Wheatfield Near Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Photograph by Robert Clements

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Head East, Middle-aged Woman

I'm going East next week, to Maine.  To my family, friends, trees, ocean, recycling, brilliant leaf color, caramel apples, good wine, long talks, and so on.  I'm happy about that.  And I'm sad.  I will be away from my guy for a whole month, and I will miss him, terribly.  I've been here with him for more than three months, and it's been remarkably easy, considering that we are together almost 24 hours a day.  We're both independent people, and we work around one another in a sort of passing-during-the-day dance.  I rule upstairs from my writing desk.  He rules downstairs in the gallery and the surrounding areas.  Occasionally, one of us crosses down or up into the other's territory, and ninety nine percent of the time it's friendly territory, unless one of us is cranky.  For those of you who are familiar with me, I know that you find it hard to believe that I might succumb to a bout of the Crabby Appletons, but I'm not perfect.  I know that might be surprising, too.  At any rate, I love living with my lanky Western partner, and my life won't be the same until we're back together.

I'm also rather wistful about leaving the prairie.  I have slowly, over the summer, begun to fall in love with this place.  It might have been the sky, it might have been the hills, or the wild animals I see on a daily basis - eight deer live in a park where Rua and I walk - they know us now and don't run (far) - or it might have been the wine-sharp, clean air.  It's a combination of all of them, I guess.  It's taken some time to grow on me, although I was attracted to it upon my introduction.  It kind of had me at hello, I guess, but all great loves take time to develop. 

The finest example I have of this is my absolute adoration of all things Irish when I was a girl.  With a name like Callan, that's to be expected.  I conjured faeries and mist and rolling Irish hills, a magical place where all dreams came true.  So naturally, when I grew up and got a chance to spend a semester in Ireland, I grabbed onto it with a viselike grip.  The plane took off in Boston and we touched down at Shannon Airport, which was next to a cow pasture, back then.  I took the bus to Galway City, and every dream I had about Ireland was shattered during that trip. 

This was during the 1980s, when Ireland was still considered a third-world country.  As I rode along, I looked out at the green and misty landscape, which was actually rainy and glum, and noticed that the charming thatch cottages were weed-ridden and abandoned, and modern housing lined the road like so much dull washing hung on a line.  The people surrounding me did not speak in a lilt.  They were not handsome and beautiful.  Their clothing seemed cheap and in some cases, threadbare.  The man in front of me had a bad haircut, and the woman next to him wore a dirty kerchief over her thin, gray hair.  What had I done? I wondered.  This wasn't what I had signed up for.  But it was right there, on that bus, with my fantasies shattered and my dreams tipped askew, that I decided to love it for its truths.  And I did.  Leaving Ireland later that autumn was one of the hardest things I've ever done.  I still miss it, and I always will.  So, I believe that true love starts when one person, and hopefully, both people, see one another clearly, and love each other anyway.  The same holds true for country and place.  My new friend Jenny, who lives here in South Dakota, says you've got to grow where you're planted.  And she's right.

I feel myself rooting to this soil.  I am taking horseback riding lessons, (see last blog), and it's worked out well.  Four of us jounce along, trying to post and control our horses, trying to be assertive without being aggressive, and our teacher is great - patient and kind - as are the poor horses.  I rode an Arabian mare last week who is one-hundred years old in horse age - but she's spunky and sweet.  I look forward to these times, each week.  My passion for horses has been rekindled, in a big way.

Bob and I are also starting to get out and circulate.  We attended the 55th anniversary of the Center of the Nation museum for an evening of celebration, cake, and storytelling.  I volunteered to help.  My job was to pass out brochures to incoming folks.  A local woman named Lorraine Klinger stood across from me and she introduced me to every person coming into the museum.  It was a gracious thing to do.  I don't remember many names, but I know people now, and it's beginning to feel something like home.  Going forward, I expect to be homesick, but I hope to be homesick, with a horse.

So, where is my place, exactly?  It's up to me to decide.  As a writer, I know that place is essential to how characters react, what they will do.  If, for instance, a character is confronted in a red room, his or her reaction will be different than if they are confronted in a blue room.  Is a crisis best averted during a summer's day, or during a winter's night?  Is the narrator standing on a hill, looking down into a valley, or standing in a valley looking up at the distance she or he has to climb?  It is all a matter of perspective.  It also depends upon the amount of time that has passed, and what's going on inside of the character or narrator. 

A line in one of Dolly Parton's songs goes something like this, "Wildflowers don't care where they grow."  I believe that, up to a point.  But I also believe that by cultivating the soil in my heart, where I am and who I am with will take root.  They certainly have, here in Western South Dakota.  And I already have roots in Maine.  So, I head East and North on Route 90 next week with my little dog.  I will enjoy being with my people back home.  And Maine will always be home.  A New Yorker cartoon I've saved reads, "Maine?  What an authentic place to be from."  Yep. 

But so is South Dakota.  And I am leaving a big piece of my heart here for when I return.   


1 comment:

  1. You had me laughing from right out of the gate--soon as I read the title. Waiting for you, my lovely friend!