Sunday, July 31, 2016

Travel "Up North" to anticipate Autumn's #phenology

cabin-side creek
cabin-side creek
Photo by J. Harrington

We're back from the North Woods, where we spent several days in an old (built 1930's?) log cabin on a lake, right beside the outlet brook, away from cell phones and Internet service. Once I got over some initial twitchiness, I noticed that my equanimity started to return as my digital exposure to politics and economics was replaced by immersion in nature. We had fun exploring around the Gunflint Trail and discovered many new "public access" locations where fishing from shore was either difficult, because a stream was overgrown with trees, inaccessible due to canyon depth and/or lack of safe parking, unproductive of fish, the cobble rock bottom made wading dangerous, or all of the above. On the other hand, the woods and waters are pretty and the weather was a marked improvement over the Twin Cities' heat and humidity that we thankfully left behind. Daytime temperatures rarely broke into the 70's and the mist burned off the lake by 9:00 or 10:00 am. Now that we're back I need to see if I can manage my addiction to wifi, Internet and cell phones by practicing more Zen attitude and behavior.

Cadence River
Cadence River
Photo by J. Harrington

One way we confirmed we were "Up North" is that asters [Canadanthus modestus (Modest Aster)] are blooming in Cook County, and some roadside shrub leaves have turned bright yellow. I spent time wondering if I lived among so many different trees, if I would have a perspective that wanted to be able to distinguish each of them or if all those trees just turn into forest. I think and hope the former, but the forest mixes we saw had many more species than I anticipated, in mixtures that were less segregated than I expected. We have previously taken several trips up the Arrowhead, usually limited to the area right along Highway 61. This revisit up Hwy 61 to cooler climes took us inland to where the forest seems less shopworn than it does along some of the North Shore Scenic Drive.

Modest Asters in bloom
Modest Asters in bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

Tomorrow August begins. Summer is beginning its downward slope. We've acquired a never before seen (by us) species at the feeder. I think it's a flicker, a female Gilded Flicker, which belongs in Arizona, not Minnesota. I haven't yet seen any signs of red anywhere in the feathers so we'll keep watching to see if we can tell if it's an immature something or other. Traveling is nice and so is coming home from the North Woods to the Big Woods. My Better Half did a great job of finding a fun, comfortable place to relax for a few days. She did the job so well that we're planning on going back toward late September. There's at least one spot we never did get around to trying to fish. Leaving someone, something or someplace to come back to seems like a worthwhile way to travel, don't you think?

North of Childhood

By Jonathan Galassi

      FOR B.

Somewhere ahead I see you
watching something out your window,
what I don’t know. You’re tall,
not on your tiptoes, green,
no longer yellow,
no longer little, little one,
but the changeless changing
seasons are still with us.
Summer’s back,
so beautiful it always reeks of ending,
and now its breeze is stirring
in your room commanding the lawn,
trying to wake you to say the day is wasting,
but you’re north of childhood now and out of here,
and I’ve gone south. 

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Mid-Summer #phenology

This morning we noticed, for the second time this season, a sumac's leaves showing fall colors. The first time it was only a single leaf that turned red so I wrote it off to "heat stress." This time all the leaves on a small plant were shades of yellow tinting toward red. They nicely complemented the fields full of yellow black-eyed susan that are blooming almost everywhere there isn't corn or soybeans planted.

The local round-headed bush clover is just starting to flower and I'm learning that even a gentle breeze makes focusing on a tall, single-stemmed plant a challenge that I all too often fail.

Round-headed Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata)
Round-headed Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata)
Photo by J. Harrington

Unless the weather starts getting really obstreperous again, I think we're reaching Summer's seventh inning stretch. Time for the Better Half and I to go exploring up north along the Gunflint Trail. I'm looking forward to our Summer visit to the North Woods and, I hope, getting to play with some brook trout and take some iconic pictures, maybe even of a moose! If the wifi is working in that part of rural Minnesota, I'll post a couple of pictures while we're up there. Else, I'll rejoin you at week's end when we're back.


