Sunday, April 26, 2009


There are certain times in life when one is prone to reflection. We are bound to reflect when we pass one of life’s benchmarks, whether that milestone is a major anniversary, important promotion, or significant birthday. We might reflect when facing a particular challenge; an illness, a job loss or other trauma to our way of life.

Or, we might reflect when given the blessing of a moment; a chance to simply stop, see, and hear. The opportunity to look at life in a way... that life looks back.

For quite some time, now, I have intended to gather and organize a group of photos I’ve taken from the St. Croix River Valley, each having something to do with "reflection." We've taken other nice shots since beginning this project, but the pictures in this group share this one common attribute: Their intensity is doubled because the because skyward beauty is reflected in the foreground glass of water.

I’ll say nothing further, and invite you to click through the set of images for yourself. I’m confident the real views of the river will write a better essay than any words I could offer on the matter. (Click on the image below to enlarge, and then select "slide show" when Picasa opens.)

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Counting the blessings

Tonight, I am thinking about how lucky we were. The greatest fortune, of course, was that nobody was home last week when thieves broke into our home... but that’s not where the blessings stopped. This weekend, we worked on an inventory of items not stolen during the break-in.

Don’t get me wrong… the intruders were clearly after personal electronics, and they got plenty. We lost GPS devices and laptops, TVs and more. But not taken: A store of back-up disks which held copies of most of the photos and inventory maps we have gathered. And almost everything that was not on those disks was in an email exchange somewhere, and thus, retrievable from “the cloud.” Also not taken (and now stored in a more secure location), the cameras.

The materials I built for our Earth Day visit at Nokomis are gone… but can be rebuilt. As much as this experience stinks, it could have been much worse.

I have not overlooked the irony of our experience on the metro Mississippi… which, a couple of weeks ago led us to discover yet another safe. It had been dropped in the parking lot at North Mississippi Park (Three Rivers Park District, near the interchange of I-94 and 694. That brings to ten the number of safes and/or lockboxes we’ve seen dumped in or near the river. When we tell folks about the safes, they are amazed… and the first reaction is often, “Why would someone dump a safe in the river?” By now, the answer to that question is obvious to me: “Because they’d get busted if they dropped it in the recycling bin and rolled it to the end of their driveway!” Perhaps the greater question is: Why was the safe stolen in the first place?

Anger might compel the question: What convinces a person that it is their right to take what they have not earned, and deprive a person or business from what they have earned?

But on the other hand, compassion might inspire the question: What circumstances drove these poor souls to believe that theft was their best or only choice? Certainly, they must want for better options in life. I hope those options are granted, recognized, and taken.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Still, I will have all I need

I am sad to report that our river project—indeed, our overall sense of security—suffered a setback this week.

Before it even started, I knew this would be an intense five days. I traveled to Indiana Monday/Tuesday for a job-related speaking engagement. Tuesday evening, I would fly home, only to leave the next morning for another assignment in Canada Wednesday through Friday. But on the first leg of my trip—while waiting for a connection in Chicago on Monday morning—my wife called me in tears. She had been running some errands, and returned to discover that our home had been broken into.

It is not easy to be apart when something like this happens. Not for my wife. And not for me.

On a typical Monday morning, I would have been home working in my office (would my presence have made the intruders choose another house?). Receiving her phone call while miles from home, I could only think of how thankful I was that my wife and son were away when the break-in occurred. The stolen and damaged items should, for the most part, be covered by insurance (we’re in good hands). But two things cannot be protected by a simple insurance policy. One is our sense of sovereignty; it has gone missing and is not likely to be replaced anytime soon.

The other item missing, that I know of, is a laptop… containing numerous photographs and digital maps that are the result of countless hours of work. Yes, much of that material is backed up. But some of it was recent, and irreplaceable. (I finished a new presentation about our project last Saturday morning, in time for our Earth Day celebrations, and had not yet backed that material up.) Whoever stole that computer took much more than a machine. They took plans. They took images of what needs to be done. And they took our record of things already accomplished.

