Friday, August 18, 2017

Mid-August report #phenology

Morning: dark, clear, skies nicely set off the waning crescent moon. The smart phone camera took some of the most undistinguished photos imaginable. There were but two small, bright dots in a field of black. They aren't worth sharing.

asters and goldenrod
asters and goldenrod
Photo by J. Harrington

Later in the day, several bumble bees enjoyed the Anise Hyssop plants. What may have been a black swallowtail butterfly flittered across the grass tops surrounding the wet spot behind the house. Elsewhere multitudes of tiger swallowtails are enjoying August's blooms. Round-headed bush clover is approaching fully grown status with flowers becoming noticeable, but we haven't had sufficiently breezeless periods to enable us to get a decent photo. No matter how fast the camera's shutter speed is set, the breeze's timing and direction seem designed to thwart getting an in-focus picture. At least there's Samuel Beckett's wonderful quote for consolation: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." Asters haven't failed, they're now in bloom in abundance among the goldenrod.

bumblebee and anise hyssop
bumblebee and anise hyssop
Photo by J. Harrington

Ruby-throated hummingbirds continue to use the feeders. No further sightings of orioles to report. We have, however, noticed several folks collecting cattail leaves and female flower heads from local road side ditches. We know from past experience that the flower heads, if kept too long as part of a bouquet, release the seeds and they drift about the house every time someone passes by. They do look nice though until they start shedding.

                     The Flower Press

It was the sort of thing given to little girls:
sturdy and small, round edged, wooden and light.
I stalked the pasture’s rough and waist-high grass
for worthy specimens: the belle amid the mass,
the star shaming the clouds of slighter,
ordinary blooms. The asters curled

inside my sweat-damp palms, as if in sleep. Crushed
in the parlor’s stifling heat, I pried
each shrinking petal back, and turned the screws.
But flowers bear no ugly bruise,
and even now fall from the brittle page, dried
prettily, plucked from memory’s hush.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Accentuate the positive

We engaged in a bit of remedial education this morning, centered around the word reciprocity. We had come to believe that the word essentially means "tit for tat," or "quid pro quo," possibly because we were unduly influenced, years ago, when we took small boat and seamanship courses and learned about reciprocal bearings. (If going away from port due East, the reciprocal to return is due West.) It turns out that maybe we had oversimplified our definition just a teensy little bit. As with so many things these days, the meaning of a word seems to very much depend on context.
To be candid, for years we hadn't thought much about the meaning of reciprocity, because "everybody knows" what it means. It means what we think it means. This works until someone who considers reciprocity only as positive or balanced reciprocity tries to communicate with someone familiar only with "an eye for an eye." That's not the same as how the earth provides us with fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink. How should we reciprocate with the earth?

Northern Minnesota lake
Northern Minnesota lake
Photo by J. Harrington

Robin Wall Kimmerer, in her wonderful book Braiding Sweetgrass broadens our concept of reciprocity with her description of Honorable Harvest. Then, this week, as we worked on plans for the removal of poison ivy in a couple of limited areas behind the house, we again encountered the concept of a variation on reciprocity, the need to plant something to take the role the poison ivy was filling and to use the nutrients made available by the elimination of the ivy. It's not likely to be successful if we just eliminate what we don't want, we need to create what we do want. (Nature abhors a vacuum?)

Braiding Sweetgrass  cover

Much of the focus of liberals and progressives since November 8, 2016, has been on preventing "roll-backs" or other negative effects triggered by the election. It seems, based on much of what we think we know, that resistance may be necessary but is insufficient. We have to sort out what it is we do want to replace our political poison ivy. Being a smaller patch of ivy, being not as bad as poison ivy, aren't at all likely to create the culture, society or future we do want. Think of how many futures you's like to avoid could be created. Can you prevent them all without providing a better alternative? R. Buckminster Fuller offered us sound advice when he pointed out:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
We need new models of our presidency and our congress. How are we going to create them? What must we change first?

This Morning I Pray for My Enemies

Joy Harjo, 1951

And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How do we get there from here?

This has been an interesting day at the bird feeders as well as an interesting week in "governance." In addition to the usual suspects, a Northern flicker has started feeding at the sunflower seed feeder. We most frequently have seen them in the Winter feeding on suet. A male Baltimore oriole just landed near the hummingbird / oriole feeder. Might we have had orioles nesting nearby all Summer but not coming to the nectar or grape feeders? Possible but not probable? Have orioles just arrived in the neighborhood on their way South again? Could well be!

