How Does Our Prairie Garden Grow?

In early July we sat on our front porch watching delightfully splashes of color dance in the breeze.  A restoration triumph stood stoutly in the wind-blooming compass plant.

Restoring prairies takes patience. We began ten years ago by converting a former mowed lawn into a prairie. For the next few years, our emerging prairie looked rough. A weed patch mostly, but as the years rolled by the “weeds” also called Mother Nature’s stitches, retreated as prairie plants matured and outcompeted them. Coreopsis, coneflowers, monarda, and vervain began adding color to ever more vigorous big and little bluestem, switch, and Indian Grasses.

Then, this year, compass plants that had been flowerless for years, shot spikes six feet into the air. In mid-July, the plant is in full bloom.

Difference Between Domestic and Native Plants

When you plant beans, tomatoes, or squash and many domestic flowers and the fruits of labor are rewarded that same year with fresh vegetables and colorful petals. Not so with native plants. Prairie takes patience. Some native pioneers come on in a year or two but many wait and wait and wait. Sometimes it can take upwards of 15 years for stately compass plants to bloom, so ours may be racehorses to show color in just a decade.  More point skyward along with coneflowers, purple prairie coneflower, and rattlesnake master along the roadside in front of our yard.

We have tour prairies at Winding Pathways. Into our oldest Marion has crafted a prairie labyrinth, giving walkers an opportunity to follow a contemplative path surrounded by blooming, dancing flowers and tall grasses.

The “middle-aged” prairie out in the back is a haven for birds, adds color, and is a buffer from the ruined-looking woods where young trees are starting to show amidst the broken derecho tree trunks.

In 2019 and following the August 10th, 2020, Derecho we scattered prairie/open woodland seeds to encourage diverse plants on the east-facing slope.

Our youngest prairie, planted in the spring of 2020, remains in infancy.  A mass of black-eyed Susans shines brightly, and many other small bloomless plants show promise to color up as the years go by.  We look forward to their future.

We welcome anyone to visit, walk the labyrinth, and enjoy our prairie and the butterflies that skip from flower to flower within it.

Gratitdues 2020

For several years I have kept a log of daily Gratitudes.  Noting each day on a small sticky note, I stuff them into an old pickle jar. Then, at the end of the year, I spill them out on the table and re-read them, selecting several to share.  Often I list by month.  This year, I chose to put them in groups of similar topics.

Exploring: Around Town, Day Trips, Walks and Camping.

This year has been a great time to get to know our town! Each week we explored different parts of town by car. Wow! We found interesting streets, homes, businesses, and parks. That led to increasing our walking in various parks near and far. That led to arranging with the Cedar Rapids Gazette to write features about places to explore and be outside and more safe from the novel coronavirus. These were/are ways to ward off depression, increase our sense of community, and improve physical health. Even though we know some of them well, city, county, and state parks like Jones, Bever, Knollridge, Wanatee, Matsell, Hannen, Lily Lake, Whitewater Canyon, Ram Hollow, Pleasant Creek, Backbone, Wildcat Den all proved interesting and exciting. Returning to our favorite rough camping spot, Yellow River State Forest, we met a small group of scouts who decided that even though their long-anticipated trip to Philmont, NM, was out, they would camp anyway!  The boys spent hours crafting a multi-layer arrangement of hammocks in trees.

Crossing the Mississippi River on the Cassville Ferry is always fun. We stayed safely in our car, handing the small fee to the attendant through the window. We even bravely camped at Beaver Creek Hollow in SE Minnesota. A cousin camped in a nearby site. Rain-shortened our trip, but it is fun to remember the walks and campfire. All sorts of trails opened up possibilities to explore and stretch our legs, too. Cedar Lake, Prairie Park Fishery, sections of the Sac and Fox, and several in Johnson and Jones Counties. Herbert Hoover Historic Site is a great place to walk and soak up history all outside! We quickly learned when to walk to avoid interacting with many people. We watched winter fade as spring waltzed down the path to summer. Blazing hot and bouts of rain. Wind and calm and on to autumn with little color and winter with a blast of cold and deep snow.

