Saturday, April 30, 2016

#phenology -- to market, to market

The St. Paul Farmers Market was right where we left it but the neighborhood has changed quite a bit. A combination of functioning LRT tracks, plus a new baseball stadium, plus more residential developments and Lenny Russo's Heartland make for a vibrant scene, unless the market's closed and nothings going on at the ball park. The promised warmer, sunnier weather was a no show and I was underdressed in a down vest instead of a coat.

St. Paul Farmers Market, downtown opening 2016
St. Paul (downtown) Farmers Market,  2016 opening
Photo by J. Harrington

Lots of asparagus, rhubarb, bedding plants and hanging baskets for sale, plus some early lettuce, potatoes and early season vegetable. If we lived in the city, it would offer a great taste of country. The trip from country to city raised interesting thoughts to ponder about markets and foodsheds and development patterns and density etc. We're fortunate to have farmers markets, community supported agriculture shares, food coops and some other local food system options. I'm not sure how the market for this system is defined or aggregated or what a minimum market (people, not vendors) size needs to be. Something to think about over the Summer and maybe dig into a little bit more.

growing goslings (June, 3rd week)
growing goslings (June, 3rd week)
Photo by J. Harrington

On the way home, we enjoyed this year's first sighting of Canada goose goslings. I haven't previously thought about the sequence that some, but not all, Canada geese arrive, lay eggs and have young'uns waddling about before the grosbeaks and tanagers arrive. The goslings above were photographed in the third week of June a couple of years ago. Songbird arrival probably has something to do with the  insect populations hatched, so hatchlings don't starve. "Bug" numbers are increasing by the week and we hope to see more song birds in a little while. Spring's progress is sporadic around here, but inexorable everywhere. "And the seasons, they go round and round..." {Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game}

Market Women’s Cries

By Jonathan Swift


         Come buy my fine wares,
         Plums, apples and pears.
         A hundred a penny,
         In conscience too many:
         Come, will you have any?
         My children are seven,
         I wish them in Heaven;
         My husband’s a sot,
         With his pipe and his pot,
         Not a farthen will gain them,
         And I must maintain them.


         Come, follow me by the smell,
         Here are delicate onions to sell;
         I promise to use you well.
         They make the blood warmer,
         You’ll feed like a farmer;
For this is every cook’s opinion,
No savoury dish without an onion;
But, lest your kissing should be spoiled,
Your onions must be thoroughly boiled:
         Or else you may spare
         Your mistress a share,
The secret will never be known:
         She cannot discover
         The breath of her lover,
But think it as sweet as her own.


         Be not sparing,
         Leave off swearing.
         Buy my herring
         Fresh from Malahide,
         Better never was tried.
Come, eat them with pure fresh butter and mustard,
Their bellies are soft, and as white as a custard.
Come, sixpence a dozen, to get me some bread,
Or, like my own herrings, I soon shall be dead. 

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

Friday, April 29, 2016

#phenology -- heading for real Spring?

Finally, today is sunny with blue skies. The rain that's fallen very consistently the past week or two should have done wonders for reducing Spring's grass fire dangers. I have no doubt it's also made the spring peepers and other breeding frogs quite happy, although the one pictured below seems to, like others of us, have had enough of the wet soggies and headed for higher ground. Presumably, at some point in the near future, MNDNR will decide it's wet enough around here to start issuing burning permits for Chisago County and points north. Then we'll be able to safely and legally reduce last year's brush pile to ashes. Meanwhile...

a spring peeper escaping Spring's wetness
a spring peeper escaping Spring's wetness
Photo by J. Harrington

Our local farmers market starts its Summer 2016 season this afternoon, so a stop may be in order. Then, tomorrow is the last day of National Poetry Month 2016 and Independent Bookstore Day. It's also opening day for the season at the St. Paul Farmers Market. I foresee a busy day ahead. Someday soon it may actually be warm enough to sit outside and read for awhile without the threat of frostbite or chilblains. Because this is Minnesota, I'm still recovering from a shock experienced, years ago, at finding several inches of snow in the bottom of my boat as we headed out for a midnight walleye opener on Mille Lacs early in mid-May. It's past time for us to be able to write an elegy to Winter weather.


Will you please hurry with your preparations?
We are freezing up north as you procrastinate
Like a rich lady with too many gorgeous outfits
To choose from, spending hours in front of
A mirror, trying them on and unable to decide,

While we trudge to the mailbox through wind
And snow, extract our unwilling fingers
From a glove to check if there’s a letter
From you, or just a bitty postcard, saying:
I’m leaving Carolina today, hurrying your way
With my new wardrobe of flowers and birds.

The tease! I bet she starts and forgets one of her
Hand-painted silk fans and has to go back,
While we stamp our feet and wipe our noses here,
Worrying the wood for the stove is running out,
The snow on the roof will bring the house down.


