Monday, March 30, 2009

She's back!

We woke at sunrise to the sounds of a duck apparently having an identity crisis. The noise was loud and right outside our bedroom window. It was so loud that eventually I had to get up and take a look. Expecting to see the duck on the ground, I was surprised to see it on the roof of our neighbor's house. I crept through the house to grab my camera so that I could capture this odd sight so early in the morning.

Yep, she's back for another season. Last year while we were away at our trailer, our other neighbor saw a bunch of little baby duckies fall from the huge backyard elm tree. She, the neighbor, watched as they came together and made their way to the river. Um, the river is several miles away! So these little ducklings with their mama had to cross several busy streets on their way to the Mississippi.

Looks like she back and scoping out another nesting spot in our tree.

She didn't quit with all her honking and yapping. And I was surprised she didn't wake the entire neighborhood. But then, most people have their windows closed as the temps still go down close to freezing at night. I am so happy that we decided to leave our bedroom window open last night. She's a great alarm clock, but I seriously hope she doesn't plan to make all this noise every morning.

After the sun rose, the duck moved to our rooftop. All the neighbors leaving for work took a few minutes to gaze at the loud, ducky assessment of the future home site.

She knew I was watching as I walked around the house to catch a few more shots. Pacing back and forth on the very tip of our roof, she seemed to be debating location, location, location.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The rivers are rising

A sure sign of spring is the rise of the rivers. Along the border the St. Croix rises over the banks every spring. It's expected, but this year the river may rise higher than usual. In some years the water rises as high as the pavilion.

This last weekend the ice was still floating and there is rain and snow forecasted this entire week, so the water is just going to keep on rising.

Covering the walkways and the river road, and threatening the foundations of the bridge.

This is beautiful for me, but it is because I am a spectator, a visitor on my way over the border. I do not live on the banks of the river, my home and neighborhood is not in danger of being overtaken by the flood waters. Further north and west of me, the Red River is flooding at records levels. Sandbag operations are urgently trying to protect the homes, college and high schools kids are let out of school to help the community, volunteers from all over the state are rushing up to meet the rage of the river.

The river paddle-boats are still locked in the ice, yet nonetheless rising in their slips.

As the ice flowed down the river, it broke up against the cement column. It was an odd noise seeming to come out of nowhere. It took me a while to realize that the sound was created right in front of me. The Big D made some comment about jumping on the ice and floating down the river. This one was way too thin for such an adventure.

It was a beautiful day on the river last Saturday. Today, the news is full of the Red River flooding combined with blizzard like conditions. My prayers go out to those folks. I pray that they efforts are worthwhile and they can avoid the sort of disaster that hit the region over ten years ago.
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Monday, March 23, 2009

For the BSG fans...

...I know the location of the 13th colony.

They settled in the middle of Wisconsin!

Apparently they are mating and it seems they are renting the venue to humans.
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

the last of the TJ?

Both of us, in different stages of our lives, wanted to drive a Jeep. Both of us, for one reason or another, were deterred from our desires to own a Jeep. Even when we married and moved away from the influence of other people's decisions, we shied away from buying a Jeep. Then finally I got a full-time job with the University, we had some extra cash and so decided to take the plunge. We bought our Jeep in 2006, but never could we have imagined how much it changed our lives.

Now, I hear that 2006 was the last year that Chrysler made the TJ model. Is this an instance of serendipity? I know that it was extremely fortunate that we got our Jeep when we did. And to tell you the truth, I don't like the new models, they are boxy, hummer-like.

For us, this was an investment in our future. This would enable us to roadtrip and roadtrip in a way that led off the road to places I only imagined I could get to on a horse. It was an investment for our safety. How many times had we wandered into a muddy situation, a questionable road with only a rental car or the truck? Too many, I say.

But what about the environmental impact of our purchase? Well, I can tell you that the Jeep gets the same gas mileage as our old Saturn. When we bought the Jeep we also made the decision to travel the US, see more of this beautiful country and forgo plane tickets. So, buying the Jeep offsets the carbon foot print left behind by big airliners.

When will Chrysler come out with a Jeep that gets better gas mileage? Why not a hybrid of some sorts? It seems to me that the development focus has been to compete with the Hummers. A bad decision I think. Especially now when there is an urgent need to find alternative energy sources, trying to break our collective dependence on fossil fuels.
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

power to the people

I like DIY projects. A couple of years ago I started to make my own garden pavers with concrete molds. It started with Buddha head molds and a small bag of concrete.

[Oops! There's my toes in the bottom of the image. Hey, I think I like that shade of nail polish. I'll have to go find the bottle.]

Then when winter hit, the Big D took over the mold and made some frozen ice sculptures. Last year I discovered concrete poetry kits and started taking quotes and short poems and stringing them together, laying them out on patches of the lawn.

Could this be Art? Lawn Art? art with a capital 'A'? Or just a way to cover the front slope of the yard where the grass is withering away and being taken over by weeds? Whatever it is it sure makes people pause as they walk by our house.

Somehow I'd forgotten about these when they were covered in three feet of snow. This week as the temps rose into the 60's I saw again how people would pause in front of our house. I went out to check what the heck it was and delightfully found again my attempts at art. Ok, now I've decided that it is art with a lower-case 'a'.

It was nice to move on to a project that entailed physical labor - mixing the concrete, pouring into molds, etching letters into the bricks, and experimenting with concrete dyes to find swirly effects. I had spent ten years struggling with the mental labor required to complete my dissertation. Working with concrete brought balance to my life. Sweating out the toxins of stress with the exertion of physical labor was exactly what I needed as I contemplated what to do with my post-doc life. It literally brought joy to my life, something that was in short supply during the graduate school years.

And for me, this project on the front slope was a tribute to Obama and multicultural America. The experimentation with concrete dyes created a range of "skin colors" on the Buddha heads.

I thought that perhaps I would make poetry bricks to pave the path through my garden, or even the paths up at the woodland retreat in Wisconsin. And I made huge progress in making the bricks, but after I laid them out, I realized very quickly that they are very breakable. It only took one step to reveal the fragility. I don't know exactly what to do about making them stronger, less breakable. Maybe I need some different concrete, maybe they just need to weather and age before I walk over them.

See? I broke this one about one minute after I laid it out in the garden. I was pressing down with my foot to bury it down into the dirt. "Love as thou wilt" is the sacred precept from the Kushiel trilogy. Placing it here in the garden adds a new dimension as the garden wilts to its Autumn state of being.

As the weather warms, I wonder what happened with my plans to make lots of poetry bricks throughout the winter. It is a great hibernation project, but somehow that got away from me. I guess sub zero temps make the garden seem like a dream from long ago.

The garden is still a dream that won't come alive for at least another month. Now I will resume my plans. Hopefully it will fill that increasing need to dig in the garden, keep me occupied until Spring comes to stay.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

T'ai Chi Ch'uan (Yang Short Form)

Later this evening, I uploaded a different version. I think this one is better.

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T'ai Chi Ch'uan

I got this great opportunity this week, a chance to film my T'ai Chi instructor! So, I get to play around with multi-media - don't I sound tech-savvy? - but I'm not, and the quality of this video demonstrates the extent of my abilities. Who knew there were so many different ways to format video clips? I had to create the film in Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 (I know, I know, it's an old version) just to add credits and stuff. Then, I had render the clip to upload for the web...rendering the clip sounds like I'm trying to render some pork fat, jeez, where do these terms come from? So, I rendered the clip as a MPEG2 file and these are the results: fuzzy, blurry, lookin old and tired. Now, I am rendering it to an .avi format which, of course, is going to take hours and hours...regardless here is the blurry version. I'll post a better (I hope) version later today or tomorrow.

The Matrix look to the opening title page? I don't know. There was a lot of talk at the end of class about doing some special effects - matrix style, so that's what I went with while picking through the available templates.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Airstream in the Snow

I just love our airstream retreat, even in the winter.

Those two tanks in front of the trailer are our only source of heat. When the furnace kicks on the noise is really loud, but I'm not complaining because it's better than no heat at all.

There is always a lot of shoveling to be done, but not before we get a chance to check out any animal tracks. It's fun to see the tracks of a mouse that jumps over and under all the logs, little tracks leading to and from the trailer. Ugh, mice. A reality I can't get away from in trailer living. There are usually deer and rabbit tracks as well.

This is picture taken years ago with my film camera. The shots had way too much light, blown out, I guess is the way to describe. Photoshopping these led to sort of a vintage feel and since these images are not current, that feels fine to me.

It used to be so difficult going to the trailer in the winter. Sometimes we couldn't even get into the driveway because of the piles of snow left by the plow. Let me tell ya, there's a lot of shoveling to do just to get the vehicle off the road. Having the Jeep changed a lot in terms of access. But, it was cross country skiing that got us to retreat more to the trailer in the winter.

Here's the routine:
We arrive in the early afternoon and shovel our way into the trailer. We unload our supplies after we get the furnace going. Then, we take off for the ski trails. The exertion warms me up, and the few hours we are away skiing gives the trailer time to warm enough to take the heavy winter coats off. Turning on the oven to cook some dinner adds to the heating of the trailer. But, it never quite gets warm enough until the next day. The first night the walls and the floor of the trailer remain cold, cold, and cold.

