The Heartland States of America
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Tending grass; making hay in Kansas (by Eoghan Corry)

Over the coming few weeks, we're delighted to bring you experiences of Kansas so richly drawn that you can feel and taste them! The author is well-known and highly respected Irish journalist, writer and broadcaster - Eoghan Corry (and to Eoghan, our thanks for the pictures, too!)

The winter was long so the leaves were late. Sprinklings of lavender could be seen along the roadside. The smell, though, was of burning, for since the days of the native Americans they burn the prairie each year to keep the cedar trees from seizing this ground. The burning lasts for weeks, and sometimes locals grow tired of the smell. But they know there will be a reward as the black hills, thanks to the burning, always turn to lush, emerald green grass quickly - filling the cleansing vacuum.

The surviving prairies of the Flint Hills define the image that Kansas conveys to the world. Dorothy and the tornado won’t be dislodged form popular culture very easily but now there is an alternative icon of Kansas for everyone to talk about. The quick explanation goes like this: the hills were too stony to yield to the plough, so the USA was left with something approaching a preserved belt of prairie land. It took ages for anyone to pay attention to this legacy, and now they wonder why it took so long. People of the prairie are proud of their landscape and love to show it off to whoever passes through. This is one of the world’s great drives. The grain silos are the skyscrapers of the rural countryside, like cathedrals in the skyline.

To really see this country, ditch the car and saddle up. My companion Mary Cronemeyer of Circle S Ranch and Country Inn near Lawrence could not have been a more experienced horsewoman. For Mary fell off a horse before she was one year old. Her mother, apparently, brought her riding at the front of the saddle as she tackled the chores at the farm on horseback. One day the little baby fell off the front of the saddle where she had been perched. She did not land on her head, or so it would appear, so all ended well.

And Mary still loves to ride. When I came to her ranch on a sunny day in April, it was still cold and the last residue of winter wind was gusting across the prairie. The wind has such a presence here, it is like an extra character in every story. I assured her I was made of strong stuff, and we took to our horses. With great scenery, great conversation, and lots to talk about, it may have been one of the best afternoons I have ever spent in my rambles across seven continents. Mary grew up on rural farm in Kansas but the canvas was enormous. Her hobby was bringing home stricken animals, a coyote cub, a nest of baby skunks. Her parents patiently tolerated Mary’s multi-species menagerie. Nowadays the menagerie is still around. You can hear the coyote’s relatives howl at night under the big wide open, starry sky.

Was it lonely? She laughs it off and tosses her hair to tell me that in summer time the farm boys would come to mend fences and help with the hay; and everyone who comes from a rural background who has been a teenager knows exactly what hay is best for!


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