Tuesday, February 28, 2017

It lichens unto Spring!

Looking at last year's photos, local skunk cabbage had emerged by the end of March. That's also about when local bulbs began to emerge. If skunk cabbage emerges early and no one notices and records it, was it really early? Yes, because the plant's development stage would be advanced compared to whatever passes for normal these days.

last year's skunk cabbage on March 31
last year's skunk cabbage on March 31
Photo by J. Harrington

According to the Ojibwe, March is the month of Onaabidin Giizis (Oh-nah-bid-in Gee-zehsSnow Crust Moon. That may yet be possible this year, but I wouldn't count on it in our neck of the woods. Snow's gone. According to Muscrat Magazine web site, March's full moon is
The third moon of Creation is Sugar Moon, as the maple sap begins to run, we learn of one of the main medicines given to the anishnaabe which balances our blood and heals us. During this time, we are encouraged to balance our lives as we would our blood sugar levels. This moon also teaches us the time of year when the sap is running for maple sugar harvest. This is celebrated as the Anishinaabe new year.

Full moon in March Sugar moon? Snow Crust Moon?
Full moon in March Sugar moon? Snow Crust Moon?
Photo by J. Harrington

Personally, naming the March full moon as the sugar moon makes more sense to me. I also like the idea of starting a new year at the beginning of Spring. In any case, by whichever name you call the moon, it, unlike the snow, is still here and this year will be full starting around March 11.

After posting yesterday about British soldier lichen and its potential use as a dye, I started thinking about how few were growing in any one place and also how few places they're growing nearby. That started me looking to find how much lichen is needed to make and particular amount of dye. No luck with that so far, but I did come across this particularly information page on uses of lichens, including dyes. I'll keep looking. Feel free to share if you already have some answers or resources.


By Jonathan Galassi

Heartworn happiness, fine line that winds
among the tapestry’s old blacks and blues,
bright hair blazing in the theater,
red hair raving in the bar—as now
the little leaves shoot veils of gold
across the trees’ bones, shroud of spring,
ghost of summer, shadblow snow, blood-
russet spoor spilled prodigal on last year’s leaves . . .
When your yellows, greens, and yellow-greens,
your ochres and your umbers have evolved
nearly to hemlock blackness, cypress blackness,
when the woods are rife with soddenness
(unfolded ferns, skunk cabbage by the stream,
barberry by the trunks, and bitter
watercress inside the druid pool)
will your thin, still-glinting thread insist
to catch the eye in filigreed titrations
stitched along among beneath the branches,
in the branches where it lives all winter,
occulted fire, brief constant fleeting gold . . .

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Where British soldiers live

Exactly one year ago there was still snow cover in the nearby woods. Not this year.

last year's late Winter woods
last year's late Winter woods
Photo by J. Harrington

The walk I took last February 27 led me to discover British soldier lichen growing in the field between the house and the wet woods to the West. That led me to want to know more about lichens. According to the Minnesota Seasons web site, British soldier lichens can be found throughout our North Woods. I had previously picked up a Lichens of the North Woods field guide by Joe Walewski, because I wanted to identify some orange lichens growing on the rocks at Lake Superior's shore line. Walewski's reference didn't specifically include British soldier lichens so I finally took my photo to the good folks staffing Wild River State Park and they got me pointed in the right direction to identify my "discovery." The St. Croix River Valley and Anoka Sandplain Guide to Native Habitats mentions British soldier lichens as being native to but unusual in Barrens Prairie habitats whereas Minnesota Seasons notes their status as "widespread and common" (your mileage may vary). Presumably because lichen are neither plant nor animal(?), the USA-NPN Botany Primer doesn't mention lichen at all. A few other interesting facts, including their use as a fabric dye, can be found here.

British soldier lichen surrounded by snow
British soldier lichen surrounded by snow
Photo by J. Harrington

True confession time: I haven't yet hiked out to see if the skunk cabbage is up yet. I'll try to get to that this week. That's what I was checking for a year ago when I literally stumbled over the British soldier lichens. I suppose my origins in Boston and Plymouth give me a stronger affinity for uncovering British soldiers of one kind or another than searching for smelly plants. That's my story and I'm sticking to it (for today).

