Monday, September 26, 2016

Harvesting rewards #globalwarming #phenology #politics

From what we saw driving around today, local farmers haven't started harvesting either corn or soy beans yet. That's not surprising in light of the September corn crop progress report. Something that's never before happened, but isn't surprising either, given the weather pattern of the past few months, is that a rural wastewater treatment system in the next county north of us has been "broken" by recent excessive rainfall amounts. Flooding issues aren't going to be limited to seacoasts. The kinds of effects we've been seeing this year in the middle of "flyover country" are consistent with the types of impacts forecast by scientists studying global warming. No surprises there either.

late October harvest
late October harvest
Photo by J. Harrington

What is a surprise, at least to me, is the number of folks seriously considering voting for a presidential candidate (he who should not be named) who claims about global warming that:
"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."
Of course, those folks are being aided and abetted by debate moderators and officials who don't believe in fact checking (C'mon, this is America, where we're all entitled to our own facts.) Playing fast and loose with the facts seems to be something that too many candidates major in. All of this has me fed up enough that this morning I figured out how to best deal with it.

Minnesota has a "no excuses" early voting system. Many pundits are concerned about low turnout at this and other elections. Here's my idea, that I offer to the public gratuitously under a Creative Commons license in hopes that it will improve life for 99% of us:
  • Make no excuse early voting available nationwide
  • Instead of an "I voted" sticker, give voters a chip card, like a rewards card for grocers.
  • Require all broadcast networks and cable channels etc. to add chip reading capability.
  • Once you've voted and have your card, you insert it into a card reader attached to your tv or radio to black out all political advertising on whatever airwaves you're watching or listening to. (Being forced to deal with great quantities of today's political ads must violate the 8th amendment's provisions against cruel and unusual punishment. Military tribunals probably prohibit it at Guantanamo.)
The card is your reward for being a good citizen. Maybe it will also reduce some political green house gas emissions such as hot air and smog while limiting other types of air pollution like foul smells, the kind that arise from a byproduct of raising male cattle. One way to get out of the mess we're in is to start pushing for win-win solutions instead of playing zero sum games.


By Randall Mann

This is what he dreams of:
a map of burned land,
a mound of dirt
in the early century’s winter.

A map of burned land?
A country is razed
in the early century’s winter.
And God descends.

A country is raised
because of industry.
And God descends,
messengers rush inside

because of industry,
in spite of diplomats.
Messengers rush inside
to haunt the darkened aisles.

In spite of diplomats,
the witnesses know well
to haunt the darkened aisles,

the witnesses know well
that ushers dressed in black
lurk by the cushioned seats.

That ushers dress in black
should tell you something:
lurking by the cushioned seats,
the saved and the terrible.

I should tell you something:
this is what he dreams of,
the saved and the terrible—
a mound of dirt.

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

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Celebrate the Equilux #phenology

Where we live, sunrise today was at 7:03 a.m. and sunset will be at 7:03 p.m., according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. That means that today is equilux, equal amounts of day and night, although this morning's cloud cover severely limited the daylight. My whole life, I've known about equinoxes and solstices. I've also known that sunrise and sunset times vary by geographic location. That comes from years of duck hunting and being aware of legal shooting times.

Autumn sunset
Autumn sunset
Photo by J. Harrington

I hadn't put the difference between equinox and equilux together until today. I'll spare you the recitation of "unknown knowns," etc., but from a personal perspective, this factoid seems to neatly split the hair of the observation that "It ain't what we don't know that gets us in trouble, it's what we think we know that just ain't so." (Unless, of course, you're Donald Trump, in which case you can get in trouble both for what you don't know (but should) and for what ain't so that you claim is.)

September dragonfly
September dragonfly
Photo by J. Harrington

Speaking of such claims, yesterday afternoon, on the eve of this year's autumnal equilux, I noticed behind the house what I think may have been the year's last butterfly. It didn't want to let me get close enough for a good look, so I make no claims. I didn't see much white along the wings but I couldn't judge size of see a black band. Several mosquitoes, but less than Summer's multitudes, attacked me as I wandered after the butterfly. There was also a late season dragonfly, no doubt trying to feast on the mosquitoes that were trying to feast on me while I was trying to identify a butterfly. It is all hitched to each other. Muir is correct as is Joni Mitchell -- "...and the seasons they go round and round..."

Besides the Autumn poets sing (131)

Besides the Autumn poets sing, 
A few prosaic days 
A little this side of the snow 
And that side of the Haze - 
A few incisive mornings -         
A few Ascetic eves - 
Gone - Mr Bryant’s “Golden Rod” - 
And Mr Thomson’s “sheaves.” 
Still, is the bustle in the brook - 
Sealed are the spicy valves -         
Mesmeric fingers softly touch 
The eyes of many Elves - 
Perhaps a squirrel may remain - 
My sentiments to share -
Grant me, Oh Lord, a sunny mind -        
Thy windy will to bear!

