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Sacrifice Zone 16/11/2013

Posted by zoidion in Mundane, Photography.
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Twin Cities ephemera: The journey back from “up north” was achingly beautiful, in part because the gathering clouds in the north dissipated as I went south, in part because I avoided the major highways, in part because the vehicle lacked on-board distractions. After a severe cold snap several days before, the air was mild again, and calm–a gift, it seemed.

It’s dawned on me this year that I’ve neglected to see or walk at all outside of several of the usual corridors, so this time I went on a couple of stretches of the Great River Road, then along the east side of Mille Lacs (“a thousand lakes” in one).

One stretch of the Great River Road was a two-lane dirt track past old red wooden barns and tilting silos, bringing me to a onetime one-track railroad bridge, built in 1910: now one of those rails-to-trails deals. The other stretch was fully paved, some of it fairly recently, but I marveled at how very little traffic was about as the road many times met the meandering Mississippi; I went twenty-five miles without encountering so much as a hamlet or a paved intersecting road before reluctantly retracing my route.

MissRiv-AitkinCty

Shortly after passing three deer hanging next to a corrugated metal shed, I braked for a pair of whitetail does crossing at noon, and had to slow down further to negotiate several hundred yards of roadway covered with soil dropped from dump trucks that were carting it away . . . for some commercial reason, apparently.

Mille Lacs’ shimmering surface was entrancing, the far shore barely visible. Here I was in the realm of vacation sport fishing, in the off season. A few year-round homes were evidently occupied among the closed-up cabins of the “612-ers” (Twin Cities residents) and the rental units used by those from further afield. Across the road, entire towns of ice-fishing shacks were crammed together in storage lots. Just a few boats were visible, far out on the water. It was a time I love to visit such a place.

I could park my car in the way-back part of the big lot marked for pickups with boat-hauling trailers, and take my time lining up uncluttered photos of the tiny harbor at Malmo (yes, a lot of Swedes came to Minnesota), complete with Statue of Liberty beckoning the fishermen home.

Liberty-harbor

It was a lovely, sublimely quiet scene (except for some distant, persistent noise not an outboard motor), on what could have been the clearest/driest/mildest day for five months to come. Yet I could not help but ponder what this place would be like—how much material abandoned/reclaimed/reused—in a near future in which life would have to be reconfigured without the “energy slaves” contained in fossil fuels.

And though subsistence fishing and small-scale agriculture could form the basis of community life, how would the fish population fare in the face of the invasions of zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil? Mille Lacs, big in area, is—ike a great many of these more than 10,000 lakes—shallow and vulnerable.

And what of the water quality? Not being one who has followed the issue closely, I have nevertheless noted news reports stating that a great many lakes are in poor to middling condition. Much of the impact on lakes and groundwater is from industrial farming practices. I pondered that as I crossed and re-crossed the Groundhouse River, named for the earth-covered wooden huts of the long-gone Hidatsa tribe.

A fresh story sketches out the magnitude of the situation in farm country:

“The Minnesota Department of Agriculture wants to test 70,000 private wells throughout the state’s farming regions as part of an ambitious but controversial plan to measure and fix nitrogen contamination in drinking water. The initiative reflects urgent concerns about Minnesota’s groundwater, which in some areas shows rising levels of pollution from the tons of fertilizer and other forms of nitrogen applied each year across the southern two-thirds of the state. A 2011 survey found that 62 percent of the monitoring wells in central Minnesota, where groundwater is most susceptible, showed excessive contamination.”

(The Minnesota River watershed is notorious as a major contributor of farm chemical runoff that results in the “dead zone” at the mouth of the Mississippi.)

At least for the time being, there is funding for testing—along with (maybe) funding (or accounting tricks) for an igloo/stadium and for $300M worth of passing lanes “to ease congestion and support commerce.” Something’s gotta give, and soon.

