I knew the backwards and the forwards of that new town planted on the flat prairie, the brick alleys and dirt paths, shortcuts across campus and behind buildings, through vacant lots and empty parks, past trees and creeks, ponds and hills, all nestled between corn and soybean fields.
I walked and explored, found nooks to sit and think, and began to write about all of the stuff crammed deep in my head. I wanted to know the history of this place too, why it sent its roots down to bedrock, what made it restless and tick. I memorized what most people never noticed. I knew the stones in the creeks hunched and humped like mossy old men, and the cracks in the asphalt parking lots like life lines, love lines on the palms of hands. I knew the wiry, seasoned oak trees and the old elderberry bushes better than the people at first, because they were kind and consistent wood.
Every day at twilight the crows would rise from every tree in the city and fly, great dark clouds calling each to each across the wide sky.
I would walk up Lincoln highway to the crumbling downtown, which had seen better days. The faded, sun-baked facades advertised businesses long shuttered. Freshly painted upstarts tried to tart up storefronts with bright lights and banners, but it was like dressing a corpse up in a clown suit. There was an air of age and decay that couldn't be so easily swept clean.
I'd invariably end up at Vagabond Books, run by Vagabond John. As thick and sturdy as the oak trees I knew but with wild, bleary eyes and unruly greying hair, he lived up to his name. Wearing worn denim overalls, he'd sit behind the dusty glass display cases that served as a counter, heavy arms folded and a gruff, expectant look on his face.
The store was piled high with teetering bookcases filled with books and assorted oddities, restored antique lamps leaning against taxidermied critters, collectibles and junk. Most often I would lurk between the bookcases looking for that perfect volume, and listen to John talk and gossip with customers and acquaintances.
There was once a beautiful post office that graced a prominent corner of the city. It was removed, like old things often are, and a Walgreen's sprang up, spring-loaded, squeaking and shiny and cute, like a plastic Barbie doll rising out of the sea when instead you'd expected Aphrodite. Progress nibbled at the edges of town, rendering all manner of things efficient and user-friendly, but not beautiful.
In summer the country roads outside of town bloomed with blue chicory and frothy white queen anne's lace, purple scotch thistle and asters, and great waving bunches of rogue sunflowers, escaped from someone's long ago garden. Red-winged blackbirds balanced on stalks, poised and bobbing, quick eyes looking for insects.
The song of birds, flower's bloom, creek's chuckle, click of crickets, light of moon. Walking to the sound of the long wind running over miles of grass to greet me made all of life bearable, all the hard days somehow worth it, the journey never lonely.