I’ve always been fascinated by the phrase Motherland – one’s native country. The idea Loess Oaksthat land, as a mother, has her own set of rights, her own rules and wishes for us, is comforting, I feel. When I was younger and troubled or bored because my parents were working, I spent a great deal of time outside exploring, most of that time in or around the Loess Hills of Iowa. As a teen, spending time roaming the hills and woodlands was a way to find myself during a time when my mother was finding herself. I’d hear the call of a whippoorwill, a starling, a cardinal, the evening coo of a mourning dove and remember the summer she taught me what she knew about birds.

The Loess Hills (pronounced luss) were literally formed by the wind. Loess soil is defined in the dictionary as “a very rich loam of silt or clay that is deposited by the wind”. Geologists say this loam is over 10,000 years old. We are walking on soil not native to Iowa. Our elementary school teachers were mindful to teach us that the only place in the world you’d find this unique land structure is along the west ridge of Iowa and China.

Over the past three years, I’ve trekked many miles in these ancient hills from some other place. I come to her with a heavy heart, questions, anger, fear, and by the end of my hike, she has managed to help me remember what’s elemental and enduring in my imperfect journey as a woman and a mother. And as I walk along her ridges and valleys, as I follow her streams, I’m reminded of the lessons of my mother, a gypsy soul very much moved by the wind: how nature always knows what to do, how growth and decay have a special role in the wild, and how beautiful it is to let it be.