The Heart of the Flint Hills

To travel through the Flint Hills of Kansas is one thing.
To stop, to spend time, to await the rising sun and bless the setting moon, to breathe in the remarkable sweetness of bottomland, pasture and prairie or sense the ageless solidity of  undisturbed earth and rock is quite another.
“The lover can see, and the knowledgeable,” says Annie Dillard. My knowledge of the Flint Hills remains limited, but the place and its people have insinuated themselves into my heart.
How deeply, I wouldn’t have known, had I not stopped by the Emma Chase Café in Cottonwood Falls on the morning of my departure.
I didn’t have a purpose in mind other than delaying the leave-taking. As I chatted with the fellow tending the empty café and gift shop, my eye was caught by a CD near the cash register. A collection of songs by the Tallgrass Express String Band, it was titled, “Clean Curve of Hill Against Sky”.  I’m fond of string bands generally and had read about the group’s accomplishments, so it seemed the perfect souvenir.
Back in my car, I headed west and tucked the CD into the player. The music was delightful, but to my great surprise the title track brought tears.  I listened to the song innumerable times, crying off and on all the way to McPherson.
Annie Wilson, the woman responsible for both music and lyrics, somehow had captured the essence of my Flint Hills experience in her song. Even now, separated from those days by hundreds of miles and a good bit of time, the song touches me deeply and still can move me to tears.
Here, I’ve combined it with a few of my favorite photos from the trip, and just a few words. Perhaps in some small way the combination will communicate the ability of the prairies to touch a human heart, and help put to rest the common travelers’ complaint that “there’s nothing to see in Kansas”.

sails unfurling
proud leaf-schooners run aground
hard on autumn’s shoals
Flint Hills, open range
leaf-heavy commas
punctuate the unphrased hills
inviting a pause

slender and supple
hackberry bodice pulled tight
laced by nature’s hand

Grasses from the Konza Prairie, Manhattan, Kansas

acres of grasses
ripple and nod with the wind
one pauses to shine

sweet, smoky breezes
permeate the falling night
creaking windows sigh

soothed by curving clouds
the heart’s horizon rises
eases into rest

(Click to hear the Tallgrass Express sing “Clean Curve of Hill Against Sky”)
To enlarge any photo, simply click on the image. Comments always are welcome. To leave a comment or respond, just click below. Please, no reblogging. Thank you.

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86 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You always paint such vivid pictures with your words, but you’ve brought Kansas to life with your dramatic photos, too. Well done. I always think that if I’m not resonating with a landscape, I need to adjust my attitude, slow down, and look just a little more closely to see the beauty there. You did that on this trip. Thanks for taking me along.

    • Rosemary,

      It’s true for cityscapes, too. Of all the beauties I saw among your trip photos, it’s the image of the sculpted ginko climbing up the pillar at the botanical garden that’s stayed with me this afternoon. Amazing, really, that you even saw it – but it’s that “close looking” that always does the trick.

      I think, too, that it takes some time and distance to shuffle through our memories and draw the connections that, as Durrell said, allow us to “rework reality to show its significant side”. In any event, you’re a fine traveling companion, and always welcome to come along.

      Linda

  2. We often hear the same thing about Iowa. Nothing to see there. It’s a flyover state. Well, as you know, it simply isn’t true about most places. We’ve driven to OK twice to see our son in the Air Force at Enid. A favorite part is the Flint Hills.

    It was nice to have the musical clip you included. If anyone wants some other song clips from the album, they can go here.

    • Jim,

      One of the best things about people who describe middle America as flyover country is that they’re “up there” and we’re “down here”. Surely you remember Donald Kaul, who wrote for the “Des Moines Register”. He once said something close to, “They can say whatever they like while they’re flying over. But if they land, they need to watch their tongue.”

      One of the reasons I love good string bands is that they’re generally rooted in specific cultures or areas, and know whereof they sing. Clearly, Tallgrass Express fits that description. If you haven’t listened to “King of the Prairie”, about the Big Bluestem, you’ll get a chuckle even from the clip. Who in the world sings about grass and uses the word “rhizome” in a song? Well, these folks do!

      Linda

      • :-)

      • I just had a chance to look in. The photos are evocative, and as Jim says, we’ve enjoyed our drive-throughs. If we were not in a hurry, I expect it would be a great place to explore. Thanks for the closer look.

        • Thanks for stopping by, Melanie. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. Sometimes, there isn’t time for any more than a drive-through, but the combination of beautiful land and interesting history certainly has made it worth exploring.

