Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Samhain (Halloween)!

Las night we did a season's end trip to the Taylors Falls Drive-In and each had a healthy food bison burger. Winter isn't even here yet and already I have something besides the upcoming holidays to look forward to, the Drive-In reopening next Spring. I've been eating more Halloween candy than's good for me for the past week or so, so Halloween's not something I'm looking forward to, it's something I'm already enjoying. In the twenty-plus years we've lived here, I don't recall a single trick-or-treater ringing our door bell. We'll see if tonight's any different. The photo's a ghost of Jacko-lanterns past, since this year's pumpkins still await carving later today.

bats from the haunted castle's belfry
bats from the haunted castle's belfry
Photo by J. Harrington

Although I'm growing older, I continue to avoid, as much as possible, growing up. In the case of Halloween, I've discovered a story that it originated with the Celtic celebration of Samhain. I'll do more studying up on that over the Winter and see if I can be better prepared for an older but improved celebration this time next year. Maybe I'll have to decide whether to dress as a leprechaun or a Celtic poet.


(The Celtic Halloween) 
In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.

Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil

that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.

I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother's mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings

arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
"Carry me." She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Solving for Pattern: PolyMet?

Today, Governor Dayton is visiting the second of two mines from which he intends to gain insight regarding the potential permitting of the proposed PolyMet NorthMet mine. I wish him a safe trip and, as well, wish that he had with him a copy of a certain essay by one of my favorite thinkers and writers, Wendell Berry, a "Kentucky farmer." The essay purports to be about agriculture, but has been found to be useful by those as disparate as computer programmers and those working for social change. I wouldn't be surprised to find it could also be applicable to decisions about mining. It's offered here in hope it can help the Governor with one of the most controversial and critical decisions he faces during his two terms. The essay I really believe the Governor should read before he makes up his mind on PolyMet permits is titled Solving for Pattern. In it, Berry writes about three types of solutions and goes on to note:

St. Louis River, northern Minnesota
St. Louis River, northern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington
A bad solution is bad, then, because it acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained. It acts destructively upon those patterns, most likely, because it is formed in ignorance or disregard of them. A bad solution solves for a single purpose or goal, such as increased production. And it is typical of such solutions that they achieve stupendous increases in production at exorbitant biological and social costs.

A good solution is good because it is in harmony with those larger patterns – and this harmony will, I think, be found to have a nature of analogy. A bad solution acts within the larger pattern the way a disease or addiction acts within the body. A good solution acts within the larger pattern the way a healthy organ acts within the body. But it must at once be understood that a healthy organ does not – as the mechanistic or industrial mind would like to say – “give” health to the body, is not exploited for the body’s health, but is a part of its health. The health of organ and organism is the same, just as the health of organism and ecosystem is the same. And these structures of organ, organism, and ecosystem – as John Todd has so ably understood – belong to a series of analogical integrities that begins with the organelle and ends with the biosphere.
Berry concludes his essay with fourteen characteristics of a good solution, characteristics such as:
8. A good solution always answers the question, How much is enough? Industrial solutions have always rested on the assumption that enough is all you can get. But that destroys agriculture, as it destroys na ture and culture. and

9. A good solution should be cheap , and it should not enrich one person by the distress or impoverishment of another....
"Mill City" today
"Mill City" today
Photo by J. Harrington
The larger pattern Minnesota's PolyMet solution needs to be in harmony with is the St. Louis River basin. Many of its patterns and values are summarized in "The Value of Nature’s Benefits in the St. Louis River Watershed." If you look at the examples of Duluth's economy as well as Minneapolis's need to change current zoning to permit a small flour mill, it's clear that the underexploited values of Minnesota are those that are least consumptive, or at least renewable. How does hard rock mining fit that pettern? Does it truly help a larger economic pattern or is it the beginning of a disease that could soon infect much of Minnesota's north country?

