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.

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.

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.

On skis

The first five winters I spent were pretty cold and icy, so it figures that as soon as my wife and I take an interest in cross-country skiing we’d have two mild winters in a row. We had only our second snowfall on Wednesday and there was enough of it on the ground still that we went skiing on the university’s course today.

A woman watches another skier approach on a cross-country course.
When I say we went cross-country skiing, I mean we walked around with skis on our feet. We stopped to watch this guy pass because he actually knew how to ski.
Clouds over a snowy field make a fish-scale pattern.
I don’t normally take pictures of clouds— I like how they are ephemeral— but these struck me while I was taking a break looking up at the ridge.

The rain

Well, it finally rained yesterday. And how. For about an hour, right in the middle of our celebration of Herbert Hoover’s birthday, the sky just opened up and dropped water and wind and fire on us. Lightning struck a tree about 100 feet from where I was holed up in Herbert Hoover’s birthplace with another ranger and a couple of event exhibitors.

While we needed the rain, I suppose we could have waited another day.

The perils of pedal power

Now that the weather has become tolerable for a while I rode my bike to work for the first time in a few weeks. Some sort of concrete-mixing operation sprung up just outside town last month, possibly in support of the major highway work along Interstate 80. This means there are many more trucks along my usually quiet commuting route. It adds a little edge to the ride.

This year’s meager rains have kept the roadside ditches from getting overgrown and choked with weeds. This means that from the road’s narrow shoulders I can see almost straight down into the culverts that cross beneath. The lack of vegetation doesn’t make the ditches any more dangerous; it simply makes more apparent my likely demise if one of those trucks blows me off the roadway.

Bike to work

This week was Bike to Work Week and I bicycled to work all five days. Whew.

The weather was good for it excepting the storm that rolled in during commute time Tuesday evening. Then my wife had to pick me up.

During my morning rides I discovered I had a nemesis: an aggressively territorial red-winged blackbird. The blackbirds are ubiquitous along the route. They nest in the grassy ditches along the farm fields. The males  perch above their little kingdoms on the telephone wires that line the road.

I’ve been attacked by blackbirds before, but this one was particularly regular and devious. His particular stretch of road curved steeply over a ridge, so I was moving slow and couldn’t quite look all the way up to see him. I could hear him chirping overhead as he launched himself from the wire and then suddenly a whirring of feathers as he buzzed my right ear from behind. Every single morning in the exact same place (right down to the same crack in the asphalt). I knew he was coming but in my concentration pedaling up the hill he’d still startle me. “Damn you!” I shouted as I shook my fist at him.