  3. Beautiful, Linda! Listening to the song as I type this comment . . . Ellen

    • Thanks so much, Ellen. The music’s wonderful, and I suspect much to your taste. I hope you enjoyed it.

      Linda

  4. Wonderful music and photos too!

    • Thanks, Roberta. I especially love looking at that last photo and listening to “Clean Curve…” Lots of good memories there.

      Linda

  5. How beautiful! I think those of us living in the Midwest tend to gloss over its attributes in favor of more exotic locales, places near the crashing waves, for instance. But the Heartland has charms of its own — who else feeds the world?

    You’ve captured a lovely glimpse into Kansas life — I don’t think I’ve ever even been to Kansas, but I suspect I’d feel right at home.

    I can’t tell whether your first photo was a sunrise or a sunset, but it’s magnificent!

    • Debbie,

      It’s true. Mountains are dramatic, oceans are awe-inspiring. But spectacle doesn’t offer the only pleasure in life – not in landscape, not in art, not in entertainment. When I was young, I used to think Iowa was boring – all that corn! Now? The rows, the hills, the swales are more appealing. Subtle would be a good word to describe them. Ordinary’s ok, too. There’s lots of ordinary in the world, and if we look at it closely enough, sometimes we’re lucky enough to realize it contains some very extraordinary things.

      You would feel at home in Kansas – no question about that. Of course there’s tremendous variety there, just as there is in every state. Kansas City, Kansas isn’t Manhattan isn’t Dodge City. But they all have their charms. Here’s a fun fact – Manhattan, Kansas, likes to call themselves the “Little Apple”.

      Run your cursor over the first photo and it should tell you, but I will, too – it’s a sunrise, taken from my front door at Matfield Station the morning I was driving up to Manhattan to see the Konza Prairie. I’m glad you like it.

      Linda

  6. What a wonderful treat this morning. Peter and I took a Prairie sabbatical a few years ago, it was our first time to see the Flint Hills. Before our trip I read “Where the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie” by John Madson. On this cold windy day I think I will start reading it again. Thanks for the smile and inspiration. Susan

    • Susan,

      Thanks for the book recommendation! Well, of course you weren’t really recommending it, but I trotted right over to the reviews at Goodreads and so on and so forth, and have my very own copy arriving this coming week. (It would be here now if Amazon had their drones up and running.)

      I was interested to see that he’s written extensively on Iowa, too, and probably more things that I haven’t discovered yet.

      I’m so glad you stopped by. Since you’ve “been there”, it’s even nicer to be able to share my photos with you. I suspect you have memories fully as wonderful as mine.

      Linda

  7. Hi Linda:

    Thank you for the song of the Tall Grass Express Band and your exquisite pictures. I wish I could visit Kansas someday; perhaps in my next life.

    Most grateful,

    Omar.-

    • Omar,

      Why wait? Perhaps you should consider cloning yourself, so that you could tend to things at home and come over to visit Kansas. I’d be happy to meet you there – just as soon as I figure out how to clone myself!

      Seriously, I’m glad you enjoyed the song and the photos. I certainly enjoy sharing them with you.

      Linda

  8. Gorgeous and I love your photos to see what you saw.

    • Thanks, CheyAnne. It’s hard to believe there’s snow up there now and some wind chill readings to zero. I was blessed with a perfect weather window and beautiful prairies. Now, it’s time for the land to lie fallow.

      Linda

  9. Your photos complement the lyrics of the song beautifully.

    • Gué,

      Thanks for the compliment on my complement, ma’am! I suppose another way to say it would be that Annie captures in her song the reality that the photos show. But it doesn’t matter which way we come at it – the prairie’s beautiful, the history is fascinating and the people are comfortable to be around. There’s nothing better than that.

      Linda

  10. What a beautiful writing and photographs. I love your poetical touches. Thank you dear, love, nia

    • dear nia,

      I’m especially glad that you like the poetry – that makes me happy. And I’m happy to show you some of our most beautiful countryside, too.

      It just occurred to me – I’ll be showing some pictures of a weaving shop where I bought a small rug. You’ll be interested in that. They “begin from the beginning” – cleaning, carding, spinning and weaving. So interesting!

      A good weekend to you!

      Linda

      • Dear Linda, you always share interesting and beautiful things for me, and I really love and enjoy. And yes, you really know me. I am so glad for this. Thank you dear, have a nice Sunday, love, nia

  11. I think every part of this country has something beautiful to reveal. I’ve never been to Kansas. Wisconsin is as far west as I’ve been, but we keep talking about that westward trip to see what we can see, and you’re wetting my appetite. The pictures are very beautiful, and so are the words and song.

    • Bella Rum,

      To paraphrase the good Bard, the fault lies not in any given stretch of countryside, but in our eyes – we so often rush past wonders just waiting to be seen.

      You stopped me for a minute with that comment about never having been farther west than Wisconsin. “West?” I thought. “Wisconsin is east….” Well, it depends on where we’re starting from, doesn’t it?

      Just remember that wonderful travel advice offered to Alice:

      “Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.
      ‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.
      ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
      ‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

      Linda

  12. Oh, Linda — your photos are such a divine illustration to these wonderful words. I’m not familiar with the countryside of Kansas — just KC. And while we’re a tad flat here, prairies are beyond my understanding. This makes a difference, it helps. Thanks for sharing the wonderful song and especially your lovely images.

    • jeanie,

      One of the things to remember about Kansas is that it isn’t all Flint Hills and prairie. There are wonderful wetlands, too, and far western Kansas begins to look a little like the set for – well, for a Western.

      Of course, in such flat country, rocks play an important role. I still need to show you Pawnee Rock, and Point of Rocks, and Teter Rock, where I found something that will remind you of Paris. (And that would be Paris, France, not Paris, Texas, or Paris, Arkansas, or…) I even took a photo of it, and laughed for miles, because i knew how much you’ll love it.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos and song. I hope your trip home is an easy one – with no bad weather to impede things.

      Linda

  13. I really like this post, Linda since I love the prairie. I could tell that the pink sky in the photo is of the rising sun. Those are sunrise colors that I love so much. A delicate pink hue with the faint yellow at the bottom just before the sun raises its head.

    I also like the guara close up that you used as a feature of the place where you stayed. That photo is very nice. Finally I like the Big Bluestem featured in one photo. Big Blue is also called “turkey foot” some times since it is supposed to resemble a turkey’s foot.

    Finally you capped off this post with a regional band. Wonderful, plus these musicians are quite talented.

    ~yvonne

    • Yvonne,

      I thought that was guara, but I wasn’t sure – thanks for the confirmation. And the grass photo may be my favorite of all the photos I’ve ever taken. I think I’m going to print it out so I can enjoy it all the time.

      I learned about the “turkey foot” when I was at Konza Prairie. Now, big, little, and bushy bluestem are three I can spot pretty easily. Well, and switchgrass. And sideoats grama. So many grasses! I think you’ll enjoy this little ditty, too. It certainly does a good job of singing the praises of bluestem – it’s the same musical group as in the post.

      Isn’t that sunrise glorious? I nearly missed it. I was getting ready to hit the road for Konza and just happened to glance out the window. Oh, my. I didn’t even wait to put a coat on – at least, for once in my life, my camera was handy. I got the photos (some good, some not so) and then I went down to the car and laughed because I had to scrape frost off the windows for the first time in a very long time.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post!

      Linda

  14. Ah ha: that’s some kind of gaura in your next-to-last photo. And the last picture is a great abstract landscape, just the thing to match the title of the CD, as you said. Have you thought of checking to see if the band would like to use it on a future release of their CD or on their website?

    • Steve,

      It truly was a “second spring” when I was there. If you look at the gaura stem on the right, you’ll see that most leaves had dropped. Then, some well-timed rains came, and warmer temperatures, and there were plants all around giving it another go by the time I got there.

      The last photo was taken at a scenic overlook between Cottonwood Falls and Matfield Green. Facing east, there is quite a view across the pastures to bottomlands, and an elevation drop. There also are wires, poles and a highway. So, I turned the other direction, and found that “clean curve”.

      The first and last photos were taken on the same morning, about 45 minutes apart. It’s amazing how the light changes.

      And no, I hadn’t thought of inquiring, either of the band or of Matfield Station. Perhaps I should do that…

      Linda

    • I got out my copy of Haddock’s “Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas”, and I believe it’s “Gaura longiflora”, which blooms through October and which was growing right where it should have been – in an open, disturbed area of dry, rocky soil. I was surprised to see that our “Gaura lindheimeri” is native only to Texas and Louisiana.

      • Based on your photo and the USDA map, Gaura longiflora could be the tall gaura I noticed in western Arkansas when I stopped to photograph sumacs above Lake Fort Smith.

        As you observed, Gaura lindheimeri has a more limited range.

  15. Beautifully done, Linda! I’m convinced that there is much beauty in every part of our world and it’s always a moving experience to encounter those who have a passionate love affair with their own special places. I’ve seen Kansas and your photos reminded me of the beauty that is there.

