We took a short walk through Hickory Hill Park this afternoon and saw some black-capped chickadees. I was thinking they wouldn’t be so cute if they were cigar smokers.
The weather’s been unusual enough this year that fall colors and the actual fall of leaves from the trees is late. This morning, though, after last night’s hard frost, it was literally raining leaves, at least if you were standing under the ashes and walnuts and a gingko tree at the park.
I usually think of September as daddy longlegs season. This year it’s also praying mantis season, but especially it’s grasshopper season. Walking on the trails at work they spring in all directions out of my way, dozens flying around with each step. It’s probably how Moses would have felt if the Red Sea was made of grasshoppers.
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.
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.
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.
Terrible weather is great for dandelions. The soccer fields at Kickers Park were yellow with them.
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.
I have located Cow Number 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.
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.
I’m trying to remember when I’ve seen more miserable weather in May. Maybe those overly hot spring days in Mississippi. But we’ve gone from fine bicycling weather earlier this week to 40s and all-day rain. It will 90 degrees F in a week.
In the midst of yesterday’s unpleasant downpour, I led my group of fourth graders into the blacksmith shop as part of their tour. There, just inside the entrance was a dying bird. A little tiny one, probably a chestnut-sided warbler according to Roger Tory Peterson.
“That dying little bird,” I thought, “is going to be a distraction to me, these kids, and everybody who walks in this morning.” So I moved it off out of sight. It was pretty sad.
If I had to guess, the chestnut-sided warbler migrated up to Iowa on its way to wherever and got caught in the cold, took refuge shivering in the rafters, and then keeled over onto the dusty shop floor. Anyway, this weather’s a mess; a phenological disaster in the making.
Then again, in the afternoon as I got into my car to go home, I saw a black-and-white warbler spryly attacking the trunk of a tree in the parking lot. I’ve never seen two interesting warblers with so little effort.
There was still ice on the ground in Iowa from December’s snowstorm but it was about 90 °F when I landed in Córdoba almost two weeks ago. Fortunately, Lore was staying with her parents in Villa Giardino up in the Sierras de Córdoba, rugged green hills filled with horses. The weather there was pleasant and dry with some cool nights, good for a walk along the Camino de los Artesanos (a country road with art galleries) or to the diquecito (a small dam), a dip in the pool, a horseback ride, or a cook-out in the quincho (an outdoor patio with an asador for grilling meat).
On Thursday, Lore’s parents drove us to Jesús María, a city in the farmlands down on the pampas for the Festival Nacional e Internacional de la Doma y Folklore (or La Doma), which is sort of national rodeo and folk music festival. It’s a big national event. People from all over the country come to it. It’s the sort of event where gauchos don’t just compete but are part of the audience, so there were gauchos everywhere with their hats and knives and silver-studded belts. In between rounds of doma there were musical performances. On the night we went the music was less folklore than domestic rock and roll. This video is an example of folklore:
Doma is a horse-breaking competition, like bronco-riding, where the jinetes, or horsemen, have to ride on a bucking horse for ten seconds, and are scored by a jury. The jineteadas (individual attempts at doma) are narrated by a relator and are accompanied by a live folklore band which plays along to the action. Between jineteadas, a payador entertains the crowd with an improvised rhyming song about what just happened. It is amazing. The following two videos might give you an idea of it.
The next day Lore and I spent the day in La Cumbre, a cute little town higher up the Punilla Valley above Villa Giardino. We rented mountain bikes and pedaled up the dirt road into the hills to Estancia El Rosario, an alfajor (a type of cookie) factory in an old estancia or ranch. We also rode up to Dique San Geronimo, a reservoir with hiking trails and waterfalls. On the way back we stopped at a fruit orchard to see if they had some fresh berries, but it was too late in the season. Back down in the valley we visited a lavender plantation, where the flowers are distilled for perfumes.
La Falda, the larger town down valley from Villa Giardino, is home to the Hotel Edén, a partially restored grand hotel that, along with the railroad, got the Punilla Valley started as a resort area. The hotel has a really interesting history. It was built by Germans who had some unfortunate affinities for Adolf Hitler. The night we went only the ghost tour was available, which was more for amusement than education. They did a pretty good job of scaring the bejeezus out of everybody.
Lore’s family— brothers, sisters, and cousins— converged on her parents’ home for the weekend. Her brother-in-law Emiliano is something of a master griller, so on Saturday evening he parked himself in the quincho and grilled up some pork and beef (and cheese, believe it or not). As someone who actually knows how to cook pork, he could be very popular in Iowa.
Sunday was the big get-together. There were no meats grilled on the quincho, but lots of homemade empanadas. The pool and the foosball table (called metegol) were popular, and were followed by a game of tejo, like lawn bowling played with wooden discs.
As if all that wasn’t enough local color, the Dakar Rally came to town on Monday. I don’t think we were along the actual route of the race but some cars, trucks, motorcycles, and ATVs were passing through on their way to the next stage. The rally is a big deal in the sierras (they already had their own major competition, the Rally de Argentina, before the Dakar relocated to South America) and the people gathered along Ruta 38 to wave to the competitors, who honk back.
I always enjoy my visits to Argentina but this trip was particularly pleasant. Maybe that’s because I was full of empanadas, or maybe because I got to conocer mejor las sierras, to better know the hills, of which my wife and her family are very fond.
Not only did I see the Wienermobile on Sunday but today I saw a beaver at the park. I’m not sure which is more exciting.
Cedar waxwings have visited the crabapple tree outside our apartment pretty regularly in the last month. Today, with the tree mostly stripped of fruit, the birds are perched quietly, relaxing. Ah, Sundays…
Forget the Age of Dinosaurs. If I ever travel back in time, I’m going to the Age of Cyanobacteria. Exciting!
If it wasn’t for National Geographic, I wouldn’t know anything at all about penguins.