RURAL AMERICA — It has been a difficult year for many; COVID-19, hurricanes, a derecho, unemployment, evictions, political antagonism, racial strife, you name it, this was the year for it. Lonesome feelings arrive unwanted, and every time I drive through one of the towns near me I see slumped shoulders, moving slowly along sidewalks, moving, always moving, and I don’t know what to do except offer a ride if they’re carrying something.

Major League Baseball has begun again, and I’m disappointed. Without all the fancy channels I can only see a rare game, which I did, once. Once was enough. There were crowd sounds in the empty stadium, the equivalent of a laugh track. It’s a brilliant bit of showmanship but I cannot buy into it. I want baseball to be like the first time my father took me to Wrigley Field in Chicago, and I was pretty sure I was in heaven, real crowd sounds, a constant undercurrent of real voices.

This has been a good year out here for five-lined skinks. What? You don’t know about skinks? They are small lizards that enjoy life in forested areas with limestone bluffs. The little creatures are actually quite exotic, as their tails are electric blue. Skinks are one of the few woodland creatures that can out-costume Lady Gaga. I like having them around.

Last week I sucked it up and drove to a nearby town to fill up some gas and diesel cans. At first it seemed only one person going in and out of the gas station/convenience store was wearing a mask. Me. But then a masked man surprised me: he was wearing a Confederate flag face mask. I guess it’s better than not wearing one at all, but I don’t really know; there are other damages there.


Recently a New York Times article crowned Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University, as No. 1 in the nation for the most COVID-19 cases relative to its population and close behind was Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa. This was not a surprise to anyone as masks have never been required here and for months the governor has been saying she trusts Iowans to do the right thing when it comes to COVID-19. Brilliant.

Cattails have taken over the edges of the pond in the hollow. In a few weeks they will resemble ancient torches. I was in Geneva, Switzerland one December when the city was celebrating what they call “Escalade,” a celebration of Protestants fending off the Catholics in 1602, locals in 17th century costumes marching through the streets, carrying torches, victorious. Want to feel like you’re living in the 17th century? Travel to Geneva in December, unless you’re Catholic, I suppose.

Speaking of cats. Weren’t we speaking of cats? A new kitten has joined me, sort of. Her name is Luna and she is in quarantine for a few weeks, not from COVID-19 but ringworm, which has nothing to do with worms, an unfortunate term for a skin rash. I visit the three-pound black-and-tan girl often, which means I’ll likely get ringworm as well. It’s what we do for creatures we love, whether in the wild or in a spare room upstairs.

Hang in there, autumn is just over the next hill.

Ullrich is a free-lance writer who resides in rural Jackson County, Iowa. His book, “The Iowa State Fair,” is available from University of Iowa Press.