Thursday, June 30, 2011

Radical simplicity

I just finished reading Jim Merkel's book Radical simplicity: small footprints on a finite Earth.  Mr. Merkel is an engineer who has radically reduced his own carbon and ecological footprint, and gives tips on why and how others might do likewise.

Merkel noted how since 1978 humans claimed the entire sustainable yield of the earth, and ever since have  been drawing down on resources at an unsustainable rate.  Americans in particular consume a vastly larger "share of the pie" than most others around the world.

He provides charts and tools to help people measure their ecological footprint.  Setting goals to live a richer and simpler lifestyle is encouraged. He also recommends readers to practice advice provided in the book Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robbins and Joe Dominguez.

He references the following valuable frugal tips:

  • Buy what you need but don't "go shopping"
  • Take care of what you own
  • Do it yourself
  • Anticipate  your needs
  • Get it for less
  • Buy it used
  • Pay off your credit-card balance
  • Walk or bicycle to do errands
Lastly Mr. Merkel recommends spending time daily in nature.  He notes the benefits of observing the natural environment and learning how the ecosystem works in a small defined area.

The goal of this book is to help most of us move through the following four stages.

  1. Unconscious unsustainability
  2. Conscious unsustainability
  3. Conscious sustainability
  4. Unconscious sustainability
Mr. Merkel's book is certainly a great consciousness raiser while also providing a wealth of ideas about ways to radically simplify ones lifestyle.

Interested in seeing how large a carbon footprint you have?  A website, carbon footprint, can lead you through an analysis.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fearless Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird chasing away Great Blue Heron
Female Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird
While walking around the pond one morning I observed a Red-winged Blackbird chasing away a Great Blue Heron (above).  How's that for bold?  Red-winged Blackbirds are brave, territorial and loud.

Red-winged Blackbird
Pretty amazing to see what a strong offensive approach can have, even over a bird as large as a Great Blue Heron.

Another example of a small animal yielding great influence over larger ones comes from Britain, where a two and a half pound Chihuahua has learned to heard sheep.  A story and video is on the web c/o Life with Dogs.  The Chihuahua was rescued at an early age and needed to be nursed back to health.  Its healthy enough now to move a heard of sheep around!

Feeling small and powerless?  Find your voice and take courage from these compact powerhouses.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Garden stroll along Summit Avenue in St. Paul

Garden variety Rhino

Egg laying chickens


Leashed dogs, perhaps for the rabbits?

House of Hope Community Garden
My wife and I, along with another couple, participated in a garden stroll along Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota yesterday.  I'll put up pictures on the blog for the next couple of days.

Some of the homes had gardens that were extraordinary, and well planned.  Truth be told, a couple of gardens seem to have been less thought through and appeared hastily developed.

Fun to see some beautiful statuary and whimsical sculpture complementing the plants.

Water garden, complete with Koi
One backyard garden was very much like an urban farmstead, complete with vegetables, bees and chickens.  Neat to see this in the city.  Can't get much more local produce than from the back yard!

House of Hope Presbyterian Church developed a community vegetable garden in a large portion of their front lot. The produce will go to the Neighborhood House Food Shelf.  I admired the cedar fence.  In talking with one of the church members I discovered that being along historic Summit Avenue they were required they put in a tasteful, quality fence.

A gardener for a large beautiful garden, which took a full city lot, it sounded like the rabbits were some of the biggest beneficiaries of the plantings. She seemed to think of rabbits of her enemies.  I encouraged her to reread Watership Down, a story that tells of the lives of rabbits and the many challenges they face.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Finding your peace place

White Poplar leaves

Early one morning, while at the far corner of Bassett Creek Park, I met our newspaper carrier.  He was in route, and driving a beat up old pick-up, complete with a broken windshield.  Reminded me of the pizza delivery pick-up in Toy Story.  He surprised me when he shared with me that this was his "peace place".  It took me a couple of requests for him to repeat this statement before my early morning consciousness understood what he meant.  While delivering papers on the weekend he must occasionally pull over by the park and enjoy a moment of peace.

