Monday, August 31, 2015

Summer's ebb, and flow

We're back to the kind of weather I associate with the state fair, warm (even hot) and humid. This may not be Summer's last hurrah, but I suspect any warm spells after this one will be more like an encore than the main performance. Meanwhile, the sumac and sugar maples continue to turn red. It's becoming more and more clear to me that nature's progress is stutter-step while our calendars have sharp cut offs that note one day it's Summer and the next it's Autumn. Many things in the real world don't fit our penchant for linear structures.

early August, fawns wearing spots
early August, fawns wearing spots
Photo by J. Harrington

The two fawns in the photo were spotted (not just seen, they were wearing spots) at the beginning of the month. When I saw them (at least I believe it was them) this past Sunday morning, spots weren't noticeable (so I saw them but didn't spot them). The fawns are still smaller than mom but all their pelage is now about the same color. It'll be awhile yet before Summer's reddish wash becomes Wintery gray, just as it's too early for frogs to start hibernating, though I've noticed a number of them crossing roads on their way to wintering grounds. Some of the migrations we watch for are largely local. In Minnesota, no season, even Winter, is permanent.

A World of Light

By John Reibetanz 
If I close my eyes now, I can still see them
canopied by the visor of my sunhat:
three children islanded on a narrow rim
of earth between the huge crack-willow that
they squat before, hushed, poised to net a frog,
and the pond the frog will jump to (it got away)
a glass its dive will shatter.
                                             The unbroken image
pleases my mind’s eye with its density,
such thick crisscross of tree-trunk, earth, and tall grass
I see no breach, no source for the light that steeps it
but a blue burning in the pond’s green glass.

The grass withered, the tree blew down, earth caught
the frog, the children grew. Sky’s ice-blue flame
teased along the wick it would consume.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Yakking about monarchs

I know that monarch butterflies don't overwinter in Minnesota, or at least so I've read. We've got a field with lots of common milkweed and no eggs or caterpillars this Summer, at least none that I noticed, although I have noticed that the neighbor's yaks don't eat the milkweed in their pasture. It's getting to be time for monarchs to head south again, but I still don't know where the yaks overwinter. I'm still seeing a few monarchs, and the yaks, around the area from time to time, but I have no idea if the butterflies are migrating through or locals. The yaks I consider locals although definitely not indigenous. If a saw large flocks(?) of monarchs, I'd suspect migration but ones and twos make it impossible for me to judge. I'm pretty sure the yaks would have to be transported by truck. Time for some more research to see if I can find some clues about the monarchs. I might just break down and ask the neighbor about the yaks.

monarch on day lily
monarch on day lily
Photo by J. Harrington

As long as we're talking about butterflies, I'll share a suspicion that I'm starting to develop. I think some of the folks that get great close-up picture of butterflies and bees may be drugging their subjects. I've spent an unreasonable amount of time this Summer trying for some nice "macro" photos and, whether I'm using autofocus or manually focusing, each time I get one of the little critters in really good focus, it moves. Sometimes, I admit, it's probably because I've moved in too close and spooked whatever it is I'm trying to photograph. Other times, though, I think it's just because of a general level of twitchyness in insects. I started out thinking that the "Stalking" skills, such as they are, that I'd acquired over years of hunting and fishing would be good enough. I was wrong. Of course, I was never trying to get within macro photography range of a trout or a duck or a grouse or deer. Plus, once an animal has been "reduced to possession" as the hunter-gatherer crowd says, it's much easier to get a close-up.

milkweed close-up
milkweed close-up
Photo by J. Harrington


Charles O. Hartman

for Howard Nemerov
Milkweed is pertinent now, so in the air
That everyone is thinking in its terms.
The housewife doesn't dare hang out the wash
Without considering milkweed; engineers
Decide today to redesign the air
Filters they thought perfected. It's a fact:
Milkweed has come to live and be lived with.

Reprieved, the birds have ceased to pluck their breasts
To line their nests -- though few enough are still
Fixing for eggs when milkweed begins to hatch
Exploding from the brown sun-brittled pods.
Occasional nestlings get mistaken meals,
Beakfuls of milkweed someone took for bugs:
Like anything in the air, it seems all things

Eventually: a faery's shuttlecock
As soon as seeds blown from the plainest plant.
Step in a cataract of light on a day
Like this, look up and see another race
Cast from its place and looking for its place;
Riding the wind toward distant, solid ground,
They scatter golden light on their scattered way. 

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A season in the moment

This is the last weekend in August. Can you believe how quickly the Summer has (almost) passed? Then again, humidity and warmth are forecast to return next week. This seems like as good a time as any to play an end of Summer mind game along the lines of "is now ever not now?"

I've been paying more attention recently to being "mindfully in the moment." I've also been writing these past few days about my anticipation of Autumn's arrival and that season's pleasures. That started me wondering how "being in the moment" fit with enjoying a memory of past pleasure or looking forward to future enjoyment. Fortunately, some wise buddhists have anticipated me and meditated on this question already. But, I don't think that means it's ok to spend all, or even much, of our time thinking about the past or the future instead of living in the now.