The water problem is virtually everywhere—in the most recent updated list of “impaired” waterways, 511 water bodies and river segments were added, and only thirteen removed—and is likely to be soon even worse in mining territory. The higher-grade iron ore having been exhausted in the Mesabi range (aka Da Range) decades ago, with vast open pits and nearly-dead towns to show for it, the appearance on the horizon of a new round of mining has a lot of folks abuzz with prospects of good-paying jobs–and insidious long-term pollution. It’s all but inevitable that once the sulfide non-ferrous ores are exposed to air and water–despite being located near the center of the North American continent, Minnesota has plenty–sulfuric acid will begin moving into and through local waterways and into Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters canoe area wilderness.

The aptly-named industry promotion organization Mining Minnesota touts thousands of jobs (“possibly 100 years, or longer”), money for schools and tax dollars for cities–all from “one of the world’s largest deposits of copper, nickel and platinum group metals.” It reassures with “environmental responsibility”: a “compact mining footprint . . .  multiple safeguards . . . progressive reclamation.” (Can “safeguards” realistically plan for catastrophic weather events such as the one that struck that area only a year-and-a-half ago? MM represents exploration and venture mining corporations with names like Polymet and Twin Metals, while the giant multinationals lurk in the background. It’s just doing its job to sell the notion.

But the track record is abysmal, and the time frame of pollution rather long: perhaps half a millennium, or longer. Corporations can and have suddenly and conveniently declared bankruptcy or otherwise fled the scene of other disasters, leaving behind poisoned environments and the costs of coping and cleanups. It’s the nature of the corporate juggernaut to do so, regardless of promises and remediation bonds. And it seems all but inevitable.

Thus the language announcing a forum I attended: “What will be the benefits and risks of sulfide mining?” Mandatory environmental reviews and permitting (five permits from three federal agencies, sixteen from three state agencies) will delay the start of full-scale mining, but the only thing that seems capable of foiling a sure disaster is a financial crash. That too seems a sure thing, and soon. But when?

Mining—whether of the soil or of mineral-bearing rock—has been at the forefront of Minnesota’s economic life from nearly the beginning of statehood. This is strongly symbolized in the state’s birth chart: Saturn was close to the Ascendant. That such activity would be greatly problematic is also represented: Saturn in water sign Cancer, the sign of its detriment or “exile.”

MNstate-SR2014

(The inner ring is the statehood chart, with the solar return for 2014 in the outer ring.)

No wonder the state’s chronic issues with water pollution, or its effects far downstream from its place at the headwaters of the continent’s dominant river system.

Metals industries are also potent from an astrological view: Mars in Scorpio, sign of “domicile.” But regulation and management are typically poor: Mars’ retrograde condition and angular connection with debilitated Saturn, plus Mars’ opposition to a great cluster of Sun and planets in earth sign Taurus: the pre-eminent sign relating to agriculture. Mars also has domicile in Aries, where the Moon was placed. Translation: Metals displace, overcome, overwhelm the safety and security of the people. Moon has domicile in Cancer, where Saturn is tenant: another clash factor.

We go round and round: a negative feedback loop.

Some of the first industry-minded Yankees to explore the Range discovered iron ore in 1866, when Saturn was in the first year of its first passage through Scorpio since statehood. Others thought there was gold ready for the taking. Here we go again, with Saturn back in Scorpio.

Another planetary return is happening: Neptune, back in Pisces for the first time. Neptune was in late Pisces when the first commercial oil well was drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, and Neptune is in Pisces again from 2012 to 2025. Neptune’s relation to oil is significant for Minnesota because in the statehood chart, Neptune is in the ninth house, which relates to interstate and international shipping.

Oil shipments by rail from the Bakken field in North Dakota and by pipeline from the oil sands field in Alberta already pass through Minnesota. Great trains of black tank cars shuttle back and forth on the tracks beside US Highway 10: I’ve seen them roaring through roadside villages, and they pass under an old, scheduled-for-replacement bridge and through a vast rail yard less than a mile from my house. Though it happened far away, I can’t quite forget the images that arose from the reports of what happened last July in Lac Megantic, Quebec, when tank cars filled with Bakken oil derailed and exploded.

