FROM THE GROUND UP: ‘A Hole In the Wind’ is an engaging ride

Author David Goodrich.
Author David Goodrich. PHOTO BY PAULA CONKLIN COURTESY OF DAVID GOODRICH

In the spring of 2011, David Goodrich dipped the front tire of his bicycle into the Atlantic Ocean at Lewes, Delaware. The next symbolic ocean dip would be in the Pacific, on the Oregon coast. In between oceans, Goodrich would pedal his bike, solo, across prairies and mountains, through driving rains and moisture-sucking heat, buck stiff headwinds, and make the most of the occasional tailwind.

A remarkable journey, to be sure, but not surprising. My friend David, whom I’ve known since college, has a penchant for outdoor adventuring. He is also drawn to our land’s rich history and the out-of-the-way places that hold the stories that don’t show up in textbooks.

Goodrich also happens to be a retired climate scientist. His career included thirty-three years with NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and three years in Geneva, Switzerland as director of the UN Global Climate Observing System office at the World Meteorological Organization. “Along the way,” as he puts it, he also ran the U.S. Global Change Research Program office in Washington, D.C.

The call on this particular bike trip was not just the 4,200-mile, coast-to-coast challenge. On his three-month journey Goodrich wanted to talk about climate change: what did people know, how was it affecting their lives and livelihood. He would also speak about climate change, giving seventeen presentations in eight states, mostly in schools. His message: it’s real.

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The stories that Goodrich accumulated on this trip are the raw material for his newly-published book, “A Hole in the Wind.” The text rolls along as easily as his heavily-laden bike must have on those welcome downhill stretches.

Interspersed throughout are details on climate change, some familiar to me (fracking in Pennsylvania), others not (the devastation of millions of acres of lodgepole pines in the Rockies). In Chapter 13, Colorado—The Forests of Cameron Pass, Goodrich describes the huge tracts of green, forested lands that have gone gray. Here, winter temperatures no longer are cold enough, and so the mountain pine beetle reigns unchecked, bringing with it a deadly fungus. The lifeless trees fall indiscriminately, so parks have closed their gates to visitors and campers. Some wildfires burn unchecked; with the danger from falling trees a greater risk to back-country firefighters than the fires themselves.

A grim statistic: “Most of the mature lodgepole forests in Colorado and southern Wyoming are gone. About 100,000 beetle-killed trees a day fall in this area of about four million acres, with another that size in Montana. That’s dwarfed by British Columbia and Alberta...where ten times that area is affected.”

Goodrich also learned that while people will talk about the weather, and are intimately aware of how the changes affect them and their livelihood, many won’t talk about climate change. The first is personal, the second is political. For many, a belief exists that scientists made up climate change, somehow “on the take” for false information.

As a garden writer, some of the most interesting things I learned were in the chapter on Kansas; how a cluster of German town-names points to a late 1800s immigration I’d never heard about: “Volga Germans” searching for a new land to escape the czar’s conscription agents. In Kansas, they found a land “not so different from the steppes.”

Notes Goodrich, “Sewn into the vest pockets of this wave of immigrants was seed from Eurasia. Turkey Red would be the first winter wheat of the Plains, and its descendants would make Kansas the granary of the nation. An inadvertent passenger might also have hitched a ride: Russian thistle, which would come to be known in the West as tumbleweed.” What a surprise to learn that an iconic plant of the Old West was itself a transplant.

For a summer read that engages, entertains, and also educates, I can’t recommend anything better than “A Hole in the Wind.”

Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to pamelacbaxter@gmail.com, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Join the conversation at “Chester County Roots,” a Facebook page for gardeners in the Delaware Valley. Go to Facebook, search for Chester County Roots, and “like” the page. To receive notice of updates, click or hover on “Liked” to set your preferences.