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  • Last modified 165 days ago (Jan. 13, 2022)

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Fooling around with Mother Nature

Remember when each of our four seasons used to last three months? They now seem to last three days — in some cases, three hours.

Unseasonable weather could be grist for an editorial about climate change, but we’ll spare you that.

If science hasn’t been able to convince half the county that COVID is real enough that they should get vaccinated or wear unobtrusive masks, we doubt we could enlighten anyone about climate issues.

Even if we could, our concerns about COVID and how our county’s ambulances are having to spend extra time out of the county, away from potential emergencies, because of capacity issues at hospitals hit much closer to home.

We also could talk this week about container homes in Hillsboro.

No one was proposing that shanties be erected in a largely empty subdivision that once was to include mainly custom homes. But the stigma of having heard so many times about the downtrodden in the developing world having no choice but to live in shipping containers is a legitimate concern that could impact existing homes’ values. So, too, are the homes’ appearance — which to some seems charming but to others seems cursed.

Hillsboro has been able to find few rules limiting container homes, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some. Contrary to popular belief, rules aren’t made to be broken. But they often are made to be changed.

Ignoring rules instead of considering changing them has never been much of a problem in Hillsboro, but Marion seems to run up against such crises of confidence as regularly as its weather changes.

Two came up this week regarding adjacent downtown buildings. In what was just as surprising as the ping-ponging level of mercury in our outdoor thermometer, existing rules won out — at least for now.

A beer bar more expansive than what initially had been envisioned was proposed for one building, less than a block away from two other beer-sellers and, troublingly, a church. Next door, a first-floor apartment, not allowed under zoning, was being proposed.

Marion’s city council is to be applauded for deciding to actually enforce its laws — something it hasn’t always been willing to do.

We could praise the council at length for trusting the expertise of such volunteers as its planning and zoning committee. Or we could question the wisdom of why, after seeing one after another transformer blow during last week’s power failure, it didn’t occur to anyone not to switch another transformer on without first warming up the transformers downstream from it.

But we don’t want to write about anything as dull and boring as government. It’s bad enough that we have to be reminded this week that it soon will be time to fill out tax returns.

Inspired by the weather, what we want to talk about is nature, specifically recent efforts by Cottonwood Valley Drainage District to clear overgrown vegetation and debris from an old channel that, until the river was redirected 100 years ago, carried flowing water through the southwest part of Marion.

Not only was the work needed to combat mosquitoes, it also revealed what could and should be a natural wonder Marion can build upon.

In beautiful weather like this week’s, one of the most enjoyable things anyone can do is take a walk in the woods.

For those of us who grew up a stone’s throw from current and former riverbeds in Marion, the woods were where we spent our youth. Deer trails and eroded banks were the virtual reality games of our time, and they still could be if access were available.

Among our favorite places while living in Wisconsin and Illinois were nature trails. Marion has a good idea about making a hiking and biking trail, but the route chosen is hardly inspiring. Much of it goes down residential streets or along the edges of the city’s ball fields.

Imagine a path that instead takes walkers, runners, bikers, and others back to nature — deer, foxes, turkeys, and wonderful flora and fauna of every sort, so isolated from nearby residential areas that you feel as if you’re miles away, in the middle of an undisturbed forest.

Along the way — even to this day — are fascinating artifacts of both modern and prehistoric life. How many kids or adults have unearthed arrowheads or stone blades along local riverbanks that, 1,000 years ago, were home to a huge settlement of indigenous people?

Creating a pathway along Luta Creek, accessible via Central Park, would be legally challenging. Most of the land is privately owned. However, a great portion of the old Cottonwood channel cleared by the drainage project is un-owned land. Deeds and lots typically go to the bank — not the center — of the former river.

We realize Marion has many priorities: fixing its power, even though the most recent failures were in a section already “fixed”; paving streets that in some cases are rougher than deer trails through the woods; creating more and better housing, jobs, and educational opportunities.

But on days like these, when the desire to get outside and explore overwhelms, perhaps we can forget for a minute taxes, utility rate increases, and crime reports and think about experiencing nature as it was meant to be.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Jan. 13, 2022

 

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