Thursday, December 19, 2013

Wave as You Drive Across Kansas This Holiday Season!

Many Americans think of Kansas as “that long, boring stretch of interstate” on their way to somewhere else.  Us old-timers are quite satisfied with the view this paints of our home state.  We love our secret spaces; our uninterrupted views of horizons and sky.  We procrastinate any thoughts of selling out our greatest and only resource – the open space – to join a world of unending allegiance to balance sheets and investor returns. 

The prairie is the place where there is nothing.  Yet, it is complexly everything. But you must still yourself to understand. “On the prairie, what you are left with is the bare truth, the land pared down to the bone, the basic dirt and grass and sky that shape the lives that play out upon it.” Tom Groneberg, The Secret Life of Cowboys, 2003.

The Flint Hills of Kansas are the last 4% of native tallgrass prairie on the planet.  North American tallgrass prairie covered thousands of square miles until the arrival of white settlers and their plows in the 1800’s.   According to Loren Lown in the 1995 book Grassland: The History, Biology, Politics and Promise of the American Prairie, “We have less than one tenth of one percent of our prairie.  The rest died to make Iowa safe for soybeans.” 

In the end, it was this stark ruggedness within the layers of the earth; the geology of limestone rock just under the surface that protected the prairie from extinction.  Farmers seeking fortune gave up.  They pulled up their stakes in the Flint Hills region and headed west.     

In order to absorb and enjoy the vast emptiness here, you must be patient and curious.  Day after day, fascinating opportunities arise; witnessing cowboys on horseback working loading chutes with newly arrived migrant cattle for the fat grass season.  Moving cattle along gravel roads with the assistance of their dogs to opened barbed wire gates and fresh grass.  At noon, the local diners are filled with cowboys, dusty and sweat streaked in their chaps and bandannas, their hats and gloves stacked neatly beside their plates of fresh hamburgers.  The smell of fresh cow shit wafts from their boots; the real kind; the kind that won't hang you if you slip too far out of your saddle. 

It’s simple here.  We love visitors who are willing to slow down and experience a bit of life as we believe it was meant to be.  “There are people who think of the prairie as boring and it’s hard not to pity them.”  Candace Savage, (2004 Prairie: A Natural History).  

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