Thursday, May 31, 2018

As Summer eases up on us #phenology

The hummingbirds keep checking to see if they can land on the blooming amaryllis in the picture window and then dart away frustrated. None of the three nectar feeders around the house are good enough any more it would seem. We left out the oriole nectar feeder on the deck last night since it was pouring rain about bed time. It's empty this morning and we doubt there've been enough hummers or orioles to drink it dry.

hummingbird at "oriole" feeder
hummingbird at "oriole" feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

We're about halfway through the last day of May. Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac implies that June is a fine time for fly fishing for trout. We shall try to emulate Mr. Leopold next month. Speaking of flies, two nights ago, we think it was, we saw the first firefly we've seen in years. We don't understand where most of the fireflies have gone, but we miss them and were delighted to finally see one.

will this abundance appear in a few weeks?
will this abundance appear in a few weeks?
Photo by J. Harrington

Despite, and because of, the heat, the rain and the residual humidity, the grass has been getting its first cutting. We won't be cutting where we had this abundance of beardtongue in the second half of June about five years ago. We've not noticed any this year in that area, although a bit further East early bloomers have appeared this year. No idea whether the abundance is gone or just later blooming. We'll see.

We're still watching for our first monarch, but did notice a swallowtail this morning. Summer's pattern is developing in an erratic pattern this year but, for Minnesota, that seems pretty normal. We've finally been getting a little more physically active and find that it helps our outlook.Plus it keeps us away from all the negative news on social media.

On the Grasshopper and Cricket

John Keats17951821

The poetry of earth is never dead:
  When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
  And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
  In summer luxury,—he has never done
  With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
  On a lone winter evening, when the frost
    Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
  And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
    The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Make friends with a tree? #phenology

We need the rain we're getting. By the sounds of it, it makes the frogs happy. The "wet spot" in the back yard is refilling with water. For the first time since snow melt there's a puddle in the driveway. It's outlined by golden yellow pine pollen.

puddle outlined in pine pollen
puddle outlined in pine pollen
Photo by J. Harrington

We are looking forward to this wet spell breaking. Watching the outdoors from inside the house is not as much fun as actually being outdoors. We came across on online magazine that may be of interest to some of you. It's emergence magazine. One article from their "practice" section is about "Befriending a Tree," in the author's case, a pin oak. Our initial response was to think of the times we've spent sitting/standing in trees in Vermont, New Hampshire and Minnesota, waiting (unsuccessfully) for a hapless deer to wander by. Then we started to wonder about the burr oak near the end of our drive. This Spring it doesn't seem to have leafed out as robustly as prior years. That tree was fully grown when we bought the house a quarter century ago. We hope it stays healthy for years to come. The rains seem to have enhanced leaf growth so, for now, we'll just watch and see about befriending it, per Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder's guidance. It's one of several species of oak we have growing around here.

burr oak leaves
burr oak leaves
Photo by J. Harrington

We've slowly been working our way through The Hidden Life of Trees. It's full of truly astounding information, much of which appears to be directly relevant to our increasing need to find better ways to live together. Since the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second best time is now, we suppose the same can be said about the best times to learn about and befriend trees. Our somewhat guilty conscience is assuaged somewhat when we take into account that much of the information we find so fascinating today wasn't readily available 20 years ago.

All-in-all we're starting to realize just how much of a nature deficit disorder we ourselves have accrued and, even if it doesn't stop raining, plan to do something to minimize our deficit. That's also give us more to post about.

Learning the Trees

Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn
The language of the trees. That’s done indoors,
Out of a book, which now you think of it
Is one of the transformations of a tree.

The words themselves are a delight to learn,
You might be in a foreign land of terms
Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,
Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.

But best of all are the words that shape the leaves—
Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform—
And their venation—palmate and parallel—
And tips—acute, truncate, auriculate.

Sufficiently provided, you may now
Go forth to the forests and the shady streets
To see how the chaos of experience
Answers to catalogue and category.

Confusedly. The leaves of a single tree
May differ among themselves more than they do
From other species, so you have to find,
All blandly says the book, “an average leaf.”

Example, the catalpa in the book
Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three
Around the stem; the one in front of you
But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;

Maybe it’s not catalpa? Dreadful doubt.
It may be weeks before you see an elm
Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,
A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.

Still, pedetemtimas Lucretius says,
Little by little, you do start to learn;
And learn as well, maybe, what language does
And how it does it, cutting across the world

Not always at the joints, competing with
Experience while cooperating with
Experience, and keeping an obstinate
Intransigence, uncanny, of its own.

Think finally about the secret will
Pretending obedience to Nature, but
Invidiously distinguishing everywhere,
Dividing up the world to conquer it,

And think also how funny knowledge is:
You may succeed in learning many trees
And calling off their names as you go by,
But their comprehensive silence stays the same.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The problem with dogs: owners!