The notorious Enbridge pipeline company wants to increase shipment via its pipelines to the port of Superior, Wisconsin. It’s already obvious that the company’s maintenance and spill monitoring and response are at the absolute minimum level: They cost money that counts against the bottom line.

Either way—by acid or oil—the prospects for destruction are, shall we say, likely. The denizens of Appalachia and Athabasca know it well. Such is life in a sacrifice zone.

The configuration for the state’s next birthday in relation to the statehood chart holds ample indication that a major disruption—a statewide crisis—is shaping up. How ready is the machinery of state for truly woebegone conditions? There are only months to prepare.

<- zoidion ->

P.S. A September story from Minnesota Public Radio gives some detail about the costs of nitrate pollution to one municipal water system and its users. But there are surely a great many municipalities (and households) unable to afford the remediation that the small but relatively affluent college town of St. Peter is able to implement; additional financial cost is up to $200 per year per household.

Election Blues 04/11/2013

Posted by zoidion in Mundane.
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Twin Cities ephemera: The sound of the wind buffeting the trees, tearing away and scattering the scarlet and golden leaves, seemed fitting weather for the day and night of a solar eclipse on Fall Back Sunday. It was a sunny day, almost mild but for the wind, and yet it all filled me with a feeling of foreboding. (Images from the opening scene of the film “Doctor Zhivago” came unbidden: denuded trees in the pale light of day, darkness marked by the insistent tapping of a branch against a window.)

Political canvassers were going door-to-door about their duties, as I seized the afternoon for very nearly the last garden-related work of the season. I cut down the hop vines that had formed a green canopy that sheltered a portion of the deck from the harsh summer sun. I tied up the loose branches of the elderberry bushes that stand on either side of the steps down from the deck to the garden–marveling as I did so at how extravagantly, yet solidly, both have grown in only two seasons. I merely looked at the now-dormant herb garden, which grew so vibrantly in its first season: the anise hyssop, fennel, lovage, thyme, arnica–also the rogue comfrey, impossible to eliminate, useful as sheet mulch. I dug, filled with wood and filled up again, yet another hugelkultur trench. After three hours, I was thoroughly sore and fatigued, fed by the eternally wild energies of earth and sky, chastened by the puny scale of my endeavors.

This curious mix of emotions applies also to the surrounding civic fabric, on the verge of elections focused on local candidates and issues. Here in Minneapolis, we get to experience, for the first time, the function (or dysfunction) of a ranked-choice voting system: Voters for mayor, council and other offices indicate first, second and third choices. Overall, the city is getting a big political shakeup: Crowd-surfing three-term mayor Rybak is stepping down, almost half the council members will not be returning (several are running for mayor), the sizable Somali community is showing itself a force to be reckoned with. 

Minneapolis has a weak-mayor system, so in a way it seems absurd to invest much attention in mayoral candidates. The mayor has little direct influence on many pressing issues: educational disparities (among the widest in the nation), the struggling Northside (with much of the city’s black population, hundreds of vacant lots: some on account of the 2011 tornado), housing foreclosures, crucial transit-related decisions. The council members, each with a fief to account for and to, have the power.  

The council member from my ward is virtually unopposed this time, though many (including yours truly) are deeply offended by his vote in favor of the Vikings stadium package; so there has been no public debate. I expect it has been much different in other wards.

The stadium project–coming within five years of the completion of two others, the Twins baseball park and the University of Minnesota football stadium–is largely talked about by candidates as a done deal but that as a city we must somehow make the best of it. One mayoral candidate openly vows to undo the deal, but touts a proposal for a downtown casino as a vehicle for jobs and “tax relief.” Yeah, right.

