What this bona fide, dyed-in the-wool city dweller learned after moving to the rolling hills of Southeastern Iowa in rural Van Buren County could fill volumes. With a population of around 7,500 people, there are no stoplights, and nary a fast food restaurant in the county. What is lacking in infrastructure and trendy night spots is replaced with historic buildings and towns, an artists’ colony, a folk school, lots of horses and Amish buggies, and Mother Nature in her fullest glory.
After hearing a cacophony of horns, sirens, and traffic in the city for several years, it took very little time to get used to the quiet. At first, the sounds of various frogs and night creatures sounded the same, but, now, each frog and toad has it’s own voice that is becoming more distinctive. It took a while to learn what birds were eating at the feeders, and even longer to match the bird call with the plumage. There are still unknown birds that can only be identified after quickly leafing through the handiest bird book. Sometimes, the new bird is actually a known bird, and only a different gender .
Observing the grandeur of Mother Nature on an every day basis, makes one feel less important in the whole scheme of things. Instead of trying to change nature, living closer to nature makes one want to “tread more lightly” during the very short life span allotted to each human. The desire to make changes to the landscape that will last longer than a lifetime–like trees or ponds–have filled many days with planning, planting, and hard work.
Simply watching a multitude of stars and a big beautiful moon fill the sky; or seeing spectacular sunrises, sunsets, and rainbows are everyday miracles that both fill and rest one’s soul. Being able to observe nature on a daily and changing basis is always amazingly simple and beautiful!
Surely, all of the signals for trees to lose leaves, and for animals to grow thicker coats are evident in a city. However, living on the edge of a field or a woods seems to heighten the awareness of those seasonal patterns. Weather patterns dictate the cycle for rest and industry on the land, and are tied to whether the trees are budding and blooming or changing colors and reverting back to bare branches.
Patterns can lead one to think that the severity of the upcoming winter can be predicted by the amount of berries on cedar trees, the fact that Woolly Bears are completely black, or that cats, dogs, and other animals have grown thicker coats. Other methods for predicting winter weather can be when the trees turn colors and drop leaves, or when the Martin birds leave their summer houses a month early. It is doubtful that Mother Nature wants to cooperate in making someone look like a genius weather prognosticator with such simple indicators. However, our ancestors survived by being able to read the signs that indicated a severe winter or a rainy spring. The thickness of a cow’s coat is something that happens without an iota of human intervention, and there is probably something in the cow’s DNA that tells the hair, “You’d better thicken!”
Unknowingly, the move to the farm sparked a longing for greener vistas that have almost replaced the yearning to catch a glimpse of the snow-covered Rocky Mountains with a clear blue sky background. Living where rains are frequent, and heat and humidity can make a person both dripping wet and wrung out has become a gardener’s dream. The rich topsoil of Iowa combined with rain, and heat can lead any gardening neophyte to believe that what is a common weed is really a magnificent flower that was planted and forgotten.
Although the weather and temperature changes can be dramatic, many of the plants in the gardening catalogues can be easily grown in the various flowerbeds on the homestead. Flowers and plants that would have been scorched by the intensity of the Mile High sunlight, flourish during Midwest summers of heat, humidity, and a less intense sun.
Luther Burbank, a botanist, horticulturist, and pioneer in developing many of the flowers, plants, and fruits enjoyed by gardeners everywhere, including the Shasta Daisy, a personal favorite, wrote,
“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul.”