Monday, October 31, 2016

Have we become Borgs with our Happy Halloween?

'Tis a warm Halloween, but with a cold wind blowing. Leaves and tumblegrass provide camouflage and cover for restless other world spirits seeking --- what? Closure, resolution, revenge, return, renewal, or just a visit with loved ones? And what effect, if any, do you suppose two feet of snow had on any fairies, demons and ghosts that were about 25 years ago this day?

uninhabited Jack O'Lanterns?
uninhabited Jack O'Lanterns?
Photo by J. Harrington

If we have Halloween because Catholic missionaries assimilated Celtic Samhain, and Spanish invaders absorbed and moved the Aztec "Day of the Dead," and we do so little to acknowledge and honor the cultures from which our current folk festivities originated, are we not well on our way to becoming "Borgs?" ("Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.")

Jack O'Lanterns inhabited by?
Jack O'Lanterns inhabited by?
Photo by J. Harrington

Tomorrow is All Souls Day. That's what makes today All Hallows Eve (Halloween). If it weren't for emigrants and immigrants and "unAmerican" customs, there'd be neither tricks nor treats this evening, except for the occasional unseasonable blizzard delivered by Mother Nature and her goblins. Think about whether crystal balls and ouija boards were predecessors to todays internet and WiFi routers. Are we living so we can be comfortable with whatever comes next?

Toward the Solstice

by Mark Perlberg
We burned our leaves on the bluest October day,
the sun still warm on our backs,
frost just a ghost in the shrubbery.
We raked the leaves into shifting piles on the lawn,
scooped them into deep round baskets
and spilled them in the street against the curb.
The vein of fire, unseen at first in diamond light,
whispered through oak leaves brown as butcher paper,
and maple still flushed with color like maps
torn from The Book of Knowledge.
We were letting go of October, relinquishing color,
readying ourselves for streets lacquered with ice,
the town closed like a walnut, locked inside the cold.


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Sunday, October 30, 2016

A waiting time #phenology

Summer is gone. Autumn colors are well past their peak. Much of the harvest is in. More and more bare branches reach into overcast skies. Humming birds and butterflies have moved on. And yet--

several dozen hard to see sandhill cranes near treeline
several dozen hard to see sandhill cranes near treeline
Photo by J. Harrington

Waterfowl and cranes are still around in numbers. Songbirds gather on telephone wires and murmur in the air. All the local waters are open. Temperatures hover in the 50s and 40s. There's no snow cover as yet. Nature seems paused between seasons, as if catching her breath before tending to the rigors of Winter. The feeling is more pensive than the lazy idleness of a warm Summer evening, but the sense of having earned a rest after the immediate chores are caught up is there. And yet --

Winter's harsh winnowing time is still ahead. Election results may, or may not, soon be settled. Now is a season to collect ourselves with who and what we care about, and be grateful for any peace at hand or promised. Soon it will be time to give thanks for what we have been blessed with this year and, for those who keep them, to do a Winter Count. For many, I hope this will be the year of Standing Rock, NoDAPL and the power of cooperation. May next year then become known as a year when People and Places Healed together.

Wearing Indian Jewelery


By Heid E. Erdrich


I was wondering why that guy
wore the blanket coat, bone choker, rock
watch, woven buckle, quilled Stetson—
I was wondering why he wore
that beaded vest, like a ledger drawing
or a Winter Count, its skinny figure
forever sneaking after two bison
around belly to back,
around back to belly—
I was wondering why, when he said,
I wear these getups every day—
Every day, because these things
are sacred, these things are prayer.

Then I knew I could live this life
If I had blue horses
painted around and around me,
shells and beads like rain in my ear
praying Prairie open in me
at stoplight, hard city, last call, bank line,
coffee break, shopping cart, keycode,
Prarie open in me
Prarie open in me
every day every day every day.


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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Samhain celebration

I remember from my schooldays Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Somehow, though, I never thought to wonder about the origin of Jack O'Lanterns. I may have been told the story by one or more of my Irish relatives, which would explain my subsequent lack of curiosity. If so, it was long enough ago that I heard about Jack that I've forgotten both the original hearing and the story itself.

