Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Au revoir, Spring #phenology

I hope you all had a pleasant and memorable Memorial Day holiday. Today, the last day of meteorological Spring, saw the first yellow goat's beard flowers in bloom. Farther down, along a less frequently traveled side road, wood anemone and red clover were blooming abundantly. (Changes along less frequently traveled roads are more readily noticeable, but it's difficult to impossible to note first occurrences unless a road or path is traveled daily.)

roadside yellow goat's beard
roadside yellow goat's beard
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning the Better Half and I  headed for the St. Croix River Visitors Center to see the art exhibit before it moved on. I'm glad we did. The Center is worth a visit if you're in the neighborhood of Taylors Falls | St. Croix Falls, whether there's a special art exhibit or not. In fact, I'm looking forward to doing some sitting and sunning and writing there during the Summer and Autumn.

roadside red clover
roadside red clover
Photo by J. Harrington

Corn is about hand-high in most of the fields we drove by. They looked like they were covered in short, green fur. In our back road wandering, we discovered several of the "solar farms" being developed in our county. Pictures will be forthcoming when it's less scattered showery, in hopes sunshine will do something to make solar farms more photogenic. One field we saw was just full of metal posts sticking up looking like a vineyard from hell. I'll be curious to see if there are any reflection issues along surrounding roads as development proceeds and PV panels get installed.

roadside Canada anemone
roadside wood Canada anemone
Photo by J. Harrington

The fact that we've lived in the St. Croix Valley for several decades, and I had yet to get around to visiting the St Croix Visitors Center until today reminded me that, despite having been born and raised in Boston, I hadn't visited Old Ironsides until I was in my 20's and some out of town visitors wanted to go see it. Ephemeral wildflowers and seasonal migrations are best experienced in the brief period when they occur. Because some treasures are "always there," should we take them for granted and get to them only when we have nothing better to do? Not if we're wise. I, for one, am still working on that long-standing problem of getting "too soon old and too late smart." There's still much to learn and enjoy about the place I've called home for much of my adult life.

A River

By John Poch

God knows the law of life is death,
and you can feel it in your warbler neck,
your river-quick high stick wrist
at the end of day. But the trophies:
a goldfinch tearing up a pink thistle,
a magpie dipping her wing tips
in a white cloud, an ouzel barreling
hip-high upstream with a warning.
You wish you had a river. To make
a river, it takes some mountains.
Some rain to watershed. You wish
you had a steady meadow and pink thistles
bobbing at the border for your horizons,
pale robins bouncing their good postures
in the spruce shadows. Instead, the law
of life comes for you like three men
and a car. In your dreams, you win them over
with your dreams: a goldfinch tearing up
a pink thistle. A magpie so slow
she knows how to keep death at bay,
she takes her time with argument
and hides her royal blue in black.
Shy as a blue grouse, nevertheless God
doesn’t forget his green mountains.
You wish you had a river.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, May 30, 2016

When does a reptile cross the road? #phenology

I've read that one of the hardest things to notice is what's missing from a picture. Often, I've experienced that myself. This year, reptiles have been missing from the picture more than they have been other years.

road-crossing snapping turtle (5/30/14)
road-crossing snapping turtle (5/30/14)
Photo by J. Harrington

So far, I've seen only a few small turtles, most likely painted, crossing the local roads. I've yet to see, or receive a report of, any snakes active in the area. I don't mean to suggest that all the snakes and turtles left town, only that by this time of year I've usually seen a hognose or bull snake along the gravel road and one or more snapping turtles on her way to lay eggs. I'm not pleased that they seem to be missing, but am grateful that I've noticed their absence.

The Adventures of a Turtle

By Russell Edson

The turtle carries his house on his back. He is both the house and the person of that house.
         But actually, under the shell is a little room where the true turtle, wearing long underwear, sits at a little table. At one end of the room a series of levers sticks out of slots in the floor, like the controls of a steam shovel. It is with these that the turtle controls the legs of his house.
         Most of the time the turtle sits under the sloping ceiling of his turtle room reading catalogues at the little table where a candle burns. He leans on one elbow, and then the other. He crosses one leg, and then the other. Finally he yawns and buries his head in his arms and sleeps.
         If he feels a child picking up his house he quickly douses the candle and runs to the control levers and activates the legs of his house and tries to escape.
         If he cannot escape he retracts the legs and withdraws the so-called head and waits. He knows that children are careless, and that there will come a time when he will be free to move his house to some secluded place, where he will relight his candle, take out his catalogues and read until at last he yawns. Then he’ll bury his head in his arms and sleep....That is, until another child picks up his house....

