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Guest Post: Whitewater Rafting on the St. Louis River

Once a month, the Go Big Read blog will feature an article written by one of the contributing authors of the Wisconsin Sea Grant blog. This collaboration was made possible by the Moira Harrington, the Assistant Director of Communications for Wisconsin Sea Grant. 

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhuikov

On Labor Day Weekend, I gained a different view of my local waterway. I write about the St. Louis River on the Wisconsin/Minnesota border for my job, since Wisconsin Sea Grant funds research and outreach projects on it. We are also a partner in the St. Louis River Stories and Science website, which contains all things river-oriented.

As if that weren’t enough, I’ve lived by the St. Louis River for most of my life. I’ve canoed on it, paddleboarded it, boated on it, but I’ve never immersed myself in it.

That changed when my friend Russ, who is an experienced kayaker, won a silent auction item at a fundraiser a few months ago. He won two tickets for whitewater rafting from a local company that operates on the riverbank in Scanlon, Minnesota.

Now, I am not a big fan of whitewater rafting, mainly because I mistakenly ended up on a whitewater rapids trip out West once that I thought was a float tour. I had my children with me, too, which added to my distress.

At least this time, I knew what I was in for. I reluctantly agreed to go on the St. Louis River trip, but I promised to scream all the way!

Upon my insistence, we agreed to wait until the water was warm, to make it a more comfortable experience. Now it was August, month of warm weather and water, and I was out of excuses not to go. We gathered everything the company’s information sheet instructed rafters to bring: a dry change of clothes, snug-fitting footwear, windbreaker, towel, etc. And off we went.

Once we arrived, I was surprised by the number of other people who wanted to fling themselves into an inflatable raft at the mercy of the river – 28 of us, to be exact, of all ages and fitness levels.

We started our three-hour journey by choosing one of the seven blue and yellow rafts lined up on the shore. Russ and I ended up paired with a young couple from St. Paul. A guide was assigned to each raft. Ours was named Logan.

The ensuing safety talk by the operations staffer, named Blu, included instruction to ignore your instincts and “lean into” whatever fearful obstacle the raft encounters. He explained that if you lean away from the rock or high wave, you are more likely to lose your seat and fall out of the raft. Not that falling out of the raft is the worst thing that can happen, but most people like to stay with their group.

The other useful instruction was to keep your feet up if you fall overboard. This is helpful in avoiding sharp rocks and logs, etc., that are on the bottom. Plus, most people aren’t strong enough to withstand the current standing up, so you might as well just go with the flow until one of the kayak patrollers (who go with every trip) retrieve you.

Blu said that in a group our size, it’s common for at least one person to fall overboard. I sure hoped it wouldn’t be me.

I thought the “lean into” rule was particularly deep. Psychologically speaking, sometimes facing your fears is the best way to overcome them. I decided then and there to change my attitude about the trip – to stop seeing it as something fearful, and instead see it as something to relish, and an opportunity to know the river better.

As the company’s website and instruction sheet promised, you will “see the river, feel the river, ride the river,” and you will get wet! On this sunny warm day, I was up for that.

Blu explained we’d encounter six sets of rapids ranging from Class I to III, and two sets of riffles. Each set of rapids would get more challenging along the four-plus-mile stretch until we reach the quiet-water reservoir formed by the Thompson Dam.

Safety talk over, we set out upon the water. Our first task was to run through a ‘slalom’ course between the pylons of the freeway bridge that goes across the river. This let us practice paddling different directions and experience what it feels like when the raft bumps into things.

Then we paddled through a set of riffles called “Warm-Up Rapids.” Everyone came through unscathed and, after stopping for an orientation, we continued to a set of surfing waves at “First Hole” rapids.

Have you ever seen standing waves that form behind an underwater rock in a river? That’s what we surfed on – if your idea of surfing involves your raft filling with water, which ours did. We surfed several times, bailing out between sessions with the handy containers provided in each raft.

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhuikov

After another group orientation session, we were onto “Two Hole” rapids. I think it was this one that had a big rock in the middle of it. Logan, our guide, thought it would be a good and fun idea to smash our raft into the rock.

