Home on the Range

When my grandmother died, my mother and my uncle decided the best thing to do with her 1970-something Plymouth Scamp was to give it to me.  The questionable body style and the indescribable color, somewhere between swamp green and dirt brown, made it one of the ugliest cars in my high school parking lot.  But I made my peace with it because it provided freedom.  The only real problem with it was its lack of FM radio.  Confined to AM, my choice was news or country and western.

So I listened to C&W radio for two years and acquired a respect for it.  There have been times since that I’ve tired of whatever else I’m listening to and I’ll go back to it.  When I drove down to the Kansas Flint Hills last weekend I opened the sunroof and turned the radio up and reacquainted myself with what some people call “both kinds of music.”
Mr. Blandings and I were staying with our friends from town who also have a ranch just outside of Alma.  They had invited us to stay with them and attend the Symphony in the Flint Hills.  For the last three years a group of folks committed to the pure beauty and majesty of the area has organized a concert with the Kansas City Symphony in the Tallgrass Prairie of the Kansas plains.

 It’s important to note here that the Kansas of The Wizard of Oz  is the Kansas of the Dust Bowl.  I’ve driven in the northern part of the state from the Missouri border to the Colorado boarder and on a diagonal route from Kansas to Texas and I’ve never seen the nuclear wasteland that that black and white classic would lead us to believe is Kansas.  (And by the way, if you meet someone from Kansas or Kansas City, please don’t make a Wizard of Oz/Dorothy reference.  We’ve heard them all.)

This is Kansas and as you enter the middle part of the state you enter the largest remaining tract of tallgrass on the continent.  Coming in from Kansas City, you come over the crest of a hill and the wonder of Manifest Destiny spreads out before you.  
This is Kansas with its low rolling hills and an expanse of blue sky that brings tears to my eyes every time I see it.  I’m speechless at the thought of the settlers who traveled these hills on horseback and in wagons.  It’s a magnificent setting for the Symphony.  The event site moves from year to year to allow the small towns in its proximity to benefit from the 6,000 visitors who journey to see it.
We went with our friends and two other couples to see this year’s event just outside of Council Grove.  Some of you have expressed concern about the Blandings’ safety and our unpredictable weather, but the weather that day was perfection.  Barbecue is our traditional meal, of course, and the food was delicious.  

After the concert we stayed for a while to listen to the country and western band that followed, not in the amphitheater but under a tent.  We talked instead of two-stepped, but it put us in the spirit of where we were.

The walk to the car was a long one, exponentially longer than the walk from the car had been.  Our host informed us that we were going to the campsite of his friend Geff Dawson, a ranch hand and cowboy poet.  Geff and his family were camping at nearby Council Grove Lake, and while they were in a camper and not a tent, the site was complete with all the cowboy trappings.  Tin cups, oil lanterns and a guitar were joined by sunscreen, bug spray and a Yorkshire Terrier.  The setting echoed the message of his poetry and music, the blending of the rural tradition and the influence of the city, forever moving closer, if not physically then technologically.

Geff still works cattle with his horse and avoids the Kawasaki four-wheelers that have become so popular in working the herds.  I asked him the first time I met him how he felt about these city dwellers setting up their weekend homes in the Flint Hills.  Grateful.  Grateful that people can still appreciate the beauty of the land while some of the folks who grew up there are making their way somewhere else.  “They are saving the Flint Hills, ” he told me.  
Geff’s songs and his poetry make you want to be a part of it, even me who is so devoid of pioneer stock that I can’t sit in the back of a SUV driving on a twisty road because it makes me so queasy.  But like Jeff, I respect my friends as they are discussing the impending delivery of a calf that they fear will not go well.  I envy their children’s experiences as they recount the hilarious stories of castrating bulls and their son’s reaction and the tales of camping out in one of the outbuildings with a pot-bellied stove.  Their work and their life is real and their accomplishments are concrete.  
As you drive across the state you pass billboards that say, “One Kansas farmer feeds 129 people plus you.”  Don’t talk to me about Dorothy, but make any corny comment about the heartland that you like.  This is Kansas.
Next year’s event will be June 13th near Florence, Kansas.  Check the website for ticket sales information; this year’s event sold out in a day.  Mark your calendars now.
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28 thoughts on “Home on the Range

  1. Mrs B
    Thank you for featuring the Flint Hills! I grew up just 15 minutes from Council Grove on 80 acres in the heart of the flint hills. There are no words to describe the most glorius sunsets of all!

  2. I’ve never done anything but complain about the drive across Kansas, but after reading this I think I’ll see the next one quite differently.

