116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
I stepped out of my house a couple of weeks ago and there they were, by the hundreds, maybe thousands, hanging out on my graveled lane; American painted lady butterflies. You’ve all seen them. When their wings are closed, they are pretty well camouflaged, a dull gray and black. Opened-up and flattened-out the wings are a spectacular bright orange and black.
They’re gone now, so I’m assuming the group was migrating somewhere and had simply stopped by my place for a bit to feed on the minerals in the gravel. They’re quite adept at getting out of the way when a person or car approaches. Not sure how they do it, but I suspect they can sense ground vibrations, or if I have anything to say about it, it’s magic.
A quarter century ago my wife and an aunt and uncle planted dozens of sticks around the property, sticks that grew into gorgeous ash trees. This was in the days before we knew anything about the emerald ash borer. Since that time the nasty little creatures have finally found my home and the 30-foot-tall beauties are dying. There is an entire line of them along the road and soon they will be gone. This is where I’m supposed to say something sad and philosophical, but I’ve got nothin’. In addition to the trees disappearing, my wife, aunt and uncle have also disappeared. No guarantees, no rhapsodies.
One surefire way to know summer is here can be seen out on the whooshing, rushing four-lane highway some miles to the east. You know it’s summer when the elderly dust off their convertibles and hit the road. Every time I encounter a convertible, I gauge the age of the driver and passenger: there is almost always a passenger, both wearing caps or visors. The women wear visors because their hair protects them from the sun, while the balding nature of men speaks differently, thus a cap. I suppose older folks own convertibles because many of them have the wherewithal to purchase a second, or third, vehicle. Good for them. Enjoy life while it’s still staring you in the face.
Another way to know summer has arrived is to note how busy the two-lane county road near my place has become, as it is every summer. A little more than a mile from my house is a nice state park, a park that looks like my hollow, limestone bluffs, trees, caves, and hiking trails. First established in the 1860s it’s a wonderful place for kids to explore, and for city folk to hang with nature. Unlike on my land, the caves in the park are easily explored. My caves are filled with wild creatures, snakes, raccoons, coyotes, God knows what all. The wisest interaction is to simply to look up at the caves in the bluffs from the safety of the hollow’s grassy floor. After all, the creatures were here first. Best to dance to the tunes you know, so I leave them alone.
I turned 70 some months back. I didn’t tell anyone. Received a nice card from my little sister, and a couple from friends, but that was the extent of it. Except for the fact that my best buddy wasn’t with me, it was a perfect birthday. No big celebration, just me at home with Luna and my Jameson, wondering if I’ve contributed to a better earth, if there was ever meaning in my existence here. After a while I gave up, poured myself a large glass, petted the wild creature on my lap and decided to let the poets and philosophers make sense of it all. I’ve got better things to do.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.