Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Voting with our dollars #CleanWaterWednesday

I've been bothered because I didn't (don't) think Minnesota's Water Stewardship Pledge goes nearly far enough. Minnesota has, for decades, focused on issuing permits for large wastewater dischargers, then minor dischargers, then urban stormwater and the results have been far less than satisfactory because much of our remaining water pollution comes from our industrial agriculture system. Asking Minnesotans to be more conscious of their water use, without having a broader, comprehensive water management strategy in place, isn't likely to get us where we need to go. As a very, very smart man wrote years ago:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” ― R. Buckminster Fuller

local row crops: corn
local row crops: corn
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm hoping that a new model of motivation for agriculture will become a major factor in cleaning up our water, and it's actually one that we've already begun to implement. We get to vote with our dollars. Many of us have already been doing that when we buy fresh, organic, local foods instead of industrially produced processed stuff. We're having enough of an effect that the big guys are noticing. Cargill, General Mills, and Wal-Mart are collaborating to improve farm soil and water quality.
“More and more consumers want to know where their food came from and what on-farm practices took place in row-crop ag and animal ag,” said Jill Kolling, senior director of sustainability at Cargill and co-chair of the collaborative. “That’s definitely a trend.”
[UPDATE: the Back Story details]

local farmers market crops
local farmers market crops
Photo by J. Harrington

The part I like most is that this is a trend we, the eating voters of Minnesota and the Midwest, control. Done the right way, it can also improve our local economies and support more local businesses. Think about the effects those who want to protect pollinators from pesticides are beginning to have. It won't happen as quickly as we'd like, but if we keep following the strategies we need, we can make it happen. It's how we change a free market economy into a fair market economy and clean up the environment in the process. Now, we need to get the Minnesota Water Stewardship Pledge improved by adding these points from different versions of the "Where You At" bioregional quiz.

  • I can name the creek or river which defines my watershed

  • I can trace the water drink from precipitation to tap

  • I know where my sewage (wastewater) goes

The Farm

By Joyce Sutphen

My father’s farm is an apple blossomer.
He keeps his hills in dandelion carpet
and weaves a lane of lilacs between the rose
and the jack-in-the-pulpits.
His sleek cows ripple in the pastures.
The dog and purple iris
keep watch at the garden’s end.

His farm is rolling thunder,
a lightning bolt on the horizon.
His crops suck rain from the sky
and swallow the smoldering sun.
His fields are oceans of heat,
where waves of gold
beat the burning shore.

A red fox
pauses under the birch trees,
a shadow is in the river’s bend.
When the hawk circles the land,
my father’s grainfields whirl beneath it.
Owls gather together to sing in his woods,
and the deer run his golden meadow.

My father’s farm is an icicle,
a hillside of white powder.
He parts the snowy sea,
and smooths away the valleys.
He cultivates his rows of starlight
and drags the crescent moon
through dark unfurrowed fields.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Water Is Life at Standing Rock, is it in Minnesota? #CleanWaterWednesday

Lightning, thunder, wind, rain, hail, downed leaves, downed branches, downed trees, power outages -- we had a heck of a storm last night. Summer has reminded us that he's not done with us yet. The township truck and chipper is cruising from debris pile to debris pile today. As we clear and clean the drive, we'll pile the sticks in the same spot as the brush pile we burned back in mid-Summer and start another one to provide shelter this Winter.

Although last night's line of storms covered much of the state, I doubt they had anything to do with Governor Dayton's call today for "... Minnesotans to take a 'stewardship pledge' as part of the state's 'Year of Water Action.'" Of course, demonstrating their usual bipartisan approach, Republicans promptly asked again for a special session to accomplish the clean water funding they failed to enact during the regular session.

St. Croix River, downstream of Line 61
St. Croix River, downstream of Line 61
Photo by J. Harrington

The Governor requests that Minnesotans take a Water Stewardship Pledge. The contents of the pledge strike me as woefully anemic when compared and contrasted with the actions taken by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their supporters to protect "the Missouri River, the Mother River" from Enbridge's Dakota Access Pipeline

Minnesota governmental agencies, especially the Public Utilities Commission, tried to permit Enbridge's Sandpiper pipeline in Minnesota to be constructed absent the state's rigorous environmental review process, according to the state's courts.
"The PUC ignored both the plain language and central requirements of the state’s cornerstone statute on environmental review, a three-judge panel found, sending the certificate approval back to the commission for a do-over."
As I read the accounts of the permitting on the two projects, the federal actions on the Dakota Access pipeline seem suspiciously parallel to Minnesota's PUC's Sandpiper Certificate of Need decision (but then, I am not a lawyer).

One of the most moving and understandable explanations of the significance of Standing Rock, and why the pipelines shouldn't be built, can be found in this story WOMEN LEAD THE PRAYER FOR WATER AT STANDING ROCK RESERVATION IN NORTH DAKOTA in Invoke magazine.
Mni wiconi—“Water is life.” It’s so simple, it’s easy to forget. It’s so true, it almost seems silly to drive more than a thousand miles to affirm. And yet, I find myself opening up to what this phrase truly means and realizing how differently we need to live if we honestly believe it.

