The Land and My Best Man
Sandy Moffett first fell in love with 650+ acres of prairie, woodland and grassland in Mahaska County over 20 years ago. Together, ten families -- including Sandy's -- formed Pleasant Grove Land Preservation, Inc. to purchase and protect the land. All shareholders have remained invested in the property, bound together by a love of the land, a love that Sandy has passed on to his granddaughter Lilly. Lilly recently wrote an essay about her connection to the land and the role it plays in her relationship with her grandfather. Many thanks to Lilly for sharing the essay with us, and for Sandy and the other members of Pleasant Grove Preservation, Inc. for protecting this special place.
“C’mon Gramps! Bring me to the creek. I want to catch toads with the new net you bought me,” I whined after scarfing down my lunch. Six-years-old and there wasn’t anything I loved more than throwing on my muddy, knee-high boots and moseying down to my Grandfather’s land, across the dirt road from his and Granny’s big red barn. From the time I learned to walk, my Grandpa has shared his love for nature with me. His connection to our Earth is so powerful—it is his religion. Our favorite activities consist of hopping on the “Rhino,” which is a big ol’ four-wheeler that we use to navigate his extensive property; fishing, which obviously meant releasing because I have never been capable of harming animals, picking mulberries from low- hanging branches with our purple stained fingers, and most of all, stomping through the mucky waters of his shallow pond catching toads, snakes, snails and basically any creepy, crawly creatures that exist.
Nowadays our family trips to Grinnell, Iowa are no longer spent in their farmhouse because they recently relocated to a home closer to town. However, my Gramps and I make our way down to his land every time I visit. While many girls my age would rather do almost anything than go play in the mud, this is still on my list of top ten favorite things. I actually don’t know what I love more: the smell of the prairie, the Iowa wind blowing at breakneck speed through my hair, how the monarch butterflies collect in the patch of trees around Labor Day as they are migrating. It could any of these, but I think it is the sheer joy on Grandpa’s face as he is sharing what he loves most with the person he loves most, and I know that is me.
|Lilly and her sister collect mulberries.
Throughout my life, my Gramps has been my number one fan. When I was about seven years, Grandpa let me get behind the wheel of the Rhino. Driving the janky four-wheeler was quite the opportunity and I was ecstatic. I grasped the steering with my little hands, and with a strong push on the gas pedal, we sped into the fields of gold like a horse in the Kentucky Derby. Although my joy ride was confined to a small piece of prairie, at the time I felt the world was mine. From that point on, Grandpa made sure that we had time to go for an adventure on the Rhino every time I visited. I would always surprise him because my introverted personality seemed to float away with the wind as we zoomed through the fields, screaming and giggling; this was pure happiness. It was there, on my Grandpa’s land, that I learned to unleash my inner fire. When I turned 15, the Rhino (now a bit more beaten up) facilitated a way for Gramps to teach me how to drive. While my Mom refused to get in the car when I was behind the wheel, and my Dad was full of “stop,” “no,” “slow down,” and, “don’t,” Gramps, with his calm, patient, and understanding nature, would simply enjoy the ride no matter how hazardous or haphazard the driving.
Now that I am an experienced chauffeur, my best pal and I take many trips into the woods on the Rhino. Each time, I like to drive him to my favorite spots on his land, most of which are atop hills so we can look out on the Iowa plains. I don’t just see the wild flowers and rolling landscape. I see my entire childhood. I can almost hear Gramps telling me that he came nose-to-nose with a deer over there or buried his favorite hunting dog just past that tree. I remember “camping” in a cabin so small we all called it the “cabinet” and racing my brother and sister to get the best bunk.
When I think about how I learned about “burning the prairie so it will thrive” my nose has a hard time knowing if I am actually smelling burn or if it is a memory because that smell is burned (no pun intended) in my brain. I am comforted by the fact that my Grandpa placed his land into a conservation easement. It will never bear the weight of a McDonalds, Walmart, housing development, or God forbid, an industrial hog lot, something my Grandfather has always hated. It will always be the prairie, just as he restored it. He donated his conservation easement to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation so it will remain untouched, and I couldn’t be happier, because I plan on sharing my love for this land with the future generations of Moffetts just as he has shared it with me.
Henry David Thoreau explained in his book, Walden, “Heaven is under our feet as well as above our heads.” If Gramps had written Walden, he would likely have said, that “Heaven is not above our heads. It is under our feet in the dark, hearty Iowa soil.” As my dear Grandpa ages he continues to tell me not to worry about his life coming to an end because when he passes he will return to the soil, and he will become a part of our sacred earth. I find solace in our favorite places because while Grandpa isn’t immortal, our favorite spots are, and for as long as I can sit atop one of those rolling conservancy hills, I can sit with my best man.
-- Lilly Moffett