By Nancy Wilde Sartz Roe

Sandburs and Tumbleweeds

The highways took us West. My family laid to rest its migrant ways to settle into the Northern Midwest. We settled into the land of towering bluffs where rattlesnakes sunned themselves on rocky bluff outcrops. Here we found a land of rolling hills and coulees untouched by ice age glaciers. This region of black fertile soil and lush farmlands flowed with pristine springs and streams offering plentiful fish and fresh tender watercress at early spring thaw.

But my family put down its roots in the city. We came to live down the street from the large muddy river that flooded deep waters out of its banks and up into the roads after a winter that piled snow second story high. We hunkered down in the heart of it, in this river country of sultry humid summers thick with may flies and river barge traffic. Here the mighty river cut a deep valley through bordering bluffs in bordering states. Here in the Mississippi River valley of La Crosse, Wisconsin we made our new home.

My world sprouted new beginning excitement, crisp and bright, as my family began afresh in the distant Midwest. We started out in an arid pocket of urban landscape in south side La Crosse. Our first home was a tiny ranch house, complete with laundry shoot and small postage stamp yard enclosed by a chain link fence.

Though now, out on the black top over at my elementary school playground, delicate weightless tumble weeds the size of beach balls danced and rolled in clouds of stinging sand, powered by wind gusts and back lit by the warm autumn sun. Here we played, my new-found small girl companion and I, running, laughing, swinging. Free as the wind whirled the bliss of our new friendship, and free as the tumbleweeds we danced in the gusts of it. But eclipsing the joy that we shared came a creeping animus that stuck and pierced like the sand-burs around us.

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