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Hinton Flooded Field

An inflatable swan and flamingo float on about 5 acres of Mark Held's flooded field just south of Hinton, Iowa, along U.S. Highway 75. Held said that rather than get upset about the frequent flooding in the field, he decided to have some fun with it and set up the display to amuse passing traffic.

HINTON, Iowa -- Sometimes all you can do when bad luck strikes is laugh.

Or, in Mark Held's case, you make everyone else laugh with you.

The sight in Held's field along the west side of U.S. Highway 75 just south of Hinton has surely led to a few chuckles from passing motorists. Under water frequently, the low-lying field is a regular stop for geese and ducks.

Held decided it would be fun if some bigger birds stopped by.

"This year I told my wife, you know what would be cool is one of those great big swans like you see on the lakes," Held said, referring to the inflatable plastic floaties children enjoy on the water.

When sharing his plans with friends, he was informed those floaties can cost more than $100. His wife, Kaye, found them much cheaper online, and now a giant white swan and pink flamingo -- easily visible to passing traffic on the highway -- float peacefully in a corner of the 22.5-acre field that should be covered with sprouting corn or soybeans by now.

Instead, a wet, wet spring ensured that Held wouldn't to be able to plant the oft-flooded field this year. The field may be lost, but Held's sense of humor wasn't.

"If you've got bad luck, you might as well have some fun with it," he said.

Hinton Flooded Field

Anchored by bricks tied to rope, an inflated swan and flamingo float in Mark Held's field south of Hinton, Iowa, while traffic passes by on U.S. Highway 75. The field floods frequently, Held said, and he's able to harvest a full crop from it about six out of 10 years.

He's had a lot of fun with this plot of land. Seven or eight years ago, water again covered the field, so Held anchored a boat with a mannequin inside it on the small lake. A sign advertised "Fishing Derby $5". The boat, sans mannequin, has appeared since then.

During another wet year, Held floated the idea of putting a hockey goal in the water, accompanied by a sign calling for water polo tryouts.

And he might not be done yet this year. The swan and flamingo could soon be proud parents.

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"Now, to enhance the project, we want to find some little floaties and make it look like they had babies," Held said.

Fortunately for Held, the flooded field, which sits in front of his childhood home where daughter Danica Held now lives, is a small portion of the 750 acres on which he farms and raises cattle. But this particular parcel is historically wet.

How wet? Consider how it was viewed when the area was mapped for a new drainage district nearly a hundred years ago.

Hinton Flooded Field

Some of last year's corn still stands in a corner of one of Mark Held's fields south of Hinton, Iowa. September rains prevented him from harvesting some of the field, and a wet spring has kept him from planting it.

"On the map in 1920 it was considered a swamp," Held said.

Held said he gets a full crop off of this field only about six out of 10 years. Last year, the corn was doing fine until September thunderstorms and the resulting runoff swamped the field. Held harvested what he could, but cornstalks still poke out of the water. He last got a full crop from this field two years ago.

It was likely the last crop he'll harvest there for the foreseeable future. Held has enrolled it in the Conservation Reserve Program, in which the land will not be farmed for at least 10 years. He'll seed it with grasses, allowing it to revert to wetlands. He was tired of the annual uncertainty about whether he could plant and harvest the field.

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"I was just getting old enough where I said I don't have to deal with this anymore," he said.

There won't be crops, but there most likely will be water. Held has some ideas he wouldn't divulge about future displays.

"There's a few surprises to be added, maybe," he said coyly.

Without the worry about planting or harvesting a crop, his mind will have more freedom to dream up displays to entertain passersby. It's better than letting people feel sorry for the farmer whose field is under water.

Hinton Flooded Field

Mark Held's neighbor plants soybeans to the edge of the water in one of Held's fields south of Hinton, Iowa. The low-lying area near the Floyd River and next to U.S. Highway 75 frequently floods.

"Have some fun with it," Held said. "If you can, enjoy life a little bit, make people smile."

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