On purpose.

Why he thought this was a good idea, I’ll never know. I always thought the whole idea of river rafting was to avoid the rocks. I guess I’ve been wrong all this time.

Granted, he did give us a choice, so we were complicit in the decision. I blame it on the adrenaline rush.

Paddling as hard as we could, our raft went up and over the rock, then started sliding sideways. I was on the outside side – the tippiest side – and remembered to lean into the rock to avoid falling out of the raft. I almost floated out, but managed to stay in by the skin of my teeth. Rather like dental surgery, it felt so good once it was over.

Our next stop was a canyon that featured a couple of small beaches in a slow section of the river. We grounded our rafts and had the chance to swim for a while, clothes, lifejackets and all.

Russ went all the way in. I was fine going waist deep, not because I was worried about pollution or anything, but because the river was rather chilly to me even for a warm day. I marveled at the brown water – tea stained from the many wetland plants steeping at its headwaters and along the way. The white pines and bare rock faces along the shore looked primeval, like we could have been miles into a wilderness. The beauty filled me and gave me a new sense of appreciation for the river.

Our rest stop over, it was time for the big guns in terms of rapids. We made it through “Hidden Hole” just fine, then it was onto “Electric Ledge,” which is a Class III rapids that consists of a four-to-six-foot drop.

I had heard the name of this rapids whispered in awe among my kayaker friends for years. Now we were about to go over it! And we were about to go over it before any of the others. Logan explained that our raft had the first aid kit in it, and we needed to go first in case the other rafts needed assistance once they ran the ledge.

Not only were we in the first raft, but Russ and I were sitting in the FRONT of the first raft. Oh, lucky us.

We didn’t have much time to wonder at our luck as the ledge was approaching. I repeated all the rules: lean into your fear, keep your feet up. Then we slid over it, sideways and steep. Russ grabbed onto my arm for support.

Luckily, that steadied him and we both stayed in the boat. So did the rest of our crew, but I can’t say that for one of the other rafts, which did indeed lose one person over the ledge. The person remembered the rules, however, and they were uneventfully picked up not far downriver.

The final set of rapids, “Little Kahuna,” is more technical than terrifying. After some twists and turns, we made it through just fine. From there, a somewhat longish paddle across peaceful water (known as the Boundary Waters to the staff) took us to the end of our journey and a bus that was waiting to drive us back to our starting point.

So, in summary, I did scream as initially promised, but it was from fun, not out of fear. I think this was due to the great job the staff did at letting us know what to expect from each set of rapids.

I’m glad I overcame my fear to meet my local river on its own terms.

Click here to subscribe to the Wisconsin Sea Grant blog.

Article by Marie Zhukov

Contributor, Wisconsin Sea Grant

Guest Contributor, Go Big Read

Guest Post: Chocolate Milk and Biting Flies

Once a month, the Go Big Read blog will feature an article written by one of the contributing authors of the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Press Room and blog. This collaboration was made possible by the Moira Harrington, the Assistant Director of Communications for Wisconsin Sea Grant. 

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhukov

I recently had the good fortune to go on my first extended sailboat trip across Lake Superior with some friends. We left Duluth, Minnesota, and headed to Wisconsin’s Apostle Island National Lakeshore, and then traversed the western arm of the lake to Grand Marais Harbor in Minnesota.

Since I am writing this, you know I survived the three-day trip. If fact, I would like to think I thrived, despite turning green with seasickness once and having to wear all my winter gear, plus hand warmers, on the 4th of July.

I learned a lot about sailing, but still have more to know. I was also able to take plenty of pictures, which no doubt, will find their way into Sea Grant publications in the future. And I got a firsthand look at conditions on the lake.

Two things struck me and my sailing companions. The first was the color of the water. Almost all the way to the Apostles it was the hue of chocolate milk. The large extent and persistence of the coloring was unusual. There were also floating logs to watch out for.

According to a news story I read upon returning home, the condition is due to a series of recent heavy rains that have sent thousands of tons of silt into the lake. Chequamegon Bay, on the other side of the Apostles, is also experiencing heavy sedimentation.

