Sunday, January 31, 2016

Point of (almost) no return

We're once again looking at mud and gravel on some parts of the road. It'll be fun once everything freezes up again. Meanwhile, We're enjoying blue skies and sunshine that actually has regained some real warmth. We're more than half way through Winter, both meteorologically and astronomically. There'll be more cold and snow, no doubt, but the days lengthen and get warmer in an inexorable progression. Yay!

skunk cabbage, an early sign of pending Spring
skunk cabbage, an early sign of pending Spring
Photo by J. Harrington
Several days ago we noted a need to reread Hope In The Dark. That same evening, we returned to taking notes from Braiding Sweetgrass. The need for and benefit of Hope was reinforced by this paragraph from a fantastic book:
"Despair is paralysis. It robs us of agency. It blinds us to our own power and the power of the earth. Environmental despair is a poison every bit as destructive as the methylated mercury in the bottom of Onandaga Lake. But how can we submit to despair while the land is saying "Help"? Restoration is a powerful antidote to despair. Restoration offers concrete means by which humans can once again enter into positive, creative relationship with the more-than-human world, meeting responsibilities that are simultaneously material and spiritual. It's not enough to grieve. It's not enough to just stop doing bad things."
I'm looking forward to the time that our commitment to restoration of the environment on which we depend is as strong and unrelenting as earth's commitment to the annual return of Spring.

Work without Hope

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Lines Composed 21st February 1825
All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.

         Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

The phenology of rivers

When I was a child, my mother used to read to me from a book called Paddle to the Sea. It is the story of a canoe journey through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. I don't remember why she chose it, but I'm glad she did. I think, at the moment, I know how Paddle-to-the-Sea felt, caught in a frozen land, waiting for waters to begin flowing in Spring.

Lake Superior, Summer
Lake Superior, Summer
Photo by J. Harrington

Fortunately, unlike Paddle, I have access to the Internet to help keep me from brooding about being frozen in place. I've been wondering, in anticipation of Minnesota's own Spring, what's already So far been written about the effects of global warming on aquatic insect hatches. I've found two really interesting resources. National Geographic published a story about a species of mayfly in the River Dove apparently going from a two-year to a one-year life span due to climate change. Additional poking about on Google's findings brought me to The River's Calendar and this introduction:
"Aquatic insect hatches are snapshots in time, telling the story of the river in its season. The Mother’s day caddis hatch that arrives - in a good year - just before spring runoff. With luck, salmon flies start emerging just as runoff subsides. The Hendrickson hatch, fished amidst the last snow squalls that spell the changing of the seasonal guard. A green drake spinner fall on a perfect spring evening, accompanied by lush verdant foliage and trilling of toads. The surprise of a large, solitary golden drake in the warmth of summer, taken quietly by a wary trout among the exposed rocks of a still pool. On those lucky days when we are witness to, and participant in the harmonious confluence of weather, water, fly and fish, we feel all is right with the world.

"But the times, and the climate, are a’ changing, and all might not be right."
Since this is the year when I intend to correct my drift away from rivers and fly-fishing, we'll do some more exploring of this topic and see if we can find a way to put it together with local wildflowers as they come into bloom. I'm pretty sure these explorations will turn out to be a pleasant way to pass some time and may even be interesting, satisfying and informative. I hope you enjoy them too.

At Least

I want to get up early one more morning,
before sunrise. Before the birds, even.
I want to throw cold water on my face
and be at my work table
when the sky lightens and smoke
begins to rise from the chimneys
of the other houses.
I want to see the waves break
on this rocky beach, not just hear them
break as I did all night in my sleep.
I want to see again the ships
that pass through the Strait from every
seafaring country in the world—
old, dirty freighters just barely moving along,
and the swift new cargo vessels
painted every color under the sun
that cut the water as they pass.
I want to keep an eye out for them.
And for the little boat that plies
the water between the ships
and the pilot station near the lighthouse.
I want to see them take a man off the ship
and put another up on board.
I want to spend the day watching this happen
and reach my own conclusions.
I hate to seem greedy—I have so much
to be thankful for already.
But I want to get up early one more morning, at least.
And go to my place with some coffee and wait.
Just wait, to see what’s going to happen.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Where's the environment's NRA?

One of the weaknesses of liberal humanists is that they care about others and the earth. That allows those for whom our blue marble and its inhabitants are but pawns to threaten scorched earth with more success than they should obtain.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday lashed out at House Republican leaders and retreated from a controversial component of his new water quality law, saying he has instructed the state's environmental agency to stop mapping private ditches around the state.

It may even help explain why federal and state officials are still negotiating with domestic terrorists at Malheur, instead of apprehending them with whatever vigor is required. I suppose this means I come up short on either my liberal or my humanist credentials. So be it. I've always believed in a policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists. Clearly it's time for me to go back and reread Rebecca Solnit's Hope In The Dark. (The link is to the original essay in Orion. A new edition of the book will be published March 1, 2016.) I need to adjust my attitude to something more productive than Network's "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more."

