Thursday, August 31, 2017

Minnesota needs more stream stewards

trout stream with habitat improvement
trout stream with habitat improvement
Photo by J. Harrington

Minnesota is not the first place that comes to mind when world class trout fishing is mentioned. Some folks down in SE Minnesota, driftless area that stretches into Wisconsin, Iowa an Illinois are working on changing that. This morning we visited the National Trout Center in Preston. We also discovered some trout water with the appearance of some of the English chalk streams we've seen in pictures. The proportion of "designated trout water" on which one could actually cast a fly is disappointing, but Trout Unlimited, especially the local Hiawatha chapter, in partnership with Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and local farmers are improving the balance with habitat improvement projects.

stream stewardship partners
stream stewardship partners
Photo by J. Harrington

Governor Dayton is partway through his series of town hall meetings focused on improving Minnesota's water quality. Not every stream in Minnesota is, or could be, a trout stream, but every one could probably support more recreational uses if there were more access, more promotion and education about the local resources, and more partnerships to enhance the value of Minnesota's waters. Does every river and stream in Minnesota have its own watershed association? Is each and every watershed in Minnesota identified at every bridge crossing and watershed boundary? People don't tend to care much about things they're uneducated about. Much of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's information is technical and bureaucratic. That's also true to a lesser degree about MNDNR. Minnesota needs more stream stewards, such as Trout Unlimited or the Friend of the Mississippi River. The National Trout Center offers at least one model of the kind of benefits such partnerships can create.

                     Magnitudes



Earth’s Wrath at our assaults is slow to come
But relentless when it does. It has to do
With catastrophic change, and with the limit
At which one order more of Magnitude
Will bring us to a qualitative change
And disasters drastically different
From those we daily have to know about.
As with the speed of light, where speed itself
Becomes a limit and an absolute;
As with the splitting of the atom
And a little later of the nucleus;
As with the millions rising into billions—
The piker’s kind in terms of money, yes,
But a million2 in terms of time and space
As the universe grew vast while the earth
Our habitat diminished to the size
Of a billiard ball, both relative
To the cosmos and to the numbers of ourselves,
The doubling numbers, the earth could accommodate.
We stand now in the place and limit of time
Where hardest knowledge is turning into dream,
And nightmares still contained in sleeping dark
Seem on the point of bringing into day
The sweating panic that starts the sleeper up.
One or another nightmare may come true,
And what to do then? What in the world to do?



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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Grading trout streams on a curve

It would seem that Fillmore County's townships have never heard of section line roads. Few, if any local roads run straight for any significant distance. In the valleys. they parallel the creeks. On the ridge tops they follow the ridge tops. In between, there's a number of switchbacks to get between ridge tops and valleys. Here's a sample (local roads in brown, section lines in red).

some local roads in Fillmore County

Despite what you may have read about the richness of river bottom lands for farming, the farms are on the heights for the most part. Campgrounds, and cabins  are scattered along valley bottoms and state forest land covers hillsides. It's an interesting and scenic pattern, but very different than what some of us who live in more level parts of Minnesota are used to.

trout might see you even if you don't see them
trout might see you even if you don't see them
Photo by J. Harrington

Much of our morning was spent reconnoitering several designated trout streams. The one that seemed  most "fishable," without requiring a machete to get near the water, or looking so shallow as to be barely short of being declared "intermittent," had a nice view, from the bridge, of a stretch where we could see several trout feeding underwater on something. We tried a soft hackle on our tenkara rod and the fish responded with the old "if you can see them they can see you and probably won't play." The Better Half tried dapping a dry fly a little further downstream with the same result. It will, no doubt, take awhile to get back in the swing of fly fishing small streams. Meanwhile, we enjoyed the wild flowers, butterflies, and what, as far as we remember, was our first "in the wild" view of a hummingbird (ruby-throated female?) feeding on streamside jewelweed.

                     Speckled Trout



Water-flesh gleamed like mica:
orange fins, red flankspots, a char
shy as ginseng, found only
in spring-flow gaps, the thin clear
of faraway creeks no map
could name. My cousin showed me
those hidden places. I loved
how we found them, the way we
followed no trail, just stream-sound
tangled in rhododendron,
to where slow water opened
a hole to slip a line in,
and lift as from a well bright
shadows of another world,
held in my hand, their color
already starting to fade.


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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

V-A-C-A-tion in the Summer time

We are no doubt dating ourselves with our reference to Connie Francis' long ago hit song. We've escaped our normal routine and routes. This morning's fog has became an afternoon's humidity, although the cloud cover makes it cooler where we are than where we left. We're down in southeast Minnesota for a few days vacation with the Better Half, checking out places in the vicinity of the Root River. On the way down, we stopped at a wayside rest near Fountain and watched some cedar waxwings feeding on something that was hatching from the river. The last time we saw waxwings up close, we had waded waaay up the Kinnickinnic River in Wisconsin. That time they were feeding on some ripe berries in stream-side bushes, se we saw them literally at eye level.

foggy August morning
foggy August morning
Photo by J. Harrington

After the drive down Minnesota 52, we wouldn't be terribly upset if we didn't see another field of field corn for a lonnng time. It sort of reminds me of former President Reagan's observation about redwoods "...if you’ve looked at a hundred thousand acres or so of trees — you know, a tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?" Seems to me that's even more true about corn.

