Friday, April 29, 2011

Tulips & Wooden Shoes - They go together

When I see tulips, I can't help but think of wooden shoes. So when these two red tulips opened today, I went in search of de klompen.  

'De klompen,' as the Dutch call wooden shoes, keep walking into my life. I wrote for the May/June Iowan about the Dutch in Orange City who give demonstrations in how to make these iconic foot gear during their tulip festival in May. During my research, I also learned that Pella holds the Guinness World Record for the most people dancing in wooden shoes. On May 8, 2010, 2,605 people gathered in the Pella city square and danced in wooden shoes for 6 minutes and 15 seconds.

I visited the Netherlands nearly 40 years ago. There, I watched a craftsman shape shoes from blocks of wood, and I did the touristy thing - I bought wooden shoes. A pair for myself and a pair for my son who was only a toddler at the time.

Wooden shoes are not the most logical gift when you have but one suitcase, but I just had to. Holland, tulips, and wooden shoes. They go together.

The souvenirs of many trips have long gone the way of Goodwill donation bins. But not my wooden shoes. Wooden shoes were 'green' before green was a fad. Wooden shoes were comfortable before Birkenstocks became my shoes of choice.

My son has long outgrown his wooden shoes, but mine still fit. I'm wearing them as I type and look at my red tulips and think about things that are meant to be together.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

When it's just right

There's no hurrying good carrion. My husband threw a dead rabbit out into the field a couple of days ago. Today the vultures have been circling.  Every once in a while, a vulture will drop down next to the rabbit and take a look.  Almost always a second vulture lands a short distance away.

The first vulture looks, but doesn't touch, the rabbit carcass.  If the other vulture makes a move to close in, the first vulture may spread its wings in a protective gesture or fly toward the second vulture to chase it away. Then it goes back to the carcass to take another look. After a bit, both vultures fly away.

A hawk checked out the carcass, too, poked at it, but left it alone. Maybe the rabbit was too far gone to make a good hawk meal.

Knowing that vultures like their food good and ripe, I can only assume the rabbit isn't 'cured' to the appropriate level yet.

Now that the sun is out and the temperatures are warming up, it probably won't take long. 

Since I have a personal problem with patience, I have to admire these vultures who will wait until their dinner is just right before sitting down to eat.

NOTE: This photo shows vultures on top of a silo catching the morning sun. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Attracting bluebirds

If you'd like to know more about the habits of bluebirds, build a bluebird nesting box or just look at pretty bluebird pictures, this book could be for you.

I was attracted to this book in particular because it provided detailed instructions for building nesting boxes. There are several variations - all of them easy. It's a project you could easily to do with your kids.

Happy birding!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Checking out the neighborhood

In a classic case of 'if you build it they will come,' I'm delighted to report that we have bluebirds checking out the bluebird house my husband build earlier this spring.

At first just one, but yesterday, a male and female were in and out on a regular basis. I'm keeping my fingers crossed they'll like the accommodations well enough to set up housekeeping and we'll have babies to report soon.

I'll try for a better picture, but the bluebirds are shy and don't stay anywhere long. Nor do I want to give them any cause for concern about their new home, so I won't walk too close.

Knowing how quickly one house was successful in attracting birds, we may have to put up another one.  If for no other reason that I want to be able to see the house and birds from the kitchen window.  When the apple tree leafs out, this bluebird house will be completely hidden from kitchen view.

The bluebirds of happiness are definitely flying around here this week!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How do you tell your life story?

There are so many ways to tell a life story. I found a new one this week when I drove to Lockridge in southeast Iowa to interview Johnny McLain for The Iowan.

McLain could not write his story - he's dyslexic.  So, for the past 40 years, he has been telling his life story through clocks he carves. Most of the more than 50 clocks are also display cases. Each case is like the chapter of a book, focusing on one aspect of his life - from the homestead where he was raised to his years as a hobo, from people like his grandmother and wife to interests like music and hunting.

Like all good story tellers, in telling his own story, McLain connects with others because he's also telling our stories.  Among his clocks are ones that pay homage to Disney, Budweiser, Tulip Time in Pella, and the Old Thresher's Reunion. Each of his life stories made me remember more of my own stories.

At 74 years old, McLain is still carving. Right now, he's working on a new room to add to his museum - a room that will focus on the 1950s and 60s.

I'm writing more about Johnny McLain and the Johnny Clock Museum in the July/August issue of The Iowan. Read about it there and drop in to see him. You may be inspired to think about new ways to tell your own stories.

Call the Johnny Clock Museum at 319.696.3711 for hours.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The birds of spring

After I posted about dove hunting, my brother-in-law in Alaska suggested I shoot with a camera.  Good advice, though my camera is usually someplace else when I see a bird. And the birds are not patient posers.

I was reminded of his advice when I saw a wild turkey strut by. Of course, no camera in hand. The bird was quite impressive when it took off and flew right over the house. I don't think I've ever seen a turkey in flight.

Having learned my lesson, at least for the moment, I now have my camera beside my computer and I'm doing my best to shoot all the birds who come by.  The water dish on the deck is a popular stop for birds of all types.

Over the weekend, I captured my elusive dove, as well as a blue jay, a robin, and a red-bellied woodpecker. Today, the goldfinches (not wearing their full gold color yet) are fighting with the black-capped chickadees for time at the thistle seed feeder. A cardinal is too far away on the fence for my little camera to record. And the brown creeper is too similar in color - and too tiny - to see on the trunk of the ash tree.

I'm not getting much else done, but I am enjoying the birds!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dove safe haven

A mourning dove just stopped at the water dish on our deck to take a drink. It stayed just long enough for me to admire the lovely taupe color if its feathers and the delicate shape of its head. I did not get out my gun to shoot it.

The idea of shooting one of these delicate, refined little birds is senseless to me. Doves are not loud or dirty or offensive in any way that I can see. A dozen of them would not make a filling meal. Yet, acting in opposition to public opinion, the Iowa legislature passed a bill making it legal to hunt doves in our state.

Let it be said I'm not opposed to hunting in general. We have a herd of deer that is way too fond of our garden, for instance, that I wouldn't mind the DNR taking a moment to thin. But these doves?  There's no point in it.

The task of cleaning the tiny carcasses to eat, seems more trouble than one bite of dove flesh would be worth, no matter how much bacon you wrap it in. I wonder just how many hunters will take the time?  Not just to clean them but even to pick them up and dispose of the carcasses they down. How many shot-riddled carcasses will be left on the ground to rot, the lead in their bodies poisoning any bird or animal that eats the carrion?

Well, the doves on my deck need not worry. We offer a safe haven. A water dish my husband keeps fresh. Seed the gold finches, woodpeckers, and flickers drop. Life is pretty good here and we hope more doves visit our deck, free from worry.

*Photo courtesy of We For Animals

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Making the most of who you are

I've been studying small Iowa towns of late. Trying to decipher what makes some more successful than others.

One answer appears to lie in taking a close look at your community and making the most of what makes you unique.

The western Iowa community of Audubon has done just that. Even though ornithologist, naturalist, hunter, and artist John James Audubon never visited there, the town that bears his name has made every effort to capitalize on this most famous painter of birds.

Their projects include a 2.5 mile bird walk cast in mosaics along the community's downtown brick sidewalks, murals in public buildings, a bronze statue and recording of Audubon's voice in the town park, and a new bird clock tower at the Masonic Lodge.

The mosaics were created and installed by artist and native son Clint Hansen. The photos are courtesy of Audubon photographer Juanita Renard.

Every community cannot point to such a famous namesake. But I expect every community could find something that makes it special. The challenge, of course, isn't just to find the uniqueness, but to have the community strength of will to carry through.

I wrote more about Audubon, Iowa, in the March-April issue of The Iowan.