Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Finding hope in November #phenology

We've just about made it through November, 2016, a month full of surprises. Several of the events this month, and their continuing repercussions, make me very glad that I serendipitously came across Tuesdays in the Tallgrass [added to sidebar] and this epigram:
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” – attributed to Kurt Vonnegut
I will return to it often, I suspect, during the next few years. For now, I hope, however, that this November isn't typical of whatever our "new normal" will become.

November's beauty can seem cloudy at times
November's beauty can seem cloudy at times
Photo by J. Harrington

You probably remember that November is supposed to be gashkadino-giizis, the Ice Is Forming Moon. Perhaps this year it was further north or west [Standing Rock Water Protectors in snow storm] or at higher elevations, but not locally. There are still flocks of Canada geese sitting on ice-free local ponds. I suspect, but don't know, that black bears have denned up and deer are finishing up their mating season. Many November wombs already carrying a promise of next Spring's new life.

The inimitable Studs Terkel, in his book of interviews titled Hope Dies Last, Keeping Faith in Troubled Times, gives us "an alternative history of the American century." I find it encouraging that Terkel, in his own way, delivers a message similar to Vonnegut's. He writes at the very beginning "Hope has never trickled down. It has always sprung up." Joyce Sutphen also reminds us that, in November, hope is foundational, "no matter what." I'm already hopeful about what December may bring we can bring to each other this December. How about you?

November, 1967

by Joyce Sutphen

Dr. Zhivago was playing at the Paramount
Theater in St. Cloud. That afternoon,
we went into Russia,

and when we came out, the snow
was falling—the same snow
that fell in Moscow.

The sky had turned black velvet.
We’d been through the Revolution
and the frozen winters.

In the Chevy, we waited for the heater
to melt ice on the windshield,
clapping our hands to keep warm.

On the highway, these two things:
a song from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
and that semi-truck careening by.

Now I travel through the dark without you
and sometimes I turn up the radio, hopeful
the way you were, no matter what.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How soon comes our next Silent Spring?

Today, driving past a picked corn field, I saw two bald eagles feeding next to each other. I couldn't make out what they were feeding on but my guess is they had pulled some scraps from the road-kill deer in the roadway ditch. We've been seeing more and more eagles around our neck of the woods. They're not as common as starlings or robins, but they're also not as scarce as they were back in the days when we were spraying hell out everything with DDT. Do you remember the issues with many raptors (near the top of a food chain) laying eggs with excessively thin shells and failure to produce offspring? For many Americans these days, that must seem like ancient history.

bald eagle pair
bald eagle pair
Photo by J. Harrington

It's also been a long time since a river caught fire in the United States. The Cuyahoga River fire of 1969 occurred within a decade of the publication of Silent Spring [1962]. The latter ultimately led to a ban in the U.S. of DDT. The former to the Clean Water Act of 1972.

The chemical/pesticide industry tried to discredit Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring. They were much less successful than those who have created doubt and uncertainty about the effects of cigarette smoke and the sources and effects of accumulating green house gases. If we, once upon a time, could reverse the decline of bald eagles and other raptors, if we could ban the use of DDT in the U.S., why does it appear that the next president of the U.S. will be someone who attributes global warming to a "Chinese hoax?"

bald eagle shadowed by a crow
bald eagle shadowed by a crow
Photo by J. Harrington

How is it that, long, long ago, in a country far, far away, we had an ability to forge a consensus and create a nation of immigrants, while today we can't even communicate with civility if we disagree with our neighbor next door? Have we become so self-centered and self-righteous as individual citizens that we can't accept the idea we may be incorrect and imperfect? Have we become so insecure that we can't tolerate anyone who disagrees with us? Have we managed to dumb down our educational system to the point that it only turns out citizen drones that can neither fly nor navigate for themselves because both require the ability to think critically?

It's taken us several generations to restore our national symbol to a healthy status. I don't think we have as much time to spare while we do the same for our body politic. Continuing to segregate ourselves into communities and neighborhoods filled with those who think and act just like we do is not serving us well. Nature abjures monocultures. So should we. It just isn't healthy. Distilled water won't poison you, but neither will it nourish you. As you make your list for Santa this year, think about what you need as well as what you want. See how that works out.

Eagle Plain



The American eagle is not aware he is
the American eagle. He is never tempted
to look modest.

When orators advertise the American eagle’s
virtues, the American eagle is not listening.
This is his virtue.

He is somewhere else, he is mountains away
but even if he were near he would never
make an audience.

The American eagle never says he will serve
if drafted, will dutifully serve etc. He is
not at our service.

If we have honored him we have honored one
who unequivocally honors himself by
overlooking us.

He does not know the meaning of magnificent.
Perhaps we do not altogether either
who cannot touch him.



