Words inspired by the backroads of America

Gravel-grinding the Kansas Flint Hills

 
This spring my old grade school buddies from the Pacific Northwest asked me to set up a bike ride in the Flint Hills when they came to Wichita for our 50th High School reunion at the end of September.  A fairly simple sounding request from two bike club regulars used to riding 100 mile jaunts along the coast on their high-dollar road bikes!  They had seen an article about the Flint Hills Scenic Byway and since they consider me the Kansas Flint Hills guru, how could I refuse!  

The 2014 Smoky Hill River Festival Print


Late last year I was honored to be selected as the Featured Artist for the upcoming 2014 Smoky Hill River Festival in Salina, Kansas.  The honor includes being commissioned to create the 250 print edition Festival Print, which is given to each of the major donors to the festival.  I, of course, jumped at the opportunity and began the process of planning for the printmaking project, which I knew would occupy two months of my winter studio time.  My concept sketch for the print was approved in November and I began the process of creating the print in January. 

Songline of the Blue Highway


In his book, “The Songlines”, British novelist and travel writer, Bruce Chatwin, describes songlines as “Footprints of the Ancestors”.  When the Australian Aborigines go on a “walkabout” they follow those ancestral paths and sing their ancestors back into existence.  When we reflect on the direction we have taken in our lives, we are, in our own way, bringing our ancestors’ influence on us to life.
I believe that each of us has a unique heritage or songline that has been sung by those who have gone before.  They followed their own dreams and talents as they created the legacy into which we follow.  They, in effect, sang our world into existence. 

Wandering the Kentucky Bourbon Trail


That marvelous, heady aroma of yeast and grain fills our senses as we stroll past stacks and stacks of wonderful, hand-crafted, white oak barrels imparting their charred and caramelized richness to the distiller’s craft.  The stacks of barrels fade into the quiet darkness of the massive rackhouse.  Just the thought of standing in the midst of 20,000 barrels of Kentucky’s finest export is enough to make you woozy! 

Searching for Fall Color in the Midwest


Crossing over the Mississippi River, on October 14th, at Cape Girardeau, it was apparent the extent of the drought in the Midwest.  Miles and miles of sandbars lined the usually busy shipping corridor.  There was little or no barge traffic moving.  Our hope of finding the brilliant reds and yellows we search for on our autumn trips was fading.  The drive up the river from Memphis, where we had attended a family wedding, was unfulfilling and we had wakened to overcast skies. 

Kansas Spirit in Greensburg


It seems like every week brings more news about some small town somewhere being devastated by a tornado.  The words flow about heartbreak, neighbors helping neighbors, strength, faith and vows to rebuild.  We hear Mike Seidel or Jim Cantore, from The Weather Channel, reporting the stories behind the scene about personal tragedy and hope.  Those same reports were flowing out of Greensburg, Kansas nearly five years ago.   

Wandering into 2012


One more year is past and we are well into 2012.  Looking back on last year I am overwhelmed by the incredible experiences I was able to enjoy.  I set out in January of 2011 with a goal of publishing a book that put into words and images my life-long love of wandering the Flint Hills.  That goal was accomplished in late October and the last three months have been a whirlwind of book signings, marketing calls and filling orders.  The sales have gone well and I have been surprised by the number of people who have told me how much they enjoyed reading my book.  For me the book was a labor of love and a personal statement from the heart, but it seems that there are many others who have the same feelings as I do. The notes and comments I have received make the efforts so worthwhile.  When I began the project, I envisioned a book that would appeal to those who know and love the Flint Hills.  I have been surprised and pleased at the number of people who have expressed a new interest in discovering the Flint Hills for themselves on the backroads.   

A Walk on the Prairie


Pulling my wide-brimmed straw hat down low on my forehead to keep it from taking a flyer down the hill and throwing my daypack of supplies over one shoulder, I began my walk up the backcountry trail in search of Palmer Creek.  It's located at the extreme north end of the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. 
You see, my mind’s radar is always searching for scenic areas to explore and when a friend mentioned the picturesque, secluded little stream that runs through native tallgrass prairie on its way to join up with Fox Creek in Chase County, I had to put it on my list of places to explore.  Normally, my exploring is done behind the wheel of my 4-Runner, but today it would be on foot. 

Stephen Jones' Dream on the Upper Fox Creek


"Louisa, my love, it's a land where the grass grows so tall that you have to stand in the saddle to see the horizon.  It's a land of milk and honey, of clear water springs and opportunity.  I've heard the rail line has just opened the land for development and we can build our dream from the land itself."
 
Can't you just hear Stephen Jones trying to convince his wife on the merits of moving from their lucrative cattle ranch in Colorado to the Fox Creek Valley north of Strong City?  It was in the year 1878 and news of the raid by Dull Knife and his band of Cheyenne, south of Fort Dodge, Kansas, was making the news. 

Wandering Down the Road of Life


I’ve heard it said that your first memories can shape the rest of your life.  It seems that mine have done just that.  The earliest memory that I can place is looking out the window of my parents’ old Plymouth at the tree-lined river we were following on our way to my Grandpa Perry’s house.  Now, here I am, fifty-some years later, sitting on my front porch looking at the same Little Arkansas River, just eight blocks away from that quaint, old Craftsman bungalow that housed my Granddad and his collection of Prairie Printmaker prints.  I am now a printmaker myself, illustrating and writing about driving those tree-lined country roads.  My wife and I live in a 1918 home decorated in the Craftsman style with that cherished Prairie Printmaker collection on the walls.