Monday, July 31, 2017

Arrival of Summer's best? #phenology

This morning, as I drove past the tree-shaded front yard of a farm down the road, I noticed a handful of sandhill cranes, including at least a couple of fully feathered juveniles that were noticeably less tall than the adults. (At what point does a colt become a juvenile, when fully feathered?) Combine that sighting with the local weather and today will be a contender for the best day of Summer, 2017. If you haven't yet read Aldo Leopold's Marshland Elegy, and its celebration of sandhill cranes, August would be an ideal time to do so. Soon the cranes will be gone, for now, just until next Spring. They're one more of Summer's delights to treasure while we can. As this year's juveniles, of all local species, reach the beginnings of adulthood, we'll have more and more glimpses of them as they learn their way around.

late Summer, sandhill cranes staging and feeding
late Summer, sandhill cranes staging and feeding
Photo by J. Harrington

The bluebird adults continue to arrive at the nesting box, presumably with insects to feed the chicks. Every once in a while a monarch or swallowtail butterfly drifts through the yard. Tomorrow is the first day of the last month of (meteorological) Summer. August brings us the Anishnaabe miini-giizis, berry moon, more goldenrod pollen than we want, more birds begin staging and feasting in preparation for migration (our hummingbird feeders have started to be emptied much quicker than at the beginning of the season), blooming asters will become more evident and local gardens and farmers will be providing an abundance of sweet corn, tomatoes and a multitude of other vegetables. The year will be approaching its fullness.

The Shapes of Leaves



Arthur Sze, 1950


Ginkgo, cottonwood, pin oak, sweet gum, tulip tree:
our emotions resemble leaves and alive
to their shapes we are nourished.

Have you felt the expanse and contours of grief
along the edges of a big Norway maple?
Have you winced at the orange flare

searing the curves of a curling dogwood?
I have seen from the air logged islands,
each with a network of branching gravel roads,

and felt a moment of pure anger, aspen gold.
I have seen sandhill cranes moving in an open field,
a single white whooping crane in the flock.

And I have traveled along the contours 
of leaves that have no name. Here
where the air is wet and the light is cool, 

I feel what others are thinking and do not speak,
I know pleasure in the veins of a sugar maple,
I am living at the edge of a new leaf.


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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Bountiful bees, birds and bergamot #phenology

This Summer there has been an eruption of wildflowers along road sides and in fallow fields. Butterfly weed, horsemint and wild bergamot have joined the usual Summer suspects of mullein, black-eyed Susan, coreopsis and goldenrod in quantities neither the Better Half nor I remember seeing before this year. Has anyone else noticed eruptions of wildflowers in places where they may previously have been barely noticeable?

wild bergamot along gravel road
wild bergamot along gravel road
Photo by J. Harrington

The observations listed above were made and/or confirmed this morning as we took a scenic route to Coffee Talk in Taylors Falls for coffee on their outdoor patio. Near our table on the moss-covered bricks, a cluster of tall, magenta bergamot was visited by a variety of species of bees and one female ruby-throated hummingbird. I don't think I've ever seen as many sizes and kinds of bees in one place at the same time as we watched this morning over cappuccino and latte.

bergamot garden at Coffee Talk
bergamot garden at Coffee Talk
Photo by J. Harrington

Heading home, we tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid entanglement with the triathlon being run today over local roads. Back on our gravel roads, we noticed an increased number of swallows perched on the 'phone wires. More sumac leaves have turned bright red. Tomorrow's the last day of July. Enjoy the beauty of bergamot, bees and birds while they're bountiful. Six months from now our North Country will look and feel quite different.

Herb Garden

“And these, small, unobserved . . . " —Janet Lewis

The lizard, an exemplar of the small,
Spreads fine, adhesive digits to perform
Vertical push-ups on a sunny wall;
Bees grapple spikes of lavender, or swarm
The dill’s gold umbels and low clumps of thyme.
Bored with its trellis, a resourceful rose
Has found a nearby cedar tree to climb
And to festoon with floral furbelows.

Though the great, heat-stunned sunflower looks half-dead
The way it, shepherd’s crook-like, hangs its head,
The herbs maintain their modest self-command:
Their fragrances and colors warmly mix
While, quarrying between the pathway’s bricks,
Ants build minute volcanoes out of sand.


