My pulse quickens when I look across the rolling prairie of Panhandle Country.
I spread the strands of the barbed wire fencing and slip
through to the other side. With no destination in mind, I meander, satisfied to
be there—1,600 miles from my home in Oregon.
Memories, compelling and sublime, stir at the call of a meadow lark.
The smell of sagebrush tells me I belong there.
I am at peace.
This is one of those times I go out alone to inhabit the treeless Panhandle plain. Dry washes, gypsum outcroppings, and occasional sinkholes interrupt the expanse of buffalo grass.
If my two brothers join me, we may talk about a time we did this or saw that. We may speak of someone we disliked or revered … or wonder about the couple who tried to make a go of raising rabbits or goats in that lonely place of relentless wind and temperature extremes.
We marvel at the sheen on a pheasant’s wing and relive the sorrow of finding our beloved pet lying in the road when we came home from evening church.
Or we may say nothing at all, content in knowing that distance plays no part in the revelation of God.
My history keeps me attuned to the Oklahoma Panhandle; it’s where I grew up. Certainly, one’s roots are usually based more on relationship than geography. Yet I’d say my feelings for the picturesque Pacific Northwest, where I’ve lived since I fled Panhandle Country nearly fifty years ago, lack the mystical connection that I experience here.
There’s another influence. My novel about my parents, Daughter of the Cimarron, is set in the Oklahoma Panhandle. The years of writing about family seem to have deepened my emotional tie to that land. I don’t call the Panhandle home, but my fifty or sixty trips from Oregon to Oklahoma might call that into question.
Kathryn Stockett, the best-selling author of The Help, grew up in Mississippi. She wrote her story about women on both sides of the racial divide while living in New York. In an afterword, she said “that was easier than writing it in Mississippi, staring in the face of it all … the distance added perspective.”
For me too. By distancing myself from Oklahoma and the Panhandle specifically, I deepened the understanding of my relationships and of my own history.
Pen in hand, I list influences that affected my sense of belonging:
Of all that might kindle one’s sense of belonging, family and friends are the most common. For others, it might be culture.
For my readers, I list additional factors that might impact your sense of belonging:
A disclaimer: I’m not moving anywhere. But
my history in Panhandle Country affected my life forever. I embrace it
because it is part of what I am.