Life has often brought surprises my way and I learned a long time ago that no matter what the surprise, good or bad, I might as well dance my way through it. Luckily most of my surprises have been very good ones, the kind that set my feet to dancing.
Sometime during the past winter I was invited by my Cubits friend, Arlene (TwinLakesChef), to visit Iowa during the spring. Until that time, I hadn't given much thought to Iowa, I knew it was there, sitting just to the northwest of me, but I really hadn't thought about it in years, probably not since I had to learn states and capitals during fourth grade. We talked about it for a few weeks, Arlene and I, and I began to get that little tingle in my toes telling me that if I went, Iowa was going to for sure be a dancing kind of surprise. It was exciting to think about a new place, new friends that till now I had known only online. Arlene chose May as the best month, she said her gardens would be in bloom by then, and too, it was the date for the Gathering of Iowa Gardeners.
By May, my Kentucky gardens had been blooming for a couple of months, so I thought she surely meant her roses and daylilies and daisies or whatever she grew would be in full bloom. So in February I greeted the crocus in my garden, then the daffs came along and a hyacinth or two in March, and by April, I was ready for my tulips and irises, dogwoods and redbud. What I hadn't expected were the storms and flooding that April brought to western Kentucky along with all the blooms. The daffs were trampled by hailstones early on, and the same thing happened to most of the irises. The warm temperatures and a ray of occasional sunshine even brought forth early roses, but the storms played havoc with them pretty quickly, too. I really missed my KY spring.
Finally April washed away with the floods and it was May. I was dancing with anticipation. I couldn't wait to get out of a waterlogged Kentucky.
"You might want to bring warm clothes," said Arlene. "Our May weather is unpredictable." (She jests, I thought.) "Don't put your winter clothes away," she wrote, "you might need them." (Ha! I thought.)
So I packed a few long sleeved shirts. Surely that would be fine. The day finally arrived, May 11th, and I was up early, so excited I was tripping over my own feet. The temp that day here in KY was 94 degrees. I almost left my long sleeved shirts at home. I was flying out of Nashville and it was even warmer there.
The first leg of the trip would take me to Arlene's home near Fort Dodge. I was also anxious to go with her to meet the group of online gardening friends at the annual Gathering of Iowa Gardeners (GIG), so my anticipation was building and my feet were beginning to dance.
Arlene was everything I expected, gracious, beautiful, and so very welcoming. I arrived in what surely was the middle of the night at Arlene's lovely home on the lake. We had one day for exploring her little town before we were to travel to Boone to meet some of the finest of Iowa's gardeners. It was a day of new sights for me. Arlene took me around her lakes, lakes that had been formed from a glacier. It was so very beautiful. The weather was a little cooler than mine had been, but the beauty I saw around me made up for the drop in temperature. I always love exploring new places. But here it was in May, and the daffodils were just blooming, so were the tulips. The ornamental trees were barely in full bloom. Wow! It was like a re-run of spring. The trees I had left in Kentucky had been fully green for more than a month.
The houses near Arlene's were tucked around the lakes shoulder to shoulder, all lined up facing the water below. There were summer houses and year round houses, both old and new, and though Arlene knew nothing of my love for old buildings, I was introduced to several of them. The first was an old school, now with a park built around it. And then there was a tiny church, complete with a brick walkway and a totally round barn whose second floor was once a place for dances. Oh, I could have danced all over that beautiful land, it was so lovely.
I might as well tell you right now, Arlene is absolutely the best cook I've ever known. If I hadn't walked at least a million miles through Iowa, I would have had to buy a complete new wardrobe at least one size larger before I came home. Her food was that amazing. And it started with a shrimp dish that first evening, I watched her make it but her hands moved so quickly I was lost somewhere in the first pinch of this and the next dash of that. Then there was the Salad Caprese with cheese and tomatoes and a dressing to die for. And the pita sandwich filled with my favorite veggies and cheeses. And a fish fry followed by morels. I can't even mention the pizza that was covered in spinach and mushrooms, peppers and cheese. I thought I must have died and danced my way to heaven.
Arlene packed boxes of food to take with us to the gathering of gardeners, and we took off at about noon on Friday. We were scheduled to meet some of the others at a restaurant in Boone that night. On the way to Boone we met up with Diane (Luviniris) who joined us as we visited an amazing nursery. It is so fun to meet new friends and even more fun if that meeting is held in a beautiful nursery where plants surround us. By this time, the weather had turned frightfully cold and I had to borrow a sweater from Arlene. My long sleeved shirts, even 2 at a time, proved worthless in that Iowa wind. I started shivering and I can assure you my dancing feet slowed down considerably.
