Friday, August 15, 2014

Late Summer Pleasures

It seems poignant to me that I'm writing this blog post on the night before the first day of the school year. Between making up quite a few snow days this spring and our school district dialing back the start date a whole week in the fall, summer seemed especially short. And now it's gone.

Because of that and a jam-packed schedule, we didn't go on the Big Summer Vacation. I had mixed feelings about it. Because time seems to be slipping away especially fast and my boys becoming men, it felt like a lost opportunity. On the other hand, having a week off at home (let's avoid the word "staycation," shall we?) to sleep in, wear pajama pants, go barefoot, pick tomatoes, and eat ice cream for supper because we felt like it was rare and precious down time for our family.

Which is not to say we did no traveling at all. We journeyed to the local parks. We hung out at the local community pool. We took walks around the neighborhood.

We also did a few short road trips. We visited a zoo. I also learned that uber-agricultural Iowa has six national wildlife refuges. Six. How had I not been to a single one?

So one day, we visited the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. One of the things I love about August in Iowa is the prairie. It is at its sunshine blazing glory-most-high, stretching up to a hot and pale blue heaven.

It smells grassy, dusty, and a little like baked bread. And then there are the flowers.

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge has as a goal the preservation and reintroduction of native tallgrass prairie. It's a place where you can almost, almost squint your eyes and imagine the land before there was a single powerline, building, fencerow, or plowed field.

I am glad that in the decision not to travel far, we instead found a local gem. I know we'll be back.

But by the time you're reading this, the backpacks and lunchboxes will already have been out the door for the beginning of the school year, and I've got to think about what I can reasonably get accomplished before I have to wrap up outside work for the year. Last year it was Nov. 10, and I wonder how far I can push it this year. Last year it was too rainy the first half of the summer, and most of the work happened in the late summer and fall. It looks like that will be the case this year as well. The kids' summer may be over, but mine isn't yet. I'm actually glad that I've got a few more weeks to soak up the sun on my back, even if I'm up a ladder when it happens.

How's the rest of your summer wrapping up?


  1. Somehow these photos make me think of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I think this is what I imagined her house on the prairie was surrounded by.

    End of summer is always a little bittersweet. We still have one more week left before going back to work. One kid starts school that week, but the other two start the week after. I haven't been able to afford any big trips for us as a family in years, so we always do small, local trips. I like those best, I think, but I worry some that I'm missing an opportunity I know I won't get back. Hope you have a good school year and that you get much done in the last warm weeks of this year.

    1. Because I shared names with her, I was a huge fan when I was a child. I even wore my hair in braids! But her descriptions of the land her family pioneered were so poetic that it's part of the reason I love our state's natural heritage. She mothered that in me. In fact so much so that I realize, after I re-read this post, that I described hot prairie as smelling like baked bread, something she also wrote (and it's true, it really does!) I've internalized her writing that much.

  2. How did it happen that school, which used to start in September when I was a kid, now starts in the middle of summer?

    1. Sigh. I know, Karen Anne. And they added twenty minutes to the school day. And there's a whole lot less recess than there used to be. This is a blog post unto itself, but if I got started, I don't know if I could stop. We're to the point adding more time to education isn't resulting in MORE education. Children learn in other places than butts in seats, staring at a teacher. As a parent it makes me sad.