Sunday, September 30, 2007


Rob Hardy, on his recent return to Northfield from the UK, wrote about pulling weeds from around his garage. He mentioned that the now-reviled buckthorn was sold to Midwesterners as an effective hedge. In yesterday’s mail came St. Olaf College’s newsletter “Posten” and the cover story was about an artist who wants to help eradicate buckthorn and is using dead buckthorn stems to build a sculpture resembling giant dandelions. Last week, the Minneapolis newspaper carried a story about an exotic aquatic plant growing in Powderhorn park. This plant is sold in pet stores to decorate tropical fish tanks. Apparently, someone dumped a tank and a plant into Powderhorn lake. To everyone’s surprise, the plant appears to have survived a couple of Minnesota winters, is in fact thriving, and may even push out other plants. This has lead to some fear that the plant – considered invasive, just like the buckthorn – may spread to other lakes. Then, to top off the week, the following announcement appeared on

Department of the Interior
Bureau of Land Management
County Weed Assistance Program within Grand, Larimer, and Jackson County, Colorado

I don't know what kind of weed problem they have in those three counties or why a federal grant is needed to help the weeds (or the counties), but the events of the week seemed to demand some thinking about weeds and more generally about our desire to control the environment and our often competing desire to control each other.

A weed is, broadly, any unwanted plant. A soybean plant in my cornfield is a weed, and a volunteer corn stalk growing in my soybean field is a weed. Lawnophiles regard the dandelion as a weed (though some might turn right around and plant yellow mums in the garden).

The buckthorn (that's a picture of glossy buckthorn on the left) and the Powderhorn exotic are different kinds of weeds than the common dandelion or the stray cornstalk. They are said to be invasive because a) they are non-native and b) they are robust and therefore tend to push out the plants that were there before. Here is where I get a little confused. When a plant is spread by the wind or by animals, that’s natural; when it’s spread by humans (as in a tropical fish aquarium or the ballast tanks of a ship), that’s invasive. But if the plant thrives in its new environment, isn’t that natural? If I eat some fruit in the wilds of Borneo, and deposit the seed back in Minnesota, and that exotic fruit takes root and spreads, how is that invasive? Or how is it more invasive (coming from a human vector) than if that same seed had come in on the wind or in the bowls of a bird?

John McPhee has written about volcanoes and about the ways in which barren lava fields are gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) filled with plants and animals. In his beautiful essay “Cooling the Lava,” he describes the volcanic island of Surtsey, which formed off the southern coast of Iceland between 1963 and 1967 in a more or less continuous eruption (that's a picture of Surtsey at the top of this entry). Scientists watched eagerly for the first plant to appear as the lava cooled. The first shoot turned out to be a tomato plant, presumably deposited in a hunk of bird scat. But the seed could just as easily have been washed ashore from a garbage scow or been tossed there from a passing pleasure boat. Is a tomato on Surtsey invasive or exotic? Does it matter how it got there?

If buckthorn has been around here for generations, and if it seems to thrive, and if it’s not doing any harm, then why are we so eager to get rid of it? Why is the prairie as it was in, say, 1650, preferable to the prairie as it was in 1950? Or as it is today?

I pity the poor buckthorn, with the forces of artists, historic preservationists, ecologists, and sentimentalists allied against it. The buckthorn needs some defenders. I hereby volunteer.

The opening salvo in the Great Minnesota Buckthorn Skirmish is…a poem!


I grow.
This is all my creator ever asked of me. My
leaves are green, my berries moist, my roots deep.

I reproduce.
This is nothing but simple biological necessity, an imperative shared with every
other living thing. I’m good at it. Too good, I guess.

I adapt.
There are hundreds of varieties of me because I have learned the tricks of
transformation and adaptation, the lack of which has caused lesser plants to die
off. This is also a completely natural thing.

I look down the hill and
see enemies amassing – humans who want to stop time, who want to change the
natural course of history by killing me and my progeny. They are on the march,
with weapons named Weed Wrench and Husqvarna. They arm themselves with
poisons named triclopyr and glyphosate. They may as well carry M-16s or spew Agent Orange.

Some are grimly determined, like
religious zealots. Others smile beneficently, like flower children from the

If they succeed, and my numbers shrink, and I become rare – even
endangered -- who will sound the alarm then? Will my few remaining successors be

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New poem

This Fall

The leaves float down and the shadows grow long in the late afternoon sunlight.
From my window I watch people in the square go slowly, noiselessly by,
as if their errands are secret.

After work, we hike to a bluff overlooking a bend in the river
on the edge of this little town. A freight train, eerily quiet, eases along the opposite bank.

We sit in the fading light, watching the river
and a lone red-tailed hawk. We’ve been here many times before,
marking the subtle changes in the landscape. Our silence
is as long as the years we’ve spent together.

