Friday, October 12, 2012

October Gardening Tip

As the frost kills plants, remove them. Annuals should be dug up or pulled out by their roots. Perennials, except for roses, should be cut off an inch or two about ground. Put undiseased plant material in a compost pile, chopping up large pieces. If plant material is diseased, put it on a special, separate pile to prevent disease from spreading.

Excerpt from Gardening in Iowa and Surrounding Areas by author Veronica Lorson Fowler

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Interview with John Price: Part 5

What are your favorite natural areas in Iowa and the Midwest?

There are so many, it’s difficult to choose. As a western Iowan, however, I’d have to say the Loess Hills—they are an international treasure. Hitchcock Nature Center, just north of Council Bluffs, has been a very special place for my family, offering hiking trails through loess prairies and spectacular views of the Missouri River Valley. As a boy, one of my favorite places was Dolliver State Park, along the Des Moines River near Fort Dodge. It was an amazing place, full of adventure and beauty, with sandstone cliffs, woodlands, and flower-filled meadows. Outside of Iowa, we’ve enjoyed exploring prairie places in Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota. I’d especially recommend the prairies of Wind Cave National Park, in the Black Hills, which I write about in the book. Tourists usually limit their visit to the cave, but it has some of the most spectacular mixed-grass prairies in the region.  

You’re an English professor, not a biology professor, yet you’ve been a key speaker at the Iowa Prairie Network, North American Prairie Conference, and Prairie Preview, among others, and listeners really appreciate your point of view. How have you managed to bridge the communications gap between the worlds of literature and natural history?

One of the things I try to do is infuse scientific facts with lyricism, drama, and humor in order to earn the attention of readers who might not otherwise be interested. When I speak at science events, however, I know they already care. What I often hear about instead are the challenges facing those trying to protect and restore our natural environment—and they are significant. Although that work can be very rewarding, it can also take a personal toll. I want to offer these audiences a little laughter, but I also hope my work inspires them (and all my readers) to revisit the sources of their own love for nature, whether in childhood or some other time in their life. Sometimes we need to re-experience that original love in order to keep going with our current environmental efforts. Also, I stand as a witness that the work of these scientists does matter, not just ecologically but emotionally and spiritually. I am an example of the redemptive power of restored prairies—they have changed my life, and the lives of many others, for the better. 

Excerpt from "Love Mountain" in Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships

"Come down from there, dammit!"

It's our honeymoon and I awaken, as if from a trance, to find myself clinging to the side of a cliff in the Sawtooth wilderness of Idaho. The situation is new to me—being married, clinging to the side of a mountain—and, at the moment, unexpectedly precarious: a surprise visit from a loose pebble or a curious pika will put an end to it all. This explains, perhaps, the insistence in Steph's voice. I can see her, maybe a hundred feet below, standing on one of numerous jagged rocks, shouting, but I ignore her, preoccupied with the withering strength in my feet and fingertips and with the undeniable fact that this is her fault. How many times did I point out that Idaho militia groups are stocked with ex-pat Midwesterners? How many times did I mention, in passing, that the Donners were from Illinois? Countless numbers of my kind have thrown themselves with little forethought into the western wilderness, only to become disoriented and lost and, if they're lucky, airlifted to safety like dew-eyed moose calved on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. If they're unlucky—and many have been—they die, die by the bushel inside hidden cracks of canyons or beneath the smothering blanket of an avalanche, or, like me, on a slippery cliff they can't remember climbing or why. Steph had read about these unlucky people in the paper, she'd witnessed my own erratic behavior in the mountains, and yet, somehow, while photographing wildflowers, she'd allowed me to wander off alone.

If I survive, I'll confront her about this, but I suspect I won't survive. I suspect our relationship is about to end very much the way it began: a man staring across space, falling.

John Price is the author of Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships

The Iowa Lakeside Laboratory

Today we'd like to put a spotlight on the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, a field station of Iowa's state universities. It has provided summer classes and research opportunities to college students since 1909. As a Regents Resource Center, Lakeside also offers programs in lifelong learning for the people of northwest Iowa. The Friends of Lakeside Lab, its non-profit partner, provides valued support. 

Check out their homepage, with information about our new book The Iowa Lakeside Laboratory: A Century of Discovering the Nature of Nature by Michael J. Lannoo.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Interview with John Price: Part 4

Do you think writing can be influenced by place and, if so, how has the Midwest influenced yours?

I think it does so at many levels. Place provides the specific details and settings from which a work of literature is constructed. I’m also intrigued by the possibility that it can influence style and form. Patricia Hampl observed that the style of Man Killed by Pheasant “replicates the laconic surface and passionate undercurrents” of this region, and I think that’s true of a lot of midwestern writing. Regardless of where we live, place influences the way we look at the world, our patterns of thought and behavior, and I think that inevitably influences the way we put words together. I think the form of this memoir is a lot like the midwestern landscape as I’ve experienced it: segmented, divided into plots, some a little wilder than others, some smaller or larger, each observed from slightly different points of view, but all interrelated. I also think the humor in this book is a product of growing up here. Many midwesterners are raised to be self-deprecating and learn early on how to deal with life’s challenges by using humor.

What role do you see humor playing in nature writing?

I think, in general, writing about the environment lacks humor—and there is good reason for that. When one considers the state of the environment today, there is much to be depressed about. There is also much to be hopeful about, and that’s where humor can help us. The kind of humor I’m talking about doesn’t arise from a sense of superiority, but just the opposite: a sense of humility rooted in the knowledge of our smallness and fallibility. That knowledge can also lead to a sense of helplessness—What can I do that will make any difference?—but humor tends to disarm that fear and open us to the possibility of making positive changes, no matter how small. If we can honestly examine our lives, acknowledge our contradictions and failures, and then laugh at some of them, maybe we’ll treat the world and its creatures with a little more care, affection, and gentleness.  

Excerpt from "Titan" in Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships

I watched as first light slowly carved out the saddle of the Santa Rita Mountains. My family and I had flown into Tucson during the night, during the first Christmas blizzard there in thirty-some years. While Grandma Kathryn drove us south from the airport to their home in Green Valley, I could see nothing of the land itself. Snow—great gobs of it—was falling into the light of the highway lamps, just as it had been when we left Des Moines. Now, in the growing dawn, the snow was resting like fur stoles on the shoulders of the saguaros, though it was already starting to melt. All of winter in a night. The desert was beginning to reassert itself: its dry ascending angles, its spiny, ground-scratching fertility. I still couldn't believe I was there, in the Sonora.

John Price is the author of Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships