Other places I've traveled to make the world feel small by comparison: the sky hemmed in by mountains or trees or buildings. The prairie is different. The landscape doesn't shout out its beauty here, but entices you in small ways... the winnowing of snipe overhead, the soft huff of horses grazing in the predawn light, the starkness and loneliness of it, a velvet bowl of ink black sky so full of stars it makes you wonder what it might feel like to count so many, clouds that stumble across an unbelievably big sky, the long soft blur of sunset shadows that cross a patchwork of farm fields and prairie: where a few trees and a grain elevator are the only comfort for the eye in all that emptiness.
Maybe I like the challenge of finding beauty where others would see none... the black backbone of road and the faint lines of light at the horizon that mean there's a town off the interstate, the nothing between me and a three wire barbed fence and a pasture of horses or bison, the wind that carries the grace notes of a meadowlark or a bobolink. This, this middle in the middle of nowhere, is a place of quiet where birdsong and the gentle whistle of wind are the only music and me the lonely audience.
There's something here in the intersection of land and light, sky and the ever-present wind, the dark earth and the cerulean water in each and every pothole with its breeding ducks that communicates the language of this place; words of solitude translated by a yellow-headed blackbird hanging from cattails in a slough beside the road or the sight of ancient purple lilacs watching over deserted dooryards. There's all of this and yet, sometimes, you need to bend close to the ground and pull the soft dusty green sage through your fingers or catch sight of prairie smoke blooming among the short grasses, with kingbirds squabbling on the fencerow behind you, to know that emptiness looks like this and that the place that one calls home need not be the only place a heart resides.
(Written mostly as a response to the cross-eyed glances of friends who wondered why I wouldn't choose Hawaii as a vacation destination instead of the frozen land of North Dakota.)
More to come...