In the aftermath of others’ tragedies—
a church member barely escaped a house burned to the ground
and his wife and daughter-in-law barely escaped a burning car—
and our own near-miss of yard and deck
catching fire when a fifty-mile-an-hour wind
whipped wires from their anchorings,
I rode off into an east wind under gray skies,
layered for the chill but ready
for the comfort of back roads and rivers,
miles of prairie grassland and winding lines of trees,
needing something that seemed like peace
after all the other
and this week of work where other fires
have smoldered for over two years,
and new ones have erupted.
Somewhere near the top of a long hill
toward the eastern edge of Cowley County,
I stopped beside a pasture.
While dozens of Angus stood watching in winter grass,
long dry stems and blades hanging from their mouths,
I studied an old storm shelter less than fifty yards south of the fence
and knew there must have been a house at some time.
The sort of people who moved here over a hundred years ago
did not dig into the dirt for domed shielding
unless it was near enough a home
for a running dive to save their lives
when the skies turned toward killing.
I looked and found a low rectangle of stone and mortar,
the corner barely showing through the sod,
a ten-by-twenty anchoring that had lasted long beyond
the weathering of timbers and the wear of life,
and wondered whether that house, too,
had caught from some ancient grass fire,
or had been abandoned to the winds and storms
after the owners had found
they didn’t have to actually live among the livestock
if the fences were strong enough
and that killing coyotes was easier than watching herds.
Somewhere south and west of Dexter,
in the seventh mile of Grouse Creek Road,
where ancient boulders shoulder the edge of the ridge
running north along the bottoms,
I felt the load ease a bit,
and began thinking more about where I was
than what I had been through.
And knew that I would make it home
in better mind than I had left it.