A Roadside Shrine

The best thing about Almost Iowa is the view.

Out here on the prairie, the rising and setting of the sun fill the entire sky and thunder storms 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 our roads are made of gravel but gravel consists mostly of pebbles. Our roads do not. They are comprised 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 of 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:

Whenever you watch the contrails of dust work their way across the horizon, they always hesitate for an instant at one distant intersection before continuing toward the other side of the world and you have to know something about that intersection to appreciate how remarkable this is.

It is in the middle of a ghost town.

It is, like so many other prairie ghost towns, nothing more than the remains of a handful of weathered sway-backed buildings scattered around the foundation of an abandoned creamery – though, to be fair, it is a bit more metropolitan than most ghost towns because it 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.

People new to the area often remark how silly the sign is and we nod politely in agreement. It is silly.

But 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.

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