You know what kills me? People often feel the need to express their condolences when I tell them that I’m from Iowa. The conversation usually goes a little something like this:
“Iowa? You mean the place with all the potatoes?”
“No, that’s Idaho.”
“Oh. Did you say Ohio?”
“No, Iowa. You know, the heartland. The center of the United States. The home of the bridges of Madison County and the Amana Colonies and the Hawkeyes.”
Blank look. “Wow. You’re a long ways from everything aren’t you?”
Everything. As if what we have is… well, nothing.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I enjoyed that particular conversation much more when Aaron and I lived in Vancouver. As soon as someone voiced the question, I happily (and not without a bit of pride) announced that we were British Columbians, that trendy set of urban tree-huggers who were equally comfortable in a pair of hiking boots or expensive stilettos, depending on the situation. There was a certain status that seemed to naturally come with claiming such a diverse, international city as my home base — surely I was by extension the embodiment of everything good my geographical location had to offer. Conversely, as a small town Iowa girl, I too, must be bland, narrow-minded, and stodgy. And who knows? Maybe I am those things.
But I’d like to think not.
I’d like to believe that the simple beauty of my home mirrors the uncomplicated deepest desires of my heart: time and space and peace. Iowa offers all of those things to me — time for the things that matter (my family, my friends, the pages of a good book, a blank notebook before me, a fine glass of wine), space to breathe (blue skies and golden prairies, a fresh breeze and the sound of silence), and an unexpected peace (the sense that, to a certain extent, time has forgotten us here, that the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world can be forgotten — if only for a minute).
Iowa is long walks and longer conversations. It’s songbirds in the morning and the sun on your face. It’s the scent of backyard fires and sticky sweet s’mores. The sweep of crimson sumac in the fall. Ditches full of black-eyed susan and golden finches perched on the swaying tips of slender grass. Harvest moons and thunderstorms, white-soft blankets of perfect winter snow and the lightbulb flicker of fireflies on hot July nights.
Sure, I have to drive an hour to get to the nearest Target. But you should see the stars in my backyard. And it’s true, I miss the mountains, the salty-crisp tang of the ocean, and the sound of six different languages being spoken on the streets, but Dorothy was on to something when she said, “There’s no place like home…”
I’ve decided that Iowa is the guy/girl next door. You spend your childhood taking it for granted, believing that it’s nothing special. But then you grow up and you realize that it’s beautiful — and it always has been. You just never had the eyes to see it. It’s the sort of love affair that takes you completely by surprise.
Ask me the question. I dare you. I’ll answer, happily (and not without a bit of pride).
How about you? Do you love where you’re planted?
*I have to throw in a PS… All the photos in this post were taken yesterday during a Labor Day hike/kayaking expedition with my boys and my mom and dad. It was exactly the sort of day for falling in love with Iowa all over again…