Author: Janet Shell Anderson
I’m driving up 34, but no one’s on the road. Tractors sit in the muddy fields; nothing’s planted. Where’s everybody?
Usually they’re on I-80 anyway, so that’s probably the reason, plus it’s Sunday morning, and except for church traffic in maybe say Aurora or Utica, little towns, I wouldn’t expect anybody because they’re young out here on this flatland and they sleep in. But still.
The Rainbasin’s awfully full of birds, snow geese mostly, but I see in a shallow pond, in the middle of what ought to be a newly planted cornfield, a pair of swans. I’ve never seen swans out here before, though they migrate through sometimes.
Clouds have been hanging about eight hundred feet off the ground, wooly bunches like somebody forgot to do wash in heaven. Not normal. I haven’t seen a star at night for weeks. A cold funnel came over, never touched down, poked down like some bizarre tendril.
I’ve called on Skype, Portal, texted; none of my family’s answered. Social media’s down. TV’s a mess of static, blizzard of digital goofs. No radio, not even the station on the rez that broadcasts every bit of local news.
I see crows in all the trees. Big ones. We don’t have ravens out here, but, man, these look like ravens. I roll down the car window, because ravens mutter, “jerk,” but these are silent. No cawing. No nothing.
It’s a colorless world. Nothing’s come up out of the wet fields. The trees are still bare. The few yards I’ve passed are mostly beige. No robins. I saw a black cat sitting on a white porch of a very weather-beaten farmhouse.
Off in the distance, I see a huge swirl of birds near a horizon that’s flat as a pancake. The birds look like smoke. Sandhill cranes. Thousands of them. I should be getting near the river soon. Still no traffic. Five mule tail deer cross the road in front of me. I’ve never seen them out in the day like this. Then six or seven more come out of a farmyard. Over by distant railroad tracks, in the mist, I spot not cattle, but muleys. A really big herd of deer.
This landscape isn’t right; there should be somebody, driving, walking, opening a door, light on somewhere, sounds of people. The sky’s grey, the land’s grey, the swirl of cranes in the distance, a smudge of charcoal. I think maybe I better not go on. Just an instinct. The twenty birds sitting in the farmstead trees where I pull up are each glistening black.
People thought ravens were messengers from the gods. Not likely. Anyway, these are not ravens, just ordinary crows. The people are somewhere around. Everything’s just a little weird. The horizon’s filling with darkness, fog, low cloud. I pull up on a gravel drive, beside a peeling, unlighted house, stop the engine, roll down the window, listen.