During the Winter, when the snow is deep and the temperature bitterly cold, we yell at the dogs to "hurry up and take care of business!" Now it is Summer, the snow is gone, temperatures and humidity are tropical, and we yell at the dogs to "hurry up and take care of business!"

the Better Half's Franco, from several years ago
the Better Half's Franco, from several years ago
Photo by J. Harrington

The dogs, on the other hand, patiently wander about, sniffing the breeze and the ground to find just the right spot to take care of business. First they have to check in front of themselves, then behind, then to the left, then to the right, the entire time getting more and more entangled in their long lead, until, finally, they squat and take care of business.

our SiSi, from several years ago
our SiSi, from several years ago
Photo by J. Harrington

To paraphrase Shakespeare, from  his play Julius Caesar, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars dogs, But in ourselves, that we are underlings not dogs." Now, we know better than to get perturbed at least once, and sometimes several times, a day when we walk the dogs and they engage in the classic "dogs will be dogs" behavior. And yet, and yet, we keep doing it. When we were younger, a long, long time ago, we learned, fairly quickly, that every time we put our hand on a hot stove, we burned our hand. We stopped putting our hand on a hot stove. That leaves us with a judgement call. Is it likely to be more work and/or more rewarding to train the dogs to not be dogs or to train us not to act as we always have while the dogs sniff about looking for just the right spot during Minnesota's extremes of heat and cold? We've only been us for a handful and a half of decades. Dogs have been dogs much longer than we've been us. We think we see a pattern emerging.

It's not so much that the dogs win as it is that it's probably less work to change one of us than two of them. Hard as it may be to believe some days, we think we may be both more intelligent and more educable than either dog or both dogs combined. We've recently learned how to bake sourdough bread. The dogs haven't.

In fact, this probably goes back at least as far as when we were the system administrator for a small consulting firm. Much more often than not, we found that complaints by system users, when investigated, were most often attributable to users misusing the system (not following proper procedures, etc.). We have come to suspect that the dogs may be viewing us as one of those pesky users (owners) who just won't learn to use the system (dogs) properly. Once again we're back to the inimitable Joni Mitchell. "We've looked at dogs from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow, it's dogs illusions we recall. We really don't know dogs at all." We have, however, also learned to let sleeping dogs lie. We can probably build on that, especially if we pay attention to what a Nobel Laureate has written about dogs.

If Dogs Run Free

Written by: Bob Dylan

If dogs run free, then why not we
Across the swooping plain?
My ears hear a symphony
Of two mules, trains and rain
The best is always yet to come
That’s what they explain to me
Just do your thing, you’ll be king
If dogs run free

If dogs run free, why not me
Across the swamp of time?
My mind weaves a symphony
And tapestry of rhyme
Oh, winds which rush my tale to thee
So it may flow and be
To each his own, it’s all unknown
If dogs run free

If dogs run free, then what must be
Must be, and that is all
True love can make a blade of grass
Stand up straight and tall
In harmony with the cosmic sea
True love needs no company
It can cure the soul, it can make it whole
If dogs run free 

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Honoring the heroes of Memorial Day

The beardtongue is in bloom and Minneapolis is the hottest city in the country today. The "Christmas" amaryllis on the window sill are back in bloom. Like several of us, the dogs are bored but grateful the A/C is working.

time to help democracy soar again!
time to help democracy soar again!
Photo by J. Harrington

We've spent time this Memorial Day missing those family members no longer with us but who had served in the armed forces. We're grateful for the sacrifices they made to protect freedom, justice and equality, the cornerstones of democracy. We now need to do more to honor those cornerstones, the ideals of this country, to honor to those who've made the ultimate sacrifice for us. During our adult life, the US has behaved too many times in too many ways that made us ashamed, embarrassed and, so, very angry. We need to change how we treat each other if we want to be "better than this."

The current regime in Washington is the antithesis of what could make America great. It's aided and abetted by counterparts in too many state capitals. We must restore compassion, neighborliness, common sense and valuing some things more than the almighty dollar. Our heroes didn't make their sacrifices to increase someone's return on investment. We need, no must, do better or we dishonor those who've sacrificed so we could live in a democracy.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

What have we got this Memorial Day?

Over Memorial Day weekend, our Twitter timeline has be too full of rants by and about the leader of the regime in Washington, D.C. We've had almost as much of it as we can take and yet, like watching a train wreck, we can't seem to turn away.

endangered symbols of an endangered democracy?
endangered symbols of an endangered democracy?
Photo by J. Harrington

Our concerns and frustrations are compounded by remnants of the ongoing fight among factions in the Democratic party about why the last election was lost and whose fault it was. We'd like to be live that this does not represent the American democracy our father fought in World War II and the "Korean Police Action" to protect.

Dad was an architect/planner for years and years. Environmental issues and sustainable development or resilient communities had not moved near the top a planning's priority list at the time Dad was working. His sense of the common good was well developed and his distinction between right and wrong was heavily influenced by his vision of the common good.

