Sunday, December 31, 2017

#Resistance is just the start!

As 2017 shudders to a stop, and 2018 starts to wind up, we've grown tired of putting out trumpster fires. Resisting is not enough. What are we for? That's the question we have to answer each and every day from now on. What's our vision and what are we doing to attain it? If we end up ridding ourselves of #45 through impeachment, only to inherit Pence as #46, things might stop getting worse, but they won't necessarily get better.

Several years ago we discovered a fantastic cd by Ani Di Franco and Utah Phillips, The Past Didn't Go Anywhere. It has, among others, a wonderful song, Which Side Are You On?, originally written by Florence Reece. We were reminded of that yesterday as we noticed this picture in our Twitter timeline. (We failed to notice who we should credit.)


shop local photo

Think about that the next time you're tempted to save 32 cents online or at a big box. It's not just voting that's political, everything we do has politics wrapped around it or embedded in it. James Howard Kunstler tried to educate us about that when he wrote The Long Emergency. Years ago, we were taught that "The best way to predict the future is to create it." As you prepare to celebrate New Year's Eve and the start of a Happy New Year!, think about what kind of future you want to create for all of us and our children. If you're having trouble picturing it, read the sign in the picture again, please. Read about Utah Phillips, read Kunstler, Wendell Berry. Ask a child what they hope for and dream of. That's as good a place to start as any.

Enjoy 2018. Make all of it be a Happy New Year, whether it wants to or not!

Let America Be America Again


Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!


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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Winter CSA challenges #phenology

The folks at the Winter Community Supported Agriculture farm couldn't get their truck started this morning. We had driven to the drop off / pick up location in temps of -19, so we were disappointed, but not surprised when we got an email notifying us that they were warming and charging the battery and hoped to be starting in an hour or so.

Coffee Talk, Taylors Falls
Coffee Talk, Taylors Falls
Photo by J. Harrington

Our pick up location is in Taylor's Falls. We were at Coffee Talk, enjoying a cappuccino with the Better Half, when the email arrived. Rather than continue to sit drinking caffeinated beverages and hope for the best, we decided to do other Saturday chores and return later to pick up our box of vegetables.

saying "good-bye" until next year
saying "good-bye" until next year
Photo by J. Harrington

Meanwhile, back on the home front, the Daughter Person and the Son-In-Law were busy decommissioning the Christmas tree. Most years we try to hold on to it until the Feast of the Epiphany. This year we bought early so it's coming down early. The blooms on the first amaryllis are starting to fade, although the second one looks like it might open this week. All in all, we're sliding from the Christmas season into the New Year.

Despite the bitterly cold temperatures and even worse wind chills, many Minnesotans are going about seasonal and daily activities both inside and out. We even spent some time this morning chipping ice from the unheated rim of the heated bird bath. At the moment, the only downside we see with starting a new year is that next year is when we promised ourselves that we'd finish labeling all our photos and develop a better attitude. We just hope we haven't set ourselves up for failure. At least they're not New Year's resolutions. We made one of those years ago to never make another. It's the only New Year's resolution we've ever kept. Time to go see if our CSA shares box is ready yet. Tonight, we'll enjoy squash soup made from the contents of the last shares box we picked up.

[UPDATE: spinach, root vegetables, garlic, fruit cake? and other goodies are being safely put in our pantry. Delivery completed.]

                     Bleak Weather



Dear love, where the red lillies blossomed and grew,
The white snows are falling;
And all through the wood, where I wandered with you,
The loud winds are calling;
And the robin that piped to us tune upon tune,
Neath the elm—you remember,
Over tree-top and mountain has followed the June,
And left us—December.

Has left, like a friend that is true in the sun,
And false in the shadows.
He has found new delights, in the land where he's gone,
Greener woodlands and meadows.
What care we? let him go! let the snow shroud the lea,
Let it drift on the heather!
We can sing through it all; I have you—you have me,
And we’ll laugh at the weather.

The old year may die, and a new one be born
That is bleaker and colder;
But it cannot dismay us; we dare it—we scorn,
For love makes us bolder.
Ah Robin! sing loud on the far-distant lea,
Thou friend in fair weather;
But here is a song sung, that’s fuller of glee,
By two warm hearts together.

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Friday, December 29, 2017

Toward a Happy(ier) New Year!

Despite all the books patiently waiting for us to read them, stacked in corners and piled on top of book cases, plus the books added to those stacks and piles at Christmas, we've decided there are at least two more books we need to read early (1st quarter?) next year. Why? Because they're reported to be optimistic, realistic, and offer positive responses to the trumpster fire that was 2017.

