The fan in the upper story has been turning at full speed for two years. In Van Buren County, Iowa I ascended the stairs to the upper story of a double-story house to see this fan spinning away unawares. The inhabitants of the house have lived their lives for the past two year on the ground floor. They had not climbed the stairs since the late wife died and the kids rummaged through the stuff and left their Playboys on the dresser and the fan blowing away to no benefit.
In the barn are six pre-1940 Allis Chalmers tractors still bright orange and supposedly still able to start and move. In the field are six horses, healthy and frisky and ready to eat the “balanced” food that comes from Missouri at $10 a bag. The large, high-powered motor boat stands covered in snow-grime besides the 40-foot long trailer home and Ford 150s line the gravel driveway.
In the showcase (nicknacks case) in the living room are empty bottles of men’s perfumes. Hundreds of coffee mugs clutter the the ledges above door-ways. The recyclables, packed in plastic bags, fill the hallway to four-foot depth; you have to edge your way gingerly past this environmentally friendly gesture.
The farm is but fifteen miles from the Missouri River. The topography is rugged. Deep valleys cut the sandy clayey soil and sport thick tree-stands turning orange and red. This is the edge of the frontal advance of the glaciers. This topography was cut by the advancing and retreating glaciers. The soil is not that black, black of the level fields of Keystone. I was told Van Buren is the poorest county in Iowa. The reason is the absence of flat farm land and the inability of the soil to hold moisture to keep the crops alive.
In the nearby town there is a college run by ex-hippies from California who practice a variant of the Hindu religion (Maharishi Vedic City.) The run their own school and college. My host told me the eager young acolytes arrive in BMWs and leave on bicycles—for the “church” demands their money in return for their devotion.
I wondered if this is a slice of America: the excess of material goods of no current use or value to their owner; the squandering of energy to no purpose other than inattention; the devotion to recycling rubbish generated by unnecessary consumption; the influx of new ideals displacing the old. The people are old, one was ninety-nine (yes 99) and still driving. They were friendly and genial but beset by events and buffeted by fate. They were variously Republicans, Democrats, dreamers, naive, uninformed, and idealistic. We ate a large tasteless meal prepared with loving attention and forethought. Somehow it worked as a gathering of family although none were of similar blood. Somehow it worked as an expression of tribe and clan. There was no commonality of culture, but there was an understanding based on sentiment and shared appreciation of the American way.
This way of life is not sustainable. It will pass away. It is being displaced by economics, the flight of the young, and the influx of seekers of “another truth.” What they will be we cannot tell, but it will provide more old machines worthy only of museums.