Tag Archives: Iowa

Love in the Time of Peonies


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Peony blooming in front garden. With ant.

I feel like I’m visiting my gardens now and then. We are travelling a lot this summer, so my relationship with the changing scenery outside is snapshots rather than the continuous story.

Not that I’m complaining. I loved the time in California, and I look forward to journeys to Okoboji and then England.

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June 2019–Milkweed getting tall.

Spring has turned to early summer. Biking to campus today, I noticed a great patch of peonies on the back entrance leading to the library.

Peonies are popping all over town. They are barely getting going in my own gardens, but they are starting. Early in June, I’m enjoying irises, clematis, new phlox we planted this spring. It was a hard winter in my yards—four trees either completely died or were severely damaged, including a cottonwood (what kind of cottonwood can’t take a Midwest winter?).

But you can’t feel sad about winter losses in the time of Peonies. A soft scent, big showy flowers, vibrant colors. I love peonies, and they are a sign that summer is underway.

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First Flowers of 2019 Arrive


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March 23, 2019–First flowers of spring include this crocus in my backyard.

The creek behind my house has returned to its banks, and the Cedar River is dropping for now. We’ve been lucky in my area, I hope my western Iowa and Nebraska neighbors can recover from this sudden, wet spring.

Today was the final Saturday of spring break, and I spent a fair amount if it indoors vainly battling with the mountain of grading Which Must Be Done By Monday.

But for a while this afternoon, I was in the backyard, cleaning debris of winter off of gardens, giving the barren yard a quick rake and scattering grass seed.

Spring may be extraordinarily busy, but it’s still a season of hope. And today, the colors started to appear. I saw a crocus in bloom in the yard, and I know others are poking up. In the garden by the rock wall, some snowdrops are showing their pretty white selves.

No squib yet, but I’m sure it’s on its way. Many daffodils and tulips are starting to push through the thawing ground, and some hyacinth look ready to bloom in a few days.

The world is still largely brown and the ice hills by the parking lots have not yet melted. Flood risk is still with us, as snow north is still melting and rain may fall on sodden ground.

But for today, I saw flowers, and that’s something. The brown season is coming to its end, and everywhere, green is poised to emerge and colors are ready to appear.

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Bad Political Ideas


The Gazette recently ran an editorial that resonates with me. “Iowa Senate Should Drop Flawed Election Bill” ran the headline.

The Gazette is right. The bill that prompted the editorial is truly terrible. It would end any satellite voting at state universities, and also ask all college students to sign an affidavit attesting intention to live in Iowa in order to not be dropped from voting rolls.

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Front page of March 14 MMU Times. I hope all Iowa college campus newspapers are full of outrage over this awful law.

The first idea is not just voter suppression, but doubly damaging since it is directly counter to the need to draw young people into political life. It’s not as if college age people are over voting.

And as for the second idea—say what? When I retire, they won’t ask me if I plan to stay in Iowa. And suppose I do plan to move—that does not justify taking away my vote.

I’m not often moved to contact my state lawmakers, but I’m planning to, on this issue. It seems some elected officials in Des Moines are on the attack against the very foundation of representative government. Shame on them.

Speaking of shame, the Iowa king of shame, Rep. Steve King, has been at it again, posting a weird meme that seems to promote civil war–and that identifies Iowa as being on the liberal side of that conflict. Well, at least the crazy Congressman of western Iowa and I can agree on one thing–I would like to see a more blue Iowa, too.

Seth Meyers does a good takedown of King’s terrible moment:

 

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In Praise of Snow Removal Technology


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My snow blower Monday morning, when I had just cleared the drive from the last snow storm.

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It must be a sign of advancing age. For much of my adult life, I clung to the romance of the snow shovel—if white ice crystals were to be moved by a human, I would do it the manly way, with back and arm and muscle and bone and grit.

And now, the heck with it.

Several years ago, concerned, legitimately, with the health of my aging body, my wife suggested that we purchase a snow blower.

I do not seek proximity to gasoline fumes, and the noise of an engine totally lacks charm, for me. Yet snow removal can be back-breaking labor. I have arthritis in my knees and a history of lower back pain—where my bones meet other tissue, there seems too often seem to be issues that aren’t aided by heavy shoveling.

