Birds and Football

bald_eagle_adult2I have a passion for birds. Football I can take or leave. The two worlds don’t intersect much (except that Super Bowl Sunday is a great day to go birding).

Until now.

The Vikings are building a brand new stadium in downtown Minneapolis to the tune of $1 billion. About half of this is coming from Minnesota taxpayers. Not that the taxpayers agreed to it, mind you. Those of us lucky enough to live in Minneapolis are doubly blessed to fund it with both state and city tax dollars. (Minneapolis residents were against city dollars for a stadium by a large majority. The city council passed it anyway, after some major arm twisting by former Mayor R.T. Rybak. Oh, most of those city council members are now former also, including my own. I do not think it is too strong to say that Minneapolis residents felt betrayed by the city council. And we turned it over in a big way.)

Back to the stadium. The Vikings are building a $1 billion stadium in downtown Minneapolis, a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River, and they will not allot $1.1 million needed for special glass that will decrease the number of bird collisions. (Regular glass often isn’t perceived by birds and they fly right into it.)

cashThey told the Star Tribune that they “can’t afford” the added cost of the special glass.

Can’t afford my ass. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has a net worth of $1.3 billion. A million dollars isn’t even a tithe of that. It isn’t a tenth of a tithe. It isn’t even a tenth of a tenth of a tithe. Adrian Peterson (no relation) makes more than $11 million annually (plus bonuses for things like working out).

The new stadium will be in east Minneapolis, much closer to the Mississippi than Russia is to Sarah Palin’s back yard. The Mississippi River is one of the major migratory bird passages in North America. Nearly half of North America’s species spend at leastloon part of their lives on the Mississippi Flyway. Minnesota’s state bird, the Common Loon, uses the Mississippi Flyway. Good god, they’re using my tax dollars to kill the state bird.

I’m not sure why the Vikings want to pay someone to pick up dead birds before every game rather than just put in the safety glass. Perhaps it’s a matter of “principle.” According to Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority (MSFA, established by the Minnesota legislature to oversee the stadium from design through operation), the stadium design was started before the adoption of the state guidelines on bird-safe glass, so it isn’t subject to those rules. So there.

Oh, did I mention we have state guidelines? They require bird-safe glass on projects built with bonding money. This is a woman appointed by the Governor of Minnesota to a committee established by the Minnesota legislature. Presumably, they—both the governor and the legislature—want her to represent Minnesota.

We are extremely proud of our nature here in Minnesota, even in the heart of Minneapolis. We didn’t want our tax dollars to go to this stadium, and we certainly don’t want them used to kill our birds. And she doesn’t want to follow the law because of a timing technicality?

Maybe a little national attention will get some action. It’s recently made the Wall Street Journal.

But I won’t rely on that. I’ve already called my (new) city council representative (reminding him that his seat was overturned primarily because of the stadium issue) and asked him not only to find the $1.1 million (preferably among the hundreds of millions we’re already giving for the stadium) for the bird-safe glass, but also to call Governor Dayton and ask him to replace Michele Kelm-Helgen as chair of the MSFA since she seems not to have Minnesota’s interests in mind at all. Not even a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of an interest.

And then I called the mayor of Minneapolis (also new), and then Governor Dayton himself.


The Mighty Mississippi

I’ve also written to Minnesota Audubon, suggesting approaching a local foundation for a matching grant to raise the money locally (and possibly internationally—remember, this is a major bird migration path, used by birds from both Americas).

I am hoping the Vikings change their mind. If they don’t, I’m hoping that Minneapolis Audubon and Minnesota Audubon (and even national Audubon, who has brought a lot of attention to this), will organize some protests.

I will be there.

The Paper Towel Challenge

Roll of PTWe are on the last sheet of the paper towel roll. This roll lasted more than seven months. I’m pretty pleased with that.

Just so you know, I’m not this anal about everything. I certainly don’t count sheets of toilet paper. (Okay, that’s not exactly true.) But the paper towel challenge resulted from a conversation with my neighbor. I can’t remember the context, but he mentioned that a roll of paper towels lasted him what seemed an extraordinarily long time to me—several months, anyway.

On a note completely unrelated to this blog, here is a very funny toilet paper ad.

I had just recently started a new roll of paper towels, so I decided to take the paper towel challenge and see how long they would last. That was on December 15.

cat 2I’ve been an environmentalist for years, and have never been one to use paper towels willy nilly. But just in this last year I started using more rags for cleaning counters, eschewing paper towels for this use. I know that a lot of people have given up paper towels completely, and I applaud them. I perhaps even envy them a little bit. And then I wonder if they have cats.

