A window inside life at Augustana College

A Cold Day in Autumn

There’s a stretch of rural road near Cambridge, Illinois where suddenly the pavement finds itself reduced, narrowed and flanked by grasses. It is a surrounding that seems at once altogether foreign and yet so fundamentally familiar as one climbs the hill through the waving seed-heads.

Whenever I find myself along this stretch (a rather frequent occurrence), I like to think I’m driving through untouched prairie. This is preposterous, of course, no doubt a large percentage of the grasses are non-native and weedy, but, superficially at least, the meadows look near to my mental representation of prairie.

There surely is beauty out on the plains that so many find numbingly dull. It is the beauty in the absence of things. It is a beauty in the paradoxical facade of simplicity and emptiness that gilds a land so rich and history and hidden complexity.

It is also the beauty that lies in memory. This land is so overthrown by man’s influence, in no way does it still resembe its former self. Yet, I can still feel it; and in that ehtereal silhouette, that intangible ghost of the past, I find the most beauty, a beauty in nostalgia for a past I never knew. Yet it is very romantic and achingly gorgeous.

And on bleak fall days like this, when the leaves have all turned and the bitter winds toss them around and the land is drifting off through the browned and withering hay, I could swear it feels like years gone by. I can feel the history of this land bleeding out through the crimson leaves.

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