About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

A Strange Silence

There’s been a death in the neighborhood. She was most lively especially with the fading of winter, when she brought much life and joy to a prairie springtime. She made her home just down the road. This time of year, in the midst of what we call a calendar year, she was awkward in dress with sometimes a shriveled skin, yet come autumn … especially in a wet autumn … she would seemingly bounce back.

Birds loved her, especially in the spring. This past spring a pair of Sandhill Cranes briefly stopped by. Geese came by the dozens. Ducks. Wading birds. Gulls and terns. She loved her frogs, too. Come autumn, her life through the accompanying harvest seemed to become more engaging as new goose families would drop in for a brief rest. Sometimes three or four. Other times a half dozen, and maybe more. Depended on how many of the newly hatched had survived the snapping turtles, coyotes and other predators that skim their hopeful hideaways.

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The glacier gave us many wetlands, potholes, sloughs (whatever you call them), and now more than 99 percent of them are gone … tiled, ditched and drained.

As soft down gave way to emerging feathers, and the molting of the parent birds that seemed to magically coincide with that phenomenon of maturity, the short flying stints began. No long distance flying yet. And they would come to her, and sometimes waddle into the harvested field for random kernels of grain that slipped past the gear works and screens of those huge harvesters that arrive as wide as the road they tread.

Earlier this week the first oversized semi-truck lumbered down that same road as did the tillers, planters and later the combines. It stopped near her and a man climbed from the cab and began working the hydraulics that somehow detached the main portion of the trailer from the tractor. As he did so, two more semis and trailers bearing different but huge gouging equipment arrived, as did smaller trucks hoisting largely coiled rolls of black drainage tile. Shortly another worker emerged from a pickup truck to balance a laser unit on a tripod.

Then, without further ado, the various workers with their neonish shirts and vests climbed aboard their different machines and all the equipment lumbered into the soybean field. And her death was imminent.

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Some Springs she covered many acres, and in others not so much. Usually by fall, unless it was a wet summer and fall, she was dry.  She was, in truth, a small wetland.

She was a small wetland. Some years when the spring rains didn’t come she was planted over, though yields from those small acres undoubtedly were smaller than the average of the unsaturated acreage. These past few years, though, years that have been called “overly wet”, prairie winds created waves of water left standing in the wetland well into summer and sometimes even freezing over in winter. Those were the autumns when the goose families would arrive before joining forces with the flocks of the main migration.

It was in the spring when this little wetland, no more than a few acres and barely a couple feet deep, came to life as the migration along this flyway of Minnesota River was so vivid and alive. A call was made to the farmer this spring after the Sandhills arrived. On my walk the morning after a rain their footprint tracks were mired in the softened mud alongside the shoulder of the road adjacent to her. The following dawn their unmistakable bugling was heard through the opened bedroom window, and later, after waking, we witnessed their lifting from the wetland and flying across a marshy area seen from the kitchen window. When he was told of the sighting he said, “Oh, cool! Hopefully they will stay.”

That they didn’t likely had no influence on his decision to tile the wetland, to drain the last vestige of mystery from his portion of the cropped quarter section. The workers did a thorough job. A couple of rings were made, first around her outer circumference and then a smaller more concentrated ring a few meters closer to the middle, and finally a very large pipe was dug into the muck right through the middle of her, from one end to the other. The dagger, if you will, right through the heart.

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A couple of rings were made, first around her outer circumference and then a smaller more concentrated ring a few meters closer to the middle, and finally a very large pipe was dug into the muck right through the middle of her, from one end to the other. The dagger, if you will, right through the heart.

This morning there were only tracks of where the machines had been along with the scars across her bow. Come spring all that will be blended into the quilt of commodity, and she will no longer be a visible rest stop for the migrating birds. My neighbor’s “eyesore” and the angst he must surely have felt over the years will be as forgotten as the missing of her will be to those of us who took notice and appreciated the brief magic she gave us … and those before us perhaps since the melting of the glacier … as part of a balance of life and nature. A nature of a vanished ecosystem scholars have labeled as the “prairie pothole region” of Western Minnesota.

