Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Wild

The road to Denver is a good ten hours of steady driving. I've barely begun and already the strip malls and subdivisions are thinning out, giving way to miles of rolling field.

When I hit the open spaces my body exhales and relaxes. All the tight places in me unwind. My mind clears, the walls come down, my heart expands. I am wide awake. It's the emptiness and silence, the purity of a simple landscape. I could drive on like this forever.

I make the trip a couple of times a year. The city itself is a blur. It's all big buildings and fast cars. It's not about Denver, it's about the spaces in between.

I wonder at the irony of this, that a rich experience of nature is had by driving through it.

As I travel west, there are fewer signs of habitation. The rows of wheat and milo disappear, the distance between exits stretches out, and soon I'm on the open prairie. The Flint Hills. Just the road and miles of pale golden grass fanning out to the horizon. If I squint just right, I don't even see the road.

Herds of buffalo used to blanket the plains. They thundered across the prairie, hundreds of thousands of them, bellowing their buffalo songs and sending vast clouds of dust to the heavens. They are gone now, for the most part. Just a handful of solemn beasts circling the boundaries of their enclosures, turning their heads into the wind to catch the scent of something they almost remember.

There is an animal farm just off the highway in western Kansas. I guess you would call it a roadside attraction. As you get close, wooden signs announce, Prairie Dog Town! and 5-legged cow! I stopped there once, years ago. Why did I do that? I don't know why. As soon as I got there, I regretted it.

Nonetheless, I ventured onto the grounds. There was a large barn that had been converted into a gift shop, and outside a series of pens which held an odd assortment of domestic and wild animals. It was summer and the heat was oppressive. In one pen was a cow with a shriveled appendage protruding from it's shoulder. In another, a wild boar nosed the ground with his snout. There was no shade.

Towards the far end I walked up to a cage with a concrete floor. As I drew near, I caught my breath. Inside was a wolf. He was large, his coat a brilliant auburn with flecks of gray. When I approached, he didn't flinch.

I guessed he had been in that cage for a long time, years perhaps. The sign on the cage was weathered. It told me his name. I don't remember his name, only that it was something ridiculous. I stood there and looked at this wolf until I couldn't look at him any more. I turned and walked back to my car.

Every time I drive to Denver I pass those signs. Every time I pass them I look away.

* * *

About fifteen years ago I moved from Seattle to the Midwest. On the drive out I took a detour through Yellowstone Park. My car was crammed with books and clothes. My two cats rode shotgun. It was fall and the aspen were turning. The long grass glinted gold in the sunlight.

I took a wrong turn at some point, without realizing it, and ended up on a road that was closed to the public. I wound slowly through the park, mesmerized, wondering where all the other cars were. I realized my mistake when I came to a dead-end.

I turned my car around and headed back, only to stop after a hundred feet. A full-grown male bison had wandered onto the road and was standing in my path. I looked at him and he looked directly at me. My cat hissed.

He was huge, as big as my car. He huffed in the cool autumn air. A long spit of saliva hung from his mouth. He was the most magnificent thing I'd ever seen.

We sat there and regarded each other for several minutes and I wondered if I should be afraid. He could crush my car if the whim took him. But I wasn't afraid.

I wondered what it would be like to stand next to him and touch him. To feel the quiver of muscle beneath his skin, the expansion and release of his breath. I knew better than to go near a wild animal. But I wanted to touch him precisely because he was wild. I wanted to slip inside him for a moment, and know him from the inside out.

After a long time he turned and wandered back off the road. I sat and watched him retreat. I thought to myself, if you took that animal and placed him in a land without fences, that would be my religion.

* * *

I live in a beige house in a beige subdivision that sits on the edge of the prairie. To the east of me are more subdivisions. To the west, open fields. I straddle the boundary between civilization and the wild.

At night I sit in bed and listen to the cars go by, until it gets late, and then I listen to the crickets and the soft whoosh of bat wings. If I listen long enough, there is only the sound of the wind.

Later, when the world is asleep, I close my eyes and slip out of my body and through the window and glide low over the fields. If I wanted to, I could reach down and touch the tops of the tall grass. If I wanted to, I could shift into the earth herself and be perfectly content.


  1. Welcome back!! You and your brilliant writing were missed.

  2. Hi Jenn! Nice to see you. I have missed you all, as well. Thank you. x

  3. So beautiful to imagine as I was reading, and so good to have your writing back to lift my spirits. I wish I could soar with you at night.
    "Home" where I hope to be in two weeks time, I would often stand in the field at night, listening to the nightjar as it hunted and called, its wings brushing by my head with a loud rush that made me think of invisible dragons in the air...

