Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Spring's emergence #phenology

Today is the last day of meteorological Winter (for this year). We admit we've been getting jealous as we read reports of early flowers blooming, sandhill cranes arriving, and skunk cabbage emerging just a few hundred miles or so South of us. Perhaps to compensate, today Mother Nature sent a few purple finches to our feeder. At least we think they were purple finches, although we didn't get a clear look at their tails. (Here's a helpful guide to purple versus house finch identification.)

purple finches, forked tails
purple finches, forked tails
Photo by J. Harrington

Even though tomorrow is the first day of meteorological Spring, we're going to wait for another 6 to 8 inches of snow cover to melt on the sand plain behind the house before we head back to the wetlands to seek emerging skunk cabbage. With luck, and continuing warm weather, we'll have a report in a week or two, or so. If Spring actually does move North at between 10 and 15 miles a day, two weeks would be about the right time for it to reach us if it's just beginning down near Milwaukee and Chicago. Two weeks was also about the difference in emergence of skunk cabbage locally, with 2016 being later that much later than last year.

skunk cabbage, late March 2016
skunk cabbage, late March 2016
Photo by J. Harrington

We're starting one of the most interesting and exciting times of the year, the reemergence of life after a long Winter's nap. Enjoy!

A Blessing


James Wright, 1927 - 1980


Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.


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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

In Just -- Mud Season #phenology

Sometimes, during a January thaw, we get a little melting on our township gravel road. Yesterday, and again today, and probably for at least the first half of next month (March) we'll be enjoying lots of melting on and in our road. The plows don't consistently clear snowfalls down to the roads surface, so there's compacted snow cover over large stretches of road. Our entire driveway is in the same condition. However, there are large patches and stretches where the plows edge did reach the road's surface. As the sun reaches higher and the rays get warmer and longer, the dirt absorbs warmth and melts the snow pack edges. No such progression occurs in the driveway.

a mudluscious road
a mudluscious road
Photo by J. Harrington

When we walked the dogs yesterday and today, we left human and canine tracks in the softened, wet, muddy road surface. If the township board can convince the residents at the annual meeting, gravel roads may become a thing of the past, at least in our township. Although we won't miss the Summer's dust, Spring's mud season has been part of our lives for about a quarter of a century now. It is, literally, a rite of (seasonal) passage, that goes with the Northern migration of juncos (we saw a large flock in the wood lot this morning) and the return of song birds. If we didn't get to enjoy it, we'd miss it, just as we miss the little lame balloon man of our childhood.

We've seen reports that sandhill cranes have started their Spring migration and look forward to reporting local sightings in two or three weeks. If we dodge Spring blizzards, by then there may be enough open ground for cranes to forage. If not, they'll no doubt stage South of us until the melt and the mud are back. March madness, melting, mud and migrations! It's that time of year again.

                     [in Just-]



in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles          far          and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it's
spring
and

         the

                  goat-footed

balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee


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Monday, February 26, 2018

Is democracy an endangered species?

This morning we enjoyed watching a bald eagle sail across a bright blue sky. A sign of Spring? Perhaps, but it brought to mind the realization that eagles, not long ago, were on the endangered species list. Our efforts have helped restore the population of our national symbol to healthy levels. It's time for us to create a recovery plan for our democracy or the recovery of our national symbol will be an empty victory.
endangered no more
endangered no more
Photo by J. Harrington

When Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, it recognized that our rich natural heritage is of "esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our Nation and its people." It further expressed concern that many of our nation's native plants and animals were in danger of becoming extinct.