My frustration with weak-kneed liberals is compounded by having listened, while returning from an appointment this morning, to NPR's series on the effectiveness of the National Rifle Association [NRA]. Why isn't there an NRA for the Environment that's at least as effective as the one for gun owners and makers? Why isn't there an umbrella organization that makes Republicans and blue-dog Democrats quake in their pollution-stained boots every time they threaten OUR environment? If there is such an organization, why don't I know about it so I can join?

Once upon a time I was a card-carrying member of the NRA. I quit when they opposed phasing out lead shot. I used to be a member of Ducks Unlimited, until they fired a writer who exposed obnoxious behavior by a major DU contributor. I donate freely and without tax deductability to the Sierra Club and wish they were more politically aggressive.

Solnit's concept about the never-ending need to oppose dark forces is clearly long term thinking. It's not like any victory is forever, but at the moment, I need the kind of boost a string of clear, short term triumphs would offer. You know, like watching vast numbers of global-corporate-spouting Republicans be defeated next November, and maybe taking a few DINOs (Democrats In Name Only) with them.

Goodbye to All That

By Kimberly Blaeser
He could have taken you prisoner, of course
when our two tribes were at war
over whitefish and beaver territory
and the Anishinaabeg chased your Indian ancestors
from the woodlands he now brings you home to.
Or your Dakota relatives might have waged a war party
on their swift plains’ ponies to avenge your taking
and bring you back from those uncivilized
they named in disgust the rabbit-chokers.
But those histories of dog-eaters and Chippewa crows
are just a backdrop now for other stories
told together by descendants of smallpox survivors
and French fur traders,
clan members of Wolf and of Water Spirit.
And now you gather,
trackers and scouts in new bloodless legal battles,
still watch for mark and sign—
for the flight of waterbirds.

Old histories that name us enemies
don’t own us; nor do our politics
grown so pow-wow liberal you seldom
point out the follies of White Earth tribal leaders.
(Except of course for the time our elected chair
mistakenly and under the influence of civilization
drove his pickup down the railroad tracks
and made the tri-state ten o’clock news.)
And Sundays behind the Tribune
he seldom even mentions the rabid casino bucks
or gets out his calculator and with lodge-pole eyebrows
methodically measures beaded distances,
results of territorial lines drawn in your homeland.
And even though I have seen him sniff, glance over
he really almost never checks the meat in your pot,
nor reconnoiters the place of your rendezvous
just to be sure.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Ice phenology

The Inuit word for what is now covering our yard is "carpitla, snow glazed with ice." (Here's an alternate perspective on the number of Inuktitut words for snow and ice.) This year's sparse, thin snow cover, combined with not one but two January thaws, makes for treacherous cross-country travel in our neck of the woods. The driveway isn't much better. We got "nickled and dimed" with dustings of snow earlier this week, the kind that doesn't seem worth blowing or shoveling. Then it melted and now it's refreezing and tomorrow, hopefully, it will melt again. At least the deck is no longer covered with snow or ice. I never would have thought I'd be noting a downside to a January thaw. At least the Better Half and I each have Trax on our boots. Without them, I might well be in traction or have my broken a** in a sling after I slipped and fell. 'Tis but a preview of March's coming attractions, no doubt.

snow and ice covers the St. Croix River
snow and ice covers the St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

One of the pleasures I get from writing this blog is the serendipitous discovery of information related to what I start to write about on any given day. Until today, I never thought about whether there is such a thing as the phenology of ice. There is. It relates to the dates of freeze up and ice out. I also never knew there's a National Snow and Ice Data Center. Ice phenology and climate change at Lake Mendota tell us that "... the average duration of ice cover has declined [there] from about 4 to 3 months or by 25%." I wonder if Senator Inhofe ever ice skated.At least this week's storm must reassure him that global warming is just an academic, liberal hoax and he's been right all along. (I know of few politicians more Right than the good senator.)

This Inwardness, This Ice

By Christian Wiman

This inwardness, this ice,
this wide boreal whiteness

into which he's come
with a crawling sort of care

for the sky's severer blue,
the edge on the air,

trusting his own lightness
and the feel as feeling goes;

this discipline, this glaze,
this cold opacity of days

begins to crack.
No marks, not one scar,

no sign of where they are,
these weaknesses rumoring through,

growing loud if he stays,
louder if he turns back.

Nothing to do but move.
Nowhere to go but on,

to creep, and breathe, and learn
a blue beyond belief,

an air too sharp to pause,
this distance, this burn,

this element of flaws
that winces as it gives.

Nothing to do but live.
Nowhere to be but gone.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Winsome win some

The other day, on Twitter, I saw a wonderful quote from one of my favorite authors. “Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark." It comes from Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Desperaux, and it is inspiring me to approach my writing and my life quite differently. (One of the shortcomings of having grown children is that they used to serves as excuses for reading her stories more frequently. Now, from time to time, I just read them to myself.)