Springtime in the Rockies, Lichen

All these years I overlooked them in the
racket of the rest, this
symbiotic splash of plant and fungus feeding
on rock, on sun, a little moisture, air —
tiny acid-factories dissolving
salt from living rocks and
eating them. 
Here they are, blooming!
Trail rock, talus and scree, all dusted with it:
rust, ivory, brilliant yellow-green, and
cliffs like murals!
Huge panels streaked and patched, quietly
with shooting-stars and lupine at the base. 
Closer, with the glass, a city of cups!
Clumps of mushrooms and where do the
plants begin? Why are they doing this?
In this big sky and all around me peaks &
the melting glaciers, why am I made to
kneel and peer at Tiny? 
These are the stamps of the final envelope. 
How can the poisons reach them?
In such thin air, how can they care for the
loss of a million breaths?
What, possibly, could make their ground more bare? 
Let it all die. 
The hushed globe will wait and wait for
what is now so small and slow to
open it again. 
As now, indeed, it opens it again, this
scentless velvet,
this Lichen!

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Phenology's shoulder season

red maple buds
red maple buds
Photo by J. Harrington

It looks and feels as though we've entered what I'd call a shoulder season, not quite Winter, not quite Spring, just like a country road's shoulder is not quite road and not quite ditch. There's not a lot happening, unless you're tapping maple trees. Our local red maples haven't yet experienced budburst. I can't quite decide of the goldfinches have started to brighten or if it's my imagination. Except for a couple of purple finches, migratory songbirds haven't yet arrived although tomorrow could be an entirely different story, so we're keeping the feeders full.

hyacinth starting to bloom
hyacinth starting to bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

Both hyacinths have been moved from the piano top to a sill on an East-facing window through which the red maples can be seen. One hyacinth has begun to bloom. There are now crocus on the piano replacing the hyacinths. If Spring won't hurry to this Minnesotan, this Minnesotan will hurry to Spring. That also means it's again time for the annual pondering: is this the year to go buy a kite? I've probably watched Charlie Brown and the Kite-Eating Tree too many times, and yet, like Charlie, I too have hopes that this Spring could be different once we get off this shoulder and back on the road. I wonder if I could handle a dragon kite?


Come March we’d find them
In the five-and-dimes,
Furled tighter than umbrellas
About their slats, the air

In an undertow above us
Like weather on the maps.
We’d play out lines
Of kite string, tugging against

The bucking sideways flights.
Readied for assembly,
I’d arc the tensed keel of balsa
Into place against the crosspiece,

Feeling the paper snap
Tautly as a sheet, then lift
The almost weightless body
Up to where it hauled me

Trolling into the winds—
Knotted bows like vertebrae
Flashing among fields
Of light. Why ruin it

By recalling the aftermaths?
Kites gone down in tatters,
Kites fraying like flotsam
From the tops of the trees.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Sprang, sprung, Spring?

This coming Wednesday is the start of meteorological Spring. Walking the dog this morning, the wind chill was minus 2℉. Ah, Minnesota! At least daytime highs are forecast to get above freezing all next week.

red-winged blackbird in cattail marsh
red-winged blackbird in cattail marsh
Photo by J. Harrington

So far this year there's been no sign of red-winged blackbirds arriving locally, but it's about the time of year when we can start looking for them. (Well, we can look year round but it's more likely to be productive now.) Our prematurely warm days and return to freezing nights should have local sap flowing now. I had been unaware of the different physiological structures various trees create to enable sap and water to flow. One of my Christmas present books, The Forest Unseen, describes at length variations in xylem cells in maple and hickory trees. I'm pretty sure my formal education lacked anything nearly as interesting. My informal education, on the other hand, was more empirical and much more interesting, but still didn't encounter xylem. Then again, I somehow missed, although it's been right in front of me for years, the fact that literary convention does not capitalize bird's names, but ornithological convention does. I picked up that distinction documented in the preface to Bernd Heinrich's Mind of the Raven. (For the record, I found the publisher's web site too annoying to link to.) So, my adult education, life-long learning journey continues to provide me with answers to questions I lacked sense to ask. Isn't that how it's supposed to work?

I continue to believe that Minnesota's Winters are about one month too long. Plus, Spring is usually the season that my adopted home state does least well. The pattern is often cold, cold, cold, cold, hot!, with minimal seasonal warming progression. We'll see if climate change and global warming modify that cycle. Now I think it's time for me to go play Carly Simon singing Anticipation as I look forward to Spring while trying to enjoy these good old days.

The Enkindled Spring

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration 
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Spring's phenology frosts me

Where I now sit writing, we're still enjoying what passes for early Spring, late Winter in Minnesota, although temperatures are about half of what they were earlier this week. South and southeast of here though, only seventy-five miles or so, was blizzard country last night. Winter returned with a vengeance. I'm truly pleased we seem to have locally dodged the proverbial bullet. I'm reminded of an iconic line from the old TV comedy Get Smart "Missed it by that much."