We are at the center, smiling, in no

Sunday, September 23, 2007

It's a Brautigan time of year

The leaves are beginning to turn here in SE MN. It's the autumnal equinox. Much of Brautigan's work can be described as autumnal, which got me searching around for poems or passages that reference a season, and then wondering whether the seasons -- at least in these pieces -- are interchangeable.

From "The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster:"

Sit Comma and Creeley Comma

It's spring and the nun
like a black frog
builds her tarpaper shack
beside the lake.
How beautiful she is
(and looks) surrounded
by her rolls of tarpaper.
They know her name
and speak her name.

Fall might work better here because that's when frogs burrow into the mud to get ready for winter. That's being picky, I know.

From "June 30th, June 30th:"


A beautiful Japanese woman
/ age 42
the energy that separates
spring from summer
(depending on June)
20 or 21
--- so they say ---
Her voice singing sounds
just like an angelic chainsaw
cutting through

I love the interjection 'so they say.' What do scientists know, anyway? What really separates spring from summer?

From "The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster"

After Halloween Slump

My magic is down.
My spells mope around
the house like sick old dogs
with bloodshot eyes
watering cold wet noses.

My charms are in a pile
in the corner like the
dirty shirts of a summer fatman.

One of my potions died
last night in the pot.
It looks like a cracked
Egyptian tablecloth.

Can you see the line 'dirty shirts of a summer fatman' with any season but summer?

And finally (also from 'The Pill...")

The Return of the Rivers

All the rivers run into the sea;
yet the sea is not full;
unto the place from whence the rivers come,
thither they return again.

It is raining today

in the mountains.

It is a warm green rain
with love
in its pockets
for spring is here,
and does not dream

of death.

Birds happen music
like clocks ticking heavens
in a land
where children love spiders,
and let them sleep
in their hair.

A slow rain sizzles
on the river
like a pan
full of frying flowers,
and with each drop
of rain
the ocean
begins again.

This one sounds a little like e.e. cummings in spots ("birds happen music"). Obviously, spring matters in this poem.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Twins status report: Good news/Bad news

Good news: Garza got his first home victory last night after 10 straight home losses.
Bad news: Garza struggled to beat the Texas Rangers, who had already lost 81 times this season.

Bad news: Neshek has a sore shoulder.
Good news: He has all winter to recover.

Bad news: Mauer and Morneau combined have about 60 fewer runs batted in than they did last year.
Good news: There isn’t any. Mauer’s been hurt but even when healthy enough to play has looked tired or distracted at the plate. Morneau has just not been very good. He never managed to balance the inevitable slumps with any hot streaks.

Bad news: Punto is one of the worst hitters in baseball. Among third basemen, he ranks last in batting average, next-to-last in on-base percentage, last in slugging percentage, and last in on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
More bad news: Punto has already been anointed as the starting 2nd baseman for next year.

Bad news: Ticket prices will be increased next year.
Good news: Scalping is now legal in Minnesota.

Bad news: The general manager quit.
Good news (maybe): Ryan’s departure may have sent a message to the penurious Pohlads. Probably not, though.

Bad news: Hennepin County still doesn’t own the land on which the new ballpark is being built.
Good news: Somebody is going to get rich off this deal. I do not begrudge anyone anything in this sordid affair. The deal stinks and nobody – not the landowners, the politicians, the team owners, or the Commissioner – can claim any moral high ground.

Good News: Hunter has had a career year (slightly better than his 2002 season).
Bad News: Hunter will be a free agent in a few weeks. This is only bad news for the fans. I enjoy watching Hunter play and would miss him if he leaves the Twins. But loyalty is a long-dead sentiment in major league baseball. It’s a little like Winfield leaving the Padres years ago. San Diegans were upset, but time has healed those wounds. Some Minnesota fans have forgotten that Killebrew, the face of the franchise, left the Twins and played his final year in Kansas City in part because of the skinflintiness of then-owner Calvin Griffith. Fans were disappointed, but they understood, and Killebrew is still a valued member of the Twins family.

Bad news: 2007 (see especially S. Ponson, R. Ortiz, and J. Cirillo)
Good news: Spring training 2008.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Posts & Pots

Paragraphs are back! (see previous post)

The solution is almost as big a mystery as was the problem. As the songwriter Jim White said: "Miracles abound, now more than ever."

Here's a bowl I made a while ago. The grey-blue glaze is called Acme because the Acme catalogue was Wile E. Coyote's favorite supplier. It's also an acronym for A Complete Mystery to Everyone because it's a mixture of about five old leftover unlabeled glazes from the Arts Guild studio. It's a very pretty semi-matte glaze that will never be duplicated, which adds to its attraction.