Zen Living

By Dick Allen 
Birdsongs that sound like the steady determined tapping
of a shoemaker's hammer,
or of a sculptor making tiny ball-peen dents in a silver plate,
wake me this morning. Is it possible the world itself can be happy? The calico cat
stretches her long body out across the top of my computer monitor,
yawning, its little primitive head a cave of possibility.
And I'm ready again
to try and see accidents, the over and over patterns
of double-slit experiments a billionfold
repeated before me. If I had great patience,
I could try to count the poplar, birch and oak
leaves in their shifting welter outside my bedroom window
or the almost infinitesimal trails of thought that flash and flash
everywhere, as if decaying particles inside a bubble chamber,
windshield raindrops, lake ripples. However,
instead I go to fry some bacon, crack two eggs
into the cast-iron skillet that's even older than this house,
and on the calendar (each month another oriental fan
where the climbing solitary is dwarfed . . . or on dark blue oceans
minuscular fishing boats bob beneath gigantic waves)
X out the days, including those I've forgotten.

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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Changing everything?

I'm fascinated by how cold 45°F feels in late October compared to how warm it feels in early March. We have officially been snowed on, the local snow has melted and warmer weather is in the forecast. This weekend is Halloween and the end of daylight savings time (for this year).

quiet place, St. Croix River
quiet place, St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

Recently I've been messing with my head thinking about how much of what we see as linear is actually a small part of a larger cycle. For example, I normally think of a river as flowing downstream to the sea, but we all know that the beginning of a river comes from clouds that arise from the sea, float inland and fall as rain or snow, then, eventually, flow back to sea. The seasons, as Joni Mitchell has written, "go 'round and 'round," although we often, usually?, think of time as linear, seasons are clearly cyclical or circular. Leaves that grew from buds fall to become humus or compost and, eventually, nutrients that end up in tree roots to help grow new leaves.

bare branches will bear foliage again
Photo by J. Harrington

Some folks are now getting concerned that China's population will age too quickly to keep the economy growing. I keep fretting about why so many of us confuse growth with development. They aren't the same, although it may simply being a case of mistaken identity, like thinking a river is only linear. At first I thought that the only alternative to our foolish fixation on growth was a "steady-state economy" [see sidebar]. Recently, I've been coming across more and more references to a circular economy (plus a growing number of mentions of "stranded assets").

I'm not sure whether steady-state and circular work together but I am sure we new a new and better economic story of how it's all supposed to work. There are growing numbers of us on a finite planet. That's not sustainable. I've seen just enough of a description of "one planet living" to be glad I'm not the marketing or product manager for that idea. The best news, from my perspective, is that I keep coming across a growing number of writers and thinkers who I respect who provide reasons for optimism. In case you need a pick-me-up from the current state of the world, try any of these:
I've come across several other less obvious reasons to be optimistic in the last few years. Mary Oliver has just published a new book of poetry, "Felicity". She's 80. Lawrence Ferlinghetti published "Time of Useful Consciousness" when he was 93. Donald Hall's recent book, "Essays After Eighty," was published when he was 86. That all represents, at least to me, a number of reasons and examples to keep trying. That's what optimism is all about, isn't it? Before we close for the day, please follow this link to an independent financial analysis of the proposed PolyMet project. The fact that those folks saw fit to do this much needed work makes me as optimistic as did the formation of the Downstream Business Coalition and the study on the Value of the St. Louis River. I'm thinking it's getting to be time to put less emphasis in my life on analysis and more on poetry, especially if I can stay optimistic.

Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15)

By Lawrence Ferlinghetti 

Constantly risking absurdity
                                             and death
            whenever he performs
                                        above the heads
                                                            of his audience
   the poet like an acrobat
                                 climbs on rime
                                          to a high wire of his own making
and balancing on eyebeams
                                     above a sea of faces
             paces his way
                               to the other side of day
    performing entrechats
                               and sleight-of-foot tricks
and other high theatrics
                               and all without mistaking
                     any thing
                               for what it may not be

       For he's the super realist
                                     who must perforce perceive
                   taut truth
                                 before the taking of each stance or step
in his supposed advance
                                  toward that still higher perch
where Beauty stands and waits
                                     with gravity
                                                to start her death-defying leap

      And he
             a little charleychaplin man
                                           who may or may not catch
               her fair eternal form
                                     spreadeagled in the empty air
                  of existence

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

PolyMet NorthMet, Twin Metals, etc.: Trick or Treat?

The news media is reporting that
"Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday the state would ensure that PolyMet Mining Corp. sets aside money for a potential cleanup effort before it would be allowed to move ahead with a proposed copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.

"Such a fund is a requirement in state law, and Dayton said it's too early to say how large a sum that might be for the pending project. But after returning from a tour of an abandoned precious metals mine in South Dakota now in the midst of a multimillion dollar cleanup, the governor said the trip reinforced the need to make sure the state has money in hand for a reclamation effort."

