116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As I write this there are two small rib-eye steaks smoking on my outdoor grill. My side dish may be cottage cheese. I come from people wherein the women of the house worked very hard and long on side dishes while the men stood by a grill, can of beer in hand, perhaps drawing on lighted nicotine, turning meat on occasion and, invariably, receiving the compliments for his wonderful cooking. Why women stood for this I have no idea.
Another year has passed and once again I was passed over for a MacArthur Fellowship, the so-called ‘genius grant.’ How is this possible? Actually, I’m not a genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m smart enough to realize that my plan to get back onto a motorcycle this year was a bad idea.
You see, some months back I purchased a riding tractor, my first, and with only three hours on it I found wet grass and a hill. Not a good combination, as I was tossed down the hill, tractor tumbling behind me, stopping inches away. Even average Kurt is bright enough to realize that at age 70 if he can’t handle a riding tractor he sure as hell shouldn’t be on a motorcycle.
It has been a tough year for animals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed that nearly two dozen creatures be declared extinct, including the spectacularly beautiful ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird last seen during World War II.
I predict that the fuzzy black and brown Woolly Bear caterpillar will be extinct soon. The colorful little creatures have been very common here for years, foolishly crossing highways, beginning in August and ending their journey in late October or November. This year I’ve encountered exactly one. I wanted to stop my car and help her across the road. I hope she made it.
Yesterday a large flock of Canada geese flew low over the house, a chorus of honking and chatting it up, heading north. I waved my arms and yelled, “No, no! You’re going the wrong way!” Not surprisingly the flock ignored me.
It’s raining here and it feels like we’re into the full ache of autumn, the time of year when love takes us by surprise. It did for me in high school more than 50 years ago when I couldn’t wait to ditch my football uniform to spend a bit of time with my girlfriend at her parents’ house after the game, a sweetheart flute player with spearmint breath. Full ache indeed.
A week ago I was crossing a bridge from Iowa to Illinois and there was a long diesel train rumbling heavily beneath my car, heading south along the Mississippi River, a three-engine Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train carrying hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo toward St. Louis and New Orleans. At the time my car radio was playing Vivaldi, but it should have been an old railroad song, Willie Nelson, Jimmie Rodgers maybe.
The sound of a train feels forlorn. Not sure why. Hearing it I thought about those we’ve lost the past couple of years, 700,000 to Covid in the United States alone, many thousands to other causes and now I look for the ghosts of those who have gone before, beautiful ghosts who make sure we are our best selves. I welcome them.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press