Gratitdues 2020

For several years I have kept a log of daily Gratitudes.  Noting each day on a small sticky note, I stuff them into an old pickle jar. Then, at the end of the year, I spill them out on the table and re-read them, selecting several to share.  Often I list by month.  This year, I chose to put them in groups of similar topics.

Exploring: Around Town, Day Trips, Walks and Camping.

This year has been a great time to get to know our town! Each week we explored different parts of town by car. Wow! We found interesting streets, homes, businesses, and parks. That led to increasing our walking in various parks near and far. That led to arranging with the Cedar Rapids Gazette to write features about places to explore and be outside and more safe from the novel coronavirus. These were/are ways to ward off depression, increase our sense of community, and improve physical health. Even though we know some of them well, city, county, and state parks like Jones, Bever, Knollridge, Wanatee, Matsell, Hannen, Lily Lake, Whitewater Canyon, Ram Hollow, Pleasant Creek, Backbone, Wildcat Den all proved interesting and exciting. Returning to our favorite rough camping spot, Yellow River State Forest, we met a small group of scouts who decided that even though their long-anticipated trip to Philmont, NM, was out, they would camp anyway!  The boys spent hours crafting a multi-layer arrangement of hammocks in trees.

Crossing the Mississippi River on the Cassville Ferry is always fun. We stayed safely in our car, handing the small fee to the attendant through the window. We even bravely camped at Beaver Creek Hollow in SE Minnesota. A cousin camped in a nearby site. Rain-shortened our trip, but it is fun to remember the walks and campfire. All sorts of trails opened up possibilities to explore and stretch our legs, too. Cedar Lake, Prairie Park Fishery, sections of the Sac and Fox, and several in Johnson and Jones Counties. Herbert Hoover Historic Site is a great place to walk and soak up history all outside! We quickly learned when to walk to avoid interacting with many people. We watched winter fade as spring waltzed down the path to summer. Blazing hot and bouts of rain. Wind and calm and on to autumn with little color and winter with a blast of cold and deep snow.

Talks

Coffee shops and restaurants were out. But, the porch, deck, and in colder weather, the barn all proved to be fine places for one-hour chats with friends, neighbors, family, and book club. ZOOM went from novel to ubiquitous. As tired as we may have felt at times, it provided connections. Facetime was a handy way to touch base while making supper. Good old fashioned phone calls and letters!  Real letters! The main topics were missing travel, our families at a distance, ways we were adapting, new places we have found, politics, and after August 10th, the damned derecho that tore up Eastern Nebraska, Iowa, and parts of Illinois. One of the weirdest experiences is talking from the pulpit at church to an empty building into a microphone knowing dozens of members and friends were watching. Alone but connected. The minister and I figured out safe ways to hold our weekly meetings and keep the congregation and staff engaged.  My fondest memory is a neighbor bringing over coffee on a morning shortly after the derecho. We just sat on the porch before getting back to the cleanup.

Labyrinth Walks and Work

Each day I trundle out to the Phoenix Harmony Labyrinth and walk.  Sometimes I have an intention.  Mostly, I say thanks. To earth elements, the plant and animal kingdoms, people, those who have died, and beloved Universe.  Included are those I dislike or disagree with – that I may be of a kind heart. Not always easy to do this year of turmoil, dissent, violence, and flat out lies. Friends walk the labyrinth, especially on the astronomical and cross-quarter dates. And, the most exciting time of the labyrinth is burning it in the autumn.  This year Mark O. helped set and manage the fire.

The Council paused for several months when it was apparent that holding the Black Hills Renewal Day in person would not work. Working with Kathryn McL., Karen K., Twylla A., Christine F., and Nathan W. on specific projects we managed to hold together and creative projects emerged. Mary Ann W. created lovely virtual rituals. Virtually we said farewell to retiring members, we organized our strategies and interviewed 21 potential new members. We will welcome new ones on January 7th, 2021. Throughout the remaining year, each meeting’s theme held us in time and across the distance from the northeast United States to Australia.

