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Oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada: The nostalgia-inducing song of the white-throated sparrow

The wonders of any month lie in the cycle of nature, in the continuum of life. I take special joy in October, thanks in large part to its specificities: beautifully colored leaves; crisp, cool air; lengthening shadows at early twilight. But I also embrace October’s place in the round of the year: the slowing of life after the rush of summer, the gathering bounty, preparing for winter’s rest. In recent years, I have paid greater attention to the sonic as well as visual landscape and its part in nature’s cycle. This autumn, I’m paying special attention to the white-throated sparrow. […]

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‘Unfamiliar eyes’ and the wonders of home

Since his days as an urban and regional planning professor at the University of Iowa, Iowa City mayor Jim Throgmorton has encouraged us to see our community through “unfamiliar eyes” in order to understand it better. I am fortunate that I do so every summer. For a good number of years, I have been privileged […]

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Engage in the Great Conversation — with a tree

At first it may sound a bit kooky to talk about “conversing” with nature. But the oddness of that idea is really due to the inadequacy of our words, even our human conceptions. What happens when entering the Great Conversation is much more profound than trading mere words, or even human ideas. […]

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UR Here: Finding the nativity in your own community

Whether one believes in the literal or religious truth of the Christmas story or not, it remains a powerful and influential tale, obviously for Christians, but even for many non-Christians. Over the years, as the Yuletide celebration commences, I have often discovered new ideas in this simple yet profound tale. This year, the story of the nativity has helped me understand something about what is important for community. […]

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UR Here: Like a wolf in the wild — and Aldo Leopold — commit to your pursuit

Aldo Leopold is arguably the greatest conservationist of the 20th century. His formative experiences with the natural world occurred right here in Iowa, providing the foundation for the revolutionary thought and influence that would mark his career. […]

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UR Here: Living by the seasons, not the school calendar

Downtown iowa city

Something happened recently that hasn’t happened to me in 33 years. I began the fall semester without a class to teach. For nearly all of us, at some point in our lives, fall carries an academic connotation. When summer ends, school begins. But due to a chain of circumstances, this semester I did not walk into a classroom full of bright, eager faces of college students, at last some of them ready to learn. […]

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UR Here: Iowa City in August is a tale of two cities

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times: the first half of August in Iowa City. For half a month twice a year (also early January), tumbleweeds blow through our deserted streets. Those of us who are left enjoy Iowa City at its best. Those of us who are left suffer Iowa City at its worst.

Our town is at its worst at this time of year because the life has been sucked out of it. The university’s summer session is over, so even that relatively small summer population of intrepid students — the life-force of so much of Iowa City’s energy —
have headed for the beach, for home, for the mountains, wherever. Their professors have packed in their grade books and skipped town for the only two summer vacation weeks available to them. Even the university’s administrative offices are operating on skeleton crews before the onslaught of the fall semester begins. […]

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UR Here: Creating community through communal creation of meaning

“Meet me by the Buddha statue.” If you’re from the Iowa City area, quite a lot of you would know our rendezvous point immediately if I said this to you. “Meet me by the Brain.” If you’re a University of Iowa student and I said this to you, you’d know where to go.

The Buddha and the Brain are two relatively new public sculptures in the Iowa City community, now well-known enough that they’ve become landmarks with even a tradition or two attached to them. Funny thing is, the Buddha and the Brain are actually not those things at all — and yet they are. […]

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