Man Leaves Home; Man Comes Back Home...How Life Changed...or Did It?
Approximate word count: 830
Andrea L. Kassner
After an hour of smothering my face in my fedora and time worn jacket, I headed out from under the willow tree. My eyes stung from the sandblasting, and my throat and nose drained sandy fluids. My face, wind burned and raw, felt like I spent all day at the beach instead of a few hours in the rolling hills of the Palouse.
Once the dust storm subsided I walked a familiar dusty road. The road is hard-packed from repeated scouring of glacial action throughout Palouse history. My history is imprinted on this land as well; fence posts, wheat fields, rocky volcanic outcroppings . . . and the winds. I wonder as I walk, did the blasting winds erase the initials carved in my fencepost, or did it erase a sign of my childhood? The fencepost is irrelevant. The initials are mine, roughly carved, standing for nothing except a lonely boy’s desire to belong somewhere in the vastness.
The wind, the most powerful force in Palouse country, pushes me as I walk. In the Palouse, the wind blows 360 days out of a year, or so it seems, and seasons weld together according to whims of the wind. I know the wind. It whispers in the rancher’s ear and the rancher listens. A primitive language between rancher and wind dresses the growing season as in a drama; planting crops, harvesting the bounty, plowing the fields, and restingland until the next growing season, forever directed by the wind. The rancher knows innately and appreciatively that the winds dry the crops, siphons deep wells of water, and brings sacred clouds to deliver the land’s precious rain.
My family’s land, my land . . . ten thousand barb wired acres, irrigated and life sustaining, are enclosed and captured by roads, acres of land that feed the hungry. Wheat, beef, and dairy land encroached on by folks who do not know the land, and cannot hear the words of the wind.
Now, as I walk toward the crossroad gazing north and south, I see the day, three years ago when I left the land. I could not wait to leave. I traded greasy overalls, flannel shirts, work boots and straw hat for a corduroy jacket, wool slacks and a fedora. I wanted the scholarly look. I was heading east to college. My family celebrated proudly by marking the date on a calendar that pictured trees of orange, yellow, red and brown.
I traded my overalls for a hidden unfamiliar world outside the realms of anything I imagined. I dreamed of fitting into a society of books, exams and professors. What I wanted was classrooms, literary conversation and a niche. What I found was constricted competition for grades and athletics, without social acceptance.
Once surrounded by thousands of acres of land, then I waded through thousands of unidentifiable faces, redundant questions, and false smiles. I played a part of sorts, a role in a theater of error. I wanted to find my niche. What I found was a crowd that looked for a score and whatever defined ‘fun’ for the day. Without rules, direction, or responsibility, those with the slickest hairdos and sassiest remarks accepted me as long as I played poker and lost, drank whiskey and vomited, and produced term papers with names besides my own.
Not understanding the manipulation and dishonesty, while compromising my integrity, I often found myself searching. Wandering up and down stairwells, through sunless halls I sought logic, precision and reason. Instead, I discovered classrooms filled with dull-eyed students unwilling to release mediocrity, staring stupefied at the faceless droning in front of an auditorium. I accepted the unconscious ones. I compromised with the devil to avoid loneliness.
Now, after three years of compromising, I think to myself, “The prodigal returns.” Pride stripped and character dragging, I walk over every rock, stone, and pothole. I know that I am bitter. I lost myself in a world where the man and the land are without measure. I lost myself for a magical ideal which exists in time only. Even so, after the magic is gone, there is the land and the wind.
Standing at a crossroads, losing myself to thought, again, I revive with the land, sucking into my lungs its essences. The seasons, the land and the wind are inevitable and harmonious. I feel a new part of me embracing a new part of the land, the harmony. I see the seeds beginning to warm in the ground, slender stalks pushing through the earth into the light, and a gentle wind strengthening all that grows on the land. I left the Palouse and went east. I return from the East to my land in the West. I am now always about the land.