Kansas–An Appreciation

Originally published in Flourishing September/October 2012

Several months ago, I was reconnected with an old friend and classmate (Washington Elementary, Hays; and she also happens to be a former newspaper editor).   I sent her a copy of one of my favorite books.  She sent back a note to the effect that the book had been quite informative, and she returned my act of friendship by sending me one of her own favorite books, The Web of Life, by Richard Louv.

Richard was born in Brooklyn in 1949 and now lives in California, but he is a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas.  So, quite naturally, The Web of Life draws significantly on Richard’s experiences of the Sunflower State.  Here is a sampler from one of the book’s many beautiful essays, Flyover Land:

…from Salina to Arkansas City, I can see giant rolls of hay that look like mammoth shredded wheat, and the long hedgerows of Osage Orange trees planted as windbreaks during the Depression…

…Cream-white waves of tall grass.  The wind coming across, always the wind.

…The land is soothing and nurturing and layered with mystery.

…Now and then a half-hearted dust-devil skips across the fields, and nodding pump jacks suck oil from beneath the land, their heads and necks moving up and down like prehistoric birds.

…In most places of Kansas, the land is like some long symphony with repeating themes and subtle notes, but never monotony.

…square-box white farmhouses stand up large with lonely dignity, and of course the windmills and silos are there…

…So much of this land was lifted up during the Dust Bowl years and flung into the air and so many of the people landed in California.

…Now, the fields are ripe, rich in color—the rust of sorghum, the gold of cut wheat, the deep black of plowed earth, and all the lines of trees in different shades of green; some turned by sudden shadows from moving clouds tar black against yellow grass, cedars and hedgerows leaning like herds of something forgotten into a wind that has stopped.

…More trees here than a century ago.  Now past the Smoky [Hill] River…

…At night this land turns endless and bottomless.  On some nights there is nothing but stars.  On other nights frighteningly violent storms and hours of calm just as frightening, and then sometimes God’s fingers or perhaps the devil’s claws reach down, and twisting, scrape across this long, sinuous back with a roar that one can only describe if one has heard it.

…The flyover land is breathing land.

This is where East becomes West.  This is where the sensuous hills of Kentucky and Illinois and Missouri meet the hard, spare rockiness and dryness of the masculine West.  These are the plains of fertility.  This is not the heartland, really.  It is the seedland. 

So, why am I sharing this with you?

Because, we are in business to help families flourish—literally.  And, as my friend said she learned from her experience as the editor of a small town Kansas newspaper, community and family life are the sometimes fragile networks that help us form our values and connect those values to our daily lives.  The Web of Life is an eloquent reminder that we are at our best when we savor and celebrate the things that connect us to our families, our friends, and our neighbors.  (Happy Birthday, Andrew!) mh