The Day I Met the Wind

Submitted into Contest #125 in response to: Write a story including the phrase “Better late than never”.... view prompt

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Fiction Indigenous Kids

Have you ever met the wind? If you'd have asked me that yesterday, I'd have probably answered "no".


Well, first I'd have probably looked at you funny, and asked you "what do you mean? Have I ever been outside on a windy day ? Or, felt the wind blow? Well, sure. Sure I have."


But, to answer the actual question directly, I'd have had to say I never actually met the wind. That was, until today.


It started when my Garmaw took us to the prairie. (By the way, 'Garmaw' is how my sister and I learned to say “grandmother” when we were little...and it just stuck. Even though it's not the right word - it's the right word for her).  


Garmaw was telling stories to our mom and dad as she drove. She grew up here - and she had some old story for just about every farm we passed. She'd talk about who used to live here and there, who lives here and there now, and all of what happened in between. Then, on to pass another farm with some happy story, woven into the last little bit of a sad one before it.


I wasn't really paying attention. Not because her stories weren't interesting, but because as a ten year old boy, I'm not really capable of paying attention to things grownups say, especially when they say them for a long time. After a while, it all just sort of runs together into one big sound, that doesn't seem like it was meant for me to listen to.


But, in between her driving and telling stories, I did manage to actually hear her say something about a poem called If You're Not From the Prairie. I wasn't sure why, but my guess was she wanted to get us excited about where she was driving us: which was, of course, the prairie.


Our Garmaw knew lots of books and poems from her years as a school teacher - she always shared them, and we always read them. She never shared a bad one…so I paid more attention to what she was saying than the rest of the grownup talk that had been running together. She was sharing parts of the poem.


“...If you’re not from the prairie,

You don’t know the wind, 

You can’t know the wind.

Our cold winds of winter cut right to the core,

Hot summer wind devils can blow down the door…”


It was December, and we were visiting Garmaw over our Christmas break. So, I was pretty sure that we’d find the prairie more on the ‘cold winds of winter’ side today. To be completely honest, a wind so cold that it can cut you right to the core did not sound like a good time to me. I glanced over at my sister, and saw she was already glancing at me. We both raised our eyebrows and said nothing. Thank you, poem.


We turned off the gravel road into the park. There was an orange sign covered in a thin layer of dust that read “Spring Creek Prairie”. Swinging over the entrance was a big rusty thing that looked like the letters K and O, welded together on their side.


“See that?” said Garmaw, pointing at the rusty thing as we passed underneath, “That’s a cattle brand for the people who used to own the prairie. They used this land for grazing cattle.”


I imagined those people dressed like Eskimos, staying warm while they took care of their poor, shivering cattle. And imagined myself, standing next to them, shivering with my hoodie pulled up around my face.


The prairie was fine. It was big. It was nice. It had a visitor center, but we didn’t go in. There was a green sign that said ‘NO DOGS ALLOWED’ in big white letters at the beginning of the trail. But, it was not too cold - the person who wrote that poem must have come to the prairie on a different day.


And, the trail through the prairie was too long. I’m sure there were shorter trails we could have taken, but grownups always choose the long trails, and today was no different. We could have seen all the prairie we needed on a trail half as long as the one we took, but nope…we just had to take a long trail. My dad even went off on an even longer trail, so he could see more prairie. Grownups are so weird. I was ready to go home.


I was trying to make the walk seem shorter, by running ahead, stopping, running ahead, and stopping. I had run about a football field ahead of everyone else, when I saw a bench on the side of the trail, and decided to rest while waiting for the others to catch up. Places like this were always full of benches with people’s names on them. It always feels a little funny to put your backside on someone’s name, especially when you don’t know them. I imagine them somewhere saying “hey, kid! That’s my name you’re sitting on…get off me!”. That made me laugh.


But I didn’t laugh for long. A lady came up the trail, wearing a faded red overcoat and thick work pants like the kind my grandpa wears on cold days at the farm. She wore old rubber boots that went up to her knees, covered in mud to the ankles. And, she had dogs - five of them.