"Coffee Talk" in Taylors Falls
"Coffee Talk" in Taylors Falls
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning's "now" included coffee in Taylors Falls as the Better Half and I searched for a local source of chrysanthemums. (I'm usually more mindful after I'm full of coffee.) We found some plants that hadn't yet started to blossom (hard to choose colors) and another place that was sold out. Too early and too late on the same day seems to be the current story on mums.

last year's "wedding" mums
last year's "wedding" mums
Photo by J. Harrington

Looking at past years, I notice that we're several weeks early compared to when we've planted pots of mums last year and the one before. Something else to anticipate while I watch for sources of available stock at a reasonable price. We've yet to plant any mums that made it through the Winter, so I'm hesitant to spend as I would for a house plant. Maybe the co-op will have some.

When the winter chrysanthemums go

Matsuo Basho

When the winter chrysanthemums go,
there's nothing to write about
   but radishes.

Translated by Robert Hass

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The fairest time of year

The temperature's in the mid-70's; heavy rain stayed south of us; more colors are showing in the leaves; while thistle is (thistles are?) a mix of flowers and seed heads. This all goes nicely with the Minnesota state fair as Summer flows into Autumn. That means it's time for shopping for this year's pots of chrysanthemums, probably with a different color combination, and to look for wooly worm caterpillars to see if they support the prospect of a warm El Nino Winter forecast.

Autumn planting
Autumn planting
Photo by J. Harrington

Soon it will be stew and chili season, accompanied by homemade bread. Meanwhile, we're still dealing from time to time with the smoke from western wildfires, but I can't begin to figure out how this morning's waxing gibbous 98% full moon, which ordinarily is a creamy white, was turned orange by thin gray smoke covering the sky. I remember that yellow and green make blue and red and yellow make orange, but I must have missed class the day they taught how white and gray make red. This morning's moon was a much darker shade of orange, and a whiter shade of pale, than this. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go lie down. I'm still adjusting to the idea that some Minnesota school years can start before the state fair. O tempora, O mores!

shaded full moon
shaded full moon
Photo by J. Harrington


By Andrea Cohen
I’ve never seen the land
of milk and honey, but at

the Iowa State Fair I glimpsed
a cow fashioned of butter.

It lived behind a window
in an icy room, beneath klieg lights.

I filed past as one files
past a casket at a wake.

It was that sad: a butter cow
without a butter calf. Nearby I spied

a butter motorcycle, motorcycle-
sized, a mechanical afterthought

I thought the cow might have liked to ride.
You don’t drive a motorcycle; you ride it.

But not if you’re a butter cow, not
if you’re a butter cow who’s seen, if

not the land of milk and honey, the land
of milk, and dwelled within it.

It had a short life span, the butter cow.
Before it died, I looked

deep into its butter eyes. It saw
my butter soul. I could

have wept, or spread myself,
for nobody, across dry toast.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Once again "the state that works?"

A long, long time ago I learned that Albert Einstein is reported to have observed that "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." (You can check it on the Internet if you don't believe me.) Assuming, for the sake of this posting, that Albert was and remains correct, then I have to note that Minnesota's environmental review and permitting process has approached the insane. We keep following the same process and ending up with results that make lots of us, whether for or against a project, unhappy. (For the record, I've never been willing to accept that a good compromise leaves everyone mad.)

Minnesota's north shore on Lake Superior
Minnesota's north shore on Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

The most recent evidence I've seen of our "failed" process is reflected in Paula Maccabee's August 26, 2015 StarTribune Counterpoint "'Modern mining' isn't the plan here." After years of work and one failed attempt thus far to produce an acceptable Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed PolyMet NorthMet mining project, and the awareness and growing frustration that that's just the tip of the iceberg, we now see the current alternatives analysis isn't likely to include the use of "best practices" nor is the water model, on which so much depends, based on the best available data set. If you've been reading past postings here, my biases are pretty clear. I don't think mining contributes much to a sustainable future for northern Minnesota, but I also believe that what's been proposed for sulfide copper mining could be done in a less environmentally damaging way. Furthermore, I suspect that we could reach permit decisions in a more cost-effective and less socially damaging way than we've been going about it. We could start a parallel process using techniques from restorative justice and Native American communications.

the Sawtooth Mountains
the Sawtooth Mountains
Photo by J. Harrington

Paul Hawkens, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins offer a number of worthwhile suggestions in their book Natural Capitalism. The green building sector has benefitted immensely from the outcomes of integrative design processes. In a similar vein, just this past week I found that a lawyer by the name of JANE KLOECKNER has written a paper on Developing a Sustainable Hardrock Mining and Mineral Processing Industry: Environmental and Natural Resource Law for Twenty-First Century People, Prosperity, and the Planet.

marking the way forward?
marking the way forward?
Photo by J. Harrington

If I were a congressperson from Minnesota's 8th congressional district, or a United States Senator representing Minnesota, and I cared about the environment of the north woods and the economy of northern Minnesota, I might want to have someone on my staff read that paper and do a little more research on the sustainability of modern mining. I might also want to engage one or more of the Minnesota-based foundations who could help support a stakeholder convening (sort of like an Itasca Project for mining) and then invite the stakeholders to work on this. Minnesota could, if we did it right, turn what currently looks suspiciously like a race to the bottom into an example of showing how it should be done. That's what the "state that works" is noted for, right? Right? Or, we can let the process play out, see if permits are issued, see if lawsuits are filed, see who, if anyone, wins and who loses over the next ten to twenty years before dirt is moved.