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

What's nature's pattern language? #phenology

It's slowly starting to sink in that having calendars on which "Spring" starts, and "Winter" ends, on a given date is as misguided as ending "Spring" and starting "Summer" on some other date about three months later. The same perspective applies to all the other seasons regardless of whether we're using astrological or meteorological starts and end dates. Perhaps you're better at taking things less literally than I do and so are less inclined to experience events and weather conditions as seasonal or unseasonal. I need to retrain myself to consider the starts and finishes of seasons as being painted with a very broad brush rather than demarked with an extra-fine black line.

a color mix of dame's rocket flowers
a color mix of dame's rocket flowers
Photo by J. Harrington
Perhaps even better would be if I could keep in mind the way pointillist painters portray a scene or a face. Each day in a season becomes a dot of a different shade. Or, if I regularly remembered how those who create mosaics use different shapes and colors, sometimes contrasting, to provide a readily comprehended scene that gets lost if the individual pieces become the focus. That's the way seasons develop and fade, the way flowers bud-burst, get pollinated and slowly turn to fruit and seeds.

This enhanced perspective was triggered this morning after I finished reading William Gibson's novel The Peripheral. His writing style is based on sequencing series after series of short chapters that take the place of pointillist paint dots or mosaic tile pieces. Only after enough chapters have been read does a plot and a story arc and a cast of characters begin to come into focus. I discovered if I focus too much on any one character of the event(s) in any particular chapter that I loose the forward movement of the broader story. This all reminds me of the consistent challenge I have with photography and my desire to simultaneously have a noticeable depth of field and the focus on a single point of interest. Christopher Alexander called our attention to Pattern Language. Computer programmers found that useful for object oriented programming. I suspect there's much to be gained by seeing where a pattern language approach to phenology can take us. It's easy to remember that "nature abhors a vacuum" and "there are very few straight lines in nature." Each of those is phrased as a negative. I think it's time to further explore the question of "how can we learn what nature needs from us?"

Mosaic Me

by Sophia Tait

The world is changed when seen through
A mirror, smashed and cracked. The view
Is broken. I can only see
A jigsaw puzzle;
Mosaic me.
I look into a broken face,
Patterned, lined across, like lace,
And now my eyes stare back at me,
Stare right back at
Mosaic me.
My bedroom is cracked straight through,
The walls, the floor, the windows too,
Yet when I look around I see,
A normal world. No
Mosaic me.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Transitional pause #phenology

Do you remember Longfellow's poem The Children's Hour? It starts
"Between the dark and the daylight,
      When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations, ..."
Such a pause seems also to fit May's transition into June this year, if today's weather is any measure. Most of the day has been covered by flat, gray clouds that appeared above the the early morning mist and stayed after it faded. The cool light, plus cool, damp weather creates a general level of apparent inactivity accompanied by a sense of suspended animation or Twilight Zone atmosphere. There isn't enough dark grey for the sky to be considered brooding, more like pensive, I think, while it wonders if it can muster enough energy to actually storm. It's even less clear whether the atmosphere is projecting its moods onto me, or vice versa.

Minnesota Wildflowers in bloom
from Minnesota Wildflowers data

Despite hum-drum weather, hairy vetch in the ditch joins its relatives in our fields in adding purple splashes to the yellow starbursts of hoary puccoon. The beardtongue buds look like they're ready to burst into pink blooms as soon as we, and they, get a few days of sun and warmth. Next month brings a long list of new wildflowers into bloom, almost twice as many as we saw in May. A "breather" amidst bursts of frenetic blooming and hatching is perfectly understandable. I've been known to take one or two myself.

Heavy Summer Rain 

By Jane Kenyon

The grasses in the field have toppled,
and in places it seems that a large, now
absent, animal must have passed the night.
The hay will right itself if the day

turns dry. I miss you steadily, painfully.
None of your blustering entrances
or exits, doors swinging wildly
on their hinges, or your huge unconscious
sighs when you read something sad,
like Henry Adams’s letters from Japan,
where he traveled after Clover died.

Everything blooming bows down in the rain:
white irises, red peonies; and the poppies
with their black and secret centers
lie shattered on the lawn.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

You look vetching in bloom #phenology

In a few hours, it'll be the start of this year's Memorial Day Weekend. I hope yours is a source of joy and wonderful memories for future years. We've limited plans although we may look into a brush pile bonfire if MNDNR is issuing permits.

whitetail doe in the "back yard"
whitetail doe in the "back yard"
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday, we watched a doe, no fawns, wander through the back yard and head straight for where I had just planted butterfly-weed and whorled milkweed. Now, I can't be sure that's precisely what she was hoping to nibble on, but I also believe in precautionary measures. From the deck, we yelled at her, several times, before she decided to raise a flag and take three or four bounds to the edge of the woods. Once inside the trees, she slowed to a dignified walk and picked her way to quieter quarters. Then I took the deer repellent sprayer from the garage and sprayed the entire area where I had planted our "pollinator garden." Of course, it then rained last night and today, so we'll reapply more repellent when things dry out a little.

hairy vetch in bloom
hairy vetch in bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

While spraying, I saw this year's first hint of purple blossoms from the hairy vetch. (Maybe that's what the doe was headed for, maybe not.) Still no signs of orioles or tanagers this year, but the tree frogs have been sounding off gleefully with the wet weather we've had this week and ruby-throated hummingbirds continue to visit the "oriole" feeder. I'm going to enjoy the flora and fauna we do have, instead of fretting about those missing. A practice I can stand to apply to other parts of life too.

