Thursday, June 30, 2016

Water Ethics: its time has come

I'm a book person more than a movie person, although I've really enjoyed most of the movies I've seen that were based on books I've read. Frank Herbert's Dune is the exception that proves the rule. I loved the book and hated, vehemently, the movie. Water, water management, and water ethics are central elements of the book. I've been thinking about Dune, again, ever since Governor Dayton proclaimed Minnesota's need for a water ethic. My enthusiasm for his proposal is tempered by the acute awareness that it's been more than four decades since we established a national goal of "fishable-swimmable water" and we've still immersed in water quality problems.

Sunrise River flows into the St. Croix
Sunrise River flows into the St. Croix
Photo by J. Harrington

Then again, some of the more interesting and creative people I know of are tackling the question of Fostering A Water Ethic. The Center for Humans and Nature, in Chicago, has made available on line "3 Videos, 3 Articles, 3 Responses, & 3 Blog Posts" that "highlight the many ways we can mindfully reimagine our relationship with and governance of the life-giving gift of water." In the highly improbable event that Governor Dayton ever reads this blog, I hope he makes time to look at the Fostering material. I think he'll enjoy it, especially the photography. As I've explored the contents myself, they've caused me to forego my usual cynicism and to think harder and, hopefully, more creatively about what I can do to make Minnesota's Water Ethic viable and successful. With hard work and luck, it might become as successful as was Dune. We need something like that.

The St. Croix and Minnesota flow to the Mississippi's Lake Pepin
The St. Croix and Minnesota flow to the Mississippi's Lake Pepin
Photo by J. Harrington

We can't continue to rely on government and regulations to protect us from ourselves. Flint Michigan's potable water failures are but one example of that. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy informs us that the Minnesota Court of Appeals found that Metro Council can increase its phosphorus discharge to Lake Pepin despite the abysmally slow progress on reducing agricultural pollution, a major (the major?) contributor to algae blooms in the lake. If Minnesota's farmers don't clean up their act, Lake Pepin and many of Minnesota's other wonderful water resources will become essentially useless. Right now 40% of our waters aren't fit for fishing and swimming. Stay tuned for musings about how we can connect some of those dots. We remain awash in our own waste.


By Brian Russell

the unthinkable prospect
of a world in which I am left
to my own devices

which are few and as soon
as the batteries die useless
first order of business

I draw a map in the sand
mark where I stand as the capital
of civilization   within me the
detailed blueprints of the pyramids
and the concept of zero
beyond me the finite frontier

the many miles of undeveloped
shoreline with spectacular views of a
sea filled with intricately depicted
monsters   I have a lot to do before

I introduce the new world
to art and astronomy and industry
medicine and technology
ethics politics democracy

by a show of hands we shall elect
which tree to burn in the first fire

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A midSummer day's dream #phenology

Tomorrow is the end of June; the last day of the Second Quarter of 2016; the final day of the First Half of 2016. If we use meteorological dates, Mid-Summer will be July 17. If we rely on the astrological calendar, it's several weeks later, on August 6. That leaves me thinking Mid-Summer runs from mid-July to early August. That sounds about right.

common milkweed flower head
common milkweed flower head
Photo by J. Harrington

The local common milkweed is beginning to blossom. Deer-fly numbers and attitudes are fierce. Since we're still some time from Mid-Summer, however measured, it's probably too early to be wishing for a killing frost. Maybe it's time to move the bat house, but I don't think deer flies are nocturnal. Sigh. One a happier note, I've been noticing several pairs of small, pale blue butterflies in the driveway. I'm guessing they're male Eastern-tailed Blues, checking out the driveway puddle, but it's only a guess. We've also been visited by what I think are white and red admiral butterflies.

red admiral butterfly
red admiral butterfly
Photo by J. Harrington

The weather forecast may include some pre-Independence Day fireworks tomorrow and post-holiday storms much of next week. I'm hoping for rain without dramatic elements. We're still re-setting clocks from the last power outage. I'm also hoping we don't get so much rain that it messes up local rivers.

In July, fly-fishers can look for midges, Blue-winged Olives, Tricos, Caddis and Grasshoppers. If the heat, bugs or lightening don't get us, Summer is a wonderful time of year. July brings into bloom almost 500 species of native wildflowers in Minnesota. Stop reading, get outside and enjoy. January will be here soon enough too soon. Meanwhile, keep in mind that Bryant wrote this before we knew about global warming.


William Cullen Bryant, 1794 - 1878

A power is on the earth and in the air,
  From which the vital spirit shrinks afraid,
  And shelters him in nooks of deepest shade,
From the hot steam and from the fiery glare.
Look forth upon the earth—her thousand plants
  Are smitten; even the dark sun-loving maize
  Faints in the field beneath the torrid blaze;
The herd beside the shaded fountain pants;
For life is driven from all the landscape brown;
  The bird hath sought his tree, the snake his den,
  The trout floats dead in the hot stream, and men
Drop by the sunstroke in the populous town:
  As if the Day of Fire had dawned, and sent
  Its deadly breath into the firmament.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tickled pink by pinkletinks #phenology

Local Trout Unlimited chapters have been doing some conservation work that I find really creative. In the Driftless Area of southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin, they've expanded the scope of cold water stream conservation work to include non-trout creatures. This highly beneficial approach is laid out in a Nongame Wildlife Habitat Guide. That's where I discovered the phenology calendar shown below.