Some pines regrew after logging
Some pines regrew after logging
Photo by J. Harrington

I wish the Governor had included the word "enough" before "money." I'm getting increasingly concerned about government decisions that seem to focus on meeting minimum legal requirements when it comes to protecting the environment, you know, the air we breathe and the water we drink. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, and the project proposer, are appealing an Appeals Court decision that determined that the issuance of a Certificate of Need for a pipeline requires the preparation of a full environmental impact statement. The U.S. Forest Service is trying a similar "bifurcation" strategy by looking at Twin Metals hydrogeologic study through an environmental assessment, rather than the full implications of the proposed project's development impacts on the Boundary Waters. Soon we can look forward to claims that so much has been invested that it would be irresponsible for government to not permit the mine and environmental studies take too long and cost too much.

Minnesota's second and third growth on the north shore of Lake Superior
Minnesota's second and third growth on the north shore of Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

It's been more than 100 years since logging interests ravaged northern Minnesota. I know this because I'm currently reading North Shore. On page 39, the authors note
"Nonetheless, the forests' despoilers continued to oppose conservation of even the most blighted lands. An exasperated Pinchot condemned the 'fierce desire for development which marks the frontier, the hunger for profits of land agents and other speculators in land, and the determination of the lumber men to let no tree escape that would put a dollar in their pockets.' Opposition from citizens in northern Minnesota was also fueled by a deep distrust of government that colluded with mining companies to battle organized labor during that period." [emphasis added]
These days it would appear that some of the players have changed sides so we're now faced with government and organized labor and mining companies collaborating to thwart environmental protection requirements. The more things change, the more they remain the same. To put this in a broader perspective, millions of dollars have been spent to "clean up" the St. Louis River and the job still isn't done, yet the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA] is proposing to "loosen" (they claim make more precise) the current federally approved sulfate water quality standard to make it dependent on more sampling of sediments in more locations. If anyone can explain haw this is an improvement to the old days when they permitted allowed logging slash to accumulate to the point that the state suffered fires like the one that leveled Hinckley, I'd be interested in reading it.

MPCA is the same agency that hasn't come close to completing the necessary Total Maximum Daily Load studies on a number of Minnesota's water bodies throughout the state. The kind of studies needed to determine how much pollution must be reduced to meet water quality standards. I'm getting the sense that too many Minnesota politicians and bureaucrats, including a number on the federal side, believe that if they could only get this damn environment away from the real resources, we'd have full employment. If they had their way, many of us would want to live somewhere else. Just ask those "farmers" who were sold "prime" logged over farmland in northern Minnesota back around 1900 or so.

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

By Adam Zagajewski 
Translated By Clare Cavanagh 
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You've seen the refugees going nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Autumn with oak leaf clusters

Below is a sample of a bright red oak (shrub) from Sunday's trip to Crex Meadows. It's followed by a picture of leaves that may be common but I don't remember seeing, orange leaves on aspen (poplar) saplings. They aren't as distinctive in the picture as they were while we were driving past, but I think you can see to the right-center that the leaves aren't the usual aspen yellow.

Crex Meadows "scarlet" oak?
Crex Meadows "scarlet" oak?
Photo by J. Harrington

Crex Meadows orange and yellow aspen
Crex Meadows orange and yellow aspen
Photo by J. Harrington

In past years, I've noticed whether the leaves were colorful or not, but never paid much attention to the details. This year's observations help me to realize how much more of what goes on in the world I've probably failed to notice over the years.

This year one of the oak trees in the back has turned bright coppery-orange. If I didn't know it's an oak, I'd mistake it for a maple. The maples this year seem to lack the vibrancy I'm used to seeing in their Autumn reds and oranges and yellows. I've also noticed quite a few oaks that turned burgundy and even a few scarlets or garnets. These figures below come from Ingrid Sundberg's color thesaurus and display much of what I'm talking about. Using the orange shades, one of the oaks behind the house is tiger. Many of the oak leaves still on the branches are rust or bronze or spice or amber. After they've been on the ground for some time, leaf colors dye out and fade, just as wood turns to reds and oranges in a fireplace and then to dull, gray ash.

shades of orange

shades of red

Just for fun, which shades of orange and red from the thesaurus do you think show up the most in the leaves shown here or in your neighborhood's trees?

