Oklahoma has nothing but tumbleweeds, someone who had obviously never been here sneered the other day. I have seen tumbleweeds in New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming but never in Oklahoma and found myself in the surprising position of defending this place. Do you know, I said, that Oklahoma, mile for mile, is the most ecologically diverse state in the country, do you know it (I can’t bring myself to say WE) has four distinct mountain ranges, cypress floodplains and alligators, tall grass prairie and bison, high desert plains and prickly pear? Do you know that half the birds in the fifty states spend time here?
I cannot or will not call this my adopted state, any more than I would have called the cat known as the fifteen year blight on my existence my adopted cat, in spite of certain family claims to the contrary. Rather, like the relationship between the cat and I, we developed a system whereby one learned how to exploit the resources of the other and the other learned to tolerate the existence of one it cannot obtain freedom from.
My husband and I, from opposite ends of the Mississippi (though both of us have lived here longer than in our home states), decided, since we never achieved what he calls escape velocity, to become acquainted with the land. Yesterday we started in the Northeast corner with the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. Bison. Prairie Chickens. Bald and Golden Eagles. After a summer of drought, which stunted the tall grass such that it looked like short grass, it rained. No birds. The bison made themselves considerately visible by crossing the road. Twice and in no hurry to let us pass. We learned the Prairie Chickens are best watched in Spring during their mating ritual or Winter when they make tasty meals for the eagles. Fall brings color and migratory birds. We picked a bad time, meaning plenty of time with the volunteer answering our questions and, of course, with the Bison.
On the way back we plotted trips for Elk viewing in the Southeast and debated the chances of spotting migratory whooping cranes at Great Salt Plains Lake in the North. We talked about regrets over not getting to know Oklahoma better when my daughters were young instead of, like the cat, making jokes at its expense and trying to keep it out of our bed. And like the cat, scratching and yowling at the door till we let it in, our efforts were ultimately futile.
Dad took us on day and weekend trips around Minnesota when we were young. I have seen pictures that prove it and he tells stories – You remember when and no, really I don’t, not much, anyway. And he can’t believe he went through all that trouble and the best I can do is think I recall walking across the Mississippi River at Itasca Park, but maybe I just remember seeing the photograph. Yet, Dad, being Dad expects us to remember these trips, bright and clear in his mind. And he does and he would even if he were six because that’s the way his mind works. He told me that his neurologist asked him to remember five words, like they always do, only Dad didn’t just remember those words ten minutes later, he still remembered them two months later and for all I know he still remembers them today and he thinks everyone remembers stuff like he does or should. The long rambling point of this is, we did take the girls places like parents do and maybe some of it they liked and some of it they didn’t. The one and only camping trip I took them on was mainly memorable because I learned that the Dodge Caravan does not have unique keys to unlock and start the vehicle. The reason I know this is because on the way home from the Black Hills, I filled up with gas and went in to pay, leaving the girls in the car. I came back out and the girls gave me a peculiar look. A man in an identical van unlocked our van and started it up before looking over and seeing my younger daughter sitting next to him in the passenger seat. This is the sum total of what my kids remember from that trip. I hope they remember a little more from the Teton/Yellowstone trip.
The thing is, I’ve come to realize, you go on trips with your parents, they expose you to stuff they think is important and then you do the same with your kids not because they are going to enjoy it the same way you are or even to remember it but because, later, they maybe appreciate it with someone else and, yeah, you wish they loved it the way you do and loved it with you but that isn’t going to happen. I taught my younger daughter how to pee in a forest and taught my older daughter that she could live and sleep in a tent without makeup or a shower for a day or two. At the time I thought it was going to kill all of us. Much to my surprise, my older daughter loves to camp and my younger daughter wants to be an archeologist. Now I’m free to learn about Oklahoma with my husband. In spite of what my kids say, however, I am never going to own another cat.