Friday, June 30, 2017

Picture a butterfly, or dragonfly

My first question for the day is: have you ever seen the cute films of a skunk's read end as it waddles away from the camera? Yesterday, I got to watch something even better, a senior and junior skunk waddling along the road side by side  as I came up behind them. Just after I passed the skunks, who had disappeared into the roadside grasses by then, I came alongside one of the neighbors out for a late day walk. I mentioned the possibility of company just down the road and my neighbor decided she had gone as far as she needed and could head home then. I understand that perspective.

Second question: have you seen some of the stunningly clear photos that have been taken of butterflies? Like these, for example? This morning a red admiral butterfly was flitting about the driveway and around the south side of the garage. I already had a few mediocre pictures of red admirals and many more not so good at all photos of them. My collection of dragonfly pictures has a similar breakdown. None are as good as I'd like them to be. For one thing, my reflexes aren't as quick as a butterfly's wings being raised, after very briefly having been lowered. For another, dragonflies often don't sit still for very long either.

Is the answer to better pictures to have the camera set on burst mode? Shoot video and then pull single "frames" from it? Most likely I still need to review several of the online butterfly photography tips and focus (pun intended) on a more structured approach, rather than my usual helter-skelter "try it and see if it works." The following pictures were taken this morning with my smart phone's camera, another toy tool I need to learn more about how to use, since it's more likely to be readily available than my DSLR. Maybe improving my butterfly photography will also help my dragonfly pictures, a "twofer." I suspect that getting one only half-way decent shot out of 5 is probably a good indication of why many really good photographers take so many pictures to get a really good one. Poets often go through many revisions and rewrites before the poem announces it's done. Something to keep in mind.

wings (almost) down: yes
wings (almost) down: yes
Photo by J. Harrington

wings up: no
wings up: no
Photo by J. Harrington

wings up: no
wings up: no
Photo by J. Harrington

wings up: no
wings up: no
Photo by J. Harrington

wings up: no
wings up: no
Photo by J. Harrington

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday weekend. Wish me luck as I start to pull some buckthorn. Getting rid of buckthorn and increasing the amount of wildflowers should offer more chances at both butterflies and dragonflies. Who knows, if I manage to get organized with my different flies photography, I may next follow up on my long-standing threat to organize my dry flies. That would be a major step toward independence, actually being able to find things and having a better sense that I actually know what I'm doing, instead of making it up as I go along.

Summer of the Ladybirds


By Vivian Smith


Can we learn wisdom watching insects now,
or just the art of quiet observation?
Creatures from the world of leaf and flower
marking weather’s variation.

The huge dry summer of the ladybirds
(we thought we’d never feel such heat again)
started with white cabbage butterflies
sipping at thin trickles in the drain.

Then one by one the ladybirds appeared
obeying some far purpose or design.
We marvelled at their numbers in the garden,
grouped together, shuffling in a line.

Each day a few strays turned up at the table,
the children laughed to see them near the jam
exploring round the edges of a spoon.
One tried to drink the moisture on my arm.

How random and how frail seemed their lives,
and yet how they persisted, refugees,
saving energy by keeping still
and hiding in the grass and in the trees.

And then one day they vanished overnight.
Clouds gathered, storm exploded, weather cleared.
And all the wishes that we might have had
in such abundance simply disappeared.



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Thursday, June 29, 2017

End of June #phenology

The second, or third, or fourth?, wave of deer flies has hatched this past week or so, joined by what seem to be non-biting, teeny, tiny, gnats that fly up your nose and into your eyes while your hands are busy swatting at deer flies. The Freshwater Society's Weatherguide Calendar says we should watch next week "for big hatches of dragonflies and damselflies." That makes sense from a prey and predator cycle, but I wish the damselflies and dragonflies would cut it a little closer. The dogs and I are tired of being chased up the road by swarms of flies that aren't being harassed by their own predators.

late June, dragonflies
late June, dragonflies
Photo by J. Harrington

This seems to be a relatively quiet time of year or, better said, a time of year when much of the action is still hidden behind leafy curtains. Goslings and fawns are occasionally seen, but other "nestlings" won't show up at feeders until sometime next month. Fruit is growing but, other for than some berries, far from harvestable yet. Most waterfowl are molting their flight feathers and won't be airborne for awhile. Four species of frogs will be breeding in July: Eastern cricket, mink, Northern green and bullfrogs. Listen for them. All of which seems about right for the upcoming month of the Middle-of-Summer-Moon.

