Iowa Alumni Magazine | June 2006 | Reviews

Elegy for Iowa by Timothy Florer

By Carol Wilcox

Not so long ago, thousands of Iowa children walked to one-room schoolhouses to begin their formal education. They pumped ice-cold water from reservoirs tapped by wells, knew that a thunder mug is sometimes preferable to a privy, enjoyed treating the barn cats to a few squirts straight from the cow to make milking more fun, and played for hours swinging from the ropes in haylofts all around the state.

ford truck

In those days, neighbors knew a lot about a man from his barn. If it dominated the farm, he put his priorities on the business of farming. If it sported an unusual design or was much bigger than the neighbors' buildings, he was ambitious and didn't mind standing out from the crowd.

Almost all the chickens were free-range and even those confined in coops enjoyed a yard where they could peck for insects and grains in the Iowa soil.There were no massive hog confinement operations, no factory farms. A couple's wealth could be counted in children. The more they had, the more land they could plant, the more livestock they could tend.

That Iowa doesn't exist today, except in the memories of older folks and in glimpses of abandoned machinery and decrepit buildings not yet absorbed by the landscape.

Wanting to preserve Iowa's rich rural history while it can still be told by those who experienced it, Timothy Florer pointed his camera at remnants from an earlier time, producing evocative black-and-white images that prompted conversations between the generations. Cobwebs and dust obscure some objects in Florer's photographs, but they're wiped away by reminiscences from elderly Iowans sharing their way of life with the young.

Florer gave copies of his images to high school students and asked them to show the pictures to senior citizens. In doing so, the students began to capture an oral history for the state.

Rural Iowa Ruins is a photographic elegy for the family-based agriculture that built Iowa. If readers use the book the way Florer asks them to, it will remind older citizens of their earlier lives and reveal to younger people some of the fortitude their forebears needed in an age of self-reliance.