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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Bluebirds: Summer's second brood? #phenology

Three bluebird hatchlings! That's the occupants of the nest in the bluebird house that, earlier this Summer, appeared to have been taken over by tree swallows, which haven't been seen for some time. The picture I took this morning suffers from bright sun / dark nest box / limited compensatory photography skills. If you're interested, here's a series of what the nesting sequence looks like over 21 days. It's unclear if our nest box holds a second brood or a very late first brood. Bluebird necks are too short to carry bright colored bands the way some swans do so we don't know if it's the pair that arrived last Spring.

bluebird nestlings: 1 gaping, 2 hidden
bluebird nestlings: 1 gaping, 2 hidden
Photo by J. Harrington

I was at first really encouraged when I read about bluebirds eating insects. The local deer fly population needs severe thinning. Unfortunately, further reading yielded that "Insects caught on the ground are a bluebird’s main food for much of the year. Major prey include caterpillars, beetles crickets, grasshoppers, and spiders." No mention of deer flies, which, to my knowledge, are rarely, if ever, found on the ground, unless they're trying to bite me and I'm on the ground. Sigh! Maybe adding more bat boxes for next Summer would help.

The maple sapling we planted a couple of years ago is starting to show hints of color on some of its leaves. The tree swallows appear to have migrated. Large flocks of starlings or blackbirds were feeding in the stubble of a nearby small grain field that was being harvested. We're still waiting to see the first training flights for this year's waterfowl fledglings. Summer's started its downhill run but has a long, ideally smooth, run to go.

The Exposed Nest



Robert Frost, 1874 - 1963


You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But ‘twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
‘Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once—could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven’t any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings. 


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Friday, July 28, 2017

Hogweed or hogwash?

It was slightly more than a week ago that I first noticed some tall plants with the white umbels (umbellets?) and dark stems growing in a marshy area on the North side of County Road 36. They were too tall to be Queen Ann's lace and they weren't the yellow of wild parsnip, so I became concerned they might be giant hogweed. As the Minnesota Department of Agriculture notes:
Even though this plant has not yet been discovered in Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture regulates giant hogweed as a prohibited noxious weed on the eradicate list because of its close proximity of establishment in Wisconsin. It is also a Federal Noxious Weed regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture . By law, all above and below ground plant parts must be destroyed, and no transportation, propagation, or sale of the plants is allowed. If you suspect you have seen giant hogweed, please contact the MDA’s Arrest the Pest voicemail at 888-545-6684 or email arrest.the.pest@state.mn.us.
The western edge of the St. Croix watershed, the area where I saw the plants, isn't that far from Wisconsin.

The first sighting happened at a time I was in a hurry to get somewhere or other, but I made one of those infamous "mental notes" to be sure and bring a camera next time so I could take pictures. My mental notes functioned about as well as a steel sieve. Sometimes I had the camera, but didn't drive past the location. Other times I'd end up driving past but not have the camera, until today. Here's a picture I finally took:

Hogweed? Angelica? Cow Parsley?
Hogweed? Angelica? Cow Parsley?
Photo by J. Harrington

Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea) [I think]
Photo by J. Harrington

Was it a giant hogweed? It took me longer than I'd like to determine, based largely on the plant's leaves and its relative height, that it wasn't. Then I became curious about what it was. Finally, I think I've decided that it's Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea), a native perennial. Mother Earth News lists some interesting culinary and medicinal uses for angelica but, for now, I think I'll limit my foraging to berries. I'm just pleased my "discovery" turned out to be far preferable to giant hogweed. Finally, I did consider that the plant might be cow parsnip, but the leaves don't seem to match nor is the stem pale green. If any of you have better suggestions, as usual I'd be happy to receive them.

[UPDATE: based on a suggestion from the Better Half, I'll watch and see if purple fruit develops. If so, identification will be changed to elderberry.

Identity Crisis



He was urged to prepare for success: “You never can tell,
    he was told over and over; “others have made it;
    one dare not presume to predict. You never can tell. 

Who’s Who in America lists the order of cats
    in hunting, fishing, bird-watching, farming,
    domestic service--the dictionary order of cats

who have made it. Those not in the book are beyond the pale.
    Not to succeed in you chosen profession is unthinkable.
    Either you make it or--you’re beyond the pale.

Do you understand?”
                   “No," he shakes his head.
    “Are you ready to forage for freedom?”
                                          “No," he adds,
    “I mean, why is a cat always shaking his head?

Because he’s thinking: who am I? I am not
    only one-ninth of myself. I always am
    all of the selves I have been and will be but am    not.”

“The normal cat," I tell him, “soon adjusts
    to others and to changing circumstances;
    he makes his way the way he soon adjusts.”

“I can’t," he says, “perhaps because I’m blue,
    big-footed, lop-eared, socially awkward, impotent,
    and I drink too much, whether because I’m blue

or because I like it, who knows. I want to escape
    at five o’clock    into an untouchable world
where the top is the bottom and everyone wants to escape

from the middle, everyone, every day. I mean,
    I have visions of two green eyes rising
    out of the ocean, blinking, knowing what I mean.”

“Never mind the picture, repeat after me
    the self’s creed. What he tells you you
    tells me and I repeats. Now, after me:

I love myself, I wish I would live well.
    Your gift of love breaks through my self-defeat.
    All prizes are blue. No cat admits defeat.
The next time that he lives he will live well.”