Winter sunlight at sunrise can be spectacular
Winter sunlight at sunrise can be spectacular
Photo by J. Harrington

Telling stories, I used to focus on exposing the dark. I believed, and still do, like Justice Brandeis, that sunlight is the best disinfectant. And sunlight is certainly precious, especially during times like this cloudy Winter and contentious presidential primary season. But, I may have been guilty of doing little more than casting sunlight on the dark instead of bringing sunlight into the lives of readers. I'll do better in the future. (I almost wrote "I'll try to" when I remembered another of my favorite quotations, this one from Yoda "Do or do not. There is no try.") All of this leads up to announcing this win for the good guys and the environment.

Last week we wrote about a proposal to downgrade the classification of the Vermillion River in Dakota County from Class 2A (cold water habitat) to Class 2B (warm water habitat). The Twin Cities Chapter of Trout Unlimited (full disclosure, I've been a member for years and, several lifetimes ago, was editor of their newsletter) was understandably upset about this proposal since the Vermillion is an existing trout fishery. This morning, I learned from TCTU leadership that:
All the emails from TU members, other environmental groups, and clean water advocates we alerted worked!

Last night at a public hearing on the 10-year Draft Watershed Management Plan for the Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization (VRWJPO), staff prefaced the public comment period by saying they had been inundated with emails, and they will drop language in the plan advocating for lowering pollution protections and cleanup standards on the Vermillion River.

The river runs from Elko New Market in Scott County, through Lakeville, Farmington and the townships all the way to Hastings and the Mississippi River. It’s a trophy brown trout stream, with catch and release regulations for the naturally-reproducing browns, and regular, statewide limits on keeping the stocked rainbow trout. It’s the biggest trout stream in the metro area.

Your advocacy has had a major impact on the future of the Vermillion. The VRWJPO pledged to continue work with Trout Unlimited to restore the watershed and the river. THANK YOU!
This Spring, I intend to head for the Vermillion and do some exploring. I haven't been near the stream in years, not since I worked for the Metro Council on water quality planning. So, I have a growing list of things to look forward to come Spring and to plan for during what's left of this Winter. That helps contain my discontent. Remembering and following KDC's observation about stories and light will help me put a lid on it, as they say.

The Poets light but Lamps — (930)

By Emily Dickinson

The Poets light but Lamps —
Themselves — go out —
The Wicks they stimulate
If vital Light

Inhere as do the Suns —
Each Age a Lens
Disseminating their
Circumference —

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Minnesota needs a Water Czar!

It may be something in the air, or, more likely, the water. Last Thursday we wrote about The Water Wars. The next day the Star Tribune had a commentary by past and present leaders in Minnesota's environmental protection about "Water, water everywhere in Minnesota — but it needs help." I generally agree with the points made by Austin, Merriam et. al., but don't think they go far enough, nor do the [timid] goals in the 2014 Clean Water Road Map, particularly in light of the federal Clean Water Act goals.

upper St. Croix River
upper St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

I took a look at the comments on the Commentary and it became clear that many Minnesotans are clueless about how the Clean Water Legacy Funds, and other Minnesota resources, are being used. The Clean Water Fund has summary and detailed reports, but they lack needed context, such as the broad (comprehensive) goals the Commentary calls for. The reports primarily reference the Legacy funding activities, which, I don't believe, are the only funds being used for water quality related projects. Furthermore, reading about funding for implementation of "Best Management Practices" makes me wonder if I should get paid for obeying traffic laws each time I drive. I'm not entirely being facetious here. The Governor has talked about funding for his "buffer bill." Where is the responsibility for farmers to not pollute the commons? It seems to be right down there with the domestic terrorists who've "appropriated" some of our public lands in Oregon claiming they have a "right" to them. I know there are farmers and ranchers who care about the land and waters that support them. There just don't seem to be enough in any given year.

Many months ago we suggested Minnesota might need a water czar. Now we're convinced of it. Instead of spending money applying band aids next session, how about establishing a Minnesota Water Resources Authority that combines all the disparate, fragmented actors under one roof and then adopt some bodacious goals for meeting water quality standards that are now about 30 to 40 years past due. More and more folks, including too many in the Minnesota legislature, are suggesting the best way to meet standards is to lower them. That doesn't work for wild rice or for children threatened by mercury or lead in their water.

Bottled Water

By Kim Dower

I go to the corner liquor store
for a bottle of water, middle
of a hectic day, must get out
of the office, stop making decisions,
quit obsessing does my blue skirt clash
with my hot pink flats; should I get
my mother a caregiver or just put her
in a home, and I pull open the glass
refrigerator door, am confronted
by brands—Arrowhead, Glitter Geyser,
Deer Park, spring, summer, winter water,
and clearly the bosses of bottled water:
Real Water and Smart Water—how different
will they taste? If I drink Smart Water
will I raise my IQ but be less authentic?
If I choose Real Water will I no longer
deny the truth, but will I attract confused,
needy people who’ll take advantage
of my realness by dumping their problems
on me, and will I be too stupid to help them
sort through their murky dilemmas?
I take no chances, buy them both,
sparkling smart, purified real, drain both bottles,
look around to see is anyone watching?
I’m now brilliantly hydrated.
Both real and smart my insides bubble
with compassion and intelligence
as I walk the streets with a new swagger,
knowing the world is mine.

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Bird feeder phenology?

The chickadees, nuthatches and gold finches at the feeders are pretty nonchalant about movement inside the house. Not so the woodpeckers, especially the Pileated. I haven't any idea why woodpeckers are so much more twitchy than smaller (song) birds. If any of you can point to even a clue, please send a comment and I'll see what I can track down and share it here. Even if it weren't for the occasional appearance at the suet feeders, we could tell we have Pileated woodpeckers as neighbors by the rectangular holes in dead trees on our property.

Pileated woodpecker holes
Pileated woodpecker holes
Photo by J. Harrington

Pileated woodpecker at suet feeder
Pileated woodpecker at suet feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

Seeing this guy is a Winter treat. We don't put out suet feeders in the Summer, and I've yet to see a Pileated feeding on sunflower seeds, unlike the downy and hairy woodpeckers that show up from time to time in the warmer months. I know that, underneath the snow cover, there's lots of Winter activity that isn't readily visible. Signs of that are all around beneath the feeders, where moles and shrews and voles or whatevers are popping up through the snow to eat leftovers and droppings. That said, if it weren't for the birds at the feeders, gray Winter days would feel and look even more bleak and lifeless than they do. That kind of thinking probably means it's time to start planning for Valentine's Day. Maybe I'll get lucky and see some cupids at the feeders this year!

To Do

By Derek Sheffield
You’ve planted and weeded and wheelbarrowed,
           now tapping a pencil, trying to remember
the next thing—what was it?—when a shape
           drops from the sky, shudders and stops
at a tree—red blotch—whack, whack.
           A creature big enough on this slow spring day
to make you mutter, Ho-
           meric, exactly like the popeyed codger
in the John Wayne flick when he sees
           how the bride and groom have broken
their bed. A big, wild woodpecker. Imagine
           how it would feel to glimpse, like this,
an ivory-billed, that one they say
           (if that’s what they saw) is the last,
epic of the land, boomerang to be
           and not. But could it be
this one will make it for real?
           Make it beyond lit screens,
this pileated inkling now hopping into brisk beats
           of loopy flight. And now almost
in your grasp, the day’s next thing,
           when a rattled, rising shriek riddles the air.
Again. And again you’re just beginning:
           a nest of electric light, a boy
waiting for the bus and laughing
           at the cartoon bird laughing like crazy.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Cedar spirits

The cedar trees on and about our property are eastern red cedar trees, not northern white cedars. In fact, according to Welby Smith's Trees and Shrubs of Minnesota, there are no northern white cedar trees in Chisago County, although they can be found to the north in Pine County, to the south in Washington County and to the west in Anoka and Isanti Counties. By the way, if you are looking for cedar trees in the index of Smith's tome, you need to look under "E" for eastern or "N" for northern, instead of "C" for cedar. The index makes as much sense to me as the fact that northern white cedars exist in every surrounding county but not right here in Chisago.

snow, fallen on cedars
Photo by J. Harrington

Fortunately, there's a listing of Chisago County plants on my computer, and I searched that for the word "cedar" and from there made progress with Trees and Shrubs. I'm not sure how the eastern red cedar got its name, possibly it's due to the fact that the foliage turns maroon in the winter? I had been unaware (unconscious?) of that change until recently, when I noticed that trees I thought I remembered looking green during Spring and Summer weren't green any more. Since we've been trying to establish some apple trees, and cedar trees are hosts to a rust that can infect apple trees, I've been concerned about rust management, but, according to the University of Minnesota Extension "Although the bright red and orange leaf spots and orange gelatinous galls symptomatic of these diseases are quick to draw attention, the disease rarely causes serious damage to its hosts and often does not require management in a home landscape." Now we can be less concerned about rust and focus more attention on the management of the damn pocket gophers that keep eating the roots of freshly planted fruit trees. I think I may be starting to get the hang of this bioregional stuff, which, like Zen, involves paying attention.

Before we go for today though, I want to be sure you get a chance to learn about one of the coolest cedar trees ever. The Spirit Tree, as far as I know, still overlooks Lake Superior. I'm going to try to see it in person sometime this year, since we're planning at least one trip "up north" some time next Summer.

