Farming Garden

False Spring

Pulling plastic at Wild Woods Farm, Feb. 23, 2020.

Sunday a group of us gathered at Wild Woods Farm to pull plastic over the new greenhouse.

Pulling plastic takes a couple of experienced team leaders and a crew that can follow directions. The idea is to make the plastic covering as taught as possible then secure it with wiggle wire for years of use. The work proceeded as planned on a warm, clear and calm day.

It’s pruning time for grape vines, fruit trees, and any kind of tree. This weekend people were pruning in t-shirts because it was so warm. The concern is sap begins to flow before the cuts heal, creating an entry point for disease. Fingers crossed I got mine pruned in time. Folks are preparing to tap maple tree sap for syrup so we are at the in between time for finishing pruning.

My onions and shallots have sprouted and I moved them to the landing to get more light. They seem feeble at this stage. I’m not sure what else I can do but make sure they have moisture and light. This is the second year I tried starting them myself. The first didn’t produce usable onion sets. This year’s experiment is for the crew at Sundog Farm to start some of my shallot seeds as well to compare results. Eventually I’ll get this right, hopefully this year.

While garden and yard work beckons it is still winter. Piles of snow remain on the ground. Snow is forecast this week. There is hope for spring, but it is a false hope. It’s best to use the time to catch up on indoors work so when true spring arrives we are ready.


100 Years of Iowa Parks

Jerry Reisinger at the Solon United Methodist Church, Feb. 7, 2020

Dedicated in 1920 as Iowa’s first state park, Backbone State Park, is one of the most geographically unique locations in Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The steep and narrow ridge of bedrock from the Maquoketa River forms the highest point in northeast Iowa — The Devil’s Backbone — giving the park its legendary name.

The park originally had three words in its name: Devil’s Back Bone, according to Jerry Reisinger who gave a presentation about the state parks on Feb. 7 at the United Methodist Church. That was a bit spooky so the “devil” part was dropped.

The centennial celebration is replete with organized fishing tourneys, bicycle touring, jogging, hiking, boating, bird watching and other events. While it’s a bit old school, taking a picnic luncheon to enjoy with family at a state park is a popular activity.

There is a traveling art exhibition called 20 artists 20 parks organized by DNR, the Iowa Arts Council and Iowa State University.

To mark the 100th anniversary of Backbone State Park’s dedication, a three-day festival is planned May 28-30 with all events open to the public.

Expansion of the state park system seems unlikely as farmers seek to increase acreage for crop production. The state parks made it to the centennial and that seems worth celebrating.


October Days

Sunrise over the garden, Oct. 10, 2019.

The forecast calls for 32 degrees tonight so tomatoes and peppers need gleaning from the garden.

There aren’t many left, maybe enough to make the effort useful. While at it, I’ll pick apples I can reach as well.

It is the end days for this year’s garden.

My farmer friends have already been through their fields. They remind me the garden season is not over as kale and other greens, root vegetables, and some squash will continue to grow. They have high tunnels which extend the season. I’m in the fall share with one of them and look forward to seeing what we will receive on Monday.

Last night I made a burger that violated Anthony Bourdain’s instructions on keeping it simple. Using a veggie burger, I thawed a frozen bun leftover from a potluck in the microwave. Buttering it, I placed it butter-side down on the frying pan with the burger patty. When it toasted, I removed it from the heat and piled on mustard, ketchup, a tomato slice, lettuce and onions. It stood three inches tall when fully assembled and hit all the flavor notes. It was a positive, day-ending meal.

Political interests turn toward the school board. One incumbent and five other candidates are running for two seats in the Nov. 5 election. I don’t know any of them very well and plan to attend a forum hosted by the Solon Education Association and the Solon Parent Teacher Organization on Oct. 22. Being on the school board is a thankless, unpaid job that requires a lot of engagement. People are upset with the way the board implemented recent changes to collective bargaining law. It is important to make an informed decision.

