Life and Death on the Prairie by Stephen Longmire

Iowa’s Rochester Cemetery (near Tipton) is one of the most unusual and bio-diverse prairies left in America, boasting more than 400 species of plants–337 of them native to the region–on its thirteen-and-a-half acres. Among them are fifteen massive white oaks that stood watch as the surrounding landscape was converted into farmland after Euro-American settlers arrived in the 1830s. The cemetery is the last resting place of these pioneers and their descendants, down to the present. Graves are scattered among the wildflowers, across hills that geologists consider sand dunes held in place by the deep roots of the plants and people and is beautifully presented in Life and Death on the Prairie by Stephen Longmire.

Pioneer cemeteries have been recognized as important prairie remnants and seed banks ever since Aldo Leopold, another Iowa native, called attention to them in his landmark essays of the 1940s, as he developed the new field of ecological restoration. At Rochester Cemetery, the drama of the prairie’s survival continues to this day, in a controversy that flares up as reliably as spring’s shooting stars. To botanists across the country, this place is a pilgrimage site. To local residents, it is either a source of pride or a shameful weed lot (some feel regular mowing would show more respect for the dead). To the photographer and writer Stephen Longmire, it is a place where the stories of the rural Midwest are written on the land-a long exposure, extending back to the days when Meskwaki Indians camped nearby and wildfire held back the forest. In the creative tension between people and place, Rochester’s prairie holds its native ground. Historic cemetery plantings grow wild among the native wildflowers, and bright plastic flowers decorate modern graves.

In compelling photographs and prose, Longmire shows this patch of original Iowa to be a living record of all the land’s uses since its settlement. (description provided by publisher)

Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement by Suzi Parron

The story of the American Quilt Trail, featuring the colorful patterns of quilt squares writ large on barns throughout North America, is the story of one of the fastest-growing grassroots public arts movements in the United States and Canada. In Barn Quilts and the American Quilt Trail Movement Suzi Parron travels through twenty-nine states (including Iowa and Illinois) and two Canadian provinces to visit the people and places that have put this movement on America’s tourist and folk art map.

Through dozens of interviews with barn artists, committee members, and barn owners Parron documents a journey that began in 2001 with the founder of the movement, Donna Sue Groves. Groves’s desire to honor her mother with a quilt square painted on their barn became a group effort that eventually grew into a county-wide project. Today, registered quilt squares form a long imaginary clothesline, appearing on more than three thousand barns scattered along one hundred driving trails.

With more than fifty full-color photographs, Parron documents a movement that combines rural economic development with an American folk art phenomenon.

DVDs for June

June 7

True Grit – Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld

Mattie Ross is determined to avenge her father’s blood by capturing Tom Chaney, the man who shot and killed him for two pieces of gold. Just fourteen, she enlists the help of Rooster Cogburn, a one-eyed, trigger-happy U.S. Marshal with an affinity for drinking, and hardened Texas Ranger LaBoeuf to track the fleeing Chaney. Despite their differences, their ruthless determination leads them on a perilous adventure that can only have one outcome: retribution.

Just Go With It – Adam Sadler, Jennifer Aniston

A plastic surgeon who is romancing a much younger schoolteacher enlists his loyal assistant to pretend to be his soon-to-be ex-wife in order to cover up a careless lie. When more lies backfire, the assistant’s kids become involved, and everyone heads off for a weekend in Hawaii that will change all their lives.

June 14

Battle Los Angeles – Aaron Eckhart, Bridget Moynahan

For years, there have been documented cases of UFO sightings around the world. But in 2011, what were once just sightings will become a terrifying reality when Earth is attacked by unknown forces. As people everywhere watch the world’s great cities fall, Los Angeles becomes the last stand for mankind in a battle no one expected. It’s up to a Marine staff sergeant and his new platoon to draw a line in the sand as they take on an enemy unlike any they’ve ever encountered before.

Hall Pass – Owen Wilson,  Jason Sudeikis

Rick and Fred are best friends who have a lot in common, including the fact that they have each been married for many years. But when the two men begin to show signs of restlessness at home, their wives take a bold approach to revitalizing their individual marriages: granting them a ‘hallpass,’ one week of freedom to do whatever they want, no questions asked

June 21

Cedar Rapids – Ed Helms, John C. Reilly

A small-town, naive, Midwestern insurance agent must represent his company at a regional insurance convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where his mind is blown by the big-city experience.