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Monday, November 28, 2016

Early ice out? #phenology

The wind is howling, swirling through the trees, making them look like enraged Ents waving their arms. Rain is pouring down. What little snow was left on the ground is disappearing rapidly. All in all, it feels more like mid-March than the end of November in Minnesota.

ice forming, early December 2015
ice forming, early December 2015
Photo by J. Harrington

I checked my phenology reference books, and this is the time of year when lakes should [used to] be freezing over and ice [used to] start to thicken enough for the adventurous to contemplate ice fishing and placing ice houses. Ice cover has come and gone, and will no doubt come again, on local waters. Unless your ice house has pontoon floats, plan on leaving it in the yard for awhile yet this year.

snow cover, early December 2013
snow cover, early December 2013
Photo by J. Harrington

The odds are still pretty high that we'll have a white Christmas, and I'm not complaining that all this precipitation isn't snow. It is unusual to get rain at this time of year. At least it used to be. More and more we get weather I associate with Missouri. It's almost as if something's going on with the climate, like maybe it's warming? Or, perhaps it's only that we're all dumb enough to be bamboozled by the Chinese, so they can steal all our manufacturing jobs. Yeah, that must be it. If we were smart enough to listen to the climate scientists instead of the Chinese... oh, wait!

This year I'm planning on staying up late enough on Christmas Eve to catch Santa and find out what's really going on at the North Pole. Santa still lives at the North Pole, doesn't he? He wasn't hit by a ship or anything, was he?

Snow Signs


By Charles Tomlinson


They say it is waiting for more, the snow
Shrunk up to the shadow-line of walls
In an arctic smouldering, an unclean salt,
And will not go until the frost returns
Sharpening the stars, and the fresh snow falls
Piling its drifts in scallops, furls. I say
Snow has left its own white geometry
To measure out for the eye the way
The land may lie where a too cursory reading
Discovers only dip and incline leading
To incline, dip, and misses the fortuitous
Full variety a hillside spreads for us:
It is written here in sign and exclamation,
Touched-in contour and chalk-followed fold,
Lines and circles finding their completion
In figures less certain, figures that yet take hold
On features that would stay hidden but for them:
Walking, we waken these at every turn,
Waken ourselves, so that our walking seems
To rouse some massive sleeper out of winter dreams
Whose stretching startles the whole land into life,
As if it were us the cold, keen signs were seeking
To pleasure and remeasure, repossess
With a sense in the gathered coldness of heat and height.
Well, if it's for more the snow is waiting
To claim back into disguisal overnight,
As though it were promising a protection
From all it has transfigured, scored and bared,
Now we shall know the force of what resurrection
Outwaits the simplification of the snow.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

It's Christmas Cookie time

The Christmas tree is up and lighted. Ornaments will find their way onto its branches over the next week or so. Nevertheless, our current weather has been a hindrance to getting into the Christmas spirit. Last night's fog and mist could have created navigation problems for even Rudolph. Fortunately, the Better Half [BH] has been inspired to start the Christmas Cookie baking sequence today. I'm too big and too old to qualify as a Smurf, but I'm enough of a Cookie Monster that I'm surprised I haven't yet turned blue.

untraditional shapes, traditional orange cookies
untraditional shapes, traditional orange cookies
Photo by J. Harrington

I suspect BH's working on the orange-flavored cookies that have been a Christmas tradition in her family of origin. Not my favorites, but no matter. Eventually some of my preferences will come out of the oven and get covered with icing or turned into gingerbread houses. I also need to remind the Daughter Person that she's overdue on a promised batch of my favorites, oatmeal cookies with craisins and white chocolate bits.

A Christmas village of gingerbread houses
A Christmas village of gingerbread houses
Photo by J. Harrington

It's been a very long time since I've felt the uninhibited childish sense of joy, delight and glee that Christmas brings out in young ones, but I come close as the cookie cutters fly and the kitchen takes on a light coating of flour dust. And, I've learned to be sure to always leave enough cookies for Santa to have some to go with his glass of milk on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Mail


By Ted Kooser


Cards in each mailbox,
angel, manger, star and lamb,
as the rural carrier,
driving the snowy roads,
hears from her bundles
the plaintive bleating of sheep,
the shuffle of sandals,
the clopping of camels.
At stop after stop,
she opens the little tin door
and places deep in the shadows
the shepherds and wise men,
the donkeys lank and weary,
the cow who chews and muses.
And from her Styrofoam cup,
white as a star and perched
on the dashboard, leading her
ever into the distance,
there is a hint of hazelnut,
and then a touch of myrrh.


