Thursday, June 22, 2017

Summer Solstice 2017, Addendum

Shining Light on the Prairie...




This year's solstice was splendid 'round these parts. A near perfect summer day, not too warm and with a breeze from the northeast, whispering down the length of our local great lake. Unlike any other season, this time of year that wind's a blessing.

Given such opportunity on the longest day of the year, Heather and I spent quality time out & about.

While it's true winter's coming and make no mistake, here's the thing about summer, whether in the Northwoods or on the prairie:

Everybody eats.

And if you can't quite find that in the last image, you'll just have to trust me…







Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Solstice 2017 -- 11:24 PM, CDT

Yeah, I jumped the gun a bit. Long day, tomorrow. Starts early, stays late…


Marquette County, MI

Not everyone celebrates summer solstice by dancing naked 'round the fire, metaphorical fire or no.

Typically, I don't do much field work during summer. The light is harsh, the woods obscured by life unbound and the universe around goes resolutely green. How many shades of green does it take, before everything becomes an emerald wash?

And it's all an illusion, anyway. An excuse to dance naked around the fire for to revel in Earth's priceless, live-sustaining bounty. Long may it last.

The truth is the world has turned. As of now the countdown to the shortest day of winter is on. It's inexorable. In recognition of that, to some northern folk summer solstice is an unwelcome reminder of hard, dark days to come.

You mightn't share their attitude, but they're not wrong.

For my friends along the Superior Basin who understand that and who mark the solstice each in their own way, I dug through my back catalog for images of soft summer to commemorate the day. Winter's coming all right (or so I've heard), but this magnificent, god's honest comfort comes first.

So for now, party on.

Captured on film along the shore of Superior, mostly during magic hours when summer's light is long, the cool of the morning is warm upon the skin and the evening chill provides welcome respite from the day:


Keweenaw County, MI

Ontario, Canada

Keweenaw County, MI

Ontario, Canada

Gogebic County, MI

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Shining Light on the Prairie, Spring 2017


Spring proved recalcitrant this year. Resolutely wet & chill, patience led to opportunity just the same. So though I'm late to this venue, it's been a particularly productive season.


With fresh consideration of my boyhood prairies, it's occurred to me the mission's not so different than working Fayette or Old World Wisconsin, which essentially are heritage architecture theme parks.

Pre-settlement (that's before white folk and their applied industry), grassland stretched across roughly 1.4 million square miles of North America. In some places grasses grew as high as ten feet, from fifteen feet of particularly fecund topsoil. All manner of life thrived there.

Widely considered wasteland fit only for heathen savages too ignorant to bend the land to their will, settlers called it The Great American Desert or The Inland Sea. They said sometimes even on a horse you couldn't see over the top of it, and so were lost. Then the plow broke the plains.


Today the American grasslands are recognized as having been a manifest natural miracle of ecological diversity, sprung from a riotous abundance of detritus. And such is life.


Less than 2% of that complex magnificence remains. Of my local tallgrass prairie featuring glacial moraines, oak savannas and shallow creeks meandering through marshland, still less. Everything else long ago went over to farms, towns, cities and the occasional gravel pit. If you think that sort of progress doesn't accrue debt to the land at a staggering rate, feel free to think again.


Anyway, tallgrass prairie remnants are essentially bio-preservationist theme parks. These precious shards of what was exist only because some small number of people decided they should, while an even more select group of folk dedicate their lives to seeing that they do. That others of us can visit, marvel and if so inclined learn from the land is but a happy bonus.



Yet unlike lifeless Fayette frozen in time with its ghosts, or conglomerate Old World Wisconsin and its curated collection of reassembled artifacts, even within such critically pinched boundaries, prairies teem with life as intended.



Last year, I'd trouble seeing the prairie. It'd been a long time since I'd considered the grasslands in anything other than the abstract. The tall grass can indeed dull and blind you, though no longer just as they said. But this second year afoot on the prairie, the scent and song of air over the grass again lends me the vision necessary to see. It's like being intimate with a one-time lover after decades apart. Inevitably, closely held secrets come to light.



Ordinarily, these next weeks on the calendar are when I chase trillium and smallmouth in the Northwoods. Spring's been no bargain there either. Given it's only ten days or so that the place got beat down by an ice storm, a late June visit following a wet week on the Kingston Plains looks better by the day. Even despite the likelihood of getting savaged by clouds of biting bugs and welcome to paradise, eh?

In the interim the prairie offered up marsh marigolds and trillium both, you just have to know where to look. Prior to the last few years I thought those the province of northern climes and have upon occasion in ignorance traveled long distances to pursue their charms.

So while I'm currently chasing spring largemouth on prairie lakes and not smallies in wilderness rivers, at least there's been a taste of what's sorely missed and that's like a gift sent down my way, from Superior…




Friday, March 10, 2017

Apocalypse, Then

Let us not speak softly now, the hour is getting late...
(Apologies to Bob Dylan)

Iron County, WI

Foreword


In a somewhat different context during definitely different times, Thomas Jefferson wrote: The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.

Strange, that when leaning on this quote to support whatever agenda, most every supposed patriot urging resistance to tyranny real, would-be or imagined omits the reference to manure.

Gogebic County, MI

Maybe since we've long consigned to history's dustbin the agrarian culture that informed Jefferson, the revolution he fostered and about half the later narrative of the nation he helped found, that line's presumed irrelevant. Simply another right and proper casualty of progress. Like video cassette tape, cursive script and labor unions.

