Friday, June 23, 2017

Ground truthing

I don't remember where or when I first encountered the saying "The map is not the territory." I do recall that I first heard it as "The map is not the place." I much prefer the latter. Today I experienced a classic example of the differences between maps, descriptions and places. I was trying to find an alleged trout stream in a Scientific and Natural Area not to farm from home. I"m still trying to reconcile what I saw and photographed with this description from the fisheries folks at the Department of Natural Resources:
This is a small stream with a good population of small brook trout. The stream enters the St. Croix just upstream of the railroad bridge below Cedar Bend. The fishable areas on this stream are located on private property. Anglers must gain permission from property owners before fishing this stream.
The good folks in the DNR's Scientific and Natural Areas section provide this description online:
Falls Creek is one of the most diverse natural areas remaining in Washington County. Folded and faulted rocks at this site show the largest displacement of any known Paleozoic rocks in Minnesota, revealing Decorah, Platteville, Glenwood, and St. Peter formations. Steep ravines line the intermittently active stream beds. Slopes face north or south primarily, with groundcover varied accordingly. Pine canopy openings on south slopes permit growth of many species native to bluff prairies. Oak forest occupies the drier ridge tops. The old fields on the site are undergoing reforestation with seedlings grown from acorns collected on the site. A deer exclosure protects the seedlings on one old field.
There's not a word about fishing, but there is a much better map than the fisheries folks give us.

part of MNDNR SNA map of Falls Creek SNA
part of MNDNR SNA map of Falls Creek SNA

I spent a fair amount of time today trying to find Falls Creek SNA. Neither parking area has a sign readily noticeable from the road. I believe I got a chance to examine parts of the southerly blue line but had neither the time nor the energy to do a thorough reconnoiter after I finally managed to actually locate both parking areas. Here's a few :ground truth" photos. I'm still searching for a fishable segment. More to explore some other day. This "living local" can often be more challenging that it seems at first. The reality and the idea, the place and the map, often require effort to reconcile. That can be fun, or tedious, or both.
try to see this sign from the road
try to see this sign from the road
Photo by J. Harrington

stream bed of intermittent stream
stream bed of intermittent stream
Photo by J. Harrington

"downstream?" of previous photo
"downstream?" of previous photo
Photo by J. Harrington

 There is no doubt in my mind that the only thing tougher than trying to fish this intermittent stream would be trying to live in it if you were a trout! Maybe the DNR fisheries folks were referring to the stream North of this one. That's a trip for another day. I should be a little easier next time.

Truth Serum

By Naomi Shihab Nye

We made it from the ground-up corn in the old back pasture.
Pinched a scent of night jasmine billowing off the fence,   
popped it right in.
That frog song wanting nothing but echo?   
We used that.
Stirred it widely. Noticed the clouds while stirring.
Called upon our ancient great aunts and their long slow eyes   
of summer. Dropped in their names.   
Added a mint leaf now and then   
to hearten the broth. Added a note of cheer and worry.   
Orange butterfly between the claps of thunder?   
Perfect. And once we had it,
had smelled and tasted the fragrant syrup,   
placing the pan on a back burner for keeping,   
the sorrow lifted in small ways.
We boiled down the lies in another pan till they disappeared.
We washed that pan.

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

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Denying denial

It would seem that the North Country's counter to the Southwest's "Yes, but it's a dry heat," is going to be "Yes, but it's a damp coolness!" I don't think this is the way, in an age of global warming, Summer is supposed to work. Outside the walls where this is being written, it's pouring rain and the midday temperature is 67℉. The rain should help the plants that went into our sandy soils last Spring, but it won't take much more of this before local streams may rise again.

storm clouds
storm clouds
Photo by J. Harrington

Local streams, for now, with their rise and fall, may have more resilience than either of our political parties. Republicans are busy trying to destroy health care and safety nets to fund tax breaks for some of the richest people in the world, while the Democrats' internal strife may result in self destruction, as leadership of both parties ignores many of the needs of rank and file Americans.

One of my favorite crystal ball gazers, David Orr, wrote about our current situation back in 2012:
"Further, governments and our political discourse must transcend the old right-left dichotomy characteristic of industrial age politics. The challenge ahead will be to creatively join conservatism and liberalism in search of a livable future. Interestingly, the necessary changes would blend the thinking of Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, with that of Thomas Jefferson, associated with modern radicalism. In different ways, each argued for the protection of future generations from “intergenerational tyranny.” The prospect of political change, however, is complicated and difficult, and there is no assurance that governments that are effective in the face of rapid climate destabilization will also be democratic.7 It is easier and perhaps more plausible to imagine a future of hyper-efficient, solar-powered, sustainable, and authoritarian societies than reformed and effective democracies."
"The scientific evidence suggests that we are entering a “long emergency” for which there will be no quick fixes or painless solutions. Any worthy vision must hold out solid hope of the millennial kind. It must include rights for future generations.9 It must create a more inclusive framework for justice, fairness, decency, sustainability, and human rights (e.g., the Earth Charter).10 It must preserve a stock of irreplaceable knowledge11 while protecting and extending the hard-won gains of civilization, but over time spans and conditions that we can barely fathom."
no storm, no rainbow
no storm, no rainbow
Photo by J. Harrington