Perhaps, like Dad, William McDonough was thinking about the common good when he noted that "Being less bad is not being good." When asked to explain, McDonough replied:
It’s a slide I was showing for all the people who feel that if they can reduce, avoid, minimize, go to zero, they are being good. I’m saying that’s inadequate. They are also explicitly telling their children and the market that it would be better if they did not even exist. Sure, it’s better to minimize energy systems to reduce carbon emissions and be efficient. But it’s insufficient. You’re still what you are saying you don’t want to be. You are driving in the wrong direction, just slower. You’re not good, just less bad. You can’t get there that way. That was yesterday. I’m talking about tomorrow. It’s time to turn around.
It seems to us that the Democrats haven't yet fully adopted the idea that being less bad than Republicans is good enough for the common good. We think we're seeing more and more progressives who are acting on that premise. We hope, as we remember this Memorial Day weekend those who have fought for the freedom we too often take for granted, that the current status we find ourselves in will shake us up enough to turn around. Maybe there aren't enough of us who remember Joni Mitchell's refrain from her 1970 hit song Big Yellow Taxi
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone 
Then again, Irish women, many of them much younger than us boomers, seemed to know what Joni  was singing about. Maybe we could get them to talk to all the US Democrats sometime soon.

Have a safe Memorial Day weekend and fill it with good memories with those you love while you still can.

Memorial Day for the War Dead

Yehuda Amichai19242000

Memorial day for the war dead.  Add now
the grief of all your losses to their grief,
even of a woman that has left you.  Mix
sorrow with sorrow, like time-saving history,
which stacks holiday and sacrifice and mourning
on one day for easy, convenient memory.

Oh, sweet world soaked, like bread,
in sweet milk for the terrible toothless God.
“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”
No use to weep inside and to scream outside.
Behind all this perhaps some great happiness is hiding.

Memorial day.  Bitter salt is dressed up
as a little girl with flowers.
The streets are cordoned off with ropes,
for the marching together of the living and the dead.
Children with a grief not their own march slowly,
like stepping over broken glass.

The flautist’s mouth will stay like that for many days.
A dead soldier swims above little heads
with the swimming movements of the dead,
with the ancient error the dead have
about the place of the living water.

A flag loses contact with reality and flies off.
A shopwindow is decorated with
dresses of beautiful women, in blue and white.
And everything in three languages:
Hebrew, Arabic, and Death.

A great and royal animal is dying 
all through the night under the jasmine 
tree with a constant stare at the world.

A man whose son died in the war walks in the street
like a woman with a dead embryo in her womb.
“Behind all this some great happiness is hiding.”

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Spots before my eyes #phenology

The back yard is being continuously patrolled by 30, 40, 50, or more dragonflies. We can't identify any while they're on the wing. In fact, a quick search of the internets didn't turn up any field guides that weren't based on photos of dragonflies at rest. As the InsectIdentification site notes: "You know summertime has arrived when the Dragonfly and Damselfly make their appearance." That, plus the temperature at mid-day is in the mid-80's and climbing.

four-spotted skimmer
four-spotted skimmer
Photo by J. Harrington

It's probably related to some deep-seated character flaw, but every time we see squadrons of dragonflies patrolling the property, it reminds us to make up a new "tin foil" hat so the black ops helicopters can't read our thoughts.

According to the field guide Dragonflies of the North Woods phenology flight chart, the cruisers we're watching this last week of May could be any or all of the following (we love the names):

  • Common Green Darner
  • Beaverpond Baskettail
  • Dot-tailed Whiteface
  • Spiny Baskettail
  • Springtime Darner
  • Twin-spotted Spiketail
  • Rusty Snaketail
  • Four-spotted skimmer
  • Common Baskettail
  • Dusky Clubtail
  • Stream Cruiser
  • American Emerald
  • Chalk-fronted Corporal
  • Eastern Pondhawk
  • Common Whitetail
  • Twelve-spotted Skimmer

We finally checked the bluebird house. No eggs. In fact, it looks as though either the bluebirds haven't finished building this year's nest or they've abandoned a partially-completed nest and moved elsewhere. We'll take another peek in a week or so and see if there's any change.

Common blue violets have begun to bloom and lilies of the valley have been in bloom for the past several days.

Stay cool this weekend and remember what and who we're honoring. The battles to keep democracy safe from totalitarianism clearly aren't over. Some of the toughest remain to be fought on the home front.

the sonnet-ballad

Gwendolyn Brooks19172000

Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?
They took my lover’s tallness off to war,
Left me lamenting. Now I cannot guess
What I can use an empty heart-cup for.
He won’t be coming back here any more.
Some day the war will end, but, oh, I knew
When he went walking grandly out that door
That my sweet love would have to be untrue.
Would have to be untrue. Would have to court
Coquettish death, whose impudent and strange
Possessive arms and beauty (of a sort)
Can make a hard man hesitate—and change.
And he will be the one to stammer, “Yes.”
Oh mother, mother, where is happiness?

