Inner and Outward Migration
--by Jane Connealy
The Sandhills of Nebraska by their nature, command change. Even as one stands on secure ground, the sand minutely shifts leaving a position precariously adjusted. Though these hills change constantly, reshaping their positions and themselves, the fabric does not change. Just as a young child pours water from the tall, narrow glass to the short, wide bowl and is fascinated that the amount of water does not change though its size and shape have, so do the hills; shifting, changing, yet constant; we stand back, unsteadily, and marvel.
A child, growing up in this cattle country, learns to accept the constant winds which turn the windmills bringing the cool fresh water up from under those shifting sands, from the Ogallala Aquifer, now endangered. The water rushes into the silver tanks, pauses as the plunger searches deep into the sand again, and then gushes forth spilling sparkling diamond drops into the waiting tank, or the grateful, outstretched, cupped hands tanned and roughened by those same life-giving winds. Indeed this water demands the price of jewels for without it the land is lost, the cattle are lost and the child too; knowing, without ever being told.
And across these hills people have come, blown by the winds that shape the hills, who mapped the change and created the change. And the Cathers and the Sandozes and the Neihardts extol praises to these survivors; pioneers with stick-to-itiveness and persevereers who loved these hills and claimed them as valuable. But ancient people who came before, and had embraced the land, never mapped it, realizing it was not theirs; only bones, studied by intruders, leave traces of their existence. Neither unforgiving nor kind, this land simply observes; its non-partisan stance diminishing only when people abuse it, involving it by force, and still, given time, it recovers and returns, though the people may not.
So the constant winds, driving pelting sand before them, or softly stirring sweat on the back of the neck to send a shiver down the spine, are accepted and embraced as a part of the world which never changes, yet always changes, which may vanish but will always be, and the hills, stripped of their grasses, are blown out by the winds, and the plants, torn from the soil, tumble across the prairie, but the hills re-form and the plants reseed, and the process never ends; shifting, precariously shifting, to begin anew, with or without the people.