Novice Naturalist

Growing Up in Iowa, Across Generations

Crystal BaileyThe other day I started to take a walk down memory lane, visiting some of my favorite memories of my childhood. Arguably, I grew up in the last generation that wouldn’t be totally inundated by technology throughout their whole childhood. But, what about the generations before me?

How different was my childhood compared to theirs? Or did growing up in a rural area cause there to be little differences on how we grow up? So, I decided to ask my Dad, who grew up just 20 miles from where I did, in Northeast Iowa, about his childhood. My dad was born in 1952, a member of the Baby Boomer generation. I am a product of the Millennial generation, born in 1993.


Below are our answers, showing that many of the ways of life have changed, and yet some of the valued parts of growing up in a rural area have hardly changed, over the course of a few decades.

What were your favorite activities to do while growing up?

Dad: Play baseball, play hockey on the creek (we made our own sticks), play football on the school grounds, go fishing with Dad, and go hunting. My brother Jim and I would go fishing, with bamboo poles, with our Grandpa Berns when he came to visit.

Me: Playing catch, shooting basketball hoops, going on family vacations every summer, climbing rocks or walking in the timber, boating, swinging, fishing with Dad, writing stories, and reading.

Where did your family do their grocery and household shopping at?

Dad: They got most of their groceries at a warehouse grocery store in Dubuque that was cheaper. Mom and Dad would go while the older kids watched the younger kids.

Me: Mostly in Dubuque or Prairie du Chien, the closest larger towns which were both 45 minutes away. Mom would stop after work and get a few things at the local grocery store in town. But, it closed when I was about 10 years old.

What were the main businesses in the town you grew up in?

Dad: 3 taverns (a barber shop at the back of one of them), 2 grocery stores (Kerpers and Ahlers), gas station, 1 meat locker, 1 plumbing shop, 1 welding shop, 1 car repair shop, 1 bank, 1 veterinarian, a creamery, feed and supply store, post office, 2 electricians, 1 catholic school, oil and propane co-op, and 1 church (Catholic). Nobody lived in town that was not Catholic, and that’s just the way it was back then. I remember the first time somebody moved to town who wasn’t Catholic.

Me: Bank, post office, 2 churches, school, a few in-home daycares, 1 gas station, 2 bars, golf course and country club, public swimming pool, public library, grocery store (for the early part of my childhood), a hardware store that then got sold and turned into an auto body shop, and 1 hair salon.

How often did you go to Dubuque (town of 50,000, which was about 45 minutes away) as a child?

Dad: Not very often. A couple times a year.

Me: Pretty often. I would say every other weekend. But, at least once a month.

What did your parents do for fun on the weekends?

Dad: They didn’t do much since they had 9 kids. They visited relatives, played cards once in a while, and my dad would go hunting.

Me: They went out to eat with friends, went to the bar, and visited friend’s houses. We did quite a bit as a family: bowling, went to movies, and went on Sunday drives.


What was your prized possession and favorite toy as a child?

Dad: Daisy BB gun. One of my favorite toys was my bicycle because it gave me freedom.

Me: My doll that I took everywhere with me, Susie.

What events do you remember being headline news growing up?

Dad: John F. Kennedy being assassinated, man landing on the moon, (in the 1960’s), and Milwaukee Braves winning their division in baseball because I was a big baseball fan.

Me: When 2000 happened it was a big deal because some people thought the world was going to end, or it was going to cause our computers and other technology gadgets to stop working, September 11th, and the proceeding War on Terror.

What were your favorite activities as a teenager?

Dad: Driving a car, going out with my friends, work on the gun cabinet and bookcase I made in shop, and going ice skating.

Me: Just driving around with friends, going to bonfires, going to movies, going to football games, bowling with friends, being involved in school plays, and  going to parties with friends.

How often did you watch television as a child?

