Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Does #phenology apply to social storms?

As I drove home from an errand earlier today, I saw the dynamic sky shown below. Dark, stormy-looking clouds mixed with bright cumulous roiling around openings where the sun was forcing its way through. It made me think about what's going on in our national capital and places of entry throughout the country. If you look carefully, though, you might notice that the storm clouds emphasize the bright places.

without dark clouds, would we see the light?
without dark clouds, would we see the light?
Photo by J. Harrington

Much of the turmoil that shows up on "social media" isn't reported on local or national news. That may be just as well for most people, including me. It's like pounding your head on a brick wall, it feels so good when you stop. Obviously, I haven't been saying The Serenity Prayer as often as I should. I realized that again this morning when I read an article in The Atlantic (A Clarifying Moment in American History) that contained this passage:
Some Americans can fight abuses of power and disastrous policies directly—in courts, in congressional offices, in the press. But all can dedicate themselves to restoring the qualities upon which this republic, like all republics depends: on reverence for the truth; on a sober patriotism grounded in duty, moderation, respect for law, commitment to tradition, knowledge of our history, and open-mindedness.
 When was the last time you heard yourself, or a neighbor talk, about truth, duty, moderation, history or open-mindedness? Last night was the first time in a long while, if ever, that I heard a lawyer refer to "...always seek justice and stand for what is right..." I'm afraid that somewhere along the line, we've become a-ME-rica, and are now dealing with the consequences.

There are outstanding examples of better ways to improve both our lives and our values. One includes community leaders and members working with local school districts to fit state standards into a curriculum reflecting local values of truth, open-mindedness etc., in such realms as Environment, Community, Historical and the Individual, so that our children can learn how these realms affect each other as well as community members. Orion magazine has a story that describes how one Arctic community prepares its young people for the future using such an approach. Instead of fighting as much about "who controls" our schools, would our community, children and country be better served if we found ways to agree on what should be taught? I think so.

It becomes clearer to me every day that John Muir was correct when he wrote "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." That's another value we'd be wise to give more credence. America is not just a country of laws, it's a country of values that are reflected in our laws. We've drifted from our basic values and need to correct our course.

On Reading Crowds and Power


Cloven, we are incorporate, our wounds
simple but mysterious. We have
some wherewithal to bide our time on earth.
Endurance is fantastic; ambulances
battling at intersections, the city
intolerably en fête. My reflexes
are words themselves rather than standard
flexures of civil power. In all of this
Cassiopeia's a blessing
as is steady Orion beloved of poets.
Quotidian natures ours for the time being
I do not know
how we should be absolved or what is fate.


Fame is not fastidious about the lips
which spread it. So long as there are mouths
to reiterate the one name it does not
matter whose they are.
The fact that to the seeker after fame
they are indistinguishable from each other
and are all counted as equal shows that this
passion has its origin in the experience
of crowd manipulation. Names collect
their own crowds. They are greedy, live their own
separate lives, hardly at all connected
with the real natures of the men who bear them.


But hear this: that which is difficult
preserves democracy; you pay respect
to the intelligence of the citizen.
Basics are not condescension. Some
tyrants make great patrons. Let us observe
this and pass on. Certain directives
parody at your own risk. Tread lightly
with personal dignity and public image.
Safeguard the image of the common man.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Let #phenology brighten your days

This past week or so has made the downside of being a public policy junky obvious to me. I can do without hearing the phrase "constitutional crisis," which is becoming more prevalent in the social media I follow. But that same media brought some good news to go with the fact that this morning's snow has, so far, been little more than a dusting. We'll see what the rest of the day brings.

First, Spring has officially begun in the southern states, complemented up North here by egg-laying eagles. It's getting to be time to add the Journey North Monarch Butterfly Migration to the sidebar on this blog.

Spring Index: 1/29/17

Second, a photographer I follow on Twitter has a recent blog posting about Progress versus Growth that contains both some wonderful photos and a great quote from Ed Abbey.

Third, The Writer's Almanac informed me in an email that they had noted Ed Abbey's birthday last year.

So, as often happens, the world provides us with a mixed bag of pluses and minuses. I already miss how great it was when we were governed by an administration that didn't rely on "alternative facts." As a further "pick me up," I think I need to see what my local libraries have by Ed Abbey that I haven't yet read. Meanwhile, Illegitimi non carborundum. Many of the goals we're working toward have been problems for a long time. Just ask Woody Guthrie. Doesn't make it right, but requires patience and persistence. I've always been better at the second of those.

(aka. "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos")

Words by Woody Guthrie, Music by Martin Hoffman

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Happy Birthday, Ed Abbey! Many happy returns!

Today's the birthday of one of my favorite writers and professed reprobates, Ed Abbey. Since the normally reliable Writer's Almanac failed to mention it, I'm serving as a substitute.

I haven't read all of Abbey's work, including the source of one of his better quotations [below]. I believe, as our world gets more crowded and contentious, we all need to pay much more attention to this thought of his.  It comes from The Journey Home : Some Words in Defense of the American West (1977).

