Prairie Burn | 12 April 2018

Seventeen years ago, friends of ours moved from their in-town home to a 5 acre property several miles out of town. They built a beautiful prairie-style house and converted 4 acres of their alfalfa field front yard into a mixed prairie like it was 200 years ago. Native grasses, wildflowers, and trees were planted and a small pond was formed. The plantings grew well in the rich Iowa soil. Wildlife returned. Bird species grew in number. Kestrels nested in the box above the open space. Waterfowl visited the pond. They kept paths mowed to allow easy access to parts of the prairie visible in this satellite view.

Recent year Google Maps view. Pond lower left. House upper right.

Only one thing was missing from their prairie. They needed a fire. Much dry vegetation was on the ground built up from years of growth. Certain desirable native species were crowded out by less welcome grasses or weeds. They hired a crew to burn off the dead vegetation. The burn must be a carefully controlled prescribed fire carried out by an experienced team. Fire was a natural and essential event on the prairies in the past. A thorough discussion of prairie burns can be found at The Prairie Ecologist. The author, Chris Helzer, is The Nature Conservancy’s Director of Science in Nebraska.

Before the burn was started, I stood next to the house in the image above and recorded video of the scene toward the south, then panned around to the west and northwest. It was a calm day with gentle breeze in the direction of the pond.

The fire team of four arrived in the late afternoon and walked around the property to assess their strategy. You don’t just toss a match and hope for the best. That is how prairie burns get out of control. There is a procedure used to keep the fire under control.

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Hand-in-Hand

After Mom’s stroke, she was unable to care for herself or Dad. She was a strong and capable woman, raised nine children, and lived a farm life. They were married over 66 yrs when her stroke happened. It removed her from Dad’s life one dark winter night. He prayed for her return. He wasn’t ready to let her go. He held tight to the dream of getting her back.

22 Sept 2000

Many of us lived near enough to give Dad daily rides to the nursing home to be with her. She didn’t get better. The efforts to bring him each day became more difficult for him and for us. It seemed best for him to stay in the nursing home with her. The staff gave them much gentle care and attention.

Dad died on 28 March 2002. Mom on 16 May 2005. Maybe they are hand-in-hand again.

Hands

On New Year’s Eve 31 December 1999, Mom suffered a stroke. It affected her ability to process things going on in the present. Much of her long term memory was still intact. She was near her 88th birthday. Dad missed her terribly.

As I browsed through photos recently, I found one of her hand resting on the arm of a chair. It was taken in September 2000 when we visited her in the nursing home. She had arthritis. Swollen knuckles and wrinkles were obvious. If they could talk, they would have many stories to tell about life and the hard work it demanded. I gathered my pencils, charcoal, and paper.

Northern Flicker | A Second Look

Late in the day the Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker returned to examine the hole in the trunk it looked at the day before. We’re hopeful it will choose the hole as a nesting site. Our view would be good. For a few minutes the Flicker was inside the hole. I went for the camera. When I returned the Flicker was sitting quietly on a branch about 4 ft from the hole as if waiting for something.

A squirrel had climbed the trunk and scared it. The squirrel sat on a branch preening and in no hurry to move on. This stand-off lasted for 10-15 minutes. Neither one budged.

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Moon Venus Mercury Aligned | 18 Mar 2018

The young new-moon emerged from the glare of the Sun last weekend. It is moving toward a second full-moon of the month on 31 March. Two full-moons also appeared in January. None in February. Also present in the early evening sky were Venus and Mercury (arrow). Enlarge the image to see Mercury.

Moon – Venus – Mercury | 7:41 pm CDT

About 1% of the Moon was illuminated at that time. It was a cooperative subject for this shot.

Moon | 7:42 pm CDT

Two hours later that evening our phone dinged with a text message from our son on the west coast. He attached this photo taken from his deck. It was fun to see the alignment again. Note that the Moon was a little higher relative to Venus in his photo.

Enlarge for more detail.

Black Point Wildlife Drive

by Melanie and Jim

On our last full day in Florida, we headed to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge north of Kennedy Space Center. The wildlife site is accessible from the town of Titusville. After crossing the causeway from Titusville, we turned onto the Black Point Wildlife Drive. This is a seven-mile, one-way drive through marshlands.

As the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says, it “provides an excellent place to see waterfowl (in season), wading birds, shorebirds and raptors. Alligators, river otters, bobcats, various species of snakes, and other wildlife may be visible as well.” We saw no bobcats or snakes, and the velociraptors were hiding. But there were plenty of birds and alligators to enjoy. Zoom/drag or turn your phone in this interactive for a typical view of the area.

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Kennedy Space Center | GOES-S Launch

by Jim and Melanie

This post describes our view of the launch of the GOES-S weather satellite from the vantage point of the Apollo/Saturn V Center on 1 Mar 2018. Our previous post about the Kennedy Space Center highlighted some of the exhibits at the Visitor Complex. If you are interested in seeing a launch, this link provides details about the options.

Our son-in-law works for a company contracted by NOAA and NASA. His company gets the satellite ready for launch, and then tests it during the months after launch, before turning it over to NOAA for operations. He was entitled to nominate guests to view the launch. Our names were submitted along with that of his father, who joined us at the viewing site.

As launch time neared, we made our way to the buses provided for invited guests.

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Kennedy Space Center | Visitor Complex

by Jim and Melanie

Early in 2018, our son-in-law invited us to be his guests at a launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. We immediately said “yes.” Our SIL is literally a rocket scientist/engineer. He works for a company contracted by NOAA and NASA, whose mission is to support the launch and instrument checkout of the next generation weather satellites of the GOES-R series.

Geostationary GOES-R was launched 19 November 2016 and is now part of the National Weather Service fleet. It views the eastern half of the U.S. and the Atlantic Ocean. Storm development, lightning, and hurricane tracking are parts of its main focus.