The World We Made cover

The first book was published a few years ago and somehow escaped being picked up on our radar screen. An interview with its author, Jonathon Porritt, published in ensia, came to our attention this morning. The book is The World We Made. Here's the "take-away" from the ensia interview:
"I think that the most important thing we can do now is not to give into temptation to spend all of our engaged minutes learning everything that’s going wrong and focusing on the slow sliding away into the apocalypse. Psychologically, we spend too much time on that. We devote a huge amount of our political and psychological energy to trying to stop more bad things from happening. We’ve got to use our available advocacy time and capacity to persuade people that good and exciting things are there and are available. What I’d like is for people to say, “Yeah, OK, I’ve got it. Let’s grab a little bit of that and make that happen in our community, whether it’s a community farm, or renewable energy, or we’re going to think about this differently.” Whatever it’s going to be, do the solutions as well as keep your mind alert to the problems."
DRAWDOWN cover

The second book is by someone whose works we've been reading for years. Paul Hawken has recently published Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Hawken delivers a message (un)surprisingly similar to Porritt's:
When it comes to global warming, Hawken says, we’ve been “focusing too much on the problem instead of the solution…. Regenerative development is development, whether it’s on an urban, transportation, housing, marine agriculture, or health level. It’s development that actually heals the future as opposed to stealing from it, which is what we’re doing today.” 
We've notice that, since election day 2016, our mood has become darker and darker. We've been focusing more and more on the problems. For the new year coming, we're going to remember, as Buffalo Springfield taught us long, long ago,
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away
Since we've often been told that "The best defense is a good offense," we're going to be more positive in 2018 and do our best to be as offensive as we can creating a better world on terms we think are best. We've also been told, time and again, that "the proper definition of a problem is half the solution." Our new, proper, we hope, definition of the problem will be to focus on solutions and let the problems take care of themselves.

Burning the Old Year


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

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

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

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


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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Cast your bread upon the ...??? #phenology

It's cold. Snowflakes, the fine, easily windblown kind, have been falling all morning without much accumulation. The usual suspects have been flitting to and fro at and beneath the feeders. Temperatures have crept above zero, but not by much. We imagine that the local deer and turkeys are bedded and roosted in the most sheltered locations they can find. Deer can, and do, browse on twigs if there's no mast crop. We're not sure what turkeys feed on when the acorn crop is below average. That may be something to research one of these days.

it's the time of year to look for cardinals at the feeder around sunset
it's the time of year to look for cardinals at the feeder around sunset
Photo by J. Harrington

We'll also be researching ways to improve our gluten-free artisan bread. Yesterday's sourdough loaves turned out well. The gluten-free boule, not so much. We can report that it wasn't as good as the sourdough, or our usual artisan bread. We can claim that it wasn't a complete failure, or that it was a mitigated success. If we're being honest, we can also report that we were surprised at how irritated we became when the Daughter Person suggested ways we could improve our gluten free bread. Imagine, a younger person telling us, US, how to do something better. We fear we may have totally qualified for membership in the grumpy old fart club yesterday. We'll probably try some of her suggestions next loaf of gluten-free we bake, and if they work, use a couple of slices to make a crow sandwich we can then proceed to eat.

On the brighter side, the second amaryllis may, within the next month or so, open it's flowers. The third one, we doubt will every produce, but then we thought yesterday we had figured out how to bake gluten-free bread. Learning to live with and in a moderate or higher degree of uncertainty may be a useful trait these days.

one amaryllis in full bloom
one amaryllis in full bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

Did you prepay your property taxes? As far as we can tell, our county hasn't produced assessments or bills so we don't think we can qualify for a federally deductible prepayment of our property taxes. We're also having a challenging time sorting our what is or isn't covered in  the state's new and "improved" CVS pharmacy management program. Let's just leave it at the idea it seems yet another great argument for a single-payer plan. The changes imposed on beneficiaries to save a few dollars feel more like cost-shifting than cost savings.

Does Winter diminish your normally sunny personality? Or are you one of those who relishes the kind of weather we're having because it keeps out the "riffraff?" We're pleased as punch (thank you, Hubert!) to note that the days have already picked up a few minutes of daylight since the Solstice and that there's only 63 days until meteorological Spring. Now we need to go find some way to enjoy the present moment for the next 63+ days. Often, Spring in Minnesota is but a momentary pause between Winter and Summer.

