How a Meadowlark Poem ended up Introducing “Leora’s Letters”

There’s a poem called “Meadowlark” in the front matter of  Leora’s Letters. The genesis of how it made its way there is a Facebook story.

A few years ago I started the Historic Guthrie County, Iowa Facebook page to be able to share old photos and stories from the late 1800s, which I knew others would enjoy. (Membership on that page has grown to over 1000–people sharing their old photos, clippings, and stories.)

One of the stories I posted was about the Victorian house my Goff great grandparents lived in during the 1920s. Mom remembered so many details about the inside of that house, even though she was a preschooler. About every time we drove to Guthrie Center, we’d wind up the hill to see the once handsome house.

mansion (3)

A lot of people on the Guthrie County page asked questions or made comments about the story. One was by Nicholas Dowd, who grew up in near the Goffs home.

A couple of years ago, Nick mentioned that he’d also done a bit of writing, and told how to access it. I commented in my journaling: “Oh my, the lyrical evocative short poetry about Guthrie County, vignettes with compelling details. . . Nicholas Dowd’s poems, which quiet me, then I need to read each again, usually with a lump in my throat. They have a contentment to them. . . ”

Last fall I’d journaled, “Nicholas Dowd’s poetry – stops you in your busyness. You’re compelled to slow down to even begin to read it. I can almost feel blood pressure drop. I know I will read it twice the first sitting, slowly, with a lump in my throat right away, savoring each line, each vignette, each glimpse of something precious and maybe even holy. . . Hope he publishes them in a book that we can hold and savor.”

When my book was about done (back in September), I wrote him a note, “I’m kinda looking for something evocative for the front of Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II, which will probably get self-published next month. Finishing up edits and waiting for a cover design.

I can’t remember whether I mentioned a meadowlark in Leora’s story or not, but Nick found a scribbled, eleven-line poem called “Meadowlark” tucked in a Willa Cather book from college, 50 years earlier. It was almost prophetic. It took my breath away.

It had never been edited, never published before.

The meadowlark has been a kind of emblem of the Wilson WWII story ever since Mom told me about the last time Danny Wilson was home. He’d recently earned his pilots wings and got a furlough to visit family at the place near Minburn where Wilsons were tenant farmers. With all four brothers in the service, Danny’s sisters were the only family members able to get to their parents’ place to see Danny.

meadowlark
Sisters Darlene Scar and Doris Neal with Danny Wilson, holding Darlene’s son, Richard.  Leora’s Letters, page 215.

While the family took pictures in the driveway, a meadowlark whistled. Mom said that Danny remarked that it was his favorite bird.

Both Danny and Junior mention meadowlarks in their letters home.

Nicholas Dowd grew up in Guthrie Center, where Grandma Leora lived for decades. She would have known Nick’s parents, and likely knew who Nick and his siblings were.

It’s such a blessing to have his meadowlark verse introduce Leora’s Letters, and also to know that her story is the introduction of his beautiful “Meadowlark” poem.


Nick said, “‘Meadowlark’ was written in the late ’60s but its time hadn’t come until Joy and I began to correspond. It was as if it was preserved for a reason through many moves. Des Moines. Nashville. Chicago. Mystic [Connecticut], then back to Nashville.”

Nicholas Dowd was most recently (furloughed during the Covid-19 spring) the Director of Patient Experience for AMSURG.

22 comments

  1. It used to be quite common to hear meadowlarks. Now it seems like their population has dwindled, at least I don’t hear them as often. It’s the same with whipporwills. I remember hearing them at dusk when I was trying to catch lightning bugs when I was a kid on the farm.

    • I’ll bet you mean a red-winged blackbird. I’d love to hear the story They are in the same territory as meadowlarks, but larks build on the ground and redwings build on reeds and cattails in rural ditches. I love to hear them chirree and whistle as you’re walking down a gravel road.

      • Lol! Nope. Meant what I said.

        An old friend, Jim Wilson, and I had been to the shooting range in Norris, TN and decided to cut across the watershed in stead of taking the main roads back. We’d spotted several birds including a couple of red-winged black birds and a red tailed hawk. Jim spotted a red bird with black chevrons on its wings sitting on a branch and wondered what it was. I responded jokingly, saying it was a black-winged redbird. That really cracked him up. He was a great friend. Passed away a few years ago. Cancer.

      • A scarlet tanager? No, its wings are entirely black. Can’t figure it out. (Didn’t become a birdwatcher until we moved back to Iowa–and found an exotic yellow-shafted flicker in the back yard. Mom looked at me and said I’d seen them my entire life. I guess I hadn’t really looked at one to appreciate it. Hooked ever since.) Darn cancer. What a compelling memory. . .

  2. I was very impressed by “Meadowlark” when I began to read Leora’s Letters. Has Nicholas Dowd published a book? If not, has he posted his poetry online? I’ve love to read more.

    • It’s on his FB page. Under the “MORE” button top right, pull down menu to “Notes.” He’s still working but hopes to pull his writing together after April–poetry and short vignettes–looking to publish. His fans need something they can hold and savor!

  3. “Meadowlark” was written in the late 60s but its time hadn’t come until Joy and I began to correspond. It was as if it was preserved for a reason through many moves. Des Moines. Nashville. Chicago. Mystic, then back to Nashville.

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