I was born in North Dakota, on the OX ranch, one of the oldest ranches in the area, just a hop, skip and a jump over the Montana border. Ranches carried the names of their brands and this was the O.X. (not the "ox".) My parents bought it after WWI and did not run cattle, but instead attempted to start a dairy business, which soon went broke, either as a result of the economy after the war, or more likely because I don't think either of them had a lick of business sense. Whatever the reason, they sold out and we moved to the West Coast when I was three years old.
As a high school graduation gift, they financed a trip back to Montana with my aunt and uncle to visit family and see where I began. I was 17 and had never been out of Clark County, Washington, so it was a big event for me. We drove up the Columbia Gorge, past Multnomah Falls and the Indian fishing grounds of The Dalles and into Eastern Washington. I was enchanted by the golden hills, quiet and tawny in the still air, like the flanks of lions sleeping in the sun. I was raised in the drippy conifer groves and small narrow valleys of southern Washington State and I had never seen expanses like this.
We crossed the Idaho panhandle and the mountain passes and suddenly....the prairies! My heart opened up. Something clicked. It was as though I recognized something I did not know I knew. I have loved the prairies ever since, the openness, the space, the soft wind ruffling through the grasses and wildflowers.
The mountains and the redwood groves and majestic forests of the West are awe-inspiring and beautiful, but I am not really comfortable there. I do not like the closed-in feeling of the towering trees and the dark and secret passages through the forest. I love the desert, the sweep of sky and space. And the ocean, where, from California's beaches one can see all the way to Japan!
Of course, I love the Western woods, where I grew up, as well......dogwoods, vine maple, Solomon's Seal and Oregon grape. Trilliums in the spring, wild iris in the summer, small, shy lady's slippers and tiger lilies. And, on the horizon, the magnificent mountains of the Cascades.
I have lived in many beautiful places and each holds precious memories. But, of them all, only the prairies give me that special feeling of freedom and exhilaration. I have no romantic illusions about life there. I know that folks there are just starting their spring gardens while we here on the West Coast are harvesting the first produce from ours. I know that the wind that runs through the grasses and tickles the leaves on the cottonwood trees along the creeks can be a relentless enemy, that pioneer women committed suicide to escape its ceaseless moaning, that it can pile the snow that blankets the area in winter to drifts as high as your head and make driving impossible. I know that the winters are endless and merciless. I could not live there. I am too soft.