Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Transitions' time #phenology

Tomorrow meteorological Summer starts. That makes today the last day of meteorological Spring. Paul Douglas suggests that May's cooler, wetter weather may portend a similar pattern for Summer. Soon, Trillium grandiflorum (Large-flowered Trillium) will develop tints of pinkish lavender on its brilliant white flower petals, a sign its bloom will soon disappear. Fortunately, many other wildflowers will blossom during June to keep us company. June has almost twice the number of blooming wildflowers as does May, in June there are more than 400. You can see what is and will be blooming on the Minnesota Wildflowers web site.

Large-flowered Trillium fading to pink
Large-flowered Trillium fading to pink
Photo by J. Harrington

Between the political games and nonsense going on in St. Paul and in Washington, D.C., I need a soothing dose of reality. Fortunately, I've (re)discovered one. We had an interesting conversation at dinner last night about the Walker museum's exhibit of Sam Durant's sculpture, Scaffold, and the reaction of the local Dakota and arts communities. While pondering some of those issues and concerns again this morning, I wondered why the Walker hadn't someone like Kent Nerburn on retainer. If you haven't read any of Kent's works, you should. Anyhow, in checking his web site I learned that he has tweaked and is now (re)publishing a new version of his A Haunted Reverence, Meditations on a Northern Land, under a new title, NATIVE ECHOES — Listening to the Spirit of the Land.

I may or may not get a copy of the new edition, but I will soon to spend time curled up in the sun (re)reading our copy of the original. I am becoming more and more convinced that North American "culture" needs a much larger element of Native American culture if it is to persist in any shape at all, let alone thrive. Nerburn offers a bridge for those with the sense and desire to cross it. I'm headed across that bridge as #45 works on pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. Truly, we have reached a point where the inmates must emulate McMurphy and take control of the asylum or we forfeit our futures to a Nurse Ratched wannabe.


By W. S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Farewell to "Spring?" #phenology

It's raining -- again. Which is better than still raining, I suppose. Those of us who didn't get up to the North Country over the weekend found that North Country weather came to us. The furnace was on for a bit this morning, with outside temperatures well below 60℉. I just keep telling myself that this is Minnesota in "Spring time."

doe and fawn in wildflower field
doe and fawn in wildflower field
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning I had to run a quick errand to near Dresser Wisconsin. I don't know if it was the weekend traffic or something else, but there were at leastthree roadkill does in different places on the side of the road, more than I'm used to seeing on a trip of that length. At least I think they were does which would mean they probably left a fawn or fawns as orphans somewhere. I'm once again left with the impression that there are too many of us in too much of a hurry too often to serve much good. I wonder if I'll remember to follow my own advice and slow down on and off the highway. Then I'll be able to enjoy more scenes like the one above.

roadside yellow goat's beard
roadside yellow goat's beard
Photo by J. Harrington

I may have been too pessimistic about the likelihood of the penstemon blooming this week. The flower buds have developed nicely and look like they might open in the next few days. Yellow goat's beard flowers are now visible along our roadside. They just seemed to "happen" in the past day or so.

Traveling through the Dark

By William E. Stafford

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car   
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;   
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,   
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;   
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;   
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,   
then pushed her over the edge into the river.

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day #phenology

On this Memorial Day remember not only those who lost their lives in the armed forces in service to us, but the values they stood for as they served. Remember again next Memorial Day and especially again on Tuesday, November 6, 2018 when you vote. Those who don't vote, as well as those who suppress voting rights, dishonor those who died protecting such rights.

prairie smoke developing plumes
prairie smoke developing plumes
Photo by J. Harrington

Between yesterday's showers, I made a quick trip to our local clusters of prairie smoke plants. The flowers are beginning to open but haven't fully developed their open plumes yet. Hoary puccoon continues in flower. report are that there's lots of milkweed in the "back 40." We're looking forward to seeing monarch butterflies soon.

For the Union Dead

Robert Lowell, 1917 - 1977

“Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam.”
The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now.  Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.

My hand draws back.  I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile.  One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common.  Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse, 

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city’s throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound’s gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now.  He rejoices in man’s lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die--
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic. 

The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year--
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .

Shaw’s father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son’s body was thrown
and lost with his “niggers.”

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the “Rock of Ages”
that survived the blast.  Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessèd break.