Scavenging the Wall

By R. T. Smith 

When fall brought the graders to Atlas Road,
I drove through gray dust thick as a battle
and saw the ditch freshly scattered with   gravel.

Leveling, shaving on the bevel, the blade
and fanged scraper had summoned sleepers—
limestone loaves and blue slate, skulls of quartz

not even early freeze had roused. Some rocks
were large as buckets, others just a scone
tumbled up and into light the first time

in ages. Loose, sharp, they were a hazard
to anyone passing. So I gathered
what I could, scooped them into the bed

and trucked my freight away under birdsong
in my own life's autumn. I was eager
to add to the snaggled wall bordering

my single acre, to be safe, to be still
and watch the planet's purposeful turning
behind a cairn of roughly balanced stones.

Uprooted, scarred, weather-gray of bones,
I love their old smell, the familiar unknown.
To be sure this time I know where I belong

I have brought, at last, the vagrant road home.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Missed opportunities

As of my mid-day writing this, here are some of the day's headlines from the local paper:
  • A TV reporter and cameraman were shot dead on air this morning, allegedly by a "disgruntled employee" of the station.
  • One construction worker at the Vikings stadium is dead and another injured in a morning accident.
  • Four people were shot in a "home invasion" in Brooklyn Center early this morning.
  • Two teenagers were killed in an auto wreck this morning in the western suburbs.
When you left for work or school this morning, did you hug your family and tell them that you loved them? Did you do the same thing last night before you went to bed? Are you planning on sharing hugs and kisses tonight, because, as today's news makes only too clear, we're damn fools if we take life and love for granted. We never know how much more of it we'll get to share and enjoy. And, although you may want to forego the kisses part, don't forget to give your dogs extra hugs and affection on this National Dog Day.

a younger SiSi, a dog who's rescuing us
a younger SiSi, a dog who's rescuing us
Photo by J. Harrington

a younger Franco, a dog who's rescuing us
a younger Franco, a dog who's rescuing us
Photo by J. Harrington

In her hit song "Big Yellow Taxi," Joni Mitchell wrote the telling, and frighteningly true, line "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." I've had a number of dogs, a sister and my parents precede me through the veil between this world and the next. I miss each and every one of them and regret the opportunities I didn't take to hug them when they were here.

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to point out that, almost as much as people and pets, we can miss places we care about, that we've moved away from or others have "killed" for us. Some of my favorite wild places have been developed; some are almost 2,000 miles away, some have become so overused, abused and overcrowded they're no longer the places I first fell in love with. Places can be restored. They can be "re-placed," but wouldn't it be better if we cared for them now so they didn't need to be rehabilitated at some future time, or do we need to miss them before we discover just how much we care? We're starting to learn the benefits of following the principles of restorative justice instead of threatening "justice" as a punitive deterrent. Do you suppose we could get our POTUS candidates to talk about that or is that too much to expect from our candidates and their electorate? Can't we start to be the people our dogs think we are? As far as we know, we each have one life and one planet to share. We can do better with and by them.

If today's news seems overly disheartening, consider reading Carrie Newcomer's A Permeable Life, and, in honor of National Dog Day, Mary Oliver's Dog Songs. I've found both help me live up to my dogs and my family's expectations.
He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough
he turns upside down, his four paws
  in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.
“Tell me you love me,” he says.
“Tell me again.”
Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

On the locavore scale

Chisago City farmers market
Chisago City farmers market
Photo by J. Harrington

I have long been a locavore and, as I've aged, have become more unshakably so. I now have proof that those tendencies are native to my original home bioregion, New England. According to the latest locavore index, the top three states "that do best in consuming locally-produced food are Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire... in that order." As I'm sure you know, each of those is a New England state. Massachusetts, where I was born and raised, is number five. Minnesota now comes in 11th, but that's a notable improvement from the first index in 2012, when we were only 17th. Now that Minnesota is home, I'm looking forward to seeing us continue to improve until we bump Oregon or New Hampshire out to take a place in the top five.

Chisago City farmers market
Chisago City farmers market
Photo by J. Harrington

Two of the indices on which it looks like we could stand major improvements are food hubs and farmers markets, we rank 21st on each. If I'm reading the data correctly, the four food hubs in Minnesota listed on the locavore index are notably fewer than those listed in UMN's Regional Sustainable Development Partnership information. There may be something to look into here and to call to someone's attention. Being shortchanged on a locavore index may not be quite as bad as being (incorrectly and unfairly) listed as being among the "ugliest" places to live, but it doesn't help our reputation with the growing number of foodies and locavores in the national labor market. I do remember that it was a Massachusetts politician, Tip O'Neil, former Speaker of the House, who was known to have observed that "all politics is local." He was right about politics, but he may as well also have been speaking about  life, economic development, food, literature, or poetry.

