There are secrets out here in these prairies and Badlands that not many have explored.
Not far off the beaten path, these secrets are quiet and hidden and full of magic that only a watchful eye can detect. And the ones who do, the ones who look for it, these are the special ones.
The special ones listen. They stand deathly still at the side of the road and hold their breath to hear through the wind and the traffic and the barking dogs. They lift a hand to shield their eyes and carefully take a step off the gravel — one step into the world. And then the brave ones take another and another…
Because they think they can hear something calling to them, saying, “Hello up there,” under the tangle of grasses and cacti, along the base of trees, where the roots peek out from under the damp earth.
So the curious ones, the ones who listen, move their eyes from the horizon and follow the call from the ground. Their feet moving them from the top of the hills in open prairie to the mysterious, damp, dark and prickly gullies of the surrounding coulees and creek beds.
They take in the panoramic view of cattails springing up like furry corn dogs bouncing and bending on frail sticks in the breeze, calling the special ones to take a step a little closer where the smell of the marsh fills their nostrils as the once-solid ground gives way to the dark mud under the reeds. And the water seeps into the brave one’s shoes as they wobble and slosh their way deeper in.
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And with each step, the voices get a bit louder, coaxing them to look down to the moss spreading on the bark of the bur oak. The brave ones bend down to run their fingers along it, to feel, to look underneath the caps of the mushrooms, making sure the stories of the fairies and the elves aren’t true, a little disappointed to find, when they look, there is nothing there but a couple gnats…
And the curious ones notice a soft rippling on the surface of the creek as the water bugs zip and glide and row and skim across the water. The brave ones feel the urge to jump in and splash with them, but don’t want to disturb the bugs. Because, if not the fairies or the elves, maybe they are the ones who have called them here…
And when the voices (whoever they are) are drowned out by the buzzing of the mosquitoes and the air gets cooler and damper as the brush thickens up again along the path, even the brave ones can’t take it — they want to see the sky again, to see how the time has passed and how far they’ve gone.
So they claw their way up the steep banks of the creek. They want to run, but something slows them and they crouch to see how the tall grass looks against the overcast sky.
Then they stand up and stretch their limbs and reach to grab a taste of the ripe plums growing at the very tips of the thorny branches. The curious ones bend down low to skim the brush for red raspberries or wild strawberries underneath the mangle of green, and they tiptoe along the juniper spreading up through the rocks and watch for the poison ivy that has, until the voices called out, kept them from coming here.
With mouths puckered from sucking on plum pits and foreheads wrinkled from seeing the small things, they are all surprised that the road has found them again, somehow. Turning their heads back over their shoulder, they take a look at it all from far away. The trees put their arms around each other, the wind blows through the reeds, the grass stands up straight, the wild sunflowers smile and everything seems to wave at the brave and curious and special ones making their way home.
And the extraordinary people say a quiet word of thanks to the voices whispering their secrets, because the small world they thought they knew, the one they thought had belonged only to them, has suddenly become bigger.
And after all that magic, it never, ever looks the same to them again