Characteristics of Life



A fifth of animals without backbones could be at risk of extinction, say scientists.
—BBC Nature News
Ask me if I speak for the snail and I will tell you
I speak for the snail.
                          speak of underneathedness
and the welcome of mosses,
                                        of life that springs up,
little lives that pull back and wait for a moment.

I speak for the damselfly, water skeet, mollusk,
the caterpillar, the beetle, the spider, the ant.
                                                        I speak
from the time before spinelessness was frowned upon.

Ask me if I speak for the moon jelly. I will tell you
                        one thing today and another tomorrow
        and I will be as consistent as anything alive
on this earth.

                        I move as the currents move, with the breezes.
What part of your nature drives you? You, in your cubicle
ought to understand me. I filter and filter and filter all day.

Ask me if I speak for the nautilus and I will be silent
as the nautilus shell on a shelf. I can be beautiful
and useless if that’s all you know to ask of me.

Ask me what I know of longing and I will speak of distances
        between meadows of night-blooming flowers.
                                                        I will speak
                        the impossible hope of the firefly.

                                                You with the candle
burning and only one chair at your table must understand
        such wordless desire.

                                To say it is mindless is missing the point.


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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A hopeful sign in Summer

The rains this morning have just been rains. Maybe later the threatened thunder and lightning will get added to the rainfall. For now, for a change, I'm not complaining about the rain. I'm enjoying a lazy, quiet morning that's been magically improved by a visit from someone I think is an "old" acquaintance.

June 2014, early sighting of Gimpy
June 2014, early sighting of Gimpy
Photo by J. Harrington

Our "Gimpy" turkey was first mentioned in these posting almost exactly three years ago. I think I saw him again this morning. A small flock of four birds was wandering through the yard as I let one of the dogs out so she could "powder her nose." That caused three of the four turkeys to start running like miniature ostriches. The fourth did penguin-like hops as fast as possible to get away. I'm guessing, and hoping, that the fourth bird was/is Gimpy. I can't think of any other reason that a turkey would be doing a penguin-hop, unless, like Gimpy, it was missing a foot. Neither am I inclined to accept the probability that we've had more than one one-footed turkey living in the neighborhood over the past several years.

There's one other significant reason I (want to) believe it was Gimpy I saw hopping away this morning. That idea that a one-footed turkey can survive our coyotes and eagles and hunting seasons and automobiles gives me hope, that thing with feathers I need much more of these days. They claim the average life span of a wild turkey is three or four years. Assuming it was Gimpy I saw this morning, he's managed to live about that average turkey lifetime and maybe a little more, despite a significant physical handicap. Maybe we'll all survive the next few years of our own self-inflicted handicaps. Maybe this will become a time...

Of History and Hope


By Miller Williams


We have memorized America,
how it was born and who we have been and where.
In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.
We know the sound of all the sounds we brought.
The rich taste of it is on our tongues.
But where are we going to be, and why, and who?
The disenfranchised dead want to know.
We mean to be the people we meant to be,
to keep on going where we meant to go.

But how do we fashion the future? Who can say how
except in the minds of those who will call it Now?
The children. The children. And how does our garden grow?
With waving hands—oh, rarely in a row—
and flowering faces. And brambles, that we can no longer allow.

Who were many people coming together
cannot become one people falling apart.
Who dreamed for every child an even chance
cannot let luck alone turn doorknobs or not.
Whose law was never so much of the hand as the head
cannot let chaos make its way to the heart.
Who have seen learning struggle from teacher to child
cannot let ignorance spread itself like rot.
We know what we have done and what we have said,
and how we have grown, degree by slow degree,
believing ourselves toward all we have tried to become—
just and compassionate, equal, able, and free.

