Thursday, March 31, 2016

Time to Spring into diversified economies?

Spring is a season of transition. It brings storms and blue skies. It's harder and harder to tell what's a "normal" Spring these days. Our increasingly volatile Spring weather has become a "new normal," just as Minnesota, and much of the rest of the country, are facing "new normals" in many of their economic sectors. Mining for coal in Appalachia is in even worse shape than taconite mining in Minnesota. Maine, like Minnesota, is losing paper mills on which local communities depended, but is looking for Federal assistance in how to diversify its economy to help respond to the kinds of changes many rural areas are facing. In Maine,
"Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have asked the federal government to help rural Maine assess its strengths and opportunities as part of an effort to diversify local economies. This is important, if belated, work that should be happening with or without federal support — and should have begun in earnest long ago.

"Earlier this month, the senators wrote to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, asking her to assemble an Economic Development Assessment Team to help rural regions in Maine inventory their assets and identify challenges and opportunities to diversify their economies. The letter emphasizes the state’s forest products industry, which still plays an important role in Maine’s economy, but such diversification will have to go well beyond trees and paper to succeed."
Spring storms usher in a new season of growth
Spring storms usher in a new season of growth
Photo by J. Harrington

Have Sens. Amy Klobuchar or Al Franken asked for similar assistance for northern Minnesota? Has anyone on the Iron Range or in Minnesota's forestry sector considered asking our Senators to seek such help, or have we figured out that the solution is to go back to the "good old days?"

As you look toward tomorrow, accept that fossil fuels have a limited future, unless we humans are willing to accept a limited future for all of us. Then, ask where we can find the leadership we need to resolve such issues as what look like excessive charges imposed on solar generation by rural electric coops? We long ago passed the point where we can rationally consider simply tinkering with what we have and expect the results we want. "More of the same never solved a problem." I've read, as I suspect you may have, that both paper and taconite production are major consumers of electric power. Renewables have become cost-competitive with traditional sources and the conversion will create a number of jobs, but not if we're more concerned with protecting and maintaining what we currently have than with moving to the kind of infrastructure and economy we need for the future. We need the vision to look, collectively, for systemic change.

The internet helped us learn how to benefit from and manage resilient, distributed systems. Local food systems (not including industrial agriculture) are following a similar pattern. It's time for our electric and communications distribution systems to more fully adopt that model. Or, we can become the 21st century equivalent of Easter Islanders. Spring is here; Spring is a time for new beginnings; now is a time for Minnesotans facing major economic issues to work with others in similar situations and find new beginnings that work for us all.

Spring is like a perhaps hand

E. E. Cummings, 1894 - 1962


Spring is like a perhaps hand 
(which comes carefully 
out of Nowhere) arranging 
a window,into which people look (while 
people stare
arranging and changing placing 
carefully there a strange 
thing and a known thing here) and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps 
Hand in a window 
(carefully to 
and fro moving New and 
Old things, while 
people stare carefully 
moving a perhaps 
fraction of flower here placing 
an inch of air there) and

without breaking anything.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What's an "average" Spring #phenology?

The butterfly plant seeds are getting watered by today's showers. They should germinate in two or three weeks. I'm actually getting excited about seeing how many come up. The woods in front of the house are full of flocks of juncos and what I think are house finches (they look slightly smaller than, and the coloring differs slightly from, the purple finches we've had at the feeders). Leaf buds on the oaks have just started to develop. The maple buds have burst and are swelling. Quite literally, "Spring is busting out all over."

fiddlehead ferns unwinding
fiddlehead ferns unwinding
Photo by J. Harrington

Comparing this Spring's developments with pictures and dates from 2012, I'll look for ferns to have their fiddleheads visible in a week or two. Thinking about tracking phenology, I haven't yet found listings such as those we have for weather -- average, high and low for a date, or the "variability range" around data sets so we could readily see the average, earliest and latest dates on record at certain locations for things like ice out, bud burst, ephemera blooms etc. As our weather/climate patterns become more variable, having more nuanced presentations of what to look for and when would, I think, be really helpful. Perhaps I've been spending too much time looking at trout fly hatch charts, which usually show, by week of the month, what to look for.

bar chart with confidence intervals (red)
bar chart with confidence intervals (red)

If we proceed with the idea that there's a phenological(?) relationship between what's in bloom and what's hatching and daily temperatures (heating or cooling degree days) and amount of daylight, averages and static listings are going to lose some of their utility, unless, of course, the climatologists are all wrong! Yeah, right! If any of you know of the kind of phenology information organization and presentation I'm speculating about, please share in a comment or tweet @JohnHthePoet. Thanks.

