A moment’s return to recent travels; a bit from last week’s cross-country journey that I wanted to share.
I have not been able to shake the images from the flatlands. The land that lays itself out before us in straightline roads and spare swells. The countryside that sheds its trees the farther east we go.
I am a flatlander—if being from northern Illinois qualifies me as such. You can see it in our eyes. We are even. Steady as the land. In our faces is a look evolved in us, in eyes accustomed to looking a long way.
When I was growing up, a vacant field stood across from my house in the newborn subdivision; a space that was yet to evolve into the modest city park it was later to become. I used to call it The Prairie. I don’t know why. Now I am seeing the Prairie in earnest, a place bigger even than a child’s imagining of open, treeless space.
William Least Heat Moon writes about the impossibility of judging distance in a terrain like this. He’s right, I think. Distance, here, is as deceptive as the people are open-faced. The Plains are, in their way, as challenging as the desert is. The conventions of natural beauty (trees, hills, water features) do not present themselves as readily to the eye. One has to look differently here.
In Kansas, little towns peek over the curvature of the earth; they seem to grow out of the soil as one approaches. Grain elevators and church steeples hold up the sky, the twin pillars that support the lives here. One sees as many Jesus signs here as in the South—maybe more.
And in its sameness, a striking contrast: miles and miles of graceful, beautiful, wind turbines that reflect the color of the sky. Beyond them, heading west, miles of small, clunky, primitive oil pumps dot the landscape. The contrast between them is a physical irony: the beauty of what is being coaxed from the sky versus the grubby ugliness of the energy that is being tortured out of the earth. Clean versus dirty. Freely offered and collected versus tortured into being. It says something.
We approach the higher elevations. In Limon, round a corner and the mountains appear, a cosmic magic trick. April has not brought spring here. There is snow in the high places—although already reduced to June levels, though June is a month away. In a vast field, a sad-looking horse stands beside the body of his dead friend, an unbelievably poignant mourning. I am reminded that I am a tourist between life and death.
One of my favorite expressions says, If you aren’t where you are, you ain’t noplace. It’s true. I’ve mentioned before how much my writing depends upon having a settled calm around me. The move has wrought hell with that. Clearly, I see with writer-eyes. But it wasn’t until I got home, settled in my chair in the quiet, that the words could be shaped.
As I write this mini-travelogue, I release it. I’ll go back to the work of the day, the finishing of the book. I am in the penultimate chapter. When I’m finished, I’ll back. I’ll be there, not in the writing. I’ll take the journey to a new city, a new job, a new way of living.
I will do my writing 14 stories closer to the sky. Like the wind turbines, I will hope to gather the sky-power.
Wish me luck.