All this in the hands of children, eyes already set
on a land we never can visit—it isn’t there yet—
but looking through their eyes, we can see
what our long gift to them may come to be.
If we can truly remember, they will not forget.



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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What makes #phenology local?

When I posted yesterday, I hadn't yet seen the small plot of black-eyed Susans that I noticed this morning as I headed West out of North Branch toward Cambridge. So, technically, yesterday's assessment was truthful, if not entirely accurate, or something like that. But, that was the only place today that I saw any black-eyed Susans, which I find strange. Also, after yesterday's posting, I noticed a red admiral butterfly flitting about the drive.

red admiral butterfly
red admiral butterfly
Photo by J. Harrington

If you slow down a little and look carefully, you should be able to see green seedheads of sumac developing nicely. I've seen about the same level of seed growth about everywhere there have been any seeds noticable. This is causing me to wonder, more and more, how one defines "local" in terms of phenology, since there can be so many microclimate and soil and precipitation and other variables within just a section (640 acres, one mile per side). Perhaps my interest in normative, rather than strictly descriptive, phenology is misplaced or misguided, but I'm reflecting Wendell Berry's observation, via Wallace Stegner, that "If you don’t know where you are, says Wendell Berry, you don’t know who you are."

milkweed, early July
milkweed, early July
Photo by J. Harrington

I doubt there will every be a standardized definition of "local," but the Chicago Botanic Garden's project, "Local adaptation of flowering phenology in common milkweed," reflects some of what I'm trying to get at. Another way to think about it is to ask how much phenology varies within a bioregion. Our local milkweed, which seems to be much more extensive than last year, is just starting to develop flowers on some of the plants. In a week or so the flowers should be about as well developed as the ones in the photo.

Clearly, much of phenology relates to the four seasons. Remember, there's about a three week difference between the start of a meteorological season and the corresponding astronomical season. Native Americans, I believe, didn't have that factor of almost a month shift. Ojibwe measure seasons roughly by months/moons, but even there "it should be noted that many people in different areas use different names for these or different names based on what they observe happening in their region..."


Western Dialect
Eastern Dialect
Gichimanidoo-giizis (Great Spirit Moon)
Manidoo-giizis (Spirit Moon)
Namebini-giizis (Suckerfish Moon)
Mkwa-giizis (Bear Moon)
Onaabani-giizis (Snowcrust Moon)
Onaabdin-giizis (Snowcrust Moon)
Iskigamizige-giizis (Sugarbushing Moon)
Pokwaagami-giizis (Broken Snowshoe Moon)
Zaagibagaa-giizis (Budding Moon)
Namebine-giizis (Suckerfish Moon)
Odemiini-giizis (Strawberry Moon)
Baashkaabigonii-giizis (Blooming Moon)
Abitaa-niibini-giizis (Halfway Summer Moon)
Miin-giizis (Berry Moon)
Manoominike-giizis (Ricing Moon)
Manoominike-giizis (Ricing Moon)
Waatebagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon)
Waabaagbagaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon)
Binaakwe-giizis (Falling Leaves Moon)
Binaakwe-giizis (Falling Leaves Moon)
Gashkadino-Giizis (Freezing Over Moon)
Baashkaakodin-Giizis (Freezing Moon)
Manidoo-Giizisoons (Little Spirit Moon)
Manidoo-Giizisoons (Little Spirit Moon)
There's much more commonality in the Autumn and Winter moon events than in Spring and Summer. I've no idea why except that Spring and Summer move from South to North as the earth warms. Perhaps the earth seasonally cools more consistently than it warms? Once again I seem to have found myself at a point where the more I learn, the less I know, as I end up with more questions than answers. That's some of what keeps life interesting, right?

Intimate Detail


By Heid E. Erdrich


Late summer, late afternoon, my work
interrupted by bees who claim my tea,
even my pen looks flower-good to them.
I warn a delivery man that my bees,
who all summer have been tame as cows,
now grow frantic, aggressive, difficult to shoo
from the house. I blame the second blooms
come out in hot colors, defiant vibrancy—
unexpected from cottage cosmos, nicotianna,
and bean vine. But those bees know, I’m told
by the interested delivery man, they have only
so many days to go. He sighs at sweetness untasted.

