Middle America – Sept 2017

Define middle. I’m going out on a limb here and say, well, it isn’t on the ends, it isn’t on the top or the bottom… It’s kind of like, in… the middle. I know what you are thinking… corn. But the “middle” is way more than corn.

Here are but a few of our experiences and observations in Middle America this year as we navigated our way east. There is something almost quixotic about driving on state and county roads across this country when you have fast moving interstates available, but that is where you meet interesting people, see cool stuff, and learn a little something. And yeah, there’s some corn out there, too.

We met (or met again) some very cool people on our voyage.

Rob. I mentioned previously about meeting Rob, who has been running ala Forrest Gump across the country (3 times!!!) to raise awareness for several worthy efforts – Peace Direct and the World Wildlife Fund. His journey is epic, and I hope our paths cross again. Rob is a funny, engaging individual, a world-class runner, and really just a nice guy from the UK! You can check out his story at goingthedistancerun.com.

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Courtesy Rob’s web site

Hasan. We purposely routed ourselves through Salt Lake City to meet up with Hasan. Hasan previously had been an interpreter for the US Army in Iraq, and worked with our daughter at Yazda in northern Iraq documenting Yazidi families seeking refugee status. If you are not familiar with ISIS’ genocide and savagery against the Yazidis, it is a horrific story.

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Hasan is a tremendous young man whose life, like all Yazidis, has irrevocably been altered as a result of the events that have and continue to prevail in Iraq to his friends, family, and countrymen. While the future for Yazidis in Iraq is at best questionable, Hasan maintains a positive attitude, is working tirelessly as a technician, furthering his education towards a degree in nursing, and contributing back to those who most need help through an on-campus club he and his friend Dawood founded, called Operation Yazidi (http://fox13now.com/2017/08/03/operation-yazidi-club-at-slcc-aims-to-help-survivors-of-genocide/).

And in true Yazidi fashion, we were welcomed into their home and offered the finest in hospitality! We feasted on an Iraqi traditional meal called Dolma and drank some absolutely delicious Iraqi tea. Yowsa!! We feel fortunate to know Hasan, Dawood and friends, and so appreciate their kindness and hospitality.

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Dolma – fantastic!

Dennis. We met up with our son Drew’s college friend and roommate, Dennis. Dennis is an especially nice, funny, and I suspect a REALLY smart guy. Starting his new career after completing his undergraduate studies at Michigan Tech in electrical engineering, Dennis’ first job out of school is helping to manufacture diapers! I am sure that manufacturing diapers is a life-long dream fulfilled.

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Dennis is working for a very large organization in Ogden, Utah where they manufacture diapers – to the tune of about 1,400 per minute! This manufacturing process is highly complex, has a huge investment in major manufacturing equipment and technology, has what must be incredible supply chain logistics, all of which needs to be maintained by highly qualified people – hence Dennis’ new role.

At the time we visited him he had been working there for three weeks, yet he brought us through the entire manufacturing process and I don’t think we asked a question that he wasn’t very capably able to answer. This company should feel very fortunate to have attracted Dennis to their fold – no pun. And as an avid motorcyclist, skier and general outdoorsman, I don’t think it is coincidence that he ended up in Ogden.

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Steve. If you want to talk about outdoorsmen, meet Steve. Steve is a very good friend of mine from college days in North Adams, MA (North Adams Institute for the Criminally Insane). Here’s the aggravating thing – he looks just like he did in college. Sickening. And we are talking about 40 years ago!  Of course, he was never as handsome as me…

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Anyway, Steve graduated college, left New England to test his luck out west, and ended up in the Steamboat, CO area, basically as a ski bum. He is still there, although the ski bum thing morphed into a real job, a beautiful family, a house and a barn full of cool stuff.

I should mention skiing here. I, and most of my grade school friends, grew up on skis. Not bragging, but pretty good on the boards, on pretty much any slope. Steve, on the other hand, was an accomplished hockey player. So while in North Adams, Steve decided he might like to learn how to ski. Well, it wasn’t pretty; a lot of face-plants. But once Steve gets a hair across his arse, he is on it. By the time Steve graduates college and moves to Steamboat, he has WAY surpassed all the rest of us on skis, downhill or the skinnies. Steve must have thought skis were just big skates.

Anyway, we got to visit with Steve and his wife and son – good to see old friends.

Julia. Full disclosure: For scheduling reasons we did not get to visit with Julia, but Julia is the daughter of one of Karen’s best friends. Having graduated college from NYU (no small accomplishment) she is teaching children on an Indian reservation in South Dakota. What? Yup. Not only does she teach, she drives the bus to pick up the kids in the morning and take them home after school. Talk about a life experience! We look forward to meeting up with Julia on a future trip.

Alaska and the Canadian northern provinces and territories do not hold the exclusive franchise on wildlife. Middle America has its share of wildlife as well. Do not feed the creatures.

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Middle America can have a sense of humor…

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We had a little BBQ – actually at a little BBQ joint called A Little BBQ Joint. Can’t make this stuff up. REALLY good, if you are near Kansas City (Independence, MO).

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And an occasional beer…

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A beautiful sunset (if you’re living the dream at a Wal-Mart parking lot)…

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But really some of the nicest and best parts are just driving past “small” farms and farming towns, and recognizing the extent of farming in Middle America!

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A lot of these towns have populations that measure in the low hundreds, and often less, and often comprise of a gas station, a grain silo or coop, and maybe a small grocery store. The silos will be located adjacent to a railroad siding so the crops can be easily taken to market.

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When we came across Middle America back in May, the effort was to cultivate and prepare for the 2017 harvest.

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In September, the view is different. You likely cannot appreciate what kind of agricultural juggernaut this country is until you drive across it! There are miles and miles and miles of corn (maze), soybean, sorghum, hay and many other crops, not to mention cattle, pig and chicken farms.

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And tractors and purpose-built machinery to till, seed, irrigate, fertilize and harvest all these crops. These are not mad driving skills these farmers have – many of these machines are driven from GPS devices that keep the rows straight and the machines to maximum efficiency.

Add in a few skills to keep these machines well oiled. Now you have to monitor the weather, and hope for no horrible conditions that could effect the entire year (like a tornado, early freeze – you name what Mother Nature can serve up).

When it comes to harvesting, farmers need to coordinate their timing, to account for expected weather and crop conditions, availability of machinery and resources to harvest, and of course watching commodity pricing to best maximize revenues. These farmers are essentially CEO’s of big businesses that need to manage a lot of balls in the air at one time, and all with a need to be largely self-sufficient.

One of the things we learned (you may say duh) is that corn is picked after it has dried! The reason is that when it is stored the dried corn has less chance of rot or mold, and I suppose it is lighter for handling purposes. Look at this machine that mows down the corn stocks, strips the husks and only saves the corn kernels! Yes, that yellow mound is the top of a bin load of corn kernels.  Sorry for the blurry image.

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Just imagine how big this process is as it repeats itself across hundreds of miles of farms all across Middle America – really amazing.

Well, that’s our eclectic farming, human interest and weird stuff story for today from Middle America… your mileage will vary. Keep exploring!

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