    I still have a love for the Sonoran desert in Arizona and sometimes I find that a tear or two comes when I think of it and realize that I may never see it again, and if I do it probably won’t be the same as it was 40 years ago.

    I fervently wish that everyone could just love this world of ours for what is is, not for what we might try to make of it.

    • montucky,

      Strangely enough, it was my cat who taught me that lesson about loving something for what it is, and not for what I wish it to be. I’d never had a cat when she came to live with me, and I was eager for the purring, lap-sitting affection I was sure would come. After all, isn’t that the nature of cats?

      Not so much – at least with this one. It took me some time to come to terms with the fact that she didn’t want to be picked up, would never sit in a lap and refused to come to anyone but me. She actually ran off two cat sitters who were insulted that she didn’t seem to “like” them. ;)

      But she’s a good cat. She never scratches, claws, jumps on furniture or is untidy. That’s kept me happy, and eventually I learned to accept her as she is – which makes her happy.

      All of which is a long way around to agree with your point. The world has its own reality, and when we try to deny it and reshape it in our own image, there’s trouble ahead.

      Learning to cope with the limitations life sometimes places on travel and exploration – financial, physical, whatever – can be just as hard. The good news is that beauty almost always is within reach, one way or another.

      Linda

  16. Just breathtaking.

    The photographs, though taking up only a few inches on my computer screen, seem to stretch forever: basking in the loveliness of unleashed color and acres.

    And the poetry is the same – a handful of lines containing such vast understanding and intuition about the marvelous, natural world.

    • aubrey,

      Surely you know which photo I included because it made me think of you. Yes – the one of the “laced-up” trees, costumed as elegantly as any of the beauties you show us.

      I’m especially glad you liked the haiku. I love the shorter poetic forms. They seem capable of containing far more than their few syllables might seem to allow.

      Many thanks for your kind words. I’m delighted to have found a way to communicate some of the natural beauty I found.

      Linda

  17. I think it is gaura – the butterfly bush. What lovely scenery and how lucky you are to be able to lose yourself in it.

    • SDS,

      Lucky, indeed – and not only for the scenery. Each photo also calls to mind people – invisible here, but lively in my memories. It was at least as refreshing to be among the people of these hills as it was to travel the hills themselves. In short – it was a great trip.

      Linda

  18. Marvelous!

    • Thanks, Wendy. It’s been enjoyable to remember those warm autumn days in the midst of this spell of cold-and-nasty. You’re ten degrees warmer than we are today, you lucky people.

      Linda

  19. Linda,

    It’s too bad that more people can’t read your Blog about my beautiful state. I have found in my travels when I observe tourists, they seem to go from place to place in a hurry to see things but not what is in between. Maybe it is with age a person starts seeing what is most important.

    • Chod,

      I think age does have something to do with it. Over the years I’ve tended to slow down and see more – not because of any physical limitation, but just because I began to realize I’d been missing a good bit of the world around me.

      It’s really rather amusing that being “counter-cultural” today means (among other things) shutting off the danged “devices” and taking a look at the real world. I’ll not argue that GPS, iGadgets, smart phones and such have no legitimate uses. Of course, they do. But far too many people are being pulled into a world that bears little resemblance to reality. I’ll stop, now.

      The tourist phenomenon you describe I call “travel by checklist”. It’s often accompanied by the use of the phrase, “Been there, done that”.
      But you know as well as I do that once never is enough to know a place like Konza – or Cottonwood Falls or the Fox Creek bottoms or Alma, for that matter. That’s why I’m so looking forward to coming back.

      Linda

  20. I’ve stolen a moment from writing Christmas cards to pop over and so glad I did.

    I had the pleasure of a day exploring the southern Alberta prairie last year while my husband was attending a course. It was magical. I took many photos and have since intended to do a blog post on my oh-so-neglected photography blog. I was stymied at first by the delicious abundance of sensation – so much to say.

    Your words and photos above say it all.

    I’ve always enjoyed the prairies – even driving through and the Tallgrass tune – so beautifully rootsy – paint the picture that I imagined as a child. I endlessly galloped a horse along that ‘clean curve of hill against sky’ outside the car window.

    • Cindy,

      A friend in Calgary has posted just a few photos from the prairie in her blog, and they’ve been marvelous. I surely would look forward to seeing yours. On the other hand, I do understand that sense of “Well, now what?” A friend was very gently fussing at me for not getting some trip photos posted more quickly, but I just couldn’t. It’s as though some experiences have to distill, drop by drop, before they can be shared.

