Tag Archives: leaves

The Final Rake of the Season

Snow falls at MMU, Nov. 25, 2013.

Snow falls at MMU, Nov. 25, 2013.

Winter is upon us in Iowa. We had almost an inch of snow overnight, and more fell this morning.

Then, this afternoon, a cool, low, winter sun poked through the clouds—it wasn’t much, but it was enough, with the ground still a bit warm to strip away some of the snow cover.

Still, it should be cold tonight—typical of an Iowa winter. The night after a snowfall, if there is no blanket of clouds to hold the heat, is often when we get bitterly cold. Well, it will be cold, very cold, but not precisely arctic cold that we will see in January.

The snow and cold makes me grateful I stole several precious hours Sunday to rake my back yard.

Yardy cart Sunday in back yard. The yard would look much whiter today. It was a cool afternoon for raking, but it was still nice to be out in the sun.

Yardy cart Sunday in back yard. The yard would look much whiter today. It was a cool afternoon for raking, but it was still nice to be out in the sun.

The tulip tree, the first one to start turning colors and almost the last one to lose it leaves, has gone fully to sleep and is stripped of its big, attractive foliage. The big oaks are very barren—which feels a bit odd, because they usually cling to a few leaves throughout most of the winter. They were quick to drop and thorough about it, this year.

A few trees are stubborn. The pears clasp at last season’s leaves like a pair of misers. The leaves are clearly and thoroughly dead, but just have not been severed from the trees yet. The snow and wind today may have had an effect, but on Sunday when I raked, the pears were the most notable exceptions to the bare-leaf look of most of my trees. The bur oak also retains its now brown and dead leaves. One other exception—which is hardly surprising, because it is this particular tree’s normal behavior, is the perennially sickly dogwood at the bottom of the yard, with its shroud of withered leaves that will last well into winter. Why do certain trees cling to their leaves? Are they like a cold old lady, shivering in her shawl?

No, they’re not, but it’s what they look like.

Bur oak. One of the few stingy trees left with its now dead leaves still clinging.

Bur oak. One of the few stingy trees left with its now dead leaves still clinging.

Anyway, my left arm is sore today. I spent two days this weekend carrying around grandchildren, which is a very pleasurable way to earn a sore arm, and totally worth it. And I lifted weights Sunday at the gym. And then I spent two hours raking.

The raking was a bit tough because there was still some snow stuck between the matted leaves. Water always equals weight, whether frozen or wet.

I got the job done, however. I raked some leaves onto the roses, and the rest were piled into the yardy card, or they were either tossed over or raked through the gate of the back fence.

Then, more vigorously than last week, it snowed overnight. The yard is ready for winter. I don’t think I am, but the yard is.

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What Kind of Day Was It?

It’s the second week in November, and as I listened to my favorite NPR program at 10 a.m. Saturday (Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me) I was raking my yard and sweating.

There were a few hardy bugs around, a lady bug fruitlessly hunting on a spent brown dried flower, a few mayflies flitting about, some grasshoppers. And, of course, box elder bugs.

A fat squirrel was not waiting until she needed the crab apples—she likes them, darn it, and is eating them now. She spent some time perilously hanging on the edge of a small crab apple, then crossed the lawn to a much larger and sturdier pear tree, where she continued her lunch with those hard green fruit.

Before raking, I took some pretty fall photos. The trees are mostly bare, but there is plenty of quiet beauty in the gardens on this unusual summer day in fall. I briefly went behind the fence and startled two does who were lazily munching on the still-green weeds back there.

Later, in the afternoon, I took a bike ride on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. By the time the afternoon turned started to turn dim, the winds had picked up and some sprinkles feel.

Rain, then snow, are due tomorrow. That’s more like November. But it was nice to spend some outdoor time today. I never really mind raking leaves much, especially on a day like this—who wouldn’t rather be outside anyway?


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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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Up A Ladder and Other Death-Defying Tricks

The gutter

Sure, I can climb the ladder and snap a photo. Just don’t ask me to get on the roof. The results of my labor, note how as you look more towards the chimney, there are more seeds. My foot sweep did not clear much.

