Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pictures with even numbers of items

Pair of yellow flowers near Siren, Wisconsin

Brothers playing music at
Memorial Park in Bayfield, WI
I've heard tell that it is always best to compose pictures or pieces of art with an odd number of items.  It seems to be more soothing on the eyes.  So, just as a test, I figured I pair up a bunch of even number items from pictures I took this past week.  

What do you think?
Tug boats in the Duluth, MN harbor

Iron Ore docks at the harbor in Duluth, MN

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lake Superior Gulls

Recently enjoyed a visit to Duluth, Minnesota.  They have a wonderful boardwalk right along the harbor for all to enjoy.

One of the fun aspects to the boardwalk is watching the gulls that like to congregate there.  I learned from one of the locals that since Lake Superior isn't actually a sea, the gulls shouldn't really be classified as seagulls.  Rather they should be called baygulls... aka "bagels".

Something not so serious to chew on this morning!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Fishing boat turning back to nature

The Eagle 
I enjoyed many summers of my youth working in Cornucopia, a small harbor on the south shore of Lake Superior.  Johnny Sveda, aka "Kerchunk", one of the old commercial fisherman was still working his nets when I was there in the 1970's.  He would go out early in the morning in his fishing boat, The Eagle, hoping for a catch of  Lake Trout, Whitefish, Herring and or Ciscos/Chubs.  You could often see his boat returning, surrounded by a flock of seagulls, scavenging the fish innards that were thrown overboard, as he filleted fish on his way back into port. 

Kerchunk was a large, stout man who aways had a mouth full of chewing tobacco, which he would regularly invite me to enjoy.  Seeing the brown stains around his mouth and missing teeth, I refrained. I always admired his tough work ethic and generally friendly disposition and his occasional dirty limericks.

On a recent visit back to Cornucopia I noticed Kerchunk's boat, The Eagle, was on exhibit at the beach.  Despite being roped off and sitting high off the ground, the boat was decomposing.  

While there are still a few commercial fishermen working on Lake Superior's south shore, I'm confident that there will never be another like Johnny Sveda.     

R.I.P. Kerchunk.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nature at work deconstructing

Decaying wall
Nature is being allowed to reclaim Brozie Resort, a rustic series of cabins on a lake near Siren, Wisconsin.  The resort was closed some 40  - 50  years ago.  It was fascinating to wander around the abandoned cabins and see how mother nature has been at work.  Even the asphalt roof shingles were being worn down by the elements and vegetation.

The porcelain fixtures may last many hundreds, or perhaps thousands of years.  A couple of aluminum fishing boats and minnow buckets were hanging tough, but remains of a wooden boat were barely visible above the earth, that was firmly making its claim around the wooden hull.

Roof decomposition
It is amazing how with "differed maintenance" nature can almost totally reclaim a place. What might your place of residence look like in 50- 100 years if you totally let it revert back to nature?
Bow of boat being overtaken by the soil

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More of life's paradox

I discovered the following list of paradoxical statements from Newark Mayor Cory Booker's Facebook page:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Webmaster in his domain

While visiting a cabin in Wisconsin I came across this peculiar spider's web that resembled a cave or drain.

It was exciting to see the webmaster also come out and make a showing.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Zen garden

Bird silhouette

Rocks, branch and reflection
Early Sunday morning Bassett Creek Park reminded me of a Zen garden.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Freedom, responsibility and gun control