      I talked with a woman in Cottonwood Falls whose husband’s father would tell stories of riding horseback through the prairies in the early 1900s. The grasses sometimes were as high as his head, even mounted. As it was, I walked through grasses at least six feet tall – just remarkable.

      Thanks for taking a break and visiting. I’m so glad you found something to enjoy.

      Linda

  21. Well, I thought that flower looked familiar. It’s been puzzling the daylights out of me since I saw the photo.

    It sure is gaura and I’m losing my mind: I have two of them planted by my mailbox lol

    • Gué,

      Isn’t it funny how we don’t recognize the most familiar things when we find them in a different context?

      I’ll never forgot the day I ran into one of my professors in a lumber yard. He was the most buttoned-up sort ever in the classroom, but that day he was in jeans, sandals and one of the most raggedy tee-shirts you could imagine. Even after he spoke it took a full five or ten (frantic) seconds for me to figure out who I’d met.

      I just spent a bit of time trying to figure out which Gaura this is. I believe it’s “Gaura longiflora”, a different species than the one that’s native to Texas and Louisiana (“Gaura lindheimeri”). Is yours native or a cultivar? I’m amazed how many varieties there are available for purchase – or how fanciful the names can be.

      Linda

      • Mine is a cultivar called ‘White Fountain.’ I bought it in spring of 2012 at a garden center in Greenwood, when I was up for a visit with Dad.

        I’ve had that happen; run into someone that knows me and I know I know them but can’t place them for love nor money. It’s usually someone from one of my doctor’s offices or a cashier from a local store. They’re just out of context, like you said. It can be very embarrassing!

  22. What a sweet, sweet song, Linda. I can well imagine you in your car along the highway with a tear inching down your cheek. “So few places left now to pleasure the eyes.” Somehow, you manage to find them.

    Gaura is such a lovely shrub for a breezy spot. The flowers look like butterflies flitting in the air.

    • nikkipolani,

      Those places still left now, to pleasure the eyes? Some are waiting to be discovered, but some are created. Every time I see your gardens, I imagine how much pleasure they must give all of you – two and four-footed alike.

      One thing I’d not thought much about is that, especially with prairies but also in other environments, preservation and restoration are two sides of the same coin. It’s not enough to buy up a section of prairie and say, “There. Done.” There’s a tremendous amount of work involved in keeping out the invasive plants and restoring the health of the natives.

      What kind of gaura do you have? I’m fascinated by the variety of native species, and the number of varieties introduced into the market. I learned today that “Gaura coccinea”, or Scarlet gaura, was used by the Lakota Sioux to make their hands sticky so they could catch horses more easily!

      Linda

      • I’d planted both the white and the pink siskiyou gauras and they’ve relocated themselves in the rose cutting bed. Unfortunately, at least in my garden, they’re aphid-bait so I have to trim them back often. Maybe the aphids find them sticky, too!

        You’re right, of course, about preservation and restoration. Some of our hills are overtaken with non-native yellow mustard and it takes concerted effort to rid an area of those pretty and innocuous-looking invaders.

  23. Beauty is everywhere, Linda. I am convinced of this. All we have to do is look. And your words add much to the photos. A tree, a blade of grass and a beautiful sunset… –Curt

    • Curt,

      I’ve thought a good bit about these photos. One tree, not a grove. A single stem, and not the whole prairie – perhaps if we could begin again to see people as individuals as well as a part of whatever group happens to be irritating, angering or confusing us at the moment, things might begin to improve.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the combination of words and images. It seemed a good approach to some photos I wanted to share but didn’t want to overwhelm with narrative.

      Linda

  24. Linda, thanks for this post, its poetry, its photos and especially the image of the tree which plays the comma with its leaves and invites us to pause.

    Coming from Alberta I know something of the beauty of the prairies, and the importance of trees. I am thinking a lot about trees these days. There is a quotation in Luther’s commentary on 1 Cor. 15 in which he says that “we converse with the trees, and they with us.” I’m glad you passed on what you heard! Allen

    • Allen,

      It wasn’t until this evening that I recognized the amusing parallel between the trinket-buying museum goer and me with my musical CD, re-living experience. It’s fun to see how these things interweave.

      I just did some snooping and learned that Bur Oaks (the tree in the photo, above) also live on the Alberta prairies. Apparently they often survive prairie fires because of their thick, heavy bark. They end up becoming landmarks as well as welcome shade and invitations to rest.

      Luther’s such fun. You probably know another of his fine statements about trees: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” I’ll bet he’d talk to it, too!