Usually, the chocolate milk dissipates within a few days, but this round of it is lasting longer than usual because we kept having downpours every few days. Most of the sediment comes from the Nemadji River and its red clay banks, along with the St. Louis River.

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhukov

We also had more than double the amount of usual rainfall for the month of June. Anglers and charter captains are having to travel farther than usual out into the lake to find clear water for fishing.

The second notable thing were the flies. Known locally by the name of “ankle-biters” or sand flies, stable flies look like a common housefly but they are meaner because they bite – usually a person’s ankles. I can attest that there are roughly a gazillion of them out on the lake and its shores this summer. The only thing that saved us from certain insanity on a shore trip to Outer Island was the fact that we were wearing jeans, which they couldn’t bite through.

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhukov

The flies congregated in seething clusters from our knees down, rarely venturing farther up our legs. Thank goodness they had no interest in our bare arms or we would have had to run screaming back to our dinghy!

According to a story on National Public Radio, researchers have figured out how and why the flies and other biting insects like mosquitos do this. They think these biting bugs target feet and ankles because we are less likely to notice (and therefore kill) them. They hone in on their target by smell, and apparently, the sweat and skin on our ankles smells different from that of the rest of our body.

Besides wearing jeans, we found it helpful to elevate our feet off the ground while we were on the boat. They didn’t seem to be able to find our ankles if they were level with the rest of our legs. Conditions on the boat never got bad enough that we needed to apply repellant, but we were glad we had some along, just in case.

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhukov

Although the water wasn’t its typical crystal-clear blue, and we had many insect stowaways aboard our sailboat, Lake Superior was still magical. I greatly enjoyed spending time on it, and hope to do so again someday.

Photo courtesy of Marie Zhukov

Click here to subscribe to the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Press Room.

Article by Marie Zhukov

Contributor, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant

Guest Contributor, Go Big Read

What is the Mississippi River Basin?

What is the Mississippi River Basin, and why is it so important?

The Mississippi River is, to put it simply, big. It flows 2,350 miles from its source at Lake Itasca in Minnesota through the center of the continental United States to the Gulf of Mexico. It is a major migration route for North American birds and fish, and is home to around 260 species of fish and over 300 species of birds. It is one of the world’s most important commercial waterways. Every year, million of tons of rice from farms in Arkansas and Louisiana are transported via barge. It’s final destination? China. Rice is just one of many goods transported domestically and internationally via the Mississippi.

Beginning in the 19th century, the Mississippi became an important transportation channel for commerce, industry, and recreation. Engineering the river to provide navigation and control flooding continues to be a management issue. Engineers have to consider changing floodplain regions as a result of the natural shift of the river’s course, as well as nutrient runoff from agriculture located in the floodplains. To increase navigation potential, engineer’s connected Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, making yet another path for invasive species.

The Mississippi River Basin Watershed, the area drained by a river’s tributaries, is about 1.2 million square miles, and includes all or parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces, about 40% of the continental United States. In Wisconsin, tributaries include the Rock River, Wisconsin River, Chippewa River, and St. Croix River, among many others.

The Mississippi in the Mid-West

Balancing the needs and demands of navigation, agriculture, recreation, industry, and wildlife continues to be a challenge. There are no easy answers, as several global entities, compete for their interests in the Basin region. This complex ecological system will continue to be an important part of the conversation about water and life.

 

To read about organizations committed to responsible management of the Upper Mississippi Region, click here.

Michala Roberts

Graduate Assistant for Go Big Read 

Guest Post: Mary Burns Explores Women’s Roles as Water Stewards

Once a month, the Go Big Read blog will feature an article written by one of the contributing authors for the Center for Limnology blog. This collaboration was made possible by Adam Hinterthuer, the University Relations Specialist for the Center for Limnology. 

Courtesy of UW Center for Limnology

Mary Burns believes that water is sacred.

A textile artist and weaver, Mary lives on the banks of the Manitowish River, in the cabin that once belonged to her grandparents. She said that the cabin, and the river that runs beside it, are the sites of some of her earliest memories.