On Our Own has become something of a public journal, especially since Mother died on Aug. 15. I’m not sure of the future direction, but for now it serves. There is a lot to engage us in a busy society. Some of that needs consideration for further understanding.

Review Social Commentary Writing

Parade and Fragments

Sprayer in the Solon Beef Days Parade

A summer parade in Iowa is a chance to showcase lives for the entire community.

Farmers, restaurateurs, insurance agents, bankers, retailers, construction companies, government organizations and more cleanup their equipment and parade it through town handing out treats and small gifts along the route.

People line the street to watch, sitting on lawn chairs, standing under shade trees and chatting with friends on the sidewalk. It’s mostly for children yet adults get involved as well. Anyone can stand almost anything that marches by in the span of a couple of minutes.

Solon Beef Days Parade Watchers


In 2013 our situation got dire. I had run out of money and held no job that paid enough. Not wanting to return to transportation, I took one low wage job after another to earn enough to get by. Most of the work involved standing on concrete floors, which precipitated a case of plantar fasciitis. Not only did my feet hurt, on a physician’s advice I gave up jogging after 37 years because of it. While the condition is resolved, it persisted until I left full-time work in 2018.

Expenses got delayed during this period, as did preventive health care. It wasn’t clear how tight money had been until I began taking Social Security benefits which brought relief.


An Early Thanksgiving

The story begins with the proximity of relatives. Our maternal grandmother and grandfather made visits to our home. I never knew my paternal grandparents except in stories and photographs. As much as anything, my grandparent story is about my relationship with Grandmother from my earliest memories until she died Feb. 7, 1991.

We were lucky to have her with us for so long.

Grandmother had five children and 15 grandchildren. She spent more time with our family because of our proximity. She lived with us off and on during my early years, but eventually maintained her own apartment. In later life she lived at the Lend-A-Hand, a residence for women at the time, then moved to the Mississippi Hotel where she lived the last years of her life in an apartment until moving to the Kahl Home for a brief period. Grandmother had many sisters and a brother. We had a lot of relatives, or so it seemed.


I read The Overstory by Richard Powers. It engaged in a way most fiction fails to do. The author must have spent an enormous amount of time researching trees, forests, and the culture around them. He wove them into a spellbinding narrative. I could go on gushing about the book, but just pick it up and read it. If you do, and are interested in the environment, I doubt there will be any regrets.

Politics Social Commentary Writing

Independence Day 2019

Flags at Oakland Cemetery -2012

Happy Independence Day… reluctantly.

I’ve not been a fan of the Independence Day holiday since military service. It’s not that I paid much attention to it previously. As a military officer I had time to reflect on the meaning of independence while stationed far from home among strangers.

People celebrate the Declaration of Independence and its grievances against the King of England. I don’t mind. While I’m as glad as anyone Elizabeth is not our queen, and Prince Charles will never be our king, Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas was an affront to human society. 284 years later the damage had been done and the founders were formalizing a relationship with the King as the hegemony of natives had been diminished by disease and warfare.

Few things point out the advancement of pre-Columbian society, and what was lost, as much as the recent book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.

The premise of Mann’s book is there were societies in the Americas that were as sophisticated as any on the globe. They endured for multiple millennia, coming and going over time before Columbus arrived, cultures unknown to Europeans. The Declaration of Independence was an insider deal among participants who had no standing to occupy and exploit the Americas. Yet they did.

It was not unusual for Americans to side with natives at the time of independence, especially when compared to living under English rule. I side with Frederick Douglass who said,

Your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.

If I celebrate anything this day it is the renewed opportunity to get along with neighbors and friends, something I believe is critical to healing our broken Democracy. While we may not agree about the meaning of Independence Day, it is better to find common ground every way we can. We’ll need that in the Anthropocene Age.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa


Marianne Williamson Close to Home

Marianne Williamson addressing a gathering at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 10, 2019.