By Carlo Betocchi

Translated by Geoffrey Brock
Read the translator's notes

And it grows, the vain
even for us with our
bright green sins:

behold the dry guest,
the wind,
as it stirs up quarrels
among magnolia boughs

and plays its serene
tune on
the prows of all the leaves—
and then is gone,

leaving the leaves
still there,
the tree still green, but breaking
the heart of the air.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bee balmy weather #phenology

Bee balm at Coffee Talk
Bee balm at Coffee Talk
Photo by J. Harrington

The local roads are clogged with runners and bicyclists for a triathlon. We wended our way through the traffic to Coffee Talk in Taylors Falls and then, after coffee and being motivated by the coffee shop's gardens, to a local nursery where I purchased:
The Better Half testily chased me away while she weeded (patience not being one of my strong points) and now all the listed flora are planted in the northeast corner of the front of the house as a small butterfly, bee and hummingbird garden. It seems to me it's too warm and humid to be digging and planting (let alone biking or running any distance) but I remembered that "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now" – Chinese Proverb? I assume what's good for trees also works for flowers. (Do you suppose the same thing is true of running a triathalon? I hope they scheduled the swim last.)

Bee at Coffee Talk Bee Balm
Bee at Coffee Talk Bee Balm
Photo by J. Harrington

The bee balm-bergamot (Monardas) were still in their pots awaiting planting when the bees arrived. I found that impressive. With luck, next Summer I'll get to note the dates of the first blooms and watch for hummers and flutterbyes. For this year I'm remembering that the downy woodpeckers were using the oriole feeder more than the orioles but less than the ruby-throated hummingbirds. I wonder if it makes sense to put the oriole feeder back up with an ant moat and a limited supply of home-made nectar or, if the commercial stuff doesn't ferment(?) try some of that. Something else to look into one of these days.


By Wendy Videlock

Full of strength and laced
with fragility:

the thoroughbred,
the hummingbird,
and all things
with agility.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

July reign #phenology

Early this afternoon, just before the rain got heavy, a couple of turkey hens, with poults, came out of the woods and worked their way across the small ridge behind the house. There was also a separate, small flock of four jakes that worked their way through our patch of feral oregano. Yesterday and today, before it started raining, we had more birds at the bird bath than had used it all Summer until this heat wave. There are still quite a few goldfinches that seem to prefer black sunflower seeds at the feeder than thistle seeds "in the wild."

turkey hen with poults at wood's edge
turkey hen with poults at wood's edge
Photo by J. Harrington

Walking the dog this morning, the white sage that's competing with milkweed to take over the field near the road shone magically silver in the moonlight. I think it's the same kind of sage that can be turned into smudge sticks, but since I quit smoking years ago I haven't any tobacco to leave as an offering. I'll see if I can find an acceptable alternative before I start to do any harvesting. I don't know what the story may be with the milkweed, but there's no signs of monarch butterflies, eggs, or caterpillars. Do you suppose monarchs don't like white sage?

A Summer Shower

By Henry Timrod

Welcome, rain or tempest
                         From yon airy powers,
                      We have languished for them
                         Many sultry hours,
And earth is sick and wan, and pines with all her flowers.

                      What have they been doing
                         In the burning June?
                      Riding with the genii?
                         Visiting the moon?
Or sleeping on the ice amid an arctic noon?

                      Bring they with them jewels
                         From the sunset lands?
                      What are these they scatter
                         With such lavish hands?
There are no brighter gems in Raolconda’s sands.

                      Pattering on the gravel,
                         Dropping from the eaves,
                      Glancing in the grass, and
                         Tinkling on the leaves,
They flash the liquid pearls as flung from fairy sieves.

                      Meanwhile, unreluctant,
                         Earth like Danae lies;
                      Listen! is it fancy
                         That beneath us sighs,
As that warm lap receives the largesse of the skies?

                      Jove, it is, descendeth
                         In those crystal rills;
                      And this world-wide tremor
                         Is a pulse that thrills
To a god’s life infused through veins of velvet hills.

                      Wait, thou jealous sunshine,
                         Break not on their bliss;
                      Earth will blush in roses
                         Many a day for this,
And bend a brighter brow beneath thy burning kiss.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Seeds of change #phenology

This is the kind of weather in which you can almost hear the crops growing. Farmers, no doubt, are looking forward to a decent or better harvest. Of course, if the harvest is too good, then prices drop. I'm looking forward to the cooler, less humid weather that comes with harvest season. Then again, of course, in Minnesota it can get too cool and snow flakes drop. Did that make you feel better or worse about our current heat wave? Is six months a long or a short time in your life?

