So we’ve been here in rural Iowa for over three months now, and I’ve had some time to reflect on our experience so far. I’m sure if given a year, or even five more, I’d have much more insight to share, so take my perspective with a grain of salt, or perhaps with a kernel of corn. We’re newbie flatlanders after all, and still just gaining our bearings.
When we first told our friends and family in Oregon that we were moving to the Heartland, we got a mixture of responses. Some crinkled their nose and gave us that distinct stink-eye scowl that says “why on earth would you do that for?” Several people, including my grandpa, told us that Iowa had ‘weather’. I had been to Iowa many times before moving and had had the luxury of experiencing some of that ‘weather’ people talk about, but when the warnings came it was like we were being warned of the apocalypse. Everyplace has weather, but obviously Iowa had ‘WEATHER’.
The responses weren’t all ugly. Mostly we were met with indifference and the skeptical misunderstanding westerners carry about the Midwest. Stereotypes are aplenty. We were told how flat Iowa was, how it was filled with nothing but corn and simple hillbillies who like white bread and processed cheese and don’t forget about that weather! It’s likely some of those people couldn’t point Iowa out on the map or tell you which states it borders, but they could find many reasons why we shouldn’t move there.
It’s okay. I get it. We came from a beautiful state and the native Oregonians are very proud of where they live. They have a right to be. Not many states offer beaches and deserts and mountains and lakes all within one border.
But you don’t really know what you’re going to encounter in Iowa until you move here. It’s a land of diverse character, both physically and culturally. And this posting isn’t by any means meant to be taken in a negative way. I could have easily written a post about the 10 reasons why you SHOULD move to Iowa. Others have done so, and who knows, maybe someday I will too. But I write this with those non-flatlanders in mind, hoping to cast an honest light on what it’s been like to live in rural Iowa, in our experience anyway. It’s not for everyone, and that’s just alright.
10. There’s weather here!
Yessir there is. We moved to Iowa toward the first week of July, and things were just starting to get warm in the Midwest. Its not a dry heat, like they used to say when we lived in Arizona. Its a wet, muggy, clothes sticking to your back kind of heat and its goes on and on. But it isn’t just the heat that we had to learn how to live with. Its the thunderstorms and the summer rain (most of Iowa flooded this last month) and the monumental straight-line winds. And do these storms come in the middle of the day? Sometimes, but more often than not they’ll come at midnight. Because that’s the best time for your little two year old twins to get woken up to strobe lights and the sky cracking open outside their window, right?
We haven’t made it through winter yet. But as Jon Snow might say, winter is coming. And its cold, I hear. Yeah buddy.
9. What’s bugging you?
The Iowa country has every kind of flying, creeping, slithering, digging, scavenging insect you can think of. What you probably don’t know is, most of them bite. The flies bite. The mosquitoes bite. The gnats bite.They like to land on the back of your calf or right above your sock line and dig in. They like to land on your face. They congregate in the strangest places; on the battery charger, on the piece of wood lying in the yard (what?), on the windows in the wood shop and garage. And I’m pretty sure they’re immortal. That means they’ll live forever, in case you didn’t know. Now that the season has changed from summer to autumn, different kinds of flying things have begun to hatch, and others have died off. But the flies? They remain.
Something we didn’t have in Oregon were lightening bugs (they’re not called fireflies here in Iowa, and don’t you forget it). They come out in early summer just as the sun goes down and they really are amazing.
8. Don’t stand downwind.
We’re in the middle of hog country, so you can guess what we’ve got all around our property. Hog sheds. And in case you didn’t know, hogs smell. Hogs are big money here in Iowa. Many farmers have moved toward supplementing their income by raising them, and with corn prices being in the toilet that’s not going to change any time soon. You can walk out your front door and breath in deeply and if the wind is right, or if the clouds are overcast, or if its a day that ends with Y, you’re gonna smell ’em. Its the smell of money. Someone else’s money, that is. And sometimes, when you’re sitting outside at night, you can hear the hogs scream. That’s a frightening sound, especially when you’re all alone.
Best pork chops around, though. And don’t forget about the bacon.
7. Is there something in the walls?
Moving to a farmhouse surrounded by corn fields on every side is an amazing experience. But perhaps you might reconsider if you don’t like mice. They come with the territory, I’m afraid. When we bought our house, it had been vacant for three years. That’s plenty of time for the creatures to get real comfortable. We set out traps, poison baits, and even brought home my mom’s cat from Oregon in our attempt to control the mice population. You can’t eradicate them. Just when you think they’re gone, you’ll see one poking its head out from under your daughter’s stuffed animal on the living room floor. You either get used to them or you get the hibbie jibbies. There is no middle ground.
