Pink Flag at Map Ref 41 N 93 W

Wire have been one of my favorite bands since the late 1970s, and their latest album, Change Becomes Us, has been earning heavy spins on household and car stereos hereabouts since its issue last month. It’s one of their finest discs ever, hands down. For longtime Wire fans, this one has been a particular treat, since it returns to song sketches crafted in the aftermath of their 1979 masterpiece, 154, but only issued in fragmentary or raw form on the live Document and Eyewitness, released when the quartet dissolved for the first time as the ’80s dawned.

With a new Wire album out, I loaded up a bunch of their older tracks — including their remarkable 154-era single “Map Ref. 41° N 93° W” — onto the car iPod when Marcia and I drove down to Asheville, North Carolina last month to visit family. “Map Ref” came on somewhere in Tennessee, and Marcia looked at the title on the dashboard display and asked “Is that a real place, and have you looked to see where it is?” As a hardcore map geek, and a 30+ year Wire fan, I was embarrassed to admit that I had not, so I asked her to use her Smart Phone to look it up and see where it was.

Imagine our surprise when Marcia discovered that the point described by those latitude and longitude coordinates was about 100 miles from our home in Des Moines, down near Centerville, Iowa! When we got back here after our holiday, I did a little research and discovered why lyricist Graham Lewis had picked that point: here’s the story.

For those who know me or have been reading my writing for more than the past ten minutes, it should come as no surprise that I immediately resolved to visit this location, since that’s how I roll. A little Google Earth research showed me that it’s actually a bit to the northwest of Centerville, on the opposite side of Lake Rathbun, where Marcia and I had vacationed for a weekend last summer.

Map Ref 41 N 93 W as Graham Lewis might have first seen it

It appeared to be in the middle of a pasture, about a mile from U.S. Highway 34. I could see that a tree-lined creek bed ran from the highway nearly to the “Map Ref” coordinates, but unfortunately, where the creek crossed under Highway 34, there appeared to be a large production facility of some sort, likely a pig enclosure based on its size and shape from above. That means people, and people means trouble for the casual trespasser. I could also see a dirt road to the west of the creek that got relatively close to the spot, so hoped I’d be able to sneak down that.

Either way, I wanted to get there, and this weekend seemed the ideal time to do it, as Marcia was away in Portland, Oregon, visiting her sister, and spring had actually finally made its first sustained appearance in Iowa. I decided to mark my visit for posterity’s sake, and originally considered placing a geocache there, with my e-mail address in it, so that if any future Wire geeks arrived on the designated spot, they’d be able to share their accomplishment with me. But then, as I thought about it longer, I decided that directly announcing my trespassing tendencies was probably not the smartest course of action.

So instead, I decided to leave a Pink Flag, in honor of Wire’s seminal debut album, which also serves to this day as their website address.

I left Des Moines around 7:00 Saturday morning, and by 9:00 AM, I’d reached the nearest point on the highway to “Map Ref. 41° N 93° W”, and was disappointed to discover that the dirt road approaching the designated spot was barred by a locked, heavy-duty gate, necessary to keep the cattle behind it from venturing onto the roadway. Much of Iowa is corn, soybean or hog country, but this sector is cattle country, which means there is a lot of hardcore fencing, little of it easily crossed. Shucks.

The land did have a little bit of rise and fall, though, so I was able to pull my car down into a little gully beneath the roadside power line and behind some scrub trees, where I hoped no one from the hog enclosure across the way would notice it during the half hour or so it took me to get to the map reference point and back. I walked southward down the east bank of the tree-lined creek for about half a mile, trying to keep out of the sight lines of anybody in the farmhouse on the hill to the east of me, until I reached a pasture that was surrounded by a barbed-wired topped fence. I skirted the fence east to a point about 150 feet north of “Map Ref. 41° N 93° W”, trying to find a way to get over it, until I noticed what it was there to contain: another couple of dozen cows . . . and a bull who seemed to be watching me on behalf of his farmer owners.