      When a person or group of people can't act responsibly their freedoms must be limited.  It seems we as a nation have long crossed that line when it comes to the freedom to own assault weapons.  The young man who shot 70 and killed 12 in Aurora, Colorado owned a military-style semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol. This shooter was able to purchase the weapons at local gun stores. He also had recently purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the Internet.
    Interesting that our neighbor to the south, Mexico, would like the USA to have tighter gun controls (Mexico urges U.S. to review gun laws after Colorado shooting).  Seems they're tired of our seemingly free flow of weapons into their nation and the associated violence.
      I discovered the following related statistics from an ABC news website, Gun Deaths: A familiar American Experience...
     A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined..... Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids.
     Contrary to what National Rifle Association (NRA) might like us to believe, free enterprise without responsible limits can be extremely dangerous.  As this recent tragedy reminds us, we have very little "domestic security" from gun violence in the Wild West, gun toting USA.  Somehow I don't sleep better knowing there are about 300 million firearms floating around in the hands of our citizens.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Colleges and Universities on board with green technology

While visiting colleges and universities in the Upper Midwest I've been impressed with how many are actively working diligently to reduce their carbon footprints.  At the University of Wisconsin - River Falls campus they completed a student center and added $1,000,000 of addition energy savings features thanks to a vote by the students.

I recently received news that my Alma Mater, Luther College, located in Decorah Iowa, is working to reduce its carbon footprint in half by 2015, and become carbon neutral by 2030.  You can read or watch a 3 minute video about how Luther has become a leader in the clean energy economy from Energy.Gov's website.

It is a hopeful sign that tomorrow's leaders are actively aware and engaged in reducing the harmful impact of carbon emissions on the environment.

Friday, July 20, 2012

How to minimize the use of air conditioning

My wife recently pointed out to me that our new neighbors to the east of us have not used their air conditioner all summer.  This is despite many days in the 90's and some topping 100 degrees.  The previous neighbors seemed to have their air conditioner on most all of the summer.  What is the difference?  Our new neighbors hail from Peru, which is located fairly close to the equator.  They seem to be accustomed to living in hot temperatures without the luxury of air conditioning.  

For those of us unaccustomed to the severe heat, what can we do to minimize our use of air conditioners and hence reduce emitting CO2 into the atmosphere?  One of the things we can do is to open our windows when the weather cools later in the evening or early morning hours.  Sometimes we simply hang out in the basement where it is cooler or go to an air conditioned public facility if it is extremely hot.

It helps considerably that we live in a neighborhood with many large, mature trees. Did you know that... The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.—U.S. Department of Agriculture.  You can read more about this in an article by the Arbor Day foundation, The Value of Trees to a Community

We also benefit from a home that has wide eves that provide shade to the walls and windows.

One the the best investments we made was to purchase and install ceiling fans in our bedroom, dining room, porch and study room.  These fans circulate the air, which makes it feel cooler to the skin.  They're also quite inexpensive and simple to install!

Lastly, we also make great use of a programmable thermostat that we adjust for different daytime and nighttime temperatures.  When we're out of town we also set it accordingly.

What are some of the things you do to minimize your use of the air conditioner?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Air conditioning; a win lose proposition

It was interesting to read in yesterday's StarTribune that meteorologist Paul Douglas is going without fixing his air conditioner during this stretch of terrifically hot weather (21 days with highs of at least 85 degrees).  He noted a significant problem with air conditioning, that while it cools the individuals within their residence, it fuels global warming, which then compounds the problem.

"Between 1993 and 2005, with summers growing hotter and homes larger, energy consumed by residential air conditioning in the U.S. doubled, and it leaped another 20 percent by 2010. The climate impact of air conditioning our buildings and vehicles is now that of almost half a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year." - from an article at The Guardian

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to help make large scale change

Are you interested in doing more than simply changing your personal habits to help the environment or other important causes that you hold dearly?  Annie Lenoard has produced a short insightful video on "The Story of Change".  In order to make real change we need to get plugged in as change makers: investigators, communicators, builders, resisters and networkers.

There are three components to effective change makers.  First they share a big idea, and go right to the heart of the problem needing to be changed. To be effective they didn't attempt to work alone, realizing the need to engage others in the movement.  Lastly successful efforts took ACTION with their idea and commitment of working together.

What are issues you feel passionately enough about that you are willing to become engaged as a changemaker?

