I can’t count how many days I’ve watched end this way. Sky blue swept into the nectarine, ash gold. Air cooler as lavender light stains the clouds. Sun beams scaling down like blinds closing shut. Every grass blade sheared with a fading resonance. The glow of the setting sun pulling gently on my skin.
I’ve known this land since I was born. Among these hills on the bend of a creek, before my father, aunt and uncle inherited it, my grandfather and his brother had their homes. Before them, my great-grandmother and great-grandfather lived here. Since the Dawes Allotment Act of 1887 granted each head of household acreage on the reservation, we’ve lived here. Even before that, the creek was known to tribes in the region. The whole of the creek is scattered with rocks from ancient sweat lodges.
I often wonder if those older generations appreciated the sun’s exit from where I stand. If they watched it go down past the same hill in the distance. Connection to this place and history is important to me in a world of uproot and forgetting. Here, I can walk along the creek and find remnants of the camps that used to stop here. Many of the barbed wire posts my grandfather set up to run cattle twenty years ago are still sturdy. An old wood stove my great-grandmother used sits in a storage shed. Everywhere I go is an echo of persons who came before.
Connection to place and history is something modern society finds hard to understand. People of our age are always moving through an eternal revolving door of persons and scenery, barely registering anything in the blur of it all. Life in this age, the nature of relationships in this age, reminds me of anonymous crowd socializing. Everyone’s on their way to someplace else, so no one really notices the people around them. Maybe, if heading the same direction, some conversation will get struck up out of convenience. The important thing is to keep things at a superficial level, never connecting deeply, because everything is secondary to getting somewhere, and nothing that causes pause is allowed.
Outside the chaotic motion of the world, I’ll stand here and think as the sun goes down, of the past, of today, of tomorrow. The setting sun, the exit of light, stirs something primal. I find the twilight a pumice for all the petty worries that tend to cake on the soul. Something about the slow fade in of stars dissolves illusions on a pedestal in a selfish, zombified consumer society.
In many ways, my thoughts at this closing hour are probably not so different from any other 25 year old man plodding toward a college degree. In other ways, they’re probably colored by the specific place I come from.
I wonder if education will mean much in a country where advancement increasingly seems impossible. I see the old ladders toward improving your station in life burning. Labor and its reward more and more seem rigged and lopsided. A game where quid pro quo, cronyism, and being born at the top of society are going to get you further than hard work ever will.
I wonder about the reservation. I see so much talent and goodness here, amid the harsh realities that the world knows us by. I wonder if all that talent and goodness will come to fruition more in this generation than in generations past.
Those are things on my mind when the prairie sun goes away, the thoughts that trail off into the dark. A person learns what night truly is on the plains. Star clusters are no longer kept at bay by street light halos. No skyscrapers cut the immensity of space into smaller, tamer ribbons. No neon glares pollute the undulating velvet skyline. Nothing in the whole world is like watching that last ray fall.
The feeling of total isolation is overwhelming, transformative, and powerful. The return of night brings a catharsis, a letting go.