Postings over the nest few days may be sparse, or not, depending on the weather and the fishing, plus there's a few places I'd like to photograph that we may or may not get lost trying to find. Unfortunately, the cord for connecting the "big camera" dslr to the laptop is still back home. We'll catch up with photos, and reports if need be, over the weekend or early next week.

                     The Vacation

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.


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Monday, August 28, 2017

Let's "draw" you a picture

Are you following the devastation in and around south Texas? Do you think climate change / global warming might have had something to do with making it worse? If we could take actions we knew would lessen the likelihood of "another Harvey" should we build on those foundations now?

Sunrise River, some of Minnesota's floodplains and wetlands
Sunrise River, some of Minnesota's floodplains and wetlands
Photo by J. Harrington

If your answer to those questions is Yes, Yes, and Yes!, we have a place to begin. (If your answers aren't all Yes, how did you end up on this blog?) Paul Hawken, the same author who's brought us Natural Capitalism, The Ecology of Commerce, Blessed Unrest and other pillars of using business to build a better world, has recently produced Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Produced to Reverse Global Warming. The book has its own website, which contains thumbnail sketches of the "100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change."

Coastal wetlands are rated #52. "Coastal wetlands can store five times as much carbon as tropical forests over the long term, mostly in deep wetland soils." They also can help reduce storm surge from storms like Harvey, as well as provide a variety of other ecological services.
"Texas has lost 52 percent of its original wetland base (Mitsch and Gosselink, 1993). The Texas coastal plain experienced a loss of approximately 200,000 acres of wetlands between the mid-1950s and the early 1990s (from 4.1 million acres to 3.9 million acres)."

St. Louis River, downstream of a proposed mine, upstream of Lake Superior
St. Louis River, downstream of a proposed mine, upstream of Lake Superior
Photo by J. Harrington

What, you may ask, does any or all of this have to do with our Minnesota? For one thing, we're also experiencing climate change. The thunderstorms that wash our topsoil into the Minnesota River contribute to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico near Louisiana. For another, we're continuing to treat our wetlands and water resources as if they are easily replaceable and/or not particularly valuable. Proposed mines in and near the Boundary Waters or tributary to Lake Superior put our common water resources at risk for the benefit very few local people and the profit of many foreign owners. Industrial scale agriculture has fewer environmental restrictions that protect water quality than most (all?) other industries. We Minnesotans continue to spend our tax dollars in part to preserve valuable resources and in too big another part to clean up environmental messes and mistakes prior generations left us as they pursued their own short term profits.

There's an old saying to the effect that "when you find yourself in a deep hole, the first thing to do is stop digging." These days we're suffering the consequences of dumb decisions made yesterday and months and years before. The first thing we have to do is to stop being so dumb. As a recovering planner, I know that "more of the same never solved a problem." That's especially true of dumb decisions.

Providence


What’s left is footage: the hours before
       Camille, 1969—hurricane
              parties, palm trees leaning
in the wind,
       fronds blown back,

a woman’s hair. Then after:
       the vacant lots,
       boats washed ashore, a swamp

where graves had been. I recall

how we huddled all night in our small house,
       moving between rooms,
              emptying pots filled with rain.

The next day, our house—
       on its cinderblocks—seemed to float

       in the flooded yard: no foundation

beneath us, nothing I could see
       tying us  to the land.
       In the water, our reflection
                                trembled,
disappeared
when I bent to touch it.


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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Baking in mindfulness

First observation today: crickets are starting to look for ways into the house. We know this because one was lurking for hours on the front porch this morning. We think it's a sign of cooler temperatures (more than persistent rainfall) foretelling impending Autumn. The same cup and paper routine that we've mastered for catch and release events with spiders sometimes works for crickets, although the latter tend to be more jumpy than spiders.

cricket lurking near the front door
cricket lurking near the front door
Photo by J. Harrington

Second observation today: we need to work some more to synthesize Alan Watts' observation that
“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”
with our blog posting yesterday about mindfulness while baking. Making sourdough dough this morning, we were our usual unmindful selves, dashing and dithering together flour, starter, yeast, salt, and sugar at the same time we were cleaning up sticky dough-coated utensils before the dough dried and hardened on them. It all got done, but we could have been lots more mindful, and less frantic, as we went about it.

A long-time favorite writer on fly-fishing, John Gierach, has noted that efficiency in tying flies is achieved by organizing all the necessary materials first, rather than hurrying through each the steps in tying a fly. It wouldn't be too great a stretch to presume that organizing ingredients and utensils for making dough, before starting the process, would permit more mindfulness while baking. In fact, once the dough had risen, and we had confronted our lack of attentiveness in making said dough this morning, we actually started to feel some of the sensations we previously had only read about as we worked on shaping our two loaves.

sourdough starter before feeding
sourdough starter before feeding
Photo by J. Harrington

We felt the dough become more stretchy as we worked it. We remembered to coat the dough and/or our hands with more flour if we noticed sticky spots in the dough being worked. We think we may have actually started to work with the dough instead of on it. It'll be interesting to see how the bread crumb and flavor turn out this time. In any case, we noticed we enjoyed a more mindful process of shaping the dough compared to the somewhat mindless process of making today's dough.