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

Friday, May 25, 2018

Memorial Day weekend #phenology

On this, the Friday starting Memorial Day weekend, we enjoyed our first thunderstorm of the season overnight. Looks like more thunderheads may be towering to the West, although the forecast doesn't call for rain. Here's a status report for the "start of Summer."

this is what the beardtongue will look like in a week or two
this is what the beardtongue will look like in a week or two
Photo by J. Harrington

  • Beardtongue (Penstemon grandiflorus) flower buds have developed and look like they'll burst soon
  • Dandelions' first flowers have become faery-cloud seed heads. Second flowers are blooming
  • A large cluster of hoary puccoon has blossomed in the field
  • Creeping Charlie is creeping across the yard
  • Wild strawberries are flowering
  • Trillium in a patch of woods down the road is in bloom
    (we missed most of the woodland ephemerals this year)
  • So far, no signs of snakes warming themselves on or turtles crossing the roads to lay eggs
  • The pear tree has finished flowering
  • Poison ivy has emerged along the ditch and been sprayed so wilting is now underway
  • Lilac flowers are in abundance
  • Columbine is starting to bloom
  • The yard is full of something that looks like a violet that we need to identify

columbine is starting to bloom
columbine is starting to bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

Still to do, maybe this weekend:
  • Check if prairie smoke has blossomed
  • See if the bluebirds have eggs or hatchlings in their nest box
  • Keep hoping that some exotics will show up at the feeders
  • Get out fly fishing (after the weekend crowds)
  • Change the oil in the tractor (after fly fishing?)
  • Cut the grass
  • Set pocket gopher trap

With luck and some cooperation from the weather, we'll make further progress this weekend with our belated reading of Wendell Berry's "The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture." This morning we read a passage we want to share. We're not sure we completely agree with it, but it is worth careful consideration.
...There can be no such thing as a "global village." No matter how much one may love the world as a whole, one can live fully in it only by living responsibly in some small part of it. Where we live and who we live there with define the terms of our relationship the world and to humanity. We thus come again to the paradox that one can become whole only by the responsible acceptance of one's partiality."

“The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer”

Wendell Berry, Special Contributor

 I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my
 inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission
 to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.
 I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
 and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing,
 and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven's favor,
 in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught
 so often laughing at funerals, that was because
 I knew the dead were already slipping away,
 preparing a comeback, and can I help it?
 And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed
 my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom
 had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not
 be resurrected by a piece of cake. ‘Dance,’ they told me,
 and I stood still, and while they stood
 quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.
 ‘Pray,’ they said, and I laughed, covering myself
 in the earth's brightnesses, and then stole off gray
 into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
 When they said, ‘I know my Redeemer liveth,’
 I told them, ‘He's dead.’ And when they told me
 ‘God is dead,’ I answered, ‘He goes fishing every day
 in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.’
 When they asked me would I like to contribute
 I said no, and when they had collected
 more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had.
 When they asked me to join them I wouldn't,
 and then went off by myself and did more
 than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said
 ‘go and organize the International Brotherhood
 of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing
 everybody who was against peace?’ So be it.
 Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony
 thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what
 I say I don't know. It is not the only or the easiest
way to come to the truth. It is one way.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Volatile weather? #phenology

[UPDATE: Happy Birthday, Mr. Dylan! Many happy returns!]

The picture below is what the deck and yard looked like on tax day (April 15) this year. Today the temperature is reaching the upper 80's and, for Memorial Day weekend the North Country has 90's in the forecast. Thunderstorms are a possibility this afternoon, evening and tomorrow. In about six weeks we've gone from Winter to Summer.

purple finch on snow-covered railing, mid April
purple finch on snow-covered railing, mid April
Photo by J. Harrington

Although there are no doubt scientific papers covering the topic, we haven't yet come across a description for us lay folks about how the rate of change, not only year to year, but week to week, affects seasonal events. As we recall, many (all?) of the old farmer's rules of thumb about when to plant what came about during a period when the weather was, in general, less volatile than it is these days. Here's a sample: “It’s time to plant corn when the oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear.

hoary puccoon in bloom, late May
hoary puccoon in bloom, late May
Photo by J. Harrington

We've seen a wide range in corn planting dates this year, not counting the fields that still needed harvesting come Spring. No doubt planting scenarios have become even more complicated than we can readily observe. If, as seems to be the case, basic weather patterns are changing, e.g., fewer more intense storms, has anyone modeled when, if ever, we may reach a new plateau of stability. We suppose that depends on when, if ever, we reach a new level of stability, followed by gradual decline, in the level of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Recent reports indicate the situation is even more complicated than worst case scenarios already portrayed. Meanwhile, some folks recently helped elect a noted science and climate denier to serve as "president" for four critical years.

We humans seem to have regressed from rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic to arguing about what colors the chairs should be painted and should lap blankets match or contrast. We wish Pete Seeger hadn't been quite so prescient with the refrain to his wonderful contemporary folk song "Where have all the flowers gone?" You must remember the lines:
"Oh, when will they ever learn?
"Oh, when will they ever learn?"

