Wednesday, October 18, 2017

All this and syrup too! #phenology

The surrealistic first stanza of Dylan's fantastic My Back Pages could nicely describe a walk along our country road today.
Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin’ high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
“We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I
Proud ’neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now
Maple leaves are in florescent flames of tiger and pineapple. Oaks in spice, sangria and scarlet. If you disagree with these choices, select your own at the color thesaurus“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” exclaimed Anne of Green Gables. We concur, heartily.

roadside maple in Autumn
roadside maple in Autumn
Photo by J. Harrington

The maples in front of the house have, in the past day or two, turned chartreuse and tangerine. The maple on the ridge behind the house is brilliant crimson. Over the next week or two, much of this beauty and vibrancy will be gone. Isn't it important to enjoy what we have while it's here?

Fall

Fall, falling, fallen. That’s the way the season 
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples 
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves 
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition 
With the final remaining cardinals) and then 
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last 
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground. 
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees 
In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever 
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun 
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance, 
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud 
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything 
Changes and moves in the split second between summer’s 
Sprawling past and winter’s hard revision, one moment 
Pulling out of the station according to schedule, 
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It 
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away 
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet, 
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving 
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us, 
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets. 
And every year there is a brief, startling moment 
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and 
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless 
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air: 
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies; 
It is the changing light of fall falling on us. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

'Tis a day for seeing spots #phenology

This morning, the waters of the Sunrise River near County Road 36 were full of American Coot. Unfortunately, the photo's not enlarged enough to clearly see their white bills. It's been several months since we've seen any so we're guessing they're migrants, but it could just be local families flocking up pre-migration. There's certainly nothing in this week's weather to trigger any local migrations.

American coot at Carlos Avery WMA
American coot at Carlos Avery WMA
Photo by J. Harrington

Further confirmation that it is that time of year:

  • We noticed box elder bugs crawling around the doors and siding of some nearby houses. If you've never experienced Bill Holm's Boxelder Bug Variations, see if you can get your hands on a copy. Try it, you'll like it!

  • While walking the dogs, we were surrounded by and inundated with Asian Lady Beetles, AKA harlequin, multicolored. Their bodies are dotted with spots and the air was full of them, creating flying spots with spots before our eyes. Despite constantly brushing them off as we walked, when we came inside we were crawling, quite literally, with them. The ones that made themselves known when we were still close to the door were flicked off outside. A few didn't appear until later, when we were busy in the kitchen. They suffered a terminal fate.

Clearly, our understanding of nature is more limited than we would like. Hatches of mayflies or caddisflies in numbers comparable to the flying beetles we experienced today would have drawn great numbers of trout to feed on them. The Asian Ladies are reported to have few predators.  Late season dragonflies seem to have disappeared. We're not sure about bats, but this flight of beetles was in bright daytime sunlight. There are still a number of songbirds around. Why were no birds trying to feed on them? The same kind of situation seems to prevail with box elder bugs, although Mr. Holm offered an alternative approach to the latter, it might also work on the Asian beetles.

Though Difficult, it is Possible to Kill Boxelder Bugs


By Bill Holm

Though Difficult, it is Possible to Kill
Boxelder Bugs.  If You are Interested,
You Might try This Method
Take two bricks.
Creep deliberately up
Behind the boxelder bug,
Being careful not to sing –
This will alert him.
In a graceful flowing gesture,
Something like a golf swing
Or reaching for your lover in the dark,
Gather up the boxelder bug
On the surface of the left brick
Bringing the right brick
At the same time firmly down
Together with the left brick.
There will be a loud crashing,
Like broken cymbals.
Maybe a breaking of brick, and
If you are not careful,
Your own voice rising.
When the brick dust has settled
And you have examined your own hands,
Carefully,
You will not see the boxelder bug.
There is a small hole in the brick
And he is exploring it,
Calmly, like a millionaire
In an antique shop.


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Monday, October 16, 2017

No jobs on a dead planet!

The New York Times magazine recently published an article that touched on one of our (many) hot buttons: In Northern Minnesota, Two Economies Square Off: Mining vs. Wilderness. Today, the Star Tribune published Enbridge pipeline replacement divides DFL. We live in Minnesota's Eighth Congressional District, home to the Iron Range and the Boundary Waters Wilderness Canoe Area. Once upon a time, back when we also believed in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, we believed the Democratic party was a leading supporter of both labor (good jobs) and environmental protection (clean water to drink and swim in, clean air to breathe). Not so much anymore.

Our Congressman, Rick Nolan, has introduced legislation that would undermine environmental protections and current governmental process to expedite mine development of a new type, primarily for copper. It's what we would have expected from a Republican, such as Congressman Emmer, who is aiding and abetting Nolan's effort to exempt some mine proposals from full governmental review and approval.