And there is the heart, that key organ of life, which I would like to keep going, thank you. Old men sometimes expire from the exertion of snow shoveling. Walking behind a smelly, noisy snow blower might not be all that pleasant, but I’m sure it beats having my heartbeat interrupted by a heart attack.

The blower that my wife and I purchased was the second one that we owned—I had many years ago inherited a small electric blower from my father, but it had a gap in its auger (the turning thing at the front that lifts snow), and never worked all that well. The gasoline using model that we purchased for ourselves seems to do the trick more effectively.

Except when it’s broken—a year after we purchased it, I broke the starting chord. I purchased a new chord at a local hardware store and attempted to replace it, and failed badly. The snow blower sat idle through a couple of mild winters, but, thanks again to my wife and to my two sons, over Christmas this year a new chord module was installed.

The best kind of mechanical work in my house happens while I blog and stay away from tools.

Snow is falling tonight. I had to babysit some grandkids, and was out in it. Please don’t hate me, but when I went to drive home in it, I did think it was pretty—silent white flakes drifting from the sky and coating the world in a fresh white cover. Yes, it’s the second half of February, yes, the active weather pattern we are in will be best looked back on than lived through. But snow is pretty.

Then again, I’m ready for spring. Nevertheless, come what may, this fragile old coot feels he can handle the Iowa winter.

I have a snow blower.

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Lazy Snow Day


The start of spring semester always feels abrupt—winter term blending into spring term with no time to catch your breath.

Of course, catching your breath was a challenge today anyway. The low tonight should set a record, somewhere near 30 below. Last night, the low temperature itself was not quite as brutal, but the wind chill was more serious, making it feel like 55 degrees below zero. European readers, I don’t what that is in Celsius, but these Fahrenheit temperatures mean it was seriously cold.

Classes at the university where I teach are rarely cancelled, but they were today.

So, my first goal for the unexpected lazy day was to sleep in. And around 6 a.m., there I was, wide awake. I would have rather been wide asleep (I’m wide in both states), but I guess my body was primed to greet the new day. Goal one blown.

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I fixed waffles and sausage for breakfast, a second goal of the day. My wife and I agreed that they turned out very well—she had purchased some whole milk because it’s good for cooking things like waffles—so goal number two was well met.

Goal three was to set up my class grade books and enter grades. Goal half done—I did manage to set them up, but did not enter grades, yet. Still, setting up the books will take longer than entering an assignment, so it’s at least half a win.

Otherwise, it was mostly a quiet day. My main goal was to hunker down all day and avoid the outdoors, but near noon, my wife suggested trying the bubble machine, just to see what it would do in the cold, so a silly few minutes were spent outside.

Thus, the stay indoors all day goal was partly broken—although most of the day was spent inside. The day felt a little odd, an out-of-phase lazy day, a misplaced Saturday that was honestly more lazy than most Saturdays are, but maybe that’s good.

I was glad I had filled the birdfeeders yesterday—no way would I do it today. The birds looked like little tennis balls today, all puffed up. I was glad to have supplied them some calories, which I’m sure they needed. Mostly I was glad that I was looking at them through the windows of a warm house.

The big chill is tonight and then the dip of the polar air is done, at least for now. While I appreciate the break, I’ll appreciate the end of the vortex even more.

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside—No Joke!


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Social media feeds are freezing up with dire warnings about the cold that is headed our way.

“This is not something to mess around with,” warns a Facebook post by the Cedar Rapids Police Department. “The cold temperatures combined with the wind could be potentially life-threatening.”

crystalsAnd no, I don’t think when I was a lad in the 1970s that we would have been terribly hardier and more able to stand it than we are now. I recall lots of school snow days, and our older homes were vulnerable to cracked pipes. My dad used to have to put a heating lamp on the battery of the VW micro bus overnight on these super cold nights in the sometimes-vain hope it would start in the morning. Cars back in my youth were terrible winter vehicles—the VWs would take forever to warm up, but at least had their engines over the drive train. American cars, with their ridiculous rear-wheel-drive, were hopeless compared to today’s relatively hardier, better-designed vehicles.

