Monthly Archives: July 2009

Wind power from Iowa to Utah

Over the past two days, we have seen a great number of wind turbines. In Iowa, the wind turbines were often in fields of corn or soybeans:

Near Walnut, Iowa

These wind turbines were far from the highway, and barely visible across the Great Plains:

Somewhere along I-80, Nebraska

In Wyoming, we saw several extensive fields of wind turbines, like this one:

Between Laramie and Rawlins, Wyoming

Elsewhere in Wyoming, we saw a wind turbine being erected: a slim white tower, and a crane nearby waiting to place the blades and hub on top of the tower. In another place, we saw wind turbines gracefully turning in the distance, while close to the road an oil derrick clumsily bumped up and down, up and down: two different sources of energy side by side.

And finally, these wind turbines were somewhere near the Wyoming – Utah border:

We arrived in Salt Lake City at about 7:30 this evening, and as we were pulling in to the motel parking lot, Carol said that it looked there are more wind turbines in the Great Plains now than in California.

So that’s where we are

We rolled across the rolling hills of Iowa and on into Nebraska. We drove alongside the Platte River, catching glimpses of the high and oddly-shaped bluffs that define the edges of the broad river plain. We passed into the Mountain Time Zone. Let’s stop in Sidney, Nebraska, I said to Carol. She said, Why not go a little farther, it’s only 7:30. I said, Because there isn’t much between Sidney and Cheyenne.

We pulled off the highway. The tall huge signs read: Comfort Inn; AmericaInn; WalMart Supercenter; Sapp Bros. Shell; Steakhouse and Bar; Mexican Food. We walked to WalMart to buy fresh fruit and cheese for tomorrow. Wanna go for a longer walk? I said to Carol. She wanted to walk to a building on the other side of the road that looked like a casino, or something. We walked over in the gathering dusk. We both realized what the building was at the same time. Cabela’s, said Carol; I said, I was just thinking that.

There were big statues of horned animals in contorted poses. The store was closed. It was right next to the interstate, and trucks whined by. There are very few trees in this part of the country, and the soil looks dry and sandy. We walked back to our motel and went to sleep.

States that begin with vowels

Most New Englanders have a poor sense of geography. We have always had difficulty distinguishing between the states west of the Connecticut River (technically, Vermont is a New England state, but it is inhabited chiefly by New Yorkers and people who pronounce the letter “r” oddly). We New Englanders know vaguely that there are Appalachian mountains, then a big flat place where they grow corn and soybeans and all the states have names that begin with vowels, and then west of that there are mountains and deserts and big square states. We pity those New Englanders who have to go live in California, because they will be so very far from the ocean.

Corn and soybeans along I-80 in Illinois

Corn and soybeans along Interstate 80 in Illinois

Today, Carol and I drove through flat states whose names begin with vowels. We started driving this morning in Ohio, drove through northern Indiana, across midstate Illinois, and then across the Mississippi River into Iowa.

Crossing the Mississippi River along Interstate 80

The landscape was fairly flat in Ohio, sloping gently down towards Lake Erie; it was heavily developed south of Chicago, covered with industrial buildings, big box stores, and housing developments; it was fairly flat through midstate Illinois but even here it rolled gently; and here in Iowa, the landscape consists of low, rolling hills with winding creeks in the valleys between the hills. In short, the landscape is far more diverse than New Englanders think it is.

We are spending the night just south of the Amana Colonies in Iowa. We had some Schild Brau Amber lager beer at dinner, brewed locally by the Millstream Brewing Company. Carol comes from Iowa, and as we walked around, she said it felt somehow familiar: the cicadas, the fireflies, the silos half hidden behind the low hills, the fields of corn. And tomorrow we will continue driving across the flat states, getting farther and farther from the ocean.


We’re at a rest area somewhere in upstate New York. The landscape is flat. I just heard a train whistle. The traffic whines past on the nearby interstate.

A bright yellow Volkswagen an, dating from about 1970, just drove out of the rest area.Bicycles on the back, a man and a woman in the front. She had an expressive face, was wearing purple pants, and had frizzy hair. He was obvously the calm, conservative one in the relationship, and was wearing a ball cap, a dark t-shirt, and conservative shorts, like a lawyer on vacation. I’ll bet the Volkswagen van belongs to her. He was also the only black man in the rest area.

Carol guesses that they are from New York City, headed out of the city for some time off.


We should be in Ohio right now, but we’re still in New Bedford. We ran into a little snag yesterday — there wasn’t enough room in our 8 x 8 x 16′ Pod. But the last time we moved, we didn’t even fill the Pod. How could we have accumulated so much stuff in four short years? Carol pointed out that she had a lot of stuff stored in her parents’ basement, and when her father moved into his new condo she had to take all that stuff.