  3. One of my favorite places on earth!! Thank you for sharing “God’s Country” with your readers. Have a great week… Fancy

  4. Beautiful landscapes!! How lucky to be a part of it, if only for a few days. It reminds us of all that is good and honest and very real in America!

  5. Guess you can take the gal out of Kansas, but you cannot take the Kansas out of the gal. What a beautiful post, why it brings music to my ears.
    Refreshing. I often like AM for the limited choices.
    Who really cares with that scenery!

  6. Mrs. B, a wonderful post, as usual.

    Having grown up on the western edge of the Flint Hills, and of course, being a K-Stater, smack dab in the middle of them, I am always in awe of their beauty. I know the spot to which you refer, catching their first glimpse, driving out from K.C. I am glad I’m not the only one to get watery eyes. And have wondered if I could have endured the trek across those plains in a covered wagon. In another life, I probably stayed back in Philadelphia.

    Thanks for sharing your Symphony in the Flint Hills trip with us. What a great event.

  7. We drove to Colorado from the east coast a few years ago and i was stunned by the beauty of kansas. it was totally unexpected!

  8. I totally second the “there’s no place like home” or “you’re not in Kansas anymore” jokes!

  9. Mrs Blandings, this is why I love your blog. You have such a big vision of design and where we find beauty in our lives. Your husband, your sons, your community, your “stuff”–are all essential components to your good design sense. I guess I would have to say that you get design “in toto.” (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.)

  10. We once had a friend visit from the land of wide open spaces such as this. He said all of the trees here in the South made him feel claustrophobic. Seeing these photos helps me understand that better! Just beautiful.

  11. Teri – the sunsets are amazing! Sadly, I was too busy talking at that point to snap the shot.

    David – I’ve done my share of griping about Oklahoma so I know how you feel.

    Patricia – The cows they were driving behind the symphony took a bit of a turn as they neared the musicians. I’m not sure they appreciated the swelling string section.

    Courtney – as always, very much appreciated praise. Thanks.

    Emma – You should go next year!

    Meg – Kansas is not what people think it’s going to be. You should have seen my dad’s face when I told him I was going to KU. He was shocked when he saw Lawrence, which is absolutely beautiful.

    Ms. Hovey – I had overlooked those – yes, equally as bad.

    t12 – so much more clever than the usual comments – that one I accept with pleasure. Thank you for your kind words.

    Claustrophobic was exactly how I felt driving from NY to Martha’s Vineyard with a friend. Now I know I’m not alone.

  12. Mrs. B,
    This post brought a tear to MY eye. While it used to distress me when people would make fun of my home state, it doesn’t anymore. Let them stay in the dark while the rest of us enjoy the blue sky and never-ending wheat fields.
    Have you ever seen any of Louis Copt’s art?

  13. sgm – I thought only Jackie and Ramoner brought tears to your eyes! I’ll check Copt’s art today – thanks for the tip.

  14. What a wonderful story. The Scamp – too funny.

    just wonderful!!! makes me want to jump in my car and drive out to see the tallgrass (whatever that is!!!!)

    you’re the best.


  15. Lovely post! Sadly, I left Kansas before this event ever began but my parents have been raving about it. They had a wonderful time this year as well and talked about how all the “city folk” applauded when the cowboys had the cattle “stampede to the music.” My husband is from New Jersey (pity him) and one of these days I need to get him back to the heartland to really appreciate the beauty of Kansas.

    Thanks for the post and the lovely photos!

  16. Several years back my daughter and I saw Songs from the Tall Grass at Ford’s Theater. It was a wonderful mix of songs and tales of life on the prairie. It was there that I learned the true meaning of “raining cats and dogs”!

  17. It looks lovely! I can see why you like it. I have never been to Kansas so it is wonderful to see the countryside there. The concert looks like a great event! What were they playing when the cows went by?

  18. I’m a mountain person, but any wide open green spaces are beautiful. You’re an eloquent ambassador. And I never thought about the Wizard of oz being the dustbowl.

  19. This post warms my heart, having spent most of my younger years in Kansas. There is something so simple and heartwarming about the plains of the midwest that is indescribable to those that haven’t seen it. I get to bring my boys back this summer for the first time and it really feels like coming home.

  20. Mrs B
    I just went to the website for the symphony in the flint hills and saw they have captured the sunset in a 2007 shot. Just a thought can you re-publish for your readers to see?

  21. We had a scamp called it the cramp…windows did’nt go down and no a/c! we bought it for $300.00 put nada into it and sold it 3 years later for a hundred…not bad and yet I still hated it!

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