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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Season's Greetings

In honor of yesterday's #OptOut celebration, last night we attended the Taylors Falls Lighting Festival's Grand Lighting of Village & Santa Parade. There's more activities today and tomorrow if you're interested.

local Cub Scout pack float
local Cub Scout pack float
Photo by J. Harrington

Christmas lights on a local business float
Christmas lights on a local business float
Photo by J. Harrington

cast of A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas
cast of A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas
Photo by J. Harrington

Today it was off to get our Christmas tree. On the way, we stopped at our favorite coffee shop and book store in Cambridge to help honor Small Business Saturday. At the family-owned Christmas tree emporium, the erratic and unseasonable weather we've been having required some adjustments to the parking and tree loading area.

a muddy North Country Christmas?
a muddy North Country Christmas?
Photo by J. Harrington


Nest


By Jeffrey Harrison


It wasn’t until we got the Christmas tree
into the house and up on the stand
that our daughter discovered a small bird’s nest
tucked among its needled branches.

Amazing, that the nest had made it
all the way from Nova Scotia on a truck
mashed together with hundreds of other trees
without being dislodged or crushed.
And now it made the tree feel wilder,
a balsam fir growing in our living room,
as though at any moment a bird might flutter
through the house and return to the nest.

And yet, because we’d brought the tree indoors,
we’d turned the nest into the first ornament.
So we wound the tree with strings of lights,
draped it with strands of red beads,

and added the other ornaments, then dropped
two small brass bells into the nest, like eggs
containing music, and hung a painted goldfinch
from the branch above, as if to keep them warm.


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Friday, November 25, 2016

Celebrate Everything!?

If you're reading this, I assume it means you've survived Thanksgiving dinner. (If you're reading this and you didn't survive, please do not direct message me.)  We, as you no doubt know, are in the midst of Black Friday today, but it's known by some as Buy Absolutely Nothing Day and by others as #OptOut Day. Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday and Monday is Cyber Monday. I was getting dejected about how commerce and politics have come to dominate our lives and calendars. Then I noticed that November, and all the other months and days of the year are national days celebrating something or other not always commercial or political. I can get behind National Bavarian Creme Pie Day and Craft Jerky Day, both of which are on Sunday.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area diversity
Boundary Waters Canoe Area diversity
Photo by J. Harrington

The thing I like about the #CelebrateEverythingDay calendar is that it seems to be for almost everything and against very little or nothing. Would that we were more like that ourselves. Remember how hard it was in preschool and kindergarten learning to take turns and play well with others? Do they still do that on the back of report cards? Do they still do report cards? (Can you tell the kids have been adult for some time now?)

As we were getting ready for and then enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, I noticed something disconcerting about my perspective. I'm sharing it because I suspect I may not be the only person with this flaw. I was looking at things, decorations, food, conversation, etc. not though the lens of whether they were pretty or tasted good or were enlightening or intelligent, but based on whether or not they were what I would have chosen if I were doing it all myself. Of course, if I were doing it all myself, the odds are pretty high I'd be celebrating and eating all by myself instead of with family or friends. Zen has a useful approach to these kinds of problems. Fritz Perls offers us the Gestalt prayer in a similar vein:
"I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped."
Neither of these approaches offers much in the way of a solution once we have reached a level of difference as severe as that experienced in situations like Standing Rock in 2016, or the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965. But, as I alluded to above, disengagement isn't an answer either. Have you considered that living in a world where everyone was just like you would be boring as hell? (That may be part of what Sartre meant when he wrote that hell is other people.) Have you also noticed that few guerrilla actions undertaken by indigenous peoples ever completely fail? Long ago I noticed that the Sierra Club was supporting and promoting forms of sustainable development. (The best way to protect the wilderness is to have great cities.) I've been a more active supporter since I learned that. Some folks, in some places, are trying to make even mining sustainable.

which is longer lasting, rock or water?
which is longer lasting, rock or water?
Photo by J. Harrington

Life on this earth keeps becoming more complex. We're fighting billion of years of evolution when we try to simplify things to satisfy just our own wants. If you're anything like me, much of the time you're more sure of what you don't want than what you do. The only way I know of to learn what I really want is to try lots of different things. That means I need lots of differences available. I don't want pizza, or vanilla ice cream, or even just coffee all the time, do you? What are we going to do about that? How are we going to do it, by working together or not?

Kosmos


By Walt Whitman


Who includes diversity and is Nature,
Who is the amplitude of the earth, and the coarseness and sexuality of the earth, and the great charity of the earth and the equilibrium also,
Who has not look’d forth from the windows the eyes for nothing, or whose brain held audience with messengers for nothing,
Who contains believers and disbelievers, who is the most majestic lover,
Who holds duly his or her triune proportion of realism, spiritualism, and of the æsthetic or intellectual,
Who having consider’d the body finds all its organs and parts good,
Who, out of the theory of the earth and of his or her body understands by subtle analogies all other theories,
The theory of a city, a poem, and of the large politics of these States;
Who believes not only in our globe with its sun and moon, but in other globes with their suns and moons,
Who, constructing the house of himself or herself, not for a day but for all time, sees races, eras, dates, generations,
The past, the future, dwelling there, like space, inseparable together.


