Sunday, March 31, 2019

Ah, wilderness!

No, we're not referring to the Eugene O'Neill comedy. but to our above average day for interesting happenings. This morning a downy woodpecker managed to get itself enclosed in the screened-in patio. With the assistance of a plastic lawn rake and more patience than is typical for me, I managed to encourage and direct it back into the great out yonder. From what I could see, any trauma on the bird's part was more emotional or psychological than physical.

downy woodpecker on deck railing
downy woodpecker on deck railing
Photo by J. Harrington

Later this morning, as the Better Half [BH] and I were headed off on a typical round of Sunday errands, we spotted a fisher [id by BH] that had just crossed the road in front of us. We weren't quick enough to grab any pictures but the sighting was a thrill. It reminded me of when the BH first discovered and introduced me to a singer named Carrie Newcomer and her rendition of a song called The Fisher King. Newcomer is one of several very talented individuals that hail from the same general area of Indiana. The other two with whom we're acquainted, familiar, and sometimes friendly are the singer/songwriter/musician/teacher Krista Detor, who was kind enough to include one of our poems in a book published a few years ago to accompany an album of her songs [Flat Earth Diary], and Scott Russell Sanders, who we had the pleasure of meeting several years ago at a writing conference, sponsored byMinnesota's The Loft Literary Center. One of our personal favorites of Sanders, Wilderness Plots, has been turned into a performance in collaboration with Newcomer and Detor and others. Each of these memories and reminiscences were triggered by a brief sight of a lithe brown animal sniffing its way among the bases of some roadside cedar trees. Memory banks truly are random access stores, aren't they?

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.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The "girls" are back in town!

There are only scattered patches of snow left. Waters that are open by mid-afternoon frequently refreeze overnight, only to unfreeze the next day. Local sugar bush are full of buckets. For a pleasant change, late March is behaving about as we would expect late March to behave.

hen turkey scratching under feeder pole
hen turkey scratching under feeder pole
Photo by J. Harrington

Yesterday afternoon, as we were ready to let one of the dogs into the back yard, we noticed we had startled four turkey hens away from the recently exposed pile of sunflower seed droppings that had accumulated over the Winter. We're only too happy to see them and have them scratch and peck and start the cleanup of Winter's messes. There'll be that much less for us to rake clean after the ground has dried out.

hen turkey on deck railing
hen turkey on deck railing
Photo by J. Harrington

In some years past, an occasional turkey has even volunteered to visit the feeders on the deck to get the seeds before they've fallen to the ground. Is this what they mean by "working with nature?" The turkeys have definitely been less destructive than the visits we've had from bears looking for Spring snacks.


The turkeys wade the close to catch the bees
In the old border full of maple trees
And often lay away and breed and come
And bring a brood of chelping chickens home.
The turkey gobbles loud and drops his rag
And struts and sprunts his tail and then lets drag
His wing on ground and makes a huzzing noise,
Nauntles at passer-bye and drives the boys
And bounces up and flies at passer-bye.
The old dog snaps and grins nor ventures nigh.
He gobbles loud and drives the boys from play;
They throw their sticks and kick and run away.

—John Clare (1793-1864)

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Friday, March 29, 2019

Why don't Minnesota's trout streams have a sulfate standard?

If one is to judge based on historic reports, once a water body has been sufficiently polluted for long enough, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA] is willing to consider reclassifying some existing "use classification" for that water body as unattainable. At least, that is how it appears in the case of the Dark River in northern Minnesota. At the moment, the Dark River is designated as Class 1B (drinking water), 2A (aquatic life and recreation), Class 3 (industrial consumption), and Class 4A (agricultural irrigation), Class 4B (use by livestock and wildlife without inhibition or injurious effects), Class 5 (aesthetic enjoyment and navigation) and Class 6 (other designated public uses and benefits). The Classes with strikethrough, 1B, 3, and 4A would be eliminated and Classes 2A (aquatic life and recreation), 4B (use by livestock and wildlife without inhibition or injurious effects), 5 (aesthetic enjoyment and navigation),  and 6 (other designated public uses and benefits) designated uses will remain unchanged if a petition is granted.

The petition has been submitted by US Steel Corp. Consequently, MPCA is may permit continuing pollution of the Dark River by "considering removing the uses based on the fact that the uses do not currently exist and are also not reasonably expected to be attainable uses in the future." We're not sure how you may feel about it but we see this type of response from a regulatory agency as akin to rewarding bad behavior instead of enforcing existing standards. If you've ever raised children given to tantrums, you'll understand.

a trout stream in the North Country
a trout stream in the North Country
Photo by J. Harrington

The Timberjay noted several years ago that "discharge from the Minntac tailings basin that has increased the sulfate levels in Sandy Lake and the Sand River,..." has had negative consequences for water quality and wild rice beds in those waters.

Additional background on these issues, and a clear indication of the location of the Dark River, can be found in this MinnPost article, also from 2015 (Despite pressure to lower Minntac sulfate emissions, status quo could last awhile).

