horizon sickness

They say there’s a type of illness called horizon sickness. Sailors used to get it. Travelers out west, where the plains are tacked down flat at all four corners of sky– they get it too. It comes from being able to see in every direction, to see from horizon to horizon. It’s too much for people. It addles the brain. I wonder about people who grow up in those places. I wonder if their minds are different. They must be, because the horizons don’t trouble them. Do they necessarily think outside the box? By which I mean are they geniuses? Or are they  permanently sunstruck and dazzled?  My eyes grew strangely bright in the African sun, the way colored glass lightens after time. I was almost blind, green-eyed, and no one knew until I was ten.

I heard on the radio that humans need a reference point. That’s why we have such trouble meditating; we need to periodically recall our minds to the future, or the past, or to some moment that is not present. A frame. It seems to me that horizon sickness would come from lacking that frame of reference. In the same way, it’s hard to up and leave a town, or a house, or a country, because when you leave, you leave behind a framework, a cicada shell, your old skin and life.

Maybe genius and dazzled aren’t mutually exclusive. As I see it, this was my  young genius: I smiled always, assured that everyone else was smiling too.

Everyone has a genius.

I’ve met people from out west. From the northwest, places like North Dakota and Minnesota. Their genius is in their calmness, and their goodness, I think. Their  even-keeled Scandinavian blood is sturdy and phlegmatic. I met a man in Minnesota who used to be a presidential bodyguard. He told me that the president’s bodyguards always come from the northwest because of their predictability. I suppose there’s not a lot of mental illness in those states. What if it’s on account of the horizons?? Those nor’westerners have grown up with minds as open as the skies they live under. When I was in Minnesota one summer, in a hot town named Alexandria with my aunt and uncle, I was completely out of my depth. I was brown as a field mouse, lonely as hell and reckless. My hair was bleached almost white with pink in it– I was addled and brilliant and lovely, and maybe even horizon-sick. I did love it there. When I think of it I remember the wide streets and beyond the storefronts, flat, sunlit, and  most of all the wind. It whipped my pink and white hair against my cheeks till they stung, and it used to take a long time to light a cigarette, alone with a book with blinding white pages.

In North Carolina we have a hillier horizon. I like it here too.  If you wanted a closer horizon, what nicer ones could you pick than these, the Carolinian green piedmont hills and woods? The drive to Saxapahaw is spectacular on a sunny afternoon; the clouds tend to cluster and the trees  in the distance are massed and green and dark in the shadows. They look like the word chiaroscuro, meaning “light and dark,” a painting technique associated with the Italian renaissance and artists like Raphael and Artemisia Gentileschi. The wall of trees that tower high behind Robyn and Dylan’s house are almost ominous in their green and blackness at the edge of the sunlight. The cicadas, that Great Southern Brood XIX, they’re brooding morosely in the wooded places along the drive, thrumming  their tale of being a grub for thirteen years. Out towards Saxapahaw the barns are still there on vast fields, there are lakes and hairpin turns; it is an altogether green and lovely frame of reference. It’s a new horizon, a new skin.



  • It’s so good to read your writing again. Like the craving I get for watermelon when I haven’t had it for three seasons. I especially love this one, with its regional profiling and renewal. I’ve been waiting for someone to artfully comment on brood XIX. Thank you, Sarah.

  • Darling! I can’t wait to see you today! As for Brood XIX, I read in a Billy Collins poem yesterday three words that should never go in a poem: velvety, vortex, and cicada! I was so disappointed. Cicadas are so evocative!

  • Alyssa Royal wrote:

    I took the drive from Graham and passed the exit for Saxapahaw… heading towards Carrboro and first passing your driveway… the sunset was incredible, my top was down, the wind was crisp from Nitrogen.. and I have those pictures, too. I DO need the micro sd card for those, though. You may have seen Beasterman, my new Chevy Scottsdale, posted as a pic on FB (several times…) that I found on the side of 54, I was eastbound and down at the time… Check it out… You won’t miss it outside on our street.

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