Tag Archives: summer

The Hunt For My 8-Legged Friend


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I have many day lilies, and I like them, but the prettiest are these native ones.

I’m not sure what thumbnail Twitter or Facebook will choose for this blog post, but I’ll add a few bonus flower pictures in hopes that it won’t be the spider image coming up.

I have some sensitive family members, and although I’m not among them, I don’t want to be responsible for nightmares.

Here is the true story: I was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I’m up to season 3) last night, and dozed off after the homecoming dance where neither Buffy nor Cordelia was elected homecoming queen.

When I woke up near midnight—an appropriate witching hour, I think, there was a spider just sitting in the middle of the carpet.

Not just any spider. A SOUS—spider of unusual size. Before I had a major freak-out like a crazed Republican somehow thinking email sloppiness is high treason, I toddled over—because there was a question in my sleep-addled mind.

Toy? Or spider?

I grabbed a plastic container and nudged it, gently. It took off.

Not in my direction, or I might have screamed like, well, I don’t know, an old man facing a SOUS coming at him.

But, the spider was 2 ½ inches across and probably stood a half inch tall. The contest wasn’t at all equal. In the end, said spider was quickly under said container.

As far as I could tell, no harm was done to the SOUS. That’s my general attitude towards arachnids—I’m not happy to see them, but they don’t harm me so I try not to harm them.

I went to bed. In the morning, I showed the SOUS to my wife and grandson, and held said grandson while the wife slipped some cardboard under the SOUS and carried it (gender unknown) outside.

Where it was released, and photographed. Calm yourselves, faint of heart, here it is:

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Yup–this is the real photo of the real spider. It’s outside on a basketball hoop base. Big thing, but kind of cute. Google says wolf spiders make good pets–but I’m not willing to go that far …

What is it? Five minutes with Google were not conclusive, but I think it’s a species of wolf spider. Most wolf spiders I’ve seen are far smaller, but the big G says they can range in size, and some fairly common species are considered large spiders.

Well, I consider this one huge. And free. I hope it doesn’t break back in. I don’t want my next Buffy episode punctuated by something with eight legs. And, just in case the thumbnail ends up being the last photo:

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Spring tulip, no spider.

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Signs That Man Has Been in the Woods


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Coneflower about to bloom–not unusual in Iowa, but this one is in the woods behind my house, the first I’ve ever seen there.

Remember that scene in “Bambi” when the father deer warns his son, “man is in the woods?” You could play the Darth Vader theme under those words.

Well, this man was in the woods briefly today, and they don’t seem to have suffered much from my presence.

I was doing some minor yard work—I installed a new swing set not long ago, and today put some paving blocks under the legs to keep them from digging into the soil. I spread some wood chips, too, and put some new sand in the sandbox.

I also weeded, a bit, which for a forgetful gardener like me can be a bit too exciting. “Is this supposed to be growing here? Did I plant it?”

Anyway, I noted a young oak tree in my back yard, and rather than just leave it and mow it off, I decided to move it to what I call the “deer salad bar,” aka, the woods behind my fence.

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Oak tree in the yard.

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The same oak tree, now in the woods, ready to be eaten by Bambi.

Man is in the woods. Planting tasty trees that Bambi and his deer tribe will shortly take advantage of. I’ve planted hundreds of volunteer oaks in the woods—doomed ashes largely comprise those woods—and deer have feasted on them.

And I just walked about the woods a bit, and was a bit taken aback.

I’ve lived in this house for 15 years, and in that time I’ve wasted countless wildflower seeds and young oak trees in these woods. Whatever I plant seems to not germinate, get chocked out by the competition, or is eaten by Bambi and friends.

What took me aback was evidence that I had been here before—in the form of three plants that would not be in these woods without me.

A coneflower is getting ready to bloom. I’ve never seen coneflowers growing in these woods before, but I’ve planted many a seed—one must have finally sprouted.

