Lewelling Quaker Museum

Always Something New To Learn

Although we’ve lived in Iowa for over 40 years, we never knew so much history crowded into a small town in the mid-1800s not long after settlement. Our visit to the Lewelling Quaker Museum in Salem, Iowa, brought us up to speed on history. The small museum tells a fascinating, little-known history that impacted people far beyond Iowa’s borders. They focus on three significant areas.


The Museum’s formal name is the Lewelling Quaker Museum. These peaceful people moved to the area during the decades prior to the Civil War. Among their many beliefs was a strong aversion to slavery. Neighboring Missouri settlers owned slaves just 20 miles south of Salem.

The Underground Railroad

Salem area Quakers, joined by others of various faiths, were a significant part of the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves move north to legal safety in Canada. In the museum, located in an old home, we were able to enter the tiny crawl space beneath the kitchen where slaves hid from slave catchers. The process must have been scary for both slaves and those who helped them. Captured slaves were returned to their owner for likely punishment and continued to live in bondage. Whites who helped risked arrest and incarceration. Yet, the Underground railroad persisted and helped many people gain freedom. 


The Lewelling Family were nursery people who cultivated and sold fruit trees. They developed several productive varieties of cherries and apples. In the early days of the Oregon Trail travel fever infected the Lewellings. They modified a wagon to hold tiny fruit tree slips and made the arduous trek over the Great Plains and mountains all the way to the Willamette Valley. Most of the baby trees survived the trip and were used to start the Pacific Northwest’s famed fruit industry. People enjoy different fruits and apple varieties to this day in part because of the families that carried the tiny fruit slips west.

Lewelling stone home from the side.

18″ thick walls.

The volunteer-operated Lewelling Quaker Museum is open for tours Sunday afternoons from 1-4 pm May through September and by appointment at other times and dates.  We found our visit fascinating and encourage others to go. Salem is located a few miles south of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in the SE corner of the state. For information check lewelling.org.

Smokes Gets In Our Eyes!

Just what impact did the heavy wildfire smoke that blanketed vast regions of Canada and the United States have on plants?  We wondered. The news media warned of smoke’s impact on people and pets and cautioned us to stay indoors and limit physical activity. But what about plants?

For many June days smoke from Canadian fires settled over Winding Pathways and a vast area of North America. With the Western United States likely to ignite later in the summer, it’s time for Smokey Bear to get ready for more action these growing-season days.

Impact on Photovoltaics

We watched the real-time production monitor on our photovoltaic system during smokey days. It indicated that smoke was reducing our collector’s ability to turn solar energy into electricity. Was something similar happening with crops, trees, and lawns?

We turned to wildfire and smoke experts at our alma mater, the University of Idaho’s College of Natural Resources, for answers.

Blood red sun rising through smoke.

Smokes filters light.

Dr. Charles Goebel, Professor of Forest Ecosystem Restoration, explained, “Yes, smoke can impede photosynthesis. There is some research that indicates that short-term smoke exposure can reduce photosynthesis by as much as 50%. This is, in part, due to the reduced light intensity, destruction of chlorophyll, and reducing the flow of carbon dioxide through stomata.”  He added that lower levels of smoke can help plants by increasing the carbon dioxide level and diffusing the light that some plants use better than direct sunlight.

How Plants React to Smoke

Dr. Goebel added fascinating aspects about plants and smoke. “Plants can filter out some smoke particles but probably not enough to make much difference during heavy smoke events.  Smoke particles that settle to the ground may have some beneficial impact on plants. Smoke contains calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which are essential plant nutrients,” he added.

Wait…There Is More!

Sun peering through smoke.

Wildfires are common in the West.

Dr. Lena N. Kobziar, Associate Professor of Wildland Fire Science, added: “We know that fires emit microbes (fungi, bacteria, archaea) along with other gaseous and particulate matter. Smoke transmits these living microbes that can colonize damaged soil and begin to grow and multiply. This can help the soil,” she said.

