Wisdom From “Johnny Appleseed” of Prairie Plants
“Weeds are mother nature’s stitches,” prairie restorationist Corliss “Jock” Ingels told us years ago.
“If you badly cut yourself, a physician stitches the wound closed so it can heal. If you bare the ground, weeds quickly sprout, shading the soil with foliage and filling it with roots. Weeds reduce erosion until more permanent plants take hold,” he proclaimed.
Even rag weed has a purpose. Birds love the seeds.
On a hot summer morning, we pedaled along the Grant Wood Trail, seeing mother nature’s stitches alongside the new pavement. Recently the popular bicycle trail was paved. Machines bared the soil at the edge of the pavement that’s now covered with bright yellow trefoil, crown and purple vetch, golden dandelions, white spurge, sweet clover, ragweed, and poison hemlock. All are so-called invasive weeds, but they’re providing a service by holding the soil and giving homes to trailside wildlife until more “desirable” plants establish. Some of those pioneering weeds sported an array of bright flowers that made our morning ride delightful.
Beyond Human Centric
Weeds have a purpose, but must a plant or animal need to have a “human-centric” perspective?
The night before our bike ride we sat on our back deck with Neil and Renata Bernstein. He’s a recently retired biology professor and remarked that sometimes people ask what purpose a particular plant or animal has.
Purpose! Must plants and animals have a purpose from a human perspective?
Easily recycled cans become trash.
Dr. Bernstein sometimes responds to these questions by saying, “What’s the purpose of people?” Indeed, our observations are that modern humans have forced out original people from their lands. We have done a great deal of harm by polluting the air, siphoning off life-giving water to maintain green grass, and stripping the land of topsoil, precious metals, and crystals. We greedily take a resource, convert it to our own purpose, then throw it away. “What’s the purpose of people?”
More to Purpose Than Our Perspective
We can learn much from turtles.
Some living things certainly have a great purpose. Without wheat, cattle, corn, penicillin mold, lumber, trees, and thousands of other plants and animals we couldn’t live. Others may seem to have a negative purpose. Think disease-causing microbes, poison ivy, ragweed that spews allergic pollen into the air, mosquitoes, and a host of other creatures that cause human misery. To view them negatively is human-centric.
The vast majority of living things neither produce tangible benefits nor problems for people. Like turtles, they simply live. Probably they have a valuable ecological role that may not be obvious but they are here. They have a right to be here whether or not they provide human impact. As we have learned over millennia, different plants and animals, offer benefits to us. We simply have to observe and incorporate.
To Everything…There is a Purpose
Every living thing has a purpose in the great scheme of things that people barely understand.
So, as we cycle along, we doff our bike helmets to the diversity of life we pass and silently thank them for sharing the world with us.
Sitting: it’s a rewarding outdoor activity. How can that be when everyone knows that being outdoors means movement? Hiking, cycling, skiing, canoeing, and swimming all get the heart beating and muscles working.
You see everything on RAGBRAI
Kayaking gets the heart pumping and strengthens the arms
We love all these activities but recently were reminded that sitting quietly is a fascinating and productive way to spend time outdoors. On a gorgeous May morning, we stopped at the road’s end in Iowa’s Brush Creek Canyon Nature Preserve. A narrow informal path lured us past a rock outcropping high above a gurgling brook.
We carried the sling chairs and binoculars that we keep in the car down a narrow informal footpath. Just a hundred yards later we found a level spot with a perfect view downward through trees to the water.
Sit we did. Enmeshed in secluded quiet we sat so still that warblers and vireos flitted among the trees. Even a hummingbird buzzed in front of us. A fly settled on Rich’s pants, explored a bit, and then went on its way.
Active outdoor activities are good for the body and mind, but sometimes sitting is the best way to notice our world and its inhabitants. When we scurry down a trail, wildlife hides or flees. When we sit and become part of the landscape, wildlife ignores the human presence and goes about its business.
Tree branches help you watch the moon move across the sky.
Here’s our favorite sitting exercise that can be done almost anywhere. As a full moon rises, position a comfortable chair with tree branches or even overhead wires between it and the moon. Sit very still. Using branches or the wire as a reference it’s possible to watch the moon move.
Oh, Brush Creek Canyon. We recommend it as one of Iowa’s wildest natural gems. It’s just north of Arlington in Fayette County. Go outside. Have fun.
