Madison County Crier
... and a love letter to the neglected beauty of the midwest...
Ever been bored driving through Ohio? Kansas? Nebraska? Can’t get across them fast enough? Ever think—if you slowed down, if you got off the interstate, if you opened your eyes, your senses, your imagination, you might find a world as filled with beauty and wonder—as great as any place on this planet?
I’m thinking of the Flint Hills in Eastern Kansas. Long rolling vistas of grassland… what the great plains looked like to the first Europeans who crossed them, & to the immigrants from Asia who proceeded them by millennia. Stand on one of those hills—only a few miles west of the 30 inch rainfall line that bisects the continent. Trees here grow only in the valleys, along the stream beds. Those tiny dark spots you see at the base of the incline where you stand… cattle. Five miles distant. And in the spring, you will see a thunderstorm coming from 40 miles away, and the grass, under the passing shadow of the clouds, changing colors as the wind sweeps over the hills.
I’ve been in the Cascades. I’ve seen the high desert in Eastern Oregon, the temperate rainforests of the pacific coast—and yes, it’s spectacular. The scale—the sublime wonder… but stand on the bank of the Mississippi in Missouri… look north and see all the way to the clear running mountain streams of the Missouri in Montana… turn your head… to the Gulf of Mexico. Stand on the Plate in Nebraska and watch Lewis and Clark passing by… and a million Sand Hill Cranes descending spring and fall.
In central Kansas, there’s a little town, still populated by descendents of Swedish immigrants. A few thousand people… a town with a museum filled with paintings and works of art by its own residents, a town which supports a symphony orchestra and puts on, in alternating years, Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s B Minor Mass. They will tell you joke… how immigrants coming to America—on first seeing the skyline of Manhattan, look at one another in wonder—and say (hear this with a Swedish lilt)… --if this is New York… what must Lindsborg, Kansas be like?
Not far from Lindsborg—the Coronado Heights of my poem. A WPA castle. Google it for images. On a summer evening, you will hear—dogs barking from 20 miles away, the clank of a pail on a farm… and rising up in stereophonic splendor, tens of thousands of meadowlark.
Oh, and the sky… the skyscape… like raised up on a stage into the heavens.
Think again when hurl yourself in your metal and plastic machines over the interstate, wondering how anyplace on earth could be so boring… maybe it’s not that you can’t pass through these places fast enough… but that you don’t slow down to see, to hear, to sense… to imagine.