Coming Home

Family letter that recently surfaces

 

In hindsight, there were many reasons why I moved to Kansas:

Following-of-the-heart, love, non-regrettable reasons and bio-chemical ones, too. Maybe stir in a little quantum physics, as well as faith, adventure, truth – and because I was coming home.

Kansas is a place of roots. Families begin or end here, begin and end here. Our ancestors are buried here. My ancestors are buried here.

 

Wesley Ault, in the middle

 

In this photo is my great-great grandfather. He was born in Kansas, and left it, and returned. He had a peach farm in Colorado, divorced, traveled to Alaska and down the Amazon. His peaches won awards at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. He contracted some intestinal disease in South America, and he killed a monkey who bothered him at camp. He later regretted it, missing the company and the sound of the wild beast swinging in the trees.

These are the stories I remember.

He is buried in Valley Falls, Kansas. Twenty minutes from where I lived. His sister was married in Topeka, where I made home. A long lock of her blond hair marks a page in the family bible, dated 1800-something, from Marysville.

My great-great grandfather’s grave rests next to his parents, my great-great-great grandparents. Emanuel and Elizabeth, their faces hewn and stern, stuck in a time when you didn’t smile for portraits.

I visited them once, driving 20 minutes on a freeway and down a windy road. I picked wildflowers, and left them next to their headstones. Then I went to the sparse local bar. I had a Bud Light in a bottle with the old men getting off work, sharing my onion rings with them.

Our ancestors rooted together right down the road.

 

Family

The Sunflower State

Kansas is the Sunflower State. You may see sunflowers (large and small, wild and domestic) lingering beside country roads or planted in whole crops along the interstate, the seeds often used for oil.

I don’t know much about flowers. But I know, that these are beautiful ones. Bright, yellow, full, and with a sense of grace that remains present even in death.

These flowers are both annual and perennial. Apparently, that means that some species need to be replanted every year, and others bloom each year from the same plant without the need of human intention.

And, these flowers follow the sun. Through the course of the day, they tilt their heads and maneuver their stems to track the rays across the sky. The flowers do what they can to soak up as much light as possible. They open to the heavens while rooted in the earth, feeling what is good.

If you ask me, that is really all we could ever ask for.

Little flowers who love the sun

What The Trees Might Tell Us

Yes, this post might fall a little into the hippie tree-hugging side of things. In fact, I have fallen a little into the hippie tree-hugging side of things myself too (although I only hug trees sometimes, and mostly when nobody is watching).

I first started noticing trees when the cutter came to trim them last spring in Kansas. He walked the grounds with me, explaining the different kinds of trees, and how they grow and how they live.

Trees grow in accordance to the availability of sunlight, the nourishment of soil, and space. He showed me where a maple tree tried to heal itself, but couldn’t, so instead the tree attempted to reproduce another tree in its hollowed womb. The tree trimmer reached into a wounded hole on the trunk and pulled out a sapling with wily roots, sad and limp.

Bare Roots          Where it all began

Taking daily walks, I notice the trees now. They bleed sap, they dance in the breeze, they are cut open to expose the rings of their aging lives. They are so alive, and each is so different.

Some of the trees are contorted with injuries, others are dead because the roots are exposed.

Some of the trees are green and flexible, others are old and steady.

Some of the trees have grown so close together, that they become one. Two trees, growing with one trunk. Their roots are so intertwined that there is no way to separate them anymore.

Love

Love.

 

 

Front Porch Sittin’

Ah, yes.

I love me some front porch sittin’. Back yard sittin,’ too. Kansas showed me that.

You can sit, stay, and watch the world pass by through time, all in one frame. It is our own single view of the universe.

Through the days, through the seasons, through the years. Some people live in the same house forever. Can you imagine all the different things they see in one spot from a single front porch?

Sitting outside with a beer, or a book, or a friend, or with nothing at all. In the heat, or the cold, or spring freshness, or autumn change.

Front porch sittin’ allows time to stay. To watch the leaves in the sun, to listen to the birds, to see the squirrels fly across the lawn. To connect with a patience and gratitude that we don’t always remember is in us.

The sun

I find such solace in nature, now. The stillness and eternal existence of the Earth, even while each moment is completely different, and completely beautiful. Looking at a tree or a sky or a blade of grass is a refuge, a way to connect to that which is completely true and real.

Kansas showed me that. Sittin’ on a front porch.

Frozen Reverence

This month, most of the country received a heavy dose of cold and snow and ice.

The second day of snow, in Oregon, was a beautiful day to be alive. And a beautiful day for a walk.

Pine needles were encased in ice, tree branches bowed and cracked from the weight of the snow, and frozen aspen leaves chimed against each other in vigil.

The weather in Kansas scared me. I spent too much time preparing for the possibility of a tornado (it turned out I never heard a genuine warning siren while I was there), and worrying about sweating through my clothes in the summer, and feeling the north wind cut into places that I didn’t know existed in my body in the winter.

I resisted much of the Kansas weather while trying to find acceptance and beauty and relationship with it. I did find such beauty and gratitude, but it was when I wasn’t trying or running or afraid. It was when I sat, and watched, and felt, and stayed – just in it. Not trying to change it, simply bearing witness to changes on its own timeline.

On this walk, I saw a baby pine tree curving over, just so, it’s top meeting a single branch hanging down from a larger tree, also curving over just so. Their tips met in repose, frozen together, bent.

Let the forces we can’t control shape us – they will anyway. Let them show us how to bow into unexpected beauty.

TouchedBranchesStill

Forts

It is so still here, sometimes.

The sky reaches from end to end, the grass tilts when touched by something unseen, the space is silent other than messages relayed from little birds.

Yes, there is history here. Man-made, and otherwise.More sky

The sky

These forts were constructed all across the West in the 1800s. They are forts where cavalry men in navy blue woolen uniforms protected borders and promoted peace, both violently and generously, with the indigenous peoples.

The fictional character Lieutenant Dunbar, in Dances with Wolves, was first stationed at Fort Hays, in western Kansas.

“Lieutenant Dunbar had fallen in love. He had fallen in love with this wild, beautiful country and everything it contained. It was the kind of love people dream of having with other people.”

Fort Hays now houses a small museum, the officers quarters, and a jail. A golf course skirts the edge of the historical place. One type of grass ends, right where another begins.

A fort is a “strategic position.”

A fort is a strategic position.

Fort Hays photoPositioning and protecting borders, strategically.

Sometimes necessary to fall in love with a wild, beautiful country, and everything it contains.

 

Middle Ground

Kansas fields

We live in the grey area, in the middle. Most of life happens here – between extremes. A place where there is balance, acceptance, flow, life, every moment, and everyday moments.

I believed balance was something static, something to hold onto once found. I thought it was a “something.” Something I couldn’t find.

Until I moved to Kansas, a state in the middle.

Everyone has their own balance. I learned mine, living on this piece of earth. It is letting the extremes come and go, welcoming them and thanking them and allowing them to suspend or drift. My balance is allowing change between extremes – being with how it is, now, and letting that change, now.

Like letting the scenery alter while driving across I-70, through Kansas. Past grain elevators, dead sunflower groves, clouds skidding across they sky, hay bales rolling into infinity, Wheat Jesus, and signs advertising free land and the largest prairie dog in the world.

I watched the sun change, the horizon shift, the wind blow. As many moments passed with it all.

Balance sees what is possible because it has such a great view.

Thank you, Kansas. Thank you, again.

 

Note: I am leaving Kansas and returning to Oregon, but I depart with such love and gratitude for my time spent in the Sunflower State. This blog will continue, with posts that explore all the things I learned about myself while living in the Heartland.

Thank you.