issues, he’s still waiting for more environmental impact statements on both the Polymet mining project and the Sandpiper oil pipeline before he’ll take a position." [emphasis added]

Sweet Virginia

By Michael Robbins 

I got a letter from the government.
It said let there be night.
I went through your trash.
There was night, all right.
I consider how your light is spent.

I have butterflies a little bit.
I have some pills I take for it.
I’ve been up since four the day before.
Agony’s a cinch to sham.

Don’t worry about the environment.
Let it kill us if  it can.
I give a tiny tinker’s damn.
I put the ox behind the cart.
Consume away my snow-blind heart.

Fastened to a service animal
it is waiting for the beep.
It is waiting for the right to change.
Hello, I know you’re there, pick up.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How you live -- hazwaste

Today's question started me wondering if we mightn't be better off mining our landfills and increasing our investments in recycling. Have you looked at any of the documentation for the proposed PolyMet NorthMet mining project? Have you noticed the ratio of waste to ore ("... the metal content is roughly .75%, combined , for copper, nickel, and various precious metals.")? We throw away and abandon too much, too quickly. I have doubts we can last until Star Trek technology saves us.

abandoned farm house
abandoned farm house
Photo by J. Harrington

What facilities in your area accept universal hazardous waste?

Chisago County lists Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites and the Items Accepted / Rejected at the County's household hazardous waste facility. The county's web page adds a very nice touch by providing information on where to dispose of items, such as ammunition and automotive batteries, not accepted at the facility. Of the four EPA-listed universal hazardous wastes, all are accepted at the county facility or listed in the county's information of disposal sites.

abandoned shed
abandoned shed
Photo by J. Harrington

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, in partnership with metropolitan counties, provides for hazardous waste from commercial generators. The nested hazardous waste management framework, from federal, through state to county, seems to fit fairly well with the bioregional tenets for

  • Bioregion governance is autonomous, democratic and employs culturally- sensitive participatory decision-making processes.

  • Political and cultural legitimacy are measured by the degree to which a steward achieves social and ecological justice, and ecosystem-based sustainability.

  • Intricate networks of federation will be woven on continental, hemispheric and global bases to ensure close association with governments, economic interests and cultural institutions in other bioregions.

The Waste Carpet

By William Matthews 
No day is right for the apocalypse,
if you ask a housewife in Talking
Rock, Georgia, or maybe Hop River,
Connecticut. She is opening a plastic bag.
A grotesque parody of the primeval muck
starts oozing out. And behold,
the plastic bag is magic;
there is no closing it. Soap
in unsoftened water, sewage, asbestos
coiled like vermicelli, Masonite shavings,
a liquefied lifetime subscription
to The New York Times delivered all at once.
Empty body stockings, limp, forlorn,
like collapsed lungs. A blithering slur   
of face creams, an army of photocopies   
travelling on its stomach of acronyms,   
tooth paste tubes wrung rigid and dry.   
Also, two hundred and one tons
of crumpled bumpers wrapped in insurance   
claims, slag, coal dust, plastic trimmings,   
industrial excrementa. Lake Erie is returning   
our gifts.

       At first she thought she had won   
something. Now it slithers through the house,   
out windows, down the street, spreading   
everywhere but heading, mostly, west.   
Maybe heading is the wrong word,
implying shape and choice. It took
the shape of the landscape
it rippled across like the last blanket.
And it went west because the way lay open   
once again: not the same fecund rug
the earth grew when white people scraped   
their first paths to the Pacific
across the waves of the inland grasses.

Outside Ravenswood, West Virginia,   
abandoned cars shine in the sun
like beetlebacks. The ore it took
to make the iron it took to make the steel   
it took to make the cars, that ore
would remember the glaciers if it could.   
Now comes another grinding, but not—
thanks to our new techniques—so slow.   
The amiable cars wait stilly in their pasture.   
Three Edsels forage in the southeast corner   
like bishops of a ruined church.
There are Fords and Dodges, a Mercury   
on blocks, four Darts and a Pierce Arrow,
a choir of silenced Chevrolets.
And, showing their lapsed trademarks   
and proud grilles to a new westward   
expansion, two Hudsons, a LaSalle
and a DeSoto.

