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

sunset Dodge _smSunset, rural Dodge City


When a national weather map shows up on TV, where do we look? At the center of the screen, of course. Map-wise, Kansas is the star of the show, sitting in the heart of the country.

There are pros and cons to every state, but land-wise and location-wise, this a pretty good place to be. In the middle of the country, we have a healthy mix of the four seasons, but we don’t get Texas heat, nor Minnesota cold.

Sure, we’re landlocked, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We can get in our cars and drive well over a thousand miles east or west, or 700 miles north or south.

Last May, I took a trip with my mom to Savannah, Ga. To get there, it took more than 24 hours in the car from Emporia. After three long days of molding bodies to fit car seats, we got our reward – walking barefoot into the Atlantic Ocean at Tybee Island Beach.

Nothing could have drained away the stress of three days on the road as well as feeling the May sunshine on our shoulders, warm waves washing our shins, the tide pulling sand out from under our feet. Every problem in the world disappeared. This was surely heaven.

Tybee Island_smOcean play, Tybee Island, Ga.

A huge container ship, off in the distance, moved slowly toward the horizon. In looking across the ocean, I could actually see the earth bend away from us, and I wondered how the water stays on the planet.

Years ago, on another visit to Georgia, my stepfather took us out onto the ocean in his 22-foot sailboat. We were far enough from shore to watch shrimp boats drop their winged nets to the side and then draw them back in. Seagulls swarmed the boats, diving for food. It was all very picturesque.

So, I understand part of the attraction of the ocean. Well, mostly the beach part. My lack of total enthusiasm for the sea is that once you’re out there, there’s nothing to see through your sunburned eyes except water and sky. I can only assume it’s the same view in every direction, all the way to Portugal.

Blame it on my roots: I’m a Kansan. I like dirt, earth, solid ground. I like walking, hiking. I like cars and driving. I like long straight roads. I like the plains and the prairie.

Now, it’s been a long time ago, but Dave and I once visited New York City. I loved the energy there, I really did. I hope to return someday.

There’s nothing like the thrill of walking into the New York Public Library and seeing those long wooden tables with the green lamps that have been shown in dozens of movies and TV shows. Dave and I walked through Grand Central Station and the beautiful Central Park. We took a carriage ride, a subway ride, and a scary cab ride.

In the Big Apple, I walked with my head leaned back. I don’t really understand skyscrapers, because that’s not how we build things in Kansas.

We walked in shadows of buildings, never seeing the horizon, barely seeing the sky. In New York City, it seemed as if there would be no place to be alone, not truly alone. You would always be within earshot of people or of the city’s noise. I worry about residents who probably never even leave the city.

And that’s why I love Kansas. Within ten minutes of home, we can be out roaming the countryside. In the Flint Hills, we step onto the land and feel the heartbeat of the planet, or maybe that’s just the wind beating in our ears. But we do feel the pulse of the earth as it moves through our feet and into our souls.

Like being exposed to the elements on the ocean, we, too, are vulnerable on the open prairie. Out there, thunder rolls like stampeding cattle. Lighting, hail, or a tornado could take us out without a second thought. But most of the time in the Flint Hills, we feel so protected, so comforted by that buffer of space between us and the crazy world.

We are lucky to live in this state that has plenty of breathing room, plenty of wide open spaces.

This place, this place, this place. Home.

Copyright 2014 ~ Cheryl Unruh

cottonwood_smCottonwood tree, Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Strong City

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  1. I really appreciate the comments about not feeling truly alone in NYC. I grew up on a farm, and when I went to college I had a hard time of it at first. I was used to walking a 1/4 mile & feeling like the only person in the world. Then I went to college & lived in a dorm. I had no car, and it was too far to walk out to the country. It took me quite awhile to adjust to being around people all the time. I finally found a spot near Wooster Lake where I could pretend to be all alone, at least for awhile. I’m still a bit of a hermit–I like to be alone. Most people don’t understand that, or appreciate that. I guess growing up on a farm taught me to entertain myself. And I think most people are afraid to be alone. They’re afraid of what they might find out about themselves.
    I’ve lived other places, but, like you, Kansas is home.

  2. Love this, Cheryl! I travel a lot for my work and always feel such a sense of relief when I can finally see the horizon, the big Kansas sky, the beautiful Flint Hills and home. Every place has its own deep beauty, but Kansas has my heart.

  3. Jouke Pieter – I have no political skills, but bet I could out-govern the current governor.

    Thanks, Kelley. “Kansas has my heart.” Yes. Thanks.

    Marlys – Thanks. I was a little freaked out myself, when I went to KU.

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