Here's some of our preliminary thoughts on the proposed elimination of three designated uses for the Dark River:
1. Jim Humphrey and Bill Shogren, in their “Fly-Angler’s Guide” reference a Trout Unlimited chapter report that refers to the Dark River as “the premier trout stream north of Chisolm.” (Some research seems to indicate that sulfates can cause problems for fish, especially trout.)
2. Given the state of information via MPCA and MnDNR, it’s difficult to impossible to ascertain which, if any, downstream resources might be negatively affected by the proposed change. The precautionary principle suggests that’s a good reason to not support any change.
3. The MPCA reports that it has "Insufficient data for use assessment” regarding aquatic life. This represents another reason to oppose reclassification. Lack of information isn't a good reason to assume non-existence.
4. Finally, for now, it’s unclear what MPCA's proposed “use and value demonstration” represents, whether it’s the same as a use attainability analysis and how it may adversely affect protection of the resource since the 2A (trout stream) classification doesn’t include any sulfate standard that we could find and MPCA has been working for several years to revise the existing water quality standard for sulfate to protect wild rice.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Nature gets all puffed up about Spring

The Sunrise River, as it passes through the Carlos Avery marshes, is now open water again. Nearby pools, not yet. Any day now the skies will be full of returning waterfowl, following ice out North. Daytime temperatures are consistently reaching and exceeding 40℉, so ticks will soon be active, if they aren't already. This weekend we close the pages of March and open to April on Monday. Spring has firmly established again a beach head in the North Country.

a tom turkey displaying
a tom turkey displaying
Photo by J. Harrington

Most of the snow has melted. Yesterday we noticed a couple of turkeys making their way through the far fields. Soon the toms, and braver jakes, will be displaying to attract hens for breeding. Squirrels are chasing each other around. Goldfinch colors are brightening. Although food supplies are still sparse, local critters seem to agree with the migrants headed North, the season has turned. Any future snowfalls this Spring should offer but a brief interruption to the continuing process of life returning, plants greening and growing, and babes birthing. It's Spring at last.

Birds Again

Jim Harrison19372016

A secret came a week ago though I already
knew it just beyond the bruised lips of consciousness.
The very alive souls of thirty-five hundred dead birds
are harbored in my body. It’s not uncomfortable.
I’m only temporary habitat for these not-quite-
weightless creatures. I offered a wordless invitation
and now they’re roosting within me, recalling
how I had watched them at night
in fall and spring passing across earth moons,
little clouds of black confetti, chattering and singing
on their way north or south. Now in my dreams
I see from the air the rumpled green and beige,
the watery face of earth as if they’re carrying
me rather than me carrying them. Next winter
I’ll release them near the estuary west of Alvarado
and south of Veracruz. I can see them perching
on undiscovered Olmec heads. We’ll say goodbye
and I’ll return my dreams to earth.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Seasonal adjustments

Late yesterday afternoon we saw some sandhill cranes flying over our property from the Carlos Avery wetlands near the Sunrise River. This morning the woods in front of the house were full of dark-eyed juncos, with some purple finches mixed in. It looked like the leaf litter had come alive and was dancing to the Spring breezes as the mini-micro-miniature "chickens" hopped and scratched and pecked their way among the tree trunks.

Also today, oak leaves that had remained attached throughout Winter are being evicted by the swelling buds of this year's leaves. Southerly gusts of wind are escorting them from the property. Keeping leaves throughout Winter is called marcescence. Here's a link to one of the better explanations we've found that begins to explain a phenomenon that leaves many scratching their heads.

Canada geese at pond's edge, 2014
Canada geese at pond's edge, 2014
Photo by J. Harrington

In the quarter-century or so that we've lived in this house, we've watched a "wet spot" in the back yard dwindle during droughty Summers and grow in wet Springs. This week's extant sets a record for the time we've been here. In some prior years it's been large enough to attract a pair of geese, at least temporarily. The goose on the right is standing about where this year's pond ends. The brush pile is in about the same location in each picture. Soon, the ice will be gone, replaced by the croaking of frogs. What other visitors we'll have remains to be seen.

the pond, early Spring 2019
the pond, early Spring 2019
Photo by J. Harrington

The Pond

Cold, wet leaves
Floating on moss-coloured water   
And the croaking of frogs—
Cracked bell-notes in the twilight.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Spring brings impatience into bloom

In our neighborhood, we have almost, but not quite, reached the point at which our countryside "colors up." It often occurs about the time that the snow has melted and the small ponds and shallow marshes are ice free. We suspect (expectations have a way of being dashed these days) that sometime next week, barring visits from major snowstorms, we'll have reached that point for this year. When we do, the neighborhood will look like the picture below, but we haven't yet had quite enough warmth this Spring to melt the snow and awaken the bushes.

