Thursday, January 31, 2019

Imbolc -- tomorrow

Tomorrow is the first of three Spring festivals in the Druidic tradition. It is a time of melting (temperatures above freezing are forecast for Saturday, Sunday and Monday). In the British isles it's the time of the first appearance of snowdrops. Here in the North Country we won't look for snowdrops until some time in March. We will, however, be grateful to "Brighid, the Goddess of poets, healers and midwives" for the break we'll experience from the past few days temperatures of around -30℉ and wind chills between -50℉ and -60℉. We appear to have come through this polar vortex episode with only cosmetic damage. We hope you've fared as well and that we all continue to make it safely to and beyond the beginning of meteorological Spring on March 1 and Spring Equinox on March 20.

not snowdrops but a (non-native) Lenten rose in late March
not snowdrops but a (non-native) Lenten rose in late March
Photo by J. Harrington

The birds and the local deer appear to have focused more on staying sheltered from the winds than on  getting food over the past day or so. Activity at the feeders has been limited. There's no indication any members of the infamous whitetail gang helped themselves to the sunflower seed feeder last night. We, on the other hand, have been enjoying hearty fare like homemade ham hash and a very robust beef stew. This afternoon we'll be baking a boule of artisan sourdough bread which will also help take some of the chill off the kitchen, dining and living rooms. Really severe cold spells like this occur regularly but rarely enough that we're not sure if they affect phenology and/or evolutionary adaptations or not. We think it's comparable to our inability, by definition, to plan for a black swan, but we're not really sure.

The Snowdrop

Close to the sod
   There can be seen
A thought of God
   In white and green.

Unmarred, unsoiled
   It cleft the clay,
Serene, unspoiled
   It views the day.

It is so holy
And yet so lowly.
   Would you enjoy
      Its grace and dower
   And not destroy
      The living flower?
Then you must, please,
Fall on your knees.

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ojibwe Place Names in the St. Croix valley?

We don't want to write about how cold it is or how it was even colder this morning. We don't want to write about how our windchill was worse than that at the South Pole. We don't want to write about dogs who refuse to wear boots and so freeze their paws in this weather. We don't intend to point out that the Postal Service's motto ["neither rain nor snow nor dark of night"] doesn't include bitter cold. We also don't want to mention a very large utility that asks some (but not all) of its customers to turn down their thermostats in the midst of the bitterly cold spell we're not writing about. We don't want to point out that the heated bird bath has an ice floe floating in the middle of it.

heated birdbath in Minnesota January
heated birdbath in Minnesota January
Photo by J. Harrington

In the face of all we don't want to write about, we'll return to Native American place names in the St. Croix River Valley. We've reviewed the list (see below) of Ojibwe place names that's on the web site We Look In All Directions and can find none that appear to be specific to the St. Croix valley. If any readers have a differing perspective, please share it in the comments. Just because none seem to be in this listing, doesn't mean there aren't any. We'll continue to check through our other resources. But, for today, the trail seems to have gone cold. (Sorry, couldn't resist!)