In Your Absence

By Judith Harris

Not yet summer,   
but unseasonable heat   
pries open the cherry tree.   

It stands there stupefied,   
in its sham, pink frills,   
dense with early blooming.   

Then, as afternoon cools   
into more furtive winds,   
I look up to see   
a blizzard of petals   
rushing the sky.   

It is only April.   
I can’t stop my own life   
from hurrying by.   
The moon, already pacing.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Blue skies, blue birds, blue #phenology?

Amidst the strife and tribulations of daily life, blue skies, warm temperatures and the bluebirds of happiness have returned to the neighborhood. My solitary sighting today was validated by the Daughter Person's mention of having seen a pair yesterday. It's getting to be time to dig out the feeders for the orioles and hummingbirds, but no meal worms this year. What a failure last year!

the bluebirds have returned, Happiness!
the bluebirds have returned, Happiness!
Photo by J. Harrington

Tomorrow we can expect thunderstorms if the weather forecast is to be believed. Is Minnesota learning how to do a proper Spring? Even the daylilies are starting to peek up from the thawed ground, but they sprouted much earlier  in 2012. This no doubt means I need to go check (again) on the skunk cabbage soon. Spring's "early" this year, but there's a benefit to having time-stamped photos from other years to refresh my frequently faulty memory about the sequence of seasonal events, all, that is, except for Spring cleaning in and around the house. There's been no discernible pattern to that over the years, demonstrating that we humans can be, and sometimes are, less consistent than Mother Nature, or is it simply a sign that we are part of nature and her variability?

emergent daylilies, late March 2012
Photo by J. Harrington

The Daring One

By Edwin Markham

I would my soul were like the bird   
That dares the vastness undeterred.   
Look, where the bluebird on the bough   
Breaks into rapture even now!   
He sings, tip-top, the tossing elm   
As tho he would a world o’erwhelm.   
Indifferent to the void he rides   
Upon the wind’s eternal tides.

He tosses gladly on the gale,
For well he knows he can not fail—
Knows if the bough breaks, still his wings   
Will bear him upward while he sings! 

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Au revoir, Jim Harrison

I hope you had a wonderful Easter weekend. We did, except that mine was marred yesterday when I learned of the death of Jim Harrison, a poet and writer whose work I enjoyed and admired. Although Harrison's first book of poetry was published while I was an undergraduate, I had completed my baccalaureate degree in English a short time before Harrison's first novel was published, so I never studied him in college. In fact, I was late to the party in "discovering" Harrison's writing and was more of a fan of his poetry than his fiction. Had the timing been slightly different, I've no doubt his zest for living and writing would have made him someone I'd have aspired to model myself after. His descriptions of place(s) were crafted in a way that reminded you of what it was like when you were there or made you want to get there and see if yourself what it was like.

Harrison collaborated with another of my favorite poets, Ted Kooser, on the book Braided Creek, A Conversation in Poetry, in which there are no attributions for individual poems. "This book is an assertion in favor of poetry and against credentials." That sentence, plus their individual talent and craftsmanship and depth of friendship, tells almost all you need to know about why I will miss Harrison and am grateful we still have Kooser with us. In fact, my spirits were heartened yesterday, when, after having learned that Harrison had walked on, I saw a notice that Lawrence Ferlinghetti, yet another of my favorites, had recently turned 97 in San Francisco. I can only hope that next time around I get to live as robustly as Harrison, as wisely as Kooser and as long as Ferlinghetti. I may even work on some of that this time around.

