Coming home


We travel seven hours to the prairie. In the cemetery, the gravestones are crooked from the heaving of the ground in winter. Stones working their way up through the black earth for birth in the spring. The men wield heavy boots against the granite, slowly pushing stone back into place, the slab that was crooked set straight again for another year.


It is a mystery how you can live in the land in so many places at once. When I go to the sea, I am home. When I arrive on the prairie, the constant wind through the shivering grass calls my name. Here is home, too. Back in the woods of Wisconsin, where I've lived since I was five, that feels like home. In central Minnesota there is a barren Indian reservation that is my home. In North Dakota, where faculty houses still stand in their neat brick roads against the lonesome prairie, where hockey rings loud every afternoon, there I lost a piece of soul, too. Here in South Dakota, my blood runs thick for 125 years of farming this prairie dirt. The colors are too bright too comprehend, the blue of the sky with green house perched in yellow grass. Here lived ancestors. Here lives a piece of my soul.


We are lost in time, my children and I. We forage through farmhouses abandoned with the last generation. We drive through sections of cropland that bear our family names. Bahr. Grieben. Baumgartner. Ernestine. August. Bernhard.


He picks up earth to finger blackness, a frozen clod like frozen time. It crumbles under his grip, and dust flows sooty across the lonely acres.


I can see Grandma's ghost in a gingham dress, shoeless, black hair flowing in the mournful wind. Her song still sings on this prairie. Her life was built here. It will forever be her haunting home.


Two days in the wind, and my mind is tossed but full. My heart capsized again to the stanzas of My √Āntonia. It is a beautiful, lonesome welcome home. I rest in the peace that my children have seen it now, this land where my blood still flows. A place called home for generations of my family. It's been 14 years since I've been here last, and everything on the horizon rises familiar, the grain elevators, section lines, windrows, red barns 100 years old still standing against the forces of nature. It is good to be home, even for a short time.

I remember when I was a lad 
Times were hard and things were bad 
But there's a silver linin' behind ev'ry cloud 
Just four people that 's all we were 
Tryin' to make a livin' out of black-land dirt 
But we'd get together in a family circle singin' loud

Daddy sang bass (mama sang tenor) 
Me and little brother would join right in there 
Singin' seems to help a troubled soul 
One of these days and it won't be long 
I'll rejoin them in a song 
I'm gonna join the family circle at the throne 

Though the circle won't be broken 
By and by, Lord, by and by 
Daddy sang bass (mama sang tenor) 
Me and little brother would join right in there 
In the sky, Lord, in the sky 
~Daddy Sang Bass, Johnny Cash~

Now I remember after work mama would call in all of us
You could hear us singin' for a country mile
Now little brother has done gone on
But I'll rejoin him in a song
We'll be together again up yonder in a little while

My gratitude list, counting up from 1,911:
1911 kids who travel well with books and views
1917 watching a woman sign the gospel, face fluid, hands racing
1923 a pool and swimsuits - sweet surprise
1924 sleep, dreams
1927 farms I love still standing
1932 black earth
1938 a aunt, Charlotte, a figurehead always for my imagination, home now