Finger Labyrinth

Weekly finger walks through Veriditas.

The Veriditas organization quickly pivoted and began offering online labyrinth walks each Friday.  Wow! How successful!  Scores of men and women from across the world come on for the one-hour program that has a different focus each week.  A finger walk with music and time for people to share after.  It is wonderful and we begin to recognize and look for people we have come to know. Kudos to Veriditas.

Projects

Right away like everyone else, we cleaned, sorted, deep cleaned, sorted again, discarded, held on to until Goodwill re-opened, then looked around more. Rich built some birdhouses and small tables for the decks. I re-finished some chests of drawers and small tables. We freshened up the woodstove room and bucked up wood.

Little did we know we would have more than enough wood later in the summer to last for years!  Rich got some wood from a friend and another load from a neighbor. He bucked it and piled it up dubbing it, “Mt. Cordwood.” August 10th the derecho tore through the area and down came the trees.  Up went “Mt. Cordwood”! Of our 53 healthy trees, 47 came down.  It was a mess.  The gratitude is that we were able to clean it up, minimal damage to the garage, more to the cabin.  We hired a crew to take the trees off the garage and cabin. Friends helped haul and stack wood.  Iris kindly cleaned the labyrinth of fallen debris and old milkweed stalks when I needed to be at the church board retreat.

The restoration from derecho will be ongoing for a number of years.  We marked oak seedlings, bought, planted, and protected several more small trees, and have others on order for delivery in the spring. People get to create.

Consulting, Writing, and Energy Work

Part of the creation is acknowledging the losses and deciding to mindfully work to restore. Prairiewoods, with a number of organizations, is hosting a series of talks.  First on the losses. As winter and spring progress how we now move forward. Rich and I will present on remembering the understory of a forest which is sometimes a forgotten part of forest health and restoration.

From the derecho came land restoration and consulting gigs.  These are interesting and fun to do. Rich takes the lead and I help on the sides.  One client was so distressed that I offered and she accepted an impromptu healing session in the midst of her beloved woods.  Meaningful for me, too.

Our work with Hoover’s Hatchery and writing for the Cedar Rapids Gazette has grown with the pandemic.  People, new to raising chickens, have bought flocks and need solid information. So, Kelsey S., Tony H., Rich, and I have partnered to bring programming to folks.  The organic farm work at Etzel Sugar Grove Farm with Carl and Gavin R. is part of this.  Filming the activities and catching creativity are exciting. Our October session came in the midst of a surprise snowstorm! In December we moved our filming up a week to highlight the innovations Carl and Gavin have created to check up on the chickens and reduce their workload. Good thing, the original date was snowy! So, we hit that one right.

Our distance travel feature in March on the Pony Express, the Orphan Train, and the Willa Cather Museum came just ahead of the pandemic. We quickly pivoted to local attractions like parks, trails, barn quilt tours, and meat lockers. Now our kick is museums.  Some are closed and all have beefed up their online presence offering great tours. So, when the world opens up again, people will have plenty of ideas of places to visit.

Early in the pandemic, before numbers in our area were an issue, I did some work with clients and staff at the Nassif Community Cancer Center. A favorite client didn’t survive the year.  She was such a lovely individual. We held some small group sessions and staff came for longer sessions to reduce stress. Then, we really shut down as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed.  Our neighbor, a nurse, said, “I have never seen so much death in such a short time. We are weary.” We do our best to avoid putting more stress on health care systems.

Teaching

Another casualty of the pandemic is the loss of in-person teaching.  Something that is wonderful has been the short, regular messages from Dr. Lori S., President of Kirkwood Community College.  She is up-front, humorous when appropriate, and expresses appreciation. Good role model. The tutor coordinator, and a good friend, asked if I would continue with tutor talks via ZOOM. The first topic was problem-solving and I used that when I discovered that my laptop is not strong enough for ZOOM presenting. Tutors in the breakout sessions came up with great ideas and laughed when they saw my solution – presenting in the garage next to the trash bins so I could be close to the router and modem for maximum upload and download. Gads!  Fun to do!