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bluebirds of Happiness? #phenology

A bluebird pair has been coming and going from the nest box for the past several days. Curiosity got the better of me and I snuck up and took a very quick peek inside while the adults were elsewhere. It looks like three recently hatched bluebird chicks, nestlings(?) are hunkered down, waiting for some food. They weren't sitting up and making noises as often seen with young birds. I hope that's just because they're barely out of their shells. We'll see how things look in a few more days, after I've had a chance to read up on monitoring bluebird nest boxes. (The hatched chicks in the linked monitoring photo look similar to, but more robust than, the ones I saw a bit ago.)

Eastern bluebird male
Eastern bluebird male
Photo by J. Harrington

Eastern bluebirds are one of the species I've decided to observe for Nature's Notebook and the Minnesota Phenology Network. Others will be ruby-throated hummingbirds and, probably, tamaracks, once I decide on which nearby location to monitor. That's three of the seven species MPN considers superstars.

ruby-throated hummingbird male
ruby-throated hummingbird male
Photo by J. Harrington

A few more butterflies have appeared within the past few days. An eastern comma and a little wood-satyr have each flittered about the driveway and the front garden. (The photo quality is poor enough that I'm not going to post either.)

I've been noticing, based on my own reactions, that learning the names of local flora and fauna is unsatisfactory, if that's all I learn. The phenology observations will, I hope, provide a basis for learning more about the species I report and also provide some badly needed structure for my observations and interests. There's so much I don't know and want to know.

The Call of the Wild



I'm tired of the gloom

In a four-walled room;

Heart-weary, I sigh

For the open sky,

And the solitude

Of the greening wood;

Where the bluebirds call,

And the sunbeams fall,

And the daisies lure

The soul to be pure.

I'm tired of the life

In the ways of strife;

Heart-weary, I long

For the river's song,

And the murmur of rills

In the breezy hills;

Where the pipe of Pan —

The hairy half-man —

The bright silence breaks

By the sleeping lakes.

I'm tired of the gloom

In a four-walled room;

Heart-weary, I sigh

For the open sky,

And the solitude

Of the greening wood;

Where the bluebirds call,

And the sunbeams fall,

And the daisies lure

The soul to be pure.

I'm tired of the life

In the ways of strife;

Heart-weary, I long

For the river's song,

And the murmur of rills

In the breezy hills;

Where the pipe of Pan —

The hairy half-man —

The bright silence breaks

By the sleeping lakes.


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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Feeling the heat #phenology

Butterfly weed along nearby sunny roadsides has been in bloom now for three weeks or a month. The plant in front of the house, which gets limited sunshine, is just starting to bud. Wild bergamot in open, sun-filled fields has had many flowered plants for the past week or two. those growing near our butterfly weed are just coming into flower now. What accounts for the differences?

butterfly weed flower buds
butterfly weed flower buds
Photo by J. Harrington

The National Phenology Network notes the effects of temperatures, expressed as Growing Degree Days. I suspect, based on limited and unscientific anecdotal observations, that GDDs are, at least in some cases, necessary but not sufficient. There's limited likelihood that there's a significant difference in cumulative GDDs between our front garden and the nearby roadsides and fields that have similar plants blooming weeks earlier. They're all within two to twenty miles or so of each other. There is a significant difference in the amount of sunshine available to each of the different locales we're writing about. Our front garden is heavily shaded. The roadsides and fields aren't. They're fully exposed to the sun for many hours a day. Is this what folks refer to as "microclimate" differences? I'm not sure.

bergamot starting to bloom in front garden
bergamot starting to bloom in front garden
Photo by J. Harrington

What I am reasonably sure of is that the differences in blooming times will make nectar and pollen available to some pollinators as they move through the area. I hope that "that's a good thing," because it's frustrating to be among the latest to bloom. Ask any teenager.

The Metier of Blossoming


Denise Levertov, 1923 - 1997


Fully occupied with growing—that’s
the amaryllis. Growing especially
at night: it would take
only a bit more patience than I’ve got
to sit keeping watch with it till daylight;
the naked eye could register every hour’s
increase in height. Like a child against a barn door,
proudly topping each year’s achievement,
steadily up
goes each green stem, smooth, matte,
traces of reddish purple at the base, and almost
imperceptible vertical ridges
running the length of them:
Two robust stems from each bulb,
sometimes with sturdy leaves for company,
elegant sweeps of blade with rounded points.
Aloft, the gravid buds, shiny with fullness.

One morning—and so soon!—the first flower
has opened when you wake. Or you catch it poised
in a single, brief
moment of hesitation.
Next day, another,
shy at first like a foal,
even a third, a fourth,
carried triumphantly at the summit
of those strong columns, and each
a Juno, calm in brilliance,
a maiden giantess in modest splendor.
If humans could be
that intensely whole, undistracted, unhurried,
swift from sheer
unswerving impetus! If we could blossom
out of ourselves, giving
nothing imperfect, withholding nothing!


