Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The election happened - the sun came up this morning

I was up early this morning to see the sunrise. It wasn't quite as beautiful as the sunrise last week over Lake Superior pictured here.

At the feeders outside this morning there was a red squirrel, a couple gray squirrels, Chickadees, Junkos, Cardinals, and House Sparrows (not my favorite bird). I drove down to the Louisville Swamp for an early morning walk. There were already deer hunters in the woods. I saw two Bald Eagles, lots of Canada Geese and Mallards, Tree Sparrows, Pileated, Red-breasted, and Downy Woodpeckers and other birds and squirrels. It was another beautiful November day. Yesterday I spent much of the day with our three grandchildren. There is - still - much to be thankful for.

I am deeply disappointed in the election outcome. I fear for my children and grandchildren. I fear for the country. I fear for the earth. This morning I feel very much like Thomas Friedman: "Homeless in America." But the voters have spoken and we will have President Trump. I hope he rises to the immense challenges he will face. I hope he is able to be a leader for all the people. I hope he succeeds in improving the fortunes of all of the angry voters who voted him into office, who themselves have felt homeless in America as their jobs were shipped overseas or lost to the rapidly changing global economy. With a Republican Congress he will certainly get his chance. Time will tell.

Meanwhile we have families to nurture, friends to give us hope and keep us laughing, communities to support, and a fragile earth to take care of. There is much important and meaningful work to do.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Edward Abbey. I am not quite as confident as he is about the outcome but I love the sentiment:
One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast....a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Election Day

Mary Ann and I voted around lunchtime today. No lines, but a steady flow of people. Two women were wearing pants-suits. I wonder who they were voting for? It's been the nastiest election season I have ever seen and I can only hope that the nasty woman wins and wins big.

There has been little if any conversation about issues that matter during the campaign. Trumps daily insults and Hillary's emails have kept the media titillated and uninterested in moving the conversation on to more important topics. It is particularly disappointing that climate change went unmentioned. It's the most important issue facing us and it didn't, as far as I remember, come up in the debates nor get any air time by the candidates or the press.

Meanwhile our endless summer continues. Sixty degrees this afternoon, still no freeze, and the longest growing season on record continues.

Yesterday I walked at Murphy-Hanrehan Park. I parked in the main parking lot and walked past Hanrehan Lake where there was a large flock of Ring-necked ducks on the water. I read that they are late migrants.

Interestingly, there was a Bald Eagle swooping low over them. I watched it make six passes before it saw me and took off. I don't know what it was up to,

What I do know is that we must love the ducks, the eagles, the earth that nurtures us all, and one another, or die.

September 1, 1939
W. H. Auden, 1907 - 1973

 I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


It can't be accidental that the week before Halloween is also International Bat Week. Bats, along with spiders and cats, are among the "scary" creatures that show up in lawn displays and costumes.

When I was a child I learned that if you were out in the evening when the bats were flying you might be the victim of a bat laying its eggs in your hair. Bats, of course, are mammals and don't lay eggs. And they have an incredible locating system that keeps them from flying into things - like humans - that might harm them. I am not sure when I unlearned that silly myth but I have long since come to enjoy their "story" and appreciate their part in a healthy environment.

For the last couple of years our church has been renting the group camp site at Forestville State Park for our summer camping outing. The Mystery Cave is there and it is home to a sizable bat population. But many also spend summer days resting in the rafters of the large group camp pavilion that we use while camping. You can hear them chattering all day long and often see some between the beams. But what is really fascinating is to watch as evening rolls around and they crawl out, line up, walk down a rafter, and take flight one after another as if they are queued up for takeoff on a runway.

Minnesota is home to seven species of bats. The little brown bat is the most common.

It is one of four species that spend their winters hibernating in Minnesota caves. Three other species migrate south for the winter. It is the cave dwellers that are particularly susceptible to the White Nose Syndrome that has decimated some bat populations in other parts of the country. The fungus has been found at Mystery Cave and elsewhere in Minnesota but so far we haven't seen a decline in bat numbers. As the linked article suggests, though, the trend lines are "awful."

An enormous amount of money and research is being poured into understanding this disease as bats play a crucial role in our agricultural economy. We know they eat mosquitoes but they also eat vast quantities of insect pests that potentially save farmers billions of dollars in pesticide costs. Now, though, there is a possibility that farming practices may be affecting bat populations in much the way that they are suspected of affecting honey bee populations.

