Home Life

Rain Broke the Dry Spell

Two days after a full moon, in pre-dawn darkness, it was difficult to see it rained yesterday. It hadn’t rained long, just enough to get the ground wet and start water flowing toward the ditch. It was not enough to seal cracks in the ground caused by a lack of moisture. The ditch near the road has hardly been used for runoff this spring. I hope the dry spell is broken.

After a hiatus, today I return to writing. Garden plot seven remains to be planted yet the hard work of putting in a garden is almost done. Already an abundance of vegetables was harvested even if my favorite hot peppers wait in the greenhouse to be planted.

At the point I realized our yard couldn’t produce enough grass clippings and leaves for garden mulch, and began laying down weed barrier to hold moisture and suppress weeds, everything changed. It was helped along by relenting to the need for fertilizer (composted chicken and turkey manure) and some pesticides used by my organic farming friends. Not everything improves with aging, yet my garden was made better by experience.

May was a month of stuff breaking. We scrambled to cover the expense of new appliances: washer, dryer, range, furnace, and air conditioner. We previously replaced the refrigerator, water heater, water softener, and our 2002 automobile. The new technology is clearly better. I can’t get over how quickly batches of water-bath canning jars come to temperature and boil. Our clothes get cleaner as well. All of this took time in May. We are over the hump, fingers crossed.

The acquisition of Twitter by Elon Musk created turbulence in my social media space. The main change is I notice more trolls. I know to block them without question, yet it is an annoyance. I tried Mastodon, Post, and Spoutible and none of them fills the same need as Twitter. Mastodon was too complicated with their decentralized server model. Spoutible and Post have a lot of nice people, yet the depth of relationship is lacking and may become an issue. The other legacy social media accounts (Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook) are doing what they do without issue.

There wasn’t a lot to write about in Iowa Politics this spring. Republicans in the legislature had super majorities and could and did pass what they wanted. The trouble for a political blog writer is getting a handle on the changes and creating an approach that makes sense while Democrats are in the minority. One would have thought logic and reason would be the path, yet no. Republicans now take legislative action based on tropes and whims from the great beyond. To use logic serves their misinformation purposes. Building a story board will require more effort than usual as we prepare for the 2024 and 2026 elections.

Lack of rain is concerning. The Midwestern garden relies upon a consistent amount of rainfall spaced at predictable intervals. As the atmosphere and our oceans warm, more moisture is stored in the atmosphere. Rainfall we were used to became the exception rather than something upon which gardeners can rely. It leaves us with the unpredictability of life. When the dry spell breaks, we can breathe easier, at least for a little while.


As Light Falls

Lake Macbride from the North Shore Trail, May 27, 2023

Morning light illuminated this peninsula on Lake Macbride during my walk. One never knows how a multi-function mobile device will capture a photograph. I’m pleased with the results of this one.

The hard part is breaking away from preoccupations on a trail walk, to be aware of our surroundings enough to notice how light falls on the landscape. The results can be liberating. If the image comes out well, it’s a bonus. Increasingly, I seek the light on excursions off property.

Five of seven garden plots are planted, meaning I am running behind. Reasons have to do with weather, and with the pace at which I work. A five or six-hour shift with breaks every hour is what I can muster. Progress is steady, yet slow. Gardening is a tolerant activity and whatever one can do is better than the alternative. I do what I can.

Already there is a harvest. Leafy green vegetables, lettuce, spring onions, radishes, and herbs. I mixed fresh greens with last year’s frozen ones to make spring vegetable broth for canning. It is time to use up the freezer to make room for the new harvest. Spring broth is always best so I noted the month on the lids.

I forgot potatoes at the wholesale store so I drove to town on Saturday. My neighbor, who owns the grocery store, was there and he thanked me for the San Marzano tomato seedlings I gave him. I had extra. The grocery store wasn’t busy. Organized locals got their Memorial Day weekend shopping done by Friday. We had a good chat about tomatoes, gardening, and people in the community. The value of the trip was no small potatoes, although I got some of those, too.

My spouse is at her sister’s home for the week, so I’m on my own. As I age, I dislike being alone. While freedom to cook how I like is a perquisite of her absence, meal preparation takes only a small part of each day.

Today is the annual firefighters breakfast in town and I plan to open it up then move on to garden and yard tasks before the ambient temperature gets too hot. If all goes well, I’ll mulch tomatoes (which means mowing the lawn), build a brush pile, and trim around the foundation of the home to prepare the spot for the new air conditioner.

The flags are up at Oakland Cemetery, signifying local veterans who died. The Memorial Day service moved to the new veterans memorial in town. I’ll stop by the cemetery on my way to breakfast and see how light falls on the graves and flags. I know many of the names. I was active with many of them when they were living. That, too is part of aging in America.

