Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter 2013 - Cascade's Agnes Dei

Church symbolism can be complex and beautiful. Case in point is this stained glass window in a former Roman Catholic church located in Cascade, Iowa. This window's central theme shows the Lamb of God (with three-rayed nimbus signifying divinity) lying on the Book of Seven Seals. The Lamb carries a banner that is often called an Easter or Resurrection banner, which signifies Christ's victory over death. This image is an ancient Christian symbol and can be found on 2,000 year old Roman catacombs. It is regarded as the greatest symbol used in Christian art to represent God the Son.

Cascade's St. Mary's Church, built for German immigrants, was de-blessed by a priest as part of a formal decommissioning procedure in the mid-1990s. Parishioners merged with the mostly Irish congregation of nearby St. Martin's Church. The church changed its name to St. Matthias.

All original stained glass windows remain in the former St. Mary's church, which is now known as Annie's Treasures, an antique store. In a way the transformation of the church into a shop is a rebirth too.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ready to Run

At first this looks like a line of trucks ready for their next long distance haul. But the numbering scheme and flame artwork tell another story. These are racing trucks parked for the off season. I haven't seen trucks race in person but maybe the roar from Hawkeye Downs' half mile track will lure me there.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fading Comet Pan-Starrs Over Fairfax, Iowa

I thought I was washed out of seeing Comet Pan-Starrs tonight after five evenings of clouds. I didn't see the comet in binoculars, so I photo bracketed sections of the sky in hopes to capture it. When I studied the images at home there it was, the fleeting iceball in the upper left corner of this image. Photo specs: 13 seconds, ISO 200, zoom 82 mm, f/4.0, 8:41 PM CDT. Compare this image to my March 21st image (click here.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pond Art in Transition

Today a sign of Spring showed itself in the form of open water on a small pond near Amana, Iowa. Not all the surface was in a liquid state but this section did so with last season's plant stalks jetting upward. With a little post production work the scene becomes almost art-like.

Ice covers much of the pond. Canada geese warm themselves on the melting ice caps as temperatures climbed into the 30s today. Maybe next week these large birds will be floating in pond water instead of sitting and walking on ice.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Improved Sighting of Comet Pan-Starrs Over Iowa

Tonight Comet Pan-Starrs hovered above the orange colors of sunset just west of Fairfax, Iowa. The comet moved almost 16 degrees north in three nights of observations. Pan-Starrs is still located only 10 - 15 degrees above the horizon, roughly an hour after sunset and requires binoculars to see. Photo specs: 13 sec exposure, ISO 400, 97 mm focal length, 8:32:56 PM CDT. Air temp was 25 F with little wind - much better than the past two evenings. For the latest information including where to locate the comet click here.

Nighttime Glow of Cedar Rapids on the First Day of Spring

During a second evening dedicated to photographing Comet Pan-Starrs, the city of of Cedar Rapids presented itself as a more attainable target than the fading ice ball in space. From the hill where Mount Mercy University sits you can see much of the downtown area of Cedar Rapids including the historic Quaker Oats mill. However from this perspective the comet would be located far to the right (off frame) and near the horizon.

Much more evident in this photo, which is slightly to the left (south) of the previous shot, is the force of the northern wind. In the 23 F air the windchill had to be -700 F. That's what it felt like. These photos show the extent of mercury or sodium vapor (orangish glow) light pollution. Unfortunately that glow was also evident in my photos of the comet too.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Captured! Comet Pan-Starrs

Comet Pan-Starrs makes its appearance over Cedar Rapids tonight along with an airplane complete with blinking lights. I shot the comet (just above the center tree and to the right) from Mount Mercy University hill looking 280 degrees west and about 15 degrees off the horizon. I only found it using binoculars - no naked eye sighting. Photo specs: 10 sec exposure, 800 ISO, 105 mm focal length at 8:47 PM CDT.

Monday, March 18, 2013

SaPaDaPaSo 2013 - Many Faces of Irish Celebration

Cedar Rapids' annual St. Patrick's Day Parade Society (SaPaDaPaSo) stages an hour and a half parade each March 17th regardless of weather conditions. Last year the unseasonable weather provided 82 F temps. This year the parade began with temps at 28 F. That didn't diminish the number of participants or number of watchers (candy gatherers) from coming out to have a good time.

LaSheila Yates, Mrs. Iowa International braved cold temps to wave to the assembled masses, as all queens should. LaSheila will compete in the Mrs. International pageant later this year. Her platform is to encourage young people to study more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM.)

Any excuse to have a good time.

For more SaPaDaPaSo 2013 photos click here.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

No Comet Pan-Starrs Sightings in My Skies - Yet

The first visible comet of the 2013, Comet Pan-Starrs did not give up its dusk sky position at the 42N HQ on Wednesday, March 13th. While several northern latitude observers have already reported seeing and photographing the comet, the boiling ice ball has remained an elusive light smudge for me. So I concentrated on capturing a two or three day old moon instead.  

Compounding the frustration of not getting a visual lock on the comet, has been cloudy sky conditions at or near sunset. Current information about where to find the comet, its improving brightness, and possible fragmentation can be found here. I am poised to find Pan-Starrs on the next cloudless evening which could be this Sunday (St. Patrick's Day.) Good luck with your search.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cedar River Ice Causes Flooding in Cedar Rapids

Thick ice on the Cedar River is breaking up, that's the good news. The bad news is that ice jams are creating local flooding. Yesterday the flood was at its highest in the northwest portion of the city, which is prone to seasonal rises of the river level. Residents living in the Ellis Park area are quite edgy about rising waters given the almost total devastation from the Flood of 2008.