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

Thursday, April 28, 2016

#Phenology for the birds

Woods that a few days ago were bare-naked skeletons are finally beginning to fill out with leaves, the way a person recovering from a serious illness will then start to regain weight. This morning's snow shower reminded me to be grateful for the few days when it's not raining, or cloudy or cold or snowing. It's surprising that, since Minnesota is noted for Winters warming faster with climate change, there doesn't seem to be much carryover into Spring. The notes about more clouds and rain sure seem on target for Spring. One thing more noticeable this Spring, and it's not clear whether the change is real, that the leaves actually have a wider range of non-green colors, especially hints and tints of red, or imaginary.

leaves filling out bare trees
leaves filling out bare trees
Photo by J. Harrington
Another place more red seems to have recently appeared is at the bird feeders. The woodpecker count increased markedly during the past few days, including the reappearance of a red-bellied woodpecker that hasn't been seen for the past several months. A cardinal pair has taken to showing up a dawn, dusk and, recently, mid-day. Perhaps the increasing tree cover is making our feathered friends more bold. Still no sign of "Summer birds" such as rose-breasted grosbeaks or tanagers. Most likely another couple of weeks will bring them along.

red bird (male cardinal) at feeder
red bird (male cardinal) at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

The Trees


Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

#Phenology: think about connecting the dots

One of the things I most enjoy about phenology is that it causes me to think if I want to connect the dots. Most of my life I've been inundated with the idea that dandelions ruin lawns and need to be "treated" with an herbicide. I don't recall anyone mentioning that plain turf grass laws are a monoculture approaching a biological desert, unless you're raising sheep or goats and there are few of those in most suburban, or even exurban, neighborhoods. More recently I've learned that dandelions can be foraged and both the flowers and leaves eaten (wash thoroughly). Even more recently I've found out that dandelion flowers are early food sources for pollinators and other creatures we depend on to help produce food. I haven't yet checked out time lines between letting pollinators feed and feeding human foragers. It's almost like being back in kindergarten and learning to share in the sand box.

early Spring dandelion
early Spring dandelion
Photo by J. Harrington

Our local dandelions have emerged into bloom over the past day or so. None in view Monday, some today, and I don't remember seeing any yesterday buy couldn't swear they weren't there. Between dandelions and male gold finches, chrome yellow is starting to highlight the greens of Spring. The neighbor's apple tree's white blossoms and, not quite as far along, those on our pear tree, are also tempering the vermilion waves. Unfortunately, as I feared, it appears that the pocket gophers got the apple trees. Although I generally hate to kill a creature I don't intend to eat, I'll make exceptions for pocket gophers, if I can ever find their active tunnels.

male gold finches
male gold finches
Photo by J. Harrington

The Dandelion

Vachel Lindsay

O dandelion, rich and haughty,
King of village flowers!
Each day is coronation time,
You have no humble hours.
I like to see you bring a troop
To beat the blue-grass spears,
To scorn the lawn-mower that would be
Like fate’s triumphant shears.
Your yellow heads are cut away,
It seems your reign is o’er.
By noon you raise a sea of stars
More golden than before.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The #phenology of hope

Do you remember those Christmases when you were a child that you really, really hoped for a pony or a new bicycle from Santa? And the disappointment you felt when you ended up with new mittens and underwear? That's the kind of whiplash I feel almost every Spring in Minnesota. Extravagant and hopeful promises are dashed by a persistent reality that's chilly to downright cold, dreary, cloudy and damp. But each and every Spring I let my hopes rise, maybe this time it will be different. Sort of like Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football each Autumn.

lilac flower buds, early May last year
lilac flower buds, early May last year
Photo by J. Harrington

With today's thick overcast and temperatures barely above 40F, I find it really challenging to get enthused about looking for wildflowers. (Speaking of challenging, be sure to read Stephanie Hemphill's Efforts to restore wild rice in the St. Louis River face challenges. I have to take an extra blood pressure pill every time I read Governor Dayton's quote “U.S. Steel has made it very clear they’re not going to agree to a permit which has a standard of ten,”... Do you get perturbed when U.S. corporations refuse to follow existing laws and regulations and government sides with scofflaws?)

hummingbird at feeder, early May last year
hummingbird at feeder, early May last year
Photo by J. Harrington

I know warmer temperatures and wildflowers and returning songbirds and hummingbirds will come, just as Christmas does each year. Soon followed by hatching goslings and temperatures in the upper 80's or low 90's. Minnesota rarely seems able to put together the kind of weather I consider as Spring for more than a long weekend or so, between Winter's last snow fall and Summer's scorching humidity. Meanwhile, I'll put on an extra sweater and thick socks and keep the spare battery for the camera next to my body so it stays warm and charged. I'll also enjoy an extended chili season and the chance to bake several more loaves of bread before it gets to be too warm to turn on the oven. I may be becoming a naturalized Minnesotan. I'm learning to "make do" and enjoy it. It could be worse (and probably will be some day).

