Links to Stories of Wondrous Yards

The Gazette in Cedar Rapids has had several interesting nature stories connected to creating wondrous yards.  Living Section features “Birds do it, Bees do it”, “Add a Little Luck to Your Landscape” and Purslane (by Winding Pathways).  We loved reading about the birds and bees’ cooling strategies and welcomed the return of clover to yards as natural nitrogen fixers and deep-rooted water retention plants.  And, of course, we love to eat purslane.  Let us know ways you fix this healthy vegetable.

Also an article on wasps of late summer.  They are beneficial, ‘though deserve keeping distance.

First Chrysalis of Summer.

Success on the Bena Farm!

Best of all was the picture of the Monarch Chrysalis from friends, Nancy and Gordon Bena found on their farm.  Let’s keep encouraging habitat for insects that form the basis of life for many other creatures.

Take Time for Sunrises and Sunsets

“Take Time. Make Time”
Guest Blogger
Connie Sjostrom


Sunrise comes early in Summer.

After working 40 years of my life, I was fortunate to be able to retire early.  Always a multi-tasker while I was a working mom, you can imagine that much of my spare time was, well, not really spare. I vowed early on that my children should not miss out on “mom time” because I was working. That meant that some other things had to give a little.  Like housework…that was easy

to cut. The only “extra time” I allowed myself before the family began to stir was a cup of coffee and a scan of the local paper WHILE I blow-dried my hair   But getting back to my original point: when I retired, I knew it was going to take a bit to adjust to my new normal of no schedule. I developed two mantras –the first, “Slow Me Down, Lord”, and the second followed “Take time, make time.”

Like time to watch the sunrise.

Farm Life

Growing up on a farm I saw few sunrises mostly because I was already in the barn milking and there wasn’t a lot of extra time in those days. Milking 50 cattle morning and night…usually with only two people milking. You get the picture.

Arkansas sunset

Arkansas Sunset
Photo by Connie Sjostrom

But, I saw lots of sunsets — mostly from a tractor. Back then we worked until it was dark, and sometimes later depending on the season. Still no camera handy. And if I did get a shot, I had to wait until the roll was full to get it developed. And usually, a few weeks for it to come back not to mention the trip to town to drop it off and pick it up. It was a real thing.


When we first married my husband and I enjoyed small town living but that involved a 45-minute commute to work and little extra time to catch the sunrise. Even when we moved to the country 27 years ago, I was still up early and getting ready for my day. We had the perfect spot — on top of a hill facing East-southeast. But until I retired I was hit and miss on taking the time to actually catch the sunrise.  And then, I didn’t always have a camera at the ready, so very few were ever captured.

Fast forward to my retirement years. I now have hundreds (maybe thousands) of pictures of sunrises and I am so glad I can share those with others who may not have the time or the perfect location to view these masterpieces of creation. While Facebook has its drawbacks, being able to share a sunrise photo instantly is definitely a plus.

Sunrise this time of year is @ 5:30 a.m.  Take time, make time!

Goats of Wonderland

A Visit to Cheshire Moon Farm

Fans of Alice and Wonderland know the famous Cheshire Cat grin. That feline gave its name to a happy place called Cheshire Moon Farm in rural Atkins, Iowa. Winding Pathways visited in late April and left smiling.

The farm is perched on high ground with a clear view in all directions. “The night sky is gorgeous and the crescent moon reminded me of the Cheshire Cat’s grin, so that’s how our place got its name,” said Elise Gallet de St Aurin.

Happy Animals Reflect Caretakers’ Enthusiasm

The name is appropriate. Elise and her family are caretakers of goats, sheep, horses, guineas, chickens, and a couple of dogs. As she led us around, her cheery enthusiasm was matched by that of the animals. All seemed happy, and if the animals could grin like the Cheshire cat we’re sure they would.

Elise holds a master’s degree in agriculture education and chose to return to the family farm after college, where she meshed her considerable energy with enthusiasm and knowledge to build a business centered mostly around goats.

How Goats Help People

There are lots of goats at Cheshire Moon Farm. Some are meat breeds sold for the niche meat market. Other goats are kept for breeding. And, at least one semi-retired animal mentors the herd of younger goats. Still, others are milkers that produce the raw material for the soaps and lotions that Elise makes. Although not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for people who suffer from eczema and psoriasis, Elise indicated that some customers find the products helpful.

Thanks to Elise we received a goat education. They are truly amazing and were the first animal domesticated by people some 30,000 years ago in the Middle East. A goat can yield about 45 pounds of meat and a milker may yield up to a gallon a day. Some people enjoy having a goat pet, which has a lifespan similar to that of a dog. Goats live in herds. Sheep in flocks.

There are many goat breeds, and the animals come in many colors and configurations. One goat Elise calls her reverse Dalmatian because of its black body with white spots.

Goats are curious, love to climb on things and are voracious eaters. “They love snacking on woody plants and like poison ivy, Canada thistle, and other prickly plants. In contrast, sheep are grazers that prefer to eat grass,” she said.