Although today's baking was far from perfection, we did manage to take a step or two down a road we want to travel, and got some positive internal feedback along the way. If we get better organized before we start next time, we may enjoy the entire process even more. We think the following adaptation works. What say you?
“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes baking bread. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes make dough and bake bread.

Autumn Grasses


In fields of bush clover and hay-scent grass
the autumn moon takes refuge
The cricket’s song is gold

Zeshin’s loneliness taught him this

Who is coming?
What will come to pass, and pass?

Neither bruise nor sweetness nor cool air
not-knowing
knows the way

And the moon?
Who among us does not wander, and flare
and bow to the ground?

Who does not savor, and stand open
if only in secret

taking heart in the ripening of the moon?
 
(Shibata Zeshin, Autumn Grasses, two-panel screen


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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Cool? Cool!

August 26, mid-afternoon temperature: 63℉! August 26, mid-afternoon temperature: 63℉? We are definitely back into bread-baking season. Today we'll bake a couple of loaves of 5 minutes a day artisan bread. Tomorrow, probably, a couple of loaves of sourdough will go into the oven.

artisan bread and cloche
artisan bread and cloche
Photo by J. Harrington

We've been informed the bread is needed to go with tomorrow's fish chowder dinner, which was triggered by unseasonably cool temperatures. (No, fish chowder triggering bread baking is NOT similar to shooting fish in a barrel, but it does involve loaves and fishes.) It's been so long since we baked any Artisan bread, it's almost like we'd never done it. After eating sourdough, Artisan bread's milder flavor seems lacking somehow, but then, even our normal sourdough could be more sour to suit our taste, but we keep getting out-voted.

sourdough bread loaves
sourdough bread loaves
Photo by J. Harrington

For several years now, we've had a subscription to a magazine named taproot. The current issue's article on baking notes that "Baking can be a practice in mindfulness, an inquiry into the self,  a medium for expression, or a quiet therapy with no specific purpose." It is truly awesome what can be accomplished by mixing flour, water, salt, sourdough and/or yeast and some heat and love. The results vary, naturally, with the quantity and quality of each ingredient, especially the love, although cool weather adds extra appreciation for an oven's warmth as well as a warm heart.

Of Minnesota's four seasons, our preferences place Winter last, Summer third, Spring second and Autumn first, but on a points awarded system, such placings wouldn't always be consistent. Autumn brings harvest, fresh crops of new apples, pumpkins, Halloween (candy and ghost stories) and Thanksgiving. Spring has ephemeral wildflowers, Easter (candy and chicks), snowmelt and new leaves. Winter's first snow is often a treat and Christmas is always a good time. Summer is CSA shares, goose goslings and crane colts and warm, lazy days on a beach or river bank, if we're lucky. Then again, there's something almost magical about fly fishing in a Winter snowstorm and we've yet to see a dragonfly in Winter. We're glad we've got four seasons and don't have to choose just one, even if, on days like today, it can be a challenge to figure out which season we're enjoying.

Waifs and Strays



Arthur Rimbaud, 1854 - 1891


Black in the fog and in the snow,
Where the great air-hole windows glow,
With rounded rumps,

Upon their knees five urchins squat,
Looking down where the baker, hot,
The thick dough thumps.

They watch his white arm turn the bread,
Ere through an opening flaming red
The loaf he flings.

They hear the good bread baking, while
The chubby baker with a smile
An old tune sings.

Breathing the warmth into their soul,
They squat around the red air-hole,
As a breast warm.

And when, for feasters’ midnight bout,
The ready bread is taken out,
In a cake’s form;

And while beneath the blackened beams,
Sings every crust of golden gleams,
While the cricket brags,

The hole breathes warmth into the night,
And into them life and delight,
Under their rags,

And the urchins covered with hoar-frost,
On billows of enchantment tossed
Their little souls,

Glue to the grate their little rosy
Noses, singing through the cosy
Glowing holes,

But with low voices like a prayer,
Bending down to the light down there,
Where heaven gleams.

—So eager that they burst their breeches,
And in the winter wind that screeches
Their linen streams.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Some migrations are local #phenology

Monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, sandhill cranes, many songbirds and most waterfowl undertake moderate to lengthy migrations to avoid Winter in the North Country. Even some of those that live here year round undertake local migrations. We've been coping this week with some of those. In another sign of Autumn's impending arrival, barn spiders, or, maybe barn funnel weavers, or parson spiders, or one of each, we're really not sure, have been appearing (or apparating if you're a Harry Potter fan) in the house. So far we've captured and transported three of them (or the same one three times) back outside. The first one was under some clean clothes on a bed; the second on the wall of the stairs going down from the front hall; the third on a wall in the front hall itself. Each time we used the cup and paper method (see method 2 on the linked page). Since we aren't likely to take up eating spiders, and can safely remove them, there seems little point in killing them. We even hope this approach improves our karma.