Couple by lake
A good friend
The Blue Bridge is gone! Well, it was still there, but when we saw it on April 4, 2023, its back was broken and its span sagged down into Indian Creek. Seeing the prostrate structure and after thousands of crossings on that historic iron bridge, we got a case of the Blues.
From Horse-Drawn Buggies to Modern Vehicles
Spanning Indian Creek near the Indian Creek Nature Center, the blue bridge was built in 1876 for horse-drawn vehicles. It easily made the transition to cars early in the 20th Century but only got its name in 1991 when Linn County painted it bright blue. For decades it was one of several iron bridges in Linn County. Few remain, that we know of, all dating from the late 19th Century.
Will a new bridge last this long?
The remaining iron bridge over Indian Creek.
The old span was rugged. We watched it flex when flood water pushed against it. When the water receded, the county was able to quickly reopen the undamaged span.
The old bridge remained functional but, in the eyes of traffic engineers, it had a major flaw. It had but a single lane, meaning when two cars approached from opposite directions one had to wait for the other to cross. It also wasn’t aligned perfectly for speed.
Civility vs. Speed
“I loved the lesson in civility the Blue Bridge provided. I’ve crossed it every day for years and when I wait for another car to pass that driver waves and smiles in thanks. The bridge may have lacked efficiency but it fostered courtesy,” said Jean Perkins, a local resident.
Speed counts these days, and the County is building a modern double-lane concrete bridge with a straight alignment. It is expected to open this fall, allowing faster-moving cars to pass each other as they cross Indian Creek with nary a nod to acknowledge the other.
Here’s what society lost with the passing of the Blue Bridge:
- Courtesy, smiles, and polite waves from waiting and passing motorists.
- While waiting for another car to transit, a motorist had a few seconds to enjoy the balm of Indian Creek, nearby trees, and trail users passing under the approach.
- About 15 seconds of time gained by not having to wait and a faster speed limit.
- Heavy vehicles can transit it.
Goodbye to History and Beauty
The new bridge is a concrete structure that will look like dozens of similar bridges. The Blue Bridge lasted 147 years. It’s hard to imagine its replacement having a useful life that long.
We’ve traded the history and beauty of the old bridge, along with courtesy, for speed and efficiency. Perhaps we’ve lost more than we’ve gained. That gives us the Blue Bridge Blues.
Bridge at Motor Mill in NE Iowa.
Post Script: Recently we visited Motor Mill in NE Iowa and found a lovely steel bridge that had been rebuilt to modern standards and which retained the old feel.
Several people have sourly said, “Good riddance to 2022.” This day, swaddled in dense fog that muffles sound and limits sight, I’m reflecting on 2022. As we noted in the Gratitude jar on the shelf, the year before, “Good things DID happen (in 2021).” Below are some generalizations of Gratitudes gleaned from the scraps of notes stuffed in the pickle jar on the counter.
Any number of times I noted “sublime day.” Perhaps the air and sun were in perfect balance. We completed errands smoothly. Or our energy simply flowed easily. Sitting on the deck with the bunny stretched out we were at ease.
Our few camping experiences gave respite to the “busyness” of the days. Quiet. No cell phones. Close to nature. Tall tulips in PA on our way to Falling Water. Weird geological formations in Nebraska’s Toadstool. The hoot of an owl in Iowa’s Yellow River.
Getaways and Friends
Other getaways offered contrasts. Floating the Niobrara River on a calm, mild spring day followed by driving through a blinding snowstorm the next day. The renovated, upscale Belvoir Winery & Inn in Missouri is surrounded by decrepit buildings of the long-abandoned Odd Fellows rest home. Reliving a dusty Kansas cattle drive in old Abilene at 109 degrees and stepping into the modern coolness of the Eisenhower and Truman Presidential Museums.
A balmy day followed by snow!
The former Odd Fellows Rest Home.
The cowboy on duty.
Interactions with friends and family. Reflecting on neighbor interactions, to book clubs, to yoga, to Firepit Friday gatherings, to coffee in the cabin and coffee shops, to the Veriditas and The Labyrinth Society colleagues. And, the bunny, Oreo, who was a wonderful Pandemic friend. She is still with us in memories and evidence of chewed cords and door frames. She was a character and a good friend.
Family connections over the miles on Facetime, ZOOM, in person, calls, photos, emails, and letters/cards. A way to be engaged with each other.