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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My #phenology has some flies on it

Over the past decade or so, I'd drifted away from my involvement in fly-fishing. I'm getting back into it because I miss "messing around" in the streams I used to fish. They're where I started to learn about  phenology before I knew there was such a thing as phenology.

Northern Minnesota stream
Northern Minnesota stream
Photo by J. Harrington

Many fly-fishers try their best to "match the hatch." Different aquatic insects hatch from underwater nymphs to flighted insects during different times of the year. Some, like midges, are available pretty much year round. Others have a limited hatching season of several weeks. Here's an example:

Minnesota hatch charts
Minnesota hatch charts

So, I've been trying to figure out a better way to organize my flies by season/month, but not all streams have the same species living in them. Plus, when I was rereading one of the books by one of my favorite fly-fishing authors, he wrote that he organizes his dry flies by size.
I spent the better part of ten years and went through dozens of different fly boxes trying to figure out how to organize my flies in a way that made sense, not scientifically or aesthetically, but in a way that would work in failing light when the river was trying to push me off my gravel bar and I was fumbling for the box that held what I thought would be the right fly.

I ended up dividing mayflies into three categories that fit into three separate fly boxes: little ones (Size 18 and smaller), big ones (Size 12 and larger), and middle-sized ones (Sizes 14 and 16)...
[Good Flies ~ John Gierach]
Rereading that passage made me wonder if I was making things more complicated than necessary, or if I was trying to over organize my basic approach. But then I noted that it took Gierach the better part of ten years to "simplify" his organization. I believe than answer for me, for now, will be to spend more time in the water on sand and gravel bars and let most of the reading and thinking and organizing wait until Winter, generally a better season for indoor pursuits.

While we consider hatches, any of you are bird watchers, you might want to check out River Webs. Both the book and the movie do a fascinating job of sharing insights into the linkages between stream and streamside forest ecosystems, especially insect hatches and nonfish critters that feed on them.

 The River


By Raymond Carver


I waded, deepening, into the dark water.
Evening, and the push
and swirl of the river as it closed
around my legs and held on.
Young grilse broke water.
Parr darted one way, smolt another.
Gravel turned under my boots as I edged out.
Watched by the furious eyes of king salmon.
Their immense heads turned slowly,
eyes burning with fury, as they hung
in the deep current.
They were there. I fel them there,
and my skin prickled. But
there was something else.
I braced with the wind on my neck.
Felt the hair rise
as something touched my boot.
Grew afraid at what I couldn't see.
Then of everything that filled my eyes—
that other shore heavy with branches,
the dark lip of the mountain range behind.
And this river that had suddenly
grown black and swift.
I drew breath and cast anyway.
Prayed nothing would strike. 


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Monday, July 24, 2017

Young of the year #phenology

It looks as though we're seeing a number of juvenile rose-breasted grosbeaks at the feeders these days. At least, on the "females," the color patterns aren't as clean cut and well established as they were back in late Spring. I'm not sure if I'd ever be able to tell if the ruby-throated hummingbirds are adults or juveniles. Their visits are so brief and they move so rapidly, that I can tell the males from the females, but that's about it. (And, I have to learn to stop trying to take pictures through the windows.)

ruby-throated hummingbird--female?, young-of-year?
ruby-throated hummingbird--female?, young-of-year?
Photo by J. Harrington

So we have several, many?, species of  birds that have successfully hatched a brood already, while others, such as the goldfinches, are just getting started, and yet others, like swallows locally, and shorebirds that nested in the Arctic, are already in early phases of migration. I'm not sure there are groupings such as early or late nesters, especially since one of the species followed by the Minnesota Phenology Network, the eastern bluebird, may try to hatch several broods a year and another, the ruby-throated hummingbird, is also identified as a multi-brood nester and an "early" (August) migrant.

I'm definitely getting the impression, once again, that I keep trying to make nature more neat and orderly than will ever be the case in a healthy ecosystem. Of course, these days I'm also paying more attention to more events in the natural world than I used to. When I lived in Massachusetts, my phenology interests were pretty much limited to the Spring arrival dates of striped bass and bluefish, and the Autumn "blitzes" as both species ate their way south again. That arrangement was much more simple than trying to look at the Mid-West months of the year and watch for which species is doing what. I'm also (re)discovering that fly-fishing for trout can often be more complex than salt water fishing. The latter often produced heftier results in fish "reduced to possession," but "matching the hatch" was a lot easier.

spotted horsemint coming into bloom
spotted horsemint coming into bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

Since we've already covered fish and fowl, let's add plants. Over the past few days, Spotted Horsemint (Monarda punctata) has started to come into bloom. I don't remember seeing any of that until the past few years so I'm guessing that either tree swallows or bluebirds or someone else left us some seeds as they were flying by to feed their young of the year several years ago.