  4. Cindi, that's so beautiful. I had to google nightjar! Enjoy your trip home. Soak it up. x

  5. You're baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!!!!! Yays!!!! :) xxxxxxxxxxx

  6. The wild itself is a totem for you; I can see that.You respect the fences but you love the open plains.

    It's good to see you back. Your voice has been missed.

  7. I was so excited to see you had a post!

    We live near Elk Island National Park, which has Bison. They are majestic animals. One stood on the road in front of our van, and I was stunned by his size and his magnificence. (I was a little scared)

  8. So glad to see you're back!
    I hope all is well? Sorted?

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Hi Steve! So good to see you. And yes, a totem I suppose.

    @ Kelly - hello!!! You live in such a gorgeous part of the world. I love seeing the pictures you post.

    Hi Karen - Doing well thank you, still sorting! x

  11. You must always write. Doesn't matter if it's here or on paper. You are good.

  12. "If I wanted to, I could shift into the earth herself and be perfectly content."

    ^^This is how the high desert in California makes me feel. Like I could lie down on a sun warmed rock and slowly sift away with the wind. I am so glad you get a few chances a year to release and breathe. And I am so very glad you are back!

  13. I love your voice. Yur have a beautiful way with words. I'm so glad your back.

    That drive... I've done that drive. A billion years ago in another life. Well not a billion years ago, but 20. And it was just like you described.

  14. For someone who loves words, it's hard to find the ones to tell you how happy I am to finally see yours again.

    Beautiful post. You started me on a little Jack Kerouac moment and then took me someplace even more magical.

    (Ugh. Why doesn't this thing know how to spell Kerouac?)

    Welcome back, Kristin.

  15. What a beautiful re-entry K. Your words will be with me all day, thank you.

  16. amazing K. your words put us right there. i'm transported from my bedroom in suburban perth to that open prairie. i see what you see, hear what you hear, smell what you smell.

    don't ever stop writing K because you write from the soul, the only way to write.


  17. Welcome back - so good to read you again !!!

    Have the best day ever !

  18. Everyone should get out to where the wild things are. It's good for your soul.


  19. Lovely post. I can see that wolf. That poor wolf.

  20. So glad you're back. You were missed....

  21. Welcome back! What a beautiful post...

  22. And thank you for including me in your blog roll :-)

  23. I'll be travelling to The States next year and reading this beautiful post almost made me cry with happiness as I imagined seeing similar beautiful landscapes while I'm over there - I can't wait!

  24. @ MiddleChild - xoxo

    @ Jen - what a gorgeous description of your experience of the desert. I so get it.

    @ Vicky - amazing. 20 years ago I was driving across the interior of Australia! Kismet.

  25. @ Melissa - thank you. You know I've never read Jack Kerouac. It's on my list. Been there for 20-odd years.

    @ Christie - thank you! Saw your blog featured on DP. :)

    @ Badger, Glow, Nikki, Allison - *waves* !!

  26. @ SB - what a gorgeous comment, thank you. I think I would love Western Australia to pieces. It's at the top of my travel list.

    @ Me, Tones, Phonakins, JustSS, Dorothy - Hello, hello! Missed you. x

  27. That was beautiful! You took me out to the wilderness for a moment while I'm sitting at work. It reminded me of when I came across a dingo in Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. A pure moment. Welcome back, we missed you.

  28. Hi Becci - Oh, Kakadu! I was there 20 years ago. Such an amazing place. Thanks for the warm welcome. x

  29. I've missed you. Another beautiful piece x

  30. your writing is wonderful. I get lost in it.
    and look at your beautiful self up there in the header. stunning. that is all.

  31. Hi Pink! Thank you x

    Ah, Toush, you're making me blush. x

  32. Welcome back! Such a beautifully written post. I felt like I was right there experiencing the same things.

    Love the photo of you at the top - you look so relaxed!

  33. Welcome Back. I've missed you. Now hurry up and move to Australia! X

  34. Wow. I was there with you then. Such a beautiful piece of writing to come back to us.......that was so beautiful. Welcome home.

  35. "I thought to myself, if you took that animal and placed him in a land without fences, that would be my religion."

    Like. Very much.

  36. Bigwords - xoxo

    PhotoMum - Thanks for the welcome (and for keeping me entertained on WWF during my hiatus!)

    MummyHat - yes ma'am

    Denyse - thank you, it's good to be back.

  37. Celeste - a bit like our conversation the other day, yes? Miss you x

  38. Wow, that was an amazing post as I travelled with you and saw your beautiful world...I love your new blog site, you look fabulous. BTW, I would have been frightened in front of that wild beast that is so brilliantly photographed on your post. You are amazing!

  39. Oh My God can you write.
    Welcome back.

  40. Welcome back!!


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