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'Mysteries of the driftless'

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If you think you know what Iowa looks like but never have been to McGregor, then you don't have the whole picture.

The Mississippi River town is in the northeast corner of the state, where you'll also find spread across several counties deep river canyons, cliff-side petroglyphs, Indian burial mounds and vents in hillsides where the air temperature can be 40 degrees on a hot summer day.

This area is called the "driftless" region, and it extends into parts of northwest Illinois, southwest Wisconsin and southeast Minnesota. "Driftless" refers to the fact that the fourth glacier to cover what is now the Midwestern United States did not cross into this area, leaving a different kind of topography and, to some extent, plants and animals not found elsewhere.

If you never have heard of the term "driftless," you have lots of company. Neither have most of the people who actually live in the area, says Tim Jacobson, a Boscobel, Wis.-based filmmaker.

To spread the word, and to gain support for sustaining this unusual ecosystem, he along with George Howe have made a 30-minute documentary called "Mysteries of the Driftless."

You can see the movie for free on Saturday, March 19, when it will be one of four films shown at the 11th annual Environmental Film Fest, held in Olin Hall of Augustana College, Rock Island.

Other films will spotlight professional "spin doctors" who cast doubt on scientific reports of climate change and other topics; rampant food waste in the United States; and endangered rainforests that supply the wood used in making acoustic guitars.

Jacobson and Howe also will be at Augustana to speak.

Jacobson, a Wisconsin native who is deeply committed to preserving the natural environment on which all life on earth depends, hopes that viewers of his film will fall in love with the beauty of the driftless area, perhaps visit it and develop a connection to it.

It is only with a personal connection that people develop a land ethic, treating the land with love and respect rather than as a commodity, he said.

Certainly the planet is awash in pressing environmental concerns, but too much focus on the negative can make people feel hopeless and give up trying to address the problems, he said.

That is a key reason why Jacobson and Howe made this film and a key reason film fest sponsors, including Augustana, the Eagle View chapter of the Sierra Club and Radish magazine, chose it for screening.

"Part of our goal is to remind people how beautiful the Earth is," Kathryn Allen, of the Sierra Club, said. "We hope that people fall in love with it all over again, which will make worthwhile all the daunting work in front of us. Plus it's local," she said of the driftless region.

The film takes viewers into the landscape to discover areas they didn't know where there, some of them on private land not be accessible to the public. The message, Jacobson says, is "positive and energizing."

The film is part of Jacobson's work as a founder and director of the Driftless Environmental Education Project.

He wants people to know about the region's diverse natural and scenic resources and, recognizing that human beings need to earn a living, to encourage sustainable development or use of the land.

Among some of the education effort's projects have been programs to reintroduce endangered raptors such as the peregrine falcon, rehabilitate trout streams and, in farming, encourage rotational grazing, organic growing, soil conservation and erosion control.


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