Winter flicker
Winter flicker
Photo by J. Harrington

We've noticed what looks like a couple of handfuls of small birds taking very short flights about the yard and driveway today. Our best guess is that they're recent fledglings of several species, building up flight muscles and learning what's good to eat, plus how to take a bath in a shallow, shrinking puddle. It's reassuring to see signs of the non-human world successfully going about its business while some of us march and bluster about, and in that process, we aggravate, and sometimes kill, and maim each other. What is the phrase "Homo sapiens" supposed to mean? Have we been overly optimistic with our binomial naming?

Actually, while too many foolish white "American" men marched about with kon-tiki torches (made in China) protesting job loss in the US -- or whatever troubled them at the moment -- real American women were making much more sense trying to get the rest of us to protect some of the common resources on which we all depend. They're doing so not with protests, but with prayers; not with marches, but with walks; not through exclusiveness, but through inclusion; not in chaos, but by following protocols. Think about the marches and protests in Charlottesville this week. Compare that destructive madness with the Nibi Water Walk along the Missouri River. That walk is expected to take about two months, from the beginning of August well into September. (As of this writing, the walkers are West of Williston, ND.)

Until we have transporters like those in the StarShip Enterprise, migration will continue to occur through time and space both. Think about the future you'd like for yourself, your family and friends, your descendants. Which do you think might be a better way of getting there, marching in protest, or walking in prayer?

                     Ghost Dance

Two hundred seventy
Ghost Dancers died dreaming
That humanity would drown
In a flood of White sins.

Then the renewed earth
Would reclaim city and town,
Leaving only Ghost Dancers
And those who lived by nature’s laws.

History books say the threat is gone.
The Ghost Dance died with the ancestors—
Wovoka and his sacred dream
Were destroyed.

Each time it rains,
I go out to the sidewalk,
Where the tree roots
Have broken the concrete
Listening to the water’s whispering:

“It is coming soon.”

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

We are the ones! #phenology

Twice today we drove past the Sunrise River pools in which we had seen four egrets. There were no egrets visible on either trip, probably because the sunlight would have made them photogenic and we had a camera with us. There was, however, a great blue heron standing in almost exactly the same location as the heron we photographed there a few years ago. The heron's preferred fishing spot, if that's indeed what it is, is not the same as where the egrets had stationed themselves. We've no idea why, since both kinds of birds seem to share similar diets.

Anise Hyssop in bloom
Anise Hyssop in bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning the Better Half mentioned, much to my dismay, that there's a number of ragweed plants growing along the driveway. After feeling so smug the other day about recognizing that ragweed doesn't exhibit the yellow inflorescence of goldenrods, we were probably just setting ourselves up for not noticing what's right underfoot that we walk past several times a day. Sigh. (We pulled a number of ragweed plants earlier and will seek a BH review this evening to see if others were missed.) At least there's no challenge distinguishing the goldenrod or ragweed from the vervain anise hyssop that's putting out more and more blooms.

Hummingbirds are still around, still chasing each other away from the feeder and continuing to leaves us in awe of the size of the spark of life embodied in each of them, especially compared to the length of the migration they undertake. They are truly amazing and delightful creatures.

female ruby-throated hummingbird at feeder
female ruby-throated hummingbird at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

Speaking of amazing and delightful, Alice Walker, in her We Are the People We've Been Waiting For, cites what she describes as "a message from the Elders of the Hopi Nation of Oraibi, Arizona, that speaks to this time very well." In an attempt to learn more about this message, we did some googling this morning and discovered that there's a mixed bag of opinions on the internets regarding the purported source and authenticity of the message. Now that we've acknowledged that, we want to share the message because, for the most part, we like it very much and agree that it "speaks to this time very well."

"We have been telling the people that this is the
Eleventh Hour
Now we must go back and tell the people that this is the

And there are things to be considered . . .

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.

It is time to speak your truth.

Create your community.
Be good to each other.

And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast
It is so great and swift that there are those who will
be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel they are torn apart and they
will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination.

The Elders say we must let go of the shore, and
push off into the river, keep our eyes open, and
our head above water.

See who is in there with you and Celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing
Least of all, ourselves.

For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth
and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over.

Gather yourselves!

Banish the word "struggle" from you attitude and
your vocabulary.

All that you do now must be done in a sacred
And in celebration.
"We are the ones we've been waiting for..."
-- The Elders, Hopi Nation, Oraibi, Arizona

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Sour grapes feed a Summer of our discontent

We have not yet reached a level of savagery described by Terry Tempest Williams in her Finding Beauty in a Broken World, but give us another week or two with events such as occurred in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend, and we could become contenders with the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda a generation or so ago.

