To Des Moines for Wicked

The splash page of the Lonely Planet website is elegantly simple: a search box already filled with an exotic destination like “Macedonia,”  on a background photo depicting one of that destination’s amazing attractions (in Macedonia’s case, a castle perched on a hill).

I sighed, and typed in “Des Moines.”

According to Lonely Planet:

Des Moines, meaning ‘of the monks’ not ‘in the corn’ as the surrounding fields might suggest, is Iowa’s snoozy capital. The town really is rather dull, but does have one of the nation’s best state capitols and state fairs. Pause, but then get out and see the state.

This is a typically sneering assessment and yet, quite accurate.

We had tickets for the Broadway tour of the musical Wicked this afternoon. The Des Moines Civic Center was completely packed for it. Wicked, the book by Gregory Maguire, is one of my favorites. I own it and have read it several times, which was a slight distraction from enjoying the musical, but not too much. There are a lot of layers to contend with, though: the musical is based on Maguire’s book, which in turn is alternate perspective on L. Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its 1939 film adaptation The Wizard of Oz.

Even though the show starts out like an parallel-universe Victorian Grease, it  eventually takes on the ominous tone of the novel. The songs were very good, though none were truly catchy. The woman who played Glinda was especially funny (she invoked a lot of Carol Kane). Most impressive about the production was the way they used lighting to create patterns and effects. In the scene that concludes the first act, the character Elphaba floats in the dark at the apex of a cone of light beams which make her look giant and supernatural.

West Branch Cemetery

Two gravestones in the shade of a tree in a cemetery.
The graves of Jesse and Hulda Hoover, parents of the 31st President

I was in West Branch this morning to meet friends from work for lunch. It was a nice day so before I went home I walked up to the West Branch Municipal Cemetery, where President Hoover’s parents and other relatives are buried. I don’t think I had ever visited there before.

The Hoovers are in a little Hoover section where about a dozen family members are buried. They had never lived in  Engraved in stone all around the cemetery are other familiar names from my reading of the town’s and the historic site’s history: Leech, Stratton, Fawcett, Rummells, Enlow. I don’t know why I was so surprised to see them there.

Photography awards

The Iowa State Fair chose a couple of my photos for display in the photography salon (the stools from Portland and the ever-popular Maui snack bus). I didn’t win any ribbons— and didn’t expect to— but was invited to a reception for the selected exhibitors at the State Fairgrounds. We gathered in the courtyard of the fair’s Cultural Center to see the awards presented.

The State Fair begins next weekend.

A crowd gathers in the courtyard of a fairground pavilion under towering white wind turbine.
Iowa State Fair photography awards

Crying twister

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.

Winged scourges

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.

Adam Smith

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.

South of town, on the bicycle

It finally stopped raining and warmed up today so I was on my bike this morning. I rode to work on Wednesday, but the terrible weather on the intervening days kept me off for the rest of the week. I took a swing around the south side of town. Some notes:

That derelict barn along the trail deteriorates a little more every year. I believe the architectural style is Johnson County Dilapidated.

A deteriorated red barn in a state of partial collapse.
Dilapidated barn

Terrible weather is great for dandelions. The soccer fields at Kickers Park were yellow with them.

The lawn at a soccer park is yellow with dandelions.
Dandelion field

The sculpture at the Kickers Park reminds me of something you might see at an airport. It’s a reminder that kids of all colors– purple, blue, or orange– can set aside their difference and a joy a friendly game of soccer.

A colorful sculpture of children playing soccer.
Soccer sculpture

I have located Cow Number 457.

A black cow in a pasture with 457 painted on its hide.
Cow No. 457

A couple of men were out grooming the private baseball field on a cattle farm on Sycamore Street. It’s a regular field of dreams.

A man grades the infield on a baseball diamond at a cattle farm.
The Cattle Yard

Bird notes: There were lots of coots and (I think) scaup in a pond. I also saw a meadowark, a couple of egrets way out in some corn stubble, and some kind of sandpiper (solitary?) in a puddle.

A new definition of pain and suffering

My friend’s post about recycling at the local football stadium reminds me of a story I saw last week in the university’s newspaper. Apparently the football stadium is the nexus of all sorts of good-doing: there are plans to build a seating area for child patients from the university hospital. From what I can see, though, there hasn’t been a marriage of good ideas and good design. Some of the conceptual drawings look like how I always imagined the insides of a sarlacc, where sick children will be “slowly digested over a thousand years.”

Back to the drawing board, please.