DAY 42 – MONDAY, AUGUST 19

MUSCATINE TO OAKVILLE

Our host, Greg Jenkins, made a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, and we shared a few final stories before starting our day. He also helped Tom secure the new cargo arrangement in the back of the van, scrounging up several bungee cords and straps to makeshift our way into a more stable mobile environment!

At about 9am, Greg went off to work and Victoria and I visited the National Pearl Button Museum at the History & Industry Center – just a couple of blocks off the river from the day’s launching point. Director Terry Eagle led us on an hour-long tour and conversation about the history of the clamming and the button industry. More importantly, he articulated the relevance of these stories to the present day. It’s worth a trip to Muscatine, Iowa to learn a history that you probably weren’t taught in school. The history of an industry as important as any other to the development of our country. As Terry shared with us the day before especially, he’s trying “to put the muscle back in Muscatine” by reinvisioning how the filtering powers of the muscle can aide clean water efforts in the river and water treatment.

We did have to run, though, so we headed out. Tom ran the first leg out of town on foot – down the levee and out past the Monsanto Plant. We jumped on our bikes for the next couple of segments. The road was narrow with no shoulder, but thankfully the traffic was relatively light. 

Just into Tom’s ride, He noticed a handmade sign that said KEEP GOING!. He thought it might be an ad for a local business or roadside attraction. As he got closer, he could read the smaller text – KEEP GOING! RELAY OF VOICES. What a nice surprise, courtesy of the kind folks in Oakville! Several more signs along the way kept him energized as he cycled his way through the beautiful August landscape of southeastern Iowa.

Victoria changed into her running shoes for the final miles into Oakville, Iowa. She took off just as Kathy pulled up to greet Tom at the Relay van along the roadside. She motored off to join the welcoming committee, who were stationed on Russell Street at the edge of town – ready for our arrival. The only problem was . . . Victoria turned toward town just past the Iowa River bridge. She took the gravel road, saving about a quarter-mile of running, but missing the crowd gathered to cheer us into town.

No worries, though. The crowd reassembled at City Hall for introductions and a nice lunch. We met Lana, Linda, Kathy, Brian, Rhonda, Mayor Benita, amongst others. We mapped out our itinerary for the day and set off to discover the voices and landscapes of this community. 

We started just up the road at the Museum. Or was it the Post office? Actually it was the Library and food shelf. Let’s just say it was a multi-purpose building. We were given a guided tour by Mayor Benita Grooms. 

From there on to Toolesboro with Lana. We learned about woodland culture, burial mounds, and Lana’s own personal story of being drawn to environmental education, working outdoors with youth, and how she and her husband have come together on how to live near but not quite in this small community of Louisa County, Iowa where she works.

Katie Hammond, director of Louisa County Conservation, met up with us at Toolesboro in order to take us out kayaking on “lake” Odessa. This backwater slough of the Mississippi is a controlled wetland, so the waters are so calm, it feels like a lake. Cabins and even a restaurant are built up along it, but much of these properties have had to shift back due to the managed flooding that continues in the waterway. We saw egrets, turkey vultures, various other water foul, and examined briophytes (or some such bulbous organism that cleanses the water) growing along the island beaches. Tom and Katie skated along the water like expert paddlers, while Victoria is definitely not trading in her running shoes for a kayak any time soon. 

Bev Neilson, our host for the night, met us on shore, guiding us back up the hill to her cabin and the neighbor’s cabin where we would stay for the night. We had a short moment for a beer and getting acquainted before heading into town for the community meal and performance.

Now having had both upper body and lower body workouts for the day, the dinner of bbq chicken sandwiches, melons, and cheesy potatoes hit the spot. Victoria stood in the middle of the room and shared stories from recent towns, but always the best part was the moment those in the room began to open up and share their own stories. 

Another embodied day, listening. And another night, hoping that through sleep, the stories will embed for future telling.