Once again I've been confronted with an "unknown unknown" conundrum. I knew that frogs bred in late March, but didn't know it continued for some species until mid-August. More specifically, I thought all frogs finished breeding before the beginning of Summer. My "known knowns" were incorrect in part, or, perhaps, incompletely correct if I want to make it sound more positive. For years and years (and years ...) I've enjoyed the chorus of Spring Peepers, plus leopard and pickerel frogs, coming from vernal pools and surrounding meadows and wetlands in March and April. Frank Woolner, an outdoor writer from Massachusetts, wrote in one of his essays in My New England,  that H.G. Tapply refers to peepers as "pinkletinks," a name that may have begun on Martha's Vineyard, one of New England's unique treasures.

Trout fishing, in particular fly-fishing for trout, is one of the most fun ways I know of to engage with phenology. Different insects on which trout feed hatch at different times of the seasons, basic phenology, although some hatch year round. Working to conserve our cold water resources, so trout, and insects, have the habitat they need to thrive, brings us into the lives of frogs and snakes and turtles and wildflowers and .... It also brings us together with farmers and foresters and others whose livelihood depends on the productivity of the lands surrounding the waters in which trout live. Helping restore the qualities of those waters and lands needs to be done in a way that improves, or at least doesn't unfairly diminish, the quality of life of other users of the watersheds. I don't doubt that sometime in the future, Trout Unlimited's "Nongame guide" will improve by including human occupants along with other nongame wildlife. Conservation organizations have become more and more effective at creating partnerships that support and enhance their missions. Sustainable and restorative living are about connecting all those dots. The more that happens, the more tickled pink we can all be.

The Singer

By Chard DeNiord
For Ethan Canin

I sat on the dock at dusk and spoke
to the fish who swam beneath me
like ears with fins to hear my secrets.
“That words come close?” I whispered.
“The sky enters me like a sword
with my own hand on the hilt.
How to witness what I can't express—
the smell of lilacs, the dirge of loons.
Make up the rest if you wish.
Less is enough.
Say I sound like one of the Hosts.
That I'm crying also and there's nothing
you can do to make me stop.
That I'm like the peepers, katydids, and thrush
with my own song— all call in the opera of dusk. 
Or is it response?”

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Summertime blues: birds and bees and bugs, Oh My! #phenology

Warmer Summer weather has brought increased numbers of ants to the nectar feeders we put out for hummingbirds and orioles. Night visits by creature or creatures unknown (but suspected to be a raccoon or two) have been emptying the feeders if they're left out. Bringing ants into the house on a daily basis would eventually get me in trouble and someone might take my bird feeding toys away. Time for some internet research.

hummingbird at oriole feeder
hummingbird at oriole feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

There are a number of suggestions offered, such as coating the feeder holding arms with vaseline or cooking oil. That seems too messy and troublesome since either would need to be refreshed regularly, especially in Summer's heat. Being a naturalized Minnesotan, I have lots of rolls of duct tape around. Reverse duct tape, sticky side out, on eight or nine inches of the bottom of the feeder arm is now in place and at least one black ant has been observed stuck to the tape. This seemed far preferable to the approach of someone who wrapped the access/hanging arm with fly paper, which no doubt worked but must have been a challenging install. It also took less mechanical skill than crafting and installing a water moat on the hanger hook, which was another approach some have taken. I'd no doubt spill moat and sugar water every time the feeders were brought in. Several hummers have visited today, unphased by ants although they avoid confrontations with large bees. So far, so good.

tarantula-sized "barn spider"
tarantula-sized "barn spider"
Photo by J. Harrington

Later, my sense of superiority to the six and eight legged creatures in the world suffered several set backs. First was the arrival of several smaller bees at the nectar feeders. Duct tape isn't going to stop them so I'll have to chech carefully for "free riders" before unhooking the feeders. Second, as I entered the downstairs bathroom late this morning, I was startled to see a "barn spider," approaching tarantula size, on the floor. I rejected my immediate impression that the 12 gauge was needed and bravely stomped on it, hoping that my foot wouldn't miss and offer an opportunity for the creature to scurry up my pants leg. Success, although I still have to clean up some residual spider "blood."

I keep trying to follow the Zen approach of peacefully sharing my part of the world with my fellow creatures. It would be so much easier if they'd stop annoying and/or scaring the daylights out of me every time I turn around. Seriously, trying the old clap a cup over the spider and slide a piece of cardboard over the cup mouth doesn't work well on something large enough to induce a hernia if lifted. I vacuumed up the corpse.