The Aquarium is gone.  Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Last Sunday in May #phenology

If we're on a schedule like last year's, the penstemon should start blooming this week. I'll be surprised if that happens. The extended period of cool, wet weather we've had for much of May seems to have slowed down plant growth and development after a good early start.

large beardtongue, late May 2016
large beardtongue, late May 2016
Photo by J. Harrington

The number of dragonflies in the air has increased notably the past few days. That's encouraging. The number of mosquitoes has also increased. That's discouraging unless you're a dragonfly, bat or mosquito-eating bird. The mosquitoes are most noticeable early in the pale, pre-breeze, pre-dawn light walking a dog and enjoying the beauty of Venus' bright light in the morning sky.

backyard whitetail doe: peaceful Sunday morning
backyard whitetail doe: peaceful Sunday morning
Photo by J. Harrington

Although we haven't reached the stage of the lion lying down with the lamb, one of our local does finds the neighborhood peaceful enough to enjoy resting under the pear tree. I think that means we must be doing some thing right. If only they wouldn't eat so much of what we've planted when they have all those other things to eat!

Planting the Meadow

By Mary Makofske

I leave the formal garden of schedules
where hours hedge me, clip the errant sprigs
of thought, and day after day, a boxwood
topiary hunt chases a green fox
never caught. No voice calls me to order
as I enter a dream of meadow, kneel
to earth and, moving east to west, second
the motion only of the sun. I plant
frail seedlings in the unplowed field, trusting
the wildness hidden in their hearts. Spring light
sprawls across false indigo and hyssop,
daisies, flax. Clouds form, dissolve, withhold
or promise rain. In time, outside of time,
the unkempt afternoons fill up with flowers.

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

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A nettlesome time of remembrance #phenology

The folks who are telling us that climate change / global warming contributes to more ticks surviving our Winters are on target, at least according to the number I've lifted off my skin and clothing this year compared to years past. Part of our Memorial Day weekend is being spent pulling stinging nettles and dame's rocket. The latter are pretty but invasive, or at least aggressive, and I haven't yet worked up the courage to try any foraging uses of the former.

an explosion of dame's rocket
an explosion of dame's rocket
Photo by J. Harrington

The folks up the road (Eichten's) look like they have a nice collection of bison calves going in to Summer. We drove past them several times yesterday as we were picking up a new tractor/mower and some implements. (See above re: Memorial Day weekend activities.) Their's is one of two bison herds in our general neck of the woods, the other one being at Belwin Conservancy.

bison, Memorial Day (2014)
bison, Memorial Day (2014)
Photo by J. Harrington

As you're enjoying this long weekend, traditional start of Summer, please don't forget the real reason we have this holiday, remembering those who died while serving in our armed forces. I still remember, as a child, the parade followed by a 21 gun salute at the cemetery and someone playing Taps on the bugle, or, perhaps, on a trumpet if a bugler couldn't be found. I was fortunate in those times to have my Dad as company. He had returned safely from both WWII and the "Korean police action." Like many kids, I didn't know at the time just how lucky I was to have him.

Memorial Day

By Gregory Orr

After our march from the Hudson to the top
of Cemetery Hill, we Boy Scouts proudly endured
the sermons and hot sun while Girl Scouts
lolled among graves in the maple shade.
When members of the veterans’ honor guard
aimed their bone-white rifles skyward and fired,
I glimpsed beneath one metal helmet
the salmon-pink flesh of Mr. Webber’s nose,
restored after shrapnel tore it.

Friends who sat near me in school died in Asia,
now lie here under new stones that small flags flap
          It’s fifth-grade recess: war stories.
Mr. Webber stands before us and plucks
his glass eye from its socket, holds it high
between finger and thumb. The girls giggle
and scream; the awed boys gape. The fancy pocket watch
he looted from a shop in Germany
ticks on its chain.

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

Close encounters of the wild kind #phenology

I don't think this is the same Blanding's turtle I photographed in July two years ago, although it might be. This morning it was crossing the same road in about the same place and it seems to have a leech in about the same location near the rear of its shell (; >). Since this is the second time this week I've helped a turtle cross the road, it's clearly turtle time on our roadways. Please slow down and watch for them. You might also avoid running over a duckling or gosling or fawn while you're at it. You'll feel better if you avoid them and worse if you run one over.

Blanding's turtle crossing road
Blanding's turtle crossing road
Photo by J. Harrington

Today was our first fawn sighting of the year. It scampered down and then across the road in front of me and followed mom into the trees on the other side. Fortunately, I was still going slow because of the turtle encounter a minute or two before that. Lots of youngsters on the roads this Memorial Day weekend. Please give 'em a break.

whitetail fawn, mid-June 2015
whitetail fawn, mid-June 2015
Photo by J. Harrington

Developing the Land

By Stephen Behrendt

For six nights now the cries have sounded in the pasture:
coyote voices fluting across the greening rise to the east
where the deer have almost ceased to pass
now that the developers have carved up yet another section,
filled another space with spars and studs, concrete, runoff.

