“...I came home one Christmas to find that land promoters, with the help of the Corps of Engineers had dyked and drained my boyhood hunting grounds on the Mississippi river bottoms…. My hometown thought the community enriched by this change. I thought it impoverished.” — Aldo Leopold

2013 Wild Words, Art & Photography winners

Adult/teen essay: 1st — Jan Blankenburg, Donnellson; 2nd — Kathy Schneider, West Burlington; 3rd — Marty Miller, Donnellson.

Adult/teen poetry: 1st — Marty Miller, Donnellson; 2nd — Becky Ireland, Montrose; 3rd — Mary Zachmeyer, Mount Pleasant.

Adult/teen art: 1st — Joshua Cross, Danville; 2nd — Craig Jacoba, West Burlington; 3rd — Blake Hubbard, Mediapolis.

Adult/teen photography: 1st — Cindy Owsley, LaHarpe, Ill.; 2nd — Teddy Gutman, Burlington; Sam Hartman, Burlington.

Youth essay: 1st — Trenton Murray, Burlington; no additional prizes awarded.

Youth poetry: 1st — Quinlan Kirk, Burlington; no additional prizes awarded.

Youth art: 1st — Anikka Cook, Burlington; 2nd — Mykah Myers, Burlington; 3rd — Wendy Snipes, Burlington.

Youth photography: 1st — Natalie Thomson, Burlington; no additional prizes awarded.


Adult/Teen poetry, first place

What Used to be Wilderness

Marty Miller, Donnellson

This beautifully groomed golf course

Was once a run down pasture,

Forgotten, overgrown, weedy and wooded,

Across the railroad tracks from the main farm.

I used to pick blackberries from the hedgerow 

Where now I stop to lean on my walking stick

To rest and remember what used to be wilderness.

To the red fox who doesn’t know the rules of the game

As he bounds freely over the fairway

Toward his home in the fringe of woods

Along the edge of the links,

This manicured golf course

Is still wilderness.


Adult/Teen poetry, second place

Isabelle's Villanelle

Becky Ireland, Montrose, Iowa

We walked down by the riverside that day.

I held her hand.  She pointed to the sky;

And then I saw an Eagle fly away.


She found some shells and driftwood, toys for play.

A bottle bobbled up and she asked, why?

We walked down by the riverside that day.


My granddaughter and I had much to say

When interrupted by white egrets’ cries;

And then we saw an Eagle fly away.


I told her how her dad had loved to sail

And all the silly stunts he used to try.

We talked down by the riverside that day.


“Tweet tweet, little birdies! Sing sing! And stay.”

Her little song with egrets harmonized

Until we saw the egrets fly away.


“Lord, hold the Future in Your hands,” I prayed.

When it was time to go, she waved good-bye

As we walked from the riverside that day.

Just then I saw an Eagle fly away.


Adult/Teen poetry, third place

Bluer Than Blue

Mary L. Zachmeyer, Mount Pleasant, Iowa

A summer day works hard 

on my body,

turns it shades of red.

The wind so strong,

I hardly notice the sun’s wrath.


Later I rest, 

fall into memories of blue:

Iowa skies, same blue I remember

as a child and endless, towering clouds

and as a Grandmother’s eyes in shades of denim

and Grandfather’s eyes, sky-blue

watching me wander

among the raspberry bushes,

Black-Eyed Susans

and countless grape vines

in purple, red and white.


I amble, try to find something to do,

make a hollyhock doll,

catch bumblebees

or catch a bird after tossing salt

over my shoulder,

Grandfather tells me—

pick a daisy, helovesme-helovesmenot,

try to stay out of trouble mostly.

Don’t pick Grandmother’s “glads”

Don’t pick a plum and pluck it into your mouth

Don’t step on a flower.


Perhaps in heaven,

there’s a movie of those old days

and I’ll be right up front.





Adult/Teen essay, first place

And they danced ...

Jan Blankenburg, Donnellson, Iowa

Beside the tool shed, well out of sight, I had my secret and sacred garden, untouched by the grown-up world. Here lettuce and onions thrived in close harmony with daisy and dock and, in one memorable year, with a small jingle of evening primrose.

Evening primrose. The very name vibrates with magic. To a nine-year old girl it evoked visions of graceful ballerinas.

One night when my mother had treated me to a colorful bedtime story in which flowers had jumped about with elves and hobgoblins, I decided it was time to witness such an event personally. It was a perfect night for flowers to dance. I tiptoed to the shed and peeped around the wall. It was then I beheld a breathtaking miracle. In the still of the night, the flowers of the evening primroses had come to life. The pale yellow petals were unfolding one-by-one, flower after flower, like butterflies’ wings. They were unfolding at such speed that they caused the stems, the entire plants, to tremble and quiver like a troupe of nervous ballerinas. My keen ear picked up their voices — a soft, mysterious sighing. I stood there mesmerized hardly daring to breathe lest I break the magic of the performance. The flowers had danced just for me!

