Sunday, March 10, 2013

Time to change

It is snowing this morning. The first day of “Daylight Savings.” Daylight Time used to change when Spring was firmly established in flowers and light. Today, ironically, it is still winter. Snow falls straight down in heavy-cotton chunks. Theirs is a quiet, passing beauty. The kind of snow-fall that doesn’t last. Quickly it fades to small flakes and then disappears altogether.
I am thoughtful this morning. Considering changes. Time, weather, place. What to make of unwelcome changes?

Yesterday, driving from Lincoln to Rochester meant passing through most of Iowa on interstate highways. First miles and miles east to Des Moines on I-80 and then up, up, north and north through the “fruited plains” on I-35 until at last the bluffs of southeastern Minnesota gently rise.

About thirty miles west of Des Moines traffic suddenly slowed, came to a stop. We could see the road ahead was clogged with cars and trucks idling in the rain. An accident.  Someone’s tragedy unfolding far ahead; who we would never know. As we approached the standing point, some vehicles were making a k-turn, passing us on the shoulder and exiting the wrong way up the on-ramp. One questioning glance from Anita, and we were doing the same. It was a satisfying crime. A justifiable change of direction. We quickly followed a line of traffic heading cross-country. Along the back roads, we had time to call up Google Maps and decided to follow the perfectly paved Iowa county roads, straight and smooth, skipping Des Moines and Ames altogether.

A map of Iowa hints at its history – a perfect grid of right-angle roads. Rich, black soil precisely divided into sections worth millions. One mile on a side, 640 acres within the square. Farmland that made the lives of men and women who raised crops and animals to feed hundreds of others. Often there is still a stand of old trees on one corner of a section, remnants of a homestead, a house that might still be lived in, if it’s lucky, but the out-buildings –  the out-buildings. All dying, sinking back into the ground. Barns three stories high with an elevator still sitting beneath the haymow door as if one day the farmer was raptured, or died or moved to Arizona. Round barns, barns with graceful cupolas, hipped roofs, angled roofs, stone, oaken, bricked, square, reflecting styles of German, Norwegian, Dutch immigrants.
Iowa barn in winter
Not as many of these places are seen from the heavily traveled interstate, but on back roads they never leave your sight. County after county the quiet is eerie. In the stillness of winter the machines are gone, the land is dark, the buildings are broken, blackened, faded red. Granaries, barns, coops without an animal or human in sight.

Perhaps one reason American factory farming troubles me is because I feel alienated by it. I want to be wholly restored to land and creation. I want us to be careful caretakers of, not just the earth, but of people. I mourn empty places that were once alive with chickens, cows, horses and pigs. I want to repopulate them with children and dogs and tire swings. Restore a garden. Perhaps it is true Home I wait for – that impossible place of meaningful work and unbroken restoration God will bring about one day.

Tomorrow, I will be more settled. More distant from dying places I can’t fix. I will focus on my desk and maybe I’ll think about the small patch of urban earth outside our back door. Flower and seed catalogs are here and we need a few more climbing roses and stone walls for them to thrive upon.

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