Still warm in the day, we inspect the bees.
This kind stranger knows them in intimate detail.
He can name the ones I think of as shopping ladies.
Their fur coats ruffed up, yellow packages tucked
beneath their wings, so weighted with their finds
they ascend in slow circles, sometimes drop, while
other bees whirl madly, dance the blossoms, ravish
broadly so the whole bed bends and bounces alive.

He asks if I have kids, I say not yet. He has five,
all boys. He calls the honeybees his girls although
he tells me they’re ungendered workers
who never produce offspring. Some hour drops,
the bees shut off. In the long, cool slant of sun,
spent flowers fold into cups. He asks me if I’ve ever
seen a Solitary Bee where it sleeps. I say I’ve not.
The nearest bud’s a long-throated peach hollyhock.
He cradles it in his palm, holds it up so I spy
the intimacy of the sleeping bee. Little life safe in a petal,
little girl, your few furious buzzings as you stir
stay with me all winter, remind me of my work undone.



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Monday, June 26, 2017

Half baked #phenology

For those of you who may share my sense that our unseasonably cool weather needs to end soon, I've decided to fix it. Unfortunately, it may have been I who created much of this pattern by finally packing away the last of my Winter season clothes a short while ago. I know, I should have been less optimistic and more Minnesotan. Now I'm going to try reverse psychology on the weather gods and goddesses. I've reactivated my sour dough starter. (This is, I hope, at least a little bit consistent with Dana Meadows' approach described in Dancing with Systems.)

I'll feed the starter for the next day or two, despite temperatures running 10 to 15 degrees less than average. Then, I'll be ready to bake a couple of loaves of sour dough bread sometime before the July 4th weekend is over. If this works as I intend, our cool, good for bread baking temperatures should reach the mid-80's to low-90's by next weekend, more seasonal but less than ideal for running the oven. For those who can't stand Summer's typical hot, humid weather, please save the hate mail. I'm just working on temperatures, not humidity. Send the nasty messages to whoever handles rain, fog and snow, if it gets humid to go with my heat.

Black-eyed Susans in August
Black-eyed Susans in August
Photo by J. Harrington

The pattern this year does seem sort of out of whack, I think that's the technical, meteorological, term. For example, I haven't yet seen any black-eyed Susans in bloom this year, have you? To be honest, my photos, plus my less reliable memory, suggest we should see them much later than June around here, but, according to phenology resources sitting on my shelf and online, Susies should be nodding in our roadsides by now.

Day lilies, June blooms
Day lilies, June blooms
Photo by J. Harrington

In a more typical(?) year, by now we also would have seen some day lilies, such as those in the picture above, from June 19 last year.  This year they're just starting to bloom as of yesterday or today, about a week later than last year. Is that normal? How can we tell? Minnesota started June much warmer than average, then dropped below average and looks like it may end the month about average. The scientists who study climate change say we should expect more extremes, including more cloudiness, since warmer air can hold more moisture. I think they're projecting future events pretty well so far.

Have you ever read the book about black swan theory? Not only are our weather patterns and phenology sequences demonstrating what seem to be more and more black swans, so are our politics. I don't like the way many of our trends are developing. Then again, some claim Lao Tzu tells us that "Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like." Others say this is a misattribution and cannot be found in the Tao Te Ching. Perhaps that helps explain why I'm reading Only Don't Know, Selected Teaching Letters of Zen Master Seung Sahn who advises "If you don't understand, only go straight — don't know. Whatever that means, it somehow seems like good advice for folks like us to follow these days. I am, however, willing to consider alternative perspectives if you have any you think might better fit our "O tempora o mores."

After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard


East of me, west of me, full summer.
How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard.
Birds fly back and forth across the lawn
                                         looking for home
As night drifts up like a little boat.

Day after day, I become of less use to myself.
Like this mockingbird,
                       I flit from one thing to the next.
What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four?
Tomorrow is dark.
                  Day-after-tomorrow is darker still.

