Photos courtesy of Craig Summers Black.
Yes, I live in Madison County – bridge country – home to rolling hills and busloads of tourists.
I left northern California, where Clint Eastwood was a local mayor, and fled those hordes of tourists who were unprepared for San Francisco’s arctic blasts in July. At that time, the fairly dreadful penny novel was being filmed down the road on its way to becoming a fairly mediocre movie, and Clint and the tourists followed me to Iowa. Sigh …
Things are quieter now, finally. About the biggest doin’s hereabouts are an annual bike ride that curves through our pastoral hillsides. No, Iowa is not all flat. Just my yard.
I’m surrounded, as you can see in the photo above, by cropland – alternately corn and beans, as the locals call soybeans. With nary a ripple or fold in the landscape, during winter the wind comes zooming through, scouring the ground of any snow cover.
Which makes it tough on my garden. Very tough. Large-leaved evergreens such as Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica), rhododendron, and holly – all pretty much guaranteed (in theory) to survive this USDA Zone 5 region – usually turn up their toes about February.
I planted a windbreak of five kinds of evergreens (to deter blight, disease, and assorted nastiness from slashing through a monoculture) on the north and west sides of my 8-ish acres to try to lessen this factor. As you can see in the photos, they are three rows deep.
I planted this blockade in one weekend, a total of about 200 trees. It sounds like a huge undertaking, but really, not so much. I remember buying a dozen concolor firs that were potted in an egg carton. Most of the rest of the trees I got at a bit of a discount from the county, which helps folks like me that try to counter dust bowl conditions.
There’s not much of a view from the house, so I’ve tried to make my garden(s) the view. What look like lakes from these aerial pictures (I took them from an ultralight one early fall day) are actually abandoned limestone quarries. A large one down the road has been reclaimed and is gorgeous – actually with enough size not only to fish in but to do a bit of water skiing.
One of the two you see here is OK-looking, and now the source of my outdoor irrigation,but the other is a blighted mess, which I think remains so because it is the subject of some messy litigation.
Before “rural water” came through, we relied on a well in that OK pond for our drinking water, too. Because the pond is 37 feet deep and the water filters through limestone, it tasted really good – as good as San Francisco water, which is primo.
Then the fall would come, the leaves would drop into the water, decompose messily and, as my lone neighbor would say, “make it taste like frog pee.” Sorry for the language: I’m just quoting him. He is, as you may have noticed already, a colorful guy.
In the second photo (you'll find the place to click at the bottom right of the first photo), you can see that I’ve fenced and cross-fenced my acreage to have an orchard and vineyard on the west side, a huge grassy area for kids to play in the center behind the house, and pasture east of the stable.
Look closely at the blur in the horseshoe-shaped driveway and you can see my daughter waving to me. Hi, Hannah!
Bet you didn't know: John Wayne was born in Winterset, where “The Bridges of Madison County” was filmed. Then his family moved to my adopted town, Earlham, before heading out to California. His house in Earlham is still a private home, a quaint little Victorian on the railroad tracks.
Local scuttlebutt is that whenever young Marion Morrison heard his parents arguing, he would jump out the window and hop a train. His parents would then have to hie themselves off to the next station. End of argument.