Wednesday, December 13, 2017

MAGA -- improve railroad travel!

We've spent four of the past six days on Amtrak's Empire Builder and Lake Shore Limited, traveling from St. Paul to Boston and back after a couple of days and a surprise birthday party in Boston for a younger sister. If we were the type to believe in such things, and we're working on that, we could readily believe that the picture below, taken at St. Croix Chocolate almost exactly one year ago, foretold our recent train travel.

did this foretell, by a year, an upcoming trip?
did this foretell, by a year, an upcoming trip?
Photo by J. Harrington

We have vague recollections of other train trips, way back in the late 1940s or early 1950s, We think, but can't confirm, that train is how we traveled from Boston to Atlanta for a couple of years when our father was teaching at Georgia Tech. After our recent trip, and comparing it with plane travel, we'd really like to see Amtrak add some amenities and better market them. More comfortable seats and sleepers, more room in the compartments, some improvements in the menus, although the food was good, and some approached better, the offerings were uneven.

Polar Express at Union Station, Chicago
Polar Express at Union Station, Chicago
Photo by J. Harrington

Another noteworthy deficiency we found was the overall lack of decent wifi-internet access. It was entirely missing from St. Paul to Chicago on the Empire Builder and available from Chicago to to around Erie PA and then disappeared again. Also, lake effect snow managed to freeze closed the doors and stairs of several "first class" cars, so we had to detour through a couple of cars to de-train. That's not a fatal flaw, but lake effect snow can't be a surprise and obviously hasn't yet been included as a design basis for passenger rail cars.

Christmas Tree in Union Station
Christmas Tree in Union Station
Photo by J. Harrington

Enough of the kvetching. Union Station's Christmas decorations were superb. South Station, in Boston, triggered an ear worm of Jimmy Buffet's old song, as delivered by Willie Nelson. (see below)

We enjoyed the trip, especially the company we traveled with, returned slightly worn but not much tattered and are now trying to finish Christmas preparations and a few projects we left behind while we were gone. It was fun to go traveling and nice to get back home again.

Railroad Lady


by Jimmy Buffett and Jerry Jeff Walker 


She’s a railroad lady
Just a little bit shady
Spending her days on the train
She’s a semi-good-looker
The fast rails they took ‘er
Now she’s tryin’, just tryin’ to get home again

South Station in Boston to the freight yards of Austin
From the Florida sunshine to the New Orleans rain
Now that the rail packs
Has taken the best tracks
She’s tryin’, just tryin’ to get home again

She’s a railroad lady
Just a little bit shady
Spending her life on the trains
Once a Pullman car traveler
Now the brakeman won’t have ‘er
She’s tryin’, just tryin’ to get home again

Once a high balling loner he thought he could own ‘er
He bought her a fur and a big diamond ring
She hopped on for cold cash
Left town on the Wabash
Never thinking, Never thinking of home way back then

But the rails are now rusty
The dining car’s dusty
The gold plated watches have taken their toll
The railroads are dying
And the lady she’s crying
Now she’ tryin’, just tryin’ to get home again

She’s a railroad lady
Just a little bit shady
Spending her life on the train
She’s a semi-good looker
But the fast rails the took ‘er
Now she’ tryin’, just tryin’ to get home again

On a bus to Kentucky and home once again 


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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

En transit

Am Trak wifi internet connections are about non-existent between Boston, MA and Erie, PA and slow and sporadic West of Erie. That's why today's posting will be brief. Plus, it's hard to report on much when you've been in a sleeping compartment for more than 24 hours. And typing is a pain as the car lurches side to side.

We aren't at the "Seen one farm field (or tree, or scrap yard), you've seen them all, but we can better understand how some folks might come to those kinds of assessments. The small towns and cities are different, except where they've been infested by national (global) chains. We're wondering if they reproduce through seeds, or spores, or rhizomes or...?

Is this charmer on "The Range" or in "The Cities?"
Is this charmer on "The Range" or in "The Cities?"
Photo by J. Harrington

Traveling by train, or auto, does give one a better sense of having travelled and of just how large this country is. No wonder we find it hard to get along. We may often agree on the same goals, healthy family, satisfying work, good friends, but have very different ways of attaining those goals. And we don't often understand how those different ways complement or contradict each other.

We have a suggestion for TPT. How about devoting 15 minutes of Almanac each Friday to having on location folks in Greater Minnesota talk about ("Show and Tell") what's important to them and why. Maybe then, the following week, more urban types could respond with how "The Cities" approach the same topic or theme. Maybe that would help more of us get out of our own bubbles. What say you @mlahammer or @CathyWurzer , care to help bridge an urban-rural divide? How do we get more Minnesotans talking about what we have in common?



                     The Two Hermits



Upon a lonely mountain, there lived two hermits who worshipped God
and loved one another.

