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.
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.
slender and supple
acres of grasses
sweet, smoky breezes
soothed by curving clouds
I knew he’d be there, waiting. I’d seen his photo and heard a story or two, so I wasn’t fearful of missing him. He wasn’t going anywhere.
Still, when I turned and saw him at the end of the gallery, I was taken aback, both by his air of patient weariness and by his obvious disregard for the people who’d clustered around him. Edging closer, I listened to their conversation.
“What’s his name?”
“Don’t think he’s got a name.”
“He sure enough looks real. I was about ready to ask him the time.”
“Yeh, and if he’d answered, you’d have been right surprised.”
At Crystal Bridges, it doesn’t take long to become comfortable enough to join in.
“He reminds me of my dad,” I said. “That’s how he’d look when Mom made him go shopping with her.”
After the laughter subsided, one of the women looked at a man I took to be her husband and said,
“That’s right. I’ve seen that look. But the artist ought to have put a woman on that bench, too – for all the times we’ve been dragged off to hardware stores and farm sales.”
“My favorite work of art changes regularly, but today… it’s a Duane Hanson sculpture titled “Man on a Bench”. It’s literally a depiction of an older gentleman sitting on a bench. I like it because of the way our visitors interact with the sculpture – they’re surprised by it, intrigued, sometimes taken aback in that they think it’s real. It elicits great response, from all ages.”
There’s a lot to interact with at Crystal Bridges, beginning with WalMart heiress Alice Walton. Once she put her energies – and her considerable money – behind her vision of accessible, quality art for the people of Arkansas and surrounding states, the reactions were swift and often predictable.
Out in western Kansas, tumbleweeds seem to outnumber gas stations by a million to one.
I was in tumbleweed country, with a quarter-tank of gas and who-knew-how-many-miles to go before I could sleep in something other than my car. When I saw the metal building with its gravel parking lot and a pair of pickups out front, it might as well have had a sign nailed up saying, “Tourist Information”.
I pulled in, walked over to the open doors and saw two fellows welding pipe. The one facing the door saw me, pushed up his helmet and walked over, smiling as though he’d been expecting me all day.
“What can I help you with?” he said. I explained my concern about seeing no gas stations, and asked where the closest one might be. “Well,” he said. “You’re about a tenth of a mile from it. You see those Co-op grain elevators across the way?” I did. “They’ve got gas pumps over there, too. Drive over and stick your head in the office and they’ll give you the go-ahead. Around here, we get our gas at the Co-ops. If you see an elevator, you probably can get gas.”
When I pulled up to the pumps, I still couldn’t find the credit card reader, so a trucker getting diesel across from me explained what no one else had thought to mention. Just one card reader served all six pumps, and it was hidden away at the end of the island. As I keyed in my pump number, I noticed him grinning. “Well,” he said, “I guess we’re gonna have to revise that old song.”
I must have seemed confused, so he added, “Looks to me like it ought to be ‘T for Texas, T for tumbleweeds‘“. Following his gaze, I turned to look at my car and started laughing myself. “You saw that, huh?” “Couldn’t help it,” he said. “Don’t often see someone driving around with a tumbleweed in their back seat. Where’d you pick it up?” (more…)
“Pufferbellies” was my teacher’s name for the little trains. They were cute and winsome as the wooden ducks and chickens we pulled along behind us on strings. Day by day they traveled through my imagination until one day, while the world’s back was turned, they broke free and chugged off into reality. No longer arrayed in neat little rows, no longer subject to station masters and drivers, no longer dependent on children to pull them along, the Pufferbellies began to roam the world.
I was certain they were roaming my neighborhood, and I knew I ought to be able to catch one, like a firefly or a grasshopper. One Sunday afternoon I headed off toward my school, thinking perhaps I could find one in the schoolyard.
It didn’t take long for my dad to catch up with me. “Just where do you think you’re going?” “To find the Pufferbellies.” Silence wafted between us like steam. “The what?” ”The Pufferbellies. We learned a song about them in school. I want to see them.” Dad thought it over for a minute. ”Can you sing me the song?” Of course I could. I remembered every word, and sang the first verse twice. (more…)
Expansive skies, a far horizon, an open road and time to explore – what more could a woman want?
In my case, not much. I love a good road trip, and it’s been far too long since I’ve taken one. In a day or two, I’ll put the necessities in the car – a clutch of maps, some books, notebooks and pens, a few hand-written notes, a collection of tunes, a laptop and a camera – and head north.
Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri are guaranteed stops. I’ll visit friends and family, tour a museum and see a few historical sights that intrigue me. Then, I’ll head south and west from Kansas City, eventually picking up the Santa Fe Trail. I’ll spend time in Chase County, Kansas, memorialized in William Least Heat-Moon’s expansive “Prairy Erth”. In Council Grove, I’ll visit the places I’ve missed, and then I’ll bunk along the BNSF tracks while I explore the prairies. (more…)