Friday, November 30, 2012

Roots of the Tall Grass Prairie: Renee, 54

This is the fourth in my series:  

After spending an evening with a group whose focus is to preserve the Flint Hills, I decided that is is important to paint a portrait of who we are.......the people who were birthed, breathed and struggled through a lifetime in this most unusual place.  This is not a place where exotic flowers bloom in a generous environment but rather a place where tiny, scrappy flowers push through the flint rock and endure generations of harshness.  Each of us is a strand of the deep roots of the tall grass.  In order to protect our prairie we will need to be aware of each other's strengths and be wary of those bringing plows.

Renee, age 54
Born in Emporia, Kansas
At least 5th generation, came in the 1880's.

It's our livelihood!  Everybody has always been here.  Hopefully, Nathan will get to continue.  Both my kids are very passionate about agriculture.  But they are going to have to find another way of making a living to be able to come back.  Both our children have majored in agriculture and animal science in college.

My grandmother was 12 when she came here from Sweden.  My husband's grandpa always told his stories; memories of sitting down and visiting with the native Americans when they came to the house.  

I love the openness.  Wide open prairie.  When you go up on a rise you can see for miles.  I love in the Spring, after the burn.  Everything is so green, so even.  People always ask me if I feel lonely or afraid living here.  No, no.  Not at all.  The more open it is; the less there is around, the more comfortable I am.  Yesterday, I was out riding my horse.  Not up very high.  We're on the eastern edge (of the Flint Hills) so it's not very hilly.  But even from there, you could see so far.  Probably 10 miles of wide open space.  I could see my mom's place, where she was raised from where I live.  In the distance I can see the buildings.

I don't think someone can know the Flint Hills until they experience all the seasons.  They can't grasp it fully until the live it.  Especially the ones who make a living from it.  We're protecting it the most yet people think we are harming it the most.  

Sometimes I watch people at the grocery store (when we go up to Kansas City).  When they pick up that little basket and carry it to put their milk, eggs and bread in.  And I wish I could do that just once.  When we go, it's at least a fifty mile round trip and I don't like to go.  So we stock up for a week, weeks, even a month.  You see on t.v., like with Hurricane Sandy..people weren't prepared.  They really don't have to think about what they would need for the next few days or a week.  And we live like that all the time.  

Roots of the Tall Grass Prairie: Zach, age 28

This is the third in my series:  

After spending an evening with a group whose focus is to preserve the Flint Hills, I decided that is is important to paint a portrait of who we are.......the people who were birthed, breathed and struggled through a lifetime in this most unusual place.  This is not a place where exotic flowers bloom in a generous environment but rather a place where tiny, scrappy flowers push through the flint rock and endure generations of harshness.  Each of us is a strand of the deep roots of the tall grass.  In order to protect our prairie we will need to be aware of each other's strengths and be wary of those bringing plows.

Zach, Age 28
Born: Emporia, Kansas
6th generation in the Flint Hills region
Driller for an oil company in Oklahoma



Early life:  I don't consider myself raised in the Flint Hills.  I mean I know where they're at.  I was raised in a pretty flat place (North Lyon County).  I remember hunting and fishing with dad and Phil.  It's pretty land out there (southwest of Emporia).  You can always see the Flint Hills off the turnpike.  Sights I think about are that everything is open and the big flat rocks.  The roads look like pastures with cattle guards every so often. You think you're driving on someone's land but you're not.  I think of the ponds and the tall grass.

I think they need to be left alone.  Definitely not drilled in.  I wish they could stay how they are.  They don't need to be messed with.  All these people have crazy ideas about them, but they need to be left alone.

(On making a living) If you were a farmer, I guess.  I couldn't find any work in Emporia and that's why I left. (currently living in the Wichita area and working in Oklahoma on a drilling rig.)

(We had a conversation later about the farming concept vs. ranching concept.  He wasn't aware that the land around his childhood home was not well suited for farming but rather ranching.  Nor that the Flint Hills extended as far as it did to include his home.  He didn't know that it's the last 4% of an ecosystem.) 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Roots of the Tall Grass Prairie: Ken, age 54

This is the second in my series:  

After spending an evening with a group whose focus is to preserve the Flint Hills, I decided that is is important to paint a portrait of who we are.......the people who were birthed, breathed and struggled through a lifetime in this most unusual place.  This is not a place where exotic flowers bloom in a generous environment but rather a place where tiny, scrappy flowers push through the flint rock and endure generations of harshness.  Each of us is a strand of the deep roots of the tall grass.  In order to protect our prairie we will need to be aware of each other's strengths and be wary of those bringing plows.


Ken, age 54
Born:  Emporia, Kansas
He is at least the fourth generation of his family in this area.  His parents were from farm families just east of the Flint Hills in the Lebo and Waverly area.



Early Life:  I went to grade school first in Emporia, then Waverly, then Ottawa, then back to Emporia for high school.  My dad was a disabled veteran who died when I was twelve.  We moved from Ottawa after he died and my mom remarried.  In junior high, I went to the river alot (Maris De Cygnes near Ottawa) to goof around with single spring traps, fish and swim.  I started hunting about 7th or 8th grade when I received my mom's shotgun for Christmas.  She had decided to stop hunting because of all the walking.  I started hunting for quail and dove with my uncle.  Before I got married, I went pheasant hunting in Clay Center a few years with a friend from work whose parents owned land there.  And I pheasant hunted with my friend, Phil.  Later, I began pheasant hunting with my father-in-law in the Burns area.  

