Saving the Night Sky

MilkyWayStromatolites_Zhang_1080New Story in the Star Tribune:

A few years ago, in the fall, I went camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on a string of clear nights. When the sun set, there was no moon and the stars came alive in the sky, billions of them stretching from one horizon to the other. In the dark, I lay on a warm rock near the water for a long time, watching meteors flare and satellites circle the earth before turning in.

220px-The_End_of_Night_coverLater, I got up in the night, stepped out of my tent and looked north. The big dipper still hung there, only it had spun, like someone reached down and turned it with a giant hand. For a few seconds I stood there, struck by the palpable sense of being on a planet spinning through space.

A few days later, I was back in Minneapolis, where I would look at the night sky and think of all the stars I couldn’t see. Instead, there I saw a bluish haze with a few bright points. This is what’s known as the “skyglow” and it’s something that increases every year, blocking more of the cosmos from our view.

Read the rest here.

Photo via NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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Designing the Future with Blu Dot

Maurice BlanksFrom the new issue of Alive:

Sitting in his Chicago office in spring 2001, Maurice Blanks took a call from a Los Angeles-based telephone number. It was from the producer of a new design show, “Area,” looking for a host. Not long before, the producers at the Style Network had interviewed Blanks about a company he’d started with some college friends called Blu Dot Design—which made simple, modernist chairs, tables and other furniture.

Blanks, the network thought, would be the perfect host: tall, photogenic, articulate and with a mind steeped in design history and theory. But he had also recently started his own architecture firm while still working part-time for Blu Dot, traveling to Minneapolis on weekends. He had to make a choice.

“I said to my wife, ‘It’ll be fun. I’ll go to L.A. for two or three days, and nothing will come of it,’” he recalls. “Then I got offered the deal.” Blanks wound down his architecture firm, and they headed west.

“Area” was a virtual magazine, with recurring segments on “aspirational house tours,” practical design solutions and product reviews. They filmed a full season, and Blanks felt good about it. It did what they wanted Blu Dot to do: get good design out in the world.

But times were changing. America was changing. And it did not want to watch a program at the heart of this kind of “lifestyles-of-the-smart-and-stylish” ethos.

Read the rest here.

Area Man Runs UTMB

New story form the Star Tribune:

It was around mile 76 of 106 that Steve Andersson decided he was done running. It was 2016, and he was three-fourths into the 171-kilometer Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, best-known as UTMB, a race in the French Alps that is one of the largest and most-celebrated trail races in the world. But Andersson’s day had been rough. With temperatures in the 90s, the 33,000 feet of elevation gain (and loss) had taken a toll on his legs. The sweat had left him so chafed it felt like he was wearing sandpaper underwear.

So he called his wife, Carrie, to tell her he was struggling and might drop out. She said she would meet him at the next checkpoint, then drove two with their three children and waited.

“Watching people come in at that time,” she says. “It was just human carnage. The tent is full of people who are there, but they’re not there.”

When Andersson staggered into the aid station, he told her: “I’m done.”

“Are you sure?” she asked. “I don’t want you waking up tomorrow and second guessing this.”

Read the rest here.

Minnesota’s Solar Boom

SolarNew from MinnPost:

Ben Butcher and his wife live on a small farm on the outskirts of Backus, Minnesota, where they raised their four kids. He used to work as an automotive mechanic, which is where he got his first experience working with direct current — the kind of electricity that comes out of solar panels. These days, Butcher works with a lot more of it — kilowatts, in fact — as a solar installer. Like a growing number of people in the state, he makes his living directly from the sun.

Butcher works as the construction manager for Real Solar, a subsidiary of the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, a nonprofit that focuses on getting solar to low-income households. The organization employs 14 people, including between four to six solar installers, depending on the season and demand. Their crew might take three days to put in a 15-kilowatt solar array, or just a day to put in a 2-3 kilowatt system. These days its services are in higher demand than in the past, as the solar industry booms across the state, including rural areas like the one around Backus.

“When I first started,” Butcher said, “we were on the road about 70 percent of the time. But last year, it reversed. The local market has really developed, so we were on the road only about 30 percent of the time. We’re actually looking for another electrician at the moment. But solar electricians are in very high demand right now.”

Read the rest here.

The Same River

SWMFrom Southwest Airlines Magazine: Uncharted Waters:

At 6 a.m., I was shin deep in the Mississippi River, strapping our bags into our canoe so they wouldn’t float away if we capsized. On shore, my wife, Bridgit, stood with our two girls, Libby and Josie, who were skipping rocks.

P1010993Once the last bag was secure, we climbed in and found, to our relief, that there were still several inches between the top of the canoe and the water. We pushed out into the river, and were off on our journey southward.

It was an adventure we had planned ever since we’d moved back to Minnesota nearly a decade ago. I’d grown up in a small Minnesota town called Winona, 120 miles downstream from where we lived now in Minneapolis. It felt important to connect the two places, to 20170627_153041know the river between them. We would row together, like the voyageurs. We would forget about the modern world and its troubles for five days and see our home in a new light. It was just a small piece of the river’s 2,350 miles, but it was a piece filled with meaning for me.

Read the rest here.

Under Purple Skies: Minneapolis Stories

Next year, Belt Publishing will be compiling an anthology of essays, stories, and poems about Minneapolis as part of its City Anthology Series.

Minneapolis and the surrounding area has emerged as one of the literary centers of the country, and this anthology will mark the advent of the post-Wobegon era. We are looking for stories, scenes and memories from the city that evoke the place in compelling ways. Submissions can be related to a specific place, event (personal or historical) or personage, and must take place in or around the city. St. Paul will also be considered, as will most suburbs.

The anthology will be edited by Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness, occasional instructor at the Loft Literary Center, and editor of the Lester Literary Update. An introduction will be written by Star Tribune “Books” editor Laurie Hertzel, author of News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist.

To submit an entry, please see more details here.

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Winona’s Last War

img_2018-04_WinonLaDuke_Opener_TJTurner_GFor this story, I got to spend some time with Winona LaDuke, who took me around White Earth Reservation to see some of her many projects: coffee roaster, business incubator, solar thermal panel manufacturer, radio station, local food vendor, etc, etc. It was a whirlwind tour that barely even covered her biggest project, which is running Honor the Earth and its battle against the Line 3 Pipeline, which Enbridge wants to build across the state. Depending on what the Public Utility Commission rules this spring, here’s preview of what may be the next Standing Rock:

Winona LaDuke is in a hurry. The activist, writer, and former vice-presidential candidate stands in a grocery store’s produce aisle in Detroit Lakes, her hands briefly resting on her shopping cart as she silently runs through the list of things she needs. Even that is time lost. A busy spring of organizing lies ahead.

LaDuke’s environmental justice organization, Honor the Earth, is locked in an intense battle with Enbridge, a Canadian energy company, over a proposed oil pipeline project slated to run through northern Minnesota, part of what The New York Times calls a “historic moment” in Native American political activism across the country. As Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin said this January, “Over the past year and a half, something has happened…As a band, we are awake.”

Read the rest here.

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