Getting in the Wood

By Gary Snyder
The sour smell,
       blue stain,
               water squirts out round the wedge,

Lifting quarters of rounds
       covered with ants,
      "a living glove of ants upon my hand"
the poll of the sledge a bit peened over
so the wedge springs off and tumbles
        ringing like high-pitched bells
               into the complex duff of twigs
               poison oak, bark, sawdust,
               shards of logs,

And the sweat drips down.
        Smell of crushed ants.
The lean and heave on the peavey
that breaks free the last of a bucked
        three-foot round,
                it lies flat on smashed oaklings—

Wedge and sledge, peavey and maul,
       little axe, canteen, piggyback can
       of saw-mix gas and oil for the chain,
knapsack of files and goggles and rags,

All to gather the dead and the down.
       the young men throw splits on the piles
       bodies hardening, learning the pace
and the smell of tools from this delve
       in the winter
             death-topple of elderly oak.
Four cords.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, October 26, 2015

We all live downstream of some time

sandhill cranes at Crex Meadows
sandhill cranes at Crex Meadows
Photo by J. Harrington

We made our first visit to Crex Meadows yesterday, although we've lived in the area for more than twenty years and have had naturalist friends who've mentioned Crex a number of times. As I've become more and more focused on local foods and the local economy and my bioregion, I've been more inclined to explore local attractions instead of heading to the far corners of the state or the United States. Although I believe we're past the peak of this Autumn's migration season, there are still enough sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans around to make me glad we went and wonder why we hadn't done it before. I suspect in part it was because I didn't want to pay for a Wisconsin hunting license for those many years when my shooting was done with a shotgun instead of a DSLR camera. That's been changing over the past several years. The eight sandhill cranes in the photo above were out of anything I've ever considered reasonable and responsible shotgun range. (They're also an indication of how I've often got the "wrong lens" on my camera. Saturday's photography lesson didn't get into lens selection.)

three cygnets at Crex Meadows
three cygnets at Crex Meadows
Photo by J. Harrington

The St. Croix River often has trumpeter swans that Winter over, but I've rarely seen any cygnets (young swans, still gray) such as the three in the photo below. My Better Half did a superior job of navigating us around the dike roads. At one point we encountered a plaque with a brief history of how Crex Meadows came to be. The last paragraph starts with the phrase "Exploited to the fullest, ..."

Crex Meadows plaque
Crex Meadows plaque
Photo by J. Harrington

which reminded me of the situation Minnesota currently faces with mining, particularly sulfide rock mining. I haven't seen any coverage of the proposed PolyMet NorthMet project, nor of the Twin Metals project, which frames the issues as a choice between consumptive and non-consumptive uses of our limited resources or developing renewable versus fossil fuel based economies. Destroying acres of land to "remove overburden" to get at very low grade ore isn't much of an improvement, to my mind, over blowing the tops off of Appalachian mountains to get at the coal. They both seem to move well beyond consumptive into destructive uses of the land in a non-renewable manner.

Maybe it was being in kind of "Sand County" country may famous by Aldo Leopold and those like him that brought this kind of thinking to mind. In my opinion, we can compare resource exploiting employment (mining, for example) with the kinds of long term, sustainable employment provided by members of the Downstream Business Coalition in Duluth. Crex Meadows, over the course of 30 to 40 years or so, provided limited employment, but there's no Crex Carpet Company today. I guess one of the other things that troubles me is I've yet to see any reclaimed mining land as beautiful and naturally productive as Crex Meadows.

Do we really want to make northern Minnesota the new "mountain top mining" center of the country? We can do better than that in terms of both the number of jobs produced and their duration. If it weren't for major employers in other parts of Minnesota claiming their production expansion and employment growth is being severely hindered by a lack of housing, why would we be providing millions in public subsidies for workforce housing. We just have to hope that those employers benefitting from workforce housing have a longer and better and less volatile future than the steel industry or Crex Twine Company.

Wind, Water, Stone

By Octavio Paz 
Translated By Eliot Weinberger 
for Roger Caillois 
Water hollows stone,
wind scatters water,
stone stops the wind.
Water, wind, stone.

Wind carves stone,
stone's a cup of water,
water escapes and is wind.
Stone, wind, water.

Wind sings in its whirling,
water murmurs going by,
unmoving stone keeps still.
Wind, water, stone.