She was just a wetland, a prairie pothole, a seasonal slough, (whatever the name), and another of the millions like her that have succumbed to corporate agriculture through the years. Yes, she has joined the 99 percent of her sisters that have likewise been tiled, ditched and drained for as far as the eye can see. I can’t help but feel a sense of sorrow. Sisters of her have met similar fate across our nearby but former prairie these past few months, including three just up the hill on our country road. She was more personal, though, for she was close by.

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Birds loved her, especially in the spring. This past spring a pair of Sandhill Cranes briefly stopped by. Geese came by the dozens. Ducks. Wading birds. Gulls and terns.

Like any death in the neighborhood, she will be missed. Her varied voices … of the Sandhills, the migrating ducks and geese, of the explosive rise of the gulls, of the spring peepers and other vocal though latently invisible amphibians … all those voices of her uniquely individual nature are now silenced. It will be a strange silence.

Race of Time, Glactic Versus Now

How strange to witness a sky race, one between an incoming storm front and a wandering comet … a heavenly phenomena named Neowise that is said to appear in earth’s viewing path every 7000 years or so. My seat for this apparent and unique dead heat was the front seat of my car where I hid from swarms of mosquitoes.

We had been here the previous night after a friend posted a picture on social media. This was after 11 p.m. when normally I would have been into my second hour of sleep. So we arose from our comfort, pulled on some outdoorsy clothes in the event there might be a crowd on our gravel road, and headed to the top of the prairie where a neat little wetland has survived being drained for corporate agriculture.

Last winter I discovered the nighttime beauty of this little patch of prairie water after returning from a distant foray to capture northern lights. What makes it a delightful spot is not just the proximity to my little farm, for it is literally across the road from my upper prairie, but even more conveniently there is seemingly little if any “light pollution” from the north. No visible roads or security lights … which was not the situation that same night on a wetland a few miles north when during the best flurry of Borealis activity some fool came driving down the gravel road adjacent to ruin the long exposure!

We were just as fortunate after crawling from bed, for everything you could ask for … almost … was there for both our humanistic and photographic enjoyment. First of all, Comet Neowise was clearly visible just above the tree line. Secondly, there was neither wind nor clouds, so we had both a perfect view and even a clear reflection in the mirrored waters of the wetland. And, finally, no pollution from errant lights from beyond!

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Discovering the night time beauty of the wetland across from my prairie was a real bonus.

So, what was the problem? Upon a serious and frantic search, my tripod that is normally in the car simply wasn’t. For some odd reason there was a cushion for a lawn chair, so that was laid across the hood of the car so I could hopefully secure the camera for a long exposure. Ten seconds at the very least, and perhaps 30 seconds at most … something I cannot do “hand-held.” Back in my youth I could do up to a three second hand-held with a very wide aperture, though no longer.

While the pillowed security helped immensely it was still a distant cry from having a secure tripod. I loved my imagery and the quaint though faint reflection of Neowise in the placid waters. Meanwhile some of my photographic friends were posting pictures of absolutely perfect Neowise pictures .. from the mountains of Oregon to the hills above our nearby beloved Bonanza prairie.

This time I would be prepared. Oddly enough the tripod was discovered collecting dust up in my studio-gallery, so that was gathered. I charged the battery and made sure the correct setting was made on the camera. For the “techies,” this meant finding the BULB feature in the manual settings, and on advice from the youngest naturalist I know, moved from my mid-range zoom to a 20 mm wide angle lens.

With that accomplished I decided to do a bit of research since this passing of a noted celestial celebrity had completely gone, well, over my head. If Julia Ahlers, my friend who posted the original picture, hadn’t gotten us out of bed I might not have even known there was a flyby! So this is the brightest comet since Hale-Bopp in 1997, and is apparently visiting earth’s sky for the first time since those folks were pushing elephant-sized quarried rocks in building the pyramids in the Egyptian dessert! Astronomers estimate that Neowise is basically a ball of ice five kilometers wide … a shade over three miles in width. That was the estimated size of the dinosaur killer that squarely hit earth some 65 million years ago.

