Friday, March 31, 2017

Coming attractions: #phenology and poetry

Astronomically, the first one-third of Spring is gone. I was overly optimistic about bud burst on the maple trees this week. That's still to come. According to my copy of Jim Gilbert's Nature Notebook (copyright 1983), April is the month when Minnesotans can expect ice out on most lakes. This year we're way ahead of that for the southern half of the state. Garter snakes should leave hibernation, geese start nesting and wildflowers start blooming. A couple of years ago, I ran a count on the listings at Minnesota Wildflowers. The first week in April has 29 blooming plants listed. By the fourth week, that number has increased to 78. It's also during early April that the average overnight temperature creeps above freezing. That may account for why the types of flies hatching in southeast Minnesota trout streams jumps in April. Look for blue-winged olives, dark hendricksons, early brown stoneflies and little sister sedges during the month. We'll touch on some or all of these phenomena, but much of our attention in April will be focused on the fact that it's National Poetry Month! For April, poetry takes precedence over phenology and politics!

ice out before April, come she will
Photo by J. Harrington

Weir Farm

Not vistas, but a home-sized landscape,
beloved rooms storied, painted, lived.
A farm bought with a painting
and a ten dollar personal check.
And almost from the beginning,
the intention to pass on
what an artist sees, what artists make.
A parcel of land, a vast legacy.

Admire the houses, barns, outbuildings,
and studios, uniformly Venetian red.
Respect the visible sweat work of stones
laid in walls and foundations, terraces and walks.
Admire the sunken garden, the wildflower meadows,
the path through thick woods to the fishing pond.
Walk through the farm envisioned by artists.
Admire the home artists made.

Or you can step from a museum’s polished floor
across a carven, gilded threshold
into the farm reimagined in brushstrokes.
From that wooden bridge over there,
hear those three women’s tinkling laughter?
Over there the other way, see
the black dog panting near the youngish man
lifting stones into a half-built wall?

Step out of the frame again, and be
enveloped in birdsong and dapple.
Feel the welcome of small particulars:
the grove beside that boulder,
the white horse tied in front of that barn.
With eyes made tender, see
those elms, from shadows on the grass
to the highest leaves’ shimmer.

With your friends, lovers, family, stride
across this chromatic broken brushwork.
Sit a minute at the granite picnic table
with the artist’s daughters, dressed in summer white.
You can daub this earth, so lyric, so gentle,
from the limited palette of your own love right now.
Any place you care for can hold an easel.
Everything around you is beautiful plein air.

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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Past time to honor the people

The rain stayed South of us yesterday and last night. The clouds didn't. They're still filling the sky today. Climate and weather scientists reminded us that warmer air holds more moisture. That may help explain why we've had what seems to be a disproportionate number of cloudy days. If, after a Minnesota Winter, you're trying to shake a bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder, cloudy Spring days are not what the doctor ordered, especially when they don't even bring rain.

a Red Bird can brighten the day
a Red Bird can brighten the day
Photo by J. Harrington

Fortunately, sometimes on a cloudy day a male cardinal will come to the feeder or perch in some nearby trees. A very bright splash of red is almost as good as a burst of Spring sunshine for bringing cheeriness to the landscape. In fact, a cardinal can be such a source of inspiration that Mary Oliver has written a book of poems titled Red Bird. We had a Red Bird visit this morning. He brought cheer that helped offset the literal clouds above and the figurative clouds over the national and state capitals. As the Red Bird himself tells us, “For truly the body needs / a song, a spirit, a soul. And no less, to make this work, / the soul has need of a body, / and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable / beauty of heaven / where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes, / and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.” This lesson is one of many we can learn during National Poetry Month, which starts this Saturday on April 1 (no, this isn't an April Fool's joke).

Another lesson, particularly appropriate for these trying times, can be learned from the late Adrienne Rich, a compelling and influential poet who died five years ago today. In 1997, she refused to accept the National Medal for the Arts from the Clinton Administration
“because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. … There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”
If the current administration gets its way, there'll be no Medal to award. It has proposed no funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. For the record, it's almost as if Rich foresaw the times we're living in, as well as witnessing times we hoped were past.

For the Record

The clouds and the stars didn't wage this war
the brooks gave no information
if the mountain spewed stones of fire into the river
it was not taking sides
the raindrop faintly swaying under the leaf
had no political opinions

and if here or there a house
filled with backed-up raw sewage
or poisoned those who lived there
with slow fumes, over years
the houses were not at war
nor did the tinned-up buildings

intend to refuse shelter
to homeless old women and roaming children
they had no policy to keep them roaming
or dying, no, the cities were not the problem
the bridges were non-partisan
the freeways burned, but not with hatred

Even the miles of barbed-wire
stretched around crouching temporary huts
designed to keep the unwanted
at a safe distance, out of sight
even the boards that had to absorb
year upon year, so many human sounds

so many depths of vomit, tears
slow-soaking blood
had not offered themselves for this
The trees didn't volunteer to be cut into boards
nor the thorns for tearing flesh
Look around at all of it

and ask whose signature
is stamped on the orders, traced
in the corner of the building plans
Ask where the illiterate, big-bellied
women were, the drunks and crazies,
the ones you fear most of all: ask where you were.

