Friday, July 2, 2010

Open Skies, Dwindled Dark. Music and Words from Sick Bay :-)

Day 8 of the pneumonia thing. I can breathe without help, I've been fever free for 5 days and though I'm still pretty weak, I'm feeling much better. Doc says I should be able to go back to work late next week, but desk duty only for a bit. Thanks for all the notes and phone calls. For now a repost of one of my favorites. Brigid

The thing I recall most was the lack of clear sunset.

Living in the city you really don't notice the skyline. Or it least, that is as I remember it, time framing those days with a memory more focused than the days themselves. I remember noise, and tall buildings and people rushing about like worker ants, there in those evenings conjured by the time and tide of recollection.

I'd seen land other than my hometown, remembering long drives across the desert on the way to visit my Dad's brother at his ranch. We had no air conditioning and on one such trip, I'd stealthily stowed my turtles along in their little turtle habitat into the trunk, not wanting to leave them for the the lady that fed the dog and watered the plants. Half way across the flats, my Dad went to get something out of the trunk. Turtle soup. I honestly don't remember the incident itself, hearing the story in family tales, but Dad said there was nothing more heartrending for him to watch the heat shimmer off the ground while his little girl cried her eyes out for something, that in its saving, she destroyed.

But later trips were fun. On Spring break instead of hitting the beaches, I bought a Greyhound Ameripass and rode all the way from Seattle to Maine and back, stopping every couple of days for sleep and showers in a cheap hotel, seeing a slice of Americana that included the Tall Corn Motel, thunderstorms gathering over the Black Hills and horizons as broad as our future was.

But then I grew up, graduated, moving to a large urban area and the sunsets came and went without notice. I'd be working and the sun would be there, and the next thing you knew it was just dark, as if God somehow had a clapper and with a movement of mighty hands decided it was bedtime. Perhaps they were there, and I just did not notice, caught up in life, noise and the narcissistic self preservation of youth.

But when a midlife change in careers brought me from a farm in rolling hills down south to the north, I'd forgotten for how FLAT it was. I could say, as the poets did, that the land "gently rolled" but that would be implying way too movement on the earth's part. Other than the occasional wooded down slope into some low creek and river land, it's flat. Plain and simple. It was so different than Montana. I drove for miles without seeing a Starbucks, and out of habit, I'd check the side of the roadway for elk, an action that even after years of less sky and more concrete, was still second nature for me. But here, the only large animals are in the corn, a multitude of unseen deer hiding like silent nuns from human contact and not likely to stray out in the roadway during the daylight hours. Everywhere I look is the remnants of corn, sentient rows of former proud stalks, that stood fading in the early winter air, dead to silent hints of abundant summer past. Summers of green and hard work and plenty.
I notice it hunting, I notice it up on the vast farmland that belongs to a friend. I notice it even more so on the yearly drive back to Colorado to visit Brigid Jr. I went last October, making the drive in two days, stopping only for barbecue outside of Kansas City and gas. The scenery's changes were so very small as I went west, that many would not notice, wrapped up in conversation or music. County after county of silos and sunflowers that fluttered like flags on the breeze until it begins, that slow dance of the sun into the Western sky. It became a ritual, that daily birth and little death of the sun, rising and ceasing like wind or fire. I simply watched, as lengthened shadows crept across the cab, laying themselves like a hand on my thigh, as the sun disappeared in shuddering breath.

As I drove across Kansas, I thought. Why is this land so different from where I grew up? Certainly I can put on the scientist hat and say it was the glaciers that moved down from the north in the Cnozoac era, or the giant dust storms that followed that carried the soil away, then replaced by layers of volcanic ash from the West, creating a vista of fertility. But the difference is more how I live in it, as opposed to it's geological origins.
There is something about being able to see so near and so far. Some people feel exposed out in the open land, I don't. I walk the fields, gun in hand, nothing more than a moving lightning rod for those things that might wish to strike me, but they don't. I feel a lot out here in the open heartland , my hunting dog by my side, and it is not fear, it's comfort. It follows me as I walk, the sound of my breath, the whisper of God there in the corn, the vista of open miles of ground in which I perceive the absolute truth about the past, a truth beyond the buildings and billboards of illusion.

