Passing Through Kansas

“Beauty might be at times a function of continuous space.”

Robert Macfarlane

Dead grass, muddy fields, salted highways, leaden sky.

All the colors lay winter muted under the low clouds and flat light as we flew across the landscape at 80 mph.

Across the Ohio, the Mississippi, the Missouri all flowing to the sea while we follow the east-west logic of the highway.

A stop in Kansas city for Gate’s BBQ and their outrageously good short end pork ribs. A night spent in Topeka. No beer sold on Sundays.

Denver by nightfall. For now, forward into Kansas. The landscape is shrouded in fog with visibility less than a mile. Tree breaks along the creeks stand ghostly on the otherwise flat horizon. I wonder how much more desolate the great prairie seems because we are moving through it instead of celebrating some happy day at our sod outpost: lamps glowing in the crepuscular light. The warmth of our camp expanding outwards and finding no restraints on it’s light and love on the wide horizons. A bubble of life and sound with nothing to prick it. I thought of Willa Cather’s writing about “The reaching and reaching of high plains, the immeasurable yearning of all flat lands.”

But at these speeds the plains induce visions of being in other places instead of among the rustle of grass and the howl of the wind. It is easy to forget that this is a home of sorts.

That the sod was busted and then crisscrossed with fences, railroads, and interstates. Ties that bound this great grassland into the geographical heart of a trans-continental United States. They make it possible that a place like Kansas feeds 155 people per farmer, produced a general that beat Nazi Germany on the other side of the world and became president, and can still spit forth Army brigades to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The fog began to burn off around noon. Sally remarked that the bright light on the golden fields against the dark sky behind us is her favorite kind of light.

Not a day’s end
camp to be seen:
no bubble of light
like a moon halo
in the darkened plains.
Visions of rockets
rising skyward:
terrible staccato
bursts of ignition
belying the unified
doom they herald.
Wind buffets the ears
above a sea of grass:
now able to spit forth
bounty, dust, atomic
ruin, presidents, and
dreams of homes
beyond the plains.


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