Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fools rush in.

By the looks of the low spot behind the house, we might have experienced a micro-climate frost this morning. I can see sun shining less than 20 feet uphill from what looks like frost-whitened grasses. Our low temperature, at a slightly higher elevation, was in the mid-30s, so I can believe there might have been a "soft" frost, or not. Since our average first frost usually occurs within the next ten or twelve days, we seem to be generally on schedule.

wind farm, southwestern Minnesota
wind farm, southwestern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday, I mentioned coming across a reference to a desire for a sketch of more sustainable Minnesota. Later, as I was walking the dogs, I finally remembered where I had seen it (confirming the theory that a good way to remember something is to not think about it). Specifically, Scott Strand, ED at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, blogged "we need some kind of honest shared visualization of what a decent future looks like" in regard to climate change, air pollution and water pollution. Keep in mind William Gibson's observation that "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." (To which I would add: "nor is it being well tended to.") Much of what we can sketch of a future has been around for a while, in one form or another, just not very evenly distributed.

I wouldn't presume to offer a fully developed, shared solution, but I'm foolish and hardy enough to sketch out some of my thoughts and see if they generate any kind of response. If enough folks like any of the ideas presented, we get to the beginning of a shared vision. In polite circles this is referred to as the start of a dialogue, or, even better, a conversation, something sadly lacking in most of our political discourse these days.

Since I'm a firm believer that everything is related to everything else, some things more directly than others, I'm going to start by suggesting we need to start our conversation from a premise that we need to do more systems thinking, including better and more frequent use of integrative design as an an ongoing process for creating and implementing our vision. We need to focus on solutions that do good instead of settling for doing less bad (Cradle to Cradle). We need to seriously incorporate the four Natural Step system conditions for a sustainable society into our conversations. Those are the ultimate system constraints we're faced with. Here's an example that begins to respond to the climate change and air particulates concerns Scott raised.

solar panels, northeastern Minnesota
solar panels, northeastern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

ENERGY VISION: In the foreseeable future, Minnesota will become free from using fossil fuels and will be powered solely by distributed energy, generated primarily from renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, at community-based networked facilities. Electric car batteries and related storage technologies will play an increasing role as supplemental sources.(The internet, and its development, is a "mental model" for this kind of system.) To achieve this vision, Minnesota will need to change its Public Utilities Commission's mindset and decision-making processes, not easy but doable. We will also need to revise or eliminate zoning or land use controls that would inhibit neighborhood energy facilities. Attaining this vision will be a major response to climate change and, by ultimately eliminating the need for and use of diesel engines, will eventually eliminate a major source of fine air particulates. Creating, installing, maintaining and replacing our energy system over time will create many new types of jobs, so the state's universities and community and technical college systems will need to work with existing businesses and entrepreneurs. Significant changes in the way society underwrites and finances power production and transmission facilities will be needed, creating opportunities for risk sharing, job creation and new sources of profit for Minnesota's financial sector. Minnesota's Iron Range could become a leadership center, through creative partnerships, that develops, tests and adapts electric power technology for heavy industrial and agricultural and, ultimately, over-the-road use. That's not a complete picture, but it's a start. We can take a similar approach to other systems, food production being another example. Our purpose here isn't to get everything perfect as we sketch scenarios. Those details can come later. Let's see if we can take the proverbial "broad brush" and paint some kind of picture of the future we'd like, instead of spending as much energy as we do fighting about what we don't agree about. Since the US military acknowledges that climate change presents national security threats, maybe some creative, political soul could successfully approach DARPA for funding of some parts of this system.

[UPDATE: Several hours after today's blog posting was uploaded, the guardian published the story linked below, which reads to me like an argument for replacing our current generation / transmission system.

World's energy systems at risk from global warming, say leading firms


Lines from the Reports of the Investigative Committees

By Joel Brouwer 
The Department of the Interior and Department of Homeland Security announced a joint enquiry into the explosion and sinking of the Transocean Deepwater Horizon on April 22. The us House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations and Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources have also announced investigations.
    Last week bp launched its own investigation into the incident and has an investigation team at work in Houston, Texas.
—bp.com, April 28, 2010