XII. The Oriole's Secret.

To hear an oriole sing
May be a common thing,
Or only a divine.

It is not of the bird
Who sings the same, unheard,
As unto crowd.

The fashion of the ear
Attireth that it hear
In dun or fair.

So whether it be rune,
Or whether it be none,
Is of within;

The "tune is in the tree,"
The sceptic showeth me;
"No, sir! In thee!"

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Spring slides into Summer #phenology

Soon it will be June 1st, start of meteorological Summer. This week's thunderstorms plus this morning's sun and an eruption in the back yard of purple dame's rocket blooms, accompanied by bees and dragonflies (mostly four-spotted skimmers I believe) makes me, for now, a believer more in meteorologists than astronomers. If you're interested, here's an explanation of why we have two+ definitions of seasons.

dame's rocket (with a few columbine)
dame's rocket (with a few columbine)
Photo by J. Harrington

four-spotted skimmer on dame's rocket
four-spotted skimmer on dame's rocket
Photo by J. Harrington

four-spotted skimmer on twig
four-spotted skimmer on twig
Photo by J. Harrington

The folks at Journey North have just started to report monarch butterfly sightings in Minnesota, so that may have been what flitted past me yesterday that looked like a monarch. Maybe our recently planted milkweeds will be of some use to our arriving migrants from the south. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency just emailed a useful piece on Planting natives for beauty & biodiversity. If you read this blog with any regularity, you probably knoI'm a firm believer in local food, local economies and indigenous flora and fauna and peoples so I know dame's rocket is nonnative and even considered invasive by some although I couldn't find it listed on MNDNR's Invasive Terrestrial Plants list nor on MNDOT's Noxious Weed list.

Minnesota could, I believe, do its citizens and its environment a fair amount of good if it consolidated the listings from its departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Transportation and whoever else may have any sort of jurisdiction over invasive species. The kind of problems that can arise from lack of coordination among public agencies is clearly reflected in today's article on Mesabi Academy and the failure of public oversight. Also, as noted previously in postings on My Minnesota, some of us believe Minnesota has way too many public entities responsible for water and not one entity responsible for coordination and oversight.

The Human Seasons

By John Keats

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

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

No more "Not Me!"

I came across some really good news this morning, at least I think it is and I'd like to see more of it. There's a farmer in Iowa who's experimenting with ways to improve his yield, reduce his input costs and the pollutant load carried by the water leaving his farm land. According to the story I read (follow the link above)
"He's already figured out that in his experimenting corn fields he's getting 15 more bushels per acre and it's costing him only $15 an acre, a fraction of more conventional options."
conventional cornfields can cause cloudy creeks
conventional cornfields can cause cloudy creeks
Photo by J. Harrington

This news was followed by some potentially good news from Governor Dayton's office, that Land O'Lakes will work with the state to establish a public-private partnership to implement better water quality practices on members' farms. I'm looking forward to deleting "potentially" when I see the details.

can cover crops create clearer creeks?
can cover crops create clearer creeks?
Photo by J. Harrington

It's good to see some positive movement instead of just reading about farmers pointing fingers at others saying the infamous "Not Me!," as sometimes found in The Family Circus and my own family when I was younger. In fact, I've noticed that the N- M- gremlin occasionally visits our house today, even though it's now inhabited by four supposed adults. Anyhow, if you look at the status of water quality in this country, it's clear that a, perhaps the, remaining source of pollution comes from agriculture (along with mining) and that we're not going to have "fishable-swimmable" waters until pollution from farms and mines is greatly reduced. That's not going to happen while farmers join climate change deniers by saying either "what problem?" or "we didn't do it."

