Monday, August 29, 2011

Writing stories, re-writing the landscape

Last winter the Iowa City Public Library put on a fund-raising auction for which people could donate items or their own time. I offered to donate myself reading a story. Sunday afternoon was the day. The purchasers brought brought their own children and some friends to a place south of Iowa City called Belgum Grove.

Belgum Grove is a 40 acre prairie restoration project undertaken by the Johnson County Heritage Trust. Wayne Petersen, who works for the state of Iowa and is deeply involved in this project, was there to talk to the kids about the prairie restoration. And I was there to talk about saving what we value--snowflakes and chiru, stories, big bluestem, yellow coneflowers.

We had a good time. I read The Chiru of High Tibet, brought barley crackers so we could taste a bit of Tibet, and pocket notebooks so the kids could save their own stories. We toured Belgum Grove on a hay rack, and ate some barley crackers and goat cheese, and some delicious muffins that Bonnie Penno (of the ICPL Foundation) had made.

In addition to the parallels of saving plants, snowflakes, and endangered animals, it struck me that Wayne Petersen and his volunteers and other helpers are re-writing this portion of the Iowa landscape. They are editing out the monocrop of corn or soybeans, inserting Stiff Goldenrod, Coneflowers, Sneezeweed, Big Bluestem. Just as revising stories is not a quick project, re-writing the landscape can take years. Sometimes the prairie forbs (plants) are crowded out by invasive weeds. Sometimes they just don't grow and have to be replanted. As a person who loves to see bits of prairie come back into our landscape, this project makes me happy. As a writer, who never stops listening for good words, I love the names of the plants--Sneezeweed, Big Bluestem--names of local landmarks--Dirtyface Creek, which feeds into Old Man Creek.

Time to get out the journal and "save" the afternoon.


  1. Love all the names, Jackie! "Dirtyface Creek?" How lovely is that! And sneezeweed? Yes, please! Wonderful post!

  2. I know, isn't Dirtyface Creek just great? Don't you want to put it in a story?

  3. Yes! Can't help but think about all the folks who washed their faces in it. All the stories they have. All the stories their dirt holds--all of it pools in that creek. More stories enter it every day. And they never leave. The Creek holds onto all of them.