I decided that this mission had gone far enough, and that attempting to climb a barbed-wire fence, place the flag, take photos, and then outrun an enraged territorial bull probably crossed the line from “entertaining adventure” into “reckless stupidity”. So I placed my flag on the north side of the fence, saluted the bull, and considered my work done. I left the flag behind . . . I don’t know how it will fare in the Iowa weather, but maybe some other Wire fan will find it, someday, and know that someone who cared was there. Here’s the photo:

Pink Flag at Map Ref 41 N 93 W, give or take 150 feet.

Pink Flag at Map Ref 41 N 93 W, give or take 150 feet.

 

The Lifestyle You Deserve

I am a deeply-committed music geek (as if that’s not obvious enough, duh), and there are very few things in my life that don’t feature background tunes when they’re happening. There is one major exception to this rule, though, and that would be cycling. I am pretty serious about the act of getting on a bike and taking to the road, or the trail, or the hidden deep-woods zones, and I never, ever, ever, never, ever do anything when I am on a bike that impedes my already damaged hearing, since the ability to perceive incoming sounds is a key to safely negotiating the path on a two-wheeled, self-propelled vehicle. So I always shake my head disapprovingly when I pass cyclists with headphones on, and have been doing so for many years. That’s dangerous and wrong. This year, however, I have been dismayed to discover a new source of sonic distraction on the bike trail: people riding with actual speakers on their bikes, so not only are they distracted from the dangerous world around them, but anyone else anywhere near them is also subjected to the tinny din of their trebly iPod-quality speakers. A few weeks ago, I was walking a trail with some family members, and the bucolic nature of our hike was disrupted three times by cyclists roaring up on us with speakers cranked, which (they seemed to believe) also mitigated the need for them to verbally notify us of their passage, via the courteous “on your left” or “bikes back” declarations that I always offer to pedestrians on the trail. Instead, we got bad Bon Jovi delivered with maximum volume and distortion, pushing us off the trail, and making conversation impossible until the owners of those odious musical rigs were well past us on the trail. This strikes me as a terrible evolution in the field of communal, public cycling, and I am hoping that these recent events are short-lived anomalies, though in my heart, I suspect they aren’t. I guess once you get to the point where you can carry on private conversations in public with a Bluetooth device stuck in your ear, then your ability to render courtesies to the other human beings within your sonic sphere atropies quickly, on foot or on bike. This seems a pity to me.

Hidden in Suburbia 2011: Epilog

Okay, I lied.

I wasn’t planning to do any more Hidden in Suburbia pieces during my final seven weeks in Latham, but as I was out riding for exercise last week, I noticed a new construction cut into some of my favorite woods, and that made me want to grab the camera and see what was going on, in an area that I had considered safe from suburban encroachment. I was, apparently, wrong in that assessment. As always, hit the picture below to read the annotated story in all of its wistfulness, or if my words tire you out prematurely, just click here for the wordless slideshow.

To see other Hidden in Suburbia photo essays, click here.

What Will This Evening Bring Me This Morning?

1. Marcia and I are back from our second exploratory trip to Des Moines. We definitely know which neighborhood we want to claim as our home out there, and we have two fantastic houses that we’re pondering making offers on, pending a review of the comps. We had several exceptional meals in Des Moines, found an awesome wine bar, walked for miles and miles on the City’s excellent pedestrian-cycling trail system, golfed the incredibly hilly Waveland Golf Course (no kidding, it had more ups and downs than some mountain courses we’ve played) and generally felt better and better about our decision to head to Iowa. The first night we were there, we stayed out in a northern suburb of Des Moines called Ankeny, since most of the downtown hotels were sold out due to the annual Hy-Vee Triathlon being in town for the Labor Day Weekend. While we were out that way, I figured I ought to grab the camera and do a little Hidden in Suburbia (Iowa Style). Toto, I don’t think we’re in Latham anymore . . .