The Metier of Blossoming


Denise Levertov, 1923 - 1997


Fully occupied with growing—that’s
the amaryllis. Growing especially
at night: it would take
only a bit more patience than I’ve got
to sit keeping watch with it till daylight;
the naked eye could register every hour’s
increase in height. Like a child against a barn door,
proudly topping each year’s achievement,
steadily up
goes each green stem, smooth, matte,
traces of reddish purple at the base, and almost
imperceptible vertical ridges
running the length of them:
Two robust stems from each bulb,
sometimes with sturdy leaves for company,
elegant sweeps of blade with rounded points.
Aloft, the gravid buds, shiny with fullness.

One morning—and so soon!—the first flower
has opened when you wake. Or you catch it poised
in a single, brief
moment of hesitation.
Next day, another,
shy at first like a foal,
even a third, a fourth,
carried triumphantly at the summit
of those strong columns, and each
a Juno, calm in brilliance,
a maiden giantess in modest splendor.
If humans could be
that intensely whole, undistracted, unhurried,
swift from sheer
unswerving impetus! If we could blossom
out of ourselves, giving
nothing imperfect, withholding nothing!


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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Some #phenology of bread

With the temperatures today and the past few days, we're expecting a major press release from Sen. Inhofe announcing "I told you so!" The house is cool enough to make sourdough starter we fed unhappy and sourdough itself say "What do you mean, rise?" (It's -17℉ outside, which has dropped the kitchen air temperature to the mid-to-upper 60's, according to our handy-dandy instant thermometer that we'll use later to check bread doneness.) Nevertheless, we persisted, although we never thought we might live somewhere that gets too hot (in Summer), and too cold (now), to make bread baking easy and convenient. We're cheating a little by preheating the oven and using the escaped heat to make the fed starter, the sourdough, and our hands, feel better.

sourdough bread from our homemade starter
sourdough bread from our homemade starter
Photo by J. Harrington

Later, we'll try a variation on the artisan bread recipe we've used for several years, but we'll make it with gluten-free flour. Some of us like sourdough; some prefer artisan bread; some think they're gluten-intolerant, others, no. The pantry is getting complicated with the varieties of flour. We may need to get more serious about our baking efforts and getting better organized (a never-lasting goal).

artisan bred, where we started
artisan bred, where we started
Photo by J. Harrington

An email in our in basket this morning suggests we pick up Saturday's CSA share as early as possible, to minimize the likelihood of having the contents freeze. Since our CSA drop / pickup is at one of our favorite coffee shops, we think we can readily accommodate an early pickup. Maybe we'll even be sitting there waiting for the CSA boxes to arrive.

We took a short break to do some errands. Our Jeep, which has waited patiently in its stall for the past few days, started right up. Then, as we drove down the road, our fancy dashboard informed us that all four tires were down 5 to 6 pounds of pressure. Air contracts when cold. In the good old days, before high tech touch screens (which don't work well at -15) and air pressure sensors, we would have happily driven around never knowing about the low tire pressures. Since adding air now would probably create a need to let some out when temperatures climb, we stopped by our friendly local service advisor to confirm our suspicion that there's enough air pressure that the tires won't jump off the rims, and decided to pretend we couldn't see the nagging notices all over our high tech dash. Isn't progress wonderful/

Two loaves of sourdough bread just went into the oven. Our very own hybrid version of artisan bread dough is rising in a bowl on the counter. One boule of that will get baked later. If our artisan-loving, gluten intolerant housemates like it, we'll bake some more. If not, we'll heave this batch of dough and try a different recipe next time. I think the poet has been bitten by the bread baking bug and become alliterative. Wish him, and his guinea pigs, luck with his experiments.

                     Bread



Each night, in a space he’d make
between waking and purpose,
my grandfather donned his one
suit, in our still dark house, and drove
through Brooklyn’s deserted streets
following trolley tracks to the bakery.

There he’d change into white
linen work clothes and cap,
and in the absence of women,
his hands were both loving, well
into dawn and throughout the day—
kneading, rolling out, shaping

each astonishing moment
of yeasty predictability
in that windowless world lit
by slightly swaying naked bulbs,
where the shadows staggered, woozy
with the aromatic warmth of the work.

Then, the suit and drive, again.
At our table, graced by a loaf
that steamed when we sliced it,
softened the butter and leavened
the very air we’d breathe,
he’d count us blessed.



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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

B-b-brrrrr! #phenology

We aren't likely to get above up to 0℉ today. The current temperature is -6 and the windchill about -15. Snow is in Thursday's forecast, but today the sun is shining. We've been keeping the sunflower and suet feeders full and the dog walks have been mercifully brief.

downy woodpecker
downy woodpecker
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday and today we noticed downy, hairy, red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers at the feeders; plus nuthatches and chickadees; juncos hopping about the woods; blue jays on the branches and squirrels at ground level and in the trees.