Canada thistle seed heads and blossoms
Canada thistle seed heads and blossoms
Photo by J. Harrington

While poking (clicking) around the Aldo Leopold Foundation web site recently, I discovered they have a seed collecting calendar. It's tucked into the Prairie Restoration section of the Land Stewardship Resources page, where the writer notes that the dates are for southern Wisconsin, which is probably a week or two earlier(?) than our location in Minnesota. To be on the safe side, right after Labor Day I'll start looking for seeds on the butterfly weed plants I've noticed.

early May Juneberry(?) blossoms
early May Juneberry(?) blossoms
Photo by J. Harrington

The local serviceberry bushes had nice blossoms this past Spring, but the few I checked closely today had no berries to be seen. I deferred a really close inspection due to the poison ivy vines surrounding the bases of the bushes. Those that the birds didn't get have probably fallen already. We checked, from a distance, several weeks ago with comparable results so it's possible we were simply too late starting our foraging. This Winter will be a good time to work on a phenology calendar of blooms, fruits, seeds etc. all in one place. The Eloise Butler site notes that heavy fruiting occurs only every three to five years, so bare bushes may simply be normal and we didn't miss much. Time to recall that Life is a mystery to be Lived, not a Problem to be Solved. I wonder if I could get away with "it's a mystery to be solved?"

Country Love Song

By Melanie Almeder

I try to think of the cup of a hand,
of legs in a tangle, and not the thistle

though even it, purpled, spiking away,
wants to be admired, wants to say, whistle

a little for me. O every little thing wants
to be loved, wants to be marked by the cry

that brings desire to it, even blue-eyed fly
to the bloated hiss of death. To love is to be remiss:

the horse alone in the wide flat field nods
its head as if the bridle and bit were missed

or mocked; the cow slung with the unmilked weight
of her tremendous teats shoots a look back over her shoulder

at O lonesome me. I want to say to her need
as if crooning could be enough,

sweet, sweet mama . . . truth be told,
the thousand lisping bees to the milkweeds' honey

terrifies me. When the stink of slurry season
is over and the greened fields are slathered, fecund,

overtall foxgloves tip with the weight of their fruit.
Then I dream a little dream of you

and me, curled like two grubs on the top of a leaf
wind-driven and scudding along the lake's surface.

All night we glide to its blue harbor
and back again. The fattened slack of us

singing O darlin' darlin' darlin'.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Heatwaves and Ruby-throated hummingbirds #phenology

A few days ago, three hummingbirds were simultaneously at our feeder. I think it was two females and one male, but I'm not sure. Neither am I sure whether they were all adults or if one or two were this year's fledglings. It's about the time of year that their young should be starting to fly.

hummingbird at feeder
hummingbird at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

I already knew that nectar (sugar water) feeders needed to be kept clean and to watch for mold. I hadn't been aware how quickly sugar water can ferment in the kind of heat we're having. Fortunately, I've switched to the smaller of our feeders because it has built in bee guards. I'll plan on refilling it every couple of days this Summer because drinking fermented sugar water enlarges a hummingbird's liver, I assume kind of like cirrhosis. Clearly, my guideline of watching for dead birds near the feeder isn't appropriate. How we humans can do so much potential damage with the best of intentions.

I bet my Better Half will be pleased to discuss improving our flower garden with plants attractive to and good for hummingbirds. Next year we'll limit feeding to early and late in the season, when real nectar is scarce. That'll also solve the issues with attracting bees and ants. It might, if I get lucky enough, even result in more natural photos than the ones at a feeder.

spider web in pine tree
spider web in pine tree
Photo by J. Harrington

We certainly have the spider webs the birds use for their nests and the stream/pond and nearby woods so the hummingbirds should find acceptable nesting habitat. There seems to be a limited supply of local flowers bearing nectar, but then, I hadn't been looking for any. We'll see how this goes. I certainly don't remember seeing as many butterfly weed plants as we've had this year and the number of columbine plants in also increasing in the yard.


