Thursday, June 15, 2006

Horizontal

Here's something fun to do some weekend.

Get up at about 5 a.m. Hop in your car and head southwest out of Kansas City on I-35. Keep going for about about 3 hours and you'll arrive in Wichita. Now exit onto US Highway 54 and keep going west. Keep going. Keep going... more... more.

After about four more hours, you'll arrive in Liberal, Kan. Wasn't that fun?

Along the way, you will have noticed the landscape taking on a decidedly horizontal nature. John B. at Blog Meridian noted this phenomenon during a recent trip to Dodge City.
Most people I know--even, in one case, a student I'm teaching this summer who is FROM there--would wonder, What would bring otherwise-sane people out there? To live, no less?
I lived/worked in Liberal for about two and a half years, and it's true. At first blush, it appears that there is nothing but grass, sky and roadsigns in southwest Kansas.

But believe me, if you look more closely there is much more there. The tastes, textures and colors are there, but in much finer gradations than in urban areas. It's like comparing a subtle French-style wine to a bold-tasting Californian, or exploring the abstract and complex hues of a Mark Rothko.

You have to work a little harder, spend a little time and dig under the surface, but in the end its worth it.

Here are a few my personal observations from living there.
  • The people are very nice, congenial even, but only from a distance at first. There is a feeling that they know you are "just passing through" and that you have no real interest in getting to know the lay of the land. But they're okay with it. Life there isn't for everyone.
  • For me, living in an area so dominated by vast expanses of earth and sky provided a great deal of perspective. Standing on the "hill" on the Liberal golf course, you can see forever on a clear day. You can watch towering thunderstorm clouds barreling down the prairie from miles away. It was a clear message that I, a mere human, am insignificant in comparison to the vastness of nature/creation.
  • Ancient resources like the Ogallala Aquifer (a giant underground sponge full of water) and the Hugoton Gas Field - the largest natural gas deposit in the North America (aside from Al Franken)- contributed to my sense of perspective in time. There I was, living a few feet above water that dates back to the last ice age.
I guess the point is that all places are interesting and have their own kind of beauty. Sometimes its more overt and in-you-face. Sometimes you have to get under the surface to find it.

But if you're only looking at roadsigns, that's all you'll see.

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6 comments:

  1. Alright, let me tell you something.

    When the best that you can come up with to recommend an area is to wax poetic about the aquifer and the natural gas, (neither one of which can be seen) that tells me that there is TRULY not a damn thing to do in Liberal, KS.

    I was born in Kansas myself. But at least down in Coffeyville we had the Dalton Defenders Museum. It commemorates the day the townsfolk rose up and shot the shit out of the Dalton Bros Gang when they got all uppity and tried to rob 2 banks at once in broad daylight.

    Even that got boring about half way through your first visit. But it sure beats an aquifer and natural gas.

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  2. Thanks for the plug, emaw. And you're right: the comparison of the subtlties of the landscape and its people and sites to Rothko is very apt.

    Medicine Lodge, Liberal, Great Bend and Hays are next on my list, though the Mrs. says that the only way we'll be headed to Hays is if we're on the way to Denver. There's also the World's Largest Ball of String that I want to take a gander at.

    Maybe Xavier might want to click on my post you linked to and read what I have to say about Dodge and environs. If not, though, I'll sum up by saying, Out there, it's less about "doing" and more about "seeing"--which is, of course, exactly what you, emaw, are saying in your post.

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  3. No offense XO, but your comment speaks more about you as an observer than about the places you've visited. My point is that the most interesting things aren't on the surface (of course it's difficult to sum up nearly three years' experience in three paragraphs).

    And John, I'll go you one better. I think SWKansas is more about being, than doing and seeing. Thanks for the post and comments.

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  4. OK. Now you've forced me to get all "honest" and shit (I really hate it when that happens).

    My ex-in-laws were all up in Iowa. WAAAY out in Iowa. Head north to about an hour past Des Moines, hang a left and drive for another couple of hours.

    I always found the area to be soothingly tranquil and imbued with it's own beauty and grandeur. Back in the days when I was working VO (Virtual Office), I even entertained the idea of moving there. I figured you could probably by a huge house on a trillion acres for about $47.00. $35.00 if you paid cash.

    Another one of my favorite locales is up around the Cheyenne / Laramie, Wyoming area. Not much to do up there either, except enjoy the peace.

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  5. It's flat here too. Fort Wayne Indiana sucks like that. Pretty much the anus of the state, really.

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