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Fall 2013 Review 27/12/2013

Posted by zoidion in Climate, History, Photography, Weather.
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Twin Cities ephemera: A bright dawn under a fat-crescent waning moon lit the blanket of snow today: Sunrise actually came about two minutes later than on the solstice–one of the many factoids to be found in Jim Maynard’s  marvelous Astrologers Datebook. But the trend toward more daylight is most welcome, even though two more months of meteorological winter are still to come. (The area has been ensconced in a “real” winter since just after Thanksgiving.)

And to assist the mood, a milder air mass–a balmy 24 degrees F at 7:00 a.m.–has moved in, after a couple of distinctly chilly days: The official low point was minus 13 on the 24th. That was not a record low, although some records were set “up north” earlier in the month.

Yesterday’s high was 26 degrees: enough to motivate me to make a pilgrimage–well, I went by car, so it doesn’t count as a pilgrimage–to a place that I find charged with energy to help heal recent personal sorrows: Coldwater Spring.


The spring itself, pool and stream are little changed over the past few years, as the surroundings have changed greatly. Recent changes, in my view, have overall been distinctly positive: The abandoned and boarded Bureau of Mines buildings have been removed, with only a couple of partial foundations left behind to give a hint of the spring’s disregard for decades. The area has been planted with native prairie plants and scrub oaks: an effort to restore the oak savanna environment of old.

But those who love the spring–and some who have claimed the spring: the Mdewakanton Dakota community, who used it as a vital water source before the American invasion in the 1850s–very nearly lost it. For some time it was feared that the expansion in the late 1990s of the highway corridor–long named Hiawatha after Longfellow’s poem about a legendary leader of the faraway Iroquois confederacy–had cut the underground stream that issues at Coldwater. The highway is the direct route between downtown Minneapolis and the Twin Cities airport, and also leads to the remarkable Mendota Bridge over the Minnesota River to some of the southern suburbs.

The Dakota community and paleface ecological activists fought the highway expansion, destruction of modest but sound housing, and the cutting of many mature oak trees. It was a tense situation for some months as anti-highway people occupied the houses after longtime residents had been moved out, as state troopers and local police kept watch. I myself was tailed by a state trooper all the way back to the downtown end of Hiawatha after I stopped at Coldwater for the photo below in November 1999.

Coldwater99(I appreciated the tepee-shaped trunk of a silver maple in the background. It was an odd coincidence when I stopped by several years ago in the spring and found the smoldering remains of the tree: Apparently someone had accidentally started a fire in the cavity where people customarily placed candles and ritual objects.)

The standoff came to a climax when hundreds of state troopers and police descended on the area in the predawn hours of a late December morning in 1999. A whole lotta cops got overtime pay playtime, and the land got the short end of the deal. The struggle is chronicled in Mary Losure’s Our Way or the Highway and summarized by Friends of Coldwater.

When I went there yesterday, it was strangely deserted but for a couple of dog-walkers: Before the site became National Park Service property, the Friends of Coldwater would be allowed access at winter solstice time and would fashion a labyrinth in the snow. I missed it keenly as I silently observed the anniversary of the 1862 executions up the Minnesota River at Mankato: the largest mass hanging (38 Dakota warriors) in American history.

More cheerfully (or not): A couple of local friends (hat tip) have been feeding me stories and sources of studies related to weather and climate. One of the best sites is Climate Central  and one of the key researchers is Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University. The latter link is to a story about the apparent relationship of altering weather patterns to warming of the Arctic region; in particular, the jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere has lately become “wavier”–resulting in slower moving weather systems, which in turn raises the chances for extreme events such as droughts, floods and heat waves.

Much work lies ahead to grasp how such shifts in the jet stream relate to solunar-planetary patterns. As I suggested in a recent post, one key may lie in occultations of the various planets by the Moon.

An intriguing view of the approach of winter is contained in a series of maps from 1 October to 25 December of the continental United States: “86 Days of Snow in Less Than 1 Minute!” My prosaic review of the fall season in this area is below: the forecast in plain text, followed by a summary of actual weather conditions in italic.

