You Could Become Land

Nonfiction by Rebecca Young

Imagine a moony night of hide-and-go-seek on your parent’s farm, your child body levitating with the joy and dread of being sought. You can hear the distant yowls and shrieks of children giving chase, but so far off, because the hay hasn’t been cut yet, and your pale, knee-burled legs have not yet outgrown the late summer grass of your father’s hayfield. You crawl through moon-silvered shoots, delighting in your child-smallness for once, to be of so little consequence in the world. You feel night’s concealing musk start to cling to you, and think to roll about in the shadows like a dog in fresh grass, covering yourself in night air steeped in dirt and grass and animal scent. The grass moves like lungs in the warm, midwestern night breeze. You breathe with it, wanting to be a part of all that immensity of land and creature, you who are so deliciously vulnerable to awe. 

You know the land has its own language, its own stories to share that you are learning as other children in this heartland learn the gospel. You learned in school how humans used to be just another animal on the prairie; you suspect this could still be true. You yearn to become animal, to speak to the land as they do. You don’t want to grow up but back, back towards wildness, which is the intuition of knowing. You don’t talk about it, because you don’t know the words, not sure if there are words, to describe how sometimes, you can slip in between language and body, and at once you know which way the grasshoppers will spring off the blades in front of you, how to lie still enough for ants to transmute you into landscape, leaving tingling, pheromone trails across your body where they have trod over you; how to shirk off your own feeble body and disappear into the full body of land. 

You glance behind you back toward the mouth of the field, and see a body standing still as a heron. This body is tall and wide-shouldered, one of your older brother’s friends. You know his body is an extension of your brother’s, who will always protect you, but the land tells you something else, and as he starts to move through the waist-high grass, his body in motion says that he is looking for you, not just because he is a seeker and you are a hider, but because to win the game he will need to tag you, to reach out and touch your body, and he could touch you anywhere. You hunker deeper into the grass and crawl, feeling an urgent need to disappear. As you make your escape, you peer back at the path you’ve cleaved through the field, knowing the disturbed pasture leaves a dark emptiness where you’ve traveled. The bent and broken blades shy away from your dark wake, an open gash in the field that night rushes to fill like blood clotting into bruise. 

Suddenly you hear the slither and hiss of parting grass ahead of you and the padding of stealthy feet. There is a moment of confusion and panic as you try to reason out how the seeker got ahead of you, but before you can spin and bolt for the safety of the horse herds, the grass parts, and a coyote appears.
Her face is a perfect triangle, her ears are raised like sails, and the moon sits softly on the black rough of her nose. Her face is so close to yours you can see where the chestnut fur on her nose blends with black guard hairs underneath her eyes. Her belly sags gently and you are sure her coat hides teats. Though her shoulders don’t breach the tops of the grass, she is larger than you. Her nose works the air, learning your scent. There’s no fear in the deep amber of her eyes as she looks at you. You look back, meet her gaze. She could kill you, but you know she won’t, not while you hold her amber eyes in yours. She is hunting, but not for you. She didn’t expect you, doesn’t know what to do with your body. 

You make yourself return her gaze, though your stomach churns and your skin bristles, trying to raise hairs along your neck and back that are long gone, as the hunger—not malice or brutality, but an actual need—in her eyes seeps down through you, and you begin to know why your mom’s voice was stern and choked as she told you never to ride your pony down the gravel driveway off Wheeler Road, the one stretching away into thick woods with no terminus in sight. The man who lived there was not a nice man, she said, and you noticed the way her brow furrowed at your pale thighs emerging from black soccer shorts, and she touched your snarled red hair as if to smooth it, and you thought something about you made her anxious, something about your body was bad, but now you realize it was the opposite: your body could become land, could speak without speaking, could meet a predator’s gaze and hold her body in rapt stillness. Your body is powerful, and awful. You know then what the man at the end of that driveway would do to it. You look into the coyote’s eyes and see again that she isn’t afraid. 

The night becomes a mirror, glassy moonlight stripping every blade to the ground, the deep purple membranes of darkness torn up at the roots, the body of land laid open. The moon glints off the coyote’s back and night rushes in beneath her; you lean into her, gleaming blades burst as they brush against you, and you know, know everything that could happen, and when she turns and canters away your body lurches to follow her into the darkness she has made.