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

By Emily Dickinson

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

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

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

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Bearly there #phenology, seasonal surprises

Last night our neighborhood bear arrived uninvited, left tracks in the mud behind the screened patio, left mud prints on the patio screens, bent the bird feeder rod in front of the house and stole the seed feeder. That last one is a first around here. Other years we've found paw prints in early May, had a visitor at the front feeder midday in June and had the feeders on the back deck munched from on a hot August night. (It wasn't Brother Love's Travelin' Salvation Show, I'm sure.) This kind of "pattern" makes it hard to figure out when it's time to make seasonal adjustments. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources sent out an advisory this year in late March, about a month ago, that bears were becoming active. I don't mind the loss of the bird seed, but having an entire "Droll Yankee" feeder hauled off who knows where is a pain.

bear paw prints in mud
bear paw prints in mud
Photo by J. Harrington

muddy bear paw prints on screen
muddy bear paw prints on screen
Photo by J. Harrington

bent feeder rod with feeder missing
bent feeder rod with feeder missing
Photo by J. Harrington

Anyhow, as soon as I finish today's posting, I'll move the trash can into the garage for the Summer. I'll also start bringing in the remaining feeders each night to dissuade deck visits. Country living is an interesting combination of fascination and aggravation. But it makes it easier to keep track of seasonal developments like active bears and ferns fiddle-heading. While looking for the missing bird feeder, I noticed this years ferns today are about the height and level of unfurledness that they were in early April back in 2012.

fiddle headed ferns
fiddle headed ferns
Photo by J. Harrington

This makes me think about how many years it takes to develop patterns of what's "normal" and what's an outlier in phenology. More than one person's lifetime, even if that was all spent in one place, which seems true for fewer and fewer of us. That thought makes me wonder if there's any guidance on "quick and dirty" ways to get to know a place for non-tourists who may want to feel at home in a new locale. I've read my way through several books on Minnesota through the seasons, have lived here for more than a generation, and am still getting frequently surprised.

The Truro Bear

A poem by Mary Oliver

There’s a bear in the Truro woods.
People have seen it - three or four,
or two, or one. I think
of the thickness of the serious woods
around the dark bowls of the Truro ponds;
I think of the blueberry fields, the blackberry tangles,
the cranberry bogs. And the sky
with its new moon, its familiar star-trails,
burns down like a brand-new heaver,
while everywhere I look on the scratchy hillsides
shadows seem to grow shoulders. Surely
a beast might be clever, be lucky, move quietly
through the woods for years, learning to stay away
from roads and houses. Common sense mutters:
it can’t be true, it must be somebody’s
runaway dog. But the seed
has been planted, and when has happiness ever
required much evidence to begin
its leaf-green breathing?

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

'tis the season to green

Several times this past week, I've wondered why some local farm fields had such tall lumps of soil. Each time those soil lumps moved and magically became sandhill cranes. In most of the pictures I take, I try to be sure that the subject stands out from the background. I need to rethink that approach since it's not always accurate, such as with "soil lumps." There's a sandhill crane, maybe two, plus a tree stump, in the midst of the marsh grass in the photo below. They stand out more against the background than cranes foraging in plowed cornfields do. I'll see if the cranes and the weather and the farmers cooperate and try to get a photo of those tall lumps of dirt that become cranes.

one, or two, sandhill cranes plus a tree stump in marsh grass
one, or two, sandhill cranes plus a tree stump in marsh grass
Photo by J. Harrington

Fortunately, the rain we're getting helps "green up" the fields and reduce the danger of grass fires. It's also bringing the green back to the tamarack swamps we have in the neighborhood. Their soft green is incredibly pretty this early in the season. Some years ago, I picked up a little book of artist's colors.

the early Spring pale green of tamaracks
the early Spring pale green of tamaracks
Photo by J. Harrington

The shades of greens it lists that could match the tamaracks are:
  • saffron (I have no idea how "saffron" became "green")
  • lime
  • bright(green)
  • light (green)
  • yellow-green
  • cinnebar
few, if any, of which match the colors in this green color thesaurus that we've mentioned in previous postings here. Maybe poets, rather than visual artists, can help us sort out our colors. To start with there's D.H. Lawrence on Green or Laurie Allmann on The Color of a River.


D. H. Lawrence, 1885 - 1930

The dawn was apple-green,
The sky was green wine held up in the sun,
The moon was a golden petal between.

She opened her eyes, and green
They shone, clear like flowers undone
For the first time, now for the first time seen.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Wishes for Minnesota's best

From time to time, we've noted efforts (largely going on elsewhere) focused on making mining more sustainable and responsible. Somehow we missed, until this morning, this article published in the guardian. As I read it, the regulatory and environmental "wounds" suffered thus far in the the PolyMet NorthMet project development may be, much like the rest of the industry's, self-inflicted, due to "... poor planning, inefficient operations and rising water and energy prices, ...."
"The costs of developing and running mines have escalated mainly due to poor planning, inefficient operations and rising water and energy prices, according to the white paper. Disputes among mining companies and local communities and governments have posed a particular challenge, causing about $25bn worth of projects being delayed or suspended worldwide, Cutifani said earlier this year."
St. Croix River near Pine City
St. Croix River near Pine City
Photo by J. Harrington
Our interest in this issue has increased markedly now that the same PolyMet organization is exploring options practically in our back yard, in a watershed tributary to one of Minnesota's most cherished rivers, the wild and scenic St. Croix.

