It’s baseball season in Eastern Iowa. Jamie Richard has brought me to the Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in the tiny town of Sherrill to meet his cousin, Ted Freiburger, and watch Ted’s eleven-year old son Tyler play on a diamond carved out of a cornfield. As the sun sets, big bright lights illuminate the game, and a lone farmstead on a hill overlooking deep left center pops on a porch light. The farmstead belongs to Jamie and Ted’s aunt and uncle; the cousins are related to about half the team, too. The town’s ancestors lie buried in the graveyard beside the church—generations of Breitbachs, Kleins, and Haberkorns. After night falls and the kids have left the field, a unisex adult game of softball begins, while dusty farmhands slip off to the The Barn tavern across the street to drink Busch Lite.

What a trip this was. I spent the entire summer of 2015 driving up and down the Driftless region – a chunk of land along the Upper Mississippi that includes southwest Wisconsin, Eastern Iowa, and parts of southeast Minnesota. The drives were unquestionably some of the most beautiful I have ever taken. The sunsets in the Midwest are something else. I went to farm after farm, restaurant after restaurant, searching for The Driftless Manifesto. Was it the geological anomaly that allowed this region to avoid the ice sheets?

For the most part, yes. Geography dictates culture in this case: whereas most of the Midwest is flat and expansive, the Driftless is hilly and folded; gullies hide small farms and twisty creeks burble into cave networks un-flattened by the glaciers that covered the rest of this country with … drift.