Why does all this matter? Why do you care? Why do i care? Well, for one, I have a much greater appreciation for the heat that is constantly running through our home in the city. Second, I have a much greater appreciation for those that live in these somewhat remote situations all year around. We are lucky that we have propane tanks, but it sure leads to a frozen night if we run out of propane, which has happened more than once. Thankfully, there is a place in town where we can fill up. I can't even imagine how much work people must put into having enough fuel if heating a cabin with a wood stove. Third, it does a body good to be out of its comfort zone. I feel like I'm hardy after a winter weekend at the trailer. Fourth, and last, I get a different way of existing in the winter, a way that gets me outside in the winter, a chance to get away from the tedium of going from one heated place to another, stepping away from the routine of home to store or home to office each day.
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Monday, March 9, 2009

The remaining squash

These squash got away from me this past winter. I wasn't able to cook them when they were at their peak, and now that it's March, they have lightened up quite a bit, so to me, they are now inedible. I put them out for the squirrels on Saturday morning. The ones in the backyard (yes, there's more that were not eaten) were devoured by the squirrels by that afternoon. They haven't found the ones that are in the front yard. Yet.

I placed these three in my front garden with the hopes that the remaining seeds will somehow take root. Perhaps I'll get a chance to grow my own this year. I've seen squash and zucchini growing out of the lush nutrients of a compost pile - a big surprise to the owner of that compost pile. I'm sort of applying the same theory here.

But, beyond that, I think they add a bright splash of color in the dirtying whiteness of the snow that blankets the city. Perhaps something a little quirky and interesting to look at for all those neighbors walking by.

I admit that I had gotten a lot of strange looks when I moved my vegetable garden to the front of the house in a neighborhood full of immaculate front lawns. But over the years, I've worked in perennials around the spots designated for vegetables and herbs. And since I'm spending more time hanging in the front yard, there has been more opportunity to get to know my neighbors, and many of the new ones in the area have voiced support for de-lawning my yard.

I like to bake the squash in the oven and serve them as soup bowls. This soup is wild rice with potatoes and carrots.

The first year that I discovered how yummy squash was the year I was still visiting the local farmer's market. I got a whole grocery bag full of smaller sized squash for $5! They lasted all winter and were the perfect size for a two-person household. Since then, I've been getting a variety of different squash from my CSA. I don't have a need to go to the farmers market any more as my veggies are being delivered to my neighborhood by a local farmer.

Maybe this year, I'll get the chance to grow my own. The time to start seeds for the garden is swiftly approaching. While starting seeds can be a refreshing experience, it is also a time of nervousness. Will the weather cooperate? Have I started my seeds too soon, or too late? Do I have enough space on the inside for all the seeds I want to start?

The uncertainties and possibilities are endless.
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Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Foshay from the 50th

On Friday, I hauled myself out of bed at sunrise to trek downtown for a breakfast event. Sunrise isn't all that early in the beginning of March, nonetheless it was 6:30 and that was early for me. I managed to catch the only sunlight of the day.

An eagle flew overhead as I crossed the new 35W bridge that is over the Mississippi River. A good omen for what turned into a good morning.

The talk was sponsored by the Minnesota International Center and the speaker was Majora Carter who is celebrated for her productive efforts to "Green the Ghetto." The event took place on the 50th floor of the IDS building. I'd forgotten that, and after a shaky, disorienting ride up the elevator, I was quite surprised to see such a wonderful view.

There was quite the view of the Foshay Tower, and the numerous windows on the 50th floor framed the slender rise of the tower from a multiplicity of angles.

I'll take any chance I can get to look down upon the city like this. Things seems to make sense, there seems to be a sense of order to the open lots with the rows and rows of cars, the sharp corners of the city streets on the grid, the rise of so many buildings like trees growing in a concrete jungle. It was easy to see how we are all connected, all part of the same human system.

I kept thinking why isn't this working for us? There are so many people working in these office spaces in the sky, shouldn't they have a better grip on the world? Shouldn't such lofty view inspire compassion, gratitude, good will?

I was rewarded for my thoughts with the great talk given by Carter. Here's the description offered on the MIC website:

Majora Carter pioneered urban green economic practices in one of the country's most difficult environments: the South Bronx, N.Y. By connecting the right type of training, policy and relationships, she now helps cities across the U.S. realize the value of integrating infrastructure and the local economy in ways that benefit everyone. Ms. Carter will be in Minnesota to serve as the keynote speaker for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Forum, which will be held at St. Olaf College in Northfield.