       I was hoping to describe
the colors of this industrial autumn—
rust, a faded purple like the dusty
skin of a Concord grape, flaking moss-
green paint with primer peeking   
blandly through, the garish macho reds   
insurance companies punish, the greys   
(opaque) and silvers (bright), the snob colors   
(e.g. British Racing Green), the two-tone   
combinations time will spurn like roadkill
(1957: pink and grey), cornflower
blue, naval blue, royal blue, stark blue, true
blue, the blacker blue the diver sees
beneath him when he plumbs thirty feet—
but now they are all covered,
rolling and churning in the last
accident, like bubbles in lava.

And now my Cincinnati—the hills   
above the river, the lawn that drained
toward Ricwood Ave. like a small valley of uncles,
the sultry river musk that slid
like a compromising note through my bedroom window—
and indeed all Cincinnati seethes. The vats
at Proctor & Gamble cease their slick
congealing, and my beloved birthplace
is but another whorl of dirt.

Up north near Lebanon and Troy and Rosewood,
the corn I skulked in as a boy
lays back its ears like a shamed dog.   
Hair along the sow’s spine rises.
The Holstein pivots his massive head
toward where the barn stood; the spreading stain
he sees is his new owner.

What we imagined was the fire-storm,
or, failing that, the glacier.
Or we hoped we’d get off easy,
losing only California.
With the seismologists and mystics
we say the last California ridge
crumble into the ocean.

And we were read with elegies:

O California, sportswear
and defense contracts, gasses that induce
deference, high school girls
with their own cars, we wanted
to love you without pain.

O California, when you were moored to us
like a vast splinter of melon,
like a huge and garish gondola,
then we were happier, although
we showed it by easy contempt.
But now you are lost at sea,
your cargo of mudslides and Chardonnays
lost, the prints of the old movies
lost, the thick unlighted candles of the redwoods
snuffed in advance. On the ocean floor
they lie like hands of a broken clock.

O California, here we come,
quoting Ecclesiastes,
ruinous with self-knowledge.

Meanwhile, because the muck won’t stop
for lamentation, Kansas succumbs.
Drawn down by anklets of DDT,
the jayhawk circles lower and lower   
while the sludge moils and crests.

Now we are about to lose our voices
we remember that tomorrow is our echo.   
O the old songs, the good days:
bad faith and civil disobedience,
sloppy scholarship and tooth decay.   
Now the age of footnotes is ours.
Ibid, ibid, ibid, ibid, ibid.

While the rivers thickened and fish   
rose like vomit, the students of water   
stamped each fish with its death date.   
Don’t let a chance like this go by,   
they thought, though it went by   
as everything went by—towers   
of water flecked by a confetti   
of topsoil, clucked tongues, smug   
prayers. What we paid too much for   
and too little attention to,
our very lives, all jumbled
now and far too big in aggregate   
to understand or mourn, goes by,
and all our eloquence places its
weight on the spare word goodbye.

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

How you live -- sustainable local economy

How many independently owned shops exist in your area?

For this question, let's assume that "area" focuses on Chisago County but extends to its environs. That's befitting since much of the shopping we do occurs in Washington County (Forest Lake, Marine and Stillwater) and Isanti County (Cambridge) as well as in Ramsey County (St. Paul) and Hennepin County (Minneapolis). The question seems so simple but, as you can see, it isn't.

Marine on St. Croix, general store
Marine on St. Croix, general store
Photo by J. Harrington

According to the US Census folks, there are more than 1,200 business establishments in Chisago County, plus approximately 3,800 nonemployer businesses. Based on personal observations, I think most of the "shops" are independently owned, depending on how we define "shop." The U.S. Census Bureau claims that, on a national level, "Sole proprietors and partnerships constituted 94 percent of nonemployers in 2010...." The classification of businesses tabulated by government doesn't fit neatly into "independent" and "big box" which is how I frequently think of businesses. In the past, I've been an employee of a home-based C corporation (see Figure 7 on the PDF linked immediately above) which says more about the form of business than about whether it's local and independent.

