Saturday, November 22, 2014

In Which I Praise The Drab Late Fall Beauty

Seeds near the Cedar River Trail. And a bike, too.

We've had more than a week of winter here in Iowa, even though it’s only fall.

Fall decided to show its face again today. It warmed up, and after an icy morning, it became a damp day. But at midday, it cleared off a bit, and around 2, my wife returned from Target with all her Thanksgiving groceries and said, “why don’t you go for a bike ride?”

One might assume that putting away the holiday feast was just easier without a husband in attendance. I decided to take the hint and I went.



First, I lubed my chain—it was, after all, a damp day. Then I headed over to the Cedar River Trail and went south through downtown.

Cedar Lake has lots of ice and gulls, but no eagles yet. Not that I was expecting any—I’m sure there is too much open water still north of us, and it will be some weeks before the eagles arrive.

Down by the river, however, there were plenty of geese standing on ice or sandbars or in the shallow water. Despite almost all of the snow melting in the past 24 hours, the river and streams are low—not that much water content in a bit of snow, I suppose.

And on C Avenue, a red-tail hawk was guarding a sign by Rockwell Collins.

It remained a grey day, and I’ll enjoy the spring sunshine and green when it returns in a few months. But the drab, brown November world still has beauty. I like being able to see the river more, for instance—down on the south short, where there are woods between the trail and the river, it’s not easy to spot it well when the trees have their full foliage. They stand naked now, and one can see the land and the river much more clearly.



And even if we don’t have the vibrant greens or pretty flowers of spring and summer, seeds and berries and dried grass have a more subdued attractiveness about them.

So I paused now and then to snap a few photos. I didn't go much more than a mile past Sokol Park after I crossed the river—it was starting to mist and I decided to turn back. Still, I got in a 2-hour ride. Given the weather forecast for this week—rain and then snow—it may be a while before I ride again.



But I am glad that I rode today. I wasn't totally alone, as a few hardy bikers and joggers were out on the mostly empty trail.

And when I got home, my son had arrived from Ames, and my wife had returned from a walk. We went out to eat at a Mexican Restaurant that opened recently in our neighborhood—so I’m sure it was a good thing I got some exercise before that feast!



Final images near Cedar Lake--the lake at top, and some milkweed pods bottom two images. Hope these sprout and support some Monarch  Butterfly caterpillars next year!


Thursday, November 20, 2014

In Which Snow Should Give Way To Stars

C Avenue sidewalk around 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. Snow fell Sunday but it has been very cold since and little has melted. Not enough, it would appear, has been shoveled, either. but if you are careful you can pick you way via bicycle to the top of this hill--take my word for it. I tested that theory.
As you can see, the commute Wednesday morning was slightly treacherous in parts. The C Avenue  sidewalk was not totally ice covered, but covered enough it required great care in the morning. 37th street, part of the “land that snowplows forgot,” the neighborhoods around Kenwood School, was, true to form, especially icy on a downhill stretch.

37th Street. No optical illusion, we're looking at a downhill stretch straight into a slick icy patch. Did I and Francis survive? Well, are you reading my blog?

Still, overall the commute was not all that bad, and was better by that evening. This morning was windy and cold, and I sorely wished I had found a headband that could fit under my hood and helmet, but the sidewalks and streets are slowly improving.

On even cold winter days, sunshine will do that. It turns ice into vapor, and whatever bare patch of pavement there is will warm enough, even if the air is colder than freezing, to make the ice slowly disappear.

So I don’t regret biking Wednesday nor today. I do regret, a little, that I haven’t fixed a winter beater bike yet—wider tires would be nice—but Francis has been of use.

I don’t have any late afternoon appointments, and so may leave while the sun still shines on this cold afternoon. If so, I might check out the Cedar River Trail—in the past, the city has actually plowed that trail, and if it’s clear, it may be a nicer route than dodging ice on 37th Street.

I can’t help but look at that trail a bit differently, however. It could be so much more.

My sister Antonia posted a link on Facebook to an NPR story that described a bike trail in a Dutch town inspired by the Van Gogh painting “starry night.”


