Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 23, 2010

It's about the place

On Saturday, I attended an "Emerging Trends in Communication" conference in Council Grove. The first item on the program was a YouTube video, "Did you know," that addressed how technology has exponentially sped up our lives. Most of the speakers discussed some of those technologies - Facebook, Twitter and blogging - all things I should learn about. I know my own life seems to be picking up speed at the very time when I thought it would be slowing down.

But that day, the words of speaker Emily Hunter seemed to most resonate with me. She is the executive director of Symphony on the Flint Hills - an event that draws thousands to the prairie and will celebrate its fifth anniversary this June.

"Whether we're communicating by text message or ancient myth, the point is story," Emily said. "Number one, we are story. And the tallgrass prairie is a subtle landscape, but it has an interesting story, too."

Emily is passionate about the mission of Symphony on the Flint Hills - "to heighten appreciation and knowledge of the tallgrass prairie by providing opportunities to experience symphonic music and place-based education in the Kansas Flint Hills."

The music is a wonderful experience in itself, she said, but the event uses that music as a way to preserve an endangered ecosystem. The Flint Hills Tallgrass Prairie Eco-Region represents only three percent of the original tallgrass prairie, which at one time covered more than 140 million acres from Indiana to eastern Kansas, from Manitoba to Texas.

"Some people ask, 'Why preserve the Flint Hills? We already have the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (near Strong City),'" she said. "We also have aquariums, but aquariums do NOT an ocean make."

"Grass can handle wind, fire, drought and grazing animals and its roots sometimes go 18 feet deep," she said. "But it's not just about the grass ... it's the culture ... the history."

"We can't live without the natural world ... without the inherent wisdom in the Flint Hills. It's where we live," she said. "It's about the place."

The very definition of subtlety is something that doesn't hit us over the head with a hammer, but instead influences us in an almost imperceptible or subconscious way. Place is one of those things. I've traveled some and seen some beautiful lands in my life. But none resonate with me the way the Flint Hills do.

Husband Art tells me I tend to get overly-poetic when spring comes to the Flint Hills. But I can't help it. The fresh green grass shooting up on the newly-burnt hills, the redbuds nestled among the gnarled trees that run along the deep ravines, and the meadowlarks singing from their fence-post perches make me downright giddy.

And it's because the Flint Hills are a part of me. I grew up in Burns, Kan., which has dubbed itself the "Gateway to the Flint Hills," and I've lived near Manhattan, a few miles north of the Konza Prairie, for nearly 30 years. Saturday morning - driving south on Highway 177 through the heart of the Konza - it was all I could do to keep from stopping along the way to let the landscape soak in. But I was running late so I tried to savor the passing scenery as much as possible - if that's possible going 60 miles an hour.

But that's OK. I live here and there will be other days and other seasons to soak up and reconnect to this place I call my home. This is my place.

Katie, left, and cousin Larisa pose before the Flint Hills along Kansas
Highway 177 in July, 2009. Native Americans traveled great distances
to reach the Flint Hills to secure flint for making arrowheads and tools.

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