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

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Holdouts #phenology

holdout coneflowers and seed heads
holdout coneflowers and seed heads
Photo by J. Harrington

The front flower garden is down to a few holdouts: a couple of Blue Vervain Anise Hyssop blossoms, some three or four Black-eyed Susans, and a few cone flower cultivars. The generally bleak appearance matches today's weather with its overcast sky, East wind blowing around the tumble heads of purple love grass and sending flurries of leaves descending from local black cherry trees.

blossom of a Wild Bergamot or a ???
blossom of a Wild Bergamot or a ???
Photo by J. Harrington

In the midst of those harbingers of "What Comes Next," I was startled to see a bright pink(?) sign of new life alongside the road. There's only one flower and, as near as I can tell, only one plant. Until I saw the flower's blossom, I wouldn't have noticed the plant. Now that it's been "discovered," I can't find it in any of my usual field guides. I think it looks a lot, but not exactly, like Wild Bergamot. Since I haven't identified it yet, I'll keep repeating to myself "Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved." (Take your pick of potential sources for that quotation.) I also need to spend some time working on improving the depth of field in closeup photos. I couldn't get an in focus closeup of the flower, stem and leaves with any combination of settings that occurred to me.

leaves and stem of a Wild Bergamot or a ???
leaves and stem of a Wild Bergamot or a ???
Photo by J. Harrington

Field Guide

No one I ask knows the name of the flower
we pulled the car to the side of the road to pick
and that I point to dangling purple from my lapel.

I am passing through the needle of spring
in North Carolina, as ignorant of the flowers of the south
as the woman at the barbecue stand who laughs
and the man who gives me a look as he pumps the gas

and everyone else I ask on the way to the airport
to return to where this purple madness is not seen
blazing against the sober pines and rioting along the

On the plane, the stewardess is afraid she cannot answer
my question, now insistent with the fear that I will leave
the province of this flower without its sound in my ear.

Then, as if he were giving me the time of day, a passenger
looks up from his magazine and says wisteria.

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

Apples of my eye #phenology

Apple season isn't simply a time for picking apples, as we all know. It's also time for pressing apples and drinking apple cider; time for dipping and eating caramel coated apples; around Halloween, time for bobbing for apples. Do people/kids still do that? (Personally, I haven't for half a century or so.) Time for baking apple pies and for baked apples with brown sugar. It wouldn't surprise me to learn I'm actually part bear, the way I like to load up on calories during apple season so I can read during much of the Winter while hibernating in my "den" in the kitchen or near the pantry. Although before we get to that time of year, the traditionalist New Englander in me, raised on Cortland and McIntosh apples, is grateful to the University of Minnesota Extension for the work they've done creating luscious new cold tolerant apple varieties.

Minnesota apples for Autumn
Minnesota apples for Autumn
Photo by J. Harrington

Jim Gilbert, one of Minnesota's renowned naturalists, tells us that juncos may begin to arrive next week. Since the Better Half and I are headed to our North Country for a few days next week, we may cross paths with some as they head South while we do the opposite. A few years ago, and yet later in the season, we had a trip up the Arrowhead brightened as we encountered snow buntings along the North Shore of Lake Superior. That was a surprise, as is the prospect of seeing juncos, which I always consider a Winter bird, near the beginning of "apple season." In fact, with the weather pattern we've had this year, I don't really expect to see juncos much before Halloween, if then.

snow bunting without snow
snow bunting without snow
Photo by J. Harrington

So, here are some of the ways Autumn in the North Country becomes a feast for the senses:

  • The color change of the leaves pleases our eyes.
  • Apples and pumpkins and the spices and caramel and all that go with them treat our taste buds.
  • Whistling wings of waterfowl and whispers of wind-driven snow flakes alert our hearing to the constant shifting of this too short season.
  • Flannel shirts and warm socks and heavier blankets at night treat our sense of touch.
  • We've lost the smell of burning leaves but still have the fecund aroma of dank, dark duff if we slow down enough during our leaf-peeping. If that's missed, we hope there's at least the scent of roasting turkey at Thanksgiving. Speaking of which, there's about two months between now and Thanksgiving.
To improve your sense of self worth (sort of like a sixth sense), you could spend some time each of the next eight weeks tallying up what you have to be thankful for and some additional time sharing whatever wealth you have with those who have less. Done properly, the Autumn season can out-do the Christmas season with reasons to be joyous and deck the halls, don'cha think?


