Saturday, December 31, 2016

Comes the dawn

'Tis New Year's Eve, the sky is blue above Minnesota's cold air. We're ending the year with rare glimpses of sunshine. I'm going to take that as a good omen for the future, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. Years ago I made a New Years resolution to give up New Years resolutions. I've been successful at keeping that resolution until now. As I look at the world we've created for ourselves, or let others create for us, and at my relationship to it, I find lots of sources for dissatisfaction that lead me to the two related resolutions I'm adopting for 2017.
  • I will learn to understand with my heart before my head.

  • I will listen as hard as I can, just to understand.

A New Year begins with a new day
A New Year begins with a new day
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm not sure how successful I'll be, or what related changes these resolutions may bring if I am successful keeping them, but they represent the best place I can figure out to start creating a world more like the one in which I want to live and have my children thrive. The thoughts I listed represent the way I'll begin a New Year.

To close out 2016, I want to thank all of you who've taken time to read these postings, and, even more so, those of you who've been kind enough to share your feelings and thoughts in the comments. I'd reply to comments more often, but I still haven't figured out how to do that on the Blogger software.

Paul Simon, years ago, warned us about the dangers on the path we've been following. Listen to his Hazy Shade of Winter and then, in April Come She Will, to what happens as we learn to first understand with our hearts. May Sarton similarly describes a hope-filled way to start our next New Year.

Wishing you the best for 2017, "Live life and thrive."

New Year Poem

Let us step outside for a moment
As the sun breaks through clouds
And shines on wet new fallen snow,
And breathe the new air.
So much has died that had to die this year.

We are dying away from things.
It is a necessity—we have to do it
Or we shall be buried under the magazines,
The too many clothes, the too much food.
We have dragged it all around
Like dung beetles
Who drag piles of dung
Behind them on which to feed,
In which to lay their eggs.

Let us step outside for a moment
Among ocean, clouds, a white field,
Islands floating in the distance.
They have always been there.
But we have not been there.

We are going to drive slowly
And see the small poor farms,
The lovely shapes of leafless trees
Their shadows blue on the snow.
We are going to learn the sharp edge
Of perception after a day’s fast.

There is nothing to fear.
About this revolution…
Though it will change our minds.
Aggression, violence, machismo
Are fading from us
Like old photographs
Faintly ridiculous
(Did a man actually step like a goose
To instill fear?
Does a boy have to kill
To become a man?)

Already there are signs.
Young people plant gardens.
Fathers change their babies’ diapers
And are learning to cook.

Let us step outside for a moment.
It is all there
Only we have been slow to arrive
At a way of seeing it.
Unless the gentle inherit the earth
There will be no earth.

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

Friday, December 30, 2016

A path forward to ...

I have encountered, time and again, the saying "...the path is made by walking." This morning I followed that fragment to its source. [see below] I discovered a poet, new to me, whose works I want to explore. As we face the pleasures and pains of the departure of 2016 and arrival of 2017, I'm going to suggest a few steps I've recently taken that each of you might want to include in your personal paths.

sometimes, a shadow crosses the path
sometimes, a shadow crosses the path
Photo by J. Harrington
Rebecca Solnit, as usual these days, offers reasons to be hopeful. Her essay in the guardian, Another, more beautiful America is rising. Trump will be resisted, contains this inspiring quotation from the California legislature, in response to the recent national elections:
manifesto of defiance: “California will defend its people and our progress. We are not going to allow one election to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, scientific advancement, economic output, and sense of global responsibility. We will lead the resistance to any effort that would shred our social fabric or our constitution.”
Unfortunately for we Minnesotans, both houses of our legislature are controlled by Republican majorities, so we can expect nothing comparable there, only efforts to obscure Minnesota's path to 
a sustainable future.

Solnit is one among several writers who propose steps worth including in any path we may make. A recent issue of the guardian includes this extremely important reminder from Steven Thrasher: A year-end plea: don't let politics overshadow life's splendor. Even if you don't read the column, don't miss the beginning photo of the dog's goofy smile.

Today's penultimate step brings us to the ever-rewarding Maria Popova's Brain Pickings and some of her thoughts prompted by one of America's Nobel Laureates in Literature, John Steinbeck. At least skim through A New Year’s Perspective: John Steinbeck on Good and Evil, the Necessary Contradictions of the Human Nature, and Our Grounds for Lucid Hope. There is no ultimate victory, only a worthwhile way to live.

These writers offer thoughts and perspectives, strategies and tactics, for not only surviving but thriving as we make our transition from a resource-extractive, frontier-oriented community to one that has learned to live with, not on, nature and with, not on, each other. That is a path we must, of necessity and humanity, choose. There are many paths through a wilderness. Each can lead us to where we need to be.


