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The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell braves weather to celebrate prairie and art

While many people this past weekend were stuck inside due to the rainy weather and thunder, there were a few brave students, faculty and staff who headed out to the prairie. This past Saturday, Sept. 18, Conrad Environmental Research Agency (CERA) hosted their second Prairie Festival, a combination of different events including nature walks, poetry and other readings, musical performances, a prairie photo contest and even a spread of fresh local farm food.

The event was hosted by members of Grinnell faculty in coordination with the Iowa Heritage Prairie Week. “We decided to have this event in honor of the Iowa Heritage Prairie Week, which was enacted by Iowa’s governor, Chet Culver, to help connect Iowans to the prairie, which in 1850 was 85% of Iowa’s terrain, but is now mostly gone,” said Jonathan Andelson, anthropology.

The indoor space at CERA, which is Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified—a standard recognizing building sustainability—held the festival’s events and offered a nice shelter from the rain.

“[The Prairie Festival] had a lot of great classroom space where we could sit and enjoy some great music, while looking out over the prairie,” said Margot McKlveen ’13, an attendee.

The day began with a Grinnell alumna who performed a traditional Meskwaki dance. There was also a six-year-old Meskwaki girl who sang a song following the dance.

The festival had two sets of readings, the first of which was organized by Lesley Delmenico, theatre. Members of the College community read for the event, including Elizabeth Holmes ’13, Raghav Malik ’13, Sandy Moffett, theatre, Mark Schneider, physics and Catherine Rod, Burling Library. The group read a collection of poems from Michael Carey’s book on Nishnabotna, Iowa. The poet was chosen for his love of the prairie, as he grew up in New Jersey, but then moved out to Iowa where he quickly became enchanted by the land.

“The poetry kind of captured the sentiments that a lot of us feel coming to the prairie, and coming to Grinnell for the first time,” McKlveen said.
After the first readings, the event turned to some fresh and inspiring music, with two group performances. The first band was a group well-known in Grinnell, a band made up of professors called the Too Many Strings Band. The second performance was by Rhythm and Groove, featuring David Opong-Wadee ’12, Katie In ’13 and Rob Stewart ’12, who played songs by Bob Marley, The Beatles and Maroon Five.

Then the festival turned to the second set of readings, which were organized by Rod. The readings began with Lauren Hester ‘09, who read a selection from the children’s book series Little House on the Prairie. Then Milton Severe, Faulconer Gallery, read from his great-grandmother’s account of her trip in a prairie schooner across Iowa. Finally, Kathryn Vanney ‘11, read a poem by Otha Wearin, a Grinnell alum, and Mark Baechtel, forensics, read three original poems.

In addition to the readings and music, the festival featured a prairie photo competition and despite the poor weather, several guided tours to different sections of the prairie. The Prairie Advisory Board also brought in lots of fresh local food that was available to all.

Overall, the event was well received and those who attended seemed thoroughly impressed by the range of activities. “There was a surprising good turnout despite the weather, and there was a good range of events,” Malik said.
Besides being a pleasant event, the festival gave students and the community at large the chance to have an experience on the prairie that was very memorable. “A lot of us had never been out to the prairie, so it gave people in the community a great chance to go out there and educated us about what’s going on out there,” McKlveen said.

According to Andelson, the Prairie Center Advisory foresees another event like this taking place in roughly two years, though there could be one sooner. Additionally, the Prairie Center has several other events that they are organizing or co-organizing in hopes that they can create a greater appreciation and awareness for the prairie and the issues related to it.

“We are looking forward to the co-sponsoring of a symposium dealing with the issues of corn,” Andelson said. “Also, in the spring we plan on doing a program on rain and flooding, which is a very important issue, because if the prairie were still here this wouldn’t be a problem.”

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