Thursday, June 1, 2017

In the Sunrise River, less bad ≠ good #phenology

I think the first time I encountered the concept that less bad did not equal good was when I read Cradle to Cradle. It struck much closer to home today as I climbed out of the Jeep into the warm sunshine and I realized that less cold is not the same as warm. In fact, this is the first day this year that our road has warmed enough to attract cold-blooded critters to it. Less bad vs. good, less cold vs. warm, can be dangerous territory for someone who has tendencies toward perfectionism, but, I think, it's territory worth exploring.

garter snake warming at roadside
garter snake warming at roadside
Photo by J. Harrington

For example, there are, it seems to me, analogies to be found in the perspectives contained in such works as Lewis Hyde's The Gift: "every modern artist who has chosen to labor with a gift must sooner or later wonder how he or she is to survive in a society dominated by market exchange." Gaifts and markets are radically different. Hyde notes that "Many tribal groups circulate a large portion of their material wealth as gifts." Robin Wall Kimmerer, in her wonderful Braiding Sweetgrass, writes that "The earth has plenty and offers us abundance, spreading her gifts over the green: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, currants—that we might fill our bowls. Niibin, we call summer in Potawatomi, 'the time of plenty,' and also time for our tribal gathering, for powwows and ceremony."

Sunrise River at East Viking Boulevard
Sunrise River at East Viking Boulevard
Photo by J. Harrington

What can we offer the earth in return for her gifts to us? Do we (re)clean the air we use, or does earth do that for us? What about the water we depend on to grow our food and to drink? Even at our best, we rarely, if ever, return it as clean as we found it. Not only that, but we often fail to notice, or cannot tell, whether we have tarnished or degraded our clean water gifts. For instance, the Sunrise River, as it flows from Forest Lake to the St. Croix River, has several segments that don't meet water quality standards for recreational use. I doubt if they're posted with warning signs. One of the reports that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has produced to identify water quality problems and propose solutions says little, if anything, about actual, as compared to prospective, human uses of the river for recreation in or on the water. I know of and have enjoyed many activities such as tubing, waterfowl hunting, fishing and boating/canoeing in various stretches of the Sunrise. I haven't encountered any warning signs. (Tomorrow or early next week I'll double check at some identified access points.)

As Summer, niibin, begins today, we might want to spend more time and energy looking into and at the quality of the waters we enjoy because, all too often, we can't really tell whether they're polluted or not just by looking at them. If we accept MPCA's schedule for attaining "swimmable" conditions in the Sunrise in 2044, we should also consider investing in some "posted" signs. Then, again, the Clean Water Act had the interim goal of attaining "fishable-swimmable" back in 1983, 34 years ago this year.

Each Moment a White Bull Steps Shining into the World


If the gods bring to you
a strange and frightening creature,
accept the gift
as if it were one you had chosen.

Say the accustomed prayers,
oil the hooves well,
caress the small ears with praise.

Have the new halter of woven silver
embedded with jewels.
Spare no expense, pay what is asked,
when a gift arrives from the sea.

Treat it as you yourself
would be treated,
brought speechless and naked
into the court of a king.

And when the request finally comes,
do not hesitate even an instant—

Stroke the white throat,
the heavy, trembling dewlaps
you’ve come to believe were yours,
and plunge in the knife.

Not once
did you enter the pasture
without pause,
without yourself trembling.
That you came to love it, that was the gift.

Let the envious gods take back what they can.


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