Each is another and no other:
crossing and vanishing
through their empty names:
water, stone, wind.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Night in the town, morning in the country

Here's an update on yesterday's posting. A number of folks seemed to think the sustainable economy section was helpful. We'll write more of our thoughts on sustainable local businesses in the near future.

The Better Half and I ate dinner and spent last night at the Grant House in Rush City. She had breakfast this morning while I settled for coffee. Last night's roast beef was tasty and I was told that this morning's bacon and eggs were also good. The coffee was full-bodied, which I appreciate better than any old fashioned watered down "farmers' cafe" bland blend I've had at other times in other places. After we checked out, we headed for Grantsburg, WI and Crex Meadows. More on that in a future posting.

Grant House exterior
Grant House exterior
Photo by J. Harrington

Back to last night, I'm pleased to report that the bed was comfortable and the room decor was of period. Neither my Better Half nor I heard any late night piano players nor children playing with a ball, the most commonly reported "hauntings" in the hotel. About the time I was falling asleep, I heard (although the BH claims she didn't) what sounded like a peg-legged pirate thumping up the stairs or along the hall. Maybe it was the piano player headed for the piano and I dropped off before he or she started playing? This morning's waitress didn't think it was a late-arriving guest.

the sitting area in our room
the sitting area in our room
Photo by J. Harrington

Continuing our chronological reversal, I learned quite a bit at the photography lesson yesterday, not least of which was that I need to spend more time with my camera and the manual in hand, simultaneously. I need to practice with different program modes and settings. Part of what I learned is that better photos can result from greater familiarity with one's equipment. I probably also need to play with my iPhone camera more or else stop using it. Too many of those photos are out of focus.

signs of haunting
signs of haunting
Photo by J. Harrington

The Haunted Palace

By Edgar Allan Poe 

In the greenest of our valleys
   By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
   Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion,
   It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
   Over fabric half so fair!

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
   On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
   Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
   In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
   A wingèd odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley,
   Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
   To a lute’s well-tunèd law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
In state his glory well befitting,
   The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
   Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
   And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
   Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
   The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
   Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
   Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
   That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
   Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
   Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
   To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
   Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
   And laugh—but smile no more. 

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

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Sustainable economy? Reasons for hope

This is an early and short posting because I'll be at a photography lesson for most of the day. (There's hope that my pictures will improve.) More importantly, I want to share news, which I consider extremely hopeful, that a coalition of northern Minnesota businesses has formed in recognition that
“Our locally owned small businesses are proof positive that a more sustainable model is possible. We, and other locally owned businesses, will continue to reinvest the wealth we create into new jobs over the next 20 years."
Duluth Harbor from Lake Superior
Duluth Harbor from Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

They're opposing PolyMet's NorthMet project which gives me hope they, and we, are seeing just the beginning of transformations to drivers of the state's economy. We all need to recognize that there's strong linkages (you know, connected dots) among energy efficiency and renewable energy and a creative, diverse economy that doesn't depend on the boom and bust of extractive industry. The more businesses and their customers speak up about this, the more our political leaders should follow us.  Next time you're up north, be sure to support any coalition member you can, and don't forget to thank them for their contributions to a sustainable Minnesota.

Closer to (my) home, the Better Half and I are scheduled to spend tonight at a local historic hotel that's reported to have one or more ghosts. Tomorrow's posting could be interesting. Personally, I'm just hoping for a good night's sleep.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - (314)

By Emily Dickinson 
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

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

Friday, October 23, 2015

The art of the local

I've known for years about the strong relationships between the arts and local economic development and quality of life. Richard Florida has written about it in his The Rise of the Creative Class and subsequent books. The University of Minnesota's own Ann Markusen's research and writing has made notable contributions to understanding the role of arts and artists in successful community and economic development. As someone who practices poetry and photography, and is a recovering regional planner and increasingly committed locavore, I've been exploring these themes in my home region, the St. Croix Valley, famous for, among other things, its Pottery Tours.