The Mni'sota River has been blessed with a Nibi Walk
Photo by J. Harrington

It's not as if this country doesn't have a long-standing history of class warfare, racial and ethnic discrimination, and broken treaties. I am, at the moment, thinking of John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and Winter of Our Discontent. Steinbeck's writings earned the Nobel prize for literature in 1962. I recall, more than many other works, reading several of his as I studied (many, many years ago) for my college degree as an English major. I still get chills every time I see or hear Tom Joad's "I'll Be There" speech :
Then I’ll be all aroun’ in the dark. I’ll be ever’where — wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ — I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build — why, I’ll be there.
 How much better a nation would we be if we truly believed, as the late Senator Paul Wellstone tried to teach us, that "We all do better when we all do better." Inter- and intra-tribal or class wars might have made a bit of sense before we arrived at the Anthropocene Age. When humans were dominated by Nature, seeing control of natural resources as a zero sum game might have made a little sense. Since we now are in the process of making earth uninhabitable for future generations, and the United States has most recently elected a "Denier-In-Chief," since our world population numbers have skyrocketed in a relatively short period of time, we have reached a point from which we need to create win-win strategies to create a better world, because we aren't going to be able to create a bigger world in time to save ourselves. I think, if we learn to work together and give it everything we've got, we can Imagine how do do that. Whatever we have to change to get there, it's very probably worth it if we consider the alternative. So, we don't try to save the pollinators first, we learn how to work together by saving the pollinators; by jointly creating environmental justice; by collectively cleaning up the messes our parents and grandparents and their parents made, instead of passing more of the same down to our children's children.

The St. Louis River has been blessed with a Nibi Walk
Photo by J. Harrington

If you'd like examples of how we can successfully go about this, look no further than here or here. Even Steinbeck had to mature into a great writer. America cannot become a great country if it's citizens are less than great, can it? It's past time for us (and US) to grow up.

The Tradition

Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer. 
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath. 
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Watching waders and waterfowl

Late last week we started to observe egrets in the marshes near County Road 36 in Carlos Avery WMA. All Summer, until then, we've seen nary a one. Now there were Three on the south side of the road and one on the North. We doubt they were cattle egrets but aren't sure they weren't snowy egrets instead of great egrets. The information available here will help with identification when we stop back with a camera in hand.

great blue heron "fishing" a Sunrise River pool
great blue heron "fishing" a Sunrise River pool
Photo by J. Harrington

The egrets were feeding in an area where, in past years, we often have seen great blue herons or families of geese. So far this Summer, neither has been in evidence when we've driven past. It's not clear if something has basically changed in the area, other than the new bridge and guard rails, to make it less attractive to waders and waterfowl, or if it's just that last Summer's all Summer construction activity drove off the birds and they're slowly starting to drift back.

Window Seat: Providence to New York City

My sixteenth
egret from
the window
of this train,
white against
the marshes’
shocking green
Long Island
Sound from
Kingston down
to Mystic against
the shoreline’s
erratic discipline:
the egret so
still, the colors
so extreme,
the window
of my train
might be rolling
out a scroll
of meticulous
ancient Chinese
painting: my heart-
beat down its side
in liquid characters:
no tenses, no
conjunctions, just
emphatic strokes
on paper from
the inner bark
of sandalwood:
egret, marshes,
the number
sixteen: white
and that essential
shocking green
perhaps even
the character
for kingfisher
green balanced
with jade white
in ancient poems—
every other element
implicit in the
brush strokes’
elliptic fusion
of calm and motion,
assuring as my
train moves on
and marsh gives way
to warehouses
and idle factories
that my sixteen
egrets still remain:
each a crescent
moon against
an emerald sky,
alabaster on
kingfisher green,
its body motionless
on one lithe leg,
cradling its

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Pending impending change #phenology

Have you noticed any asters in bloom this month? We haven't yet, but expect to see some soon, perhaps this week. It may have been just last year that we first noticed them blooming along our local township road. Then again, it was just last year that we noticed the local cluster of prairie smoke. Both could have been there longer than the past few years, but maybe not. Seasonal changes in our local fields are sometimes compounded by successional changes in the number and kinds of plants that can be seen, depending on the weather. Last year, beardtongue was much more abundant in our fields than this year. Will next year bring a restoration of beardtongue amplitude? We'll see.

road side asters
road side asters
Photo by J. Harrington

It may be a little early to look for wooly bear caterpillars, but here's a piece of information to keep in mind as we start watching for prediction's of what kind of Winter is in store for us. The Isabella Tiger Moth or Banded Woolybear "Caterpillar (Black-ended Bear or Woolly Bear) colors change as they molt to successive instars, becoming less black and more reddish as they age." Now, if we stop to think about that, it says nothing about whether milder Winters are predicted by older caterpillars (redder = milder). In fact, since the caterpillars freeze almost solid over Winter, it's hard to figure out where the folklore came from, unless folks were thinking redder = warmer? Does anyone have a more definitive historic perspective? In any case, if you see one, be sure to help it across the road when there's no traffic. You could be a crossing guard for wooly bears.

