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" … leaving behind only heartfelt prayers for this Prayrie and its familiar people."

The transition from high plateau to low plain passes with hardly a cue. The Muse and I disagree on the primary feature of the passing terrain. I say it's horizonless while she insists that it's all horizon out here, nothing but! I say that the sandy prairie eventually turns to dust before finally finding groundwater near enough the surface to do anyone any good, Prayrie. Too flat to have once been Dust Bowl country, though it might have made a decent run at a Dust Plate or Dust Platter designation. The wind here does everything but blow. It sucks. It howls. It draws. It nags The Schooner's nose as we edge our way Due East. No need to nudge off onto the finer compass points. Due East'll do just fine.

This is the Heartland of America, the great flyover zone, the region we love to denigrate for its degenerately conservative politics and rube lifestyles, where one encounters more wide-assed pickups and piece-of-shit Elantras than Teslas on the road, that's for sure.
We hope to pass through before a troubling line of thunderstorms catch up to us, for this is tornado alley and hailstone Hell, blizzarded in the wintertime and baked halfway back to to Hell by mid-July. We're lagging the former and leading the latter, prayrie-ing that we squeeze through in-between. Supper could be an Appleby's or a cinderblock local place without a web presence. We can access detailed information about every place but this one, the noble Hickory Hut of Salina, Kansas, so we choose The Hut. And we choose well. Walking through the door at two minutes to closing time, we're greeted like favored family finally home for supper.

The Muse earlier proposed, as we slid across the dusty landscape, that we share meals on this trip, by which she meant that we'd order one meal and make it do for the both of us. Since restaurants tend to serve twice what anyone but an oil well wildcatter could comfortably swallow for supper, her's seems a reasonable proposal until we're nose deep in a sweet hickory-smoked BBQ joint, burnt ends wafting their scent directly into the greedier regions of our brains. We stick to our agreement anyway, with me ordering a supplementary half a loaded baked potato for insurance, jealously sharing a brisket and burnt ends entree the way rival wildcats might divide a freshly downed deer. We later admitted to each other that we each could have easily soloed that meal with room left over, but were grateful that we had not.

This landscape needs no additional groaners slogging their way across it. We stopped somewhere just West of the Kansas border to exchange water, Kansorado, I think, and found an evil Disneyland of provisions. Boy Scout Troop-sized bags of Swedish fish, for cripes sake, and lifetime supplies of gummy Life Savers, apparently there to ensure a sweeter if certainly shorter life. The place looked like a diabetics' convention all swollen legs and pasty complexions. I said a quiet prayer of thanksgiving that traffic was light enough to guarantee few reasons to either pass or be passed by these ghouls on the road. Nobody needs a sugar zombie competing with them for highway position. I affect a slightly superior self talk when I'm here, one I long ago recognized as defensive. I'm not from here. This ain't my home, but as we listened to a series of Russian symphonic sound poems on the Serius, I could swear that I was a Cossack galloping across the Ukrainian steppe, country my father's family hailed from for almost a century, more than a hundred years ago.

It seems to me that we're all from here, all of this flat and only distantly alien land. It seems of thee, of me, of us all. The fecund late-May Prayrie, a heavenly place with hectoring breeze, humid and hostile yet somehow oddly welcoming, like a cinderblock BBQ joint where they treat even imperfect strangers like you or me as if we were family finally home for supper. The hospitality almost took our heads off and humbled our well-travelled asses back into a more civil sort of serenity. Nobody passes through this fly-over country with haughtiness intact. Whether at a gas or a meal stop, or during a hurried attempt to squeegee bug carcasses off the windshield, this unlikely place properly becomes you. It's breeze, your own breathless story. It's flat affect a proper counterpoint to the drama otherwise subsuming you. It's too easily dismissed as a wasteland and its seems wasted on anyone who cannot find a deeper sense of FindingHome here, especially if you insist to yourself and everyone within earshot that you're not from here.

As I nodded off last night, The Muse recited the history of this place. It sounded to both of us like the history of every home town ever founded. The immigrants and the priests, the sidetracked silver miners who settled for a sight less adventure than they'd planned. They named the creek after the native Mulberry trees and set up a society as civil as anything the Ancient Greeks ever imagined. Last night's gale left the motel patio chairs in a jumble. A sparrow deposited a dying honeybee on the pavement, perhaps put off by a sting but I imagined it an act of contrition or respect. A sweet Springtime sun spotlit the line of trees separating a green foreground just-heading-out wheat field from the rest of the goddamned world to the west, a storm front meant to overtake this place tomorrow. We'll be long gone by then, leaving behind only heartfelt prayers for this Prayrie and its surprisingly familiar people.

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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