Rain hazes a street cart’s green umbrella
but not its apples, heaped in paper cartons,
dry under cling film. The apple man,

who shirrs his mouth as though eating tart fruit,
exhibits four like racehorses at auction:
Blacktwig, Holland, Crimson King, Salome.

I tried one and its cold grain jolted memory:
a hill where meager apples fell so bruised
that locals wondered why we scooped them up,

my friend and I, in matching navy blazers.
One bite and I heard her laughter toll,
free as school’s out, her face flushed in late sun.

I asked the apple merchant for another,
jaunty as Cezanne’s still-life reds and yellows,
having more life than stillness, telling us,

uncut, unpeeled, they are not for the feast
but for themselves, and building strength to fly
at any moment, leap from a skewed bowl,

whirl in the air, and roll off a tilted table.
Fruit-stand vendor, master of Northern Spies,
let a loose apple teach me how to spin

at random, burn in light and rave in shadows.
Bring me a Winesap like the one Eve tasted,
savored and shared, and asked for more.

No fool, she knew that beauty strikes just once,
hard, never in comfort. For that bitter fruit,
tasting of earth and song, I’d risk exile.

The air is bland here. I would forfeit mist
for hail, put on a robe of dandelions,
and run out, broken, to weep and curse — for joy.

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

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Wooly bear says: #phenology

In anticipation of the first day of Autumn (both kinds: meteorological and astronomical), I've been on the watch for wooly bear caterpillars. So far this month, only one has presented itself. That one appeared on the porch screens a couple of days ago.

first wooly bear, Autumn 2016
first wooly bear, Autumn 2016
Photo by J. Harrington

One of the tales about wooly bears relates to their direction of travel. Headed North means tough Winter down South, and vice versa. This particular one was headed up the screen when observed, so we'll have to continue to look for more indicators to get a handle on the North/South, East/West breakout.

The most wide-spread tale about wooly bears has to do with the width of the red bands in the middle. There are a total of thirteen bands. In the picture I count four red, five black bands on the head and four on the tail, or reverse the head and tail count. Or, maybe five red bands and four black on both the head and tail. All in all, this specimen looks to me like it has pretty even distribution (YMMV). So, that makes it perfectly clear to me that this Winter will be absolutely average for Minnesota. The problem is that Minnesota's averages are almost always comprised of widely spread  extremes, and that was before global warming came to call. (How many record rainfalls did we get last night? At least it wasn't snow yet.) That may or may not mean the the long range weather forecast from NOAA/NWS, which claims Minnesota has an equal chance of above, average or below normal temperatures and precipitation, is or is not good news. As our friends the economists tell us "it all depends," which is the executive summary for "on the one hand..., on the other hand..."

Finally, in case you're wondering, yes, a wooly bear is the same as what Southerners call a wooly worm and similar to, but not quite the same as, what fly fishers call a wooly bugger. Unless we discern a notable difference in the bands of any future wolly bears sighted this year, we don't plan on returning to this topic until same time next year.

Lightness in Autumn

By Robert Fitzgerald

The rake is like a wand or fan,   
With bamboo springing in a span   
To catch the leaves that I amass   
In bushels on the evening grass.

I reckon how the wind behaves   
And rake them lightly into waves   
And rake the waves upon a pile,   
Then stop my raking for a while.

The sun is down, the air is blue,   
And soon the fingers will be, too,   
But there are children to appease   
With ducking in those leafy seas.

So loudly rummaging their bed
On the dry billows of the dead,
They are not warned at four and three   
Of natural mortality.

Before their supper they require   
A dragon field of yellow fire
To light and toast them in the gloom.   
So much for old earth’s ashen doom.

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Au revoir Summer, Welcome Autumn #phenology

Are you enjoying Summer's last full day this year? Locally, the Autumnal Equinox occurs at 9:21 am tomorrow (numerologists may make something of 9/21 : 9/22). Our current and anticipated weather is very unSummerish: cool, cloudy, damp, with wet expected. We're under a Flash Flood Watch until some time tomorrow. According to our MNDOT, the earliest recorded snow was 9/26/42. That doesn't match what WikiPedia and Mark Seeley's Weather Almanac tell us, but we're already well past the end of August. Leaf colors keep increasing, but there's no sign yet of tamaracks turning golden. Stay tuned.