Two environmental organizations, [full disclosure: we have contributed funds to each] have seen fit to respond to the Times' publication as follows:

MCEA on Two Economies

WaterLegacy on Two Economies

It seems to us that a large part of our current problems derive directly from the extent to which we are a nation of laws, not men. Years ago we tried working with representatives of the US Army Corps of Engineers, at a time when their strategy on projects seemed to be to "Design, Announce, Defend." Finding middle ground when each side feels it needs the "best advocate" to defend its interests is a sometimes impossible challenge.

There is, or at least could be, a different way. The Nation has published some suggestions on how to bring labor and the environment together. Today's Daily Yonder has comparable thoughts on how the Democrats can  better reach out to rural voters (most of Minnesota's CD-8 is rural). We've mentioned before how much we've been taken by the stories in Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman and the outstanding job some predominantly rural folks are doing in maintaining and creating jobs while conserving the environment. We bet if you stop back here from time to time, you'll see more references to efforts such as those touched on today, because, as much as we believe anything, we believe there are no jobs on a dead planet. We may even drag in the old "Bert & I" joke about which way to Millenocket? to see if we can find a way together to get there from here.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Blue-joint grass? #phenology

In various locations and mixtures on our property we have both big and little bluestem grasses. Little bluestem predominates. We also have a variety of other grasses and sedges and maybe some reeds. This autumn, one sunny mid-afternoon, some grasses glowed golden.

blue-joint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis)
blue-joint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis)
Photo by J. Harrington

At first we thought they were little bluestem, but then we looked more closely and decided they're not. That's when the trouble started. We've been through each of our field guides and online guides several times, trying to determine what we had photographed. The seeds align in the wrong direction on the stem to be side-oats gamma. It's fairly easy to skim through the grasses sections and decide lots of "it's nots." The greater challenge is to conclude, with at least a modicum of certainty, "it is."

blue-joint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis) seed heads
blue-joint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis) seed heads
Photo by J. Harrington

As usual, if any reader believes the identification is incorrect, please feel free to let us know your preferred identification. Meanwhile, we're proceeding with the idea that we have Calamagrostis canadensis identified. (The photo on the USDA web page threw us for awhile.) We're using the description and photos in Prairie Plants of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum and this photo as our basis.

                     Grasses



So still at heart,
They respond like water
To the slightest breeze,
Rippling as one body,

And, as one mind,
Bend continually
To listen:
The perfect confidants,

They keep to themselves,
A web of trails and nests,
Burrows and hidden entrances—
Do not reveal

Those camouflaged in stillness
From the circling hawks,
Or crouched and breathless
At the passing of the fox.



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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Ducking season's change? #phenology

There's a flock of half-a-dozen or so wood ducks hanging around the west end of a small pond up the road from the house. Some may have returned to a Spring resting place. We're guessing hunting pressure has pushed them off bigger waters around here. Since wood ducks are reported to be one of the North Country's early migrants [see p.4], perhaps there's a message that Winter will be delayed and mild? [There are no ducks in the accompanying photo, no matter how hard you look.]

country pond in Autumn
country pond in Autumn
Photo by J. Harrington

Leaf colors are now peaking but not as spectacular as some years. Nevertheless, the next week or two will be the time to get out and enjoy one of the best times Minnesota has to offer. Don't be surprised if we get snow around the first week of November. For that matter, do you remember the Halloween blizzard of 1991? Most of the time we've locked it away as a repressed memory.

early November snow
early November snow
Photo by J. Harrington

We're hoping for a very delayed start to cold, freezing, snowy weather because there's still a bunch of buckthorn we'd like to get pulled, and a chance to smooth out the grounds before Winter sets in. Then we can spread some wildflower seeds on the snow and see what grows come Spring. If that doesn't work out, we'll do the ground prep and seed spreading after snowmelt. How's that for flexibility?

We hope that Friday 13th left you largely unharmed. We avoided, barely, a couple of near accidents with the jeep, so our luck for the week seems mostly used up. One of our favorite poets, Wendell Berry, has a poem we've included before, but it fits so well with Friday the 13th's hazards and this time of year. We hope you enjoy, both literally and figuratively,

The Peace of Wild Things


by , Special Contributor


 When despair for the world grows in me
 and I wake in the night at the least sound
 in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
 I go and lie down where the wood drake
 rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
 I come into the peace of wild things
 who do not tax their lives with forethought
 of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
 And I feel above me the day-blind stars
 waiting with their light. For a time
 I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