Market Women’s Cries

By Jonathan Swift 


         Come buy my fine wares,
         Plums, apples and pears.
         A hundred a penny,
         In conscience too many:
         Come, will you have any?
         My children are seven,
         I wish them in Heaven;
         My husband’s a sot,
         With his pipe and his pot,
         Not a farthen will gain them,
         And I must maintain them.


         Come, follow me by the smell,
         Here are delicate onions to sell;
         I promise to use you well.
         They make the blood warmer,
         You’ll feed like a farmer;
For this is every cook’s opinion,
No savoury dish without an onion;
But, lest your kissing should be spoiled,
Your onions must be thoroughly boiled:
         Or else you may spare
         Your mistress a share,
The secret will never be known:
         She cannot discover
         The breath of her lover,
But think it as sweet as her own.


         Be not sparing,
         Leave off swearing.
         Buy my herring
         Fresh from Malahide,
         Better never was tried.
Come, eat them with pure fresh butter and mustard,
Their bellies are soft, and as white as a custard.
Come, sixpence a dozen, to get me some bread,
Or, like my own herrings, I soon shall be dead. 

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Making change

I think we're enjoying an early Augtober. This happens frequently in My Minnesota so I'm not going to panic just yet, unlike those "investors" worldwide who seem to be panicking because the world economy isn't growing at more than a 15%/year  rate. I realize that most of us humans resist change. I know I certainly do. I also realize that we've created a world economy that isn't sustainable. That means if we care about our future, our children, their children, and our own old age, we need to change. The more we resist change because it doesn't fit our unrealistic expectations, the more traumatic the effect will be when change does occur. Would we rather have lots of little quakes or just one that's 9.1 on the Richter scale? We can't stop the tectonic plates from moving.

I usually find it easier to adjust to a gradual change. From what I've read, species evolution can better adapt if the rate of change isn't excessive? That (sort of) brings us back to Augtober. During the past week, I've seen a handful of trees in scattered locations that have begun to put on autumnal hues. Several of the plants have already changed from blooms to seed heads. The local dragonfly population has thinned out and, thank God, so have the deer flies. All of this before the state fair has even started.

a hint of color changes to come
a hint of color changes to come
Photo by J. Harrington

dried seed heads in front of goldenrod
dried seed heads in front of goldenrod
Photo by J. Harrington

Two weeks ago we reached this year's world overshoot day. We still have about four and a half months to go this year. We're acting like the person who tells their bank "I can't be overdrawn, I still have checks left." Detroit relied on the auto industry just as the Iron Range and much of northern Minnesota has relied on mining and forestry as extractive industries and western and southern Minnesota is relying on industrial agriculture as an extractive industry, with southwestern Minnesota trying to import water from the Missouri River in South Dakota, in part because the industrial farms have polluted most available surface and groundwater. Northern Minnesota and its mining are busy trashing those water sources. Remember the Pete Seeger song, Where have all the flowers gone? It has the chorus "When will they ever learn? [repeat] Does that seem to fit what we're doing to our home state as well as our home planet?

And yet, there are alternatives. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been doing work on "green mining." They note from one case study that
"Some major changes in their environmental mining policy since closing in 2002 include:
  • Changes in tailings storage. Paste-tailings are now dried out and laid flat in a facility, which makes them less volatile and and more compact. This reduces:
  • The supply of fresh water needed, since the water from tailings can be recycled
  • Chemical reagents in tailings that can be recycled along with the water
  • Eliminates the need for 120 evaporation ponds ("Molycorp Innovations," 2012).
  • New technologies which use the excess cerium in stockpiles. Xsorbx uses cerium's magnetic properties to remove phosphorus from water ("Molycorp annual report," 2011).
  • Using waste heat from mining to generate steam and power, thus decreasing the carbon footprint.
In addition to being less environmentally damaging, these changes also reduce Molycorp's production cost by saving on water, chemical reagents, heat, power and total area used for stockpiling and waste piles. As such, these regulations are both environmentally friendly and economically feasible."
It would seem that some of us are able to learn some of the time. There's hope.

The Waking

By Theodore Roethke 

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?   
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?   
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,   
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do   
To you and me; so take the lively air,   
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   
What falls away is always. And is near.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Of local fauna and flora

Yesterday was overshadowed by the threat of severe weather forecast for late in the day. Fortunately, the forecasters seem to have erred on the side of caution and we escaped with some downpours, but not much more. The wind and scudding clouds did seem to have prompted lots of activity among the local feathered fauna before the storms arrived. A flock of four wild turkey toms, that I think included the one-footed "gimpy" gobbler that we first noticed about a year and a half ago, came wandering through the yard, checking out insects and sunflower seeds dropped from the feeders. I know turkeys use their toes to scratch the duff looking for food. I'm pretty sure they also use them to perch when they go to roost at night. I'm impressed and pleased that "gimpy" seems to have made it as long as he has, even with a notable handicap.

four tom turkeys fleeing paparazzi
four tom turkeys fleeing paparazzi
Photo by J. Harrington

Speaking of handicaps, I have several when it comes to plant identification. I'm going to ask for some help. I haven't yet seem any blooms on the plant in the photo below and I mostly try to identify plants by starting with their flowers. If anyone has any suggestions or hints on what these are, I'd be most grateful to receive them.

