What’s a true artist’s motivation?

“The deepest human need is the need to be appreciated.”

– William James (1842-1910) – Philosopher and psychologist

Some rhetorical questions inspired by the James quote:

Can a TRUE artist create paintings or write poems just for the sake of the art? Perhaps demonstrating his or her commitment to art by burning the works before anyone has ever seen them?

Or do we, as artists or writers, need to communicate with someone, need to have what we’ve created be appreciated?

Settings #7 – Fort Armstrong County’s Forest Preserves

Altogether the Fort Armstrong County Conservation Commission has close to twelve-thousand-acres of public land under its control, but by far their two most well-known and popularly used preserves are the:

– Great River Forest Preserve, adjacent to Five Falls State Park, encompassing about twelve-hundred acres of old growth timber. It has picnic areas, hiking and equestrian trails, but no camping. It does not have Mississippi River access. While the county owns the land, it is managed by the state as if it were part of the state park.

– Pincatauwee Forest Preserve, about eleven-hundred acres approximately mid-county along the Pincatauwee River. It is more heavily developed, with a campground, swimming area, fishing, hunting (in season) and several miles of hiking and equestrian trails.

The two are literally at opposite ends of the county, Great River to the south, Pincatauwee on the north. Ro, of course, has a strong bond with the Great River Forest Preserve, running on its trails regularly. Her association the Pincatauwee Preserve is pretty much limited to regular patrolling around and through it as a deputy.

The Conservation Commission was established in the early-60s. Its first project was to acquire a tract of land adjacent to the state park owned by the Iowa Resources Institute. The institute had bought the land years earlier to protect it from logging and development but with the intent of eventually turning it over to the state or county to be added to public lands. It became the core of the Great River Preserve; additional tracts were purchased or received by donation over the years.

The Pincatauwee Preserve was established in the early- 90s when the county acquired several thousand acres along the Pinky River once owned by a defunct logging company that hadn’t paid the taxes on the land for years. They developed about a third of it, with the rest remaining undeveloped and mainly used only for public hunting – although hunters were allowed to lease small tracts to locate seasonal housing, usually travel trailers or old school busses.

The commission also manages dozens of other sites around the county, including:

– The roughly three miles of the Shadowbrook bike path that is in the county, including The Bottoms, which Ro also has a strong link to.

– The 18-hole Long Hills Golf Course located along Shadowbrook west of Lee’s Landing.

– Several relatively small public use areas – fishing and picnicking only, no camping – at various locations along the Mississippi River.

– Tracts of timbered hunting plots scattered throughout the county.

The county fairgrounds are managed by a separate commission.

Next: Witness Tree Rod and Gun Club

© 2018 Dave Lager

Advice from Auntie Mame’s creator

“I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind.”

– Patrick Dennis – (1921-1976)

When I ran across this quote, I was reminded of the Oscar Wilde quote I shared earlier this year about all of us being in the gutter, except Dennis’s take is more like the other side of the same coin. Dennis is, of course, remembered for creating one of the iconic characters of the twentieth-century, the flamboyant and irreverent Auntie Mame, first introduced to us in his 1955 best-selling novel and then made even more renowned by both a highly successful Broadway play and Hollywood film. What he, and Mame, taught us was that being naughty can be loads of fun.

Settings #6 – Five Falls State Park and Neshnala

Ro Delahanty is a trail runner, which is not the same thing as being a street or bike path jogger or competitive race runner – as runners go, she is very much in the minority. Trail runners literally seek out the narrow and often obstacle strewn dirt pathways that wind their way through the woods. Trees, rather than other runners, are their favored companions.

Which is why the combined hiking and equestrian trail network in Five Falls State Park and the adjacent Great River Forest preserve are always her first choice when she wants to go for a run.

Most of the time she will map out different loops by combining various parts of trails on top of the bluff, sometimes below the bluff, that total around five miles and will take her about forty minutes to complete – it’s not anything like world record time but is very respectable.

And virtually every visit includes a stop to pay her respects to Neshnala.

Like the Bottoms, Five Falls State Park is a geological oddity. Literally nestled in Fort Armstrong County’s southwest corner, its claim to fame is twofold:

– First, the Mississippi River valley bluff in the area is a two-mile long by up to hundred-foot tall series of limestone palisades. Rock Creek, which begins in Makuakeeta County but soon crosses into Fort Armstrong County, over the centuries has cut a gap through the rocks, creating a series of waterfalls as it tumbles over the bluff, some dropping more than twenty feet, thus inspiring the park’s name: Five Falls.

– The park’s second principal attraction is Neshnala, a giant white oak believed to be one of the oldest trees in Iowa, perhaps as old as three-hundred years.

The state park is just shy of eleven-hundred acres, while the next-door forest preserve is nearly twelve-hundred acres; between them there is close to fifteen miles of hiking and equestrian trails.

The area below the bluff in the state park is more heavily developed, including several picnic areas, two campgrounds and a boat launch on the Mississippi River. Above the bluff is the meadow where Neshnala stands, some scattered picnic areas and hundreds of acres of timber, much of it old growth, that is, having escaped the woodsman’s axe.

Five Falls core area of about six-hundred acres, including the Neshnala grove, was donated to the state in 1928, becoming Iowa’s third state park. Over the years other tracts have been purchased or donated to bring it to its present size.

While the state park and adjoining forest preserve have Irregular boundaries, together they are not quite two-miles wide, east to west, by a little over two-miles deep, north to south.

The main entrances to both parks are from Iowa Route 20 below the bluff; the state park’s Neshnala grove and combined trails complex above the bluff are accessed from County Line Road.

Next: The county’s forest preserves

© 2018 Dave Lager

Memory in writing

“Asking about the role of memory is like asking about the role oxygen plays in my writing. Yes, breathing helps. All writing is founded in memory, no matter what kind.”

– Sloane Crosley (1978 – ) – Essayist

I ran across this quote in the “How I Write” profile of Sloane Crosley in the most recent issue (November) of “The Writer.” It struck me as one of those insights about where the source material for our writing comes from that is so obvious we tend to take it for granted but should, in fact, appreciate more.

Settings #5 – The Bottoms: Ro’s “green cathedral”

Ro’s apartment is part of the two-hundred-plus-unit Westwynd complex, deriving its name from the fact that it’s located up against the western city limits of Lee’s Landing and because it was developed by the Wynd brothers out of Des Moines.

The complex is triangular shaped; its base, on the south, is defined by Shadowbrook and the bike path, while its long western side butts up against The Bottoms. When Ro was looking for her own apartment, its proximity to the bike path and The Bottoms is why the Westwynd complex was pretty much her first and only choice.

The Bottoms is one of those curiosities of geography probably left over from a bygone glacier. It’s a shallow bowl on the north side of Shadowbrook Creek. The south side of the creek is a long rock face that in some spots juts twenty feet above the creek.

Several drainage ways empty into The Bottoms from adjoining residential neighborhoods and farm fields to the north and west, turning it into a series of swampy swales interspersed with small hillocks of ancient sycamores, ash and cottonwoods; and a rare and regal American elm that somehow escaped the ravages of Dutch elm disease.

Ro can see the elm from her apartment’s bedroom and adjacent study (the second bedroom), which is why she chose the particular building and the particular apartment.

The Bottoms is a little over a hundred-acres, roughly three-fourths mile long by a quarter mile wide. For a long-time the bike path ended at Lee’s Landing’s city limits on the eastern edge of The Bottoms, but in the 90s the county got help from the feds and state to extend the bike path through the area on a series of wooden causeways connected by earth fills, then for a couple more miles west out into the county.

The Bottoms is Ro’s second favorite place to run, after the hiking trails of Five Falls State Park.

For Ro, there is something quite special about The Bottoms. She doesn’t tell very many people because she thinks it might sound more than a little creepy, but she likes to think of it as her “green cathedral.” Ironically, the reasons most runners avoid The Bottoms — the trail is either wooden planking or crushed gravel instead of paved, you don’t see any houses or buildings, it’s eerily quiet, it has a rich, earthy smell, and the stately trees arch over the path like a cathedral’s soaring arches — are the very reasons Ro loves it.

Next: Five Falls State Park and Neshnala

© 2018 Dave Lager

Just did a “find” search for all instances of “ly…”


“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

Stephen King (1947- )

…in the manuscript for my next Ro Delahanty novel, “The Celtic Riddle.” OMG, I don’t want to admit how many there were! It’s incredible how easily those pesky things slip into our writing – ooops, I meant how “easy it is for them to sneak in quite unnoticed…”

Settings #4 – Shadowbrook and the bike path

Ro Delahanty has pretty much lived her entire life alongside Shadowbrook and its adjacent bike path.

Her childhood home was backed up against The Meadows on Shadowbrook Golf Course on the east edge of Lee’s Landing. A grove of trees that separated the homes from the golf course was a favorite playground for Ro and her friends. As a youngster she would use the path to ride her bike to and from her friend Atti Mehra’s house, and when she first started running as a teenager, it was on the path. As an adult, her apartment is next to the bike path, in fact, it’s the reason she chose it.

