Saturday, December 11, 2010

Winding Down

Oak Hill Cemetery, 1996 foto of a stand of Bur Oaks and Shagbark Hickories.
in the SE corner.
Today these trees are gone.
source: Iowa State Historical Preservation Office

Finals next week. I have one more paper and presentation to prepare and present. This last paper of the semester focuses on one small aspect of my thesis and it has been enlightening in that I have had to accept some hard realities about Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids, IA. Does it still possess enough integrity for a listing on the National Register? I am saddened because this close-up look has revealed irreversible changes over the years, the loss of important elements of the original design. It still has the old bones of a Grand Dame, but these are really old bones.

I guess that is my build an argument that this cultural landscape is worth recognition as historically significant with the integrity to back up that significance. It not only represents the Midwestern 'lawn' version of a 'rural' cemetery, but it was also a designed landscape of H.W.S. Cleveland, one of the early practitioners of landscape architecture. He envisioned this burial landscape in the context of the Midwest during a period when cemeteries served as parks and green spaces for growing Midwestern towns and cities in the mid-to late-19th century.

Fotos are few and far between. I have scoured the archives of several libraries, several on-line postcard sellers, and put out a call on the OHC's Facebook page. So far nothing. The on-line archival newspapers for the area have been my salvation. Some of these articles dating back to the late 1860s describe in great length some aspect of the cemetery. There were editorials about the felling of the hard maples and elms that lined old Mt. Vernon Road; the re-surfacing of the roads up to and into the cemetery, the new granite gatehouse and trolley stop with its matching cut-boulder fence and iron gate; and the lake that was dug and waiting to be filled within a few days with spring water piped from a hillside between the cemetery and the Cedar River.

These articles are all I have to go on. It was exciting to find them after days of reading and searching. It has been disheartening to realize that so much of this landscape has been altered, or in such disrepair, that someone from Cedar Rapid's past might not recognize this final resting place for their loved ones.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


red skies at morning.....
sailors take warning!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Again, Sycamore Row

foto courtesy of Parks Library, Special Collections, ISU, Ames, IA

The story is out on Sycamore Row. Here are some links for your perusal.

thanks for checking in....

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sycamore Row

Well, it's official. The nomination I submitted last March to The Cultural Landscape Foundation's 2010 Every Tree Tells a Story was accepted, along with several other nominations from around the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Once I did the research to discover the story behind these magnificent trees, I could not ignore an opportunity to spread the word about this linear cultural landscape...altho I never dreamed this lil' old designed landscape in Ames, IA would be selected.

I hope the good citizens of Ames and the Iowa State University family take the time for a short stroll alongside these old beauties. There are 50 in all (with some replacements). They run from behind the Hub (1); past the old Landscape Architecture building (a row of about 7; on past the power plant (1); along the south side of the Cy-Ride bus barn (another long row); then all the way to Squaw Creek (two more long segments). The Sycamores deserve a little recognition. I promise, you will not be disappointed!
top foto from Parks Library, Special Collections, ISU, Ames, IA; bottom foto from dlcooper

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Good News

Heard from Ev yesterday after he had several job interviews...and a job offer! Landed with an upscale school. It's a part-time gig that pays well and starts tomorrow. Then weekend/night classes of his choosing in another school that will start after this week.

Good news for mom...: }

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I found this foto in a junque shop last weekend and it pretty much nailed the theme of an assignment due in my construction materials class. We were supposed to research (explore? discover?) a playground surfacing material and write a report about the surface we selected.My first inclination after perusing the list of rubber-this and synthetic-that was to stick with good old-fashion sand, but there are issues of critical height and accessibility. I have to take these design considerations to heart given my chosen profession.

My next choice was 'engineered wood fiber'. This surfacing material addresses fall zones, heights, and access AND it also has a more natural look and feel for those little bottoms to land on. I cannot speak for all LA's, but I think this is actually one of the more important issues for the kiddies today. The profession has addressed the consequences of raising a generation of 'nature deficit' children and yet we 'play' along when are offered these suspect products to coat their playgrounds. Yek!

Most serious playground injuries are caused by children falling from heights sufficient to do damage to their heads and bones. The emergency room stats prove it. However, replacing parental involvement with rubber products on the playground just seems to be feeding into this childhood sensory deprivation of the natural world.

I talked with a mother of a 3- and a 1-year old. She thought the rubber mats on the playground were wonderful, except....they got too hot to play on when the temperature climbed; they were too slippery when wet. Tests of these recycled rubber products also indicate dangerous levels of zinc and lead...serious drawbacks considering these are supposed to be safe places for children.

My kids learned to climb trees and rocks and they busied themselves in their sandbox for hours on end. Tess discovered an old serving spoon buried in the sandbox one day. She was delighted when she pulled it out of the sand. She pretended to 'sip' sand from the bowl of the spoon, then quickly emptied the contents of the spoon into her mouth. OK. I would not freak. I figured this would be a one-time thing, an experience in the discovery of the grittiness of sand in one's mouth! I was wrong. Next day, she tried it again. More crunching and spitting. When I asked her why she was eating sand, she told me she wanted to see if it was still crunchy. I assured her that every spoonful would feel the same in her mouth...every time. And to the best of my knowledge, she has never tried it again. What parent would deprive their child of such a great sensory experience : {

Ev's favorite climbing structure still grows down the street. I have, on occasion, seen him walk down there as a high school-er and college student, swing his leg up and over the lowest branch to hoist himself up into the crotch of that Amur Maple. It has grown along with him over the years and he still talks about those early Sunday morning walks which always started and ended at this tree. He would crawl out of the stroller, (jump off his trike, dismount his tiny bike decked out with baseball cards/clothespins and training wheels) to wait for a boost, so he could swing his leg up and over that lowest branch. His experience included having me there to spot him, to catch him if he slipped, but mostly to bolster his confidence as he mastered this natural climbing structure of a tree.