It's still early in the seasonal change, so we may find more spiders looking for a mate or whatever motivates them to head indoors. (There's a wide range of opinions online about whether or why spiders head indoors in Autumn.) If we do have more invaders this year, we'll try to take a picture before cupping the culprit. (Did McGarrett ever say "Cup 'em Danno" do you suppose?)

bull snake on garage floor
bull snake on garage floor

Another creature that we sometimes find looking for a place to spend the Winter is a gopher snake or bull snake in Minnesota. Last year the one pictured above was seeking refuge in our garage, or perhaps it was just looking for a wayward rodent. As if it were a misguided spider, the snake too was transported back outside, but we used our hands instead of a cup. With luck, it eventually found, or made, an empty pocket gopher tunnel in which to hibernate.

Autumn oak leaves
Autumn oak leaves
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning's rain brought some oak leaves down onto the driveway. Oaks will continue to drop leaves now for about the next forty-eight or fifty weeks or so, unlike more "honest" deciduous trees, that drop their leaves over a relatively short time frame, oaks, like our dogs, shed almost year-round. Many oak leaves hold on (it's called marcescence) until next Spring's expanding leaf buds swell with new growth. There's a couple of theories why marcescence may offer an advantage to oak-like trees. There's also many reasons humans sometimes migrate.

Peace Path



This path our people walked
one hundred two hundred              endless years
since the tall grass opened for us
and we breathed the incense that sun on prairie
                                                             offers to sky
Peace offering with each breath
each footstep           out of woods
to grasslands plotted with history
removal   remediation                     restoration
Peace flag of fringed prairie orchid
green glow within white froth
calling a moth who nightly
seeks the now-rare scent                 invisible to us
invisible history of this place
where our great-grandfather         a boy
beside two priests and 900 warriors
gaze intent in an 1870 photo       
                                                             his garments white as orchids
Peace flag                                           white banner with red cross
crowned with thorns                       held by a boy            
at the elbow of a priest 
beside Ojibwe warriors                   beside Dakota warriors
Peace offered after smoke and dance
and Ojibwe gifts of elaborate beaded garments
thrown back in refusal
by Dakota Warriors                         torn with grief
                                                             since their brother’s murder
This is the path our people ran
through white flags of prairie plants
Ojibwe calling Dakota back
to sign one last and unbroken treaty
Peace offering with each breath
each footstep                out of woods
to grasslands plotted with history
removal   remediation                     restoration
Two Dakota    held up as great men
humbled themselves
to an offer of peace
before a long walk south
before our people entered the trail
walking west and north
                                                           where you walk now
where we seek the source
the now-rare scent
invisible as history
history the tall grass opens for us
                                                            Breathe the incense of sun on prairie
                                                            Offer peace to the sky


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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Early Autumn? #phenology

The front flower garden has both anise hyssop and blue vervain in bloom, together with a little bit of butterfly weed and some black-eyed Susans. Several species of bees seem quite pleased with the situation, despite the fact that the bergamot (bee balm) has mostly gone to seed.

early Autumn, maple leaves
early Autumn, maple leaves
Photo by J. Harrington

When we were hanging the front bird feeders this morning, we came across a surprise. Two maple leaves, in Autumn's colors, were lying on the grass. It's looking more and more as if the Better Half was prescient a week or ten days ago when she prognosticated an early Autumn. The local hummingbirds are still around and continue to drain the nectar feeders as they get ready for their Journey South.

The CSA in which we have shares this year just announced that the Summer interns have left for school and the Autumn interns will be arriving over the next couple of weeks. More signs of a seasonal transition. The Summer, so far, has been cool enough that the heritage tomatoes are still ripening. We see few indications that's likely to change any time soon, although we do get temperatures in the 90s and even 100+ in September.

Phenology "affects nearly all aspects of the environment, including the abundance, distribution, and diversity of organisms, ecosystem services, food webs, and the global cycles of water and carbon." Each day brings more and more signs that climate, a basic driver of phenological events, is changing and becoming more volatile. This makes us wonder about our increasing vulnerability to extreme weather events. Some, perhaps most of us hate feeling vulnerable and not in control. Fortunately, some recent Zen readings provide a different way to think about vulnerability. See if this helps alleviate negative feelings of vulnerability.
Vulnerability means appreciating mystery as much as mastery, and being comfortable with not-knowing, ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity, cultivating awe and wonder that deepen our knowledge. This is what in Zen is the lightness of “beginner’s mind,” rather than the heaviness of needing to be competent.
If so, more of this approach to mindfulness can be found here. As we encounter more and more of the effects of climate change, we need to be open to a range of possibilities to respond. Remember,
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind there are few. --Shunryu Suziki"


So Much Happiness


It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.

But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records . . .

Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it, and in that way, be known. 


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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

"a fractured and tender world"

There's no way, since they aren't wearing obvious identifiers, to be sure the egrets we saw today are the same ones seen a week or so ago, but today we did get some pictures and confirmed that the birds are, indeed, great egrets, based on size, wing span, and yellow bills.

egret in flight
egret in flight
Photo by J. Harrington

About the time we were taking egret portraits, the Daughter Person [DP] was sending an email with a link to an online recording of a conversation between Krista Tippet and Naomi Shihab Nye: Your Life is a Poem. It's part of a larger effort Ms. Tippet is undertaking, the Civil Conversations Project, which:
"... seeks to renew common life in a fractured and tender world. We are a conversation-based, virtues-based resource towards hospitable, trustworthy relationship with and across difference. We honor the power of asking better questions, model reframed approaches to entrenched debates, and insist that the ruptures above the radar do not tell the whole story of our time...." 
three egrets, Sunrise River pools
three egrets, Sunrise River pools
Photo by J. Harrington

As we explored the conversations available (note that there are transcripts as well as audio versions), we came across one with Layli Long Soldier — The Freedom of Real Apologies. It contained information we think we should have known, but hadn't, until today, that "the U.S. government offered an official apology to Native peoples in 2009. But it was done so quietly, with no ceremony, that it was practically a secret." If this summary is accurate, we still need to do better, but, as Lao Tzu would have us know, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." More civil conversations are, no doubt, in order.

Although we have, for some time, known about Krista Tippet's On Being interviews, we've neglected exploratory excursions until today. We owe the DP a huge "thanks" for the nudge. Although Naomi Shihab Nye is among my favorite poets, and I look forward to reading her conversation, I'm absolutely delighted belatedly to have learned that the United States government is beginning to acknowledge our debt to those peoples indigenous to the lands that became the U.S. and further, that it "commends and honors Native Peoples for the thousands of years that they have stewarded and protected this land." We believe our collective future will be best served if all of us become more dedicated to stewarding and protecting this land. There are no jobs on a dead planet.

This has been a day full of serendipitous surprises full of good tidings and karma. We hope the rest of our today,and all of yours, goes as well.

Big Bend National Park Says No to All Walls


Big Bend has been here, been here. Shouldn’t it have a say?
Call the mountains a wall if you must, (the river has never been a wall),
leavened air soaking equally into all, could this be the home
we ache for? Silent light bathing cliff faces, dunes altering
in darkness, stones speaking low to one another, border secrets,
notes so rooted you may never be lonely the same ways again.
Big bend in thinking—why did you dream you needed so much?
Water, one small pack. Once I lay on my back on a concrete table
the whole day and read a book. A whole book, and it was long.
The day I continue to feast on.
Stones sifting a gospel of patience and dust,
no one exalted beyond a perfect parched cliff,
no one waiting for anything you do or don’t do.
Santa Elena, South Rim, once a woman knew what everything here
was named for, Hallie Stillwell brimming with stories,
her hat still snaps in the wind. You will not find
a prime minister in Big Bend, a president, or even a candidate,
beyond the lion, the javelina, the eagle lighting on its nest.


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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August: asters and apples and Autumn

Today's winds are out of the northwest, a sign of seasonal transition. The local extended weather forecast has daily high temperatures ranging from the upper 60s to the mid 70s. The Minnesota State Fair starts Thursday. Soon Summer vacation will be over. State Fair, Redfree and Zestar apples should be ripe. Cooler weather will be more conducive to pulling more buckthorn. By Spring next year we expect to have a better idea of what gets planted to take its place. (In case you're keeping track, hummingbirds are still visiting the feeder.)

August through Autumn are aster time
August through Autumn are aster time
Photo by J. Harrington

Last year, about this time or a little later, we planted some asters that were, subsequently and inadvertently, dug up by someone who thought they were annuals. It's time to decide where this year's asters will get planted and make up some signs to protect them. Since we have rabbits and other critters that might find asters succulent, we doubt the signs will be total protection.

Fallen Apples


Wasps at work in the soft
flesh of rotting apples.
Food of the gods,
all day they mine it in busy
hushed movements.

I pick up a mushy corpse
one cold morning.
Carefully turn it over.
Its congregation tumbles
into the cupped
bowl of my hand.

Dazed, drunk, still
chilled from overnight cold,
they blunder like sleepwalkers
feeling around for the light.
Tiny antennae test my skin
in search of something
now gone.

Warmed by my hand,
warmed by the sun,
they stagger and fall into flight.
They scribble orbits
the air erases
and whine at last out of sight.


