Autumn Walks

by Jim and Melanie

One of our true pleasures is walking or hiking with each other. The pace allows for companionable silence or conversation, and for experiencing our current surroundings while letting the past and future fade. When we travel we look for opportunities to hike, and at home we walk the neighborhood or make small outings to local trails. Serendipity often blesses us while we’re out.

When visiting Washington state last month, we intended a hike in Point Defiance Park, a city park in Tacoma. It hugs the shoreline of the Tacoma Narrows and Commencement Bay, south of Seattle. Jim also wanted to visit the park’s rose garden, displaying the last of early fall’s blooms.

What we didn’t anticipate was the dahlia garden. The tall-stemmed blooms overwhelmed us with their joyful colors. We don’t see many dahlias where we live, so we lingered for a while, taking dozens of photos. Here are a few. Click to embiggen.

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This week we hiked closer to home. We drove to hiking and mountain biking trails a few miles away, next to the Coralville Reservoir. There are several miles of trails, rated from easy to difficult. Because they are for bike riders as well as walkers, the trails are designated for one-way traffic to improve safety. We hadn’t hiked in this area before and enjoyed the new adventure.

Most of the trail is within the trees with no view of the water, though you can see the reservoir in places. The fall colors are slow in coming this year, and the trees are still leaf-covered, perhaps due to our mild summer.

Our moment of serendipity came about halfway through our hike, when we chanced upon this Santa-on-a-tractor-in-a-creche. It seemed to be the perfect representation of Christmas in Iowa, though a little early.

Since we hadn’t been to these trails before, we stuck to one designated as “easy.” There is a lot more to explore for other times. We’ll go back.

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Snakes on a … Sidewalk!

by Melanie and Jim

Most snakes in Iowa are pretty harmless, not scary like snakes on a plane. The ones we see most often are non-venomous and pretty amusing. They are Brown Snakes, and they typically measure from 13-18″ long. Most we see in our neighborhood are smaller than that, with lengths from about 8-12″.

Yesterday’s first snake sighting was on the paved trail behind our house. We had just left the house for a short walk when we happened on the snake, stretched almost its full length across the trail. We estimated it was about a foot long, maybe slightly more. There was some dappled sunlight warming the little thing. They seem to appear in early fall. They like areas with water and some woodland border, making our neighborhood the perfect habitat.

Jim ran back to the house to get a camera while Melanie stood guard. Two women came along and admired it while we waited. They said there were other snakes that were much smaller farther along. And then one of the women hopped a little and pointed to two more snakes at the edge of the sidewalk. A bicyclist rode by, and we directed him to the side so he wouldn’t run over the small monster.

Finally Jim came back, camera in hand.

Slightly out of focus, its tongue is flicking at high speed.

Great picture of its markings, including the top of its head.

With no sense of scale, you might think this is large and ferocious!

A few seconds of video, with Melanie’s finger to show how tiny it is.

After that encounter, and noting the two other snakes at the edge of the sidewalk, we didn’t see any more for most of our walk. Shortly before getting home, Melanie saw another skedaddle into the grass. It was a larger, longer snake and moved very quickly. It moved too fast to get a good look at it, but because of its larger size, we guess it may have been a garter snake.

Snakes are always fun to see around here, partly because we know they are harmless if not bothered. Do you encounter snakes where you live?

C-17 Globemaster Cargo Plane

by Jim and Melanie

The United States Air Force is cooperating with relief efforts for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico as they did for the Gulf Coast and Florida. Members of the 15th Airlift Squadron , 437th Airlift Wing, out of the Joint Base in Charleston, SC, have flown more than 70 missions supporting relief efforts after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria as detailed in this brief.

The planes used are the C-17 Globemaster. We recently toured one of the planes and felt others would appreciate seeing it up close and inside. First impression as you walk toward it is its imposing size. The loud noise is an auxiliary power unit providing electricity to the plane while parked.

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Cassini | Fireball Into Saturn

For those who want to watch the end of Cassini in a live broadcast…

How I See It

The astronomy community is active with posts and anticipation of the end of the Cassini Mission to Saturn early in the morning of 15 Sep 2017. This post serves as a brief reminder that you can witness the ending moments live by going online or via the NASA channel on cable. Set your calendar or clock.

