Traveling back to my birthplace, Junction City, Kansas was a pilgrimage I considered off and on over the years. There was Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz on the one hand and a bit of Lena Lovich on the other. After all, I was conceived in Vienna, Austria, shipped overseas in utero, born 2 months later in Kansas then back to Europe at 6 tender months, not to return until the end of this, my golden year. Bill, a fan of Midwestern Regionalist Art, and I also scheduled a hike at the Konza Prairie Biological Field Station for a closer look at the Flint Hills.
The first leg of our 2.5 hour Kansas trek was lovely; rolling hills and horse farms, a little of the magic of Grant Woods’ Young Corn. When we stopped at Grandma Hoerner’s Organic Food Store, I was gratified to find a portrait of Auntie Em hanging in the folksy warehouse shop. A few jars of special sauces later we resumed our journey West.
Then came Topeka. To be fair, there were controlled burns devouring the hills in every direction. Smoke twisted off the horizon, casting a pall over much of the land. Topeka boasted train tracks, stock yards and a kind of dark malaise. Like the oil fields we passed through in Wyoming, this was not a happy place. I didn’t shake the heaviness until we were 60 miles past. The question of Junction City loomed large in my mind, but proved to be the epitome of anywhere USA. I was really disappointed, not noticing anything quaint or comely about the town. Finally, I pulled over to get a shot of a pleasant building, which was fortuitous because it led us to Bessie’s Buy Gone Antiques. Don, the gregarious owner of the store radiated energy and a warmth that made me feel welcome in my “home” town. Within the span of 20 minutes he told us we were baby Gods, (able to create and destroy but not yet wise enough to create heaven on earth) proclaiming how great life is while giving us a deal on a photo of black leather Elvis and a strand of pearls, my nod to Eisenhower America. Bill calls him Don Miguel, from the 4 Agreements; glad to have found a Bodhisattva along the way. Don’s motto:
The Konza Tall Grass Prairie preserve was so windy I thought I could fly. The headwind was a bit battering, but there were glimpses of the rolling, furry hide of mother earth that I found so appealing in Nebraska. As we walked through the woods, there was a palpable feeling of blood in the land. My impression was of the civil war era but the American Indians battled at least as long and hard here. In the two pictures of the woods in which this battle weary feeling was strongest an odd glow appears. I can’t explain it but it does give me pause. When I started imagining writing about this part of the trip, my overall feeling was much bleaker, it was so darkened by this wounded land. As you can see in the images below, the prairie is very light, a kingdom of grass and sky, whipped by tireless gusts of wind.