by Mary Oliver

The female, and two chicks,
each no bigger than my thumb,
in their pale-green dresses;
then they rose, tiny fireworks,
into the leaves
and hovered;
then they sat down,
each one with dainty, charcoal feet –
each one on a slender branch –
and looked at me.
I had meant no harm,
I had simply
climbed the tree
for something to do
on a summer day,
not knowing they were there,
ready to burst the ledges
of their mossy nest
and to fly, for the first time,
in their sea-green helmets,
with brisk, metallic tails –
each tulled wing,
with every dollop of flight,
drawing a perfect wheel
across the air.
Then, with a series of jerks,
they paused in front of me
and, dark-eyed, stared –
as though I were a flower –
and then,
like three tosses of silvery water,
they were gone.
in the crown of the tree,
I went to China,
I went to Prague;
I died, and was born in the spring;
I found you, and loved you, again.
Later the darkness fell
and the solid moon
like a white pond rose.
But I wasn’t in any hurry.
Likely I visited all
the shimmering, heart-stabbing
questions without answers
before I climbed down.
Mary Oliver
White Pine (1994)

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Water ethics: what will it take? #CleanWaterWednesday

In 1949, Congress adopted a national housing objective of "the realization as soon as feasible of the  goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family,..." What with one unfunded war or another, we, as a nation, haven't yet found it feasible to attain that goal.

We're not doing any better, and some would claim we're failing horribly, at attaining either of these primary goals of the 1972 Clean Water Act:
"(1) it is the national goal that the discharge of pollutants
into the navigable waters be eliminated by 1985;

"(2) it is the national goal that wherever attainable, an in-
terim goal of water quality which provides for the protection
and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and provides for
recreation in and on the water be achieved by July 1, 1983;"
sunlight on sediment-laden stream
sunlight on sediment-laden stream
Photo by J. Harrington

Minnesota fails to attain even the 1983 goal in 40% or more of its surface waters. Governor Dayton has proposed that each Minnesotan needs to adopt a water ethic:
"Ultimately, clean water is not going to come from laws and rules and regulations, although they're necessary and more may be necessary," he told reporters. "It's going to come from an ethic, an ethic that's established all over this state that each of us has our own responsibility for making water quality better and conserving it and using it wisely."
Well before Congress adopted the 1972 Clean Water Act goals, even before adoption of the 1949 housing objective, Aldo Leopold was developing what he describes as a "land ethic," which includes water and land and community and more. It's the last essay in A Sand County Almanac, which was published in 1949 but largely written during the preceding decade.

Some keystone thoughts very much on topic and worth sharing from Leopold's A Land Ethic:

"The Community Concept

"All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in the community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for). The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. ...
"This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter downriver. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage."
fence-row to fence-row corn
fence-row to fence-row corn
Photo by J. Harrington

We are approaching three-quarters of a century (three generations) since A Land Ethic was published and the housing objective of a "decent home for all" was adopted into law. We are comparably nearing fifty years (two generations) since enactment of 1972's Clean Water Act. Where are the models of the communities and farms that have come closest to setting the examples we can follow if we ever hope to have the country we need and want to be proud of? I once thought that Minnesota would be such a leader. Minnesota's 2016 bonding bill for clean water (and other) projects failed because of political disagreements on transportation projects. Minnesota has, however, succeeded in adding more than 300 bodies of water to its "nonattainment list" of 4,000 or so state waters unsuitable for fishing or swimming.

Leopold once again has anticipated in A Land Ethic many of our still current issues, except he should also have specifically included under-performing politicians, when he wrote:
"To sum up: we asked the farmer to do what he conveniently could to save his soil, and he has done just that, and only that. The farmer who clears the woods off a 75 percent slope, turns his cows into the clearing, and dumps its rainfall, rocks, and soil into the community creek, is still (if otherwise decent) a respected member of society. If he puts lime on his fields and plants his crops on contour, he is still entitled to all the privileges and emoluments of his Soil Conservation District. The District is a beautiful piece of social machinery, but it is coughing along on two cylinders because we have been too timid, and too anxious for quick success, to tell the farmer the true magnitude of his obligations. Obligations have no meaning without conscience, and -the problem we face is the extension of the social conscience from people to land.

"No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis loyalties, affections, and convictions. The proof that conservation has not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in the fact that philosophy and religion have not yet heard of it. In our attempt to make conservation easy, we have made it trivial."
Feel free to suggest farms, farmers and communities that should be promoted as having the kind of water ethics Minnesota needs. We be more than happy to publicize it or them.