I am writing this posting while flying home from Vancouver, Canada, late on Friday afternoon; there will be little time for writing when I land. I am eager to get home and see my wife. And I am eager to inventory my office for items lost (much of the equipment I use is foreign to Julie, so counting the loss must wait until I get home). Until now, I have tried to “compartmentalize” the events of the week, focusing on the work assignments that kept me from home, and checking in with Jul when I can. But now that I’m homeward bound, I’m eager to see the faces of my family. I am wondering about cameras, lenses, GPS devices, back-up hard drives, and whatever else. I’ve no idea how much of our gear is missing… and less idea of when I’ll be able to replace it all.

I feel both angry and cheated that this happened. But most of all, I feel thankful that my wife and kids were not home at the time. As for the work I have lost, I suppose I’ll just have to use this loss as an excuse to revisit the river, and recapture those photos. Hmmm. That reminds me of a really good song lyric, about a couple who lost everything when their cabin burned down:

After the blaze turned our cabin down to ashes… where we had slept warm, now the sky lets in the rain. I found the strings, the frets and rusted latches.
But I will never hear that old guitar again.

Now these four walls are only in my memory… now these stone steps lead to nothing in the air. So one last look, and then I’m headed for the river…
To wash my hands, and try to say this prayer:

Let us dive into the water, and leave behind all that we’ve worked for, except what we remember and believe. And as I stand on the farthest shore... I will have all I need.

[Lyrics from “Farthest Shore,” David Wilcox.]

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

An encore on KARE 11

Earlier this week, I was contacted by a producer at KARE 11 TV; she wanted to let me know that to kick-off their Earth Day-related coverage this week, the station wanted to re-broadcast the story they had produced about our project last year (the story was shot on May 16 & 17, 2008).

The producer asked if I could provide any update about our project. The inquiry made me reflect on the past year... and everything we have learned. About generosity, as demonstrated by people like Joe Rauscher, who offered to outfit our project with kayaks on behalf of his company, Joe's Sporting Goods. That a blog is a great way to meeting people of like mind; we have been contacted by people from as far as Oregon, Virginia, Massechusetts and even New Brunswick... people who are as passionate as we about the restoration of rivers and shorelines. And closer to home, we've learned from friends like the FMR, and Minnesota Waters.

We have learned that people like Tim Brown from the MPRB are prepared to commit energy to a problem, once that problem has been well defined. And that nature has a friend in Paul Nordell, the Adopt-a-River coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He doesn't do this because it's his job. It is his job because it is his passion.

KARE 11 broadcast an "encore" of the story about our project in tonight's 6:30 telecast. [Click on here to see the story at KARE 11. It is available as both text and video.] It's nice to know the story--and our project--still has merit. The only of our updates that were added to the story had to do with the clean-up we conducted on International Coastal Cleanup day last fall. Had the producer included all of the people we tried to thank for their assistance and impact, I'm sure the story would have been too long for a newscast.

If you are among those folks who've helped us learn or inspired us along the way, thanks.

© Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN. All rights reserved.

A wonderful (pre-Earth) day at Nokomis

Today, I had the opportunity to participate in Earth Day festivities a little ahead of schedule (the official Earth Day is April 22nd). I appreciated that fact, since work obligations will keep me from doing anything on Wednesday. This morning, an impressive group of citizens converged for a clean-up of the Lake Nokomis, Hiawatha, and Minnehaha areas.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Karen Solas from Friends of the Mississippi River had invited me to talk with people about the things we see in the river--good and bad--and the measures we're taking to help clean them when we can. I brought along a laptop and projector so folks could see, for themselves, the state of the waterways, through the lens of my camera. I was able to share maps of the debris fields we have catalogued, and demonstrate some of the equipment we use in this process called geo-trashing.

Among the most interested onlookers: A handful of Girl Scount troops and Cub Scout packs who couldn't believe what we had found and recovered. Their curiosity was fantastic, and their will to be a part of the solution was terribly admirable.

