American flag

Kerry Burzlaff, of Calamus, flies an American flag behind a tractor on a farm near DeWitt, Iowa.

The soil in this area is a wonder of the world. That “flat black” took as long to build as some of the most photographed canyons – centuries of prairie grass, growing and dying, greening and burning, decaying into the ground. It’s a quiet wonder – you don’t know you’re in the presence of greatness, unless you’ve been told that this is some of the best farm ground in the world.

It shaped the culture of this place, as much as the river, and these past few months I’ve come to appreciate that fact in deeper and deeper ways as I’ve worked on the book “Into the Fields,” due out at the end of November.

The idea came early this year when Jennifer Ewoldt asked if there might be interest in a collection of her columns. She’s been writing for the Quad-City Times, every other Monday, since 2009. My response was an enthusiastic "yes" and we began the task of sorting through eight years of her work.

I sent off the final proof of the book a couple  of weeks ago. When I turned that last page, what we created felt so tender and personal – a first-hand, carefully told story about the rural life of our area. We combed through hundreds of columns to find the best ones, that told her story and told our story.

There’s a great column about her sons playing farm in the basement, making little rows in the carpet and discussing what to plant. There’s the heart-wrenching eulogy to her horse Roxanne and the funny stories about the ornery bull named Big Red. As always, Ewoldt is honest about farming, about the hard choices ahead, about the fear that comes from too many days of the wrong weather. She talks about marriage – missing her husband during the harvest or what it’s like to load a truck of hogs with your spouse. In the pages of “Into the Fields” we watch her sons grow up and we watch the fields get planted and harvested, year after year. For those of us who spend our days on asphalt and in offices, her writing gives us the feeling that we understand the big picture of this place and that we are somehow part of the cycle of it.

Once the columns were chosen, I worked with the photographers and with our librarian to sort through decades of photos that have been published in the Quad-City Times. There are so many iconic images of presidents visiting farms in the area – Bill Clinton sitting on a hay bale in jeans and a blue Oxford; George H.W. Bush holding a piglet; Ronald Reagan standing in a field with one hand resting on the back of an 800-pound breeding boar.

And among the images, there are so many tractors -- many of them shiny and new in the fields of their era and others shiny and restored by modern day believers in keeping them running.

And corn. So much corn, taller on Fourth of July than most men.

The pages of “Into the Fields” are filled with hard work, silos and grain stores, and, always overhead, that low, ever-changing Midwestern sky.

Like I said, there’s something tender and personal about this book. It’s a celebration, but an honest one. It’s about how the rural life of this area defines us, even if rarely get dirt under our fingernails.

The book is on the presses right now and will be shipped to us soon. If you want to learn more about it, there’s an online order form at QCTFarmBook.PictorialBook.com. We also have order forms in this newspaper that you can cut out and mail in. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

Autumn Phillips is the executive editor of the Quad-City Times and qctimes.com. 563-383-2264; aphillips@qctimes.com; on Twitter @autumnedit.

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Executive Editor