Spring's colors emerge slowly until they're here
Spring's colors emerge slowly until they're here
Photo by J. Harrington

We confess that, during the past few days, we've been guilty of, as our mother used to say, "getting ahead of ourselves." This is still the last week of March. April in our North Country has been know to deliver soul-crushing snow storms. If the ground has been bare enough, long enough, the snow cover then doesn't last long on the thawed ground but, as we've mentioned, we're not there yet.

Sometime next week the "normal" overnight temperatures are supposed to begin to stay at or above freezing (32℉). We've been looking through our pictures of emerging skunk cabbage and the dates range from mid-March to Mid-April. Spring in this neck of the woods is often more skittish than a new-born lamb or calf. Just when we think it's settled down for a bit, it scampers away again. This gives us quite a few opportunities to practice patience, something we could usually stand much more of. Mom's observation about getting ahead of ourselves sometimes has way more truth than we like.

The Enkindled Spring

D. H. Lawrence18851930

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

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

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

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Monday, March 25, 2019

To "B" or not to "B" mine

We know it's well past Valentine's Day but we couldn't resist playing on Shakespeare's immortal words for today's title. Nevertheless, what we're thinking about is a serious topic. It's about the form of corporate entity, and required oversight of that entity, that should be required of those wishing to apply for and hold a permit to mine in Minnesota.

The ultimate test of a man's conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice
something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.
Photo by J. Harrington

Minnesota has had, since 2015, legislation authorizing business entities to incorporate as a public benefit corporation. That means, among other things that:
Under traditional corporate statutes, the pursuit of social or environmental goals potentially exposes corporate directors to the risk of lawsuits from shareholders interested in profits alone. As a public benefit corporation, such lawsuits could be warded off more easily so long as the public benefit corporation can show it was acting with due care in following its public benefit mission.
So, from our perspective, any entity that wishes to obtain a permit to mine should be required to incorporate as a public benefit corporation. But, and this is a very important but, that's not enough. We also recommend that the public benefit corporation, to qualify as a holder of a permit to mine, also be certified as a "B" corp.
The B Corp Certification is a third-party certification administered by the non-profit B Lab, based in part on a company's verified performance on the B Impact Assessment. The benefit corporation is a legal structure for a business, like an LLC or a corporation. Benefit corporations are legally empowered to pursue positive stakeholder impact alongside profit. Some companies are both Certified B Corporations and benefit corporations, and the benefit corporation structure fulfills the legal accountability requirement of B Corp Certification. Learn more about the difference.
It may well be too late to require such conformance for the PolyMet project, unless, of course, it fails and needs to start again. There is, we believe, plenty of time to enact any required legislation and modify regulations that need tweaking, enabling Minnesota to do a much improved job of protecting the vulnerable environment of Northern Minnesota from foreign or domestic corporations that would put profit maximization ahead of environmental protection.

New Year

We woke to the darkness before our eyes,
unable to take the measure of the loss.
Who are they. What are we. What have we
   abandoned to arrive with such violence at this hour.
In answer we drew back, covered our ears
with our hands to the heedless victory, or vowed,
   as I did, into the changed air, never to consent.
But it was already too late, too late for the unfarmed fields,
the men by the station, the park swings, the parking lots,
   the ground water, the doves—too late for dusk
falling in summer, chains of glass lakes
   mingled into dawn, the corals, the neighbors,
the first drizzle on an empty street, cafeterias and stockyards,
young men asking twice a day for
   work. Too late for hope. Too far along
to meet a country, a people, its annihilating need.

Because the year is new and the great change
already underway, we concede a thousandfold
   and feel, harder than the land itself,
a complicity for everything we did not see
or comprehend: cynicism borne of raw despair,
long-cultivated hatreds, the promises of leaders
traveling like cool silence through the dark.
My life is here, in this small room, and like you
   I am waiting to know—but there is no time
to wait for what has happened.
What does the future ask of me,
those who won’t have enough to eat by evening,
those whose disease will now take hold—
   and the decades that carry past me once I’ve died,
generations of children, the suffering that is never solved,
the heat over the earth, its marshes,
   its crowded towers, its unbreathable night air.
I would open my hand from the wrist,
step outside, not lose nerve.
Here is the day, still to be lived.
We do not fully know what we do.
But the trains depart the stations, traffic lurches
   and stalls, a highway crew has paused.
Desert sun softens the first color of the rock.
Who governs now governs by grievance and old scores,
   but we compass our worth,
prepare to do the work not our own,
and feel, past the scorn in his eyes, the burden
in the torso of a stranger, draw close to the sick,
   the weak, the women without jobs, the twelve-year-old
facing spite half-tangled into sleep, the panic
tightening inside everyone who has been told to go,
I will help you although I do not know you,
and strive not to look away, be unwilling to profit,
   an ache inside that endless effort,
a slowed-down summons not from those
whose rage is lit by greed—we do not consent—
but the ones who wake without prospect,
those who don’t speak, cannot recover,
   like the old woman at the counter, the helpless father
who, like you, gets no more than his one life.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

It's a special someone's very special birthday #Ferlinghetti100

First and foremost, we are delighted to be able to wish Lawrence Ferlinghetti "Happy 100th Birthday!" As we mentioned a few days ago, in his honor (and for our own pleasure and [re]edification) we are (re)reading our copy of

Ferlinghetti: Poetry As Insurgent Art

One day this upcoming week, we'll do our best to pick up a copy of his very recently published novel, Little Boy. If we lived in times less insane, Ferlinghetti would already have been officially declared a "National Treasure."