Going for Water

Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963

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

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Buck moon #phenology

This morning I saw a flock of turkey poults, on a road a mile or so north of the property. Tonight, if the weather forecast holds true, we probably won't see the Full Buck Moon (this is the month whitetail bucks start to develop antlers) at its midnight height.  Summer heat's building up and humidity will be enhanced if the seasonal thunderstorms break, as forecast, after midnight in our neighborhood. There's a flash flood alert in place. All of which helps support an alternate name for the July full moon: Thunder Moon.

Whitetail buck in Summer velvet
Whitetail buck in Summer velvet
Photo by J. Harrington

Many of the thistle flowers along our roadsides have already changed into downy seed heads, which should please the local goldfinch flocks. Summer's peak contains Autumn's beginnings. And the seasons, they go round and round... We're in the midst of Summer's Dog Days. The weather, and much else, is as it should be. Enjoy today, look forward to tomorrow, remember yesterday's pleasures.

A Boat Beneath a Sunny Sky

By Lewis Carroll

A BOAT beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear —

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream —
Lingering in the golden gleam —
Life, what is it but a dream?

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Purple with purplexity #phenology

I don't know why I keep expecting consistency among "expert" sources when it comes to information on native plants and invasive species. Our visit to Osceola last Friday was brightened by sidewalk and foundation plantings of purple coneflowers.

Eastern Purple Coneflowers?
Eastern Purple Coneflowers?
Photo by J. Harrington

I had thought they were native to Minnesota, but, according to Minnesota Wildflowers, Echinacea purpurea (Eastern Purple Coneflower) is a "native of eastern moist to mesic prairie," but there are "no known natural occurrences in Minnesota" (county distribution map). "Its flowers are similar to our native Echinacea angustifolia (Narrow-leaved Purple Coneflower)..." Thinking that would help explain my misperception, I clicked a few more links to discover that the Minnesota Extension service states that "Many natives, like brown-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea),"... Now we have two reasonably authoritative on-line sources one of which claims Echinacea purpurea isn't native, the other that it is. What's a poor amateur naturalist to do? This one decided "it's for the birds."

House finch (red) Goldfinch (yellow)
House finch (red) Goldfinch (yellow)
Photo by J. Harrington

We had a new arrival at the feeders over the weekend. House finches showed up from time to time. These I thought didn't include Minnesota in their range, but further explorations proved that incorrect. They do look similar to, but different than, purple finches, although the colors are more solid (less mottled) and the bodies are discernible smaller. I'm not going to do more research on house fences lest I (re)find the source that led me to believe they aren't found in Minnesota and short-circuit the few brain cells I have still functioning.


Let them be as flowers,
always watered, fed, guarded, admired,
but harnessed to a pot of dirt.

I'd rather be a tall, ugly weed,
clinging on cliffs, like an eagle
wind-wavering above high, jagged rocks.

To have broken through the surface of stone,
to live, to feel exposed to the madness
of the vast, eternal sky.
To be swayed by the breezes of an ancient sea,
carrying my soul, my seed,
beyond the mountains of time or into the abyss of the bizarre.

I'd rather be unseen, and if
then shunned by everyone,
than to be a pleasant-smelling flower,
growing in clusters in the fertile valley,
where they're praised, handled, and plucked
by greedy, human hands.

I'd rather smell of musty, green stench
than of sweet, fragrant lilac.
If I could stand alone, strong and free,
I'd rather be a tall, ugly weed

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Where are the young'uns? #phenology

By this time most Summers, we've seen a fawn or two in the field behind the house and watched goslings go from down to feathers. One or more hen turkeys has often begun leading  a flock of poults through the yard in search of ticks, seeds, ants, grasshoppers or whatever. So far this Summer, we've seen no young'uns.

whitetail doe and fawns - 2014
whitetail doe and fawns - 2014
Photo by J. Harrington
The explanation for a lack of gosling sightings is simple. The county has closed the southern road through the Carlos Avery pools while they replace the culverts and bridge. At home, we've seen fewer does this Summer than we're used to, not sure why. There's one turkey hen that keeps visiting (by herself) but the only poults I've seen were crossing the road about a half mile south of the house. I'm hoping that the next few weeks will bring more families wandering through or else I'll start to wonder about a lack of success in this year's breeding/birthing pattern for our turkeys and whitetails.

turkey hens and poults - 2014
turkey hens and poults - 2014
Photo by J. Harrington
We do keep seeing more and more sandhill cranes in the local fields so their recovery seems to be progressing. Haven't yet seen and sandhill colts so that's something to continue to look forward to. I suspect we'll see lot's of geese as they start their training flights. The closed road should have eliminated the road kills I've noticed each of the past couple of years. Remembering back to the days when they times I saw most wildlife was during hunting season, I now know what I missed and that maybe these are the good old days, at least for some things.

