Tag Archives: Winter

A Short, Cold Walk in the Woods

Shadows of trees

I’m out of the yard, headed down to Dry Creek. I like the shadows on the snowy bit of grass.

After the annual New Year’s Day brunch at my sister’s house, I came home with my wife, daughter and grandson. It was nap time.

I woke up around 3, and worked for a while in the office, but when I looked out the window, a cold squirrel who was huddled in the tulip tree caught my eye. Right—I was going to fill the bird feeders this afternoon. It’s pushing 4, but at minus 4 degrees it’s as warm as it will get today—so I put on boots, coat, hat and mittens. And I also took my Nikon.

On the way around the house, I spotted a flock of small brown birds hanging out in a honeysuckle bush, as if waiting for me. “Where have you been?” I was inside where it is warm, dinosaur friends. Food is on the way.

I fumbled with the birdseed and feeders, and had to take off the mittens to deal with the anti-squirrel wire (it does not prevent them from eating, but from removing the feeders and taking them apart).

When I was done with my dino and rodent self-imposed duty, I was in no mood to go inside too quickly. It’s been bitterly cold in Iowa leading up to this New Year’s Day, and I was ready to spend time outside, even if just a few minutes. Dry Creek, in recent years, has rarely been dry, but I knew it had little water in it when the cold weather hit. Where there had been a bit of water, there would now be ice, anyway.

So I opened the back gate and ambled down to the streambed. I liked the quiet crunch of snow and sense of solitude, despite the occasional traffic noise from nearby C Avenue. Snapping images as I went, I headed under the C Avenue bridge, walking west in the bed of the creek.

Fallen tree arch.

West of C Avenue Bridge, walking west in Dry Creek bed. Passing under fallen tree arch.

Deer tracks let me know I wasn’t the first or only mammal to pass this way. It was bitterly cold, but very pretty as the late afternoon light turned golden and the cloudless sky was a soft wintery blue.

I saw a few skittish birds along the way, and passed under the arches of a few fallen trees. Maybe a quarter mile or less from home, I came to a tree crossing the creek that would have taken more effort to pass—doable, but a bit of limbo for an unlimber old man.

Tracks in snow

Mammal tracks in snow. Deer, and an old man.

I had only one layer on my legs and not particularly warm socks in my boots, and I was feeling the cold, so I decided the tree was a convenient turn around point. Besides, I definitely planned to be home before the light started to fade—no rambling in the woods in winter twilight for me.

As I returned to my own yard, I caught sight of a woodpecker, a frequent feeder visitor, and snapped a few more images.

Then I went inside. My wife was awake, but the grandson was still asleep, so I did a bit more class work on the computer until he awoke.

School starts tomorrow. Winter term is only one course to teach, but that one class meets for a lot of hours a day—it’s a fairly intense teaching experience, and I have a large section this term.

So, it was good to take a 20-minute hike in nature, even on a bitterly cold afternoon. A Facebook friend posted the other day that we needed to remind ourselves of the good things about living in Iowa, given this extended cold snap. These pictures, I suppose, are part of my answer. Cold as it is, Iowa is still a quietly pretty place, and a quiet pretty place, late on a sunny winter afternoon. I loved the quality of light at this time of the afternoon–the golden sunshine and blue shadows and sky. See more of my images from this walk on Flickr.

And a short stroll in the winter woods was a good way to kick off 2018.


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Filed under holidays, Weather

And as a Bonus, Snow Started Falling


Christmas cookies, baked by Katy, decorated by adults in a contest judged by daughter and son-in-laws who could not be there. I am sad to say that “Red Dwarf,” my thick, red star, did not win.

Merry Christmas, 2017—there are still some presents wrapped in the living room, so after Mass this morning, I’ll get to find out what my wife bought for me. For her, there will be less mystery because she was with me when I selected most of her gifts, and by “I” I mean “she.”

Still, we are going inexpensive this year with only a few low-key gifts, deliberately. We purchased a second vehicle this fall, and are counting the Dodge Dart as our main mutual Christmas gift. And there is one box that she doesn’t know the contents of—containing nothing of expense or of consequence, other than I wanted her to have at least some small surprises.

