Aired on Kansas Public Radio* March 10 and 26, 2005
Listen to this on the KPR web site.
WHAT KANSAS KNOWS
by Cheryl Unruh
Like many of you, I'm a Kansas lifer, a child of the prairie.
Kansas is the land where I was born, where I struggled for balance after Dad removed the training wheels from my bicycle.
Here, my brother and cousins and I dragged a mattress out of Grandma's farmhouse to fall asleep counting stars.
As Kansans, you and I can sense the line of horizon even in dark.
We've put our faith in the change of seasons. Year after year, these winters roll over to spring. And standing in the nervous warmth of March, we scan the Flint Hills for signs of new life.
Each April, as henbit brushes a lavender wash over the fields and ditches, we're awed by the soft watercolor landscape.
In June, we watch combines churn like steamboats though a golden sea. And during August, we launch a fleet of grasshoppers with each step through dry grass.
We would be different people had we spent our lives gazing at Wisconsin or Wyoming skies. We would have memorized another state motto and worn winter coats on a different landscape.
In her book "Thunder and Lightning," Natalie Goldberg writes about a Kansas woman who attended one of Goldberg's writing workshops.
"I had teased her several times, saying to the group, 'Find out what Kansas knows.' In truth it was I who wanted to know what she knew, living her life in one place," Goldberg writes.
So what does Kansas know? What does a person glean from living his or her entire life in this state?
I could tell Natalie Goldberg that we've swayed with the chorus of cicadas, counted 74 shades of blue sky, and that we know every shadow of the wind.
Over the years, we've watched barns first surrender their paint. Then they lose the straight lines. Outbuildings lean, sometimes for a decade, before kneeling to the ground.
Many of us have rubbed fingers over the ribbed whiskers of wheat. And as kids, we climbed aboard Grandpa's pigeon-toed tractor and blackened our hands on its steering wheel.
Kansans are familiar with the race between a pickup and the swell of dust that chases it. The truck arrives at the stop sign first but the dust sails victoriously through the intersection.
We've swallowed that dust and cleaned its dark clumps from the corners of our eyes. Some windy days when we wash our hair, the water turns brown.
Kansans are acquainted with the cedars standing watch in the cemeteries and the chain-link fences that draw the graveyard's boundaries.
The names carved on the granite stones are our family names. We've buried grandparents here. This is our ancestral home.
We connect ourselves to the prairie like rhizomes, laying a tendril here and there. We dig into the soil; we take nourishment from the land.
And if someday we leave the plains, we will take with us a scrapbook of images that the seasons have burned into our subconscious mind.
What does Kansas know?
We know home when we see it.
Copyright 2005 by Cheryl Unruh
All Content Copyright 2004-2005 by Cheryl Unruh