Five years ago you saw two spotted fawns rise
for the first time from brome where brick mailboxes will stand;
only three years past came great horned owls
who raised two squeaking, downy owlets
that perished in the traffic, skimming too low across the road
behind some swift, more fortunate cottontail.

It was on an August afternoon that you drove in,
curling down our long gravel drive past pasture and creek,
that you saw, flickering at the edge of your sight,
three mounted Indians, motionless in the paused breeze,
who vanished when you turned your head.

We have felt the presence on this land of others,
of some who paused here, some who passed, who have left
in the thick clay shards and splinters of themselves that we dig up,
turn up with spade and tine when we garden or bury our animals;
their voices whisper on moonless nights in the back pasture hollow
where the horses snort and nicker, wary with alarm.

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

Thursday, May 25, 2017

If the Jedi can end, why not special sessions?

We have two or three pairs of rose-breasted grosbeaks coming to the feeders. Apparently, they like grape jelly, because that feeder keeps getting empty and I'm not seeing any orioles and very few tanagers. A downy woodpecker keeps drinking from the nectar feeder. The hummingbirds don't seem to mind sharing. Yesterday, hen turkeys were scratching their way through the droppings under the deck and front feeders. Might it be helpful to practice a zen-like "no expectations" when it comes to birds, feeding and behavior?

male rose-breasted grosbeak contemplating feeders
male rose-breasted grosbeak contemplating feeders
Photo by J. Harrington

Full disclosure: for some time now I've been working on lowering my expectations as a way to reduce stress and frustrations and increase happiness, but, I've been failing to distinguish between lowered expectations and no expectations. To the extent we avoid judgement of good or bad, right or wrong, we can expect to see things just as they are, you know "it is what it is."

I raise these points today because I've been getting increasingly judgmental and negative about the process and the product being followed and produced by the Minnesota legislature. That doesn't affect what the legislature does, it only affects my [in]digestion and satisfaction with a number of other things in life. I'm convinced we need better ways to do politics and to govern ourselves. The system we have is currently producing too many losers and too few winners. We are, I believe, smart enough to producing many more win-win approaches. National Public Radio has an interesting series that I want to catch up on. the recent episode, "What It's Like To Live In A Small, Rural, Politically Divided Town," caught my eye in particular because the urban-rural divide has been one of the major themes used to explain last November's election results.

Bear with me for a minute on this, please. Know that I am, and have been for a long time, a Star Wars fan. I've recently started to read about Luke's perception that "I only know one truth: It's time for the Jedi to end." I think it may be time for governance in this country, as we've come to practice it, to end. Back to NPR's Our Land series. We are a nation that is powerful, diverse, unequal and increasingly devouring its young and its future. We are in the midst of a revolution where we live. I believe that much of the dissension and turmoil we're going through is because the inevitability of change is opposed by those who fear they will lose what's valuable to them. That's win-lose governance, perhaps brought to us by our own Jedi knights, the Founding Fathers. We need to create conversations to bring their founding ideas into a world they couldn't have envisioned technologically, but inhabited by the same basic humans they were.

[UPDATE: David Schultz has a recent column in MinnPost that helped trigger the preceding.]

Axe Handles

By Gary Snyder

One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
"When making an axe handle
                 the pattern is not far off."
And I say this to Kai
"Look: We'll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with—"
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It's in Lu Ji's Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. "Essay on Literature"-—in the
Preface: "In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand."
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

It's four-spotted skimmer time #phenology

Almost exactly one year ago, I took the photo immediately below. Would that all my photos turned out so well. It's a four-spotted skimmer, according to what I read and see in Dragonflies of the North Woods. It's active as a flying adult from mid-May through August and its preferred habitat is "Small boggy lakes and ponds, marshes and some very slow streams." That's where one of the dogs and I saw one earlier today as we took a walk past the boggy pond / stream up the road.

four-spotted skimmer
four-spotted skimmer
Photo by J. Harrington

I have a "thing" for dragonflies. I'm not quite sure where, when or how I got it, but I just really think they're cool. Perhaps the amount of time I've spent in ponds and marshes in my youth and what passes as adulthood for me does a lot to account for my enjoyment of fellow denizens of those locales. It may also have something to do with the fact that I've read that dragonflies eat lots of mosquitos, and a mosquito, eaten by a dragonfly, can't bite me. Furthermore, I've never, to my knowledge, been bitten by a dragonfly, plus, with only a little imagination, I can imagine a dragonfly growing up to be a real dragon. Here's some very impressive photos and facts about dragonflies. I came across it just yesterday. [UPDATE: It took some poking around the internets, but thanks to a comment from Molly Redmond, here's a link to the Bug Lady's postings on dragonflies.][UPDATE: The St. Croix River News has a wonderful recent story about Swooping St. Croix swamps for swimming dragonflies.]