Call me old-fashioned, call me a mother, but sand and pea gravel, grass and wood fiber mulch, boulders and trees offer a more natural playground than metal/plastic play structures and synthetic surfaces. Falling into the arms of a parent or guardian seems a much safer fall zone from critical height than landing unattended on a 30-pound chunk of recycled rubber tile.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Safe and Sound

Ev has Facebooked. Skyped. And gmailed. He arrived and is safely tucked into a beautiful townhouse with a friend. Has been job-hunting. Is hopeful.

His words were fact, he sounded wonderful. I am always amazed at that kid's way with words. He weaves a beautiful story. And this was just his first day!

Sunday, September 19, 2010


We are in the final countdown, waiting to hear that Ev has arrived safely in Saigon, South Vietnam. I am staying close to the phone today; I don't want to miss his call.

The first three messages on our answering machine have been there for what seems like forever. Each time there has been a missed call of Ev's from some distant land, we have saved the sound of his voice sending his love. Rather than skip thru them to find our real messages for the day, I always listen to each one, again, treasuring my son's humor, listening to the background noises from far away...and hearing the changes in this maturing young man.

The first one is Ev calling to wish me "Happy Bastille Day" (my birthday) from the salmon factory out on the Alaska Peninsula. The next message carries snarky panic in his voice as he tries to figure out what the *&%# he is going to do as he stands in a northern airport in India far, far away from his waiting entourage in southern India. That call came at 2:14 a.m.; we missed it because we were sleeping. When we found it the next morning and were unable to get ahold of Ev, I starting a slow steam directed toward my husband for ever allowing him to travel by himself. He sensed that I was about to spout, so he placed both his hands on each of my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and assured me that "he will figure this out."

Ev figured "this" out, but as I recall, there were a couple of panicked phone calls placed by my husband to the Institute where Ev was supposed to land for the semester. The timing was perfect on the third call. The desk attendant announced that Mr. Hudson had just arrived and the celebration on his behalf was commencing. My husband patiently explained that we would like to talk with our son, so we waited as the gentleman ran to retrieve him. Ev came on the line out of breath and full of joy and love. He had arrived safely, tired and hungry; everyone was attending to his every need. "Guys, guys, I am OK....besides there is an elephant at my party and I want to meet him!

The third message arrived on March 17, 2009. I had driven to Iowa City to take my son to lunch, then to the airport in Cedar Rapids so he could spend Spring Break in DC with a high school friend. They were going to go to a political rally on The Mall. When I found this message later that evening, his voice was full of gratefulness. He wanted us to know that he had arrived safely. He also wanted to say thanks for the plane ticket and the extra $$$ I had slipped him for food/cab fare...just in case....and that he had figured out the bus schedule to get to Drew's. "I love you guys."

My husband received a text message on his phone at noon yesterday. Ev was about to board plane #2 for Seoul, South Korea on his way to Vietnam. In his "last purely American act", he had just consumed a he normally never eats. But then this was not a normal day for him. His departing words, which I am sure Paul will keep on his phone, reads, "And I am off!!!!"

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Mother's Goodbye

This morning at 3:54 a.m. I woke to face this day which has brought both excitement and tears over the last few months. My son Evan is traveling to Saigon, Vietnam to find his adventure after graduating from the University of Iowa this past May.

This last week at school has been grueling and it wore me down physically. Thinking about sending my son to the other side of the planet has worn on me mentally. It has caused such mixed feelings that I have had moments of panic tempered by deep breathing. I have had long conversations with myself that these feelings are perfectly normal 'mother-sending-her-son off' emotions. I have to believe that he will be safe and that this young man will find his most excellent adventure.

Ev is a world traveler. Eighth grade took him to Japan for 10 days to visit our sister city. The summer after his junior year in high school found him in Uganda for a month to build a school in a small village. As a junior at the University of Iowa, he studied abroad for a semester in Mysore, India; he taught in a village school for 3 weeks before he traveled home. Since that first trip to the mountains of Japan, he has wanted to teach English as a second language overseas. This morning we sent our son off to follow his dream.

A lump sits in my throat as I type this. He just turned 22 years old. I watched his back as he approached the ticket counter to check in. He seemed relaxed and ready to go. When he turned, however, I could see both excitement and strain on his face. Once his bag was turned over to the agent, there was no turning back. He spotted me and kind of shrugged with a whimsical look on his face. Pure Ev.

His journey to this world away takes place over 2 days on 3 airlines. He is a world traveler and he has always managed to get to where he needed to be. However, these next 26 hours will be hell until we hear from him....that he has arrived safely, that his determination to embrace this new adventure is intact...and that he is still in possession of his passport and money!

Friday, September 17, 2010

LA401 Lake Delhi Project - Alternative Futures

Another week down. Professor1 mentioned that today completes the 4th week of studio. Yes! This is my last studio in my academic career and I am ready to be done with these 6-credit hour behemoths.

This weekend brings semi-joy. I still have a concept plan to do, but the instruction today from Professor2 mandates that we let go of Concept One and Concept Two and go for something completely different. I am trying, but it is hard to fore-go my values and beliefs. I will make myself explore new territory. We will see. I am envisioning floating boats, maybe stacked to make condos! This is the last opportunity to go for pie-in-the-sky.

We heard yesterday that the lake district is asking for $9.9 M for a three-phase project of stabilization/restoration/rebuilding for the generation of hydroelectric power. This price tag represents Lake Delhi Recreation Association's pie-in-the-sky and they want the taxpayers to pay for it. OK. The dam's purpose for the last 37 years has been recreation and now they are showcasing this plan as one for clean, green energy production. Things will have to change if the LDRA wants that kind of cash from the government. What needs to happen to satisfy the stakeholders, the taxpayers?

