Tag Archives: drought

A Change Is In the Air on a Wet Sunday

leaves on deck

Maple leaves on deck. The big tree is just starting.

Well, more than one inch of rain can be an impressive thing. Fall break, a short two days off of classes, is scheduled this week, as is the monsoon season—they should coincide.

I would feel bad, just as  I would feel bad about two days of rain that sucked the outdoor fun out of this weekend, but, honestly, I cannot. It has been so darn dry for so long and I’ll gladly sacrifice a Saturday to the Rain Spirits–and, go ahead, take my Sunday, too.

The prettiest part of our fall is coming to an end. The golden ashes, which so jazzed everybody about the colors of this unusual autumn, are mostly bare grey branches now. The early maples have shed their leaves.

Not that fall is over—luckily, no. The sweet gum tree I’ve been watching on my way to work each morning has, so far, remained resolutely green. While the oaks in my back yard have prematurely browned, and the big tulip is finally yellow for fall, the giant maple tree, which will bury our backyard in an impressive three or four inches of yellow and brown leaves, is just now turning color and getting started.

So there for sure is more raking, and perhaps more splashes of color, ahead.

But for now, as a gardener, as we shift from color to brown, I’m grateful for a few sequential wet days, for water in Dry Creek, for a sense that spring flowers may have a bit of moisture to work with as long as some wetness continues before the ground freezes.

Rain. Hip, hip, hooray!

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For The Second Time In Two Weeks, I Mow


Bee on flower this afternoon. Second honey bee sighting in my garden this year.

Mow, mow, mow. How you like how you like it, mow, mow, mow.

If my evil plan worked, then some of my sisters now have a disco-era earworm going. You’re welcome.

Today was a combination of summer falling into fall. We had rain twice this week (twice!), and so this weekend I had to mow. I know that in years past, mowing each weekend seemed like the norm, but this year is far from normal and mowing felt a little weird, like voting for a Republican or some other improbable fluke of the universe. (Don’t get your hopes up Mitt. Ain’t gonna happen. I thought you did OK on your Tampa speech, by the way, but it was before a whole room full of crazy, and Barack, by comparison, knocked your argyle socks off in Charlotte).

Anyway, I usually walk the yard with a big blue bucket in hand, collecting spare sticks courtesy of the 30 trees in my tiny yard (not much of an exaggeration, by the way) before I mow. But, although the trees are still green, they’ve dropped an unusual number of early leaves, so I had to rake before mowing.

Well, I guess raking in September doesn’t seem like a weird thing to do. So I did rake. My philosophy on raking is to limit it to only a couple of times a season, so this did feel like an extra rake, but necessary given the early carpet. And, given the growth of young trees from years past, honestly I’ll have to get used to a lot more raking in the future.

Then, I mowed, and trimmed. The yard looks pretty green and spiffy right now.


Don’t recall this flower’s name–Silva? Salva? Saliva? Help, blog fans. Anyway, this perennial is in bloom for the second time year. Note how neatly trimmed the yard is behind it . True story.

Not that there aren’t some signs of the drought that dominated our weather this year. Of the eight young trees I planted this year, only four survive. The latest to apparently expire was the lone oak, which is a bit of a shame because I don’t have any colorful oaks, and I was hoping this one would survive. I’ll leave it until spring, in the hopes that it went dormant early and didn’t really kick the bucket, but, honestly, I think it’s pushing daisies.

What survive are a dogwood, a sweet gum (that I’m not sure Audrey is aware of, shhhh) and two maples. One of the maples is in the garden because it was a “spare” tree that I put there to transplant later in case the mortality rate among trees in the yard was high.

High, it was. Next spring, little maple friend, it’s likely that you will have a move—but we’ll wait until spring to see what’s dead and what’s alive (and honestly, my little tree friend, of all the four survivors, you’re the lamest and least likely to make it through winter, but you’re alive today, so good luck).