Now these two hermits had one earthen bowl, and this was their only
possession.

One day an evil spirit entered into the heart of the older hermit
and he came to the younger and said, “It is long that we have
lived together.  The time has come for us to part.  Let us divide
our possessions.”

Then the younger hermit was saddened and he said, “It grieves
me, Brother, that thou shouldst leave me.  But if thou must needs
go, so be it,” and he brought the earthen bowl and gave it to him
saying, “We cannot divide it, Brother, let it be thine.”

Then the older hermit said, “Charity I will not accept.  I will
take nothing but mine own.  It must be divided.”

And the younger one said, “If the bowl be broken, of what use would
it be to thee or to me?  If it be thy pleasure let us rather cast
a lot.”

But the older hermit said again, “I will have but justice and mine
own, and I will not trust justice and mine own to vain chance.  The
bowl must be divided.”

Then the younger hermit could reason no further and he said, “If
it be indeed thy will, and if even so thou wouldst have it let us
now break the bowl.”

But the face of the older hermit grew exceedingly dark, and he
cried, “O thou cursed coward, thou wouldst not fight.”

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Boston, at Christmas

I recognize and remember the "bones" of downtown, although much of the flesh has changed. But Christmas time in the city is a time of magic.

Downtown Crossing, Boston's version of Nicollet Mall
Downtown Crossing, Boston's version of Nicollet Mall
Photo by J. Harrington

The State House viewed across Boston Common
The State House viewed across Boston Common
Photo by J. Harrington

City sidewalks 1
City sidewalks 1
Photo by J. Harrington

City sidewalks 2
City sidewalks 2
Photo by J. Harrington

City sidewalks 3
City sidewalks 3
Photo by J. Harrington

Silver Bells



Silver bells, silver bells
It's Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, (ring-a-ling) hear them ring (ting-a-ling)
Soon it will be Christmas day


City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas
Children laughing, people passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you hear


Silver bells, (silver bells) silver bells (silver bells)
It's Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, (ring-a-ling)
Hear them ring, (hear them ring)
Soon it will be Christmas day


Strings of street lights, even stoplights
Blinkin' bright red and green
As the shoppers rush home with their treasures
Hear the snow crunch, see the kids bunch
This is Santa's big day
And above all this bustle you hear


Silver bells (The corner Santa Claus)
Silver bells (Is busy now because)
It's Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, it fills the winter air
Hear them ring, you hear it everywhere
Soon it will be Christmas day


City sidewalks, busy sidewalks (Silver bells)
Dressed in holiday style (Silver bells)
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas (It's Christmas time in the city)
Children laughing, people passing (Ring-a-ling)
Meeting smile after smile (Hear them ring)
Very soon it will be Christmas day


Songwriters: Jay Livingston / Ray Evans


Silver Bells lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC


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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Surprise! Birthday

Just a quick note to let you know that we can now reveal the traveling.  We're back in Boston and just left an extended Surprise Birthday Party for our younger sister. We couldn't reveal what we've been doing or where for fear of blowing our cover. More details soon. In some ways, Thomas Wolfe was right, "you can't go home again." Just as Heraclitus was right to tell us that we can't step into the same river twice. (Both we and the river are constantly changing.)

Boston Garden, Frog Pond from Four Seasons Hotel
Boston Garden, Frog Pond from Four Seasons Hotel
Photo by J. Harrington

Crossroads

The second half of my life will be black 
to the white rind of the old and fading moon. 
The second half of my life will be water 
over the cracked floor of these desert years. 
I will land on my feet this time, 
knowing at least two languages and who 
my friends are. I will dress for the 
occasion, and my hair shall be 
whatever color I please.
Everyone will go on celebrating the old 
birthday, counting the years as usual, 
but I will count myself new from this 
inception, this imprint of my own desire.

The second half of my life will be swift, 
past leaning fenceposts, a gravel shoulder, 
asphalt tickets, the beckon of open road. 
The second half of my life will be wide-eyed, 
fingers shifting through fine sands, 
arms loose at my sides, wandering feet. 
There will be new dreams every night, 
and the drapes will never be closed. 
I will toss my string of keys into a deep 
well and old letters into the grate.

The second half of my life will be ice
breaking up on the river, rain
soaking the fields, a hand
held out, a fire,
and smoke going
upward, always up.


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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Swan song #phenology

It was nearly one year ago that we noticed the swan pictured on Bone Lake. We never did learn how that tale ended.

Trumpeter swan straggler, Bone Lake, 2016
Trumpeter swan straggler, Bone Lake, 2016
Photo by J. Harrington

For more years than last, we've been promising ourselves that we would set aside time in December or January to track down and photograph trumpeter swans we've heard about, reputed to Winter over around Hudson, WI. From time to time, we see an occasional swan, or handful, near the river as we're driving around Stillwater and vicinity, but never in large numbers, and even more frustrating, never in a location we can safely pull over and take pictures.