Dad: Every night. We watched whatever Dad wanted because he was the one who had worked all day. We watched: Mr. Ed the Talking Horse, Leave it to Beaver, The Lawrence Welk Show, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza.

Me: Every night. We watched the news every night and all got to take turns watching shows we wanted. On Saturday mornings I got to watch the cartoons I wanted.

Practical Advice For Logging Your Property

Crystal BaileyAs a forester, I sometimes drive by private properties and see scenes that could be straight out of the move The Lorax. I wonder if the landowner consciously allowed the logging practice or if they just didn’t know any better. So here are some tips to have logging operations done as sustainably and profitably as possible for the landowner.


  • Consult with a state forester before harvesting your property. They can help you set long-term goals for your property and harvest trees in a way that supports your goals for your property.
  • Get bids from multiple logging companies to get the best price for your property. Get at least three bids.
  • Mark the trees you would like to harvest yourself or have someone who knows trees well and that you trust do so.
  • When marking the trees, also make sure you put paint at the base of the trees so once they are cut, you can make sure they only cut the trees that were marked, because you will be able to see the paint on the stumps.
  • Make sure to have a signed contract between you and the logging company. This will lay out the specifications of how you want the logging to occur and how payments to you will happen.
  • Make frequent visits to your property while they are harvesting your timber. This ensures the accountability of the loggers and makes sure they are following the specifications that you set forth.
  • Make sure your property boundary is clearly marked and make sure the loggers know where your property is and where your neighbor’s property starts.

Photo by Crystal Bailey.


  • High grade the trees on your property. This operation, which has been done for centuries in this country, means to harvest the best trees and leave the rest. This means taking trees that are tall and straight and leaving trees that have poor form. While this can make you more money in the short term, it degrades the genetic quality of the trees. If trees with poor form are left, they create seeds for the next generation, and over time the trees will decrease in quality. So, take care to not just take the best quality of trees.
  • If you have creeks, rivers, or ponds on your property, do not allow logging right up to these bodies of water. It can cause erosion, and if the trees are removed that allow shade over the bodies of water, it can change the temperature of the water and can make the water less desirable for fish or any aquatic species. Leave a 30-100 foot buffer around the creek, river, or pond.
  • Do not allow heavy logging machinery in wet areas, as it may cause large ruts.

If you are considering logging on your property, and this information is overwhelming, the best advice I can give is to seek advice from a state forester first before logging on your property. They can offer property management advice. Also, remember that there are some really good forest management resources online to gain more information. University websites with forestry programs often have great information as well as state forestry department websites.

Calling Out for Coffee Shops

Crystal BaileyWhat is one place that all rural areas have in common? They all have a local coffee gathering spot. The specific locations of these can vary, it may be: the gas station, McDonald’s, the feed store, a café, or if really lucky, a coffee shop.

Wherever it is, every rural community has one. They are important places! The local coffee gathering places are filled with local community gossip, laughing, technical problem solving, bragging, and sharing of sorrow. But, more than anything, they are important places of personal connections and social gathering.

So many rural communities across the whole country are deteriorating: young people move away and don’t come back, the young people who stay fall into the substance abuse trap, the elderly move to nursing homes, and others are just so technology obsessed they forget to live the lives around them instead of the lives found on screens.

But, the coffee gathering place is different. It is an opportunity for the retired people to come together Monday through Friday and speak with others, to take away the feeling of isolation or loneliness. The world’s problems may be fixed over a cup of coffee, or at the very least, a solution to a problem on the farm or a difficult grandchild. It can be a place to discuss worries, celebrate exciting family news, and laugh at ridiculous jokes.

Photo by Crystal Krapfl.