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

like this pair, Abbey's spirit soars above the lands that he loved
like this pair, Abbey's spirit soars above the lands that he loved
Photo by J. Harrington

At the moment, I can recall reading Abbey's Down the River, The Monkey Wrench Gang, Postcards from Ed [page 3 of linked index], and probably a couple I can't remember.

The contrast between Abbey's perspective and what we currently see come out of Washington, D.C.  is as stark as it gets. I much prefer Abbey's anarchy to T***p's wall. As noted in an online introduction:
"In a career spanning four decades, he [Abbey] wrote passionately in defense of the Southwest and its inhabitants, often mocking the mindless bureaucratic forces hell-bent on destroying it. 'Resist much, obey little,' from Walt Withman [sic], was this warrior's motto."
With models to follow, like Abbey, Whitman, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, even LBJ, we should be able to survive what's going on these days, and even begin to thrive again in the future. Our thriving, however, relies on major changes in our values and priorities. Again, Abbey tells us how with these wishes that say more about what it means to be human and, I hope, American, than our Gross Domestic Product ever can:

"Benedicto: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets' towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you --- beyond that next turning of the canyon walls."
Edward Abbey 

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

#phenology, politics and facts

Today is Chinese New Year. It is, for them, The Year of the Rooster. It is also know as Spring Festival, although it will be awhile before there is Spring weather in much of China.

Closer to home, yesterday was a new moon, the Ojibwe Deep Snow Moon, according to my Minnesota Weatherguide Engagement Calendar, although the Center for Native American Studies tells us that January is Minado Giizis (Min-ah-doh Gee-zehs) Spirit Moon and February is Makwa Giizis  (Mah-kwah) Bear Moon. The Center also notes that "Because the region the Anishinaabe lived was so large, the moons may not be called the same thing for all areas." Anishinaabe living near me would see that these days there is no "deep snow."

soon the red osier dogwood colors will brighten
soon the red osier dogwood colors will brighten
Photo by J. Harrington

The "facts" involved here are that "The Anishinaabe designated the names of the moon to correspond with the seasonal influence within a given location." The "Chinese New Year was set to coincide with the slack time just before a new year of farm work begins, as a time of preparation." There is, and/or was, a considered relationship between the people in each culture and the phenology that affected them and the culture's major activities, but not to the point of exclusion of alternative names.

These days, the Anishinaabe, and the Chinese, and I suspect many other more traditional cultures, seem to be better able to accommodate alternative perspectives and priorities than can, unfortunately, many cultures in western civilization, including especially the United States. It seems to me we have placed too much emphasis on the "me" in America. A culture is not an aggregation of "me" values, not is it a pendulum of imposed values based on a winner take all politics. I was never a particular fan of President Ronald Reagan, although I have long followed his dictum to trust but verify. I heard his speech tell "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," and agreed with that part. I also agreed with this section of his farewell speech:
And that's about all I have to say tonight, except for one thing. The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the 'shining city upon a hill.' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.
The behavior and activities this past week from Washington, D.C. don't seem to reflect Reagan's famous Republican American vision. We are failing our adaptation to the cultural, political and physical climate changes going on in our world and our country. How can the practice of phenology teach us to better understand and accommodate each other so that we realize we're using different words for the same facts?

When the World as We Knew It Ended

We were dreaming on an occupied island at the farthest edge
of a trembling nation when it went down.

Two towers rose up from the east island of commerce and touched
the sky. Men walked on the moon. Oil was sucked dry
by two brothers. Then it went down. Swallowed
by a fire dragon, by oil and fear.
Eaten whole.

It was coming.

We had been watching since the eve of the missionaries in their
long and solemn clothes, to see what would happen.

We saw it
from the kitchen window over the sink
as we made coffee, cooked rice and
potatoes, enough for an army.

We saw it all, as we changed diapers and fed
the babies. We saw it,
through the branches
of the knowledgeable tree
through the snags of stars, through
the sun and storms from our knees
as we bathed and washed
the floors.

The conference of the birds warned us, as they flew over
destroyers in the harbor, parked there since the first takeover.
It was by their song and talk we knew when to rise
when to look out the window
to the commotion going on—
the magnetic field thrown off by grief.

We heard it.
The racket in every corner of the world. As
the hunger for war rose up in those who would steal to be president
to be king or emperor, to own the trees, stones, and everything
else that moved about the earth, inside the earth
and above it.

We knew it was coming, tasted the winds who gathered intelligence
from each leaf and flower, from every mountain, sea
and desert, from every prayer and song all over this tiny universe
floating in the skies of infinite

And then it was over, this world we had grown to love
for its sweet grasses, for the many-colored horses
and fishes, for the shimmering possibilities
while dreaming.

But then there were the seeds to plant and the babies
who needed milk and comforting, and someone
picked up a guitar or ukulele from the rubble
and began to sing about the light flutter
the kick beneath the skin of the earth
we felt there, beneath us

a warm animal
a song being born between the legs of her;
a poem.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Does sunshine cloud #phenology?

