This piece was written during a literary dry spell, one that Soul Food has helped to dispell.
For days I have been wrapped in oppressive Midwest heat and smothered by a depression that draws me close and whispers hotly in my ear, “Who are you kidding?” I am stifled, immobile, stuck at my monitor with nothing flowing mind to hand to screen. The weather pattern that descended on the prairie presses my body to the scorching earth, all sense of story and rhyme driven from my head in the blasting white heat of the plains. My imagination is bone-dry, bleached like a skull in the pasture. By some miracle I rouse myself from my bed this morning at 6 a.m. and set off with my dog Katy for a walk in the neighborhood.
As I pass beneath the silver maple that stands guard by my door, I inhale a warm wet smell, rising from the steaming earth like incense. In an olfactory rush instantaneous and complex associations create the impression of “green.” I look around, surprised. A rain had come, finally. In my death-sleep I had missed the heat-turning-to-rain lightening, the slow rumble of thunder, the answering sigh of the prairie curves arching up to receive. The asphalt gleamed under the streetlights, puddles collecting at the end of the drive. Katy struggles ahead, eager to explore the newly uncovered smells. As we walk, she buries her nose in the shimmering grass, slowing our progress from time to time with her Newtonian tricks, becoming immovable for moments on end, offering me an opportunity to spy the trumpets of wild Missouri roses, their tender white throats open to the precious moisture.
We turn the corner. The wind lifts the brim of my cap as my skin registers the first drops of rain, fat and slightly cool. I shiver at the rare chill of the moment. The streets are quiet and my ears, clear of the heat and emotion of the previous two weeks, are keen. A loose chain rings musically against a fencepost, water drips from a downspout, wet dust grinds beneath my shoe. We pass a Bradford pear tree, alive with hidden starlings sharing morning gossip. Katy rushes the trunk, and they rise with a jarring thrum, flowing west toward the park in a single fluid current.
My skin drinks in the moisture, even as Katy shakes it off. Each fleeting drop is like a current, scintillating my deadened nerves. I quicken my pace. Katy senses my urgency and surges ahead. My mind begins to clear as I register the jingling of dog tags, the hum of air conditioners, the scent of wet cedar mulch, the spray of purple dianthus at the fence. Color creeps through the gray light of pre-dawn, infusing the day. We see no one, save a few quiet cars, headed to early shifts at factories and hospitals. It is a private world, fresh and clean as new broomstraw. My heart opens and releases the stale hot air trapped by the summer and my own fear. Each viscous hollow of my body registers the change as the prairie wind gathers strength, scudding dark clouds across a sky that just yesterday was a blank white bowl. The bright damp air rushes into the vacuum as the dullness seeps from my eyes. The rain breaks over me, rinsing me clean.