Coffee Talk, Taylors Falls
Coffee Talk, Taylors Falls
Photo by J. Harrington

The "area" does have local coffee shops and numerous other independent businesses (not franchises [small box?] nor controlled by corporate management [big box]). There is also an outlet mall about 10 miles north of home, in the midst of corporate and some independent business strip mall development and, as with several other local business dustricts, the "big box" stores are located on the highway outside "Main Street." Unfortunately, from my perspective, Minnesota in general, and my area in particular, seems to have few members of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies). I'm still pondering how it is that an area known historically for its cooperatives and labor organizations appears to be far behind the curve on other aspects of creating a new, sustainable, local economy. I suppose it's possible that we already have it and I just can't see it yet, but I don't think so. We still are a long way from giving serious attention to reflecting the following bioregional tenets in our local

  • Human agency is reintegrated with ecological processes, especially through careful understanding of carrying capacity, preservation and restoration of native diversity and ecosystem health.

  • The goal of economic activity is to achieve the highest possible level of cooperative self-reliance.

  • Reliance on locally manufactured and maintained appropriate technology, devised through an on-going program of ecological design research, is favored.
There are some other resources that I've found particularly useful in working on the local economy question. One is the book Small Is Possible, life in a local economy, by Lyle Estill, set in Chatham County, North Carolina. Despite the south-north geographic differences, folks involved with the IRRRB should read it if they haven't already. Another is Going Local, by Michael Shuman. Last, and far from least, is using an Economic Gardening strategy.


By Anne Waldman 

Spooky summer on the horizon I’m gazing at
from my window into the streets
That’s where it’s going to be where everyone is
walking around, looking around out in the open
suspecting each other’s heart to open fire
all over the streets
                              like streets you read about every day
who are the network we travel through on the way to the center   
which is energy filling life
and bursting with joy all over the screen
                                                             I can’t sit still any longer!

I want to go where I’m not feeling so bad
Get off this little island before the bridges break   
(my heart is a sore thing too)
No I want to sit in the middle watching movies   
then go to bed in my head
Someone is banging on it with a heavy stick like the enemy
who is he going to be turns into a face you can’t recognize
then vanishes behind a window behind a gun   
Like the lonely hero stalking the main street   
cries out Where are you? I just want to know
all the angles of death possible under the American sky!

I can hardly see for all the buildings polluting the sky   
until it changes into a barrage of bottles
then clears up for a second while you breathe
and you realize you’e still as alive as ever and want to be   
but would like to be somewhere else perhaps Africa   
Start all over again as the race gets darker and darker   
and the world goes on the way I always thought it would
For the winner is someone we recognize out of our collective past   
which is turning over again in the grave

                                    It is so important when one dies you replace her   
                                    and never waste a minute

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Won't get fooled again!!

The Saturday paper often has interesting stories about topics that require more in depth coverage than the usual "Who, What, When, Where, Why and How."Yesterday's Star Tribune included this one: Consumer angst at forefront of GMO labeling debate. Most of the opening paragraphs focus on how safe GMO foods are and demeaning assessments by Minnesota's 7th District Congressman, Collin Peterson, about how little his constituents know about what a GMO is. Both the majority of the article and the Congressman's opinion, I believe, woefully miss the point. [UPDATE: a farmer's view on GMOs and politicians]

monarch butterflies
monarch butterflies
Photo by J. Harrington

Perhaps both the Congressman and the article's author have been overly influenced by H. L. Menken's observation that "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." Perhaps it's time to give credit where it's due. Most of the folks I know are concerned about GMOs because they know that it gives global corporations and global, industrial, ag way more control than is healthy for the average American. Perhaps American consumers are aware that GMO's help support a war on our pollinators. Perhaps consumers can see beyond next week's paycheck and next quarter's profits.

Photo by J. Harrington

The Supreme Court might have (misguidedly) found that corporations are "persons," but that doesn't make them people. They don't show a lot of concern for the next generation. For that matter, with their overwhelming interest in protecting their corporate intellectual property, they don't show a hell-of-a-lot of concern for this generation. That surprises me since most successful parasites have learned to not kill their hosts. Perhaps consumers are concerned about the lawsuits Monsanto continues to file (and win) against farmers as a means of protecting GMO patents and products. Perhaps consumers remember the days when they knew where their food came from and what they were eating. It's even possible, I suppose, consumers might be tired of being told that the government and big ag know what's best for them and they shouldn't worry their pretty little heads.