About 11:15 a.m. I left the garden and drove Ely Blacktop to 76th Street and headed West to Cedar Hall on the main campus of Kirkwood Community College where presidential candidate Marianne Williamson joined State Senator Rob Hogg in a “climate conversation.”

Since I would be returning to the garden after the event, I wore my overalls and mud-caked gardening shoes.

I joined a number of students and staff, along with local members of environmental groups in a large operating theater-style classroom. By the time we got started more than 40 people had joined us.

I attended partly because the venue was close to home, partly to support Senator Hogg’s efforts to engage presidential candidates about climate change, and partly to see if Williamson’s campaign is, as some have called it, a “joke.”

Marianne Williamson taking questions at Kirkwood Community College, June 10, 2019.

Williamson’s campaign is not a joke. Why anyone would criticize a woman who is successful in her own right, by objective standards such as having written four number one New York Times best selling books, had me curious. She made it to the first two Democratic National Committee presidential debates, although just barely achieving one percent support in three separate national polls to qualify. She’s dead serious about her platform and as confident as any of the other 23 presidential candidates. With great optimism she said, “If you’re going to run for president, you might just win.”

The main news out of the event was Williamson did not support a separate DNC debate on the topic of climate change. The reason, she said, was “because there is no competing with Jay Inslee.” Williamson also said the topic cannot be separated from the broader problems in the United States. She made a point. Advocates for addressing the deleterious effects of the climate crisis cannot separate this one issue into a silo separate from other important matters like health care, education and national defense and expect to resolve them.

State Senator Rob Hogg explaining why the Iowa caucuses are first in the nation. “We do it right,” he said.

Williamson made a strong case for slowing our relationship with Saudi Arabia. She said as president she would immediately stop arms sales to the kingdom and end United States support for the war in Yemen, a conflict she said was immoral.

She also weighed in on nuclear disarmament, asking why we need 100 aircraft capable of delivering nuclear bombs when dropping ten of them could end life as we know it? It was refreshing to hear a candidate raise the issue without prompting.

Dave Bradley at Blog for Iowa wrote Williamson was positioned in the third tier of candidates, among those “who truly have little chance and are often running to push some ideas or philosophy.”

Marianne Williamson has been finding her way all her adult life. Win or lose, the time spent with her this afternoon was memorable for her determination to assert her solutions her way. As Hogg referred to her speech in Cedar Rapids yesterday, it is the “politics of love” and quite different from the offerings of other candidates.

Neighborhood Network News recorded this event. The YouTube video can be viewed here.

To learn more about Marianne Williamson follow this link to her website.


Earth Day – 2019

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

A thin haze dimmed reflected light from the moon. Thin enough to allow dots of starlight to penetrate the atmosphere and with moonlight illuminate the neighborhood.

The haze was just enough to know it was there.

I moved trays of kale, broccoli and parsley seedlings from the garage to a pallet near the driveway in the hazed light of a waxing gibbous moon.

Today is the 50th Earth Day.

Earth Day is less about a view of night’s starry presence than it is about seeing Earth as a whole. Few times in our history has a photo of Earth made such a difference in so many lives as Earthrise taken by astronaut Bill Anders. It sparked the movement that brought us Earth Day which continues to this day.

We humans have not been the best stewards of Earth since April 22, 1970.

Early Years

Vague notions of ascendancy were taught by our grade school teachers. In the seventh grade I was segregated from neighborhood friends to join a college-bound group of peers in a special classroom. I entered the National Honor Society in high school and when I graduated in 1970 had no clue what I wanted to be. I knew I was college bound, not because I wanted that, but because the nuns said I should be. That I finished college at all was miraculous. I felt a sense of relief as President Nixon appeared to heed a shared need to do something about the environment. When he created the Clean Air Act (1970), and then the Clean Water Act (1972) I felt Earth Day had done its job.