Glossary of Ojibwe Place Names

Ojibwemowin Place NameEnglish TranslationModern Place Name

Asabiikone-zaaga'iganiingnet-shining lakeNett Lake (lake & res.)
AWASAAKIINGbeyond the hillWausaukee
BEMIJIGAMAAGwhere the route crosses obliquelyBemidji
BOOJWIIKWEDONGhorn (-shaped) bayGreen Bay
GAKAABIKAANGfalls (square-hard)Minneapolis
GAKAABIKAANSINGlittle fallsLittle Falls
Gaa-miskwaabikaagred rockRed Cliff (res.)
GAA-MISKWAAWAAKOKAAGplace of red cedarCass Lake
GAA-NAMEGOSIKAAGplace of lake troutChicaugon Lake
GAA-NIIZHOGAMAAGtwin lakesNay-Tah-Waush
Gaa-waabaabiganikaagwhite earthWhite Earth (res.)
Gaa-zagaskwaajimekaagwhere leeches areLeech Lake (lake & res.)
GETE-GITIGAANINGold garden/fieldLac Vieux Desert
GETE-OODENAANGold townSuperior
Gichi-onigamiingbig portageGrand Portage (res.)
Gichi-wiikwedongbig bayL'Anse (res.)
Mashkii-ziibiingmarshy riverBad River (res.)
MAANANOONSINGIronwood (hop hornbeam)Ironwood
Misi-zaaga'iganiinglake spread out all overMille Lacs (lake & res.)
Miskwaagamiiwizaaga'iganiinglake of red liquidRed Lake (lake & res.)
MOONINGWANEKAANINGplace of yellow flickersLa Pointe
Nagaajiwanaangwhere the river stopsFond du Lac (res.)
NEZHINGWAAKOKAANSINGlittle place of pinesPonsford
OBAASHIINGwindy pointPonemah
Odaawaa-zaaga'iganiingOttawa lakeLac Court Oreilles (res.)
ODOONAAGANINGher bowlOntonagon
OGAAKAANINGplace of walleyeRed Lake (village)
Onamanii-zaaga'iganiinglake of red clay for paintingVermilion Lake
ONIGAMIINSINGlittle portageDuluth
Waaswaaganingjack-lightLac du Flambeau (res.)
Wenji-maajiijiwangwhere the river begins fromsource of the Mississippi
ZHEDE-ZHIIBIINGpelican riverRhinelander

Reservation Names In Ojibwemowin

Bois Forte (Nett Lake = Asabiikone-zaaga'iganiing)
Fond du Lac = Nagaajiwanaang
Grand Portage = Gichi-onigamiing
Leech Lake = Gaa-zagaskwaajimekaag
Mille Lacs = Misi-zaaga'iganiing
Red Lake = Miskwaagamiiwizaga'iganiing
White Earth = Gaa-waabaabiganikaag
Bad River = Mashkii-ziibing
Lac Courte Oreilles = Odaawaa-zaaga'iganiing
Lac du Flambeau = Waaswaaganing
Red Cliff = Basaabikaang (or Gaa-miskwaabikaag)
Mole Lake = Zaka'aaganing
St Croix = ************
Bay Mills = Gnoozhekaaning
Grand Traverse = **********
Keewenaw Bay = Wiikwedong
Lac Vieux Desert = Getegitigaaning
Saginaw = ***********
Sault Ste Marie = Baawitigong

Cold Morning

Eamon Grennan

Through an accidental crack in the curtain 
I can see the eight o’clock light change from 
charcoal to a faint gassy blue, inventing things

in the morning that has a thick skin of ice on it 
as the water tank has, so nothing flows, all is bone, 
telling its tale of how hard the night had to be

for any heart caught out in it, just flesh and blood 
no match for the mindless chill that’s settled in, 
a great stone bird, its wings stretched stiff

from the tip of Letter Hill to the cobbled bay, its gaze 
glacial, its hook-and-scrabble claws fast clamped 
on every window, its petrifying breath a cage

in which all the warmth we were is shivering.

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Surviving crazy, cold, weather

Blowing, drifting, wind chilling, but it's less than a month until the average local high temperature reaches 32℉. Unfortunately, first we have to survive that month. As of today, our joke about tRump trying to build a wall on the wrong border has ceased to be a joke. We need a way to keep these damn polar vortices up North, where they belong.

The two whitetails were back at the front feeder last night, once again well before dusk. From the tracks we noticed today, they're also checking out our landscape plants as food sources. When it gets this cold for as long as it's been, animals become less picky about food sources or their location. Some of the tracks were within a couple of feet of the front of the house.

sunrise, fire in ice
sunrise, fire in ice
Photo by J. Harrington

We've mentioned before, in one or two postings, that we're hard pressed to understand how Native Americans survived around here before they had central heating. This morning we found a couple of resources on MNopedia. First is How the Ojibwe Have Shaped the State, in which we read:
Minnesota winters would seem even longer and more brutal if we didn't have the toboggan for sliding down snow-covered hills and snowshoes for hiking through the woods. The Ojibwe and their tribal relatives first developed the toboggan and snowshoes. Indeed, toboggan is an Ojibwe word, added to the English language by early white pioneers. So is moccasin. The Ojibwe and their tribal relatives first developed moccasins, and lounging around the home wouldn't be the same without them.
MNopedia also includes a section on How the Dakota Have Shaped the State. Not much there about surviving Winter conditions but there is a mention that
...Different bodies of water have served multiple purposes, including the marshes, ponds, creeks, and lakes that are a source of wild rice. Year-round, springs provide access to water, and oftentimes are locations of winter camps....
frosted Winter windowpane
frosted Winter windowpane
Photo by J. Harrington

We imagine that northern Michigan Winters are enough like Minnesota's that a reading of Robert Downes' The Indians in Winter: How they survived -- and thrived -- in a frozen land  undoubtedly will be instructive.

