Thunder on the prairie

I have traveled the great American prairie, desert, and Rocky Mountains many times. The first trip I can remember is when I was three. I can’t remember much, but the snapshots include two walls of rock on either side of the car, playing elevator with sliding glass closet doors, and being scared silly when my brother-in-law picked me up. “Down Buster!” Dad laughed at my response for years.

During subsequent trips my dad was conflicted with “making time” and stopping at scenic overlooks so he could take pictures of desert expanses on black and white film with a Brownie box camera. A few times we took the route toward Denver, diverted to Colorado Springs, walked the Garden of the Gods and visited old Mr. Wilson who had at one time courted Mom before she fell for the dashing 6’2″ soldier in uniform in 1942.

There was almost 1/2 century between me and my parents. They were raised by people who were raised by people who settled this country’s expanse in wagons. It’s pretty awesome to me that there are only two links between them and me. I think of all the pioneers every time I look across wide open flat land. I imagine the exuberance, the heat, the weather, the fatigue and the raw fear. So much could and many times did go wrong. It was said that every mother could expect to lose 20% of her children during her own short lifetime. Think about that. So the advice was to bear as many children as nature allowed, stay as busy as you can even at the very real risk of death by childbirth. I read that the girl who later married Andrew Jackson was on the flatboat migrating to a violent frontier — very near to where I live — and her sister lost her firstborn baby during an Indian raid. They hid in the bushes on shore and when they reassembled on the boat, the baby had been left behind and it was impossible to go after him. The young mother narrowly escaped permanent insanity by bearing 16 children and never forgetting.

A lady at work dismays at her granddaughters’ inability to put up with what she had to endure growing up but in the next breath she admits she couldn’t have lived in her grandmother’s world either. I hear that. I was one of the rare ones who wanted to know everything about the ancestral past while keeping maybe one eye on the present.

I’ve been re-reading my all time favorite historical novels by Bess Streeter Aldrich. Her style is so easy but very real. You helplessly watch the clouds of locusts approach, feel the hot sun through a cotton bonnet, you hear the non-stop prairie winds and the thunder in the distance. We’re surrounded by hills and trees here in Tennessee. I remember being on the prairies. I know the difference trees and hills make when the temperature is the same 90 or 95 under a cloudless sky. How did they do it? Some didn’t make it. Some turned back.

How many miles can the eye really see across flat land? Flat is flat. On this last trip as on others, we drove out of the open rolling areas of southeastern Indiana, flatter than Kentucky which is flatter than Tennessee, to flat central Indiana but as we approached the eastern border of Illinois it seemed to go from flat to flatter to flatterer. It’s the same story going across Iowa to Nebraska to eastern Colorado.

Out there you can see thunderheads on the horizon that are probably pummeling the neighboring state, not knowing if it’s coming after you or not. If you are very still you can hear the thunder. At night you can see the flicker of the lighting on the horizon’s razor edge and imagine you can feel in the soles of your feet the earth shuddering in response. Imagine sitting around the campfire with only a wagon and starlight between you and the animals, the natives or the thunder. No one was so naive or such a romantic that they would dare let down their defenses and ignore the very real possibility of a sudden and violent death, yet they risked it willingly for a better future than they had had.

Close your eyes. Go back to that time of uncertainty and danger. Make the decision to pack up a wagon and rebuild literally from the ground up with not a single Holiday Inn or Cracker Barrel in sight. Leave parents, friends, and cousins knowing it could be the last time you see them. Yet …. in hindsight, for them the future was bright and simple. The pioneers had a singleness of purpose, a common goal, unlike today. Where is the unity of thought and purpose today?

There is thunder in the distance. We can’t afford to be naive and comfortable as we sit around our campfires ignoring the very real probability of our world crashing around us, our freedoms lost forever as we stubbornly clutch onto them. The dangers surround us, the storms in the distance are signaled by the low rumble of thunder and are indeed coming toward us.

The two Fox newsmen were released only after they converted to Islam. The Islamic predators will convert or kill. They’ve killed already. On film. To quote Osama: ‘We love death. They (that’s us) love life.'” Read that again. Again. And again. “But whosever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” Matthew 10:33.

If we withdraw from this conflict, if we pick up our ball and say we won’t play anymore, will they quit playing too?


Shhhhhh…….. Do you hear the thunder?


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