“…more than anything else I felt motion in the landscape; in the fresh, easy-blowing morning wind, and in the earth itself, as if the shaggy grass were a sort of loose hide, and underneath it herds of wild buffalo were galloping, galloping…”
–from Willa Cather’s My Antonia
A few weeks ago, I took a road trip to…drum roll, please…Nebraska. It was my birthday, and I wanted to do something wild and crazy, but instead I logged more than 1,000 miles driving across the prairie. I had plans to meet a friend in Kearney and go to a metal concert—all good—but I also jumped at the chance to check out Willa Cather’s stomping grounds in Red Cloud, Nebraska. Six of Cather’s novels are set in Red Cloud, which is the model for Black Hawk in My Antonia. The real Red Cloud has a population of 1,131 (2000 census), and I discovered that not much goes on in a town of this number.
Red Cloud has a post office, a general store, a hardware store, a gas station, a steak house, a bowling alley, and—strangely—a Subway sandwich joint. As there are no hotels nearby, I consulted the Red Cloud website and decided to stay at a bed and breakfast called Cather’s Retreat, a Queen Anne Victorian style home that the Cather family once lived in.
Red Cloud was wickedly cold, and I woke up in the middle of the night to feel the house pulsing in the wind. Cather’s Retreat is the kind of place I’d like to go back to some winter when I have nothing else to do but curl up in bed with a good book and a pot of tea. I understood what Cather meant when she said in My Antonia: “Winter comes down savagely over a little town on the prairie. The wind that sweeps in from the open country strips away all the leafy screens that hide one yard from another in the summer, and the houses seen to draw closer together.”
A few more quotes and photos from the road: Between that earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out.
As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea…And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.
Quotes from Willa Cather’s My Antonia (1918), published by Houghton Mifflin.