Why rain forest is the new Iowa environment

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What's the problem here? Why aren't Iowans selling the farms to invest in the newest form of Iowa development - fake rain forestation?

If you read the paper, you'll know the big honking one clambers to endorse constructing a $180 million rain forest along the interstate, in a native environment so natural to such a thing that it's hard to believe we haven't thought of this before - between the truck stop and a Casey's, I believe.

Why, every town is now fighting it out for the status to propose its very own "Biodome of Dreams."

It makes such sense to build a rain forest in the middle of Iowa that I have taken the liberty to contact the chief of the Quichua people of the steamy Ecuadorian jungle to strongly suggest that they pull that tangled Amazonian mess out and build a Cornfield and Hog Confinement Exhibit, Education Center, IMAX Theatre, Car Wash and Gift Shoppe. It'll be as perfectly suited for their tourism as a rain forest is on ol' I-80!

And here at home, isn't it about time somebody stood up and demanded restoration of the Iowa rain forests. It's been too long coming - um, about 95 million years too long, if I remember my Paleontology 101.

Rain forest. It's part of our state heritage. If it were not for the unlucky break of ice ages, asteroids and dinosaurs trampling sloppily around on everything, we could still be in the Cretaceous Period and enjoying rain forest to our hearts' content. Think of how the headhunting business would have boosted our ag economy.

What's that you say? There's already a huge fake rain forest just across the bridge in Omaha? Well so much the better. You can't have enough fake rain forests in the middle of prairie country! Ours will be rainier, forestier, and faker than anyone else's!

We can compete with Nebraska to see who can ring up the most insane heat bill within a sweltering dome stuck out on the frozen tundra. We'll just need to cut that energy assistance program a bit more to pay the titanic cost. I'm almost certain that those shivering, needy Iowans can live without heat in order for the vines to foliate. We all must do our part, after all.

I'm also pretty sure that a fake rain forest is going to turn around the youth exodus that plagues Iowa.

"Yo, dude, wait! We can't move to L.A. now, dog - we gots ferns to rock in I-O-Yay!"

But we have to promote this baby to really milk it. Perhaps we could take the whiny convicted sex offenders who seem to be tying up our court systems all the time and feed them to giant boa constrictors! That would draw the tourists in droves.

We could play the annual Cyclone-Hawkeye basketball game in there, with players outfitted in pith helmets and machetes and a crocodile-hide ball! Tarzan will ref!

The state song could be changed from that awful corn thing to "Welcome to the Jungle," by Guns 'n' Roses.

And of course, this is Iowa. You just know a casino is going to end up next door somehow with a $10.99 Spider Monkey Buffet and Nickel Kapok Tree Slots.

What are we thinking about in Storm Lake, planning a Nature Interpretive Center to fit unobtrusively into an existing ecosystem of Iowa wetland?? Thinking we're going to inform and educate while we preserve our native natural environment??

You can't spend enough federal dollars that way. You gotta be over top. Let's rip that preserve out and build, oh, I don't know... the Sahara Desert maybe? Yeah, that could be expensive and out of place! And the tourists love that.

A hundred and eighty million bucks or more to build a 20-story glass house for a 4-acre rain forest, truck in some alamendro trees, stock in some fish and a three-toed sloth and blue-footed booby or two - hey, you can't put a pricetag on Iowa's rain forest heritage. Unless you are Charles Grassley and Robert Ray, of course. Let them wash those windows.

What's that you say? Why on earth would we want to pay any attention to the fact that the last slivers of the world's real rain forests are being clear-cut and destroyed by environmental abuses, when we can build a fake one in Iowa for the tourists? Sure, $180 million might help save some real forest and species, but that isn't very sexy, and it doesn't do squat for I-80.

What's that you say? Wouldn't we be better off too to put $180 million toward preserving Iowa's own natural environment?

No, no, you simply don't understand development. You can't attract strip malls, tee-shirt outlets or Houses of Pancakes by cleaning lakes or rivers, adding to prairie preserves and woodland habitats, raising the otters and swans that actually belong here. Where's the splash-o-rama in that?

We're with the developers, politicos and the development-greedy. Iowa needs rain forestation. Lots of expensive rain forestation. If we built it, they will come... sweat.

It's the anniversary of John Lennon's death. I'm reminded of the lyrics to one of his lesser-known works, called "I Know (I Know)"

The years have passed so quickly

One thing I've understood

I am only learning

To tell the trees from wood

All I'm saying, it might pay Iowa to learn to tell its trees from the wood, to take care of what's real in our environment here before we worry about creating what is not.

* Reach Dana Larsen at dlarsen@stormlakepilottribune.com