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Still, I want to praise winter. Hear me out before you throw something.

In December, the weather was so mild that we wondered if winter would ever come (spoiler alert, it would). I had planted several milkweed seeds, and in December I wondered if they would get the cold-weather signals that they needed to germinate. Native milkweed is planted in fall because it won’t sprout until it experiences winter.

Well, I’m guessing the seeds have got the memo by now. Sure enough it does look like winter has arrived—with a vengeance.

One student who I follow on Twitter had lamented a few weeks ago that she was wanting some snow. As an Iowa gardener, so was I. And to quote a meme posted by Fr. Dustin Vu, “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.”

But, yeah, I’ve had enough snow now, thank you.

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The thermometer is going to drop and keep on dropping as the winds pick up. We already have a substantial snow pack, and got more snow last night.

It is also supposed to warm up this weekend—and rain. On the snow. Followed by another chill down. And more snow.

The winter of 2019 is making a name for itself, and I’m too polite to repeat it.

cardinalBut winter still has its charms. Snow is pretty. All of the images on this post are taken by me in January 2019 in my Iowa backyard. I think they are pretty. Snow crunches pleasantly underfoot, it makes it easy to pick out the cardinal couple that visits my bird feeders, the winter air is fresh and wholesome—when it’s 20 above zero and not 20 below.

So, no, I do not hate winter. But no, I’m also not completely out of my mind—I don’t love the deep, deep arctic blast we are in for.

Stay safe out there my friends. Pay heed to the CR PD and weather service and every weather station. Don’t mess around when Mother Nature is seeking your demise.

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And there is an upside to this season. I like winter when it is not so extreme. The fall bulbs I planted are now somewhat protected by a white blanket. When it finally warms up a bit (and we know that the cold we have this week will not hold, our hemisphere is slowly turning again to face the nearest star), snow people and sledding and snowball fights with grandchildren will again become practical rather than dangerous.

The seed catalogs have started to arrive. A flowerful aisle has appeared as if by magic in a local farm store—filled with colorful pictures and little pots where you can start baby plants.

We’re almost to February. The signs are there. Even I, a fan of winter, will concede that the best thing about it is that it will end. We may yet have a long slog of cold weather ahead, but it is inevitable:

Spring is coming.

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In Praise of Winter Walks


The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can.
“Roads Go Ever On” by J.R.R. Tolkien.

In contrast to earlier the season—when we were blasted with cold in late November, December in Iowa has gifted us with some mild days. And by bike and foot, I have taken some advantage of that.

Monday, I was tied up much of the day with finishing semester grades. At least I did bicycle to campus. But on Tuesday, after some errands, my wife and I took a late afternoon stroll. We only walked maybe a total of two miles or so, but it was a pleasant (by December standards) sunset journey.

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Sun setting along C Avenue in Cedar Rapids on Dec. 18, 2018. During a stroll with my wife as we celebrate being married 36 years. It was warm Dec. 18 36 years ago, too.

On Wednesday, I biked to campus to finish some additional odds and ends, and then met my wife and youngest son. We drove down to the NewBo area for lunch at Parlor City, and then went for a stroll along a part of the Cedar River Trail, including the new Sinclair Levee path.

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Dec. 19, 2018, view during stroll along Sinclair Levee trail.

It was breezy, and sunshine was starting to turn to clouds, but again, with a temperature around 40 or so, quite nice for December. We happily chatted as we strolled, enjoying the companionship, the outdoors and the effort of the walk.

John Green created a recent Vlogbrothers video which was a walk through some Indiana woods in cold, wet weather with some friends. I’m not sure I completely agree with his point that the bad weather helped make it a good walk—I’m more of a fair-weather journeyer—although otherwise I think he’s on to something. We are all on a life journey, and sharing that journey with friends as we make our way is partly what it’s about.

And it is important to just get out there, when you can, whether in Indiana rain or Iowa sunshine. A walk outside is a way of enjoying the world beyond our artificial shelters, when conditions allow. We re creatures of this Earth and should feel our connection with it, now and then. Which is one thing a winter walk is good for.

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