Stray Kernels – A Midwestern Love Letter

Posted: January 19, 2018

It was December, and we were in Florida. I mused in the cheerful sunshine while my daughter and husband giggled and dug their hands into the warm sand nearby. My brother-in-law said, “Why don’t you move here?”

He seemed startled when I said that while I thoroughly enjoy visiting Florida, I prefer living in Illinois. He mentioned boring cornfields. I told him I actually like cornfields. Then we talked about something else.

But I’ve been thinking about what I’d say if I had more time to explain. I love Illinois for much more than just the cornfields.

I love snow. As I write, snow is softly falling outside the window, dusting each tree branch with a delicate coating of white. I love how newly fallen—and falling—snow absorbs noise and quiets the landscape. I love how fresh the snowy winter air feels when I inhale. I love how my spirits soar with the brightness of sunshine on snowy fields.

I love early spring. I love how suddenly, on a day in March, gray skies will give way to brilliant sunlight. A red-winged blackbird will trill from high in a tree, and if I could take the time to watch long enough, I know I could actually see the buds swelling on my redbud trees. Daylight will linger longer, and I can faintly detect the aromas of damp soil and recently-awakened skunks.

I love late spring. In May it will be warm enough to sleep with open windows, which means I’ll hear killdeer and tractors as I fall asleep. The raucous racket of birdsong will awaken me in the morning. I love open windows, owl calls, and the smell of freshly-mowed grass. I love how quickly the trees change from the soft green of just budding to the deep green of leafing out.

I love cornfields in summer. I love watching the fields for the first signs of tassels. I love walking a quiet road along a cornfield, enveloped in the warm, humid air and inhaling the heady, buttery scent of corn pollen. I love the way the corn stalks rustle quietly as the breeze rises and falls.

I love how the blue of the sky deepens in September and October. I love the way just-harvested fields glow as the sun drops in the west, and how dust from harvest makes for glorious sunsets. I love how the sound of combines and tractors drifts across the fields. I love how the intense yellow leaves of maple trees can make it seem sunny during a walk in the woods on a cloudy fall day.

While many speak derisively of the seemingly-endless cornfields of our state, I don’t find them boring. To me, they are peaceful. They prompt me to look for nuance: a line of trees, a grassy waterway, an interesting old barn. They give me time to think as I drive. I love the landscape of Illinois.

I’m not saying I love everything about living here. I struggle with extreme cold, with gloomy late fall and winter days, and with ultra-humid weather that makes it feel difficult to breathe without gills. But overall, I love it here.

Besides, living in the Midwest makes beaches in Florida, canyons in Arizona, and mountains in Colorado even more exhilarating when it’s time to do some traveling.

Rhodora Collins – Ag Literacy Coordinator