late May, penstemon
late May, penstemon
Photo by J. Harrington

Our cool, damp Spring has done wonders for the local poison ivy plants [no photos]. The roadsides are full of it, more so than I recall from other years. The penstemon, on the other hand seems to be lagging a little, but it is coming along. I finally noticed a milkweed plant that had sprouted, but no signs of monarchs yet.

here's the milkweed, where's the monarchs?
here's the milkweed, where's the monarchs?
Photo by J. Harrington

After a very promising early start, this Spring in Minnesota has shaped up as fairly typical or worse. For too much of it, if it wasn't cool, it was wet or cool and wet. I have a growing suspicion that, sometime over the next two to three weeks, the temperatures will suddenly jump from the mid60's - low70's into the upper80's - low90's. Summer will have arrived full force once again, minus any reasonable transition. Let's see if I turn out to have prognosticated correctly.

After the Dragonflies

by W. S. Merwin  

Dragonflies were as common as sunlight
hovering in their own days
backward forward and sideways
as though they were memory
now there are grown-ups hurrying
who never saw one
and do not know what they
are not seeing
the veins in a dragonfly’s wings
were made of light
the veins in the leaves knew them
and the flowing rivers
the dragonflies came out of the color of water
knowing their own way
when we appeared in their eyes
we were strangers
they took their light with them when they went
there will be no one to remember us

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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Happy #WorldTurtleDay! #phenology

where the turtle was before it crossed the road
where the turtle was before it crossed the road
Photo by J. Harrington

I have no idea whether high water in local ponds may, or may not, help our turtle population as they come and go on their procreational travels during nesting season. Less bank to climb but possibly some areas where otherwise eggs might be laid are water-covered? One of the painted turtles in the pond up the road was crossing this morning and posed nicely for a portrait. In return, I helped her(?) (I assume) safely across the gravel to the roadside she was headed for. I would have done that even if today weren't World Turtle Day. Does anyone tell the turtles it's their day?

portrait of a painted turtle
portrait of a painted turtle
Photo by J. Harrington

It's now less than a week until Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the Summer season. Local streams are running more than bankfull and more rain is in the forecast. High water conditions are not what I find conducive to the kind of fly-fishing for trout that I most enjoy. I'd truly like to see more sunshine and less rain in our weather pattern. (In looking up the linked reference, I learned that "Colder water has an increased capacity to carry sediment." If I ever knew that, I've forgotten. It seems just the opposite of warm air carrying more moisture, doesn't it? Water is strangely wonderful and wonderfully strange.)

male scarlet tanager at grape jelly feeder
male scarlet tanager at grape jelly feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

My specific mention of weather is because yesterday, after I had complained about not seeing tanagers and orioles, a male scarlet tanager landed at the grape feeder. Now I'm testing to see if I can induce Mother Nature to provide for dropping water levels (but not too much) so that local streams approach normal Summer flows. Then I'll spend less time at a keyboard and more with a fly rod in my hands. It might do wonders for my growing curmudgeonliness, those around me hope.

Finally, for now, this morning I noticed the neighbor's semi-feral cat lurking around the front bird feeder. Unlike the dogs, the cat seemed totally unimpressed by any residual scent of bear around that feeder. If the bear, or the dogs, don't raise enough anxiety for the cat to seek other hunting territory, I'll shut down the front feeder for at least a while. Who knew feeding birds could attract such a full scale menagerie?

The Adventures of a Turtle

By Russell Edson

The turtle carries his house on his back. He is both the house and the person of that house.
         But actually, under the shell is a little room where the true turtle, wearing long underwear, sits at a little table. At one end of the room a series of levers sticks out of slots in the floor, like the controls of a steam shovel. It is with these that the turtle controls the legs of his house.
         Most of the time the turtle sits under the sloping ceiling of his turtle room reading catalogues at the little table where a candle burns. He leans on one elbow, and then the other. He crosses one leg, and then the other. Finally he yawns and buries his head in his arms and sleeps.
         If he feels a child picking up his house he quickly douses the candle and runs to the control levers and activates the legs of his house and tries to escape.
         If he cannot escape he retracts the legs and withdraws the so-called head and waits. He knows that children are careless, and that there will come a time when he will be free to move his house to some secluded place, where he will relight his candle, take out his catalogues and read until at last he yawns. Then he’ll bury his head in his arms and sleep....That is, until another child picks up his house....

