This couldn’t be it. I’d driven in the rain for an hour, then turned off the highway onto a muddy, winding farm road. The freshly turned dirt clods in the fields I passed were the only sign that I was not alone in this part of the world.
I parked the truck in a cow pasture, just as I’d been told. In the distance I could hear music. Otherwise, it was quiet. I heard a bard owl, “Two hoots for you.” I heard the sound of my feet sinking into the waterlogged grass.
The cow pasture folded toward a ravine and for a moment I thought the way to my destination might be the tiny footpath down the ravine into the woods.
Then, I heard a tractor. It was Marvin. He was driving a John Deere 4020 tractor and pulling a trailer full of welded-on benches. And among the benches was a wooded box with the painted words, “Tips for Marvin.” That’s how I knew his name.
A couple waved from the field and ran to catch a ride. They stopped short to take a selfie — her in rubber rain boots, him in plaid and a long beard. They said Marvin’s name when they saw the box and I saw how it made us feel good to know his name, like we were suddenly insiders in this strange place.
It was 7 p.m. and Marvin had been driving in the rain since 3, he said.
It’s a quarter-mile tractor ride from the cow pasture to a barn-turned-music-venue called Codfish Hollow. Technically, we were in Maquoketa. Practically, we were nowhere. My cell phone said, “No service.”
Flames from a metal fire ring warmed a group of ticket takers. A man in a Carhartt jacket and hoodie checked my ID and said, “I’m four days older than you.”
Though I am often on my own, I always have a moment of shyness and nervousness before I walk into a room full of strangers. I took a deep breath and stepped into the barn.
There was no reason to feel nervous. It’s the perfect place to show up by yourself. First, there’s an instant bond among people who brave bad weather or any other hardship to get somewhere.
A man was on stage — William Wild — singing about the last bit of winter ice under a tree.
It’s my impression so far that Iowans don’t dance. I haven’t seen it yet.
But the guy next to me said, “This is exactly what I needed. Thank you.” Which is a kind of dancing.
I could see his breath in the cold.
The Codfish Hollow barn is a visceral place. There’s no sense that goes untouched. No emotional string that goes unplucked.
I felt the uneven wooden floor under my feet. I saw the bird nests in the rafters. And I watched the changing light through the knothole in the wall behind the stage. There was no sunset because of the clouds, just the end of daylight. As the bands played, I saw darkness fill the cracks between the wooden planks of the barn wall.
The musicians kept thanking Tiffany for her hospitality, reminding us that we had been invited into a home, not just a music venue.
Before the last song, I decided it was time to head back to Davenport. I waved at Marvin but didn’t catch a ride this time. It had stopped raining. The air was soft from all the moisture and I found the high spot in the road that was still solid and not too muddy for the welcome quiet of the walk back to my truck.
The light of the barn and the firepits faded behind me, and with it the sound of music and laughter disappeared with the curve of the rural road.