When Story Roamed Free
When Story Roamed Free
Oil painting by LBoll (Lesley Schatz) 2021 “Revisiting Prairie Ghosts”

When Story Roamed Free

by Lesley Schatz

I always liked the wind. Time ceased to exist when it blew. People stayed inside and I had the world to myself. Who knew what spirits would be blown into the realm of the living or a parallel realm of life? The wind could tame you and take you.

This story started long ago when the buffalo still roamed free and fences were only made of willow or thorn to keep the wind back a bit or deter trespassing quadrupeds and is inspired in today’s world by the life on my small prairie farm.

I could catch glimpses of this story as I walked through my dusty little farm; when I went past coulees full of dark moist places scattered with poplars and willow, chokecherries and sagebrush, causing my heart to ache… I wanted to explore that coulee forever. Sorting out the smells while flushing out prairie chickens and partridge. Listening to the wind blow through the fox and coyote smells as a horse snorts scents from his nostrils; I wanted to drink the water from the ever-flowing story well and discover all the moist, fertile grounds hidden in the dry prairie where I lived. So, first we follow the wind…

When Story Roamed Free

Of course there were many winds. The east wind that blew from the other side of the town school. That wind froze your face as you walked towards it; the big chinook wind that caused the snow to melt and yet felt somehow cold. The north had several relatives; north east, north and north west. Just like a handsome man come to court, each had his way about him… usually change.

Change is good. We are built for change. But change isn’t easy. It creates strife and problems which then need to be adjusted to or solved. It’s the solving part that brings out the best in us and allows us to instigate change. The North partnership of winds can do that. But those changes can also kill us if we aren’t prepared.

The South Wind must not be forgotten. If the south wind joins up with her sister, the west wind, and if they persist all summer to prevent the storm clouds from lingering long enough to provide rain, we have drought and fires. If the south wind finds friendship with the east wind we have winter blizzards that can turn you to a block of ice or at least take your toes, nose and finger tips as payment for venturing out into her icy blast. The south wind is one to be watched and respected as she can do damage to the land and the creatures living on it. The problem is that she is usually warm and trusted, surprising us with a ferocity that can turn our prairie into a frozen or burning uninhabitable land. The wind has also traveled through many ‘times’… there is a ‘long ago,’ a ‘time right now’ and a ‘time we will travel to’ but basically in this tale, they are all joined as a group of friends. All of this becomes evident when you live on a prairie farm.

Humans once lived without time as in “Clock time” and without written words… Only the spoken word existed and could pass through the campfire stories, alternately blowing past you or staying with you… it was your choice. You just turned your back on story you didn’t want in your memory and left the campfire so that it never became a part of your consciousness.

With the proliferation of print media today, our minds are working overtime processing all the stories. And the accidental words and visuals that get stuck in our consciousness impact us; even though we didn’t want to hear or see those words or images but just innocently came upon them as we rounded a curve in our canyon of life.

Life as we know it now is not the focused geographical obscurity of the past with each local owning highly individualized customs, languages and stories. We are being swallowed by the fast paced modernity we call progress. Where we used to have stories defining our ‘place’ we now are bombarded with overwhelming fast paced info-entertainment that never ends. This large pool of fractured words regurgitates multiple meanings affecting how we balance our existence with our ‘home’ or place.

When Story Roamed Free

Some of us never walk on actual dirt anymore. Some never see wild lands or creatures except through a vehicle’s window or media screen. I will be exploring the coulees, leaving out the noise and unsubtle messages, treading instead on the beautiful land known as the prairie. The subtleties of the huge open plains are overwhelming and time and space always appear to just exist there. Looking out on natural prairie lands is a timeless experience.

One that I always want to be part of.

Story springs from certain landscapes in order to help the consciousness survive. Story once rode on the winds, in the fires of ancient hearths and traveled through time like water cutting deeper and deeper into our consciousness. Story once roamed free over vast open prairies, rugged mountain ranges and beautifully cruel deserts using past and future, time and space to always just be there, unconfined; borrowed, but never owned.