Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs made his mark on Mount Vernon. Many in town made their mark on him, too. Wirfs and his mother, Sarah, took The Gazette on a tour of his hometown, revisiting scenes around what essentially is the one square mile where he grew up. This story is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

MARION

Orlan Love's remarks during monarch prairie dedication at Squaw Creek Park in Marion

A monarch butterfly feeds Tuesday during a dedication of the Orlan Love Prairie. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
A monarch butterfly feeds Tuesday during a dedication of the Orlan Love Prairie. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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Scientific studies and our own experience prove time spent in nature is good for the mind and body. At the risk of going all preachy on you, I would say that nature can also bring out our religious instincts, as when, for an obvious example, I once piloted a metal boat across a wide lake in a lightning storm and would have, had I not been totally preoccupied, joined my passengers in kneeling in prayer on the deck.

But I’m not really talking about nature’s Old Testament awesome power and wrath. I’m talking about those fleeting, fragile connections we sometimes glimpse or feel in the presence of such natural wonders as Niagara Falls, the 250 mph stoop of a peregrine falcon or the morel, a fungus that lives invisibly in subterranean darkness until, when mysterious conditions align, it makes known its presence with the fruiting of edible delights.

Perhaps even less scientifically comprehensible is the unlikely life cycle of the monarch butterfly. How those flimsy-winged, speck-brained insects fly 2,000 miles from all points of the compass to converge upon the same remote Mexican mountain seems almost as miraculous as events recorded in the New Testament. I have often said you could give me a new 4WD pickup, a handful of credit cards and a GPS, and I would still be driving around lost five years later.

The wonder and mystery of nature sometimes call to mind the lyrics of my wife Corinne’s favorite song, “Ripple,” by the Grateful Dead. In it the brilliant lyricist Robert Hunter writes of a “fountain that was not made by the hands of men” and evokes the mystery of life and nature with his haiku chorus: Ripple in still water/When there is no pebble tossed/Nor wind to blow

Plopping a lure in the centermost ring, I’ve found, can sometimes unravel that particular mystery.

I can’t help feeling I’ve not done enough to deserve this honor. The people who should be up here today are the authors and benefactors of the 1,000 Acre Plan: Clark McLeod and Cam Watts of the Monarch Research Project, the officers and staff of Linn County and the cities of Cedar Rapids and Marion; and Rich and Candy Altorfer and the Hall-Perrine Foundation.

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Worthy or not, the honor inspires me to do more. Precisely because nature can’t save our souls, we dare not let it die for our sins.

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