Come Saturday, Groundhog Day, our local forecast is for temperatures in the upper 30s, a sixty or seventy degree swing within the course of just several days. Consider it a trailer for attractions coming in a month or two. That's what we're going to try for, instead of complaining about the insanity of all this weather.

Cold Morning

Through an accidental crack in the curtain 
I can see the eight o’clock light change from 
charcoal to a faint gassy blue, inventing things

in the morning that has a thick skin of ice on it 
as the water tank has, so nothing flows, all is bone, 
telling its tale of how hard the night had to be

for any heart caught out in it, just flesh and blood 
no match for the mindless chill that’s settled in, 
a great stone bird, its wings stretched stiff

from the tip of Letter Hill to the cobbled bay, its gaze 
glacial, its hook-and-scrabble claws fast clamped 
on every window, its petrifying breath a cage

in which all the warmth we were is shivering.

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

Monday, January 28, 2019

Overwintering mourning dove #phenology

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources informs us that "In winter mourning doves migrate south; however, some can be seen year round in southern Minnesota." We have never considered where we live to be "southern Minnesota." We're Northeast of the Twin Cities by about 35 miles or so.

mourning dove in Winter
mourning dove in Winter
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning, as we were sipping a much-needed cup of coffee, after clearing about 4 to 5 inches of snow from the driveway, augmented at the roadway with the town plow's cast-offs, we looked out the window and saw a mourning dove perched in a tree overlooking an almost empty sunflower seed feeder. (Based on the tracks in the fresh snow, the whitetail deer visited again last night.) After a few moments, s/he landed in the snow to feed n some dropped seeds but was promptly chased away by a red squirrel.

competition for the birds and squirrels
competition for the birds and squirrels
Photo by J. Harrington

We were unaware of any exceptions to the "mourning doves migrate south" status, at least in our next of the woods. Are we seeing another sign of climate disruption, with warmer Winters? Are more doves overwintering in the North Country due to an increase in bird feeders? We were lucky enough that this one stayed around long enough for us to get a decent photo, otherwise, we're not sure we would have shared the story. It might to readily have been filed under the heading of "fake news."

Mourning Doves


Patricia L. Goodman

The way they step from my deck,
trust flight will break their fall.

The way they seem content with scraps
                                 that fall from other beaks,
and strut, head bobbing
                                 forward and back.

The way he calls to her,
                                that plaintive voice
pleading to be noticed,
then watches her blend into the landscape,
                                          greys and browns
safe for nesting.

The way, in autumn, they rise in clouds
                                from a cooling cornfield,
their wings whistling
                          as they fly,
their name synonymous
                                   with peace.

From Walking with Scissors (Forthcoming from Kelsay Books).

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

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Winter's arrived! It can't be too soon gone!

Ben Franklin is reported to have said that "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days." We have a similar opinion of Winter. My mother, and her mother before her, used to say "May all bad luck go with it!" That's pretty much how we feel about the weather we're forecast to get this coming week. Tonight may bring 6 or 8 inches of snow, followed by three days with low temperatures around minus 20℉. Our memory being what it is, there's no assurance we'll find warmer weather in the months ahead more enjoyable as compensation for the pain and perturbation that the snow and bitter, bitter cold are likely to bring this week. We haven't figured out yet if it would be adding insult to injury to use this week to stay in and start to get really organized for tax filing. Sigh!

February snow storm
February snow storm
Photo by J. Harrington

At least next Saturday is groundhog day! We'll be done with January and looking for insights into how much Winter lies ahead. Punxsutawney Phil's been accurate only about 39% of the time so don't try to take his shadow to the bank, although batting .390 would definitely keep him in the big leagues. Frankly, we don't care how accurate Phil might be nearly as much as we want this Winter weather to end. It's been mostly cold, cloudy, uncomfortable and boring so far.