The purpose of the ESA is to protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend...
We suggest the the sentence immediately above could, and should, be rewritten as a basis for an Endangered Democracy Act as follows:
The purpose of the EDA is to protect and recover imperiled cultures and the ecosystems upon which they depend...
end of track
end of track
Photo by J. Harrington

It is time to revoke the assumed permits global capitalism and its allies think they have to follow a strategy of expropriation and exploitation of natural and cultural resources for private profit.  Here's a list of just some of the natural and cultural resource exploitation issues we've encountered in our readings this morning:
Here's some of the basics on which we need to (re)agree:
  • Money is not speech (Citizens United must be reversed or overturned or...)
  • Corporations are not people (they're legal persons/entities)
  • Winning isn't the only thing nor is it everything
  • Planet A has limits on the ability of its self-renewing systems to support life
  • There is no Planet B
  • Mother Nature is unlikely to save us from ourselves
  • It's up to us
  • The "race" that matters is the human race
  • We are all in this together
  • Everything's related everything else.
If we can do it for the eagles, we can do it for ourselves. We need to complement the Declaration of Independence with the Earth Charter. We also must rebuild a basis for trusting each other by being trustworthy. We must become indigenous to this earth.

[UPDATE: DEMOCRACY INDEX DECLINES 2017]

                     Trust



It’s like so many other things in life   
to which you must say no or yes.                                    
So you take your car to the new mechanic.   
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.   

The package left with the disreputable-looking   
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,   
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—   
all show up at their intended destinations.   

The theft that could have happened doesn’t.   
Wind finally gets where it was going   
through the snowy trees, and the river, even               
when frozen, arrives at the right place.                        

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life   
is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.



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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Winter's last grasp? #phenology

February's snow-covered branches
February's snow-covered branches
Photo by J. Harrington

Last night between 6 and 10 inches of snow fell on our neighborhood. Despite today's wind, many of the woodlot branches are still snow covered. One of the prettiest aspects of fresh snowfall is the way it highlights the red of a male cardinal. Maybe now we've had our last notable snowfall until Winter next? Minnesota rarely does a great job with Spring. Could this year be an exception? Will the cold claws of a dieing season finally release their icy grasp on our hats, gloves and boots?

bright red against white
bright red against white
Photo by J. Harrington

Flocks of goldfinches are visiting the feeders and ground feeding on the seeds scattered over the snow from birds at the hanging feeders. We're looking forward to the arrival of Northward-bound migrants soon. This coming Thursday marks the beginning of meteorological Spring. The weather forecast promises high temperatures near or reaching 40℉ starting tomorrow. Warm temperatures and snow melt will quicken the hydrologic cycle, but, based on the Phenology Network's latest maps, we aren't anticipating an early arrival of Spring this year.

We're pleased to report that this year we've actually made real progress getting our fly-fishing gear ready for the upcoming season. We may have gone beyond a point where we will ever really be organized again (too many toys and interests), but we now seem to be losing ground at a decreasing rate, or something. We've even made adjustments to an old saying we used to follow. We now claim that "a bad day of fishing is still better than a good day at the computer." We're almost, but not quite, ready to add to that the belief that "a bad Spring day is better than a great Winter's day." We need a little more experience, and a lot more thought, before we confirm that comparison. We've seen plenty of bad Spring days and few great Winter ones.

accumulated growing degree days, 2/25/18
accumulated growing degree days, 2/25/18

                     February



Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.



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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hoarfrost #phenology

This morning was gray on grey on gray...: overcast skies above freezing fog above hoarfrost covered trees and ground covers above snow covered ground. It was one of the most depressing landscapes we recall seeing. No signs of life were visible anywhere. Fairies had gone to hiding in the hoarfrost's fairy forest.

a hoarfrost covered fairy forest
a hoarfrost covered fairy forest
Photo by J. Harrington

We get relatively few episodes of hoarfrost in our neighborhood. It can, under conditions dissimilar to this morning's, create beautiful views. Hoarfrost requires a temperature regime similar to what's needed for maple sugaring, warm days and below freezing nights, plus lots of moisture in the atmosphere, which comes from the Winter's snow cover melting. Tonight we'll be adding to this season's cover, with 6 to 10 inches of new snow forecast for our area. We'll make sure the feeders are full later this afternoon. Impending snowstorms trigger multiple visits from local flocks. How do they know? Do the fairies warn them?

