Stephen Bloom took a look at Iowans, and what he saw was "the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated [sic]) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that 'The sun'll come out tomorrow.'" Stephen G. Bloom,"Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life; Thoughts from a university professor on the Iowa hamlets that will shape the contours of the GOP contest," The Atlantic, December 9, 2011.
Olivia White, an adventurous 21-year-old woman from Tasmania who came to visit America, also took a look at Iowa. But she liked what and who she saw, decided to stay, and wrote about it recently in the local press this way:
I have now adventured and worked in more than 15 states . . .. I have seen the sites of Manhattan, D.C., L.A. and San Francisco. My travels have taken me to the Big Sur Mountains of California . . .. [T]he Kenai Peninsula of Alaska . . .. I volunteered for a ministry in the Bible Belt of America . . .. I have explored Amish country and enjoyed dreamlike summer buggy rides with the Amish people. I worked on a horse ranch . . . on the Meramec River in Missouri . . .. Finally, I found Iowa — what I would describe as the epitome of “fair dinkum” (Australian slang for “real” and “genuine”). . . . The way in which I found my way to Iowa truly encapsulates my feelings toward Iowa and its wonderful people. . . . I came across a couple outside their cabin [at the Missouri horse ranch]. . .. We chatted for half an hour or so comparing and contrasting Tasmania and Iowa and just enjoying some friendly banter. When the couple departed the next day, a note was left behind with information and an invitation for me to come visit them in Iowa. . . . Upon arriving in Cedar Rapids, I only expected to visit for several weeks. I did not want to take advantage of such a hospitable invitation. However, my new family encouraged me to stay longer and I realized that I was by no means ready to depart my new home.Olivia White, "Journey Brings Her to Iowa; Tasmania Native Falls in Love with State While Exploring U.S.," The Gazette, December 25, 2011, p. C2.
Olivia White, who is among other things an accomplished swimmer, is now a Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School's swimming coach.
Of course, I am pleased that Ms. White, having taken a pretty good look at what America has to offer, chose Iowa for her home.
But I wouldn't continue to write on the subject if she was just one more of the three million souls who have also looked at Iowa, liked what they saw, and chosen to live (or continue to live, or to return) here.
No number of accomplished and enthusiastic Iowans will ever change the minds of those who are blind to what the three million can see so clearly.
How to explain this difference in perception?
In my response to Stephen Bloom's mean-spirited screed attacking Iowa I noted, "[M]ost everything we say, or write is little more than an indication of what's going on inside that electro-chemical sensory processing soup we call our brain. . . . When we say the view of [a] . . . mountain range, river valley, ocean [or] desert [is] 'beautiful,' that 'beauty' is of our own making. It lies inside of us, not in the molecules that make up the physical stuff we're looking at." Nicholas Johnson, "Taking the Bloom From My Rose; Another Perspective on Stephen Bloom's Iowa," December 16, 2011.
That's why I'm bringing Olivia White to my attention, and yours. It's not that she just appreciates Iowa and Iowans. It is that this young lady has learned at her age that there is something to appreciate everywhere -- Manhattan, D.C., L.A. and San Francisco, Big Sur, the Kenai Peninsula, the Bible Belt, Amish country, and Missouri horse ranches.
Whatever it is that is going on in her own personal brew, that "electro-chemical sensory processing soup" that is her brain, is obviously a delightful place to be. That's why she can see what Stephen Bloom cannot. That's why everyplace is, for her, a delightful place to be, and why, of all those places, she's chosen our place to live.
And though I've never met her, I rather imagine it's also why the places she chooses to be become, as well, delightful places for those who share those places with her.
Now listen to what Louis Armstrong sees when he looks at the world:
Or read the lyrics of "What a Wonderful World," as written by Robert Thiele and George David Weiss:
I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom, for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
I see skies of blue, and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces, of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, sayin', "How do you do?"
They're really sayin', "I love you"
I hear babies cryin', I watch them grow
They'll learn much more, than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world
And, finally, the full text of Ms. White's article:
As a young girl growing up on the island of Tasmania, just off the coast of South East Australia, I would often dream of the day that I could take flight on my own and travel across the United States of America.Olivia White, "Journey Brings Her to Iowa; Tasmania Native Falls in Love with State While Exploring U.S.," The Gazette, December 25, 2011, p. C2.
Doing what, I wasn’t entirely sure, but that was the whole point. I would take time to broaden my horizons, to excite my senses and to experience life as I didn’t yet know it.
Now, as I sit here in Cedar Rapids writing an article for the local newspaper, I realize I am indeed living my dream.
I grew up in a family of six children with an American father and an Australian mother. It was this cross-cultural influence that first sparked my desire to know my father’s country as well as my mother’s.
At 21 years old, I have now adventured and worked in more than 15 states across America. I guess one could say I have come to quite enjoy the itinerant lifestyle. I have seen the sites of Manhattan, D.C., L.A. and San Francisco.
My travels have taken me to the Big Sur Mountains of California where I worked on a goat farm, hand-milking goats and making fresh cheeses. On the farm, I lived without electricity in a Mongolian tent and bathed on a cliff face overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was a rugged yet spectacular lifestyle.
