Paradise Amidst the Cornfields

July 3rd, 2012

In high corn

My mom recently stumbled across an essay I wrote in the fall of my senior year in high school for an English class. I’d totally forgotten about it, but it’s fun to read it now, fourteen years later (yikes) having just left our urban dwelling to take refuge in the country! I’m happy to say my deep-seated fear of cities has faded with age, but much of what I wrote then still rings true today.

Paradise Amidst the Cornfields
October, 1998

The beautiful postcards showing the majestic, sweeping skyline of Chicago as viewed from Lake Michigan are…….illusions, hiding the true nature of that same city.  They gloss over the dirt and the crime and neglect to portray the mindless scurrying and numbing drudgery that are so prevalent in every big city.  However, if you turn your back on the concrete canyons and move towards the small farming towns, you find orderly cornfields, tidy sidewalks, and a mellow ambiance instead of the haggard, sagging façade of the city.  These small hamlets are a welcome respite from the pervasive squalor of the big city.

A few of my friends are city slickers born.  They love the subway and the skyscrapers and delight in the masses of people pressed together on the crowded sidewalks.  I get claustrophobic just looking at Michigan Avenue during rush hour.  The cursing drivers in honking cars, packed tightly into their respective lanes, jockeying for position and gesturing wildly out their windows, make me want to run as fast as I can to a deserted country road.  I find peace on those back-roads, empty save for the occasional tractor or pick-up truck.  I find peace in fall leaves swirling in the autumn air, and in snow that stays clean for days.

The lazy pace of the country appeals to me.  I truly believe that time runs at a different rate among the cornfields than it does in the heart of the city.  You’ll never see a farmer rushing down the road, too intent on his next meeting to even look around; that’s a sight left to a city-dweller.  The city itself always seems to be moving, inexorably sweeping everyone along with it, and yanking them into the frenzied world of corporate offices and business suits.  No, the country allows me to take time to savor the fabulous sights, sounds, and smells that are available in abundance.

Call me crazy, but I also love the smell of the country.  Yes, that’s right, the smell.  I think that very few things smell better than the special blend of horses, freshly cut hay, and earth that permeates the air of most rural communities.  It’s a clean scent, very alive and fresh.  To me, even the more organic “aromas” produced by cows or pigs are infinitely preferable to the noxious fumes produced by car exhaust, garbage, and industrial pollution that waft through the urban air.

I appreciate those same animals for more than their smell, though.  Horses grazing in patchwork fields or geese flying across the horizon are sights which should be easily found.  During the course of a trip to the city, the only animals I’ll see, unless I visit the zoo, are rats, pigeons, and the occasional cockroach.  Somehow, they don’t quite measure up to the farmyard inhabitants of rustic Illinois or Iowa.

Then there is the fear that lurks in the city.  Inexplicable yet suffocating, it encases me the moment I get near a large downtown area.  I do not know why I am terrified of cities, but I spend much of my time during any visit with nails clenched tightly into my palms and shallow breath, praying that the scruffy person walking towards me isn’t an axe murderer looking for his next victim.  Walking past a dark alley, even in the safest of metropolitan neighborhoods, my heart rate accelerates and I long for the white picket fences and sprawling yards of my own block.  There is something comforting about a small town neighborhood.  Whether it is the sight of bicycles, doll strollers and jump ropes strewn about the yards, or the close cut lawns and neatly trimmed bushes, something creates a feeling of security in me in those small town communities that I cannot recreate in the city, no matter how hard I try.

Perhaps it is the easy companionship of knowing my neighbors and exchanging pleasantries with them as I walk my dog, or reserving my place along a parade route with a lawn chair left on the curb  – the day before the parade. To me, neighborhoods in the city exude a sense of apathy, of isolation.  It is as if all the people there are sealed into their sterile apartment complexes, not caring, indeed not even noticing when a nearby resident moves in or out.  I adore the fact that in a truly small town, everyone knows everything about you–from your medical history to your genealogy back five generations.

Give me a farmhouse in the middle of an Iowa cornfield, hundreds of miles away from the nearest skyscraper, and I’ll have found an earthly paradise.


Photo credit: broyal43

7 responses to “Paradise Amidst the Cornfields”

  1. Josh says:

    I knew it. You’re just lucky I did not have this as ammo when my papers were circulating. You would not have had a chance.

  2. Donnie Snyder says:

    Kate, I think you totally hit the nail on the head with that essay. You did a wonderful job of encapsulating what country life is. This is a beautiful essay. It makes me sit back and realize how fortunate I am to not dwell in a big city. Your words took me to that cornfield to that one lane backroad. Thank you.

  3. K.C. says:

    Very funny to read this, only having known you as the girl who wasn’t sure about moving to Smalltown from Pittsburgh! Beautiful writing, especially for a high school senior. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Jaclyn says:

    You were a talented writer, even then! :)

  5. Isa says:

    So here I am, shamefully reading back over your blog since it STILL doesn’t show up in my reader and I am too forgetful about everything but especially blogs! Ahem. Anyway, I think this is rather hilarious because I doubt I ever told you about the almost crippling fear I had living in DeKalb that axe murderers were, in fact, crouching outside my driveway. I used to be terrified to park at night because we used the back door at my dad’s house and there was a nook between the steps and the garage that seemed like the best possible place to lurk and wait for impossibly attractive teenaged me to blithely walk up and BAM! That’d be the last time anyone ever heard of me! Especially terrifying because with that little population density no one could hear me scream! It’s funny now, going to DeKalb and feeling so safe there, but I do sometimes get a little relieved feeling walking down sidewalks alone here in the city and knowing that tons of people would potentially notice if something untoward happened… Ok, back to the back catalog of blog entries!

    • Kate says:

      Ha ha h! I can’t picture you afraid of anything, Isa. Definitely not axe-murderers lurking outside your home in idyllic small-town America. :-)

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