Outline for the season in the upper Mississippi River basin: Autumn 2013

The season overall can be expected to be somewhat wetter than the summer (which is not saying much, as drought conditions returned by August), and below average in temperature. Most precipitation should fall from late October to early November, followed by two weeks of unseasonably cold weather (near or below historic lows), then a warmup for Thanksgiving week. The week of the winter solstice, leading up to Christmas, appears unseasonably cold but dry.

Precipitation: September 23-30: dry; October: somewhat above average; November: below average; December up to the winter solstice: average

Temperature: September 23-30: mild; October: average; November: slightly below average; December up to the winter solstice: much below average 

Week by Week

Fourth Quarter: 27 September – 3 October
Primarily dry
Rain at beginning and end of week (0.99″ total), mild

New Moon: 4-10 October
Mild, some rain; notable wind
Some rain (0.48″) at start of period, then dry, warm, very windy

First Quarter: 11-17 October
Some rain, less than expected; sharply colder
Mostly mild, rainy (2.00″ total)

Full Moon (Lunar Eclipse): 18-25 October
Mild with some rain, followed by cold and windy conditions
Mild with a little rain (0.22″), then heavy frost, then milder, windy, clear

Fourth Quarter: 26 October – 2 November
A wet week, blustery and cold
Chilly, a little rain (0.18″) over several days

New Moon (Solar Eclipse): 3-8 November
A sharp break in the pattern, turning unseasonably cold
Very windy beginning and end of week; first snow 5-6 Nov. (0.31″ melted)

First Quarter: 9-16 November
Cold records set, first significant snow of the season
Severe cold at start of period, then milder with some rain (0.15″)

Full Moon: 17-24 November
Another sharp break: milder, dry
Mild and dry at start, then unseasonably cold

Fourth Quarter: 25 November – 2 December
Dry, cool
Cold through first half of week, then milder; dry throughout

New Moon: 3-9 December
Dry, a little warmer
Mild at first, then much colder; snow (0.99″ water)

First Quarter: 10-16 December
Seasonably cool, some snow likely
Below normal temperatures, a little snow (0.11″ water); minus 32 degrees F at International Falls on the 15th

Full Moon: 17-24 December
Unseasonably cold (close to historic records), dry
Colder trend through week after break in below-freezing stretch (13 days) at start; a little snow (0.23″ water); minus 13 degrees F at Minneapolis on the 24th

Chart for the season at Minneapolis

Primary indications: Wettest earth sign Taurus (with the Moon) on the lower meridian: relatively cool with moderate precipitation; coldest earth sign Capricorn on ascendant; Venus (“ruling” planet of ingress sign Libra and Moon sign Taurus) on upper meridian opposite Moon and conjunct Saturn (“ruling” planet of Capricorn ascendant

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Gehry-ing Down 13/12/2013

Posted by zoidion in Urbanism.
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Twin Cities ephemera: The garden appears deep asleep under a six-inch mantle of snow. The compost pile has settled a bit more. A few stubborn brown leaves remain on the cherry tree, and somewhat more of the withered compound leaves, fluttering forlornly in the bitter breeze, on the two elderberry bushes. The kale plants sag, belying their reputation for coming back to life.

A few bare stalks of the fennel plant remain, as does my memory of how extravagantly it grew: It stretched across the path between front and back yard, and while blossoming attracted such a plethora of wasps that I had to cut it back severely. A few volunteer mulleins and sunflowers still stand, but little else is visible. The only green left is the two parsley plants I dug up and brought inside. It’s hard to believe that a few months ago, the scene looked like this:


And so as the Sun continues bending southward, my attention turns more toward books and charts. Plows, Plagues & Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate, William F. Ruddiman; Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, David R. Montgomery. Charts, on paper, mostly relating to notable weather events and climatic shifts, some to individuals. My files grow thicker.

Even though I seem to have a deeply embedded conservative sensibility–in stark contrast to the pseudoconservativism that currently runs rampant through the dysfunctional, delusional and cannibalistic American body politic–it was not until 2005 that I first read a comprehensive description of and warning about the limits of the would-be perpetual growth economy. That was James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency.

