Tales From the Belly of a Red Dragon

by Ellen Loegering


       When I finally overcame my fear of her, we established a relationship of mutual distrust.  On the day of our first meeting, however, I stood rooted in awe-struck trepidation.  She was huge, towering over my 5’4” frame by at least another  8 or 9 feet.  She certainly outweighed me by several thousand pounds.  She had a long, dangerous tail that could swing right or left at any given time, for no apparent reason, destroying all that was in its path.   She groaned and lumbered, hissed, and sighed, breathing forth billows of  hot smoke.  She stood shimmering red and silver in the late October sun.  She was, if ever I had seen one, a swaying, rumbling, enormous, smoke belching Dragon.  I called her “Red.”  She, in turn, tolerated my existence.  In normal times and under ordinary circumstances,  I am quite sure our paths would not have crossed.  But these were truly extraordinary times, and so I became her captive, a prisoner of circumstance so to speak. 

     Our first journey together began when the last golden leaves died, turned brown and fell to an already frozen earth.  Bad timing for both of us.  These huge beasts don’t fare well in snow and often lose their footing on frozen ground.  Their sheer size alone can pull them from their path and cause them to fall.  We saw many like that our first winter, these unruly monsters lying hapless on their backs or sides, buried deep in the snow.  I cried for them and feared for myself, for you see, very much like their prehistoric ancestor, the Tortoise, once they have turned over, they cannot right themselves, and usually perish.  It was truly my  “winter of discontent.”  I cried for my losses, feared for my future, and stared blankly at a frozen world captured and held hostage by the harsh, bitter breath of the North.  

     Time passed.  Day became night.  The world turned.  The seasons finally surrendered one to the other;  dark and light were again equal, shadows diminished.  Mother Nature gently nudged the sleeping earth, reminding her to wake from her long slumber.  The land yawned and stretched, throwing off her heavy winter blanket, donning her new spring frock.  She looked splendid in her fresh gown of soft yellow green, dotted with fragile pastels.  Her new outfit was accented by a corsage of riotous wildflowers tumbling over themselves in vivid red, blue, orange, purple and yellow.  Red and I found ourselves warmed by the glorious Sun.

     It was about that time I began to view Red with new eyes.   I began to appreciate her steadfast sure footedness;  her ability to keep moving no matter what the circumstance.  I began to understand her shortcomings, her very size causing most of her restrictions.  And I began to realize that if I could accept life on her terms, neither exploiting her strengths nor dwelling on her shortcomings, she just might have a great deal to teach me about living.  In fact, this could be the adventure of a lifetime.  So it was, Red became my wise teacher, ever rumbling and encouraging, never commenting nor criticizing.  She just kept moving ever onward, ever forward.

     Since that day when I decided to be her diligent student, many seasons have come and gone.  We have traveled so many pathways together, we could have gone three times to the moon and back, then circumnavigated the world a time or two. 

     Red started my lessons by first showing me the beauty of this land, from the Statue of  Liberty to the Golden Gate Bridge, from Custer’s Last Stand to the Alamo.  We have waded in the Atlantic and the Pacific.  We have seen Niagara Falls crashing down upon itself, rushing to meet the waterways that would eventually bring it home again.  There have been frozen waterfalls, becoming giant icicles, lovingly  adorning the massive cliffs from which they’ve sprung.  We  have crossed the Mississippi, Missouri, Colorado, Rio Grande, and the Shenandoah.  We have basked by the Great Salt Lake and slipped carefully past Woman Hollering Creek.

     We have climbed many mountains.  Lumbering up over the Sierra Nevada, struggling over the Rockies, hissing, and groaning our way over the Appalachians, each range displayed its own rugged beauty.   The mystical Smokies, veiled in a soft blue fog that looks like smoke from Grandfather’s pipe.  These massive rock formations are dotted with pine forests or graced by elegant waterways.   We crossed the Blue Ridge, Sherman, Grant’s Pass, Cumberland, and Old Snowshoe.  And one pristine night we tiptoed, barefoot, over regal Donner Pass, dressed in stately winter white. 

     There were valleys and gorges that, over time, have been cut through the massive rock by wind and water. Here, the work of the Master Artist is truly on display.   The lush greens, rich reds, soft mauves, and turquoise blend beautifully with deep browns and burnt yellows.

     We visited the giant redwood forest of the Northwest.  Here, wise, old, majestic trees stand straight and tall, reaching up to heaven to hold hands with God.  The Saguaro Forest of the Southwest put on a delightful spring show.  These rugged spiny survivors produce large pastel blooms that crown them beautifully.  The soft blooms appear to be spring bonnets, making a most unusual Easter parade.

     As Red slowly taught me how this land played, she also began to teach me how it worked.  Red took me to the mines, factories, ranches, farms, and vineyards.  We passed citrus groves, apple orchards and dairies. We watched all these natural resources transformed into new products to be used and shared.  Great trains were loaded with this rich bounty.  These sleek carriers extend for miles across the vast desert.  Powerful engines that look like long silver needles pulling yards and yards of multicolored thread, weave back and forth, truly binding East and West together.

    We visited the busy, bustling harbors of New York, Boston, and  San Francisco.  Here I met Red’s cousins, “The Nessies.”   All our products, large, small, natural or recreated would be carefully placed on the backs of  “The Nessies.”   Then, these ancient mariners would ever so carefully carry our precious cargo to foreign ports of call.