Beneath three thousand feet, the sea is wholly dark.
The shuttle feeds hydraulics to the blind shear ram
and represents a single failure point for disconnect.
Recommendation: Declare selected points on earth
invisible. Affected communities have been provided
with limited quantities of powdered milk
and other staples. Many questions remain. Some
close their eyes under water instinctively.
Imagination can create a sense of peril where
no real peril exists. Safety equipment tests
were necessarily imaginary; mechanisms in question
were wholly inaccessible. A journalist sinking
into the mud was told to toss his camera
to a colleague and hold extremely still. In this
sense, we are our own prisoners. Investigators
have salt in their hair and sand in their teeth.
The hotel pool is empty. Yet questions remain.
Barbeque billboards depict grinning pigs in aprons
and toques. Cleanup crews recover thousands
of plastic milk jugs from the shallows. Do these
images appeal to the death drive? Care should be
taken to ensure the highest possible reliability
from that valve. Thousands in affected communities
have been evicted and live in tents. Demonstrators
have prevented investigators from accessing
hotel stairwells. 1900: Rudolf Diesel
demonstrates an engine fueled by peanut oil
at the Paris World’s Fair. The Vietnamese owner
of Bad Bob’s bbq Buffet tells a journalist
she last drank powdered milk in a refugee camp
“a thousand years ago.” Items available only
in limited quantities are found in Appendix C.
Cleanup crews have stacked thousands of drums
of dispersant in hotel parking lots. Dominant
failure combinations for well control suggest
additional safety mechanism diversity
and redundancy provide additional reliability.
Bank of America will offer limited foreclosure
deferments in affected communities. Thousands
of years ago, a pronghorn ram slipped beneath
the surface of a tar pit, jerking its snout
for air. Recommendation: Live at inaccessible
elevations. Recommendation: Close your eyes.
Recommendation: Prevent access to the invisible.
Engineering reports noted required safety
mechanisms were unlikely to function yet were
required for safety’s sake. If the committee
may offer an analogy, a blind surgeon is dangerous,
an imaginary surgeon harmless. Still, questions
remain. BP’s 2010 Q1 replacement cost profit
was $5,598 million, compared with $2,387 million
a year ago, an increase of 135%. Unlimited
quantities of peanuts are available. However,
care must be taken to ensure continued high
reliability of the shuttle valve, since it is
extremely critical to the overall disconnect
operation. Phenomena not meant to be accessed
or imagined are found in Appendix E. Cleanup crews
are sometimes idled for lack of fuel. 1913: Diesel
found dead, drowned under suspicious circumstances.
The investigators’ hotel toilets won’t flush.
Midas turned everything he touched to gold.
In this sense, seabirds cloaked in oil are rich.
Cleanup crews live in tents and are provided
with limited quantities of barbeque and wear
white canvas jumpsuits like prisoners on furlough.
If the committee may offer an analogy, the death
drive resides at wholly dark depths of imagination
and fuel issues from a wound we’ve opened there.


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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

What do we really want?

Sometime, somewhere online during the past several days I came across an article suggesting a need for someone(s) to sketch out, in some detail, what a sustainable Minnesota would look like. [UPDATE: Found it.] Since I spent part of this morning in a dentist's chair, as an escape to somewhere more pleasant, I started thinking about that. The sketch out part is fairly easy. The details get more complicated, of course. (Remember God, or the Devil, is in the details?) Part of the reason the details are such a challenge, I believe, is that we don't really know what we want and, at least as troubling, we don't have a good mechanism to talk about what we have in common and try to reach agreement on that. We used to, and, in some limited areas, maybe we still do. But, I believe, we have neither the breadth nor the depth needed, nor do we treat a need to reach agreement as a priority. We seem more interested in winner take all or being a free rider.


Today, as this is being written, folks in District 3A are casting their ballots in a DFL primary special election to select a candidate to succeed Representative Dill. From what I've read, the contest is being cast as a "copper mining referendum." Continuing a win-lose, either-or mindset. I wish more folks would consider: if many northern Minnesotans didn't believe they had to rely on mining for "good jobs," what kind of jobs would they want and how could we develop those jobs? Let me try to explain another way: I've been told that not too far back in my family's history we're proud to have some Irish immigrants who came to America and took jobs as ditch diggers because that was all they could get. One of the most important things those immigrant ditch diggers wanted was for their kids to have a chance to be more than a ditch digger when they grew up. It's possible that Iron Range miners don't want more for their children (a "better" mining job?) than some of my ancestors wanted for theirs, but I doubt it.



Minnesota used to have a state planning agency. Years ago, under a (moderate) Republican governor, we had a series of milestones that specified goals we wanted to reach and provided measures tracking how well we were doing in attaining those goals. We no longer have a state planning agency, or any sort of real replacement for what we once had. We no longer have Minnesota Milestones, or any realistic replacement for what we once had. Maybe we became embarrassed to see how slowly improvements came, if they came at all. Maybe, I suspect, the process was dismissed by the next Democratic governor because it had been originated by a Republican. So now we're faced with the old precept "You ain't lost if you don't care where you are." Have Minnesotans bought into the idea, under a different Republican governor, that all we want is more for me, even if it means less for us? I read today that our current Democratic governor is going to ask for funding to promote Minnesota during the Ryder cup (to be played at Hazeltine) telecast next year. We'll have lots of new sports stadia to show, along with major disparities in education achievements and income distribution among all our citizens. (The latter aren't terribly photogenic unless you're Bobby Kennedy.) Twenty years from now would we want to show off a PolyMet NorthMet mine project with all 350 "high-paying jobs?"

I didn't at the time think that the Minnesota Milestones were all that great, although I'm pleased to note they didn't reference sports stadia. We now have better tools to measure how well we're doing. As an example, look closely at the triangle above. We just chose not to use them or improve on them. We'd rather argue about whether the Metro Council is doing its job when we've never really done much to talk about what that job should be. That seems to have gone the way of other milestones.

The same Donella Meadows who wrote the report shown above, also wrote about how hard it is for people to try to envision what they really want. She also explains wonderfully how much is gained by the effort of trying. I believe Minnesota has too much to lose to not try again, try better. Don't you?

Amendment


Christina Davis

The love of each of us
for some of us,
                        of some of us
for all of us—
                        and what would come if it were
                        welcome, if learning were
                        to prepare “a self with which to
welcome”
           the in-
admissible,        stranger
whose very being gives
evidence of
a discrepancy. School of our just
beginning to think
about this,       I believe
the seats will be peopled.


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Monday, September 28, 2015

Artfully localizing our economies

I hope you enjoyed the super-moon / blood-moon eclipse last night. Since the next one won't occur until 2033, it was a historical event but, from what I could see of the aesthetics, both in person and in photos, it may have been over rated just a bit (or a lot). [According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, "The size of today’s [yesterday's] “Super” moon is to next month’s full moon as a 16.07 inch pizza is to a 16.00 inch pizza.] It did present me with an overdue opportunity to spend time with my camera and manuals and improve my familiarity with my equipment by about 25%. I'm pleased with that and don't intend to wait until 2033 to further my knowledge about how to use different buttons and switches to improve my photos. No matter how well I learn about my camera, though, I still need to find a better way to get butterflies and birds to hold still longer while I release the shutter.

last night's half-eclipsed "super" moon
last night's half-eclipsed "super" moon
Photo by J. Harrington

Something else I learned about this weekend is that there is such a thing as a "fibershed." It exists as a non-profit organization and an art exhibit, and who, other than Google or Bing, knows what else. A search of the web site of the Textile Center of Minnesota yielded no results for fibershed. That may just mean there's an opportunity there. All of this intrigues me because I also discovered recently that Minnesota seems to have a growing number of artisanal bakers and local suppliers of artisan grains. I'm thinking they belong in some of our local "foodsheds." Do you ever wonder how much Minnesota already has going on as localized economies develop that are hidden in plain sight? I was particularly interested in local grains and artisan bread. An internet search quickly found these resources (two of which are very local):

local sour dough bread
local sour dough bread
Photo by J. Harrington

Minnesota has a noteworthy and growing national reputation in literary circles thanks to The Loft and our excellent non-profit presses. We now have the Legacy Fund and a growing reputation in local arts development. Combine these with the increasing development of artisanal businesses, including local foods, and if I'm not careful, I could start to get excited about the possibilities for growing local economies in Minnesota, even on the Iron Range. The more of us that have a stake in our local area, environment and economy, the more of us there are to protect them all. We might even start some economic gardening.

Art vs. Trade

By James Weldon Johnson
Trade, Trade versus Art,
Brain, Brain versus Heart;
Oh, the earthiness of these hard-hearted times,   
When clinking dollars, and jingling dimes,   
Drown all the finer music of the soul.

Life as an Octopus with but this creed,
That all the world was made to serve his greed;
Trade has spread out his mighty myriad claw,
And drawn into his foul polluted maw,
The brightest and the best,   
Well nigh,
Has he drained dry,
The sacred fount of Truth;   
And if, forsooth,
He has left yet some struggling streams from it to go,
He has contaminated so their flow,
That Truth, scarce is it true.

Poor Art with struggling gasp,
Lies strangled, dying in his mighty grasp;
He locks his grimy fingers ’bout her snowy throat so tender.   
Is there no power to rescue her, protect, defend her?   
Shall Art be left to perish?
Shall all the images her shrines cherish
Be left to this iconoclast, to vulgar Trade?

Oh, that mankind had less of Brain and more of Heart,   
Oh, that the world had less of Trade and more of Art;   
Then would there be less grinding down the poor,   
Then would men learn to love each other more;   
For Trade stalks like a giant through the land,   
Bearing aloft the rich in his high hand,
While down beneath his mighty ponderous tread,   
He crushes those who cry for daily bread.


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Sunday, September 27, 2015

How to share a vision

Last night, in preparation for tonight's super moon eclipse, I reread my crib sheet on how to photograph the moon. Then I took my camera and tried to follow the instructions. I had previously tried to get decent pictures of the moon and had a long string of failures. This time I was determined to succeed or know the specific reason why. It tuns out that one of my biggest sources of prior failures was skipping over some basic instructions on how to use my camera because "I didn't need to know that right then." I never went back to fill in the missing pieces of fundamental knowledge until yesterday. Here are the results (not perfect, but better than anything I'd previously accomplished):

"full" moon
"full" moon
Photo by J. Harrington

With that successful "planning" effort behind me, and the Pontiff's recent visit in mind, plus the adoption by the United Nations of "Sustainable Development Goals," I started thinking about Minnesota's current successes in sustainability, or lack thereof. Up north, mining and forestry are in serious doldrums and we're offering public subsidies that put more value in shareholders and executive pockets than jobs on Minnesota payrolls. On Minnesota's western and southern boundaries, bumper crops are likely to yield, at best, a break even year for agriculture. But, the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area is like The Little Engine That Could, pulling the state's economy ahead. Right? Yet we see more and more stories about racial inequity, economic disparity keeps growing and we can anticipate that it will be decades before water quality standards are met through the state, if they ever are. Then, to top all of that off, we have someone like K. Kersten offering commentary to the effect of About the Met Council's stamp on housing: Do we really want to live like this? and far-sighted leaders like Peter Bell quitting in a huff over a public citizen committee devoting too much time to naming rights for a Minneapolis Lake. (How much time do you suppose the Vikings deveoted to getting naming rights to their subsidized playground?) It all reminds me of the saying about "any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a real carpenter to build one" (Thank you Speaker Rayburn). At least we haven't yet seen a proposal to put them up for sale the way state parks in Wisconsin are headed under that state's anti-labor, anti-progress leadership.