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

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Phenology: going to the dogs

A local sheriff's deputy recently Tweeted a report (which I refuse to believe) of a mosquito sighting. Mosquito season does, when it arrives, bring the possibility of heartworms, not good for dogs. This morning, Franco and SiSi headed to the vets for tests and shots, an annual Spring ritual. The costs are about the same as their original adoptions, but at least we don't have to go through house-breaking each year. [For the record, the Better Half had scheduled the vets appointment before the report of mosquitoes in the area.] Some time over the next few days, I'll replace the old rabies tags with the pretty blue new ones. Then we just need to follow the schedule for monthly heartworm medicine and quarterly flea and tick killer.

the Better Half belongs to Franco
Photo by J. Harrington

Another sign of warming weather and increased animal activity occurred this week. We moved the trash can into the garage. Bears should be out and about, and, given the lack of "greens" to nosh on, would undoubtedly be tempted by our occasional chicken bones and bacon grease. If they picked up after themselves, I wouldn't begrudge them the calories but, after they've wiped their paws, paper towels, kleenexes and whatever else they've used are strewn all over for moi to pick up. Almost as bad as when the kids were toddlers and left a mess when they'd finished playing. On the other hand, as we learned shortly after we'd moved here, it's best for all concerned if we keep dogs and visiting bears well separated or else everyone gets an "F" in "Plays well with others."

your faithful blogger belongs to SiSi
your faithful blogger belongs to SiSi
Photo by J. Harrington

All in all, we seem to have temporarily plateaued Spring happenings. Local trips to check for wild flowers keep getting deferred. Wildfowl migrations have largely moved through. Song birds come soon, followed by butterflies, accompanied by increasing numbers of wildflowers blooming. It is that time of year.


I say I
a small mosquito drinks from my tongue

but many say we and hear I
say you or he and
hear I

what can we do with this problem

a bowl held in both hands
cannot be filled by its holder

x, says the blue whale
x, say the krill
solve for y, says the ocean, then multiply by existence

the feet of an ant make their own sound on the earth

ice is astonished by water

a person misreads
delirium as delphinium
and falls into
a blueness sleepy as beauty when sneezing

the pronoun dozes

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Finally settling in? #phenology

It appears that our local water bodies are now ice free. The Sunrise River pools in Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area have mallards, shovelers, blue-winged teal, and Canada geese floating in view of County Highway 36. Although I still haven't seen any sandhill cranes this year, the Better Half keeps telling me she hears and sees them.

no vernal pools here
no vernal pools here
Photo by J. Harrington

Later this week rain should help the vernal pools that frogs so depend on at this time of year. Our "wet spot," behind the house, that was dry last week, holds a little water today. Some more would be better to help tadpoles survive and morph.

male goldfinch, early Spring 2016
male goldfinch, early Spring 2016
Photo by J. Harrington

At least some male goldfinch(es) have turned bright yellow over the past few days. I noticed him/them while watching a red squirrel yesterday afternoon. He or she completely demoralized me and shattered my schemes for keeping squirrels from the tray feeder. The gray squirrels have been climbing the support-hanging pole for the tray feeder. Covering the outside with sticky tape would probably solve that problem, based on past experience. Then, I watched while a red squirrel leaped from the deck railing into the tray feeder. Short of putting fly paper all over the deck railing, which will undoubtedly present other problems when the Better Half starts to grill, I'm not sure how to keep that red squirrel from setting an example for others to follow. Sigh!

If it weren't for the nasty craziness, or is that crazy nastiness, going on these days in Washington, D.C. and St. Paul, MN, and the creativity of squirrels, I could start to get downright cheery about our warm sunshiny weather. Maybe I'll just ignore squirrels and nuts for a while and enjoy today while we have it. After all, yesterday was the first time this year the dog walking took place without the dog walker wearing a coat.


I had forgotten how the frogs must sound
After a year of silence, else I think
I should not so have ventured forth alone
At dusk upon this unfrequented road.

I am waylaid by Beauty. Who will walk
Between me and the crying of the frogs?
Oh, savage Beauty, suffer me to pass,
That am a timid woman, on her way
From one house to another!

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

Ticked off! #phenology

Over the weekend, a small flock of purple finches visited the tray feeder. Unfortunately, from my point of view, so have most of the local red and gray squirrel populations. I thought I had read once upon a time that coating the feeder pole with Vaseline would prevent access by squirrels. I must have misread, because this morning I coated the pole and, within 5 minute, a gray squirrel was back, sitting in the feeder. So, we will now return to what seemed to work last year, covering the pole with tape, sticky-side out. It is more trouble than swiping a paper towel up and down the pole, but, since it worked last year, and sing I'd rather feed song birds than squirrels ...

small flock of purple finches at tray feeder
small flock of purple finches at tray feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

Here's a cautionary annual reminder, because for years and years I had a hard time remembering until I found the first one embedded somewhere in my skin: if the temperature's above forty degrees (40℉), watch out for ticks, (actually, check #8 here) especially when we've had a milder and drier Winter than has been normal for Minnesota. I had a shirt that I wore fly-fishing that had bug repellent built in. Now I see that socks, pants, etc. with the same quality are available. As I recall, the shirt didn't smell the way some spray-on repellents did/do so I think I've some shopping to do. I wish you and yours, including the pets, a tick-free year.

