What I did on my summer vacation, by Terry.
We went to Illinois! Land of Lincoln, corn, wheat, soybeans, cows, people with Scandinavian names, and the finest breakfast pizza in this wing of the galaxy. But I digress. First, some background.
This is Uncle Leon (of Leon and Cindy Oleson Farms), along with my enormous son, who is also an Oleson.
We spent glorious days on the farm. There’s no other word for it. I’ve never farmed a day in my life, unless you count raising chickens and gardening. Uncle Leon and the family are farmers; it’s what they do. They have an encyclopedic knowledge of topics that range from the hydraulic pressure in a tractor line to the tendencies of obscure beetle species. Riding around on the farm is like the best possible college lecture ever– you’re learning but you don’t realize it until after the lesson ends.
Iowa is, in some sense, my ancestral homeland, and there are a lot of similarities between Elkader, Iowa and Shabbona, Illinois. We start with the scenery.
That’s a lot of corn, and it requires large places to put it.
We visited Cousins Amber and Brent and their dairy farm. To sum up: loud, fun, smells like the essence of life, busy, beautiful, real. The Mueller farm is everything a farm should be, but with excellent Wi-Fi and lots of cats. It’s a lot like heaven.
It’s impossible not to feel connected to this place. There’s a visceral reaction to things of great purity, and being on the farm around great people is one such event. And now, the requisite picture of corn, if you will.
That’s the kind of scene that makes everyone think they can farm.
(full disclosure: not everyone can. it’s demanding work with a high degree of uncertainty. in short, farmers are cool under fire)
But the fact that simply being close to a farm engenders such feelings tells you that anyone who wants to refill their proverbial tank should consider a visit to the farm. I left with a head full of words, and it was more than the excellent company, food, and rest. It’s a mythological connection to something from the time before, when concerns, like life, tended to be more centered on community.
Speaking of community. Let’s see main street,, a couple towns over. They got the sign right the first time, so there’s no need to change. This is a testament to the power of Midwestern Culture, and yes, that’s a thing, because it’s so easily identifiable. If you step into a town and start looking for Frank Capra’s ghost– you’re in the Midwest.
My writing batteries were also recharged by something that is so rare as to be mythical. It’s the distinction between nice and good.
When you visit the Midwest and your family is filled with people who are nice and good, take a moment to consider the distinction. People can be nice– nice is polite, pleasant, mannerly. Nice can be your friend. Nice bakes for neighbors and picks up your mail when you visit relative on the other coast.
But nice is not necessarily good. Good is a kind of innate construction that makes some people break to the side of goodness out of instinct. Good is doing the right things without effort or thought, it’s the communal willingness to donate the two most precious things– time and work– to something other than oneself, in order to better the life of someone else. When you visit your family and realize that they are truly good, there’s a validation and hope that your child– my enormous, goofy, replete nine year old– will be emblematic of that tradition. Good is, in some sense, a choice, and it’s cultivated, not unlike the corn that soars across hundreds of acres on the family farm.
Good is not a goal. Good is a permanent structure, built by learning from others who share the ability to see beyond themselves out of a quality that cannot be measured or weighed.
Four days in July, and my tanks are full. Here’s to a wonderful fall.