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

The birds and the - bears? #phenology

The Daughter Person [DP] left a post it note on the bathroom mirror last night: "Chased bear away from front feeder." This morning's verbal report included "noisy raccoons fighting." The physical evidence I found in the kitchen sink this morning included both nectar feeders, and the one hung out front was disassembled and had sunflower seeds stuck to and in it.

June, 2014: hungry visitor
June, 2014: hungry visitor
Photo by J. Harrington

Now, the DP fussed at me the other day about using red nectar in the feeders since clear is supposed to be safer, but even I am not ready to consider possible collusion between the DP and bears and raccoons, just to cover dumping the freshly filled (with red nectar) feeders I put out on Saturday. If she did have such shamanic powers, I'd probably have seen evidence before this. As of this writing, the front feeder hanger has been restraightened and the feeders refilled with clear nectar and rehung. They'll be joining the sunflower feeders in being brought in each evening and put out in the morning and we'll look forward to having the bear, described by the Son-In-Law as a robust 300 to 350 pounder, eventually decide other feeding stations might be more productive. Country living is rewarding but can get really annoying from time to time or, to be more accurate, each evening the bears and the birds are out, about and hungry.

While I was typing the paragraph above, I also was watching one of the local gray squirrel gang sample the contents of a grape jelly feeder. Apparently s/he didn't find it tasty enough because, after a taste or two, s/he kind of shivered and walked away. I hope the orioles and tanagers find it more to their liking but have been disappointed by their response this Spring.

oriole at nectar feeder
oriole at nectar feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

Anyhow, our friends at MNDNR advise us to "Remove bird feeders in the spring. If you persist in feeding birds during the summer, remove seed, suet, and hummingbird feeders at night." As one who has, for years, persisted in feeding birds in Summer, I point out to our DNR friends that Minnesota has precious few hummingbirds, orioles, tanagers or rose-breasted grosbeaks around to feed in the Winter. We do keep our trash can in the garage during the Summer and feed the dogs inside. One or two feeders doesn't fit my definition of "abundant food source," but a hungry bear might find otherwise.

What I think I've observed over the years is that some years local bears are becoming active in late Winter/early Spring, well before natural food sources are available. (That would seem consistent with assessments that climate change is warming Minnesota Winters more than our Summers.) The bears then roam our "neighborhood" in a pattern, looking for targets of opportunity. That would help explain why the front hummingbird feeder went unmolested for more than a week although it remained outside every night. Unless the raccoons are in collusion with the bear and summoned it to bring the feeder within their reach? (😉)

Bear In There

by Shel Silverstein

There's a Polar Bear
In our Frigidaire--
He likes it 'cause it's cold in there.
With his seat in the meat
And his face in the fish
And his big hairy paws
In the buttery dish,
He's nibbling the noodles,
He's munching the rice,
He's slurping the soda,
He's licking the ice.
And he lets out a roar
If you open the door.
And it gives me a scare
To know he's in there--
That Polary Bear
In our Fridgitydaire.

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Seeing red #phenology

No, not as in getting annoyed or angry, like a bull at a matador's cape, but as in confirming a report of a scarlet tanager in the neighborhood. The Daughter Person, a day or two ago, mentioned she had seen a tanager at the feeders. Now I know it's hard to mistake a male scarlet tanager for almost anything else, but I hadn't seen one myself so I put the report in the "unconfirmed but hopeful" file.

male scarlet tanager
male scarlet tanager
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning I cleaned and refilled the hummingbird / oriole feeders, two nectar, one grape jelly, with fresh contents. Less than an hour later there was a bright, bright, red bird, brighter than a male cardinal, at the grape feeder. His arrival cheered me considerably on this otherwise dreary, damp morning. Now, if only some orioles would show up with greater regularity. I've tried feeding dried meal worms in past years and it didn't seem to help much. There's still the option of half oranges if need be.

female Baltimore oriole
female Baltimore oriole
Photo by J. Harrington

I've been reading recently about native plantings to help attract birds and butterflies. My experience has been that whitetail deer and pocket gophers nibble branches and roots, making it really hard for the plants to produce blossoms and eventually fruit. It doesn't seem to work well to let nature just play its hand but I don't like to use pesticides, herbicides, fungicides etc. unless there's no option. There are also some very knowledgable folks out there blogging about ecological gardening and permaculture. Probably time for me to apply the philosophy embodied in the epigram "The best time to plant a tree was thirty years ago. The second best time is today." As I get older, I think more and more about what kind of ancestor I want to be. As long as we're in this mode, have you ever read the story about The Man Who Planted Trees? You might enjoy it in one form or another.