Orr's reference to a "long emergency" echoes the title of James Howard Kunstler's distressingly prescient eponymous book. Perhaps, as we view current events in Washington, D.C., or our local state capitals, as well as around the world, we might try to view current events through lenses suggested by both David Orr and many of our founding fathers. It is my firm belief that we, that's all of us, rich and poor, have gotten ourselves into a situation in which Ben Franklin's observation, that "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." [-In the Continental Congress just before signing the Declaration of Independence, 1776] may well be an understatement. Remember, "Denial is not just a river in Egypt."

First Storm and Thereafter

By Scott Cairns

What I notice first within
          this rough scene fixed
in memory is the rare
          quality of its lightning, as if
those bolts were clipped
          from a comic book, pasted
on low cloud, or fashioned
          with cardboard, daubed
with gilt then hung overhead
          on wire and fine hooks.
What I hear most clearly
          within that thunder now
is its grief—a moan, a long
          lament echoing, an ache.
And the rain? Raucous enough,
          pounding, but oddly
musical, and, well,
          eager to entertain, solicitous.

No storm since has been framed
          with such matter-of-fact
artifice, nor to such comic
          effect. No, the thousand-plus
storms since then have turned
          increasingly artless,
arbitrary, bearing—every
          one of them—a numbing burst.

And today, from the west a gust
          and a filling pressure
pulsing in the throat—offering
          little or nothing to make light of.

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Relax, it's Summer's first full day

This morning's sky was as beautiful as ever I've seen. Fortunately, my iPhone camera captured it moderately well. (My "low light" skills on my DSLR weren't up to the challenge.) The almost new moon (new on 6/23) is just above treeline and, higher in the sky, Venus is lost temporarily behind the clouds.

Summer's first morn
Summer's first morn
Photo by J. Harrington

Sights like the above make a slight loss of sleep a small price to pay, and the dogs, especially mine, are ready to enthusiastically greet a new morn anytime, probably because dogs get fed soon after their humans get up, even before humans get coffee.

As you, I hope, know by now, this is National Pollinator Week. I've already learned a few things I probably should have known before, but, my interest in the outdoors, and in "nature" was a function of my interest in hunting and fishing. If a critter wasn't game, or bait, my attention span was limited. Pollinators were bees and butterflies. I never considered hummingbirds or beetles as pollinators. That lens was too limited, too narrowly focused. Another, a better, way to look at the world can be found in a brief essay on the Donna Meadows Institute's web site, titled Lines in the Mind, Not in the World.

As I finished reading through "Lines," I stumbled onto another piece by Meadows that made me think of Yogi Berra's "It's deja vu all over again." In late January, 2001, Meadows wrote this column: What Really Needs to be Said About our Last Lamented Election.

See if any of these phrases ring a bell:
  • "Like you, I have been drowning in the gush of reaction to our recent election (or selection) — an election that will never quite be over, that will continue to prick like a thorn, that was clearly never intended, as our new president is already demonstrating, to unite instead of divide us.

  • "… The illegitimacy of this administration should not be made to fade from view. No approval of lifetime appointments, especially on the Supreme Court. No cutting or privatization of any part of Social Security or Medicare."
She had similar perspectives to share in a column from two weeks earlier, Trying Hard Here to Work up Some Feeling of National Unity. I'm not sure if it's much help, being reminded that, in the not too distant past, we've been in a situation similar to the one under which many of us are now suffering, except that, in my opinion, more than a decade ago, Ms. Meadows nailed a large problem we faced then and still do:
"But the point of it — OK here’s the point — the point is, this political system sucks. The issues and concerns of the people are squeezed out by the issues and concerns of the centralized money-makers. The country runs on money-making at the expense of all other purposes and values." 
That's food for thought all the while we're relaxing at the cabin or wherever we go to regroup this Summer. We can take some time off, but our kids can't afford to have us give up the fight.