The return of cold air and snow on the ground reminds us that it's once again time to dig out the "to do" list and move "find and photo swans" to near the top. It seems an unusual but fitting phenology event. SWans along the St. Croix in Summer are no particularly big deal. Wintering over swans is a different story. So far, it's bee like trying to get a picture of a "will-o-the-wisp," although I'd be more inclined to search for one of those further North, where there are more bogs.

                     The Silver Swan



The silver swan, who living had no note,
When death approached, unlocked her silent throat;
Leaning her breast against the reedy shore,
Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more:
“Farewell, all joys; Oh death, come close mine eyes;
More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.”

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Sustainable mining resources

Here's a list of many of the sustainable mining resources we've come across over the past several years:

North Country Lake at Boundary Waters Canoe Area
North Country Lake at Boundary Waters Canoe Area
Photo by J. Harrington

There are others and we'll see about adding them when we aren't hindered by outrageously slow wifi bandwidth.

For now, we'll settle for asking these questions:
  • Does the US have a major initiative for moving mining beyond compliance toward sustainability?

  • Does Minnesota have an initiative to bring mining into a certification program for sustainableity, as it has with state forests?



 Ode to the Electric Fish that Eat Only the Tails of Other Electric Fish,



which regenerate their tails
and also eat only the tails of other electric eels,
presumably smaller, who, in turn, eat ... 
Without consulting an ichthyologist — eels
are fish — I defer to biology’s genius.
I know little of their numbers
and habitat, other than they are river dwellers.
Guess which river. I have only a note,
a note taken in reading
or fever — I can’t tell, from my handwriting, which. All
I know is it seems
sensible, sustainable: no fish dies,
nobody ever gets so hungry he bites off more
than a tail; the sting, the trauma
keeps the bitten fish lean and alert.
The need to hide while regrowing a tail teaches guile.
They’ll eat smaller tails for a while.
These eels, these eels themselves are odes!

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sustainable Mining for Minnesota?

From the reading we've been doing over the past several years, and in light of EPA's recent decision about dropping rules for mining cleanup of pollution, we ask you to consider a few questions.

St. Louis River, downstream of proposed PolyMet mine
St. Louis River, downstream of proposed PolyMet mine
Photo by J. Harrington

Even though Minnesota has state financial assurance rules, do they cover the potential of a catastrophic failure like occurred recently at Mount Polley?

Do we want to continue to have mining activities be based on current regulations, or best practices in the mining sector?

How do we get mining companies to recognize the need and value added by going beyond compliance?

Do you know that the United Nations has adopted Sustainable Development Goals and that there's a pilot study of how they relate to mining?

Are you aware that the international mining sector, with the help of major foundations, is exploring how to become more sustainable and have thus better access to financing and markets? (They often go together because of improved risk management.)

We believe there is a better way forward unless we can create a society that doesn't rely on metals. Do you have an open mind about the questions: Where do environmental protection and sustainable development best come together? Does making mining sustainable involve achieving agreement on where mining should NOT be done?

Father’s Memory of a Mexican Mining Camp


Softly, it always began softly.
Then slowly swelled to a wail.
Men’s voices. Maybe seven of them
up on the hill behind the house.
A breeze through the window
stirred the curtains like clouds.
I was five, or six. Around midnight
it would start—such a doleful sound.
They were drinking. It was Saturday
and the mines were closed. Their song
would wake me—their longing.
It was a language I knew,
though I couldn’t make out the words.
But the music—that was theirs.
Some ancient secret. A string of notes
piecing together who they once were.
My twin brother slept soundly.
I was alone with this mystery.
It haunts me even now, this lament
to their gods. If flowers were songs—
if the marigold sang, it would mourn
like this. I imagine them still
sitting on a dark hill chanting
their dirge. Some nights I wake—
I hear them. I don’t remember
my dreams, so I dutifully make
my way to the window.
All I see are clouds and mist.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Ice, yes; snow, yes; ice and snow, No! #phenology

Today is the Daughter Person's natal celebration day. We wish her many, many, many happy and healthy returns of the day. She's a native Minnesotan, conceived, born and raised here. Some day soon (as Judy Collins sings) we'll have to ask her what she thinks of the recent coverage on Eric Dayton and "North." Personally, we like the concept more than the reality of Minnesota Winters but things do look more "normal" with some snow cover at this time of year.