As far as I know, Harrison's major linkage to Minnesota is based on his fans here and the fact that he no doubt would have fit in almost anywhere in rural Minnesota. "The grandson of farmers, and son of an agricultural extension agent, Harrison grew up in small Michigan towns — Grayling, Reed City, Haslett — where he developed a love of books and a primal bond with the outdoors, "bone- and marrow-deep."

In Memoriam, please enjoy these brief excerpts from:

A Conversation in Poetry

To have reverence for life
you must have reverence for death.
The dogs we love are not taken from us
but leave when summoned by the gods.

You asked, What makes you sure?
I have the faith of the blind,
I answered.

I hope there's time
for this and that, and not just this.

Buddhists say everything is led by mind.
My doubts are healed by drinking
a bottle of red wine in thirty-three minutes.

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

The animals and annals of Easter

Easter's weather hasn't yet turned to sunshine or blue skies. Fortunately, thanks to awesome efforts by the Daughter Person and the Better Half, who jointly enticed the Easter Bunny in for a visit, our house holds a multitude of Easter goodies. No baskets except for the chocolate bird's nest holding some Easter eggs. Since the eggs are in plain view, we don't have to hunt and gather them today! We wish a Happy Easter to those who celebrate it, a belated Ostara to any pagans reading this, and an In Memoriam to those who remember the Easter Uprising.

Easter bird house, looking North
Easter bird house, looking North
Photo by J. Harrington

Easter bird house, looking South
Easter bird house, looking South
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday afternoon, while walking the dog near our local pond, I noticed a pair of Canada geese resting near the rushes. After the dog and I returned home, and she was fed, I took my camera and headed back to the pond and, hopefully, the geese. They were still there and I got some satisfying pictures. I also managed to spook them. As they left, I thought of souls ascending to heaven and then, after a long journey, returning to earth.

relaxed and at ease
relaxed and at ease
Photo by J. Harrington

on alert
on alert
Photo by J. Harrington

and away to the heavens
and away to the heavens
Photo by J. Harrington

The Geese

By Jane Mead

slicing this frozen sky know
where they are going—
and want to get there.

Their call, both strange
and familiar, calls
to the strange and familiar

heart, and the landscape
becomes the landscape
of being, which becomes

the bright silos and snowy
fields over which the nuanced
and muscular geese

are calling—while time
and the heart take measure.

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Phenology: no pre-Easter local wildflowers

We're enjoying a Spring rain the day before Easter. During this morning's trip to Marine on St. Croix, we detoured through a drive along the road to the launch area in William O'Brien state park. No sign of wildflowers, but we noted a number of patches that the Better Half claims are wild asparagus and I think are horsetails. I'll go back some time over the next few days and take some photos and we'll watch as the stems develop over the season. Look for updates in future postings, although the emphasis will be on identification, not foraging since "picking wild plants," other than fruits and mushrooms, is against the rules in state parks.

St. Croix Chocolates, Halloween 2015
St. Croix Chocolates, Halloween 2015
Photo by J. Harrington

Our trip to Marine ended at St. Croix Chocolates where the Better Half stood in a line that circled the interior and spilled out onto the patio/deck. (From what she overheard standing in line, the crowd wasn't triggered by this morning's coverage of the business on KARE.) Thankfully, the rain stayed  sprinkles while we were there. I stayed in my vehicle trying to get my iPhone and the entertainment/information center to play together more nicely. The outcome was unsatisfactory, but the Easter chocolates were worth the trip and the wait. Next year we'll get there earlier during Holy Week and, hopefully, avoid the crowd, since by then I should know how to make the phone and the vehicle talk to each other and to me in a language I understand and will have little to amuse myself with as the Better Half does the heavy lifting waiting.

Last Supper

I seem to have come to the end of something, but don’t know what,
Full moon blood orange just over the top of the redbud tree.
Maundy Thursday tomorrow,
                       then Good Friday, then Easter in full drag,
Dogwood blossoms like little crosses
All down the street,
                    lilies and jonquils bowing their mitred heads.

Perhaps it’s a sentimentality about such fey things,
But I don’t think so. One knows
There is no end to the other world,
                                    no matter where it is.
In the event, a reliquary evening for sure,
The bones in their tiny boxes, rosettes under glass.

