Categories
Living in Society

Remaining Strong

Pizza Toppings

With the surge in positive COVID-19 tests, hospitalizations, and ICU patients we plan to reduce trips outside our home and immediate area even more than we did beginning last spring.

Our last provisioning trip was Nov. 11, and it should hold us for at least until Thanksgiving, maybe longer. There is a doctor’s appointment in the real world and everything else will be done via video or voice conference.

We’re learning to live with the coronavirus pandemic which is expected to be with us until at least 2022. It’s hard to say what life will look like on the other side.

Weekend weather sucked. It rained all day on Saturday and high winds blew Sunday. Except for taking kitchen compost to the bin and retrieving mail, neither of us left the house. Even with ambient temperatures in the 40s, it feels like winter is coming.

When we emerge from isolation there will be much to do in society. Everyone will be out there with different agendas. With the challenges of life in the pandemic we must remain strong so we can compete. It will be a competition. In many ways it already is.

Categories
Living in Society

Road Work

Street sign fixture.

Vandals tore down the street signs on the corner and ran off with them. I took ownership of the replacement process. If I can get the screw in the bottom left of this photo to loosen, finishing the job will take about ten minutes.

It won’t come out.

I ruined one driver by applying more torque than it was designed to take. I tried placing the driver on the screw head and tapping it with a six-pound sledge. I sprayed lubricant on the top and bottom and let it sit overnight. That screw is stubborn to give it an anthropomorphic quality. Someone suggested applying heat so I tried holding it over a candle. Still stuck. Not sure what’s next.

The weather was beautiful for working in the garage. Cool temperatures, partly cloudy, and little wind. I rode my bicycle on the trail. It was the kind of fall day for which we yearn. A couple more of them would provide time to prepare the yard for winter.

As soon as I’m finished with this road work.

Categories
Living in Society

Isolated

2021 Garlic Patch.

Even with advances in electronic communication, those of us who take the coronavirus pandemic seriously have become increasingly isolated. Not everyone takes their chances of contracting COVID-19 seriously, which complicates things.

In Iowa, the governor’s approach to containing the virus has been mostly voluntary. The results speak for themselves. Last week the Iowa Department of Public Health released a White House coronavirus task force report. The Des Moines Register reported:

“Iowa continues to see more than twice as many coronavirus infections as the national average,” White House officials warned. “Community transmission has remained high across the state for the past month, with many preventable deaths.”

Since Governor Kim Reynolds’ March 9 Disaster Proclamation, more than 100,000 cases of COVID-19 have been identified (three percent of the population), and 1,471 people died from the disease. Mitigation of the coronavirus is not going well in Iowa.

Yesterday, while visiting the county seat to get bicycle parts, about nine in ten people wore a face mask on the streets, a marked improvement reflecting the seriousness of the pandemic. More generally, Iowa is not reporting similar face mask usage.

A retired physician sent some 3M-brand N95 masks. Their spouse, who is a practicing physician, couldn’t get an adequate supply at work so they purchased them in bulk. It’s a sad state of affairs when front-line medical workers, who deal with coronavirus infected patients daily, can’t get an adequate supply of personal protective equipment seven months into the pandemic.

Many of us are not afraid of the virus. We’re following the recommendations of experts, which is to stay at home as much as possible and wear a mask while practicing good hygiene in public. The stay at home part sucks.

It’s not that there isn’t work to do at home. I haven’t been to a restaurant since March, all social events were called off or restructured to maintain social distancing, and emails, phone calls and text messages have increased dramatically. Meetings are conducted on line using Zoom or Google Meet, or via conference call. It’s not the same as meeting in person, shaking hands, interacting with other humans. If the logistics of meetings are much improved, the personal nature of them is diminished. There is no end of the pandemic in sight.

In the spring my work at the farm was isolated from the rest of the crew because I was the only worker living off the farm. Moving most workers on-site was their reaction to staying COVID-19 free. The plan is working. I gave up my part-time retail job at the home, farm and auto supply store in April, and didn’t go back to the orchard in August. Retirement was forced upon me by the pandemic. My new potential cohort of retired seniors is not getting together as they once had. I wasn’t ready to give up the human interaction of the workplace, yet did in response to the risks of continuing.

I spend some time with neighbors who joke about wearing their Trump campaign face masks. They know I’m supporting Joe Biden and I’m used to the friendly political interaction. We don’t discuss politics that much. When one family’s child brought COVID-19 home from school, a pall fell on the neighborhood.

With winter approaching, 2021 looks to be isolating. I planted garlic last week and went to the metropolis to get straw bales for winter cover. Like the garlic cloves just planted, we are alive and and ready to spring to life when conditions are right. For the time being, we are isolated.

Categories
Living in Society

Feeling A Cage

Peppers gleaned from the garden.

While riding my bicycle around the trail system I press against the edge of a boundary. It is mental, not physical.

I feel trapped in a cage, ready to break out.

June 18 was the first bicycle trip. I don’t remember where I went. The scale told me this morning I dropped two pounds since then. The purpose of increasing daily exercise wasn’t weight loss though. It was a way to deal with my diabetes diagnosis.

Since seeing my health practitioner in June I developed five types of exercise to get my heart going, produce a sweat, and support whatever magical physiological workings reduce blood sugar. I missed only three days of 25 minutes or more of exercise that included bicycling, jogging, using a ski machine, walking, and sustained gardening and yard work that produced a sweat. Combined with watching my carbs, eating fewer big meals, taking Vitamin B-12, an 81 milligram aspirin, and a cholesterol drug, my numbers came down to a more normal range. If I went to a physician today I wouldn’t be diagnosed with diabetes.

I’m ready for what’s next.

Part of me wants to ride and ride the bicycle. Mostly I run one of four five-mile routes and once or twice a week ride 10-14 miles. I have no interest in riding across Iowa with the tens of thousands who do so most years but I’m pressing the limit. I want more.

Desire is balanced by caution because of my age and the age of my 40-year old bicycle. Bicycles are always needing repair, adjustment, and maintenance so I’ve learned new skills and identified a bicycle repair shop. Even though I don’t work outside home there is a lot to do and I can’t afford a two or three-hour daily trip just because I’m restless. My lower body is strengthening and my jeans fit better. For the time being that may have to be enough.

During the days before the Nov. 3 U.S. general election the limits of my range are more profound, the cage more tactile. A lot depends on the election outcome. If Trump and Republicans do well, there is one course. If Biden and Democrats win there is another. I expect the results to be mixed in Iowa. There is a broad Republican base where Democrats win majorities only when everything aligns. Recent polling showed Biden leading Trump by 14 points in national popular vote polling. Hillary Clinton led Trump by 14 points in the same polling exactly four years ago. Political work remains this cycle.

With cooler weather approaching I’m not sure how much more outdoors exercise I can accomplish before winter. I have a good start on the ski machine and expect that to be my daily regimen until it warms again. Between the plan and reality comes a shadow.

For now, I’ll continue what I’ve been doing. At the same time this bird wants its freedom and to break loose from restrictions of a cage where we’ve been living too long. Not today, but soon.

Categories
Living in Society

Rain Continues

Derecho Woodpile

From drought to rain the last week has been unrelenting.

The garden continues to produce and grass is growing again creating another task once the landscape dries.

Doesn’t look like drying will happen today.

I am helping the local political party distribute campaign yard signs. There are few parts of the county north of the interstate highway I don’t recognize. I’ve gotten requests from voters on some new streets yet when I look for them the same roads and streets are in memory to find them. I remember a lot of door knocking from past political campaigns.