When I went home for the funeral, my family again asked why I didn't move back west. I didn't have a husband or young children to hold me in place, they said. I wasn't quite sure what to say. I don't have any promise to this place. But I like it here, my heart is here, the miles of corn, the open prairie grasses to the West, The lakes up north where the loon sings its song to its beloved. I'll not retire to the land that's become "new California". I'll probably retire to Nebraska or Wyoming, or the Dakotas, some place where I can own miles of land and be self sufficient, driving in once a month for groceries and medical needs.

Til then I'll have my own little patch of earth, flat and rich with grass from the fertile soil with a view looking west. Just to the north, past the woods and the stream, are cornfields, geometric and furrowed, planted in the Spring when the first dove calls to her lover. The land spreads out flat and pure as freshly spilled milk, clear out to where the sun is settling down for the night.

They say the Rockies are God's country, but so is this, a small juncture of tree and grass and perhaps a simple lawn chair. A small point in space among a great expanse of glory, where the Trinity is intact because it had never been otherwise, simply tested by the fragility of youth and the passion of yearning. God lost and then found, postulated here in the open miles of our faith and need.

The afternoon breeze blows in from the next state, curtains gently moving inward and out, as if by the breath of summer itself. The grill is warmed up, Barkley guarding against squirrels intent on stealing a Bratwurst. No, I don't think I'll move back West, content to be here. Especially on days like today, in which I have no demands on my time, other than to just sit and watch the sun go down. At the edge of the woods, the large nature preserve to which the house backs up, there are deer, silent and secritive, watching from the darkness. I point my finger at an unseen buck. Bang.

With a look to see how much light is left to grill, and a sip of lemonade, I take in a memory of my last hunt from a blind. It was a day of bracing cold and little activity, the sky spitting snow, the deer hunkered down for warmth as I should have been.

At noon I came on down for a mashed peanut butter sandwich and a nature break. Then I went back up. The afternoon sky began to clear, sun glinting off the large cornfield that bisected the stands of trees where marks indicated that the deer had their own superhighway.
The deer weren't moving that day, too much wind, too much blowing snow, they'd likely stay down until morning. As I will soon. But I had no great desire to leave the stand just yet, captivated by the sunset that could be seen for miles.

There, in the western sky it began. What struck me were the colors. How do you describe such color? First a gathering blue grey like the whole of a confederate army taking over that space between light and dark, leaving streaks of red upon the ground, blood leaching into the earth. That royal blue-red, that in centuries past would have been forbidden to be worn by the masses, on threat of death. Then the sun lights up the horizon in one last encore before leaving, oranges and yellows, dripping like forgotten fruit into the horizon, their taste and texture, fragrant and lush against the plate of the earth. Then, finally, darkness that hints of languid dreams as it pulls itself up over the form of earth to cover it and keep it warm.

And so I sat, under sunless, moonless cover, my gun in my lap, the night a blanket over me. So dark. So quiet. I was left to trace in the early night with my eyes closed, all those variated colors that I held for an instant, all the colors that I cataloged in memory, alone in the darkness, the lost hues and shades, sitting up in a tree watching the land as the eyes of day went dim.
Tonight I'm just in a lawn chair out on the back deck, but the colors are the same. For on yet another night, the sun makes it's scheduled and solitary goodbye. But if I keep my eyes closed, closed real tight, I can still see the sun, bursting across the back of my eyelids, in the frames of memory of other warm evenings. Color splashing across blackness, set loose in a sudden spray, a thought of something, someone, in the back of my mind. A thought that feels as ticklish as electricity before the blackout. Thought of the color and the warmth of those fine days, a sudden flash of light in this dark world. So I keep my eyes closed as long as I can, to hold the picture in. I've got the last light of thought in my soul, stored in a photograph engraved on my eyes, and it will keep me until the sight of another dwindled night brings you back to me.