I hope you and yours are enjoying family and friends this holy holiday season, and whether you celebrate the birth of the Christ child, the secular gift-giving winter (or summer) school break or neither, I wish for you the joy of loving human connection this season of kin.

Although there are some presents still present in my house, our main Christmas celebration fell on Christmas Eve. Our oldest son and his wife were able to fly out from San Francisco for a week, and most of our local clan gathered—daughters from Dubuque, Marion, Monticello; and a son from Ames.

The house was full of noise and chaos on Christmas Eve, with the sounds of a few Christmas songs played on the piano by my oldest son mixed with jazz improvisations, especially when grandchildren decided to join in. Play was constant and boisterous. One son-in-law and grandson had to skip the party due to illness, which somehow seems true to family tradition, but it was good to have a full, loud house at this time of year.


At the piano.

The youngest grandson didn’t get his nap in, and it did show by the end of the day, but that’s just life.

We had a full Thanksgiving-style Christmas dinner, with turkey and most of the trimmings (we skip the cranberries and other fancy salads, and had been snacking all day on Christmas cookies, so pie wasn’t in the picture, but otherwise it’s the full TG deal, cooked almost exclusively by my wife). After stuffing ourselves with stuffed turkey, it was time for the big gift opening, which involved a few presents for adults, but mostly the grandchildren’s gifts.


Chaos of gift opening. Scooter, used as chair, is headed my way so grandson can sit on it and chat.

Several gifts were immediate hits. Two grandsons loved the remote-control spider that their grandmother found for them. A scooter for a 2-year-old from an aunt and uncle was mostly a pushed platform that performed as an impromptu moveable chair, but it was very much in use. A doctor kit led the daughters of a mother who is in the final stages of studying to be a nurse to become a medical team treating an ailing patient (said mom). Treating her included laying on her stomach and poking her face with various toy plastic medical instruments, and I’m happy to report she survived treatment, although it looked a bit dicey for a while.

The gathering was slightly delayed. For one thing, again true to Christmas tradition, we were missing a few items and there was a last-minute shopping trip. For another, Mother Nature made morning travel a bit hazardous with her own gift to us.

A White Christmas! We are in a mild drought in this part of Iowa, and true to form winter so far has been mostly dry, with just a few flurries here and there. The best chance of snow in the forecast was Friday, and while there were flakes in the air that day, it amounted to no accumulation on the ground.

But Christmas Eve started with genuine white stuff. Not a lot, maybe three-fourths of an inch, but enough to make it officially white out. As the snow ended mid day, it turned cold and will be bitterly cold today, Christmas Day, but only in a weather sense. Inside, we’ll look out on a pretty white world and think of a coming new year, of an ancient birth and its meaning, and of family—it will be pretty warm.

All in all, thanks Mother Nature. And Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to us all and to you all. God bless us every one.

Eve Snow

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Filed under Food, Grandchildren, holidays

Of Birds and That Darn Tree Rodent


The feeder, put back together, filled with seed and hung. soon, I suppose, to be found by tree rats …

Over time, I’ve come to dislike squirrels. Not really hate them. But mildly dislike them.

Sure, they are cute. But they are basically tree rats, and they act the part. They dig in the garden with their nasty rat paws and eat the bulbs I plant for sprint flowers, for example. Granted, their digging is pretty minor—I would much rather watch a dozen squirrels in the backyard than see one rabbits.

Rabbits are evil.

Still, squirrels are like little raccoons. They are agile, aggressive and have little nasty hands that they can use, along with their rodent teeth, to wreak havoc.

Oh well. I do admit that I enjoy watching “chippy” enough that most of the time I’m willing to leave the tree rats unmolested. Besides, they are a good food source for owls, hawks and eagles.

But I wish they would leave my bird feeders alone.

Yes, I know, they are hungry wild things, too, and there are no property rights in the backyard. Whatever animal gets there first gets the food. But birds, messy as they get, just eat the seeds.

Squirrels disassemble.

Case in point—the current bird feeders I use. I’ve experimented over the years with several different kinds. Plastic ones are a thing of the past, as rodent dentation beats dead dinosaur compounds. (Is there some new version of paper-scissors-rock there? Plastic, squirrel teeth—what?). I have wasted my earthly treasures on fancy metal “squirrel proof” feeders with spring-loaded features that are supposed to allow small dinosaurs in while denying entry to arboreal mammals.