The Ticks

By Douglas Florian

Not gigan-tic.
Not roman-tic.
Not artis-tic.
Not majes-tic.
Not magne-tic.
Nor aesthe-tic.
Ticks are strictly parasi-tic.

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

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Almost, but not quite! #phenology

When I first looked out the window this morning, I thought perhaps the buds had burst on the red maple in front of the house. A closer look shows they've swollen, last night's rain probably helped, but haven't quite burst yet.

red maple buds getting ready to burst
red maple buds getting ready to burst
Photo by J. Harrington

The oak tree buds are still Winter-tight and the forsythia and lilacs act as though they've never even hear of something called Spring. Although this year's NPN Leaf Index is running about three weeks ahead of "normal," it's still only reached southern Iowa. With more than a week's worth of warmer (50s), sunny weather ahead, I'm expecting maple bud burst late this week, if not before. Time (actually, past time) to get out and see who, in addition to skunk cabbage, is starting to pop out of the ground as March winds down.

April is the month that Minnesota begins to enjoy what many of us would consider "real Spring." Chipmunks will be back from hibernation. Tree frogs, peepers etc. will be making evening's raucous with their ruckus. And pasque flower time will have arrived. I fear the pocket gophers got the pasque flowers I planted a couple of years ago. We'll see soon enough.

With Spring In Our Flesh

By Don Welch

With spring in our flesh
the cranes come back,
funneling into a north
cold and black.

And we go out to them,
go out into the town,
welcoming them with shouts,
asking them down.

The winter flies away
when the cranes cross.
It falls into the north,
homeward and lost.

Let no one call it back
when the cranes fly,
silver birds, red-capped,
down the long sky.


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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Arrival time #phenology

More signs of Spring continue to arrive day by day. The neighbor across the road is mending fence knocked down by Winter's winds. Soon it'll be ready for his horses to pasture on new Spring growth. I saw what I think was a bluebird perched atop the bluebird house in the field behind our house, and another something feathered on the roof of the "martin" house that's often occupied by swallows. Naturally, the binoculars were in the jeep in the garage and the birds had flown away by the time I got the camera and telephoto lens.

did I see a bluebird today?
did I see a bluebird today?
Photo by J. Harrington

The local pond up the road is now less than about 50% ice covered. The rains have been enough to dampen the duff and Winter-dead grasses, but barely. This morning a pair of does, still in their shadow-gray and tan Winter coats, watched from near the pear tree on the hill behind the house. They were the first deer we've seen nearby in months. I wonder if we'll get to see their fawns this Summer. Maybe soon some of the local turkeys will wander by also. It was unusually quiet around here over the Winter. As turkey hunters wander the woods, we can probably expect to see critters moving through, trying to stay out of the way of human visitors.

Don't forget to turn your lights off tonight from 8:30 until 9:30. It's been ten years and there are still too many climate deniers hindering progress.

Advice to a Blue-Bird

Who can make a delicate adventure
Of walking on the ground?
Who can make grass-blades
Arcades for pertly careless straying?
You alone, who skim against these leaves,
Turning all desire into light whips
Moulded by your deep blue wing-tips,
You who shrill your unconcern
Into the sternly antique sky.
You to whom all things
Hold an equal kiss of touch.

Mincing, wanton blue-bird,
Grimace at the hoofs of passing men.
You alone can lose yourself
Within a sky, and rob it of its blue!

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bluebird weather? #phenology

Early this morning, the weather was Spring-soft: damp, mildly foggy, mild temperatures and no wind to speak of (usually goes with fog). It brought a promise of good things to come. But, after all, this is Minnesota where, even in times of global warming, an early April morning can look like this.

Minnesota Spring (sometimes)
Minnesota Spring (sometimes)
Photo by J. Harrington

During the past few days, I've come down with a severe case of bluebird envy. Reports on Twitter from Belwin Conservancy are that male bluebirds arrived about three weeks ago and females within the past day or so. We're about 30 miles or so North of Belwin's location and we've had bluebirds nesting in our box about every year since we put it up. So far this year, nada! The good folks at eBird have a cool Occurrence Map that intimates "my" bluebirds should be here momentarily. I suppose, if I anticipated a major snow storm in the near future, I might be hesitant to prematurely head North myself. I don't seem to have any photos of backyard bluebirds in residence before early May, so, as usual, I'm probably being impatient.

early May, bluebird weather
early May, bluebird weather
Photo by J. Harrington

Have you ever read Aldo Leopold's wonderful A Sand County Almanac? Do you remember the section in July titled Great Possessions? In it, Leopold recounts listening to the sequence of bird songs, starting at 3:35 am with a field sparrow and continuing through sunrise with a growing mixed chorus. [If you've never read Sand County, you really should. If you've never been out at false dawn to listen to the world awaken, you should add that to your bucket list and do it sooner than later.]

I was reminded of Great Possessions while reading the final poem in Alice Oswald's Falling Awake. TITHONUS, 46 MINUTES IN THE LIFE OF THE DAWN, translates a Greek myth and tragedy into poetically human terms and time. If you enjoy poetry that remarkably captures a spirit of place and time, see if you can find some of Oswald's pieces. I think you'll really enjoy them. I have.

A Short Story of Falling

By Alice Oswald

It is the story of the falling rain
to turn into a leaf and fall again

it is the secret of a summer shower
to steal the light and hide it in a flower

and every flower a tiny tributary
that from the ground flows green and momentary

is one of water's wishes and this tale
hangs in a seed-head smaller than my thumbnail

if only I a passerby could pass
as clear as water through a plume of grass

to find the sunlight hidden at the tip
turning to seed a kind of lifting rain drip

then I might know like water how to balance
the weight of hope against the light of patience

water which is so raw so earthy-strong
and lurks in cast-iron tanks and leaks along

drawn under gravity towards my tongue
to cool and fill the pipe-work of this song

which is the story of the falling rain
that rises to the light and falls again

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

When phenology becomes dry stuff

It's gone now and, while it was here, I neglected to take a picture. Last night must have brought a very brief and unusual snow shower. As SiSi and I took our (very) early morning walk, I noticed that the drive was covered with spots. Not a light, fine coating as I'm used to seeing, as if someone had dusted the drive with flour. No, these were polka dots. In all the time I've lived in snow country, about 95% of my life, I don't recall ever seeing anything like it. The snow shower must have been the equivalent of a small, intense thunder storm with those big, splashy raindrops.

yesterday's "wet spot"
yesterday's "wet spot"
Photo by J. Harrington

We need more precipitation to help speed up our Spring green-up. The "wet spot" behind the house, which usually has enough early Spring water to attract a duck or goose or two is absolutely dry. Again, in all the time we've lived here, I don't recall seeing a Spring as dry as it is right now. If I'm reading the table correctly, we're about 3 inches below average for year-to-date precipitation. That helps explain why much of East Central Minnesota is currently under moderate grass fire danger.

"wet spot" late April 2014
"wet spot" late April 2014
Photo by J. Harrington

The next several days are forecast to bring several periods or rain, plus warmer temperatures. That will get us to the point where, as my grandmother used to say, if you hold still, you can hear the buds bursting. Time for me to pick up the pace getting my fly-fishing gear organized, or what passes for that. Soon it will be April, which brings us National Poetry Month and the return of what's blooming by month and color at Minnesota Wildflowers. I'm still fiddling around with trying to organize a list of insect hatches and wildflowers blooming. There are so many of the latter and I haven't yet discovered the "most common" to use as indicators. Not a bad problem to have, I suppose.


By Billy Collins

It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves
they turn over so many cards so early,
telling us before the first line
whether it is wet or dry,
night or day, the season the man is standing in,
even how much he has had to drink.

Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.
Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

"Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune
on a Cloudy Afternoon" is one of Sun Tung Po's.
"Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea"
is another one, or just
"On a Boat, Awake at Night."

And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with
"In a Boat on a Summer Evening
I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.
It Was Very Sad and Seemed To Be Saying
My Woman Is Cruel—Moved, I Wrote This Poem."

There is no iron turnstile to push against here
as with headings like "Vortex on a String,"
"The Horn of Neurosis," or whatever.
No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

Instead, "I Walk Out on a Summer Morning
to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall"
is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.

And "Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors"
is a servant who shows me into the room
where a poet with a thin beard
is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
whispering something about clouds and cold wind,
about sickness and the loss of friends.

How easy he has made it for me to enter here,
to sit down in a corner,
cross my legs like his, and listen.

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Déjà Vu, again and again

As an unrecovering, unreconstructed, not yet former red-neck hippie, I'm a long-time Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fan. The lyrics to one of their hits have been haunting me recently. Do you remember the song (and the album) Déjà Vu, and the repeated line "We have all been here before?"

a path is made by walking
a path is made by walking
Photo by J. Harrington

I keep hearing that refrain when, all too often these days, our mishandled attempts to govern ourselves leave me depressed. For solace, and for a change, I turned not to thoughts of Ed Abbey's Monkey Wrench Gang, but to Donella Meadows observations about politics. See if you find any of these thoughts of hers helpful and encouraging.

Environment: enviros fear a desertification of the earth, anti-enviros fear that valuable natural assets will be taken out of their hands.  All sides could work assiduously to take the stupidities out of the environmental laws.  Those laws, written only 20-30 years ago, were experiments.  They need to be evaluated and refined — but not weakened.  Some of us need absolute assurance that we won’t destroy every wilderness for oil and every species for condominiums.