The Fawn

Edna St. Vincent Millay

There it was I saw what I shall never forget
And never retrieve.
Monstrous and beautiful to human eyes, hard to
He lay, yet there he lay,
Asleep on the moss, his head on his polished cleft
small ebony hoves,
The child of the doe, the dappled child of the deer.

Surely his mother had never said, "Lie here
Till I return," so spotty and plain to see
On the green moss lay he.
His eyes had opened; he considered me.

I would have given more than I care to say
To thrifty ears, might I have had him for my friend
One moment only of that forest day:

Might I have had the acceptance, not the love
Of those clear eyes;
Might I have been for him in the bough above
Or the root beneath his forest bed,
A part of the forest, seen without surprise.

Was it alarm, or was it the wind of my fear lest he
That jerked him to his jointy knees,
And sent him crashing off, leaping and stumbling
On his new legs, between the stems of the white

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Going with the river's flow #phenology

Last night we again went to the WaterShed in Osceola for dinner. We were hungry and wanted to see for ourselves just how high the river was. The National Park Service buildings on what used to be Osceola Landing island, during normal flows separated by a backwater, were half-submerged. The "island," viewed from the road and bridge, was entirely underwater. (If an island is entirely under water, is it still an island? Is that a question for philosophers, linguists, etymologists or river rats?)

The St. Croix, and other rivers, are up because areas a little North of us received 8 to 10 inches of rain at the beginning of the week just ended, comparable to what Duluth and vicinity received back in June of 2012. It took a few days for the water to flow from tributaries to main stem river. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a list of "Historic Mega-Rain Events in Minnesota." Almost twice as many have occurred since 1950 than between then and when Minnesota became a state. I don't know about you, but I think I see a very disturbing trend there. I can also find reasons for potential concerns about how the changes in rainfall intensity, frequency and seasonality(?) may affect aquatic, riparian and wetland flora and fauna. The rationale for these concerns is also supported by the fact that "runoff coefficients in some of the major river basins of Minnesota have increased significantly during the last 40 years."

high Spring flows in the St. Croix River
high Spring flows in the St. Croix River
Photo by J. Harrington
What we may have historically considered normal flow patterns, high to flooding in Spring with snow melt, low in Summer, and moderate in Autumn, don't seem to be matching very well what we've observed during the past several decades. All of us creatures who depend on rivers for different reasons had best engage in adapting to a "new normal." It's becoming increasingly clear that, even in (especially in?) Minnesota, we can take neither the quantity nor the quality of water for granted. How quickly can we change our attitudes and our thinking, and to what should we change them?

The River.

By Raymond Carver

I waded, deepening, into the dark water.
Evening, and the push
and swirl of the river as it closed
around my legs and held on.
Young grilse broke water.
Parr darted one way, smolt another.
Gravel turned under my boots as I edged out.
Watched by the furious eyes of king salmon.
Their immense heads turned slowly,
eyes burning with fury, as they hung
in the deep current.
They were there. I felt them there,
and my skin prickled. But
there was something else.
I braced with the wind on my neck.
Felt the hair rise
as something touched my boot.
Grew afraid at what I couldn't see.
Then of everything that filled my eyes—
that other shore heavy with branches,
the dark lip of the mountain range behind.
And this river that had suddenly
grown black and swift.
I drew breath and cast anyway.
Prayed nothing would strike.

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

Friday, July 15, 2016

Wolfing down Summer #phenology

some human and canine "nannies" with The Pups at WSC
some human and canine "nannies" with The Pups at WSC
Photo by J. Harrington

I can now claim to have been surrounded by a pack of ravenously hungry wolves and walked away from the encounter unscathed. Last night the Better Half [BH] accompanied me (or vice versa, but I drove) to the Wildlife Science Center [WSC] to listen to Mike Link and Kate Crowley read from their book Meandering, Notes of a Mississippi Riverlorian. We, actually the BH (I have to reimburse her), bought a copy of the book and made a small donation to WSC to help finance their move to a new home for the pack. Our hearts were thoroughly softened by the time we spent prior to the reading, when we visited with this year's fifteen wolf pups who were nannied by several human staff and even more dog nannies.