The squirrels don’t care about the springs and pried the lids off of those feeders.

So now I have two feeders. Neither is “squirrel proof” in the sense that tree rats can’t eat from them, but both are of durable metal construction and at least aren’t chewed up by those rodents.

Then, some big, tough mamma squirrel appeared this winter. I don’t know for sure if she is “she,” she just looks like a mean mama to me. She’s large, she’s mostly indifferent to naked apes and she is amazingly dexterous.

Late in December 2016, I found some parts of my red metal feeder, one of two seed feeders I use along with two suet feeder “cages” that I have to wire shut, on the ground. The pieces of that feeder are held together by basically a big wing nut that holds the metal hoop by which I hang the feeder.

Someone or something had unscrewed that lid and emptied the feeder—plus it (or she, as I think of her—am I feeling a bit oppressed as the only boy in a family of seven?) had unscrewed and disposed of or lost the top of the feeder.

I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to searching for that smaller piece In fact, I shouldn’t be writing this blog post right now, as I have work to do. But I looked for that top every time I filled the other feeder.



Birds. I waited in the lower yard for about three minutes on Sunday, and this crowd quickly showed up. This is my other seed feeder, which has not been taken apart.

Then, just by accident this weekend, I found the missing feeder top in the yard. The good news is that the metal construction of the feeder proved durable. While completely taken apart by, I presume, a vandal tree she Hun (there, I’ve accused her of being a simultaneous member of two different barbarian tribes—I like her that much), the parts of the feeder were fine.

I filled it again with seed. And I screwed the lid on extra tight this time. It may take her a few days to undo my work.

But she probably will.

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Plant Porn, Owl Wars and Other Signs

Birds are already getting a bit weird. And these guys have been getting a bit odd lately, too. Visitor to my deck today.

Birds are already getting a bit weird. And these guys have been getting a bit odd lately, too. Visitor to my deck today.

Spring is here! Well, not really. It’s only Feb. 8.

But unlike last year, when February was a bitter month followed by a second bitter month, this year’s February seems a bit more normal. Still winter, to be sure, but not as deep in winter as January—it’s not that odd to see some first signs that spring is coming as the weather turns lighter and the sun gains altitude.

Now, I will concede before I go further that February definitely means winter in Iowa. Frankly, March is usually more a winter than a spring month, in this climate. But things change in February.


The war of the eagles and owls. The Gazette today reported, although I could not find a link on their site, a story about this topic, the war between the famous Decorah eagles and a pair of great horned owls, who are trying to horn in on the eagle’s nest. Owls, it seems, are very mean beasts, and even though the eagles are much larger, the owls can put up quite a fight. It appears the nest will go to the mom that lays the first egg. Lots of people want to cheer for the eagles: “Push it out, push it out, waaaay out!” Me, I do like mom and dad eagle, but recognize I’m showing some anthropomorphism. The biologists are right. Let nature takes its course. It’s a tough life out there for dinosaurs.

The way in which 10 inches of snow is finally receding. Streams are running with water now. We had temperatures in the upper 30s or even, gasp, low 40s in recent days, and the snow pack is looking tired. We’re still socked in with snow—which honestly is a good thing because without it the ground could warm up too early. We don’t want little green things trying to sprout now. But even though there will still be bone chilling cold this season, and more snow, we’re at the point where cold snaps should be a bit shorter and sunny days in the 40s a bit more common. A normal February feels long just because it’s at the end of our cold, dead season—it’s not usually another January, and it feels a bit more normal this year.

How the urge to plant is taking hold. Several seed and plant catalogs, what I call “plant porn,” have arrived. I’m seeing tempting seeds packages in stores and thinking of starting flowers for spring gardens, but trying to hold myself back (I have a terrible track record with starting flowers indoors, it’s just not a good idea for me). My desires this year are pretty typical—I want toad lilies and irises, but don’t have much luck with those plants. Anyway, I’m hoping some monarch butterfly flowers, aka milkweed, put in an appearance in my gardens. I’m been planting free seeds gleaned from wild plants, but we’ll see. Maybe my wife will let me order a few plants. She’s almost as crazy for gardens as I am.