The necessary debate here is about how much nature to leave alone.  Ten percent?  (In many of our ecosystems, from tall-grass prairie to old-growth forest, it’s too late for that.)  Five percent?  Two percent?  We will have to stop eating into nature when we come to zero; there are moral, practical, and esthetic reasons to stop long before that.

Compelling feedback. Suppose taxpayers got to specify on their return forms what government services their tax payments must be spent on. (Radical democracy!) Suppose any town or company that puts a water intake pipe in a river had to put it immediately DOWNSTREAM from its own outflow pipe. Suppose any public or private official who made the decision to invest in a nuclear power plant got the waste from that plant stored on his/her lawn. Suppose (this is an old one) the politicians who declare war were required to spend that war in the front lines.

I will never believe he won. I’ll always think he got a minority of both the popular and the electoral vote. To me he’ll always be President-Under-False-Pretense.

Well, but you know, the Rs would feel the same way if a few hundred Florida votes had tipped the other way. Only worse. If the tables were turned, the Rs would be whipping up their talk radio attack dogs, organizing more threatening mobs, turning over rocks looking for grounds for the next impeachment. At least for the next four years we will be relieved of that kind of bitterness. Whatever their faults, the Ds lose more politely than the Rs do....

But the point of it — OK here’s the point — the point is, this political system sucks. The issues and concerns of the people are squeezed out by the issues and concerns of the centralized money-makers. The country runs on money-making at the expense of all other purposes and values.

lenten rose, new growth
lenten rose, new growth
Photo by J. Harrington

If you have the sense that our elected politicians keep fighting the same battles, back and forth, time and again, while things in general keep getting worse, and you're as tired of it as I am, follow the links above, read Meadows' complete pieces, and realize that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. We need to change not just the players, but the game that's being played. As Meadows concludes:
For the life of me, I can’t see why it wouldn’t be more interesting and pleasant and intelligent and effective to go at our national problems from a foundation of honesty and respect than to keep up the knee-jerk polarities that poison our political discourse.  Doing so would ruin the raps of politicians and talk-show hosts, but that would be a small sacrifice to get back some hope for our nation.
Remember, as John F. Kennedy, one of the few presidents in my life that I've really admired, famously said in 1962, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."


I lived between my heart and my head,
like a married couple who can't get along.

I lived between my left arm, which is swift
and sinister, and my right, which is righteous.

I lived between a laugh and a scowl,
and voted against myself, a two-party system.

My left leg dawdled or danced along,
my right cleaved to the straight and narrow.

My left shoulder was like a stripper on vacation,
my right stood upright as a Roman soldier.

Let's just say that my left side was the organ
donor and leave my private parts alone,

but as for my eyes, which are two shades
of brown, well, Dionysus, meet Apollo.

Look at Eve raising her left eyebrow
while Adam puts his right foot down.

No one expected it to survive,
but divorce seemed out of the question.

I suppose my left hand and my right hand
will be clasped over my chest in the coffin 

and I'll be reconciled at last,
I'll be whole again.

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Time for pussy willows, catkins and colors #phenology

The sun is shining in a blue, cloudless sky. National Weather Service informs us that frost has left the ground in several Minnesota locations. At nearby Saint Paul, frost remains from 14" to 4" below the surface. The difference between Chanhassen (no frost) and St. Paul rather surprises me. St. Paul is only about 5 to10 miles North of Chanhassen. Other than that, and some unusually early ice-out patterns, the frost report seems to be a sign that Spring is progressing through a relatively smooth South to North transition this year. In case you're interested, here's one way to measure frost depth.

mid-March, catkin time
mid-March, catkin time
Photo by J. Harrington

Have you seen any pussy willow catkins yet this Spring? How about any snakes that have come out of hibernation [brumation]? It's the time of year to look for increasing activity and growth in local plants and animals, including humans. The daily dog walks get longer in Spring than during Winter's colder temperatures. Soon, I'll be spending time sitting outside in a sunny, sheltered spot watching the neighborhood wake up and grow. The Better Half reported hearing sandhill cranes yesterday or the day before, but still we've only enjoyed that brief transitory glimpse last week. We've definitely reached the time of year when those who practice Zen would have each of us spend 20 minutes a day sitting in nature, unless we're too busy; then, we should spend an hour. I have to frequently remind myself of that as, all too often, my focus shifts to anticipating future pleasures instead of enjoying what I have now.  In very different ways, both the ground and I need to "chill out." How about you?

stop, sit, watch the colors return
stop, sit, watch the colors return
Photo by J. Harrington

I have, from time to time, shared some thoughts and feelings about degrees of feeling at home along the Massachusetts coast compared to living in Minnesota. As, this week, I finished reading Joan Didion's South And West, I was very pleased to note her very last paragraph. Didion was born in California and now lives in New York. Of California she writes:
Part of it is what looks right to the eye, sounds right to the ear. I am at home in the West. The hills of the coastal ranges look "right" to me, the particular flat expanse of the Central Valley comforts my eye. The place names have the ring of real places to me. I can pronounce the names of the rivers, and recognize the common trees and snakes. I am easy here in a way I am not easy in other places.
That says much about how I feel about coastal Massachusetts and much of the rest of New England. I'm still coming to feel that way about Minnesota. Perhaps "easy" is a birthright, imprinted during our youngest years? Something to explore some other time.