Flags at Oakland Cemetery

Spring Break

Front rolling in.

I’ve taken to opening the garage door and watching storm fronts roll in. Probably, I’m carrying baggage from the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho.

Multiple reasons have me running behind, with a short time to get the garden in by Memorial Day. I’ll be taking a break from writing to focus on spring and all. One never knows how many more springs we’ll get. I intend to enjoy this one.

Take care dear readers. Hope to see you again soon. Hope you enjoy what remains of Spring!

Living in Society

Culture of Open Inquiry

Green up on the Lake Macbride Trail.

In 1820 most countries started out on a relatively equal economic footing. Translation: People and regions were poor around the globe.

Author Jeffrey D. Sachs described this world:

Life expectancy was extremely low; children died in vast numbers in the now rich countries as well as the poor countries. Many waves of disease and epidemics, from the Black Death of Europe to smallpox and measles, regularly washed through society and killed mass numbers of people. Episodes of hunger and extreme weather and climate fluctuations sent societies crashing.

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, by Jeffrey D. Sachs.

What changed, according to Sachs, was the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Why did this happen in Britain before China, which had been the technological world leader for a millennium? In part, British society was relatively open after the decline of serfdom, its traditions of free speech and open debate contributed to the implementation of new ideas, and Britain became one of the leading centers of Europe’s scientific revolution. “With Britain’s political openness, speculative scientific thinking was given opportunity to thrive, and the scientific advances on the Continent stimulated an explosion of scientific discovery in England,” he wrote.

The impact of these conditions of intellectual inquiry is old news. Yet today’s Americans should take note as legislatures around the country restrict tenure among university professors, ban books, control school curriculum, regulate who can use which bathroom, and remove funding from projects that contribute to understanding of our most significant problems. Lawmakers are putting a damper on open inquiry. Dumbing down and censorship do not represent a path to create the explosion of new ideas and technological innovation needed to survive and thrive in the years ahead. Who could even have imagined this might become a concern?

The deliberate destruction of knowledge is not new. Libraries and archives have been attacked since ancient times. Today, public libraries fight for their very existence as they are censored, deprived of funding, and subject to pressure from political, religious and cultural forces. Open inquiry in this context is hobbled by real constraints.

The latest hobble here in Iowa is elimination of funding for an important water quality sensor program at the IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering center at the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering. Erin Jordan of the Cedar Rapids Gazette covered the story here. “Iowa deploys about 70 sensors each year on streams and rivers across the state that measure nitrate loads and concentration so observers can tell whether water treatment plant upgrades, wetland improvements and agricultural conservation practices are working to reduce pollution,” Jordan wrote.

“Defunding progress reporting and monitoring is not the direction we should be going in our approach to nutrient pollution in Iowa,” Alicia Vasto, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council told the Gazette. “Iowa taxpayers deserve accountability for the funding that is being spent on nutrient reduction practices.”

Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by nutrient runoff in Midwestern farming operations, is a problem. Closing down open inquiry into solutions to the problem is exactly the wrong direction.

We Americans are better off today than we were before the Industrial Revolution. The lesson that should be taught in schools is open inquiry into the problems of our day is as important as any curriculum item. Regretfully, my opinion may be viewed as that of just another advocate. In today’s society, the powers that be don’t want the rest of us to do too much thinking. Therein is the problem.

Living in Society

From Society to Soup

Vegetable soup before cooking.

I’ve turned from society to soup. Not sure how I feel about that, yet the soup smells pretty darned good. The leafy green vegetables were harvested the same day, many of the vegetables were grown in the kitchen garden last season then preserved, and lentils and barley came direct from a super market. This soup made a fine dinner with five quarts leftover for the coming week and beyond.

As we age we spend more time alone. Children, if we have them, develop their own lives. In the Midwest, many of us work to age in place and the home becomes a quiet warehouse of memories and too much stuff no one needs or wants any more. To expect something different puts too much burden on our offspring. A key element of successful living after age seventy is learning to live well alone… and to let go of the possessions because you can’t take them with you.

After working a five-hour shift in the garden, I’m pretty tired for the rest of the day. Yesterday I came indoors for lunch and started the pot of soup. Most of the knife work was done before I put up the vegetables last year. All I had to do was peel potatoes and carrots, gather items from the freezer and pantry, and put everything in the pot with salt and a few bay leaves. It simmered all afternoon.

Loneliness is a normal part of aging. Because of connections formed over a lifetime, we live in a galaxy of friendship. From time-to-time we forget about our network, although we shouldn’t. When one makes so much soup, there is plenty to share.