Photo of a Dutch bike trail that I really want to ride on. From the company that created it, Studio Roosegaarde: https://www.studioroosegaarde.net

Our own artistic heritage in Cedar Rapids is usually pegged to Grant Wood. But he was in Europe at one time. Surely he may have seen a Van Gogh—or, at least, some starry nights in France.

Some Dutch Person at twilight on a solar-powered starry trail. Can we do this around Cedar Lake, please?

That should be enough. Let’s claim Cedar Rapids as Van Gogh’s American vacation playground that he just never got around to. If Riverside can be the future home of Captain Kirk, we can be the could-have-been-but-weren’t American hideaway of Van Gogh.




And then we could do this to our trail. And that would be so cool. And we would have a new theme song for the City of Five Artistic Seasons, too:



Sunday, November 16, 2014

In Which I Wish For Dry Pavement

My sidewalk, after shoveling this morning. It looked better late afternoon after the sun was shining on it, but I do not think the C Avenue sidewalk has been cleared and I doubt most of the streets on my bike route were plowed today.

Well, the day was not so bad today. I had to shovel snow, but it was only a couple of inches of fairly light white stuff.

After photographing the first snowfall, I spent the bulk of the afternoon grading papers. Not a terribly exciting afternoon, and not much that makes a biker’s blood pump faster, but it was that kind of day. My wife and I even managed an afternoon stroll to the local HyVee Drug Store, and I just enjoyed a Blue Moon, which is part of the groceries we picked up.

I don’t think we would want to be walking up there now. We are at 10 degrees and headed down, and the wind chill is already minus 4.

With the snow we had Saturday, and the expected windy, cold night, my chances of biking Monday are very low. I don’t have a winter beater bike ready at the moment, and even if I did, I don’t want to face too much ice even on a mountain bike—and from what I could see of side street conditions today, ice will be an issue Monday. It didn't snow enough for Cedar Rapids to plow many side streets, so that special white icy glaze that is a feature of Cedar Rapids streets in winter is likely to prevail.

I will attempt, this winter, to ride as much as I can—but I will also attempt to avoid riding on ice.

We’ll see what the week brings. It will start, I’m afraid, with me driving a Mercury rather than riding on a bike.

But maybe, after a few sunny days, things may improve. Where the snow was shoveled this morning, the pavement will probably be pretty bare by tomorrow, if the wind doesn’t shift the show around too much.

Wish me luck, bike blog pals! May the sun shine strike some bare pavement enough to clear me a biking path. I’ll let you know when I’m back on two wheels, but I’m pretty certain it won’t be Monday.

Friday, November 14, 2014

In Which A Rodent Contemplates Anti-Bike Violence

I'm watching you.

As the late afternoon light was just starting to turn the world a little shadowy, I was getting ready to ride away from Mount Mercy this afternoon.

Some people on campus asked me if I had ridden today, and then acted faux surprised when I said “yes.” I think it’s a game they play on cold days. Honestly, although the temperature was colder this morning, it actually felt better today than yesterday. I’ll take 10 with little wind over teens and windy, which was the difference between today and yesterday.

Anyway, a bit after 4 I was ready to head home. I packed my stuff and headed out to the bike rack. As I loaded my things on Francis—it took a few minutes because I had so much stuff in my briefcase there was some bungee cord readjusting required—when I noticed it watching me. A squirrel was in the redbud tree by Warde Hall, giving me a disapproving stare.

As I unlocked Francis, it climbed from the redbud into the branches of an overhanging ash tree, directly overhead. Another employee was leaving work and spied the squirrel, which was still intensely eying me.

“It looks like it might jump you,” she said.

I took out my camera and snapped its picture. It never made angry squirrel noises, but was clearly stalking me.

Well, luckily I didn’t feel any little tree rat paws on me before leaving campus. Despite a squirrel stare of doom, it was a pretty pleasant ride home.

Ice on Dry Creek. Mid-November is a bit early. Temperatures have been more January than November lately.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

In Which Flurries Fall On A Dark, Cold Ride

From Wikicommons, uploaded by Boxstaa. Bike with car lights.

I have redundant lights on Francis for a reason. I figure when one battery fails, it means that the world can see me. Well, the universe didn’t go according to plans Wednesday.

