A dust plume followed the car like a diaphanous silver parachute as we traveled the countryside. I was in the back seat, silently urging my Dad to drive faster, straining my eyes to see the first tell tale signs that we were getting close. Everything looked the same, except for the few trees huddled against farm houses, golden grasses stretched as far as the eye could see.
My stomach churned with excitement as I finally caught sight of the familiar pattern of trees that sheltered Aunty Rena's farm house - I wanted to jump out of the car and run the rest of the way, but held tight, my hand on the door handle readying myself to fly out the door. It seemed to take forever for the car to roll to a complete stop, but when it did I burst out of the car, shyness suddenly overtaking me as I greeted my Aunty Rena. She pulled me into a loving hug, her soft arms smelling of fresh milk and butter.
We spoke for a moment and then I left to reacquaint myself with the farm. I walked over to the fence where the two dairy cows were - Jerseys I think - and took a deep breath. Hints of dried hay and aged manure were carried on the dusty breeze, a familiar smell that hugged me as tightly as my aunt had. Beside me the stock tank sparkled in the sun. My hand dipped into the cool water and looking down I could see the huge fish that lived there. With ceremonial aplomb I took a small battered tin cup from its nail and pumped cool water into it, and taking a deep drink felt my spirit refreshed.
Stepping back from the stock tank I closed my eyes to soak in every detail of that hot summer day: the smells, the feel of the warm sun and dusty wind on my skin, the sound of wild birds and livestock. My heart swelled and tears pricked at my eyes. This was the home of my spirit, and even though I was only 13, I knew these memories would move me forever.
The weathered barn stood at the other end of the paddock, its sheathing aged to a tarnished sterling silver. Next to the barn was a high fenced corral, a little calf bawling for milk its sole occupant. I turned to my Aunt Rena who told me that it was an orphan and had to be bottle fed. Slipping between the strands of barbed wire I carefully walked over to the dairy cows - unlike most of the cows here, these two were tame. Their huge brown eyes looked me over then they dropped their heads back to the pile of hay. Their coats were shiny and sleek and felt like silk under my small hand.
I turned my attention toward the high corral where two brown eyes peered out between the slats. The dusty rose in puffs as I made my way towards those staring eyes. As I got close, the Hereford calf moved back from the gate, unsure of my intentions. I turned back to my Aunt to see if it was okay and then clambered up the high sides and down into the calf's domain. Crouching down on my heels I waited for it to approach. Curiosity quickly overcame uncertainty and I felt the cold, wet nose on my arm. Slowly I lifted my other hand and put it on his withers where I knew from experience was a good place to scratch. He was won over.
As the morning wore on I wandered through the rest of the farmyard, carefully sliding my hand underneath roosting chickens to check for eggs, scratching the pigs and cuddling the purring kittens. I could not think of a better place to be.
The clang of the lunch bell called me back to the farmhouse. A big bowl of soapy water was set by the door for everyone to wash up with. Next to that stood a pail filled with fresh well water for drinking, a scoop hanging on a nail above it. The table sat in the middle of the kitchen, and as usual Aunty Rena had loaded it with food until the wood groaned. She was known far and wide and across the decades for her cooking and everyone at the table would agree - you couldn't find a finer lunch anywhere. Stuffed and a bit sleepy, I helped with washing the dishes in the big tub that had been filled with water heated on the stove.
After lunch I headed out to look for the horses. They were pastured in several hundred acres of wild prairie on the other side of the fence from the Jerseys. This was perhaps my most favorite place in the whole world. Wild flowers tangled with the tall grasses, birds darted here and there, a meadowlark sang her pretty song. The vastness of the prairie made my knees weak, I had to lie down for a moment with my face to the sun feeling the energy of the earth move up through my limbs. I felt at one with this place.
I never found the horses, and eventually headed back to the house, hoping to be in time for milking. Cousin George brought the two Jersey cows into the barn, gently wiped their udders then settling on the low wooden stool started milking. With a steady rhythm the milk pinged against the side of the metal milk pail. I had a turn and with clumsy hands coaxed out a dribble of milk. I looked forward to drinking a glass of the rich, warm liquid.
Shadows lengthened and I knew we'd soon be heading back into the city. I wondered when we'd come again, but since we lived hundreds of miles away I knew it would be a long time. As it turns out, changes happened and we moved even farther away. It was a few decades later that I next returned, and by this time Aunty Rena had long passed away. I didn't get much chance to explore, the barn was still the same silver colour, while the house had darkened as though shadowed by grief at Aunty Rena's absence. With my childhood innocence gone, the place seemed shabby and worn, but as I felt the dusty winds against me, carrying with it the smell of hay and old manure I remembered. It was the land and the wind and the sun that made this place special. The dust swirled around my feet and I smiled.
I think that when you are born in a certain type of landscape you become a part of it and when you leave it, an empty space is left in your heart. You may love the deep forest, or the Northern bush, some need a wide seascape, while others need a rocky mountain. I need the open space that makes room for the sky. Only there can my soul be at peace.
When the time comes, and it will, I would like to become the dust in the breeze in the home of my spirit.