The hills line up to the horizon like a blanket kicked to the bottom of the bed. This isn’t the Himalayas, where continents crashed into each other, shoving rock five and a half miles into the sky. This is the result of an ice age pushing around the land thousands of years ago. The effect is more like a large roller coaster rising and dipping.
From where I stand at the edge of the road, two monster high-voltage power lines march down one hill, across a dip, and up another hill, repeating like headless erector set men tethered to each other. Like some kind of alien explorers. The land under these linked, electrified men is cleared. Some hills mowed bare, others with scrubby shrubs.
Gray clouds form a low ceiling. It’s been cloudy for weeks now, which only adds to the alien nature of the scene. A dozen wild turkeys peck through the mowed field down the hill from the road.
I’m drawn to this spot on my morning walk I always stop here to look across the hills. Humans crave a vista, probably dating back to our days on the savannah, wary of stalking predators. This place also attracts birds—as winter sets in with cold and snow, robins searched out berries in the tall shrubs rising not even to knee level of the giant aliens.
The length of my walk, maybe two miles, is dotted with houses and barns. Not more than a dozen. In the city I left for here, hundreds of houses cram together along every mile of road.
The differences are stark. The city manages quiet only in the tiny hours of morning. Here, it’s quiet all day long. The occasional mower or tractor or rifle. Mostly wind through pines. That’s a particular whoosh that makes me smile. It’s not always so quiet. Crickets chirp all summer, so many and so unrelenting, I’m almost annoyed. But then I remember that in the city crickets didn’t sound till August. Sirens screamed, air conditioners whined, neighbors yelled. Here, a barred owl in the tiny hours cries out, “Who cooks for you?” Though I miss the quiet nighttime whinny of the screech owl in the city.
The city smells of diesel exhaust, cigarette smoke, dryer sheets ironically named for natural scents that are anything but natural. Here, I smell…I’m not sure what. It’s the original earth smell. Something to be compared to, not like anything else. We’ve had a wet fall, but it isn’t just damp earth. The scents greeted me from the moment I stepped out of my car last July and through dry weeks of pure sunlight and deep blue skies. The scent of life. The place teems with life. Forms I can’t see, some I’m only discovering. Newts, frogs, mice, hawks, owls. Hemlocks, pines, Joe Pye weed, goldenrod. Spiders by the gazillions, of all shapes and sizes, and colors. Stark white, deep black. Daddy long legs by the dozens. Grasshoppers and caterpillars, green or fuzzy.
The power line is a reminder that I’m an intruder here, equally tethered to those giant aliens. Somewhere along the line humans stopped living with and within nature and decided to conquer it. Ha, how’s that working out?
The above is from my MOOC (I’m only a week or two behind). The assignment prompt: “Choose a place that you feel is particularly evocative or moving. If possible, go there. Sit, stand, or move through the space in real time, taking notes about what you see, hear, feel, smell, etc. What does it remind you of? What does it make you think about when you’re there. What memories, hopes, fears, losses, dreams, surface for you in the space? Take many notes. If possible, write the piece while you are physically in the space. If that is not possible, take your notes with you and rely on them as you write. Your assignment is to construct a short (250-500 words) piece in the vein of Elyse A. Bekins, “Badwater Basin.” Your purpose is to, as best you can, re-create your place for the reader. You want them not only to have a physical sense of what the place looks like, sounds like, etc., but also to have a more ephemeral sense of what it feels like to be there. Capture not only what is objectively true about the space, but the subjective experience of being there. Create this experience for your reader. Your job is to facilitate travel. Think of your goal here as being the creation of a time- and space-travel machine. A magic carpet that can transport your reader to a specific place at a specific moment in time.”
(The photo wasn’t included in the assignment; that’s for you.)
If you’re curious, Elyse A. Bekins, “Badwater Basin”