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Rodrick Rules ! Zachary Gordon, Steve Bostick

Back in middle school after summer vacation, Greg Heffley and his older brother Rodrick must deal with their parents’ misguided attempts to have them bond.

 

Flood Footage

Want an idea of how bad floods can get in this area? Take a look at some of these dvds and videos….

Fighting the Floods WQAD’s coverage of the June 2008 floods has footage of the floods in Iowa and Illinois, including Davenport, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

Illinois Valley, Historic Flood of 2008 footage of the September 16th flood along the Illinois River.

’93 Flood This video was aired live during the flood and aftermath; it contains aerial footage of the flooded Mississippi River.

Fatal Flood A 1927 Mississippi River flood killed more than a thousand people and destroyed the homes of millions from Cairo, Illinois on south to New Orleans. This a PBS American Experience program – which are uniformly excellent.

Re-Reads: Song of Years by Bess Streeter Aldrich

Song of Years (1939) The state of Iowa was still young and wild when Wayne Lockwood came to it from New England in 1851. He claimed a quarter-section about a hundred miles west of Dubuque and quickly came to appreciate his widely scattered neighbors, like Jeremiah Martin, whose seven daughters would have chased the gloom from any bachelor’s heart. Sabina, Emily, Celia, Melinda, Phoebe Lou, Jeannie, and Suzanne are timeless in their appeal — too spirited to be preoccupied with sermons, sickness, or sudden death. However, the feasts, weddings, and holiday celebrations in Song of Years are shadowed by all the rigors and perils of frontier living. This novel captures the period in Iowa’s history of Indian scares and county-seat wars, as well as the political climate preceding the Civil War. Mrs. Aldrich based this novel largely on her grandfather’s adventures in Iowa and the stories she heard as a child. from bessstreeteraldrich.com

I read this book while I was in high school. I would lay on my bed with the breeze coming though the windows and am transported onto the Iowa prairie. Bess’ description of the prairie, and every breathless detail made the characters believable, and the characters stay with me long after I finished the story. This book would appeal to readers on many different levels. First of all, there is the historical aspect of the struggle of life on the prairie when Iowa was just becoming state. Second, there is the story of a young girl, unsure of herself, growing to womanhood and finding out who she really is as she faces events that are out of her control. We witness Suzanne’s first infatuation, her crushing disappointment when she realizes her feelings are not returned, and, eventually, a true love that will outlast anything. The reader realizes that though the times may change, the emotions of growing up do stay the same.  Sometimes we need a good, old-fashioned story. It still remains my favorite book of all time.

The Library Bill of Rights

billofrightsThe Library Bill of Rights:

The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

Adopted June 18, 1948, by the ALA Council; amended February 2, 1961; amended June 28, 1967; amended January 23, 1980; inclusion of “age” reaffirmed January 24, 1996.

Did you know?

The Library Bill of Rights states the American Library Association’s policy on Intellectual Freedom and is based on a policy written by Forrest Spaulding, Director of the Des Moines Public Library, put into effect in his own library on November 21, 1938.  The ALA Council then modified the statement and adopted it as The Library Bill of Rights during the 1939 Annual Conference and has since been amended on multiple occasions as libraries continue to evolve with society and technology.

American Library Association, Office for Intellectual Freedom. Intellectual freedom manual. ALA Editions, 2006. accessed via Google Books.


Iowa’s unfortunate export

indexCA3TZVXSIowa.  Midwestern values.  Bridges of Madison County, Postville, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.

Salt of the earth people in an idyllic pastoral setting.

Juxtapose this with the harrowing, gory details of the crystal meth epidemic and you have Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town.

It’s a problem we somewhat comprehend due to the occasional headline-evoking mental images of skinny wound-up kids.  Enter Oelwein, IA near Waterloo.  Although, with the population of roughly 6000, and a tiny barbershop/greasy spoon Main Street, on the surface it could just as easily be called Eldridge, LeClaire, Wilton, or Maquoketa.  For a time, Iowa was a national power in this citizen stopgap solution to high unemployment and corporate agribusiness.

Methland functions as a primer featuring real people of this cottage industry that operates out of backwoods trailers and gravel-road labs, letting the reader become intimately acquainted with the toothless, burned-up shells of former townspeople and the futile management efforts of local powers.

