Friday, June 27, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

i lived in iowa for eleven years, 1975-1986, very turbulent years for me as i was twenty one when i got there and didn't grow up 'til i nearly left. i lived in iowa city mostly, but also in cedar rapids, mt. vernon, lisbon, frytown, and out in the country, outside wellman, outside solon, outside west branch, outside north liberty, all over the place. several times i lived near rivers- once on the iowa, just outside iowa city, where i lived in a stilted cabin and my cat lulabelle got caught in a trap; once on the cedar, in an ivanhoe cabin at the bottom of a bluff, a sunny place whose mulberries i can still taste. both these places are gone because of the flood, i'm sure, but my memories have been flooding along with the waters that have now reached down here & will soon be spilling out down in new orleans. on monday i made my students write about the iowa floods for their finals, and so have been reading about whether global warming caused them or not, all day; my students, of course. don't know the place at all, and know even less about whether two 500-year floods in fifteen years is extraordinary or what, but, there was plenty of evidence either way, so, in a sense, reading the papers was kind of like going to a local diner, and trying to figure something out with a bunch of guys in feed caps, who say a few things i don't understand.

when i first got to iowa city i'd take my cross country skis out by city park and beyond, where there was a hilly golf course owned by the elks or some such group who were never there when i skied. crossing the iced-over iowa was living dangerously, since, less than a mile upriver from a raging dam, people were known to fall in and only be saved by the grace of the power plant workers or whoever watched the water rushing over that dam, down at the burlington street bridge. i never fell in, though i almost did several times, and i noticed how low and buggy the terrain was, in general, throughout the park, when so much of iowa city was up on the hills, the bluffs, where gentle woods covered you and protected you also from the bitter winter winds. a place of very hot summers, very cold winters, a lot of wind, and several days each week of clear blue skies that you just don't see down here.

of all the rivers, the big one, besides the mississippi, is the des moines, which should be called the des moyenne, the middle one, the one between the missouri and the mississippi. if there were ever monks on it, or monks in the city that was built on it, people surely wouldn't have named the river after the monks. that river is a big one, spilling out down at the quarter-bridge to st. francisville, down on the missouri line, at iowa's foot down by keokuk. the others spill into it, or spill directly into the mississippi, for example, the skunk, which has a bit of power, or the cedar, which has both rapids and falls and some big towns, before it ever gets to ivanhoe. but my favorite is the wapsipinicon, which we called the wapsi, as i never even knew all the wild places it went; it passed through jones county in a place we liked to go, near anamosa, and seemed to snake through virtually untamed wilderness on its way through the countryside.

in fact very little of iowa was truly untamed, though it wasn't heavily traveled by tourists, or anyone else. at ivanhoe i could follow the road i lived on and go back into cedar county on long winding gravel roads that followed the cedar, roughly, into some wild territory where I'd lose track completely of which way was south. on those roads sometimes you'd come around a bend and a huge farm tractor would come over a hill, with darkened squarish windows and somebody peeking behind them, taking up 80% of the road and daring you not to fly into the ditch on your way around it, when you know full well that slamming on the brakes wasn't much of an option either. going the other way, on the paved highway, highway 1, I watched the corn change day by day as I had the luxury of not having to veer around rutted gravel potholes; I'd also see the hollowed out stone house, vacant for at least a hundred years, with the religious sign out in front, not just telling me to find jesus but threatening me as to what would happen if i didn't. a beautiful road, it slowed down going through solon, and passed a number of roads that i got to know or lived on at one time or another- solon dx road, also known as christmas tree farm road, morse road, dingleberry quarry road- actually one of the ones i lived on had a name too but it escapes me. it was hilly country, almost all river bluff, always a surprise around the next hill, but only once you knew what you were looking at. otherwise it seemed at times like just miles of corn, swishing in the breeze, or some farmer driving too slow to look at it. the rivers, we kind of took for granted- there were better places to swim, and if we wanted to canoe or raft, we'd go north, where it was more pleasant when you fell in them. the upper iowa was a good canoeing river; wisconsin had the rafting ones. people did actually canoe the cedar occasionally, and the wapsi a lot, but never the iowa, because of the dam i mentioned before. they fished in them all the time, and even ate the fish that came out of them, despite the fact that even then they were filling up with sediment, fertilizer, pesticide, you name it. catfish were good, even delicious, went together well with corn on the cob- and they'd come right out of the water like they were eager to join you.