Earlier this week, a dusting of snow became a white board on which red squirrels and (I think) downy woodpeckers left messages. Today the board and its messages have been erased by some rare sunlight. Another sign that we're closing in on the Vernal Equinox is that the sun is now warm enough to melt some of the snow and ice on the brown gravel road, even though the temperature is well below freezing. I know it's still some way off, but I'm looking forward to Spring this year more than usual, I think, despite the fact that our Winter has been less painful than typical. Actually, more than anticipating Spring, I'm just sick of cloudy, cold, contrary weather. You know, the feeling of "Sunshine on My Shoulders makes me happy." (Check out the Minnesota connection to Denver's song.) I'd rather see tracks on muddy road shoulders or soft stream banks than on snowflake-covered decks.

tracks in snow dust: red squirrel, downy woodpecker, and ???
tracks in snow dust: red squirrel, downy woodpecker, and ???
Photo by J. Harrington

The sun's movement toward northern skies is inexorable. There may be occasional spells of cold or snow or both, but each day for the next several months, sunrise and sunset grow a little farther apart. If there's no cloud cover, we get more daylight sunshine. If there are clouds, we get more daylight. One of the recently reported downsides of climate change is a forecast decline, somewhere around 10%, in the number of "nice" days we get each year. Since trout (and walleye) don't particularly care for bright sunshine, that may not be all bad if trout (and walleye) anglers can adjust. I wonder if this kind of change will affect aquatic macroinvertebrates at all. Warmer climate will mean warmer waters but fishing a hatch is often better on overcast days.

As I try to convince myself that something approaching a "normal" life will be possible in the future, I notice that other folks are going through similar adjustments. I hope you enjoy the upcoming equinox as much as ever you have.

The Sun

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone–
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance–
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love–
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world–

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

- Mary Oliver

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Gloom, doom, degraded water quality and #phenology

Late last year, I read Kurt Fausch's For the Love of Rivers. It was an early Christmas present from the Better half. One of the fascinating things I learned is that "on average, fully a quarter of the annual energy needs (calories) for the ten species of birds that feed in the riparian forest were supplied by the small adult aquatic insects that emerged from Horonai Stream." [p. 63] Maybe one of you can bring this to the attention of Minnesota Audubon? The crossover between air and water, birds and fish, needs more engagement by local environmental organizations that too rarely talk to each other.

does Minnesota have too many trout streams?
does Minnesota have too many trout streams?
Photo by J. Harrington

Since the book was published fairly recently, it's not clear whether Minnesota Pollution Control Agency staff took such factors into account when they proposed downgrading 101 stream reaches and their ability to support aquatic life (macroinvertebrates and fishes). (I suspect not.) If enough people (more than 25) don't request a public hearing, these resources will be lost, probably forever, and the waters to which they are tributary may remain forever degraded without due consideration and public input.

If you care about such things, follow this link and request that a public hearing on these, and related changes, be held. As Water Legacy notes in their suggest hearing request language "The Public Notice for the proposed TALU rules did not say that any water bodies would be downgraded if the rules were approved, let alone more than 100 waters. (SONAR, Attachment A)."

One of my concerns is that, as Minnesota's water quality classifications become more fragmented and complex (think proposed wild rice standards and classifications), the harder it becomes for the Agency to fund and assign adequate staff resources, the easier it becomes for industry to challenge a particular designation, and the harder it becomes for the public (think swimmers, anglers, families) to understand and affect these rules intended to protect our environment. It seems to me that's kind of like setting up something like a "Citizens United" for environmental protection rules.

As long as I'm back in an Eeyore mode, I noticed this announcement today:
Jan. 20 -25 has been the gloomiest since solar radiation records began at the St. Paul campus observatory at the U of MN in 1963.
That doesn't even begin to account for the events in Washington, D.C. It is easier to affect governmental events closer to home in Minnesota, at least on a good day. Click on this link and ask for the hearing. Agriculture and mining are attacking the quality of Minnesota's waters. Don't give them a free ride. Thanks. (Yes, I did fill out the form and send it off asking for a hearing.)

In Blackwater Woods

By Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
to let it go.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What good is it?

A long time ago, I heard a saying that I've tried to take to heart ever since. "No one is totally useless who can at least serve as a bad example." Lord knows we've got more than enough of those examples these days. I bring this up because this morning I was caught up short by this Tweet from the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?"

I'm embarrassed to admit I've asked that question more than once, particularly about creatures such as ticks. I'm struggling these days with how Leopold's perspective applies to invasive species and Republicans. In fact, it's not all that long a stretch to argue that, since man is part of Nature, the disruptions we create must also be "natural." Think about now melting glaciers which, about 10,000 or so years ago, were growing and scouring the countryside down to bedrock. What good were they? They created "pristine" landscapes for life to use and lowered sea level to ease travel.