Talks

Coffee shops and restaurants were out. But, the porch, deck, and in colder weather, the barn all proved to be fine places for one-hour chats with friends, neighbors, family, and book club. ZOOM went from novel to ubiquitous. As tired as we may have felt at times, it provided connections. Facetime was a handy way to touch base while making supper. Good old fashioned phone calls and letters!  Real letters! The main topics were missing travel, our families at a distance, ways we were adapting, new places we have found, politics, and after August 10th, the damned derecho that tore up Eastern Nebraska, Iowa, and parts of Illinois. One of the weirdest experiences is talking from the pulpit at church to an empty building into a microphone knowing dozens of members and friends were watching. Alone but connected. The minister and I figured out safe ways to hold our weekly meetings and keep the congregation and staff engaged.  My fondest memory is a neighbor bringing over coffee on a morning shortly after the derecho. We just sat on the porch before getting back to the cleanup.

Labyrinth Walks and Work

Each day I trundle out to the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth and walk.  Sometimes I have an intention.  Mostly, I say thanks. To earth elements, the plant and animal kingdoms, people, those who have died, and beloved Universe.  Included are those I dislike or disagree with – that I may be of a kind heart. Not always easy to do this year of turmoil, dissent, violence, and flat out lies. Friends walk the labyrinth, especially on the astronomical and cross-quarter dates. And, the most exciting time of the labyrinth is burning it in the autumn.  This year Mark O. helped set and manage the fire.

The Council paused for several months when it was apparent that holding the Black Hills Renewal Day in person would not work. Working with Kathryn McL., Karen K., Twylla A., Christine F., and Nathan W. on specific projects we managed to hold together and creative projects emerged. Mary Ann W. created lovely virtual rituals. Virtually we said farewell to retiring members, we organized our strategies and interviewed 21 potential new members. We will welcome new ones on January 7th, 2021. Throughout the remaining year, each meeting’s theme held us in time and across the distance from the northeast United States to Australia.

Finger Labyrinth

Weekly finger walks through Veriditas.

The Veriditas organization quickly pivoted and began offering online labyrinth walks each Friday.  Wow! How successful!  Scores of men and women from across the world come on for the one-hour program that has a different focus each week.  A finger walk with music and time for people to share after.  It is wonderful and we begin to recognize and look for people we have come to know. Kudos to Veriditas.

Projects

Right away like everyone else, we cleaned, sorted, deep cleaned, sorted again, discarded, held on to until Goodwill re-opened, then looked around more. Rich built some birdhouses and small tables for the decks. I re-finished some chests of drawers and small tables. We freshened up the woodstove room and bucked up wood.

Little did we know we would have more than enough wood later in the summer to last for years!  Rich got some wood from a friend and another load from a neighbor. He bucked it and piled it up dubbing it, “Mt. Cordwood.” August 10th the derecho tore through the area and down came the trees.  Up went “Mt. Cordwood”! Of our 53 healthy trees, 47 came down.  It was a mess.  The gratitude is that we were able to clean it up, minimal damage to the garage, more to the cabin.  We hired a crew to take the trees off the garage and cabin. Friends helped haul and stack wood.  Iris kindly cleaned the labyrinth of fallen debris and old milkweed stalks when I needed to be at the church board retreat.

The restoration from derecho will be ongoing for a number of years.  We marked oak seedlings, bought, planted, and protected several more small trees, and have others on order for delivery in the spring. People get to create.

Consulting, Writing, and Energy Work

Part of the creation is acknowledging the losses and deciding to mindfully work to restore. Prairiewoods, with a number of organizations, is hosting a series of talks.  First on the losses. As winter and spring progress how we now move forward. Rich and I will present on remembering the understory of a forest which is sometimes a forgotten part of forest health and restoration.

From the derecho came land restoration and consulting gigs.  These are interesting and fun to do. Rich takes the lead and I help on the sides.  One client was so distressed that I offered and she accepted an impromptu healing session in the midst of her beloved woods.  Meaningful for me, too.

Our work with Hoover’s Hatchery and writing for the Cedar Rapids Gazette has grown with the pandemic.  People, new to raising chickens, have bought flocks and need solid information. So, Kelsey S., Tony H., Rich, and I have partnered to bring programming to folks.  The organic farm work at Etzel Sugar Grove Farm with Carl and Gavin R. is part of this.  Filming the activities and catching creativity are exciting. Our October session came in the midst of a surprise snowstorm! In December we moved our filming up a week to highlight the innovations Carl and Gavin have created to check up on the chickens and reduce their workload. Good thing, the original date was snowy! So, we hit that one right.

