Guest Columnist

Catching flickers of spring, but not vaccine

Kurt Ullrich is a freelance writer who lives in rural Jackson County.
Kurt Ullrich is a freelance writer who lives in rural Jackson County.

The good folks on the radio news tell me more snow is on the way and, much as I love winter, this season has gone on too long. As writer Willa Cather beautifully wrote in her novel My Antonia more than a century ago, “Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen.” Particularly in a time of pandemic she absolutely nailed it.

Snow is deep here, so I continue purchasing bags of alfalfa cubes for the deer; otherwise I see them standing high on their delicate back legs munching on cedar trees, which cannot possibly be very nutritious, so I step in to help. Shortly after opening the last bag six small deer began an afternoon feast, only to be chased off by a large buck. Males are the same everywhere.

In the local farm stores racks of colorful seed packets have shown up. Seems like just yesterday the aisles were filed with Christmas merchandise. Never having tried to grow anything from a seed this is not something I understand, however I have always enjoyed saying ‘Burpee’ out loud.

A few days ago at dawn just above the western horizon a huge, bright orange moon shimmered and it was glorious, and in the early morning darkness something inside of me turned, just a little, a shadow maybe, toward spring.

In my county here in rural Iowa a New York Times study tells me our risk level for COVID-19 is ‘extremely high,’ not just sort of high or a little high but ‘extremely high.’ No parsing of words there. A trip to the grocery store may have to wait a while. Have you tried to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine?

Scoring a vaccine appointment is, in essence, like playing the lottery, a lottery for the young and tech savvy. If you do not embrace social media, like Twitter and Facebook, then you’re pretty much out of luck because it is through social media that folks are contacted to let them know about a future sign-up. In short, the elderly, the most vulnerable, are screwed. Who’s in charge of this stuff?

More than ten months ago I vowed to not cut my hair until I received a COVID-19 vaccine, thus it is past my shoulders now, and there is perhaps nothing more pathetic than an old man with long hair. I have wanted long hair since 1969, when a friend and I boarded a train in Savannah, Illinois bound for downtown Chicago where we saw the Broadway touring company production of “Hair.”

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The lead role of Berger in Chicago was played by Joe Mantegna. Then about ten years ago I caught a revival on Broadway with Will Swenson as Berger and each actor was way cool, very talented, and dreamy looking. I wanted for all the world to be them. Consequently I realized that even as an elderly, gray-haired man I still wanted long hair. So here I am, 69 going on 19, looking silly and totally not caring.

For me the darkest days of winter have passed and I hope they have passed for you as well. It is not always easy, so all I can say is hang in there, stay safe, and keep your people close. You’ll never regret it. And when summer rolls down the road, invite me over: show me the vegetables and flowers you’ve grown from seeds.

Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.

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