looking downstream toward Stillwater on the St. Croix
looking downstream toward Stillwater on the St. Croix
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday I attended "the release event of the Creative Minnesota Report about Chisago County" at the Hallberg Center for the Arts in Wyoming, MN. I had missed the opening of the arts center so I was happy to have a reason to visit. I knew some of the folks there, such as Mary Minnick-Daniels, Executive Director of the East Central Regional Arts Council, and Guillermo Cuellar, a noted local potter, from previous artistic and artisanal activities. I was particularly enthused that Chisago County's economic development director and the mayor of Wyoming, MN were not only in attendance but participants.  I learned a lot and came away with a question still resonating in my mind: "what does a local supply chain for artists look like?" In particular, I spoke with couple of the potters in attendance about whether their clay is locally sourced. Each said it's not but they wished it were. From what I heard yesterday, I'm not sure the value of local sources of materials has been included in reports to date. You can expect to read more about this here in future postings, because it offers a chance to try to pull together a number of, till now, largely separate themes on bioregionalism, economic development, arts and localism, including even threads of history and indigenous culture and personal development in the weave (to mix my metaphors).

no mention of clay in this geology plaqu
no mention of clay in this geology plaque
Photo by J. Harrington

While sitting and listening, several other concepts occurred to me that may help me jump-start a series of chapbooks I've been blocked on for quite a while. Julie Cameron, in her books, makes a case for "artist's dates" to reward, encourage and inspire our inner artists. I've been ignoring that advice for a long time. Yesterday's attendance has convinced me that her strategy is ignored at the peril of my successful creative life. Just buying and reading books isn't enough to engage and satisfy my muse(s). I'll keep in mind from now on that both my head and my heart need feeding.

Anna Akhmatova



When, in the night, I wait for her, impatient,
Life seems to me, as hanging by a thread.
What just means liberty, or youth, or approbation,
When compared with the gentle piper's tread?

And she came in, threw out the mantle's edges,
Declined to me with a sincere heed.
I say to her, "Did you dictate the Pages
Of Hell to Dante?" She answers, "Yes, I did."

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver, August, 2000
Edited by Orit Bonver, August 2000

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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What's the story?

Winter whites will soon enough dominate our landscape, replacing the greens of Spring and Summer. Before that happens though, Autumn gets her turn to make leaves into a kaleidoscope of reds and bronzes and coppers and golds. Do you ever think about the fact possibility that we might live in a world that we didn't experience as beautiful? What if leaves just turned to dust or ashes, then crumbled and dusted the ground? Would we see that transformation as  beautiful as what we have? I doubt it.

Autumn oaks in bronzes and browns
Autumn oaks in bronzes and browns
Photo by J. Harrington

Nature doesn't have to show us as much beauty as she does. Each of us, all of us could have been made in such a way that we couldn't recognize beauty as we saw or heard or smelled or touched or tasted it. Instead, we have Autumn as apple season. Apples bring an array of reds, a crisp crunch at a bite, sweet or tart tastes in the juices. Apple blossom time in Spring fills our eyes with flowers and our noses with their scent. Those flowery aromas magically transform into the Autumn smells of cider and apple pies baking. Think about all this the next time someone like me points out how senseless it is to destructively exploit our only world and contaminate it with oil spills and mining pollution. If you never have, read at least the beginning of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Toward the end of the first chapter, A Fable for Tomorrow, you will find these words:
No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.

scarlet and maroon leaves framed by pine
scarlet and maroon leaves framed by pine
Photo by J. Harrington

That is not the way I'd like my version of our story to end. What about you? Isn't the time is past when we could claim we didn't know any better or couldn't do any better. Beauty, or the beasts we've created for ourselves -- our choice becomes our story, our legacy.

What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison

By Camille T. Dungy
Only now, in spring, can the place be named:   
tulip poplar, daffodil, crab apple,   
dogwood, budding pink-green, white-green, yellow   
on my knowing.   All winter I was lost.   
Fall, I found myself here, with no texture   
my fingers know.   Then, worse, the white longing   
that downed us deep three months.   No flower heat.   
That was winter.   But now, in spring, the buds   
flock our trees.   Ten million exquisite buds,   
tiny and loud, flaring their petalled wings,   
bellowing from ashen branches vibrant   
keys, the chords of spring’s triumph: fisted heart,   
dogwood; grail, poplar; wine spray, crab apple.   
The song is drink, is color.   Come.   Now.   Taste.

The song is drink, is color.   Come now, taste   
what the world has to offer.   When you eat   
you will know that music comes in guises—   
bold of crepe myrtle, sweet of daffodil—   
beyond sound, guises they never told you   
could be true.   And they aren’t.   Except they are   
so real now, this spring, you know them, taste them.   
Green as kale, the songs of spring, bright as wine,   
the music.   Faces of this season grin   
with clobbering wantonness—see the smiles   
open on each branch?—until you, too, smile.   
Wide carnival of color, carnival   
of scent.   We’re all lurching down streets, drunk now   
from the poplar’s grail.   Wine spray: crab apple.

