Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Another Cemetery... A Czech Cemetery

This is the West gate...

and this is the East gate

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sycamore Row

The Cultural Landscape Foundation recently issued a call for nominations entitled "Every Tree Tells a Story." The email caught my eye because I was preparing a graduate-level teaching project for my urban hydrology assessment class about tree canopy and tree inventories in the urban context. Researchers have found that since 1986, there is a decline of 4 trees for every 1 planted. That is an alarming statistic. Think of all those stories, cut down from our cultural landscapes and cut out of our cultural heritage.

A cultural landscape provides a sense of place and identity. They map our relationship with the land over time; and they are part of our heritage - TCLF. Every tree has a story, its story, to tell. There are close to 50 Sycamores in a row that follow a path from the Iowa State Campus to the City of Ames, IA. Here is their story.

A work crew has been putting up some mega-power poles between campus and the city of Ames.
They have cut a wide swath through a wooded area to the river's edge. What caught my attention was the fact that they were working fairly close to a row of Sycamore trees, Platanus occidentalis, that lined an old rail bed for the historic campus-to-town railway affectionately known as the Dinkey. When I walked the path several weeks ago, I could see they had kept their distance, none of the trees had been lost. On my walk back home, I had one of those revelations we all live for...that AHA! moment when something ignites the synapses of the brain and an idea is born.

This row of Sycamore trees have a story and I will tell you what I know. I had a hunch that with a little research in both the campus and city's archives, I could patch together enough history to nominate Sycamore Row for TCLF's Landslide 2010 "Every Tree Tells A Story" award which
calls attention to the places that embody our shared landscape heritage.

Yesterday, Ev and I walked to the Hub, the spot where the Dinkey originated on the Iowa State campus.. We found one Sycamore due north of the old station. We followed the walkway, once the old railroad bed heading east. We walked until we came upon the old Landscape Architecture Studio Building. This building was the original horse barn on campus until 1929-30 when it was remodeled for sole occupancy by the Landscape Architecture program. Our department is now housed in the College of Design, built in 1979. These trees and their history is woven into the fabric of our campus. These trees are very much a part of this cultural landscape.

With a little digging, I discovered this foto in the old Landscape Architecture Departmental quarterly publication Horizons, dated Summer-Fall, 1930. It shows The Studio and, out front between the path and the Dinkey line, two of these skinny sycamores about 20 feet tall with a girth about the size of a man's fist.

I also found a passage in this same issue relating the contributions of one Prof. A.T. Erwin. "He once had charge of the planting of the campus, and is directly responsible for the planting of a row of Sycamores between the college and Ames along the cinder path. During the early days, this was a straight path without cinders and when the so-call 'Dinkey' came to the campus, a cinder path was provided, and to make a more attractive path these trees were planted."(p.35) When I read this passage, I knew I had unearthed a jewel in the history of these trees.

I became obsessed with this story (mind you, it was now dead week and finals week that this hunt was on!) With further sleuthing, I found this aerial foto from 1974 which shows one lanky Sycamore in the background(due east of the house's double chimney on the right of the foto). It appears to be about 55-60 feet tall with a girth about the size of a person's head.

That afternoon as Ev and I continued on this easterly trek, I snapped more current fotos. This one below is looking down the old Dinkey line toward town. Note the Old LA Studio on the left and that once-lanky Sycamore on the right.

This is the first stretch of these big guys running along the south side of the walkway in front of the LA Studio. Included in that row of trees are a few smaller replacements among the other larger specimens. They are of similar size to those two in the 1970's foto above.

The foto below shows the second stretch of Sycamore Row adjacent to the path running along the south side of Cy-Ride, our current campus transportation link with the city. When I was an undergrad in the 1980's, this path's surface was still covered with cinders and was aptly named the Cinder Path. It sounded a loud crunch with each step. It is now asphalt pavement.

This last foto shows the remainder of Prof. Erwin's plantings that line the old elevated Dinkey rail bed. They grow in the floodplain of Squaw Creek and are spaced about 30 feet apart. I fondly call this entire stretch of the most beautiful Sycamores 'Gown-to-Town on the Ground'.