Today flood viewers were massing near the Quaker Oats plant to see huge ice blocks stacked like arctic frozen flows.

At mid-afternoon the local news outlets reported the jam had given way and water levels were dropping in the flooded areas. At the same time national media reported the selection of Pope Francis. Maybe the two events are a coincidence. Maybe not.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Union Pacific 8044 Passes Through Mount Vernon, Iowa

Union Pacific Railroad's locomotive 8044 rolls eastward through Mount Vernon, Iowa a few weeks ago. From top of the original Lincoln Highway bridge, which is now restricted to pedestrians only, you can get close to rail traffic complete with an aerial perspective. On this day 8044 pulled metal ingots, scrap, tankers, and a lot more. On again/off again talk of adding a third line to accommodate additional freight traffic continues.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Winter's Rest After Harvest

A Massey Furgeson combine sits idle in an open field just north of harvested corn from the fall. Judging from the age of the combine and other vehicles parked in the field, the harvest machine may have sat still for some time.  Spring is just ten days away. Maybe we will see planting start soon however the near frozen soil and rain/snow conditions have something else to say.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Smooth Union Pacific Rail at Mount Vernon, Iowa

Two tracks from the Union Pacific Railroad come through Iowa from the Mississippi to the Missouri Rivers. This closeup of the one rail shows the granite rock ballast (roadbed,) ties, fastener plates and spikes. Recently I read where railroads used thermite welding beginning in the 1930s to join sections of rail together, then polished the join level for that smooth ride which also eliminated some of the clickety-clack sounds. The things you learn.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Visit to Lisbon Iowa's Historic Standing Rock

Years ago while sitting through a college lecture on Iowa geology I learned of various house size boulders that lay scattered around the state, courtesy of a past glacial advance. Interesting I thought, and filed it away.

Fast forward to today. I looked for a location near Lisbon, Iowa by using a detailed map on my smartphone. The map contained names of county roads. There it was, Standing Rock Road. Suddenly the long ago college lecture came roaring back. After a quick aerial map search of the road and farm properties I came up empty with the location of the boulder. Determined to find the rock, I went to Lisbon last week, found Standing Rock Road, traveled the entire length of the road three times but the boulder remained elusive.

Finally after receiving some instructions to the boulder from the Lisbon Historical Society I located the granite structure.

Standing Rock is located on private property in the middle of a corn field and is situated on the slope of a small hill. It is located about a mile or so west of Standing Rock Road. There must be a story there as to why the road and the structure don't more closely relate. The people at the historical society said the best time to see the rock is before planting or after harvest. Otherwise the structure is difficult to see.

Standing Rock has been used by humans for a long time. The well rounded grey granite was purportedly used as a marker to define a boundary of the Black Hawk purchase by the U.S. federal government of lands owned by the Sac and Fox tribes in 1832. On the Iowa map (above) the Black Hawk Purchase shown in yellow. Standing Rock's location is at the apex of right facing green arrow - pointing to the yellow purchase. This long standing belief has been investigated at the National Archives collection but without actual confirmation documentation - yet. Still it is an imposing sight to see a house size boulder resting on fertile Iowa soil.

Discover Standing Rock for yourself. Take Iowa Highway 30 to Lisbon, Iowa. On the south side of town along Hwy 30 is a golf course named Hillcrest Country Club. Turn south on Country Club Drive for about a mile, then veer right on Standing Rock Road. You are traveling south on that road until it ends in a couple of miles. Turn right (west) at the T intersection at Day Road. Go about a mile and a half west. Standing Rock will be on your left a short distance from the road in a field. It is located across the road from a property filled with many old vehicles and machines. The field where Standing Rock sits is surrounded by what looks to be an electric fence. GPS coordinates: 41°52′27″N, 91°24′47″W.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Busy Day at the Bird Feeders

Day two of a March storm yielded almost 8 inches of late season snow in eastern Iowa. With food sources scarce as a result of the storm several bird species decided to drop by 42N HQ to chow on free seed. I think this is a red-bellied woodpecker, one of two who tapped various tree branches for insects before finding a much easier food source. I am also experimenting with a teleconverter lens that increases zoom by 40%. The lens requires manual focus and lots of light I am discovering. These five photos are the best of the shoot. I like the top photo the best because it is unusual, has two seeds on the woodpecker's mouth, and most importantly, is in focus. 

The northern cardinal (male) gives this common sparrow the once over look. 

After scaring off the sparrow our scarlet cardinal showed more of his coloration before jumping to the ground to feast on various seeds shaken from the feeder.

This less colorful female cardinal stayed close to the red male - it is almost Spring you know.

Sparrows represent the majority of the winged feeders visiting the seed outlets. However, in the morning a flock of crows pecked around the snow for seed. Birds have to eat.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Snowy GAR Gravesite

Last week's snow almost buried the headstone of a veteran of the Civil War and Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) member in a small cemetery south of Lisbon, Iowa. The GAR, a fraternal and political organization dissolved after the last living Civil War vet passed, however GAR is supported today by other groups dedicated to preserving the gravesites of Civil War veterans. This particular grave is located close to the authentic Gettysburg Battlefield boulder which was officially secured and transported to Lisbon's cemetery in 1916.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Iowa's Winter Corn Stubble

Harvest means corn ears and most of the stalk are removed from fields generally in autumn. Many farmers in Iowa leave stubble (including the root system) in place to not disturb soil layers. This practice results in less erosion and reduced loss of nutrients. The next crop is generally planted only inches away from these former plants, allowing a season or two of non worked soil. On this early March day, stubble also serves as forage for fattening black angus cattle.