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Friday, October 13, 2017

Milkweed seed season #phenology

We're very, very close to mid-Autumn. Using the start of meteorological Autumn as the benchmark, we'll reach mid-season early next week. During the week that's now ending (on Friday the 13th), one of the surer signs of the end of early Autumn has appeared in our fields. Milkweed seed pods burst open and exposed their contents to the winds of change.

a promise of new life
a promise of new life
Photo by J. Harrington

Late Spring, early Summer's riotous growth is marked by dandelion flowers morphing into seed heads that beg to be blown by those who believe in fairies. Milkweed seeds like wise mark a magical end to a longer growing season and the promise of renewed life next Spring. As we traveled toward the northern end of the county to pick up our Community Supported Agriculture shares box yesterday, we noted a number of soy bean fields have been harvested (still drying corn, not so much). In fact, several were being harvested as we drove past. If you've ever noticed a combine with a bean harvesting head driving a township gravel road, the combine takes up pretty much from ditch to ditch. We haven't yet seen a mid-afternoon head-to-head encounter on a township road between a combine and a school bus during harvest time, and hope we never do. It would be much like an encounter between an immovable object and an irresistible force.

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

The woolly bear caterpillar we had our eyes on has moved on before we could arrange suitable quarters for it. Probably just as well since the Daughter Person, in a very unromantic, uncurious way asked why we wanted to raise a moth anyhow. Every once in a while, we get a slight sense of having failed as a parent, but then she never showed any indication to absent-mindedly leave small snakes in her jacket pocket when she was young, not that we know of any of her progenitors that might have exhibited such behavior in their own youth.

The Cows at Night

The moon was like a full cup tonight,
too heavy, and sank in the mist
soon after dark, leaving for light

faint stars and the silver leaves
of milkweed beside the road,
gleaming before my car.

Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist

of mountain-dark, among farms
so quiet, and the roadside willows
opening out where I saw

the cows. Always a shock
to remember them there, those
great breathings close in the dark.

I stopped, and took my flashlight
to the pasture fence. They turned
to me where they lay, sad

and beautiful faces in the dark,
and I counted them–forty
near and far in the pasture,

turning to me, sad and beautiful
like girls very long ago
who were innocent, and sad

because they were innocent,
and beautiful because they were
sad. I switched off my light.

But I did not want to go,
not yet, nor knew what to do
if I should stay, for how

in that great darkness could I explain
anything, anything at all.
I stood by the fence. And then

very gently it began to rain.


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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Autumns without tamarack's golden glow? #phenology

We have several nearby wetlands with lots of tamarack growing in them. It's become obvious that they're annual color change, prior to dropping their leaves, has started. Although peak color hasn't been reached yet, it will be over the next few weeks. Yellows are beginning to outshine greens. Unfortunately but increasingly, larch beetles are damaging more and more of our only indigenous, deciduous conifer, a sign of climate change and things to come. Although many Minnesotans are very concerned about the effects of invasive species, we seem less so about the potential loss of our classic North Woods to native pest populations exploding through warmer Winters. Our natural environment needs better management.

hints of color change in tamarack
hints of color change in tamarack
Photo by J. Harrington

So to does our built environment, according to Strong Towns. Although we're not entirely sure we agree with each of the points being made, they offer some interesting thoughts on how we Americans, or at least many of us, approach investment in infrastructure.
To begin with, some common ground: American infrastructure is not being maintained. This is a critical threat to our future prosperity, one that grows more dire each day. The sooner we begin to address this problem, the less painful the subsequent actions will be. On this concept, Strong Towns and the ASCE are on the same page. Where we dramatically depart is both our evaluation of the cause of this crisis as well as our recommendation for what must be done.
As we begin to consider the value of ecosystem services such as clean air and clean water, will we need to consider tradeoffs between traditional infrastructure, green infrastructure, restoration of already polluted lands and waters from historic activities such as mining operations? Will each of these sectors be treated as investments that have to show a return? How will we measure ROI from each type of investment? Are these even the right questions for how we treat our built and natural environments? Must everything be filtered through economics and financial screens? Have we no higher and better values against which to measure the benefits of our activities?

Have you taken a look at the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals? Have you ever considered the possibility that a sustainable development framework might offer common grounds on which communications between "environmentalists" [Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation] and "miners" [Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth] could be improved? The goals aren't structured as either or. We need all of them for a sustainable future. Think about Houston, south Florida and the Keys, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, California wine country and... who's next? We don't yet have a way to reach Planet B. Maybe we better figure out how to agree on how to take care of what we have. For ideas on that, consider reading (or watching) Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman to see some examples of how jobs AND environment can be grown together. We need more of that kind of investment.

Vespers

In your extended absence, you permit me 
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report 
failure in my assignment, principally 
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow 
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold 
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come 
so often here, while other regions get 
twelve weeks of summer. All this 
belongs to you: on the other hand, 
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots 
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart 
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly 
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of 
that term. You who do not discriminate 
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence, 
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know 
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible 
for these vines.