One of the major differences between (many of) Nature's changes and those we humans induce is the timeline we follow. Leopold's wonderful perspective that "Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf." is a far, far cry from the rate at which we try to impose our will on the world around us. As I look about at the efforts of a president, and Republican legislators at the federal and state level, the following three thoughts come to mind:

  1. Don't it always seem to go
    That you don't know what you've got
    Till it's gone
    ” - Joni Mitchell

  2. Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher 'standard of living' is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television.” - Aldo Leopold

  3. At the rate we've been going, our democracy had become taken for granted, I fear, by too many of us. Perhaps now we will learn what good it is or we'll lose it. That might be an example of what good could come from the current administration.
I suppose, if we find what good Republican legislatures and the current administration may bring, there may even be hope for ticks. On the other hand, we can try to talk more with Republicans. No so ticks. Is it possible that our road to restorative development needs to start with restoring civility to our politics? Is that possible? It has to be.


When you’re cold—November, the streets icy and everyone you pass
homeless, Goodwill coats and Hefty bags torn up to make ponchos—
someone is always at the pay phone, hunched over the receiver

spewing winter’s germs, swollen lipped, face chapped, making the last
tired connection of the day. You keep walking to keep the cold
at bay, too cold to wait for the bus, too depressing the thought

of entering that blue light, the chilled eyes watching you decide
which seat to take: the man with one leg, his crutches bumping
the smudged window glass, the woman with her purse clutched

to her breasts like a dead child, the boy, pimpled, morose, his head
shorn, a swastika carved into the stubble, staring you down.
So you walk into the cold you know: the wind, indifferent blade,

familiar, the gold leaves heaped along the gutters. You have
a home, a house with gas heat, a toilet that flushes. You have
a credit card, cash. You could take a taxi if one would show up.

You can feel it now: why people become Republicans: Get that dog
off the street. Remove that spit and graffiti. Arrest those people huddled
on the steps of the church. If it weren’t for them you could believe in god,

in freedom, the bus would appear and open its doors, the driver dressed
in his tan uniform, pants legs creased, dapper hat: Hello Miss, watch
your step now. But you’re not a Republican. You’re only tired, hungry,

you want out of the cold. So you give up, walk back, step into line behind
the grubby vet who hides a bag of wine under his pea coat, holds out
his grimy 85 cents, takes each step slow as he pleases, releases his coins

into the box and waits as they chink down the chute, stakes out a seat
in the back and eases his body into the stained vinyl to dream
as the chips of shrapnel in his knee warm up and his good leg

flops into the aisle. And you’ll doze off, too, in a while, next to the girl
who can’t sit still, who listens to her Walkman and taps her boots
to a rhythm you can’t hear, but you can see it—when she bops

her head and her hands do a jive in the air—you can feel it
as the bus rolls on, stopping at each red light in a long wheeze,
jerking and idling, rumbling up and lurching off again.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

We could use some white magic these days

The sand in our township road was embedded with frost crystals early this morning. They sparkled in the flashlight's beam as I walked SiSi in the dark. It was magical. I almost expected to see fairies come floating across the fields we walked next to. I suppose this means that even mud can have its moments?

muddy Winter roads can sometimes hold magic
muddy Winter roads can sometimes hold magic
Photo by J. Harrington

It's doubtful, but not clear, if postings on My Minnesota have any magical powers. Here's a couple of recent events for consideration. Yesterday?, I think it was, we mentioned the succession of dreary days we've had. Today, Paul Douglas, in his Weather blog, noted a national dreariness index. Turns out my state of origin, Massachusetts, is rated even more dreary than Minnesota. That's a reason for me to work on my gratitude index.

Next, sometime within the past week or so, we mentioned Margaret Atwood's dystopian, speculative fiction novel, The Handmaid's Tale. At the time we wrote about it, there was at least one copy available in one of the local branch libraries. We had checked the online catalogs. Today, we stopped at one each of the branches of our two local library systems. Nada. Next time, we'll check out, or at least put on hold, a book we might want to read before we write about it, just in case we either exercise magical powers through our postings or, less likely, that anyone actually reads, pays attention to, and acts on these meanderings.

I don't know how you feel about it, but from where I sit, the world could use a lot more white magic, sort of like what SiSi and I enjoyed this morning. I am intentionally not writing about any of the goings on in Washington. It looks to me very much as though things are being done with little consideration of unintended consequences. Remember the old saying about a bull in a china shop?  I'm thinking about Mr. Spock's observation regarding much of human behavior "Fascinating," spoken with an arched eyebrow and sense of clinical detachment that I yearn for. Instead, I'll keep repeating the Serenity Prayer and remember that “Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.”—Unknown

Interesting Times

By Mark Jarman

Everything’s happening on the cusp of tragedy, the tip of comedy, the pivot of event.
You want a placid life, find another planet. This one is occupied with the story’s arc:
About to happen, on the verge, horizontal. You want another planet, try the moon.
Try any of the eight, try Planet X. It’s out there somewhere, black with serenity.
How interesting will our times become? How much more interesting can they become?

A crow with something dangling from its beak flaps onto a telephone pole top, daintily,
And croaks its victory to other crows and tries to keep its morsel to itself.
A limp shape, leggy, stunned, drops from the black beak’s scissors like a rag.
We drive past, commenting, and looking upward. A sunny morning, too cold to be nesting,
Unless that is a nest the crow has seized, against the coming spring.

We’ve been at this historical site before, but not in any history we remember.
The present has been cloaked in cloud before, and not on any holy mountaintop.
To know the stars will one day fly apart so far they can’t be seen
Is almost a relief. For the future flies in one direction—toward us.
And the only way to sidestep it—the only way—is headed this way, too.

So, look. That woman’s got a child by the hand. She’s dragging him across the street.
He’s crying and she’s shouting, but we see only dumbshow. Their breath is smoke.
Will she give in and comfort him? Will he concede at last? We do not know.
Their words are smoke. In a minute they’ll be somewhere else entirely.
Everyone in a minute will be somewhere else entirely. As the crow flies.

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

Let's have a not so Silent Spring!

It's less than two months until astronomical Spring (vernal equinox) and only a little more than five weeks until meteorological Spring. Minnesota's meteorological Spring begins March 1, and shortly thereafter begins Mud Season. Except, this year's extended January thaw has given us a Mud Season already, plus rotting ice and, in some places, enough snow melted to show last Autumn's green grass and ground cover.

Spring will eventually get here. Will it be silent?
Spring will eventually get here. Will it be silent?
Photo by J. Harrington

I mention these facts because our extended spell of damp, dreary, depressing weather has me grasping for any straw that may contain optimism: Spring, mud, ephemerals, flowing waters, sunshine? All of this brought to mind the following paragraph from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
"Then, one spring, a strange blight crept over the area, and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community; mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens, and the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was the shadow of death. The farmers told of much illness among their families. In the town, the doctors were becoming more and more puzzled by new kinds of sickness that had appeared among their patients. There had been several sudden and unexplained deaths, not only among the adults but also among the children, who would be stricken while they were at play, and would die within a few hours. And there was a strange stillness. The birds, for example—where had they gone? Many people, baffled and disturbed, spoke of them. The feeding stations in the back yards were deserted. The few birds to be seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. In the mornings, which had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, and wrens, and scores of other bird voices, there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marshes. On the farms, the hens brooded but no chicks hatched. The farmers complained that they were unable to raise any pigs; the litters were small, and the young survived only a few days. The apple trees were coming into bloom, but no bees droned among the blossoms, so there was no pollination and there would be no fruit. The roadsides were lined with brown and withered vegetation, and were silent, too, deserted by all living things. Even the streams were lifeless. Anglers no longer visited them, for all the fish had died. In the gutters under the eaves, and between the shingles of the roofs, a few patches of white granular powder could be seen; some weeks earlier this powder had been dropped, like snow, upon the roofs and the lawns, the fields and the streams. No witchcraft, no enemy action had snuffed out life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves."
The chemical industry vilified her, or at least tried to. She was correct. Despite the industry's concerns, the sky has not fallen, collapsing the American economy. Now we have a new administration and the fossil fuel industries making claims about climate change similar to those the chemical industry made about Ms. Carson. The scientists are again correct and our new government is incorrect.

Carson, however, offers us even more telling guidance for these issues we face in this Winter of Our Discontent. More than fifty years ago she brought to our attention our misplaced priorities, values and practices:
"Additionally Silent Spring suggested a needed change in how democracies and liberal societies operated so that individuals and groups could question what their governments allowed others to put into the environment. Far from calling for sweeping changes in government policy, Carson believed the federal government was part of the problem. She admonished her readers and audiences to ask “Who Speaks, And Why?” and therein to set the seeds of social revolution. She identified human hubris and financial self-interest as the crux of the problem and asked if we could master ourselves and our appetites to live as though we humans are an equal part of the earth’s systems and not the master of them."
As near as I can tell, we haven't fully addressed the environmental issues Carson warned us about, and we're even more remiss in attending to the health of our democracy. In an age when our federal government wants us to accept "alternate facts," it's way past time to settle down between now and Spring 2017 and read (or reread) Silent Spring. Then we must organize to act on the social revolution we need, just as we did for the first Earth Day and the enactments of the Clean Air and Water Acts, the Endangered Species Act. We did it once. It's time to do it again before we find ourselves living(?) in Carson's imagined community.

UPDATE: [don't forget to check your local PBS listings for Rachel Carson, the movie]


By Billy Collins

There is the sudden silence of the crowd
above a player not moving on the field,
and the silence of the orchid.

The silence of the falling vase
before it strikes the floor,
the silence of the belt when it is not striking the child.

The stillness of the cup and the water in it,
the silence of the moon
and the quiet of the day far from the roar of the sun.

The silence when I hold you to my chest,
the silence of the window above us,
and the silence when you rise and turn away.

And there is the silence of this morning
which I have broken with my pen,
a silence that had piled up all night

like snow falling in the darkness of the house—
the silence before I wrote a word
and the poorer silence now.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

How do we make hate surrender?