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Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipsing the eclipse

Minnesota: 100% cloud cover
Minnesota: 100% cloud cover

The good news is we didn't travel 500 or 1,000 miles to have cloud cover obscure the eclipse. The bad news is cloud cover is obscuring our eclipse. It'll be interesting to see if the degree and type of darkness triggers any noticeable aberrant behavior among the local critters.

an August full moon
an August full moon
Photo by J. Harrington

We walked down the drive with a pair of eclipse glasses in hand. Trees surrounding the house interrupted a direct line of sight exposure to the sun. Through the clouds we could see a bright light, like the sun behind clouds. To protect our eyes, we put on the eclipse glasses, looked up, and saw --- nothing! It was as black as a coal bin at midnight or, for those of you who never had coal bins, as black as the inside of an upside-down oil barrel. The movies and television coverage of the eclipse are fascinating, but I think I'll wait to read the book. It is getting darker, about the way it would look if a thunderstorm were in the neighborhood.

wolf pup exploring
wolf pup exploring
Photo by J. Harrington

Since we're not going to have any photos of the eclipse we can share, we want to offer something visual, more than just cloud cover. The first photo above is of the full moon from exactly two years ago today. The second is of a Wildlife Science Center wolf pup from a visit a little more than one year ago. The pup hadn't yet mastered howling at the moon but I bet it's doing better these days. It may even be howling at the eclipse, if the clouds ever break up.

A Solar Eclipse


In that great journey of the stars through space
     About the mighty, all-directing Sun,
     The pallid, faithful Moon, has been the one
Companion of the Earth. Her tender face,
Pale with the swift, keen purpose of that race,
     Which at Time’s natal hour was first begun,
     Shines ever on her lover as they run
And lights his orbit with her silvery smile.
Sometimes such passionate love doth in her rise,
     Down from her beaten path she softly slips,
And with her mantle veils the Sun’s bold eyes,
     Then in the gloaming finds her lover’s lips.
While far and near the men our world call wise
     See only that the Sun is in eclipse.


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Sunday, August 20, 2017

The balm of bees

Three or four years ago, there was no spotted horsemint growing on our property. We haven't planted any, at least not intentionally. Today there are several patches(?), clusters(?), whatever a small grouping of plants is called, growing on the hill behind the house. That's the same hill where, about 25 years or so ago, we tried planting wildflowers. We've heard of long germination periods for prairie restoration, but a generation seems excessive.

spotted horsemint, spotted beebalm
spotted horsemint, spotted beebalm
Photo by J. Harrington

We haven't noticed any of these plants in nearby fields, but then we haven't been looking for them. You know how that works. How did they get to our property? Birds? Deer hooves? Coyote paws? They're noted as indigenous to the county, but not particularly widespread in Minnesota. According to Bees (Heather Holm), spotted horsemint (a.k.a. spotted beebalm) attracts bumble bees, long-horned bees, metallic green sweat bees and small sweat bees. "In high quality sandy habitats, look for Perdita (mining bees)." We can vouch for the sandy habitat, the quality level is questionable.

Over the years, we've had friends who were highly allergic to bee or wasp stings. Often, they were among the most avid outdoors persons, who foraged, hunted and fished. They took precautions, including carrying an epi-pen, and enjoyed life to the fullest. Since bees, but particularly Perdita, pollenate plants we'd like more of, milkweed and other butterfly attractors, we'll watch for holes in our sandy hill that may be signs of mining bees and take reasonable precautions to avoid getting stung.

is there a word for spotted beebalm groupings like this?
is there a word for spotted beebalm groupings like this?
Photo by J. Harrington

Years ago, back in New England, we've fallen in with wild-eyed hippie permaculturists, and lived to tell the tale. We can probably do so again. We're older now but, we hope, wiser and perhaps a little less wild-eyed ourselves. This time we'll try working with nature, rather than destroying potential bee habitat as we did when we first tried to "restore" our old farm fields by plowing, discing and scattering wildflower seeds. We're seeing evidence that a less aggressive approach may take longer but we're more likely to enjoy both the process and the results. Do you suppose that might work in politics?

Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood

v

William Cullen Bryant, 1794 - 1878


Stranger, if thou hast learned a truth which needs
No school of long experience, that the world
Is full of guilt and misery, and hast seen
Enough of all its sorrows, crimes, and cares,
To tire thee of it, enter this wild wood
And view the haunts of Nature. The calm shade
Shall bring a kindred calm, and the sweet breeze
That makes the green leaves dance, shall waft a balm
To thy sick heart. Thou wilt find nothing here
Of all that pained thee in the haunts of men
And made thee loathe thy life. The primal curse
Fell, it is true, upon the unsinning earth,
But not in vengeance. God hath yoked to guilt
Her pale tormentor, misery. Hence, these shades
Are still the abodes of gladness; the thick roof
Of green and stirring branches is alive
And musical with birds, that sing and sport
In wantonness of spirit; while below
The squirrel, with raised paws and form erect,
Chirps merrily. Throngs of insects in the shade
Try their thin wings and dance in the warm beam
That waked them into life. Even the green trees
Partake the deep contentment; as they bend
To the soft winds, the sun from the blue sky
Looks in and sheds a blessing on the scene.
Scarce less the cleft-born wild-flower seems to enjoy
Existence, than the winged plunderer
That sucks its sweets. The massy rocks themselves,
And the old and ponderous trunks of prostrate trees
That lead from knoll to knoll a causey rude
Or bridge the sunken brook, and their dark roots,
With all their earth upon them, twisting high,
Breathe fixed tranquillity. The rivulet
Sends forth glad sounds, and tripping o’er its bed
Of pebbly sands, or leaping down the rocks,
Seems, with continuous laughter, to rejoice
In its own being. Softly tread the marge,
Lest from her midway perch thou scare the wren
That dips her bill in water. The cool wind,
That stirs the stream in play, shall come to thee,
Like one that loves thee nor will let thee pass
Ungreeted, and shall give its light embrace.