The sky dogs are whimpering.
Fireflies are dragging the hush of evening
                                           up from the damp grass.
Into the world’s tumult, into the chaos of every day,
Go quietly, quietly.


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Sunday, June 25, 2017

A mythical phoenix of the brush pile #phenology

For various reasons, mostly weather related, the Solstice bonfire was delayed for a few days. It happened Saturday night, in the midst of scattered showers and occasional gusts of breezes. The brush pile burned. Long live the brush pile, much like the mythical phoenix.

a belated bonfire celebrating Solstice
a belated bonfire celebrating Solstice

The reborn brush pile that awaits burning is the remains of the tree that came down half-way across the road during the storms we had a week or ten days ago, minus a bunch of firewood that a friend will use to help heat his pole barn this coming Winter or next. All this is part of the ongoing carbon cycle. I need to talk to the Daughter Person (who took the picture of the Solstice fire) and the Son-In-Law about incorporating some or all of the ashes and cinders into the compost and thence into the soil. At least some of the carbon will then be transferred from one sink (the tree) to another (the soil).

firewood, and a brush pile reborn
firewood, and a brush pile reborning
Photo by J. Harrington

Despite the unseasonable weather, this is berry season, especially strawberry season. Last night the aforementioned Daughter Person made one of, or perhaps even, the best strawberry shortcakes I ever remember eating. The berries were from the CSA share I picked up Thursday. It made that whole trip worthwhile and there's more to come. Tonight, probably due to the unseasonable weather, we're having French onion soup, courtesy of the Better Half. I really like French onion soup, but rarely at the end of June.

like a phoenix, the brush pile reborn
like a phoenix, the brush pile reborn
Photo by J. Harrington

Today's poem sort of fits with carbon cycles and seasonal variations and phenological events. I first found it in Camille Dungy's new poetry volume. It's the title poem. I know some of the readers of this blog enjoy poetry, especially "nature poetry." I'm only about half way through the volume but I cannot recommend it highly enough. Dungy has written some of the best poetry I've read, ever. Consider dropping what you're doing and hieing thyself to the nearest poetry bookstore. I got my copy yesterday at Common Good Books. Actually, don't just consider, do it. I bet you'll thank me.


Trophic Cascade


Camille T. Dungy


After the reintroduction of gray wolves
to Yellowstone and, as anticipated, their culling
of deer, trees grew beyond the deer stunt
of the midcentury. In their up reach
songbirds nested, who scattered
seed for underbrush, and in that cover
warrened snowshoe hare. Weasel and water shrew
returned, also vole, and so came soon hawk
and falcon, bald eagle, kestrel, and with them
hawk shadow, falcon shadow. Eagle shade
and kestrel shade haunted newly berried
runnels where deer no longer rummaged, cautious
as they were, now, of being surprised by wolves.
Berries brought bear, while undergrowth and willows,
growing now right down to the river, brought beavers,
who dam. Muskrats came to the dams, and tadpoles.
Came, too, the night song of the fathers
of tadpoles. With water striders, the dark
gray American dipper bobbed in fresh pools
of the river, and fish stayed, and the bear, who
fished, also culled deer fawns and to their kill scraps
came vulture and coyote, long gone in the region
until now, and their scat scattered seed, and more
trees, brush, and berries grew up along the river
that had run straight and so flooded but thus dammed,
compelled to meander, is less prone to overrun. Don’t
you tell me this is not the same as my story. All this
life born from one hungry animal, this whole,
new landscape, the course of the river changed,
I know this. I reintroduced myself to myself, this time
a mother. After which, nothing was ever the same.


