Speaking of bad weather, its been a stormy week so Johnson County has been blowing its tornado sirens with wild abandon. A tornado actually touched down near Tiffin on Monday, but our emergency managers don’t limit themselves to warning about actual danger. They blow the sirens for severe thunderstorms, and probably partly cloudy skies, too. The other night at three o’clock in the morning, the siren, which is right across the street, woke us up. I checked the weather and it was just for a severe thunderstorm. In other words, go back to sleep.
Whatever kind of year 2013 turns out to be when it’s over, half-way through it’s been one of bad weather. We had a mild winter to start— bad only if you like snow— which devolved into a sort of prolonged early March that lasted right through Memorial Day, wet and rainy and overcast and cold. I can’t even pinpoint when it actually became summer, it’s been mostly rainy and humid without excessive heat.
And the bugs. Maybe it’s the successive warm winters or the drought last year or this spring’s rain or some combination of those, but the gnats are out in legions. To date I’ve found Iowa the least buggy of several places where I’ve lived. I don’t even own a can of Deep Woods Off anymore. It’s probably because of all the farmland. Most wetlands have been drained and the vast acreages are bombarded with pesticides. But this year is totally wild with little black gnats that fly right into to your ears, eyes, nose, and mouth.
I hate being a suspicious person but it probably saved me from having my phone stolen. A middle-aged woman in a car hailed me while I was riding my bike home from work on Friday. She pulled onto the shoulder of the entrance ramp to I-80 as I passed it.
“Do you have a phone I can borrow to call my sister? She lives around here and I’m lost.”
She could probably see my phone in the back pocket of my shorts. So to me, here was the perfect setting for a crime. She’s sitting in her car with the engine running, right at the onramp to the interstate. All I have to do is hand my phone over to her and she’s off. I’m still 15 minutes from home before I can report it.
I hesitated and asked if she knew the address, thinking maybe I’d know the street or could look it up for her. “It’s in the country somewhere and I got lost,” was all she said. I said no. I felt kind of bad about it as we went our separate ways but I also remembered that my phone is not really a phone. It’s a good chunk of my life on that little device, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to hand it to some stranger sitting in their own getaway car.
We spent the weekend in the picturesque river towns of Van Buren County. I went for a class— Beginning Blacksmithing, if you can believe it. We stayed in Keosauqua, while the training was at a blacksmith shop in Bentonsport, two picturesque towns along the Des Moines River. The area markets itself as the “Villages of Van Buren County,” though it wasn’t terribly busy with tourists. What visitors were in Keosauqua seemed to be there for boating the river and fishing. Bentonsport, where I attended class, is a tiny little place, cute with a lot of old preserved buildings converted into shops and bed-and-breakfasts. There’s an old wrought iron bridge across the Des Moines in Bentonsport that you can walk across. We found a couple of nice places to eat in Keosauqua and Bonaparte, but bring your own vegetables if you ever go and want something green.
The blacksmithing class was a hoot. I was actually there for work (we have a blacksmith shop in the park). It’s sort of a like shop class for kids in that we make some things we get to bring home, and I had a lot of help from the teacher. What I produced probably falls into the “primitive tools” category anyway, just above hammerstones and obsidian flakes. Creating something with your own hands, some tools, and fire is empowering, but can also be a little frustrating. I am not the least bit handy and forging even simple items feels like fighting against a particularly stubborn foe who doesn’t always lose. My arms were fatigued and my hands were swollen at the end of each day; I could barely hold a glass in my hand to drink. I can’t imagine having to do it for a living. Full-time blacksmiths probably know how to make each blow count.
Driving in Van Buren County between Bentonsport and Keosauqua I commented to Lore about the rolling green cow pastures and belts of oak trees, “It’s pretty, isn’t it?” “Yes,” she said, “pretty Iowan.”