I like this peaceful park corner too.  It is one of the least accessed areas of the park, despite being only a berm away from a highway.  It's where the park's frontage road ends in a cull de sac. It doesn't get much foot traffic, since the walking trail doesn't extend to that far corner.

White Poplar leaves ... "gradients of green"
The pictures on yesterday's blog are from just up the hill from the "peace place". Sadly, this peace place realized a chain saw massacre recently.  The tree I love to photograph most, a White Poplar, was cut down by a park employee.  I guess it was too close to an oak tree that had been planted nearby.

I've since discovered the White Poplar is considered to be an invasive species.  Upon research I didn't see any indication of other White Poplar's invading the surrounding area.  Where that it was as invasive as Buckthorn, I'm confident we would have seen a whole big grove of poplar taking over.

Do you have a "peace place" where you can relax, pray, meditate, or simply catch you breath?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Slowing down to see beauty

Flowering grass

Small moths
Yesterday I strolled along a hill on the eastern side of Bassett Creek Park.  Following are some pictures taken from ground level.
All lined  up

Yellow sweet clover
Wild peas 

Salsify in bloom

Wild daises

Friday, June 24, 2011

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird on sign
"Can you find this bird?"

Eastern Kingbird perched on branch
There is a great abundance of birds and water foul at Bassett Creek Park.  In order to help park visitors identify the birds a Boy Scout posted signs this past year with pictures and brief descriptors of various birds.  Ironically enough, the birds seem to just love sitting on these "Can you find this bird" signs.  This isn't bad in and of itself, but when they do their duty on the sign, it makes it hard to read.

One of the birds that loves to sign perch is the Eastern Kingbird. It is a far ranging bird, despite it's descriptor as being an east coaster.
Eastern Kingbird takeoff

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Volunteering through the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches

Gary Reierson,
President, GMCC
Getting the work done and not worrying about the credit.  That the way that the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches (GMCC) operates their family of programs that serve thousands of people in need.  This year GMCC anticipates serving 350,000 people through their various services, that involve everything from painting houses to food shelves to mentoring guys coming out of prisons.

An article in the Star Tribune, "Volunteers rate results over kudos", further describes how GMCC quietly goes about matching volunteers with service opportunities.  Looking for a way to put your faith into action? GMCC can help you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Oceans degrading more rapidly than anticipated

Styrofoam cups floating in pond
What's really big news? The headline in today's Star Tribune was regarding the start of the trail of young man who killed a couple of people.  If it bleeds it leads. If you dig more deeply, a column on page A6, contains an article "Scientist warn that oceans are on brink".  The article is brief enough that I've copied it below.

While sensational local news tends to grab our attention, let's not take our eyes of the larger, more global picture.  All of us depend upon the health of the world's oceans, even those of us that live over a thousand miles away from the nearest ocean.  Everything in nature is linked together in the web of life.  The way that I treat my yard impacts the run off into the nearby pond, then stream, then river, and finally the ocean.  All the stuff that I buy often involves considerable production costs, not the least of which is paid by the environment.  Every time I drive my car it has a huge environmental impact. It still rings true, think globally and act locally.  Let's be the change that we want to see in the world.
Cleaning up around pond


Scientists warn that oceans are on brink
The world's oceans are degenerating far faster than predicted and marine life is facing extinction due to a range of human impacts -- from overfishing to climate change -- a report compiled by international scientists warned. The cumulative effect of "severe individual stresses," ranging from climate warming and sea-water acidification to widespread chemical pollution and overfishing, would threaten the marine environment with a catastrophe "unprecedented in human history." The conclusions were published by a panel of international scientists who reviewed recent research at a workshop at Oxford University in Britain. They will be presented to the United Nations this week.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The power of generations

Feeling the power
While enjoying a fabulous concert this past Sunday, it was also fun to observe the large crowd having fun at the park. My wife pointed me to a little Father-Son-Grandfather interaction just down the Lake Harriet hill from us.  It appeared that this little guy was having his first experience with a large yellow whiffle bat.

Initially he held the bat high over head. Perhaps uncertain about batting stance?  Or maybe he was gearing up, like a power hitter, motioning that he was going to slug the ball out of the universe.

