About 8:30 tonight I felt an overwhelming need to hop in the car and head to Sonic for a cold drink. I was also suffering from RSS -- restless spirit syndrome -- so after getting my cherry diet Coke I headed down the road to the highway and turned east.
As soon as I crossed the river bridge into Osage County -- which is also the Osage Nation Reservation -- I knew I was bound to fly through the darkness. The sun was setting to my back and the lights around me became fewer and farther between, until at last I passed the last green glows of farmhouse security lights and entered the total darkness of ranchland.
Every once in a while I'd encounter another car, but in the state's largest county with a small population, speed limits mean nothing and they soon disappeared into the blackness.
There's a freedom to being on the road, alone, in the night, especially on a weeknight when such foolishness is neither expected or well-tolerated by others. Yeah, I didn't much care. I was free and left my tiny boxed-in world behind for an hour or two.
Even though I couldn't see them after night sunk around me, I knew there were other beings out there in the rolling hills and tall grass. There are miles and miles of cattle ranches -- you can't always see the cattle but the nose never deceives you when they are out there somewhere.
And I know of ranchers out there who keep herds of wild mustangs -- caretakers of the animals for the Bureau of Land Management. Hundreds, if not thousands, of untamed female horses (females only, to keep the populations under control) running wild and free. I may not be a mustang but I felt myself a kindred spirit with them as I followed the white line into the night.
Eventually I reached the end of my leash in a small town. Nothing there to see at night with all the stores buttoned up. I made a turn-around in the parking lot of a dollar store. Like a stone flinging from a slingshot I headed back through the darkness, less alone than before.
In the distance, I wondered how I had missed so many street lights lining the way; then as I got closer, I realized the "street lights" were really groups of cattle trucks bouncing along in convoy to some of the large cattle ranches. Their lights were arrayed in a single line because they were around a long curve and up an incline from me.
Two or three groups of trucks passed as I made my return. Not all were cattle trucks. I imagine some were from the major retailer in the area -- Wal-Mart -- and I felt a tinge of sadness as I imagined others were moving trucks taking families from my town and transplanting them to our rival city. There's a lot of bad blood between my town and the oil company that is shipping out 750 jobs. It was easy to forget that in the darkness, until the trucks rolled by.
Crossing back through the ranchland I noticed the sky was not quite all black as I headed west. There was a swath of navy blue just above the horizon, the last hint of any light from the day. And then, in a moment, even that was gone.
The next lights I saw were from the refinery -- the lone piece of the oil company that we've been told will stay here. I'm not alone when I say we have our doubts about how long that promise will be kept. Word is that in a couple of weeks we'll hear something different on that front.
The refinery torches have always been a marker on the prairie -- a nightlight for the town, showing travelers the way home from dozens of miles in any direction.
If the refinery leaves, too, I want to tell the town there's nothing to be afraid of in the dark. Come out and see.