I was immediately struck with the relevancy of her vision to addressing the challenges of this century. She began by quoting another woman from her neighborhood who said: "You shouldn't have to move out of your neighborhood in order to live in a good neighborhood."

That idea resonated deeply within me. Especially now since I'm trying to make sense of life here in Minnesota, trying to tease out what it is about this town that appeals to me and the Big D. And hearing that quote made me think I no longer have to justify my reasons for remaining in this city, although I should make certain to notice my surroundings and perhaps contribute to improving and greening this community.

She talked about "horticultural infrastructure" and the importance of adding this element to city planning, the importance of having an abundance of green things to improve the air, cool rooftops, thus reducing our dependence on limited energy sources. There was discussion about ways to train crews for green projects, the possibility for alternative energy sources being connected to a national grid. All very interesting stuff that made up for the crappy breakfast meal and high ticket price for attending the event.

I'm a girl that likes the woods, the solitude of remote places, but I also find a lot of value in those things connected to the grid, city resources that enrich my everyday life whether it be necessary utilities or public benefits such as libraries. And not all of us who live in the city can sprawl towards and over the green space, the woodland spaces of Minnesota. Helping to improve the city keeps people in the city.

These changes are no longer an ideal to strive for. They are necessary for sustaining our abundant lifestyles. They are necessary in making certain that all communities have access to these things. Carter didn't waste too much time on ideals but rather offered real, practical solutions out there to fighting poverty, unemployment and violence in our communities. Real practical efforts to reduce our reliance on oil and fossil fuels and increase our use of clean, alternative energies such as wind and solar.

The question that I had for the speaker was "what role or contribution can the Arts have in this effort to green our world?" While it's true that artists and their various forms of art should be included in the green spaces created for the public, there must also be other ways in which the Arts can improve communication, educate the public, seek to tease out visions for the future. In response to my question, Carter offered the idea the Arts provides a way to see beauty that is fundamental to building communities, bringing people together in celebration of community.

It's going to take me a while to wrap my brain around this questions. I want to think more about other ways in which the Arts can contribute as this country is facing a real green revolution. My own artistic endeavors focus on capturing moments in my woodland environment, the green park spaces in my neighborhoods, the stark beauty of the desert which is so alien to my midwest sensibilities. I am left with the wondrous feeling that my effort to push my art to a different level was inspired by a birds-eye view of the city grid.

Surprising and wondrous - apt words for describing this burgeoning national interest in greening our cities in a way that improves life for all of us in this human system.
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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The first signs of Spring

Spring is coming soon, yes?

Can't wait til these are coming up from the ground rather than coming from the store.

What started as just an image for the day, turned into something rather nice. I don't know how to explain, but it makes me feel like I should be a little more spontaneous with my settings and backgrounds. This is an interesting development for me and this switch to digital. One thing that I had lamented about giving up shooting film was the way that I always ended up with unintended surprises, some composition that was the result of a "mistake," or some moment of beauty that I had not seen at the time.. I thought that switching to digital may take away these surprises. Nonetheless...

Spring is coming soon, yes? Please? Now? Please?
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Monday, March 2, 2009

Views on Logging

Heading out in the Jeep, in the middle of winter, on a remote forest road, one expects to find adventure. Rolling down this road, one expects to encounter wildlife, a turkey or two, perhaps some deer crossing from one patch of woods to another. One expects to pass some off-roads that have not been maintained through the winter. One might even consider plowing through the snow just to take that side road, just for the heck of it. Who knows? Around the next curve, there could something that you'd never imagined before, some sight that provokes memories or possibilities for the future.

I doubt anyone expects to see this:

In winter, the deforestation seems more devastating, more stark, more cruel.

And yet, I have to remind myself, this is a state managed forest and presumably, there is a plan to thin out some unwanted tree-life, perhaps the poplar that some refer to as the weeds of a forest, in order to allow for more growth space for the more desirable hardwoods.

We pass many areas such as this, bare spots in the forest, alternating with the lush density. And, eventually we have to stop and take a closer look.

Trying to find some reason in this forest reduced to chaotic shrubs, piles of logs, and mounds of bark debris.

The linear cut of the saw distracts me from counting growth rings.

And yet, the color of the cut woods, the shapes in the grain grab my attention and suddenly I feel the urgent need to capture the sight of each and every log.

This one looks like a fish, or a whale.

Yin yang (sort of).

But no matter what I might find, desperately looking for beauty, I am sad to see what remains.

Some people would look at this site and see possibility, a cleared area for a cabin, perhaps. I don't see that. I see an end to many years of growth. How many years will it take to grow back?

We've seen the trees marked with red paint for a couple of years now, but never imagined this day would actually come.

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