Yesterday's Women's March took me back to the time of anti-Vietnam war protests. (Yes, I participated in them.) One major difference is that there seemed to be no tear gas, no arrests and no police cars on fire yesterday, at least none related to the marches. Those were the days of Dylan's early songs like "Masters of War," which then made me think of Woodie Guthrie, who, at one time, lived in an apartment building owned by Donald Trump's father. As you might expect, Guthrie and Trump didn't share much in the way of a world view. As the New York Times informed us about a year ago: Woody Guthrie Wrote of His Contempt for His Landlord, Donald Trump’s Father. (The times may have been a'changin' but people, not so much.)

All of that, plus the way the new Trump administration is starting, reminded me of Guthrie's "This machine kills fascists" sign on his guitar and his song All You Fascists. Funny, and sad, how some themes keep repeating themselves in America.

another American folk hero, Joan Baez
"Nasty Women," like Joan Baez, are American folk heroes
Photo by J. Harrington

Now I don't know if it was Guthrie's guitar sign that inspired Pete Seeger's banjo head inscription or if Pete's inscription preceded Woody's words. "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender," is a very different message than the one Woody displayed. I suspect that part of the difference was that Guthrie's fascists and the US engaged in a shooting war and Pete was later dealing with cultural war battles. There were, no doubt, other factors too. I admire both Guthrie and Seeger but am more comfortable with Seeger's philosophy. It can't just be that the "times make the man" or something like that, since both Woody and Pete were largely contemporaries. Each artist has left us wonderful works.

To close out a triumvirate of people who may have helped inspire the administration's desire to gut funding for the arts, the issues, actions and reactions of the Trump campaign and administration during the past several months keep bringing to mind Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I hope it turns out to be less prescient than some of her other works. America is greatest when we care for all of us equitably.

They are hostile nations

By Margaret Atwood


In view of the fading animals
the proliferation of sewers and fears   
the sea clogging, the air
nearing extinction

we should be kind, we should
take warning, we should forgive each other

Instead we are opposite, we   
touch as though attacking,

the gifts we bring
even in good faith maybe   
warp in our hands to
implements, to manoeuvres


Put down the target of me
you guard inside your binoculars,   
in turn I will surrender

this aerial photograph   
(your vulnerable
sections marked in red)   
I have found so useful

See, we are alone in
the dormant field, the snow
that cannot be eaten or captured


Here there are no armies   
here there is no money

It is cold and getting colder,

We need each others’
breathing, warmth, surviving   
is the only war
we can afford, stay

walking with me, there is almost   
time / if we can only   
make it as far as

the (possibly) last summer

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

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thank you, Women's March and Sister Marches!

First, I wish all success, safety and joy to all those participating in, or supporting, a Women's (or Sister) March. My preferred candidate for the past presidential election was a woman. For her own reasons, she refused to run. I had to respect that. We eventually ended up with a president whose personal behavior and values engendered the need for today's marches. As I've thought about how we ended up in this situation, some of the more recent thinking from the green building and sustainable living leaders has sifted into the mix of my thoughts. In honor of today's marches and marchers, let me try to share some of those thoughts about how we might try to make even our politics more sustainable.

There's a growing recognition in sustainable development and green building that "less bad isn't the same as good." There's a qualitative and quantitative difference. What we need for "good" to occur are  practices that support regenerative and restorative development. That's certainly more than true of our politics also. In fact, for too long and by too much, we Americans have been lowering our standards for politicians. That, to my mind, explains a good part of why there are hundreds of thousands of people participating in Women's Marches today. Maybe, as a society, we're "hitting bottom" and getting ready to change?

Water Is Life, there is no substitute
Water Is Life, there is no substitute
Photo by J. Harrington

For a long while, I considered the possibility that the issues we face have to do with differing priorities rather than different values. No longer do I believe that's the case. For example, our "Common Core State Standards" make reference to students acquiring "knowledge and skills," but not to any values. Our politics and cultural wars are all about values, and whose values and ethics will prevail. Our classrooms have become battlegrounds for our politics. Our children are becoming collateral damage. I believe that's a major back story behind today's marches.

Here's part of a list of values I recently read about in Orion magazine. How many of these are taught in our schools, or, for that matter, in our homes?
  • Humility
  • Spirituality
  • Cooperation
  • Compassion
  • Knowledge of language
  • Sharing
  • Family and kinship
  • Humor
  • Respect for elders and for each other
  • Respect for Nature
These basic values are very similar to those I was raised on. I'm some Americans today might find one or more of them suspect, but let's start with at least one or two that should be above question. Without respect for each other, we have little, if any, basis for peaceful resolution of our differences. Without respect for nature, we'll soon enough learn that "there are no jobs on a dead planet." Women, much more than any man I know, live by most or all of the values listed. I believe it's because listed are values that support Life and women are much closer to the source of life than are most men. I've been in the room for the delivery for two of my children, and I know it wasn't me doing most of the heavy pushing that brought forth new life.