Let's see what happens with Concept Three by Monday. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hand Drawing YEAH!!!

I have been tethered to my laptop these last few days, working thru the process that comes with tackling assignments...AutoCad drawings for Construction Materials class; a technical report and presentation for studio on Lake Delhi, Delaware County (the dam breach last July, 2010); a 2nd concept plan for the design (it didn't change much from my thinking for the 1st concept plan); and a field trip to Pella, IA to study the site of an historical Dutch village museum. It seems like it has been non-stop since Labor Day. Oh, there were also the two academic papers that needed to be read before Monday and I haven't even started on the assigned readings for my preservation class and construction materials class.

This is when I get crazy. I cannot think straight anymore. I cannot complete a sentence because my mind goes blank mid-thought. It's embarrassing when I am trying to ask a question in class and I just forget. Life should not be this fast-paced. I am too old for this. I am doing it, but I don't like it very much. In fact I resent that the only time I am outside is when I am riding my bike back and forth to campus. It has been a beautiful autumn so far and I want to be in my garden, talking long walks, tromping along Worle Creek!

Well, late this morning, I said enough. I should have been studying for my quiz in Construction Materials, but decided instead to go upstairs to my drafting table and do some sections for my PowerPoint presentation. I get lost behind that table and in a matter of minutes I was feeling great. In fact, it was just what the doctor ordered! Two sections whipped out in about 30 minutes....and I was a new woman.

The topic is not the most captivating...Streambed Ownership in Iowa! But I put my ideas down on the vellum, added some color with the PrismaColor pencils. I think I got my point across graphically.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Stepping Back into My Other Life

Fall classes resumed last Monday and now I can scratch off Week One of my last year in the LA graduate program. I am taking a community design studio and our project for the semester will evaluate and offer alternative design scenarios that address the Lake Delhi dam breach that occurred July 24, 2010. The implications of that disaster are all over the map both figuratively and literally. The earthen spillway blew out after unprecedented rainfall in the Maquoketa River watershed and now there is once again a visible river flowing in its channel where, for the last 80 years, there was a 9-mile long lake.

This past Friday three vehicles headed down the road carrying my studio-mates, two professors, me, and a trailerful of bikes to the project site to experience this altered landscape. We listened to stories, attended a formal presentation, and wandered the backroads searching for clues that might inform a design solution to offer these folks who are lost without their landmark waterbody, Lake Delhi.

Having taken several classes in hydrology and stream study, I found the natural course claimed by the water of the Maquoketa River fascinating, aside from the devastating loss of home and property. Water knows where it wants to be and it goes there. This truism was never more obvious to me as when I stood on the bridge that looked out over the newly formed sandbars dotted with broken boats, their twisted hoists, and other floodwater debris half-buried along and in the now visible river channel.

It was a long day with lots to take in. I was tired when we arrived back at the College of Design...not only physically, but in a world-weary way. I wonder when we as a society will learn to live with the forces of Mother Nature, to become more adaptable to her ways, and be done with this thinking that building bigger, taller, and stronger will dominate and tame. We only end up with a larger pile of debris to clear and a more expensive tab. Enough said.

I am also taking a construction class which should prove interesting. A failed attempt to install AutoCAD on my laptop brought it to its knees. The operating system crashed and I was without a computer for several days. Aside from that technical glitch, the content of the course will be an overview of materials...wood, concrete, stone, and metals. I love the idea of color, texture, and finish, so this should be a fun class.

I am taking a graduate seminar in preservation...a sister course to the one offered last semester. I enjoyed that class, so I am looking forward to our study site of Pella, IA and the Dutch heritage museum grounds there.

I will be backing off the thesis research and writing this next semester....only 1 credit to keep my toe in the water. I am thankful that I did the road trips this past summer so I could get that experience on the ground to better understand the turn-of-the-century Midwestern rural cemetery. Also, I stayed on top of my readings, so that has taken off the pressure this semester. I look forward to the actual writing of the cultural landscape report and treatment plan for Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids, IA, which will happen over the next year. : |

So, today I clear the drafting table of the piles of books and papers from this past summer's research. I will work with pen and colored pencils to create a concept plan with both graphics and narrative to begin my process for the Lake Delhi project.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cancer Horoscope for week of August 19, 2010

Verticle Oracle card This would be an excellent time for you to get aggressively inventive about your education. It wouldn't be too crazy, in my opinion, to launch your own school, with you as the only student. You could design your own course curriculum for the coming years. Decide who your teachers will be. Think about where you can get the stuff you'll need to expand your mind, enhance your skills, and just plain increase your intelligence. You could call your center of higher learning the University of Wily Exuberance or the Academy of Astonishing Grace or the Institute of Getting Down to Business.


In Homer's epic tale, The Odyssey, he described nepenthe, a mythical drug that induced the forgetfulness of pain and trouble. Modern culture has turned the myth into reality: There are now many stimuli serving that purpose.

If Homer were alive today, we wonder if he'd write about a potion that stirs up memories of delight, serenity, and fulfillment? Imagine that you have taken such a tonic. Spend an hour or two remembering the glorious moments from your past.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Horoscope for This Week

Here's a thought from the Cancerian philosopher Gaston Bachelard: "He who listens to the singing of the stream cannot be expected to understand the one who hears the singing of the flame: They do not speak the same language." While I mostly agree with that poetic formulation, I think you're about to be a temporary exception to the rule. Normally you are acutely attuned to the singing of the stream; your skill at reading its nuances are supreme among the zodiac. But I expect that in the coming days, you will not only have the power to appreciate the song of the fire; you'll even be able to empathize with and understand people who are entranced by the song of the fire.

