Free Falling

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BOB WOELK
There’s nothing like a drought-breaking rain. It’s as if God is saying: “OK. You’ve suffered through this dry, hot spell long enough. Have some rain. Enjoy it. By the way, I love you.”


After all, it doesn’t really matter to the earth if it rains or not. Marion County could just as easily be a desert as serve as the breadbasket of central Kansas. Either way, there would be an ecology in which something would survive. Maybe it just wouldn’t be we who would stick around.


For another year, however, it looks as though we will remain the former and not become the latter.


I guess it’s true what people say (Who are these people, anyway?) that we never really appreciate the gifts of nature that we receive on a regular basis.


Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was a pretty deep thinker in my opinion, wrote about the relationship between people and their planet in his essay “Nature.”


“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!” he said.


“To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy event into the era of manhood.”


When we are visited by thunderstorms in their spring frequency, we tend to think of them as a pestilence, an unwanted interruption of our outdoor plans. But, in the dog days of August, when the earth is parched and the ponds and streams are dry, we begin to appreciate rain as the true gift that it is.


Children know this. They just want to go outside and run around in the puddles. We adults make a beeline to the rain gauge to see “how much we got.”


Whenever I travel to some other part of this great country of ours, I ask-

often out loud to the annoyance of my family-why we don’t just stay. What compels us to return to Kansas when there are lots of people happily living in lots of other places that are more exotic, more scenic, more environmentally appealing?


Even more interestingly, what causes seemingly sane citizens to leave the land of “Ad Astra per Aspra” for a few years, then come back home to the “Land of Ahs” and appear to be happy about it?


I’ve lived in Hillsboro long enough to see many such wayfarers return after the wanderlust has waned. But I still don’t necessarily understand it.


It could be the variety of weather we have here. That would explain how someone could move from California to Kansas. That, and the earthquakes. Sure, we have our share of natural disasters, but at least I can see a tornado coming.


Then again, it can’t be all about the weather variety. Lots of other places can boast a climactic potpourri. Colorado, for instance, offers hot summers and cold winters. In some parts of the state, twisters and blizzards can happen at almost the same time. It must be something else that keeps us in the Sunflower State.


For my family and me, the reason begins with the fact that my forefathers-and their wives, my foremothers?-thought Kansas looked a lot like their old stomping grounds in Europe. By the late 1800s, most of the buffalo and indigenous people were gone, so the county was theirs for the settling.


My ancestral roots run deep in this part of the country. So, we stay where the family was, is and likely will always be.


Yet some people move here without any connection whatsoever to history or the land. Why? My guess is the lifestyle. If a person doesn’t need opera or a fresh-ground cappuccino, Hillsboro and Marion County are pretty good places to live. Wichita is only an hour away. Kansas City is several hours’ drive for those who crave the big-city life.


The national events of last week also tend to reinforce my tendency to want to remain in a more pastoral setting than what either coast can offer.


I suppose our isolation is all a matter of perspective. Right now, the fact that we seemingly have nothing to offer by way of strategic or cultural significance-at least by cosmopolitan standards-is a mighty comforting thought.

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