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

In addition to the large pools in the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, there are several small ponds in the neighborhood that, as the ice redevelops, remind us of days of our youth in a New England suburb and the joys of skating on fresh, clean (safe) ice. As we recall, Letters fromSide Lake, or another one of Peter Leschak's books, has one or two delightful pieces about skating in the North Country. Thinking about this comparison, between skating in Massachusetts and in Minnesota, makes us wonder if we are becoming acclimated or naturalized.

tracks in snow on ice
tracks in snow on ice
Photo by J. Harrington

One difference we've noted though is that Massachusetts, as we recall, did a better job of producing "clean" ice, without snow or slush messing a smooth surface. More often than not in Minnesota, it seems that, just about the time ice has set up, we get a rain/snow mix that freezes into a trashy surface for skating. Maybe that's just as well for our sake. We doubt our aging bones and muscles would take well to the rigors of skating (and falling) on pond ice and we would undoubtedly be tempted to recapture some elements of our youth and what passed for early adulthood on skates, with a stick shaped sort of like an "L" in our hands. On the other hand, it's usually more action than ice fishing. Last, and certainly not least, snow-covered ice provides a great surface for reading critter tracks.

We're going to be traveling over the next week or so and don't know what we'll have for internet access. We'll post as we can and catch up late next week if need be. Leave a light on for us, if you would. Thanks.

                     North



I returned to a long strand,
the hammered curve of a bay,   
and found only the secular
powers of the Atlantic thundering.

I faced the unmagical
invitations of Iceland,
the pathetic colonies
of Greenland, and suddenly

those fabulous raiders,
those lying in Orkney and Dublin   
measured against
their long swords rusting,

those in the solid
belly of stone ships,
those hacked and glinting
in the gravel of thawed streams

were ocean-deafened voices
warning me, lifted again
in violence and epiphany.
The longship’s swimming tongue

was buoyant with hindsight—
it said Thor’s hammer swung
to geography and trade,
thick-witted couplings and revenges,

the hatreds and behind-backs
of the althing, lies and women,   
exhaustions nominated peace,   
memory incubating the spilled blood.

It said, ‘Lie down
in the word-hoard, burrow   
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.   
Expect aurora borealis   
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure   
your hands have known.’



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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

WInter's return #phenology

chickadee blown from feeder
chickadee blown from feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

The seeds on the ground are covered with a crusted layer of snow. Chickadees frantically grab a sunflower seed or a smidgeon of suet from the feeders and dash back to a sheltered spot out of the cold, harsh wind. A pileated woodpecker pounds on the now frozen suet with success at flaking off edible chips. Winter has returned to the North Country.

(young?) pileated woodpecker feeding on suet
(young?) pileated woodpecker feeding on suet
Photo by J. Harrington

We tried playing (again) with manual focus on our camera's telephoto lens. Autofocus gets all confused when we shoot through glass windows. We think we're starting to get the hang of it but we need to remember to hold the camera and lens from underneath, not from the side. These birds look cold because it is cold. The windchill is in low single digits, although the sun is shining. Roads over much of the state are a mess, ditches full of skidded vehicles.

icicles on birdbath's rim
icicles on birdbath's rim
Photo by J. Harrington

Last night's wind blew water over the edge of the heated bird bath, creating icicles which don't seem to belong on a heated birdbath. The snow-encrusted back yard remains essentially trackless. We suspect the four-legged critters that live around here are going to stay bedded down until the wind calms. We haven't seen any turkeys in long enough that we can't begin to guess where they are. The snow certainly isn't deep yet so they can get around without much trouble. Maybe they're taking a page from Robert Lewis Stevenson's book and spending Winter in a warmer nook. We certainly share the poet's sentiments.

Picture-books in Winter


Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850 - 1894


Summer fading, winter comes—   
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs   
Window robins, winter rooks,   
And the picture story-books.   
   
Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;   
Still we find the flowing brooks   
In the picture story-books.   
   
All the pretty things put by,   
Wait upon the children’s eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,   
In the picture story-books.   
   
We may see how all things are,   
Seas and cities, near and far,   
And the flying fairies’ looks,
In the pictyure story-books.   
   
How am I to sing your praise,   
Happy chimney-corner days,   
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,   
Reading picture story-books?


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Monday, December 4, 2017

Strange season #phenology

The Christmas amaryllises are coming along nicely, it seems. But, as if they were human siblings, they're all developing differently.

amaryllises looking over green (and brown) grass
amaryllises looking over green (and brown) grass
Photo by J. Harrington

This year's tree is decorated. Yesterday, most of the family spent hours wrapping presents and putting them under the tree. Yr obt svt is, as usual at this season, the laggard. We're starting to catch up and we've long favored the tortoise in the race with the hare. Where you finish is more important than when you start, right?

presents under the tree
presents under the tree
Photo by J. Harrington

That attitude also applies to this year's ice formation, or lack thereof. The warm weather we've had has left us with more open water than ice cover. The only thing that seems in synch with "normal" rhythms are the downey, hairy and pileated woodpeckers visiting the suet while the red-bellied woodpecker shows up once in awhile to enjoy a few sunflower seeds.

