Three years ago I wrestled with how to exit a Texas frying pan and avoid the bonfire beneath. I wanted to run to the mountains, hide, become a ski bunny, and ski, ski, ski, ski, ski. Being an adult, I also wanted to honor the people whom I love and find a way forward after such a loss. Only two options remained after Houston: Colorado or Kansas. I chose the peacefulness of prairie, old friends, and the pristine Konza – one of the best decisions of my adult life.
Lately, that decision has become more meaningful as I consider a change. Do I leave Kansas in search of stronger statewide economy and “special purpose?” Do I abandon the Flint Hills, head east or west towards a bigger city and wider opportunities? A few weeks ago the spaciousness of my options became clear. I’ve since wrestled with my need at intersection of meaningful work, community, and career opportunity.
The reality is: I love the Flint Hills. I’m not leaving anytime soon.
I love the green winter wheat giving way to summer grasses. Azure skies following washing rains swishing dust and pollen downriver to Lawrence. A sky so big and wide it is host to awe-inducing sunsets, hundred-mile contrails, and a variety pack of clouds, rain, storms, and sun in one quick glimpse.
Fire. Each spring when farmers – stewards of the land – burn Flint Hills scrub, this prairie is a riot of flame. In 2011 after visiting Madi in Emporia, I wrote an essay, “Scorched Earth,” of how the burning of the fields blackens the ground and leaves such a scar – a wound – appearing as if it will never heal. A little rain, wind, and sun and soon the fields flourish again with greens and life that breath escapes me when I think on it.
I know, “Waxing poetic over wheat and grass, Allie?”
Yes, and sky, and soil, and quiet, and people, and community, and purpose, and pride, and histories, and fertile ground to rebuild a State worthy of the people who have staked their lives here.
A 30-minute drive west brings you across fields, nanotech incubators, around K-State, and towards historic Fort Riley – while blackhawks play chase overhead. The same 30-minute drive might get me a few miles down the Atlanta highway or a few yards in Houston traffic. As much as I love the cultural amenities of the city, I would not trade the fresh air and community found in this flyover country.
Brilliant people living simpler lives
Cows. Lots of cows and sheep and chickens.
Art and adventure of every kind
A wind that makes itself known
4 distinct seasons
Sustainability as way-of-life
An emerging local bike culture
Home-grown entrepreneurs in technology, science, business, and community
An important remnant of the once-massive tallgrass prairie ecosystem
Kindness and a sense of humor that is most often self-effacing
Friends and sunny afternoons atop the Tallgrass Taphouse
How could I leave?
For me to “live all the days of (my) life”* is to live planted like a wildflower among the little bluestem grasses; roots deep into rocky soil and beneath a wide sky. Face upwards in the wind of this short life.
What is your “home”?
Friends who grew up overseas are making deep roots in Georgia soil, another misses Connecticut, others long for all things German. Another is stopping over briefly from Thailand as she reorients towards Mozambique and carrying her home within.
Where is your come-alive place? Is it even on a map?
Don’t know? Swing by as you travel I-70 or I-35. I’ll introduce you to the wind as it curls up the Konza and the pie at Nelson’s Landing in Leonardville or the Little Grill by the lake.
We can take in the show of a Broadway touring company, live music, or quiet hike through Fancy Creek. You can mosey through Kansas State University’s gorgeous limestone and greenspace-rich campus or run the hills near by.
And if you don’t find your “place” in the Flint Hills – go find it – especially if your soul needs a great place for a do-over. I imagine I’ll be here – or nearby – for the duration.
You are always welcome here.
(Want to learn more about the Flint Hills? Lyle Lovett explains in this excerpt of “Last Stand of the Tallgrass Prairie.“)
*A riff off of Jonathan Swifts, “May you live all the days of your life.”