116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Early morning. Thirty of them. I counted. They flew low overhead, just above the trees. a beautiful vee-shaped bit of skywriting headed downriver, south, because the cold is coming. Canada geese, chatting as they flew. It was a day of painterly light, a day when dark, dark clouds to the west faced off with the sun, its yellow forehead just rising above the horizon.
The countryside looked like a Romantic painting, light slanting onto a dark canvass, an English landscape painting maybe. Now I’ve got it. John Constable. He’s exactly the right painter for Eastern Iowa. Check him out.
Yesterday an entire flock of blackbirds decided to hold a meeting in the big old walnut tree behind the house. Inside a well-sealed house I could still hear them talking away loudly, each walking on the other’s lines. It reminded me of occasional outbursts, arguments, just plain meanness I witnessed a couple of times in London while attending a session of The House of Commons. It seemed so much more familiar, effective, and personal than the wayward ship we call Congress.
Speaking of wild things; a few days ago I was awakened at 4 a.m. by a scratching in a bedroom wall and cats Pippa & Luna are sitting at attention, listening to scratching. Mice have gotten into the walls, not the house, but the walls. So I do something that feels odd, setting a few peanut-buttered traps outside on the ground beneath where I heard the sound.
Riding the ridge toward town last weekend Springsteen was singing ‘Jungleland’ on the radio when to my horror a black and white cat ran across the road, directly under the car ahead of me. I watched as she tumbled into the ditch. I keep a pair of leather gloves in my car, for lifting dead dogs and cats from the road, moving them to the ditch where other critters can feed safely, and so that I don’t have to see them again. This poor cat spared me that.
Like others in America I have spent some time in front of a television the last couple of weeks, watching two criminal jury trials, one in Wisconsin and one in Georgia. My wife was a felony level judge for many years, so this kind of stuff interests me. And because I am not a lawyer these trials are less about law and more about theatre, and its theatre on a grand scale. No singing, no dancing, no chorus, just human drama played out in public by both good actors and bad.
As I type this a northeaster howls outside, whipping through leafless trees and over stubbled fields. Quite cold. There will be a fire in the stove for the cats in a bit, and later I’ll trundle off to bed in the way old widowers do, a little plodding, a little shuffling. The cold will blow through here for the next few months and I look forward to sleeping late, lying under the flannel sheets and quilt, however I’ll miss the voice that rested next to me for decades, a voice softly ladling out hilarious, unimportant, practical stuff that adds up to love. A soft hand touches my face, and she says, “I’ll trim your eyebrows later.” Yes, I’ll miss that this winter. A lot.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.