At about the half way mark of the 60 mile jaunt through this stretch of Illinois farmland, I asked "sure is beautiful out here, isn't it?" Tom who is from Louisiana replied, "um, no not really."
The thing about this patch of the midwest is it's flat and gratuitous. Depending on one's origins, those two qualities can be the absolute worst, or in my case, something stark, beautiful and hopeful. Stark because, well, there's really not much variety - it's fifty miles of view in any direction composed of ten percent land and 90 percent sky. There are occasionally tornadoes. It's beautiful for its simplicity: land, sky, and farm houses. It's a composition of nature being shepherded by man. It's hopeful because this landscape contains some of the most fertile soil in the world. It feeds nations. It fuels dreams - like Tom's dream of finishing the sixty miles and eating a burger, or the dreams of midwest-borne people itching to get away and explore the expanses of the rest of the world.
I won't defend this area as being amongst the most breathtakingly beautiful in the world. It inspires me in the same way that first view of the Swiss Alps do, though. There is hard work, generations of farmers, America's progress, and the inevitable, violent storms all there to be appreciated if one just takes a moment to dig into why it's considered part of the country's Heartland.