Before I was well and truly frozen, we found our way to the very nice motel where we were staying while we attended the gathering. The first thing I did was add another layer of clothes and pack away my sandals for warm socks and warmer shoes. After meeting up with my long time good friend, LarryR and his wife, Wilma, we all gathered at a fun restaurant called the Giggling Goat. It lived up to its name and I absolutely loved every worn door and stone in that old building. While there, we were joined by Russ, a very knowledgeable Iowa gardener, and his wife and nephew. It was fun to have dinner with new old friends.
The next morning before my eyes were even open, Moby came by our room to visit. It was so beautiful to meet her, to put a face to the name I'd known for a long time. Very soon we were all on our way to Nannybee's house where the gathering was to be held. We were driving along and by this time I had become used to long stretches of empty highway, with only plowed fields on each side of us. Suddenly up ahead, I saw a beautiful red house. It sat on a little knoll, and looked very much like a castle looking back at me.
"That's Nannybee's house," I was told, "and isn't it beautiful!" And it truly was. Nancy (Nannybee) and her husband, Steve, were waiting for us, along with several guests who were already there.
The food was great and there was an entire table set aside for desserts (including my favorite Blackberry Jam Cake!). We ate and talked and ate and talked, and I met some lovely people. Names became attached to faces, and strangers became friends. I got to meet Daltri (Trish) and what a beautiful soft spoken lady she is. There was my writing buddy, McGlory (Lori) and I finally got to meet Handsome Man! Actually I've been reading about Handsome Man for years and I really wanted to change his name to Smiling Man, because I never saw that handsome face without a smile. Lori is lovely and I enjoyed talking with her without a keyboard between us. And there was Russ and his wife, what treasures they were. And Moby (Mary), well, Moby has a handsome man in her life, too, and together they are such fun! I loved visiting with Maridell. When she chose Merigold as a screen name, she made a wise choice. You know how bright and lovely marigolds are? Well, that's Maridell, and she is as sweet as her name implies.
After we ate, our hostess had planned an historic train ride for us, so we gathered at the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad & Museum (a division of the Iowa Railroad Historical Society) and purchased our tickets. We took a nearly 2 hour ride into the Des Moines River Valley, crossing the 156' tall Bass Point Creek High Bridge, and looking down at the river and trees below us. It was very cold to me and if I had not borrowed a sweater from Arlene and a coat from Nancy, I might not have survived that adventure. It was a fun, interesting and very informative trip. The conductor and I had a chat, he was even familiar with Paducah, the largest town nearest where I live in Kentucky. I saw many wildflowers and luckily Larry was seated just behind me and could tell me the names of those that I didn't recognize. What a fun afternoon on that old train!
The train ride was over and we returned to Nancy and Steve's home, much more informed than when we had left. (Much colder, too!) Russ had a guessing game going. He showed us a photo of a flowering tree, and I could have sworn it was a flowering almond. I was pretty disgusted when Larry won, somehow I think he cheated. But door prizes were handed out and cherished by all the winners, and then the plant swap began. There were more plants than people and I wished there was a way that I could smuggle a few of them right back with me to Kentucky. It's probably a good thing I didn't because when I returned home, a note in my luggage told me that for security purposes, my luggage had been searched. I'd hate for Arlene and the GIG group to have had to travel to Minneapolis or Nashville to bail me out.
Nancy and Steve were wonderful hosts in a beautiful home decorated with love. I felt right at home, surrounded by new old friends.
After an evening of fun conversation and very good food again at the Giggling Goat, we took our giggles back to the motel and most of us headed for the hot tub where I soaked the ice right out of myself. I was truly that cold.
We met for breakfast the next morning, all of us holding tight to the memories and friendships we had made. I was saddened to think I might not see these new friends again. It's just a very good thing we have strong internet ties.
It was a most wonderful trip, made even better because those I finally met were already my friends. I think gardeners make the very best friends because we know right from the beginning that we are all very much alike. I looked at the vastness of fields in Iowa and wanted to kneel down in that black earth and warm my hands in it. I thought of the love that tended the plants I saw blooming in Arlene's and Nancy's gardens, and though I'd never been to Iowa till then, I felt right at home.
It's the love of gardening that binds us together, it's the love of nature that makes us all friends.
My journey didn't end when we left Boone, Arlene and I got right behind Larry and Wilma Rettig and followed them all the way to the Amana Colonies. And that, my friends, is a whole other dancing story. You'll hear all about it in just a few more days.
Thanks so much to my dear Arlene for knowing the trip was something I truly needed and for being such a beautiful hostess. And thanks also to Nancy for opening her home to us, especially to this stranger in a strange land. And to all those whom I met face to face for the very first time, thank you more than you will ever know for the gift of your friendship. You will always be very special to me. Moby and Russ, your words touched my heart. Thank you. And Diane, my very busy and artistic buddy, my sincerest best wishes to you.
Aren't gardening friends just the very best? As for surprises, well, isn't life just so filled with them we all might as well dance?
Thank you, Iowa! What a beautiful trip!