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Column: Searching for whales and mountains in the middle of the prairie

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I grew up on an island in Washington State, in a cliff-top house with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean. Straight across the water stood Mt. Baker, a snow-topped, actively-volcanic mountain that coughed up steam from time to time for our amusement.

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Orca whales would breach in the water off our beach, their sighs loud enough to be heard from our deck. Bald eagles loved to sit in the dead snag on the edge of the cliff, and we’d watch seagulls dive-bomb them in a blatant display of gang warfare.

It was an amazing place to live, and I miss it.

As a result of that upbringing, vast expanses of view are as necessary as breathing to me. Luckily for me, I can find this on the prairie.

Unluckily for me, the prairie views don’t include mountains — volcanic or otherwise — or whales. Though I do love catching sight of eagles from time to time.

More than once, in an insanely optimistic flash of joy, I have caught glimpses of mountains on my Minnesota horizon only to have my hopes dashed moments later when I realized that those mountains ranges are just clouds, heaped up like trompe l’oeil paintings set out to fool gullible girls like me.

I have lived in Minnesota for 20 years. You’d think a girl could learn.

Recently I re-read Genesis and Exodus, and I was struck by the thick-headedness of the Israelites.

“How we long for the leeks and cucumbers of Egypt,” the Israelites said over and over. “There is nothing to eat except this manna!”

This miraculous, God-given manna. What a total drag.

Did they not remember that they were slaves in Egypt! How easy it is to forget. How easy it is to disdain the miracles of God.

Am I guilty of forgetting? Do I scorn God’s provisions? Am I just like the Israelites?

Yes, I admit it. There are days I long for the leeks and cucumbers, or rather, the mountains and whales. I have scorned the flatness of the prairie, grumbled at the ever-present prairie wind.

My husband, Minnesota-born and bred, says I need to learn to find beauty in shades of brown. I say that takes more faith than I can muster up, some days.

But I’m learning.

Here, in the land where whales are rubber bath toys and Tide is a cleaning product rather than an oceanic process, I am discovering that fields of waving grass are simply a different kind of ocean. That the glory of a long-awaited spring is even more miraculous for the waiting.

I am discovering that I love watching the seasons pass in the furrows, seedlings and eight-foot-tall corn stalks. I can’t wait to see the mist of green sprouts spring up in the fields surrounding my house! I am choosing to find the beauty. Choosing to set aside my Israelite tendencies.

As it is said, “I believe! Help me in my unbelief.” Mark 9:24

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in rural Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, runs monthly.

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