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A Part of Kansas

January 24th, 2012 at 11:27 am

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:


By choice or by default, we live on this ancient land, with its whispers of sharks and dinosaurs, this territory where blood was shed to claim that 34th star, this state where Pluto was, is, and always will be “our planet.”

This map, this rectangle, this state, which is on the verge of celebrating 151 years, is where we spend our nights and our days. Whether we’ve been here for only a few months or whether we’ve spent our entire lives here, Kansas is home.

It is home because this is where our stories are being lived, where the days of our lives have unfolded, one at a time, until we have grown into the person we are now.

The Kansas skies have absorbed our stories, our conversations, our ramblings. And like everyone who has ever spent time here, Native American tribes, those passing through on the Santa Fe Trail, our lives have become a part of this land for all eternity.

Our existence has been noted here. This geography holds our biography.

For many of us, Kansas is where we were first placed onto the seat of a swing, where we learned how to pump our legs so we could sail high into the big blue sky.

This is where we learned to let go of those swing chains, where we leapt into the air, rolling in the grass as we landed. This is where we learned about chiggers.

Here, we’ve hand-written letters to pen pals, to grandmothers, to lovers. We’ve painted our homes, raked leaves, rode bicycles and horses. This is where we’ve changed oil, hammered nails, knitted scarves.

Some of us have learned how to water ski here, have slept under midnight blue skies with a million stars keeping watch. We have cast a few fishing lines. We have cast a few dreams aside.

We have fallen into love, we have fallen out. Many of us have exchanged vows, raised children, barbecued, listened from a jury box. We’ve taken in stray puppies and kittens and turtles. We’ve scraped windshields, shoveled snow, jumped when lightning struck nearby.

Within this rectangle, we have circled campfires, as friends, as family, and have extinguished flaming marshmallows. As the fire lowered, voices did too, and sometimes the ghost tales began.

This is the state where we’ve laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks, sharing embarrassing moments of childhood, or high school, or college. This is where we’ve made mistakes, big ones, where we’ve fallen to our knees in grief.

We’ve held hands at hospital beds, worry knotted in our throats. We’ve stood beneath green funeral tents, the canvas snapping in the breeze as dust was returned to dust. From time to time, we have had to surrender a loved one to the earth, but they never leave us, not really, because we keep some of their stories in a deep pocket of our hearts.

Here in the Flint Hills, we’ve listened for trains and thunder and silence. We’ve listened to the conversations of coyotes, the wind in the grass, the song in our souls.

Just as this geography, this topography, is a part of us, we ourselves have become a part of the hills, the prairies, the plains, thoroughly and completely.

For the most part, our stories are common everyday events, connections with others. Our daily lives are shared over beer or coffee or meals. We hear about a coworker’s son who lives in Minnesota and is deciding whether or not to marry. We look forward to hearing tomorrow’s installment: Will they overcome their issues and will he ever pop the question?

One friend has gone through surgery, chemo, radiation. Another tells about the baby chicks that he kept in boxes on his washing machine until he sent them out to the farm.

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms,” poet Muriel Rukeyser once said. We each have thousands of experiences, some we’ve shared, some we haven’t, but all linger in one way or another.

Eventually, we will each leave this state by choice or by default, but our lives and our stories will always be a part of the wind, a part of the land, a part of Kansas.

Copyright 2012 ~ Cheryl Unruh

columns, Kansans, life on the ground

  1. January 24th, 2012 at 11:37 | #1

    Reading this with a lump in my throat….absolutely beautiful, Cheryl. Thank you.

  2. Flips
    January 24th, 2012 at 11:52 | #2

    YA GOT ME WITH THE–: “Here in the Flint Hills, we’ve listened for trains and thunder and silence. We’ve listened to the conversations of coyotes, the wind in the grass, the song in our souls.”

    “Eventually, we will each leave this state by choice or by default, but our lives and our stories will always be a part of the wind, a part of the land, a part of Kansas.”

  3. Lucrecia Eubanks
    January 24th, 2012 at 12:23 | #3

    Another beautiful one. Thank you.

  4. January 24th, 2012 at 14:34 | #4

    Absolutely beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing your gift and for summing up how I too feel about this land!

  5. Roger
    January 24th, 2012 at 15:23 | #5

    Be sure this is in your next book. It would be a great introduction to all the stories, essays, profiles that follow.

  6. Nicki
    January 24th, 2012 at 17:18 | #6

    As a Kansas born girl this column is like a precious gift that has touched my heart. Thank you!

  7. Helianthus43
    January 24th, 2012 at 20:34 | #7

    And for some of us, who haven’t lived there since young adulthood, Kansas was, is, and always will be our home, no matter where we are living now or how long we have been away.

  8. Kris
    January 24th, 2012 at 21:45 | #8

    Thumbs up.

  9. Gloria Zachgo
    January 25th, 2012 at 13:09 | #9

    I too love this state. It may not be perfect but I am a Kansas girl at heart. Whenever I travel, I love to cross that line back into Kansas.

  10. Leonard Biggs
    January 26th, 2012 at 11:09 | #10

    This flows like our state does, beautiful from its beginning and it goes on into eternity. Thank You

  11. Janet Fish
    January 26th, 2012 at 22:29 | #11

    Oh my gosh, I cannot believe I nearly missed this one! I suddenly realized the week was passing and I hadn’t read your column.

    I enjoy them all. But Cheryl, this one is incredible. It touches the soul, makes me feel a part of the very molecules, in the air, in the water, in the dirt of Kansas. Truly one of your best.

  12. heineken160
    January 26th, 2012 at 23:59 | #12

    See, Cheryl, this column should be in your next book. It resonates with your readers. I’m glad I got to tell you this in person as you wrote a future column in the Memorial Union over my head.

  13. Allen W. Davis
    January 30th, 2013 at 07:51 | #13

    Very moving–stirring emotions and grabbing unthought reactions.

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