“I think people really feel drawn to water, and it means a lot to people, whether it is a sense of belonging, or a sense of serenity,” Mary said. “I think there is a magnetic pull to water for most people.”

Her own connection to water has inspired her throughout her career as a weaver. Now, she hopes that a residency at Trout Lake Station will give her the opportunity to explore that relationship — as well as the role of women as environmental stewards — further.

Mary works on a sample for a current project. She can use up to 1300 warp threads at one time. Courtesy of UW Center for Limnology

She imagines her residency taking the form of a series of woven portraits, featuring women who are leaders in water science and stewardship, paired with weavings of freshwater landscapes. She also plans to extract natural dyes from those landscapes.

“I think that women working in limnology are essential. I would like to bring their expertise into this discussion,” Mary said. “I would like the exhibit to broaden people’s knowledge our water problems and encourage people to take action.”

Tentatively, she will title the collection The Living Water.

The series will expand on a project that Mary has been working on for the past several years. Called Ancestral Women, that series included 12 woven portraits of native women and 12 landscapes. The collection resulted from a collaboration between Mary and tribal communities across Wisconsin.

“Women are life givers, and in many native societies, they are the water protectors,” Mary explained. “I started working with native women on this because it seemed to me that they should be honored first.”
A portrait of water walker Josephine Mandamin.
Weavings from both series line the walls of Mary’s airy studio.

“This is Josephine Mandamin,” Mary said, gesturing toward a grey-tone image of an older woman carrying a copper pot. It’s one of the first pieces Mary has competed as part of Living Water.

A portrait of water walker Josephine Mandamin. Courtesy of UW Center for Limnology

Josephine, Mary explained, began the Water Walk Movement, an effort lead by native women to advocate for freshwater conservation. Josephine has walked over 15,000 miles to raise awareness for water.

“She is tremendously inspirational to me,” Mary said.

The portrait of Josephine, took Mary over a month to complete. Mary has been weaving since high school, but Ancestral Women was the first time she had ever attempted portraiture in that medium.

But weaving, she said, was the best way for her to share these stories.

“Bringing these stories to life in weaving is a gift I have been given,” Mary said. “I think that people relate to it and are amazed by it. It’s a textile, and people are drawn to that. It’s something basic, it connects to everybody and it’s something that can be touched.”

Mary said she chose to design the the portraits in grey tones because color would have distracted from the stories she wanted the weavings to tell.

“I think the monochrome is more powerful,” she said. “The minimalism contains complexity.”

Mary’s jacquard loom stands in the back corner of her studio, near a window overlooking a garden bursting with the indigo she uses to dye silks.

Even when she reduces her palette to a few colors, the weaving process is incredibly complicated. Mary works with 1,300 warp threads at any time, and she controls each individually.

She navigates between 4,000 weave structures to create the perfect shading and textures in her pieces.

While Mary said she hopes her work conveys her gratitude for Wisconsin’s abundant freshwater systems, she also hopes that it inspires stewardship of them, and cautions audiences that the state’s resources cannot be taken for granted.

Particularly, she sees agricultural and industrial runoff and mining as threats to Wisconsin’s waterways. When she weaves, she said it is with that thankfulness — but also those worries — in mind.

Mary will be working at Trout Lake station throughout the summer and fall as she completes her residency. Check back often to see more of her completed work.

To view more of Mary’s weavings, please visit her website. To learn more about the Trout Lake Station artist-in-residence program (and to see some beautiful aquatic-inspired art), visit the Drawing Water website.

Article by Sydney Widell

Summer Science Communication Intern, Center for Limnology

Guest Contributor, Go Big Read

Guest Post: Summer inspectors help boaters prevent the spread of invasive species in Wisconsin’s waters

Once a month, the Go Big Read blog will feature an article written by one of the contributing authors of the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Press Room and blog. This collaboration was made possible by the Moira Harrington, the Assistant Director of Communications for Wisconsin Sea Grant. 

As another Wisconsin summer hits its stride, it’s a good time for Wisconsin boaters to think about responsible boating practices.  They can enjoy the great outdoors and protect our waters at the same time by taking simple actions to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS).