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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Did you enjoy Summer? portents #phenology

Over the past week, much of the local crown vetch has come into flower. Many of the local goslings are about half grown. One of the local turtles was plodding along our country road last night. It wasn't at all clear which way s/he was headed so we left well enough along. A small bull snake was looking for a cool place a few days ago. That's no longer a need. Summer has come and gone. Wait, what?

crown vetch in bloom
crown vetch in bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning's low temperatures were under 60℉ and the day's highs probable won't reach 70. Lots of cloud cover and a moderate breeze from the West has me thinking about wind chill. I knew I shouldn't have put away my Winter clothes until Labor Day! Actually, this weather is preferable to what the Southwest is going through, although the excessive cloudiness, Summer and Winter, and Spring, has worn out its welcome.

small bull snake seeking shade
small bull snake seeking shade
Photo by J. Harrington

I wonder if the proposed "infrastructure bill," to be introduced some day by the current administration, will give consideration to climate change's effects or if global warming will remain a Chinese hoax to help their manufacturing. If it stays a hoax that's denied by current leaders, the public  / private partnerships intended to finance improvements could waste a hell of a lot of money, particularly on transportation improvements that may not be designed and built to be resilient in face of tomorrow's perfect storms. If you look about, maybe you'll notice that the "new normal" is the old abnormal+.

The End of Summer


By Rachel Hadas


Sweet smell of phlox drifting across the lawn—
an early warning of the end of summer.
August is fading fast, and by September
the little purple flowers will all be gone.

Season, project, and vacation done.
One more year in everybody’s life.
Add a notch to the old hunting knife
Time keeps testing with a horny thumb.

Over the summer months hung an unspoken
aura of urgency. In late July
galactic pulsings filled the midnight sky
like silent screaming, so that, strangely woken,

we looked at one another in the dark,
then at the milky magical debris
arcing across, dwarfing our meek mortality.
There were two ways to live: get on with work,

redeem the time, ignore the imminence
of cataclysm; or else take it slow,
be as tranquil as the neighbors’ cow
we love to tickle through the barbed wire fence
(she paces through her days in massive innocence,
or, seeing green pastures, we imagine so).

In fact, not being cows, we have no choice.
Summer or winter, country, city, we
are prisoners from the start and automatically,
hemmed in, harangued by the one clamorous voice.

Not light but language shocks us out of sleep
ideas of doom transformed to meteors
we translate back to portents of the wars
looming above the nervous watch we keep.


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Friday, June 23, 2017

Ground truthing

I don't remember where or when I first encountered the saying "The map is not the territory." I do recall that I first heard it as "The map is not the place." I much prefer the latter. Today I experienced a classic example of the differences between maps, descriptions and places. I was trying to find an alleged trout stream in a Scientific and Natural Area not to farm from home. I"m still trying to reconcile what I saw and photographed with this description from the fisheries folks at the Department of Natural Resources:
This is a small stream with a good population of small brook trout. The stream enters the St. Croix just upstream of the railroad bridge below Cedar Bend. The fishable areas on this stream are located on private property. Anglers must gain permission from property owners before fishing this stream.
The good folks in the DNR's Scientific and Natural Areas section provide this description online:
Falls Creek is one of the most diverse natural areas remaining in Washington County. Folded and faulted rocks at this site show the largest displacement of any known Paleozoic rocks in Minnesota, revealing Decorah, Platteville, Glenwood, and St. Peter formations. Steep ravines line the intermittently active stream beds. Slopes face north or south primarily, with groundcover varied accordingly. Pine canopy openings on south slopes permit growth of many species native to bluff prairies. Oak forest occupies the drier ridge tops. The old fields on the site are undergoing reforestation with seedlings grown from acorns collected on the site. A deer exclosure protects the seedlings on one old field.
There's not a word about fishing, but there is a much better map than the fisheries folks give us.

part of MNDNR SNA map of Falls Creek SNA
part of MNDNR SNA map of Falls Creek SNA

I spent a fair amount of time today trying to find Falls Creek SNA. Neither parking area has a sign readily noticeable from the road. I believe I got a chance to examine parts of the southerly blue line but had neither the time nor the energy to do a thorough reconnoiter after I finally managed to actually locate both parking areas. Here's a few :ground truth" photos. I'm still searching for a fishable segment. More to explore some other day. This "living local" can often be more challenging that it seems at first. The reality and the idea, the place and the map, often require effort to reconcile. That can be fun, or tedious, or both.
try to see this sign from the road
try to see this sign from the road
Photo by J. Harrington

stream bed of intermittent stream
stream bed of intermittent stream
Photo by J. Harrington

"downstream?" of previous photo
"downstream?" of previous photo
Photo by J. Harrington

 There is no doubt in my mind that the only thing tougher than trying to fish this intermittent stream would be trying to live in it if you were a trout! Maybe the DNR fisheries folks were referring to the stream North of this one. That's a trip for another day. I should be a little easier next time.