Perhaps corporate credibility suffers because we're celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Enbridge Kalamazoo tar sands spill, and parts of the river are still contaminated. Perhaps more and more Americans are discovering that neither big government nor big corporations are trustworthy. How secure are your cell phone communications? When's the next time the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency citizen's board will meet? How will PolyMet treat contaminated sulfate-mining waters for 200 to 500 years?

field corn
field corn
Photo by J. Harrington

We aren't talking about occasional missteps here. Even before Citizens United, too many politicians paid more attention to those who paid for their elections than to those who cast the votes. Since that satanic decision, things keep getting worse. We're just trying like hell to not get fooled again, as the Who so advisedly sang. Remember, you can also vote with your wallet or purse. Stay away from processed foods, soft drinks and pandering politicians.

Coming to This

By Mark Strand 
We have done what we wanted.
We have discarded dreams, preferring the heavy industry   
of each other, and we have welcomed grief
and called ruin the impossible habit to break.

And now we are here.
The dinner is ready and we cannot eat.   
The meat sits in the white lake of its dish.   
The wine waits.

Coming to this
has its rewards: nothing is promised, nothing is taken away.   
We have no heart or saving grace,
no place to go, no reason to remain.

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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Highway 61 revisited -- by cranes

This morning was a classic warm, humid Summer day's start, with ground fog or mist hanging over the fields. I love the way my part of the world looks through early morning mist. Later, the Better Half [BH] and I needed to do some local errands today so we headed north on I-35 and west on MN 95 through North Branch to Cambridge. (North Branch is lacking a local book store, a branch office of our credit union, and a grocery coop.) Cambridge has all three. This weekend it also has the Isanti county fair.

misty Summer morning
misty Summer morning
Photo by J. Harrington

Most of the farm fields along MN 95 between North Branch and Cambridge this year are planted in soy beans. I would have guessed it might be a 50-50 split, plus or minus 10% or so, but it looked to me more like 80% to 90% beans. Cambridge had a farmers market in the parking lot of the building housing the book store, coffee shop and food coop so we picked up some yellow beans, small cucumbers, a few books for the BH and coffee for each of us.

We headed east on MN 95 back to North Branch and I decided to head south on the more scenic Highway 61 instead of I-35. It was a fortunate choice becasue about the time I was pondering what it was that caused most of the farmers along 61 to plant corn while those along 95 went with beans this year, my BH exclaimed "Holy expletive deleted, did you see that?" In my inimitable way I replied "See what?" She said "that huge flock of cranes--pull over and look back." I did so and, feeling unfortunately like The Fonz from Happy Days, looked over my right shoulder and said "What? Where?" We made a u-turn and pulled onto the shoulder. That's when I finally noticed what now looks like a line of dots across the middle of the picture but is actually a couple dozen or so sandhill cranes.

sandhill cranes revisiting along Highway 61
sandhill cranes revisiting along Highway 61
Photo by J. Harrington

Here's a "close-up" of part of the flock. Sights like this are a good part of the reason of why we live where we do. (Photos like this are moving me to consider a either new lens or photography lessons or both, which might be more productive than trying to sort out whether I had equipment failure or operator error.)

sandhill cranes "close-up"
sandhill cranes "close-up"
Photo by J. Harrington

The Cranes, Texas January

By Mark Sanders 

I call my wife outdoors to have her listen,
to turn her ears upward, beyond the cloud-veiled
sky where the moon dances thin light,
to tell her, “Don’t hear the cars on the freeway—

it’s not the truck-rumble. It is and is not
the sirens.” She stands there, on deck
a rocking boat, wanting to please the captain
who would have her hear the inaudible.