History has shown pretty clearly that even moderately well run mining operations can and do create environmental disasters. That helps explain why Minnesota's environmental community seems committed to preventing mining of copper or other non-ferrous metals from sulfide ores. In most instances I think that's responsible, but it may not always be a successful tactic. We'll see how the permitting for PolyMet's NorthMet project plays out.

As a potentially useful alternative, or complement, to stopping mining, I'd like to see Minnesota structure a demonstration of what responsible mining can be like at its best, rather than have a "developing country" take that lead and make lots of money showing others how to do it. We won't get there as long as we keep structuring mine permitting and environmental reviews as win-lose "gotchas." Sustainable living requires cooperation and collaboration. Instead, we have need for reassurance from members of Congress, representing decreasing but noteworthy numbers of constituents that are miners, about the intentions of a federal administration responsible for preserving and protecting our common natural resources from inappropriate development.

It all reminds me of what a wise man pointed out some years ago. He asked me if I wanted to spend my life being right or being married. By way of answer, I've been lucky to be married for a long time to someone who recently shared with me this quotation from Shakespeare, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his birth and the sad event in Chanhassen this week.
Now cracks a noble heart.—Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!—
To which we'd add these lyrics from our own sweet Prince:
Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
We are all in this thing together and we all, too often, act as if that weren't true. Perhaps that helps explain why so many of us aren't princes.


By Charles Wright

I wish I had the capacity
to see through my own death.
Some flash light, some force of flame
Picking out diamond points
of falling leaves and the river of stars.

This is the year I’m scraping the ice away from its sidewalks.
This is the year I’ve slid its shoes off.
This is the year I’ve started to keep it company,
and comb its hair.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Enjoy Earth, Day (by Day)

Earth, in our neighborhood, each year suffers through early Spring's labor pangs and is once again reborn. Leaves, emerging in more shades and tints of rich, pale green than we can name, now are not much larger than an infant's fingernails, offering sparse shade and much sunlight to the woods' floor, so wildflowers and bushes blossom in the understory and road sides. Locally this week, we've been blessed by the soft, gentle showers that will bring May flowers with unshattered petals.

Spring is Earth's rebirth
Spring -- Earth's rebirth
Photo by J. Harrington

country road treasures and pleasures
country road treasures and pleasures
Photo by J. Harrington
Some of the water drops will feed plants and trees where they fell. Others will flow across the land and into local ponds and streams. Still more will sink through soil and sand into the groundwater, feeding aquifers and wells and springs and seeps. Life's support comes from only four basic elements: earth, air, fire and water.

Today, Earth Day, is the day we honor and express our gratitude for the gifts of life they give us. One day is not enough. We depend on them and they deserve our thanks and gratitude, our honor and protection, on each day we breathe, drink, eat and are alive.

[Murmurs from the earth of this land]

By Muriel Rukeyser

Murmurs from the earth of this land, from the caves and craters,
       from the bowl of darkness. Down watercourses of our
       dragon childhood, where we ran barefoot.
We stand as growing women and men. Murmurs come down
        where water has not run for sixty years.
Murmurs from the tulip tree and the catalpa, from the ax of
        the stars, from the house on fire, ringing of glass; from
        the abandoned iron-black mill.
Stars with voices crying like mountain lions over forgotten
Blue directions and a horizon, milky around the cities where the
        murmurs are deep enough to penetrate deep rock.
Trapping the lightning-bird, trapping the red central roots.
You know the murmurs. They come from your own throat.
You are the bridges to the city and the blazing food-plant green;
The sun of plants speaks in your voice, and the infinite shells of
A beach of dream before the smoking mirror.
You are close to that surf, and the leaves heated by noon, and
        the star-ax, the miner’s glitter walls. The crests of the sea
Are the same strength you wake with, the darkness is the eyes
        of children forming for a blaze of sight and soon, soon,
Everywhere, you own silence, who drink from the crater, the
        nebula, one another, the changes of the soul.

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Water Action Week: Why a Water Ethic?

Even occasional readers of this blog are probably aware that I'm an unmitigated fan of Donella Meadows. I suspected she might have written some enlightening thoughts about water and water ethics. I was correct. If you want, take a moment and go read her essay: The Water is Someone’s Home. If you're pressed for time and just want to jump to her bottom line, here's what she writes about why we need a Water Ethic as well as water ethics.
"If we could see a watershed fully, we’d understand that a mine or clearcut at the headwaters is likely to bring down silt or poisons or floods upon the whole river. We’d never build on floodplains. We’d put a high value on wetlands for cleaning water, absorbing floods, postponing droughts, supplying fisheries. We would know that our water use exacts a cost, whether or not the market gives it a price, so we wouldn’t use water for trivial purposes. We would be utterly careful about what it contains when it leaves us. We’d treat water with as much reverence as our own blood, because that’s actually what it is — the lifeblood of the planet and of all the creatures that live here, including ourselves."
Basins in Minnesota
Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, 10 major river basins and 80 major watersheds, does not treat water with reverence! I've reached that conclusion based on last year's legislation that eliminated the independent citizen's board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, as described in Hannah Sayle's City Pages article, Big Ag is conquering Minnesota like a noxious, unkillable weed. I've reached that conclusion based on proposals by public agencies and the Minnesota Legislature to needlessly and expensively pump Mississippi River water into White Bear Lake. I've reached that conclusion based on the fact that Minnesota has, and has had for some time, a Water Sustainability Framework that seems to me to be conspicuous largely by its absence in legislative and executive strategies to "protect and serve" as guardians of Minnesota's water resources. Read the 2013 three year status report from the Water Resources Center.