On the home front, snow banks continue to melt. Red-winged blackbirds have returned, along with ducks and more geese. We're still awaiting our first sightings of sandhill cranes and tundra swans. We suspect this week or next will produce the major arrival of those headed for here and further North. We doubt that will happen until there's lots more open water on/in the shallow and smaller ponds. In the interim, we're being amused and entertained by a murder of crows that continues to roost in the tops of the oak trees behind the house.

a murder of crows behind the house
a murder of crows behind the house
Photo by J. Harrington

We finally broke down and bought a fire pit so we can enjoy the fruits of cleaning up dead, dropped and broken branches without having to get or activate a burn permit from MNDNR. It's a variation on our "Small Is Beautiful," going local, bioregionalism theme. In a similar vein, today we added a small pot of lavender to the window sill in our den. It smells good and it's a very, very micro-miniature version of what we occasionally contemplate doing with several acres of the property. Remember the old saying about "walk before you run?"

To the Oracle at Delphi

Great Oracle, why are you staring at me,
do I baffle you, do I make you despair?
I, Americus, the American,
wrought from the dark in my mother long ago,
from the dark of ancient Europa—
Why are you staring at me now
in the dusk of our civilization—
Why are you staring at me
as if I were America itself
the new Empire
vaster than any in ancient days
with its electronic highways
carrying its corporate monoculture
around the world
And English the Latin of our days—

Great Oracle, sleeping through the centuries, 
Awaken now at last
And tell us how to save us from ourselves
and how to survive our own rulers 
who would make a plutocracy of our democracy 
in the Great Divide
between the rich and the poor
in whom Walt Whitman heard America singing

O long-silent Sybil, 
you of the winged dreams, 
Speak out from your temple of light 
as the serious constellations 
with Greek names
still stare down on us 
as a lighthouse moves its megaphone 
over the sea
Speak out and shine upon us 
the sea-light of Greece 
the diamond light of Greece

Far-seeing Sybil, forever hidden, 
Come out of your cave at last 
And speak to us in the poet's voice 
the voice of the fourth person singular 
the voice of the inscrutable future 
the voice of the people mixed
with a wild soft laughter—
And give us new dreams to dream, 
Give us new myths to live by!
Read at Delphi, Greece, on March 21, 2001 at the UNESCO World Poetry Day

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Saturday, March 23, 2019

The horns of Spring

When, yesterday, we began listing the Sounds of (early) Spring, we committed a mortal sin of omission. From the quotation below, taken from Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac, see if you can determine who we left out:
High horns, low horns, silence, and finally a pandemonium of trumpets, rattles, croaks , and cries that almost shakes the bog with its nearness, but without yet disclosing whence it comes. At last a glint of sun reveals the approach of a great echelon of birds. On motionless wing they emerge from the lifting mists, sweep a final arc of sky, and settle in clangorous descending spirals to their feeding grounds....
Yes, you're correct. We omitted sandhill cranes. We are embarrassed and would be more so had we not mentioned them in a slightly different context several weeks ago, on March 1. Today, the Better Half reported having heard cranes as she was returning with her dog, Franco, from their mid-day constitutional. We look forward with high anticipation to both seeing and hearing the returned cranes and are very grateful Leopold's Marshland Elegy remains premature.

sandhill cranes have returned
sandhill cranes have returned
Photo by J. Harrington

The Sandhills

The language of cranes
we once were told
is the wind. The wind 
is their method,
their current, the translated story 
of life they write across the sky. 
Millions of years
they have blown here
on ancestral longing,
their wings of wide arrival, 
necks long, legs stretched out 
above strands of earth
where they arrive
with the shine of water, 
stories, interminable
language of exchanges 
descended from the sky
and then they stand,
earth made only of crane 
from bank to bank of the river 
as far as you can see
the ancient story made new.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Sounds of (early) Spring #phenology

As we let one of the dogs out this morning, we heard, very briefly, either geese gabbling or turkeys gobbling. We're not sure which but lean toward the gabbling since it may be a little too early for turkey gobbling. In either case, the sounds of Spring are upon us. What others are there?

a red-winged blackbird has returned to the marsh
a red-winged blackbird has returned to the marsh
Photo by J. Harrington

  • the territorial / mating calls of birds, especially those of returned red-winged blackbirds;
  • the susurration sounds of running water;
  • the drip, drip, plip, plop of dripping water;
  • the cracking and crunching of ice cover breaking up;
  • we can't hear the soft sounds of sap rising or new growth emerging, but know it's there;
  • the rumble and crash of the season's first thunderstorm;
  • the splash of boots and tires in puddles;
  • the peeping and croaking of spring peepers, tree and wood frogs;
  • the buzzing of bees; and,
  • the "thwap" of a baseball being caught in a glove and the crack of a bat hitting ball

drip, drip, plip, plop signals melting ice and snow
drip, drip, plip, plop signals melting ice and snow
Photo by J. Harrington

What have we missed? What are your favorite sounds of early Spring?