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Using a padded cushion on the first night I was able to capture this image with a faint reflection in the placid waters of the nearby wetland.

So Neowise? What’s in a name? Here you go, for it’s an acronym for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer … or Neowise.

Neowise drifted from a dark part of the solar system known as the Oort Cloud — an icy graveyard billions of miles out that is filled with ancient comets and asteroids. It shot into the inner solar system as astronomers watched as it passed the sun at a distance closer than the planet Mercury. Although it survived this close encounter with our sun, it’s the sun’s rays that are making it visible even to the naked eye.

Visible, yes, but like with northern lights, it helps immensely to make long exposures to draw out the magic! On this subsequent night, like a hunter loaded for bear, I headed up the hill after the sunset to await Neowise in the northwestern sky. This is somewhat of an aversion for me. Typically when these special celestial moments appear in the heavens they become shrouded by clouds. Every single time. Even the last solar eclipse was a cloudy affair for me. Not only am I typically shaded by dense cloud covers, I now must contend with the knowledge that to see Neowise again I would need to live another 6800 years or so. Fortunately for the healthy among us the brightly blessed Hale-Bopp, which as you may recall came through 23 years ago, will make another appearance in 4380. That is merely 2360 years from now!

As I awaited darkness, peeking through the clouds of mosquitoes eagerly eying my choice red plasma just out of reach inside my car windows, the streaky fingers of a weather front began inching across the northwestern sky. I’m told there is nothing longer than a watched clock 20 minutes before quitting time. If that’s infuriating you should watch a race between an approaching storm front and darkness with the appearance of a wide ball of sun-enlightened ice with an amazingly long tail that comes through once every 7000 years as the finish line.

Every competitive parvocellular moment was greeted with glee as first one, then a second, star appeared with the glacial-like shrouding of darkness. Peeking first over my shoulder to the southern skies, which were gathering some serious darkness, then through the passenger window to the northwest to notice that the front was moving more rapidly than the darkness. It was about three minutes to quitting time when just a faint hint of Neowise began to peek through, and now mere “inches” from the emerging edge of the incoming front.

I clamored quickly to climb from the car to grab the tripod with attached camera and set up as rapidly as possible. For whatever reason the race was gathering speed, so much so that in the end I was able to capture three ten-second long shots before Neowise was covered by the front. Three shots!

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On the second night I lost the race as the clouds of an incoming storm front covered the comet, which is barely visible at the edge of the front.

This morning I awoke to a completely overcast sky and noticed rain had come overnight. Word is that Neowise will be around for another week or so, rising ever higher into the sky as it passes us into the oblivion of galactic evermore. That is almost as good as being told by the astronomers there is no way possible that this erstwhile glob of ice will hit earth and rid us of worldwide nationalism and a treacherous pandemic. I guess we should be as thankful for that as we are hopeful for clear skies between now and then.

Artist’s Grasp the Paddles

Several years ago Natalie Warren loaned me a special canoe paddle for an unexpected trip down the Minnesota River, and it was the most beautiful paddle ever … until a recent visit to Legacy of The Lakes Museum in Alexandria, MN, where area artists put their creativity to work onto and into nearly three dozen wooden canoe paddles.

Of course, Warren’s paddle has some authenticity these creative paddles lack since her’s bore the York Factory brand … with the F being part of the right wing of the staunchly thick Y … signifying her and Ann Raiho’s completion of the challenging “Canoeing with the Cree” trip from the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers to the Hudson Bay. The college buddies were the first two women to complete the trip made famous by Eric Sevareid’s 1935 report of his trip that has served as an inspiration for many. Just holding it would have been enough, but her encouragement to go ahead and use it was unbelievable.

Those on display at the Alexandria boat museum are of a different breed and of varied medium.

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Carol Swenson, curator of the Legacy of the Lakes, was pleased as the paddle art arrived at the museum. This was before the display was created.