Autumn's splashes of colors
Autumn's splashes of colors
Photo by J. Harrington

End of Summer

By Stanley Kunitz

An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.
I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones.
Blue poured into summer blue,
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.
Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mum's the word for bees, or not #phenology

Many poets call on us to pay attention. None that I can think of better than Mary Oliver. In her poem Yes! No!, from her 1994 volume White Pine, she tells us "To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work." Over the course of the past several days, I've discovered just how valuable and practical that guidance is.

bee on aster blossoms
bee on aster blossoms
Photo by J. Harrington

In a general way, I've become familiar with growing concerns about losing pollinators, particularly bees, to neonicotinoid pesticides. This morning, while walking the dogs, I actually paid attention and noticed there were bees and flies (hoverflies?) on the newly planted asters, but none on the chrysanthemums that had been planted at the same time nearby. Was there something about the mums that didn't attract bees. Good old Google came to the rescue again.

no bees on these chrysanthemums
no bees on these chrysanthemums
Photo by J. Harrington

According to a Home Guides web page, mums aren't an ideal nectar source for bees and so aren't very popular with them, but may provide other benefits. As I was looking for that reassuring piece of information, I came across a fact sheet I hadn't seen before. The University of Minnesota Extension Service has a Pollinator Conservation guide that helps identify different types of bees and locally native plants helpful to bees in different seasons. If I hadn't been paying attention this morning, I probably wouldn't have wondered why bees on asters but not on mums. Thus, I wouldn't have looked for and so wouldn't have found any of this information, would have continued to worry about bees and mums, and would still be sitting in my chair wondering what to write about today. So Ms. Oliver has it right with her poem, especially the title.

Yes! No!
by Mary Oliver

How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I
think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small dark lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes! No! The

swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.

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

Monday, September 19, 2016

Heritage - for the birds? #phenology

Maybe the missing goldfinches were just going through their Autumn molt. Their numbers at the feeder are back up. On the other hand, we've seen no signs of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds for a week or so now.

goldfinches at feeder
goldfinches at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

The turkeys, conspicuous by their absence all Summer, have been regularly wandering through the yards for the past few days. They've wandered back and forth through the field behind the house, checked out the side yard on the North. and some of them have started to explore the woods on the East side. The dogs are intrigued by the scents left behind. There are about 16 birds altogether, and it looks like that's the combination of 3, 4 or 5 separate family flocks. From what I've noticed, they're all hens. At least I haven't seen even the stub of a jake's beard yet.

Autumn turkey flock(s)
Autumn turkey flock(s)
Photo by J. Harrington

Speaking of turkeys, I've got my fingers crossed that the connection my Better Half made near mid-Summer will actually result in the family enjoying a heritage Bourbon Red turkey this Thanksgiving. The past few years we've been late to the party and all the "local" birds were taken. We've got one on order this year and have our fingers crossed that the supply will meet demand at least until we've got ours.

It's about this time most years that I start to look again at Gary Nabhan's Renewing America’s Food Traditions – Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods. I think it's my New England origins, but perhaps it's only that I'm getting older, that explains my increasing interest in traditions and heritages. I've got a split bamboo fly rod that I enjoy fishing for trout as much as, sometimes more than, my "newer, better, etc..." graphite rods. I continue to regret the fact that I never got around to gunning for grouse or ducks with a side-by-side shotgun because it wasn't as "practical" as an over-under or pump. (Their cost also had something to do with it.)

One of the aspects of phenology that I'm coming to enjoy more and more is that it gives me an increased sense of awareness of and participation in our natural heritage, an anticipation of what to look for next in the patterns of our four seasons, and the pleasure of always being able to find something more to learn. Can't ask much more than that. One of nature's nicest traits is that the "new and improved" models don't come out every year. Change occurs at a more human, more natural pace.

To the Light of September

By W. S. Merwin

When you are already here
you appear to be only
a name that tells of you
whether you are present or not

and for now it seems as though
you are still summer
still the high familiar
endless summer
yet with a glint
of bronze in the chill mornings
and the late yellow petals
of the mullein fluttering
on the stalks that lean
over their broken
shadows across the cracked ground

but they all know
that you have come
the seed heads of the sage
the whispering birds
with nowhere to hide you
to keep you for later

who fly with them

you who are neither
before nor after
you who arrive
with blue plums
that have fallen through the night

perfect in the dew

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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Edging up on Equinox #phenology

This coming Thursday, the Autumnal Equinox will join the rest of September as meteorological and astronomical Autumn become one, at least for awhile. The "Harvest Moon" we've enjoyed has looked very much like an ordinary full moon at 4:00 a.m.-ish when I've walked a dog under mostly clear skies. Maybe October's full moon will take on that magical golden tone. Sitting around now at mid-day in a 75 F temperature makes it feel more like the tag end of Summer, but the extended weather forecast seems to acknowledge that Thursday's the day. A cooling trend will have high temps in the 60s starting Friday although that's probably not enough to finish off the lingering mosquitoes on which the remaining dragonflies are feeding.

locally grown Autumn Asters
locally grown Autumn Asters
Photo by J. Harrington

It looks like the new bridge construction on County Road 36 managed to disrupt, if not destroy, a patch of asters growing on the North side of the road near the bridge. I'm disappointed at a potential loss, but really pleased and finding compensation in several spots along our township gravel road where asters started appearing this year in places not seen since we moved in a couple of decades ago. (At least I hadn't noticed them previously.) If the asters near the bridge are back next year, I'll stop kicking myself for not having dug some to transplant before the work started.

