It’s raining leaves

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.



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.

Two warblers

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.

Reference calls

In the last couple of years I’ve been getting more reference calls about people with whom I’ve worked. I always thought providing references would be a straightforward task but often it isn’t. A lot of it has to do with the questions I’m asked. A common one is “Would you hire this person again?” I think that’s a very strange question, because it’s conditional on so many factors: like what the job is and who else is applying for it. Even somebody who was a very good worker could be in competition with someone more qualified.

I’m also asked questions I couldn’t possibly answer. Today I got a call about an applicant for a position in a remote area. If, I was asked, a hiker came to this remote area and had a heart attack and died (which could happen), how do I think the applicant would be able to deal with it? I am not a psychologist, certainly I am not the applicant’s psychologist, and if I was the answer might not be knowable. To be fair, even seasoned rescue workers need counseling when things like that happen.

Asking reference questions is as much of an art as answering them.


Work at work

The little media dust-up about Yahoo ending telecommuting for its employees perplexed me. First of all, I’m surprised that one company’s telecommuting policy became so newsworthy. Second, I don’t think telecommuting is going anywhere. At any rate, I would not want to work at home. I like going to work. I like keeping work and home separate. I do not want to bring headaches from my job into my home (it happens enough as it is). Fortunately, and despite the increased office work I have nowadays, being a park ranger makes telecommuting a faintly ridiculous option.