Guest Columnist

The music of ideas and 'Blue October' geese

Geese cross Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Geese cross Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

It’s a cold October evening, my windows are open, and I hear what I think are voices and I can’t imagine who is out there, so far out in the country, and then I laugh because what I’m hearing is a flock of Canadians, passing overhead — honking, announcing their presence, moving through the deep twilight toward somewhere warmer. Texas maybe.

As with the geese, I often hear voices where there aren’t any. I once thought it was the effects of the Scotch but then decided it was old age, because my sight is wavering as well. Yesterday, what I thought was “Spinal Tap” on my toothbrush actually was “Super Tip.”

Students have been back in school for a number of weeks now, some enjoying the experience, others wishing they were somewhere else. I was in the latter group. Neither a good student nor a popular person, I spent my time in class drawing pictures of castles and cars, dreaming of Europe, unable to wait until the day I would wave goodbye and take the first noisy road out. My school did not provide a first-rate education. Thankfully, sports and music kept me from noticing. You may know whereof I speak.

Area towns struggle with how to attract young families in to their midst so committees are formed, meetings are held, surveys are passed out, and the good, earnest, well-intentioned committee members conclude that what the town really needs is affordable housing and good jobs. Rarely do they suggest that a first-rate education might be attractive to outsiders, particularly young families. It is likely that most think their local schools are terrific, because they themselves are products of those same schools, so they must be good. It’s a quaint notion that would fail as evidence in any courtroom.

Let us prepare every child for a meaningful life, rather than prepare every child for college, or for work. Let us fill them with the music of ideas, music they may never again encounter.

In short, let us make sure that our students know whose woods these are.

OK, I’ll shut up about education. Sorry. Blue Octobers do that to me. It’s actually a terrific month, maybe the best month all year. Every grocery store is selling pumpkins, the air is cool, and there is a comforting smoky haze that lingers well in to the morning hours. Farmers are toiling in the fields, picking beans and corn, most of them steering expensive rigs wherein they can listen to WGN radio out of Chicago, or WMT out of Cedar Rapids for grain prices and general chitchat as they negotiate the rows.

More geese wing south past my house. Theirs is a vantage point we are only now beginning to appreciate as more and more camera-equipped drones travel the flyways. I have no wish to blast away at beautiful winged creatures as they pass overhead, as they mean me no harm; but I can’t make any promises if someone’s drone appears in the sky over my woods. In the meantime, the October voices of the geese soothe me.

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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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