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Saturday, August 19, 2017

It's the bees' knees? #nationalhoneybeeday

Happy Honeybee Day! The honeybees we're celebrating are not indigenous to North America. Since people helped them spread from coast to coast, and Native Americans called them "white man's flies" and most (all) are commercially raised, some might consider them an invasive species that usurped the roles of other bees. That line of thinking could be supported by the fairly recent discovery of a [if you follow the link, don't read the comments] 14 million year old fossil of a North American honeybee.

bumblebee on asters
bumblebee on asters
Photo by J. Harrington

For the most part, we like bees. So far this week, we've extricated two of them that got themselves stuck in the nectar reservoir in the bottom of the hummingbird feeders. (Yes, the feeders have bee guards, but we think the downy woodpeckers have created enlarged holes or tears in them.) Several years ago we started to use honey instead of processed sugar to sweeten our first cup of morning coffee. When leaned upon, we've been known to eat vegetables and we enjoy many kinds of fruit so we're not against bees, native or imported. We are, however, impressed with the public information-public relations campaign that the beekeepers have created.

Aren't honeybees mostly a commercial agricultural enterprise? Haven't almost all of us been convinced that we need to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, protecting bees and other pollinators? Yet, the federal Environmental Protection Agency claims they don't have "extraordinarily robust evidence that a ban will be effective and no other action will suffice." We've often wondered why beekeepers don't require contracts with farmers that the bee colonies won't be exposed to neonicotinoids, but that approach wouldn't do much to protect the 4,000 North American native bees.

honeybee hives protected by electric fencing
honeybee hives protected by electric fencing
Photo by J. Harrington

While writing this, we've been watching hummingbirds chase other hummingbirds from the feeder. We've then seen bees, smaller than the hummers, somehow chase hummers away from the feeder. We have no idea how that works nor can we decide if the solution to aggressive territorial behavior is to add another feeder and, if so, how far away? Perhaps a more appropriate solution would be to remove the feeder as a source of friction or just to realize we're not in charge and let "nature take its course." How often have we failed to anticipate unintended consequences of our actions, like inventing fire and then the internal combustion engine, leading to global warming's climate change impacts. But then again, "Not to decide, is to decide." as Harvey Cox tells us. We've decided that's enough for today.

Fifteen, Maybe Sixteen Things to Worry About


My pants could maybe fall down when I dive off the diving board.
My nose could maybe keep growing and never quit.
Miss Brearly could ask me to spell words like stomach and special.
     (Stumick and speshul?)
I could play tag all day and always be “it.”
Jay Spievack, who’s fourteen feet tall, could want to fight me.
My mom and my dad—like Ted’s—could want a divorce.
Miss Brearly could ask me a question about Afghanistan.
     (Who’s Afghanistan?)
Somebody maybe could make me ride a horse.
My mother could maybe decide that I needed more liver.
My dad could decide that I needed less TV.
Miss Brearly could say that I have to write script and stop printing.
     (I’m better at printing.)
Chris could decide to stop being friends with me.

The world could maybe come to an end on next Tuesday.
The ceiling could maybe come crashing on my head.
I maybe could run out of things for me to worry about.
And then I’d have to do my homework instead.


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Friday, August 18, 2017

Mid-August report #phenology

Morning: dark, clear, skies nicely set off the waning crescent moon. The smart phone camera took some of the most undistinguished photos imaginable. There were but two small, bright dots in a field of black. They aren't worth sharing.

asters and goldenrod
asters and goldenrod
Photo by J. Harrington

Later in the day, several bumble bees enjoyed the Anise Hyssop plants. What may have been a black swallowtail butterfly flittered across the grass tops surrounding the wet spot behind the house. Elsewhere multitudes of tiger swallowtails are enjoying August's blooms. Round-headed bush clover is approaching fully grown status with flowers becoming noticeable, but we haven't had sufficiently breezeless periods to enable us to get a decent photo. No matter how fast the camera's shutter speed is set, the breeze's timing and direction seem designed to thwart getting an in-focus picture. At least there's Samuel Beckett's wonderful quote for consolation: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." Asters haven't failed, they're now in bloom in abundance among the goldenrod.

bumblebee and anise hyssop
bumblebee and anise hyssop
Photo by J. Harrington

Ruby-throated hummingbirds continue to use the feeders. No further sightings of orioles to report. We have, however, noticed several folks collecting cattail leaves and female flower heads from local road side ditches. We know from past experience that the flower heads, if kept too long as part of a bouquet, release the seeds and they drift about the house every time someone passes by. They do look nice though until they start shedding.