(We primarily use paper towels to clean up cat puke. We’ve gotten good at using rags and towels for spills and messes, but paper towels still carry the day for cat puke.) I also use paper towels sometimes to wipe out really oily pans and jars before washing. I could cut back on that and a few other ragsmiscellaneous things that use small amounts of paper towels.

I am hoping to stretch the next roll nine months.

Cargill’s Paltry Poultry Ploy

Hometown multinational Cargill has announced that it is cutting back on its use of turkeysgrowth-promoting antibiotics, and phasing it out for turkeys completely by 2015. That’s really good news because Cargill is one of the nation’s largest turkey producers. (I didn’t know that until I read it in the Strib article.)

And it matters because most of our food animals are given antibiotics, and it is starting to make antibiotics less effective for humans.

In the human world, antibiotics are wonder drugs, administered when we have a serious infection (strep throat comes to mind), take them all until the pills are gone (even if you feel fine!) and voilà you are cured.

cowIn the animal world, on the other hand, antibiotics are everyday things. Like us, our food animals receive antibiotics when they are sick. But they also get antibiotics in their feed every day, for disease prevention. (That’s kind of like us taking antibiotics every day so we don’t get a cold. Or strep throat.)

And they also give animals antibiotics to boost growth. I was until now unaware of this particular use of antibiotics.

It’s this latter type of antibiotic use that Cargill is phasing out—the growth-enhancing antibiotic. They will continue everyday use of antibiotics for disease prevention purposes.

I have absolutely no issue with using antibiotics to treat illness—in people or animals. They are very effective for this purpose. This is why we love them.

But I do take issue with using antibiotics for prevention, and this is exactly what Cargill is going to continue to do.

Antibiotics are becoming less and less effective in treating human illnesses, due in large part to the indiscriminate and pervasive use of antibiotics in livestock production. This is particularly acute in factory farming.

I remember years and years ago, medical doctors were concerned with the overprescription of antibiotics (to people) because it might reduce their effectiveness. And now they’re everywhere. They’re in the food we eat. If you think about it, it’s really quite insane.

So. Deep breath. Good tiny step for Cargill. Hoping they keep moving down this track to the ones that really matter: Stopping routine use of antibiotics in total.

Antibiotics should always be an exception. Never a rule. (I really don’t think that’s very radical.)

I would say that Cargill has made a paltry little first step. I think it’s more the disease-prevention component of the antibiotics we need to be concerned about.

But a first step is a first step. We’ll see.

Hot, Soon to be Hotter

Hot BookI’m reading the book Hot, by Mark Hertsgaard. It’s about climate change. I thought it was going to be a bit of a slog, but in fact it’s readable and compelling, and even with a personal slant (Hertsgaard has a young daughter, and he is particularly concerned about climate change as it will affect her life and world).

Here’s something amazing I learned: white roofs and white pavement. White roofs and pavement reflect more sunlight away from the earth’s surface. (Okay, I did know about the white reflecting while black absorbs which is why we wear white in the summertime.) Here’swhite roofs what I found amazing: “Retrofitting all urban roofs and pavements in the world would yield emissions reductions equivalent to taking all the world’s cars off the road for eighteen years.”

Hello, white roofs and white pavement: That sounds really easy. The retrofitting part is expensive, but why in the world are not all roofs and pavements going forward increasingly (or even exclusively) white?

I’m about a third of the way through the book, and this morning I’m reading about the Climate Change Action Plans of various cities: Seattle, Chicago, New York. I got to wondering if Minneapolis has one. So I went online and sure enough, there it was: Minneapolis Climate Action Plan.

I am going to read it tonight. Then I got to thinking, though: Minneapolis is only a small part of the larger Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, so I went to the Met Council website to see if they had anything. Met Council is the planning body for the 7-county metro area. Their mission is “to foster efficient and economic growth for a prosperous metropolitan region.” That sure seems like it would need to include climate change, but I couldn’t find anything. But I didn’t dig very deep before I emailed them to ask. Sometimes it’s nice just to be direct.

One thing I learned at the outset of the book was a bit about terminology. I had thought that “climate change” was the new and more accurate descriptor and replaced “global warming.” Not quite. Global warming refers to the man-made rise in temperatures caused by excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Climate change refers to the effects these higher temperatures have on the earth’s natural systems, resulting in stronger storms, deeper droughts, more flooding, and a rising sea level (among other things).

