Guest Columnist

Throwing myself into fall

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

I have a weird confession to make: a couple of days ago I threw myself out of bed. Here’s the deal, because I’m eternally stressed and depressed (long before COVID-19) my dreams are becoming stranger and stranger, so one night I was dreaming about an evil man wearing a wedding dress (if you know Sigmund’s number call him, please) and in the dream this guy was attacking a buddy of mine and I got within arms’ length and leapt out to grab him. I woke up on the floor, lucky not to have injured myself.

If I’m the only one experiencing this sort of reaction to today’s world do not tell me. Otherwise, welcome to the crazy-old-man-club.

On the other hand it’s a wonderful time out here. Canada geese have begun their journeys south, winging along flyways familiar only to them, even in the rain. Once again coyotes have been moving past the house a couple of hours before dawn, yipping, keening and just generally sounding like an army when it’s only a squad. Last week I bought my latest piece of jewelry, a coyote tooth on a leather band, a necklace. Now may be the time to call Sigmund.

Walking sticks have shown up on the garage doors. Do you know walking sticks? They are incredible prehistoric insects, about six inches long and looking exactly like skinny little sticks that one wouldn’t bother to pick up when mowing.

Speaking of mowing, I was pushing my lawn mower this past week and I had to stop. It had been raining for a number of days in a row and low beneath the grass were mushrooms I’d not encountered. It was a cluster of (use your best Roseanne Roseannadanna voice here) teeny-tiny-round-dimpled-mushrooms that looked like golf balls, like ground squirrels had taken up the sport.

Most nights a doe and her twin fawns come down the lane to the broken-up salt blocks behind the garage. Mom moves in a very stately fashion while the fawns scamper around like their fur is on fire, rather like kittens. Their fur has already changed to Mississippi mud brown, unlike the tawny gold exhibited all summer.

If you’re looking to predict autumn and winter simply check out deer fur, or the suicidal highway crossings of the woolly bear caterpillar. My baby sister used to pronounce it ‘callipitter,’ an iteration I rather like. Anyway, this year there are many fewer of the furry creatures crossing the roads. Much as one wants to think they’ve wised up to the deadly automobile there is likely something more environmentally dire at stake.

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The light has been particularly interesting the past couple of weeks. Wildfires out west have given us what French Impressionists used to experience, back in the day when industrialization caused smoke all over France. There are shadows upon shadows in the leaves of the trees, like someone is holding a diaphanous translucent cloth over the state.

One last note: the baby sister I referred to earlier is a food service worker for a large school here in Iowa. She worries every day about COVID-19, and she is beginning to see fellow workers fall apart under the stress of it all. I may throw myself out of bed, but she’s out there doing the work many of us cannot and would not do. I pray for her, and for your family as well.

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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