BIRDLAND IS FAR FROM HERE. 2241.6 miles to be exact. Who would have thought that Ellis and I could get in the car one morning early, and drive drive drive for three days and then a little more, and end up in Seattle? My youngest drove at least half the way, probably more, and I'm sure that when we do the math we will find that he's more than fulfilled his fifty hours of practice driving for his license.
The first leg of our journey was the shortest, and we spent the 4th of July in Ames, Iowa with Elaine and Matt. It was good to see them and their sweet daughters. We arrived in time for an afternoon swim and fajitas on the deck with their friends, where I got to hold a tiny baby. We drove into the campus to watch fireworks. We were still in the central time zone, but so much further west that the fireworks didn't begin until after 10 when the sun finally set. We parked in a the stadium parking lot and sat in the grass median watching families set off sparklers while we waited for the colors to light up the dark sky. Afterwards we stayed and talked and watched kids race through the grass while waiting for the cars to file out of the parking lot.
I had expected Iowa to look a lot like our corner of Illinois, and it did in parts, but also had rolling hills. We saw more silos and more picturesque barns, and drove past lots of windmills in the fields. We also saw them being trucked in parts—one gigantic blade at a time, like twisted wings of jets laid on the bed of semi trailer trucks.
After taking advantage of Elaine and Matt's kind hospitality, we snuck out in the morning. I was trying not to wake the girls and went out the back door and nosed around their yard until I found a gate in the back fence just under their lush grape arbor that is dripping with green grapes, the vines climbing up their roof. I was glad I found the gate, or else I would have missed their sweet little vegetable bed at the side of the house. We got back in the car and continued driving west. We had a long drive through South Dakota, which had very rolling hills that mess with your sense of distance. The hills are green, but covered with a smattering of sage colored plants, stones, and sometimes cows and sheep. The cows on the far hills are tiny, sometimes the size of a jelly bean. I finally figured out that at home if a cow is more than two miles away, we usually can't see it, since the land is so flat. But in the hill country, we can see much farther, so the cows themselves can appear much smaller. It took me awhile to understand it was cows gathered on the hillside, and not some kind of rabbits or prairie dogs. Along the interstate was plenty to look at and we saw a tiny roadside chapel, and one rest stop was really a museum dedicated to Lewis and Clark's expedition, and Native American culture and tradition. It had an observation deck made of a keel boat, and a teepee and beadwork.
On to Wyoming, where we stayed with my friend, Claire and her husband, Chris. I don't know where I get the gall to email people I haven't seen in so many years and ask if they can put us up. Claire inspires my admiration for living her dream. She has always loved horses, so what does she do? Moves out west to live on a ranch. She makes the most lovely leather work: saddles and chaps. I actually got to see a pile of saddles in her house. We left early the next morning for our last leg, but not before she invited us to stop by on the way back. I was so glad because I hope we'll have time to get a better look at her leather work, and walk out to see the new foals.