Yesterday, the windows went in and the shingles went on. Every passing day makes this house of ours--and it is still only a house--somehow more believable. Neither my wife or I would have ever guessed at this time last year, when we were cleaning out and up our old house in town, that just a year from that last garage sale we'd track past a building site every single day, gawking at what is already up and imagining what will be. Neither of us had spent any time at all brethless over some dream home. Now every day we can't help but look.
It was difficult yesterday not to think about Moore, Oklahoma, where thousands of people looked over a huge swath of community and saw nothing at all but rubbish. Wherever they looked, what they saw was the opposite of what we did--houses in jagged, dangerous pieces, their homes swallowed up in a tornado that lasted 45 minutes, then spit out the spit up remains who-knows-where because on Monday in Moore, early afternoon, the windows came out and the roof was gone.
Our house is going up, theirs were utterly destroyed. If you believe the mayor and others from the community, it won't be long before Moore will be new again, rebuilt. As for me and my house, I think I'd move elsewhere; three killer tornadoes up the very throat of tornado alley is a convergence that's anything but harmonic.
Yet, every year, more tornadoes rumble thought Iowa than Oklahoma. Iowa's beasts are smaller, less all-consuming. Oklahoma may have fewer, but they devour far, far more. Daily temps are hotter, convections steeper.
Still, we're building a house in tornado alley too. It never dawned on me that living here was a gamble, but it is, here as elsewhere, here as everywhere. The windows are in today; tomorrow they could get blown out. The shingles are on this morning; a thunderstorm could come rumbling up this afternoon and rip them off for good. We live with danger, all of us. We live imperiled lives.
Still, I'm thinking this morning of Henry Hospers, the godfather of the Dutch community of northwest Iowa, of Dutch Sioux County, the sector of the nation where there are more people of Dutch ancestry (and more card-carrying Republicans) than any other county in all of the U.S. of A. When Henry Hospers and his three buddies came north from Sioux City in a covered wagon to scout out land for a new immigrant colony, they did so right here, along the river, along the Floyd. They'd spotted only three or four sod hut homesteads on the trek north, and a single store building in what would eventually become LeMars, Iowa.
They'd avoided the land west of Cherokee, where land swindlers, who were legion at the time (imagine how easy it would be to make money on free land), had somehow bought out whole sections and then assumed they'd make a handsome profit when the wooden-shoed and wooden-headed Hollanders arrived. Instead of Cherokee, Hospers followed the Floyd River north, the river that runs just outside my window.
And what they found was a carpet of gorgeous native prairie, blooming with flowers, on rolling hills that took their breath away, a wonderful place, they thought. They kept following this very river, six miles north of the Sioux County line, and marked out two townships and a town plot, a place they called, of course, Holland.
Homesteads came in 80-acre plots in those days and generally cost a buck or two an acre. Last year someone down the road paid $20 grand for this good, black dirt.
What did they know? Nothing, really. What they had was a dream, like the hundreds Hospers rode with on the train to Council Bluffs. He said the cars were full of dreamers in classic American style, going west. It was 1868, the Civil War was behind us, and land was there for the asking, land as far as you could see. There wasn't a paleface on that train--Dutch or Polish or Bohemian--who thought about taking land from the Great Plains tribes--the Lakota, the Pawnee, the Cheyenne, the Arikara.
It's getting close to 150 years later now, and two retired Dutch-Americans are building a house close to the Floyd River, named after the Sergeant (d. 1803, Sioux City, Iowa). Yesterday, that new house got windows; today it'll get a driveway.
Pardon the nostalgia. Pardon the morbidity--what has Moore, OK, to do with all of this?
It's just what I'm thinking this morning, early, as the outline of the river only begins to appear from the night's darkness through the windows west.
The robins are at it outside, but the day will be gray and cold and rainy. But soon enough the goldfinches will be back at the feeder, beating each other up for the best spot on the thistle seed sock. In a minute, I'll head outside to set out a half an orange for those amazing orioles.
Life is a dangerous place to live, but it's still got its beauties. It certainly has its beauties. And it's still got a place for dreams.
And that's this morning's thanks.