VIEW FROM AFAR- A few days in ‘almost big sky’ country

“Come, look out the window and watch the sunset,” my sister said. I was a Thanksgiving guest at her home in Hillsboro. We marveled at the mix of reds and oranges in the southwest horizon as the November day slipped into darkness.

The first Impressionist painter was the creator of the universe-only very recently did his creatures even attempt to use such a complex color palate.

It takes me only a few days to connect with the land when I visit Kansas. I drove beneath cloudy skies from Chicago to Kansas City. Sunshine greeted me at the state border as a cosmic welcome home.

Within a day, I became comfortable with a deer crossing the road late at night on the 13-mile Road-“Indigo Road” for moderns-marveling at a shooting star when returning from Newton, seeing sunrises while drinking early morning coffee with my brother.

“I need to get back and start feeding cattle at first light,” my brother says. “First light” is a marvelous phrase-representing a total detachment from clock time to living in harmony with the season.

My life is different than his. I start my workday in Chicago by punching an access code to open the door and then use a hand-scanning machine to record the exact minute I entered the building, wander over to my office and punch in two computer codes in order to begin my day of talking to people at 50-minute intervals.

In Kansas, the land is both dominant and held in common by all citizens.

The low water levels in the ponds and reservoirs indicate long-term drought concealed by superficial rainfall nurturing crops and lawns. This is both common knowledge and a fate shared by everyone in the state.

If Montana is Big Sky Country-then Kansas is the “almost big sky” state. The horizon with sunrises and sunsets can be poked with grain elevators and communications towers but it can never be concealed.

The neon signs at McDonald’s cannot outshine the sun-and serve more as crude landmarks. The asphalt acreage of big box stores like Wal-Mart are the acne scars on the landscape but do not conceal fundamental beauty.

No matter how much they attempt to borrow the worst of the urban environment-franchises and parking lots-in Kansas the land still dominates.

City folks are buying Kansas land as an investment, for country homes, and as hunting preserves. Who knows what the long-term implications are-perhaps someday local folks will eventually see their land as disenfranchised peasants-able to work the land but not claim their own 80 acres.

On Thanksgiving Day, we sit down to feast in the same room where our family has gathered for more than 90 years. I have vague childhood memories of Grandma Suderman cooking over a black, cast iron, wood-burning stove in the kitchen and the house perpetually smelling of “store bought” gingerbread cookies.

Was it turkey we ate back then-or ham or duck when I sat there as a small child? We old folks do not perfectly remember the menu.

Later that night, I saw that the little grandkids were dancing in the dining room to the music from a Herb Richert Mennonite Male Chorus CD-the sound of half a century ago.

The next day I put up some Christmas ornaments in the front yard for my sister. The weather made one want to put up Memorial Day bunting rather than shiny snowflakes.

But these folks know that winter will come.

The seasons change in Kansas by some unseen hand and do not depend upon the calendar.

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