After viewing this video you can take a Changemaker Personality quiz, to find out which type of changemaker you are most like.  Then it is time to get busy making change!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Full speed over the cliff

I had a uneasy feeling driving home along interstate 94 from Illinois to Minnesota. I sensed that we, as a nation, and world, are going full throttle... off a cliff.  You know, kinda like the lemmings are known for with their group plunges into the ocean. Out of the car's window I witnessed shriveled fields of corn that were caught in the severe drought that is being experienced in Southern Wisconsin and elsewhere across the nation.  Yet, despite the dramatic climate change as caused by CO2 emissions, it appeared little if any change in human behavior was occurring on the highway.  Many cars and trucks jammed the road, traveling well beyond the posted speed limit of 65 mph.

Train going into Chicago
I tried my best to keep my speed to the posted "Maximum" of 65 and was passed by hundreds of vehicles along the highway.  The very few vehicles I recall passing included a decades old RV from Saskatchewan, Canada, a minivan towing a UHaul trailer, and a white station wagon driven by an elderly man. Seems people aren't all that concerned about saving fuel or reducing emissions. According to research by drivers can get up to 35 percent better fuel mileage by taking it easy on the accelerator.

While visiting Chicago we enjoyed taking the train into town from our hotel.  It was nice to leave the driving to others while enjoying a safe and smooth ride. Wouldn't it be great to have high speed rail between our nation's cities?  Now, with the great unemployment rate could be a great time for such investment in infrastructure.

Given dramatic changes occurring in the climate, and with a vast majority of scientists agreeing that this is being impacted by human behavior, one has to ask, what will it take for us to change our behavior? Just going faster in the wrong direction will not help.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Beautiful places of worship at universities

University of Chicago chapel
University of Chicago chapel

Northwestern University chapel
University of Chicago Chapel

Northwestern University chapel
It was stunning to visit the churches on the campus of Chicago University and Northwestern University. They were amazing displays of beauty.  Each had the traditional church features, with high ceilings, large pipe organs and stained glass windows. I don't think that if these campuses we built brand new today they would place such value in worship areas. 

The University of Chicago was founded in 1890 by the American Baptist Education society and oil magnet John D. Rockefeller. The land was donated by Marshall Fields.

Northwestern University had its start in 1850 under the patronage of the Methodist Episcopal church.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Value of diversity and native plants

Dead grass and healthy weeds
Most of us strive to have a lawn that is completely composed of one or two kinds of grasses, which are usually not native to our area. However may not work well under all weather conditions, such as droughts.  I was reminded of this when examining a lawn at the motel where we recently stayed in hot and bone dry Madison, Wisconsin.

One of the concerns for many in the local gardening movement is of a tendency that large agriculture has toward toward growing massive fields of the same crop year in and year out.  This practice is called monoculture.  Among other things this creates a vulnerability to diseases.  As we realize these extreme weather conditions

I'm reminded that an ecodiverse lawn is a healthy lawn. Not only does it survive local weather conditions, it also provides for the diverse needs of other plants and animals living in the ecosystem.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A view of Madison Wisconsin

Wisconsin state capital
We recently took a family trip to Madison, Wisconsin to tour the university located there.

Sunset and sailboats at Lake Mendota, Madison, WI
Unfortunately it is located in half of the nation's area impacted by a drought.  They have had only 0.31 inches of rain since June 1st.  So while Lake Mendota (pictured right) is still looking pretty, most of the land is bone dry.  Agricultural experts have indicated they need two to three inches of rain in the coming week in order to avoid the total loss of their corn crop.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Benefits of gardening

Did you know that gardening an viewing green spaces produces a restorative response for people's mental health?  Yes, it is true according to research produced in 1973 by Environmental Psychologist Rachel Kaplan.  She discovered that people enjoyed gardening for the experiences it provided, such as working the soil, seeing things grow, learning new things about gardening and simply being outside. Gardens also offer a diversion from life's stressors, aesthetic pleasure, a chance to relax and may also provide a sense of accomplishment.

