The small car rolled
across the pipes set at intervals over a hole in the ground which served as
a gate onto the Tallgrass Preserve. This kind of cattle guard was used for
as long as I could recall. The pipes were placed just far enough apart
should a cow, or in this case, a buffalo try to walk across they would step
into the space between the pipes and be caught. I never saw an animal caught
in one, but know it did happen. They must have an inborn sense of danger and
they very seldom walk over. There were always those clever rogues who could
skillfully walk the pipes. When a car crosses over it always seems to me the
vehicle is walking, tip-toe, one tire at a time.
A small sign told us we
were entering the Tallgrass Prairie. A resident from long ago would have
known we were entering what previously had been The Chapman Barnard Ranch.
Dotted over the landscape were the lonely, pumping oil wells. A 200,000
acre ranch is a great expanse in Oklahoma. However the Texas owners
commanded even greater estates and masses of land in the lone star state
from where they hailed.
The road showed
evidence where the heavy beasts had sunk into the mud with their hooves. My
friend was unconcerned with our location but I was thankful for the signs
that were directing us toward the offices. Once when I was young I became
hopeless lost on the roads of the prairie between our place and Kansas. Only
by remembering what my father had advised about looking toward the sun for
direction was I able to drive out. I remember wondering if I would be like
the Flying Dutchman on the ocean, driving as a ghost ship sails, forever
across a great expanse of land? There wasn't a landmark, a house or
anything familiar other than the identical prairie road I had traveled over
before. I didn't mention this to my lady friend because it wasn't my wish
to worry her in any way. This was a day to allow this woman to enjoy what
was in the “Osage” since in her whole life time she had never been here. Her
family were farmers who lived on the other side of the grasslands in the
When we drove up the long
drive toward the bunk house, even though it was early in the season, there
were tourists milling about, the area.
“Can you see that grand
house in a distance? That is the main house. We won't get that far. The bunk
house is as far as we go.” I mentioned this without any references to
class, out loud. To myself I was remembering how only those who worked on
the ranch were able to enjoy any entry onto the grounds. There were stories
about how rigidly these rules were enforced. Whether they were true or not I
wouldn't know, but the telling of them was enough to be a warning.
“That's a bunk house?”
My friend was clearly astonished.
The low ranch style
house looked more like an elegant residence than a guess house. There was a
definite design to the building which was in red brick. The quality of the
brick was so fine it didn't look to have weathered at all over all these
years. The bricks were hard, sharp and clean.
“There's a really nice
bathroom here,” I informed my friend. “That is kind of a necessity out here
in these long stretches of roads,” and we both laughed together.
It wasn't but just a
little while later I realized I was in no shape mentally to be asking the
woman who was a volunteer at the gift shop for a book signing. Everything I
said seemed to come out in a bitter, sharp acrid way. My friend was looking
askance at me as if she had never seen this side of me. The woman saved both
of our feelings by kindly looking up the phone number of the person at
Pawhuska who was the executive director. With my friend's congenial
conversation and comments we were able to get away from the place and
although I had never made a comment about what I was feeling at the time she
seemed to sense my uneasiness. I was determined not to ruin her day though
and kept quiet.
Coming toward our car,
jogging on the road, was an attractive young woman who looked to have
strong Native features. She had a cell phone in her hand and didn't seem to
even notice us as we drove past her.
“I guess there isn't
anything bad that would happen out in this far out country area?” My friend
“I wouldn't be too sure
about that,” I answered. Some pretty bad history has been recorded. On the
other hand I was aware of computers, psychological manipulation and scare
tactics which made me decide that I probably wouldn't ask again for a book
As one of my good
friends, who is a cop, said when I talked about being paranoid. “You need
to be a bit paranoid in these days and times. It might save your life.”
About that time a
pick-up coming toward our car swerved hard over in front of us. I pulled the
car out of his way. Because I was driving slowly over the sharp shale rocks
and because the wide prairie roads were without fences I was allowed to
drive as far out of his way as was necessary. For a moment I had a vision of
how my grand niece must have felt when the heavy Suburban came across the
line into her lane to hit and kill her. All the while, my friend, if she
suspected anything unusual, never said a word and neither did I.