I’m happy to announce that my second book of essays about Kansas, Waiting on the Sky, has been selected as a 2015 Kansas Notable Book!
To order a copy of Waiting on the Sky, click here.
When I moved to this town,
Fred’s Derby was the place
for eggs and hash browns
when the bars closed down at 3 a.m.
Fred’s had been there forever,
a long, white building, windows on
the highway side of the diner,
dead flies on the window sill,
sad plastic bottles of ketchup
stationed on the Formica
huddled with the salt and pepper.
At the edge of town
where highways cross,
the building was part gas station
(that’s where the Derby comes in),
part restaurant, part bus depot.
Local police in 1982 still gave
troublesome transients a ride
to the Greyhound station,
handed them a voucher from a local charity,
pawned trouble off to the next county.
Those were still hobo days
of sorts. In my third-grade reader
I had learned about the good-natured
hobos with kerchiefs
who wandered through the 1950s.
In the ‘80s, a lot of guys still hopped trains.
Hitchhiking, however, was losing favor.
A few rapists and killers gave them all a bad name.
Once, in 1975, while riding with my brother
to Larned, Leon turned the car around to pick up
a lone young man along the highway. Leon made me sit
in the back with the guy’s backpack, the hiker up front.
The kid was suspicious that Leon had been going east
when he stopped for the west-bound thumb.
Maybe the hitchhiker thought we were going to kill him,
a brother-sister team, like the Bloody Benders,
who crushed skulls of unsuspecting travelers
at the Benders’ “bed and breakfast”
in southeast Kansas in the 1870s.
Hobos and hitchhikers
are gone from the scene,
no longer stop in Kansas.
Bars close at 2 a.m. now
and there’s nowhere to go but home.
was torn down,
flies and all.
~ Cheryl Unruh
ABOVE US, ONLY SKY
On summer days
kids point to clouds –
fiery dragons and sleeping bears,
perhaps a dog chasing a butterfly.
Far off, along the horizon,
the sky sometimes makes jagged,
purple clouds, mountain majesties,
the only mountains we see in Kansas.
Then October’s long barrels
of gunmetal gray roll in from the northwest –
these clouds telegraph cold wind before we feel it.
December’s clouds break into pieces,
and fall into every pocket, sparkling white.
Puffy clouds, straight clouds, feather clouds,
reckless, flying-under-the-influence clouds,
pre-dawn arrivals, cheeky clouds
that block our #%@# lunar eclipse.
We get them all.
Spring, the season of rage and rapture,
brings us heavenly hosts, holy ghosts,
and come-to-Jesus clouds.
From a green sky, funnels scrape
the plate of earth, leaving
only bones behind.
No sailors here, so the red at night is the
farmer’s delight – our sky a color wheel
spinning out black clouds, white clouds,
Petal pink and aqua blue rise with the sun,
lavender and tangerine shoot up the evening sky.
At the hand of these Kansas billows we are beaten
by hail the size of a fist, spit on with sleet,
drowned by the rain, scarred by lightning.
Here on the open prairie we are shockingly vulnerable,
our underbellies bared to the sky.
There’s no intercession on our behalf,
nowhere to hide.
And the clouds sneak a sly smile.
~ by Cheryl Unruh
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My radio piece about Pluto aired this morning on Kansas Public Radio. Here it is: Man Meets Planet.
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And here’s the text version:
MAN MEETS PLANET
Kansans have always loved the sky above us. Brewster Higley, for example, sitting on the banks of Beaver Creek in Smith County in about 1873, wrote a poem which later became our state song, “Home on the Range.” It includes this stanza:
How often at night, when the heavens are bright, With the light of the glittering stars
Have I stood here amazed, and asked as I gazed, If their glory exceeds this of ours.
When I gaze into that glitter of stars, I look for Pluto. I can’t see it, of course, but I know it’s there. Pluto has a place in the hearts of Kansans because it was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh of Burdett.
Picture this: It’s 1926, a young man, 20 years-old, puts his eye behind a telescope, that he built himself, and looks between the stars over western Kansas.
At a time when Kansas farmers still relied on kerosene lanterns, Clyde Tombaugh must have had an incredible view of the Milky Way, and of the planets embedded in the night sky.
