Guest Columnist

Running hard toward the holidays and a new year

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

The holiday season is upon us, the season of joy, gratefulness and wistful sadness. I’m grateful for a lot of stuff and I suppose this is the time of year to voice it. I’m mostly grateful for my mother, gone these 28 years now, a beautiful, bright woman who sometimes seemed to be the only person on my side. I hope my mother was also your mother.

And I am grateful for cardiologists who, more than a quarter-century ago, eventually figured out I’d had a heart attack. It was my introduction to the damnable issue of mortality and the episode has informed my life ever since. My sincere wish is that when death finally rises up from the chair he’s been occupying out back for the past few years I’ll be in my woods with an ax, snow falling all around, that I’ll breathe really heavily for a couple of minutes, sit on a log to rest, lay the hickory handle next to me, and all will go silent.

Snow has lain all around for some days now and the house is ready for winter, except for the pesky mouse in the wall by the fireplace. I’ll probably live with her scratching. One of God’s little creatures scampering through the living room is one thing but scurrying about in the walls is pretty much on the way to being acceptable, truly the art of the deal.

Speaking of art, did you see that Edward Hopper’s 1929 painting “Chop Suey” recently sold for $92 million? Oh my. I’ve long been a fan of Hopper’s work, but $92 million? Who has that kind of money for a work of art? Something is terribly wrong here.

The world of art makes zero sense to me. The past few years my own art has been exhibited in art museums and art centers in the Midwest and it has been a real education. Let me just say that I am very uncomfortable holding a glass of cheap wine at the obligatory artists reception, smiling, acting like it all means something. So we move on, running hard toward the holidays, toward a new year we pray will be better than this one.

Eagles have returned from wherever they vacation in summer, probably Canada, where my family used to vacation because my father, like eagles, enjoyed fishing. It’s good to see them back, magnificent creatures symbolizing America, even though Benjamin Franklin argued for the wild turkey. I see wild turkeys most days. A rafter of a dozen or so regularly moves slowly across the field in front of my house, majestic in their strutting, deliberate, edgy, sure of themselves.

At dusk a couple of nights ago a stag right out of a Hartford Insurance commercial stopped in the front yard, ten feet from where I sat reading. Clouds were low and gray and he was a welcome sight. For almost five minutes he stood, statue-like in the snow, watching, listening, silent. It’s a beautiful time of year.

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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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