I remember when tumbleweeds were new. Not new altogether, but made new, to borrow from the parlance of religion. New in the way we know them now. New after what they had been for so so so so so long.
They were not always autonomous golden wheels sheared from the ground, you see, jogged with whispers and ambition, rainbow bouncing down the lone highway. They were not always itinerant honeycomb fingerprints sprung from purgatory, pinwheeling to Gloryland. They were not always fit for cowboy films.
They were once collectives. Conglomerates. Bits of stick and stem and leaf and heather. Scraps of chaff and gristle, fir and feather, and fur and leather and wet hair tangled together. Morsels of bone and vein and flattened lizard heads. Clusters of proud scowling cracked beaks. Shreds of nightgown and knuckle scabs and the soles of tiny shoes, swollen with blood, soaked in booze. They moved with dark intent, accumulating, amassing, stockpiling. They did not rest.
We called them Tumbleheaps. They grew to incredible size, some large as mountains. It took a much stronger wind to carry them along, but there was plenty of wind back then. Parents who turned away for even a moment learned by way of grief. Children playing near roadways were—now and then—crushed to death by a passing behemoth, which would not only flatten, but snatch the body whole up into itself and continue rolling on its way. Born of death, seeking death, ever collecting. Funerals had to be performed on horseback.
When the ten million years of winds died down, Tumbleheaps began falling over. They fell over, and they evolved. They ceased to be the same once they lost their murderous heart for collecting.
Even after the heaps by some kind of time-spun miracle became pardoned in their being and transformed into the emancipated spirits we now know as tumbleweeds, it was not enough. It was not enough for me to believe in a universal goodness. It was not enough for me to hope. I was in a very low place for a very long time. But I have to say, as of the last hundred years, what I’ve seen happening with bird nests—the structural changes; the migration to ever higher branches; the hints of some marvel yet to come—turns my bleak heart into the hint of a smile every time I hear church bells cutting through a breeze.
David Drury lives in Seattle, Washington. His fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio, published in Best American Nonrequired Reading and is forthcoming in ZYZZYVA. He has a Masters degree in Christian Studies from Regent College (University of British Columbia) and been kicked out of every casino in Las Vegas.