My place is and always will be rural central Illinois, whether I live there again or not. I was born there, and I grew up there, and though I first left at 21 I keep returning, sometimes for short, sometimes for longer visits.
Words to describe my place: flat, corn, soybeans, sky, farmers, fireflies, wind, earnest, honest.
The highest point in Champaign County is 855 feet above sea level. The lowest is 625 feet above sea level. What this means is that the sky is unobscured from anywhere. Unblocked, uncovered, exposed, commanding, grand.
But despite the sunsets, my place is more subtle details than picturesque vistas. I carry my place on my skin, the common white clover, Trifolium repens, not native but brought here early on by my European ancestors. As a child in the 1970s, I found four-leafed clovers frequently, a whole collection of them ending up in my photo album—30 or so—and that doesn’t include the ones I put in my pocket and forgot. Now I look and look, and don’t find them, and I wonder if they were so common because of the type of herbicides used then—harsher, perhaps, if less insidious than the ones used now—or if I was a very lucky child, or a very single-minded one.
I was not a farmer’s daughter, but we had horses. I still remember my mother flagging down and chewing out a teenager who roared past us in his Chevy while we rode beside the blacktop. Her point: this place was for all of us. In my place, in central Illinois, more than 30 years later, the roads are still for all of us. I wish that was true everywhere.
Because my sister opened a therapeutic riding center in Pesotum, Illinois, a couple of years ago, I have a haven, with horses, again. And so do kids who need to claim place even more desperately than the rest of us—though I think most of us are desperate for place, hungry, ragged, lonely for the land, loving what we fear we will lose.