I will submit this nomination in the next few days, after contacting the city to verify ownership of the land and a university landscape architect and campus planner. I want to give a 'heads-up' that I am about to nominate these trees to call attention to this historical place, this cultural landscape, along the old Dinkey line that runs from our campus to our town. Sycamore Row has a story to tell that embodies our shared landscape heritage and we all need to hear this story.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Baby It's Cold Outside

Entry at Oak Hill Cemetery, Belle Plaine, IA

Metal markers and tree line along eastern edge of cemetery

View from the knoll

A typical, turn-of-the-century cemetery plant specimen

Another view with a variety of monuments and markers

Ev along for the ride!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Any Ideas????

The other morning when I awoke to the familiar voices of NPR Morning Edition hosts, I heard discussion about a full-size, working replica of the first electronic digital computing machine built in 1939 at Iowa State University in Ames, IA. That caught my attention. I knew exactly what they were talking about. This computer sits in the lobby of the Durham Center here on campus.

My son went to school with the children of the man who was on the team who built this replica . One evening in the late 1990's, over pizza in the Crawford Elementary gymnasium at Carnival Night, I sat transfixed listening to this man talk about his current project. I remember his frustration when he talked about how his team was struggling to find and/or build parts for the machine. The $350,000 price tag reflected the difficulty they encountered in putting together this functioning replica of the first digital computer. Like the original team of Atanasoff and Berry, it took 4 years to accomplish this monumental task.

Over the past several winters, I have often cut through Durham on my way to the College of Design. On occasion, I have stopped to check out this piece of history that has transformed our world. This particular morning I heard Steve Inskeep relate that this computing machine was heading out on April 1st to its new home in the Computer History Museum in California. This
7 ft.x3 ft.x3 ft. machine has been a permanent fixture in the lobby of Durham since the early 2000's, so I decided to stop by and check it out one more time.

I had forgotten about these incredible memory drums. They're so big and clunky compared to the tiny microchips currently produced. There is something in their design, color, and texture that I find beautiful in an industrial sort of way. I can't help but wonder at the fun Atanasoff and Berry might have playing with our computers today.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Greek God???

Royal Seats, Theater of Dionysus, Athens, Greece

Royal Seats, Theater of Dionysus, Athens, Greece

No, it's Evan on Holiday in Greece, Summer 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Chirping Hedge

Every day on my way to campus I pass a privet hedge, Ligustrum vulgare. I cut through an old neighborhood, our old neighborhood when we lived on Storm Street, to get to the west side of campus where I have studio in the Armory, and other classes in the College of Design (COD).

Whether I am on my bike (not so much these days) or on foot, I pass this large row of shrubbery that is a chirping hedge. You cannot see any birds unless you stop and peer into the criss-cross of sticks, but then the hedge becomes very quiet. The sparrows begin to flutter and get busy moving to safety. When I walk on my way, I hear them settle and become the chirping hedge once again.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Babyland, Innocence, Old Welfare, and U of I Deeded Bodies

Checkout 'Babyland' section of Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City, IA.
This plot is located at the intersection of Ronalds and Reno Streets. And 'Innocence' -another infant section located in the very SE corner of the cemetery.

Old Welfare and U of I Deeded Bodies plots are located north of Cemetery Office.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

O Joyous Road Trip!!!

I finally got away yesterday to retrieve my son from the university for Thanksgiving holiday. I set out mid-morning for Cedar Rapids to visit a notable cemetery designed by H.W. S. Cleveland, an iconic landscape designer. My thesis readings have taken an interesting turn from cemetery preservation to the landscape design of 19th century cemeteries.

I am passionate about any and all cemeteries, but my focus has started to narrow to those of deliberate design by landscape architects here in the Midwest around the turn of the century. Horace Wallace Shaler Cleveland was best remembered for his design of the Minneapolis Park System, but Cleveland and his son Ralph also ventured into cemetery design. There are not many on record, but those that he created are magnificent. His influence is legendary.

So I headed out in a rainstorm yesterday morning, hoping to get to Cedar Rapids by noon. I allowed plenty of time to find the cemetery, explore, take fotos (239). I exited I-380 per my instructions from Google maps and after circling the block...twice! get my bearings, headed east on Mt. Vernon Road.