Traveler, there is no path.
The path is made by walking.

Traveller, the path is your tracks
And nothing more.
Traveller, there is no path
The path is made by walking.
By walking you make a path
And turning, you look back
At a way you will never tread again
Traveller, there is no road
Only wakes in the sea.”

Antonio Machado, Border of a Dream: Selected Poems

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Coming attractions #phenology

The month of December is almost gone. The year 2016 is almost gone. Tonight is a New Moon and although my nice new Minnesota Weather Guide Engagement Calendar refers to it as the Ojibwe Manidoo-Giizisoons (Little Spirit Moon), it seems to me to make more sense to consider it the Gichimanidoo-giizis (Great Spirit Moon) New Moon, which will be full next month, January of next year. If anyone has more definitive guidance, please share. I'm assuming moon phases begin with a New Moon, rather than end with one, in part because the New Moon occurs between the Waning Crescent (decreasing) and the Waxing Crescent (increasing).

Waxing crescent moon (March 2014)
Waxing crescent moon (March 2014)
Photo by J. Harrington

There will probably be many surprises in store for us next year, but some things we can most likely count on. January and February will bring more snow to those of us in the North Country while in January, whitetail bucks will be dropping their antlers and doe's wombs will be growing fawns. February is often wonderful as mixed flocks gather at the feeders and late in the month about-to-bloom potted crocuses (croci?) can often be found to perch on window sills. By March, red osier dog wood will be brightening in color, we may get some melting of our encrustations of snow and ice, and migrating birds begin to return. April offers forsythia blossoms, even if they're forced, and skunk cabbage will be showing and growing. That more than gets us through the first quarter of 2017 with signs to bring us hope each month.

During the first quarter of 2017, two of my personal goals are 1) to catalogue and organize my digital photos and 2) to finish one third to one half of a multi-part poetry project I started several years ago. There, I've made a public commitment. Lets see if I manage to keep it. (Actually, if I do well enough, quickly enough with those two goals, I might get really ambitious and try sorting out my fly-fishing stuff, another long-standing goal.)

flocks of finches at feeder
flocks of finches at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

For now, remember to keep your feeders full. A chickadee eats its body weight every day in the Winter. Imagine what we'd look like if we had to do that.

Hunter's Moon

By Molly Fisk

Early December, dusk, and the sky
slips down the rungs of its blue ladder
into indigo. A late-quarter moon hangs
in the air above the ridge like a broken plate
and shines on us all, on the new deputy
almost asleep in his four-by-four,
lulled by the crackling song of the dispatcher,
on the bartender, slowly wiping a glass
and racking it, one eye checking the game.
It shines down on the fox’s red and grey life,
as he stills, a shadow beside someone’s gate,
listening to winter. Its pale gaze caresses
the lovers, curled together under a quilt,
dreaming alone, and shines on the scattered
ashes of terrible fires, on the owl’s black flight,
on the whelks, on the murmuring kelp,
on the whale that washed up six weeks ago
at the base of the dunes, and it shines
on the backhoe that buried her.

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

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The hole truth #phenology

If you were walking through a wood lot or forest and saw a tree with holes like the one pictured below, would you know who made the holes or why? The odds are that, if the hole is rectangular, it was made by the North Country's largest woodpecker, the Pileated. These holes are usually easier to see in Winter, when the foliage makes more of tree trunks visible.

rotted tree wood with Pileated Woodpecker hole
rotted tree wood with Pileated Woodpecker hole
Photo by J. Harrington

We've had one, part of a pair?, coming to the Winter suet feeder for several years now. (To minimize visits from the neighborhood bears, we don't feed with suet while the temperatures are above freezing.) It's rare that we can get a close enough look at the bird's cheek to tell whether we're seeing a male (red cheek streak) or female (no red cheek streak). Carpenter ants are reported to be the preferred food for Pileated Woodpeckers, although the Minnesota Extension Service doesn't mention that. Carpenter ants are not good for the wood in your house. One of the reasons we decided on cementitious siding when we re-sided is we had some smaller woodpecker holes in the old siding and hope the cement content will be a major discouragement for Downies, Hairies, Red-bellied, etc., up to and including Pileateds.

Pileated Woodpecker female
Pileated Woodpecker female
Photo by J. Harrington

Our "wood lot" is essentially unmanaged. It has a number of downed tree trunks feeding mosses, fungi, insects, bacteria and heavens knows what else. There's likely to be some carpenter ant nests in there somewhere. That means we're looking to see portly, well-fed, pileateds. The nest holes they make, not the ones made while searching for ants, can also serve as roost sites for bats, birds and other critters. Bats help keep down the local mosquito population. The carpenter ant holes sometimes serve as attractions for amature photographers. With luck, it all works out for the better, if not the best.