Yesterday morning, for whatever reason, I could not find the yellow vest I wear when biking. Well, it’s wasn’t all that dark, and with lights, I figured I would be OK. I didn’t worry much about the afternoon ride—I was planning to leave campus before 4 anyway, and it would still be light out.

As often happens, I was late. A student was ill and I had to distribute the newspaper, an hour-long task. So by the time I left campus, it was 5.

And both front lights looked sickly pale when I flipped them on. Before I was even 1/3 of the way home, they were pretty much dark of the moon blank.

The only good news is that my main headlight uses AAA batteries—a rare treasure among bike lights which tend to use hard-to-find expensive little batteries that seem to cost more than the lights do. Part of the throw-away culture, I’m afraid.

Anyway, my wife was a big help in getting the batteries changed. She had also bought some new little lights, because sets of them were on sale for $1 each (again, much cheaper than buying just the battery would be). My yellow vest had been missing Wednesday, too, but Thursday morning I managed to locate it in a “glove drawer.”

It was cold today, too—but not quite as cold. And I was riding with lights on, which was also a big step up. My lights are on and I’m ready to ride. Hopefully the weekend snow will be cleared for next week’s commutes.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

In Which The Week Ends Fall Rides

Bambi is now king of the forest and does not entirely approve of bikers.

Not really—November is a fall month, too, but it feels different, there is certainly a taste of oncoming winter. We may see snow here Monday, so I’m not sure what the biking week ahead will bring.

The biking week behind brought some nice weather, but it was also cool. One night I ended up leaving my bike at work, and another day I drove a car to work, but I still go some extra miles in.

On Wednesday, for instance, I swung down by Cedar Lake on the way home. As I headed back north after checking to see that there is, indeed, still a lake in the middle of Cedar Rapids, I noticed a buck rather casually consuming bark on a tree near the trail.

Profile view.

Now, I know deer chew bark in winter, but it seems there would be lots more that would be greener, more succulent and easier to chew available to this buck right now. But then again, it’s that time of year when male deer go quite lovelorn crazy, and maybe he was just drowning his sorrows form a jilting by a doe by chewing up a tree.

The days are now cooler and the trees more barren. I still think the browner world of the colder months has its charms, and I do enjoy still being outside, but it will be nicer still when leaves are growing on the trees rather than blowing along the ground.

And that wind. Totally option, in my opinion.

Roof work going on at MMU chapel earlier this week. They are getting ready for the cold and maybe wet months ahead.


Friday, October 31, 2014

In Which Catherine Doesn’t Quite Get Her Glow

I had what I thought was a bright idea while biking to work Thursday morning.

Clouds were just rolling in, and a little open sky in the east made for a very pretty sunrise. As I was at the halfway mark on my commute—passing Kenwood School—there was a pretty conch shell pink glow to the eastern sky.

Which made me think of Catherine McAuley. There is a new statue of her on the Rohde Family Plaza at Mount Mercy, which I bike by most mornings. And, I thought, why not take her picture as the rising sun behind her turns the sky pink—it would sort of be an arty looking halo effect.

Well, the best laid plans of mice, men and photo bikers …

By the time I got to campus, the patch of open sky was gone. There was a solid grey ceiling to the morning. I suppose that was a blessing anyway, since I have an 8 a.m. class on Thursday and did not have time to stop to take the picture anyway.

But I had time today. However, I didn't have a mostly cloudy sky with just the right opening for the sun to turn those clouds pink.

I tried taking the picture, thinking the back-lighting sun would make it interesting. The results? In one image, Catherine’s head is glowing like she’s a special character in a D movie made for Halloween. Not exactly the look I was going for. The next picture is OK, and I like the shadow of the random student crossing the plaza, but again, not the effect I saw in my mind.

Oh well. Sometimes the challenge when taking photos for this biking blog is that the eye can see so much in more detail in more lighting conditions than the camera can. Although in this case, the camera was right—things did not work out. Well, some day when they do and I bike by, I may try, try again.

Picture 1--Catherine as a superhero shooting power ray form her eyes.
Image 2--She looks better and the I like the long shadow, but not yet the effect I wanted. Send in the clouds.