St. Louis River entering Lake Superior at Duluth Harbor
St. Louis River entering Lake Superior at Duluth Harbor
Photo by J. Harrington

I believe I'm seeing, in almost every sector in Minnesota, massive failure to intrinsically value our water resource, a resource that is home to many fellow Minnesotans, depended on by all our flora and fauna. That makes me wonder why I should consider taking shorter showers, or turning off the water when I brush my teeth, or install a rain garden, or wash my car on the grass or fix a leaky faucet. Minnesota treats water as no more than a cheap commodity, except as it enhances property values as a "water feature" or an attraction for tourist anglers at places like Mille Lacs. We exhibit behaviors comparable to eating the seed corn or burning down the house to stay warm in Winter. We do need a Water Ethic, but it shouldn't start with citizen conservation. It needs to be based on our Water Sustainability Framework, which, if it hasn't been officially, needs to be adopted by the legislature, and actively used in decision-making by the executive agencies. Perhaps Governor Dayton could start by forming, if he hasn't already, a Water Cabinet, with representatives from each Minnesota government entity with responsibilities affecting or affected by water and from each of the state's Native American tribes. Otherwise, many Minnesotans may feel very foolish conserving water that's going to supply the next upstream CAFO or precious metals mine.We can create jobs protecting and restoring our environment and greening our economy but we need to stop trying to win a race to the bottom.


By Ralph Waldo Emerson

The water understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Elegantly destroy.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Water Week: Water Ethic, what's business' role?

I'm pleased Governor Dayton has opened the can of worms that contains a Water Ethic for Minnesota. I agree that society won't pay for the number of enforcement agents needed to have water suitable for fishing (and consuming the fish safely) and swimming (recreation in and on the water). There's a list of this we can do at this page of the governor's web site. I looked at that list several times this week before I noticed there's no listing for business. We have lists for people: parents, teachers and children, and land owners and farmers, but NO BUSINESS. I don't know why. Business is one of the largest users of water in Minnesota. Mining, in particular, is a major problem these days. Is business exempt from a Water Ethic? Does business only have to meet minimum permit requirements or, as all too often happens, be let off the hook by the legislature to help "create jobs?" That's not likely to lead to a successful Water Ethic and clean water for Minnesotans.

There are several green building programs available, including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the Living Building Challenge, Green Communities and Minnesota's own Sustainable Building Guidelines. Each has provisions for water conservation, managing stormwater, and minimizing or eliminating impacts on water quality. Do Minnesotans really think those who pay for the design, construction and operation of the built environment should be excluded from a Water Ethic? (By the way, where are cities and counties and green infrastructure? Where are the home builders who often complain about added costs limiting the market potential of their "product"?) Many major corporations have already recognized the advantage, and the necessity, of operating ever more sustainably, and making sure their supply chain is sustainable also. Why isn't there a defined role for "business" in our Water Action Week?

St. Louis River, downstream from PolyMet
St. Louis River, downstream from PolyMet
Photo by J. Harrington

An ethical action, as I understand it, goes beyond meeting minimum legal requirements, such as those contained in permits to mine and discharge polluted water. The mining sector is developing a program for "responsible mining" to help make mining more ethical and more legal. Why isn't the legislature insisting that mining operations in Minnesota participate in the development and use of those emerging standards, instead of approving $4 million to defend mining permits for the proposed PolyMet NorthMet project. Business as usual will not get Minnesota involved with a Water Ethic.

The United Nations has adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals and had a report written on how mining is affected by, and affects, each of those goals. There's no mention of that in the listing of what we can do.

Here's a quick explanation of why I'm so perturbed by what I see as shortcomings in the Water Ethic approach. We all know, I hope, that litter is unethical. Have you looked at the roadsides and trails recently? Railroads have recently been noted to be reluctant to share complete information on their hazardous materials procedures with local first responders. That strikes me as relying more on legality than ethics. For too many of us, ethics are important until something more important, such as convenience or money or power, is threatened by acting ethically. That's not right, that's just the way it is. That's why I think we need a transparent process, with all stakeholders, to agree on what we mean by a Water Ethic, and a monitoring process so that we can shun those who choose to be unethical. Here's another reason I'm so dubious about voluntary compliance. We've had a voluntary approach to agricultural pollution since before the 1972 Clean Water Act. Here's the quality report for agricultural waters. As mentioned above, the Minnesota legislature keeps trying to make it less onerous for mining companies in norther Minnesota by reducing water quality standards. Why can't Minnesotan's look to their elected leaders for ethical leadership? Finally, think about how ethical Exxon and other fossil fuel companies have been in response to the effects of and knowledge about climate change. I'm not against a Water Ethic, far from it, but I'm only prepared to relay on it to the extent I see positive changes to some of the hindrances outlined above.

