No, we haven’t dropped off the edge of the known world. A week ago, we left Salida headed for Denver for Richard’s oncology appointment and a visit to my folks. From there, we planned to head east and south across the southern Great Plains to Arkansas for a visit to Richard’s 93-year-old mom, Miss Alice, and his family. This isn’t our preferred time of year to go to Arkansas (it’s a mite hot and humid there), and we were not eager for the road-time, since we put in plenty of that commuting back and forth to Denver for Richard’s brain cancer treatment. But Richard’s mom (photo below) can’t travel here, and we figured it was worth the time, gas, and energy of other sorts to bring her middle son to her.
I imagined I’d write a blog post from along the way. What was I thinking? Once Richard’s oncologist gave him the okay to travel and we finished our Denver errands, we were on the road. And then we were visiting. And then we were on the road home. (We covered almost 1,700 miles with two days of travel at
each end and three days of visiting in the middle.) I simply never had time to catch my writing breath, as it were.
BTW, if you’re curious about who drove, I confess: the guy who is recovering from brain surgery and being treated for brain cancer had the wheel the entire trip. He likes to drive, he says. I just roll my eyes and get into the passenger seat. My job is to watch for birds and wildflowers, interesting architecture, and interpret the land- and sky-scape, including the unusual double solar halo that ringed the sun as we drove east from Denver on I-70. It was like seeing the complete circle of a double rainbow encircling the sun. Very cool!
Most people regard a trip across the Great Plains as boring. There’s all that “empty” space, and it extends seemingly forever. I’ve always loved the Plains because they are so big, because the sky sometimes brings strange and fascinating weather phenomena, and because if you watch carefully, you can see the subtle changes in the sea of grass. On this trip the changing swaths of late spring wildflowers showed us where we were at any point in the way, beginning with the rivers of magenta and ivory milkvetch on the High Plains. (That’s the flowers along Big Sandy Creek south of Limon in eastern Colorado.)
Up close, the pea-like flowers have beautiful lilac throats to guide their partners in pollination, native bees, into the flowers to sip the nectar they offer and in the doing, pollinate them.
Farther south, along the Arkansas River running east into Kansas, the shortgrass prairie was red with carpets of firewheel between the soft green of sand sage.
And the jackrabbits were too quick for me. That one’s in mid-leap, going away!
Heading east along the Oklahoma Panhandle, the grasses gradually got taller than on the wind-blasted western Plains, and the sunny yellow sundrops, a day-opening relative of evening primrose, joined the firewheel.
Along with the appleblossom grass, a prairie relative of fireweed colored ivory with a tinge of pale pink like the blossoms on an apple tree for which they’re named, along with chocolate flower, the sunny yellow flower in the photo below which does indeed smell like its name in the cool of early morning as the flowers open. (For gardeners in the southern Great Plains region, I can’t imagine a more delicious, carefree and water-thrifty addition to the garden than chocolate flower.)
I knew we were heading into the western edge of the tallgrass prairie when I began spotting clusters of taller wildflowers like this purple coneflower (below), along with a lovely orange indian paintbrush, goldenrod not quite in bloom, sumac, and Queen Ann’s lace (not a native, but widespread through the tallgrass pairire).
We made it to northwest Arkansas, where Richard’s sister Letitia (Tish) graciously hosted us. Tish, who shares my passion for plants and gardening, took us to the new Botanical Garden of the Ozarks, as well as to a local nursery she favors.
And then we drove home, watching the wildflowers and wildlife change as we crossed the ocean of grass in reverse, from east to west. Which only took a day and a half.
Late this morning, as we crested a rise in the prairie near Capulin in northeastern New Mexico, mountains rose into view on the western horizon: the Sangre de Cristo Range, the same peaks we see from our house, only the south end of the range instead of the north end that comprises our view.
I took a deep breath. And then another. Home was still almost 150 miles away, but I could feel it.
I manage the uncertainty of our days, and my own feelings of vulnerability that come with this journey with Richard’s brain cancer by holing up at home, taking solace from quietly being part of the landscape where we live and its community of lives, human and moreso. I treasure the support of my human community far and near–you all–but on the days when I am weary, I crave solitary time at home to recharge my spirit. Solitary time has been in short supply for the past few months, and that doesn’t look to improve much in the near future.
We needed to make this long journey across the Plains to touch base and show Richard’s mom that he is doing okay. But, oh, it feels so good to be back home again!