Late Winter Road Trip
Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:
LATE WINTER ROAD TRIP
Just after Dave and I got on I-35 at Merchant Street, I glanced to my right to the ESU parking lot near the highway. What had once been huge mountains of snow were now molehills of black encrusted ice.
Snow may be pretty when it falls, but by the time it gets around to leaving it’s a sad and sorry mess.
This has been a long winter. Dave and I spent too many days cooped up in the house; it was time for a road trip. Because the day was cloudy, cool and breezy, we decided to do something indoors and we headed for Kansas City to visit museums.
Just outside of Emporia, at the private ski lake south of the interstate, we were excited to spot a bald eagle in a tree. In a field farther east, cattle gathered at a farm pond. And next to mud-banked streams, bleached limbs of sycamores shouted out from the sullen crowd of generic gray branches.
Trails of thin white lines striped the highway where salt had been applied, more of winter’s residue. Evergreens along the way were not green at all, just a hopeless shade of brown. And like they have been for months, pastures and ditches remain the color of shredded wheat.
“I don’t see any color showing up yet,” Dave said. “The only green is on the highway signs.”
Winter has been like a low-grade infection that lingers. Usually January and February provide a respite from the cold, a week of 60 or 70-degree days. This year we missed that usual winter thaw.
It was, instead, a winter of unforgiving cold. The polar vortex drove icy air through jeans and heavy coats. We spent too many days under quilted gray clouds.
As a season, spring doesn’t have great leadership skills. It kowtows to winter, and then later to summer. Seriously, have you ever known spring to go on and on?
Sometimes in February when warm weather does show up, you think, “Ah, spring. Finally.” You get one 65-degree day and step into the warm sun and it feels like you’re sailing in a bubble of laughter. The next day the temperature plummets. Like a con artist, the false spring is gone.
The hum of the highway is a pleasant sound. I’ve missed seeing the open road and the open prairie. We pass through the outskirts of towns – Lebo, Williamsburg, Ottawa, and Gardner.
For lunch, we found a great Indian restaurant, the Taj Palace, on 39th Street in the area of Prospero’s Book Store and the KU Med Center. Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art was our next stop, and then on to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
I especially like the Bloch building at the Nelson-Atkins. It holds the museum’s contemporary art collections and for me that art and that space has the most vibrancy. There, I find the color and the energy that I have been missing on the Kansas landscape.
Dave and I are always drawn to the photography exhibits. As a writer, I look for the story in each photo of modern life, because surely there is a story in a 1963 photo from the Birmingham riots, or in a photograph of a suburban tract house, or in a picture of Charles Lindbergh’s boyhood bed.
Viewing art brings us back to our own selves. When we find a piece of art that we want to stand in front of for a few minutes and study, there’s a message in it for us. The message may not be obvious, then or ever, but it has done its job. Something within us has shifted.
Dave and I drove around Kansas City and made a few more stops. And then we got to the saturation point – with people and crowds and cars, and we aimed our own car down the long, open highway for home.
Copyright 2014 ~ Cheryl Unruh
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