A Fond Farewell to Summer 2016


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Aug. 17, 2016–morning damp on a redbud leaf from rain the night before.

The opening day retreat took place today at Mount Mercy University today, so summer is officially over. Students will be moving in this weekend, and the pace of academic life will take over my life.

It was a good summer, and it was a busy summer. It was the summer of a grandson. This summer, my wife and I watched a baby grandson who just turned 8 months old.

My wife did more of the baby care than I did, but there was often at least one a day a week when I was the primary grandson caregiver, and it was both exhilarating—a baby of that age is often quite charming—and tiring. Parenthood, I’ve decided, is for the young.

So it wasn’t as lazy a summer as some past ones have been, nor as lazy as some future ones will be, I hope. That’s OK. A baby is only young once, and it was nice to get to spend time with him. We also had several visits from other grandchildren, a few adventures and a couple of family reunions, but not much in the way of travel this summer. That’s as was planned, however. And I do expect that we will travel more in future summers. We have a son who now lives in San Francisco, and it would be a shame not to drop in on the West Coast next off season.

Anyway, it has been a warm, wet summer in our corner of Iowa, and on Wednesday, the day before school officially began, I shot some photos both of the damp post-rain morning and of the deck that will soon be gone.

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Rose of Sharon, above, by deck. Bee, below, drinks moisture from a damp pillow on a bench on the deck.

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We’ve put a down payment on a three-season room, which I hope means we’ll be spending even more time in the semi outdoors in future, lazier, summers. In a few weeks a crew will tear down our deck in prep to build the new room.

It’s a pretty positive change, I think. We can watch spring rains while sipping our morning coffee. I sometimes ate breakfast or other meals on the deck, and that was fine, but sometimes a buggy experience. I hope the three-season room is a bit less insect rich. The deck was fine, and I will miss it, but sometimes something good gives way to make room (no pun intended) for something better.

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Wind chime, above, hanging on eave over deck. We have several and a couple of hummingbird feeders–I bet next summer they will hang outside the windows of our three-season room. On rail of stairs, below, some art by out oldest daughter, who signed the name of a different daughter. I may have to try to save that piece of wood.

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I’m not sure how to describe my mood as the school year starts. At the moment, I haven’t done all that well getting all the stuff ready that I need to, but I also just don’t seem too worried about it. The first class meets on Wednesday of next week, and I hope I’ve prepped a bit more before then.

Well, goodbye summer 2016. I’ll miss you and the playtime I had with a charming young boy. I’m sure I’ll get to play with him and other grandchildren in future summers, too—but this season was unique. And I’m a little sad to see it go and to say goodbye to both it and the deck, but I’m pretty excited to meet new students, see old ones and have another school year begin.

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View of the back deck. There will be a smaller deck off o the new room, so we will still have an outside spot for some of the plants.

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The Summer I Planted Milkweed


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Milkweed “bombs” on my bike during RAGBRAI–each contains about 3 seeds of various Milkweed varieties in clay for bikers to toss in Iowa ditches. Yes, I thought of saving a few, but they were meant to be distributed along our RAGBRAI route, so that is what I did.

Well, that title is a little deceiving—I’ve planted milkweed for several summers in a row, but with no success.

First, I saved some seeds from wild plants at a daughter’s house, and sewed those in the spring. Then, I read more about milkweed, and realized the seed have to overwinter in order to germinate, so last fall, I planted the seeds I gathered right away to let them experience the Iowa winter as they ought to experience it.

But, no—I have seen some evidence that a seed I spread maybe sprouted in the woods behind my house, although, to be fair, one may have just blown there, too. In my gardens, there are lots of weeds that take root, but none of them tasty to Monarch butterflies.

This year, a professor at Mount Mercy gave me a plant from her garden, which I put in my garden and watered for weeks. After a month or so, it had not grown but also not faded, and I was starting to think “success,” when one morning, it was dead.

Milkweed is like that, gardeners.

Noelridge Park greenhouses have a Mother’s Day open house, and they gave out free Milkweed plants. I got one, as did numerous grandchildren, and I planted those. They are doing fine, but are also only annual plants—the greenhouse did not give out perennial Milkweed.

I transplanted some Milkweed from my daughter’s yard—four plants. Two did the “I will hold on for weeks and suddenly die” trick, but two have actually not just stayed alive, but have also grown. I don’t want to jinx it, but of the five native Milkweed plants I put in the ground this year, it’s possible two might survive.

And I bought “butterfly flower” plants, a type of Milkweed, both at HyVee Drug Store and a local flower shop. I went a little overboard, I suppose. There are at least four plants in back and four more in front—so eight store-purchased plants. None of those have died, but some have not yet grown and may yet be in the “failure to thrive” category.

But about half have grown—one has even bloomed.

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Perennial Milkweed in front of house, above, in bloom. Annual Milkweed (below) getting ready to bloom.