A Catalpa tree has reached a height of 5 feet. Again, there were no Catalpa back here before, but maybe they don’t taste as good to Bambi as Oaks do. I’ve collected some Catalpa seeds from a neighborhood tree, and put them back here among the many other seeds I’ve planted.

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Catalpa in the woods.

Finally, and most exciting, at the edge of the woods in the sunshine and tall grass, a Milkweed is growing. Well, cool. I’ve been scattering Milkweed seeds at the sunny edge of the woods for years, and this is the first plant I’ve seen.

May it spread by seed and roots.

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Milkweed!

Finally, after planting my Oak and photographing my woodsy baby plants, I made a few photographs in the yard of flowers and insects, just because I can it and was that kind of day.

Man has been in the woods, and the gardens. And I hope that both are better for it.

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A Father’s Day Plant and Creature Feature


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“Butterfly Weed.” A nicer name for milkweed.

Warning spiderphobes—arachnids are included in this post.

My Father’s Day was pretty satisfying—many grandchildren were present, a bar bike adventure happened, and there was cake, too.

In fact, Father’s Day was almost a season. On Saturday, my wife and I did round two of a garage cleanup, and as we were getting ready to take a van load to the local dump, we also grabbed extraneous items form under our deck.

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That is a spider.

Which is where the first creature appears. Inside a flower pot there resided a huge spider. The wife quickly bestowed that pot upon me. I carefully released Shelob back into the wild—whatever she had eaten to reach that monster size, we figured we’re better off if she continued to eat.

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I hope this is not an ash borer. Dead insect found in my van during cleanup. Eat, Shelob, eat!

After that dump run, I went on a short bike ride around Cedar Lake with a grandson. Midway through the second of our two loops around the lake, we paused to watch an eagle soaring above the lake. The eagle swept down to the lake’s surface, although we didn’t see it make a successful fish grab.

Still, it was cool to see. It was way more pleasant than a giant spider.

Saturday afternoon, we stopped at a flower shop that was advertising milkweed, and got four plants. I attempted to plan four native milkweed plants this spring, but so far two have died.

Although these don’t looks like those plants, I’m hoping the nursery-purchased plants can host Monarchs, and, since their roots are intact, I hope they survive being planted.

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Eagle over Cedar Lake on Saturday.

Anyway, Sunday, Father’s Day, was a grand day. It was a day that began with blueberry pancakes, and included a very nice afternoon lupper (lunch and supper) of homemade sub sandwiches, my wife’s excellent potato salad and melon.

Later, we went with two of our daughters on an early evening stroll. After we go back, I was using dehumidifier water to promote milkweed growth, when an owl, pursued by smaller birds, landed first in an ash tree in my yard and then moved across the street.

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Here’s looking at you, owl.

So the weekend ended with a cool bird, one to two. I heard from all my kids today, too, and that was nice.

As I said, although sadly I lost my own father a few years ago, Father’s Day for me was very satisfying.

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The Monarch of Lowe Park


Just a quick post–took some grandchildren to Lowe Park in Marion Saturday morning. You should go there if you can. Just some of what I saw (although, to be fair, final photo is form Gill Park, but it seemed to fit the nature theme of this post):

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Some Things About Summer 2015


Linden tree Friday in the park.

Linden tree Friday in the park.

Dairy Queen is running a series of Blizzard commercials that assert “summer is not over yet.”

Well, it is for me. I don’t want to sound particularly displeased about that, however, because the approaching fall has plenty of charms. While there will be a mad scramble of busy, there will be new students to meet, a whole faculty series of speeches to coordinate, a new newspaper staff—many things I will like a lot. It’s funny, when school is in session, I feel impatient for it to end. When it’s over, I’m impatient for it to start again. It is kind of like RAGBRAI—crowded, noisy, tiring and busy—but the school year lasts for nine months.

Anyway, I was not sitting by a river Friday night, listening to appealing music and thinking of summers in my younger years. I was not only sitting by a river, I was sitting by The River Friday night, thinking of my young summers along that same mighty stream.

