Guest Columnist

Can't see much from here, except love

Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.

You can’t see much from here; no mountains, no large bodies of water, no tall buildings, and no rumbling freight trains. Out front I can occasionally see a vehicle up on the graveled road; the other views are woods, beautiful but nothing jaw-dropping, until it snows, then you all will want to be here, sitting with me in the middle of a Robert Frost poem.

A little way up the road a couple of American bald eagles have been feeding on the carcass of a deer felled by a car. They’ve been at it for a few days, battling with crows for the good stuff. Looks like gopher guts to me.

Three days ago a rafter of 22 turkeys (don’t ask why I counted them) moved slowly across my front yard, stepping the way they do in a herky-jerky fashion wherein the head juts forward then the body catches up, moving to a syncopated rhythm, as if they’re listening to their inner Dave Brubeck.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been on the road a lot, traveling across most of Illinois and some of Iowa, avoiding the interstate highway system when possible, listening to everything from Beethoven to Maroon 5, noting plastic figures of Mary, Joseph and Jesus still in yards of small-town residents along the way.

Small towns struggle mightily, and it shows. There is a tiredness in these places that is palpable and I feel for them, but if the citizens are attempting to return to 1960 then count me out. Life wasn’t better then, just different. Men ran the towns in those days, owned the businesses, told their wives how they should vote and, oh my goodness, we now have a guy-in-chief from that era.

I drove past a business in a small Illinois town called Sleeve Weasels, the business not the town, a tattoo parlor that residents would likely not have allowed in 1960, and there is something weirdly appealing about the business name. If I am ever inclined to cover myself with tattoos I might give Mr. Weasels a call.

A couple of days after Christmas in a small Iowa town I joined an entire family (grandkids to grandparents) for tacos, one of them a high school student who brought a date. His companion was a bright, beautiful young woman and on occasion I glanced at them across the table, remembering that I was once that age and terribly in love, but I long ago lost the loony intensity these two shared, the craziness that young love brings, the need to touch, to assure the other exists. And to laugh; oh my they laughed and my heart soared and ached for them.

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A beautiful, winter-coated coyote just loped down my lane and now I feel comfortable saying goodbye to 2018. It has been a horrible year for many around the world and I have no sage advice to offer for 2019 except, maybe, look for love. It’s out there. I can see it from here.

• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.

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