Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Magical Evening at Prairie Hill

I am a plant lover. Plants seem to be my familiars. They are one continuing theme in my life. Even though I've lived many places and worked at different things, plants have always been an essential part of my home base. At least that has been true since I became pregnant with my first child many years ago. Somehow that event changed me into a nurturing person. Before that, I had not really noticed plants. But while I was waiting for my daughter to be born, I began filling our house with plants I'd started from cuttings of my friends' plants. And it has never stopped.

When I moved to Prairie Hill less than a month ago, the first thing I did was fill my front yard with plants.

And then the back yard. I moved all my houseplants out onto the covered porch, where they have thrived. It was a rough move for some of my bigger plants, fitting uncomfortably into my little Hyundai. Some branches broke or bent.

My night blooming cereus plant survived but looked pretty scraggly by the time it got here. Though actually, my night blooming cereus always looks scraggly. For most of the year, people probably wonder why I keep it. It is ungainly, stretching every which way, it's succulent leaves and branches not conforming to any tidy posture. But I love it. And when I was watering it on the porch last week, I was delighted to see that despite the stress of the move, it had put out a bud. Wonderful! This only happens once a year, at best.

The bud itself is a phenomenon. It grows right out of the side of a leaf. It is very small at first, but day by day it grows larger and larger, a long stem-like attachment to the leaf and a growing flower-bud on the end. As its name implies, the night blooming cereus only blooms at night. It waits until fully ready (I always expect it to open days before it actually does) and then only begins the process when it is totally dark. And the bloom only lasts one night. By the next morning, it is hanging limp and spent. Prairie Hill residents have been walking by my porch for the past week remarking on the bud. And I have been watching it. By Thursday afternoon, I thought I noticed a slight widening of the surrounding sepals. And I sent out an email: Come to see this tonight at dark! I hoped I was right, that this was indeed the night.

The first visitors arrived at dusk, and the petals were beginning to open just a little. I set up a circle of chairs, popped some popcorn and took out a little table with snacks and drinks. And we watched. And watched.

Soon, accompanied by ahh's and ooh's, it was clear that the petals were unfolding:

And then we waited longer. This requires patience, which is not my strong point. But with other people there, and lots of topics for conversation, the time passed pleasantly. The night was clear and comfortable. And slowly the flower kept unfurling, until finally it was at its fullest, a miracle on the end of the leaf:

This bloom is accompanied by an exotic aroma. Outside, it is pleasant and unobtrusive, but I've heard that if the bloom is enclosed in a home, the aroma can get a little intense. As we sat there spellbound and attentive, we wondered what insect or animal the flower and the aroma and the intricate inner part would be trying to attract in its native setting. A moth? A hummingbird? Something nocturnal, we guessed. And just as we were speculating on this, a huge praying mantis (the first I'd ever seen at Prairie Hill) jumped up on my chair!! We were amazed. The praying mantis is considered a sacred being by the Bushman in Africa, and it was honoring this occasion with a visit.

Here it is (above) after it hopped off my chair and into the grass by the porch. It successfully hid quite quickly, so we don't know if it ever reached the flower, but we did learn from someone's phone that it indeed makes nocturnal flights in search of its mate. (Or a beautiful flower?)

By 10:00, we were ready to go to bed. The blossom would remain open all night, but we were satisfied to have gotten in on its unfolding. And the praying mantis was a bonus. For me, it was a beautiful example of what can happen in community. I'm sure it will be one of many to come.

Nan Fawcett

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Unforseen

"The Unforeseen is what you have to look out for," a wise person once told me. She went on to say that this applies to any change, be it a new job, a new relationship or a move to a new home.

I imagined that "unforeseen" meant those nasty little and sometimes-large negative things that pop up unexpectedly. So when we moved in April from California to our new home in the Iowa City Cohousing community, I tried to prepare for that kind of "unforeseen" with equanimity. What I didn't anticipate were the positive unforeseens.