                     Lines for Winter



Poor muse, north wind, or any god   
who blusters bleak across the lake   
and sows the earth earth-deep with ice.   
A hoar of fur stung across the vines:   
here the leaves in full flush, here   
abandoned to four and farther winds.   
Bless us, any god who crabs the apples   
and seeds the leaf and needle evergreen.   
What whispered catastrophe, winter.   
What a long night, beyond the lamplight,   
the windows and the frost-ferned glass.   
Bless the traveler and the hearth he travels to.   
Bless our rough hands, wind-scabbed lips,   
bless this our miscreant psalm.


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Friday, February 23, 2018

Imagine Peace?

It snowed last night, about 5 or 6 inches worth around here. We're forecast to get even more tomorrow night. The weather isn't contributing much to our sense of malaise this week, because we know that, inexorably, the sun will rise further and further North until it reaches Summer solstice. Daylight will get longer. Temperatures will rise and turn the snow into snowmelt which, in turn, will increase the flow in local streams and brooks and creeks and rivers.

a peaceful North Country stream
a peaceful North Country stream
Photo by J. Harrington

We are less certain about what will come of current political and cultural meltdowns. The kinds of madness we're experiencing have been too major a part of our lives since at least the 1960's, a generation or so after the second world war. John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Five years later, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were murdered and the country was rocked by riots. Midway in between, Bob Dylan wrote and recorded It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding). The truth of those lyrics continue to ring out today. [UPDATE: Go see The 1968 Exhibit at Minnesota History Center.]

Things didn't improve much when the start of the 1970's, a new decade, was ushered in by the Kent State killings of unarmed students by the National Guard. But then, the early 1970's were when TIME magazine declared Minnesota "The State That Works," although more recent coverage in MinnPost questions whether that's still true.

We're unclear the continuity of these conundrums should be a source of concern (it's just life) or comfort (and life only). We are sure that we like it better when it seems as though "things" are getting better. We fear that a major, underlying, factor may have been captured in this paragraph from Poetry as Spiritual Practice.
In our schools, grades K through 12, students are not so much educated as trained to perform well on standardized tests. They aren't taught to think for themselves, question or be curious. They're encouraged to accept what they're told without hesitation. Could this have something to do with the fact that more than 50 percent of eligible young people in the United States do not bother to vote, or with America's free fall among other nations when comparing what students know in language arts, math and science?
Robert McDowell, "Poetry as Practice's" author, suggests part of an answer may lie with more of us becoming more familiar with the poem/prayer that follows. Skeptical as we are of organized religion, we think both Robert and Francis are onto something here. Shall we keep words like these in mind as we go about electing our representatives next November? All we are saying, is give peace a chance.





Peace Prayer of Saint Francis


Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.


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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Fish don't read books!

Winter's winding down but not finished with us yet. We learned this morning it's affecting us more than we realized. After clearing up some financial questions in St. Paul so we can dutifully file our taxes, we stopped by Bob Mitchell's Fly Shop on Vandalia Street. Among other questions we discussed with Rhea and Hazel was how to figure out what's living in our multitude of fly boxes. Rhea asked why we wanted to do that, and we mentioned our aspirations to logic and orderliness. Rhea astutely noted that "fish don't read books." Hazel nodded in agreement and we had to admit that we have often complained that fish (and deer, and grouse, and...) didn't read the same books we did. We had never shortened it to the recognition of how things might change if we proceeded from the premise that fish don't read books at all.

North Country trout stream
North Country trout stream
Photo by J. Harrington

Some of the best advice about how and why to go fishing involves not hurrying, spending time observing what's going on around you, and being attentive to what's going on in the stream. Among all the other flotsam and jetsam we've found in trout streams over the years, hatch charts and aquatic entomology references were never among the debris. Fish don't read books. Fish feed on something or other depending on what's hatching, drifting or otherwise catching the attention of hungry fish.

from "Open House for Butterflies"

There are other whole schools of thought about humans needing language and words and names to comprehend reality as we encounter it. There is no doubt an element of truth to those thoughts, but, perhaps, we have lost our sense of proportion and balance in thinking we could substitute reading for reality. At least with warmer weather coming, and the promise of waters opening up and flowing, we'll be able to more readily spend less time in a chair on our butt and more time on our feet in or near a stream. We've reached the point where reality needs to replace reading. We're looking forward to seeing what's on or in the water and then if we can match it, regardless of what it or they may be called. Rhea did point out the fly shop has about a different, but similar, variations on the "blue-winged olive." All are know as BWO's. Then we remembers, on the drive home, something Shakespeare said about a rose, by any other....

