Monday, March 23, 2009

Our stories connect us

After taking a couple of months (the really cold, really snowy ones) off, I'm back on the road again, doing readings, discussions and signing events at Iowa libraries. Three weeks ago, Maquoketa; last week, Bettendorf, this week, Clermont and Elgin.

The more people I talk to, the more I discover how common the experiences of growing up in rural Iowa are. And the most common experiences are the ones I least expected. Chickens, for instance. The smell of wet chicken feathers. The sight of a chicken with its head cut off. The fear of being attacked by a territorial rooster. The sudden, sharp, startling peck of a setting hen defending her nest. Who would have imagined that traumatic chicken experiences would connect so many people?

Whether people are 90 or 60 or 40 or 20, someone starts to tell stories of growing up in Iowa and all of a sudden memories come flooding back. Doing laundry. Milking cows. Weeding the garden. Driving tractor. One story leads to another and all of a sudden people who didn't know each other at all are reminiscing as though they'd grown up in the same house.

Sharing stories - connecting with - people about growing up in rural Iowa is one of the great, unexpected pleasures of my life these days.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Failure worries dog life insurers

"Failure worries dog life insurers"  This was a headline in the Des Moines Register yesterday.  When I read this, I thought that with all the economic woes the country is facing, the failure of people who insure dogs just could not be high enough on the list to be the lead on the business page.  I launched into reading the article fully prepared to tsk and cluck and shake my head at a country so flush we can have dog insurance.  I also thought of the two Mastiffs my son and his wife keep and wondered if they have insurance for their animals.

Several paragraphs into the article, I couldn't find anything about dogs.  I went back to the beginning. Maybe in my haste, I had read past the point.  All the way to the end. Still nothing about dogs.

I read the headline again.  I have been known to misread headlines.  But no. It said "Failure worries dog life insurers."  

I read it again and again.  Finally. Finally. Finally, I realized dog was the verb. Worries was the subject!  I didn't exactly slap my head, but I had to laugh.  "Hey, David," I called to my husband. "Listen to this!"  We had a good laugh over my misread of the headline.  

I love a day that starts with a laugh.  And I'll take a good laugh when I can get one. Even at my own expense. That headline is a keeper.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pursuing passion

I've always admired people with passion.  People who know their passion are willing to commit time and energy and resources to advance the cause that holds their heart. 

I've never been able to point to just one thing that is my passion. I flit from one area of interest to another like a hummingbird relentlessly moving from flower to flower, drawing nectar from one bloom and then another. This may be why writing is so gratifying for me.  As a writer, I have the pleasure - the honor, I would say - of meeting people with passion, drawing in some of that passion, and then sharing it with others through my articles.

A couple of months ago, I traveled to eastern Iowa to talk with three people who have spent the last 13 years organizing and leading volunteer efforts to restore the pioneer cemeteries in Jackson County.  Doing the research, working with land owners, acquiring the right of ways,  getting the materials, completing the heavy work in the heat of summer.  It is hard work, but rewarding.  "Because the people there are not forgotten." 

Fortunately, these people show no signs of stopping.  They have restored a handful of perhaps 100 pioneer cemeteries in the county.  You can read about them in the article I wrote for the March/April 2009 issue of The Iowan.

Just this week I spoke with a woman who is passionate about slugs. Yes, slugs. Slugs so small that for years she didn't even know they existed because they were about the size of grains of sand.  Although she is virtually a professional, she considers herself a citizen scientist, someone who is just being observant of - and caring about - our natural environment.  

Her passion is contagious. Because of her, I may find my way to participating in an Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation 'bioblitz' sometime this year.  And putting in the patch of native prairie grasses and flowers I've thought about for years. And I will write about her.

And then I will flit off to someone else with passion.