[UPDATE: after a tedious, page by page review of one of my field guides, followed by a crosscheck at Minnesota Wildflowers, I think this is Monarda punctata (Spotted Horsemint). Alternative identifications welcome.]

and these are?
and these are? Monarda punctata (Spotted Horsemint)
Photo by J. Harrington


By Susan Kinsolving 

Trust that there is a tiger, muscular
Tasmanian, and sly, which has never been
seen and never will be seen by any human
eye. Trust that thirty thousand sword-
fish will never near a ship, that far
from cameras or cars elephant herds live
long elephant lives. Believe that bees
by the billions find unidentified flowers
on unmapped marshes and mountains. Safe
in caves of contentment, bears sleep.
Through vast canyons, horses run while slowly
snakes stretch beyond their skins in the sun.
I must trust all this to be true, though
the few birds at my feeder watch the window
with small flutters of fear, so like my own.

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

That going to the dogs smell

We live on a gravel township road. You can tell by the constant accumulation of dust in the house that we get more traffic than I'd like. Every several weeks the grader comes by to smooth out the surface ripples. Despite all of this, plus the recent rains, our dogs find more fascinating smells in the road's surface than I can begin to understand. I can neither begin to envision what they're smelling nor how the scents are holding long enough to attract the intensity of attention they get. But then, I'm not a dog, nor do I speak doggish well enough to discuss the situation with Franco or SiSi.

a gravel country road, full of smells?
a gravel country road, full of smells?
Photo by J. Harrington

Because it has an "other" side to get to, our road is often crossed by whitetail deer, wild turkeys, cottontails and squirrels, less often by turtles and snakes and an occasional black bear. Based on the tracks I see from time to time, the deer and turkeys enjoy a periodic stroll along the road in addition to crossing it. Not being a canid, I have assumed that these smells are common enough that they wouldn't create the ecstasy of sniffing, snuffing and huffing I sometimes get to watch after our walk has been brought up short by whatever scent, smell, aroma or fume has attracted a dog's attention. Clearly my assumption is wrong, plus I failed to remember how I behave when confronted by the aromas of some of my favorite foods. The other point I don't understand is if or whether dogs have a mental image of what they're smelling. The Sunday smell of someone frying chicken immediately brings to my mind the crispy, crunchy perfectly brown color of fried chicken skin. If I smell a skunk, I picture a black and white striped pussy cat creature. What do you suppose is going through what passes for a dog's mind while he or she is running around, nose down, in very tight but unconcentric circles? Do you think he or she nose what's going on?

Dogs Are Shakespearean, Children Are Strangers

By Delmore Schwartz 

Dogs are Shakespearean, children are strangers.
Let Freud and Wordsworth discuss the child,
Angels and Platonists shall judge the dog,
The running dog, who paused, distending nostrils,
Then barked and wailed; the boy who pinched his sister,   
The little girl who sang the song from Twelfth Night,   
As if she understood the wind and rain,
The dog who moaned, hearing the violins in concert.   
—O I am sad when I see dogs or children!
For they are strangers, they are Shakespearean.

Tell us, Freud, can it be that lovely children   
Have merely ugly dreams of natural functions?   
And you, too, Wordsworth, are children truly   
Clouded with glory, learned in dark Nature?   
The dog in humble inquiry along the ground,   
The child who credits dreams and fears the dark,   
Know more and less than you: they know full well   
Nor dream nor childhood answer questions well:   
You too are strangers, children are Shakespearean.

Regard the child, regard the animal,   
Welcome strangers, but study daily things,   
Knowing that heaven and hell surround us,   
But this, this which we say before we’re sorry,   
This which we live behind our unseen faces,   
Is neither dream, nor childhood, neither   
Myth, nor landscape, final, nor finished,   
For we are incomplete and know no future,   
And we are howling or dancing out our souls   
In beating syllables before the curtain:   
We are Shakespearean, we are strangers.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sing a song of local

When I was in the 7th and 8th grades, young and impressionable, Elvis Presley's popularity began to really grow. I was a huge fan, in part because he drove my parents (most parents!) to abstraction. In those days, and most since, rebelliousness was a major theme I explored and supported. Having grown up in Boston from Irish (and other) stock it seemed to come naturally. Eventually, I entered high school and Elvis entered the US Army. Although I don't recall thinking a lot about it at the time, I sensed or intuited that rebelliousness and serving in the army might not be a perfect match. It's been I long time since I've played any of my Elvis records or CDs, but every autumn I play Joni Mitchell's Urge for Going, just as, for years now, each November I play Gordon Lightfoot's Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. All of that started running through my mind yesterday as I was writing the posting about local foods and local economies (that's plural on purpose) and began to wonder where "local music" fit in.

