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Kansas City MO 64131

PRAIRIE CHICKEN

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PRAIRIE CHICKEN

Cindy Maddera

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We drive straight north on Interstate 29 to Fargo, ND and then straight west on Interstate 94 all the way across the state to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This wasn't, of course, our final stopping point. It was just our means to an end, our way of knocking out three states on our lists. We would end up going in one giant loop, traveling east to west through North Dakota and west to east across South Dakota. This is the Midwest, rolling prairies, rows of corn and wheat. The wind blows constantly, making the grasses look like a green ocean. You can count time between homesteads. They are spaced miles apart and many of them are abandoned. Miles and miles from the nearest town and miles from the nearest neighbor. There is no in between. The homesteads that are thriving are well kept with pretty red barns. The abandoned ones leave behind a shell of a farmhouse and a barn that is leaning as though all it would take is a nudge to go toppling over. It makes you wonder what makes people stay. Why is this one working? What made them give up on that one? I am no stranger to prairies or farmland. Oklahoma has a variable landscape but most of the western side of it is all prairie. I am used to pasture upon pasture of wheat fields and acres upon acres of grazing cattle. To get between Oklahoma City and Chickasha, you must drive through rolling hills of tall grass prairies. The same can be said for the stretch of turnpike between Wichita and Emporia. Yet, there is something different than I'm used to in these Dakota prairies. The grass is greener and not as tall. The hills are less hill and more rolling flat lands. Speed bumps in the prairie. The rows of farmed land are balanced with pastures of grazing sheep or cattle. The off and on showers carry the smells of fertilized earth and livestock. There is also a sweetness to that smell that reminds me of honey and hay. There is a brief moment where I think I could possible lay down in those pastures without itching or sneezing. Surely I'm not allergic to these grasses, this prairie. It is a fleeting thought. I know better. Grass is grass and I will always be allergic.

I become hypnotized as I stare out the window. At first I'm on the look out. I'm looking for wildlife like pronghorns and prairie dogs. Both of the Dakotas have a thing for giant statues and metal sculptures. Besides the World's Largest Buffalo, we saw a giant heifer and a towering crane. We passed a giant bulls head on our way home. After a while though my mind begins to spin it's own theories of life on the prairie. I could see myself hanging laundry on the line or sprinkling out feed for the chickens. I'd spend mornings kneeling in the garden wearing a large sun hat while digging in the dirt. Maybe I'd try my hand at canning things or cake baking. I don't bake cakes, rarely a cookie or a pie in this house. Maybe farm life would encourage more baking. My imaginary farm life quickly morphs from pioneer woman to hippie as I turn the second floor of the barn into a yoga studio. My pastures would be full of grazing goats instead of cows and I'd make artesian cheese with the goat milk.

But the distance between homesteads snaps me out of it. The isolation is too much. I used to joke about how I'd never move back to a place where I couldn't have pizza delivered any time I wanted too. Now I can even have Chinese delivered right to my front door. I am four miles from everything I need. Grocery shopping is a weekly event as opposed to a monthly one. I am spoiled by the amenities of city life. There was a time I could run around outside barefoot across sharp gravel, hot asphalt, clover full of bees and prickly grass. The soles of my feet are now soft from pedicures and I never take a step outdoors without some sort of sandal or flip flop on my feet. At the end of the day, I'd be that homesteader pulling up stakes and heading closer to bright lights and big cities, moving into the land of pizza delivery and high speed internet.

I wonder if I could still have a goat in the city though.