Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 30, 2003

The pull of the landscape

Art and I decided late last week to take a drive to enjoy the beautiful colors before the predicted hard freeze stripped the leaves from the trees. Fall is one of my favorite seasons, and my daughters and friends give me maple and oak leaves streaked with red, yellow and orange for my collection. I add them to the basket in which I place miniature gourds and pumpkins, acorns and other autumn treasures.

On our drive to Topeka, Art and I stopped at the scenic overlook on Highway 177. The Konza Prairie stretched out in front of us, the brown and gold grasses waving in the wind. The sumac added a bright red accent.

The route to Topeka along I-70 was mesmerizing. I soaked in the views of the undulating hills to store them in memory just as a farmer stores his harvest before the winter winds arrive.

Coming back after a leisurely lunch, we decided to get off I-70. We took the Maple Hill exit and immediately noticed the lack of vehicles. A new green Kansas road sign indicated that the Old Stone Church Road would lead us westward. We took it and, indeed, just a few hundred feet and a bend to the north, an old limestone church, built in 1882, stood on a small hill. A man was digging a grave in the adjacent cemetery.

At the crossroads of Grasslands, Vera and Mastodon roads, we took Grasslands. I joked with Art that we might find mastodons if we took Mastodon Road. He replied, "Well, maybe their bones."

The next few roads we took had equally interesting names - Pioneer, Konza, Wells Creek. I commented that the scenery was almost like what the pioneers would have seen - if we could subtract the orange fiber-optic cable signs, the stacks of Jeffrey Energy Center, the barbed-wire fences and the gravel roads.

But those things didn't stop me from imagining what it was like to travel the prairie before people "civilized" it. My thoughts went to my great-grandparents William and Mary Freeland who homesteaded in northwest Kansas, living in a sod home with my Grandfather Robert Freeland and his brothers, who were just young boys. They moved to the Flint Hills in the early 1900s.

Recently, some friends and I were discussing the pull that certain landscapes seem to have on us, depending on where we grew up. I find when I go to a big city or even to a place where there are a lot of trees that I feel closed in and uncomfortable. Perhaps these Kansas prairies are in my blood.

The day after Art and I traveled to Topeka, I thought it would be nice to drive to my hometown for the annual Burns Methodist Church supper and bazaar. All along the 90-mile route, the sunny yellow cottonwood trees and school-bus yellow hedge trees shimmered in the sun. I stopped periodically, attempting to capture the golden beauties on film, but I know the pictures will be disappointing compared to what we saw.

We arrived in Burns around dusk, and headed first to Zebulon Road, where our family farm stands. I can't "go home" any more as the farm is now rented to a young couple who hope for a bright future just as Mary and William and Robert did when they first settled there. So Mom and I didn't linger long at the old farmstead before going on to the church.

But somehow, when I get off the main roads and can look at the beautiful fall countryside, I feel as if I am home.

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