Minnesota Design Team's "Shared Vision" graphic
Minnesota Design Team's "Shared Vision" graphic

Now other conservative crazies have forced a premature departure of the Speaker of the House, leaving the administration to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent. Let me make this as clear as I can. I believe that, in a democracy, the common good is more than the aggregation of what's good for each individual. The first Nobel Prize won by a women in Economics was awarded for creative thinking to that effect, about creating value with and managing the commons. I wonder if any of the members of the Citizens League Metropolitan Council Task Force are familiar with Elinore Ostrum's work (much of which is based on managing water supplies). I also wonder how many, if any, of those members have knowledge of or experience with integrative design and the story of place. I know Minnesota has talented design leaders, many of who have been involved with the Minnesota Design Team. Maybe that team could visit the Task Force and offer some suggestions based on their experience with multitudes of Minnesota communties facing issues similar to those faced by the Legislature, the Council, and the League's Task Force.

horse vision

clock reads 7 at all hours
juncos make selves known in the snow
this time dawdling
I write in horse, but I see in athabascan
when it’s time for elevensies, the clock reads 7
what telling fortune therewith
time is a thing that gets spent, like youth, $ and desire
n/t so lovely as a cardinal against the snow
or a tree w/ fruit on it
by the time I have ceased to write this
it will already be 7
adjourned to the park
n/thing will come of n/t
starfish creaked in the wood
lurid amulet    w/ a fish onnit
sign reads SEVEN all day & at all hours
the dogs curse each other from afar
in dog language
when did the word corrupt begin to take on a moral cast?
horses see in wide angle, and have a much wider periphery than humans,
but with a blind spot in the very center
so if you want to be sympathetic to a horse say sucks
about those blinders
or if you want to make fun of a horse, tell them
they can’t even see whats in front of their face


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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Quietly producing and consuming

As I sat down today to write, I looked out at the grasses covering the hill behind the house. I saw lots of purple love grass and little bluestem and whatever other grasses and forbs help keep the grains of sand in place. It looked like "nothing much was happening," although there's supposed to be billions of bacteria and insects living in the soil and on and under the plants. At least that's what Life in the Leaf Litter and comparable resources report. I was reminded that Nature doesn't exist only "in the country." Animals, like city-mice and country-mice, feed on grass seeds and stems and, in more and more urban areas, coyotes feed on those mice. Producers, consumers and unnoticed recyclers live almost everywhere.

whitetail foraging on pear tree
whitetail foraging on pear tree
Photo by J. Harrington

In our part of the country, deer (consumers) have an unfortunate (for us) preference for fruit trees, lilacs and forsythia (all producers of forage). We're happy to "donate" acorns (forage) to the turkeys and does (both consumers) who wander through in the early morning or late afternoon. We even leave "excess" pears for the deer. They still won't stop munching on the foliage. Sigh.

calm, dew-covered fields
calm, dew-covered fields
Photo by J. Harrington

Back to today, at mid-day the only signs of life were grasses swaying in a gentle breeze and an occasional oak leaf fluttering down onto those grasses.  Even the bird feeders were experiencing a mid-day lull.

Autumn's golden grasses
Autumn's golden grasses
Photo by J. Harrington

Suddenly, a branch cluster in the crown of a hill-top oak bent and I caught a glimpse of wing-flash as whatever landed tried to catch its balance. Something larger than a songbird had landed but I couldn't see clearly what it was. I though maybe a red-tailed hawk (consumer), since they're fairly common around here. After it sat for a minute or two, it launched headed west, away from me. I could see the bottom of a short, wide Buteo-shaped tail, but not a confirming red color. I'm proceeding on the idea that so far today I've seen a doe, a red-tail hawk, a red-bellied woodpecker at the feeder, plus a handful of chickadees and nuthatches and some swaying grasses. But, before they started swaying, before the breeze came up, in the early morning dew-covered calm, I got to see Autumn's golden colors sparkle in fields across the road earlier this morning. I hope every day produces as much wonder and beauty as you can consume. We need to feed our souls as well as our bodies. Speaking of which, if you read yesterday's post, I'm pleased to report the bread experiment turned out really well although I'm still looking for more sour dough flavor. The bread with 20% bread flour had slightly more "crumb" than when just made with all-purpose flour. This, I read, relates to hydration. Yesterday I mentioned that the dough seemed a little more moist than usual. Interesting and fun experiment. We'll try some other variations soon.

September Tomatoes

By Karina Borowicz 

The whiskey stink of rot has settled
in the garden, and a burst of fruit flies rises
when I touch the dying tomato plants.