End Fetish: An Index Of Last Lines

By Alice Fulton
a face stares back.
across the hostile centuries.
add a twist — delicious.
and never feel a thing.
commercial — added stretch to every gesture.
how it is made.
I almost admire it. I almost wrote despise.
I’d be all give. Let me put it like this==
in the nocturnal, recessed bed==
of nettles.
resembles the bird it will fly into.
Right now I’m trying to open wide.
she turns to a tree.
she would be neither-nor.
smoky field.
that is space.
the bride.
the exdream — the world gone into god again?
the night.
the white between the ink.
the white navel — I notice — in the O.
their harsh done crust.
then some inbetween?
to a nuptial lace.
to ever dwell again.
to mask the screen in dumb expanse.
touch in linen walls.
Turn — her — loose —
What — does not console?
who could bear to save her.
yes, god her saurian voice into the ground.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Phenology triggers hope

The sun keeps trying to break through the clouds today. We're more than halfway through meteorological Winter. There's only about nine months left of this year's presidential campaign and, as much as, from time to time, I miss the East Coast, I don't mind missing the blizzard that's dumping wind-blown snow back there. So far in Minnesota, our snow cover has been relatively thin and our hours of deep, bitter cold relatively few this season, almost as if the climate were getting warmer or something.

Cardinal and purple finch in pine tree
Cardinal and purple finch in pine tree
Photo by J. Harrington

In addition to the monthly reports in Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac, there are three local resources I find helpful in checking on our local phenology.
  • Jim Gilbert's Nature Notebook

  • Backyard Almanac by Larry Weber; and,

  • Wit & Wisdom of the Great Outdoors by Jerry Wilber

Cardinal in oak tree
Cardinal in oak tree
Photo by J. Harrington

Gilbert notes that we're getting to the time of year that Cardinals start their Spring songs and whitetail bucks drop their antlers.

Weber points out that red foxes are starting to mate and that it's a good time of year to hear barred owls (one of my favorites, from turkey hunting trips, trying to trigger an early morning gobble).

Wilber and Weber both mention insects being active in our ponds, lakes and streams.

I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing flowing water and smelling and seeing wildflowers. Meanwhile, I work at getting organized to file taxes when their season comes and cleaning and straightening gear for this year's trout season. Just as mating seasons in Winter anticipate birth's in Spring, my Winter gear activities bring back memories of past trout trips and trigger anticipation of those to come. While phenology is about the "the science of ‘periodic events’ in nature and how they are affected by various factors such as changes in climate," for me it's also about memories and hopes.

The Human Seasons

By John Keats
Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
     There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
     Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He has his Summer, when luxuriously
     Spring's honied cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming high
     Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
     He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness—to let fair things
     Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.
He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,
Or else he would forego his mortal nature.

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Friday, January 22, 2016

"That's What Eye Saw" opens successfully

As far as I'm concerned, last night's opening of "That's What Eye Saw" at the Hallberg Center for the Arts was a resounding success. I believe the Better Half agrees and got the impression from the 75 to 100 or so who attended that they concur. Almost two dozen local photographers are exhibiting around 100 photographs. Four poets provided spoken word performances during the evening. Several folks kindly took time to tell me they enjoyed the photos I had entered and asked where I had had them printed on canvas. (I owe the Daughter Person for that lead.) A writer who's conducting an upcoming class for 7th through 9th graders has requested a copy of the unpublished poem I read for use in that class. The Better Half's photos of San Francisco scenes, including some I haven't seen on our home walls for some time, looked good surrounded by Minnesota settings. The eclecticism of the display worked better than I would have anticipated. Here's some iPhone camera coverage of the setting, the audience and the exhibit.

"free-standing" walls provide display space
"free-standing" walls provide display space
Photo by J. Harrington

photographs hung in the alcove
photographs hung in the alcove
Photo by J. Harrington

no "starving artists" here
no "starving artists" here
Photo by J. Harrington

bios of artists and poets help provide context
bios of artists and poets help provide context
Photo by J. Harrington
I'm enjoying more and more meeting and working with the members of our local creative community. Although I did find it a little strange to be in front of an audience and not rely on a PowerPoint presentation, I could easily come to enjoy it.

Family Album

By Diane Thiel

I like old photographs of relatives   
in black and white, their faces set like stone.   
They knew this was serious business.   
My favorite album is the one that's filled   
with people none of us can even name.   

I find the recent ones more difficult.   
I wonder, now, if anyone remembers   
how fiercely I refused even to stand   
beside him for this picture — how I shrank   
back from his hand and found the other side.   

Forever now, for future family,   
we will be framed like this, although no one   
will wonder at the way we are arranged.   
No one will ever wonder, since we'll be   
forever smiling there — our mouths all teeth.

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Water Wars

  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency is giving serious review to allegations that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency doesn't meet its responsibilities to adequately "regulate iron mining companies" and issue pollution discharge permits on a timely basis.
  • Governor Dayton is convening a "Water Summit" next month, to "focus public attention on the serious challenges facing Minnesota’s water supplies."
  • The Governor of Michigan has his hands full due to failure to protect the quality of the public water supply for Flint, Michigan.
  • President Obama just vetoed legislation that would have overturned new rules defining the "Waters of the United States" [WOTUS].
  • The Great Lakes States are reviewing a request for an out of basin transfer to provide water that would help Waukesha, WI grow.
  • The Des Moines Water Utility is suing several agricultural drainage districts for polluting the Des Moines municipal water supply.
  • Most (all?) of the western United States is experiencing suffering from a significant drought.
  • And, closer to home and at a lesser scale, the Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization now has a draft watershed plan up for review and public comment. The hearing is January 26, 2016 at 7 PM at the Dakota County Extension and Conservation Center, 4100 220th St. W, Farmington.

