When George DeVault asked me to speak at the annual Seed Savers Conference and Campout in Decorah, Iowa, I jumped at the chance. I had been meaning to visit their farm for a while, and this was just the impetus I needed. I had been to Iowa once before, but this was a different part of the state, a nicer time of year, and a place that I had heard was beautiful.
We flew into LaCrosse, Wisconsin, which has a delightfully small airport. Walked a few steps outside to the rental car and headed south. When you head into LaCrosse, there is a strange brown statue that from a distance looks like an Indian fighting with another person, and you remember that this was a place once completely and gloriously inhabited by Native Americans. On closer inspection, it’s a statue of two Native Americans playing lacrosse!
As we drove alongside the Mississippi River, I told my husband I wasn’t leaving without swimming in the Mississippi, and he looked at me, as he usually does, as if I’m crazy and eccentric. Within an hour, he was also happily diving into the strangely colored (brownish yellow) but clear cool water at Blackhawk Park—which was truly lovely and fun. (Yes, we had to change into our swimsuits secretly in the car—but sometimes that’s the kind of adventure a family needs.)
When we crossed the Mississippi into Iowa, on an ancient metal bridge (a strangely important-feeling moment), I drove for about an hour toward Decorah looking for a place to stop for a cup of coffee. There were no Starbucks, no Whole Foods—not even a Hy-Vee!—no Barnes and Noble…just small towns with small main streets nestled within the most beautiful farmland I had seen since my childhood in Pennsylvania (before the farms all turned into housing developments and strip malls.)
We arrived at the Dug Road Inn in Decorah and frankly, I was shocked, I tell you! I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I try to avoid bed and breakfasts ever since the massive attack of the teddy bears in Maine in 1999. But this place was fabulous! Our newly done room was modern, sharply elegant, extremely comfortable, clean, and better than most hotel rooms I have stayed in anywhere. The bed and pillows rank in the top five beds—other than my own—of all time.
So, off to Seed Savers—we went for the opening picnic. I’ll save all the Seed Savers stuff for Part 2. But suffice it to say, I made my husband pull over multiple times so I could take pictures (and I almost fell into a ravine as a result!), and in one glorious evening we saw more strange cloud formations than I have ever seen in my life.