Monarchs On Their Way South

Monarch Butterfly

Butterfly on plant

This past summer we enjoyed watching many monarch butterflies flutter over our prairie labyrinth. Numbers were way up from last year.

These intrepid insects are now en route to wintering grounds in Mexico. We look forward to their return next year.

Monarchs suffered huge population declines due to varied stresses on their lives. In farm country, most fencerows, waterways, and pastures that once harbored milkweed and wildflowers that provided both caterpillars and adults with food have disappeared. Today’s farmland is a pesticide-laced monoculture of just a few crops.

In town, manicured and sprayed lawns are as devoid of diversity as a cornfield and can’t sustain beautiful wildlife like butterflies.

The news would be more distressing had people not responded with enthusiasm to the monarchs’ decline. This summer we were delighted to see dozens of homeowners in Cedar Rapids and other towns let their lawns grow taller. Many planted pollinator patches in even tiny yards that include a diversity of native plants, including milkweeds.   We took joy in seeing a small patch of milkweeds nurtured by the staff of a convenience store in a tiny patch of dirt near the gas pumps.

Lawn with milkweed on it.

Grow a wild patch on your lawn to encourage butterflies.

Every pollinator patch, even if tiny, adds beauty and diversity to our world. We urge everyone to assist wildlife by creating natural plantings, even in urban areas.

Many Iowans have been inspired by the Monarch Zones Project. Founded by Clark McLeod, the Project provides workshops, encouragement, equipment, and seeds to help people assist this beautiful insect and hundreds of other beneficial species that add richness to our lives and health to the environment.

Next spring’s planting season isn’t far off. Now’s a fine time to plan to expand or create a pollinator patch in the yard. For help contact Monarch Research Project. Let’s continue to work together to create wondrous yards.

Bon voyage, Monarchs!

 

Hearing Aids Help Enjoy Wildlife

A tiny migrating warbler changed my life.  As I sat on my back deck a few springs ago a tiny bird landed on a twig about ten feet in front of me. I could see it singing but couldn’t hear a thing.

Military Training and Hearing Loss

My hearing loss probably started as an Army trainee in the late ‘60s guiding 50 caliber shells into a machine gun. Every time the gun spit a bullet downrange a massive blast of noise and pressure hit my skull. In later years I spent hours running chainsaws, vacuum cleaners, and lawn mowers. All to the detriment of my hearing.

Hearing loss is an insidious stealthy condition. It crept up on me so slowly and gradually that I never noticed it. My wife certainly knew something was going on as I increasingly asked her, and everyone else, to repeat sentences. Conversation in restaurants became challenging and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, became my constant companion. Night and day my ears never stop buzzing.

Call to Action

Dr. Jennifer Reekers

Fitting hearing aids is a process and building a relationship

Seeing, but not hearing, the warbler spurred me to call Dr. Jennifer Reekers at Heartland Hearing Center in Hiawatha, Iowa. Soon I was sitting opposite her in a hearing test booth that confirmed what I already Low-frequency sounds were easy to distinguish but my ability to detect other sounds dropped as high frequency increased.  Dr. Reekers shared good news. Thanks to modern technology she could improve my ability to hear and reduce the pesky tinnitus.

Shortly after receiving my new hearing aids I hiked a six-mile trail to Hanging Rock overlook at Effigy Mounds National Monument. Along the trail, I was serenaded by warblers and Orioles. In a moist trailside valley nature’s most beautiful sound brought me joy.  It was the first time I’d heard a wood thrush since my hearing declined.

Everyday Sources of Hearing Loss

Millions of Americans suffer hearing loss, often caused by loud noise exposure.   Although most people realize that gunshots and fireworks can cause hearing problems, few recognize that exposure to common everyday lower intensity noise causes gradual hearing loss.  Vacuum cleaners, blenders, coffee grinders, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and the dreadfully loud hand dryers in public restrooms can contribute to a permanent hearing loss.   Damage is cumulative.

Prevention!

Solutions exist! The best, by far, is to prevent hearing loss by protecting the ears from loud noise. Inexpensive muffs and plugs mute the scream of vacuum cleaners and power tools. I keep a pair by every noisy machine and always put them on before pushing the start button. Rather than allowing a restroom hand dryer I keep a clean handkerchief in my pocket and use it to dry my hands. Parents should be especially careful to protect their children’s hearing by choosing quiet toys over shrill ones and making sure kids wear muffs when exposed to noise.

Ironically enjoying music can contribute to hearing loss. Many concerts are at such a high decibel level that even short exposure can lead to lifelong hearing problems.   Fortunately, devices are available from audiologists that reduce the volume of noise entering the ear while retaining sound quality. They enable enjoyable safe listening.

Technology to the Rescue

By the time I recognized my hearing loss, it was too late to prevent it, but the hearing aids restored my ability to distinguish sounds. I will probably always have tinnitus, but technology has diminished its impact. These days I’m careful to muffle loud noise to avoid further damaging my hearing.