Even though The Last Whole Earth Catalog was my bible in the 1970s, I somehow missed The Limits to Growth (1972).

But it was the betrayal of the scene of my small-town youth–complete with functioning Main Street, and woods, streams and mountains to explore– for future generations by the effects of sprawl and car culture that rendered me receptive to Kunstler’s earlier nonfiction: The Geography of Nowhere and Return from Nowhere. Something built into me made me keenly aware of the nature of places: I just noticed things. Not that I had much language to describe or protest the betrayal I witnessed.

For a great many people, Kunstler put words to the distress, the dismay, the despair that we experienced. More than once in recent years, I’ve sadly, bitterly voiced a perception: Nearly everything that’s been built in my lifetime is crap.

Many times I’ve marveled at the quality construction and materials of, say, century-old structures. (Foot-thick wooden beams in commercial buildings!) But for more than a half-century, the quality has devolved as the process has become more dependent upon power tools and the materials more and more “engineered.” (I feel embarrassed when I recall my own compromise in rebuilding the roof to the sunroom on my house, agreeing to use “oriented strand board” of glued-together bits rather than solid boards or even plywood. OSB: WTF?)

Perhaps I’m a glutton for punishment, or perhaps I seek clues that the tide has shifted. But each month I check for the “eyesore of the month” on Kunstler’s site. Once again, it’s a doozy:


This time, it’s Frank Gehry’s proposal for three shaky-looking stacks of packing crates, er, condo towers, rising high into the sky of his home town, Toronto. 80 stories. (How ’bout those perfunctory plantings around the base of that icy central tower?) This guy said  (according to Kunstler) that “there were only two buildings in downtown Toronto that did not deserve to be torn town.” Ah, spoken like an unregenerate modernist: Old is bad. Old style is even worse.

Is it the well-known phenomenon of old age–the fellow is going on 85–of not giving a rip what anybody else thinks, and just being outrageous for the heck of it?

Whatever the case, it’s in keeping with Gehry’s career-long penchant for breaking the rules of architecture, and for pursuing an individualistic aesthetic to an extreme.

(It’s in the same vein as this silliness. It sounds like the ultimate gated “community.” Guess they haven’t heard of certain oceanic realities such as storms and tsunamis. At least they ought to pay heed to the old poetic truth: No nerd (or group thereof) is an island.)

Kunstler’s objections–and mine–are more than aesthetic, however. As Kunstler says, “We shouldn’t be building any more [skyscrapers]; they will turn from assets to liabilities almost instantly. Why? Because we are entering an age of capital and resource scarcities and these buildings will never be renovated.”

Gehry established his architectural design firm in 1962, with early commissions confined to southern California: commercial buildings and residences. But he showed his taste for eccentricity from fairly early. His own Santa Monica residence, built in 1920, he bought in 1977, and had the exterior wrapped in a metallic skin. It was a theme–if not a formula–he carried through with many of his most notable projects.

We’ve got one of Gehry’s monuments–one of his less monumental, thank the Goddess–here. It’s not big enough or in a prominent enough location to have become emblematic–that role belongs to the grand, sweeping Stone Arch Bridge built by railroad baron James J. Hill in a former era when plutocrats ruled. (I take some satisfaction in having arrived via that bridge back when trains were still coming in to Minneapolis and stopping at the station where the Federal Reserve Bank building now stands.)

Gehry’s fortress-like Weisman Art Museum stands overlooking a bend in the canyon of the Mississippi River a couple of miles downstream from the downtown district. It’s been there for quite a while now–twenty years–so folks have gotten used to it. But it’s not a must-see stop. Actually, it seems strange that WAM doesn’t even have an image of the exterior on its architecture-design web page or its main page. Like his later, breakthrough project–the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, in Spain’s Basque province–it has lots of curvy metallic surfaces that might appeal to those with a liking for the trendy and different.

But I look at them and question how much (or little) utility such buildings will have in the not-distant future when it comes to needing repair. What chance will there be to fabricate–locally? probably not–any replacement panels in whatever necessary unusual shape in whatever exotic material? Besides, this guy has lived in LA for decades: What did he know, understand, include in his design about the climate of this area? Not much, I’d bet.