Emily Dickinson (1830–86).  Complete Poems.  1924.

Part Two: Nature


A LIGHT exists in spring
  Not present on the year
At any other period.
  When March is scarcely here
A color stands abroad        5
  On solitary hills
That silence cannot overtake,
  But human nature feels.
It waits upon the lawn;
  It shows the furthest tree        10
Upon the furthest slope we know;
  It almost speaks to me.
Then, as horizons step,
  Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,        15
  It passes, and we stay:
A quality of loss
  Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
  Upon a sacrament.        20

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Called for icing

Well, we've officially made it through another Minnesota Winter. Since it's now officially Spring, I must have either allergies or a Spring cold. The Better Half [BH] came down with something late last week, so that makes the source of her miseries an ordinary Winter cold or, perhaps a very exotic, astronomiconly Spring cold. To paraphrase Shelley, If Spring has come, can runny noses be far behind?

geese, swans, melting ice, opening waters
geese, swans, melting ice, opening waters
Photo by J. Harrington

I used to think that ice out occurred first on the smaller, shallower ponds and puddles, then on the larger, deeper lakes. What I noticed this morning is that's incorrect, at least locally this year. Several of our smaller ponds are still pretty much ice covered while parts or all of larger deeper water bodies are either wide open or notably ice free, although some large, shallow lakes still are mostly ice covered. I'm not sure if this is attributable to our relatively mild Winter or some other anomalous factors, but it definitely seems weird. This web site, which has lots of fascinating information about ice, wasn't much help in understanding the ice-out sequence we've had this year, although, if I spent more time studying it ...?

Later this week we're supposed to get several wet days. Rain should help thaw the ground and encourage plant growth and further greening up. Maybe by then my nose will have stopped dripping and the BH will be healthy again and rivulets and rills will be all that's running, and budding branches all that's dripping. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying watching the local swans and geese while continuing to look for red-winged blackbirds and sandhill cranes. There will soon be eggs to be laid and hatched and nestlings to be fledged. I imagine that waterfowl are immune from typical rhino viruses?

Mud Season

We unstave the winter’s tangle.
Sad tomatoes, sullen sky.
We unplay the summer’s blight.
Rotted on the vine, black fruit
swings free of strings that bound it.
In the compost, ghost melon; in the fields
grotesque extruded peppers.
We prod half-thawed mucky things.
In the sky, starlings eddying.
Tomorrow, snow again, old silence.
Today, the creaking icy puller.
Last night I woke
to wild unfrozen prattle.
Rain on the roof—a foreign liquid tongue.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

'Twas the day before...

In hopeful anticipation, I put some black sunflower seeds in a tray feeder to see if it might help attract red-winged blackbirds or scarlet tanagers or cardinals. It didn't take the gray and red squirrels long at all to discover the new food source. The tube feeder is fundamentally inaccessible to them. Squirrels slide off the baffle that protects the feeder perches. Although squirrels at bird feeders annoy me, they become pleasing playthings for the dogs when I open the deck door. Dogs dash out barking at a squirrel which dashes up the overhanging oak tree thinking "stupid dogs can't climb." The dogs, on the other hand, think "stupid squirrels never learn."

early April wood ducks
early April wood ducks
Photo by J. Harrington

Ice cover on the small pond up the road is starting to rot. Maybe this week there'll be open water for returning wood ducks. The lack of snow cover from this past Winter shows in lower water levels at most of the local wet spots. Starting at 5:28 am tomorrow, we can begin to look for Spring rain showers (or snow storms) to correct any of Winter's precipitation shortfalls, not that it's going to rain or snow early tomorrow, but that's when we enjoy Vernal Equinox for 2017 and meteorological and astronomical Spring will coincide until June 1.

Vernal Equinox

The circle turns once more
and we, the children of the elements
watch in wonder.
The stately dance of the planets
As Mother Earth sings her tune
of life, of death, of re-birth.
Day and night, now equal,
in this time of fire.
The sun kisses the earth
Fills her with a heat, deep, deep down
and she responds to his gentle caresses
by showing her bountiful,
lustful, beautiful face.
And by giving life to all things.
As he rides out, he grows in power
in the everturning of the wheel.
And slowly, o so slowly
the cosmic dance continues.
The Wheel of Life is in the fertile phase.


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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

In appreciation for phenology

The sky is overcast. The temperature's in the mid-thirties. It's not raining or snowing. The wind isn't blowing very hard. We're on Daylight Savings Time and we've reached the Eve of the Eve of 2017's Vernal Equinox. We're on the downslope side of March and, unlike Caesar, we've made it past the Ides. That doesn't mean we might not still end up with knee-deep snowfalls, but the odds diminish daily. And the sun's angle and warmth will continue to increase for months.

