Friday, August 13, 2010


Day two of the RAGBRAI route this year had the bikers going from Storm Lake to Algona. Shortly after I agreed to drive the support vehicle, I noticed Spencer, Iowa was pretty much on that drive, so I contacted friends Anthony and Anita if they were up for visitors. Friends of mine from way back in my University of Iowa days, they have led extraordinary lives. She graduated with an art degree, he worked with an insurance company in Seattle before a career change - administrator for US Aid for Southern Africa! After 2 decades in Africa (including raising 2 daughters), they retired to his hometown in Spencer where they continue to pursue their art interests. Their specialties of interest are a little fuzzy and overlap somewhat (to me, anyway), but Anthony dabbles in graphic arts and metalworking, with Anita the ceramics expert.

They live on a small acreage outside of town, in fact, the bike team stayed with them a couple years ago shortly after Anita moved onto the property (Anthony was still in Africa at that point). Instead of mowing acres of lawn, they decided early on to convert to a prairie yard. Instead of manicured grass, in late July it was a showpiece of native grasses and flowers, insects and small animals. Before we left their garden close to the house, Anthony spotted something - a Black Swallowtail caterpillar, close to pupation (no horns showing). A few steps into the prairie, we easily found some Monarch caterpillars as well - I still can't tell which end is the head - from the abundance of caterpillar poop around him, I should have waited a few more minutes...

His prairie yard, still in the formation stage, was last mown 6 weeks earlier, but was deemed ok by their advisor to skip mowing from now on. He also mowed paths through it to more easily examine the details of the life zones - great for easy access for a photo nut like me! Also abundant, as well as in the ditches and prairie remnants through Iowa and Illinois is Queen Anne's Lace - broad white flower clusters with the requisite red bloom in the center (from the drop of blood from a pricked finger as she made the lace). Also visible in the background is the bus and trailer I drove for Team Toad support across Iowa...

A tour through their home was like going through a gallery - which it was, in essence! Visible were some of their pieces from their African days, as well as metal working experiments Anthony performed, and shelves of ceramic works.

It was great seeing them. Northwestern Iowa is sort of an out-of-the-way place, so it was nice to have an excuse to see the changes they've made to their place in the last few years.

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