- Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.
MAQUOKETA — On a recent warm summer morning I very clearly heard multiple sirens headed toward my place. I don’t often hear sirens out here and they’re not particularly welcome. Some hear sirens and their curiosity peaks. Many scramble to their cars to follow the sirens. I leave it alone, assuming the sirens represent someone else’s misery and sorrow.
Anyway, a bit later I needed something in a nearby town, and as I drove onto my graveled road, a neighbor flagged me down and told me there had been a shooting at the nearby state park. He said he and his wife loaded their guns with ammo, and he offered me a handgun. I declined; however, at that moment I knew my rural world had changed. There was a smell like I’ve never encountered first-hand, a smell of madness and fear.
It’s a different, more internal fear, not the kind you have when a black, Lord Voldemort storm comes rolling and thundering across the landscape. I thanked my neighbor for his offer of a gun, closed my garage doors, locked up the house and began to ponder the wisdom of living where I can’t see any neighbors, and they can’t see me. My weapons are baseball bats with Ernie Banks signatures, and very dull kitchen knives, perhaps the weapons of a fool who is happiness-bound.
A bit later a plane crisscrossed low in the sky above my house and a number of law enforcement vehicles moved very slowly up and down my graveled road, letting us know that less than half-a-mile away a man had killed three people in one of the state park campgrounds, and then fled on foot. Cops called him an “active shooter.”
Another neighbor said he heard the gunshots that killed the family of three. He’s relatively hard of hearing, so you know this took place very near here, and knowing that the shooter was on foot in the immediate area was more than a bit disconcerting.
When the shooter was finally located he was no longer active, and he hadn’t gone far. He was lying in a field where he had apparently ended his own life, just west of where he knowingly and deliberately ended the lives of three others. Here I must quote the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz,” wherein, as she was melting to death, whined, “What a world, what a world.”
What a world indeed. I offer no wisdom here, no insight, no nothing, because I can’t fathom any of it. Horrific acts commonly take place in towns, where there are schools, churches, shopping malls, not out here in the middle of nowhere. Again, someone else’s misery, as seen on the news. Now, for me, that ship has sailed.
Good people from across the Midwest travel to the nearby state park to revel in what I see every day, a mother deer followed by a speckled fawn racing across a field of grass, baby raccoons emerging at dusk trying to sort out a new world, a barred owl changing her call to let the humans know this is her land, native orange daylilies flourishing in ditches, and silence, always silence. There is an easiness and soft poetry out here, a contentedness many seek. May it always be so.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.