I hit something of a milestone as a potter recently when I realized that I could do again what I'd done before. If I want to make this bowl again, I'm pretty sure I could do it (until the Acme glaze runs out, of course). This is a good thing for a production potter (which I assuredly am not) and it's a good thing for an instructor (which I am intermittently), but it's not necessarily a good thing per se. Making pots (or poems) is a balance between serendipity (chance, dumb luck) and control. It's exciting to just see what happens (ooh! that turned out well) but it's also satisfying to have a particular end in mind and to get those results.

Friday, September 14, 2007

paragraph breaks

Dear loyal readers (both of them):

Blogger seems to have deleted all of my paragraph breaks, not just in today's most recent post, but evidently all previous posts, too. I kind of like paragraph breaks. They are handy for many things, especially to tell the reader where one paragraph ends and the next begins. There is nothing in the Bill of Rights about paragraph breaks, so I suppose Blogger can unilaterally eliminate them and there's nothing I can do about it. I would like to know how to redress this grievance, which grievance is compounded by my inability to navigate the Blogger help system. I have spent much too much time trying and failing to fix this. If any experienced Blogger users can tell me how to restore paragraph breaks, I'd be grateful.

Thank you...

See! This is the perfect example! As written, this post had paragraph breaks after the salutation and before the "Thank you" but they vanished as soon as I hit the "publish post" button. Crap...

Connective Tissue

So Dorn and Brautigan crossed paths. I had forgotten that fact until leafing through a compilation of Dorn's work called "Way West: Stories, Essays, and Verse Accounts, 1963-1993."

Dorn and Brautigan met briefly in Colorado, lived near each other in North Beach, and hung out later in Montana. They seemed to hit it off. Dorn wrote a memorial to Brautigan after Brautigan's death. It appears in this collection. A very strange essay indeed, printed side-by-side with a more conventional eulogy by Dorn's ex-wife.

This paragraph struck me as a quirky (Rob Hardy uses this word correctly to describe Dorn's poetry) piece of literary criticism and personal reminiscence:

"There is a distant similarity between Brautigan and Twain. It consists almost solely in a natural innocence…regarding the evil disposition of mankind. But whereas Twain’s treatment of the condition is streaked with acid intelligence, Brautigan’s is amazingly tolerant, if not gleeful, and resembles an anthropologist’s understanding more than that of a literary man."
The contrast works in a way because an anthropologist carefully observes and records, which is what Brautigan did so well. Twain was as much an agitator and opinion-shaper as he was a trenchant observer.

Much of the time, about nearly everything, Dorn was offended, disgusted, pissed off, or suspicious. In Dorn's view, a "literary man" would use his pen as a cudgel, so it's interesting that the swashbuckling Dorn could be friends with and respect the work of the understated Brautigan.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ed Dorn, too

The poet Ed Dorn died in 1999 at age 70. I came to his work via Black Sparrow Press, which published Charles Bukowski, Tom Clark, and Joyce Carol Oates, among many others. I'll admit that part of the attraction of Black Sparrow Press books was their lovely binding and and typography. The books are a pleasure to handle. I still have a shelf of Black Sparrow books.

This weekend, I dusted off a couple of Ed Dorn volumes because I was trying to find a certain poem about poetry -- how poetry could be graded like beef. I found it, and as I re-read his work found also that some of Dorn's poems (and especially the unfinished fragments retrieved from Dorn's notebooks by Tom Clark) are Brautigan-like in their deceptive simplicity. Herewith a sampling:

From "Hello, La Jolla"


I'm making a dogshit catapult
which I hope to market to people
who live on bluffs, or in flats
high above the city. I've taken out
a patent on a superb nickle-plated
guardrail mounting. I just haven't
worked out the throweight factors.

A slightly different version of this was first published in "Yellow Lola." In "Hello, La Jolla" it was part of a much longer work called Correct usages of some words widely misused or abused in modern conversation & poetry.

Another from the same collection, this one extremely Brautigan-like:

Lending a Hand to the Inanimate

Rocks like to be skipped
It's the only occasion
on which they get to take off
and land

And the one I was looking for in the first place, also from "Hello, La Jolla:"


Poetry is now mostly government product
therefore we can dispense with the critical apparatus
the grades assigned to beef will do nicely:


For a long time, I couldn't help but grade poems (at least other people's) using this handy scale. Also, It got me wondering just what utility-grade beef would be used for.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Bay Lake

I sit on the shore of Bay Lake, Minnesota, on a cloudy, breezy day. All morning, the only human sound is a float plane circling once, then landing on the far side. Otherwise, the sounds are all of nature – the wind in the reeds, the small waves lapping, some birds and chipmunks, acorns bouncing off the roof of the cabin.

