It is appropriate that I am able to pause in this blog to post about my trip to Kansas when we were just reading documents of Opa’s acceptance to McPherson College. We went to Kansas to trace my Grandmother’s history, but we were able to make stops in McPherson and other locations that will soon be a part of Opa’s story here on the blog. My Grandmother grew up in Selden, Kansas, a tiny farming community in western Kansas where the eye can see for miles and miles.
Last year I found myself in Berlin, Germany and other places where Opa’s story begins. I learned amazing things about my family’s story, my story, and our world today. I learned that there are some really incredible humans out there. This summer was no different. The trip to Kansas was a first for me- I’ve never been to Kansas (maybe driven through it), and certainly not to western Kansas where my Grandmother grew up. I knew we would be in some small towns and see lots of farmland, but other than that- I didn’t know what to expect. My Dad said to me a few times: “you know this isn’t going to be like Germany, right?” I think I was so excited he just wanted me to scale my expectations down a bit. Sort of like the opposite of “We’re not in Kansas Anymore”- more like…. we’re going to Kansas- not Paris. But I was excited, and I had every reason to be.
On Monday, when we landed in Kansas City (technically on the Missouri side), I stepped outside of the airport and felt like this wasn’t so different. I expected flat expanses, miles of farms and little to no trees. I found some rolling hills and lots of trees! This wasn’t the vast farmland that Ken Burns showed in his documentary on the Dust Bowl! I found out soon that Kansas is a big state, and the further west you go, the flatter it gets.
I finally understood my Grandmother’s obsession with a clear blue sky. The sky in Kansas is so BIG. If you’ve never been in a place like that, it is hard to describe. There are no tall buildings, no trees, no obstructions to your view of the sky. The clouds almost curve into the horizon… it’s like you can see the tops of them from a higher curve of the earth. To see a sky that big without any clouds is pretty impressive.
Another thing I learned about in Kansas was rain. Rain has an entirely different meaning in Kansas farmland than it does in my rain-soaked east coast town. Growing up if it rained while we were with Grandmother, she always said “well I guess we need the rain.” It could be flooding out and she would say this. I never really understood why she was so welcoming of the rain- especially since she loved her clear blue skies. Grandmother grew up on a farm in Kansas during the dust bowl or the “dirty 30s.” After watching the Ken Burns documentary on the dust bowl, I gained a better understanding. Then I went to Kansas, and after seeing fields and fields of crops, dry sand banks where rivers used to be, and hearing the farmers talk with excitement about rain - then it started to make a little more sense. Water is always important. One of the main stops on one of my tours was a lake that was created by a dam. They wanted me to see that Kansas had water. Rain is directly tied up to survival- and it isn’t guaranteed in western Kansas.
The weather in Kansas feels so violent- you can see storms coming from miles away, and yet they can come quickly and pass just as quickly. Every thunderstorm looks like a potential for a tornado. There is nothing to break up the storm or slow its path. The land (and people) are vulnerable to the elements. It was eerie to watch a storm come over the plains. The storms move in a different pattern than they do where I live. I have a weather app on my phone, and usually I’m pretty good at predicting when the storm will come and if it will come. In Kansas a storm would develop out of thin air. It was crazy! And even when the welcomed rain did come, it wasn’t without its own dangers. Other than the obvious fear of tornadoes in the summer, the rain may bring unwelcomed hail, which can do more damage than the rain helps. I love the weather, so I was excited to watch the storms roll through. We got to see two big storms. None brought any danger to us, but we did see some significant hail during the second one. In fact, that same storm brought so much sudden rain that the streets of Colby (where we were at the time) were temporarily flooded. The next day all signs of water were quickly absorbed into the land.
There is one more thing I must mention about Kansas before I close out this blog entry- and that is the sunset. The Kansas sunset lasts forever and can be incredibly beautiful. I’m talking a 1-2 hour sunset. You think that the sun is almost over the horizon, and time seems to stall. It’s awe-inspiring. It actually reminds me of watching the sun set over the ocean- you watch it melt into the water. In Kansas, it melts into the land- the flat, often waving land of crops. The sunset sort of apologizes for the heat of the day and any violent thunderstorm that may have come your way. It is peaceful and beautiful.
I fell in love with Kansas. I invite you to join me. In my next few blogs I will take you through my days in Kansas, and introduce you to some of the folks I met. To get in the mood, take a deep breath and worry about nothing else but whether the sky will be blue or bring good rain- either way it is a win.