Sometime between now and tomorrow morning we may see the return of snow, followed by blustery winds. That's befitting the season even if freezing precipitation gives us fits.

                     A Country Boy in Winter



The wind may blow the snow about,
For all I care, says Jack,
And I don’t mind how cold it grows,
For then the ice won’t crack.
Old folks may shiver all day long,
But I shall never freeze;
What cares a jolly boy like me
For winter days like these?

Far down the long snow-covered hills
It is such fun to coast,
So clear the road! the fastest sled
There is in school I boast.
The paint is pretty well worn off,
But then I take the lead;
A dandy sled’s a loiterer,
And I go in for speed.

When I go home at supper-time,
Ki! but my cheeks are red!
They burn and sting like anything;
I’m cross until I’m fed.
You ought to see the biscuit go,
I am so hungry then;
And old Aunt Polly says that boys
Eat twice as much as men.

There’s always something I can do
To pass the time away;
The dark comes quick in winter-time—
A short and stormy day
And when I give my mind to it,
It’s just as father says,
I almost do a man’s work now,
And help him many ways.

I shall be glad when I grow up
And get all through with school,
I’ll show them by-and-by that I
Was not meant for a fool.
I’ll take the crops off this old farm,
I’ll do the best I can.
A jolly boy like me won’t be
A dolt when he’s a man.

I like to hear the old horse neigh
Just as I come in sight,
The oxen poke me with their horns
To get their hay at night.
Somehow the creatures seem like friends,
And like to see me come.
Some fellows talk about New York,
But I shall stay at home.



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Sunday, December 3, 2017

December #phenology, Home Range

Aldo Leopold's shack is one state east and not very far south of us. A Sand County Almanac's chapter on December focuses on chickadees (one of our favorites) rabbits, deer and pines. All are native to the North Country. All have home ranges of varying sizes.

chickadee at December feeder
chickadee at December feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

The Solstice Season can be a very good time to think about what home range means to us humans. Our home ranges are highly variable. According to those who study such things, humans' original home range was the African continent. Christians honor and celebrate the birth of Christ at this time of year. Mary and Joseph were far from their home at the time of birth. Is home where we were born?

Yr obt svt's  original home range was New England, particularly Massachusetts' South Shore and Cape Cod, although we were born in Boston, much of our growing up occurred South of there. Is home where we grow up?

For many years now, we've been raising our children in Minnesota. They're native Minnesotans, we're not. We're naturalized Minnesotans. We're still working on what it takes to make our adopted state home. We have a home here, but is home where we live?

Years ago, we came across and read the book, The Heart of All That Is: Reflections on Home. A pair of native Minnesotans, Paul Gruchow and Jim Brandenburg collaborated to produce a Minnesota masterpiece: Minnesota, Images of Home, published in a limited edition by the Blandin Foundation.

Phenology can be a wonderful way to learn your home range, wherever you happen to be. The pileated woodpecker, who we almost never see in the Summer, just flew from the suet feeder. Chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers and blue jays provide entertainment during the Winter months. December is the only month when many homes have a real tree in the living room.

in December, we welcome a tree into our home
in December, we welcome a tree into our home
Photo by J. Harrington

Range can refer to area or space. It also includes daily temperature, seasonal temperature, precipitation, and activities, or lack of them. Bears are denned up but will soon have cubs being born.
How soon will great horned owls start mating, or have they already?

                     Home Fire



Whether on the boulevard or gravel backroad,
I do not easily raise my hand to those who toss
up theirs in anonymous hello, merely to say
“I’m passing this way.” Once out of shyness, now
reluctance to tip my hand, I admire the shrubbery
instead. I’ve learned where the lines are drawn
and keep the privet well trimmed. I left one house
with toys on the floor for another with quiet rugs
and a bed where the moon comes in. I’ve thrown
myself at men in black turtlenecks only to find
that home is best after all. Home where I sit
in the glider, knowing it needs oil, like my own
rusty joints. Where I coax blackberry to dogwood
and winter to harvest, where my table is clothed
in light. Home where I walk out on the thin page
of night, without waving or giving myself away,
and return with my words burning like fire in the grate. 


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Saturday, December 2, 2017

Unseasonal #phenology, Winter to the dogs!

Early this morning, the fullish moon cast silvery beams on the frosty grasses the dog tiptoed her way through. Not much air was stirring so the cold wasn't really uncomfortable. I was ready to stand around and enjoy a mellow feeling but the dog hurried me back into the house. She wanted her breakfast.