As I age, there are some things that just change. Last year, I did RAGBRAI for the first time, and will repeat that feat this year. But, even as I do more new feats, some feats I leave behind as I learn to accept a few new limits.

There are things I have just given up. I used to donate blood regularly at the local Red Cross, for example, but don’t now simply because the physical effects are too unpleasant—I used to get a little lightheaded; in more recent blood donating sessions, I got an upset stomach and came too close to passing out. The recovery takes too long—and although I would encourage anybody who reads this to at least try donating blood, and I know the side effects I suffer are more psychological that physical—it’s just something I can’t do.

Today, I encountered another life limit that has changed in recent years.

I’ve always been a bit afraid of heights, but not so afraid that it prevents me from doing much. This morning, I planned to clean my gutters. They have a mesh guard on them to prevent leaves from piling up, but maples seeds, which are plentiful from a large tree in my back yard, often get stuck in the mesh, and the house has an unsightly fringe as a result.

So, up the ladder I climbed, with Audrey holding it stable. It took me a few minutes to get the courage to put my knee up on the roof, but then I screwed my courage to the sticking point. I wish I had not.

Almost immediately, I started to feel as if I had given blood—rather blah and lightheaded. My first act upon reaching the roof was to lie down on it and say a few Hail Marys. I knew I was being silly, and summoned courage again so I could begin cleaning the gutter, and off I went.

The other way

Looking east at gutter I did not clear. And never will.

For a while. I cleared the gutter over the deck, but when I reached the roof that overhangs the yard, I was like Ameilia at the top of stairs. My little granddaughter, who turns 1 this weekend, has an aversion to “edges.” So does her grandfather. I had been plucking the seeds with my left hand (It turns out I could not orient my body the other way and use my right hand), but when I came to the Big Drop, I lay down on the roof and ran my foot back and forth over the gutter.

Did it work? Heck no.

I gamely carried on until I reached the chimney, and then rounded the corner. Not sure why I was even trying at this point, since my foot method was so ineffective, but heck, I had a job to do. When I rounded the corner to the west end of the house, I noted with great alarm that the pitch of the roof changed. The hip ends have more of a slant to them.

Not dramatically more pitch, mind you, but enough so that I had some sort of nervous reaction. I could not go on. I even thought briefly about demanding that Audrey call the Fire Department, since then CR police no longer have an air force and could not rescue me by plucking me off the roof via helicopter. I was lying down for a brief time, again, and then sitting behind the chimney, which felt better. I called to Audrey (it took some time, it seems, for me to get her attention—we had arranged that she would be doing outside chores to short of keep an eye on me, but the watcher wasn’t watching all that closely) and told her I was bailing on my job.

My daughter-in-law Nalena held the ladder as Audrey directed me. I should have turned over on my stomach, as it would make the next part much easier, but could not bear to do so, so I inched over the edge of the roof on my back, foot feeling for the top of the ladder.

Which it found. I was worried about several points—such as possibly bringing down the gutter by snagging my belt, missing the top rung after finding the top of the ladder, tumbling forward off the roof—the list of imagined disasters was getting pretty long, blog fans.

In the end, as you know because you’re reading this and I’m not typing in Heaven or Hell, just Iowa, I made it down.

This is why I know that I am aging. In years gone by, especially before we had the mesh guard installed two years ago, I’ve done numerous chores that involved clambering around on my roof. It’s a modestly pitched roof, and in the past, I’ve been able to walk on it. I once shoved a garden hose down the downspouts while crouching on the roof—don’t ask me how. Now, there is no way I would be that active, that close to the void. Today, I could not bear the thought of more than sitting on my roof, and as a few prone Hail Marys proved, sometimes could not do even that.

Well, I’m a professor, not a roofer. If I can’t climb on a roof, it’s not exactly in my job description, anyway. Still, it’s a bit uncomfortable to recognize that time has changed me into that guy, the one who can’t get on his own roof.

There is, buried in here somewhere, some sort of life lesson. You can’t give up on new experiences as you age, or you’ll stagnate, and I’m usually willing to try new things.

Not, it appears now, if they involve any heights greater than a stepladder. My personal rule now is, if it’s on the roof, somebody else can fix it.

The ladder.

The ladder that I foolishly used to get on the roof. Not doing that anymore.