Ephemeral Stream


This is the way water 
thinks about the desert.
The way the thought of water 
gives you something 
to stumble on. A ghost river.
A sentence trailing off
toward lower ground.
A finger pointing
at the rest of the show.

I wanted to read it. 
I wanted to write a poem 
and call it “Ephemeral Stream”
because you made of this 
imaginary creek
a hole so deep 
it looked like a green eye 
taking in the storm, 
a poem interrupted 
by forgiveness.

It’s not over yet.
A dream can spend 
all night fighting off 
the morning. Let me
start again. A stream 
may be a branch or a beck, 
a crick or kill or lick,
a syke, a runnel. It pours 
through a corridor. The door 
is open. The keys
are on the dashboard. 


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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Drumming in the season #phenology

We bought some more suet today, probably for the last time this season. (We know, we've written that before.) The extended forecast has daily high temperatures up to and above freezing starting with Friday of this week. Sometime thereafter, the local bear population will come out of hibernation and we want as much suet gone by then as possible. It remains to be seen if we'll actually do a good enough job of bringing in the feeders every night as the weather warms. Even after this year's new growth is well underway, bears seem to enjoy sunflower seed snacks with a side of bird feeder thrown in.

pileated woodpecker
pileated woodpecker
Photo by J. Harrington

At the moment, there's a downy woodpecker at the back feeder and a pileated out front. Yesterday a red-bellied woodpecker showed up a few times. In addition to woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees enjoy feeding on suet, much more so than any of the finches. Soon, mating season drumming will start. The Better Half confirmed hearing a chickadee's "fee-bee" call the other day.

We continue to make belated progress sorting out our fly-fishing gear. The last fly-line was weighed this morning. We still have to work through matching lines and reels with various rods, but we're almost organized enough to start the season (catch and release only closes 4/13; regular season opens 4/14 in southeast Minnesota's Driftless Area).

ruffed grouse
ruffed grouse
Photo by J. Harrington

Joining the drumming woodpeckers in the not too distant future will be ruffed grouse. We're sure there's an overlap between grouse drumming and turkey gobbling seasons, but we're not sure if either starts noticeably ahead of the other. We're a little too far south of good grouse habitat to be likely to confirm the drumming, but we can always hope the grouse will drift this way. We love just watching them. Brook trout and ruffed grouse are two comforting links between our home of origin and our adopted home.

Brooktrout


By Ted Hughes

The Brooktrout, superb as a matador,
Sways invisible there
In water empty as air.

The Brooktrout leaps, gorgeous as a jaguar,
But dropping back into swift glass
Resumes clear nothingness.

The numb-cold current's brain-wave is lightning -
No good shouting: 'Look!'
It vanished as it struck.

You can catch Brooktrout, a goggling gewgaw -
But never the flash God made
Drawing the river's blade. 


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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Spring is where you find it #phenology

Once in awhile, a bit of unexpectedly delightful news arrives and it defies all logic. We enjoy such a tidbit this morning. The following appeared in our Twitter (@JohnHthePoet) timeline.


Aspen flowers? Pussy willows? Grand Rapids? Here's a picture of where the USA National Phenology Network says Spring is to be found as of today. It's early in the Southwest and late in the Southeast. Since Minnesota is about midway between those two areas, maybe it will arrive here as usual, whatever that means. Spring in our neck of the woods is elusive, contrary, shy, the very essence of ephemeral and vernal. It's also resilient and robust, or at least the creatures that contribute to the arrival of Spring are.