Or maybe it’s just the way the snow fell
                                         a couple of days ago,
So white on the white snowdrops.
As our fathers were bold to tell us,
                                    it’s either eat or be eaten.
Spring in its starched bib,
Winter’s cutlery in its hands. Cold grace. Slice and fork.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Planting the seeds of better water quality

Just about sunset yesterday, I saw the first local great blue heron this year, flying along the road I was driving. It'll be about six or seven weeks until the farmers markets are open and high temps in the 50s are in next week's forecast. Minnesota trout season opens in mid-April, Wisconsin sometime in the first week of May, I think.

Many of Minnesota's trout streams in the southeastern part of the state empty into Lake Pepin. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA] reports that, with a few exceptions where bacteria counts are high, and some nitrogen concerns, those streams are in pretty good shape. Nutrient and sediment levels meet standards.

a Chisago County farm
a Chisago County farm
Photo by J. Harrington

The waters of the southwest corner of Minnesota aren't nearly as healthy.
Of the water bodies studied, no lakes and few streams in the Minnesota portion of the Missouri River Basin met state standards for supporting aquatic life and recreation — fishable and swimmable — according to a recent report from the MPCA
Agriculture is a major contributor to water quality degradation in each locale, just as it's been identified as a past polluter and future major contributor to improving the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay. Iowa is engaged in some interesting work using "prairie strips" in row crops to improve water quality.

Sunrise River, Chisago County
Sunrise River, Chisago County
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm not sure how much of the funding in the latest version of the farm bill is dedicated to improving water quality and supporting non-commodity crops, but I bet if I knew I'd say "not enough." I'll see what's available for a layperson like me to try to understand. There's a lot to learn for both farmers and their customers. I'm encouraged by the apparent progress that's been accomplished with GMO labeling. I've studied enough about systems to believe that, if we want quality, affordable locally raised food, we need to modify the current system to be more supportive of smaller, more diversified, much less industrial farms. "Cheap food" that devastates our environment, consumes great quantities of fossil fuels and contributes to our rising medical costs (gluten-free anyone?) isn't sustainable. As with many other issues these days, we can find a way to work it out together or we can become like this year's Republican party presidential campaign. What's your choice?

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Phenology notes on birds, butterflies and bears

Yesterday's snow storm passed south of us, for which I'm grateful. It may have pushed some Juncos north ahead of it. This morning there are large numbers of them around and under the front bird feeder, and late yesterday we disturbed a flock or two that was picking through the hulls under the back feeders. We continue to have an increased number (compared to Winter) of purple finches at the feeders and I've noticed a goldfinch or two that has really brightened up.

a purple finch pair
a purple finch pair
Photo by J. Harrington
Most years, including this one, Spring never arrives as soon as I'd like nor stays around as long as I want it to. Birds migrating through, buds bursting, monarchs on their way, I hope, and the appearance of Spring ephemerals fill the fields, woods and yards with beauty and motion. In the spirit of welcoming warmer weather, I planted the contents of a packet of butterfly flowers I found in my desk drawer. If we get germination and growth, they'll get transplanted into the yard. If not, there's room in the compost pile.

I noticed this past Winter that honeycrisp apples have been available all season. Several years ago, I recall they disappeared in late autumn or early Winter. The flavor and size of those available near the end of Winter were sometimes on the downside of ideal. Perhaps they were grown in climate and soil conditions that vary greatly from Minnesota's, a different apple terroir? The more I learn about local foods the more I become sensitized to seasonality, or lack thereof, and find reinforcement for my observation that the opposite of good isn't evil, it's convenience. Speaking of which, I'm starting to deal with the daily inconvenience of bringing the feeders in at night. DNR has sent out an advisory about bears coming out of hibernation early this year due to our warm Winter. We haven't yet put up the hummingbird and oriole feeders and don't intend to replace them with hanging flower baskets. Country living has lots of rewards, not all of which are convenient to enjoy.

