There is a ritual I perform whenever I return to my hometown- the city on the prairie who I laugh about and whose dust I diligently shake from my feet when I walk down the jet bridge upon departure. Every time I visit its flat expanse on the banks of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers I have one action I do every time, without fail, completely in secret.
One morning, usually the first after I arrive, I wake up at dawn. I brush the sleep out of my eyes and walk from the bedroom where I stay, down the stairs and out into the dawn light. Upon opening the front door, I smell the breeze that has blown down from the Rockies and across the vast Kansas plains. I fill my nostrils with my eyes closed and look upon the city frozen at the fringes of night.
I like, if possible, to listen to a song called Steppe in Central Asia by the Russian composer Borodin. He wrote it to give an aural picture of the vast plains then at the fringes of the expansive Russian Empire. This song, though written about a prairie grassland on the other side of the world has always captured the feeling of such biomes- or it has for me on the American prairie, the Argentine pampa and while taking a winding slow train along the muddy and meandering banks of the Yellow River where the plains gave birth to the Chinese civilization.
I complete my breaths to the swelling of violins in solitude, letting the smells of my native tallgrass prairie fill me to the brim. This for me is the only sensation of ‘home’ the place gives me. It has never been my family’s cuisine, nor the sheets on the beds nor the soaps that have given the house its scent. No building in the Kansas City area inspires any feeling other than a desire to flee, nor does a sunset- in so much as there is one here, nor a snowfall nor the window shaking thunder booms of a tornadic cell. For me, it is just the smells of the plains that make this place feel like something of a ‘home,’ not just a place I lived as a kid.
In those few minutes on the front lawn of my parents’ house I feel connected to this place that I will forever be connected with. Any biography of me, even the most cursory of ones will mention place of birth, or place of childhood- and that place will be here. And as much as I might protest any real association with such a place, in those moments, breathing that air, I know this is indeed where I’m from, for better or worse.
After my breaths are done and the song as played it’s score to the final bar, I walk into the yard and grab the daily paper that has been tossed by the paper delivery people. I return to the house to read it over coffee. If someone is awake I mention jet lag and hold up the paper hoping that explains why I’m up at dawn and in the front yard. Some rituals are best kept personal.