something from my childhood out of an essay i wrote last semester

What is it that pulls me out of the city and into the so-called wilderness? The comparative silence? And what is it I am listening for in this quiet that we find? Myself? Nature? God? It is all three of these combined because they cannot be separated. Wilderness to me as a young girl, although I did not think of it in exactly that term at the time, was a place where I could find quiet and God. Growing up in a small town of western Kansas, in a household with three sisters, quiet was something longed-for but not always attainable. Certainly not in the house. Growing up a pastor’s kid, I heard over and over the stories from the Bible of people escaping to the wilderness and finding God: Moses hearing the voice of God in the burning bush; the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness after being led out of slavery in Egypt; Elijah, the prophet, encountering God in the mountains of the wilderness and hearing His voice in the quiet whispering wind.

I usually found quiet outside in a cottonwood tree next to the house. High above the ground, I left the noise and trouble of family behind and listened to the papery whispers of the tree’s heart-shaped leaves, the whistle of the wind through its branches. There was comfort in that quiet, and peace, and an understanding of something wider and deeper than even the endless Kansas sky.

Wilderness was just outside of town. Out over the tops of the buildings, stores and houses, the wide Kansas sky was blue, darker in the middle with a hazy white ring around the edges from the summer heat and the dirt blown up into the air from the dry prairie just outside of town. Sometimes, sitting there, I could see a plume of dust, like a distant brown feather against the blue sky miles and miles away being puffed up into the air. And sometimes I could see the distant tops of thunderheads, billowing and white, blinking with lightning. Although sunny and clear in town, if the wind is strong enough, it carried to me the smell of the raindrops falling down out of those faraway storm clouds.

My mind wandered out across those miles, past town, past I-70 at its edge, and into the rolling plains of yellow grass, broken up only by creek-bottom cottonwood trees, fields of sunflowers or wheat. A barn here. A silo there. A windmill. I closed my eyes to imagine the land before men settled it with the dark, towering thunderheads rushing in over the prairie, a slate gray wall with white sheets of rain trailing underneath.