Time to show up for the broadcast is 7 am Eastern Time, 6 CT, 5 MT, or 4 PT. I will leave the time calculation to others who live across the oceans.

Online sources include YouTube, NASA-TV, UStream, and Facebook. The table in the link includes links to each of those. You get to choose.

Consult your cable provider to see if they provide the NASA-TV channel.

For a huge number of links to current and past information about the Cassini Mission, please go to the Media Kit provided for reporters by NASA-JPL…

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Vespidae | Everyone Has To Eat

I spotted these on the trail as I returned from a walk this morning. According to Bugguide, they are Eastern Yellow Jackets Vespula maculifrons. They were feeding on something moist and fleshy I could not identify. It has been exceptionally dry here in eastern Iowa since mid-August. Yellow Jackets are found near anything with moisture.

They didn’t mind that I got within a few centimeters to record some video of their activity. Sort of gruesome. But, as Melanie says “Everyone has to eat.”

Three Planets and Regulus

Our view from Iowa this morning toward the pre-dawn sky was clear. High in the dark sky was Venus. Planets Mercury and Mars were supposed to be about halfway down toward the horizon. I have looked for them the past few mornings with no success. Either I was late to look and the sky was too bright, or some clouds were in the way. This morning I looked earlier at 5:55am and the sky was very transparent. Success!

Reg is the star Regulus in the constellation Leo. It photo-bombed the scene next to Mercury.

ISO100 @5sec | Click for bigger

ISO100 @2sec | Zoomed in | Exposure adjusted for detail

The view this morning actually included four planets if you count the Earth beneath my feet.

Backyard | Visitors Welcome

Frequent visits lately of Ruby Throated Hummingbirds and Black Capped Chickadees to the backyard feeders. My records show the last hummingbird sighting is in the final week of September for my eastern Iowa location. Chicadees stay all year long.

The video has been slowed to 70% for the hummingbird and 50% for the chickadee in order to view them more easily. Enjoy.

Metal Detectorist

We recently watched a delightful series on Netflix called Detectorists. Two friends in England belong to a small local club. They dream of finding gold and treasure. Along the way, their lives are connected with funny, amusing, and sweet events. It is well worth your time. Good News! Season 3 is being made.

It inspired me to resume using my metal detector. I usually scan around playground equipment at parks and schools. Kids drop their coins. A few days ago I went to the city park where music events and fireworks are held in the summer. I found nearly $2 in coins. While sweeping around the sand in a play area I found a car. It was a nice Hot Wheels™ car. As I walked to another area, the detector was in front of me skimming the ground when it beeped loudly. This find will come in handy for some gardening work.

Model CK5TBS

Sending Quilts to Texas?

Catbird Quilt Studio

The hurricane disaster in Texas may displace people from more than 100,000 homes for at least several weeks. They need housing, food, water, and some way to replace all the goods lost to water damage, or simply washed or blown away. Should you send replacement items? Should you send quilts?

It’s tempting, isn’t it? A quilt is a tangible item to show your concern, to offer both comfort and warmth. I’ve already seen a number of requests for quilts for Texans. I’ve also seen one of those requests in a Facebook group called a fraud, and deleted after the group moderator couldn’t affirm its legitimacy.

In the past I’ve made quilts to give post-disaster. But unless a disaster is local, I won’t do it again. Why not? Very simply, if a community is facing the scale of tragedy that Houston and other Texas cities are facing, figuring out how…

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Solar Eclipse | Totality

Totality enjoyed the eclipse.

How I See It

Eclipse day finally arrived. Before dawn broke, we awoke to much lightning and thunder here in eastern Iowa. It seemed a bad omen. I checked the radar and forecast for central Missouri where we planned to drive. No rain there in the morning and still pretty good odds for a visible eclipse.

The phone rang about 7:30 when our daughter called. They were to meet us as we drove south so she and our two grandkids could share the experience with us. She said her daughter woke with a fever and aches and pains. It seemed another bad omen. She gave her some meds and still hoped to go. We would meet them in 2 hours and make the final decision. We met and decided to go anyway. She slept most of the 2.5 hr drive from there to Auxvasse, Missouri. Would the two bad omens spoil the day?

The…

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