Carol Swenson, the curator of the Legacy of the Lakes, who this spring prior to the coronavirus situation, put a call to artists to create paddle art as a fundraiser for this unique boat museum (which was a treat to visit even before the paddles!). The paddle art she received almost defies imagination. For an example, Quincy Roers titled his “Padd’led to the Bone” and not only carved a skull into the blade, but continued the carving up through the handle! How many of us have felt like this paddling across a blazing hot lake in the BWCA in the middle of summer?

Many artists painted lake scenes or used a Viking’s motif. There was an imitation of an Alaskan Tlingit paddle. Kristin Roers made a waxy aurora borealis encaustic painting that was eye-stopping. There were wood burnings, a collage and even a couple of paddle sculptures. Mary, my fiancée, painted one of her beloved Sandhill Cranes on her paddle blade, and mine was a “paddle river” created by using a curved “current of grain” from a maple board.

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A small sample of the paddle art by area artists.

Swenson found it interesting in the many ways artists responded with their affiliation with nature and native peoples, of how artists saw the “canvas” in the blade and stopped there, or saw the blade and the handle as the canvas as a whole. Some artists worked with the characteristics and colors of the wood of the paddle to create an artwork. “Since it was the first time we’ve done something like this, we didn’t know what to expect. But we believed that community artists’ responses would be awesome and they were,” she said.

This was intended partially as a fundraiser for museum with artists paying a small fee to enter, with an option for the paddles to be sold at the end of the exhibit. Some will be, although many opted to keep their creations. Although there was more to it than that. “We have talked about the front of the museum having a temporary gallery being used for art in recent years, and last year we featured the framed prints of woodcuts by the late Charles Beck,” said Swenson. “So we were looking for ideas.”

A member of the museum’s Exhibits, Education and Collections Committee, Jack Driscoll, suggested “applying the concept of ‘mail art’ with paddles being the focus to incorporate art into the exhibit. This sent us on a mad internet search and quickly discovered https://algonquinoutfitters.com/event/ao-charity-paddle-art-auction/ which included samples their beautiful paddles,” she added. An idea was born, or more accurately, shared.

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More of the creative paddles, including one of the paddle sculptures.

“Blank” paddles were ordered from Cabela’s, and the call was put out through the local Artist’s Guild, for one, along with word of mouth within both the boating and artist communities, and the fun began. As the paddles began streaming in, mostly during the pandemic lock down due to the coronavirus, Swenson and her team got a huge lift mentally, as well as a bit of trepidation … the same sort of fear and concerns most of us had during that time. Would the museum be opened in time for a tourist season … if there was going to be such a season. The museum actually opened on July 1, with the paddle art being part of a temporary exhibit on “Slo Boats” that includes a historic dugout canoe, among others.

“Our original thought was to allow a couple of weeks of People’s Choice voting and then announce winners of that category as well as the Artists’ and Jury’s categories,” said Swenson. “Because of the pandemic, we started rethinking how that will be done, but there will definitely be a public recognition of the project and the artists sometime in the future. Unfortunately, there are a lot of ‘to be determineds’ which is very frustrating.”

Despite the challenges she and the museum are facing, the hangable paddles have been hung in various fashions  on darkened panels, with the paddle sculptures placed nearby. While social distancing and masks are requested, the Legacy of the Lakes is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 4  p.m. on Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Besides the paddle art, an immense fishing lure collection and an interesting variety of boats, the museum also has a picturesque park with formal gardens. Legacy of the Lakes is located on Third Avenue West at the very north end of downtown Alexandria.

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This is a small sample of the paddle art display at Legacy of the Lakes, and is a temporary art display that coincides with its “Slo Boat” exhibit for the summer.

“It’s been fun and makes an interesting and rather unique display,” said Swenson. And for us, it was fun to be a part of the creative exhibit. No, Natalie Warren’s special canoe paddle isn’t part of the display and is a beauty into itself, but the array of artistic paddles is well worth a visit.

An Orchid Obsession

Hunting native Minnesota orchids was hardly an obsession. Until four years ago. Until the Dragon’s Mouth, a delicate and small purplish bog orchid, appeared in my consciousness.