I stopped to refuel my 1997 Subaru Outback. At the convenience store no one was wearing a mask. Not a single person. I couldn’t see through the window whether the cashiers were, although I hope so. Keeping my distance at the fuel pump I sanitized my hands once back in the driver’s seat. Risk avoidance is a key part of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. I resisted the temptation to go inside and buy a Powerball ticket.

It’s just as well it’s wet outside. I have an indoors project with a deadline and it’s easier to avoid distraction when it’s raining. I’m about to make my second French press of coffee for the day. It may not be the last. I’m digging into the history of our community. There’s a lot of food for thought and memory. It should keep me busy all day.

Categories
Living in Society

Is Rural Iowa Different?

Saint John Lutheran Church, Ely, Iowa.

A lot is being made about the differences between voters who live in rural parts of the state compared to those who live in our cities and urban areas.

It’s a false distinction. The same social, economic and political forces are at work no matter where one lives. None of it favors regular people like us.

Why does everything cost more? Why do we have to drive so far for health care? Why is our broadband inconsistent at best if we have it? Why can’t farmers sell milk for at least the cost of production? Why are there patents on seeds? Why does new farm equipment cost so much? Many questions, few answers.

Why do more than half of working people in predominantly rural counties work in another county? The answer to this is easy. Farming does not pay unless one is a big corporation. Someone in most farm families has to work outside the farm to make ends meet and such jobs are mostly urban.

When people say of politicians, “We need someone who understands the rural areas,” it is true. It is also code for something: hard work, poverty, a lack of economic justice, and a type of Christian religious faith. For the most part it is about being a Caucasian farmer.

Of recent writers, Sarah Smarsh came closest to capturing what being rural means in her book Heartland: Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth. The book resonated so closely with how I grew up yet I lived in Iowa’s third largest city. There are differences between the urban county where I grew up and the rural county I know best (Cedar County). Those differences are not significant. Try telling that to someone who lives in a rural area and you’ll find self-righteousness and resentment.

I won’t resolve this false dichotomy. Just as Jack Kerouac’s more conventional first book, The Town and the City gave way to the “spontaneous prose” of On the Road, it is difficult to focus on it for long when so much more about society is engaging.

Suffice it the assertion of ruralness isn’t about being rural. It’s about having dignity, justice and equal treatment under the law. It’s about a return for the hard labor so many farmers invest as part of their lives. At some point labor should be rewarded for its sacrifices instead of return on equity going to the richest people and corporations like Monsanto, Cargill, John Deere, DuPont and Archer Daniels Midland.

Iowa’s well-developed road system is partly to blame for the rural-urban divide. Because of inexpensive gasoline it is easy to drive to a metropolis when shopping for food, building products, household goods and clothing. When there are no rural jobs, a commute of less than an hour might produce income far above what farm earnings can be. Americans, rural or urban, are at a distance from producing their own food, shelter and clothing. Let’s face it. Who wants to live like Old Order Amish? I’ve met enough young people trying to escape that life to say not many. Yet we still see horse drawn carriages using Iowa’s rural road systems.

Use of the rural trope drives me a bit crazy. Not crazy enough to call the suicide hotline, yet enough to be a catalyst. The thing about catalysts is they can get us to where we should be going faster, the way iron is a catalyst for making ammonia. If people who live in rural areas want to get ahead, they need to steel themselves against language that would divide them from the rest of us. That includes their own language. We are stronger together and fabricating a rural-urban divide is counterproductive. That is, if we want society to advance toward something positive.

~ A version of this post appeared in the Sept. 13, 2020 edition of the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Categories
Sustainability

Locust Tree

Locust tree trunk.

Punk day? We go on living.

Wednesday started well enough with cool temperatures and a 13-mile bicycle ride. Then I tried to clear the remainder of the locust tree laying across the garden.

The Poulan chain saw started but when I hit the accelerator it died. That was the trouble last time I had it out. I put it on the front steps, got out my Wagner electric chainsaw, and proceeded to make about a dozen cuts. The Wagner has been a great tool, although toward the end of this session it developed a problem I couldn’t resolve. I called the small engine repair shop across the lakes.

