Monday, February 8, 2016

Adapting to change?

This is the month, and the weather, that makes Winter in Minnesota a month too long for me. Meteorological Spring starts on March 1, 22 days from now and, with the weather we're having this week, it will probably seem (at least to me) like 6 or 7 weeks between now and then. Walking the dogs in last night's wind and cold and snow, and today's wind and cold, was a real chore. I remember reading, I think it was last winter, Jerry Apps book, The Quiet Season: Remembering Country Winters. He describes living in a house without central heating; shoveling by hand (no snow blowers) paths from the house to the barn and out house and wood shed. It makes me think about how quickly we humans manage to turn things that started as conveniences, like indoor plumbing or central heating, into "necessities."

red squirrel after snow storm
red squirrel after snow storm
Photo by J. Harrington

It's probably going to be necessary some time in the foreseeable future to change our house from forced hot air natural gas heat to something like electric baseboard heat, powered by solar and/or wind generation. Possibly, solar hot water might support hot water radiators, which, for me, would definitely be "back to the future." I grew up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, full of triple-deckers heated by coal-fired forced hot water heat, one for each floor. Going through almost a full circle in one lifetime is a lot of change in a fundamental system. We need to, I think, loosen up about what we consider essential and how we think essentials need to be delivered, wrote the man who's still muttering about the lack of CD players in contemporary automobiles.

February snow storm
February snow storm
Photo by J. Harrington

It's not just today's (and yesterday's) weather that has me thinking along these lines. The Duluth News Tribune has a story about a political push to get federal funds to help pay for the installation of sewers to serve development near Voyagers National Park. I don't have the details, but can think of three options that don't involve sewage collection and treatment as described in the article. A combination of mound systems, composting toilets and condeming development that can't be brought up to code might offer less expensive and environmentally more sound solutions than what seems to be proposed. I'm reminded of the following anecdote from Paul Hawken's Natural Capitalism (p 285-286).
"...Many Dayak villagers had malaria, and the World Health Organization has a solution that was simple and direct. Spraying DDT seemed to work: Mosquitoes died, and malaria declined. But then an expanding web of side effects (consequences you didn't think of," quips biologist Garrett Hardin "the existance of which you will deny as long as possible") started to appear. The roofs of peoples houses began to collapse, because the DDT had also killed tiny parasitic wasps that had previously controlled thatch-eating catapillars. The colonial government issued sheet-metal replacement roofs, but people couldn't sleep when tropical rains turned tin roofs into drums. Meanwhile, the DDT-poisoned bugs were being eaten by geckoes, which were eaten by cats. The DDT invisibly built up in the food chain and began to kill the cats. Without the cats, the rats multiplied. The World Health Organization, threatened by potential outbreaks of typhus and sylvatic plague, which it had itself created, was obliged to parachute fourteen thousand live cats into Borneo. Thus occurred Operation Cat Drop, one of the odder missions of the British Royal Air Force."

It doesn't take too much imagination to envision the possibility of a similar chain of events arising from the installation of sewers in an area that has other development limitations. The Twin Cities Metropolitan Council, for years and years, used access to the metropolitan sewer system as a development control. Massachusetts has been known to condemn, as unfit for human habitation, properties with failing septic systems that couldn't be fixed. It's not clear to me why there should be major public subsidies for what may well be private developments up north. I can easily see this as a mechanism to create the potential for additional development in the area, with, perhaps, not much more consideration for whether or not that's appropriate than the messes created by earlier efforts to bring settlers and farming to northern Minnesota, as described in North Shore.

History of sleep

By Rusty Morrison 
(a myth of consequences) 
The ivy across our back fence tangles gray
into a green evening light.

How a second emptiness
un-punctuates the first.

Disloyal,
we attempt to construct.

An ache will tighten
but not form.

Making impossible
even this upsurge of crows across our sightline.

The Mayans invented zero so as not to ignore even the gods
who wouldn't carry their burdens.

Too slippery as prayer, too effortless
as longing.

Our problem was preparation. Premeditation
neutered any rage potential.

Years later, the spine of our backyard
appears to have always been crooked.

White jasmine, dove-calm in the lattice, is not
a finely crafted lure.


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