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.
Millions of families love watching chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers visit backyard feeders. A joyful daily task is bringing them a day’s supply of sunflower seeds, millet, or even cracked corn. But, often an important part of their diet is ignored.
Birds lack teeth so never need dental care. Instead, they must eat rocks! Small rocks humans call sand. Often birds forage along snowy roads gleaning grit spread to give cars traction. It goes into their gizzard where powerful muscles grind seeds into a digestible slurry that then moves on to the stomach.
During most of the year, birds find all the grit they need on their own, but when snow and ice seal off the soil they can’t find it. People sometimes scatter sand on slippery spots to provide human traction. Birds will glean some of it.
It’s helpful to sprinkle a handful of sand around feeders once a week during the snowy season. At Winding Pathways, we buy a 50-pound bag of chick grit at a local store that sells chicken feed. It’s fine ground hard rock that is ideal for both traction and bird digestion but plain old sand works.
Wild Turkeys often visit our feeders, so once in a while, we toss out large-sized grit, designed for laying hens. It helps their gizzards grind up hard corn kernels that they love snacking on.
An outstanding source of bird information is the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology.
Chick grit is small.
Sprinkle grit once a week to help birds in the snowy season.
Birds flock to the seeds.
We knew natural gas prices were way up but our $80+ November bill both surprised and pleased us.
Surprise: That’s a high bill for us.
Pleased: Our efforts at energy efficiency and wise house management kept the bill from being higher.
Nearly everyone can reduce heating costs. Some actions are long-term, like adding insulation, replacing drafty windows, or installing a wood stove. There’s not enough time this year to put these in place this winter.
Here are short term ways to reduce the heating bill at either no, or low, cost:
- Open south-facing window blinds on sunny days. The sun will warm the room and never send a bill. Close the blind when the sun calls it quits and sets for the day.
- Caulk holes and cracks. We bought a spool of “rope caulk”. It’s putty that won’t harden, comes in a roll, and is easy to press into cracks, especially around windows.
- Replace the furnace filter. If it gets clogged with dust the furnace has to work harder, and that costs money. Write on the filter the date you replace it so you know. Then, make a note on your planner to check and replace. Some furnaces also send alerts to change a filter.
- Wear comfy sweaters and socks and set the thermostat down a few degrees. We often nestle under a blanket or throw when watching tv or reading in the evening.
It’s going to be an expensive heating winter, but taking a few simple efficiency steps will remove some of the monthly bill’s sting.
Two years ago, hardly anyone knew what the novel Coronavirus was, but since then this crafty virus and the nasty disease it causes, COVID-19, has hardly been all over the news. Like most people we thought it was a disease of only humans.
We were astonished to learn that a high percent of Iowa tested deer has been found positive for COVID. With deer hunting season approaching we wondered if deer pose a threat to people either butchering an animal or eating the meat. So, we contacted Dr. Tyler Harms. He’s the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Deer Program Leader.
Dr. Tyler Harms, head of deer project in Iowa recommends safety gloves and hand washing when processing and preparing venison.
According to him the threat seems minimal, however, he recommends the following actions for anyone processing a deer:
- Wear rubber gloves when processing an animal.
- Wash hands and equipment thoroughly after handling deer meat
According to Dr. Harms, Iowa’s deer are asymptomatic. They don’t seem to be getting sick or dying.
Bucks are still active in December.
December is Iowa’s main deer hunting season. Over 100,000 animals are likely to be harvested. Here at Winding Pathways, we enjoy venison as local, organic, free-range meat. But we’ll be sure to follow Dr. Harm’s advice when handling meat.
In many ways COVID is a mysterious disease. Where it came from remains a hazy mystery, and its variants continue to perplex people. Now it’s been found in animals. Iowa’s deer aren’t the only animals that test positive. The disease has been found in leopards in zoos and mink. It’s likely that many other animals and deer nearly everywhere carry COVID. How they got it and how it’s spread is a mystery.