The Tragic Condition of the Statue of Liberty

By Bernadette Mayer

                                      A collaboration with Emma Lazarus

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Give me your gentrificatees of the Lower East Side including all the well-heeled young Europeans who’ll take apartments without leases
Give me your landlords, give me your cooperators
Give me the guys who sell the food and the computers to the public schools in District One
Give me the IRS-FBI-CIA men who don’t take election day off
Give me the certain members of the school board & give me the district superintendent
Give me all the greedy members of both american & foreign capitalist religious sects
Give me the parents of the punk people
Give me the guy who puts those stickers in the Rice Krispies
Give me the doctor who thinks his time is more valuable than mine and my daughter’s & the time of all the other non-doctors in this world
Give me the mayor, his mansion, and the president & his white house
Give me the cops who laugh and sneer at meetings where they demonstrate the new uses of mace and robots instead of the old murder against people who are being evicted
Give me the landlord’s sleazy lawyers and the deal-making judges in housing court & give me the landlord’s arsonist
Give me the known & unknown big important rich guys who now bank on our quaint neighborhood
Give me, forgive me, the writers who have already or want to write bestsellers in this country
Together we will go to restore Ellis Island, ravaged for years by wind, weather and vandals
I was surprised and saddened when I heard that the Statue of Liberty was in such a serious state of disrepair & I want to help
This is the most generous contribution I can afford.

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Enjoy the Solstice, whenever you are

I live in Earth's Northern Hemisphere. "Today" is the Summer Solstice for me and some, but not all, who live North of the Equator. Where I live, relative to Greenwich Mean Time [GMT], the Solstice occurs at 11:24 pm on 6/20. As I poked about the nooks and crannies of the internets, tracking down some of the specifics, I rediscovered just how arbitrary, and, perhaps, even capricious, we humans are regarding things we treat with absolute certainty. Here are a few examples from Wikipedia:

Summer sunrise
Summer sunrise
Photo by J. Harrington

  • GMT was formerly used as the international civil time standard, now superseded in that function by Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

  • Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers show that the marking strip for the prime meridian at Greenwich is not exactly at zero degrees, zero minutes, and zero seconds but at approximately 5.3 seconds of arc to the west of the meridian (meaning that the meridian appears to be 102 metres east of this line).

  • The actual reason for the discrepancy is that the marking strip is indeed at astronomical longitude zero degrees, zero minutes, and zero seconds[note 2]—but GPS receivers show geodetic longitude (specifically ITRF/WGS 84).

  • The Summer Solstice is tomorrow, 6/21, in London, England!

The preceding, plus more I won't bother you with, came about as I asked myself "When is the first day of astronomical Summer this year?" With the Solstice at 11:24 pm locally, I'm not ceding 36 minutes of today as "Summer's" first day, in part because it doesn't occur during the daytime... Tomorrow is obviously Summer's first full day. Today's share is only 2.5% of a single day (36 of 1440 minutes) and 0.028% of an entire Summer season of 90 days. Clearly, the meteorologists have a neater, e.g., more orderly, arrangement with their seasonal breaks starting Summer at June 1, but the astronomical approach is more organic. 'Twas ever thus?

Sunrise River at Sunrise City park
Sunrise River at Sunrise City park
Photo by J. Harrington

All that I've described here today reinforces, at least for me, the value of (re)reading, knowing, and following the guidance Dana Meadows shared with us in Dancing with Systems. I notice I've been remiss in looking carefully at, and remembering, points number 12, 13 and 14. I promise to reread the whole thing and try harder to follow a holistic perspective.

As I refreshed my memory about "Dancing", another link caught my eye. I further suggest, in celebration of Summer's forthcoming real and political thunderstorms and downpours, you also read Taking on the Erosive Cycle of Money and Political Power. I found the analogy of erosion, and how to stop it, very, very helpful as I start what I plan to be my Summer of Water, because, as we all know, Water Is Life -- Mni Wiconi. May yours be full of quenched thirst rather than clenched fists.

Solstice Litany

By Jim Harrison

The Saturday morning meadowlark
came in from high up
with her song gliding into tall grass
still singing. How I'd like
to glide around singing in the summer
then to go south to where I already was
and find fields full of meadowlarks
in winter. But when walking my dog
I want four legs to keep up with her
as she thunders down the hill at top speed
then belly flops into the deep pond.
Lark or dog I crave the impossible.
I'm just human. All too human.

I was nineteen and mentally
infirm when I saw the prophet Isaiah.
The hem of his robe was as wide
as the horizon and his trunk and face
were thousands of feet up in the air.
Maybe he appeared because I had read him
so much and opened too many ancient doors.
I was cooking my life in a cracked clay
pot that was leaking. I had found
secrets I didn't deserve to know.
When the battle for the mind is finally
over it's late June, green and raining.

A violent windstorm the night before
the solstice. The house creaked and yawned.
I thought the morning might bring a bald earth,
bald as a man's bald head but not shiny.
But dawn was fine with a few downed trees,
the yellow rosebush splendidly intact.
The grass was all there dotted with Black
Angus cattle. The grass is indestructible
except to fire but now it's too green to burn.
What did the cattle do in this storm?
They stood with their butts toward the wind,
erect Buddhists waiting for nothing in particular.
I was in bed cringing at gusts,
imagining the contents of earth all blowing
north and piled up where the wind stopped,
the pile sky-high. No one can climb it.
A gopher comes out of a hole as if nothing happened.
The sun should be a couple of million miles
closer today. It wouldn't hurt anything
and anyway this cold rainy June is hard
on me and the nesting birds. My own nest
is stupidly uncomfortable, the chair
of many years. The old windows don't keep
the weather out, the wet wind whipping
my hair. A very old robin drops dead
on the lawn, a first for me. Millions
of birds die but we never see it—they like
privacy in this holy, fatal moment or so
I think. We can't tell each other when we die.
Others must carry the message to and fro.
"He's gone," they'll say. While writing an average poem
destined to disappear among the millions of poems
written now by mortally average poets.

