August 1, 2007
The grills, tables, and food were all being hustled into the gigantic garage at the end of the field. I stood, feeling the summer heat give way to the unruly gusts that blew in off the towering clouds to the west. Lightning crackled, thunder boomed, and few splats of rain rode in on a gale. Our troop of agronomists moved toward the building, retreating before the summer storm. We stood in Purdue, Indiana, at the divide of two worlds. To the west stretched the free and open plains that the homesteaders had sailed across a century ago, and to the east lay a patchwork of forests so thick that a squirrel could travel miles, never setting foot on land. The storm swept in from the prairie raging against the trees that sought to stay its power, and with it came the tumbleweeds.
About a minute before the rain really hit, the land around was besieged with a wall of rolling tumbleweeds. Ripped from their moorings hundreds of miles to the west, some of these tumbleweeds had traveled the plains for years. Each one had been swept along across America’s most open land, living as wild and free as possible. Men dream of such freedom. The tumbleweeds had left their homes for a journey into the world that led them up hills, down valleys, over streams, and across perhaps thousands of miles. Each tumbleweed rode across the plains haphazardly, caring for nothing, stopping and going only at the will of the wind. Sometimes they would be stuck in a thicket for a time, until a new and passionate gust led them on to a new adventure, a new town, and a new place. The tumbleweeds were tough. They went where they chose and seemed to deal calmly with every situation. I dreamed of being attached to one. Blowing around the country without any responsibility, going as I pleased and seeing what I wanted. What freedom.
But now it was about to end. These tumbleweeds’ days of youthful glory were over, and they were about to find out what changes the settled woodlands of the east had in store. No longer would they blow to a new place with each gust of wind. Here the wild tumbleweeds were meeting the stable hardwoods of the east, the structure of nature, and the rooted beings that refused to be blown by any whim. Here was regulation. The tumbleweeds were used to the burning heat, the bitter cold, and the endless fluctuations of the plains. Would they consider this new state—caught in a thicket from which great trees sheltered all wind—slavery or a new beginning? Blowing around seemed to have its carefree advantages, and I sympathized with the loss of this. Here in the woods, though, existed the stable environment regulated by the domestic forest. Temperatures, winds, weather, and every passion of nature were moderated by their great strength. So as the great storm raged on and more tumbleweeds recklessly flew past our now tiny garage, I began to realize that they might be gaining a new freedom by coming east. After all, out on the wild plains they were constantly subject to every fickle change in the wind. They did not decide where and when they went at all, and judging by the effects of the storm, the wind was a cruel master.
Here in the east were havens of safety from the cruel fancies of the wind. The great forests that at first seemed oppressive provided shelter, a place of rest from years of abandon. The great trees stood rooted, bent but not broken by the storm which was now coughing its last gasp. Once again the lusty storm had failed to penetrate the resolve of the forests that had stymied it so many times, and once again the fickle winds had forfeited another crop of tumbleweeds to kinder masters. Life for these wild men of the plains was about to become a place of comfort, peace, and even love. A shrewd tumbleweed could find a place to stay free from the wind, happily living out its life. Perhaps that was why so many were making the journey.
Clint Leibolt is a senior from Perrysville, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and Business Administration.