                     Baby Wrens’ Voices



I am a student of wrens.
When the mother bird returns
to her brood, beak squirming
with winged breakfast, a shrill
clamor rises like jingling
from tiny, high-pitched bells.
Who’d have guessed such a small
house contained so many voices?
The sound they make is the pure sound
of life’s hunger. Who hangs our house
in the world’s branches, and listens
when we sing from our hunger?
Because I love best those songs
that shake the house of the singer,
I am a student of wrens.


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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Summer's cusp #phenology

About this time of year, we can start to watch for local sandhill crane families to begin flocking behavior. Soon, the Canada goose populations will resume training flights. Even though it's going to be a while before actual migrations take place, it takes lots of training to get muscles in shape and be sure flight feathers are working properly. Joni Mitchell has written one of my all time favorite songs about Autumn's restlessness. Tom Rush's version of The Urge for Going gets played a lot around here from September through November.

sandhill cranes Summer gathering
sandhill cranes Summer gathering
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning's cool breeze hint's at Autumn's impending arrival, never mind the 90℉ forecast for Tuesday. The clouds have taken on an unSummery attitude, threatening rain while moving toward the South on Northwest breezes that prevail in Winter. Soon it will be apple picking, and eating, time. Between now and the beginning of December the best six weeks of the year will take place. Soon the deer flies and mosquitoes will be gone. Maybe, actually probably, not all at once, but there'll be the raptor migration over Hawk Ridge, the Fall Color progression, and the monarch butterfly migration South. (I'll change the map in the sidebar some day soon.) Have you ever really thought about creatures as small and fragile as monarch butterflies and ruby-throated hummingbirds traveling as far as they do?

August monarchs
August monarchs
Photo by J. Harrington


Fall Parties



I cannot wait for fall parties.
The invitations have begun to roll in.

I used to think I loved summer parties
until they got this year so sweaty and sad,

the whole world away at the shore,
sunk in sweet and salt.

Goodbye, summer: 
you were supposed to save us

from spring but everyone just slumped
into you, sad sacks 

pulling the shade down on an afternoon 
of a few too many rounds. 

Well, I won’t have another.
I’ll have fall. The fall of parties

for no reason, of shivering rooftops,
scuffed boots, scarves with cigarette holes.

I’ll warm your house.
I’ll snort your mulling spices.

I’ll stay too late, I’ll go on a beer run,
I’ll do anything 

to stay in your dimly lit rooms 
scrubbed clean of all their pity.


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Saturday, July 22, 2017

Lavender days #phenology

Corn fields in or neighborhood look to be about fifty or sixty percent tasseled. There are a few places, and, thank heavens, only a few, where roadside sumac leaves have picked up some shocking red color. What seems most noticeable though are the swaths and swatches of roadside lavender. Some of it is wild bergamot, some looks like Canada thistle, some is crown vetch, soon there'll be New England aster and there's probably other pinkish-lavender flowers on plants that can't be identified readily at forty or fifty miles per hour, but a predominant color these days is pale purple, with chrome yellow accents.

roadside field of wild bergamot
roadside field of wild bergamot
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning I had an opportunity to help out one of the neighborhood pollinators. A bumblebee, no, I don't know which species, managed to get him/herself caught in the nectar pool of the oriole/hummingbird feeder, despite the beeguards in place. Must have been a very persistent bee. It promptly climbed onto the twig I extended. I placed the twig with its bee cargo on the deck railing. After I finished cleaning and refilling the oriole feeder, the twig, sans bee, was still there. I assume the bee returned home with a Bilbo Baggins scale adventure tale to tell. Do you remember the Loren Eiseley tale that "made a difference to that one?"

In a different bit of serendipity this morning, I came across a charming poem that seems to fit both the season and our troubled times. It was written by W. B. Yates, a long-time favorite poet that I've neglected for a while. I hope you enjoy

The Stolen Child



W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939


Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.


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Friday, July 21, 2017

Taking Summer stock #phenology

Summer stock doesn't only refer to "any theatre that presents stage productions only in the summer." The condition of lots of growing thinks now will affect the numbers migrating or making it to harvest come Autumn. Our guesses a few weeks ago, about the bluebirds renesting, appear to have been overly optimistic, unless the chicks hatched, fledged and flew at a record pace. The empty nest will get moved before the ground freezes and, this Autumn or next Spring, we'll add a new house further from the tree swallows' house.

empty nest
empty nest
Photo by J. Harrington

The pear crop appears as if it's going to be a disappointment to the local whitetail herd, to say nothing of the tree's planter. The weather we had last May, combined with a lack of pollinators?, produced few pieces of fruit, as you can see.