By Mary Oliver

I lift my face to the pale flowers
of the rain. They’re soft as linen,
clean as holy water. Meanwhile
my dog runs off, noses down packed leaves
into damp, mysterious tunnels.
He says the smells are rising now
stiff and lively; he says the beasts
are waking up now full of oil,
sleep sweat, tag-ends of dreams. The rain
rubs its shining hands all over me.
My dog returns and barks fiercely, he says
each secret body is the richest advisor,
deep in the black earth such fuming
nuggets of joy!

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Dear Earth, Happy #WorldPoetryDay!

free 2019 National Poetry Month poster
free 2019 National Poetry Month poster

It's #WorldPoetryDay, first proclaimed by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1999. In the US, National Poetry Month begins next month, in April. Two days ago, March 19, was the 100th birthday of one of our favorite poets, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. His latest book, Little Boy, is published this month. In honor of all of the above, and the times we live in, we've dug out our copy of Ferlinghetti's Poetry As Insurgent Art and will reread it over the next few weeks. The opening lines are reproduced below. Do they seem appropriate for the start of an Anthropocene?

I am signaling you through the

The North Pole is not where it used
to be.

Manifest Destiny is no longer mani-

Civilization self-destructs.

Nemesis is knocking at the door.

What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?

The state of the world calls out for
poetry to save it.

Poetry As Insurgent Art

This IS "Planet B"     credit: NASA Visible Earth
This IS "Planet B"     credit: NASA Visible Earth

Each day, the sun also rises a little further to the North. The same sun is indifferent to the state of the world, a world dependent on energy from the sun. The same world is indifferent to the state of civilization, civilization(s) dependent on the state of the world. We live on Planet B. Next month, April, is not only National Poetry Month, it is also the 49th anniversary of Earth Month. The poem which follows demonstrates how poetry can help bridge that indifference. Until we learn to care well enough for that on which we depend, those who depend on us will curse our failures and, perhaps, us as well.

[Murmurs from the earth of this land]

Murmurs from the earth of this land, from the caves and craters,
       from the bowl of darkness. Down watercourses of our
       dragon childhood, where we ran barefoot.
We stand as growing women and men. Murmurs come down
        where water has not run for sixty years.
Murmurs from the tulip tree and the catalpa, from the ax of
        the stars, from the house on fire, ringing of glass; from
        the abandoned iron-black mill.
Stars with voices crying like mountain lions over forgotten
Blue directions and a horizon, milky around the cities where the
        murmurs are deep enough to penetrate deep rock.
Trapping the lightning-bird, trapping the red central roots.
You know the murmurs. They come from your own throat.
You are the bridges to the city and the blazing food-plant green;
The sun of plants speaks in your voice, and the infinite shells of
A beach of dream before the smoking mirror.
You are close to that surf, and the leaves heated by noon, and
        the star-ax, the miner’s glitter walls. The crests of the sea
Are the same strength you wake with, the darkness is the eyes
        of children forming for a blaze of sight and soon, soon,
Everywhere your own silence, who drink from the crater, the
        nebula, one another, the changes of the soul.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Celebrate #VernalEquinox and #InternationalDayofHappiness

Yesterday, the year's first appearance of purple finches at the feeders occurred after we had posted for the day. Just one finch, but we expect to see more now.

purple finch at feeder
purple finch at feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

We also saw a report that the first sandhill cranes of the year had been heard about 45 miles South of here. That suggests they'll arrive in our local marshes this week or early next. A couple of Canada geese have already returned. We thought we saw them yesterday and are sure we saw them today. The smallest ponds are starting to show open water. Even our drive is slowly becoming ice-free. Maybe by the weekend?

the migrants are returning
the migrants are returning
Photo by J. Harrington

In celebration of today's official arrival of astronomical Spring [in the Northern Hemisphere], accompanied by actually warmer weather, the dog(s) and I have started to lengthen some of our walks. We share a sense of having been house-bound, more psychological than physical except for those polar vortex temperatures. It's a treat to shuck the weight of Winter-warm clothing from our shoulders and enjoy the diminishment of bitterly cold, snow-covered ground under our paws. We've not yet suffered Spring fever, but can feel it incubating. We doubt it's a coincidence that today is also the #InternationalDayofHappiness.

[in Just-]

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

whistles          far          and wee 

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

when the world is puddle-wonderful 

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

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and 




balloonMan          whistles 

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Time to reset how the pieces fit?