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I won’t know the results until spring, when I see what comes back, but I do finally seem to have Milkweed in my garden. Even with all of the other plants I purchased and put in and failed to hear from—where are you, other colors of Coneflower or any Toad Lilies at all?—that would make 2016 a good year in my gardens.

In past years, I have seen Monarchs in my garden enjoying the Coneflowers. None so far this year—but if the Monarchs ever return, I am hoping they also have plants to lay eggs on.

Now, if I can just persuade the Mount Mercy University Bike Club and the powers-that-be on the facilities staff—maybe I can get a Milkweed-butterfly garden going at MMU …

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Bee on a Coneflower in my garden a few days ago. Sadly, I have not seen any Monarch butterflies visiting them this summer, but this kind of flower is one that they like. They can’t lay their eggs on it, though–for baby Monarch butterflies, you need Milkweed.

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Mid July in the Backyard


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Rose of Sharon, shot the morning of July 13, 2016. First flower of the season on this tall bush near the deck.

As I write this, another thunderstorm is rumbling through, bringing us more rain.

Like politics, gardening is local. South of here, they’re a bit parched. Here, the world is humid, warm, lush and green—it has not been a dry summer despite a few minor dry stretches. On the contrary, into mid July, rain has been pretty plentiful.

The dry “high summer” that sometimes arrives by RAGBRAI is not yet in sight. But some signs that summer is reaching is peak are around.

The Rose of Sharon is in bloom, a flower that I associated with late summer.

Anyway, when the sun was setting yesterday, and again this morning when it was shining before the rain clouds moved in, I shot some backyard pictures, sort of in praise of a green mid July in Iowa. I hope you like them.

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The Hunt For My 8-Legged Friend


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I have many day lilies, and I like them, but the prettiest are these native ones.

I’m not sure what thumbnail Twitter or Facebook will choose for this blog post, but I’ll add a few bonus flower pictures in hopes that it won’t be the spider image coming up.

I have some sensitive family members, and although I’m not among them, I don’t want to be responsible for nightmares.

Here is the true story: I was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I’m up to season 3) last night, and dozed off after the homecoming dance where neither Buffy nor Cordelia was elected homecoming queen.

When I woke up near midnight—an appropriate witching hour, I think, there was a spider just sitting in the middle of the carpet.

Not just any spider. A SOUS—spider of unusual size. Before I had a major freak-out like a crazed Republican somehow thinking email sloppiness is high treason, I toddled over—because there was a question in my sleep-addled mind.

Toy? Or spider?

I grabbed a plastic container and nudged it, gently. It took off.

Not in my direction, or I might have screamed like, well, I don’t know, an old man facing a SOUS coming at him.

But, the spider was 2 ½ inches across and probably stood a half inch tall. The contest wasn’t at all equal. In the end, said spider was quickly under said container.

As far as I could tell, no harm was done to the SOUS. That’s my general attitude towards arachnids—I’m not happy to see them, but they don’t harm me so I try not to harm them.

I went to bed. In the morning, I showed the SOUS to my wife and grandson, and held said grandson while the wife slipped some cardboard under the SOUS and carried it (gender unknown) outside.

Where it was released, and photographed. Calm yourselves, faint of heart, here it is:

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Yup–this is the real photo of the real spider. It’s outside on a basketball hoop base. Big thing, but kind of cute. Google says wolf spiders make good pets–but I’m not willing to go that far …

What is it? Five minutes with Google were not conclusive, but I think it’s a species of wolf spider. Most wolf spiders I’ve seen are far smaller, but the big G says they can range in size, and some fairly common species are considered large spiders.

Well, I consider this one huge. And free. I hope it doesn’t break back in. I don’t want my next Buffy episode punctuated by something with eight legs. And, just in case the thumbnail ends up being the last photo:

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Spring tulip, no spider.

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Watching Birds as I Plant Unknown New Flowers


I don’t even know what I planted this week. Honestly—I don’t recall. It was whatever random perennial plants that were at least part-shade friendly.

I get this way each year, about this time, when plant prices at a neighborhood store start to drop. “Oh, I don’t have a Madagascar Death Gas Mushroom yet, and it’s a perennial that survives in my zone—maybe I should get one.”

I do recall some of the things I planted. I bought two new rose bushes—small ones that should fit in the small, sunny garden at the base of a birch tree in my front yard. And I planted them there.

I bought two more Milkweed plants. Odd, but I only recall for sure the few sun loving plants … because I planted other stuff, too. Something or other.

In the meantime—birds! I saw these recently in my back yard. Besides planting random stuff, I like to watch random dinosaurs in our many trees.

Birds have a way of looking both coldly robotic and warmly energetic at the same time. A cardinal has heartless, steely eyes—but is pretty to watch, nonetheless. When I take bird pictures, I do wish that I had a hugely larger lens, but I caught these images in just a few minutes one summer afternoon, so I shouldn’t complain.