With Kathleen Horan,
president and CEO of AbbeHealth
We are all now several months into coping with the novel coronavirus pandemic and subsequent COVID-19 disease.
It’s felt like having to walk across a high wire above Niagara Falls with no safety equipment. That stunt was done in 1859 by Jean-Francois Gravelet, also known as Charles Blondin. Totally dangerous. Crazy. Yet, Blondin understood the dangers and had prepared for many years ahead of time.
A salient lesson for today.
While initially, everything seemed topsy turvy in our world, many have found a semblance of a routine that has helped keep insanity at bay. Yet, as this wears on, we find we are wearing out.
Now is exactly the time to remain mindful. And, remember we do have individual and communal safety nets. So, let’s take a look at these.
The Importance of Routine
Kathleen Horan, director of AbbeHealth, points out that “Most people find comfort in routine and predictability. These fundamental comforts have been disrupted leading to anxiety and stress and sometimes a sense of helplessness because it feels like everything is out of control.”
While some compare the coronavirus pandemic with stressful and location-specific disasters such as floods, wildfires, hurricanes, or plane crashes, these disasters are different and require different responses.
“With the 2008 Epic Surge of floodwaters in Eastern Iowa, the lead up was relatively short-lived, the surge came and was devasting, and then we quickly moved in to clean up and recovery stage. We had things to do to start moving back to what we considered ‘normal’.
“With the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease, the anticipation of what might be coming and the unknowns about what lies ahead are very difficult because it feels so out of our control.”
A joke going around is that while the Greatest Generation was called to go to war (WWII). We are called to the couch. We have developed “new” routines and habits. Let’s continue the positive ones after the pandemic has passed.
Revisiting the Grief Cycle and Spiral
With no obvious end in sight, many feel stuck. Spring’s warm weather is coming in the Northern Hemisphere. Fall’s coolness is settling below the Equator.
For those who don’t personally know anyone who has been sick or died, there is even a sense of unreality. Kind of “What’s it all about?” Then, something happens that jars us into the reality of the time. We sink into the sadness of grief.
Remember the cycle comes and goes. Sometimes we are up! Sometimes down for no discernable reason. And, random events trigger a re-visit to the anxiety of an event or time.
It helps to remember that the trigger was NOT the event. The memory is just that. A memory.
Horan reminds us, “Understanding the phases of grief can be helpful for managing the feelings you may be experiencing. There is no special order to the phases of grief that tend to flow back and forth.
- An early phase is Denial & Isolation. It may include a feeling or belief that this isn’t real or that what is happening does not affect us.
- Another phase is Anger. Often this stems from fear and focusing on what has been lost or the things we can’t do right now.
- Bargaining is sometimes referred to as “What If” or “If Only.” “What if I am careful to wash my hands, then I can go out and be safe.” “If only I had….”
- Sadness or Depression is another phase and can include feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.
- Acceptance tends to be an end phase. The recognition that the current situation simply is, and we can figure this out.
Moving back and forth between different phases is normal.
What is in Our Control?
A pet can help us stay calm.
Horan reminded us we DO have safety nets. “Now is a great time to practice self-care. That old adage ‘Put on your own oxygen mask first’ really applies. That we all take care of ourselves is essential. This isn’t selfish; it is important.” Care for yourself physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Engage your mind and your heart. Then, we find we can reach out and support and inspire others.
- Exercise. If you haven’t had a routine or have fallen away from one, break activities into small chunks a few times a day. By the end of the day, you will have exercised more than you realize. This technique breaks up the monotony of being at home most of the time and improves your fitness which can boost your immune system.
- Practice deep calming breaths. Allow your ribs to expand, the diaphragm to drop down and the belly bulge out. After a few times, return to regular and mindful breathing.
- Mantra and mudra. The first is a short saying that helps focus your mind. Some examples that accompany a four-count breath are:
“I am all right.” “I am here now.” “I am calm now.” “I am safe here.” A mudra is a hand gesture. Again, with a four-count breath touch your thumb to each finger as you say a mantra. Together, the breathing, mantra, and mudra help focus your mind and allow positive hormones to counter stress.