Jack O'Lanterns lit
Jack O'Lanterns lit
Photo by J. Harrington

Does anyone bob for apples anymore? I know caramel apples are still around. The history of Halloween as I knew it didn't go back as far as it could or should, nor did I ever associate Halloween with future events. Once again I've been caught on the "It's not what we don't know that gets us in trouble..." hook. I thought I knew the "important stuff" about Halloween when I could carve a pumpkin myself, go trick or treating myself, and decide for myself how quickly to eat my treats. I missed much of the history and community aspects.

Trick? or Treat?
Trick? or Treat?
Photo by J. Harrington
Where I grew up, Boston and its suburbs, there were few out houses to tip over. The tricks usually involved soaping windows or mischievous door-bell ringing and, sometimes, TP'ing. As more of us become more aware of our food sources and the seasons of the year through urban agriculture, community supported agriculture and the like, I wonder if we'll also start to return to the natural origins of many of our holidays. That could be another way to build the community spirit we all so desperately need.

Samhain


By Annie Finch


(The Celtic Halloween) 
In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.

Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil

that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.

I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother's mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings

arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
"Carry me." She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.


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Friday, October 28, 2016

Casting a spell of imagination

The ghosts of Summer past are leaving us, floating through the air today, National Chocolate Day, the day on which I learned just how limited my imagination is. Never in my life had the possibility occurred to me that plants might be farming humans. Doesn't that put a dent in your hubris, making humans the equivalent of aphids farming for some ants?

Spirits of Halloween past
Spirits of Halloween past
Photo by J. Harrington

Speaking of hubris, do you suppose it would help if we moved election day (much) further from Halloween? I'm wondering if the nearness of evil spirits is what accounts for so much of the insanity we seem to experience each election season, which now approaches year round. That may or may not support moving the actual election from near Halloween. Of course, we've the early voting season has grown by weeks or months. This can't be good for us in the long run. Imagine a perpetual campaign with year-round voting. We could have that with the Internet of things. Perpetual elections and referenda! Wouldn't that be wonderful!

In case you can't tell, I'll be very glad when my email in-box and TV broadcasts are no longer full of campaign literature. It's gotten really spooky and has become a lot like Chinese water torture, or maybe closer to waterboarding.

The Tragic Condition of the Statue of Liberty

By Bernadette Mayer

                                      A collaboration with Emma Lazarus

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Give me your gentrificatees of the Lower East Side including all the well-heeled young Europeans who’ll take apartments without leases
Give me your landlords, give me your cooperators
Give me the guys who sell the food and the computers to the public schools in District One
Give me the IRS-FBI-CIA men who don’t take election day off
Give me the certain members of the school board & give me the district superintendent
Give me all the greedy members of both american & foreign capitalist religious sects
Give me the parents of the punk people
Give me the guy who puts those stickers in the Rice Krispies
Give me the doctor who thinks his time is more valuable than mine and my daughter’s & the time of all the other non-doctors in this world
Give me the mayor, his mansion, and the president & his white house
Give me the cops who laugh and sneer at meetings where they demonstrate the new uses of mace and robots instead of the old murder against people who are being evicted
Give me the landlord’s sleazy lawyers and the deal-making judges in housing court & give me the landlord’s arsonist
Give me the known & unknown big important rich guys who now bank on our quaint neighborhood
Give me, forgive me, the writers who have already or want to write bestsellers in this country
Together we will go to restore Ellis Island, ravaged for years by wind, weather and vandals
I was surprised and saddened when I heard that the Statue of Liberty was in such a serious state of disrepair & I want to help
This is the most generous contribution I can afford.


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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Snow birds moving South #phenology

Junco in April snow
Junco in April snow

Yesterday afternoon for the first time this season, there were juncos hopping across the deck. Some snow birds migrate into Minnesota for the Winter. At the feeder, house finches(?), I think, but maybe purple finches, are showing up from time to time. When I approach a window for a better look, the splash of purple flies away. I'll keep trying to get a better look for more certain identification. A scan of the comparison table below gives an indication of how much time I may have to spend with field guides. I think I've discovered yet another way to train myself to "pay attention." (All photos J. Harrington)

house finch purple finch
small-bodied; wings are short, making the tail seem long by comparison large and chunky
fairly large beaks and somewhat long, flat heads powerful, conical beaks
relatively shallow notch in its tail tail seems short and is clearly notched at the tip
Adult males are rosy red around the face and upper breast, with streaky brown back, belly and tail Male Purple Finches are delicate pink-red on the head and breast, mixing with brown on the back and cloudy white on the belly
house finch? purple finch?
? (March 2015)
purple finch? house finch?
? (December 2014)