Status of Spring, February 24, 2017

The USA National Phenology Network continues to track Spring arriving three weeks early across the South. I remember a rule of thumb about Spring moving North some 10 to 15 miles per day. This morning, I found a map showing how unevenly Minnesota experiences that North-South progression as an average last frost date. Noting that a few locales are still under threat until July surprised me because a standard local gardener's guide sets post-Memorial Day as a safe time. Clearly there weren't enough northern Minnesota gardeners involved. Local knowledge, if well founded, should probably prevail over general rules of thumb.

When you looked at the last frost map (you did follow that link and come back, didn't you?) did you notice that the northern progression didn't much resemble East-West bands ten or fifteen miles wide? The long North South fingers make me wonder how growing season dates would fit into a bioregional definition. Bioregional quizzes often ask the length of the local growing season. The USDA plant hardiness zones simplify and generally follow the last frost dates patterns. On the other hand, they have extremely limited alignment with major river watersheds. If you've ever seen the way Ian McHarg used overlays of various factors to help define appropriate project corridors or development types, then it shouldn't be too hard to envision how Minnesota could use similar map overlays to lay out bioregions, including things like very high quality resource areas (such as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) and combine them with information like commuter sheds to envision substate bioregions that reflect cultural and economic, as well as environmental, factors.

Minnesota waters impaired for fishing, swimming, consumption

It looks to me as though Minnesota will, for some time into the future, need to set priorities on areas where it will accept such extractive industries as mining and row crop agriculture and the consequent environmental damage or we will devote notably more resources to environmental regulation and enforcement. Many of our waters fail quality standards for "fishable-swimmable" that first were to have been met back in 1983. Mining explorations, and related conflicts, are occurring in more and more areas of Minnesota. We have been unwilling to devote the needed resources to ensure timely compliance with regulatory requirements, except in broad procedural terms. We have most, if not all, of the tools and information needed to do a much better job. Why aren't we using them better? Changes in administration may modify current priorities and tactics. They don't change the underlying issues. We see growing evidence of that by the day, week and month.

Once upon a time, Minnesota had a state planning agency that helped a lot fitting together the various pieces that need to be considered to make wise resource management decisions. It was eliminated to save money. I'm not sure what we've done with the money we saved, but I'll bet it wasn't particularly wise.

Late February

By Ted Kooser

The first warm day,
and by mid-afternoon
the snow is no more
than a washing
strewn over the yards,
the bedding rolled in knots
and leaking water,
the white shirts lying
under the evergreens.
Through the heaviest drifts
rise autumn’s fallen
bicycles, small carnivals
of paint and chrome,
the Octopus
and Tilt-A-Whirl
beginning to turn
in the sun. Now children,
stiffened by winter
and dressed, somehow,
like old men, mutter
and bend to the work
of building dams.
But such a spring is brief;
by five o’clock
the chill of sundown,
darkness, the blue TVs
flashing like storms
in the picture windows,
the yards gone gray,
the wet dogs barking
at nothing. Far off
across the cornfields
staked for streets and sewers,
the body of a farmer
missing since fall
will show up
in his garden tomorrow,
as unexpected
as a tulip.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Phenology of anticipation

As I drove past the Carlos Avery WMA Sunrise River pools today, it looked as though many of the tundra swans and Canada geese had moved on, probably to the north, but I know of no way to confirm that. The latest weather forecasts have the impending snow storm on a more southerly or southeasterly track. We won't know until it's actually over whether or not we dodged a bullet this time.

Spring waterfowl: here yesterday, gone today
Spring waterfowl: here yesterday, gone today
Photo by J. Harrington

The extended spell of unseasonably warm weather that we've enjoyed has made me want to replace  poinsettias left over from Christmas with something much more Spring-like. There is now a pair of white hyacinth plants, not yet in bloom, sitting on top of the piano. While grocery shopping, my mind latched on to a remnant of an old poem, sort of like an ear worm. To silence it, or at least quiet it down, I followed advice I remember my mother sharing when I was young. She, more than once, told me an abbreviated version of

Hyacinths to Feed Thy Soul -

by Sadi

IF OF THY MORTAL GOODS thou art bereft,

And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left,

Sell one, and with the dole

Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

hyacinths to feed thy soul
hyacinths to feed thy soul
Photo by J. Harrington

On a somewhat less romantic front, but still having to do with Spring and plants, I also bought a tool that I hope will facilitate pulling buckthorn after the ground thaws. Previous efforts using rope have often resulted in the rope pulling up and over the sapling stem. The new tool is a heavy-duty triple chain. I'm not sure if it will work well but have accepted the fact that the only way to know is by using it. I look forward to future postings describing unqualified successes. I'll be happy if it just works and no one gets hurt and nothing gets broken except buckthorn. I have this crazy fantasy that, if we get it pulled and keep it from reestablishing itself, we might be able to create a small woodlot wild flower garden. Cross your fingers, please.

