Any description of Week Seven must begin with the extraordinary generosity and love of Laura and Jason, the new proprietors of the Whispering Oaks Campground in Story City, IA, with whom we immediately fell into an easy friendship. They are delighted with our children, and spent many hours during the week keeping the children company, teaching them to drive a golf cart all over the meadows of the park, planting gardens with them, and being a second set of parents to them. We were happy to confer with Laura over her plans to bring out the magic of the Whispering Oaks land, making the campground self-sustaining with electricity generation and water catchment and simple cabins. As we came to learn about each other more deeply, we discovered kindred spirituality in our new friends. They are both from Minnesota, and we look forward to meeting up again with Laura and her children on the northward path in her home state.
This week began with a boat trip in Egon's new inflatable raft, a gift from his grandparents for his eleventh birthday. We put into the Skunk River, which eased along the edge of our campground in Story City. Based on what we'd read about the river online, we thought we might be able to make it all the way down to the north end of Ames, Iowa in about 5 hours...with an hour to spare preparing for our climate change presentation which was scheduled for that evening at a cafe called "Stomping Grounds". But the river was shallow, slow and log-jammed! We had a great adventure, got just the right amount of sun and wet, pulled out again after 4 miles or so and called our back-up transportation (Thanks, Keith!). We had to leave the raft at the river access point.
The presentation was well attended, especially considering the last-minute nature of its organization (Thanks, Angela!). Fortunately, some of the attendees brought their children with them, so that our own children had new friends to occupy them. The subject of our presentation, itself, is never fun to share about, but our audience seemed to be none-the-worse-for-the-wear by the end of things, which is actually unusual, in our experience. I think these attendees were, perhaps, more generally prepared to discuss the grave details of our climate plight...we met some climate "allies" who are already working passionately to address these issues in their locality. Our audience expressed being very inspired by our pacing action.
The next day, Gavain paced up to the access point where the raft was still parked, and he locked it up with a bike lock, to be picked up the following morning (when we would get our truck from the shop where it was receiving it's shiny new starter). That day, Gavain was pulling both carts, as well as his bicycle, all at once, for a good eight miles, all by himself. Cause he's crazy like that sometimes.
I stayed at camp with the kids for Egon's birthday...we went out for lunch, ate strawberry cheesecake ice cream cake, and rode our bikes to the city pool. Gavain met up with us on his bicycle, took a cooling dip in the pool, and accompanied us on Story City's whimsical high-speed historical wooden carousel.
Sadly, when Gavain returned the next morning for the boat, with the truck, it had been stolen!
Still, Story City was good to us. For example, a cafe owner crossed the main street and greeted us with enthusiasm as we paced through town the next day...she asked us to "let her" feed us...though "The Bistro" was, by that hour, closed for business. What a treat... excellent salad greens, fine food, and topped off with her homemade ice cream. Such refreshing hospitality!
After that dinner, Daddy Gavain told the children that he had a surprise for them as we paced through a neighborhood, northward out of town. He explained to them that they would see something, up close, in a way they had never seen it before. As it turned out, Gavain knew that we would pace right by two giant wind turbines... standing like great oracles greeting us into wind turbine country. I don't think I had ever been quite so close to one of these turbines myself, either. Gavain guided us through the critical rhetoric about wind turbines...those reasons that people give for why turbines are "bad". Wind turbines are said to be loud, ugly, or dangerous to bird and bat populations. What the kids and I noticed is that the turbines were stunningly graceful to watch (rather more beautiful than a black coal stack, for instance), and that, up close, they made very subtle sound...like refrigerator does in one's home. There were birds fluttering about the roadside, but we did not see any at risk of a mid-flight beheading...these modern turbines turn much more slowly and safely than earlier versions of wind technology did. We did see one dead animal on this stretch of road, but it was not of the flying ilk.
It was one of those moments when there is too much coincidence at hand to accept with one's rational mind. There was nothing with us on this road, just cornfields stretching almost as far as the eye could see and two towering, lazy wind turbines. I first smelled the skunk. Then, I saw two bicyclists approaching in the distance a head of us. "Out here?", I thought. Bicyclists are fairly uncommon out on the country roads. As they came nearer to us, I spied the skunk in the middle of the road ahead at about the same time that a truck began to approach from the same direction. We also began to notice the sound of a car approaching from our rear. Impossibly, we all converged on same point and moment with this skunk. It was terrific slow-motion roundabout as we all worked together to avoid the skunk, and each other, and get on with our traveling away from the very awkward synchrony.
Later this week, in a detailed online study of the various roads in our area, we decided to pivot our path a bit more to the west and take a highway with a nice shoulder on it. In talking with a police officer one day, we had learned that Iowa law says that pedestrian traffic is actually supposed to travel on the left side of the road...even if it is moving in the lane. It did not feel intuitive or safe to us, at first, and we wanted to have a nice shoulder to try it in.
I am here to report that I like it! We can see the that traffic is approaching us even before we can hear it and the cars seem to feel more comfortable with us, too. It actually feels safer, though I haven't quite determined why.
We are now camped just north of Dodge City, Iowa.
This week, President Barack Obama gave a historically profound address on the subject of climate change. The short version of our reaction to this speech is that we found it surprisingly heartening. For the longer version, I recommend that you visit this blog entry where Gavain has responded to the presidential address in greater detail.