On the Lincoln Highway

Big Grove Precinct polling place at 9 a.m. on June 8, 2021.

Tuesday was the day to take Jacque to her sister’s home in Boone. We began by voting in the special election for county supervisor. Our candidate, Jon Green – Democrat, won with 66 percent of votes cast. Voting together is an excellent way to start the day. It’s not really a date, but the experience was better than an actual date. After almost 40 years of marriage that’s how we are evolving.

We drove past the Atherton Wetland, up through Ely to Highway 30, which was the first transcontinental road for automobiles, dedicated in 1913. There are historical markers along the way, although I’m not sure the current Highway 30 is the actual Lincoln Highway. In fact, I’m sure it is not in some stretches. I hadn’t been out west on 30 since my in-laws’ estate was settled in the late 1990s.

I used to appreciate the drive, and seeing the patchwork of farms that make up rural Iowa. Yesterday’s weather, mostly clear skies with cumulus clouds, was perfect for travel. My observations were different this time.

The first thing I noticed was how large the acreages had become. There were so few homes, silos and other structures on so much land. It’s reflective of the need for less people to farm in 2021. Grain storage capacity had increased considerably.

As before, the diversity of crops was limited. I noticed corn and beans, and hay bales in abundance. Due to the drought, it is a good time to harvest hay. There was likely oats mixed in the fields, but my eyes aren’t trained well enough to differentiate it.

Maybe they were there 20 years ago, but I noticed a number of concentrated animal feeding operation confinement buildings. In the vast landscape they don’t look like much, yet livestock produces six of ten of Iowa’s top agricultural commodities. I did not see one hog, cow, turkey or chicken during four hours on the road. They were all indoors.

If I once thought the scenery bucolic, I no long do. It is a landscape of extraction, well organized and with purpose. While a natural process produces commodities, it is hardly nature or anything close to it. The lack of diversity among crops and the biome is remarkable once one is acculturated to recognize it. The unseen disaster is the flow of agricultural chemicals, manure and topsoil runoff into Iowa’s watersheds. Farmers say they want good water quality and rely on rain to produce it for corn and beans. However, the industry also relies on disposing of their waste downstream at no cost or responsibility to them. The current landscape and the farm operations on it are unsustainable.

We stopped for a rest break at the Meskwaki Travel Plaza in Tama. They have clean restrooms, clean everything. The signs on the entryway read “masks recommended.” No one, including us, wore a mask. There were no mask monitors and we are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 so are not concerned about contracting the coronavirus. We had our vaccination records with us, but preferred not to show them because of the brouhaha about “vaccine passports.” No one questioned us.

I’ve not been inside the nearby Meskwaki Casino and have no desire to experience it. Later in the day I did buy a Powerball ticket so I’m not a gambling purist. “Loose slots” has little intrinsic appeal.

Noteworthy is the Meskwaki Organix Store inside the travel plaza. It is the first tribal-owned CBD dispensary located on tribal land in the state of Iowa. The Meskwaki Nation set their sights on developing a hemp economy in which they would control the product from seed to shelf. The store is intended to pursue retail markets and will also play a role in market research and product development for CBD. The store opened in November 2020. We didn’t stop there either.

Boone is the birthplace of Mamie Eisenhower. There is signage about her along the main street through downtown. After dropping Jacque, I bought gasoline at a Casey’s store. I went inside and bought a regular Coca-Cola. I don’t recall the last time I drank a Coke, and despite the labeling “original taste,” high fructose corn syrup was used as a sweetener. It was nothing like my memory of going to the corner grocer and buying a 10-ounce bottle of ice-cold Coke after delivering my newspaper route. In Iowa, we are all about appearances, less about substance. We should keep our memories about good times to ourselves.

I will return to Boone to bring her home. I won’t be buying another Coke. It was a mistake to get it, although one that can be quickly forgiven. We’re in Iowa. High fructose corn syrup is what we do.

One reply on “On the Lincoln Highway”

Boone. You’re getting closer to my old family home in a small town that looked to Boone as a city. I too have not visited it for a few years since my parents died. I do remember the old Lincoln Highway 30 from my youth.

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