Just to be clear, there was no intention whatsoever of becoming Minnesota’s John Laroche, the main man in “The Orchid Thief”, Susan Orlean’s book about he and a group of Seminoles who apparently were poaching rare native orchids in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve of south Florida. I just wanted an opportunity to see the Dragon’s Mouth in person, to photograph what appeared to be a beautiful and interesting looking rare orchid, one that was purplish with a “tongue” with intriguing hues.

This was an odd obsession, and one so unexpected. My rather limited knowledge of native orchids rarely extended beyond Ladies’-Tresses and various Ladyslippers until I decided to take a leg-stretcher on a trip to Fort Francis, Ontario, for a special fly fishing fly-in trip four years ago. I had stopped at Bemidji Lake State Park where Harold Marty, then the “CSI” guy for northern area for the Minnesota State Patrol, and his wife, Kim, introduced me to the bog walk many years before. All I could recall was that it was an elevated boardwalk over and through a bog. The walk through was impressive enough that on my return I stopped again. Since my camera was in the shop for cleaning and repair, I made due with my cell phone photographing the emerging Stemless Ladyslippers and the brightly blinding yellow Marsh Marigolds.

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Once again there were ample Stemless Ladyslippers along the bog walk, and I can’t seem to skip past a single one without stopping for a photograph.

 

On the way out I stopped to talk with the park naturalist who showed me photographs that included the Dragon’s Mouth orchid, a rare and beautiful orchid found only in the bog ecosystems. This was the start of my obsession. She suggested I was too early. For the next two years I stopped while driving through on subsequent fly fishing trips, each seemingly a week later than the previous years, again without seeing one. Each time the obsession grew. Last summer we made a special trip just for the Dragon’s Mouth and missed once again, although I had ample opportunities for the Stemless and even picked up some very nice early Pitcher Plant images.

This time would be different. Later in the year helped along with some “investigative” research. Meaning that a few days ago I called the park naturalist and she said a Dragon’s Mouth had been found, adding that you needed to really know where to look to find it. She also thought by the weekend there might be more. On Saturday we headed north, stopping en route at the very beautiful Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge and Itasca State Park. Saturday was also a day I normally wouldn’t have walked out of the house with a camera since there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Not a one. I could only hope that shooting in RAW at a low ISO that there would be enough digital information to reduce the contrast while pulling out the shadow detail. For this type of photography there isn’t anything more blessed in my opinion than a cloudy day!

Once at the boardwalk my “inner Laroche” took over as I scanned every square inch of the visible bog for a spot of violet. The entire boardwalk might be a quarter mile in length, and I literally took it one horizontal board at a time, scanning inch by inch on both sides of the walkway. Nothing. That isn’t true, for there was ample Stemless, and the Pitcher Plants were in a beautiful full bloom. As I reached near where my companion, Mary Gafkjen, was waiting, I was feeling rather discouraged. Then, just before reaching her bench I spotted a tiny patch of purple poking through some boggy grasses. Using a very long lens, I was hopeful. I couldn’t get a clear view of the plant. It was just a blotch of purple amongst some distant, dense spindly green grass.

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Many of us wondered about these blooms, which were quite numerous. Ah, but they were Pitcher Plants, whose leaf structures are insect traps. I love bogs and the different plants you see there.

As we sat I briefly considered breaking the rules to tiptoe across the bog for a less encumbered view. Rightfully so, Mary vetoed my thoughts. This was after we had walked to the very end of the boardwalk without seeing another one. We returned to the purple “smudge” where I sat to contemplate my next move as Mary walked on. People kept passing by as I sat attempting to find a better focus through the grasses. I just finally gave up and started back up the boardwalk.

What happened next is what many mushroomers know … that you can be looking right at a morel, say, and until you actually see one you see none at all. Yet, when you find the first all the others come into view. All around you. Which happened not three meters distant. And what is really odd is that I was photographing a blooming Pitcher Plant located between both when coming from the other direction … without seeing either the one facing me or the other in profile. Both were in full sunlight with light glaring off the dorsal sepals, and much closer than the one tucked into the grasses further down the trail.