August 12 in the Nebraska Sand Hills Watching the Perseids
Meteor Shower

In the middle of rolling grasslands, away from lights,
a moonless night untethers its wild polka-dots,
the formations we can name competing for attention
in a twinkling and crowded sky-bowl.

Out from the corners, our eyes detect a maverick meteor,
a transient streak, and lying back toward midnight
on the heft of our car hood, all conversation blunted,
we were at once unnerved and somehow restored.

Out here, a furrow of spring-fed river threads
through ranches in the tens of thousands of acres.
Like cattle, we are powerless, by instinct can see
why early people trembled and deliberated the heavens.

Off in the distance those cattle make themselves known,
a bird song moves singular across the horizon.
Not yet 2:00, and bits of comet dust, the Perseids,
startle and skim the atmosphere like skipping stones.

In the leaden dark, we are utterly alone. As I rub the ridges
on the back of your hand, our love for all things warm
and pulsing crescendos toward dawn: this timeless awe,
your breath floating with mine upward into the stars.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

August blooms, #phenology

We've been seeing more and more roadside plants that we thought might be either goldenrod or ragweed, but we weren't sure which. The University of Minnesota has a web page with line drawings that we didn't find to be terribly helpful in terms of "drive-by" identification. The Herbal Academy's photos strongly suggest that the yellow flowers we see, that we think might be ragweed, aren't, they're goldenrod. That determination was further confirmed by the multiple photos found on this blog page. So, from now on, if it's not a black- or brown-eyed Susan, or a compass plant, or some other kind of sunflower shape growing by the roadside at this yellow-golden time of year, if it's a bright yellow (not greenish) feathery flower, we're going to assume it's goldenrod, because if it were ragweed, we probably couldn't notice it against the other greens as we drove past at 30 or 40 mph.

monarch butterflies on Northern Plains Blazing Star
monarch butterflies on Northern Plains Blazing Star
Photo by J. Harrington

It's also the time of year we wish the Northern Plains Blazing Star that we planted several years ago had "taken" better. We've seen no sign of it after the first year. Maybe it couldn't compete with the heavy grass growth around our "wet spot," maybe the deer browsed it beyond recovery, maybe both and or other. Perhaps the soils where we planted it stayed too wet instead of "moist" in the Winter. While it was here and blooming, it certainly made the monarch butterflies happy. That made us happy. It seems as though we're too often outnumbered or "outfoxed" by pocket gophers, moles, deer and other critters with more appreciation for a plant's taste and nutritional value than for aesthetics and biodiversity. Sigh. Probably time to try planting some more next Spring, on slightly drier ground. We would not mind at all watching more of our fields filled with common milkweed get eaten by caterpillars.

I, Up they soar


Up they soar, the planet’s butterflies,
pigments from the warm body of the earth,
cinnabar, ochre, phosphor yellow, gold
a swarm of basic elements aloft.

Is this flickering of wings only a shoal
of light particles, a quirk of perception?
Is it the dreamed summer hour of my childhood
shattered as by lightning lost in time?

No, this is the angel of light, who can paint
himself as dark mnemosyne Apollo,
as copper, hawkmoth, swallowtail.

I see them with my blurred understanding
as feathers in the coverlet of haze
in Brajcino Valley’s noon-hot air.

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

The "green economy" (and Minnesota's) can do fine without our copper

The lead opinion piece in today's Star Tribune is:

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan: The green economy needs Minnesota mining

As a constituent of Rep. Rick Nolan, I'll concede his sincerity, but the arguments he makes are, I believe, misleading approaching disingenuous. Let's try for some factual context.
would a Polymet mine improve this water?
would a Polymet mine improve this water?
Photo by J. Harrington

That suggests to me that Minnesota's role in copper production is nonexistent and would be far from essential. In fact, to go further, Minnesota could be well served by deferring development of our mineral resources until such time as the entire mining sector becomes more socially and environmentally responsible, if it ever does, and the value of our copper reserves has increased due to the scarcity of alternative sources of that commodity. The Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) has drafted, and will soon launch, "an independently verifiable responsible mining assurance system, offering mines an opportunity to apply for recognition of achievement in environmental and social responsibility." Congressman Nolan makes no reference to such standards in his proposed legislation, at least in the version I last saw on line.