St. Louis River, downstream of (proposed) PolyMet mine
St. Louis River, downstream of (proposed) PolyMet mine
Photo by J. Harrington

Minnesota legislators have been playing games with the state's water quality standards intended to protect wild rice, the state grain and a food sacred to many Indigenous Minnesotans. That doesn't seem to me to respect the ethic that "Water Is Life" nor the kind of leadership we need if we're to honor the Water Stewardship Pledge. I think the situation calls for something like what Sitting Bull would remind us he said 150 years ago “ Let us put our minds together to see what kind of future we can make for our children….”

Personally, I'd like to see a web page that tracks whether or not each member of the Minnesota legislature has signed the Water Stewardship Pledge. Wouldn't it be nice to use that as a screening tool for the elections this November?

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds continue to arrive at the nectar feeder today.


Hilda Conkling

The world turns softly
not to spill its lakes and rivers.
The water is held in its arms
and the sky is held in the water.
What is water,
that pours silver,
and can hold the sky?

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Leaping to conclusions #phenology

Late yesterday afternoon, the air behind the house was full of some light-colored flying insect that must have just hatched. I kept watching for birds such as swallows to arrive and start feeding. They didn't arrive before dark, but the insect hatch may help account for an unusual overnight event of which we'd be unaware if it weren't for the awesome humidity that's returned.

a trail across the window's condensation
a trail across the window's condensation
Photo by J. Harrington

The humidity had coated most of the outside of the house windows with a layer of moisture. On the second floor picture window, something had left a track through the moisture. But, what? At first I thought it might have been the trail of a small bird flying along looking for an opening. With the consumption of more coffee, my ability to think rationally increased and I rejected that option. The trail didn't look right for the bird scenario. What else could leave a trail across vertical glass coated with moisture? Slugs? Probably not. Then, I remembered that we often have residents inhabiting the space under our deck-railing bird bath. Those residents have been known to eat a bug or two. They also have sticky pads on their toes, pads that let them climb the glass of walk-out doors. We don't have the proverbial smoking gun evidence, but I believe a strong circumstantial case has been made that the perpetrator of much befuddlement is or resembles the individual in the mug shot below.

the gray tree frog trail-maker?
the gray tree frog trail-maker?
Photo by J. Harrington

I know more about tree frog's Spring mating patterns and sounds than about Summer foods and Autumn's "hibernation" triggers. If not for this morning's tracking exercise, I'm not sure I'd every have become interested enough to see what I could learn about them. (A few days ago we mentioned a lack of Autumn phenology reporting. The situation described herein could make a case study and serve to increase interest in that season.)

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds continue to arrive at the nectar feeder yesterday and today.

The Frog

By Hilaire Belloc

Be kind and tender to the Frog,
   And do not call him names,
As ‘Slimy skin,’ or ‘Polly-wog,’
   Or likewise ‘Ugly James,’
Or ‘Gape-a-grin,’ or ‘Toad-gone-wrong,’   
   Or ‘Billy Bandy-knees’:
The Frog is justly sensitive
   To epithets like these.
No animal will more repay
   A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,   
They are extremely rare).

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Summer's swan song #phenology

fallen leaves, Coffee Talk patio
fallen leaves, Coffee Talk patio
Photo by J. Harrington

Do you realize this is the last weekend of this year's meteorological Summer? Look about you. Not only have the leaves started their color change, some have already begun to fall, as demonstrated by thts morning's photo on the back patio at Coffee Talk in Taylors Falls.

leaf color change, Wild River State Park
leaf color change, Wild River State Park
Photo by J. Harrington

I doubt that anyone keeps records of such things, but this appears to be a bumper year for goldenrod.  I don't every recall seeing as much blooming as we did during our drive this morning. One of us wanted to check out some here-to-fore unexplored roads in Wild River State Park. (The St. Croix River looks to be flowing about bank full.) Many of the unplanted or "fallow" fields along Chisago County's back roads and side roads are just full of goldenrod, as are the usual spots in ditches and up hillsides along those roads.

early morning fog
early morning fog
Photo by J. Harrington

Before a trip to Taylors Falls and then to the park, but after SiSi and I took a predawn walk along our pitch black road, I sat drinking coffee and watched a fog-shrouded, lightless sky become not gray but less and less black until it finally started to brighten. By then we could see this morning's fog was so thick the goldfinches, chickadees, and nuthatches coming in to the feeder were flying by Instrument Flight Rules. They didn't seem in the least troubled by conditions.

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds continue to arrive at the nectar feeder yesterday and today.

Three Songs at the End of Summer

A second crop of hay lies cut   
and turned. Five gleaming crows   
search and peck between the rows.
They make a low, companionable squawk,   
and like midwives and undertakers   
possess a weird authority.

Crickets leap from the stubble,   
parting before me like the Red Sea.   
The garden sprawls and spoils.

Across the lake the campers have learned   
to water-ski. They have, or they haven’t.   
Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone   
suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!”

Cloud shadows rush over drying hay,   
fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine.   
The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod   
brighten the margins of the woods.

Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts;   
water, silver-still, and a vee of geese.


The cicada’s dry monotony breaks   
over me. The days are bright   
and free, bright and free.

Then why did I cry today   
for an hour, with my whole   
body, the way babies cry?


