A trip to South Dakota. Coming home, here, to the prairie, a place where I go when I don’t know what else to do; where I go when I need to reset and reclaim my center. A place to be absorbed back into the land that taught me how to be alive, how to pay attention, how to see beauty in the ordinary, in the fleeting. Somehow it’s a place of enchantment and magic, even as the population and sprawl grows, as I get older, as the trees get bigger while others fall, as fences and houses go up where I used to roam free. Under all of that remains the hummus of my youth. I may never live here permanently again, yet part of me will always be found here on this prairie hillside.
I’m looking at the rough wood on the walls of the living room — the walls my father and mother put up themselves. These walls have been witness to the cultivation of a way of life. They have weathered years of kids and mud and soccer balls and vegetables flying. The spiral stairs that wind above my head connect the pieces of a house built by hand and remind me that connection is important, even when no one wants to talk. Even when I don’t want to talk, which is more often than I think it should be. In the words not spoken I can feel the deep roots that will always tie me to this place — the deep root systems that you can’t see above ground, the ones that form a vast web beneath the surface. The roots that hold the soil in place.
We walk out back, pulling Eva on a sled, into the corn field behind the property line and then down to the low point on the east side of the gardens. I remember the thrill of discovering a new stream during the spring melt, the satisfaction of creating a child-size dwelling in the shelter belt, and the surprise of finding my strength by running in the pasture beyond the neighbor’s corn field. I feel my roots take in nourishment and replenish. I feel myself remembering what’s real, my imagination for all that is possible in a life coming back to the front of my awareness. I sense possibility emerging again. It’s fleeting. But it’s there.
All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. Without them, our lives get made up by other people. -Ursula K. Le Guin
Perhaps it’s the open space, the wide view; the emptiness of the prairie that taught me to imagine. No one can tell the prairie what to do, or how to be. Even though we try, we can never fill it up completely with our stuff, our economy, our progress. The open space, the wide blue sky, the endless sea of grass – these things leave room for possibility, for good things to happen. For the imagined to take on a new life, as if it were riding on the back of a prairie wind.