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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hold outs hangin' on #phenology

This morning was spent moving some of the recently pulled buckthorn from the front of the property to the burn pile out back, pulling some sort of thorny vines (we don't think they're blackberries) so they'll have fewer opportunities to trip us or rip our ankles, and checking the pocket gopher traps (there's one less gopher on the property). In our wanderings about, we noticed two tiny flowers still in bloom. Those of us who've lived in the North Country for a while are rugged souls. It takes more than an evening's hard freeze or so to do us in.

a pair of hard-frost holdouts, one white, one yellow
a pair of hard-frost holdouts, one white, one yellow
Photo by J. Harrington

Last night may, or may not, have qualified as once again having frost / freeze temperatures. The lowest we saw locally was 33℉. We neglected to cover the mums and asters because we didn't expect another overnight freeze. This morning the mums are looking healthier and hardier than the asters so we'll just keep an eye on things and see who may still be alive over the next day or two.

wooly bear with (only) two bands
wooly bear with (only) two bands
Photo by J. Harrington

The other pleasant surprise we encountered today was our discovery of a real, live wooly bear caterpillar. This one wasn't on the road or hiding under leaves or in the wood pile. As you can see, it's hanging onto a plant. If you look closely, you can see that it barely has all three bands. With the relatively wide band of brown in the middle, we're thinking this caterpillar believes it's going to be a relatively mild Winter. Our personal beliefs are that that would be nice if it doesn't bring too many ice storms. If this caterpillar is still hanging around later today, we think it's going to become a subject for observation  if we can set up and suitably fit out a container. Last time we tried this, the wooly bear escaped before we got the dirt and twigs into its Winter home. This time we'll rig the container first.

A Caterpillar on the Desk


by Robert Bly


           Lifting my coffee cup, I notice a caterpillar crawling over my sheet of ten-cent airmail stamps. The head is black as a Chinese box. Nine soft accordions follow it around, with a waving motion, like a flabby mountain. Skinny brushes used to clean pop bottles rise from some of its shoulders. As I pick up the sheet of stamps, the caterpillar advances around and around the edge, and I see his feet: three pairs under the head, four spongelike pairs under the middle body, and two final pairs at the tip, pink as a puppy's hind legs. As he walks, he rears, six pairs of legs off the stamp, waving around the air! One of the sponge pairs, and the last two tail pairs, the reserve feet, hold on anxiously. It is the first of September. The leaf shadows are less ferocious on the notebook cover. A man accepts his failures more easily-or perhaps summer's insanity is gone? A man notices ordinary earth, scorned in July, with affection, as he settles down to his daily work, to use stamps.  


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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

First freeze, first hard frost #phenology

first frozen birdbath of the season
first frozen birdbath of the season
Photo by J. Harrington

It's almost 1 pm as we start this post. The bird bath, which is shaded by the house for much of the day, still has a skim of ice over much of the water. We had a "hard frost" last night. Early morning dog walks revealed sparkly grasses covering the fields. Fortunately, we covered the asters and the mums. Now, if we get some really warm weather, it can bring what historically we have called "Indian Summer."

first frosted fields
first frosted fields
Photo by J. Harrington

Maple  and sumac leaves are reaching peak color. Patches of woods have turned chrome yellow, florescent orange and flame red. Oaks are also turning, but more slowly, in more subdued hues from an earth tone palette. This morning's clear, blue skies, sunshine, and abundant splashings of  bright fall colors enhanced by our first really cold night and made us plain old "happy to be alive." (This is also our acknowledgement that today is World Mental Health Day.) How do you suppose we'd react if, instead of Summer's chlorophyl green, tree leaves were Autumn colorful for all the months that deciduous trees have leaves? Would we begin to take the beauty for granted? Would the variegation fade to background, as Summer's greens often seem to? If paradise didn't have four seasons, and dogs, given a choice, would you go?

sourdough-apple-cinnamon flatbread
sourdough-apple-cinnamon flatbread
Photo by J. Harrington

Several days ago we promised to let readers know how our apple-cinnamon-sourdough-flatbread turned out. The short answer is "better than we expected." A longer answer involves noting that there's clearly room for improvement, but it's good enough to be worth the effort to play with. Instead of making an apple-spice cinnamon syrup to drizzle (love that word) over the apples, we're going to mix the cinnamon spices and syrup with the apples and boiled cider, to give the apples a more uniform coating. At least, that's the intent. We also want to work on making the flatbread more uniform in thickness and to keep the edge crusts smaller. One thing we're considering is to leave out the yeast and see what happens with just the sourdough. On a scale of 0 to 10, we'd rate our first effort somewhere near a seven. We'll see if we can bring it up around a nine. Wish us luck.

Indian Summer Ritual



I was born in Indian Summer,
by the sea, at sun set—

I slid from my mother’s womb,
face to the sea

I felt a dolphin leap
from the sea for joy

I cried in agony because
I was naked, cold, beached

It was Indian summer
and the clouds were purple

It was Indian Summer
and Venus glowed in the West

It was Indian Summer
and the moon rose, a ripe, gold melon

It was Indian Summer
and fire was in the ascendant

It was Indian Summer
and I danced and danced with dolphins

all the first night of my birth,
until the eagle’s cry brought the sun

It was Indian Summer,
light wolves and dark wolves howled through the day

It was Indian Summer
and a snake shed its skin.

Then, and only then, was I properly
human. 


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Monday, October 9, 2017

Celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day

We've been a yes! magazine subscriber for a number of years now. We grew up on the south shore of Massachusetts within a short drive of Plimouth Plantation. We fail to understand how Columbus could have "discovered" North America since it wasn't missing. Native Americans knew where it was all the time. All of the above, and other, help explain today's posting, comprised largely of excerpts from that worthy journal.


Indigenous Peoples' Day

The "Honorable Harvest":
Lessons From an Indigenous Tradition of Giving Thanks

The Honorable Harvest, a practice both ancient and urgent, applies to every exchange between people and the Earth. Its protocol is not written down, but if it were, it would look something like this: 
Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.

Never take the first. Never take the last.

Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. 

Take only what you need and leave some for others.

Use everything that you take. 

Take only that which is given to you. 

Share it, as the Earth has shared with you. 

Be grateful. 

Reciprocate the gift.

Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.

Though we live in a world made of gifts, we find ourselves harnessed to institutions and an economy that relentlessly ask, “What more can we take from the Earth?” In order for balance to occur, we cannot keep taking without replenishing. Don’t we need to ask, “What can we give?”

The Honorable Harvest is a covenant of reciprocity between humans and the land. This simple list may seem like a quaint prescription for how to pick berries, but it is the root of a sophisticated ethical protocol that could guide us in a time when unbridled exploitation threatens the life that surrounds us. Western economies and institutions enmesh us all in a profoundly dishonorable harvest. Collectively, by assent or by inaction, we have chosen the policies we live by. We can choose again.

 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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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Getting good at making a difference #phenology

We hope this won't be the last day this year that it's pleasant to sit outside and write, but we recognize that possibility. The sapling maple we planted a year or two ago has reached peak color and the forecast threatens frost during the next few days.

maple sapling at peak color
maple sapling at peak color
Photo by J. Harrington

We've been pulling buckthorn again. There's now a nice brush pile for a Halloween bonfire, if the weather cooperates. For the most part, we think too many of us overreact to invasive species. Ten thousand or so years ago, the areas now invaded by buckthorn were covered by glaciers. As they melted, everything now growing where we are became an invasive species, didn't it? The idea of measuring the invasiveness of plants and animals by their impact only on humans seems the height of hubris. And yet, here we are pulling buckthorn. Why? Friends of the Mississippi River helped convince us with the following bits of information, among others:

buckthorn under black cherry tree
buckthorn under black cherry tree
Photo by J. Harrington

To us humans, a glen full of buckthorn just looks like a lush sea of bright green leaves. But to butterflies, bees and insect-eating birds, it's the equivalent of a barren desert.
While birds (and sometimes mice) do eat buckthorn berries, it's often because it's the only available seed source. But buckthorn berries are not a good food source. They're low in protein and high in carbohydrates and produce a severe laxative effect in some animals. For smaller birds, the laxative effect can even be strong enough to result in death. Adding insult to injury, the excreting birds also end up distributing the buckthorn seeds over long distances.
buckthorn under oak trees
buckthorn under oak trees
Photo by J. Harrington

The likelihood that we'll be able to eradicate buckthorn and write "done" is nonexistent. There are too many local reservoirs, including the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area. So, we'll plan on some buckthorn management days each future year and we'll plant natives to limit buckthorns opportunities to reinvade our property. You may well be wondering why we'd go to this much trouble. Look again at the photos. Then, remember this story adapted from some of Loren Eisley's writing?
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching.  As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea.  The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning!  May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!” 
adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
The first time we heard that story, long, long ago, we were dismayed at the boy's naivete.  Now, as Mr. Nobel Prize Laureate Dylan has written "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." Looked at another way, Stewart Brand has written "we are as gods, we might as well get good at it." We're slowly learning that pulling buckthorn can be fun. If what we plant to replace it isn't promptly eaten by deer, rabbits or pocket gophers, we'll have even more fun. (If it is eaten, we'll be reminded that we aren't the only species feeding on this earth.) Our purpose (check the Brand link) is to help create a healthy environment for children and other living things.