Earth Day 2023

Trail walking at Lake Macbride State Park on April 21, 2023.

There is an official Earth Day website which indicates how far the observance has come since 1970. In addition, there are proclamations by governing bodies, festivals supporting “Mother Earth,” and oil and gas companies touting their actions to capture CO2 emissions and recycle plastics. I’m not sure any of this helps reduce the impact of humans on our shared environment, yet it may be better than a stick in the eye.

Exploitation of the environment has been basic to civilization, especially in the settling of North America. In the early days, North America was about land speculation and extraction of wealth from the so-called “newly discovered” place. It began with production of sugar, rice, cotton, tobacco and indigo, which required cheap land and abundant labor in the form of slaves or indigent white folks forced to migrate from Britain. We had and continue to operate an extractive economy supporting exports and consumers. Few want to give up their handheld mobile device or other modern conveniences to help save the planet, so the extraction part of the economy may grow along with the burgeoning population. By 2100 there are projected to be 10.4 billion people on our blue-green sphere, according to the United Nations.

People should do more to improve the environment than what each of us can do individually. It seems obvious that everyone: every business, organization, government, and individual must pull together to solve the climate crisis. Importantly, our political system must take the lead in climate action, regardless of the political outlook of individual elected officials. This holds true in authoritarian regimes where there are no elected representatives. When I wrote “everyone,” that’s what I meant.

What should we do? That’s an easy answer: support large scale, organized actions that will make a difference. If regulators say we should reduce CO2 emissions in new automotive products, then support it. If the Gulf of Mexico dead zones are a problem, then regulate the chemicals and processes that dump into the Mississippi River watershed. If our air is polluted by emissions from coal and natural gas-powered electricity generation, then convert to wind and solar. Solutions exist to clean up our air, water and land pollution. There are processes to develop new and better solutions to the climate crisis.

Every day I do something small to help mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis. I reduce water usage, adjust the thermostat a few degrees, turn off lights when not in a room, and minimize the amount of driving I do in our personal vehicle. Every day is Earth Day in our home, so the annual remembrance is not that important to me. What matters more is finding common ground to enable more solutions, reduce pollution, and clean up our land, air and water.

Spend a few minutes reading the Earth Day website, located here. Then talk to someone you know about how important it is we take action today to rescue our much abused planet and make a livable home for our civilization going forward. It could make our lives better in the process.


Onion Planting 2023

Onion plot 2023.

It was 64 degrees at 3 a.m. Saturday morning. That’s weird.

A gardener contends with weather, so temperature anomalies come with the work. The vegetables I plant in my Midwestern garden have a wide range of tolerance to climate, moisture and light. They have been bred and propagated because of those qualities.

Potatoes and onions should be safe to plant now, and I did. I direct seeded spinach when putting in the onion sets. Garlic is doing fine after being uncovered from winter. There are many apple and pear blossoms in the early formation stage. Pollinators are already abundant, seeking the early purple flowers and dandelions in the lawn. The greenhouse is packed with seedlings. What could be wrong?

Regardless of weird weather, Spring has arrived and it would be difficult not to feel a part of it. I can see leaves on deciduous trees bud and burst into foliage in front of me. All is well in the garden, or at least as good as it gets.

What will weird weather mean this growing season? I don’t know. I am, however, both concerned, and getting used to it. The overall trend does not look good.

If you aren’t following Bill McKibben on the climate crisis, you likely should be. In yesterday’s edition of his substack, The Crucial Years, he wrote,

This week’s Fort Lauderdale rainstorm was, on the one hand, an utter freak of nature (storms ‘trained’ on the same small geography for hours on end, dropping 25 inches of rain in seven hours; the previous record for all of April was 19 inches) and on the other hand utterly predictable. Every degree Celsius that we warm the planet means the atmosphere holds more water vapor; as native Floridian and ace environmental reporter Dinah Voyles Pulver pointed out, “with temperatures in the Gulf running 3 to 4 degrees above normal recently, that’s at least 15% more rainfall piled up on top of a ‘normal’ storm.”

Get ready for far more of it; there are myriad scattered signs that we’re about to go into a phase of particularly steep climbs in global temperature. They’re likely to reach impressive new global records—and that’s certain to produce havoc we’ve not seen before.

The Crucial Years, We’re in for a stretch of heavy climate by Bill McKibben, April 15, 2023.

McKibben is not one to use hyperbole. He must realize the downside of doing so. In social media, instead of seeing McKibben’s work promoted, the right-wing spokesmodel for all things cultural was getting attention. Even climatologist and geophysicist Michael Mann snarked about the Georgia congresswoman’s comments.

It is getting difficult to follow the scientific discussion of the climate crisis. Partly, major news media find it too dull a subject for headlines. Partly, the right-wing media noise machine drowns out serious topics in public discourse. Yet we notice temperature anomalies when they happen, and wonder for how long we can go on the way we are.

While we wonder, we’ll need onions, apples and spinach.

Home Life

Iowa Spring – 2023 Edition

Trail walking on April 12, 2023.

My spouse and I noticed the mulberry tree on walkabout Tuesday afternoon.

The mulberry tree was damaged by the 2020 derecho and has begun to die. Branches high in the canopy are losing bark and not regrowing it. Soon it will need to be cut down and recycled. This is the only tree remaining from when we bought the lot in 1993.

We were discussing what to do with the yard. Mainly, we need to plant the area in front of the house where it was cleared last year. A flower bed of some kind will go there.

We took out the maple tree stump last year. We are considering replacement with some kind of tall bush rather than another tree, a forsythia or hydrangea, maybe.

More than half the Red Delicious apple tree is gone due to wind storms yet it seems very robust. Hard to tell if there will be an apple crop this year, yet under normal circumstances, there should be one.

Finally, the trays of seedlings are now outdoors in the greenhouse. It should be easier to water them. Next into the ground are onion sets, beets, and spinach. Hopefully there will be progress midst ambient temperatures in the 70s today.

Now to close this entry out and head for the lake trail for a morning walk.

Kitchen Garden

Garden 2023

Potatoes planted on Good Friday, April 7, 2023.

Gardening began in the traditional way, with onions planted indoors beginning in December, and seed potatoes planted on Good Friday. Fourteen trays of seedlings are either on a table near the French doors or under a grow light downstairs. As soon as I can get the greenhouse assembled, cruciferous vegetables will head out there. Onion sets arrived Thursday and need to go right into the ground. Chives from last year are up and garlic is poking through the leaf mulch that covered them since October. Once again, I’m committed to raising food in 2023.

I plan to reduce the number of varieties of what I grow and grow more of it. The idea is to use or preserve what we can and donate the extras to the local food pantry. This year, the volume of clients visiting food pantries has risen significantly. We each must help how we can.

I need to make a trip to Monticello to buy fertilizer. It will be the same 50-pound bags of composted chicken manure that have become standard. I also need to visit Beautiful Land Products in Tipton and pick up a couple of bags of soil mix. I think I’m good for fencing this year, so it may be a low capital garden. I need one of those.

I will likely be sore in the morning, yet I relish the fresh air and sunshine. As we age, it is important to stay active. Gardening can be done at whatever pace we choose. Cheers to Garden 2023!

Living in Society

Pokey Pokey

Lake Macbride

The veins on my arms do not stand out. Ever. The clinic drew blood for my semi-annual checkup and it took two staff members four pokes to obtain a sufficient sample. I’m an adult and can stand the pokey pokey. I also know about my hiding veins.

The blood test results were posted same day on a health profile hosted by the hospital. Let’s just say I have some work to do after last winter.

My high school friend Mike Tandy died on Thursday. He was on stage crew and close friends with most of our 1970s band members. He occasionally played bass guitar. He was a teacher most of his working life. Rest in peace, buddy.

The last ten days have been relentless with deaths of people I knew well. Now that spring is here, maybe I’ll get some relief. In any case, I bookmarked the three funeral homes in my home town for easy reference.

A thunderstorm blew through Big Grove Township last night. It was severe enough for us to retreat to our safe place on the lower level. After the 2020 derecho, it was no biggie. A little hail and moderate rain fell. We lost electricity for an hour or so. When the lights and stove went out, I put away the dinner I was making and took the ingredients back out when electricity returned. I left the half-cooked brown rice on the stove and without additional heat, it turned out exceptionally well. We need to replicate that process without the loss of electricity.

I binged on poetry reading at the end of the month, finishing books by Czesław Miłosz, Alice Walker, Adrienne Rich, and James Wright. I liked each one in different ways. The fewer mass culture references in poetry, the better. None of them was clean enough for my liking. It bugged me a little that Walker repeated she was “writing poetry again.” Just show me, don’t tell me is a basic tenet of poetry.

The cleaning of an external hard drive proceeds a little each day. Unfortunately, there are unique and useful files on it, so the computer spends several hours each day with the transfer. My obsessive compulsion about saving my computer work paid off in the new finds I have made. It is a drudgery, though.

I don’t care about sports, yet last night’s win by the University of Iowa Women’s basketball team against number one ranked South Carolina was a big deal. I noticed in social media, some friends flew to Dallas for the game. We talk a lot about how divided the country has become. Yet, if one can’t get behind the success of this team, you may be the problem and need a look in the mirror.

It’s tomato and pepper planting day in Big Grove. I had better get after it.