Embers of the Derecho

Embers of a brush pile on Oct. 27, 2021.

The brush pile included the last branches blown down by the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. With enough rain to sate the drought, it was time to burn it. By nightfall it was reduced to ash, then a steady rain fell until morning.

One more mowing and I will get the John Deere serviced. After that, it will rest in the garage until spring. Deconstruction of the garden is ahead. I’ll need the mowed lawn to spread things out and organize for winter storage. I want to salvage and reuse landscaping fabric and the staples used to hold it in place.

The compost piles need to be moved and turned. I want to clear the garden plot where they are for more productive use. As my gardening skills improve I want more planting space next year. I have many wants.

I sat on the grass and watched the fire burn. I re-stacked the burning logs with a garden hoe and reduced the perimeter of the fire as it burned. I used old business cards mixed with shredded paper to start the fire. A pile of them lay under the burning branches. Once I turned them over they ignited.

We had an unexpected overnight visitor. I made a pot of chili using a fresh tomato, canned whole tomatoes, two kinds of frozen tomato sauce, and a can of organic tomato paste. It provided flexibility for supper time so we could focus on conversation.

A new day begins in our post derecho lives. The brush pile is gone, preparing a path toward garden’s end and winter.

Kitchen Garden

Fall Garden Planning — 2021

Gleaning the fall garden.

Ambient temperatures are forecast to reach the high sixties today. It’s time to plan fall gardening and get to work.

The biggest task ahead is garlic planting. I cleared the plot where I had onions this year. The next work is to spade the soil, fertilize and till it. What’s left of the garlic harvest remains in the rack. It requires trimming, cleaning and sorting. I need about 100 of the best cloves for seeds and the rest will go into storage. It was a good crop and I hope next year will be better.

Because there were so many tomato plants the vines are still producing. They are not the best tomatoes yet fresh ones add value in the kitchen. Once frost comes, I will tear down the bed, stack and repair cages, and save the landscaping fabric and fencing for another year’s use.

I made the first pick of Brussels sprouts this week and they will produce into October. The plot where they are is the most diverse and will require gleaning it until frost kills everything. There will likely be tomatillos, peppers, cherry tomatoes and more sprouts. It will be the last plot to be torn down.

The main fall crop is apples. I went through the apple butter in the pantry and there is plenty to last two years and more. The same is true for apple sauce so the question is what to do with the abundance. I offered some of it to a neighbor who is coming next weekend to pick with their family. I plan to take the best fruit, make some baked goods and juice for apple cider vinegar and fresh cider. I also need to prune dead branches while leaves are still on the trees (so I can see what’s what). I don’t know what to do, if anything, about the scar on the Red Delicious tree where the derecho took a couple of big limbs. I’m resigned to eventually losing it. There is a lot of apple work ahead in the garden.

My greens plot was a success this year. We had plenty for the kitchen and the kale and collards will continue to produce into October. Some years kale makes it through November and last year it over wintered. There is landscaping fabric to recycle there along with fencing. Every plot needs work to prepare for winter.

As I organize and reflect on what happened, the overarching feeling is “where did the time go?” I’m thinking about my fall seed order already. Once the pension checks arrive this month I’ll reduce thoughts to an order and place it.

It’s been a great gardening year in a cycle that never ends.

Living in Society

Push Toward Fall Begins

Tomatoes, apples, onions and potatoes waiting to be used.

Signs of summer’s end are everywhere.

We knew fall was arriving last week when someone published the school bus pickup and delivery times on our community Facebook page. K-12 schools start tomorrow in our district.

The Iowa legislature and governor expressed an interest in dictating how schools would approach the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. They issued a written dictum through the Iowa Department of Public Health. Click here to see it. My main takeaway is that everyone should wear a mask and get vaccinated if they can, although neither can be mandated by the local school board. IDPH has adjusted COVID-19 surveillance to follow the influenza model, focusing on outbreaks and vulnerable populations.

We’re ready for fall with four home test kits for COVID-19 resting on the stairs for potential use. We restricted activities outside home during the return of students at a nearby university and the surge in hospital admissions for COVID-19. If there’s one thing we learned during the pandemic it is isolating from others is a good way to prevent respiratory disease, including COVID-19.

Political campaigning takes a holiday during summer. With Iowa Democrats seeking to regain some of the ground lost in 2020, activity is percolating to our attention. There is a U.S. Senate primary coming, with four announced candidates. There is one for governor with two. Yet most political activity remains unseen as summer ends.

As of this writing, our congressional district has neither been adjusted after the U.S. Census, nor identified any candidate for congress. The Iowa Legislative Services Agency is working on a redistricting map after last week’s arrival of U.S. Census data, and a candidate for congress or two make preparations to announce their campaigns for the June 2022 Democratic primary election. There is plenty of time to engage in campaigns. Most voters are loathe to do it and the recent trend is to wait until the last possible moment to evaluate candidates and cast a vote.

