Friday, December 31, 2010

Prairie Snow - After the thaw

We had unseasonably warm December weather yesterday - 61 degrees! How great is that in the dead of winter?  I watched snow melt, creating streams that ran off, mostly down storm sewers. Except in the prairie.

Snow in the prairie was deeper, held by prairie plants residue. The ground was sheltered and - I presume - the temperature in the prairie did not rise as high as it did in open areas.

Other than an interesting observation, does the speed of snow melt matter? It does, of course, as Iowan's saw these past years after heavy snow melted rapidly, filling streams and rivers to overflowing. Devastating floods followed.

Where prairie exists, nature has a hand in moderating the runoff.

One feature of prairie plants is an extensive root system. The roots go deep and wide, acting like a big sponge to soak up rain and keep it from running off. I assumed this was a feature that played out in the summer time. But we know that even a sponge can get so full it won't hold all the water. Now I see how it works even in the winter.

Plant residue above ground holds the snow and keeps it from melting so fast. It holds the snow until the roots have a chance to catch up. Above and below ground, the prairie is working together to manage the moisture.

The prairie snow is melting. Sixty-plus degrees will make that happen. But it's slower. I'll be watching the prairie snow as we move into spring.  I can see how the prairie process will be a good thing.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Standing tall - making roads safer

This is my first winter of prairie watching. I noticed how strong prairie plants were during summer wind storms. They bent but didn't break. That same quality is true in the winter.

Snow piles up in the prairie, caught by grasses and flower stalks that continue to stand strong. Because the plants stand up, they create a living snow fence, trapping snow rather than letting it blow through.

Recently I've been doing research for an article on planting native plants along Iowa's roadways. The Iowa Department of Transportation has been working at this for some 25 years. The Native Roadside Vegetation Center at UNI works with Iowa counties to do the same. You may have seen the results of their efforts - swaths of coneflowers and black-eyed Susans, asters and goldenrod along the Interstates and state and roads.  They're pretty flowers and much more.

The IDOT landscape architects tell me that because prairie plants stand tall in the wind, they trap blowing snow, prevent road glare and inhibit drifting. Prairie plants make winter driving safer.

We might wish the prairie was north of our drive instead of south!

Monday, December 27, 2010

A gift of joy

My granddaughter gave me the finest gift this Christmas - the gift of joy.  All I had to do was watch her and look through her two-year-old eyes to receive it.

The piano? Played with incredible joy.

A new Santa? Amazement. Happiness. Joy.

Helping grandma make the waffles. She stirred the flour with joy!

The teddy bear joined her to rock by the Christmas tree. Amazing joy!

 From the time she arrived with her parents to spend the afternoon with us until she left barely able to keep her eyes open, she wrapped her arms around everything - every experience, every minute, with boundless joy.  Joy did not include sitting still for a photo!

I often find myself caught up in the over rush, over tired, over done sides of 'the season,' worrying - obsessing sometimes - about what has to get done next and whether I'll get it all done - and wondering why I don't enjoy it. Spending time with Hannah brings me into the moment, reminds me that here and now, each moment is a moment for joy. Looking at it all as new - through the eyes of a two year old - I experience the joy.

Thank you, Hannah. What a gift!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I am not a witch

Richard Nixon made history in 1973 with his 'I am not a crook' statement.  Public relations people everywhere used 'I am not a crook' as an example of how not to make a statement. Do not repeat a negative. Stay positive. State what you are. 

I'd have thought people understood how strong messaging works, certainly people who can hire professionals to work with them to craft the messages. This year proves, however, that new people must still learn the same old lessons.

When Yale University Librarian Fred Shapiro released his fifth annual list of most notable quotations yesterday, 'I am not a witch' led the way. These famous words were spoken by Christine O'Donnell in an ad for her own campaign for a Delaware senate seat.

Why not say it? Several reasons.

Say it and everyone who didn't hear the accusations the first time, now has - issuing from the candidate herself.

Say it and prolong the problem by giving it more air time.

Say it and give the opposition more - a really good soundbite, in fact - to work with.

Say it enough (as in an ad aired many, many times) and make even reasonable people begin to wonder. Taking a line from Shakespeare's Macbeth, 'The lady doth protest too much, methinks.'

Plenty of reasons to stay positive in the message. But new people have to learn the same lessons. And to prove the point, here comes Oprah - even Oprah - with 'I am not a lesbian.' 

Learn from the past or be doomed to repeat it.

Nixon image courtesy of