One of my heroes, Aldo Leopold, in his writings about a Land Ethic, talks about life using different words when he tells us that we should:
“Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
The Land Ethic, A Sand County Almanac.
Today's Women's March and Sister Marches are, it seems to me, trying to remind the new administration, and the rest of us, to "do the right thing," and support life. Without it, what do we have? I just wish we could get our new president to take part in a Nibi Walk. Perhaps then he could understand the concerns many are expressing today. Carrying water is much like

Making Peace

By Denise Levertov

A voice from the dark called out,
             ‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
                                       A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
                                              A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
                        A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

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

Friday, January 20, 2017

Continue to love #phenology

Today's normal high temperature is 24℉. A few minutes ago, I tried (and failed) to take a picture of today's rain showers. The photo does, however, nicely reflect my current mood and outlook: dreary, glum, unseasonal, etc. Somehow, one might think that the Trump administration, and the state of Wisconsin, believe the climate change challenge can be solved by deleting or distorting all references to it on their respective web sites. That makes as much sense as the North Carolina legislation prohibiting sea-rise. But enough about politics.

dreary, glum, unseasonal January rain
dreary, glum, unseasonal January rain
Photo by J. Harrington

Evenings this week have had either a male or a female cardinal showing up at the front feeder. So far, there's been no time when both were there simultaneously. Also, on a recent evening, one of the neighborhood's barred owls was seen perched in a tree near the deck feeders. All of this came about after I'd posted daily blogs noting the absence of cardinals and owls in the area. I'm going to give some thought to other topics I can write about safely and see if I can create a related change. If that works, we'll then try for world domination.

As you know, four years ago today, Barack Obama was inaugurated President of the United States for the second time. A few days prior to his inauguration, I wrote something titled "Progress" that seems to have been more prescient than I realized at the time. Here's a link to that posting. Think there's anything to it?

One other piece of good news this week, in the process of poking around the interwebs over the past day or so, I found the Split This Rock web site, on which the following is part of a 6 poem Inaugural posting. You're welcome and,


By Aracelis Girmay

You, selling roses out of a silver grocery cart

You, in the park, feeding the pigeons
You cheering for the bees

You with cats in your voice in the morning, feeding cats

You protecting the river   You are who I love
delivering babies, nursing the sick

You with henna on your feet and a gold star in your nose

You taking your medicine, reading the magazines

You looking into the faces of young people as they pass, smiling and saying, Alright! which, they know it, means I see you, Family. I love you. Keep on.

You dancing in the kitchen, on the sidewalk, in the subway waiting for the train because Stevie Wonder, Héctor Lavoe, La Lupe

You stirring the pot of beans, you, washing your father’s feet

You are who I love, you
reciting Darwish, then June

Feeding your heart, teaching your parents how to do The Dougie, counting to 10, reading your patients’ charts

You are who I love, changing policies, standing in line for water, stocking the food pantries, making a meal

You are who I love, writing letters, calling the senators, you who, with the seconds of your body (with your time here), arrive on buses, on trains, in cars, by foot to stand in the January streets against the cool and brutal offices, saying: YOUR CRUELTY DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ME

You are who I love, you struggling to see

You struggling to love or find a question

You better than me, you kinder and so blistering with anger, you are who I love, standing in the wind, salvaging the umbrellas, graduating from school, wearing holes in your shoes

You are who I love
weeping or touching the faces of the weeping

You, Violeta Parra, grateful for the alphabet, for sound, singing toward us in the dream

You carrying your brother home
You noticing the butterflies

Sharing your water, sharing your potatoes and greens

You who did and did not survive
You who cleaned the kitchens
You who built the railroad tracks and roads
You who replanted the trees, listening to the work of squirrels and birds, you are who I love
You whose blood was taken, whose hands and lives were taken, with or without your saying
Yes, I mean to give. You are who I love.

You who the borders crossed
You whose fires
You decent with rage, so in love with the earth
You writing poems alongside children

You cactus, water, sparrow, crow      You, my elder
You are who I love,
summoning the courage, making the cobbler,

getting the blood drawn, sharing the difficult news, you always planting the marigolds, learning to walk wherever you are, learning to read wherever you are, you baking the bread, you come to me in dreams, you kissing the faces of your dead wherever you are, speaking to your children in your mother’s languages, tootsing the birds

You are who I love, behind the library desk, leaving who might kill you, crying with the love songs, polishing your shoes, lighting the candles, getting through the first day despite the whisperers sniping fail fail fail

You are who I love, you who beat and did not beat the odds, you who knows that any good thing you have is the result of someone else’s sacrifice, work, you who fights for reparations

You are who I love, you who stands at the courthouse with the sign that reads NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE

You are who I love, singing Leonard Cohen to the snow, you with glitter on your face, wearing a kilt and violet lipstick

You are who I love, sighing in your sleep

You, playing drums in the procession, you feeding the chickens and humming as you hem the skirt, you sharpening the pencil, you writing the poem about the loneliness of the astronaut

You wanting to listen, you trying to be so still

You are who I love, mothering the dogs, standing with horses

You in brightness and in darkness, throwing your head back as you laugh, kissing your hand

