I can’t believe it’s been 2 months. This is the longest I’ve spent in the Midwest in a long, long time. To top that off, it’s the longest I’ve stayed with family since I moved out at 18 years old. These two months have been all about reconnecting; reconnecting with a part of the country and the people that molded me and made me what I am today; good or bad.
Like most of my foreign travel, my experiences here were full of variety; fun times, disturbing revelations, ‘first’ experiences, eye opening discoveries, and some things just left me baffled. Many times I wondered if I was in a foreign country as my cell phone rarely worked (don’t let TMobile tell you they have complete coverage in the US, TMobile has NEVER set foot in South Dakota!) I even contracted foreign ailments; a bad case of poison ivy! As with most countries that I spend a significant amount of time in, I decided to treat the Midwest with a recap of my experiences. Even though it is the US, there are things that make the Midwest unique.
There’s something to be said for variety. As an Aquarius, I love variety and change; so my summer of random traveling road shows was perfect. I had the pleasure of going to a traveling strip show, a circus, and a rodeo. I wish they could have figured out a way to combine these all into one; a traveling circus with rodeo performers that stripped…intriguing. They certainly would have saved money on gas costs if they all could have traveled together! The shows came to us, this small town community of Lutherans, all we had to do was buy a ticket and show up. I think the traveling Male Revue strip show was by far my favorite. Not because the men were hot and the mood sexy; it was far from that. It was the quirkiness of the experience within the setting of a very small Lutheran town. It made me realize that even in small towns; you have all kind of people with all kinds of preferences; there are even single people. Albeit divorced and widowed, but they are still considered single!
Food – or lack of it:
The most stressful part of my time in the Midwest was not the constant severe storms that rolled through on a daily basis; it was grocery shopping. I had multiple melt downs in the Milbank grocery store when produce clerks looked at me as if I were crazy when I asked for fresh basil. The people at the store knew what Dopler Radar was and the intricacies of how it worked, but they had no idea what pine nuts were and why anyone would want them. I love cooking. I especially love cooking Asian food, but the ethnic food aisles were humorous at best and I eventually gave up and stuck to brats, burgers, and pork. However, for fun I started collecting a list of items that I could never find in the small town grocery stores around the Midwest.
Fresh Basil, Fresh mint, Fresh Thyme (I think you get the picture…there are no fresh herbs), goat cheese, buffalo mozzarella cheese, baguettes (or any kind of crusty bread), pine nuts, curry paste, pad thai noodles, rice vinegar, arugala, baby corn, shallots, and Italian sausage.
I think the people in the grocery store came to dislike me after a while. I felt like when they saw me walking into the store, the manager would come over the loud speaker and say…”She’s back….” and everyone would run and hide!
Going for the Gold
Thanks to the copious amounts of food and ice cream I consumed, I had to try to keep up with my expanding waist line (it was a losing battle ultimately), so I would go out and run. As soon as I set out on a mile road (the term for how the Midwestern countryside is carved up into square mile sections with dirt road perimeters), people knew that I wasn’t from around here. I ran on a square mile section that surrounded my parents place; equating to a 4 mile run on the flat, treeless, gravel road. It was 2 weeks before I ever even saw a car pass me. When the car did pass me, I imagined how I would end up as dinner conversation later that night as the farmer told his family about this stranger who was running on county road G. Seeing someone out running on these roads was an oddity, deer were much more common than someone wearing a jog bra and an ipod! I had my share of animal encounters while I was running out in the middle of nowhere; deer, fox, and even a jack rabbit crossed my path. I startled them and they startled me. The highlight of my Midwest running came when my sister convinced me to enter a local small town 10k race. I told her that I wasn’t in shape to run it, but a change of scenery on my run would be nice as this race was in town and not on the animal-filled mile roads. The race field was small, about 200 people and I walked to the start line with the guy carrying the ‘official clock’, a digital timer, and the starting gun was someone saying “on your marks, get set, GO!”. It was refreshing to participate in such a well organized, simple race. But the best thing about small town races is that I am actually above average in a field like this! I walked away with a bronze medal for finishing 3rd in my age division and finished 25th overall. Beijing, here I come! If you want to feel fit, just enter races in small towns, it’s a great ego boost!
The Red, White, and Blue
One of the things that stuck out to me about being back in the Midwest was the patriotism. I don’t think I’ve been exposed to this much patriotism since 1976 – the centennial year when I collected every quarter I could find. It seemed as if every event I attended had an ‘over-the-top’ patriotic tribute. New York City is a patriotic town when it wants to be, but the Midwest has patriotism oozing out of its pores. At the rodeo, we didn’t just sing the national anthem, instead the announcer had a huge speech about what the good ole’ red, white and blue meant to him. At the circus, an array of fit performers from everywhere BUT the United States paraded out to patriotic music and dressed in every gaudy red, white and blue sequin outfit they could find. Finally, the small town parade that I attended had more American themed floats than marching bands.
Click to enlarge images:
Fields of Green
This is the land of the vast fields of wheat, hay, corn, and beans; miles and miles of manicured rows. Across the highway from my parent’s house, I saw the corn grow from water soaked stalks to golden tassels (a sign that I have clearly spent too much time here!). As I drove all over South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska this summer, I watched the crops blow in the strong winds that whipped across the flat prairie unhindered by trees or obstructions. It looked like the ocean to me, waves of wheat undulating in the wind, it was soothing. The Midwest may be landlocked, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t waves. I was lucky enough to actually get up close and personal with some of the crops. In Nebraska, my uncle took me out to a sweet corn field where I met the farmer. I learned about irrigation, sweet corn vs. field corn, raccoons, electric fences, the proper way to shuck an ear of corn, and harvesting. I also learned that when sweet corn is really good and ready, you can actually eat it without cooking it…just right off the cob; which I tried of course! As I drove back to South Dakota that day, I stared at those corn fields. I squinted my eyes a bit causing the image to become a blurry image of green. I imagined little pointy hats out there, in fields of green rice. I started daydreaming about what my life was going to be like in a month when I moved to Vietnam, what adventures and new experiences I may encounter as I change environments and countries once again. I thought to myself that farming is farming – in any part of the world; a comforting feeling as I prepared for change.
As I sit here and write this, my dad is reading the paper and informing me of all of the activities that I will be missing since I am leaving tomorrow. The wedding dance on Aug. 9th (open to all of course), the threshing show and tractor pull on Aug. 16th, the tractor parade and polka dance on Aug. 17th, and the ranch rodeo on Aug. 10th. He just informed me that the ranch rodeo has a wild cow milking contest…now we’re talkin’! I would about consider changing my flight plans to see locals milk wild cows!!! New York night life and sushi vs. wild cow milking…a hard decision.
Ah, but you have to leave sometime, and it is my time to bid the Midwest goodbye. It was a great summer for many reasons, but the best thing about the summer was spending time with my family. It’s hard saying goodbye again for 1 ½ years, but time goes fast and I know I will be back to this foreign land, enjoying everything it has to offer, including the warmth and support of family.
A family montage. I’m only missing a picture of my sister-in-law…else this is it…the Ott clan. Click to enlarge:
Photo: My sister, brother, and I