The Rosetta Stone for Birdcalls

is the Rosetta Stone for Human Suffering. Caw = territorial
outrage. Musical flutings upwards = the days of summer are always
declining. Peep = hunger. Barrage of chips = desperate hunger.
Who? = the nest has been abandoned. Varied pipings =
I surrender my eggs to a predator. Grates & rusty
noises = the distance between us can only be managed by violence.
Trill = inadequacy of desire. Low whistles = difficulties with
lice, with bacteria, with fungus, etc.

No such stone ever hewn would translate lightning or torrent
a million years elicits. No such stone would bear the
incisions of the master’s awl.
Such a stone would serve instead as instruction manual for building
pyramids & museums.

When the accipiter in its suicidal plummet snatches the finch,
what instrument measures the strum of the vibrating airs? Who sees
the God who plucks this lute?

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Going to the dogs? Damn right!

Yesterday was #WorldWaterDay but I didn't go out and dig a well or buy a canteen. Today is National Puppy Day and that's a much tougher challenge to resist. In past postings we've already introduced you to our (no longer) puppies: Franco and SiSi, each a "rescue" dog, although the rescuing goes both ways.

Franco, the Better Half's part border collie
Franco, the Better Half's part border collie
Photo by J. Harrington

SiSi, my part yellow Lab
SiSi, my part yellow Lab
Photo by J. Harrington

Franco has dedicated his life to raucously greeting anyone and everyone who approaches or enters the front door, no matter how well he knows them. He also does his best to keep the bird feeders safe from squirrels and the property unmolested by tigers, both of which actions require more raucousness. Fortunately, when not acting as a greeter or protector, he naps a lot.

SiSi may be the happiest and most energetic creature I've encountered, with the possible exception of Tigger in the Hundred Acre Wood. Hence, her name, Spanish for "Yes, Yes" meaning "I'm ready any time to try any thing. Let's go!"

Neither of our aged-out puppies has shown much interest in flowers, but those are one of the few things they don't regularly try to eat. Franco, in particular, shows a disconcerting interest in oak leaves, dead and dried. SiSi is a bit more discerning and frequently causes me to remember the prayer "Lord, help me to be the person my dog thinks I am." Despite occasional trials and tribulations, remember that puppies and dogs are one of our few sources, perhaps our only source, of unconditional love.

My Puppy Loves Flowers

By Bruce Lansky

My puppy’s in the garden.
He loves to smell the flowers.
To help them grow my puppy always
sprinkles them with showers.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Water is a key element for waterfowl, so please enjoy today's photo of some of the flocks stopping over at Carlos Avery this morning.

flocks of waterfowl over Carlos Avery water
flocks of waterfowl over Carlos Avery water
Photo by J. Harrington

In support of clean water, the good folks in Duluth, and thinking folks throughout Minnesota, have started #BuyDownstream, an effort to support businesses that oppose copper (sulfide) mining. Here's a link to the pledge you can sign to join that effort.

Two additional thoughts to share:
  • There should be a similar effort in southwestern Minnesota to support clean up of waters polluted by industrial agriculture, and

  • A statewide coalition of businesses committed to sustainable development, and those who support such businesses, makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe an organization like the Izaak Walton League or Trout Unlimited, together with the Land Stewardship Project and/or the Minnesota Environmental Partnership could help kick off something like that.
Finally, we extend our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families and friends of those murdered or wounded today in Brussels. To paraphrase Terry Tempest Williams, we, together with our allies, have to recommit ourselves to keep "Never Again" from becoming "Never, Again." Failure to protect our common resources, such as water and air and land, so they can support life, will only exacerbate sources of human conflict.

Museum of Tolerance

By Michael Miller

The shirtless man by the ticket counter
  has already broken the gloom here, his crowd
    of two boys and the cashier with the Star of David
      gathered around and mouthing astonishment

as he tells the tale behind every scar.
  Yes, this one on the side was from the camp—
     he tells them not to be shy to ask—
       when he tripped into the ditch

on the run after stealing cigarettes,
  the one on the knuckle from punching the soldier
   in the bar, brave with whiskey, a decade after.
     Touch it, he snarls, jutting out his fist.