Solstice at the cabin deep in the forest.
The full moon shines in the river, there are pale
green northern lights. A huge thunderstorm
comes slowly from the west. Lightning strikes
a nearby tamarack bursting into flame.
I go into the cabin feeling unworthy.
At dawn the tree is still smoldering
in this place the gods touched earth.

Thanks for visiting. Come again when you can.
Please be

Monday, June 19, 2017

The eve of Summer solstice #phenology

I'm not sure if there's supposed to be a linkage between National Pollinator Week (this week) and Summer Solstice (tomorrow), so I'm just going to treat it as a happy coincidence. Between Father's Day and a recent birthday (No, I'm not admitting to anything more than being of legal age) I got a book to help me celebrate Pollinator Week, it's the book Bees, An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide. You probably know already that Minnesota is home to a MacArthur Genius on Bees, Dr. Marla Spivak, and that the University has two new labs, one, for academics, on the St. Paul campus and the other, for the public, at the Arboretum.

bee hives at the St. Paul campus
bee hives at the St. Paul campus
Photo by J. Harrington

As I was growing up, I knew there were honey bees, bumble bees, yellowjackets, other wasps and hornets. Clearly, I was poorly educated about pollinators. The nice thing about education is that it's like planting a tree: the best time for it was 40 years ago, the second best time is today. Without pollinators, many of the plants we enjoy seeing, smelling and eating wouldn't be available to us. Personally, as beautiful as I find this world from time to time, I doubt I'll ever fell it couldn't use even more beauty. Can any of us really have enough beauty in our lives?

whitetail doe, a browser grazing on tall grass
whitetail doe, a browser grazing on tall grass
Photo by J. Harrington

I know my morning was really improved as I watched a whitetail doe tiptoe (tiphoof?) her way down the path on the hill and start foraging on the stems and seedheads of the grasses growing around the wet, low spot behind the house. I had always thought that whitetails were browsers. They are, but from what I saw this morning, whitetails are primarily, but not exclusively, browsers. Today's deer watching improved even more later when a fawn arrived to help mom figure out what's best to eat. The fawn's idea is still that mother's milk beats everything else.

[UPDATE: "So on the evening of June 21, beginning at 7 p.m. at St. Joan of Arc Church, 4537 3rd Av. S., Mpls., poets and writers will read aloud, musicians will perform, representatives from environmental groups will discuss their work and climate change, and copies of “News of the Universe” will be given away."]

Eating Words

By Katherine Hauth

When you know
that vore means eat,
you will know
that insectivores feed
            on grasshoppers, moths, and butterflies,
            mosquitoes, bees, and plain-old flies.

When you know
that carni means meat,
you will know
that carnivores eat
            snakes and lizards, deer and lamb,
            carrion, birds, fish, and ham.

When you know
that herb means plant,
you will know
that herbivores CAN'T
            eat anything that moves on a foot,
            just foods that spring up from a root.

When you know
that omni means all,
you will know
that omnivores call

            they can suck or chew—
            sometimes even me or you—

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

It's Father's Day, happy?

I am at a loss to explain how, in the course of my lifetime, we've gone from The Greatest Generation, which included my father (and my mother), to the current state of affairs in Washington, D.C. and many state capitals. Did many of our fathers risk, and too many lose, their lives fighting fascism, and communism during the Korean "police action" to have this country elect someone whose campaign, business and personal dealings are being investigated for collusion with Russia?

Did the fight for freedom and integration since WWII do little more than enable the success of white supremacists and the return of the KKK to some main streets? Really? Is this the reward we offer that greatest generation? Was the "Battle of Michigan Avenue" and the 1968 Democratic convention really necessary to change the direction of the Democratic party and the nation? Was the 1970 Kent State massacre of unarmed students but a prelude to today's need for movements like Black Lives Matter? I am haunted by the refrain from Pete Seeger's "Where have all the flowers gone?," Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?

where have all these flowers gone?
where have all these flowers gone?
Photo by J. Harrington

My father's been gone for many years now. He and I often failed to see eye to eye and sometimes we fought like the proverbial cats and dogs. If the love and respect we had for each other hadn't been so strong, the ferocity of some of our disagreements might not have been as fierce. I hope, perhaps, that explains some or much of the intensity of the battles currently being fought in our country today. I fear that's not so.