February open water
February open water
Photo by J. Harrington

Maybe next month will be like February of two years ago, which brought open water and waterfowl to the nearby marshes. Many February days in Minnesota also bring impressive snowfalls. The only way we know of to discover what February will bring this year is to stick around, watch, and pay attention. We can be as sure that February will bring Valentine's Day as we are that March, or April, will bring at least some mud. After that we get 37 minutes worth of Spring before the temperatures leap into the 80's, something that seems like a fantasy at the moment.


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.

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

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Hunt and peck, peck, peck!

We know it's been cold, very cold, when anything above zero feels tolerable. That's what this afternoon is like, although we haven't reached double digits yet. Thankfully, there's no wind to speak of so we didn't suffer too much as we refilled all the bird feeders.

pileated woodpecker at suet feeder
pileated woodpecker at suet feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

Looking at several years worth of photographs, January seems like the month of the pileated woodpecker. In fact, as we pulled into the driveway today, after doing some errands, there was a pileated sitting on the blacktop at the side of the road. We've no idea what s/he was doing there. S/he ignored us as we checked for mail and only as we actually turned into the driveway did the bird fly away.

pileated excavations?
pileated excavations?
Photo by J. Harrington

There are a couple of trees on the property that show signs of pileated excavations. We haven't tried to watch to see who or what else uses them when a pileated isn't roosting or nesting there, nor are we sure whether pileated pairs create fresh excavations each year. There's so much we don't know about what goes on even in our very own front and back yards.

when the suet feeder's empty
when the suet feeder's empty
Photo by J. Harrington

The Woodpecker Keeps Returning

The woodpecker keeps returning
to drill the house wall.
Put a pie plate over one place, he chooses another.

There is nothing good to eat there:
he has found in the house
a resonant billboard to post his intentions,
his voluble strength as provider.

But where is the female he drums for? Where?

I ask this, who am myself the ruined siding,
the handsome red-capped bird, the missing mate.

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

Friday, January 25, 2019

Native American place names in the St. Croix watershed #OneMinnesota

We've cross-checked the listing of Minnesota Native American place names with the counties on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River Valley. Here are the results:
  • Four of the ten Minnesota counties in the valley have names derived from Native American words or phrases: Anoka, Chisago, Isanti and Kenabec.
  • None of the nine Wisconsin counties in the St. Croix valley are Native American words or phrases.
For the record, we aren't including Dakota County as part of the St. Croix valley. If anyone has a compelling reason that it should be included, please share in the comments. Our perspective is that the Mississippi River separates the St. Croix valley from Dakota County.

Kettle River, a tributary to the St. Croix, in Banning State Park
Kettle River, a tributary to the St. Croix, in Banning State Park
Photo by J. Harrington

Only four other places in Minnesota have Native American names and are in the St. Croix valley, according to the list in Wikipedia. Looking at the geographic naming history of Chisago County, many of the local place names were named after early, non-indigenous, "settlers." If Chisago is representative, that (re)naming pattern would help account for the apparent dearth of Native American place names. Of course, we haven't finished even a preliminary review of other resources, so there may well be more to this story.
  • Chengwatana
  • Mahtomedi (it's marginally in the watershed)
  • Mahtowa
  • Pokegama (not the lake in Itasca County, the township in Pine County)
The list of Native American place names in Wisconsin is much longer, and we're less familiar with the geography of our neighbor to the East, so we expect it will take awhile before we report back on those results.

a pair of whitetails at the bird feeder
a pair of whitetails at the bird feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

ON AN UNRELATED TOPIC, we've complained from time to time (us, complain?) about the rate of disappearance of sunflower seeds from our front feeder. We've suspected it might be deer, largely because there were lots of deer tracks surrounding a trashed feeder and bent hanger pole in May of last year. Yesterday, with the colder temperatures, and longer days, we "caught" a pair of snackers in the act. Two whitetails, one nibbling neatly from the feeder and the other eating spillage on the snow, came to dinner early enough for us to get their picture for our "most wanted" posters. In this weather, we don't begrudge them these calories.