On Friday, I was with my wife and youngest daughter in Guttenberg, Iowa. Cathy Barton, who play a fiddle tune on the hammered dulcimer like nobody else I know, and Dave Para, her husband and fellow folk music performer, where giving a concert in a city park that sits right on the banks of the Mississippi, just above a lock and dam.

Cathy Barton and Dave Para.

Cathy Barton and Dave Para.

At one point, a barge glided by nearly silently, and it reminded me of watching tug boats shoving long strings of those flat-bottomed cargo holders up and down the river in Clinton or Muscatine back in the 1960s and 1970s when I grew up in those two river towns. At another point, a train rumbled by, unseen by not unheard, several blocks to our west. It sounded its horn at every street crossing, and those tracks cross lots of streets.

Well, that sound too reminded me of younger days, particularly Clinton, where our first rental house was not many blocks from the railroad tracks that you had to cross to get to Riverfront Park.

One summer afternoon, using scrap lumber I found in a vacant lot, I built a raft, planning to float away from my current life and live, on the river, like Huckleberry Finn.

The plan didn’t work. After I wheeled it east past the tracks on to the waters at the edge of the park, the raft sank immediately, and nothing above my ankles got wet. I was 9, and I ended up continuing to live another decade at home.

Back to the present. Cedar Rapids is a pleasant town, and in 2008 declared the year of the river before the Cedar River decided to flood and declare 2008 to be the year it ate the town. The Cedar River is pretty, and I enjoy my bike rides along its banks, but let me be honest. If you really want river, you want the father of all waters, not some pretentious creek.

At Friday’s concert, my wife was observing that this has been, in a minor way, a reunion summer. We have kept running into old friends.

On Friday, we enjoyed chatting with Dave and Cathy. RAGBRAI this summer was a bit of a reunion tour of my first ride—was it 2011?

I do wish we had, as we originally planned, found a way to travel to Norwich, England, this summer, as it will be a while before we can schedule such a journey again—but we hope to be there in spring of 2016. I guess a presidential election year is a good time to flee the country, if only briefly.

Snake swims away at Pleasant Creek lake.

Snake swims away at Pleasant Creek lake.

This summer we haven’t used our kayaks near enough, but one recent afternoon, maybe a Tuesday about two weeks ago (I’m not sure of the day and I don’t care enough to research it) we took the boats to Pleasant Creek State Park for an outing.

First, my daughter and wife kayaked while I tried, but failed, to capture a picture of a Monarch Butterfly that was teasing me and making me wish I had my good camera. Then, I was alone on the lake, watching the fish—the water was unusually clear—looking at ducks and seeking turtles. I didn’t spot any turtles, but there was a swimming snake I saw, so the reptile quote was definitely met.

Daughter and wife in kayaks.

Daughter and wife in kayaks.

Summer of 2015, I’m going to say you’re not over yet. I can tell myself that minor lie and try to believe it. But even if you’re already in the memory banks, you did make some good ones.

Including some along the waters. I guess that’s all one can ask of a summer.

Shells on the bottom of Pleasant Creek lake.

Shells on the bottom of Pleasant Creek lake.

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The Almost-Perfect Summer Day


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Kent Park lake around 5 p.m. as we strolled after kayaking. A perfect summer day.

We were watching a pair of grandkids last night, and since we had the time, took, them to church. So this morning began almost when morning was over, with me sleeping in until 10. (I had fallen uncomfortable asleep on a couch downstairs and paid for it with a stiff back, so it was glorious to have leeway to wake up late).

Then, some summer chores. The strangely cold and wet July ended with some warm, dry weeks, and I have not mowed for some time. It was time today.

After that, planting a tree I bought on a whim at a farmer’s market yesterday, then watering the gardens.

The new tree. A type of willow. Katy and Wyatt have a gnarly one in their yard. I am not sure this exactly the same kind, but it is similar.