sun turned "traitor cold"
sun turned "traitor cold"
Photo by J. Harrington

I've only visited California once, but I doubt Californians have much sense of Mitchell's sun turning "traitor cold," although they might be able to partially grasp Lightfoot's "When afternoon came it was freezing rain // In the face of a hurricane west wind." Both Mitchell and Lightfoot are Canadians. To my ear they're much more folk than rock. It seems to me that the folk aspects of their songs do more to capture the particularity or locality of a place, a season or feeling than rock does. Or perhaps I find that folk captures a broader range of places, seasons and feelings than rock. (For the record, this line of reasoning seems to be pushing me to accept that Simon and Garfunkel are more folk than rock, which is something I never considered much before.) Anyhow, as a large part of the attraction of local places derives from the fact that they are uniquely themselves in this age of global economy, each of these singer-songwriters is uniquely him- or herself and that, these days, may have become the height of rebelliousness.

freezing rain and snow, not quite a hurricane west wind
freezing rain and snow, not quite a hurricane west wind
Photo by J. Harrington

I need to do a lot more thinking about this, including exploring the questions surrounding "local music" as emanating from a place compared to being about and accurately portraying a place. Have your heard Peter Ostroushko's score for Minnesota, History of the Land? How well does it capture us and our land in all our variety? More broadly, what do you think about the relationship among arts, artists, and particular places? The blues are uniquely American. Americana music is "an amalgam of American folk music," which seems to raise the question of whether the United States is more melting pot or mosaic. Lots to contemplate here.

Place and Time

By Lisel Mueller

History is your own heartbeat.                
                   —Michael Harper 

Last night a man on the radio,
a still young man, said the business district
of his hometown had been plowed under.
The town was in North Dakota.
Grass, where the red-and-gold           
Woolworth sign used to be,
where the revolving doors
took him inside Sears;
gone the sweaty seats
of the Roxy—or was it the Princess—
of countless Friday nights
that whipped his heart to a gallop
when a girl touched him, as the gun
on the screen flashed in the moonlight.
Grass, that egalitarian green,
pulling its sheet over rubble,
over his barely cold childhood,
on which he walks as others walk
over a buried Mayan temple
or a Roman aqueduct beneath
a remote sheep pasture
in the British Isles. Yet his voice,
the modest voice on the radio,
was almost apologetic,
as if to say, what’s one small town,
even if it is one’s own,
in an age of mass destruction,
and never mind the streets and stones
of a grown man’s childhood—
as if to say, the lives we live
before the present moment
are graves we walk away from.

Except we don’t. We’re all
pillars of salt. My life began
with Beethoven and Schubert
on my mother’s grand piano,
the shiny Bechstein on which she played
the famous symphonies
in piano reductions. But they were no
reductions for me, the child
who now remembers nothing
earlier than that music,
a weather I was born into,
a jubilant light or dusky sadness
struck up by my mother’s hands.
Where does music come from
and where does it go when it’s over—
the child’s unanswered question
about more than music.

My mother is dead, and the piano
she could not take with her into exile
burned with our city in World War II.
That is the half-truth. The other half
is that it’s still her black Bechstein
each concert pianist plays for me
and that her self-taught fingers
are behind each virtuoso performance
on the stereo, giving me back
my prewar childhood city
intact and real. I don’t know
if the man from North Dakota has
some music that brings back
his town to him, but something does,
and whatever he remembers
is durable and instantly
retrievable and lit
by a sky or streetlight
which does not change. That must be why
he sounded casual about
the mindless wreckage, clumsy
as an empty threat.

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

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The urge for going [local]

The sun is playing peek-a-boo today. It's not raining. Lots of birds are piling in on the feeders. Many are clearly young of the year. Often, the male goldfinches fly like they've been eating fermented berries. Maybe they have. Regardless of what the calendar says, or whatever heat wave the upcoming state fair may unleash on us, there's a hint of season change in today's cooler breeze and sunlight that's more warm than hot at midday. Our incipient migrants are starting to get The Urge for Going.

nuthatch and male goldfinch at feeder
nuthatch and male goldfinch at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

Going back in time, about a year ago we were in the midst of wedding preparations with the Daughter Person and Son-In-Law 2B, I was in the middle stages of a writing project that I still haven't got a handle on, and the Better Half and I took a day trip to the NorthWoods Art Fair in Hackensack, at which one of my poems earned a "Popular Choice" award, followed shortly thereafter by a separate trip of several days to Duluth. This Summer, allowing for a few mishaps, has been less busy. I could do with more of that. Maybe I'll actually make some real progress on my poetry and photography, instead of fiddling around the edges.

popular choice poem options & ballot box
popular choice poem options & ballot box
Photo by J. Harrington

I've been trying to sort out where and how bioregionalism fits with my ideas of Minnesota's sustainable future. Part of it has to do with (re)building the local food system infrastructure. I stumbled onto a wonderful resource when I attended the Regional Arts Summit at the UMN campus in Morris back in June. At an event in the City of Morris, I saw some great local food posters that were listed as being from the Lexicon of Food, which has some very useful concepts such as "connected markets," "direct trade" compared to "fair trade" and "community development premium" that I'm thinking could help make other local systems, such as housing, or art, more sustainable. I'm not sure yet whether this will help my poetry project, but, other than using my time, it's not hurting it and it has once again taught me that I can't anticipate all the dots that need connecting. Donella Meadows wrote a wonderful essay on that, and related ideas, called Dancing with Systems (by the way, I'm still recovering from spending too many years of my life as the classic Type A, control freak described in the first few paragraphs).

