Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pearl Button Capital of the World

Were still near Muscatine, but moved from Fairport State Recreation Area to Shady Creek, a campground run by the US Army Corps of Engineers just a couple of miles up the Mississippi.  The Corps has 26 campgrounds along the Mississippi River and it only cost us $9 to stay here.  One crazy rule at the Corps campgrounds is that you can’t just take a non-reserved spot by filling out a reservation card and putting it in a metal container, or “iron ranger” as Jim calls them, and then putting a reserved sign at your campsite.  Instead, you have to register in person during a specific couple of hours each day.  We were only second in line and it took 45 minutes to register.  By the time we left, there was a big line behind us, but they were all talking about the local sights and didn’t seem to mind.  Oh, the more relaxed life of the retiree.  
We took a hike at Wild Den State Park which is just a few more miles up river.  Our hike started at at the Pine Creek Grist Mill, built in 1848 by Benjamin Nye, one of the area’s first settlers.  Attention post office folks:  He also built the first post office in Muscatine County in 1838.   The forest is full of oak, walnut and maple trees and has lots of underbrush.  Jim, who was a forest ranger in Oregon for 20 years, said deciduous forests “creep him out.”  We were trying to pin point why, and decided it’s the  underbrush (you don’t have much of that in a pine forest and it’s easier to get off the path if you have to) and the moldy/musky smell from all that organic decay that makes the soil so great.  The crazy cicadas sounding like a hundred electric high-tension wires buzzing at once don’t help either.   Jim will either get used to it or be creeped out for a good many more hikes. I’m betting on the former.
Fact about Muscatine:  The MIssissippi River near here was once so filled with mussel shells that the bottom of the river was like a cobblestone street.  In the late 1880s, a German immigrant and button cutter names John Boepple thought the mussel shells made great shiny buttons, and by 1905, 1.5 billion buttons --- 40 percent of the world’s supply -- were manufactured out of Muscatine.  The industry declined by the mid 1900s -- tourist literature says the mussel beds were over fished and people preferred “new, more durable materials” --- I’m thinking plastic buttons and metal zippers.  

View of the Mississippi River from the back window of our rig.
Wikipedia says there are 2,500 species of cicadas around the world.  I think there’s a family reunion in Muscatine and most of them made it.  For those of you who live in the west and aren’t familiar with cicadas, as they mature they molt, literally climb out of their old skin and often leave their former shell on a tree -- and that shell is what you see in this photo. I read where their “song” can be as loud as 120 decibels. Fortunately, they don’t often sing right next to your ear.


  1. Hey B&J

    What a great view out your back window when you wake up in the morning. Is that view from the State Park or the A.C.E. site? You are educating us on how to RV intelligently.

    Sandy has mentioned several times how well you write, I don't know why she hasn't posted anything, though she has been pretty busy censuring my comments to you. And, as she, as you know, is a bit of a wallforwer, it is hard for her to step forward.

    I love Jim, but his mind-set on the deciduous forest is just unreasoned. As God was creating the world, 10,000 years ago, He put all the grizzlies out West, He then figured there had to a place for Man (His favored mammal) to flee if he happened upon a grizz on the path so presto, pine forests with no undergrowth. Having learned His lesson, when God created Iowa a little later in the week, He placed the Gray Squirrel there as it's most ferocious animal (I was going to use Beaver here, but who wants to get into that discussion with Jim). Seeing that the need for escape was considerably reduced, He allowed the Oak trees and it's musky undergrowth to coexist with Man. He saw what He had done, and it was good. That is why Kevin Costner so famously equated Heaven with Iowa. I'm glad that I could help clear this up for Jim. The rest of his hikes in the East should be much more creepiless. I would not have had to explain this if the Canadian public school system spent a little more time teaching creationist science and a little less time on environmental studies, but I guess we can't blame this on Jim.

    I love the information on pearl buttons, zippers, and plastic ("One word, Plasics" The Graduate 1967). I feel that I have now learned something that has enriched my life, and I also feel the need to bring some mussels home from Krogers and steam them up.

    Thank you for your Blog.

  2. Taking a few minutes on my lunch break to catch up on the j&b blog. You've had some interesting encounters as you've made your way East--seems like bypassing I-80 is the way to go when you're retired!! I particularly like the way you're incorporating history (including natural!) in your narratives. Just a reminder that book group is October 3--hope you can join via skype or phone. Miss you guys and looking forward to the next installment. Love the pics too!

  3. Carl: We skipped Sunday School this week, but I feel less guilty now that I've had my dose of religious training. People who think religious concepts are difficult should just write to you.

    Hi Deb. Love your blog name. I have not been quite the voracious reader since we took off on the road. I'm reading "The Lonely Polygamist” at he moment and have yet to start the group’s current book. But I will get to it. I miss you.