Category Archives: Weather

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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Filed under Environment, Flowers, Garden, Grandchildren, Weather

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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First Flowers of the COVID-19 Spring


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

campus sun

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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I Am So Ready to Leap Into Spring


Seeds purchased at a local store. My spring planting this year will be from what I find in town.

Iowa in February can be a cold, bitter place. We’ve been lucky in 2020. There has been plenty of winter cold, not but bitter arctic cold. We’ve not been exposed to weeks of harsh winds nor many temperatures with a hyphen before the number.

The month was a bit gray and dreary at times, but the final week was dry. There was also snow this month and nasty cold rains, but not oodles.

So, as Februarys go, this is not the worst one to have an extra day in it. Happy leap day, and a special happy birthday to all those who turned 4 today and are getting their driver’s licenses.

For Christmas 2019, my wife wrapped a seed catalog and told me I could spend $100 on ordering spring flowers. I never got them ordered—I’ve been busy. And we’re traveling over spring break this year, and worried a bit about the possibility of an ill-timed delivery.

Then, just a week ago, stopping at a local farm-and-home chain store that we call the “popcorn store” because it’s where we go after church for popcorn, we saw that seeds were on sale. On a whim, we bought a packet of climbing annuals. I am unsure about when exactly I am planting them, but I like all these flowers and will put them somewhere.

My wife reminded me this week that I had not ordered any plants yet, and she thought I had missed the deadline. I told her no, that I knew one catalog had a March 1 order deadline (and the same company just sent me another catalog with a later date), so time had not run out on my gift.

“Why don’t you just buy plants locally,” she then asked.

Hmmm. Well, I like pink lily of the valley and have not seen any locally—but honestly, beyond my yearning for that one particular flower, I kind of liked her thinking. I am not starting any new garden this spring, so I don’t need a bunch of mail order plans. And if we buy plants at local stores, we would be in total control of when the flowers were “delivered” and could plant them right after acquisition. We would also be putting actual plants in the ground and not hoping for results from mailed roots.

True, we’re also planting seeds. But for the spring plants, I think you see my point.

So, no online flower ordering for me this spring. We’ll instead wait to see what Mother Nature brings and when we have time to shop and plant.

I like that plan, or lack of it. I don’t always mind when aspects of my life are not mapped out. So I’m not sure what my garden plans are this year; they are more organic then they sometimes are. I’ll let them form on the fly.

Like a flower.

Happy leap day to you all, and it looks like March this year will begin on a fairly nice note in Iowa, too—the lion is being polite, at least for the first week.

We’re almost through with February. Moving into early spring. And I’m ready for the change.


In the garden area by the house yesterday. It’s on the south side, the warmest garden we have, and daffodils and tulips are starting their growth even while there is still snow elsewhere. It’s not really here yet, but spring is coming!

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Finding the Beauty of a Gray Winter

Winter in Iowa—low midday sun, icy mornings, limited time outside—despite the fact that we have not really had any heavy snowfalls, the cumulative impact of many smaller storms and consistent morning ice is a bit grating.

Yet, I want to treasure the beauty that can be found in winter in Iowa. To cheer myself up, and hopefully to brighten your day in case you too are experiencing this Midwestern winter, here is a slideshow of what I consider my best beauty of nature images from December and January:

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England Day 2: Art and Dead People


Daughter and grandson on our cemetery walk.

After leaving the grandchildren off at school, my daughter suggested a walk through a cemetery.

We’ve been there before, but not this year. It’s a pleasant place to walk, an old cemetery with fading gravestones, at least the part we walked in. I understand it has modern areas, too, but this old part is part burial ground, part urban nature preserve, and it’s a peaceful, interesting place for a stroll.

At one point, my toddler grandson wanted me to pick him up so he could bat his hands at low-hanging leaves on trees. He has an infectious chortle, and we heard it sounding out a bit in the quiet among the dead. It was a good place to be alive.


Another view of the cemetery.

Following the cemetery stroll, we decided to walk across town. Rain was in the forecast today, but not until later in the afternoon, and we gambled we could cross the distance to the rail station and return before the rain set it. It felt very muggy today, but was a bit cooler than yesterday, so it was a nice day for a walk.


Art in the church.

Along the way, when we got downtown, an old church used as a civic center was advertising an art exhibit/sale, so we went in. It was nice to see the church, even if it being filled with contemporary art felt a little dissonant. Much of the art was several hundred pounds in price, which was one discouragement—and also was bulky enough that fitting it into a carry-on could be an issue, so we merely viewed the art and church and then moved on.

The walk across town felt like several miles, to me. I’m hoping it was good cross training for RAGBRAI—and being comfortable walking some distance isn’t just cross training, it’s also training, since RAGBRAI can involve a fair amount of walking, too.

We have a bold plan—we are to care for the grandchildren this weekend while our daughter and son-in-law enjoy a weekend alone in London. The walk today was so that our daughter could get her train ticket.

We also stopped at a bike shop downtown where I arranged to rent a bicycle for next week and also purchased a biking map of Norwich.


One display in the church was a table set as “The Last Brexit Supper,” which was not exactly pro-Brexit.

Lunch was at a falafel eatery downtown—my daughter got us a group platter that could have fed four or five. The three of us, plus the toddler, gave it the old college try, but we ended up with a significant take-home box of leftovers, too. The platter was falafel and pita sandwich veggie fixings, including nice humus. It was filling and delicious.

We arrived still dry back at my daughter’s house about 2 in the afternoon, and I skipped the walk to school to pick up granddaughters so I could nap. I’m struggling a little to say awake right now, but the sunny walk today hopefully helped reset my bio clock, so I may not be blogging at 3:30 a.m. tomorrow morning. Knock on wood.

So today featured a long walk in a pleasant English city, including art and a cemetery stroll, a great lunch and the promise of future adventures—biking in the UK!

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