The evidence isn't it yet on the relationship between big ag and bat decline. But I won't be surprised if there is a link. We already know our agricultural practices are bad for the soil, the water, the bees, wildlife, and quite frankly us.

In any case, bats are amazing creatures. Here are a few more bat facts:
  • There are more than 1,300 species of bats on earth, 40 in the U.S.
  • Bat wings are webs of skin between their fingers (forelimbs).  Bats have more bones in their wings than birds do.
  • Bats have “thumbs” on the leading end of their wings that help them grasp and climb. The tropical Spix’s Disk-winged Bat roosts on leaves so he has suction cups where his thumbs would be.  Clickhere to see.
  • According to, some male bats sing like songbirds to defend territory and attract mates.
  • Most bats reproduce very slowly, only one pup per year.
And a bat poem:

At evening, sitting on this terrace,
When the sun from the west, beyond Pisa, beyond the mountains of Carrara
Departs, and the world is taken by surprise ...

When the tired flower of Florence is in gloom beneath the glowing
Brown hills surrounding ...

When under the arches of the Ponte Vecchio
A green light enters against stream, flush from the west,
Against the current of obscure Arno ...

Look up, and you see things flying
Between the day and the night;
Swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.

A circle swoop, and a quick parabola under the bridge arches
Where light pushes through;
A sudden turning upon itself of a thing in the air.
A dip to the water.

And you think:
"The swallows are flying so late!"


Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop ...
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

Never swallows!
The swallows are gone.

At a wavering instant the swallows gave way to bats
By the Ponte Vecchio ...
Changing guard.

Bats, and an uneasy creeping in one's scalp
As the bats swoop overhead!
Flying madly.

Black piper on an infinitesimal pipe.
Little lumps that fly in air and have voices indefinite, wildly vindictive;

Wings like bits of umbrella.


Creatures that hang themselves up like an old rag, to sleep;
And disgustingly upside down.

Hanging upside down like rows of disgusting old rags
And grinning in their sleep.

In China the bat is symbol for happiness.

Not for me!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Nature gives to us. Can we give something back?

Robin Wall Kimmerer is Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. She is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and writes passionately and well about the science and beauty of the natural world, and about the human-made threats to its - to our - health and well being. In her most recent book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (2013), she talks about human interactions with nature as seen through the lens of the students she teaches:
One otherwise unremarkable morning I gave the students in my General Ecology class a survey. Among other things, they were asked to rate their understanding of the negative interactions between humans and the environment. Nearly every one of the two hundred students said confidently that humans and nature are a bad mix. These were third-year students who had selected a career in environmental protection, so the response was, in a way, not very surprising. They were well schooled in the mechanics of climate change, toxins in the land and water, and the crisis of habitat loss. Later in the survey, they were asked to rate their knowledge of positive interactions between people and land. The median response was “none.” I was stunned. How is it possible that in twenty years of education they cannot think of any beneficial relationships between people and the environment? Perhaps the negative examples they see every day— brownfields, factory farms, suburban sprawl—truncated their ability to see some good between humans and the earth. As the land becomes impoverished, so too does the scope of their vision. When we talked about this after class, I realized that they could not even imagine what beneficial relations between their species and others might look like. How can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like?
 I thought about this quote last evening as I read the latest issue of Trout Unlimited magazine. The current issue is all about the effects of climate change on the watersheds that support cold-water species like trout and salmon. All across the country the weather is playing havoc with the health of the streams and rivers that support fish and their food sources. Rivers and the life they support have always had to adapt to drought, fire, hurricanes, and monsoon-like rain events, but climate change is accelerating the rate at which these events occur, making it difficult for aquatic life to recover and adapt.

Whitewater River in Whitewater State Park

I have seen this in Minnesota on the streams that I love to fish. The Whitewater River and its tributaries have seen a series of major flooding events over the last decade. The MN DNR says that "mega-rains" are hitting MN with an increasing frequency all across the state: "These trends are consistent with the expectation that Minnesota and the Upper Midwest will receive more precipitation, and more precipitation from large events, in response to increasing global temperatures and increased available moisture for passing storm systems."