That split a real Nazi’s lip.
  In the rooms behind him, the voices lay low
    but touch is the rule, the extended families
      passing in fours and fives as tight

as at church or the carnival. Are they
  all survivors here, dazed and exhilarated
    by the fate that dropped them so far from blight?
      A father heads the line, shirt fat with muscles

and a single proud thumb pushing the stroller;
  the woman and girl hug sideways, then again,
     tight as dancers in a row. At each display,
       the time lines and the whispered assurances

reiterate that what is done is done.
  Pol Pot is dead, the children of Kampuchea
    reading again to go to college; Rwanda
       has forgiven itself and opened supermarkets;

the ghettos are demolished, the Cold War won.
  Sudan, they skip. For now, the beasts are gone.
    They face the new life, the one after the mending,
      after the last mistakes were made.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

New beginnings

How do we know it's Spring? Ice is mostly out, buds are swelling on the local trees, and it's World Poetry Day!

maple buds swelling red
maple buds swelling red
Photo by J. Harrington
In honor of the latter, today's posting is about a book I started reading last week, a book of poetry by a non-American writer, Helen Macdonald, author of the wonderful, award-winning memoir H is for Hawk. I'm about half way through her Shaler's Fish volume and am frustrated and confused. I haven't yet been able to understand, interpret or "deep read" any of the poems in it. I have read enough poetry to be fairly certain it isn't just me, but, rather than simply put the book aside, I decided to double-check and did a Google search on "Shaler's Fish review". I was hoping to find something by Helen Vendler. No such luck. I did, however, find confirmation that it's not just my limitations affecting my enjoyment of the book. A blog, "Displacement," by the English poet Fiona Moore, writing about Shaler's Fish, uses phrases like "difficult, dense book, ... The poems’ fractured syntax, their language sometimes drawn from science, periodic archaisms and very unlinear shifts of thought made them hard to inhabit at first." Other reviewers expressed similar reactions. Moore further writes that re-readings haven't helped her to better understand the poems but that she doesn't think that's what difficult poetry is about.

I resisted an urge to end the prior sentence with an exclamation point or a question mark. Instead, I'm going to try taking it at face value and see if I can reach my own conclusion(s) on "what difficult poetry is about." Helen Macdonald's memoir contains some of the best writing I've ever read. I doubt that her poems, if they continue in the vein of Shaler's Fish, will ever attain anywhere near the level of popularity H is for Hawk has attained. In fact, if I had read Macdonald's poetry first, I might never have opened the cover of her memoir. But, I'm sufficiently enamored of both what she said and how she said it in "Hawk" that I'm going to "inhabit" the lines of Shaler's Fish and become familiar with its territory. I firmly believe in the need for accessible poetry but there's more than one way to cook a fish or "read" a poem.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with Minnesota. Admittedly, the relationship is a tenuous one but it's there. It goes like this. Spring is finally here in Minnesota. Spring in Minnesota is difficult for me to understand but Spring is a new beginning. Successfully engaging Shaler's Fish requires a new beginning and, at a minimum, will be a growth experience for me. Furthermore, Minnesota has some poets that I find difficult, or at least I find some of their works difficult. I can use Macdonald's poems as a training exercise in how to fillet a poem. Last, but not least, I live in Minnesota, write in Minnesota, and purchased Shaler's Fish at a Minnesota book store. That works for me. How about you?


By Carl Sandburg

THERE are no handles upon a language
Whereby men take hold of it
And mark it with signs for its remembrance.
It is a river, this language,
Once in a thousand years
Breaking a new course
Changing its way to the ocean.
It is mountain effluvia
Moving to valleys
And from nation to nation
Crossing borders and mixing.
Languages die like rivers.
Words wrapped round your tongue today
And broken to shape of thought
Between your teeth and lips speaking
Now and today
Shall be faded hieroglyphics
Ten thousand years from now.
Sing—and singing—remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
Any more than the wind
Blowing ten thousand years ago. 