Military Service

When I left Iowa in 1976 for basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. I had little idea of what being a military officer meant. I knew the Vietnam War was over and I wanted to serve as my father had. The context was a paternal grandfather went to prison for draft evasion during World War II. Given a choice, I would serve. Among other things, military service taught me the environmental cost of war.

The environment has long been a silent casualty of war and armed conflict. From the contamination of land and the destruction of forests to the plunder of natural resources and the collapse of management systems, the environmental consequences of war are often widespread and devastating. ~ Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general

Oil consumption and related carbon emissions are significant contributing factors to degradation of our atmosphere. The use of depleted uranium in military ordnance, notably during the 1991 Gulf War, created a complex array of environmental problems including introduction of carcinogens into the environment. We destroyed Iraqi infrastructure, including water and sewer systems, and contaminated surrounding ecosystems. The use of defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam created sickness among soldiers and decimated biodiversity in the country’s tropical rain forests. We should include potential use of nuclear weapons which studies have shown, in a limited nuclear war, could create a nuclear winter making 2 billion people food insecure.

Awareness of the military’s environmental problems is a lesson learned.


I worked 25 years in the transportation business, including an 18-month stint with Amoco Oil Company in Chicago. What goes almost unnoticed as part of background noise in modern society is the amount of fossil fuels burned by trucking, railroad and ocean-going transport vehicles. When I was maintenance director for a large trucking firm, I spent $25 million per year purchasing diesel fuel for our vehicles. That doesn’t count fuel burned by our affiliate companies which used independent contractors who fueled their own semi-tractor trailers. The fundamental dynamic during this period was I needed a job to support our family and given what I perceived as a lack of opportunity after college and military service I took what I could find, staying there for most of my professional career. I traded the environment for financial security. My main concerns were job performance and getting ahead. The nuns in grade school didn’t adequately prepare me for this kind of worklife. Environmental issues were off the table.


When I left transportation ten years ago the climate crisis became more real.

In 2013 I participated in The Climate Reality Project conference in Chicago, taught by former Vice President Al Gore. It made a difference to learn the science of climate change and in the following months I began presenting the information learned in public speaking, in letters and articles in the newspaper and in my daily life.

We entered a period of politicization of everything. Facts ceased to matter. Income inequality worsened and the U.S. government seemed owned by the richest people. The scientific facts about climate change became a political choice: do you or don’t you believe the science of climate change?

Climate change is real and is impacting our lives now. Even banks are seeing how it can impact their business. From an open letter from the Governor of Bank of England Mark Carney, Governor of Banque de France François Villeroy de Galhau and Chair of the Network for Greening the Financial Services Frank Elderson:

The catastrophic effects of climate change are already visible around the world. From blistering heatwaves in North America to typhoons in south-east Asia and droughts in Africa and Australia, no country or community is immune. These events damage infrastructure and private property, negatively affect health, decrease productivity and destroy wealth. And they are extremely costly: insured losses have risen five-fold in the past three decades. The enormous human and financial costs of climate change are having a devastating effect on our collective well being.

The authors call for an orderly transition to a low-carbon economy. “The stakes are undoubtedly high,” the authors wrote. “But the commitment of all actors in the financial system to act on these recommendations will help avoid a climate-driven ‘Minsky moment’ – the term we use to refer to a sudden collapse in asset prices.” In other words, the climate change bubble could burst.

The Future

Less than 24 hours remain in this 50th Earth Day, a brief moment in Earth history. Whatever humans do, the earth will be fine. It’s human life and society that’s at risk. My takeaway from 50 years of considering Anders’ image of Earth against a background of the immensity of space is the same as when I first saw it: we humans are all in this together. It is going to take more than Earth Day to bring political will to act on climate.


Flooding in Late Winter

Cedar River on March 15, 2019

The amount of snow and ice melt in the Midwest is monumental.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds issued disaster proclamations for 41 counties because of flooding (Click on the map to see details).

News photographs show Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska, home of the U.S. Strategic Command, is one third underwater with at least 30 buildings damaged.