Starfish


This is what life does. It lets you walk up to 
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a 
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have 
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman 
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night, 
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological 
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old 
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it 
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the 
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you 
were born at a good time. Because you were able 
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And 
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland, 
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel, 
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.


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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Apple season, take a bite from the tree?

The sun's supposed to come out later this afternoon. We've taken advantage of a cloudy, damp morning to start trying a recipe for cinnamon-apple flatbread. The dough has almost finished its first rise and the apples (Haralsons) have been chunked and softened. (Next time we'll give them less time in the microwave or make sure the chunks are more uniform in size. They're wildly variable in degrees of softening.) So, for an otherwise "meh" day in October, we are in the process of enjoying several of our favorite things: local foods, baking sourdough, apples, and eventually, eating. We'll let you know how it turns out.

does an apple fall far from the tree?
does an apple fall far from the tree?
Photo by J. Harrington

While waiting for the dough to finish rising, we returned to rereading the last chapter of Limits to Growth: The Thirty-Year Update. All of a sudden, a strategy being followed by our Republican Overlords in Washington and Moscow was made clear with one sentence. We'll try to explain.

There are five tools listed as very helpful (essential?) during a transition to sustainability: visioning, networking, truth-telling, learning, and loving. Many of us, in many places in the U.S. and elsewhere, are well on our way to using these tools effectively. Perhaps not enough, but we've been progressing. But then, we (re)found a key sentence in the section on the truth-telling tool. "A system cannot function well if its information streams are corrupted by lies." We're just going to leave that there and let you think about it in light of what's been coming out of Washington, D.C. since late January of this year.

Do you believe our system of governance is supposed to be a democratic system? Did the founders create a three branch system of government, with each branch being co-equal to the others? Are we now in a time when all three branches are largely under the control of a single ideology, one which places personal (corporations are people) profit ahead of party and patriotism? Are we getting honest information about what our elected representatives are trying to do for to us? Our list of questions can keep growing but we think the point has been made.

We also realize that your answers to some of these questions may differ from ours, but we ask you to consider whether you and I both are indeed seeing signs of an effort not just to head our democracy in a different direction, but to undermine our very system of democratic governance by showering us in untruths, in lies! Is our democracy being corrupted by lying politicians, those we elected and trusted to govern in our best collective, democratic interests?

If what's going on these days were an effort to foster a return to a more self reliant society in which we can rely on each other, would so many lies be necessary? If, the current administration's purpose is to create an autocracy, further an oligarchy, what better than to create a non-system, one in which we're constantly unsure of who we can trust? Please think, very, very hard, about these questions and even harder about your answers. Each of us has to decide about these concerns each and every day between now and Tuesday, November 6, 2018. That's when we have to make some even greater decisions. Perhaps we've been frustrated by divided government, but, in our democracy, divided government may be the best we can hope for until our on very human natures improve. Unless, of course, you think a totalitarian state will be better for your descendants.

A Short History of the Apple



The crunch is the thing, a certain joy in crashing through
living tissue, a memory of Neanderthal days.
   —Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, 1929


Teeth at the skin. Anticipation.
Then flesh. Grain on the tongue.
Eve’s knees ground in the dirt
of paradise. Newton watching
gravity happen. The history
of apples in each starry core,
every papery chamber’s bright
bitter seed. Woody stem
an infant tree. William Tell
and his lucky arrow. Orchards
of the Fertile Crescent. Bushels.
Fire blight. Scab and powdery mildew.
Cedar apple rust. The apple endures.
Born of the wild rose, of crab ancestors.
The first pip raised in Kazakhstan.
Snow White with poison on her lips.
The buried blades of Halloween.
Budding and grafting. John Chapman
in his tin pot hat. Oh Westward
Expansion. Apple pie. American
as. Hard cider. Winter banana.
Melt-in-the-mouth made sweet
by hives of Britain’s honeybees:
white man’s flies. O eat. O eat.


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Friday, October 6, 2017

Autumn? mum's the word #phenology

The full Harvest Moon has been cloud-shrouded the past couple of nights. We may miss seeing that big orange globe this year, but we have some photos that can serve as a fall-back. This may also turn out to be one of those years when we never get to see a woolybear caterpillar. That would be even more of a disappointment, or it could turn into a good reason to head for Wild River State Park next week, to see if there's woolybears crossing those roads.