Composer Robert Schuman had long dialogues with his imaginary friends, Florestan and Eusebius, who provided valuable ideas for his musical scores. W.S. Merwyn wrote a poem in which he recounted the counsel of his teacher John Berryman: "He suggested I pray to the Muse / get down on my knees and pray / right there in the corner and he/ said he meant it literally."

Conjure up an imaginary friend and have an intimate conversation with him or her.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Our Man Horace

Any and every one who knows me currently...or reads this aware that I have started work on my thesis. Last spring semester there was lots of back and forth with my major professor, reading and talking about what I would do for this part of my graduate training.

Once this fundamental piece of the process was in place, I was ready to take the next step. My thesis will be a cultural landscape report and treatment plan for Oak Hill Cemetery (OHC) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This 'rural' cemetery was designed by HWS Cleveland in 1869. I made the decision to invest my time this summer doing the footwork (as in on the ground) required of a researcher. I kicked off my adventure by traveling to Cedar Rapids and sleuthing the libraries there...the Masonic Library and the Linn County Genealogical Library. Then I attended a state preservation workshop in Clinton, IA. The first week of June I set off on the Mother of all Road Trips to visit those cemeteries that influenced and those which were graced with HWS Cleveland's beautiful design aesthetic. From Iowa to Illinois, then to Indiana and Ohio, I traveled a road that led me into and thru this background of cemetery history. These Midwestern cemetery visits numbered in the teens. There was lots to experience on the ground and so much to think about for my work that lay ahead.

I have also spent considerable time in front of the laptop, in my pj's all day, searching turn-of-the-century newspaper articles (Thanks! sleuthing for old fotos and text in an attempt to piece together OHC history. I've been back to Cedar Rapids, this time pestering City Hall for crisp aerial fotos of the cemetery site. I have been gathering and studying reports and maps, but finding very few historical photographs!, that might help to piece together a thoughtful approach for the treatment of this ever-changing landscape.

A second road trip found me zipping around Quincy, Illinois. Cleveland was commissioned to design Madison Park at 24th and Main. It was an old burial ground slated to become a public park close to the turn of the century. When I google-earthed the present-day park, it was remarkable that I was able to trace the barely-visible original walkways he laid out in his 1891 plan. Then in 1896, he submitted a design for Riverview Park as part of an extensive connected park system for the Quincy Boulevard and Park Association. After my visit to the Old Soldier's Home, an integral part of his boulevard plan, I came away with a nagging suspicion that Cleveland and Son (Ralph Dwinel joined his father's firm in 1892) might have designed the grounds there also. In a article I found online from a 1893 Quincy newspaper, Col. Fogg of the Home wanted a 'landscape scientist' to have a look at the grounds to try to get a handle on all that Nature had taken over. The grounds certainly carry the signature of our man Horace.

A third day-trip sent me pounding down I-35, then out on I-70 to Topeka and Junction City, Kansas. It was the hottest day of the year. The car thermometer registered 105 degrees, but it was now or never for me to get there...and back. An 1871 working plan by Cleveland laid out the grounds of the State Capitol in Topeka. Even tho the roads and pathways of the circulation plan were never laid down as designed, his planting arrangements are evident. Some of the old trees encircling the block and standing in groves and allees reveal his vision for this space.

My next stop was Highland Cemetery in Junction City, Kansas, the destination for this 12-hour road trip. Cleveland designed this cemetery in 1870, one year after laying out the grounds for Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids. I wanted to compare and contrast this design with the one back in Iowa. Not at all what I expected. No mausoleums. No great monuments. Hot. Dry. Grass thatch left in rows along the markers. Lots of beautiful Austrian Pines, tho. Healthy Austrian Pines....designed placement of Austrian Pines. His work still lives on in these ancient trees staged for great constant effort in my professional practice is to create landscapes which may excite in others minds the emotions which similar scenes awaken in my own....HWS Cleveland.

This past weekend I traveled to the Twin Cities with a good friend from the academic world to explore Cleveland's work in Mpls/STP. Some say HWS Cleveland found the most acclaim, quite late in life, here in the Twin Cities. This recognition grew not only from his site designs, but more importantly from his planning skills on a urban/regional scale in laying out the extensive park system in the Cities. Early on, he championed this landscape with its riparian topography and vegetation. His greenbelt plans laid down a protective design before this unique and precious resource was lost forever.

Cleveland also designed two cemeteries in the Twin Cities. We visited both. Heading across town, we stepped thru the back door of the Hennepin History Museum to view four original Cleveland plans of several parks throughout the city. They took my breath away! So very beautiful in their simple design. The colors used to render these final plans were subdued with age, but the spiky darkened green graphic employed to suggest evergreen trees brought these old drawings to life. As I traced with my finger the roads and pathways of the plans, each cradled within their protective sheaths, I could only imagine this old man working thru his process to lay down on paper an informed design that would speak to someone 120 years later.

Next, we were off to visit Lakewood Cemetery. This burial landscape was designed by Adolph Strauch whose fame grew because of his visionary work at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, OH. Horace had nothing to do with the planting of trees or shrubbery here, the laying out of roads and walkways or the grassy swales that guided water away from the graves. But curiously, Horace William Shaler Cleveland was laid to rest here in 1900. He and his loved ones are interred in graves that went unmarked for years. It was almost 50 years before someone decided Horace Cleveland needed a proper gravestone.

