A Roadside Shrine

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

Out here on the prairie, the rising and setting of the sun fills the entire sky and the thunder storms rolling across the Dakotas, reveal themselves hours before they strike – which is nice. But what is best about the view, is that 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 does not. 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.

Car dealers around here sell only 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 here is the 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 and you have to know something about Almost Iowa to appreciate 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 around the remains of an abandoned creamery – though, to be fair, it is a bit more metropolitan than most ghost towns. Almost Iowa proudly hosts 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.


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 most of us are related to them.

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 – which in a democracy is us. 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 a little better off.

Author: Almost Iowa


27 thoughts on “A Roadside Shrine”

  1. I can’t read this without asking if you’ve seen the PBS documentary (Ken Burns) on the Dust Bowl. Truly remarkable. I like the way you notice the little things, Greg, which makes for such good writing out of Almost Iowa.

    1. I never miss a documentary on PBS. My wife and the cats complain that I rarely miss anything on PBS. They would rather watch The Bachelor (or is it The Bachelorette now?) Anyways, I have a TV in the man-cave and watch it there.

      The dustbowl didn’t come this far north and east but my older neighbors have some interesting tales to tell of those hard times. It is sad that we are losing their stories.

  2. Maybe they’re paying to say, or hear, hello. That’s another plus of small community! Love the contemplation shared in this piece!

    1. Since I retired, I spend a lot of time contemplating. Should have left the BCA years ago. Just think how much contemplation I would have done. 🙂

  3. Well done, Greg.

    I enjoy every example of ways we respect our selves, each other, our community. That is what we learn when we growup in small midwestern towns. The dust trails bring back such rich memories of making our own while heading to our cousins’ farm or seeing sugns that Uncle Louie was on his way home from his day in the fields. Thank you!

  4. This is a beautiful, poignant piece, thank you.
    It’s timely, too. Yesterday I received a call from my good friend who lives on a rural gravel road in Almost Ontario. She hates the dusts that gathers in her house every summer. The minute the road dries up in spring, she’s on the phone to the roads department and asks, “Where’s the calcium chloride?!” She was over the moon when she called me – “We are getting paved!”

    1. Wow, a paved road…, must be bliss.

      I talked to the township about treating our road, they just gave me the blank stare that is pantomime for “city boy”.

  5. “Dust in the Wind” reminds me more of Almost Kansas than Almost Iowa — 🙂 — but this is a wry, warm, and lyrical piece.

    1. It’s the dust season. When Scooter and I are out walking on dusty roads and a grain truck roars by, I have breath through my sleeve. Poor Scooter doesn’t have sleeves.

        1. I tried it once and it worked – but then Scooter spent the rest of our walk at the end of his leash. He told me with a look of disgust that I smelled like dog drool.

  6. One of my BFs lived in a town of two streets that crossed at right angles. For some reason, the town had installed a traffic light (versus Almost’s stop sign). At 2:00 a.m., in the middle of an upstate New York winter, a lone car with me in it and my boyfriend at the wheel would stop, waiting, at the red light in the middle of that silent town.

    Very good piece, Greg.

    (small typo which will spoil the rhythm if not corrected: “where all those dust plumeS pause”)

    1. In some civic minds, a stop light is a status symbol.

      Hey, thanks for the heads-up on the typo, I read the fool thing six times without catching it. 🙂

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: