When Walt Wangerin came to visit a dozen years ago, I took him around to look at the land Fred Manfred called Siouxland, and we stopped at Highland, a town that is no more. The place is aptly named, even though the ground it's on is barely a bump on the horizon. But it swells just high enough above a slowly sloping plane west to be one of those places on the landscape where you swear, as some say, you could watch your dog run away for three days. It was fall, I think, and the world was a pallet of tawny earthiness wherever you looked.
It was a joy to bring him out there because I didn't have to tell him well why I did.
"How come you don't live here?" he said, eyes up on the horizon.
There are probably a dozen reasons why I don't live at Highland, the ghost town, but Wangerin wasn't really talking about a particular set of coordinates. What he was talking about was living in a place where creation rolls out visions daily, the kind of place on the landscape one can find in abundance all around Siouxland.
Well, we do now, and, for the time being at least, I'm more than happy to live where the backyard has more ring-necked pheasants than real live human beings. And it's sweet to have a frozen river for a neighbor, even if, as we've already discovered, it can get a little unruly come spring.
The first time we took a walk on the river, on Christmas Day, our four-year-old grandson was wary--he couldn't really believe he could walk on water. The only way we could explain it was ice cubes--we were walking on ice cubes, we said. I scrubbed off the snow with my boot, showed him the huge ice cube beneath his feet, and he bought it. In fact, he was so taken that he told his mother once they got home that he couldn't wait to go again and show his Uncle Dave the ice cubes.
So we went again on Sunday. Warm weather had thawed the top, but snow still covered it, an inch or so. Still, for some reasons, that ice cube got really slippery, and it didn't take long for me to stop running with the sled because I started to think I really didn't want to fall, out there on the ice. One helicopter ride per decade is just about enough. Mine's been had.
Anyway, it was a gray afternoon and we didn't see much really, chased up two pheasants, hens, but no deer and nary a squirrel. But there had been moments back in the living room on that Sunday when I counted six people at once, me too, with something electronic in their hands--iPads, smart phones, and Kindles. So it was good to be out on the ice and in the ever frosty cold, our four-year-old grandson showing his uncle the ice cube he still couldn't believe.
So this new year's morning thanks, Mr. Wangerin, is that I'm not in a helicopter, but out here in the country with an amazing ice cube snaking through horizon-wide back yard .
Here's what this grandpa is thinking: even on an ice cube, there's reason for thanksgiving.