The Wild Grey Yonder


Binge-watching the TV show Scandal on a gray Sunday afternoon in November. Glancing out the window I do a double take. Brought to my feet, wide eyed, an American Bald Eagle swooping and soaring against the  rumbling trouble in the sky. “Laura!!!” My shout unanswered, she’d gone to Walmart. Yeah, that was it. Walmart. She’d remember if we’d ever had an eagle visit us before.


Our place is on the prairie. Between Washington and Bloomington Illinois. The flat green fields of forever, feeding the world. There are wetlands north of Peoria. The Illinois River isn’t far. But there are certainly no peaks or towering trees near our flatland home. So an eagle here? I didn’t understand.


And I couldn’t remember when Laura would be back.


I paused the TV. Olivia Pope and the President were in this house in Vermont and they were just about to . . . well, I could wait to see what they were just about to do. I might have lost a bit through the years, I am not a young man. But I did not lose memory of that.  


I walked outside to say hello to Mr. Eagle. Whistled for Pabst, our wise old mutt to get up and come along. Maybe between the two of us we could figure out why old Mr. Eagle had come to call on us out here on the prairie. And maybe we’d see the dust clouds on the long winding driveway that meant Laura was on her way home.

Outside in the slowly building winds, the eagle seemed like he was painting the sky just above our place. Swooping and soaring. Remembering the line of an old Kristofferson song. Something about “aching with the freedom of the feeling of an eagle when she flies.”


What was the name of that song again? And why did it rise up just now?


Because as I stood there with my hands on my hips, staring up at that eagle, the winds started to shift, to ramp up speed and start to swirl just like that eagle did above. And suddenly the earth itself let forth a smell of bone chilling terror. As if the ground itself was getting scared and beginning to rot. I could hear some sort of ancient creaking sound. A frequency carrying an echo of a long ago scream. I was ready to toss myself over Laura. Cover her from all harm. Take our chances with the earth to make sure she’d be safe from the winds and the ripping of that scream.


But she had gone to Walmart.


I saw the distant cell tower snap and crumble. So propelled only by what lets love march through this torn and bleeding world of other times and better places, I started sending her the messages that we would be safe, that we would make it through this storm. Bouncing back to me, I could feel her very soul telling me, take the dog, get inside. Take the dog, get inside.


And what they tell you about the sound of a freight train is true.

Grabbing Pabst, closing the door to the bathroom where there was no windows, holing up head down next to the toilet The creaking, grinding roar as the tornado slivered our house, ripped off the roof and the walls. The dog and I shaking as if hope was a plywood splinter wrapped in pink insulation spread out where the kitchen floor used to be.


So I just kept singing this song to Laura. Singing it above the wind and the rain  that was pummeling the ripped open wound of what once was our home. I kept singing this song.


Till the dark. And the quiet. Till there was only the quiet.


And then I came up from some faraway tunnel to the sound of Pabst barking. Opening my eyes, across the rubble of what used to be our kitchen. Three young military guys. Army National Guard. Clipboards. I heard them say my name. Then another one, a voice I recognized, maybe one of the kids from our sub division said, “Number of occupants. One.”


“Says here, that number of occupants is two. You sure on that number, soldier?”


“Yes sir. I’m sure. This old man, kind of a town character. He did live here with his wife. But she left him. Years ago. So it’s just him and his dog now.”



“Alright son. We’ll put it down as a “one.” Hmm, I wonder if the old man made it. Let’s go inside and have a look.”


Hearing their boots in the rubble, I tried again to send that song out to Laura.


Closed my eyes. And hoped she would hear. Hoped she was OK.


Hoped she made it through the storm.


And that hope was still alive.

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