By Joanie Mackowski

Two wandering across the porcelain
Siberia, one alone on the window sill,

four across the ceiling's senseless field
of pale yellow, one negotiating folds

in a towel: tiny, bronze-colored, antennae
'strongly elbowed,' crawling over Antony

and Cleopatra, face down, unsurprised,
one dead in the mountainous bar of soap.

Sub-family Formicinae (a single
segment behind the thorax), the sickle

moons of their abdomens, one trapped in bubbles
(I soak in the tub); with no clear purpose

they come in by the baseboard, do not bite,
crush bloodless beneath a finger. Peterson's

calls them 'social creatures,' yet what grim
society: identical pilgrims,

seed-like, brittle, pausing on the path
only three seconds to touch another's

face, some hoisting the papery carcasses
of their dead in their jaws, which open and close

like the clasp of a necklace. 'Mating occurs
in flight'— what better way? Weightless, reckless

rapture: the winged queen and her mate, quantum
passion spiraling near the kumquat,

and then the queen sheds her wings, plants
the pearl-like larvae in their cribs of sand:

more anvil-headed, creeping attentions
to follow cracks in the tile, the lip of the tub,

and one starting across the mirror now, doubled.

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Let there be light #phenology

Local daylilies that erupted from bud to bloom during the past few days, brightening roadsides throughout the township and county, seem largely unaffected by yesterday's storms. Unfortunately, so do the local deerfly populations, that also exploded since mid-week last. Although last night's storms successfully downed limbs and trees, triggering power failures throughout the area, they failed to reduce the numbers of annoying, biting insects that cause our border collie cross-breed to hallucinate that he's being harassed by bugs that only he can see or hear, even after he's safely in the house. Wouldn't you think something as large as a tree should be able to swat several hundred (thousand?) deer flies? I suppose if it weren't for deer flies, mosquitoes and ticks, we'd have more human neighbors than we could stand.

roadside daylilies
road side daylilies
Photo by J. Harrington

Since even some former climate change skeptics are agreeing that our weather has become more volatile, I'm wondering what, if anything utilities and others responsible for infrastructure are doing to design more resilient systems. We were without power from about 6:30 last night to about 11:00 am this morning, an inconvenience. But, if we had our own solar panels and an electrical storage unit, we'd be spared the inconvenience of no cooking, no water, no TV or internet. Convenience has been one of the underlying drivers of "new and improved" products. Look at how much better the internet has made your life with all the time saved by microwaves and prepared foods! Right? But, if we had a functional cooking fire and a real coffee pot, I could have had coffee this morning shortly after I awoke. What can phenology, and the responses of nature to our new normal, teach us about designing and building better, more resilient systems? Any thoughts?


By Caki Wilkinson

A yarn ball and a hill
maintain an equipoise until
         their neatness starts to bore the gods
                   of potential and energy
         who hedge bets, reckoning the odds
                   of when the rest will be

set in motion, and who,
first stumbling upon this clew,
          constructed both the incline and
                   the inclination to unwind.
          Like most gods, though, they haven’t planned
                   to stay; they mastermind

the scheme, ex nihilio,
then slip behind the shadow show
          and designate an agent, chief
                   remaker of their mischief made.
          Each time, disguised, this leitmotif
                   gets salvaged and replayed,

a universe begins,
for orogens and origins
          suppose a Way Things Were before
                   some volatile, untimely That—
          sweetness perverted by the core
                   or belfry by the bat,

or here, a hilly green,
whose still life, eerily serene,
          completes their best contrivance yet:
                   from high above, a williwaw,
          a hiss, and then the silhouette
                   of one terrific paw.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

In amongst the weeds #phenology

Yesterday's trip to Fort Snelling State Park turned out to be really enjoyable and hopefully productive. The "green team" crew from Thompson Reuters was doing volunteer work at the park, picking up litter and pulling invasive weeds. Once the work was done, play came in the form of fly-casting instructions provided by members of Fly Fishing Women of Minnesota, Trout Unlimited, and DNR staff, using equipment provided by FFM and DNR. By the time the afternoon had worn down, fly rods were casting fly lines all over the grassy picnic area by the group shelter. Some fifteen or twenty of the Thompson Reuters team practiced basic or improved fly-casting skills.

common burdock
common burdock
Photo by J. Harrington

The shelter and picnic area where we gathered are surrounded by floodplain forest along the Minnesota River. The heavy ground cover includes some truly impressive examples of one "naturalized" invasive species, burdock, and another that I think is Canada thistle. Once again, I'm at a disadvantage because neither plant was in flower yet. Once again, my Better Half bailed me out. Did you know that burdock, but not thistle, is listed in Midwest Foraging as a source of nutritious greens and roots. That book also include a creative suggestion about developing partnerships among park managers, organic farmers and foragers as a management strategy for burdock control. That's the kind of thinking we need more of.