                     The Flower Press



It was the sort of thing given to little girls:
sturdy and small, round edged, wooden and light.
I stalked the pasture’s rough and waist-high grass
for worthy specimens: the belle amid the mass,
the star shaming the clouds of slighter,
ordinary blooms. The asters curled

inside my sweat-damp palms, as if in sleep. Crushed
in the parlor’s stifling heat, I pried
each shrinking petal back, and turned the screws.
But flowers bear no ugly bruise,
and even now fall from the brittle page, dried
prettily, plucked from memory’s hush.


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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Accentuate the positive

We engaged in a bit of remedial education this morning, centered around the word reciprocity. We had come to believe that the word essentially means "tit for tat," or "quid pro quo," possibly because we were unduly influenced, years ago, when we took small boat and seamanship courses and learned about reciprocal bearings. (If going away from port due East, the reciprocal to return is due West.) It turns out that maybe we had oversimplified our definition just a teensy little bit. As with so many things these days, the meaning of a word seems to very much depend on context.
To be candid, for years we hadn't thought much about the meaning of reciprocity, because "everybody knows" what it means. It means what we think it means. This works until someone who considers reciprocity only as positive or balanced reciprocity tries to communicate with someone familiar only with "an eye for an eye." That's not the same as how the earth provides us with fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink. How should we reciprocate with the earth?

Northern Minnesota lake
Northern Minnesota lake
Photo by J. Harrington

Robin Wall Kimmerer, in her wonderful book Braiding Sweetgrass broadens our concept of reciprocity with her description of Honorable Harvest. Then, this week, as we worked on plans for the removal of poison ivy in a couple of limited areas behind the house, we again encountered the concept of a variation on reciprocity, the need to plant something to take the role the poison ivy was filling and to use the nutrients made available by the elimination of the ivy. It's not likely to be successful if we just eliminate what we don't want, we need to create what we do want. (Nature abhors a vacuum?)

Braiding Sweetgrass  cover

Much of the focus of liberals and progressives since November 8, 2016, has been on preventing "roll-backs" or other negative effects triggered by the election. It seems, based on much of what we think we know, that resistance may be necessary but is insufficient. We have to sort out what it is we do want to replace our political poison ivy. Being a smaller patch of ivy, being not as bad as poison ivy, aren't at all likely to create the culture, society or future we do want. Think of how many futures you's like to avoid could be created. Can you prevent them all without providing a better alternative? R. Buckminster Fuller offered us sound advice when he pointed out:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
We need new models of our presidency and our congress. How are we going to create them? What must we change first?

This Morning I Pray for My Enemies


Joy Harjo, 1951


And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.


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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How do we get there from here?

This has been an interesting day at the bird feeders as well as an interesting week in "governance." In addition to the usual suspects, a Northern flicker has started feeding at the sunflower seed feeder. We most frequently have seen them in the Winter feeding on suet. A male Baltimore oriole just landed near the hummingbird / oriole feeder. Might we have had orioles nesting nearby all Summer but not coming to the nectar or grape feeders? Possible but not probable? Have orioles just arrived in the neighborhood on their way South again? Could well be!

Winter flicker
Winter flicker
Photo by J. Harrington

We've noticed what looks like a couple of handfuls of small birds taking very short flights about the yard and driveway today. Our best guess is that they're recent fledglings of several species, building up flight muscles and learning what's good to eat, plus how to take a bath in a shallow, shrinking puddle. It's reassuring to see signs of the non-human world successfully going about its business while some of us march and bluster about, and in that process, we aggravate, and sometimes kill, and maim each other. What is the phrase "Homo sapiens" supposed to mean? Have we been overly optimistic with our binomial naming?

Actually, while too many foolish white "American" men marched about with kon-tiki torches (made in China) protesting job loss in the US -- or whatever troubled them at the moment -- real American women were making much more sense trying to get the rest of us to protect some of the common resources on which we all depend. They're doing so not with protests, but with prayers; not with marches, but with walks; not through exclusiveness, but through inclusion; not in chaos, but by following protocols. Think about the marches and protests in Charlottesville this week. Compare that destructive madness with the Nibi Water Walk along the Missouri River. That walk is expected to take about two months, from the beginning of August well into September. (As of this writing, the walkers are West of Williston, ND.)

Until we have transporters like those in the StarShip Enterprise, migration will continue to occur through time and space both. Think about the future you'd like for yourself, your family and friends, your descendants. Which do you think might be a better way of getting there, marching in protest, or walking in prayer?

                     Ghost Dance


Two hundred seventy
Ghost Dancers died dreaming
That humanity would drown
In a flood of White sins.

Then the renewed earth
Would reclaim city and town,
Leaving only Ghost Dancers
And those who lived by nature’s laws.

History books say the threat is gone.
The Ghost Dance died with the ancestors—
Wovoka and his sacred dream
Were destroyed.

Each time it rains,
I go out to the sidewalk,
Where the tree roots
Have broken the concrete
Listening to the water’s whispering:

“It is coming soon.”


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