We've been reading Ted Kooser's Kindest Regards: new and selected poems. Last night we reached the section entitled "The Blizzard Voices" [1986]. The first poem begins "Eighteen eighty-eight, a Thursday / the twelfth of January:" Out of curiosity about whether Mr. Kooser had taken poetic license with his selection of a date, we looked it up. We should have known better than to question Mr. Kooser's authenticity to place and time, especially in Nebraska. We read:
... The blizzard of January 12, 1888 had an immense impact on the lives of all who remembered it. This blizzard was one of the most destructive and devastating in Nebraska history for a number of reasons: its unexpected arrival on what had been a relatively warm winter’s day; the timing, striking Nebraska and the Dakota territories when children were at school and farmers were out working in the fields; and the fierceness of the winds that swirled the snow around so much that visibility was near zero for hours....
This Spring, Nebraska and Iowa are the center of a major flooding event due to a late Winter--early Spring storm. Some claim to have never seen anything like it. Back in Minnesota and North Dakota, the mayors of Fargo and Moorhead are declaring emergencies in anticipation of Red River flooding. The lower Mississippi River hasn't yet been hit by Minnnesota's snow melt, but it's flooding now. And still, we keep electing "leaders" who refuse to acknowledge that Mother Nature bats last, always.

a mosaic needs a variety of pieces for one picture
a mosaic needs a variety of pieces for one picture
Photo by J. Harrington

We believe it was Bill McKibben, some time ago, who noted that "The laws of Congress and the laws of physics have grown increasingly divergent, and the laws of physics are not likely to yield." We hope that one day soon we'll be wise enough to elect those whose approach is to work with Mother Nature, rather than on her. That would be great training for us to then relearn how to work with each other instead of trying to take our balls and go home every time we don't like the result of a play we called ourselves.

Humans have made contemporary climate less stable and weather events more volatile. Corporations have fed us disinformation (a charitable description) on smoking and fossil fuels and green house gases. Our culture continues to debate cause and effect rather than perform an all hands on deck to respond to an earth-wide conflagration. Adults have forced children and teenagers to lead the way. No matter how biblically correct [Isaiah 11:6], that should, politically, be a kiss of death. We've become convinced that it is unlikely the world would be in much worse shape if lead by women and children. It may actually be time to put women and children first to help us avoid the need for life boats. The male leadership we've had for eons has not served us well, for the most part. Remember those "weapons of mass destruction?"

whose family were not once immigrants?
whose family were not once immigrants?
Photo by J. Harrington

As a species, we seem to have both a memory and a fuse that's too short. We have come to focus too much on self-serving, self-aggrandizing, behaviors. We would ask you to find a copy of Kooser's "Blizzard" poems and read them all. Those who survived did so largely because they helped, and/or had help from, neighbors and community members, not because of how much money they had in the bank. Is that the world we've maintained until this day? How many neighbors can you name? How many do you help? Do walks and driveways get shoveled, blown or plowed? When was the last time you helped fill sandbags? What message would it send if the Minnesota legislature adjourned for a couple of days and filled sandbags in Moorhead, and even Fargo? I, for one, would have a lot more respect for most of them if they did. After all, many of our families ended up here because we came from someplace less friendly, right?

from I.C.E. AGE

The removal of aliens who pose  
[        ] shall be ICE’s high [        ]
These aliens include  [        ]
engaged in or suspected of
[        ] or who otherwise pose
[        ] aliens convicted of [        ]
particular emphasis [        ] and repeat
aliens [        ] who participated [        ]
[        ] subject to outstanding [        ]
who otherwise pose [        ]  to public safety.
Aliens who are [        ]  otherwise
obstruct [        ]  fugitive aliens,
in descending priority as [        ]
aliens who pose [        ]  security;

[        ]  or who otherwise pose [        ]         
the community; [        ] other than [        ];
and [        ] who have not been [        ];
aliens who reenter [        ]  in descending
priority as [        ]  aliens who pose [        ]  
previously removed [        ] who other-
wise pose [        ]  to the community;

previously removed [        ] who have not been
convicted of [        ] who obtain
admission or status by [        ] ;
otherwise  [  

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Monday, March 18, 2019

It's heeere, and Springing out all over!

In this week of Vernal Equinox, 2019, while coming back from delivering our "tax organizer," we saw a bald eagle perched on a tree overlooking the Sunrise River. It may, or may not, be the same eagle we've seen airborne from time to time during the past few weeks. Having eagles living in the neighborhood is definitely a plus. In fact, that was the second eagle we saw today. The other one was nesting in a tree North of Highway 610 as we headed toward Anoka.

March: bald eagle perched in bare tree
March: bald eagle perched in bare tree
Photo by J. Harrington

The edges of the Sunrise are beginning to show softening of the ice cover downstream of the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area pools. No signs of open water or waterfowl yet. Seeing arrivals of one or the other or both this week would not be a surprise. Getting out and watching one or the other, or both, will be a pleasure.