The bigger birds do't seem overly affected by our arctic outbreak. They have a more reasonable surface to volume ratio. The chickadees though are almost all surface. What little volume they have is all fluffed up against the cold. Think for a minute about how long and how well you might endure being out in these temperatures. Chickadees, those minuscule sparks of life, do it twenty-four hours a day after day. We are in awe of their persistence and resilience, and their ability to perk us up when we're feeling otherwise.

puffed up chickadee
puffed up chickadee
Photo by J. Harrington

One of several books we received for Christmas is "The Naturalist's Notebook for Tracking Changes in The Natural World Around You." It includes a 5-year calendar-journal. It's not often we receive a present that has us looking forward to the next five years. Now we'll have to sort out whether blog postings feed the journal, or vice versa or none of the above.

                     Good-bye, and Keep Cold




This saying good-bye on the edge of the dark
And cold to an orchard so young in the bark
Reminds me of all that can happen to harm
An orchard away at the end of the farm
All winter, cut off by a hill from the house.
I don't want it girdled by rabbit and mouse,
I don't want it dreamily nibbled for browse
By deer, and I don't want it budded by grouse.
(If certain it wouldn't be idle to call
I'd summon grouse, rabbit, and deer to the wall
And warn them away with a stick for a gun.)
I don't want it stirred by the heat of the sun.
(We made it secure against being, I hope,
By setting it out on a northerly slope.)
No orchard's the worse for the wintriest storm;
But one thing about it, it mustn't get warm.
"How often already you've had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard. Good-bye and keep cold.
Dread fifty above more than fifty below."
I have to be gone for a season or so.
My business awhile is with different trees,
Less carefully nourished, less fruitful than these,
And such as is done to their wood with an axe—
Maples and birches and tamaracks.
I wish I could promise to lie in the night
And think of an orchard's arboreal plight
When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)
Its heart sinks lower under the sod.
But something has to be left to God.

Monday, December 25, 2017

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

The context:



Original Caption Released with Image:
This narrow-angle color image of the Earth, dubbed 'Pale Blue Dot', is a part of the first ever 'portrait' of the solar system taken by Voyager 1. The spacecraft acquired a total of 60 frames for a mosaic of the solar system from a distance of more than 4 billion miles from Earth and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic. From Voyager's great distance Earth is a mere point of light, less than the size of a picture element even in the narrow-angle camera. Earth was a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. Coincidentally, Earth lies right in the center of one of the scattered light rays resulting from taking the image so close to the sun. This blown-up image of the Earth was taken through three color filters -- violet, blue and green -- and recombined to produce the color image. The background features in the image are artifacts resulting from the magnification.
Image Credit:
NASA/JPL

Image Addition Date:
1996-09-12

The consequence:

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

-- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994


May your days be filled with the blessings of new beginnings, new perspectives, old traditions and a miracle or two!

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

Photo by J. Harrington


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Sunday, December 24, 2017

'Twas the Day Before Christmas

We started writing a post for today that was going to go in a different direction than this one. Then, as we were getting a fresh cup of coffee, we slowed down enough to think about how Christmas, not Juul or Winter Solstice or any of the other celebrations humans have enjoyed at this time of year, but Christmas came to be. And then we thought about how life has changed for lots of less fortunate folks since about a year ago. And then we remembered our days, too long ago now, spent with "hippie" friends in the coffee houses of Cambridge, MA and a geodesic dome somewhere near Mad River and White River Junction Vermont. Those memories brought to mind what may seem an unusual Christmas carol, at least non-traditional, but that conveys, we believe extremely well, what Christmas really is supposed to be all about. In case anyone in and around Mar-A-Lardo, or Washington, D.C., reads this, please play the following as loud as you can. Maybe it will get through to those who would lead us to "better days."

Nativity scene on Boston Common
Nativity scene on Boston Common
Photo by J. Harrington


"There But For Fortune"


Phil Ochs



Show me the prison, show me the jail
Show me the prisoner, whose life has gone stale
And I'll show you a young man
With so many reasons why
And there but for fortune, go you or I......mm, mm

Show me the alley, show me the train
Show me the hobo, who sleeps out in the rain
And I'll show you a young man
With so many reasons why
And there but for fortune, go you or I, mm, mm

Show me the whiskey, stains on the floor
Show me the drunkard, as he stumbles out the door
And I'll show you a young man
With so many reasons why
And there but for fortune go you or I, mmm, mm

Show me the country, where the bombs had to fall
Show me the ruins of the buildings, once so tall
And I'll show you a young land
With so many reasons why
And there but for fortune go you and I, you and I. 