Birds Again


Jim Harrison, 1937 - 2016


A secret came a week ago though I already
knew it just beyond the bruised lips of consciousness.
The very alive souls of thirty-five hundred dead birds
are harbored in my body. It’s not uncomfortable.
I’m only temporary habitat for these not-quite-
weightless creatures. I offered a wordless invitation
and now they’re roosting within me, recalling
how I had watched them at night
in fall and spring passing across earth moons,
little clouds of black confetti, chattering and singing
on their way north or south. Now in my dreams
I see from the air the rumpled green and beige,
the watery face of earth as if they’re carrying
me rather than me carrying them. Next winter
I’ll release them near the estuary west of Alvarado
and south of Veracruz. I can see them perching
on undiscovered Olmec heads. We’ll say goodbye
and I’ll return my dreams to earth.


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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Water ethic: fail? #WaterWednesday

In later August of this year, at the urging of WaterLegacy, I submitted comments to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) on their updated impaired waters list and Total Maximum Daily Load schedule. As WaterLegacy noted in their alert:
"the MPCA also said that the TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) studies to start limiting pollution and reducing contamination in these impaired waters need not be completed until 2029!

"The MPCA still has not restarted the mercury TMDL study of the St. Louis River that the Agency derailed in 2013.

"Finally, the MPCA has refused to list any wild rice waters impaired due to sulfate pollution. Despite commitments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 2012, the Agency has never listed even one Minnesota wild rice impaired water!"
St. Louis River at Jay Cooke State Park
St. Louis River at Jay Cooke State Park
Photo by J. Harrington

Since Minnesota's Governor, Mark Dayton, has made this a Year of Water Action, I had hopes that my comments, along with those of others who care about Minnesota's water quality and public health and environmental justice, might do some good. I guess some of the staff at the MPCA may not have received the memo about Water Action legacy. I'm going to quote the entire body of the message I finally received in response to my comments.
"Thank you for your recent message regarding the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) draft 2016 impaired waters list, and for sharing your concerns about mercury contamination in fish, and sulfate impacts on wild rice in Minnesota. 
"Under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, states submit lists of impaired waters to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) every two years for review and approval. Following the close of MPCA’s public comment period, the state will submit a final 2016 impaired waters list to U.S. EPA. U.S. EPA will take your concerns into consideration as it reviews MPCA’s final impaired waters list. Thank you for your interest in protecting the quality of Minnesota waters." (emphasis added)
St Louis River at Duluth Harbor
St Louis River at Duluth Harbor
Photo by J. Harrington

My understanding of an ethic is that it goes beyond laws and regulations and motivates those who hold it to do what's called for above and beyond minimum legal requirements. At least that's what I believe caring is supposed to be all about. My reading of the MPCA response above is that the agency is "passing the buck" to EPA (you know, that same federal agency that "protected" the water supply of the citizens of Flint, MI). Given EPA's "emergency protection," MPCA's deferral to EPA is not what I would hope for or expect from an agency that should be setting an example in how to live up to the Governor's statement “It is time now to take action, as individuals and as a state, to leave a legacy of clean, safe, affordable water for ourselves, and for future generations of Minnesotans.” Mercury and sulfate impaired waters that won't be improved for decades even after they exist as known problems isn't the kind of legacy I'd want for future generations.