- Release tension from various parts of your body starting with your face and shoulders. Mentally move through your body to your feet.
- Other ways to help quiet your mind include: Meditate, journal, read or listen to inspirational music or words, and notice and appreciate the beauty of nature are all.
- Take care of a pet. Caring for another sentient being can give a sense of purpose and calm our nerves.
Horan points out that these simple activities center you in the reality of what is happening now, in this moment.
She adds, “Another great way to calm anxious thoughts is to focus on those things for which you are grateful. Start and end each day identifying five things that make you feel thankful. Write them down. Look at them when you feel distressed. This will help re-center you in gratitude.” And, gratitude produces side benefits.
The free, on-line Yale Class, The Science of Well Being with Dr. Laurie Santos, points out that when we do kind acts for others, we elevate both them and ourselves. Recently we found some flamingos in our yard and a note with homemade chocolate on our porch. My friend and I were bummed out that events we had planned got canceled. So, she and her husband cheered us both up with this hilarious and kind gesture.
Make friends laugh!
In this “dangerous opportunity” time, doors do actually open for us.
- We can choose to follow current safety guidelines – stay home and wear protective gear when out. We can reach out by phone or other digital means to check on those we love, our neighbors, and our friends.
- We can work on those projects at home that we never get to but now have a little time.
- We can spend that extra time reading to or playing with our children.
Chris Klug, a skilled practitioner gently guided class members through a difficult week. He reminded us that life is like a spiral. We may remember an event or situation. The memory might trigger an emotion. Yet, we have moved from that actual time. It is OK to be with the feeling of grief. Then, as you can, practice the self-care techniques.
Lots have changed and returning to “normal” will not happen. We can right” this topsy-turvy time, adjust, adapt, and form new ways to live and create meaningful lives.
A few months ago, we posted a blog honoring Smokey Bear on his 75th birthday. Smokey was created by the United States Forest Service in an effort to encourage people to be careful with fire. His was one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history.
The allure of Smokey Bear.
Smokey is adorable yet commanding. When he said to drown campfires and snuff out cigarettes you did it without question. Today, we know that forest fires are a natural phenomenon with beneficial ecological impacts, but Smokey’s message still resonates.
Two Winding Pathways readers shared their memories of Smokey Bear.
Tracy McPartland of Cedar Rapids sent us a photo of her with Smokey taken at the Smithsonian. “I loved Smokey Bear as a kid. I used to voice imitate him even though I don’t know what his voice was like.”
Smokey has been well-loved.
Jim Rainey is a retired US Army LTC who lives in Pennsylvania. Recently, he told us he received a Smokey doll from Santa in the early 1950s when he was four or five years old. “I was enchanted by Smokey. And, my doll still sits on the chair in my office. Sometimes my dog uses him as a pillow. At age 65, or so, he has patches on his jeans, is missing some hair, and part of his nose is gone. A few years ago, we asked our three daughters what they wanted of our stuff and was surprised when our oldest daughter said she wanted Smokey. Before then I was thinking of having him put in my casket, but I really didn’t want him locked in a box for eternity. I’ll let my daughter enjoy him and think of me,” he said.
Rich also has pleasant memories of Smokey and passed his image whenever he entered the Boise, Clearwater, or Idaho Panhandle National Forests during his college years. In 1974 he was a US Forest Service Hot Shot and fought three wildfires in Idaho. He’s kept a Smokey poster on his office wall for years.
There is confusion. Technically he’s Smokey Bear, not Smokey THE Bear.
A former college contact, the Fazio Family, owns Woodland Catalog Smokey Bear Gifts and has a store in Moscow, Idaho. Anyone wanting Smokey items can order it online. There’s a Smokey Bear museum in a state park in Capitan, New Mexico. You can take a brief virtual tour at
Smokey endures for the ages. His message is clear, and his presence is endearing.