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.

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