Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Fallen trees and curiosity

We've been off to a flying start so far as visitors to the LCHS museum campus are concerned after the switch to summer hours on Memorial Day, which is a good thing. There's no point in having a museum unless its visited.

But when the highs are in the 90s, you begin to be envious of museums built on flat ground (as opposed to our hillside) and under one roof, consisting entirely of air-conditioned territory. The Lewis Building and the Stephens House are cooled here, but the barn, cabin, school and church are not.

I took an early-evening group through yesterday and came home feeling a little like I'd been rode hard and put away wet. Part of the challenge for a guide is the fact that an after-hours tour involves three complete circuts --- first to open all the doors, turn on the lights, activate a few ceiling fans and open a window or two in non-air conditioned buildings; then the tour itself; and finally when everyone's gone home, repeat the circut to turn everything off and lock up.

Nobody minds doing this --- and tours are lots of fun. But then you get home, put your feet up and sometime later comes the phone call: Did you know there are lights on in the Stephens house? Whoops, missed a switch or two. So back you go.

I doubt traffic volume has anything to do with it, but it's possible this year to see us a little better after the demise of the hackberry tree that had eaten the east facade of the Stephens House.

No one really wanted to take the tree down, but it was planted squarely in front of the house without too much foresight a good many years ago. In addition to concealing the facade, it had damaged nearby trees, could not be pruined effectively, was messy and was beginning to look as if it might just start dropping limbs on unwary guests. So down it came.


It's hazy again here this morning, something that can be attributed in part according to news reports to smoke in the atmosphere blowing east-northeast from huge fires along the Arizona-New Mexico border. Not that we're suffering, but its a reminder that others are.

We're expecting more rain during the latter part of the week; wish some of it could be diverted down thataway.

Missouri valley flooding is going to affect us slightly, too, on Thursday when Amtrak suspends its Iowa service. Trains travel down through the valley into and out of Omaha rather than over it.

We're used to seeing the Californian Zephyr pass through twice a day, once headed west, once headed east. But that's going to stop for a while. It's not clear what the effect on freight/coal traffic will be, but the silence when trains stop running for some reason is unnerving.

The flooding potential doesn't seem to be attracting much attention outside the upper Midwest because, I suppose, the numbers affacted are relatively small and there's been lots of warning --- farm homes and small towns out in the valley already have been evacuated; those on the loess hill fringe are preparing, watching and waiting --- primarily it seems because of an Army Corps of Engineers "oops" moment.

A peculiarity of vast modifications to nature's drainage system, as happened in South Dakota during the latter half of the 20th century, is that the huge ponds created ostensibly for flood control and other purposes begin to seem like God-given recreational opportunities, too --- and woe be unto the Corps of Engineers if water levels lowered to effectively control potential flooding threaten to affect the new tourism-related economy.

We see some of that around here, too --- at Saylorville and Red Rock on the Des Moines and Rathbun on the Chariton.

I keep wondering what the Missouri valley situation would have been had the river been left to settle its own course and keep its own time.


Still rereading Paul Gruchow, this passage exploring in a few economically arranged words the vanishing nature of curiosity resonated yesterday while I was juggling lunch and a book:

"One of the mysteries is how we lose our curiosity as we grow up. I think hatred and scorn are the weeds that choke it out. The older we get, the more clearly we understand what we do not like. Finally we do not like so many things that we have no room to love anything, and that is when curiosity dies. There are two large approaches to life. One is to know your enemies clearly and to pour your energies into nullifying them, into scorn and satire, cynicism and protest, into the arts of nay-saying and emasculation. The other is to know your enthusiasms and to give your energies to celebrating them, to praise and thanksgiving, curiosity and wonder, to the arts of affirmation and lovemaking. Both approaches can be moral, intelligent forces for betterment. But one is also much more beautiful than the other. Why should it be so easy to make the uglier choice?"

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