Riffles in the distance. The sound of wonder breaks along the shore. Rivers that twist and curl. Lakes tossing fish toward heaven, then pulling them back again. Waters coaxing thirsty wildlife near. The streams and ponds, smaller versions flashing to impress the passersby. Oceans, fierce and tangy. But there’s no ocean here in the heartland, no moon-yanked waves caressing cliffside rocks, yet limbs and branches and fallen trees wash along the rivers’ banks, landed debris I call tidewrack (to my family’s laughable chagrin) in a futile attempt to bring the feel of breadth to this singularly claustrophobic interior. I suppose I’m feeling a little trapped.
A close lake
Five minutes from home lies a lake. An after-storm wind crinkles the four hundred acres of water, south to north, south to north, steady. These waves aren’t pounding or splashing as I’ve seen them do, but they’re crimped and compressed like dress clothes left too long in a dryer, then finally lifted out, shaken, and taken to the ironing board. An expanse of blue running puckers.
The perennial Canada geese are noticeably absent, and a profusion of butterflies have taken their place. They rise and dive on the water’s edge, their yellows and oranges coördinating with the first hints of autumn turning. Each hill and trail gushes with goldenrod and the gentle lavender blossoms of the prickly Cirsium Vulgare, the bull thistle. Fields of wild carrot have gone to seed, their lacy white caps stowed away for the season, their black seeds scattered and usable as a contraceptive for those folksy enough to collect them. A long-legged frog hops halfway across the road, fearful of vehicle tires, and, no doubt, flour, hot grease, and frying pans for those muscular appendages.
Eight miles of trails encircle this inland reservoir. I’ve hiked half of them. “The hillier, the better,” has always been my motto, that is, until first one hip started screaming and then the other. Seems to be all the rage among aging hikers: screaming joints. But when each joint is lubed with cortisone, I can manage flat-terrain reasonably well, but no more hills for me until I yield to the persistent call of the titanium hips. Iowa will have its own version of the bionic woman.
A farther pond
Sasquatch. It’s a big topic. Hiking a park about an hour from home, I found a strange footprint a mile off-trail near a pond. I took photos and showed them around. The consensus was the same: “Could be.” “That’s weird.” “Why not?” “Who knows?” So I Googled. One site told of a group of campers who heard growly screams coming from those same woods one night, and a large, imposing and, unfortunately, shadowy figure across the river. Had the campers been drinking? Had they heard the loud belching of a fellow with too many beers in him, using the woods as his port-a-potty? But there are other stories. Iowa is supposedly one of many hot spots for lurking hairy giants. We even have our own Bigfoot research group headed by a PhD of some discipline or another. According to that group, the colossal hirsute is both entirely elusive and somewhat ubiquitous, ranging across nearly every continent on the planet, yet not a crumb or morsel of actual bodily remains has been found and proven to belong to that suspect species. But then there are those darn footprints and questionable sightings. What’s a Smallfoot to believe? I ask myself that whenever I hear a growl in the woods, and then I growl back. Each of us needs to find our own sense of closure.
Ocean off Delaware
The water, so cold and blue, raging and swaying, the sand warm enough to tramp around shoeless. This was Rehoboth Beach, their boardwalk inviting with all manner of food, drink, and fun, and ranging dogs on leashes, pet-able, a dog lover’s paradise.
I visited there two years ago to meet a sister I had just found out about a few months earlier. (Oh those meddling DNA kits, but I’ll spare you the minutiae.) She suggested we make a trip to the coast, two hours away, not uncomfortable hours of driving but not as chatty as I thought they’d be either. In came the in-person exploration of personalities in that newfound relationship. It was an “everything changes” and a “look at my future” journey toward water.
And at the end of the day and the end of the visit, I told myself (and am still telling myself), we’ll find a way through; everything will rise on the wings of each moment; let it be; let it happen.
Summer has been first hot then cold then hot again. We’re mid-September and it’s still in the upper 80’s, though today the anticipated high is only 70. Yesterday a raging storm discombobulated me on my return from town. My low slung vehicle hydroplaned as the wipers flipped back and forth at supersonic speed trying to keep up with the blinding deluge. I felt like Noah’s wife swimming for shore. I could have sworn I saw two geese waddling along the road’s shoulder, and a pair of elephants in my rearview mirror. I’m pretty sure I heard faint hammering in the distance.
Out of water
On days when the outdoors is simply too outdoorsy, I plop myself in front of a computer and try to tell the truth. Some truths are harder to tell than others. And though I’ve never been one to abide a schedule, I attempt to plop there nearly every day. It takes the plopping to get to the keys with which to hammer out the words which hopefully reveal a tiny bit of world from my purview, strange as that purview happens to be at the moment. “From a strange mind,” as my son would say. He’s convinced his reasoning is sound. But it also takes prayer. I tell God that if she lets me win that contest I submitted to, I’ll take out the one bad word I put in, the really nasty one, if the editor insists, maybe, probably. I tell her I hope that if in her above-all throne room in the sky she’s feeling the least bit piteous for this relatively unknown woman plopping in front of a computer day after day, an occasional deluge outside her windows, hopefully, prayerfully, she’ll let her win something one more time. By God. But it’s a wash. I never quite know if I’ve convinced her until the email arrives.
Water. This way of life is not easy. So I put on shorts, step into the wild world outside my doors, and Jackson Pollock the whole damn thing one more time.
Chila Woychik is originally from the beautiful land of Bavaria, and is of German/French descent. She recently discovered that if you don’t want to learn previously hidden (and often earth-shattering) truths about your heritage, don’t spit into a DNA kit test tube. But on a brighter note, she’s been published in Cimarron, Passages North, Portland Review, Stonecoast, and many other journals, and has a 2020 essay collection to her credit: Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology, published by Shanti Arts of Brunswick, Maine. She won Storm Cellar’s 2019 Flash Majeure Contest and Emry’s 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award. These days she writes, tends sheep, chickens, and two aging barn cats, and roams the Iowan outback to find the most picturesque of views. She also edits the Eastern Iowa Review. Her first in a series of mystery novellas is called The Query and is available for purchase online. You can visit her website at www.chilawoychik.com