Truth Serum


By Naomi Shihab Nye


We made it from the ground-up corn in the old back pasture.
Pinched a scent of night jasmine billowing off the fence,   
popped it right in.
That frog song wanting nothing but echo?   
We used that.
Stirred it widely. Noticed the clouds while stirring.
Called upon our ancient great aunts and their long slow eyes   
of summer. Dropped in their names.   
Added a mint leaf now and then   
to hearten the broth. Added a note of cheer and worry.   
Orange butterfly between the claps of thunder?   
Perfect. And once we had it,
had smelled and tasted the fragrant syrup,   
placing the pan on a back burner for keeping,   
the sorrow lifted in small ways.
We boiled down the lies in another pan till they disappeared.
We washed that pan.


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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Denying denial

It would seem that the North Country's counter to the Southwest's "Yes, but it's a dry heat," is going to be "Yes, but it's a damp coolness!" I don't think this is the way, in an age of global warming, Summer is supposed to work. Outside the walls where this is being written, it's pouring rain and the midday temperature is 67℉. The rain should help the plants that went into our sandy soils last Spring, but it won't take much more of this before local streams may rise again.

storm clouds
storm clouds
Photo by J. Harrington

Local streams, for now, with their rise and fall, may have more resilience than either of our political parties. Republicans are busy trying to destroy health care and safety nets to fund tax breaks for some of the richest people in the world, while the Democrats' internal strife may result in self destruction, as leadership of both parties ignores many of the needs of rank and file Americans.

One of my favorite crystal ball gazers, David Orr, wrote about our current situation back in 2012:
"Further, governments and our political discourse must transcend the old right-left dichotomy characteristic of industrial age politics. The challenge ahead will be to creatively join conservatism and liberalism in search of a livable future. Interestingly, the necessary changes would blend the thinking of Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, with that of Thomas Jefferson, associated with modern radicalism. In different ways, each argued for the protection of future generations from “intergenerational tyranny.” The prospect of political change, however, is complicated and difficult, and there is no assurance that governments that are effective in the face of rapid climate destabilization will also be democratic.7 It is easier and perhaps more plausible to imagine a future of hyper-efficient, solar-powered, sustainable, and authoritarian societies than reformed and effective democracies."
... 
"The scientific evidence suggests that we are entering a “long emergency” for which there will be no quick fixes or painless solutions. Any worthy vision must hold out solid hope of the millennial kind. It must include rights for future generations.9 It must create a more inclusive framework for justice, fairness, decency, sustainability, and human rights (e.g., the Earth Charter).10 It must preserve a stock of irreplaceable knowledge11 while protecting and extending the hard-won gains of civilization, but over time spans and conditions that we can barely fathom."
no storm, no rainbow
no storm, no rainbow
Photo by J. Harrington

Orr's reference to a "long emergency" echoes the title of James Howard Kunstler's distressingly prescient eponymous book. Perhaps, as we view current events in Washington, D.C., or our local state capitals, as well as around the world, we might try to view current events through lenses suggested by both David Orr and many of our founding fathers. It is my firm belief that we, that's all of us, rich and poor, have gotten ourselves into a situation in which Ben Franklin's observation, that "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." [-In the Continental Congress just before signing the Declaration of Independence, 1776] may well be an understatement. Remember, "Denial is not just a river in Egypt."

First Storm and Thereafter


By Scott Cairns


What I notice first within
          this rough scene fixed
in memory is the rare
          quality of its lightning, as if
those bolts were clipped
          from a comic book, pasted
on low cloud, or fashioned
          with cardboard, daubed
with gilt then hung overhead
          on wire and fine hooks.
What I hear most clearly
          within that thunder now
is its grief—a moan, a long
          lament echoing, an ache.
And the rain? Raucous enough,
          pounding, but oddly
musical, and, well,
          eager to entertain, solicitous.

