|Fall 2014 Issue|
This is a story about the Plains, so there must be a pick-up truck in it. So let us say I am driving a pick-up. Let us say it is an older pick-up. Its bed is a little out of kilter. Perhaps I drove through a ditch in the truck, and that vehicular adventure bent the bed a little to the side, so that if you are driving behind me you can see all four of my tires. Or perhaps the bed was bent when the truck got hit from the side by someone pulling out of a parking space in front of Dillon’s Feed Store. Or maybe it already was bent when I bought the truck secondhand from Mr. Tollefesen or maybe Leonard Two Bulls. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that this is a story about the Plains, and therefore it needs to have a pick-up truck in it. And the bent truck bed just communicates that the truck is indigenous to the Plains.
This is a story about the Plains, so there must be a stretch of road in it. It could be the road I am driving on now. Let us say that it is a two-lane highway that runs flat and straight, with the mountains in the distance and a strong wind blowing all the time. It is a road so straight and undecorated that it becomes a metaphor for truth and honesty. Or maybe it serves as a metaphor for life, for the life of some person driving down this stretch of road, a life that stretches out from this point to the horizon. And that horizon itself can be a metaphor, for a future that never arrives but is always arriving. Or perhaps this highway can be a metaphor for anticipation, that time and space that stands between us and something we look forward to. Or perhaps this long, straight highway is a symbol of some inevitability, some unavoidable doom or calamity. Perhaps it is all of these things at once. Perhaps it just depends upon which driver is looking at it. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that this is a story about the Plains, and so we need a long stretch of road that runs straight and true across the land.
This is a story about the Plains, so there must be Indian people and white people in it, for the Plains are a place where they met to work out their differences, one could say. And they are still working them out. Or you could say the Plains are where the white people came to work out something they had within themselves. They had been so unhappy in their first home that they moved away and never went back. But, as some say, you cannot run away from your problems, so they brought those with them. And they attempted to work out some of those problems on the Indians. Regardless. The white folks and the Indians met here. At one time on horseback, in ambushes, in massacres, in circled wagons, in burning cabins, in acres of dead buffalo. And now they work it out in alleys, in jail cells, in dark parking lots, outside liquor stores, in casinos. But in marriages, too. In churches and in schools. In friendships and yearbooks. At the feedstore and in the Wal-Mart. There was a time when Indian and white was all we needed to tell a story about the Plains. That is not true anymore. Now we need more actors for our play. We need Mexicans and African Americans. We need people from India to run the motel and the gas station, so now we have Indians and other Indians. We need Salvadorans. We need some Russians. The Plains are different now. This is a story of the Plains, so there must be constant change in it.
This is a story about the Plains, so there must be a lonely house in it. Let us say it sits off the road a ways, down an unused driveway. Let us say I drive by it every day and think about it. So do you. The driveway could be made of dirt or gravel. Let us say the driveway has been unused so long that a tree has taken root in the middle of it. The tree stands there, in the driveway, in front of the house, like some child waiting on a Mother or a Father to come home. There is no glass in the house’s windows and the paint is nearly gone from the wooden sides, peeled away by seasons of snow and rain and sun and wind and wind and wind and always the wind. The wind is slowly, patiently taking the house back, carrying it off one molecule at a time, like the careful, ancient erosion of the hills themselves. This is a story about the Plains, which are flat because the ocean was here to press them down. And now the wind is the ocean’s cousin, doing its work of keeping the land wide and smooth. This is a story about the Plains, and so the hand of time is seen everywhere.
This is a story about the Plains, and so there must be another lonely house in it. A house with people, but still it is lonely. But not really a house. A trailer home. It could even be a double-wide. But it will be at the end of a driveway, either dirt or gravel. Its lights are on at all hours of the night and people come go at strange intervals. This is a story about the Plains, and so some people feel that no one can see them, even though everyone can. And some people feel that no one cares, because no one asks. But everyone watches. And the sun and the moon see everything. The wind learns it all and carries the news up to the mountains and down to the rivers. In the house meth is cooked. And a corrosive dream eats the skin and teeth of its lovers. Then one night the trailer will burn down and the ghosts that had lived there will blow away. This is a story about the Plains, so there must be heartache and folly in it.
This is a story about the Plains, so there must be happy houses in it. Yours and mine, we will say. I am headed to one now, on this straight road, in this crooked pick-up truck. And when the houses are not yours nor mine, we will beep the truck’s horn or wave our hand once, just once, off the steering wheel, when we drive past and see folks on the porches of those houses fat with children and grandparents and dogs and cats. Yes, let us say that. Yards covered with cars and trucks, some that run and some that don’t. Each one has a story to tell. This is a story about the Plains, so there must be basketball hoops in it. Let us say the hoop stands beneath a powerful lamp, like a streetlight from town. And children bounce a ball on the rough gravel (or dirt) of the driveway, until the ball is smooth and the same color as the gravel (or dirt). The children laugh and chase the ball, and the dogs bark, and the cats curl themselves around the legs of parents and grandparents. Yes, let us say that. Those are good things. Let us tell stories of good things. The children dream of high school championships and the parents dream of college for them. This is a story about the Plains, and so there must be laughter and dreams in it. The wind carries those too, up to the mountains and down to the rivers.