A white, indifferent morning sky,   
and a crow, hectoring from its nest   
high in the hemlock, a nest as big   
as a laundry basket....
                                    In my childhood   
I stood under a dripping oak,
while autumnal fog eddied around my feet,   
waiting for the school bus
with a dread that took my breath away.

The damp dirt road gave off   
this same complex organic scent.

I had the new books—words, numbers,   
and operations with numbers I did not   
comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled   
by use, in a blue canvas satchel
with red leather straps.

Spruce, inadequate, and alien   
I stood at the side of the road.   
It was the only life I had.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

How to bear rainy weather #phenology

Mountain ash berries
Mountain ash berries
Photo by J. Harrington

We're experiencing another cool, wet and dreary day here at the southern edge of the North Country. That makes me grateful that we've got a supply of coffee and good books to read. I'm still working my way through North Shore. This morning's reading covered pages that mentioned how far black bears (we have one or two in the neighborhood) will travel to feast on acorns (20 miles +/-) and mountain ash berries, among other Autumn options. The particular 154 acre oak stand mentioned is now in Tettegouche State Park. I was intrigued to read about the mountain ash berries. We've seen lots of them along the North Shore, but weren't aware that bears fed on them, nor were we aware that an estimated 96 species of birds and mammals feed on acorns. I won't have time to finish the book before then, but I'm motivated to read lots more before we head back up to the Gunflint late next month.

Smooth Oxeye
Smooth Oxeye
Photo by J. Harrington

To counteract today's glum weather, take a walk, bike, horse, or drive if you must, and enjoy the brightness of the yellow flowers blooming along the roadsides. There are plenty of Heliopsis helianthoides (Smooth Oxeye) and Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan) and some remaining birdsfoot trefoil to be seen. The varietals of fall gold aren't easy to distinguish at 60 or 70 miles per hour, so township roads at 20 or so are a better option for those of you vehicle-bound. Clouds are breaking up, sun's trying to come out. Time to follow my own advice, grab a leash, a dog and walk down the road.

Black-eyed Susan
Black-eyed Susan
Photo by J. Harrington


By Tara Bray

I climbed the roll of hay to watch the heron
in the pond. He waded a few steps out,
then back, thrusting his beak under water,
pulling it up empty, but only once.
Later I walked the roads for miles, certain
he’d be there when I returned. How is it for him,
day after day, his brittle legs rising
from warm green scum, his graceful neck curled,
damp in the bright heat? It’s a dull world.
Every day, the same roads, the sky,
the dust, the barn caving into itself,
the tin roof twisted and scattered in the yard.
Again, the bank covered with oxeye daisy
that turns to spiderwort, to chicory,
and at last to goldenrod. Each year, the birds—
thick in the air and darting in wild numbers—
grow quiet, the grasses thin, the light leaves
earlier each day. The heron stood
stone-still on my spot when I returned.
And then, his wings burst open, lifting the steel-
blue rhythm of his body into flight.
I touched the warm hay. Hoping for a trace
of his wild smell, I cupped my hands over
my face: nothing but the heat of fields
and skin. It wasn’t long before the world
began to breathe the beat of ordinary hours,
stretching out again beneath the sky.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A mellow, yellow time of year #phenology

First of all, I want to thank Governor Dayton for his recent Executive Order protecting pollinators. According to reports, Minnesota is way ahead of most (all?) other states on this issue. I think I'm starting to like a pattern I see developing, about increasing awareness of and action on our responsibilities for earth's stewardship.

Second, do you think this may be the most mellow time of year? Winter, post-holidays, brings many excuses to hibernate, which, to my mind, isn't the same as "mellow"; Spring has the repeated excitement of new growth and ephemerals; Summer's wildflowerings and plant growth are often incremental changes like the rising action in a story or drama; Autumn is full of the excitement of harvest, color changes and holidays (falling action). The next week, or two, or three, are like "The Children's Hour" is to a day, a pause in the year's occupation. On my way home from doing some local errands this morning, I noticed a paling of the green in many of the leaves on local trees. Some, in fact, are acquiring a distinctly yellowish tone. More sumac leaves turn red every day. Milkweed pods are browning and starting to become brittle. Many of the plants in the flower garden are becoming shopworn, while their wild relatives are exchanging flowers for seeds for next year's plants. It's getting close to time for the annual planting of the driveway chrysanthemums.

a mellow yellow time of year
a mellow yellow time of year
Photo by J. Harrington

For the past several years or so, we've planted mums along the north side of the driveway. They end up in a spot that most catches hell during the Winter (mixed metaphor?), which probably goes a long way toward explaining why we annually plant what should be a perennial. I wonder if anyone at Cub will be able to answer whether the plants have been treated with neonics or if we'll have to look elsewhere.

chrysanthemums by the driveway
chrysanthemums by the driveway
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm debating whether to try planting some bloodroot upslope from where the mums usually go. Having some Spring ephemerals near the driveway has a lot of appeal, as does anticipating a return next Spring to some of the wildflower beds we discovered this year, which brings us back to that time of year's excitement and anticipation compared to the mellow anticipation of it.

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds at nectar feeder again today.

  • A handful of hen turkeys wandered through the yard headed for the woods on the North side.

The Children's Hour

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Between the dark and the daylight,
      When the night is beginning to lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
      That is known as the Children's Hour.

I hear in the chamber above me
      The patter of little feet,
The sound of a door that is opened,
      And voices soft and sweet.

From my study I see in the lamplight,
      Descending the broad hall stair,
Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra,
      And Edith with golden hair.

A whisper, and then a silence:
      Yet I know by their merry eyes
They are plotting and planning together
      To take me by surprise.

A sudden rush from the stairway,
      A sudden raid from the hall!
By three doors left unguarded
      They enter my castle wall!

They climb up into my turret
      O'er the arms and back of my chair;
If I try to escape, they surround me;
      They seem to be everywhere.

They almost devour me with kisses,
      Their arms about me entwine,
Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen
      In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!

Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti,
      Because you have scaled the wall,
Such an old mustache as I am
      Is not a match for you all!

I have you fast in my fortress,
      And will not let you depart,
But put you down into the dungeon
      In the round-tower of my heart.

And there will I keep you forever,
      Yes, forever and a day,
Till the walls shall crumble to ruin,
      And moulder in dust away!

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Staging's starting #phenology

Admittedly it's debatable how "natural" this is, but it is seasonal. The Minnesota State Fair opens today. This morning's temperatures were Autumnal (low 60s). The Fair, if it doesn't signal the start of Autumn, definitely notes the end of Summer. his will be the last weekend before Labor Day.

I suspect local sandhill cranes are flocking up but haven't yet seen any this year. Reports on social media are that the monarch butterfly migration is starting (see sidebar).

sandhill crane flocks, August 30, 2013
sandhill crane flocks, August 30, 2013
Photo by J. Harrington

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds at nectar feeder again today.

  • Red squirrel inside screened patio. I noticed two large holes near top of a screen panel, adjacent outside steps from deck. (And here I've been fussing about chipmunks.)

  • Several young of the year goldfinches trying to figure out how to navigate around and land on a crowded feeder.

The Sandhills

By Linda Hogan

The language of cranes
we once were told
is the wind. The wind
is their method,
their current, the translated story
of life they write across the sky.
Millions of years
they have blown here
on ancestral longing,
their wings of wide arrival,
necks long, legs stretched out
above strands of earth
where they arrive
with the shine of water,
stories, interminable
language of exchanges
descended from the sky
and then they stand,
earth made only of crane
from bank to bank of the river
as far as you can see
the ancient story made new.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Water action ethics #CleanWaterWednesday

Have you noticed that Native Americans are in the news, or social media, or both, these days as they work to protect the natural resources on which we all depend? A little to our West, there's the demonstration against the Dakota Access pipeline. [UPDATE: the protectors' perspective] (Based on what contractors for the same pipeline are doing to Iowa farmers, prevention seems the best way to protect what's left of our environment.) In Minnesota, our state administration, through the Department of Natural Resources, has recently reversed its extension of the "catch-and-release" walleye season on Mille Lacs, largely due to concerns expressed by Minnesota and Wisconsin Ojibwe bands.

Lake Mille Lacs with a "walleye chop"
Lake Mille Lacs with a "walleye chop"
Photo by J. Harrington

I don't doubt that some leaders in the Dayton administration have heard of the precautionary principle. I often wonder if they try to follow it. Short-term economics can't continue to prevail over protecting the resource on which the economics are based. I equally wonder how political leadership could reconcile a "science-based" solution without reflecting the concerns of resource co-managers while simultaneously promoting the protection of Minnesota's water resources through a "water ethic" that we all adopt. Ethics are (common) value based at least as much as, if not more than, science based.

North Shore, Lake Superior
North Shore, Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

Water is a renewable resource, not a limitless one. Protecting and managing a commons such as water, to be ethical, should be based on shared sacrifice as well as shared benefit and the fundamental value of the resource. I'll be more encouraged about the long-term prospect of success for a water ethic taking hold in Minnesotans when and if I see political leaders and resource management agencies reaching out to and working with all the stakeholders before a management decision is announced. I was pleasantly surprised shocked and amazed to see growing acknowledgement by some Iowans that "business as usual" won't solve their (agricultural) water quality problems. It helps me believe there's hope for Minnesota. To protect water, its use must reflect its value to us and the rest of life on this planet.

  • Through yesterday, ruby-throated hummingbirds continued to arrive at the nectar feeder. None noticed yet so far today.

  • Several turkey hens, plus their flocks of poults, the most seen so far this year, wandered through the yard mid-afternoon, leaving me feeling better about the wild world at large. We've become used to seeing a handful of flocks and, until yesterday, had seen only a couple.

  • Yet another chipmunk late this morning headed for the sunflower feeder scraps. Since the Better Half's part border collie is fascinated, and frustrated, by these little critters that run away and climb trees, rather than let him herd them, I'll leave the have-a-hart in the garage for now.

 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 fel 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. 

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Crazy flight, Autumn dispersal #phenology

Fifty years or so ago, when I was first learning about ruffed grouse (not ruffled grouse, although the neck ruff often looks somewhat ruffled) I encountered a description of Autumn dispersal called "crazy flight." As local populations of young of the year spread out into suitable habitat, on occasion, uneducated grouse try flying through windows. Autumn is relocation time so that, with luck, food and shelter can be located before Winter's snow, cold, scarcity and sleep.

