As the grass grows taller, we get older. The blades are like grains of sand, infinite, ever-changing, creating one thing from many. A desert, a prairie.
Somewhere out there, I can see myself. A mirage of pasts, memories that waver and dance in the wind, blades of what was combining to create what is. I grew up in the prairie and my roots are tangled in its. Out among the grass, birds fly just below the amber tops. Hawks perch hidden in plain sight among the live oaks and fenceposts. Coyotes dance through the uneven terrain, stained amber by centuries of successful camouflage. Beyond the barbed wire fences that slice up the land, keep cattle in and people out, disrupt the daily lives of deer.
Somewhere on the other side of a fence I can’t get across, my spirit dances between the stalks of long-dead yucca, slicing through space and time like the scissor tailed fly catcher. I can’t quite reach it, but I can watch it soar from a safe distance. I notice what makes it sing, feel a weight when I blink, see the dozen futures I’ve yet to live and the one past that brought me here. I well up at the thought, bubbling like a drill that’s struck oil. Tapping into one’s soul is like finding a valuable commodity oozing through the ground—and it is just as sacred, just as profane.
This place made me. There is so much beauty there, but it is subtle, it doesn’t show up in a photograph or a postcard. It is vast and empty and teeming with life. It provides so much that sustains life and asks so little in return.
And now, the fracking causes earthquakes, there is nowhere to hike when a pandemic shuts down the few state parks. The prairies have been grazed to death and mineral rights are all leased. Fortunes have been decided and weary ducks dare to land on the artificial ponds created by drilling, only to be blasted by the men who hold the keys to the gates in something they still call sport.
Out there, among the grass, I will never be able to do the things that make me feel whole. But what I do feels important. It is driving two hundred miles in a day, a giant meandering loop, just to photograph, to study, to watch. There are no Scenic Overlooks or mountain bike trails, no craft coffee shops or healthy restaurants. There are precious few people who understand what matters to me, yet many who greet me with a Texas Steering Wheel Salute. Solely on account of being there and waving back.
Somewhere among the cedar and the oak, there is the memory of a child who didn’t know the word for someone who didn’t eat meat, but knew that the cows in the fields and feed lots did not belong on a plate. He watches the Western Fence Lizard gobble up a grasshopper. He sees his first wild hummingbird and realizes that nature is not something that only exists on a TV show in Madagascar. The beauty of it all is spiritual, the cruelty is overwhelming. There is always a mound of feathers or an errant hip bone to remind him that not everyone can survive on cole slaw and biscuits.
Happiness is like a wildflower that bursts onto the scene after a hard rain. It is vivid and brilliant and fades all too quickly, but it plants the seeds for the future, after the next round of seasons and storms. And we are like the animals of the prairie; we adapt to what surrounds us. I grew up among the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, the Mexican hat and the pink evening primrose. The vibrant Texas spring taught me to appreciate all springs, but there is only one that will ever feel like home. No matter how convoluted, no matter how much I had to get away. In some way, we are like the animals that have adapted so specifically to their harsh climates that a gentler one would kill us. We grew the thick skin to survive the harsh winter of the soul, and now an easy tropical vacation might be the end of us.
There is something to this microevolution, to the ways we adapt to dusty plains and deep-seated traumas until leaving them for greener pastures is a shock to the system. Like the rootbound plant which withers when set free, we adapt to the particular habitat that sustains us. We become proficient at surfing the high prairie, until we think ourselves taller’n the grass and one day feel the kneck-breaking impact of a red tail hawk’s talons and find that the knee high fields were protecting us all along.