Finally, at the risk of being guilty of bait and switch tactics, Minnesotans should be seeing red in the old-fashioned way, as in getting angry. Take a look at Dennis Anderson's column from yesterday. I agree with him but don't think he goes far enough. We need to find better ways to decide how to manage growth in a sustainable fashion. Once upon a time, Minnesota had a state planning agency. That agency, and others, tried to fashion a vision and a consensus about how a future Minnesota should look and work. We can't afford the continuing battles between mining and pipeline proponents and environmentalists and recreation-based job providers; those between some farmers and water users and protectors. Think about how close we are to a legislative session ending without an approved or approvable state budget. That's an outrageous waste of our tax dollars. When I moved to Minnesota decades ago, Minnesota had a reputation as being the "state that works." We can't count on that any more. We need better processes, less competition, more cooperation and communication to get away from seesaw "winner take all" politics that flips every two or four years. How do we "git 'er done?"

Inventory for Spring

By Wendy Xu

Feeling rich for one moment for using money as a bookmark
Feeling deceitful for making public some opinions while neglecting others
Feeling disordered at the sight of three statues conspiring in a row
Feeling insufficient for having a lukewarm reaction to news
Feeling important for having been offered a seat at the table
Feeling apologetic for nonetheless tuning out an argument
Feeling blue for identifying some people who don’t respect you
Feeling like a knife slipping into a pool of water for bearing 
Feeling redundant for moving in a similar direction as others
Feeling angry for imagining the opening of the passage yet 
unopened for you
Feeling antisocial for declining further missives from home

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Falling rain rarely hurries #phenology

This morning, driving through the rain, I started to wonder where the phrase "April showers bring May flowers" came from. It certainly doesn't seem to be a particularly good fit for our North Country where, with maybe some local exceptions, May receives more precipitation than April and June more than May. That's also reflected in the increased abundance of wild flower blossoms from April to May to June. The proverb is reported to have originated in England and is first found in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Native Americans appear to have no comparable saying in their naming of the moons. [If you find one I missed, please let me know.]

Cascade Falls, Osceola Creek
Cascade Falls, Osceola Creek
Photo by J. Harrington

The St. Croix River levels are listed as high or very high. The rain we've been getting has to go somewhere and one of a river's main jobs is to return to the sea rain that falls in its watershed. The wet conditions have, I'm guessing, also brought high water to many of the trout streams I'd otherwise have been visiting. "May showers bring June's falling water levels" doesn't have quite the same ring to it as "April showers ...", does it?

Spring rain
Spring rain
Photo by J. Harrington

One of the nice fringe benefits about fishing in general and trout fishing in particular is that almost always it gets participants into pretty, and often beautiful, country. A week or so ago, when the Better Half and I were searching for a relatively nearby trout stream, we discovered it ran at the base of a hillside abundantly covered with trillium. Spending more time on William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways and local gravel roads leads to rewarding discoveries of beauty, delight and satisfaction not available to those always in a hurry to get somewhere. One of the pleasures of bioregionalism and zen is learning to enjoy and appreciate where you're at. These days I realize I'm surrounded by a lot more beauty than I've taken time to notice and appreciate. Is that true of you, too?


By Marie Howe

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store   
and the gas station and the green market and   
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,   
as she runs along two or three steps behind me   
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.   

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?   
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?   
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,   
Honey I'm sorry I keep saying Hurry—   
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.   

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking   
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,   
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

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

Friday, May 19, 2017

Flower Moon in May #phenology

The Anishinaabe have named May's moon waabigwanii-giizis -- Flower Moon or Blossom Moon. It's easy to see why, although leafing out moon could also be a contender in our North Country. As we noted in prior postings this month, trout lilies, Spring beauty, trillium and other local wildflowers are blooming profusely. Columbine is starting to display its red flowers but hasn't yet hit its stride. In fact, May has about 4 times as many wildflowers in bloom as does April, but only half as many as will be found next month in June. I continue to be surprised that July is the peak month for wildflower blooms. I just don't think of July that way, never have.

a field of beardtongue to anticipate
a field of beardtongue to anticipate
Photo by J. Harrington

One plant that I've noticed growing rapidly during the past couple of weeks is beardtongue. Its pink-lavender-purple flowers could / should open as, or shortly after, we reach June, unless our cooler, wetter than "normal" weather continues. Penstemon is a native plant, unlike dame's rocket which we can expect to erupt soon along many roadsides in the area. One day soon I want to return to an exploration of invasive species considerations, since climate change and human behavior are likely to continue to facilitate the spread of nonnatives. Once, our earth had an oxygen-free atmosphere that didn't support humans. Our understanding of the earth's atmosphere and evolution of life on earth continues to evolve. Some invasive species are no doubt noxious and disruptive to the existing ecosystems. but change is a constant in nature. If we want to control invasive species impacts, then we should focus on controlling their transport. Remember the old "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?" Global trade will rely on physical transport until we've all got Star Trek's replicators. That would be a flowering of technology, right?

columbine in bloom
columbine in bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

From Blossoms

By Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward   
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into   
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Do you know your home range? #phenology

While walking one of the dogs a little while ago, a SUV drove past us and a hundred yards or so down the road turned into a neighbor's driveway. Out of the small woodlot North of that driveway popped a whitetail deer. She stood in the middle of the road, staring at the dog and I. The SUV continued up the drive and I doubt if anyone in it noticed the deer. The dog I was walking had already turned into our drive when the doe appeared so I believe I was the only observer wondering how long the deer was going to stand still. The answer was about 10 to 15 seconds. Then she started her stiff-legged, bouncy semi-trot across and up the road and into the woods. She was far enough away I could see if she looked pregnant. About a month or six weeks from now is when I expect to start seeing spots in front of my eyes as fawns begin to learn their way around.

roadside whitetail in Autumn
roadside whitetail in Autumn
Photo by J. Harrington

Being able to enjoy, with some frequency, observations of wildlife is one of the reasons we live where we do. It also helps explain why we're more lax than advisable in the application of deer repellents. Living with nature helps teach us how to share, although the share we retain is often less than we might hope for, the alternative would too frequently be a diminished, sometimes severely, local population of species we enjoy. Have you noticed that nature tries to provide substantial redundancy in her systems?

mid-June fawn
mid-June fawn
Photo by J. Harrington

There are many pollinators and many different plants that need pollination. Rarely do we encounter a monoculture in a natural environment. Variety and redundancy are healthier and more resilient. I doubt that natural systems support "lean supply chains," although often there's just in time, or almost in time, delivery. Bee populations are reported to be affected by neonicotinoids. Monarch butterflies are reported to lack sufficient milkweed to thrive, but planting some milkweed species contributes to monarch's problems. Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources is investigating how better to work with local communities to keep whitetail herds, and habitat, healthier.

My major interest in phenology is not so much how existing patterns are changing due to climate change, but to become more aware of the relationships among patterns, such as goldfinches late season breeding so thistle seeds are available. It helps me feel more at home and lets me begin to recognize my own home range, my place in the world and who my neighbors really are, human and other.

Heaven for Stanley

Mark Doty, 1953

For his birthday, I gave Stanley a hyacinth bean,
an annual, so he wouldn’t have to wait for the flowers.
He said, Mark, I have just the place for it!
as if he’d spent ninety-eight years
anticipating the arrival of this particular vine.
I thought poetry a brace against time,
the hours held up for study in a voice’s cool saline,
but his allegiance is not to permanent forms.
His garden’s all furious change,
budding and rot and then the coming up again;
why prefer any single part of the round?
I don’t know that he’d change a word of it;
I think he could be forever pleased
to participate in motion. Something opens.
He writes it down. Heaven steadies
and concentrates near the lavender. He’s already there.

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Goosing the season #phenology

The goslings we wrote about a few days ago now have lots of company. Today we noticed a couple of Branta canadensis families walking the roadside, proud parents leading the children through the neighborhood. I wonder if MNDNR and / or the Chisago County Highway Department could be convinced to install some "Reduce speed, Goose crossing" signs along county highway 36. Every year it seems, later in the Summer, geese end up loafing on the blacktop and one or more looses a game of chicken to a fast-moving vehicle. (The goslings are just above the red arrowhead. That's a red-winged blackbird on the post for comparison.)

if you see goslings, look for trillium and lilacs to bloom
if you see goslings, look for trillium and lilacs to bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

I thought, but was not sure, that hatching is a week or two earlier this year than in the past. It's also possible that I've learned to pay more and better attention and the geese are on their normal schedule. MNDNR informs us that "The mating season runs from March to April, after which eggs are laid. Hatching begins 25 to 30 days later." If we count 25 days from the Ides of March (15th), then just beyond the end of the first week in April it would be time for hatching. Looks like I've learned to be more observant rather than an early arrival for goslings this year. From now on, I'll remember to look for goslings when the local lilacs and trillium are in bloom. How's that for a phenological observation? And to add to that, yesterday afternoon we saw the first dragonfly of the year in the back yard. It was reddish colored and I would have guessed a Ruby Meadowhawk, but they're not supposed to be in the air until next month. I'd suggest maybe a juvenile chalk-fronted corporal or a variegated meadowhawk but didn't get either a photo or a close look.