From the poplar’s grail, wine spray.   Crab apple   
brightens jealously to compete.   But by   
the crab apple’s deep stain, the tulip tree   
learns modesty.   Only blush, poplar learns,   
lightly.   Never burn such a dark-hued fire   
to the core.   Tulip poplar wants herself   
light under leaf, never, like crab apple,   
heavy under tart fruit.   Never laden.   
So the poplar pours just a hint of wine   
in her cup, while the crab apple, wild one,   
acts as if her body were a fountain.   
She would pour wine onto you, just let her.   
Shameless, she plants herself, and delivers,   
down anyone’s street, bright invitations.

Down anyone’s street-bright invitations.   
Suck ‘em.   Swallow ‘em.   Eat them whole.   That’s right,   
be greedy about it.   The brightness calls   
and you follow because you want to taste,   
because you want to be welcomed inside   
the code of that color: red for thirst; green   
for hunger; pink, a kiss; and white, stain me   
now.   Soil me with touching.   Is that right?   
No?   That’s not, you say, what you meant.   Not what   
you meant at all?   Pardon.   Excuse me, please.   
Your hand was reaching, tugging at this shirt   
of flowers and I thought, I guess I thought   
you were hungry for something beautiful.   
Come now.   The brightness here might fill you up.

Come.   Now the brightness here might fill you up,   
but tomorrow?   Who can know what the next   
day will bring.   It is like that, here, in spring.   
Four days ago, the dogwood was a fist   
in protest.   Now look.   Even she unfurls   
to the pleasure of the season.   Don’t be   
ashamed of yourself.   Don’t be.    This happens   
to us all.   We have thrown back the blanket.   
We’re naked and we’ve grown to love ourselves.   
I tell you, do not be ashamed.   Who is   
more wanton than the dancing crepe myrtle?   
Is she ashamed?   Why, even the dogwood,   
that righteous tree of God’s, is full of lust   
exploding into brightness every spring.

Exploding into brightness every spring,   
I draw you close.   I wonder, do you know   
how long I’ve wanted to be here?   Each year   
you grasp me, lift me, carry me inside.   
Glee is the body of the daffodil   
reaching tubed fingers through the day, feeling   
her own trumpeted passion choiring air   
with hot, colored song.   This is a texture   
I love.   This is life.   And, too, you love me,   
inhale my whole being every spring.   Gone   
winter, heavy clod whose icy body   
fell into my bed.   I must leave you, but   
I’ll wait through heat, fall, freeze to hear you cry:   
Daffodils are up.   My God, what beauty!

Daffodils are up, my God!   What beauty   
concerted down on us last night.   And if   
I sleep again, I’ll wake to a louder   
blossoming, the symphony smashing down   
hothouse walls, and into the world: music.   
Something like the birds’ return, each morning’s   
crescendo rising toward its brightest pitch,   
colors unfurling, petals alluring.   
The song, the color, the rising ecstasy   
of spring.   My God.   This beauty.   This, this   
is what I’ve hoped for.   All my life is here   
in the unnamed core—dogwood, daffodil,   
tulip poplar, crab apple, crepe myrtle—   
only now, in spring, can the place be named.

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mining pollutes financial as well as natural environments

Within the next several months, the state of Minnesota, and its governor, will reach a decision on the adequacy of an Environmental Impact Statement for the PolyMet NorthMet project. If the state, through the Department of Natural Resources, issues permits for the proposed mining project, I wonder if they will take into consideration, as part of a broader financial assurance requirement, the number of mining company bankruptcies that have avoided significant "costs" anticipated to be paid in miners pensions or benefits.

Mining in Minnesota, rocks and hard places
Mining in Minnesota, rocks and hard places
Photo by J. Harrington

In the past, Minnesota's US Senator Franken has raised concerns about such occurrences in regard to past industry practices: "Questions PBGC Director Nominee about Corporate Practices that Gut Miners' Pensions;" and "Iron Range Pension Oversight." From what I can tell, legislation initially introduced by Senator Franken, and reintroduced by others subsequently, intended to help protect miners, has never been enacted.