      Linda

  25. Beautiful music, words and images.

    “There’s few places left now to pleasure the eyes with that clean curve of hill against sky.”

    I’ve listened to that beautiful song several times this morning as I look out my window at such a curve. Not a building in sight to block the view. Feeling blessed. Thanks for that.

    The first image is arresting. Imagine the work of those who cleared a field of those stones, stacking them carefully to build that wall. That is a job that builds, and reflects, character. That kind of work builds intimacy with the land. It is forward-looking in ways few jobs are. Who would build a wall like that now?

    • Bill,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and I’m glad you’re one who still enjoys that kind of view on a daily basis. I don’t see hills through my window, and I don’t see curves, but there’s sky and water enough to keep me here – despite the “scenic surcharge”.

      As for your question – “Who would build a wall like that now?” – I can tell you. Kansans would. In fact, I’ll be doing a post about the closing of the open range, the building of the rock fences and contemporary efforts at preservation somewhere down the line. Everything you say about the nature of the job is true, and you can hear echoes of your comments in the observations made by the folks interviewed for this video . I’ve got photos of that very fence in my files.

      Have I thought about signing up for the 2014 workshop? Actually, I have. From what I’ve seen, rock-work and varnishing have a good bit in common: physical, repetitive, concrete. I think I’d be good at it.

      Linda

  26. The music link makes me long for a more bluegrass life…enough to make me glance at the map…again. All but gone now- …”the things which I have seen I now can see no more…there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.”

    A special Thank You for sharing this trip in such a loving and beautiful way. You know how much this has meant to me.

    • Martha,

      Music and memories always have been linked for me. Like spoken language, musical “dialects” have the power to evoke particular places. It’s one reason I look for local artists and pick up CDs while I’m traveling, rather than just tuning in to the radio. Besides, the places that sell CDs for groups like the Tallgrass Express often have wonderful pie.

      I’m going to double back to Council Grove in the future, and tell another tale or two. It was such an important part of the Santa Fe trail, and the post office tree isn’t the only great tree in town!

      Linda

  27. I love particularly the photo with the single tree. That vista is one of my favorites in the Midwestern countryside. Your words are a perfect fit.

    • Susan,

      Even in nature, the individual is as important as the collective – the single tree seen apart from the grove, the stem amid the bunch, the lone meadowlark singing on the fence post. One of the beauties of great, open spaces is that they allow a different way of seeing such treasures – a lesson the best galleries have learned!

      Linda

  28. Delightful song. I guess we of the Rock generation have gotten used to being bashed over the head by electrified sound, but there is still music that is a tracery of acoustic instruments and the presence of unelectrified voices singing in harmony. It’s not simple, easy music. It has textures; it’s multistranded.

    I think that’s what I like about this kind of music. It waits for you to approach it rather than jumping on top of you and getting up in your face. It’s a delightful subtlety that matches the prairie. The first impression of the landscape is of miles and miles of nothing, of vast expanses of empty land, but the prairie is not empty; there is plenty there, but you have to go looking for it.

    What the prairie asks of you is focus. The prairie is not an easy landscape to parse. It has no obvious features like rocky outcrops or spectacular waterfalls, or panoramic mountains or large mirror-like expanses of water. It’s a blend of subtle colors, often sun-faded. A tree looks different when it’s all alone on the horizon, not like it does when it’s lost in a crowd and you can’t see the trees for the forest.

    I like the photo of the rock fence and the one of the three trees, and that one of a single stem of grass. The prairie is a landscape of details.

    P.S., you would love the art of Melanie Fain

    • WOL,

      Well, I haven’t gotten used to all of it. I thought Jimi Hendrix was just fine, and I didn’t have a coronary when Dylan plugged in, but you surely won’t find any Metallica or Megadeth in my collection.

      Still, I take your point about acoustic, and even simpler forms of music-making. Call-and-response, work songs, shape-note singing and urban a capella all appeal to me, as do motets and Gregorian chant. All of it’s both approachable and complex- a perfect description.

      As for the subtlety – you may enjoy this. I stopped a few times at the scenic overlook where I took the last photo. There was a family there one evening – Mom, Dad, a girl and two boys. One of the boys stood looking around and said, “Why’d we stop here? There isn’t anything.to look at.” I didn’t catch what his mom said to him, but I was grateful all over again for my dad, who used to take me “exploring” on a regular basis and taught me a good bit about seeing.

      As for the relationship of trees and forests, you’re exactly right. See my comment to Susan, just above.

