116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The other day I was headed home from a nearby town and saw a man walking toward me along the shoulder of the two-lane out by my place, and it was raining pretty hard. He wasn’t hitchhiking but, putting myself in his shoes, I knew I’d certainly accept a ride from a stranger on a rainy April day. So I turned my car around and offered him a ride. How could I not? He was about five miles from the nearest town, a long walk in the rain.
However, he wasn’t headed to the town. No, his plan was to walk another 10 miles beyond the town to a burned-out farmhouse on an endless graveled road in the middle of nowhere, a farmhouse where he once lived. On the property were a couple of old trucks and that’s why he was intent on the journey, even if he had to walk. He was sure he could get one running so that he would once again have transportation. So that’s where I dropped him off.
It was only after wishing him well and turning toward home that I realized neither of us had worn a face mask. Empathy begat stupidity. I’m sure it will be fine. The collection of face masks I keep on the passenger seat were moved to the back when he first got in, so I simply didn’t think of it.
One doesn’t often see people walking the backcountry roads, roads which now support an endless string of pickup trucks pulling large white cylinders filled with anhydrous ammonia, which will be sprayed on farm fields; something to do with nitrogen in the soil, but I don’t really know.
For the past couple of nights a barred owl has been keeping me company, sitting in a nearby tree, hooting eight times in a musical two bars: hoo, hoo, hoo, hooooo. Hoo, hoo, hoo, hooooo. Earlier a single Canada goose flew over the house, chatting to herself, or me perhaps. She was headed straight West, toward a beautiful sunset, like something we’ve all wanted to do at some time or other, going back to the early days of the country. And today a lone turkey made her way across the field in front my house that I’d recently mowed and that seemed to be to her liking, deliberately high stepping through the grass, her own music in her head.
Farm stores are starting to receive spring gardening material, fertilizer, soil, plants, etc. My wife used to enjoy putting out large orange clay pots with brightly colored annuals and I continued the tradition when she could no longer do it. I’ll likely not plant anything this year. It’s just not the same.
I keep thinking about the 49 year-old guy walking along a country road in the rain, thinking about how life can be very difficult for some, maybe more than difficult, perhaps impossible. I have been lucky, and I sure hope he was able to get one of those old trucks running.
Anyway, speaking of music, I heard the Doobie Brothers performing “Listen to the Music” on my car radio the other day and some of the lyrics felt just right. “Meet me in the country for a day. We’ll be happy, and we’ll dance. Oh, we’re gonna dance our blues away.” Anytime you feel the need to dance your blues away feel free to look me up. I’m the old man with long gray hair, and I’ll meet you in the country.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.