One of those delights was our "Weed Pulling and Ice Cream Social" last week. One of our neighbors, Nan, who grew up on a West Branch farm, organized about a dozen of us to pull the seed heads off fox tails and other pesky weeds for one hour and then to leave the mosquitoes behind to go into the Common House dining room for ice cream, frozen yogurt and an array of tasty toppings. Nan even laid out sample weeds and photos on a table ("leave the buffalo grass and blue gramma but get everything else."). It was a surprisingly enjoyable way to end the day -- there's not much more satisfying than hearing the sweet music of a fox tail squealing when you carefully pull it from its base before dropping it into a bag. The ice cream reward's not too bad either.

And that's not the only pleasant "unforeseen" we have experienced here this summer. We have helped to plant trees, organize a hugely successful open house, shared the monthly all-member pizza nights, viewed movies together both at Film Scene ("Mr. Rogers") and in our shared living room ("Black Panther"), participated in a festive sing-along in the Common House and played Scrabble with some of our new neighbors.

We've also gotten a taste of how vibrant Iowa City and the surrounding areas are. We have been introduced to the Farmers' Market, several fun eateries such the Leaf Kitchen and the Bread Garden, plus Prairie Lights Books and the best public library we've ever belonged to, walks along the Iowa River, being here for RAGBRAI and welcoming a dozen bicyclists to stay overnight in the Common House, Art Fest (where we saw Joan Osborne and Pieta Brown perform, free), and a magical afternoon at the Iowa Farm Sanctuary in nearby Marengo, where I got to rub the muddy belly of a 250-pound pig named Fern.

So even at my advanced age, I am learning that "unforeseen" needn't be shadowy or scary. It can mean actually having fun pulling weeds. And having seconds of ice cream with friends afterwards.

John Bowman

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Ways Prairie Hill Is "More than a Place"

24 hours at Prairie Hill

7:00 PM  I arrived home from a trip that had been cut shorter than planned, and soon T came up my walk to check that everything was okay. We sat on my front porch and traded stories for a little while.

9:00 AM the next day  M texted to see if we could talk about the agenda for an upcoming meeting. She was at my door 3 minutes later. She mentioned that the porch flowers needed watering every other day, so I volunteered to take turns with her, a 10 minute job at most.

11:00 AM  An email had been sent to the members from C and M. They were going to a movie that evening. "Would anyone like to come along?"  I decided I wanted an evening alone so declined the invitation.

12:00 Noon  I ran into V as my dog Buddy and I started on our noontime walk. She reminded me of the field trip to the animal rescue farm next week. Eight were already signed up to go.

4:00 PM  An email was circulated among current residents with information about caring for our new hardwood floors. Research had been done, and Bona Pro was the suggestion. J "replied all" and said he had a Bona Pro cleaner and would be glad to demonstrate it to anyone who cared to see.

7:00 PM  I got a group email from N. She had just returned from her family farm with bags of sweet corn. Anyone who wanted a few ears could stop by and get it while it was still fresh. I went down to her place, returned a trowel we had borrowed,  picked up the corn and sat and visited on her porch for a short time. T came to get corn and stayed awhile, and M came by as she took her cat for a walk.

While one of the stated advantages of living at Prairie Hill is being able to share resources, it hardly seems an adequate statement. In the last 24 hours I benefited from shared concern, shared time, shared knowledge, shared tools and shared vegetables. I've never lived anywhere like that before.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Our First OPEN HOUSE: A Success!!

Prairie Hill was a happening place last Sunday, with cars backed up on Miller Avenue from both directions! We had a cheerful and interested crowd going through all the buildings here and on up to the garden. Our best count on visitors is more than 350, for that many plates were used, and some folks didn't even get to eat since the food ran out! We were excited and gratified at the turnout.

We offered three different kinds of tours: a site tour explaining the outdoor sustainability features, a tour focusing on community, and one on green building practices used here. Above is Annie Tucker leading the community tour.

 The kids room was a popular spot for children of all ages. Above is Donna Rupp captivating a couple.

And there were even younger folks.

There was music too. This  picture shows our living room full of singers.

And fiddling.

The Yahoo Drummers livened the upper site all afternoon on the porch of the stacked flat.

And there was food! Lots of it.

Some of the food came from the Prairie Hill Garden.

All in all, we're really pleased with this first open house. We learned a lot, and plan to offer open houses on a less grand scale frequently now. Our first Information Meeting of the month will be this coming Saturday afternoon (August 4) at 1:00, and will be followed by a tour of the site.  Spread the word!