Rains on the Prairie

Say what you will about the drive from Indianapolis to Denver, but it isn't short. We packed the last of our things in the mini-van just before 8 a.m. Eastern time. Kirsten's parents opened the garage for us about half past three in the morning. That figures out to about 22 hours on the road, and a lovely lunch in St. Louis aside, that's a long time in the car. But we're here, an hour up the mountain from Denver.

Time constraints kept us from wandering off of the Interstate, but even so, there was plenty to stare at out of the car window.

From what I understand, the Midwest has been just soaked by rain. Kirsten's grandmother in Indianapolis talked about how much more fierce the rain had been this year, and I remember a report on the nightly news a couple of weeks ago about communities' struggle alongside the Mississippi River to keep the rising waters back. There was one other brief piece of speculation about the relationship between between this summer's inundation and global warming, arguing that the warming of the atmosphere is increasing the amount of water vapor that can be stored and then released in storms. The suggestion is that this summer's severe storms will only continue to become more so as the global warming trend continues.

That said, I know little of these things. All I know now is what it's like to drive through a storm on the open prairie. Coming west out of St. Louis, having passed over the muddy Mississippi and along still-swollen levees, the sky to the west was the color of slate, the promise of a wet dark. To the south, there will still pale blooms of cumulus, but the Interstate drew west. When the rain came, it was sudden and thick, from the promise of rain to a lashing spray. Visibility dropped to a matter of feet, and the semis still barreling along threw up plumes across the windshield. There was little to do but slow our speed to a crawl, turn the hazard lights on, and grasp the steering wheel tightly. It passed, as these storms do, but even after emerging on the other side, you could look to the south and the north and see the dark curtains of rain falling to either side.

Kansas was unexpectedly lush. It must be this summer's rains, but we were both surprised to see how green the rolling hills had become. Last year, I remember driving through in September, and the colors I remember were the fading green of corn and the dun brown of ripened wheat. This time, though, the wheat has yet to ripen, and the corn is still growing. As we drove west, the stands of pin oak and ash thinned out (a seam of trees along the horizon, I wrote) to the rolling hills of Topeka towards Salina. The sun was setting, and the sky had that washed-out quality to it that comes after rain. It almost seemed to echo a couple of things I'd written about Los Angeles, but I wanted to believe that there was something different here: a sense of gravity, a density to the light, even after it had been wrung clear by the rain, the insistence of the earth. (It would, of course, be interesting to speculate about how the light of open spaces affects architecture - how some have written that Los Angeles, for all of its cosmopolitan facade, is really little more than a Midwestern town writ large upon the land; that LA is like the Midwest in its light, in its living, and yet not.)

A week in Colorado (thunder even here in the Front Range, though still away to the south), and then the last long push back to Los Angeles.


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