No storm since has been framed
          with such matter-of-fact
artifice, nor to such comic
          effect. No, the thousand-plus
storms since then have turned
          increasingly artless,
arbitrary, bearing—every
          one of them—a numbing burst.

And today, from the west a gust
          and a filling pressure
pulsing in the throat—offering
          little or nothing to make light of.


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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Relax, it's Summer's first full day

This morning's sky was as beautiful as ever I've seen. Fortunately, my iPhone camera captured it moderately well. (My "low light" skills on my DSLR weren't up to the challenge.) The almost new moon (new on 6/23) is just above treeline and, higher in the sky, Venus is lost temporarily behind the clouds.

Summer's first morn
Summer's first morn
Photo by J. Harrington

Sights like the above make a slight loss of sleep a small price to pay, and the dogs, especially mine, are ready to enthusiastically greet a new morn anytime, probably because dogs get fed soon after their humans get up, even before humans get coffee.

As you, I hope, know by now, this is National Pollinator Week. I've already learned a few things I probably should have known before, but, my interest in the outdoors, and in "nature" was a function of my interest in hunting and fishing. If a critter wasn't game, or bait, my attention span was limited. Pollinators were bees and butterflies. I never considered hummingbirds or beetles as pollinators. That lens was too limited, too narrowly focused. Another, a better, way to look at the world can be found in a brief essay on the Donna Meadows Institute's web site, titled Lines in the Mind, Not in the World.

As I finished reading through "Lines," I stumbled onto another piece by Meadows that made me think of Yogi Berra's "It's deja vu all over again." In late January, 2001, Meadows wrote this column: What Really Needs to be Said About our Last Lamented Election.

See if any of these phrases ring a bell:
  • "Like you, I have been drowning in the gush of reaction to our recent election (or selection) — an election that will never quite be over, that will continue to prick like a thorn, that was clearly never intended, as our new president is already demonstrating, to unite instead of divide us.

  • "… The illegitimacy of this administration should not be made to fade from view. No approval of lifetime appointments, especially on the Supreme Court. No cutting or privatization of any part of Social Security or Medicare."
She had similar perspectives to share in a column from two weeks earlier, Trying Hard Here to Work up Some Feeling of National Unity. I'm not sure if it's much help, being reminded that, in the not too distant past, we've been in a situation similar to the one under which many of us are now suffering, except that, in my opinion, more than a decade ago, Ms. Meadows nailed a large problem we faced then and still 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." 
That's food for thought all the while we're relaxing at the cabin or wherever we go to regroup this Summer. We can take some time off, but our kids can't afford to have us give up the fight.

The Tragic Condition of the Statue of Liberty


By Bernadette Mayer


                                      A collaboration with Emma Lazarus

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Give me your gentrificatees of the Lower East Side including all the well-heeled young Europeans who’ll take apartments without leases
Give me your landlords, give me your cooperators
Give me the guys who sell the food and the computers to the public schools in District One
Give me the IRS-FBI-CIA men who don’t take election day off
Give me the certain members of the school board & give me the district superintendent
Give me all the greedy members of both american & foreign capitalist religious sects
Give me the parents of the punk people
Give me the guy who puts those stickers in the Rice Krispies
Give me the doctor who thinks his time is more valuable than mine and my daughter’s & the time of all the other non-doctors in this world
Give me the mayor, his mansion, and the president & his white house
Give me the cops who laugh and sneer at meetings where they demonstrate the new uses of mace and robots instead of the old murder against people who are being evicted
Give me the landlord’s sleazy lawyers and the deal-making judges in housing court & give me the landlord’s arsonist
Give me the known & unknown big important rich guys who now bank on our quaint neighborhood
Give me, forgive me, the writers who have already or want to write bestsellers in this country
Together we will go to restore Ellis Island, ravaged for years by wind, weather and vandals
I was surprised and saddened when I heard that the Statue of Liberty was in such a serious state of disrepair & I want to help
This is the most generous contribution I can afford.


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