Sunday, November 13, 2011

W-b-N Iowa & Minnesota

It has taken me too long to load this next installment of the West-by-North summer trip. Sorry! No good excuse, just busy with other things since my return--including a two-week trip to Florida to visit former college and high-school classmates.  This has truly been a year on memory lane!

The trip from Iowa City to Rochester, MN, and the stay in Rochester (June 27 – 30), are a bit blurry in my mind, as I now try to reconstruct them in late October/early November.  The Sunday evening after the Writer’s Workshop, I didn’t drive very far north of Iowa City, but found a nice, out-of-the-way campground about halfway to Minnesota, spent a pleasant night there, slept late, cleaned out the RV, and did laundry. The next afternoon, I drove north across lush, green Iowa farmland, passing through Waterloo the day after Michelle Bachman made her triumphant presidential debut there. It’s easy to see why Bachman’s simplistic message appeals to the farm folks in this fertile countryside. North-eastern Iowa seemed as American as apple pie, like a Norman Rockwell painting. Complexity doesn’t strike a chord here,  nor does poverty (at least, not the type seen in large cities). Iowa is not a state with a large manufacturing sector, nor much of an immigrant population.  On the other hand, I did read recently ("Our Daily Meds" by Melody Petersen) that Iowans seem to have an undue affinity for prescription anti-depressants. Perhaps this has inhibited the reasoning required to deal with complex issues.
Once in Rochester, the Wal-Mart parking lot became home base. Marcia Yoder Brown (my sophomore college roommate) picked me up each morning and took me back at night, and I slept in the parked RV.  Marcia lives in a retirement facility (Charter House) at Mayo Clinic, where we ate and talked and visited with her friends. We had a wonderful two or three days wandering through the maze of Mayo’s clinics and hospitals and eating places. Marcia, who has recently suffered the loss of her husband to cancer, and has had a serious bout with cancer, herself, was as cheerful and upbeat as she always was. "She's everybody's cheerleader," said one of the staff members there. She arranged for me to give a talk on my trip to India, which drew a good audience, and—despite some anxiety on my part—went over well.
Marcia was one of two fellow students during my sophomore year at Kalamazoo College who probably saved my sanity when I suffered my first major depression. (The other person, who cheerfully visited me in my lonely basement dorm room, was Gretchen Falk.) I was taking a course overload, worked twenty hours a week, was chronically tired, and was carrying a torch for a former boyfriend. The second semester that year, Marcia invited me to be her roommate (hers had left at the end of the first semester), and her upbeat manner and enthusiasms began to color my melancholic mood a rosier hue; my mind had become so dark, I even contemplated suicide.
The Rochester, Minnesota stopover indeed revived my spirits from the trauma of the week at NJH and the subsequent drive from Denver to Iowa, as well as the frustration of knowing that I will probably have to do a radical re-write on the Korean travel memoir.

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