Spring Pools

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.
The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods---
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Phenology, will we ever learn? When?

Yesterday, the numbers of tundra swans and Canada geese on the Sunrise River pools of Carlos Avery WMA had increased phenomenally. I estimated a couple of dozen swans and more geese than are likely to stick around for nesting season. The migration north has definitely started for this year. I wonder whether the snow storm forecast for Thursday night and Friday will push north those that have already arrived here or cause them to pause until more warmth and open waters return. They might even decide to turn around and head south again. Since most days from now on should have daytime highs above freezing, I'm going to guess that the birds around here will tough it out and then, some will stay and nest, while others will again head north again as melting and southerly winds and longer days continue.

early migrants: tundra swans, Canada geese
early migrants: tundra swans, Canada geese
Photo by J. Harrington

Sandhill cranes have also arrived in the vicinity, as noted in reports Tweeted by Belwin Outdoor Science <@Belwin625>  "First sandhill crane today. A new record! Previous record was March 10, average date March 19. Almost a month early!" and Rob Dreislein <@ODN_Editor> "Just heard sandhill crane flying over the SW. Daughter heard too & thought dad got a little too excited over a bird."

sandhill cranes
sandhill cranes
Photo by J. Harrington

Return of waterfowl and cranes gets me excited too. Although the observations have been totally informal, I've noticed increasing numbers of both swans and cranes since we move into our current house more than 20 years ago. Bald eagles are also more abundant. I suspect that, in part, we can thank regulations that control or prohibit herbicides, pesticides, plus air and water pollution. We seem to be doing a good job, but not good enough. Bees are in trouble. Oil spills from rail and pipeline and drilling blowouts aren't well cleaned up. Are you familiar with Pete Seeger's Where Have All the Flowers Gone? I don't want it to become literal, do you? Here's a couple of recent news articles, plus an older background piece, that make me wonder if we will indeed ever learn.
We've previously raised the concern that, if the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency hasn't had adequate staff to process outstanding discharge permits for mining operations such as Minntac, on what basis do they believe they'll have the staff and other resources necessary to handle "site specific" sulfate standards and permits? Do you suppose it might make any sense whatsoever to have US Steel pay for a process that uses Minntac as a pilot program for a prototype permit? The process could and should be overseen by all stakeholders, including, especially, Native Americans. Costs of all types, especially staff time, must be well documented to determine the feasibility of a site specific strategy. The outcome would not be a guaranteed permit but reliable information that Minntac could use to determine if the facility can cost-effectively meet necessary water quality standards. Might such a collaborative approach make more sense than perpetual battles in courtrooms and legislative chambers? When will we ever learn?

A Blessing

By James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness   
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.   
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.   
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me   
And nuzzled my left hand.   
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Butterfly effect phenology

Against a prematurely Spring-gray sky, three tundra swans appeared over the tree line and flew across the back field. My morning was made. We've had many Canada geese follow a similar pattern, but this is the first time in going on twenty-five years that swans have honored us locally with their presence. I certainly hope we can be accommodating and hospitable with our weather. Much depends on the track of the storm forecast for later this week and the duration of below freezing weather.

The very early warmup we've been having this year has made me think more about seasons, climate change and bioregional patterns. Evidence thus far indicates Minnesota's seasons are shifting to earlier ice out, longer growing seasons, earlier ends to snow season and a variety of other changes to what had been historical events and patterns. Are those the correct initial conditions against which to measure change?

late May apple blossoms
late May apple blossoms
Photo by J. Harrington

Much of this would have seemed to be of limited, but largely beneficial, relevance to me when I was commuting to an office job in St. Paul. Fewer commutes due to less snow? Great! More allergies? More decongestants! If late frosts took out Minnesota's honeycrisp apple crop one year, we'd just eat something from Michigan that year. No problem, unless there are no pollinators available because we've done most of them in with pesticides.

This year, I've started fretting about what happens if the entire ephemeral wild flower season is lost (no photographs) or, more significantly, what if the changing seasonal patterns take out almost all the locally grown vegetables for one year? We'd still be able to live but have less joy in living. No local veggies, get them from California? What if California's droughted or washed out?

