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”.
proud leaf-schooners run aground
hard on autumn’s shoals
punctuate the unphrased hills
inviting a pause
slender and supple
hackberry bodice pulled tight
laced by nature’s hand
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