I also learned over the years that chipmunks hibernate during the Winter. I don't recall learning or even wondering anything about chipmunk dispersal until today. Based on our experience here at "The Property," I have discovered that some chipmunks are highly prolific breeders and disperse into locations under the front porch, nearby wood piles and into tunnels under what passes for lawn around here. The local population has already gnawed holes in the front steps and created erosion around the back patio as our Summer rainstorms wash out their underground tunnels. For these and related reasons, we've been helping members of the local population(s) find alternative arrangements. Consider it involuntary dispersal.

a "two-fer" of chipmunks
a "two-fer" of chipmunks
Photo by J. Harrington

Two years ago we translocated about 16, one at a time. Last year it was only 7 or 8. This year remained in single digits until yesterday and today. Yesterday we moved one of the crew (number 8 or 9 for the year) out of the back yard. Today, we had a first. Two chipmunks (9 and 10 or 10 and 11)  got themselves caught simultaneously in our have-a-hart trap. They were moved to the same release location  as yesterday's relocatee. I'm hoping that we don't have too many more sightings (or trappings) this year before they head for hibernation. I feel better about the "extraditions" when I'm sure they should have time to locate alternate food and shelter sources before the snow flies. When it comes to excess chipmunks, I'm definitely a NIMBY. On the other hand, thinking about crazy flight, I'm still trying to imagine what went through the minds of today's pair as they rode together in the back of the SUV for 10 minutes or so and then had an opportunity to scamper into new territory. I wonder if Adam and Eve shared similar feelings as they left their first home.

As I did some background checking for today's posting, I came across a paper that suggests Autumn is a neglected season in climate change research. That fits with what I've been seeing as I've searched various phenology sites. Your thoughts?

Susan McCampbell Ring – Chipmunks Of Trial Lake

Ever since I was a little girl I fantasized
about little wild animals running up to touch me.

A steely-cold High Uintah morning:
and I’m twenty-six, sitting on pine duff waiting

for the sun. When finally it peeks
over the far mountain and through

the canopy of tremendous old firs dripping lichen
it wakes an excited tribe of chipmunks.

I decide that if I can sit still
enough–and THINK like

a boulder–they won’t mind me and they’ll
just go about their October morning

rituals. I am stone, I say to myself,
over and over, clearing my head

of artificial chatter and the “civilized”
things upon which I dwell. I am stone.

I keep my eyes lowered, trying not
to watch their striped antics and

velvet acrobatics, trying not
to smile when one is chased into my leg,

and trying not to laugh out loud when one
hops to my Levi-clad knee, jumps to my

sweatered arm, scurries up to my
neck and tickles me with tiny

flicking hands. Soon the others
catch on: a grand idea! Running

laps on my shoulders and back,
across my elbows and cross-legged

lap, and once or twice even perching
high on my winter wool cap.

I don’t dare blink. I try to breathe
slower than the trees and I try to stay

as still as granite. The chipmunks frolic like
tiny clowns–testing me, mocking me?–

and then chase each other away. Now I feel
lonelier than rock and I think

I understand how the Earth must be taking
the news of mass extinction.

15 VII 94
Susan McCampbell Ring

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Monday, August 22, 2016

What's in a name? Etymology for #phenology

A talented artist and writer named Douglas Gayeton has created
based on a simple premise: people will live more sustainably if they understand the most basic terms and principles that will define the next economy.
He has also written a book by the title of Local, about which Anne Lappe writes "...Douglas Gayeton gives name to the world we want and in so doing helps us create it."

Recently, I've been rereading my copy of Local at the same time that I'm rereading Home Ground, Language for an American Landscape. I thought I had discovered a technical error in Home Ground's description of "batture," referring to an "elevated riverbed between levees." According to Wikipedia, that (riverbed elevation) indeed does occur in the lower Mississippi River, among other places. (Listen carefully in the background and you can here Peter, Paul and Mary singing Pete Seeger's Where have all the flowers gone, with the refrain "when will they he ever learn.")

Since before I read Shallow Water Dictionary I've been increasingly intrigued with regional and/or local terms. In fly-fishing, local insects often have a variety of different names in various parts of the world, or different insects may have the same name. Plants frequently have common names that change as they're encountered in different locations. The Linnaean system of scientific nomenclature is supposed to resolve this issue in Latin but many of us are subpar citizen scientists who remain overly reliant on common names. ("Latin's a dead language, just as dead as it can be. First it killed the Romans and now it's killing me." is a ditty I recall from high school.)

a field of purple love grass
a field of purple love grass
Photo by J. Harrington

It seems to me that federal and state agencies semi-encourage our reliance on common names when they list alternative names for flora or fauna in their reference material. Sometimes, would-be poets contribute to the confusion by looking at a common name, taking what they consider to be an adjective, instead of part of a common name noun, and transferring it to an alternative common name. Here's a recent example:

There are at least (only?) two varieties of love grass: weeping lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula (Schrad.) Nees (Poaceae) [8,56]) and purple lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis (Pursh) Steud). Purple lovegrass also has the common name of tumble grass. Now, being more oriented toward the humanities in general and English in particular,  I proceeded to consider "purple" an adjective describing the noun lovegrass, instead of being the first of a part of a common name. I therefore felt on Home Ground when I referred to purple tumble grass. However, a Google search reveals that My Minnesota seems to be one of the few places on the internet that refers to tumble grass as "purple tumble grass" instead of "purple lovegrass, tumble grass."

