Monday, March 15, 2010

Not too promising now, but wait ...

A mild but gray Sunday afternoon at Pin Oak Marsh, where ice remains but snow has vanished.

The snow vanished in little more than a week while I spent quality time with Edward Ames Temple, et. al. (last week’s posts), and in general chased my tail attending meetings and doing other stuff. The Chariton River, White Breast Creek and lesser streams rose but now are receding without major flooding. The marshes are full of mallards, but their numbers will decrease as water levels drop.

Lucas County judges the severity of flooding by the White Breast’s behavior at Lucas where in very wet times it takes out temporarily both Highway 34 and Highway 65 south of its intersection with 34. The water lapped at the edges of No. 65 last week, but didn’t overflow.

On the downside, the bottoms have gone out of most of our gravel roads, making travel a challenge for nearly everyone who lives in the country or wants to go there. There’s not much that can be done about this except patience pills and prayers that the county will unload gravel when an impassable mud hole develops. Lots of fog, too.

But I don’t think many regret the departure of a winter’s accumulation. Not that we won’t get more before all is said and done, but at least it will melt quickly now.


The season seemed to turn late the week before last with return of the Canada geese. Now many of our snowbirds are back. I spotted male red-winged blackbirds staking out territory down at the marsh last week (the males always arrive first). Robins are stalking around the lawn looking for worms and when I went out yesterday afternoon to see how much two loads of gravel had improved the condition of the church driveway I had killdeer for company.

There have been large overflights of snow geese, but hunters are having trouble tracking them to ground, and many other varieties of waterfowl are assembling in the marshes now even through much of the ice still is in place. There was quite a variety at Pin Oak Sunday afternoon plus a good-sized bald eagle parked on the ice considering the possibility of duck for dinner.

After a snowy winter it’s always fun to check the garden to see what’s been happening out of sight under all that white stuff. Daffodils are up and budded on the east side of the house where snow was deepest, not quite so advanced on the west. Tulips are showing up, too. The parsley made it through the winter under the cover of snow and right now I could have a fresh garnish if I wanted it. Chances are, however, March cold will do it in and I’ll have to start from scratch as usual.


I was lucky enough to get an invite to go down to Allerton Saturday night for supper and the annual Allerton comedy, an amateur presentation at the Centennial Building that was ending its three night run (counting dress rehearsal, to which the public is invited).

All of the 15-member cast of “Take Your Medicine,” a farce in three acts set in a 1950s hospital room, performed wonderfully I thought, but especially so Tim Kelly (as Henry K. Dobson) and Tom Hysell (as Jonathan Puckett), principal characters who spent nearly all of the play on stage without breaks dressed in hospital gowns. Tom Hysell’s wife, Joyce, however, kept stealing the show as Dodie, described as an “awkward nurse in training.” You’d have had to have been there to understand just how she went about doing that.

We did an informal count of chairs and bleacher space and decided the Centennial Building’s auditorium would seat somewhere between 400 and 500 people and every inch was filled for Saturday night’s performance. The kitchen crew provided seamless service to everyone who wanted hot sandwiches, chips, pie and coffee or soft drinks --- and that seemed to nearly everyone. The only downside was balancing supper on your lap since there wasn’t room in the auditorium for both people and tables (and I dropped my sandwich once, but recovered it).

Director Jackie Greenlee estimated that somewhere between 250 and 300 people --- equivalent to half of Allerton’s population --- had played some part in the production. And that’s just downright amazing, although of course folks from nearby Corydon and other parts of the county were among the players and helpers.

I got to bragging about Allerton last summer when the Moving Wall came to the Round Barn Site just east of town. If more Iowans could pull together as effectively as the neighbors in Allerton do perhaps we wouldn’t get into the fixes we seem to get ourselves into these days. (The absurdity of an Iowa Association of School Boards director being paid an annual salary in excess of $300,000 and other officials of that organization feathering their own nests with taxpayer dollars while attempting to set up insurance/consulting operations to compete with private firms is the issue du jour in this morning’s Register.)


This is Monday, once laundry day according to practical traditions that once helped set the rhythm of life. Rounding up a load to shove into the washer to do itself this morning, I got to thinking about how much work that used to be for my mother and most other women. I’m not nostalgic about this, nor would my mother have been --- she appreciated her Maytags more that most of us do nowadays.

The soft water for laundry when I was small came from a cistern pump on the north porch and was carried bucketful by bucketful to a big boiler that stretched across two burners of a kerosene-powered stove in the wash house just west of the kitchen. After the water had heated, it was scooped into both the wringer washing machine and the nearby rinse tub.

By that time, rural electric cooperatives had brought power into the country so at least the washing machine was electric powered (gasoline engines had powered earlier models). After the wash cycle was complete, the wringer on the washing machine was moved into place and clean clothing wrung out into the rinse tub, then wrung out again after the rinse into laundry baskets carried out to the clothesline where everything dried --- hopefully in a good breeze with lots of sunshine (although freeze-drying worked fairly well in winter, too). The trick here was not to inadvertently run your arm through the wringer, too, as sometimes happened with those new-fangled electric machines.

Since laundry was a job that took at least the entire morning, dinner was something simple --- often bean soup that simmered away on the back burner of a two-burner coal- and wood-fired stove that stood next to the electric stove in the kitchen.

Tuesday was ironing day --- an all-electric operation as far back as my memory stretches. But my mother talked of earlier times when sadirons were heated on cookstoves, then of modern technology --- irons powered by gasoline under pressure that occasionally burst into flame. Once, before I came along and my parents were living in a tenant house on the Slater place, the gas iron burst into flame on a warm morning when the windows were open and Mother avoided injury and damage by throwing it out an open window onto the grass.

What a bunch of sissies we’ve gotten to be --- not that I have any interest in going back to those good old days. I do, however, still use my grandmother’s wooden ironing board with “Bought new in 1942” written in pencil on the bottom. And my current project involves a very old pink linen tablecloth with a stain that still requires one more overnight immersion in Clorox 2 before it vanishes. Then I’ll haul out the ironing board and press that sucker --- and if you’ve ever ironed linen you’ll know just what a pain that can be.


Daylight Saving Time is back with no noted disruption of life. I set all the clocks in the house an hour ahead yesterday and left the clock on the pickup dash alone. It remains on Daylight Saving Time year-around since I’m too lazy to pull out the instruction book and figure out how to reset it.

So spring seems to have launched a little before the official day. We’ll just sit here and wait now for the March snowstorm that will remind us that winter still has power.

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