Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Prairie Perspective

Beach or lake? ....This is a parlor game we play when we are deep into the second month of harvest and plunging through the waves of an ocean of  grain. Where would we rather be? Enjoying the quiet banks of a tree rimmed lake up north or the constant music of the ocean running back and forth over the sands. We have spent pleasant hours in reading and reflection next to water; to revisit these settings in our minds and contemplate their delights is a companionable way to while the hours away.  Beach or lake?  Idle chatter of a prairie schooner, pipe dream of the landlocked.
I plead guilty to this kind of over-the-rainbow-pie-in-the-sky-view-finding. Especially in moments of weakness...or days when the wind blows over 30 mph.  But not when the sun's rays slant low and golden, casting long and deep spider web shadows of barbed wire fences...or electric lines...or windmills.
Then I take issue with those who castigate our surroundings as uninteresting, or dismiss them as man-made and artificial. We may rightly stand in awe of extreme landscapes, exceptional, one of a kind and incomparable.  But we ordinary folk don't live in places like that.  We cannot fully appreciate the landscape around us unless we not only accept, but also appreciate, the role we humans play in its order and rhythm and, yes, beauty.

On a fall day day in November when the fields have donned their harvest hues of dun and buff and weathered gray, I think the view from the hill behind the greenhouses is much what Lewis and Clark would have seen, had they been camping in Atchison county in late fall: smooth and rounded hills within a level horizon, creek banks marked by dark creases of trees and covered by a great stage of a sky, maybe gray and hovering close, maybe impossibly blue and distant.
From my hilltop, I can see the pageant of farm work proceed with the seasons.  The desolation of winter is broken only by the dark patches where cattle are fed and the graffiti of wildlife tracks.  Spring is a brown season...we often have three brown seasons up here, you know.  The wild trees venture faint bloom and leaf by May, but the green of new crops above the no till stubble won't be visible from a distance before Mother's Day most years.  Nature's calendar rules; the native warm season grasses linger in their weary clumps until the sun raises them up with warmth.
 Familiarity does not breed contempt. A volatile and unpredictable climate breeds a citizenry that wears the inhospitable nature of its chosen home as a badge of honor.  Who needs a wilderness when the weather itself is a raging beast? The domesticity of the Corn Belt is part of its attraction. An orderly landscape of crops tracing the topographical contours, the 90 degree precision of east-west, north-south section roads, the geometry of grain bins and augers, all suggest the virtuous productivity of the people and their partnership with the land.  The treasure of this place lies underground and the service of man to fellow man is in the cultivation and harvest of soil and production of grain in a place especially suited for the purpose.

The emigrants of Oregon Trail days bypassed this piece of prairie in search of a more hospitable clime across the mountains.  The folks that settled our hills, planting crops and orchards, building homes and fences, churches, cemeteries, and schools were justifiably proud of their industry, equated civilization with progress, and published their accomplishments for all of posterity to appreciate.

Periodically the movers and shakers far away take a look at the middle of the country, our American "Empty Quarter",
and lob long distance pot shots at how we think, what we believe, and what we do. They should peruse their own community's Biographical History and learn to appreciate the pride those who built the small towns and settled the counties took in their barns and homes, the Poland China hogs and  Buff Cochin chickens, their businesses, their politics, and their churches.

We can't offer much in the line of beaches...and our vistas are short on drama.  But this place abounds in a different quality...that of rootedness.  Human effort, persistence, and adaptability have given us a view we can appreciate for its history and hope for our future.

We can visit the beach anytime...

That's my prairie perspective....

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