As I sat, kneeled and finally laid onto the boardwalk for different angles, a few passersby asked what I was photographing. Only one caught the significance and she stood tall with a cell phone. Some, “Oh, cool’s” and “Really’s” were said, though most were there for a joy ride. None shared either my relief or excitement. That was all mine. It was my obsession and one I couldn’t share.

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As I sat, kneeled and finally laid on the boardwalk for different angles, none shared either my relief or excitement. This was all mine. It was my obsession and one I couldn’t share.

There was just enough breeze to sometimes shade the two plants, or to barely cover some negative background “noise,” so patience was as necessary as was the sharing of the moment. I thought of just the night before, and several hours of highway time distant, when we were with a group of friends at an outdoor concert by my musician friend, Lee Kanten, when we told of where we were headed and why. I justified the journey in search of this tiny, rare and obscure orchid by comparing it to that of a hunter driving to Meeker, Colorado, to hunt elk. “The hunter might not see an elk, and he might miss even if he has a shot. Same thing,” I had said.

“But,” asked someone, “all that way just for a flower?” Maybe it made no sense. Obsessions are just that way!

Several moments and photo images later I headed up the gravely path to join Mary. She said she saw my smile beaming from under my sweaty old hat several meters away. She assured me it was a smile of contentment and without an ounce of smugness. Imagine that!

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There is such a small window for the bloom, and for once I was there when the window was open.

Later, when we were back on the highway, I thought of a different kind of hunter … those who travel to Africa for safari hunts. No, I’m not a hunter, so I imagined that when you’ve shot and killed a lion, then what? What happens next? Is there a new obsession?

Dragon Mouth’s are rather rare and emerge after many years to bloom in an ecosystem that is severely threatened by global warming. It’s a precious if somewhat unknown flower, an orchid, no less. There is such a small window for the bloom, and for once I was there when the window was open. Perhaps that is all one can ever hope for. Satisfied, I shall now return to being “opportunist” and leaving the “hunting” and hopefully the obsessions for others.

Awaiting a Hummingbird

So here I sit on my little old and weathered wooden deck awaiting a hummingbird. My main effort in today’s 96 degree heat was to replace two of the feeders that aged to leak extensively, to a point where I became concerned about the price of sugar.

My Sauvignon Blanc is chilled which helps with the heat. So far, and perhaps due to the drought provided by the previous distributors of sugar water, no hummingbird has happened by. A pair of oriels flew past, noted my presence in the Adirondack chair, and alit in branches of the nearby tree to express their displeasure. I use the phrase reluctantly because at any other time I would call their peepy chants a protest. Protest is a word to be used selectively in such times.

My time now on the deck, despite the horrid heat, is necessary for in a few weeks the neighbor’s corn will reach such a height that my horizon will disappear until harvest. This happens with 12 ft. high corn, which clues tell me is of the GMO family. A few days ago the son, who I suppose is now the farmer of record, covered the rows with a spray which I assume is Roundup. I worked long enough in the agricultural public relations field to realize that the chemical is within the contact classification, that his corn will pass it through their cells and reach for the heavenly skies. My main issue with GMO crops is the Bt insecticide chemicals “bred” into the cell structure. Which, bottom line, is lethal to bees and other beneficial insects as well as the nasty ones.

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Making photographs before or after the sun appears offers some nice color surprises.

His crops contrast my prairie and the native plants here in my gardens. It is what it is. Long story short, without my work as a freelancer and later in the advertising industry I couldn’t have afforded to buy this patch of earth that now hosts an eight acre native prairie. My joy is being a thorn in the side of what is considered “modern industrialized agriculture.” My Art of Erosion exhibit was one such thorn, a sort of penance for the ills of my career.

In the distance come the “barks” of pheasants, and around me songbirds are vocally active. My small Listening Stone Farm has been somewhat of a refuge these past few months as we now enter our fourth month of coronavirus. As restrictions are being lifted, our North Woods-looking “lodge” restaurant down the road has opened the patio along Big Stone Lake. We have tried to spread our takeout buys over the course of the lock down. About once a week we buy from one of the restaurants we would normally visit. Hopefully all can survive and resume their fare.