More likely we just don't like thinking of ourselves as America's manure, preferring instead to believe we're its masters.

Delta County, MI

When people honor history, mostly they mean their heritage. The difference may seem academic, but isn't. In fact, like Jefferson's reference to manure, it's operative. And the mistake we make when confusing the two compounds by the day until the truth of who we've been and how we came to be lies buried beneath generations of nostalgia piled high upon self-serving invention. That renders our collective path forward not merely obscure, but necessarily fractious.

After all, when we refuse to accept the full breadth and width of how we got to here, how can we honestly acknowledge who we are in order to build agreement on what sort of people we should become?


What's true is that for myriad reasons – occasionally righteous and far too often not – untold numbers of patriots have refreshed Jefferson's tree of liberty with their blood. But homegrown tyrants, not so much.


Gogebic County, MI

We take such pride in the storied success of American-style capitalism that imagined as much or more than real success defines us. I say American-style because ours certainly isn't the capitalism of Adam Smith, who wrote the original book:

To feel much for others and little for ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature.

Nor is it the capitalism of John Maynard Keynes, who later rewrote the book for much of the rest of the more or less free world:

The social object of skilled investment should be to defeat the dark forces of ignorance which envelope our future.

Truth is there's scant happy consensus about anything when it comes to economic theory, not even among those who peddle what's basically the same delivered wisdom. That only figures, what with the sand upon which they stake their claim to social righteousness via political power being ever sifted by an omnipresent invisible hand.


Alger County, MI

Funny how that works, eh?

Damned convenient too, that no theorist no matter how exalted need ever get things finally right. In devoted pursuit of their own collective happiness, these worshipers at the altar of data must merely pass their articles of faith on to the next generation of True Believers to go right on mucking around with the lives of all, in perpetuity. No even semi-reasonable endgame to this tinkering with people's supposedly inalienable liberties need ever apply.

Imagine that. An Invisible Hand. Might as well call it God and give up.

So with the caveat that everything depends on who's doing the figuring and why...

Since 1785 we the People have suffered as many as nine economic Panics, five full blown depressions and thirty-four recessions. Including the most recent, now dubbed by some The Great Recession apparently to distinguish it in the historical ledger from our bewildering collection of run-o-the mill recessions. But not including the next recession some economists warn is already overdue.

Anyway, over pretty much the entire political/economic life of the country, it adds up to roughly one fresh economic catastrophe of varying duration and degree every 4.8 years. That recurrent suffering is typically borne not by politicians or their moneyed masters, but by them leaving the rest of us permanently indentured to the increasingly uncertain futures of our children and the nation they'll inherit.

The whole arrangement stinks of wolfish tyranny masked in sheep's tattered hope. A tyranny masked by perennially unfulfilled but always ostensibly patriotic promise. And if in fact true blue American tyranny, whose blood refreshes its corrupt and ever corruptive tree at the Republic's ongoing peril? Mostly regular folk. The long, long list of intermittently hallowed dead patriots included.

What's true is that in addition to multinational corporations, Internet facility, coffee on demand and everyone's metaphorical bootstraps, the result of your average American's faith in their nation's storied economic heritage all but inevitably ends up looking something like this:

Houghton County, MI

And why should anyone be surprised? It's called creative destruction, after all.

*

The history of the Superior Basin and in particular the Upper Peninsula of Michigan offers an object lesson in the Boom & Bust nature of American socioeconomic politics. An ongoing experiment that sustains the already powerful in a fashion to which they figure they're entitled, whatever the century. That same narrative also tends to leave workers and other common folk from whose labor wealth actually springs entirely on their own to bear the heritage of degraded landscapes, near perpetual poverty and ultimately, multigenerational despair.

From fur to timber, from ore to today's politics of fear, if there's one dominant theme that runs through the otherwise diverse material I've gathered over the years, that's it. So over the forthcoming months we'll periodically examine that aspect of the region's history, along with the peculiarly American heritage it so ably illustrates.

It's in me to do. And the time sure seems right to do it.

Because the clown's eyes are yet again ablaze with reflected red glory delivered via populist obsequience to American tyranny as enforced by it's ever ravenous hellhound, creative destruction unbound by an invisible hand...



Thursday, March 2, 2017

Calling All Artists, 2017

Friday March 31st is the deadline for creatives to submit their work to the 2017 Artists in Residence Program hosted by the Friends of the Porkies in the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness of Upper Michigan.

If selected you'll spend up to three weeks in a great cabin, nestled just off a sparsely traveled trail cut through a quiet stretch of authentic, upper Midwestern wilderness.


And within spittin' distance of Lake Superior, the most magnificent body of freshwater left in the world.



The Friends are gracious hosts. My time there in October of 2012 was among the best two weeks of my life. I did some of the finest work of my life, while there. Everything in the film clip below labeled "Ontonagon County" was accomplished during my stay at Dan's Cabin.




I'm again promoting the program because I'm committed to do that every year, for so long as the Friends and I are both in business. Seems the least I can do. My residency changed my art. It changed me.

Imagine what a residency at Dan's Cabin might do for you, especially during these troubled and troubling times.

Here's where you'll be, who you'll meet and what to expect:






Then the friends and Dan's Cabin:



Finally, let's revisit Nonesuch, just down the road from where you'll stay, if selected.


I say be brave and go for it. The times call for no less.