We jammed all we could into the Pod, then we advertised on Craigslist, put stuff out for street shoppers (all gone now), mailed boxes to ourselves at the new address, donated some stuff the the local thrift shop. Carol moved books and merchandise to a friend’s store on Cape Cod, and her co-author’s house in Newton. It was incredibly muggy today, with relative humidity up around 100%, and warm enough that the slightest exertion left you drenched with sweat. I’m exhausted. But at last we’re done. Tomorrow, we’ll finish packing the car and start driving west….

Fireworks and egotism

The city of New Bedford didn’t have money for fireworks on Independence Day this year. Which they only announced a week before July 4. Within a week, mayor Scott Lang announced that some local people and businesses had donated money for a fireworks display, He put the money into a fund he named the Lang Community Fund, thus proving that politicians, like preachers, are prone to egotism.

By the time the Lang Community Fund had been established, July 4th had come and gone. So the city decided to have the fireworks tonight. Having no need to witness a display of egotism, I decided not to walk down to the waterfront so I could watch the fireworks display. I stayed in the apartment, doing some final cleaning.

But I couldn’t escape. With the first boom of the fireworks, the car alarm on the fancy-schmancy car parked right outside our apartment went off. The car alarm said, “Hear me, I’m important, this car is expensive!”. It continued to go off periodically during the forty minute fireworks display, a sort of egotistical echo.

Class, locality, and race

In all the coverage of the Henry Louis Gates arrest, there are two things I have not seen mentioned:

(1) Race relations in the Boston area are among the worst I’ve experienced. The contrast between the Boston area and New Bedford is astounding — as a white guy in the Boston area, I find it that almost any encounter with someone who is black is fairly tense, even when both people are friendly towards one another; here in New Bedford, there is far less racial tension. Given the racial tension in the Boston area, any encounter between a white cop and a black man is going to start off tense. I would expect tension to escalate quickly unless one of the persons involved is very calm.

(2) Working class Cambridge residents aren’t exactly buddy-buddy with Harvard professors. In fact, there’s a big divide in the entire Boston area between those who identify positively with Harvard, and those of us who don’t. The people who don’t identify with Harvard are liable to be prejudiced and think of Harvard people as snobbish, egotistical, and overbearing. And perhaps those who identify with Harvard are liable to be prejudiced and think of the rest of us in terms that are not entirely complimentary.

You can see this dual prejudice playing out in the encounter between the Cambridge cop and the Harvard professor. Here’s how the story would be told from the cop’s point of view: Cambridge cop asks Harvard professor to identify himself; at first Harvard professor refuses, then instead of showing his driver’s license he pulls out his Harvard I.D., and when Cambridge cop asks for a government-issued I.D., Harvard professor starts yelling. Here’s how the story would be told from the professor’s point of view: while in own house, Cambridge cop with working class accent asks Harvard professor for I.D., then cop refuses to accept Harvard I.D. (!!), and refuses to listen to rational, reasonable explanations.

My conclusion: both parties are at fault, and each man should apologize to the other. The cop should have apologized immediately, because as a public servant it’s really part of his job, and his supervisors should require him to apologize before race relations get any worse in Cambridge. The Harvard professor should recognize that while race played a major factor in this encounter, class divisions and town/gown divisions also played a significant role; but I don’t think Gates really understands the deep, raw, vicious class divisions that exist in New England, so I can’t imagine him ever apologizing.

I hope Gates’s arrest promotes a widespread and rational conversation about race relations in the United States. I wish it would also promote a discussion about class divisions, but I don’t see that happening.

Late July

With all the rain we’ve been having, with constant puddles in all the low-lying places, it almost feels like spring rather than summer. But in spite of the weather, I know

On our walk this evening, we saw Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) growing in a number of places in cracks in the piers and wharves along the waterfront, and the plants were in full bloom: umbels of pure white, gently rounded, looking like intricate lacework.

Other midsummer flowers are also blooming. One of the chrysanthemums that we planted two years ago in our tiny little garden has deep burgundy blossoms. Near the bridge to Fairhaven, I saw some Common chicory (Cichorium intybus) plants about four feet high, each with a couple dozen pale blue flowers.

First-year Herring Gulls are everywhere. They fight each other for food. They call piteously to adult Herring Gulls, hoping to be fed (the adult gulls mostly just ignore them). There is always an injured first-year gull wandering around looking forlorn — today, Carol pointed out one with a broken wing walking up the street. Within a year, 80% of them will be killed off, but right now they are everywhere.

I’m just starting to notice that the days seem a little shorter, the sun is setting a little bit earlier.

The Red Sox have slipped out of first place. They always slip out of first place in late July or early August, and then struggle for the rest of the summer to catch up to the Yankees. They are as reliable as Queen Anne’s Lace.