Thanks to Dr. Reekers my hearing aids help me enjoy conversation, birds, music, and more of life’s delightful sounds. I encourage everyone to protect their hearing from loud noise and to seek the help of an audiologist to improve their ability to distinguish sounds.

Man with binoculars

Birding again is a joy with hearing aids, thanks to Heartland Hearing

EGO CORDLESS CHAINSAW

Chips flew from a white oak limb as our son-in-law, Brian Ohlen, masterfully wielded a cordless chainsaw. He and our daughter, Nancy, were visiting from their Alaskan home.  Because Brian is a veteran chainsaw operator and former logger, we wanted his opinion on the EGO cordless chainsaw we recently acquired.

EGO Chain Saw

Brain Ohlen found the EGO Chain Saw to be efficient and lightweight.

The tree provided a great test. White oak is one of the best firewoods, but it’s a hard, tough wood that tests a saw. An extreme April windstorm snapped our tree off about twenty feet above the ground. Its massive top landed close to our barn. We were saddened to lose the magnificent oak that had spent a century converting Iowa’s sunlight into wood, but its death meant that we could, in turn, convert that solar energy into heat in our woodstove.

Brian kept running the saw as chips flew and piece after piece of firewood-sized wood dropped from thick limbs.  After the battery finally was depleted and we took a break while it recharged, Brain remarked, “This saw is amazing. It’s lightweight and quiet and it cuts swiftly.” He looked the saw over and added, “I was surprised at how long the battery lasted.”

Rich also is an accomplished chainsaw operator who logged for the US Forest Service one summer in Idaho. Like Brian, he is amazed at the efficiency and ease of use of the EGO saw.

Cordless, battery-operated carpentry tools emerged on the market a couple of decades ago and today are valued by craftsmen and women for their power, ease of use, and efficiency. More recently, battery fueled chainsaws entered the market. The key to their value is the ability of lithium-ion batteries to store an enormous amount of energy.

The EGO saw is highly user-friendly It eliminates the need for gasoline and runs without the smelly exhaust of a gas saw. It’s lightweight and runs much quieter than a gasoline counterpart. Like gas saws, it requires bar oil to lubricate the chain and occasional sharpening. Unlike most gas saws EGO has crafted the saw to be user-friendly.  For example, no tools are needed to open and close the sprocket housing or tighten the chain. This makes use a snap and saves time and the need to cart around a bar tool.

When I asked Brian’s opinion of the saw he responded, “This is an excellent saw for a homeowner who needs to cut dead branches and trim trees. It’s also a fast firewood cutter.”

Chain Saw Equipment

Protective gear keeps workers safer.

There is an important similarity shared by all chainsaws. They are powerful tools that must be used with respect and caution to prevent injury. When running any chainsaw wear eye, ear, and face protection, long pants, sturdy leather gloves and boots, and saw chaps. Saw chaps clip over pants and are designed to instantly stop a cutting chain that touches it. Chaps prevent serious injury to the thigh.

 

The EGO chainsaw is a dandy tool useful around the home. The battery that runs it also powers many other EGO tools, making a cordless tool system practical.

FIREFLIES RETURN TO DELIGHT FAMILY

“It was amazing! Gorgeous!  Fireflies danced over our prairie most of the summer, and they weren’t here when it was a mowed lawn,” said Katie Hill with much enthusiasm

She and her husband Tim are restoring an island of ecological health just three miles from downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa. First Avenue is one of the busiest urban streets in Iowa, constantly filled with cars, motorcycles, and trucks. A bald eagle flying over the road would look down at an urbanized landscape – except for five acres of verdant beauty just a few feet east of the Avenue. The oasis is nestled between suburban developments, a high-rise condominium, and a senior residence complex.

Katie and Tim bought three and a half acres and a home about 15 years ago. It was convenient to his work at a law office a stone’s throw from their land. “We did the standard expected landscaping of mowing and spraying for about a decade,” she said.

Creating Habitat

Although the yard was large it lacked plant diversity and wildlife. Then came the change.

“We stopped spraying and I took delight when creeping Charlie and dandelions took hold. Many people don’t like them, but creeping Charlie has a gorgeous flower that bumblebees love, and it smells nice. Dandelions are beautiful, and bees love them,” she said. Then she broadcast prairie seed on a low area that had been lawn. After a couple of years big bluestem, Indian grass, and many native flowers appeared. Encouraged by their first prairie the Hill’s planted new ones in formerly mowed and sprayed lawns.   They’ve been helped by David Novak, owner of a small company that helps people restore natural areas.

“We were delighted when lightning bugs appeared over the prairie. They don’t like mowed lawn but love taller plants.  We watch them dance on summer evenings. These beautiful insects completely avoid the mowed lawns of our neighbors,” Tim and Katie remarked.