To this day, on calm July evenings, I arrange chairs near a similar garden — one planted with my grandchildren behind the barn on our farm, which is, oddly enough, located on Primrose Road in Lee County, IA. On these summer nights, we sit down and wait. As soon as dusk sets in, the moon colored flowers come to life. They unfold with jerky, spiraling movements, and their fragrance attracts a multitude of night moths, thirsty from their day of repose.

In this enchanted spectacle, my grandchildren and I feel like royalty attending a command performance where the little garden is the stage and the flowers and moths are the dancers.

As the curtain of night falls, we rise, as in a standing ovation. We walk hand-in-hand to the house strengthened by the belief that those who do not believe in the miracles of the great outdoors lead an empty life.


Adult/Teen essay, second place


A Bicycle Mother Earth Morning

Kathy M. Schneider, West Burlington, Iowa


As I clip my bike shoes briskly into the pedals, I feel the chill of the last of the cool night air. I snap on my head light, click on the tail light, helmet in place, and silently pedal away to meet the morning. A pink tinge on the eastern horizon fades to a deep dusk in the west, a wisp of the moon overhead. The morning greets me, and I greet the morning. Alone on the road, I watch, I listen, as the world awakens. An owl calls to me…who are you?

I glide down the hill into the cool plane of air in the valley, and hear the first song of the robin. And then begin the uphill climb to warm me to the top of the hill. As I crest the hill the expanse of fields around me expectantly await the plow and the seeds. Tiny green shoots of wild flowers and prairie grasses poke their heads through the damp, moist soil. The meadow lark on the rusty barbed wire fence sings to me…you can do this.

Stealthily, wishing no disturbance, I pedal on down the smooth, gray asphalt, my steady cadence seeming to add to the peace of the morning. Though she eyes me warily, the doe on the shoulder holds her stance, we have met before. I quietly ride by, and respect her world, her space, her watching eyes.

The eastern sky is now a rosy hue, the west a muted mouse-gray. A flock of geese fly in their steady V-formation, heading to their first morning feeding site. Ahead, a fox quickly darts across the road, seeking his day-time lair.

Softly, one by one, lights sparkle on in the small farm houses that dot the landscape. I hear the final morning call of the coyote. A raccoon scuttles in front of my wheel, off to his safe haven for the day. I stop for a moment, and gaze down the open road at the glory that surrounds me.

A huge glowing ball of sun has risen and welcomes me with its golden-orange-pink aura. It is time to turn my bicycle around, and pedal home to meet the rest of my day. A lone car passes me, the morning commute has begun. No longer do I hear just a single bird call, but a cacophony of morning song birds, gleefully singing the morning alive together. No longer am I privy to see the coon, the fox, or the deer, as they begin their day in their respective and private habitats.

With the bright yellow sunshine warming my back, and the sky a sea of blue, I arrive home, and stow away my bike and gear. I pause to give gratitude to Mother Earth for sharing the beautiful awakening of the day on my solitary bike ride, for grounding me, blessing my senses, and giving me such soul-satisfaction. I carry the gift of her peaceful and solid presence with me the rest of my day.


Adult/Teen essay, third place

Walking to England

Marty Miller, Donnellson, Iowa

I used to live in the country on a gravel road, with rolling hills in all directions.  I tried to make it a daily habit to hike the road as far as the stop sign, which was a quarter mile downhill stroll, followed by a half mile uphill slog.  At the bottom of the hill, the road entered a little shady glade, loud with birdsong and the gurgle of running water in the ravine.   A rusty fence marked the edge of an overgrown cow pasture, and sometimes I could hear cattle moving under the trees to drink from the stream, although they were unseen in the dense undergrowth.  I often paused in the shade before tackling the rest of my walk because at this point the road curved away from the trees and rose uphill all the way to the stop sign.  Up and up and up I walked, and as I walked the world opened before me in all directions to a panorama of fields, green and gold, as far as the eye could see.  It was breathtaking and beautiful, and I was the only one to see it.  Except for the occasional puff of gravel dust from a truck off in the distance, I was alone in the countryside.

When I reached the stop sign, I would touch it with the whittled end of my hickory walking stick, proof that I had gone the distance.  I was on top of the known world.  I made a slow turn as I surveyed the open fields in all directions.   There was my house in the distance, bordered by pastures, then the patterns of corn and bean fields.  In the other direction, a pond sparkled beneath a fringe of trees.  Beyond the stop sign I could see the dome of the courthouse in town, a barn, a copse of trees sheltering cows and calves, and the white gravel road, leading onward, under the wide blue sky.  Some days I shared my walk with deer, and wild turkeys, occasionally a bald eagle drifted overhead and once, most amazingly, a large tortoise lumbered along the side of the road on wrinkled legs that, when extended, hoisted it a foot above the ground.