And, that's the reason I stopped laughing - I don’t really like dogs. Well…I like our dog, but I don’t like other people’s dogs. When I was little, some big stupid dog nipped me in the face, and so I never really liked dogs after that. And, besides, I knew there were no dogs allowed at this park. That lady just had to have passed the same sign we did - the one that said ‘NO DOGS ALLOWED’ in big white letters.


As she got closer, I could see she had red cheeks and leathery skin, and wisps of thin grey hair poking out from under her knit hat. She was old - much older than Garmaw.


The others who were behind me arrived up the trail at the same time as the old lady. My sister - who of course loves dogs - asked the woman if it was ok to pet one of the smaller dogs. The woman smiled and said it was fine.


Did you ever say something that you started trying to un-say while you were saying it, but it just comes out anyway? Well, that’s exactly what I did next.


“You know, there’s no dogs allowed in the park.”


I started trying to un-say it about halfway through, but it all just came out anyway.


My sister’s eyes got big. My mother shot me the eyes, while she pulled me away by my shoulder and apologized to the lady.


“It’s fine,” she said. “There’s actually an interesting story about that. Wanna hear it?” She was talking directly to me.


I glanced at my mom, who nodded that it was ok to listen. So, I did.


“Before this land was settled,” she said, “it belonged to the people of the Pawnee, the Otoa, the Kansa, and the Omaha tribes. As far as you can see from here in all directions, and then some…all roamed by the people of those tribes.” She gestured out at the horizon as she spoke.


I looked around in all directions. In the city, you can’t look very far in any direction before something blocks your view. But here, I felt like I could see forever…nothing ever blocked my view, just more prairie rolling out and down in all directions, until it was swallowed up by the air. I knew exactly what she meant when she said “and then some.”


“Over 150 years ago ,” she continued, “the government told the settlers they would give each family 160 acres of this land, for free. All they had to do was agree to live on it for five years, then the homestead would belong to them.”


I wasn’t sure how big an acre was, but I knew it was really big. And, I knew 160 was a lot of them to get for free.


“How could the government give away the land, if it already belonged to the Native Americans?”, I asked.


The old lady looked at me and smiled, like I had just blurted out the punch line of her joke. “That’s a really good question, and one I didn’t start asking myself until I was much older than you are. Better late than never, I suppose.” She chuckled. “Maybe that’s a story for another time. But first, let’s finish the story about the dogs..”


“So my family was one of those homesteaders,” she went on, “But we didn’t farm our land, we ranched it. That means we raised cows on it. It also means that the way you see this prairie today, is almost exactly how it looked since long before it was settled. Just like this, never plowed, never cultivated or moved in any way.”


I looked out, and imagined this place, but with no roads, no telephone poles, no visitor center, no gravel parking lot, and no mowed trails. It wasn’t hard, because there was so much prairie here, and so little of those other things. It was almost as if they weren’t there anyway.


“Anyway,” she continued, “this place stayed in my family until 1998, when two groups started a bidding war over who would buy this land from me. One group was a big land developer, who offered us lots of money to build houses on it. The other group was the people who run the parks. They offered us a lot less money for the land, but said they would preserve it, just how it is, forever.”


Since I didn’t see any houses here, it was clear what she had decided. “But...why didn’t you take the offer for more money?” I asked.


“Well - three reasons,” she answered with a smile. “The first reason, and the reason I’m telling you this story, is because they agreed to let me continue to bring my dogs here, for as long as I live. So, these dogs are lucky!” She reached down and scratched one behind the ear. “They are the only dogs in the whole world that are permitted here in the park, and it’s not against the rules.”


I looked at my mother and my grandmother, I could tell they were really enjoying this - shaking their heads and smiling in disbelief at this most unexpected story. If I’m being honest, I sorta felt the same way. It was a really cool story.


“The second reason is, the day I decided to make up my mind on who to sell to, I went for a walk around the ranch. And, in that pond over there,” she said as she pointed to a pond near the visitor center, ”I saw a Great Egret. Now I’d lived my whole life on this ranch, and never once seen a bird like that on any of our ponds. But it's the symbol of the group from the parks, it’s their mascot. So, I took it as a sign, and made up my mind right there. I called the big developer the next day and told them I would be selling my land to the park.”


“And, what was the third reason?” I asked.