Blue Vervain blooming
Blue Vervain blooming
Photo by J. Harrington

Closer to home, Blue Vervain is in bloom, has been for several days. Maybe it's my eyes, but most of the blue vervain that I see, in real life and in photos, looks to me like it's purple, not blue. Of course, many time the Minnesota Vikings "purple" game jerseys look blue to me in certain lights. I suppose that, since purple is a combination of blue and red, my confusion is to be expected. As written in Prairie Plants of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, when the blooms have reached the top of their spikes, "according to old timers, the first frost will occur." Locally, at Wild River State Park, we can expect, with a 50% probability, the first freeze sometime in the third week of September.

pups searching for kibble
pups searching for kibble
Photo by J. Harrington

If you haven't visited the WSC, consider adding it to this year's bucket list, and stop by before we get to that first frost, whenever it occurs. See if watching the pups for awhile doesn't loosen your purse strings and encourage you to make a contribution to help Move The Pack.


By Heid E. Erdrich

Dogs so long with us we forget
that wolves allowed as how
they might be tamed and sprang up
all over the globe, with all humans,
all at once, like a good idea.
So we tamed our own hearts.
Leashed them or sent them to camp’s edge.
Even the shrinks once agreed, in dreams
our dogs are our deepest selves.
Ur Dog, a Siberian, dogged
the heels of nomads,
then turned south to Egypt
to keep Pharaoh safe.
Seemed strange, my mother sighed,
when finally we got a hound,
. . . a house without a dog.
Her world never knew
a yard un-dogged and thus
unlocked. Sudden intrusions
impossible where yappers yap.
Or maybe she objected
to empty armchairs,
rooms too quiet
without the beat
of tail thump or paw thud.
N’de, Ojibwe say, my pet,
which also suggests ode, that spot in the chest,
the part you point to when you pray,
or say with great feeling—great meaning,
meaning dog-love goes that deep.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thistle amuse you #phenology

Our country roadsides are turning shades of pink and purple and lavender and lilac with thistle flowers  and crown vetch. Soon the thistle flowers will become downy seed heads enabling flocks of goldfinch to line nests with down and, some time thereafter, feed seeds to their hatchlings. (I'm not sure if goldfinches know or care about the invasive or noxious status of some thistles.)

Cirsium arvense (Canada Thistle)
Cirsium arvense (Canada Thistle)
Photo by J. Harrington

It always throws off my sense of where we are in the seasons when I encounter the goldfinch cycle. Ducks and geese nested back in April or so. Now, in mid-Summer, ducklings and goslings are changing from downy fuzz to feathers about the same time that goldfinches are nesting. Clearly, in Nature, there's no such thing as "one size fits all."

male American Goldfinch, on railing (Chickadee at feeder)
male American Goldfinch, on railing (Chickadee at feeder)
Photo by J. Harrington

I had lost track of the goldfinch - thistle-seed-and-down relationship, and how that affects the timing of goldfinch nesting, until I came across it the other evening while re-reading Jan Zita Grover's Northern Waters. Her "memoir" about life, fish and fly-fishing is an enjoyable read, especially if you're passionately involved in any of those three themes (and I sincerely hope you are, at least in the first). We have goldfinches at our feeders basically year round and their colors brighten noticeably come Spring. I obviously fell for the sequence of the children's rhyme from my youth, about "First comes Love," then marriage (mating) and then baby carriages (nests and nestlings) and assumed that mating and nesting came soon after Spring's mating colors. My bad.

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.

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Field-guide FUNdamentals for flowers #phenology

According to the information I looked at a year or two ago on the Minnesota Wildflowers web site, there are almost 1,200 plants in Minnesota, of which almost 700 are wildflowers. We learned over the past few days that that's at least one more than is listed in several of our wildflower field guides. The plant in question, according to patient paging by the Better Half [BH] in one of our guides, appears to be Round-headed Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata). The BH found it in Wildflowers and Weeds by Booth Courtnay/Janes H. Zimmerman. It's also in Prairie Plants of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Theodore S. Cochrane, Kandis Elliot, Claudia S. Lipke, which I hadn't yet gotten around to checking, and in WEEDS and WILDFLOWERS in Winter, Lauren Brown. (FULL DISCLOSURE: Using Brown's book, I identified the Winter version of Round-headed Bush Clover about 18 months ago. Although we published the photo with identification, at the time, I failed to go back and label my photograph on my computer. It is now labeled and keyworded.) But, that was then and this is Summer and the Bush Clover plants haven't started blooming yet. In fact, that was a basic reason why I wasn't looking for them online in Minnesota Wildflowers, which works best for me when I'm searching on a flower by color.