Harvest moon 2014
Harvest moon 2014
Photo by J. Harrington

Speaking of road crossings, over the past week or so we've seen more dead opossums on the local roads than we remember ever seeing before. We're not sure what's going on unless the local possum population has reached some kind of peak. On a more cheerful note, flocks of what we think may be juncos have been erupting from the roadsides over the past few days. Blackbirds are flocked up and chittering from local corn fields. We noticed them today as we were taking the snow blower in for pre-season maintenance and stopped to make sure the tie-down straps hadn't come loose on the trailer. (Most years we forget to deal with this human phenological sign until after Thanksgiving or the first blizzard of the season, whichever comes first.) So it looks as though seasonal migrations are underway.

chrysthanthemums along drive, 2013
chrysthanthemums along drive, 2013
Photo by J. Harrington

Last, and certainly far from least, this year's handful of potted chrysthanthemums are now sitting along the edge of the drive. We'll be happy to let the Better Half and/or the Daughter Person decide where they'll live, but we feel better, and more in the spirit of the season, now that we have our autumn mums brightening the drive. We've been doing that for some years now and it's almost become a tradition.

                     October



O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.



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Thursday, October 5, 2017

How did we lose one of our rivers?

The last of a series of ten Town Hall Meetings "to accelerate the pace of progress towards clean water" will be held in Stillwater this evening. Since we're often posting about water issues here, you might expect us to be in attendance. The major watershed for the East Metro meeting is the Lower St. Croix, our home waters. We're not going. We're in a fit of pique. Here's why!

Sunrise River flowing into the St. Croix
Sunrise River flowing into the St. Croix
Photo by J. Harrington

If you look at the information packets available online. our county, Chisago, is listed for each of the two Twin Cities metro meetings on 25 By 25, as are Wright, Isanti and Sherburne county. The information packet for those meetings, however, shows only the seven county metro area under the jurisdiction of the Metro Council. We actually live in the Sunrise River watershed, a tributary to the St. Croix. It enters the St. Croix near the northern end of Wild River State Park.

Sunrise River at Wild River State Park
Sunrise River at Wild River State Park
Photo by J. Harrington

We firmly believe people need to be able to identify which watershed they're in, at all times! What happens on the land ends up in the water much of the time. Would a Minneapolitan visiting Itasca State Park realize that a can of oil they might have spilled near the river could, after flowing downstream, get picked up by the intake to the Minneapolis water system? We care about what we know about. We need to know more about our linkages to the watersheds and airsheds that provide us with clean water and clean air.

We're pleased that Governor Dayton is engaging Minnesotans to raise awareness of water issues. We've already offered our suggestions and posted them on line. But, from our perspective, the Dayton administration has violated one of Aldo Leopold's fundamental guides for conservation, to whit: "To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering." We're not sure whether the Sunrise River watershed is considered a cog or a wheel, but someone failed to keep it when the organized the Town Hall information. That leaves us wondering what else got left out. It also reinforces our belief that Minnesota must reorganize and simplify it's administrative boundaries to better align with bioregions, especially watersheds. As noted in Minnesota's Water Sustainability Framework:

RECOMMENDATION J.1.e : Create watershed-scale Watershed and Soil Conservation Authorities (WSCAs) throughout the state with the responsibility of implementing the goals of the Minnesota Water Sustainability Act.


                     New Water



All those years—almost a hundred—
the farm had hard water.
Hard orange. Buckets lined in orange.
Sink and tub and toilet, too,
once they got running water.
And now, in less than a lifetime,
just by changing the well’s location,
in the same yard, mind you,
the water’s soft, clear, delicious to drink.
All those years to shake your head over.
Look how sweet life has become;
you can see it in the couple who live here,
their calmness as they sit at their table,
the beauty as they offer you new water to drink.


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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Feeding woodpeckers, watching dragonflies #phenology

The neighborhood is starting to dry out. We took advantage of the damp soil and pulled a handful of buckthorn and scrub cedars this morning. In the process, we noticed a dragonfly and a butterfly, each of unknown species, flitting and swooping over the little bluestem covered fields under pleasantly blue October skies. This afternoon, while dog-walking, another late-season dragonfly appeared.

late season dragonfly on country road
late season dragonfly on country road
Photo by J. Harrington

We haven't seen many birds at the feeders over the past few days. They're starting to reappear as a cool breeze evaporates the accumulated damp. The almost dry wet spot in the back yard again has an observable water level. Downy (hairy?) woodpeckers (we're at a bad angle to judge sizes) have been grabbing sunflower seeds and flashing away. A red-bellied woodpecker (again, so we think, due to poor lighting) arrived, grabbed a seed and left. It's too early still to put up suet feeders. We want to be sure the local bears have settled down for their long Winter's nap before we hang suet. Meanwhile, regular crews of black-capped chickadees and red- and white-breasted nuthatches occasionally mob the scene and depart like paparazzi chasing a rap star or other contemporary royalty.