They said the electric chain saw repair would likely cost more than the tool was worth. They did work on Poulan chain saws and had space in the work queue to get mine in. With the derecho cleanup, businesses like theirs have been busy. I packed my 1997 Subaru and headed across the lakes. Overnight they adjusted the carburetor, sharpened the chain, and I was good to go. I proceeded to clear the garden of the locust tree.

I’ve been taking my time with the rest of the derecho clean up. I got the fallen branches and my destroyed greenhouse out of the neighbors’ yard the day the derecho hit but have been in no hurry to process the debris. The metal sink I kept in the garden was crushed when the locust tree fell on it. Good sections of fencing and posts were ruined. One of the three oak trees I planted in the garden is leaning due to the derecho wind and weight of the locust tree falling against it.

Some of the vegetables survived although all of the tomato and tomatillo cages were crushed and twisted. Much of my row of peppers was smashed. I’ll get outside to work on it again today and harvest what I can from the wreckage.

We need rain yet none is forecast. As summer ends the pace is picking up. As if it weren’t already at a stunning clip.

Categories
Home Life Writing

Quarantined

Daylilies

Parts of the quarantine are tolerable.

Children running among my garden plots with inexpensive butterfly nets. From the house I can see only butterflies and nets bobbing to and fro above garden greenery.

Sometimes they leave their toys in the garden. I walk them across the property line to the scrub woods where they make a camp during cooler weather.

Life at home is tolerable.

Once I get too far out of a limited social circle it’s less so. My furthest reach was to the farm where I worked mostly in isolation to prevent the five quarantined farmers from getting sick. Other than that, grocery shopping, fuel, and a couple of trips to the orchard are the extent of my travels since March. I don’t feel comfortable doing any of it but feel I have to get out of the house and experience the reality of the pandemic.

Rain was forecast all day Wednesday although the forecast was worse than the actuality. After morning showers it hardly rained, enough so patches of the ground remain wet the next morning. The furthest I went from the house was to the garden and the mailbox, both within 80 feet. I encountered no other human during these trips.

COVID-19 reached the staff and residents of the elderly care center this week. To my knowledge it’s the first any area people contracted the coronavirus. The care center has been on lock down since the pandemic began so this is a new development.Someone must have brought it in.

On the positive side, I’ve written an outline of recurring tasks to give my days structure. The biggest gap is determining what projects I should be working on. There are projects needing attention, for sure, and little will to take them up.

For now I’ll settle for the sound and constant bobbing of young children in our yard. And waiting for something, what exactly it is will be revealed. At least that’s the hope.

Categories
Home Life Writing

4.875 Miles

Puch Cavalier 10-speed.

It’s been 12 days of riding my Puch Cavalier 10-speed bicycle.

I’ve had it since 1980, one of the last built in Austria. When we married, my wife had a women’s Puch 10-speed in the same color. When not being used they hang together in the garage.

Taking up bicycling again is a treatment for diabetes. My medical practitioner explained the health benefits of exercise in a way his predecessors at the clinic did not. Now I’m regularly riding 4.875 miles daily, weather permitting.

Why 4.875 miles? At first I just went out and rode. We live near the midpoint of a five-mile trail in the state park. I took turns riding from our home to either end and back. I figured it was a five-mile ride. Then I got an SY Bicycle Speedometer and Odometer. Once it was installed and adjusted I gained precision. Each day since then the odometer had the same reading, 4.875 miles.

Work was completed on another trail that leads from here to Waterloo in one direction, and to West Branch, Iowa City and Coralville in the other. A fellow gets tired of riding the same route every day so I’ve been exploring.