Sunrise River: ice cover softening
Sunrise River: ice cover softening
Photo by J. Harrington

One can, if one slows down and looks carefully, see leaf buds swelling on many roadside trees. The red maples in front of the house have actually burst their buds within the last day or so. We're not sure how some of the wilder creatures feel, nor if the water itself tires of being pent up, but we're more than ready to start celebrating the freedom of Spring.

Last Spring

By Gottfried BennTranslated by Michael Hofmann

Fill yourself up with the forsythias
and when the lilacs flower, stir them in too
with your blood and happiness and wretchedness,
the dark ground that seems to come with you.

Sluggish days. All obstacles overcome.
And if you say: ending or beginning, who knows,
then maybe—just maybe—the hours will carry you
into June, when the roses blow.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Did St. Patrick ever fly a kite?

The snow falling this morning is Winter white. Mother Nature has failed to provide appropriately green snow on St. Patrick's day. In fact, she has failed to uncover any of our fields or show even hints of green so far. We'll have to make do with ☘☘☘☘☘☘☘☘.  That's enough to wish one and all a Happy St. Patrick's Day! and exclaim Éirinn go Brách!

March: kite over the St. Croix
March: kite over the St. Croix
Photo by J. Harrington

This upcoming week may finally free our local fields of snow cover, and free us to soar into solid Spring breezes instead of howling Winter winds. We keep threatening to get and learn to fly a dragon kite.
“… No country in Europe is so associated with the Serpent as Ireland, and none has so many myths and legends connected with the same… “Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions– James Bonwick, 1894
Maybe this will be the year. Maybe we'll change our mind and go for an octopus kite. instead. Maybe the snow won't melt until the breezes of Spring are gone and the heat of Summer arrives the next day. Spring in the North Country is such an intermittent and short-lived affair most years. But this may be the year to stand in readiness and be prepared despite white snow and no sign of shamrocks nor 4-leaf clovers this St. Patrick's Day. Ah, well, we've still soda bread, corned beef and cabbage, and Seamus Heaney to help celebrate the day. That'll have to do, for now, won't it?

A Kite for Aibhin

Seamus Heaney1939 - 2013

After “L’Aquilone” by Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912)
Air from another life and time and place,
Pale blue heavenly air is supporting
A white wing beating high against the breeze,

And yes, it is a kite! As when one afternoon
All of us there trooped out
Among the briar hedges and stripped thorn,

I take my stand again, halt opposite
Anahorish Hill to scan the blue,
Back in that field to launch our long-tailed comet.

And now it hovers, tugs, veers, dives askew,
Lifts itself, goes with the wind until
It rises to loud cheers from us below.

Rises, and my hand is like a spindle
Unspooling, the kite a thin-stemmed flower
Climbing and carrying, carrying farther, higher

The longing in the breast and planted feet
And gazing face and heart of the kite flier
Until string breaks and—separate, elate—

The kite takes off, itself alone, a windfall.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Marching past the Ides

Unlike Caesar, we have once again made it through the Ides of March. The best parts of this year are now ahead of us, at least as far as weather and activities are involved. A dash of the outdoors makes just about everything better. Today's sunshine is melting the ice at the East (road) end of the drive. The rest of the drive is shaded by enough trees that we may need to exchange our yak-tax for skate blades this year.

the drive / skating rink
the drive / skating rink
Photo by J. Harrington

We know hedgehogs are not indigenous to North America, although they are native to Ireland and so fit in with this Irish weekend. Plus, we've developed a fondness for them after seeing so many cute pictures of them online. Since our primary chocolatier makes chocolate hedgehogs as Easter/Spring decorations, we once again have one sitting on the dining room table. [The seam in this year's version isn't noticeable.] Would that we were so easily pleased in all things.

our very own hedgehog
our very own hedgehog
Photo by J. Harrington

This morning we baked some oats and barley scones. Tomorrow it will be Irish soda bread. All in honor of St. Patrick's Day and our Irish heritage. The Better Half is planning on corned beef and cabbage for tomorrow's dinner. We're reminiscing about marching in the Boston St. Patrick's day parade, back when we were in the equivalent of junior high (7th and 8th grade). This year the weather  back East is slightly warmer than ours and both places are doing much better than the folks in Nebraska, Iowa and environs. At this time of year, many of us would love to be at a cabin on Innisfree.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

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Please be kind to each other while you can.