Dear Mr. Fanelli,


By Charles Bernstein


I saw your picture
in the 79th street
station. You said
you’d be interested
in any comments I
might have on the
condition of the
station Mr. Fanelli,
there is a lot of
debris in the 79th street
station that makes it
unpleasant to wait in
for more than a few
minutes. The station
could use a paint
job and maybe
new speakers so you
could understand
the delay announcements
that are always being
broadcast. Mr.
Fanelli—there are
a lot of people sleeping
in the 79th street station
& it makes me sad
to think they have no
home to go to. Mr.
Fanelli, do you think
you could find a more
comfortable place for them
to rest? It’s pretty noisy
in the subway, especially
all those express trains
hurtling through every
few minutes, anyway when the
trains are in service.
I have to admit, Mr. Fanelli, I
think the 79th street station’s
in pretty bad shape
& sometimes at night
as I toss in my bed
I think the world’s
not doing too good
either, & I
wonder what’s going
to happen, where we’re
headed, if we’re
headed anywhere, if
we even have heads. Mr.
Fanelli, do you think if
we could just start
with the 79th street
station & do what
we could with that
then maybe we could,
you know, I guess, move
on from there? Mr.
Fanelli, when I saw your
picture & the sign
asking for suggestions
I thought, if
you really wanted to
get to the bottom
of what’s wrong then
maybe it was my job
to write to you: Maybe
you’ve never been inside
the 79th street station
because you’re so busy
managing the 72nd street
& 66th street stations,
maybe you don’t know
the problems we have
at 79th—I mean the
dirt & frequent
delays & the feeling of
total misery that
pervades the place. Mr.
Fanelli, are you reading
this far in the letter
or do you get so
many letters every day
that you don’t have
time to give each
one the close attention
it desires? Or am I
the only person who’s
taken up your invitation
to get in touch &
you just don’t have enough
experience to know how to
respond? I’m sorry
I can’t get your attention
Mr. Fanelli because I really
believe if you ask
for comments then you
ought to be willing
to act on them—even
if ought is too
big a word to throw
around at this point.
Mr. Fanelli
I hope you won’t
think I’m rude
if I ask you a
personal question. Do
you get out of the
office much?
Do you go to the movies
or do you prefer
sports—or maybe
quiet evenings at a
local restaurant? Do
you read much, Mr. Fanelli?
I don’t mean just
Gibbons and like
that, but philosophy—
have you read much
Hanna Arendt or
do you prefer
a more ideological
perspective?
I think if I understood
where you are coming from,
Mr. Fanelli, I could
write to you more cogently,
more persuasively. Mr.
Fanelli, do you get out
of the city at all—I
mean like up to Bear
Mountain or out to
Montauk? I mean do you
notice how unpleasant
the air is in the 79th
street station—that we
could use some cooling
or air-filtering system
down there? Mr.
Fanelli, do you think
it’s possible we
could get together
and talk about
these things in
person? There are
a few other points
I’d like to go over
with you if I could
get the chance. Things
I’d like to talk to
you about but that
I’d be reluctant to
put down on paper.
Mr. Fanelli, I haven’t
been feeling very good
lately and I thought
meeting with you face
to face might change
my mood, might put
me into a new frame
of mind. Maybe we
could have lunch?
Or maybe after work?
Think about it, Mr.
Fanelli.


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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Going batty #phenology

I suppose it makes sense to have international Bat Week the week before Halloween. Minnesota is home to seven species of bats, about half of whom hibernate in Winter while the other half migrates south. Here's a link to eleven facts about bats, including information on white-nose syndrome.

new bat house
new bat house
Photo by J. Harrington

On Summer evenings, we often see bats flying and feeding over the wet spot in our back yard. For years we had a bat house in an oak tree next to our deck. Eventually, the branch holding the bat house died, fell down, and took the bat house with it. The Son-In-Law person built a new bat house (the old one had been "store boughten") and we installed it where it should be more visible to our furry, flying friends. One of these days I'll stroll up the hill and see if there are any signs under the house that bats have moved in, now that it's been up for a couple or three years.

"new" bat house after weathering
"new" bat house after weathering
Photo by J. Harrington

This past Summer, a new (to Minnesota) species of bat was discovered in Arden Hills. That will make eight species but I don't know how many times the new species will have to be seen before it counts as a Minnesotan. Shortly after we moved into our house, we discovered a bat. It was flying around the bedroom ceiling and the downstairs family room. I decided that a firearm might do more harm than good and retrieved a large fishing net from the garage while the Better Half monitored the invader's location. After a few missed swipes, the bat was entangled in the net, transported outside and released. At least that's how I recall my brave response to the situation. I suspect the bat was considerably more scared than the humans.

How to Love Bats


By Judith Beveridge

Begin in a cave.
Listen to the floor boil with rodents, insects.
Weep for the pups that have fallen. Later,
you’ll fly the narrow passages of those bones,
                                                       but for now —

open your mouth, out will fly names
like Pipistrelle, Desmodus, Tadarida. Then,
listen for a frequency
lower than the seep of water, higher
than an ice planet hibernating
beyond a glacier of Time.