Canada thistle
Canada thistle
Photo by J. Harrington

On my way to the Fort Snelling State Park activities yesterday, I stopped by the Patagonia store in St. Paul to take a look at their Simple Fly Fishing book. I succumbed to the temptation to get a copy, plus some flies and a line and leader package for the Tenkara rod the Daughter Person and Son-In-Law gave me for Father's Day. I want to get a better understanding of how much Tenkara fishing differs from the "regular" fly-fishing I've been doing most of my adult life (if I can use the term adult loosely). The connecting knots suggested for Tankara line to rod and line to leader are quite different than I'm used to and I want to figure out if that's "just because" or if there's a functional reason. There is a good reason (easy disconnection) for the line to rod connecting knot, so I now have to violate most of what I've learned about tying knots and learn to perfect my slip knots. I'm still ahead of Billy Collins in fishing, if not poetry.

Fishing on the Susquehanna in July

By Billy Collins

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.

Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure—if it is a pleasure—
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one—
a painting of a woman on the wall,

a bowl of tangerines on the table—
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,

rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.

But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia

when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend

under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandanna

sitting in a small, green
flat-bottom boat
holding the thin whip of a pole.

That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.

Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,

even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

More, NO! Better, YES! -- MORE BETTER

Almost six months ago, we questioned why the environment didn't have a lobbying force as effective as the NRA. Since then, the members of the Great Lakes Compact approved a Waukesha diversion without, as I see it, a clear determination that there is not prudent and feasible alternative. On the other hand, the federal government appears to be seriously considering non-renewal of the Twin Metals mineral lease which, if the lease is actually voided, would be a very pleasant surprise.

Yesterday, Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union, whatever that actually means. I'm trying my hardest ("Do or do not. There is no try.") following this philosophy in an effort to have the sanest reaction I can to a world that continues to go mad. Next, some fool may propose an even greater fool, someone with no real political experience and a string of business bankruptcies as qualifications, should run for president.

But seriously, folks, I've come to believe that we, all of us on the earth these days, are beginning to experience the effects of not just climate change/global warming, but more and more, the effects of Peak Everything. We're embedded in an economy that is only sustainable in pursuit of "MORE," and we all know, that's not sustainable. Remember, more and more water in a river makes a flood.

waters flowing to the St. Croix
waters flowing to the St. Croix
Photo by J. Harrington

Here's an example of what I'm thinking about. Minnesota's Governor has proposed we adopt a water ethic. I'm all in favor of water conservation and improved water quality. What I want to know, though, is why should I conserve water. Is it so that someone else can use it or abuse it? Is it so more businesses can grow markets for water sold in plastic bottles? So the next CAFO can flush the barn floor into the manure lagoon? We need to have that conversation about "why" because many of us are angry because feel as though we're being played for suckers.

My read on the Brexit vote, on the Bernie Sanders campaign success, even on, g*d help us, Donald Trump's presumptuous candidacy, is that more and more people are tired of being shucked and jived by those their elected leaders. I believe we're noticing, more and more, that the rock and the hard place haven't moved, no matter what the climate deniers, their bought politicians, those who would have us believe that we can cut our way to success, or those for whom all "good" must be private and not public, tell us. Repeat after me "More is not the same as better."

This afternoon, I'm going to try to (Yoda, again) help teach some good folks a little about fly fishing and casting with a fly rod. I hope this means there'll eventually be more people who value our environment and our water quality. I'll continue to rant and rave here, but clearly that's not enough. It's past time for all of us to be the change we want to see in the world. It's one of the few things the earth can survive more of. We need to make things better.

In line with today's rant and my afternoon's activities, here's a "prose poem" we've quoted here before. It's still great.

"I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape; because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion; because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility and endless patience; because I suspect that men are going along this way for the last time, and I for one don't want to waste the trip; because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters; because only in the woods can I find solitude without loneliness; because bourbon out of an old tin cup always tastes better out there; because maybe one day I will catch a mermaid; and, finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant - and not nearly so much fun." - Robert Traver (John Voelker), (June 29, 1903 – March 18, 1991)

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Report on the neighbors' doings #phenology

This morning's cool dawn brought at least four does, one with a fawn, to the fields behind the house. Sight's like that are one of the nicest ways to start a Summer's day.

whitetail deer in Summer's field
whitetail deer in Summer's field
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday the dogs and I finally confirmed that at least some of the milkweed plants in our fields are developing flower heads, although the monarch butterfly we saw in the afternoon had landed on a hairy vetch plant until our photography efforts disturbed him/her and he/she flew away. It occurs to me that as much as I enjoy seeing monarchs, fawns are definitely cuter to watch than are caterpillars, even the one in Wonderland. A probably useless but fascinating note about milkweed is that the local yak herd won't touch it (poisonous, bitter sap?). Their pasture has been gnawed to the height of a putting green except for the milkweeds, which stand tall and untouched. Who knew yaks were so discriminating, especially since Frances Densmore, in her Strength of the Earth, notes the Ojibwe used parts of the common milkweed as a source for food and medicine?