Landowners hire her to bring goats to places loaded with exotic undesirable prickly plants. In a short time, the animals devour honeysuckles, barberries, and poison ivy. We asked how she cleans the poison-ivy-eating-goats off. “I mix Dawn soap with water and squirt them down until they turn blue, then hose them off,” she explained.

A Woman on a Mission

In addition to raising goats for brush clearing, milk, and meat Elise, is a farrier who travels to trim the hooves of sheep and goats and had just returned from a Minnesota hoof trimming trip when we met her. She works full time at the Cedar Rapids Tractor Supply Company. Among many duties at the store, she manages baby chick sales.

Despite her vast knowledge of animals, what shines through is her boundless enthusiasm for education, augmented by her master’s degree in that field. She’s also an adept cooperator. “I don’t know machines too well but teamed up with Larry’s Landscaping to fill voids in the farm operation,” she said. While we visited, Larry and two of his children were buzzing around tidying up the property for an upcoming open house.

As we left for home we glanced back at Cheshire Moon Farm. Goats, sheep, chickens, guineas, and horses all seem to give us a big happy grin as if to say, “Hurry back”.

We’ll do that. Anyone is welcome to an Open House from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 19, 2018.
3169 74th St Atkins, IA 52206. For information check out CGLHEARTANDHOOVES.COM.


Lake Labyrinth Metaphor

Flooded labyrinth

The challenge of obstacles in a labyrinth walk.


The lyrics to Enya’s song, “Pilgrim” often roamed through my mind this winter as I walked the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth in cold and warmth, snow and rain, trudged through deepening snow and slid over the icy path all in a quest to reach Center. Center – a physical, emotional, spiritual goal.

In particular the line: “The road that leads to nowhere, the road that leads to you.”

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Night Vision

Winter is the season of cold and darkness but there’s no reason to stay inside. It’s an outstanding time to enjoy the yard, a wetland, or a nearby woods, and these places are even more fascinating after dark than they are by day. Just use your night vision.

Winding Pathways encourages everyone to bundle up and go outside, especially after January or February’s darkness descends. Perhaps coyote songs or the haunting call of a barred owl will greet an intrepid nighttime listener.

There are some ways to best enjoy the darkness.  Forget the flashlight. Well, maybe tuck it into a pocket but mostly keep it off.  The best way to degrade night vision is using artificial light.  Better to learn how to see in the dark.

Color Deficiency Can Help with Night Vision

Rich Patterson, a co-owner of Winding Pathways is lucky, sort of. He is unable to see the color red well.  He’s not color blind as he can see blue, yellow, green, and some red shades, but he doesn’t see red as people with normal color vision so. For some reason, folks with color deficiency vision often have an outstanding ability to see after dark, and Rich enjoys his night vision, is often outside after dark, and hardly ever uses a flashlight.

There’s more to seeing after dark than having a color deficiency and better than average night vision.  Everyone can use these techniques to negotiate the night and their homes at night without a flashlight.

Relax the eyes. Forget peering for detail, like the texture of a tree’s bark.  Rather look out of the edges of the eyes for patterns that indicate a tree, rock, lawn, or some other object. Once the eyes are trained to work well at night it’s amazing how easy it is to walk a forest path, without a flashlight on a dark night. Or navigate your home in the dark and when the electricity goes off.

Foot Gear for Outdoor Walking

When outside, wear soft-soled shoes or in warm months, go barefoot. Thick hard-soled shoes, like hiking boots, make it impossible to feel the ground’s texture. Softer, pliable soles help a walker feel the trail.  Native Americans knew this well and felt their way through dark forests through the soles of their moccasins.

It helps to mute electric lights in the house before venturing outdoors after dark. It takes a few minutes in darkness for eyes to adjust and allow more light to strike the retina.

Moon Shadows

Moon Walk 1-1-2018

Full Moon Walk New Year’s Night

There is a surprising amount of light on a dark night especially in winter with snow on the ground. Even in the dark of the moon, stars cast enough light on a clear night for an adept human to walk without a flashlight. With a waxing or even waning full moon, plenty of light is cast on the ground for us to see.  The moon’s reflection even casts shadows:  Moon shadows!

Pre-Dawn Labyrinth Walking

Since late December 2017, Marion has walked the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth every day and mostly in the early morning.  In cold, wind, full-moon and dark of the moon, fog, and snow, she has quietly trod through the snow, watched the stars, noted animal tracks and generally enjoyed this interlude in the dark.

Cave Dark is Real Dark

An interesting experience is taking a cave tour. Visit Carlsbad Caverns, Mammoth Cave, or nearly any other cave and invariably the guide will gather everyone and turn off the lights. Down in a cave there is no light at all. When there’s no light it’s impossible to see, but fortunately, a backyard or woods at night is much lighter than the depths of a cavern, so seeing is possible.

Go outside after dark and have fun.