Sunrise River, not a trout stream
Sunrise River, not a trout stream
Photo by J. Harrington

The proposed plan would "strip the Vermillion River, a trophy trout stream in the south metro area, of its present environmental protections, and reclassify it to allow more pollution," according to the President of the Twin Cities Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

The Vermillion River is in Dakota County, which already has notable problems with the quality of its groundwater, due to high nitrate concentrations. A major source of nitrates is agriculture, which is still fuming about the WOTUS and Governor Dayton's "buffer bill." So, at the same time that there are known problems with groundwater and many surface waters in Minnesota, while the Obama administration is trying to protect our waters, which costs less than cleaning them up afterwards, the Vermillion folks are trying to reduce standards as EPA is looking closely over MPCA's shoulders. This should be interesting. I am not a lawyer, and it's been many years since I made a living as a water quality planner, but as I read the rules, the proposed reduction in the "designated use classification" will require review and approval by MPCA and USEPA. The requirements to support a reduced use classification are:
"The State must be able to demonstrate that attaining the designated use is not feasible because:
1. naturally occurring pollutant concentrations prevent the attainment of the use;

2. natural, ephemeral, intermittent, or low- flow conditions or water levels prevent the attainment of the use, unless these conditions may be compensated for by the discharge of sufficient volume of effluent discharges without violating State water conservation requirements to enable uses to be met;

3. human-caused conditions or sources of pollution prevent the attainment of the use and cannot be remedied or would cause more environmental damage to correct than to leave in place;

4. dams, diversions, or other types of hydrologic modifications preclude the attainment of the use, and it is not feasible to restore the water body to its original condition or to operate such modification in a way that would result in the attainment of the use;

5. physical conditions related to the natural features of the water body, such as the lack of a proper substrate, cover, flow, depth, pools, riffles, and the like, unrelated to [chemical] water quality, preclude attainment of aquatic life protection uses; or

6. controls more stringent than those required by sections 301(b)(1)(A) and (B) and 306 of the Act would result in substantial and widespread economic and social impact."
Those seem like fairly high bars to me. As I said, this should be interesting.

By-the-way, we enjoyed the play (Pericles) at the Guthrie last night and it was a pleasure to see it with a friend we haven't gotten together with for too long.

Speckled Trout

By Ron Rash 
Water-flesh gleamed like mica:
orange fins, red flankspots, a char
shy as ginseng, found only
in spring-flow gaps, the thin clear
of faraway creeks no map
could name. My cousin showed me
those hidden places. I loved
how we found them, the way we
followed no trail, just stream-sound
tangled in rhododendron,
to where slow water opened
a hole to slip a line in,
and lift as from a well bright
shadows of another world,
held in my hand, their color
already starting to fade.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Seizing the moment

I usually find this to be a tough time of year. It seems too early to get ready for Spring (which often means when Spring arrives, I'm not yet ready). I don't particularly enjoy being out in bitter cold, and I haven't ice skated on a pond for years. Ice fishing doesn't do much for me either, probably for the same reasons I have a hard time sitting still on a deer stand. All that helps explain why I'm so glad our days of below 0F seem behind us and we may even see a brief thaw this weekend. I want to get back outside with a camera, and maybe a field guide, and poke around without freezing major parts of my anatomy.

Autumn leaves, St. Croix River
Autumn leaves, St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

Fortunately, there's a lot of in-door arts-related activity the Better Half [BH] and I have lined up. Tonight we're meeting a friend for dinner and a play (Pericles, I think) at the Guthrie. Tomorrow evening is the opening of That's What Eye Saw at the Hallberg Center in Wyoming, MN, where the BH and I will then be among the volunteer staff Friday evening. After years of using my photography almost entirely on-line, it's a very different and satisfying experience to see it printed and hung. I'm looking forward to a chance to share some of my writing and wondering if getting prints of some other photos I've taken might help me progress a chapbook project I'm trying to get started. So, this year, I'm not only looking forward to Spring, I'm grateful that I seem to be making some progress in the creation of an "alternative lifestyle." Following the Zen guidance to live in the moment works better for me when I can help the moments align with what I like to do. We're getting there.

Seeing for a Moment

By Denise Levertov 
I thought I was growing wings—
it was a cocoon.

I thought, now is the time to step   
into the fire—
it was deep water.

Eschatology is a word I learned
as a child: the study of Last Things;

facing my mirror—no longer young,
       the news—always of death,
       the dogs—rising from sleep and clamoring   
            and howling, howling,

I see for a moment   
that's not it: it is   
the First Things.

