Iowa Autumn, and Other Stuff


Hay? Straw?

As a city kid, I couldn’t tell the difference between hay and straw. I used the terms interchangeably. Until I moved to Iowa, when I was (gently) informed that hay is in fact an animal feed crop, and straw is residue, the leavings of that feed crop. So it’s possible, it seems, to obtain straw from hay, but not vice-versa. Good to know. I’m sure the cattle appreciate (and know) the difference.

Here’s a fun farm-ish fact: Had I been a soldier in the civil war, educated to the minimal degree, as most front-line troops were back then, I’d have been taught to march properly to the cadence of ‘hayfoot, strawfoot!, hayfoot, strawfoot!’ Attaching a sprig of each to a soldier’s right and left boot was instrumental in teaching him to march properly. True story. You can look it up.

Only in Iowa

So I backed the car out of the garage, and turned onto our public street, only to be stopped and delayed by a farmer filling a transport truck with his newly combined (that’s Kom-Bined) soybeans. And holding up traffic all the while. Which traffic waited, without complaint or irritation or use of the vehicle’s horn. Not that soybeans are grown with any dedication or frequency in heavily paved New York City, or Chicago, or LA, but try picturing this in Midtown, or on Wacker Drive, or on Rodeo just outside the Gucci emporium. Heavens! As I waited for the fellow’s soybeans to load, I seem to recall that my blood pressure remained reasonably steady, or perhaps even lowered a bit, and my smile muscle actually twitched. It was all very Grant Wood-ish.

Speaking of Screen Savers

Since leaving Medellin Colombia, and moving to Iowa City, one of the biggest changes we’ve noticed, aside from all the spoken English we hear, is the absence of ambient light at night. For the first time in years we see gazillions of stars, the moon is a real presence, and there is the occasional satellite silently crossing the black void. The air is a bit cleaner here than in Medellin as well, albeit a tad crisper. This will be our first cold winter experience in five years, but no one ever quite forgets Iowa City in January. It’s cold with a capital C. About that brass monkey…

Happy Birds Live Here

Is the birdhouse really smiling? I believe it is. This tiny if derelict avian habitation is proof that not everything broken must be repaired. That’s a comfort to us older citizens who often simply wish to be left alone with our well earned brokenness. Flying home to our patched up, sagging selves can be a cheerful if somewhat somber experience. I’m guessing the birds who inhabit this cheery if whopper-jawed little house don’t give a tit’s patoot about how it sags, it’s still their home-tweet-home.

Yes, Hay…Not Straw.

Iowans are not without a sense of whimsy. This ‘Toots-Hay Roll’ was at a farm products store we visited while searching for the perfect pumpkin. The hay (not straw) bales are organized in such a way that kiddos are encouraged to scamper around atop them.

This is actually similar to our experience in Colombia, in a way. Not the hay bales, of course, but the yawning disregard for liability and attorney involvement were one of the precious nińos to fall and hurt themselves. If that happened, no lawsuit would follow, just like in Colombia. A tumble would require a touch of TLC for the bruised up Iowa tyke, and then, avoiding litigation, back atop the bale they’d go.

I’m not sure who ‘Toots’ is, but I’d guess he/she approves.

Feeding the Chickens

The grandkids were masked up; the chickens were not. Which seems unfair, since the virus originated in poultry. The damned chickens should have to mask up, and social distance, (which they clearly are not, chickens being awfully plucking stupid, like certain supporters of…I won’t say his name). Chickens don’t bother sanitizing their ugly claws, and they’re constantly attuned to Fox News in order to feel safer, if more ignorant. Chickens live in squalor. They clabber over one another like a bunch of drunken rugby players, or beered up Delta Phi boys. Like certain people I’ve recently unfriended, chickens will happily eat whatever glop is tossed onto the ground for them. And we have to get tested before we’re allowed aboard The Beast at Six Flags? Does that seem fair to you? Me neither.

Looking for The Great Pumpkin

So another city kid question: If pumpkin seeds are all the same size and consistency, and weight etc., and if they require the same amount of whatever pumpkin seeds require, such nurturance as water/soil/sunlight/moonlight/attention/candles and Yanni music/you name it, then why do bigger pumpkins cost more than smaller ones? It’s pretty obvious I’ll never make it as a farmer, but still… Next you’ll tell me birds don’t come from bird seed.

Hear the Corn?

I’ve heard from several native born Iowans that living in Ottumwa, or Cedar Rapids, or Oskaloosa, or Keokuk*, or in any other cozy Iowa burg you can indeed, on a still, windless Iowa night hear the corn grow. Perhaps in my younger days, before the high decibel gods of aviation relieved me of my auditory capacities I may have heard it myself. No more. My days (and nights) of listening to plants stretching their leafy limbs in the fecund fields of Iowa or any other grain-infested state are over. I’ll take the Iowans’ word for it. If there’s a YouTube video demonstrating this curious nocturnal, agri-auditory condition I’m not aware of it.

*’Keokuk’ is the name of a Sauk indian chief. It means (roughly) ‘watchful fox’. It’s also one of those place names that signal ones tribal membership, or lack of it. It would appear to be pronounced ‘Kee-Oh-Kuck’. It is not. To native Iowans it’s pronounced ‘Kow-Kuck.’ Guess how I figured that out. Hey, I couldn’t tell hay from straw, remember?

**Keokuk (Kow-Kuck) Iowa is the boyhood home of aviation pioneer, Hollywood film producer, and all around weirdo inventor and stupidly rich guy Howard Hughes. Among the many things I credit to Mr. Hughes are the infamous, single-flight-ever Spruce Goose aircraft, also being a charter starter of TWA, Trans World Airlines, and of course his status as a benefactor of the proceeds of mens’ drooling over Jane Russell’s bodacious boobs.

But there’s also this: Howard Hughes was obsessed with hand washing and personal sanitation long before the rest of us caught on to this socially beneficial, and anti-viral practice. While the rest of us men were, I presume, preoccupied with Ms Russell’s frontal assets, Hughes was scrubbing his mitts, while sweating over his monetary assets. So a big shout-out to Iowa raised Howard Hughes today.

Even a city kid knows this: These are cows!

Thanks for reading. More later. VOTE!!!