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Saturday, December 23, 2017

'Tis the eve of Christmas Eve

It's Minnesota cold. The sun is shining. Last night we celebrated the Son-In-Law's graduation from college. It's Christmas time. All is calm, all is bright! Right? Not quite! From yesterday's Star Tribune:

Fortunately, before I could get bent too far out of shape, I came across Maria Popova's piece, A Reflection on Living Through Turbulent Times. Give yourself an early Christmas present, follow the link and read it. A shift in perspective from 4+/- billion miles doesn't make our issues less important. It does give them an aura of solvability, I think. If that doesn't do it for you, read, twice or more, the ending two stanzas of today's poem.

Christmas, 2017
Christmas, 2017
Photo by J. Harrington

Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play, 
    And wild and sweet 
    The words repeat 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And thought how, as the day had come, 
The belfries of all Christendom 
    Had rolled along 
    The unbroken song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

Till ringing, singing on its way, 
The world revolved from night to day, 
    A voice, a chime, 
    A chant sublime 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

Then from each black, accursed mouth 
The cannon thundered in the South, 
    And with the sound 
    The carols drowned 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

It was as if an earthquake rent 
The hearth-stones of a continent, 
    And made forlorn 
    The households born 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 

And in despair I bowed my head; 
“There is no peace on earth," I said; 
    “For hate is strong, 
    And mocks the song 
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 
    The Wrong shall fail, 
    The Right prevail, 
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”


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Friday, December 22, 2017

'Twas the Day After Solstice, a seasonal wish

We have an early Christmas present for some, perhaps all of you. It depends on how much of a William Gibson fan you are. We loved the Neuromancer and quite enjoyed some of his other works. Gibson offers an observation that we find to be quite cheering, if we look in the right places. He's reported to have noted that "The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed."

If we turn our minds and hearts from the idiocy currently being perpetrated in Washington, D.C., we can find good news scattered about. For example, we recently learned that Kinross Gold preserved fish and wildlife habitat with Trout Unlimited and RMEF. That's not the kind of behavior we would have expected historically from a mining company.

In a similar vein (sorry, we couldn't resist), the Northern Plains Resource Council has a several times amended Good Neighbor Agreement with the Stillwater Mining Company. The key provisions of which are that it:
  • Provides for citizen oversight of mining operations to ensure protection of the area’s quality of life and productive agricultural land;

  • Establishes clear and enforceable water quality standards that go above and beyond state requirements;

  • Provides local communities with access to critical information about mining operations and the opportunity to address potential problems before they occur;

  • Ensures public safety and security while protecting the interest of miners through traffic plans designed to reduce mining traffic on country roads;

  • Raises the bar for environmental excellence by setting goals and objectives for developing new technologies. This is accomplished through a cooperative framework of local citizens, third-party experts, and the mining company.

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

We find ourselves wonder if a similar agreement might be possible in Minnesota, and what it might take to bring one about for something like the proposed PolyMet project. Could an agreement be crafted that would adequately address the concerns of many of the stakeholders who currently, and with good reason, strongly oppose copper-nickel sulfide mining that puts precious Minnesota water resources at unacceptable risk?
Gibson's premise makes me wonder if the emergence of things like Good Neighbor Agreements, the growing interest in the possibility of "sustainable" mining and the increasing recognition that our earth's resources have limits, both in sources and sinks may not be signs of an unevenly distributed future we need to bring about more broadly. That's at least one of our Christmas wishes for this year.

near the entrance of the Boundary Waters
near the entrance of the Boundary Waters
Photo by J. Harrington

Oh, and lest any of you think we may have eaten too many holiday sweets and become Pollyanna-is,   today we also signed up to help Save Bristol Bay from a resurgent Pebble Mine proposal. It seems to us that there needs to be a much better balance between the need for metal resources and the quality of the other natural resources that are put at risk. Search our prior postings on sustainable mining if this interests you. We need to make mining companies, and government regulators and our elected leaders, more sensitive to the idea that a social license to mine doesn't include a license to kill places or their inhabitants.

The Everglades



Green and blue and white, it is a flag
for Florida stitched by hungry ibises.

It is a paradise of flocks, a cornucopia
of wind and grass and dark, slow waters.

Turtles bask in the last tatters of afternoon,
frogs perfect their symphony at dusk—

in its solitude we remember ourselves,
dimly, as creatures of mud and starlight.