I’ve never been one to commune with nature, to take solitary walks like Annie Dillard and Bill Bryson, then muse about the cosmos or the human condition. Though pleasant, Bay Lake isn’t all that natural or pristine anyway. It’s pretty much surrounded by homes and a few small resorts. Lots of boats and docks. It’s attractive, but not romantically beautiful like remote lakes in the Boundary Waters or wild rivers in Maine or the Pacific Northwest.

Brautigan wrote a lot near water. Most of the pieces in Trout Fishing in America take place in or near streams and rivers. His haunting book So The Wind Won’t Blow it All Away includes an enduring image – for me – of a family fishing by a small lake. They had managed to haul several pieces of living room furniture down to the shore, including a floor lamp, so they could read and fish in comfort. I have lived in Minnesota for thirty-six of my sixty years. It’s a place and a culture of water.

Sigurd Olson, an iconic figure in Minnesota, helped define our attitudes toward water a century ago. Somehow, he knew that the human appetite for “progress” (or more precisely the western European appetite) needed to be restrained. Sigurd loved the wilderness and thought everyone else should, too. He’s one of many, many writers who took inspiration from nature, especially peaceful lakes and rivers. I guess I am more drawn to the showy, spectacular, dangerous parts of nature – volcanoes, earthquakes, waterfalls, tornadoes, hurricanes. John McPhee’s writing about Icelandic volcanoes and debris flows in the mountains above Los Angeles is brilliant and compelling. A favorite childhood memory is riding the Maid of the Mist near the base of Niagra Falls. The sound frightened and thrilled.

It may storm tonight. I hope there is lots of lightning over Bay Lake.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Short Guided Tour

Look over there to the right on this screen. See the list, the one under the heading "Worth Linking to...?" Yes, that's the list I'm talking about. If you are a curious person, you might have already explored the blogs listed there and what I am about to tell you will be old news. If you aren't a curious person, then you have probably stopped reading this already so why am I bothering?

These blogs are linked here because:

The Soul of Baseball: This blog is no longer updated regularly, which is a damn shame, because it was very, very good. In fact, it was so good that it still occupies the top spot in my list o' links. I urge you to read the blog, buy the book "The Soul of Baseball" and keep an eye out for Mr. Posnanski's next book. For a sports columnist, this dude can write.

Michael at the Arts Guild: This blog is new, as is Michael (new as the Northfield Arts Guild director, anyway). Linking to his blog is one way in which I try to support the Arts Guild, which is a venerable organization hereabouts. Venerable should translate into dollars, though it doesn't nearly often enough.

Alright Hamilton! This is hilarious. A bunch of guys who graduated together from Northfield High School about five years ago are scattered about the globe -- from Iraq to Hawaii -- but still get together in hyperspace (and in the real world, especially at baseball parks). Gives me hope for the youth of America.

Blood for Ink: This is a quirky, scatter-shot site maintained by a Chicago writer/artist/designer. Might even be a singer/songwriter, too. Anyway, I like his iconoclasm. Is that a word?

Brendon's Play a Day: This blog is often juvenile, sometimes salacious, almost always funny, and occassionally brilliant. Brendon is a local polymath who doesn't seem to sleep. His original melodrama "Jesse Jane's Jamboree: Kitten Kaboodle" opens this week at the Arts Guild Theatre.

Old Blue Bus: I am not a huge bluegrass or roots music fan, but this site is stunning in its commitment to the genre, in its historical depth, in its use of MP3 files for our edification. This gentleman is passionate but without any hype or hubris. He's havin' some fun and invites us along.

Rob Hardy: Rob is an outstanding writer and just a genuinely thoughtful human being.

Aaron Gleeman: The granddaddy of Twins bloggers, Gleeman is smart and analytical about baseball. He admits to some poor musical tastes and I wish he'd stop linking to pictures of scantily-clad startlets. (Grow up, Aaron.) But his baseball writing is top notch. I've learned a lot by reading Gleeman. I grit my teeth now again when he does one of his "I told you so" pieces, but, dammit, he's almost always right.

So there you have it...the short list. It will probably get longer, but these few sites keep me busy for a while each day, which is not a bad hobby.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


What am I going to write about on this stupid blog today?

How about a poem? **

Painting Daniel's Room

We got out the brushes and rollers and patching plaster,
the sandpaper and wallpaper stripper,
the vacuum cleaner.

We removed the window blinds and measured the windows.

I look outside. It is lovely. A late summer gem of a day. The world
seems to have slowed down, inviting us to do the same.
I don't know why we are in such a hurry to paint Daniel's room.

It will still be Daniel's room. It will always be Daniel's room.

As Brautigan said. "I don't care, any poem. This poem."