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

wb county highway



Blue-violet clouds ride the northern horizon.

I am following Kansas Highway 99 toward Admire, Eskridge, and beyond.

While the clouds toward the north appear flat, perhaps that’s just because of distance. Clouds in the foreground are bulkier, boxier, and are in motion. I picture the nearer clouds to be covered wagons moving across sky just as wagons pounded this very earth 170 years ago.

Maybe the image of the wagons comes to mind because I am heading toward the Oregon Trail in Pottawatomie County.

Driving along out in the country, not too far from a residence, a cat zips across the road. “Be safe, kitty,” I say. I worry about pets and highways. And at those awful moments when I see a cat dead on the pavement, I’ll say out loud, “Opossum. Opossum. That was a opossum,” trying to clear the feline image from my mind.

Coming from a field of stubble, white wisps of dried corn leaves blow across the highway. Wind tries to gain control of the steering wheel. Haven’t we had an extraordinary number of windy days this winter? You don’t have to wait until spring, get your wind today.

Looking toward the horizon, in the center of those mulberry-colored clouds, I see a half-rainbow, and not a thin rainbow, but the widest, chunkiest rainbow I’ve ever come across. Sprinkles begin to hit my windshield.

In the pasture, cattle trails catch my eye. These thin trails, not even as wide as a cow, look more like the human paths worn down between buildings on a college campus, the shortcuts that sidewalks don’t take. Single file, cattle follow one another.

In a town along the way, I notice a bashed-in vehicle parked at a repair garage. In a small town, everyone sees the wrecked car, and everyone knows the driver and has heard about the accident. As a kid, I remember seeing wrecked cars that had been towed into Pawnee Rock. The cars were parked at the Pawnee Garage, as if on display, until they were later hauled to a salvage yard, or repaired if the damage wasn’t too great. The car told the story – of the dangerous curve, of the late-night partying, or of the icy highway. Each wrecked car is a lesson for us all.

In Wamego, I cross the Kansas River. Part of it is ice-covered, part of it runs free. The ice is a thin layer – opaque, white, cold.

On this trip, I will visit a friend, Lou Ann Thomas. Not too far from her residence, probably in the late 1850s, Louis Vieux charged a dollar per wagon for Oregon Trail travelers to cross his bridge over the Vermillion River. On U.S. Highway 24, I cross the Vermillion for free.

Lunch with Lou Ann is pork chops and sweet potato casserole, asparagus and applesauce. Windows look out onto the world from her home on a hill. In her front yard, the view is open to the west and the southwest, and each evening it is here that she photographs the moment that the sun takes leave of earth. She posts the photos on Facebook for those of us who are sunset-deprived.

The meal is nourishing in more ways than one. During our lunch, Lou Ann and I speak of writing and ideas and things that matter to us both. We share progress since our previous conversation. We talk about our writing paths, the possibilities before us, and the resistance we find along the way.

The sky is clear and blue for the drive home. As I wind my car around the curves, I think about the concepts and ideas we discussed. My mind is as full and happy as the Kansas sky.

Copyright 2014 ~ Cheryl Unruh

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