Clouds and savannahs and horizons,
its emptiness is an antidote, its ink

illuminates the manuscript of the heart.
It is not ours though it is ours

to destroy or preserve, this the kingdom
of otter, kingfisher, alligator, heron.

If the sacred is a river within us, let it flow
like this, serene and magnificent, forever.

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Solstice Amaryllis

The Christmas Amaryllis Tale

amaryllis, December 4, 2017
December 4, 2017
Photo by J. Harrington

amaryllis, December 14, 2017
December 14, 2017
Photo by J. Harrington

amaryllis, December 16, 2017
December 16, 2017
Photo by J. Harrington

amaryllis, December 19, 2017
December 19, 2017
Photo by J. Harrington

amaryllis, December 20, 2017
December 20, 2017
Photo by J. Harrington

amaryllis, December 21, 2017
December 21, 2017
Photo by J. Harrington

Perhaps the laggards will arrive by Christmas, or maybe the Epiphany?

                     Amaryllis



A flower needs to be this size
to conceal the winter window,
and this color, the red
of a Fiat with the top down,
to impress us, dull as we've grown.

Months ago the gigantic onion of a bulb
half above the soil
stuck out its green tongue
and slowly, day by day,
the flower itself entered our world,

closed, like hands that captured a moth,
then open, as eyes open,
and the amaryllis, seeing us,
was somehow undiscouraged.
It stands before us now

as we eat our soup;
you pour a little of your drinking water
into its saucer, and a few crumbs
of fragrant earth fall
onto the tabletop. 


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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

MidWinter's Eve? #phenology


Thanks to Robert Macfarlane @RobertGMacfarlane, Julia Bird @juliamarybird, the author Susan Cooper, and my local library, we're now in the midst of reading The Dark Is Rising. There's an online Twitter book club, check #TheDarkIsReading. It was through this book that we first became aware of an anomaly.

Today is referred to as "MidWinter's Eve." Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. It is beyond our comprehension, but not our speculative powers, to grasp how MidWinter and the First Day of Winter can occur on the same day, but it must be so. Wikipedia notes it in the first sentence of it's coverage. If we can't agree on seasons, phenology becomes even more challenging.

If we speculate that there was a time when only two seasons, Summer (growing) and Winter (non-growing) were observed, then Winter Solstice is roughly mid-way between the beginning of October and the end of March. It is quite confusing though when one stops to think about it.

The book, on the other hand, is a delight, although somewhat eerie and scary, but no more so than what's been happening in Washington, D.C. recently. We'll wait until we've finished this volume before we decide whether to add the other four books in the series to our reading list. Meanwhile, we wish someone would hang lots of holly around the halls of Congress to protect us from the Dark Forces.

holly, to protect us from the Dark Forces rising at this time of year
holly, to protect us from the Dark Forces rising at this time of year
Photo by J. Harrington

For now, we wish all of you a Happy Solstice, Happy Juul, Saturnalia, or whatever feast you choose to celebrate as the year reaches it's turning from shortening days to lengthening ones. Renewal comes again.

Toward the Winter Solstice

Although the roof is just a story high,
It dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
And cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
A dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
Will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
And call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
We all are conscious of the time of year;
We all enjoy its colorful displays
And keep some festival that mitigates
The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
But UPS vans now like magi make
Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
Are gaily resurrected in their wake;   
The desert lifts a full moon from the east
And issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
And valets at chic restaurants will soon
Be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
The fan palms scattered all across town stand
More calmly prominent, and this place seems
A vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
The tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
Of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
And ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It’s comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born.


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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Country living, a Christmas tale

Life in the country can be tranquil, but not always. Several weeks ago we had a visitor, a springer spaniel that belongs to someone more than a mile up the road. It took awhile, but we managed to get dog and owner together again.

This morning the Better Half left for work at her normal early hour. Shortly thereafter, she reentered the house with an announcement: "There's three horses at the end of our driveway!" (No photos, it was still morning-dark and we feared a flash might spook the animals.)

neighbor's horses (not the ones at the driveway this morning) in Summer
neighbor's horses (not the ones at the driveway this morning) in Summer
Photo by J. Harrington

Daughter Person assigned us to grab a few apples. Son-In-Law called the sheriff's office. On our own, we thought to grab some of the longer ropes and leads we have hanging in the garage and back hall. The Better Half remained as an observer at the road end of the driveway. By the time we reinforcements arrived, we looked around and said "What horses?" (Actually, we had seen them earlier through the front door sidelight windows.) The animals had wandered off.