Our distance travel feature in March on the Pony Express, the Orphan Train, and the Willa Cather Museum came just ahead of the pandemic. We quickly pivoted to local attractions like parks, trails, barn quilt tours, and meat lockers. Now our kick is museums.  Some are closed and all have beefed up their online presence offering great tours. So, when the world opens up again, people will have plenty of ideas of places to visit.

Early in the pandemic, before numbers in our area were an issue, I did some work with clients and staff at the Nassif Community Cancer Center. A favorite client didn’t survive the year.  She was such a lovely individual. We held some small group sessions and staff came for longer sessions to reduce stress. Then, we really shut down as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed.  Our neighbor, a nurse, said, “I have never seen so much death in such a short time. We are weary.” We do our best to avoid putting more stress on health care systems.

Teaching

Another casualty of the pandemic is the loss of in-person teaching.  Something that is wonderful has been the short, regular messages from Dr. Lori S., President of Kirkwood Community College.  She is up-front, humorous when appropriate, and expresses appreciation. Good role model. The tutor coordinator, and a good friend, asked if I would continue with tutor talks via ZOOM. The first topic was problem-solving and I used that when I discovered that my laptop is not strong enough for ZOOM presenting. Tutors in the breakout sessions came up with great ideas and laughed when they saw my solution – presenting in the garage next to the trash bins so I could be close to the router and modem for maximum upload and download. Gads!  Fun to do!

Before we ended in-person classes, the sessions were so heartfelt.  A note I made was about how one student supported another by quietly standing by him during the final short presentations. Amazing empathy in the adults re-training. Navigating Your Journey is a valuable program.

No Debt!

Early in the year, Rich decided to pay off the balance of the mortgage!  Whew!  That helped when it came to claims for the derecho. A stroke of good timing.

Miscellaneous

The emerging cicadas on a late summer labyrinth walk. Sunsets and sunrises from fires. (Well the second part is not at all good.  And, we could smell the smoke from fires hundreds of miles away) The dark sky after the derecho when electricity was off. Harvesting wild edibles early and late in the season. Dandelion greens in November? Yep. The beautiful moon rises. The NEOWISE Comet in the mid-summer. The planetary conjunction in early December.

Serving as church board president.  What? Why would someone be grateful for that role? In February a neighbor who visits the chickens with the children and who is on the nominating committee asked if I would be on the board. I looked at her and said emphatically, “NO!  Every time I have been on the board some wonky thing happens. I do not like to sit on boards. I do not like meetings. I do not like it Sam I Am!”  A few weeks later this friend asked if she and the children could come to see the chickens again. Sure.  When I saw her, I said yes, I will be board president.  She was a bit surprised as she had not actually asked. How did I know that was the ask? Just did that’s all. And, it has been a good experience.  We have a stellar minister and staff. The board is together and organized.  The membership has stepped up and supported the mission of the church. A calling tree kept us in touch. After the derecho people cleaned up, provided funds for members that were impacted, wrote notes and provided meals. When the minister and family contracted COVID-19, the good neighbors helped out.  Way to go, Peoples!

And Oreo, the black and white bunny. In April a family was moving and a friend, knowing we had had rabbits in the past asked if we wanted to adopt her.  At first, we thought, No. Then, realizing the pandemic was here to stay for a LONG time, we said yes. She has been a good companion and warmed to us. She gets a treat from Rich each night in quite a silly routine that amuses us.  I feed and pat her daily.  Her hangouts include the habitat that Rich built for her, under a small table, and stretched out by my computer chair.  She is a funny little rabbit who is a good companion.

These are some of the gratitudes I have for this weird year 2020.

 

 

How Do You Create Calm from Chaos?

Reflecting on 2020 Courage and Creativity

When life is topsy turvy; When people we know get critically sick and some die; When our normal routine is tossed out the window, three questions come to mind:

How is mine to be? What is mine to know? What is mine to do?

So, I walk.  As thoughts emerge, I work to act on them in helpful ways.

This year, instead of walking various labyrinths on our trips, I walked those in town, virtually with Veriditas, and always, the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth daily.

