Secret Places

by Nancy Thompson


This evening Tim and I took one of our drives across the Iowa country-side, very lovely, we are partial to rolling hills and forest along with patches of corn and beans. We have covered some ground over the past five years since moving here from California, seen wildlife drifting like whispers through tall corn and bean fields, enjoyed the change of seasons and migrations of birds.

A few weeks ago we drove down south to Leon, a small town in central Iowa about 15 miles from the Missouri state line. My kind of country there. Ever the fisherman, Tim usually keeps his rod and often a float tube in the trunk. We have been to rocky creeks running through farmer's fields as well as muddy waters on our travels, fishing for trout to crappie, catfish, walleye or bass. You just never know.

Along the way we passed an Amish couple in the shade, their horse tethered nearby, blankets spread with handmade baskets, linens, honey and jam. Of course, we turned around, Tim reaching the husband with outspread hand, greeting him as a friend and brother in the name of our Lord. The young man, trained to spurn outsiders was more than a little taken back. But, as I walked around the blanket they were soon shaking hands, Tim offering his ever present gift of bubble-gum, they blew bubbles and became friends for a time.

Little River Lake is a 790 acre recreation area managed by the county and state of Iowa and is adjacent to Leon. We were there for the lake and I do not know much about the town. We fished, walked around the shores some talking with people large and small. Our dog Ranger had a great time. He'd never been to such a large lake before, never been swimming, seen a fish. He lay in the shallow waters, napped in the shade, visited the kids. Dog stuff, he had great time.

One of the fellows we spoke to told us how to fish the lake, where, what, when and mentioned his personal favorite, a hidden gravel quarry some miles away. So intrigued, we got directions and were soon on our way down rock roads turning to dirt then mud, past old farms and the strangely quiet dogs and other animals along the tree shaded road that went down and down some more into places unknown. I must say, it was kind of scary, dark and quiet and those animals acted like they'd never seen people before, very strange.

The woods opened up, we turned right and right again before a wooden bridge over train tracks, still wooded, dark and enchanting. Finding an open gate the whole thing opened up into a quarry, piles of rock and gravel, big machines all still and quiet, surrounded by hillsides covered with forest, no one to be seen, it's the weekend after all. The quarry itself was a deep pit filled with clear blue water, probably 10 acres, with steep, pebbled sides, forest growing down to the water's edge. The water beckoned, birds sang. The quietude was breath-taking. What a magic place. We caught some of the largest sunfish and blue gills I'd ever seen, Tim floated the whole pit, hooking large bass (we catch and release) and having a great time.

Ranger, never seeing me swim before, ran and barked wondering where my body was, head seeming to float upon still waters. He never would take the plunge though. It was so strangely quiet, lovely and fine.

Leaving a couple hours later we passed through the gate again and, unfortunately this time saw the ancient "No Trespassing" sign hanging by a wire behind the vine covered gate. Knowing this, we can't go back, having only memories (alas, bringing no camera), leaving only foot-prints.