The bulbs, hyacinth, crocus and daffodil, that were forced into bloom in the house are now fading. Soon the ground will be thawed enough to plant the bulbs outside. Soon it will be time to go looking for a couple of aster plants to replace the ones the were mistakenly dug up last Autumn. Soon the last of Winter's ice cover will be gone and lakes and streams will enjoy ice out and we'll enjoy open waters. This year, some have already reached that status.

Spring waterfowl: Northbound
Spring waterfowl: Northbound
Photo by J. Harrington

The usual flocks of waterfowl were no where to be seen today as we drove past the Sunrise River pools. Red-winged blackbirds were occupied somewhere out of sight. No robins, other than the solitary bird a few days ago, have been seen in the past few days. But, we have faith that, though unseen, Spring's migrants are here or on their way. We are grateful for the improved weather and the vernal signs we've enjoyed thus far. Each year we are again reminded that Spring's denoument occurs over several acts and in many sets. In Minnesota, Spring is not a one act play.

Birds Again

A secret came a week ago though I already
knew it just beyond the bruised lips of consciousness.
The very alive souls of thirty-five hundred dead birds
are harbored in my body. It’s not uncomfortable.
I’m only temporary habitat for these not-quite-
weightless creatures. I offered a wordless invitation
and now they’re roosting within me, recalling
how I had watched them at night
in fall and spring passing across earth moons,
little clouds of black confetti, chattering and singing
on their way north or south. Now in my dreams
I see from the air the rumpled green and beige,
the watery face of earth as if they’re carrying
me rather than me carrying them. Next winter
I’ll release them near the estuary west of Alvarado
and south of Veracruz. I can see them perching
on undiscovered Olmec heads. We’ll say goodbye
and I’ll return my dreams to earth.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Water action: ethic, ethics or legal?

Ever since Governor Dayton proposed "fostering an ethic of water conservation in our communities," I've been wondering how raising awareness of the need to preserve and protect clean water fits with the facts that water pollution control has been treated as a legal obligation more than an ethical requirement. Back when I was first learning to hunt and fish, I was taught that "ethics are what you do when no one is watching." Aldo Leopold phrased it more elegantly. Bob Dylan, a Minnesotan, noted that "to live outside the law you must be honest." Today's posting is one of an occasional series exploring community, ethics and legal obligations in a sustainable society.

late Winter corn field with stubble and water
late Winter corn field with stubble and water
Photo by J. Harrington

A story in today's St. Paul PioneerPress, Buffer strips ahead of deadline; Mark Dayton opposes big changes to law, once again caused me to wonder how we, as a society, see the relationship between what's legal and what's ethical. Legal requirements usually either prescribe (mandate) what we must do, e.g. get a permit before you discharge pollution to water, or create a buffer strip if you're a farmer, or proscribe (prohibit) what we're not supposed to do, e.g., drive a vehicle without a license. To phrase that a little better, think of legal as what we can or can not do, ethical is what we should or should not do. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes not.

But when we hear mining companies or farmers or others say that it "costs to much" to do what's needed to keep our air and water clean enough so the rest of us can safely breathe it or drink it, swim in it, and eat fish caught in it, that raises the questions of "Costs who, and For what?" The PioneerPress article linked above brings another perspective to such a question this way:
"Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, who worked to pass the initial buffer bill, said he was surprised Dayton was so emphatically against delaying the implementation deadline by a year. He noted that because the governor vetoed last year’s tax bill for an unrelated reason there currently isn’t funding to help counties enforce the buffer law."
There is another way to approach such a situation. If farmers behave both legally and ethically, and protect the soil as they are wont to claim they do, enforcement costs shouldn't be an issue for some time and therefore, there's little, if any, reason to delay implementation. If some farmers continue for an extended time to not create buffer strips, aren't they unethically taking "competitive advantage" of their neighbors (and the rest of us)? Wouldn't those same neighbors feel a little less neighborly and, perhaps, call to the attention of a county agency responsible for enforcement, or the Department of Agriculture or of Natural Resources, the location of required buffer strips (blue lines in graphic below) that are missing? Has anyone considered using drones to fly the waterways?

Sunrise River agricultural buffers needed
Sunrise River area agricultural buffers needed

There are many ways to approach motivating us to improve the quality of life and our environment, and promoting ethical, responsible, citizen behaviors may be the least expensive. If every driver were a scofflaw, could we afford the number of state troopers needed to enforce speed limits? If every tax payer were a significant tax cheat, wouldn't the IRS audit staff have to increase unreasonably? Wouldn't we be better off as a society if we emphasized ethical behavior (a carrot to feel good) more than legalities and enforcement (a stick for punishment) were kept limited to a level needed to deal with those who would take advantage of their neighbors and fellow citizens? Farmers and businesses are entitled to try to make a living. They aren't entitled to poison the world the rest of us depend on. That's really what it comes down to in many cases, isn't it?