poorly pears
poorly pears
Photo by J. Harrington

The good news is that the prairie spiderwort is in bloom and the number of plants seems to be increasing, as are the number of yellow hawkweed plants. (I think we have both sticky and hairy, based on the distribution maps, but I'm far from being a botanist.) Further confirmation of the Edenic aspirations of the mid-Summer yard was the very large bull snake I almost stepped on as s/he slithered into the brush pile. We'll make sure  no one's home the next time the pile gets fired.

thriving spiderwort
thriving spiderwort
Photo by J. Harrington

This afternoon, we'll make the first pick up from a new food hub we're checking out. The Better Half says the prices are about the same as those at the coop we belong to, so we'll see how more directly supporting local farms and farmers works out. Fingers crossed.

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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Thursday, July 20, 2017

#Phenology: brought to you by the letter "P"

Sometimes I wonder if blogging has preternatural psychic powers. Yesterday, after writing about the paucity of sitings of young critters, I went downstairs to let one of the dogs out. There, picking their way through the droppings from the sunflower feeder on the deck, were three turkey hens and about a dozen or so poults. Of course, the dog had to wait while the ladies and their charges hustled down the hill, around the trees and away. Have you noticed that in any family gathering of goslings, ducklings or poults, there always seems to be one, bringing up the rear, running like crazy to catch up, going "please, wait for me!"? (The poult photo is from early August, last year.)

turkey hens and poults
turkey hens with poults
Photo by J. Harrington

July is a tough month for phenology. The Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission's phenology calendar for July [2016 edition] lists only "Eaglets fledge; jewelweed pods ripen; blueberries and raspberries ripen." Of course, we know that in our North Country, July is the peak month for blooming wildflowers. The phenology problem with that, as I see it, is that the plentitude of blooming plants makes it pretty hard to pick out new ones in the profusion of blossoms.

monthly wildflowers blooming
monthly wildflowers blooming

July begins to provide hints of the upcoming season. According to the Aldo Leopold Foundation's 2011 "PhenoCal," from now through the end of the month, in addition to flowers blooming, there's only two "First Occurrences" to watch for:
  • Tree Swallows Flocking; and,
  • Big Bluestem in Pollen
Although goldfinches are native to Wisconsin, the aforementioned "PhenoCal" doesn't mention that late July is when they may start nesting.

A Boat, Beneath a Sunny Sky


Lewis Carroll, 1832 - 1898


A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?


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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Road improvements?

Last Summer the county was busy replacing a bridge on County Road 36 over the Sunrise River. This Summer a nice, new cement bridge deck contrasts with the blacktopped road and sometimes, especially on a very sunny day, creates optical illusions at the bridge, like it is "floating" or there's something standing in the roadway.

bridge construction bulleting board
bridge construction bulleting board
Photo by J. Harrington

Before the bridge improvements, there actually were lots of Canada geese standing or sitting on or near the road. Most of the time drivers would slow down and drive around those who had encroached on the cartway. Occasionally, a car wouldn't slow or swerve enough and there'd be an explosion of feathers followed by a dead goose in the road. This year we've seen few geese on or near the road around the bridge. I'm not sure if the issue is that new and extended guardrails block the geese's lines of sight or that last Summer's construction activity caused avoidance of the commotion and next year the geese will be back loafing along the shoulder. It could be both, or neither.

Canada geese loafing along roadway
Canada geese loafing along roadway
Photo by J. Harrington

I have mixed feelings about it all. I miss watching goslings grow. I don't miss seeing dead geese lying in the road. It's one thing if a recently departed goose represents a meal for a family, like a Christmas goose. I'm not even sure if any of the cadavers we've seen became food for foxes or coyotes that live around here.

So far this Summer we've seen fewer sandhill cranes, whitetail fawns, turkey poults and almost no snakes. I'm not sure if local populations are down or it's just coincidental or ...? It's also possible that we've just spent less time "looking," but that doesn't seem likely either. For now, let's file it all in the "Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved" file.

Prophecy



Dana Gioia, 1950


Sometimes a child will stare out of a window
for a moment or an hour—deciphering
the future from a dusky summer sky.

Does he imagine that some wisp of cloud
reveals the signature of things to come?
Or that the world’s a book we learn to translate?

And sometimes a girl stands naked by a mirror
imagining beauty in a stranger’s eyes
finding a place where fear leads to desire.

For what is prophecy but the first inkling
of what we ourselves must call into being?
The call need not be large. No voice in thunder.

It’s not so much what’s spoken as what’s heard—
and recognized, of course. The gift is listening
and hearing what is only meant for you.

Life has its mysteries, annunciations,
and some must wear a crown of thorns. I found
my Via Dolorosa in your love.

And sometimes we proceed by prophecy,
or not at all—even if only to know
what destiny requires us to renounce.