Still, the claws of tiny yellow blossoms
flail in the air as I pull the vines up by the roots
and toss them in the compost.

It feels cruel. Something in me isn’t ready
to let go of summer so easily. To destroy
what I’ve carefully cultivated all these months.
Those pale flowers might still have time to fruit.

My great-grandmother sang with the girls of her village
as they pulled the flax. Songs so old
and so tied to the season that the very sound
seemed to turn the weather.


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Friday, September 25, 2015

Bread Day

For more than a year, maybe two, I'd been baking bread following the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day formula. Then, several months ago, I started using King Arthur's sourdough starter and recipe. Folks around here at least say they like both. Although the house smells wonderful while either are baking, I thought the sour dough could use a little more flavor. This week I'm trying something different and, in my own way, am foolishly changing two variables at once. I didn't refrigerate the starter this week and, instead of five cups of all purpose flour, I'm trying four cups of all purpose and one of bread flour. I've already noticed that the dough seems smoother. I'm curious to see how the bread comes out. Baking provides a nice alternative to the more abstract effort of writing. I'm getting comfortable enough with the routine that it's time to experiment and see if I can learn anything from empirical experiments in addition to the book learning I started with.

Artisan bread and cloche  bread baker
Artisan bread and cloche bread baker
Photo by J. Harrington

loaves of sourdough bread
Photo by J. Harrington

During the Summer, I usually spend less time baking (the lack of 90 degree days this Summer created an exception). Now that Autumn has started and the weather will be cooling, it's time to ramp up the baking routine again. There's a recipe for roasted apple bread that I'm anxious to try next week when the temperatures drop back into a seasonable range. Although the wheat and mills are no longer strictly local, and heaven only knows where the energy for the oven actually comes from, the labor and love that go into my bread makes it a local food as far as I'm concerned. [UPDATE: I can attest that the dough, after proofing, is moister than straight all-purpose flour, as I learned when I shaped the two loaves.]

One of the other really nice parts of the change from Summer to Autumn is that, sometime in the past several weeks, the deer flies and most of the mosquitoes have disappeared. Whoever wrote about the challenge of noticing what isn't there was spot on. It took me longer than I'd like to admit before I noticed that dogs and I weren't being harassed during our walks. Fewer bugs, lower humidity and heat, fresh bread, Ah, Autumn!

Waifs and Strays

Arthur Rimbaud, 1854 - 1891

Black in the fog and in the snow,
Where the great air-hole windows glow,
With rounded rumps,

Upon their knees five urchins squat,
Looking down where the baker, hot,
The thick dough thumps.

They watch his white arm turn the bread,
Ere through an opening flaming red
The loaf he flings.

They hear the good bread baking, while
The chubby baker with a smile
An old tune sings.

Breathing the warmth into their soul,
They squat around the red air-hole,
As a breast warm.

And when, for feasters’ midnight bout,
The ready bread is taken out,
In a cake’s form;

And while beneath the blackened beams,
Sings every crust of golden gleams,
While the cricket brags,

The hole breathes warmth into the night,
And into them life and delight,
Under their rags,

And the urchins covered with hoar-frost,
On billows of enchantment tossed
Their little souls,

Glue to the grate their little rosy
Noses, singing through the cosy
Glowing holes,

But with low voices like a prayer,
Bending down to the light down there,
Where heaven gleams.

—So eager that they burst their breeches,
And in the winter wind that screeches
Their linen streams.


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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Rates of change

In the light rain and gray light this morning, I barely noticed the doe emerge from the wood's edge onto our "prairie." During the past week or so, her coat changed from Summer's red to Winter's dun. Over the past day or so, some oak trees by the house developed some leaves that are now reddish-brown, others that are yellow or golden, but most are still very green. Have you noticed that many of the changes in nature are gradual and incremental? Does that start you thinking about how,  (making allowances for the occasional Halloween blizzard) nature avoids abrupt shifts? Not all the leaves change at once, not all the birds head south at the same time. Nature seems to encourage, work with and promote change rather than try to hold "market share" or adapt to and manage it over the next quarter or two, hoping everyone has short memories and is very forgiving.

leaf by leaf, change occurs
leaf by leaf, change occurs
Photo by J. Harrington

So, when it comes to climate change, should we leave to chance (the market?) what changes occur first? Actually, I think it's too late for that. Some folks have already begun to make some of the changes we'll need, changes like creating more community supported agriculture and farmers markets with more farmers doing diversified farming rather than just growing commodity crops. Some folks have been collecting heritage seeds and restoring heritage plants and animal breeds. Some folks have already installed solar panels.Just as each year some leaves on some trees change sooner than others, so it is with us. That makes sense because we are part of nature. Not enough of us have changed, yet, but eventually we'll all change just as each year all the deciduous trees have leaf fall. As we wait for laggards to catch up, there's more than enough work to be done to adapt to the new world we've created. We need to try to minimize any additional misery it may cause us, especially misery imposed on those with fewer resources. I don't understand "climate deniers," keeping their heads in the sand, any more than I understand what made VW think no one would notice if they cheated on emission controls. If trust is lost, there is no market and capitalism fails. What were they thinking? At least VW has begun to admit the errors of their ways, but they've already done great damage to global corporate credibility. I'm still waiting for that kind of concern to dawn on climate deniers.