Clean Boats, Clean Waters is a statewide boater education program that Wisconsin Sea Grant implements in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and University of Wisconsin-Extension.  With the help of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding, Sea Grant educates boaters along the Great Lakes coast.

Trained watercraft inspectors are stationed in four areas of the state, where they teach boaters how to take the preventative steps required by state law to minimize the risk of spreading unwanted “hitchhikers,” such as zebra mussels and quagga mussels, from one body of water to another.

Simple steps taken after boating can prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Clean Boats, Clean Waters inspectors are ready to educate and assist.
Credit: Clean Boats, Clean Waters

Tim Campbell, Sea Grant’s AIS outreach specialist, works closely with Wisconsin DNR on the program.  As he summed up Wisconsin law, “Basically, you’re not allowed to transport aquatic plants, mud or animals on a public roadway. You also can’t transport lake or river water, so you need to drain out the water before leaving the boat landing.”

While more than 90% of boaters say they are familiar with Wisconsin law and “always” or “usually” take steps to clean their watercraft, that still leaves many boating trips each year that present some risk.

Inspectors talk to boaters (and users of other watercraft, like kayaks and paddleboards) about these requirements and, when needed, help them take the necessary actions, such as removing plants from a hard-to-reach part of a trailer or draining excess water from boat compartments.

“Especially at the beginning of the boating season, people can be rusty in their boating habits,” said Campbell.  “And it’s always good for inspectors to be there to talk to the few people who haven’t yet heard the ‘Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!’ message.”

Clean Boats, Clean Waters inspectors are based out of Appleton, Green Bay, Milwaukee/Port Washington, and the Kenosha/Racine/Milwaukee area.  The aim is not to penalize boaters, but to help them comply with the law and protect our waters so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.

“Many of the boaters thank me for being out and doing my job, which is pretty cool,” said inspector Matthew Cherney, a UW-Madison student majoring in geological engineering and geoscience.  Cherney, who is from Appleton, covers boat launches in and around Milwaukee.

The inspectors are all college students and work through Labor Day or so.  It’s gratifying work, said Nick Holtmeier, a UW-Whitewater student majoring in biology and Spanish, whose area is northeastern Wisconsin. “My favorite part of performing inspections is getting to talk to the public to inform them about a topic for which I have a passion.”

The program has been quite successful in holding the line on the spread of AIS.  Said Campbell, “Clean Boats, Clean Waters has been going on since 2004, and we know that it works to change boater behaviors.  It’s the best program we have to really make an impact on the spread of invasive species.”

For questions about the program, contact Campbell at tim@aqua.wisc.edu.

Click here to subscribe to the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Press Room.

Article by Jennifer A. Smith

Contributor, University of Wisconsin Sea Grant

Guest Contributor, Go Big Read

Annie Egan and Celebrate Water!

In May of 2018, Door County began its inaugural Celebrate Water initiative. This year-long program will raise awareness of issues affecting the freshwater systems of Door County, and will conclude with a Water Summit, hosted by the UW-Oshkosh Environmental Research and Innovation Center, in June 2019. Events include water-themed art exhibits, talks and lectures, and a massive community kick-off at Sawyer Park. The mission of the festival is to “draw together the talents, efforts, energy and enthusiasm the county is known for and bolster the appreciation and awareness of our unique waters,” a mission the council will invoke year round by advocating for the freshwater systems that make Door County famous. This campaign was influenced by the affect Dan Egan’s book had on a very special person: his mother, Annie Egan.

Annie Egan has lived around water her entire life, growing up in Green Bay and raising her family in the area. Giving back to the community has always been important to her and her husband, Dick, who were named Door County’s Philanthropists of the Year in 2016. Besides sitting on numerous boards and committees, they are also founders of FUVIRESE USA, Inc. a 501(c)(3) charitable organization providing financial and administrative support to FUVIRESE, a charity working with disabled adults and children in Ecuador.

