Guest Columnist

Relieved to stay put as a new year approaches

Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.

For a number of decades when December rolled around I spent time with crowds of people; shuffling along in airport security lines, sliding sideways into cramped spaces on airplanes, avoiding eye contact on congested sidewalks in big cities, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in sold-out concert halls and ancient cathedrals.

Not this year. I’m staying home. Air travel’s best days are behind it and I’m happy to leave long-distance wandering to others. As a naturally grumpy human being it is best that I no longer schlep through airports, stressed out, feeling something is weirdly wrong and inhumane about the way we travel.

One of the nice things about getting old is that the need to make an impression on a world outside of our own begins to wane. It’s time to stay home, and I’m relieved. Until the end of the year I plan to drive a Gator in my woods, walk up my lane to the road overlooking my house to check the mail, and drink Weihnachtpunsch, (Christmas punch) a hot, heady concoction I first quaffed in Vienna a lifetime ago. And that’s just about as much exercise as I desire, thank you just the same.

For the past few weeks the air around here has been filled with the sound of gunshots. I’ve lived here for almost two decades and I still find the sound of gunshots more than a little disconcerting. A week or so ago, traveling a graveled road an hour west of my house, I slowed to watch a roadrunner right out of the cartoons sprint across the road in front of me. It was a ring-necked pheasant; an astoundingly beautiful creature and I wondered how it’s possible that people, mostly men, want to shoot them. We seem to have a need to kill the creatures more beautiful than we.

We could use some rain or snow, but sometimes I worry. After a good rain a beautiful stream runs through the hollow, taking a circuitous path to a nearby river. The administration of the current guy-in-chief just relaxed rules regarding clean water, rules that once helped to assure waterways like the one in my hollow remained free of farm runoff. Regulations now only affect ‘real’ waterways, permanent streams and rivers.

There are ‘dead zones’ in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 8,000 square miles of water wherein fish cannot survive because we up north cannot muster the political will to regulate the nitrogen and phosphorous that runs from our farm fields into our waterways, even temporary ones. We should be screaming about this from the rooftops, but alas.

A new year is almost upon us. Stress-filled holidays will be behind us and soon we’ll fall back in to a steady rhythm, embracing the slow drumbeat of everyday life. Traces of ice and snow remain tucked in the crannies of the bluffs behind the house, despite much warming. Cattle are lowing in nearby fields and it’s a comforting sound, reminding me of where I am.

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• 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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