Enjoying Autumn

November 1st, 2011 at 10:20 am

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


Lying awake in bed at night, I listen to the trains pass through town. I can hear each one rumble into the city limits, its whistle blowing every few seconds as the locomotive approaches crossroads.

It amazes me how our ears can discern not only the direction of travel of an unseen train a half-mile away, but can also hear and know the exact moment that it’s at a right angle to us. Our ears can pick out the second that the approaching train passes by.

Just as we are able to know that a train’s whistle and rumble are fading away, we also know the day that a particular season is over and is on its way out of town. There’s always one morning when you step out of your house and say, “Summer is over.” This year I imagine many people said, “Summer is over – it can’t hurt us anymore.”

Now I like heat as much as the next guy, but spending the months of July and August in a pizza oven is a pretty rough go. We all took care of things we had to do, but it wasn’t a summer for traveling around, exploring Kansas during its sesquicentennial, as many of us would’ve liked to have done.

In September, we felt that shift from summer to fall, but nevertheless, it’s been a warm autumn – kind of like a summer hangover. Most of our September and October days were in the 70s and 80s.

Fall is a good time to get out into the world. When my mother was here from Arkansas in late September, she and Dave and I spent a morning at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. We took the 90-minute bus tour through the hills which were still tinged with green.

I had high hopes of getting a good look at the bison. Although they’ve been on the preserve for two years, I personally hadn’t been out there yet for a meet-and-greet. I was anxious to see them. The herd of 13 was brought in from Windcave National Park in South Dakota in 2009. Since then, three calves have been born at the Tallgrass Preserve, so they have Kansas birth certificates. One calf was born in 2010, and two are sesquicentennial babies.

Daryl Meierhoff was a volunteer at the Tallgrass that day and drove the tour bus. A former biology teacher, he shared his knowledge of the tallgrass ecosystem with us – naming the various grasses as well as the wildflowers that were in bloom.

At one point Meierhoff announced, “A yellow racer just went across the road.” Soon, he stopped the bus and stepped out to pick up an ornate box turtle, the Kansas state reptile, from the roadway. It was tiny and he brought it into the bus for show and tell.

As the bus bounced us around in Windmill pasture, we spotted the bison herd way off in the distance, too far away to get a good photograph, or to even count the 16 individual animals. Still, it was thrill to see them.

After the Tallgrass bus tour, Dave and my mom and I drove into Council Grove and enjoyed the Sunday buffet at the Hays House which featured fried chicken and real mashed potatoes with gravy.

Winding our way back to Emporia on the back roads southeast of Council Grove, we stopped at Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park, named for the leader of the Ka w Indians at the time of the tribe’s removal from Kansas in about 1873.

There’s a Kanza Monument here on the east side of the road, with the remains of a Native American entombed. The monument can be seen from the road and the Kaw Nation requests that it be viewed only from a distance.

The Kanza Monument is off in the distance.

On the west side of the road is access to a long walking trail that leads past a replica of a Kaw lodge, which is mostly hidden in the earth. The trail then wanders along a creek and past stone ruins, structures that the government built for the Kaw Indians a decade before they were shuttled off to Oklahoma.

Because of the drought, the trees, grasses and wildflowers were dry and worn out, but it was a warm and lovely day for a walk through the woods.

Fall is here, briefly. And one day, before long, we’ll step outside and know that autumn, too, has passed us by.

Copyright 2011 ~ Cheryl Unruh

Inside the lodge.

On the Tallgrass National Prairie Preserve.

Daryl Meierhoff, left, shows a plant to visitors at the Tallgrass Preserve.

Ornate box turtle.

Walking trail, Allegawaho Heritage Memorial Park.

columns, landscape, life on the ground, nature

  1. J.P.
    November 1st, 2011 at 16:51 | #1

    To me every season has it’s own light.
    In autumn it is a kind of bleached.

    If you for example are in the great wide open and do not see or hear any man- made sounds, close your eyes, and the ear will take over.
    As if far away sounds are amplified.

  2. Weeta
    November 2nd, 2011 at 08:38 | #2

    For me autumn is a restless time, like I’m looking for something, but not sure what it is.
    Beautiful pictures, Cheryl. Such a deep blue sky.

  3. Heather
    November 3rd, 2011 at 07:54 | #3

    We had the best tour last year at the Preserve. Our park ranger recited two poems during the tour that gave me goosebumps! I wish I could remember what those poems were….