(It reminds me of the design of the new Central Library on the site of the old one: the new one to include spiffy “wings” extending out to the streets on either side. The design came from another “starchitect” rather than from any competent regional firm, and, lo and behold, the wings promptly leaked water into the atrium and dropped ice onto passersby. Duh!)

So much of this “design” strikes me as self-indulgent weirdness, iconoclasm for its own sake: the impulses of the first century of the Aquarian Age. It seems to lack purpose beyond disorientation–absent prior knowledge of their notoriety, how would one know these structures’ functions?–and inducing a sense of insignificance in the “ordinary” individual against the might of the corporation or institution.

With “respect” to the Toronto proposal, a couple of points made in the classic guide to the structure of cultural sanity, A Pattern Language (Christopher Alexander et al, 1977), stand out: People need an identifiable spatial unit to belong to. There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy.

In the case of Gehry’s astrological pattern (28 February 1929), a couple of key pieces stand out: Venus debilitated in fire sign Aries, and Mars in opposition to Saturn. (I find it curious, too, that Gehry was born in the year of the great Wall Street Crash, 1929, at the start of an Uranus-Pluto configuration that is being repeated in this decade.)

The Venus factor is the symbolic source of Gehry’s disturbing aesthetic, and to fully appreciate it requires the words of Patti Tobin Brittain (Planetary Powers: The Morin Method, 2010):

A planet cannot operate freely in detriment [opposite its sign of domicile] because it is in a sign whose nature is contrary to its own. Its effect is hindered and obscured. A planet in detriment (exile) is obstructed due to the alteration of its essential nature. . . .  A planet in exile will always act first according to its own nature and then according to the nature of its disposer.

Thus, the erotic nature–in the broadest sense of the word: facilitating deep interconnection–of Venus is hindered, along with the capacity to promote beauty and harmony of form. The eroticism of Venus is trying to operate via the me-focus of Aries: The programming is wrong. And Venus is disposed (displaced) by the forceful energy of Mars (whose domicile is Aries) operating via the restless mental sign Gemini, seeking (apparently through the course of Gehry’s career) to deny rather than accommodate the limits and traditions represented by Saturn in opposition. (Mars in turn is disposed by Mercury in the sign of this iconoclastic Age.)

Fellow architect Andres Duany’s sensibility is essentially opposite Gehry’s, in that he espouses the re-creation of traditional vernacular styles. Duany is best known as overall designer and planner of new town Seaside in Florida, most visible as the setting for the movie “The Truman Show,” a parody of the American dream. Early practitioners of the design movement he helped found, New Urbanism, went to great lengths to examine and understand what made the old Main Street urban model work: measuring proportions, setbacks (distances between buildings and streets) and other details. They recognized and valued the often-simple gracefulness as well as the utility of the older buildings that much of the general public is increasingly drawn toward, as solace from the dominant ugliness.

It seems evident that Duany and the New Urbanists took much inspiration and practical knowledge from A Pattern Language: The heart of it is graceful, proportionate design that facilitates individual human life in a social and natural context; a consideration of the elements of healthy (or unhealthy) living.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Duany’s birthdate (7 September 1949) featured Venus at home in Libra. For him, the aesthetic erotic impulse has no need to seek the new or different or the heroic quest for what has never been seen before: The principles realized long ago still function and need only be reapplied in the context of a world bent out of shape. To use a phrase from another ancient tool, the I Ching, what is necessary is to “work on what has been spoiled.”

Just as a major task of the unfolding era is the ecological restoration of the natural world, so another is the gradual conversion of alienating social spaces–cities, towns, neighborhoods–into places whose inhabitants both need and want to interact with one another, in contexts not limited to the commercial.

I find it heartening to learn about the many ad hoc groups forming that are dedicated to community building, and the many resources appearing to support them: the books (including The Great Neighborhood Book and All That We Share) and Internet sites associated with Jay Walljasper, and the Edible Estate project, for example. They embody the recognition that common spaces are as essential as private ones, and that the most effective responses to the problems that beset civilization are locally-centered ones.

Responses, not solutions.

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