Planting Peas

It’s not spring yet, but I can’t 
wait anymore. I get the hoe, 
pull back the snow from the old 
furrows, expose the rich dark earth. 
I bare my hand and dole out shriveled peas, 
one by one.

I see my grandmother’s hand, 
doing just this, dropping peas 
into gray gumbo that clings like clay. 
This moist earth is rich and dark 
as chocolate cake.

Her hands cradle 
baby chicks; she finds kittens in the loft 
and hands them down to me, safe beside 
the ladder leading up to darkness.

I miss 
her smile, her blue eyes, her biscuits and gravy, 
but mostly her hands. 
I push a pea into the earth, 
feel her hands pushing me back. She’ll come in May, 
she says, in long straight rows, 
dancing in light green dresses.

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Where are our model conservation heroes?

Minnesotans have been farming for a long, long time. Farming has changed a lot over the decades. Many of those changes have created real problems for the environment, including next door neighbors as well as those neighbors who live "in town." Here's a question and a challenge for all of us: How do we manage to elect representatives dedicated more to helping us solve our problems rather than just getting themselves reelected? This question occurs to us in light of the debacle that recently ended in St. Paul and the ongoing train wreck in Washington, D.C.

when did you last see a farmer using one of these?
when did you last see a farmer using one of these?
Photo by J. Harrington

We know there are at least folks committed to solving real problems in the real world. Miriam Horn does a fantastic job describing some of them in her book Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland. Minnesota is in the Heartland. Do we have conservation heroes among our farmers? Are they farming profitably without polluting ground and surface waters with nitrates and phosphorus and sediment? We must have some that are as dedicated as Justin Knopf, a fifth generation farmer in the Heartland and one of the book's heroes.

Are our Minnesota farmers too busy farming the "right way" to have time to talk to their fellow farmers and their legislators about how to protect Minnesota's farms and ground and surface water, all at the same time? Are we experiencing a "failure to communicate" that then leads to a failure to farm and/or legislate responsibly? Or, have we, as one of Horn's heroes says, just got too many "folks who'd rather fight than win"?

the new barn is down the road with the tractors
the new barn is down the road with the tractors
Photo by J. Harrington

Is the problem that we have too many smaller "family farms?" As Justin Knopf observes:
"There's a perception out there that's tempting to buy into, that to take care of the environment you have to farm at a scale like my grandfather would have farmed on: a couple hundred acres, with smaller machinery, very limited technology. And I think that's not quite accurate. As I think about the farmers in our community and probably agriculture as a whole in much of the Midwest, I would argue that many of the larger scale farms are the ones on the cutting edge of environmentalism."
We learned, a long time ago, that trying to legislate morality is rarely successful. In fact, we think we'd all be better off if we could and did do a better job of following R. Buckminster Fuller's advice:
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
It seems to us that there are many who already have built that new model while too many others don't yet know about it or want to use it. That's unfortunate. Miriam Horn, in our opinion, has exceeded one of her objectives. She put a huge dent in our skepticism and pessimism. As she notes:
I wrote this book to challenge several pervasive and powerful myths about the  heartland. First, that in these traditional, deep-red states, “real Americans”—the  ones who run tractors and barges and fishing boats, who go to church and town hall  meetings—are hostile to environmental values. And that producing food at “industrial  scale” is inherently destructive to nature. 
In fact, we'd like to make this book mandatory reading for every candidate, of any party or running as an independent, that hopes to represent any part of rural America. It would be one large step toward getting back to functional governance and politics that doesn't put party first. Ms. Horn has shown us a workable model that's better than what we have. Now it's up to us, and our farmers.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front


 Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay.
 Want more 
of everything ready-made.
 Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more.
 Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something 
they will call you.
 When they want you 
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something 
that won't compute.
 Love the Lord.
Love the world.
 Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag.
 Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
 Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium.
 Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest 
that you did not plant, 
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.

Call that profit.
 Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees 
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear 
close, and hear the faint chattering 
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world.
Laughter is immeasurable.
 Be joyful 
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child? 
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade.
 Rest your head 
in her lap.
 Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it.
 Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn't go.

Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A pear draws three #phenology

Yesterday afternoon a doe and two yearlings came to visit the pear tree. The helped themselves to some of the lowest leaves. Why? Perhaps pear leaves taste better than maple saplings, or new oak leaves, or aspen or... The reality is, we've no idea. While this hangry threesome were closer to the house, several other whitetails were nearer the back edge of the property, checking out whatever is growing there. This is the first time since Winter that we've seen (m)any deer on or around our property.

yearling noshing on pear tree
yearling noshing on pear tree
Photo by J. Harrington

As yet, there are no fawns to be seen. They'll probably show up in a month or so. We suspect that one of the reasons all those deer appeared yesterday is that we've recently had a rather large hatch of mosquitoes or gnats or some other biting, flying insect. We first noticed them earlier in the day yesterday, while we were spraying some poison ivy. Our guess is that the deer moved out of the woods into more open fields to enjoy a breeze that may have helped hold the bugs down, or at least away.

fawns appear in early June
fawns appear in early June
Photo by J. Harrington

Watching wildlife is one of the major pleasure of living where we do. We watched the deer browse on the pear tree until the yearlings wandered down to taste the forsythia and the lilac. Then we yelled at them and the scampered away. In addition to the appearance of deer, several species of dragonflies arrived in the yard recently, probably related to the emergence of flying bugs that can serve as dragonfly dinners in addition to annoying whitetails and humans. See, it all works together, somehow.


Robert Penn Warren19051989

I shall build me a house where the larkspur blooms
        In a narrow glade in an alder wood,
Where the sunset shadows make violet glooms,
        And a whip-poor-will calls in eerie mood.

I shall lie on a bed of river sedge,
        And listen to the glassy dark,
With a guttered light on my window ledge,
        While an owl stares in at me white and stark. 

I shall burn my house with the rising dawn,
        And leave but the ashes and smoke behind,
And again give the glade to the owl and the fawn,
        When the grey wood smoke drifts away with the wind.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A mystery of Springtime #phenology

Late yesterday afternoon, we made up some fresh sugar water nectar and filled the oriole feeder, which has also been feeding hummingbirds and the odd woodpecker. We dumped the scraps from the trash feeder and refilled that with sunflower seeds. The grape feeder, which has been attracting orioles and an occasional rose-breasted grosbeak, got washed and refilled with concord grape jelly. Finally, we topped off the large perched sunflower tube feeder. This morning, the tube feeder was the only thing left on the deck that had any contents remaining. All the grape jelly, about 2/3 or a gallon of sunflower seeds and 16 oz of nectar--all gone. Empty feeders just hanging there.

female Baltimore oriole at feeder
female Baltimore oriole at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

We don't believe that we had an overnight visit from huge flocks of migrants that ate from the tray, the grape jelly and drank the nectar while leaving the sunflower tube feeder along. Might we have had a visit from a raccoon? We've watched the squirrels, and they could have emptied the tray feeder but it's improbable they emptied the nectar feeder or the grape jelly. If a bear had again climbed onto the deck, we would have expected to see more destruction. There's none, really, other than the missing bird foods. We suppose we could consider adding a "trail cam" focused on the deck. That tactic had previously been an option for the front feeders, both of which were in about the same condition as they were when we went to bed last night.

Color us befuddled. Time to go refill this feeders. We'll try harder to remember to bring them in tonight.

could it have been a turkey at the feeders?
could it have been a turkey at the feeders?
Photo by J. Harrington

As we refilled the feeders we discovered more evidence, purely circumstantial, of course. The base of the nectar feeder, which had been washed when we refilled it yesterday, was covered with indistinct, grubby, muddy paw prints. The grape feeder perches, also washed yesterday, were sticky. We're thinking more and more we got a visit from a raccoon or, maybe, a possum. Unless, of course, a turkey returned, flew back onto the railing and helped herself, leaving behind sticky footprints??

Possum Crossing

Backing out the driveway
the car lights cast an eerie glow
in the morning fog centering
on movement in the rain slick street

Hitting brakes I anticipate a squirrel or a cat or sometimes
a little raccoon
I once braked for a blind little mole who try though he did
could not escape the cat toying with his life
Mother-to-be possum occasionally lopes home . . . being
naturally . . . slow her condition makes her even more ginger

We need a sign POSSUM CROSSING to warn coffee-gurgling neighbors:
we share the streets with more than trucks and vans and
railroad crossings

All birds being the living kin of dinosaurs
think themselves invincible and pay no heed
to the rolling wheels while they dine
on an unlucky rabbit

I hit brakes for the flutter of the lights hoping it’s not a deer
or a skunk or a groundhog
coffee splashes over the cup which I quickly put away from me
and into the empty passenger seat
I look . . .
relieved and exasperated ...
to discover I have just missed a big wet leaf
struggling . . . to lift itself into the wind
and live

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Sunday, May 20, 2018


We were completely unaware that today is #NationalRescueDogDay until we read it on the internets. Around our house, every day is rescue dog day. The Better Half has hers; we have ours; and the Daughter Person brought one of her own back from an internship (hers, not the dog's) in North Carolina several years ago.

There may be something special about May because, according to our photo archives, the Better Half was rescued by Franco in mid-May seven years ago.

Franco arrives at his "forever" home
Franco arrives at his "forever" home
Photo by J. Harrington

We were rescued by SiSi just before the beginning of May five years ago

SiSi observing the human she rescued
SiSi observing the human she rescued
Photo by J. Harrington

The Daughter Person was rescued by her whippet/beagle(?) cross later in the Summer, so the May rescue rule doesn't seem hard and fast. We've no pictures of her rescuer to post.