O Lord of indirection and ellipses,
ignore our prayers. Deliver us from distraction.
Slow our heartbeat to a cricket’s call.

In the green torpor of the afternoon,
bless us with ennui and quietude.
And grant us only what we fear, so that

Underneath the murmur of the wasp
we hear the dry grass bending in the wind
and the spider’s silken whisper from its web.


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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Curses, roiled again

Look at the photos below and consider whether they represent:

  • the status of Republicans' ACA "repeal and replace" legislation
    (aka the "undead")

  • the Senate Majority Leader's "leadership" of the Senate

  • the governance of the Republican party

  • the governance of the United States of America

  • last night's thunderstorm clouds

  • all of the above

storm clouds roiling the night-dark skies
Photo by J. Harrington

Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

Photo by J. Harrington

If you've been around as long as I have, you might be lucky enough to remember that one of your favorite song writers from days gone by captured our malaise long ago. We've been here before. Just remember that the solution is NOT to be found in a Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine.

                                     Cloudy


Paul Simon lyrics:


Cloudy
The sky is grey and white and cloudy
Sometimes I think it’s hanging down on me
And it’s hitchhike a hundred miles
I’m a ragamuffin child
Pointed finger-painted smile
I left my shadow waiting down the road for me a while

Cloudy
My thoughts are scattered and they’re cloudy
They have no borders, no boundaries
They echo and they swell
From Tolstoy to Tinker Bell
Down from Berkeley to Carmel
Got some pictures in my pocket and a lot of time to kill

Hey, sunshine
I haven’t seen you in a longtime
Why don’t you show your face and bend my mind?
These clouds stick to the sky
Like floating question–why?
And they linger there to die
They don’t know where they’re going, and, my friend, neither do I

Cloudy
Cloudy


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Monday, July 17, 2017

NO_rthern Summer Lights

I didn't see any Northern Lights last night. Did you? About ten pm I wandered down the driveway and took a look toward the Northern sky. Nada! And I had spent more than an hour with my camera and manuals to get ready to take some pictures. That's probably what did it. If I had stayed my usual marginally ready self, we might have had an awesome display. For the record, there weren't any Northern Lights this morning at 4 am either. Maybe one of these days...

no Northern Lights here
no Northern Lights here
Photo by J. Harrington

Heading back toward the house, I did see three or four fireflies. Since I miss seeing fireflies in the Summer more than I've ever become accustomed to seeing Northern Lights, I consider it close to an even trade off, at least this time. And, I did finally learn what happens when I push a couple of the previously untouched buttons on the back of my camera, so the anticipation of Northern Lights had a couple of payoffs, even without seeing the Lights themselves. Life's often like that, isn't it?

source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

One reason suspected to contribute to fewer fireflies is increased light pollution. Now, think about that for a moment, please. It doesn't make much difference to the fireflies whether the source of power for the lights is coal or wind or solar. Too much light in the "wrong" place at night would seem to interfere with the bugs mating signals. I'm taking your time with this as an example of systems thinking, something we need to see lots more of if we're going to be able to provide our descendants a  halfway decent planet to live on. While everyone (except #45) seems to be getting panicky about climate change, there are a number of other systems that can get us into serious trouble. Look here. Much as it becomes an inconvenient truth, John Muir had it right when he wrote "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." If you're interested in looking at the most detailed map of that universe, it's here. Since there weren't Northern Lights this morning, I had a pretty good look at some parts of our universe. It helped put me in my place. Try it some clear morning soon. Then "Hitch your wagon to a star."

Letter to the Northern Lights



The light here on earth keeps us plenty busy: a fire
in central Pennsylvania still burns bright since 1962.
Whole squads of tiny squid blaze up the coast of Japan
before sunrise. Of course you didn’t show when we went
searching for you, but we found other lights: firefly,
strawberry moon, a tiny catch of it in each other’s teeth.
Someone who saw you said they laid down
in the middle of the road and took you all in,
and I’m guessing you’re used to that—people falling
over themselves to catch a glimpse of you
and your weird mint-glow shushing itself over the lake.
Aurora, I’d rather stay indoors with him—even if it meant
a rickety hotel and its wood paneling, golf carpeting
in the bathrooms, and grainy soapcakes. Instead
of waiting until just the right hour of the shortest
blue-night of the year when you finally felt moved
enough to collide your gas particles with sun particles—
I’d rather share sunrise with him and loon call
over the lake with him, the slap of shoreline threaded
through screen windows with him. My heart
slams in my chest, against my shirt—it’s a kind
of kindling you’d never be able to light on your own. 


