Sometimes, when the day is coming to a slow close and my head is spinning with worry and lists, schedules and a pile of things that must wait until tomorrow and the dishes from a dinner of meat and potatoes sits waiting to be taken care of on the table, I slip on my boots and head out the door.
I’m usually not gone long, and husband has grown accustomed to this behavior, understanding it’s not a storm out, or a give up, or a frustrated stomp, but a ritual that his wife needs to put a flush in her cheeks and make sure she’s still alive out here where the trucks kick up dust on the pink road and the barn cats quietly wait in the rafters of the old buildings for a mouse to scatter by.
I tell him I need to go walking and he knows which trail I’ll take, down through the barnyard, past the water tank and up the face of the gumbo hill, the one that lets you look back at the house where the kitchen light glows, the one that gives you the perfect view of the barn’s silhouette tall and dark against a sky that is putting on its last show of the night as it runs out of light.
It’s a ritual that needs timing, because that sun, once it decides it’s out, goes quickly to the other side of the world. My pace is not meandering but diligent. I need to get to the top of that hill. I need to find the horses before the last of the light cools down the air sends me back to the house to tend to the dishes and slip under the covers until we meet again in the morning.
So I time it, and sometimes, if there’s enough light I head a little further east to check out how the light hits the buttes in my favorite pasture making the hills look gold and purple and so far away. Sometimes I just keep walking until dark. And sometimes the evening finds me sitting on a rock or pacing in the middle of the ancient teepee rings that still leave their mark on the flat spot on the hill. I like to stand there and imagine a world with no buildings and no lights on the horizon. I examine the fire ring, close my eyes and think about sleeping under the leather of a teepee, covered in the skins of the animals, under a sky that promised rain and wind and snow and a sunrise every morning.
The same sky that promises me these things, but it cannot promise anything else.
I think of these people, the ones who arranged these rocks, hunted these coulees, and watched the horizons and I am humbled by the mystery of the ticking thing we call time.
And I wonder what they called it.
Because I take to those hills and look back at my home and the sections of our fences that have been washed away by the melting snow, the barn that is in desperate need of a new roof, a house that has stood for fifty-plus years on a foundation that crumbles and I am reminded that time takes its toll on this land the same way it puts lines around the corners of my eyes… and there is not one thing man can make to stop it.
These thoughts, this understanding, is not what you would call comforting or nostalgic, but it is a fact. A fact that I have come accustomed to when I climb those hills. A fact that builds roads and oil wells, new houses and fences and bigger power lines stretching across a landscape I still like to consider wild.
I climb to the hilltop to see how things have changed, to catch the last of the day’s sun, and I am reminded that the progress we seek is the same progress the wild world is after as well, but the change is steady and slow. Trees grow, the creek keeps flowing and eroding its banks, the weight of the snow sends hills crumbling…flowers bloom, wither and die and just as the earth is sure all is steady, in comes a storm, a twister, a high wind or a bolt of lightening to knock down some trees, create new ravines and change things a bit.
I climb to that hill and look back at that farmstead and remember those kids we used to be, running through the haystacks and searching the barn for lost kittens. I climb to that hill and I remember my grandmother in her shorts and tank top, exposing her brown skin while she worked in the garden. I remember my first ride on a horse by myself, getting bucked off near the old shop, hunting for Easter eggs with the neighbor girls in the gumbo hills behind my grandmother’s house, branding cattle in the round pen.
From the top of the hill I could still be ten-years-old and my grandmother could be digging up potatoes. From the top of the hill my cousins could be hiding in the hay bales and my father could be waiting on the side of the barn to jump out and scare them, sending them running and laughing and screaming. From the top of the hill the neighbor girls could be pulling up in their dad’s pickup, dressed in pastels and rain boots, ready to hunt for eggs. From the top of the hill you don’t notice all of the work that needs to be done on the fences, the roof of the house, the crumbling foundation.
From the top of the hill that light in the kitchen is still glowing the same color it was when I would come in from an evening chasing cattle with my father or catching frogs with my cousins to a house filled with the smell of my grandmother’s cooking.
From the top of the hill the only thing certain to change is the sky…
and everything else is forever.