This morning, I set out to make a positive impression on people with regard to matters of stewardship. Indeed, those young people were the ones to make an impression on me.

© Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Eagle family, you are mine

Over the past two seasons I have enjoyed viewing the home of a pair of Bald Eagles along the St. Croix River. Their nest could only be described as majestic… resting high in a Jack Pine, composed of sturdy branches and stretching perhaps six to eight feet wide. (These dimensions are “my best guess,” from the vantage point of my kayak, floating perhaps 60 to 80 feet below.) For those of you who paddle, the sight is revealed about 15 minutes downstream from Thayer’s Landing, on the Wisconsin side of the river.

Consistent with our goal of focusing not only on pollution, but also sharing some of the beauty we’ve seen on our voyages… I have attempted to both film and photograph this breathtaking sight. The efforts have met with mixed results. As you can see in the photo to the right, I’ve captured the creatures, but in a lighting and color combination that almost camouflages the mating pair. (Note: Click on the photo to enlarge, and look closely; you’ll see two Bald Eagles on a branch about four feet above the nest.) This commitment to sharing the beauty, as well as the beast, becomes even more important now that the St. Croix has been stamped with the “endangered” label. People should not assume this gorgeous river is a lost cause… because that is absolutely not the case. The St. Croix River remains one of America’s great treasures.

A while back, Julie gave me the gift of a Nikon digital SLR, which is the camera I’ve used to capture most of my river scenes. I added a modest zoom lens, but that still didn’t have the power to climb the Jack Pine. I’ve long wanted to get my hands on a 300-milimeter lens, but the Nikon version of it runs nearly $600… a sum that has been a little out of reach. (I have to be careful about spending money on this project, as there is no revenue model for what we’re doing!) But yesterday, we stopped at a Ritz camera store that was having a going out of business sale… and I was able to get a knock-off brand for less than $150. I jumped on the deal, and added a polarizing filter which should provide more contrast between the eagles, their tree, and the clouds or sky behind.

Perhaps I’ll discover some reason that this lens is sub-standard in some way, and regret the purchase. But perhaps not! (If you’re a photography whiz and have used a Quantaray-brand lens, drop me an email and let me know of your experience!) But from our kitchen window, I can focus on individual pine cones high in the tree at the back of our lot. I think it will work.
Eagle family, this year you are mine.

To review some of the scenes we’ve enjoyed on the St. Croix River, enjoy the video below.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A crossroads for the St. Croix

This morning, my daughter sent me the first of many links I received today about the endangered rivers designation placed on our beloved St. Croix River. She had heard the story on CNN, and then read the details online. (As always, click on any image to enlarge the photo.)

Essentially citing careless land development, American Rivers president Rebecca Wodder said in her statement that, “This river is a national treasure but it is in danger of dying a death from a thousand cuts. Poorly planned development is slowly killing the very qualities that make the Lower St. Croix so special.” Note that the group has pointed specifically to the lower St. Croix as being in danger. I can only claim true familiarity with portions of the upper St. Croix, from just above Danbury, Wisconsin, to near Marine on St. Croix, north of Stillwater. (There is more power boat traffic on the lower segment of the river, which makes kayaking less enjoyable, in my opinion. That's not a problem... just a preference.)

I have a great suggestion: More people should experience the upper St. Croix River. If they could drift from Danbury to St. Croix State Park in a kayak, or paddle a canoe from the rapids of Taylors Falls to the serenity of William O’Brien State Park…

People would realize why a river like the St. Croix should be preserved for generations none of us will ever even meet.

Again, I’m not going to drone on about this announcement; it has already received plenty of media coverage. (In case you have not read it, the specific “endangered” status is proclaimed by the American Rivers organization, you can read it by clicking here.)

What I will say is that the St. Croix is in harm’s way. But that could be said of almost any river in America. The unwitting error of the endangered rivers list is that it implies only ten rivers are in trouble. (Click here to see the complete list.) The fact is, every waterway needs and deserves care, stewardship and repair. And every person is capable of rendering that aid.