Red Meadowhawk dragonfly
Red Meadowhawk dragonfly
Photo by J. Harrington

More and more leaf colors are showing up -- leaf by leaf, patch by patch, cluster by cluster, soon tree by tree. As of Thursday, we'll switch from days getting shorter to nights getting longer. I'm going to see if I can remember to watch how later in the season asters continue to bloom this year. We have to remember to look down as well as up if we're going to enjoy all the beauty the season offers.

Marcus Aurelius Rose

By Lisa Jarnot

for Thomas

From the five good emperors
I have learned that there were five good emperors,
From the lemon tree I’ve planted
now I know that leaves unpummeled yet will drop,
From the clock, the time, it’s five p.m.,
from the sun the length of day,
From Quercus borealis, the queer names of the leaves
of all the trees,
From burning I’ve learned burning,
from the aster family chickory abounds,
From hawkweed of the colors bright,
from sleeping, of my dreams,
From mosquitoes, scratching, from fishes, fishing,
from turkeys how to run and how to hop,
From erect perennials I’ve learned to reach the shelf,
from my cats to lick the dark part of the tin,
From the sparrows I’ve learned this and that,
from Germanic tribes, to gather thoughts in herds,
From the window blinds, from the sun decayed,
from the heart, a brimming record braised and turned.

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

Saturday, September 17, 2016

#NoDAPL #WaterIsLife

Over the years I've become more and more of a fan of Ed Abbey the man and his writing. I was late to come to his novel Monkey Wrench Gang, supposedly a model for the group Earth First. While reading reports of the protests at, and in support of, Standing Rock, I've been enjoying a fantasy of the Monkey Wrench Gang taking on the oil pipeline folks. In a happy coincidence, this morning while poking about the back alleys of the interwebs, I found online copies of Wild Earth, a journal published by Earth First. (If there is a heaven, and if I make it there, will eternity give me enough time to read everything I want to?)

St. Louis River, northern Minnesota
St. Louis River, northern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

I think we may have already mentioned in My Minnesota, but it's worth emphasizing through repetition, that there have been more than 400 oil pipeline accidents and spills in the U.S. just this century. That list is incomplete and growing. I'm not sure how the safety record of the oil and gas industry compares to that of the mining sector, but from all I've read, neither has anything to be proud of, but then the record of the U.S. government in honoring commitments to Native Americans isn't something I'd want to try to get into heaven on either.

If we want to maintain a habitable earth for ourselves and our children, we need a 12 step program to help us off our addiction to fossil fuels and we need to work that program now, not "I'll quit tomorrow." Building more pipelines under those circumstances makes as much sense to me as Iron Rangers voting for Donald Trump. If Minnesota and the federal government issue the permits needed for copper sulfide mining to proceed before the entire industry has reformed its less than sterling behavior, I hope we'll be blessed by a visit from all those now at Standing Rock to support the Ojibwe who rely on northern Minnesota's waters. Maybe, just maybe, we're starting to learn as a society that letting extractive industries have their way in exchange for fundamentally worthless promises to clean up their messes later (and send the rest of us the bill) isn't a winning or wise strategy.

Eagle Poem

By Joy Harjo

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

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

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why did the frog cross the road? #phenology

The question came up last night. The answer is NOT "to be with the chicken."

Driving through Carlos Avery, along County Road 36, in last night's rain, I think I missed most or all of the frogs hopping on or across the road. Their movements were more animated, and they "flitted" higher, than the few wind-blown leaves we saw, although both leaves and frogs showed golden ivory in the headlights. I did notice that many frogs from the south side of the road were hopping north, while those on the north side headed south. Since it seems a little early for an Autumn migration toward hibernation, maybe they know something we don't, or maybe they were just out moistening their skins.

frog crossing a rail
frog crossing a rail
Photo by J. Harrington

Autumn is a restless time of year. Farmers hustling to harvest crops; ranchers and shepherds moving from Summer to Winter pastures; birds and bees and butterflies, and frogs and turtles, starting to migrate toward Winter homes. Joni Mitchell has wonderfully captured in her lyrics our natural human Urge for Going along with the rest of nature as we all enter this season each year.

