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Naomi Kimbell & Willa Cather: Shedding Walls And Windows

Crossroads Grave Site, located northwest of Red Cloud, Nebraska.

Naomi Kimbell has always been fascinated by the view of the Rattlesnake Mountains, north of Missoula:

"As a child, I used to walk home backward so I could keep my eyes fixed on my section of the Rockies called the Rattlesnake.  I don’t know what it was I thought I wouldn’t see if I turned away but I knew I wanted the shape of the ridgelines in my eyes, though looking and seeing were never enough.  I wanted more than looking could give me and to be a part of what I saw.

When I was older, I’d hike alone in the woods and stay until I was driven home by darkness or thirst.  These journeys always fell short of my desire for unity with the wild places surrounding my town.  Maybe if I’d picked a spot under a tree and just stayed put, I would have achieved the melding.  But time was always short; I always had to get home and I always got hungry for dinner.

Built places feel temporary and frail among the mountains.  This has this effect on a lot of us.  We want to be a part of the land into which our towns disintegrate, to shed our walls and windows and when we travel to bigger places with buildings made of the same stuff as our mountains, to know our absence has left a scar.  We want the land to miss us when we’re gone but eventually realize that the pain of separation goes unmatched by the places we love; we’re the ones who are lonely." 

The young narrator of WillaCather's novel, My Antonia, sits down, stays put, and finds himself dissolving into a summer garden:

"I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin.  There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit.  I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries and ate a few.  All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines.  ...  The earth was warm ....  Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me.  Their backs were polished vermillion, with black spots.  I kept as still as I could.  Nothing happened.  I did not expect anything to happen.  I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more.  I was entirely happy.  Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge.  At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.  When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep."

(Broadcast: "Reflections West," 4/22/15 & 10/28/15. Listen weekly on the radio, Wednesdays at 4:54 p.m.)

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