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Thursday, November 24, 2016

On being thankful for...

Before I moved to Minnesota, I lived up the road from Plymouth Rock and Plimoth Plantation. As a native son of Massachusetts, I learned most of the traditional stories of the First Thanksgiving and the (real) Tea Party rebellion. At the time I lived in Massachusetts, there was nothing (that I knew of) similar to Birchbark Books in Minneapolis. From places like Birchbark, I've learned about less traditional, and more accurate, versions of the Thanksgiving story. This Thanksgiving, in particular, I'm thankful that Minnesota has and supports book stores like Birchbark and organizations like the Minnesota Humanities Center and the Bdote Memory Map.

was turkey on the first Thanksgiving menu?
was turkey on the first Thanksgiving menu?
Photo by J. Harrington

To be clear, although I'm thankful and grateful for my family, friends, pets, health and, not least, the fact that I'm still here to enjoy them, I'm also particularly thankful these days for writers such as Rebecca Solnit, who wrote (and updated) Hope in the Dark, and Terry Tempest Williams for living and writing Finding Beauty in a Broken World. We can definitely be thankful for such insight and guidance as we seem to be in the midst of that Chinese curse of living in interesting times. Although I'm inclined to accept the version of the story that the Pilgrims came to North America to escape religious persecution and discrimination in England, I'll be particularly full of thanksgiving on the day that the citizens of the United States stop dragging that kind of baggage with them and paying it forward. Thanksgiving is a holiday to be shared with family, friends, and especially those who differ from us and those who have been less lucky than many of us are. Think about how much of what you have is largely an accident of where, when and to whom you were born. Can any of us really claim credit for that (John Calvin notwithstanding)?

How Wonderful


By Irving Feldman


How wonderful to be understood,
to just sit here while some kind person
relieves you of the awful burden
of having to explain yourself, of having
to find other words to say what you meant,
or what you think you thought you meant,
and of the worse burden of finding no words,
of being struck dumb . . . because some bright person
has found just the right words for you—and you
have only to sit here and be grateful
for words so quiet so discerning they seem
not words but literate light, in which
your merely lucid blossoming grows lustrous.
How wonderful that is!

And how altogether wonderful it is
not to be understood, not at all, to, well,
just sit here while someone not unkindly
is saying those impossibly wrong things,
or quite possibly they’re the right things
if you are, which you’re not, that someone
—a difference, finally, so indifferent
it would be conceit not to let it pass,
unkindness, really, to spoil someone’s fun.
And so you don’t mind, you welcome the umbrage
of those high murmurings over your head,
having found, after all, you are grateful
—and you understand this, how wonderful!—
that you’ve been led to be quietly yourself,
like a root growing wise in darkness
under the light litter, the falling words.


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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ghosts in a snow storm #phenology

The weather we have, with temperatures hanging just above or just below freezing, is a mess. The township plowed the road, leaving washboarding, puddles and mud everywhere. Local waters that were beginning to freeze over now have ice islands floating around. At least the freezing rain has kept to a minimum. Winter works better when we get cold, frozen ground, ice cover, and then soft, light flakes to blanket all, in that sequence. I'm not sure when we last had a Winter set up like that, but it's been a while.

trumpeter swans at Carlos Avery pools
trumpeter swans at Carlos Avery pools
Photo by J. Harrington

The weather has brought a flock, looks like a family of 3 or 4 cygnets and a pair of adults, to the nearby pools on the Sunrise River in the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area. Even if they're only here for awhile, they bring a lot of class to the neighborhood. Almost as classy were the three does I saw crossing the road this morning at the south end of our property. Their gray Winter coats, appearing through the light snow showers, looked like shadows wrapped in invisibility cloaks.

whitetail deer in snowy field
whitetail deer in snowy field
Photo by J. Harrington

As you go through your listing of things to be grateful for tomorrow, don't forget to include Nature's beauty and the services like clean air and water she provides us at no charge.

Thanks

Listen 
with the night falling we are saying thank you 
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings 
we are running out of the glass rooms 
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky 
and say thank you 
we are standing by the water thanking it 
smiling by the windows looking out 
in our directions 

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging 
after funerals we are saying thank you 
after the news of the dead 
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you 
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators 
remembering wars and the police at the door 
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you 
in the banks we are saying thank you 
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us 
our lost feelings we are saying thank you 
with the forests falling faster than the minutes 
of our lives we are saying thank you 
with the words going out like cells of a brain 
with the cities growing over us 
we are saying thank you faster and faster 
with nobody listening we are saying thank you 
we are saying thank you and waving 
dark though it is

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How's that Thanksgiving thingy working out for you?

