My father loved the ocean, and when he visited Jersey, he sat on a towel, arms draped over his knees, and looked out into the distance. A man not given to speaking about himself, he never explained what drew him to that landscape — maybe the constant waves or the scattering of light, or the blue-gray horizon or how all of those carved out a place for his meditations. I have friends who love the mountains, any mountains, Pennsylvania’s dense, shadowed trails and the Rockies’ edges and heights. They like the immediacy of surprises — turn a corner on a path and there is an animal, a view, a phenomenon unseen only feet before. I have spent time with both, ocean and mountains, and know something of how they beckon, but for me, finally, it is the three dimensions of space and sky and distance that have captured my desires. The long prospect that gives freedom to the eye. The unimpeded sky over meadow: its long primal sense of space and terrain free of threat. Its promise of possibility. Meadows, prairie, the heath, high desert, treeless ground falling gently away. These places sing for me. What must it have felt like to climb onto the back of a horse and ride into that emptiness of wild blue sky along the upper Missouri or in the Sand Hills of northwestern Nebraska?
For a little while longer I can walk to a wide field, sit in the grass, lock my knees with my arms, come into stillness and watch vultures one hundred yards distant unfolding their wings full bore to the sun like the Egyptian gods they had once been. Close by a cardinal balances on a stalk, his red made a deeper shade by its appearance against a long stretch of johnson grass. And in the foreground a wild coreopsis, a dozen yellow blooms breaking forth and usurping whatever fears have held sway in my darker quarters.
The Sand Hills