Too many of us are convinced that the righteousness of our causes is the only righteousness that there is, or can be. Too many of us fail to remember that a properly cut diamond shines beautifully across all of its facets. Not enough of us see America as a magnificent mosaic instead of the old "melting pot." A stained glass window is meaningless if all one color. Ecosystems need diversity to thrive. We need to re-engage each other with much greater civility if our country and its peoples are to thrive.

Our founding fathers overcame some basic, very strong, structural disagreements to create this United States. Were they that much wiser that we are? Perhaps. Or, perhaps they were as much, or more, committed to the common good of all Americans instead of the individual good of just some Americans. My father and I learned to respect each other even when we didn't agree. Has American democracy reached a point where it needs a "gut rehab" so that "we can all get along?" That's my Father's Day wish for each of us and our fathers, that we all just learn to get along. It's a start!


I could tell they were father and son,
the air between them, slack as though
they hardly noticed one another.

The father sanded the gunwales,
the boy coiled the lines.
And I admired them there, each to his task

in the quiet of the long familiar.
The sawdust coated the father’s arms
like dusk coats grass in a field.

The boy worked next on the oarlocks
polishing the brass until it gleamed
as though he could harness the sun.

Who cares what they were thinking,
lucky in their lives
that the spin of the genetic wheel

slowed twice to a stop
and landed each of them here.

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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Summer's pre-solstice #phenology

The day after we posted about the deer in the tall grass by the road, the township mowed both sides of our road. I'm sure it was strictly coincidence, since we saw the deer next to a county road. I mention it here because the sidearm(?) mower deck on the township's tractor has a cutting width of about 4 feet. That would require 2 passes on each side of the road to reach an 8 foot width and I just don't see that happening, given township budgets and manpower and need to grade gravel roads, etc.

freshly mown roadside ditch
freshly mown roadside ditch
Photo by J. Harrington

Once we finished supervising the roadside mowing, we gave a once-over look at the area behind the house from which we're planning to pull a bunch of buckthorn. In that process, we noticed lots of poison ivy growing around the open areas at the edge of the woodsy patch where the buckthorn is the undergrowth. The ivy got sprayed. We'll allow a few days for the spray to take effect and hope to start pulling buckthorn around mid-week. If the weather cooperates, we'll torch the current brush pile to celebrate Solstice with a "bonfire" and start a fresh pile with buckthorn after the ashes and embers have cooled. That should leave us set for an Autumnal Equinox celebration in a few months. We won't pull and torch the poison ivy, since I've read that the smoke can carry the oils that cause the itching. I'm not sure what we'll do with the dead ivy, maybe let it rot in place? Once the buckthorn's pulled, we should be able to mow around the tree trunks and aboid the groundcover we want to spread. At least that's the current fantasy.

prairie phlox?
prairie phlox?
Photo by J. Harrington

One sign of hope and encouragement is that, while spraying the ivy, I noticed what looks like it might be prairie phlox. We'll be very careful as we work around it and hope that it spreads when we eliminate the buckthorn and ivy competition. If we get really lucky, in the process we'll rediscover the PVC pipe that extended our old garage downspout to near the bottom of the back yard slope. Then we can connect the new downspout without having to dig a new trench, near the bottom of which we would, no doubt, discover the existing buried pipe. After years of benign neglect, we'll start to reclaim and restore at least parts of the property nearest the living area. Infrastructure isn't the only thing that needs pretty constant maintenance.

On the Grasshopper and Cricket

By John Keats

The Poetry of earth is never dead:    
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,    
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run    
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;    
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead      
  In summer luxury,—he has never done    
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun    
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.    
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:    
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost     
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills    
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,    
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,    
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

A #phenology of the color yellow

Have you seen a field of flowering rapeseed? From a distance, it looks as if every male goldfinch in North America has landed in one field. If, indeed, it were a field full of male goldfinches, the startle factor when they all explode into takeoff would be absolutely awesome. I noticed that as several handfuls of them exploded from roadside as the jeep passed by them this morning.

male goldfinches at feeder
male goldfinches at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

I was driving through the Northeast part of the county, near Wild River State Park, as I went to pick up our CSA share. One field I passed on the way, that, as I recall, has been fallow for several years, looks like it's been planted in rapeseed this year. It's attention getting but not as startling as exploding goldfinches.

  a field of rapeseed?
a field of rapeseed?
Photo by J. Harrington

In our North Country, yellow becomes a significant contributor to Summer scenes: lots (272) of Minnesota's wildflowers are yellow, sunshine is yellow during those longer Summer days that aren't cloud-covered or stormy, plus, lots of Summer squashes are shades of yellow. I suppose I could claim my sunny disposition(?) becomes even more mellow in Summer, but not as much as Donovan's Mellow Yellow. What else? It depends on the season.