Oak Hill is a grand, old cemetery established in 1854. This beautiful, historic landscape is showing signs of distress. What a shame! The likelihood that any money will come its way for preservation and sprucing up is doubtful considering the extensive damage parts of the city sustained in the 2008 Floods. Once a Grande Dame of Cemeteries, Oak Hill is looking every bit of her 155 years!

Despite the rain and the cold temps, I enjoyed my explorations of the plantings, the buildings, mausoleums, gravestones and monuments. Cleveland was known for selecting cemetery sites with rolling topography. His keen eye contributed to his signature designs for the layout of cemetery roadways that accentuated the beautiful curves of this landscape.
I found my way to the superintendent's shed and was able to obtain a map of Oak Hill. It listed some fun facts about the cemetery, but much to my dismay, there was no mention of Horace C. or the mark he left on this historic landscape.

I headed back down the lane and out the gate, waving goodbye to a new, very, very old friend.

Back on the interstate, I planned the rest of my day. First, I headed the MINI out to Sisters' Garden, a neat-o antique farm way out on Highway 1, past Frytown, IA. It didn't take me long to find some old sap buckets just begging to hold boughs of Eastern white pine, along with juniper and sumac. With Christmas just around the corner, the front stoop is in need of a little attention. I also found a stack of brown transferware dishes -- el-cheapo! It was my lucky day. I was satisfied with my treasures, so I drove back to Iowa City.

I walked along the Iowa River and snapped some fotos of a beautiful lawn and limestone amphitheater. It consists of three terraces fashioned from eighteen-inch high blocks of limestone fronting lawn segments. Tops of the blocks measure a healthy twelve-inch depth, with lawn stretching back another twelve feet. Easy to remember...twelve and twelve. Later when I told Ev of the day's adventures, he said he often grabs a Jimmy Johns baguette and heads down to this same place to feed the ducks and read before his afternoon classes.

The amphitheater and its dimensions were nice to stash in the back of my mind, but more importantly, I wanted to measure a set of elegant, concrete steps that I happened upon a while back. The stairway lies adjacent to the amphitheater and mimics its layout and dimensions. A craftsperson/designer put some thought into the experience of traversing this art not often found today. I measured a sixteen-inch tread...two bootlengths. Two steps up, five forward; two steps up, five forward; and again, two up, five forward. I walked the stairs both up and down, counting each step. Such ease of gait. Then I jogged them. Still a great rhythm. This was something I wanted to remember in my legs the next time I sat down at the drafting table to design an outdoor grade change. I've heard that muscle has memory. It's good to remember something that feels so right.
Then a short, steep flight of five steps to top out on the landing that leads to this beautiful bridge arcing across the waters of the Iowa River.

As I left the river, I spotted the Upper City Park. I headed in to snap some fotos...notice this unique oak tree and the picnic shelter with Gothic architecture. Nice.

It was getting dark and because Ev was working a later shift at one of the university's parking ramps, I decided to find a cinema and keep with my new found delight in watching movies. I circled the Mall, slipped into the Cinema-Plex with my box of Goobers, and settled in to watch the late afternoon showing of The Men Who Stare at Goats. Good movie....subtle humor, kind of kooky. I was one of 5 people in the theater. We all seemed to enjoy it.

A long day for sure, a lonely day as well. But a productive day. Ev finally called to tell me he was ready, so I swooped in, we loaded his dirty laundry, and headed home.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Keeping UP!

