Seth Boyes joined the Dickinson County News staff in March of 2017. In his first week at the DCN, he covered a train derailment near Graettinger. The tankers carrying ethanol burst into flames. Seth's photo of the event won first place for Best Breaking News photo at the 2018 Iowa Newspaper Association Convention and Trade Show. Since, Seth has won nearly a dozen awards for writing, photography and multimedia content. Seth graduated from Iowa State University in 2009 with a degree in Integrated Studio Arts. His original cartoons run regularly in the Spencer Daily Reporter and the DCN. Both he and his wife Janet hail from Clear Lake and have come to expect summers to be full of the hustle and bustle of tourists and visitors.
It seems oxymoronic, but two divisive topics will come together in our national history next week.
When the votes were tallied in November of 2016, no one had the foresight to predict we Iowans would be under a viral pandemic come the 2020 presidential election. What I find particularly interesting about this odd little intersection we're approaching is how opposite yet similar the role of the individual is in either case. There are some folks who believe their personal efforts can't stop the viral spread. There are some folks who believe their vote next week won't change the outcome. It's an easy trap to fall into these days — the idea that a little bit doesn't have the power to go a long way.
And I'd like to challenge that idea on both fronts.
No doubt we've all heard the motivational riddle about how to eat an elephant — one piece at a time — but I submit to you a different mammalian metaphor. I submit to you the camel. Rather, I submit to you "Camel" by artist John B. Flannagan.
"Camel" was carved from a fieldstone at some point in the early 1930s, according to the museum staff. It's not quite as large as a basketball, and I know from personal experience that it's one of the few pieces in the collection visitors are allowed to touch.
This is for two reasons.
First, physical texture was a major part of Flannagan's approach to art, but second, and more importantly, it serves as a tangible example of group effort.
You see, the top of the camel's hump and its face are just a little smoother than the rest. Each time an admirer's hand grazed the work, it imperceptibly wore down the stone and left bits of oil that eventually tinged the stone a slightly darker color.
The museum, of course, uses the piece as a reminder of why it's important the other works on display not be touched by visitors, but I say it's also a reminder of what can happen when everyone contributes just a little bit — we can carve stone with our bare hands.
So, on the one hand, we've got the election coming up. Voter turnout in the U.S. hasn't broken 65 percent in a presidential election year since 1992, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means roughly a third of eligible voters in the country aren't even casting a vote. I imagine at least part of that 30-something percent are frustrated with the system and feel like it's not worth the effort — that their vote doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.
Let me tell you, it does.
Likewise, I myself continue to be frustrated by our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I continue to tense up each time I get an automated message from my father's care facility. I continue to worry as active cases seem to creep ever closer to a facility from which he's not able to leave — and I guarantee you there area other families out there stuck in the exact same situation. I understand following the guidance of our local health officials can be tiresome and, just like turning in a single election ballot, it can sometimes feel like it's just not worth it — that our individual efforts doesn't matter in the grand scheme of the pandemic.
Let me tell you, they do.
Dickinson County's active cases rose again this month to within about one-third (there's that number again) of what they were during our peak back in mid-June. Our local rate of community spread rose from 5.8 percent as of Sept. 11 to 11.8 percent as of Friday. It actually doubled in less than six weeks — 11.8 percent is actually down from the 12.5 percent we were sitting at the week of Oct. 16.
I for one didn't expect the virus to interfere with my family's Fourth of July plans, the arrival of our second child, a fist full of birthday celebrations and any number of weekend plans, let alone the November election.
But, of course, we all know it didn't work out the way any of us had hoped.
I, like anyone else out there, want this pandemic to be a thing of the past as soon as possible. Trouble is our response, just like the upcoming election, requires effort on the part of all, not just some. Don't get me wrong. I know Thanksgiving and Christmas aren't far beyond Election Day, and I don't want to lose those traditions this year, but more than that, I don't want my own lack of action to keep the stone from being as smooth as it might have been. I don't want to do nothing and just let the fieldstone continue to block our path.
I want to touch the camel.
I want to do what little is within my power to reshape our collective situation for the better, and I want everyone to do the same. Granted, some of us will be trying to sculpt entirely different animals out of this fieldstone, and that's fine. All I ask is that each one of us do our part in earnest and, if we find our efforts aren't meeting our goals, that we be open to trying something different. Because, unlike Flannagan, our goal shouldn't be to sculpt only the shape we ourselves envision, rather our goal as individuals should be to do our part — just a little touch of the hand — to sculpt that which benefits as many people as possible.