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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Summer's lull a-bye, treed

It's unclear what, if anything, it may mean, but a brilliant blue bluebird male has been active all morning around the brush pile near the bluebird house. I think I may need to wander over some day very soon and take a peek into the house.

male bluebird on pine candle
male bluebird on pine candle
Photo by J. Harrington

Several monarch(?) butterflies have been butterflying around the back yard today. If anyone has recommendations on how to tell, while they're in flight, monarchs from viceroys, at a distance, please share. Flashes of orange are inconclusive, but about all that's available some days.

monarch butterfly feeding
monarch butterfly feeding
Photo by J. Harrington

While sitting and watching the birds and butterflies, I briefly thought about the fact that the trees looked like they were just standing there, doing as little as I was. That's if we consider pumping groundwater up to leaves; producing shade and oxygen and perches for birds; growing acorns and providing nesting sites for birds and resting sites for squirrels; capturing carbon; stabilizing soil and producing wood is doing little. (What have I left out?) This reminded me of the zen saying "When nothing is done, nothing is left undone." Would that we all left "nothing" as undone as trees just standing there. Do we too often take trees for granted and assume they're just taking up space that could be put to better use? On my list of books to read over the next few months is The Hidden Life of Trees. I wonder if it will provide insights into whether trees themselves are satisfied with their own lives. I'll let you know when I'm done reading it.

what life is hidden here?
what life is hidden here?
Photo by J. Harrington


Song of the Trees

1

We are the Trees.  
  Our dark and leafy glade  
Bands the bright earth with softer mysteries.  
Beneath us changed and tamed the seasons run:  
In burning zones, we build against the sun         
  Long centuries of shade.  
  
2

We are the Trees,  
  Who grow for man’s desire,  
Heat in our faithful hearts, and fruits that please.  
Dwelling beneath our tents, he lightly gains         
The few sufficiencies his life attains—  
  Shelter, and food, and fire.  
  
3

We are the Trees  
  That by great waters stand,  
By rills that murmur to our murmuring bees.         
And where, in tracts all desolate and waste,  
The palm-foot stays, man follows on, to taste  
  Springs in the desert sand.  
  
4

We are the Trees  
  Who travel where he goes         20 
Over the vast, inhuman, wandering seas.  
His tutors we, in that adventure brave—  
He launched with us upon the untried wave,  
  And now its mastery knows.  
  
5

We are the Trees         25 
  Who bear him company  
In life and death. His happy sylvan ease  
He wins through us; through us, his cities spread  
That like a forest guard his unfenced head  
  ’Gainst storm and bitter sky.         30 
  
6

We are the Trees.  
  On us the dying rest  
Their strange, sad eyes, in farewell messages.  
And we, his comrades still, since earth began,  
Wave mournful boughs above the grave of man,          
  And coffin his cold breast.


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Saturday, July 15, 2017

A time of magical light

Between dawn and sunrise, what light there is often has a magical quality. This morning it caused to whitetail doe walking across the rise in our back yard to glow, almost ember-like. She was grazing on something near the ground in the tall grass, because her head kept disappearing below the tops of the grasses. Visions such as this morning's, and Thursday's sighting of a pair of sandhill cranes in a nearby cornfield, help a lot to refresh hope in times like these. Would that more of us suffered from severe cases of biophilia.

this looks like it should be named Angora something
this Astilbe(?) looks like it should be named Angora something
[UPDATE: It's Queen-of-the-Prairie
Filipendula rubra]
Photo by J. Harrington

Leaf-dappled sunlight, accompanied by a gentle breeze, followed sunrise to the front yard. I still haven't learned how to adequately compensate for even mild motion with sufficiently fast shutter speeds. Sigh! The just out of focus quality is frustrating, but the flowers are pretty. I may need to start resorting to a tripod, or settle for a reduced depth of field. I don't recall ever seeing a flower quite as pretty as whatever the pink, lacy blooms [above] are. Genus and species weren't readily recalled by the Better Half when I queried her this morning. Most of us though recognize Queen Anne's lace.

Queen Anne's lace with early Sun dappling the right-hand flower
Queen Anne's lace with early Sun dappling the right-hand flower
Photo by J. Harrington

A different mystery has been solved as this piece was being written. A week or two ago, I installed an ant guard moat above the deck oriole / hummingbird feeder. The feeder had been attracting a large number of big, black ants. Since then, even on days after heavy rains, I've noticed the water level had dropped until the container was about half full. I doubted there had been that much evaporation. Moments ago, I watched a nuthatch drinking, in its usual head down position, from the ant moat. I'm only too happy to get a two-fer out of the ant moat and am grateful that that mystery appears solved.

Enjoy Summer! Six months from now, deer will be in their Winter colors, flowers will be in hot houses,  and at least some of us will be complaining about cold, snow and wind-chills. Once in awhile I've found magical light during our cold seasons, but, like many of us, it seems to come out and play more often in the warmer months.

Miracles



Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892


Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the
        water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
        with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer
        forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so
        quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the
        same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the
        ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?


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