The fact that the proposed sulfide ore project has been through years of environmental review is of little relevance to the land exchange. The initial version of the review was deemed inadequate by the federal reviewing agency. That essentially doubled the preparation and review time normally expected.

My biggest concern with Representative Nolan's opinions is what they absolutely leave out. At no point does he acknowledge the court cases that have been filed to get the taxpayers (that's us in case you forgot) a fair deal on any land swap. The court case "argues that the Forest Service instructed its appraiser to ignore the proposed use of 6,650 acres of Superior National Forest land for PolyMet’s proposed copper-nickel mine when calculating its value. Failing to account for the fact that this public land is being acquired for PolyMet’s mining proposal resulted in a bargain basement valuation of just $550 per acre. An independent analysis of real estate transactions found that PolyMet recently paid a private landowner a 70 percent higher price per acre for similar nearby land. The $550 price is also well below what other Minnesota mining companies have recently paid for surface land."

The land exchange would be unnecessary without the PolyMet proposal and is not a wonderful deal for the public if it substantially undervalues the resources that run with the land. The land swap legislation mixes apple and oranges and throws in a kumquat to deliver a strange fruit salad to the public, but a "wonderful deal" to a mining company whose major investor is a foreign corporation.

                     The Theft Outright

after Frost

We were the land's before we were.

Or the land was ours before you were a land.
Or this land was our land, it was not your land.

We were the land before we were people,
loamy roamers rising, so the stories go,
or formed of clay, spit into with breath reeking soul—

What's America, but the legend of Rock 'n' Roll?

Red rocks, blood clots bearing boys, blood sands
swimming being from women's hands, we originate,
originally, spontaneous as hemorrhage.

Un-possessing of what we still are possessed by,
possessed by what we now no more possess.

We were the land before we were people,
dreamy sunbeams where sun don't shine, so the stories go,
or pulled up a hole, clawing past ants and roots—

Dineh in documentaries scoff DNA evidence off.
They landed late, but canyons spoke them home.
Nomadic Turkish horse tribes they don't know.

What's America, but the legend of Stop 'n' Go?

Could be cousins, left on the land bridge,
contrary to popular belief, that was a two-way toll.
In any case we'd claim them, give them some place to stay.

Such as we were we gave most things outright
(the deed of the theft was many deeds and leases and claim stakes
and tenure disputes and moved plat markers stolen still today . . .)

We were the land before we were a people,
earthdivers, her darling mudpuppies, so the stories go,
or emerging, fully forming from flesh of earth—

The land, not the least vaguely, realizing in all four directions,
still storied, art-filled, fully enhanced.
Such as she is, such as she wills us to become.

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Fledge, flock, fly, fun? #phenology

Yesterday we made our way to the bluebird house to validate, or not, our suspicion that the nestlings had fledged and flown. All that rested in the nest was an unhatched blue egg. We were correct. The male and female adults, however, seemed of the opinion that someone, perhaps us, had abducted the youngsters. We were swooped upon several times on our way to and from the nesting box.

robins bathing in puddle
robins bathing in puddle
Photo by J. Harrington

and then there was one
and then there was one
Photo by J. Harrington

In today's rain showers, there's been no sign of any bluebirds. We have seen several small flocks of robins, instead of the ones and twos that would hop across the back yard off and on all Summer. Some were splashing in the driveway puddle. What do robins and children have in common? Others, we suspect may be just barely starting to stage in anticipation of eventual migration, but we may also be premature with that suspicion. The fine folks at Journey North offer a fascinating collection of information about robin migration, or lack thereof, both North and South. They suggest that October is a more likely time for robins to begin migration. Perhaps what we're seeing are this year's early fledglings exploring the neighborhood in unruly gangs.

The North Wind Doth Blow

by Anonymous

The north wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor Robin do then,
Poor thing?
He'll sit in a barn,
And to keep himself warm,
Will hide his head under his wing,
Poor thing!

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A season taking flight #phenology

Late morning, returning from doing some errands, I saw a flock of five Canada geese flying close formation. Goose, gander, three goslings doing a pre-migration training flight. Mia McPherson's On the Wing photography blog has a nice posting today, including some stunning photos, in which she writes about the calls of Canada geese signaling seasonal change.

almost all grown up goslings
almost all grown up goslings
Photo by J. Harrington

More and more splashes of scarlet have appeared in sumac shrubs. Local big bluestem grasses have developed their "three-toed turkey foot" seed heads. Sandhill crane families are showing up in more and more shady yards instead of in the middle of wetlands.

