Bending in the Wind

f444d832-2528-43a9-a557-937d341494db Story and photo by Chad Love

I won’t lie. I meant to take this story in a completely different direction, I really did. I had notes, an outline, even a different title. But I’m a born meanderer, in both outward life and inward thought, and as such I’ve never been good at following instructions, especially from myself. 

And so — as usual — my restless, rootless thoughts betrayed me again, ripping up my carefully crafted plan and then streaking off across the prairie like a young, fire-breathing dog.
I tried chasing them down, reining them in, and getting them back in line, but it’s damn hard trying to catch young dogs and old memories, once they both break free. 

All you can do is try to keep them in sight and hope they lead you to a place you were somehow meant to reach.
And for most of my life, that’s exactly where both dogs and memory have led me, chasing after them under an endless skyway of space and grass and longing in the uplands 

I don’t recall when it started, if I’m honest, this love for grasslands and prairies, or why. I was a suburban latchkey kid, the product of divorce and bitterness. And when you are young, poor, alone, angry, and drifting, you have no idea where the currents of that despair will eventually take you, what fate the tug of circumstance and consequence will push you toward. 

Then one day you drift up on a beach, one only vaguely of your choosing, if at all. It may be good, it may be bad, but whatever it is, that is your life, that is what you are . . . who you’ve become. If there are answers and redemption to be found, you find them here, or you find them nowhere.

My redemption was found in the sight and sound of prairie grass bending in the wind, in the worlds it held so inexplicable and wondrous and infinitely beyond my own. 

Whatever good is in me, (and some would argue that’s not much), whatever empathy for and curiosity and awareness of the natural world I currently possess, was discovered, developed, and solidified long ago when my young feet first walked across the subtle, rustling wonder of an open, unbroken stretch of prairie. 

That first, formative touchstone of the uplands, whether I was experiencing them behind a dog, with a fly rod along a shallow prairie river, or simply walking them for the sheer, unbridled wonder and mystery of connecting with wildness, forged me into the person I am.

We are all the products of such character forgings, of course, and it is not my place to judge one against the other simply because theirs may be different from mine, but it’s hard not to look at some people and wonder about the fires in which their worldviews were tempered, and how they could be so different from my own.

I’ve been pondering such questions quite a bit lately. I ponder it most frequently, and fervently, when I find myself walking alone — as I prefer to do — in the restlessness of early fall, following the dogs through time and memory and landscape. 

I carry a shotgun, and I may occasionally use it, poorly, but it’s not birds I’m hunting on these forays. It’s answers I’m looking for. Answers to the perpetual human questions of affirmation, truth, beauty, meaning, and my place in the world. 

What answers I manage to find usually — as answers often do — lead only to more questions. Such is the fundamental truth of what it means to be human. Tracing the path of a walk on the prairie is like slowly unraveling a thread and hoping to find a core of truth hidden somewhere in the tangles and knots. 

And there is nowhere — nowhere — better suited to looking for questions, finding truth, and to be truly human, than in the solitude and beauty of the uplands. No matter what you call them: uplands, grasslands, plains, savannas, prairies; or where you find them, these places serve as incubators not only for wildness in a world where wildness is ever shrinking, but as incubators for those nascent souls who crave that wildness, even the ones who don’t yet realize that it is wildness they crave.

To lose that, to be denied the opportunity for each of us to take a walk on the prairie, to unravel that thread and find something hidden within ourselves, would be an inconsolable loss. 

I am older now, and many of those questions I once sought on my prairie walks have been answered, but questions are like water, and they still flow, free and undammed, whenever I see the dogs crashing into a point, or smell the pungent aroma of sand-sage after a storm, or hear the haunting sound of sandhill cranes tracing their ancient pathways in the sky.

That’s what the uplands do for me. They keep the questions coming, and remind me that I am not only alive, but still have life, buried somewhere within me.

On those restless days tinged with a sense of the elegiac, of something passed and not returning, I will grab a shotgun, or a camera, or a fly rod, and make a long walk across a nearby expanse of grass and prairie water. 

The birds may be few and far between, or the fish may be skittish and uncatchable, but the curiosity and wonder of this place remains as strong for me as the first time I heard the sound of a low wind keening across a sea of grass, and first felt the tympanic rhythm of the uplands.   

And as long as I’ve got that, I’m whole.

This story originally appeared in the spring issue of Quail Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to read more stories like it, become a member today!