I also learned about the difference between mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (taking action to address the impact of climate change). Apparently adaptation was a major bone of contention in (at least some) environmental circles: They feared if adaptation was included in climate change plans, mitigation would get pushed to the back burner. (And, in fact, according to Hertsgaard, they were right—most particularly in the United States: “Beginning in the early 1990s, government officials, corporate spokespersons, and academic critics, especially in the United States, did invoke adaptation to fend off calls for mitigation.”)

But now we have no choice. Now we must do both. tree

Some things are both adaptations and mitigations. In Chicago, they planted more trees to increase canopy cover in residential areas as well as in empty lots. This provides much-needed shade in the increasingly hot summers (adaptation) and the trees reduce greenhouse gases (mitigation). There have got to be many more things that mitigate and adapt at the same time. I will probably run across more as I continue the book.

Hot is not bleak. It provides hope. The climate crisis is potentially “the greatest opportunity our society and world has ever faced. If we do what it takes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to safe levels and prepare for the impacts we see are under way, we will transform the economic foundation of modern civilization.”

I already have an idea. You know how golf is on the decline and some golf courses are closing? (Two, right here in Minneapolis!) They could be turned into urban farms. Using the right methods, farming enriches the soil, and the plants will help reduce carbon. And of course it increases the local food supply and reduces the food carbon footprint. School kids could visit the farms and learn how food grows. Or the kids could work on the farm. What a great learning experience from so many perspectives!

Future Urban Farm?

Future Urban Farm?

Or the golf courses could be planted with trees, which would be a great mitigator (and a lovely wooded area in the city). Or if appropriate, it could go to prairie (which would also sequester a lot of carbon). But it seems to me this trend of declining interest in golf could be a very good opportunity for both adaptation and mitigation.

So tonight I will read the city plan, and then I will read the older (and more technical) state plan, and then I will read the most recent (2014) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. (There are two of them, one on mitigation and one on adaptation.) Once I’ve better educated myself, I’ll see where I might fit in to be able to help.

Mid-Year Report

large stack of booksA few weeks ago I was reviewing my books-read list, and a week later I found myself doing an inventory of my herbal workings and remedies. Today I was transferring all the successful cooking experiments into my personal recipe book.

And I realized I was doing a mid-year assessment.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve done nothing. But I was shocked to realize that I’ve already read 119 books this year. That’s a little crazy. On the other hand, one of my dreams has always been to have as much time as I want to read. And I have spent a lot of time on my front porch reading. A dream come true.

But I’ve also been doing a bit of writing. This blog, for example. (I have 90 subscribers! I expected 5—basically my best friends—and was hoping for 10. I never dreamt I’d get all the way up to 90. Thank you!)

Also, the haiku challenge: I write a haiku for each day, hitting on the highlights, or other important moments of the day. I send them on postcards to my friend Lori in Montana. She’s a therapist and maybe one of the smartest people I know. It’s kind of cool to send your poetry to someone who’s scary-brilliant. I’ve been doing this since
November of last year, and I’ve not missed many days.

eliot postcardAnd now I’ve started the Obama postcard campaign. A postcard each week to President Obama. A short note for all to read. Postcards get attention! (Especially if they are beautiful, clever, or fun. Sometimes, of course, they will just be boring postcards. At least this is true for me.)

So I’m reading and I’m writing, and I’m also cooking. I haven’t been doing much since summer, but when I reviewed the year (half-year), I realized that I’ve learned to cook quite a number of foods. No haute cuisine here, but some basic foods, and mostly from scratch. I fell in love with parsnips and roasted a lot of vegetables, but also made hamburger-parsnip casserole and basically added parsnips to anything that takes a vegetable (e.g., beef stew, vegetable barley skillet).

I’m starting to learn soups (green split pea with ham, and also red lentil soup) and stocks (at least vegetable and turkey stock). I have finally developed a kickass meatloaf (my secret ingredients are oats and buttermilk), and I am about to make my third batch of ginger jam (which several people have loved). And in the baking department I’m particularly pleased with the raspberry corn muffins and the pumpkin bread (pumpkin given to me by a friend who grew it in her garden; I love local).

