Green Hills and Cattle Pens

(Originally Posted on August 18, 2010)

Some people refer to it as the heart of America. Others call it the “Sunflower State.” Most people probably call it nothing at all because, honestly, it never even crosses their mind. But I? What do I call it? Well, I call Kansas “home” because that’s what it is for me. (For the record, though, I sometimes still call it “the middle of nowhere” because, well, that’s also what it is— literally.)

Now, when people stop and think about Kansas (which, let’s be honest, the vast majority of people rarely, if ever, do), some things typically come to their mind. They are as follows: Nothing, cows, fields, nothing, wheat, more cows, more nothing… well, you get the point.

In addition to the agricultural realm, some people perceive Kansas more through the lens of popular culture, specifically The Wizard of Oz. But before you get tempted to ask me, NO, I have not met Dorothy, we don’t actually get tornadoes all that often (Oklahoma—the state where I attend university—is actually more famous for that), and only 0.0015% of the dogs in Kansas are named Toto at any given time. Concerning pop culture, The Wizard of Oz is extent of Kansas’ influence…

Wait, did you say something about Clark Kent? He’s a really cool guy; in fact, he grew up just down the street from me. What about him? … WHOA! Hold up. Stop! He’s Superman?! As in, the real deal? No way! You have got to be kidding me! I always wondered why there seemed to be an oddly-shaped bird or plane flying frequently over our neighborhood, but I never thought to put two and two together. Wow. Now I feel dumb…. Haha.

Just kidding. I really don’t know Clark Kent. But Tom Wellings on the other hand…. 😉

Anyway, the point of this introductory ramble is to get you thinking a little bit about Kansas. The aforementioned things often are stereotypes of my home state; they are what many people imagine when they think of the heart of the heartland.

What most people don’t picture is large green hills rolling out into the distance as far as the eye can see. In fact, “green” and “hills” and “Kansas” are three words that should never ever ever belong in the same sentence. That is, almost never.

As I already mentioned, I grew up in Kansas and still consider it my home; however, I attend Oklahoma State University which, incidentally, is in Oklahoma. If you’re not so great at geography, let me just say that it’s one state south of Kansas, wedged comfortably between Kansas and Texas. My university is a simple 5-hour drive from my house in Kansas, so simple in fact that I can manage it most of the time without a GPS. For me, that’s saying something. I can get lost going in a straight line. No lie. Speaking of straight lines, the drive to Oklahoma State is almost a straight line; it’s just interrupted by two left turns. In other words, it’s Steffi-proof, which is a step above “fool-proof” on the dumb-o-meter, in case you were wondering.

While the drive to Stillwater (the town where my university is located) is for the most part boring and flat and full of fields and cows and nothing—all very Kansas-y things—there is one part that I absolutely LOVE and I look forward to it during each one of my five-hour drives: The Flint Hills.

Named after the stone “flint” which is used to rubbed together to spark a fire, the Flint Hills are gorgeous, but in a simple sort of way. Unlike the rest of Kansas, which is sometimes so flat that tumbleweed could roll eternally across it—if it didn’t get stuck in a barbed wire fence along the way or trampled by one of the numerous cows—the Flint Hills are, well, hilly. And because of an abnormal amount of rainfall this summer, the hills are also green—very, very green. So this time when I made the five-hour trek—er, drive—to OSU, I was able to enjoy an incredible, non-Kansas-y view. And boy, did it take my breath away.

Since the scientific nerd community has yet to invent a means of teleporting, and because the days of transcontinental trains are long-since gone, driving is the best and most efficient way to tackle short distances within the United States. In my opinion, though, driving is more than just a means to an end. Especially regarding this particular five-hour drive, it’s one of my life’s favorite simple pleasures.

The joy of life is in the journey. I’ve heard that cheesy saying a million and a half times (about the number of times some well-meaning person has asked me about The Wizard of Oz), and as much as I hate being cliché, this saying is completely true. So often, we get caught up in where we are going and all we need to do once we get there, that we forget to enjoy where we actually are. Goals are great and destinations are important; without them, we would be stuck wandering around aimlessly (or, in my case, in circles—with a GPS). But goals aren’t the do-all, end-all. Rather, they’re just another part of the journey that just so happens to come at the end. So, yes, in that sense destinations are special. But at the same time, the vast majority of life or time isn’t spent at the destination, is it? No, not at all. The best parts of roadtrips actually happen on the road, when everyone is singing off-key (and very loudly) to the same super-sappy Rascal Flatts song. Or during my drive to Oklahoma, the highlight comes with the Flint Hills, or on very special occasions when I pull over at the cattle pens to soak in the view.

I certainly haven’t mastered this skill yet of enjoying the journey. Even now, before the semester has started, my life is already run by a post-it note, and I have half a dozen deadlines and dates already marked in my planner. I’m busy and rushed, heading full-speed to where I want to be. In times like these and in a world like this, it can be easy to forget where we are, and even easier to forget how to enjoy it. So today, I challenge you—and myself—to pull over and enjoy your Flint Hills, whatever they may be. Call an old friend, start that book you’ve been dying to read, sit outside and watch the entire sunset. I have a feeling that you’ll be very glad you did. And if you don’t enjoy it, I’ll send the Wicked Witch of the West to hunt you down. 😉

Thanks for reading. God bless.

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