Iowa, I’m sorry.
For years I’ve written off your people, cursed your winter-torn roads, pitied your empty shopping malls, lamented your land locked-ness, and readily given you the title of “The Land of Missed Opportunity.” I made up my mind that you had nothing to offer me; you and I, we simply wanted different things. But for years, it turns out I was wrong.
You see, Iowa, I had to go experience other things. I wanted to be a part of a culture that Rand McNally wouldn’t describe as “remarkably homogenous.” I wanted — needed — to smell the sea. I craved the scent of curry wafting through the air between bistros. I yearned for immaculate concert halls, centuries-old cathedrals, and buildings that touched the sky. I needed to throw on a t-shirt on a December morning and go for a run in the hills. I wanted to have something to write about. And I found those things, Iowa. And it was grand.
But it turns out, Iowa, that everyone else is going to the beach, too. It turns out that people being “remarkably homogenous” has everything to do with who you choose to be around. It turns out that too much curry is just plain nauseating. It turns out that buildings that touch the sky can’t help but hide it from view, too. And as for running in the green, rolling hills of a coastal winter, I did that maybe once.
I forgot what else it is you don’t have, Iowa. You don’t have city after city, miles of rolling concrete underneath your stationary tires, regardless of what hour of the day it is. You don’t have cafes that only sell coffee and $4 toast as part of the next “artisan trend.” And while people that call your land home might often look the same, that’s just the signature curve of a Midwestern smile.
You have quite the calming air about you, don’t you, Iowa? The ability to convince anyone and everyone that it’ll all be okay. You never fail to reassure us that we’ll make it through, that we shouldn’t be worried if we’re “coming out on top” because there is no top. The Jones aren’t calling – the open road is. And there are miles and miles of it. Miles and miles of open road, winding and unblemished, full of greens, burgundies, and golds just waiting to be conquered.
What I didn’t understand before is that to live in Iowa is to live an exordium — to live at the beginning of what could be anything. Life there is douce: a word I recently learned means “quiet” or “serene,” but if you thought “sweet,” well, it’s that, too. To live in Iowa is to look outside and see the world in front of you, free and full of opportunity, just as it should be. And it is that now which I crave, Iowa. And I know nowhere else to find it but in you.
So wake up in the morning with me, Iowa. Maybe we’ll lounge in bed together, listening to your thunder. Maybe we’ll throw the windows open and take in your summer breeze. Or maybe we’ll go out onto the patio with a steaming cup of coffee and just breathe each other in. And it’ll be beautiful.
This article was originally published in Our Iowa magazine, February 2015, and has been re-published from The Strange and New with permission.