This is my inauspicious beginning, just a note in what I hope will become a notebook. I plan to share some observations about my current time and place at Flat Rock Creek as well as some profiles and memoirs about other times and other places here in the Midwest. So for now…
I have just finished my nightly walk around my neighborhood through which runs Flat Rock Creek, once a crossing on the Santa Fe Trail. I can’t fathom what pioneers might have thought when they crossed at its lowest point some yards behind my house. With heavy rains, it flows in torrents and once in our fifteen years here it overflowed its banks, spilling across the road behind our house and purging tree branches that broke at the weight of the water. That night now seems a lifetime ago, but the sound of the ferocity of that rushing water is still fresh in my mind, at once beguiling and frightening. Most of the time, however, this creek is only a trickle, beckoning young boys in the subdivision to explore its muddy floor and search out natural treasures embedded within.
The local historical society has plotted the exact point of creek crossing to a path that leads diagonally across our backyard. One pioneer diary offers an account of a woman giving birth in our backyard and being hoisted onto the buckboard of her covered wagon the very next morning for continued prairie travels. I think of her and the others who passed by my backdoor well over a century ago, especially when I am up in the quiet of night, restless and unable to sleep because of a wakened child or inexplicable insomnia.
This summer has been, well, barely what’s expected of a prairie summer: cool and rarely humid. All of nature seemed stunned by this shift. Fireflies launched from under the trees that lined the creek and danced nightly in the open green spaces at dusk when I was closing in on home. They lingered longer this year, a bug ballet, twinkling fully as a symphony of light until mid August.
Tonight, again a rare treasure at this point of summer, no imminent sign of ragweed and virtually no humidity. Typically, on any given night in August, you would buckle at the thick air when you walked out into the wall of moisture created by the intense Midwestern humidity, which serves to amplify all available pollen. But then, if you’ve never known air-conditioning, deemed a necessity to those of us who have, perhaps you wouldn’t feel the discomfort so acutely. I’m guessing that’s how the pioneers managed to survive in much the same way my grandparents did in the Great Depression.
My walks have given me more pleasure this summer than any previous one here. Tonight alone, two enormous crows lurched up from a field I passed, reminding me of Ted Hughes’ epic poem “Crow.” I was pleased to recall my study of him in college and secretly hoped that my children in their technologic whirlwinds will not miss absorbing sufficient portions of their universe to be tapped unexpectedly when serendipity flashes. I was a literature major once, and young, and it is heartening to be reminded just how much we carry with us.