Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The SHEP Experience

This past Sunday marked our final SHEP lab day. For a good three months we were either out in the field or back in the lab. Although it was a pretty big time commitment, it was something I was really happy to be a part of. Wading out into the middle of a meandering creek, sticking one's hands into the murky bottom and pulling from it a slimy rock covered with an assortment of odd and interesting looking creatures. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday!

Organized by our group leader, we would meet in a designated parking lot, exchange friendly conversation and get suited up in our waders. Then, with sampling nets, clip boards, tape measures and sieve bucket in tow, we could be seen wandering off into the brush and disappearing from view.

Where we were heading, was to specially designated survey sites. Developed by Minnesota Waters with the collaboration of Friends of the Mississippi River, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Rice Creek Watershed District, the SHEP program has been monitoring the health of the Rice Creek Watershed. By looking at what bugs and other creepy-crawlies you can find, you get a snapshot as to how healthy your water is. This program was so successful last year, that academics, policy makers and environmentalists sought after not only the data collected, but the successful methods which the project implemented.

To begin with, we attended an initial all-day training. It is here that we were introduced to a background of macroinvertebrates, collection equipment, field methodology, and data collection. Next, we took a journey to a creek where we jumped in, and received hands-on training in macroinvertebrate collection and proper habitat assessment. Teams were then created and scheduling for field and lab work began.

Over the next few weeks the groups got together and sampled at designated sites. Our sampling sits were at Clearwater Creek and Above and Below Locke Lake. We would measure the volume of water, assess the habitat conditions and make small collections of such macroinvertebrates as midges, caddisflies, snails and leaches. Once we had completed our collection assignments we were trained in lab work and instructed on how to sort, identify, analyze and interpret our findings. Our data will be assessed and later published in January. After that, we will make the rounds of utilizing the data for stewardship of the Rice Creek Watershed at city council meetings and the like.

The data collected in 1996 could boast a 99.6 percent accuracy. Following such a success, hopefuly our data will build upon this important collection of information. From here, policy makers, citizens and concerned persons can use this information to help them determine what needs to be done. It helps in answering questions and posing new ones. Is our water healthy? What can we do to make improvements? Are we doing all we can do protect our natural resources? Could we be doing more?

Everyone had their own personal reasons for participating in the SHEP project. Some were scientists that missed being out in the field while others wanted to learn more and at the same time provide an important contribution to our community and environment. My drive was a collection of learning, being in the outdoors, working hard for something you believe in and sharing with other like-minded souls, who believe that the world under a rock is just as fascinating as the universe around us. Until next year I will certainly miss donning our funny-looking waders and walking off, into the meandering waterways.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Exploding Comet Holmes

Attention: Be sure to look up, into the north-eastern part of the sky on a clear night! If you do, you'll likely see something that rarely happens in a life-time - An exploding comet! With the puffing out of its nucleus, comet Holmes has become the largest object in our solar system and visible to the naked eye. It currently sits near Mirfalk which is the brightest star in Perseus. I've included a picture I've taken with my video cam at 16x, as well as a chart of its position. "But grandma, it only looks like a little hazy spot!?" Ah yes, yes, it does. But it's a pretty significant event. If exploring the heavens is new for you, this is a grand place to start. Be sure to catch it soon!

Two Harbors

On the weekend of Nov. 3, I joined my extended family for our annual gathering at Superior Shores - Burlington Bay. We spent time at the resort, hiked in surrounding woods and shore and visited places of interest. Agate Bay is always a special place to visit as it has a nice granite shore where you can venture along the coast and have your senses full of wind and water breaking against the rock. Take a walk out along the stone wall breakwater to the lighthouse and you can view the enormous ore ships coming in and out of port, loading with taconite and continuing on their way. They perform their own nautical ballet as they perform an acrobatic v-turn, backing out and surging their electric bow thrusters to whip themselves around and power forth, out of the harbor. The size and mighty power of the vessels, churning the water into foam, forms a perfect marriage to the immensity of the natural environment of lake, rock and sky around you. Speaking of immensity, the last of world's great locomotives sits near the taconite harbor - a remnant of the early iron range days. The industrial behemoth, once a cacophony of steam pressure and metal now sits silent. It would have made a perfect centerpiece of any David Lynch film.
Akin to the strongest religion I could have is my early-morning kayak journey upon the great Lake Superior. Just as the sun emerges, renewed from its nightime slumber beneath the waves, I push out alone into the chill air, to glide upon the glacial sea. With a spin of purposeful strokes I am soon gone from view to round the point of Burlington Bay and greet the sun. The higher that globe the stronger the winds and greater the swells. It was lovely to see the bow hatch, decorated with the Tree of Gondor, glazing itself over in ice with the retreat of each successive wave. Today I would play with landings and put-outs as I filmed them in my best 'Les Stroud.' Though the wind be chill and the water frigid, even its cold reality down my spray-skirt or when my sandled foot would sink into the icewater at landing, gave me a rich satisfaction and true chuckle. Oh, the feeling of being utterly alone and having naught but a landing of ancient lava, ridged with pines and birch, the rythmic crash of wind swept waves and a warming sun that greeted the water at the same time as I. We were good friends that day.

On the return journey home my current 'sea change' of lifestyle afforded me a peace that led me down the 'scenic' road homeward. It was during this return journey that I stopped at the silversmith B.E. Nelson's mead hall. I call it that because the Nordic influence, woven into every timber of the structure, sung out proudly. I even spent awhile walking the 20-some feet to the door, taking in every carving and ornament of artistic hand. On the door, cut into metal, was 'Welkommen' spelled out in Nordic runes. I opened the door and entered into authenticity. Norse and Celtic design was all about.The stamp of skilled artistry was everywhere and I entered a long and kindred conversation with the proprietor for well over an hour, exchanging interests and seeing things that few others would ever have the opportunity to. It was another beautiful gift of an experience. I then continued to Kendall's fish shop, bought some smoked goldies and exchanged some words with a young worker and fellow kayaker who had come out to admire my boat. And just as he bid me, I bid you, "Happy Paddling!"

Start Wearing Purple

Being a judge for last year's Spirit Film awards gave me the opportunity to see some pretty cool movies. Ahead of their theater releases I viewed such movies as The Road to Guantanomo, Pan's Labrynth, My Country, My Country, Four-Eyed Monsters and my personal favorite, Wrist-Cutters: A Love Story. Don't let the name scare you away, this dark comedy was actually one of the most acclaimed independent films of the year. The setting is an afterlife which is inhabited by those who have taken their own lives. These people soon discover that it is just a little worse than the world from which they came and so no one wants to make the same mistake twice. The characters are easy to become attached to. There was one character, a Russian-American who had a band in his former life. His salty Slavic presence made him particularly amusing. As he drove the main cast of wayward wanderers across the roads of this afterlife, he music would play. So, after the movie I discovered that this Russian-American was based upon a real guy who fronted the band Gogol Bordello. And Voila! Another grand experience was about to begin.
They gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello is fronted by Eugene Hütz who's family imigrated to New York from Russia after the Chernobyl incident. The band fuses different forms of punk resistance music, much of it coming from eastern and southern Europe. So, when my friend Tim and I saw that they were coming to town, we had to see them.
From the very instant they hit the stage it was impossible not to force ones way into the maelstrom of pushing mosh-pitters and thrust deep into the fray. The music was loud and infused with the eastern tendencies found in Greek, gypsy and music of the Levant. An extremely multi-cultural band whose crew ranged from Jewish fiddler to female Asian percussionists to a black bass player and Hispanic rapper and toaster, the punk-gypsy-ethnic-skaish, upbeat and "piddiup, piddiup" had the crowd in a frenzy. It boiled my Mediterranean blood and my memory fell back to dancing with my relatives in our family's village in the mountains of Macedonia. Eugene Hütz made the observation that he saw "a lot of eastern Europeans" in the crowd which was "much larger than usual...and this includes the Italians." After this statement they thrust into at least 2 Italian tarantellas which encouraged me to elbow the Nordic Minnesotans aside and swim up to the front. In fact, as I wrestled with one individual in particular, I shouted to him, "Are you Italian!?" And he answered me, yes I'm Antonio B____ and we shook hands and frenzied back into the Tarentella! The end of the evening found me gasping for breath and drenched! My ears are still ringing!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

An Evening with Sir Ian McKellen

Sir Ian McKellen visited the Guthrie Theater in October for performances of King Lear and the Seagull. The quick sell-out of the tickets disappointed many people, myself included. Minneapolis would be one of only three cities in the U.S which the Royal Shakespeare Comany would be visiting, which is a nice reflection of our status as a theater mecca. As chance would have it, I had the opportunity of attending the Forum in which Sir Ian sat himself in a chair alongside Guthrie's artistic director Joe Dowling. But more on this in a moment.

To begin with, the new Guthrie theater is unlike many other theaters in the world. As you enter the bluish forms of the building itself you enter into spaces of a kind your mind has rarely experienced before. Criticized by some for being inconvenient or unnecessary, it does have a surreal feel to it. The building includes escalators, curving ramps, uniquely placed windows, Kubrick-esque mid-level lighting and strategically placed window which provide a good portal view of the surrounding river and mill district. This is also home to the 'never-ending bridge.' If you have the chance, take a stroll through the structure. I've posted a few views of Minneapolis through the windows.

The theater offered an intimate realm in which to spectate. Introduced by Dowling, Sir Ian came strolling out, sporting his nice white beard. The conversation dealt particularly with theater and his lifelong experiences with it. McKellen has a humorous, but hardly pretentious, demeanor. His is a voice which most have embedded in their ear ever-after they first hear it. So, to be one of a lucky few to share in this forum felt a special privilege.

During the question and answer session the audience presented many good and respectful questions to the guest. In one such answer he noted that he believes this to be the era of the great actress, not of the great actor. He named Dame Judy Dench as such an actress. He also reflected on his memories of Sir Guthrie, his encouragement of modern adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, his dependency upon pockets, and his experience in trying to understand the characters which he plays. Towards the end of the forum my senses were sharpened as I could tell McKellen was preparing himself for something. He continued to talk but starting to remove his earpiece and lap mic and made some soft-worded comments about having a gift for us. He removed these encumbrances and pardoned himself from the televised audience and began to speak about Shakespeare's play of Thomas More.

No theater company had brought it to stage until Ian McKellen had the opportunity to be the first. So, he said, he could be considered the last invention of a Shakespeare play brought to life. Quickly transforming himself into Thomas More, Sir Ian McKellen shared something entirely rare and entirely precious. What follows is some of the poignant and timely passage he chose to deliver.

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding tooth ports and costs for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I'll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.
...You'll put down strangers,
Kill them, cut their throats, possess their houses,
And lead the majesty of law in line,
To slip him like a hound...
...To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth...
...And this your mountanish inhumanity.