Word after word
floats through the glass.   
Towards me.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Internet of Energy

About this time last year, we were in the midst of having a new roof, new windows, and siding installed. One of the purposes was to increase the house's energy efficiency. Although we're no where near passive house standards, we have made progress, at least as indicated by frost coverage on the windows when it's really cold.

North side sliding (old) window, heavily frosted
North side sliding (old) window, heavily frosted
Photo by J. Harrington

North side casement (new) window (almost no) frost
North side casement (new) window (almost no) frost
Photo by J. Harrington

The top picture shows what the old (circa 1978) sliding window on the North side of the study looked like in January 2013. The bottom shows the same window opening with our new casement windows. That looks like a major improvement to me. So we retained most of the energy embodied in our house, increased the energy efficiency and, hopefully, made it more durable. In temperatures such as we've had the past few days, we can still feel cold air seeping in through the windows, but it used to be worse.

I think that's how we're going to get to a more sustainable world and levels of greenhouse gases we can live with. It's going to be a step-by-step, incremental process that probably won't get us there as soon as we need to, and will require some life style changes (I now wear sweaters and flannel shirts instead of turning up our 97% efficient natural furnace that replaced our old oil burner.) There are no silver bullets, but we can be more strategic in our choices. Here's a link to a carbon footprint calculator. I'm one of those folks who doubt that all of our individual actions together will solve the problems we face as a species, but that doesn't mean we get a pass either. Depending on which variation we're looking at, this nice summary comes either from Helen Keller (misattribution?) or Edward Everett Hale. We also need the Xcel Energy's of the world to start focusing more on managing the grid instead of building power plants. We need something like an internet of energy, with micro grids and co-generation in addition to renewable solar and wind.

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

Gary Snyder tells us why this is important.

By Frazier Creek Falls

Gary Snyder

Standing up on lifted, folded rock
looking out and down—

The creek falls to a far valley.
hills beyond that
facing, half-forested, dry
—clear sky
strong wind in the
stiff glittering needle clusters
of the pine—their brown
round trunk bodies
straight, still;
rustling trembling limbs and twigs


This living flowing land
is all there is, forever

We are it
it sings through us—

We could live on this Earth
without clothes or tools!

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Monday, January 18, 2016

MLK: leading us to a more sustainable America

I was in my mid twenty's in 1968 when Martin Luther King was assassinated, the same year that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. That was a tough year. Celebrating MLK with today's holiday takes me back in time and reminds me that Ronald Reagan did at least two worthwhile things during his presidency. He signed the legislation establishing MLK Day as a federal holiday and he taught me to "Trust, but Verify."

long may the flame of justice burn
long may the flame of justice burn
Photo by J. Harrington

In part because of the work he did to help bring social justice to the forefront in this country, Martin Luther King should be, and I hope is, considered a hero in the environmental and sustainable communities. I don't think it yet gets the attention it deserves, but social equity is an essential element of a sustainable society. Reverend King moved the needle toward a more equitable, and therefore more sustainable, United States of America. That's part of a long list of reasons to honor him and his memory.

[UPDATE] The Bioneers Tweeted this on Tuesday morning:
"All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny." — Dr. MLK, Jr.

Dr. King knew what he was talking about.


By Gwendolyn Brooks
A riot is the language of the unheard.
—martin luther king
John Cabot, out of Wilma, once a Wycliffe,
all whitebluerose below his golden hair,
wrapped richly in right linen and right wool,
almost forgot his Jaguar and Lake Bluff;
almost forgot Grandtully (which is The
Best Thing That Ever Happened To Scotch); almost
forgot the sculpture at the Richard Gray
and Distelheim; the kidney pie at Maxim’s,
the Grenadine de Boeuf at Maison Henri.

Because the Negroes were coming down the street.

Because the Poor were sweaty and unpretty
(not like Two Dainty Negroes in Winnetka)
and they were coming toward him in rough ranks.
In seas. In windsweep. They were black and loud.
And not detainable. And not discreet.

Gross. Gross. “Que tu es grossier!” John Cabot
itched instantly beneath the nourished white
that told his story of glory to the World.
“Don’t let It touch me! the blackness! Lord!” he whispered
to any handy angel in the sky.
But, in a thrilling announcement, on It drove
and breathed on him: and touched him. In that breath
the fume of pig foot, chitterling and cheap chili,
malign, mocked John. And, in terrific touch, old
averted doubt jerked forward decently,
cried, “Cabot! John! You are a desperate man,
and the desperate die expensively today.”

John Cabot went down in the smoke and fire
and broken glass and blood, and he cried “Lord!
Forgive these nigguhs that know not what they do.”