His six family members are buried along side in a lot measuring 15 x 20 ft...four plots for ashes, three for gravesites. There is no stone monument chiseled with the family name Cleveland. The green lawn offers up a single, flush marker inscribed with a few words about Horace's landscape vision for the Twin Cities...nothing about who he was as a man. He had moved his office to Minneapolis from Chicago in 1886, looking for a change. The Lakewood Cemetery records reveal he purchased this family lot that same year. His youngest son Ralph Dwinel briefly held the position of superintendent of the cemetery. So maybe he did offer a suggestion or two in the form of a sketch, or a word, during his son's short tenure at Lakewood Cemetery. He invested his hard-earned money in 300 square feet of precious ground. He must have loved this very spot!

HWS Cleveland lies in the shade of an massive Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa. Mossycup acorns pelt his stone marker. A Norway Spruce, Picea abies, frames the view down the hill and over to the Chapel. He is planted smack in the center of this beautiful designed landscape. He must have stood here one day long ago and envisioned a more mature landscape enveloping this spot where he would lie for eternity with his loved ones. This was also where he and his wife suffered thru the burial of their eldest son Richard J. He would have walked upon this same ground the day he buried his beloved wife Mary Dwinel.

My pilgrimage to the graveside of this most humble landscape designer was a deliberate act to wrap up my summer of exploration and inspiration. My passion for this project has grown leaps and bounds as I have uncovered who this man might have been by reading his personal correspondence, his essays and lectures, and studying his design plans. I have also read and studied what others have written about him. I am ready to offer to the academic world and beyond a thoughtful and coherent portrait of the design intent of Oak Hill Cemetery which Horace W. S. Cleveland laid out in the NE qtr. of Sec 27 of Rapids Township in Linn County, Iowa.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Floodplain

If one picture is worth a thousand words, then the fotos above are worth thousands and I have to wonder what words come to the minds of the general population when viewing the flooded areas around Ames? These fotos were taken early Wednesday morning after I received an automated call around 4:30 AM. This alert emanated from the city offices warning the residents of the neighborhoods throughout Ames of dangerously rising waters in both Squaw Creek and the Skunk River, each cutting their swath through opposite sides of our fair city.

I brewed my coffee, then headed out with the dog to see what I could see. The recorded message referred to this flood episode as record-breaking, comparing it to The Flood of 1993. Luckily, I live on the upland overlooking the river and its floodplain on the west side of town, so my feet were dry when I took in the view. The water was high, yes, but what caught my attention was the traffic that was circling, trying to find safe passage into and out of town given the rising floodwaters. This was a busy place, my neighborhood, for so early, early in the morning. I noticed a few cars which turned onto the street that headed downhill into the rising water. These folks wanted a closer look at the 'natural' event taking place out the windshield of their vehicle.

On my walk back to the house, I decided to do a quick check of the sump pump...just to make sure it was doing its job. I could hear water falling into the sump pit, then the quiet hum of the motor as it flushed the contents of the barrel into the stormwater line. I knew that where this water was going was only adding to the torrent of muddy floodwater I had already witnessed sweeping across the landscape at the bottom of hill.

Around 11, I ventured back to the flooded parking lot/athletic complex to check on the water level. The scene I took in stopped me in my tracks. It wasn't the water so much as it was all the vehicles parked along the street and the people activity on the hill. It was a curious sight. It reminded me of the cardinal red and gold tailgating that happens most Saturdays during football season. Only it was happening around a glistening body of water dotted with floating Ky-Bo's and Iowa State tent tops billowing in the rush of water.

This is what I wondered. Do any of these people realize the forces of water? Do they comprehend what these floodwaters are all about? Do they understand what it is that is causing this very natural act, this disturbance, that turns so destructive to our efforts in the planning and building of our communities? This day seemed to be entertainment for the masses. Everyone held cell phone and digital cameras above their heads trying to capture the expansive wet landscape in this very soggy moment in Ames history. But really, were they comprehending that how we chose to build and live on the land is causing this sort of event that, along the way, wastes our precious financial resources.

Water knows where it wants to be and it goes there. Pretty straight forward. Seemingly simple. We can try to dominate with more fill, higher levees, stronger dams, but we should really take a longer look at that rush of water spilling over parking lots, thru commercial buildings, or into our basements. It would help us understand that when we build in the floodplain with the idea that we can 'catch and convey' our stormwater worries away, we are asking for trouble. When we pave over our soils to accommodate our vehicles, we are setting up a system whereby we shunt torrents of water that carry pollutants, sediment, and garbage into our creeks and streams. Nothing can stop the force of water and yet we continue to ignore what Mother Nature is showing us. If fact, we make it easy for this liquid force of nature the tear down and ruin what we try to build.

Feast or famine. Most of the time these waterways barely carry any water. But when an unprecedented amount of rain falls in one specific area which happens to be the watersheds for two usually lazy rivers in Ames, all hell breaks loose. Water knows where it wants to be and it does go there.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

from Another Gardener's Bed-Book, 1933

August 8th...Ancient Nudism. It is all very modern to claim that sun-bathing is a product of our own era, yet the ancient poets were always having their lady loves dance diaphanously across the mead and maidens go out at dawn (I suspect in their night-gowns, as one of our guests did once, to the shocked surprise of a dignified father-in-law) to gather fresh dew for a cosmetic. The modern school of nudist poetry not yet having risen, permit me to quote these two lines of intimate loveliness written by Michael Drayton in the 16th century:

A world to see, yet how he joyed to heare
The dainty grasse make musicke with her feete.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Holy Horace! I found the Lake!!!

Last May, after completing my spring semester, I headed over to the Masonic Library in Cedar Rapids, IA. I wanted to visit the Linn County Genealogical Society to do a little research for my thesis...a cultural landscape report and treatment plan for Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids, IA. I opened a plat book for the City of Cedar Rapids dated 1907 and found this map.