Goodbye to All That

He could have taken you prisoner, of course
when our two tribes were at war
over whitefish and beaver territory
and the Anishinaabeg chased your Indian ancestors
from the woodlands he now brings you home to.
Or your Dakota relatives might have waged a war party
on their swift plains’ ponies to avenge your taking
and bring you back from those uncivilized
they named in disgust the rabbit-chokers.
But those histories of dog-eaters and Chippewa crows
are just a backdrop now for other stories
told together by descendants of smallpox survivors
and French fur traders,
clan members of Wolf and of Water Spirit.
And now you gather,
trackers and scouts in new bloodless legal battles,
still watch for mark and sign—
for the flight of waterbirds.

Old histories that name us enemies
don’t own us; nor do our politics
grown so pow-wow liberal you seldom
point out the follies of White Earth tribal leaders.
(Except of course for the time our elected chair
mistakenly and under the influence of civilization
drove his pickup down the railroad tracks
and made the tri-state ten o’clock news.)
And Sundays behind the Tribune
he seldom even mentions the rabid casino bucks
or gets out his calculator and with lodge-pole eyebrows
methodically measures beaded distances,
results of territorial lines drawn in your homeland.
And even though I have seen him sniff, glance over
he really almost never checks the meat in your pot,
nor reconnoiters the place of your rendezvous
just to be sure.

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

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Wind! Chill!

We have a confession to make: for the next week or so, we won't be reporting much on outside happenings. The current temperatures are in the low single digits and the wind is howling in gusts. The windchill is about -20℉. Walking the dogs today was a real treat! St. Paul's Winter Carnival has  rescheduled or canceled some events due to cold weather! If it's too cold for the Vulcans, it's obviously too cold for us.

a fly box of mostly bead-headed nymphs
a fly box of mostly bead-headed nymphs
Photo by J. Harrington

Fortunately, in addition to several stacks of unread books, and a number or artisan bread baking variations we want to try, we have lots and lots of fly-fishing gear that needs to be organized. This morning we worked with a high-hydration recipe for sourdough bread and (almost) filled a new fly box with "Thank you!" gifts of seasonal fly assortments from Trout Unlimited. We actually had fun sorting out the flies and sliding them into slots in the fly box. Even though there was a Winter assortment, Winter weather conditions will need to be much improved before those flies see flowing water.

We still remember one Winter trip years ago. We wore felt-soled wading boots at the time and, hiking through a snow covered field to get to the stream, we kept collecting layers of sticky snow on the bottoms of our boots. By the time we reached the stream, it felt as though we were walking on stilts, even though the snow accumulated on our felt soles was probably only about four inches thick. Wet, sticky snow should tell you that the temperatures were much warmer than today. The fact that we were out playing with a fly rod tells you that the wind was close to nonexistent. Now you know about at least some of what we're looking forward to later this year.

artisan sourdough bread from chilled dough
artisan sourdough bread from chilled dough
Photo by J. Harrington

For now, we're anticipating having risen dough tomorrow morning. The dough will go into a preheated cloche and into the oven sometime tomorrow. We're learning that putting dough that's risen in the refrigerator into a preheated cloche yields well-baked bread with a crust that's not overbaked (too dark). The house will fill with the aroma of baking bread and the oven's heat will temper the wind and cold. While the finished bread cools on the counter, we'll stare at a couple of fly boxes and dream of warmer times. We might even concede that Spring and Summer days aren't necessarily better, just very, very different.

Wash of Cold River

By H. D.

Wash of cold river
in a glacial land,
Ionian water,
chill, snow-ribbed sand,
drift of rare flowers,
clear, with delicate shell-
like leaf enclosing
frozen lily-leaf,
camellia texture,
colder than a rose;

that keeps the breath
of the north-wind—
these and none other;

intimate thoughts and kind
reach out to share
the treasure of my mind,
intimate hands and dear
drawn garden-ward and sea-ward
all the sheer rapture
that I would take
to mould a clear
and frigid statue;

rare, of pure texture,
beautiful space and line,
marble to grace
your inaccessible shrine.