blooming trillium mean it's time to look for goslings
blooming trillium mean it's time to look for goslings
Photo by J. Harrington

Several months ago, just before the geese arrived this year, I discovered Charles Goodrich, a poet and essayist I hadn't read previously. Last night I finished reading his Going to Seed, Dispatches from the Garden. It was a delight from cover to cover. If you find yourself in need of a "nature break," but can't actually get outside, take time to read one of his dispatches. It will refresh you in in less time than it takes to tell. I lean very heavily toward poets and poetry that's "approachable." Goodrich very much fits that standard in the poems published in Going to Seed. Here's an example previously shared on Writer's Almanac.

Wild Geese

by Charles Goodrich

            I'm picking beans when the geese fly over, Blue Lake pole
beans I figure to blanch and freeze. Maybe pick some dilly beans.
And there will be more beans to give to the neighbors, forcibly if
            The geese come over so low I can hear their wings creak, can
see their tail feathers making fine adjustments. They slip-stream along
so gracefully, riding on each other's wind, surfing the sky. Maybe
after the harvest I'll head south. Somebody told me Puerto Vallarta is
nice. I'd be happy with a cheap room. Rice and beans at every meal.
Swim a little, lay on the beach.
            Who are you kidding, Charles? You don't like to leave home
in the winter. Spring, fall, or summer either. True. But I do love to
watch those wild geese fly over, feel these impertinent desires glide
through me. Then get back to work.  

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What's the point? #phenology patterns

One area of my education that is sadly lacking includes painting and art history and related topics. I know there's something called "Pointillism" and that it has to do with painting of and by dots. That's both the extent and depth of my knowledge on that theme, but it's enough to help me recognize that nature often imitates the art that imitates nature.

pointillated aspens
pointillated aspens
Photo by J. Harrington

We have several clusters of aspens on our property, mixed in with mixed conifers. I don't know, but am suspicious that the aspen clusters are all clones, part of one grove. This Spring, their leaf development is reminiscent of the reproductions I've seen of some pointillist paintings. The mixed oak leaves in our woods have now developed to the point that the spaces seen between bare branches are occluded. When the breeze rustles them, they whisper a soothing susurration. The word for music that's played in a pointillist manner is punctualism or klangfarbenmelodie. Once again I'm in over my head, past the tops of my ears.

a lawn being pointillated
a lawn being pointillated
Photo by J. Harrington

Ground cover such as our white violets(?) and the ground ivy encroaching on the "lawn" from the wood's edge, often creates impressions of splashes of one color from different multitudes of flowers. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that we form our impressions of cultures, communities, clans and congregations from a multitude of individual impressions, cultural or social dots, to which we are exposed daily. Each by itself may not make sense enough to create a coherent impression. It's how all of us connect the dots differently, be they ever so small, that makes all the difference in the stories we tell about the pictures we see, the music we hear, and the lives we live.

Patterns for Arans

We could paint semi-darkness in semi-darkness. And the ‘right lighting’ of a picture could be semi-darkness.                                                             Wittgenstein
                                                            from Remarks on Color

These islands lie off the west coast of Ireland
as if nothing matters.
The people have lived here for centuries
with only a thin covering of soil over the surface.
Great use is made of the seaweed,
the cattle swimming out.

The women here are justly famous.
They weave their own tweed
and make a type of belt called criss.
The heavy Atlantic seas,
the slip stitch.
The difficulty of the patterns
are never written down.

Most impressive and rich, the trellis pattern
and the rope, the tribute to the hardworking bee.
But sometimes their knitting shows mistakes,
with a true Irish touch of nothing
really matters, a careless nonchalance
of the crossing of their cables.

And note mistakes in the simple patterns:
forked lightning or cliff paths,
small fields fenced with stone,
the ups and downs of married life,
the mosses.

The openwork has a religious
significance or none.
Sometimes the clarity of the pattern is
lost through the use of
very fine wool.

Green from the mosses, brown
from the seaweed, grey and cream
color from the stones and pebbles:
many are distinctly over-bobbled.
No matter. They are too lovely
to be lost. Wool and knitting
leaflets can be obtained.

In no case is the whole pattern given.
There are certain gaps and yawns
and part of the pattern is left out
as if it doesn’t matter,
or was too lovely,
so was lost.

Some of the simple patterns
are charming for children’s jerseys.
This one, for example,
would be lovely on a child.

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