Round-Headed Bush Clover in Winter
Round-Headed Bush Clover in Winter
Photo by J. Harrington

Round-headed Bush Clover was/is(?) conspicuous by its complete absence from the following three field guides which I spent several hours fruitlessly searching.
  • What's Doin' the Bloomin, A Guide to Wildflowers of the Upper Great Lakes Regions, Eastern Canada and Northeastern USA, Clayton R. Oslund

  • Northland Wildflowers, The Comprehensive Guide to the Minnesota Region, John B. Moyle & Evelyn W. Moyle, photography by John Gregor

  • Wildflowers of Minnesota, Stan Tekiela
The purpose of this little story isn't to denigrate those guides which lack the Round-headed Bush Clover. It's to suggest that you might want to have several options available and don't think it's a failure on your part if you can't find every wildflower every time, especially if you're limited to one guide.

If anyone wants to suggest a single, all-encompassing, Minnesota wildflower field guide, published in print format and portable, please do so in the comments. The same information(?) in the Minnesota Wildflower online guide has also published by Immersion Media as an app. I haven't tried it and don't know if the Minnesota Wildflowers folks get any of the $2.99 proceeds or not.

Field Guide

The stars are pinned between the leaves   
of the trees, and love is only a harbinger,   
a regular Boy Scout handbook
of things not to do, and how to do other things,   
small chores you’d never think of,   
and supper gets cold on the table.   
But I can’t leave here without
taking you with me.
And the formal customs we once had,   
like wearing red during hunting season,   
are only signposts pointing the way   
in and out of the territories—
colored leaves floating on the water,   
hesitant, before the rains come.

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

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Water permits or buffers everywhere #cleanwaterwednesday

I know Wednesday is tomorrow, but so much related to clean water is happening now I couldn't wait. This is an "exciting" time for Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR). PolyMet has applied for a water appropriation permit and a dam safety permit for the proposed NorthMet project. (The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency separately received the 1,900 page "water quality permit." Meanwhile, the Timberjay newspaper reports that the US Environmental Protection Agency is "raising new concerns about whether the state of Minnesota is undermining federal pollution laws..." [paywalled story].)

St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park, downstream from PolyMet
St. Louis River in Jay Cooke State Park, downstream from PolyMet
Photo by J. Harrington

Back at the MNDNR, today is the day that the agricultural buffer maps have been released and implementation begins based on new state legislation. I'm troubled that the maps appear to delineate where buffers are required, but don't seem to indicate any existing compliance with current buffer laws and rules. Let's hope that future efforts will clearly identify which locations have met the requirement to implement and which haven't. At least for some parts of the Vermillion River watershed, there are reports that identify specific fields that could use the implementation of some Best Management Practices.

did growing these pollute our waters?
did growing these pollute our waters?
Photo by J. Harrington

As a strong supporter of local food and local farmers, I'd like to know whether the vegetables at my farmers market or community supported agriculture site are being produced by a farmer who is protecting clean water. In fact, I'd like to see several "Clean Water Certification" programs started for those who meet the buffer and other water quality related requirements. That kind of effort would help to make farming more sustainable. Maybe even General Mills and other huge agribusinesses, as part of greening their supply chain, would want to participate. Land O'Lakes is a partner in Minnesota's Water Quality Certification Program, and west coast communities have "Salmon Safe" certifications for farms and other land uses, including a large airport.

While all of this is going on, the U.S. Forest Service is considering cancellation of the renewal of mineral leases that would allow copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed; Essar Steel, while in the midst of bankruptcy, is asserting that termination of their mineral leases is invalid; and, not really related to the preceding, but having to do with Minnesota's waters, last night's storms left flooding , damaged buildings and infrastructure in their wake, and rising rivers to be dealt with. What's the design storm PolyMet's consultants used for their plans? It's looking more and more as if we can have clean water or we can have business as usual, but not both. Which would you prefer?


By Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

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