The Road to Iowa

Tuesday, April 6 2004 Denver International Airport, 2:07 p.m.

I’m on my way to Iowa City with the worms. It may surprise some of you to know that Iowa City is a kind of Mecca for writers. The Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa is the most prestigious program of its kind in the country, and Prairie Lights Bookstore is certainly the finest independent bookstore in the Midwest. So when the owner of the bookstore called Algonquin and said, “If you’ll get her here, I’ll make sure that every worm person in Iowa shows up,” Algonquin knew what to do. They booked Prairie Lights as one of the first stops on the book tour.

It just so happens that Carl Klaus, founder of the nonfiction program at the University of Iowa, is a friend of mine, so he offered to put me up at his place. He lives in one of those roomy, comfortable old homes that seem to be everywhere in the Midwest—a slightly citified version of a farmhouse, on a sprawling plot of land in a neighborhood where no one has a fence around their property. Carl’s a gardener, too. We met because he wrote a book about his garden called My Vegetable Love. We’d met in person just once before, when I was on a trip through the Midwest to research The Earth Moved. I met Carl in person for the first time on the same day I met Sam James, one of the earthworm scientists I interviewed for the book.

This is going to be a unique book tour moment, because Sam is going to meet me in Iowa City with some of his preserved worm specimens. How often do you get to bring one of the “characters” from your book with you on book tour?

As I board the plane, I find out that I have to gate-check my roll-on bag for the flight from Denver to Iowa City. I did this from Arcata to San Francisco as well. The planes are too small for larger carry-ons, so you leave it by the side of the plane and pick it up as soon as you get off the plane, right there at the gate. Usually I keep the worms in my “small personal item,” a bag that also contains my camera, some food, and a magazine or two. But this time my “small personal item” is the laptop, so the worms had to go in the suitcase.

I worry about the worms in the baggage hold. How cold does it get in there? Is it pressurized? I know that people put their pets in the baggage hold, but I’d worry about that, too. I hope they make it. At least I know that Sam will be there with his worms.

Carl’s house, Iowa City, 11:45 p.m.

It’s been a long day. Three airports, three planes, two connections, but I’m here, and the worms are too, having come through their ordeal in the baggage hold with no problems.
Carl met me at the airport. His wife Kate died quite suddenly and unexpectedly just over a year ago. I knew Kate mostly through Carl’s books, and also through the one afternoon I spent with her and Carl. There’s a lot I could say about Kate, but for the moment I’ll just say that I can’t picture her face without also picturing the lunch she served us that day: the most elegant, artistic, composed salad I’ve ever eaten, complete with curried deviled eggs (oh, I can’t even think of them without my mouth watering—I’m afraid I probably ate 4 or 5 of them), and tomato aspic molded into the shape of Easter eggs. And asparagus and carved radishes and…and…and that was just the salad.

To bed. I have a long day tomorrow.