tomorrow brings a new dawn
tomorrow brings a new dawn
Photo by J. Harrington

Survivor Guilt

It’s very easy to get.
Just keep living and you’ll find yourself
getting more and more of it.
You can keep it or pass it on,
but it’s a good idea to keep a small portion
for those nights when you’re feeling so good
you forget you’re human. Then drudge it up
and float down from the ceiling
that is covered with stars that glow in the dark
for the sole purpose of being beautiful for you,
and as you sink their beauty dims and goes out—
I mean it flies out the nearest door or window,
its whoosh raising the hair on your forearms.
If only your arms were green, you could have two small lawns!
But your arms are just there and you are kaput.
It’s all your fault, anyway, and it always has been—
the kind word you thought of saying but didn’t,
the appalling decline of human decency, global warming,
thermonuclear nightmares, your own small cowardice,
your stupid idea that you would live forever—
all tua culpa. John Phillip Sousa
invented the sousaphone, which is also your fault.
Its notes resound like monstrous ricochets.
But when you wake up your body
seems to fit fairly well, like a tailored suit,
and you don’t look too bad in the mirror.
Hi there, feller! Old feller, young feller, who cares?
Whoever it was who felt guilty last night,
to hell with him. That was then.


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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Equinox equity

In our neck of the woods, Equinox occurred at 3:22 am. As for Summer's passing, “Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.” (Dr. Seuss?)

One year ago we were in the midst of final preparations for a wedding. Autumn's colors were a little more fully developed than they are now, so we have much to look forward to before we even get near the holidays. (And, as much as I enjoyed the Daughter Person's wedding to the Son-in-Law, I'm glad we don't do that every Autumn.)

Speaking of holidaysand celebrations, this year October 12 will bring Indigenous Peoples Day to both Minneapolis and St. Paul, along with a handful of other progressive cities who celebrate Native American culture (and the fact that there was someone here to welcome the white immigrants) instead of an adventurer who discovered something that hadn't been lost. Native Americans -- First Peoples knew where they were all along. It was Columbus who had misplaced a continent or two.

I'm going to use this year's Indigenous People's Day celebration to try a recipe  or two from one of our cookbooks of Native American foods. Of course, this being Minnesota, wild rice will be part of the meal, as will either venison or bison, unless I decide to cheat a little and cook some wild rice brats instead. If you're curious about the cookbooks, Original Local is by Heid E. Erdrich, a Native American living in Minnesota, and Spirit of the Harvest covers foods from throughout North America. For something different and appropriate to do on October 12 this year, you could visit Birchbark Books and/or Minneapolis' Native American Corridor. Autumn, be glad it's here!

early color, St. Croix Valley
early color, St. Croix Valley
Photo by J. Harrington

autumn maple leaves
autumn maple leaves
Photo by J. Harrington

Autumn Movement


Carl Sandburg, 1878 - 1967

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper 
sunburned woman, 
       the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, 
new beautiful things 
       come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the 
old things go, 
       not one lasts.


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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Last day of astrological "Summer"

That's today, you know. Although, when the sun's shining, the season's official title doesn't seem all that important. Like yesterday, as I stood at a corner of the dog run, watching one of the dogs playing with her ball, the sun's warmth on my back felt comforting and comfortable. That triggered a recollection of the opening lyrics to John Denver's song Sunshine on My Shoulders (makes me happy). Minnesota stretches Summer well into Autumn as often as not. It makes fall a mellow season, until, around late October or mid November, it stops, sometimes abruptly. Seasons and weather don't acknowledge our calendars with their rigidly structured rectangular days and oblong weeks. Seasonal weather moves at its own pace, sometimes running ahead like an excited puppy, sometimes dawdling to sniff roses or whatever that interesting smell is, often just skipping about. (I know we need to protect air quality, but I miss the smell of burning leaves that I grew up with every Autumn.)

Autumn sunshine warming a country road
Autumn sunshine warming a country road
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday also brought, shortly after posting a mention of how this year's poults had grown, a yard full of them, along with some very watchful moms whose heads often pop'd up to check for trouble. (Mothers are like that, whether human or feathered.) I count 1 less than a dozen birds here, and can just barely tell the difference between the adult hens and the young'uns.

turkey hens and grown poults
turkey hens and grown poults
Photo by J. Harrington

We've made it through the dog days, some birds and butterflies have begun migration, there's a golden lightness in the air. Let's see how much we can enjoy this season.

Lightness in Autumn

By Robert Fitzgerald 
The rake is like a wand or fan,   
With bamboo springing in a span   
To catch the leaves that I amass   
In bushels on the evening grass.

I reckon how the wind behaves   
And rake them lightly into waves   
And rake the waves upon a pile,   
Then stop my raking for a while.

The sun is down, the air is blue,   
And soon the fingers will be, too,   
But there are children to appease   
With ducking in those leafy seas.

So loudly rummaging their bed
On the dry billows of the dead,
They are not warned at four and three   
Of natural mortality.

Before their supper they require   
A dragon field of yellow fire
To light and toast them in the gloom.   
So much for old earth’s ashen doom.


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Monday, September 21, 2015

In season

The day after tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox, the beginning of astronomical Autumn. The flavors of the season are apple or pumpkin spice, right? We've noticed more and more spiders trying to move into the house for the Winter. I saw the first of the field corn being harvested over the weekend. Those fields of ripe pumpkins that haven't been will soon be harvested, on their way to becoming Jack-o-Lanterns and pie. This year's turkey poults are almost fully grown.

pumpkins in the field
pumpkins in the field
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday, my Better Half mentioned that she had watched a wooly bear wander across the screen. Soon it will be time to check their bands and see what they say about our upcoming Winter, but there will be time enough to do that after we've enjoyed more days like today, full of early Autumn's delights. As far as I'm concerned, we haven't even reached hot chocolate season yet.

Banded Woolly Bear (Pyrrharctia isabella)
Banded Woolly Bear (Pyrrharctia isabella)
Photo by J. Harrington

Fall


Fall, falling, fallen. That's the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer's
Sprawling past and winter's hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.  


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Sunday, September 20, 2015

A visit to the past

If seasons ran on a stop watch, today would present a huge temptation to hit "stop." Bee's are buzzing and foraging on the remaining flowers. I actually saw a couple of monarch butterflies landing on some roadside ditch milkweed. The midday temperature is right around 70. If I were trying to fly-fish, I might find the breeze troublesome, but not difficult. The Daughter Person invited a handful of friends for brunch. Rather than seem unfriendly and leave shortly after the guests arrived, my Better Half and I left early for our rendezvous with the Almelund Apple Festival and stopped on the way for coffee at Taylors Falls.

One of the fundamentals of community and economic development is to build on local assets. Chisago County has a notable asset in its well documented (Vilhelm Moberg - The Emigrants) and preserved history of Swedish settlement. The Apple Festival benefits the Amador Heritage Center which helps preserve that heritage. (Coming from Boston, I like to believe I know something about heritage.) Today's beautiful weather, and a lifelong love affair with apples, led to our overdue exploration of the festival.

Amador Heritage Center Swedish Immigrant Log Farm
Amador Heritage Center Swedish Immigrant Log Farm
Photo by J. Harrington

vendors setting up in the breeze
vendors setting up in the breeze
Photo by J. Harrington

dried flower bouquets for sale
dried flower bouquets for sale
Photo by J. Harrington

Porcupine Creek bluegrass band on log house porch
Porcupine Creek bluegrass band on log house porch
Photo by J. Harrington

apples really don't fall far from the tree
apples really don't fall far from the tree
Photo by J. Harrington

Once we'd explored the festival and purchased some beeswax candles and a few knick-knacks, we took a scenic road toward home, along which we discovered a good-looking sumac grove with lots of seedheads. The original batch of sumac-ade had turned out well, once the tartness was adjusted, so more was in order and there are relatively few sumac stands with terminal clusters remaining, so we promptly foraged a dozen or so clusters. During snow season, defrosted sumac-ade will be a pleasant reminder of warmer days, as will apple pie.

North of Boston

By Maggie Dietz 
Hoarfrost coats and cuffs
the playing fields, a heyday
of glistening. So there’s hope
in my throat as I walk across them
to the woods with my chest
flung open, spilling its coins.
The light so bright I can hear it,
a silver tone like a penny whistle.

It’s fall, so I’m craving pine cones.
Hundreds of maples the color
of bulldozers!
            
          But something strange
is going on: the trees are tired
of meaning, sick of providing
mystery, parallels, consolation.
“Leave us alone,” they seem to cry,
with barely energy for a pun.

The muscular river crawls on
its belly in a maple coat of mail.
Muddy and unreflective, it smells
as if it too could use some privacy.

The sumac reddens like a face,
holding out its velvet pods
almost desperately. The Queen
Anne’s Lace clicks in the wind.

A deaf-mute milkweed
foaming at the mouth.

Back at the field I look
for what I didn’t mean
to drop. The grass is green.

                            Okay, Day,
my host, I want to get out
of your house. Come on, Night,
with your twinkly stars and big
dumb moon. Tell me don’t
show me, and wipe that grin
off your face.


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Saturday, September 19, 2015

North to South

I've visited Minnesota's North Shore a number of times since moving here from Massachusetts. Lake Superior is as close to an ocean as I get these days. The more I've spent time revisiting Highway 61 (couldn't resist), the more questions I've come away with; questions about what am I seeing and how did it get this way and has it always been like this? This Winter I should be able to answer some of those questions thanks to a new book by Chel Anderson and Adelheid Fischer, North Shore:  A Natural History of Minnesota's Superior Coast. I plan to save (and savor) reading the book for when it's too cold and/or snowy to enjoy being outside but, knowing me, I'll probably cheat and start some evening soon. With more than 600 pages to read, I'll be at it for awhile, although many of those pages are full of beautiful pictures of the area.
.

