Friday, July 15, 2011

I recently mentioned in a post about the "mother of all road trips".....I found this foto yesterday and think this might have been my first.....

The Birthday Bike Ride

Yesterday when I ventured out to find the sycamore struck by lightning, I was on my old bike. I realized as I pedaled off that I had not been upon that seat since the end of the semester waaayyy back in early May.

After viewing the tree, I headed east along the rest of The Row. I wanted to survey the remaining segments of trees to see if any others had suffered in the latest storm. I didn't find anymore lightning strikes, but I did notice downed limbs and interestingly enough, they were of the same size on a half dozen trees....probably 10-12 inches in diameter. There were three trees in a row surrounded by these jagged limbs. From the looks of the leaves, they came down earlier than this past Monday. I thought it peculiar that of the six or seven affected trees, they had all given up similarly-sized limbs.

My bike ride continued on along an asphalt path that curved along the edge of this wooded floodplain. As I came 'round a bend, I stopped short where the path was blocked by a six-foot high cyclone fence. Beyond I could see where the stream bank had been scoured back to the walkway and not only the bank, but the asphalt had fallen into Squaw Creek. I had to stop and take some fotos of this "man vs. nature" disturbance.

My ride home took me past a foot bridge to the other side of the river, so I veered east for this short side trip over to Evan's Eagle Scout project...a butterfly garden completed for the City of Ames during the summer of 2006 and sited just to the north of the bridge and maybe 50 feet from the bank.

I had seen some activity down along the river; big construction equipment pushing soil and large rip-rap over the edge to stabilize another scoured stream bank.

Much to my dismay, the entry drive for all that heavy equipment went right over the top of the butterfly garden. The pavers edging the beds that were the "wings" of the garden were still there, but all the plant material was gone....scraped right down to the nubbins. I was last there weeding in late April. Crap!

Time to head home. Back across the bridge, across Elwood Drive, then up the hill to Friley Road. I forgot how wonderful it feels to just ride my bike. For these past four years, my bike has provided me with transportation back and forth to school. Usually loaded down with laptop and such, I never looked forward to those cold (or rainy or dark) rides home after studio. Today it was fun to just ride from here to there, stopping along the way to gather a curl of sycamore bark, take a foto, or chat with others who were out enjoying this beautiful day .

Sycamore v. Lightning

Yesterday when I pulled up my email, I was alarmed to discover a missive from the university landscape architect. He was passing along information about one of the sycamores that stands in The Row.

Early this past Monday morning, a storm passed through Ames and lightning struck one of these beloved trees. As nearly as I could discern from my past research on Sycamore Row, these fast-growing, native North American trees were planted just after the turn of the 19th C. and they are now nearing the century mark. When I opened the email and read this upsetting news, I shot off a quick note thanking Chris for the heads up, then jumped on my bike and headed over to campus to check out the damage.

Yesterday was my birthday and I had heard from family and friends from all son Evan called from Vietnam to sing "Happy Birthday"! This sycamore business had the potential to put a real damper on what was turning out to be a very nice day. I wasn't sure I wanted to see one of these massive trees down. I should back up by saying that the land architect had attached a map and fotos, but I never opened any of them. I wanted to find the tree and see for myself the damage.

I spotted the stricken tree from a distance. I was sick when I realized I was still a good 1/2 block away and the yellow gash loomed ahead. As I approached and came up under the canopy, I could see this amazing "imprint" of a forked lightning bolt carved into the trunk. The gash actually looked like someone had taken an implement and carved a rugged one-inch deep by two- to three-inch channel from top to bottom of this 75-foot tree. There were large "splinters" lying to the northwest of the tree in an explosive pattern on the path and the hillside across the path, but no scorched earth or smoky tree parts were found. Hmmm.

The good news is that this did not appear as deadly as I had envisioned. I remembered a plants prof telling me that as long as the bark of a tree is not girdled 360 degrees, most can repair their protective covering and live on. I felt OK about this particular lightning strike.

As I stood and took in this magnificent sight, it reminded me of one of the literary conflicts...this one a twist of Nature v. nature. Over the past 100 years, I would bet these trees on the floodplain of Squaw Creek have lived through a lot of weather. And they are still standing.

I hope this story has a good ending. I can only imagine what the scar tissue will look like after this wound heals. Twenty years from now someone will touch this peculiar lesion shooting up the trunk of the reptilian-skinned tree and marvel at its strength to withstand such a splendid strike.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Miss River

I found this oil painting in a junque shop several weeks ago. It reminds me of Riverview Park in Hannibal, Missouri designed by O. C. Simonds (1855 - 1931). He was one of the second generation of landscape designers here in the Midwest and a founding member in the late 1890s in both the professional organization for landscape architects and the Parks and Outdoor Art Association. Simonds' name is most closely associated with Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. He was superintendent/designer of this Midwestern rural cemetery from 1881 until 1898.

Ossian Cole Simonds followed in the footsteps of my man H. W. S. Cleveland (1814 - 1900). Both men built flourishing practices in Chicago. After Cleveland's death, Simonds picked up several commissions that updated, or expanded, some of Cleveland's original park and cemetery designs. In Cedar Rapids, IA both men pinned their names on Oak Hill Cemetery...Cleveland in 1869 and 1880; Simonds in 1911. In Illinois, both men were commissioned by the Quincy Park and Boulevard Association - Cleveland during the late 1890s, then Simonds in the early 20th century. These designers laid out a park system that was expanded over time by way of stately boulevards connecting these public spaces.

Simonds ventured a little further down river when he was asked to lay out Riverview Park in Hannibal, MO. His hand is still evident in this park that was recently placed on the National Register of Historical Places. During the final leg of my 2010 Sacred Vacation/Mother of All Road Trips, I was able to take in this magnificent view of the Mississippi River from a lookout point in the park.

When I first spotted the painting, I stood transfixed. Deja vu. This spot was where I stood last summer. This is what I saw from that bluff overlooking the Mighty Mississippi. I googled the painter, but nothing revealed itself to connect this painting with the river or this park. I know what is in my mind's eye and my gut tells me this is O.C. Simonds' Riverview Park.