Anyway, what did I think of while raking and mowing? Maybe I was just grateful that Audrey was painting our bedroom and I was raking and mowing. True story.

Maybe I was thinking of all the school work I should be doing rather than playing outside on this fine fall day. Another true story.

Maybe I was hoping the Hawks would succumb to the Cyclones. I’m not much of a sports fan, but in the in-state rivalry, I’m for the U I went to for a year and that two of my kids attended or are attending. I is for ISU. Another true story, and guess what, LOL, smiley face—go Cyclones!

Though, as some might observe, rather than watching the game I was watching the grass grow as I cut it off. Again, true.

Well, enough truth for today. Some flowers are still blooming, and while nights are cooling, summer isn’t really totally gone yet. Even migrating birds are hanging out still—I saw a hummingbird on my Rose o f Sharon this morning. Summer will be gone when the hummingbirds are, and when the big maple kicks in and there’s six inches of leaves on the deck.

Then, raking won’t be a quick, pleasant 45-minute walk in the yard before a mow, but an all-day, back-testing chore.

No wonder I only want to do it twice in a fall!


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A Tale Of Two Skies

Tuesday sky

Sky looking north over Rockwell-Collins in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday.

Tuesday on the way home, I shot the picture of the unsual looking cloud off to the north.

There was a chance of rain that night, but it looked sadly as if the rain was staying out of Cedar Rapids. However, last night storms rumbled through and dumped a fair amount of rain. This morning I was unsure of biking into work—should I take a chance or should I drive?

I rode my bike, and it sprinkled on me and I got a bit damp. But, just about ¼ mile south of my house, where F Avenue NE crosses Collins Road to enter Rockwell-Collins parking lots, the rain abated—I was traveling south of a narrow band of rain that remained to my north.

And the sky just looked very interesting, with the sunrise peeking around the clouds.

I noticed that there was water running in Dry Creek again. I won’t have to water my gardens for a couple of days, and that’s nice.

And the interesting skies were good to look at, too.

East sky

Wednesday morning, looking east along Collins Road at F Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids.

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Tune for Tuesday: How I Feel About Iowa Weather

You wouldn’t know it based on the red-headed Scottish singer who fronts this group, but Garbage formed in Madison, Wisconsin.  So that makes them local enough to sing about our Iowa drought (although, no doubt, they didn’t know that’s what they were singing about at the time).

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A Little Rain Respite in this Dry Year

Rain at MMU

Rain at Mount Mercy University campus, around 8:15 p.m. Aug. 8–not used to seeing wet and clouds. Rain felt good–can we have more, please?

I felt as if I didn’t recall what rain looked like. It fell over the weekend and I was inside, remote from it, and Saturday’s rain tumbled down so quickly that it seemed over before it started.

Wednesday was different—several bouts of rain, including morning sprinkles and a pretty good downpour at sunset.  I was out to observe and feel the rain both times.

And when the grandchildren came over to play this morning, the leaves on the trees were all wet, and when the breeze stirred them, drops of water came tumbling down.

Yet, the ground seemed try. I get the feeling Audrey would not have had the kids play outside—because she said, from the deck, that it “looks muddy.”

It was not. Dry Creek is almost again dry, despite what The Weather Channel says was 0.89 inches of rain yesterday.

The ground just soaked it up, and the top layer of ground is already looking a bit dry. It’s amazing what a drought will do.

Anyway, at least most bushes and trees look happier today. We have a break from extreme heat, and some moisture in the ground.

We also had a chance of rain today, although the sun is shining this afternoon. I hope some moisture from the sky yet finds us, as we can sure use the rain.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack set off a minor fuss when he said he is praying for rain—but other than prayer, what is a federal official to do?

Fight climate change, I suppose.

Anyway, as long as we’re praying, a pause to say thanks for the rain that has fallen this week. It’s been the wettest week in Cedar Rapids since, well, sometime in May, I suppose. Two rainy days in under seven days.