Here is a summary of 2020 walking which actually turned out well as people pivoted and created sacred space.

Minnesota Labyrinth Group

Spirit Woods, Stillwater, MN

A lovely group of walkers

Lisa Gidlow Moriarty maintains a wonderful network of Minnesota Labyrinth Lovers. In January Rich and I spent the weekend with cousins in the Twin Cities. On Saturday, I joined the labyrinth group in Stillwater. The day was overcast, the home inviting, and the labyrinth tucked in a wooded spot. Such an intriguing group of people. A lovely walk.

Westminster Presbyterian Church

Early in the year the Westminster Presbyterian Church members and staff worked with me to create a blessing of the beautiful labyrinth they installed in the undercroft. Three colleagues worked with me on music, movement, and art programming geared to all ages as a way to include and encourage participation in labyrinth walking.

Then, the novel coronavirus shut things down. Poof!  Gone. Unfortunately, I have not heard from them and often wonder what they did for blessing the space.

From Trauma to Healing

August 10th a straight-line wind called a derecho swept through Eastern Nebraska, all Iowa, and into Illinois and parts of Indiana.  The powerful winds up to sustained 140 mph struck Eastern Iowa hardest. Thousands of trees toppled in the storm. Clean up will continue well into 2021.

From this trauma emerged Edith Starr Chase, a woman with a vision to create a healing space from the derecho wood.  Teaming with Wickiup Hill Learning Center, Edith helped site the location. The staff mowed a space and laid down mulch.  In September Edith, Becky and I blessed the space. A few days later on a mild October weekend, Edith began placing stumps for a five-circuit labyrinth.  Edith has such vision and energy in designing all sorts of labyrinths from tiny three circuit ones for elementary children to hand-sized finger labyrinths to painted ones on school playgrounds to ones of recovered tree stumps. She created a beautiful, sacred space.  Easily accessible, private yet nearby, adjacent to a marsh and prairie.

Honoring the Space by Walking

I’ve walked it a few times and on the Winter Solstice Edith hosted a labyrinth walk that over 50 people attended in the early evening.  Families in cars streamed in. All wore masks. Mrs. Claus greeted each, offered a votive to carry, guided them in, and thanked them as they left. A candy cane, an offer to enjoy a warm beverage at the kiosk, and an invitation to take a finger labyrinth she had created all completed the evening of peace and appreciation. After the first group of people left and before the next ones arrived, I quietly walked the derecho labyrinth.
Creating sacred space out of chaos. Well done, Edith.

Not All Walks Are Satisfactory

A prairie

Winter Walk

Late in the year, I walked an outdoor labyrinth I have known for a few years. The setting is pleasant enough.  It sits in a large prairie with mature oaks on a hill as a backdrop. Yet, there is something unsettling about it.  I am not alone in my feeling.  It is rather removed from the parking lot, down a long path, with other diverging paths. Which path to take? Others have noted that is it too big to comfortably walk.  Almost like a forced march. Something rubs the wrong way when I walk it.  Yet, leaving and following a different path across the prairie proved to be a pleasant walk.

Veriditas Finger Labyrinth Walks

Finger Labyrinth

Weekly finger walks through Veriditas.

The pandemic canceled the Veriditas Council’s plans for a Renewal Day in The Black Hills. After a pause, the group worked on and is sponsoring a Virtual Renewal Day on January 16, 2021. One Veriditas member expressed interest in re-scheduling perhaps for 2022.  Glad to hear people are looking forward to the future.

Veriditas itself quickly began scheduling weekly finger labyrinth walks that I attended. People from all over the world regularly participate on Fridays.  Including Christmas Day! Australia, Africa, Europe, South America, Canada, and the United States. The director and founder host webinars a few times a month on different labyrinth topics. Council members have graciously stepped up and presented. Facilitator trainings have moved on-line.  More people can participate and become certified. Successfully branching out because of the topsy turvy world.

Intriguing Seasons of the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth

We began and ended 2020 with mild weather. Then, by the first week of January winter arrived. Cold, windy, lots of snow.  Warm temperatures melted the lovely snowshoe snow turning it into treacherous ice. Walking with trek poles was the order of the day.

Spring seemed long in coming and then summer burst upon us.  First rain. Then dry spells. Then, August 10th! Damn, that was a lot of wind and rain.

Surprisingly the labyrinth did come back mostly.  Tall grasses stayed lopped over, but the blue lobelia that always intrigues me showed up in unusual places. Friends helped with the massive yard clean up and together we restored the labyrinth.  And, each day I did walk it.  Right after the storm, I had to be content to thread my way to the center and stand in appreciation. Then, when the circuits were cleared, I went back to walking the full labyrinth.

Seasons

Early spring walking the path is an exercise in stepping around puddles. The path is checked with mole ridges. When the weather warms and a gentle rain falls, worm castings dot the path. The burned edges are full of winter stalks and promise. Summer mowing and trimming are part of the spiritual practice. Fall is when we burn the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth.  Always a thrill. In winter wearing snowshoes is fun. Occasionally, a snow person shows up. Sometimes at the entry. Other times along the path.  Once, even sitting on the bench taking in the view.

Sunrises. Sunsets. The heat of the day. When the wind blows. Hurtling rain and gentle zephyrs.  I’ve walked in all weather for over three years now.

So, 2020 came to a close. We still wait and wonder.  I still pause and ask: How is mine to be? What is mine to know? What is mine to do? Answers are there.

Although 2020 has been topsy turvy people have adapted and created sacred and safe spaces for all. May we continue to create in 2021.

How Do You Create Pollinator Patches?

When we moved into our home ten years ago, we ended up with more than a house.  The former owner had regularly mowed most of our two acres. Within the next two years, we shrank the lawn by about half. A steep former lawn north of the house is now prairie and a fairly level quarter acre between our house and the road is Marion’s labyrinth that she created within a prairie we planted.

Today, most people call flower-studded prairies “pollinator patches” and interest is strong in transforming lawns into them. Here are just a few of the good reasons:

Why Plant Pollinator Patches?

  • Color: Lawns are a monoculture of green. Pollinator patches feature three seasons worth of changing vibrant color as many species of wildflowers come into and go out of bloom. They are beautiful.
  • Water: Closely mowed lawns don’t absorb rain well. Much of a storm’s water runs off, worsening flooding. In contrast, deep-rooted prairies channel most of a storm’s water into the soil, where it eventually recharges the water table and doesn’t worsen downstream flooding.
  • Labor: We don’t enjoy endless hours walking behind a lawnmower.  We will mow our newly planted prairie two or three times this summer and in the following years, we won’t mow it at all. The lawn takes about a dozen mows a year. So, we’re saving time and mower gas that costs money and creates carbon dioxide.
  • Wildlife: We love watching our wren pairs forage for insects in our pollinator patches. By expanding our prairie we’ll welcome even more beautiful and interesting beneficial wild animals to our yard.

Partnerships Work!

Our new prairie will be close to busy 30th St. Drive, so motorists cruising by will see the land transform. We’re partnering the project with the Monarch Research Project, Linn County Roadsides, Sustainable Landscape Solutions, and Pheasants Forever.

Many people want to create pollinator patches in their yards but don’t know how to do this.   We will be blogging through the process to help folks know how this is done. Stay tuned and keep visiting www.windingpathways.com to learn how.

Can We Find Solice Walking Labyrinths in 2020?

2020 The Great Pause

Unlike other years when we have traveled and walked labyrinths along the way, in 2020 we have pretty much stayed at home. Like the rest of the world. That’s OK. We found calm, solace, and yes, even joy.

Remembering day-to-day, when so much seems the same is a challenge, and I can only remember walking a few labyrinths this year. A friend recently termed it “Blursday.”

Except for the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth in our front yard. That, I have continued to walk every day.  And, I am ending my third or fourth year doing so. Indeed a “Blursday” thing. How long HAVE I done this? More on the daily walking later. First, some labyrinths I have been involved with.

Great Plans Gone Astray

It seems that photos mysteriously disappear when I think I have placed them carefully on the computer. Ha!  So, the photos of the walks at Westminster Presbyterian in Waterloo, Iowa, that I took in preparation for a March dedication are, like so many other things in 2020 – gone!  Poof! The memory is sweet. I’d worked with a team there and colleagues and friends here to create a lovely workshop. We planned to acquaint the larger congregation with labyrinths through music, movement, spiritual readings, and art. By weaving in multiple modalities, we believed people would more readily use the labyrinth on their own and in groups from children to adults in religious education, special interests, and incorporate in formal church services.