Where did all the water come from?

Warmer atmosphere held more water vapor which was dumped on Iowa and surrounding states in the form of snow and rain during recent polar vortex events. Wild swings in temperature, sometimes as much as 70 degrees in less than 24 hours, combined with rain quickly melted the snow. Because of deep frost in the soil, there was nowhere for the water to go but downstream. Iowa is used to spring flooding, but not like this.

Climate change created conditions for this flooding, both by enabling a warmer atmosphere to hold more moisture, and through warming in the arctic, which destabilized the trade winds and made the polar vortex. It has been depressing to live through this winter. The damage we see on our small lot in rural Iowa is minuscule compared to the bigger picture.

Last week, Al Gore and the Climate Reality Project trained another 2,000 leaders in mitigating the effects of climate change. News media cover climate change now more than in recent years because viewers and readers experience its effects every day. Climate change is real, it is happening now and we hope it’s not too late to find the political will to do something about it.

The state is watching how our governor and other politicians react to this iteration of flooding.

Home Life Writing

Used Book Sale and Other Necessities

Sign for the Book Sale at the Solon Public library

Yesterday was the annual used book sale at our library.

In addition to clearing the stacks of unpopular or outdated books, the community donates books, media and labor to manage the sale.

Each item is reasonably priced and this year’s proceeds were about $800. That’s a lot of $0.50 and $1.00 books.

I spent ten bucks on ten past issues of the Wapsipinicon Almanac, three large format picture books about Yellowstone National Park, the Vietnam War, and the Marx Brothers, one fiction book, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and a book of poetry, Songs of a Sourdough by Robert W. Service. I spent part of the afternoon reading Service’s poetry about the Yukon. First published in 1907, the copy I got is more than 100 years old. Thoughts of surviving bitter cold, wolves, pine trees, bonfires to stay warm, dog sleds, and the gibbous moon roamed my consciousness for the rest of the day.

It is doubtful I needed more books. The measure of a person’s library is less about reading or having read every book in it. A personal library is more a reminder of what we don’t know. I don’t feel guilty having more books than time to read them. I’m lucky to have a stable home life and the space to fit in a few more books after a used book sale in town. The house hasn’t exploded… yet.

I’ve been buying clothing this year. In 2018 I spent $281, and this year I already spent $150. T-shirts, jeans, socks and underwear, along with a few sweatshirts and woven shirts make up my wardrobe. For funerals and weddings I keep one pair of dress slacks, a good shirt, some neckties, two pair of shined shoes from when I worked in the Chicago Loop in 1991, and a blue blazer. Judging from what people wear to funerals and memorial services, I could get by with a decent pair of jeans, a woven shirt and a newer pair of sneakers.

There was a gift of four t-shirts and a sweatshirt from my spouse. The t-shirts are for the shepherdess to imprint next time she silk screens an image from the farm. I missed out last year because most of my shirts already had something printed on them.

The big 2018 expense was a pair of steel-toed boots to wear on my shifts at the home, farm and auto supply store. Last week, after my shift, I bought a new overcoat using my employee discount.

Me: I need a new coat.
Cashier: You really do.
Me: I know… big grease stains, broken snaps and zipper… it’s disreputable.
Cashier: Oh my!
Me: It will be my first Carhartt… this is Walls. Well I do have a pair of Carhartt bib overalls.
Cashier: Every man has those.

When I worked in the Loop I quickly wore out the pants in my suits. I picked styles where I could get multiple pairs of matching slacks. I don’t need fancy work clothes at the home, farm and auto supply store where the main issue is the quality of Wrangler jeans purchased on discount for less than $20. The denim must be of an inferior quality because holes show up in unexpected places after washing. Too, the radio and box cutter wear a hole just below my belt line on the left side. I asked the Wrangler sales representative about this at a recent trade show. He didn’t have any good answers except to buy more expensive jeans. I didn’t mention my low wages.

