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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