Friday, September 22, 2006

Iowa, part one

Early in the morning of September 15, I woke up to the sound of roosters crowing. I looked out the window, which presented me a view of rolling ground, trees, a large garden, and a birdhouse. It was very green. Except for the roosters' songs, I heard no other sound. It was a very peaceful place to be.
At breakfast, I met Perry-O's cousin, David Rice, who was enjoying a slice of apple pie for breakfast. David and his wife Jeannie were at the farm, en route to Texas from Michigan. They travel to Texas every year in their motor home. David told me about his interest in history and geneology. He described his great-great grandparents' homestead in northern Michigan in the late 1880s.
I also learned more about Perry-O and David Sliwa's farm. The house is full of good stuff, including jars of homemade apple cider, fresh honey, and yellow and red raspberries from their bushes. The Sliwas are very self-sufficient and are not hooked up to the national electricity grid. They generate their own electricity with a windmill and solar collectors. These are hooked to large batteries, which were recycled telephone company batteries. The direct current from these batteries is then converted to alternating current by use of an inverter. In that way, electrical appliances can be used in the house.
Perry-O and I did stretching exercises, with the occasional participation of the dog, Kinga, and the cat, Itty Bitty Kitty. After the exercise, I called my parents (my "parental units"), and then we had breakfast. Even though David Rice already had pie, he still had appetite for breakfast. Our meal consisted of oatmeal with yogurt (homemade from unpasteurized milk given by a cow whom David and Perry-O know), fruit, and nuts. We also drank apple cider. It was delicious and filling. Three black ducks who were parading just outside the window provided the entertainment.
After breakfast, I made a bag lunch and got ready to go to Luther College for my first presentation on the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
In the car, on the way to Luther College, Perry-O explained to me that Iowa doesn't have hills; it has ridges and valleys. This continued to be a challenging concept for me to understand, especially when we were traveling up a sharp incline. After going up and down several times, we arrived at Luther College, where I met Kent Simmonds, who is an emiritus faculty member there. He took me to the brown bag seminar at about noon and introduced me to the students and others who were there. I gave a brief talk about WHINSEC/SOA, including its history and current legislation to suspend operations of the school and to provide for a bipartisan commission to investigate the instruction (HR 1217, sponsored by Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts). I also shared my own personal story of how I got involved with School of the Americas Watch. Question and answer time followed. The questions were very good, and I enjoyed the discussion. At 1:15 p.m., it was time for the students to go to their next class, so the brown bag session came to an end.
Lynn Simmonds, Kent's wife, took me to the house that she and Kent live in. That is where I met Rocky, and very vocal and energetic standard poodle. He is some dog. We had a brief visit in the house and then we got into the car for another adventure. With Rocky, everything is an adventure. He tried bounding about the car, but Lynn discourage that sort of activity. Finally, he settled on the back seat. He barked furiously at all passing cars.
After much barking, we arrived at Dunning's Spring Park, which is part of Decorah's extensive parks system. Once the door was opened, Rocky leaped happily from the car. He appeared to know that there was a fun excursion waiting for him. Lynn put his leash on, and we were ready to start our walk. I took a picture of a waterfalls going over a rock formation which, I found out later, was limestone. Limestone is very common in this section of Iowa, while sandstone is predominant in Wisconsin. I also found out that Decorah is in an area called "driftless" because the glaciers had missed it entirely back in prehistoric times.
Lynn, Rocky, and I walked up a whole bunch of stairs until we came to the spot where we got a closeup view of the rock formation. It was beautiful. I took a few pictures. Then we descended the stairs. Before long, we were ready to climb the non-hill ("we have ridges and valleys but no hills") via another path. This one went straight up, or so it seemed. But it was not a hill! This was hard work. Finally, I made it to the top, where I sat and rested for a few minutes. This is where we got a good view of much of the city of Decorah. Rocky came over to me and stood calmly while I petted him. Later, Lynn told me that Rocky almost never lets people pet him. We then walked through the woods before going back down the non-hill. It seemed even steeper going down than coming up. Lynn, who is from a town near Alfred, New York, said that the woods in this park reminded her of the northeastern forests.
Lynn and I drove around another park for a short time. We then returned to the house. I had time to read and sketch before we headed off to the potluck at the Friends Meeting House.
At the Friends Meeting House, a group of about 15 or so shared a meal, with a variety of casseroles and desserts. Then we went to another room, where we sat around a circle, and I talked about SOA/WHINSEC, in a similar way to the afternoon talk at Luther College. This included researching the issues and my trips to Guatemala, Fort Benning, and federal prison. Afterwards, I invited people to ask questions. This led to a lively dialogue about SOA/WHINSEC, Latin America, George W. Bush, and the Iraq war. It was good. Everyone had a chance to speak, and people there were gracious and kind listeners.
I returned to the farm with Perry-O and David. Once again, I was thrilled by the starry sky. I was tired so I went to bed.

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