i remember summers the best, because, this time of year, you could hang around the rivers long enough, and not want to go back to town at all. by my place at ivanhoe was little pullovers on the road, down by the river, where the mulberries were, and people would camp there a lot, because it just seemed to be wild and open, a lot of stars, good fishing, and you weren't in anyone's way. coming from the east as i did, and from traveling in places like california and florida, such places like that that were beautiful, wild, and open, with free camping, with a tree full of fruit to boot, seemed too good to be true.

for my students i dug up quotes about why it could have been global warming, or why it probably wasn't, that caused the great flood. Drainage tiling caused water to go into the rivers sooner than usual (Achenbach), frequency of extreme rainfalls is up 24% since 1948 (Shapley), five million acres of crops destroyed (Leonard), alarm expressed by newspapers as far away as students read this stuff, and tried to make sense of it, and wrote reasonable essays considering their grammar is comparable to a lowland patch of nettles on a muddy riverbank...what sticks with me, though, is a set of pictures collected by the boston globe, for whatever reason, which i now see attracted some others as well, as it has over 430 comments. easterners don't understand iowa much, always asked me why i ended up out here, what would attract a person to a place like this, or to iowa, when i was living up there....and i don't know if i ever put it quite into words for them; don't even know if i could, even now. i do know that the hills here, as well as up there in iowa, are full of evidence that this is the very old land, the heart of the country; land of mounds & arrowheads; it has been settled, so to speak, forever, and for thousands of years, I assume, when the rivers rose, people went further up into the hills to wait it out, and let the waters flow out...if two of these floods in fifteen years is a little extreme, well, yes, i guess nature is a little extreme around here, it's the way it is. it's river country, so the rivers decide, in the end, what stays, and what washes on down to the gulf. i myself am staying, if i can; a couple of friends have left, after a few bad seasons, or bad restaurant experiences, but, it'll take a little more than just weather, to drive me out of this river country; i've kind of got attached.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

one summer i lived in a trailer outside of lisbon, iowa, out in the country, surrounded by oat and clover fields, and i'd get my daughter, who must have been about two or three, for weekends, and drive her back to iowa city by way of an old town called sutliff, which had an even older bridge, maybe over a hundred years old, that creaked hard and loud as we drove across it. it was meant to give a little as you drove, someone said, but was it meant to make such a terrible sound? i thought we were going to die just about every time we crossed. often we'd get out, after we'd crossed, and walk back across it together. i remember her being old enough to talk about it and ask a lot of questions.

it had wooden planks across iron, and my daughter, much closer to the ground than i was, would get down and look through them at the cedar river rushing below. if there was a pebble around, she'd throw it through the cracks too- she was at an age where she judged shrewdly how much of a rise any particular thing would get out of her dad. it almost seemed like she herself would fit through some of those cracks, or maybe through the airy railing, but i watched her closely- and nothing like that ever happened. the funny thing was, it was always on sunday mornings- that happened to be the time i was always returning her to her mom, a time when i was already feeling enormous conflict around the general ideas of holding on, and letting go, anyway. sutliff, the town, had mainly one bar, one very rowdy bar, so i was told, but sunday morning was probably the one time that it had absolutely nothing going on at all; the town was deserted, absolutely quiet. it had maybe a few houses- and a street sign post at the junction near the bridge which had, as i well recall, two street signs: swine drive and madison avenue, on it. i was never able to find out if the locals had any appreciation of the irony of those names- though i'm sure they did- i never talked to them, sunday being quiet as it was.

the wooden slats of the bridge would rot and break off, but they would be replaced soon after, if you waited a little. in the meantime it would be slightly hazardous to the walker, especially a two-year-old, but not too bad if you were paying attention. to the drivers, the biggest hazard was that it would rattle so much you'd lose your grip on the wheel, or you'd just lose your sense of actually driving on anything solid at all. but it never put me in serious danger; the iron was true, even if the wood was a little funky.

a few years back, they were about to tear it down, i heard, but apparently the locals rallied around and saved it, got it on the historical registry- the new bridge was built, or was at least promised, but the old one wouldn't be torn down. the flood did it in, though. just got some pictures in the e-mail, which i'll post soon. it was washed on down the cedar.

that, and the history that went along with it. *water under the bridge* was an old expression they had around there, and we have it around here too: it kind of referred to conflicts, or things that you tended to have hard feelings about, but instead, you let go of them, in recognition that, what time would wash away, was better off forgiven and forgotten. i don't have that many hard feelings- though maybe a few, and at the time i had some, related to being separated, having to travel, always having to let go. so, forgiven, yes, i could do that, though forgiving myself, sometimes, was the hardest part. forgotten, though, never. as long as i'm alive, i'll remember: the pebble, the slats, the river. and the gravel dust, from the road, in the rearview mirror, when we finally got back to driving.