Then, early this morning, I read about Gary Snyder's yearly cycle, as he described it in a 1973 interview with New York Quarterly:
"...in the spring I go out to the desert for awhile, and I give a few readings, and then when I get back it's time to turn the ground over and start spring planting, and then right after that's done it's time to do the building that has to be done, and then when that's done, it's time to start cutting firewood, and then when the firewood's done, it's just about time to start picking apples and drying them, and that takes a couple of weeks to get as many apples as possible and dry them, and then at the end of apple season I begin to harvest the garden, and a lot of canning and drying is done maybe, and then when that season passes, to chestnuts and picking up the wild grapes, and then I've got to put the firewood in, and as soon as I get thee firewood in, hunting season starts —and that winds up about the end of October with Halloween festivities, and then I go East for a month to read. So December, January and February is my time of total isolation, writing:..."
trout lilies, early May ephemerals
trout lilies, early May ephemerals
Photo by J. Harrington

As I compared Snyder's yearly cycle of activities, and their variety and pattern, and thought about how many are central to his life (food and warmth shelter and and cash income), I began to realize why something like climate change might present a more obvious, not more significant but more obvious, challenge to someone like Snyder than to a 9-to-5 office worker (like me in a former life, like you these days?) who hunts, fishes, gardens and forages as nonessential hobbies. And then there's the significant problems related to growing and transporting food, such as drought and floods and potential dam failures in California. Similar problems are starting to occur and recur throughout the rest of the country and the world. Then, in the US, we've compounding our production and transport problems by cutting off most or all of the labor supply on which we've relied historically to harvest our crops. If we were trying to get a gold medal for dumb, we'd be doing just about exactly what we're doing now.

Reading Snyder's cycle also helped me to realize just how cut off from reality most of us are. We depend more than we realize or admit on nature's abundant resources, and also on each other and our collective, coordinated ability to time and synchronize our activities with each other and natural cycles. As my mother used to point out to me after I'd done something dumb, "It might behoove me to modify my behavior in the future." We're compounding problems created by changes in the historic, natural cycles we're currently disrupting by electing people who deny that such changes are occurring and while also claiming the well-documented patterns are a "hoax." I hope you'll take some time to think about these topics before the next time you cast a ballot.

Maggie’s Farm (Newport performance)

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I wake in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
Everybody says
She’s the brains behind pa
She’s sixty-eight, but she says she’s twenty-four
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They sing while you slave and I just get bored
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more          

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Monday, February 20, 2017

A President's Day Phenology Presence

Yesterday we noticed a pair of trumpeter swans and a dozen or so Canada geese on a small patch of open water at the Carlos Avery WMA Sunrise River pools. They're about two to three weeks earlier than even previous early arrivals.

President's Day presence, early presents
President's Day presence, early presents
Photo by J. Harrington

As Aldo Leopold observes about March in A Sand County Almanac:
The Geese Return 
One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring. 
A cardinal, whistling spring to a thaw but later finding himself mistaken, can retrieve his error by resuming his winter silence.  A chipmunk, emerging for a sunbath but finding a blizzard, has only to go back to bed.  But a migrating goose, staking two hundred miles of black night on the chance of finding a hole in the lake, has no easy chance for retreat.  His arrival carries the conviction of a prophet who has burned his bridges.
Last night the temperatures stayed above freezing. Today it's raining. There's no snow cover to speak of. In February! In Minnesota!

a Spring rain on President's Day, in Minnesota?
a Spring rain on President's Day, in Minnesota?
Photo by J. Harrington

Early Spring

Rainer Maria Rilke

Harshness vanished. A sudden softness
has replaced the meadows' wintry grey.
Little rivulets of water changed
their singing accents. Tendernesses,

hesitantly, reach toward the earth
from space, and country lanes are showing
these unexpected subtle risings
that find expression in the empty trees.

Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Driftless Area Amphibian Breeding #Phenology

Signs of Spring continue to arrive. A pair of purple finches arrived at the feeder this morning. We're near the northern edge of their migration corridor between wintering and breeding grounds, haven't seen any at the feeders all Winter, so I'm going to take a wild guess that they're migrating north, lured by our warm spell and lack of snow cover.

purple finches at feeder
purple finches at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday's mail brought the February edition of the Minnesota Trout Unlimited Newsletter, with lots of coverage of fly fishing opportunities for 2017 and reminders of the upcoming Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo at Hamline University March 17 -- 19. If you've ever wanted to try casting a fly, there'll be free instructions Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It's MNTU's major fundraiser for the year so, in addition to offering information and fun, getting tickets and attending helps support the mission "to conserve, protect, restore, and sustain Minnesota’s cold water fisheries and their watersheds." Stop by if you can. You might get hooked. (Sorry, I couldn't resist. This Spring weather is making me giddy.)

Part of watershed restoration often involves creating or improving habitat for creatures such as amphibians. They have their own breeding phenology, similar to the one for the Driftless Area of Minnesota and Wisconsin shown below. If Spring continues its journey north three weeks ahead of normal this year, the mid- to late-March breeding beginnings might move up to near the start of next month. Ever since I can remember, the sounds of Spring Peepers, or Pinkletinks, has been a sound of Spring coming through the screen door.

