Monthly Archives: December 2014

Walking the shimmering skin of the earth

(Part 2 of 2; here’s the other one)

As to scenery (giving my own thought and feeling),
while I know the standard claim is that Yosemite,
Niagara Falls, the Upper Yellowstone, and the like afford
the greatest natural shows, I am not so sure but that the
prairies and plains, while less stunning at first sight,
last longer, fill the esthetic sense fuller, precede all the rest,
and make North America’s characteristic landscape.
                                     —Walt Whitman, Specimen Days, 1879

dusk wide one550web

The realm of high mountain peaks has so often felt like the prime place to experience the meeting of earth and sky—all those jagged summits piercing the atmosphere, their sheer power (primal earth) stirring sky to respond, calling forth great explosions of cloud and bringing down the rains from on high.  Yet: today I see the folly—and dare I say the maleness—of that narrow view of the eternal dance of sky across earth under sky.  For now, all around/under/within me, a very different and equally powerful union is taking place: the skin of the earth is rippling at the wind’s touch.

Here, at the bottom of the sky, rolling hills blanketed with supple grasses shimmer under a day-long caress of the hundred-mile winds of the plains.  On a nearby slope, nearly backlit by the mid-day sun, large-scale patterns show the wind moving steadily left to right.  Yet within this flowing motion are countless smaller and constantly shifting shimmerings, bright patches within the larger patterns, slipping and sliding across the hills: expanding disappearing returning trembling. This play of light is dynamic and detailed, riveting and subtle to the very edges of perception in ways that call to mind the ionic exuberance of the northern lights.

Drawing my gaze in, to the prairie carpet closer at hand (foot),  Read the rest of this entry

Off to meet the prairie

(Part 1 of 2; here’s the other one)

As dusk fades to night, a strong wind stirs the stiff, heat-hardy leaves of oak and hickory into steady sensual contact with their brethren; the sound we know as “wind in trees” is, in actual deed, tens of thousands of leaves caressing each other. Spinning out a two-day tendril from the Rockies to the nearest edge of the eastern forest, I’ve touched down in the Cross Timbers of northeastern Oklahoma, an oak-centric forest that’s a sort of stepping stone between the prairies and the Ozarks—from which spread the piney forests of the southern gulf plain and the leafy Tennessee and Kentucky woods that stretch on to the ancient bones of the Appalachians.

Many times I’ve travelled between my home in a small valley at the southern tip of the Rockies and the moister, sylvan landscapes of the east.  This time, instead of zipping through the vast open plains in a burst of I-40 intensity, the journey stretched to fill two long days—laced with detours and countless pauses along the way, and so knitting together another stretch of my experiential map of our varied continent.

mix with white500web

For starters, I slipped off the interstate after just a couple hours, drawn by the chance to cross the Canadian River in a more exciting spot: dropping suddenly into a 600-foot canyon gouged into the western edge of the plains. Read the rest of this entry

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