A Forest is More Than Trees

We won’t forget August 10, 2020.  On that summer day, Cedar Rapids was hit with 140 miles an hour winds that tore off roofs, felled signs, and toppled at least 65% of the City’s trees. The damage was awesome.

We lost 47 of our 53 big trees at Winding Pathways and spent the next two months cutting up a twisted jumble of trunks and branches. We bucked up what we could for firewood and made huge brush piles on the north end of our property for wildlife habitat. We used chain saws for cutting but muscle power to haul brush and wood.

Nearly all woodland owners suffered similar damage, and most of them immediately began clearing away broken and downed trees. Some used heavy equipment to haul off debris, leaving bare soil in the woods, a perfect seedbed for weeds.

Resetting the Forest

The derecho reset Iowa’s woods. Prior to settlement most of the state was prairie with woodlands typically lining streams and rivers. Frequent wildfires raced through grasslands and never hesitated when they encountered woods. This created a savanna ecotype characterized by scattered fire-resistant big trees, mostly oaks, walnuts, and hickories, with a stunningly diverse array of wildflowers carpeting the ground.

Savanna was an “open” forest. It lacked a shrub understory, and because trees didn’t create a closed leafy canopy sunlight dappled the ground. Perhaps no forest is as beautiful or endangered as savanna.

Iowa’s settlers quickly suppressed fire. Gradually trees closed the canopy, keeping the ground in shade most of the day. Many savanna flowers need some sunlight and declined as a shrub layer, often of exotic invasive woody plants, thrived. Many woods that owners considered healthy were actually degraded by years of fire protection.

The derecho changed it within under an hour. Many trees fell to the ground, but others survived.   Woodlands will now have sunlight reach the ground, stimulating both invasive species and long-suppressed native wildflowers.

Planning and Planting

The woods on the east side of our house created nearly a complete canopy, but suddenly they fell. After we cleared away the debris, we did these things:

  • Planted a few white and bur oaks in the fall. We’ll plant a few more next spring.  All are protected from deer browsing with a stout ring of wire mesh.
  • Purchased a diverse mix of savanna wildflowers and a few kinds of grass from Pheasants Forever. Mid-November brought two inches of new snow, and we hustled out to broadcast the seeds on it. It’s called frost planting and works well.
  • Discovered some tiny oaks, hackberries, and walnuts amid fallen trees. We marked them and know they’ll grow rapidly next year.

Recovery will be slow. Newly planted trees grow slowly their first few years and savanna and prairie seeds take a few years to establish. We don’t expect to see much change in 2021 but our “new” savanna will eventually be gorgeous and look much like it would have in the early 1800s.

Sources

We bought our prairie seed from www.pheasantsforever.org.  Our fall-planted trees were ordered from the National Arbor Day Foundation www.arborday.org.  Spring planting will be of trees we bought from Chief River Nursery www.chief rivernursery.com.

We’ll follow up our planting with occasional prescribed burns to retard invasive plants and invigorate natives.

Is Arbor Day in November?

Unusual Storm Clouds

The August storm looked like an ordinary thunderstorm approaching. Dark clouds gathered to the west as we sat on our porch. What happened minutes later was far from normal.

The roaring wind hit like a prize fighter’s fist, bending our small oaks and maples parallel to the ground. Before it struck, we had 53 mature, healthy trees on our two acres. Forty minutes later only six still stood somewhat unravaged. As we watched in dismay and horror our oaks, hackberries, cherries, pines, and Douglas Firs either uprooted or snapped off. At least our beloved black walnut still stood on the edge of the woods.

Then a massive gust later reported to be 140 miles an hour by the National Weather Service, stripped off the walnut’s branches. Soon, the wind calmed, allowing us to see tree carnage and home damage. It was shocking and started three months of clean up and reconstruction. We fixed the house but it’s not possible to replace century-old trees.

A Banner Day

In contrast to the August 10, 2020 derecho, Thursday, November 19 was a banner day.

Man planting tree.

Arbor Day in November

We had just received a box of trees from the National Arbor Day Foundation. After we tucked the oaks, maples, pines, and aspens into the ground we ringed them with a thick layer of wood chips and gave them a good drink of water. The chips came from massive fallen trees the City of Cedar Rapids ground up after the storm. Then we circled each tree with wire mesh to protect it from hungry deer. By afternoon we were tired but elated. We won’t live long enough to see our new trees as giants, but we gave them a good start.