Bluebirds and hummingbirds are still around. Peaches are still available at the nearest big box grocer and thunderstorm clouds are starting to tower for this afternoon or tomorrow. Signs that Summer isn't yet ready to retire, although I'm grateful for the respite from August's all too frequent humid, hot days. Last night, and the night before, humidity was evident in mists arising from the local ponds under a waxing, gibbous moon that cast moon shadows all over our gravel road as we gave the dogs their early morning walks.

bluebird perched on pine candle
bluebird perched on pine candle
Photo by J. Harrington

I think that, while I've been typing this, the bluebird nestlings have become fledglings and started their own practice flights as they hover over the nesting box and land on nearby fences and the brush pile's branches. What a wonderful day this has shaped up to be, even though it literally means that, once again, we'll soon be empty nesters until next Spring.


From a documentary on marsupials I learn
that a pillowcase makes a fine
substitute pouch for an orphaned kangaroo.

I am drawn to such dramas of animal rescue.
They are warm in the throat. I suffer, the critic proclaims,
from an overabundance of maternal genes.

Bring me your fallen fledgling, your bummer lamb,

lead the abused, the starvelings, into my barn.
Advise the hunted deer to leap into my corn.

And had there been a wild child—
filthy and fierce as a ferret, he is called
in one nineteenth-century account—

a wild child to love, it is safe to assume,
given my fireside inked with paw prints,
there would have been room.

Think of the language we two, same and not-same,
might have constructed from sign,
scratch, grimace, grunt, vowel:

Laughter our first noun, and our long verb, howl.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A better world, whatever we call it

the guardian today has an exclusive story:
US federal department is censoring use of term 'climate change', emails reveal
The Department in question is Agriculture, in particular, its Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Perhaps it's because, for a change, I was doing some actual physical work this morning, and the exercise left me feeling mellow, but the story didn't send me off the deep end as most days it would have. Perhaps it's because I've just about finished rereading Terry Tempest Williams Finding Beauty in a Broken World, but it occurs to me that this could offer, if handled properly, an opportunity to help climate change adaptation, mitigation and minimization become mainstream practice. One way to do that would be for all of us to become familiar with and support Congressman Earl Blumenauer's proposal for the next Farm Bill. His report, Growing Opportunities, which explains the need for and rationale behind his proposed Food and Farm Act.

It's been quite awhile since I've been enthused by almost any legislative proposal. I like everything I've seen so far in Congressman Blumenauer's approach. (In fact, I wish Minnesota's Eighth District Congressman would take a similar approach to mining legislation.) The language games emanating from the misguided administration in Washington, D.C., if properly responded to, could put us in this situation:

cartoonist Joel Pett beautifully illustrates that there are many, many reasons,
other than “the sky is falling,” to respond to climate change

Frankly, I don't give a damn what anyone calls it, as long as we focus on building a better world. Sort of like the old "I don't care what they print about me, as long as they spell my name right?"


Let me tell you this once
(I will not be able to say it again):
I have lost the meaning of words.
Heavy, they ripped away from the sounds,
fell into cracked ground. For weeks
I scratched but what I dug up was
bicycle spokes, black melon rinds,
a smashed doll face--it was not meaning.
I don’t know what I am saying.

I exaggerate. Not everything is gone.
I still know perfectly what sugar means,
and pine needle. Laughter is more
of a problem. And yellow often slides,
a plate of butter in the sun.
The meaning of flower has gone entirely;
so has the meaning of love. Now it is safe
to say: I love you. Now it is true.

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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Status report: early August #phenology

This weekend has been a flurry of buckthorn pulling, focusing on the female plants with the rapidly ripening purple berries. We'll get to the male plants after there are no longer berries visible in the area we're clearing. The tractor and a brush grubber chain have been working well on plants up to an inch or more in diameter. We've only stripped off of one fairly small bush so far. I want to limit herbicide use to the poison ivy vines as much as possible, since I haven't figured out a better, safer way of removing that. Then again, I've only just started to read Beyond the War on Invasive Species, A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration. It may offer some more creative solutions for the poison ivy. (I know poison ivy isn't invasive, but it is noxious and I'm looking for techniques that minimize or eliminate exposure to the oils and smoke, or the guilt that would accompany hauling it to the local compost pile.)