The year 1907 would have fallen between the 2nd and 3rd expansion of the cemetery. This burial ground was first laid out in the mid-1850's as a simple grid atop a hill south of Mount Vernon Road. However, as the demand for burial spaces increased, the newly incorporated Oak Hill Cemetery Company contracted in 1869 for the services of one HWS Cleveland of Chicago to design a landscape of extraordinary beauty. The management was so pleased with the overall effect when that plan was laid upon the ground that they again hired Cleveland in 1880 to expand his design for more avenues, walkways, sections, and lawn to the east and south .

Cleveland would enmbrace what some thought to be constraints of a site as opportunities to build unique features into the design of his parks, estates, and cemeteries. It is possible that it was with this 2nd expansion in 1880 when Cleveland, as a landscape engineer and designer, recognized the natural drainage of the site as an opportunity to channel stormwater by way of a large swale running downhill from east to west and into a built lake in the low-lying ground that could not be sold for burials plots in Oak Hill Cemetery.

I spent this past Tuesday perusing old Cedar Rapids newspapers on searching for any mention of Oak Hill Cemetery, but more specifically, the lake. I wanted to find confirmation that this lake was in fact built. Was this 1907 plat map copied from an original design filed in the city offices? I have not as yet found any design plans that exist today. Every other plat map is simply labeled, without any specific detail. Note the simplicity of the Bohemian Catholic Cemetery to the southeast. But this 1907 map is a detailed plan showing avenues, sections, vegetation, and that beautiful lake. Nothing links Cleveland with this 'lake' plat map design, but all his signature characteristics are on that page and the paper trail I am following suggests the possibility of a connection.

After a solid 4 hours of staring at the screen of my laptop, I found the following in the Evening Gazette dated May 7, 1883, "The new artificial lake is completed and the water, which is to come from a spring in the hill about a quarter of a mile south of the cemetery, will be turned on within a few days. " I can only surmise that they were getting ready to fill this newly built "artificial lake" in time for the Veterans' Day celebration at the end of the month.

Here in this simple passage, I have discovered a nugget of confirmation that the lake shown in the detailed cemetery plan on this 1907 plat map of the Oak Hill neighborhood had, indeed, been built. Could it be a water feature designed by one HWS Cleveland of Chicago in his 1880 expansion of Oak Hill Cemetery? It is a possibility...

It was a good day of honest research.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cancer Horoscope for Birthday Girl

Verticle Oracle card Cancer (June 21-July 22)
"Give us this day our daily hunger," prayed French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. It was his personal variation on the "Give us this day our daily bread" line from the Lord's Prayer. I suggest you use his formulation as your own in the coming week, Cancerian. It's the high season for your holy desires: a time when your mental and physical health will thrive as you tune in to and express your strongest, most righteous longings.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Some one left a comment in response to the Samuel Johnson line that I posted on my sidebar the other day. It substituted 'tomboy' for 'female'. It got me to thinking about the term 'tomboy' and how it might apply to this line...the endearing elegance of female friendship.

The plot of Rasselas aside, I had originally posted this line because it intrigued me...was Johnson's observation about the 'endearing elegance' of two women as friends, or was he speaking of his friendship with a woman? Was it just a guy-gal pal thing, or a friendship that entailed something more? And then there was this comment left on my blog that added a whole other dimension I hadn't even thought of. Is there anything elegant about a tomboy, or endearingly elegant about a tomboy, albeit female, friendship? Was this commenter thinking about friendship as one of a tomboy with her guy-pal? Or something more?

I know how I define the term 'tomboy', but I was curious what the literature had to say. I turned to the hand-held Webster's...a girl who behaves like a boisterous boy...and that worked for me. Then I googled it and up popped the wicked-Wikipedia...a girl who exhibits some characteristics of the gender role of a boy including the wearing of typically masculine-oriented types of clothes and engaging in games and activities that are often physical in nature, and which are considered to be the domain of boys.... OK, I can buy that. The next line caught me by surprise...there is a perceived correlation between tomboy and lesbianism. Hmmph! That thought had never crossed my mind. Never.

I remember a time when I was proud to call myself a tomboy. I fit in with the boys AND the girls. It was the best of both worlds. And I never thought about the sexuality of it at all...and certainly never any elegance. Then puberty hit. I suppose my fear of all that happens to a young girl's body during the 'hormonal turmoil' caused me to cling ever more tightly to my 'tom-boy-ism'. Who doesn't remember the special 'pull-outs' for the girls during the junior high years? I attended those talks in the 6th and 7th grade, but I never really thought it would happen anytime soon. I think most of the information about the transformation (boobs and babies, but especially periods) went in one ear and out the other. I labored under the notion that it (my period) would happen, I'd get over it, and then move on. I refused to believe my mother when she told me that this wasn't a one-time deal, this was EVERY MONTH FOR THE REST OF MY REPRODUCTIVE YEARS!

Well, puberty happened and life went on. Now that I am on the other side of those reproductive years, I wonder about that tomboy thing. Do I still cling to that side of me? Can a woman of a certain age still be a tomboy? I realize that it is such a basic part of me that I had long since forgotten the tag because there were so many others that have applied over the years...friend, girlfriend, lover, wife, mom, gardener, and now student. However, somewhere along the way I figured out that I can 'be' a tomboy along with all those other roles. I still treasure all my tools and I use them to build things (did you see the foto of that grand stairway in my sidebar?). I still lace up my work boots when the job calls for it. I can dig in the dirt with the best of the Boys, but I can also slip into something that knocks the socks right off those same Boys.