In our defense, we note that several years ago we acquired an official artistic license, and have long held a poetic license. Changing nouns to adjectives, or vice versa, is covered, we believe, by both licenses. On the other hand, it appears that the tumbling part of the grass isn't the purple leaves, but the golden seed heads. Perhaps we should focus on enhancing assonance and alliteration instead of another confusing and confused alias?

Bemidji Blues

By Sean Hill

For Arnold Rampersad

Shadows bluing the snow, the pines’ and mine,
bear the cast of a kestrel’s blue-gray crown
I note as I find my way about this town.

Blues here more likely the Nordic-eyes kind
than the blue-black of some Black folk back home.
Here so many lakes reflect the sky’s blue dome;

some summer days skimmed-milk blue tints windblown
whitecaps. Blue’s an adjective, verb, and noun,
and the color of the world when I pine

because she’s gone leaving too much wine and time.
Blue shadows on the snow, mine and the pines’.
For a tall man, blue ox, and now me, home

is Bemidji, though the blues here around
more the cast of a kestrel’s blue-gray crown
than the blue-black of my cousins back home.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The clues continue #phenology

A few hummingbirds have been to the nectar feeder today, after the downy woodpeckers left. (I'm repeating the daily hummingbird observations in an attempt to be able to note when they're no longer showing up or, possibly some day soon, that there's a marked increase in numbers from migrants passing through.)

Northern Flicker, female or immature?
Northern Flicker, female or immature?
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm still trying to confirm the identification of what I think is a Northern Flicker, except that it doesn't appear to have a red bar at the nape of its neck. It's showing up at the feeder on a regular basis. That would be the feeder I filled this morning with about a gallon of sunflower seeds which by mid-day was about 80% gone. There seems to be noticeably more goldfinches than usual this year. Maybe I shouldn't have left those thistle plants standing?

purple tumble-grass seedheads flying
purple tumble-grass seedheads flying
Photo by J. Harrington

Today's breezes brought this years first observation of purple tumble grass seedheads sailing through the air. I only noticed a few, but it's another sign the seasons are tilting from Summer to Autumn. International Falls got down to 39 last night/this morning.

For the Chipmunk in My Yard

By Robert Gibb

I think he knows I’m alive, having come down
The three steps of the back porch
And given me a good once over. All afternoon
He’s been moving back and forth,
Gathering odd bits of walnut shells and twigs,
While all about him the great fields tumble
To the blades of the thresher. He’s lucky
To be where he is, wild with all that happens.
He’s lucky he’s not one of the shadows
Living in the blond heart of the wheat.
This autumn when trees bolt, dark with the fires
Of starlight, he’ll curl among their roots,
Wanting nothing but the slow burn of matter
On which he fastens like a small, brown flame.

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

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Rain, rain, go away? #phenology

Another rainy, lazy day has floated some childhood and teenage memories to the surface of my thoughts. From boyhood, I remember the nursery rhyme:
"It's raining; it's pouring.
The old man is snoring.
He went to bed and bumped his head,
And he couldn't get up in the morning."
Years later, one of the high points of my teen-age years was attending a Peter, Paul and Mary concert. Mary's soft, clear voice lends just the right amount of youthful wistfulness to their version of the song.

chickadee in rain
chickadee in rain
Photo by J. Harrington

The rain doesn't seem to trouble the goldfinches, chickadees, nuthatches or others who fly through the drops to arrive at the feeder. (Do you ever wonder how birds can see to fly through the rain? Someone anticipated that question and provided an answer.) A small flock of five turkey hens just pecked their way down from the hillside and up to the house, so they're out and about in the rain. Hummingbirds are still around, although I noticed they, like the squirrels, usually wait for the rain to stop before venturing to the feeders.

August 23, 2015 start of color
August 23, 2015 start of color
Photo by J. Harrington

We've resisted an urge to turn the heat on, despite mid-day temperatures stuck in the low 60's. More signs of seasonal transition. It's just two weeks until Labor Day weekend. By that time, don't be surprised if we start to see splashes of red and gold in our North Country. Soup is on the menu for tonight's dinner. We'll likely finish off what's left of the loaves of sourdough bread I baked a couple of days ago. The renewed starter worked nicely so baking will now be worked back into the weekly routine for the next nine or 10 months. Would that my recuperative powers were as strong as the starter's, but then it's not as old as I am.


By Francis Ponge
Translated by Joshua Corey and Jean-Luc Garneau

The rain, in the backyard where I watch it fall, comes down at different 
rates. In the center a fine discontinuous curtain — or network — falls implacably and yet gently in drops that are probably quite light; a strengthless sempiternal precipitation, an intense fraction of the atmosphere at its purest. A little distance from the walls to the right and left plunk heavier drops, one by one. Here they seem about the size of grains of wheat, the size of a pea, while elsewhere they are big as marbles. Along gutters and window frames the rain runs horizontally, while depending from the same obstacles it hangs like individually wrapped candies. Along the entire surface of a little zinc roof under my eyes it trickles in a very thin sheet, a moirĂ© pattern formed by the varying currents created by the imperceptible bumps and undulations of the surface. From the gutter it flows with the restraint of a shallow creek until it tumbles out into a perfectly vertical net, rather imperfectly braided, all the way to the ground where it breaks and sparkles into brilliant needles.