Canada geese, going
Canada geese, going
Photo by J. Harrington

Depending on the weather and resulting snow cover and open water, waterfowl often hang around until Thanksgiving or so. Some years migration stretches out over months, other times it comes as a burst just before a major storm with winds blowing out of the North helping to carry the birds to warmer, more hospitable, climes. With luck, we've still plenty of time to enjoy leaf colors, blooming asters, jack-o-lanterns, miss the smell of burning leaves, pick apples and wonder about frogs migrating and how monarch butterflies will fare in Mexico this Winter before we have to turn our attention to snow shovels and blowers and holidays, after which we can start to look forward to Spring.

Autumn Movement

Carl Sandburg 1878 - 1967

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts. 

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper 
   sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds. 

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes, 
   new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, 
   and the old things go, not one lasts. 

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

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Perennial season challenge #phenology

How much is a bee worth? How much do you care? How do you feel about risk management? I'm thinking about those questions because of a frustrating morning trying to buy some "safe" chrysanthemums. I've become more and more sensitive to the issue of killing off our pollinators, since I like to eat. My first stop was at a "big box" grocery store with lots of colorful mums and some pumpkins for sale at the entrance. I went inside and asked an employee whether the mums were "neonicotinoid free." The short version of the answer I got is probably but maybe not legally. If the supplier grew them, yes. If grown by a third (fourth?) party through the supplier probably, but possibly not. It's not clear if this is a communications, supply chain management issue or both. I didn't buy the explanation or the mums.

Mums the word come Autumn
Mums the word come Autumn
Photo by J. Harrington

Down the road is a big box home supply store with, of course, a garden center. The first employee didn't know the answer to my question, put in a call on the store's communication system, didn't get a response and suggested I check with "customer service" in the store. After waiting five minutes or so for the person at the counter to be attended to, I asked about the mums and neonicotinoids. Suddenly, I was looked at as if I'd grown an extra eye in the middle of my forehead. "We buy these from suppliers. I have no idea of the answer. No one's ever asked about this before."

Strike two in my effort to save a buck or two on fall plantings. I don't want to add to the local pesticide loads our pollinators have to deal with. At home I checked on line to see what's available at a local nursery-garden store we often shop at. Checked pdfs of price lists and plant lists etc. NO CHRYSTHANTHEMUMS!? I have no idea why but may ask the next time I'm in their neighborhood.

Still on-line, I tried a large Twin Cities floral-garden company's web site. They have mums. They're also know to be committed to avoiding pollinator poisons in their plants. PROGRESS! The mums they have are 50% to 100% more than the first stop, the local grocery store. If I buy six plants, the total different in price will be about the same as the cost of a tank of gas, but the plants will be somewhat larger, so let's say half a tank of gas. Ever since I got out of high school, I've not let gas expenses affect my travels. For a good night's sleep and a clear conscience, it's cheap at twice the price. I'll be buying our plants at the place know to be sensitive about avoiding neonicotinoids.

My frustration is ameliorated somewhat by hoping that I may have made a very minor impact on some big box employees, who may mention it to management, who may get communications and supply chain changes going. When was the last time you worried about Alar in your apple juice? Our consumer-capitalist system is damned insensitive and believes that everything is a commodity and that we consumers don't care about anything but price. It's up to us to educate them. Do I think you should ask about pesticides, whether or not you intend to buy plants? Absolutely! Washington's football team's name is still a racist slur, isn't it? We consumers need to rise to the challenge of helping create the world we want in each of our four seasons. Interestingly enough, employees at the same places that failed today were more aware of the pesticide concerns last Spring when we were shopping for Spring planting.


By Paisley Rekdal

I have been taught never to brag but now
I cannot help it: I keep
a beautiful garden, all abundance,
indiscriminate, pulling itself
from the stubborn earth: does it offend you
to watch me working in it,
touching my hands to the greening tips or
tearing the yellow stalks back, so wild
the living and the dead both
snap off in my hands?
The neighbor with his stuttering
fingers, the neighbor with his broken
love: each comes up my drive
to receive his pitying,
accustomed consolations, watches me
work in silence awhile, rises in anger,
walks back. Does it offend them to watch me
not mourning with them but working
fitfully, fruitlessly, working
the way the bees work, which is to say
by instinct alone, which looks like pleasure?
I can stand for hours among the sweet
narcissus, silent as a point of bone.
I can wait longer than sadness. I can wait longer
than your grief. It is such a small thing
to be proud of, a garden. Today
there were scrub jays, quail,
a woodpecker knocking at the white-
and-black shapes of trees, and someone’s lost rabbit
scratching under the barberry: is it
indiscriminate? Should it shrink back, wither,
and expurgate? Should I, too, not be loved?
It is only a little time, a little space.
Why not watch the grasses take up their colors in a rush
like a stream of kerosene being lit?
If I could not have made this garden beautiful
I wouldn’t understand your suffering,
nor care for each the same, inflamed way.
I would have to stay only like the bees,
beyond consciousness, beyond
self-reproach, fingers dug down hard
into stone, and growing nothing.
There is no end to ego,
with its museum of disappointments.
I want to take my neighbors into the garden
and show them: Here is consolation.
Here is your pity. Look how much seed it drops
around the sparrows as they fight.
It lives alongside their misery.
It glows each evening with a violent light.

