I wanted to tell her about the homesteads, she wanted to tell me about the deer. Sometimes months will pass in between our phone calls. Yet, when we get a chance to visit we jump right in with whatever it is we’ve been thinking about, neither waiting for the other to start.
The road to her farm is precarious and in the winter months, the drive home after working in town is narrower and closer to approaching dark. Each hill crests a bit higher than the last. Each creek bottom spreads out further than the first. Eventually the county road approaches a T in the road — and last week the T’s meadow was filled with grazing deer. The bouncing headlights from her pickup spotted the field with an eerie light. The deer looked like stick figures etched on a cave wall, she confided, if you knew how to squint just right.
For a moment we were both inside that cave.
Before I could tell her what I wanted to tell her, I received another phone call. Someone’s car wouldn’t start. What sound do you hear, I asked my stranded caller, when you turn the key?
I don’t remember his reply. Probably, he doesn’t remember, either. Neither of us are mechanically inclined, but we have poetic minds; a comfortable silence ensued. Was he thinking what I was thinking, wanting what I wanted more of in my life: Nothing but silence when you turn the key.
Then I told him — instead of my sister — about the old homesteads on the road back to the river town. Over the decades, every trip back home I’d think about stopping to walk out to the sagging homesteads and feel what it’d be like. For as far as you can see in any direction, there’d be no sign of life but your own.
This trip home for Christmas, the chinook was bending the prairie grass along the highway ditch and the car we were in rocked about a bit as we drove into the head wind. Inside the car my ex-husband was playing a CD of mixed songs I had made for him ten years ago when I was still his wife. Track eleven was up: Amber is the Color of Your Energy.
Up ahead, the battered farmhouses were our only landmarks. As we got closer, I handed my camera-phone to my daughter sitting on my right. Take a photo, I whispered. The car slowed down, she took aim. In the front seat, her brother turned the music off. We could hear the wind gust across the prairie, just as it would have back when the homesteads were painted and filled with life. And then this happened — tumbleweeds tumbling west to east crossed the narrow highway. We watched them bounce across the empty fields towards the empty homes. From the distance and for a few moments, you could just make out the image of two sisters in bonnets and three brothers chasing hats between the two farm houses. If you knew how to squint just right.