Each of its forms has its particular allure and corresponds to a particular patter. Together they share the intensity of a complex mechanism 
as precise as it is dangerous, like a steam-powered clock whose spring is wound by the force of the precipitation.

The ringing on the ground of the vertical trickles, the glug-glug of the gutters, the miniscule strikes of the gong multiply and resonate all at once in a concert without monotony, and not without a certain delicacy.

Once the spring unwinds itself certain wheels go on turning for a while, more and more slowly, until the whole mechanism comes to a stop. It all vanishes with the sun: when it finally reappears, the brilliant apparatus evaporates. It has rained.
Translated from the French

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Windfalls for whitetails #phenology

Last night we got some show-offy thunderstorms. All morning we've been getting intermittent rain showers. Mid-day there was a lull in the rain and a couple of whitetail does decided that would be a good time to see if the recent storms had causes any of the ripening pears to deliver windfalls. As I watched their browsing, the answer was yes. After the first few fruits had been tasted, the smaller of the two does, I assume it was the yearling daughter of the mature adult, started to scamper about and demonstrate just how fast she could run. (My dog has a similar compulsion from time to time.) "Mom" kept munching pears from the ground while "the kid" dashed down the hill, up the hill and across the hill, looping back to "Mom" each time. "See me. See how fast I can go!"

whitetail doe under pear tree
whitetail doe under pear tree
Photo by J. Harrington

Before the arrival of the two deer, I had been scratching my head about what to post today. I didn't want to write about more rain; nor about the fact that Minnesota's divided government is becoming less and less functional (no special session, no bonding, no tax bill etc.), and so is the county's; nor, thinking about dysfunctional governance, the fact that Minneapolis will be "blessed" with a fund-raising visit from the 2016 GOP presidential candidate. I'm truly grateful to the two does for showing up when they did.

On a note related by the rain, a few days ago we mentioned developing a list of poems about rivers. Since then, we've discovered another one, although we don't yet have a copy of the work itself. We note it here because we want to remind you that this project is underway and mention that no one has (as yet) suggested any titles. Anyhow, from England, via the guardian, we came across a review of Alice Oswald's new book of poems. A sidebar link brought us to Dart, "inspired by the river Dart in Devon, written after the poet spent three years recording conversations with people who live and work on the river." I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a copy and reading it. We're including today's poem on climate change to give you a sense of Oswald's work. Does it bring to mind Jane Kenyon's Otherwise, or is that just me?

Written some time between the Month of May and the Month of May Not by Alice Oswald

To support the launch of the 10:10 campaign to reduce carbon emissions, the Review asked some of our greatest poets to produce new work in response to the crisis

Is it possible
The sun could turn over a grey cloud
And find a may tree underneath?
It is possible.
Is it possible
There could be lines of blossom
Like bird-linen drying on the branches?
It is possible.
Is it possible
A stream could turn over a stone
And find a mayfly underneath?
It is possible.
Is it possible
Maybe a mayfly might
Have a passionate two second love affair in mid-air?
It is possible.
Is it possible
Millions of windblown refugees
Each with a leather seedcase could stand up
And let their green clothes fall on them
The way a child at midnight
Sits up stalk-straight asking for water in a trance of heat
And drinks it straight down without waking?
It is possible.
Is it possible
Several billion birdsung springs
Could prove this hypothesis:
That the green grows back every May?
Or is it possible
May itself
May not?
It is possible.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Mist-defying moon #phenology

This morning's full moon shone brightly on local mist-covered fields. Some call it the sturgeon moon, others, the ricing moon, the corn moon or the red moon. Names often derive from what's important in the place from which the moon is seen. You can explore for yourself by looking here or here or here. Truth can be found in many forms.

Full August moon on mist-covered fields
Full August moon on mist-covered fields
Photo by J. Harrington

I felt at home and comfortable surrounded by ghostly mist while walking the dog this morning, probably because I grew up with frequent fog on the East coast. On land there was usually a yellow or white line to follow along the road, or at least a shoulder or ditch to track. On the water things got more interesting and you trusted your compass and your ears before your eyes, and wished you could afford a radar unit and a bigger boat to go with it. Listening to an approaching motor on a boat you couldn't see but hoped wasn't bearing down on you set nerves and teeth on edge. Field-walking is a comparative piece of cake.

2015 acorn crop
2015 acorn crop
Photo by J. Harrington

All the moisture we got this Summer doesn't seem to have done anything good for this year's acorn crop. I've read that some years are much better for mast than others and last year compared to this seems to prove it. Maybe it's just a few trees around the house that are so sparse, but I fear it may be a hungry Winter around here for the squirrels, turkeys and whitetails.

In Mist
By Laura Sherry
From “Ridge People”

WHEN you can see the ground’s breath,
And the sky goes muggy
And drops before the world
Like a perspiring window-glass;
When beasts and humans creep to cover        5
And the steam-boats speak fog-language;
The farm buildings sit still
Folding their hands
As if they hadn’t a thing in the world to do.
A chimney’s belch smudges into nothing;        10
The earth’s breath noses around the roots of trees;
Heaven-mist seeps through branches
And wraps the country’s heart.

