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THE HIGH LONESOME

By Isnala Mani

Out here they call it a lot of things, these High Plains of Texas. It's called the Llano Estacado...Staked Plains. Land so flat that the Spanish gold-seekers had to drive stakes into the ground to find their bearings. No mountains to reference, no trees or rivers to mark on their maps....just thousands of miles of nothing at all. Some just call it the High Plains and shrug at the harshness and terrible beauty of it. They work the land and the land works them. Both lose and both win and in the end the man is gone and the plains remain forever.

The Comanche and the buffalo were once here. Now the rancher and the hard-scrabble farmer and the oilman are here. In time they, too, will disappear. A wolf sometimes...maybe...maybe just the memory of a wolf appears on the edge of your consciousness. Only the unchallenged wind and the cruel sun remain in the summer. In winter there is only the bone-breaking wind off the glaciers, nothing to inhibit their howling harshness.

Those who travel this land...the truckers and the cowboys and the hobos and the drifters...they call it the High Lonesome. A man can easily travel all day and all night without ever seeing another human being. Creatures seek others of their kind. Standing at the edge of nothing or in the middle of it there is that feeling of overwhelming alone-ness. The sun is so high at mid-day...you can imagine that, if the sun could see at all, it could not see you. A man is overwhelmed by a sense of his own insignificance. So many miles, so many winds, so much sun or ice...and only you in your smallness. Solitude...so often sought...becomes a curse. A man becomes disoriented...there are no cardinal directions...no landmarks...nothing that is familiar. It becomes impossible to not believe...that you are the last person left alive on earth. Some mistake this for loneliness. It isn't really, of course. It's just lonesome-ness.

Loneliness is something else altogether.

 

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