I had the opportunity recently to drive alone for 4 1/2 hours to central Kansas, most of it in the dark. It was kind of surreal once the sun went down and full darkness settled in. That part of eastern Kansas is sparsely populated, and the small arc from my headlights was often all that was visible as I sped down the lonely highway. An occasional yard light would float over the horizon to remind me that hardy souls have chosen this remote life. Some of the lights turned out to be false oases…co-ops with only propane tanks and no permanent inhabitants…and I would feel even more alone. Every little bit, a solitary tree near the road would slowly watch me pass his post…a silent, gentle giant reminding me that we are never really alone. The stars, plainly visible without city lights to dim them, were my only constant companion. But for most of several hours, the only visible sign that I was making progress toward my destination were the passing road signs and dashes zipping by on the pavement. The only frightening part of the journey was the bloody massacre of thousands of bugs, attracted to their doom on my windshield by the only light for miles around; it wasn’t a pretty sight in the morning light. Near the end of my journey, a massive lightning storm on the distant horizon broke my boredom. I later learned that it was hundreds of miles away, but it still put on a good show. As I drove, the isolation was comforting. I’m a Kansas girl, raised in the country. I don’t need civilization to feel safe.
I reversed the trip two days later in the daylight. People from the city say that there’s nothing to see on that drive – I disagree. I studied shapes in the clouds as I drove–there’s no better place to cloud watch, where you can see the whole sky at once. I passed dilapidated farmhouses (including one with an outhouse), houses built of rock, white country schools and churches, and red barns…just the color they should be. Some of the churches had small cemeteries, and several farmers had painted big old American flags on the sides of out buildings. One driveway sported a crudely painted sign that read “Thanks to our troops”. Motionless oil wells sat frozen among the hay bales and cattle, and I got to see the corn crop being brought in. One sign said “farm fresh eggs”, and another shaped like a giant, white cow announced an upcoming fall festival. I even got the best view that I’ve ever had of Kansas’ only nuclear power plant, which had frightened me since the news stories from its construction during my childhood. But the best part of the drive is that this time of year is sunflower season, in the sunflower state. They filled the ditches on both sides of the road, so thick that if I had a dollar for every flower that I passed in that 100+ miles, I’d be the richest person in America. That day, in spite of the modest boredom of that lonely drive, I kind of was.
“No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.” –Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz