Guest Columnist

Contemplating clouds and crossing bridges

Kurt's selfie. (Contributed photo/Kurt Ullrich)
Kurt’s selfie. (Contributed photo/Kurt Ullrich)

A couple of weeks ago I did something I’ve never done before, holding a Canon camera away from my face, snapping a selfie. I call the photo ‘crazy old man who won’t leave the woods for a haircut.’ COVID-19 cases continue to rise here in the Midwest and the notion of death doesn’t sit well with me, so I stay home, occasionally drifting down to the hollow to do some tree cutting. Going in to a town for groceries scares me, as earlier this week I made the run and three of four grocery checkers weren’t wearing masks.

Last Sunday was one of those days one wishes for every summer, moderate temperatures, a breeze out of the northwest rustling the leaves. In the morning I took a leisurely drive to Illinois, listening to the new “Chicks” CD ‘Gaslighter.’ You remember them, three highly talented musicians exiled from the music industry at the beginning of the cancel culture because the lead singer said something benignly negative about President Bush. Ah, politics.

Crossing the Mississippi River on a high bridge I glanced at the boats moving downriver and wondered where they were headed, maybe to St. Louis where the docks are filled with grain or New Orleans where beautiful women dance to Cajun music, but that’s me romanticizing. More likely the boats are off to a river town called Clinton, or Burlington, or they’re just boating in circles until the beer is gone. A freight train on the Illinois side rumbles south, carrying coal and Lord-knows-what-else, traveling well trod ground going back two centuries, back to days when steam wheelers plied the free flowing muddy waters nearby.

Out here television schedules are heavily littered with true and false political advertisements, local and national and it’s annoying. At this point I assume they’re all self-serving and disingenuous.

A century ago the United States finally passed women’s suffrage laws, leveling the playing field, finally agreeing that women should vote. It took until just a few years ago for Iowa to elect its first woman to congress and its first governor. I was embarrassed by our misogyny so I crossed over and voted for a Republican for the state’s governor and for a Republican for the U.S. Senate.

I took a lot of heat for my votes and, honestly, the two women elected have been relatively inept but that’s OK; we needed to vote them into office. It was a bridge we needed to cross. I am reminded of a time when I asked a county engineer here in Iowa why, other than in his office, he didn’t hire women? His response was astounding. “I hired one once and she didn’t work out.” I’ll leave the meaning of that to you.

For many days stunning cumulus clouds have been drifting lazily by, the kind one associates with open water, much like the ones we watched as children, laying on the grass in the backyard, trying to see faces and figures. That one looks like a cat! A sphinx maybe. It took some imagination but there you have it, children not looking at screens.

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On a recent soft afternoon I sat with my Alzheimer’s friend watching the coverage of the funeral of Congressman John Lewis, an extraordinary bit of our history. She watched with fascination. She has a magnificent spirit, one I cannot begin to duplicate, or even understand. At the end of the funeral I turned to her and I asked her if she had had a good day. Her response was right out of a J.D. Salinger story. With a sweet smile, and in a clarion voice everyone in the room heard, she said, “Yes, it was goldfish!” May your every day be goldfish.

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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