Thunder wakens me the first time – deep conga roll just pass the whine of our window air; the clouds are torn and purple, the leaves on the hill already jeweled with the first fat raindrops, and I’ve disregarded morning in the time it takes to roll over.
By the time I emerge, rumpled from my extended stay, the air has cleared and the ground steams beneath a dazzling sun. Coffee, swimsuit, sunglasses, and I’m headed out.
Summer calls me home.
Here, above the valley, the land flattens out like a wide clay bowl, chipped and striped in greens and golds, the sky a hard ceramic above - a color like helium balloons or the fistful of forget-me-nots your first love gave you.
Locals call the high spot “the ridge” but in Illinois this is something of a misnomer; we have no mountains. The truth is, out here, the land falls away, flat and still as the Pacific, to an unchanging, long and straight horizon. At night, above and below differ only in the depth of their shadows - planets and fireflies kissing so that the effect is that of swimming in a bowl of stars – but by daylight, you can see forever. You can see your whole life spread out before and behind you, your soul easing from your body and soaring, following the straight corn rows all the way to the sky.
We’re used to that here, and I really only marvel at it once in a while; I don’t think about the way you can see the silvery glint of barn roofs four miles off or spot a stranger’s pick-up before you make the turn home.
When I was fifteen, I could sit at the edge of the hay field and watch the sun ooze like Orange-Melts into the earth, Venus shimmering to life between the walnut trees, the lightning bugs beginning their first tender love dance. My muscles would ache from stacking bales, my skin tighten with sun burn, but here it is – every breath, every single one, was filled with God.
If the rest of the world is Godless, it’s because He lives there at home; I’m certain of it.
Because I found, when I left – although I didn’t go far – that nothing was ever so peaceful, so simple or true again. Life has such a brutal way of smacking the innocence from us, doesn’t it? Teaching us that love isn’t love, that death is only a hair’s breadth away and it’s hardly ever happy. That lies slip easily from beautiful tongues, cruelty exists in a black chamber of every heart, and even Jesus wept. Hopelessness, depression, fear – all lying dormant within us, only waiting for the key to turn in the lock.
Six generations have worked, loved, nurtured this ground. Drought, blight, Reaganomics and chinch bugs met with unwavering determination and a black Irish humor. My grandfather traded horses here, my father went to school right down on the corner, and I . . . I lived here. And although I have changed my last name twice and stepped in more than a few shit piles along the way, when I’m here I know who I am.
And the rest of the world recedes - beautifully, silently sliding away until the only sound left is the wind in the corn and the murmur of Farm Radio.
I am home.
Importing my blog onto the new website has been quite the feat. My team and I are still in the process of categorizing and fine-tuning the years of posts you'll find here. We hope you enjoy our work-in-progress library. Check back soon for updates!