Free Air (Chapter 6, page 1 of 6)


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Chapter 6

Never a tawny-beached ocean has the sweetness of the prairie slew.
Rippling and blue, with long grass up to its edge, a spot of dancing
light set in the miles of rustling wheat, it retains even in July, on an
afternoon of glare and brazen locusts, the freshness of a spring
morning. A thousand slews, a hundred lakes bordered with rippling barley
or tinkling bells of the flax, Claire passed. She had left the
occasional groves of oak and poplar and silver birch, and come out on
the treeless Great Plains.

She had learned to call the slews "pugholes," and to watch for ducks at
twilight. She had learned that about the pugholes flutter choirs of
crimson-winged blackbirds; that the ugly brown birds squatting on
fence-rails were the divine-voiced meadow larks; that among the humble
cowbird citizens of the pastures sometimes flaunted a scarlet tanager or
an oriole; and that no rose garden has the quaint and hardy beauty of
the Indian paint brushes and rag babies and orange milkweed in the
prickly, burnt-over grass between roadside and railway line.

She had learned that what had seemed rudeness in garage men and hotel
clerks was often a resentful reflection of her own Eastern attitude
that she was necessarily superior to a race she had been trained to call
"common people." If she spoke up frankly, they made her one of their
own, and gave her companionable aid.

For two days of sunshine and drying mud she followed a road flung
straight across flat wheatlands, then curving among low hills. Often
there were no fences; she was so intimately in among the grain that the
fenders of the car brushed wheat stalks, and she became no stranger, but
a part of all this vast-horizoned land. She forgot that she was driving,
as she let the car creep on, while she was transported by Armadas of
clouds, prairie clouds, wisps of vapor like a ribbed beach, or mounts of
cumulus swelling to gold-washed snowy peaks.

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