Almost Iowa

IowaWhen I first met my wife, I asked where she was from. She said she grew up on a farm near a small Southern Minnesota town.

“Where’s that?” I asked.

She tried another town as if I would recognize it.

I shook my head.

“It’s almost Iowa,” she said.

I knew where Iowa was.

Fifteen years later, that’s where we live. In a little Minnesota town that is almost in Iowa.

It’s the perfect place. Not too country, not too city, close enough to town to be on a first name basis with almost everyone but far enough away to be free from the sting of daily gossip.

The only real disadvantage is that it is off the grid.

To get make a cell phone call, you have to wander around a soy bean field until you get reception. To get television you need an antenna so high that the FAA requires you to fit it with red blinking lights to warn commercial aircraft.

When I asked about cable and internet, my neighbors snickered.

But being off the grid has it’s advantages.  On one hand, life is less regulated.   You can use old cars as lawn art.  You can let your muse guide your carpentry rather than building codes. But this can also be a disadvantage because rural counties compensate for their lack of regulation by enforcing the few rules they do have with unprecedented zeal and ferocity.

And nothing elicits more zealotry than septic mound regulations. For those of you who don’t know what a septic mound is, think of it as a compost heap for humans.  It is where everything goes when you flush.

The irony is that is hog country and while the government fanatically enforces tough regulations on a farmer’s home septic system, they do little to regulate the spreading millions of gallons of pig poop onto his fields.

Despite the irony, I thought it best to check out what changes would be required in our septic system before closing on our house.

It’s a long drive to the county seat, about half of it on gravel, so I brewed up a thermos of coffee and spent much of the morning kicking up dust.  About mid-day, I took my place in a long line of contractors at the permit window.

Apparently Gladys, the woman who issues permits had been out for a month and this being a small county, no one filled in for her, so the line at the permit window was backed up.

I talked to the guys in line. They were scared of her. One of them claimed she had been in Central America teaching interrogation techniques to local militias but they sent home because they were scared of her too.

We talked and waited and talked and waited until the coffee got to me.

“Where’s the biff?” I asked.

Across the room, Gladys looked over the top of her glasses. She pointed down the hall with her pen.

When I got back, the line was still there but the end was little further back, so I waited and waited longer until the coffee got to me again.

My kidneys are like that. They snooze most of the morning and then get frantic about mid-day to make up for lost time.

After several trips, I finally reached the counter and told Gladys that I wanted to see my permits. She stared at me over the rim of her glasses and asked, “How many times did you run down the hall.”

Sheepishly, I told her, “Four.”

She then reached into a file drawer full of permits, pulled one out and attacked it with a red pen.

“Considering your bladder,” she said, “these are your new mound specs.”

A contractor peered over my shoulder. “Holy Moly!!” he said.

I asked Gladys, “Why the change?”

She went into a lecture about the water table and proximity to the Cedar River. She would have gone on for some time had I not interrupted to ask, “What kind of mound would I need if I were building a six thousand pig hog-house?”

Her inquiring mind wanted to know, “Would you still be using it?”


“Then it would be bigger.”

Another contractor looked at the numbers and started to sweat. “I don’t know, but that’s the biggest septic mound I ever heard of,” he said, “Are they all going to have to be that size?”

“If another Starbuck’s moves into the region, yes,” Gladys told him.

He too exclaimed, “Holy Moly!”

It was the same reaction my contractor had when he saw the revised permit. By the time he finished, my mound was the fourth highest point in six counties.

But it’s kind of nice.

I set my television antennae up there and damned if I didn’t start picking up stations from Chicago, Saint Louis and Denver in addition to the Twin Cities.

I’m considering installing a chair lift and a Chateau at the summit to make a few bucks come winter.

The best thing is we are no longer isolated. People stop by from all over the six county area just to climb Mount Schiller and have a look around.

They have the time of their lives, calling to each other, “I can see our house” and on a clear day, when the scent of hogs is not blurring the distance, somebody will yell:

“Hey, I can see Iowa.”

Author: Almost Iowa

18 thoughts on “Almost Iowa”

  1. Permit officials are feared everywhere. I find utterly ironic that as you point out, they will regulate a homeowner to death about a few poops per day, but. Give a free pass to giant animal feeding factories.

  2. Greg, I must have sparked a fun light. I knew about the mound, but I had no idea what was behind it or how large it was. Gosh, I think I smell the pig farm from here.

  3. When we lived out in the Mojave, between Apple Valley and Barstow, in a tiny town called Lucerne Valley, Population 3,000, mostly in the hills; my father bought a small house from a businessman from L.A.
    He had planted 2 oak trees and a bamboo patch on the septic tank.
    When it got stopped up,, mom had broken disk disease, and dad was having heart attacks.
    Guess who got to clear the mess?
    Took a pick mattock. And when we sold the place a few months later, the bamboo was coming up. Guess I missed a few thread roots.

  4. Ahhhh – so funny!!! This had me laughing out loud – I grew up mostly in a smallish town in Missouri, same kind of deal about codes and all that. We were “Almost Kansas.” Gladys sounds like a hoot – I need to invite her over for coffee. I’ll introduce her to my chickens and the sagging roofline on my 200 year old barn and watch her go crazy over building codes… Excellent post as always! MH

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