Getting Where We're Going

By John Brehm

Surfeit of distance and the wracked mind waiting,
nipping at itself, snarling inwardly at strangers.
If I had a car in this town I'd
rig it up with a rear bumper horn,
something to blast back at the jackasses
who honk the second the light turns green.
If you could gather up all the hornhonks
of just one day in New York City,
tie them together in a big brassy knot
high above the city and honk
them all at once it would shiver
the skyscrapers to nothingness, as if
they were made of sand, and usher
in the Second Coming. Christ would descend
from the sky wincing with his fingers
in his ears and judge us all
insane. Who'd want people like us
up there yelling at each other, trashing
the cloudy, angelic streets with our
candywrappers and newspapers and coffeecups?
Besides, we'd still be waiting for   
the next thing to happen in Heaven,
the next violin concerto or cotton candy
festival or breathtaking vista to open
beneath our feet, and thinking this place
isn't quite what it's cracked up to be,
and why in hell does everybody
want to get here? We'd still be
waiting for someone else to come
and make us happy, staring
through whatever's in front of us,
cursing the light that never seems to change.

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Milking the weeds for all they're worth

Unbeknownst to me previously, today is "World Photo Day." Let me wish you a happy one. Here's my favorite "world photo."

Earthrise is a photograph of the Earth taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission. Nature photographer Galen Rowell declared it "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken."
Earthrise is a photograph of the Earth taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968,
during the Apollo 8 mission. Nature photographer Galen Rowell declared it
"the most influential environmental photograph ever taken."

Back on Earth, I'm missing a good photo [see below] of the section of our field that's full of what I think are common milkweed plants, none of which have monarch caterpillars feeding on them, nor did any display flowers this Summer. Today's continuing rain severely limits my interest in  heading to the field to get a better shot. Plus, I'm still drying out from walking all four dogs in yesterday's downpours.

While I was getting warm and dry again, it took me several searches to find the following milkweed description in a USDA Plant Guide:
"Both seedlings and cuttings will usually bloom in their second year, although cuttings will occasionally bloom during their first year (Kindscher 1992)."
field with Black-eyed Susan and milkweed
field with Black-eyed Susan and milkweed
Photo by J. Harrington

There's lots of information on propagating and planting and growing "pollinator-friendly" plants, including various milkweeds. Little of it mentions a lack of flowers the first year.

You might be able to notice some of the plants I'm talking about in the lower right quadrant of the above photo. For the moment, I'm interpreting the USDA quote to mean that I have a field full of first year plants (seedlings, since I know we didn't do cuttings) and should hope for blooms next year. Alternatively, I have a field full of some rare, weird plant that looks like a common milkweed but doesn't bloom. I'm open to alternative explanations. Have any? 


Philip Levine

Remember how unimportant
they seemed, growing loosely
in the open fields we crossed
on the way to school. We
would carve wooden swords
and slash at the luscious trunks
until the white milk started
and then flowed. Then we'd
go on to the long day
after day of the History of History
or the tables of numbers and order
as the clock slowly paid
out the moments. The windows
went dark first with rain
and then snow, and then the days,
then the years ran together and not
one mattered more than
another, and not one mattered.

Two days ago I walked
the empty woods, bent over,
crunching through oak leaves,
asking myself questions
without answers. From somewhere
a froth of seeds drifted by touched
with gold in the last light
of a lost day, going with
the wind as they always did.

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The buck[s] stop[s] here

Midday, midweek, cool, rainy, kind of gloomy. I was at a meeting in Minneapolis all morning and had another appointment this afternoon. I wasn't sure when or how I'd get a chance to write something for My Minnesota. I needed something to cheer me up. I got it them. As I looked out the picture window, I saw a young fork horn buck, still in velvet, poking along the edge of the woods. I got my camera, took some pictures and felt considerably cheerier than I had fifteen minutes before. Then I looked again, wondering how he had moved to the front of the apple trees without my noticing. Then I saw that this wasn't the first buck, this was another one with slightly smaller antlers, also in velvet. That's more bucks at one time than I've seen in my entire life before this. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

fork horn #1 in velvet
fork horn #1 in velvet
Photo by J. Harrington

fork horn #2 in velvet
fork horn #2 in velvet
Photo by J. Harrington


By Mark Wunderlich 

A man with binoculars   
fixed a shape in the field   
and we stopped and saw   

the albino buck browsing   
in the oats—white dash   
on a page of green,   

flick of a blade   
cutting paint to canvas.   
It dipped its head   

and green effaced the white,   
bled onto the absence that   
the buck was—animal erasure.   