Before we ended in-person classes, the sessions were so heartfelt.  A note I made was about how one student supported another by quietly standing by him during the final short presentations. Amazing empathy in the adults re-training. Navigating Your Journey is a valuable program.

No Debt!

Early in the year, Rich decided to pay off the balance of the mortgage!  Whew!  That helped when it came to claims for the derecho. A stroke of good timing.

Miscellaneous

The emerging cicadas on a late summer labyrinth walk. Sunsets and sunrises from fires. (Well the second part is not at all good.  And, we could smell the smoke from fires hundreds of miles away) The dark sky after the derecho when electricity was off. Harvesting wild edibles early and late in the season. Dandelion greens in November? Yep. The beautiful moon rises. The NEOWISE Comet in the mid-summer. The planetary conjunction in early December.

Serving as church board president.  What? Why would someone be grateful for that role? In February a neighbor who visits the chickens with the children and who is on the nominating committee asked if I would be on the board. I looked at her and said emphatically, “NO!  Every time I have been on the board some wonky thing happens. I do not like to sit on boards. I do not like meetings. I do not like it Sam I Am!”  A few weeks later this friend asked if she and the children could come to see the chickens again. Sure.  When I saw her, I said yes, I will be board president.  She was a bit surprised as she had not actually asked. How did I know that was the ask? Just did that’s all. And, it has been a good experience.  We have a stellar minister and staff. The board is together and organized.  The membership has stepped up and supported the mission of the church. A calling tree kept us in touch. After the derecho people cleaned up, provided funds for members that were impacted, wrote notes and provided meals. When the minister and family contracted COVID-19, the good neighbors helped out.  Way to go, Peoples!

And Oreo, the black and white bunny. In April a family was moving and a friend, knowing we had had rabbits in the past asked if we wanted to adopt her.  At first, we thought, No. Then, realizing the pandemic was here to stay for a LONG time, we said yes. She has been a good companion and warmed to us. She gets a treat from Rich each night in quite a silly routine that amuses us.  I feed and pat her daily.  Her hangouts include the habitat that Rich built for her, under a small table, and stretched out by my computer chair.  She is a funny little rabbit who is a good companion.

These are some of the gratitudes I have for this weird year 2020.

 

 

Connect with past Gazette stories

We settle into fall and sometimes like to just browse past stories.  Here are some links to more recent Gazette features and natures notes.

Explore Iowa’s National Parks. August 2020

Take Advantage of Iowa’s County Gems July 2020

Why RV Life Isn’t for These Senior Tent Campers.  July 2020

Bear Sightings in Iowa Getting More Common. June 2020

Take a Walk on the Wilder Side   April 2020

Derecho Stories:  Get Outside and Walk But Stay Safe  September 2020, Rebirth Amid the Rubble  September 2020

 

Why Do Trees Fall on Calm Days?

Early one May afternoon we arrived home, glanced into the woods past our property, and were astonished to see an enormous red oak on the ground. The tree looked healthy, solid, and unlikely to topple, but it fell on a clear calm day. On its way down the old veteran broke two younger trees growing nearby.

A week or so later we woke to an enormous crash. It was pitch dark so we were only able to search around with a flashlight to learn that nothing had hit our house. The next morning, we discovered a giant elm prostate on the ground about 150 feet from our bedroom on a neighbor’s property.  Like the oak, it fell when it was calm. Unlike the oak, the elm had been dead for years and many mushrooms were growing from its trunk.

We enjoy a huge diversity of birds and other wildlife in our yard, in part because we adjoin Faulkes Heritage Woods, a 110 wild forest protected by a conservation easement. The Woods have not been logged for over a century, so many enormous oaks, hickories, and maples live there. Many are dead or in decline, but that’s great for wildlife.

Tree leaning on another tree.