I had some trouble photographing a woodpecker drawn to a new suet feeder I put up--but then, a few minutes later, this guy showed up on a pear tree outside my home office window. "Hey pinky," he seems to be saying, "you looking for me?"

I had some trouble photographing a woodpecker drawn to a new suet feeder I put up–but then, a few minutes later, this guy showed up on a pear tree outside my home office window. “Hey pinky,” he seems to be saying, “you looking for me?”

And the birds are getting craaaaazy. Squawking, fighting, carrying on—on a warmish sunny day you hear them a lot more now. They know in their little dinosaur brains another season is coming and they want to marry, make eggs and raise babies. It’s not just the eagles and owls getting a bit nuts—it seems like the birds that visit my feeders these days are in a hurry, distracted, thinking about something.

Spring. Has to be.

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Well, Who Said February Would Be Easy?

Cardinal as snow falls on Feb. 1.

Cardinal as snow falls on Feb. 1.

Winter staged a dramatic comeback in these parts Sunday. It began Saturday with several hours of rain in the afternoon that transitioned, well after dark, to slushy snow.

Sunday was all about the snow. It blew and fell all day, and the day began fairly nicely in the 20s but the temperature steadily declined as the day went on. It was a day of shoveling and playing (briefly) with grandkids under a grey sky and occasional flakes.

Grandson enjoys the snow Sunday. Not sure it would be as much fun today--a much brighter day, but also much colder.

Grandson enjoys the snow Sunday. Not sure it would be as much fun today–a much brighter day, but also much colder.

Today was shovel day, the sequel. I am glad I shoveled once mid-day Sunday—the snow, since it had a slow transition from wet to white, was of the heavy kind on Sunday, with an icy layer underneath. It was heavy labor to move.

Monday’s shoveling, since Sunday’s had been done, was not as bad—the snow a bit lighter, maybe 3 inches or so to move—while Sunday I shoveled 7 or 8 inches.

I’m not done with shoveling yet, since I haven’t done the path to the back or the back deck. I don’t like to leave snow on the deck, mostly because I’m worried that if it melts there, some will come into the back door, but it’s not urgent to clear that snow right after it falls.

It was a bit disappointing to watch the early morning news on Channel 9 today, as both my wife and I were waiting for the M listings. Kirkwood had called it off, as had all local public school districts—would Mount Mercy toss in the shovel and call it a day?


Grumble, grumble. But after breakfast, before I left for work, I put seeds in the bird feeders. And the early morning sun was riding in a clear blue sky and reflecting off the white coat that draped over the landscape. It was bitterly cold and beautiful all at the same time, and with chilled fingers (had to take gloves off to use the camera) I shot a few images. Here are some snow scene from Sunday. And here are some from today, Monday. Note how bright and pretty Monday turned out to be.

Warde Hall on Monday morning--blue sky, white tree. Sadly, it's an ash, so it wont' be here forever, but it looks pretty this morning.

Warde Hall on Monday morning–blue sky, white tree. Sadly, it’s an ash, so it won’t be here forever, but it looks pretty this morning.

It was the same on campus. I made it to MMU OK, the streets were snow packed but passable in town, and I even made it up the slick hill to the Warde Hall parking lot. Thank you, Rodrigo the Montego (so named by my youngest daughter, who owned the car for a while before passing it on to her parents).

Sculpture with shadow and snowy background, Feb. 2, 2015, near Warde Hall, Mount Mercy.

Sculpture with shadow and snowy background, Feb. 2, 2015, near Warde Hall, Mount Mercy.

I had to scramble to prep for my 10:30 a.m. class—it was already pushing 9 a.m.—but still I paused to shoot some photos. The morning light in the blue sky on the white snow was too tempting. It was just too pretty to pass up, a true winter wonderland.

OK, I’ll try to shut up now and join in the griping.

@@&**% winter. Ain’t it grand? (Oops. Sorry.)

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Iowa Winter Weather: Warm, Snowy, Cloudy, Sunny

Bird in lilac bush outside my office window.

Bird in lilac bush outside my office window.

In the past 24 hours, the weather in Iowa has shown its impetuous side.

Yesterday was so warm and sunny that we spent more than an hour in the afternoon at a park playing with grandchildren.

First photo of Jay. Not the last.

