Although I'm all in favor of hugging trees, it's generally a good idea of steer clear of honey locusts --- in their original form (ornamental thornless varieties also are available). They're just not likely to return your affection.
This small locust grows along one of the Red Haw trails, where I was wandering around Monday afternoon, and with its companions elsewhere inside and outside the park is notable not just for thorns but also elaborate creamy spring-time blossoms and big flat seed pots in the fall (the sweet taste of the pulp inside the pods is responsible for the "honey" designation; native Americans reportedly used it for food and livestock continues to do so).
The trees grow fast, their wood is sturdy and slow to decay, and the thorns --- tough when mature --- even have been used as nails sometimes. So it's a multi-use plant that grew prickles, experts speculate, to protect itself against the browsing habits of long-vanished Pleistocene critters.
January, which departs today, has been kind of a thorny month --- so maybe the locust is a good symbol for it.
Take the weather. The high yesterday was about 65, extraordinary for January in Iowa where the average high this month is in the 30s. It's been an unnaturally mild month with very little snow down here (there's more up north, so Iowa's not lacking entirely). Highs in the 50s are predicted through Thursday.
That's good walking weather, but it all seems wrong somehow --- no coat required. The woods were silent other than the sound of the wind and, in the distance, a small chain saw park workers were using to bring down dangling branches. A few silent birds fluttered from branch to branch. The only commotion came when eight white-tails emerged from their own path through the woods and high-tailed it ahead of me down mine.
Funeral services were held Sunday at the high school gymnasium in Centerville for U.S. Marine Master Sgt. Travis W. Riddick, 40, one of six Hawaii-based Marines who died Jan. 19 when a Vietnam-era CH-53D helicopter crashed in Afghanistan. That's awfully close to home, but the only sign here over the weekend was the giant GAR pole at the courthouse where flags flew at half-staff Friday-Sunday.
Most of us --- including politicians --- seem to have forgotten that the war in Afghanistan is ongoing; we're mildly surprised when death occurs that someone hasn't already declared victory and ordered retreat. That's not the case for military families, of course, or for small towns when one of their own dies, hundreds of flags come out to line the streets and plans are made for the procession home from the nearest airport large enough to handle a charter jet.
We're still using the word "hero" every time someone is killed --- and that's fine, although it seems a little hollow now.
Two youngsters in the Des Moines metro-area Johnston school district, 15-year-olds Cameron Carico and Spenser Nelson, killed themselves over the weekend, one on Saturday, the other on Sunday. Authorities are saying there is no apparent link and aren't speculating about motivation.
Those who deal with such tragedies are pointing out anew, however, that suicide is the third-leading cause of death among people ages 15-24. What gets into kids?
I was reading a piece about bullying over the weekend (and there's no indication bullying was involved here) that made an interesting point. The author's criticism was focused on those who suggest, when bullying is discussed, that kids are naturally cruel --- a contention often cited by those who attribute bullying to the boys-will-be-boys (girls, too) factor.
The author's point was that kids are not naturally cruel, just very likely because they lack maturity and depth of experience to mirror the attitudes and behavior of those around them. What's observed at home, among fellow students or in the media is reflected in their own behavior. That's scarier than speculation about naturally-occuring mean streaks.
There doesn't seem to be much hopefulness going around these days --- and that's an adult issue. We probably need to work on that, give the kids a few positive things to mirror. If we seem to be tangled up in anger and despair all the time is it really any surprise that the kids are, too?
The ongoing battle for the GOP presidential nominations continues to be a less than hopeful process as both Gingrich and Romney have demonstrated in the days leading up to today's Floriday primary.
Our old Cuban friend Fidel Castro, now 85 but still writing for the state media, characterized the GOP circus pretty accurately: "the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that ever has been."
Both Romney and Gingrich have been focused on the substantial number of Florida voters of Cuban descent, few of whom are fond of Castro, and demonstrating their Christian credentials in the process.
Romney declared during a debate last week that he'd "thank heaven" when Castro "returned to his maker." Gingrich, taking it a step farther, declared his conviction that when the now-retired dictator goes to his final reward he'll be going "to the other place."
You've gotta wonder if an eternity in hell with Fidel wouldn't be preferable to a comparable amount of time with those assholes.