Kaplan stated "The garden is a miniature, a slice of nature compressed in space and a pattern of information compressed in time. Rarely is so broad a spectrum of nature and natural processes found in so little area. Rarely are so much nature-based action and so full a view of the life cycle so vividly visible and so rapidly completed."

The therapeutic value of gardens was also observed by horticulturalist Charles Lewis.  He discovered the value of community gardens for people living tenants in Chicago.  Mr. Lewis observed "Plants are alive and are dependent on the gardener for care, if they are to survive.  IN a world of constant judgement, plants are non-threatening and non-discriminating.  They respond to the care that is given to them, not to the race or the intellectual or physical capacity of the gardener.  It doesn't matter if one is black or white, has been to kindergarten or college, is poor or wealthy, healthy or handicapped, plants will grow if one gives them proper care.  They proved a benevolent setting in which a person can take first steps toward confidence. 

The observations noted above are recorded in City Bountiful: A century of Community Gardening in America, by Laura J. Lawson.

(Pictures at right from our backyard garden)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lawn mowing reminder

Grass comparison
As much as I would like to have my yard planted entirely with vegetables and perennial plants, I'm not there yet, and still have lots of lawn to mow.  I just raised my mower height from 2 1/2 inches to 3 and 1/2.  When the weather gets hot and sunny it is best for the lawn's health to allow the grass to grow longer.  The tuff becomes more drought resistant and tolerates less frequent watering.  

One of the additional benefits of longer grass is the improvement in color.  The lawn becomes more consistently lush looking when the grass is longer.  Longer blades of grass provide more area of photosynthesis to occur, which both strengthens the roots and allows for plant growth.

You can see this difference from the picture on the right.  Both of these lawns have received the same amount of watering and fertilizing this year (none other than what mother nature has provided). The lawn to the right is cut at 3 1/2 inches, the lawn on the left much shorter.  The lawn on the right also has benefited by use of a mulching mower, which leaves the grass clippings on the ground.

It only takes a few moments to change your lawn mower's height.  If you haven't already made the adjustment I would encourage you to do it now.  Your lawn will thank you!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Loon and chicks

While canoeing in Wisconsin this past week the loons and their chicks allowed me to get up fairly close for pictures.  It was especially endearing to see the little chicks riding on the parent's back.

Loons are great divers and eat mainly minnows and also amphibians, crustaceans and aquatic fauna.  They prefer clean water lakes, since they visually locate their prey.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to gain attention

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

Popular flower with insects

I couldn't help but be interested in a little bird that just kept chirping in the woods this past week.  I got out my camera and waited to see if I could catch a good shot.  It seemed fearless of me, and continued to fly nearby and perch on various branches, all the while chirping away.  After taking perhaps 30 pictures of this gregarious little one, I went to the bird book to find out who it was that I had encountered.  I discovered it was a Red-eyed Vireo.

Another day while walking on the long sandy driveway to the Wisconsin cabin I discovered a beautiful purple flower amidst all of the green trees and plants.  It attracted a steady stream of butterflies/moths and various other flying insects.  At one point I counted four different insects on this small flower at the same time.  When there aren't a lot of pretty flowers for pollinating, the few that are around get noticed!

Flower with butterfly
As I was taking pictures in the woods, or while going for a walk or run, I too noticed that I was gathering a considerable amount of attention.  I was a large red blooded target for deer flies, mosquitoes and wood ticks.  With few other warm blooded creatures around I was a popular host.

So, chirp loud if you're looking to be in a picture, be pretty and flowery to draw the attention of pollinators (and photographers) or simply have warm blood for those insects that are looking for their next victim!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Savoring sunrise in Wisconsin

The start of a promising day 
I enjoyed savoring a few days away in Wisconsin with family and friends over the Fourth of July holiday.  There was something extra special about watching the sun come up over a lake.