Food, shelter and clothing are traditional basic needs. Add potable water, clean air and sanitation and that’s still really basic. A good night’s sleep? Needed, but optional. Without these things, the need for survival dominates our daily lives. Education, healthcare, transportation and internet access are basic needs according to Wikipedia, but seriously, while important, those are extra when it comes to survival.

A lot of people would have us return to life as basic survival. For our family, years of hard work made us financially stable and built a foundation so we don’t often worry about survival. As long as there are used book sales and employee discounts at the home, farm and auto supply store we’ll be alright. Knowing a bunch of farmers and a good auto mechanic helps.

Wolves are mentioned in the history of Lincoln County, Minnesota where my grandmother was born. Wolves can be an issue, but mostly one read about in books about the Yukon… or Iowa and Minnesota at the time of settlement. As we live our modern lives it is important to remember there were once wolves, even if their meaning is lost for want of an education. Education is a salve for our worries. That’s part of why library used book sales remain important.


Zach Wahls Solon Listening Post

Snow Tracks

SOLON, Iowa — Snow began to fall about 10 a.m., an hour before the scheduled legislative listening post with our State Senator Zach Wahls. By the time I got to the community center, about three inches of fluff was on the ground. We live in Iowa. We began on time.

It was a small gathering, affording everyone who wanted to ask questions or discuss issues adequate time. On points where there was disagreement — resolving opioid addiction and boat motor size on Lake Macbride — the topics advanced in a civil and straightforward manner. Credit to the senator for the way he moderated those conversations.

The mix of party affiliation of locals appeared to be half Republican and half Democratic. Of the people I knew, there was a retired firefighter, a chiropractor and the school board president. As is usually the case, several people from outside the district attended with their own agenda. By now, we’re used to that. The Center for Rural Affairs was a co-host of the event and had a display with literature available.

My question was about discussion of female genital mutilation in the legislature and news media. Senator Wahls said he hadn’t read a bill on the subject, and that no one he knew was in favor of the procedure. After the listening post I found both the Senate and House have versions of a bill making it a felony to perform genital mutilation or transport a minor out of state for the procedure. (Bill numbers are HF63, HF299, HSB115 and SF212).

Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Lynda Waddington, who won an award on Friday for her editorial writing, laid out expectations for the legislature in a recent column:

  • Send a strong message that female genital mutilation will not be tolerated.
  • Give prosecutors the tools and resources to bring perpetrators to justice.
  • Signal to state prosecutors that this practice is a crime that must be prosecuted.
  • Provide education and outreach to at-risk communities and professionals likely to encounter girls at risk.
  • Include measures to specifically prevent girls being trafficked across state lines for such procedures.

“A federal judge said it is up to the states whether or not girls undergo female genital mutilation,” Waddington wrote. “Iowa lawmakers must make a statewide ban on this unnecessary and heinous practice their first priority.”

That’s why I felt it necessary to raise it with Wahls. The issue was known last session but a bill did not advance out of committee. Read Lynda’s article at the link for more background about why Iowa is even talking about female genital mutilation.

We covered a lot of topics in an hour. It was time well spent.

Tim Brown, president of the Solon School board, attended. Brown is an engaging conversationalist with a wealth of knowledge about what’s going on in the community. He was interested in the legislature’s plans regarding school funding. Wahls recapped the bills on which he expects to vote, maybe as soon as next week. There is plenty of ink out there with details, including James Q. Lynch’s Cedar Rapids Gazette story from this morning’s newspaper.

After the formal part of the meeting, a group of us discussed a variety of topics, including the fact that the school board election will be combined with other elections in November. Two seats are up. Since our school district straddles counties, there will be an additional election cost to the board for about 20 homes in the Solon Community School District located in Linn County. Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert has not released detailed election plans according to Brown.

Even though the turnout was light, it was good to circle up with Senator Wahls on a snowy day in Solon before the first funnel.