Archive for June, 2010

Battle in the Corn

Did you know that the bloodiest single day in American history took place in a cornfield?  It happened near Antietam Creek, Maryland – about 70 miles outside Washington D.C. – on September 17, 1862.  Confederate and Union troops converged in 30-acre cornfield owned by a farmer named David Miller.  By day’s end, more than 23,000 soldiers were dead, wounded or missing in action.  The corn was mauled to the ground, and husks were used to dress wounds until Clara Barton – later the founder of the American Red Cross – showed up with bandages.

Union General Joseph Hooker offered this account:  “In the time I am writing, every stalk of corn in the northern and greater part of the field was cut as closely as could have been done with a knife, and the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before.”

When the battle was finished, each army was in about the same position as before.  However photographs of the battle solidified the Union’s resolve.  Less than a week later, President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, decreeing that all slaves should be freed.  This was the beginning of the end of slavery.

Today the site of the former cornfield is Antietam National Battlefield, which is operated by the National Park Service.  Click here for more information.


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Rest in Peace

Another good place to see cornfields close up is in the numerous small cemeteries that dot the countryside.  It’s peaceful, the grass is usually mowed right up to the edge of the corn, and there are often shade trees and park benches.  The only sounds you will hear are birds, and the wind blowing through the trees and across the field.

Many of the older gravestones are worn and hard to read — those that are legible often mark the spot of immigrants (the inscriptions are in German or Swedish) or are for infants and children.  The oldest stones date from around the 1870s.

A few cemeteries consist of just a handful of crumbling, long-forgotten markers.  Yet the grounds are well maintained and the grass always meticulously mowed.

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June 26

May 31

May 3

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Water, Water, Everywhere

The rains have been relentless this month, with only about 4 dry days since the first of June.  My rain gauge shows about a foot of rain has fallen, which is well more than twice the average for this time of year.  We aren’t setting any records yet, and while rivers and streams are bank full there’s not too much flooding.  Still, this is a challenge.  We need to dry out.

Thankfully most of the corn around here will be OK – in fact the heat and the high humidity actually accelerates the growth.  There are some sections of fields where water has pooled, obviously the crops there are finished and unfortunately it’s too late and too wet to replant.  The forecast calls for drier weather next week although they don’t always get that right.  Last night was supposed to be dry, and it rained about 2.5 inches.

UPDATE 6/27/10:  Last night, after I posted the above comments, we received another 1.5 inches of rain.

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Happy Trails

One of the best ways to get up close and personal with the cornfields, save for being a farmer, is to hop on one of the nearby recreation trails with a bicycle.  The trail I ride most frequently, due to proximity to my house, runs north out of Ankeny for about 23 miles.  It’s an old rail bed, straight and mostly flat as a pancake as it rolls through the wide open spaces.

I was out riding tonight, and the darker it got the more wildlife appeared.  I saw several rabbits, chipmunks, a couple deer, a fox.  You just gotta love these summer nights in the corn!

Here's a pedestrian/bike bridge they're building over the Des Moines River that will extend the trail another 8 miles or so to the town of Woodward. It's supposed to be done by fall.

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Day is Done

Nightfall in the corn is just awesome, especially this time of year when the sun hangs on until nearly 9 p.m. and the northwestern sky is still lit for about an hour after that.  Today was hot, sultry and humid, but as the sun neared the horizon this evening the temperature became more comfortable.  A warm breeze picked up just enough to rustle the corn leaves – and to keep the mosquitoes at bay.  As the birds quieted for the night, the sounds of crickets and frogs filled the air.

Clouds gathered in the distance, but the moon was clearly visible in the southeastern sky.  After returning home – car windows down, sunroof open, fireflies whizzing by as I drove – I heard that storms were raging and a few tornados were spotted about 80 miles north of here.  That would be the approximate direction of the dark cloud the picture above.

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The landscape surrounding the corn is very colorful this time of year.  There are wild cone flowers and alfalfa and lilies and clover and more — oh my.  Green isn’t the only color you see when you drive through the countryside.

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