Sunday, March 13, 2005

Kansas is a BIG state

I grew up in New England, in Rhode Island and Vermont. When I lived in Connecticut as an adult, it was a big deal to drive two hours to go to Boston. Now I live in Kansas, where two hours isn't all that far.

Kansas is a beautiful state. People who drive through it as fast as possible often don't see this. It's subtle, not the breathtaking beauty of New England or the Rockies, but lovely all the same. Last week I drove out to western Kansas. I went through the Flint Hills on I-70. I love the colors in that stretch of land, different in every season. Sometimes they're burnt orange, sometimes gold, sometimes a brilliant green. On another trip, I saw the burning of the fields at night, long fingers of fire reaching for miles.

On this trip, the sun went down around Abilene and it was dark by Salina. I still had hours to go to get to Norton, up in the northwest part of the state near Nebraska. There's not much artificial light, so the stars fill the sky.

After my workshop on Thursday, I left Norton, driving straight south to Dodge City, about two and a half hours. Up in the north, it's hilly (hence the name of the town Hill City), but dry, dry, dry. The fields have irrigators in place, of course. As I drove I watched the tumbleweeds skitter across the road. Was that a pheasant I just passed? As I went further south, the land flattened out, becoming the landscape people think of as Kansas. You can see forever. The weather was fine, though very windy. When I got out to buy fuel, I held onto the gas cap as I pumped, or it would have flown across the parking lot. On other trips, I've seen thunderstorms far off in the distance, impressive natural fireworks illuminating the sky.

After my workshop in Dodge City on Friday, I did indeed "get out of Dodge." I drove west to Garden City to stay with storyteller Margaret Meyers and perform at a house concert with her that night (I got to hear her tell a wonderful Icelandic story, among others). The drive from Dodge to Garden was a straight shot, past stockyards and fields, with that hot flat horizon in the distance. Margaret said she'd heard that there are 300 days of sun in Garden City. It's greener than the surrounding area, but still very dry, and all but the hardiest of trees have a rough time of it. Both Dodge and Garden are supported by stockyards and meat packing plants, so there's a certain aroma present in both. Once when I was out in Garden City, I heard a teacher say, "Yes, my daddy always said that's the smell of money." Beef, it's what's for dinner.

I drove home through Great Bend. The road into Great Bend from Garden City took me past oil rig equipment suppliers and farm implement stores. Still flat, still dry but it was beginning to get hilly again. Occasionally the soil was reddish, sometimes tan, and in the fields I saw rich dark loam. I love watching the horizontal strips of color--the verge of the road, the fields, the blue sky.

A few years ago I traveled from Dodge City to Ashland in June, during the wheat harvest. I'd pass huge combines and tractors in the fields, watch fountains of golden wheat pour into trucks. Suddenly I found myself in a red rock valley, with mesas and buttes, completely different from the landscape a few minutes earlier. I looked at the map to find that I was in Big Basin, a 1.4 mile bowl on Highway 283.

Anyway, yesterday from Great Bend I headed up to I-70 again and home. In the four days, I traveled about 900 miles by car. Today I think I'll go for a walk.


Margaret Meyers said...

What a beautiful and kind panorama of the other side of Kansas! You see the good in everything. Thank you so much for your visit.

Angie Price said...

You did a wonderful job of describing Kansas, almost from top to bottom! I love it in Western Kansas eventhough I grew up in southeastern Kansas, which is also beautiful. I'm so glad to hear you like it here. That's not the responce we usually get from Easterners. Thanks for your comments and traveling way out here! I didn't get to hear you but after reading your "blog" I can imagine you're a great story teller! A. Price

PriscillaHowe said...

Thanks! By the way, I'm still on a quest for the best restaurant pie in Kansas (and the world), so if you have any suggestions, sling them in my direction. So far, the gooseberry in Iola (at the restaurant attached to the Best Western), the apple pie at the Buzz Cafe in Sabetha, the peach pie at Iris' in Hickok, and any pie at Franny's in Yates Center are my favorites. This summer I'll be peforming in libraries in southeast, northeast, south central, north central and possibly northwest Kansas, so I'm expecting to have some excellent pie.

Anonymous said...

Your first-person description of parts of western Kansas brought the area to life! Many years ago, we were given a book about the geology of the state - now, what I read makes sense. Thank you!

PriscillaHowe said...

More descriptions of Kansas will be forthcoming, I'm sure! I've got a busy summer planned, with lots of driving to performances.