Flint Hills tree


A March day without wind?

Yes. It actually happened. The last Saturday of March was sunny and the breezes were shallow. One shouldn’t stay indoors on a nice day like that, so Dave and I ventured into the Flint Hills.

The lack of wind made it an active day for pasture fires, and therefore it seemed somewhat appropriate to take a lunch trip to Burns. Burns has about 230 residents and is on the Marion side of the Marion-Butler county line.

From Emporia, Dave and I headed east on U.S. Highway 50. The old, tan grass along the way was matted like buffalo hide. It takes awhile for the thick grass to turn green. Unless fire is applied. And then, oh, the grass turns ever so quickly.

We left Highway 50 at the Cedar Point turnoff in Chase County and stopped for the obligatory photo of the Drinkwater-Shriver mill. The cracks in the five-story stone building seem to be getting larger, and each time I photograph the mill, I assume it will be the last time.

Dave and I stand on the bridge over the Cottonwood River and four or five cars pass by and each driver waves. Cedar Point residents are used to tourists.

Southbound on dirt roads from Cedar Point, we meander, and there comes a place where we’re not quite sure where we are. The GPS wants to send us to the turnpike entrance at Cassoday, which won’t help at all. We check the Gazetteer map but road names on the map don’t match actual road signs.

However, the countryside, mostly still wearing its winter colors, is beautiful, and the radio plays everything from Pink’s “Please Don’t Leave Me,” to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” There is dust on our dashboard and white-faced calves catching our gaze through barbed-wire fences. Other than a 2:00 p.m. café closing time, there’s no hurry to get to Burns. This is just another day in paradise.

The Burns Café and Bakery is a great community restaurant. Good meals – and there was pie. We were too late for lemon, but I got in on the coconut cream and Dave chose apple.

It had been seven or eight years, I suppose, since we’d been to Burns. They still celebrate roosters as a town symbol. A concrete rooster sits atop rocks at the town’s welcome sign. As I was photographing that rooster, I heard a live one crowing in town.

Along U.S. Highway 77 at Burns is a magnificent elevator with a corrugated tin facade. It’s rusting a bit, but the building has a unique shape and stands straight and proud. This elevator was shown in the 1996 science-fiction comedy film, “Mars Attacks.”

After leaving Burns, we saw a road sign for Potwin. Having never been there, Dave said, “Let’s go.”

Potwin, population 450, is in Butler County. Here, we had our first henbit sighting of the year. Henbit is a low-lying purple weed that blooms in April. One thing that struck us about this town was how many people were outdoors. Sure, it was a glorious Saturday afternoon, but we noticed that so many of the houses had picnic tables in their side yards. There was a gathering on every block. It was the most social small town I’ve seen in a long time.

On the way back to Emporia, we followed Kansas Highway 177 to Cassoday, then drove east from Cassoday toward Teter Rock. Near Teter Rock, we headed north on a low-maintenance road.

We got out of the car on a hilltop. To the west, an oil well pumped a fast heartbeat. I noticed the cattle trails worn into a nearby hill, a dozen paths, like tributaries, that came together into one stream, one path.

Fires burned off in the distance. Free-range smoke drifted, seemingly not attached to any particular fire. The air was hazy and gray-brown. The greening of the Flint Hills had begun.

Copyright 2014 ~ Cheryl Unruh

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