You carrying the berbere from the mill, and the jug of oil pressed from the olives of the trees you belong to

You studying stars, you are who I love
braiding your child’s hair

You are who I love, crossing the desert and trying to cross the desert

You are who I love, working the shifts to buy books, rice, tomatoes,

bathing your children as you listen to the lecture, heating the kitchen with the oven, up early, up late

You are who I love, learning English, learning Spanish, drawing flowers on your hand with a ballpoint pen, taking the bus home

You are who I love, speaking plainly about your pain, sucking your teeth at the airport terminal television every time the politicians say something that offends your sense of decency, of thought, which is often

You are who I love, throwing your hands up in agony or disbelief, shaking your head, arguing back, out loud or inside of yourself, holding close your incredulity which, yes, too, I love    I love

your working heart, how each of its gestures, tiny or big, stand beside my own agony, building a forest there

How “Fuck you” becomes a love song

You are who I love, carrying the signs, packing the lunches, with the rain on your face

You at the edges and shores, in the rooms of quiet, in the rooms of shouting, in the airport terminal, at the bus depot saying “No!” and each of us looking out from the gorgeous unlikelihood of our lives at all, finding ourselves here, witnesses to each other’s tenderness, which, this moment, is fury, is rage, which, this moment, is another way of saying: You are who I love   You are who I love  You and you and you are who

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

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Can a dark age have a dawn?

If a dark age can have a dawn, it may occur about noon tomorrow. Did anyone ever find out what "Make America Great Again" is supposed to really mean? So far, I'm seeing "greatness" means proposals to:
  • Gut funding for the arts,
    by eliminating funds for the National Endowment and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

  • Gut funding for the working poor and those with disabilities,
    by severely cutting medicaid

  • Gut funding for the elderly and those with disabilities
    through cuts to medicare

  • Bait and switch the Affordable Care Act with "Repeal and Replace" with?
So far, "greatness" seems defined by being really mean to the vulnerable among us?

is tomorrow the dawn of a dark age?
is tomorrow the dawn of a dark age?
Photo by J. Harrington

Does a "Great America" have much need for ethics in its leadership? Or, will "greatness" be attained through "Caveat emptor." "Let losers beware." Is the program to have America also become "great" through a strategy of allowing competitors to move into unchallenged lead roles in new energy technologies and growth economies while we spend billions cleaning up after more and more hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy and other megastorms? Wil we be busy watching greatness in tomorrow's America be defined the way many great apes do, whichever one yells loudest and stamps longest is "the greatest." That phrase had much more meaning years ago when it was said, by himself, about a black, American, Muslim boxer. That level of greatness isn't likely to be attained over the next few years.

I've been around long enough to recognize that much of what's being proposed are long-standing Republican fantasies. What's missing this time are enough Democrats to save those Republicans from themselves as Democrats try to save the rest of us in the process. This time around, Republicans, and those who support them, might want to carefully consider the old saying "be careful what you wish for, you may get it." The money from corporations and the 1% won't help if there's no one left to vote for you or work in your factories or flip your burgers. Even if robots can do lots of the work, who in hell (that's what it may well be on earth) buys your products? Emerging country citizens who are all fleeing rising seas and local war lords?

Without affordable health care, people die. Without arts and meaningful employment, they often feel as though they might as well be dead. If the T***p administration and the Republican congress continue on their present course, we can probably expect America to become as great as today's Syria or Iraq. Is that what was meant?


Then one of the students with blue hair and a tongue stud   
Says that America is for him a maximum-security prison

Whose walls are made of RadioShacks and Burger Kings, and MTV episodes   
Where you can’t tell the show from the commercials,

And as I consider how to express how full of shit I think he is,   
He says that even when he’s driving to the mall in his Isuzu

Trooper with a gang of his friends, letting rap music pour over them   
Like a boiling Jacuzzi full of ballpeen hammers, even then he feels

Buried alive, captured and suffocated in the folds   
Of the thick satin quilt of America

And I wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain,   
or whether he is just spin doctoring a better grade,

And then I remember that when I stabbed my father in the dream last night,   
It was not blood but money

That gushed out of him, bright green hundred-dollar bills   
Spilling from his wounds, and—this is the weird part—,

He gasped “Thank god—those Ben Franklins were   
Clogging up my heart—

And so I perish happily,
Freed from that which kept me from my liberty”—

Which was when I knew it was a dream, since my dad   
Would never speak in rhymed couplets,

And I look at the student with his acne and cell phone and phony ghetto clothes
And I think, “I am asleep in America too,

And I don’t know how to wake myself either,”
And I remember what Marx said near the end of his life:

“I was listening to the cries of the past,
When I should have been listening to the cries of the future.”

But how could he have imagined 100 channels of 24-hour cable
Or what kind of nightmare it might be

When each day you watch rivers of bright merchandise run past you
And you are floating in your pleasure boat upon this river

Even while others are drowning underneath you
And you see their faces twisting in the surface of the waters

And yet it seems to be your own hand
Which turns the volume higher?

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