A Roadside Shrine

Stop-sign-20110802The best thing about Almost Iowa is the view.

Out here on the prairie, the rise and setting of the sun fills the entire sky and thunder storms, rolling across the Dakotas, reveal themselves hours before they strike – which is nice, but what’s best about the view, is you can always see who is coming.

Because of the dust.

Our township insists that we live on a gravel road but gravel consists mostly of pebbles. Our road doesn’t. It consists mostly of dust. It is what the sand pit people call the fines. That’s the powdery stuff that remains after they sell the pebbles to someone else.

And the dust gets on everything.

Dealerships around here only sell one color vehicle: light brown. It is futile to aspire to any else. The minute you leave the blacktop, it doesn’t matter what color you brought with you.

And every vehicle on those roads drags a plume of dust – at least fifty feet high and a quarter mile long. So you can see them coming from a long, long way away.

But it is a curious thing.

When you watch the contrails of dust work their way across the horizon, they always hesitate for an instant at our little intersection before continuing toward the other side of the world. You have to know something about Almost Iowa to understand how remarkable this is.

Almost Iowa is a ghost town.

It is, like so many other prairie ghost towns, nothing more than a handful of weathered sway-backed houses scattered about the remains of an abandoned creamery -though, to be fair, it is a bit more metropolitan than most. Almost Iowa is proud to host an intersection with a stop sign. It’s where all those dust plumes pause for an instant on their journey.

I have traveled much of the world and I have never seen anything like it. When you drive across the prairie on gravel roads, you can see cross-traffic from ten miles away, so there isn’t much reason to brake at a lonely stop sign – yet people do. Faithfully.

You have to wonder what makes people do that?

In many places, people obey the law out of fear – but not here. The county seat is a half-hour away and the sheriff’s deputies rarely come around and when they do, we smile and wave because we like them. They are our friends and relatives.

We don’t stop for fear of an accident or that someone will see us and spread gossip. We don’t fear any of that.

We do it because we respect the people who make the laws – ourselves. If we didn’t want the sign there, we would ask the county to remove it – but nobody would do that.

We keep it there as a shrine.

It is a place to stop, if even for an instant, and remind ourselves of the things that are greater than ourselves and if we take a moment to honor that – well then, we are all just better off.

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