Here's a link to how you can help even if you aren't ready to be rescued by a dog yourself. If, like us, you really are a dog person, we highly recommend trying to find a copy of one of Gene Hill's books go "dog stories" (Tears and LaughterSunlight and Shadows and A Listening Walk... and Other Stories). If you need a little motivation, here's a sampling of his quotes about dogs.

Mary Oliver also understands about the special relationship between people and dogs. Here's an example from her book of Dog Songs.


I had a dog
  who loved flowers.
    Briskly she went
        through the fields, 
yet paused
  for the honeysuckle
    or the rose,
        her dark head 
and her wet nose
    the face
         of every one 
with its petals
  of silk,
    with its fragrance
into the air
  where the bees,
    their bodies
        heavy with pollen, 
  and easily
     she adored
        every blossom, 
not in the serious,
  careful way
    that we choose
        this blossom or that blossom— 
the way we praise or don’t praise—
  the way we love
     or don’t love—
        but the way 
we long to be—
  that happy
    in the heaven of earth—
        that wild, that loving.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

It must be Summer! #phenology?

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has work going on at two locations on I-35, near the crossovers at Hwy 97 and separately at Hwy 8. The North / South traffic between the Twin Cities and Duluth, plus lots of daily commuters, face delays or detours.

Before there was I-35, there was Hwy 61 (sometimes revisited), an alternative North / South route. Chisago County and the City of Stacy have a long section of that closed from County Road 19 North. So much for that alternative route to I-35.

not needed come Winter
not needed come Winter
Photo by J. Harrington

Our own township road also runs North / South but we hadn't noticed a large increase in traffic despite the closures and delays on I-35 and (old) Hwy 61. So, this past week, the township did a culvert replacement which, for some time, essentially closed our North / South travels. We understand the need for road maintenance and improvements, most of which can't be done in our North Country Winters. That helps explain why Minnesota is sometimes said to have two seasons: Winter and Road Construction. Highway departments do their best to minimize the inconvenience, we're sure. But there doesn't seem to be any requirement or process that mandates work be coordinated so that detours off of a state road don't get routed onto a county highway that's also experiencing road work. We think there needs to be a much better set of requirements, or better enforcement of any signage requirements that exist.

sign of Summer road sign
sign of Summer road sign
Photo by J. Harrington

The township crew had put a "Road work ahead" sign on the side of the road a couple of hundred yards before their culvert work which had the entire road block off. Drivers got to notice this as they came downhill and around a curve leading into a "steam shovel" and ditch closing the complete cartway. We think it would have worked much better if the township had put a "Road Closed Ahead" sign back where drivers could have readily taken a detour. That would have minimized the inconvenience to both drivers and the work crew which experienced at least one stoppage to let us pass after we had skidded to a halt at their blockage.

There are other road signs that indicated Summer will soon be here. We've shared a couple above. Yet one more sign that Summer is practically upon us? Today we had our first ice cream cone of the season.


This is what poetry is (says the Road), 
a laying down of uniform pattern 
across a land you can't control 
but which you think it best to flatten. 
It's far from vivid. Look at the whole 
flamboyant forest! Look at the paths 
that can't be uttered by a mouth 
and at the scattered arcs of light 
more integral to this wide planet 
than words will ever be. Your lines? 
Like railroad tracks that cut the bracken, 
bring something through, then disappear. 
No one knows what speck was taken 
or where it moved, and no one cares.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, May 18, 2018

A confession

We think it was last Christmas that the Better Half, or one of Santa's book elves, get us a copy of the "Deathbed Edition" of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. We had, of course, read anthologized bits and pieces of Whitman's works back in college but only recently started at the first page of the entire volume. We have been neglecting this classic work (the first?) of true American poetry. We should not have. Before we had wandered too far among the Leaves, we encountered an entirely new word, at least new to us. More precisely, we don't recall ever having read it before. The word is eidolon. We looked it up in our dictionary before we learned that:
Walt Whitman's poem by the same name in 1876 used a much broader understanding of the term, expanded and detailed in the poem.[5]In Whitman's use of the term we can see the use broaden to include the concept of an oversoul composed of the individual souls of all life and expanding to include the Earth itself and the hierarchy of the planets, Sun, stars and galaxy.
That's when we realized we have become too hide-bound. We know that poets love and are in love with language and words. We hadn't previously considered the prospect that poetical metaphors and other uses broaden standard definitions. It is slowly becoming more clear that Rilke was quite serious when he wrote "You must change your life."

would you change anything about this building?
would you change anything about this building?
Photo by J. Harrington

We are reminded of Winston Churchill's assertion that “We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us.” In fact, we would further assert that we could strike the word "buildings" and insert the word "poems" and be just as true. Furthermore, we think such a modification would apply to both the makers and the readers of poetry.