milkweed plant with flower head
milkweed plant with flower head
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday also brought confirmation that there are at least two hummingbird pairs nesting nearby. Both females arrived at the nectar feeder simultaneously. One stayed, the other left and came back later. At least that's what I think happened. This no doubt helps explain where all the fresh nectar I put out earlier this week has been going. I didn't noticed that one of the hummers was still drinking from the feeder as I started to bring it in last night. That "started" the hummer whose take-off then "started" me. Better to be startled by hummingbirds than bears, I say. Now if we could just get the goldfinches and rose-breasted grosbeaks to improve their table manners and not make such a mess with the sunflower seeds and hulls.


James Wright

While I stood here, in the open, lost in myself,
I must have looked a long time
Down the corn rows, beyond grass,
The small house,
White walls, animals lumbering toward the barn.
I look down now. It is all changed.
Whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for
Was a wild, gentle thing, the small dark eyes
Loving me in secret.
It is here. At a touch of my hand,
The air fills with delicate creatures
From the other world.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What's bugging you? #phenology

No doubt some phenology reporters have noted that the arrival of Summer has been accompanied by the emergence of flying, biting insects. Within the past week or so, the numbers of mosquitoes and deer flies have skyrocketed. (yes, the pun was intentional). Each of the dogs has let us know they don't approve of the company that now joins us on our walks. I've noted that, if I let the dog walk on a long lead, the flies surround the dog and not the dog-walker as much. This isn't consistent with what I've read about deer flies being attracted to the tallest target available, but they probably don't read the same information I do.

common whitetail dragonfly female
common whitetail dragonfly female
Photo by J. Harrington

We know that "Frostbite Falls" was inspired in part by the Winter weather way up North in Minnesota. It seems only fair that someone should invent and promote "Mosquitoebite Fens," or somewhere like it, as a setting for Summer skullduggery for our stalwart, potentially bug-bitten heroes. Is it time to bring back Rocky and Bullwinkle? Would Boris and Natasha eventually learn to wear lighter-colored clothes so as to not attract as many of those dippy Diptera that would better serve as dragonfly meals?

This humorous speculation has actually started me wondering about the drivers of the phenology of insect hatches in trout streams. Is water temperature a driving factor? Different insects hatch at different time of year and there's also some variability in time of day, I think. A quick check through google didn't yield any clear answers. I'm sure water temperatures a a contributing factor but can't find much about what else, other than the number of nymphal stages etc. This is what happens when some of us can't resist trying to learn why as well as what's going on. If you're interested, this page about caddisflies is a decent place to start.

bluebird perched on common mullein
bluebird perched on common mullein
Photo by J. Harrington

Before we sign off today, I want to thank Molly for her comment a couple of days ago, suggesting that the mystery weed looked like common mullein. I agree and will watch carefully to confirm or revise. There are lots of mullein plants in our fields, all of them with the tall flower heads I associate with the species. I don't think I've ever noticed mullein when the plant had grown but the flower heads hadn't yet erupted. Without an actual flower as a key, I'm often stumped by what to search on at Minnesota Wildflowers.

[mosquito at my ear]

By Kobayashi Issa

Translated by Robert Hass

Mosquito at my ear—
does he think
      I’m deaf?

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Best wishes?

Yesterday I watched a hen turkey peck her way through the back yard. My first thought was "I hope she finds plenty of ticks to eat," thinking that would diminish the tick population substantially. Then, I realized that I wasn't actually concerned with how much the turkey ate, but with the yard holding as few ticks as possible. At this point it occurred to me that I had no idea whether the results I wanted were or were not dependent on a sparse or dense initial concentration of potential turkey food. My final thoughts were along the lines of "I hope she gets them all," but then, again, remembering that nature abhors a vacuum, I promptly became nervous about what might come to take the place of the consumed ticks. All of which left me remembering some of the best (unfollowed) advice my mother ever gave me: "be careful what you wish for, you may get it."

hen turkey pecking away
hen turkey pecking away
Photo by J. Harrington

This year, unlike last, orioles have generally avoided our feeders, both nectar and grape jelly. Night visitors, most likely raccoons, have several times enjoyed both, so we started to bring them in at night, along with the sunflower seed feeders, to minimize attractions for any wandering bears. The feeders in question hang from metal rods attached to the railing of the second floor deck. Never-the-less, the nectar feeder has somehow caught the attention of large black ants, several of whom climbed through the feeding tubes, couldn't find their way out again, and drowned. I hope they died happy, surrounded by more food than they could ever wish for. I believe it was from my grandmother that I learned "if wishes were horses, beggars would ride." My wish right now is for a clever way to close today's posting so I'll wish that you read the poem below.

oriole at nectar feeder last year
oriole at nectar feeder last year
Photo by J. Harrington


By Sara Miller

I wish I could keep my thoughts in order
and my ducks in a row.
I wish I could keep my ducks in a thought
or my thoughts in a duck.
My point is that we all exist, wetly, in the hunt.
The ducks are aware of this
in their own way, which is floating.
The way of the mind is brevity.
There may be other thoughts on other days
in the minds of other and better men
and their constant companions, the women,
but these same tidy capsules — never.
This is just one of the things
I noticed about my thoughts
as they passed easefully by.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Summer Solstice, Full Strawberry Moon #phenology

It's been 70 years since we last had the magical occurrence we have today. I'm not sayin' whether I was around that time, but, if I was, I don't remember noticing it.

