A long time ago, a flood swept through. It left grooves ghosted into the bedrock of the canyon walls- ancient markings from glaciers scraping rock. The canyon is lined with columns of basalt, still scattered with glacial till made of clay, silt, gravel and cobblestones.
The land is now defined by its lack of water. The Palisades is one of many channels of the Eastern Washington scablands. It is a dry and dusty ribbon, sprinkled with rabbitbrush and greasewood, wild onions and lupine. The thin-legged Mule Deer and fidgety Sage Sparrow make their home here, as do Yellow-bellied Marmots and Pigmy Rabbits. They meander from nooks and crevices with the seasons, picking at the dry land for sustenance.
My great-grandfather claimed our plot under the Homestead Act- never tamed it, but fashioned it into something a farmer could call his. He farmed in a combine without a cab, the 14-plus hours turning his forearms a leathery brown. Days melted to weeks as he sailed over hills of dryland wheat; weeks faded to years. The dust settled, muddled, sifted, packed and blew with the seasons. He tried to maintain order with a rusting plow.
My father joined the cycle, so my memories are framed by endless rows of golden wheat. The faint crackling from steel telephone lines scarring our field is the background noise of my childhood. A warm day will bring back the familiar scent of baking grain, and dry dust, and sagebrush; it will bring back the feeling of my bare feet on the hand-poured cement outside my father’s shop.
On a calm day, you can hear the woosh from the sparrows as they plunge from the eggshell sky, zipping low over the heads of wheat, snatching up bugs. On a calm day, I can pretend this land will stretch on forever. I can pretend my father won’t sell our farm when he retires in a few years. I can imagine staying.