Thursday, May 16, 2013

Walking in Isaac's Steps

Pond from which I began my walk
Last spring one of the writers' websites I visit challenged readers to an Immersion Writing Contest, described as using a "participatory experience to write about yourself completing a reenactment."  I decided it would be fun to reenact Isaac's footsteps as he walked from his homestead to the home of Doc Dix, where the Emerson Post Office was maintained. 
Isaac's homestead was located in the southwest quarter of section 33, and as nearly as I can locate his house, it was near the center of the quarter.  Doc Dix owned the north half of section 31, his timber claim being in the east quarter and his homestead in the west quarter.  When I was a child, my father spoke of "the old Dix's place" as we drove past what appeared to be the remains of a home site located along the north side between the two Dix's claims.  The distance from the center of Isaac's homestead claim to the point on the north side between Doc Dix's two claims would have been about two miles.  I did not carry a camera during my reenactment, so the photographs accompaning this blog were taken in 2013; however, the description of my walk is my experience from 2012.
My husband dropped me off at the retention pond in the northeast corner of Isaac's homestead.  (Isaac makes no mention of any permanent pond on his claims, although he does mention ponds after rainfalls.)  My husband paused by the pond with me long enough to flip a turtle struggling on its back at the edge of the pond before leaving me to begin my reenactment of Isaac's walk to get his mail.  As I lingered to watch the wild ducks that Isaac had loved, a splash caught my attention too late to see its cause.  Soon, a bug-eyed frog surfaced to stare at me--the apparent cause of the splash.  A few of his buddies gradually emerged in the pond, reminding me of the "frog choruses" Isaac described in his journal.
Racoon tracks
As I turned to begin my walk, the smell of crushed rye along the path my husband had driven filled the air, alive with tiny yellow and white butterflies performing their aerial dance over growing wheat on one side and alfalfa on the other.  Bird songs from the trees near the pond were replaced by the buzz of insects, and  I wondered what birds serenaded Isaac on the treeless prairie before the cottonwoods, catalpa, and peach trees he planted began to grow.  Studying the raccoon tracks beside my own foot prints, I nearly missed the moment I had come to find, the feeling of Isaac tapping me on the shoulder to say, "Look around.  See why you are here."
I stood between Isaac's homestead and timber claims and slowly turned in a circle to see the land around me.  How proud Isaac must have felt to be master of the 360 acres he had claimed.  I saw the land through Isaac's eyes and understood his pride.
The 1/2 section line
But, I was on my way to Doc Dix's soddie after the mail, and I could not linger.  Soon I reached the black top road and left Isaac's land.  A farmer's daughter born and bred, I refused to cut across a neighboring field and trample knee-high wheat, although Isaac probably walked the diagonal route.  Instead, I walked the half-section line between two fields, straddling a wheat row to avoid bending the slender green stalks, perhaps not so different from walking across the tall prairie grass.  Midway across the field, the noise of a pickup on the backtop road behind me sounded alien, out of place, so immersed was I in Isaac's walk.  A large, deep badger hole beside my path made me hope my reenactment would not awaken the fierce nocturnal animal. 
Neglected tree row
I passed a mudhole, dried down to the mossy bottom and pocked-marked with deer tracks, while at my feet little red pyramids of anthills dotted the ground.  I paused to listen to the rustling sound of the wind as it ruffled the wheat that surrounded me. 
As I neared the center of the section, a tree belt planted in the 'Dirty Thirties,' decades after Isaac's death, obstructed my path.  The wind made a different sound--stronger and full of mystery, and dying branches bent to the ground, a tangled barricade.  The interruption broke the spell of my reenactment and chased Isaac from my imagination. 
My walk continued, but the destination changed toward my family home located in the south half of the section in which the Dix family had once resided to the north.  The changed world of abandoned claims, blacktop roads, irrigated fields, and neglected trees brought me back to the present, but for a while I had walked in Isaac's steps.
(Remember, you can enlarge the photographs by clicking on them.)


Talya Tate Boerner said...

A great writing exercise.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Talya, it was fun. Have you tried doing something similar? I've tried to be very accurate in making descriptions in my manuscript, and I've had trouble documenting what bird sounds Isaac would have been certain to hear. Unless he mentions the specific bird, I don't assume it was on the prairie in his time, and other birds, like the prairie chicken, were hunted to extinction. I've also limited my descriptions of weather to only those he described in his journal. However, doing this walk was interesting.