Saturday, April 10, 2010

Catching Up 2 : March

After the cold and grey, snow and ice of February 20, I didn't go to Konza for several weeks. (Every Sunday morning, I wake up dreading the idea of having to put on my long underwear and lace up my boots, dreading having to check my camera for batteries and car for oil, dreading the drive down slick streets and the mud-torn access road, dreading a car-filled parking area and a trail that can't possibly live up to my expectations, my demands. Some weeks the thought of going is just too much for me. I don't know how to explain it; it's just too much.)
During spring break, then, I made a tour of two other tallgrass prairie preserves. First, the official Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (managed by The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service), located an hour and a half south of Manhattan, KS. I'd gone last fall, but hadn't been at all impressed by the polished, professional Park Service Interpretive Ranger song and dance / bus ride. (Though must admit the ranger did an excellent job facilitating intellectual and emotional connections to the park's tangible and intangible resources and universal concepts. My parents liked it.)(And I will also admit that my impression may have had less to do with the actual experience than my general frustration / bitterness at the time, considering I was wearing a large leg brace and trying to hobble around on crutches.) Maybe it was the fact that I didn't have to take a bus tour, or that the sky was low and grey with pre-spring-ness, or the sheer joy of being able to walk (walk! Upon the blessed earth!, to invoke Abbey), but mmm it's a fantastic site -- several miles' worth of trails tracing open swales, diving into creeks, weaving around cottonwood groves, and crossing through gates with minimal signs, directions, and views of the highway. Much left to explore!

Second: Tallgrass Prairie Preserve (owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy) in Oklahoma (directions are a little fuzzy -- lots of semi-marked dirt roads, but gorgeous scenery). A large site; bison, bison everywhere, as well as several oil wells (?!)(inholdings?); fairly short trails, but well worth the trip.

It's said that the more you venture out, away, to wild unknown places, the more you learn about yourself and your relationship with your home. Back to Konza, then?
Lesson #1 (I guess I'm in a list sort of mood) :

I needn't have gone off and traipsed about other prairies to see Konza with fresh new eyes; I came up over the first hill expecting the same familiar grey sky, brown grass, only to discover a bare, black ridge -- burn! Spring, time for burns!

That was a happy surprise, seen from a distance, but then lesson #2 :

Look closely. It still wasn't what I thought. The burn couldn't have been lit more than a week or two earlier, but happy little green shoots were already bursting from the charred earth. Life returns.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Catching up 1 : February

A little behind -- I've not yet written about the first week of February -- another blustery winter day, --
then mmm, two weeks later -- one of those rare, still mornings when fresh-falling snow traced every blade of grass and made it hard to tell what was earth and what was sky.

(Easy to forget, now, too -- as I look at the photographs and type peaceful adjectives, -- how darn cold it was. My fingers were blue and white by the time the camera whirred into action; hence a shot containing a loop of the wrist band.)
Frozen photographer issues aside, these were the most peaceful, beautiful walks I've had at Konza. (Come to think of it, the inclement weather was likely the reason why I had the whole place to myself -- no other hikers; not even any animals; just me and the prairie. I almost felt a touch of solitude.)
It would have been a good time for solitude / meditative moments. February was busy (read: excuses for not blogging for so long) -- in my ongoing attempt to make some sort of sense out of all my Konza musings (by proceeding smoothly from an onslaught of pure sensation through filters of perception to the grand goal of nice, tidy cognition or comprehension or dare I aim for insight?)(Ha!), I was designing a poster on "Reconciling Science and the Aesthetic Experience," preparing a presentation on the same subject in the context of a "nature / culture dialectic," and also defending my dissertation proposal (which centers on perceptions of and attachment to wide-open prairie landscapes, including Konza).
Too much to do. Too much sitting in front of a computer, typing out field notes and shuffling photographs. Too little wandering around the prairie. Always too little wandering, too little sun and snow, grass and wind.

Konza Konza Konza. Sky and earth, then signs and trails; hawks and deer, then people and cattle. A 2.5 or 4.4 or 6.0 mile loop then the 8 or 9 mile drive back to this city, this noisy messy busy boring bored micropolis.
I'll say it again, as much as I still hate Konza, I'm almost coming to love it. Cold and grey.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January blues

After spending a month traveling from the woods of Missouri to the suburbs of Tennessee, the ranges of Nevada to the basins of California, here I am, back in the plains. Back at Konza.

Sunday morning was beautiful, really, though hints of an overcast afternoon hung in the air. Manhattan had been socked in fog for nearly a week -- enchantingly mysterious at first, then just grey and soggy, -- so the sunshine seemed especially bright while it lasted. I don't know whether it was the slightly chilly temperature or the fact that I was there so early, but I had the whole place to myself -- no other cars, no other hikers at first. Nor birds nor cows nor any other semblance of life -- just the brown brown grass, the blue blue sky, and me.

Not much to think or say (running out of things to think or say) -- pretty pictures to share (hopefully I won't run out of pretty pictures), a nice day, a decent place to walk. Konza.

(Right. Then there's the bridge sign. I've become accustomed to it by now. Ambivalent.)