Daughter Person headed for the house of the neighbor we know keeps horses (but the ones we saw didn't look like the draft animals that live across the road). Neighbor get's awakened. Says all his horses are where they belong; dresses; slowly drives down the road, looking for the horses and to check with another horse-keeping neighbor near where the dog came from.

Winter sunrise over neighbor's fence
Winter sunrise over neighbor's fence
Photo by J. Harrington

We've been know to misplace our truck keys on occasion, and once upon a time we were infamous for misplacing our check book. We can, gratefully and honestly, say we've never misplaced a dog or a horse, let alone three horses. We'd also note that such things never happened when we lived in the city, except that we've learned to Never Say Never!

We hope this turns out to be another "all's well that..." and look forward to soon providing a happy ending to this Christmas tale. For now, all we can say is "stay tuned."

Oh, and don't forget to enjoy whatever that strange light is up in the sky. We hope it's not an omen of something to fear.



                     All Your Horses



Say when rain
cannot make
you more wet
or a certain
thought can’t
deepen and yet
you think it again:
you have lost
count. A larger
amount is
no longer a
larger amount.
There has been
a collapse; perhaps
in the night.
Like a rupture
in water (which
can’t rupture
of course). All
your horses
broken out with
all your horses.


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Monday, December 18, 2017

Circling round a season winding down

In an effort to wrap up our Christmas shopping (ha!?), we traveled a large North-South loop through the Eastern edge of the Twin Cities metro area this morning. Among other things, it reminded us of how much we've come to enjoy living where we do. For the most part, the country around us is a mix of wood lots, small farms (plus the Kelley Land and Cattle Company), villages, small towns and moderate sized cities. And then there's Woodbury, what can we say?

this pair of bald eagles were perched on Kelley Land, Dec. 2015
this pair of bald eagles were perched on Kelley Land, Dec. 2015
Photo by J. Harrington

Traveling our loop, at one point we noticed a very large flock, or several smaller flocks,  of turkeys pecking and scratching through a corn field somewhere around Bayport or Lakeland. Later, we saw numbers of geese hanging sitting  and standing around what used to be open water on Lake Elmo. Alas, we also saw a small flock of crows feeding on a road-killed whitetail somewhere in Northern Washington County.

There are other noteworthy signs of the hardy, intrepid, foolish? wildlife that inhabit the region. Ice anglers, and their portable ice houses, have sprouted on several smaller lakes, including Moody Lake in Chisago Lake Township and Bone Lake in Scandia.

Sigurd is our symbol of a North Country Christmas spirit
Sigurd is our symbol of a North Country Christmas spirit
Photo by J. Harrington

Some of the harvested corn fields were bi- and tri- and di-sected with deer tracks. Others were fringed by snowmobile tracks. A few cornfields haven't yet been harvested. Increasing snow cover and the forecast cold spell will, no doubt, cause some of the remaining waterfowl to move on further South as food and open water gradually disappear. Actually, more farm fields are disappearing, "permanently," as farms are sold and subdivided. We saw a fair amount of evidence of that kind of disappearance too. The housing market is obviously heating up despite the cooling weather.

Remember Joni Mitchell's haunting line from her [1969] song "Big Yellow Taxi?"
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone 
We find ourselves wondering if the illustrious and highly talented Ms. Mitchell had, perchance, read Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America [1967, written 1961] before she wrote "Taxi." As far as we know, Ms. Mitchell never produced an entire Christmas album, although she often provided us with the "fresh truth of children."

Noel


When snow is shaken
From the balsam trees
And they’re cut down 
And brought into our houses 

When clustered sparks 
Of many-colored fire
Appear at night 
In ordinary windows 

We hear and sing
The customary carols 

They bring us ragged miracles
And hay and candles 
And flowering weeds of poetry
That are loved all the more
Because they are so common 

But there are carols
That carry phrases 
Of the haunting music
Of the other world 
A music wild and dangerous
As a prophet’s message 

Or the fresh truth of children
Who though they come to us
From our own bodies 
Are altogether new
With their small limbs
And birdlike voices 

They look at us
With their clear eyes 
And ask the piercing questions 
God alone can answer.


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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Plenty of room at this Inn

The original story of Christmas has Joseph and a very pregnant Mary being turned away from an "inn" in Bethlehem, followed by Mary giving birth in a stable. It was almost a year ago, we think, when we (yr obt svt and his Better Half) received a gift card for accommodations at a more local inn, the Nicollet Island Inn. This morning we used it at brunch. The food and the ambiance were superior. Brunch was leisurely. We're not sure why we don't do this more often. Perhaps we will.

