A day in the life of Iowa
Aug 25, 2009
By Shoshana Hebshi
Photo © 2009 Stan Brewer
By Shoshana Hebshi
This column was supposed to be about my observations as an Iowa transplant from California. I have been here three years now, and so what I see today is not quite as acute and contrasted as what struck me two or three years ago. But today, I had my first guided road trip from southwest Iowa back to Des Moines, and I felt like I was seeing Iowa again for the first time.
We were coming up from Kansas City, and because I was the resident non-Iowan of the group, the driver took it upon himself to educate me by taking us back via the scenic route.
Now, the scenic route growing up was always my dad’s way of extending driving time with us. He had a mostly unhealthy relationship with driving and cars; even while he berated the automobile and listed off its many ills, he just couldn’t seem to pull himself away from the wheel. He loved to drive.
Today’s scenic drive began on I-29 north. I learned the geological history of the Loess Hills, which stretch on the east side of the Missouri River valley along the highway from northern Missouri all the way to Sioux Falls. They were formed by blown sand from Wyoming way back in the Ice Age, which, as I have been learning has formed much of the topography of Iowa.
The hills form a visual border between Nebraska and Iowa, and (here comes the California comparison) remind me of driving north on I-5 through the Central Valley through Bakersfield, Fresno and Modesto, with the burgeoning Sierra Nevadas creeping up to the east. Driving on I-29 today comforted me with the geography. I feel better when I am near mountains.
Our driver seems to have a photographic memory. He is a trove of Iowa trivia, and quizzed us as we zipped along. What famous actor was born in Winterset? John Wayne. What other famous actor was born in Denison? Donna Reed.
We talked about the covered bridges in Madison County, which now apparently have surveillance cameras on them to monitor any malevolent activity. We also discussed how the corn in Iowa grows taller because of the rich soil left by the glacier that moved through the state.
This led to a conversation about the price of corn and soy beans and ethanol and the economy and the farmers who can never seem to catch a break. Either the weather is bad and the crop price is high so they don’t make any money or the weather is great but the price is low and they still don’t make any money.
We drove through Griswold on Rte. 92, which was a cute little town, with trim clean houses and a heartbeat of a town center. The road shifted north and the jutted east again and we zoomed by acres of corn and soybeans, but then the driver noticed a large white bird he thought was a snow owl perched on a fencepost. He stopped, reversed the car and stopped again so we were about 100 feet away from the bird, trying to identify it. It had grayish wings, and when it finally decided we had encroached on its space too far it spread those long wings and flew off. It had a brown tail. We didn’t know what it was. But it was beautiful.
We drove into Greenfield, another quaint little town, and I noticed an older couple sitting together on folding chairs inside their garage with the door wide open watching the world go by. It was a quintessential Iowa summer evening, warm and moist. Perfect for sitting.
After we passed by Winterset, the landscape became familiar again. The road sprouted additional lanes, more traffic joined us, buildings multiplied, and we were confronted with the reality of the Des Moines metro. How quickly the landscape shifts here when immersed in seemingly endless acreage of cropland and then faced with a concrete jungle that only gives way again to another swath of seemingly endless acreage of cropland.
The journey, I am finding, is what lies in between.
Council Bluffs used to be a more important city than Omaha, he tells us, after a while of ruminating on the relationship between two cities straddling rivers, and while pondering on this find more at http://shebshi.wordpress.com