The pandemic changed everything. I hope the ceremony happened at some time during the year. There’s been no communication from the church since the program was canceled in early March. May they all be well.

Reconnecting

Person walking labyrinth

St. Paul’s in Cedar Rapids is home to a lovely indoor labyrinth. (Photo courtesy Mary H.)

Years ago, Mary H. and I worked together in Lamaze Classes. And, even though our paths diverged, we stayed loosely connected over the years. One day Mary and I visited by distance and she shared about a labyrinth at St. Paul’s Methodist Church on Third Ave SE. What a find!  It is beautiful!  And, what a treat it will be to walk when the pandemic ends.

From Destruction, A Creation of Healing

After the derecho that struck Iowa on August 10, 2020, a colleague, Edith Starr Chase, pursued creatively repurposing the downed trees and stumps to a labyrinth of natural materials. She found the right place at Wickiup Hill Learning Center. In September, three of us, wearing masks and keeping a distance, blessed the well-chosen site. Flat, surrounded by prairie and a lively marsh. Close to trails. Accessible. Near a parking lot yet, set aside for privacy. The county mowed the area and laid down woodchips. In October Edith and friends began measuring and placing stumps for a truly sublime labyrinth. At the entry stands a young guardian oak. A wide path opens to the tree-stump labyrinth. Walking it, pilgrims feel themselves releasing the trauma of the event, settling into the ground, resting and laying hands on stumps, recalling, restoring. Edith and her friends created a wonderful healing memorial. For the winter solstice, she planned a walk – one of many to come.

The Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth

We started the year with a mild winter’s day New Year’s Day Labyrinth Walk.  Teri P. joined others walking for peace, tranquility, hope, and courage. Cold and snow hit later that week and the weather remained cold and snowy for several weeks. Each day, I strapped on snowshoes and crunched along the five-circuit dual entry labyrinth.

Practicing the Shamanic tradition, I often pause at each turn toward the Cardinal Points – East, South, West, North – Below to Mother Earth, Above to Father Sky, and Center – the emerging Bur Oak we planted a few years ago.

Mostly I walk with Gratitude. For all – those I care about, those I don’t know, those I disagree with, and those I do not like.  Asking for kindness in my heart and blessings to all.  It’s hard sometimes. Insights are important, too. So, it’s OK to let my mind wander a bit and wonder. Nature. Seasons. Love. Hate. What drives people. Thankfulness for our families and this home and property.

Each day is different. The angle of the sun, sprinklings of rain, fog, presence of insects and birds. Tracks and poop in the snow are telltale signs of night visitors. Sometimes I walk before dawn even in winter, looking back at the house’s gentle glow from windows and smoke wafting from the chimney. Other times about 6:40 a.m. a neighbor’s truck lumbers up the road. We exchange a friendly wave. Occasionally, on early winter and summer nights I walk.  The solar lights guide my way in winter. By summer the glow of twilight keeps me on the path. A bat swoops. A coyote yips. Crickets sing. Trees creak stiffly. Stars and planets glow.

It’s all good. A discipline and a joy.

 

Fireflies and Milkweed Walk

Lights twinkled in the yard and labyrinth. The faint perfume of milkweed wafted up in the still, hot, early summer air. Calling. Calling.

We had arrived home at dusk after a long journey home from the East. Still in “travel mode” we unpacked the car and put away most of our trip supplies. As darkness wrapped around us, we let ourselves release the tension that builds up from high-speed driving through eight states and visiting with numerous family and friends in four different states.

So, in the dark, with stars guiding me, fireflies dancing around me and the soft aroma of milkweed calming me, I walked the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth.

How can I explain the grounding, settling in and the sense of “coming home” that flowed into and through me? I kept saying over and over, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

To the rental car for its comfort. For safe travels by car, on foot, and in buses and subways. For great meals with friends and family. For respites in unexpected places. Fr color. For quiet. For seeing different parts of the land and meeting different people. For perspectives.

While my words are weak in conveying my experience that evening, I trust that some readers have had a similar experience the memory of which lingers in their soul. A memory they can return to time and again to calm, soothe, and refresh them.