I think we need, and believe we absolutely must have, a change in perspective and philosophy when it comes to producing our food and other feedstocks. We can no longer permit a perceived need by farmers or miners or loggers to be the lowest cost producer drive our political decision making. Having mine owners lobby our elected officials, instead of or even in addition to working with the professional staff of the relevant agencies, fails my idea of a transparency test. We deserve better from those we elect but we won't get better environmental quality, quality of life or political decisions unless we hold them accountable the bet way we can. Vote for those committed to protecting our environment. Quite literally, our lives depend on it. If miners, (industrial) farmers, and others in extractive industries were more responsible and proved themselves trustworthy, we might not need to push to prohibit some of their activities that have proven to destroy sensitive resources we're trying to protect because we depend on them, you know, like breathable air and drinkable water. There's a saying I learned back when I was a practicing planner: "More of the same never solved a problem." I'd much rather be writing about birds and bees and flowers and fishing but that all depends on the same environment we do, and, well, go read The Lorax, especially the last two stanzas.

2008, XII

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…
Hosea 4:6

We forget the land we stand on
and live from. We set ourselves
free in an economy founded
on nothing, on greed verified
by fantasy, on which we entirely
depend.  We depend on fire
that consumes the world without
lighting it.  To this dark blaze
driving the inert metal
of our most high desire
we offer our land as fuel,
thus offering ourselves at last
to be burned. This is our riddle
to which the answer is a life
that none of us has lived.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What will Minnesota settle for?

Today is the 75th birthday of a Minnesotan of my Generation. Happy Birthday Mr. Dylan. Thank you for sharing your phenomenal talent. Thinking about him and the recently ended session of the Minnesota legislature triggered a recollection of one of his wonderful songs, Ballad of a Thin Man, especially the refrain:
"Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?"
After seeing the train wrecks that the end of the 2015 and 2016 sessions produced, I think it's clear that Minnesotans have elected too many "Mr. Jones" and that much of what's called "political leadership" is clearly in over its collective head.

Those assessments don't come easily. But, if we are not to attribute to maliciousness what can be accounted for by limited vision, we have to ask ourselves what vision, if any, our legislature has been trying to achieve. Are enough of the members, especially the leadership, focused on a Minnesota future that extends beyond their next election?

Minnesota's GHG trend

According to the Regional Indicators Initiative,
"...if the RII cities continue to follow current trends, their GHG emissions from energy, VMT, and waste will increase. It also shows the rate of change necessary to meet the statewide target established by the Next Generation Energy Act (NGEA) of a 40% reduction of GHG emissions by 2030, using 2005 as a baseline. This target is based on total GHG emissions; therefore, since the population is expected to continue growing, each person must reduce their emissions at the even steeper rate of 49%."
 I don't understand how some legislators think that responsible reductions in GHG emissions from transportation are going to be attained if we don't fund light rail and other transit improvements. Perhaps they believe, like the presumptive Republican nominee for president, that global warming and climate change are all a "con to help Chinese manufacturing." (That same presumptive nominee is, of course, now in the midst of trying to protect his golf course in Ireland from rising sea levels caused by ...?) Maybe they believe we'll all be driving Teslas or Leafs by 2030 and our grid will all be supplied by renewable energy? I just wish they'd share with us what their vision of Minnesota's future is. We have a chance to learn as part of the upcoming election process, so we might want to read this piece about To build a better future, we must imagine ourselves there and use it as a basis for talking with those who will be asking for our votes. If they don't have good answers, whether or not they're what we want to hear, we must consider our options.

A contemporary of Bob Dylan's, and a great singer in her own right, Janis Joplin, expressed a telling insight that we should keep in mind as we consider whose vision to support in the upcoming elections. She said, in a last interview before her tragic death, You are what you settle for. You are only as much as you settle for. Do we Minnesotans believe we deserve a better future than we have?Do we deserve better governance than we've already received the past two years, or should we settle for chaos and continuing unfinished business because it's "good enough for us?"

Minnesota's Impaired Waters

Remember, if Lake Wobegon is on much of Minnesota's prairie, her above average children shouldn't swim in the lakes and streams because they're too polluted. Then again, we're now looking at risking our world-class "up north" Boundary Waters heritage for limited mining employment. Isn't it about time we elect politicians, all of whom will need to be above average, to help us create a future we'll be proud to hand over to our own above average children?

Vision Test

By Patricia Kirkpatrick

The brain, like the earth, lies in layers.
Floaters dart and punch. I see the field.
My face stays numb. Keep your eye on the target.
Click the button when a light appears.
Last night I read “So little evidence is left
of what had vanished.” I can’t always follow directions.
The tumor pressed a lobe, charging
the amygdala, emotional core of the self.
In school they taught us that soil covers core
and mantle; mythology explains creation
and change. Now age drapes childhood;
my hair, the incision. I see a light but forget
to click. I didn’t remember dreams for a year.
How I’ve changed may not be apparent.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Does Minnesota have #phenology folklore?

