Thursday, May 24, 2012
Yesterday, I found myself on the scenic back highways of Cedar County, Iowa, on route to this very special site. Not only is it the final resting place of hundreds of pioneering Iowans, it is also a unique ecosystem, an oakland savannah. Huge, century old bur oaks- about 15 in all- stand guard over time here. The low understory and the surrounding wide open spaces provide a perfect place for an abundance of wildflowers.
Each season, there is a stunning new show of color dotting the sandy hillsides. Many classic Iowa summer songbirds hang out here, too. Eastern bluebirds were making a nest in the metal piping of the main entrance sign. My friend Jackie and I also saw waxwings, indigo bunting, orioles and hummingbirds.
Mowed pathways lets one wander the whole area and reflect on prairie life, past and present. We followed one swath and found a few new-to-us gravestones. One was for Mary "Granny" Sterret, born 1770, died 1871! What stories she must have had. A fairly elaborate marker told of mother and father sharing the same death date. Did some pioneer illness take them swiftly away? Did they perish in a prairie fire? The stone letters did not speak further. And why did people of this era mark the death age down to the day? Perhaps time measured mostly by season meant something different then, their 65 years, 3 months and 14 day of life worth noting so precisely.
We had coffee under one of the big oaks. The other Iowans there didn't mind. Maybe they were wishing we had a nice slice of rhubarb pie to go with it, just as they may have delighted in, on a picnic a century and a half ago.
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