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Meet Vern L. Equinox

Welcome, Spring! Nice to see you again! It's been awhile. Yesterday, we watched two sandhill cranes walk across a snow covered hillside. It was a lot like the old "picture of a ghost in a snow storm," since the cranes were in pale gray plumage. The last we saw of them, they looked like they were planning on using the lower level walkout door to enter a McMansion at the top of the hill.  Closer to home, the male purple finch below posed nicely for a portrait yesterday.

purple finch in oak
purple finch in oak
Photo by J. Harrington
Tomorrow is World Poetry Day and next month is National Poetry Month. Why the two don't overlap somehow is beyond me. Trying to keep poets organized is right up there with herding cats. I've been reading Terry Tempest Williams' Finding Beauty in a Broken World. It contains a number of quotations I love, including this one from Mary Midgley:
"When some portion of the biosphere is rather unpopular with the human race -- a crocodile, a dandelion, a stony valley, a snowstorm, an odd-shaped flint -- there are three sorts of human being who are particularly likely still to see point in it and befriend it. They are poets, scientists and children. Inside each of us, I suggest, representatives of all these groups may be found."
I can find inside me, most days, several representatives from each of those groups plus a number of others including juvenile delinquents, beatniks, hippies, red necks and some mongrel mixes. It make me think of E. B. White's wonderful observation:
"If the world were merely seductive," he noted, "that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."
Enjoy the unruly season. Feed the wild child within you.

True Myth

By Heid E. Erdrich

Tell a child she is composed of parts
(her Ojibway quarters, her German half-heart)
she'll find the existence of harpies easy
to swallow. Storybook children never come close
to her mix, but manticores make great uncles,
Sphinx a cousin she'll allow, centaurs better to love
than boys—the horse part, at least, she can ride.
With a bestiary for a family album she's proud.
Her heap of blankets, her garbage grin, prove
she's descended of bears, her totem, it's true.
And that German witch with the candy roof,
that was her ancestor too. If swans can rain
white rape from heaven, then what is a girl to do?
Believe her Indian eyes, her sly French smile,
her breast with its veins skim milk blue—
She is the myth that is true.

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

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Do Spring's weather spasms affect phenology?

skunk cabbage, April 2015
skunk cabbage, April 2015
Photo by J. Harrington

Even though tomorrow is the Vernal Equinox, I may yet this year get pictures of skunk cabbage poking through snow. This is what it looked like in the second week of April last year with the snow clearly gone. After we've already reached warm, Spring temperatures this year, admittedly unseasonable, our current "setback" into seasonal temperatures is very disappointing and the continuing cloud cover is exasperating. My memory may be faulty, it often is, but I remember Spring in my childhood days being a more consistent, less spastic progression than I've experienced during my adulthood in Minnesota.

the "wet spot" yesterday
the "wet spot" yesterday
Photo by J. Harrington

No photos of the rivers, but we'll report that local waters are running bank-full or slightly in spate. (Is that like "sort of unique?"). The back yard "wet spot" is full of water that, from day to day, may or may not be ice covered and is, on a good year, visited by woodies or mallards or Canada geese. Many of the waterfowl seen a week ago seem to have continued north, following open water emergence and the retreat of ice lines. Some, including tundra swans, appear to have settled in for Spring and Summer. The back yard pocket gopher(s) are becoming active again. Would that I had a magic wand to attend to them! Today's poem seems to nicely capture the restlessness of the season.


By Kim Addonizio

Watching that frenzy of insects above the bush of white flowers,   
bush I see everywhere on hill after hill, all I can think of   
is how terrifying spring is, in its tireless, mindless replications.   
Everywhere emergence: seed case, chrysalis, uterus, endless manufacturing.
And the wrapped stacks of Styrofoam cups in the grocery, lately
I can’t stand them, the shelves of canned beans and soups, freezers   
of identical dinners; then the snowflake-diamond-snowflake of the rug
beneath my chair, rows of books turning their backs,
even my two feet, how they mirror each other oppresses me,
the way they fit so perfectly together, how I can nestle one big toe into the other
like little continents that have drifted; my God the unity of everything,
my hands and eyes, yours; doesn’t that frighten you sometimes, remembering
the pleasure of nakedness in fresh sheets, all the lovers there before you,
beside you, crowding you out? And the scouring griefs,
don’t look at them all or they’ll kill you, you can barely encompass your own;
I’m saying I know all about you, whoever you are, it’s spring   
and it’s starting again, the longing that begins, and begins, and begins.