Amphibian Breeding Phenology Calendar
from: Nongame Wildlife Habitat Guide:
Complimentary Opportunities for Stream Restoration Projects


Jonah found
a frog in the currants
thirsty, he said, so we flicked water on it
& it sat still    throat pulsing
bright-greener than the stem, feet spread, attached to the stem 
Three people one frog thousands of currants
Basho, anyone, why write it down

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

False Spring #phenology

A pair of red squirrels were chasing up and down cedar trees in front of the house today. I interpret that as a clear indication mating season is underway. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources notes that late Winter is mating season for red [pine] squirrels. That means we're looking at seasonal behavior patterns and litters should be being born in late March or early April. It also helps support my most recent theory that our unseasonably warm weather is a "False Spring," rather than an early one.

red squirrel on oak branch
red squirrel on oak branch
Photo by J. Harrington

This is, in part, based on a paragraph from Donella Meadows Dancing with Systems. I need to be reminded of this fundamental premise more often than I am, several times a day would be helpful in fact, at least until I finally, actually, remember it:
"But self-organizing, nonlinear, feedback systems are inherently unpredictable. They are not controllable. They are understandable only in the most general way. The goal of foreseeing the future exactly and preparing for it perfectly is unrealizable. The idea of making a complex system do just what you want it to do can be achieved only temporarily, at best. We can never fully understand our world, not in the way our reductionistic science has led us to expect. Our science itself, from quantum theory to the mathematics of chaos, leads us into irreducible uncertainty. For any objective other than the most trivial, we can’t optimize; we don’t even know what to optimize. We can’t keep track of everything. We can’t find a proper, sustainable relationship to nature, each other, or the institutions we create, if we try to do it from the role of omniscient conqueror."
red admiral butterfly
red admiral butterfly (late Spring, early Summer, 2015)
Photo by J. Harrington

Whether we believe it or not, the world on which, and in which, we now live is a jumble of "self-organizing, nonlinear, feedback systems." Our contributions to climate change and global warming have made those systems less stable and more volatile. We have, I fear, compounded the resulting problems by recently electing someone who seems to be committed to destabilization and nonmathematical chaos in governance. Someone who may never have heard of, or consciously chooses to disbelieve and/or reject, the butterfly effect. I reach that conclusion because, these days, in too many governmental organizations, at all levels of governance, I see people who are ignoring or disregarding one of Meadows critical Rules for the Dance. She tells us to:

12. Expand the boundary of caring.

"Living successfully in a world of complex systems means expanding not only time horizons and thought horizons; above all it means expanding the horizons of caring. There are moral reasons for doing that, of course. And if moral arguments are not sufficient, then systems thinking provides the practical reasons to back up the moral ones. The real system is interconnected. No part of the human race is separate either from other human beings or from the global ecosystem. It will not be possible in this integrated world for your heart to succeed if your lungs fail, or for your company to succeed if your workers fail, or for the rich in Los Angeles to succeed if the poor in Los Angeles fail, or for Europe to succeed if Africa fails, or for the global economy to succeed if the global environment fails.
"As with everything else about systems, most people already know about the interconnections that make moral and practical rules turn out to be the same rules. They just have to bring themselves to believe that which they know."
Fortunately, I also see growing evidence that more and more actual, real people, outside organizations, institutions and governments, are expanding their personal boundaries of caring. We need to figure out how to get more of those people into official positions of leadership before we've created damage to our life support systems from which we won't have the time and resources to recover. We need to take to heart and soul the concept that we need the earth much, much more than the earth needs us. Our current rates and types of resource consumption, together with our constrained caring boundaries, have us enjoying a worldwide false Spring, as if it were natural and normal and will extend uninterrupted into Summer. It's not and it won't. We do know that, now we have to act as though we believe it.

The Big Bad

By David Orr

At last we decoded the terminal message,
Only to find the pattern we had expected
Was false — a false trail of false bread crumbs
Designed to leave pitfalls undetected.

We found a new pattern. We found a hand
Moving pieces we had thought were only
Part of  the board, and shifting them to vantage points
We had ignored. We rewrote the battle plan

And reconfigured the satellite array
To show our progress from the very beginning.
The fault should be traceable — and hence correctable — 
And once we found it, we’d be winning.

We found a new pattern. We followed its track
To a forest beside an abandoned tunnel
Diving wide as a boxcar into the rock.
A stale breeze blew over rusting shovels

And all of our instruments confirmed a hit.
We set a perimeter. We sent in a scout.
From the interior, nothing looked back at us.
No tracks indicated a force had come out.

