Category Archives: Flowers

Class of 2020: Good Luck on your Yellow Brick Road

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Sr. Catherine McAuley statute on Rohde Family Plaza in uniform of 2020.

In 1982, the year I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree, I didn’t have a job lined up. I had interviewed that spring with a small weekly newspaper in Minnesota, and although I was a finalist for the editor’s job there, I didn’t get it.

Which probably was a blessing. I was engaged to a nursing student from the same college (Marycrest College in Davenport, Iowa) that I was graduating from, and my future  and current wife, Audrey, was not impressed by the 16-bed country hospital in Nowhere, Minnesota. She wanted a bigger hospital to get more experience as she started her healthcare career.

But there was a deep national recession going on. Unemployment that year reached levels never seen since the Great Depression. This was before the farm crisis of the mid 1980s, but economic times in the Midwest were not good, and it did not feel like a great year to be launched into the cruel real world—engaged, unemployed, uncertain of my future.

For me, the scary picture turned around quickly. My wife had a job offer from the University of Missouri-Columbia Hospital, and I made an embarrassing attempt to talk myself into a job at the “Columbia Tribune,” where an editor looked down at me and told me he just hired from the giant journalism factory at the local state university.

But, 20 miles away was the small town of Boonville, Missouri, where the “Boonville Daily News” was looking for a sports editor. My part-time job during my senior year in college was as a sports correspondent for the “Quad City Times,” so I had plenty of clips about sports, an activity I had assiduously avoided my entire life. And I got that job, and Audrey started her career at the UMCH and later we both earned graduate degrees from that nearby university.


Looking up from Grotto towards Warde Hall this odd spring–but spring nonetheless.

Class of 2020: This year makes 1982 look mild and tame. The “greatest unemployment rate since the Great Depression” was over 10 percent, but nowhere near the unprecedented economic meltdown we’re experiencing now under COVID-19. There was a Republican president in office in 1982, a Hollywood star many people thought ill-suited for the job—but little did we know the scale of showbiz incompetence our political leadership could descend to during the pandemic of 2020.

In 1982, I at least got to attend my own college graduation on the grassy central campus of Marycrest. You’ll be watching yours from MMU via YouTube.

So, it is difficult to be graduating from college in 2020. But it’s still your day, your life is still ahead of you, and nobody knows the next twists and turns fate has in store for you.

The world is full of challenges, but it always was and always will be. This pandemic is a tragedy that is still unfolding, but it will unfold. It will get better. Of course, in the short term it could get worse before it gets better, but life isn’t only lived in the short term.

As a university professor, honestly, I am bored every year by the commencement ceremony where my part is to put on a ridiculous outfit and sit there as a set piece in a rather formal, repetitive ritual. To amuse myself, and because I think it is a bit of service to Mount Mercy, I shoot and post images of graduation events.

And this year, I miss it. I would give a lot to sit there and be bored during your graduation, just for the joy of gathering to celebrate you. There is a lot that I miss this weekend—the reception after the Honors Convocation when you often get to meet your brightest students’ families, the energy in the gym as new nurses-to-be get their pins, the morning Mass on the day of commencement when singing and flowers bring seniors and their families to joyous tears, seeing the creative ways students decorate their hats before the commencement ceremony, the hugs and goodbyes after commencement that you hope are only temporary.


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I miss it all. It saddens me that we can’t be together on this commencement day and this weekend.

But still you commence. The next phase of your life is unfolding.

I wish you the best. And I want you to remember that Dorothy didn’t know how she would get to the Emerald City when she put her first foot on the Yellow Brick Road. You’re deep in a virus-caused evil enchanted forest, and it’s hard to know when you will see the light of day again.

Yet, there will be light. I hope it’s not too far ahead. And I hope that like me, even if you feel inadequate on the day of your commencement, that this day leads to better future days. May it become the start of an educated life well lived.

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The Backyard Revolution is Underway


April 30–One of my apple trees has buds. First time in a decade.


April 30–Second magnolia tree in bloom.


May 1–Pin oak by house has new leaves. All maples in the yard have leaves now, and oaks are starting to wake up.

Last year, it was clover.