A lane of Yellow led the eye (1650)

Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886

A lane of Yellow led the eye
Unto a Purple Wood
Whose soft inhabitants to be
Surpasses solitude
If Bird the silence contradict
Or flower presume to show
In that low summer of the West
Impossible to know -

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bugs and bites and birds and bats and... #phenology

We need more bats and dragonflies and whatever else, swallows and swifts?, feeds on mosquitos and deer flies. The mosquitos have been biting my ears and back and arms, and yesterday the deer fly bites turned my dog SiSi's muzzle pink. Hydrogen peroxide seemed to help SiSi, but I can't get Afterbite to stay on the mosquito-bitten tops of my ears. I've noticed that we have an abundance of both the tiny mosquitoes and the larger one. As far as I know, deer flies only come in one size, that (gives) fits (to) all.

SiSi, without deer fly bites
SiSi, without deer fly bites
Photo by J. Harrington

Some of yellow goat's beard has already moved on from flowers to developed seed heads. The two whitetail does I noticed this morning have completed their transition from Winter's dun, grayish-tan pelage to Summer's reddish-gold. More and more wildflowers, especially ox-eye daisies and narrow-leaf hawksbeard are appearing along road sides. It's looking daily as if, by the time we get to this Summer's solstice on June 20, the season will be in full bloom already, rather than just starting. It'll probably be more than a month from now before we start to actually notice the days shortening. Meanwhile, whole new generations of critters will be growing during Summer time's 'easy livin'.

next Summer's yellow goat's beard
next Summer's yellow goat's beard
Photo by J. Harrington

Summer in a Small Town

By Tony Hoagland

Yes, the young mothers are beautiful,
with all the self-acceptance of exhaustion,
still dazed from their great outpouring,
pushing their strollers along the public river walk.

And the day is also beautiful—the replica 19th-century paddle-wheeler
perpetually moored at the city wharf
                with its glassed-in bar and grill
for the lunch-and-cocktail-seekers
who come for the Mark Twain Happy Hour
which lasts as long as the Mississippi.

This is the kind of town where the rush hour traffic halts
                to let three wild turkeys cross the road,
and when the high school music teacher retires
after thirty years

the movie marquee says, “Thanks Mr. Biddleman!”
and the whole town comes to hear
                the tuba solos of old students.

Summer, when the living is easy
and we store up pleasure in our bodies
like fat, like Eskimos,
for the coming season of privation.

All August the Ferris wheel will turn
                           in the little amusement park,
and screaming teenage girls will jump into the river
with their clothes on,
right next to the No Swimming sign.

Trying to cool the heat inside the small towns
                                               of their bodies,
for which they have no words;
obedient to the voice inside which tells them,
“Now. Steal Pleasure.”

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Deer me #phenology

Many, many years ago, when I was first learning about hunting whitetail deer, my campmates taught me to always look toward the back edge of fields when looking for whitetails. That rule of thumb has, for the most part, served me well over the years, up to and including this morning. As I was driving away from the house to get the jeep serviced, I looked toward the back of our property and there was a whitetail doe, feeding on something. I couldn't tell if she had a fawn with her or not.

Several miles plus a right turn down the road, I saw another doe. This one wasn't at the back edge of a field, she was right beside the road and I didn't notice her until she raised her head as the front end of the jeep was about 50 feet from her. Fortunately for all concerned, she stayed in the grass and the jeep and I passed without incident. I certainly hope she didn't have a fawn with her.

whitetail doe and fawns, midSummer grasses
whitetail doe and fawns, midSummer grasses
Photo by J. Harrington

As my pulse and blood pressure slowly returned to normal, I was very grateful that the doe hadn't performed one of the patented, harebrained stunts deer are known for and bolted directly into the side or in front of the jeep. I also started to wonder some more about the fussing I'd seen in social media a week or ten days or so ago, about farmers and/or MNDoT mowing roadsides before August 1, because numerous birds use roadside grasses as nesting cover. On the other hand, having lived in and around deer country for most of my adult life, I like it much more when I have an opportunity to hit the brakes when I see a deer. Twice I haven't and they've run into the side of the vehicle I was driving. Each time without apparent body damage to vehicle or deer. Once a doe bolted in front of me from some roadside trees, allowing me barely enough time to avoid a catastrophic encounter.

I'm not sure what the answer is. Birds aren't necessarily more valuable than deer, and bird/vehicle encounters are, I think, less frequent and less damaging to vehicles than deer/car collisions. I suspect it's not possible to set mowers at about 18 inches, allowing ground cover for birds while making roadside deer more visible. That would make it too easy.

mowed roadsides improve visibility
mowed roadsides improve visibility
Photo by J. Harrington

Outside cities it's currently legal to mow the first eight feet or shoulder at any time. Clearly, in my neighborhood, that first eight feet gets mowed very infrequently. I do have one somewhat strange neighbor who mows between the road and his fence, but not on the house side of the fence. I almost never see any deer in his yard at any time.

If any of you have come across what seems like a viable resolution to the conundrum of "to mow, or not to mow," please share it. As we, as a society, turn more roadsides and medians into habitat for pollinators, I'm getting more concerned about creating the unintended consequences of increased "collateral damage" resulting in a net loss of some kinds of non-pollinating wildlife that also lack the evolutionary background to avoid vehicles traveling at highway speeds. Back in the days when much of my leisure time was spent on the ocean in small craft, I was pretty rigorous about the rule of "a place for everything and everything in its place." But then there are neither roadsides nor ditches on the ocean.


Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963

There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Some Summer puzzles in #phenology

I can understand, sort of, how bees find nectar in flowers, because nectar is in the flower, which is distinct from the stem and the leaves and all the "green stuff." (Can you tell I've never studied botany?) Hummingbirds are attracted to red flowers. Orioles to orange and purple. For the life of me, I can't figure out what possesses an ant or ants to climb up the hanger and seek out the bee-guarded feeding port to get at the nectar solution in a hummingbird or oriole feeder. Perhaps they can smell the sugar from a distance.

hummingbird at yellow "bee guard"
hummingbird at yellow "bee guard"
Photo by J. Harrington

Neither can I quite picture who or what has pulled the yellow bee guards from one of our hummingbird feeders. I suspect it's one or more of the local squirrel gangs, but it might be a woodpecker getting the soft guard stuck on its bill while drinking the solution. Ants, squirrels, birds or whatever aren't nearly as destructive as black bears, but their behavior and its consequences can be much more puzzling.

whitetail fawn in field of hoary alyssum, hairy vetch and hoary puccoon, mid-June 2016
whitetail fawn in field of hoary alyssum, hairy vetch and hoary puccoon, mid-June 2016
Photo by J. Harrington

Although we're having a wet Summer so far, the past Spring wasn't as wet as last year's, at least according to the flowers in our back yard prairie. About mid-June last year, we had lots and lots and lots of hoary alyssum and hairy vetch in bloom about now. Nowhere near as many flowers are showing yet this year. Also, we've seen fewer fawns so far this year, but I'm now sure if that's related to the forage, the flowers or what.

Zoophabet: Ants to Zorillas

By Avis Harley

Ants use antennae to seek out their tracks,
Beavers gnaw trees for their lodge,
Camels store food in the humps on their backs,
Dragonflies dazzle and dodge,
Elephant trunks furnish watery flings,
Flamingoes eat shrimp to keep pink;
Grasshoppers' ears appear under their wings,
Hummingbirds hover to drink,
Inchworms advance with a rear-ended loop,
Jellyfish sometimes can sting,
Kestrels catch lunch with a lightning-like swoop,
Larks love to warble and sing,
Moles tunnel intricate malls underground,
Newts thrive in ponds filled with weed,
Owls like to swivel their heads right around,
People can learn how to read,
Quetzals are gorgeous in feathery dress,
Rats have acquired a bad label,
Seahorse appears like a figure in chess,
Tortoise found fame in a fable,
Umber-birds thrive in the African wild,
Vipers can poison their prey,
Worms turn the soil when the climate is mild,
Xylophage chews wood all day,
Yaks grow in horns that are gracefully curled,
Zorillas are striped black and white;
          each zooabet creature is part of this world:
          unique, with its own copyright!

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Farm to table, food for thought

Today's local weather has been about as nice as yesterday's and Saturday's weren't. Skies are darkening to the southwest, so we reserve the right to revise this assessment at any time. Anyhow, the chance of thunderstorms occurs again tomorrow and Wednesday, and maybe this afternoon. After a turbulent seasonal transition, we may be settling into a "typical" Summer pattern. Growing season is here.

Women's Environmental Institute CSA local pickup sheds
Women's Environmental Institute CSA local pickup sheds
Photo by J. Harrington

We're back trying a share in the Women's Environmental Institute [WEI] Community Supported Agriculture [CSA] program again this year. I'll pick up the first flex box this Friday. We're going for a 3/4 share every other week and see if that works for us. Past years, no matter whose farm or what size share we tried, we were overwhelmed by the amount of vegetables to be eaten. I'm glad WEI has come up with the flex box alternative (shares are still available until June 14) because I like participating in the local food system but don't like composting the weekly leftovers we didn't get to.

I'd also like to learn more about our local food "system," including sources for meat, poultry and other food items. It may just be me, but someone recently called my attention to the National Farmers Union, of which there's a Minnesota chapter. Browsing and searching through their web site yielded no information on local food systems associated with the MFU. Through a series of replies to the Tweets that started me looking at the MFU web site, I learned that Minnesota Cooks is an educational outreach program of Minnesota Farmers Union that celebrates Minnesota's dedicated family farmers and the talented local foods-minded chefs and restaurant owners who work tirelessly to highlight delicious farm-fresh foods on their menus." Women's Environmental Institute is a member farm of Minnesota Cooks / Minnesota Grown, but that information isn't readily availalbe on the WEI web site, although WEI does list their membership in the Minnesota Environmental Fund.

local farmers market selection
local farmers market selection
Photo by J. Harrington

If there's one thing I learned during the years I was active in the green building community, it's that we need to get a lot better at building and promoting partnerships. I think the same can be said about our local food systems, although recent experiences indicate the emphasis maybe should be on promoting, the building partnerships seems to be coming along. Remember the philosophical question about "if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" If a local food system develops and few can readily find its members, who benefits, other than the big box stores? Would something like a local foods checkoff help?