I started thinking more about these issues after reading the article in today's Star Tribune that "As 76 million baby boomers near the end of their working lives, the nation is hurtling toward a retirement financial crisis." I'm also aware of the fact that precious few hedge fund managers or politicians get as screwed as miners when it come to pension benefits. It isn't just that the 1% has a grossly (in every sense of the word) disproportionate share of the nation's assets, the share they have seems to be much better protected than that held by honest workers.

I'll once again note that my objections aren't to mining operations per say, but are based on mining companies long established track records of exploiting natural resources, polluting the environment plus exploiting human resources, often indigenous people, while leaving government to hold the bag as investors and executives enjoy the spoils. Mining operations and companies are frequently structured to be not "too big to fail," but to be able to "bail at fail" with government, the environment and locals trying to clean up the messes left behind. Is that what northern Minnesota really wants to continue to bet its future on? What are the odds, if the mine is permitted, those 350 "high-paying jobs" will ever collect a dime of pension? Too high to bet on?

Mrs. Kessler

By Edgar Lee Masters 

Mr. Kessler, you know, was in the army,
And he drew six dollars a month as a pension,
And stood on the corner talking politics,
Or sat at home reading Grant’s Memoirs;
And I supported the family by washing,
Learning the secrets of all the people
From their curtains, counterpanes, shirts and skirts.
For things that are new grow old at length,
They’re replaced with better or none at all:
People are prospering or falling back.
And rents and patches widen with time;
No thread or needle can pace decay,
And there are stains that baffle soap,
And there are colors that run in spite of you,
Blamed though you are for spoiling a dress.
Handkerchiefs, napery, have their secrets
The laundress, Life, knows all about it.
And I, who went to all the funerals
Held in Spoon River, swear I never
Saw a dead face without thinking it looked
Like something washed and ironed.

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

No safe port for the storms of climate change?

My Better Half is at a conference in Duluth for a few days. She reports today that the big lake has "visible whitecaps and breaking waves far out on the lake." Her message reminded me that it's getting to be time to dig out my CD of Gordon Lightfoot's songs with The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on it. (When she gets home, I'll have to thank her for the inspiration for today's posting.)

rain squall, Lake Superior's south shore
Photo by J. Harrington
The current constriction of the international steel markets may be reducing the iron ore being shipped through Duluth. Although much (all?) of that is headed for domestic markets, I keep reading about "foreign steel dumping." Continuing reductions in coal burning, needed to respond to climate change, will also reduce transshipments of that cargo I imagine. On the other hand, increased development of wind power will probably bring more turbine pieces through the port for the foreseeable future. I've seen the blades being hauled up the hill on I-35 just south of Duluth. I've never seen one unloaded though or even seen one on a ship. That's something to keep my eyes open for when I visit in the future.

freighter headed to Duluth Harbor
Photo by J. Harrington
I grew up in a port city, Boston, which is facing a future imperiled by rising sea levels. Follow this link. The Inner Harbor is comparable to Duluth. Scroll down to the Dorchester Section. The beach I swam from as a teenager will be lost. Further south by about forty miles, in Marshfield, the neighborhood in which I lived just before moving to Minnesota will be underwater (literally, not just mortgages) with a four foot rise in sea level. Climate change is really starting to hit home. My past is going to be washed out to sea, just the opposite of what the folks around Lake Superior can expect, according to the folks at Sea Grant.

For Edwin Wilson

By A. R. Ammons 

Did wind and wave design the albatross's wing,
honed compliances: or is it effrontery to
suggest that the wing designed the gales and

seas: are we guests here, then, with all the
gratitude and soft-walking of the guest:
provisions and endurances of riverbeds,

mountain shoulders, windings through of tulip
poplar, grass, and sweet-frosted foxgrape:
are we to come into these and leave them as

they are: are the rivers in us, and the slopes,
ours that the world's imitate, or are we
mirrorments merely of a high designing aloof

and generous as a host to us: what would
become of us if we declined and staked out
a level affirmation of our own: we wind

the brook into our settlement and husband the
wind to our sails and blades: what is to
be grateful when let alone to itself, as for

a holiday in naturalness: the albatross, ah,
fishes the waves with a will beyond the
waves' will, and we, to our own doings, put

down the rising of sea or mountain slope: except
we do not finally put it down: still, till
the host appears, we'll make the masters here.

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