Archive for Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Building on where we’ve been

November 29, 2000

Kansas seems to get bigger every time I cross it.

Oh sure, it was just the eastern half of the state and yes we started out a little later than we'd planned, but the state just seemed to keep going and going.

During the three years since I moved back to Tonganoxie, having lived in central Kansas for 19 years before that, I've tended to forget the vast openness that lies west of Topeka.

Leaving here Saturday afternoon, we observed the eastern tree-covered hills spread gradually out into rolling grass covered mounds. The hills crawled one into another, leading us farther and farther away from the urban sprawl to which we have become accustomed.

As we passed the Rossville exit on Interstate 70, my cell phone beeped to acknowledge we were on roam. A short distance later, the radio station faded away. With not a house or a tree in sight, we knew that clearly, we were in no-man's land. That's when my husband inserted the first of several carefully chosen CDs into the player.

Fast music is what we brought anything to take away the monotony of sitting still for the five-hour drive.

However, the scenery was anything but monotonous.

I drove along, amazed at the openness I had forgotten the unencumbered treeless horizon stretching from north to south and east to west the prevalence of windmills in a land where winds prevail.

Once we pass Salina and turn south, another feature crops up on the horizon oil wells, moving up and down, stork-like, farming the fuel harbored below.

Near Cheyenne Bottoms, wispy dark lines of clouds turn into flocks of geese churning the skies as they head toward evening's resting place.

In the glow of the lowering sun, fields of native grasses bask in an amber glow while rustling in the prairie winds.

There in the land of leaning trees and tall shelterbelts of cottonwoods and cedars, one finds a picture of the Kansas that so many Kansans who live in this part of the state never really know.

Along a highway in central Kansas, a broad wooden sign advertises land for sale the sign has weathered so many seasons that the letters have faded to faint.

Faint like the delicate landscape made hardy for agriculture primarily by irrigation. Faint like the small woman nearly whipped over by winds as she crosses a street. Faint like the dwindling-in-population towns where residents recall that the last new home was built five years ago.

But strong like the farmer checking his wheat in John Stuart Curry's painting, "The Good Earth." Strong like the hardy residents born and bred there who have learned to make the most of whatever it is that they are given, and to work to achieve even more. Strong like those who plant trees on the plains where the mighty oak grows slow, knowing the tree most likely won't make shade in their lifetimes.

We shared a night and day with family and friends with those who, were it not for the miles between, we'd see more frequently, and not less with those who have spent their entire lives on the plains and who are all the stronger for it.

While leaving Sunday afternoon amid hugs, laughter and tears, I realized how much a part these people, the memories and the land have been and continue to be a part in my life.

As we turned north on Kansas Highway 281 and headed back toward the interstate to cross the wide terrain of Kansas, I understood that my three years back in Tonganoxie had given me the time and the perspective to begin to appreciate what my years in central Kansas had taught.

Or, as we travel through the highways of life, sometimes we have to forget where we have been before we can remember.

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