The old lady looked off into the distance and said, “the third reason was..well, because, I know the wind.”


I looked at my sister. Her mouth fell open in amazement, and I think mine probably did too. This old woman had just spoken the exact words that Garmaw had used when talking about her poem in the car ride here. Garmaw did not seem surprised, she just smiled.


The old lady broke the silence. “Anyway, the dogs and I headed up to visit my horse, Jube. He’s buried just over there-a-ways. I hope you folks have a great time here today.” She called to her dogs.


As she began to turn away, she stopped and leaned in close to my ear, and whispered “you can know the wind too, if you want.” she pointed up a nearby hill. “It's waiting up there. You just go up to the top of that hill, close your eyes, and wait.


Then she walked away, with five dogs bounding here and there around her feet.


Now, this woman who had lived her whole life in this fantastic place where Natives once roamed, who was once visited a magical bird she’d never seen before, and who’d rather have a place to walk her dogs and bury her horse than money - who not even three minutes earlier I had told there were NO DOGS ALLOWED - this most unusual person had just told me to go up the hill, close my eyes, and wait. So I could ‘meet the wind.’


So I did the only sensible thing a person could do - I ran up the hill, my mother calling behind me. I didn’t wait, or even ask. I just moved my feet, one in front of the other, until I was on top of the hill, then closed my eyes, and I waited.


I met the wind.  


I don’t mean that I felt the wind when it blew on me, like it does in the city where we live.


I don’t mean that I was on top of a hill, in the prairie, on a windy day - even though that was true.


I mean, I met the wind. Just like we had not known the old lady, then we met her, then we knew her through her stories. In a moment, I went from not knowing the wind, to really knowing it.  


With my eyes closed, the wind introduced itself to me with a sound. Just like the lady told us she had seen the Great Egret for the first time, this wasn't any sound that I knew. I was hearing it for the first time in my life. It was the sound of the wind passing across countless blades of dry tallgrass. Any one blade, or ten, or a hundred blades could make absolutely no sound at all. But, together, limitless millions of blades of tallgrass, each making no sound of its own, all add up to a whisper. A deep and ancient whisper, moving towards everywhere, from everywhere at once. A vast whisper that carries a secret - I am the wind, you know me. 


This was the same secret whisper the old lady had heard when she grew up on this place, on 160 acres that was never really hers. The same secret from before the beginning of time that the wind whispered to the children of the Pawnee, the Otoa, the Kansa, and the Omaha.  


It’s a secret that has never been heard anywhere but here, on the prairie, because it can never be uttered anywhere but here. And now, this magnificent secret was being whispered to me.


I stayed with the wind as long as I could, before my mother called me down and scolded me for running off.


On the drive home, my Garmaw and my mother were talking again, telling stories where every farm we passed had its own page in the storybook. It was that grownup talk that all runs together and sounds like it's not intended for me. I was waiting for a break in the talking so I could ask:


“Garmaw, when we get home will you please read us the poem about the wind and the prairie?”


She said she would, and when we got home - she did. 


“...If you’re not from the prairie, you can’t know my soul,

You don’t know our blizzards, you’ve not fought our cold.

You can’t know my mind, nor ever my heart,

Unless deep within you, there’s somehow a part… 

A part of these things that I’ve said that I know, 

The wind, sky and earth, the storms and the snow. 

Best say you have—and then we’ll be one

For we will have shared that same blazing sun.”


I’m not from the prairie; I’ve never known blizzards, or fought cold, or done anything having to do with storms or the blazing sun, or any of that stuff. I’m just a kid from the city. But, today there is somehow a part deep within me of these things he said that he knows.


I know the wind.

December 23, 2021 02:09

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2 comments

Nick Fowler
01:03 Jan 05, 2022

I loved this story! I read it as a bedtime story to my little boy, although he did fall asleep before the end, he did ask me what happened to the ‘lady with the dogs’ first thing the following morning so he must have enjoyed it too! Great writing, thank you Eric!

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Eric Miller
19:30 Jan 05, 2022

Thanks Nick. It's really a good feeling to know the story reached the intended audience. It was actually written from the perspective of my son, and is a heavily fictionalized version of our day at the park!

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