Engaging activities keep us active, healthy, and connected: Hoover Hatchery monthly blogs and Facebook Lives, writing for magazines and The Gazette, our Winding Pathways blogs, guiding labyrinth walks in person and virtually with Veriditas, walking and bicycling – on trails and (walking) inside as needed, playtime and projects with neighbor kids, monitoring students’ online course progress through Kirkwood Community College, watching Great Courses, helping with Faith Formation at church. And, appreciating the creative spirit and functionality of the Director of Faith Formation. The centering and balancing work with cancer patients and staff at the Nassif Community Cancer Center.
Reflecting on Deferred Gratification
Reflecting on the benefits of “deferred gratification” by having been careful with resources over the years and repairing/nurturing the land. Thanking the derecho trees for providing heat in the winter’s woodstove. Planting, tending and harvesting garden produce. Appreciating the chickens and giving them treats and a warm, safe place to live.
Thinking ahead: checking the air conditioner in April before the hot weather. Similarly, servicing the furnace and hot water heater in August. Maintaining the vehicles for optimal mileage and comfort – Rotate tires, change oil, fill windshield cleaner, change the blades, wash the outside, and detail the inside of the vehicles. Knowing steps to be prepared for outages, to stay home in inclement weather, and simply be at ease with what is.
Supporting educational to non-profit organizations locally and across the country.
Releasing memories to the ethers.
Although we can be sour about the downs of 2022, and there were a number of them, we can also appreciate the positives. That slight shift in reflecting helps ease the path for ourselves and others as we journey into 2023. Now, with gratitude for reflecting on 2022, I respectfully add these gratitudes to the woodstove that keeps us warm. The memory of these reflections keeps my heart warm.
Henry is still a teacher.
Henry taught middle schoolers more than shop.
Our feature today is different. It’s about an amazing teacher. Winding Pathways blogs are normally about yards, backyard chickens, labyrinths, and occasional touches of home care and energy efficiency. It’s about a 99-year-old who retired from his formal education career in 1996. Yet he continues to be a teacher for the fortunate people he encounters.
Henry Patterson, Rich’s father, was a teacher in the Florham Park, NJ, public schools for many years before retiring to his home in nearby Denville to spend senior years with his wife, Claire. Age caught up with them and they moved to a senior community, The Oaks of Denville, in 2018. Claire died the following year. Despite the grief, Henry has nurtured his sunny disposition as he has approached being a centurion.
“Look On the Sunny Side of Life”
He’s adored by the staff and residents at The Oaks as well as his family and friends in Denville. Everyone’s happy to see him, chat for a while, and enjoy his smile. Many help with daily functions that increasingly challenge a man who has lost most of his vision and some mobility. Regularly, former “shop” students dropped by the house and still visit at The Oaks.
As many people age, they become bitter, frustrated, and angry. Think mosquito repellent. We put it on to keep the pesky bugs at bay. It works but isn’t confined to chemicals in a jar. Abrasive behavior repels people trying to render kindness and assistance.
Based on his scouting experience, Henry taught other sailors knots.
Henry’s father was a railroad engineer…
Claire and Henry lived on the Lake.
Henry has been a scout most of his life.
Crafting Beyond “Shop”
Henry has refined the opposite model. He’s appreciative, thankful, understanding, kind, and always pleasant to everyone at The Oaks. From the high school students who work in food service to medical professionals who help him, and fellow residents Henry has a smile and a joke. His sense of humor shines so warmly that it takes him a while to walk down the corridor. This is not because 99 years of age slows his pace but because everyone he encounters he pauses for a kind word and usually caps the brief visit with a joke.
Henry taught thousands of middle school students how to craft amazing creations in his school industrial arts shop, but education didn’t stop on retirement day. He continues to teach everyone in his orbit that a warm personality and expressions of thanks and appreciation are rewarding and life-enhancing.
Henry attends and walks or rides in every Memorial Day parade that he can.
Residents gather for meals and conversation.
Henry walks daily as weather allows.
People enjoyed the carousel rides at Fairfield, Iowa.
We invite you to share a serendipity you have experienced. A recent overnight to Fairfield, Iowa, delighted us with unexpected bliss, a sense of connection, and enchantment. On recalling other times when we found ourselves in wonderous situations and with engaging people we decided to ask readers to share their times of serendipity. When all aligned and you were left feeling happy and blessed. So, we would like to hear from you. Send a short remembrance and photo if you have one to us by December 10, 2022. Later we will combine your remembrances and ours, and post as a blog on Serendipities.