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What I miss about Iowa

Karen Nesvold

The old cottonwood still stands, towering over the circle driveway of the acreage I grew up on, just outside of Fort Dodge on the old Badger blacktop. There used to be a long row of walnut trees bordering the front ditch. Along the other deep ditches were row upon row of wild roses.

I miss the beautiful black soil and all the crops we grew: field corn, soybeans, pop corn, and sweet corn. A huge truck garden sprawled out behind the house. Heavy-laden grape vines clung to a row of fences. Over to the other side, there was an orchard full of fruit trees.

My brother and I would set up a vegetable and fruit stand. Called it the Lee and Ray Market (using our middle names). Folks from town frequently came to buy fresh goods or eggs. They would often sit for awhile. Seems as though we always had a cool breeze in the country that couldn’t be felt in town.

I loved doing my homework in the stock chute, surrounded by the Holstein and black angus cattle. I have fond memories of my friends and I climbing up the old ladder in the barn to the hay loft. We shared many secrets and stories up there.

We were never lacking of anything and we knew everyone on the neighboring farms. It definitely was a camaraderie. Today Iowa farmers still believe in community and hard work as they try to partner with Mother Nature.

I’ve never seen so many stars as I do when I’m in Iowa in the wide open night time skies. Always twinkling like a thousand diamonds.

Iowa has acres and acres of farmland, but sprinkled throughout are many state parks. I spent my first 27 years in Iowa. That’s where my love and respect of the land began. My favorite parks were Dolliver, Pilot Knob, Clear Lake, Ledges, and McIntosh. I truly miss the bridges of Madison County. There is so much history behind each of these areas, and so much beauty. The trees are lovely and elegant no matter what season I have been there. I’m thankful there are organizations within the state that study forestry. They care about the oak trees, forest lands, and prairie grasses.

For several years Mom and Dad retired to northern Minnesota, but after Dad passed away Mom returned to Iowa — Garner. I could not imagine at first why she chose Garner, but as soon as I went to see her I understood. What a beautiful little community. Close to Forest City, Mason City, and Clear Lake. Mom had grown up in those areas and still had people there to connect with.

Iowa has many small towns that make me smile. Avoca, Glenwood, West Bend, Winterset, Pella, Grinnell. On a bit larger scale there is Cedar Falls and Marshalltown — with good colleges, a university, veterans home, interesting historical sites/activities and festivals.

My Mom’s not alive any more and as my family dwindles I wonder — how will I continue to step foot on Iowa soil? It’s convenient to fly into one of several small airports — Mason City, Fort Dodge, Des Moines. I flew into Mason City a couple times a year while Mom lived in Garner. The folks working in that airport always remembered me from my last trip. That doesn’t happen at huge international airports like SeaTac or Minneapolis. But in Iowa people provide services and help others. That’s small town America. That’s Iowa.

My brother has two sons and their families in Omaha. I will visit there with him a couple times a year. Together, he and I will drive across the Nebraska/Iowa border to attend one of our high school reunions in Fort Dodge. We will drive through the countryside, past the cattle in the pastures, past the farmers working their black soil. We’ll stop for a piece of homemade pie and hot tea or cold lemonade in a small roadside cafe. Wherever we stay for the night, we will gaze up into the sky and watch the constellations twinkle ever so brightly. I can never leave until we’ve driven through Fort Dodge one more time and pull into the acreage where we used to live, hug that ancient cottonwood and soak in the memories from the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s. Our spirit is still there. It’s all still there. Iowa is engrained so deeply within the core of who I am.

Karen Howick Nesvold, who grew up in Webster County, now lives in Ferndale, Washington.