I'm always in awe of the gradual nature of the sunrise and sunset.  The sun arrives and departs quietly and gradually  every day, whether or not we're up to watch.  Sometimes the sun is trapped behind the clouds, and we often errantly claim "the sun isn't out".

When the sun has to shine through a lot of particulate matter in the horizon it appears orange, which makes for an especially brilliant display.

Large mouth bass (foreground)
Photographers love the window of time at dusk and dawn that is called the "golden hour", because of the rich golden light.  This tends to be a great time to take pictures, when there isn't the harsh bright light that comes as the sun rises higher in the sky.

One of the other bonuses about the early morning is that it seems to be a favorable time for fishing!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Solar water disinfection and Independence Day!

American Robin perched on Redbud
Did you know that you can disinfect your water simply by putting it in a plastic bottle in the sun?  A little bird told me.  Information about this process is available on Wikipedia. Seems that those plastic water bottles that I detest might have some value in water purification.

Oh, and with this being the 4th of July I have a special 'twitter' for you from this young American Robin, wishing you and yours all the best on this Independence Day! Enjoy the freedoms this day brings, AND don't forget the responsibility that is necessary to maintain those freedoms!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Developing local food sources

The movement toward growing and purchasing food locally is discussed in  in The New York Times article, Small farmers creating a new business model as agriculture goes local.  One example of this trend provided in the article is of a former manager at Microsoft, Naraenda Varma, who invested two million dollars of his money in 58-acres of farm land and new-farmer training.   He h as chosen to move from the high pressure, fast paced world of technology into the slow and often physically demanding real work of farming (my emphasis). This is an example of the Slow Money movement, which invests as if food, farms and fertility mattered.

The Department of Agriculture now believes that the local food industry is worth as much as $4.8 billion, much larger than previously figured.

As cheap immigrant labor becomes educated and skilled in other areas the cost for producing food on large corporate farms might be increasing.

So perhaps if you've got a couple of million you're not sure how to invest, why not consider a few acres of farm land near to an urban area? Then be prepared to get your fingernails dirty.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Urban gardening

Did you know that over the past hundred years there have been some really significant urban gardening efforts in the United States? Urban Bountiful: A century of community gardening in America" by Laura Lawson describes the many periods of interest in gardening across our nation's cities. In addition to community gardens, many schools also developed vegetable gardens. Over a century ago the founder of a school garden in New York City, Fannie Griscom Patsons, described the need for school gardens as follows:

City children are alienated form their human birth-rigth of trees, fields and flowers.  Encased amid bricks, stone, concrete, trolleys, trucks and automobiles, the crowds of people in our streets are as giants to them, and the blue sky overhead is seldom seen. These conditions are making our children hard and unfeeling. Deprived of their natural lives, impelled by the restless energy of youth, they find mischief the only diversion possible, and they become easy victims of vice and crime. 

H.D. Hemensway, Director of the School of Horticulture at Hartford guessed that about 90 percent of the successful businessmen had grown up on farms and learned lessons in productivity through working in the fields.  They picked up lessons about independence, hard work, honesty and so on. He noted the following:

While we may not be able to make many farmer and gardeners, we may help to make much better men and women.  It is hoped that we may check the flow of people to the city and turn some back again to the country. The school-garden creates a love for industry, a love for country, for nature and things beautiful, and makes boys and girls stronger, more intelligent, nobler, truer men and women.

With the average age of a US farmer being 58 years old, we need to cultivate a renewed interest in farming, not just to develop character in our nation's young people, but also to feed the nation, and others around the world!

I'm pleased that locally the Victory-Robbins 4-H is doing a great job with the garden they've developed at Valley of Peace.  They have already begun donating food to the local food shelf, and by the looks of it much more will be on they way. Pictures taken yesterday at the garden are posted to the right.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


With flowers blooming all about it is hard not to take a picture or five....  :-)