For most of us, boating season ended long ago. Not for the hardy soul who was canoeing on the open Sunrise River today as it flowed through Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area North of County Road 36. Since humans are part of nature, our seasonal behavior must fit somewhere in a phenology calendar. Today's sighting of a December canoeist certainly is an indication that global warming is affecting our seasonal patterns.

We didn't take time to grab a photo because we were with the Better Half and one of our dogs who has recently shown even more aberrant behavior than usual. An obedience refresher course seemed in order. We didn't want to be late and had never been to this trainer's before. Much to our pleasant surprise, Franco was mostly on his better behavior. He showed no signs of assertiveness toward any of the other dogs or humans at the class. He pretty much did as he was told, much of the time. At question time, we were told his misbehavior is unusual, but not unheard of for dogs his size and that, as often happens with animals, computers and vehicles, much of the problem is probably attributable to operator error. If you've never been to canine obedience school, we're pleased to inform you that more of the trainer's time and energy is focused on the human animals than on the canines. Seems reasonable to me.

a young Franco contemplating his "forever" home
a young Franco contemplating his "forever" home
Photo by J. Harrington

A major observation we made this morning, since we were the one in observation, rather than operator, mode, was that the amount of similarity in dog behavior is really impressive, given the variety of breeds, sizes, etc. we watched in the training facility. Another observation, or, maybe a conclusion from our observations, is that 99.999% of all dogs are con artists. We often figured our dogs train us as much as we try to train them. It's a constant, ongoing contest that our lives would be very much more empty without.

Spending more than three hours in a barely heated barn left us thoroughly chilled but not miserably cold. We wonder if the barn would have been more heated if the weather were more seasonably cold and so the net effect is we would have been less chilled learning how to psych out our four-footed companion. Based on our accumulated experiences in barns over the years, probably not. There are probably fewer heated barns than heated garages in the North Country. We simply didn't dress for the occasion and the duration.

a worried SiSi dreaming of her next meal
a worried SiSi dreaming of her next meal
Photo by J. Harrington

We're still looking around for additional December phenology details. Maybe tomorrow. Canoes in December is enough of a breakthrough for today. Some other day soon, we'll have to visit Ray Bradbury's Dogs Think That Every Day Is Christmas. It fits the season.



                     Man Dog



I envied the dog lying in the yard
so I did it. But there was a pebble
under my flank so I got up and looked
for the pebble, brushed it away
and lay back down. My dog thus far
overlooked the pebble. I guess it's her thick
Lab fur. With my head downhill the blood gorged
me with ideas. Not good. Got up. Turned around. Now I
see hundreds of infinitesimal ants. I'm on an
ant home. I get up and move five feet.
The dog hasn't moved from her serene place.
Now I'm rather too near a thicket where
I saw a big black snake last week that might decide
to join me. I moved near the actual dog this time
but she got up and went under the porch. She doesn't like
it when I'm acting weird. I'm failing as a dog
when my own kind rejects me, but doing better
than when I envied birds, the creature the least
like us, therefore utterly enviable. To be sure
I cheeped a lot but didn't try to fly.
We humans can take off but are no good at landing.


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Friday, December 1, 2017

It's WINTER! #phenology?

Today's temperature got up to the mid-forties where we were. In fact, we spent over an hour in a gazebo meeting with someone. It got chilly, but remained tolerable. Winter in the North Country is not supposed to be like this. It's almost as if the climate were warming or something.

full moon setting, December 2016
full moon setting, December 2016
Photo by J. Harrington

Despite the unseasonable temperatures, today is the beginning of meteorological Winter. Did you see this morning's waxing gibbous moon? It was beautiful and looked like the moon was wearing a jaunty cap that covered the 6% that wasn't brightly shining. Tomorrow start's December's full moon phase, known to the Anishnaabe (Chippewa, Ojibwe) asmanidoo-gizisoons (small spirits moon or Little Spirit Moon). According to Muskrat magazine, it is "a time of healing. By receiving both vision of the spirits and good health, we may walk the Red Road with purest intentions, and we can share this most positive energy with our families and friends for the good of all." However, the same article claims the Little Spirit Moon occurs in November, and December is Big Spirit Moon. At the end of the article is the note "The 13 Grandmother Moon teachings are from “Kinoomaadiewinan Anishinabek Bimaadinzinwin, Book Two. Author Arlene Berry." We will have to see if we can get a look at that and learn something about the differences in moon naming patterns. We'll report back when or if we learn anything.

In very slightly less than two weeks, we'll get to enjoy the Geminid Meteor Shower on the night of the 13th and morning of the 14th. Local phenology events this month are pretty sparse. We'll poke around over the weekend and see what else, other than the upcoming holidays, there is to watch for.

                     December



Lodged tight for days
in a corner of the wall,
ladybug can’t resist the tree,

crawling now over cold
light, ceramic fruits,
tinsel lamb and sleigh.