Linda Pastan: Ethics

In ethics class so many years ago
our teacher asked this question every fall:
If there were a fire in a museum,
which would you save, a Rembrandt painting
or an old woman who hadn’t many
years left anyhow?  Restless on hard chairs
caring little for pictures or old age
we’d opt one year for life, the next for art
and always half-heartedly.  Sometimes
the woman borrowed my grandmother’s face
leaving her usual kitchen to wander
some drafty, half-imagined museum.
One year, feeling clever, I replied
why not let the woman decide herself?
Linda, the teacher would report, eschews
the burdens of responsibility.
This fall in a real museum I stand
before a real Rembrandt, old woman,
or nearly so, myself.  The colors
within this frame are darker than autumn,
darker even than winter — the browns of earth,
though earth’s most radiant elements burn
through the canvas. I know now that woman
and painting and season are almost one
and all beyond the saving of children.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Water Week: Minnesota's Water Ethic begins with the Ojibwe

One of my all-time favorite ideas comes from this quote by William Gibson: "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." I am reminded of it when I consider Governor Dayton's belief that Minnesota needs a water ethic and then read such stories as those of Ojibwe women's water walks.

Spring, St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington

On Sunday, April 10, about a week before the governor's kickoff of Minnesota's Water Action Week, Sharon Day, an Ojibwe Elder, hosted a Water Ceremony on the banks of the St. Croix River in Minnesota. The ceremony was one of several “Indigenous-led, extended ceremonies to pray for the water. Every step is taken in prayer and gratitude for water, our life-giving force.” Nibi (Water) Walks have also been conducted on the Mississippi, the Minnesota, and the St. Louis Rivers and around all the Great Lakes.

From Beth Dooley's book, In Winter's Kitchen, we learn:
The Anishinaabeg, writes Robin Kimmerer, "understand a world in which all beings were given a gift, a gift that simultaneously engenders a responsibility to the world. Water's gift is its role as a life sustainer and its duties are manifold: making plants grow, creating homes for fish and mayflies."
The Ojibwe are Anishinaabeg. We need to sing their water songs.

As a core element of Minnesota's water ethic, today's Minnesotans could and should recognize, reflect, and adopt the perspective of some of the first "Minnesotans," the Anishinaabeg -- Ojibwe, and their appreciation of the gifts the earth brings us through water.

We would do well to also include Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic because what happens on the land ends up in the water.
“A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of land.”

“We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in.”
As further proof that Minnesota's Water Ethic, like Gibson's future, is already here but unevenly distributed, we should include elements from Wendell Berry's Unsettling of America and his poems like this one:

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it...
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides...
The river will run
clear, as we will never know it...
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields...
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its reality.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Water Action Week, how to create a water ethic?

As proclaimed by Governor Mark Dayton, today is the kickoff of Water Action Week in Minnesota. The first suggestion of what we can do to help is to

1.     Learn About Your Water Quality – Learn more about the water around you, including the challenges facing our lakes, rivers, and clean drinking water systems, and the actions you can take to make a difference – because Minnesotans who understand the problems facing our waters will be better equipped and motivated to be part of the solution.

Sunrise River at Wyoming
Sunrise River at Wyoming
Photo by J. Harrington

The water around me flows through the Sunrise River watershed, a major tributary to the wild and scenic St. Croix River, which is a tributary of the mighty Mississippi. The water quality of the Sunrise is "impaired" by excess phosphorus, fecal coliform bacteria, and other pollutants. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA], working with a multitude of local agencies in the watershed, has drafted a plan to reduce those pollution loads. Comments provided by the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy identify a number of shortcomings in the draft plan and its background and the implementation strategies proposed. The US EPA approved the plan, including a response that "EPA believes that MPCA adequately addressed each of these [MCEA's] comments and updated the final TMDL with appropriate language to address these comments." There's no easy way I've found to compare draft versus final and see what changed.

Sunrise River, east of Stacy
Sunrise River, east of Stacy
Photo by J. Harrington

Years before I started writing this blog, I spent something like 25 years working in water quality and water wollution control planning, both in Massachusetts and in Minnesota. I have also been an active volunteer with local conservation organizations, particularly those emphasizing water quality. Based on that training and experience, I'm concerned that neither the Governor, nor the MPCA, will achieve the level of voluntary commitment to a "water ethic" to successfully protect Minnesota's water quality until or unless there is the equivalent of the famous "one page memo for the governor."