Early goldenrod
Early goldenrod
Photo by J. Harrington

On the feeder front,

  • A downy woodpecker has been visiting the oriole/hummingbird feeder
  • Bluebirds are still feeding nestlings, which are now feather covered.
  • Male and female hummingbirds are visiting the nectar feeders
  • Goldfinches must be having a field day with the thistle seeds along road sides

bluebird nestlings hiding from intruder
bluebird nestlings hiding from intruder
Photo by J. Harrington

On the flower front,
  • A few monarch and swallowtail butterflies visit from time to time
  • Bees, multiple species from small to large, are on the bergamot and other flowers
  • Goldenrod, and ragweed, have come into bloom and pollen time. It's the ragweed that makes us sneeze and our noses run.

  • The Better Half reports having seen some goose flock training flights
  • I've seen several sandhill crane families in local fields
  • More and more leaves are starting to show colors
  • Sumac seed pods are maroon and ripening or ripened.
  • The first ripe, local, apples should be available by now or within the next few days
The transition from the peak of Summer to the beginning of Autumn seems to have arrived.


Silence again. The glorious symphony
Hath need of pause and interval of peace.
Some subtle signal bids all sweet sounds cease,
Save hum of insects’ aimless industry.
Pathetic summer seeks by blazonry
Of color to conceal her swift decrease.
Weak subterfuge! Each mocking day doth fleece
A blossom, and lay bare her poverty.
Poor middle-agèd summer! Vain this show!
Whole fields of golden-rod cannot offset
One meadow with a single violet;
And well the singing thrush and lily know,
Spite of all artifice which her regret
Can deck in splendid guise, their time to go!

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

No more free riders on Minnesota's water quality

The University of Minnesota Alumni Magazine Summer 2017 has an article on WATER AS COMMON GROUND that begins and ends with statements I find extremely misleading. It opens with this sentence "Farmers have often been expected to bear the burden of mitigating agricultural runoff into Minnesota’s imperiled waters." The concluding paragraph mirrors the opening with the idea that:
Additional strategies are described in Ten Ways to Reduce Nitrogen Loads from Drained Cropland in the Midwest, a 2016 publication by the University of Illinois Extension to which Sands and other researchers contributed. “We recognize the complexity of why our agricultural systems look the way they do today, and we are working to reduce the environmental footprint of that system,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges we have to address is that improving water quality is for the common good, but there is an imbalance if society reaps the benefits of addressing this problem while the costs fall primarily on the backs of farmers.” [emphasis added]
I agree that water is a common ground. In fact, I believe that's one of the reasons that the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area annually spends about $250 million to collect and treat its wastewater. That includes debt service on the $924,140,000 Authorized Capital Program.

Minnesota streams pollutant levels
Swimmable, fishable, fixable? p. 11

That doesn't include any additional amounts spent by local units of government or private businesses to meet water quality requirements. In fact, the agricultural sector is the only element of life in America today that is exempt from meeting anything more than the most fundamental and basic water quality standards. As recently as two years ago, a statewide report found that

"Half of lakes and streams in southern Minnesota found too polluted for safe swimming, fishing

Pollution tied to farms will take decades to fix, state study finds. "
streams and rivers meeting aquatic recreation standards
Swimmable, fishable, fixable? p. 10

If anything, the imbalance in protecting our common water resources has been tilted in favor of protecting farmers from meeting basic stewardship responsibilities. That imbalance has been in place since before 1972 and it's well past time to correct it instead of buffering farms and farmers from their common responsibilities to protect our water resources. Meeting those responsibilities should be a prerequisite to qualifying for any sort of agricultural subsidy or crop insurance program. The farm bill being drafted should include such requirements.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

"Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" from The Country of Marriage, copyright ® 1973 by Wendell Berry

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

Friday, August 4, 2017

T'is the season of growth #phenology

I'm pretty sure that Wednesday night we had a small flock of turkeys roosting in the oak tree that overhangs and shades our deck. I would have reported this sooner if they had scared the daylights out of me in the morning, by flying down when I rehung the bird feeders. Unless, of course, they had scared me to death or close enough to it. There were two hens, an older and a "daughter?," plus seven  or eight poults that made quite a racket when they took off late in the morning. After descending to the back yard, they spent time scratching and feeding their way through our field of feral oregano. That's when they looked like this.

down from the roost, feeding in oregano
down from the roost, feeding in oregano
Photo by J. Harrington