The legislative session, such as it was, is over. The breezes are out of the South. Clouds are piling up. The temperature is in the mid-70s. It's (un)officially steamy and summery, even if not yet officially Summer. The number of dragonflies flying is increasing. More and more columbine flowers are blooming. Bees visit their down-hanging flowers. Swallowtail butterflies are checking out various plants. If it weren't for the aforementioned breezes, I'd be somewhere "standing in a river, waving a stick" as John Gierach writes, but 15 to 20 mph breezes make fly-fishing more annoying than fun.

bee in pansy
bee in pansy
Photo by J. Harrington

Meanwhile, I've discovered that watching the bees (not as large as bumblebees, but larger than honeybees) climb up into the columbine flowers is done more comfortably looking out from a downstairs window than looking up while lying prone in the garden. Probably another sign of old age and, maybe, some wisdom finally sinking in. The other thing I've learned from experience is that the breezes we're enjoying aren't conducive to getting in-focus photos of flowers while they're being blown about.

lilac leaves way larger than mouse's ear
lilac leaves way larger than mouse's ear
Photo by J. Harrington

Looking at the dates on past year's pictures of hoary puccoon and columbine, I can be certain that specimens of each have bloomed in May and June. It appears that they may often precede but overlap with beardtongue (Penstemon grandiflorus). At least that's the way my photos tell the story. On the other hand, I'm starting to suspect I'm being too rigid with this "what blooms before what sequencing." It's not like the 25 Days of Advent, is it? I remember from my Massachusetts' days it was time to look for striped bass in Cape Cod Bay when lilac leaves were the size of a mouse's ear, or something like that. (I learned that a year when I was living somewhere with no lilac bushes handy.) It probably would do me some good to do a little more research on phenology folklore for Minnesota.


By Dean Young

You shouldn’t have a heart attack
in your 20s. 47 is the perfect time
for a heart attack. Feeding stray shadows
only attracts more shadows. Starve a fever,
shatter a glass house. People often mistake
thirst for hunger so first take a big slurp.
A motorboat is wasted on me even though
all summer the pool was, I didn’t
get in it once. Not in it, not in it
twice. A dollhouse certainly isn’t wasted
on a mouse both in terms of habitation
and rhyme. Always leave yourself time
to get lost. 50 cattle are enough
for a decent dowry but sometimes a larger
gesture is called for like shouting
across the Grand Canyon. Get used to
nothing answering back. Always remember
the great effects of the Tang poets,
the meagerness of their wine, meagerness
of writing supplies. Go ahead, drown
in the moon’s puddle. Contusions
are to be expected and a long wait
in ICU under the muted TVs advertising
miracle knives and spot removers.
How wonderful to be made entirely
of hammered steel! No one knows why
Lee chose to divert his troops to Gettysburg
but all agree it was the turning point
of the Civil War. Your turining point
may be lying crying on the floor.
Get up! The perfect age for being buried
alive in sand is 8 but jumping up 33, alluding
to the resurrection, a powerful motif
in Western art but then go look at the soup cans
and crumpled fenders in the modern wing:
what a relief. Nearly 80% of the denizens
of the deep can produce their own light
but up here, we make our own darkness.

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Beauty, and a beast

Yesterday, and again this morning, neighborhood fields were shrouded in sheets of ground fog. A fierce, tiger orange sun rose to dryve those mists from the cool, early daybreak air. Perhaps "red sun in morning, sailors take warning" has an exemption for sunrises that are more orange than red. We've enjoyed warm, breezy, dry weather both yesterday and today. More and more of the hoary puccoon plants are showing yellow every day. Although the calendar still says Spring, the weather pattern is starting to feel Summerish.

mist at dawn
mist at dawn
Photo by J. Harrington
As I sit on the patio, watching dragonflies and songbirds drift about on or through the breeze, I'm focused on enjoying the moment rather than getting too upset about what those we elected are doing to us in St. Paul. They'll probably just blame it all on the Blue Moon we had last night, or, perhaps we need to be sure legislative sessions end while weather is still unsettled. The legislators (and more of us) may all be experiencing a Turn Down Day as our weather warms after a weary night of full moon negotiations.

To the Moon [fragment]

Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792 - 1822

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing Heaven, and gazing on the earth,
   Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,—
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

A time to plant... a time to... so? #phenology

The failed germination of butterfly-weed seeds has been redeemed by a dozen purchased seedlings and augmented by a couple of whorled milkweed plant clusters. I can't bring myself to spray deer repellent on seedlings so we'll take our chances for at least a few weeks.

Butterfly-weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Photo by J. Harrington

The vendors at Chisago City Farmers Market didn't have any butterfly-weed plants, nor did Alternative Landscapes. Prairie Restoration in Scandia had a few flats of seedlings that are maybe a couple of weeks old. Now that a double handful or so have been planted, we can consider the forecast for rain next week a promise rather than a threat. I'm really looking forward to seeing splashes of bright orange later this year or next.

Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canescens)
Photo by J. Harrington

While transplanting the last few butterfly-weed seedlings, I noticed that the native hoary puccoon is starting to show streaks of yellow. There are also some other interesting looking plants on the sidehill where we installed the "monarch garden" but I'll have to wait to see what, if any, flowers emerge before I try to identify them. I struggle to name most wildflowers while they are flowering, let alone when I'm looking at only stalks and leaves. Beardtongue, yes, because I've seen it in all seasons for several years now. Dandelions too, because I've see them just about all my life. There are a few on the list, and each year I get to add one or two, just like most years we find one or two more "hot spots" for seeing Spring ephemerals. Learning about and planting wildflowers helps temper my long-standing goal orientation with unaccustomed patience. I can't learn it all at once from books and I can't make plants flower where and when I want them too. I can read more of Kay Ryan's poetry.


Kay Ryan, 1945

Patience is
wider than one
once envisioned,
with ribbons
of rivers
and distant 
ranges and 
tasks undertaken
and finished
with modest 
relish by
natives in their 
native dress.
Who would 
have guessed
it possible 
that waiting
is sustainable—
a place with 
its own harvests.
Or that in 
time’s fullness
the diamonds 
of patience
couldn’t be 
from the genuine 
in brilliance
or hardness.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

A Few of My Favorite Things

Last night's opening of A Few of My Favorite Things went well. Here's a sampling of the exhibits:
jewelry and textile art
jewelry and textile art
Photo by J. Harrington

oil painting
oil painting
Photo by J. Harrington

Photo by J. Harrington

photo painting
photo painting
Photo by J. Harrington

Photo by J. Harrington
There were other genres in the show. I read one of my poems, Prairie Grasses, an earlier version of which is available on YouTube (follow the link). The exhibit will be up for awhile, so if you're in the neighborhood...

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

#phenology -- current, free, natural and artistic seasonal events (not that the arts are unnatural)

Many of my favorite things happen each Spring, and each year seems to bring something new to the mix. As this is being written, the weather is starting to mix it up a little. Cumulus clouds with grey bottoms are drifting by. Sunshine is being covered up. We may get some needed showers this afternoon or evening. If it doesn't storm too strongly, and you're looking for something new to add to your mix of Spring activities, consider yourself invited to:

A Few of My Favorite Things

This Thursday (May 19th) is the opening for A Few of My Favorite Things at the Hallberg Center for the Arts!  Starting at 6pm, this collaborative art exhibit presented by the Wyoming Area Creative Arts Community is a showcase of the talent of the our member artists.  
Just a year ago, the Wyoming Area Creative Arts Community had about 25 members and was renting the old church for a one night show each month.  This year, there are over 135 members and the organization now owns the building and established the Hallberg Center for the Arts.
So, stop on by, and see this beautiful art exhibit.  Refreshments are served, and you can meet our artists.  All with absolutely NO COST for admission!

Find out more at:  

I've heard rumors they may even let some of the local poets read. When you get to the door, you could tell them I invited you, but you might get a "Who?" We're still getting to know each other in the WACAC.

columbine in bloom
columbine in bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

If you think it's not going to rain, and the weather is too nice to waste indoors, according to my phenology references, you can look  for columbine in bloom and tiger swallowtail butterflies flitting about and listen for tree (and other) frogs chorusing. I can vouch for the columbine and swallowtails in our neighborhood. I haven't heard the frogs recently, but that probably says more about me than the frogs.

tiger swallowtail butter-fly on dandelion
tiger swallowtail butter-fly on dandelion
Photo by J. Harrington

Song for Chaim

By David Shapiro

If one saves a butterfly, has one saved the world?

Rabbi says: If one saves one butterfly, even with long wings,
one butterfly that has fallen into water, it may be said:
“He has saved the whole world.”

If one saves a motley moth, is it the same?

Rabbi: It is valid. If one saves a dirty monkey from a flame,
for example, it is as the saying is: He or she has saved the whole world.
It is valid for all creatures, and not more so for the creatures who know
how to recite the blessings. It is always valid, even on the Sabbath.
It is said: The creatures of the sky are owned by no one, like the land.

If one saves the Book from being destroyed, is it also saving a world?

Rabbi: God forbid, yes, saving the book from the fire,
saving the book or books from the fire, is known to be comparable.
He who saves a book and he who
writes a holy book, it should be said:
They have saved the whole world like a book.

If one saves a rose, one rose,
from the garden of your dead Teacher,
is it still appropriate to think:
She has saved the world.

The Rabbi was silent and seemed troubled. He replied:

If the house of the great teacher is in ruins,
and the garden is a scandal, and one saves
one rose from his garden it is said even
of one rose: It is like saving the world.
It is also said the rose will grow as large as the world.