I called my daily hike “Walking to England” because when I got to the top of the hill and surveyed the scenery, I thought it could be the English countryside.  And if it were England, I thought, tourists would pay to see those lovely views that were all mine for free.  But I have come to see the error of my thinking.  I did not need to overlay another way of seeing onto the tapestry of the landscape that lay before me.  I did not need to name it England in order to see its beauty.  It was not England, it was Iowa.  Yet even that was a misnomer.  It was not Iowa I was seeing but the unnamed, untamed wild heart of nature—and no less wild because it was planted and fenced.   The great outdoors is not to be diminished by the ways we lay claim to it.  England, or Iowa—it is all the same earth, under the same  wide sky.  And we can be tourists, anywhere, whenever we value the uncommon beauty of all we see.



Youth poetry, first place

Deer Moment

Quinlan Kirk, Burlington, Iowa

Silence stillness

Timidly out from the brush

a fawn

dark eyes dart

side to side and back

walking, stopping, looking

walking, stopping, looking

cautious of every step

what a sight

what a moment





Youth essay, first place

The Nature Hiker

Trenton Murray, Burlington

Spring break 2013

My mom always said, “You never know what you’ll see on a nature hike,” so I try to keep one eye looking, one ear listening and one nose sniffing. Last week I was hiking in the woods at Pine Lake with my family. We stay in a cabin with an indoor fireplace. On our hike I ran into a spectacular show of nature.

Lucky for me, I had my camera. I got it out just in time to see a bald eagle slowly rise into the sky right overhead. I was psyched. That was really neat. My family and I were the only people out on the trails that circled the lake. The animals seemed comfortable and started to come out. The ice hadn’t melted off the trails keeping most bikers, hikers and walkers away. The frozen lake was full of geese and I managed to take many pictures.

Another quarter of a mile and we saw a brilliant red fox scamper in the crust of snow. On his heels ran six deer. One of the males sported a large set of antlers. There was even an otter who skated across the ice into its den. They were all too quick for my camera. Darn.

Spring 2013

“Bundle up,” mom had said as she drove me to Starr’s Cave. “The baby owls have hatched.” We ran to the private nest area (I can’t say where it is because the mom returns here each year to lay her eggs). I don’t want this information to get spread to the wrong person. It’s really sad but not everyone respects nature. I am very concerned about the plight of the bees, the frogs and the bats. I hope to go to college and help these struggling creatures out.

The chicks were guarded by their mother who flew away once we got too close. As we were leaving a camera crew was coming to film the owls. We didn’t observe long as the babies could die from exposure. I also noticed a large hawk circling overhead. A little owlet would make a nice snack for the predator. This made us hurry home faster so momma owl would quickly return. 

Fall 2011

Hiking through Starr’s Cave woods is always an adventure and today was no exception. I identified some of the leaves by using a leaf book. It was my birthday and I got out of school. I chose to take a nature hike through the woods for my special day. I love exploring nature and that’s what I wanted to do for my eighth birthday. I noticed scampering squirrels gathering up nuts for winter. I kicked a pop can and was surprised when a bunch of bees flew out. Yikes! I scampered away faster than the squirrels.

Summer 2009

On the drive to Starr’s Cave, I kept asking my mom for a pet. “Can’t I get a pet, please?” I begged. Her answer was always the same, “No.” We had two cats, two dogs and a fish tank of fish. I had been asking all week. My mom kept saying, “No. No. No.” I kept begging, “Yes. Yes. Yes.” We waded in the cool water. We saw crawdads, minnows, turtles and clams. Afterwards, we walked on the trails to dry off. Once home, I found a hitchhiker on my stomach. A tick. UGH! I wanted a pet in the worst way, but not that little fellow. My dream of having a pet of my own would have to wait.

Adult/teen art


1st — Joshua Cross, Danville, Iowa



2nd — Craig Jacoba, West Burlington, Iowa



3rd — Blake Hubbard, Mediapolis, Iowa



Adult/teen photography


1st — Cindy Owsley, LaHarpe, Ill.



2nd — Teddy Gutman, Burlington



3rd — Sam Hartman, Burlington, Iowa




Youth art


1st — Anikka Cook, Burlington, Iowa


2nd — Mykah Myers, Burlington, Iowa


3rd — Wendy Snipes, Burlington, Iowa





Youth photography


1st — Natalie Thomson, Burlington