Home from the Badlands

Yesterday, nine days after leaving North Carolina, my dad and I arrived in Vancouver with America splattered all over the front of my car.

We saw a lot of things–in fact I looked out the window a lot more than I did anything else–but my favorite was this: on Tuesday we came to the Badlands in western North Dakota, where for miles in every direction the earth has simply dropped out under itself, leaving behind thousands of craggy green and brown plateaus, all looking pensive as if they are contemplating their options and might someday sink down as well, turning the whole place into one great lush valley. But for now, and for all of human memory, we’re still in the in between–some land up, some land down, and the sky getting larger every mile.

We drove into Theodore Roosevelt National Park, through and around more and more formations of layered, crumbling earth, and saw fields and fields of anxious, soft little prairie dogs popping in and out of their burrows and finally came upon a herd of bison grazing. They stood calm and focused, some half-grown, but others large and ancient. Their winter coats, which were in the midst of shedding, hung off their flanks in great brown furls and dragged behind them like unintentionally august robes. We pulled over and rolled down the windows and a few came so close we could hear their jaws ripping at the grass beneath the still blue sky.

And as we rounded Highway 1 up into greater Vancouver yesterday the city flashed at me through the trees, a split-second, glittering wink, not to be repeated. Something quite deep within me jolted and I knew I loved it. Instead of dropping out beneath me, the road was rising up to meet my feet.

Hevel and Home

I left Vancouver this past weekend(!!!). I went to the States and walked around little towns which have their streets all named after U.S. presidents in neat chronological order. I feel as if I should now recount for you the complex history of how this came to be and how I got there, but that story, if it is a story, would take too long to tell. Suffice to say, I rode in my friend Becky’s car. We took I-5 into Oregon.

On Saturday I had a bit of a white night and sat alone in the attic room of our little Airbnb next to a truly enormous fern and asked God lots of big questions about why he loved me. And then I read the end of The Four Loves for perhaps the fifth time and remembered Christina Rossetti’s poem about the prodigal son, which begins this way:

Does that lamp still burn in my Father’s house,

 Which he kindled the night I went away?

I turned once beneath the cedar boughs,

 And marked it gleam with a golden ray;

 Did he think to light me home some day?

I woke up with puffy eyes the next morning and that afternoon we drove up the coast from Corvallis to Cape Lookout State Park. I read aloud from Wind in the Willows and in between times I looked out the window and said perhaps five times, “I really like fields. I love fields so much. Fields are underrated.” Becky asked me if they made me think of North Carolina and I said no, I just liked them wherever they were in the world. And I do. I like seeing land stretch and duck and roll as far as my near-sighted eyes can reach.

We got to the campground and after pitching the tent we walked out along the beach. To our left the brilliant sun, too bright to look at, eased itself casually down to the horizon over the waves, as if it did it every day. The ocean purred and lapped, loud and jubilant, and the divots our feet made in the sand cast tiny bright blue shadows all up and down the beach like other-worldly beauty-marks. The cool wind blew so full against me, it made me want to pick up and fly. That night as I dozed in and out of sleep, I forgot my clever metaphor of the ocean as some great cat and kept thinking that its roaring must be a train that never got any closer and never got any farther, but stayed by your side always.

Yesterday we went up to Cannon Beach, where a concrete wall facing out over the lowering tides read “ALL is HEVEL” in green chalk. I liked that. I led my willing friend on an expedition over to the far sandbar and on the way found a tiny daisy which was white on top, but magenta on its underside, like brazen petticoats. The sandbar, when we reached it, was like another planet, smooth and white and quiet, on and on and out. We walked and walked. My unwashed hair gusted around my face, and I stored all this away as happiness. When we reached one of the rock formations, we climbed it, scaling the salt-encrusted base and scrambling up and up towards where twisted trees and brave grasses clung, balancing, for the time being, between brown gravel and blue sky. We stood in wind which is much stronger than I am.

And now I am home, in my familiar bedroom, looking out my window at the well-known pine branches against this blue sky, which looks wonderfully like the one I saw yesterday, almost as if it were the same.

Your sure provisions gracious God

Attend me all my days;

Oh, may your house be my abode,

And all my work be praise.

Here would I find a settled rest,

While others go and come;

No more a stranger, nor a guest,

But like a child at home.