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

Friday, March 18, 2016

Can broken governnance fix broken climate?

This morning's snow-covered ground came as a surprise. I hadn't expected it to "flurry" that much last night. It's brought even more birds than usual to the feeders. It also made it easier this morning to spot the handful of whitetails as they headed through the gap (back behind the dwarf cedar in the middle of the photo). That's the first time in weeks, perhaps months, I've seen either deer or turkeys this Winter.

St. Patrick's Day is supposed to be green, not white
St. Patrick's Day is supposed to be green, not white
Photo by J. Harrington

A week or so ago we noted that the Legislative Auditor's Report on the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) was due to be released today. It's available here. These are the major findings:
"We found that the IRRRB has not adequately overseen the use and impact of loans and grants it awards. We also found that Giants Ridge, a resort owned by the IRRRB, has had a large and growing operating loss for many years. In addition, we concluded that the law that establishes the membership and powers of the IRRRB Board is vulnerable to a constitutional challenge."
If you add these findings to what's passing for a political primary season, providing platforms for race-baiters and apologists for the status quo, plus the refusal of the Republican-controlled Senate to do its job and hold hearings and a vote on a Supreme Court nominee, and the fact that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has a number of expired permits to process for mining operations, and the failure, across all levels of government, to protect the citizens, especially the children, of Flint Michigan, it should come as no surprise that the guardian newspaper has concluded that government in this country of ours is broken. That's a theme we've been articulating for some time now, particularly about the finding of "adequate" for what we consider to be a deeply flawed environmental impact statement for the PolyMet project and insufficiently aggressive responses to global warming.

If it weren't for the fact that billions of people are looking to the US for leadership in responding to the global warming climate challenge, and that Minnesota, which was noted for the quality of its governance, could, I believe, provide much improved leadership in a number of areas, I might not care. At the time I moved here, I consciously chose Minnesota, not Mississippi or Louisiana. It's getting harder to tell the difference, except for the snow we can get 11 months of the year. Maybe you think the answer to this list and similar items is to vote for those who promise to cut your taxes. Let me point out that will probably just cause China to laugh at us all the more.


By Dorianne Laux

When you’re cold—November, the streets icy and everyone you pass
homeless, Goodwill coats and Hefty bags torn up to make ponchos—
someone is always at the pay phone, hunched over the receiver

spewing winter’s germs, swollen lipped, face chapped, making the last
tired connection of the day. You keep walking to keep the cold
at bay, too cold to wait for the bus, too depressing the thought

of entering that blue light, the chilled eyes watching you decide
which seat to take: the man with one leg, his crutches bumping
the smudged window glass, the woman with her purse clutched

to her breasts like a dead child, the boy, pimpled, morose, his head
shorn, a swastika carved into the stubble, staring you down.
So you walk into the cold you know: the wind, indifferent blade,

familiar, the gold leaves heaped along the gutters. You have
a home, a house with gas heat, a toilet that flushes. You have
a credit card, cash. You could take a taxi if one would show up.

You can feel it now: why people become Republicans: Get that dog

off the street. Remove that spit and graffiti. Arrest those people huddled

on the steps of the church. If it weren’t for them you could believe in god,

in freedom, the bus would appear and open its doors, the driver dressed
in his tan uniform, pants legs creased, dapper hat: Hello Miss, watch

your step now. But you’re not a Republican. You’re only tired, hungry,

you want out of the cold. So you give up, walk back, step into line behind
the grubby vet who hides a bag of wine under his pea coat, holds out
his grimy 85 cents, takes each step slow as he pleases, releases his coins

into the box and waits as they chink down the chute, stakes out a seat
in the back and eases his body into the stained vinyl to dream
as the chips of shrapnel in his knee warm up and his good leg

flops into the aisle. And you’ll doze off, too, in a while, next to the girl
who can’t sit still, who listens to her Walkman and taps her boots
to a rhythm you can’t hear, but you can see it—when she bops

her head and her hands do a jive in the air—you can feel it
as the bus rolls on, stopping at each red light in a long wheeze,
jerking and idling, rumbling up and lurching off again.

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