Fresh Hops

Fresh Hops

And I’ve come quite a ways in my herbal learnings as well. I’ve developed tinctures of hops, mullein, and plantain (each separate) as well as a cranberry horehound mix (especially good for colds). I’ve got a fairly decent dried herbal apothecary, most from my garden or friends’ gardens. I have 20 dried herbs, and I will be adding catnip to that this summer. Twenty herbs isn’t a lot by any means, but it’s a good start for me—more than enough. I will settle in with these herbs and get to know them more deeply.

I’ve also made several infused oils (the oil is used to extract the medicinal properties of the herbs). These can be used directly (e.g., comfrey oil applied directly to a sprain would be a very good thing), or made into salves. I like salves over oils because they’re more portable and a little less messy. On the other hand, I haven’t much explored the world of the oils. Perhaps I have been a little hasty. I will explore this with the calendula oil that I’m going be decanting in the next day or two. Doing the inventory reminded me that I’m behind on my decanting.

So, that’s the mid-year report. I’ve read a lot, written a lot, cooked a lot, learned a lot about herbs, reacquainted myself with the library, got my bike fixed, and explored the Mississippi River trails.

I think this has been the best six months of my life.

Poison Ivy and Other Summer Woes

220px-Toxicodendron_radicans,_leavesOn July 4, I had an excellent birding day at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. I also picked up some poison ivy. I dread poison ivy because the last time I got it (admittedly decades ago) it spread so much that I couldn’t get it under control, and I ended up going to the doctor. So I am always so very careful when birding.

Except of course when I’m not.

I noticed it about 10 feet into the first trail. OK, keep to the center, we’re good. But I noticed it all day. Everywhere. Along the paths, along the roads. And though I was careful, apparently I was not careful enough.

aloe vera 2Happily though, it seems to be contained. What saved me was aloe vera. I have a huge leaf that a friend in California sent me, and I kept snipping off slices and opening the leaf and rubbing the gel directly on the poison ivy (which is on the back of my foot, right where sneakers rub). I tried several things for the itch but aloe vera was the only one that provided relief for more than an hour. It doesn’t seem to be spreading, so I will continue using aloe vera as needed and hope the poison ivy just runs its course and disappears in a few days.

But for relief of poison ivy itch? Aloe vera. (Also very good for sunburn. Or any kind of burn, for that matter.)

plantainAlso in summer: bugs. Mosquito bites are much more common than poison ivy, and so is plantain—one of the most effective natural treatments available for mosquito bites. Most people consider plantain a weed. You can walk just about anywhere and find plantain, including your yard or a nearby park. (Watch out for spraying though—you won’t want to use plantain that’s been sprayed with pesticides or fertilizers.) Pick a leaf, put it in your mouth and chew it a bit, until it’s well-masticated. Apply it directly to the bite and hold. It will provide immediate relief of itch and pain. This is also good for black fly and deer fly bites, and bee stings.

One final summer remedy. Cuts and scrapes are common, particularly working onyarrow projects or perhaps not watching where one is walking. If you need a plant to stop bleeding, look for some yarrow. A beautiful plant with small white flowerheads (there are other colors too, but white is most recommended for medicinal purposes) and feathery leaves, yarrow can be found where the sun shines. Again, chew the leaves and apply directly to the wound. This will help stanch bleeding and also disinfect. Another little wonder herb.

monarchTo close on a happy summer note: I have already seen more monarch butterflies this summer than I did for the whole of last summer. My neighbor has a large milkweed patch, and I think that might be the reason. But I am happy to see them in such abundance so locally.

Birding Sherburne

Green heronI spent much of the 4th of July birding the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge with my friend Eliot. It was a most excellent birding day. We saw more than 50 different kinds of birds, and I added nine to my year list. I was most happy to finally see a Green Heron. These are not uncommon birds, but I hadn’t seen one this year and I didn’t see any last year either, so I’ve been in a bit of a Green Heron drought. Today we saw two.

Black-billed cuckoo

The most thrilling bird of the day for me was the Black-Billed Cuckoo. And not just one. We saw at least three, and got really good long looks at them. They have the longest tails, and they were frequently cocked. And I say “at least three” because we got distracted by the Orchard Orioles that flew past the cuckoos. Beautiful birds that I don’t see every year. First we saw only females, but after awhile a few males showed up as well.

towheeAnother bird I don’t see every year is the Eastern Towhee. We saw several today. The towhee is another bird that always makes me smile. And I finally saw my first Cedar Waxwing of the year, such a sleek and beautiful bird. Elegant.

But the other big thrill of the day wasn’t a bird at all, but a butterfly. There were White Admirals all over the place on the horse trail we walked. I am new to butterflies, and know only a very few. This one was new to me, and I was quite enchanted.

