Wild city: News from Planet Earth

Last summer I was worried about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This summer has brought its own worries.

That zebra mussels were found in Lake Minnetonka is one of them. Last year my favorite place to kayak was just below the dam at Grey’s Bay on Lake Minnetonka. The lake is Minnehaha Creek’s source. I haven’t been able to bring myself to go up there this year.

These small mussels, an invasive species, multiply wildly. Individuals live a few years; after they die their razor-sharp shells wash up on beaches, making them unsafe for swimmers.

Indeed, the effort to curb their spread is called “Save Our Summers.”

We had another bit of bad news even closer to home. A new tan flying beetle has arrived in our garden. This one is bigger than the Japanese beetles that have been messing up everybody’s roses but it is much larger (we are talking at least an inch long), and therefore more destructive.

These guys love our grape vine. I have an active imagination, and this new beetle gave me the serious creeps. When I approached one with a jar of water, intending to knock it in and drown it, it made a clicking noise, then did a rolling dismount and landed feet first on a lower leaf.

To me this went beyond normal insect intelligence and finesse. B-Movie monster came to mind. My husband came to the rescue and picked them off for me one by one.

I don’t know if there is any connection between the spread of invasive species like zebra mussels and global warming, but I expect that as our climate changes we will have more unwelcome surprises like my monster beetle. I actually dreamed about these invaders. They were multi-colored and were marching toward us (fittingly) up our bed quilt.

Yet a third worry, the danger of tar sands oil, became clearer to me this summer. On the morning of Aug. 30, President Obama addressed a national gathering of the American Legion at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I went down to protest against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would move heavy, toxic tar sands oil at high pressure from Canada to Texas. The danger of oil spills is great, and the proposed route runs over the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to many.

On my way in on the bus that morning an image came to me of a blue earth flag, one of those with our planet on it as it appears from outer space. I made a mental note to get such a flag to bring to demonstrations.

The protest I joined was organized by 350.org, people working to reduce global warming worldwide. We had a long banner that read: “President Obama Yes You Can Stop The Keystone XL Pipeline.”

It was quite a scene — people of all ages and backgrounds chatting together and laughing. A tall, bearded young man was holding up a banner with one hand and playing the harmonica with the other. I stood near so I could hear the music (“This Land is Your Land”). A rowdy group next to us of Veterans for Peace were shouting: “What do we want? Peace. When do we want it? Now.”

I noticed when I arrived at the demonstration that there were lots of Somali families, people dressed in flowing robes, walking toward the Convention Center. It turns out a celebration would be held there, the Eid al-Fitr, to mark the end of Ramadan.

A young student with our group got on his cell phone and began a conversation (in what I assume was Somali) with a man in a robe across the street. He told us he was urging his friend to come over and join our protest, but the friend refused.

We didn’t see Obama; he drove in on a nearby street. But I was glad to have shown my face, glad to have had the chance to take a stand against a potentially disastrous pipeline whose fate is now in Obama’s hands. He is expected to make a decision in the next couple of months.

When I described the protest to a friend — the American Legion people inside and the Veterans for Peace protesting outside, all of us strangers talking to each other, and the convergence of hundreds of Somali people celebrating a religious holiday in the same building where the President of the United States was speaking — she said: “That’s America. That’s Minnesota.” So it is.

The next local event in this effort to make a transition away from an oil-based economy is called Moving Planet: Sept. 24, at 2 p.m., at the State Capitol. Bike, bus or walk there if you can.

Mary Jean Port writes at home, near Minnehaha Creek and Lake Harriet, and teaches at The Loft Literary Center.