Her eyes, so blue the day sky is envious,
fix blackly on me, her mouth poised on question
like a stone. But, she hears, after all.
                                                           January on the Gulf,  
warm wind washing over us, 
we stand chilled in the winter of those voices.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, July 24, 2015

How you live -- Down the drain

We're up to question five in our bioregional quiz. Before we get to it, please skim through the quotation below from the essay Interpreting Bioregionalism in M. V. McGinnis' Bioregionalism anthology. It provides background on why I think a bioregional perspective is increasingly important to a sustainable future for Minnesota.
Bioregional world-view
  • Widespread social and ecological crises exist; without fundamental change preservation of biodiversity, including survival of the human species, is in doubt.
  • The root cause of these threats is the inability of the nation-state and industrial capitalism—patriarchal, machine-based civilization rising from the scientific revolution—to measure progress in terms other than those related to monetary wealth, economic efficiency or centralized power.
  • Sustainability—defined as equitably distributed achievement of social, ecological and economic quality of life—is better gained within a more decentralized structure of governance and development.
  • The bioregion—a territory revealed by similarities of biophysical and cultural phenomenon—offers a scale of decentralization best able to support the achievement of cultural and ecological sustainability.

Sunrise River Pool 1
Sunrise River Pool 1
Photo by J. Harrington
So, with that taken care of, here's the question and answer:

Where does your water go when it goes down the drain?

We live on more than five acres in the Sunrise River watershed. We have indoor plumbing. Our rural location makes public water supply and wastewater treatment economically infeasible, so our water goes down the drain to a septic tank and then into a drain field. That's the short answer, but it's as accurate as thinking that our food comes from grocery stores and restaurants and fast food outlets. From our drainfield, our water flows into a surficial groundwater system. A quick Internet search on Chisago County groundwater flow brought up a report [Lake to Groundwater Interaction Study] with this bit of information: "The Palen study determined that the dominant shallow groundwater flow direction in the Chisago Lakes area is north-northwest toward the Sunrise River, with localized deflections towards lakes and other topographic depressions." Based on that information and our location, I'm going to make a small leap of faith that our groundwater eventually flows to the Sunrise River which then flows to the St. Croix River, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The long answer to where our water goes when it goes down the drain is to the Gulf of Mexico.

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


By Allen Ginsberg 
Homage Kenneth Koch 
If I were doing my Laundry I’d wash my dirty Iran
I’d throw in my United States, and pour on the Ivory Soap, scrub up Africa, put all the birds and elephants back in the jungle,
I’d wash the Amazon river and clean the oily Carib & Gulf of Mexico,   
Rub that smog off the North Pole, wipe up all the pipelines in Alaska,   
Rub a dub dub for Rocky Flats and Los Alamos, Flush that sparkly Cesium out of Love Canal
Rinse down the Acid Rain over the Parthenon & Sphinx, Drain Sludge out of the Mediterranean basin & make it azure again,
Put some blueing back into the sky over the Rhine, bleach the little Clouds so snow return white as snow,
Cleanse the Hudson Thames & Neckar, Drain the Suds out of Lake Erie   
Then I’d throw big Asia in one giant Load & wash out the blood & Agent Orange,
Dump the whole mess of Russia and China in the wringer, squeeze out the tattletail Gray of U.S. Central American police state,
& put the planet in the drier & let it sit 20 minutes or an Aeon till it came out clean.

Boulder, April 26, 1980

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

How you live -- Invasive species

Our "How you live" bioregional quiz question number four, and my attempts to answer the question(s) illustrate some of the fascinating issues that crop up when we try to define a bioregion. To refresh your memory, here's the question(s):

List three invasive species in your region.

What [sic] is the most damaging to the ecosystem?

I know Minnesota has invasive species. There's often a newspaper story about "pulling buckthorn" or some new zebra mussel infestation. I went looking for a more comprehensive, you know, "official" list. Ha!

Birdsfoot trefoil, a Minnesota invasive plant
Birdsfoot trefoil, a Minnesota invasive plant  It is still sold commercially.
Photo by J. Harrington

Here's a state level listing of Minnesota's invasive plants, as listed in the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System. As far as I can tell, this database, which also includes lists for invasive insects, diseases and wildlife, doesn't allow for retrieval of its information across categories by county. Not to worry though, Minnesota has its own Invasive Species Advisory Council. They provide information on and links to lots of other fragmented listings of terrestrial, aquatic and other invasive species and a ranking of threat that fails to identify which species fit which ranking. Nationally, the community of academics, agriculturalists and natural resource types responsible for managing and/or eradicating invasive species needs lots more good to great information architects and database programmers.