It felt, and was, good again to be doing some actual physical work after several days when we stayed dry and thought about work rather than doing any outside. The poet from Paterson, William Carlos Williams, claimed "No ideas but in things." Our response would be to raise the question "The idea, or the thing?" Do you remember the commercial "Is it live, or is it memor...?" Our need grows: to shift balance more to the real world and away from backlit screens; to pull woody weeds to prepare for a planned garden; to go so far as to once again participate in our township's roads and bridges committee, not just fuss about how inept local government can be. (It's not clear where this leaves us on the "part of the problem versus part of the solution scale." Stay tuned.)

colorful pumpkin attract late season bees
colorful pumpkin attract late season bees
Photo by J. Harrington

All of the above reflects current thoughts about trying nature's way of avoiding monocultures, mixing species and habitats to see what works best, being profligate in exploring optimization and exploring alternative habitats (think dandelion seeds). The culture that coevolved with capitalism and neoliberalism is almost perfectly suited to support the past few centuries of growth and development. History and ecology try to teach us that the better the fit between an organism and its environment, the more at risk that organism is when the environment changes, as, eventually, it always has.

Where will we get our hot mix asphalt when we're no longer a fossil fuel driven economy? How do we plan now for such a transition? To pave or not to pave, that is the question, but is it the right question? Perhaps we need to better heed Samuel Beckett's observation "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

                     The Problem



You are trying to solve a problem.
You’re almost certainly halfway done,
maybe more.

You take some salt, some alum,
and put it into the problem.
Its color goes from yellow to royal blue.

You tie a knot of royal blue into the problem,
as into a Peruvian quipu of colored string.

You enter the problem’s bodegas,
its flea markets, souks.
Amid the alleys of sponges and sweets,
of jewelry, spices, and hair combs,
you ponder which stall, which pumpkin or perfume, is yours.

You go inside the problem’s piano.
You choose three keys.
One surely must open the door of the problem,
if only you knew only this:
is the quandary edible or medical,
a problem of reason or grief?

It is looking back at you now
with the quizzical eyes of a young, bright dog.

Her whole body pitched for the fetch,
the dog wants to please.
If only she could ascertain which direction,
what object, which scent of riddle,
and if the problem is round or elliptical in its orbit,
and if it is measured in foot-pounds, memory, or meat.



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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Do rivers have anniversaries? #phenology

Autumn colors have come on strong in the local maple leaves during the past few days. The Better Half noticed some color change in the local tamaracks, preceding leaf drop later this season. Still haven't found any neighborhood woolly bear caterpillars, although several days of rain may have washed all of them downstream.

Wild & Scenic Rivers 50th anniversary logo

Speaking of "downstream," yesterday afternoon we briefly stopped by the WaterShed Cafe for a meet and greet with Julie Galonska, the recently appointed Superintendent of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. In the near future, the St. Croix will begin celebration of its part in the 50th anniversary of the federal Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. We're looking forward to seeing and participating in what the Park Service and their partners come up with.

St. Croix, early October
St. Croix, early October
Photo by J. Harrington

It's been many years since we first read Roderick Haig-Brown's classics, Fisherman's Fall and Fisherman's Spring. Haig-Brown's home water was the Campbell River. Ours is now the St. Croix. We know of no one who has written about the St. Croix the way Haig-Brown has written about the Campbell, or the way Norman Maclean has written about the Blackfoot River. Nor have we found much, other than Haig-Brown, that describes the seasons of a river and the phenology that accompanies those seasons. Maybe that's something we could work on over the next year or so to help the St. Croix celebrate its anniversary.

[UPDATE: The Better Half reminds us of Noah Adams' St. Croix Notes. We pulled our copy to refresh our recollections. As we recall, the river itself is a relatively minor character, but the framework does reflect the seasons in the valley.]

 where water comes together with other water


by Raymond Carver


I love creeks and the music they make.
And rills, in glades and meadows, before
they have a chance to become creeks.
I may even love them best of all
for their secrecy. I almost forgot
to say something about the source!
Can anything be more wonderful than a spring?
But the big streams have my heart too.
And the places streams flow into rivers.
The open mouths of rivers where they join the sea.
The places where water comes together
with other water. Those places stand out
in my mind like holy places.
But these coastal rivers!
I love them the way some men love horses
or glamorous women. I have a thing
for this cold swift water.
Just looking at it makes my blood run
and my skin tingle. I could sit
and watch these rivers for hours.
Not one of them like any other.
I'm 45 years old today.
Would anyone believe it if I said
I was once 35?
My heart empty and sere at 35!
Five more years had to pass
before it began to flow again.
I'll take all the time I please this afternoon
before leaving my place alongside this river.
It pleases me, loving rivers.
Loving them all the way back
to their source.
Loving everything that increases me. 


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