Thanksgiving weekend. Western Kansas. Away from my own family, I travel the 300 miles out here to the prairie with my partner to visit his mother for 4 days. Four days.
The city girl in me finds this small town difficult.
The colors here are all neutrals. Shades of brown and gray compose the flat landscape of mostly barren fields put to rest for the winter. The few trees are bare skeletons of dark brown, and the overcast skies add only a top layer of gray and white. Fields of dark green winter wheat dot the countryside and add the only spot of cheerful color to this otherwise sad and lonely place, where the wind blows constantly and the trees permanently bend northward, their branches outstretched, arms reaching and fingers extended as if to touch something that is perpetually out of reach . The town where we stay is typical of many of the small farming communities in this country – once a booming, thriving community, it’s now a town of mostly boarded-up storefronts that used to hold grocers and filling stations and hardware stores. The population is aging and my partner’s 83 year old mother is full of news of the latest deaths and illnesses.
The day after Thanksgiving we drive to the closest city with a cinema – Dodge City – which is 30 miles northwest. Again the skies are gray and overcast and the wind whips the car as we drive the 2-lane highway northward. Irrigation machines, parked for the winter, sit sentinel like giant skeletal millipedes, waiting to be called back into service to nourish next year’s wheat crop. We drive past fields filled with grazing cattle. Then the feedlots appear, positioned southeast of town so their fetid stench will not offend the residents of Dodge. Closer to the city one can see steam rising from the several slaughterhouses that are the basis for the economy here and I reflect on the machinations of death that occur within. What must it be like to work in such a place, where killing and dismemberment are a way to make a living? Does it bother the employees, or are they simply thankful to be employed these days, as we all are? We arrive in town during shift change for the largest slaughterhouse and I note the older model cars filled with Hispanics lined up at the traffic light waiting to make the turn into the plant. I wonder what they think of life here in this cold and lonely place after having left their warm and colorful climate for this.
The movie we choose is Australia, the new epic love story starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, and although the separated lovers eventually reunite at the end, I cry and continue tearing up during the 30 minute drive back. I cry for loves lost and found, missed connections, misunderstandings, miscommunications. I cry because this land leaves me feeling wistful and disconnected and I can feel myself disappearing each day I’m here.
I reach out my arms to the east, longing for home. Longing for reconnection.