But we had a pattern. At dawn, we dispatched
A team of our best, our trackers and stone killers,
To see if  the signals were finally a match
And if so, to counterattack. And now we wait.

And now we wait. The tunnel gives nothing back.
The trees are revealing the first signs of gold
But the air is unmoving. The air is still.
It is quiet here, and getting cold.

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

#Phenology: more than probabilities?

While some of us are enjoying watching the snow turn into puddles, we also realize that there can be too much of a good thing. The next five six days or so will bring daytime highs in the fifty degree range. The extended forecast on weather underground indicates a better than 50% probability of 5 to 8 inches of snow a week from today. This looks like it may be a tough year to be a local plant.

early April snow
early April snow
Photo by J. Harrington

Post February, the National Weather Service has published an outlook that indicated much of Minnesota has a 33% to 40% probability of enjoying above normal temperatures during March, April and May and a 40% to 50% probability of above normal precipitation for those three months. I'm not at all sure how to make such information relevant to my day-to-day life. To paraphrase, there's a less than 50% probability that Spring in Minnesota this year will be wetter and warmer than normal.

As we've noted a number of times, Minnesota would be a much more pleasant place to live, work and play if it's weather averages weren't comprised of such extremes. Maybe those kinds of weather and climate change issues help explain the lyrics to Joan Baez' song One Day at a Time
I live one day at a time
I dream one dream at a time
Yesterday's dead, and tomorrow is blind
And I live one day at a time. 
Trying to anticipate the effect this may have on fly fishing, there's not much snow left to melt so it would seem that there's limited likelihood that above normal precipitation will compound snow melt runoff. Of course, we don't know how much above normal any given precipitation event may be. Might we see streams "in spate" time and again this Spring? We'll know those details one day at a time. If they recur year after year, we'll recognize a pattern change.

red-winged blackbird, harbinger of Spring
red-winged blackbird, harbinger of Spring
Photo by J. Harrington

These are the kinds of topics that make me think, again, about the need to provide a relevant cultural context for information and information that's relevant for a cultural context. Several Native American groups appear to be providing excellent examples of how to go about such an effort. The Iñupiaq near Barrow Alaska offer one perspective, the Navajo another.

People who live closer to the land than most of us, those who hunt, fish, forage, grow their own food, have a need for and closer relationship to the weather than those whose primary concern is how will it affect their commute. How much work would it be, and how rewarding, to find a better balance between our daily lives and seasonal or climate changes? To learn to recognize the current patterns so we can track changes in them. I know that I enjoy the anticipation of the arrival of waterfowl on local waters almost as much as the splashdowns, honkings and quackings themselves. Sort of like it's the whole Christmas season I enjoy, not just Christmas day.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Among twenty snowy mountains,   
The only moving thing   
Was the eye of the blackbird.   

I was of three minds,   
Like a tree   
In which there are three blackbirds.   

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.   
It was a small part of the pantomime.   

A man and a woman   
Are one.   
A man and a woman and a blackbird   
Are one.   

I do not know which to prefer,   
The beauty of inflections   
Or the beauty of innuendoes,   
The blackbird whistling   
Or just after.   

Icicles filled the long window   
With barbaric glass.   
The shadow of the blackbird   
Crossed it, to and fro.   
The mood   
Traced in the shadow   
An indecipherable cause.   

O thin men of Haddam,   
Why do you imagine golden birds?   
Do you not see how the blackbird   
Walks around the feet   
Of the women about you?   

I know noble accents   
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;   
But I know, too,   
That the blackbird is involved   
In what I know.   

When the blackbird flew out of sight,   
It marked the edge   
Of one of many circles.   

At the sight of blackbirds   
Flying in a green light,   
Even the bawds of euphony   
Would cry out sharply.   

He rode over Connecticut   
In a glass coach.   
Once, a fear pierced him,   
In that he mistook   
The shadow of his equipage   
For blackbirds.   

The river is moving.   
The blackbird must be flying.   

It was evening all afternoon.   
It was snowing   
And it was going to snow.   
The blackbird sat   
In the cedar-limbs.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Fishing for home #phenology

This past Tuesday, I voted. The candidate for whom I voted was not elected. Did I waste my time, bothering to vote? If I hadn't spent much of my time over many decades going fishing, I might think so. But one thing I learned with absolute certainty from all those years of fishing trips: I might not catch any fish if I go fishing, but I absolutely can't catch any fish while sitting on my butt at home. According to a recent analysis, the fact that a Republican won by substantially less than Trump carried the district is a good sign. That strikes me as similar to a fishing report in which I announce that I didn't catch any fish but I enjoyed the weather and the birds and just "getting out."

