On Tuesday afternoon, August the 2nd, I had reached my physical limit of everything: all the days I could work in a row, all the advising sessions I was able to think through with students, all the assignments I could possibly grade and all the hours I could sit in my office chair moving through task after task of summer responsibilities. And while I’m sure I could have mustered the energy to grade one more paper if someone were holding Pistol Pete hostage on the university lawn screaming over a bull-horn, “We will NOT let Pete go until you grade one paper past your perceived limit!” I’m truly glad I didn’t have to.
I was done and just needed to get away. This happens to me every Spring or Summer and is becoming a tradition. Mick knows the power of my “I’m leaving for a couple of days, I’ll call you and let you know where I am, I’ll be safe, goodbye” message. In fact, he now tells this to people on the phone. I’ve heard him.
“Oh, she just has to get away for a few days. A full school year has passed and she just needs to roam. She’ll be back in a day or two.”
In Australia they call it “going walkabout.” In Oklahoma, I call it “time to explore.” Or maybe, Relief. Release. Defragging. Breathing. Running Away. One or perhaps all those descriptions work.
The problem this year, however, was that I knew wherever I chose to go I would be met with the same thing: insufferable heat, evidence of drought and swimming pools crammed with too many people trying to cool off. So my exploration decision had nothing to do with getting away from the heat. This time, it had everything to do with going toward the heat. I wanted to see how bad things really were.
For weeks I had been monitoring the “OK Fires” Twitter feeds, watching as new fires were daily being reported in southwestern and western Oklahoma. I had also monitored “#agchat” which is a weekly conversation among farmers about current issues. They were suffering. I don’t know why I so desperately needed to see the suffering up close and personally, but I did. Although I haven’t lived on a farm since I left my childhood home, I still feel like an Oklahoma farmer in many ways. I feel comfortable around farm life and people, I like to learn about agricultural issues, and I empathize when “my people” are hurting. I made two phone calls, found a Bed and Breakfast in Elk City, booked my room and headed west early Wednesday morning. My colleague had warned me to “Pack a water jug, Kelly. If you break down, it could be the difference between surviving and dying.” She’s a smart woman. I packed a large water jug, two changes of casual clothes, sunscreen, my sunglasses and headed out the door. Continue reading Red Dirt Rambler: Western Oklahoma, Ho!