This is God’s Land

A photo essay of life on the homestead in Rural America

Photo Credit: Erika Sauter, October 2017

“To grow a sanctuary from seedlings takes time. But time has a way of going faster than you realize, and before you’re aware of it you’ll be rewarded hundredfold for your efforts.” ― David Kline, Great Possessions

Outside of utter culture shock, I wasn’t sure what to expect when my husband and I packed up our home and family and moved to a small town, farming community in Iowa three years ago. After growing up in the largest city in the United States and living in the sixth largest city my adulthood thereafter, I’ve never known a life outside of chaos, crime and conveniences.

My imagination got the best of me. I assumed the winter months would be similar to the movie Fargo (hopefully without the murderous wood chipper scene) and the rest of the year we’d live like Amish. I discovered my fantasy wasn’t too far off but what I never imagined is how wondrous it is, and that in time, I would come to appreciate God’s land.

Sunset over the pond
The town square where local resources are located such as the hardware store, clinic, library, butcher shop and market.
Early season snowfall at home

Our 100 year old house sits on an acre of land. Its solid brown brick structure stands at four stories tall. During the deadly winter months we seal off most of the 15 rooms and condense our living quarters to the main floor where the fireplace roars.

The living room, dining room, kitchen and library transform into a giant size studio apartment where we spend our time mastering puzzles, playing board games or binge watching Netflix as the snow piles up outside.

My son and husband passing the time during a four day blizzard
The cats have become accustomed to amusing one another in close quarters
The first puzzle of winter 2018

Outdoor life may slow down but even in the freezing cold the daily list of chores to maintain our home and lifestyle are ongoing. Major indoor home projects take place on the weekends. The sun sets at 4:30 PM and the day continues on into the dark hours.

Here in Iowa it doesn’t just snow, it storms. It starts with quick bursts around Halloween. By New Years the temperature drops below zero and the snow falls well into the night, leaving a fresh layer for the winds to pick up and drift. The storms steadily taper and by March several feet of snow blanket the landscape, causing the Iowa River to overflow when warmer weather finally arrives.

It’s like living in a postcard or real life snow globe.

The icicles outside my bedroom window. The front entry to the house is blocked off for safety from January until March.
Underneath a street lamp in the town square during a storm and walking through the 14 inch aftermath the next morning
The view from the third floor bathroom window iced over on the inside

The farmland is powered by wind. The same wind crossing fields stirring tornadoes during the summer months and drifting cars off the road in perilous winter conditions. The same wind that keeps us alive could potentially kill us.

A 500 foot tall wind turbine along Interstate 80 in Poweshiek County.
Seen traveling east on Interstate 80 on our drive to Iowa City to stock up on provisions.

We monitor the weather daily. When it’s -16 degrees and 40 mph winds there’s a lot to take into consideration. What are the travel conditions? What is the National Weather Advisory freeze warning? These typically range from five to twenty minutes before hypothermia will take over and may “result in death.”

It’s important to get outdoors as often as we can for the sake of our emotional and physical health. By following the pinpoint Doppler Radar and listening to live updates on the transistor radio from Iowa Public Radio. The town warning siren will sound off indicating it is no longer safe to be outside.

KCRG Doppler Radar images
Late afternoon sprint to shake our cabin fever during the warmest part of the day, a high of -4 degrees.
The tractors that plow the fields during planting and harvest seasons also plow the roads during winter

According to the old Farmer’s Almanac, the Super Snow Moon is the brightest moon each year. Native Americans believed the Snow Moon comes at the time of the season when the storms are the worst and the snow is the deepest, making hunting conditions near impossible.

Somehow over the course of time this myth has translated into a myth the farming community lives by. This specific moon is an indication that spring will soon be here, the land will be ready to sow in eight weeks and it’s time to prepare.

The Super Snow Moon- February 19,2019, photograph taken from my backyard out over the pond
Our first factual sign of spring, a frozen to death Blue Jay found face down in the front yard.

The first week of May, when the flowers have begun to bloom and the background comes alive with bright shades of green and blue, I’ll plant over 6,000 seeds of 44 different types of fruit and vegetables, enough food for our family of five to live off of for an entire year. What I find to be most fascinating about the concept of growing our own food is the six month long blanket of snow on our quarter acre garden.

A 3 ft flag stands out of the ground in the center of the garden
It takes two weeks to harvest all the carrots, a container filled with produce I picked for dinner and the cats hanging out while I de-seed sunflower heads.

Growing our own food takes physical labor and ingenuity. Each day I’m out there weeding, monitoring weather, soil conditions and protecting the plants from disease spreading insects. After 12, 16, and 20 weeks of growth (depending on the crop) we spend the end of summer and the majority of autumn cooking the food as it harvests, freezing and canning meals ready to eat.

From start to finish

Each of the four seasons ignites its own magic and each season is spent in preparation for the next. As the seeds of spring grow into the plants of summer and harvest of fall, the winter months are spent burrowed indoors and feasting like royalty.

Living in Iowa is Mother Nature’s version of a Blue Zone lifestyle, complete with physical activity, a plant based diet and small community social engagement. This is God’s land, and our home.

Behavioral Science ed/ reporter in Eastern Iowa. Informed and opinionated. My hobbies include petting cats, research and farming.

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