I have never been to Iowa, but from what I hear, there are many cornfields. Driving down highways walled up with cornstalks for mile after mile can get pretty repetitive. I imagine people at road stops employed by the state as public relations representatives, reciting lines a la Bubba from Forrest Gump: “There’s corn on the cob, creamed corn, corn salad, corn soup, corn stew, corn burgers, and then you can make corn ethanol, high fructose corn syrup, corn feed for animals…” and their list would go on interminably.
But corn is big business in the Hawkeye State, and for the past 14 years, Iowa’s been producing more corn than any other state. In fact, in an average year, Iowa’s corn output is more than that of some countries – three times as much as Argentina's for example – over 2.5 billion bushels in 2007. At 56 pounds a bushel (for shelled corn – husked, and de-cobbed), that’s 140 billion pounds of corn.
So if you want the quintessential Iowa experience, you have to see corn, right? Just for the sake of fairness, I figured I should do some research. Seems like Iowa has three different geographic regions: the Young Drift Plains, the Driftless Area, and the Dissected Till Plains. The Young Drift Plains are rich with the fertile topsoil that Iowa is famous for and the Dissected Till Plains are marked by rolling hills and ridges along the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers. But the landscape highlights of Iowa lie in the Driftless Area – considered the “Switzerland of America” by Iowans for the beautiful pine-forested hills.
OK, enough with this fair and balanced look at Corn, I mean Iowa. Let’s look at the movies. I watched one of the worst movies in the history of moviemaking in preparation for this article. Children of the Corn is a movie based on a Stephen King short story about a religious cult of children who kill off all adults in their small-town of Gatlin, Nebraska. Gatlin, Nebraska does not actually exist – Whiting, Iowa stood in as the town (with help from shots in Sioux City, Whiting, Salix and Hornick). The cult uses cornstalks to cover any previously inhabited places, carves sacred dolls from corncobs and ties up human sacrifices for “He Who Walks Behind the Rows." The lone redeeming quality of this corn-filled gore-fest? Some nice shots of sunsets over vast cornfields.
Take a wander over to Dyersville, Iowa and you’ll be able to check out the National Farm Toy Museum. No? You don’t want to go to Dyersville and check out the National Farm Toy Museum? Well, there is also a little baseball field built into a cornfield used in a small movie called Field of Dreams.
Opinions on Kevin Costner's Academy Award-nominated film range from
unbending affection to nausea at the overtly sweet, Hollywood ending.
But for those of us who grew up with baseball, visiting the field
should be a joy (and yes, you can visit the field).
All the elements of my childhood summers are there: The well-manicured,
strikingly green grass; the sunshine and gentle breeze; the snap of a
ball against leather gloves; the dirt under my fingernails, across the
front of my uniform, stretching from my chest to my knees; the sweat
under my cap. And unique to this location, an outfield "wall" of
cornstalks, and perhaps a glimpse of Shoeless Joe emerging from them.
On second thought, maybe Iowa isn't so bad at all. As they say in the film: "Is this heaven? No, it's Iowa."
Photo: Paul Tamburro