by Evan Stair

Several years ago I asked my boss for a day off so that I could get some rest and relaxation. He asked where I was headed and I said with a wide grin on my face, “Western Kansas.” I could see the confusion in his face as I began to laugh.

He asked “Why in the heck would anyone spend good vacation days in Western Kansas?”

I answered, “Because of the trains!”

This visit was just one of many that my wife and I would take to what I call the “railroad state.” However, for those of you that think this is a railroad story you are not totally correct. You see, Western Kansas is the way life was meant to be.

Engulfed in Delight
Take a trip to Western Kansas the second week in June any year. Your senses will be engulfed with delight. Drive the backroads where wheat is being harvested by stout young men who sojourn from Texas to Canada. The work is hard and long but what better way to spend a summer than harvesting that golden crop? Visit the small towns where you are greeted with a smile everywhere you go. Watch the driver of the pickup approaching you. He’ll lift his index finger from his steering wheel to say hello to you, a total stranger.

Beauty of the Land
The beauty of this land is in the waving wheat which, when ripe, makes an unmistakable sound as wheathead knocks against wheathead in overcrowded fields: It is the sound of a million paper rattles. When this dry copy is ripe, it is as stiff as a starched shirt. What better contrast for this sea of gold than a blue sky interrupted only by an occasional fluffy white cloud? In some fields without trees the contrast is breathtaking and even more so as you watch cloud shadows dart across this natural wonder.

Can you imagine the sight?

Living on this land is no doubt difficult but the rewards are not to be underestimated. You know your neighbor as a friend. Peace and quite abound interrupted only by the occasional thunderstorm, or birds chirping in the breeze. The air is clean.

The Small Towns
Visit the small towns with names like Manter, Satanta, Sublette, Stafford, Abbeyville, and Saunders. You can go for a leisurely walk across town and back without breaking a sweat. At sundown you can see bleary eyed children counting off their last swings on the swingset before being called in by their mothers before it gets dark. These are places where a child left unattended will return unharmed.

Girls in their teens drive around town and probably meet every teenage boy in town with a giggle. These teenage boys respond with a half smile wanting to remain cool. Young couples take refuge in their humble abodes staying out of sight after a hard days work. The elderly rock on the porch and enjoy the relief that the vanishing sun brings. The weather is tolerable again.

Town architecture and business has changed over the years but it is still has a small town feel. The busiest place in town is the grain elevator, the only sky scraper in the county. Trains spot hoppers for the incoming harvest and then scurry off for the next town. Ancient trucks drive up with red, wooden, beds filled with the harvest: This is the reason the community exists. They dump their loads and move along so the next in line can take its turn. I wonder how many square feet of wheat it takes to make enough flour for one loaf of bread?

The local cafe serves all who come with tea, meat, potatoes, rolls, and pie: The fuel that feeds the harvesters.

When it is all over the fields are plowed, the wheat sown, and a green carpet is prepared for another year. Children grow into adulthood and leave for college. Some return. More do not. But the cycle continues. This is the beauty of life lived as it was meant to be. All are a part of the finished product… the food that feeds the world.