Reclaiming the Freedom to Sing

Because it was a school night, my tenth birthday celebration necessarily remained a small affair, confined to our family’s dinner table.

It was October 23, 1956. As I blew out the candles on my cake, whatever sweet, mid-western wishes I made had little in common with the wishes of children a world away, children who, with their own parents, were marking a different sort of occasion –  an uprising that later would be known as the Hungarian Revolution.

On the 24th of October, or perhaps the 25th, I passed through the dining room on my way to breakfast and noticed the Des Moines Register lying where my cake had been. A photograph filled the space above the fold, and a bold caption: “REVOLUTION IN HUNGARY.”

At the time, there was no 24-hour news cycle. There was no CNN, no internet, no Facebook or Twitter. There was only a newspaper, motionless and mute, waiting while my father readied for work and my mother drank coffee in the kitchen.

I stood at the table, transfixed by the photograph. Eventually, my air of concentrated astonishment caught my dad’s attention. Stopping behind me, he asked, “What’s happening?”  I pointed to the photograph. He picked up the front page, scanned it, then brought it to the kitchen. He showed it to my mother, then handed it to me.  “Maybe you should take the newspaper to school,” he said. And so I did. (more…)

A Sweet Little Puff of Buffalo Fluff – Part 2

With Konza Prairie Biological Station to its north and the rich variety of the Tallgrass Prairie to its south,  the Kansas town of Council Grove is perfectly situated to accomodate vacationing families, prairie enthusiasts, nature photographers, and history buffs.

In the 1800s, the trappers, traders, and settlers who passed through town had different concerns. For them, Council Grove was a pivot point, a final opportunity to reconsider their chosen path before moving on.  East of Council Grove, water and wood had been plentiful, and other small communities growing up along the Santa Fe Trail could offer assistance in case of difficulty. Beyond Council Grove, there were more, and arguably less-friendly, Indians. There was less water, less wood for fuel and repairs, and a changing topography that guaranteed new and more difficult struggles.

If a mind-change were to occur, if a new course were to be plotted or a decision made to return to more familiar worlds, it most likely would happen in Council Grove. (more…)

Published in: on March 4, 2014 at 7:43 pm  Comments (78)  
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A Sweet Little Puff of Buffalo Fluff – Part I

Above all else, autumn on the prairie reveals the beauty of her grasses, and I’d come to Kansas as much for those tall, variously-colored grasses as for the spare, clean horizon, the solitude, or the vast rivers of stars cascading through the nights.

Still, as I paged through the book of photographs lying next to the cash register at the Tallgrass Prairie Visitors’ Center, I paused at a striking portrait of a single buffalo. Seeing my interest, the enthusiasm of the young woman standing next to me became palpable and infectious. “Isn’t he handsome?” she said. “I don’t have anything against the bald eagle. It’s a good symbol for America, and I suppose I’m glad it was chosen over the wild turkey. But the buffalo have permeated our culture in a way the eagle just can’t match.”  (more…)

The Catastrophe of Success

Uncle Henry’s was a fine place to celebrate a first year of writing.

Tucked between Yazoo Pass and the Mississippi River, just north of Clarksdale and a little south of the Helena bridge, it sat alongside Moon Lake, an oxbow good for fishing, if not for navigation and commerce.

Across the road from the lake, Uncle Henry’s provided its guests with a spacious gallery, a west-facing view perfect for sunset-watching, no scheduled activities, and plenty of solitude — perhaps its greatest virtue. Not every lodging encourages just sitting and thinking, those necessary components of the creative process. Uncle Henry’s did.

While robins stitched their song through branches of dogwood and azalea and morning flared out across the sky, I was more than happy to sit and think, particularly about the nature of persistence, and how quickly a year can flee down corridors of time. (more…)

Home with the Armadillos

If it weren’t for the Alamo, bluebonnets, longhorn steers, and Willie Nelson, I’ve no doubt the lowly, nine-banded armadillo would trundle to the top of the Texas totems list.

It’s a strange one, this tank-like creature named for nine parallel scutes neatly tucked between two larger shoulder and hip scutes. It’s also the only armadillo species in North America, having migrated fairly recently from south of the Rio Grande.

Whatever outsiders think of the creature, it’s been granted status as the official state small mammal of Texas, and everyone from dry cleaning establishments to bars seem eager to cash in on its popularity. (more…)

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