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Go Bessie Go! Writers Visit Lake MacBride and Wilson’s Apple Orchard

 After a full week of literary events in Iowa City, International Writing Program Residents piled into two vans and made the short drive to nearby Lake Macbride State Park. 2012 Resident Stephanie Ye of Singapore wasted no time in fastening her orange life-vest and climbing into an aluminum canoe for a scenic paddle around the lake with IWP Director Christopher Merrill. Other writers strolled along one of the park’s forested trails or sat on the hill overlooking the lake and chatted about writing, literature, and their first impressions of Iowa. Gulala Nouri of Iraq insisted she’d seen a snake in the water, though other writers on the paddleboat with her were skeptical. “There are no poisonous snakes in Iowa,” Merrill confidently assured her.  “Maybe it was a stick,” she admitted, laughing.

Later in the afternoon, a group assembled in the shade of a large tree near the dock and shared traditional songs from their home countries, first singing, then translating and explaining the lyrics. Milagros Socorro’s contribution, a snippet of the Venezuelan classic “Tonada de Luna Llena,” drew loud applause and calls for an encore. From the songs, talk turned to language and, of course, to writing. Mohib Zegham of Afghanistan shared how, when the Taliban came to his town, he could not express his thoughts and feelings without endangering himself and his family, so he turned instead to writing stories. As the writers hiked back up the hill toward the parking lot, Zegham stopped for a moment near the picnic tables to reflect on how important this residency is for him. “Iowa is paradise,” he declared. “I wish there would be a writer from Afghanistan at the IWP every year.”

On the way back to Iowa City, the writers made a stop at Wilson’s Apple Orchard, a local favorite, where Orchard owner Paul Rasch was waiting to give them a ride with the help of his loyal Bessie, an enormous bright green John Deere tractor. No sooner had the writers climbed aboard the long wooden wagon hooked behind the tractor, then they were off, down the grassy slope between rows of apple trees and pumpkin patches. The tractor hesitated when crossing the creek, but with a little positive reinforcement (Mr. Rasch led the writers in a chorus of Go Bessie Go!)  Bessie finally managed to pull her heavy literary load up the bank and into the rolling green hills. Back at the orchard store, the writers milled around sampling local products, then went out to take advantage of  the orchard’s shade while enjoying crisp, fresh apples, homemade apple turnovers, and apple cider donuts (“Perfect with tea,” Bilal Tanweer of Pakistan said). The day had cooled off, the perfect end to the first week.

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