Friday, March 15, 2019

More signs of Spring awakening! #phenology #ClimateStrike

More signs of Spring are starting to appear on this Ides of March/School Strike for Climate day. Goldfinches are definitely showing more color. Snow wells have appeared around some of the trees in our wood lot. Melting and puddling continues. By this time next week, we should be experiencing temperatures in the range of 50℉+. Perhaps that will trigger the return of purple finches, at least as they pass through, headed North again.

gold (top) and purple finches: a colorful, diverse mixture at the feeder
gold (top) and purple finches: a colorful, diverse mixture at the feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

Nature supports and thrives on diversity. And yet, terrorists of all stripes would remake the world in their image? Today we send our condolences to Muslims, New Zealanders, and others who have suffered terroristic violence and attacks. We note that the suspected perpetrator(s?) in New Zealand, unlike many unarmed suspects in the US, were captured alive by police. We think there's a lesson there to be learned, along with increasing our lack of tolerance for intolerance. Is that what we need to do? How would that work? We are faced with increasing amounts of false information, lies, propaganda and skewed, biased data and statistics, much of it made up on the spot. And yet, the system in the US just allowed a creature who is a strong proponent of such measures to become president. He has been aided and abetted by a Republican Senate, especially the Majority Leader, which has shown essentially no inclination to put country ahead of party, nor people ahead of maintaining power. And we the people continue to put up with this kind of governance? Why?

There are, we believe, many worthwhile lessons we can learn about cultural survival from Native Americans. Other beneficial lessons are taught by Buddhists about our need to show and feel compassion for all sentient beings. In fact, the alleged adults, worldwide, are being educated by the generation still in school, about the need to confront and do something everything about out climate disruption crises. Meanwhile, the "world leaders" diddle and dabble about, accomplishing essentially nothing. The Titanic will go down with the deck chairs neatly arranged and properly color coded. We need to elect and select much more carefully those we honor with the opportunity to represent us. How many of you are truly proud of your government's behavior these days. Does it represent you and your values? Did you vote in the last election or abstain in protest? Did you participate in the selection process for candidates? Will you do better net time, if there is a next time? Have we reached the point where we need to celebrate a "Western Spring?"


“A true Arab knows how to catch a fly in his hands,”
my father would say. And he’d prove it,
cupping the buzzer instantly
while the host with the swatter stared.

In the spring our palms peeled like snakes.
True Arabs believed watermelon could heal fifty ways.
I changed these to fit the occasion.

Years before, a girl knocked,
wanted to see the Arab.
I said we didn’t have one.
After that, my father told me who he was,
“Shihab”—“shooting star”—
a good name, borrowed from the sky.
Once I said, “When we die, we give it back?”
He said that’s what a true Arab would say.

Today the headlines clot in my blood.
A little Palestinian dangles a truck on the front page.
Homeless fig, this tragedy with a terrible root
is too big for us. What flag can we wave?
I wave the flag of stone and seed,
table mat stitched in blue.

I call my father, we talk around the news.
It is too much for him,
neither of his two languages can reach it.
I drive into the country to find sheep, cows,
to plead with the air:
Who calls anyone civilized? 
Where can the crying heart graze?
What does a true Arab do now?

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

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Time to wish Winter "Au Revoir"

This morning the Better Half [BH] and I combined efforts to put the driveway to rights. I drove the tractor and used the backblade to scrape several inches of slush from the top of the remaining, underlying ice. BH spread a limited amount of salt on the slipperiest spots and laid a sand path from the house to the township road. There's a chance, with a little luck, we'll make it to full melt with no serious falls or tumbles. Grabbing the tractor during dismount saved me at one point this morning. Several sets of Yak-Trax are going onto the "to be replaced" list for next Winter. Our body is neither as agile nor resilient as it once was.

In honor of Winter's imminent departure, we finished the last few essays in the Winter section of natural connections. We're planning a visit to the Cable Museum sometime this Summer. That's probably when we'll take the opportunity to pick up Emily Stone's second volume of "natural connections", to be published later this month. If you enjoy our North Country's natural happenings reported by season, we highly recommend books as an inspiration for weekly phenological considerations and observations. Also, in recognition of the fact that it is now less than a week until the Vernal Equinox, today we read ahead a little and finished rereading Ted Kooser's Winter Morning Walks: one hundred postcards to Jim Harrison. That means we'll return to reading his Kindest Regards volume until we've finished working our way through that collection of new and selected poems.

red maple, mid-March
red maple, mid-March
Photo by J. Harrington

Too late for this past Winter, but in an effort to get local deer to stop emptying the sunflower seed feeder we keep in front of the house, we're going to put the thistle seed feeder out front. We've also filled the suet feeders for the last time this Winter. We want all traces of them gone by the time our local black bears awaken feeling hungry and with cubs to feed. Plus, we've had a few problems with bears helping themselves to the seed feeders and the hummingbird nectar feeders. Trying to feed "birds" has become a never-ending challenge. We used to think squirrels were the major culprits!

red squirrel at "bird" feeder
red squirrel at "bird" feeder
Photo by J. Harrington

Although it's a couple of days out of sequence, here's another example of why we've been reading Winter Morning Walks. The theme matches perfectly this week's occurrences, except for the geese, and they'll soon be back.

march 16

Snow melting from the roof.

Spring, the sky rippled with geese,
but the green comes on slowly
timed to the ticking of downspouts.
The pond, still numb from months
of ice, reflects just one enthusiast
this morning, a budding maple
whose every twig is strung with beads
of carved cinnabar, bittersweet red.

~Ted Kooser

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