We also noted today a report that a small frog is out and about at Midewin Tallgrass Prairie, Southwest of Chicago. The message we're getting from these varied reports is that our expectations of an orderly development and progression of Spring from South to North are woefully misplaced. Spring is where you find it. If you've ever read Joseph Heller's Catch-22, you'll probably understand this paraphrase: Mother Nature can do whatever we can't keep her from doing. Now we're going looking for some local pussy willows, even though we're quite a ways South of Grand Rapids.

A Spring Song




    “stooped to truth and moralized his song”


Spring pricks a little. I get out the maps.
Time to demoralize my song, high time.
Vernal a little. Primavera. First
Green, first truth and last.
High time, high time.


A high old time we had of it last summer?
I overstate. But getting out the maps…
Look! Up the valley of the Brenne,
Louise de la Vallière… Syntax collapses.
High time for that, high time.


To Château-Renault, the tannery town whose marquis
Rooke and James Butler whipped in Vigo Bay
Or so the song says, an amoral song
Like Ronsard’s where we go today
Perhaps, perhaps tomorrow.


Tomorrow and tomorrow and… Get well!
Philip’s black-sailed familiar, avaunt
Or some word as ridiculous, the whole
Diction kit begins to fall apart.
High time it did, high time.


High time and a long time yet, my love!
Get out that blessed map.
Ageing, you take your glasses off to read it.
Stooping to truth, we potter to Montoire.
High time, my love. High time and a long time yet.


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Monday, February 19, 2018

A taxing time

Snow has returned. We've been inside honoring 44/45 of our presidents by working on our taxes today. We are not the most happy campers, so we'll just leave these two maps here for now and let you draw your own conclusions, although they suggest to us several ways to "Make America Great Again" that aren't being pursed these days. We are pleased to note that our home state of Massachusetts, and our adopted home state of Minnesota each are in the top rankings for "intelligence."

Washington Post


New York Times

From our political perspective, though, simply not being as bad as the "other party" isn't a good enough reason to earn our vote. Green building and sustainable development recognize that being not bad isn't the same as being good. Health is much more than the absence of illness.

From Money


my parents used the term from money         it meant a lineage
but I envisioned a woman emerging naked and fully formed

from sierras of unmarked bills            there was no derision
in the term but an understanding that she was not like us

she had not worked a day in her life          she had never worn
     mittens

with holes in them            her house had central heat instead of a
     wood stove


she knew how to shuck an oyster           always knew which fork
was appropriate            there was a lot we knew that she could not

but it was understood that these were Pandora kinds of
knowledge

I asked if it was better to not have money           then have it but
     they said


it was more elegant to come from money            the nouveau riche
they said suffered from the one great affliction        a lack of
     manners


I said it doesn’t seem like the bad kind of suffering         they said
you’re too young to know what shame is            but you know I said

they argued behind the closed bedroom door once about a
     prostitute

I envisioned the prostitute             naked on sheets

of crisp hundred dollar bills             I understood even then that
     money

and sex were cousins            though the order of the transaction
     confused me


the art of the deal              how to get what you want
withhold whatever has value             my father kept secret

that he was starting another family              we could have
with a little detective work sleuthed it out               rule number
     one


follow the money              people will do terrible things to get it
my half brother was born               no—           he was practically
     minted


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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Turning chicken

The Better Half [BH] has decided she wants to raise chickens, primarily laying hens. She thinks she's spending too much money on eggs. (We think that's like reverse egg money, but we're not sure.) We haven't yet shared with her our observation that reasoning such as she's applying is akin to our trying to claim we save money on fish and meat by hunting and fishing. Once, when we were much younger and dumber, we added up the prorated costs of four-wheel drive pick-up trucks, boats (large, small and canoe), guns, dogs, clothing, shells, waders, rods, reels, gas, bait, lures, etc. and divided that by the number pounds of fish we caught and ducks, geese and grouse we shot. 'Nuff said. We figure chickens and eggs may be a comparative bargain.

