I remember air so thick with humidity that you could sip it from a cup and how watching the corn grow over the course of the summer, making me completely aware of the passing of time even when I was young.
I remember the slow shift into subtle shades of brown and neutral and how the night air would feel the first time it dipped below 50, and after the summer heat the cold felt so much colder.
I remember tunneling into snowdrifts 8 feet high and how it was to be out in the country at night without power or running water, with only the sound of the wind outside.
I remember the first day it got above freezing and the spring snow melt, and how everyone would suddenly be in shorts and t-shirts and how the cold had never felt so warm.
I’ve only been gone for four months, and yet home- Iowa, this state I had known since birth, is only a memory.
You cannot be homesick for a place that is no longer home. You cannot miss being somewhere you never plan to return. You cannot understand Iowa unless it is part of you.
Over the course of the year before I left, I constantly told people “Well, if I was ready to have a family and buy a home this is the place I would want to be.”
I find myself questioning that now. Iowa is the sort of place that consumes you with comfort, and trying to leave is alot like trying to get out of bed on a Saturday morning- if you can do it without thought, you are fine.
It is when you stop to think that you get stuck.
I’ve lived in England and Germany. I have visited 8 other countries. I have been in 35 of the 50 states.
Nothing is like Iowa.
If you ask someone about the local sports team, chances are they can tell you. (And by local sports team, I mean the local 1-A high school’s basketball team.) If you ask someone who their next door neighbor is, chances are they can tell you not only their name but every last detail of their life. (Of course, this is not to say they actually know their neighbors, it just means that they have nothing better to do than keep an eye on them.)
Most people think that Iowa is flat. Nothing but cornfields and Interstates. But that’s just because they have never taken a turn off of I-80 or I-35. And trust Dar and me when we say there is something magical about the hills of Iowa.
Yes, there are hills, gentle and rolling.
You can feel the power in the land, and I bet if you tried hard enough you could smell the fertility in between the alternating rows of rich black soil and crops.
For all of Iowa’s poetry, it has its kitsch too- butter cows and butter Elvis at the State Fairand the way you always know it is state tournament time in Des Moines because suddenly everyone is making their yearly trip to Merle Hay Mall.
We grow up strong and smart. The land, the weather, the unpredictability of Iowa makes you hearty. We get the benefit of living somewhere safe. We get the benefit of an excellent education system (If the University of Iowa is good enough for Kurt Vonnegut, it is good enough for me.)
And here is what I miss the most- the sixty seconds just before the sun comes up. In that time the land is on fire, filled with shades of red you will never find in another dawn. (And I have seen a lot of dawns in a lot of places.) This is Iowa at its finest. This is the Iowa I love.
I could wait the sunrise for the rest of my life out here on the East Coast and it will never be the same.