Visit op shops. Hide in their closets.
Breathe in the scales and dust
of clothes left hanging. To the underwear
and to the crumbled black silks — well,
give them your imagination
and plenty of line, also a night of gentle wind.

By now your fingers should have
touched petals open. You should have been dreaming
each night of anthers and of giving
to their furred beauty
your nectar-loving tongue. But also,
your tongue should have been practising the cold
of a slippery, frog-filled pond.

Go down on your elbows and knees.
You’ll need a spieliologist’s desire for rebirth
and a miner’s paranoia of gases —
but try to find within yourself
the scent of a bat-loving flower.

Read books on pogroms. Never trust an owl.
Its face is the biography of propaganda.
Never trust a hawk. See its solutions
in the fur and bones of regurgitated pellets.

And have you considered the smoke
yet from a moving train? You can start
half an hour before sunset,
but make sure the journey is long, uninterrupted
and that you never discover
the faces of those Trans-Siberian exiles.

Spend time in the folds of curtains.
Seek out boarding-school cloakrooms.
Practise the gymnastics of web umbrellas.

                                             Are you
floating yet, thought-light,
without a keel on your breastbone?
Then, meditate on your bones as piccolos,
on mastering the thermals
beyond the tremolo; reverberations
beyond the lexical.

                                           Become adept
at describing the spectacles of the echo —
but don’t watch dark clouds
passing across the moon. This may lead you
to fetishes and cults that worship false gods
by lapping up bowls of blood from a tomb.

Practise echo-locating aerodromes,
stamens. Send out rippling octaves
into the fossils of dank caves —
then edit these soundtracks
with a metronome of dripping rocks, heartbeats
and with a continuous, high-scaled wondering
about the evolution of your own mind.

But look, I must tell you — these instructions
are no manual. Months of practice
may still only win you appreciation
of the acoustical moth,
hatred of the hawk and owl. You may need

to observe further the floating black host
through the hills.


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Monday, October 24, 2016

Coolin' it #phenology

This morning there were many thirsty, frustrated young birds trying to figure out why they couldn't drink the clear (frozen) water in the bird bath. By 11 am or so it was still mostly ice-covered. That's when I plugged in the heater that should keep it from freezing all Winter, although it also makes it obvious how quickly unfrozen water evaporates in dry, below-freezing, air.

frozen bird bath with oak leaves
frozen bird bath with oak leaves
Photo by J. Harrington

Now we've reached the time to start watching morning mist/fog accompany heat loss from our local lakes and ponds. Soil-freeze is probably six to eight weeks away. Ice-up on larger lakes? Your guess is as good as, or maybe better than, mine. Local lakes should experience turnover, when the water is  briefly the same temperature from top to bottom, about this time of year. Then, cooler water will sink until it gets colder than 39 degrees, at which water is the most dense. I'm still trying to get my head around global warming versus La Nina for the upcoming Winter. We're expecting rain, not snow, tomorrow, for which I'm grateful.

In her Nature Anatomy, Julia Rothman offers a useful definition of a pond as
"a body of standing water too small
for significant waves or depth-based
temperature variations."
Lake Superior from Minnesota
Lake Superior from Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

Unfortunately, due, I'd guess, to space limitations, she doesn't elaborate on the depth-based temperature variations and how they change seasonally in lakes. Even a lake as large as Superior undergoes stratification and turnover. I used to be much more familiar with the details and timing of turnover, ice-in and ice-out when we lived on Big Carnelian Lake, but that was many years ago. Knowledge seems to be one of those things that comes under the heading of "use it or lose it."

Thin Ice

Reedy striations don’t occlude the beneath—
earthy mash of leaves, flat pepper flakes, layered,
tips protruding, tender-desolate above a mirror
surface, gently pressing on horse-mane, nest material,
tickle-brush, fringe. Buff block-shapes further down,
ghost-bits of green-green, a lone leaf burned white.
My thrown stone skitters on ice. The next, larger,
plunks through and for a moment I am a violator
but then I see it opened a bubble cell, a city,
a lesion, a map—the way in cold and luminous.


