How To Bribe A Bison

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Once on the open range west of Matfield Green, a turn to the north on M Road, followed by another turn west to 60 Road, will lead you to Cedar Creek, the ghost town of Wonsevu, and autumnal ditches filled with partridge pea.

Stop to admire the flowers or the rust-colored grasses sweeping over the hills, and a glint of light might catch your eye. From the road, it’s hard to determine the source. But this is open prairie, unfenced and accessible. Wade into the grasses and climb the hill, and you’ll discover a life-sized, perfectly detailed bison: a sculpture conveying all the strength and solidity of the iconic prairie animal.

Although the name of the sculptor remains a mystery, and I haven’t yet learned who commissioned the work, I like to imagine a rancher placing the bison on its hillside: perhaps as a tribute to early ranchers in the American West who helped to save the bison from extinction. Continue reading

The Beauty of the Harvest

shadow1That midwestern “painted desert”

In a previous post, I presented one of the world’s imaginary selfies as a painted desert.  It was, of course, an intentional trick, since there aren’t any painted deserts in Kansas. Using the phrase as a metaphor to describe what I’d found simply was an way to temporarily disguise a wonderful and wholly unexpected reality, giving readers a chance to make their own guess about its identity.

If I’d posted a different photo, and called it a Kansas dune, identification would have been easier. On the other hand, even when I started seeing these dunes — or mountains, as some call them — in the south-central part of the state, I had no idea what I was seeing. Piles of red laterite soil came to mind, but there’s little laterite in Kansas, and no evidence of it on the gravel roads threaded through the state. Road construction clearly wasn’t the answer, but I couldn’t come up with an alternative.
Continue reading

Me, My Selfie, and I

selfieOn the banks of Fox Creek
(click any photo to enlarge)

After a combination of circumstances and a good bit of cyber-frustration led me to purchase an iPad early in the course of my recent travels, a friend pointed out what she clearly assumed to be a side benefit. “Just think!” she chirped. “Now you can send us selfies while you travel!”

Having known me for years, she should have known — but clearly didn’t — that it hasn’t been the lack of a camera phone or its obnoxious accessories that’s excluded me from the ranks of selfie enthusiasts. I simply lack the inclination. The thought of photographing myself when there’s so much else of interest in the world to record seems faintly ridiculous. Continue reading

Let Us Now Praise Working Fools

In the beginning, I learned to call it “helping.” Helping wasn’t a burden, a demand, or an imposition. Helping was something people did naturally, and being allowed to help around the house was considered a perfectly acceptable way for children to enter the mysterious world of grown-ups.

Trailing behind my mother with a dust cloth, or venturing into the yard to carry bundles of sticks for my father garnered smiles of approval. I enjoyed approval, and so I looked for opportunities: cutting flowers to make the house pretty, or picking up my toys. I collected windfall apples in a bucket; pulled low-hanging cherries from trees;  set the table and dried the silverware; folded the wash cloths; put newspapers in their box. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.”  Continue reading