cover of book "North Shore"
click photo to learn more

The thought of changing seasons reminds me that I haven't seen any hummingbirds for several days now. Their migration peak looks to have shifted south, toward the Twin Cities, according to the folks who track those things. As of yesterday, however, trumpeter swans were still relaxing on local waters. I don't know if these are among the ones who Winter along the St. Croix or not. So many things I (we?) don't know about our neighbors and what's going on in our own back yards.

trumpeter swans on Carlos Avery WMA pool
trumpeter swans on Carlos Avery WMA pool
Photo by J. Harrington

trumpeter swans on Carlos Avery WMA pool
trumpeter swans on Carlos Avery WMA pool
Photo by J. Harrington

The late year

By Marge Piercy 

I like Rosh Hashonah late,
when the leaves are half burnt
umber and scarlet, when sunset
marks the horizon with slow fire
and the black silhouettes
of migrating birds perch
on the wires davening.
I like Rosh Hashonah late
when all living are counting
their days toward death
or sleep or the putting by
of what will sustain them—
when the cold whose tendrils
translucent as a jellyfish
and with a hidden sting
just brush our faces
at twilight. The threat
of frost, a premonition
a warning, a whisper
whose words we cannot
yet decipher but will.
I repent better in the waning
season when the blood
runs swiftly and all creatures
look keenly about them
for quickening danger.
Then I study the rockface
of my life, its granite pitted
and pocked and pickaxed
eroded, discolored by sun
and wind and rain—
my rock emerging
from the veil of greenery
to be mapped, to be
examined, to be judged.


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Friday, September 18, 2015

More dots to connect

I imagine, and hope, that most of you are familiar with this quotation from Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac :
“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”
(If you haven't yet read that grand and glorious and sensible book, please put it on your "to do" list for the near future.) As another one who cannot live without wild things, I've recently noticed that it's more and more of a challenge to find places that can be shared with them. I even have pictures to prove it.

When we moved into our current house many years ago, the "ridge" at the south end of the road was undeveloped. It was occasionally visited by sandhill cranes who foraged along the side of the "ridge." Later, just prior to the "great recession," development began on the top of that "ridge," shortly after sewer and water were extended to accommodate a major industrial development nearby. Following the custom of those developers who name subdivisions for what they eliminate, the development is called "Wilderness Ridge."

a residential subdivision, rural "progress"
a residential subdivision, rural "progress"
Photo by J. Harrington

You probably remember how residential development pretty much tanked several years ago, during the great recession. The ridge top sat "empty" for those several years. Cranes, like the one below, occasionally visited the grasslands along the walking / biking path.

a sandhill crane near a hillside path
a sandhill crane near a hillside path
Photo by J. Harrington

They even followed the mostly unused path themselves from time to time.

three sandhill cranes near the start of the path
three sandhill cranes near the start of the path
Photo by J. Harrington

Within the past year or so, the housing market has started to "come back." The houses below are behind the same tree the crane in the second photo stood beside. As I drove by yesterday, I saw four or five cranes along the path. How much more development do you think will be needed before they look for pastures that are just as green, but less crowded?

new house overlooking the path
new house overlooking the path
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm writing about this not because I'm against development, but because I'm against "growth" as it's come to be accommodated.  The subdivision in question is in the midst of what used to be farm fields, some of which are still in that use. I know how that works. When I first moved to Minnesota, I bought a house in a northern suburb of the Twin Cities. Our lot backed onto the city boundary and on the other side of the boundary was a cornfield. Privacy in the back yard for awhile. That backyard cornfield isn't there any more, just as the "ridge" is no longer anything like a wilderness. And yet, there's still an abundance of ready to be serviced land between the subdivision pictured (and the one I lived in before) and "The Cities." The county in which we now live, where the subdivision is located, is outside the seven-county metro area. The Metro Council regularly prepares regional development plans for the 7-county Twin Cities Metro Area.

Now the Citizens League is undertaking (I hope that's not a prophecy) another study of how well the Council does its job. On behalf of the cranes and the truly rural folks who live near me, I hope the League's study includes lots of emphasis on unintended consequences of "urban growth boundaries" that leak like sieves. [Full disclosure: I worked for the Metro Council for more than a decade, beginning shortly after the first land planning act local plans were submitted.] This is going to become a fascinating issue as the need to respond to climate change becomes more critical and more people learn that the most energy efficient "green" buildings still require lots and lots of energy to get the occupants to and from it. Meanwhile, sandhill cranes keep getting evicted because we allow (not plan for or design) "growth" the world can't support. That might have worked before most of the world's population became "urban" and we began to regularly set new heat records. The time has come when we need much better cities and urban regions, ones that accommodate humans and wildlife with minimal conflicts and even less energy consumption.

Eve's Design

By Moira Linehan 
Then there's the Yemeni legend   
of Eve in the Garden knitting   
a pattern on the serpent's back,   
the snake unfinished like the rest   
of creation, the first woman   
thinking to add design, a sheath   
of interlocking diamonds and stripes   
along that sensuous S,   
knitting giving her time to learn   
what's infinitely possible   
with a few stitches, twisting cables,   
hers a plan to mirror the divine   
inner layer that can't be shed   
no matter what it rubs up against.


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