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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Gettin' a move on #phenology

Last evening the Better Half and I were driving north from Osceola to St. Croix Falls and noticing the beautiful sunset. That was about the time we were passing through Dresser. We then saw several large flocks of geese high in the air. They were somewhere between the upper limit for local feeding flights and the lower limit for migrating flocks. Then, we noticed some large flocks still feeding in the fields. About the time we reached St. Croix Falls and crossed the river to Taylors Falls, we spotted a couple more flocks in the far distance over Minnesota. These were definitely high enough that they were most likely migrating from somewhere, but where? And why?

Autumn sunset
Autumn sunset
Photo by J. Harrington

I haven't heard of any major freezes or storms north of us, so I'm not sure what would be moving geese south from open water and food. Maybe these flocks read the reports about the upcoming Polar Vortex?  I do know that seeing several large, high flocks made this old waterfowler's heart patter with happiness. If you're not sure why that might be, let me suggest you read some Gordon MacQuarrie Stories of The Old Duck Hunter or Gene Hill's A Hunter's Fireside Book.

a high pair of Canada geese
a high pair of Canada geese
Photo by J. Harrington

Leaves have been dropping and blowing today. The wind is starting to have a bite to it. It's going to be a fine evening for home baked sourdough bread and chicken with wild rice soup. Last night the Daughter Person and Son-In-Law had friends over for pumpkin carving festivities. As Summer undergoes a belated departure, real Autumn is shaping up nicely. We'll let the waterfowl migrate while we stick around to see what happens next.

The Geese


By Jane Mead


slicing this frozen sky know
where they are going—
and want to get there.

Their call, both strange
and familiar, calls
to the strange and familiar

heart, and the landscape
becomes the landscape
of being, which becomes

the bright silos and snowy
fields over which the nuanced
and muscular geese

are calling—while time
and the heart take measure.


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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Changing menus #phenology

The other day we shared a concern that we Minnesotans will pay for this beautiful weather we've enjoyed intermittently this extended Autumn. Soon thereafter reports of a forthcoming "Winter Vortex" appeared in the local news media. At a personal level, weather is one of those things I try to put under the heading of "accept the things I can not change," although that too rarely stops me from complaining if the weather doesn't fit my mood or plans. Conversely, I have no doubt I'd be bored out of what passes for my mind if I lived somewhere that didn't have four seasons worth of weather.

home-baked sourdough bread
home-baked sourdough bread
Photo by J. Harrington

I can't imagine living somewhere that didn't regularly get cold enough to make hearty and delicious soups and stews really enjoyable, especially with home-baked bread. This year so far we've only flirted with that kind of weather, and soon it will settle in for the season. After all, Halloween is less than a week and a half away. One aspect of Winter that I find reassuring is that I can comfortably curl up inside where it's warm, enjoy a cup of coffee and a good book, and not feel as though I should be doing something else, or that I'm missing something.

Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns
Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns
Photo by J. Harrington

This Winter we're going to add trout fishing back onto the list of options. We'll see if the Tenkara rod and line (no reel or line guides to freeze up) we got for our birthday last Summer makes a helpful difference in Winter fishing. I've not the patience to sit around for ice fishing, and it's been years since I've enjoyed actually playing in the snow instead of enjoying its beauty from inside where it's warm.

bare aspen branches
bare aspen branches
Photo by J. Harrington

Before we get to that point, I'm going to enjoy the beauty of the oak leaves still in the trees. Most of the others have come down in the winds of the past week. It seemed as though the pear tree dropped all its leaves in just one night this past week. Maybe some early "haunts" scared them off.

Bread


By Richard Levine


Each night, in a space he’d make
between waking and purpose,
my grandfather donned his one
suit, in our still dark house, and drove
through Brooklyn’s deserted streets
following trolley tracks to the bakery.

There he’d change into white
linen work clothes and cap,
and in the absence of women,
his hands were both loving, well
into dawn and throughout the day—
kneading, rolling out, shaping

each astonishing moment
of yeasty predictability
in that windowless world lit
by slightly swaying naked bulbs,
where the shadows staggered, woozy
with the aromatic warmth of the work.

Then, the suit and drive, again.
At our table, graced by a loaf
that steamed when we sliced it,
softened the butter and leavened
the very air we’d breathe,
he’d count us blessed.