Our next concern centered on the notion that the BH wants to take more trips--long weekends or week-long vacations, to explore regional attractions such as the Driftless Area, Superior's North Shore, western Minnesota's prairies, etc.... Chickens need regular food and watering. We learned that there are feeders and waterers that hold a week's or more quantity. So that seems to be that, as they say. Heaven knows our sand plain soils can use all the organic matter we can provide and the wild turkeys don't hang around long enough or scratch enough to help out much.

chickens in a chicken tractor would do a more thorough job scratching
chickens in a chicken tractor would do a more thorough job scratching
Photo by J. Harrington

The location of the prospective coop is being negotiated. The BH's preferred location is inconvenient due to Winter's snow falls and drifting, plus there's no electricity nor any paved path that could be readily snow blown. Alternatively, behind or beside the garage has been proposed as an alternate location with electric plugs readily available and snow-blowing thrown in for free.

If we were younger, we might seriously consider including a few birds for fly-tying feathers. Actually, if the egg-layers aren't as much of a pain as we fear they may be, we might add in some hackle growers just for the heck of it. But first we want to see how well we manage to hold off any skunks, raccoons, coyotes, weasels, mink or black bears that occasionally wander through the property. On the plus side, if we put the birds in a chicken tractor (check Joel Saladin's PolyFace farm) during warmer weather, they should consume most, maybe all, of the ticks. Perhaps their scratchings might even help level out some of our pocket gopher mounds. This could get interesting. Stay tuned! We're getting all organic as hell around here!

                     Woman Feeding Chickens



Her hand is at the feedbag at her waist,
sunk to the wrist in the rustling grain
that nuzzles her fingertips when laced
around a sifting handful. It’s like rain,
like cupping water in your hand, she thinks,
the cracks between the fingers like a sieve,
except that less escapes you through the chinks
when handling grain. She likes to feel it give
beneath her hand’s slow plummet, and the smell,
so rich a fragrance she has never quite
got used to it, under the seeming spell
of the charm of the commonplace. The white
hens bunch and strut, heads cocked, with tilted eyes,
till her hand sweeps out and the small grain flies.


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Saturday, February 17, 2018

This weekend counts for the birds.

First of all, this weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count. Please join in. It only takes about 15 minutes.

Next, although not in our backyard, we noted a pair of bald eagles back in their warm weather roost, on the East side of I-35 just north of the Hugo exit.

bald eagle mating flight?
bald eagle mating flight?
Photo by J. Harrington

Closer to our back yard, but not quite there yet, we saw a flock of wild turkeys working their way into the woods on the North side of County 36, east of the Carlos Avery pools.

Since we've thus far been thwarted in our efforts to get the family into bee-keeping, today we took a lazy man's way out. We bought a kit to build a native bee house. Since honey bees are predominantly a commercial product, and aren't indigenous to North America, we actually feel better about doing something to support native bees. We'll post the results as we build and hang the kit and watch for occupants.

female bluebird, early April
female bluebird, early April
Photo by J. Harrington

This is also the Spring when we're due to move the purple martin house that's usually occupied by tree swallows. Last Summer they managed to drive off a pair of bluebirds using a nest box we hadn't set up far enough from the martin house. We hadn't had that problem in prior years but we'd just as soon not have it happen again. The ground needs to thaw before we can transplant the martin house so that'll be a few weeks at least.

Last but not least, the Better Half thinks she wants to start raising chickens. The sitings of eagles and turkeys occurred on our return from a trip to St. Paul to check some potential sources. This could be a very interesting Summer, once we make it past Spring thaw.

                     When the sun returns



it is hallelujah time,
the swallows tracing an arc
of praise just off our balcony,
the mountains snow-sparkling
in gratitude.

Here is our real life — 
a handful of possible peonies
from the market — 
the life we always intended,
swallow life threading
the city air with
our weaving joy.

Are we this simple, then,
to sing all day — country songs,
old hymns, camp tunes?

We even believe
the swallows, keeping time.


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Friday, February 16, 2018

The magic of fly names

On Friday, the 16th of February, we have regressed toward Winter from the early-Spring temperatures we enjoyed on Valentine's Day. Above freezing conditions return over the weekend, leave for a few days and return the end of next week, perhaps to stay? Unlikely, but something to be hoped for.

