Fields of Gold

I love trees.  Wait. That’s not entirely accurate.

I NEED trees.  Trees are essential.  Like oxygen.  And toast and coffee every morning.

Trees make me a nicer person, which lately, is critical to the well being of the people I live with. This is because I am not good at transitions. Never have been. I eat the same thing everyday for breakfast, for Pete’s sake.  To say that I’m a creature of habit would be an understatement.

Unfortunately, life with kids leaving for college means change.  Lots and lots of change.

We moved our oldest into his first apartment over the weekend.  This makes his leaving real to me, a mother who has appreciated the gift of being a mom a whole lot.  His room here at home is officially empty save for the dust bunnies, and he is in the guest room for the next two weeks. A guest in my home. I already miss the mess that means he lives with us and can’t bring myself to vacuum in there because that will make it seem too final.  I am not ready.

But is a mother ever really ready?

I know that he is. Ready, I mean. He has a tool box, a strong work ethic, a kind heart, and many of the skills required to be an adult. But a lot of the time he is still standing in the gap between childhood and adulthood. Disequilibrium once more.  One minute he is the man who generously offers up his bed to his tired parents on the first night in his new apartment, and the next, is tormenting his baby sister by licking his index finger and holding near her ear while chanting “I’m not TOUCHING you!” while she wails and I yell, “don’t make me stop this car!” Did I mention that his baby sister is 18?  Yeah…we have a way to go on the adult thing, don’t we?

Maybe this is how we all grow fits and starts.  Lots of detours along the way.  Lots of bumps in the road.  Lots wet ears and threats to stop the car.

As we left the forests and made our way to the prairie, I was deep in thought about change. What it means for me. What it means for him. The mile posts moved us toward a strange and foreign land where we made a life for over a decade: the prairies and sloughs and vast, fertile fields of the Red River Valley. It  was a good place to live, but it was never really “home” to me. It’s nothing personal, Fargo.  As I said before, I need trees.

The wind got to me the very first winter.  The blizzards and interstate closures were daunting.  The “snirt” (snow mixed with topsoil blown across the Great Plains) cast a grayish light in February.  The spring floods of biblical proportions were humbling.  And the locusts’ constant buzzing on summer evenings were a poor substitute for the loons I love.

The Red River Valley is an unforgiving place.  The exposure to me physically, emotionally, and spiritually often made me feel raw and vulnerable.  But our life was there, our jobs were there, our friends were there, and to our children, it was home.   It still is to our son, which is one reason he has chosen to complete his degree there.  He wants to go home.  He is a son of the prairie in ways that while I respect, cannot fully grasp.

As we left Detroit Lakes and began heading west toward Moorhead, my daughter, a tree person like her mother, looked out at the fields ripening for harvest and said, “it’s a lot prettier when you don’t have to look at it everyday, isn’t it, Mom?”  The perfectly straight rows of emerald green corn, enormous tan Shredded Wheat hay bales, and oceans of golden wheat had, through the summer,  been pieced into a vast patchwork quilt by the great grandsons of Norwegian ship builders who settled the area with dreams and plows. Proof on the prairie of what can be accomplished with enough sweat, hard work, and rich black topsoil in a land that holds grudges more often than grace.

And as much as it pained me to do so, I had to agree.  It really was.

We look with new eyes at things we haven’t seen in awhile. We hang a portrait on a living room wall, and for the first two weeks, we pass it and admire it.  Then, it becomes familiar..blends into the landscape of our home, and we stop really seeing it.   Charles Beck, an artist in the region, is well known for creating woodblock images of the prairie he loves .   His work is unique and compelling.   I have often considered purchasing a Beck print as a reminder of where we spent many years of life as a family. To this day,  I cannot pass a field in early March without thinking of a Beck print.

I was reminded of his art again on Saturday as we drove toward Fargo.  His woodcuts of fields of gold and hay bales and white farm houses.  The red barns.  The geese in corn stubble.  A land that he calls home.  A land I never did.

Sometimes, it takes getting away from a place to see it with new eyes.  And often, we find beauty in the most unlikely places.  Like the faces of a son and his childhood buddies doing the heavy lifting while his family moves him into adulthood one box at a time.

The sunflowers that, one a few weeks ago raised their faces toward the sun have begun to bow their heads. Their time with the sun is getting short, and they know this.  Soon, they will begin to drop seeds of themselves onto the earth and wait.  The wind and the waterfowl will take some of the seeds, while others will take root. This is the natural order of things for sunflowers.  And sometimes people.  The sunflowers are resigned to this.

Moms driving west are, too.

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