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Friday, October 21, 2016

Winter: for the birds #phenology

If weather forecasters were at all civilized, they would have waited until the pain of election season was over before bringing up the possible pain of another "Winter Vortex." Minnesota seems to be targeted this year for below average temperatures and above average snow fall. The real question will be how much below or above average are we going to get?

downy woodpecker
downy woodpecker
Photo by J. Harrington

This unseasonable pain and aggravation does have a brighter side (that's brighter, not bright). It's started me thinking about Winter bird sounds that replace Spring and Summer calls. Based on who (whom?) I expect to see at the feeder between now and late March, are the wilder "pet sounds" of the season to come:


pileated woodpecker
pileated woodpecker
Photo by J. Harrington

Away from the feeder, we'll hear the occasional crow caw and raven krawk. Evenings we sometimes hear coyotes howl. Turns out that, in addition to howling winds and whispering, sifting snow, our North Country's silent season isn't all that quiet after all. What would you add that we've left off our list?

A Question About Birds


by Billy Collins


I am going to sit on a rock near some water
or on a slope of grass
under a high ceiling of white clouds,
 
and I am going to stop talking
so I can wander around in that spot
the way John James Audubon might have wandered
 
through a forest of speckled sunlight,
stopping now and then to lean
against an elm, mop his brow,
 
and listen to the songs of birds.
Did he wonder, as I often do, 
how they regard the songs of other species?
 
Would it be like listening to the Chinese
merchants at an outdoor market?
Or do all the birds perfectly understand one another?
 
Or is that nervous chittering
I often hear from the upper branches
the sound of some tireless little translator?

~ from horoscopes for the dead (Random House, 2011)


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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Our "new normal" is flooding us with opportunities #phenology

The current issue of Trout Unlimited (TU) magazine focuses on adaptation to global warming. One article in particular caught my attention. After the Flood describes the infrastructure and economic effects of our increased weather volatility. Minnesota has experienced several 1,000 year storms during the past decade or so. That strongly suggests to me that we need to do a major revamp of our environmental and infrastructure design, construction and regulatory approaches to guiding development and redevelopment. If we do it correctly, we'll save money as well as protect both our built and our natural environments.

Minnesota River bridge, high clearance
Minnesota River bridge, high clearance
Photo by J. Harrington

One approach could be based on something like the Department of Transportation's ongoing work to minimize crashes between vehicles and wildlife. Conversely, some of the reports coming out of North Carolina make me wonder if our Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) and tailings basin design and management rules are overdue for revisions. Flooded animal operations and ash basins from Hurricane Matthew may leave lingering public health problems for North Carolina residents trying to recover from flooded property problems. Admittedly, Minnesota isn't in hurricane territory, but did Duluth and Rushford and other communities think they were in the path of the kind of floods they've experienced in the recent past? [NC CAFO update]

Stillwater "lift" bridge, limited clearance
Stillwater "lift" bridge, limited clearance
Photo by J. Harrington

An example from the Trout Unlimited article should motivate us to take a careful look at the risks and savings potential we face.
"Little Schoharie Creek [in New York state] cut deeper into its streambed, prompting a project initially budgeted at $12.1 million that grew to exceed $20 million to fix the damage, while experts agree that appropriate emergency measures would have cost only $1.5 million using recommended actions."
 It may be a coincidence that the arrival of the TU magazine arrived within a few days of the state's consideration of a request from thousands of medical personnel to do a Health Impact Assessment on proposed copper-nickel-sulfide-hard-rock mining. I prefer to think it's due to serendipity. We can't well manage a new normal with old tools. Examples, like truths, are out there. Will we pay attention? Fewer, more intense storms will affect fish that have evolved to different stream flow patterns. They'll have to adapt or become evolutionary failures. So will we.

Providence


By Natasha Trethewey


What's left is footage: the hours before
             Camille, 1969—hurricane
                         parties, palm trees leaning
in the wind,
            fronds blown back,

a woman's hair. Then after:
            the vacant lots,
            boats washed ashore, a swamp

where graves had been. I recall

how we huddled all night in our small house,
            moving between rooms,
                        emptying pots filled with rain.

The next day, our house—
           on its cinderblocks—seemed to float

           in the flooded yard: no foundation

beneath us, nothing I could see
                          tying us                      to the land.
                          In the water, our reflection
                                                               trembled,
disappeared
when I bent to touch it.


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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

No denying late bloomers #phenology

I had to go check my calendar and my GPS location. This IS Minnesota. It IS October 19. This doesn't seem to be the right time or place for plants to start blooming, but, within the past few days, no fewer than three new blossoms have opened in the front garden. See for yourself.

late blooming day lily
late blooming day lily
Photo by J. Harrington

late blooming mandevilla
late blooming mandevilla
Photo by J. Harrington

late blooming marigold
late blooming marigold
Photo by J. Harrington

I recognize the day lily (top) and the marigold (bottom) [see the other flower buds?]. When Now that my Better Half informed me gets home later today, I'll fill in the name of what was the unidentified bright red bloom in the middle. (I'll also catch some grief because this will be the third or fourth time she's told me the name of that plant.) I'm not terribly surprised that the mums are still going strong. I am surprised that the plants by the front door have held out so well. Stunned and amazed would be the correct description of how I feel about our late bloomers. You'd think the climate was warming or something and that we keep setting record after record of high temperatures month after month, but the remaining two climate deniers must be more correct than all those scientists. That leaves us with the quandary of, if you can't kid a kidder, can a denier deny denying? (Some of us know that de Nile is not just a river in Egypt.) The problem is, even if we all voted early, it wouldn't make them stop, would it? Is there such a thing as a "killing frost" for political ads and debates and Tweets? Shouldn't there be? Where do we go to surrender?

Denial


By Patricia Frolander


He called it “his ranch,”
yet each winter day found her beside him
feeding hay to hungry cows.

In summer heat
you would find her in the hayfield—
cutting, raking, baling, stacking.

In between she kept the books,
cooked, cleaned
laundered, fed bum lambs.

Garden rows straight,
canned jars of food
lined cellar walls.

Then she died.
I asked him how he would manage.
“Just like I always have,” he said.


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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ojibwe 13 moons #phenology

Thunderstorms in October bring high water to the Sunrise River and revive the chrysanthemums along the driveway. The front that moved out the storms left us with a classic October Autumn day. Practically cloudless blue skies frame stunningly vibrant colors in those leaves still hanging while there's just enough of a breeze to fill the air with, as my mother or her mother would have claimed at this time of year, "leaves falling so thick and fast they remind us of the poor souls headed for Hell."

Are there "blue moons" in an Ojibwa calendar?
Are there "blue moons" in an Ojibwa calendar?
Photo by J. Harrington

My morning wasn't quite a trip to Hell, but spending 25 minutes or so in an MRI machine, surrounded by pounding that sounded as if it could have been made by doomed souls trying to escape from the cells of Hell, brought my imagination into play to help me escape my immediate surroundings. I started thinking about Native American phenology and, in particular, what terms were used to name days of the week. I'm still looking for a satisfactory answer, but, in the process, I did finally find an Ojibwe reference to phenology. I also came across several names for September's moon "Waatebagaa giizis is the Leaves Changing Color Moon. Other names for new September moon are Mandaamini giizis (Corn Moon) and Moozo giizis (Moose Moon)." Spot checking several web sites on Ojibwe culture only turned up the single name "Falling Leaves Moon" for October. I'm slowly learning to use Ojibwe or Lakota instead of Native American in Google searches for indigenous cultural information relevant to Minnesota. Since we manage to keep track of several different time zones across the country, I think we might benefit a lot if we could and would superimpose Ojibwe or Lakota or whatever the appropriate cultural moon names and periods would be for where you live on top of our own Gregorian calendar. Is there an app for that?

Zen Living


By Dick Allen


Birdsongs that sound like the steady determined tapping
of a shoemaker's hammer,
or of a sculptor making tiny ball-peen dents in a silver plate,
wake me this morning. Is it possible the world itself can be happy? The calico cat
stretches her long body out across the top of my computer monitor,
yawning, its little primitive head a cave of possibility.
And I'm ready again
to try and see accidents, the over and over patterns
of double-slit experiments a billionfold
repeated before me. If I had great patience,
I could try to count the poplar, birch and oak
leaves in their shifting welter outside my bedroom window
or the almost infinitesimal trails of thought that flash and flash
everywhere, as if decaying particles inside a bubble chamber,
windshield raindrops, lake ripples. However,
instead I go to fry some bacon, crack two eggs
into the cast-iron skillet that's even older than this house,
and on the calendar (each month another oriental fan
where the climbing solitary is dwarfed . . . or on dark blue oceans
minuscular fishing boats bob beneath gigantic waves)
X out the days, including those I've forgotten.


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