The Draw of Place

Two weeks ago, my flight landed at Eppley Airfield in Omaha.  An expanse of land and blue sky welcomed me.  On the two-and-a-half hour drive in my rental car, I felt as though I were back home.   Stretching my legs at an rest area, the strong northwest wind, combined with the most clear sky, nearly brought me to tears.

My entire four-day visit to SoDak (busy, stressful, enjoyable) can best be summed up in one word: bittersweet.  During my stay, I slipped, tricking myself I still lived back on the Plains.  The moments were varied.  Visiting with friends at my former church.  Sharing a great meal with my parents at one of my favorite restaurants.   Studying in the university library.  Meeting with my professors for my PhD oral defense.  Traveling roads I’d driven many times.  These moments, as well as others, caused an ache in my spirit.

Now that I live nearly 1,000 miles to the east, I don’t have the privilege of open space.  The landscape does not humble me here.  It is beautiful–with its ample supply of trees and gentle hills–but I feel both contained and constrained.  And my first winter here was milder than any winter I’d lived through on the Plains.  Yet I’m saddened that I won’t be able to regularly drive through the land that speaks to me at a level that my present landscape does not.

I can’t watch the land unfold at the north-south continental divide.  I can’t climb the large rock overlooking Big Stone Lake.  I can’t play the disc golf course where the Missouri River is two miles wide.  I can’t run down the trail that descends into a beautiful river valley, the sandpipers and red-wing blackbirds abundant.

Here’s the conundrum: I long for the Plains; my wife longs for Portland, Oregon.   Solution? Our present location is a compromise.  So for now, I’ll yearn to be back there, savor the infrequent visits, and remember that this existence isn’t all there is.

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