Snow is falling outside. Inside, dogs are sleeping, loaves of sourdough bread are rising and the turkey, heritage Red Bourbon, is thawing in the refrigerator. The day after tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the USA. The Thanksgiving Address that comes to us from the Haudenosaunee [Iroquois] includes a section on The Waters.
"We give thanks to all the Waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms—waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water.
"Now our minds are one."

North Country water
North Country water
Photo by J. Harrington

The Smithsonian exhibit Water/Ways opened this past weekend at the Audubon Center of the North Woods in Sandstone. Many Minnesotans have close, caring relationships with water. Others see it as just another exploitable resource. I would be very thankful if we could find a way, as the Iroquois did, to bring our warring tribes into a peaceful confederation. Maybe we can each try on Thursday by remembering to start with gratitude that we can be together and be well fed. That's more than many in this world have, and more than some will ever have. When was the last time you compared your life to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, to see how it stacks up? Do you have:
  1. Freedom of speech

  2. Freedom of worship

  3. Freedom from want

  4. Freedom from fear
Thanksgiving table
Thanksgiving table
Photo by J. Harrington

Since the last election, more and more of us seem to be suffering from a loss of freedom from fear and freedom of worship. Wasn't it the promise of attainment of each of these freedoms, for each of us, that made America great? Enjoyment of each of these freedoms by every one of us comes at no expense to any of us. We seem to have a penchant for forgetting that. Thursday would be a wonderful time to start remembering. What's it going to cost you to get along with that damned liberal or conservative relative who knows nothing and likes it that way? Recognizing our own relatives as human beings with whom we share this planet is a step in the direction of a broader recognition of the humanity of all "others." Try it. It might feel weird but it shouldn't hurt (too much). Water can serve to wash away differences as well as sins.

Caged Bird


By Maya Angelou


A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind   
and floats downstream   
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and   
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings   
with a fearful trill   
of things unknown   
but longed for still   
and his tune is heard   
on the distant hill   
for the caged bird   
sings of freedom.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Turkey time #phenology

It's Thanksgiving week. I'm suffering an immoderate burnout due to recent political events. The temperature is back above freezing, so the ice-covered, frozen gravel road is turning to mud before it refreezes. This, if the weather forecast is to be believed, will continue intermittently, with interruptions provided by additional winter mixes of rain, snow, sleet and/or ice pellets.

wild turkeys in the front yard
wild turkeys in the front yard
Photo by J. Harrington

Meanwhile, the stars continue to sparkle in clear skies like this morning's. The photo above is proof that not all the turkeys can be found in Washington, D.C. or the 50 state capitols, although there are some wild, feathered ones (without any tar) to be found very close to the capitol in St. Paul. A wildlife success story. The other day, I drove past a very large flock of hens on the edge of our township road. During the Winter, turkeys segregate themselves by gender. If the sparse acorn crop on our property is widespread locally, it may be a tough season to get through for these birds. I'll consider digging out, literally, the feeder we used to use for deer, before the pear tree matured, and see if the turkeys want some corn. A potential down side is feeding may concentrate them for the local coyotes. Some days it's harder than others to figure out the right thing to do, especially if you believe in the part of the Hippocratic Corpus about "First, do no harm."

Along those lines, when I consider the outcome of the November 8 elections, I'm constantly returning to the advice my mother and grandmother used to share with me "Be careful what you wish for, you may get it." I'm suspecting that both the electorate and the incoming adminstration will, before long if they haven't already, end up wishing they had listened to that adage.

Thanksgiving 

Amazement fills my heart to-night,
Amaze and awful fears;
I am a ship that sees no light,
But blindly onward steers.
Flung toward heaven’s toppling rage,
Sunk between steep and steep,
A lost and wondrous fight I wage
With the embattled deep.
I neither know nor care at length
Where drives the storm about;
Only I summon all my strength
And swear to ride it out.
Yet give I thanks; despite these wars.
My ship—though blindly blown,
Long lost to sun or moon or stars—
Still stands up alone.
I need no trust in borrowed spars;
My strength is yet my own.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Nice snowing you #phenology

The shallow ponds in the neighborhood are ice covered. Fields are snow covered. More "wintry mix" and snow are forecast for the days before Thanksgiving. Looks like we'll also get daytime melting and refreezing at night for the next week or so. I suppose it's only seasonable, since the beginning of meteorological Winter is only 10 days away. Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade is even sooner than that.

junco on snow covered railing
junco on snow covered railing
Photo by J. Harrington

Along with the snow, actually, in advance of it, the juncos have arrived. I rarely (never?) see them at the feeder, but they do seem to like to peck their way around the deck.