Nicollet Island Inn, view to exterior
Nicollet Island Inn, view to exterior
Photo by J. Harrington

Nicollet Island Inn, interior view
Nicollet Island Inn, interior view
Photo by J. Harrington

On the other hand, the Inn must somehow have received an exemption from whatever sidewalk shoveling requirements the City of Minneapolis imposes on other folks. Else, we're sure, the sidewalks in front of and along the side of the Inn's building would have been clear(er). Perhaps the risk of slipping and falling is intended as an inducement to use the Inn's valet parking. We wonder if their insurance company knows about this.

Nicollet Island Inn, unshoveled sidewalk
Nicollet Island Inn, unshoveled sidewalk
Photo by J. Harrington


             “Your Luck Is About To Change”




(A fortune cookie)


Ominous inscrutable Chinese news
to get just before Christmas,
considering my reasonable health,
marriage spicy as moo-goo-gai-pan,
career running like a not-too-old Chevrolet.
Not bad, considering what can go wrong:
the bony finger of Uncle Sam
might point out my husband,
my own national guard,
and set him in Afghanistan;
my boss could take a personal interest;
the pain in my left knee could spread to my right.
Still, as the old year tips into the new,
I insist on the infant hope, gooing and kicking
his legs in the air. I won't give in
to the dark, the sub-zero weather, the fog,
or even the neighbors' Nativity.
Their four-year-old has arranged
his whole legion of dinosaurs
so they, too, worship the child,
joining the cow and sheep. Or else,
ultimate mortals, they've come to eat
ox and camel, Mary and Joseph,
then savor the newborn babe.

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Saturday, December 16, 2017

7 BANNED WORDS: a challenge/opportunity for the linguistic and literary community

Minnesota is well known, and deservedly so, for its literary community of writers and readers. Minnesota is also well known for having a liberal approach to much of life. Here's a fantastic opportunity for Minnesota's literary community to exercise national leadership.


windows at Open Book, Center for Book Arts
windows at Open Book, Center for Book Arts
Photo by J. Harrington

In 2007, the new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary dropped a number of words. Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris responded with the publication of The Lost Words. More recently, the current administration in Washington (they who must not be named) has banned the use of 7 words in 2018 budget documents from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).. They are not the seven words you can't say on television that George Carlin made famous.

The seven words CDC can't write in a budget document are:
  • "diversity,"
  • "fetus,"
  • "transgender,"
  • "vulnerable,"
  • "entitlement,"
  • "science-based" and
  • "evidence-based."
We quickly checked several online versions of a thesaurus and found that many of these words lack readily available synonyms. Merriam-Webster failed on "fetus," but Dictionary.com/Thesaurus.com came through. "Transgender" synonyms were non-existent everywhere we checked.

People who work with words have been know to invent new words. It seems incumbent on the word-smiths of the world to now assist the CDC in its time of need. We challenge fellow and sister wordsmiths to respond, somewhat as did Macfarlane and Morris, to the CDC's Seven Lost Words, by creating, providing and publicizing alternatives to the seven words in the bullet-list above. Perhaps locally, The Loft Literary Center might take a leadership role. Maybe AWP would like to offer leadership assistance. Maybe it should be a collaboration of those organizations with PEN America. We just don't see how those who claim to honor and love words can let this opportunity pass.

                     The Words Under the Words




for Sitti Khadra, north of Jerusalem

My grandmother’s hands recognize grapes,
the damp shine of a goat’s new skin.
When I was sick they followed me,
I woke from the long fever to find them
covering my head like cool prayers.

My grandmother’s days are made of bread,
a round pat-pat and the slow baking.
She waits by the oven watching a strange car
circle the streets. Maybe it holds her son,
lost to America. More often, tourists,
who kneel and weep at mysterious shrines.
She knows how often mail arrives,
how rarely there is a letter.
When one comes, she announces it, a miracle,
listening to it read again and again
in the dim evening light.

My grandmother’s voice says nothing can surprise her.
Take her the shotgun wound and the crippled baby.
She knows the spaces we travel through,
the messages we cannot send—our voices are short
and would get lost on the journey.
Farewell to the husband’s coat,
the ones she has loved and nourished,
who fly from her like seeds into a deep sky.
They will plant themselves. We will all die.

My grandmother’s eyes say Allah is everywhere, even in death.
When she talks of the orchard and the new olive press,
when she tells the stories of Joha and his foolish wisdoms,
He is her first thought, what she really thinks of is His name.
“Answer, if you hear the words under the words—
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones.”



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