Dare I hope for more? Might I offer up a prayer this afternoon?

Rain, rain, come today, gladly I would forfeit play. Amen.


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Life on Mars, My Garden and Other Arid Places


From NASA web site, artist’s image of Curiosity rover on Martian surface. May it be so.

The NASA web site provides a countdown, and as of this writing, it’s under four hours until we find out if Curiosity gets to the red planet or Mars kills Curiosity.

Here’s hoping all goes well. Mars is now like Iowa in summer 2012—devoid of water. Well, sure, the drought on Mars has gone on for a few million years more, and the corn there looks even worse, by a bit.

But, in this arid summer of 2012, it’s great that humans are (knock on wood) landing another rover on Mars. Our curiosity about our own universe is a positive thing—and one of the few public policy areas where I very much disagree with the Obama administration.

Sure, many government belts ought to be tightened. But not the one that fuels basic scientific research and tells us about ourselves. NASA ought not be starved for funds, even in a recession.

And I worry what might happen if Curiosity crashes. The billions spent on sending the rover were not a “waste,” even in that case, because space exploration requires some costly gambles.

Anyway, I hope, dear readers, by the time most of you see this, that the first images from Curiosity are being posted by NASA.

Back on Planet Earth, Iowa got some much needed rain Saturday. About two inches fell, the first significant rain since May. The blessing was not unmixed—high winds at one point left 16,000 people in Cedar Rapids in the dark when tumbling trees severed power lines—but we’ll take the rain and wish for more.

In my gardens, there are some plants hanging on and others suffering. I fear I may lose some ferns—we had a nice patch peeking through our rock retaining wall, but most of the wall ferns are withered and brown. Even some “in-ground” ferns are looking sick or dead, despite the watering I’ve been doing in the garden. Today, after the rain, a few of the “dead” ones are sending up new growth, so there is hope as long as the 100-degree arid days don’t stretch on again.

Astilbe is suffering, and some clumps have died. Hydrangea are dropping, and the largest of these bushes, on the northwest corner of the house, has more dead than live parts (but may survive, since a bush may come back if any of it lives). The crab apples in front are panting for water and slowly retreating. The older ones in back are tougher, but still don’t look happy.

Most Hostas are OK, but a few, even in shady areas, look sunburned.

And then there are the baby trees. I had some Catalpa started from seeds, most of which have expired (not the transplant from Mimi’s yard, however, which is going strong). I planted seven Arbor Day Foundation trees this spring (in a pack of ten, three died over the winter), and three are OK, one is barely hanging on, one has lost all its leaves but seems to be trying to come back, and two seem to be just about knocking on heaven’s door.

Well, all in all, it felt a bit odd today to mow. I have not done that in more than a month—this is the first July in my memory where it was so dry all month long that the grass didn’t grow and didn’t have to be mowed. It was a big chore because I had to rake six weeks worth of fallen sticks and an unusual covering of mid-summer leaves from the yard before the mow.

I can only hope that August might bring a few more mows. And some good news from our arid red neighbor. Even if I am fretting about my not-wet garden, I’m also thinking of you, Curiosity.

August 6 update:  Well, as you know, NASA did it.  Kudos.  I found this video which outlines what NASA did.  Despite the cheesy background music, I do think it’s quite an accomplishment:

New York Times story describes the challenge well, too.

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Tune For Tuesday is Melting in the Dark

All the sweet green icing flowing down …

I used a “water weasel,” a kind of child’s toy sprinkler, to water selected sections of my yard Monday. No, I’m not trying to make the grass green—it can stay brown and dormant until the drought eases. But, my hose watering has mostly benefited the youngest of my trees, those planted this year, and the new plants in my gardens.

The drought has gone on so long that moderate-sized trees are showing stress. The tulip tree, a large-looking tree at around 25 feet tall, but still a youngster in tree-age terms, is turning yellow.

