Sunday, March 14, 2010

Desolation Cornfields: Champaign 1994

I have mixed feelings about Champaign. At least about when Fru and I moved back there after living in Montana. There were many times I felt trapped in that town. Much of that was due to the fact that I became a stay-at-home father. Don't get me wrong: I loved and love my wife, I loved and love my children. But, I also had bouts of 'What the hell am I doing in Champaign, Illinois taking care of little kids all day?'.
These were fantastic days mixed with dark personal days. Then again, I'm quite capable of being a dark person all on my own, with no help of any other person. But, in the summer, I had one habit--or act--that I came to rely on to give myself a release from my own personally groomed and tailored troubles.
I drove out into the cornfields.
First, you have to understand that Champaign, Illinois is surrounded by extremely fertile earth. The whole county is a big bowl of mucky, schmucky dark rich ground. Things grow. So, it's sort of a farmer's paradise (if your idea of paradise is long stretches of flat flat land and a grid of harrowed fields) and there were miles and miles of corn and soybean fields just a baby step out of town. But, if you looked at them right, those fields had a quiet beauty of their own. I mean, I both despised them and loved them.
Like I said, mixed feelings.
Anyway, come a number of Sundays, I escaped into those fields. I'd buy a six pack of beer, a pack of cigarettes (maybe, if I was lucky, I had a joint) and I'd say goodbye to Fru and my pretty wonderful little girls and I'd head out into the cornfield wilderness.
I almost always headed west of town, maybe a bit southwest. I'd take the small roads, then take smaller roads, then hit the unpaved gravel paths that divided fields. I mean, it was summer. There were fields of tall green corn. Endless sun. No one around. And so I'd pull over in this anonymous little section of Champaign County, Illinois, in the midwest section of the U.S.A. and I'd smoke and drink and listen to the radio. I think sometimes I brought my journal, but not that often, as I didn't even want to write. I just wanted a break from the little house on Miller Street, from diapers and baby food, from Sesame Street and Barney and Disney movies, a break from married life, from fatherhood, from my own poisonous thinking . . . I just wanted a break.
So, I'd stand out there in the middle of cornfield-nowhere, drink and smoke--once in a while get high--and think and listen to the radio. And I'd listen to Prairie Home Companion--the Sunday rerun of it. Or, I'd listen to WEFT, the local community station, and it's eclectic brand of music. Yes, I'd get buzzed and listen and talk to myself out there in the true and honest middle of nowhere. And I liked it.
I guess I have that strange ability to enjoy my worst moments (as I had in Seattle). Even now I laugh at myself, even feel slightly nostalgic about those situations when I was down and self-pitying. It was pretty out there. I liked it out there under the big blue sky and powdered clouds, among the endless grids of tall corn and soybeans, so alone yet also so visible in the long flat landscape, being stupid and smart.

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