It was six miles from the Tillary’s farm to the Nilsson’s. Eight sections between. The county roads rise and fall across the waves of the prairie, a soft white line pencilled across the rolling flatness. The sandy roadbed crunches softly beneath the bike’s tread. The section near the top of the farm is seldom travelled. Dried brown grass clump between the wheelruts. At a crest in the road he stops. He stands astride the bike, looking out. The wind tickles its fingers through the feathered tops of the durum. Ripples in the golden sea. The neighbor’s field across the road is planted in sunflowers, bright and yellow and leaning. Yellow and gold spread out to the shelterbelt. A stand of poplars sway and lean east out of the wind, light green topping sticklike trunks. Dark green shrubs, ash and chokecherry, crowd between the trunks. The sun is warm on the back of his neck. A pair of birds spring suddenly from the field with a sharp rasp. They wheel circles around each other, calling, and aim away toward the far trees. Other birds answer, unseen, from the wheat and sunflowers.
He is here. This is it. The blue of the sky wheels around him.
In all the years he has been away, he has never felt this. A feeling of being at the center of gravity. Laura called it the Navel of Home.
His hands rest on the bike’s bright blue frame. Absently he reaches over and pulls the feathery ends of wheatgrass growing from the side of the road, from the narrow strip not touched by tractor or chemical. Its tips are soft. He reaches down and picks at up a fistful of the sunhardened stems. A weed. But as Mr. Nilsson taught him, when he began to moonlight for the Department of Natural Resources, one of the few native plants you could find near town. Looking back out across the swaying sea of grain, it occurs to him this is all artifice. The fields of wheat and beans and sunflowers and canola, criss-crossed by shelterbelts. The dusty road. None of it is native to this place. As he looks at the land spreading away from him he sees for the first time the spread of the transformation, a landscape wholly made by people who came, broke the sod, ploughed up the grasses, cut furrows and planted crops, planted shelterbelts to keep the loosed soil from blowing away. It is the world, spreading as far as the eye can see, a world imagined and made, not the world given.