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Native American place names in the St. Croix river valley #OneMinnesota

We post about dancing with systems and Donella Meadows and Peter Senge and related matters from time to time. In an effort to practice what we preach, walk the talk, or whatever comparable paradigm you like, we're going to try a systems approach as we explore Native American place names in the St. Croix watershed. We decided this after some preliminary research yesterday made it clear we'll make better progress if we start by defining the boundaries of the system we want to describe. But, before we go to far, did you know that before Minnesota became a state, there was a proposal to make the St. Croix River Valley a state? [Time and the River, page 152]
St. Croix River (Wisconsin-Minnesota) facts for kids

Geographically, we're focused on one watershed, the Namekagon/St. Croix. that encompasses parts of two states, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and all or parts of ten counties in Minnesota and nine counties in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources [DNR] identifies more than 20 tributaries to the St. Croix. The Minnesota DNR identifies Upper and Lower St. Croix watersheds, separated by the Snake and Kettle River tributaries from the Minnesota side. The St. Croix River Association (we're members) provides access to a geographic information system depiction of the St. Croix basin, sub watersheds and counties. We'll use that as what appears to be the best available integrated and comprehensive geographic identification of the system we're working to describe.

fire, controlled or not, has a long history in the St. Croix valley
fire, controlled or not, has a long history in the St. Croix valley
Photo by J. Harrington

Our preliminary research yesterday identified a number of resources of Native American place names. In case you're interested, we'll list some of them here.
In days to come, we'll be checking our copies of Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota, and Ojibwe Waasa Inaabidaa: We Look In All Directions, among other resources. For now, we want to point out that the name of the very county in which we've lived for many years, Chisago, is derived "from two Ojibwe language words meaning "large" and "beautiful"," referencing originally Chisago Lake. (Upham, Warren (1920). Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance. Minnesota Historical Society. p. 107.)

So we now have a list of two states and about twenty counties against which we can screen indigenous place names from the Dakota or Ojibe languages and, perhaps the Ho-Chunk and Menominee tribes if the folks from National Geographic are to be believed.

The Theft Outright

after Frost

We were the land's before we were.

Or the land was ours before you were a land.
Or this land was our land, it was not your land.

We were the land before we were people,
loamy roamers rising, so the stories go,
or formed of clay, spit into with breath reeking soul—

What's America, but the legend of Rock 'n' Roll?

Red rocks, blood clots bearing boys, blood sands
swimming being from women's hands, we originate,
originally, spontaneous as hemorrhage.

Un-possessing of what we still are possessed by,
possessed by what we now no more possess.

We were the land before we were people,
dreamy sunbeams where sun don't shine, so the stories go,
or pulled up a hole, clawing past ants and roots—

Dineh in documentaries scoff DNA evidence off.
They landed late, but canyons spoke them home.
Nomadic Turkish horse tribes they don't know.

What's America, but the legend of Stop 'n' Go?

Could be cousins, left on the land bridge,
contrary to popular belief, that was a two-way toll.
In any case we'd claim them, give them some place to stay.

Such as we were we gave most things outright
(the deed of the theft was many deeds and leases and claim stakes
and tenure disputes and moved plat markers stolen still today . . .)

We were the land before we were a people,
earthdivers, her darling mudpuppies, so the stories go,
or emerging, fully forming from flesh of earth—

The land, not the least vaguely, realizing in all four directions,
still storied, art-filled, fully enhanced.
Such as she is, such as she wills us to become.

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Bringing the International Year of Indigenous Languages closer to home

2019 has been proclaimed the Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations. The St. Croix River watershed, where we live, is home to both Chippewa (Ojibwe) and Dakota peoples. Wikipedia has a page discussing the St. Croix Chippewa Indians. The Science Museum of Minnesota has a Field Notes web page covering much of the history of settlement of the river valley.
"The St. Croix watershed has been occupied by indigenous people for perhaps 12,000 years, including the Dakota and Ojibwe to this day. Native people manipulated the landscape by setting fires, farming small plots, living in villages or seasonal camps, and just passing through."
St. Croix River from Wild River State Park
St. Croix River from Wild River State Park
Photo by J. Harrington

The oldest settled community on the Upper St. Croix started as an Ojibwe village known as Amik. Several years ago we started, and never finished, a writing project focused on the St. Croix watershed. This year, in honor of the Year of Indigenous Languages, we're going to return to that project and research what we can find of Native American place names. The Northern Forest Center has a brief publication, focused on Maine, on the significance of Native American place names. That will continue to serve as an inspiration and general template for what we hope to accomplish. Wish us luck. We're going to start by reviewing an overview history commissioned by the National Park Service. From time to time we'll post here where we've gone from there, sort of like Hansel and Gretel's trail of crumbs.