Arbor Day Quality Trees

The baby trees looked great. It was our most recent purchase from the Arbor Day Foundation. Although inexpensive, they looked healthy and eager to grow. Even the bur and white oaks, which have robust and long taproots looked great.

In most places, Arbor Day is celebrated in late April. We’ll plant some more trees then, but we sat on our back deck on a warm November evening and enjoyed seeing our trees in their new homes. For us and our new trees, it was Arbor Day in November.

Lied Lodge and Arbor Day Foundation – Destination

We have visited the Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska City, Nebraska, several times. It’s where Arbor Day was created. We’ve overnighted at Lied Lodge on the property and enjoyed walking trails on Arbor Day Farm.

So, if you need to buy trees check out arborday.org.  Want a pleasant place to visit? The Farm and Lodge are less than an hour’s drive south of Omaha. Although we’ve been there several times, we look forward to returning.

Treasuring Our Trees

Winding Pathways is partnering with Cornell College, Indian Creek Nature Center, Peoples Church, Prairiewoods, and Trees Forever to present Treasuring our Trees.

Join us via ZOOM to honor and remember the fallen trees in the Cedar Rapids and surrounding areas following the Derecho of August 10, 2020.  Sunday, October 25, 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m. Learn more at www.prairiewoods.org.
Join using Zoom meeting ID 829 4883 0080 & password 056503.

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.

 

What Does an American Thanksgiving Dinner Look Like?

A New World Thanksgiving

Almost every meal Americans enjoy comes from animals and plants that trace their origin to many continents.

Cattle, sheep, chickens, and pigs, for example, are all natives of the Old World brought to America soon after it was settled by Europeans. Wheat, rice, and many other plant foods are also newcomers that were unknown to Native Americans.

One annual feast mostly made from original American foods is Thanksgiving. This year why not create this traditional feast from entirely plants and animals that were found here before Columbus?

Turkeys

Turkey highlights the Thanksgiving dinner.  See our previous blog on this amazing and tasty bird. Here are plants native to North and South America to complement roast turkey:

Fruits and Vegetables

Corn: Corn has been grown in Central America for thousands of years. It’s cultivation gradually spread north and east and became a staple food for Native Americans.   When hungry Pilgrims landed in what became Massachusetts they found and stole caches of corn stored by local tribes, no doubt causing bad feelings.

Cranberries: Most commonly eaten fruits originated in Europe or Asia, but the cranberry is an American native.

Squash and Pumpkins:  Dozens of varieties of winter squash come in many shapes, colors and sizes, and the pumpkin is actually a squash. Butternut, Hubbard, acorn, or any other squash is delicious on the Thanksgiving dinner table, and dessert of pumpkin pie rounds out a tasty meal.

Potatoes: Common potatoes also originated in South or Central America and have been an important food for thousands of years. Mashed or baked, they go well with turkey, squash, and cranberries.

Sweet Potatoes: Originally from South America, these are among the most nutritious of foods. Similar yams have an African origin, so for a local dinner stick with sweet potatoes.

The sweetness from the Maples

Maple Syrup: While honey is made by bees that came from the Old World, maple syrup is America’s sweetener. It’s delicious on squash or sweet potatoes.

Beans: Native American gardens usually featured three plants: beans, squash, and corn. Commonly called The Three Sisters combined they create a balanced diet.

A diet of many foods that originally came from the Americas makes a delicious an interesting Holiday meal. We tend to thank modern geneticists for creating abundant food, but beans, corn, squash, sweet potatoes, maple syrup, cranberries, and turkey were all domesticated and enjoyed by Native Americans long before Columbus set sail.

Why Was Iowa The “Lumber King of the World?”

Tenting in Iowa's forests.

Enjoying Iowa’s forests.

Iowa is one of the states with the fewest trees, yet in the late 1800s we were the Lumber Kings of the World!  And,

tree rings

Notice the tree rings on this wide board from New Hampshire

Clinton, Iowa’s minor league baseball team proudly retains that name – Lumber Kings!  Why?  Read The Green Gazette (9-29-2019, Living L-09 and 10) to learn about Iowa’s forest industry, where you can camp today in quiet forests and how lumbering put Clinton, Iowa, on the map.