GHOSTS OF THE PRAIRIE

In spite of past comments here, I really do find Nebraska a lovely place to live. In the winter, it holds the stark beauty of a desert; in the spring, it’s an oasis full of countless varieties of life.

I took an hour and a half drive this weekend to the northeast area of the state. I regretted that I had not brought my camera.

I saw pastures that reminded me of topographical photographs of South American pyramids long eroded away. The terraces the farmer put in decades ago, while washed mostly away, left ridges like scars as the land is left  naturalize since it’s more profitable for the owner than to farm it and sell the crops.

I saw where homes once were, where families once were raised on the land, but there were no buildings or fences. The lanes had been long disced under, churned back into the earth. Only trees planted as windbreaks decades ago remained like massive and organic grave markers. Each spring, their leaves come back green and each fall, they fall to the ground, but children no longer play in their crisp piles.

I saw an abandoned piece of farm machinery, rusted from years of rain, snow, hail and sun. Its color that of dried blood. Outmoded and unwanted, it was left next to the property line. Many years ago, there probably was a hand-painted For Sale sign tacked to the nearby fence post.

I saw what looked to be a drift of snow in the middle of a field, strangely out of place with the warming weather. As I drove by, the drift morphed and lifted and fell again. Hundreds of Franklin’s Gulls were feeding off the fallen grain while dozens more circled overhead. If I had opened my windows, I might have felt myself transported back to the beach as their calls carried over the winds.

And I saw prairie grass, so high and so golden, it looked like an animal’s soft, furry pelt as it ruffled in the wind. I imagined the hand of God lightly stroking the tips of the grass to feel its softness and the heat of the ground emanating from below like one would when reaching for the comfort of a beloved pet.

I love driving for miles and still be able to imagine how this land must have looked 100 years ago. Even 200 years ago. The outcropping of trees and terracing give away the simple man’s dream of tending his own land. The small towns between that still remain validate that many survived on the land. But there are many more that did not as indicated by collapsed buildings, their windows black and paneless against the weathered gray of the siding. I don’t drive past the farms that are still intact and wonder about their children, about their past. Instead I think about the ghosts and wonder how could they have just disappeared without anyone caring and mostly unnoticed, except by me.

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