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

#phenology -- a day of firsts

For the first time this season, I'm writing while sitting outside on the screened patio. In the process of cleaning the patio furniture, I had, and took, an opportunity to swat the first mosquito of the season. (The patio screening needs repairs.) As another first, I saw what I think is a cranefly perched on the screen of one of the downstairs windows. Although not for the first time this year, today the breeze is down, the temperature's up, the sky is blue and uncloudy. All in all today almost makes up for the earlier "Spring" we've been "enjoying." Do you recall the poem about the little girl with the little curl? That's how I feel about Minnesota's typical Spring weather.

[UPDATE: While dog walking, the first grasshoppers of the season were flushed from the roadside grasses.]

a late Spring visitor from two years ago
Photo by J. Harrington

Not a seasonal first by any means, but a combination of absentmindedness and laziness resulted in leaving out the front yard bird feeder again last night. That allowed the neighborhood bear to return and (re)ravage the same feeder I had retrieved, repaired and restored after his/her earlier foray a couple of weeks ago.  After reading a story in this morning's paper, I'm having second thoughts about any bird feeders. According to the report, a women on her deck was attacked last night by a sow bear with cubs. Speculation was that they were attracted to bird feeders. Black bears are supposed to be afraid of humans, but maybe no one's spending enough time explaining that to the bears. I don't think we'll forego feeders, but maybe it's time to resort to strings on fingers as reminders to bring in before dark the feeders that hang off the deck. In case you never had the joy of learning about little girls with curls, here's Longfellow's poem. I wonder if the bear had a curl?

There was a little girl

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There was a little girl,
            Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
            When she was good,
            She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

#Spring -- win some, lose some

The time has come, I fear, to report an unmitigated failure in germination of the butter-fly weed seeds we tried to start more than a month ago. The package said something about best if planted before last December. We ventured the cost of a small bag of potting soil and gain the knowledge that the information on the package was correct. As we look back on the list of plants we've tried to grow on our little corner of the Anoka Sand Plain, we've had considerably more failures than successes. I'm not sure why. We haven't tried autopsies or toxicology reports on the dead. In fact, one of the ways we often were sure there were dead was a lack of bodies where we had buried roots.

 Butterfly-weed (Asclepius tuberosa)
 Butterfly-weed (Asclepius tuberosa)
Photo by J. Harrington

So far, based on a quick and incomplete count, over the years we've lost about six or eight apple trees, a few less pear trees, marsh marigolds, saxifrage, several Northern Plains Blazing Stars, prairie smoke and pasque flowers, etc. They too readily seem to offer opportunistic snacks to pocket gophers, moles and whatever else munches below ground, and deer and rabbits on the surface. Mother Nature's strategy of profligate procreation as a matter of necessity for many of her offspring is becoming more clear to me every year.

eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)
Photo by J. Harrington

Then again, before this year, I'd never seen or heard of downy woodpeckers using Baltimore Oriole nectar feeders, nor rose-breasted grosbeaks feeding on grape jelly. Although eastern swallowtail butterflies are supposed to be relatively common, I hadn't paid much attention to or noticed them before this season. I suspect Rudyard Kipling was more correct than I like to think about when he wrote about "counting your losses." Good advice for wood-be naturalists and phenologists too. I need to go find some butter-fly weed to plant.


By Rudyard Kipling

(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

#phenology -- coming to terms with terms

When I was in school, I'd occasionally overhear a teacher or parent refer to a student as a "late bloomer." Of course, none of my friends were in that category. We used to think it was just a polite way of saying someone was "dumb." Also, of course, we were wrong about that and a long list of other things. Remember the old saying about people and glass houses and stone-throwing? Learning more about phenology and looking at the dates on some of my photos of plants in bloom on our property, I think I now actually understand what may have been meant by "late bloomer," but there seems to be lots of room for interpretation.

Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canescens)
Photo by J. Harrington

According to the Minnesota Wildflowers web site, hoary puccoon bloom season is May - August. Would that mean a hoary puccoon "late bloomer" doesn't bloom until September, or would the season simply be divided in half, and those plants which bloom before Independence Day are early and those after the fireworks are late? A quick glance at the phenology glossary doesn't offer any help. The National Environmental Education Foundation web site offers some helpful hints, but no listing of definitions.

Every since I've become at least somewhat sensitive to the concept that one of the hardest things to remember is what it was like before I "knew" something, I suppose all our phenologists have similar problems. When they (we?) start talking about peak blooming dates and topics of a similar ilk, however, it would reduce confusion and help those of us who tend toward cynicism to lower our levels of skepticism if we had a better understanding of common terms or a note that there is not consensus on a standard. Maybe we could track dates by hardiness zone or something like that.

