Knitting in the Wind

As I drove home last night, the moon a bleeding red ball looming over the east horizon, I could see where I was going almost a full half hour before I reached my exit. That’s one of the beautiful things about living on the plains – the entire world stretches out before you. Growing up in the twisting hills of the trailing Appalachians, moving to the purple mountains of central China – I never developed the appreciation for these sprawling expanses of openness, monochrome in a dismal February, verdant and leafy in a late July sunset. But last night, the lights of the grain elevator guided me with as much purpose and oblique beauty as those of a New England lighthouse. My lifelong love affair with the Midwest.

It continued tonight, marveling at the streaming sunlight, the compelling wind, the capricious moods of industry, agriculture and the state budget.

It’s seldom light when I leave the office, so it was a pleasure to step out into the fading twilight, perforated by birdsong. Those who love purple martins among us have much to smile about. There are fresh morels in the IGA. The rough stone of my front stoop scraped gently against my palms as I lowered myself next to the candle that burns on nights of peace or sorrow. I put the kettle on. As the sun lowered gently, until the streetlights blazed into life, I sat in the constant wind, cast on a baby sweater in a butter-soft yarn in Easter greens and ocean blues. Watched the light dim and thought of another evening, years but not so long ago.

The train ride had been hellacious, if I stopped and thought about it. A suitcase I could barely lift, a suicide on the tracks, a six-hour delay. Changing cars at the crack of dawn, noise and crowd and foreign tongue. I remember feeling only free. Seldom in my time in China had I felt as truly open and alive and safe as the moment my plane lifted into the air in Beijing, reading pop fiction on the rocky banks of the Danube, and of course, that first breezy night in Paris.

I poured the boiling water into a shallow sauce pan, around a grass green artichoke, strong stem removed with a wide Chinese cleaver. I’d had artichokes before that night – tinned, sickly sweet and strong with Italian marinade, slippery and unpleasant surprises hidden in the cheese on a pizza. But it was my first night in France, on a balcony so small it barely held the diminutive table and efficient chairs we balanced between the potted plants photosynthesizing in the Parisian sunset. I remember perfectly the settling darkness, soft and somehow luminous with lavender lamplight. The warm, heavenly baguette from the little patisserie down the street. The bold and heady Bordeaux in slim-stemmed goblets. And the artichoke you cooked in a shallow pan in the narrow galley kitchen of your dormitory.

Even now, as I separate the tender flesh from the unyielding blades with my teeth, I can feel the incandescent darkness surround. Your long musician’s fingers gently freeing the sharp leaves from the heart. Rich balsamic and saucy Cabernet bring back the deep, unnecessarily broken silence on the balcony, as the purple clouds left trails that might have been stars in the moonless night.

That a Terre Haute artichoke can evoke the tastes of the Seine-fed valleys speaks to me more clearly of divinity than all of the Sistine Chapel ceilings ever could.

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