File this one under "B" as in beer, bacon and bike riding. On the last Saturday in June I spent the day following the first ever BaCoon Ride as it traversed the Racoon River Valley Trail around Central Iowa. For those who haven't already guessed this event is basically a group ride whose sole purpose it to celebrate and revel in all things beer, bikes and of course bacon. The ride was organized by an arm of my employer and was basically modeled after the insanely popular RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Bike Ride Across Iowa) that my paper has been organizing for the past... many years. With RAGBRAI only weeks away this was an exceptional little one-day tune up for the big week where most journalism standards take a back seat to revelry, tom-foolery and of course the three "B's."
Here in Iowa we've been inundated with rain this Spring. Many waterways across the state are still swollen and as rivers continue to rise above their banks small towns and cities are working to stay dry. In June I traveled up to Rock Rapids in Northwest Iowa to photograph the damage after the Rock River crested at 27 feet, almost ten feet above flood stage. Severe weather like flooding is very much a fact of life in Iowa. This year, it seems, we've skipped Spring entirely and transitioned from winter right into the heat, humidity and generally unsettled atmosphere associated with summer. Having lived most of my life in the Midwest I've always enjoyed the thrill that comes with Spring. I have fond memories of waking up to storm sirens at some absurd hour and being shuffled down to the basement to hide under the pool table with my parents. Seriously, it happened many times. Now, through my work at the paper I have a different perspective. I'm also a new parent, which when combined make the prospect of 100mph winds far less exhilarating. I suppose I will always look forward to watching weather develop, I just can't say I'll be excited the next time I have to shuffle my family off to the basement at 1AM.
Iowans (myself included) are an oddly nostalgic bunch. They cherish things that others often discard like small moments, simple pleasures, and uncomplicated ideals. They pine for the "good-old-days" and are often an easy-going people, fully content to spend a perfectly good afternoon exercising any dropped "g" verb (sittin'/listenin'/talkin'/etc...) While these character traits do not come naturally to all who call the 'Hawkeye State' home, it does fit more than a few (again, myself included). Now, this kitschy stereotype may be a tired old refrain to some but it still resonates with so many here. This past weekend I was lucky enough to spend two full days with colleague and Iowa columnist Kyle Munson covering the 25th anniversary events for the film Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. The 2 1/2 hour drive up to the northeast corner of the state, not far from the Mississippi River town of Dubuque, started off on a nostalgic tone as Kyle handed me a newspaper article by former Iowa columnist Chuck Offenburger written days after the movie Field of Dreams was released in 1989. In the article Offenburger described the scene around this small community in a colloquial kind of way that shed light on the significance of this film to the people of Iowa at the time. It seemed that in the late 80's Iowans carried a humble pride in this film, in a contradictory sort of way you can only understand by hearing it from the mouth of someone in suspenders. Fast forward a quarter century and surprisingly (or maybe not) people here still feel as much, if not more, the same way about this cult classic. They're quick to rattle off their favorite quote or to share with you their favorite moment but ask them what makes this movie so special and regardless of who it is they will initially struggle to find the words — believe me, we asked a lot of people. As best I can tell, people seem to share a common appreciation for the way in which the film captured the "feel" of Iowa. The way themes like tradition and value run concurrent with hope, optimism and the possibility of the unconventional. It was Bob Costas who I felt captured this sentiment the best over the weekend, saying essentially how else could a movie-goer buy into a story whose main character hears voices than if that character is a farmer from Iowa; a person and place so inherently trustworthy? After spending the better part of my weekend in what is arguably Iowa's most famous corn field, watching people talk about and play baseball, it's hard not to feel nostalgic about this place I'm from and grateful for the tremendous opportunity I have to travel around and document the history of what I consider to be such a special place and such special people. So if you'll excuse me, I've got a front porch calling my name.
I spent the first week of May working on a personal project about morel mushrooms and the people who hunt these elusive little fungi. Let me start by saying the taste of these things has never appealed to me but I can appreciate the "thrill of the hunt." So, with this interest in mind I set out to round up some of the most eclectic personalities I could find and share a story of the crazy folks who head for the woods in search of treasure every spring. It took a great deal of leg work but the end result was something I felt fell in line with the creative ambitions I had at the outset. Below are some of my very favorite photos from the project as well as a video I produced. For my next project I'm hoping to explore the ring of barn dances across Iowa. Let's hope for the best! Until next time...