The Woodpecker Keeps Returning

By Jane Hirshfield

The woodpecker keeps returning
to drill the house wall.
Put a pie plate over one place, he chooses another.

There is nothing good to eat there:
he has found in the house
a resonant billboard to post his intentions,
his voluble strength as provider.

But where is the female he drums for? Where?

I ask this, who am myself the ruined siding,
the handsome red-capped bird, the missing mate.

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rulin's for New Years

Depending on your definitions, the morning around here has been full of snow showers or flurries. I'm not sure what kind of clouds we're under and there's been fundamentally no accumulation = flurries, I guess. For most of my adult life, the week between Christmas and New Years has been a quiet time, a time to reflect on the year ending and contemplate the year upcoming.

I recall Woody Guthrie had a list of New Years Rulin's [transcription]. It's a great list to begin with.

Woody's Rulin's

Looking through it leads me to two conclusions. First, Concentrate on Fundamentals. Second, see, and appreciate, what's really there. In other words, for the next four years it will undoubtedly be wise to emphasize the basics of life, including having fun. For me that will include family, dogs, fly-fishing, rivers, writing, photography, reading and baking. Each of these will no doubt trigger added activities, for example, photography and/or fly-fishing will lead to travel and include rivers. It seems to me that time has come to look not so much at what we're doing but at the relationships supported by our activities. In particular, as a screening tool, I'm going to look toward achieving what I want much more than opposing what I don't want. I haven't the time or energy to stop everything I oppose. I can do a lot more to support what I want, but that means first I need to sort outwit it is I think I want. I think I'm making some progress on that and my own version of New Year's Rulin's. How about you? Don't forget to be careful what you wish for 'cuz you may get it. Right, Mr. Trump?

Burning the Old Year

By Naomi Shihab Nye

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.   
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,   
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,   
lists of vegetables, partial poems.   
Orange swirling flame of days,   
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,   
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.   
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,   
only the things I didn’t do   
crackle after the blazing dies. 

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

Monday, December 26, 2016

Winter chickadees #phenology

If snow is traveling horizontally, is it still considered "falling?" Off and on all morning I've watched southwesterly winds carry the snow northeasterly. The temperature has dropped well below freezing from the "morning's" high of 40 at 3 or 4 AM. Stretches of many local roads are an icy mess. Sunshine would help, but there's hardly any to speak of in the forecast. Christmas was a better day, but then it included lots of presents, cookies, and family warmth, plus the rain that later turned to ice. Weather such as we've had for the past day or so would seem capable of killing every creature for miles around. The resilience of Wintering flocks of birds amazes me.

Last night's winds took down (the dead) half of the trunk of one of the trees south of the house. If the wind dies down and the temperatures climb a little, I'll take a photo. The number of moss, bacteria, fungi etc. that utilize decaying wood is a constant source of surprise. It's also surprising to see the remainder of the tree still standing, but for how long? How long would you last if you were cleaved (clove?) in half? Woodpeckers and other cavity nesters should find some spots to excavate and there probably are, or will be, carpenter ants for protein.

a chipper-looking chickadee
a chipper-looking chickadee
Photo by J. Harrington

I watched a handful of chickadees appear to chase each other around the trees and through the understory in front of the house this morning. Since nesting season is still months away, I have no idea what that behavior is all about. Does anyone have a suggestion? One of my Christmas presents is a book about discovering the world hidden in a square meter of forest. For me, that also involves learning what it is I've discovered, a neverending story.

UPDATE [12/27/16]: The Christmas present book, The Forest Unseen, offers a potential explanation of the chickadee chasing behavior. "...each chickadee flock in the forest defends a winter territory from which neighbors are vigorously excluded." The winter territory is where food caches are stored.

I wonder if next year, as a special present, I could get Santa to bring Spring for New Year's. This icy, windy stuff just doesn't do it for me. Other than that, we had a wonderful Christmas and hope yours was likewise.

December Notes

By Nancy McCleery

The backyard is one white sheet
Where we read in the bird tracks

The songs we hear. Delicate
Sparrow, heavier cardinal,

Filigree threads of chickadee.
And wing patterns where one flew

Low, then up and away, gone
To the woods but calling out

Clearly its bright epigrams.
More snow promised for tonight.

The postal van is stalled
In the road again, the mail

Will be late and any good news
Will reach us by hand.

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

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings...

From all of us to all of you, may each of you enjoy the blessings of the season and, 
for the new year, live long and prosper!

"the angels came from heaven high"
Photo by J. Harrington

Christmas Carol

By Sara Teasdale

The kings they came from out the south,
   All dressed in ermine fine;
They bore Him gold and chrysoprase,
   And gifts of precious wine.

The shepherds came from out the north,
   Their coats were brown and old;
They brought Him little new-born lambs—
   They had not any gold.

The wise men came from out the east,
   And they were wrapped in white;
The star that led them all the way
   Did glorify the night.

The angels came from heaven high,
   And they were clad with wings;
And lo, they brought a joyful song
   The host of heaven sings.

The kings they knocked upon the door,
   The wise men entered in,
The shepherds followed after them
   To hear the song begin.

The angels sang through all the night
   Until the rising sun,
But little Jesus fell asleep
   Before the song was done.

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

Saturday, December 24, 2016

On Christmas Eve, God bless us all

This is a time of year when many of us become enraptured by the promise of what's to be found under the tree tomorrow. Too many of us forget that there are others that have no tree, nor anything to put under it and no roof over it. One of my favorite Christmas tree ornaments presumes someone lucky enough to have a dog. I am such a someone. During the course of my life, I've been blessed with the companionship of many. Each has helped make where I am "home."

may Christmas find you at home with your dog
may Christmas find you at home with your dog
Photo by J. Harrington

I'm also fortunate to have a loving family and something approximating reasonable health. I have much more than most of those suffering in or escaping from Aleppo. I suspect you do too. We no doubt have material treasures and comfort that exceeds what's experienced by those at Standing Rock. On the spiritual side, on the community side, I'm not so sure. Perhaps the greatest gift we could be given for Christmas tomorrow is to give ourselves a determination to try, for the next year, for "peace on earth, good will toward men," instead of "peace on earth to men of good will." If only those deemed "of good will" are to enjoy peace, it will undoubtedly elude the rest of us too. The sun shines on all alike. Let us hope that the same will be true of peace. May we all have the companionship of wonderful dogs and may our sleeping dogs find peaceful places to lie.

Tiny Tim had it right. "God bless us, everyone!"


The holiest of all holidays are those
    Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
    The secret anniversaries of the heart,
    When the full river of feeling overflows;—
The happy days unclouded to their close;
    The sudden joys that out of darkness start
    As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
    Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
    White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
    White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are;— a Fairy Tale
    Of some enchanted land we know not where,
    But lovely as a landscape in a dream.

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

Friday, December 23, 2016

A light on Christmas Eve eve

 On Christmas Eve Eve, in Minnesota, walking a dog in a rain / snow mix that's mostly rain, just isn't natural. Nor is the forecast for Christmas day, with up to an inch of rain anticipated in some nearby areas, bringing with it the possibility of flooding since the ground is frozen. The jokes about Santa being OK because he has "rain deer" have already worn thin. And, somehow, I had missed one of the highlights of this Christmas season, until the Daughter Person shared it with me.

somehow, children light candles on the darkest nights
somehow, children light candles on the darkest nights
Photo by J. Harrington

Kaylee Rodgers, a charming ten year old (who also has autism), gives us a stunning performance of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, with alternative lyrics written by Cloverton for Christmas [see below].

Could it be that the basic reason we're all here is to create an environment and conditions where children like Kaylee and her fellow choir members can thrive and bring moments of overwhelming beauty and joy to the rest of us? Watching and hearing the song's performance triggered a needed attitude adjustment on my part during an otherwise Grinchy day this Christmas weekend Friday of 2016.

Thanks, Kaylee and Daughter Person. I needed your candlelight today.

"A Hallelujah Christmas"
(originally by Leonard Cohen)

I've heard about this baby boy
Who's come to earth to bring us joy
And I just want to sing this song to you
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
With every breath I'm singing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A couple came to Bethlehem
Expecting child, they searched the inn
To find a place for You were coming soon
There was no room for them to stay
So in a manger filled with hay
God's only Son was born, oh Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The shepherds left their flocks by night
To see this baby wrapped in light
A host of angels led them all to You
It was just as the angels said
You'll find Him in a manger bed
Immanuel and Savior, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A star shown bright up in the east
To Bethlehem, the wisemen three
Came many miles and journeyed long for You
And to the place at which You were
Their frankincense and gold and myrrh
They gave to You and cried out Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I know You came to rescue me
This baby boy would grow to be
A man and one day die for me and you
My sins would drive the nails in You
That rugged cross was my cross, too
Still every breath You drew was Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

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

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Our America this Christmas?

This morning I came across a timely piece of writing that made me both proud of my Irish heritage and wonder why something similar hasn't been written for and about America. I'm making an exception of Langston Hughes' Let America Be America Again for what I hope are obvious reasons. The piece in question was written by Niall Horan, an Irish singer. If he didn't write it, he at least included it in his Twitter TimeLine, where I found it.

a Christmas beacon?
a Christmas beacon?
Photo by J. Harrington

My question to you is, other than inserting America everywhere it reads Ireland, what else would you change about this? One of the things that fascinates me is that, other than the name of the country, there's no reference to ownership of geography that I've noticed.