If you’d like a local nonfiction version of your favorite gruesome primetime CSI fare, here it is.

2 1/2 Weeks to a New President

…but you don’t have to wait until then to get the job done.

The Fairmount Street library is a satellite voting location for the upcoming general election. This means that from today through November 1st you can walk in and cast your ballot early. You can avoid the November 4th hustle, and while you’re at it, enjoy the library for a bit. For a list of Scott county satellite voting times and locations, click here:

The Scott County Auditor’s office website has a sample ballot, a search engine to determine your polling place, and a section where they will tally the results.

You have 5 more days (Deadline Oct 25th) to register if you haven’t already.

Like shopping the day after Thanksgiving, some folks really get a kick out of being in the thick of things and pulling the curtain on the big day. And then there are some of us that would rather sleep. What do you think?

RAGBRAI Review

Tana enjoying some gelato

Whew! We did it! Okay, to be perfectly honest, I only did the last three days of RAGBRAI, so I can’t really brag, but for those of you who might be interested, here’s my impressions of this year’s ride.

Our first day, Thursday, from Tama to North Liberty, was the toughest for me. First, my chain picked up part of a tiny bungee cord, so I wasn’t able to change gears. Then, it rained — just a spit or or sprinkling at first, but enough that most folks got out their rain wear, and yes, some were sporting garbage bags! Finally, there seemed to be a lot more hills than I expected, or maybe it was just that the headwinds didn’t help. At any rate, we completed the 73 miles and were most grateful that we had real beds to sleep in that night.

Friday wasn’t too bad. I scored my first piece of homemade pie (apple pecan –yummy) at 9:49 a.m., but actually all the stops seemed to have gotten that memo and there was pie readily available all day long. I did notice that there has been a definite shift towards healthier foods since my last RAGBRAI. Mr. Porkchop was still there, but Tender Tom’s (grilled turkey) seemed more popular. Plus, there were lots of other options, such as vegetarian chili and fruit smoothies. The vendors also do a great job of promoting their products, many using the old Burma Shave poster technique. My favorite was” I scream — You scream — We all scream — for Gelato? — Italian Ice Cream Next Stop! I tried some blueberry pomegrante and it was delicious!

The last day, Saturday, was a breeze! We had beautiful weather and a tail wind to boot. We were easily an hour ahead of our expected schedule. Our nearby neighbors, Eldridge and LeClaire, were fully prepared and provided excellent reception parties for us. Eldridge even had a crew cleaning the porta-potty’s — that was a definite first! LeClaire organizers had festive balloon arches and real cheerleaders, plus, they also dramatically timed the entrances of the Air Force and Army Cycling Teams — it gave me goosebumps.

We had a great time! And now that you know that even little old lady librarians can do RAGBRAI, maybe you’ll consider joining us next time?

A Few of My Favorite Things About RAGBRAI

One of the things I love the most about RAGBRAI is that it shows the best of Iowa and Iowans. The people in the overnight towns are so friendly and helpful – they welcome the riders with open arms. People from all over the United States and even the world, get to see how genuine and generous Iowans really are. Townspeople open up their homes (for free!) to complete strangers, to people like me who are too lazy to camp.

The pass-through towns also go all out to welcome riders. Besides producing mountains of food to feed this onslaught of bikers (which must seem like a plague of helmeted locusts), many communities really get into the spirit. They have theme celebrations with free (or dirt cheap) entertainment, and many even sell T-shirts to commemorate the event. For instance, Tipton is literally “Rolling out the Red Carpet,” nearby Eldridge is sporting the theme “Happy Days in Eldridge,” and the final stop in LeClaire hopes their “Spokes and Ropes” theme will encourage visitors to come back for the Tug Fest in August.

The townspeople are also very tolerant. Try to imagine in a small town suddenly supporting a population 4 to 5 times its usual size. Don’t get me wrong – RAGBRAI is a great fundraiser and many towns lobby for several years to host it, but I have to believe that we bikers must leave a bit of a mess!

And finally, as anyone who’s ever ridden on RAGBRAI can attest, Iowa is NOT flat and boring! In fact, it is lush and green, with gently rolling hills which provide colorful, scenic vistas. It is, in short, beautiful!

For an affectionate look at our great state, check out the videorecording Iowa: an American Portrait, narrated by Tom Brokaw with historic and current images of Iowa.