The “main” Shadowbrook creek stem starts in the eastern edge of Makuakeeta County just south of I-82. In Fort Armstrong County it’s joined first by Lind Creek and a bit further east by Shadowbrook South, then works its way on a pretty much straight easterly heading through Lee’s Landing and into neighboring Gilbert, where it makes a distinct turn to the south to empty into the Mississippi River.

For most of its length it is hardly more than a wide drainage ditch, roughly six feet deep, with the mostly shallow creek at the bottom. However, on the rare occasions when there are heavy rains on its headwaters, it can turn into a raging five or six-foot-deep torrent that can take down trees and wash out people’s backyards.

For all intents and purposes, it is a long, continuous city park, most of the time not more than a few hundred feet wide, with houses, commercial buildings and schools backed up to its edge. But it also passes through several sprawling parks, with ball fields, soccer fields and picnic areas, and two golf courses.

In several spots there are some curious geological aspects, including thick groves of old trees, rock outcroppings that tower twenty feet above the creek and a wide swampy area known locally as The Bottoms (which will be talked about in a future blog post).

In the 1970s the cities of Lee’s Landing and Gilbert put together federal, state and local money to build the first portion of the path. For many years it ended at the western city limits of Lees’ Landing. In the 1990s Fort Armstrong County, also with the assistance of state and federal funds, extended the path west for an additional three-and-a-half miles to its western trailhead alongside County Road P.

The western edge of Ro’s apartment complex is also the western city limits of Lee’s Landing. In the city, the path is ten-feet-wide and paved, crossing back and forth from the south side to the north side of the creek on bridges. In the county though, it’s an eight-foot-wide crushed gravel path.

From the western trailhead to its mouth on the Mississippi, it is fifteen miles long.

Next: The Bottoms

© 2018 Dave Lager

Don’t force it

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

– Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)

I find I can write for about four hours at a sitting, after that it feels like I’m forcing it and ends up sounding like writing, which is when I quit for the day and turn my attention to other matters – household chores, errands, going for walks with Her Highness (Sofie the Magic Puppy), research, reading – picking-up where I left off tomorrow.

Settings #3 – Fort Armstrong County’s numerous creeks (and one river)

Fort Armstrong County’s topography is dominated by rolling farm fields, pastures and woods, mostly thanks to a network of creeks (and one river). The creeks begin pretty much as drainage ways in farm fields or pastures either in western Fort Armstrong County or the eastern part of adjacent Makuakeeta County, first forming a bunch of small rivulets with names like Brush Creek, Nickle’s Creek, Giddymint Creek, Turtle Creek, Lind Creek and Whiskey Creek.

They all flow pretty much west to east across the county, eventually emptying into the Mississippi River.

The numerous gullies, some surprisingly deep, that host these creeks is what makes the western part of the county particularly rugged.

There are four main creek systems:

– In the northern part of the county Nickle’s Creek joins Coon Hunter’s Creek, which then later joins Perty Creek. In the eastern part of the county Perty Creek has been dammed up to form the 250-acre lake-reservoir that is the centerpiece of Witness Tree Rod and Gun Club. (Witness Tree will get its own post later.)

– Sunset Creek runs across the mid-section of the county. It, too, has been damned up, this time to make smaller Sunset Lake, where a dozen mini-mansions have been built, all with a lake view.

– Shadowbrook is the most “developed” of the creek systems in the county, running though Lee’s Landing and Gilbert. It hosts two golf courses – the county’s Long Hills course on the west and Lee’s Landing’s The Meadows on Shadowbrook on the east – as well as several parks and a 15-mile bike path for most of its length. (Shadowbrook and the bike path will also get their own full write-up later.)

– Rock Creek starts over in Makuakeeta County but barely makes its way across the line into Fort Armstrong County before turning south to drop over the Mississippi River bluff as a series of waterfalls, thus becoming the namesake for Five Falls State Park. (The park will be featured in a post later as well.)

– The county’s one river is the Pincatauwee – the Pinky for short – that serves as its northern boundary. It’s a shallow, meandering river starting in southern Minnesota, travelling roughly southeast through northeastern Iowa, but then it bumps into a series of hills in the northwest corner of Fort Armstrong County, causing it to turn eastward.

The Pinky is mostly wide and shallow, varying from knee to waist-deep, but with some “holes” that may be fifteen or more feet deep – like Bell’s Lake and Grump’s Pond – that are popular for fishing. There are also many timbered side channels, sloughs and islands that are favored by hunters, and numerous cabins and cottages scattered along its banks (one of those “cottages” will play a crucial role in “Losses,” an upcoming Ro novel).

Next: Shadowbrook, the creek and the bike path

© 2018 Dave Lager

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