Want to learn more?  Dr. Kobziar’s Fire Ecology Lab website has an enormous amount of current information on wildfires and their impact on forests and people.

The University of Idaho

 We’re Vandals……meaning graduates of the University of Idaho. Our immediate family earned four degrees there. We’ve joke that the “real” U of I is not in Iowa City but in Moscow, Idaho. The Vandals are its mascot.

We enjoyed our academic careers at the U of I.  Knowledge gained there helped our lives and careers and we humbly thank its faculty for continuing to answer our nature-related questions, like about smoke, years after graduation.

It’s a great institution. Take a look at the University of Idaho’s website. Go, Vandals!

Disappearing Ash Trees

Disappearing Ash Trees

Ash trees are fast disappearing from American forests and towns. It’s tragic.

There are several ash species, including white, green, blue, and black. A Chinese native insect, the Emerald Ash Borer, is killing them all quickly. It’s awful.

Years ago, Dutch Elm Disease cleared cities of American elms, and many homeowners and towns planted green and white ash trees to replace them. Ashes, in general, thrive in the woods and towns. They grow relatively quickly, resist storm damage, and are beautiful. They seemed like an ideal urban tree.

That was true until Emerald Ash Borers were found in Michigan in 2002, although they may have been around at least a decade earlier. Since then, the insect has spread like crazy, killing ashes radiating outward from Michigan.

They reached Iowa years later and have since killed most of the trees in Cedar Rapids, area woodlands, and many other towns.

Salvaging Ash trees

Rich salvages wood from a scrap pile of used pallets. Pallets are made from cheap wood, like cottonwood, poplar, and hackberry, but now he’s finding ones made of ash.

Loggers are salvaging dead and dying ash trees, and the wood is cheap, at least for now. Soon ash lumber will no longer exist.

A Versatile Wood

Sports fans will miss ash wood. It makes the best baseball bats and has been used for gymnastic bars.

Ash also is crafted into gorgeous furniture.

We lost our big ash tree in the August 2020 derecho, but it was already infested with borers with its days numbered. Sadly, we cut the tree up but gave it a second task. It harvested solar energy and used it to make wood. That wood is now being fed, piece by piece, into our woodstove. It’s keeping our home warm, but we’d rather have our tree.

Winter Trees

Winter trees. We love ‘em even though they don’t sport their cooling green summer leaves or October’s color.

When autumn leaves fall, trees look wonderfully different. Their nakedness reveals sights that are difficult to notice during summer. Here are some of the delights we discover when walking through January woodlands and looking at the winter trees.

Pods, Seeds, Textures

Pods and Seeds:   Just what are those long string bean-looking pods hanging from the branches? They are the seed pods of the catalpa tree. Nearby are flattish, twisted, crinkled black pods upwards of six inches long. Some are still hanging from branches, while others litter the path. They’re honey locust pods. Pry one open to find large black seeds inside. Box elders have typical maple helicopter seeds that stay on the trees much of the winter unless devoured by hungry squirrels or cardinals. Sycamore trees hold their round ball seeds on the ends of branches well into winter.

Twig Texture:  Elms and sugar maples sport zillions of finely textured twigs toward their tops, while walnuts, box elders, catalpas, and ailanthus have far fewer but much thicker twigs. Ash trees are somewhat in between, but their twigs radiate out at nearly right angles from branches.

Bark and Shape

Bark:  Young maples, ailanthus, and Siberian elms have smooth bark that becomes darker and more textured as the tree grows. The most intriguing bark pattern is always on hackberry trees. The bumpy bark makes it unmistakable.

Shape:   The profile of leafless trees often is a clue to the species. Pin oaks have a central trunk with lower branches that sometimes slope downward or radiate out at nearly right angles. The tree is spruce shaped in great contrast to wide-spreading white and bur oaks. Box elders always seem to be leaning one way or another, while American elms often show a thick buttress close to the ground beneath a vase-shaped upper. Siberian elms shoot straight for the sky.