Night Blooming Jasmine

And in the hour when blooms unfurl

thoughts of my loved ones come to me.

           The moths of evening whirl

           around the snowball tree.

Nothing now shouts or sings;

one house only whispers, then hushes.

           Nestlings sleep beneath wings,

           like eyes beneath their lashes.

From open calyces there flows

a ripe strawberry scent, in waves.

           A lamp in the house glows.

           Grasses are born on graves.

A late bee sighs, back from its tours

and no cell vacant any more.

           The hen and her cheeping stars

           cross their threshing floor.

All through the night the flowers flare,

scent flowing and catching the wind.

           The lamp now climbs the stair,

           shines from above, is dimmed...

It’s dawn: the petals, slightly worn,

close up again—each bud to brood,

           in its soft, secret urn,

           on some yet-nameless good.

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

Sunday, May 15, 2016

#phenology -- it's all relative

Seen at the feeders so far today:
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird (first time this year)

  • Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

  • Downy Woodpecker

  • Hairy Woodpecker

  • Red-bellied Woodpecker

  • Blue Jays

  • Goldfinches

  • Cardinals

  • Red-winged Blackbirds

  • Chickadees

  • White-breasted Nuthatch

  • Red-breasted Nuthatch

female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at feeder
female Ruby-throated Hummingbird at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

Think, for a moment, about the size of a hummingbird and the distance traveled. Splitting the difference in weight between males and females, the average Ruby-throated Hummingbird weighs about 3 grams. The ones that Summer in Minnesota, Winter in Central America, so let's assume Costa Rica, for a distance of about 2,500 miles. Let's further assume that a person weighs 175 pounds and has wings. Finally, assume that person can fly a distance proportional to the distance and weight of a hummingbird. Our person could then fly around the world at the equator (~25,000 miles). I'm not sure how long it takes our Ruby-throats to fly north so I don't know how long it would take our person to circle the globe, probably something like a month or two?

It's possible our recent cold spell has affected my brain as well as my personality. It may also help account for the fact that both Baltimore Orioles and Scarlet Tanagers are, so far this year, A.W.O.L., but there's still hope, just as there's hope that we actually will be able to put together two or more 70F days before it's June.

Humming Bird

by D.H. Lawrence

I can imagine, in some otherworld
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.
Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.
I believe there were no flowers, then,
In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.
Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards, they say were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.
We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time,
Luckily for us.

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

Saturday, May 14, 2016

#phenology feeding signs of Spring

This morning saw the first female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks arrive at the feeders. A downy woodpecker (or two) has been at the oriole feeder several times a day for the past week or so. Still no sign of orioles or hummingbirds or monarch butterflies. Assuming that Spring actually returns from wherever she's gone, perhaps she'll bring more warm-weather migrants with her. Despite the threat of frost and freeze last night, some of the local (cold-hardy) columbines decided it was time to blossom. If they have faith in the return of warm weather, I suppose we should too.

columbine in bloom
columbine in bloom
Photo by J. Harrington
Meanwhile, this morning a robin was at the wood's edge, flipping through the leaves and duff, looking, I presume, for breakfast. I'm so use to seeing robins only on lawns or perched in trees that I wasn't at all sure what I was seeing for awhile. It was way too small to be a turkey, even a poult, and the red breast wasn't visible at first. I admit that I've rarely found robins scurrying about lawns to be particularly interesting. Robins in the woods scratching and thrashing through the leaves, on the other hand...

All of which brings us to today's poem, by one of my favorite poets. It appeared a couple of days ago on The Writer's Almanac. Comparing our feeders with hers, we trade Rose-breasted for evening, dogs for cats and oak trees for bittersweet vine. Our husky and the border collie "breed" seem to think small birds are here as their playmates and don't understand why they can't fly after their little feathered friends. I keep explaining we hope they'll only be able to grow wings when they're much, much older and get puzzled looks in return.

At the Feeder

by Jane Kenyon

First the Chickadees take
their share, then fly
to the bittersweet vine,
where they crack open the seeds,
excited, like poets
opening the day’s mail.

And the Evening Grosbeaks—
those large and prosperous
finches—resemble skiers
with the latest equipment, bright
yellow goggles on their faces.

Now the Bluejay comes in
for a landing, like a SAC bomber
returning to Plattsburgh
after a day of patrolling the ozone.
Every teacup in the pantry rattles.

The solid and graceful bodies
of Nuthatches, perpetually
upside down, like Yogis…
and Slate-Colored Juncoes, feeding
on the ground, taking only
what falls to them.

The cats watch, one
from the lid of the breadbox,
another from the piano. A third
flexes its claws in sleep, dreaming
perhaps, of a chicken neck,
or of being worshiped as a god
at Bubastis, during
the XXIII dynasty.

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