Dead trees provide food and nesting sites

Of all landscape features few are as valuable to as many wildlife species as an old dead tree. Nearly as soon as a tree dies insects, bacteria, and fungus begin the long process of recycling wood and bark back into humus. Woodpeckers drill into dead trees to extract tasty insects and carve out nesting cavities. Often their old cavities are used by chickadees, wrens, and many other cavity nesters. Dead trees are favored perching sites for raptors, perhaps because they are leafless, so the sharp-eyed birds can spot prey on the ground.

We let dead trees stand on our property, as long as they are far enough away from the house so they can’t cause damage or injure someone when they crash down.

Are Dead Trees Dangerous

We’ve been in the right place at just the right time to see big trees fall. Usually, there’s a crack or two before a giant tree crashes down with lightning speed. If someone were underneath it then it would be hard to run fast enough to escape injury.

The odds of a person being hit by a falling tree while walking along a trail are infinitesimally small. It almost never happens. Most injuries and fatalities occur when people camp, picnic, or sit under a tree. The risk comes because they are under the tree for hours while sleeping or in a position where they can’t run and escape quickly.

Tent away from trees

Look up when placing your tent near trees.

Before setting up a tent always look up and never pitch it under a weak or dead tree that could fall in the night.  

 

How to Tell If A Tree Is Likely to Fall

Rotted wood

It’s a wonder this tree stood as long as it did.

Determining if a tree is likely to fall isn’t always easy. Sometimes seemingly healthy strong trees fall over, but often one gives notice that it is in decline and weakening. Here are visible signs that a tree is vulnerable to falling:

  • It’s dead. No leaves. Branches occasionally dropping off. Bark sheathing off.
  • It’s alive but increasingly branches are dying and are bare of leaves.
  • Mushrooms are growing from the wood.
  • Little piles of sawdust at the base show that insects or woodpeckers have been at work.
  • It’s old. As trees age, they stiffen and eventually, their wood weakens. Young healthy smaller trees are more flexible and bend back and forth in heavy wind without damage.  Wind can crack the wood of old stiff trees.
  • All trees eventually fall down but some have notoriously weak wood that breaks easily. Silver maples, black locust, and Siberian Elms often shed big limbs or break during storms.

Should I Have A Tree Taken Down?

Log on ground to be cut into firewood

Log ready to be bucked up to firewood.

Losing a beautiful old tree is painful, but there is a time when the tree should be removed to prevent an injury, death, or damage. At Winding Pathways, we let even old weak trees stand as long as they are well away from the house or places where sit. But if the tree could fall and hit a parked car, house or barn we call a tree service and have it repurposed into firewood.

 

This Youtube video provides an excellent overview of live and dead trees, saving or cutting the appropriate trees. My Woodlot.

Great American Campout!

Tent

Ready for summer

So, Memorial Day is upon us!  Let’s get outside and play! This is a link to the National Wildlife Federation’s website. Share your summertime stories with others.

 

The 14th annual Great American Campout™ kicks off Saturday, June 23rd but with Memorial Day weekend upon us, now is a great time to get outside and jumpstart your summer of camping- no skill required! Pledge now through October to join thousands of campers across the country who will be camping to help Protect America’s Wildlife. And don’t miss out on your chance to a win a week-long stay at a Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort of your choice! 

Your pledge also counts towards our goal of 200,000 campers which will allow the National Wildlife Federation’s Trees for Wildlife™ program to donate 5000 native trees to help wildlife. 

Tell us about your public Campout event and encourage others to join in on the fun around your campfire! 

May in Northeast Iowa

May is about the most exciting month to travel and camp out in Iowa.  We took in the Driftless area of Iowa and Wisconsin where we learned more about mounds at Effigy Mounds National Monument, ate at funky Café McGregor, took in Starks and Cabelas in Prairie du Chien, and entered our favorite forest over the “Forest Road” into Yellow River State Forest.

  • Note our reviews and thoughts are independent, unpaid and unsolicited.

Enjoy this photo journal of our stay.