Annie and Dick Egan. Photo by Polly Alberts, Courtesy of Door County Pulse

Up until Dan Egan asked her to proofread his manuscript for The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, her efforts focused on local art and people in need. Water was always in the background of life, and she took its presence for granted. As an article states, her son’s book compelled her to use her influence and raise awareness about the issues affecting the water. She reached out to Healthy Water Door County, who responded by giving full support of  Celebrate Water. How would the community respond to such a campaign? Annie Egan says the community response, “has been amazing and has really evoked the pride we all have in what makes the Door County peninsula so unique – the water that surrounds us.”

The year long campaign is just starting out, and there are many ways to get involved. Visit celebratewaterdoorcounty.org for more information.

Recent Senate Legislation Threatens Great Lakes

In mid-April of this year, the United States Senate voted on a piece of legislation that would have removed the Environmental Protection Agency from managing ballast water discharge from freighters. Instead, management would be transferred completely to the Coast Guard. After days of immense pressure from conservationists, the measure was narrowly defeated. Was this a win for the conservation of the Great Lakes?

It was a small one, and to understand why conservationists are still concerned, it’s important to understand the damage ballast water has already caused. As defined by the Environment Protection Agency, ballast water is water that is taken up or discharged when cargo is unloaded or loaded, in order to maintain the ship’s stability and balance. Freighters traveling across the Atlantic pick up whole ecosystems when they take up ballast water, and the organisms subsequently dumped in the lakes can be a menace. Two such organisms, the quagga and zebra mussels, have been sucking the life out of the Great Lakes for over a decade. These organisms, which attach to hard surfaces like the iron infrastructure of industry, can cause up to $1 billion of damage per year, according to a 2010 report.

Photo: Kilian Fichou, AFP/Getty Images

Simply put, these invasive species are bad news, both in terms of industry and conservation. So why would the Senate try to roll back regulations that would curb the introduction of other invasive species?

Dan Egan reported on this issue extensively for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In an article released shortly after the Senate vote, Egan describes the conflict between the shipping industry, conservationists, and the government, saying, “Shipping industry advocates have been pushing for the change for years, arguing that the existing ballast water management program is too complicated…The problem, according to the conservation groups, is that the Coast Guard is ill-suited to manage this form of biological pollution and cannot compel the shipping industry to limit its discharges under the authority of the Clean Water Act, which is administered by the EPA.” A review of the measure is set for 2022, and until then, conservationists will continually advocate for regulations on ballast water discharge in the hopes of protecting the Great Lakes ecosystems.

Michala Roberts
Graduate Assistant, Go Big Read

Majority of Americans See Drug Addiction as a Disease

A recent survey summarized by the The Daily News revealed that a majority of Americans view prescription drug addiction as a disease. However, most respondents still would not welcome those addicts into their living environment.

According to the survey by the Associated Press- NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, results show that more than 1 in 10 Americans have had someone close to them die from an opioid overdose. In the past 18 years, opioid-related deaths have quadrupled. The national life expectancy has also decreased due to this epidemic.

According to the survey, 53 percent of Americans view addiction as a disease, but less than 1 in 5 Americans were willing to closely associate themselves with an individual suffering from a drug addiction.

Opioids have taken the lives of many in the past decade. CC Image Courtesy of Health.mil.

The Daily News article interviewed Emily Fleischer, a 36-year-old librarian who has been affected by the opioid epidemic. She understands why certain individuals may want to keep their distance from those addicted to opioids.

“‘I can see why people wouldn’t want that to be up close and personal, even if they do feel it is a disease and not the person’s fault,’” Fleischer said.

Unfortunately, a very few amount of those battling opioid addiction receive treatment: about 1 in 5.

Some medical professionals are trying to to de-stigmatize drug addiction by comparing it to well known physical health diseases. Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana Wen feels that it is “counterproductive to blame people for their conditions.”

“’If somebody is afflicted with heart disease or cancer then everybody brings that person or their family a casserole, but if someone is afflicted with addiction then they don’t have the same community support,’” Wen said.

For many, the battle with opioid addiction begins with an exposure to painkillers that becomes difficult for them to stop. As seen with J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, his own mother was prescribed narcotics that turned into an addiction.