I Was Sleeping Where the Black Oaks Move

We watched from the house
as the river grew, helpless
and terrible in its unfamiliar body.   
Wrestling everything into it,
the water wrapped around trees
until their life-hold was broken.
They went down, one by one,
and the river dragged off their covering.

Nests of the herons, roots washed to bones,   
snags of soaked bark on the shoreline:   
a whole forest pulled through the teeth   
of the spillway. Trees surfacing
singly, where the river poured off
into arteries for fields below the reservation.

When at last it was over, the long removal,   
they had all become the same dry wood.   
We walked among them, the branches   
whitening in the raw sun.
Above us drifted herons,
alone, hoarse-voiced, broken,
settling their beaks among the hollows.
Grandpa said, These are the ghosts of the tree people   
moving among us, unable to take their rest. 

Sometimes now, we dream our way back to the heron dance.   
Their long wings are bending the air   
into circles through which they fall.   
They rise again in shifting wheels.   
How long must we live in the broken figures   
their necks make, narrowing the sky.

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

Monday, January 21, 2019

#OneMinnesota, One Earth, One Human Race

Today is the day we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. His actual birthday is on January 15th. Since we celebrate that, and his accomplishments, today, it seems like an opportune time to explore and learn about the Walz-Flanagan administration's One Minnesota theme.

OneMinnesota needs dairy farms and wind farms
OneMinnesota needs dairy farms and wind farms
Photo by J. Harrington

According to the Star Tribune newspaper, at his inauguration, Governor Walz noted
“We find ourselves at a time when economic, social, racial, and geographic division feels rampant. I will not normalize behavior that seeks to deepen or exploit these divides,” said Walz, a Democrat from Mankato. “I will not normalize policies that are not normal — ones that undermine our decency and respect. If Washington won’t lead, Minnesota will.”
As we picked our way through the dust bins of the internet, looking for more insights into what Walz and Flanagan have in mind, we made an interesting discovery. Apparently, for some years now, there's been an organization named Until today, we don't believe we've encountered, despite our having worked for the City of Minneapolis and in the affordable housing/green building sector. We would have expected to have at least heard about this organization:
Over the years this multi ethnic coalition has created a space within Minnesota for a nonpartisan engagement around policy issues. This space has been effectively utilized to achieve significant benefits to Minnesota, as can be seen below, both to aggregate ALANA communities’ voices over issues that impact one or more communities (example, Hmong hunters, racial profiling or undocumented workers) as well as collective issues such as business contracts. It also provided a nonpartisan space for policy dialogue and engagement with different political institutions in Minnesota. has evolved over the years to its present identity.
As it stands today, is slated to sunset on December 31, 2022. We think it would be unfortunate for Minnesota if the sunset provision occurs without a capable successor to pick up and carry the torch. Perhaps the Governor and Lieutenant Governor can work on the merger of their particular theme with the work accomplished by (perhaps they already have and we're just coming late to this party).

"green" affordable housing on Minnesota's Iron Range
"green" affordable housing on Minnesota's Iron Range
Photo by J. Harrington

We believe, as much as we believe anything, that a sustainable future for humans must be based on reduced inequalities as well as better care for our natural environment. We think that Doctor King would agree. We look forward to seeing how Minnesota will lead over the next year and posting a report of exemplary progress on MLK Day next year.

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where everyman is free.
The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

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

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Winter adaptations

We're struggling to stay warm and comfortable in the living room (too many large windows). It's not that it's cold in that room, just cool and a little drafty. But then the outside temperature dropped to ten below last night and early this morning. We noticed that as we walked one of the dogs this morning. That's when we saw the super moon, whose eclipse comes tonight, and what we think were Venus and Jupiter stacked low in the Eastern sky. (Astronomy is far from our forte.)

downy woodpecker at suet feeder
downy woodpecker at suet feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

