White speckled, fly black, they trot across the crushed yellow grass, thrusting back legs into an open stretch of air. Farm wind snaps hard, rolling across evergreens that bend limber from its push.
I am a visitor to the plains, the northland of South Dakota, small town well-knit with football and community. In the quiet knolls where names roll off the tongues of neighbors in familiarity, a downtown settled in 1920 glints off the early evening light. The sun zig zags its leftover rays while it tucks itself into the horizon, folded over in the expanse of brown-branched trees and dirt-caked creeks.
I spill thanks for the air fresh in my lungs, prairie wind plowing through my hair. True breath. I have not filled my lungs with it in a good while. Have not felt the caring hold of hometown in a harvest and a half. The customary hearts fused together, or opening homes and smiles and struggles in the place that planted you as a small child, seeds of self just becoming green above the soil.
I am not cut out for big town life, of buildings and closed space and the bones of aloneness when I walk into the grocery and no one knows my name.
Horses graze on dry grass, manes flapping soft, standing calm and solid. Supple flanks curve pink to the underside of their bellies. Muscles stretch taught as they roam the rise and dip of their domain, lift long necks to the breeze. As I live out these numbered days in a town nobody sees when they skim a map, I am struck sweet by longing for home, for bends of road I stitch to my legs as second skin, faces drawn in my mind, burned on my heart.
Bloom where you are planted, as the old adage goes. My roots were buried deep before I tore them out for the sake of something spiritual. But along the fence lines slanted in the dips of unyielding farm barriers, I watch this world spin slow before my eyes, lingering in the languid pulse of belonging. I do not want to tear this life from my chest just to hollow out the beats I have been given.
God may speak plainly to some, but to me He takes my hand and leads me away from perfect pictures, spins the pieces round and round and puts me dead in the center of this swirling. Then, He lifts my head to see that I am trying too hard to fit His world into my tiny hands.
“Breathe,” He tells me when I find Him in the small I spread across my soul—crystal rocks from rusty train tracks, beads of water strung as one to form the vastness of a lake, His voice warbling from the song of chickadees. “Breathe, girl, and let Me love you best I know how.”
Miles span the lifted hills, thirsty for rain. White puffs of clouds in no rush to cross blue skies; South Dakota rests proud. God’s breath in me. Unrecognized belonging, sense of intimate order, known eyes guide me safe. I am almost home. In my mind, I am already heading east.