Swing and a miss
Next the boy swung to the best of his ability at his father's gentle arched pitches.  Alas, to no avail.  Despite the enthusiasm, his timing was off.  The pitches went right by.  Swings were either too early or too late.  The big wide bat couldn't help timing.

Enter Grandpa to pitch and dad to help swing the bat.  First swing, sweet success.  A solid base hit!

Sweet success!
Sometimes takes more than two to get a hit. How much more powerful a learning experience with both pitching and batting assistance. Nice to see the power of three generations coming together to get a hit, on Father's Day no less!

To enlarge the photos at left simply click on them with your mouse.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Legacy funding benefiting the public

Cantus singing at Lake Harriet Pavilion
I witnessed Minnesota Clean Water Land and Legacy funding at work a couple of times this past week.

First with the fishing pier that was installed by Conservation Corps workers, which I described with an earlier blog.  Then, yesterday, Legacy funding supported a public concert of the singing group Cantus at the Lake Harriet Pavilion.

Huge crowd of all ages at Cantus concert
Cantus, an a cappella vocal ensemble, sang one of the most wide ranging repertoires I've heard in a long time. Their songs incorporated musical selections for a multitude of cultural heritages.  They did a magnificent rendition of a Johnny Cash song, "Ring of Fire" and a lovely, haunting "Wanting Memories" by Sweet Honey in the Rock. For the younger set they sang a Justin Timberlake tune. For those younger yet they piped out a spritely "Little Potato".

My parents enjoying the concert
What a beautiful public offering for Father's Day!  While there are many tax payers who don't believe that public dollars should go toward the arts, I'm not among them. Arts help us to fully experience our God given creativity and common humanity, and shouldn't be limited the the upper class.

In addition to music, public radio also provides a thoughtful, well researched news source, which seems to be sorely lacking elsewhere in American society.

Father and son

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Baltimore Oriole
Hope that Father's enjoy their special day today.  I'm looking forward to a picnic with my Dad and Mom, and additional family members this afternoon.

I was thrilled to receive a telephoto lens from my family as a Father's Day gift (Tameron SP 70-300 F/4-5.6).  What a lucky guy am I!

Naturally I was out earlier this morning looking for photos.  A Baltimore Oriole decided to "make my day", and gave me a beautiful shot. 

Male Mallards having a drink
Speaking of fathers, yesterday I was pondering about where the male ducks go when the females are caring for the duckings.  I discovered a couple of them going out for a drink...  Hum, seems there are some similarities between our duck friends and us two legged folk.

Singing Baltimore Oriole

Friday, June 17, 2011

Duckings, Goslings and Parenting

Pair of geese and goslings

Canada Goose gosling
The young Canada Geese goslings are pretty cute.  However as they enter their "adolescent years" they loose some of their cuteness.

I've noticed that while Canada Geese share parenting among the male and female, and sometime even larger groupings, it seems that the ducks are always headed by single parent females.  What's with that?
Older Canada Goose gosling (not so cute ;-)

Mama Wood Duck and duckings

Mallard and ducklings

Bicycle "freeway" into town

Cedar Lake Trail looking west
from Theodore Wirth Pkwy.
Trail by Target Field 
I rode the newly completed Cedar Lake Bicycle Trail down to the Mississippi River.  What a wonderful bikeway! It was great to see so may riders out on a Thursday morning. Dozens were dressed in Twins wear, likely headed for the noon baseball game at Target Field.  
An article in the StarTribune, Bike Path Connects St. Louis Park to the Mississippi River, discusses the trail.  With the construction of the new downtown Twin's Baseball stadium (Target Field) the final cost of the last mile of the trail skyrocketed to $9 million dollars.  This generated considerable angst among some who feel that spending tax dollars on anything other than roads for cars, war, police and prisons is extravagant and wasteful.  
Rider entering Cedar Lake Trail
from nearby Mississippi River
Mighty Mississippi River at trail end
Seems a great thing, doesn't it, to have fewer people on the roads and more folks getting exercise? One little guy I passed appeared to be biking with his grandpa to the baseball game.  He complained of a sore butt.  Other than that, lots of smiles on the faces of the bikers, who ranged in age from about 5 to 80.  Fun to even see some families biking together.