I just finished reading My Antonia by Willa Cather. Why have I never known this was such a beautiful book? I think I never would have appreciated it as much as now, though. In a beautiful, sad way it spoke to my “adjusting to the prairie heart”. At least I know English and do not take up residence in a dugout. At least “our Papa” has twinkly eyes and is happy. I am so thankful that my babies have been warm and well fed. After living through a winter here, I have a renewed sense of respect for the courage and determination of the women who first came and settled on the lonely, wind swept prairies.
In the beginning of the book the main character, Jimmy, becomes an orphan and goes to live with his grandparents in Nebraska. This is how he describes his drive from the train station to their farm:
“”Cautiously I slipped from under the buffalo hide, got up on my knees and peered over the side of the wagon. There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If there was a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the materials out of which countries are made. No, there was nothing but land……..I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside of man’s jurisdiction. I had never before looked up at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But this was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it. I did not believe my dead father and mother were watching me from up there; they would still be looking for me at the sheep-fold down by the creek, or along the white road that lead to the mountain pastures. I had left even their spirits behind me. The wagon jolted on, carrying me I knew not wither. I don’t think I was homesick. If we never arrived anywhere, it did not matter. Between the earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out. I did not say my prayers that night: Here, I felt, what would be would be.”
I had to choke up when I read that aloud to Blue eyes. Having grown up here, I don’t think he can ever really understand what an adjustment this move has been for me. (But I love him anyways, and when he takes me in his arms, loves away my sadness, prays for us and tells me it’s going to be ok, I believe him.)
And I am sure that next fall I will think of this description of the coming of winter:
“The pale, cold light of the winter sunset did not beautify- it was like the light of truth itself. When the smoky clouds hung low in the west and the red sun went down behind them, leaving a pink flush on the snowy roofs and the blue drifts, then the wind sprang up afresh, with a kind of bitter song, as if it said: “This is reality, whether you like it or not. All those frivolities of summer, the light and shadow, the living mask of green that trembled over everything, they were lies, and this is what was underneath. This is the truth.” It was if we were be punished for loving the loveliness of summer.”
That is too sad! But……I will not think of that now, because it is spring, and I am planning to “love the loveliness of summer” with wild abandon. I will let the “living mask of green” fool me. I will deal with the truth of winter when it gets here.
For now I will think of this:
“When spring came, after the hard winter, one could not get enough of the nimble air. Every morning I woke with a fresh consciousness that winter was over. There were none of the signs that I used to watch for in Virginia, no budding woods or blooming gardens. There was only- spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere; in the sky, in the swift clouds, in the pale sunshine, in the warm, high wind- rising suddenly, impulsive and playful like a big puppy that pawed you and then lay down to be petted. If I had been tossed down blindfolded on that red prairie, I should have known that it was spring.”