July 22 • 10:11 AM

Trip reveals changes in the Midwest landscape

August 08, 2007
Having missed two key reunions this summer—my immediate family (which includes my parents and my 11 siblings and myself, and all the offspring thereof), and my five-year cousin reunion—Mike and I took a few days to go for a short visit with my parents and as many siblings as we could catch.

As we crossed the Mighty Mississippi, hearing in my head the chant my kids repeated for all their growing-up years—M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-humpback-humpback-I-and began seeing road signs only a Midwesterner can appreciate—I felt like I was coming back home. (Not that Michigan isn't home to me by now also, but I felt like folks with dual citizenship must feel). Signs such as these seemed to be growing in the fields and along the roadsides: World's Largest Truck Stop (complete with advertisements for catalogs and web sight; Silos and Smokehouses=Natural Resources; Bulls for Sale; Case, International, Peterbilt; Machine Shed Rest Area; Ox Yoke Restaurant.

I became aware also for the first time that the flat plains of Illinois, patch-worked with fields of corn and soybeans, interspersed with a few trees, had subtly given way to perhaps even fewer trees and slightly more gentle hills, with the trademark contour farming, originally done to prevent soil erosion but, (and this is my opinion) also having become a much-loved art form. There are few things, in the eyes of this Midwest farm girl, more beautiful than the hillocks of variegated green-on-green, with now and then the gold of oats or wheat. Conspicuous this year, though, was the absence of the gold. The green-on-green was broken only by the color of the tassels in the corn.

At first I was only vaguely aware of the lack of golds; then I attributed it to a seasonal change. No grain is ripe, I told myself. But as I thought about it, I remembered the local radio station miles in the Kewanee-Annawan, Illinois area, which had piqued our awareness of an ethanol plant being built even as we passed it. Thrown into the information was a plug for a local gas station which was advertising 20% ethanol for

$2.69 a gallon.

Slip forms were in place to pour two 100-foot silos at a rate of 15 inches of concrete per hour. Upon completion, the silos would hold (if I had written fast enough accurately enough) 100,000,000 bushel of corn this fall. To the ground corn would be added water and yeast (and whatever else was needed to aid the fermentation process.) The eventually denatured alcohol would then become, along with its twin, soy diesel fuel, one of our renewable resources to replace the nonrenewable fossil fuels.

Were the grain futures betting on the fuel industry? Is that why the ground was poked full of corn and beans? Were the farmers along I-80 on the ground floor of this relatively new industry? Could it be that they would have a beautiful crop and be appropriately compensated all the same year? One can only hope.

Castle Creek
07 - 22 - 19
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