[UPDATE: related?  Insurance Startup Uses Behavioral Science To Keep Customers Honest]

There are some who have recently gone much more than an extra mile to protect water resources. Some of them are now facing legal challenges for doing things many consider ethical but, perhaps, unlawful.  If you'd like to consider doing something ethical to support legal defenses for DAPL protestors, follow this link: Water Protectors Legal Collective. Thanks.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

~Wendell Berry

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The cusp of Spring #phenology

This morning brought an East wind that was at my back as I headed off to see if the skunk cabbage has emerged yet. The wetland is still mostly frozen, according to the underfoot crunches instead of squishes, but I watched a few tiny splashes as melting snow became water drops which became a creek. Today's sunshine and milder temperatures prompted me to take my first wander of the year (dog walks don't count).

old windfallen birch feeding mushrooms
old windfallen birch feeding mushrooms
Photo by J. Harrington

It felt really, really good to get out and stretch my legs without slogging through soft snow or crashing through snow crusts. Winter's winds appear to have added notably to the blowdowns in the woods surrounding the property. At least I don't recall seeing as many last Autumn. In several instances, the tops of trees were snapped off, other times whole trees came down. The standing snags should make the local woodpecker population happy.

(barely) emergent skunk cabbage
(barely) emergent skunk cabbage
Photo by J. Harrington

Back to the skunk cabbage. It's just barely emergent. I had to search wide and far to find any in a locale where, in a week or two, it'll be obvious everywhere. The other noteworthy sign of Spring I noticed was a robin in a treetop. First one this year. If the weather cooperates, next week will be time to head south to a William O'Brien state park and check the status of marsh marigolds. Other years there's been a week or two lag between 25 miles South and local wetlands. I've reached a point where I'm more than happy to go and meet Spring part way.

Speaking of that, happiness that is, I was happy to make an update to yesterday's posting. I had neglected to mention that the forsythia leaves I was enjoying were on branches bought as bouquets a week or so ago, not those still bare, apparently barren and lifeless live forsythia bushes around the house. The other thing that made me happy, that I've been neglectful to mention, is thanking whoever posted last Sunday's posting or link somewhere that drew a bunch more attention than is normally the case. Thanks, whoever you are for whatever you did.

Triolet for Skunk Cabbage

Joyce Sidman

Skunk cabbage peeks up through the snow;
           the first flower in the wood.
Wreathed in an eerie purple glow,
up through the slick of soggy snow,
smelling of rotten buffalo,
           it rears its speckled hood.
Skunk cabbage peeks up through the snow;
           the first flower in the wood.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Ides of March bring a stunning surprise to... #phenology

On the Ides of March, the red-winged blackbirds are back! They were seen perched on branches and telephone wires around the local marshes this morning. I know this because I'm the one who saw them. I also noticed that the willows are becoming brighter yellow these days and many wetland bushes and shrubs are turning redderer and redderer. It's a treat to see colors returning to the countryside. Although, seeing some green leaves emerge on the (UPDATE: store-bought, cut) forsythia branches was, in some ways, even more satisfying than enjoying the yellow blossoms.

recent arrival, red-winged blackbird
recent arrival, red-winged blackbird
Photo by J. Harrington

Trumpeter swans, Canada geese and some black and white diving ducks (probably common goldeneye) are still paddling around the open waters of the Sunrise River but I haven't yet seen sandhill cranes in the fields or wetlands this Spring. Some day soon, no doubt, some day soon, they'll appear when I least expect them. Maybe they're waiting for more snow and ice to melt. Food might be pretty sparse until more frogs and snakes are active again and plant shoots start to green up. Stay tuned.

only slightly stunned female hairy woodpecker
only slightly stunned female hairy woodpecker
Photo by J. Harrington

Earlier this month, when we had that extended spell of warm weather, we stopped refilling the suet feeder. The hairy and downy woodpeckers responded by feeding from the sunflower seed feeders, particularly the one in front of the house, where they can perch on the wire mesh. Today, as this was being written, a female hairy woodpecker flew into a window, completely undeterred by the curtains hanging behind the glass. Apparently, no one warned her to "Beware the Ides of March!" The Son-In-Law heard the thump, went outside, picked up the bird, placed her in a protective box and carried the box through the house to put it on the rear deck, away from all but the most intrepid predators. We're delighted to report that, a short time later, the occupant of the box recovered and flew away with no apparent harm done. It did occur to me that, back in the bad old days, when screens were hung on the outside of windows, birds might have had a less traumatic life. Then again, at this time of year, it's probable that storm windows, instead of screens, would probably still be hung and the collision might not have been heard. Does life ever seem that way to you? Six of one, half a dozen of the other? Especially on the Ides of March.

[Sleeping sister of a farther sky]

By Karen Volkman

Sleeping sister of a farther sky,
dropped from zenith like a tender tone,
the lucid apex of a scale unknown
whose whitest whisper is an opaque cry
of measureless frequency, the spectral sigh
you breath, bright hydrogen and brighter zone
of fissured carbon, consummated moan
and ceaseless rapture of a brilliant why.
Will nothing wake you from your livid rest?
Essence of ether and astral stone
the stunned polarities your substance weaves
in one bright making, like a dream of leaves
in the tree’s mind, summered. Or as a brooding bone
roots constellations in the body’s nest.

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