What’s it like where you live?

I had a person e-mail me recently from the left coast asking what it’s like in the Midwest.

The one-word answer is “windy.” The weather is windy, and thanks to a steady diet of steak and chops, the people are a bit windy too. Scientific fact: most of the methane in the atmosphere comes from cow toots. There are a lot of cows in Iowa. Lots of hogs, too. And I’m seeing more llama and buffalo as well these days.

The winters have been getting easier lately – we just had one of the warmest Januaries on record. Growing up on the farm often meant being snowed in several days every winter. It really seems to me that we’re not getting the same amounts of snowfall we used to get… I remember as a child climbing on the roof of the house and jumping off into the snowdrifts. I haven’t seen snow deeper than six inches in quite a while – let alone snow deep enough to make a snow fort. (Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I’m perfectly fine NOT shoveling my sidewalk three times a day.)

It’s dark when you go to work, and the sun is down before you get home. ‘Tis the season of depression for me. My wife loves it. Winter is her season.

It’s the winters that make Midwesterners what they are, methinks. The salt they dump on the roads rusts your cars. The wind comes across the plains with a ferocity that’s just plain scary sometimes – we have winter days (though not often) with fifty-mile-per-hour winds. You spend fifteen minutes scraping the ice and frost and snow off your car every morning so you can make the five minute commute. And of all of this you complain mightily and loudly – that’s the fun in winter. If you take winter away, what would we talk about? Taxes?

The spring thaw comes towards the end of March, for the most part. In Iowa we generally go from frigid January to snowy February to muddy March, muddy April and muddy May. It seems like it’s cloudy and dreary and rainy (and sometimes late snowfalls enter the mix) from March into May. Things seem wide open somehow – the spaces in the countryside seem bigger – no snow, no weeds, no crops, no leaves on the trees – just space. (If you click on the photo and look at the larger version you’ll see my father, brother and nephew flying a kite in an Iowa field in late March last year. In the distance you can see the naked trees from the next farm over the hill.) You need to have a large spirit to fill up all the space, and Iowans do indeed have large spirits and generous souls.

Generally I start thinking of getting my bike out of storage in March. Realistically I’m lucky if I get to ride more than a few hours before mid April. By the second week in May there are leaves on most of the trees, the grass is green, and its warm enough to leave your coat behind. In spite of the lack of football games, life is good in Iowa in May.

By June summer’s here. It’s warm enough to plan outdoor events, the grass is green, the crops are cropping. People take vacations. It’s daylight until after nine at night.

In July it’s hot. The corn is getting tall, people go to ball games, life is good indeed.

August is hot and dusty and (for me) sad. Through the heat shimmer of the 90+ degree days you can see the end of summer – things aren’t so green any more. This is when people start panicking – everyone takes every last second they can to be outside. Sitting on a friend’s deck drinking beer in the evening, listening to the cicadas chirp and whirrup in the trees, August brings a sense of tranquility and apprehension at the same time.

This is when long motorcycle trips happen. It’s warm, and the chance of rain is slim.

Fall in Iowa is busy time. Crops need to be harvested, children go back to school, print shops are busy for no apparent reason… The past few years fall has lasted well into November, but many years as children we had snow by Halloween. The days are getting shorter.

We have a few weeks of spectacular leaf colors, then the trees start shedding.

For some reason, fall is when Dagmar and I spend a lot of time outdoors. (I guess it’s because I don’t like winter and she doesn’t like hot summer and spring is too muddy.) You see lots of wildlife in the fall. Once the farmers harvest their fields all the little critters that were living and hiding in there have to find new places to hide. So fall is when you see pheasants and deer and whatnot.

All in all, Iowa’s not a bad place. There are a lot of smart people here – there’s a college in almost every town with a population of over 10,000. There are lots of pretty places, and even museums and art and music… Not bad at all.

Unfortunately, the state voted for George W. Bush last time around, which kind of ruined it for me for a while.

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