The garden reached the high water mark and the rest of the season is finishing tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers; taking greens as needed in the kitchen; and working toward a couple more crops of lettuce. The season will end with Brussels sprouts and Red Delicious apples in late September or October.

The calendar says autumn begins on Sept. 22 yet we’ve already begun to make the turn. I’m thinking about where to plant garlic, how to deal with apples still on the trees, and how to engage in politics this cycle. Comme d’habitude, I’m taking some time for myself until the Labor Day weekend. It looks to be a busy fall.


Prairie Burn

Prairie reconstruction after prescribed burn.

Back on my bicycle Monday with a 10-mile ride. Feeling my legs and lungs working as I climbed hills in low gear was affirming.

Today I’m going to take time to breathe.

Living in Society

Autumn in Iowa

Autumn Blaze maple tree.

The colors of the maple tree in front of our house don’t photograph well. We have to stand and take in the feeling they arouse. The variety is called Autumn Blaze.

Branches high up in the tree have been blown down and broken by wind storms. The foliage is not as dense as it once was. Like all maple trees the wood is soft and if the right kind of insect gains entry it will be curtains. I remember planting the tree with our daughter in the 1990s, shortly after moving to Big Grove Township.

We had no idea how the changing colors of autumn would make us feel. If we knew, we would have planted another.

The coronavirus pandemic rages in Iowa and in the United States. Republican politicians in charge are downplaying the seriousness of the virus so as not to have to address it before the election. Only a cynical, craven person could do so. The same kind of person who sent meat packers back to work without adequate protections after outbreaks were revealed.

The end of the year holidays are upon us with Halloween a week away. I wrote a post for our neighborhood Facebook page:

“My personal two cents: Just finished reading the complicated Iowa City rules for trick or treating during the coronavirus pandemic. To me, it’s simple. If parents want to take their children out in the neighborhood they should be free to do so. At the same time if members don’t want to participate, they should leave their front lights off and not answer the door. There should be no “tricks” or unpleasantness for anyone during the pandemic. As President Trump said in Florida last night, ‘you should do all the things’ to prevent spread of the disease. We know what those ‘things’ are: wear a mask, practice hygiene, use sanitizer, and clean up upon returning home. It’s important to create a positive environment for children during a fun holiday that marks the beginning of the end of year holiday season. I hope we are closer to normal by Halloween 2021.”

It really is autumn in Iowa.


October Rain

Pelicans on the lake.

There have been Iowa rainstorms in late October for as long as I can remember. Rain is usually followed by a period of warming during which we can get the yard ready for winter. There is comfort in the repeated patterns of nature.

Rain recharges the Silurian Aquifer where we draw our water. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources recently renewed our permit to draw water for another ten years. We don’t worry about draining this aquifer because of its proximity to the surface and ability to recharge. Our temperate climate makes it more sustainable. Even during the most severe droughts, like in 2012, water supply is adequate, and rarely questioned.

Let it rain.

At the beginning of the pandemic I asked a local used bookstore to pick $100 worth of books of poetry for me with the main criteria being I didn’t already own a copy. I’m still reading from that stack and just finished Honest Effort by Michael Carey. In 1991, when the book was published, Carey was an Iowan transplanted from the East Coast who farmed his spouse’s family farm, writing poetry about his life. His Facebook page shows the farming thing, and his marriage, didn’t work out.

It’s clean verse, and by that I mean he brings very few objects of contemporary culture into the poetry. That creates a timeless quality and allows his unique voice to be heard. For a couple of hours he held me in his world. Highly recommended if you can find a copy. My recent reading list is here if readers are curious.

After my morning writing session the day is a blank slate. It’s Friday, one of the few days distinguishable from others because it’s the trash and recycling day. We also plan a pizza dinner on Friday. It’s raining so it will be an indoors day enlivened by the imagination, I hope. Thanks for reading.


Preparing for Winter

Enterprise apples.

It’s time to prepare for winter.

A repair person is scheduled to inspect and clean our furnace next week. I got a navy blue wool blanket out of storage and put it between the sheet and comforter on the bed. On the doorway to my writing table I put an old pink, white and green bedspread, printed with ballerinas in pointe shoes, to hold warmth created by a space heater. Winter is about keeping warm in Big Grove Township.

It’s not winter yet. I hope for a few more days of bicycling on the trails, a few more jogs on my 2.5 mile course, before being relegated to indoors exercise. Winds calmed this morning so maybe another trip to Ely. We’ll see.

The Nov. 3 election and the coronavirus pandemic are always in the background. One of those dissipates in 15 days. The pandemic, however, will be with us for a while. Experts say throughout 2021.

I’m ready to write this winter. With the garden idle, government in transition, and a pandemic all around us, there is no better time to hunker down behind my ballerina-covered shield against the cold and figure out where I came from, what I’ve done, and importantly, what work remains.

I’ll be warm, if not as safe as I’d like.


Pedaling Against the Wind

Storage apples drying on the counter.