Flies out of the tree
to try rum cake on a
plate of caroling cherubs.

Ends up on her back,
wings flared, silly girl
spinning over the kitchen floor.

Later, between the blinds,
tiny bump of silhouette:
a stillness against the falling snow.



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Thursday, November 30, 2017

'Tis the season.... when Cookie Monsters prowl!

We're looking at some open water almost everywhere. It's going to be quite a shock when this extended spell of above average temperatures, plus sunshine!, comes to an end, now forecast to be a little less than a week away. But then we'll be well into the Christmas season, when snow and cold are needed in the North Country, or else things seem awry. Even we, who consistently fail to appreciate sufficiently the pleasures and beauty of the Winter Solstice season, would miss it if we didn't have a "White Christmas."

'tis Christmas cookie season!
'tis Christmas cookie season!
Photo by J. Harrington

Thus far there's been no sign or talk about Christmas cookies or a gingerbread village. We're not sure whether to harass the Better Half and the Daughter Person or to simply take matters into our own hands. (Or, maybe, when the Better Half reads this she'll take the hint.)

and time to visit the Gingerbread Village
and time to visit the Gingerbread Village
Photo by J. Harrington

If not, since we can bake bread, we can probably handle gingerbread and cookie dough, right? But, to be honest, we're much better at munching than baking Christmas treats. Christmas cookie thoughts seem to be as nice a way as any, or at least as any we can think of, to bring November to a close. Tomorrow will be December 1, a definitive beginning to the holiday season. Then it's only 20 Days more until Winter solstice.

If you're inclined to celebrate the solstice, you might enjoy this piece we discovered this morning, in which Robert Macfarlane describes The Eeriest Novel I Know. We're tempted, very tempted, to see if it's available through our local library. (It is and we placed it on Hold.) Christmas provides a perfect cover for indulging in our second, third or fourth childhood. Now we have something to read while we enjoy our cookies.

Eating the Cookies


Jane Kenyon, 1947 - 1995


The cousin from Maine, knowing
about her diverticulitis, let out the nuts,
so the cookies weren’t entirely to my taste,
but they were good enough; yes, good enough.

Each time I emptied a drawer or shelf
I permitted myself to eat one.
I cleared the closet of silk caftans
that slipped easily from clattering hangers,
and from the bureau I took her nightgowns
and sweaters, financial documents
neatly cinctured in long gray envelopes,
and the hairnets and peppermints she’d tucked among
Lucite frames abounding with great-grandchildren,
solemn in their Christmas finery.

Finally the drawers were empty,
the bags full, and the largest cookie,
which I had saved for last, lay
solitary in the tin with a nimbus
of crumbs around it. There would be no more
parcels from Portland. I took it up
and sniffed it, and before eating it,
pressed it against my forehead, because
it seemed like the next thing to do.


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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Demography? Democracy? Where do they meet?

We live in a largely rural region. Some local farmers are still harvesting corn. Most cornfields are down to stubble. Bean fields look like they've been shaved and covered with tan felt. Haven't noticed any Winter cover crops coming up yet. Lack of cover, snow or crop, leaves soil vulnerable to the winds we've had the past few days. Will this weather pattern bring a bumper snirt [snow + dirt] season soon? It's forecast to get colder over the next week or so, but no mention (yet) of significant snow. Maybe political snow jobs will have to do for now.

Minnesota has 8 Congressional Districts
Minnesota has 8 Congressional Districts

We often write here about bioregionalism. Perhaps the time has come to start thinking about Bioregional Democracy. After the last presidential election, and some recent votes by some of Minnesota's members of congress, we're thinking more and more about whether we live in a representative democracy. For today, we'll just outline some examples of the kinds of things that leave us scratching our head.

We frequently mention that we grew up in Massachusetts, one of the six New England states. The area of Massachusetts is 10,565 square miles. Massachusetts had an estimated population in 2016 of 6.8 million people, represented in Congress by 9 members of the House. We now live in Minnesota, which has an area of slightly less than 87,000 square miles, about 8 times the size of Massachusetts, with a 2017 estimated population of 5.6 million people, represented by 8 House members. Each state's House members represent about 700,000 to 800,000 people per member. Here's where things seem to us to go awry. We now live in Minnesota's 8th congressional district which, by itself, has an area of 27.5 thousand square miles and a population (2016 estimate) of slightly less than 700,000. Both Minnesota and Massachusetts are represented by 2 senators. But, based on area, shouldn't Minnesota have more than 2 senators. Or, maybe the Eighth Congressional District should petition for separate statehood?

