Eye 380 beautifies portions of Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha interstate

Winter is probably not the best time to be thinking about planting or landscaping, but for Eye 380 it’s a year-round goal.

Eye 380 is a group of volunteers committed to improving the landscaping along Interstate 380 in Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha. The group has launched its annual drive to raise money for maintenance of four sites and add a fifth, if they are able to obtain support from the community.

The organization was formed in 2008 through the efforts of Dale Kueter, of Cedar Rapids, and others who shared his vision.

Kueter, a retired journalist, said he was vacationing in Tucson, Ariz. when he noticed how nice the landscaping was as he drove along their highways and interstates.

He brought the idea home with him and talked to a few people, who agreed to help him initiate the plan.

“We just weren’t sure where to go from there,” he said.

He researched programs they could initiate and saw that Davenport and Des Moines had a similar program through the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT).

The small group invited more people to join, got the green light from the Hiawatha City Council, and asked the city to apply for grants that would help them fund the project. They found that while the grant would pay for individual landscaping projects, they would only fund the planting of the plants, not the maintenance.

Members of the group also took a horticulture class at Kirkwood, where they learned the different types of shrubbery and trees, and even had the class make up schemes for the landscaping projects.

Since the program began, the group has planted flowers, trees, and shrubs at the Boyson Road interchange in Hiawatha, the Kirkwood exit in south Cedar Rapids, and two sites south of Wilson Avenue SW in Cedar Rapids.

Kueter said that because access to the sites are dangerous, maintenance for the landscaping, such as weeding, watering, and pruning, must be performed by bonded landscaping companies.

Kueter, who will be serving as co-president with Leland Freie for 2015, said a fifth project is in the works, but maintenance for the other sites is also a priority.

The grants for the projects vary, but since it only includes the planting, the group needs help from the community to fund the maintenance of the plants to keep them looking good.

“Everyone wants it to look pretty, but no one wants to contribute,” he said. “But we’ll keep plugging along and raise what we can.”

Kueter said he believes that people who drive along I380 tend to judge the cities by what they see from the interstate.

“We see the interstate as our main street,” he said. “”What travelers see reflects Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha.”

Eye 380 meets at Trees Forever, 770 7th Ave., Marion, the first Wednesday of the month at 4 p.m.

For more information, call Dale Kueter at (319) 377-2630.

A Christmas message

I received an email from my uncle today. His thoughts about Christmas were inspiring, to say the least.  His eloquent words touch me deeply , and since I have his blessing, I would like to share the letter with you:

“This is my 78th Christmas and the wonder and the joy and the mystery build every year, rather than fade. I feel exactly the same today as I did when I was a child of 7 or 10.  Four days before Christmas, all the nerves in my body are standing on end, singing ancient Christmas carols.  There are phantom people all over the house putting things together, wrapping presents, decorating, baking, and all the anticipation of a great feast is in the air.  The smells, the ring of happy children’s voices, the joy that permeates the atmosphere.  It is truly the season of the little child in all of us.  To see the anticipation and the awe in the face of a child coming down the staircase on Christmas morning is a pleasure that we can all take part in and thoroughly embrace.  At Christmas time everybody is a Christian even if they don’t believe and are not really aware of what they are celebrating.

Every time somebody gives another person a present, that giving is an expression of love.  Every time a person receives a present, that, too, is an act of love.  For the giver, all their time and energy trying to figure out what the most appropriate gift would be, going to the store or stores to find it, spending the money to purchase it, all that synergy is exerted for one tiny moment: to see the look on the loved one’s face when she/he opens the gift.  And for the receiver, the great part is the anticipation that someone who loves us, thinks enough of us to expend all that effort, puts such a high value on our person, yearns to see us happy, is just about to “pop the question”.  Because when we give a present, what we are really saying is, “I love you; will you love me?”  And the usual procedure when one receives a present is to return the favor.  Both she who gives and he who receives are taking part in the same divine act, both asking and answering the question, both at the same time: “Yes, I love you; and I know you love me.”

Yes, the stores do commercialize Christmas too much.  But then, that’s their purpose: to overcommercialize Christmas in order to make money.  And we all buy into that conspiracy by purchasing presents for the people we love.  But as far as I’m concerned, there is never more love among mankind than at Christmas time.  If we could just keep the spirit all year-long, this world would be a lot more peaceful.

I’ve always been a little puzzled by some who say that if you say “Happy Holiday” rather than “Merry Christmas” you are leaving Christ out of Christmas.  I have always understood that the word “holiday” is derived from “holy day”.  If you believe in celebrating Christmas, if you believe that giving gifts is a healthy, holy, and human activity, if you believe that gifts are fulfilling and uplifting and that giving them is beyond merely human, then you must believe in some part of the miracle of Christmas.  Why are so many people raised up by their own joy at this time of year?

We are celebrating the birthday of Jesus the son of Joseph and Mary, the Christ, the Messiah, who came into this world as a newborn in order to experience the whole of the human experience.  He grew up  in a family just as we all did.  That family was his school.  He worked as a carpenter for fifteen years, from age fifteen to thirty.  Then he became a preacher to spread the truth.  He was a bit too honest in telling the powers-that-be that they were frauds.  Rome made him pay a terrible price.  But his words and his actions are still alive and well and flourishing today.  And the heart and soul of that message is: Love God first and prove that you love God by loving your neighbor.  He became man out of love; he taught us the truth out of love; he died out of love for us; he rose out of love for us.  He is pure love; his word is pure love; his truth is pure love.  And that is why on his birthday, we all are enchanted by and enhanced by that same pure love that he is.  God bless you all.  May you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday.”

John Meis
Naperville, Ill.

Every year, I contemplate the meaning of Christmas. I begin the season with a heart full of love and end up exhausted and wondering how I got sucked into all the melodrama and commercialization the holidays often bring. But opening this email this morning, my heart was once again filled with the true meaning of Christmas. Like John wrote, “If we could just keep the spirit all year long, this world would be a lot more peaceful.”

I truly believe it’s possible. And I know it begins with me.