A steady, westerly wind blew the last few days making the daily bicycle trip more challenging. I wore a hat under my helmet, a pair of gloves, and a sweatshirt to hold against the chill.

It has been good riding on the trails near our home since I changed the front tire and tube on Monday. I’m finding a 40-year old bicycle needs constant repairs and enjoy diagnosing problems and resolving them.

I have been thinking about participating in an event-style ride next summer, although I need to train for it if I do. Maybe a century ride, or a day of RAGBRAI if they resume operations. For now my attention turns toward winter. The change of seasons is in the air.

The orchard has the last apples of the season available this week. I picked Gold Rush from trees and got Jonathan and Enterprise in the display cooler. Gold Rush and Jonathan are for storage and the Enterprise will be converted to apple crisp or apple sauce during the next couple of days. It is hard to believe the season is already at its end. I am happy to have the nearby orchard to fill gaps in our home apple growing culture.

With cooler weather I turn from finishing the work in the yard and garden to creative work indoors. I filled in a couple of blanks on my autobiography outline yesterday. I hesitated to re-start the project during gardening season because I didn’t feel ready. With the combination of the coronavirus pandemic, a forced retirement, and winter’s approach I feel more ready than in a long time.

Politics took a holiday yesterday. There were at least four televised events yet I viewed none of them. On my to-do list is to obtain a digital television and set it up. The analog ones don’t really work. I am loathe to turn them on. Because I voted already my interest in details of candidate positions is waning.

It will be different if Joe Biden wins the presidential election. Having someone who uses reason, logic and careful deliberation for process will be refreshing yet something to which we haven’t been accustomed the last four years. The coalition of supporters Biden brought together is broad and deep. There will be Republican resistance to a Biden administration, yet any more, that’s to be expected and most people realize it. The moderator of Biden’s televised town hall meeting asked him what he would do if he loses the Nov. 3 election. Biden’s response, “I won’t lose.”

There will be wind but no rain according to this morning’s forecast: a fine day for pedaling against the wind. Such resistance is important to human progress. It makes us stronger and builds stamina. Both are qualities needed for the road ahead.

Environment Writing

Lilacs Bloom in October

Lilac blooming on Oct. 6, 2020.

2020 has been stressful for trees and shrubs. Our lilac bushes are in bloom. It’s October.

I remember when autumn colors took my breath away. Stunning reds, yellows, greens and browns spread out across the other side of the lake.

It wasn’t breath-taking this year as I jogged along the state park trail.

The trees seemed sparse. More than last year. The yellow, brown and green colors were subdued or muted, as if the forest had one hella year like the rest of us. This side of the lake, tree damage from the derecho is everywhere. As winter approaches uncertainty abounds.

One hopes for catharsis on Nov. 3 yet I don’t know. Ticket sales from Broadway performances in New York have been suspended until May 2021. It seems like forever until then.

Kitchen Garden

Time to Plant Garlic

Burn pile, Sept. 19, 2020.

The sound of Spanish-speaking roofers found me tending a burn pile of limbs pruned from apple trees. It seems like the neighbors just built their house: it’s too soon for a replacement roof. The quality of craftsmanship isn’t what it used to be, I suppose. Maybe it was damaged during the Aug. 10 derecho. Roofers made a one-day job of the expansive surface overlooking the neighborhood and the lake beyond.

Embers remained by the time I went to bed. I raked them over large pieces of wood so they would have a chance for overnight consumption. It isn’t the last burn pile of the year although a necessary step toward disassembling the tomato patch. That’s where garlic seeds will go.

It is time to plant garlic.

This year’s crop was excellent. Healthy plants produced large cloves that are storing well. I’d like to repeat that. Part of me wants to be done with the garden yet until the first hard frost it will keep producing on the margins without much effort. This year’s kale may grow into November.

I picked the tomato patch for garlic because most of it has been covered with landscaping fabric and mulch all season. It will be easy to dig up and rototill. The lawn needs mowing and I’m saving that to use the clippings to mulch the garlic. If needed I will purchase straw bales to finish. Planting garlic is a two-day process here. Preparing the plot one day followed by planting and mulching the next. Once it’s done it doesn’t seem like much work for the reward next July.

Yesterday I delivered my completed ballot to the county auditor. With early voting comes a rush to election day. I scheduled a number of volunteer activities to help get out the vote, beginning with a rally in the metropolis with our congressional candidate tomorrow afternoon. The outcome of the election in Iowa is uncertain. Much work remains even if our federal candidates are holding their own in polling in this red turning purple state. It’s not over and we can’t relax now just because we cast our ballot.

I don’t know the future of our country yet I hope for the best. We’re doing the best we can to right the ship of state and set course for a better horizon. As society is increasingly and globally connected, new horizons resemble the previous one. Our work remains the same.

For now our climate in Iowa can still produce a decent crop of garlic and that’s where my attention is the next few days. In the background is the dull grind of the election. We’ll know the results soon.