     All the work in this country takes place, no matter what the climate or the season.  We have been in rain so thick and heavy horizons disappear.   We have been pelted by hail the size of golf balls.  Fog that engulfed and swallowed the landscape has left us in a dense white cocoon.  We have followed in the wake of tornadoes that indiscriminately dispatched life and death.  Lightning storms, so beautiful they put the best Fourth of July fireworks display to shame, have decorated many summer nights.   And as much as Red and I don’t care for ice and snow, we have seen a few frosty, pristine, dawns.   In the cold of night, the magic of the Wee Folk has been unfolding.   Playing tag, fairies and elves scampered happily from tree to tree, limb to limb, roof top to lamp post.  Merrily they  have tumbled and danced though fences and yards, leaving in their wake slender icicle webs.  As the rosy rays of the Sun creep across their now still playground, he illuminates these delicate webs.  In the light of the new day the landscape twinkles and sparkles like a giant Christmas tree.  A joy for all to behold.  We were glad, then, that Mother Nature takes time to decorate each season.

     Along the way, we stopped to introduce ourselves to the critters that inhabit and share our land.  We have encountered bear, elk, and buffalo.  We watched antelope prance, deer run, and moose standing statue still.  There have been stately  llamas, aloof camels, and sly coyotes.  We saw gators, snakes, spiders and ants that could easily carry off the table, as well as the picnic.   We visited ostrich and emu ranches.  We have watched turkey vultures, red-tail hawks, and wise old owls.  One day an eagle took wing right in front of us, rising in silent glory to heaven.

               We saw the majestic show the heavens can display.  We watched meteor showers shooting so fast we couldn’t wish fast enough.  In the Rockies, at 12,750 feet, we saw the Hale-Bopp comet, so close we could have plucked that special jewel from the sky.  And one long, quiet night, as we lumbered ever so slowly across the great Mojave Desert, we watched the moon eclipse a star.

     We have watched the moon rise as a small silver crescent, fragile and delicate, or pop up over the horizon like a large, orange globe, looking like a huge pumpkin pie.  We have viewed sunrises that turn the landscape from sweet soft pink to rosy glow, to fire red. The Sun then reaches out his “Midas” touch  turning everything to gold.   And we have enjoyed sunsets that stack up in the evening sky pink and rose, turning to mauve and turquoise, purple to midnight blue, appearing to be a great desert sand painting.

     Then there were those magic moments in special places when light and time play tricks upon the land.  It was then that I was allowed to participate in history.  I have been on the battlefields of Virginia, cannonballs flying, men yelling.  I have run with the victors, flags waving, fist clenched over head in triumph.  I have sat with those who have lost all, fist clenched around bloody earth, left to swallow the salty, bitter pill of defeat.  I have stood in Boston harbor, holding my breath, watching the tower of the Old North Church, awaiting the signal.  Which way would they come?  Later I would move quietly through the cobbled streets, pressed close to damp brick walls, watching the Redcoats marching.  I have hiked with Daniel Boone through the bountiful Tennessee hills, rode with Lewis and Clark, exploring the Northwest passage, surveyed the Rockies with John Fremont, mapping both land and stars.  I shared a campfire with Standing Bear and Dancing Leaves, Lakotas whose time was before the Sacred Hoop was broken and their people scattered.   I watched the battle of the Alamo and heard the call to remember.  And I stood with Chief Joseph in silent resignation at journey’s end.   Then it is time again to move ever onward, ever forward.

      So this was Red’s lesson for me, that all of this land is my home.  She had shown me the vast open spaces, cloistered busy hamlets, opulent wealth and bone crushing poverty.  We had visited cities hurriedly working to reclaim themselves and slipped passed those that had shuddered and died.  Each region of this country is steeped in its own flavor and color, rich in its part of our dramatic history.  It is set before us like a delicious smorgasbord, inviting us all to sample and explore.  And all the people of this country became my new family.  No matter how different we perceive ourselves to be, we all share the same hopes, dreams, sorrows and frustrations.  For each of us, no matter what color, creed, or faith, is bound one to the other by that durable, flexible cord we call our humanness.

   Now that I had discovered my new home and place in my new family, Red encouraged me to evaluate myself as I once studied and evaluated her.  She had taught me strength and courage.  She had given me a new appreciation for the words patience and understanding.  She pointed out that I, too, could be sure-footed, quick-witted, and tenacious.  And in those rare, but frightening moments, when my legs trembled, my hands shook, and my heart pounded, in those moments, I had been truly brave.  Somewhere on this great journey I had chosen to live life on my terms, neither boasting my strengths, nor dwelling on my shortcomings.  I just kept moving ever onward, ever forward.

       Our present journey has us moving eastward again.  We left behind the Golden Gateway to the Pacific, climbed up through the rugged high desert, straight out across the salt flats, on passed the Buffalo and the Antelope.  We crossed the lush rolling corn fields, on passed the stock yards and the railyards.  Up over Old Snowshoe and down.  Our friend the Sun, having passed overhead some hours ago, has grown weary of this day and is looking for his usual place to settle.  He beckons for us to follow.  We bid “adieu” to Lady Liberty, and turn our faces to the Sun.  He extends to us one last slender golden finger.   We grab hold and he pulls us gently into the night.  We, too, now have a place to settle.  It suits us perfectly.  All is secure.  Red shudders and groans.   Her heavy bulk distributed evenly over her massive frame; she expels a long well deserved sigh.  Her huge eyes, those enormous windows to the world, close.  All is safe, and warm, and still, except, of course, Red’s ever-present rumbling, a sound to which I have grown fondly accustomed.  The sweet night enfolds us in a warm, soft blanket of peaceful rest.  We are free for a time to drift, and yet…I find my thoughts already turning, in great anticipation, toward the morrow.