Early in 2018, the Hills bought about an acre and a half of land adjoining their property   Years before several houses stood on the property but it had been purchased by a developer who planned to build two condominium towers. He razed the houses and built one condo tower but abandoned plans to build the second.

Restoring the Land

As we walked through the area Katie showed us her new prairie plantings in what had once been a lawn while Tim pointed out where the houses had stood. As the years go by the residents of the existing condominium tower will gaze downward during the day on wildflowers dancing in the breeze and butterflies sipping nectar from prairie blooms. As twilight approaches, they’ll enjoy fireflies blinking their tiny lights.

In addition to creating beauty and feeling the joy of making the earth healthier, the Hills are benefiting the community beyond their property. Prairie grasses absorb stormwater that once sheeted off their land and into storm sewers and eventually Cedar Lake. Their land nurtures wildlife as its beauty increases and diversifies.

“We feel good about what we are doing. We are helping nature restore itself in the heart of the city, but it also does one other thing. When we were mowing and spraying it was costing us about $600 a month to maintain the property. Now that’s dropped to about 90 bucks, so we’re saving money,” the Hills explained.

In the process of restoring their land, Tim and Katie Hill are also getting a fulfilling ecological education.

Win!  Win! Win!

“It’s a win, win, win,” smiled Katie. “It’s a win for us saving money. It’s a win for us to have the time to be entertained by the wildlife diversity. And, most importantly, it’s a win for Mother Nature.”

Iowa’s Oceanfront Property

Oceanfront property in Iowa! Well not really, but the state constantly interacts with our planet’s vast oceans.

Over six inches of rain fell on Winding Pathways in September 2018. Way above average. Not long ago those zillions of raindrops were swirling around in the Gulf of Mexico. Evaporation sucked moisture into the air, leaving salt behind. Winds carried the moisture north until it bumped into cool air. Bingo, heavy rain and flooding.

Rain isn’t the only way Iowa relates to the ocean. From the second it hits the ground rain heads back to the sea. It often carries fertilizer, dirt, and debris into tributaries that flow to the Mississippi River and then down to the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer applied to lawns and fields end up stimulating oceanic algae that die, consume oxygen, and create the notorious “dead zone.”

People ship more than nitrogen to the ocean. Virtually anything that enters a storm sewer, creek, or river can make it to the sea. Cigarette butts, oil, Styrofoam, and plastic of all sorts swirl downstream.

Plastics: Blessing and Curse

Plastic is wonderful. It is made into hundreds of useful products. Even the computer keys we’re typing this blog on are made of the stuff. Unfortunately, too much is tossed away.

Much ends up in the ocean where vast quantities circulate in huge arcs. Birds, seals, and fish sometimes mistake it for something edible and end up with a plugged stomach after swallowing what they think is lunch. Wildlife also gets tangled up in plastic, especially plastic fishing nets.

Although Winding Pathways is a thousand miles from the Jersey Shore or the Gulf of Mexico, we take action to prevent sullying salt water. The aluminum water bottle in our pickup truck reminds us of this every day. Printed on the side says KICK PLASTIC, a slogan of the Costa Company.  They teamed up with Bureo, a company that makes fishing nets. This encourages people to help keep plastic out of the ocean, partly by making products from recycled items. We like their approach.

Ways to “Kick Plastic”

According to Costa

  1.  almost all plastic ever made is still around;
  2. The equivalent of one garbage truck filled with plastic goes into the ocean each minute;
  3. 98% of ocean pollution comes from the land;
  4. One in four ocean fish contains plastic.

The company asks people to do these things to reduce plastic pollution.  Our suggestions follow in italics:

  • Stop Using Plastic Bottles. Use a refillable water bottle.
  • Say Goodbye to Grocery Bags. Bring reusable nylon or canvas bags to the store.
  • Buying in Bulk Makes a Big Impact. Reuse those containers. We bought peanut butter in a large jar in 1976 in Kansas and have refilled it many times with bulk peanut butter from the health food store near home. That jar has been reused well over 100 times!
  • Reel in Old Line. Recycle used fishing line.
    Winding Pathways takes Costa’s suggestions further. Remember that anything put on the ground could find its way to the ocean, even from Iowa.
  • Use fertilizer and pesticides sparingly and carefully, if at all.
  • Buy quality products that last longer than cheap counterparts. Durable items aren’t discarded often.
  • Put anything recyclable in blue plastic bins that most Iowa towns or trash collection companies collect. They make recycling easy.

Iowa oceanfront property? We hope climate change never raises the sea so high that our state has an ocean beach, but many Iowans enjoy delicious seafood and they vacation on the beach. Let’s keep the oceans healthy and safe, even if we live inland.

Note:  The Costa Company did not provide any support to Winding Pathways.  We created this article because we love their message, leadership, and products.