Again, winter’s coming. I’m sure our battle with the rodents will go to a different level. You’d think, if there was such a thing as poetic justice, the biting flies would get them (see #9) but they’re crafty, these mice. And the flies seem to prefer human flesh.
6. You can see for miles.
We came from the land of giants. Mountains, that is. Even the hills in Oregon are on steroids. Not so much in Iowa. I can see traffic coming down our country road for miles. I can see the Mississippi River from my front porch (said in my best Sarah Palin voice). Okay, not really. Too many trees in the way. Iowa isn’t totally table top flat like Texas or Florida, but it doesn’t have much elevation either. It has its river bottoms, its craggy canyons and its rolling hills. But if you’re looking for volcanoes or year round glacier tops, you’re out of luck.
That doesn’t keep Iowans from mountain biking though, or hiking, or enjoying the great outdoors. I think we’ve spent more time outside since moving here than we did in Oregon. Hmm, maybe its the clean air.
5. The people actually…talk to each other?
Community. Small towns. People. Do these things scare you? Maybe not, but those three words have a different meaning here in rural Iowa. Relationships are deeper here. And an expectation. When you move here, you’ll be greeted with a big ole Iowa welcome. You’ll be asked what church you go to, and what football team you root for. You might get a pie. You’ll be invited to a neighborhood meet and greet held in your honor. You’ll get letters in the mail (actual words written down on actual paper in an actual mail box delivered by a real live person) from people who haven’t even met you yet when word has spread that something bad has happened in your life (my parents died and the community showed up enforce). People will talk to you in the grocery store. They’ll know you by the last resident of the house you bought (you’re the people that bought the old XXXX house). They’ll know you by all the kids playing in your yard. They’ll know you from talking to someone else that drove by your place and saw you mowing the lawn. Your wife will suddenly become best friends with the lady at the State Farm insurance company. Neighbors will show up at your door with fresh sweet corn and pumpkins and maybe even a toy John Deere tractor for your kids. They’ll give you cats.
I can see how these things might seem strange or even backward to some people. When we lived in Oregon, we had a tree fall on our house while I was out of town, and none of our neighbors even noticed! It was a big tree, and my wife was home alone with the kids.Imagine how frightening that must have been. Life went on all around the neighborhood while my wife was dealing with the mess.
It’s different here. They show up with saws and food. Because people matter and people pay attention. Different values. Different way of life.
4. Commuting is a way of life.
There’s nothing close. You don’t just take a couple minutes to go to the grocery store. There might be a small grocery store in the town over, but its likely not going to have what you need, and if they do its expensive. So you drive twenty, thirty, sometimes fifty minutes to get what you need. And that’s all there is to it.
3. There’s a tractor in the road.
2. The grass is always greener…
Its because of the humidity. Or maybe its the summer rains that come with the thunderstorms. Or maybe its the organically rich soil. Whatever it is, the grass IS always greener, and not just on the other side of the fence. It never stops growing. Seriously. It must be why everyone has a riding lawn mower. Not just a basic style mower, mind you. Zero turn baby. Even the people in town have zero turn mowers for their tiny lawns. Its pandemonium.
But we must look pretty insane mowing our four acre lawn with a push mower. I have to admit, if feels pretty insane. You mow and then two days later you need to mow again.
So guess what we just bought? Yup. Right from the Cub Cadet factory in Ohio.
1. The sound of silence.
You might like the noise of traffic, the hustle and bustle of things and people endlessly moving around. Maybe its gives you a sense of security with all that sound. Because in the silence there is a reckoning. You must listen, even when listening is uncomfortable.
In the wind you can hear the corn stalks whisper. You can hear the coyote yelp, the distant thunder rumble. You can hear the bats hunt insects, the cicadas buzz merrily in the trees. In the silence you hear the sounds of a world come alive as it spins maddeningly all around you.
So why would you want to move to rural Iowa?
I’ve never felt more alive. That’s it. That’s the sales pitch. Iowa is a beautiful state with spectacular sunrises and sunsets, a diverse landscape and a rich culture born out of faith and humanity and the common belief that people still matter. It’s the people, it’s the corn, it’s the endless blue skies and the fury in the storms and the history in the buildings that have stood throughout the centuries, through it all. It’s the State Fair and the lightening bugs and the long awaited summer day that comes after a storm when there is no humidity. There’s something special about this place. We’re still in the honeymoon stage, I know, I know. But what can I say?
Iowa is heaven, after all. Isn’t it?