If we don't know know that humans are effecting the climate in negative ways... well, how could we not know? And it is only going to get worse. But the question that interests me at the moment is do we know what a beneficial relationship between us and other species looks like? That's where an organization like Trout Unlimited comes in. All across the country, and all across the state of Minnesota they organize volunteers to improve that habitat that supports trout and salmon. I have participated in volunteer projects on the Vermillion River in Farmington. A mostly dead stream has slowly been transformed into a healthy trout stream. Why does this matter? Because it means that farming practices along the river have to be addressed, wastewater treatment systems have to be improved, and citizens and politicians need to be educated and brought on board to support taking care of the environment. If we are going to do something about climate change this is the way it is going to happen. People have to be connected with the land and the water so they learn to love it and care for it. This is what TU does. This is what a beneficial relationship with the earth looks like.

So put down that bag of potato chips and your cell phone and get out there...

For Calling The Spirit Back From Wandering The Earth In Its Human Feet, by Joy Harjo
Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, Poems, Joy Harjo

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the Earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this Earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the Earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds, and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand, or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgement, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return. Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A beautiful fall that feels a lot like summer

I walked at Murphy-Hanrehan Park today. I saw a pair of warblers that I couldn't identify, Lincoln's, Song, and White-throated Sparrows, a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets, three Hermit Thrushes, Juncos and Chickadees, and several hawks flying at a distance. We are mostly past peek fall colors here, but there is still some to be seen.

Even the prairie grasses look great.

I came home and mowed grass and leaves. Then I walked out back. It;s October 20 and we still have roses blooming.

The Cimicifuga racemosa is finally blooming. Often we get a freeze before it comes into bloom, but not this year.

We also have hydrangea coming into bloom. I'm sure this endless summer has nothing to do with climate change!

Here's some wisdom from a late bloomer:

“I was a late bloomer. But anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky. ” ― Sharon Olds

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sunday Night Mass

Yesterday evening I took my mother-in-law Mary, mother of my wife Mary Ann, to Mary Mother Catholic Church in Burnsville. There is something about Mary in Catholicism.

This was my second visit there with my mother-in-law this summer. She has been out for both weddings and has been a great help so I am happy to take her to mass. Mary Mother Catholic Church is the more theologically progressive of the two Catholic parishes in Burnsville. It is reflected in their active social justice ministry and their (carefully worded) prayers of inclusion. The music is very good. Yesterday the worship leadership - altar girl, worship leader, scripture reader - were all female. The priest, of course, was not. In the two times I have heard him deliver a homily it is obvious that he puts a lot of time into the message, which is not always the case in Catholic, or Protestant, services.

The gospel reading yesterday was from Matthew 15:
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
This is one of those "hard" sayings of Jesus. He appears to callously dismiss the gentile women's plea for help. It is only her persistence and smart comeback that gains her a genuine hearing. This is not a very welcoming Jesus.

I thought it was interesting how the priest handled this passage. It was a very Catholic message on the rewards of persistence in faith. Jesus' initial brush-off was just a test, giving the Canaanite woman an opportunity to work for her reward. He likened it to his 91 year old mother doing a jigsaw puzzle. He said she loves to work on big, difficult puzzles, plugging away at it for days and even weeks, looking for the satisfaction of the completed puzzle at the end. So it is with faith. If we keep plugging away at good works we can be sure we will get our reward at the end.

He talked about prayer in the same way. We need to keep praying with the confidence that God will reward our efforts with an answer. Although, he said two different times, we should not expect miracles but healing. Healing, he said, is what we should pray for. He didn't define those terms but I thought it was interesting that he made the distinction and assume that at other times he has spelled out what would be a fairly progressive theological distinction.

Still, it was a very Catholic message on faith and works. Traditional Protestantism would trumpet God's grace over works, but then remind us that although God's grace is sure we can never be sure that we have it. But our works are a visible sign that we probably do. In the hands of an unscrupulous Protestant minister it is a back-handed way to keep the flock coming back for more.

There is something to be said for a more straight-forward and fair earn your way into heaven plan of action. If you can get past the creed, the all-male priesthood, the theology of the mass itself, etc. I can't, but the couple hundred who were present for both services I attended obviously can. I am happy for them and for my mother-in-law that they find it meaningful.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bob Herbert Signs Off Saying We Have Lost Our Way

Bob Herbert writes his last column for the NYTimes today and gives voice to my thoughts about our plunge into another war while millions in the US are unemployed:
So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.

Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.

Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.
There is no political will - even from Democrats - to spend money at home to bring down the unemployment rate and tackle the countless number of problems we have here. "We are broke" is the constant refrain. And yet there is barely a murmur of dissent as we commit ourselves to spending billions on another war of choice. It is hard not to agree with Bob Herbert: we have lost our way.