This year, it’s going to be violets and dandelions.

At the start of this May, spring in Iowa is entering it’s final, peony and lilac, phase. The early flowers are gone, the grass is green and needs mowing, the fruit trees are bursting into bloom and even the big trees are showing fuzzy signs of swelling greed buds that means everything is coming awake and alive.

In the time of COVID-19, I’m glad to see these signs of life. And something has awoken the revolution, too. Maybe it’s that life just seems too short or that grass is too hard to grow and too boring.

But my wife and I have plans. A plot is afoot. We want our backyard to burst forth in blooms.

Last year, we planted clover. Much of it is coming back, and I look forward to a carpet of flowers later this year. My wife has noticed some wild violets in the yard, and declared her love for them. She checked Amazon, and sure enough, one can order seeds. So she did. And we will sow them among the clover in the yard.

She has also declared an abiding affection for that prettiest and most controversial of perennial plants—the dandelion. So I plan to leave that saw-toothed spreader unmolested in my backyard, and why not? Grass doesn’t really grow there, dandelions may as well.

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I would say it’s all for the bees, and it partly is. But mostly it’s for the people. We are too old for the boring carpet look of a poisonous, uniform bed of grass.

Sure, we plant grass seed each year in bare spots, and I’m not saying we won’t again. But I do like the clover. And I agree about the violets and even the dandelions.

Bring on the revolution.

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The Great Outdoors Lets Us Be Together Alone

Life in the time of the Pandemic:

Mary Vermilion wrote a great blog post about how this time is full of conflicting, but understandable, emotional states. Mourning for the normalcy that is suddenly gone. Gladness that we can find a way. Happy to do my part, but sad that this silent killer is stalking our lives.

But it is also tiring to be so constantly torn between emotional poles.

And that’s when I escape outside. Sometimes, while caring for a young grandson, that means a nice hike in a mostly-deserted park (my wife an I have almost made a sport of trying to plot where the most pleasant walks will be with the least people, and we’ve been pretty good at it). Most often, it means a bicycle ride, which I’ve written about on my bike blog.

It’s odd to be “sheltering in place” but to still have access to the great outdoors. There is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, but we’re fairly confident that avoiding proximity to other humans is the main way to foil this mindless killer. So, I wash my hands, and wear a bandana (mostly for others’ protection) on bicycle rides.

Spring has turned Iowa green. On the Mount Mercy campus, pear trees by the library are bursting with flowers. The campus is ahead of my yard—magnolias, lilac, peonies, crab apples and bluebells are ready to bloom and each day act like they may burst. But not quite yet.

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Grass that we planted in mid-March is finally starting to show. Smaller trees have young new leaves, but the big older ones are still not out of their winter slumber.

And I take it all in. It is a wonderful world. Although even in that joyful thought there is sorrow. It’s also a world of COVID-19, crazy presidents, protesters who falsely equate social distancing public health rules with tyranny and civil rights. Presidents and people can be idiots.

But flowers are still there. The sweet, fresh sights of an Iowa spring—may we tune into the small joys of this sorrowful seasons and carry on. I guess I seek the quiet beauty of nature to remind myself of the you, that the universe is wonderful and doesn’t revolve around me, and to keep hope alive.

I suppose it’s another form of privilege to live in a place where there is some space and I can get outdoors. If you live in such a place, please enjoy the beauty of spring with me—at a distance. If you are in a place where proximity won’t allow it, I am sorry for that reality.

May we get, through sane action, to a new reality that will allows us to be together again.

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And the Snow is Gone by Lunchtime

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Iowa in April: We’ve had a few dustings of snow this week, but last night Mother Nature got a bit more serious.

Several inches of wet snow fell overnight. It’s hard to say how much, because the weather is finally warming up a bit, and the snow was accumulating on grass and tree branches, but melting elsewhere.

As I write this, I’m enjoying a sandwich for lunch and looking out on a world where the sun is starting to shine and most of the snow is already gone.

I don’t know if this is the final snow, but on April 17, it’s possible. In the next few days, we’ll see what damage the killing freezes of the week did—but probably not much. Plants that emerge early in the spring in this climate are usually able to take some chilling.