We're now into full-on Summer, thunderstorms, hail, tornadoes et. al. We've been lucky so far and missed severe weather outbreaks that have hit elsewhere in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Last night's rain simply refreshed the driveway puddle and left "rainrows" of male pine cones along the drive's edges.

daylillies, first blooms 2016
daylillies, first blooms 2016
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday, or maybe Saturday, the first daylillies of the year came into bloom in the warmer, sheltered el behind the garage. I'm taking that as another sign of Summer, although I haven't yet noticed any signs of flowers on the milkweed plants spread throughout our "gone to weed" fields. Speaking of which, we seem to have acquired a "new" weed (see below) that, like the milkweed, hasn't yet developed flowers. I don't recall seeing these before and I'm anxious to learn who's moved into the neighborhood. If you recognize what seems to be shaping up as the "Hulk" of weeds, please comment.

unidentified "weed" -- common mullein(?)
unidentified "weed" -- common mullein(?)
Photo by J. Harrington

On the brighter side, the patch(es) of wild strawberries in front of the house are getting some help from the Daughter Person and the Son-In-Law who thinned out a clump of daylillies doing their best to shade those strawberries into submission. I think they already ate a handful or two, helping to confirm why June's full moon is the Strawberry moon.


By Margaret Noodin

She makes strawberry jam

ginagawinad wiishko’aanimad, waaseyaagami
mixing sweet wind and shining water

miinawaa gipagaa nibwaakaa,
with thick wisdom

bigishkada’ad, dibaabiiginad
pounding, measuring

gakina gaa zhawenimangidwa
everything we’ve cared for

gakina gaa waniangidwa
everything we’ve lost

nagamowinan waa nagamoyaang
the songs we have not yet sung

miigwanag waa wawezhi’angidwa
the feathers yet to decorate

and all the ways we’ve smiled

mooshkine moodayaabikoong
into jars filled to the brim

ji-baakaakonid pii bakadeyaang.
to be opened when we are thin.

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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Father's Day!

Unaccustomed as I am to being presumptuous, today I'm going to speak on behalf of all the fathers that fit within my imagination. On their behalf, and my own, I want to say Thank you! to all those who have made us fathers, especially the mothers of our children and the children themselves. In today's society, were it not for the pleasures and pains of fatherhood, too many men like me would be stuck in an extended period of, not childhood, but childishness, for all of the waking hours of life instead of just most of them.

mural, NE Minneapolis, You were wild once here, don't let them tame you
mural, NE Minneapolis, You were wild once here, don't let them tame you
Photo by J. Harrington

As I vaguely recall, childhood, given half a chance, is a time of wonder and awe and fascination with the world in which we live. It seems more and more these days that too many men are responsible for too many children having less than half a chance at childhood. How many women are active ISIL soldiers? Of today's political leaders in the "developed countries,", most of whom are men, how many are unwilling to accept, let alone welcome, refugee children? Do they really believe children should be used as pawns in political games? Didn't Dante create a special circle on Hell for those who abuse children? And how many of those same "political leaders" have delayed and dawdled before recognizing and beginning to respond to climate change, thereby condemning all earth's children to a childhood in a failing world.

Many years ago, at the time Robert Bly wrote Iron John, I read the media reports of men sitting in a circle, running through the woods and pounding on drums. I've since learned to be a little less trusting of the media's reports on most things. I've also read some of Bly's own words on what he was doing and why. Here's a sample:
The Center for Healing Arts in Los Angeles, the Jung Center in San Francisco, and others asked me to tell fairy stories to groups of men and women and relate them to ordinary life. The best stories for this purpose were from the Celtic clan, the Grimm Brothers, and the Russian collection by Afanasev. Two things became apparent. Women were much more willing to talk about their disasters and delights than the men. Most of the stories that we know—“Snow-White,” “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” “Rapunzel,” “The Goose-Girl,” “Thousandfurs,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Girl without Hands,” “The Goose-Girl at the Well,” “Maid Maleen,” and so on—were of great interest to women. Secondly, the men in these weekend seminars began to ask for a story that was specifically about the stages of masculine development.
When I read that men are the primary perpetrators of all but three of 129 recent mass shootings, I have to give Bly and those who participated with him in men's development exercises more credit than I have. Clearly, something has gone terribly wrong with the way both East and West raise the men who will become tomorrow's fathers. Too many have been, and are being, arrested in development at a sandbox level that believes "might makes right," which probably goes only too well along with "bigger is better," especially when it comes to explosions and mayhem and the size of firearms.