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mni Wiconi, Water is Life #CleanWaterWednesday

I think, I hope, I'm seeing a pattern develop here.

a lake near the Gunflint Trail
a lake near the Gunflint Trail
Photo by J. Harrington

Kandunce River, northern Minnesota
Kandunce River, northern Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

I have no doubt there are other major initiatives, such as the continuing efforts to protect the St. Louis River and the Boundary Waters from the environmental devastation that frequently (always?) accompanies mining. Are we beginning to see a new awakening to the fact that water is a renewable but irreplaceable resource? Could we begin to hope, finally, for the attainment of the goals set by Congress back in 1972, that our waters finally be "fishable-swimmable?" I'm encouraged by the above list and look forward to seeing additions to it. Please list in the comments any I may have missed.

I suppose that the concurrent occurrence of all of these initiatives is largely coincidental. I much prefer to believe that they're signs of an awakening on our part. That, looked at broadly, they're indications that we're developing a Water Ethic or water ethics. That we are starting to realize that there is indeed no Planet B. That we live on a finite planet. That indeed, Water Is Life and we can't drink oil or eat ore. Might it be time for a "Green Party" to consider becoming the Blue-Green Party, the party of Life on earth?

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln 
     went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy 
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Seeds of change #phenology

Each day for the past few days, another milk weed pod has split and opened its seeds to Autumn breezes. The milkweed meadow looks more powder-puffy every day. Do you find it hard to believe that a whole milkweed plant for next year is contained in such tiny packages? Autumn milkweed, almost as much as anything else, is enough to make me believe in fairies. Are they responsible for the late-blooming primroses that were joined yesterday by a pair of purple vetch flowers?

Autumn milkweed
Autumn milkweed
Photo by J. Harrington
More and more blue jays are showing up in the neighborhood this week, but I've not noticed any hummingbirds in the last day or so. It's possible, maybe even probable, that one will visit the feeder shortly after this has been posted to the blog, or, perhaps not:

"By mid-September, essentially all of the Ruby-throated at feeders are migrating through from farther north..."

I could almost start to believe that the chickadees know the hummers have gone and are intentionally teasing me by briefly landing on the nectar feeder before perching at the sunflower seeds. Seasonal changes around here are very much a "today they're there, then they're not" kind of arrangement, the way today's sunshine and warmth is tempered by a cool breeze and the quality of light shifts toward tawny, golden tones instead of high Summer's hot chrome yellow.


by Philip Levine

Remember how unimportant
they seemed, growing loosely
in the open fields we crossed
on the way to school. We
would carve wooden swords
and slash at the luscious trunks
until the white milk started
and then flowed. Then we'd
go on to the long day
after day of the History of History
or the tables of numbers and order
as the clock slowly paid
out the moments. The windows
went dark first with rain
and then snow, and then the days,
then the years ran together and not
one mattered more than
another, and not one mattered.

Two days ago I walked
the empty woods, bent over,
crunching through oak leaves,
asking myself questions
without answers. From somewhere
a froth of seeds drifted by touched
with gold in the last light
of a lost day, going with
the wind as they always did.

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

Turtle traipsing time? #phenology

As is often the case, I'm not sure what's going on that has triggered road-crossing behavior in small (4" - 5" long) painted turtles, but I've noticed a few over the past week or so. Today I made the opportunity to move one across to the shoulder on the side of the wetland toward which s/he was headed, away from what appeared to be a similar and perfectly good to my eyes wetland that s/he was leaving. I'm more accustomed to seeing Snapping and Blanding's Turtles in the middle of a road in late Spring to mid-Summer.

Snapping Turtle crossing city road
Snapping Turtle crossing city road
Photo by J. Harrington

I might be seeing hatchlings headed from their "nest" toward what will become home grounds, but my impression is that the size of the road-crossers I've noticed recently look more like a turtle that's several years old. Perhaps they're starting to anticipate a need to head for their Wintering grounds and away from their feeding grounds? I suppose it could be that they're sunning themselves on a road instead of a log, and the middle of the road seems to be the warmest spot? There's some research that roads have a limited impact on painted turtle mortality, which makes me feel less guilty about the one's I didn't stop to help. In fact, if today's move out of harm's way was simply a case of shortening a warming session, this afternoon's clouds help me feel better about not leaving well enough alone.