I tried searching closer to home, since I had seen several references to county-level invasive species responsible individuals. The contacts are Agricultural Inspectors and we have a Noxious Weed Appeal Committee on whose web page is a link back to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Noxious weed list, which lists my buckthorn as a Restricted Noxious Weed, "whose only feasible means of control is to prevent their spread by prohibiting the importation, sale, and transportation of their propagating parts in the state except as allowed by Minnesota Statutes, Section 18.82." See how straightforward this is. Let's return to the question.

List three invasive species in your region.

On my property, I know I have buckthorn growing. Here's the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources statement on buckthorn:
Why is buckthorn such a problem?
  • Out-competes native plants for nutrients, light, and moisture
  • Degrades wildlife habitat
  • Threatens the future of forests, wetlands, prairies, and other natural habitats
  • Contributes to erosion by shading out other plants that grow on the forest floor
  • Serves as host to other pests, such as crown rust fungus and soybean aphid
  • Forms an impenetrable layer of vegetation
  • Lacks "natural controls" like insects or disease that would curb its growth
I also have dame's rocket growing. That doesn't seem to be on the agricultural noxious weed list, but it is listed in the Forest Invasive Plants Resource Center, and in the mid-Atlantic NPS listing Is it or isn't it an official "invasive species" in Minnesota. Beats the hell out of me. We do usually pull it after it's flowered and before it goes to seed.

dame's rocket, a Minnesota invasive plant?
dame's rocket, a Minnesota invasive plant?
Photo by J. Harrington

In our region, there's lots of people really upset about several species of Asian carp invading both the Mississippi and the St. Croix rivers. I imagine they probably have the biggest potential to impact the economies around here, but I'm less sure about their effects on the ecosystem. In fact, it's probably obvious that I'm frustrated by the lack of a coherent, consistent listing of "invasive species." I'm even more frustrated by the lack of studies on the ecological roles usurped by invasives, their effects on an ecosystem, more than "competes with natives for resources." I don't have a good answer to the second question and I'm not even sure where to find one.

My Species

By Jane Hirshfield 
a small purple artichoke
in its own bittered
and darkening
grows tender,
grows tender and sweet

patience, I think,
my species

keep testing the spiny leaves

the spiny heart

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How you live -- Fast Food

Earlier this week I started reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. His coverage on fast food would have been more than enough to turn me away from it, had I not mostly given it up many years ago. He writes that fast food provides lots of calories for the buck as a tradeoff for obesity, diabetes and heart disease and the environmental and economic damage done by industrial agriculture. From the available Teacher's Guide:
"Among the many ingenious technologies and marketing techniques that it has taken to turn a surplus of commodity corn into a McDonald’s meal, Pollan is particularly struck by the way that fast food itself is, as he puts it, “more schemat- ic” than actual food. “The more you concentrate on how it tastes, the less like anything it tastes,” he writes...."
If you haven't read Dilemma, give it a try from your local library or independent bookstore. I'll get down off the soap box now and we can work on "How you live" bioregional quiz question number three.

harvested corn field
harvested corn field
Photo by J. Harrington

Where is the closest fast food restaurant to your home?

To be honest, I had to look up the answers below. We (too often) pick up a pizza for dinner on the way home or, from time to time, get locally broasted or fried chicken at the supermarket. The younger members of the household, based on the trash I see unloaded from their car, would probably answer this differently. I am much more of a locavore and supporter of local economies, which means I don't want the soy bean and corn-based, profits leaving the community, food served by most national fast food chains. I'd rather get a Juicy Lucy in The Cities, thank you very much.

early season farm field for corn or soy beans
early season farm field for corn or soy beans
Photo by J. Harrington

The closest fast food restaurants to home are:
  • McDonalds      Hwy 8 - Chisago City 5+ miles
  • KFC                Broadway - Forest Lake 11.5 miles


By Brenda Hillman 

In a side booth at MacDonald’s before your music class
you go up and down in your seat like an arpeggio
under the poster of the talking hamburger:
two white eyes rolling around in the top bun, the thin
patty of beef imitating the tongue of its animal nature.
You eat merrily. I watch the Oakland mommies,
trying to understand what it means to be “single.”


