Sunday, September 27, 2009

Waiting for the Dust to Settle

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In mid-September, Ruth and I headed to the northeast section of Iowa to photograph our usual favorite subjects. We captured barns, mills, springhouses, schools, log cabins, general stores, advertising signs, windmills, farm equipment, and farm animals to name a few.

The most prevalent “subject,” though, was dust…incessant, overwhelming dust. Nearly all of the backroads in Iowa are gravel roads (or rock roads as they are sometimes called) made out of crushed limestone, making them much dustier than the gravel roads in Wisconsin. This makes for interesting challenges, not only in driving, but in protecting your camera equipment. And the fact that they hadn’t had rain for several weeks made the conditions the dustiest we’ve ever experienced in our many trips to Iowa.

It also makes for some humorous situations. For example, one barn owner who was giving us directions to another barn said, “I’ll tell you about a shortcut if you don’t mind the dust. Go down to the end of this road and take a left. There’s a stop sign there, but no one stops. Just glance both ways and go.” As we headed down the dusty road from his place, Ruth said, “Take a left up here and you don’t need to stop at the stop sign. Just look for a cloud of dust coming down the road. If there isn’t one, it’s safe to turn.”

And then there were the times when a vehicle would “blow” past us creating a huge cloud of dust, sometimes so bad that I had to slow down until I could see where I was driving. At the same time, Ruth was coughing, sputtering, and carrying on in a dramatic way to let the world know that she didn’t approve of the dust.

Years ago, on our trips to Iowa, it seemed like there was nothing but cornfields for miles on end. But the landscape is a bit different now, at least in the northeast corner. On this trip we often saw fields of yellow soybeans as far as the eye could see. And we were rewarded with beautiful early morning light on both days.

The good news about getting out there at first light is that there’s very little traffic to stir up the dust. The bad news is that you can’t help but stir it up yourself. But it all goes with the territory. Iowa is a beautiful state and there are plenty of old-fashioned rural scenes to experience…as long as you can accept the dust!

Happy Shunpiking!

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