Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vander Streek Acres

I drove south out of Pella down South Clark Street past Pella Corp, over a bustling Highway 163 and into the country. South Clark turns into 228th Avenue at some invisible point along the way, and the road has a bit of a roller coaster feel to it. A stop sign greets travelers at the bottom of a hill as the undulating terrain eventually yields to the Des Moines River Valley that divides Marion County. T-17 originates here, and a right at the stop sign will bring you to Tracy or Knoxville within a few minutes. The Van Dusseldorp Sand and Gravel quarry lies straight ahead, mining gravel from old Des Moines River channels. I'm wondering how old the gravels are--if they washed down with glacial melt from the late Wisconsin ice sheets from somewhere up in Minnesota or Canada, or if they are older. But that's another story. The pavement ends on 228th and continues as a country road until it dead-ends at the river. I took a left on Lucas before that happened though, and climbed back into the hills again. Quick left and right climbing switchbacks brought me up the hill to grassy pastures punctuated by trees. Beautiful Christmas trees.

Soon a sign showed me that I had arrived. Vander Streek Acres. I got out of my truck under the pines, and heard pounding and conversation coming from a metal building. Paul Vander Streek hadn't seen me arrive, and walked past me to hang up a wreath decorated with a red bow. He saw me, smiled, and walked over and brought me into a metal building where the pounding was occurring. The pounding was the sound of Jayne Nunnikhoven and Nola Vander Streek making wreaths. Soon we were engaged in a conversation about Christmas trees. How Vander Streek Acres started, what kinds of trees are available, how the trees are managed, and how the Vander Streek family found it's way into the George H. W. Bush White House. I was also reminded that real Christmas trees are a green, renewable resource. The setting was serene, and lovely. I wandered around for a few minutes after the interview was over, absorbing the sights and sounds of nature on a warm autumn day. Paul had shared with me the fact that the endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) can be found on the property, and I realized that I had never seen either before. Another time, I guess.

Hopefully in a few days when I bring the kids back to pick out a Christmas tree.

Dr. Bob Leonard

To listen to the interview, go to http://kniakrls.com, click on Radio Plus, and scroll down to In Depth Monday.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Avenue of Flags

Another Veteran's Day is behind us, and Marion County paid due tribute to our veterans. I stopped briefly by both free Hy Vee Breakfasts in Knoxville and Pella, spoke with a few friends, and took a couple of photos. Hundreds of veterans and their spouses were served breakfast, and as I watched them eat and converse with each other, I wished that I had the opportunity to speak with each and every one of them to learn their stories and share them with listeners. Of course, I have spoken to many Marion County veterans during my years at KNIA/KRLS, and have shared some of these stories, but never enough.

Perhaps my favorite Veteran's Day event is raising the flags for the Avenue of Flags at Graceland Cemetery in Knoxville. Over 200 flags are raised, and I have been told raising flags at Graceland has been the custom for over 50 years, with the details of the event's origins unclear.

Perhaps two dozen people of all ages gathered Tuesday, and flags were transferred from storage bins into the back of a pickup truck. A truck with poles slowly circled the cemetery, with volunteers pulling empty poles off of the truck and dropping them next to their stands along the paved paths through Graceland. A second truck followed, and from the bed of this truck Marilyn Miller passed out flags to those following who then attached the flags to the poles and raised them. Having attended for several years now the sounds are comforting, poles clanking to the ground, flag grommets snapping into place, metal sliding against metal, with a background of quiet conversation, and an occasional laugh. Finally, a prayer, gun salute, and taps.

Over the years I have have watched Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, other youth and veterans help each other countless times, raising the flag being a shared experience that transcends generations. It's a moving scene, not to be missed. This year, I watched a veteran of perhaps Korean War vintage and a girl scout raising a flag stumble and start to drop the flag and pole, then together catch it, making sure that the flag didn't touch the ground. He said "Whew, we were lucky that time!" She smiled and laughed, sliding the pole into place. With that flag and pole secure, they walked back to the slowly traveling pickup for another.

Dr. Bob Leonard