We've read about the adaptations to the North COuntry's bitter cold that many local birds have made: fluffing feathers, restricting blood flow in their feet, etc. Never-the-less, we are mightily impressed that creatures as small and light as goldfinches, red-breasted nuthatches, and chickadees manage, at least many of them anyhow, to make it through Minnesota Winters. At the moment, a pileated woodpecker (female) has landed on the deck railing and hopped onto the suet feeder. One we refilled half an hour or so ago. When she departs, we expect to see downey, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers at one or both suet feeders. We've noticed that, when there's no suet in the feeders, some woodpeckers feed on the ground under the suet holder. It is a bit disconcerting to see a woodpecker hammering on (into?) frozen ground.

ground-feeding pileated woodpecker
ground-feeding pileated woodpecker
Photo by J. Harrington

As we're typing this up, a loaf of artisan sourdough bread is baking, filling the house with wonderful aromas and, with the oven set at 500℉, adding more than a little to the ambient heat level in the kitchen, dining and living rooms. We're discovering that's one of many side benefits of learning to be a baker, especially in the Winter. We just realized that, if we had a wood fired oven, located outside, we'd end up missing both the aromas and the extra heat in Winter. We should have thought of that some time ago, since our last abode in Massachusetts was an apartment converted from an old "Summer kitchen" in one of the original farm houses of the area. Those long ago farmers didn't want extra heat from cooking and baking in the house during the warmer months, but it fit right in during the cold season. We suppose that could be considered a Winter adaptation that some humans evolved to survive more comfortably.

How Is It That the Snow

How is it that the snow  
amplifies the silence,  
slathers the black bark on limbs,  
heaps along the brush rows?  

Some deer have stood on their hind legs  
to pull the berries down.  
Now they are ghosts along the path,  
snow flecked with red wine stains.  

This silence in the timbers.  
A woodpecker on one of the trees  
taps out its story,  
stopping now and then in the lapse  
of one white moment into another.

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

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Canada or Siberia that's slapping us?

Judging by the way they look this morning, the Better Half's three amaryllis (amaryllises?), from Christmas of 2017, this year will bloom to celebrate Imbolc (February 2), Valentine's Day (February 14) or Spring Equinox (March 20). We're amazed that they regrew at all. A pair of cardinals has started showing up at one of the feeders. We're still waiting for the chickadees to cheer us with their Spring calls. The sun is shining, but... Well, today we did it.

Winter: cardinal pair
Winter: cardinal pair
Photo by J. Harrington

Our first local subzero temperatures of this Winter occurred early this morning. It's not clear if the official temperature at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport dropped that low. Up until now we've been setting records for lack of snow and cold. There may be something to those rumors about global warming.

last day of March snow
last day of March snow
Photo by J. Harrington

By the end of next month, about ten days after Valentine's, average daily temperatures start reaching above freezing and climb from there. Late February, all of March, and early April can deliver brutal blizzards, but, with luck, melting then occurs fairly quickly after snowfall ends. We're sharing this with you not because we think you may not know about it, but because we're trying to raise our spirits by driving home the realization that, no matter how it feels today, Winter doesn't last forever. I know at least two dogs and one dog owner who are very grateful for that. (The Better Half seems more immune to the cold than we are.)

Good-by and Keep Cold

This saying good-bye on the edge of the dark
And cold to an orchard so young in the bark
Reminds me of all that can happen to harm
An orchard away at the end of the farm
All winter, cut off by a hill from the house.
I don't want it girdled by rabbit and mouse,
I don't want it dreamily nibbled for browse
By deer, and I don't want it budded by grouse.
(If certain it wouldn't be idle to call
I'd summon grouse, rabbit, and deer to the wall
And warn them away with a stick for a gun.)
I don't want it stirred by the heat of the sun.
(We made it secure against being, I hope,
By setting it out on a northerly slope.)
No orchard's the worse for the wintriest storm;
But one thing about it, it mustn't get warm.
"How often already you've had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard. Good-bye and keep cold.
Dread fifty above more than fifty below."
I have to be gone for a season or so.
My business awhile is with different trees,
Less carefully nourished, less fruitful than these,
And such as is done to their wood with an axe—
Maples and birches and tamaracks.
I wish I could promise to lie in the night
And think of an orchard's arboreal plight
When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)
Its heart sinks lower under the sod.
But something has to be left to God.

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