Spring is among the better and more auspicious times to work on changing our lives, wouldn't you agree it's time to better appreciate and enjoy the beauty of life returning to our North Country. Although, and we apologize for this but we can't resist, we're unclear whether we should risk losing our head over such a change. Alice in Wonderland, anyone?

Archaic Torso of Apollo

Rainer Maria Rilke18751926

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could 
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ephemera #phenology

We think we noticed trillium in bloom this morning. We were going around a curve at the time, and also were going faster than ideal for a good look, but we're pretty sure we saw a scattering of white dots amongst the dappled understory on a hillside where we've seen trillium other years. As more nectar-yielding blooms appear, the local butterfly population increases. We watched a tiger swallowtail barely avoid a collision with the jeep today.

hillside trillium in May
hillside trillium in May
Photo by J. Harrington

More and more lilacs have come into bloom, including the "feral" bushes North of us in the Wildlife Management Area. We take great visual and  this time of year. Watching flowers bloom and leaves develop is, for us, much more pleasant than observing fruit develop over the Summer. One of many reasons we probably never would have made a good farmer. If there weren't the sequential relationship between flowers and fruit, would we want to see flowers blooming year round? Possibly, but we suspect that, after awhile, we'd get tired of the flowers and the scents and they'd simply fade into the background.

local lilacs in bloom
local lilacs in bloom
Photo by J. Harrington

We don't think we're unique in our enjoyment of change and our ability to take for granted any constant exposure to beauty or other pleasures in life. If you enjoyed vanilla ice cream, would you want to eat some at every meal, every day? That's what we thought!

Perhaps, instead of being named "Homo sapiens," our species should have been named "Homo varietas," or something similar. How do you suppose our enjoyment of at least some kinds of change relates to having a linear, rather than a cyclical sense of time? Is it genetic, cultural, both? When was the last time you thought you might have stepped into the same river? Hadn't both you and the river changed?

The Trees

by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Spring blues and riotous others #phenology

As we drove past the marshes North of county Highway 36 today we spotted a great blue heron quietly keeping an eye on things. Some sort of small, blue butterfly has been flitting about the local fields the past few days. We're hopeful it could be a Karner Blue, but haven't got a close enough look to be sure. One of these days we'll see if the bluebirds have nested in their house.

did you know grosbeaks like grape jelly?
did you know grosbeaks like grape jelly?
Photo by J. Harrington

A male Baltimore oriole (and maybe a female) has been seen at the grape jelly feeder. Most of the prior tasters had been male rose-breasted grosbeaks. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are regularly stopping at the feeders in front and behind the house. A male turkey was strutting and displaying this morning in the field about 150 yards West of the house. Neighborhood fruit trees and lilac bushes have developed magnificent flowering. More and more dandelion blossoms are appearing daily, sometimes, it seems, hourly.

bull snake sunning, mid-May 2014
bull snake sunning, mid-May 2014
Photo by J. Harrington

So far we haven't seen any reptiles warming themselves on local roads, but we did notice a number of barn swallows nesting under the eaves of a local Family Pathways store when we swung by to make  a donation this morning. They were almost as thick as Minnesota's state bird, the mosquito, which, thankfully, haven't yet hatched in numbers. All in all, Spring is getting more and more colorful by the day.

Colors passing through us

Purple as tulips in May, mauve
into lush velvet, purple
as the stain blackberries leave
on the lips, on the hands,
the purple of ripe grapes
sunlit and warm as flesh.

Every day I will give you a color,
like a new flower in a bud vase
on your desk. Every day
I will paint you, as women
color each other with henna
on hands and on feet.

Red as henna, as cinnamon,
as coals after the fire is banked,
the cardinal in the feeder,
the roses tumbling on the arbor
their weight bending the wood
the red of the syrup I make from petals.

Orange as the perfumed fruit
hanging their globes on the glossy tree,
orange as pumpkins in the field,
orange as butterflyweed and the monarchs
who come to eat it, orange as my
cat running lithe through the high grass.

Yellow as a goat’s wise and wicked eyes,
yellow as a hill of daffodils,
yellow as dandelions by the highway,
yellow as butter and egg yolks,
yellow as a school bus stopping you,
yellow as a slicker in a downpour.

Here is my bouquet, here is a sing
song of all the things you make
me think of, here is oblique
praise for the height and depth
of you and the width too.
Here is my box of new crayons at your feet.

Green as mint jelly, green
as a frog on a lily pad twanging,
the green of cos lettuce upright
about to bolt into opulent towers,
green as Grand Chartreuse in a clear
glass, green as wine bottles.

Blue as cornflowers, delphiniums,
bachelors’ buttons. Blue as Roquefort,
blue as Saga. Blue as still water.
Blue as the eyes of a Siamese cat.
Blue as shadows on new snow, as a spring
azure sipping from a puddle on the blacktop.

Cobalt as the midnight sky
when day has gone without a trace
and we lie in each other’s arms
eyes shut and fingers open
and all the colors of the world
pass through our bodies like strings of fire.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.