To build his telescopes, Tombaugh used pieces of farm equipment and he ground his own lenses and mirrors. Over the next two years, he made better telescopes and he drew detailed maps of Jupiter and Mars.
He sent his drawings to Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and they offered Tombaugh a trial job. At the observatory, he searched for Planet X.
Tombaugh studied photographs taken days apart, and by analyzing the difference in those pictures, he discovered Pluto – on February 18, 1930. He was 24 years old.
In 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons space probe which is aimed toward Pluto, 4.67 billion miles away. The space craft is providing us with photos and data which expand our understanding of the universe.
In July of this year, New Horizons will come within 6,000 miles of the planet.
The probe is about the size and shape of a grand piano, and attached to that probe are ashes of Clyde Tombaugh. NASA has sent the man who discovered Pluto on a fly-by of his own planet. However, shortly after the spacecraft launched in 2006, astronomers reclassified Pluto, demoting it to a dwarf planet.
As we speak, New Horizons is flying through the open arms of space, where there is not a breath of air, cruising through deep silence, against the palette of black and light.
When New Horizons nears Pluto on July 14, I hope we will all pause to remember the Kansan who courted dark nights, the man who called out to Planet X – and it answered.
And perhaps out there in deep space, a star will reflect off of the spacecraft, a whisper of light, as Tombaugh sails through the afterlife.
SOMETIMES WE CRY
On the city’s main street, wind blows things
up and out of the gutter, half litter, half leaves.
It’s winter now, January. Sitting in the coffee shop
I hear “Sometimes We Cry.” Van Morrison’s voice
scrapes the inside of my skin as it always does.
We have a past, he and I, this song and me.
I played it over and over one October morning,
years ago, as I drove toward a funeral.
The windshield wipers put me in a trance,
rain blurred the road,
Morrison broke my heart.
Today, looking out the window, I watch the wind
rearrange the world. I listen to the music without
tears, but the gray sky could drop rain at any minute,
and this saxophone solo is nothing but old sorrow,
a weight around my neck.
~ Cheryl Unruh
My essay books about life in Kansas make great gifts! People buy them and send them to relatives and friends who have moved away from Kansas and dearly miss our long views and open skies. And – people who still live here love these books, too.
I know you can think of two or three people right now who would enjoy my latest book: Waiting on the Sky.
So, for you early Christmas shoppers, today and tomorrow I am offering a special: Buy two copies of Waiting on the Sky and get the third copy for FREE!
And there you have it, for $40, which includes shipping and handling, you’ll have 3 Christmas gifts taken care of. How easy is that?
This fantastic offer is only good today and tomorrow, Sunday, Nov. 16, and Monday, Nov. 17, so get your order in now.
PLEASE NOTE: ORDER TWO COPIES (on Nov. 16 and 17) AND I WILL AUTOMATICALLY INCLUDE THE THIRD COPY FOR FREE IN YOUR ORDER!
YOUR COST WILL BE $40, SAVING YOU $20!!
What a deal! Order today!
Offer expires 11/17/14 at midnight, Central Standard time.
Any questions? Please email me: flyoverpeople @ gmail (dot) com
With six days until the election, gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis, a Democrat, is touring the state one last time before voters go to the polls on Tuesday.
He stopped at the Democratic headquarters in Emporia this morning.
He said that 16 months ago when he started his campaign, people said, “Paul you’d be a good governor but Sam Brownback can’t be beat.”
“Well, we’re certainly not having those conversations anymore,” Davis told the crowd.
The race is close, the candidates are neck-and-neck in the pre-election polls.
“Under the shadows of cedars toward the cemetery’s north end lies Harry Lewis, a bachelor, retired from the U.S. Railway Postal Service. He kept to himself mostly, didn’t speak to kids, and he wore a city man’s hat.
“One Halloween, my friends and I dared ourselves to trick-or-treat at Harry Lewis’ home, doubting he’d open his door, afraid that he would. Harry answered, then stepped away into the darkness of his house. He returned with foil-wrapped cylinders, peeled back the aluminum and handed us each a nickel.”
Just a moment in time in Pawnee Rock.
David Beeson, from way over the ocean in England, wrote a lovely review of my Flyover People book: