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.
Instead 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 and I moped to each other 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.