We need something that effectively summarizes the status of water quality, who's doing what, and, perhaps most importantly, what real world progress is, or is not, being made and why. Both professionally and personally I care about the environment, particularly water. But even I am not going to spend the time required to sort through reams and reams of electronic documents to find out what's going on in my own (relatively) small watershed. We desperately need an accepted "water ethic" if we're going to try to attain "fishable small, swimmable" waters. Citizen volunteers, I believe, need a clearer sense of where and how their actions fit into a bigger picture. The list below is the current picture of the Sunrise River as conveyed by MPCA's website. It represents a classic example of what's wrong with a voluntary approach melded onto a bureaucratic and regulatory framework. Reality may exist somewhere in the listing below, but it takes too long to find.

The TMDL report is 133 pages. EPA's approval letter is 37 pages. The WRAPS report another 80 pages. Really? Is this the way to motivate volunteers? How do all, or any, of the actions on the governor's announcement page relate to the reports and contacts listed below? How do we know we've become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I've read the "WRAPS" and some of the other reports. I don't recall seeing anything in these reports about turning off the water when I brush my teeth, oor thaking shorter showers. As former Senator Wellstone noted, "we all do better when we all do better," and I'd add, especially when we all know we're pulling in the same direction. This is the list of reports from which we're to try to "understand the problems," and a list of contacts, presumably involved who may, or may not, be able to help us.

TMDL report and implementation plan

WRAPS report

Other documents

Approved or other TMDLs in the watershed


Information contact

Christopher Klucas, Project Manager
520 Lafayette Rd
St. Paul, MN 55155

Going for Water

Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963

The well was dry beside the door,  
  And so we went with pail and can  
Across the fields behind the house  
  To seek the brook if still it ran;  
Not loth to have excuse to go,
  Because the autumn eve was fair  
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,  
  And by the brook our woods were there.  
We ran as if to meet the moon  
  That slowly dawned behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,  
  Without the birds, without the breeze.  
But once within the wood, we paused  
  Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,  
Ready to run to hiding new
  With laughter when she found us soon.  
Each laid on other a staying hand  
  To listen ere we dared to look,  
And in the hush we joined to make  
  We heard, we knew we heard the brook. 
A note as from a single place,  
  A slender tinkling fall that made  
Now drops that floated on the pool  
  Like pearls, and now a silver blade.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

What a difference a year makes

Peepers are peeping, toads are croaking (the good kind), buds are leafing, skies are blueing, Spring is springing its new beginning. While driving around today we saw a tiny turtle, probably painted, crossing the road. Yesterday's mole trapping was a failure for the trapper but a success for the mole. The flannel-lined jeans haven't yet been put away (we know better), although they are headed in that direction, since today's temperatures in the upper 70's are wildly different than two years ago when we were "enjoying" more than a foot of snow.

yes, that's 13" of snow, this date, two years ago
yes, that's 13" of snow, this date, two years ago
Photo by J. Harrington

Tomorrow or Wednesday we'll plan on getting back to William O'Brien and to check on whether the bloodroot and the marsh marigolds have bloomed yet. The photo below is from April 23 last year. There's so much happening, almost from hour to hour, it's hard to decide where to focus. I think I'll just relax and follow the transition between now and full Summer ennui.

51 weeks ago, bloodroot in bloom at William O'Brien
51 weeks ago, bloodroot in bloom at William O'Brien State Park
Photo by J. Harrington

Rock Me, Mercy

By Yusef Komunyakaa

The river stones are listening
because we have something to say.
The trees lean closer today.
The singing in the electrical woods
has gone dumb. It looks like rain
because it is too warm to snow.
Guardian angels, wherever you're hiding,
we know you can't be everywhere at once.
Have you corralled all the pretty wild
horses? The memory of ants asleep
in daylilies, roses, holly, & larkspur.
The magpies gaze at us, still
waiting. River stones are listening.
But all we can say now is,
Mercy, please, rock me.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Local's political limits

A Massachusetts politician, Tip O'Neil, who rose to become Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is famously reported to have once said "all politics is local." Although I am a strong supporter of local foods and local economies, and originated in Massachusetts, I have not the patience needed to spend a whole day with local democrats as they try to get themselves once again organized. That's why the Better Half is diligently suffering through participating in  our local DFL senate district convention today while I undertake transition seasonal chores, such as turning on the outside water faucet and checking to see which plants survived the Winter and the root eaters. I also replenished, at a nearby farm and garden supply store, our stock of sunflower seeds for the local birds. Mole repellent to protect last year's rose bushes was purchased along with a mole trap for any persistent tunnelers that ignore the repellent. New pocket gopher traps were added to the morning's acquisitions in a renewed effort to protect what's left of the apple tree roots. Hummingbird, and maybe oriole, feeders will get filled and hung today, although I don't really expect the arrival of users for another two or three weeks. That would be about the time of the conclusion of

national poetry month

In honor of both national and local poetry, I want to again share a wonderful discovery we made about a year ago, across the river in Wisconsin. We've posted these pictures once or twice before, but I think they're worth sharing again. I was reminded of them as we drove back from last night dinner at the WaterShed Cafe in nearby Osceola, WI.

does the red barn hold a red wheelbarrow?
does the red barn hold the red wheelbarrow?
Photo by J. Harrington

yes, the red barn holds "The Red Wheelbarrow"
yes, the red barn holds "The Red Wheelbarrow"
Photo by J. Harrington

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Living with nature

butterfly flower (Asclepias tuberosa)
butterfly flower (Asclepias tuberosa)
Photo by J. Harrington

There's a handful of butterfly flower seeds (Asclepias tuberosa) in potting soil in plantable containers in a tray in the yard.  I hope they are contemplating germination some day soon. (Remember that Judy Collins classic?) Let's be optimistic and assume we end up with half a dozen or more plants to be planted in "well-drained soil in full sun." We have plenty of spots around the yard area that meet those requirements, especially the well drained soils part, since we're on the Anoka Sand Plain. That also means we're home to more than a handful of pocket gophers, moles, and other subsurface critters that have consistently displayed a dismaying fondness for plant and tree roots. So, the question is: do we emphasize keeping our butterfly / pollinator garden more natural, and then, to keep some of it alive, devote time and energy to trapping gophers and moles, or do we go a more formal route, transplant the flowers into large planters (with no convenient Winter home for them) but anticipate less need for reducing our resident population of root eaters? Frankly, I'm puzzled that we haven't attracted more predators, such as hog-nosed snakes or occasional raptors that may happen upon a rodent while it's out of its tunnel on an excursion to eat a stem or flower, to attend to this matter on our behalf.

monarch butterflies on northern blazing star
monarch butterflies on northern blazing star
Photo by J. Harrington

Anyhow, it would seem that to successfully attract butterflies and other pollinators (no signs of even dandelions yet this Spring), one or more ways to protect the plantings and deter subsurface plant-eaters will be required. Rodent control then becomes part of gardening as we begin to see the outlines of a much broader self-organizing, emergent system. The next theng you know, we're studying permaculture. Whether we're undertake rodent trapping or not (pun intended), once again this year we'll also plant some blazing star and maybe some more swamp milkweed. For reasons that are unclear, unless it's simple competition from already established grasses and forbs or more predation by instead of of rodents, plantings over the past two years haven't been successful.

In the vein of survival, I remain really curious to see if the apple trees made it through the past Winter and any pocket gophers looking for a snack. The value of the Zen observation that "if nothing is done, nothing is left undone," is becoming more and more clear to me by the year. On the other hand, if you share with me the perspective that the anticipation of Christmas is much of the fun, then growing and planting and hoping are about as good as having a Christmas in Summer. If we didn't try, there'd be nothing to anticipate.

The Butterfly’s Dream

By Hannah F. Gould

A tulip, just opened, had offered to hold
   A butterfly, gaudy and gay;
And, rocked in a cradle of crimson and gold,
   The careless young slumberer lay.

For the butterfly slept, as such thoughtless ones will,
   At ease, and reclining on flowers,
If ever they study, ’t is how they may kill
   The best of their mid-summer hours.

And the butterfly dreamed, as is often the case
   With indolent lovers of change,
Who, keeping the body at ease in its place,
   Give fancy permission to range.

He dreamed that he saw, what he could but despise,
   The swarm from a neighbouring hive;
Which, having come out for their winter supplies,
   Had made the whole garden alive.

He looked with disgust, as the proud often do,
   On the diligent movements of those,
Who, keeping both present and future in view,
   Improve every hour as it goes.

As the brisk little alchymists passed to and fro,
   With anger the butterfly swelled;
And called them mechanics – a rabble too low
   To come near the station he held.

‘Away from my presence!’ said he, in his sleep,
   ‘Ye humbled plebeians! nor dare
Come here with your colorless winglets to sweep
   The king of this brilliant parterre!’

He thought, at these words, that together they flew,
   And, facing about, made a stand;
And then, to a terrible army they grew,
   And fenced him on every hand.

Like hosts of huge giants, his numberless foes
   Seemed spreading to measureless size:
Their wings with a mighty expansion arose,
   And stretched like a veil o’er the skies.

Their eyes seemed like little volcanoes, for fire,—  
   Their hum, to a cannon-peal grown,—
Farina to bullets was rolled in their ire,
   And, he thought, hurled at him and his throne.

He tried to cry quarter! his voice would not sound,
   His head ached – his throne reeled and fell;
His enemy cheered, as he came to the ground,
   And cried, ‘King Papilio, farewell!’

His fall chased the vision – the sleeper awoke,
   The wonderful dream to expound;
The lightning’s bright flash from the thunder-cloud broke,
   And hail-stones were rattling around.

He’d slumbered so long, that now, over his head,
   The tempest’s artillery rolled;
The tulip was shattered – the whirl-blast had fled,
   And borne off its crimson and gold.

’T is said, for the fall and the pelting, combined
   With suppressed ebullitions of pride,
This vain son of summer no balsam could find,
   But he crept under covert and died.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.