Anyway, I am one of those crazy Midwestern souls who can’t bring myself to hate snow. I tire of it, at times, and am not fond of any travel on slick roads—but snow is humbling, and pretty.

And this snow will pass quickly. May our adverse conditions prove transient, too!

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Iowa Spring Enters Phase 2

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Thursday morning–the first tulip blooms.


March in Iowa is usually a spring month, but one that can have lots of winter—and in some years, winter lingers well into that month.

This year was a cool, but mild March. Both snow and rain fell, but we tended to rain with no persistent snow pack. All month, signs of impending spring were around, with flowers poking up out of the thawing grounds, and, a bit over halfway through the month, early flowers bursting forth.

Now it is April, and although snow would still not be abnormal, spring is taking hold. They are small and not terribly numerous yet, but on a warm afternoon you notice that there are insects again in the world—gnats on a bike trail or tiny spring bees darting among the squill.


Small bee on flower.

We have entered phase 2 of Iowa spring. In my garden, April 2 is the day that the first hyacinth, daffodil and tulip all bloomed. Most tulips are not even showing buds yet, and some in front have been eaten by rabbits, but the early ones are in bloom. Many more daffodil buds, but just one flower today.

The trees are bare, but many are showing swelling buds. The magnolia has not yet bloomed, but its buds are cracking. Lilac bushes are staring to have the “bunch of grapes” look of flower buds. Crab apples are pushing out their first early spring leaves, which have not really unfurled yet.

I am pleased to see lots of clover in the muddy back yard that features only limited grass. I had almost no clover there last year and planted a bunch. I hope this summer features a blooming lawn. All around, the brown world has shifted, as yards are starting to show that the grass is waking up.

And in this season of isolation, enjoying signs of new life is especially important. Nature carries on, so will we!

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First Flowers of the COVID-19 Spring


The first flowers to bloom early this March–the snowdrops I found when I raked the gardens.

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Early March morning sun at MMU campus.

Earlier this month came the snowdrops. The first blooms were actually hidden in my gardens under last year’s leaves. On March 9, I cleaned the gardens in back off, there the first flowers were.

Tulips and daffodils have been emerging slowly, pushing their leaves above the thawing ground. No flowers, yet, but the plants are getting taller.

It was a while after the snowdrops bloomed before the first crocus in my yard flowered. I saw some first at Mount Mercy University, and for days the buds in my gardens almost seemed to be mocking me—there, ready to bloom, but not opening.

Now, on sunny, cool March days, there are pockets of colorful flowers. Hyacinth are starting to bud. I have not seen bluebells yet, but they can’t be far away.

And it won’t be all that long until the daffodils and tulips kick in.

I am running low on bird seed. I stopped buying it early in March—which is usually when I taper off feeding. The open ground, the return of insects, the first signs of plant growth—birds will find other sources of food. Still, it has been a comfort seeing them—one of my sisters once called them “winter flowers,” and as this slow spring wakes and yawns and stretches towards the green world that is coming, I’ve enjoyed watching the little dinosaurs.

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COVID-19 has robbed us of a lot. I’m lucky—my job is relatively secure, so far (knock on wood) I and my family are healthy. I can work at home, even if I’m not all that good at it.

But as we hunker down in this winter of the virus, which seems likely to be with us for some time, seeing nature go through her rhythms and begin to come to life. I like the coming of the flowers every year, but somehow, they seem more important in this weird spring.

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The First Flowers of Spring


March 8–snowdrops in back garden. My first flowers.

On Sunday, while raking leaves off of the back garden, I noticed the snowdrops in blooms. Other bulbs are starting to come up, tulips and daffodils rising up from the cool earth. In front, by the mailbox, some crocus are also poking up.

The crocus will bloom first, but you see the daffodils emerge first, or at least that’s what I’m used to.


Daffodils emerging March 6 on Mount Mercy University campus. It’s still brown and dormant overall here in Iowa, and the last few piles of snow are still about, but spring is starting.

Spring! It’s early spring, still brown, just a few swelling buds in the trees and the slightest hints of green in the mostly dormant lawns.

But, flowers! The very earliest are here, and great to see.

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