That we had roosting turkeys became obvious when one of the larger poults perched on the deck railing. I have no idea why, unless it was contemplating trying to feed from the sunflower feeder, or it wanted to stretch its toes instead of wrapping them around a branch. It's possible the flock didn't roost overnight in the oak but just flew up to check things out. Possible, but from what zI know of turkeys, plus what I've read over the years, improbable. These birds are known to go to roost about sunset and to fly down in the morning when there's enough light to spot potential predators. Between the rains and the cloudy weather, it was gloomy around here and yesterday was a good morning for sleeping in.

poult on a railing
poult on a railing
Photo by J. Harrington

Later in the afternoon, the whole crew had worked their way around to the front of the house and the seed droppings created by the grosbeaks, squirrels and goldfinches. The older hen was showing her dominance and taking no sass from any of the poults. At one point we watcher her grab a poult's tail in her beak and drag it around the yard for a bit, just because the poult came too close to where the old hen was feeding. I've read about this kind of dominance in wolves and lions, but turkeys?

the "flock" at the from feeder
the "flock" at the from feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

As if the turkey distractions weren't enough, late in the afternoon, about 4:30 or so, strolling through the back yard were four deer: one mature doe, two that looked to be yearlings and a fawn from this year. They seem to be looking around to see if there was anything good left to eat after the turkeys had moved on. I know I've been mentioning the lack of sightings of both whitetails and turkeys this Summer. Perhaps word got out amongst the critters and they decided to make up for it, all in one afternoon. Like so much of the rest of life, we seem to be faced with feast or famine.

Birds Again

Jim Harrison, 1937 - 2016

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

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Invasive buckthorn #phenology, managing our commons

We have buckthorn on our property that we're trying to control. At least, until the past few days I was sure it's buckthorn. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources notes on their buckthorn identification page that "Leaves stay green late into fall." What I've been identifying as buckthorn has leaves that are turning yellow, and some that are already dropping. All of which occurred before Autumn's arrival this morning with temperatures in the low to mid-fifties. Even in our North Country, that's brisk for August.

early August buckthorn(?) with yellow leaves?
early August buckthorn(?) with yellow leaves?
Photo by J. Harrington

A buckthorn-related issue, other than identification, has come up as we've started pulling and burning the "buckthorn" on our property. The Wildlife Management Area (Carlos Avery) that surrounds our property has some large reservoirs of replacement buckthorn. I have concerns about when, if ever, MNDNR will get around to managing it. Those concerns were heightened when I started looking for indications of what DNR has already tried to accomplish in terms of actual management. There is no mention of invasive species in the 2016 Forest Health Report. If I've read their 2015 Forest Health Report correctly, the Department is busier trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to identify the "leading edge" of the invasion than in actually controlling the plants. The reason the Department cites for their approach is that
"Prior to 2015, the terrestrial invasive species (TIS) program consisted of a single position with limited funding for field projects. In 2015, annual work plan targets were established for all areas for invasive species survey work and management practices. Also in 2015, program leads were identified for each of the areas and regions. The resulting structure resembles other forestry program such as the roads, timber and silviculture programs. Being new to everyone, 2015 was a year of exploration and learning."
So, despite the fact that buckthorn has been a known invasive problem in Minnesota since the late mid-1880s (well over a hundred years ago), the Minnesota legislature, the Department and various governors have seen fit to leave staffing unfunded until recently. That's not setting a very good example for private citizens to follow, is it? But then, both species of buckthorn are only classified as "Restricted Noxious Weeds."
"Restricted noxious weeds are plants that are widely distributed in Minnesota and are detrimental to human or animal health, the environment, public roads, crops, livestock or other property, but whose only feasible means of control is to prevent their spread by prohibiting the importation, sale, and transportation of their propagating parts in the state except as allowed by Minnesota Statutes, Section 18.82. Plants designated as Restricted Noxious Weeds may be reclassified if effective means of control are developed."
 If this is the best Minnesotans can expect for control of "restricted noxious weeds," I'll have the temerity to ask why we are spending our tax dollars on anything other than the identification of "effective means of control." Internal contradictions such as "annual work plan targets" related to invasive species "whose only feasible means of control is to prevent their spread by prohibiting the importation, sale, and transportation of their propagating parts" just doesn't make sense. When was the last time Minnesota's legislative auditor ran a logic check on MNDNR's budget and work plan for invasive species? Perhaps the Department should consider contracting the the 1854 Treaty Authority, which seems to have a pretty effective listing of invasive species by county within their territory. Maybe it would make sense to consider using permaculture approaches to managing invasive species and to place more emphasis on political efforts to prevent the establishment of new invasive species. Maybe those efforts could be pair for through an international tax on global shipping or international investments. A global economy needs to support global services such as invasive species management.

                     Once the World Was Perfect

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn't know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

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