Could this be our America?
Could this be our America?

The next question is, since this is the Christmas season, can we Americans restore a common sense of identity, similar to the one reflected above? Wouldn't that be the best present we could give ourselves this year? The piece, with few edits, describes an America I'd find easy to love and be proud of, and enjoy living in, much more so than the one I seem to run into every day these days.

In case you're wondering, I'm hoping the specific mentions of the "deeply rooted" and the "storytellers" gives this a piece an inclusiveness that makes it acceptable to, perhaps even welcome by, Native Americans, our Indigenous peoples. Your thoughts? Doesn't Whitman help remind us of who we were?

UPDATE 1: At the time the preceding was written, I hadn't yet seen PEN AMERICA's gift from Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palma, this version of Leonard Cohen's Democracy.

UPDATE 2: Democracy reminded me of Neil Diamond's America


Centre of equal daughters, equal sons, 
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich, 
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

May the "Light of Winter" bring you many blessings

Almost as if they knew what today marks, the cloudy skies broke and the sun shone in celebration of Winter Solstice (Celtic "Alban Arthan"). According to the linked blog posting, the Anishinaabeg celebrated Winter Solstice in a manner and time of the return of the sun, which happens a little while after today. According to me and what I see about me at this time of year, America and many other countries would better serve their citizens and others living within their borders if the prevailing cultures were a little more tempered with pagan elements.

Winter sunrise
Winter sunrise
Photo by J. Harrington

The ancient Celts
"did not take the return of the Sun for granted, and in addition they were suffering much more under the hardships of severe winter weather than we do today. For an agricultural society, whose survival depended mostly on crops, the return of the Sun was not just a matter of casual celebration, it was rather a matter of life or death."
The Anishinaabe celebrated a
"winter ceremony where you got together and you feasted. It’s the beginning. See Anishinaabe counted years from winter to winter…abi’aboon to abi’aboon. When you talk about last year you talk about nishkwaaj abi’aboon (the one that just came by) and then next would be minaawaa bitiboon for next winter. And this year, the present winter, is abi’aboon. The beginning of winter for us really is—or the New Year—is the full moon after solstice. When the sun starts to come back; the coming back of the sun after it stood still. After the sun starts coming back, then we know the next moon is really the New Year because we went by the moons rather than anything else. So the full moon was the New Year; that’s when you held a ceremony, feasted and sang, talked about it, talk about why we’re having it."
A writing course I took at The Loft years ago taught me a little about the idea of a Lakota "Winter Count." I'm sure you know that the Lakota and the Anishinaabe are separate and different Native American cultures. I had not thought about it until I started writing this post, but their individual cultures share an approach to counting time similar to that followed by we Judeo-Christian, Anglo-Saxons and our Gregorian calendar, that of measuring a year from Winter to Winter. Perhaps we still have access to much of the pagan wisdom needed to live closer to nature and provide for a thriving future for our descendants, all we have to do is burnish it some more. May Santa leave us all burnishing kits and the wisdom and energy to use them.

burning stored sun light
burning stored sun light
Photo by J. Harrington

Many of us have come to believe that our celebration of Christmas has become too commercial and has drifted, or been pushed, too far from the original meaning of the season, just as many of us have come to believe we can no longer continue to abuse nature as we have during the Industrial age. It's wonderful to know there are alternatives we can follow if that is what calls to our hearts and souls.

As we leave an age marked by our consumption of the sunlight stored in fossil fuels and enter a new age based on energy produced directly by sunlight or indirectly by sunlight created winds, it might be wise for us to take the return of the sun less and less for granted. Our knowledge of our dependence on it returns just as it returns, each day and year, light and energy to us.

Winter Solstice Chant

Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,
now you are uncurled and cover our eyes
with the edge of winter sky
leaning over us in icy stars.
Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,
come with your seasons, your fullness, your end.

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Winter Solstice Eve #phenology

Tomorrow is the shortest day, longest night, of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. A few weeks later, days grow longer again, but by minute increments. It will be several weeks after that before we know if today's pre-Solstice thaw is in addition to or instead of our North Country's traditional January thaw. If current near term forecasts hold, we may get a very untraditional Christmas rain this coming weekend.