Massachusetts has 9 Congressional Districts
Massachusetts has 9 Congressional Districts

Looking at the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election and comparing that with the electoral college vote, there's clearly something else out of whack. Clinton received 65,853,625 votes (48.0%) compared to Trump's 62,985,106 votes (45.9%), yet the popular vote loser received 306 Electoral College votes compared to the popular vote winner's 232 EC votes. That makes about as much sense as Massachusetts having 2 senators to represent 10.5 thousand square miles and Minnesota's CD8 having one quarter of a senator to represent 27.5 thousand square miles. I'm not convinced that replacing the electoral college is a solution,  but I am certain that the system we now have is broken. I wish more folks were commenting on that than on the latest Tweets from #45. Whatever happened to our priorities? Have we declined to the level of Rome's bread and circuses? Might Walt Whitman have been too optimistic?



                     For You O Democracy



Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
                   With the love of comrades,
                      With the life-long love of comrades.

I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America, and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,
I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks,
                   By the love of comrades,
                      By the manly love of comrades.

For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme!
For you, for you I am trilling these songs.


Source: Leaves of Grass (1892)                                             


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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Political winds blowin' answers wrong

It's unseasonably warm. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. But, the wind is howling. Some of the cut greens Christmas decorations beside the front steps were inadequately anchored and secured. We fixed that, we think. That all depends on whether the winds get stronger than they've already been blowing. At least we don't have to shovel the wind, but the answers blowin' in the wind aren't the ones we should be looking for.

There are two pieces of legislation moving in the House in Washington.

is Birch Lake in Northern Minnesota more worthy of protection?
is Birch Lake in Northern Minnesota more worthy of protection?
Photo by J. Harrington

Representative Tom Emmer's H.R. 3905, MINNESOTA'S ECONOMIC RIGHTS IN THE SUPERIOR NATIONAL FOREST ACT, and Representative Nolan's H.R. 3115, SUPERIOR NATIONAL FOREST LAND EXCHANGE ACT OF 2017. Each of these pieces of legislation is intended to supplant the due process of environmental review and permitting, and land exchange at a fair market value assed value with power politics decisions.

I wonder what the implications of these acts will be for Minnesota's ability to manage the resources within it's boundaries. Do you recall there being any public hearings in Minnesota on either of these pieces of bad precedents? Here's a list of Congressman Emmer's Town Halls. The most recent listed was back in February. His bill was introduced in October. Does anyone recall any discussion of the proposed legislation at an Emmer Town Hall? Congressman Nolan's local events are more numerous, but his efforts to avoid due process decisions and to cost taxpayers real value have triggered negative reactions for Iron Rangers.

All of the preceding is of particular interest to us because we see the consequences of Emmer's and Nolan's efforts as driving a further wedge between those who might otherwise be inclined to try to rationally discuss alternative ways to demonstrate that Minnesotans are intelligent enough to find ways to have both jobs and a protected environment. Canada has developed an approach called "Toward Sustainable Mining," [TSM].
TSM was developed to help mining companies evaluate the quality, comprehensiveness and robustness of their management systems under six performance protocols: 
  Tailings management
  Energy use and greenhouse gas emissions management
  Aboriginal and community outreach
  Crisis management planning
  Safety and health
  Biodiversity conservation management
It requires third party certification of compliance with protocols. Such an approach might, we repeat, might offer both higher environmental performance and more assurance of permit issuance than Minnesota's current system. It might also offer an opportunity to reach agreement on where in Minnesota is too risky to mine sustainably.

is the St. Louis River in Northern Minnesota less worthy of protection?
is the St. Louis River in Northern Minnesota less worthy of protection?
Photo by J. Harrington

When we first moved to Minnesota, several decades ago, this state was understandably proud of its environmental quality and protections. Whatever happened to the culture that supported enactment of the state's Minnesota Environmental Protection Act? When did we decide that a scorched earth policy was the only way we could create jobs? How did our members of congress become convinced that setting very bad precedents was what we wanted them to do? It's less than a year until we get to confirm or deny the correctness of their judgement. Compare the performance protocols listed above and tell me that our current permitting systems, and the two pieces of bad legislation in the House, are equivalent to Canada's current system. Is Minnesota really trying to win a race to the bottom, so we can become bottom feeders?

[UPDATE: H.R. 3115 passed the House. No Senate companion, but House could try to amend it to a "must pass" piece of legislation.]

Boundary Waters


by Sheila Packa


Off the road
where lichen and thick moss
take in minerals
beneath the balsam
over the border
past the landing
in the stone face of granite
above the water's mirror
small islands where
root dives into stone
amid broken limbs
of white pine
behind the reflection of day
into dark endings
reached for my own reaching
hand in the cold water
of October—
a tail flick of a fin
among the sunken
shoulders
in a vein of ore.
To take from another body
is a question
answered by loon
or by the morning rime
with weasel
searching the char of a cold fire.
After the urgent
animal of the body—
a heavy frost
and the moose that trod
over our path
running, hunted.       

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