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Landing on maple tree.

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Girl Cardinal eyes photographer.

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Woodpecker on Oak.

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Two small birds aren’t too small to make noise on oak tree.

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Signs That Man Has Been in the Woods


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Coneflower about to bloom–not unusual in Iowa, but this one is in the woods behind my house, the first I’ve ever seen there.

Remember that scene in “Bambi” when the father deer warns his son, “man is in the woods?” You could play the Darth Vader theme under those words.

Well, this man was in the woods briefly today, and they don’t seem to have suffered much from my presence.

I was doing some minor yard work—I installed a new swing set not long ago, and today put some paving blocks under the legs to keep them from digging into the soil. I spread some wood chips, too, and put some new sand in the sandbox.

I also weeded, a bit, which for a forgetful gardener like me can be a bit too exciting. “Is this supposed to be growing here? Did I plant it?”

Anyway, I noted a young oak tree in my back yard, and rather than just leave it and mow it off, I decided to move it to what I call the “deer salad bar,” aka, the woods behind my fence.

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Oak tree in the yard.

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The same oak tree, now in the woods, ready to be eaten by Bambi.

Man is in the woods. Planting tasty trees that Bambi and his deer tribe will shortly take advantage of. I’ve planted hundreds of volunteer oaks in the woods—doomed ashes largely comprise those woods—and deer have feasted on them.

And I just walked about the woods a bit, and was a bit taken aback.

I’ve lived in this house for 15 years, and in that time I’ve wasted countless wildflower seeds and young oak trees in these woods. Whatever I plant seems to not germinate, get chocked out by the competition, or is eaten by Bambi and friends.

What took me aback was evidence that I had been here before—in the form of three plants that would not be in these woods without me.

A coneflower is getting ready to bloom. I’ve never seen coneflowers growing in these woods before, but I’ve planted many a seed—one must have finally sprouted.

A Catalpa tree has reached a height of 5 feet. Again, there were no Catalpa back here before, but maybe they don’t taste as good to Bambi as Oaks do. I’ve collected some Catalpa seeds from a neighborhood tree, and put them back here among the many other seeds I’ve planted.

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Catalpa in the woods.

Finally, and most exciting, at the edge of the woods in the sunshine and tall grass, a Milkweed is growing. Well, cool. I’ve been scattering Milkweed seeds at the sunny edge of the woods for years, and this is the first plant I’ve seen.

May it spread by seed and roots.

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Milkweed!

Finally, after planting my Oak and photographing my woodsy baby plants, I made a few photographs in the yard of flowers and insects, just because I can it and was that kind of day.

Man has been in the woods, and the gardens. And I hope that both are better for it.

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A Father’s Day Plant and Creature Feature


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“Butterfly Weed.” A nicer name for milkweed.

Warning spiderphobes—arachnids are included in this post.

My Father’s Day was pretty satisfying—many grandchildren were present, a bar bike adventure happened, and there was cake, too.

In fact, Father’s Day was almost a season. On Saturday, my wife and I did round two of a garage cleanup, and as we were getting ready to take a van load to the local dump, we also grabbed extraneous items form under our deck.

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That is a spider.

Which is where the first creature appears. Inside a flower pot there resided a huge spider. The wife quickly bestowed that pot upon me. I carefully released Shelob back into the wild—whatever she had eaten to reach that monster size, we figured we’re better off if she continued to eat.

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I hope this is not an ash borer. Dead insect found in my van during cleanup. Eat, Shelob, eat!

After that dump run, I went on a short bike ride around Cedar Lake with a grandson. Midway through the second of our two loops around the lake, we paused to watch an eagle soaring above the lake. The eagle swept down to the lake’s surface, although we didn’t see it make a successful fish grab.

Still, it was cool to see. It was way more pleasant than a giant spider.

Saturday afternoon, we stopped at a flower shop that was advertising milkweed, and got four plants. I attempted to plan four native milkweed plants this spring, but so far two have died.

Although these don’t looks like those plants, I’m hoping the nursery-purchased plants can host Monarchs, and, since their roots are intact, I hope they survive being planted.

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Eagle over Cedar Lake on Saturday.

Anyway, Sunday, Father’s Day, was a grand day. It was a day that began with blueberry pancakes, and included a very nice afternoon lupper (lunch and supper) of homemade sub sandwiches, my wife’s excellent potato salad and melon.

Later, we went with two of our daughters on an early evening stroll. After we go back, I was using dehumidifier water to promote milkweed growth, when an owl, pursued by smaller birds, landed first in an ash tree in my yard and then moved across the street.

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Here’s looking at you, owl.

So the weekend ended with a cool bird, one to two. I heard from all my kids today, too, and that was nice.

As I said, although sadly I lost my own father a few years ago, Father’s Day for me was very satisfying.

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