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The joy of (re)discovery #phenology

Let's play a verbal version of  Name That Tune. Imagine Joni Mitchell's song with the chorus: "Don't it always seem to go / That you don't know what you've got til its gone..." Big Yellow Taxi is the answer in how many words? In February, six months from now, when they've been gone long enough, I'll have forgotten the heat and humidity and bugs and be complaining about the cold and snow and the beginnings of cabin fever. And then, six months after that, I'll again be grateful we live on the Anoka sand plain as the deluges repeat their annual pattern and the water drains into the aquifer. I wonder if the birds that use the driveway puddles for a bath miss it when it's dry. The Summer pattern runs about three days wet and four days dry. We've seen birds drinking from the "bird bath," but never bathing in it. Maybe once a week is as often as they need, or they could use dust for the avian equivalent of a sponge bath.

"Gimpy" turkey
"Gimpy" turkey
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning a different, longer cycle, pattern repeated itself and I discovered something I hadn't really noticed had gone missing. The (re)discovery gave me an unexpected jolt of joy. First, let's think about what gives  joy to many of us. For most of us I assume it's things like puppies, kittens,  our family's love, the beauty of nature, changing seasons, songs that bring back happy memories and good times, even poetry that beautifully captures feelings we've enjoyed at some time in our life. Some of us find joy in eating local foods, baking bread, and creating something that gives pleasure to others. A few(?) [many?] of us even have soft spots in our hearts for underdogs and cripples.

I'm not much of a reader of the Bible, but I recall a story about the shepherd's joy in finding the sheep that was lost, more than just herding the 99 who stayed pastured. Well, last year or maybe the year before there showed up a gimpy tom turkey who hobbled around the yard trying to keep up with his companions. He was missing one foot and the bottom part of a leg. No clue as to why, but remember, life can be tough for a turkey even when you're young and healthy and hearty and whole.

turkeys headed into the woods
turkeys headed into the woods
Photo by J. Harrington

We've been seeing fewer turkeys in general this Summer so having "Gimpy" missing didn't really register. This morning, though, there were four tom turkeys wandering through the yard. One of them was a limping, gimpy turkey. I'm pretty sure it's "Gimpy." That recognition gave me a warm feeling and a smile I hadn't realized I'd misplaced. Then, on top of that, the sun came out. What a great day so far. I hope yours goes at least as well.

Bright Day

By Stanley Moss

I sing this morning: Hello, hello.
I proclaim the bright day of the soul.
The sun is a good fellow,
the devil is a good guy, no deaths today I know.
I live because I live. I do not die because I cannot die.
In Tuscan sunlight Masaccio
painted his belief that St. Peter’s shadow
cured a cripple, gave him back his sight.
I’ve come through eighty-five summers. I walk in sunlight.
In my garden, death questions every root, flowers reply.
I know the dark night of the soul
does not need God’s eye,
as a beggar does not need a hand or a bowl.

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Dog days doldrums #phenology

Humid air is collecting in clouds, trying to rise into thunderheads. Dew points in the mid-60's steam the country-side. An occasional flock of Canada geese has been noted feeding in local grass fields. Molt must be over, flight feathers replaced. This year's goslings now practicing training flights. Although the long flights are months distant, travel preparations are underway, flight muscles being developed. In the woods, whitetail bucks are growing this year's antlers.

August, fully feathered Canada geese
August, fully feathered Canada geese
Photo by J. Harrington

Hummingbirds are still showing up at our feeder, sometimes two at a time. I haven't been close enough to see if they're a male/female pair, or an adult plus a young'un, but I doubt if I could tell in the latter case. We never did see any scarlet tanagers this year although the indigo bunting sighting almost compensated for that.

August, whitetail buck in velvet
August, whitetail buck in velvet
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm back to wondering if the chipmunks in the grass and under the front stoop include any I've already translocated this year. It occurs to me that the odds of that can be reduced if I release futre captures on the far bank of the local river. The addition of a water hazard to a trip of two or three miles from capture to release should minimize repeat offenses by the same offenders. If that had occurred to me a couple of years ago, I'd begin to think I had come to know the place where I live.

The End of Summer

By Rachel Hadas

Sweet smell of phlox drifting across the lawn—
an early warning of the end of summer.
August is fading fast, and by September
the little purple flowers will all be gone.

Season, project, and vacation done.
One more year in everybody’s life.
Add a notch to the old hunting knife
Time keeps testing with a horny thumb.

Over the summer months hung an unspoken
aura of urgency. In late July
galactic pulsings filled the midnight sky
like silent screaming, so that, strangely woken,

we looked at one another in the dark,
then at the milky magical debris
arcing across, dwarfing our meek mortality.
There were two ways to live: get on with work,

redeem the time, ignore the imminence
of cataclysm; or else take it slow,
be as tranquil as the neighbors’ cow
we love to tickle through the barbed wire fence
(she paces through her days in massive innocence,
or, seeing green pastures, we imagine so).

In fact, not being cows, we have no choice.
Summer or winter, country, city, we
are prisoners from the start and automatically,
hemmed in, harangued by the one clamorous voice.

Not light but language shocks us out of sleep
ideas of doom transformed to meteors
we translate back to portents of the wars
looming above the nervous watch we keep.

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