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunshine on my shoulders

We're "enjoying" double  and single digits below zero temperatures, with about a 10 mph wind, making the windchill about 20 to 30 below. The birds and squirrels seem to be taking these temperatures in stride or wing beat, as the case may be. At any rate, as they help themselves to what's in the feeders, they complain less than I do each time I have to go out in this cold with more sunflower seeds and suet for them.

two gray squirrels and a hairy woodpecker
two gray squirrels and a hairy woodpecker
Photo by J. Harrington

The heated bird bath is working well but the dryness of the cold air creates evaporation and interesting ice sculptures on the side of the rim opposite the prevailing wind. Our winds have been from the south and the north side of the bath is ice coated.

heated bird bath with ice sculptures
heated bird bath with ice sculptures
Photo by J. Harrington

Despite the windchill, the Better Half and I went out for coffee as a cabin fever preventative. On the way home, we took back roads to enjoy the sun shining on the countryside. I mentioned that I hadn't seen any deer or turkeys in our backyard for several weeks. She said that she'd regularly seen deer crossing local roads mornings and evenings. Shortly after this comparison of ourfield observations, we spotted a flock of last year's turkey poults along the road side. That, plus the sunshine on my shoulders, generally brightened my outlook on the pleasures of country living during a spell of Minnesota's world-class Winter. January thaw by next weekend?

Cold Blooded Creatures

By Elinor Wylie 

Man, the egregious egoist,
(In mystery the twig is bent,)
Imagines, by some mental twist,
That he alone is sentient

Of the intolerable load
Which on all living creatures lies,
Nor stoops to pity in the toad
The speechless sorrow of its eyes.

He asks no questions of the snake,
Nor plumbs the phosphorescent gloom
Where lidless fishes, broad awake,
Swim staring at a night-mare doom.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Dogs and birds and people, oh my!

The sun (remember what that looks like?) is playing peek-a-boo in a typically gray January sky. This morning's sunrise was absolutely spectacular for 20 or 30 seconds. Then, the show was over, bows taken, and the cast again withdrew behind the curtain.

Winter sunrise
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm just back inside from walking the dogs. It is insanely cold out there. Canine's lack of reasoning ability is evidenced by the fact that, hobbling on cold paws, they still think it's necessary to sniff 30 or 40 places to find "just the right spot" to do their business. But then again, if you look at the state of the world and at Homo sapiens response to emerging and emerged crises, many self-induced, dogs can look fairly bright, logical and well-reasoned. Often, they're also more lovable. Sigh!

SiSi, my unreasonable canine
Photo by J. Harrington

Franco, the Better Half's unreasonable canine
Photo by J. Harrington

This particular cold spell is supposed to break by week's end. As soon as it does, I'm planning on getting out and doing some exploring and maybe taking some pictures so we'll have something more interesting to converse about than just how cold and dreary it's been. Meanwhile, for the next few days, stay in the house, warm and dry and out of the wind, like a smart chickadee (unfortunately, chickadees, for all their redeeming qualities, and they have many, aren't very good at cuddling or keeping humans' feet warm). Thank heaven for poets like Denise Levertov to help offset this weather.

What My House Would Be Like If It Were A Person

By Denise Levertov 
This person would be an animal.
This animal would be large, at least as large
as a workhorse. It would chew cud, like cows,
having several stomachs.
No one could follow it
into the dense brush to witness
its mating habits. Hidden by fur,
its sex would be hard to determine.
Definitely it would discourage
investigation. But it would be, if not teased,
a kind, amiable animal,
confiding as a chickadee. Its intelligence
would be of a high order,
neither human nor animal, elvish.
And it would purr, though of course,
it being a house, you would sit in its lap,
not it in yours.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Winter's anticipatory phenology

Earlier this week a male Cardinal arrived at the bird feeder in front of the house. He was sorting through the sunflower seed fragments that had been scattered by the chickadees and squirrels. Last night a pair of Cardinals, male and female, arrived at dusk. SInce we hadn't seen any Cardinals for quite awhile, the arrival of the pair was a pleasant surprise. I hope it means we can soon look forward to hearing the male's mating call as a sign of Spring.

female Cardinal feeding at seeds on the snow
female Cardinal feeding at seeds on the snow
Photo by J. Harrington

As I've been writing this and dreading this weekend's forecast wind chills, I'm once again made grateful that the house is warm and dry and reasonably well-stocked. The family is basically healthy and can observe the local critters from inside. I'm still amazed that birds feet have adapted so that they don't freeze and break off in this kind of weather. I wonder how long the evolutionary process took as dinosaurs became birds, so to speak. One of my concerns about the rate at which we humans are changing the world about us is that we rarely, if ever, allow enough time for a real adaptation to current conditions. (Take a look at today's stock market and the Keeling curve as examples. Or, from another perspective, every Winter I'm pretty sure that Spring will arrive at about the same time. And almost every year finds me with fishing gear that still needs to be cleaned and organized and Winter chores that still aren't done. I need to look up how phenology relates to rates of change. You'll be among the first to know if I make progress on that. Meanwhile, stay warm and dry this weekend.

The Cardinal

By Henry Carlile 

Not to conform to any other color
is the secret of being colorful.

He shocks us when he flies
like a red verb over the snow.

He sifts through the blue evenings
to his roost.

He is turning purple.
Soon he'll be black.

In the bar's dark I think of him.
There are no cardinals here.

Only a woman in a red dress.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.