Color:   Although winter tree bark is mostly gray to black sometimes color comes through. Spot a subtle orange bark and it’s likely a mulberry tree. Large Scotch pines also have pumpkin-colored bark towards the top.  Sycamores are distinctive in their pale, flakey bark. And, white birches are easy to identify with their smoother, white bark that tends to curl as the trees age. Their cousin, the river birch, has shaggier bark and often grows larger in damp soil.

Winter trees are always fun to see and often are easy to identify. As we walk through the snow, we love discovering many tree shapes, textures, seeds, and bark. to help identify Google something like shape of (name of tree) in winter. The images will help you identify the trees before you go for a walk.

Iowa: A Producer of Fine Hardwoods?

An Iowa Woodland

Harvesting Iowa Wood is sustainable.

When we tell people that Iowa is a major producer of some of the world’s most beautiful hardwood, they think we’re nuts. After all, we live in the corn state, where it’s possible to drive a hundred miles viewing only crops.

“Iowa is the sweet spot for the highest quality walnut lumber. Further north it’s too cold for the trees to get big enough and down south they grow so fast the logs contain much white sapwood and wide growth rings. Local walnut is of the highest quality, and it’s beautiful and abundant,” said Thomas Hunt as he led us through the Kendrick Forest Products Mill in Edgewood, Iowa.

Black walnut has been a favored hardwood for paneling, cabinetry, furniture, and gunstocks for hundreds of years. Its dark heartwood has a complex grain pattern that glistens with beauty. It is easy to work with, holds finish well, and is used to create furniture prized for generations.

Walnut log

Log ready to be loaded.

Walnut trees are abundant in Iowa, especially in the tightly wooded valleys of the Driftless Area. Trees grow relatively quickly and produce annual nut crops that squirrels bury by the thousands each fall. They only find some for winter snacks. The rest sprout into new trees. When carefully logged walnuts, along with oaks, hickories, ashes, and basswoods produce crops at long intervals and just as sustainably as well-managed farm crops.



Logs are shipped to Kendrick’s mill and sorted by species. During our visit, workers were transforming sugar maple logs into boards. No doubt some will end up flooring beautiful and resilient basketball courts.

Logs enter a huge machine that removes the bark and any dirt clinging to it. They then enter a powerful bandsaw. We watched Zippy operate hand and foot controls that fed each log into the blade that squared off a side. He then flipped it over and cut three more times to create a massive squared-off hunk of maple that next moved to another saw. It cuts the log into one of many things. Sometimes they make railroad ties. We watched the saw create inch-thick lumber.

Boards then go to the “green chain”, a room where workers sort them by grade and stack them up. From there they are cured in the open air and eventually in a kiln that removes moisture.

Finished products are shipped to customers far and wide. Walnut is especially valued overseas. Anyone who loves finely-crafted cabinetry, paneling, or flooring may have Iowa-grown wood processed at Kendrick Forest Products. Iowa’s more than a corn state!

Want to see the mill in action?  Kendrick’s offers tours. Information is on their website at kfpiowa.com/take-a-tour/.  Can’t get to Eldridge?  Enjoy a video tour on their website. And, learn about Monday Mulch!

Hot August Days in May

The distant view and the feel are “Hot August Days.” The near view and sounds are mid-May.  With this hot weather, the trees have popped, the fruit trees are in full bloom, and the early garden plants emerging after the cooler and damp weather. We may break a century-old heat record today.

Two days ago we had the woodstove running. Now the air conditioner!

Notice the haze in the distance and the sun rising in the east – still six weeks from the Summer Solstice. Humidity levels are high. Winds are calmer after the front blew in.

The trees show emerging leaves and catkins. Insects work the fruit trees and low-growing spring flowers.

Birds are everywhere singing, courting, mating, and building nests.  Amazing transformation in two days.