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2 I Return to the Saddle To pass from the crowds, the smoke and the iron clangor of Chicago into the clear April air of West Salem was a celestial change for me. For many years the clock of my seasons had been stilled.The coming of the birds, the budding of the leaves, the serial blossoming of spring had not touched me,and as I walked up the street that exquisite morning, a reminiscent ecstasy filled my heart.The laughter of the robins, the shrill ki-ki-ki of the goldenwing woodpeckers, and the wistful whistle of the lark, brought back my youth, my happiest youth, and when my mother met me at the door it seemed that all my cares and all my years of city life had fallen from me. “Well, here I am!” I called,“ready for the spring’s work.” With a silent laugh,as preface,she replied,“You’ll get a-plenty. Your father is all packed, impatient to leave for Ordway.” The old soldier, who came in from the barn a few moments later,confirmed this.“I’m no truck farmer,” he explained with humorous contempt.“I turn this onion patch over to you.It’s no place for me. In two days I’ll be broadcasting wheat on a thousand-acre farm.That’s my size”—a fact which I admitted. As we sat at breakfast he went on to say that he found Wisconsin woefully unprogressive.“These fellows back here are all stuck in the mud.They’ve got to wake up to the reform movements. I’ll be glad to get back to Dakota where people are alive.” With the spirit of the seed-sower swelling within him he took the noon train, handing over to me the management of the Homestead. An hour later mother and I went out to inspect the garden and to plan the seeding.The pie-plant leaves were unfolding and slender asparagus spears were pointing from the mold.The smell of burning leaves brought back to us both,with magic power, mem15 Garland_Daughter_to press 10/20/06 3:43 PM Page 15 ories of the other springs and other plantings on the plain. It was glorious, it was medicinal! “This is the life!” I exultantly proclaimed.“Work is just what I need. I shall set to it at once.Aren’t you glad you are here in this lovely valley and not out on the bleak Dakota plain?” Mother’s face sobered.“Yes, I like it here—it seems more like home than any other place and yet I miss the prairie and my Ordway friends.” As I went about the village I came to a partial understanding of her feeling.The small dark shops, the uneven sidewalks, the ricketty wooden awnings were closely in character with the easygoing citizens who moved leisurely and contentedly about their small affairs.It came to me (with a sense of amusement) that these coatless shopkeepers who dealt out sugar and kerosene while wearing their derby hats on the backs of their heads,were not only my neighbors, but members of the Board of Education.Though still primitive to my city eyes, they no longer appeared remote. Something in their names and voices touched me nearly. They were American.Their militant social democracy was at once comical and corrective. O, the peace, the sweetness of those days! To be awakened by the valiant challenge of early-rising roosters; to hear the chuckle of dawn-light worm-hunting robins brought a return of boyhood ’s exultation. Not only did my muscles harden to the spade and the hoe, my soul rejoiced in a new and delightful sense of establishment .I had returned to citizenship.I was a proprietor.The clock of the seasons had resumed its beat. Hiring a gardener, I bought a hand-book on Horticulture and announced my intent to make those four fat acres feed my little flock. I was now a land enthusiast. My feet laid hold upon the earth. I almost took root! With what secret satisfaction I planned to widen the front porch and build a two-story bay-window on the north end of the sitting room—an enterprise of such audacity that I kept it strictly to myself! It meant the extravagant outlay of nearly two hundred dollars—but above and beyond that, it involved cutting a hole in the wall and cluttering up the yard; therefore I thought it best...


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