      There are more rocks and trees coming – especially rocks. When you don’t have mountains, oceans, grand forests or glimmering lakes, rocks become very, very important.

      And I do love her art. Thanks for the link.

      Linda

  29. Beautifully written!

    I haven’t been to Kansas, or to the US for that matter. And I really don’t know where the complaint “there’s nothing to see in Kansas” came from.

    But after the seeing your photos and the accompanying haikus, I really don’t see anybody ever making that complaint again.

    Indeed, if only we open eyes, we can see that beauty is all around us.

    Thank you for writing this beautiful piece, Linda…

    –Matt

    • Matt,

      That line about “nothing to see in Kansas” has lots of variations. “Nothing to see in Iowa” was popular when I was growing up in Iowa. The assumption was that we had nothing but corn. At the time, of course, my friends and I assumed there wasn’t anything very interesting about our state, and we wanted out. Now, I appreciate what was there all the time.

      Sometimes, I think about moving back. Then, I remember winter. Snow is pretty. Frozen door locks, dead batteries, frostbite and shoveling snow? Not so much. Snow’s for the young ones, not an old woman. ;)

      You’re exactly right. Beauty is all around. It’s only a matter of taking the time to look. There’s always something to see. The real beauty of it is that we’re so often surprised.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I was happy to share my little glimpse of Kansas in this way.

      Linda

  30. Oh Linda, beautiful beautiful images, so thoughtfully compiled, and that music has set my eyes a’watering…. I miss my northern lands greatly. Even tho where I now live has its own charm, it’s not ‘home’. And what a treat to hear the lyrics spoken so clearly! Music from the heart…. to another heart.

    • eremophila,

      I do wonder, from time to time, why some musical groups even bother with lyrics when it’s impossible to understand them. So, yes. I’m with you on that point. And I do love the way the song makes its point so poetically.

      Isn’t it amazing how that sense of “place” is so tied up with our identity? I love Texas. I’ve been here long enough that if someone asks, “Where are you from?”, I’ll say Texas. I used to add, “But I was born in Iowa”. That ceased long ago. And yet… there’s something about the midwest that feels different – comfortable and nourishing. If that’s not “home”, I don’t know what would be.

      Linda

  31. I especially like “laced by nature’s hand”. You made a fine capture with this photo bringing us close, so we dare not miss the interweave.

    You take my breath away with not just one beautiful image after another, but the perfect words, haiku after haiku.

    And then such a delightful song that I’m listening to as I write this comment. Enjoyed all of this so much, the images, the words, the music!

    • Georgette,

      Both the “woven trees” and the single blade of grass were surprises to me. I was hoping to stop the movement of the grasses, but never expected to get the image I did. And it wasn’t until I uploaded the photos and looked at them on the computer that I saw the branches as lacing between the tree trunks.

      It did take a while for me to remember “bodice”. I had to dig around in the back of the mental closet for that one – although, as a friend laughed, if I spent more time at the Renaissance Faire I probably would have found it immediately.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed them all. I wanted to find a way to share these particular photos, and I do enjoy word-and-image combinations. So, thanks especially for commenting on the haiku. And I’m glad you’re enjoying the song, too. The entire CD is wonderful – you can hear snippets of two other of my favorites (Big Bluestem and Working Flint Hills Cowboy) here.

      Linda

  32. Hello Linda,

    You bring out the poet and the nature lover in us all….Loved the simplicity of the song, and its mention of the stars!

    • Anne,

      It’s impossible not to notice the stars on the prairie – or to sing their praises. It had been such a long time since I’d been truly away from light pollution I was startled, then thrilled, to see the Milky Way. Such a sight!

      The more poetry and nature in life the better, says me.

      Linda

  33. You always make me sorry I haven’t seen the place you write about! Another great story Linda.

    As I read it my eyes wandered over to your archives, and I spotted the one about Fruitcake, as it’s that time of year! I made mine weeks ago, and Dr. Advice and I will end up eating it. I chuckled until I got to the part about the Collin St. Bakery. My Down’s Syndrome cousin lived in a facility who for many years sold that fruitcake to raise money at Christmas. I dutifully bought each year.

    While reading, I went to my pantry and found that I keep my cookie cutters in a Collin St. tin! My cousin passed away the day before I read your post, which leads me to suspect that another force may be in action.

    • Kayti,

      My goodness. They call it the worldwide web, and sometimes it does seem as though the threads of circumstance weave us together more tightly than we might imagine.

      So many of us have kept treasures in those Collins Street tins – cookie cutters, embroidery floss, buttons, loose screws, nails and such. Yours holds some memories, too. I’m sorry to hear of your cousin’s passing, but I’m glad that the tin remains as a memento.