'tis the season to light one candle
Photo by J. Harrington

Presents are piling up around the tree. I think most (all?) of my shopping is done, in large part thanks to abundant assistance from the Better Half. Christmas around here is both Christmas and the Son Person's birthday. Christmas ends at noon when the birthday officially begins. I'm looking forward to some down time next week. That's when I'm going to focus ("Do or do not. There is no try!," as Yoda firmly informs us) on writing down some personal goals for 2017. Whatever they turn out to be, their essence will be seasonal and organic instead of simply numeric. They'll probably involve poetry, photography, writing, Minnesota, trout, fly-fishing, water, local food, community and economy and lots of the other topics that show up in these postings. I'm thinking that the overriding goal will be along the lines of tightening linkages among and increasing focus on those themes. For example, do I want to concentrate enough on photography to create and sell greeting cards with my photos on them? Maybe Santa will deliver some presents that will help sort out some priorities. I do know I don't want to spend the next four years focused on a defensive battle without spending more time enjoying what we're defending.

light more, if you can
light more, if you can
Photo by J. Harrington

In anticipation of next week's activities, I'm rereading Poetry As Spiritual Experience. Solstice Eve and a few days before Christmas seem like the right time to do so. It became clear that I was following a path intended for me in these times as these words came into focus:
"As spiritual poet Robert Bly described our time: "... the impulse for reverence endures.... Reclaiming the sacred in our lives naturally brings us close once more to the wellsprings of poetry."...
"Robert Frost said that poetry doesn't so much tell us anything new, but reminds us of things that we need to know but forgot."
A little further on, I reencountered The Prayer of St. Francis. The last time I had read The Prayer, it was in Kent Nerburn's book Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace. For this season of the year, and these times of our lives, I'm grateful to have rediscovered such wonderful companions. I hope you and yours find such wise and caring companions now and in your futures. (And, I would be severely remiss and violating the spirit of this season if I didn't call to your attention this story of Nerburn's: The cab ride I'll never forget.)

Making Peace

By Denise Levertov

A voice from the dark called out,
             ‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
                                       A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
                                              A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
                        A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

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

Monday, December 19, 2016

Are politics anthesis to community?

Today is the day that electors of the electoral college are scheduled to vote for the next president of the United States, unless some damn fool starts World War Three by assassinating a Russian Ambassador in Turkey. I don't think I'm grasping at straws when I wonder if one positive outcome of a Trump administration might be that Americans learn to value what we have had. Once again I'll turn to Joni Mitchell's lyrics from Big Yellow Taxi to observe that
"Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til its gone"
Might one appropriate response to the upcoming four years (Dear God, please let it be only four years, at most) be to spend an unconscionable amount of time reading (and rereading) Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing In America and kind of declare myself a noncombatant, maybe serve as an ambulance driver ferrying the wounded off the battlefields of our political and cultural wars.

Taylor's Falls Christmas lighting parade, a community event
Taylor's Falls Christmas lighting parade, a community event
Photo by J. Harrington

In addition to changing the climate so that we now have subjected ourselves to more, and more intense, natural disasters, we Americans have compounded that with a man-made disaster in the making. Although, since climate change is largely due to human generated green-house gases, climate change could be considered a man-made disaster also. It certainly can't be labeled an "Act of God" by any sane person.

That brings me to mentioning some of the sanest persons I know of: Native Americans, particularly those who were and are encamped at Standing Rock. Native Americans provide a long-standing example of resistance to a capitalist, globalist, inward-focused government. If we are wise, we will learn from and follow their example. Here's yet another place to start on that theme: Nibi (Water) Walks.

Kettle River, a Nibi Walk river, at Banning State Park
Kettle River, a Nibi Walk river, at Banning State Park
Photo by J. Harrington

Since many of us humans have a fascination with train wrecks, the next few years are likely to prove intriguing, if morbidly so. I note all this gloom and doom at Christmas time in order to urge us all to enjoy a Merry Christmas! this year. It may be our best(?) one for a number of years. But, closing, for today, on a brighter note, the upside to the disasters I anticipate will pass for government in the US can be found in at least two of Rebecca Solnit's books:

A Paradise Built in Hell : The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster;


Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

We often surprise ourselves by rising above our baser nature. Scrooge did. May our president-elect be visited by whatever number of Christmas ghosts it takes to soften his heart to the Tiny Tims of the world, and the rest of us to. Until that happens, feel free to RESIST!

A Little Shiver

By Barton Sutter

After the news, the forecaster crowed
With excitement about his bad tidings:
Eighteen inches of snow! Take cover!
A little shiver ran through the community.
Children abandoned their homework.
Who cared about the hypotenuse now?
The snowplow driver laid out his long johns.
The old couple, who’d barked at each other
At supper, smiled shyly, turned off the TV,
And climbed the stairs to their queen-size bed
Heaped high with blankets and quilts.
And the aging husky they failed to hear
Scratch the back door, turned around twice
In the yard, settled herself in the snow,
And covered her nose with her tail.