The new tree. A type of willow. Katy and Wyatt have a gnarly one in their yard. I am not sure this exactly the same kind, but it is similar.

I don’t know if watering counts as a quiet, calming activity. I like the chance to stroll about and simply look at the gardens as I freshen them with moisture, but my garden hose is so kinky that there is also a fair amount of knocking about and cursing involved.

Still, I always enjoy planting a tree. It’s August and summer is almost spent and the business of the new school year is already beginning, but today it was time to pause and plant and then water.

Water after the tree is in the hole.

Water after the tree is in the hole.

My wife was more ambitious, she stained the back deck while I puttered about the gardens and yard.

And when we were both done and had talked with our oldest in England via Skype, it was kayak time.

I loaded our kayaks into our new van, and we headed south to Kent Park in Johnson County. The lake was a greenish shade of brown, but still it was fun to be on the water.

I looked and saw several turtles—most of them swimming, but one sunning on a partly submerged log.

Watering the thirsty gardens. Some newer trees and shrubs were definitely thirsty.

Watering the thirsty gardens. Some newer trees and shrubs were definitely thirsty.

We kayaked together, and then my wife read on the beach for 40 minutes while I took a solitary paddle about the lake. Both were nice, but I do prefer having a partner.

Then, we strolled around the lake, hopped in our van and stopped for ice cream on the way home.

After that, we cooked some sweet corn purchased yesterday, and had BLTs with it—a very summer meal.

After planting.

After planting.

It was almost the perfect summer day. Since a new 30-day challenge is underway, it lacked cold soda or cold beer, and the beer, in particular, would have given the day a few points.

And children. The day was lacking in kids. Well, after babysitting yesterday, perhaps we needed the break, and we could not have gotten so much done—garden watering and tree planting and deck staining and kayaking—if the younger set were around.

Still, summer should mean playing outside with kids—pushing a grandchild in a swing or tossing a ball.

Anyway, even if it wasn’t the perfect day, it was a darn good one. It was a reminder of how I used to spend my summers in pre-RAGBRAI riding days. I do enjoy biking and don’t regret taking up much of my time in summer with training—but I do miss just slowly moving through the gardens, or reading in the hammock. And this was the first kayaking trip of the year for me, and it’s freaking August.

Well, time flies. We were having fun. They day was fleeting, as good ones, too often, are.

When I carried kayaks to the front, I had to carry them past this garden, a narrow spot next to flowers buzzing with pollinators. The bees were well behaved, I am happy to report.

When I carried kayaks to the front, I had to carry them past this garden, a narrow spot next to flowers buzzing with pollinators. The bees were well behaved, I am happy to report.

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The Bee’s Knees On Coneflowers


Bee looking at you on coneflower.

Bright-eyed native bee getting a drink of coneflower nectar.

I saw a butterfly on a coneflower today, and grabbed my good camera. I thought it might be a monarch, but couldn’t tell from the house—but when I got outside, it was gone.

What was still hanging around were some medium sized native bees. They make me slightly nervous because they’ll buzz at you and fly at you, and I just am not wild about being buzzed by a bee.

Hey, I'm not a butterfly, why are you taking my photo?

Hey, I’m not a butterfly, why are you taking my photo?

But I do like the coneflowers. I’ve tried planting other colors for variety, but so far only these purple ones have done well. I’d like to get a few other colors going, but honestly don’t mind that these spread. The side garden east of the house is full of blooms right now, and looks very nice.

Coneflowers are a bit prickly, but pretty, and also nice since they draw in so many butterflies and bees.

Bee with flowers

Showing a few more coneflowers.

I’ve tried collecting the seeds of this native plant to get a few started at the edge of the woods behind the house, with no success so far. Too much garlic mustard back there, I suppose.

But coneflowers looks pretty now, and will even be decorative over the winter when the stalks dry (which is one reason, besides laziness, why I don’t clean the gardens until late winter).

Bee flies away.

I’m out of here. Just be glad I’m not headed your way!

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