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.
I remember waking my kids up as we flew over the Mississippi at low altitude when they were perhaps 9 and 11 so they could see the mighty river and the miles of flooded farmland on either side of it (it was one of the severe flooding years) and they were totally nonplussed. I thought it was majorly cool and would have been delighted to take a dip as well, if we had been on the ground!
MARIA, what are those dark brown things coming down from the sky that look like legs of an animal? Was that truly a strange cloud formation, or did someone have a clothesline strung across and hung stockings from it?
Do tell! Looking forward to reading more about your Seed Savers Exchange visit. That looked like a nice trip. I think that one year in the not too distant future, I’ll get in my car and drive cross country to see what America really looks like before it’s too late, for myself and America.
Donna, that was flags hanging on a string across the main street…but now that you mention it they do look like socks!
I’m glad you liked little Switzerland. Far Northeast Iowa is very unlike the rest of the state. Kind of defeats the “Iowa’s just flat” attitude, huh? Hope we can get you out here again soon.
You are the daughter of Robert Rodale, aren’t you? In 1986 or so, a friend and I interviewed him in Ames at the Council for Agriculture and Science Technology. He was a lovely man, fond of journalists, as you are one. Thank you for visiting Northeast Iowa–it is beautiful!
That’s the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology–uff da!
Hi Maria. I am a book cover designer and found your picture of the The Black Hawk Bridge over the Mississipi from you My Trip to Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa blog. I would love to use this on a book cover design here in the UK. I can credit you/your website on the back of the book. Please let me know if this will be ok soon.