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

Sunday, December 18, 2016

My Christmas Wish for 2016

Christmas is a week from today. It's supposed to be a time of peace on earth, good will toward all. This year seems in many ways more like poor old Ebenezer before he met the ghosts. "Are there no prisons?...And the union workhouses - are they still in operation?"

I wish I could remember which of my long ago college courses raised the issue of trust. It did so in a way that has stayed with me over many years. Each time we enter a high-rise building and enter an elevator, we place astounding amounts of trust in the skill and education and training and knowledge and capability of those who designed and constructed the building and the elevator shafts; and in those who built and installed the elevators; and in the inspectors who checked the original building's designs met code and the construction met the design blue prints. If we didn't trust all those people, why would we ever trust our lives to going up 10 or 20 or 30 or more stories in a conveyance? Apparently, this year, we've decided politics, diplomacy, the economy, our children, are less important than our buildings. We have now "trusted" them to those with little or no training and experience in the governance of a democracy.

not all Christmas wishes fit under the tree
not all Christmas wishes fit under the tree
Photo by J. Harrington

I once worked for a government organization that, for a time, had a developer as its chairperson. That developer had a personality much like the one I see exhibited by the president-elect. If yelling didn't accomplish what he wanted, his solution was to yell louder at more people. One of his basic problems was that he didn't know what he wanted, only what he didn't want. That meant he kept changing his mind, his course, his priorities and his expressed wishes. Those who worked for him started to spend more time and effort documenting communications than executing them. This became a bit of a death spiral. It doesn't require a lot of imagination to foresee a similar pattern emerging in Washington, D.C. in the very near future. As a Christmas present, I'd like to see some national organizations, that we think we can trust (that currently leaves out all political parties) form a coalition or an umbrella organization that, in addition to functioning as "loyal opposition," will also be ready to pick up the pieces and restore functionality to governance at least at the federal level.

The water debacle in Flint, Michigan represents a failure at all levels of government, federal, state and local. The Dakota Access Pile Line, from what I've read, failed responsible, trustworthy environmental review processes in several major ways. Volkswagen (and others?) lied to governments and consumers about their diesel engine performances. I could put together a list of both government and corporate failures to be trustworthy that would be dismayingly long, including growing levels of gridlock for purely political reasons.

sometimes we must depend on the better angels of our nature
sometimes we must depend on the better angels of our nature
Photo by J. Harrington

Fortunately, and unsurprisingly, an example of the kind of effort I believe we need is emerging from none other than poetry organizations across the US. Respect for words will be essential for our future. There is no "post-truth" society worth a damn. The Poetry Coalition members "believe that poetry has a positive role to play in our country. It is through reading, writing, and discussing poems that we learn about one another on our most human level, inspiring empathy, compassion, and greater understanding of one another." We could also a similar effort from folks like the NRDC, EDF, Sierra Club, and other environmental and sustainable development organizations, who believe that environmental protection and sustainable development create jobs more than cost them. We seem to have again come to a time, similar to that at the founding of this country, when Ben Franklin noted "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." If we who believe in science, truth and justice do learn to hang together, there may be peace on earth to those of good will this Christmas. That's my Christmas wish for this year. After all, we are the ones we have been waiting for.


By Thomas R. Smith

It’s like so many other things in life   
to which you must say no or yes.                                    
So you take your car to the new mechanic.   
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.   

The package left with the disreputable-looking   
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,   
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—   
all show up at their intended destinations.   

The theft that could have happened doesn’t.   
Wind finally gets where it was going   
through the snowy trees, and the river, even               
when frozen, arrives at the right place.                        

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life   
is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.

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

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Christmas scene or two

The approach of Christmas, plus last night's snow and today's wind make for relatively quiet times. The Daughter Person and Son-in-Law are headed to Hibbing for a Christmas visit with some of his family. The Better Half and I made it over snow-packed and drifted roads to St. Croix Chocolates in Marine. We picked up our Christmas order and purchased some charming, and delicious, decorations. I recognize the little Norfolk Pines in the Christmas Train display, but nor the taller, lighter green plants, such as the one in the second photo. Identification suggestions welcome.

Christmas Train display at St. Croix Chocolates
Christmas Train display at St. Croix Chocolates
Photo by J. Harrington

not a Norfolk Pine, it's a ....?
not a Norfolk Pine, it's a ....?
Photo by J. Harrington

Our return trip included a stop at Prairie Restorations to remind ourselves the North Country isn't all snow and cold all the time. Once home, we briefly watched chickadees and woodpeckers piling in to the feeders. Come dog-walking time we'll do a refill of the sunflower seeds and suet and check the heated bird bath water supply. To be candid, I'm not sure whether I'm looking forward more to the arrival of Christmas or the thaw forecast to arrive mid-week. Fortunately, they're not mutually exclusive. With a little luck, we get to have both.