White Admiral

You can’t miss with a day of birds and butterflies.

June Reprise

Reading, writing, and rain pretty much covers June.

Penthouse BReading. I read 20 books in June (8 poetry, 6 fiction, 6 nonfiction). I’ve already written about my favorite nonfiction (Cabin Fever, by Tom Montgomery Fate; and Howards End is on the Landing, by Susan Hill). In the fiction realm the singular standout was The View From Penthouse B, by Elinor Lipman. I’ve read a lot of Lipman, and this is among my favorites (right up there with The Inn at Lake Devine). It’s the story of two sisters, one widowed, and the other recently divorced and in the poor house due to a Ponzi scheme. The widowed sister moves in with the fleeced sister (Penthouse B), and there they support each other as they recover from their respective misfortunes. This is a pitiful summary and the book is much richer (and a lot more fun) than I’m managing to convey.

I also particularly enjoyed Hotel Insomnia, by Charles Simic. Some of the poems made me smile, some made me think, and some gave me pause. That’s pretty good in one book.

The reading theme for June was “building.” The theme for July is summer vacation. I don’t have a lot of books specifically about a summer vacation, so I will focus on the more generic summer. I figure the theme thing is for fun, so I can get as loosey goosey as I want.

Writing. I’m still continuing the haiku project (a haiku a day, sent on postcards to my friend Lori in Montana). I’ve been doing this for eight months now. Early June:

read on the front porch

I’m sure I did something else

did I plant something?


wild trees everywhere

clip and prune all afternoon

better for a day

PostcardsAnd I’m starting a second postcard project—a weekly postcard to President Obama. As with the haiku project, I am going to commit for a year. But also as with the haiku project, I hope it will be more long term. I like the idea of postcard as medium because people feel free to read postcards. (People they aren’t addressed to, I mean.) And the front of the postcard sends its own message, and it becomes a bit of art. And while I’m not claiming that it’s good art, it’s certainly fun art! (Please note that this project is also influenced by Yann Martel’s book, What Is Stephen Harper Reading?, wherein he sent books with notes on a regular basis to Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada.)

Gardens and Herbs. My chamomile and calendula are flowering, the lemon balm ischamomile2  growing like crazy, the catnip has hopped across the sidewalk, and the comfrey is starting its second bloom. The St. John’s Wort is just starting to bud. I was getting worried that it wasn’t going to flower at all this year. I have tomatoes coming in (10 at last count, which was about four hours ago), and just a few cucumbers. With all the rain we’ve had, it looks like a bumper crop of raspberries. And my plantain patch is absolutely lush this year.

I have also put up a catnip tincture (good for sleep, cold and flu, and is also antiseptic, working well on cuts, bites, burns, scalds, and bruises). Love that one herb has so many uses. I also put up a St. John’s Wort tincture (with some dried St. Johns’ Wort that I had), as well as a tincture of chamomile in apple cider vinegar (this is supposed to be particularly good for bruises). Plus, three yarrow tinctures: one in vodka, one in brandy, and one in gin. I thought it would be interesting to compare across the three. Mostly I’ve used vodka for tinctures, but it’s not a requirement, so I thought a little experiment might be in order.

And I’m moving on to a more focused phase in my herbal studies. Up to now I’ve been reading herb books cover-to-cover, casting a broad net. Now I’m starting to pull in, focusing on the herbs I already have and/or love (e.g., rosemary, chamomile, comfrey, plantain, sage, catnip, yarrow). I want to develop a deep familiarity with the properties of a smallish number of herbs. And I am going to get more serious in my reading. The books with the gorgeous zenny pictures still appeal, but now the denser texts with no pictures appeal to me even more. I’m ready for the next level of complexity. Through July and August, I’m hoping to spend at least a couple of hours twice a week at the library, specifically for studying. I’m liking the idea of a more formalized approach. And I’ve always loved going to libraries in the summer.

Other. Early in the month my godmother (and favorite aunt) died. Oh I will miss her! Mhaha Falls After the funeral we cousins got together to pack up her apartment, and oh my god, what a good time we had. Is that horrible? I don’t think so. It felt like a blessing, a rebonding, a trip down memory lane, and a bit of a celebration of life. Even in death she brought us together.

The other big June factor was rain. A lot of rain. Minnehaha Falls is astounding, and Minnehaha Creek is way over its banks in many areas. And it looked more like a river than a creek. But honestly? It’s beautiful.