First photo of Jay. Not the last.

This morning started on the warm side, for Iowa winter, with a sort of sleety snow falling. As the morning wore on, the temperature dropped a bit, and so did the snow. In the end, we maybe got an inch or so, and now (about 2 p.m.) the sky is trying to clear and a thin layer of clouds seems like a lampshade.


Say hey to the Jay.

While it has turned colder, the weather is not really cold. It’s 33 degrees outside at 2 in the afternoon, and as soon as I’m done writing this post, I’ll scrape the snow so that it can finish melting off the walks.

I thought that when the snow fell, it would end my biking for this week, but now I’m not so sure. If we get a sunny afternoon, the streets may be in better shape tomorrow than I would have expected. We’ll see.


Cardinal keeps and eye on feeder action. I think he is sitting in Magnolia bush.

Anyway, on the way home from our morning exercise in the gym, my wife and I stopped at Hy-Vee Drugstore to buy some white bread for French toast, and also some birdseed. When I filled the birdfeeders, there was almost a frenzy, with birds mobbing the feeders. I saw several male and female cardinals, a pair of blue jays, many other smaller birds and some squirrels.

Nice looking bird on feeder hung in Tulip Tree.

Nice looking bird on feeder hung in Tulip Tree.

Despite the changes in the weather, it’s not too cold. It has been a nice winter and this particular snow is not too obnoxious. We’ll take it.


I like how you can see snow is falling in his photo. Another bird in lilac bush.

My wife got a bit tired today of my constant “bird updates.” But, what do you think? I enjoyed watching and photographing my many visitors today. Now? Time to go shovel some snow.

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Filed under Garden

So What’s A Warm Saturday For, Anyway?

Bridge on a bike trail in Marion, Iowa. It was a pretty, sunny, warm day today in Iowa. Snow tomorrow.

Bridge on a bike trail in Marion, Iowa. It was a pretty, sunny, warm day today in Iowa. Snow tomorrow.

I spent part of the day indoors today, because I had to get some papers graded, but I was lucky to have two outings.

In the morning, I rode my winter beater bike, an old Schwinn mountain bike, to the gym and for a brief trail ride.

But the true fun was this afternoon. My wife had some errands to run, so I stayed home grading papers. She suddenly popped in the door, announced she was meeting some grandkids at the park, and did I want to come?

Well, I’m under the weather, just a bit. I have a cold. And I did have lots of work to do, but …

The sun was shining. The temperature was rising above 45 degrees. My wife had told a grandson just a few days before that it was always too cold to play at a park if the temperature was below 45, but that explanation just didn’t hold up today. So away I went.

Me on a ride-on bee with Amelia. Later, she would be a princess and a dragon would abscond with her on the same bee, but that drama has not started yet.

Me on a ride-on bee with Amelia. Later, she would be a princess and a dragon would abscond with her on the same bee, but that drama has not started yet.

The park interlude was a blast. Among other things:

  • The ladder-slide area became a castle and my daughter transformed into a dragon who, along with the assistance of her minion, my grandson, kidnapped a prince and planned to cook her. They rode off on a giant bee, but never seemed to get anywhere.
  • A snowball war broke out. My wife isn’t sure whether she or my daughter instigated it, but they are the prime suspects. Some icy snow was left in little piles here and there, and my daughter, wife and grandson spent a fair amount of time chucking it at each other or me. Watch out for that grandson. He has an arm.
  • The merry-go-round was a very popular item—and grandpa (me) had the honor of supplying most of the power. One young granddaughter would yell “faster, faster,” until, a few seconds later she would yell “I need to get off.” Despite my cold, I did get some exercise today.

Well, what a fun afternoon. I don’t know how many sunny, warm Saturdays there will be before March, but we put this one to good use.

More park scenes--my daughter and wife attack me with snowballs. Below--youngest of the four siblings at the park like merry-go-round

More park scenes–my daughter and wife attack me with snowballs. Below–youngest of the four siblings at the park like merry-go-round


Finally, just because I can, I bought some flowers for my wife, who just returned from a trip to England. I liked how the morning sun streaming in the dining room window lit the bouquet, so I photographed it, and it seems a nice foreshadowing of the coming spring that is only a few weeks away:

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