North Country river, Superior National Forest
North Country river, Superior National Forest
Photo by J. Harrington

Obviously, I am way too goal oriented. I enjoy learning to identify local plants but then ask myself what good does that knowledge do me? Am I going to find a use for the plants as food or medicine? Well, in fact, the answer sometimes is yes. Foraging for wild foods is an enjoyable hobby. And, for that matter, "getting out" is much better than not "getting out." Part of the reason I learn about some of the local plants is so that I can feel more at home in the area by knowing the names of some of the neighbors.

I ended up sorting through lots of these thoughts recently after I finished reading The Spirituality of Fly Fishing. One of the recommendations therein is to read Ted Leeson's The Habit of Rivers. That's a book I had read many years ago. It was still sitting on a shelf in our downstairs library. I had forgotten that Leeson wrote it after his relocation from Virginia to Oregon, which approximately doubled my journey from Massachusetts to Minnesota. Leeson writes that:
“To locate yourself in new territory and lay some claim more consequential than a mailing address, I believe you must seek out what could be called its "sense of place," that particular weave of relationships among plants, animals, people, landscape, ideas, and history that flourishes more or less uniquely under local circumstance. I know of only one way to go about the search—take up a single thread of the fabric, follow it, and just let one thing lead to another.”
Autumn, North Country asters
Autumn, North Country asters
Photo by J. Harrington

I suppose, without thinking about it too much, that's what I've been doing since I arrived in Minnesota many years ago. Now I'm trying to make some sense of those threads I've followed to see which, if any, patterns I've created with my weavings and followings. Maybe I'm finally learning the truth of Emerson's observation that "Life is a journey, not a destination." That brings us back to voting and fishing. For either, for both, doing is better than not doing. Looking at it that way also gets us around Yoda's "Do or do not. There is no try."

The Poem that Took the Place of a Mountain

By Wallace Stevens

There it was, word for word,
The poem that took the place of a mountain.

He breathed its oxygen,
Even when the book lay turned in the dust of his table.

It reminded him how he had needed
A place to go to in his own direction,

How he had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked his way among clouds,

For the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion:

The exact rock where his inexactnesses
Would discover, at last, the view toward which they had edged,

Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,
Recognize his unique and solitary home.

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Spring slowly emerges #phenology

Enough snow and ice has melted from our gravel road to let another sign of Spring show in the soft surface. One of our neighbors has been riding or walking a horse along the road. The hoof tracks were obvious today. The dogs and I noticed them during our afternoon walk.

This would probably be a good time to start watching for pussy willow catkins along the road sides and red-tailed hawks drifting north to their Summer range. I have no doubt (sometimes wrong, never uncertain) that we'll still get some plowable snow storms during late Winter and early Spring. But as the sun keeps climbing higher and shining longer each day, it becomes easier to let the snowflakes melt rather than shovel or blow them away. By the end of the month we'll be enjoying more than 11 hours of daylight and the average daytime high temperature is above freezing.

sugarbush in snow
sugarbush in snow
Photo by J. Harrington

Reports of maple trees being tapped and sap flowing keep growing day by day. It will take longer than I'd like, but I'm starting to shake off Winter's cabin fever lethargy. Walking dogs is once again becoming a small adventure instead of a Winter chore. The warmer, moister air seems to hold more, and more interesting, scents that canine noses must explore. Walks take longer than they did when the windchill was below zero.

Turkeys are more active locally. I almost "tagged" part of a flock that decided to cross the road directly in front of the Jeep yesterday. Those most in danger flew away as I braked, hard. The rest ran to both shoulders. I'm not used to playing "chicken" with turkeys and they're probably not used to playing chicken at all.

pileated woodpecker (female)
pileated woodpecker (female)
Photo by J. Harrington

At the moment, there's a pileated woodpecker enjoying what may be the last chunk of suet we'll put out this Winter. As our local fauna become more active, we'd just as soon not entice any of them (raccoons, skunks, possums) to visit the deck. It drives the dogs crazy, which, in turn, does the same to the dogs' owners.

Goddess of Maple at Evening

She breathed a chill that slowed the sap 
inside the phloem, stood perfectly still
inside the dark, then walked to a field 
where the distance crooned in a small 
blue voice how close it is, how the gravity 
of sky pulls you up like steam from the arch.
She sang along until the silence soloed 
in a northern wind, then headed back 
to the sugar stand and drank from a maple 
to thin her blood with the spirit of sap. 
To quicken its pace to the speed of sound 
then hear it boom inside her heart. 
To quicken her mind to the speed of light 
with another suck from the flooded tap.

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