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More Fall Leaf Images

Maple leaf at MMU

This must be one of the most photographed maples at Mount Mercy Univrsity--note Warde Hall cupola in background.

Hope the leaf photos don’t get too mundane or dull, but I am enjoying a few quick photo breaks during my hectic mid-semester grading season.

Today, a history professor gave good tips on use of Power Point, and I left to walk over to the lecture a few minutes early, camera in hand. Here are the results—most of these images are from central Mount Mercy University campus today (October 6) with a few—the Sumac leaves at the end—the result of a brief stop on the bike trail between J Avenue and points north.

Maple near Warde Hall

I am not sure it's the same tree--there are several maples near the walkway at MMU near Warde Hall. I like the blue sky and color on the leaves.

I like afternoon sun for these foliage photos, for some reason. The yellower light makes the leaves shimmer and glow. I also like close-ups of leaves that are not necessarily the “prettiest” ones, but ones that are interesting and have contrasting colors—a faded, blotched sumac leaf, or leaf in the shadow of another hold more interest for me than a “perfect” leaf.

Anyway, help me pick the best of this bunch. From previous blog photos, the bug on the tire seemed number one, while from my Facebook fall leaves gallery, a crab apple photo was admired by some.  Remember, on the blog you can click a photo to see a bigger version of it.  As is true of my other foilage photos, these are presented uncropped, and unedited except for some color correcting.

Lily seeds

Lily seeds in garden of Basile Hall, Mount Mercy University.

We’re into the Asian Beetle, Box Elder Bug, desperate sweat bee season of the year—post mild frost, which was not enough to knock the hardiest of the bug crew down—just riled them up. Can’t say that I’ll mind that first hoarfrost morning when the temperature is around 25 or so!


Sumac on Cedar Valley Trail north of J Avenue in Cedar Rapids. Looks painted by fungus splotches.


Nearby Sumac leaf--I liked how the foreground one is backlit by sun, but also has the shadow of another leaf on it.

Ironwood tree

One of two photos of the intersting leaves and seeds of an Ironwood tree at the back door of Warde Hall.

Ironwood tree

Another Ironwood view. I think the other Ironwood photo might say "fall" more to me. Since ISU Extension says this native tree is small and shade loving, does that justify my stealing a few seeds and trying to cultivate it? I only have planted a couple dozen trees in my yard so far ....

Maple on the ground

Yeah, maples can make cute fall leaves--a few more maples on the ground photos. Not another leaf on the parking lot, though that one may beat these due to nice texture contrast--but I got a few nice fallen maple photos today, too.

Maple leaf

Maple down

Yellow maple leaf

Several maples down--more yellow, this time. I like how bright the low afternoon sun turns this scene.

Maples leaves on tree

Maple leaves not down yet--finish by looking up

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A Few Fall Photos

Bug on bike tire

Not sure a leaf insect counts as "fall foilage," but who knows? The tire of my new bike on Thursday of this week before I rode home (and no, the bug was not harmed--left under her own power before I had to encourage her)

Oct. 20 Update: Gazette has posted information needed to enter their fall photo contest, click here.

The Gazette runs a fall foliage photo contest, which I’ve never before entered.

I might this year, although my most recent check of their web site didn’t reveal the contest rules or deadline (hello, Gazette? If you announce something in your paper, make it something that can be found on your web site).

Anyway, here are a few photos I’ve taken at the Mount Mercy University campus.

Update: Fall photos in this blog are from Mount Mercy University campus.  See fall leaf pictures from my back yard in this facebook gallery.

Any suggestions? What are your favorites of these?

Oak Tree

Oak tree in Our Lady of Sorrows Grotto, MMU campus, Oct. 1

Same oak, MMU grotto

Looking at setting sun through tree, Oct. 1

Oak view number three

Same tree, 3 very different views from Grotto Oak at MMU Oct. 1

Another Grotto plan

Don't know if bugs on berries mean "fall" to the Gazette, but another plant at the MMU Grotto.

Warde Hall Parking Lot

Warde Hall parking lot at MMU--maple leaves in a pile

Maple leafe alone at Warde Hall parking lot

One maple leaf, by itself, at the MMU Warde Hall parking lot Oct. 1.


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