      Here in the Houston area, it’s poinsettias that help to support services for the functionally disabled. The Brookshire Community is an absolute marvel. Their poinsettias are beautiful (as are the other plants they raise) and it’s so much fun to buy a bit of beauty that also helps people in a very direct way.

      Here’s one more fun tidbit about the fruitcake post. I received an email from a woman in North Carolina who makes fruitcakes as a business (Mum’s Fruitcakes on Facebook). She wondered if she might link to the post. Of course I said yes. And now, a lovely fruitcake is on its way to me as a thank-you. Who knows? It may be the best fruitcake I’ve ever eaten.

      Merry Christmas, and much joy to you and yours!

      Linda

  34. A beautiful series of images, and the accompanying verses are delightful too, Linda. As much as I enjoy your writing, I do hope to see even more of your photography in the future.

    • Thanks so much, Andrew. In the midst of this trip the camera I’ve used for the past years went kaput. It’s been a good one – a Canon – but it’s a very old series and it’s time for a new one. I bought a cheap Canon point and shoot to finish the trip. It will do while I’m deciding what to buy and learning to do more than – well, point and shoot!

      Thanks for the kind words. Some of these are among my favorite photos – I enjoy looking at them myself, and I’m looking forward to learning how to take photos like them on purpose!

      Linda

  35. Wonderful, in all ways. The haiku really makes you stop and think. Now that I’ve taken up poetry I’ve been wondering about the pairing of photographs with them and if they would work. Now I have the answer!

    • thinkingcowgirl,

      I really do enjoy pairing images and words. Most of the time I don’t set out to do it, but sometimes it just seems the best way to contextualize the image. Straight narrative is good for travelogues and such, but poetry is good for other purposes. I’ll look forward to seeing some of your pairings!

      So nice to see you. I trust your celebrations have been lovely, and that you haven’t suffered too badly from some of the nasty weather over there.

      Linda

  36. Two places I been felt like home instantly. The Hills and the bayou. So still stuck in Illinois.

    • blu, I know exactly what you mean. My reaction to both places has been the same. I’ve grown to feel the same about Texas, although it took a little more time.

      From what I’ve heard about the weather up there, you must be ready for a little bayou time. It’s not exactly gorgeous down here, and I hear the fishing’s a little slow right now, but it won’t be long until things turn around. That’s my New Year’s wish for you – that you make it down the bayou for a little R&R!

      Linda

  37. It’s a fine thing to read this post and all the comments. After years of false starts, I finally read William Least Heat-Moon’s Prairyerth. The Flint Hills went right to the top of my Road Trip List. Next time I’m at WiFi I’ll listen to the string band.

    • Gerry,

      Now that we’re past the holidays and I have a little more time, there will be several more Chase County posts. Rocks. Schoolhouses. Surveyors on the Santa Fe Trail. Council Grove. It’s a wonderful place, the Flint Hills, and one where you’d feel right at home.

      I think you’ll enjoy this photo of the author and his bride, and the discussion that follows. Tom Parker’s the one who enticed me to Kansas after I bumped into one of his essays about light pollution (far more entrancing than that description might allow).

      Least Heat-Moon doesn’t just write about the Flint Hills. He’s a part of them. You know something about that.

      Linda

      • Oh boy oh boy – I dropped in on Tom’s blog and now I’m hooked. I did like the photo. A lot.

        Someone Around Here was doing some interesting programming up west of Mackinac – we have a Dark Skies Park up there, and that’s about all I know about it. Anyway, I’m absolutely prepared to believe that an essay about light pollution can be entrancing.

  38. Several Septembers ago, we drove from California to Chicago on Highway 50. We veered south there at Emporia, Kansas to stay one night in Cottonwood Falls. My husband got a haircut there on Main Street, the one facing that enormous working courthouse. We stayed there at the Inn, had a juicy steak dinner and, so taken with the Kansas prairie, bought a large painting at the gallery there in Cottonwood Falls,

    You have captured the region eloquently.

    • Cheri,

      It’s always such fun to meet someone new who delights in the Flint Hills and the prairie. I’m in the process of retagging all my posts, so you might not have found one called Tumbleweed Traveling. It has more photos from the area, including a plein air painter who was quite good and who has some work in area galleries.

      Isn’t the Courthouse a marvel? I’ve not been inside yet – that’s on “The List” for next time.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed your trip. Thanks for stopping by here, and for your lovely comment. You’re always welcome!

      Linda


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