A few say we’ve hit the wall with our city finances, as the reckless spending continues. (The outgoing mayor has just inked a deal for another renovation, costing the taxpayers tens of millions, of the basketball arena–will the lame duck city council approve it?) Most maintain that various forms of “growth” are the key to a viability city in the near future: greenwashing, as I see it. A couple reportedly have Super-PACs funding their campaigns: Who would have their ears? A few still seem to be talking a we-can-have-it-all line–stadium, light-rail, streetcars, solutions this, solutions that.

I thought light-rail was great–at first. Streetcars, too–sure! Not any more. Maybe it could have been viable, to begin rebuilding a public transit system that most people would want to use, even if it was little more than an echo of the one that once was perhaps the nation’s best. But the start came too late, too many decades after gutting the city to accommodate the drive-everywhere lifestyle (that most wanted). And the choices made were consistently the most expensive, the most complicated, the most disruptive. Not “sustainable.”

The choices came from the belief, the expectation, that we could have whatever we wanted, that we could undo bad choices made in the past.

Wrong.

This watershed moment is aptly represented in the astrological charts. The reference chart is for “modern” Minneapolis, dating from the consolidation of the city that began on the west side of the Mississippi River at the Falls of St. Anthony with the city of St. Anthony on the east side. (The two sides really do have different feels, as reflected in the invented compound name–Minne = water / lake + polis = city–and the Old World religious name.)

Mpls_NM(SE)Nov2013

The tension between the growth impetus and the realities of resource limits is symbolized in the “modern” Minneapolis chart by the opposition between Jupiter in Cancer and Saturn in Capricorn–both having dignity in their respective signs. Jupiter, however, is “exalted”: having benefits without responsibility. Saturn, on the other hand, is “domiciled” in Capricorn: Saturn is at home, has permanence.

The two conditions are distinguished by Patti Tobin Brittain in Planetary Powers: The Morin Method:

Planets in Domicile: When a planet is in its own sign, it is pure and intense. Its effect is constant. The planet will function at its highest level. . . .

Planets in Exaltation: An exalted planet has an increase in force. Exalted planets attract benefits, which come in spurts . . . Planets in exaltation do not increase quality but do increase quantity.

It has been remarkable to witness the construction boom here during the “recovery” from the financial crash and trade reduction of 2008 and the years immediately following. New high-rise towers downtown for the wealthy, new privately-owned housing for debt-accumulating college students, new entertainment venues for the wealthy. This is the Jovian side of the axis: Jupiter in Cancer. The growth may kill the host, or require excision if the host is to survive.

Jupiter is doubly potent in the “modern” Minneapolis chart: exalted in Cancer and stationary direct in motion: the apparent retrograde phase ending.

But as this election takes place, two days after a solar eclipse, Jupiter is in the exact same degree of Cancer once again–and stationary retrograde. There has been an era of growth, expansion, building, speculating–it is ending, the tide is turning.

That a crisis is upon us is reflected in the eclipse chart itself: The New Moon / solar eclipse occurred at local sunrise, with Saturn (limits, hard choices, grief) and Mercury retrograde (change of thinking) rising on either side of Sun and Moon. All this in the sign holding the Moon in the city chart: the Moon (representing the citizenry) “in fall”: the people historically disempowered.

Other stresses and major transitions are hinted, though obfuscated and hidden: slow-moving Neptune has been hovering around the city’s Mercury position, and Pluto (plutocracy) in Capricorn is exactly connecting with the city Sun position (the mayor). Miscommunication and confusion have been rampant, as the power of concentrated wealth has moved into a system of diffused political power.

But there is now a significant body of citizens who recognize the situation clearly enough. It is time for those within the machinery of government to discard solutions, get out of the way of authentic and realistic responses to the realities of limits, and recognize with clearer eyes the prospects for what is possible.

<- zoidion ->

P.S. Minnesota governor Mark Dayton signed the Vikings stadium bill on 14 May 2012, when the Sun (executive) was exactly conjunct Jupiter (largesse) in Taurus (sign of money and material resources). Neither Sun nor Jupiter has planetary dignity in Taurus.

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