“I believe the problem started with a legitimate prescription, but soon enough, Mom was stealing from her patients and getting so high that turning an emergency room into a skating rink seemed like a good idea” (113).

Author J.D. Vance’s close family was affected by prescription drug addiction. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

These survey results demonstrate that although opinions have begun to shift on how opioid addiction is viewed in the United States, there is a long way to go on finding a complex solution for this detrimental epidemic.

 

“Tales of Two Americas” Provides Further Insight into Appalachia

Hillbilly Elegy is not the only recently published book that has been providing readers with insight into the lives of Appalachians.

John Freeman’s “Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation” provides various short stories regarding different topics that encompass the United States today, some of them being issues in current day Appalachia. A central theme in many of the stories is the large gap between the wealthy and the poor in present day America, an issue that is especially present in the Appalachia states.

Amazon gives a short summary: “In Tales of Two Americas, some of the literary world’s most exciting writers look beyond numbers and wages to convey what it feels like to live in this divided nation. Their extraordinarily powerful stories, essays, and poems demonstrate how boundaries break down when experiences are shared, and that in sharing our stories we can help to alleviate a suffering that touches so many people.”

Tales of Two Americas provides insight into the lives of Americans and different social classes. CC Image Credit Gillian Keebler.

A specific short story called “Trash Food” by Chris Offutt really dives deep into the lives of Appalachians today. Here’s an excerpt:

“I told him I was oversensitive to matters of social class. I explained that people from the hills of Appalachia had to fight to prove they were smart, diligent, and trustworthy. It’s the same for people who grew up in the Mississippi Delta, the barrios of Los Angeles and Texas, or the ghettos of New York. His request reminded me that due to social class I’d been refused jobs, bank loans, and dates. I’ve been called hillbilly, stumpjumper, cracker, weedsucker, redneck, and white trash– mean-spirited terms designed to hurt me and make me feel bad about myself” (71).

If you are looking for further insight into the lives of those in Appalachia and other areas across the United States, be sure to check it out!

 

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

 

UW-Madison Professor Provides Insight on Children’s Reading Comprehension

“The way kids are taught to read in school is disconnected from the latest research, namely how language and speech actually develop in a child’s brain.”

In an NPR interview with Mark Seidenberg, cognitive scientist and professor at UW-Madison, he offers insight on what it will take to improve reading instruction with the nation’s children.

Seidenberg is not the only one to come to the surprising conclusion that “only a third of the nation’s schoolchidren read at grade level.” He claims that in order to be a successful reader, it depends on linking the text to speech; successful reading is dependent on the child’s language, grammar and vocabulary. Where the big connection lies is through teaching kids the “correspondence between the letters on a page and the sounds of words.”

Only a third of the nation’s schoolchildren read at grade level, according to UW-Madison professor Mark Seidenberg. CC Image Credit to Pexels.

Seidenberg also notes that teachers are often told this connection is not relevant to their teaching styles and that these scientific discoveries has no connection with what they decide to teach in the classroom. In his book, “Language at the Speed of Sight,” he explains that in order to understand the scientific research, teachers need a basic level of scientific literacy in order to fully understand it. In his eyes, they can either dismiss what he is saying in his discoveries, or they can share the findings and create change.

He was motivated to write his book based on frustration that has built up. Scientific discoveries about reading have barely had an impact on educational practices and he feels that it has “put kids at risk for failure.”

“‘Reading scientists have been talking about this for a long time and tried to communicate with educators and failed,'” Seidenberg explained. “‘We have not been able to get the science past the schoolhouse door.'”

An interesting recommendation Seidenberg offers is that college graduates who sign up for Teach for America be hired for reading tutors instead of classroom teachers for supplemental reading instruction. This would put more people in the classroom or after-school programs instead of putting the entire responsibility on one teacher in the classroom.

Seidenberg also recommends that schools of education ensure that teachers have a basic understanding of linguistics and child development in order to properly teach reading. For him, it is an entire community effort, and if done correctly, it will make a monumental difference in improved youth reading levels.

 

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office