This much is certain: choosing to forego modern ways of connecting to the world has consequences. Over the course of three weeks, with no television, radio, newspapers, or social media to keep me informed, I became blissfully unaware of a good bit: the start of baseball’s World Series; the long-term forecast; the latest roiling of the political waters; the inevitable celebrity scandals.
Not only did I begin forgetting the date, with sunrise and sunset serving as my only markers for the days, the realization that it soon would be time to reset the clocks came as a bit of a shock.
On the other hand, it was hard to forget Halloween. Across five states, reminders were everywhere. Farm and ranch gates sported hay-bale-and-pumpkin art, with an occasional straw-stuffed scarecrow thrown in for good measure. Bedsheet ghosts in trees, skeletons huddled on front porches, pumpkin patches in churchyards, and billboards advertising The World’s Scariest Haunted House! made clear that Halloween would not be denied.
I hadn’t been home more than a few hours before Halloween made an appearance on my own doorstep, in the form of an acquaintance asking if I knew about a local Halloween party. After I explained that I’d been traveling and didn’t know, she assured me it would be an awesome party, with fabulous prizes for creative and original costumes.
“Really?” I said.”Have you decided on a costume?” “I saw someone dressed as a taco on Pinterest,” she said. “I thought that was pretty cool, but I haven’t figured out how to keep the lettuce and tomato attached.” I couldn’t help laughing. “Well, I hope you figure it out. Beyond a glue gun, I’m not sure how you’d manage.” “I know,” she said. “I may just go as a Kardashian. That’s easy.”
While I pondered what it would take to transform either of us into a Kardashian, she surprised me with another question. “If you go, what costume would you wear?” A Halloween costume had been the last thing on my mind, but as I began to give it some thought, I knew what my answer would be.
I recalled Gene, bison-wrangler extraordinaire at Kansas’s Tallgrass Prairie, whose willingness to put himself out for a stranger gave me a remarkable experience and some memorable (if shaky) photos.
Getting Buffaloed at the Tallgrass Prairie
I remembered Arkansas innkeepers John and Jolynn Vacca, who bring their guests together every morning for conversation over breakfast: forging ephemeral but quite real communities among travelers from widely varied backgrounds.
Janssen Park Place B&B ~ Mena, Arkansas
I admired again the dedication and creativity of Damon and Jana Helton, whose Farm at Barefoot Bend in Lonsdale, Arkansas provides pastured poultry, grass-fed beef, and produce for the community through their newly-established Olde Crow General Store: the same store that provided me with some tasty, homemade pralines for the road.
Right next to the Crows Station Fire Department ~ Lonsdale, Arkansas
I recalled Bill and Julia McBride, whose commitment to history made possible Matfield Station, my lodging at the edge of the Flint Hills, and whose commitment to art has enlivened their community.
Matfield Station renovated bunkhouse ~ Matfield Green, Kansas
And I thought of the nameless ones who graced my journey through their states: the hunter who took time to ensure I donned an orange vest;
Pond Creek wildlife management area ~ along the Cossatot river in Arkansas
the volunteers struggling to promote knowledge through their small, rural library;
Pomona Public Library ~ Pomona, Kansas
and the sign-maker whose delightful humor was so typical of the people I met in every state. (Matfield Green, population 47, or 46, or 50, may have more than five streets, but I’m sure there aren’t more than seven or eight, and there certainly aren’t five exits.)
Matfield Green, Kansas, where irony abounds
In short, the fog-shrouded mountains were beautiful; the subtleties of the prairies remarkable; the geology of the west impressive, and the dense, tangled forests mysterious. Still, in the end, it was the people I most loved.
With such memories in mind, I turned to my neighborhood party-goer, who seemed to be waiting for an answer. “I probably won’t go to the party,” I said, “but if I do, I might have an idea for a costume. Instead of going as a ghoulie or ghostie, or even as a taco — I think I’ll go as a human being.”