Across from us, females of all ages surround the birthday girl.
Her pale lace and insufficient being
can’t keep them out of her circle.
Stripes of yellow and brown all over the place.
The poor in spirit have started to arrive,
the one with thick midwestern braids twisted like thought
on her head; usually she brings her mother.
This week, no mother. She mouths her words anyway
across the table, space-mama, time-mama,
mama who should be there.


Families in line: imagine all this
translated by the cry of time moving through us,
this place a rubble. The gardens new generations
will plant in this spot, and the food will go on
in another order. This thought cheers me immensely.
That we will be there together, you still seven,
bending over the crops pretending to be royalty,
that the huge woman with one blind eye
and dots like eyes all over her dress
will also be there, eating with pleasure
as she eats now, right up to the tissue paper,
peeling it back like bright exotic petals.


Last year, on the sun-spilled deck in Marin
we ate grapes with the Russians;
the KGB man fingered them quickly and dutifully,
then, in a sad tone to us
“We must not eat them so fast,
we wait in line so long for these,” he said.


The sight of food going into a woman’s mouth
made Byron sick. Food is a metaphor for existence.
When Mr. Egotistical Sublime, eating the pasta,
poked one finger into his mouth, he made a sound.
For some, the curve of the bell pepper
seems sensual but it can worry you,
the slightly greasy feel of it.


The place I went with your father had an apartment to the left, and in the window, twisted like a huge bowtie,
an old print bedspread. One day, when I looked over,
someone was watching us, a young girl.
The waiter had just brought the first thing:
an orange with an avocado sliced up CCCC
in an oil of forceful herbs. I couldn’t eat it.
The girl’s face stood for something
and from it, a little mindless daylight was reflected.
The businessmen at the next table
were getting off on each other and the young chardonnay.
Their briefcases leaned against their ankles.
I watched the young girl’s face because for an instant
I had seen your face there,
unterrified, unhungry, and a little disdainful.
Then the waiter brought the food,
bands of black seared into it like the memory of a cage.


You smile over your burger, chattering brightly.
So often, at our sunny kitchen table,
hearing the mantra of the refrigerator,
I’ve thought there was nothing I could do but feed you;
and I’ve always loved the way you eat,
you eat selfishly, humming, bending
the french fries to your will, your brown eyes
spotting everything: the tall boy
who has come in with his mother, repressed rage
in espadrilles, and now carries the tray for her.
Oh this is fun, says the mother,
You stand there with mommy’s purse.
And he stands there smiling after her,
holding all the patience in the world. 

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How you live--Heating your home

You may be wondering why I keep referring to bioregional and bioregionalism. As Doug Aberly writes in his essay Interpreting Bioregionalism
Bioregionalism is a body of thought and related practice that has evolved in response to the challenge of reconnecting socially-just human cultures in a sustainable manner to the region-scale ecosystems in which they are irrevocably embedded.
November snow
November snow
Photo by J. Harrington

I've decided that My Minnesota and its inhabitants and visitors might benefit by knowing a lot more about bioregionalism, so look for some bioregional themes woven into our bioregional quiz, from which we are now answering the second question:

What type of energy is used to heat your home?

Starting almost three years ago, our home became heated by a natural gas fueled hot air furnace. Before that, we relied on the original 25+ year old fuel oil hot air furnace. You can see that heating oil provides only a very small share of the Midwest's heating energy.

How many days a year is it employed in this capacity?

April snow
April snow
Photo by J. Harrington

Approximately 225. Here's a link to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Heating Degree Day record since 1872. Our heating season generally runs from sometime in October to sometime in May. Not all of October or all of May require running the furnace although, to be honest, we haven't actually counted the days we turn the heat on.

     October days----31
     November days-30
     December days-31
     January days-----31
     February days---28
     March days------31
     April days-------30
     May days--------31
     TOTAL days--243

Old Woman Nature

By Gary Snyder 

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

A scattering of hair and cartilage
               bits in the woods.

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

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

Don't be shocked,
She's heating you some soup.
                            VII, '81, Seeing Ichikawa Ennosuke in

                      "Kurozuka"—"Demoness"— at the Kabuki-za
                                                       in Tokyo

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