Today is also Chinese New Year. It begins the Year of the Dog. We were born in a Year of the Monkey and are, it would seem, a Wood Monkey. We sort of, almost, on a good day, fit this description of the Wood Monkey:
"Always ready to help others; compassionate, with strong self-esteem, but stubborn"
Also today, we made a small breakthrough on a project we've been working on for some time. Several years ago, we managed to drift away from fly fishing. Since we've not been regularly fishing the flies we had collected, we've pretty much lost track of what the various critters living in our fly boxes are called, let alone what they represent.

one of several fly boxes whose occupants need naming
one of several fly boxes whose occupants need naming
Photo by J. Harrington

We all know that there can be a lot of power in naming. (We've had this knowledge reinforced as we've started to reread Ursula Le Guin's fantastic Earthsea series.) Thus, not knowing the real names of most of the flies we hope to fish deprives us, we fear, of some of their power to deceive trout. Today we discovered several online references that we believe will help us relearn those magical names. We'll share them with you in case you ever suffer a similar misfortune.

happiness can often be found in a North Country trout stream
happiness can often be found in a North Country trout stream
Photo by J. Harrington

There's even a poem, by one of our favorite poets, that is more than entirely fitting to go with today's pleasant events and the promise of more to come.


                     Happiness



There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
                     It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.



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Thursday, February 15, 2018

What is Spring? #phenology

We all know that Spring is neither the first of March (meteorological start of Spring) not March 21 (vernal equinox). Those are but dates on a calendar. Spring is something much more.

Is Spring when the last of the snow has melted, or when the first of the ephemeral wildflowers have bloomed? Is Spring when your favorite lake enjoys ice out, or when there's a band of open water surrounding the shoreline. Is it Spring when waterfowl return? Which ones: tundra swans; Canada geese; wood ducks; mallards? How about red-winged blackbirds bringing back the males rusty hinge sound?

is Spring when leaf buds drop their scales?
is Spring when leaf buds drop their scales?
Photo by J. Harrington

Does Spring occur with bud burst or leaf out? When tamaracks again turn green? With the return of monarch butterflies? Bluebirds? With the change of goldfinch males into breeding colors? Is it when stream trout season opens? Walleye opener? The beginning of wild turkey season? When toms begin to gobble?

the return of waterfowl often marks Spring
the return of waterfowl often marks Spring
Photo by J. Harrington

Can it be Spring before the loons have returned to the North Country? Do you have a clear marker that means Spring to you, or is it some combination of factors like planting this year's tomatoes after the danger of the last frost has passed? Do you, as we've been known to, desperately grasp sometimes at the earliest possible icon that means Spring because Winter, like any rude house guest, has grossly overstayed its welcome? Or are you, as some we've known behave, one of those who holds off recognizing Spring's arrival until most of the items have been checked off the list. That way there's always more to anticipate and savor before Summer's doldrums have settled in. We've come to the point of marking Spring's arrival with the haunting cries and calls of the local sandhill crane's descent into our nearby wetlands and marshes, or, sometimes, with the sight of bald eagles' astounding mating flights. Candidly, some years we're desperate enough to declare Spring with the first sighting of a kite being flown in a March wind under a bright blue sky.

                     The Enkindled Spring



This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that's gone astray, and is lost.


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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

It's Valentine's Day! Look for "flowers" soon! #phenology

Happy Valentine's Day!
Happy Valentine's Day!
Photo by J. Harrington

The sun is shining. Temperatures have climbed enough to warm even our black Irish heart. Gravel roadsides are lined with mud and ditches are developing puddles. Not Spring in our North Country, but close to it. Faux Spring perhaps? At least we're closer to the end of Winter than its midpoint. Only two weeks now until the start of meteorological Spring.

British soldier lichen, end of February
British soldier lichen, end of February
Photo by J. Harrington

Although far too early in the season to begin looking for them yet, over the past several years we've found a number of locations where we can enjoy wildflowers such as trillium and trout lilies. It occurred to us today that, if we sketched a map and marked it with wildflower glens or glades or whatever, other than a prairie, one calls a place where native wildflowers grow wild, we might begin to feel more at home in our adopted bioregion. We'll give that some more thought.

skunk cabbage, end of March
skunk cabbage, end of March
Photo by J. Harrington

As we get increasing numbers of above-freezing days, and the snow cover shrinks, we can start looking for early signs of life returning. British soldier lichen have been seen to emerge while there are still patches on snow-covered ground. Since snowdrops aren't wildflowers, we'll look for British soldiers as an early indicator. We think they (the lichen) even show up before skunk cabbage has emerged, but that's something we can try to confirm this season. It obviously didn't take much warmer weather for us to start to get excited about coming attractions. This year we even know where to look locally for prairie smoke, although we're still searching for somewhere that pasque flowers grow.

                     Springtime in the Rockies, Lichen



All these years I overlooked them in the
racket of the rest, this
symbiotic splash of plant and fungus feeding
on rock, on sun, a little moisture, air —
tiny acid-factories dissolving
salt from living rocks and
eating them.


Here they are, blooming!
Trail rock, talus and scree, all dusted with it:
rust, ivory, brilliant yellow-green, and
cliffs like murals!
Huge panels streaked and patched, quietly
with shooting-stars and lupine at the base.


Closer, with the glass, a city of cups!
Clumps of mushrooms and where do the
plants begin? Why are they doing this?
In this big sky and all around me peaks &
the melting glaciers, why am I made to
kneel and peer at Tiny?


These are the stamps of the final envelope.


How can the poisons reach them?
In such thin air, how can they care for the
loss of a million breaths?
What, possibly, could make their ground more bare?


Let it all die.


The hushed globe will wait and wait for
what is now so small and slow to
open it again.


As now, indeed, it opens it again, this
scentless velvet,
crumbler-of-the-rocks,


this Lichen!



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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ashes to ashes, snow to mud

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. It's also Ash Wednesday. The last time that happened was in 1945. The two dates also overlapped in 1923 and 1934 and will coincide again in 2024 and 2029, according to the UK Express. This timing sequence helps explain why I don't remember it ever happening before.

Valentine's Day, Ash Wednesday--is your heart in it?
Valentine's Day, Ash Wednesday--is your heart in it?
Photo by J. Harrington

Since tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, today must be Shrove, or Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). Although we haven't been particularly religious for years. this year we're seriously considering "giving up" Twitter, or politics, or both, for Lent, as a form of self-denial. In addition, we think for the next six or so weeks, we'll focus on the Spirituality of Fly Fishing and Poetry as a Spiritual Practice. Instead of just foregoing anything as a form of penance, we'll take a positive stance toward substituting spiritual growth for political grumblings. Maybe we'll even make time to finally read Pope Francis' encyclical LAUDATO SI’, on Care for Our Common Home.

For some time now we've been fussing and fuming about our perceived need for the Democrats to offer more than a "at least we're not as bad as the Republicans" strategy. We'd like to see a much more positive approach take the place of opposing the stupid, evil proposals and actions emanating from the GOP controlled White House and Congress. IN the interest of following Ghandi's advice to "be the change you want to see in the world," at least for this Lenten season we will be more positive about what we do want and how we think we might be able to get it. Based on our experience to date, that will require a certain amount of spiritual growth across the board. Wo knows, we may even experience the miracle of a return of warmth by the time Easter has arrived on April 1. For now, we'll leave that alone.

       Draw Near


        By Scott Cairns 

              προσέλθετε



For near is where you’ll meet what you have wandered
far to find. And near is where you’ll very likely see
how far the near obtains. In the dark katholikon
the lighted candles lent their gold to give the eye
a more than common sense of what lay flickering
just beyond the ken, and lent the mind a likely
swoon just shy of apprehension. It was then
that time’s neat artifice fell in and made for us
a figure for when time would slip free altogether.
I have no sense of what this means to you, so little
sense of what to make of it myself, save one lit glimpse
of how we live and move, a more expansive sense in Whom.


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