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mellow…i think that’s the best way i can describe my last week… i just got back from spending time with my parents in my iowa hometown. my goodness, but it’s fascinating to move between east-coast urbanity and midwestern… non-urbanity!!
flying in to my local airport always fills me with something not quite nostalgic, but — hmmm — maybe familial? i’m not talking about warm fuzzies of anticipation for seeing my mom and dad… there’s a feeling — quite visceral, really — that one gets toward the landscape of one’s childhood. there’s a beauty to the fields that i nearly loathed as a child. i remember very distinctly that i cried the day we ended our northern michigan vacation in 199x — i wept for the lack of forests around my house! in one day, we had driven from somewhere like escanaba, michigan (on the u.p.) through green bay (with a side trip to lambeau field — worthy of another post all its own), over and around the rolling dairy farms of southern wisconsin and back to… iowa. the prairie state. to my twelve year-old mind, it was the antithesis of beauty: it was flat and utilitarian (corn, soybeans, hogs; repeat), windy and hot — and nothing like the cool, shady, vacation-linked beauty of the upper great lakes.
in one of my favorite books (Giants in the Earth), norwegian-american/minnesotan author Ole Rolvaag places his protagonists in the middle of the unbroken Dakota prairie and tracks the impassioned reactions that husband and wife have to its sheer, unbounded expanse. he is kindled, sparked by the opportunity that rolls before him like a carpet of prairie grass. his very steps are heavy with potential, with limitless possibility. she is terrified, undone by the absence of anything to hide behind. over and over, she circles the space with the frenetic energy of a prairie dog chasing down its burrow — but finds nothing that can shield her from the open.
somewhere between his unbridled anticipation and her bottomless dread is my spectrum of feeling for the flatlands… having lived east for four+years, i understand now that the open space of the middle is something special — something unique. and affection for the space has grown exponentially as i’ve experienced near-claustrophobia in the patches of corn that pass as fields in the mid-atlantic. there is a rolling rhythm to iowa’s fertile patchwork (it does, indeed, resemble an earthy quilt from the sky) that grant wood captured most nearly… sonically, it resonates with the guitar sounds of U2’s Joshua Tree. When i was in college, i would drive along highway 30 in my 2door V6 coupe, sunroof and windows wide open, and six-speaker stereo channeling the Edge’s transcendent guitar — the blue sky could not have been bluer against the green (is there a way to make green any greener? this would define it) GREEN fields of corn and beans, punctuated by faded red barns and grey-white four-square houses. Few places, if any, have been for me more exhilarating (even the ocean).
i’m not exactly sure why, as i can have very little in common with Rolvaag’s hero — I am not a farmer; nor am I encountering the prairie in its unbroken wildness. but there is a feeling of being able to move with freedom and abandon that is unique to that part of the country where you can see ten miles in any direction (without the aid of a mountaintop) — and where roads strip out, stick straight, in cardinal directions for hundreds of miles.
this week was the first time in three+ years that i’ve been home not at Christmas, and to see the crops still in the fields and the leaves still on the trees was lovely… i sent a postcard to a friend and wrote that perhaps it’s a landscape only a native could appreciate, but i am such a native — and i will unashamedly love that land.