  1. Again, another beautiful post and an added treat of photos! Follow the doc's orders (Gail is a recently retired MD, who says that's one of the hardest things to get across to a patient).

    It looks like one of the barn shots your playing with the HDR concept.

    Best wishes - Don

  2. I don't know who you were thinking of when you wrote this, but.. wow.

    I'm glad to hear you're getting better.


    PS - SaraB? No kidding? If I wasn't curious about your album collection before, surely I am now.

  3. Brigid, so sorry to hear you have been sick. I will pray for you. Get well soon, dear.

  4. So many of us end up living in areas far from our origins. My wife and I are from southern Illinois---me from Benton, she from Waterloo. My stint in the Air Force left us in Kansas City where we took root. Our relatives begged us to return to Illinois, to family, old friends. But, we'd made new friends here. We began our family here and now a second generation claims us here.

    You can't go "home" again.

  5. God's country is where you find it or, where you choose to see it. I remember the first time I took my son moose hunting in northern Ontario, just below the tundra line. I left him before daybreak on a small point looking out over the lake. He was 19, full of piss and vinegar, and hardly time or interest in concepts like God.

    When I picked him up later that day, he'd seen a cow and calf moose cross the lake just before legal shooting light, a bald eagle, grouse and ducks galore, had two otters playing in the water right in front of him and even had a "least" weasel chase a mouse across his boot. His first words to me as I pulled up in the boat - "This is God's country."

    Get better soon Brigid.

  6. Beautiful song, thank you.

    Please rest and get well soon.

  7. I close my eyes to capture beauty too - in fact, I find myself closing them whenever I read one of these deliciously written memoirs of yours.

    There is a favorite sunset of mine that occurs in my desert...I can only describe it as raspberry sherbet. On those nights, I fall asleep floating on a cloud.

  8. Good to hear that you are feeling better!

  9. As always a beautiful post.

    The story of the turtles tears at my heart a little too each time you tell it.

    The midwest has its share of beautiful sunsets for me I'll always love the alpenglow in the mountains. I guess we take notice of the less familiar in a new place.

    Good to hear that you're on the mend.

  10. I've been following your blog for some time. Sorry...I commented a week or so ago and included a link before I read your policy -- sorry about that!

    I moved from the Boston area to NE Wyoming first of the year. Talk about God's country! Beautiful, quiet and chock full of genuinely friendly folks.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your gift...even when you should be resting!


  11. K - no worries. If you've checked the site out and found it G rated and safe I don't mind on occasion.

    Thank you for commenting, that's made this week a whole lot better.

  12. Out behind the house was the wood shed, now gone, inside the door was the switch but next to it was the wind up key. It was like a switch but had a T handle across the end. Dad would tell me after being sick if i didn't grt my energy back and I would slcak off he would have to get the wind up key.

    Dad never fetched the wind up key for I was up and going when feeling miserable but I always feared that key. I had some of the quickest recoveries of any kid.

    Today a wind up key woiuld be.....

    Bridgid get to feeling better and listen to the Doc.

    Home is where I am and it a part of God's country. I have been in the rocky Mountains in the winter and listed to the devil play his tune on the crashing snow flakes burying the cabin.

    Enjoy the journey

    take care

  13. Brigid, it's good to know you're finally on the mend. Pneumonia is nothing to fool with, even in these days of antibiotics and nebulizers. I hop you can get out and enjoy a little Independence Day festivity.

    For me, it's hard to imagine not living near where I grew up, with the friends of a lifetime nearby. I'd miss all the familiar places I've come to know so well. Even moving from one town to the next a few years ago seemed to rip me from my moorings for a time.

    However, I contemplate the necessity to bag it all and move due to the economy. Not happening yet, but the possibility exists. I know that I'll do OK if it comes to it, that I can learn my way around a new city or a new state or even a new country if need be. I've done it before when necessary, but always wound up "back home".