I found a vast soy bean field, and walked across it . . . with an aura . . .

2. I’m in my final year as Class President and Reunion Coordinator for the Naval Academy’s Class of 1986. Our 25th Reunion is in October, and this is the third major reunion (15th, 20th, 25th) in which I’ve had a significant planning or management role. Our class, and other anniversary classes, are seeing reduced registrations this year compared to prior major reunions, which most folks are attributing to the tough economy. That may be the case, but since most of my classmates at Navy are pretty economically comfortable, I think there’s another reason for the reduction in attendance at real flesh-and-blood reunions: online social networking. It seems to me that as more and more folks my age connect via Facebook and other social media outlets, we’ve created a world where there’s no mystery anymore about what we’re going to encounter when we go to our reunions. When we can bathe in the minutia of our friends’ lives in garish detail each and every day from the cheap comfort of our own homes, why does it make sense to buy an expensive plane ticket and book an expensive hotel room to visit with those same friends for a couple of hours in the flesh? While Facebook and LinkedIn help organize reunions, I’m not sure that they actually support participation. I’m curious if anybody else who reads this has had similar experiences, or whether this theory resonates with you or not.

3. And speaking of real-world versus online-world, I’ll be hanging out in Latham for about five weeks after Marcia heads west, and one of my goals for that time is to do as much real-world socializing with folks hereabouts as I am able to, especially with some of the folks who I primarily know only through electronic formats. So keep your eyes and ears open, as I will be working to fill a dance card, and I might need you on it . . .

Hidden in Suburbia 2011 (Part Nine): Farewell, Latham

The past month has been a whirlwind as we go through all of the steps necessary to sell our house, and begin constructing a new life in Des Moines, including buying a new house there. As I work to mobilize contractors, get the house ready for showings, review property specifications in Iowa, and help hire my replacement, I’m finding myself with less time than I’d like for summer fitness, including riding my bike into the woods and wastelands of Latham and sharing my findings with our readers here. I’ve done a couple of short rides in the past few weeks, but as my psychic focus shifts from Latham to Des Moines, I figure it’s probably time to put the camera away and declare my work as documentarian of Latham’s dark spots to be over.

So this will be my final Hidden in Suburbia report hereabouts, though I suspect that Hidden in Des Moines may also be a going series once I get out there. As always, you can click the photo below to get the annotated version of the photos, or you can click here to get the wordless slide show version. This one features vast late summer meadows, graveyards, abandoned greenhouses, and the place where old pipes go to die. Here’s hoping these and all the earlier photos inspire someone else to keep looking in the spaces between the places . . .

To see other Hidden in Suburbia photo essays, click here.

 

Hidden in Suburbia 2011 (Part Eight): Secret Meadow

The largest undeveloped parcel of land within my Hidden in Suburbia range has long eluded me, as its perimeters are rendered formidable for three reasons:

  1. A good portion of its boundaries are defined by bogs and swamps that are beyond Trusty Steed’s capabilities.
  2. Most of the non-aquatic segments of its boundaries are blocked from easy road access by houses, fences, and backyards, through which I generally don’t pass.
  3. The owners have done a particularly fine job of properly signing its boundaries with “Posted” and “No Trespassing” signs, which I don’t cross, so long as they’re clearly presented and obvious.

I’ve done a lot of research trying to figure out how to get into the heart of what I’ve come to call The Secret Meadow, and have generally been foiled, time and time again. Until this week, when a low-expectation push from the east revealed an incredible network of large trails that are completely invisible to Google Maps and Google Earth due to rich, full, over-hanging foliage. While the aforementioned signage issue stymied me in the end, I actually got deeper into The Secret Meadow than I’d ever been before, and I was awed by what a beautiful piece of property it is, right smack in the middle of deepest, darkest suburbia, where you’d never expect to find it.

For your own peak into The Secret Meadow, click the photo below for the narrated version of this installment, or click here to see the wordless slideshow.

To see other Hidden in Suburbia photo essays, click here.