Blanding's Turtle crossing township road
Blanding's Turtle crossing township road
Photo by J. Harrington


By Kay Ryan

Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
she can ill afford the chances she must take
in rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
a packing-case places, and almost any slope
defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
she's often stuck up to the axle on her way
to something edible. With everything optimal,
she skirts the ditch which would convert
her shell into a serving dish. She lives
below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
the sport of truly chastened things.

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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Early migrants? #phenology

Nature seems to have been engaging in some prestidigitation the past few days. While some of us have been focused on the hummingbirds, which are still in evidence, that she held in her left hand, with her right hand she seems to have hurled South a large number of this year's flock of new goldfinches.

Summer hummingbird
Summer hummingbird
Photo by J. Harrington

The supply of black oil sunflower seeds has been lasting longer this past week than it had in mid-August. That was a clue something had changed. This morning, for the longest time, all I saw at the feeder were chickadees. We usually have goldfinch around all Winter, so I just assumed over the past few days they'd arrived, fed and left when I wasn't looking. The longer I watched, the more questionable I found that hypothesis.

Winter goldfinch
Winter goldfinch
Photo by J. Harrington

Mid day, finally, a pair of goldfinch showed up. Both were drab olive females. No bright gold males were anywhere to be seen. I've read that some goldfinch migrate toward less frigid climes for Winter and think that may be what happened this past week. We'll see.

In Harvest

By Sophie Jewett

Mown meadows skirt the standing wheat;
I linger, for the hay is sweet,
New-cut and curing in the sun.
Like furrows, straight, the windrows run,
Fallen, gallant ranks that tossed and bent
When, yesterday, the west wind went
A-rioting through grass and grain.
To-day no least breath stirs the plain;
Only the hot air, quivering, yields
Illusive motion to the fields
Where not the slenderest tassel swings.
Across the wheat flash sky-blue wings;
A goldfinch dangles from a tall,
Full-flowered yellow mullein; all
The world seems turning blue and gold.
Unstartled, since, even from of old,
Beauty has brought keen sense of her,
I feel the withering grasses stir;
Along the edges of the wheat,
I hear the rustle of her feet:
And yet I know the whole sea lies,
And half the earth, between our eyes.

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

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Everlasting fields of Autumn #phenology

The breeze and temperatures have an Autumnal bite to them today. More and more of the local soy bean fields have golden tints. Goslings have turned into geese and their family-sized flocks are assembling into larger groups and hanging out on grassy fields. School is back in session and harvest season celebrations are starting, sometimes compounding small town Saturday shopping traffic.

Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium
Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium
Photo by J. Harrington

Along local gravel roads, asters have begun to bloom and sumac leaves are becoming more red and maroon than green. All the local rivers are running at least bank full from our rainy Summer, which has also helped produce a bumper crop of wildflowers on the sand plain fields. The Better Half and I spent time today identifying the light-colored, rounded topped clusters of plants in these photos. At first we thought they might be boneset. Then, false boneset was briefly a candidate. We finally consensed on Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium (Sweet Everlasting). Once again reliance on a plant's flowers proves less than optimum when working toward identification. Maybe this Winter I will actually study some fundamentals of botany.

a field of Sweet Everlasting (and Fairies?)
a field of Sweet Everlasting (and Fairies?)
Photo by J. Harrington

from Fairies

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge  1947


Fairies begin their day by coming together a moment and sharing joy.

They love the feeling, which dew on the leaves draws from grass, lilacs and the response of meadow and flowers to the dawn.

Diminutive green sylphs now run in the grass, whose growth seems intimately associated with theirs, a single line of concentration.

They talk to themselves, constantly repeating, with an intensity causing their etheric doubles, grass, to vibrate as they pass, vivifying growth.

To rabbits and young children they’re visible, but I see points of light, tiny clouds of color and gleams of movement.

The lawn is covered with these flashes.

In low alyssums along a border, one exquisite, tiny being plays around stems, passing in and out of each bud.

She’s happy and feels much affection for the plants, which she regards as her own body.

The material of her actual body is loosely knit as steam or a colored gas, bright apple-green or yellow, and is very close to emotion.

Tenderness for plants shows as rose; sympathy for their growth and adaptability as flashes of emerald.

When she feels joy, her body responds all-over with a desire to be somewhere or do something for plants.

Hers is not a world of surfaces--skin, husks, bark with definite edges and identities.

Trees appear as columns of light melting into surroundings where form is discerned, but is glowing, transparent, mingling like breath.

She tends to a plant by maintaining fusion between the plant’s form and life-vitality contained within.

She works as part of nature’s massed intelligence to express the involution of awareness or consciousness into a form.

And she includes vitality, because one element of form is action.

Sprouting, branching, leafing, blossoming, crumbling to humus are all form to a fairy.

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