Blink and You’ll Miss It: Rediscovering Home

An unexpected trip to Iowa gave me renewed practice with the geographic vagueries I use when describing my childhood home.

North-central Iowa. Sixty miles from Des Moines. Seven miles off the interstate. Blink and you’ll miss it.

I spent years resenting my no stoplights, “never heard of it” hometown. I yearned for the urban life– shopping malls, restaurants, movie theaters, and people-filled streets.

Iowa mailboxInstead I was a hick, mired in a “town” covering less than one square mile, plopped in the monotony of the Midwest, a cornfield behind our house and another field just beyond the place across the street. A town where the only excitement was high school sports and, on a lesser scale, school plays and band and choir concerts.

“You can’t change where you’re from,” one of my high school friends moped to me once. I remember exchanging sad nods and sighs with her. I’ve never felt such discontent as I did during those teenage years in Iowa. I was thrashing about to become my true self, certain my hometown was condemning me to an ordinary and dull existence.

Trestle bridge Iowa

After high school, I left home in a huff, nose in the air, certain I hadn’t learned much about life or who I was during all those years spent surrounded by cornfields, except where I didn’t want to be. My small-town days were over, I declared to anyone who would listen.

That was over two decades ago. I imagine I had to go through those feelings and machinations in order to establish an independent life, or maybe I give myself too much credit, and I was purely a malcontent.

Regardless of the reasons for leaving rural Iowa, time away and years of crowded urban living brought me back to my hometown with a more receptive disposition.

Iowa running

My grown-up lifestyle as a runner also helped change my perception. I’m like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. I put on my running shoes. Click those heels together. I say “There’s no place like home,” and I mean it.

milkweed Iowa

A town with less than one mile to gravel roads entices, rather than traps. Open roads with no people on them are a gift to a runner. The wind blows into my body, only to be stifled when I intersect the occasional farmstead. Dried milkweed plants long ago gone to seed enthrall me with their delicate tenacity.

Iowa corn

Stray cornstalks somehow missed during the harvest bend from the wind’s persistent gusts, but refuse to keel over. Plants I considered weeds as a youth have transformed into wildflowers.

Iowa wildflower

Miles of road roll out in front of me. South of town, wind turbines churn through the air. Fields lie to the north. I hurtle myself into the westerly wind, but turn around and I’m nudged back toward town.

When I run in my hometown, I can’t believe all that I missed seeing while growing up there. I spent too much time focused on what home wasn’t, and couldn’t appreciate what it was. Maybe when people ask me where I’m from, I should change my description.

Iowa cornfield sunset

My hometown is a place where the milkweed pods are like snowflakes, each one slightly different from the other, worthy of examination. Wildflowers will always find a way bloom. The wind has personality, and corn husks flit across the gravel to greet you.

You can watch the sun’s every movement as it blankets the landscape in afternoon gold and incrementally drops its rays below the cornfield-laced horizon. You can be alone. You can be your true self.

22 thoughts on “Blink and You’ll Miss It: Rediscovering Home

  1. with age comes wisdom and hindsight.
    you were able to return with open eyes and a willing heart.
    you were blessed with finding yourself again.

    the images are so beautiful.

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  2. I remember returning to my hometown (Albany, NY) once I became a runner. I was only six or seven years removed. I was amazed at how close everything was. As a kid everywhere was a car trip that seemed to take forever. As an adult, I could run to everything. It really turned my perspective on its head

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  3. I have a cottage in rural Ontario. It has been in the family for 4 generations now. I left eastern Canada for the west coast 30 years ago and never thought I would return. I never missed anything except the cottage. The pace. The quiet roads. The honest talk. When I return to the cottage (and I try to do that every year for extended stays) I feel like I am at home. Like nothing have changed. We all have a place we call home, where we feel most comfortable, most relaxed. For me, its the cottage.

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  4. I agree with Pondero above. Mg, your writing is every bit as good as your running or riding and maybe better. For some reason, I consider my home town a place where my wife and I lived in PA. The place where I grew up may never see me again and that’s just fine. However, we lived in Danville, PA and I worked at Geisinger Med Ctr. My wife didn’t really like it much; it was too rural for her and had little opportunity. I loved it and still, after 22 years, I go back at least once a year to ride, visit with old friends, and recharge. Thanks for the thoughtful posts.

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    1. Thank you for those words, Dave. I was thinking as I wrote this that the place you consider home does not have to be where one is from, as you note.

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  5. Mary
    Your writing and insight is something I think of often. Thanks for sharing your gifts with us. The beauty and opportunity we were surrounded with while growing up were amazing gifts that I now cherish. We were blessed then and are now as well because we were not afraid to leave to see for ourselves the treasures travel and new adventures can provide.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Kim. It was good for me to go beyond our town and explore the beauty of other places; and doing so allowed me return and appreciate home as an adult.

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  6. This Oct. wife & I are going back to my home town of Wood River,IL. for 50th Hi Sch reunion. Have not been in that area for 15 years. Looking forward to a school tour,seeing old friends, and seeing my old houses, all the changes for good or bad. At my age, it will be my last trip so I will take my time and enjoy. Should be fun and emotional. .
    Really enjoy your blog.

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    1. I wish you all the best on your upcoming trip. I’m always surprised by how familiar and emotional going back to Iowa has become for me. Oh, and glad you like the blog!

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  7. I have a similar background (exchange Indiana for Iowa and it’s the same). I have a greater appreciation for the rural areas than I did at 18 as well. At the end of the day, though, if faced with the possibility I don’t think I would go back permanently. At least not yet…

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    1. I’m with you. I love visiting and spending time there, but it is not where I want to reside right now. My daily life is in D.C., and that suits me.

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