To One Coming North

By Claude McKay

At first you'll joy to see the playful snow,
  Like white moths trembling on the tropic air,
Or waters of the hills that softly flow
  Gracefully falling down a shining stair.
And when the fields and streets are covered white
  And the wind-worried void is chilly, raw,
Or underneath a spell of heat and light
  The cheerless frozen spots begin to thaw,
Like me you'll long for home, where birds' glad song
  Means flowering lanes and leas and spaces dry,
And tender thoughts and feelings fine and strong,
  Beneath a vivid silver-flecked blue sky.
But oh! more than the changeless southern isles,
  When Spring has shed upon the earth her charm,
You'll love the Northland wreathed in golden smiles
  By the miraculous sun turned glad and warm.

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

Friday, December 16, 2016

Why don't pocket gophers hibernate? #phenology

Despite a week or so of subfreezing and lower temperatures, the pocket gophers in the back yard are still obviously active. Apparently, they didn't read Kansas State University's Managing Pocket Gophers observation that
"Shallow or sandy soils limit pocket gophers due to tunnel cave-ins, and provide poor insulation from warm summer and cold winter temperatures."

Winter pocket gopher mounds near brush pile
Winter pocket gopher mounds near brush pile
Photo by J. Harrington

Perhaps I should be grateful that the number of those critters tearing hell out of the yard during a Minnesota Winter is "limited?" From my perspective, it's grossly unfair that plains pocket gophers stay active during the Winter, while many of the creatures, especially snakes, that are their predators, become inactive. One of the differences between warm-blooded mammals and cold-blooded reptiles seems to give an advantage to the mammals.

close-up of fresh pocket gopher mound
close-up of fresh pocket gopher mound
Photo by J. Harrington

We've seen few hawks or owls around here over the past year or so, to my dismay. Then again, we've seen no skunks in the entire time we've lived here (great horned owl population?), and I am grateful for that. I find it hard to picture a hawk or owl capturing a pocket gopher, since on the few times I've tried, I haven't been able to shoot quickly enough to hit one as it sticks his/her nose out of its mound of dirt.

My vehement dislike of pocket gophers is only partially based on the mounds they leave behind to break mower decks and blades. By my estimation, they've "rooted" (eaten the roots) or girdled (eaten the bark) six to twelve fruit trees we've tried to grow on the hill behind the house. One pear tree is the only survivor and the deer are doing their best to love that to death.

whitetail deer doe eating pear tree
whitetail deer doe eating pear tree
Photo by J. Harrington

Maybe, in keeping with the Christmas season, the 6 to 10 inches of snow we're forecast to get tonight and tomorrow will at least keep any more new mounds from being discovered until Spring. If I can't see them I might forget about them and then stop fussing and fuming about them, right? That's sort of like getting the Christmas spirit, isn't it?

My Dad, in America

By Shann Ray

Your hand on my jaw
              but gently

and that picture of you
punching through snow
              to bring two deer, a gopher,

and a magpie
to the old Highwalker woman

who spoke only Cheyenne
              and traced our footprints

on leather she later chewed to soften.
              We need to know in America there is still blood

for forgiveness.
Dead things for the new day.

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mining for sustainability?

The federal agencies with responsibility for the decision have decided not to renew the two mineral leases associated with copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area. (The entity holding those leases had already filed suit to ensure their renewal.) On the one hand, I'm very pleased with the decision and hope the courts affirm it. On the other hand, I wonder if such a decision would be necessary if the mining sector were known to be better stewards of the environment.

Birch Lake on the Gunflint Trail
Birch Lake on the Gunflint Trail
Photo by J. Harrington

Because it's Christmas season, I'll be brief in enumerating what I see as some critical points.
On the other hand,
If mining in Minnesota and the United States could demonstrate a successful period of contributing to the world's sustainable development, avoiding environmental disasters and cleaning and rehabilitating the sites it uses, federal, state and environmental interests might not find as many objections to new endeavors. Can Twin Metals or PolyMet point to any major successes in sustainable mining that they have participated in? If so, what, where, how did it come about, when? Resources might be better spent on getting answers to these questions than in courtroom battles, wouldn't you think?

An Identity Crisis

By Garry Gottfriedson

I certainly know who I am . . .

I can get away with being politically incorrect.
I am the ambassador to First Nations’ poetic expressions
& as Kinsella pompously put it straight
“I have the license to do so.”

what a magical way to escape tyranny!
just like Trudeau & Chrétien hiding beneath cowboy hats

nevertheless & back to the point,

call me cowboy
call me First Nations
call me aboriginal
call me native
call me chug
call me skin

if you must,
but never call me Indian.
I call myself that!

& if you feel guilty when I say so,
this is not about postcolonial rhetoric
it is about an identity crisis

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