I spent a summer on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska deep sea fishing, bear spotting and exploring the wild Alaskan coast. I volunteered for a ministry in the Bible Belt of America where I became accustomed to chiggers, fried chicken and okra, and of course that wonderful southern drawl.
I have explored Amish country and enjoyed dreamlike summer buggy rides with the Amish people. I worked on a horse ranch located on the Meramec River in Missouri, where I rode horses and cleaned stables, foraged for morel mushrooms and escaped tornadoes.
Finally, I found Iowa — what I would describe as the epitome of “fair dinkum” (Australian slang for “real” and “genuine”).
I can’t say how many times I have been asked, “But why did you choose to come to Cedar Rapids, Iowa!?” I get the feeling the locals perceive me as a little crazy for willingly choosing such a location, not to mention enjoying it so much. I just smile and patiently deliver my (very familiar) spiel, as if it is the first time anyone has ever asked.
The way in which I found my way to Iowa truly encapsulates my feelings toward Iowa and its wonderful people.
While I was in Missouri working on the horse ranch in May of 2011, I happened to meet a couple who were vacationing on the ranch for several days. Late one afternoon, after finishing work for the day, I decided to try my luck foraging in the woods for the much-prized morel mushrooms. While walking down the gravel lane I came across a couple outside their cabin attempting to wrap up some grapevines. We chatted for half an hour or so comparing and contrasting Tasmania and Iowa and just enjoying some friendly banter.
When the couple departed the next day, a note was left behind with information and an invitation for me to come visit them in Iowa. Our chance meeting on the horse ranch was not only the beginning of my sojourn in Iowa, but the first of many connections that have all seamlessly fallen into place since walking down that gravel lane.
Having always been drawn to the folklore of the prairie and the old Midwest, I was excited by the offer to go to Iowa. My dad’s stories of his youth and spending his early years in Nebraska had always stirred my curiosity. Upon arriving in Cedar Rapids, I only expected to visit for several weeks. I did not want to take advantage of such a hospitable invitation. However, my new family encouraged me to stay longer and I realized that I was by no means ready to depart my new home.
I determined that if my visit was going to turn into something more permanent, I had better make myself useful and start working. I decided to rely on what I know best, swimming.
Swimming has always played a significant role in my life. My father is a swimming coach and my mother a swimming instructor. They built a 25-meter indoor swimming pool at our home in Tasmania, where they have owned and operated their own aquatic business for 15 years.
Naturally, all six of the children became competitive swimmers, succeeding at a state level as well as competing in national competitions. My own competitive swimming background and my parents’ expertise prepared me well and by age 14 I began teaching classes solo for my parent’s successful business. By age 18 I was a fully qualified swimming instructor teaching children and adults of all ages, as well as coaching
When I arrived in Cedar Rapids in the spring of 2011 the timing was perfect to become involved with a local swim team. Due to a friend’s recommendation, I inquired about a coaching job at the nearby Elmcrest Country Club. I met with the pool supervisor, dropped off my resume, and was offered a job coaching with their swim team; another seamless connection falling into place.
Elmcrest staff and club members were both friendly and welcoming and the flexibility of my role allowed me to work with the kids according to their needs, developing their strokes and focusing on some of the more technical aspects of swimming.
I think for the kids, it was a bit of a novelty to have an “Aussie swim coach”. There were a lot of questions: “Do I keep kangaroos as pets?” “Why do I talk funny?” and “Do we drive cars in Australia?” Our conversations would always bring about some good laughs and the kids would leave knowing something new about the “land down under.”
As a result of my involvement with the swim team at Elmcrest, I was offered an assistant coaching position at Kennedy High School, the third seamless happenstance. I was honored to coach alongside John Ross, Rick Forrester, Holly Broadwater and Leslie Nelson. I sought my Iowa coaching certification at Kirkwood Community College, which allowed me to coach for schools in Iowa. For me, this was yet another excellent
opportunity not only to contribute and be a part of local swim team, but also a chance to gain more experience coaching at a competitive level alongside veteran coaches such as Ross and Forrester.
Both swimmers and coaches worked hard throughout the season and reaped the benefits. Kennedy placed first at the sophomore Mississippi Valley Conference meet while also winning our division at the varsity level.
Kennedy hosted a very exciting regional meet with our team missing first place by just one point. We took a tenacious team of 10 swimmers to the state meet in Marshalltown and finished a very respectable 12th place, up from 16th place in 2010. Our freshman class was extremely strong throughout the season contributing to our success while holding promise of a very bright future for Kennedy swimming.
Assuming I survive the harsh winter here in Iowa — Tasmania’s lowest temperature dives to a shivering 32 degrees — I plan to return to Elmcrest and Kennedy for another swimming season in 2012. I am both excited and motivated to develop as a coach and see “our” local swimmers continue to improve.
I will always remember and cherish my time here in Cedar Rapids. The friendships I have made will last a lifetime and I will never forget the incredible feeling of being a stranger who found a home in a foreign place.