The Ottumwa Courier

May 25, 2013

Travelers bring two lessons in one

By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
Ottumwa Courier

---- — OTTUMWA — From a teaching standpoint, the timing couldn't have been better.

Ottumwa High School educator Patti Durflinger was running an errand in Eldon Thursday when she saw two miniature covered wagons. She struck up a conversation with the "drivers" and discovered that a Missouri couple was taking action on their environmental beliefs.

"I had just had [my students] working on a section about the environment," Durflinger said Friday. "This couple was so enthusiastic."

The wife, Dana McGuire, and husband Gavain U'Prichard, are on foot pulling the wagons which, on the outside, list the causes they support and on the inside have supplies and their 2-year-old. When school lets out, they'll have their other children, ages 11, 8 and 4. They're walking to Canada, hoping to raise awareness of how important the environment is, Durflinger said. When she heard they'd be stopping in Ottumwa, she asked them if they'd be willing to stop at OHS.

Students talked to the visitors, pulled the wagons and had their pictures taken by Durflinger. Her environmental section had been on wildlife, the importance of being kind to our environment and the factors that can impact nature.

Though the couple's specific cause is climate change and global warming by 4 to 6 degrees, Durflinger said that is a bit more in-depth than her students needed to go. They're aware there are multiple viewpoints on the subject and that it's a topic of scientific and political debate. Friday's visit wasn't about supporting or countering the couple's specific environmental beliefs. Though the visit did jumpstart a conversation about science, the "teachable moment" Durflinger saw while talking to the couple in Eldon went beyond the environment, even beyond science.

"We want [students]," she said, "to be aware that there are people who believe in a cause, to see somebody who is really passionate about something. To understand if there's something [a student] believes in, they can either be complacent or take action."

And it doesn't mean they have to pull a wagon through the country. The couple told students if something is important to them, they can write a letter to their legislator, for example.

For the family, there's no question that the Earth is getting warmer, they told the Courier. Even reports that were debunked in the past have now been reproduced, and peer reviewed, saying the world is in trouble. The current president needs to do more to lower America's use of fossil fuels. Barack Obama has pledged to reduce carbon emissions 18 percent by 2020, but that's not even close to what is needed by this and other nations, the couple said.

At some point, the Earth will be so impacted by environmental destruction that it won't be fixable by humanity, Gavain believes. Now may be our last chance to stop harming the atmosphere. He and his wife want people to know that — right now.

"When we understood what was happening, we had to do something," Dana added.

To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark