116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
She was standing next to me in a grocery store bakery department. I was waiting for a loaf of fresh bread to be sliced for me. Not sure what she was waiting for. It was a Sunday morning; I would guess her age to be around 50, and she looked quite dressed up in a dark blue, knee-length dress, a transcendent presence, out of context. Probably just out of church, though I have no idea if folks dress up for church these days.
I turned to her and said, “I promise I’m not hitting you. You look very nice.” Then I turned away from her, and from next to me in a busy store came her voice, “Thank you. That’s a nice thing to hear.” It may have been the shortest scene anyone has ever written, maybe 20 seconds. Samuel Beckett would have been proud, just two people making each other feel better than they did just moments before.
A few days ago, on one of the those rare, intensely blue-sky days I was crossing the Mississippi River on my way to Illinois to pick up my friend Jameson. (Don’t tell the Iowa authorities; I hate having to explain my actions to men wearing wingtips.) Anyway, because of the vivid blue sky, one of the most polluted rivers in the world looked blue, clean, no longer a sewer for the Midwest. It was remarkable and, for reasons unknown to me, gave me hope, hope that by the time your great-grandchildren are purchasing boats the river will be clean.
Autumn is coming. A couple of eagles have returned to the area, the deer are turning from tawny to gray, and red-tailed hawks are hungry, hovering 20 feet above bean fields, looking for any movement at all beneath the thick foliage. In a couple of months their task will be more fruitful, when mice and voles can be easily seen.
Alongside my lane are scores of what the authorities (remember those guys?) call a noxious weed, the common thistle. Are you kidding me? Thistle plants are among the most beautiful wildflowers in the state. Who decides these things? I adore thistle flowers, as does the state bird, the goldfinch. The plant may be a bit prickly, the ultimate passive/aggressive member of the woodland community, but so what?
As I write this, the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi’s “Flute Sonata” is on the radio, and my cat Luna has finally curled up on one of my Icelandic sweaters. Earlier she climbed a screen next to my chair, pretty sure she could reach the birds that inhabit the bush just outside. I wish you all could witness this. She climbs to about seven feet, then simply hangs there. The first time I witnessed it I worried about her ability to pull her claws from a screen. Of course, I needn’t have worried. She’s quite adept at backing down the screen. You would love Luna, as do I. She’s nuts.
A few months back a friend and her husband were visiting and Luna climbed a window covering, almost nine feet in the air and my friend said, “That cat would not be living in my house.” All I could do was laugh. One must love pets unconditionally.
My wife’s birthday is once again upon me and, while I vowed to stop writing about her, it’s difficult. Thinking again of Vivaldi, I will tell you that my wife was an extraordinary musician, and her college Artley flute rests near my chair. Every time I hear Vivaldi’s music (not Mozart’s, he hated the flute) I think of her.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.