The prairie broke in a range of hills with sides
of layered rock and crests as flat as the plains
below. We left the highway and headed north.
The paved road turned to gravel and, as it wound
its upward course, the gravel turned to dirt,
the dirt road narrowed, the piney forest closed
along the sides and the fading road became
a two-track. When the two-track ended at
a washout, we stopped the truck, climbed out and walked.
The hillside where the road had ended fell
away and, taking it, we cut across
a valley of cactus flowers growing wild,
ascended the farther slope and found a stand
–a thicker, richer stand–of trees. The air
was cool and moist among the fragrant boughs,
and pausing to rest and cleanse our throats of dust
we heard the flawless empty spaces sigh
a song of solitude and sweeter days
of untamed dreams and boundless chance. We thought
aloud how such an open place was as near
to paradise as we had ever seen. An hour
we walked the quiet hills for nothing more
than feeling them alive beneath our feet.
And then we saw it.
……………………… A tombstone, a modest stone,
with letters nearly lost to the wear of rain
and wind and snow. My brother read the name.
“It’s Mrs. Otis Tye,” he said. “She died
in January, 1882.”
“Out here?” I asked.
………………………. “I heard about them once,”
said he. “The Tyes were settlers. One winter night,
when Otis was away from home, the team
of horses got away and lost in snow.
Frontier gals being a hearty bunch, Ms. Tye
went out that night to fetch them back alone.”
“You gotta love a woman like that,” I said.
My brother nodded. “Crying shame they gave
her his name on the stone. She earned her own.”
………………. “He found her on this very spot.
The house is standing yet, in part at least,
about a mile from here.” He waved his arm
toward the east. “It’s made of rocks from these
……………. We stood alone among the rocks
and swallowed tepid water from our canteens–
a silent toast of sorts–and thought about
the turning of the circle. Frontier graves
were simple things: Her wooden box had long
returned to the earth from which it came, and she
was sure to follow close behind. We knew
the life the hills had given her, the life
that fueled the fire in her eyes, was now the life
that filled these scented grasses, held these trees
against the prairie winds and helped to close
the sacred hoop. We knew that it was right.
I saw him squint toward the muffled calls
of far-off turkeys. “Want to go?” I asked.
He shook his head and turned his face to feel
the arid winds that blew across the plains
and rose against the rocks. “Let’s stay a while,”
he said, then smiled. “The air’s so clean, so clear,
it is amazing what I see from here.”