Every rural town has a coffee gathering place, but maybe not a coffee shop. My mom and her friends, after working out together, go out for coffee every weekday. A few years ago, they had a coffee shop to go to — a place that had specialty coffee drinks and fresh homemade pastries. But, then it closed down. The bakery did, too. Now they have to go to a dingy café. The laughter, problem solving, and worries of life are still shared. But, the atmosphere is different; it’s not a coffee shop. A couple of months ago my friend was telling me a story about how some buyers of lumber from a different country were in my small hometown in Iowa to buy lumber from the town’s saw mill. They asked my friend where the coffee shop was. My friend told them there wasn’t a coffee shop in town, but the local gas station sold coffee. They asked again, finding it very hard to believe that the town didn’t have a coffee shop.

Every rural place should have a coffee shop. They are a place of gathering, a comfortable atmosphere for getting together with friends, a place where new ideas come to fruition. Every Monday through Friday there will be regulars that come in that bring stability to the business. But, a coffee shop provides more than that. It is a place that invites young people to stay for hours and talk, and it's a safe place for them to spend time. It is a place where entrepreneurs can conduct business and a nice place to meet customers. It is a meeting place for community leaders.

A coffee shop is a place to drink coffee and so much more. Many businesses have opened and closed in rural places. But, a coffee shop is the most missed one for me. If your small town has a coffee shop, consider yourself lucky. If your town doesn’t have one, and you are looking into starting a business, consider a coffee shop. They can help bring life and vigor to a small town.

Get to Know Grandma

Crystal BaileyHer favorite singer is Frank Sinatra. She was born in 1928 and grew up in a traditional limestone rock farmhouse near Garnavillo, Iowa. The house my grandma grew up in did not have electricity until she was well into her teen years.

My Grandma and I have virtually nothing in common. She was a homemaker her whole life; I work in a man’s world as a professional forester. My grandma had four children by 25. I’m currently 25 and am newly married and childless. She does not miss Sunday church for any reason. I go when it’s convenient. I could go on and on.

While we grew up in homes only 20 miles from each other, there was 70 years in between our formative years. When you look at these differences, it’s easy to understand why it would be hard to converse with each other, yet alone have a deep, meaningful relationship with each other. These are the barriers that often keep those from my grandma’s generation from having a relationship from those of my generation. I see it with my grandma and some of my other twenty-two cousins.

But, she remembers the Great Depression, not from a textbook but from the time she lived through it. She remembers how absolutely everything on their farm was used and reused. Which explains why she still washes out Ziploc bags and reuses them! She remembers how she got the privilege to graduate high school while many other children had to quit school to work or help at their home.

Not to mention, she has a wealth of practical knowledge. When I wanted to learn how to make homemade mashed potatoes, how to make jam from fresh raspberries, or how a quilt is put together, I went to my grandma. At the ripe age of 90 years old she still does all of her own cooking, cleaning, and gardening. She creates multiple quilts a year and takes care of all her own bills. She is a role model, a person to strive to be.

I’ve learned to look past our differences and know when it’s time to listen, and time to keep my opinions to myself.  My grandma has learned to do the same, and I’ve actually been able to teach my grandma a thing or two! Those in my grandma’s generation live in a foreign world where it is possible to look up any fact or statistic on a device that is 3 inches by 5 inches, that is always an arm’s reach away. I’ve taught her how you look up facts on Google. I have shown her how to use a DVD player.

It is easy for my grandma’s generation to look at our generation with scorn, and go no further than lecturing in trying to create a relationship. But, it goes both ways. Although, it’s sometimes hard for her, my grandma has learned to do the same. This year, I got married in a non-denominational church, and my devoutly Catholic grandma didn’t say a word about it. Now that’s understanding!

different generations

Whether, you are closer to 1928 or 1993 on the birth spectrum, understand that these multi-generational relationships are worth nurturing. They will help you learn, and to appreciate differences in others. You will learn about history in a way that no podcast or internet article can. You will hear about your ancestors and understand where you came from. You will be reminded of what values in life can create true happiness. If you take the time to listen, to learn, to really speak with those older than you, you will thank yourself later. Then, when your grandparent or great aunt or uncle passes away, you’ll have more memories and experiences to share than: their hair was gray and they had false teeth.

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