I think that poets like Bly, and writers like Richard Louv, are giving fathers and families the best kind of presence. They're opening doors so men and women, boys and girls, have solid reasons to spend  time together exploring real fields and glades and forests, plus those of fairy tales, so they, and we, can all grow  together and learn how to share failures and successes, joys and sorrows, a love for life, and a tolerance for "others."

Today's wonderful Poem-a-Day from the Academy of American Poets offers guidance to some of what I'm trying to say. It works for son's too. I learned this from my Dad.

Father’s Song

Gregory Orr, 1947

Yesterday, against admonishment,
my daughter balanced on the couch back,
fell and cut her mouth.

Because I saw it happen I knew
she was not hurt, and yet
a child’s blood so red
it stops a father’s heart.

My daughter cried her tears;
I held some ice
against her lip.
That was the end of it.

Round and round: bow and kiss.
I try to teach her caution;
she tries to teach me risk. 

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Saturday, June 18, 2016

For the birds #phenology

Father's Day goslings
Father's Day goslings
Photo by J. Harrington

It's the time of year when goslings are out and about and often underfoot, making geese and ganders annoyed with any creature about to step on their offspring, or with the offspring themselves, or both. I doubt that those who decided we need a Father's Day thought about Canada geese goslings, sandhill crane colts, or other recent hatchlings, when a Sunday in late-June was selected as the day to honor fathers in the US and many other countries.

I find it much easier to visualize the young of geese and cranes than those of hummingbirds. Trying to picture something smaller than my thumb as a parent stretches my imagination almost to the breaking point. From the online descriptions of family life,  geese and crane dads are much more help than hummer dads. I doubt that female hummingbirds, or their chicks, do much to celebrate Father's Day for dads whose parenting "skills" are close to nonexistant. In many parts of the animal kingdom, a "dad's" role is extremely limited. We humans seem to include a range of paternal behavior almost as widespread as that in all the rest of nature. Those of us lucky enough to have, have had, or be half-way decent fathers probably take much too much for granted how lucky we are, as we do about many aspects of life. Tomorrow there will be fathers wishing their children were with them and children wishing they had a father to hug. If you're lucky enough to be able to give your dad or child a hug, don't limit it to a special day. Do it every chance you get. Like geese and cranes and hummingbirds, children grow and life moves on soon enough, often too soon.

The Season of Phantasmal Peace

By Derek Walcott

Then all the nations of birds lifted together
the huge net of the shadows of this earth
in multitudinous dialects, twittering tongues,
stitching and crossing it. They lifted up
the shadows of long pines down trackless slopes,
the shadows of glass-faced towers down evening streets,
the shadow of a frail plant on a city sill—
the net rising soundless as night, the birds' cries soundless, until
there was no longer dusk, or season, decline, or weather,
only this passage of phantasmal light
that not the narrowest shadow dared to sever.

And men could not see, looking up, what the wild geese drew,
what the ospreys trailed behind them in silvery ropes
that flashed in the icy sunlight; they could not hear
battalions of starlings waging peaceful cries,
bearing the net higher, covering this world
like the vines of an orchard, or a mother drawing
the trembling gauze over the trembling eyes
of a child fluttering to sleep;
                                                     it was the light
that you will see at evening on the side of a hill
in yellow October, and no one hearing knew
what change had brought into the raven's cawing,
the killdeer's screech, the ember-circling chough
such an immense, soundless, and high concern
for the fields and cities where the birds belong,
except it was their seasonal passing, Love,
made seasonless, or, from the high privilege of their birth,
something brighter than pity for the wingless ones
below them who shared dark holes in windows and in houses,
and higher they lifted the net with soundless voices
above all change, betrayals of falling suns,
and this season lasted one moment, like the pause
between dusk and darkness, between fury and peace,
but, for such as our earth is now, it lasted long.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

As the livin' gets easy #phenology

Sunday will be Father's Day; Monday -- Summer Solstice; June will be two-thirds gone and we'll be well on our way to the mid-Summer celebration of Independence Day. Many of the local corn fields look like they're going to be knee high by the 4th of July; some, maybe not. Although maybe some of the "corn fields" that I think aren't doing well are actually bean fields doing just fine. At 55 or 60 mph, I'm not always sure of what I'm seeing grow.

sandhill cranes in a field
sandhill cranes in a field
Photo by J. Harrington

One nearby field, one of those that may be corn or fallow or soy beans, I suspect the latter, has half-a-dozen or eight sandhill cranes foraging fairly regularly. If I'm wrong, and it is a corn field, the cranes will no doubt move elsewhere as the corn height increases. One of the few things these days that gives me a sense of hope for the future is the increase in Minnesota's sandhill crane populations.

roadside crown vetch
roadside crown vetch
Photo by J. Harrington

Road sides and ditches are showing more and more crown vetch, yet another wide-spread invasive. (I keep wanting to believe it's actually red clover.) I just don't see the local county or township or cities spending money to control invasive species along roads, although I wouldn't mind seeing lots more of our rural roadsides restored to remnants of prairie, with more emphasis on flowers than grasses.

Corn Maze

By David Barber

Here is where
You can get nowhere
Faster than ever
As you go under
Deeper and deeper

In the fertile smother
Of another acre
Like any other
You can’t peer over
And then another

And everywhere
You veer or hare
There you are
Farther and farther
Afield than before

But on you blunder
In the verdant meander
As if   the answer
To looking for cover
Were to bewilder

Your inner minotaur
And near and far were
Neither here nor there
And where you are
Is where you were

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Thursday, June 16, 2016

It's a Blooming shame!

I hope you're enjoying Bloomsday and have or will honor it appropriately. I vaguely recall having read much of Joyce's better known works (Ulysses, Portrait of the Artist, Finnegan's Wake, Dubliners) back when I was in college. As I've written several times, I grew up in Boston, and remember stories of signs in windows "Irish need not apply [INNA]." Recent tragic events, combined with the position(s) taken regarding immigrants and minorities by a certain presumptive Republican nominee for POTUS, reminded me of those stories.

Stillwater on the St. Croix, a birthplace of Minnesota
Stillwater on the St. Croix, a birthplace of Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

Minnesota is doing a little better these days than when it was still a territory, but a quick check through North Woods River, The St. Croix River in Upper Midwest History, confirms that bigotry has long been a part of American politics, even in a state like Minnesota, once noted for liberalism in its political leanings.
"...The American Party, or the Know-Nothings, aimed to restrict immigration by limiting office holding to native-born Americans and to restrict citizenship to those with a twenty-one-year residency....By the end of the decade, however, the nativist movement had foundered on the growing sectional crisis over slavery, and the Know-Northing Party disappeared from the national stage. Some of its members were absorbed into the new Republican Party..." [p. 164]
I haven't yet decided whether or not I'm pleased to see Donald Trump so blatently returning the Republican Party to its Know-Nothing, anti-immigrant roots. Probably better to have it out in the open rather than hidden in some closet. Candidly, I'd much prefer an election in which I was frustrated at having to choose between two great candidates, platforms and program packages, rather than the lesser of two evils from the Same Old Party(s). Minnesota, the rest of the United States, and the entire Earth, deserve better. We get the kind of governance we settle for. How's your broadband Greater Minnesota? Should be an interesting time between now and November.

You may have noticed from today's posting that recent events have "got my Irish up." We'll return you tomorrow to our regular programming. Before that, as great a writer as Joyce was, another Irishman has written a poem more fitting today's theme. What do you think?

The Second Coming

By William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pine cone, pollen and puddle time #phenology

male pine cones from driveway
male pine cones from driveway

Yesterday's torrential downpours must have knocked down whatever was left of any male pine cones from the white pines along the drive. The large puddle that forms in the driveway's low spot was surrounded by short, slightly curved cones about one-half inch long. It's become clear that the local flocks of goldfinches, grosbeaks and others have decided that the birdbaths are for drinking from, and muddy driveway puddles are for bathing in. This afternoon the dogs and I repeatedly scattered bathers from their ablutions as we took our afternoon constitutionals.

woodcock bathing in driveway, June 2015
woodcock bathing in driveway, June 2015
Photo by J. Harrington

Last year yielded an even more pleasant puddle surprise when I noticed a woodcock bathing in the selfsame water-filled low spot, although not the same water, obviously. The "timberdoodle" didn't return this year, but then neither have the scarlet tanagers, nor, to any noticeable extent, have the orioles. So much of the world's beauty is so ephemeral we need to be more thankful when we do get to enjoy it.

I enjoyed finally making it back to a more permanent pleasure, the St. Croix River Visitor Center. Today's trip was to do a little exploring outside and some note-taking on the interior exhibits for a writing project. No photos this trip, but next time for sure, when I'll also remember to bring a field guide plus a camera to identify and photograph what's blooming in their native plant garden restoration. Today I noticed several plantings of what I think are spiderwort and some yellow flowers that I don't think are brown- or black-eyed susans, goat's beard, or sunflowers, but what they are I obviously can't venture. This is part of the reason I plan on multiple return trips.


By J. Patrick Lewis

I was really in a muddle
looking over a mud puddle
’cause I didn’t have a paddle
or a twig to ride the reef.
But I said, Oh, fiddle-faddle,
this is just a little piddle
of a second fiddle puddle
so I saddled up a leaf.
I set sail on the puddle,
but I reached the muddy middle
and I rocked the leaf a little,
then I gave it all I had.
And I solved the mighty riddle
of the whole caboodle puddle
when I hopped up on the middle
of a beetle launching pad

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