That may not be a terrible sign—one survival strategy that native North American trees employ is to check out early on a drought year—to go dormant for the long winter sleep in summer and hope for better times next year. Still, it’s hard to tell dormancy from death, and there’s a fine line in a drought such as this.

So the water weasel was making a few selected regions of my yard damp for the sake of adolescent trees, such as the tulip, some stressed bushes and sad-looking crab apples. My idea is to maybe do this once a week—because these larger trees have more capacity to survive than the little babies that get watered every other day, and because it just takes too darn much water to soak a region deeply so as to do trees of any size any good.

Anyway, the grandkids were over playing and running through the weasel. For some reason, that made Audrey and I think of MacArthur Park, which we sang snatches of. Ben was home from Ames for his between summer and fall interlude, and he’s never heard “MacArthur Park.”

Above is the “pure” version. It’s the sort of song that truly needs no remake, so of course the disco queen had to do one, below.  Ben, you must listen to both, and don’t cheat and check out early.  And yes, you can help Donna sing.  Here’s hoping that our sweet green icing will be flowing down soon, as we need some rain to leave our cakes out in …


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For #MMUrides: Early tune for Tuesday

CR Garden Joe will be on break for a while, a hiatus, while I trek across northern Iowa on my bicycle doing RAGBRAI.

It will be more than 400 blistering miles. For at least half of next week, forecast highs in Iowa are in triple digits—we are in the midst of a historic drought and heat wave.

Still, if I feel macho doing RAGBRAI, I can put it in perspective by reading this Gazette story about a World War II vet doing his first RAGBRAI. You go, Clarence!

Anyway, a bit early for next Tuesday, when I will be in the midst of my hot break off the grid, yeah, I’m sure it’s expected, but here’s the early tune for Tuesday:

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A Baby Tomato on a Dry Day

Baby tomato

I first noticed this baby tomato Saturday when it was pea sized. It has doubled in size in one day. May it soon be joined by brother tomatoes on my vines!

Well, I ate the tomato from Cate’s garden (with her permission), and made also happy discovery.

Despite the drought, a little baby tomato is forming on one of my vines. I hope it’s the start of something, we’ll see.

Dry weather has descended on Iowa. There has been no rain in July, and we were already short on moisture.

I watered Friday morning and planned to this morning, but got a late start and didn’t water until this evening. Many of my plants were suffering, the peace lilies all droopy, the hydrangea bush in the new garden keeling over. The young trees are all OK, but several looked a little “wilty.”

It’s vicious dry out there, and no end in sight, yet. I watered, and left the hose out. Going to do a second drink tomorrow morning.

Well, here’s hoping that we’ll turn a weather corner soon. Think rain.

And tomatoes.

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How Dry I Am

Dry Creek

Audrey strolls along the dry creek bed of Dry Creek Oct. 9, 2011.

How dry has it been lately in Cedar Rapids?

It’s been several years since the bed of Dry Creek, which runs behind our house, has been dry. Today, Audrey and I took an afternoon walk. She wore her pink “puddle stomper” boots, but there were not a lot of puddles to stomp in.

During the recent wet years, fish have migrated upstream from Indian Creek, and the few remaining pools are teeming with desperate life. It might rain Tuesday night, but don’t know if that will be in time to keep these pools from drying out.

Audrey  sitting.

Posing on a log. She shot me in the same place, too.

We only could walk a few hundred yards, however, until our way was blocked by water. We’ve gone much farther in the past. When my kids were growing up, it seemed like several times a year—in the dry winter months or in the hottest part of summer—the creek would be bone dry.

But, as I noted, that has not been its recent trend. Until now. Well, if it’s going to be super dry, better October than July. We have some new fall planted grass that might not make it, but otherwise, dry days now won’t matter much.

I just hope we get a little rain before the ground freezes hard this winter.

Fish in a pool

Many of the isolated pools we found teemed with trapped fish.

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