I'm still here because that's the way I am.  Not that it's a spectacular place to work.  Guess it's where my roots are.  Damn sure don't like big cities so I wouldn't even like Emporia (population 28,000) if I didn't know it.  I like the landscape around here.  (living in) Western Kansas would suck.  No trees.  No ponds.  No creeks.  Creeks are my favorite.  For fishing.  Good to hunt around for turkey or deer.  

I like to look outside and it's open.  The trees.  I like seeing the wildlife.  I like being outside even if I'm doing nothing.  

When I think of the Flint Hills, I think of between here and Wichita.  But its alot bigger than that.  I didn't realize.  I rode up with a friend (to St. Mary's on the highway and then back on the scenic route through Eskridge).  It's beautiful up there.  Unmaintained roads.  Alot of rock.  

With the wind turbines - they are not messy.  Not noisy.  It probably wouldn't bother me.  Already there are oil pumps out there.  I don't know that the wind turbines would matter that much.  But I don't know if they actually work.  Seems like Western Kansas would be better.  We've got to keep something, otherwise we'll have nothing. We'll drive a few miles and be in another city.  

We have no street lights.  On a clear night you can see a million stars.  

Roots of the Tall Grass Prairie: Kitty, age 54

After spending an evening with a group whose focus is to preserve the Flint Hills, I decided that is is important to paint a portrait of who we are.......the people who were birthed, breathed and struggled through a lifetime in this most unusual place.  This is not a place where exotic flowers bloom in a generous environment but rather a place where tiny, scrappy flowers push through the flint rock and endure generations of harshness.  Each of us is a strand of the deep roots of the tall grass.  In order to protect our prairie we will need to be aware of each other's strength and be wary of those bringing plows.


Kitty, age 54
Born:  Emporia, Kansas
Generations in the Flint Hills:  I am fifth generation.

Early life:  in El Dorado, Kansas - site of the great oil boom of the 1930's.  My dad came out of the military in the 1950's to a good job as an electrician at the oil refinery in El Dorado.  He was from the Greenwood County area.  My grandfather worked in the oil fields and as a horse trainer; transient type work.  My grandmother graduated from what is now Emporia State University.  Everyone was greatly relieved when my grandfather agreed to marry her as she was nearly an old maid!  She never worked outside the home.  My maternal grandparents worked in highway construction, moved constantly and divorced regularly.  As a child I lived in a new home outside of El Dorado near the lakes.

Any awareness of the Flint Hills as a child?  Little.  I was fascinated with the flowers that grew in the ditches on our gravel road.  It was nearly impossible to ride a bicycle with the flint rock gravel, steep hills and wind.  I tried to grow my own flower garden as a child and only bachelor buttons could survive.  There were no trees on our property of ten acres.

Early adulthood:  We bought ten acres and a house and moved in with our three year old and baby.  We still live in the same home today.  My husband initially wanted to buy a place with a running creek but those are very rare here.  He was ecstatic to find this place which had three man-made ponds formerly used for a fishery.  He neglected to take into consideration the fact that the house had no (at least not affordable) source of heat, no air conditioning, no trash service and most significant:  no water source.  We hauled water in 500 gallon loads (two loads per week) from eight miles away - each week for ten years before coming up with the money to hook into the nearest rural water system.  We have no neighbors in any direction for at least one mile and are mostly surrounded by working ranch land.  The pastures are burned in April and within a few days the transient cattle arrive by semi truck to spend the summer fattening on the grassland.  They are shipped out in late August.  We have nothing to do with ranching or farming other than living in the center of it.

Later, after my mom married my step-dad, he liked to take long drives through the back roads of the Flint Hills.  He took us for a day playing in the riffles at Cedar Point.  He had a special secret place to gather spring water, marked only by a bucket on a fence post if you knew the exact place to look.  He took my children "hunting" for mushrooms, prairie chickens and pheasants.  I put hunting in quotes because you can imagine that any wild game was very aware of a man walking through the open prairie followed by two noisy children, a big white dog and two cats.  Each time we drove to their house, I would have quiet time in the car to just breathe in the Flint Hills as we drove the Kansas Turnpike.  I thought of the native Americans who loved this place and knew how to care for it and the settler families that followed; struggling just like we do today.

Middle Adulthood:  It's very difficult to stay financially afloat here.  My husband is a carpenter by trade and has always been able to work.  But my degree and interests are in economics and there are few opportunities here.  My choices for work usually center around clerical work at low wages which does not contribute to our financial picture when I figure in the costs of my 20 mile commute.  I always wanted to find a way for us to get out of this area - to move into a larger city where the wages were better and my chances of finding work were greatly improved.  A place where your car isn't covered in mud or dust, where you don't need all your vehicles to be four wheel drive with six ply tires; where trash is picked up from your curb each week; where you can run to the store and get buttermilk or chocolate chips within a few minutes; where you could work part-time and be home to start dinner.  My husband and children both flatly refuse to leave and always have.  They love this place and this lifestyle.  I've been odd man out, out-voted any time I talked of the opportunities we could have elsewhere.

In the past five years, I've slowed down enough to let the Flint Hills sink in around me; to know that even though its been extremely tough to live here, the rewards are great.  My great, great grandparents came here at the time Kansas was declaring statehood.  I remember my grandma keeping meat without refrigeration, washing dishes in a teacup of water and making craft supplies for us from brown paper bags.  She lived in a horse trailer during points of her life.  If she did it for us, then I can do it for my own children and grandchildren.   There is something here bigger than I can wrap my thoughts around and my family needs it.