I suppose that a tomboy friendship between two women could possess endearing elegance, but that comment left on my blog seems to suggest something other. The endearing elegance of a tomboy friendship between a man and a woman is a delightful thought. The woman who understands this powerful combination of tomboy and sexual creature surely has a leg up for an endearingly elegant friendship.

image credit:

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sacred Vacation of 2010 - Final Day

I headed west...cross-country rather than down I-55 from Lincoln, IL. I wanted to check out some cemeteries that looked promising from the aerials I had google-earthed before leaving home. With my trusty 1998 Road Atlas opened to the Illinois map, my black, 3-ring binder of aerial fotos of cemeteries, and a heavy reluctance to leave Old Union Cemetery behind, I made a bee-line for Mason City, IL. From there I would zig-zag over to Virginia to see what that offered.

After passing thru Mason City, I realized I needed to take on more fuel if I was planning to wander the backroads of central Illinois. I turned around and headed back into town. After filling the tank in the MINI, I asked an older gentleman the best way to get to Virginia. He eyed me for a second, then explained, "Unless that funny-looking car can float, you best go down to Springfield, take I-74 across, then head up to Virginia. What kind of car is that anyway?"

"It's a Mini Cooper and I wanted to head over west before going down to Jacksonville."

"Can't do it. Those back roads are probably under water. I have lived here all my life...I wouldn't take the chance."

OK. Plan B. I scrubbed Virginia, IL. Maybe some other time. I headed down to Springfield, over to Jacksonville and drove into town. I stopped in an older neighborhood, along side another older gentleman mowing his yard, and asked for directions to the old cemetery. He directed me down and around, then past the high school out on the edge of town. Diamond Grove Cemetery lay out on a large tilted plane facing easterly. I could tell from a distance that it wasn't one of HWS's, but I had to go see it.

The older section of the cemetery contained family plots enclosed in concrete curbing, a distinct characteristic of the older, east coast rural cemeteries. Toward the back, up over the highest ridge, the 'newer' parts of the cemetery revealed themselves. First, here were the sections without curbing, but still containing separate family plots. These plots were laid out with the named-family's monument surrounded with the shorter markers of various family members. Further west, in the wayback near the fence row of the cornfield, was the newest section of the cemetery...the memorial park. It was hard to distinguish family plots; there were no monuments, no sense of family. The markers in this section were flush with the lawn; individual grave markers were the norm. Near the gate and up the hill, there were trees and shrubs providing softness and cover, but here, over the ridge and to the back, there wasn't any play of light and shadow. Just grass. And rows of faded, artificial flowers that had long since lost their bloom in the hot, summer sunlight. for some reason this cemetery irritated me. It was time to move on.

Quincy, IL would be my next stop. I got back onto I-74 West and did a quick calculation as to when I would get into town...sometime mid-morning on this day, Sunday, June 6th. I wanted to drive thru the old cemetery there...Woodland...but I especially wanted to visit 3 parks - 2 designed by Cleveland, and 1 designed by OC Simonds, who also expanded the design of one of Cleveland's 20 years later. HWS laid out Riverview Park along the Mississippi River and Madison Park as a neighborhood park NE of the old downtown area. Riverview Park offered a breathtakingly beautiful viewshed from the bluffs high above Miss River. I never made it to Madison Park. Completely forgot about it until I was back on the road heading north out of town. Indian Mounds, the park designed by OC Simond's, was fun to drive in the Mini. Fluid and leafy. A beautiful green belt that went on and on. Woodland Cemetery was old...again, curbing around the family plots...very beautiful, laid out on the rugged bluffs overlooking the river. Not a Cleveland, but definitely a rural cemetery.

I headed up toward Keokuk but stayed on the Illinois side to drive the Great River Road. It was a spectacular day for a leisurely drive on a 2-lane road. The verdant corridor of roadway hugged the water and the bluffs the further north I traveled. I found 2 small cemeteries in Navoo, IL., a small township and a churchyard cemetery. I was headed to Burlington, IA to check out Aspen Grove Cemetery. The aerial foto intrigued me the minute it came up on my laptop screen. Ralph Dwinel, Horace Cleveland's second son started out surveying for the CB&Q RR in Chariton, IA as a 20-something. By the time he was 30, he was still working for the railroad, but living in Burlington. When I was doing research at the Masonic Library in Cedar Rapids, IA I found the Business Directory of 1881-82 for Burlington, IA and looked up Cleveland. Sure enough, there was Ralph D., travel auditor for the CB&Q. I wondered if there might be a Cleveland connection to this cemetery.

Aspen Grove is old. Lots of curbs around the family plots. The grounds went on and on dropping into a shallow draw. The old and listing grave markers and monuments followed the swale down into the 'long view'. I walked, then circled in the Mini. Then I said, "Enough". I was ready to head home.

I think I counted a total of 20 cemetery visits on this most Sacred Vacation of 2010. Every rural cemetery dotting the Midwestern landscape is beautiful in its own way, but only a handful that I visited captured my heart and my admiration. They now occupy a place in my mind's eye. They are Graceland, Spring Grove, Old Union. These cemeteries are my inspiration. These are the burial grounds that make me believe in eternal life...that offer a final resting place for old bones to return to the soil. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sacred Vacation of 2010 - Day 4...Afternoon

I would be hard pressed to top this most recently-visited Midwestern rural cemetery (MRC). The Cemetery of Spring Grove, established in 1845, is truly the grand-daddy of the MRC's. Mount Auburn, Laurel Hill, and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, all 'rural cemeteries' on the east coast, would be incredible to experience, so I am told. But the early landscape architects and designers were drawn to this particular Cemetery of Spring Grove after Adolph Strauch became its superintendent in the 1850's. Frederick Law Olmsted, OC Simonds, and, yes, Horace Cleveland visited this cemetery for inspiration, for consultation and advice, for that same experience I was seeking when I decided to get in the MINI and road trip this past month.

As I traveled back toward Iowa across Ohio, then Indiana, I headed into north central Illinois to scout out a few cemeteries that I had google-earthed. I wondered what my reaction would be to these sites after spending the morning at Spring Grove. Anything I visited would pale in comparison, or so I thought. Spring Grove Cemetery had it all. The winding avenues hugged the ridges, then dipped into ravines, circled 'round ponds and thru old growth stands of native trees. This designed, historic landscape offered variety with its water features, the specimen trees of its arboretum, the sculptural monuments, the stately designed mausoleums, the "long view". Even the graves were blanketed with a vinca groundcover that added a unique, textural quality to the layout of each section of the cemetery. It was picture perfect.....the "lawn" or park-like aesthetic of the rural cemetery.

My destination for this day was Lincoln, Illinois, a small Midwestern town that promised the Union Cemetery, designed in 1881 by HWS Cleveland. This might be a unique experience in that Lincoln was not the size of Chicago, or even Cedar Rapids. I wondered how it came to be that Cleveland received word from this small town that they wanted him to design their cemetery. And who was it in this town's history that knew of his skills in cemetery design? Had they visited Oak Hill in Cedar Rapids, IA, or Graceland in Chicago? Cleveland's skilled hand would have been evident in both of those cemeteries by then. Did he stop along the way as he traveled the railroad to another destination, leaving his card? Perhaps a cold call? Was there a mass mailing to all towns along the railroad line? Did a relative, or friend, live in Lincoln and know of his work? Was his name given to the townspeople by the Olmsted office as they did for Junction City, KS?

All these questions swirled in my head as I got closer to my destination. I was excited to see what Union Cemetery had to offer. The google image looked promising. This aerial foto revealed Cleveland's signature tear drop cemetery sections (they jump off the map/page/plan/aerial foto after months of study!). I refer to this design as the flower. It resembled the petals of a flower pressed into the landscape.

When I drove into the entrance, I did not pick up on the vibe I was hoping for. This did not feel like a Cleveland cemetery. I wanted to re-check my sources! I felt I had misread, or misunderstood; this was not what I expected. As I made a pass thru looking for evidence, I could maybe see the characteristic winding drives, but something was off. Trees had been removed, gridded sections had been laid around the edges and cut into his design, and there were few monuments of any kind marking the family plots. It was too busy and brightly colored with artificial flowers; there was not enough vegetation to be one of Horace's, altho the central ground and those sections further back carried some magnificent oaks. I was so disappointed. Everything that I thought I had learned through experience over the last few days...that sense of place... flew out the window of the MINI. Dam. Even the name was wrong. His landscaped cemeteries were Oak Hill, Oakland, Lakewood, Sleepy Hollow, Hillside...named after the site. Where was the HWS Cleveland-designed Midwestern rural cemetery?

As I pulled out of the west gate onto the highway, I noticed some grave markers across the way. What the heck. I had to check it out. The sign indicated that this was a Catholic Cemetery, but off to the right of that entrance there was another road... another cemetery and it was nestled back in a heavily-canopied forest of Oak and Shagbark Hickory. I had found it. This was Old Union Cemetery; the other across the highway was New Union. Same designer, but brought into use at a different time in history; therefore, it gave off a different vibe. This Old Union Cemetery was Lincoln, Illinois' answer to the Cemetery of Spring Grove back in Ohio. I was mesmerized. I was speechless.

Cleveland's designs were site specific. When he was confronted with the flat plains around Lake Michigan, his design for Graceland offered grading that was subtle, mounding. The man loved trees and he embraced their presence on site; he left them where they grew. When a gash of ravine cut thru the property, he showcased it. The contrast offered balance and variety. His views opened up to a river down below or off in the distance. He recognized the natural drainage of the site and captured that water with built lakes and ponds in low-lying ground that could not be sold for burials plots. A 1907 Linn County plat map shows a small pond at the bottom of a long swale draining Oak Hill Cemetery in Cedar Rapids, IA. There is a storm drain there now, but Cleveland utilized what some thought to be constraints of a site as opportunities to build unique features into the design of his cemeteries.

Old Union Cemetery reminded me of Cleveland's approach in his design work, in his laying out of the grounds of Midwestern rural cemeteries. Here was a perfectly level piece of ground. The roads followed the topography which was flat, flat, and flat. No subtle grading, no water features, no up and down, curve around in this design. But it was truly breathtaking. He was commissioned to design a cemetery on this piece of ground back in the late 1800's and it still carried his magic 130 years later. He had lots of trees to work with, so he let them grow. He had lots of flat ground on which those trees thrived...and he left that ground ungraded. His design showcased these magnificent trees of central Illinois. His roads wove around and thru the stands of oaks and hickories, enormous guardians for the dead. He knew their dense canopy would offer a cool respite from the warm June afternoon sun. He also allowed for openings in their cover so a shaft of sunlight could penetrate into a dark corner. As I worked my way back into the nether regions of Old Union, I found little clearings off the drive...private rooms where families gathered one last time. It was here in these secret places that I found my ravines, and the view of the river, and the sharp topography that balanced the expanse of green lawn up over the rise. He nailed this one. Plain and simple, hands down, Old Union is my favorite Midwestern rural cemetery.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sacred Vacation of 2010 - Day 4...Morning

They say a picture is worth 10,000 words and there are no words to describe this Midwestern rural cemetery....Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, OH

one of several ponds....
fencing detail at entrance...
family plots....
a variety of monuments....

the 'long view', symbolic of eternal life

family plot with 'pillow' markers
vinca ground cover on the gravesites

and mausoleums