This has been a year when many of us, actually, most of us, have expressed out concerns about the advisability of undertaking hard rock sulfide mining in northern Minnesota. Although it's no doubt just a coincidence, I'm taking it as a hopeful sign that a present arrived recently from my sister back East. She wrote that she while was out shopping she came across something that made her think of us, so she bought "it" and sent "it" to us.

Sigurd, the North Country Christmas elf
Sigurd, the North Country Christmas elf
Photo by J. Harrington

Evergreen branches and red berries for Christmas trimmings, in a canoe paddled by a Scandinavian elf, will keep the Boundary Waters and the St. Croix River in our minds during this holiday season. Since it would be downright unfriendly to leave a North Country Christmas elf nameless, he's now known as Sigurd. Pretend he's crossing a snow-covered lake in the BWCAW.

Clearly, one of the nicer presents we could get this Christmas would be to have our wilderness areas protected from unsuitable economic activities like mining and all of our waterways protected from the pollution threats of mines and oil pipelines. The Mining Association of Canada is moving their industry "Towards Sustainable Mining." Is sustainable mining a real possibility or just another snow job? Should Minnesota have some conversations about it with our neighbors to the north?

And the Old Man Speaks of Paradise: a Ghazal



Do not move. Let me speak of a river in paradise
A turquoise gift from fiery stars that is paradise

How do you measure a river’s weight, color, smell, touch?
How do you feel the veins of sand in a breathing paradise?

Eons of earth story, long before rocks, plants or bones
Bulging with flesh and blood in every corner of paradise

You call me Old Man, 12,000 years old, but really I’m a baby of
River Warren, swollen with glacier water flooding the paradise

My torso sloughed by old ice, two cities on sandstone bluffs
Headwaters of a 2350-mile road towards the gulf of paradise

A walk along the beach, a bag of rocks, fossils and agates
Each tells stories of the river, land & life—a kinship of paradise

Come to me at dawn or dusk, by foot, canoe or a single shell
To greet eagles, cranes, fox, trees…a ten-mile gorge of paradise

Gar, bass, goldeye, redhorse, bowfin, stoneroller, buffalo, drum, sunfish
Sickleback, darter, walleye, dace, mooneye…in the waves of paradise

The St. Anthony Fall that walked up 10 miles from Fort Snelling
Clams and shells in Kasota stones—layered history of paradise

Put your fingers into the bluff, and pull a handful of sand
From the Ordovician sea, each perfect to make a paradise

From time to time, I take you into the amniotic womb
A reminder of our origin from a black, red, white, blue paradise

Do not dam me. To move freely is to evolve is to live
Lock feeds fear feeds hate feeds violence to the base of paradise

The Mississippi, temple on earth, home of all living things
Would you tread with love, through the heart of paradise?

We are water—H2O—two hands under an open heart
Pulsing, dissolving, bonding the earth to a green paradise

Stop seeking before or after life, for a paradise
Already in us, in each cell of being that is paradise


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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Walling -- In or Out?

It's less than a week to Thanksgiving. There's snow on the ground, and more in the forecast. In this season of gratitude, let me say THANK YOU! to the cast and many in the audience of Hamilton for last night's thrilling, and satisfying, performance.

how vulnerable is our grid?
how vulnerable is our grid?
Photo by J. Harrington

Meanwhile, closer to home, the beleaguered Better Half had an extra hour or two added to her commute last night. A downed power line closed down most of one of the main highways and backed up traffic to a fare-thee-well. Does that suggest that much of our aging infrastructure isn't designed to serve us well in a future forecast to be full of more violent and volatile weather? It seems so to me. Would repairing, replacing, redesigning and reconstructing said infrastructure create numerous jobs for out of work construction workers? Have Republicans been willing to pay for that work? It would seem not:

$478B Infrastructure Bill Blocked by Senate GOP

Trump’s big infrastructure plan? It’s a trap. 
I strongly suspect there's going to be lots and lots, and lots, of buyers' remorse over the next twenty-four to forty-eight months. Those who "won" seem best qualified to "Make America Hate Again."

It seems to me that a more positive and productive approach would be to try to negotiate fair trade agreements that didn't weaken environmental safeguards, or labor standards and that eliminated the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions could offer some interesting possibilities for addressing the rural discontent that's understandable. Of course, improving our education system so that manufacturers weren't frustrated by the quality of job applicants might help too. All of these opportunities have existed for a long time. They have been discarded in favor of gridlock and malfeasance. (Is there a better term for a Senate that refuses to hold hearings on qualified nominees for critical and vacant judicial positions?)

