A map, it is said, organizes wonder. – Ellen Meloy, The Last Cheater’s Waltz
1. Celebration, vacation, recreation: these escape the mind of a farmer, and an engineer only craves perfection. Stands to reason that my gentleman farmer lives on one long beautiful plain undisturbed by the concept of complementariness.
2. The Farmer and I don’t do well on long trips together; someone’s bound to forget their manners; someone’s bound to forget the price of silence. We don’t take vacations; we take short day trips with the string of Quick Destination tied around a finger.
3. Northeastern Iowa is one big juju fruit with sights. Eyes taste it like so much honey. Honey sweet, jelly sweet, juju on a spoon. You cross over into Wisconsin a pilgrim. The winding road and the big pile of wood in a yard and trees hanging off the roadside bluffs tell you you’re going somewhere.
4. The road is black and bad. Who named Shanghai Ridge? Incredible that tiny cemetery on a bluff overlooking a paradise of hills: twenty headstones in two rows, trees that oversee it, shade and cover, shade and warmth. I tell no one in particular: don’t rush me on my journey north because the path toward heaven is long and winding, a road of still-dead browns and spring greens. If only the hazy sky would peel back its mediocrity.
5. You get to these wooded areas and like it or not they’re full of animals. Even black bear. Even wolves. There are myths and there are truths. Bigfoot is a myth. With 28,000 black bears in Wisconsin, the ratio has changed; it’s no longer human against nature, but cautious human against feral beast. Watch your bird feeders and small pets; watch your back. And see that tree, the tall and stately one? Thirty feet up sits a huge and hungry Rip Van Winkle waiting for his after-winter treat.
6. Small town girl, did the growling city change you, did it blind your eyes to starlight, fill your head with noise? Small town girl, are you still as soft and spotless as a newborn lamb in spring? Country is the place that leaves time behind until an easy sunset leads you home.
7. Flat is a sheet of paper. A floor is flat. Iowa is curvy out my window and off the one long highway strung across the bottom half of the state, called the Southern Iowa Drift Plain, and except for that, not flat like some say, not flat like North Dakota or Minnesota. But any place can be boring. The middle of a bullfight can be boring in the space of a matador waving a pretty cloak. Earthquake tremors can be boring if you’re standing on the edge of a seismically active area waiting for the big one.
8. The grass grows tall waiting for the cows. Here where the moon oversees the spring springing, the sun runs coarse. But wait, between the hills there’s talk of fresh plantings, corn going in, and a plat of alfalfa for livestock fodder. Tractors are first one thing then another: an agricultural necessity and an environmental dilemma. Gertrude Stein would shrug her shoulders and say, choose choose choose choose choose. Just choose.
9. Corn is a living thing, and straight the rows. Corn casts a long shadow in Iowa—150 years and growing. We grow more of it here than in any other state, 140 billion pounds a year. But more facts yellow the truth of the matter. Most of it has been genetically modified. Most of it lays heavy with tinkering, sets the scene for an apocalyptic revelation. Shut up, son, and eat your corn.
10. Sunday is still dress-up day for many; it didn’t go out with leaded gas and 8-track tapes. Bow low the head, sing loud the songs. The youth have left on a trek of discovery but saying you were wrong sticks in your throat. Maybe God will bring them back, you say to yourself. But maybe God will kill you for lying instead, or simply let your world crumble around you. Your tractor needs stroking and, obediently, it will never stray.
11. The Farmer and I have secret words and understanding winks. A practiced love accretes by layer, forms a patina that shimmies along the oblique; our words winnow down into something we want to say but for the chink in our narration. It only takes a look these days, a sideways glance or a nod.
12. This is what I think about while considering his green eyes and tall stature: that even now, sometimes the rows are crooked. Mostly, we see eye-to-eye these decades later, because from the place of compassion and understanding comes a fertile crop, and good. But it’s been so long. The same field plowed again and again needs time to rest, and after rest, a few slow crops, then the boundless harvest; it’s inevitable.
13. No one knows how to live in the country but the oldies. They hold court with the forests and fields, live lives in solemn tones. Some call this witchcraft when it’s only wisdom: the milking, the planting, the reaping. Still they’re plowed under to make way for brighter counsel and bigger buildings, and the land lies fallow, wisdom long departed. Yet a few will follow the curve of the land and forge ahead in the beauty of wonder.
14. But I’m only half German; what do I know? My mother is the one to talk to. Hitler had greasy slicked hair and beady eyes, she said. And he was short; a child can tell those things. How was I named, I ask her. And why the spelling? Was Grandma a sad woman? It matters. It all matters. I even want to know the parts when someone fell on their knees. Fall on your knees, open your mouth, savor this earth.
German-born Chila Woychik is an amalgam of European, Irish, and Acadian forebears, and has recent bylines in journals such as Silk Road, Storm Cellar, and Burningword. She was awarded the 2017 Loren Eiseley Creative Nonfiction Award and the 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award. Of days awash in heavy-handed green and skies on a bender, she is intimately aware. Currently, she edits the Eastern Iowa Review, and bikes, hikes, relentlessly. Find more of her work at www.chilawoychik.com.