Our invitation was to watch the launch of GOES-S on 1 March 2018. When GOES-S is commissioned several months after launch, it will view the western half of the U.S. and the Pacific Ocean as GOES-West. Pacific storms, their impact on the western states, and forest fire tracking will be parts of its main focus.

GOES-R Series | Credit: Lockheed Martin

This post is about the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Our next post is about viewing the GOES-S launch later that same day.

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Connections

Recently I was introduced to Deborah, who works with my new neighbor, Heather. When I told Heather about it, I thought about the web of connections leading to this chance meeting. 


A mid-August day in western Illinois can take your breath away. Temperatures run high that time of year. The humidity of the Mississippi River and the flat, fertile ground clings to everything and makes it hard to breathe. But on that day in 1933, the air was milder than usual and a light rain freshened the skies.

On that day in 1933, John welcomed Dorothy to his side, and they spoke their vows to honor and love each other, vows that were kept for 69 years. While Dorothy held his hands, her bridesmaid and cousin Rosemary held the bride’s bouquet.

John and Dorothy had nine children together, one of whom was Jim. Rosemary and her husband had children, too, one of whom was Chuck. Chuck and Jim, second cousins, knew each other as they grew up, attended the same university, and had overlapping social circles.

When Jim graduated college, he married, began a teaching career, and became a father. His teaching career thrived and his daughters grew, but his marriage struggled and ultimately ended.

One summer Jim began a master’s degree program at another university in Illinois. While there, a mutual friend introduced him to Melanie. Melanie and Jim quickly fell in love and married the next year.

After Melanie finished her degree, she applied for a job in downtown Chicago. Her interview was on the coldest recorded day in Chicago history (really!), and she got a job developing software for a major bank. One of her work mates was Bruce. Soon Bruce left the software development team to join the bank’s trust management group.

After a couple more years, Melanie left the bank to enter graduate school. She finished the degree and gave birth to a son, after which she taught Finance at the same school.

In the summer of 1992, Jim, his wife Melanie, and their young son moved to Iowa. Melanie was about to start graduate school (again!), but Jim didn’t have a job arranged yet. After 23 years teaching high school science, he hoped to find a similar position.

John and Dorothy’s son Jim spoke with Rosemary’s son Chuck. Chuck had a connection in the same Iowa town, a man who worked in administration for the school district. With Chuck’s recommendation to ease the way, Jim accepted a teaching position in the district. Jim had many talented co-workers at his school, people dedicated to their students. One of those was Jan, a gentle man who taught physical science.

Jim, Melanie, and Son were fortunate in other ways in their new home. Across the street in one direction lived Darrell and Judy, who treated the new family with kindness. In another direction lived Kathy’s family. Her son attended the same school and played on the same soccer team. The mom of another boy on that team was Beth, a relative of Kathy.

In 1996 Darrell and Judy moved across town. Melanie finished her degree in 1997 and applied for a job in trust investment management. The man who interviewed her and hired her was Bruce, her co-worker from Chicago, now living in Iowa.

Between Melanie’s new job and Jim’s teaching position, it made sense to move. In 1997 they moved to a new house, right next door to Darrell and Judy. Darrell and Judy’s neighbors on the other side were a woman named Hazel and her daughter Holly.

Holly was older than the son, but the two became friends. Their friendship deepened when Holly helped Son learn how to play clarinet and saxophone. She helped him learn the basics and Son came to love the saxophone. When he entered junior high he was fortunate to have an excellent band teacher. The band teacher encouraged the kids to play in the jazz band, which Son did.

In high school he continued to play. His jazz band excelled and often won area jazz band contests. One of those contests was hosted each year at Son’s high school. It was the annual qualifying contest for state competition. Many of the judges are professional jazz musicians and educators from the area. When Melanie helped run the qualifying contest in 2006, she met a jazz musician and professor named Steve.

Steve plays with a few different bands. One of those bands is called “The Beaker Brothers,” and they play a lot of rock from the late 1960s and ’70s. Ed is one of Steve’s bandmates in that group.

After Jim retired from teaching in 2007, his friend Jan recommended he work for an education resources company. Jan started there when he retired from teaching. Ed worked there, too, as did Darrell.

Backtracking in time… In 2002 Jim and Melanie and Son moved to a different house. Next-door neighbors on both sides worked for the same education company where Jim later worked. Two doors down lived Nancy, a retired teacher who quilted. In 2007 Nancy invited Melanie to a meeting of the local quilters guild. At the meeting, Melanie reconnected with Bethrelated to Kathy, who lived across the street from Melanie and Jim when they first moved to Iowa. Beth quilts, too. 

In summer of 2017, Nancy and her husband, the neighbors two doors down, sold their home to downsize. Heather and her husband, moving to town to work at the hospital, bought the house.

A different stream of time… For decades Jim has been a blood donor. Years ago, one of the phlebotomists at the blood bank, who frequently jabbed Jim when he donated, was Deborah. Yes, the same Deborah who recently met Melanie.

On a Friday night a couple of weeks ago, Melanie and Jim went out to hear The Beaker Brothers play. Steve and Ed were on stage with their bandmates, covering the Allman Brothers and other bands of the era. When they took a break, Steve visited with Jim and Melanie. As he did, Deborah approached to say “hello” to him. She already knew Steve through her friendship with Ed and his wife. As it turns out, Ed is Deborah’s ex-in-law.

Deborah recognized Jim and introduced herself to Melanie. She now works at the hospital in a different department. It is the same department in which Heather works.


Deborah and Heather might know each other despite all the other connections. But Jim and I only know that Deborah and Heather know each other because of all the other connections.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

Herman Melville