The Feeling of the Place

After being in Red Cloud (Willa Cather‘s hometown) while on BRAN, I decided I needed to re-read My Ántonia.*

In just the introduction, I’m compelled to stop reading in order to transpose a few choice sentences.

As Cather & Jim are on the train, as adults, returning to “Black Hawk”:

We were talking about what it is like to spend one’s childhood in little towns like these, buried in wheat and corn, under stimulation extremes of climate: burning summers when the world lies green and billowy beneath a brilliant sky, when one is fairly stifled in vegetation, in the color and smell of strong weeds and heavy harvests; blustery winters with little snow, when the whole country is stripped bare and gray as sheet-iron. We agreed that no one who had not grown up in a little prairie town could know anything about it.

Jim, the novel’s narrator, describes his arrival in Nebraska:

There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made. No, there was nothing but land — slightly undulating, I knew, because often our wheels ground against the brake as we went down into a hollow and lurched up again on the other side. I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man’s jurisdiction. I had never before looked up at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But this was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it.

If we never arrived anywhere, it did not matter. Between that earth and that sky, I felt erased, blotted out.

It’s a good thing I’m re-reading this. I didn’t appreciate it as much before as I do now. That ground definitely undulated; twas evident on a bicycle. There were some tough climbs going into Red Cloud, with a relentless headwind to boot.

A house from one of the families in My Ántonia.

*Oh, go get the paper-printed version. That way, you can take it with you.

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