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These Prairie Smoke were in silhouette on the Lake Johanna Esker. Thanks to digital technology I was able to pull the color out of the shadows.

All is not well, though, due to the blatant murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis cop last week. Cities and smaller communities around the globe are in protest, and in some situations, violent ones while our un-presidential president fans the flames of discord and bigotry. Perhaps waiting for a hummingbird in such times seems so childish, yet I wonder what good would an old white man be on the streets. Years ago, in the mid-1970s, a black roommate took me on a drive one warm Sunday afternoon to give me my first lessons on white privilege. We were headed into downtown Denver when he pulled into a convenience store. “Let’s get something to drink,” he said.

When we entered the store the clerk addressed John, my roommate, asking if he needed any help. I walked on by without giving it a thought or question, pulled a cold Diet Coke from the cooler and went to pay. John had a helper following him around the store, being “helpful,” and later back in his pickup he asked, “So, did you notice any difference in how we were treated?”

“You got service and I didn’t,” I said.

“No. I got attention and you didn’t. Let’s try a couple of more places.” Same thing. As we neared City Park we passed a young black man running on the sidewalk. “See him?” John asked as he pulled over. “Now, did you look in front to see where he was going, or behind him to see if he was being chased?”

A starling flew close enough to almost feel the breeze from his wings en route to the light colored driveway to drop a poop sac from its nest. They’re like soft-shelled little white eggs but aren’t. A few years ago starlings raised such ire with some owners of suburban swimming pools that letters were arriving at the big dailies asking what course of action should they take. My guess is that such questions about bird behavior are easier to write than on how one can be more compassionate to a neighbor of color. Maybe I missed those letters. Perhaps it’s just easier to phone 9-1-1 to report a possible assault.

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After pulling the color from darkness with the Prairie Smoke, I tried the same with a Columbine here on the farm. It seems there is a “Valentine” heart as a backdrop.

Like during the pandemic lock down, some of this time during the protests has been used to go afield. The other morning before dawn I was photographing an emerging Prairie Smoke. Later while processing from RAW to a usable image, I lightened the flower just enough to expose the seemingly latent color. Rather than a silhouette I then had an image that was almost magical … appearing as a rediscovered Impressionistic painting perhaps. That night I tried using the same technique in the fading sunset, pairing up a Columbine image with the one of Prairie Smoke. A few evenings ago I tried the same technique with White Prairie Ladyslippers. This is what we do. In troubled times we create. Perhaps bringing the color out of the darkness was a subconscious move. It wasn’t a conscious effort for George Lloyd or any of my friends of color.

Besides, what is an old white man going to do on the streets of Minneapolis? Eight hours of highway time, round trip? What effective means can I add to the protest? This is everyone’s “battle” … learning to not just accept our neighbors of color, but to also adjust to a necessary equalization. One of where an old Native man, or an elderly Black man, can sip a chilled beverage on a faded, worn wooden deck awaiting the feverish flight of a hummingbird without worry. Without concern for his children, or his children’s children; that they can have equal opportunity for good jobs and a life free of worry and confrontations of “white privilege” or any form of police brutality or lynching. It’s 400 years too late in coming, but maybe like a hummingbird, it may come.

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A prairie meadow in dusk across the road from the patch of White Ladyslippers.

It’s a nice day out. Hot, even for this time of year. A news story hidden among the protest stories told of how global warming has extended Minnesota summers by at least a week. That’s on top of higher heat indexes, and if we pay close attention we can observe even more subtle changes in nature. Climate change is now a younger person’s battle. My generation … we “hippies” or members of the “counter culture” …  tried creating and leaving a better world for our children and grandchildren, yet many of those victories in our time have been reversed by greed and corporate favors. We can only hope those moving into their decision making years will have solutions and more success in saving both our humanity and our planet, in creating a worldly environment of peace and equality for all regardless of race, gender, age or religion.

So it comes down to this; this old man sitting on the deck along a restored prairie with a sparkling new plastic sugar-water feeder waiting for the arrival of a hummingbird, and realizing how joy may sometimes be found in something so minuscule and fleeting.