Friday, March 13, 2009

The Vast Empty Sky, The Vast Empty Land - II

The land there is vast, the sky even more so. I hated it as a child. All that empty was things I couldn't have and things I couldn't see; it was limits on what I could experience. It was limits on what I could be. I wanted flowers and I wanted to make things, art and maybe even music, though I had no talent whatsoever at that part. I wanted books and museums. I wanted to meet interesting people and learn things, and all the vast empty was just in my way. It was miles of empty between me and what I wanted to experience. I couldn't wait to get out. Sure, I loved some people there, but I hoped they would visit me after my great escape from the vast empty.

But you can't really go, not entirely anyway. The traffic and noise and constant movement of it all would wear me then, press me down. I missed the way seasons and weather mattered.


The seasons and the vast sky with its weather and the vast land with it soil were all that mattered, it seemed sometimes. We prayed for rain and thanked God when it came. We prayed for calm and dry at harvest and thanked God for the bounty. We lived there where land and sky touch, on that vast plain, that thin plane between earth and sky, hunkered down on the land, clinging to what we made for ourselves to ride out the winter blizzards, the summer hailstorms, the tornado, the dry winter days when the snow was all so driven down solid that only wisps here and there tore loose, but still the wind drove on, rolling weeds, bending branches, whipping scarves, tearing coats open, wrenching doors from out hands. Summer sun beat down day after rainless day as grain crops shrunk lower to the ground as hopes ground down low too. Nothing was easy about it. We should have been a dour and morose and sullen people, but we were not. Hearts soared with the blue sea of a flax field in flower or the golden yellow of ripe wheat and spirits flew with the northern lights and the milky way and the full moon so bright it cast shadows on the lawn grass. Vast flocks of honking geese filled that sky and settled on that land. Meadowlarks called, butterflies tumbled on breezes. But those moments still were only moments and I wanted out. For years, I never looked back.

It took me a long long time to love it in any kind of non-begrudging way. Missing the harvest called me back first, a vague uneasiness in the late summer, a wistful longing for something else, a lingering sense that I was missing something, something important, something big. There are times now, I am driving somewhere out there. Clouds tumble across the sky casting shadows that move across the land so fast it takes my breath away. The water in some pothole glistens in the bright sun or the skeleton of some long dead cottonwood calls to me. The perfect geometry of an old grain elevator, the perfect linearity of rows of corn or beans, the things men have done to claim and tame the vast land. Or just a clump of prairie grass or a wild rose at the crumbled edge of the road pavement, testimony to the once vast prairie that stretched horizon to horizon and maybe would again if we left it to those stubborn remnant plants. I stop the car at the side of the road. I stand on the center line and look every direction and just breath it in. You can do that out there, find a place to stop in the middle of the road and take in the vast. Someone might come by, and they might even ask if you need help, but if you say no, just enjoying the space, they will smile and move on. They might call you a kook when telling the folks at the post office about the mad lady with out of state plates standing in the middle of the highway, but deep inside, they know what it was all about. They understand that it is vast, above and below and in every direction, flat and vast, and sometimes, you just have to stop and be in it for a bit. Take it in. Stop thinking so much and just be, out there, small, but still, the only one there to feel the vast. It is vast and empty and it seems to go on forever, but in that vast sunlit and windswept and starlit space, it holds so very much that matters.

1 comment:

Gene Redlin said...

I have thought that many who grow up in places of open sky like North Dakota have a sense of the infinite. Of possibilities from afar.

I know how much I miss sometimes seeing a storm come from a hundred miles away, watching the sun go down with spectacular paint splashed in the sky.

Some times the clouds would mimic me and those around me in my imagination alone.

It's a fascinating place if you know what to look for.

Thanks for good writing.