Learning from The Land: Invigoration
It is Valentine’s Day as I pull this lesson together. And it is from Iowa, the land of my home prairie that I write. I’ve come back to help out as my dad tries to rally from a bad health setback that started around Thanksgiving. So my thoughts are of the heart—Dad’s and mine—on this Valentine’s Day. My brothers and sisters who live near him have all pitched in over the many weeks. Last Monday morning I awoke with clarity that it was time for me to come back. So, I checked the weather and roads and set out.
So how is this a lesson from The Land, you ask? Well…it has always been clear to me that our ten acre patch of shortgrass Prairie is a beautiful stand-in for the tallgrass prairie that formed me as a child. And that the closer the intimacy…hmm…yes…intimacy… of my relationship with The Land, the deeper my longing for my native landscape. In a way this lesson simply connects dots across the heartland; across a broad central sweep of this continent that was once a mix of vast prairie and virgin forest from the Appalachians to the Rockies. From where I now live and love prairie, back to the place where I first fell in love with her, fell under her spell, her blessing.
I’ve told Dad that I’ve come back to stay with him for awhile to see if we invigorate him a bit. Webster’s says to invigorate is “to give strength or energy to.” From the Latin vigere: be lively, flourish, thrive. As I arrive, Iowa is under a foot and half of snow in the midst of a bitter polar vortex, so the air definitely aids invigoration. BRRR!
I’m so grateful: Dad now feels invigorated enough that the past couple of days we’ve taken short drives to old favorite places. We travel around to some familiar nature spots. Everywhere we go we see gripping evidence of the derecho that tore through Iowa on August 10th last year: a four hundred mile-long dryland hurricane, with sustained straight-line winds of 150 mph. And this entire city, Cedar Rapids, was the epicenter of the storm’s maximum force; its very heart was pummeled for nearly an hour straight. Right in the middle of a pandemic.
We visit the creek where I had so many magical adventures and mystical encounters with the likes of bobolink, badger, great blue heron, fox, water snake and crayfish. The surrounding open, tallgrass prairie of 50 years ago, is now fancy home developments built on the flood plain. I can clearly see many hundreds of shattered trees in all directions, just from where I stand. And all over town, any trees left standing were whittled to toothpicks.
Down by the Cedar River we find hundreds of resilient ducks and geese and 15 frisky bald eagles trying to make a living on a small stretch of open water. And ravaged woodlands, many still full of hundreds of dangling, snapped off tree-tops. In many places, we find roof-high stacks of the massive trunks of once-stately deciduous and coniferous trees.
Along the river, Dad and I approach a favorite old stretch of grasslands and woods and pastures We begin reminiscing about cold, Christmas eagle-watching trips of decades earlier; especially how we would find as many as 100 blazing cardinals swirling about this place, trying to survive on seeds and dried berries. And a small miracle occurs: we look to either side of the road and find that we are surrounded by dazzling cardinals; maybe two dozen or more. Full of their own vigor, letting the struggling sun set them ablaze. So I think that Dad and I will let these beautiful kindred spirits be the bright bearers of a message from the people of the tallgrass to the people of the shortgrass: take heart, share love abundantly- the one true and abiding force in this universe- in so doing, be invigorated and, even in the darkest of times, look forward with hope. Amen