Thursday, May 25, 2017

Conservation in Action: Black Hawk Creek Watershed

Thanks to Vivian Swift for the inspiration for this painting
The rock cries out today, 

You may stand on me,

But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,

A river sings a beautiful song,

Come Rest here by my side.
Maya Angelou, On The Pulse of a Morning

There are those amongst us who face the tension between creating and destroying without looking away.

Clark Porter, farmer, environmentalist, philosopher is a man living out a vision for a healthier environment.

Clark recently formed the Black Hawk Creek Water and Soil Coalition group.  The group is concerned about water quality in the 217,000 acre watershed in Black Hawk, Grundy and Tama Counties.

Black Hawk Creek Watershed

"Black Hawk Creek is a little gem. The amount of natural area we have in this vast sea of mono culture is minimal," Porter says.
Greenbelt along Black Hawk Creek
Porter, a farmer with land along the creek, says, "I'm as much a part of the problem as I am the solution. I've got tiles lines running into Black Hawk Creek. It will take me six to ten years to get my farms where I want."

Porter's goal, "What I'd like to see happen is the 270 tons of nitrates currently going into the creek annually reduced to whatever it would have been when it was prairie."

Black Hawk Creek

"Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?' Walt Whitman, by Walt Whitman
"I'd like to see the water run clear," Porter says. "I'll be dead before my goal is achieved," he laughs ruefully.

Porter is working with local officials in the Department of Natural Resources, water and soil conservation districts, his neighboring farmers, even corporate giants like Pioneer.
I'm sailing away,Set an open course for the virgin sea Styx
For Porter living in the tension between the now of an officially degraded water way and a future of a cleaner water way is a tricky balance of economics.  There's much he'd like to do on his own farms.  But the cost of the improvements when corn and bean prices are falling below break-even levels makes for hard choices.

Porter wants to pass on both a farm that is profitable and more environmentally friendly to the next generation.

"The outcome is important, but the direction you're going is more important.  The process is important. Our economy does such damage to so many things: air pollution, water pollution. We're not going to make money on (conservation). But it's what we ought to do."

Porter adds," You can't go bankrupt doing it.  There's that balance.

Marsh on Black Hawk Creek watershed

There's an economic balance and a moral balance between what we have to do and what we ought to do."
Add caption

Greenbelt Lake

Porter sees his work as a creative collaboration between his neighbors, government and God. He recognizes that man's role in living is fraught. "There's no point at which you are not doing damage. You hope that over all you've created more harmony than damage."

Over coffee and between rain showers we talk about the specifics of his farming operation.  He sighs, looking out the window as the sun breaks through. "Every solution builds new problems," he says of various farming methods he is trying.

And still he dreams of more cover crops, riparian barriers, wood chip bio-reactors.  No one solution will improve the water in Black Hawk Creek.

Every small effort to improve water quality makes the water quality downstream from the Cedar River, to the Mississippi to the dead zone the size of Connecticut in the Gulf, a little better.

Add caption

Felecia: Wendell Berry writes often that we are “given” our lives; meaning “we ourselves did not make these things, although by birth we are made responsible for them; second, that the world and our lives do not come to us by chance.”

What are you given?

Clark: I was give a great deal. I was born into a family that had land. My parents taught me that it's not "mine". We seem to believe that if you're given much, you're going to acquire more. But I don't think that's the point. What am I going to give away? What am I going to take care of?"

Clark: I was give a great deal. I was born into a family that had land. My parents taught me that it's not "mine". We seem to believe that if you're given much, you're going to acquire more. But I don't think that's the point. What am I going to give away? What am I going to take care of?"

Felecia: How do you care for what you are given?

Clark: Always think about the future generations. What are we doing for them? The biggest waste is to squander what we're given. That's true of money, land, water. These are resources that could be used for the good.

Felecia: What sustains you and gives you hope?

Clark: Sometimes it's important to think small. Too often we think too big. 

We think of God acting through really big forces. We can create hope by really simple things. Smile when you meet people. Don't shame them, encourage. Life is short. That makes everything you do more meaningful.

Contact Clark Porter at to

 discuss the Black Hawk Creek Watershed Coalition. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

In Stitches

I've dreamed of being able to sew quilts my whole life. The closest I've come is painting a quilt block. After a disasterous and stressful summer spent behind a sewing machine in tears trying to prepare a quilted pillow for a 4-H project when I was 10, I've steered clear of sewing. Except for the home economics class in junior high (see how old I am? We still had home ec and junior high!) when I brought my "D" in sewing up to a "B" with an "A+" in cooking. I've simply admired folks who could seemingly "whip" up creations out of yards of fabric and thread. All I had to offer them was a cookie.

My dear friend Bobbi is a quilting artist extraodinaire.

I admit to an envy of her considerable talents. Bobbi has a bold sense of color.  She's not making your grandmother's quilts.

Like the art she collects

Bobbi has a bold sense of design

And a love of saturated color

Many of her friends have been beneficiaries of her talents as she gives away quilts as baby shower, wedding and birthday gifts. 