Friday, June 20, 2008

iowa city & cedar rapids have been on my mind lately, all my friends up there, many of whom dispersed or lost-touch-with, but in my thoughts nevertheless. told a story the other day about the two towns and i wanted to make sure i got it down, just for posterity. it really demonstrates something about the area, as well as being generally amusing.

was coming through o'hare airport in chicago, but i didn't fly much in those days, so i was kind of wide-eyed as i did it. a hare krishna must have seen me as a mark- they were common back then in the late 70's/80's, and they would give you a beautiful book, free, full of hare krishna, colored saffron gods & elephants, and then start hocking you for money. we went back & forth, me with the book in my hand, him not letting me go, until we were both exasperated with each other's stubbornness. in the end i was very aggravated, as i believed anyone who offered to give you something, free, ought to settle for a couple of bucks, which i gave him, whether the book was worth more or not. and he, similarly, was angry, knowing full well he'd lost money on the deal, only getting a couple of bucks for a pretty book with lots of pictures.

so i kind of steamed on the plane until it landed in our small airport of cedar rapids. the airport is closer to cedar rapids but serves both towns, and, it's very small, personal, a local kind of place. i have to say here that the two towns are very different- iowa city a college town, people walked on the don't walk; c-r, on the other hand, they'd give you a look if you walked on the don't walk. a much more conservative town, and a little bigger than iowa city.

so i'm sure i stood out as a clear iowa citian, when i landed in the airport. a policeman came up to me, and asked me if i was from iowa city; i said i was. i was a little nervous at his abruptness- what did he want? but, as it turned out, he pulled out another book just like the one i was carrying, and said, someone left this in the airport. i figured you had one, you'd know somebody down there who'd appreciate another one. and he gave it to me, straight and simple, and walked away.

now the nice part about it was, he was the airport policeman. i'd no more expect good karma and the blessings from heaven, from a guy like that, as anyone. but that's what happened, i swear to god. says something about religion, i think.

god bless you all, up there in iowa.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

somehow i can't go on with normal life, blogging and all, without thinking about all my friends, waist high in the slog up there in iowa. these are two places i used to work- the imu, or memorial union, i was a busboy, kind of, but this was not a time in my life that i'd like to dwell on. at the epb- english philosophy- this i'm sure is where the writer's workshop resides- i got my master's in linguistics while keeping in mind that, if you park in the lot shown covered by feet of water- for more than two minutes, they'd put a ticket on your windshield so fast you couldn't believe it.

i guess what bothers me most is knowing that this isn't just water- and, it isn't even just muddy water. most of it is now down around us- traveling quite quickly down the mississippi, through rockwood, through grand tower and devil's backbone, less than ten miles from here. the river is always very muddy- lots of farmland washing down with every square foot of water- but the legacy of the midwest includes lots of pesticides too, and lots of fertilizer, so much that they call it a 'dead zone' from louisiana spreading out for hundreds of miles. this is so toxic that if you even come into contact with it you have to get hosed off, i guess. the farmers were having a pretty good year- corn prices high- half of it going into ethanol- but now, as it turns out, iowa is in the alley where hot air gathering way up high tends to back up the wetness coming down out of canada- and this is our third hundred-year-flood in twenty years. times have changed. maybe 'iowa' and 'iriwaddy'- the great delta in myanmar- are distantly related. can't help but be a little angry, that global warming does a cruel blow on my favorite place, but i guess that's just the way it is.

here's to my friends up there- to old times, to nights when the old cap was lit up and glowed gently into empty office or riverbank, to where the ducks would walk, and i'd feed them, sometimes with my young daughter. to a river that i jumped in more than once, but was a little leery of, as it shot over a dam just south of these pictures. to a house i lived in, that was the first to go, even when i lived there, when they let the water out of the dam. to cedar rapids- where i lived maybe half a year, but worked for over a year- where, if the wind was right, the smell of cooked corn syrup came over the valley from the northwest at just such an angle, crossing the cedar, cutting through a winter night sometimes. to ivanhoe, linn county, south of mount vernon, home of the world's best mulberries, on trees down on the cedar, now totally covered i'm sure, where i lived for a while on a gravel road in a small cabin, and caught the smell of c-r, coming down out of the northwest, even on summer nights. it's all under water now, a sickening, tepid, dirty kind of muck, i'm sure, and it makes me sick just thinking about's all water under the bridge, so to speak, maybe just barely under the bridge, if that's the way it will finally get out of there. i'll try to get it out of my mind, and move on, but i want you to know, my heart is with you. good luck, getting out from under.

Friday, June 13, 2008

up in iowa city the mighty iowa has shot its banks, flooding normandy drive, the park, the city, closing the university for over a week, etc. i don't watch television so i don't have the details, but, any time you have to wait for a hot air system to break up over the east coast, you're in big trouble, and, for iowans, this is at least the third hundred-year flood in less than thirty years. the one that wiped me out would have been in about '85, when i was living in a van down by the river, but i consider myself partly to blame for that, what was i thinking? this one seems more serious; normandy drive was an established neighborhood, not a place you'd want to evacuate.

down here, a heat we call "oppressive" gave way to showers that lifted steam off of the roads and lawns in the late afternoon. it sizzled. i was driving old and sick pets around and finally took the kids to mcd's to run around a while while it poured a little outdoors. my oldest son ran across the parking lot in the pouring rain to join his friends at the indiana jones movie; as for me, i enjoyed the steady stream of what one gets on an extended father's day weekend. one running joke is whether p-f can stand for pink flamingo or pink framingo, or even pickled french-fry- as opposed to, say, picture frame. or, whether a 3-year-old can be trusted to carry a decorated glass cup, as he runs past a bucket of toys that are, say, irresistable. or whether a father's day, postponed to late july for a boy who is in camp the month of june, is really the same. it's not actually a holiday that everyone has uniformly warm fuzzies about, though i, fortunately, have at least been consistently there for mine, they all know who i am, as i yell quite a bit just to make sure they don't forget.

the pets went down to anna, a small town not too far away, which was just as hot and oppressive as here, more so even. it's just the way it is...allergies explode, air-con blasts, one stays by a cool fan, late at night, and blogs....for peace.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Monday, June 09, 2008

got a bit nervous tonight, reading in the local post, that a glacier is moving at a "fast slip" and causing a 7 earthquake every day in the antarctic, a place that has already heated up ten times as fast as the rest of the world, lost 80% of the foundation of its ecosystem (krill), and, on top of it all, is undergoing a change in the magnetic poles which everyone agrees on but nobody understands. it's like, this ball we're spinning on, is about to splash in the puddle.

and i, nero, would be glad to fiddle as the earth burns, but i tweet, or, make pop art, or better yet, a pop art movie, in my office, killing time with my son the pokemon fan, pop art coming, i promise. things have heated up now a little, summer is in full swing, the older boys are in camp, and i look forward to a trip to blistering el paso & las cruces just to get away from the humidity. the son, in the back seat, is prone to sudden pokemon non-sequitur (sp?) outbursts, like "charizard has 70 hp" showing that, really, this pokemon thing is really on top for him, though he likes hanging around the office making pop art, cartoon art, and movies. i of course have no clue how to use i-movie, no clue.

the air-con is just as bad as the pressing heat, and worse, it's responsible for the antarctic, no doubt. my penguin friends: gentoo, chinstrap, adelie, & the emperor, with no clothes- it's too hot down there too. wilkins and larsen-b, i swear, i'm-a-put these guys in my novel, though they been dead a while, these were the ice shelves that just collapsed. i use "just" in the antarctic sense, it's been a regular event, larsen-c is next. i think if i worked down there, maybe i'd be grateful for an occasional 7.1 earthquake, a little glacier bumping on the ice-pack once in a while. a daily one, i'm not so sure. i'd have to be there to know.

my students dutifully write papers about how we should walk to work, or maybe, recycle more. yes, i'm trying. ride my bike once in a while too. try to get there before 8, so as to miss the blazing heat of the day, duck into faner's air-con, which, of course, would be on anyway. in the back seat, my son says, 'zen head-butt is a powerful attack...' right out of the clear blue sky. that's clear-blue, in the figurative sense, a southern-illinois kind of clear. a hot, muggy blazing clear. speaking of the weather, tornados spotted recently, as close as giant city road, and it isn'e even flag day. they're having trouble getting firecrackers for the fourth, but hey, i've been down on firecrackers anyway, i could live without them altogether, ever since i got hit in the face with one, in the bicentennial year. sunset concerts, that's different. but for the fourth, think i'll stay home, maybe grade papers, do pop art...chou

#2 gets married; #2-8 all together in one place. it was a fantastic wedding, held outside of murphysboro on a clear hot day. everyone is exhausted, especially the little fellows.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

so i'll give you a little background on the pop art. i have an overwhelming job of redoing cesl webpages, which really need a lot of pictures; have no incoming pictures, my supplies have dried up a little. don't have a camera, no time to borrow & use one, really, though that would be a possibility. so last term i'm totally overwhelmed with papers, stacks of 38, one after another, and need a break, visually if nothing else. i notice that these flat macs have a little pop-art camera on them. it's kind of like when they moved the copier outside my door and i got into xerox art. anyway the camera points right at a huge stack & i'm on my way. pretty soon i notice that not only is my office full of cool stuff, but it needs to be cleaned out a little. some of these old newspapers need to see the daylight. some have had a swimming towel hanging over them a little too long.

sure enough, there's a marilyn in the stack. now i don't know much about andy warhol, but pop art apparently is a whole genre. i'm a little new to the field...but, these will be useful to me anyway, with the web pages. we at cesl have kind of old-looking stuff sometimes. it's not that pop-art is new, it's just that it jumps you a little. makes you forget where there's old design.

so, i'm investigating pop art culture...making it as i go along...
nice collection of old songbooks, complete with lyrics & notes, here at the duke univ. libraries digital collection of american sheet music. click on the buddha (this is just one of them, 1910-1920, p.2):

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

land of obama

you heard it first here!
picture from the usgenweb archives
with summer coming on, i thought i'd turn my students loose on the watkins ice shelf falling down in west antarctica, and see what they could dig up about global warming, a continent falling into the sea, etc. it's all very depressing, for many reasons. one is that my students aren't all that good at talking about it, though i should have something to show you before it's over; thus i'm really slogging through some tepid pollution-ravaged waters down there by the big whirlpool, where one ocean is higher than the other, and the whole earth spins pretty quick above it. then also, it's gotten really hot here, all of a sudden, as it does in june, so one steps out into searing heat which also makes a person dizzy and disoriented.

but worst is this. mulberry season was approaching, and this cheers me up, seeing these big green mulberries slowly turning purple in two different places, one by the door of my office building, up high, near the woods, but where i can reach them as i go back into work, and another, a low tree, on a road i bicycle on, on a slightly overgrown lawn with lots of brush on it. good, i thought, reachable, no spray, big green berries all over the place. but the season came on, they were purple, the birds were getting to them, and i went to the low one, the one by the road, and it was very disappointing. spray, i figure, mosquito spray. nerve gas. you want to know why there's ld in this world, you don't have to look far. i've got to stay away from that nerve gas. at least the one at the university is up high, away from the grass, toward the woods, away from the spray.

down in antarctica, the wilkins ice shelf is history. another one, the larsen b, size of yorkshire, it was history too. that part of antarctica is getting warmer faster than anyplace else. 70-80% of krill gone, and the whole system relies on the krill, penguins, whale, you name it. and it's not just global warming. the ozone hole is actually changing the winds; the winds are coming over the mountains differently, and that's melting it. but it's not only that. the poles are shifting. and what that means, down there, is that there's a new bottom, a new place where the water churns and where the deepest sea water rises to the top. kind of unsettling, i'd say. the researchers are down there, huddled in little huts, measuring the difference between -20 and -25, trying to figure out if they're next to fall into the sea, or if anyone will notice. the secretary general of the un appears to have noticed.

the arctic of course is worse- it's an arms race, don't even talk about it. we're also doing frogs, now there's a disaster for ya- and the caribbean, where you've got large reef, small countries, big oil. and everyone denies that it's a problem, or that it could be their fault. ach. the problem is that i have to read these articles, just in order to grade the papers.

so, i'm moving more heavily into pop art. i'll do pop art quakers next. pop art george fox, pop art meeting house, that kind of stuff. on the home front, maybe i'll plant a mulberry tree, way back, off the street, wait a few years for it to grow. no sense relying on the university for that, for maintaining a tree, that just happens to produce berries that i associate with pure heaven, pure vitamin c, tangy freedom, the spirit of the outdoors. these days, it's hot out. you get out there, quick, before eight a-m, or right after a drizzle- you breathe in, and you stay in the air-con 'til it cools off a little. nobody said you gotta like it. this air-con, it's probably the downfall of the human race, not to mention the krill & the penguin. but there's no way i'd live without it, in the present situation. except, maybe, in the van, with windows open, and afel boucum, malian music, on.