Monday, December 27, 2010

Breaking edges - Day 2 - 26 Dec 2010

Kansas can be a strange place.

US Highway 50 - the old Santa Fe Trail.

Stone City - named after stone cutters
Chase County - the largest cattle shipping port in the US and more than 60 trains a day came through here.
The highway follows the railroad (I notice this because my dad and brother are train buffs).

Most of these towns were established in the 1880's: Florence, Peabody, Newton, Hutchinson, Pratt, Greensburg. This is Wyatt Earp country. 40 to 50 miles between towns and a lot of empty space in between. I take it town by town and enjoy the view. Neil Young is on my CD player: "That ol' white line is a friend of mine......rolling down the open road...."

Frost is on the trees and the grass making this Kansas prairie highway an Antarctica of the west, as I like to think of it. The colors are enchanting: whites, tan, grey mixed in with grass, trees, overcast sky, the black of road and occasional rusted out farm equipment or old trucks. It is the edge of a new world. I am familiar with the prairie combines, farm equipment, windmills and sprinklers. Telephone poles and cellphone towers. Then I see my first oil well. And another.

I should have a poem out of this, or a novel something like Cormac McCarthy would write, or a Coen Brothers film. I see owls - three of them. One was a few miles back, by the side of the road grabbing prey, it was white and tan and I saw its face. Another one flew over me, towards the car. A white owl symbolizes wisdom and spirituality (a Harry Potter icon?) and if you see one in the daylight it's a deserted place. Yes, this is deserted, but it is full of life. I will work the white owl into one of my personal folk tales.

The sun is setting low in the sky and it is only two p.m. Wind turbines sparkle in the distance. I am in Greensburg, and a single wind turbine is at a John Deere tractor parking facility. I pass the hospital and two wind turbines are there, supplying extra power right in town. It is 38 degrees and partly sunny. 248.5 miles today so far.

At a rest area I stop and see birds, hundreds of black crows or ravens swarming over the trees like bees (see photo). They are fluid, and move as one organism. This highway is the old stagecoach line. In the 1880's and '90's Donald Green served areas not reached by the railroad and carried the mail from Wichita to Kingman. He had teams of six to eight horses which were changed every eight to ten miles. As the railroads advanced, his service dwindled but he is remembered by a historical marker at this rest area with the birds near Greensburg.

I make it to Meade, home of the Dalton gang hideout. The land changes again, the edge of the prairie breaking off into the west, breaking the edges of maps. The land is more open, and the few trees now are planted evergreens or low bushes, tilted with the wind. In Hugoton a house has trees along three of its edges, all planted pines neatly in a row and they bend almost to the ground. 43 degrees. 4:41 pm. I am breathing with the prairie, into the western hills, no city lights, just open space. No people except for the few I see when I slow down in a town. Tumbleweeds roll across the highway. I slow down for Rolla, from 65 mph to 40 mph. Trucks with their trailers come towards me often enough in the other lane that I recognize a pattern. They are usually followed by one to three cars behind them, like flies attaching to a horses' flank, waiting to pass. The wind here is so strong that I grip the steering wheel hard when I meet a big truck in the other lane, I can feel the wind as my car hangs on to the hard asphalt of the road. Oil is in asphalt, oil built this road, and more and more we continue to pump of it, to feed our driving habits. 16 miles to Elkhart, 17 miles to the Oklahoma border. I am almost to the Oklahoma panhandle.

I am racing the sun now, it is setting fast and I am heading into it and soon it will be in my eyes. It's so bright and right on the road that I have to pull over a bit and wait for it to sink into the horizon. I arrive at Elkhart - "The Cornerstone of Kansas" the city sign says. I make it a few more miles to Boise City, Oklahoma where I will spend the night. It's enough of a town to have a choice of three hotels and one restaurant that isn't fast food.

I choose the "Crystal" hotel, an old brownstone lit up with a red 'vacancy' sign and a lobby with a Christmas tree and lights. It reminds me of a grandma-type of place and is vintage 70's. There is a fabric store across the street which is a good sign. The lady at the desk has gray hair and tells me about her library collection that is down the hall. She lost most of it she says, doesn't say how and later I see there are only two sparse shelves of diet books and romance novels and old seed catalogs and a macrame book. There is dark paneling on the walls and shag carpet in my room, striped. Reminds me of my parents basement. It is comforting in a way, until I discover that the wireless internet doesn't work upstairs and I have to bring my laptop downstairs to get any type of signal. (I don't have a smartphone). My cell works, there is no phone in the room, just cable tv. I feel like a female Jack Kerouac on the road, which I am, in a way. I wonder what time zone I'm in - still central. I lose track of days and time here. I pack differently when driving. I stashed a few bottles of wine, snacks, extra shoes, books, things for the 'fridge. Things I would never travel with by air. It's nice to know no one is patting me down or scanning me as I move from place to place.

What have the stars told me? I see Venus out my window and the bright stars on the black Oklahoma sky and I'm up and packed by 6:30 am so I can have breakfast at the diner and see the sun rise on the prairie.

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