A light snow drifts down from an opaque grey sky over the ranch today. It’s quiet outside. Not a vehicle sound, or even a tractor can be heard in our rural valley. In the light snow, not a bird or coyote calls. The usually murmuring river has hushed in the buffering effect of the falling flakes. On this windless day, the silence is almost complete. I am grateful.
Even when taking a step across the snow dusted grass, I feel as though I make unnecessary noise. So, I roll my feet as if stalking game. There, that’s it. Better. Quieter. Respectful of the nature that lies in quiet senescence around me, I think.
Coming inside, there are the comparatively loud sounds of a house: the fridge hums here, the dishwasher there. A load of wash swishes in the machine. These are sold to us as quiet machines, but I think the makers, manufacturers of said contraptions have never heard silence before.
I wonder if silence is salable. Could we market that? If someone has never heard it—felt it— before, is there a market for something never experienced? Probably not.
Caryl and I just returned from a longish trip, flying and driving all over the country. Business and family burdens to bear. Chicago’s Loop, the Dan Ryan, Kennedy Expressway; Atlanta’s hopelessly tangled grid of interstate connectors. Salt Lake, Albuquerque, more of the same. We seemed to hit all places during rush hour, several times over as if we couldn’t get enough. Ten, 14 lanes of traffic, going 20 miles over limit, some obsessively driven to weaving at over 90 mph (Atlanta was the worst). Caught on a conveyor belt of rat race. White knuckles. Sweat. Caryl and I wordlessly stressed. Car coming fast or too close constantly setting the alarm on the smart rental Toyota of impending disaster.
We prevailed through all. The beast arose in me from my 20-something days working construction in New York City and I drove like I once had. I felt the tightness and the keen edge of driving there. No more looking around at the scenery.
And now, it is like we are unplugged. It’s going to take a few days, I think. But we see tiny graces, small beauties and peace like it’s all new in contrast to what we’ve recently been immersed in.
As we drive through the ranch gate, the dogs welcome us first. It was like we went to town for a few hours to grab some groceries. They seem to have no sense of time; they give the same greeting either way. Then the girls and Josh are out choring, working in the cold, taking care of everything. Cattle, 450 head, 24 horses. Water kept open in winter; feeding hay, salt full. Cutting firewood and loading in our stove to keep home warm. It’s all work that makes blood flow, and their cheeks glow with the rosaceous tinge of wellness.
They look happy. It’s Thanksgiving Day, and it is 1PM. We were snowed in on the long way home, propped up by coffee and never-ending conversations punctuated by long bouts of unawkward silence that only 32 years of marriage can offer. I look over at Caryl and maybe detect a dampness in her eye as she arrives home. Yes. This is it. The remote, bleak, austere and wide open Pahsimeroi Valley—the size of Rhode Island and home to 300 souls–is home. She looks at her daughters with great joy.
It’s been such a difficult trip for my midwestern born wife. Just two days ago, we stood beside freshly piled, mounded Indiana topsoil on an unseasonably warmish fall day. Leaves scuttered across the cemetery as the incessant midwestern wind stirred. The headstone that marked the fresh plot had yet to be date stamped with permanence that marks the end of time for a soul. But here, buried in the soil, that loess from which we all descend, were the returnees, Caryl’s mom, most recently.
The meeting at graveside was short. Few words were said about Betty, other than that her life was so well lived. She wouldn’t have wanted long goings on. She, this midwestern farm wife, schoolteacher, mother of my wife, was truly a guile-less soul. I had never heard her say a bad word about anyone. She was not a fit for our edgy, facetious, cynical instagramic world. There’s few like her anymore.
She slipped away so quietly, quickly after these 88 years. We had moved her to Idaho 2 years ago and had the chance to make some last memories. We had all visited her in the previous week on various days, and then, not unexpectedly but sooner than we wished, she was gone. No pain. No stress. Just softly silent, leaving this place.
She knew where she was going. We did too. And there was a rightness, a sweetness at her passing. There were tears at her grave, wetting the ground on that sunny day on the Indiana prairie, but they were mixed with tears of joy. For having known her. And for having known that her life, even her ending, was just right.
And now, we’ve come full circle. Caryl and I know that we are next in line; our folks are all now gone. And the gravity, the duty of the kids, our family has taken a few notches up in meaning. We both quietly realize that each moment could conceivably be our last together, and it has made our comings and goings more intentional, and beautiful.
Times to be treasured.
Annie is leaning into the car now, as we pull up. She is rosy cheeked framed, surrounded by silk scarf and wool sweater, and so happy to see us here, back on the ranch. Behind her is Maddy crowding in, backed by a tapestry of blue sky, snow leaking clouds, and dark blue mountains that go on forever. Annie gives me a deep hug and holds my hand as we talk.
It’s Thanksgiving Day, in the afternoon as we drive up. The girls and Josh have the feast ready. And much of it comes from our land. Together, we enjoyed a lovely, peaceful gathering centered around profound gratitude to be home, and festooned with brilliantly prepared savory foods.
I know you can feel this, because it is in all of us. Home is really where the heart is. It doesn’t have to be silent, or like ours surrounded by natural beauty. I remember when Caryl and I first saw the high Pahsimeroi. Sure, we thought it was beautiful. But it was so austere. Soul exposing openness. Wild and untracked. This could never be a home, we thought, then, 30 years ago.
But now, it has knitted together a place in our hearts, and changed us.
And I know even Chicago downtown, by the Loop, and New York suburbs can do that. You live and you love there, and it grows on you. After all, we humans are the most adaptable species. Heart takes root with friends and family and branches outward. Joy and peace are the fruits.
And we are grateful for all these good gifts.
I know it’s a day late (that day was reserved for our homecoming), but Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
Glenn, Caryl, Girls and Cowhands at Alderspring.