Another day. Another great movie. I could get used to this. ;)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cosmic Luck

Cancer Horoscope for week of November 19, 2009
Verticle Oracle card
Strictly speaking -- going purely by the astrological omens -- I conclude that you would generate amazing cosmic luck if you translated the Beatles' song "Norwegian Wood" into Punjabi, wore shoes made of 18th-century velvet, or tried out for a Turkish volleyball team. I doubt you'll get it together to pull off those exotic feats, however, so I'll also provide some second-best suggestions. You won't receive quite as much cosmic assistance from doing them, but you'll still benefit considerably. Here are the back-ups: Begin planning where and when you'll take a sacred vacation in 2010; meditate on who among your current allies is most likely to help you expand your world in the next 12 months; decide which of your four major goals is the least crucial to pursue; and do something dramatic to take yourself less seriously.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Last Friday morning, feeling a bit antsy after hearing that our beautiful weather was coming to a screeching halt, I left the drafting table and ventured out to the garden to plant some small trees I had kept in urns over the summer. Studio was not until 1 and I had a couple of hours to work the soil. I had been reading several articles for a graduate project about tree inventory for my urban hydrology assessment class. It's not too difficult to get excited about the subject matter. I have discovered something about myself since returning to graduate school to study landscape architecture. It goes deep to my core and that is my passion for trees.

They are majestic. They are elegant. Trees are the foundation of our existence. They filter our air, soil, and water. Trees regulate our local climate with their shade and evapotranspiration. They provide food and shelter for all living things. They hold down our soil to prevent erosion and sedimentation. The term for this provisioning is ecosystem services and trees do all this for free. We just have to stand back and let them grow.

Most of these services go unnoticed...they just happen in the background. However, cities are starting to figure out that trees are an asset when they are recognized for these services. Scientists have assigned a dollar value per tree to the pollutant removal from our air. The housing industry claims that trees growing on a homeowner's lot increase the value of that property about 15%. A tree pulling waste and cycling nutrients from our soil and water is worth a ton of money when measured against having to build a new treatment plant for this very purpose.

I haven't even touched on the quality of life or the health and well-being aspect of trees. Can you imagine your world without trees? What a loss this would be. Yet researchers with American Forests have found a 30% decline in urban trees over the last 15 years.

I am passionate about these big guys. My yard is full of trees, some over 60 years old, some planted last week. I have my favorites, but it is like choosing the favorite child. They all have such individual characteristics that endear.There are two species tho, that have captured my heart since this past summer. They both stand across the fence, but I can see them now out the window from the second story here at my drafting table. Two large American Planetrees, or Sycamores, Platanus occidentalis and three mature Eastern White Pines, Pinus strobus. Not a day goes by that I don't make a conscious effort to connect with these trees that are a part of my daily life.

Go plant a tree today. There is still time before the ground freezes. Find a volunteer sapling that is struggling to survive and move it to a place where you can watch it grow and change over the seasons of your life. Find your passion for these wonderful stalwarts of our planet and protect them as if our lives depended on it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Social Life of Water

All water is part of other water.
Clouds talks to lake; mist
speaks quietly to creek.

Lake says something back to cloud,
and cloud listens.
No water is lonely water.

All water is a part of other water.
River rushes to reunite with ocean;
Tree drinks rain and sweats out dew;
Dew takes elevator into cloud;
cloud marries puddle;


has long conversation with lake about fiord;

Fog sneaks up and murmurs insinuations to swamp;
Swamp makes needs known to marshland;

Thunderstorm throws itself on estuary;
Waterspout laughs at joke of frog pond.
All water understands.

All water understands.
Reservoir gathers information
for database of watershed;
Brook translates lake to waterfall;
Tide wrinkles its green forehead and then breaks through.
All water understands.

But you, you stand on the shore
of blue Lake Kieve in the evening
and listen, grieving
as something stirs and turns within you.

Not knowing why you linger in the dark.
Not able even to guess
from what you are excluded.

- Tony Hoagland, The Sun, Sept. 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


This will be a smooth, easy, and graceful week for you -- if, that is, you get yourself out of the way and allow the universe to do its job. Can you do that? It doesn't mean you should be passive or blank. On the contrary, in order for the cosmos to perform its magic, you should be on the lookout for what captivates your imagination and be primed to jump when life says "jump!" Be both relaxed and alert; receptive and excitable; surrendered to the truth and in intimate contact with your primal power. Then the song will sing itself. The dream will interpret itself. The beauty will reveal itself.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Exploration of Onion Creek

My urban hydrology assessment class ventured out last Thursday to walk the channel of Onion Creek,
NW of town. Everyone is exploring and building on this glorious autumn afternoon.