Again worth stating: Anyone, on any given day, has the power to improve a place.

© Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Waiting for some heros

In this morning's Minneapolis Star Tribune, there is an anxiety-filled story forewarning the designation of the St. Croix River as "an endangered waterway."

The St. Croix River is home to two of our adopted river sements; in the far north, a 9.6 mile stretch which begins at Thayer's Landing, and closer to home a 3.7 mile backwater which begins just south of the Osceola bridge.

Hearing that a waterway is "endangered" is much like receiving a harsh diagnosis on a trip to the doctor. It is, at once, terrible and delightful. Nobody wants to learn they are ill, but neither does one benefit from continued ignorance; a diagnosis enables treatment that can lead to wellness. Ignorance, on the other hand, can be fatal.

The endangered designations, scheduled for release Tuesday, are published by a group known as American Rivers. Their designation of the Mississippi as an endangered waterway back in the early 90's is one of the things that brought river distress to my attention in the first place.

One of the things that concerns me about this story is the reader commentary that follows. Too many people are quick to place blame, or cast the story as the work of "this group" or "that." That's too bad. Because the St. Croix will not benefit from finding fault or placing blame. It needs us to focus on solutions. And do something.

To read the Star Tribune story, click here.

© Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A revealing thought

The past few evenings, I’ve spent some time reflecting on the experiences that have come my way as a result of this project. First and foremost, I’ve enjoyed some beautiful places over the past few years. And a little pride in keeping them that way. But just as important, this experience has taught me a little more than I knew before... about a wide range of topics.

One of the things I’ve discovered—I think—is that the advancement of environmental issues should be less a matter of revolution, and more a matter of revelation. Issues of stewardship or conservation cannot be imposed on a people simply by piling guilt on the public conscience. Environmentalism is seen by many as an extremist element, thanks to the sign-bearing, slogan-shouting, bullhorn-wielding protestor that makes his way onto the nightly news. Chaining oneself to a tree might help the activist conjure up some attention, but it might not be the best way to unify people or get them focused on a solution. (Click on any image to enlarge.)

The more effective method, at least in my opinion, is in helping people discover the need for stewardship on their own. And the first step in that direction is revealing just how spectacular their lands, lakes, and rivers can be.

A while back, I had the chance to testify at a Senate committee hearing about an environmental issue. Before, during, and after that experience, I caught myself wishing I could take these two-dozen-or-so legislators, stuff them into canoes, and have them join me for a trip down the St. Croix River... or spend a couple hours on the Mississippi. I wished they could see, first-hand, the pollution they had the power to prevent and the great places they had the power to protect. Seeing these sites—appreciating the stakes—is the most compelling argument in favor of responsible behavior.

Since this project—and this blog—began, we’ve tried to share both the beauty and the beast; the great places we’ve been blessed with, as well as the pollution and practices that might bring them harm. I am reminded again that one of our most important accomplishments is to bring back pictures and stories of these gorgeous lands and waterways… so that others might enjoy them through us, and be inspired to get out there for themselves!

Like I said, I’ve learned a lot since starting this project…about blogging, photography, politics, education, public policy, journalism, pollution, persuasion, cause & effect, motivation and satisfaction. But of all the things I’ve learned to do, one of the more important tasks has been to become a messenger. I must continue and refine that practice. To notice and articulate for others, in human voice, the prose of nature they have not yet heard.

This summer, I must gather more of those great stories. And I should try grab some more pictures.

© Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN. All rights reserved.

Why not?

Henry David Thoreau was, among other things, one of America’s very first naturalists. He was also somewhat of an activist; he introduced the world to the concept of “Civil Disobedience” through his essay of the same title.

Thoreau once spent a night in jail for failing to pay a poll tax. It wasn’t that he forgot to pay the sum; he was making a statement against government policy that he saw as “looking the other way” on matters related to slavery, among other things. (History suspects his aunt paid the tax, leading to his release.)

Having stopped to visit him at the jail, his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson was said to have jokingly asked, “What are you doing in there?”

Thinking principle and justice were on his side of the jailhouse bars, Thoreau responded by saying, “Perhaps the better question is, “What are you doing out there?”

On more than one occasion, people have asked why we would spend our precious leisure time picking trash from rivers, streams or shorelines.

Perhaps the better question is, “Why isn't everyone?”

Navigable rivers are public property. That means, "All citizens share ownership." I enjoy thinking about that as paddle down a particularly beautiful stretch of waterway: I own a piece of this. And the same goes for a publicly supported park, preserve or sanctuary.

When we engage in a clean-up, we're not just doing Mother Nature a favor. We're tidying-up our own back yard. I think the magic of Earth Day is that, even if only for the week or two around that event, folks from all walks of life realize they're cleaning up their own back yard. That day, the question isn't, "Why." It is, "Why not?"

(As always, click on any image to enlarge.)

© Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A fun way to celebrate Earth Day

As eager as I am to get underway with this season’s geo-trashing work, mid-April is still rather early for our water-based efforts. The rivers we work on are still high enough that much of the debris we hope to inventory or remove is still submerged… and the water is still cold enough that you don’t want to risk a spill into the river. So I’ve been wondering, lately, how I should spend the day.

Then, last week, I received an email from Karen Solas, the River Stewardship Coordinator for the Friends of the Mississippi River. In cooperation with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, they’re hosting clean-up events throughout the metro Mississippi watershed on the morning of Saturday, April 18th. And she asked if I’d be willing to join in, and talk to participants about our project. (She didn’t exactly have to twist my arm!) FMR will be staging their clean-up from two sites on West River Road.

As for me, I’ll be heading to the clean-up site at Nokomis Park, which is also a part of the city-wide clean-up, sponsored by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board. Because of the facilities at Nokomis, I'll be able to bring along the laptop and share some digital photos, inventory maps and stories we’ve gathered along the way. I hope you’ll stop by (in the gym) and say hi!

Remember that one (Earth) day is not enough. As you celebrate Earth Day activities, please encourage folks to think of stewardship a lifestyle, not an event.

© Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN. All rights reserved.


My career sometimes requires considerable air travel. When I’m on the way to an assignment, I usually spend the flight time finishing up project details, or running through a presentation in my mind. But on those rare occasions when I’m flying home and there is still daylight, I enjoy studying the landscape of the places I fly over.

Recently, I enjoyed such a flight from San Antonio to Minneapolis. Having received an upgrade for the trip, I was able to study the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers from the vantage point, literally, of a first-class window seat… and from a cruising altitude of 37,000 feet. Not long after we flew over that geographically fascinating area, an even more dramatic view came into focus.

An incredibly bright sun was setting to the west, sending those last few high-beams sharply into the aircraft cabin, just as a soft layer of clouds crept over the planet below us. It was if a pair of invisible hands was pulling a white blanket over the landscape. Left with no more features to study on the ground, my eyes focused on the sky. I was seated on the right side of the aircraft, which facing east… wishing I was on the other side of the plane so I could have a better vantage point from which to view the final seconds of sunset. But then, I glanced out my own window, and caught a remarkable contrast to the sun on the other side of the plane. Flying this high, you could see the shadow of the earth climbing in the east, and the sun was dropping in the west.

For a moment, I could not tell whether it was the sun that was setting, or the darkness that was rising.

I grabbed my PDA and tried to take a photo, but the picture below does not do the image justice. (Hard to take a picture through a plane window, much less with a PDA camera. The shot is tainted with fingerprints and water spots on the window of the plane.) But it was worth a try. The light layer at the bottom is cloud cover. The lighter layer at the top is fading blue sky. The dark strip in the middle is the shadow of the planet as it lifting out of the eastern horizon.

I wanted so badly to see the sun set in the west that night. But the coolest view was on the other side, where the people on the plane least thought to look. I think that’s a lesson. Maybe that hasn't anything to do with cleaning up rivers. Or, maybe it does.

© Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN. All rights reserved.