Monday, August 15, 2016

Going local? #phenology

Early this morning, the dew-covered tops of the purple tumble grass made it look as though our field had been magically filled with pink cupcakes covered in white frosting. As I sit on the patio writing this, two chipmunks and one red squirrel are foraging in the sunflower seed litter from the deck feeder. Four blue-headed turkey hens, sans poults, are pecking their way across the field and into the woods on the North.

local red squirrel
local red squirrel
Photo by J. Harrington

The large thistle that I haven't gotten around to cutting has a second round of flowers that, along with the goldenrod, is pleasing a few butterflies and bees. The pear tree appears to be ripening a nice crop of fruit that should soon draw some of the local deer herd. (I suppose that makes it a pear to draw to? Sorry) Basically, we're enjoying another quiet Summer day here near the western edge of the Lower St. Croix River Watershed.

whitetail herd under pear tree
local whitetail herd under pear tree
Photo by J. Harrington

This "major watershed" is 52 miles long and covers 585,735 acres (915 square miles). We tend to think of Taylors Falls as local, Stillwater as intermediate and Prescott as distant. (Yes, we're back exploring perspectives on "local" again.) The Better Half and I have lived in this watershed for the 31 years we've been married [as of today]. I still don't feel as though I know it well, but I'm working on it. In that time, we've been members of several Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, including one based in Wisconsin, but our "food shed" tends to be oriented toward the Twin Cities rather than the watershed and extends farther south in Minnesota for heritage Thanksgiving turkey.

Christopher Alexander, in his wonderful book, A Pattern Language, writes, among other patterns, about a need for independent regions and city/town distributions such as:
  • 1,000,000 population -- 250 miles apart
  •    100,000 population --   80 miles apart
  •      10,000 population --   25 miles apart
  •        1,000 population --     8 miles apart
Perhaps most significantly for our purposes, he proposes [local] "neighborhoods" of 7,000 people. Questions of geophysical characteristics compared to socio-economic, cultural characteristics play out in our thinking about what's "local" and get more complex by the moment, don't they? Especially since, to be effective and successful, each characteristic should play some sort of role in our picture of "local.". On the other hand, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget have recently (2013) added Le Sueur, Mille Lacs and Sibley counties to what had been a 13 county Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, that bridges both sides of the Lower St. Croix watershed by including two Wisconsin counties. Candidly, I don't feel much of an identification with Le Sueur county, although I'm sure it's residents are fine folks, they're not my idea of "locals" nearly as much as those in Osceola, WI are.

I seem to recall reading once upon a time that the home range of a whitetail deer is about one mile square and that counties in Minnesota were sized so that a person on horseback could ride from home to the county seat and back in one day. That made local sense, perhaps even horse sense, before the automobile became the dominant mode of travel. Four or five hours at 55 or 60 miles per hour would seem to get us back to something close to Alexander's 250 mile spacing, especially since it takes both Minneapolis and St. Paul to get near 1,000,000 people. Since each degree of latitude is about 69 miles, it would take Spring several weeks to move from the southern to the northern limits of the Twin Cities area. Something to keep in mind when looking for first occurrences of seasonal events and contemplating "local" phenology.

Locals


By James Lasdun


They peopled landscapes casually like trees,
being there richly, never having gone there,
and whether clanning in cities or village-thin stands
were reticent as trees with those not born there,
and their fate, like trees, was seldom in their hands.

Others to them were always one of two
evils: the colonist or refugee.
They stared back, half disdaining us, half fearing;
inferring from our looks their destiny
as preservation or as clearing.

I envied them. To be local was to know
which team to support: the local team;
where to drop in for a pint with mates: the local;
best of all to feel by birthright welcome
anywhere; be everywhere a local...

Bedouin-Brython-Algonquins; always there
before you; the original prior claim
that made your being anywhere intrusive.
There, doubtless, in Eden before Adam
wiped them out and settled in with Eve.

Whether at home or away, whether kids
playing or saying what they wanted,
or adults chatting, waiting for a bus,
or, in their well-tended graves, the contented dead,
there were always locals, and they were never us.


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