Minnesota is fortunate to have many, or most, or all of the pieces for a number of local food systems which are serving a variety of food sheds. On the other hand, an abundance of information lacks the coherence and convenience that can be found in a local food coop or grocery store. Perhaps that's as it should be but, from a systems perspective, successfully growing local food systems will, I believe, need to somehow match the equivalent ease of readily findable sources such as sections for produce, dairy, meat, etc. if local foods are to become the bridge they could be over a growing urban/rural divide. Local food systems seem to have gone from providing data to sharing information. Now we need to transform information into knowledge and wisdom for producers, processors, consumers and marketers if we want the future to be local as well as global.


A crate of peaches straight from the farm
has to be maintained, or eaten in days.
Obvious, but in my family, they went so fast,
I never saw the mess that punishes delay.

I thought everyone bought fruit by the crate,
stored it in the coolest part of the house,
then devoured it before any could rot.
I’m from the Peach State, and to those

who ask But where are you from originally,
I’d like to reply The homeland of the peach,
but I’m too nice, and they might not look it up.
In truth, the reason we bought so much 
did have to do with being Chinese—at least
Chinese in that part of America, both strangers
and natives on a lonely, beautiful street
where food came in stackable containers 
and fussy bags, unless you bothered to drive
to the source, where the same money landed
a bushel of fruit, a twenty-pound sack of rice.
You had to drive anyway, each house surrounded 
by land enough to grow your own, if lawns
hadn’t been required. At home I loved to stare
into the extra freezer, reviewing mountains
of foil-wrapped meats, cakes, juice concentrate, 
mysterious packets brought by house guests
from New York Chinatown, to be transformed
by heat, force, and my mother’s patient effort,
enough to keep us fed through flood or storm,

provided the power stayed on, or fire and ice
could be procured, which would be labor-intensive,
but so was everything else my parents did.
Their lives were labor, they kept this from the kids, 
who grew up to confuse work with pleasure,
to become typical immigrants’ children,
taller than their parents and unaware of hunger
except when asked the odd, perplexing question.

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Summer storms, wind storms, thunder storms #phenology

This morning we "dodged a bullet." The line of severe thunderstorms that moved across Minnesota dumped lots of water, scared hell out of us with straight line winds, wall clouds, green skies and a tripped GFI circuit, but otherwise has left us pretty much unscathed. Elsewhere, there have been wide-spread power outages, hail and a few tornadoes reported. Yesterday we didn't fare as well. The hot winds which, if we were in North Africa or Southern Europe, might have qualified as a sirocco, took one of our birches(?) off at the stump and laid it halfway across our road.

the remaining stump after a windfall
the remaining stump after a windfall
Photo by J. Harrington

Roadside ditches and almost any semi-open area around here have an overabundance of poison ivy, so the better solution seemed to be to move the tree in toto, rather than dismember it whilst tromping about and collecting itch oils. The subcompact tractor, in four wheel drive, had the muscle but lacked the mass to haul a moderately-sized, whole tree by its trunk. Fortunately, the garage held a heavyweight four-by that outweighs the tractor by a factor of two or three. The jeep made me proud as we dragged the tree down the side of the road and into a nearby out of the way field that is miraculously ivy free. When we get cooler, drier weather, our "windfall" will be reduced to brush pile sized pieces and thence to ashes. Life is easier when we have the right tools for the jobs we face, especially if we also realize that holes left in our lives by fallen trees can again be filled, even if not perfectly, and even if not blue spruce.

the former resident of the stump
the former resident of the stump
Photo by J. Harrington

On Falling (Blue Spruce)

Dusk fell every night. Things
fall. Why should I
have been surprised.

Before it was possible
to imagine my life
without it, the winds

arrived, shattering air
and pulling the tree
so far back its roots,

ninety years, ripped
and sprung. I think
as it fell it became

unknowable. Every day
of my life now I cannot
understand. The force

of dual winds lifting
ninety years of stillness
as if it were nothing,

as if it hadn’t held every
crow and fog, emptying
night from its branches.

The needles fell. The pinecones
dropped every hour
on my porch, a constant

irritation. It is enough
that we crave objects,
that we are always

looking for a way
out of pain. What is beyond
task and future sits right

before us, endlessly
worthy. I have planted
a linden, with its delicate

clean angles, on a plot
one tenth the size. Some change
is too great.

Somewhere there is a field,
white and quiet, where a tree
like this one stands,

made entirely of
hovering. Nothing will
hold me up like that again.

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