This lovely "I Spy" quilt is it's three-year-old owner's favorite.

And her golfing friends and book club friends love the bags, aprons and table runners we've been gifted with over the years.

Bobbi's burst of creativity was born out of a profound loss, the death of her beloved husband, Greg. Trying to find her way out of grief into a new life, sewing gave her a sense of purpose. The crisp edges, the tidiness of creating order out of fabric scraps, the beauty of creating a picture and story from disparate pieces appealed to Bobbi. Sewing gave her mind a place to rest and recover.

Bobbi's family left to right: sisters
Debby, Kathy, mother-Delores, sister Terri and Bobbi.

She stumbled into sewing when her sisters and mother talked her into going to a quilting convention.  All of her sisters and mother sewed and quilted. "I never thought I was interested in sewing," Bobbi says. But all the fabric choices at the convention convinced her to take the quilting plunge. "I love fabric, man it's fun!"

"I had an old, old sewing machine that kept jamming up," Bobbi says. "It didn't take long and I had to buy a better machine.

Pretty soon Bobbi filled her walls with quilts

Even one of her ceilings has a quilt

What started as a way out of grief, now expanded into giving gifts to celebrate life's joys: the birth of new babies, weddings, birthdays, friendship.

"It really helps to make things to feel a purpose.  It gives me purpose," she says.

I was eager to hear what Bobbi has learned about life as she quilted her way through her loss.
Felecia: Each of us has an inner compass that tells us when we're on the right path. How do you know when your compass points True North?
Bobbi: "Making a gift, a hand-made gift for someone that they will love and treasure. To think of a person and pick the fabrics to suit their personality and what they are all about."

Felecia: Wendell Berry writes often that we are "given" our lives; meaning "we ourselves did not make these things, although by birth we are made responsible for them; second that the world and our lives lives do not come from chance." What are you given?

Bobbi: "Right now, I was given the gift of being a good friend, sister, daughter and mother. What I treasured the most was being a good wife."

Felecia: "How do you care for what you are given?"

Bobbi: "I try to be there for my friends.  I try to look for the good in every person I know."

Felecia: "What sustains you and gives you hope?"

Bobbi: "Making things."

Bobbi has taken thread, fabric, time, creativity to stitch together a life full of beauty, love, friendship and family. One stitch at a time.

She's created a home where love lives.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Finding Spring

It was off to the Mennonite Greenhouses in Chickasaw County this week.

Getting there is half the fun. 

 The rolling Iowa country side looks so beautiful this time of year. (Your can read about our trip to the greenhouses last year here.)

Mom went with me to ooh and ahhh over all the pretty choices.

So much color

So many varieties

Such vast greenhouses.

We only made it to two farms before my car was full, my pocketbook was empty and I needed lunch.

First we stopped by KR Greenhouses, 1505 170th St., Ionia. Kenneth and Rachel Martin and their nine children run this greenhouse, farm 160 acres and raise 300 head of fatted cattle.  

The day we stopped Justin, 12, on the left and Vernon, 15, were taking payments and helping us out to the car.

The Martins started as a wholesale greenhouse, but decided running a retail greenhouse was "easier", according to Kenneth. "It's easier than loading everything up to take to auction," he says.

The day we went skies were gray

and the radio kept predicting snow.

But it smelled and felt like spring in the greenhouse.

"When we started this, it was a winter thing.  But now it's kind of taken over," Kenneth says. The greenhouses are open Monday through Friday 8 to 8 and Saturday 8-5, closed on Sundays through June 15th.

KR Greenhouses sell strawberries on the farm in June and reopen the greenhouses August to October to sell mums, grasses and pumpkins.  Though last year Kenneth says, "We'll probably try pumpkins again. Last year, they didn't do for us."

A short hop down the road and around the corner we found

Hoover's Greenhouse 1680 Cheyenne Ave., Ionia.  

More stunners

And lots of garden gig-gaws.

I think Hoover's baskets are the biggest and best.  Elizabeth Hoover who owns and runs the greenhouse for the past 16 years also makes sure they have special plants that I find are hard to find other places.

I'm especially partial to the Prince Tut, seen here in my pots from last year.  I've only found these at Hoovers.

The flowers and varieties are just as stunning here.

So many choices! Hoover's, on fact all of the greenhouses in Chickasaw County run on the same M-F, 8-8; Saturday 8-5 and closed Sunday schedule until mid-June.  Hoovers is also open in the fall starting Aug. 15th. selling mums, pumpkins and other fall plants.

I'm trying out a new container pot "recipe". When it's had a few weeks of warm weather to fill out a little, I'll show it to you and you can help me decide how we like it.

Add caption
In the meantime, get yourself to the Hearst Garden. The flowering crabs are unbelievable this year.

You don't want to miss out on the show!

The daffodils are mostly gone this week, but I had to share these pictures from last week in case you missed them. They don't give a hoot if snow is in the forecast!

Don't make the same mistake!  Go see the crab apples.

May your walk this week be carpeted with crab apple petals!