One of my major objections to the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement was the fast track. Take it or leave it agreements are anathema to the heart of a democracy, especially when many of the stakeholders aren't party to the negotiations. Similar issues are reported to have been at the heart of problems with the Dakota Access PipeLine. Democracy is loud, messy, uncomfortable and aggravating. At least that seems to be the story told by Hamilton. Trying to have it any other way is neither more efficient, not effective. If President Reagan was correct to tell Mr. Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall!," what does that say about the president-elect's desire to build one as his legacy? Does Robert Frost tell us?

Mending Wall


By Robert Frost



Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." I could say "Elves" to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbours."

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Friday, November 18, 2016

A jackass or a carpenter?

I'm writing this on a gloomy Friday afternoon as rain changes to a mix of ice pellets and snow flakes on its way to becoming all snow. I'm thinking about the recent election and about Dylan Thomas' poem, Do not go gentle into that good night. I'm hoping that much of what we're seeing as this country, together with the rest of the world, transforms economies from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources; from "free trade" to fair trade; from extractive to restorative; from terminal to sustainable is raging against the dying of the light of the exploitative economy. If you look carefully, you can see that raging in what a minority of eligible voters has foisted on the rest of us.

one of many pairs of bald eagles in Minnesota
one of many pairs of bald eagles in Minnesota
Photo by J. Harrington

We've succeeded in restoring the bald eagle, our national symbol, to the point it is no longer endangered. "Organic" food and Community Supported Agriculture didn't first destroy industrial farming, they offered consumers a better, more healthy alternative to the latest and greatest processed food crap. Wind and solar energy are becoming/have become less expensive than green house gas creating coal fired generators.

Yes, ice caps are melting and seas are rising. That means, at a minimum, we have to be prepared and willing to offer help to those who will lose their homes and countries to the effects of global warming. Some of us will do so much more willingly than others. The only times I've believed America to be something less than great was when we didn't fulfill our responsibilities to each other and the rest of the world. We can and will do better in the future.

Sam Rayburn, a Democratic congressman from Texas with a reputation for fairness and integrity (think about that for a minute), is reported to be the source of the observation "A jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one." It remains to be seen whether a jackass or a carpenter became president-elect on November 8, but, based on the reports about those currently being offered cabinet positions, I have my suspicions. But I also know that, in addition to Rayburn, a bright Red state like Texas has produced Molly Ivins, who understood that democracy isn't neat and clean, and Lyndon B. Johnson who, when he wasn't tormenting his dogs, was busy signing Civil Rights legislation. Sometimes, whether a leader acts like a jackass or a carpenter depends on those s/he is trying to lead.

Before you misunderstand, get upset, and fill my in basket with hate mail, I'm not trying to "normalize" the president-elect. I'm not even sure what "normal" is any more, are you? I am thinking that, if Nixon was the only one who could go to China, and if Nixon, a Republican president, forced to resign in disgrace, signed a number of critical environmental statutes, our job is to find the equivalents for our president-elect. I think we're up to that task, don't you. After all, I bet most of us are Ed Abbey patriots, who know that "A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government." Washington is full of those who kick like hell but can't tell a hammer from a nail. The rest of us need to get building before it's our turn to go gentle.

Do not go gentle into that good night



Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


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Thursday, November 17, 2016

An inaugural snow job and poet?

The yard is full of juncos, just in time for tomorrow's snow storm. I think it's time to swap out the hummingbird/woodpecker nectar for a tray feeder, after the snow stops falling. A package of suet is sitting thawing on the kitchen counter. The woodpeckers, especially the pileated that visits almost daily, have pretty well hammered the first batch into shreds.

pileated woodpecker at suet
pileated woodpecker at suet
Photo by J. Harrington

Today's sky looks pensive and brooding, which fits with the forecast. I've been feeling mostly that way myself ever since Tuesday of last week. In an effort to cheer myself up by making a small contribution to the upcoming festivities, when the president-elect becomes the President, I've been contemplating which poet might be appropriate to create an inauguration poem. My first thought was Allen Ginsberg. After all, he wrote the very timely poem America. Unfortunately, since Allen has passed on, it occurred to me that Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who published Ginsberg's Howl, might be able to do the reading. Even better, he could read his own work, I Am Waiting, which seems like it might be a near perfect fit.

The more I thought about it, the more concerned I became that Ferlinghetti's age could be an impediment to travel, and I doubted that the president-elect would want to move the inauguration to San Francisco just to accommodate a poet. Then, the Muse came to my rescue with the name of a poet who would probably be a much better fit with the new Washington swamp drainers. Charles Bukowski was a blue collar, working man's poet if ever there was one. In light of the age of the president-elect, and the stress and rigors of his upcoming job, something along the lines of Bukowsk's 1990 special might be appropriate. Alas, the Muse seemed to have overlooked the fact that Bukowski is now enjoying that great race track in the sky. I could think of no one fitting to read a Bukowski ode and so returned to mentally working my rolodex.

