This was just one moment on a road trip across miles of prairie. How could anyone find it aimless or repetitive. On this long-ago trip I watched two or three thunderheads and lightning storms take over the humongous sky across the miles. I veered off on gravel roads with signs that pointed to the homes of Lawrence Welk and Willa Cather’s Antonia and Laura Ingalls Wilder. With no one to direct my way or force me to race ahead, I stopped at will. A raw and unsettled feeling breathed new life in me. Maybe this was the moment that changed me forever. After this, I longed for more like this one. To feel the sky reaching out to me, lifting me off the ground. Like riding a roller coaster and falling into the sky.
New Englanders may think their weather changes by the minute, but I think the Midwest has them beat by a mile. Memories of my childhood include lots of moments just watching the sky change before my eyes. With nothing getting in the way like trees or suburbia, you could see what was ahead of you or what was racing up behind you. Clouds could take so many shapes and colors: green golf-ball shapes that bubbled and black banks of night that inked out the day and white cotton that blanketed the sky. Maybe that’s why the sky still captures me. I always feel its presence when I return for visits because it fills up the spaces so much more there.
This photo was taken in Fargo, ND, in 2004. The city’s tornado sirens had just stopped and I went outside and saw this sky. I found out that a tornado had touched down not far from the university housing where I was staying. I was in North Dakota and Saskatchewan for six weeks that summer and the tornado sirens went off at least four times during my stay. On those wide plains where wind was the only constant, it felt like you had to hold onto the earth with both hands.
Heading Home in a Storm
Jagged rage flicks overhead,
grumbles in primeval throat.
Maddened cloaks of sea green
shroud tunnels of tall corn.
Truck headlights skitter over
splintered cottonwood sentries.
You look back at rosy sunset,
then grind clutch,