    I guess I'm just one of those "homebodies" :-)

  14. YUM! As a fellow foodie and gun enthusiast, your blog makes me salivate in every way!

    Thought I'd share this keeper; these biscuits are so good, they are sinful:

    Cream Biscuits
    2 c flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    2 tsp sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    ABOUT 1.5 c heavy cream

    Heat oven to 400. Whisk together the dry ingredients. Add 1.25 c of the cream and stir with a spatula or spoon to combine. IF the dough is not cohesive, keep adding a bit more cream until it is. Just combine; don't over work it.

    Fold over onto itself a couple times. On lightly floured surface, roll gently with a pin or shape with your hands into a square about 3/4 inches thick. Cut into 9 squares (tic-tac-toe!) with a sharp knife.

    Place biscuits on ungreased baking sheet. Brush a bit more cream on top of each. Give them some space between each because they'll spread a bit.

    Bake 15-17 minutes, or until bottoms are brown and biscuits are cooked through. They do not brown on the tops so I put them under a broiler for a few seconds to give them a little color. After all, we eat with our eyes first!

    Thanks again for writing. Please consider publishing a cookbook including your stories and gorgeous photos!

  15. WOW! You continue to amaze, but there's no surprise in that.
    I have found that things are a matter of perspective. One can find beauty in most things, even the subdued, and mundane. Admittedly, there are some things that are pure evil and shouldn't be, but God can somehow bring good from the ashes if need be.

  16. Glad to hear you are feeling better. Enjoyed your post as always. Get well soon, those zombie targets aren't going to shoot themselves :)

  17. The usual unusually good essay. Lovely, thanks.

    And, as always, It got me thinking. I've been dickering off and on with a crusty old Yankee farmer (is there any other kind?) fo 7.5 acres "More Or Less". You have to love the legalese in New England deeds.

    It's hardscrabble hillside up in the almost unpopulated north-west of Connecticut. Low mountains, covered with mostly maple and a sprinkling of oak and hickory.

    I'm thinking about a 5 foot berm and ditch, with the berm planted in blackthorn and the ditch with berry bushes, a 100 foot well, and a stone house.

    Three miles to a road wide enough for a stripe down the middle, a half acre garden, 4 acres of pasture, a couple of Dexters grazing them, and a 200 yard rifle range running up the inside of the berm wall.

    I could still make the Hartford/Springfield metro in 45 minutes when I had to, and another 45 minutes would get me to the boat in Stonington, Long Island Sound, and the islands.

    It's not Montana or Wyoming, I know. But, worst possible case, my kids and grandkids might someday need a place like that for a while, and I like to be near enough to them for it to be of use.

    Join the local rod and gun club, for pleasure and, to be honest, to meld with the people who would be the local militia if things went south.

    Swallow my backslidden principles and join the local church to further social connections and become part of the community.

    It's not the wide open west, but it is self-sufficient, and I would miss my hard little hills, my woods and swamps, and my salt water. Barring a few who didn't make it home one way or another, everyone in my family has been buried within smelling range of the Atlantic for several thousand years.

    Really glad you're getting better. I check in to your site every day now, for a lovely mix of common sense and a bit of magic. Thank you for both.

  18. Hi Brigid:

    I've been busy with a new horse that arrived with canker in his hooves, so I haven't been reading the blog. Sorry you're still feeling poorly, but I hope that this is a temporary thing. Please take care of yourself, and take it easy. Sickness is the body's way of telling you that it needs some rest, pampering and time off.

    Get well soon.


  19. "...but Dad said there was nothing more heartrending for him to watch the heat shimmer off the ground while his little girl cried her eyes out for something, that in its saving, she destroyed."

    Yea. I'm glad you don't remember it, Brigid.

    It's good to hear that you are feeling better. The nice part of this illness, is that is gives you time to write and reflect.

    Its always a nice time to camp out at your doorstep and listen to your stories. :)

  20. Glad you're feeling better!


  21. Glad you're feeling better.
    Would that have been the Tall Corn Motel in Shenandoah, IA?


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..