Who, who, who could poetically "Make America Great Again?" But, of course, this year's Nobel Laureate in Literature, Hibbing's own Bobby Zimmerman. In fact, his canonical hit Ballad of a Thin Man nicely themes with newcomers to inside the Beltway. What do you think? Would it work? He's too busy for Sweden, but if his country needs him?



Ballad Of A Thin Man


Written by: Bob Dylan


You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard
But you don’t understand
Just what you’ll say
When you get home

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You raise up your head
And you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says
“It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?”
And somebody else says, “Where what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God
Am I here all alone?”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You hand in your ticket
And you go watch the geek
Who immediately walks up to you
When he hears you speak
And says, “How does it feel
To be such a freak?”
And you say, “Impossible”
As he hands you a bone

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To just give a check
To tax-deductible charity organizations

You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You’ve been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well read
It’s well known

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you
And then he kneels
He crosses himself
And then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice
He asks you how it feels
And he says, “Here is your throat back
Thanks for the loan”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Now you see this one-eyed midget
Shouting the word “NOW”
And you say, “For what reason?”
And he says, “How?”
And you say, “What does this mean?”
And he screams back, “You’re a cow
Give me some milk
Or else go home”

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Well, you walk into the room
Like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law
Against you comin’ around
You should be made
To wear earphones

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?



Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music


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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

North Country snow season #phenology

Local meteorologists seem pretty sure that somewhere in Minnesota will get a load of snow this Friday and Saturday, they just seem to be having a little problem pinning down the track of the storm. Since we have our freshly tuned snow blower back from the shop, I believe the heavy snow band should set up well to our North and West. Unless, of course, many of the good folks who live to our North and West have also had their snow blowers attended to, in which case we might be sufficiently outnumbered by those who are also prepared that the heavy snow will end up in our yards. We won't know until the storm is over where the bubble of preparedness (remember the Cone of Silence from Get Smart?) set up and deflected the storm track.

early snow
early snow
Photo by J. Harrington

Today, the down jacket insert got added to my Winter coat. The hoses have been disconnected from the outside faucets and the water supply to the front faucet turned off. (We can't find a shut-off for the back faucet.) A tow strap has been added to the Jeep's storage compartment in hopes that it will only be needed to extract others from snow banks. My transition from Autumn to Winter clothing will probably continue to limp along for the next several months, until it's time to reverse the process come Spring. It still seems to be too early for breaking out the flannel-lined jeans. That can, I hope, wait until after Thanksgiving.

All the local ponds are still open water. The extended forecast has daytime temperatures continuing to rise well above freezing. Initial soil-freeze dates for St. Paul range from early November to early January. That's a two month range. We've got a pocket gopher tearing hell out of the backyard this week, so I'm not even going to guess about ice cover forming.

Far South of here, in a normal year, mallard and pintail pairs would start courting in a week or so. Maybe El Nino and La Nina don't affect waterfowl courtship very much, I just don't know. The tundra swans are reported to have recently arrived at the Mississippi bottoms near Brownsville in southeastern MN. Last year they were hanging around our neighborhood into early December.

December, tundra swans
December, tundra swans
Photo by J. Harrington

Despite some recent aberrations, many of us still have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. That suggests we should be sure to be generous to those who have less. Tomorrow is Give to the Max day in Minnesota. Think about who you most want to help and be sure that you don't get caught in any snow storms originating in the vicinity of Washington, D.C.

Falling Leaves and Early Snow


By Kenneth Rexroth


In the years to come they will say, 
“They fell like the leaves
In the autumn of nineteen thirty-nine.”
November has come to the forest,
To the meadows where we picked the cyclamen.
The year fades with the white frost
On the brown sedge in the hazy meadows,
Where the deer tracks were black in the morning.
Ice forms in the shadows;
Disheveled maples hang over the water;
Deep gold sunlight glistens on the shrunken stream.
Somnolent trout move through pillars of brown and gold.
The yellow maple leaves eddy above them,
The glittering leaves of the cottonwood,
The olive, velvety alder leaves,
The scarlet dogwood leaves,
Most poignant of all.
In the afternoon thin blades of cloud
Move over the mountains;
The storm clouds follow them;
Fine rain falls without wind.
The forest is filled with wet resonant silence.
When the rain pauses the clouds
Cling to the cliffs and the waterfalls.
In the evening the wind changes;
Snow falls in the sunset.
We stand in the snowy twilight
And watch the moon rise in a breach of cloud.
Between the black pines lie narrow bands of moonlight,
Glimmering with floating snow.
An owl cries in the sifting darkness.
The moon has a sheen like a glacier.

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