My current ride takes me from the garage down to the state park trail, then west until a road leading to the highway intersects. I pedal up that long, gentle incline to the highway and turn east. I ride along the highway until it intersects with the new trail at the roundabout. Then I follow the trail until it returns to the state park trail and turn west back to my entry point and home. The long initial incline gives me a workout, as does the long descent during which I see how fast I can go. My average speed is 10 miles per hour and the fastest just at 22. It takes about 27 minutes to make the route.

Hopefully the exercise will help my A1C, which measures what percent of my hemoglobin is glycosylated. The goal is to reduce it to less than 5.7 percent by the time I go back for a follow up in September.

A younger version of me wouldn’t be satisfied with 4.875 miles. I’ll get tired of the same route after a while, once it becomes too easy. The next goal will be to ride over to Ely on the new trail. For now my heart beats faster and I work up a sustained sweat. Doing that daily for an extended period of time is goal enough for now.

Categories
Environment Writing

Mink on the Trail

American Mink.

On Thursday I saw an animal eating fallen mulberries on the trail. The state park has an abundance of wildlife — every Iowa species is believed to live here. I didn’t recognize it and posted this photo on Twitter.

An abundance of responses identified it as a mink. I looked it up and it resembled a mink pictured on the internet. Most likely it is an American mink with more of them around the lake shore. Mostly minks are carnivores so the mulberry-eating was unexpected. Harrowing tales of chicken murdering ensued as the post got many engagements.

Every day we find something new is positive. When our curiosity wanes or we feel we’ve seen it all… that’s not good.

The newspaper reported another local theater troupe cancelled the rest of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Old Creamery Theatre sent termination letters to ten staff members Thursday night. The creative arts are really taking a hit during the pandemic. In addition to Old Creamery, Riverside Theatre had to give up its performing space, and bigger companies like Cirque du Soleil filed for bankruptcy. Live theater and concerts have been shut down with only a few productions testing a re-opening in the COVID-19 time.

Major theme parks like Walt Disney, where our daughter works, continue to furlough employees. As they begin to open up, the question is whether employees will be recalled, if the furloughs will continue, or will the endgame be being laid off. Live entertainment may never be the same if the coronavirus isn’t mitigated. As we know, that’s not going well in Iowa or in the United States.

I worry about independently-owned bookstores. There used to be many places to buy used books. Over the last couple of decades they consolidated, went on line, or went out of business. The selection has gotten worse. The main used bookstore in the county seat is Haunted Bookshop and I’m trying to support them as they continue to operate curbside pickup.

At first I bought a gift certificate to hold until they reopen. When it became clear re-opening was not in the near-term, I devised a poetry buying scheme. On Wednesday I wrote note saying, “Choose and mail me a book of poetry that I don’t already have once a month. Surprise me.”

I had criteria:

  • Short works by living poets. Short = around 100 pages or less. Up to 200 pages okay. About the length to read in a couple of sittings.
  • Less interested in comprehensive collections. For example, Crow by Ted Hughes but not Collected Poems of Ted Hughes.
  • I recently read and enjoyed Mary Oliver, Amy Woolard, Lucia Perillo and W.S. Merwin.
  • I’m looking to expand my reading and open to about anything. No Atticus or Rod McKuen.
  • Iowa connection would be a bonus, but not necessary.
  • Run the title by me before shipping so I can check to make sure I don’t have it.
  • These are not strict rules but guidelines. (Except for the part about Atticus and Rod McKuen).

Last night I received a favorable response. We are going to try the arrangement out. I’d rather make a monthly trip to browse the store. Until they are ready, this will have to do. Hopefully I will discover new poets in the process and they will have another small source of revenue.

I watered the garden shortly after sunrise. Our yard is the only one in the neighborhood where clover is allowed to grow. I do this so rabbits have something to eat besides burrowing under the fencing into the garden, and to attract bees and other pollinators. Last time I mowed, I set the deck high enough so all of the flowers wouldn’t be cut. It’s time to mow again and that’s my plan for the weekend.