Head up again, its sugar legs   
pricked the turf, pink   
antler prongs brushed at flies.   

Here in a field was the imagined world   
made visible—a mythical beast   
filling its rumen with clover   

until all at once it startled,   
flagged its bright tail—   
auf Wiedersehen, surrender—   

and leapt away—   
a white tooth   
in the closing mouth of the woods.

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

Monday, August 17, 2015

Distinctions with or without differences

Even with the handful of field guides I have, and the resources of the internet at my disposal (God and frontier communications willing), I'm often perplexed by the question of "what am I looking at?" It's not that I can't sort out flowers from grasses from trees and ducks from crows and things like that. It's that, until recently, I had never noticed how many similar, but different, flowers and birds etc. there are. Here's one example using flowers with yellow petals and dark centers.

Helianthus pauciflorus (Stiff Sunflower)?
Helianthus pauciflorus (Stiff Sunflower)?
Photo by J. Harrington

I thought they might be Black-eyed Susans or, possibly, Brown-eyed Susans, but, if you look closely, you can see there's more than one flower per stem. Maybe they're stiff sunflowers? That was my initial choice, but I'm not sure. At least to me they don't look exactly like this field of what I think are Black-eyed Susans that bloom every year at the other end of our road.

Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan)?
Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan)?
Photo by J. Harrington

For the past several years, I've been "sure" that these birds are purple finches.

purple finches? at feeder
purple finches? at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

But then this year, someone who seems to have more, or darker, red on his head and breast showed up. House finch? I don't know (sorry about the poor photo).

house finch? (and gold finch) at feeder
house finch? (and gold finch) at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

I vaguely recall Darwin writing about the changes in bills of  Galapogos finches. I can understand those functional differences but wonder how males and females sort out which of the 14 species match with them, just as I wonder about pollinators trying to sort out the different "look-a-like" flowers, or maybe they don't need to. It's been years since I took fundamentals of ecology. Maybe I need a refresher, or new glasses and a better telephoto lens. Or, maybe I need to pay more attention to details like basel flowers and things rather than just looking at the flowers or purple feathers or whatever else passes for a bright shiny object that attracts my attention. But I still wonder why differences are often so similar. I'm in good company though.


By Lorine Niedecker

His holy
                        mulled over
not all “delirium
            of delight”
                        as were the forests
   of Brazil
“Species are not
            (it is like confessing
                        a murder)
He was often becalmed
            in this Port Desire by illness
                        or rested from species
   at billiard table
As to Man
            “I believe Man…
                        in the same predicament
   with other animals”
Cordilleras to climb—Andean
            peaks “tossed about
                        like the crust
   of a broken pie”
Icy wind
            Higher, harder
                        Chileans advised eat onions
   for shortness of breath
Heavy on him:
            Andes miners carried up
                        great loads—not allowed
   to stop for breath
Fossil bones near Santa Fé
   Tended by an old woman
“Dear Susan…
            I am ravenous
                        for the sound
   of the pianoforte”
FitzRoy blinked—
            sea-shells on mountain tops!
                        The laws of change
   rode the seas
without the good captain
            who could not concede
                        land could rise from the sea
   until—before his eyes
            Talcahuana Bay drained out—
                        all-water wall
   up from the ocean
—six  seconds—
            demolished the town
                        The will of God?
   Let us pray
And now the Galápagos Islands—
            hideous black lava
                        The shore so hot
   it burned their feet
through their boots
            Reptile life
                        Melville here later
   said the chief sound was a hiss
A thousand turtle monsters
            drive together to the water
                        Blood-bright crabs hunt ticks
   on lizards’ backs
Flightless cormorants
            Cold-sea creatures—
                        penguins, seals
   here in tropical waters
Hell for FitzRoy
            but for Darwin Paradise Puzzle
                        with the jig-saw gists
   beginning to fit
Years… balancing
                        I am ill, he said
   and books are slow work
Studied pigeons
            barnacles, earthworms
                        Extracted seeds
   from bird dung
Brought home Drosera—
            saw insects trapped
                        by its tentacles—the fact
   that a plant should secrete
an acid acutely akin
            to the digestive fluid
                        of an animal! Years
   till he published
He wrote Lyell: Don’t forget
            to send me the carcass
                        of your half-bred African cat
   should it die
I remember, he said
            those tropical nights at sea—
                        we sat and talked
   on the booms
Tierra del Fuego’s
            shining glaciers translucent
                        blue clear down
   (almost) to the indigo sea
(By the way Carlyle
            thought it most ridiculous
                        that anyone should care
   whether a glacier
moved a little quicker
            or a little slower
                        or moved at all)
sailed out
            of Good Success Bay
                        to carcass-
the universe
            not built by brute force
                        but designed by laws
   The details left
to the working of chance
            “Let each man hope
                        and believe
   what he can”

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